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Kevin-V Blog

The Sims 3: Returning to the Addiction

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We received review code for The Sims 3 on Friday, so I have spent the last few days messing around with it. The review embargo is still more than a week away, but while you patiently wait for our final word, I thought I would share with you a few screens from the last few days. All these shots are from the city that ships with the game and includes no downloaded content. It's worth noting, however, that when you register the game you get an entire town to download for free; I will show off some screens from that city when the review goes up.

On Tuesday, I'll post a whole bunch of video as well, and try to sate any hunger you have for all things Sims 3. In the meanwhile, some updates on my Sims:

While I put him through a few changes afterwards, this was my Sim in progress. Handsome fellow. Oddly enough, I named him Kevin. He's a big guy, but a but more in shape than me. An interesting addition to the Sim creator allows you to create your own clothing designs. As you can tell, this black t-shirt didn't get much attention!

This is the Sim version of GameSpot's own Lark Anderson. The game allows you to give each Sim up to five behavioral characteristics. Upon Lark's request, I made his Sim insane and evil. For good measure, he's also a kleptomaniac, inappropriate, and neurotic. Oh--and I made his wife Britney Spears. Together, they have a child. Called Trollbo.

Conversations with Lark and Britney are a little bizarre. Lark makes all sorts of moody noises, and got pissed off when I straightened up that pink flamingo that had fallen over. I apologized and he seemed fine, but I decided to be rude to Britney in retribution. I then took my leave. Can't wait to see what kind of brat Trollbo ends up being!

I also made Sim versions of Justin Calvert and Sophia "Freaking" Tong. In my alternate universe, they are married. They're both quite chatty, though Sophia rudely took a cell call while I was hanging out. Justin's more friendly, but all he wanted to talk about was working out.

My wife's name is Ursula. And she's quite the hottie, I may add. Here you see us just prior to a romantic interlude. Oddly enough, Ursula's been feeling sick the last few days for "unknown" reasons. My guess is she's got morning sickness. Is there a little baby Kevin on the way? God help us.

I'm a musician; Ursula's a scientist. The upside is that we work opposite shifts, so it keeps the gameplay moving. The downside is that I forgot to pay a bill. So here's the repo man, sucking up my only living room chair (fortunately, he left my love seat alone). I eased my pain by heading to the park and playing guitar for the folks there.

More often, however, I practice in the bathroom. I don't know why Sim Kevin prefers to play guitar next to the commode. Acoustics?

I am also doing frequent mini-updates on my Twitter. If you like, follow me there (http://twitter.com/fiddlecub) for uncensored thoughts as they emerge.

GameSpot Game Night: Killzone 2 Highlights

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I will have more to share later this week, but in the meanwhile, check out some footage from this week's GameSpot Community Game Night. Chris Watters and I took aim at the GameSpot community, chilling out with them while simultaneously shooting them in the faces. If there was any doubt why Killzone 2 is so extraordinary, feast your eyes on the following video.

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Edible Headware

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As promised, I have eaten a hat.

If you aren't aware of the backstory for this one, I declared on our podcast The Hotspot that Tecmo's recent announcement at the Sony store in San Francisco would be for Ninja Gaiden 3. I was so convinced that I offered to eat my hat if I was wrong.

And I was wrong, of course! But I kept my promise, and I have eaten a cap. In this case, a hat I made out of rice paper, water, and food coloring. If you are wondering: it was not in any way tasty. Perhaps a polyester blend would have been better, in retrospect!

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Eating a Hat: The Preliminaries

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I am preparing a hat for consumption.

If you don't know what I am talking about, check out the HotSpot episodes from March 17 and April 7. When discussing Tecmo's then-pending announcement of Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, I was so convinced that it would be Ninja Gaiden 3, I declared I would eat my hat if it wasn't. So of course, NGS2 was announced instead, so as a man of my word, I will be eating a hat.

User HouEvil, in his infinite wisdom, likes this idea so much, he decided to draw a representation of this activity. This is amazing, dude:

And yes, I will be eating a hat and videotaping the results for you to enjoy. Stay tuned!

Stretching the Truth

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I am a big fan of Red Alert 3, and the PlayStation 3's Ultimate Edition is a bit superior to the Xbox 360 version. However, as I noted in the review, Electronic Arts fudged their bullet points a little. Every supposedly "new and exclusive" skirmish map is actually a map that appeared already, a fact that really grinds my gears, in the words of Peter Griffin. It's still a great value, and it features several maps that didn't appear on the Xbox 360, but to take pre-existing maps from the PC version and PC premier edition and call them new and exclusive is--well--underhanded.

