Hits and Misses of the Week: E3 2010 Edition

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Nintendo 3DS

3DS

Not even considering the fact that the 3D aspect of the handheld is actually viable, the E3 demonstration was a success for Nintendo simply because it is a more powerful version of the DS and will reignite the momentum that had been waning since the introduction of smartphones into the gaming market. With a massive list of high profile titles already in development from both first and third parties, the 3DS is by far the new piece of hardware most likely to succeed.

Harmonix

HARMONIX

Rock Band 3's pro mode is the biggest step so far towards making the music genre a virtual representation of the real thing, and as a result I can't help but applaud Harmonix's efforts. While some may claim the faux nature of music games is exactly the reason for their popularity, Rock Band 3 is going to give players the option to play the game however they choose and represents a bold step towards revitalizing a genre which many people had spent the last year writing off as dead. Harmonix simultaneously unleashed Dance Central, a game which may single-handedly sell the Kinect when it launches later this year and unleash a massive community of closet dancing enthusiasts shimmying the night away in their living rooms.

Games!

GAMES

Regardless of which console you own or which franchises you support, there was absolutely something for everyone at this year's E3. Nintendo took the headlines by unleashing a veritable who's who of upcoming installments for all of their biggest franchises sans StarFox, but Microsoft and Sony were no slouch either. 2010 and 2011 promise to be great years for gamers.

Microsoft Kinect

KINECT

The mega-hyped Dance Central notwithstanding, the jury is still out on whether or not Kinect will be a success for Microsoft. It is clear that the device will be great for dance and fitness titles, but it remains to be seen if the controller-free concept can be fun in other genres as well. They also need to figure out that whole sit/stand issue before I'm over my skepticism of the Kinect becoming just a more glorified version of the EyeToy.

Guitar Hero

GUITAR HERO
Where Rock Band was a winner at E3, it's competitor came up depressingly short. There's nothing wrong with Warriors of Rock, but the whole package simply feels way too familiar when compared with what Harmonix is planning for their next game. I'm sure the game will be technically sound in every way, but unless you exclusively favor hard rock I don't see any reason to be picking this up over Rock Band 3.


3D Gaming

3D Gaming

While I am impressed Sony and Nintendo are working hard to bring 3D gaming to players everywhere, I still have yet to discover the reason why we all need to go out and shell out the big bucks for a 3D television and a sweet pair of glasses to make this concept come to life.


Big, Brown, & Bloody

moh
COD

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Remember when we had a dozen Sonic or GTA clones? Yeah, it's like that.


Ubisoft

LASER TAG

For the second consecutive year, Ubisoft laid an egg at their E3 press conference. While this year's version didn't feature James Cameron lecturing us for forty five minutes, it did have equally incomprehensible highlights such as laser tag, Innergy, and a Michael Jackson dance routine only barely tied to an actual game announcement. Oh, and WHERE'S BEYOND GOOD & EVIL 2?

Mass Effect 2 Instant Impressions

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  • There is such a thing as over-produced, and so far ME2 is treading that line very closely. Hopefully things loosen up before this turns into MGS4.
  • If it weren't for all the dialogue, there's been more action than RPG. Hopefully the skill trees open up as time goes on.
  • Achievement spam is very annoying, especially since I'm playing on my PC and hoped to avoid this. It is one thing to pop up when you complete an achievement, it is something else entirely to pop up and say you're 2/15 of the way to completing your achievement.
  • Good job, Gamespot giving the game a 9.0. I'm glad to see your review scores continue to be laughably worthless.

Back to the game...

Gamepro AU Gives Their Reviews A Second Thought and Exemplifies Media Weakness

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9.0

Reading articles like this makes me wonder even more about the future of video game reviewing, and think it possible that everything I said in my previous entry about video game reviews becoming more discerning really isn't going to happen. Just how much of the review industry is motivated by hype and advertising dollars? Sure, in Gamepro's case going from a 94 to an 85 isn't that big of a fall (at least to most people), but it does fall out of the 90+ Editor's Choice range that reviewers seem so heavily pressured to put the big time releases in. I hate to open old wounds left in the wake of the Kane & Lynch fiasco, but just look at Gamespot for example. The last time they gave a game an 8.9 rating was Guitar Hero II for the 360 on April 3, 2007. In comparison, the score of 9.0 seems to be thrown about with reckless abandon, most recently to Bayonetta.

