Archive for the 'Gaming News' Category

25
Feb
08

Phil Harrison….GONE from Sony? Wow.

Engadget is reporting that Sony Entertainment Worldwide Studios President Phil Harrison is…well, gone. And not a week after the Game Developer’s conference, where he apparently said some ‘not so nice’ words about Sony’s Senior Management and their inability to respond to what he felt was an obvious trend of more mass market gaming. During his tenure, Sony showed signs of coming around with things like Home, PlayStation Eye and future potential of the device, Buzz (the buzz-in four player game) and, his big achievement, SingStar (sort of a souped-up Karaoke that’s way more popular around the world than it is here in the U.S.) Wow. I guess the less learned is, “don’t throw your boss under the bus.” But perhaps the frustration he expressed about Sony not being responsive to the mass market trend in the way that Nintendo has been came after the decision to leave. Or not. Regardless, I don’t think is exactly great for Sony.

Gaming culture is so strange to outsiders — I was talking to a friend of mine on the way home about this. She kind of looked at me and tilted her head to the side.

“Why is it such a big deal that an executive leaves the company? Does that, like, lessen the value of your PlayStation 3 any?”

“Well, no — but see, each of the gaming companies have these ‘hype men’. They make you feel good about owning your system. They speak directly to the concerns of the constituency. For Sony folks, he was kinda that guy….

“I still don’t get it.”

And she’s not alone. Honestly, I kinda don’t understand why it should mean that much to us either — but it does. Because consoles have this need to continuously make you feel good about what you’ve bought….and then sell you on the future direction of the box, this not only has to depress some Sony folks, but it outright has to concern some. Losing Phil is big because he was outspoken. Sometimes you need a guy to just give it to you as straight as he possibly can, coming just short of violating any SEC rules. And Phil was that guy for the PlayStation. Quite honestly, over the years he was the only guy. Kaz Hirai comes out, but he can bore you to tears with all of the business speak. Even though he can laugh at his “Riiiidge Racer!” comment made at the announcement of the PS3, he still is the “business guy”.

Funny thing, but Microsoft is kinda going through this same thing. When Peter Moore resigned from Microsoft and went on to work at EA, it was (and is) a big blow. Peter is incredibly charismatic. He’s a real guy. He has that unique quality of being able to speak to the concerns of gamers and the stockholders. Peter was an even better mouthpiece than was Phil. Phil was more of a cocky guy. For one, he’s about six feet nine and he walks around and talks with this unbelievable confidence. (Read: cocky). You just get the feeling when hearing the guy that he’s not going to be anywhere near a loser. Sure it’s a total fanboy sentiment, but when you’re dealing with technology that you’re going to have to live with for the next few years, you wanna hear occasionally from somebody who makes you feel comfortable about your purchase.

Regardless of the ‘fanboy’ sentimental feelings around the guy leaving, this can’t make Sony fans feel comfortable. Or stockholders for that matter. Why is a guy who is as entrenched as Phil Harrison leaving Sony? And could it have anything at all to do with lack of confidence about the future direction of the platform? How about poor progress with PlayStation Home? And speaking of Home, who are they gonna stick out there at E3 to make me feel comfortable about the progress? It can’t be Kaz. Lord, please don’t let it be Kaz.

This is a very interesting development in gaming. It should be interesting to see who they get to step in as the front man for Sony. Someone who can really speak effectively and inspire and excite gamers. Wouldn’t it be funny if Peter Moore found himself somehow in the role? Stranger things have happened….

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21
Nov
07

Dear Sony: I’m Tired of the PS3 Online XMB System Updates…

OK – I was silent for awhile. As much as Sony has been in this gaming industry strong since 1995 (and some may argue even longer), they’re really learning (and in some cases stumbling) their way through this whole online experience. As much as they profess that the “PlayStation Network” experience is thriving, I’m hoping these are the beginning stages of what will eventually become a mature online community. I don’t feel connected to anyone when I’m on the PS3 (unless I go to the PlayStation Store).

But honestly… these online updates every few days has got to stop.

