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HYPE... a look at the ever-spreading disease of videogaming

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For more than a moment you may have hesitated clicking on this blog, complete as it is with such a grandiose and borderline-vulgar metaphor, not to mention a potentially disagreeable one at that. In the grand scheme of things, the hype 'epidemic' (as I am infalming it to be) may seem trivial in comparison to the apocalyptic numbers of 'casuals' supposedly infecting and debasing the medium we supposed 'hardcores' cherish so dearly. And let's not forget the real issue facing videogames nowadays really is the evil monopoly of Microsoft, the confused half-truthery of Sony and the sheer complacency of Nintendo.

So far, so dramatic (not to mention ironic), but before I get into full swing, allow me to clarify that this rant is not aimed at that other incredible epidemic hitting videogaming, i.e. the true evil that is fanboys. Whilst I have no qualms against a little bit of pride, I'm lost for words when trying to comprehend or understand the logic behind hyping a game months away from release purely on the basis it will be gracing a console I own. All three parties of console fanboys are culpable, so I'll let them hype their Haze's, Too Human's and... hold on let me think of a title coming out on Wii... nope... and I'll just remain a content bystander.

The hype I'm writing this article about, rather selfishly, is the hype we as gamers generate within ourselves. My own personal hype. Not the false show of blind brand loyalty that plagues forums across the net (and beyond), but that palpable sense of anticipation which reaches fever pitch as we wait, often feverishly and impatiently, for that next big title we have literally spent years looking forward to.

This year saw for me one such title in particular, the undeniably impressive Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Last year I had an equal amount of buzz for the likes of Final Fantasy 12 (released over here in Britain last February) and, perhaps confusingly to some, Tomb Raider: Anniversary. As December 2007 approached I waited with bated breath to *finally* get to play Ico, a game I'd been anticipating to play for months but had deliberately left off until Christmas in a bid to try and recapture the magical time I'd had the year before playing Shadow of the Colossus around the festive season.

So many games, so much hype, and what single thing unifies them all?... a confusing but undeniable sense of initial disappointment. It varies drastically with each title, both in length and severity, but I cannot put my hand on my heart and say that with all of the titles mentioned above I didn't have at least one period of time where I was feeling a little let down, or just the sense that the game wasn't all I had built it up in my expectations to be.

Before MGS4 fanboys flame me to kingdom come and hurl all manner of abuse at me, let me elaborate (and if you don't have the patience to read then fly, fly my friends). My first night of playing Guns of the Patriots was a wonderful experience, and I remember how blown away I was by the sheer variety and quality of everything on offer. It is a resplendent and hugely accomplished piece of videogame entertainment, a real tour-de-force of what the medium can, and indeed should aspire to achieve in every aspect.

So why did I still feel a little inexplicably jaded as I whizzed through the entirety of the game in a matter of a few nights? Well, whilst I believe going into a real psychological analysis would be over-reaching to say the least, I still nonetheless think there are three main factors, which I'm going to address here, even if for my own sake. Before I go into them, I'll fully acknowledge the majority of this post, and indeed practically all of this relevance, is very personal and individual, I know plenty of people who don't feel anything of this calibre when it comes to new releases or anticipated titles, but alas, I'm writing so I'll stick to what I know and feel.

NUMBER ONE - Desire for Repetition - I've realised, looking up at all of the titles I've mentioned which have been significant, or even minor, disappointments over the past year or two, even if I've only felt that way for a short while, they all share one similar trait: they're sequels. Now as much as I applaud and encourage innovation and originality, and taking gamers on new and different experiences every time we hand over our hard-earned cash for a new title, nonetheless I definitely believe that when it comes to major, anticipated sequels, whether we (or more accurately I at least) want to or not, we project our positive experiences and preferences from the games which have come before in that particular series. It seems like a moot, almost ridiculous, point, but when it comes to sequels I seem to initially always have this desire to compare it to its immediate predecessor and think of 'all the good things' about it which this current iteration has left out. I did it with Final Fantasy X, fretting and worrying and mildly disappointed over how it didn't have the same whimsical feel of the PS1 Final Fantasy's, then along comes Final Fantasy XII and I'm sitting there disappointed that it's characters aren't as rounded, it's story doesn't have the depth or emotional clout and it's music isn't as eloquently beautiful of that of Final Fantasy X.

Likewise going back to Tomb Raider: Anniversary, my initial qualms were that the control system felt too streamlined and 'easy' (if that even makes sense), and that the levels didn't seem as large, complicated or elaborate as their iterations in the original PS1 games. It is this constant stream of comparison that seems to plague me when playing on such personally-hyped sequels. Metal Gear Solid 4 changed locations too much in comparison to MGS3, which itself, upon release, suffered in my opinion plot-wise in comparison to MGS2's labyrinthine and complicated story. Resident Evil 4 was too action-packed and not scary enough in comparison to any of the previous Resident Evil titles. The list goes on....

Whilst some of the criticisms may still hold true, you'll have no doubt noticed the majority of them are ridiculous from an objective point of view. Disliking the fact that Tomb Raider: Anniversary had far more streamlined controls than the tank-movement of the PS1 titles?!? Being disappointed that Snake Eater did not have as nigh-on-incomprehensible a plot as Sons of Liberty?!? Just these examples alone are enough to make me sound like a lunatic, but as I said, they're not conscious, rational objections I have, merely moments where I acknowledge differences from my previous experiences with that series, and out of what I can only understand to be some base desire for a repeating of the enjoyable time I had before, object to them.

NUMBER TWO - Time, the great destroyer - An important, but cynical point to remember: The purpose of *any* trailer, preview, glimpse, sneak-peek or anything of that commercialised ilk has the sole purpose of getting us prepared to hand over our cash. Once we've bought a game, or purchased our cinema ticket and so on, we've given the studios and developers what they want and need. Yes, it's incredibly cynical of me, but it's also incredibly true. As such, hype, for the majority of games developers, is a wonderful thing, and the number of studios who will utilise it to get sales far outweigh those who genuinely care whether or not the product they release lives up to expectations.

