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12:33 PM on 09.05.2008

Free Viva Pinata: Trouble In Paradise Pinata Cards

Viva Pinata: Trouble In Paradise recently came out on September 2 and after having a chance to play it I'm enjoying it so far. There are a slew of control improvements, tons of new pinatas, 2 new locales (Arctic and Desert) to capture rare species only found within, and more difficult challenges to complete.

One feature of the new game is being able to scan in Pinata Cards with the XBox Live Vision Camera. Personally I have always felt this product was just to compete with the PS2's Eye Toy and was gimmicky at best. The only purpose I could ever see for it would be to see other Dtoider's flashing me during a game of Uno! This isn't the first time something like this has been might recall the [url=]Gameboy Advance E-Reader[\url] that was hocked years ago as a method to integrate and promote new content with the following games:

-Classic NES
-3.2 Animal Crossing-e
-3.3 Pokémon Battle-e
-3.4 Pokémon Colosseum
-3.5 Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3-e
-3.6 Pokémon Trading Card Game
-3.7 Rockman.EXE & Rockman Zero 3 cards

The reality is that it is a gimmick since all the data already exists on your disc and you have to "unlock" it by this method. I think Microsoft and Rare realize that selling card packs would be very unlikely and it's very unlikely most people will buy them. Fortunately the images themselves do not have to be purchased, and instead are primarily downloaded from the game's website. I came across one such site today which has been conglomerating the cards altogether: Viva Pinata Cards.

Now I just need to get a stupid might have been nice if they let you upload them on the website to live and then have the content sent to you that way as I can't see ever using the camera for much else.   read

6:48 PM on 07.07.2008

*GTA IV Radio Replacement Project*

I'm sure if any of you have read my previous articles you've gotten the impression I was quite underwhelmed with the soundtrack in GTA IV. Rather than sit idly by I decided to start my own "radio replacement" project. The stations will include the following:

[b]-80s (Not including anything from Vice City or VCS)
-Alternative Rock (May be merged with ROQ)
-Classic Rock
-CoverXYZ (Covers of songs)
-Easy Listening
-Rap & Hip-Hop
-ROQ Radio (Another Rock station...think KROQ)[/b]

I've compiled a good list of songs for the radio stations but the rest is where the Dtoid community comes in. Within the community a lot of people have expressed interest in helping out with commercials, DJ spots and even song suggestions. I'd like each station to have it's own DJ and feel just like in all the GTA games. Commercials will be huge and station call-signs as well. Anyone who is really good with audio editing I definitely could use your help in overlaying the voices and clips over the song intros and outros.

So far I've only mapped out what the ROQ station will be. The DJ is going to be a "guido" from Alderney who broadcasts from his mother's basement, which is also where he lives. I'm going to take point on this one but the rest of the stations are up for volunteers. So if you'd like to help out with:

-Sound editiing
-DJ voice acting
-Commercial voice-acting
-Commercial ideas
-Suggestions for songs or any other input

leave a comment with your Gtalk or email and I'll invite you to the Google Group I'm using for this project.   read

9:36 PM on 06.04.2008

Dtoid Cincinatti NARP recap (Fistpump Edition)

I’m so far behind everyone so I’ll try to be as epic as possible. I wasn’t entirely sure I’d be able to make it to the Cincinnati NARP. (Hell I didn’t even know how to properly spell Cincinnati until this trip came up lol) Faced with a car on it’s last legs, not sure if my cash budget would afford me the weekend and generally having never met more than a few Dtoiders and no ride there things looked bleak...

Until out of happenchance I asked my best friend since the 3rd grade if he’d be interested in coming to a mega NARP with some cool ass people, games and plenty of alcohol. It was a quick resounding yes. Pedro and Samit took trains out to the land of Jersey, after much assuring they wouldn’t be shot, raped, whacked or solicited by a gay governor. We left around 11am and set off for OHIO. About 6 stops and 11 hours later we rolled into the hotel. As soon as I walked in I had people screaming my name. Phist I’d met and hung with in the past but there were even more whom I had never met except via the forums, Vent and Stickam. We checked in with the bitchy desk lady and headed to the Blue Chip Room from which the glorious sounds of revelry were emanating.

Everyone was in fine form by the time we get there and it was incredibly easy to just jump in and start talking to people who I’d met online before. Even more awesome my friend, a Destructoid newbie, felt right at home and never felt awkward in the least. The entire group was totally welcoming and he had an AWESOME time. The actual NARP at Wings and Rings was so much fun I don't even know where to start. It'd been awhile since I'd gotten smashed let alone with such great people.


-Dude is that an Amish or Mennanite over there? They go to rest stops? Where’s the horse and buggy?
-AgentMoo + Rock Band = Most Epic Win Evar
-Perkins Breakfast never tasted so good.
-When we got up to check out and leave I thought everyone would still be passed out asleep but the elevator doors opened and you were pretty much all there.
-When you see it in Joe’s Prius window you’ll shit bricks, or uh not due to the obstruction in your ass.
-Tazar’s ShellShock dance moves
-Michael Jackson Megamix

Phist: We’re old buds by this point but anytime we hang out we always have fun. Hopefully we’ll pull a NYC meet up some time soon!

Ron, Burling, Nino – Thank you guys for setting everything up. I, and all the Dtoiders, are really really grateful. I thought Ron was so much taller, didn’t know Joe owned a Prius and Nino’s sister thought we were all gay haha.

Blehman: is a stone cold pimp. Two words…Former Playmate.

Droobies: I feel so much closer to you having seen your BallYoda. Can’t wait to hang out with ya more.