Microsoft’s business is in software and they’ve been through their share of headaches, but they’ve learned. Two years ago, you’d log into Windows and every day there would be an update of some sort staring you in the face. However, somehow they understood that it’s a completely disruptive experience to the end user and as a result, now we have “patch Tuesdays”. (The Tuesday every month when Microsoft sends out its patches and OS updates. And unless there is a dire emergency or critical vulnerability in the wild, you won’t hear from them again until next “patch Tuesday.”) Xbox has leveraged this mechanism and taken it to an even more mature level. Understanding that the Xbox 360’s interface and OS is a lot less critical and sensitive than a full PC’s OS, they only provide updates twice a year — the Spring Update and the Fall/Winter Update. They too will break that schedule if necessary, but only in the most dire circumstances. What’s more, the updates are much less intrusive. They alert you that the game or the Dashboard has an available update. You click “OK”…. you wait for the download to complete…and 2 minutes later, you’re back to playing.

Sony has the most disruptive and bothersome method of making updates to the OS. You have to navigate through accepting an agreement — just to update what you already own. You’ll then need to go about 3 or 4 clicks and sometimes multiple restarts to get back to the XMB. And worst of all is the frequency of the updates. This has to stop. Last week everyone ran the update for version 2.0 of the XMB. Less than a week later, we’re being asked to update to 2.1. Clearly there’s some sort of issue with managing these updates, or perhaps not properly testing ones like 2.0 before they launch.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve owned my PS3 for less than one year and right now I’m starting to question some things.

Initially the PS3 was designed to be my “lead system”. This would be the system that I’d use to buy titles if they were available on all other systems — the rationale being that the PS3 version would look better (and because I prefer the Dual Shock, so the playing experience would be a bit better for me.) I’m almost 180 degrees in the other direction. For a lot of reasons, the PS3 is starting to cut away at that confidence I had. I’ll talk more about this in subsequent weeks, but Sony is definitely losing my confidence and the 360 is starting to look like the system I’d recommend without hesitation to any gamer looking for the best game selection, connectivity/online gaming experience and the best end user experience overall.

Sony: It’s time to get serious. Price is not the only area where we needed to see improvement.

21
Nov
07

Guitar Hero III? Good Stuff. And Rock Band?….I’m a Believer

When it comes to most games that I purchase, I’m probably being robbed. Sixty bucks for about 5-10 hours of gameplay — by my own choice. There’s probably 10-15 hours worth of gameplay in the average game today if you consider all of the “extra modes” that games usually include to increase the perceived “good value”. But after awhile, repetition sets in and I stop playing. Most sports games have lost their appeal for me. And these days, it take a pretty special game to truly make me feel that my $60 was money well spent.

Guitar Hero is probably the only game that I’ve purchased in recent years and received more enjoyment than than the $90 put towards buying it. The original Guitar Hero provided me and my friends with hours and hours of gaming fun. It was just perfect. The song list was comprised of old time favorites and new songs that quickly became favorites. Guitar Hero II had some of my favorite tracks, but the general consensus was that it just didn’t seem to have the same appeal as the original song list. In looking ahead to Guitar Hero III, the song list seemed to return to the days of glory. My Name is Jonas by Weezer, One by Metallica, Hit Me With Your Best Shot by Pat Benatar, and, my personal favorite, Paint it Black by The Rolling Stones, made this new version of Guitar Hero the game to buy. However, there’s another game that was waiting behind the curtain… one that curiously enough was developed by the folks who made the first two games.

Rock Band is being developed by Harmonix — the studio that made the first two Guitar Hero games. (There’s been enough said about the split. Let’s just say that Harmonix is now doing Rock Band and Neversoft, makers of Tony Hawk, are doing Guitar Hero. OK?)

Two guitar-based games? Two years ago, we barely had hopes that the first one would be accepted. But now we’ve got this new “Rock Band” which incorporates singing, bass and lead guitar and the drums. It all seemed kinda strange to me. What could Harmonix legally take from the old series and bring to Rock Band? And more importantly, what would my old favorite, Guitar Hero, be like without them?

Well, the verdict for both games is in. I’ve played em both. Guitar Hero III has been in my PS3 for about three weeks now. And it’s fun. Real good fun. However, the one thing that I think gamers are in agreement about is the fact that, in an effort to add some flavor to the game, they’ve detracted from some of what made Guitar Hero the ‘pick up and play’ game that had Wii-like mass market appeal. It’s almost inexcusable that upon booting the game, you don’t have a complete song list. By now studios should understand that many people treat Guitar Hero and games of the like as karaoke-type games: they get a bunch of friends and play for fun. Why force people to play to unlock songs? But let me not get into details here — I’m not writing to give a review. Let’s just say what’s most important: it’s loads of fun. I look forward to coming home after work and banging out Evenflow and Paint it Black to ease some tension for many months to come.

