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8:30 AM on 09.08.2008

Jeff Green leaving 1UP, GFW Radio

In high school, I would read pc gaming magazines like a mofo, reading reviews about games my 486 66 Mhz PC could never play in 1999 (no, that's not a typo). Out of these, the cream of the crop was Computer Gaming World, a magazine with such a host of excellent writers, the most amusing of which was Jeff Green. He had a back page column called Greenspeak and since all the game reviewers had their photos next to their columns, it felt like the readers had an opportunity to "know the writers" in a time before gaming websites were more mainstream.

While I never read much of the articles on 1UP, I listened to their podcasts and enjoyed GFW Radio, a podcast focused on PC gaming hosted by Jeff Green. His crazy voices, silly sense of humor, and pointed commentary on games was the main reason I tuned in and I am sad to read on his blog that will be leaving the 1UP community of sites and moving on to work for Maxis on the Sims franchise. He will be missed, but I'm sure his humor will show up in The Sims 3 or an expansion some way or another--then again, he might just be in a marketing job at Maxis, and I could be wrong entirely.

Anyone else read CGW or GFW back in the day or enjoy his podcast?

Ripples--Jeff Green's Blog Entry about leaving 1UP (Scroll down a little bit to read the entry).   read


1:54 PM on 09.06.2008

KOTOR--I'm Playing It Wrong?

Based on king3vbo's advice, I decided to give Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic a second spin on the 360. I have enjoyed some BioWare games in the past, particularly Icewind Dale, but found the quests on the first planet of KOTOR a bit of a slog.

Getting to rescue a captive Jedi after a Flash-quality racing minigame was when the game was finally starting to feel like the Star Wars I remember. The Jedi Chick mentions you are Force Sensitive and probably are eligible for Jedi training, but then the game puts you on another quest to get codes to leave the scumbucket excuse for a planet.

I'm totally stuck at a point where I'm in a Sith Base and have to battle a Jedi. Credits are in short supply and it is a hassle to wander back and forth to purchase enough healing items to survive. The game is too hard since there is no healing spell at the beginning, but I'm assured things do get better. I've reloaded a zillion times and died even more. The Force is not with me.

Is it because I am playing KOTOR wrong? Too many years of playing JRPGs have made it so I approach console RPGs with a certain mindset-KOTOR is geared towards the PC RPG style of gameplay. Anyone else have this kind of issue with the game?   read


5:39 PM on 08.24.2008

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Demo Impressions (360)

Growing up as a skinny nerd, one of my favorite things to do was to play Star Wars games. Back then, there were good titles: X-Wing(tm): Alliance(tm), Super Empire Strikes Back(tm), and Dark Forces(tm): Jedi Knight(tm). As the prequels got released, more titles were released of lesser quality: Star Wars(tm): Episode 1-Battle for Naboo(tm), Star Wars(tm): Masters of Teras Kasi(tm), and so on. All the recent press of Star Wars(tm): The Force Unleashed(tm) got me excited, so I downloaded the demo only to be disappointed. Sluggish controls, respawning enemies, and a fairly uncreative environment (an Imperial base) were enough to get me to cancel my preorder of the game.

To be fair, the demo did a few things right. An original score has enough of a John William's flair and the graphics and physics feel appropriately as they would long ago in a galaxy far, far, away. It did have a brief tutorial on how to Force Grab (tm) and Force Shove (tm) things at other objects, but other subtleties to the controls weren't explained. A 3 second loading screen of the 360 controller explaining the function of 20 buttons isn't enough to show someone the ropes in a demo. As I controlled the secret Jedi Apprentice through his mysterious mission, tossing Stormtroopers (tm) into TIE Fighters (tm), I realized I don't really give a shit about Star Wars anymore. I've played too many games exploring metallic bases, slicing up robots and enemies whilst solving simple environmental puzzles to open doors.

Maybe I drank too much of the hype Kool-Aid (tm), but I was expecting a demo of this game to truly knock my socks off and make me feel like a kid again. Guess it's time to reread one of the Timothy Zahn novels again.

Am I the only person with negative opinions from the demo or not? Anyone?   read


8:05 AM on 08.13.2008

Bionic Commando: Rearmed (360)-Impressions

Long time no blog--working full time and going to night school kind of does that to you sometimes. Regardless, like a dork, I woke up at 1:30 AM this morning to purchase a remake of a game that holds a very special place in my heart: Bionic Commando: Rearmed. Much like the original, it is a damn hard game. Fans of the NES classic should run out and download this now, but those who aren't used to insanely hard side-scrollers of yore should stand clear.

