Friday, September 28, 2012

Xbox Live Gamerscore Now Actually Worth Something

Just when I thought I didn't care about Achievements, Xbox Live decides to make them valuable, at least a little bit. Today, Microsoft announced that your Gamerscore can now offer rebates on Xbox Live purchases. If you have a Gamerscore of over 25,000, you will recieve a 2 percent rebate on all Xbox Live purchases, and a 1 percent rebate if you have more that 10,000. Now 2 percent may not seem like much, but considering the fact that Xbox Live uses Microsoft Points instead of dollars, 2% of 1200 might just save you enough to get that new shirt for your avatar that you always wanted. At the very least if you have kept the same account for a long time that number next to your name now has some use.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

LittleBigPlanet PS Vita Review

LittleBigPlanet has been a hallmark series on the PlayStation 3. It features light-hearted story, simple yet delightful gameplay, and a community base that provides new levels to play almost daily. At its core, LBP is just another platformer with a unique level creation tool, but the visual mishmash of elements, upbeat music, and drop-in drop-out cooperative play were what separated it from the rest. After a sequel, a portable version, and numerous levels, costumes, and DLC have been released, all somehow managing to maintain the same atmosphere, can LittleBigPlanet PS Vita hope to bottle the same lightning its predecessors have?


When the Vita was released, Little Deviants was its Wii Sports—an interesting game with little substance that just showed off what the hardware could do. I think Sony would have done itself a favor, however, if they had just gotten LittleBigPlanet PS Vita in development earlier and had it ready for launch. Simply put, it shows off exactly what the Vita can do in a way that has substance, meaning, and showcases just how fun a bigger-than-pocket sized handheld can be. From puzzle solving with touch-sensitive blocks to guiding shots with your fingers to rotating the screen for arcade games, LittleBigPlanet PS Vita does a marvelous job utilizing all of the Vita’s quirky technology. Even the back touchpad is utilized in a way that’s user friendly and makes sense—as a way to push blocks out toward the screen when you’ve pushed them back into the background. This game marks the first time I’ve seen a game use the touch screen or rear touchpad technologies as a gameplay mechanic and have it not be hokey and nigh-embarrassing. Nintendo Wii still has this problem and I’m sure Vita will too.  Heck, even Uncharted couldn’t get it right. Still, it’s nice to see that these features can feel like part of the design and less like a slapped-on feature two weeks before release.


The story has never really been an important or particularly strong feature in LittleBigPlanet, but LBPPSV (oh my, that’s a mouthful) looks to change that paradigm. In this game, Sackboy happens upon a gateway to Carnivalia, a travelling carnival planet that journeys across the omniverse. Before being sucked in, a strange man named Colonel Flounder warns him away, telling him Carnivalia has gone bad because of someone called The Puppeteer. Now it’s Sackboy’s mission to save LittleBigPlanet from The Puppeteer and set Carnivalia right again.


I rather like that the developers chose to have a slightly deeper story with this game. To solidify this story in the player’s mind, the developers chose to make the visuals have a slightly darker tone. Though it’s still light-hearted and bright in places, the game is visually darker in many lands, lending credence to the evilness of Carnivalia through juxtaposition. In addition to visually reminding you of what you’re up against, the characters drive the story home and make their worlds more personal. Though you’re still travelling from area to area, each level reminds you of your goal by tying in to the central theme of overthrowing the Puppeteer because he’s done something bad to your new friends. Other LBP games also had a similar story structure, but having a more solid goal and more lifelike characters make you want to persevere that much more.


By lifelike characters, I don’t mean that they’re more realistic, but rather more relatable and believable. This shift is due in no small part to voice acting. Rather than strange babbling for each character, they all have their own voices and tell their tales to you directly instead of through speech bubbles. Now, characters feel less like the scenery, a major problem in earlier LittleBigPlanet games. Come on, which one of these do you want to help, the flat cardboard person who looks to be part of the background or the broken doll with dimension who actually appears to be a character?


Setting the single player story aside for a moment, LittleBigPlanet PS Vita has a multitude of minigames to manage the monotony of merriment. Jumping on platforms, pulling switches, and grappling things is fine for a few hours, but sometimes you just want to play a flowery version of Bubble Bobble while holding your Vita sideways. All jokes aside, the selection of minigames is enormous, and most of them are entertaining. Heck, they included an entire arcade section of the game in addition to the minigames embedded into the story. It’s like Mario Party in here, only with less rage and cursing Birdo.