Droobie’s woman: Equally as cool as Droobies if that’s possible

Keener: Keener is AWESOME. And he lives in NJ I’m going to see this kid soon for sure.

AngelsDontBurn/Miggles – We only got to talk a little bit and in short batches but I want to hang out more with you dude! You can be my Fall Out Boy Lookalike any day.

Hoygeit: Keeping the asian ratio up. Good job :P

BigPopaGamer: Ton of good convos with you.

Zserv: I think he lives in the sticks. He may have mentioned that once… Also works part time as a Chippendales. Also keep that peanut butter and your dog away from my balls!

SwiftKarateChop: Blue Motherfucker drinker extraordinaire. This kid was totally awesome and his YouTube videos are aces. I literally felt like I was hanging out with a member of Skynyrd or Creedence hehe.

Cheeburga: Tyler you’re much cooler than I expected. Mission Accomplished.

Britini Martini: Awesome girl. We’ve got to rock some Halo or COD4 sometime

GuitarAtomik: Loved your whole set and had the Shark song and Sensual Seduction songs stuck in my head for 4 days.

Tazar: Is a formidable Guido Fistpumping opponent. Felt like I knew you for years dude.

RiserGlen: Awesome….in a box.

Puppet: I met you once before and both times I was equally impressed (and surprised) by the difference from vent to real life :D

BongDonkey: Bam Margera cracked me up. I want to roll some MLG events with that kid

DynamicSheep: Is that ZZ TOP!?

AgentMoo: I will play your game with you at SOME point I swear. Awesome to hang with you again man.

MaxVest: I think I called you MattFoo half the weekend before I sobered up.

Little Bunny: Will rape you or anyone at Viva Pinata Party Animals. Also has probably the geekiest yet cool tattoo I may have ever seen.

CannibalCalvin: We so have to hang out again dude. Your pink hat was the epics.

Pedro: We’re setting a record for hangouts at this point. Awesome pictures man. You were our resident car narcoleptic.

Lark: You know you want that other half of the sub…

Coon: I know you were chair-innocent. But I think my first place picture prize goes to you, taken 2 seconds before it occurred. (see below)

Cosbytron: Dude I loved your set, and your covers rocked too. You’ll have to play me some STP again next time since I missed that ONE song!

Rio: More adorable in person than anyone.

Nihon: Cracked me up and made me nearly choke on my beer.

Mandy: Rocks some awesome art and has killer glasses. Lisa Loeb 4evaeva

To anyone else I left out it’s not because I don’t love you or wouldn’t whack someone and leave them in the Meadowlands in a heartbeat if you called me at 3am and told me that the asshole deserved it and he was cheating and pocketing cards and lifting chips all night. I’m running on less than a night’s sleep for 3 days since I got back. Back to the hectic life, but I’m really going to try to make PAX if I can.



PS: Full photo set on Picasa here

Tazar busting a move

GuitarAtomik Final Fantasy

Guitar Atomik Sensual Seduction


Cosbytron covering U2's One

Dtoid NARP Danceoff

Dtoid Guido Fistpump For Great Justice
[embed]89150:11919[/embed]   read

3:34 PM on 05.21.2008

Man's XBox Live Account Cancelled Due To His Surname

I understand TheGayGamer and his second try TheGayerGamer being banned from XBL but this is just ridiculous.

"After that fuss t'other day when Xbox Live banned the gamertag TheGayerGamer, I wondered if this would happen; lo and behold it has. They've banned my gamertag too. What makes this funny is that my old tag is just my name — Gaywood is my surname, which they could easily verify from my Live profile etc. I can't decide if I'm amused or annoyed by this.

Thought you might like to note this in your coverage of the story. I'd suspect anyone with the string "gay" in their name is going to get a free new Gamertag soon. I haven't played much on public live servers of late, so I suspect this is more likely to be down to an automated script trawling the database rather than individual tags that have been complained about. So, where does this end? What if my home address is in Scunthorpe?"

Poor Richard Gaywood. I mean getting banned is bad enough but imagine the beatdowns this guy got growing up.   read

3:19 PM on 05.15.2008

Rogue: The Game That Started A Genre

It was a cold winter day in 1986-a snowy day actually and both my brother and I were stuck at home because of the insane drifts and blustery weather. I ha d just finished my breakfast of Honeycombs and wandered upstairs to see what he was doing. I could hear the loud hum of his 286 IBM PC through his closed door. I deftly, as usual, picked his door lock with a small screwdriver and let myself in.

His face was glued to the green computer screen, an eery sickly green glow. His fingers clacked away at the noisy keyboard in a familiar rhythmic pattern. The clacking slowed down and my eyes widened: this usually meant caution for risk of being killed by whatever monster had him tracked down. A few seconds later my brother sighed in exasperation and a familiar screen flashed up. I was only 4, not even in kindergarten yet, and could barely read a few words but I knew what that sentence meant word for word. "Here Lies Freddie. Killed by a Quagga on Level 18."

Rogue was a computer game written back in 1980 by Michael Toy, Glenn Wichman, and Ken Arnold. It was first written on Unix, and distributed with Version 4.2 of BSD (Berkeley Standard Distribution) UNIX which contributed greatly to its burgeoning popularity. Later Rogue was ported by Michael Toy and Jon Lane to the IBM PC, and then by Michael Toy to the Macintosh. It is considered the father of all past and modern-day dungeon-crawlers and was a rare instance of a game that launched a genre.

