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Of Kratos, Dante, Kevin Smith and What Not

Surprised at not finding any thread in DMC4 PC forums on the Dante vs. Nero topic, I searched through all of GS forums to find a marvellous thread on Kratos vs. Dante vs. what not. That's very Kevin Smith: who's stronger: Frankenstein's monster or the mummy. As you might expect, the difference is that (unlike in Kevin Smith scripts) fanboyism spoils the fun letting passion come up first before "reason" (quoted since "reasoning" in such matters is deliciously oxymoronic).
Talking about heroes, anti-heroes and super-heroes, Dante is an unparalleled character in the sense that, unlike almost any other (save Marvel's Deadpool, perhaps), Dante never struggles. He just smokes anything in his path having a truckload of fun in the process. He is a cla ss of his own. Even though Dante's able to split two incoming bullets in four perfect halves with a single sword slash, he doesn't even bother dodging a huge dragon's bite-instead, he just forces its mouth open while cracking a joke in his usual, unwavering voice tone. He is able to soccer-kick dozens of dragon eggs that, after some crazy pinballing, end up rhythmically striking the dragon's head in a display of skill that would turn Bullseye green with envy. And when facing the same legion of toad-demons Nero had to desperately shut behind a dimensional gate, Dante rejoices at the chance of putting his new toy, Pandora's box, to the test, and pulverizes them all in the blink of an eye.
Truth is, Dante the playable character is actually as awesome as the cutscenes from DMC 3 or 4 depict him, something you realize the moment you get the knack of DMC controls. DMC4, allowing the simultaneous use of all 4 (eventually 5) fighting styles, turns Dante into a true powerhouse. Nero simply pales in comparison - as the very villain in DMC4 tells him, "you're not in Dante's league". In fact, nobody is.

PC Gaming Strikes Back, Amd Says

Or at least wishes so. Truth is, the CPU/GPU/chipset manufacturer (who by the way has just fired its CEO, the one under whose command the company has been invariably going down) has just come up with a brand new and absolutely promising PC logo program (full news here: http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?i=3312).
In general terms, what AMD is doing is trying to create a new logo, aiming to achieve the Centrino logo popularity, that guarantees that any PC bearing the logo offers solid performance when running the most demanding PC games. This logo program comes in two flavors: AMD Game! and AMD Game! Ultra. AMD Game! guarantees minimum framerates of 30 fps on 1280x1024 resolutions, while AMD Game! Ultra certifies machines capable of sustaining 30 fps frame rates running at 1600x1200 resolutions. The titles AMD tested include Quake Wars, Half Life 2 Episode Two, World of Warcraft, Call of Duty 4 and Command & Conquer 3. Needless to say, hardware specs (which encompass minimum CPU, GPU, chipset and installed memory requisites) are quite steep -you won't be able to find qualifying machines in some of Spain's biggest online PC retailers.
Even before seeing how actually effective this program turns out to be, I'd say PC gaming was desperately begging for such a program. In fact, Microsoft has done the same at a software level, with Games for Windows: to create a recognisable brand that states a given title meets some requirements and includes certain features that guarantee the game will work fine on Windows PCs. Besides, GFW offers GFW Live! -with its multiplayer features being free now. Microsoft will doubly benefit from AMD Game!, since GFW Live! and xBox Live! are compatible. There's even a slowly growing list of titles that offer multiplayer compatibility on both platforms over GFW Live! and xBox Live. More PC Gamers equal more GFW Live users, which in turn mean more people on xBox Live! With social gaming becoming more predominant, this can only mean good news for Microsoft.
The coupling of AMD Game! with Games for Windows may at last enable non-tech-savvy users to choose Windows PCs as their gaming platform of choice with absolute confidence. Anyone can now walk to the store, get a AMD Game! certified PC, and buy any given Games for Windows title knowing it will perform just as fine as any game bearing the PS3, Xbox 360 or Wii logo does in their respective systems. Games for Windows certifies easy installation, hardware compatibility (there are more and more hardware devices with the Games for Windows logo each day), and with Games for Windows Live! free services users will enjoy the same achievements and social stuff xBox Live! users have come to love.
Not all is fun and games. There are some questions that will need answers, like what will happen to this logo program and next year state-of-the-art games. Still, AMD Game! sounds like a new milestone in electronic entertainment, and a much needed move in the PC gaming world.