The community feature of this game is far smaller than its console predecessors and that’s to be expected. The smaller userbase of the console means there are going to be even fewer people who want to take the time to design a level, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. There are still some really well-designed and fun community maps available, but not nearly as many as on a console version.

It’s a shame, too, as the developers added tools that make design easier, including touchscreen integration. They also added in the ability to use custom images to put skins on items, or even take pictures with the Vita. Don’t do that second part though — the camera on the Vita is about as high quality as a webcam and it shows. Try to take a picture in low lighting and you’ll notice every pixel. Other than the obvious hardware limitations, the level design has never been more beginner-friendly and intuitive.


Verdict: LittleBigPlanet PS Vita is my favorite LittleBigPlanet yet. It features a better story, improved level creation tools, and more relatable characters, making the world far richer and more enjoyable. In fact, the only drawback of this game is that I wish I could play it on a bigger screen using the Vita as a controller because it’s so pretty I wish I could see more of it. Give this game a whirl if you like any of the other LBP games, platformers, or enjoy creating levels. It’s also a requisite to owning a Vita, as it’s the one game that shows off what it can do without making you say “Ugh.”

Monday, September 24, 2012

TGS 2012 News Summary

Ace Attorney 5 announced and trailer

The fifth (technically seventh) installment of the small but mighty series Ace Attorney made its trailer debut at this year's TGS. Ditching the pixel art style in favor of 3D cel shading, this game puts players back in control of Phoenix Wright in a new outfit and the ability to read witnesses faces for hints of doubt, similar to Apollo's bracelet in Ace Attorney 4. The look and feel from previous games appears to remain untouched, which was a concern as the original creator of the series is no longer working on Ace Attorney. Though no release date has been announced, the head of the project has already expressed plans to bring it to the West, so get your best cheap blue suit pressed and your hair gel ready. Phoenix is back, baby.



Layton Vs. Wright dated with new trailer

Speaking of Wright, it seems he and Layton's face off is coming to Japan November 28 fo this year. This TGS also marks the first time that any gameplay has been shown for either character. Though no announcement for a western release has been made, the combined fanbases of both Ace Attorney and Professor Layton should have enough monetary incentive to get the game stateside. Check out the video below for the trailer and on GameRadar video for the demo:



Okami HD dated for North America

Everyone' favorite doggod is back in an HD remake of the critically acclaimed PS2 game. Okami HD features upscaled graphics to 1080p, trophies, and Playstation Move support. It'll be available digitally on the Playstation Store for a cool $19.99 in North America on October 30, just in time to break out your newly-relevant-again Amaterasu costume for your pup. Now if only it would work on Vita, wouldn't that be neato?


Gravity Rush sequel potentially in the works

Though the announcement didn't actually occur at TGS, it was in the same timeframe so WHATEVERGETOFFMYCASE. The director of Gravity Rush (or Daze if you're not American) has hinted very heavily at a sequel being in the works on Twitter. When asked directly about it, he coyly said it was a secret, but you're not fooling anyone, Mr. Director. We've got our eye on you.

Assassin's Creed Utopia announced

Another spinoff of the popular Assassin's Creed series has been announced. In Assassin's Creed Utopia for mobile platforms, they've finally realized that the combat does not lend itself well to portable consoles, choosing to make a hybrid game whise gameplay is nothing like other Assassin's Creed games. It appears to focus primarily on city building, though most of the gameplay was not shown off. The other half of the gameplay appears to be a strategy game, featuring a grid-aligned turn based system ala Fire Emblem. Though the game appears to be in early development, it's interesting that Ubisoft is finally trying something different with its Assassin's Creed IP.

Assassin's Creed Utopia


New Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance trailer

It seems Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance has been taking form slowly over the past few years. With the release of their explanation video and asking an outside developer to help out, we're finally able to see the game in playable form. By all accounts, combat is smooth and fluid and the game retains the signature Kojima long-cutscene-exposition he's become known for. The new trailer certainly makes the game look appealing, we'll all be able to judge for ourselves Feburary 19th in the States and February 21st elsewhere. See the shiny swords and neato cow-robots here:



Bayonetta 2 Announced for Wii U

By now, we all thought Bayonetta was going to be a one-off. Production on a sequel had been cancelled, if it was ever in existance to start with, and we had hung our gunboots and sexy hairsuits up. Then suddenly, like a white plastic, rated E for everyone fun-demon, Nintendo swoops in to announce Bayonetta 2 is a thing and it's coming to Wii U. No gameplay has been shown nor release date announced, but the teaser trailer certainly makes me want to pull my ornate glasses out of their case again. Though it's unclear if the series will be allowed creative freedom or if the raunchy mistress is just too much for Wii U without a filter remains to be seen, but fans are hopeful to see Bayonetta, in all her head-turning glory, return to their screens this generation:


Sony HMZ-T2 improved and priced

Sony's headmounted 3D display, the HMZ-T2, has seen some improvements since its last outing. It's 3 ounces lighter than its previous model and features and earbuds. Though its still rather expensive, going for almost $900 in Japan, it's interesting to see a major hardware manufacturer attempt to do its own 3D head mounted solution.

