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The Music of Games: Beyond the Background

Music is amazing. Not any other way to describe it really. A collaboration of sounds that come together to stir our souls and make us feel an endless variety of emotions. We humans put music to everything--It's playing while were driving, working, shopping, hanging out with friends, watching a movie, and gaming is no exception. Music has been in video games as early as the arcade days and the Atari 2600, Rally-X being the first game to actually feature a full-blown looping music track. Since that terribly annoying tune, game music has evolved into something I'm sure most game composers of old never dreamed it would be. The general, non-gaming public is finally starting to warm up to the concept that video game music is no longer the grating chimes of the 2600s two-tone soundchip--It's real music. Much of it legendary. Whether it's the beautiful and haunting melodies of Kingdom Hearts by the great Ms. Yoko Shimomura, the legendary Koji Kondo and his ever-well-known scores for Mario and Zelda titles, or the songs from many RPGs that will forever echo through time composed by the great Yasunori Mitsuda, no honest man can deny they are truly great musical works. With the advent of wonderful events such as game music concerts, I have no doubt that were headed toward a future thats less ignorant pertaining these musical geniuses. Today I'd like to discuss something a bit different than just praising this music, however--While for a majority of games music is a background mechanic, there are many where music plays a greater, more influential role. So lets take a look at the evolution of the genre that brought music in games to the forefront--Rhythm games. Guinness World Records states the the first rhythm game ever made was a NES/Famicom title by Bandai called Family Trainer Aerobics Studio. I can only assume the game earns this title because technically it does contain elements of the genre. You used the NES Power Pad to perform aerobic activities to the rhythm of the leotard-clad trainer's garbly synthetic voice. It's a shame, really, that the honor goes to such a title. I debate this claim, actually. Im sure many will contradict/correct me (please do in the comments), but I personally believe the first rhythm game is a very off-the-radar title for the Famicom developed by a fellow named Toshio Iwai called Otocky. To be honest, its really no wonder nobody knows about this charming little title. Not only was it a Japan-only release, but it was for the Famicoms Disk System attachment--Launching its obscurity to new heights. The game is a side-scrolling shmup, in which your ships weapon, large red orbs, can be fired in eight directions ("Oct") depending on the button pressed. The interesting twist is that the shots can only be fired in time to the music, and each shot direction produces a different note. All the musical notes in the stage, which are dropped by enemies, must be collected to move on. Secondary weapons can be acquired, and even items that change the sound of the notes. And as if that wasnt enough for its time, the game even contains an editor system for users to create their own compositions. It's very possible that this neat little title might have received the accolade of being first of its kind had it been released two months earlier.


Gameplay of Otocky

As cool as Otocky is, it is Konami who has been credited by most for producing the first rhythm game that really set the stage for things to come--Parappa the Rapper for the Playstation in 1996. The game, which is one of the most bizarre I have ever played in my life, focuses on a rapping dog who is trying to impress the love of his life--A talking flower. Gameplay consists of Parappa going through different tasks that he needs to accomplish to impress his lady love--And how much better to accomplish them then by rapping? Each stage would have another rapper accompany Parappa. The rapper would throw down a rhyme, which would be symbolized by string of PS1 buttons on the top of the screen. A marker would then begin to scroll along the button symbols in time to the beat, and the player then had to make Parappa repeat the line back by pressing the buttons in time with the song. This concept of using visual markers in time with music set the stage for the genre and still is the core of many rhythm games even today. Parappa came out in 1997, and not but two years later did Konami unleash its new musical branch called, Benami. It was this branch that in the year of 1999 created what is possibly the most legendary rhythm game ever created--Dance Dance Revolution.


The PSP Remake of Parappa the Rapper

I saw a TV show the other day where there was a spoof of DDR--A character yelled out something to the effect of, "Look! There's Dance Party Mania! The game that tricks people into working out!" It's actually a very accurate description. In DDR, players stand on a pad that has four buttons. The buttons are arrows pointing up, down, right, and left. Players chose one of the many songs which consisted of mostly techno and pop styles, and then watched the screen as arrows scrolled from bottom to top to the songs rhythm. When an arrow reached the top of the screen, players had to step on the corresponding button. When strung together it was almost as if the player was dancing--Especially on higher difficulties. DDR spawned countless sequels and home releases--Even Mario got in on the fun with DDR: Mario Mix on GameCube--And although the dance sensation has lost much of its popularity it had during the early 2000s it is still widely known as a "revolution" to the rhythm genre. Around a decade later, America would get swept up in games like Just Dance and Dance Central which would entail the player dancing for real.