It's a small point but it's an important one, because preview coverage generally gives publishers and developers the benefit of the doubt. You may already have decided to purchase a product based on a feature, reviews be damned--and even reviewers might take claims like this at face value, particularly if the site or magazine separates its teams by platform. As it is, maps like Repair Bay and Turtle Village aren't actually exclusive at all, and their presence in this version somewhat mocks the PC gamers that purchased the premier edition, as they were also getting these maps "exclusively." EA's claim implies (actually, downright states) maps newly created for the PS3 version--but no such maps actually exist.

Coincidentally, I logged into Steam today and saw that the abominable Stormrise was being sold there, so I took a peek at the listing. There, I saw this claim: "Advanced Multiplayer Features - Multiplayer modes feature 'join anytime' functionality, previously only seen on First Person Shooters." The same blurb accompanies the game's listing almost everywhere.

This blatantly false claim is even more irritating than EA's, because this claim cannot be spun to sound "truthy." There are many, many non-FPS games that feature drop-in, drop-out multiplayer. Fable 2, Saints Row 2, Mercenaries 2, Diablo 2, Neverwinter Nights, 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand, Sacred 2--goodness, the list just goes on. After all, any game where you can join a match in progress features "drop-in" play, and this realm is hardly an FPS-exclusive concept. Let's assume for a moment that they mean it's the first RTS to feature drop-in competitive multiplayer. Well, wrong again: World in Conflict and Ground Control 2 both feature drop-in battles--and of course, both games are worth playing, while Stormrise is not.

I wish I could say these were April Fools pranks on the part of some PR folks, but they are in fact actual claims. I know it is easy to get hyped up based on what you're being promised, but remember that even the game's box may not be giving it to you straight.

What are some other examples of press releases or game packaging that you have seen that were--um--lies?

Games as Art: A Shared Critique

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I frequently get emails and private messages from students working on papers or essays to get my take on various issues within gaming. I can't always respond, but I do try when I can. One of the most common questions is my take on the "games as art" issue. A kind fellow named Jason recently sent me a message on Facebook asking for my thoughts on the subject, and I decided to post them here.

__________

By nature, games are collections of images, sounds and narrative. They purposefully elicit emotional or aesthetic reactions in those that experience them, and/or have emotional or aesthetic value to one or more persons. They are art by definition.

I have heard plenty of counterarguments. One such argument is that games are interactive and cannot then be classified as art. Yet plenty of modern art is created to be interactive; I have viewed and participated in multiple interactive works at the SF Museum of Modern Art, for example. The performing arts require the interaction of musicians, and as such, each performance of a piece of music is unique, meaning that the creation is affected by participants. In other words, art can be interactive, and often is. The player's ability to affect the sounds, sights, and narrative in a game has no bearing on the definition of a game as art.

Okami is an oft-cited example of an artistic game. Indeed, it's a collection of images, sounds, and narrative that elicits an emotional response. It's art, all right.

Another argument: games are created by large groups of people, not by a single artist. The falsehood of this statement aside (there are, of course, many games created by a single individual), this argument is pure vapor; symphonies are performed by large groups of musicians, film scores are often the result of collaborations, and films themselves are created by thousands of individuals. Yet few would argue that the medium of film cannot have artistic value.

Actually, almost every argument that games should not be considered art is arbitrary, created to be contrary and uninformed by the existing definition of art. These are the people that approach art as value judgment: they do not see the sensory or emotional value of games, and are therefore unwilling to admit to their artistic value. We hear similar arguments in music quite often; for example, some will tell you that rap is not music because it has no aesthetic value to them. However, one of the first things I learned in music theory class during my conservatory years was that music may consist of any sequence of sounds, regardless of their pitch and rhythm. Of course rap is music, by very nature. It may not hold aesthetic value to an individual listener, but that listener cannot affect the definition of rap as music simply by willing it not to be so. I could declare a blue jay to not be a bird, but no matter how steadfastly I may argue, the blue jay will still be a bird.

Then again, few would use 50 Cent's game to argue the point. Yet it's a collection of images, sounds, and narrative events as well. Should your own perception of this game's aesthetic value affect linguistic definition?