Sony HMZ-T2

PS3 Super Slim

We've already covered the announcement of the new PS3 model here http://www.aristogamer.net/2012/09/ps3-super-slim-model-to-be-released.html but it's still part of TGS news.

PS3 Super Slim

Friday, September 21, 2012

PS3 "Super Slim" Model to be released this fall


In the rare occasion that a rumor from a random patent found by the internet turns out to be true, the PS3 Slim is actually being released. One of many announcements coming from the Tokyo Game Show, the “super-slim” PS3 is even lighter and smaller than the current PS3 model and will come in 250Gb and 500Gb version and will be available in both white and black. The 250Gb model will be released in North America on September 25 for $249, while the 500Gb bundle will be out later on October 30 for $299. It also features a top loading design as opposed to the front disc-fed models we've seen until now.

PS3 Super Slim


While the release of another PS3 seems fine, it is odd that there will not be a drop in prices on the current models. But at least there will be another console on shelves this fall that is shiny and new.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Torchlight II Review

Be at ease. It's good.


Torchlight II Title Screen

I know many of you are still slowly dragging yourselves out of the pits of hell. "Hell" of course being the horrid abomination that is Diablo III. After many long years of waiting, your dreams of playing another masterpiece of Diablo II's caliber were dragged through the mud and left by the wayside to die a slow and painful death. Hopes of re-playability, engaging combat, LAN play options, randomized dungeons, intelligent and useful AI, dynamic quests, useful and interesting loot, and most importantly fun were all stamped out in the name of Activision Blizzard seeing a cut of all those sweet off shore gold selling schemes.  Not that I'm bitter.

Hark! What is this I see? A torch, a beacon of light at the end of the long dark tunnel lined with shattered dreams and expectations! Torchlight II is here and I can feel the warmth emanating from it, and boy does it feel good.

After a series of release date delays, Torchlight II is finally here to warm our hearts. The loving warmth of DRM-free peer-to-peer online co-op, LAN play, and offline single player options. Runic is bringing the heat to back its fiery sequel.

The first and most important addition to the Torchlight franchise is the multiplayer offering. The original Torchlight received unanimous praise as a great game that could stand on its own legs in the face of Diablo. Its only real flaw was a complete lack of a multiplayer option. We wanted to delve into those sweet random dungeons, looting and exploring with friends in tow. Fortunately, Runic heard our cries and has delivered unto us a beautiful peer-to-peer online component. Just create an account with Runic, register your copy of the game and you're good to go. Runic's list merely acts as a matchmaker service; the games are hosted by the players, so instability within Runic will not completely destroy your experience (I'm looking at you Blizzard).

Many features from the original Torchlight make a comeback: fishing, random dungeon portal scrolls, and loyal pets. The companion system has been expanded to include many more offerings than the original dog and cat options. Now you can choose from creatures such as eagles, ferrets, panthers, and many more. TL2, like the original, is designed with the modding community in mind, so I expect to see an even wider array of unique pets in the near future.

This brings me to the next topic, modding. The original Torchlight was designed specifically with the modding community in mind and Torchlight II holds true to the ideas of its predecessor. When asked about possible post release DLC, Runic responded it was unlikely as it was unprofitable to release DLC content which could be easily modded in for free. Development tools for TL2 will be released soon, so Torchlight players can scratch their modding itch very soon.

Torchlight II Engineer
 
Now to the crux of the matter—Torchlight II's actual game play. The first and most noticeable change from Torchlight is the redesign of all the classes. Torchlight II has removed the three original classes, choosing instead to make available a new batch of heroes with all new talents and abilities. These heroes include the Berserker (a wild beat-em-up melee class), the Outlander (the rogue/ranged class), the Embermage (self-explanatory class), and the Engineer (constructs and devilishly cool monocle class). The character creator is pretty basic. You have the hero face, the emo/drug addict face, the serious face, and the gentleman face. There are a few hairstyles and hair colors to choose from, nothing particularly groundbreaking or interesting. Unless you disable your character's helmet, you will probably rarely see your hair anyway, so this isn't a huge issue. Though again, with Torchlight's large and dedicated modding community, I wouldn't be surprised if there were multiple hair and face mods within the first 24 hours of the game's release.

