I recently picked up a Nokia N81 to replace my old phone Sony Ericsson W800i which was starting to give me the shits by turning itself off all the time. Still, after two years of abuse I donít know what I expected. Anyway, when deciding on my new phone I knew I wanted a good MP3 player with at least a 2 mega-pixel camera and a solid design with good tactile buttons for travelling everywhere with me and occasionally being my portable gaming device.
After some research I decided on the Nokia N81. It looked great, had all the features I wanted, and best of all the new N-Gage.com service was going to mean more games for my new phone. Even before this phone I was a fan of mobile gaming, so the N81 seemed like a logical step for me.
Nokia are selling the N81 as the best mobile gaming phone to date with its sharp screen, odd but functional D-pad and two dedicated gaming buttons. Also, learning from the mistakes of their previous designs, many new games will be able to be played in landscape mode, making the N81 a brilliant device for gaming. Or so I thought.
One big problem I have only just started to notice is the two gaming keys are becoming more and more depressed with each use. I donít mean depressed like a disillusioned teenagerís MySpace blog, I mean theyíve lost their Ďpopí. Iíve never abused my N81 (I learnt from my mistakes), and in fact do my best to ensure the phone is treated with care, but the gaming buttons just arenít meant for long term use. After over month of infrequent use the buttons now sit much lower and make a squeaking sound when pressed. They still respond fine, and Iím sure they will continue to work for a very long while, but they just donít have the same feel as they did when I first got the phone home.
Just so you know the game on this N81 Asphalt 3: Street Rules is pretty shithouse.
In spite of these problems my biggest complaint with my new phone is the new N-Gage game service which is a poorly organised mess. The first problem is the registration process, which on the surface seems simple enough, but has a few bugs that I hope have been ironed out already. To cut a long story short I had to register myself twice to get just one of the logins working. But even then it took a while for the account to become active. Like I said, my first problem wasnít a big one, but it was annoying.
Once that debacle was over I browsed through the available games. There wasnít much available and the upcoming looked rather boring. Overall there were only a handful of games coming up that I actually wanted to play. Nokia kept talking about all the game developers they will be working with, but their release list was just so underwhelming. But I figured itís early days, they need time to get their act together, after all this was still during the First Access period.
Well one month on and N-Gage.com was still showing the same list of largely unimpressive games. I get that itís a new service and Nokia are still working on it as I write this, but honestly is it that hard to release a new games in a month? Surely they could have just asked SEGA or somebody else with a good history of mobile games to update their titles to support the N81ís landscape mode. Thatís all I want!
N-gage.com - a hot bed of activity! Why for just $16 (!) you can play poker! Bargain!
Well the First Access period is finally over Ė and guess what, most of the games available are the same ones Iíve been looking at since I joined N-Gage. I get that it just launched, but does the N-Gage brand have that good of a reputation that Nokia can just expect people to ride out this launch period? Shouldnít Nokia be pulling out all stops to make this the number one mobile phone game service? I really wish somebody else would get on this and compete with Nokia to stop them slacking off. I mean even my service provider Optus have a far superior range of games, as do many other online mobile game stores.
What the N-Gage service does well is provide the user with a single username and gives you an ID card that looks almost exactly like an Xbox Live Gamertag. This is a good thing as I really like the way Xbox Live is laid out, but right now this is so under-utilised itís virtually pointless. Itís great to have a unique ID that can be used for all N-Gage games, but when all these games suck and so few have an online multiplayer component you have to wonder what the point in all this is.
At the end of the day my N81 was bought for a purpose Ė to be a reliable phone that could also double as a portable entertainment device. And on that level itís a success. The MP3 playback is fantastic, and the standard headphone input is a welcome change from my old W800i, which needed a specialised adapter. Also the camera, though not perfect, has a good flash and is easy to use taking decent images. Itís only 2 mega-pixels but so far Iíve been more than happy with it. On top of this the phone also has video playback, which I know isnít a new feature for mobile phones, but when combined with the brilliant built-in stereo speakers the N81 becomes an awesome portable video player. I put a few episodes of Aqua Teen Hunger Force on it which at 10 minutes long is just the right length for on-the-go entertainment.