Going back to Metal Gear Solid 4, my chief example, we get an example of a game being announced and previewed 3-4 years before it is actually released. Glimpses of the story, occasional hints at gameplay eventually follow through to fever pitch. 3 years is a long time to be waiting excitedly for a game to be released, and the occasional morsel fed in the form of trailers and the like only heighten this anticipation. The danger of this process as a gamer, however, is we begin to piece together (or, again, at least I do) the experience we are going to have with this game. Subconsciously, of course. The teaser trailers of Snake putting a gun into his mouth instantly ignite all manner of thought processes and possibilities, and we latch onto them with surprising ferocity. We see glimpses at bosses and, when they look as impressive as the 'Beauty and the Beast' unit in MGS4, we can't help but get carried away thinking what the boss battles are going to be like. We get the words of excited members of the development team, or magazine/internet previews excitedly gushing how insanely brilliant their test-time with it was, and this also fits into our little jigsaw of the amazing, yet surprisingly self-defined experience we're going to have playing this title.

Now obviously, not all games have the development cycle of publicity campaign Metal Gear Solid 4 had, but still, the fact remains - and I'm certain I'm not alone in this - we can't help but continue to be shown things and make assumptions and decisions, be they subconscious or not, about exactly what this game is going to be like. Then of course when it is eventually released and is inevitable different, we feel a little confused, jaded or disappointed. A good example is how excited I was seeing the first trailer with the aforementioned 'Beauty and the Beast' bosses. It was a cut-scene so no inkling as to what the boss battles would be like, but I started getting crazy ideas about laughing octopus in particular. Then when I eventually reach that particular boss battle, it is nowhere near as kinetic and crazy as I was expecting. But why did I expect it to be like that? Because I saw the trailer and my over-active, admittedly rather creative mind went into action. Had I not watched the trailer before playing the game and that boss battle came along I would no doubt have been floored by it, the sheer design of the enemy alone was outstandingly cool, but still, because I'd had the time to grow expectations of what the fight would be like, I ended up being a little jaded when it wasn't what I had naively expected.

As such, I firmly believe the longer we wait for a title, the higher the anticipation builds and the more trailers and previews we watch or read, the more we actively start piecing together the experience in our minds. It's premature, presumptuous and naïve, but that's how our minds work - we're given a nugget of something and we begin considering, pondering and elaborating upon it. And this, in conjunction with my existing point before about sequel expectations, can sometimes really unfairly damage our first play-through of games which are undeniably remarkable, such as MGS4.

Moving onto the third, and thankfully more positive, point...

NUMBER THREE - Time, the great healer - Hypocritical? Nay! The periods of time addressed in my last point were those leading up to the release of a big, heralded game. Now I'll look at the time that passes once the game's firmly in your possession.

With all of the games mentioned above on my list of 'semi' or 'temporary' disappointments, they all benefited greatly from both a second playthrough and also letting a chunk of time pass before doing so. I also strongly believe that the length of the game itself factors in very heavily on how well it can recover from it's initial sense of mild disappointment.

When a game I've been eagerly waiting to play comes along and ends up being completed in a short space of time, the likelihood of confusion and dissatisfaction factoring in is quite high. However, give me an epic, lengthy endeavour (Final Fantasy XII springs to mind) and it ends up being such a protracted haul that I have enough time to get over the differences and series-absences, and get on with accepting, and subsequently enjoying this new game on its own merit and for what it is. As mentioned, Final Fantasy XII is an excellent example - for a good while I sat there playing it almost out of loyalty to Square and the Final Fantasy name that anything else, whilst simultaneously spitting fire that it had been labelled as such. It just didn't, to me, 'feel' like a Final Fantasy game, but that was again purely because I was expecting a re-hash of one of my previous Final Fantasy experiences. When I *eventually* got over the massive changes (which took a while as they were considerable for a FF game to say the least), I began to thoroughly appreciate and adore the game. Yes, it took a good number of hours and the first third of the game suffered to my mood swings, but after that it became an escape, a good few hours away into the world of Ivalice which became as enjoyable and addictive a distraction as any of the Final Fantasy games before it. The controls which I went through a period of disliking quite intensely because they were so radically altered from the line-up, wait-for-your-turn tradition, I ended up loving for the pace and flow it gave the title. When all was said and done, I still ended up feeling the cast, story and music were not quite up to the usual standards of excellence the series carries (or did once carry), but my dislike for the title had entirely vanished, and I ended up giving it 9.6 in my gamespot review.

Metal Gear Solid 4, on the other hand, absolutely flew by. I completed it before some of my hesitations and disappointments could fully subside. There's no denying I appreciated the sheer quality and brilliance of the title, but I hadn't yet had enough time to fully get over what I considered to be it's short-comings, one of which, ironically enough, was it's length. Now, in hindsight, with a couple of months having passed since I completed it, I can look back and see how much I raced through the game, the sheer variety of ways to play it offers, and how it truly is not a game intended for a single play-through by dint of that variety of options and pathways both tactically and gameplay wise.

So yes, time can be a healer as well. Give a game you've hyped to infinity some cool-down time, then come back for a second play and those uber-high expectations you had first time round, be they from expectations you have from their series predecessors, or from the long, protracted wait for it's release, will be inevitably gone, or at least considerably dulled down. There's no denying some games will just generally disappoint and will not live up to the standards naturally expected of them, but if there's one thing I hope this article has addressed is that we can indeed be our own worst enemies when it comes to building up the hype for a game we've waited so long to own and enjoy. Whilst that sounds painfully obvious, I do believe we are sometimes blind to how, even subconsciously, we can really begin shaping and building up an experience we've yet to have, or begin predicting and assuming a journey we've yet to go on, so that when a new Metal Gear Solid or Final Fantasy comes along and dares to be bold, original and brilliant, we aren't so much overwhelmed and amazed as mildly confused and a tad disappointed that what we're seeing and playing isn't what we saw and played last time through, or at least isn't strictly adhering to what we envisaged and imagined from the copious amounts of teaser trailers, previews and footage we've spent the last 3 years glued to our monitors watching.

