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GregK Blog

Bastion

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I left GameSpot nearly five years ago to pursue my lifelong dream of getting into game development. I've worked on several games in that time but Bastion is the one that's far and away the most personal since our team was so small. It's also the first game I've worked on as writer and creative director. If you have a chance to try it, please let me know what you think.

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Best Wishes

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Here's to a fun and interesting 20XX. May you never pay to play a bad game.

Gerstmann Goes Off

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Jeff Gerstmann and I got to work together at GameSpot for 10 years. It seems he didn't get a chance to properly say goodbye here this week. This is simply the opinion of a longtime fan of this site: As the longest-tenured GameSpot editor, Jeff Gerstmann deserved a respectful send-off.

My last day at GameSpot was pretty good. It was on a Tuesday early this year. I had already packed up my stuff, had already told my team I was leaving and where I was going and what I was going to do next, and that I believed in them. What I really wanted to do was put in one last day's work at the site. I shot a video review, submitted and prepared a few pieces of content including a final review of mine, met with my closest colleagues, made my rounds with some of the others I'd always wished I got to talk to more, and tied up what seemed like a last few loose ends. I had a brief exit interview as well. It was an oddly liberating experience. As great as it was to work at GameSpot, I rarely felt a sense of closure at the job, because there was always lots more work to be done and more I could have been doing. The game industry never stops, and there are always more games I could be playing. It occurred to me that most of the closure I'd been feeling over the past decade came from finishing games.

I shouldn't lump myself into the same category as Jeff because we're pretty different people in spite of us having the same feelings about games and similar perspectives on a lot of subjects related to games. But I think guys like him and me see closure as a nice-to-have. We'd rather be moving on to our next assignment. So I said my goodbyes here in January not to provoke and get off on the generous flattery provided by a subset of people who took the time to respond, but to provide what I considered to be a basic, human courtesy to all those people who were familiar with my work over time. Some of those people hated my guts for all I knew--they had a right to know I was leaving same as anyone else. So then, to those of you familiar with Jeff's work: You should rest assured he'd take the opportunity to do what I did, not because we presume to know it's the "right" thing to do, but because we basically trust our instincts. It's not hard--it's rather easy--to imagine him saying goodbye here in his own way. And I have every faith that we'll be hearing from him again soon. I look forward to that moment.

As for the rest of the team that makes GameSpot's content: What you do next is more important than what you've done already. Every day you should be reminding yourselves that, because of the magic of the Internet, someone could just flip a switch that causes everything you've ever done here to just vanish. But the influence of your actions never disappears, and whatever integrity or credibility this site has gathered over the years is due to your hard work. I have no right to telling you what to do. But as a user of this site, I've come to expect a lot, and I know you listen.

Master Chief says it best: "We'll be fine."

And that's all I wanted to say here and I don't have anything more to add.

To Live and Die in L.A.

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Today marks one week since I started my new job as an associate producer at Electronic Arts Los Angeles. For my first assignment, I'm getting to help wrap production on the PC version of Command & Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars. I'll also be taking in a lot of new information about the process here, hopefully without getting underfoot during a busy and exciting time. In short, it feels good to be on the team. Going into this, I had an idea of the types of people I wanted to work with and what types of games I wanted to work on, and all of that seems to be here. I'm also lucky to be working alongside and learning the trade from one of my former GameSpot colleagues, Mr. Amer Ajami, whom I owe a lot to for paving the way for me.

I really appreciated the show of support and good faith in response to my previous post; I owe a lot to you, too. After all, thanks to you I think my family finally gets what the hell it is I've been doing with my life. Let me make you a promise: For each game I get to work on, from this first project onward, I will keep you in mind and do everything I can to help ensure you won't be disappointed if you decided to play it.

All the best to my comrades at GameSpot.

See You On the Other Side

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I'm usually not one for long goodbyes, but I think I owe you an explanation, since we've known each other all these years. Recently I made the decision to resign from my post as editor-in-chief of GameSpot to pursue my ambition of becoming a game developer--a gamemaker, as the head of the studio I'm joining calls it. My friends, family, and close colleagues have known that making games has always been my goal. But breaking into that business is hard, and I wasn't going to do it until I was ready. At last, when faced with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get my foot in the door and contribute to one of my favorite gaming franchises, I still didn't have an easy time making the choice. That's because, in case it hasn't been abundantly clear, I love this job.