I had a lot of doubts about Rock Band. For one, the song list seemed a bit uninspired. There were some great songs on it (Say It Ain’t So, Dani California, Epic, Paranoid, Highway Star) but as I looked over the playlist, I saw a lot of great bands — but “wrong” songs. Anyhow, my doubts also turned to the fact that at $170, would this really be worth it? How many times would I have one other person over to play — much less three other people — to justify the cost? And this big question mark for myself and many others was the inclusion of the most intriguing part of the package — the drums.  See, we’ve done the guitar. (Guitar Hero).  And we’ve done the microphone (Karaoke Revolution).  And as much as there have been games like Donkey Konga and a few others, I had to wonder: would a drum set even work accurately? And four players?? How is all of that information going to be represented on the screen at the same time — and not give everyone a headache? (I get confused sometimes with only two guitar scroll bars on screen. Imagine four sets of streaming data??!!) And what about this new guitar? Yeah, it looks ok. But I’m used to my Guitar Hero controller. And on…and on…

Well, this afternoon, I had a chance to check out Rock Band. And…well…. I’m in love. Continue reading ‘Guitar Hero III? Good Stuff. And Rock Band?….I’m a Believer’

27
Apr
07

GFW Radio Podcast (on 1up.com)

Haven’t made any real gaming posts in awhile, but I’m still on the scene. Thanks for the e-mail support. More stuff coming soon.

There are a few podcasts that are now part of my weekly routine. Among them are just about everything on This Week in Tech and a few technology and gaming related podcasts. But the GFW (Games For Windows) Radio podcast on the 1up.com Network is one of the shows that I must listen to each week. If you’re not a hardcore gamer, you won’t pick up the references. I don’t even buy PC games anymore and I still have to check out these guys. It’s gotten to the point where I listen when I’m home, because when I’m walking down the street or on the bus, people look at me like an idiot while I put my head down with muffled laughter.

The show has a great all-around cast, but the stars are Jeff Greene (Editor in Chief of Games For Windows Magazine) and Shawn Elliott. Also rounding up the crew are Sean Molloy, Darren Gladstone and Ryan Scott. So, what’s the appeal? Well, first off, it’s a good gaming podcast for anyone who’s moderately interested in the interesting discussion around the decline of PC gaming. They’re completely unbiased in their comments towards PC gaming and have quite a few interesting theories around how things have gotten to this point. Their discussions aren’t exclusive to PC games, and this makes the discussion more thought-provoking as they can effectively contrast the differences between how game publishers are treating each platform.

What’s most appealing to me is the fact that it’s basically a group of five nerdy guys who are making fun of other nerdier guys. In order to joke about how geeky the really hardcore World of Warcraft crew is, you have to know a bit about them. And, of course, that leads to self-incrimination. But these guys don’t seem to care. And the whole ride is quite entertaining.

The above is a snippet from the first part of the show (and the reason why I can’t listen to this thing while among the non-gaming public). Hilarious stuff. (Well, to me anyway.)

06
Mar
07

"Can A Computer Make You Cry?" (Well, for me….almost.)

Having been a gamer since about 1979, I’ve played my share of titles. During the early days, when the medium of gaming was trying to “find its way” in the world, we saw many attempts to evoke human emotion from game players. (I remember the first time I played “Haunted House” for the Atari 2600. I turned out the lights and played as close as I could to the 13″ TV to try and “see if I could be frightened by the game”.) If you try hard enough and if you’re imagination is wild enough, sometimes your mind can turn those blobs of pixels into high resolution chilling ax-murderers. (Whether or not graphical advancement in games has destroyed a part of our imagination or not is a topic for another post.)

