Kameo: Elements of Power

So I finished Kameo last night.

Yah. Kameo. For the 360. As I posted earlier, no way was I going through the holiday break without a 360. I've been spending my break playing a lot of 360 games. Call of Duty 2, Project Gotham Racing 3, Kameo: Elements of Power, and Need for Speed: Most Wanted. I also have Perfect Dark Zero, but I'm waiting for a friend to get his 360 for a little co-op action before I break into that game. So look for this blog to start moving into 360 games. I hope to finish some of my original Xbox games, but we'll just have to see what happens.

Back to Kameo. It is billed as an RPG, but I think it is actually a bit more of a platformer. One of the basic elements of an RPG is character progression, and it isn't really present in Kameo. While you gain access to new "Elemental Warriors", your character doesn't really grow. The Warriors are essentially new keys to get through areas to unlock more Warriors until your final battle with Thorn, the big bad evil troll king.

There is combat, which is a hallmark of RPG, but lots of platformers have combat, too (e.g. Jak and Daxter). The combat in Kameo is excellent. Fluid and fast moving. It is definitely important to find your opponents' weakness and select the appropriate Warrior to kick their ass. I found the combat to be a lot of fun up until I found a crystal eye thingy which gave me a regeneration ability. At that point, as long as I wasn't a total moron in combat, there just wasn't any way for most monsters to kill me. There was a particular nasty robot boss with a big ol' hammer. Not a problem. Walk up in front of him, wait to get flattened (literally! very Bugs Bunny-ish), and then pop back into shape and launch an attack at him during his post-attack vulnerability. The hammer would barely dip into my hit points.

The background story of Kameo is interesting, but not really very engaging. Mostly, it was just a lot of fun to see the huge variety of environments, the lush graphics, and awesome animation. There are water environments, snow landscapes, underwater exploration, vast troll-filled territory, dank swamps, and more. All are rendered wonderfully with lots of interaction. The Enchanted Kingdom is where the castle is located (Kameo, the lead character, is a princess). The bright colors and atmosphere of the Kingdom remind me a lot of Sudeki, and the NPCs' offhand comments and antics remind me of Fable.

Overall, Kameo is a very fun title with rich graphics, animation, and some great platforming. Not the RPG that I was expecting, but very enjoyable nonetheless. I finished the main storyline in about 17 hours, and will be trying some of the auxilliary coop stuff and other bonus mission types of things. If you like platformers, then this is a good one. If you're looking for an RPG, then maybe try renting this for a long weekend, or wait for Oblivion.

Microsoft Games

Every now and then, I'm looking for the games that Microsoft publishes. The "first party" games, if you will. Takes me a while to hunt down the list of games. But when I need it again, I can just come back to my blog now :-)

Don't be misled

Your Xbox (original) console and games are just as fun as they were one week ago. The Xbox 360 launch brings a lot of cool new opportunity for games. Abso-frickin-lutely. BUT! That has no bearing on what you're playing today.

Is that crawl through the jungles of Ghost Recon any less cool? Is that explosive vehicular destruction of Burnout Revenge any less exhilarating? Is that satisfaction of completing another mission in Splinter Cell suddenly boring?

Hell no.

If you don't have an Xbox 360 in hand... don't sweat it. You've got a ton of excellent games to play. Go to it.

Personally, I'm going to let the hype cool a bit. I'm effectively out of town until December 14th, so I don't "need" a system before then. Do I want one before my days off around xmas? Yup. Does it bother me that I don't have one now? Not in the least. I still have a stack of twenty-plus games that I would thoroughly enjoy playing to completion. I'm actually a bit sad that with the arrival of the 360, that I'll end up favoring 360 games over wrapping up my Xbox [original] games.

A comfortable old friend

Over the past week, I've been playing a bit of Dynasty Warriors 4 (DW4). Woah! Four, you say? Yeah. Most reviews marked DW5 as just another iteration. I'm sure it has improved, as I saw going from DW2 to DW3 to DW4 (had DW2 on the PS2, and DW3/DW4 on the Xbox), but the core game mechanic is the truly enjoyable part. And they really haven't drastically improved that in years.

I've written about DW4 over a year ago, touched on its strategic elements a bit later, and then commented on its replayability earlier this year.

