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E3 report card

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Microsoftdidn't really show us anything we hadn't heard about. The most interesting news from their show was Smartglass, and everything else was either related to multiplatform games or Gears of Halo (Microsoft's only remaining exclusive IP), assuming it was related to gaming at all (ESPN? ZOMG GO SPORTS GO WOOO!!!!!!!!).

Score:F

Sonydid not bring their A-game. Their show was boring (just like last year), it looks like the Vita is already on it's way to the clearance bin, and they spent way too much time on that Harry Potter book (it looks like a fun toy for kids, but it is not a game and should have only been a quick announcement and trailer). Sony Smash Bros. looks like it might be fun, but since it's just a clone of another game it was not a big announcement. The real savior of the show was The Last of Us, and at least they announced something new with Beyond. Overall this show reeked of "we're saving everything good for when we announce the PS4, and the PS4 is not ready yet," and even a last-minute PS4 announcement wouldn't have changed how badly paced the show was. Also, where the heck is The Last Guardian?

Score: C-

Nintendoshowed off the Wii U in all of it's glory, and as I predicted it's not looking so glorious. They announced a lot of new games, but only a handful actually excited me-- a lot of Wii-U's launch lineup will be ports, and amongst the new games I can't say I was impressed with Nintendo Land (which came across as a glorified tech demo), and New Super Mario Bros Wii U is basically just NSMB in HD and nothing else. Reggie was a tool as usual, pointing out that "it's the first Mario launch game since Mario 64", which is a crime since it's the exact opposite of Mario 64. Mario 64 changed everything, and NSMBWU is going to change nothing. The announcement of the Wii U's battery life was also terrible. I was at least excited for Pikmin 3 and Lego City, and surprised by Zombie U though, so overall it was a passable show, even the Wii U hardware and first party lineup leaves a lot to be desired.

Score:C+

EA was pretty much an embarassment. So they've announced their own $50 a year premium service for their version of "First Person Army Shooter Man 3D?" Oh joy, I can die happy. Dead Space 3 looks like it will be the final nail in the franchise's coffin, having completely abandoned any pretense of being survival horror. Other than that it was a dull show with barely anything worth mentioning, other than announcing yet another new version of that"First Person Army Shooter Man 3D" game that every publisher keeps remaking.

Score:F-

Ubisoftactually got their act together this year, and in a huge way. They showed us more Rayman, lots of Assassin's Creed 3 footage (I don't care for the franchise, but good for the people who like it), they announced a brand new Splinter Cell with plenty of gameplay footage, showed one of the more promising concepts for the Wii U control pad with Zombie U, and of course they dropped the motherload of game announcements with Watch Dogs. It was beautiful, intriguing, edgy, and exciting-- everything that you could want out of a new game announcement. After their laughably bad show last year, it's quite suprising (and refreshing) to see them coming out of the savior of the show. If not for Ubisoft's show, this would probably be one of the worst E3's ever.

Score:A+

Honorable Mentions:

Konami, for their strong showing of Metal Gear Rising and the announcement of two new Castlevanias. And thankfully, they chose not to embarass themselves with a live press conference this year.

Square, for their incredible next-generation graphics tech demo, and good showings for Hitman and Tomb Raider. No idea if there was smoke and mirrors at play, or how much of it will actually be doable on the PS4 and Xbox 720, but at least they gave us something new to look at that is wetting our appetites for the future, instead of dwelling in the past. Also, I'm happy to see they are working hard to fix Final Fantasy XIV, instead of just giving up on it. They fell really badly these past few years, and they really needed some good press. (I'm just mad that Final Fantasy Versus XIII was no-where to be seen, and I wish they'd announced a Kingdom Hearts HD collection).