After DDR, marker-based rhythm games took off like a shot. Much like DDR emulated dancing, other rhythm games soon rose up that emulated instruments. Incidentally, the same year Benami released DDR, arcades were graced the unique and quirky Samba De Amigo, developed by Sega's own Sonic Team. The game featured a cast of colorful, Latin-style animals featuring a monkey named Amigo, who represented the player as they held a pair of magnetic sensor-toting maracas. On-screen a large ring of six circles appeared--Two high, two middle, and two low. As the characters danced and partied in the background to the up-beat, Latin soundtrack, dots would appear in the center of the ring and gravitate toward the circles in rhythm. Players had to shake the maracas in time with the dots, holding the maracas high up, mid-range, or down low depending on to which circles the dots traveled--Also taking into account whether to shake the left or right maraca. Since the maracas had real shakers, the result was an authentic, fun-filled experience that made players feel like they were the center of attention at a grand celebration. One year later, the game was ported to the late-great Sega Dreamcast to be enjoyed in the living room, and eight years after that a sequel appeared on Wii--It wasn't very well received, however. Ironically, the Wii Remote wasnt exactly designed to be able to perform the tasks the decade-year-old maraca peripherals were designed to do. Although poor Amigo and Co. never rocketed to mass-popularity, they will still live on as a wonderful example of a great, innovative title in rhythm gaming.


Just seeing it makes you feel like you're having fun.

Later on, other instruments began to take the spotlight. Drum-based titles made their appearance in the early 2000s with the Japanese-only Taiko no Tatsujin, which used markers to help users play a large taiko drum, and, in 2003, Nintendo tried their hand at the genre with their Donkey Konga for GCN, starring the loveable ape and a pair of bongo drums.

Then there was Harmonix's legendary Guitar Hero, which rocked the world in 2005 using a guitar peripheral that used buttons to emulate frets, and a center switch for strings. As the markers came down, players held down the correct buttons and strummed, making them feel like full-blown rock stars as they played an enormous collection hits. The series spawned a plethora of sequels and has sold 25 million copies worldwide. Harmonix generated another 13 million sales with their Rock Band series, which used the same gameplay mechanics as Guitar Hero, except this time players were able to use a bass guitar, drums, a keyboard, and a microphone--This brought a powerful co-op experience to the rhythm genre--Something it had been lacking until then. The Guitar Hero and Rock Band games continued to be immensely popular until sometime in the area of 2009-2010 at which sales and interest started to taper off. As of 2011, these series are both on hiatus.

Not all rhythm games were out to emulate instruments, however. Some very new and experimental titles arose from the genre. The cult classic, Rez, an abstract on-rails shooter in which weapons and environments changed with the music, appeared on PS2 in 2001. The same year, Gitaroo Man was released on the same system--Coming four years before Guitar Hero, it focused on a boy with a powerful guitar that could be used to fight his enemies, and used an interesting control scheme that feautured correctly titling the analog stick to play the instrument.


Rez

In the mid 2000s, Nintendo systems were home to some innovative titles in the genre. The DS gave birth to acouple of rather interesting and experimental games for the genre. Electroplankton (2005) was just such a title. Infact, some are hard-pressed to call the title a game due to its very experimental nature. The player observes the Electroplankton--Cute, microscopic creatures that, when reacting with each other and their environment, create sound. The player could use the stylus to manipulate these factors and therefore create different sounds and music. It's a very charming title that was received quite well for what it was. And guess who made it? Toshio Iwai--The same gentleman who created Otocky eighteen years prior. Also worth mentioning are Meteos which came out later that year--A mildly successful puzzle title in which music would escalate and change when the player was matching tiles, and Jam Sessions (2007), the game that turned the user's DS into a guitar.


The sounds you can make with the Electroplankton can be very beautiful.

Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan, another 2005 title, is a Japanese rhythm game on DS that used marker-based gameplay, but a different kind than mainstream rhythm games were employing. The game focuses on a Japanese cheer squad (the Quendan) who cheer people on through undesirable tasks and situations. Numbered circles appear on-screen and thin rings begin to appear and close in around them. As the rings meet exactly with the edges of the circles, they must be tapped. Throw in a few other special markers and an upbeat soundtrack and you've got a furious tap-fest blast of a rhythm game. A title called Elite Beat Agents was released in America with pretty much the same plot concept and identical gameplay mechanics. The game didnt take off, however, which is disappointing, because many enthusiasts of the genre consider it a gem.

The DS also housed Rhythm Heaven. The game was released in 2008, and in America, it was made to appear as if it was a new IP. In reality, Japan got the first game in 2006--Rhythm Tengoku for the GBA. Both games follow the same premise, however--The player is put into many random situations and given equally random tasks to accomplish--To the rhythm. A samurai slashes ghosts into shreds to a traditional oriental tune, love-potions are made by "love scientists" to a groovy funk tune, and Karate Joe trains to be the strongest warrior alive by punching flowerpots in midair to a power ballad. Both games feature quite a large library of these strange tasks--They're unique and charming titles that are outrageously fun and break the traditional mold of the genre. After receiving much praise, Nintendo released an outstanding sequel for Wii in 2012--They were very wise, and opted to use button controls vs. motion, to maintain the preciseness of the rhythm detection. Of course, no one's stopping you from pretending you're swinging that katana. Not that anyone would engage in anything stupid like that.