One very compelling ad that I recall seeing in magazines when I was a kid was the classic Electronic Arts ad. In a matter unlike game ads at the time (and truthfully, unlike game ads today as well) the two-page spread had a shot of eight game developers posing in a very serious-looking ensemble and dressed in non-flashy “basic black” garb alongside the headline, “Can A Computer Make You Cry?” I remember sitting up in my chair a bit — even as a pre-pubescent lad — at the mere idea of a game developer trying to push games beyond the bleeps and blips that I was used to. How ironic is it that the same company who ran this ad back in the early 80s along with and another classic ad entitled “We See Farther” has more resources now that any other company, yet can now only ‘see as far’ as an annual update to their uninspired sequels completely devoid of risk. Shallow sequel after shallow sequel. It’s enough to “make you cry” — but not quite in the way that they had planned. Nonetheless, I look back fondly on EA’s early vision to dare to push the medium beyond levels once through unreachable. And although business savvy maneuvers and strategic negotiations and acquisitions are probably most responsible for giving us the behemoth that is Electronic Arts today, I have to believe that a ray of inspiration from that early vision shined down on the company and is also partially responsible for their twenty-first century success.

As far as gaming has taken us — from the Coleco Telestar all the way up to the PlayStation 3 — strangely enough, EA’s question has yet to be definitively answered. For all of the graphical advances that we’ve made — all of the 7.1-Channel Dolby DTS sound systems and 1080p displays running at 60 frames per second — has there ever been a game to honestly and truly tug at our emotions? And to the point of pushing us to openly…..weep?

This is definitely a question whose answer will vary depending on who you ask. There are some like myself who have been gamers for upwards of twenty years and who can’t honestly ever recall sitting in front of a display — computer monitor OR television — and physically and openly crying. (At least not about the subject matter on the cartridge/disc/hard drive). Others will tell you they’ve already been pushed to tears. Some will say more than once. I’ve read at least five magazine articles or blogs dealing with this very subject. I remember reading Gears of War lead developer and hardcore gamer Cliff Blezenski talk about playing a Japanese RPG and weeping because the character that he had befriended throughout a large portion of the game turned on him and wouldn’t respond to him. (Or something like that.) RPGs are probably the easiest targets for tear-jerkers due to their story-driven nature. You meet characters and spend 15-30 hours playing in a world with them only for them to die dramatically in-game. I think the closest thing to a moment where all gamers agree that they came the closest to showing emotion — and some even admitted to crying — was when Aerith died in Final Fantasy VII. I remember being taken aback a bit at her death — and I do recall being a little sad. (“Wow – that was really messed up. She’s…..gone.”) But I didn’t actually cry.

To me, RPGs are the easy way out. It’s almost like reading a book and having the words paint a picture of sadness. Recently the topic of discussion has been around whether non-story driven games can evoke emotion. One rumor was that God of War developer David Jaffe was working on such a game. This project has yet to be confirmed, but I think any effort where the general consensus is that the purpose of the game was to try to get me to cry probably wouldn’t be successful in doing so. At least not for me. I mean, I’d have my guard up from the opening credits. (OK, unless it was, like, “Beaches” sad. Then maybe it wouldn’t matter.)

And this is not to say that games haven’t evoked other kinds of emotion from us. Excitement and exhilaration are probably the biggest emotions that games have given us. The other day while playing Wii Tennis, after being down two sets to love, I found the competitive spirit and after many deuces and advantage points going both ways, somehow I pulled it out and found a way to win. It was such an incredible emotion for me. Anger is probably the emotion that game developers occasionally unintentionally gift us with. Some of their levels — with their cheap AI that leads to repeated death in the same spot during the game. Well, that too is enough to make you cry for the wrong reasons. (Or at least to make you break a gamepad.)

It’s been my experience that games like Shadow of the Colossus and particularly Ico have evoked the most emotion for me. Ico was one of the rare games that I actually made myself find the time to finish and it was so rewarding. Not only did it provide me with a sense of compassion and bravery in wanting to protect the young girl that you guide and protect throughout the game (Yorda) but it gave me a sense of fear when the dark spirits would try to harm her…..or me. Continue reading ‘"Can A Computer Make You Cry?" (Well, for me….almost.)’

13
Dec
06

The PS3 and the Misunderstanding of Blu-Ray

386px-blu-ray_discsvg.pngI read articles and listen to podcasts from analysts in the gaming press regularly and the one annoying point that keeps getting raised is around the topic of Blu-Ray. You know, Blu-Ray — the billion-dollar technology which is supposed to be the successor to the current DVD format? For those that haven’t been keeping score, Blu-Ray is one of two high-definition disc formats (HD-DVD being the other) which is being backed by several companies — one of which is Sony. (And that’s another big misconception — BluRay is not a Sony-created standard. Sony is part of the consortium, but not the sole company pushing a standard, as they did with the Memory Stick or UMDs.)