Lucas Arts, because even though they're kind of an industry boogie man right now for all their layoffs and game cancellations, like Square they showed us glimpse at the nex generation of games with Star Wars 1313, and it looks amazing. I'm quite pleased to see they have the balls to make an M-rated Star Wars game, and that it focuses on the gritty, Jedi-less side of the Star Wars galaxy that was featured more prominantly in the original Trilogy. It looked amazing, and it actually gave us something to look forward to at the next big trade show.



Anime cliches, and why they refuse to go away

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Why is it that even though some Japanese Anime-styIe art looks like this

most of it ends up looking like this

or this

?

Japan is capable of producing some very beautiful artwork and cool character designs-- I know this, because I've seen quite a lot of it-- however, anime-styIe art has turned into a contest to make boys look like girls, and to make girls look like younger girls, all the while throwing out any sense of logic, reason, or functionality to any of the designs (character or otherwise) to the point where everything becomes a tedious chore to look at (if not downright disturbing). It's the same problem that hit the styIeUS animation industry-- certain cliches became popular, and then it became a contest to see who could stretch those cliches the furthest, and whenever someone gets a new job they always take all their favorite cliches from their last job with them. Why do you think every character in a Dreamworks movie makes that stupid face?

Someone drew that face when they were working at Disney, and then they got hired by Dreamworks. Then, all the people at Dreamworks started copying him, and before you know it that stupid face was everywhere and no-one even stopped to question "why?" They keep copying it because it's what people expect, just like how in Japan people expect men to look like women and women to look like pre-pubescent girls with large breasts, and that the main character has to be an unlikeable emo git who wears too many belts and zippers, just like how in American animated movies they expect them to regurgitate Joseph Campbell's "The Hero's Journey" where the main character is a boring schmo whose destiny is to be the best at something, and there's usually some stupid prophecy to explain the plot before it happens. It's creative inbreeding, and unfortunately they never realize it's a problem until it's too late and most people have tuned out.

Celebrating 25 years of Metroid

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2011 is the 25th anniversary of the Metroid franchise. What began as a humble little project for the NES disk drive at Nintendo of Japan has since grown into one of the oldest and most respected sci-fi series in gaming. Not only was Metroid one of the first games to eschew the typical level-based design of most 8-bit games in favor of exploring a single large world, but it also introduced us to one of the first, and most badass action heroines of the gaming medium: Samus Aran, the most infamous bounty hunter in the galaxy.



The series has it's fair share of ups and downs over the years-- it's most notable down being the tragic, untimely death of creator Gunpei Yokoi in a car accident in 1997 at age 56. Yokoi also made the NES cult-favorite Kid Icarus (which shared the same engine as Metroid), and was also the father of the portable game system, responsible for the creation of the Gameboy, Virtual Boy, and the Bandai Wonder Swan. Many people actually attribute the lack of a Metroid installment on the N64 to Yokoi's death, which is certainly a possibility.



One of the most notable highs for the franchise in my opinion was its triumphant return on the Nintendo Gamecube with Metroid Prime. People had been asking for a new Metroid for years, and its return through Texas game developer Retro Studios under the guidance of Shigeru Miyamoto (replacing Gunpei Yokoi as producer) managed to successfully bring the series' iconic gameplay into 3D, and it was nothing short of spectacular. The huntress was finally back-- Metroid Prime went on to sell millions of copies and win numerous Game of the Year awards, and is regarded by many as one of the best 3D games of all time.



As far as I know, Nintendo has no official celebration for Metroid's 25th anniversary planned (at least, no-where near the extent that Mario and Zelda have gotten), however that has not stopped the fans from throwing Samus a party. One such example is a rather handsome remixed Metroid series soundtrack made by a group of dedicated audio artists collectively referring to themselves as "Shinesparkers." Like the Metroid Metal album by Stemage, it's a celebration of the iconic and memorable music composed by Hirokazu Tanaka and Kenji Yamamoto, and it can be downloaded for free at their website (they also have a very nice CD set which you can purchase, if you're hardcore). It covers a wide range of different musical genres from piano techno to symphonic to chiptunes, and it's quite a treat for the ears that does justice to 25 years of Metroid music.

http://www.shinesparkers.net/harmonyofahunter/

Happy birthday, Samus. See you next mission!