In short, it is just one of those games that is easy to pick up and play for a while. I've got a ton of choices, but the mood just struck me for some big destruction. Mow down some hapless little (ahem) "warriors". (against my Mad Skillz, they are just so much fodder! fear me!)

Oh, I'll return to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas soon enough, but it doesn't quite bring that same feeling of non-stop action and excitement the way DW4 does.

Grab a martini and join me in Dynasty Warriors. Go litter the terrain with enemy corpses. They deserve it. Really.

Go for Jade

As in Jade Empire. Of course, the Jade in Beyond Good and Evil truly and completely rocks, but we're talking about the Empire today.

My buddy Nelson finished Jade Empire a while back and wrote his thoughts about it. He said it was "very good, but not great." Fair enough, but I found it very awesome.

The story line was the hook. It was great to follow the story through the characters, their experiences, and the world on your screen. It was very well done. Small side stories really drew you in (e.g. concern for the girl about to be sold into servitude unless she can help her father). All of the narrative and background portrayed a very rich world, filled with history, invention, and peoples. And not only, but there are two entirely distinct stories that roughly (but not quite) map onto good or evil.

Follow that up with some very amazing graphics, fluid animations, and a responsive combat system, and the experience was great. It was well worth the 30 hours to get through the game; you could probably get through faster if you don't go for every side quest like I did.

Combat in Jade Empire is one of the best I've seen in a while, although it still doesn't beat that of Beyond Good and Evil. In Empire, you have a selected target to attack. If something gets in your way... fine. They get hit, too. It is easy to switch targets (a quick press of the left or right trigger), but it isn't as fluid as BG&E where you just push the left stick in a direction. In both games, your character does a smooth transition from wherever they are towards their new target, flowing their combat moves appropriately. The lock-on in Empire does serve a good purpose in that you can jump over your foe and immediately slice them in the back. And this is where it falls down. Combat becomes a matter of "jump over them to evade their attacks, smack 'em a few times, jump over, ..." And I never really found a need to use anything beyond a sword attack and a fist attack which I got at the beginning of the game. Other weapons and attacks come along, but it is hard to switch to them after you've invested so much in upgrading those first attacks. And those initial attacks can carry you through the game.

Jade Empire is an excellent game, and I highly recommend it. It has one of the best story lines that I've seen in a long time. While the quest variety does not match games from the Elder Scrolls series, it can provide many additional hours of fun. For RPG lovers, Jade Empire is a must-have for your collection.


For the Xbox 360, an initial list of compatible Xbox (1) games has been posted. This is a good start, but I notice that Burnout, Far Cry, and Otogi aren't listed. I've been playing those recently... Ah well. I do have my original Xbox, so it isn't like my life is ruined.

The main point here is: keep both systems. In about a year, the library for the 360 will be large enough that you will have more than enough games to occupy yourself full-time. At that point, you can toss your Xbox and its games.

360 Launch

I've been tracking a lot of stuff around the Xbox 360 launch: the supply, what games will be available (and what is delayed! woe is me...), good/bad games, and whatnot. Lots of details to pull together.

That said, I found a good article that summarizes all these bits into a coherent, short piece on the launch of the Xbox 360. The article fits right in with everything else that I've seen, so I consider it a good read for seeing what's going on.

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

In the immortal words of the alien from Robot Chicken, "Damn it! Damn it! Damn it!"

Bethesda just slipped Oblivion for the 360 out to early 2006. Not a launch title now.

Sigh. That was my most-anticipated title...

Slow Roll

Word on the street is that the 360 is going to roll out slowly, rather than with a big bang of deliveries. Sounds like they are probably just starting production, so the pace of delivery will be gated by how fast they can build the boxes. I'm crossing my fingers that I'll get my 360 reasonably soon. Not getting it on the first day is fine since I'll be away for the Thanksgiving break, but you can be damned sure that I want my box once I return...

One of the recent stories made it sound like most of the preorder places have sold out through most of the year. Kinda silly to say that, as who the heck knows what the production rate will be. But it does say one thing: if you're hot on getting a 360, then don't take any chances.

That said, I still have a billion other xbox games to play. There is still much much fun to be had. Play on!


Been a while since I've actually finished a game. Been playing a bunch of stuff, but in the past few days, I've finished both Far Cry: Instincts and Jade Empire. Reviews of each shortly.