Overall I really like the Nokia N81 as a phone I have no regrets at all about choosing it, but the N-Gage service which helped me pick this phone over a few others has turned out to be a big disappointment. If things improve and I suddenly start to fall in love with N-Gage Iíll be sure to write another overly long blog about it. Just donít hold your breath.
Video game piracy is bad. Thereís no doubt about it. But here in Australia we have the right to own mod chips legally. Why? Because we get screwed so often that's why! Have you ever stopped to consider just how ridiculously expensive games are today? At the time of writing the Australian dollar is hovering around the US$0.95 mark meaning $1 Australian should get me about US$0.95. Keeping this in mind Australian games start around AU$70 for Nintendo DS games and go up to AU$120 for PlayStation 3 games. For the purpose of this argument Iíll focus on the median price of an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 game which is about AU$110.
So for AU$110 (US$103) I can buy one game just one game. I know being a gamer is an expensive hobby, but honestly why does it have to cost so much? I get that games cost more to make then they used to, and that there are many people who need a slice of the gameís sale (retailers, publisher etc.), but can they honestly justify AU$100?
Currently I use my Xbox 360 the most followed by my DS and then lastly my Wii. I donít own a PlayStation 3 yet, but will by the end of the year. I donít own any illegal games for any of these consoles, nor are they or ever will be mod chipped. But that doesnít mean I donít get why people do it. Games are far too expensive.
Take for example going to the movies. Going to the movies cost AU$15, which I admit is far too expensive, but it manages to cover the cost of the cinema staff, the general upkeep of the place, the equipment used to show the film and the reels of film in the projection room. In fact my AU$15 does all that and then goes towards the films creators who then take their chunk of my money and use it to pay off the films extravagant budget and use the rest as pure profit. All that for just AU$15.
For AU$650 I got an Xbox 360 Premium Pack. To save some money the Australian version didnít come with a headset, so Microsoft managed to bleed another AU$50 out of me. Then they charged me AU$79.95 to connect to Xbox Live Gold. Then in order for me to actually play something on my console I have to fork out another AU$110 for a game.
The price of the console I understand; I mean I think for all my Xbox 360 does itís worth the AU$650. Even my Xbox Live Gold account has given me a lot of joy Ė far more than the AU$79.95 it costs me every year. The headset, which should have been free, has never-the-less proven to be a worthy investment. But honestly, AU$110 for one game? Going back to the movies comparison, I paid AU$15 to see 300, which was a great film that cost $60 million to make. But if I so choose I can put that AU$15 towards buying Lair on PlayStation 3 for AU$100.
Did Lair cost US$60 million to make? I doubt it. Are there more people involved in its creation, distribution and sale? Once again, probably not. But for whatever reason Lair costs more than five times the price of one screening of 300. When a critically panned game like Lair costs AU$100 and a brilliant film like 300 costs AU$15 to see, or AU$30 to own on DVD, you really have to step back and ask yourself if games are worth their price tag. I know games have replay value, but so do DVDs and theyíre not overly expensive.
I know games have dropped in price. When I was younger I remember when Sonic The Hedgehog 3 on the Mega Drive came out at AU$140. Even by todayís standards thatís a lot. But does that mean we should just expect to pay so much for games?
My point is that the reason a lot of people pirate games isnít because theyíre bad people, itís because they love video games and just canít afford todayís stupid prices. I know itís not the best justification, but do we really want video gaming to be a super-expensive hobby? Shouldnít developers and publishers strive to make games as affordable and as accessible as possible?
Moving away from the monetary issue there is another problem with gaming that mod chips have been able to fix Ė region coding. Raise your hand if youíve ever asked yourself ďwhy am I still waiting for <insert game> that has been released in <insert foreign country>?Ē
This is something PAL gamers have asked themselves time and time again. Two of the most recent examples off the top of my head are Rock Band and Smash Bros Brawl. In regards to Rock Band, I get that they have to manufacture the instruments, but once it reaches a point where people in NTSC territories can go to their local game shop and pick up a copy, donít you think itís only fair to release a few in other places around the world. I wouldnít be so mad if we werenít promised the game and the release date wasnít jerked around so much (itís now late May). I get that itís an expensive game to make, but come on, do I really have to wait this long?