Nintendo's most dangerous competitor may be itself.

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The problem with casuals is they are lousy for repeat business. Think about all the people who bought a Wii just so they could play Wii Sports and Wii Fit-- are they going to jump at the opporuntity to upgrade to a new system any time soon? Not while their Wii still does exactly what they expect it to. Moms and dads don't need to have the latest and greatest, and if the price is going to be a premium then they aren't going to want it, especially in a stagnant economic climate.

Nintendo has no choice right now but to go after the core players who want to have the best new thing on the block, but the problem is that Nintendo is too small of a company to unleash a true next-gen beast, so they are just doing what they did with the Wii-- make a console that's a generation behind, but give it a new feature to make it more attractive. With the Wii, it was motion controls, which the casuals ate up.

With the Wii-U, Nintendo is hoping touch controls will do the same for core gamers, since many core gamers owned the DS, while still attracting casuals who are all about the iPad. The problem is, the core gamers just want a regular, functional controller with 10 buttons, a D-pad and 2 clickable joysticks, and everything else is about horsepower and infrastructure-- two placed where Nintendo simply can't compete.

I think the Wii U is going to be a big stumbling block for Nintendo. Whether it's simply a hiccup like the Gamecube, or an epic fail that costs Nintendo their privilege of being able to make their own consoles, we'll have to wait and see. I feel almost like I've been burned by Nintendo too many times to give them the benefit of the doubt anymore, though.

Is Final Fantasy XIII killing the Final Fantasy brand?

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FFXIII was not very popular compared to many of the other Final Fantasy games, and in my opinion it is the end result of the Final Fantasy Fanbase self-destructing the franchise. Final Fantasy XII came out a few years ago on he PS2 and I loved the fresh new direction it took the franchise in, but it wasn't the best selling game in the series, and a lot of the fans hated it because "they changed it so now it sucks." As far as FF games go it's in my top 3, but then again I am not a fanboy, and something about FFXII was very appealing to my more western tastes.

Final Fantasy XII

So how did Square react to these negative opinions from fanboys and fangirls about FFXII? By pretty much stripping out everything that the series had been doing right, until there was nothing left but the active time battle system. They gave the hardcore whiners what they believed they wanted, and the end result was one of the worst reviewed FF games since the NES. Financially it was an even bigger disappointment for Square than FFXII, both because the budget skyrocketed over its endless development cycle and because development had to be spread across two consoles (PS3 and Xbox 360). The piles of pre-owned, unsold FFXIII discs littering game shops around the world stand testament to the sour note the game left in players' mouths.

With the seemingly failed launch of Final Fantasy XIV, the second MMO in the franchise, Square once again stands at a crossroads as to what to do with the FF brand. And what are they doing? Why, they are releasing Final Fantasy XIII-2, of course! Apparently Square believes they have enough hardcore worshipers left to pull in a profit by pressing all the unused game assets from FFXIII onto a disc and rushing it out the door, but for everyone else this is going to do little more than further dilute the brand's stock. And what about the elusive "Final Fantasy Versus XIII?" You know, that game that we get a news update for about once a year? Why is Square even putting the number "XIII" in its title, when in all likeliness an association with FFXIII would hurt sales more than it would help? The game has no real connection with FFXIII at all, and if anything Versus XIII should be relabeled as "Final Fantasy XV." It's just as ambitious as any numbered game in the FF canon, and the team has made some bold choices for the gameplay much like the team behind FF12 did.