Now, everybody is of course different in terms of personal expectations and how individual titles meet, or indeed fail to meet, those expectations. It's not as if support for Metal Gear Solid 4 has been slim, far from it as we all know. Nor is it as if I'm calling the titles mentioned in this article bad games, again, the truth is the exact opposite - the vast majority of games mentioned herein have been titles of the highest quality, and I admit entirely it is personal hype that exceeds and deflates them. It may be that I'm just particularly associative, and is a rare thing indeed. If that is the case, then I hope it has at least been an interesting, albeit perhaps confusing, insight into the mind of someone trying quite resolutely to stop letting his expectations and assumptions race ahead of him at a time when videogames can, and in some cases, really are, pushing an exciting number of envelopes in the realm of interactive entertainment.

E3 Conference reactions - Microsoft

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Greetings all!

Welcome to my first E3 2008 conference blog, kicking off with my reactions to the bizarre mixed-bag of tricks that was the Microsoft conference.

I will first, however, begin with a preface just re-iterating that I share a vested interest in ALL 3 conferences, and my ownership of a Wii, PS3 and 360 means I will be doing my best to review the announcements in a totally non-fanboy manner... the thought of it just makes me shudder... OMZG FFXIII is liek SO on 360 paystation fboys SUX!

Anyway, with that out my system, I'll start by talking about the positive, because it's always nice to kick of proceedings with pleasantries rather than alienating you with torrents of disapproval and angst!

Setting one thing straight from the offset... Gears of War 2 looks absolutely amazing. Anybody stupid or downright ignorant enough to continue labelling it as a re-hash and so on and so forth (insert all the other ridiculous fanboy BS here) must obviously have not watched the most recent footage shown off at Microsoft's conference. It looks even more polished, beautiful and epic than the original, and the variety in opponents, weapons and locations looks set to avoid it being anything but a repeat of what has come before. Naysaying towards this game truly seems to be bitterness of the highest order from the Sony or Nintendo devout camp, surely nobody can look at this game and not at least acknowledge it looks like action-packed, adrenaline-pumping gaming at it's most intense and refined? A Jewell in the seventh-gen crown, the Gears legacy looks set to continue in grand, glorious (not to mention gory) style.

Fallout impressed, and it was nice to see gameplay itself feature quite heavily. It appears it will end up being an intriguing blend of Oblivion thrown into a blender with elements of MGS4, Gears of War and heck, even Bioshock (gotta love those adverts!). Whilst it looks like another incredibly immersive and enthralling experience from Bethesda, I am growing a tad concerned that it could fall prey to that most sinister of foes, the old 'identity crisis' and end up being something of a jack-of-all-trades, but master of none. Still, that's the cynic in me and I still am greatly anticipating the title, and think regardless of what system you end up owning it on, it's shaping up to be a bold and brilliant title. Exclusive downloadable content for 360 and PC is a major plus though for hermits and lemmings, as I'm led to believe I should refer to them as... sigh...

Resi 5's shaping up beautifully. So what if it's just Resident Evil 4 for next-gen, and that it was Resi 4 that slapped the traditions of survival horror round the face with a wet fish? Survival horror was getting stale and repetitive, it need a good cod-smack and Resi 4 did that wonderfully. The fifth instalment looks like it's going to refine everything 4 did so well and add some nice bonuses on top (continuing the Resi storyline and co-op for starters).

I'm going to deliberately push Fable 2 aside because I personally saw very little that was new from the GDC trailer and all-in-all I'm not particularly overwhelmed or convinced by much of what Peter Molyneux says... ever. I'd much rather not hype the game and keep it filed under 'looks intriguing but underwhelming' so that when I'm proven wrong my slice of humble pie will be all the sweeter.

Moving onto the negative (before the inevitable... cough cough... Square Enix)... I can't help but wonder why Microsoft dedicated so much of the conference to either a) reminding everyone of how much money they squeeze from us and b) plageurising, I mean conveniently replicating, so much from the Nintendo and Sony bandwagon.

Now I'm not an ignorant swine when it comes to one console copying another - particularly in this generation of gaming where everytime I perform a system update on my PS3 I expect to see Master Chief come hula-hooping across my screen with a wiimote, but seriously, Microsoft's conference took it to an extreme. The amazing new SceneIt! game, well, I preferred it when they called it Buzz! The 'microsoft vision' camera or whatever other moniker they slapped on it in a desperate attempt to not call it the EyeToy, and of course Lips is just a souped-up version of that 4 year old beloved 'Singstar' franchise. Don't get me started on avatars, you surely don't need to, because seriously if anybody watched the same conference as I did and DIDN'T think 'lazy Mii rip-off, only one we have to supposedly pay for' then turn around, touch your toes and sign a happy song you ignorant, simple-minded peasant.

The first half-hour showed some awesome gameplay footage of some top upcoming games which any gamer worth a pinch of salt would get excited about, but then it seemed to slide into the self-congratulating pile of casual mush that made Nintendo's E3 conference suck so hard last year. Yessss... I get the fact that Microsoft want to spit on Sony's face and say 'our multimedia console offers more', Yessss... I get the fact that Microsoft want to harp on about how they too can attract the suddenly uber-revered 'casual' gamer, but seriously, Microsoft need to sit down and focus for a second, because Viva Pinata and pretty much all of Microsoft's casual attempts failed big time (mainly because the wii has casual in the bag), downloadable TV/Films etc. and so on are nowhere near ready enough to usurp DVD rentals and purchases, and no matter how much I laughed at a supersized leopard gecko chasing after that silly running lady, the Eyetoy had its time a few years back, and don't see a renaissance the size Microsoft are anticipating (judging by how much time they dedicated to it) happening any time soon.