Torchlight II Berserker


The story continues right where the original Torchlight left off. The big evil Ordrak is dead, but some power hungry villain decided he wanted power at any cost and stole Ordrak's essence. Now he is on a power crazed joyride through the countryside, and it's your job to stop him.

The first thing I noticed after creating my Embermage was the game's pacing. Your character runs much quicker than in the original, and the fights are fast and furious. This leads to much more intense combat, requiring quick thinking and fast reflexes to succeed.  Skills are level locked, but each class has 3 trees from which to choose. Skills and abilities are further broken down into a newly implemented "Tier" system. Players from Diablo and other action RPGs will likely know that it is popular practice to take only one rank of a certain skill, and save your skill points for later levels where those skill points will see more bang for their buck. Torchlight II takes a new approach by offering the player hefty bonuses for investing more skill points into a single skill. The more you level up a skill, the higher tier the spell becomes. Once enough points are invested, the skill essentially levels up into a new tier and grants the player a sizeable bonus for his investment. As an example, I invested 5 points into the basic frost bolt spell for my Embermage. Once he hit a new tier in the spell, the monsters affected by the spell received a debuff reducing all damage they dealt to me by 20%, A very sizeable number by all accounts. This adds a very interesting dynamic to the game's combat system, and allows the player to develop their characters in unique and interesting ways. The three branches for each class vary in damage type and theme. The berserker for example has a wild path, in which he learns skills that are thematically based on wolves. His other trees vary from bloodlust, to seeing the enemy driven before him and hearing the lamentations of their wom...I digress.

Torchlight II Skills
 
Another new addition to the combat system is the charge bar. As you use combat skills, your character innately loads up a bar above the action keys. Once this bar is full, the player has access to a proverbial limit break. For the Embermage, spells do a significant amount more damage, and cost no mana for a set duration. This leads to devastating and endlessly entertaining results, especially in multiplayer games. 

Torchlight 2 Screenshot
 
The world of Torchlight II is brilliantly rendered in a very dynamic range of colors. Lush green forests, dark and wet caves, chilly tundra, and snow covered mountains are all beautifully rendered with enticing day and night cycles on my very budget system. The game is wonderfully optimized, and can run very well on lower end systems. The animations are smooth and are a pleasure to watch and experience. The terrain is much larger than the original Torchlight and is split into two diverse areas: overworlds, and passes. Overworlds are large open areas with centralized plot and quest points that are always present, but contain a great amount of randomized content and creatures as well. Passes are smaller and more linear areas which primarily serve as connections between plot points and key areas. 

Torchlight II Screenshot
 
A returning feature I found to be extremely engaging are the phase beast portals. While running around killing groups of baddies, you will occasionally run across phase creatures. When defeated, these creatures unleash a portal to a completely randomized plane. These planes are filled with mountains of loot, traps, and baddies. These add a fun sidetrack during the main storyline and the treasures found in them are always a pleasant surprise.

Let us not forget the music. Matt Uelmen (World of Warcraft, Diablo, Diablo II, Starcraft) has created a bevy wonderful music to complement the games many environments and situations. The player never feels the urge to alt-tab and open up VLC media player to turn on some music of their own. It engages, builds suspense, surprises, and inspires the player throughout their gaming session. It promotes a deep immersion, rare in titles of late.

What truly makes this game great though is the polish. Everything looks, runs, sounds, and feels finished. There are no corners cut in any department. The small amount of voice acting present in the game is wonderfully done, conveying great emotional depth, but not taking itself too seriously at the same time.  The music is thematic and brilliant at times, building emotions within the player and complementing the story and game play perfectly. The combat is fluid and has a sense of impact which gives the player a great sense of satisfaction after defeating a particularly difficult boss or enemy. The pacing is fast, but not rushed. The player can take the time to explore the lush and vivid environments without feeling they are wasting time, or being rushed to the next area by some quest or timed event. Randomized content gives the game a great amount of re-playability and the game's multiplayer component makes the whole experience come full circle by being able to share the experiences with close friends.

