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Kevin-V Blog

Image Contest Winners, and a bit about Killzone 2

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As should probably be obvious by now, Jerrell_rast is the winner of my blog image contest. Good choice of images, and even better, the transparency in the lower half is just awesome. Major honorable mention to Elk, though: that Metal Gear Solid 4 theme was absolutely spot on, and I actually felt bad having to choose one over the other. So much so that I'd still like to send you some stuff for the effort. Both Elk and Jerrell_rast: email me at kevinv@gamespot.com with your full names and addresses, and I will send the stuff out. Elk, I've got some things hanging around the office that will hopefully ease the considerable pain of not winning.

And apparently I love .png transparency, since the winner of the signature portion of the contest is SuperMooseman. You should also email me your name and address so I can send out the promised prizing. Great job to everyone!

As for the Killzone 2 info hinted at in the title of this blog, it is a bit of a teaser, but I wanted to let everyone know to keep an eye out for some big Killzone 2 stuff next Monday: gameplay videos, lots of screens, and a nice feature you're sure to enjoy, amongst other goodies. February and March bring some highly anticipated games along with them, so keep your eyes peeled. I mean, not literally, because that would hurt. You know, peeling your eyes. Ouch.

Upside Down and Backwards

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I will use my next blog to talk about the contest winners, but just a short rant today as I play my current game for review:

It is never, ever, ever acceptable to force a player to use an inverted camera view. If you feel the need to include inverted options in your game (which you should, for the players that prefer it), you should also include an option to use the camera using the standard already set by the majority of 3D action games. I want to play your game without having to constantly think about the camera view--especially if that same in-game camera is prone to problems outside of that issue. Come ON!

/end rant

New Kevin-V Blog Contest: Win Free PC Games!

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I've held several contests in my blog before, and over break I decided it was time for a new and different profile and blog headers. So I do declare, contest time!

As before, I am looking for a themed profile/blog header combo, similar to my current No More Heroes-themed images. I am also looking for a signature image, so really, you should consider this two different contests, though you should feel free to submit images for both. You might even win both!

Up for Grabs, Blog and Profile Banners: Star Wars: Empire at War, Gothic 3, and Supreme Commander, all for the PC.

Up for Grabs, Signature Image: Dreamfall: The Longest Journey and City Life, all for the PC.

I make no promises that these games will run on your own personal PC. If your PC doesn't support any or all of these titles, I can't be held responsible!

For the Blog and Profile banners:

1. They should be themed with one of the following three games: Metal Gear Solid 4, Valkyria Chronicles, or the upcoming Muramasa: The Demon Blade.

2. The images should show on the page as if they are a single image separated into two frames, in the style of my current profile images. Otherwise, you have artistic license to add text as you wish or add other touches you may think are appropriate.

3. Check your profile to see what dimensions these images need to have. From there, create your images and upload them to your profile images (or personal webspace) and post a link right here as a reply in this blog.

4. By creating and linking me to your image, you are giving me permission to use it in my profile on GameSpot. If I choose you as a winner (a choice that is completely subjective based on my appreciation for your images), you will need to provide me your name and address so I can mail the prize.

5. If I use your images, I will host them myself.

6. Submit your entry by 11:59 PM Pacific Time on Wednesday, January 21.

7. During the contest time, I may use some of the submitted images to show them off in my blog. This should not be construed as a choice for winner, only as a chance to show off various designs as they are submitted. I will announce the winner on Thursday, January 22.

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For the Signature:

1. It should be themed with one of the following three games: ICO, Okami, or the latest Prince of Persia.

2. You have artistic license to add text as you wish or add other touches you may think are appropriate.

3. Check your profile to see what dimensions the image should have. From there, create your image and upload it to your profile images (or personal webspace) and post a link right here as a reply in this blog.

4. By creating and linking me to your image, you are giving me permission to use it as my forums signature on GameSpot. If I choose you as a winner (a choice that is completely subjective based on my appreciation for your images), you will need to provide me your name and address so I can mail the prize.

5. If I use your image, I will host it myself.

6. Submit your entry by 11:59 PM Pacific Time on Wednesday, January 21.

7. During the contest time, I may use some of the submitted images to show them off in my signature. This should not be construed as a choice for winner, only as a chance to show off various designs as they are submitted. I will announce the winner on Thursday, January 22.

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If you have any questions, let me know. Otherwise, get cracking! I can't wait to see what fabulous creations you devise. The images users have created for me in the past have been absolutely incredible.

The Cubbies: 2008

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Before I worked at GameSpot, I used to post my favorite games of the year. I called my personal little awards "The Cubbies," named for my old username "fiddlecub." Of course, now I am part of the actual awards discussion, and trust me, our GOTY meetings were intense. But having a voice is invigorating, and while I originally shied away from doing a list, my fellow editors have been posting their personal favorites. Tom Mc Shea and Shaun McInnis have already thrown out their thoughts, so I'm throwing out mine.