I also pretty much completed Burnout Revenge, but there are still a good chunk of unlocks to do, and some races where I need to improve my rating (and medal).

Briefly: all three of these games are excellent. They're different genres, so pick a genre that you enjoy and then go pick up one of these games. You can't go wrong.

Far Cry: Instincts


So Far Cry has been on my hit list for a long time. It hit the PC last year, but I held out waiting for the Xbox version. My buddy picked it up for the PC and said it was great. Still I held...

A friend was in town, so I bought the game for us to play with. Woo. Far Cry is amazing. The graphics are awesome. Sure, it looks a bit wacky as you crawl through some of the bushes, but I have never seen some of the "extra touches" that these guys thought of. When you're swimming and come up out of the water, your vision is blurred for a bit until your eyes clear of water. Who the heck thought of that?!! Kudos!

This game has FPS bits, vehicles (ATV, Humvee, jet ski, boat, and hanglider so far!), stealth, awesome animations and sound, and more. It looks like the game is maybe 15 to 20 hours long (good), and has been very engaging. The plot opens up very well, though it can be disconcerting when you think that you got totally blasted while on your ATV, but it is just a cutscene taking over. A very excellent transition which also moves the story along.

I'd say this game is very close to something like Soldier of Fortune 2: Double Helix in terms of overall gameplay. It is mostly killing instead of stealth. I'd be surprised if you could get by most of the areas without some serious killing. But it is not your basic first-person shooter either.

Great looking game. Great audio. Very fun and engaging gameplay. Recommended!

(and no, I'm not going to drop hints about the "feral abilities"... hehe...)

The Xbox 360

So if you're curious about the two versions of the Xbox 360, they're detailed on the xbox.com site. Check out the product page.

I'm going for the "premium" version. All the way, baby.

Hmm. Seems they dropped the premium label, in favor of plain and "core"


A friend of mine was concerned about preordering his Xbox 360, saying that GameStop was told by Microsoft to stop taking preorders. That Microsoft had already presold every thing they could build. I called my local GameStop, and sure enough... no love.

But wait! Not so fast there, smokey. I called EBgames, and the guy said "Sure, we're taking preorders. Filled up the first batch, but you should be in the next batch. And heck, with the amount of preorders we have, Microsoft could even increase our first delivery, so you might be lucky." Woo!

So I dropped by the store today, forked over my $50 deposit, and got my preorder for the premium system. If you want a system this year, then I'd highly recommend that you get yourself to a store and preorder. Call ahead to your local game store to double-check. Generally, you also want to avoid the web-based preorders — they're bundling a bunch of games and other stuff which you may not want. Brick & mortar stores will do barebones systems.

The countdown begins...

Update: yes, I know GameStop and EBgames are the same company. Why they have different policies... well, they'll probably be managed quite separately for a while.

Burnout: Revenge

Well, the latest in the Burnout series is just as excellent. By now, I would assume most people have read the reviews. IMO, most people should have copies, too. Simply an awesome game.

The graphics, sound, and handling have all been improved. The crashes are even better, and the new crashbreaker is awesome. During races, when your crash, you can pop off a crashbreaker to take down your opponents. Man was I psyched the time that I took out all five enemy cars at once. Had done 4-way kills before, but I finally got a 5-way.

The crashbreaker lends a whole new style and consideration to the race types in Burnout. For example, there is the "Crashbreaker Road Rage" mode. If somebody takes you out, you can quickly smack your crashbreaker to take them out, too. But if they're too far away... you just lost all your boost to catch up. I found that you generally didn't want to use crashbreakers in road rage — the enemy cars are almost always ahead of you (and usually, you use the crashbreak to kill off cars behind you by waiting for them to drive up near your wrecked car).

The crash mode lost its replay, though. And that sucks. When you're going for that perfect crash, you kinda want to see how you goofed up. The new "Traffic Attack" mode is also pretty difficult until you learn that you have to bounce cars into buses and trucks to get that maximum time extension. Even then, it can be hard, so this was one of my least favorite new modes.

One thing that I definitely noticed is that the highest end cars are not as fragile. In Burnout 3: Takedown, zooming around in a formula racer was always a dance on the edge of death. But in Burnout Revenge, you can smack them around quite a bit more which makes the races much less frustrating.