Rogue was basically a 2D Dungeon Crawler that starred a hero, (named Rodney if none was chosen upon start), whose mission was to travel deep into the Dungeons of Doom and retrieve the Amulet of Yendor. If you made it out again with this amulet you would be victorious. No easy feat indeed. The graphics were completely ASCII-based and the dungeons were randomly generated every game. No two were ever the same and one had to play strategically different from session to session. The dungeon was also full of monsters, 26 in all, one for every letter of the alphabet. Each was unique and some had special abilities, such as the Ice Monster's who could freeze you in place for a few turns or the Aquator's vicious metal armor-weakening attacks. The monsters only got more difficult to defeat the deeper you delved. Add to this the dungeon was also filled with traps, pitch-black rooms and hidden doors you wonder how one could ever make it to the amulet and back.

There was, however, a fantastic variety of things one could find in the dungeons. Items such as potions, weapons, magic scrolls, wands, rings, armor and food rations. Oh yes you had to eat in Rogue, or you would become hungry, faint and eventually pass out and starve to death. The item system was incredibly complex, with different types of armor being better suited to certain types of monsters. Armor and weapons could be enchanted or cursed, the former allowing for better protection while the latter penalized the player and also did not allow them to remove the item. Wands could be zapped with different effects such as filling a room with light, sending out a searing bolt of lightning or even poly-morphing a monster. Rings could be blessed or cursed as well. Scrolls could cast spells, potions could aid or harm a player as well. Every game was as unique as could be, and it was fun to play. It took the best elements of RPGs such as D&D and text-based-adventures and kept the action and exploring at the forefront.

Although it shares a lot in common with Dungeons & Dragons, Rogue was not as heavily influenced by it as one would think. Willie Crowther's early text-based game, Adventure (aka ADVENT or Colossal Cave), the very game which inspired Warren Robinett's Atari title by the same name.

Since I started playing Rogue that cold and fateful winter day, I have YET to beat it. And I have played every year since 1986. I have played many different versions over the years and each added something a little different or special to their respective versions. NetHack is the most popular and is still updated and avidly played today.

As you can see from the above diagram games such as Ancient Domains Of Mystery (ADOM), Angband and Moria have sprung out from Rogue, each different and unique in their own way. ADOM added multiple ways to win the game, ten races, twenty character classes, character development and a talent system. Angband is based heavily on JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings setting, (named for the LOTR fortress of the same name) featuring a 100-level dungeon that focuses on combat and tactics. Notably the length of Angband games is much greater than its cousins, with the possibility of some games lasting weeks. Moria is a much similar game but incorporates a town with shops (not much unlike Castlevania II: Simon's Quest where the player can stock up between levels of the dungeon.

Countless other variations and spin offs of these Roguelike evolutions have emerged over the years, sometimes only modifying a few rules for added fun, strategy or difficulty and other times adding whole new aspects to the game play. While a majority of Roguelikes are set in a fantasy or medieval setting it is important to mention that not all share this similarity. One such game is is Doom: The Roguelike. Based on the FPS of the same name it could be considered a top-down "third-person-shooter." I've played it myself a few years back and found it pretty fun.

Dwarf Fortress, while at first a hard game to grasp and learn, is one of the most rewarding free games out there today. There are two main modes of play: Adventurer and Dwarf Fortress. Adventurer mode allows the player to quest with the main goal being to survive the dungeons, countryside and towns they may encounter. The real meat is however the alternate mode. Dwarf Fortress starts a player off with 7 dwarves who set out to start a kingdom of their own. there are city-building elements similar to SimCity and Dungeon Keeper where a player can carve out and design their underground fortress and set up room designations and even traps. Each dwarf has its own unique personality, traits and professions greatly enhancing the game play possibilities. Recently a graphical version of Dwarf Fortress has been released making the game much easier to learn. It's worth a look by any gamer who enjoys RPGs, RTSes or just a fun solid game. Dwarf Fortress showcases the complexity that roguelikes have evolved into and the different directions they can take over the course of two decades.

The most popular, and by all means complex, roguelike once again definitely goes to NetHack. It was released in 1987 and a successor to the original Hack in 1982. "Net" refers to the internet-collaboration that has been a major part of the development over the years. Hack is an improved version of Rogue, which introduced pets and shops as well as expanded the catalog of monsters, items, and spells. NetHack has the distinction of being one of the oldest open-source games still updated today. It consisted of 45-50 dungeon levels including some preset "fixed" levels very similar to set pieces such as the Butcher from Diablo. The game brought a level of complexity and strategy unparalleled in the genre and coined the terms YAASD and YAAD. (Yet Another Stupid/Annoying Death) As the acronymns suggest there are many ways to die in NetHack, some pretty hilarious in their own right. For instance one may die by trying to saddle a petrifying monster or falling through a trapdoor and having your pet pony land on you. While Rogue is a difficult game to beat mastering NetHack will make a player feel like a God.

Most roguelikes have traditionally been a top-down 2d view, using ASCII text to symbolize graphics, and many add-ons have been developed which modernize the game and make diving into it a bit easier than learning what a bunch of obscure characters represent. Two of the most popular are a Win32 Port and the now-defunct Falcon's Eye. The Win32 Port added graphical tiles and a sleeker Windows interface while Falcon's Eye create a graphical 3-D top-down isometric view as well as added mouse and sound support. Falcon's Eye was discontinued but has been picked up again in an alternate version dubbed Vulture's Eye.

There have been many references in this article to other games that share similarities with Rogue and its roguelike brethren and for good reason. Many of the games we know and love today stem from the roots of Rogue. Chances are if you're a gamer you don't even know how Rogue has touched your gaming lives. Diablo II, .hack, Everquest, Ultima Online, Fallout and Knights of the Old Republic all display unmistakable traits of the text-based classic-certainly enough to suggest a common heritage. The simple fact is that no matter how today's gamers choose to hack and slash their way to statistical nirvana, they're all still Rogues deep down.


