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No kudos for you

I suppose I ought to just write a proper review of PGR4, but the things that bother me about it are mostly philosophical, and I'd rather talk about that stuff here. It's not a terrible game, by any means; it's just that it seems to have no purpose.

Purpose, in a driving game, would seem to be an irrelevant thing to consider; pretty much every driving game is simply about getting from Point A to Point B faster than the other guy. There are superficial gimmicks and gameplay mechanics to consider, of course, and racing games are usually good opportunities to show off a fancy graphics engine (which is why you generally always see a driving game at the launch of a new console); there are also different kinds of racing (street, off-road, track, etc.) and there's certainly lots of wiggle room there in terms of settling on a definition.

The problem with PGR4, then, is that it really doesn't have any identity of its own. On the surface it feels basically like an upgrade or expansion pack to PGR3, but its single-player career mode has been radically overhauled - to the point where it doesn't really make sense. Sort of. Instead of just picking the next event you want to race, you now have a calendar system, and you are thrown into a new event somewhat blindly. More importantly, you are thrown into events - right at the very beginning - where you will have absolutely no chance of winning because you're driving criminally underpowered cars alongside top-of-the-line machines. The idea here, I suppose, is that when that date comes around again the following year, you'll have a better arsenal of cars and you'll have a much better chance of winning; that's assuming, however, that the player (in this case, me) will have enough patience to stick around through a year's worth of failure.

Getting back to the issue of identity - the defining gimmick in the PGR series is Kudos, which is a points system for risky and aggressive driving. However, in PGR4, the opposing driver AI is pretty much bulletproof - even at the default difficulty level - and so while you're slipping and sliding all over the place, the other drivers are holding the line pretty much perfectly, and so you are less inclined to drive with risk so that you can at least keep from flying off the track.

Not helping matters any is the game's much-vaunted weather system, which - while very attractive and convincing - makes your car's handling even more difficult. The weather effects are this year's big innovation, but frankly I don't see how it enhances the experience - it's very pretty, again, and when you're using the dashboard cam it's alarmingly realistic looking, but it just makes a hard game even harder.

I don't want to sound like I'm whining about the difficulty; it's just that the difficulty level is very inconsistent from race to race, which makes it frustrating. And because the career mode is already unforgiving in its design, there's not a lot of incentive for me to keep slogging through.

Getting back to the philosophical issue about driving games; there was a discussion a while back in someone's blog about Need For Speed: Most Wanted's inclusion of a ridiculously over-the-top story, and if story needed to be present in a driving game to make it more cohesive or accessible - some people need a reason to go from point A to point B, even if it's comically absurd. I maintain that it absolutely is not, and if the day ever comes when I'm doing missions in a Burnout game, I'm going to be very sad.

(This is as good a time as any to say that while I'm a big fan of driving games, there are certain sub-genres that I never, ever play. I have less than zero interest in NASCAR driving, or underground street-racing, or ultra-sims which require vast knowledges of tuning minutia. Basically, I really like travelling at high rates of speed, in visually pleasing surroundings, and if crashing is inevitable, it should at least be fun to look at.)

But certainly there's room to explore, here, without being overwrought or forced. PGR4 attempts this by its calendar system, and by giving you subtle incentives to be the #1 driver in the world; it's just that this calendar system allows for computer AIs pursing their own careers, and so all of them already have a big head start on you when you first pop in the game, and they're driving cars that you won't get to own yourself until quite a few "months" have passed you by, so your first few races are guaranteed losses. Who wants to play a game where you lose? How is that a reason to keep playing?

I was prepared to buy this game from GameFly; I was sure I was going to love it, as I'm a fan of the series since its days on the Xbox. But to be honest, I'm really glad I rented it, and that's something I never thought I'd say about a PGR title.