And a kudos to the new medal and rating system. It means you're going for both technique and crazy driving to max your score. Nice.

At this point, you have to ask yourself: buy it now for the Xbox, or wait a couple months and buy it for the 360? I couldn't wait...

Stealthy Games

I got a request on one of the blog comments for a stealthy game other than Thief: Deadly Shadows or the Splinter Cell series. But are there really games other than those?! Yes! Not to fear!

Last year, I posted about Hitman: Contracts. If you're looking for stealthy, then Hitman is definitely a must have. You can play a game in pure stealth mode. I'm not quite that refined... (ahem) but it might be perfect for you.

There are stealth elements in a lot of games. One of my favorite games was Beyond Good and Evil. Beautiful game. Fun. Lots to do. Story. It has stealthy elements, but I wouldn't really call it a stealth game. Games like Psi Ops: Mindgate Conspiracy also have some stealth.

But for hardcore stealth: Thief, Splinter Cell, Hitman.

Go get 'em...

Got Trophy?

One of the coolest things about the new Burnout Revenge game is the set of trophies. They're all variants on your car (in shiny gold) versus the other cars (in silver). Each trophy is presented as a movie. Excellent dynamics, and choreographed to the particular trophy. My two favorites:
Vertical Takedown: the sucker is hanging out thinking life is good. The camera pans up to the left and you see a small spot of gold. It takes form as your car hurtles down from a billion miles up, landing for the full-on smack down on little baby silver.
Blowing up N cars: this one is given after the big crash mode if you manage to f' up a gazillion cars. It totally rules as your car comes flying down, bounces off one car, flips and dances off the next, one more somersault, and then plows into the flatbed of a big rig. The camera does three replays around the big rig, and then everything goes kablooie.
The trophy movies are awesome. You just want to play to unlock the damned things. Beautifully rendered, and the gold versus silver is an excellent way to show how much your car rules.

Been a while...

I've been doing a lot of travel this past summer, and it is finally winding down. In between trips, I've been occupying myself with a lot of different games. Off the top of my head, here are my newer games that I've been trying out:
  • Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
  • Need For Speed Underground 2
  • Phantom Dust
  • Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath
  • Forza Motorsport
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
  • Burnout Revenge

Yeah... half of them are driving games. What can I say? I like them.

I just got Burnout Revenge and its sweet. I'll talk more about it in a separate post.

In between trying all of these, I've been working through Jade Empire. Gotta finish something!


This CNet article says the "Xbox 360 core system" will be $299.99. It goes on to say the "premium" version, which most people will probably buy, will be $399.99.

EA Focus Test, Take 2

Woot. Went to another focus test at EA tonite. This one was for the upcoming Bond game: From Russia With Love. As before, I can't say anything about the game though...

The process for these is pretty neat. They've got a bunch of debug consoles and sit you down to work through very specific parts of the game. After you get a chance to mess around with it, then there is a set of questions that are asked which you fill out on paper. Rating of the gameplay, visuals, etc. There's usually a couple sections that you work through. Both times, some of the developers and designers come in and ask specific questions around some of the stuff they've worked on.

As before, it's neat to see a game in the works. As a thanks, they let you take home a game. Last time, I picked up Nead for Speed Underground 2 (the original was very good... this one is excellent; writeup later). Tonite, I grabbed Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath. metacritic gave the game an 88, and I've heard quite a few good things about it, so it should be fun.

Heavenly Sword

Damn. Here I go thinking that platform exclusives are going to be minimized in the next-gen consoles. While that may true, the launch games are a different story. The console manufacturers want to make a big splash, so they'll pay for exclusivity.

Well, a friend just pointed me at Heavenly Sword for the PS3. EBgames is putting the release at next May (a likely release date for the PS3). There is a bit of info about the game, but the real killer is the trailer from E3

Holy crap. Take some Jade Empire, some Dynasty Warriors, and a healthy dose of God of War. Mix it all with next-gen, and damn. When this game comes out, if it gets rated as good as it is looking now... it could be a reason to buy a PS3.

Definitely one to watch for.

Godfather: The Game

My friend from EA got me into a focus group to do a bit of playtesting of Godfather: The Game (the EBgames product page says it is due for release in October). While I can't say anything about what I saw (say "NDA" with me!), I can say that the experience of seeing a game before its release is quite cool. To be able to provide feedback to the developers, and to hopefully see some of that incorporated into the game.