Further Reading
Interview with Glenn Wichman, Creator of Rogue
Roguelike Games Homepage
Large List Of Roguelikes
Epyx Commercial Version Of Rogue
**The Original Rogue I Play And Recommend**   read

2:50 PM on 05.09.2008

Opinion Time: GTA IV Soundtrack

So GTA IV has been out about 10 days now and a slew of people are suddenly finishing the main campaign. Some are emerging from their man caves for the first time, others are just slithering back to their computers and onto the internets and every day more opinions are starting to surface.

Then there's me. I've played GTA IV maybe a total of 4 hours since it came out. Hey, I've had a busy schedule lately and women will always trump gaming. I have had a good amount of time to listen to the soundtrack of GTA though, even if I'm not playing the game and I've made my final verdict:

Vice City > San Andreas > GTA IV

I've mentioned before that I highly doubt any GTA soundtrack will EVER beat Vice City. The 80s were just so nostalgic and the number of "hits" they had on every station was pretty damn amazing. While I didn't love San Andreas as much as a game, (the engine improvements were very welcome, as was the fact you didn't DROWN in the water anymore), the soundtrack was still pretty solid.

They totally nailed the 90s feel in SA though, and every radio station had a distinctly awesome feel. You had iconic rap from the decade, a countryish/oldies station, great rock station, hilarious talk radio as always, House music, and even PlaybackFM which was rap songs that sampled old classics. You could actually hear a good deal of the original recordings they were sampled from on other stations. I got into a LOT of new music as a result of that soundtrack, notably stuff I typically didn't listen to but really meshed with the feel of the game.

Now the biggest qualm I think people have with GTA IV is that the game has been touted over and over again to be "current" and in the now. If it TRULY was set in the 2000s, wouldn't we hear things like Foo Fighters, Fall Out Boy, Kanye West, Eminem etc? (I know Kanye has a song in the game but no one gives a (@#*@ about "Flashing Lights") If there ARE big name artists in the station play lists they're songs no one cares about or that are really obscure. It almost feels like the people in charge of the music for the last few games were all fired and someone new was brought in.

For instance taking Rock into account, a quick look at FM WXRK, 92.3 KROCK's past hourly playlist yielded:

Metallica - Fade To Black
Foo Fighters - My Hero
Guns 'n Roses - Welcome TO The Jungle
Finger Eleven - Paralyzer
Nirvana - In Bloom
Led Zeppelin - Kashmir
Black sabbath - Iron Man
The Clash - London Calling
Red Hot Chili Peppers - Under The Bridge
Queen - Under Pressure
Peal Jam - Jeremy
Smashing Pumpkins - 1979
Linkin' Park - In the End

Out of this list one song is on Liberty Rock Radio. (Smashing Pumpkins) I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who would rather have heard the Black Crowes' "Hard To Handle" instead of "Remedy," or anything else by Queen and Genesis as opposed to what was used. The "ethnic" or "mood" stations are always great; I loved the Jazz and Russian stations, and we all know the talk radio will always rule, but it feels almost like one of two things happened with GTA IV:

1. Rockstar spent so much money on the engine, promotion and dual-platform development there wasn't enough money left in their "song allocation" funds to land the rights to big hit songs.

2. They decided to go the "really urban route" and put a wide variety of radio stations with a lot of underground or upcoming artists.

Perhaps there's other reasons at play here, (such as artists or music labels not wanting to associate with the GTA franchine), but I'm a bit surprised because it almost feels like the song-choice quality is lowered in this game while everything else went through the roof. You would think tons of artists would want in on something like this and be chomping at the bit to license their music...especially with the past 2 years success of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. A lot of new fans were produced simply by the publicity those games created, and with a platform like Grand Theft Auto it's only positive.

What are your thoughts and opinions on the track list for GTA IV? Hit it up in the comments.   read

9:35 AM on 05.01.2008

My GTA IV Impressions

So I've had a few days to play GTA IV after getting it at Midnight Launch. Overall I'm pretty satisfied so far and I'm really enjoying every aspect of the game, from the driving, exploring, dating, furthering character relationships and the main story line. However the experience does pale in comparison in a few ways.

I have to say I'm very underwhelmed by the soundtrack. I almost feel like all the money in GTA went towards the graphics engine development, voice acting and promotion while skimping out on the song-licensing. This isn't a bad thing of course, I'm glad that all those components of the game are as good as they've come out to be. To be fair though I seriously and honestly don't think ANY GTA will ever top Vice City in terms of an amazing soundtrack. There are a few "winner tracks" in the game, (I literally LOL'd when I heard Mystikal's Shake Ya Ass during a lapdance), but overall I feel like they tried to have too many radio stations and not enough good content per station. I can literally remember NOT finishing a mission because I had to hear the end of Rock With You by MJ, or I've Been Waiting For A Girl Like You.

I was pretty excited for the soundtrack myself and was anxious when nothing was really announced right along, and it feels a bit like a letdown. Rock Radio has only a few songs most people know. The public radio is awesome as always as well as the Bob Marley stations and the Russian station is pretty funny too. Liken it to Espantoso (which I wish made a comeback) However I think Rockstar could have REALLY done a much better job getting more popular songs that would actually get radio airtime in the real world. They made a huge deal about striving for the GTA IV to feel "current" and I don't get that impression as much. It feels like a lot of indie music half the time and songs that aren't particularly memorable.