But alas, I suppose that the clowns running Square's marketing department haven't realized this yet, and as things stand, many casual customers will probably confuse Versus XIII for a sequel or expansion of some sort for FFXIII, and given that game's poor word of mouth that would be a darned shame. Versus looks like it could be the savior that the FF franchise needs with its exploration-heavy realtime gameplay and more subdued art styIe, but that is not going to happen if the millstone of FFXIII is still hanging around its neck. It's not too late for Square to turn things around, but if they keep forcing FXIII as brand on people even after they've demonstrated that they don't want it, they're just plain not going to buy anything that stinks of FFXIII. Square has been on thin ice for several years now, and being incapable of admiting that they messed up with FFXIII is only going to hasten the demise of the FF brand as a whole.

I'm no hermit, but X-COM makes a compelling case about consolization.

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Let me start off by saying that I do not play many PC games anymore. I have a 3 year old dual-bootup Macbook Pro that I use to play Minecraft, Telltale's games and not a lot else. I have not really played the X-Com games at all, however I knew them by reputation ever since I was a kid. I had friends who obsessed over X-com, and I knew that it was regarded as one of the best strategy games around, that it had a futuristic sci-fi theme with aliens, and that it was a turn-based strategy game with RPG elements. It was not quite my cup of tea, but I understood why people loved it so much and why it was so popular.

Then, 2K games comes along and turns it into a squad-based FPS set in the 1950's with Zelda: Twilght Princess monsters instead of proper aliens. The game has no resemblance with the original at all. It's like they looked at the way Bethesda adapted the Fallout series to the first person view, and said "hey, we can do that with X-com!" except that 2K is failing miserably at it. While Fallout 3 managed to capture everything that made Fallout be Fallout with the exception of having realtime Oblivion-****combat, X-com is the opposite, having virtually nothing to do with the original except for a few little things that were selectively carried over. In Angry Joe's interview with the developer, the whole thing was basically Joe asking the guy if memorable gameplay element X Y and Z were carried over, and the guy saying "we talked about it, but we don't have it at this time."

They basically hijacked the X-com brand name and slapped it onto what is a very mediocre looking paranormal-themed first person shooter set in the 1950s. There is no reason for X-com fans to be interested in this game, which is why they already hate it, and there is no reason for non-fans to be interested, because it looks like a crappy game with bad graphics and clunky gunplay that's trying desperately to ride on Fallout 3's coat tails. They want to chase after the Call of Duty crowd in hopes that they can peel them away from Xbox Live long enough to play this stupid game, and they are clearly gearing it towards the console FPS audience while alienating the strategy audience that made the original a hit, which is exactly what PC gamers have been complaining about whenever they use the term "consolization."

I have already decided that I am not going to buy this game because even though I am not an X-com fan, I despise what this game represents. I know I would be pissed if they brought back Wing Commander as a Gears of War type game where you fight Nazis in World War 2 using Tron technology (essentially, a Mass Effect knockoff, which is what X-com is except it's in first person). I am all for reviving old franchises with fresh blood, but X-com-in-name-only is about as far as it gets from what I want to see. They are simply making a shoddy FPS and trying to dupe nostalgia fans into buying it with a popular brand name, and X-com happened to be the easiest license to obtain. I hope this game bombs hard and that critics eviscerate it for what it is.

Why do some Zelda fanboys get so darned defensive about ''The Zelda Timeline?''

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There was a very clever fan film posted on Youtube a few days ago called "Link to the Future" that pokes fun at the rather convoluted concept of an all-encompasing "Zelda timeline," which some fans claim explains how all Zelda games are part of a singular narrative continuity, and in some circles of the fandom has become a running joke (at least, the circles that are brave enough to joke about it). I posted what I thought was a fairly harmless comment on the video where I sarcastically said "I wonder if James Bond fans ever got this crazy trying to fit Dr. No and Die Another Day into the same timeline." And sure enough, an overzealous fanboy has been on my butt for the last few days trying to convert me to his point of view through his sheer annoyingness. After three days of me essentially telling him "Look, if you want to believe in this, that's fine. But I am only willing to suspend my disbelief so far," he still hasn't given up on his mission to convert me to the faith.