They set us up (there were about eight of us), let us run through some of the game, and then asked us a lot of questions. I'm hoping that with all the games that I've played, that I was able to provide some detailed and coherent feedback.

Especially if it means they ask me back for more playtesting :-)

Platform Exclusives

I think that "platform exclusives" are a dying breed. One of the few reasons that I powered on my old PS2 was to play Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Or maybe a round of Gauntlet: Dark Legacy with a few friends. Of course, as an Xbox Man, I enjoyed all of its exclusives such as Halo, Morrowind, and most recently Jade Empire.

But in the future? There will be much fewer. Most of the "exclusive" Xbox titles have been ported to the PC (no wonder given the similar architecture between an Xbox and a PC). But I'm also talking about crossovers between the Playstation series of consoles and the Xbox series of consoles. (go sit in the corner if you thought, "what about the Gamecube?")

Consider the economics of the situation. Game development costs are rising. Let's say you spend $5 million to produce a game. You get $4 million for selling it into each of the Xbox and PS markets. Net profit of $3 million. Sweet! But if you go exclusive, then you lose a million bucks. Of course, exclusive deals occur because the platform vendor pays the developer to make it that way. Let's say Microsoft pays the developer $2 million to be exclusive. Fine, they turn a profit of a million bucks. But they are still short of the multi-platform profit!

As game development costs continue to rise, game developers will have to go cross-platform to recoup those costs. As a corollary, it will cost the platform manufacturers more and more money to "buy off" the exclusivity, so they will be less inclined to do this over time (particularly for "first time out" titles that are unproven). That said, it is also possible to argue that the platform vendors will have more money overall, so they have more money to buy off developers. Possibly. But the idea is to turn a profit. If they sink their new-found profits into payoffs, then they really aren't ahead, now are they?

Take a look around. More games recently are multi-platform. With these new generation consoles and their huge capacity for visuals and artwork and animation capabilities, they are going to move dev costs through the roof. Just watch: next-gen games will tend to be cross-platform.

Goodbye, garage game developer.

Buy a PS3?

So I'm definitely going to get an Xbox 360 when it comes out, but a friend asked me an interesting question a couple days ago:
Are you going to get a PS3 when it's released?
Tough one. I used to own a PS2, along with my Xbox. After I realized that 99% of my gaming was occurring on the Xbox (except for GTA or DBZ), then I went ahead and sold off the PS2.

However, a recent AnandTech article (an an interesting ArsTechnica followup) said that the two systems might be roughly equal in terms of power for this go-round. If they are about the same, then I could easily see owning and using both consoles.

It is really going to depend on "is there a game available only for the PS3 that I just have to play?" For the Xbox, that was Morrowind. As the PS3 release approaches, I'll just have to see what's up...

Jade Empire

Yup... Jade Empire really is that good. The story line is opening up well, there are minor branches and the old "good vs evil" main branches. The graphics are amazing. I would compare the animations in Jade Empire to those of Bloodrayne 2 in terms of details, swishing clothes, and character movements.

The fighting in Jade is a bit harder to talk about. I'm not a long ways in, so it is kind of hard to tell just how much it is going to open up. So far, I've been gaining skills and powering up some attacks, though it is hard to see a change. I would hope/guess that as the game progresses, that the attack styles really get rowdy. A friend said that he ended up concentrating on just a couple kinds of attacks -- that it is rare to really need to swap around through a bunch of styles. At this point in the game, I'm finding the same: a couple styles, and some light button mashing. It is definitely not a pure masher. Blocking, healing, jumping/rolling, strong attacks, selecting attack style, and changing targets are all needed. I just find that I don't block much, but I tend to play the tank anyways.

Speaking of jumping: you should really see it during combat. When you're facing your opponent, if you push the direction stick towards them and jump, you execute this amazing flip and spin over their head. Then you can whack 'em from behind. So, so sweet, and it looks so gorgeous.

Back to the two main paths: there is the Way of the Open Palm (aka "good") and the Way of the Closed Fist (aka "bad"). I'm going with Open Palm this time around just because I find it a bit strange to constantly deride and sneer at friends/teachers/others throughout the game.