This is true across all the arts. The negative value judgment of an individual does not affect the definition. I reject the notion that the definition of art is subjective. A single work's lack of value to an individual is irrelevant to its status as a work of art. Games are art.

Blue Dragon, Total War, and Some Game with Lizards

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To quote Family Guy, I haven't done a journal entry in ever, folks, in ever. Honestly, it's because I've been a bit busy, but every so often, I like to tell everyone what I've been up to. What am I up to, anyway?

Well let's see. First off, games for work! Right now, Empire: Total War is the big game on my plate. I admit, the review may not be ready for the game's release, simply because we got the code the middle of last week, and it's--um--a huge game. Currently, I am playing the Ottoman Empire campaign; I admit after playing as the Ottomans in Europa Universalis III, I have a bit of a soft spot for them. Between now and then, I will try to update this blog and the reviews blog with updates, screens, and videos. So here: have a few screenshots on the house!

Spreading the Empire, one minor nation at a time.

What the Ottomans lack in technology, they make up in pure numbers.

I am also working on Blue Dragon Plus and an RPG for the PC called Drakensang: The Dark Eye. I had hoped to have the Blue Dragon review up for release, but Dawn of War 2 and Killzone 2 took up some time. With luck, both Total War and BD Plus will be up this week.

Believe it or not, I do play games for fun sometimes too. This year, I got very lucky: my go-to online RTS and my go-to online shooter were both released this month. I adore Killzone 2 and I adore Dawn of War II, and they will likely be the games I stick to for the rest of the year when it comes to online competition. If you play Killzone 2, add me to your PSN list, username: fiddlecub. If you play DoWII, add me to your Windows Live or Steam friends list, username: fiddlecub. Or drop me a private message and we'll find time to play!

Credit Where Credit's Due: The Music of Afro Samurai

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So I got an interesting message a few days ago about the music in Afro Samurai for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. I was careful to point it out in our review that the music was "inspired by" rapper RZA, because as it happens, he didn't actually compose it (though he did rap in two of the tracks). Sadly, not every outlet has picked up on the distinction, crediting The RZA for the soundtrack, when in fact it was written by composer Howard Drossin. I can't say I blame my peers, though; the manual and in-game credits do a fine job of blurring these distinctions, I imagine for apparent promotional reasons.

The flipside, of course, is that the author of the tracks doesn't necessarily get the credit he deserves, and honestly, I love the Afro Samurai soundtrack, as the review makes evident. But if you haven't heard it because you didn't pick up a copy, head to Howard's website and have a listen. It's worth hearing, and Howard deserves credit for his excellent work.

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin Screens and Video, Killzone 2 Video

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Because of publisher-requested embargo, we won't be posting any new screens or video of F.E.A.R. 2's full single player campaign until Tuesday, along with the review. However, we are able to give you a taste of multiplayer, and I wanted to give you a few screens and video of that experience.The screens are of the PC version, while the video is of the Xbox 360 version.

Boom, and lots of blood. The modes are familiar--deathmatch, a capture the flag variant called blitz, variants on conquest/territories, and a few others. Sadly, there are no slo-motion variants as there were in the original F.E.A.R.

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One of those conquest variants is Armored Front, in which each team gains access to a huge mech. I am not piloting it here, but you can surely see it in action!

I like the shotgun. It makes nice splatters of gooey entrails.

Additionally, I am hoping to show off some screens and video of Killzone 2 on Monday, and show off some of my favorite weapons in that game. In the meanwhile, I offer a few videos of this beautiful title in action!

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I am a big fan of mech sequences, on-rails bits, and turret sections that break up the gameplay. Here is one such portion.

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Multiplayer action. W00t!

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One of many nail-biting sequences in the single-player campaign.

Killzone 2 is a-comin'!

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As promised, we are putting together more Killzone 2 stuff than you can shake a stick at. However, we won't have a review until close to the release date. Rather than ramble on about why that is here, head over to Under Review, our reviews blog, to check out the reasons.

In the meanwhile, I sat down with Chris Watters and Andre Segers to discuss our initial thoughts on this intriguing game. Andre, serving as yin to my yang, provides a more earthly approach, while Chris and I are obviously more enamored with the experience. Expect a crapload of gameplay video between now and then as well, along with screens and ongoing blog posts about the Killzone 2 experience.

But perhaps like me, you would rather stay on the page to see the good stuff. If so, check out our first impressions feature:

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And here are some screens to make your eyes happy!