Morality, at the press of a button

In the current issue of 360Zine, there's an interview with Bioware co-founder Dr. Greg Zeschuk about Mass Effect. They go back and forth about Bioware's long history of offering moral dilemmas and choices for the player to make, and Zeschuk talks about how games have evolved, and that players now want something beyond simply running and gunning - they want the game to respond to what the player actually does. And then the interviewer asks this question:

Q. But given the choice, won't most people simply choose to be the bad guy?

Is that really true? Do most people choose to be the bad guy? And if so, why?

Right now I'm going down a list in my head of all the games I've ever played which offered some sort of ethical decision-making; there aren't that many, but for the ones I can think of, I pretty much always chose the path of good - at least on my first playthrough. In Bioshock I saved the Little Sisters; in KOTOR 1 and 2 I was light-side all the way, as I was in Jade Empire (although I did eventually replay it to see the other 2 endings); in Oblivion I confess I mostly played towards accumulating Achievement Points, but I certainly stayed away from outright murder and thievery (at least until I'd beaten the main quest and was doing Dark Brotherhood and Thieves Guild quests, and even then,the offered tasks were up against people who had it coming to them); Fable's morality system was somewhat overblown, but I pretty much always erred on the side of righteousness. (I don't really remember the story of Deus Ex anymore, but I do remember that at a point very close to the end, there were 3 different endings that I could choose from - regardless of what I'd already done -and I checked them all out, just because I could.) Even in a game like Overlord, where you are supposed to be evil, your main task is to get rid of... other evil; you don't even get the opportunity to collaborate.

There aren't any games I can think of off the top of my head where, given the choice, you can headbutt puppies to death. Even in GTA, your deeds - however horrific or morally repugnant - are completely forgiven with a night in jail or an overnight visit to the ER.

So if I'm wrong, and my virtuous playstyle is, in fact, an aberration, why do people choose to be the bad guy? Is it because videogames turn ordinary human beings into violent psychopaths? Or is it simply because, until now,they've never had the opportunity before?

Checking in

We're starting to get into dangerous, expensiveterritory now, in terms of must-have titles arriving in stores. I'm trying to Gamefly-purchase as many of them as I can - the 10% discount is hard to beat - but Gamefly is still incredibly slow in terms of turnaround and if your queue isn't wide open on a future title's release date, you can pretty much forget about it. Right now, I've got Zelda DS and PGR4 en route, but I haven't gotten the "Buy" option yet, which probably means I'm screwed for The Orange Box next week.

Blah blah blah. In the meantime, I've still got Eternal Sonata to play, once I finish Blue Dragon. And speaking of Blue Dragon, I made it to Disc 3 last night. I've stopped caring about achievements and I'm basically just grinding as much as possible, before the tedium sets in,to give my spunky little band as many powers, skills, spells and accessory slots as I can. After almost 40 hours it remains a quintessentially generic JRPG experience, but it's very competently done, and from everything I've read Disc 3 is where it actually stats to get interesting, so, good times ahead.

At some point I want to get back into Halo 3 MP, but by the same token, it's already been week or so and I'm sure by now I'm at the very bottom of the talent pool.

Radiohead and the ripple effect

In case you didn't hear the news, Radiohead are about to blow up the music industry by offering their new album via digital download - in 9 days! -and you can pay whatever you want to pay for it - including not paying at all.

This is significant on multiple levels.A new Radiohead album was bound to get leaked, after all - they're arguably the most important and influential rock band in the world, if rock bands mean anything anymore- and so the band themselves are leaking it while essentially holding out a tip jar. Radiohead are not on any label at the moment, either - 2003's "Hail to the Thief" was their last contractual obligation - and so there's no one else that can reap any financial rewards on Radiohead's work except the band itself. They're not the first band to do something like this - Prince gave away a free album in the UK last year in advance of a short concert tour, the band Stars decided to digitally distribute their album the day after it was finished being mastered, and I think Wilco asked for a suggested donation after "Sky Blue Sky" was released, after being officially leaked,earlier this year - but they're certainly the biggest, and the entire industry is watching to see what's going to happen.