If you like RPGs, and don't need them to be cooperative, then this is your boy. RPGs are a bit thin on the Xbox, but this isn't merely a "fill the gap" ... Jade Empire is a definite reference game.


Advent Rising

The game, Advent Rising, is looking pretty interesting. Ships just next week.

While I'm not a fan of Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game", I can certainly acknowledge him as a good writer. It should be interesting how his skills will map onto a game.

The gameplay looks interesting, with plenty of combat. It almost looked like there is a little bit of psychic game play, a la Psi-Ops. It is touted as an action/adventure which is normally associated with things like Diablo, or D & D Heroes (which I enjoyed very much).

Watch for reviews next week (my favorite place is www.metacritic.com).


Can it happen on the Xbox?

I've spent several months, umm... "researching" this very problem with Everquest II on the PC. Most aspects of an MMORPG can be done quite easily on a console. The environments, the skill system, adventuring, and even a continued evolution of places to explore (e.g. downloads from Xbox Live).

Halo 2 has shown how clans/guilds can work. Games like Morrowind and Ghost Recon (2) have shown us rich environments. Heroes, Morrowind, KOTOR have all shown varying complexity of skill systems.

But: all of that is simply gameplay action. What makes an MMORPG unique is having others there with you. Living in the same environment, (sometimes) competing for scarce resources, and interacting. With further elimination, you realize that the "living in the same environment" is also just gameplay. The existing MMORPGs have shown that it is technically possible. Cool.

Interaction is the key problem that consoles are going to face. On a PC, the MMORPGs all use an IRC-like system for communication. You have public channels, guild channels, auction channels, and many more. You type in whatever you want to say, over whatever channel. If a dozen people write in at the same time, you get nice little lines in your chat window for whatever each person types.

Consoles? Oops. No keyboard. You've got voice input, and you might have key phrases/emotions trigged from your controller. But no real text input. If game makers try to build an MMORPG, they will need to figure out how ten people can all talk at the same time on a (voice) channel. It won't be pretty.

But don't despair. Games like Rainbox Six have shown that voice recognition works for simple phrases. But this next generation has got some serious hardware. Why not dedicate one of those processors to voice recog? Translate your statements into text and drop it onto the target channel. When you're out adventuring with a few of your friends, fine: keep that a voice channel. But the guild? The world-wide auction channel? Voice recog, baby.

It can happen. It can work. Not on the current generation of consoles, but the next? You bet.

Now I just need to figure out how to get that two solid month sabbatical that I'm going to need. Need.

Backwards Compatibility

With the recent announcement of the Xbox 360, there are numerous stories with regards to backwards compatibility. "Will the 360 be compatibile with Xbox [original] games?"

The hardware should certainly be able to do it, given Microsoft's ownership of Virtual PC. The original Xbox has a 733 Mhz processor in it. The 360 has *three* processors all cranking at 3.2 Ghz. Emulation of the basic code shouldn't be a problem. The harder part will be the emulation of the old hardware.

Game developers are always going "around the system" to crank the last few cycles. I'm not familiar with Xbox development, but if game devs are doing this today, then it will certainly make it more difficult for MSFT to emulate the old box at acceptable speeds. But: MSFT has some bright peeps. And there is enough hardware in the 360. If they want to, I think the 360 can emulate the old xbox, whether or not people go around the system.

But does Microsoft care? Consider: if they don't make games compatible, then the original Xbox will have a longer lifetime [as people continue to buy the Xbox for their fav games]. With compatibility, the Xbox *might* die off in favor of the 360 [but price is a big issue]. But the PS2 versus PS1 showed us that even with compatibility, people still bought the PS1. Freaks, yes, but the market doesn't really lie. The PS1 continues to sell very well. It has a huge library, the games and the console are cheap, so families are snapping it up.

Blah blah blah. All so much speculation. If compat exists, then people will buy the 360 and be done with it. If there isn't compat, then a choice will come up: buy the more expensive 360 and its smaller game library, or buy the original? Of course, there is a small subset that will have both, but not everybody has that kind of expendable income.

Well. Crap. So what am I saying? Not a lot. Mostly "wait and see". There are a lot of considerations for backwards compatibility, and MSFT could come out on either side. Don't get your panties in a bunch... just hang in there to see what happens.

Xbox 2 news on May 12

Well, there isn't any real information in this article on news.com, but we'll finally know something about the Xbox 2 soon!