Of course, it whould be said that these games represent my own thoughts. Any "best of" list is bound to strike a chord (or a nerve). If you need proof, glance at our best-of feature, where clearly not everyone agrees with each other. But we all do agree that we love games, passionately. And when you love a game passionately, you want to cry its greatness from the rooftops in the hopes that others will adore them as much as you do.

For some, that also means disparaging the thoughts of others. Me, well, I would rather focus on the positive and stay away from the negative. 2008 was an incredible year for games, and when I look back, these are the ones I will most remember.

10. Valkyria Chronicles - The art design is awesome, of course, but even beyond that, Valkyria Chronicles does something few other strategy RPGs can manage: remove unnecessary frustrations that come between you and the game. It's *gasp* fun, it's different, and it has the potential to change a genre, in a genre in desperate need of new blood.

9. Tales of Vesperia - On the other hand, Tales of Vesperia does little that's new, but that's ok. It's fun, and it's extremely well paced. Pacing is an important thing in most games, but doubly so in RPGs, which generally have a broader ebb and flow than other genres. With lots of flashy but easy combat, a good smattering of bosses, frequent-but-manageable cutscene, and easy-to-navigate towns, this is the greatest example of how old-fashioned RPG gameplay can be updated for a new generation.

8. Condemned 2 - Dead Space is the horror game most people will remember from this year, but Condemned 2 is less predictable and uses silence and periods of inaction to incredible effect. It gets a bit hokey, but as Shaun would say, you can shank hobos, so that makes up for it. In all seriousness, the sound design, the high-impact melee combat, the creepy locales--all of these elements make Condemned 2 one of 2008's oft-overlooked gems.

7. Geometry Wars 2 - This is probably my most-played game of 2008. I liked but didn't love the original, but hell if the sequel didn't keep me addicted. My favorite mode is possibly the least favorite of others: Waves. But every mode was top-notch, and when you get tired of one, you can just move to another. Pure fun.

6. Okami - I almost didn't includes this, because Okami has had its day in the sun. But who cares? It deserves a day in the sun every year. It is one of the finest action adventures ever created: stunningly gorgeous, long, charming, and a blast to play. It also inspired aspects of another great game from 2008, Prince of Persia. Renewal is an important theme in all art, and it's only natural that games should follow suit.

5. Sins of a Solar Empire - If you didn't play this game, you should. I don't care if you need to scour junkyards for RAM chips, just play it. It's massive, it's extraordinary, and it's hella fun. 2007 was a stronger year for PC strategy games, but that's ok. Just play it, already.

4. Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core - The ending of Crisis Core will stay with me for a long time, and this in a year of memorable moments that strike your very, well, core. It featured an engrossing story yet was still playable on the go, a difficult tightrope-walking act that few portable games can accomplish. And I am not afraid to say it: I wept during the last half-hour. You can't put a price on games that tug at your emotions.

3. Fallout 3 - The bane of some Fallout fans and the apple of others' eyes, Fallout 3 infuriated some old-school enthusiasts, captured others, and managed regardless to be one of the best games of the year. When other games parade around this idea of "meaningful player choices" but deliver nothing more than smoke and mirrors, Fallout 3 makes it happen. Flawed, sure, but eminently playable and totally addicting.

2. No More Heroes - Best game with a lightsaber all year. Yeah, I said it. But really, the game is so funny, so over the top, and so enjoyable that I want to play it right now just because I am writing about it. It also gets motion controls right. It embraces them but it doesn't murder them. Play it, and you won't forget it.

1. Metal Gear Solid 4 - I wrote a lengthy review detailing what makes this game so incredible, so I hate to retread all of that ground again. I am hardly an MGS fanboy; I enjoyed the hell out of MGS2, but MGS3 never captured me, nor was I ever an enormous fan of the original, though I appreciated it a good deal. Yet MGS4 enthralled me from beginning to end. Perhaps you aren't a fan of the storytelling and long cutscenes, but even if you subtract that from the equation (which you shouldn't), you have an incredible game that was just a lot of fun to play. And you know, I like fun.

I would offer up an honorable mention list, but really, where does it end? This was a great year, and for every game on my list, there are two more that could have just as easily been there. What games did you love above all others in 2008?

PlayStation Home

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Just...

:?

Update: My avatar is now stuck in a doorway, unable to move. At least I can quick jump away. And when I say quick, I mean quick within the rules of Home's loading screens.