Torchlight II Character
 
Verdict: What Runic has done here is delivered a very polished, and intense sequel to a very wonderful franchise. I have only one recommendation; go out and buy this game immediately. Fans of Diablo II will appreciate the flow of the fast paced combat and intense boss battles. This is a game catering to both serious action rpg gamers and casual explorers alike. Take a seat and have your icy hearts defrosted by the warmth of the Torchlight.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

September 2012 Podcast

Colby, Casey, and Ben discuss the future of gaming, including Android gaming consoles, the pros and cons of Wii U, the evolution of the Legend of Zelda, and Tokyo Game Show news. You can stream the podcast here:


 

Subscribe to us on iTunes

Or download here directly

Monday, September 17, 2012

AristoGamer September 2012 Podcast

Surprise! It's time for the September podcast, and this one is chock full of goodies!

  • Wii U announcements
  • Ace Attorney 5
  • TGS thoughts
  • Android gaming consoles
How to can download and use Teamspeak


Date: Monday, September 17

Time: 8:00pm Central Time

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Aristogamer at Community Day!

Today your friendly neighborhood apprentice takes a trip to the Gearbox Community day. On a Saturday special I will brave the waters of epic gameplay footage and awesome previews of Borderlands 2 and Aliens: Colonial Marines. I will be back with plenty of news, questions and answers. There's even more news to talk about with the WiiU's release date and price finally announced and the plethora of games that accompany its launch. I know I'm excited to see what happens this holiday season with the WiiU's launch, and I'm even more excited to see what's happening at the Community Day. So I'll see you guys on Monday!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sleeping Dogs Review

I received a strange letter and audio file in the mail today. First the incident in CS:GO, and now this. Dear God, what does he want...



To my old friend, J,

Oh, it has been a while. Far too long, if I must think back to the last time I had the pleasure of ruining your life. You've amassed quite a life for yourself since then, reviewing childish "video games". Do you remember a game we played when we were children, J? Grand Theft Auto. You used to spend your time trying to obey the laws, stopping at red lights and letting pedestrians cross the road. You only killed when necessary, and even then you never liked it. You were a true gentleman. You could never bear to watch me play, driving on the sidewalk and laughing gleefully as pedestrians flew to the wayside without a care in the world. Funny now that when I find you again, I too have recently been playing a "video game" much in time with Grand Theft Auto. Sleeping Dogs, my friend. Have you heard of it?

Sleeping Dogs Case


Simply put, this game has made me reminisce of the days of old. Fast cars, shootouts in crowded places, and of course, death. I much appreciate the latter of the three the most. However, this game seems to incorporate a larger focus on hand to hand combat. Playing off the ridiculous stereotype that everyone in China knows some sort of martial arts was surprising, J. While I personally prefer using a pistol to a punch, the fighting system was very fluid and violent, like a poison coursing through a person's veins. Watching a poor soul attempt to take a swing at me only to result in his arm being broken...it was simply delightful.

However, just like you and I, our story is not perfect. Not yet. In a world where everyone can just be another Grand Theft Auto, or in your case, just another petty game reviewer, there needs to be something that makes them stand out. As it was with Saints Row 2 and 3 against Grand Theft Auto 4, the story of the former made it far more enjoyable than the latter. This time around, the main character (going by the dreadful name of Wei Shen) is an undercover cop sent back to China, where he grew up, to infiltrate the Triads. I can say, after many dark deals with members of that illustrious organization, this wouldn't have been so easy. But then again, I doubt any Triads were on hand as advisors. They make mention of Wei's past as well, mentioning his sister, who he believe died because of a Red Pole named Dogeyes after an overdose. It's mentioned so much at the start that I personally couldn't imagine why it wouldn't have been a centerpoint to the game. Except...it isn't. It's mentioned off hand a few times, but it never seems to have any sway over the game itself. That, old friend, is where the game begins to fail.

Sleeping Dogs Head Bash

You see, there are many things of this game that remind me of you. For instance, the lovely women they allow you to woo in the game. Top talent was on hand for the voices these ladies, including the ever-beautiful and elegant Emma Stone. You would think these women would be around for the rest of your game but, much like the ladies you've been with, they don't stick around for very long. What was her name...Eleanor? Ah yes, beautiful Eleanor. Wonderful Eleanor. How much like a drooling dog you slobbered around after her. And once again, just like you and Eleanor, J, after these wonderful ladies have left, you never hear from them again. It's quite sad considering the talent they had on hand that they couldn't keep them around for more than 2 missions to give you a simple way of finding certain collectables on the map. At least give us the option to have one and continue the game with them. But as it seems to be, Wei Shen, much like you J, ends this game all alone.


