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Wednesday, November 24, 2004

News: Lieberman Gets Boobies Shown On C-SPAN. Good Job. Also, Top 10 Games "To Avoid"
Posted by Shocker :: 9:40 PM

Tits on C-SPAN. Primarily 90-year-old audience stunned.
No, you weren't hallucinating if you saw naked boobies on C-SPAN this evening while flipping channels (since it's unlikely you were actually sitting there watching it): uncensored, unpixelated clips from the M-rated "The Guy Game" and "Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude"were shown to a bored looking audience (including Senators Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl) as part of a National Institure for Media and the Family briefing on its annual MediaWise Video Game Report Card.
(Full article with NSFW pics: Fleshbot.com)
Not really huge news, but a bit relevant considering the entire flap over titties that we've been going through this entire year. When 2004 goes into the books, it really will be "The year hooters destroyed society." There is a legitimate question of why this industry is so heavily regulated. I think it's because politicians, who are now pretty much the Vietnam era, see video gaming as primarily a children's hobby, something that people give up around age 18, and thus, concern and flap over violent video games like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is justified. However, a casual google search reveals some startling facts that run contrary to that assessment. Firstly, the average age of gamer is nearly 30 years old ... Secondly, most games (85% of console games) are purchased by people over the age of 18 (Note that the ESRB's Mature rating only requires the purchaser to be over the age of 17, just as in movies). And perhaps most importantly, 92% of parents say that they monitor the content of the games their under-18-year-olds play. (source) This compares to 81% of movie-goers being over the age of 18 (actually, much much better) (source).

Are there bad games out there that kids shouldn't be playing? Absolutely. But there are bad movies, sitcoms, dramas, plays and events they probably shouldn't be watching either. That's the job of a parent. Parents don't complain when they take their child to a horrid movie, because they know if they do, the theater management will tell them they clearly knew what the rating was before they went into the movie. I haven't seen a single video game commercial that didn't give the rating of the game. The information is out there, people. Quit running to government to solve the problem of your own piss-poor parenting.

Now, if you are a parent who wants recommendations on which games his or her child should avoid, MediaFamily.org's report may be for you. I'm not arguing that there shouldn't be oversight. What I do object to is the belief that video games are somehow more insidious than movies or television.

I really do think that, in many cases, these sorts of lists are well-intentioned. Most of the games on that list (maybe not so much the Halo and Half-Life 2) are not age-appropriate for kids. Even though the games don't appear to be in any particular order (I think The Guy Game and the new Leisure Suit Larry game are games no one should play for a large variety of reasons...), they get the general idea right. There's just no way that a simple list of 10 can keep kids "safe". Is Psi-Ops any worse than, say, a Bloodrayne 2 or Chronicles of Riddick, or a Killzone? The only way to be safe is for parents to not rely on lists like this and be vigilant.

I will actually have a review of Rumble Roses up sometime later this week (That and MGS 3 and Capcom Fighting Evolution and other stuff). Stay tuned.


Review: Katamari Damacy (PS2)
Posted by DrHogie :: 1:17 PM

So. It's the end of November, and everyone is rife with talk of the Game of the Year. There's plenty of games that are getting consideration: Halo 2, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Half Life 2, Metroid Prime 2. All of these games are quite good. However, none of them are the Game of the Year for 2004. No, the 2004 GotY (at least, in my opinion) goes to a $20 game from Namco for the PS2 that was brought over from Japan. That game is Katamari Damacy.

The story for Katamari Damacy is the weirdest story you'll hear all year. The King of all Cosmos (a combination between Galactus and God from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail") went on a inter-galactic bender the night before, and well . . . when he gets drunk, he likes to break things. Turns out he broke the moon as well as every star in the sky. So he enlists the help of his son, the Prince of All Cosmos. That's you. The only problem is, well . . . you're really tiny. 5 cm tall. So the KoAC gives you katamaris (small bumpy balls that damn near anything will stick to) and sends you to Earth to rebuild the stars in the sky. As you progress through the game, you'll get cut scenes on how one family is reacting to the loss of all the stars in the sky. The story is that special type of insanity you can only get from the Japanese.