Also released in the same year was Patapon for Sony's PSP. Besides producing a sequel to Gitaroo Man in 2006, the PSP served the purpose of hosting one of the most influential rhythm games ever. Patapon is an extremely fun and innovative title in which you play as a god named Kami who rules over a tribe of cute, little eyeball-creatures called Patapon. As Kami, you have control over four holy drums that each make one unique sound. Pata, Pon, Chaka, and Don. During gameplay, the Patapon head into battle against the enemy--A constant drumbeat plays in the background, and you must play *your* drums in time to that beat to command the Patapon. For example, playing Pata Pata Pata Pon is the command for "advance", and Pon Pon Pata Pon tells your troops to attack. With RPG style elements like gaining new gear and leveling up your troops, Patapon is known as one of the best titles available for PSP--Along with its two sequels.


Spank them bottoms!

The year 2008 then continued on to be a great year for rhythm gaming with the release of Audiosurf. The game was one of the first titles that made a splash in the concept of being able to choose your own songs to insert into the game for play. Players chose a ship, and flew along a pre-set course. The speed of the ship, as well as the generation of bad and good tiles the player had to dodge and collect respectively, were controlled by the user's music choice. The games Space Invaders: Infinity Gene (2009) and Beat Hazard (2010) are shmups who followed suit later on, as the games' enviroments and circumstances were molded by the users musical choices.

In 2009, we got Bit.Trip. Bit.Trip was a series of five games--Beat. Core. Void. Runner. Fate. Flux. All six games took cues from the age of the 2600, and the visuals were a mix of that style and modern graphics. Not only did the 2600 influence the visuals, but gameplay as well. While Core and Fate are more original, shooter-type games, and Void a different sort of game of its own, Beat, Runner, and Flux are heavily influenced by Pitfall! and Pong. It's not just the quirky throwback style that makes the series so great, but also the fact that the unique, chiptune soundtrack is a huge part of the game. In Beat and Flux, it's almost as if you're playing a musical game of Pong, as pellets come from the opposite side of the screen in time with the music. Runner is like a musical side-scroller, and it's the same sort of pattern with all the other games in the series. If all this wasnt good enough, the games tell a very cryptic, and almost haunting story about the main character--Commander Video. Gaijin Games was the mastermind studio behind these great games, and is actually currently developing Runner 2, a sequel to the most successful game of the six.


Bit.Trip. Beat

I could mention quite a bit more on the past of the genre at hand, but what's in the future for rhythm games? After 2009, most new content for the genre consisted of sequels of games I just mentioned--Infact, the market suffered from too-much rhythm-game-syndrome. As I noted earlier, this was around the time where the big rhythm franchises like Guitar Hero and Rock Band started to nose over--DDR unfortunately suffered the same fate as well. But I believe the genre will pick back up in good time. Developers are always finding smart new ways to employ seemingly overdone concepts in great new ways. The indie community is a great example of this. There are some unreleased titles, even, that we are already aware of. The 3DS, in addition to the recently released Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is getting Rhythm Thief and Emperor's Treasure later this year. Also on the horizon is Xseed's new Vita title, Orgarhythm--A more realistic Patapon-style game, as well as Empty Clip's PC title Symphony--A new music library shmup. So to wrap it up, I hope you enjoyed reliving the history of rhythm games as much as I did, and I hope you'll join me in keeping an eye for more quality titles in this great genre which takes music in games to new level. Thanks for reading!

--Naut

ICO Review

Beat ICO off the Team ICO Collection yesterday. The review is up, so let me know what you guys think!

じゃあ ね!

-Naut

Been A While

It's been a while since I've written a blog on GS. With the sad removal of the soapbox and no return of it in sight, my desire to write about gaming opinions and issues severely dropped. What's the point if no one will see them? But now that I have my new MacBook it's a bit more desirable and easier to write just for the heck of it, now that I no longer have to do it on the five year old Windows desktop PC I shared with my two younger siblings. I'm just gonna throw some random thoughts out there.

Firstly, life goes well. I recently quit my job at Chick-FIl-A due to the fact that I wasn't getting enough hours. They were giving me about 7-10 hours a week. With ridiculous hours like those, I was obviously making no money so I applied at the McDonald's across the street. They were more than willing to steal an employee from the competition. McDonald's is no Chick-Fil-A, but I'm getting the hours I need so it's all good.