Notable 2009 releases which received a score of 9.0 include Left for Dead 2, Assassin's Creed II, MW2, Fifa 10, Demon's Souls, Halo 3: ODST, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Street Fighter IV...wow does this list end? The list of games which Gamespot gave a 9.0 in 2009 looks awfully similar to a list of the most popular and widely discussed titles not released on a Nintendo platform.

So what's the issue? Is scoring a 90+ really that important of a benchmark, or were all of these games just equally that amazing? How come none of these games were worthy of a 91 and equally so why were they all too amazing to dare score an 89, which by all accounts still registers as "great" on the review scale but lacks the coveted "EDITOR'S CHOICE" below the score? Conspiracy theories about the legitimacy of the review industry have been tossed around for years, and examples like this don't seem to help the situation one bit. Gamepro can say whatever they want now that everyone's attention has moved on to new releases, but would they really have had the gall to give MW2 an 85 when it first came out, or given Dragon Age a *gasp* 65? If that's really how they feel about those games maybe they should have spent an extra day or two playing these games so we all knew how they really felt rather than slipping them into an end-of-year special that doesn't get plastered all over the internet like their initial review score did.

Oh, and for those curious I left out a few more 9.0's from 2009:

Killzone 2, inFAMOUS, The Sims 3, Tiger Woods 10, DiRT 2, Bowser's Inside Story, Beatles: Rock Band.

On Awards: Maybe Video Games Shouldn't Copy Everything the Film Industry Does

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Oscar

A consistently important discussion going on these days is about how the line between video games and movies continues to blur. Stunners like Metal Gear Solid 4 and Uncharted 2 combine big budget presentations with entertaining game play to push the limits of what we have come to expect from our games, creating an experience that rivals the greatest of the Hollywood blockbusters.

I wonder though, what is the possibility of games taking on another characteristic of the film industry? Today's movies almost always have a clear divide between critical darlings and box office blockbusters, in which the movies heralded as the best of the year are not the same movies which appear on the list of the highest grossing movies of the year. How does this compare to the current state of the video game industry? Let's look at some charts:

Ten Ten Rated Movies of 2009 (Metacritic)

94 - The Hurt Locker
91 - 35 Shots of Rum
89 - Still Walking
89 - Goodbye Solo
88 - Tulpan
88 - Up
87 - Gomorrah
86 - The Beaches of Agnes
86 - Ponyo
85 - An Education


Top Ten Grossing Movies of 2009 (IMDB)

1 - Avatar
2 - Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
3 - Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince
4 - Up
5 - The Twilight Saga: New Moon
6 - The Hangover
7 - Star Trek
8 - The Blind Side
9 - Monsters vs. Aliens
10 - Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

Between these two lists we have one movie lucky enough to appear on both, that being Pixar's Up. The closest any of the other top ten grossing movies came to appearing on the critic list was Avatar at 16. As you can probably assume, the rest of the Metacritic list isn't anywhere near the top of the sales charts.

Now let's take a comparative look at the video game industry in 2009. The number in parenthesis is the game's score if it appeared on the other list.

Top Ten Rated Video Games of 2009 (Metacritic)

96 - Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (13)
94 - Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 (1)
93 - Street Fighter IV (11)
93 - GTA: Chinatown Wars (>30)
92 - Batman Arkham Asylum (12)
92 - Forza Motorsport 3 (20)
91 - Dragon Age: Origins (~22)
91 - Assassin's Creed II (5)
91 - Killzone 2 (21)
90 - Mario & Luigi : Bowser's Inside Story (24)

Top Ten Selling Games of 2009 (VGChartz)

1 - Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 (94)
2 - Wii Sports Resort (80)
3 - New Super Mario Bros. Wii (87)
4 - Wii Fit Plus (80)
5 - Assassin's Creed II (91)
6 - FIFA Soccer 10 (90)
7 - Halo 3: ODST (83)
8 - Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies (NA)
9 - Pokemon Heart Gold / Soul Silver (NA)
10 - Resident Evil 5 (86)

Two games, Modern Warfare 2 and Assassin's Creed II, appear on both lists. While this may appear surprising at first, taking a glance just a bit further down the sales lists reveals the fact that Uncharted, Batman, and SFIV make up a group that just barely missed the top of the sales charts, certainly much closer to the top than their critically-acclaimed movie counterparts.

So what's the reason for this discrepancy? Why do big-budget blockbusters like Transformers not receive critical acclaim while their game counterparts like Modern Warfare 2 do? While there could be multiple explanations, I believe the most important reason is the difference in maturity between the two mediums.