Sleeping Dogs ButcherAs Wei Shen continues to infiltrate the Triads, many things become conundrums. For the more intelligent of people like myself I continued to find my questioning of the game ever present. For instance, there is a mission approximately one third of the way into the game that requires you to kill a man to prove that you are not a cop. At this point I have easily killed hundreds of different people, but my loyalty was still waivered at the killing of one? No, no sir. If I'm going to kill one hundred people, another one is just a statistic. Sadly, J, on top of that, it's predictability, much like yours, is saddening. Many key points in the game that they mean to be big reveals are very easily figured out by even the smallest of minds, but the games storyline feels like at times that it's just a joke that's went on for far too long, and you've already had the revelation of the punchline in your mind. You had even a chuckle or two, thinking about how funny the joke would have been if it was told properly and told in a way that was meant to be more of a surprise in the end. And when the punchline comes, the laughter is a mere courtesy.

Beyond that, the game decides to give you mini-games and different things to accomplish that seem a bit arbitrary. One portion of the game requires you to go and take down a gang of triad members and then hack into a security camera to allow the police to arrest a person. But, once you figure out exactly where the security cameras are after going on a date with a woman you, again, never hear from, you may end up finding many of these cameras and hacking them without ever seeing a single gang member...and thinking that's all you need to do, you head back to your apartment and check your television to attempt to capture the leader of the triad ring, and yet...there is no Triad activity. No, instead you have to go back and wait until thugs decide to appear near the cameras and beat them all up before any sort of activity happens. Oh, but if the errors only ended there.

Sleeping Dogs Combat

As well, after getting a much larger and much more substantial apartment for my lifestyle, an upgrade from the shanty that they start you in, I ended up going to sleep many times as a mission would require and would wake up after a cutscene in my old apartment. Somehow I must have gotten up, slept-walked into a car, and drove myself home. Now of course, my Butler would be able to drive me wherever I wish, even if I asked for it in my sleep, but Wei is not...influential enough to afford things like that. As well, many times numerous areas were blocked off and you would have to take a very long detour to find them. There were too many missions that were only 100 or 200 meters away from me, but I would have to drive thousands of meters all the way around simply because I could not get to them. Unlike Saints Row or Grand Theft Auto, there are no simplistic ways of getting over these obstacles. So you would have to spend many a mission attempting to drive all the way around China just to see the rather beautiful detailed textures and designs, but it became tedious in the end. Luckily there was a taxi system that was very affordable that would take you to whatever mission you chose.

Sleeping Dogs Cars

As far as the collectables go, many of them are in plain sight and not very difficult to find. I found many of the Jade Statues without ever really trying. As a matter of fact, if the game made them any easier to find, it would have been throwing them at my head in the middle of missions. But even the thought of that reminded me of our childhood, J. Me, throwing rocks at your head as you cried for your mother. Ah, those were the days.

And while there were many issues with this game, I look forward to a sequel. This was a game of trying new things, and while some succeeded, others did fail. But it was a fun ride. I'm appreciative of the time I spent with it, but now I have much better things to do, J. Such as, once again, ruining your life. And I'm sure just like Wei Shen's past, I will haunt you just as much. But, unlike Wei Shen's past, I won’t be so easily forgotten.

Your friend,

Professor Tyranus

Verdict:  If you like games like GTA or Saints Row, you'll enjoy Sleeping Dogs. Though it has its flaws, the core gameplay and intriguing story are enough to keep you playing. The review is quite informative, but utterly unnerving. I'm terrified in my bones. Let's just hope he forgets I even have a website and moves on.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hearthfire the Next Skyrim Expansion



 Bethesda has already officially announced their next expansion for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Hearthfire is to be a versatile tool allowing gamers to design and build their own custom homes. Rooms, decorations, displays and more will be at the finger tips of the Dragonborn as long as they have the in-game tools and money available.

Along with unique home customization, players will also be able to move their in-game spouse to this home and even start a family through adopting children. This will mean, of course, that the home will need to be watched and protected as its construction will be taking place outside of protected city walls. PC gamers may already have several mods available for home customization but with this tool, both PC and console gamers can easily and readily create a home within the realm of Skyrim without worry of it interfering with other potential mods.

Release of Hearthfire for the Xbox 360 has already occurred as of September 4th (available for about $5) and PC release is more than likely going to occur in early October. No release date has yet been set for the PS3 since Bethesda is still have severe issues with getting Dawnguard to work for the console.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Could The Wikipad Be the Gaming Tablet We've Always Wanted?

