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Left Stick Runs, Right Stick Shoots

It's hard to believe that here, now, in 2007, there's been this crazy rebirth of the dual joystick shooter. It was the genre that Robotron: 2084 built, but it's also the genre the Geometry Wars sort of reinvented. Now, with two of the three consoles having download services for original games, and Nintendo's on the way, the stage is set for all kinds of original casual or arcade-like "little" games to get distribution.

Yet it seems like everyone involved just wants to make yet another dual joystick shooter.

With last week's release of Super Stardust HD, the PS3 crept up to three dual joystick shooters. Also, the Smash TV sequel, Total Carnage, is headed for PS3, so that will probably be the fourth. The 360 has Geometry Wars, Robotron, Smash TV, Crystal Quest, and Mutant Storm. Plus there's a Mutant Storm sequel in the works, and with PGR4 in the pipeline, hopefully Bizarre Creations will put out a true sequel to Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved at some point.

Wait, did I just say "hopefully?" I swear, it's like we're drowning in these shooters, yet I'm totally ready to play another one. I can't explain what it is about these games that I like so much, but all the way back to Robotron: 2084 and Cloak & Dagger, I've been a sucker for these sorts of games.

But here's what I'd really like to see, at this point. Midway needs to start creating sequels and updates to its old arcade games. And I don't mean stuff like L.A. Rush or yet another lame Rampage sequel. I mean go ahead and make games that are modest in scope and true to their arcade roots, and release them as brand-new downloadable games. Midway, at one point before the arcade business totally fell apart, had a design in the works for a Smash TV sequel. It was apparently meant to be a four-player table top configuration, with one player at each side of the machine, all looking down at the screen, sort of like Sega's Hot Rod or something. Certainly, someone over there has to have that document kicking around. So why not pick it up, dust it off, and finish it? Design it as it was originally meant to be, with the scope an arcade game is supposed to have. Then ship it out for $10-15 on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, complete with online play. Hey, it can't get any worse than putting out games of Hour of Victory, right? So why not go back to what works?

Other developers could certainly take this sort of approach, but the key is being smart about it. Look at what Namco did with Pac-Man Championship Edition. That's a very smart update to an old concept that manages to update the entire thing and makes it feel modern without losing the nostalgic look and feel of the original. They didn't take Pac-Man and make him some dark, brooding goth or something "edgy" like that. They clearly designed that game with care.

Atari's another company attempting to do full remakes of its old games on Xbox Live Arcade. Centipede/Millipede is already out, and Missile Command is out this week. The problem is that the developers of the new games totally rebuilt the games, and the end result looks like some gaudy Flash game that you'd expect to see churned out for free on any number of Newgrounds.com rip-offs or perhaps some freeware downloadable PC clone. None of the timing of the original is there. None of the graphics and sound seem to make it over. Outside of the basic concept and the fact that a (poorly) emulated version of the original game is part of the package, it has almost nothing to do with the classics. These games feel like they're being designed with absolutely no care for the original, and that's unfortunate.

How many more dual joystick shooters can the market possibly sustain? I'm going to take a guess and say that this style of game will be somewhat hot for at least the rest of this year. But in 2008, I can't imagine we'll still care about these shooters. But, then, I probably said the same thing after Total Carnage came to arcades, too. Ultimately, all I know is that I'd like to see more intelligent remakes and upgrades of yesterday's arcade classics. That'd sure beat some of the ugly stuff we're getting these days...

Letter from the Editor, 06/29/2007 - Our Reviews, Your Questions!

Hey there! Welcome to the other side. It's been a full week since we announced details of our new rating system, and today marks the first full work week of us using that new rating system in all our reviews. So far, I'm pretty excited with how it's worked out. I feel like a jerk for even having to address this, but yeah, I actually mean that. I'm actually pretty excited. A few of you even insinuated that we, the GameSpot reviews department, has been "put up to this" by our "soulless corporate overlords" or something. A couple of things:

1) This rating system overhaul originated right here in the reviews department. We've been talking off and on about our rating system for years now. Late last year, we started formulating this current system.

2) Our corporate overlords aren't soulless. Weird, I know.