Aaaaannnd breathe. In summary, I found the second half-hour of Microsoft's conference to be something of an underwhelming game of catch-up with different elements of Sony and Nintendo's strongest points. Yes, the new dashboard looks great and I applaud Microsoft focusing so much on a service we are paying for after all, but still, it's the games we walk into a store, slap into our console and sit down to play for a few hours that are still the crux of the market, particular where the Microsoft 'hardcore' 360 is concerned.

So where in grace's great name were the uber new IP's? Re-hash after re-hash after re-hash. The new banjoo-kazooie game looked generic to say the least, as said before Viva Pinata was purchased by no-one and their son, and on to the most criminal waste of 15 minutes so far in my life... ANOTHER rock-band and Guitar Hero game! Less than a year since the last iteration (and they're probably both still pretty high up in the charts) and I have to sit there for quarter of an hour listening to them say 'we've just added more songs' in a thousand and one different ways.

Even Square-Enix's trio of announcements (which weren't really anything but estimated release dates and some new 'last remnants' footage) did little to sway me, seeing as most of it we already knew weeks, if not months, before.

Then of course we come to the supposedly Earth-shattering and system-wars/generation ending announcement of Final Fantasy XIII coming to 360, or a 'version' at least.

Personally, I couldn't care less for the announcement at face value, I own all three consoles and will still buy the PS3 version merely because it is the console the game was built for from the ground up.

However, it does irk me about one thing in particular, and that is Microsoft's worrying trend of going around flashing their chequebook and just grabbing exclusives from Sony rather than investing in developing new, amazing, 360-exclusive IP's. At the same time, Sony sit back and just let their exclusives wander off like naughty children without apparently doing anything to keep them firmly in their grasp.

It bothers me because I fear this generation, or the next at least, is turning into a murky no-mans-but-also-everymans land, where each console is losing any sense of individuality and uniqueness. This is particularly prevalent when so many exclusives are becoming multi-platform (Final Fantasy XIII, Bioshock) and the recent trend of trophies=achievements, avatars=mii's shenanigans.

Where Microsoft could have focused on an amazing new innovative experience to end their conference on, instead they ended it by telling me I'd be able to get an inferior version of a game I was already going to be able to get at a later date...

To clarify this statement, Square Enix have announced in their discussion after the conference that the 360 version is only planned for North America and Europe, because, as we all know, the 360 is dead in Japan. In addition to this, Versus 13 is remaining PS3 exclusive, and the 'version' of 13 that they are working on for 360 will not only not begin development until after localisation for the PS3 version is completed (quelling the supposed 'multi-platform release simultaneously') but is also likely to be stretched over numerous DVD's, with compromises an inevitable necessity. Square-Enix's words, not mine.

Yes, it's a blow to Sony, congrats to Microsoft for doing that, but is that all you are concerned with nowadays? Transplanting elements of the Wii to your own console and buying out the PS3 exclusives? Lazy, predictable and not the most inspiring indicator of things to come.

Thank god for the positives, the Gears of War 2's, the lovely new dashboard and revamped Xbox Live, but this is still evolving what has come before. In fact it leads me nicely to my somewhat damning summary of a conference which could, and indeed should, have been much, much better:

"Microsoft E3 conference 2008: Taking the best of what has come before and in some cases making it even better, but for the most part just re-hashing, imitating or reproducing the innovations and originalities of elsewhere. For survival and persistence, Microsoft get a resounding thumbs up. For originality, new-grounds and innovation of their own, I'd need to severely dislocate my thumbs to get them any further down."

New Tag - Top 500 reviewer!

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Wow, what an absolute thrill - just checked my profile to notice I've been awarded a 'top 500' reviewer emblem. I'm really chuffed - I've only written a handful of reviews, I really need to get some more up on here and get posting more frequently with some editorials.

Thanks to all responsible, I'm really grateful! :D

PS - Right, to celebrate this, I've decided I'm going to work alphabetically through my collection to post up reviews. Obviously the older and/or lesser-known games won't get quite as comprehensive a covering as more recent and well-known games. :D

E3 - Conference opinions

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Well, well, well, the major conferences are all done and dusted, and in all I'm a little surprised at the complete lack of show-stopping exclusive announcements from any of the three majors. Each had their own moments of mini-excitement, but overall a pretty tame affair.

I'm going to keep this quite brief as it's really just me rambling about what I felt. I watched the Nintendo and Sony conferences live this evening (British time) but have only read up and watched clips of the Microsoft conference.

Overall I think Sony owned this E3. They offered what was in my opinion the most consistent and considered conference which rarely deterred away from games. None of Nintendo's waffling on for 20 minutes about how they were dominating the market (something we all already knew), in place a strong focus on games. There weren't a bucketload of new games announced by Sony by any means, but what they did show was impressive and fairly exciting. The new Metal Gear Solid 4 footage in particular was amazing, and has re-infused my impatience to get a hold of this game (early 2008? eeek!).

As well as this, home and littlebigplanet both held their own, with home in particular really coming closer to showing off its full mettle and potential. It's been said before plenty of times, but there's no denying the pull and allure of combining gaming with the personal and interactive self-spaces of the likes of bebo, facebook, myspace etc. I loved the analogy of mixing itunes with myspace for the new singstar also - this could be very exciting indeed.