It wouldn't take much arm-twisting to get bands to license their music out either. It's totally an *amazing* way to market songs in my opinion. Foo Fighters? Why not give us the Pretender? Fall Out Boy, sure throw a song or two in. Maybe a Billy Joel or Bruce Springsteen song...I mean we ARE Tri-State area! Could you imagine if Stairway To Heaven was on there on some sort of classic rock station? GTA is arguably a bigger franchise than Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and I know artists are clamoring to have their songs featured in those games. As the music-game series have proven it can rocket a new band's popularity by leaps and bounds. One thing that surprised me is that they didn't work custom soundtracks in too well. On the 360 you can play your own MP3s but it would have been really awesome if you could turn your playlist into a radio station that stopped during cutscenes or kept playing when you left a car. Maybe even make up a DJ whose voice track talks at the beginning end of your songs. Not a bad idea...and totally doable.

Everything else about the game so far is great. The city really feels alive and while it took me a few days to get used to the car handling I drive much more carefully than ever. The simple fact a high speed collision could send me through the windshield makes me much more mindful of how erratically I drive and adds a newfound sense of danger and urgency during getaways. I also LOVE the new "escape the cops" method, where there's actually some skill involved in lowering your wanted level. The story is very well fleshed out and I like that there's an underlying morality for all of the characters, especially Niko. I tend to find his personality and "take no shit" attitude much different than our previous protagonists. Rockstar definitely got the "feel" of the environment down pat, and with the amount of research they did of neighborhoods, traffic patterns, dress and stores you'd expect so.

The level of reality in this game is unsurpassed for me. The little "additives" Rockstar has put in the game, such as people helping you when you get attacked and other random activities really flesh out the experience. My brother, in an excited phone call in which he was eager to share all the little things he's been noticing so far, said something that really drove the point home for me the other day:

[i]"You know this game almost makes me uncomfortable playing sometimes. In the older Grand Theft Autos when things blew up or you threw explosives people would just crumple and die instantly. Now they catch on fire and burn to death and bystanders try to help them, it actually makes you feel bad for collateral damage."[i]

I completely agree, your actions feel like they much more affect everything going on in Liberty City and it's been a long time since I've been this eager to get off of work every day to go play. Multiplayer is an absolute blast and I foresee some VERY fun Friday Night Fights with the Community. The [Dtoid] Venga Bus Is Coming! The sheer amount of game modes I've thought up already is pretty insane. I want to try a 5/6 Star Race To Escape The City where you all rack up that wanted level and try to be the first one to live and get to a destination within LC. Cops and Crooks is a ton of fun as is Mafiya and the team who plans things out and communicates does so much better. I don't think I'll ever tire of seeing my body fly for 300 feet when one of you suckers plows me over though.

So tell me what things are you happy with in GTA IV? Anything you absolutely love or hate? Any little "nuances" that really drive the games reality level home for you? Drop it in the comments below.   read

12:39 PM on 04.29.2008

What Do "Underagers" Think About GTA?

At the midnight launch last night I counted about 150+ people, and a good 1/4 of the total crowd were underage guys (and girls!) with parents in tow to pick up the game. The process this time around was for a line to form at 10pm at which time you finished paying for your game or confirmed that you had prepaid in full. You were carded no matter what your age because according to my GameStop manager there had been a lot of "undercover ESRB" employees targeting their location the past year. (This is indeed true as I was present for the prompt firing of an employee due to his failure to check the age of a 13 year old kid buying Gears of War)

Then the 2 hour wait began. At midnight the line ushered into the store where you were carded a 2cd time and received your game. Tight security for sure with mall rent-a-cops everywhere. I narrowly escaped their body odor and got out into the fresh night air. During my 2 hour wait I got to chatting with a lot of the younger kids around me, particularly those with parents. One such kid was Tom.

Myself: So how old are you Tom?
Tom: I just turned 12 this month!

Myself: Happy belated! Have you been looking forward to GTA IV?
Tom: Oh man totally for over a year at least!

Myself: How many games in the series have you played?
Tom: Um well only 3. I played San Andreas, Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories. I didn't get to play the original Vice City yet, but I'm trying to find an XBox Copy used.

Myself: I see you're hear with your mom so you can pick up GTA IV tonight. What does she think about video games in general, and the GTA series?
Tom: Well I think she really just wants to be "in the know," know what I mean? We had a serious talk when I first started getting into older games, like uh more mature stuff like Call of Duty, Halo and things that involved a lot of shooting and war. She's not bothered so much by the violence. I mean at this point I'm allowed to see some R-movies and most of the stuff on TV is pretty violent I think.

Myself: I agree, are you a fan of 24?
Tom: Yeah I love that show.

Myself: Well last season was probably the most violent out of all of them I'd say.
Tom: Oh yeah he bit that dude!

Myself: So Tom's Mom, (chuckle), do you think he's pretty spot on with how you feel?
Tom's Mom: For the most part. Tom has always been into war games. That Call of Duty series is one I actually like because I feel like he actually learns more about World War II by "experiencing" it. We rented Saving Private Ryan and watched it with him, and there's some pretty horrendous scenes in there. I can't imagine Grand Theft Auto getting much more realistic than that. I just want to know what my children are playing. I've never worried much that my son was going to go out and steal a car or go all Columbine or something.

Myself: Do you think there are any misconceptions by other parents regarding violent video games?
Tom's Mom: I think a lot of parents aren't privy to what their kids play and that's the biggest problem. If you've talked to your kids about things and put it into perspective then there shouldn't be a problem. When kids get their hands on adult-themed games and they've had no introduction to it they don't know how to separate it from the real world.

Myself: I would agree. Well in any case it's nice you came out here tonight to stand with your son for two hours. Not many parents have the patience for that.
Tom's Mom: Tom and I have an understanding-he keeps his grades up and he's allowed to play games. He hasn't let me down yet, but we'll see after GTA IV is out!
Tom: MOM!