Naturally, the reaction to GameSpot's new rating system hasn't been 100 percent positive. It's perfectly normal to fear change, and changing something as serious as the way we recommend games is clearly going to cause some backlash. We've been doing this whole "web site" thing for a while now, so we knew going in that it'd set the message boards on fire. Actually, I'm surprised that we got as much positive feedback as we did. After all, it's a pretty major change. Regardless of your thoughts, thanks for posting in this blog and on our message boards in such a passionate way.

So, now that those posts have been stacking up for some time now, I felt it'd be good to take a few of the more common complaints, misconceptions, and questions and try to address them here. Let's start with the biggest one I've seen so far...

"You're dumbing down the review system by removing the component scores."
I'd say there's more to the rating system than there's ever been. Dropping the component scores has paved the way for the medal system, which is like taking the five component scores that we had previously and splitting them 60+ different ways. Before, when we gave a game a Sound 8, for example, you had to go in and figure out if that was because of the voice work, the music, the effects, and so on. Now when a game has particularly great voice acting, or an outstanding art style, or awesome competitive multiplayer, we can call that out specifically, right at the top of the review. On a similar note, if a game doesn't receive any medals at all, good or bad, you can take that to mean that the game has a lot of average of inoffensive qualities. Final Fantasy Anniversary Edition is our first no-medal review, and with a score of 6.5 backing it up, it's the sort of game that doesn't break anything--including new ground.

"Where's the difficulty and learning curve?"
Though they haven't actually been used yet, we have medals called Too Easy, Punishing Difficulty, and Just Right to reflect the things that matter about a game's difficulty. Once games start earning them, I think you'll agree that they say a lot more about a game than a box that just says "Medium, 30 minute learning curve."

"How was 8.2 vs. 8.4 difficult to understand?"
The old rating system was never really designed for the type of comparisons that many people used it for. In some ways, it still isn't. Our rating has always been designed to be an overall rating of that game's quality compared to the standards of the system it appears on at the time of its review. Once you start factoring time into this, comparing two similar scores and saying "well, obviously the 8.4 is better than the 8.2" actually might not be accurate. This becomes even more of an issue once you start comparing games from different genres. All we wanted to say with either of those scores is that the game is great, overall. This new scoring system better reflects our position on games.

To some extent, though, changing the review scale to 19 points lets it be a bit more meaningful for cross-platform comparisons, too. We've been deliberately avoiding any discussion about the re-rating of old games, primarily because we're not going to go back into the database and change any scores. But let's play out one "what if?" scenario, just for the heck of it. Take, for example, last year's Nintendo release, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. It received an 8.8 on the Wii. It received an 8.9 on the GameCube. But when it came time to assign the "best" tag, that tag went to the Wii. On the surface, that seems like utter madness, doesn't it? Now, of course, if you dig into the pages about our rating system, you'd get that we're comparing games to other games on the same console and so on and so forth. Under the new system, both of those games would have received the same score, leaving the "best" tag as your indicator for which version you should choose while simultaneously saying that both are great games. This more accurately reflects our position while also being easier for everyone to understand.

We feel that the scores of the old reviews mesh well with the new system, and that's a big part of why we stuck with a scale that stops at 10 and not some ridiculous star system or something. Also, this change definitely doesn't mean that our scores are going to start creeping higher, unless games start getting a lot better. Is it possible for a game to earn a 10.0? Yeah, it always has been, but it's going to continue to be exceedingly rare.

Similarly, our Editors' Choice award is a very big deal. We don't give it out too frequently, and it's going to stay that way. Only the best of the best are going to hit that 9.0 mark.

"I understand that you want to give the graphics score a different weight for a brain training game than for a FPS, but why don't you just do that? I don't see why you can't use a different scoring scheme for different types of games if you want to adjust the graphics score."
A different weighting system for each type of game would be a billion times more confusing than any review system we've ever had. Remember, the main idea is that our take on a game should be easy to understand, regardless of how interested you are in games. That's not about "appealing to the mainstream" or anything like that, because the people on our own forums, people that use this site every day, people who use the word "casual" in a negative sense, have arguments based on their own personal misinterpretation of our reviews.