Of Christmas gifts, smokers and gamers

Recent anti-smoking laws in Spain state that pubs, cafeterias, restaurants, etc. need to clearly state whether or not smoking is allowed. If it is, then children are not allowed. The thing is, nine out of ten bars allow smoking. Because if a single person in your group smokes, chances are all of you will hang out in a smoker's pub, regardless of your own preferences. Non-smoking bars have almost no customers.

XBox live has 12 million users. Social users, one might add.

Last Christmas my sister asked if we could buy a Wii as a gift to the whole family. Since that moment I knew I wouldn't ever buy a PS3, if only because it would make me feel so selfish. As a satisfied PC gamer I have not a huge interest in getting a console in the near future, however-that's why I haven't got one. If I were to get one, I'd probably go for the xBox 360 with PS3 a very close second. Being a Windows media extender is a deal breaker to me; furthermore, there are some local xbox bundles that include a second wireless controller, five games, and a wi-fi adapter together with the 120GB hard drive xbox 360 Elite edition for less than the most basic PS3 edition. But what matters most in this-or any other-matter are those you care about. So if I'm to buy a console on the near future, it will be the Wii -the last on my preferences list, by far.

I can't see how this year will be the PS3 year, as Sony representative at E3 claimed. I can't see any year being PS3 year in the near future. PS Home has given competitors a 12 million users head start. I certainly am eager to see how on earth Sony is going to make up for that.

The good, the bad and the ugly

I'm talking here about Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony press conferences at E3 '08. After thoroughly watching all three conferences I've arrived at some conclusions I'm about to explain.

Let's start with Nintendo - the "good". Nintendo's success is the result of innovation, true -but what innovation, or better yet - whose? Nintendo has a lead not because of innovation through the interface; that helps but certainly isn't the key. Nintendo has taken a page right out of the book of mr. Will Wright (who, after all, designed the most successful computer game in history-the Sims) and, instead of videogames, are making digital toys. Tamagotchis of sorts, if you prefer. Of course, they're doing far more than taking just a page of Will's book - they're taking Spore to Nintendo DS, too. Dolls were found in the ruins of Pompei; two millenia later, The Sims storm our computers -and Nintendogs our handhelds. Some things don't change. Not everybody is into videogames, but everyone has played with toys. Also, there are all types of non-games arriving to the DS -cooking tips and recipes, fitness managers, and what not. The tactile screen makes those pieces of software (games, toys, or whatever) much more satisfying to play with than the classically schemed Psp. Nintendo's big lie, however, is that they say they almost achieved parity in videogames (48% of DS sold last year were bought either by or for women, they say); the share of women playing videogames on the DS is no higher than those doing so on their xbox or ps. What is different, however, is how many women play with digital toys on their DS or their Wii.

Of course, Nintendo knows about the power of social gaming and the so-called "community". That's why Animal Crossing is their main event of the show. But Microsoft -the "bad", not so because of xbox 360 performance but because of their easy-to-hate-behemoth status- knows a little about that, too. MS is doing far more than great with xBox live. xBox is bound to eat the PS3 alive -if it hasn't yet. So you have a Blu-ray disc? "That don't impress me much", seems to be MS answer, who offer to download directly through xbox live up to 10.000 different TV series and blockbuster titles-which you can share with any friends that are connected. No need to walk to the video store. With things like Xbox Live Marketplace, XNA -that's community content, Sony and Nintendo; that's supporting developers; that's giving power to the players- and what not, Microsoft is hands down winning the community wars. Maybe the 3rd generation wars too -handheld devices aside, MS current Achilles heel.

Microsoft is doing great in terms of franchises -far better than Sony, if you ask me. If PS3's next big thing is Resistance 2, Sony's people would better brace themselves -Halo 3 and Gears of War 2 are going to make real short work of them. Resident Evil is no longer a difference. Gran Turismo? I don't think it so much better than Project Gotham Racing as to justify the difference in price between xbox 360 and ps3. And you still got Forza Motorsport (and many others) on your 360 too. Then you've got that suspicious attempt to provide "community content" called Little Big Planet. Oh, yes, and Ratchet and Clank. Let's see: first Sony boasts superiority thanks to franchises and hardware, but then after a little reality check they come clean with LBPlanet and R&C for the PS3 which, let's be honest, are more Wii than Wii Sports Resort -but not precisely so from a fun, target audience, or usability perspective, Wii's strong points.