So how do you rebuild the stars exactly? For every level, you are dropped into one of three environments: a house, a town, or a whole world. You start off with a katamari of a certain size (for example, 5cm). You will then be given a time limit (say, 3 minutes) to make the katamari a bigger size (say, 10cm). You make the katamari bigger by rolling it into things in the level. The katamari is controlled by the dual analog sticks -- "tank controls", for lack of a better term (both sticks up = forward, both sticks back = backward, left stick down/right stick up = turn to the left, etc.) To better explain this, let me describe the first level:

You start off on the top of the table in this room. Around you are erasers, caramel candies, and batteries. Starting off you can only get the candies, so you roll them up. As you roll up the candies, they stick at all kinds of odd angles onto your ball. By the time you roll up all of the candies, you are now big enough to grab the batteries. When you get all of them rolled up, you roll off the table onto the floor, where there are mice running around and tons of new things to pick up, from broccoli to chopsticks to lipstick containers to cheese from the mice to Lego pieces.

Now, judging from this description, the game doesn't sound like it would be fun. Once you start playing the game however, you realize just how much fun this simple concept can be. The next thing you know you're steering your ball out of the dining room and into the backyard where you can roll up birds, cucumbers, tomatoes, and pots. Then you start rolling up the cats and dogs . . . and finally work your way up to people. Then from people you start rolling up cars and trees, all the way up to buildings and even islands. KD's graphics engine does a tremendous job of handling the sense of scale throughout the entire level. The graphics themselves have a very "Japanese South Park" look to them: Very simple figures for everything. You get a real appreciation for the graphics engine in the later levels however: You'll start off roaming the streets of a town and 15 minutes later roll up the entire island the town was on. The really impressive thing is how well it flows from the smaller areas to the larger areas.

I've barely even discussed the music for this game. The soundtrack for Katamari Damacy is also the best of the year. You will find yourself humming and singing the songs from the game for days and days after playing it (YOU! HAW! GET UP!). The music is perfect for the game -- noticeable but not overly distracting. I really wish they would release the soundtrack in America -- an import copy runs upwards of $40, and while I love the soundtrack, I don't love it THAT much.

The game does end up being rather short. In all, it has 19 stages. 10 of them are standard "Get this big before time's up". Other stages (ones where you are building specific constellations) require you to capture as many of a certain type of item as you can before time expires. A couple of stages require you to pick up as big of a item type as you can. For instance, when making the Taurus constellation you're trying to get the biggest cow that you can. Getting a small carton of milk will count as finishing the stage . . but if you can get your katamari big enough to grab up a large bull, you will score better for the stage. Also, if you can beat three of the stages with an extremely large katamari, you will unlock an untimed version of the stage. This unlocks the biggest replayability with this title -- just going through the stages with all the time in the world on your hands.

The biggest charm of Katamari Damacy is that anyone and everyone can pick it up and play it. My wife doesn't like to play a lot of video games. She's spent hours playing this one. Even my mother had spent a few hours playing this game and the last game she played was Samba Di Amigo. The game's ability to draw you in is astounding, the gameplay is so simple and yet so addictive, the music is amazing, it's ability to make you say "I know I can finish that one stage just a little faster" -- the game just does everything perfectly. For $20, you will not find a better gaming value period. Not only the 2004 Game of the Year, but a completely solid . . .



News: More on the EA lawsuit....
Posted by Anthony :: 1:16 PM

Just an add-on to Dan's earlier post about the lawsuit being filed against EA by former employees. Here are two blogs which feature personal accounts of the working conditions at EA. They are a very interesting look into the industry as a whole:



Tuesday, November 23, 2004

News: Valve Suspends 20,000 Steam Accounts. Valve, Steam, Oh I see what they did there.
Posted by Chris :: 7:03 PM

(c/o Gamespot.com)

Developer stages mass bust of users attempting to 'illegally obtain' Half-Life 2, shoots down warez-trap rumors.

Last week, rumors circulated that Valve had released a fake key to Half-Life 2 to various "warez" sites in order to trap game pirates. Today on the forums of Steam, Valve's download service, the developer announced it had busted nearly 20,000 people who tried "to access Half-Life 2 without purchasing it."

As a result, the offenders have had their Steam accounts suspended indefinitely. Valve also warned that "Accounts also may be closed due to fraudulent activity in an attempt to obtain additional products for your Steam Account. This includes Credit Card fraud, theft of accounts you do not own and using cracked versions of Valve games."

Valve's statement was coy about how it caught the pirates. "The method used was extremely easy for Valve to trace and confirm," it read, "and so there is no question that the accounts disabled were used to try and illegally obtain Half-Life 2."

However, Valve was extremely clear about one thing--it did not create a special version of Half-Life 2 to bust pirates. "Valve did not put out any kind of fake key or fake warez or hack instructions to trap people," read the statement. "The hack came from the 'community' as do they all."