If mobile and portable gaming didn't have enough peripherals to sate a tech-addicts appetite, the Wikipad will be released in October of this year. While it is mostly an android powered tablet, the tablet comes with a  gamepad dock and supposedly enough power to run video games. With a new Tigra 3 quad-core processor and 1 GB of ram, it will be released with slightly more power than the recently released Nexus 7 but less than the Ouya console currently in development. The Wikipad will be available on Haloween for $499 at Gamestop, and while the gaming tablet doesn't have a product page yet, pre-orders are going to get full games to go with the tablet. Considering the fact that this tablet has to compete with not only the recently released Nexus 7, but the upcoming Microsoft Surface and the rumored mini iPad, it will be interesting to see if this gaming tablet will steal the show.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

New Partnership with Original Gamer!

Partnerships are just rolling in these days! In addition to providing extra content to IHOGeek.com, we are also now partnering with Original Gamer.


 
 
Our video content will be hosted on their site every Thursday starting today, so give them a gander!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Do Used Game Sales Hurt the Gaming Industry?

Last week, Apprentice Casey posted an insightful article about the state of the used games market and how we can use that existing market to help further fund developers. Though this point of view is no less valid than the one I am about to present, I feel it is necessary to provide an alternate viewpoint on the situation. I believe that providing developers with a cut of used game sales acts as a bandage to temporarily patch a hemorrhaging wound—some game studios have grown too large to sustain themselves.


Sniper Elite V2 Headshot


First off, to understand the problem and how it came about, it’s helpful to look to other, similar mediums. Music, books, movies, and television all have similar problems to those of the game industry. They get no portion of used media sales, they’re subject to piracy, and the digital age has forced them to change their business models radically in order to stay afloat. Each is dealing with these problems differently. From online solutions like iTunes and Steam to DRM to Netflix and Gamefly, companies are trying everything they can to stay relevant and appealing to consumers while simultaneously protecting their assets. But what happens when all that is not enough? When developers of games like Dead Trigger have to radically change their pricing and game structure based off of piracy rates, what is a company to do? I’m sure large companies in each of these industries have had many all-hands meetings to discuss how to increase their margin, faced with losses quarter after quarter. In the cases of most other mediums, used item sales are most likely not an indicator for potential profit growth. Most retailers who support used media sales aren’t nationwide corporations wallowing in the money they make from resales. The majority of stores who rely heavily on used item sales are resale shops, pawn shops, or stores that are hardly franchised. To my knowledge, there’s no major, nationwide store that everyone knows to go to for used CDs. In fact, the only such store that comes to mind is Half Price Books, but the novel industry seems to continue chugging along through the digital age without having to hit up HPB for a cut of the sales. However, video game stores do have a massive corporate store — one huge, monolithic company that all gamers know to go to buy, sell, and trade their used games.

GameStop Bro

It’s easy to see why publishers and developers would look to GameStop and say, “Why am I not making anything off of this?” When looking at their steady revenue increase through the economic downturn, managing to still turn a 7 billion dollar profit in 2008 and an 8.8 billion dollar profit in 2009, and realizing that developers close their doors every day due to lack of funding and sales, it’s not difficult to point the finger at them. Though GameStop’s business practices are morally questionable, and that’s an article in and of itself, it’s not solely their fault that developers and publishers are failing. As I’ve said, other industries get along just fine without used media sales, so what is different about the game industry that makes it so difficult to stay in the black?
Explore more GME Data at Wikinvest


Well, for one, though the mediums are similar, they are not identical. In terms of investment to make a fantastic entry in any given form of medium, gaming may be the highest. In 2010, the average cost of making a game for a next-gen console was $18-$28 million. And that’s up between 3 and 4 times what it was in 2005. This figure is beaten out handily by movie studios, spending an average of $74.8 million to $106.6 million in 2008. Movies are released for a much lower price to the consumer since they apply to such a wide audience, and as a result of development costs for a product that’s being market and sold to a much narrower audience, the cost is 5-10x greater. Faced with these numbers and the average cost of a next-gen game being $59.99, a game must sell at least 300k copies at full price before it starts to turn a profit for anyone.  That figure is still off, however, because that’s assuming MSRP, which is what a retailer is charging, not what the developer or publisher is making. Though the exact numbers are hazy, it’s safe to say that it’s difficult to turn a profit with just the game alone.