The film industry has been around now for over a century, and while video games have been around for about half a century, they haven't really existed on a comparative level with movies since the Atari 2600 launched in 1977. Today both industries are relatively equal in terms of sales numbers and volume of annual releases, but there is no question which industry is regarded as more of an art form by the general and critical populations.

Half a century ago the divide between critical and commercial success didn't exist nearly as strongly in the movie industry as it does today. The highest grossing films of 1959 such as Ben-Hur, North by Northwest, and Some Like It Hot were the same movies receiving most of the Academy Award nominations. Granted this isn't a perfect comparison given the fact the video game industry has expanded much faster than the movie industry did, but looking back through the twentieth century we see a much stronger connection between box office and critical success than we do today. Is it possible that video games could also lose their relationship between commercial and critical success?

Already today there is evidence that the tide may be turning towards critical darlings in video games. So-called indie games like Braid, Shadow Complex, and Flower are three well-reviewed titles released in the past couple of years, and have a lot in common with their critically-acclaimed film industry counterparts. These aren't flashy, heavily marketed, high budget affairs, but critics fawn over them nonetheless, with Braid holding an amazing Metacritic rating of 94, Shadow Complex at 88, and Flower sitting at a still-admirable 87. Are titles like these a sign of things to come? Movies like The Hurt Locker barely appear in movie theatres, but they do appear somewhere on a movie screen and therefore are worthy of review by a large number of film critics. Without the advent of digital distribution games like Flower would have previously never been seen on a console, but now they too are able to appear in the reviews of just about every gaming publication. What makes a game like Braid so appealing to critics? Let them answer in their own words:

Eurogamer: "Still wondering if games can be art? Here's your answer."
1UP: "A monumentally relevant game that speaks highly of its creators and their potential audience's tolerance for new ideas."
IGN: "This strange, wondrous, puzzle/platformer hybrid isn't for everyone. Just the people who like to flex their brain power while holding a controller."
Gamespot: "Braid's deep and mesmerizing tale is evergreen: it is outside of and beyond time. It will never get old."

Those are some awfully artistically-inclined statements are they not? Here we have one of the most highly reviewed games ever; celebrated as such for showing off something we don't usually see in video games. Looking through many of the critical reviews, a consistent message from the critics is yes, it's short and not for everyone, but for the group of people it does appeal to it is absolutely sublime. Now look at this reasoning in the context of the movie ratings: Small-time movies appeal to a narrow audience, but because they appeal to that audience so well it makes them worthy of being labeled the best movies of the year even though a majority of moviegoers have not seen them nor have any interest in doing so.

For now, I am very proud to say that in today's media there is room at the top for both Braid and Uncharted 2 to be celebrated as some of the greatest experiences video games have to offer. Both of these games receive well-earned critical acclaim even though only one of them is lighting up the sales charts. While I think video games have no limit as to where they can go in the coming decades in terms of popularity and becoming the world's favorite form of entertainment, I also think it is not out of the question that fifty years from now we'll be looking at a growing number of the gaming equivalents of The English Patient, titles that truly nobody played but the critics still loved.

A Decade Retrospective Part 3: Look At Where We're Going

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World of Tomorrow

Welcome, to the world of tomorrow! Dec 31st, 2019. Where can one even begin to speculate what and how we'll be playing our favorite games? Here are the concepts that I think will have a huge part to play in the next ten years:

The Expansion and Domination of Digital Distribution

Steam

The shift has already begun on the PC, and will make the move to consoles over the next few years as the console makers continue to expand their marketplace networks. Steam has been nothing short of a revolution for game distribution in that it benefits both the producer and consumer of the products of the video game industry. I would not be surprised if at least one of the next generation's consoles consists entirely of digital software. While consumer response to the vision of the PSP Go has not been amazing, this problem is due more to an extremely high cost of entry relative to the traditional PSP which Sony is simultaneously supporting.

Gamers will go where the games they want to play are, no matter how these games are distributed, so the decision to switch to digital distribution lies entirely in the hands of the industry. Removing the need to physically develop and distribute product to consumers is a tantalizing offer for the industry and is going to happen sooner than later. This will also lead to the downfall of the physical retail space since people won't be leaving their homes to buy games. Dedicated retailers like Gamestop will be forced to change their business model or close shop in much the same way Blockbuster was forced to this decade due to overwhelming competition from Netflix. The questions that are up in the air are how quickly it happens and if these retail outlets will figure out what to do before the unfortunate truth runs them out of town.