Unlike the recent Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP, the 3D rendered character in a 2D environment works well due to bright, high-contrast colors. The techno remixed music and amusing translation help round out the experience. One additional mode features Challenge Rooms, which work as a hard version of Metal Gear Solid-style VR Missions. I have yet to try the local only Multiplayer.

Let me stress this again--Bionic Commando: Rearmed is hard. I died 4 times trying to beat the first level on Normal Difficulty. Bosses now have a puzzle mechanic that must be solved in order to dismantle them to cause any real damage, which is an improvement. So far, this game has lived up to my expectations. Does it live up to yours?   read


4:55 PM on 07.20.2008

Too Human Demo (360): Review



Too Human is an upcoming 360 game in the Diablo vein that has received its fair share of controversy. After an arduous development period lasting nearly a decade, a demo of the game is up for grabs. A crafty narrative blend of Norse mythology, Starship Troopers, and solid "loot the monsters" gameplay is brought down by a finicky camera, sluggish menu system, and graphics reminiscent of a launch title. Fans of Titan Quest and its ilk will enjoy this, but Too Human is unlikely to bring newcomers into the fold.

First impressions aren't exactly helped when the opening cut-scene looks identical to one in Mass Effect, except with sloppy textures and unsubtle lighting. Melee combat appears to have some depth and the two-stick control scheme works better than one expects. The initial monster designs appear to be little more than palette swaps, but the quirky narrative is what kept me playing to the end. Changing the camera to a Far Away or Isometric view clears up some of the camera issues, but also makes the game look that much less visually appealing.

This was better than I was expecting, but not amazing by any means. I could see how multiplayer could help things out, although having only 2 players co-op is a dissapointment.

Anyone else play this demo and was surprised (or not) by it?   read


3:43 PM on 07.19.2008

Batman Returns (SNES) (Review)

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With the recent Dark Knight movie coming out, my memories drifted to one of the first SNES titles I owned--Batman Returns, a Final-Fight clone featuring the Caped Crusader himself.

Apart from a few Batmobile levels, the game features an impressive MIDI rendition of Danny Elfman's dark score from the film and follows the movie's plot really closely. You get to wail on many clowns, fight the Penguin and Catwoman, and smash enemies into background objects (windows, posters, and brick walls). Some levels go into a side-scrolling mode, making gameplay a bit like Kung-Fu at times.

Bosses in the game are pretty cheap. An early fight with Catwoman gives you little room to move around and Catwoman's fast moves can slice up the slow Batman in a flash. One nice touch is that you get to see an expanded ending depending on which difficulty you beat the game at--I was able to get to the final Penguin boss on the highest difficulty mode, but couldn't defeat him.

If you like beat-em-ups, Batman Returns is worth finding--and, over 10 years later, it still remains one of the best Batman games (not saying much, considering the competition).   read


12:31 AM on 07.15.2008

Metal Gear Solid 4: Acts IV-Epilogue (Review)

So after some procrastination and a realization that my upcoming Paralegal night school program is going to slice into my gaming time like a hot knife through Hot Pockets, I sat down and finished off Metal Gear Solid 4 late last week. Readers, please be aware the SPOILERS might lie ahead, so do not read any further unless you have completed Metal Gear Solid 4.

------------------------SPOILERS------------------------------------------------------

Act IV: This was my favorite segment of the game. Perhaps it was the opening, which took a segment from Metal Gear Solid from the PSX to instigate nostalgia in old-school fans of the series. Maybe it was the choice of "The Best Is Yet to Come" end music from the first game once you play in the high-res remake setting of Shadow Moses. The nostalgia, perfect balance of brief cut-scenes and brief gameplay, and awesome ending fights make it the highlight of the game for me.

Act V: As the fifth act does in a stage play, the fifth act in MGS 4 manages to wrap things up with a few final boss fights and a lot more exposition. The last series of boss fights against Ocelot were nice in a retro way. I wish the game would have ended after the ending of Act V right when it goes to the brief "fake out" credits-- Snake shooting himself while the rest of the "new generation" of heroes celebrate felt so much more satisfying than the too-tidy epilogue.