Some of the guys here I've been working with for a long time, and we've been through a lot together. I know I'll miss seeing them every day. But my decision is made more comfortable knowing that I leave you in their very capable hands. My longtime comrades like Jeff Gerstmann, Ricardo Torres, Andrew Park, and Ryan Mac Donald have an extraordinary understanding of the history of games as well as how to make great, innovative gaming Web sites. I've been working closely with them on a plan that will take GameSpot into a new era in 2007 and beyond. I feel less sad to part ways with them at this time, knowing that our paths will surely cross again, because we're in this business for the long haul.

I've also been lucky to work with a great, very talented and dedicated editorial team--the best in the world at what it does. I have utmost faith in the people on this team, as well as many others here at GameSpot, whose names you don't know and faces you haven't seen but who've worked every bit as hard as the rest of us, behind the scenes, trying to make the best of every situation and always supporting our coverage efforts.

What's always driven me while working at GameSpot is the knowledge that there are many other people out there who'd practically kill to do what we do. It's people like you, whom I've been writing to all this time. I've been in the fortunate position to hire people like you, and I know all that separates me from you is that I got here first. In turn, I urge you, if you have the ambition to do this type of work for a living, to keep pushing yourself to make it become a reality. There's no reason that a guy like me, who's always intended to wind up doing something else (even if it's something in the same vein), should get to do this instead of you.

I joined GameSpot in 1996 as an intern who'd just stumbled through his first year of college. I've been working here for more than a third of my life and writing about games professionally for closer to half my life. I believe I got here because I was able to manage getting a good education while gaining practical experience by playing and writing about a lot of games. Essentially, this is what I chose to do with my life, and it's taken up most of my time ever since. On some level I feel like I could happily do this till the day I die. But I've wanted to make games since I was eight, and writing about them was always meant to be an intermediate step in a longer-term plan. Then I fell in love with this stuff and the years flew by. Yet the intent to work on games never faded and I expect and hope it never will. I need to give that a shot, see how it goes.

My thanks to you for believing in what we do here at GameSpot. Know that we've always valued your criticism much more than your praise; you've kept us honest, kept us up late, and kept us motivated all along. My thanks also to all my colleagues here, whom I've always considered my brothers in arms, not just coworkers. And special thanks to my predecessors at GameSpot: Vince Broady, who founded this site and whose ideals remain at the heart of it; Joe Fielder, Elliott Chin, and Trent Ward, former heads of GameSpot editorial whose great influence and ultimate decisions to move on paved the way for people like me to step up and try to live up to their reputations; and Ron Dulin, who not only taught me most of what I know, but took a chance on hiring a kid like me in the first place. I'm also very grateful to my wife Jenna, who's always been patient and understanding about my work and my attachment to games, even after the birth of our daughter.

I've been lucky to have this job. As an immigrant to this country, I'm not cynical about the American dream, and have tried to work hard in exchange for a life that's had no hardship in it. The hardest thing I've ever had to do is gather up the guts to ask out this one girl I had a terrible crush on in college. In the moments leading up to my inviting her to a cup of coffee ("I don't drink coffee, and I have a boyfriend"), I was terrified. But I also knew I'd always regret it if I didn't take the chance. Afterwards, I felt that any other difficult decision I'd ever have to make wouldn't be as frightening and nerve-wracking as that one. The thought process about leaving GameSpot is similar for me, though I'm quite a bit more optimistic about the likely outcome. After all, games have always been a big part of my life and had a positive, enlightening influence on me, so I feel there's a lot I need to give back to them. If you feel the same way about games as I do, thanks for keeping the faith and knowing both how important and unimportant gaming really is. Thank you for letting me do this job.


Now then: With all that sentimental stuff out of the way, I leave you with The Real Top 10 Reasons Why I'm Leaving GameSpot:

10. Gamerscore won't catch up to Jeff Gerstmann's by itself.

9. Lost a bet about the Nintendo DS.

8. Editors-in-chief don't score with chicks.

7. Ran out of shelf space for more games.

6. Heard all the cool kids are doing it.

5. Arcades are dead.

4. Caved to pressure from online petition about Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell review score.

3. Thinking about getting back into World of Warcraft.

2. Getting free games felt like cheating.

1. Wants to earn one of those Editors' Choice awards.

Goodbye for now. Until next time.

2006 Year in Review, Abridged

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The following video was appropriated without shame from the blog of GameSpot managing producer Mr. Tim Tracy, of "Cooking with Tim" fame. Later this week, our Best and Worst of 2006 Awards will be going into considerable detail about all that's gone down during the past 12 months. But this video sort of says it all:

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How does that old fortune cookie expression go? "May you live in interesting times"?