Game Depth

I've been playing Everquest II on my PC for the past week or so. It's a great game that can really draw you in. But wait! What about poor Mr Xbox?! Have I left it to gather dust?

Nah. EQ2 is great because of its depth. There is always more "just around the corner", and you get drawn in to find out just what that is. But it isn't an adrenaline-raising game like Ninja Gaiden or Burnout 3. So for certain moods, the Xbox is going to be the winner.

But what about the times you have that "deep game" mood. Has the Xbox lost to MMORPGs on the PC? It very much depends on your play style. I'm generally a solo player. I want to go explore and to kick some ass. The MMORPG is a continually evolving system, so there is always more. I'm not there to interact with other players, to group up, and even less for PK (tho EQ2 does not support PK which is great). And we have seen a deep RPG game on the Xbox before: Morrowind. I played that sucker till my eyes bled. EQ2 is just another deep RPG for me (tho, to be honest, it is also great to play a separate character with my buddy; co-op RPGs rock).

Social players might think, "but the Xbox doesn't have a social/co-op Morrowind, so I'm gonna have to go to the PC." Yes, that is generally true for now. I think it is going to change in the next year or two, however. I'll also point out that a game like Halo 2 has changed the entire notion of social play. The support for clans, bungie.net, big deathmatching, different game types, etc etc. It's a whole new game world. Not an RPG and it lacks that kind of depth, granted, but it provides a great vehicle for social gaming.

I'm looking forward to the next Elder Scrolls (the official name of the series that Morrowind is part of). It is being called Elder Scrolls: Oblivion right now and is being targeted at the next-gen Xbox console. Will it support Live? I'm guessing it will be -enabled, but there won't be any real co-op or multiplayer support. Bethesda is pretty hard core into the single player experience. And I love 'em for that. It does mean that a co-op RPG is going to have to come from somewhere else. Not sure where right now...

Burnout 3

Last week, Steve Jenson told me, "Burnout 3. Best. Recommendation. Ever."

If you haven't played this title yet, then do it. Now. You won't regret it.


Over the weekend, I took over a dozen games to GameStop and sold them. Got some reasonable credit for them towards buying stuff there. The question then comes up: what games to sell off? What games to keep?

It's all based on replayability. I sold off the games that I knew that I wouldn't play any more. Generally, the games that I have finished, tho there were a couple where I never finished it but a sequal is out already (e.g. sold Tony Hawk Pro Skate 4 cuz I also have THPS: Underground).

What makes a game replayable? A number of factors: are there other modes you can try? If you play it again, do you have choices that will change the gameplay or the story? Are there multiple paths and strategies towards finishing the game? Is it something that you might play with friends?

One game that I love, but sold off was D&D: Heroes. I played through it as a fighter (surprise, surprise), so I could play it again as (say) a mage. But the story line and the exploration and the puzzles will be unchanged. I'll get to see and use some spells and some minor strategy variants for using a mage. But the bulk of the game (about 25 hours of play) will be just the same. D&D: Heroes is also a fantastic game for a group of (up to) four people. But it isn't something you just sit down and play with a friend one evening. Even at four hours a night, you'll play it for a week. That's pretty hard to get into. If it was online, then that might be a bit different. But, sadly, the game is not Xbox Live-capable.

Now, on the other hand, I've basically finished Burnout 3: Takedown. But I'm not going to sell that unless/until Burnout 4 comes out. Why? It's a game where you can just sit down and have fun with it. No investment. No length brain-engagement. And it is fantastic for a quick play with friends. Same kind of thing with Timesplitters 3.

When buying a game, consider its potential for replayability. Something like Dynasty Warriors has been a fantastic buy for me. I can just keep going back to play through campaigns with new characters. It is a little repetitive, but as I've said here before: it can be a fantastic game when you're up for some hack and slash.

RPGs will generally not be replayable, though the developers are trying to make them so. Two recent games, Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) and Fable, have a good or evil decision that you can make. But you have to ask: will the game be that different if I play the other alignment? I believe the answer is "no", so I'm not going to be replaying Fable as an evil guy. Might be fun, sure, but worth another 25 or 30 hours? Probably not.

This is a big topic, so I'll stop now and hopefully revisit on another day...