Smash Bros Brawl is even worse. I mean what do they have to do besides change the packaging? Even though Wii consoles are region locked, a PAL Wii can still play NTSC games if the region code is correct. How much could it possibly cost to make enough Smash Bros Brawl covers and game discs for PAL gamers? The cost is in the production of the game, not the media itís presented on. And I know the whole ďoh, but Europe gets Wii Fit first,Ē but itís by less than a month and itíll probably cost more outside of the US than anywhere else in the world. My point is I got my Wii the day it launched and I have a grand total of three games for it, and one of those is Wii Sports. All I want is another game to play on it, so why won't Nintendo give them to me?
My point is that the Xbox 360 has region restrictions, which I admit arenít enforced on every game, but the Wii is locked down like the consoles of the last generation. I paid AU$400 for my Wii on launch day and AU$650 for my Xbox 360. For that price I should at least be able to play any games I have bought legally from anywhere in the world. But I canít.
I know a lot of people who don't support mod chips think that pirates hide behind the ďwe just like to import gamesĒ arguement, but if you live in a PAL territory the whole importing thing isn't just an excuse, it's a damn good reason to own a mod chip and in my opinion makes having one entirely justified. Moving beyond my own little world, why on Earth canít an American gamer import a Japanese game for their Wii? Developers can hide behind the ďitís not optimised for PAL TVsĒ, which is a bullshit argument these days anyway, but what about other countries like the US that already have NTSC TVs? Huh, smart guy?
Mod chips open your console up to a whole new world of gaming, free from region locking and shitty PAL conversions. Microsoft and Nintendo need to stop being afraid of importing and get with the times, much like Sony. I know that Nintendo are the worst offenders, but big games like the US version of Rock Band are region locked as well as pretty much every Japanese Xbox 360 game, which I know isnít a huge deal but itís still pretty stupid.
I should say that I donít want anyone to think that Iím pro-piracy. I love being a gamer and I want my hobby to survive, but I think the current model is broken. When you pay for a console, say like the PlayStation 3 which launched here in Australia for AU$999 (US$1000+), you shouldnít then have to pay in excess of AU$100 (US$95) to play one game. If games were significantly cheaper, say AU$50 (US$23), donít you think they would sell more? Give away the razors and sell them blades.
Imagine if something like BioShock or Saints Row came out at that price donít you think they would have sold more? I know they were popular games, but at a lower price I believe a heck of a lot more people who may have overlooked these games would have given them a chance.
I know Iím just ranting, and nothing I write can change how much we pay for games. I guess I just wanted to get this off my chest and hear what everyone else thinks. I really do love being a gamer, I mean I just spent the last few hours writing this blog because of my love for games, but I donít want to keep getting screwed over by game companies and not say anything.
Anyway, if youíve managed to read my entire 1,300+ words post Iím very grateful and would love to hear your thoughts.
UPDATE: Firstly, thanks to everyone who has responded to my post (even the ones I don't agree with!). And secondly, I should point out that as I stated earlier I'm not "pro-piracy", I just think that gamers (especially PAL gamers) deserve to be treated better by publishers. Keep on truckin' everybody!
When it comes to video game junk I canít get enough Final Fantasy stuff. They could make Final Fantasy tampons and Iíd probably buy every box I could just to make sure I had one with Cloud and a Cactuar on it. But I donít think theyíd put a Cactuar on a tampon packet. A Moogle would make sense though.
Anyway, the following is samplings of things I have lying around that have something to do with Final Fantasy. Everything listed below is stuff I just imported from a far off land known as Hong Kong. A mystical place filled with cheap video game junk for stupid westerners to buy... and fish... and uh... Chinese people...
Cactuar phone strap
First up is my Final Fantasy Cactuar phone strap. Those little cactus guys are one of my favourite video game characters, but I do hate it when the little shits use their Ď1,000 Needlesí attack. But, outside of battle, I have a bizarre fondness for them, which in turn lead me to buying one of them to hang off the end of my phone.