Check out this article on What They It deals with kids views on GTA IV and why they want to play so badly. It's a good read.   read

1:40 PM on 04.25.2008

Hot Coffee: A Retrospective

Some people hear this phrase and think of a McDonald's lawsuit. Other more hip-to-slang individuals will get the alternate meaning. Those who watched or read the news fairly often will recall a lawsuit in 2005 involving Grand Theft Auto: San Adreas. Its been 4 years since GTA: SA was released, and this June 9th marks the 3-years anniversary of the Hot Coffee mod, which allowed PC owners of the game the ability to play a mini-game that was meant to be hidden from public eye forever.

Over the years coffee has evolved into a slang term for to sex. Many a successful date end with the line Want to come up for a cup of coffee? In actuality the woman (or man, were PC) is inviting you into their personal lair where all manner of naughty things can proceed. In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the main character CJ could date up to six women. The Wikipedia article does an excellent job of explaining this:

During the course of the main plot of the game, the player (as main character Carl "CJ" Johnson) may date up to six girlfriends, carrying out various "date missions" in order to improve his relationship with a particular girl. Once Carl has become particularly close to a girlfriend, she may end a successful date by inviting him into her house for "coffee," from which Carl may choose to accept or decline. Improving relationships with girlfriends through successful dates and other related activities will eventually reward CJ with new items (vehicles and special wardrobes), along with pre-existing game play benefits (e.g. dating a nurse grants the player free visits to the hospital, without losing their weapons, after dying)

Ask any game developer and theyll tell you, a ton of material never makes it through to final releases of games. Whether it is time constraints, lack of funding, artistic or creative decisions about a games direction, a lot ends up on the cutting room floor. Sometimes these decisions are made early on in development before code is even written for it. Other times the decisions come down to the very final days of testing only to get the axe. If the code is already written, what happens at this point? How far integrated into the game is this component? Some scripts are easy to comment out in the coding world and others have so many pointers, functions and variables tied to them the edit process is a bit more extensive. The Hot Coffee mini game never made it to the final fold version of the game, and it went on sale April 29, 2004.

Shortly after the games release, software developers, coders and hackers all began to delve into the source code for San Andreas and found tons of hidden things that the coding links were broken to, but code still remained intact. Some of this was unused textures, sound clips and animation scripts. From what I remember there were even a few car models that never saw the light of day, such as a DeLorean and Jet Ski. A PC modification was written to allow access to the Hot Coffee mini game and when news of it hit the internet it spread like wildfire. San Andreas was originally released as ESRB-rated M (for Mature, ages 17 and up). There was much public, political and government outcry regarding the material presented in this game. Multiple class-action suits were filed by individuals who had felt the game was released under misleading or false advertising.

The basic outcome was that the ESRB was re-evaluated in its ability to effectively rate video games for the general public. For a short time San Andreas games were pulled from stores, re-rated AO (Adult Only 18+) and restocked to certain merchants, as AO games are not even stocked by some big stores. Original copies of games were marked as AO as well in some cases instead of receiving new boxes. Senator Hillary Clinton helped spearhead the Family Entertainment Protection Act towards the end of 2005. This Act made selling games to minors a federal offense, although it never made it through to law.

Since the Hot Coffee scandal the ESRB has slightly modified their rating system and process now involving a more in-depth questionnaire and tester play through during its official review process. In the past 2 years alone the gaming community has seen rise to more video games which contain controversial material of a violent or sexual nature such as Bio Shock, Gears of War, Indigo Prophecy and Leisure Suit Larry Magna Cum Laude. If anything Hot Coffee helped parents to become more aware of the content they were mindlessly saying yes to or purchasing for their children. It has always been my belief that it is a parents responsibility to censor and decide what their children should be allowed to watch, play and participate in based on their own common sense. Game developers and publishers should only be responsible for properly labeling and categorizing their games in a manner that the general-public can base these decisions as easily as possible.

It reminds me of an interesting quote from Sam House, Rockstar Games-founder I read in a interview:

Our games are consciously made for adults -- it's why we started the company.... [From 17 years old] and up, I think we have a right to play what we want to play. And that's that. And as long as it's not touching on themes that are socially inappropriate -- and some films do it, and I think games should be allowed to do it, but let's be respectful -- as long as you're not doing that, what's the f***ing problem? Adults should be able to play what they want. America, the country I'm now a citizen of and love, is built on that premise....

The entire article is worth reading as its a deep insight into how GTA IV was created and the complex process and reasoning the creators, writers and developers go through to bring us a rewarding gaming experience.

How do you think the Hot Coffee scandal and the aftermath affected the gaming industry? I think if anything it's pushed Rockstar to work on their character relationships more for the upcoming GTA IV, and from what I hear I think it's going to be a great feature of the game. Hit your thoughts up in the comments, and Ill see you all in 4 days for some hooker-running-overing on the mean streets of Liberty City.   read

3:39 PM on 04.21.2008

Fix Your NES For Literally A Few Bucks

Caught this in my daily blog feed. Thought the Dtoid community would love it.

How To Fix A Broken NES   read

12:35 PM on 04.21.2008

Slain By SKUs: The Plight Of The Casual Gamer

The day has come! You've saved and scrimped together enough money from conglomerated paychecks over the course of many months to afford your next-gen console. Perhaps you have a steady job and it was an easy-affair or maybe you're young and mowed lawns and did other menial jobs to earn the cash. You peel away the shrink wrap when you get home and set your new system up. Nirvana in all its next-gen glory!

Then your friend calls. He just got the next model. Its better than yours. Ouchyour ego.