All told, for all their PR blunders and overpricing, I do genuinely think that where it counts Sony are innovating at a core strength more than even Nintendo. Casual gaming is at its absolute peak, and has exploded, but if Wii fit is anything to go by, I can see it wearing off sooner than expected. Where the wii looks like it is going to struggle is in truly original, strong titles - ok it's got the metroids and the marios, and they are definitely going to bolster it over the next year, but if anything, this E3 has worryingly made me think that my wii console is indeed going to be something of a fad to eventually be discarded. I've no doubt wii fit will inspire and entice to the same degree as wii sports, but how longer are Nintendo going to be able to continue dragging out essentially the same idea? I do believe it is a finite amount of time.

One of the things that actually surprised me and impressed me the most was the first playstation store game shown, I can't remember the exact title, but its simple graphics yet impressive 3D thinking really quite amazed me - showing off some fiendishly clever 3D thinking and manipulation - it's this kind of gameplay innovation, mixed with the likes of home and littlebigplanet which I think are really going to pull the ps3 from strength to strength, so long as the current cloud of hatred for the console can be overcome.

Halo 3 is looking rather nice visually (though not quite top tier), but my biggest concern is whether or not it is going to be fresh enough to have the same impact as its predecessors. I think the clout and quality of its title will be enough to pull it forward, but I'm having doubts it is going to be up to the standards of the original in particular in terms of its impact. Similar accusations could be levelled at Metroid Prime 3, but the wii-mote does look like it's going to keep things fresh and new.

What of the Wii zapper? Well initially I was curious, then thought it was a bit of a money-grabbing ploy, then when they announced such a low price I am settling on fairly impressed. There's no denying it is going to make FPS in particular much more fun to play, and I am now genuinely looking forward to the experience it will provide with Umbrella Chronicles. It looks like a fairly neat design, and whilst it is effectively nothing more than an alternate way of holding the wii remote and nunchuk, it is nonetheless far more accessible for the 'casual gamer' Nintendo are so enamoured towards.

Nowhere near as impressed regarding the wii wheel - I've already seen identical products in my local gamestation, so not exactly sure what Nintendo were trying to achieve with that. The new of a new Mario Kart is very good news indeed, and at last another quality title (i hope) to look forward to on the wii, but still nothing groundbreaking.

In fact, I think 'groundbreaking' is a term Nintendo have become a little blind towards. To me, it seems as though with the Wii (formerly revolution), innovation and revolution were the optimum drives for the company. Now though, with the huge success of the console and the likes of wii sports etc., they seem to have settled back more into a comfort zone for casual gaming, and the true potential of the console, and in particular the wiimote, seems to be getting a little overlooked. Had the wii not seld so brilliantly, do you really think wii fit would have been the chosen highlight for Nintendo's conference, or some title developed to really try and impress and stress the strengths and innovative potential of the remote.

In conclusion, it does seem like I'm bigging up Sony and bashing down Nintendo and Microsoft, but I genuinely believe Sony are the ones most responsible for pushing forward, and not settling back into enjoyable comfort zones that Nintendo and Microsoft seem to be relishing in. Maybe this is because Sony really have to prove themselves for once, but for whatever reason, I think it was they who shone brightest this E3.

Videogame franchise storylines... clear as mud?

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For my first editorial here on Gamespot, I've decided to tackle a subject which could be deemed a bit hypocritical of me. Take a glance at my games collection and you'll notice I have a penchant for videogames series, continuations of titles or videogaming brand names purely because of the thrill of familiarity and guarantee of a similar experience to that which I have loved in the past.

Resident Evil, Final Fantasy, Tomb Raider, Metal Gear Solid, Zelda, the list goes on. Videogame franchises such as these have already attained 'classic' status, but despite this, take a look at any and all of them, and it's hard not to become a little disgruntled at how there is always inevitably a point where the title itself, and the success that surrounds it, begins to overtake logic and, in particular, consideration to the series branching storylines.

Some franchises are able to get away with this to some extent, but only for a finite amount of time. Take a look at Final Fantasy, perhaps the most contradictory and innapropriate title bestowed upon a game series. As Square Enix go into their own over-drive of production, and enter a dubious period where the number of spin-off games are dwarfing that of core titles, it seems very few people in their company are really addressing the idea of the Final Fantasy mythos as a whole. At a time where there is continued pressure in the industry to address games as a viable 'art form' as opposed to just an entertainment bi-product, it's hard not to look at Square's Final Fantasy strategy and conclude they are thinking with their wallets over their responsibilities as 'artists' so to speak. One of the key means of identifying a 'series' of games under the same title usually falls upon a progressive or linked storyline of sorts. It's by no means necessary, but what other unifying link between games offers the samestrength ofbond as storyline or characters connections?

What Square Enix (formerly Square, then SquareSoft) have created with the Final Fantasy series is much more of a bricolage of different experiences and worlds which only share a very thin number of connections. Worlds and characters are rarely re-used, and whilst this always injects originality into the proceedings, when you look at how vastly different the likes of Final Fantasy X, XI and XII are in terms of content and gameplay, do they really all warrant the same overriding title, thus effectively being labelled as a progressive set of sequels? The times when characters and worlds are recycled, for example games such as Final Fantasy X-2 and Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, the resulting games seem to be fuelled only from the financial success of their predecessors, with the finished titles themselves being of a notably lower all-round quality, particularly when it comes to storyline.

Whilst this is of course steering off topic a little, getting back to the focus of the editorial -progressive series storylines - it does illustrate a considerable rejection of maintaning such a narrative through-line in the series unless it is financially profitable. But is such a continuum even that desirable to the paying public? The state of the Final Fantasy series may be a little all over the place to say the least, with the identity and strength of that title waxing and waning with so much deviation from its roots, but nonetheless the vast majority of titles, even though they do not have links with one another, offer strong, well developed storylines of their own.

