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...