I think it's safe to say number of next-gen SKUs have gotten out of control. First things first what is a SKU? Back from my lowly first-job-days at Toys 'R Us I remember a SKU stands for Stock Keeping Unit. It's basically a unique identifying serial number system to help merchants track inventory across different sales mediums, such as brick and mortar stores or online stores.

I used to be able to say I understood why multiple models of systems were released over the course of a consoles lifespan. A new system SKU used to mean some new feature or hardware revision was added to a console that enhanced gameplay. For instance the Nintendo GameCube had different iterations released that dealt mainly with the color of the console. In Japan there was a model released by Panasonic called the GameCube Q that was capable of playing DVDs as well as included some other features. Ok, added functionality-makes sense for a new SKU. Last gen there was one Xbox system, and a handful of PS2s. The PlayStation 2 eventually moved from the core launch system to a Slim PS2 that was much smaller in form-factor. It still played original PlayStation games and DVDs. Other revisions included graphics and CPU chip changes as well as built-in Ethernet adapters. Hardcore gamers were more apt to sell their systems and upgrade to the latest and greatest.

Fast-forward to present day the XBox 360 has had five versions released:

-XBox 360 Core (Replaced by Arcade) Wired
-XBox 360 Premium/Pro
-Xbox 360 Elite
-Xbox 360 Arcade
-Xbox 360 Halo 3 Edition

A new IPTV version is also currently in development. At launch only the Core and Premium were available. The biggest differences were that the Elite, Halo and Arcade editions had an HDMI output. As of date all versions now include the HDMI output and wireless controllers. Simple enough there a few different versions that match what a particular gamer may use the system for be it standard gaming, Xbox Live Arcade, or the most beefed up version with extra space for downloading demos, movies and other online content. It is important to note that every Xbox 360 system out of the box is capable of playing 360/XBLA games, DVDs/downloaded movies and a large selection of backwards compatible Xbox games. Should a user choose they can purchase a larger hard drive, wireless controller, HDMI cable etc to enhance the output of their systems.

Now we come to Sonys PlayStation 3 which to date has about the same number of SKUs but has drastic differences between the systems, many of which are considered limitations or "downgrades." The core PlayStation 3 20/60GB models came with the PS2 Emotion Chip allowing for pretty much all PS2 games to be backward compatible. Later on the chip was replaced by software emulation which allowed for roughly 70% backwards compatibility. Other big differences between versions were the number of USB ports, hard drive size and whether internal WiFi was included with the system. Every PS3 has had Blu-Ray drives and HDMI outputs. So for the PS3 we've basically got:

-20GB (Launch system, Emotion Chip)
-60GB (Launch system, Emotion Chip)
-80GB (Software Emulation)
-40 GB (No backwards compatability)
-40 GB (Ceramic White, Japan only)

Then youve got the Nintendo Wii which has one base model. Its backwards compatible with the entire Gamecube library. Some new colored systems are slated to come out but no hardware revisions are planned. In todays consumer world its a far different experience than simply buying an NES, Atari or Sega. The numerous SKUs in the field have caused a lot of confusion for everyone except the hardcore gamer.

With the Grand Theft Auto IV release within a week and hype at its peak my brother was going to impulse-buy a PS3 this past weekend. A shortage nightmare ensued and every next-gen argument that has been heard in the industry, blogs and on forums before. Apparently Sony has pulled all 60 and 80 GB systems back from retail stores including GameStop, Best Buy, Circuit City, Sears and Toys 'R Us. I visited them all over the weekend to price things for him and heard the same thing at each store.

What I cant figure out is why, when were almost at the eve of the biggest release probably in video game history, would Sony allow such a console shortage? It would not only hurt initial sales of the game by limiting the growth of the PS3 install base but perhaps drive users to a the competitor's system, the 360.

My brother was "won-over" into modern gaming when he got a PS2. He loves Vice City and had bought GTA III, Vice City Stories and Liberty City Stories. I believe Vice City was actually the reason he ever delved into Sonys world. (Keep in mind the last games he played were for the NES and they were mine) He loves the series and is getting "GTA IV Fever as we near the draw the 29th. I think the position hes in is very representative of a large portion of the gaming community. Well call him a casual gamer. He wants to buy a PS3, but backwards compatibility is a huge issue for him. Being able to play the 30-odd PS2 games hes never even broken the seals on is a must. Hell probably buy a nice HDTV within the next year or so full 1080p HDMI out is a factor as well as Blu-Ray, now that the format war has a clear winner.

When he set out to buy a PS3 he didnt know anything of the different versions. What? Theres more than one?? That seems to be the consensus among older gamers who dont follow the release news as avidly as others. I had to list out the PS3s models currently out, which had hardware or software emulation, which had SIXAXIS or the Dual Shock controllers and finally what size hard drive he would even need. Many people will tell you to wait for the Metal Gear Solid 3 edition PS3, which includes the system, game and Dual Shock controller, but for casual gamers the components arent a huge deal. Rumble doesnt matter much to the casual gamer and neither does MGS3. Most likely theyve never played the previous games and arent going to get huge into downloadable content requiring massive hard drives. They simply want their system to work and play current games and perhaps the last console version. This is exactly the position my brother, as well as many others Ive talked to over the past half year, is in.

So a casual gamer who may have been on Sonys Side suddenly is considering a switch to Xbox, simply over one game and a shortage of consoles. Sony has literally made it difficult to buy their newest system and this could potentially hurt sales. This got me to thinking why Sony has such wildly different models and is having such a hard time marketing them properly over here. Is it because theyre a Japanese company and their efforts are first and foremost concentrated in their home country and not as much overseas? Perhaps Sony is out of touch with the American demographic to truly understand what components in their systems are needed. Maybe they picked too high a price point and are just now realizing their folly. At this point the PS3 has had 17 months to saturate the market, and the install-base is decently sized, however would it have been bigger had there been fewer models of the system to come out?