It's a delicate balance, and seeing as most players would prefer a new, rich storyline over re-hashes or forced sequel narratives, at a base level, ignoring the lack of cohesion it once offered,Final Fantasy can just about be forgiven of its over-branching... just. If you are going to keep each instalment in a series fresh and new, even with throwaway references or allusions to previous instalments, then that's fine and acceptable, but really developers should be a bit braver in addressing whether or not this new, fresh experience deserves the same title, or should be labelled as something completely new. Whilst most of the time financial safety of labels such as 'Final Fantasy' prompt developers to tag them on even if they aren't really appropriate, some developers have been a lot braver, with one commendable example being Team Ico and SCE, who created the incredible 'Ico', and then the equally incredible 'Shadow of the Colossus', and despite allusions and references between the two titles, they were not so lazy or potentially greedy as to simply label Ico's successor as 'Ico 2'.

But what of the series which do not offer such fresh, individual instalments, and do indeed attempt to maintain a narrative through-line? It seems a sad fact that in this day of technical potency and visual brilliance, there are a lot of videogame series that are losing their way in terms of the over-arching story they are trying to tell. The incredible 'Legend of Zelda' series is an almost criminal example of this. Whilst they are individually each brilliant adventures, the core titles in this series in particular do follow a very similar template of structure in terms of storyline. You begin as innocent Link, things go wrong, you end up going round the world collecting and uncovering a greater truth, and usually end up teaming up with Zelda to defeat Ganon in one form or another. The familiarity between the titles gameplay elements and story structure just makes an overriding title compulsory - if, for example, Twilight Princess was released under any title other than 'The Legend of Zelda', nobody would be convinced, it simply is a 'Legend of Zelda' title.

So, in the case of Zelda, it is gameplay and structure which makes it title obligatory, but with the makers of the series being so reluctant to change the shape of the plot progression, and the gameplay itself, they really should step up to the mantle and address what is increasingly become an incredibly complicated, and somewhat convoluted 'legend' indeed. A UK gaming magazine I read a couple of years back attempted to fit the recently announced Twilight Princess into the grand scheme of things, and tried to fit all the previous titles together in terms of chronological progression etc., but even they were unable to do so.

Whilst it could be argued that the series were never intended to be organised into a series of relations with one another, that the titles do indeed all fall under the same title, and each instalment generally alludes to the others as having happened before, or even after, the current events,a basic inherent drive to try and place them in some form of order is created by the player. As with any given story, form and context are important, and when playing Twilight Princess after, say, The Wind Waker, its almost impossible to not try and place them in relation to one another chronologically, thought to do so is a little difficult, and there is no means of getting a definitive answer on whether or not you are correct. Attempt to throw Ocarina of Time, Link's Awakening, A Link to the Past etc. into the mix, and it becomes headache-inducingly difficult.

The through-line of the Resident Evil series offers a different set of conundrums, this time in the form of side-stories contradicting or not fitting within the overall arch of the narrative, and also the over-abundance of branching stories within the main narrative itself. Although there is very definitely a cohesion and clear forward thrust to the narrative of the Resident Evil games,it is not pure plain sailing. The move of Resident Evil 3 to act as both sequel and prequel to Resident Evil 2 by effectively splitting it into 2 acts between which Resident Evil 2 took place is not particularly complicated, and is welcomed by the many players who grow tired of a simple, straightforward linear narrative. However, in some places the Resident Evil series shows how branching the title of the series off can over-complicate, or even contradict.

Between Resident Evil: Code Veronica, the Resident Evil: Survivor games, Resident Evil: Gaiden and Resident Evil: Dead Aim, the number of T-Virus inflicted zones quadruples from 1 to 4, which leads to complications when characters from the other areas are included or referenced. Likewise, the resurrection of popular characters such as Ada Wong and Albert Wesker and the variety of conclusions some of the games offer adds complications and plotholes to the series story when considering the fact that their demise can be seen in a number of ways depending on how the player plays the game, and no definitive 'conclusion' to either Resident Evil 1 or Resident Evil 2 is offered. Albert Wesker, for example, dies in a number of differentways, with different witnesses,in both the original Resident Evil and its Gamecube remake, including some which make his 'resurrection with greater powers' impossible. Attempts at answering such plotholes and inconsistencies using the likes of 'Wesker's report' and Ada's equivalent, only manage to throw up even more questions.

Then take a look at titles such as Resident Evil: Gaiden, which, whilst not considered canon by most, nonetheless bears the 'Resident Evil' title and throws up circumstances which are later simply ignored, or makes future titles impossible. Gaiden, for example, has Leon infected with a virus which will either turn him into a Tyrant or kill him, and yet he is seen in Resident Evil 4 with no allusion to these events. For those who know Gaiden was produced independently and is not considered to be part of the official Resident Evil storyline (as complicated as it is), then this is of little consequence, they can dismiss the games story, but what of those who aren't aware of this fact, and try to fit Gaiden into the overall Resident Evil jigsaw?

Hopefully, further elaboration is unnecessary, as the point has been illustrated that even more streamlined series which offer progressive storylines really do seem to lose much of their cohesion and logic when they too fall prey to opening up the opportunity for spin-off chapters in particular, which rarely take up the responsibility of their cash-calling titles and give enough focus and dedication to the series continuing storyline.

Ultimately, as I hope this editorial has indicated, the state of a continuing narrative in most videogame series is continually becoming something of a convoluted and complicated affair. Whilst audiences grow increasingly more sophisticated and desire their games to be supported by stories with considerable depth, numerous layers, and sub-plots, many developers seem to be ignoring the primal need for some degree of cohesion and sensibility, and at the very least providing the players with a conclusive storyline, whilst at the same time trying their best to minimalise plotholes.

The prevalence of making profit, whilst an obvious imperative for all games developers, seems to be overshadowing such decisions as 'is this game really deserving of its title, or should it be labelled something new?', and more importantly 'where are we taking the storyline which players have already invested in - are we contradicting ourselves, are we confusing the bigger picture, and are we ultimately aiding or harming any sense of narrative cohesion?'.