Well, if they want to start putting a stop to pirating games and "warez" this is a really good way to do it. I'm not opposed to piracy, as everyone knows, but I really like this method. Sure, people will find away around this eventually, other warez sites and what not, but this puts a small dent in the 'Ole Internet Piracy Thing, and that's a nice start. For te record, though, I've never downloaded a video game off the internet. My 56k would explode if I tried. I suck.


News: As far as the DS is concerned...
Posted by Shocker :: 7:30 AM

To my knowledge, no one here at AC went out and got a DS at launch. For that matter, I don't know if any of us are actively pursuing one. I can't speak for my colleagues, but I will give you my opinion on it:

Before I saw a video Matt showed me, I thought this was a disastrous idea. I personally don't really use handhelds that much, but even beyond that, it seemed like superfluous design that was incapable of having any real support from developers due to its limitations (Yes, two screens can be a limitation, it's a liability to have to have something on the second screen to begin with). Not that this would be a new thing for Nintendo. Does anyone remember the Virtual Boy? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

But the video I saw changed all that. What I saw was, heads and shoulders, above the level of design that I'd seen in many games. Nintendo's got some whacky minds in their R&D, and I have a feeling that as they were pitching the system, they were giving some hints on where to take the DS, because for the year or so between its announcement and its release, most gaming publications, sites and players couldn't figure out what the hell they were going to do with the thing. The video answered a lot of that. I saw games that used the touchscreen to draw independent paths for a character to speed through. I saw incredibly handheld graphical potential and a vast array of new design avenues to wander through.

Here is what I think of the DS now: I think that it will ultimately not succeed because most designers are incapable of designing for it. A review of Mario 64 DS I read stated that the second screen was used primarily for a map of the area. The reviewer correctly pointed out that he'd never needed a map in the N64 version of the game. And this is Nintendo's development. I have a sinking feeling that a lot of the crazily-designed games I saw in the video (This is an open call to Matt to please track the video down, by the way) won't make their way stateside for fear that they'll be rejected as being too weird (Sadly, American audiences have a pretty poor track record with supporting fringe titles). More likely, developers will take advantage of the power of the system and scrap use of the second screen, except in the most necessary of cases.

In leiu of being able to provide my our own coverage right now (unless you want to buy a DS for me, and a couple of games. If you do, hit the email link over at the side), I'll give you guys a link to an article with more hands-on info than I've got now.

I'm also wondering what you guys think of the DS? Destined for greatness, or destined for failure? Are you planning to get one as soon as possible, or are you waiting for Christmas? Inquiring Dans want to know.

Here's the link to a Gamespot article detailing a lot of the features and launch titles for the Nintendo DS.

- Dan

Monday, November 22, 2004

News: NYTimes Article on EA Lawsuits Alleging Unfair Working Practices
Posted by Shocker :: 11:10 PM

(Link to full article. Requires Registration.) (Subvert the registration - Thanks Shad)

Very interesting article. Before I got into college, it was a dream of mine to design games. It sort of fell by the wayside a few years ago, but I'm considering picking it back up. I actually admire EA a great deal. They pump out very good and great games with startling regularity.

However, if this is true, and I don't have much reason to disbelieve it, they need to really evaluate what they're doing. It's not uncommon to push young people to work to extremes out of college... Talk to any young lawyer. It's entirely another thing to not compensate them fairly for it. Given the nature of the gaming business, rather than building a solid team of loyal workers, they're much more likely to spawn a hundred small competitors who learned the trade by toiling in their salt mines for a few years. If I were a stockholder in EA, I know I'd rather see some long-term viability to the company in the form of reduced turnover.

In any case, this will add some fuel to the stupid "EA is satan" fire.

- Dan


The Rundown: 22nd to 28th November
Posted by JayGo :: 4:05 AM

Welcome back to The Rundown! Again, it's time to look at the new releases for this week in the UK and the US. It's quite a bit calmer than last week, thankfully.. with one noticeable exception.

The Nintendo DS was released yesterday, but don't expect to be able to go into a nearby shop and pick one up off the shelf. According to many sources, you may only be in luck if you preordered.. and preordered early, at that. The unit costs $149, and is getting a good reception from most areas.. though some have said the stylus control can be a bit error-prone at times. The console comes complete with Pictochat, so you can chat and draw pictures to nearby DS users wirelessly, and Metroid Prime: Hunters First Hunt, a demo of the upcoming Metroid Prime variant.