This is what my Cactuar phone strap thing came in. Exciting yes!?
The Cactuar itself is a solid piece of plastic and is well detailed. Admittedly thereís not much to it, but it does look good even up close. Further down the strap is the artificial leather name tag with Sabotender written on it, which is the original Japanese name for these creatures. Itís embossed in the tag so it wonít show up all that well in the image above.
UPDATE: Cactuar is fading fast!! Okay, so the fake leather on the strap is doing okay. It's gone a little soft, but overall it's not in bad shape. Cactuar on the other hand is dying. One of his three spikes on his head has snapped off and the colour is rubbing off his belly. He still looks good, but I don't think he can live on the end of my phone for any longer than another six months before his colour and spikes will be all gone. Hang on little buddy!
Final Fantasy VII 10th Anniversary Potion
This next item, the Final Fantasy VII potion, was something I saw ages ago but avoided because it seemed too stupid, even for a junk hoarder like me. But when I was looking around for more junk to add to my collection I noticed that there were a few discounted ones due to a few dents in the can. They were so cheap I figured I may as well get one.
When it finally arrived I must say I was glad I picked one up. Even if the contents probably taste like cat piss and poison the Final Fantasy logo plastered on it makes it look great.
I donít plan on opening this thing anytime soon, but Iím sure one of two things will happen. One is Iíll leave it in view of some idiot/family member/friend who will open it, drink it, and throw it away, leading me to murder them. Or Iíll get wicked drunk and crack it open, only to then wake up the next morning at look at what Iíve done in disgust.
Final Fantasy XII Limited Edition Original Soundtrack
The last item is my new baby Ė the Final Fantasy XII Limited Edition Original Soundtrack. I remember when these first came out and all the bullshit I went through deciding whether I should get it or not until it was too late to grab one. So this time around when one presented itself I jumped on it like it was a crazed badger and then tamed it with my ancient aboriginal animal communication skills. Metaphorically speaking.
The detail in the packaging is fantastic and the care that has gone into its construction is obvious when you look at it closely. The printing quality is amazing compared to other cases Iíve seen printed on this kind of laminated cardboard stock.
The art book is printed on what feels like recycled paper. It looks great, but this type of paper doesnít show colour very well, so some of the photos look a little washed out. That said, it does fit into the whole theme of Final Fantasy XIIís medieval world, but glossy paper would have been a little better.
I would show interior shots, but I canít get the bastard to stay open so I can take photos. I donít want to force it open, and every time I try and take a one handed photo it comes out looking awful. Considering how bad most of my photos are already I donít want to put up even worse ones.
So thatís it for another week or so. Next time Iíll probably do some more Final Fantasy junk I have lying around, or I could show off my collection of unofficial GunCon pedals for the original PlayStation. Actually I better save them up for my big finale.
As usual, comments would be very much appreciated.
Well itís that time of the year again; time to talk about the elusive R rating for video games in Australia. Yes thatís right, there are talks going on right now to decide if we can handle an R rating for games yet. I first heard about this when I was screwing around on Google looking for an interview with Margret Pomeranz from At The Movies on ABC. She was featured on a short podcast a while back on video game censorship and I think itís worth every Aussie gamersí time. When I find it Iíll post a link.
Anyway, during my adventures I found a news story on the ABC website about the R rating being looked at for video games again. Wanting to know more I Googled (Googleíed?) a few websites and found the usual stuff that comes up whenever anybody talks about treating games as a serious form of entertainment in this country. By that I mean flat out ignorance.
Of course gamers down under should be used to this by now, after all itís not like this is the first time weíve heard about the possibility of an R rating for games being introduced. Remember when it occurred back a few years ago? It feels like weíve been on the verge of change so many times, but we never quite make it over the edge.
The state of Australian video game censorship and a metaphor. Deep shit.
You see what happens is every now and then is somebody speaks up and tries to get the R rating passed in the country, and then they followed up by a plethora of ignorant dinosaurs telling everybody about the dangers of giving people choices, and how our shelves will be filled with violent and sexually sexy sex games that will cause children to hit their teachers and then spontaneously combust. Just ask the pro-censroship Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney Julian Porteous!