This and That

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The year is wrapping up, though my head is still swimming with recently played games, the games still on my plate (the LOTRO expansion and Kingdom Hearts re: Chain of Memories among them), and the general excitement of an approaching holiday season (and hopefully, a much-needed vacation). So I am going to unload many of these thoughts right here and right now. Pick and choose what interests you, discard what doesn't, and no matter what you do, enjoy the holidays. This was a great year to play games, and I know you must have a big pile of discs aching to spin.

Final Thoughts of Tokyo

Mangled English is one of the charms of a visit to Japan. Our languages are so dissimilar that residents of both the US and Japan are prone to use the other language in a number of amusing ways. Just as we often "decorate" using Japanese characters, so do the Japanese enjoy the aesthetic value of our own alphabet--though the resulting phrases can be fun to dissect. Here are a number of slogans I jotted down that I saw on t-shirts and sweatshirts on my journey:

Hampshire Unrestraines Athletes
3story Homer Project
Bailling out legend of California new sensation
Margedream 5
Postman residence
Is it are you new?
Good beach tent city
Delayed 20 minutes Delayed 2 hours
Dose of freedom attempt to transcend
Kept you waiting huh?
Thorns are more ugly among
The smell of the sky
Break beats hearts loves what we can be about
(Note: Worn by a well-endowed young lady): Prime Bouncy
Be tens which has sniper
Must have women's gift
Girls shot on the freeway
Love is lovely face is happy
New hot cack

Remembering Early 2008

With so many great games coming out in the last few months, it's easy to forget that we had some wonderful games released earlier this year. If you missed out, may I implore you to play:

Burnout Paradise
No More Heroes
Okami
Condemned 2
Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword


Also, Burnout Paradise has received some great new content. Speaking of which, if you enjoyed Warhawk but got burnt out, you should return to it and download some of the booster packs. New maps, new modes, new vehicles, new tools--the game has changed, and you would do well to check it out if for some reason you played but moved on, or have yet to play.

Thematic Content: Rejuvenation

Shooting stuff in games is fun. So is gore much of the time, and somehow, I managed to land quite a few gory games in the last year or two, like Manhunt 2 and Condemned 2. Perhaps this is why I like that our chosen entertainment has embraced the concept of renewal with such vigor recently. Prince of Persia jumps immediately to mind, because while it features some cinematic combat, it's all about bringing a darkened world back to life. It bears more than a passing resemblance to Okami in this regard, and certainly owes a lot to ICO and Shadow of the Colossus as well--both of which were more concerned with immersion and atmosphere than shedding blood.

These games were also concerned with relationships; the Prince has Elika, Ico has Yorda, and Wander has his horse (that sounds silly, but like the dog in Fable 2, the horse in Shadow in SOTC has emotional impact on the experience). I would like to see more games explore character relationships in this manner--by intertwining the gameplay and the relationship in ways that invite you to share that connection between two characters. What about you? Are you refreshed by seeing games explore these emotional realms, or are you content with simple slicing, dicing, and shooting?

My iPhone

Favorite applications:
Pandora (Internet radio!)
Facebook
iBART (gotta see the train schedules!)
Bejeweled 2 (light old-fashioned puzzle fun)
Pageonce (handy for checking my bank account on the go)
Word Warp (we have an inter-office contest to see who can net the highest score. Sarju Shah is leading with 29,190, while I am a close second with 27,160.)
Twitterific (for updating my Twitter)
Quip (a workaround for the deplorable lack of MMS on the iPhone)
Palringo (Combines AIM, Yahoo, MSN and more into one program)

What apps are you most enamored with? I am addicted to the app store, so let me know your favorites!

My Twitter

fiddlecub. Add me if you so dare.

I Owe Johnny Yong Bosch and Nolan North an Apology

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OK, my bad, my bad: In today's Prince of Persia marathon, I said that Johnny Yong Bosch is the voice of the Prince, but I had Persona 4 in my head--a game in which Mr. Bosch does lend his talents. Rather, the Prince is voiced by Nolan North, well known for his work in Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.

So make a note of it: I got all mixed up. Both are talented actors, but I wanted to make sure I gave credit to the right one!

Thank You for Playing, and Don't Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out.

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Soon, I will post a lengthy blog wrapping up my experiences in Japan, offering a variety of gaming observations, and unloading other random tidbits. For now, I offer up these unrelated thoughts:

1. Bugged XBL achievements are a pain. I just finished Legendary, and while I received the achievement for finishing the final chapter, I did not receive the achievement for finishing the game, even though I let the credits roll. I'm annoyed.

2. I blame Mass Effect. I played two games within a week of each other that mask loading times by making you endure seemingly endless elevator rides. This is an odd new trend that doesn't seem to benefit the game in any way. Loading screen, elevator ride, either way, I am taken out of the game experience.

3. Gears of War 2's music is underrated. Actually, you can include the original on that list. You know that up-and-down motif that serves as the franchise's calling card? It's just two notes, a major third apart, and man, do those notes pack a punch. The animations are also terrific. I love that in multiplayer, everybody's avatar behaves authentically, rather than in that awkward, floaty way they do in almost every other shooter.