Cloud Computing and the Death of the Console

onlive

Of course, it is entirely possible that in the next decade developers won't actually be distributing product, but instead only the rights to their product via online streams. OnLive is certainly not the first attempt to do this in the industry, but it has the unique characteristic of competing against the console manufacturers rather than working with them as an add-on like was done for previous attempts such as GameLine and Sega Channel. On demand video games, where players rent the rights to play for a few hours or days at a time may or may not represent greater profit opportunities, but it would mean the death of consoles since all the hardware will be stored in giant computer banks. Low cost of entry for the consumer and flexible buying options will be hard to resist, but who in the corporate space is actually going to go for it?

Expansion of Motion Controls and Next Steps for Interaction

Natal

We're still a ways off from fully-realized virtual reality, but the next step will be using technology to get us as close to the experience as possible, done through simulation and a little trickery. There are a lot of companies that have their R&D teams hard at work trying to figure out what consumers will fall head over heels for in the future. How far into reality do we actually want to take our gaming experiences? The Wii is one step, but do gamers want an entire platform based around the fact the controller for every single game is their body?

Our Second Lives Become More Important Than Our First

MMO

This one scares me the most but I feel is just as realistic as the other items above. World of Warcraft took the MMO genre out of a niche and into the mainstream, and while it's success has stagnated the genre since then, the next ten years will probably be a different story. I know very few gamers with access to a decent PC who have not logged at least a couple months in Azeroth, and I myself spent an upwards of four years raiding Blizzard's dungeons with 39 or 24 of my closest online buddies on a nightly basis, so I know very well the grasp such a title can have on a person's life.

MMO games as they are designed are generally not a casual experience, as players invest hundreds of hours on their avatar and become genuinely attached to their in-game successes and failures. Initially I loved playing WoW because it forced my gaming time to incorporate other people into my activities, but I came to the realization that while I was spending time with other people, the overall time I spent on gaming far exceeded anything I had done in the prior fifteen or so years I had been playing games. Yes, I played with people a lot, was a guild and raid leader, but I also spent a lot of time leveling, farming, and standing around afk in Ironforge or Orgrimmar by myself.

I worry that if MMO games become more popular, real life as we know it will become less important. People won't go out for their entertainment when it is much cheaper and enjoyable to sit at home spending time in their virtual worlds every night, not to mention much easier to make new friends. The market for virtual goods and properties grows every year, heck someone bought a piece of digital property the other day for $330,000, so if demand is growing I can only imagine more people are getting interested in inhabiting these virtual spaces. Gaming is a healthy and enjoyable hobby, but I wouldn't wish it on the world for all of us to be MMO addicts at the same time.

---

So the net result of my predictions for the next decade? Video games will continue to expand their influence and player base over the coming years. Come 2020 we'll be firmly at a point where there is something for everyone and the options for accessing these games will come in many different shapes and sizes. The first big hurdle to climb is the expansion of persistent broadband connections, and once that is accomplished the world of gaming can quickly be provided to anyone who wants it. I don't think traditional gaming as we know it will die out any less than it did during this decade, as the growth of one side of the market does not necessarily contribute to the decline of the other.

What I am most unsure about is whether or not one or two companies will emerge as the dominant players at the end of the next decade. I strongly believe that we are heading towards a future of universally uniform hardware, either through online streaming or a physical console, but what remains to be seen is how that will affect the development and distribution of games. Should one corporation pull off a Steam-like coup of the console market through OnLive or similar product that creates a mainstream sensation, we could be looking at a stymieing of development and distribution of titles that is the stuff of our worst EA monopoly nightmares. On the other hand, should multiple companies emerge as players and compromise on a universal platform we could have a very open marketplace where indie developers are able to freely step up and distribute their product to a waiting public. I suppose on that case we'll just have to wait and hope for the best, and remember that we the consumers vote with our wallets which future we want.

A Decade Retrospective Part 2: Greatest Games of the Decade

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It is controversial enough when people choose the best games released in a given year, so to think it possible to create a defined list of the best games released over a ten year span may be maniacal, but I'll do my best to focus in on a small group of games which I feel defined the last ten years in video gaming. Fifty years from now, if people wanted to look back and see what we were playing, chances are good that these are the games that would be listed. Some of the entries below are not the best example of their given genre or series, but their historical significance successfully overshadows this shortcoming.