I am not going to go into all the details about what is wrong with the idea of a Zelda timeline, because frankly it's very nerdy and once you get past a certain point of cataloguing discontinuity between the games, it becomes tedious, and I'd rather spend that time actually playing a Zelda game. However, what I do want to discuss is why some Zelda fanboys have an almost religious zeal to defend the concept of a Zelda timeline at all costs, no matter how badly Nintendo's own storytelling conflicts with that vision. It's like a cult whose leader has gone off the deep end, and the members all try to justify his actions while secretly hoping that he will "come to his senses" eventually and say what they want to hear. When Nintendo released a statement saying essentially "there is no timeline. You're missing to point of it being the 'legend' of Zelda," the Timeliners were in an uproar, and Nintendo, fearing the alienation of their hardcore fanboys as usual, issued another statement saying "there is a timeline, but it's top secret and we'll never show it to you" to pacify the fans, which they gleefully accepted as the Gospel and Truth.

With conflicting messages coming from Nintendo, and an overall lack of significant continuity across the Zelda series, I think it's safe to say that Nintendo never gave a rat's ass about continuity when they started this franchise-- it was always about the experience, with the character archetypes symbolizing universal concepts like Wisdom, Power, and Courage. The name "The Legend of Zelda" is very appropriate, because legends change and evolve as they are passed from one storyteller to the next, but the core concepts usually appear in all versions. If this was an ongoing saga with a canological timeline as many fanboys demand it is, then wouldn't "The Chronicles of Zelda" be more appropriate?

The way some Zelda fans act when faced with the possibility of there being multiple Zelda continuities is even more overdramatic than when they hear the possibility that there could one day be an actual Zelda game with voice acting. You never hear Batman fans whining because Adam West and Christian Bale's tuns as the character exist in separate universes, so why is that concept so hard for some Zelda fans to swallow? Whatever the case, the incessant nagging of this one particular Youtube user has reminded me that while after all these years I still consider myself a Zelda fan at heart, I find that it is a healthy practice to avoid prolonged exposure to the fanbase lest I end up in the middle of a holy war over a video game, which is a shame because I used to love talking about Zelda.

Guitar Hero: Greatest Hits - AKA, "why Guitar Hero is garbage now."

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Let's see, how many Guitar Hero games are coming out this year again? I can't even keep track of the releases anymore. Last I checked, there was GH: Metallica, GH: On Tour 3 (I didn't even know that On Tour 2 was out yet!), GH: On LSD, GH: Jonas Brothers, DJ Hero, Didgeridoo Hero, Groupie Hero... Ugh, when does it stop?

With Rock Band, it's basically like iTunes, only it's a video game, and while it's not as profitable as Guitar Hero as a franchise (yet), consumers get a way better deal. They've got a gigantic catalog of songs that you can pick from, and all of the songs you download to your account can roll over from one game to the next, so you never have to re-buy a song. Best of all, you can even pay a $5 license fee to roll over all the songs from the disc into the next game!

With Guitar Hero though, Activision insists on doing their DLC half-assed, because they would rather release new content as an entire new game. All they have to do is throw in a "new" guitar, and they can sell it for $100. And unfortunately, all the little Jimmies out there who don't realize how crappy Guitar Hero is in comparison to Rock Band are going to put it on their wish lists instantly.

Worst of all though, they don't even have to come up with new content! They've realized that they can simply mix and match songs from the older games and sell them as "greatest hits" titles. I'd bet you a buck that next year, Activision is going to announce "Greatest Hits vol. 2" that has a bunch of tracks they didn't bother using this time around. It's like Activision believes they've stumbled upon a perpetual snowball of wealth, and they're going to keep rehashing it until people stop buying.

Essentially, Activision knows that Guitar Hero makes money, but they didn't learn their lesson from overmilking the Tony Hawk franchise. They are taking the old phrase "make hay while the sun is shining" a bit too close to heart, because they aren't even remotely concerned about what will happen when people get sick of Guitar Hero. If you told them that it's going to happen, they'd laugh at you, but that's because they're a bunch of idiots. It happened with Tony Hawk, and it WILL happen with Guitar Hero. It's only a matter of time.