PS2 last big thing was God of War, and God of War 3 was soundly announced to be arriving at the PS3. Xbox 360 is announcing Fable 2. While it's undeniable that the two games are by themselves different enough as to allow for little comparison, they do share in common their exclusiveness and the hopes their platforms are resting upon them; in short, they are the embodiment of a big part of each company's philosophy. It's on that basis that I'll establish my comparison. God of War, simply put, is more of the same with better graphics, better story, better combat and all that: bigger, better and badder. Pokemon evolution three. That's just the issue with the PS3. It's build for the next God-of-War title. The next game that won't draw a single non-believer an inch closer to electronic entertainment. Fable 2 has got lovely pets with amazing AI (Molyneux has a guinness record for that), has got on-the-fly cooperative gameplay, some of the deepest customization options in any videogame -and oozes innovation and creativity no matter what side you are looking at.

Sony's only hope is the Psp and maybe the lingering momentum of PS2. Sony's the ugly right now. Really, I find the fact that the PS inventor got the boot shortly after the PS3 fiasco quite revealing. Things are looking really ugly for Sony right now. Sure, I've seen developers talk about PS3 hardware greatness -but I've also read the reviews where the same titles that stutter in the xbox do suffer from those very same frame rate drops in the PS3. So what good is all that hardware power?

Electronic entertainment may be the next big thing -but not so because of hardcore gamers, the one Sony is so obfuscatingly and almost exclusively catering to, with portable devices that handle like 15-year-old gameboys and shooters your mom -or your little sister- would run away from. Community-oriented services and titles are key -Sony isn't lead there either. Nintendo's dual front and innovation gives them an edge over microsoft - but MS support for and commitment to community content, independent developers and their own sort of innovation is making the Redmonds a formidable adversary. In any case, things are hotter than ever, and nothing's better for us consumers than strong competition.

Dellivering performance

No typo there. I recently laid my hands on a brand new Dell Vostro 410, q9450 version, I bought from dell.com.

The machine mounts a 45 nm Intel q9450 processor onto an Intel G33 chipset mobo. The processor, working at a stock 2,66 MHz, sports four cores, 12 MB L2 cache, and a 1333 MHz FSB that, paired with the G33 chipset, offers some serious bandwidth. Included in the package are 2x1024 MB and 2x512 MB DDR2 800MHz dual channel memory sticks. The graphics card is a nVidia geForce 8800 GT, 512MB version. I changed the default 22" screen in favor of a 24" LCD flat panel, with a native resolution of 1920x1200, 5 ms response time, 1:1000 contrast and 450 cd/m2 luminance. The power supply unit provides 350 watts; you'd think it may be a little on the short side but after some toiling with the computer I'd say it more than does the job (online tests I checked state that the same rig with a q9300 processor consumes 240 watts under heavy load). Preinstalled OS is Vista Home Premium OEM.

To say it was a bargain, or a steal, would be a major understatement. It was the best offer I'd ever seen, period. To tell the truth, I had a hard time building a similar machine on a very cheap online computer parts retailer for the same price WITHOUT ANY SCREEN. Needless to say, 24" flat panels aren't what you'd call cheap - even though prices have undergone a steep drop.

If you're wondering how this rig performs, stay assured it delivers the goods. I ran Mass Effect (1920x1200, maximum quality on all settings) for a couple of straight hours and not only didn't the thing stutter for a second (in fact I'd say it stood way over 30fps with no hiccups at all), but also it ran quite silently -meaning it wasn't generating much heat. The same applies to NFS Pro Street, 1920x1200 max settings.

Nothing's ever perfect, though. Besides the fact that Vostro 410 is sold only to SMBs, I'm having a hell of a time trying to make my creative i-trigue 7100 speakers (7.1 surround) work with the mobo-based Realtek HD Audio. No luck with my side speakers yet. It seems to be a very common issue though (just google "realtek HD vista speakers" and you'll see).

All in all, if you're looking for performance at bargain prices (at least in Europe), Vostro really delivers.

Bewitched

I've been into gaming for more than 20 years, since my parents bought me a good ol' rubber-keyed Sinclair ZX Spectrum. The Hobbit, that old text-based adventure, got me into gaming. Since then, I've spent countless hours playing hundreds of games of all colors and shapes. And I can't recall any other game that entertained me the way The Witcher just did.