GRAND THEFT AUTO 3
October 22, 2001
Reason: Turned the world on its collective head.

GTA3

While the controversial nature of the series is certainly important, GTA was not the first or last game to push the envelope concerning what was acceptable video game content. GTA 3's lasting impact will be in how it ignited the development of sandbox games for a library of successors across all genres. The idea that you could do what you want when you wanted in a video game has now become a common demand by consumers, and for better and worse forever changed how developers approach their design process.

GUITAR HERO
November 8, 2005
Reason: Creating rockstars in bedrooms around the world.

Guitar Hero

Guitar Hero successfully captured one of the public's greatest desires, and as a result has become a mainstream sensation that has everyone playing around with flimsy plastic instruments. While the split between Guitar Hero and Rock Band has created what most believe to be a rhythm game overload in 2009, there is no denying the long-lasting appeal of music games as they continue to build closer ties to the music industry and offer a unique way to combine various forms of media.

HALF-LIFE 2
November 16, 2004
Reason: Valve gave us physics.

HL2

Okay, maybe Half-Life 2 was a bit more than just the gravity gun. The destitution of City 17, the believability exhibited by the cast of characters, decapitating zombies with saw blades, sending forth your army of ant lions, taking down a strider, Half-Life 2 delivered in every way. The addition of CS:S and forcing every buyer to sign up for Steam didn't hurt the title's vast importance either.

HALO: COMBAT EVOLVED
November 15, 2001
Reason: Single-handedly sold the Xbox.

Halo

I could probably stop at the fact that without Halo the Xbox likely would have gone the way of the Dreamcast, but Bungie's effort was not only the system's killer app, it is a game which continues to influence every shooter that has come out since. GoldenEye brought first person shooters to the consoles, but Halo took it to the next level. Regenerating health, vehicle sections, the two weapon system, and melee combat are just a few of Halo's innovations that are now commonplace. Stellar multiplayer didn't hurt either, with few experiences in gaming being more fun than sixteen-player CTF in Blood Gulch.

MEDAL OF HONOR: ALLIED ASSAULT
January 22, 2002
Reason: This is why you're playing Modern Warfare 2 today.

MOH Allied Assault

Medal of Honor may have debuted years prior on the Playstation, but those first two installments had more in common with GoldenEye than the epic parade of shooters we have today. The first time we set foot on Omaha Beach forever changed the scope of what shooters encompassed, and we finally felt like a small piece in a much bigger war.

METROID PRIME
November 17, 2002
Reason: Exhibit A of why you take risks.

Metroid Prime

The wait for a new console installment of Metroid was an agonizing eight years, but what Retro Studios finally delivered us instantly made us forgive Nintendo for the layoff. Prime was a new breed of first person shooter, maintaining the exploration and acrobatics central to the other Metroid games but giving us so much more in what is still today a gorgeous and engrossing game. One could not help but be floored the first time they stepped foot into Phendrana Drifts or come face to face with a Space Pirate.

RESIDENT EVIL 4
January 11, 2005
Reason: Have you honestly met someone who doesn't worship this game?

RE4

Everything people loved about Resident Evil was present, everything people hated was discarded, and what was left was one of the most gripping experiences to ever appear in a video game. We can often point to liking games in spite of certain deficiencies, like enjoying the preceding Resident Evils in spite of the confusing camera angles and terrible dialogue, but RE4 was one of those games where you couldn't find something to be upset with. The shooting was sublime; the enemies were frightening, and the presentation dynamic. RE4 had it all.

THE SIMS
January 31, 2000
Reason: Watching digital people eat has never been so addicting.

Sims

The Sims has been nothing short of a phenomenon since release in 2000. Many male gamers had to go out and buy a second PC because their sisters and girlfriends spent too much time playing it, while at the same time these guys were secretly playing it themselves when no one was looking. While the series has now become the poster child for EA's annoying business practice of withholding content for expansions and DLC, there is no denying the unexplainable attraction in managing the lives of these digital people.

WII SPORTS
November 19, 2006
Reason: So easy your Grandma could play it.

Wii Sports

The greatest selling game of all time due to it being packed in with nearly every Wii sold; Wii Sports was a simple package that exemplified why the Wii would become a sensation. The intuitive motion controls that were accessible to just about anyone proved to be exactly the first step Nintendo needed for their console.

WORLD OF WARCRAFT
November 23, 2004
Reason: Destroyer of jobs, grades, and relationships for millions.