4. Fable 2's co-op sucks. Yup. But at least you get the host's achievements if he unlocks any while the two of you are playing.

5. Resistance 2 co-op is hella fun. Yup, that too.

These are the mild rants born of being awake at 1 AM after shooting at werewolves all evening. Perhaps had I been shooting kittens or komodo dragons, the result would have been different. In any case, look for reviews of Mirror's Edge and Legendary early this week, and Red Alert 3 (X360) and Valkyria Chronicles later in the week. Peace to all that love games.

TGS Post-Show Impressions: Thoughts on the Games

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I will be doing one last blog entry about the sights of Tokyo after I have returned to the States. However, some thoughts are fresh on my mind regarding the games themselves, and I wanted to share them with you. Mind you, these are my own opinions and not those of the crew, necessarily. But these are the games that I personally saw that made the right impressions.

Most Surprisingly Attractive Game:

Monster Hunter 3 (Wii)

When I first saw Monster Hunter 3 in action on the show floor, I actually thought it was a 360 or PS3 game. I didn't get any hands-on time with it (I wasn't scheduled to cover it, and on the open days, the Japanese public mobbed Capcom's booth, which was inconveniently right next to Square's). But let me tell you--from a visual perspective, this game is impressive. You'll be doing a lot of underwater battles, and both the water and the monster models are fantastic. Quality animations are just icing on the cake, or in this case, on the dorsal fin. I am thrilled that Monster Hunter 3 may finally be doing what few games have done: actually use the full potential of the Wii hardware.


Best Trailer:

Final Fantasy Versus XIII (PS3)

Oh, good old Square Enix and their constant teasers. Of the three games in the FF XIII series, however, Versus has me most intrigued. I like the idea of a FF game set in an alternate version of our own world; I like how lonely the trailer made the world look; and I like the look of the hero, and the way he interacts with his buddies. The trailer makes the game look like the ultimate post-apocalyptic road trip. Of course, this is all conjecture, and we have yet to see gameplay. But at least the trailer did its job: I want to see more.



Machine You Most Want to Own, if TGS is any Indication:

Tie: Sony PSP / Nintendo DS

If the games I saw were any indication, you're gonna want one--or both. Dissidia Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, Resistance: Retribution, and many others hold incredible potential, while the DS is still a quality home for developers doing something different. I am admittedly annoyed at some developers for avoiding the touchscreen, most notable Square: Valkyrie Profile and Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days disappointed me, because they don't need to be on the DS as opposed to any other platform, and fail to use its strengths. In my mind, the touchscreen is more than just a minimap or stats screen; if that's all you can come up with, then put your game on another machine, and stop pretending that the touchscreen doesn't exist.

Thankfully, a number of developers are creating terrific-looking things for the DS, and games like Tales of Hearts and Gardening Mama keep the spirit of the machine alive. Oh, and my favorite DS game at TGS? Riz-Zoawd, an anime take on the Wizard of Oz. It looks fantastic, and like most games that end up being superb (and like many that don't), it seems ready to take a chance.

Most Fun I Had with Any Game:

I had zero expectation for this fan-service fighting title. I thought, "Great: Square's version of Smash Brothers, only with limited two-player combat, and with spiked hair." So color me surprised: it was fun and flashy, and its attack system has surprising depth, which means that two talented players can keep going for a good bit of time. "Floaty" is rarely a compliment, but I like the semi-weightless feel of the combat, and while the jury is out on just how much value this package will have, it's loaded with potential. Oh--and it's also really, really pretty.

















Personal Game of the Show:

The developers of Odin Sphere know what they do best: create fun action games with exquisite hand-drawn backgrounds. Theoretically, Muramasa is an action RPG, but I didn't see Odin Sphere as an RPG (just as I never saw Folklore as one, and am flabbergasted when it's called one). We didn't really see any of Muramasa's RPG elements anyway, but we definitely saw some amazing side-scrolling action, and it is fun and absolutely beautiful. Take Odin Sphere, mix in some Okami, and pour on the demonic madness, and you get Muramasa, my personal game of TGS 2008. I mean, how can you not want to play this?

[video=6199094]

Of course, my opinions are all colored by the limitations of what I saw. Other editors saw equally fantastic stuff, and I didn't even approach most of the Western-developed games, since titles like Fable 2, Fallout 3, Far Cry 2, and others are not only really close to release, but are easily found at various preview events in the USA. This is Tokyo, and some of these games may not even make it to North America. Why would I spend time looking at Mirror's Edge, for which we already have a good amount of coverage, when this might be my only chance to see Gomibako in action?

So tell me: what game did we see at TGS 2008 has you the most excited?