Epilogue: I understand MGS series creator Hideo Kojima promised MGS 4 would tie up all the loose ends and this Epilogue resolves that, but it does so in a way that feels like a cheat. Sometimes it is better to leave things unknown than explain everything. The end of Act V just crystalized things so well for me that most of the Epilogue was kind of a let down. Perhaps if I had beaten all the previous games in the series I would have enjoyed the Epilogue more.

As a whole, I enjoyed MGS 4, but had the most problems with Act III. Was it a computer game that made me cry? No. Has a computer game made me cry...

That's a topic for another blog post...   read


9:30 PM on 07.07.2008

Metal Gear Solid 4: Acts I-III (Review)

So I've had a 80 GB MGS 4 PS3 Bundle since it was released and I still haven't quite finished the game. When it comes to beating games, I have a terrible track record. To put insult to injury, I've never beaten a Metal Gear Solid game despite owning all 4 of them.

Now that everyone has tossed their tomatoes at the screen, I am going to proceed with a brief review of the first 3 acts of the game. I realize the game has been out for a while now, but be warned there might be SPOILERS.

--------- SPOILER WARNING -------------- SPOILER WARNING --------------------

Act I: Compared to other MGS games, the controls are improved but still not easy to learn and quite hard-core. After recently listening to a 1-Up Yours podcast in which one of the American producers on the game stressed on how this game was made to ease players into how to play a Metal Gear game, I think they have truly failed in this respect. The controls are still kind of confusing and while the graphic still images reminding one how to do context-sensitive actions such as hopping over ledges or dangling from ledges help, I would argue things could have started with a VR tutorial. The Middle East setting reminds me too much of Call of Duty 4, although the MGS humor and plot start to pick up a bit towards the end of the Act. The Gecko Mechs remind me a lot of ED-209 from Robocop in their stumbling movements and deep grunts.

Act 2: So far, this has been the most fun of the game for me. The initial area has a sizeable chunk of gameplay (sizeable gameplay being 30 minutes!) and the boss fight with Laughing Octopus scared the crap out of me... There was something about the synthized voice, echoing laughter, and the music that made me break out into a cold sweat. Drebin's post boss fight origin stories remind me a bit of the short text stories in Lost Odyssey, although they are not nearly as verbose. Much like the Gecko sequence in Act I, there are several parts in cut-scenes that look awesome that could have been really fun to play, but instead are non-interactive. I know this is a staple of the franchise, but given the lack of gameplay later in the game, a more balanced cut-scene to game ratio would have been preferable.

Act 3: After a brief cut-scene setting up the scenario, things get quite hard in a stealth section that has players tracking an undercover rebellion member on the run in a European city. You have to be so precise with the controls to not alert your target and knock out enemy soldiers that it gets frustrating in the same way a Splinter Cell game does. The boss sequence this time around is not as memorable, but fighting in a destructible environment is a sound concept. The cut-scene at the end is very dramatic and leaves things on a cliffhanger.

Mission Briefings: The mission briefing sequences are way too long. I understand some of them have character development between Otacon, Snake, Naomi, and whomever else they may be talking to, but Kojima uses 2000 words where 20 would do. My view on Metal Gear is similar to that of the Xenosaga franchise--all too brief moments of fun gameplay sandwiched inbetween long cut-scenes that tell a story that gets more compelling as the game goes on.

In other words? The Metal Gear Solid franchise is an interactive anime. There's nothing wrong with that, but I struggle with the concept of how enjoyable the game parts are considering their brief length. I enjoy the game and am glad to have a PS3, but it's not going to win newcomers over to the series.   read


9:38 PM on 07.02.2008

A cast of thousands: Trevor Belmont



It was the middle of the summer of 1991 in Centreville, Virginia. I would often wait around the house for a friend to show up so we could play Nintendo in the basement. Despite having a lack of two player games, we had fun with taking turns playing a variety of titles, but these sessions were cut short by my Dad forcing us to play outside.

Running around the dog-shit ridden forest trails, my friend and I would run around, pretending we were video game characters fighting each other. I would always pretend to be the hero of my favorite game, Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse: Trevor Belmont. Ironically, my friend's name also happened to be Trevor.