As a musician, I think what they're doing is absolutely fantastic. If you'd asked me 10 years ago what I thought about file sharing, I'd have punched you in the face for stealing my music. But now - well, whenever I get around to finishing the album I've been working on for the last year or so, I've really got no other option BUT word of mouth via file sharing to get the music out into the world. The internet is here to stay, and as long as the major labels continue to remain willfully ignorant about it, there's really no other viable options for the independent artist to get their music heard.

This is a simplistic way of looking at it, I suppose, and certainly it comes from a biased viewpoint, but I can't help but wonder if the other major media industries are going to be paying attention as well.

[It occurs to me that there's also a bit of a difference in perspective between that of a band, or even a singer/songwriter, versus that of an actor / director / screenwriter / cinematographer / producer / set designer / etc. Most importantly, and this is something I discovered first hand, is that above all else, the musician has much greater control over their creative output than an actor / director / screenwriter / etc. But that's a different discussion entirely.]

The film industry has made a big deal about piracy, but I don't really see any evidence that a pirated copy of a movie is having any real, major impact on the financial success of a movie. After all - movies are meant to be experienced on the big screen, in a dark room, surrounded by strangers; watching a new movie on your computer might be a way of sticking it to the man, but in reality you're depriving yourself of the full experience. Similarly, Radiohead knows that while an album may get leaked, there is absolutely no substitute for the live experience. A good example of this is a band like Phish, which went out of its way toactively encourage its fans to record their shows. A person could argue that if you had a bootleg, you didn't need to go to the show; that person would be staggeringly wrong. There is absolutely no substitute for the live experience; likewise, it doesn't matter how big your HD screen is - it will never compare to the experience of seeing LOTR or Star Wars on the big screen.

So I'm curious to see if Radiohead's bold move will ever have any repercussions in the videogame industry. Certainly, digital distribution has come a long way in the last few years, a la Steam, Gametapand Xbox Live, and Playstation 3 is using it with Warhawk, so there's eventually going to be less and less of a need to go to a brick and mortar store to buy games. (Which, in my opinion, is a great thing.) The thing is, there's nothing about the videogame experience that's analagous to seeing a movie in the theater or seeing a band in concert - you buy the game (or you steal the game), and you put it in your game playing device and that's it. If a game leaks, it's a much bigger deal. Then again, Half Life 2 leaked, and it still went on to sell quite well...

I wouldn't ever expect the game industry to give us something for nothing- we get free demos, which go quite a long way in generating (or, sometimes, crushing) interest in the final retail product - but I wonder if something more could've been done for an underperforming title, like, say, Psychonauts.

Airjousting

Took a Haloday on Friday and finished the fight; spent the rest of the weekend getting into the multiplayer. I'll talk about that later; in the meantime, this was my favorite Halo 3 moment of the weekend, and I absolutely love that I can share this with the world. (I'm the guy on the left, and I won this confrontation.) (And yes, I know I need to resize it.)

halo 3 screenshot

Flip-floppin' on fight finishin'

Last night I popped in Halo 3, again, ready to be frustrated and annoyed, and then something strange happened; I got past a difficult section that had tripped me up, which made me feel like I'd accomplished something, and then I totally got sucked in. I stopped playing last night after finishing Mission 4, which ended on a very intriguing plot point, and I must confess I was very close to calling in sick this morning so that I could keep at it.

So let me amend my previous blog entry - Halo 3 gets better. Judging from my friends list, though, I think that's common knowledge at this point.

The obligatory Halo 3 impressions, not all of which are positive

One of my favorite things about the 360 interface is the Friends List; I'm always interested to see what other people are playing, and when a big game comes out, it's kinda funny to see so many people playing the same game. A lot of people on my Flist are generally dormant, so big numbers tend to leap out at me. I remember being amazed at seeing 12 people playing Oblivion; 15 people playing Gears of War; 17 people playing Bioshock. Last night there were anywhere between 20-25 people playing Halo 3, which goes a long way towards explaining the major slowdown on all things Xbox related; I had a really difficult time picking up messages and invites, and Xbox.com appeared to be in full meltdown.