Duke Nukem Forever BustSo how do you get more money out of your product? Some solutions are gaining popularity, especially DLC. With downloadable content, the developer can spend much less time and effort creating new content for an existing product and earn a presumably higher profit margin since there’s no more discs to ship, less marketing, and less time and effort spent creating it. Other solutions include incentivizing preorders to drive sales sooner or having collector’s editions of a product which feature more things that cost less effort to make, but still provide value to the consumer. So the solution to the problem of shrinking margin is to increase how much money you can make off of a given product, clearly, but it seems companies are doing that by increasing the investment cost of a game. For Skyrim alone, the cost of buying the game and first expansion pack is almost $80, with more DLC on the way.


But how is it that indie developers can still turn a profit? How can a team of 7 individuals program, write music, create art, and market a game like Bastion and sell over 500,000 digital copies of their game, effectively turning a profit while giant companies like Square-Enix have multi-quarter losses of millions of dollars? The obvious answer here is lower development cost. To produce a game like Final Fantasy XIII, it takes a large team of programmers, artists, people to do compression, video sequencing, story writing, script writing, marketing, managing, and design. That’s on top of computers for all those people, license fees for the platforms, development consoles, and perks like healthcare, 401k, and stock options. So it’s obvious that Square-Enix spends far more money than Supergiant Games and must not only sell their games for a higher price, but likely have to sell more copies of the game to start turning a noticeable profit.


Supergiant Games Team


Now the wound has been fully revealed. Some development studios have grown too large to sustain themselves with less sales. Their margins have been eaten up by either higher investment cost to develop on a next-gen system, or their games aren’t popular enough to meet the quotas they need to, or world events like the economic downturn of 2008 makes sure everyone has bad luck. The fault lies with no single entity. Some developers don’t have enough innovation, appeal, or polish to attract customers. Some publishers deny developers the ability to innovate. Sony and Microsoft most notably push graphics to their limits and make sure that to have a realistic, striking game, a large team of animators and programmers are needed to keep the visuals looking great, and I’m sure the cost of development kits and licensing doesn’t help either. In order to create a true AAA title in the gaming ecosystem we have now, millions upon millions must be spent without the guarantee that your game will be well received, or that a competitor won’t beat you to the punch. It’s a risky business and it’s now easier than ever to point the finger at a company like GameStop and say “You’re taking what’s mine, and I need that.”



But like I said to start this off, that’s only staving off the inevitable—rising costs in game development. Next generation’s consoles are going to have better graphics, which means more people, higher investments, higher cost to the consumer and publisher, so where does it end? Signs point to it ending here, as large, long-time players in the market post huge losses while Mom-and-Pop dev studios scoop up enough money to keep making their games. The message to developers and publishers alike is this:


Learn how to make great games for a lower cost or face bankruptcy.


It’s no more simple or complicated than that, and again, this isn’t their fault entirely. The blame doesn’t matter, but what does is the future. Indie developers are gaining steam and an ability to connect to an audience without all the red tape. Just like writers have found a connection to their audience through outlets like Kindle, so too have a programmer and sprite artist found their market with Steam and XBLA. Not every game has to be an eye-opening emotional journey, or an interesting spin on a market most thought dead, but they do have to be worth our time. Call of Juarez: The Cartel was an abysmal game and the graphics alone tell me that millions of dollars were spent churning it out. Developers and publishers alike must get comfortable with the idea that maybe they should try something radically new in order to get new audiences or more sales. Maybe instead of spending a few million on making the world look realistic, develop an interesting art style that’s still pleasing to the eye, but costs less money to create.  Or if online multiplayer for your game doesn’t make sense, don’t continue sinking time and effort trying to make it work. I’m not a developer and I do not have first-hand experience making tough decisions like this, but they’re choices that must be made or continue facing quarter after quarter of red numbers. And if it takes making exclusive titles for the platform with the smallest up-front investment cost, switching your distribution model, or changing game engines, so be it.




Looking to the used market for more money to continue keeping doors open is a temporary solution for a much more deeply rooted problem. It’s one that has grown as the market has, and it’s not going to be solved overnight by demanding a percentage of second-hand sales. Though the cost of making AAA titles are be high and options may seem limited as gamers expect a certain level of quality and polish on a given system, games don’t have to be frightening money pits. A combination of creative thinking, better planning, and leaner execution offers a solution to this problem.  Though many studios with great ideas fail, that doesn’t mean it’s not time for a change in business as usual. Continuing down the path of raising the cost to the user or retailer is like trying to fix a leaky boat by throwing out water—it may help for a while, but you’ll sink eventually.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Review

Valve's latest entry to PC megaseries Counter-Strike is upon us! Have they knocked it out of the park yet again, or is it globally offensive?

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