More arcade gaming thoughts

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Today, Kotaku posted a story about a home arcade cabinet Dream Arcades, and they called it an ideal solution for people looking to play Street Fighter IV "the authentic way."

http://kotaku.com/5151618/dream-arcades-offers-street-fighter-iv-arcade-solution

Well, there's certainly some truth in that, however I figured I'd share my 2¢ on the topic, since arcades are something I have a lot of passion for, and I also happen to own my own arcade cabinet, which I converted into a Mame (Multi Arcade Machine Emulator) machine.

Since Kotaku's story was about Street Fighter 4, first of all I'd like to point out that Dream Arcades are OK, but they are more for retro 2D games (like the cab I made). I'm pretty sure they all use standard-definition CRT monitors, which make old games look gorgeous, however a new game like Street Fighter 4 or HD Remix begs for something a bit flashier. Dream Arcades are a great solution if you're looking to relive the glory days of the arcade at home, and you lack confidence with power tools, however I'm not quite sure I'd say they're ideal for bringing the modern arcade experience into the home rec room.

On the other hand, an HD arcade setup with a fancy flat panel monitor will make new games on PS3 and PC look amazing, but ****c games from the 80s and 90s will not look so hot. If you really are an arcade nut, having both setups would be the ideal, but that obviously is extremely expensive and takes up a lot of space. I spent about $800-1000 on my project (including the PC inside), but if I was going for an HD setup it would have easily run me into $2000 territory.

It's a shame that Capcom won't just give SF4 a proper US release. Even if they were just selling conversion kits, it would be a godsend to most arcade operators. SF2 made arcades the scene to be at in the 90s, and SF4 would have been a much needed shot in the arm for our ailing industry. Chances are, we're only going to get it here through gray market imports, which means it's going to be rare and extremely expensive. My local arcade's imported Tekken 6 machine costs $3.00 a play! It makes me wish I could build myself a sligh HD arcade machine to play these games on, but that's not happening since I have neither the money nor space. For now, I'll just have to content myself with my PS3 and my portable custom arcade stick.

Are JRPGs in decline?

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Last generation, when I heard "RPG," it was synonymous with games like Final Fantasy. Ever since Final Fantasy VII, Japan pretty much ruled the RPG scene, but in the current generation, JRPGs seem to have been going into somewhat of a decline. Take a look at the scores that the heavy-hitter JRPGs on current-gen systems have gotten:

Blue Dragon - 6.0
Lost Odyssey - 7.5
Eternal Sonata - 8.5
Tales of Vesperia - 8.5
The Last Remnant - 6.5
Infinite Undiscovery - 6.5

Out of all of them, only 2 have broken the AA barrier. All of Square's games have been strictly B-grade in the 6.0 range. In fact, the highest scoring JRPG in the last few years was Persona 4, which got a 9.0, and that is a PS2 game! Japan's RPG kings have really dropped the ball this gen IMO. When you look at the RPGs that are actually recieving acclaim these days, they're all from American developers. Fallout 3 and Oblivion both managed to pick up game of the year awards, and Mass Effect, while AA game at Gamespot still did recieve a good amount of praise, and is considered to be one of the better RPG's of this generation. I loved both Oblivion and Fallout 3, and I hope to try Mass Effect at some point in the future, so for all intents and purposes, the WRPG developers have "stolen" me away from the JRPG market-- or more likely, the JRPG market handed me over.

So what happened that's causing JRPGs to dwindle this generation? Are the developers simply having trouble adapting to the new hardware, or is their creativity simply drying up? Whatever the case is, the Japanese RPG scene doesn't look very good this generation, and I really don't see any JRPGs on the horizon that I'm particularly excited about right now.

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