"The text in The Good and The Bad just rehashes the same thing that the medals say."
Part of that is by design, but we're still experimenting with the best way to say what needs to be said in The Good and The Bad. I've been comparing the whole system to the inverted pyramid style of writing, which news stories use to convey the most important information at the top, and then get more specific as you go. At the top of our inverted pyramid, you have the review score. Some people will see that and stop right there. We think there's more to gain by reading the full review, but hey, some people aren't going to get past the number. That's fine, thanks for coming by, come back soon. But if you see the number and desire more information, there's the medals. Maybe you stop there, or perhaps you're still curious and proceed to The Good and The Bad, where things get more specific. At that point, you should have a fairly good base-level picture of the game in question. If you're left with questions at that point, then proceed to our full review and get all the specific details.

"How could you roll out this change without running it by us first?"
This gets right back to that whole "we fear change" thing I was talking about earlier. Additionally, it'd be hard to put out test cases of the new reviews without reviewing the games under both scoring systems, which wouldn't make any sense at all. Rest assured that we did put a lot of effort into this new system and bounced it off of various trusted individuals with a variety of interest levels in video games before setting it in stone.

If you got this far, thanks for reading! We're happy that you care about our reviews just as much as we do, and we definitely don't take these sort of changes lightly. Keep that feedback coming--we do read everything even though we don't have time to personally respond to all of it--and have a rad weekend. Oh, and if you're reading this on an iPhone, let me know how it looks. Thanks.

Blind Item!

Let's play a fun game. I'll post the "Wow, this game is messed up" notes I've been taking for a review that's running soon. You see if you can guess what game I'm talking about!

--

lock up - tank drives up against university, seems to sit there, game hard locks

the guy falls over dead before the sniper bullet actually gets there

bad AI
- guys standing around
- guys shooting at you, then resetting or something and not shooting
- running around in circles
- don't notice you

constantly get hung up on geometry

range for interactive objects (picking up explosives, using rope) seems random

multiplayer: tanks clipping through the ground that somehow "run you over" when you get close to them, since they're jiggling there while clipping through the level, they're technically "in motion"

bad frame rate in cutscenes

ugly character faces

bad textures

tank piloting pretty much broken

"someone just died" music cuts off before completing in multiplayer

melee attack is the most effective attack in the game - one hit kills that mow through rows of troops in no time

guy you escort sticks on parts of level, warps ahead when needed

enemy shooting from 10 feet away, can barely hear his gun (surround and regular speakers)

captions don't match the dialogue

thankfully, only a handful of players online

poor achievements expect you to play each level three times, once as each character

[UPDATE] The answer is, of course, Midway's Hour of Victory:

http://www.gamespot.com/xbox360/action/hourofvictory/review.html?sid=6173411

Letter from the Editor, 06/22/2007

Early next week, GameSpot will give a facelift to our Gamespace pages. Those are the review, preview, and news-related pages that you see whenever you're looking for specific information about a single game. Part of this facelift is designed to give you faster, easier access to the most important information we have on any given game. Part of this facelift will give you things like larger screenshots in the bodies of stories, and other important design tweaks. But that's not why I'm writing to you.

Early next week, and for the first time in its eleven-year history, GameSpot will also change the way it scores and reviews games. As someone who's been here for most of those eleven years, this isn't something I take lightly. We've been working on this update for quite some time now, and I'm excited to finally get to tell you all more about it. Why we're making this change is probably more important than how we're changing it, so let's start there. In case you haven't noticed, the game industry is changing at a rapid rate. The rise of microtransactions, downloadable content, greater differences in horsepower between the various PC and console platforms, and so on. Also, the types of games we're playing have also changed. Genres that didn't exist when GameSpot was first launched back in 1996, like rhythm games, or the sudden rise in brain training simulators, are now prevalent, and selling on shelves right alongside the first-person shooters, real-time strategy games, and role-playing games that have been there for years.

sneak preview

GameSpot's approach to scoring games has, up until now, involved a mathematical formula based on five component scores: graphics, sound, gameplay, value, and reviewer's tilt. That formula has served us well. But here in 2007, a weighted formula like that might not apply to every single game out there. With our previous system, every single point given to gameplay adds 0.3 to the overall score. Every point of graphics adds 0.2 or 0.1, depending on how the rounding works out. Every point of sound adds 0.1, and so on. The assumption that system makes is that graphics are just as important in a driving game as they are in a rhythm game. You shouldn't need me to tell you that they aren't. As time goes on, and more cases like these surface, our review system is starting to show a little age.