The ideal situation would for Australia to have its own ESRB style ratings system instead of our current one. But our government loves control far too much to ever give it to somebody else. Of course then youíd have to fight an uphill battle with the big three seeing as they donít allow games rated AO by the ESRB on US consoles, and an R rating is basically the same thing.
Overall my point is that even though I want an R rating, you want an R rating and that guy over there near the fake indoor plants wants an R rating, the Australian government is made up of out of touch ignoramuses.
Living in a PAL territory you get used to being screwed by video game companies . And I donít mean a gentle slap and tickle behind the bike shed, I mean a hand over your mouth after lights out style screw.
Little things like the ďworldwideĒ PlayStation 3 launch and the fact that Rock Band wonít arrive until May are a few recent examples. But that said, things have improved, and most games now come out in PAL territories reasonable soon after the NTSC release. More importantly I canít think of a recent example of the dreaded bad PAL conversion which can was the bane of my existence for quite a while.
As a way of apologising to PAL gamers for bad conversions and late releases developers and publishers often create extra content and package it in with the PAL release. Below are a few examples from my collection.
SILENT HILL 2
Silent Hill 2 only came out two months after the North American release, but Konami still felt so bad they made this awesome 2 x DVD slip-case edition of the game.
Here is the inner cover removed from the slipcase and then spread out. Scary, yes?
The inner cover of this edition has a few quotes from Mary, the main characterís wife, such as ďour special place...Ē and ďyou promised youíd take me here again...Ē and of course ďJames you dickhead! Who taught you how to reverse park..?Ē. Moving stuff.
The artwork inside the inner cover is amazing. The shiny headed nurse looks like sheís having so much fun! Maria on the other hand looks kinda sleepy. She was such a loose bitch, but at least she put out, Jamesís wife Mary just seemed like a such a drag.
The bonus disc packed in with Silent Hill 2 was brilliant. It had a documentary on the game which delved deeply into the gameís origins, creation and storyline. In all honesty waiting the extra two months for this disc was well worth it. But there was a catch Ė the DVD was coded for Region 2, which meant that you had to call who ever the publisher was at the time and order a new disc. Thankfully it arrived fairly promptly, and you could keep your old disc.
FINAL FANTASY X
Final Fantasy X was a shit PAL conversion. Thereís no two ways about it. The game looked terrible as the developers tried to squash a 4:3 game into a 16:9 frame. I owned a TV that could stretch it out thankfully, but those that didnít had to stare at a fat whore looking Yuna for 40+ hours. Donít get me wrong, my love for this game is undying, but the PAL version did look like a smashed crab.
The worst part is that the game came out in July 2001 in Japan, then arrived in North America on December 2001 and then took another five months to reach Australia. Why couldnít SquareSoft (they werenít Square Enix yet) put in just a little bit more effort for the PAL release? Surely between July 2001 and May 2002 they could have made the game at least run a consistent frame rate and not grind whenever you summon an Aeon. Bastards!
To make up for this a bonus disc was included, which included a very interesting Ďmaking ofí and some other Final Fantasy X crap. But like the Silent Hill 2 caper it was the wrong region. This time however there was no replacement disc being made. For me it wasnít a huge deal because I could watch it on my computer, but those gamers who only watched DVDs on their PlayStation 2 were shit out of luck. Great job Square!
Incidentally, SquareSoft managed to pump out an ĎInternational Versioní of the game around January 2002. It had full English voice acting and a few other tweaks included. But like all their other ďinternationalĒ versions, it was so ďinternationalĒ that it would only run on Japanese PlayStation 2s. Once again, great move Square! (And yes I know other companies make these ďinternationalĒ versions too, but why? To tease us?!)
RESIDENT EVIL 4
Still feeling the burn from my previous ďbonus discĒ debacles, I was sceptical that the Resident Evil 4 Collectorís Edition on the GameCube could live up to its promises. But the Australian version came with a bonus GameCube game disc (not a mini-DVD) that was guaranteed to work on my system.
Hereís the DVD style cases for the game and the bonus disc.
Behold the bonus disc in all itís glory!