As far as school goes, I'm in kind of a weird but interesting situation. Since I can't afford to go to a four year college I'm taking an alternative route. Basically, I'm spending my senior year (this year) doing the only course I have left of high school--The dreaded Algebra 2. Well, at least, *I* dread it. Math has always been my worst subject. As I'm doing that course, I'll be power-studying all year for about thirty-three individual tests. These tests, called "clep" tests, allow me to skip the college course they pertain to and give me their credits if I pass them. So for example--I study for the English Clep for two weeks, take the clep, pass it, and then bam--No English for me in college, and those credits are mine. I'll spend about two years doing this. And then, after I've clepped out of all my general ed., I will be able to earn a literal bachelors degree. Then I will transfer to an actual University (probably Liberty University) and spend two years earning my Master's. Yeah--It's gonna be interesting. :lol:

But I'll always have time to game. Speaking of which I was able to get a 3DS about three weeks ago-- I got it for $100 due to a deal at GameStop. I definitely like the device, although I had to immediately send it in for repairs due to a ridiculously loose screen hinge. I haven't bought any real 3DS games yet. I did spend like twenty bucks on the VC though, greedily buying GB/GBC games from my childhood--I love nostalgia. I'm currently replaying through LoZ: Link's Awakening. What a classic. Anyway, I'm looking forward to all the great games coming in the future. Super Mario 3D (I refuse to call it by its real name), Paper Mario 3D, Luigi's Mansion 2, KH3D, Kid Icarus, the far off Smash Bros. title, and even a new Yoshi title that's rumored to be in the works. Nintendo may be late to their own party, but at least they're showing up with a bang.

As far as other gaming endeavors go, I had the opportunity to play the Ratchet and Clank: Future trilogy during the summer. Had a blast--Crack In Time is definitely one of the finest games I have ever played. I actually just finished Size Matters for PSP, and I'm currently playing through Secret Agent Clank for the same platform. Size Matters was one big fat "meh", but SAClank definitely shows some real promise. A whole game centered around the coolest robot I know? Shoosh yeah. Also, some of you may know I'm avid CoD player, and I'm pretty proud to say I've almost finished the 15th Prestige on Black Ops. This is the first time I've ever max-prestige on a CoD title so I'm pretty satisfied with myself. I'm kind of doubting I'll have the time in the coming future to max-prestige in MW3, but rest assured I've already got that puppy pre-ordered and you can guarantee I'll be online quite frequently.

I might as well mention it while I'm on the subject of online gaming--I've been playing the AC: Revelations MP Beta with our friendly neighborhood Slyfur. She is quite the assassin indeed--And I gotta say. I consider Fur a good friend on GS, but there's something really satisfying about virtually assassinating her. :P

So lessee. Any gaming world issues I wanna bring up?…Ah, here's one. What the heck is the deal with this new dual-thumbstick attachment for 3DS? Bad, bad idea. For one, it looks clunky and out of place. Secondly, we *don't* need it. The only genre that truly needs dual thumbsticks is shooters, and the 3DS still doesn't really need them anyway because it has the touchscreen for aiming. I think that Nintendo trying to push this is going to be a big fail. Also, I'd like to speak for a moment about the MW3 vs. Battlefield 3 debacle. The trolls on both sides need to shut it. CoD is *not* a sucky series, and neither is Battlefield. The two are two totally different kinds of shooters that appeal to different kinds of player. Both games will sell well, and no one game will be dramatically better than the other. If you're tired of CoD--Fine. Go buy Battlefield. There's no need to troll about it. Me? I love CoD and could really care less about Battlefield right now. But I'm glad people that have grown tired of CoD have found an alternative. I'll play what I want to, and the rest can do as they please. No trolling involved.

To finish up on a random note, I've recently taken quite an interest in all things Japanese. I've begun to study Japanese on my own time, and have gotten addicted to the anime Lucky Star--An anime I really encourage you to watch if your into a light-hearted free plot--And as long as you don't mind the occasional ultra-fem moment. Anyway--Not sure why I've taken the sudden interest in these things, but I have a feeling that learning Japanese will come in mighty handy someday.

Alright guys, that's all I got. It's been fun to do a blog again. Peace, guys. Or I guess to part in Japanese…

じゃね!

-Naut

Re: Coded Review

Here's that Re: Coded review I mentioned. It's actually been a couple weeks since I wrote it--Just took a while for me to get around to proofreading and all that. Anyway, if interested, you can read it here.

-Naut

Gaming and the Bank

Money. Dirty word these days, isn't it? With the economy taking a turn for the worse, people losing jobs, and prices slowly creeping up, the last thing most of us want to think about is our financial burdens. If you're reading this, you're probably a gamer, and as you know, it takes money to fuel the gaming hobby. Like all material things, games eventually lose their appeal. No matter how many achievements, secret bosses, and multiplayer features you stuff inside a title, gamers will always be looking for new gaming opportunities. But hey, let's face it. Games are expensive. New PS3 and 360 titles run a cool sixty bucks a pop, with Wii titles running just ten under that. I work at a Chick-Fil-A in my city, and only work about 8-9 hours a week because of school. My paycheck's range just around ninety bucks every two weeks after tax, but that's not much counting the fifty percent I put away for the future. I know it's the right thing to save for the future, but I'll admit: Sometimes I wish I made a bit more. Forty-five bucks spending money sounds like quite a bit, but money slips through your fingers fast. After some Starbucks with Mom, a couple rounds of Pac-Man and pinball at my local arcade (which I hit up about once a week), and the miscellaneous item here and there, you realize that money wasn't as much as you though it was. I've always had an itchy trigger finger when it comes to spending. When Grammy would give us a twenty upon arriving at her house, the very first thing I wanted to do was run out and spend it up on a GBA game as fast as I possibly could. I've developed better self-control than that since then of course, but when I see money that I could be spending sitting in my bank account, the desire to shell it out for a new game creeps up. Recently though I've looked around and done some thinking--Let me share a few recent revelations with you guys that have kept me gaming on, and haven't made for a thin wallet.