As for the game itself - it's not as if my less-than-glowing first impressions of my first 2 hours with the game are going to have any impact on sales, so let's just dive into this thing.

First, the whining: I suck at Halo. I die waaay too often, even on Normal difficulty. I run out of ammo all the time, I'm completely useless with the Battle Rifle, and I'm constantly wanting to throw grenades that I don't have. So now that the WHAAAAAAAAAmbulance has come and gone, let me get into the game itself.

I've posted before about my ambivilence regarding the Halo franchise, but to be fair, I actually was genuinely excited to play Halo 3, even if I was ultimately unable to articulate why. (Maybe it's because I'm distracted by shiny objects.) I was really excited about online co-op, which Gears of War had implemented to near-perfection, and as it happens, most of my time last night in the campaign was spent playing with a friend of mine, who is a professional game journalist at a major publication and who happened to have already beaten the game by the time my copy arrived in the mail. (My LE copy did, in fact, come with the loose discs and scuffing issues, of course, although the scuffing appears to be purely cosmetic and I didn't actually have any problems playing.) I think doing co-op first might have been to my disadvatange; we were spending a lot of time talking about the game itself, rather than being fully invested and engrossed in what was happening, and so the campaign's second level felt like a major drag, with waaaay too much backtracking. My friend admitted as much as well, but also qualified it by saying that it was his least favorite part in the game. Oh well.

Let me also say this: Gears of War and Bioshock set the bar incredibly high, on a multitude of levels. Gears had outstanding visual presentation, the cover system was a well-implemented gameplay mechanic, and while the story wasn't totally coherent, certainly the game's atmosphere was a compelling enough reason to keep moving forward. Bioshock's visual presentation was even more astounding than Gears, the gameplay was deep and layered, and there actually was an engagingstory to follow, as well as a world to get utterly lost in. Halo 3 does not quite meet these levels; its graphics engine, while attractive, is nowhere near the quality or fidelity of the Unreal Engine, or even Source -it does feature large expansive battlefields, which is great, but the character models, especially the human characters, are almost crude. *****VERY MILD SPOILERS***** I can't comment on the story yet, obviously, butCortana's voiceoversare something we've already seen a dozen times before - quite recently, in fact, like in The Darkness- and the stuff that she says that manages to be coherent is information that I can't possibly do anything with.That's great that you've talked with gods and devils, Cortana - I'm getting my ass kicked by5 or 6brutes and I have no idea what door I'm supposed to open. *****END MILD SPOILERS*****

Co-op is also a little wierd, in terms of how it's implemented. I started playing the game solo, and I finished the first level and had just started the second when my friend wanted to jump in. I saved and quit my game, started a new session and we dove right in where I had left off, and we played all the way to the end of that level and about 5 minutes into the next level; my friend had to tuck his kid into bed, and so I decided to keep playing solo. When I did, my game started right where I had last saved, which virtually erased the last hour of playtime. Now, eventually I figured out that I could start the next mission, but I couldn't start it from the point that we'd left off. He eventually jumped in again, and we continued on to the beginning of a very large battle (my friend said, "this is the point where I started to really like the game", so I was starting to get excited); his kid woke up and so he ended up calling it a night, but since I wanted to keep playing, I had to back out of our game, go back to the mission select screen, and then I had to replay it all again. So: co-op is not seamless, the menu system is not intuitive,and you can't save your progress while in co-op and have it apply to your solo campaign. Which is lame.

Obviously it's not all bad; I do want to keep playing,I do want to get better at it,I want to know where the story goes, the enviroments are (at least) interesting and varied, and the vehicles are totally awesome, especially the Chopper. (And shouting "Get to the CHOPPA" in one's best Ahnuld accent in co-op never, ever gets old, because the Chopper is, in fact, something worth getting to.) The Limited Edition feels a little unnecessary; I bought it mainly for the video calibration feature, which ended up being mostly useless as my HDTV was already looking pretty awesome before I started it, and I think I might have made it look slightly worse; I can't vouch for the documentary stuff, because the disc itself tells you not to watch it until you've beaten the campaign. So, that's great.