The slipcase packaging and the two DVD cases made it look like you were getting a shit load of extras with the game. What you actually got was the PAL version of the game, which was the same as the NTSC version except for a stupidly bad Easy mode, and a collection of cutscenes from past Resident Evil games on the GameCube. It also contained a few short interviews and information on the other games in the series. While not as good as the Silent Hill 2 bonus disc it was still a great addition.
On a side note, for some reason Resident Evil 4 had a ton of special editions released around the world. For a full list click here and check out all the different ones available.
METAL GEAR SOLID 2
If there is one company in this world who knows how to treat PAL gamers right itís Konami. The PAL version of Metal Gear Solid 2 looked great and thankfully ran almost flawlessly, except for a few screen tearing issues.
Release in 2001 on 14 November in North America, PAL gamers had to wait until March 2002 to get a copy of this brilliant (and overly criticised) game. In this four month Hideo Kojima and his team worked on not only making a sure this game world run well on PAL consoles, but also adding extra content. The new European Extreme difficulty was a bitch, but the Boss Survival mode was fun and the Casting Theatre was a smart way to watch old cutscenes again.
In addition to these extras, PAL gamers were also treated to a Ďmaking ofí DVD, which was produced by the same people who made the Silent Hill 2 Ďmaking ofí. This time however there were no region issues, and like before it was extremely well made. It should be noted that this making of is nothing like the Documents of Metal Gear Solid 2, but is its own separate entity.
The packaging was also great with cleat DVD case allowing you to see the reverse side of the cover. On it was some great artwork of characters featured in the game. Yay for Konami!
So there you have it, my collection of PAL exclusive collectorís editions and bonus discs. Hopefully I didnít come across too whiny. Nowadays being in a PAL region isnít as of a big issue, especially on the PlayStation 3 which is the only true region free console. The Xbox 360 is slightly region free, but there are a lot of big games that still have region coding, especially from Japan. Donít get me started on the locked-down Wii.
When will people learn that region coding only furthers piracy? And that than pushes people into buying goods off the black market, which than supports terrorism. So, in a round-about way you could argue that Nintendo, and to a lesser extent Microsoft, are funding terrorist organisations. We're through the looking glass here people!
Something that has been helping my pile of video game stuff grow recently has been the number of promotional items sent to me by video game publishers.
I was fortunate enough to do free game reviews for a local paper awhile back, which inevitably got me a job there. A job Iíve now had for nearly four years.
While I spend most of my time juggling university and working as a sub-editor/designer/occasional writer, I have been able to build up a few contacts in the games industry. Itís nothing too serious, just a few guys from various companies who send me free games for review.
Thankfully I work within a team gives me the freedom to say whatever I want. So basically if I think a game is awful I have no qualms about telling the world about it.
Getting back to my original point, I do get sent promotional items now and then so I figured for this instalment of My video game junk Iíd show you guys a few things I have lying around.
Along with a review copy of the game and a soundtrack sampler (which is wicked awesome yeah ... maybe), the friendly folk at THQ sent me an Xbox 360 face plate and a sun-keeper-out-thing for my sweet ass ride.
Hereís the sun thing all folded out. (note to self, make this caption more exciting before making story live)
For the release of Stuntman Ignition (which is actually a fun game!), they sent me this shirt. Out of all the video game shirts I own I can almost picture myself wearing this in public. Almost. (This is, of course, a joke as the only video game shirt I wear in public is my HIL-AR-IOUS ďAll your baseĒ shirt)
This is the Stuntman Ignition face plate... but something is not quite right.
Trying to put this thing on my 360 was hard enough. Trying to get it off was near impossible. It felt way too tight, and in the end the little flap that covers the front USB ports snapped off. I was so mad I hit a nun. At least I think it was a nun. Well she was old anyway.
So there you have it. More of my junk.
Isnít my life exciting!?
On an unrelated note one time I smashed a desk I found when I was walking home from a very drunken dinner. In the morning I found the desk and stared at it for a while and thought to myself ďis this what my life has become?Ē, but not in a bad way. Well later that week I got drunk again and had a major accident when a trolley that I was riding around in crashed and threw me onto the hard sidewalk. Thereís a lesson in there somewhere.