New Halo 3 Screens: Snoozefest

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Come on, Bungie...

I flipped through the new batch of Halo 3 screenshots about three times and, much like the process of heat conduction, my excitement drained away into something like anger and frustration. Here's a shot of a couple of master chiefs jumping. Here's a Warthog. Here's a big, tower-like structure on a meadow near a mountain. It's all in higher resolution and shinier than ever before. It's like they did a brain-scan on everybody and delivered to them exactly, precisely the screenshots they would have most expected.

You know what makes Halo: Combat Evolved one of the greatest games of all time? It doesn't just play great; it surprised and even shocked people. It took some smart, calculated risks with its design and presentation. It might have looked like any other first-person shooter on the surface, but in many ways, it went against the grain.

I'd be an idiot to think Bungie wasn't holding back a ton of interesting information on Halo 3. But I just don't understand the value in releasing a bunch of screenshots such as these. I'm sure Halo's True Believers are swooning with excitement right about now, but how about the rest of us, the people who think Halo 3 is going to have a really tough time living up to the extremely high standards that have been set by games like Gears of War, F.E.A.R., and many others since Halo 2? Has Bungie painted itself into a corner by crafting such an elaborate fiction around Halo that it won't allow the company to take any creative liberties or design risks with the next installment? And yes, I did see the new little ATV buggy in that one screenshot. No, it doesn't count.

Take a page from Spider-Man 2, a movie that defied audiences' expectations, paradoxically by giving them precisely the pay-off that they most wanted but least expected from a big-budget Hollywood sequel. Show us an image of the Master Chief with his helmet half-shattered, exposing a glimpse of his determined, bloodied face behind it as he attempts a desperate last stand against a mysterious and extremely powerful enemy. Show us the Master Chief locked in a brutal hand-to-hand struggle or bulldozing a foe with his armored shoulder. I want to see kinetic action and intensity. The Halo series is rated M, remember?

I don't want to see what looks just like Halo 2 in higher-res with the same old rag-doll physics and a couple of predictable new weapons and vehicles. I don't want to see the Master Chief standing around, as much as I like the idea of having the assault rifle back. I want to be excited for this game. I'd love to see the Halo series become a real dynasty, not just something we look back on and see as the original Xbox's defining games, while the 360 earned its own, superior games.

Bungie is one of those developers that's succeeded through multiple generations of gaming technology, and successfully transitioned between many different platforms. I know those guys have played great games like The Chronicles of Riddick and Gears of War from top to bottom, and I know they must have a lot of great, original ideas of their own, since they always have. So I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that Halo 3 won't just go the safest, most obvious route by taking a squeaky-wheel-gets-the-grease approach.

It's About the Games, Remember?

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We've got them at the office, but I don't have a Wii or a PlayStation 3 to call my own yet. I'd like to get a Wii before the year is out so I could play more Trauma Center, Zelda, and Virtual Console games on my own time. Having played through Resistance: Fall of Man already, I'm in no immediate hurry to get a PlayStation 3. Around the time of the launches, people kept asking which one they should get; now it's become fairly clear that the Wii is in the lead, in the short run, though this was easy to predict based purely on the supply estimates, the pricing, and on the Wii having a Zelda game at launch. But the best choice of console this year is the Xbox 360, or if you're on a tighter budget, the DS Lite. At this point I'd rather have my Xbox 360 not just more than any other game system available, but more than every other game system available, combined.

It'll be interesting to see what happens one or two years down the line. Certainly, the momentum that these consoles pick up or lose in the short run will influence where they wind up over the long run. But there are other factors. Right now, nothing in the PlayStation 3's lineup looks nearly as good as Gears of War on the Xbox 360. But that's not an entirely fair comparison, given that the Xbox 360 has had a year to come into its own. Compare the PS3 launch titles against the Xbox 360 launch titles from a year ago, and then the relative technical advantages of the PS3 begin to stand out. So the question becomes, will the PS3's graphical muscle let it accelerate past the Xbox 360 during the next year or two, as developers begin to tap into more of its power and get more time to deliver better games? Or will it be a case of too little, too late? The Xbox was graphically superior to the PlayStation 2 straight out of the gate, but never came close to selling as many consoles.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen if the Wii truly has "legs" to keep it going strong for several holiday seasons past this one. I can appreciate Nintendo's graphics-aren't-important approach, but in another year or two when Gears of War-quality graphics are the standard, will the Wii's technical limitations become a major inadequacy, or will most people still not care? For my part, having played some good Wii games and some bad ones, I remain skeptical of the system's long-term prospects. The control scheme is different from the standard, but I'm a long way away from wanting to call it better.