Anyway. I'm gonna plow along in the campaign, like everybody else, and eventually I get around to some multiplayer, like everybody else; once I've beaten the campaign, I'll be totally down for co-op and Forge-ing, if anybody's interested.

JRPGs and Halo apathy / anticipation

Crossed the 23K AP mark over the weekend; most of that came in the form of finally beating the Tiger Challenege in Tiger 08 - I don't know that I'll be motivated to try to get Gold medals in everything; I'll probably just go through a season or two over the next few months, to fill in what little down time there may be in between AAA titles.

My enthusiasm for Achievement Points may be waning just a bit, though - or maybe it's just that I've spent over 35 hours in Blue Dragon and have but 15 Points to show for it.

Speaking of which - so, yeah, I did a lot of Blue Dragon this weekend, and also a little bit of Eternal Sonata. (And a little bit of Halo 2 campaign, just to try to get back in the mood, but more on that later.) Blue Dragon continues to be enjoyable, and so while it's probably not one of the greatest JRPGs of all time, it's certainly scratching that itch quite effectively for me. The end of Disc 1 was appropriately climactic; I don't quite know how far I am into Disc 2 but I did finally get involved with the game's first real side quest; however, I have to say that I kinda like that the story has been somewhat linear, at least so far. There's never a question of what to do next; it's mostly just a question of figuring out where you need to go, because the one thing that absolutely sucks about Blue Dragon is its lack of adequate mappage.

As for Eternal Sonata; I spent about an hour or two with it, and it's really quite nice. It's hard to go from one JRPG to another, even if they're not very much alike; I found in Eternal Sonata that I kept checking out every single object in the game world expecting to find treasure, which is one of the more tedious (though rewarding) features of Blue Dragon. Treasure in Eternal Sonata is very clearly labeled and identifiable. The game itself is really quite beautiful, and I'm very pleased to be playing it in HD; unlike some titles I've played, I can tell already that it wouldn't be quite the same on a standard TV. At any rate, I don't really anticipate really giving it my full attention until I've finished Blue Dragon, and that's going to take quite some more time, and not just because Halo 3 arrives tomorrow.

At least, I hope Halo 3 arrives tomorrow; I pre-ordered it late last weekfor immediate delivery, but who knows what that actually means. Amazon wouldn't be able to deliver it until Thursday; I bought it from Gamestop instead, which says it should arrive on time, but who knows. As I type this, Major Nelson is at a Best Buy about 4 long blocks from my office; if I have time, I may mosey on over there just to see the craziness. I've been to that Best Buy before; it's not very big in terms of floor space, and it's usually incredibly crowded, which is why I generally stay away unless none of my bosses are in the office and I can take a longer lunch hour.

As mentioned a few paragraphs ago, I popped in Halo 2 yesterday just to try and get back into it. I had started up the campaign again a few months ago, and had just gotten past the long, long bridge, and for some reason I'd saved my game in a very difficult spot - all my guns were running low on ammo and I was getting slammed on all sides by Banshees and tanks. Finally I got through it and got to the next little vista, and by then I'd had enough. My HDTV made it look kinda ugly, and I'd remembered that the firefight that was about to ensue was somewhat tedious. So I was kinda down on Halo, again... and then I watched Jeff's review in HD on my computer, and I immediately got excited again. I just wish I knew why.