WoW

Twelve millions players can't be wrong, right? Some people play games as a hobby, but for many MMO players their time in the game is a second life, and World of Warcraft took the MMO genre out of a dark corner and into the mainstream. Carrying a perfect combination of accessibility and depth, WoW offered something for anyone willing to journey into Azeroth and after more than five years only continues to grow. The only problem with WoW is since release it has prevented every other MMO from matching this level of success, because players haven't had a good enough reason to leave.

I'll wrap up this retrospective tomorrow with Part 3, dedicated to previewing the next ten years and the storylines I may be writing about when 12/31/2019 rolls around.

A Decade Retrospective Part One: Look How Far We've Come...

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Part one of my three part look back at the decade that was in the world of video games. Today I look at where we were in 2000, where we are today, and how we got there.

As the world said goodbye to a millennium, the video game industry was also going through a major transition, welcoming in a new generation of gaming systems with the launch of the Playstation 2 in March of 2000. Anticipation was high, Sega's Dreamcast had launched in 1998 to a middling amount of hype, due in no little part to everyone holding out for what was to come from Sony, who had come out of nowhere to dominate the previous generation with their original Playstation.

As a result, probably the biggest story of the year came late in 2000 when the PS2 launched in the U.S. with only 500,000 units nationwide, half the number of systems Sony originally predicted to have available. How disappointing was 500,000 systems? The 1999 U.S. Dreamcast launch sold 372,000 systems in the first twenty-four hours, and the PS2 Japan launch in March 2000 sold nearly a million systems in that same timeframe. The supply shortage led to months of PS2 famine in North America and caused PS2 systems to start selling for thousands of dollars on Ebay in a matter of hours after release. To fill the void left by being unable to buy the system, gamers were treated to further hype-generating stories such as the PS2 possibly being used as a missile launcher.

In the year 2000, the U.S. video game industry achieved revenues of $7.4 billion. In 2009, expectations are for the industry to finish off the decade somewhere around $20 billion; disappointingly less than the 2008 high of $21.3 billion (remember that big recession-proof claim earlier in the year?). For comparison purposes, in 2000 the U.S. film industry also had revenues of about $7.4 billion, and in 2009 is expected to achieve revenues of about $10.2 billion. The comparison is rather staggering isn't it? What was once viewed as a hobby for kids and nerds has exploded into a mainstream entertainment juggernaut. How mainstream is it, exactly? Sixty percent of all U.S. households claim to own a video game console, and this doesn't include the millions more who play games on their PCs, phones, and other pieces of technology. How exactly did we get to this point?

Online Play

The internet can be pegged as one of the great catalysts for the growth of the gaming industry during the past decade. The expansion of online gaming has been massive, for what was once a PC-only realm jumped to the consoles with the spread of broadband connections and the introduction of Xbox Live as a well-organized system to get people online playing against one another. Today, at least half of all Xbox 360 owners play online, and the number of PS3 and Wii owners continues to rise each year as Sony and Nintendo build up their respective networks. Out of this expansion spawned new industry initiatives like digital distribution, with developers releasing both full games and incremental updates to their games on a regular basis, bringing product directly to the consumers. If some predictions are to be believed, we are heading towards a fully digitalized future, where all of our game purchases and collections are managed entirely online in server rooms thousands of miles from our homes, continuing to diminish the hardware-based barriers to entry currently required to play video games.

The PS2 and the Wii

Each of these consoles dominated their generation, and can be pointed to as another key reason for building up the industry to what it is today. In the case of the PS2, the success of the system can be attributed to Sony's success during the PS1 generation, their ability to cater titles to both sides of the Pacific, and to follow-through with an immense catalogue of amazing games. In Nintendo's case, they dominated the current generation by boldly going where their competitors would not, vastly expanding the video game market to a group of casual players who partake in Wii Sports, Wii Fit, and other less-traditional forms of gaming. When the Wii debuted skeptics jumped all over Nintendo's vision for the future, and those same skeptics have been eating their words ever since.

Casual Games

Casual gaming as its own category transcends the Wii, as technology has become more ubiquitous than ever. With the advent of smart phones and similar technology, a game of some type is always at your fingertips regardless of whether it is Mario, Peggle, or yet another friend on Facebook inviting you to play Mafia Wars. To a traditionalist it may not be as glamorous to work for Popcap developing games for the iPhone when you could be making "hardcore" games for the PC and consoles, but a video game is still a video game no matter how or what you're playing it on. A quick glance at the number of games available for the iPhone reveals a number exceeding 10,000 available titles. Included here also is the rhythm genre, which in the span of the decade went from a small collection of DDR and niche Japanese games into the massive genre it is today. While the fad of Rock Band and Guitar Hero has faded slightly, there's little doubt the appeal of these games is here to stay for the long haul, and serving to blur the lines between the video game and music industries as these games offer a unique way for musicians to advertise their work.