The media debate for and against Blu-Ray drives in the PS3 has been pretty much split into one of two camps. The first camp (and the most popular these days) are preaching doom and gloom about the evils of Sony “bundling” this Blu-Ray technology into a gaming system, thus raising the cost to consumers. “We think Sony is making a big mistake here — they’re forcing customers to buy their new disc format and building it into the cost to consumers.” Quite often, these folks then bring the Xbox 360 into the discussion and point out how Microsoft is offering gamers the “choice” of a high definition gaming format for movie playback.

The second school of thought appears to be countering the first. They’ll speak from a business perspective and talk about how Sony is targeting the high-end gamer who wants the biggest and best. They mention how many people bought PS2s in 2000 and used them as DVD players as much as they did gaming consoles. They often talk about how Blu-Ray will win the war against HD DVD and that this bundling of Blu-Ray with a gaming system is a smart thing for Sony and for it’s partners.

There are probably some truths to be mined from both camps, but there seems to be one critical point that both are missing — and particularly the first camp. While Blu-Ray has been stamped as a “a high-definition movie format”, people don’t seem to be paying as much attention to the fact that Blu-Ray (and HD DVD) have the capacity to hold four times the space of a standard DVD! For movies, this is important (in order to have a movie run at a high resolution for two hours, you need sufficient space) but for gaming this is an eventuality that MUST occur! I recall the days when Nintendo was sticking to their guns with their cartridge based format — holding developers at ransom and making them squeeze their content onto 30 meg catridges. When the PS1 was released, developers were none too happy to sacrifice the speed of access in catridges for more room to put music, images, full motion video and other rich content on a 650MB disc. While there is some debate, it is believed that this is a big reason why Square — a long-time partner of Nintendo in the 80s and early 90s — jumped on the Sony bandwagon with exclusive content. Similarly, when developers made the jump from CD to DVD, many scoffed at the idea that game assets would top 650 MB and, for that matter 4.7 Gigabytes. However, reading a recent interview from the lead designer for Tecmo’s PS3 Ninja Gaiden Sigma indicated that Tecmo was already running out of space with the last Ninja Gaiden game. Continue reading ‘The PS3 and the Misunderstanding of Blu-Ray’

28
Nov
06

Musings from the Community on the PS3

Greetings! I know it’s been awhile, but I can’t stop playing Zelda! (In all seriousness, I’ve been in the process of changing jobs and I haven’t had much time to post. I have a Wii review coming in a day or so.

A good friend of mine posted this thoughts on the PS3. Keep in mind that he doesn’t own a PS3, but he’s giving an interesting perspective. Let him know if you agree or not. (My thoughts on Mike’s thoughts are at the bottom of the post.)

——————————
Thoughts on the PS3
by Michael Williams

After months of anticipating the release of the Sony Playstation 3, I can finally release the tension and breathe easier. The Playstation 3 has finally arrived. But, after waiting almost a year, I recently I asked myself, “Is the Playstation 3 really better than the Xbox 360.” Now, that question probably won’t be answered anytime soon. Because of the PS3 highly anticipated release, a large community of gamers camped out at stores days before its release, making it difficult for me to even purchase one. I’m not a camp-out person. So, it’s more convenient for me to say “If Sony waited an extra year to release its next generation console, and then they should have made 1,000,000 consoles available.” I know many of us got to be wondering and thinking the same thing.

What really was the hold up? Well, I have been doing a lot of console evaluating on of the PS3 and I’m glad I didn’t purchase it on release day. Articles I have read on the post-PS3 era, does not give it the awaited, highly, revolutionary, next generation game console appeal it deserves.

So, Sony delays the release of the PS3 a year after Xbox 360, its competitor. Then, only makes 400,000 consoles available in North America and 100,000 in Japan. Then, we find out that the price tag on the console does not benefit them and they are taking a loss. We all know why they are taking loss-(somebody say Blue-ray). Well, it now appears to me, that they are definitely having financial problems. Continue reading ‘Musings from the Community on the PS3’