I myself am a fan of both systems, and I know Ill buy a PS3 eventually for the games to come as well as my first Blu-Ray player. While Microsoft is guilty of multiple SKUs as well, it seems Sony's taken it to a whole new bewildering level. If they want to keep putting up a valiant effort on the console-wars to come they may have to retool their thinking on system design/configuration completely and simplify things to capture the largest demographic of gamers out there- the casual gamer.

Whats your view on the whole deal? Do you think there are way too many SKUs this console era? Do you know people who've been driven from one system or another for a particular reason? Should it just be one system under God indivisible with liberty and gaming for all? Hit your thoughts up in the comments.   read

12:02 PM on 04.18.2008

Games I Never Beat: The Beginning

I always think to write this article and I've put it off for about a year at this point. Welcome to the first installment of my new series, Games I Never Beat.

I've been a gamer since I could hold an Atari paddle. I was besting my brother and sister's Pitfall scores before I could even read. Hell I think I think I learned my ABCs from the game Rogue (father of Nethack) However there have always been some games that have proved so intense, complicated or long that have bested me over the years. One of them is actually one of my most favorite games of all time, Legacy Of The Wizard.

Shortly after Metroid but before there was Zelda there was the Legacy of the Wizard. Also known as the fourth installment in the Dragon Slayer series this game focused on "The Drasle Family." (Which I remember once reading in an article this was a Japanese play on words of "Dragon Sleyer") It was released in the spring on 1988 in the US for the NES, but appeared earlier on the Famicon, Sony MSX and PC-88 computer systems in Japan. The Dragonslayer series always had similar themes from game to game, but they always involved a huge dungeon for you to muck your way through, full of traps, mazes, monsters and hidden goodies. In Legacy Of The Wizard each screen of the dungeon is twelve blocks high and sixty-four blocks wide. There were 60 total "rooms." You were given no direction but the story in the manual.

The basic story was that the Drasle family was from a long line of Dragon Slayers. Hundreds of years ago a dragon, Keela, was defeated and imprisoned by the Drasle family in a painting in an underground labyrinth. Recently the family pet came home with a dragon scale in it's mouth. The prison was breaking and the family had to defeat the dragon once more. The family consisted of three generations, grandparents, parents and the children. Let's not forget the family "pet" who looked more like a dinosaur than anything else. There were five playable characters the father, mother, daughter, son and pet. Each character had it's own unique strengths and weaknesses. For instance the father couldn't jump high, but had the strongest attack. He also could use the magic gloves item which allowed him to move white blocks in the dungeon. The mother could use the magic wings to fly, the daughter the pickaxe for breaking the white blocks.

The point of the game was to defeat 4 minibosses and collect their crowns so that the son could unlock the legendary sword to kill the dragon. Sound easy? It wasn't. The labyrinth from LotW is to this day one of the hardest dungeon crawls I've ever experienced. There were hidden rooms, almost a hundred different monsters, most with varying "forms"or more difficult versions the deeper down you went. Add to all that some pretty horrifying traps and certain rooms you could get yourself permanently stuck and have to start all over. There were basically 4 different "sections" of the labyrinth each intended for a specific member of the family who could easily overcome the obstacles with their special item. Most of the items you could buy in shops, some were craftily hidden in treasure chests in hard to reach areas. Sometimes reaching one item required you to use another character to obtain it.

I would get up early on Saturday mornings, have breakfast, watch a little School House Rock and get started straight from the beginning in LotW. Each weekend I got a little farther and farther. I got up to the point where I found 2 crowns. Years later, home on break from college I decided to hook up my old Nintendo and battle the game I had never beaten. I got pretty far that winter break, 3 crowns, with the 4th one not even in sight. Eventually I got to the 4th and final crown when the miniboss guarding is whooped my ass. And then again. And again. And again. Winter break ended and my NES went back into the closet.

Another interesting facet to the game was the music. Among the Final Fantasy and Super Mario series this NES soundtrack has stuck in my head over the years. As you progressed deeper and deeper into the labyrinth the music got more frenetic and fast-paced implying a sense of danger and urgency.

Those of us who HAVE played it belong to one of two camps. Camp number one is the folks who played it for a little while and gave it up. Maybe you went in far enough to find the glove, maybe you even got as far as buying the mattok before giving up in frustration.

Camp number two is those of us who saw LotW like mountain climbers see Mount Everest - a challenge to be conquered, no matter the cost. Several weeks or months of exploration, death, exploration, more death, and more exploration later, we accomplished what we set out to do - finishing this monster of a game. I don't even remember the ending myself - but the ending is insignificant. For a true fan, the thrill of seeing the game conclude was nothing compared to the first time. You know what I mean if you've been there: you're walking an area you've been in tons of times before. You've never found anything here before, but somehow, you FEEL you're close. Then, suddenly, you fall or jump through an invisible block and find yourself in a totally new area. You explore the area, feeling yourself getting closer. Then you open a chest and, after tedious hours of scouring every corner of the dungeon and finding nothing, you find your first crown. If there's a player out there who didn't drop their controller and scream for joy when they found their first crown, then trust me, they aren't human.

Now years later armed with the ROM, a 46 inch LCD and a wireless controller I think I'm once again ready to tackle it. I came SO close to the end on my last attempt years ago, it's time to take the helm of the Drasle family and end this Legacy once and for all!

HIGHLY recommended for anyone who liked "platformers" for the NES. I would liken it to a fantasy-Metroid and it's worthy of a play by any gamer.   read

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