Look Around You

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And I mean literally. If I was to look at my gaming collection right now, I would find a lot more opportunities for a new game than I might realize. Transformers: War For Cybertron sits on my shelf for one-I haven't touched it since my friend loaned it to me. I could start that. As I check the PSN, I notice that for being a Playstation Plus member I've received Double Fine's "Stacking" for free! I realize that a couple months back, GOG.com had given me a copy of Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games free-just for being a valued customer. I had bought Doom 1 and 2 with all their expansion packs for a mere $5 around Christmas time off Steam due to a huge sale. A lot of times there are gaming opportunities sitting all around you that you've forgotten about. A game you bought from a yard sale and forgot about, or that title you made it half-through but then another game distracted you. Take a careful look and make sure there aren't any games your missing that are right under your nose.

The Downloadable Market

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Yeah, yeah we've all heard this one before: PSN and Live games are all so much cheaper. Well, there's actually more to expand on here. But yeah. PSN and Live are great places to hit up when you're feeling low on cash. Titles like the legendary Braid and Castle Crashers are available for only fifteen dollars, and there are more great titles ranging from a market of $5-$10. PSN has a slew of original PS1 titles to choose from that are only $6-Sometimes $10 if it's a longer and more popular game (e.g. Any Final Fantasy title). And let's not exclude the Wii Shop channel. If it's a recently made game you're looking to download, WiiWare probably isn't the place to look. The service's titles are…Lacking to say the least. But there are a couple titles on the service that are practically musts. The entire Bit. Trip series is a joy, and everyone knows about World of Goo. The real focus of the Wii Shop channel, though, is its huge selection of retro Nintendo and Sega titles. You'd be hard pressed to not be able to find a superb title from Nintendo's past. The drawback? Nintendo requires deposits of ten dollars minimum. This is a drawback, which I admit, keeps me buying off PSN quite a bit more. Even still, I can't help but pick up an SNES classic from time to time. There's more places to look on the downloadable front than just The Big Three, however. The popular PC platform Steam offers a gigantic selection of titles to choose from-including cheap ones. The cheaper titles on Steam run anywhere from five to ten bucks as well, and there's some high quality stuff to be found. Doom, Jedi Knight: Dark Forces, and Plants Vs. Zombies rank among these prices. Go up five and grab a game like the groundbreaking Valve title Portal. The best part about all these titles I just named off, is that these will all run fine on a standard PC. No suped up gaming rig required. I run all these titles perfectly on my 1G RAM Windows XP: Media Edition (Portal gets a tad skippy every so often). Another great PC download front is a website I mentioned earlier: GOG.com. GOG, for those who don't know, stands for Good Old Games and is simply an awesome site to say the least. The guys over at GOG take old PC games, retool them to run without trouble on new PCs, and release them as downloadable titles that are totally DRM free. GOG has permission to do this from every single publisher, so it's totally legal (check out Game Informer's article) and the best part? No game goes beyond the price of ten dollars, and once again, these games will run on even Grandma's dinosaur. So go grab Heroes of Might and Magic, or the King's Quest 1, 2, and 3 bundle and kick it old school. These games still shine even today.

iPods and Smartphones

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I just recently made my spending account sob--First by refraining to spend much of it until I hit a mark of $290, and then shelling every cent of that amount out and purchasing myself a 32G Fourth Gen iPod Touch. To say I've been loving it would be and understatement. Finally having all my music on one device is like heaven, and a device that can do that AND text, do Facebook, check e-mail, watch movies and TV, etc. is just more that I could ask for. And as most of you know: It does games. I wasn't expecting too much on that front, but let me tell you--This thing is just about a full-fledge gaming platform as far as I'm concerned. Titles like Cut The Rope, Bit. Trip Beat, and League of Evil are all full-fledged games. Are they shorter than usual? Yes. But are they extremely high quality? Also yes. And the titles I just named are only ninety-nine cents. For the price of a song, you can grab yourself a new game. And it gets better. With a handy app called BargainBin, one like it, or a website such as AppShopper, you can stay on the watch for titles when they go on sale or better--free. I cannot tell you how many good games I've gotten for free since I've gotten this thing. The App Store includes every genre it seems. Platformers, RTSs, puzzlers, shmups, racers, and just plain unique stuff. So if your wallet's softly weeping for better days, your smartphone or iTouch may be just the place to look.

