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Dufresne's blog

6:15 PM on 07.24.2007

Rocks the 80s only goes up to 10.

I just picked up Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s today, and played through it in one sitting.

It's an odd duck, being simultaneously easier and harder than GH2. Easier in the sense that I played straight through without failing a song, and 5-starring all but three songs on my first try. Harder because a lot of the songs have some wicked solos, meaning they're going to be a lot harder to 100%.

The song "Because, It's Midnite" by Limozeen has probably the most ridiculous solo I've ever seen outside of "Jordan." It's a good thing that it's pretty short, so a star power activation can get you through it easily. "Ballroom Blitz" and "Play With Me" I could also see lasting a while without anyone getting 100%.

There are also some songs that do some pretty original things with the note chart. Oingo Boingo's "Only a Lad" stands out for me there, but "Heat of the Moment" and "What I Like About You" are also pretty unique. (If you like triple chords, you'll bust in your shorts when you see the latter.)

The Store is pretty lame. No new guitars, no new finishes, and no bonus songs. The lack of new guitars bugged me, since even the reward guitars for five-starring and beating various difficulty levels were the same. (The Log is probably the most anti-80s guitar ever created.) Also, there are only six characters, the one unlockable being the Grim Ripper as usual, and they're all limited to one costume, their new "80s Outfit." Granted, some of the 80s suits are pretty cool; Pandora's Flock of Seagulls hairdo and Axel's Members-Only Jacket stand out. The Grim Ripper's new outfit is kind of funny, but by far the worst suit. (They just threw a Flava Flav clock and some 3D glasses on him.) Still, anyone who's been following the game knows that Rocks the 80s was just going to be GH2 with some minor art changes and new songs, so I at least wasn't expecting much from the Store.

Overall, it was great fun, and for me it was definitely worth the $25. (I got it from Best Buy for $40, and got a $15 gift card for my preorder.) If you're really into the series, pick it up, even if you're not a big fan of 80s music. Unlike the previous games, it doesn't quite go up to 11, but it's a pretty loud 10.

P.S. No news yet if the "HO/PO Restart Bug" made it into this game from GH2, but there IS Hyperspeed, which is a plus.   read

2:20 PM on 07.23.2007

Sonic's Losing It

I'm sorry, but this is dumb. As awesome as it is that they finally put Mario and Sonic in a game together, to try and convince people that Mario could actually keep up with Sonic in a footrace is ridiculous. Hell, Knuckles and Tails could beat him too. Sonic's whole point is SPEED. If he can't beat a portly plumber, he should hang up his shoes now.

Edit: Since embedding this video does not seem to be working for me, I'm going to just post the YouTube link here for people who don't know what I'm talking about.   read

10:28 PM on 07.22.2007

The Next Big City-Builder

Like probably a lot of you, Iíve always considered the SimCity franchise one of the classic series in gaming. All four main installments found a place on my hard drive over the years, along with Rush Hour, the expansion pack to SimCity 4. All in all, Iíd say Iím a pretty big fan of the series.

Which is why Iím so concerned about the new direction that the franchise is taking. Although SimCity Societies looks impressive, it doesnít look like SimCity. Iím not even talking about the graphics, although honestly I havenít been impressed with the early screenshots. (The roads in particular look terrible.) The game is still in the early stages, after all; thereís a lot of room for the graphics quality to improve. The problem lies in the overall approach to the art design. Chocolate factories? Spooky graveyards? Clown schools? Simply put, SimCity Societies looks and feels ďcartoony.Ē

SimCity has, up until this point, been about building a city grounded in realism. Before now, the only concessions to fantasy were the arcologies in SimCity 2000, which youíll notice didnít stick around in later installments. SimCity 4 was praised for enabling players to build more realistic cities than ever before, particularly after Rush Hour completely revamped and improved the transportation system.

Of course, the sophistication of SimCity 4 is part of what led to this new direction. There are two main arguments here: 1) The SimCity series had gotten too complex and too intimidating to newbies, and 2) SimCity 4 achieved its goal so well, there was little to improve on.

The first argument has some merit, but I donít think itís as bad as most claim. Thereís a bit of a learning curve, yes, but thatís the case with a lot of games. Then again, Iím the kind of guy who always reads the manual when he buys the game. (And gets pissed with how crappy manuals are these days, but thatís another rant entirely.) The second argument, that SimCity 4 was next to perfect, is quite frankly bullshit.

There were plenty of improvements that could have been made to SimCity 4. Wall-to-wall commercial spaces were out of the question. Buildings still looked repetitive. You couldnít make a realistic-looking waterfront to save your life. Diagonal roads still looked awkward. The list goes on and on. In fact, the SimCity fan base has already made vast improvements to the core game, most of which can be found at either Simtropolis ( or its spin-off site SC4Devotion (, the two biggest sources of fan-created content for SimCity 4.

These sites are home to the player demographic SimCity Societies should be catering to specifically, yet itís this exact group that EA and Tilted Mill have chosen to ignore, to their detriment. Player-created content has been essential to the success of the ďSimĒ games ever since the release of the SimCity 2000 Urban Renewal Kit, and SimCity Societies needs to get the Simtropolis population on its side. That it has failed so spectacularly at this is at the core of my misgivings about this new SimCity installment.

In fact, many of Simtropolisí most talented and devoted members have now banded together to try and create their own city-builder from the ground up, with the goal of making it everything they wanted SimCity 5 to be. Itís an ambitious project, and so far they donít have anything more than a website (, but the fact that some of SimCityís most loyal fans are taking such drastic steps should tell Tilted Mill that itís doing something wrong.

Assuming the Simtropolis project never gets off the ground, (which frankly is pretty likely,) where are urban planners supposed to turn next for realistic cities? I for one am going to be watching Cities Unlimited, Monte Cristoís sequel to the moderately successful City Life. Compare this early screenshot of Cities Unlimited to the one of SimCity Societies above.

Realize that these are games that are supposedly around the same stage in development. See a difference there? Yes, the graphics look sharper, but more importantly, it looks far more real. Note the street traveling under the elevated rail, and the wall-to-wall buildings; both were impossible in SimCity 4 without user-generated content. If Monte Cristo plays its cards right, it may find it has successfully lured away SimCityís most devoted fanbase.   read

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