Spread of Development

Building off the casual gaming movement is the rapid expansion of the number of developers of video games, since these days it doesn't take much to make a game besides an addictive idea and some competency in coding. The sheer volume of games available on smart phones and on the internet is a testament to the fact that the market is flooded with ideas from eager developers hoping to make the next big thing, and their willingness to give their products away for free can certainly upset the established powers in the industry. These small-time developers rise and fall with each passing day, but there is little doubt the indie movement is here to stay in ways that didn't exist ten years ago. The only question is, as free games become more and more of the norm, what does the future hold for games with multi-million dollar budgets?

Ten years later we are at a much different point in the world of video games than we once were. Gaming has become as common a hobby as watching TV or reading a book, where once games were made based on movies, movies are now being made based on games, and being called a gamer is no longer so simple a statement as you may assume it to be. Video games are now an essential part of our culture, with a generation of life-long gamers now in their 20's and 30's continuing to partake in the hobby.

Stay tuned tomorrow for Part Two of my decade retrospective, because I have not yet discussed the most interesting part of this whole thing, THE GAMES! In Part Two I'll try and figure out which games can claim the vaunted title of Best Games of the Decade.

The Expanded Best of 2009: Wii Exclusive

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Continuing coverage of the categories Gamespot did not, here are the best Wii exclusives of 2009:

1. Little King's Story
Litte King's Story

A charming and surprisingly addictive strategy-RPG, Little King's applied parts from Pikmin and Harvest Moon as you build a legion of followers to conquer opposition and carve out a kingdom in your image. Take note of the T rating: the cutesy presentation belies a rather mature storyline and challenging game experience. My only major quibble with this game is the lack of IR support for a game focused so strongly on RTS unit management.

2. Madworld
Madworld

For some reason developers just don't accept the fact that M-rated games do not sell on Nintendo's current platforms. One of three M-rated critical darlings released in 2009 on Nintendo platforms to "disapointing" sales, Madworld was a treat for older gamers who yearned for an update to the ****c Smash TV. This is an uncompromising action title, with buckets of blood and over-the-top presentation highlighted by memorable boss battles, it's just a shame it was released on the wrong system.

3. Dead Space Extraction
Dead Space Extraction

Speaking of critically acclaimed M-rated games not selling, Dead Space Extraction is arguably the best rail shooter ever made, and not only because it is one of the few entries in the genre with an engaging storyline. Players are taken for a wonderful ride in this prequel as we see first hand the horrors that were only hinted at in the original Dead Space.

4. New Super Mario Bros. Wii
New Super Mario Wii

You have to give Nintendo credit; they've found the development formulas gamers love and continue to exploit them to perfection. NSMB Wii does not reinvent the wheel and in many ways is just an update of previous entries NSMB and SMB3, but it is ****c game play that everyone with a pulse can enjoy. While the four player coop was underwhelming and brought new meaning to the term cluster****, both casual and hardcore gamers alike love Mario. At this point Nintendo could probably put his face on a urinal cake and sell a million copies.

5. Punch-Out!!!
Punch-Out!!

On the list of ****c games which desperately needed a remake, Mike Tyson's Punch-Out was at or close to number one until Nintendo finally released this gem of a game. Stepping back in the shoes of Little Mac, the characters and game play are all familiar but with nice additions, including a multi-player mode which finally allows us to dethrone Wii Sports Boxing as the best way to punch your friends in the face.

And the winner is...

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Dead Space Extraction

Everything about Extraction turns the rail shooter genre on it's head and it is the clear choice for Wii exclusive of the year. The developers could have so easily taken this game and made House of the Dead with necromorphs, but what we got was an interesting story, variety of abilities, and the horror movie tension of dreading what lies around the next corner.

Expanded Best of 2009: Xbox 360 Exclusive

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Continuing coverage of the categories Gamespot did not, here are the best Xbox 360 exclusives of 2009:

1. Forza Motorsport 3
Forza

Featuring just about everything you could want in a racing game, Forza 3 tosses hundreds of cars onto dozens of tracks and lets gamers have a ball. With a slick presentation, comfortable physics, and seemingly endless customization options, Forza 3 provides the opportunity for just about anyone to having fun spending countless hours driving around in circles.