Finally got that PC to work properly. Had to replace the motherboard. Sheesh.

When I'm not playing Everquest 2 with my buddy, I've been spending a ton of time with KOTOR II.

Keep in mind: I never played the first one. A lot of reviews on the web comment on how it is very similar to the first, and it hasn't advanced the tech or gameplay all that much. So if you played the first KOTOR, then this will be more of the same goodness, but not as revolutionary. For me, though, it kicks ass.

The graphics are great, and the sound is simply awesome. The combat and movement animations are great. The surrounding environments and textures are very well-done. When you're standing in your apartment on Capital Station, shuttles and stuff will fly by your big window. Very nice -- it makes the environment much more dynamic.

The controls are pretty good, though I don't know why the right stick (camera) doesn't look up/down. Just left/right. You have to move to first-person point of view to get the look up/down. Some of the menu controls are a bit wacky, too. I want to hit "A" to make things happen, not "X". So some parts feel a bit clumsy, but once you learn them, it isn't bad at all.

One of the issues that I've had is selecting skills (feats) and Jedi powers, whenever I level up. It is very difficult to really understand how these different things balance against each other. What should I pick? Will it be useful? It almost seems that you have to simply guess, or have played the game before. If I want a character with some particular style, then which ones should I select? How should I invest in this training?

So tweakies aside, the game is great. The story line is absolutely fantastic and draws you into the game. You want to participate, to see the next unfolding of the plot, or to interact with the NPCs to see how they react. Moving through the environments, collecting new weapons, fighting various groups, and choosing sides. All great stuff.

Very highly recommended if you like RPGs with rich stories. The "classic RPG elements" are not very strong because of the uncertainty around them, but you do watch your character grow, change, and increase in abilities. While I haven't finished the game, it appears the richness of the world is on par with that of Morrowind.

Great stuff.

The Xbox Advantage

A good friend of mine has nearly sworn off the Xbox stating that the PC is a much better gaming platform. I mean, who can argue with its potential for a faster processor, better graphics card, various input devices, etc.

Wait. Back up. Look at that word: potential.

My friend was all, "Let's play Everquest II". Okay. Great. I pick up a copy. Install. Install. Install. 45 minutes later, I get this leetle teeny dialog that says something about pixel shaders and texture units and that I can't play EQ2. Yo, Google. Talk to me. Well... apparently, the video card that I bought just last year isn't good enough. Oh, great fun.

Greg runs off to Fry's. Buys new video card for $100.

And lay on the pain. Nearly 24 hours later, I'm still struggling with a crashing system. Apparently, my Windows XP installation (upgraded from Windows 98) just doesn't like my new card/driver. I get fleeting glimpses of the classic blue screen before the machine reboots. It comes back and says, "there was a crash. send a report to Microsoft?" Generally, I always say no here... I don't want Microsoft knowing what's up on my box. But what the heck... I give it a shot. It reports my graphic card driver is the culprit. Heh. Thanks for the info.

Where am I now? Reinstalling the operating system from scratch, hoping that will cure the situation. Thankfully, this is just a gaming system where I don't have to worry about installed apps or docs or whatever.

What's the point of all this?

With the Xbox, I buy a game. Put it in. Play. Fun fun fun.

With the PC, I buy a game. Oh. My hardware isn't good enough. Pay more. Waste time. Play on teeny screen rather than big tv. "But the graphics are so much more detailed!" Bite me.

Xbox programmers build their games for the Xbox. It is a known quantity and they make the game run as best they can on that machine. They concentrate on squeaking out the last bit of performance. The best load time possible. Clean interaction with the controller.

On the PC? Fuck load time. Let's move it to market. Let the user buy faster hardware. Graphics? They can buy a new video card. We don't have to optimize it. I work in the software business. I know what it does to programmers. You concentrate on getting the software in your users' hands. If there is a reasonable excuse to avoid extra work in favor of time, then you take it. PC game developers could care less. They'll make you upgrade rather than optimize that loading time. They'll consume more texture memory rather than fit it to your 32MB video card. No skin off their back.

The Xbox (and other consoles) are the best platform because you can concentrate on the game. It isn't about the latest hardware. Buy it. Play it. Have fun.

Don't be fooled by the potential for faster CPUs or graphic cards. It's a sucker's bet. Stick to your console...