Other than an opening text scrawl with the trademark chiptune gothic musical bloops escaping from the TV speakers, Castlevania III had little story. Trevor Belmont was just an ancestor of famed vampire slayer, Simon Belmont, hero of the prior two games in the series. His appearance was just like Simon Belmont--lots of tans and browns, with a hint of yellow.

Despite the fact that nothing about the appearance or the functionality was original, the secret that endeared the character to me was the game itself. Castlevania III was a hard side-scroller with branching paths, intricate music, and a convoluted password system. It was a game that did away with the poor translation and loose RPG conventions of Castlevania II and returned to its roots, screaming, "See this? This is a real Castlevania game!"

I've enjoyed Castlevania games since, but Castlevania III holds a special place in my heart with Trevor Belmont warming my ice-cold cockles. Perhaps Trevor will appear in Castlevania Judgement, the upcoming Castlevania fighting game for the Wii... Or perhaps he will say fangs for the memories!   read


9:50 PM on 06.23.2008

My 1st Spore Creature: Quandorium

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I was just messing around with the free demo of the Spore Creature Creator and came up with this little creature: Quandorium. The Creature Creator is a lot of fun, but I have no idea how the full game of Spore will be.

Regardless, it is nuts to see that around 1 million Spore Creatures have been created. The free trial is limited with what options you have to create the creature, but still has enough to get you a feel for how the program works. I am not going to spring $10 for the full Creature Creator--instead, I'll wait for reviews for the final product, but am keeping my fingers crossed.

Quandorium   read


7:28 PM on 06.23.2008

The Start of the Affair: Dragon Warrior

There had been others before--the wakka-wakka sounds from Ms. Pac-Man, the stunning drama of pixelated manga cut-scenes from Ninja Gaiden, and the futile attemps of having Mario survive a dip in the ocean with some Cheep-Cheeps from Super Mario Bros. These were trumped by the strains of an 8-bit orchestral overture, a sparkling title screen, and a cute blue slime: Dragon Warrior.

I remember watching a friend playing the game when I was just in the first grade; he was just starting middle school. The gameplay was totally alien to anything I'd seen before--instead of running around killing things, you searched a town for clues to a poorly translated puzzle, open locked doors to uncover hidden treasure chests, and braved a fearsome battle with an army of slimes so cute you almost didn't want to slice them to gelatinous bits.

Part of what made this game appealing was how your character grew stronger as you won more fights against deadlier monsters. Being a pasty, short white kid, the idea of controlling an armored knight who grows stronger with time and gets to rescue a princess from a dragon was appealing in a certain way Mario wasn't. I didn't have to worry about poor reflexes and the act of grinding a character up a few experience levels helped me reach a nice Zen moment of slime slaying and weapon purchasing.

Although I still appreciate the RPG genre, I don't play as many games due to the time it takes to complete them. Still, a recent game that made me fall in love with it the way Dragon Warrior did was Blue Dragon for the 360: it might have been the familiar Akira Toriyama designs, the green and blue color pallet, or the high encounter rate, but it was love again at first byte.   read


10:38 PM on 06.18.2008

Pixel Junk Monsters Demo (PS3): Impressions

With my recent PlayStation 3 purchase, I decided to venture into the limited pool of demos for the system and decided to give the demo of the much-hyped Pixel Junk Monsters a whirl. While it has a few neat spins on the web-based classic, it suffers from the same problem as Patapon for the PSP: there just isn't much gameplay there.

In the game you control a creature that resembles a turtle with an African mask that has to defend his village from waves of monsters. You can convert trees in the forest to various guns and are faced with a bit of a problem--do you build a lot of different towers that are weak or a few that are strong? Different enemies are weak against ground or air attacks and move through an obvious path towards your village. The game spikes in difficulty after the tutorial level, but my main issue with it is that enemies move at a pokey pace--maybe there is a "speed up" button I am missing.

A Mario-inspired twist to the formula is that your creature can walk up and collect coins and eggs enemies leave behind to upgrade or build additional towers. Graphics are nice and cute in a Miyamoto fashion and the music adds a laid-back pace to the proceedings, but the game seems a bit simple in the demo--I realize there are more towers available in the full game. It's a fun demo, but there's not enough there to make me spring for the full title.

The demo for Pixel Junk Monsters is worth downloading, but it's definitely a love it or hate it title--I just wished I loved it enough to try the full version out.   read





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