Some way across the middle of the game, I dropped my mouse, rested my chin on my hand, and spent a good couple of minutes worrying about the moral consequences of the choice that was in order. I didn't care about the rewards, the risk, or anything else. Usually, when you play a so-called "role-playing game" all you care about is your character's ability or stats progression, loot, and risk assessment. When you play The Witcher, you care about who your character is, who he will become, and what will happen to the characters he befriends along the way. Everything else becomes secondary.

The witcher you begin the game with will have little to do with the witcher you end with. As in a novel, the main characters evolve reacting to that ever-changing world that surrounds them and which, in turn, reflects their actions, climaxing in an astounding monument to time paradoxes and feedback craziness. The sober maturity of themes and characters, the astonishing turn-of-the-screw in so many of the excellent subplots, will make you gape in amazement more than once.

I think all that deserves a very special mention.

When the smoke goes down

The time for speculation is mostly over. Gamespot has gone from absolute silence to letting its staff members speak freely -or at least as freely as industry-standard non-disclosure clauses in Jeff's contract allow- about Jeff Gerstmann's departure.

Even though the exact reasons of Jeff getting the boot will almost certainly remain unseen long enough as to be finally revealed when no one cares, my current guess is Jeff's firing didn't have anything to do with editorial integrity.

Gamespot's latest Spot On: Gamespot on Gerstmann has Ryan Davis, one of Jeff's best friends even before Gamespot existed, acknowledge the fact he would retire Jeff's video review because of serious flaws at many levels. That speaks volumes.
All of the editors partaking in the podcast -including other old friends of Jeff like editor Alex Navarro- admit that it all boiled down to a most unfortunate series of totally unrelated events: K&L ad campaign expiring that very day, its video review taken down (which they all agree is not such a big deal and has happened before more than once) due to an indisputable lack of polishing they blame on fiery deadlines, Jeff's being fired without warning and in an exceptionally untimely fasion, and, on top of it all, an awful management of the whole state of affairs on C|Net/ Gamespot's side. To me, it all makes perfect sense, Jeff's best friends and colleagues sound totally honest, and that settles the matter.

A couple of afterthoughts.

Gamespot is the spearhead of online journalism in the ever-growing gaming industry. It reaches a vast, heterogeneous audience which comprises people of different age and interests. My boss -who is well into his late thirties- rides a two-litre diesel Audi A4 latest model, luxury pack included, and is a sucker for war-themed FPS, like COD. He belongs to the type of audience sites as different as caranddriver.com and dpreview.com both target. Certainly, there are some editorial trends within Gamespot that would seem absolutely out of place in those sites, and I can't help but wonder why Gamespot needs to be any different.

Even though I've gone mad enough about Jeff's departure as to do more than my share of online jackassing, I must admit Josh Larson -or C|Net- are in their absolute right to set the tone or stylisticrules of each and every review, preview, video, or podcast being published, aired, or uploaded to gamespot.com, just as it's being done by every other site in the same league Gamespot is -which is no less than Alexa's top 100, or almost. Does having a set of editorial guidelines compromise the basic principles of editorial independence or integrity? Not in the least, to honor the truth. And if an editorial director ever feels the need to sit down with his team and tell them to pay due attention to AAA releases, it certainly sounds more like an editorial team not doing their homework than a board of directors, or the financial department, trying to score some more big advertising deals.

On second thought

I happen to have worked as an English-as-a-second-language teacher. What follows is a classic exercise.

Order the following words in a proper way:

  • PC

  • 50-dollar

  • ugly

  • mouse-driven

  • first-person shooter

  • videogame

Any teacher of English as a second language would accept some hesitation regarding whether 50-dollar should go after or before mouse-driven, but PC should stick as close as possible to videogame, and ugly as far as possible. Ugly needs to stay away from videogame because it's a subjective term, and the rule states that objectiveness must come closer.

One of the features I came to love about Internet Explorer 7 is the ability to open all of your bookmarks grouped inside a given folder by clicking the blue arrow to the right of the folder's name in the bookmark's tab. I've got one folder named leisure time that holds http://www.gamespot.com/, http://www.dpreview.com/, another digital photography site, a popular sports website, and an online version of an ages-old movie magazine. As long as my job and my family duties allow it, I click on that arrow every day.