What is it about Halo? What's the big deal? For those of us who don't really get off on multiplayer, it's really just the single player campaign that is the big attraction, and in my opinion, Halo 2's campaign ultimately took a back seat to the multiplayer development - the graphics were blatantly unfinished, the ending was a total disaster, and after I'd beaten it, I'd forgotten it almost immediately. Every review I've read of Halo 3 mentions that there is no recapping of the story thus far (unless you buy the Legendary edition which features remastered cutscenes from Halo 1 and 2), which is a bit of a shame. And even reading 1up's Halo Primeronly made me more confused - is that really the story? Is that what's going on? Really? That? The fight that I'm being asked to finish - that's the fight? What? Think about the story of every FPS you've ever played - hell, think about the story of every game you've ever played. How many of them featured a player character that needed to save the planet/universe from total destruction? 80% 85% How is Halo's fight any different from the rest of them? Certainly a lot of thought and care has gone into the back story - I do remember that in the first Halo, I really felt like I was exploring a very carefully constucted environment, with a deep history and an epic sense of time elapsing. And, certainly, I remember seeing the Flood for the first time and saying "What the ****?" a few dozen times... and of course, I remember the gauntlet at the finale, although I barely remember why I was in such a hurry. But beyond the backstory - which can be easily passed over if you're not paying attention - what exactly is the appeal?

Going back to my memories of playing Halo 1 - I remember quite a lot about it, actually. I'd bought my Xbox on 9/11/02, because what better way to remember the worst day of my life than retail therapy, a bong hit anda chance toescape? I remember buying 4 games along with the Xbox - Halo, Oddworld: Munch, PGR1 and... something else. And I'd played the other games first, because I felt like I'd better be able to concentrate on Halo once I'd gotten the other games out of my system. (See how strong the Halo hype was back then, even a year after it'd been released? And this was 5 years ago.) And once I'd finally put it in, and once I'd finally gotten off the ship in the first level and landed on the actual Halo itself... I do remember feeling a sense of awe. At that point, I'm not really sure I'd played an FPS which featured well-lit, large, outdoor environments on such a grand scale, and I was certainly impressed. And getting to drive a Warthog for the first time was just AWESOME; I'm almost positive that it was the first vehicle I'd ever driven in an FPS, and it was fun as hell to drive... But aside from seeing the Flood, and that gauntlet at the end, all I remember is that it was a really well crafted FPS, on a console, and I didn't have to keep playing Half Life or Quake 2 on my crappy PC anymore. I suppose I can be forgiven for forgetting the story of a game that I finished 5 years ago (although I remember most of Half Life quite vividly).

I don't know, I don't know, I don't know. I'm excited for Halo 3 tomorrow and I couldn't tell you why.

On storytelling and art

GS user vikingwwu has been writing some interesting stuff lately about the relative importance of story in videogames, and I'm going to keep the ball rolling.

As the question "are videogames art?" keeps getting raised (which really only happens whenever Jack Thompson or Roger Ebert open their mouths), asimilar question pops up alongside it(which is whenever Tim Schafer or Ken Levine give keynote speeches) - do stories in videogames matter?

The first question is annoying, unfair, and probably irrelevant, because it fails to concern itself with the question ofcommerce. For every "Citizen Kane" or "Wild Strawberries", there's 10,000 films like "Dude, Where's My Car" and nobody holds the artistic form of cinema in any less regard - hell, look how difficult it is for a true cinematic visionary like Terry Gilliam to secure funding for ANYTHING he does, and meanwhile Uwe Boll gets to crap out movie after movie so that his investors can make money; likewise, albums like "Revolver" and "OK Computer" are vastly outnumbered by... well, don't get me started on the state of the music industry these days. The film business and the music business are not concerned with ART - they are concerned with net profit. ART, generally, doesn't sell, because the people who buy it aren't necessarily interested in being confronted with ART - they want to be entertained, which is usually a lot easier.

And the videogame industry is, first and foremost, a business, and that business is to MAKE MONEY, while hopefully entertaining - hell, the way EA does things, it's pretty much mostly about making as much money as possible without actually bothering to put out quality product. And the videogame audience is DEFINITELY not interested in ART - you think Bioshock would've sold as well as it did if it didn't have a state-of-the-art graphics engine powering it? Who are the millions of people who buy Madden every year even though it's generally buggy and not very much improved from the previous year's edition? And the children who play games - well, for the most part, I'd say they're only interested in having fun.