You're busy. You don't have time to stare at one game that got a 5.2 and another that got a 5.3 and puzzle out what the big difference is. You probably don't want to refer back to our increasingly-long document that discusses precisely how GameSpot scores games. And you don't always have time to look over every single word we write in a review. We'll, we're not going to change the way we write our full reviews, but that's OK. We forgive you. In fact, you could say that we're rewarding you with a new scoring system that is designed to give you more information about a game's quality up front, to help you quickly decide if a game interests you or not. If that top-level information interests you, then our full review will answer that all-important question...

"Should I buy this game or not?"

That top-level info will consist of one overall score on a 19-point scale that speaks to the overall quality of a game. That's 1.0 to 10.0 with half-step increments. Component scores, like graphics and sound, will no longer be a part of GameSpot's score. With fewer scores to choose from, our review team will be able to speak more definitively about games. By eliminating scores like 7.9, we're no longer able to say "this game is almost great, but not quite. Now our choices will be to say "yes, this is a great game" and give it an 8.0, or say "this game is good, but not great" and go with a 7.5. While I'll personally miss the ability to give games a 6.8, I look forward to eliminating quibbles about the quality differences between games that are only a tenth of a point apart.

Now, don't take the elimination of component scores to mean that we're losing the ability to call out games that have great graphics, sound, gameplay, value, and so on. In fact, this is one part of the system that will give reviewers more flexibility. Below the score, in the section currently called The Good & The Bad, we'll have room to display "medals." And these medals will let us quickly display a game's strengths and weaknesses right up front, and in greater detail than the component system allowed for. For example, we'll have multiple medals for graphics, including one for a game's technical proficiency and one for its artistic design. On the flipside, if a game has a poor frame rate, we'll also be able to call that out by giving it the "Slideshow" demerit. The sound category will have medals that cover oustanding licensed music, original soundtracks, effects, voice acting, and more. And, of course, we'll be able to call out negative trends in gaming, as well, using demerits such as "Blatant In-Game Advertising" and "Xtreme Baditude."

If you're sitting there thinking that these medals sound an awful lot like the categories in our year-end Best & Worst awards presentation crossed with the emblem system we use in our user profiles, you're absolutely right, and that's no coincidence. The system current contains over 60 medals and, of course, as trends in gaming change, we'll be able to expand this system as needed. We won't be revealing a list of every medal at this time, but I can tell you that a game I'm playing right now will probably earn "Brutal," which is for games that are particularly gory. That's a good thing, in our book. Later page updates will allow you to see a list of every game that has earned a particular medal, which should be pretty neat.

Moving on down the page, we'll continue to have text entries for The Good and The Bad, and those will be easier to read with our new design. If, after looking at all of that, you still have questions about a game, you'll find our full review and, in many cases, a video review to help fill in the blanks. And just to note it here, we will not be going back into the system and updating old reviews to this new system. The definition of the numbers isn't changing, and we feel that the new system does maintain compatibility with our old score style.

But no matter how many changes to our review system we make, there's one thing we simply can't account for, and that's your own personal taste. Your likes and dislikes are a major factor here, and while we can tell you that the latest first-person shooter is an amazing technical showpiece and an outstanding game overall, that might not be enough to win over a person that dislikes the entire genre. So consider the hidden feature of our new review system to be your own common sense, which all of our new information must be filtered through. If you like games that are funny, a game that earns our medal for funny games might still appeal to you, even if it scores a 5.5. And no matter how many 8.0s it gets, the latest football simulation probably isn't going to win over any new fans. By taking that into consideration as you read, you'll hopefully get even more out of our reviews than you have in the past.

GameSpot's new Gamespace facelift will roll out next week. Click here for an early look at one of our unfinished pages.

--
Jeff Gerstmann
Editorial Director
GameSpot

Oh Snap!

Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection, the download title now available on the PlayStation 3, is going to get an update at some pointin the near future that lets you fight online.

http://threespeech.com/blog/?p=434

While I'm naturally skeptical about how a Tekken game will play online, this is also one of the most exciting things I've read in quite some time. Also, this can only mean good things for the eventual release of Tekken 6. After all, once you add online to a franchise, it's very hard to take it away without disappointing a large chunk of your users.

Dude, online Tekken? We live in the future!

Where Were You When the Halo 3 Beta Ended?

Fittingly, my final Halo 3 beta match before it was disabled involved some numbskull talking a bunch of foulmouthed mess at our team for a "lucky bubble" at the end or something. "Silence fools" button or otherwise, it's still Halo. It's totally crazy to me how the Halo series manages to bring out the biggest jerks in all of online gaming. I guess it just has that "stoned frat guy" appeal or something, combined with including a headset as standard equipment.

Well, technically, I guess its appeal is pretty universal. That universe just happens to, you know, include the biggest jerks in all of online gaming. I'd probably like the series a lot more if every loss wasn't followed with some guy talking like an eighth grader who just learned how to curse and every win wasn't followed with some guy calling you lucky... followed by more of that eighth grade cursing. Don't mistake me for a prude here--I actually curse more than all of those Halo players put together. It's the lack of creativity combined with the creepy racism and homophobia that makes it so grating.

Being competitive and wanting to win is one thing. Acting like someone just insulted your entire family every time you win or lose a match only makes you an ass. You have until September to come up with some exciting new insults. Get cracking!

Things that would make the Forza 2 auction house more useful.

So, as you might have gathered if you're following the staff blogs these days, a number of us are hooked on Forza Motorsport 2. The interesting thing is that we're all hooked on slightly different aspects of the game. Me, I'm into watching the auction house to see all the insane cars people are making. I've also tried to make a couple myself, and I've made some decent, but not remarkable money selling my designs. But the auction house function in the game just isn't robust enough. Here are things I wish they'd patch in.

- Favorite sellers list. When you see a design that you absolutely must have and it's selling out, chances are that person's going to have other nice cars up for sale soon. It'd be great if you could filter down to a list of sellers you've marked as making cars you want.

- Ignore list. The flip side of the favorites list... I should be able to block all those lame South Park and Scarface cars that five or ten sellers keep pumping out. Or the people who lock designs of cars that they just sort of... painted red or something. I want crazy flashy stuff!

- Name your design. It'd be cool if you could name or describe your car for other players, and then those players could search by those keywords. I would search for "Pringles, Original" or "Pringles, Mild Salt," for starters.

- Proxy bidding. There's probably a technical reason why the game doesn't have eBay-style "I tell you how high I'll go, and it auto-bids up to that amount" bidding. But there's probably a way to figure this out, too. That'd be very big. I'm tired of having to babysit auctions all the time.

- Search by seller's region. I want the cars that the Japanese kids are making, because they have logos of Japanese products on them, and I think that stuff is kind of rad. Filtering out all the Dallas Cowboys cars would be nice.

The Dog Ate My Points Report

So I recorded one of those new-fangled "video blogs" the other day, but haven't had time to get it onto the site. Hopefully I'll be able to do that over the weekend, but at the moment I'm off for a late breakfast, after which I'll pick up my car, which is getting serviced. Exciting, I know.

In the meantime, if you just want the raw, achievement point-tracking side of the Points Report, you can get it daily, in text form, from those crazy cats over at 360voice. Here!

http://www.360voice.com/tag/GameSpotting

 

Forza Heartbreak

So for the past four days, I've been racing in a Forza tournament using the game's built-in tournament system. It's a neat idea that, aside from making sure that I was sitting in front of a TV every single evening around 5 over the long weekend, seems to work well.

Except for today.

My final race is supposed to start at 5:15, but at the moment, the whole tournament system seems to be down. Considering the game is hitting stores in the US today, I'm not surprised if the servers are experiencing heavy load that breaks some stuff. But dude! I've got days of racing riding on this final! They've got 20 minutes before race time, hopefully it'll come back up. If not, I wonder if they'll reschedule it... either way, I guess I'll have to continue working on my new car design instead.