Just because your low on funds doesn't mean you have to stop getting new games. I hope I was able to at least shed a bit of a brighter outlook on the gaming market, and show you that there are plenty of means to turn to in order to scratch the itch for a new game. Peace, guys!

~Naut

Black Ops Online and Perfection

A few days ago a friend of mine posted a Facebook update about Black Ops upcoming release. One of his friends commented saying, "What's Black Ops?" Another friend commented and asked this individual if he'd been living in a cave for the past year. He's right. Black Ops is possibly the most hyped game of all time-up there in the ranks of Brawl or Modern Warfare 2. And, as is the case with most hyped games, they don't usually live up to the great anticipation. It doesn't mean they're bad-usually superb, but with games like these, people usually expect perfection. And when you expect perfection, you're often let down. Because, I mean, let's face it. Perfection is a lofty goal. Us gamers usually learn from this, and try not to get so excited, but that's usually a futile struggle. So, as I finally got home from piano practice at 5:00 Tuesday, I ripped that disk from it's case, shoved it in to my PS3, connected to the PSN, and played a match. And another. And another. Something shocking had come about. I couldn't find barely anything wrong.

My Dad walked into my bedroom and watched me play a round or two-as he often likes to do when I play online games. He noted that it looks like absolutely nothing has changed since MW2. Now, my Dad knows his CoD, being a seasoned CoD4 player himself, and I explained that things might not look vastly different. I noted that there's only so much you can change in an FPS. After all, what do you want? People flying around with jetpacks and shooting each other with laser guns? When it comes to an FPS, the core gameplay will remain the same. You run around a map, and you shoot people. It's surprising, though, how maddeningly fun and addicting or horrifyingly atrocious and experience it can be game to game. As much as I feel hypocritical doing it, I think it's best to use MW2 as a tool to explain much of the successes of Black Ops. Let's begin. Let's start with the basics. Just like in previous games, Black Ops shoves you straight into the action with a choice of three preset classes to use. These guns are admittedly not the best, but after just a few kills you soon work your way to level four where a whole new world awaits you. In previous games, every weapon, perk, equipment, etc. was unlocked level by level. But as many already know, that's not quite so in Black Ops. This game employs a currency system-CoD Points, or CP. You earn this currency by leveling up, playing matches, and gambling your money in Wager Matches, which we'll get to in a moment. Here comes one minor complaint. When the game was being advertised, Treyarch really stressed how great this system was, and how there was no more waiting for the things you wanted. And they're right to a certain degree. Every perk, equipment item, and gun attachment is unlocked for your purchase from the start. But oddly enough, guns aren't. One still has to get to a certain level to unlock the gun, and even after he's unlocked, he still has to buy it! It seems odd, and unfitting with the system. But CoD fans are used to this. It's not a bad way of going about it, it just seems out of place. But to get down to it, CP is the one of the best things that ever happened to CoD. You can buy so many things to customize your loadouts it's insane. There are about ten attachments for each gun, a slew of camo designs to put on your gun, clan tag gun engraving, the option to put your emblem on your weapon, sight customization, face paint. Yeah. There's a lot here to make your loadout truly your own. There's even a new emblem maker in which you can buy shapes and pictures and use the in-game tools to establish your identity further. You have to unlock each page of these pieces by level, then buy them at a cheap price-a concept which, once again, I find odd. But designing an emblem is still fun, especially if you're creative, unlike me. The customization is so diverse, you'll never again see a player just like you. It makes the game even more addiciting-and yes. Just like Chris Watters said, gaining CP is just as satisfying as earning EXP.

The battlefield is the true test, and here, Treyarch has done a brilliant work. It's truly a pretty much perfect Call of Duty experience. Everything just feels balanced. Everything. There's no more Stopping Power, so it takes just a tad more to kill. This is a good thing, as now, no guns are overpowered-you never feel like you were killed instantly anymore. And since there's no more stopping power, you can actually use other perks. The perks are all varied and fun, and none of them are must haves-again giving you a feeling that your play style is truly your own. Perks contribute to the balance of this game as well. Everything has a counter it seems. Noob tubes are now not only toned down in power, with no Danger Close to rely on to boot, but the effects can be almost nulled with the perk Flac Jacket. It has been tested, and it's been found it takes two direct explosions with the tube to kill a flac jack user. Commando is out, eliminating the Knife Runners. Even non-noobish things have counters, so as not to make anything over-powered. Ghost makes you undetectable by Spy Planes, Hacker lets you see explosives, and flac jacket also functions as a flamethrower repellant to name a few examples. Customizable killstreak rewards also return, but no longer count toward other killstreaks. For example, you can't call in a Mortar Team at five kills, gain two kills from the strike, and then immediately gain a chopper. The exceptions of course, are that kills that you gain while using Spy Planes (UAVs) and Blackbirds (a new, eight killstreak real-time UAV) count toward your streak. This makes the high caliber killstreaks quite balanced, and also makes you think about whether you want to take the offensive route with your streaks, or a more supportive one. There's a great variety of guns to choose from; all heavily customizable of course, and none feeling all-powerful. On a side note, shotguns return as primaries once again-a feature that I know a good many are excited about.