Which, ultimately, is what playing games is all about. Isn't it?

I don't have a problem with stories in games - generally, I like stories in games, when they're applicable. The problem, asI see it, is that there aren't a lot of capable storytellers in the game industry these days, and there are even fewer original stories to be told. Every RPG is either about an amnesiac or a wide-eyed kid, bothbound by some unspoken duty to save the world; and for the most part, the dialogue in these games is horrendously over-written and/or badly translated from the Japanese. (I just started Eternal Sonata last night, andthe dialogue/voice acting is almostunbearable.) The Tony Hawk series took a turn for the worse, as far as I'm concerned, when they stopped letting me just stake around and instead forced me into watching stupid cutscenes about something stupid that I didn't care about and ended up skipping over anyway.Some games don't need a story. If the Burnout series ever starts to shoehorn some story that rationalizes and/or justifies the act of driving 200mph into a brick wall for some greater purpose, all hope will be lost.

The GTA/sandbox genre amplifies this problem even more, because all the GTA-clones that appeared in its wake - and indeed, most third person action games in general over the last few years - never quite understood what made GTA work - the clones featured high-profile voice actors, but they were wasted on stupid stories and crappy dialogue, and it seemed to me that more money was put into the voice actor budget than in the gameplay budget. GTA had an interesting, unqiuely told story, which featured great dialogue and great voice acting to go with it, and the games were generally compelling to play through- but when I put in GTA these days, long after I've beaten them, I put them in just to wreck stuff or to explore or, really, just to do whatever I feel like doing, because the mechanics of the game world are so incredibly well designed and constructed. I don't need a story anymore - I'm in the world and I'm making it up as I go.

I'm swamped at work suddenly and I can't finish this the way I want, so this is where you come in and tell me I'm an idiot. Go for it.

I am a broken man

Well, it finally happened. It came out of nowhere; one minute it wasn't there, and then suddenly it was. I swore to myself to keep my resolve, to keep my head down, to avoid it at all costs. But my will was crushed; I have succumbed.

I am now officially excited for Halo 3. And to add insult to injury, I pre-ordered the Limited Edition.

Goddammit.

It wasn't the commercials, the diorama, the Game Fuel, or even the beta that got me.

It wasa TGS video, released early this morning, showing off a recorded film of a co-op campaign level. Sweet crispity crap, I am undone.

I'd heard about this game-filming thing, but since I was determined not to succumb to Halo 3 hype, I didn't really know what it actually menat. And then I saw it in action.

One of my favorite things to do in sports games is to look at instant replays. In the Sega Genesis days, I used to spend hours rewinding and slow-mo-ing in all sorts of genres - a great diving save in hockey, a brutal midfield hit on a running back - and that obsession only got more and more intense as consoles became more powerful. I'd spend waaaay too much time exploring every intricate detail of a perfectly turned double play, or even just considering the arc of a well-kicked field goal. And I've gotten quite good at this, if I may speak frankly - I may not be a world-class videogame player, but I've got a great eye for camera angles and the proper use of slow motion. I was doing that Matrix-esque camera strafe a long time before the Matrix.

Now, as for Halo 3 - I'm more of a fan of the single-player, because I absolutely SUCK at the multiplayer. Let me repeat - I SUCK at the multiplayer, and I see myself playing the MP for only about an hour or so before I get sick and tired of coming in last. However, the multiplayer is the main reason why Halo has become the biggest FPSfranchise on the planet, and that's mostly why I was determined to ignore Halo 3 - I naively assumed that the MP is wheremost of thefocus would be, and I have little to no interest in that part of the game. That said, I was thrilled when they announced online coop - and then secretly thrilled when they removed it - and then thrilled again when it got put back in, with support for 4 players, which is what I've been wanting to do ever since the first one.

But the ability to record your gameplay, and then view it from any angle? OH. SWEET. GOD. Hell, I might even try MP for longer than an hour, if only so that I can at least make a grand cinematic spectacle of my glorious deaths and the resultant teabagging that ensues.