I've seen Phil Askey and Simon Joinson from dpreview.com give quitetheir share of less-than-stellar reviews of Canon products. The recent line of ultra-compact cameras that try to squeeze 10 MP into a tiny CMOS sensor that can't afford such a cluttering is responsible for that. Phil & Simon told so many times. Be it Canon, Panasonic, or Nikon, when a supposedly social camera isn't able to shoot at anything above ISO 100 -like, say, most indoors shoots-, dpreview.com reviewers absolutely pull no punches and call it like it is. However, I've never seen Phil or Simon start any of those reviews with anything that remotely resemblesCanon SD850 is an ugly, ugly camera. Have I seen Phil or Simon make such statements? Yes, indeed, but only in their review final words, only after they had analyzed all aspects and then some at a painstaking level of detail, and only after they had given equal praise to what was worth it and denounced whatever flaws the device had. They took exquisite careof placing their opinions aside from the objective analysis making it crystal clear that it's just their opinion. That's journalism 101.

Kane & Lynch: Dead Men is a rated M for mature videogame. I've been eagerly following all the news, previews, videos and interviews because I loved the setting. For instance, I loved that developer video about K&L character creation process. I find Kane & Lynch characters interesting from a gaming point of view. I wouldn't agree to any subjective statement in the line of it's impossible to like any of the characters, even in a cool anti-hero kind of way. Such a bold statement is not true and it's out of place in a professional review, especially when that opinion is placed alongside other comments regarding gameplay or audio quality. It's at least questionable that the use of the f* word is such a problem in the light of the nature and audience of the game we're talking here, and I certainly wouldn't say character design is cheap after having seen what I have about the game.

Talking about questioning. What I've been asking myself lately is: had Jeff refrained from using such terms and bold statements, and stuck to a professional balancing of pros & cons in his review, always being focused on the game's scope and audience, even though the bottom line didn't change a pinch, would he still be writing reviews for GameSpot? The truth is, I don't think there is an easy answer to that question. And as long as I haven't got a definite answer to that, the pressure from Eidos being responsible for Jeff's firing will remain a rumor as far as I'm concerned.

I've done my share of protesting. Quick check my profile to get honest proof to that. But right now I got a feeling I've been unfair to Kane & Lynch developers -and perhaps even to its publishers-, to Josh Larson, and perhaps to many Gamespot editors that follow the same professional practices Greg Kasavin did, like Jason Ocampo or Kevin Van Ord, to name a few.

I'm saying Greg Kasavin for a reason. If you check Kasavin's (or GregK) blog at gamespot.com you'll find his latest entry revealing, to say the least. I can't say I like the spin GS took since Greg, its chief editor, left. But I would dare say, had Greg remained at GS I doubt Jeff's review would have been aired in the state it was when it got removed. Because, as much as I hate saying so, if C|Net's official reason for withdrawing Jeff's video review of Kane & Lynch is its failure to meet certain professional criteria, I'll have to go with C|Net this time.

I got hooked on Gamespot a few years ago after watching GS' game of the year awards video. There was Greg Kasavin, there was Rich Gallup, and there was Jeff Gerstmann too. I remember thinking this is journalism when watching that video, when reading many reviews, when viewing E3 video coverage. That seems a long long time ago, because ever since every now and then I get the feeling certain reviewers don't know where they're working at. As for yesterday 1/12/2007, Alexa ranked gamespot.com traffic at no. 113; cnn.com ranked 107. Which gives a proper analogy of GameSpot being the CNN of gamers. And it actually is, ladies and gentleman.

I remember feeling absolutely confident when purchasing Guild Wars or Oblivion after reading its reviews at Gamespot, and I proved right. Now I feel inclined to buy Kane &Lynch: Dead Men in spite of Jeff's review, and that has an undeniable meaning. Jeff didn't come up with any arguments that may discourage my liking of Kane & Lynch characters, plot, or setting -which to me remain some of its biggest selling points-, other that he didn't like those himself or the abuse of the f* word. Mr. Jeff Gerstmann, that's not the reason why I read Gamespot's one and only official Kane & Lynch review.

When you get paid for reviewing videogames at the industry-leading website you should bear in mind something more than basic English rules or your personal taste and opinion. You shouldn't mistake Gamespot's official review for your blog. If you're going to bash a stellar launch from one of your employer's main sources of income, you'd better make sure you do so properly, professionally, and do not give any excuses for getting the boot, espcially after they have asked you once to change your tone -which is leaps and bounds different from changing your score. As it is, it's unclear whether Jeff would have been fired had he kept his paid-for review up to scratch.

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