I know people who are so into video games and collecting video games that they automatically buy every new console as soon as it comes out. I've never been one of those people. I never bought a 3DO, I never bought an Atari Jaguar, and I only bought a NeoGeo once Samurai Shodown came out. I didn't buy a GameCube, PlayStation 2, or Xbox until months after those systems launched. On the other hand, I bought systems like the SNES, the PlayStation, and the Dreamcast on day one. It's always been about the games for me, and that's why I think the Xbox 360 is the real no-brainer right now. It proved itself earlier this year with Oblivion, Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, Fight Night Round 3, and others, and it's only gotten better. Meanwhile, the dust is settling on the launches of the other guys, and as far as I'm concerned, they both have a lot left to prove.

Next year, I'd be willing to bet they're going to prove it. They have to. Some people are talking like this race is over; Sony's in last place, the other two guys are close. But it's only just beginning.

Because F-Zero is one of the Better Wii Launch Titles

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This was a week to remember here at GameSpot. The PS3 and Wii launches happening so close together presented an interesting challenge even for a relatively large editorial team like the one we've assembled here, so we decided to split our efforts between bringing you the best coverage of the launch events themselves, and bringing you the best reviews of the launch titles. Of course it's yours and not ours to decide whether we succeeded in this, but for my part, it's been fun and intense working with this team on these launches, being around so many hard-working people at all hours.

Having said that, the main reason I'm writing is because one of the wild cards during this process was the Wii's Virtual Console service. We basically knew what it was going to be, but we didn't know exactly how it was going to shape up. When we learned that the service had launched on Saturday, we quickly investigated, and decided that this initial batch of titles would be worth reviewing after all. It was my pleasure to review several of the first batch myself: Altered Beast, F-Zero, and Sonic the Hedgehog.

There are three reasons we're reviewing the Wii's Virtual Console games:
1) They cost real money and they've available for purchase on a new console that seems like it's going to be very popular.

2) We think you might be interested to know our verdicts on these games, and might appreciate our ability to direct you to the best of them.

3) Some of these games are fantastic and we want to play them again or for the first time.

We decided on four guiding principles for our reviews of Virtual Console games, which will be kept short and to the point:
1) To put each game in proper historic context and take advantage of our editorial team's first-hand knowledge of the history of games. A lot of us played these games as kids.

2) To comment on the emulation quality and gameplay using the Wii Remote and/or GameCube controller and Classic Controller.

3) To comment on how each game holds up to current standards. Is it still fun to play? How long does it last?

4) To discuss the value proposition. Is it a good deal for the Wii points? Some of the prices seem pretty steep, like $8 for Genesis games and $10 for Nintendo 64 games.

A lot of us at GameSpot have come to really enjoy what's on offer on the Xbox Live Arcade service, so we've got high hopes for what happens with Virtual Console as well as the PlayStation 3's pay-per-download program (we've reviewed the PS3's first two downloadable games already: Blast Factor and Cash Guns Chaos). We'll be very curious to see how it pans out, since, even though it's up and running, we still have some questions. But as you'll see from our reviews, some of this first batch of games are well worth it. For now, we intend to keep reviewing Virtual Console games in batches, and will use your feedback and our experiences to decide how best to proceed from there. I look forward to reading some of your reviews of these old games as well.

A Good Time

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You know you're having a Good Time when, right in the middle of your very first quality time alone with the Wii--playing Trauma Center, what else?--you're interrupted by word that the PlayStation Network has finally launched. So you quickly plug the PS3 back in, go through kind of a convoluted registration process, and download a MotorStorm demo and start playing it. You also scope the two pay-per-download PS3 games, and quickly work your way through the decision of whether it'd be faster to review one of those or the Wii game you were playing in the first place. You decide to stick to your guns. You observe, for the first time, that the Wii remote is a little heavier than the Sixaxis. Must be the double-A batteries. You realize you like both of these controllers and you're really impressed with the Wii remote in particular since it's different and feels good and solid, like it's tougher than it looks. And before you go back to trying to save the life of the little sister of your med school friend with a dark secret, you decide to type all this up. It's only Wednesday.