The launch line-up consists of six games, with the main one being Super Mario 64 DS. Mario 64 with minigames and a multiplayer mode? Sold! There's also the always present EA with Madden NFL 2005 and The Urbz: Sims in the City, above-par racing action with Asphalt Urban GT, average movie tie-in Spiderman 2 and the quite frankly odd Feel The Magic: XY/XX. We here at Another Castle are working hard on getting some DS impressions posted.. as soon as we can find someone who's got one.

In the meantime, TheRealGamers.com reports that it's 'sturdy' and the 'touch screen is great', but it also 'feels cheap'. Next week, he might get Mario DS into the machine itself. We'll be waiting!

So - didn't preorder a DS? Not to fear, EA have another tie-in for you to buy like the communist pigs you are! Goldeneye: Rogue Agent (PS2, XBox, GC) sees you playing a bad guy working for Goldfinger, battling against the forces of.. Dr. No? Hmm. I guess expecting anything more risky than that was a bit foolish. The game itself is yet another first person shooter, and in a world where Halo 2, Half Life 2, Metroid Prime 2 and, hell, the original Goldeneye exist, I can't see why you'd want to be bothering with this one. The reviews aren't favourable, the story is laughable (surgically implanted 'golden eye'?), and on the whole it appears to be incredibly unremarkable.

Despite the relative calm following the avalanche of titles that was last week, two big names still arrive on the PC shortly. World of Warcraft (PC) is the second of the two big massively multiplayer online RPGs to arrive, coming shortly after Everquest II. It's the first such game that Blizzard have made, but success is almost certain given that it builds on the incredibly popular Warcraft franchise that partly enabled them to make a name for themselves. If you're a fan of the franchise, or you just want to play around with a new MMORPG, then you could do a hell of a lot worse than giving this a try.

The second big PC game is that rare thing - an update of an oldie from the Commodore 64. Sid Meier's Pirates (PC) isn't solely out to attract gamers who played the original back in the early 90s, with many new features and gameplay elements being added to the mix. And heck, the graphics have improved a bit too. Ship battles, duels, trading, wooing the governor's daughter.. all aspects of life on the open seas are here. And yes, the wooing does occur within what is the newest videogame craze - a DDR-alike minigame. Woo.

Keeping with the remakes, Alien Hominid (PS2, GC) is a side-scrolling shooter built upon a game from Newgrounds.com. In fact, you can still play the original if you click here. It plays a lot like a mix between Metal Slug and Viewtiful Joe, which ain't exactly a bad pair to draw inspiration from. Heck, it's only $30 too. Have a go with the Flash game, and if you like it, then rest assured that the full console version is a whole lot better still.

Also out this week:

Shock! Horror! The big release of Dora The Explorer (GBA) ended up being put back to this week instead. Of course, I can't justify going on about it two weeks running, so it's down here along with the rest of the releases for this week in the US...
  • Playstation 2: American Chopper: The Game, Atari Anthology, Outlaw Golf 2
  • XBox: Cabela's Big Game Hunter 2005 Adventures
  • Gamecube: MC Groovz Dance Craze
  • PC: Alexander, Bad Mojo (Redux), Dragon's Lair 3, ER, Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone, X-Plane 8
  • Gameboy Advance: A Sound Of Thunder, Dora The Explorer: Super Star Adventures, Ice Nine

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom:

The first rule of Another Castle is not to talk about Fight Club (PS2, XBox). The second rule of Another Castle isn't to take ages on really poor jokes related to crap movie tie-ins. I guess that means I can't mention Goldeneye: Rogue Agent (PS2, XBox, GC) is getting a parallel release in bot continents, either. So, moving on..

So, yes. Outside of Fight Club, more games already out in the US make their way across to the UK this Friday. It's a big welcome to Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon 2(PS2, XBox), the eagerly awaited Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (GC), and sub-standard PS2 'Halo-killer' Killzone (PS2). Dan reviewed Killzone not too long ago, of course, and you can read that by clicking here. Jak 3 (PS2) also is released this week, and proves to be a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy of high-quality platformers.

The biggest release of the week in the UK, arguably, is Pro Evolution Soccer 4 (XBox). Sure, it came out a few weeks back for the PS2, but this version has improved graphics and sound, and full XBox Live support - including leagues, tournaments and the like. Better than FIFA 2005, it's the most fully realised online version of the beautiful game yet. In fact, it's possibly the greatest sports game of all time, even if the US may never get to see it. Shame.

Oh, and Get On Da Mic (PS2) is released too. Rap karaoke. And not good rap karaoke, even. Sure, the song choices are good enough, but they're not by the original artists, everything is censored, there are fundamental design flaws, and.. well. Rap. Karaoke. Need I say more?

Well, not for this week I don't. Back next week.

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