The maps are definitely impressive, with ones such as Firing Range and Nuketown really shining. Unfortunately, sometimes these maps are abused with the new feature to vote for the previous map. Many times you'll get stuck in a lobby where people will vote for the same map over and over, which can be annoying, and I'd like to see this get fixed at some point.

Most of the classic game modes return, along with a new type of mode called Wager Match. In these matches, you gamble your CP away in a variety of battle royal game modes. If you're in the top three, you get a profit; if you're below that, you lose all that you gambled. These matches, which I won't take the time to explain since all of you know them already, are great fun and keep your heart constantly racing. Sticks and Stones is the exception, as it feels haphazard, and being able to be bankrupted by tomahawk kills is cheap and unbalanced.

Playing with friends is a snap in Black Ops, a feature that many will love-especially those who played MW2 and know how much of a pain it was. Triangle in a menu brings up an in-game list (not XMB) of all your friends and what they're doing. You can join their current match with the press of square, and if they've set their lobby to open, you can pop in their lobby at anytime as well. Invites can be sent with the touch of Select. It's a much better matchmaking system, and as long as Treyarch can fix the disconnect and lag issues that have been affecting many matches, this could be quite the epic setup. The great ideas continue with Theater Mode, which lets you replay and/or save recent matches. It's a novel idea, but unfortunately it's rather broken and needs work. Firstly, the editing tools are very flawed. You can add special effects such as camera changes, pauses, and slow motion, but you actually have to perform these in real time, making it very difficult. After record, you have to work the sticks and buttons carefully as the clip plays, which often results in a very cheesy looking result. Want to save the match and put it on Youtube for all to see? Forget it. You can only save clips up to thirty seconds long as tangible files. You can save them on the game itself, but there are only six measly slots for this. Theater is a novel idea but needs much work to meet its full potential.

I've been playing the online for days, and I'm having an absolute blast with Black Ops. The customization is simply staggering, the weapons, perks, and equipment are balanced; maps and games modes are impressive, and wager matches and CP alike are excellent additions to the series. Prestige returns: fifty levels, fifteen prestiges. With small rewards such as more custom slots for prestiging, the game will only improve with age. I'd like to see things such as previous map abuse and the broken theater mode fixed in the future, and then of course the connection issues which I'm sure will come with time. The multiplayer experience of Black Ops is not only the best yet, but is almost flawless. Treyarch has simply outdone themselves. Peace.

-Naut

New Art.

I finally got around to doing some new art. It's BBS themed, as expected. I like the work, I just feel I could have done better. The banner is my favorite, since it's new frontier for me. I've never used dividers before. I made these by smudging a white line into the background. I also used no text, which gives it kind of a sleek feel. The sig, I'm not as happy with, but I didn't have many ideas, and I like the quote. The avatar is compliments of KHInsider--I never make my own avis. I "do" technically, but it's always just someone's face copied and pasted from a picture. A premade is no different. I like it. Compliments to whoever made it. Input is appreciated!

BBS Review!

Check out my new review for Birth By Sleep at the bottom of the blog! Some of you may have noticed my recent back of activity, but I plan to get lack into the swing of things now. Expect new art and possibly an editorial in the coming weeks.

PS3 First Impressions

So I've had my PS3 for around a week now, and I though I'd write a few first impressions on the system. We'll find out right now if this thing is all it's cracked up to be after a test run.

The system looks really nice sitting there on the shelf below my TV. This is the new slim model, which truly isn't extremely different from the "fat" version. It's not hard to set up at all. Just the standard power adapter and AV cables and your ready to rock. Upon boot-up you're greeted with an awesome sound clip of an orchestra warming up, almost as if to say, "Yeah, that's right, get ready for awesomeness." And as I explored the system I found reason to be excited.

I've only played one game (not counting demos) on the PS3 so far, that being Modern Warfare 2. But I've gotta say. It's a full out show of the PS3's capabilities. For some one who comes from a heavy Nintendo heritage, the graphics simply blow the mind. The detail is stunning. The online multiplayer is an absolute BLAST, with a huge community (unlike the Wii's, unfortunately) so there's never a lack of people to play. Voice chat is another blessing the PS3 bestows. Being able to actually talk to your friends while playing is a better feature than you could imagine.