Any videogame franchise which manages to inspire a good number of sequels is obviously born of a strong or popular premise - the likes of Metal Gear Solid, Zelda, Final Fantasy etc. are all titans of the videogaming world, and I myself anticipate and embrace the continued development of such wonderful titles. Nonetheless, being so popular gives these prestigious series, and their developers, an important responsibility, and surely they should be attempting to ensure that such titles remain pinnacles of not only gaming, but storytelling as well, and ensure the portfolio of experiences under this title are a collective unified group, and not just a rabble of different experiences under the same forebear, or a rough assembly of stories and events riddled with inconsistencies?

Of course, this editorial itself could be rendered entirely moot by some players who do not believe such an intricate handling and analysis of a games story is fitting or necessary. For some, gaming is about just that, and if a game they enjoyed garners a sequel, then the quality and continuation of the story may be a less pressing matter in comparison to the overall gaming experience. But really, it all comes back to that 'art' word again, and as more money, time, talent and creativity is poured into the games industry, surely it is something that the bastions of videogaming - the videogame series and franchises - should aspire to be? And with all mainstreamart, although there are always varying interpretations, there is nonetheless usually some sense of form and structure. It is a little disheartening then, and difficult to ignore as we enter the seventh generation of videogaming, that some of the most fundamental elements that unify so many mainstream art forms - the ability to label and acknowledge a clear, formal structure - are being overlooked and undermined in favour of financial gain and the inability to break free of the safe choice of an established, successful series title.

My gaming 'marathons'

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Just thought I'd post a separate entry about my summer gaming 'marathons'. I'm just curious how many others do a similar thing, which is essentially taking a series and going through it from start to finish over the course of the summer? I've given them some rather cheesy and awful titles playing on the whole 'athon' gag, and here's a list of ones I've done in the past:

THE SCARE-ATHON (2004)

This was my first gaming marathon, which Istarted back in the summer of 2004, and tackled the fantastic Resident Evil series of games. I spaced them out so that it finished just in time for the release of Resident Evil 4 in March 2005, and it all worked out pretty well. You're probably thinking completing such short games over an 8 month period is stretching it a little, but I was really exhaustive in my completions, unlocking all the game modes, hidden weapons etc (which usually requires numerous play-throughs of the main game) and so on and so forth. Anyway, the order of completion was:

- Resident Evil Zero (Gamecube)

- Resident Evil (Gamecube) (I do own the PSone version of the game but decided to opt for the superior gamecube remake for the sake of the 'Scare-athon' - I mean, who wouldn't!?)

- Resident Evil: Outbreak, File 1 (played it here because File 2 wasn't out yet, and Nikolai's activities in the final mission suggest it took place before Resi 3)

- First half of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis

- Resident Evil 2 (Playstation 2)

- Last half of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis

- Resident Evil: Code Veronica X

I didn't play any of the survivor games or Dead Aim (partly because I'm not a particular fan) and also because they don't really work with the overall story I was trying to follow.

You'll notice of course that I played the series out in progression of the storyline, and not the order of release. I tend to do this with all of my marathons, just lets you get a better feel for the series as a whole that way (though it can be a bit jarring, for example going from the resi remake to even outbreak).

THE EXPLORE-ATHON (2005)

The Explore-athon I started back in 2005 and was tackling the Tomb Raider series of games. Now there's a number of Tomb Raider titles or variants that I don't own (special extended PC versions for example), so it was quite a focused and streamline approach to the core games in the series. This time round the size of the games meant it was easier to stretch it over through to the release of 'Tomb Raider: Legend' which was released in 2006, although because that game seemed to be a re-invention of the storyline from the beginning, it wasn't overly jarring having play out as the last title in the marathon.

Here's the order I played them through. You'll notice I played the training level of The Last Revelation first, which was, I admit, a quite sedate introduction to the marathon, and then made the jump to Tomb Raider 1 quite jarring lol! Play through the training level then go back to the original, you'll see what I mean. Not huge differences, but quite significant!

- Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation training level (PSone)

- Tomb Raider (PSone)

- Tomb Raider 2 (PSone)

- Tomb Raider 3 (PSone)

- Tomb Raider Chronicles (PSone) - I know that Chronicles features the Irish levels in particular which go right back to when Lara was younger, but I wanted to play through 1, 2 and 3 rather progressively, and, with the exception of the level when Lara is a teenager, the other adventures could have feasibly all happened after TR3. Plus the fact that I wanted to play the last level to perfectly set up the frosty relationship between Lara and Von Croy in TLR...

- Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (PSone)

- Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness (PS2)

- Tomb Raider: Legend (Xbox)

THE DISTURB-ATHON (2006)

Tackling the Silent Hill series was a bit more difficult to decide, as, despite there being only 4 games, nonetheless only 2 of them have linked storylines, the other 2 are completely seperate entities. So I decided on the following order:

- Silent Hill (PSone)

- Silent Hill 3 (PS2) - Because this is a sequel to the original

- Silent Hill 2 (PS2)

- Silent Hill 4 (PS2)

The last 2 I played in that order just because it seemed logical! :)

THE QUEST-ATHON (2004+)

In 2004, I decided to recomplete Final Fantasy 7 (just because I love the game so much). Then in 2005 Idecided to follow suit and complete Final Fantasy 8, then last year Final Fantasy 9. I tentatively dubbed this the 'Quest-athon', but then when I bought a DS last year and then bought 'Final Fantasy: Dawn of Souls', which contains the 2 original Final Fantasy 1 and 2 games, I decided I would go right back to the start and do the complete Final Fantasy series one by one. Obviously the series don't share a singular storyline, so I decided to play them through in numerical order!