2. Halo 3: ODST
ODST

Despite the multitude of opportunities provided by freeing itself from the Master Chief/Arbiter storyline, ODST played it relatively safe while delivering a short but still satisfying single player campaign that expanded the backstory of the other Halo titles. Expanded multiplayer options successfully saved ODST from being more than a glorified expansion pack.

3. Halo Wars
Halo Wars

Porting RTS titles to the consoles has never been a very successful endeavor, so it makes sense that the best RTS title available on the consoles was the one developed exclusively for consoles. Halo Wars cannot match the depth of the PC powerhouses, but it doesn't need to in order to provide a fun and interesting romp through the Halo universe. This is a title that the FPS crowd can pick up and get into with little difficulty.

4. Star Ocean: The Last Hope
The Last Hope

On a system consistently devoid of high quality JRPGs, Square Enix comes to the rescue to provide a welcome change from the norm. While the latest Star Ocean title won't set the world on fire with a drawn out presentation and slow start, it is more than able to give RPG fans something to do until FFXIII and get rid of the foul taste left over by Blue Dragon.

5. Race Pro
Race Pro

Proof that a boring name can still make a good game, Race Pro delivers an in-depth racing experience of a quality usually exclusive to a small but dedicated group of PC gearheads. What it lacked in visual splendor it made up for by showing console gamers a side of racing often lost amongst the Need for Speed and Burnouts of the world.

And the winner is...

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Forza Motorsport 3

Unlike the competition for best PS3 exclusive, there was little doubt about the winner of this category. Too often characterized as Microsoft's answer to Gran Turismo, Forza 3 comes into it's own by delivering a comprehensive driving experience put together into a slick and accessible package that encourages the development of a dedicated group of tweakers and decal designers, while at the same time letting newcomers into the party with features such as rewind. Forza 3 is a celebration of the automobile through and through.

Tomorrow the exclusive awards are wrapped up with the Wii.

The Expanded Best of 2009 - PS3 Exclusive

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Covering the categories Gamespot did not, here are my nominees for the best PS3 exclusive of 2009:

1. Demon's Souls
Demon's Souls

Equally scorned and celebrated for it's punishing difficulty level, nobody can deny the quality experience Demon's Souls offers for those willing to persevere in this engrossing dungeon crawl. While many gamers are familiar with the phrase "just one more turn," Demon's Souls had many saying "just one more death."

2. inFAMOUS
inFAMOUS

While the vaunted morality system left the player with little choice between being a saint and a baby eater, inFAMOUS made up for it by providing players with a wide variety of exciting abilities to unleash upon the sandbox world of Empire City, which put together made for a shocking good time.

3. Killzone 2
KZ 2

How do you deal with years of hype and being advertised as the killer app for the PS3 since it was first teased to the public at E3 2005? Everyone knew this game would be gorgeous, with massive set pieces and an exciting single player campaign, but what everyone didn't expect was for Killzone 2 to also package a deep multiplayer experience that was nearly just as entertaining.

4. Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time
Ratchet & Clank

The long time Playstation veterans are back for their third PS3 installment, and it proved to be probably their best since Up Your Arsenal. New game mechanics using time control and better refinement of the non-platforming sections proved there is still plenty of room for traditional platforming action in today's market.

5. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Uncharted 2

The original Uncharted was a good game despite the obvious influences of Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider, but lacked the polish needed to make it great. Uncharted 2 took most of those quibbles from the first game and squashed them to deliver the latest piece of evidence that video games and movies are becoming more and more alike with each passing year.

And the winner is...

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Demon's Souls

What you say!!! As inclined as I was wanted to place one of the other games down as the winner, Demon's Souls is a groundbreaking RPG. In a time when games are becoming more streamlined for the general public, out comes Demon's Souls and a vaunted difficulty to truly challenge gamers. The challenge factor is merely once piece of the game however, because this difficulty level gives the game a huge sense of tension in each and every battle. This a title where the lowliest skeleton can be just a big a threat as the giant demon at the end of the dungeon, and players need to stay on their toes at all times. Throw in a brand new online experience and Demon's Souls delivers an amazing experience to any action or RPG fan with a PS3.

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Stay tuned tomorrow for the best Xbox 360 exclusive of 2009.