The PS3's controller, the Dualshock 3, is very familiar to those of us that own/have owned a PS2. Infact, it's almost absolutely identical. One of the changes is that the L2 and R2 triggers are now more 360-esque. They're not triggers, more like pedals, and this is a nice little change especially in a racer. There is also a new "PS" button in the middle of the controller. It functions as a remote power button when held, but normally brings up the XMD when performing other tasks. Possibly the controllers biggest change is the addition of a motion sensor, referred to as the Sixaxis. The device is not a high-quality or oft-employed one such as the Wii Remote. It only really senses tilting motions, but I can see it as having much potential (such as leaning in an FPS). The controller is also wireless. Not having to deal with wires is a huge plus, and gives you a sense of freedom. The controller has to be plugged into the system via USB cable for charging purposes, and is fully functional in this state. Nothing really out of the norm there though, as all modern systems sport wireless controllers. After playing a little bit (okay, hours) of MW2 with my friends I began to look at the other features of the PS3. Firstly, I looked at the Playstation Store. Now, I have a PSP. When I got it, the Playstation Store had to be my favorite feature. Demos were something new to me especially. It was fun to check the new updates every week to see what goodies had come my way. I had been told that the PS3 version of the store puts the PSP's to shame. Now I see why. The Playstation Store on the PS3 is simply overflowing with things to do. Demos especially. My mouth dropped when I saw the sheer amount of demos that existed on the service for me to enjoy. Many, many great games around a $10 price range line the menus. I can't wait to play titles like Braid, Trine, Comet Crash, or even the recently added Castle Crashers. PS1 classics and "Minis" abound as well-a feature that was on the PSP but the big screen and superior controller is definitely a plus. Speaking of "plus" a cool little plan I plan to take advantage of soon is the new "Playstation Plus" plan. For $50, less than a new PS3 game, you'll get freebies and discounts from Sony every month. An awesome deal. Like the PSP, movies are available for download as well, and on the PS3 only, Netflix streaming if preferred.

In the media world, this thing does it all. I put my whole music and video library on it, and, if I choose, can put my pictures on as well. I thought the system could only play Blueray disks and audio CDs, but it turned out, to my pleasant surprise, that it can play standard DVDs as well.

The system features a very nice social experience between friends. Once set to do so, the PS3 will log you into the Playstation Network (PSN) as soon as the system boots. Once logged on, you can see all your friends, if they're online at the moment, and what they're currently doing. As you go about your business, updates pop up in the upper-right corner of the screen, alerting you of important events such as, "Phantom5bad is online," or, "Holographic6 has sent you a message." The PSN is always in effect, even when you're playing single player. This means, that you'll never miss an invite to an online match with your friends again just because you were playing offline at the time. To communicate with your friends, you can send them inbox-style messages or invite them to IM sessions-even video chat if you have the equipment needed. Always being connected with my friends definitely has to be my most favorite feature of the PS3.

Another awesome feature the PS3 brings to the table that is both social and great for solo enjoyment is "trophies." Trophies are achievements for games you play on the system. They're not actually located on the disk itself, but rather put on your PS3 on install (all PS3 games install a very small bit of data onto the hard drive the first time you play). Trophies not only boost the value of a game, but they're there to show off as well. Not only can friends see and compare each other's trophies, but your PSN tag (also visible to all) shows a percentage amount of the trophies you've earned for games in your library. Most trophies tell you exactly what to do to get them. These are the most enjoyable. Some developers are cruel enough to just give you cryptic hints. These are annoying, as one might suspect. Still, trophies are overall an ingenious idea, and greatly add life to your investments. The system has a great internet browser, which runs smoothly, is compatible with flash, and can even download certain file formats directly onto the hard drive such as video, pictures, and music. Other icing-on-the-cake features include things such as playing PSP games ad-hoc style with a friend using the PS3 as a medium (a feature that will come in MUCH handy with Birth By Sleep) and the ability to access the XMD at anytime, even when playing a game. That is a very nice feature, especially when waiting for something to load, or for the next match to start. You can kill a bit of time by seeing what goes on with your friends. Unfortunately you can't play music or video while playing, but it'd be nice if those features were incorporated in the future. But the PS3 isn't a perfect system. Actually, it's close, but one thing Sony really messed up on this piece of hardware is backward compatibility. The system cannot play PS2 games. This is a HUGE downer. Many have defended this flaw by stating, "Well, they had to put the Blueray player in there." If that's why there was no backward compatibility, I'm sorry, but I'd much rather be able to play PS2 titles than have a Blueray player. After all. I did buy the system for games, so games should come first. Oddly enough, the system can play select PS1 games. Very strange. Another con that I'm not totally sure about comes into play with trophies. It seems like once a game is installed on the system, you can never get rid of the trophies. This could be a problem with lame games. After all, if you don't like a game, you won't want to get the trophies for it. Then your overall percentage would be lowered forever. Correct me if I'm wrong on this, but it seems that way.

But to say the least, the PS3 is truly an excellent, excellent piece of hardware that I would recommend to anyone. It performs its main purpose, gaming, unbelievably well, and keeps the controller in your hands by giving you much more to do. I look forward to using the system much more, and I'll see many of you on the PSN. Peace!

-Naut