- Final Fantasy (GBA: Dawn of Souls)

- Final Fantasy 2 (GBA: Dawn of Souls)

And that's only as far as I've gotten! I'll hopefully be getting Final Fantasy 3 on the DS within the next week or so, then the quest-athon can continue! News that they are remaking Final Fantasy 4 for the DS means I'm really going to get everything I can out of Final Fantasy 3 to hopefully extend it through to the release of FF4 on DS. If there's still time left, I'll just have to be patient. Anyway, although I haven't completed these games, this is my plan for completion:

- Final Fantasy 3 (DS) - see above

- Final Fantasy 4 (DS) - see above

- Final Fantasy 5 (GBA or PSone) - don't own yet, will look at which is the better option, probably go for the GBA version

- Final Fantasy 6 (GBA or PSone) - seems like one of the titles where the inclusion of the FMV's would really benefit it, so I might opt for the PSone version

- Final Fantasy 7 (PSone) - own this, so no problem. I doubt that the potential 'FF7 remake' will even have been announced by the time I get here, unfortunately. Depends on how much play I get out of the previous 4 games though lol!

- Final Fantasy 8 (PSone) - again, own so no problem.

- Final Fantasy 9 (PSone) - ditto

- Final Fantasy X (PS2) - ownage

- Final Fantasy X-2 (PS2) - Only direct sequel in the series (except revenant wings), so of course has to be played following on from it.

- Final Fantasy XII (PS2) - I own this as well so another completion won't be a problem.

- Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings (DS) - Should have had a European release by this time!

You'll notice I've missed out Final Fantasy 11, for obvious reasons. It's not a game that can really be completed, per se, it's an online MMORPG so no one that'll really fit into my marathon. I *might* buy it and have a few weeks play around in Van'diel (or whatever it is called) just so I can say I experienced it throughout my marathon.

By the time I've gone through all of these, hopefully Final Fantasy XIII and versus XIII will be released, so they'll follow suit, in that order respectively!

I don't own a PSP so games like Crisis Core will be ommitted from the marathon unfortunately. Still pondering whether to include Final Fantasy Tactics in the marathon. I don't own it, but I've heard lots of good things about it, and it's getting a DS sequel, so the temptation is there!

Anyway, that's a little look into my mad marathons I've undertaken so far, but of course have plenty of plans to go on more! Metal Gear Solid's 'stealth-athon' is looking rather juicy, particularly when I include the likes of subsistance and substance, and would lead right up to Metal Gear Solid 4 later this year/early 2008.

If you read through all that, I applaud you lol! :)

Till next time,

Au Revoir!

~Ellythrion~

Summer 2007 gaming plans!

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Well this second blog post is going to be a casual one - I do intend to get a few editorials up on here, particularly seeing as how I've got a good chunk of time off from University this summer, but I'm also going to be posting casual blog posts just tracking my news and views on the gaming world!

With Summer being (fortunately) a rather bare slate for me, with only a handful of commitments and prior plans, I can really get on with completing some of my back catalogue of games which have been sat gathering dust when they simply don't deserve it!

So the following games I'm hoping to either complete, or at least have a good crack at over the summer:-

* The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PS3)

* Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (DS)

* Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice for All (DS)

* Okami (PS2)

* Ico (PS2)

* Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrows (DS)

There's also quite a few games I wanna get over the summer, but I'm going to try and put off buying them until I've completed a few of the above. They're not all the ones I own I still need to complete either ,but they're the ones I'm gonna focus on. Then I can get on with buying Residnet Evil 4 and Sonic and the Secret Rings for Wii (just gotta fuel that bit of sonic fun!), The Darkness for PS3 (the twin-daemon heads looks too tempting to resist!), Final Fantasy 3 (continuing on with my 'questathon') and a couple of others.

My bank balance is trembling at the thought of it!

Still, summer has been pretty strong games-wise so far, I've completed:

* Tomb Raider: Anniversary (PS2)

* The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii)

* Final Fantasy: Dawn of Souls (GBA, using the DS)

So anyway, enough of that rambling, it was as much for my own sake as anything else, but I'm greatly looking forward to the many hours of gaming experience the summer still has in store!

On that thought... gasp!... we're half way through the year today. That's just insane!

A New Generation, A New Herald!

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Greetings to any and all, and welcome to what will eventually/hopefully be a rather expansive collection of videogame-centric musings and ramblings from my slightly unstable yet ever intrepid mind! Countless have been the times I've sat about doing something or the other, not necessarily gaming related, and the odd thought or phrase has leapt into my mind as if I should write it in a column or something of the sort. Whilst I don't claim to have the quality of writing that the majority of columnists have (unless they are in printed tripe like Heat! or Touch! etc.) nonetheless I do enjoy having the occasional ramble and rant about the state of affairs in the gaming world, whilst also analysing and reviewing my latest game purchases and completions.

As such I've opened this blog to complement the review I have began posting, and will hopefully contribute here on a regular basis, covering a wide variety of topics, including my annual Ellythrion awards, where I award the best in games I have played over the past year (I also cover TV and Film, but will leave that for elsewhere).

Anyway, as blog openings and introductions go, that one was pretty sucky, so hopefully things will get better here soon! I can't say when my next post will be or what it will be on (my guess is it will probably wander almost aimlessly through a variety of topics), but seeing as I recently purchased a PS3, I'm guessing it will probably be tackling all the questions surrounding the machine - 'is it worth the price?', 'what are the numerous media functions like' etc.

Till then, I hope you enjoy reading the reviews I've posted so far. At the moment only Final Fantasy 12, God of War 2 and Shadow of the Colossus are up and running, but they are pretty expansive reviews and all for excellent games. I'm a fairly kind reviewer, and usually allow the score to speak for itself, but rarely if ever will a game escape getting a paragraph or two on its flaws in my reviews. Also, I rarely throw the BIG scores (9.8-10) out without some serious consideration and love for the game.

With that all said, I look forward to posting on here soon and reading your comments on my reviews etc (if you can leave any? I'm new to this gamespot blog business!).

~Ellythrion~