Category Archives: Games and Sports

Is The Phantom Party Over?

Well it looks like the Phantom party is nearly over at Infinium Labs! GamesIndustry.biz is reporting that Infinium Labs is nearly out of money and is seeking fresh financing to the tune of about $11M USD. Infinium, maker of the yet to be launched Phantom gaming console, has been the center of much controversy and even threatened a lawsuit against HardOCP over coverage that criticized Infinium’s business plan and company officers. In response, HardOCP launched its own lawsuit and won. With only about $21K USD on hand, it looks like the Phantom console, already delayed to Q2 2005, won’t ever see the light of day.

This whole Phantom episode reminds me of The Producers. In the movie two theatre producers over sell shares in their production and then set out to make the worst play ever so that it would close on opening night. That way there wouldn’t be a any profits to pay out to the shareholders. Unfortunately for them, their production of Springtime for Hitler turns out to be a wildly successful farce unraveling their plan and sending them to prison.

Now I’m not saying that that was the plan in the case of Infinium’s Phantom console! It’s just an interesting thought. I do wonder though, what will happen to all of the money invested if the Phantom never comes out. I suppose the stage will be set for write-offs and lawsuits.

As for the actual plan of downloading PC games to a consolized PC where they would self configure and install using scripts, it’s not totally crazy. It’s just that the world of PC games is too different from the world of console games. PC games tend to cater to people who know what to do with a PC and are not afraid of hours of building and tweaking to squeeze out extra performance. They also aren’t afraid to spends hundreds of dollars upgrading their boxes every year to play the latest and greatest.

Practically speaking, Infinium would be hard pressed to both keep their install scripts up to date, and upgrade the Phantom hardware for their customers. I doubt Microsoft or Sony could do this either! Not only that, these days the most popular PC games are first person shooters like Half Life 2 and Unreal Tournament and online games like World of Warcraft and Everquest. The people who are into these games are likely the very last who would ever sign up for the Phantom console service, and those who would won’t find the most popular games there. I think this is a classic no win situation.

Madden 2006, Oops! I did it again!

American football is a funny game. It’s rough and tough and so are its overwhelmingly male fans, or at least they’d like to be, I think… That’s why it is with some wonder and a little cynicism that I receive stories like the Janet Jackson Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction or now the ABC Monday Night Football steamy intro ruckus. I mean come on! Most of the people watching the game actually like seeing naked women. Who are these people calling in to complain? Meanwhile ABC has apologized to the viewers and the NFL (like they really care). Come on, ABC knew this would happen. Oh me oh my, look at all of this free publicity. Oh yeah, they’re really sorry.

Now back to the fans. Every year, like clockwork, a new Madden football game is released by Electronic Arts. And every year now, it sells millions of copies. Some fans complain that it’s just last year’s game with some tweaks and new stats. I don’t really believe that myself, but if EA really wants to shake things up, maybe they should slip in some of the naughtiness we’ve been seeing around the real game like steamy intros and wardrobe malfunctions. That would spice things up a bit for the 2006 edition! Of course, I guess they would have to add a 5 second delay too.

Halo 2 First Impressions

Heh heh! First let me say that I must be the kind of customer that Amazon just hates! Back in August I put in a preorder for Halo 2 Limited Edition just to make sure I would be able to get a copy when it came out. Halo 2 was released in the U.S. yesterday with hundreds if not thousands of gamers lining up at midnight across the country to be one of the first to get a legitimate copy of the game.

I checked my order on Amazon and noticed that not only had it not shipped, it actually had an arrival date of November 8. So I guess they had meant to get it to me by release time, but something had gone wrong. Well, the nearby Virgin Megastore had Halo 2 including the Limited Edition, so being fundamentally impatient, I cancelled my Amazon order and high tailed it over to the Virgin store in the closing minutes of my lunch break. I got the last copy of the limited edition! 🙂 Not only that, it cost me $4 less than the Amazon price with shipping! So I could even brag to my wife of my frugality! 😉 If Amazon did have shipping issues, I wonder if they saw a lot of cancellations yesterday?

As for the game itself, I’ve only had time to put in a hour’s worth of play and have died about a half dozen times, but I must say that I like it! There’s a lot of debate online about mouse keyboard versus console controller for first person shooters (fps). Most PC gamers believe that mouse and keyboard are best, and I tend to agree. But for Halo at least, getting used to using the controller is pretty easy. So don’t let controller bigotry keep you from playing this game! Oh so why have I died so much? Well, I suck! At least for now, and I haven’t read the manual either. I used to be a crusader with regard to manuals, but these days I like to just jump in and see how much I can pick up just playing. People generally won’t read manuals anyway, which is something I keep in mind when designing and writing software for my own projects and work.

Anyway, if you like fps games, this is a good one to get. The graphics and sound are very good and the control scheme is easy to get into, even for old school fps gamers. Hey, it even has a decent story developing. So that’s my one hour review! I’ll add to this later, I hope! The real fun won’t begin until I try it on Xbox Live! Here are some links to other reviews.

GameSpy

1up.com

Yahoo! Games Domain

PSP Details Revealed: Killing Me Softly…

Yesterday Sony revealed more details concerning their upcoming portable games console, the Playstation Portable (PSP). The PSP will launch in Japan on December 12 for 19800 Yen. If U.S. pricing is similar, then this means the PSP will cost less than $200! Sony also said that battery life will be between 4 and 6 hours between charges depending on use.

Now first of all, the price is unbelievable. Obviously this is meant to be competitive with Nintendo’s upcoming DS which will launch at $149 in the U.S.. But there’s no way Sony will be making a profit on the hardware at $200 a unit. You can’t get a low end iPod for that much, and arguably there’s a lot more going on in the PSP relative to the iPod. So a wild eyed guess says that Sony will be losing $200 or more per sale! Granted, losing money on the console hardware and making it up on game royalties is standard in the games industry. But this is a lot of money to lose on an unproven console going against a very successful and entrenched competitor like Nintendo.

The other unbelievable thing is the 4 to 6 hours of battery life. Like laptop battery life claims from the manufacturer, this must be taken with a huge grain of salt. If the PSP video display sucks power anything like the one on my kids’ Leapster, cut Sony’s claims in half. At 2 to 3 hours, the PSP could prove to be a bit frustrating for the hard core gamer on the go. On the point of battery life, Sony had better be telling the truth or else they could become quite a laughing stock and the butt of jokes, much as the Apple Newton’s much touted handwriting recognition became when it proved to be less than advertised.

All of that said, Sony, you’re killin’ me! I still think that of the two new handhelds, the PSP is the sexier/cooler/hipper one to have. And at $200, it’s well in range. But Sony, why no movies until 2005? The Playstation 2 launched in Japan with very few games, but the ability to play DVD movies. That movie playing ability really supported early sales of a console that was rather difficult for developers to work with initially. And since Sony owns movie studios, selling more DVDs still helps the bottom line. So why no movies at PSP launch? Writing movies to the new UMD format shouldn’t be any more trouble than writing games to it, so I’m guessing that they haven’t got all of the bugs out of mass producing UMDs yet. So they simply made a choice to go with games over movies. Still, a few block busters from their library should not have been too much trouble.

Well, both Sony and Nintendo are taking big risks with their new handhelds. Sony’s seem to be primarily technical, while Nintendo’s is more of wtf to do with the second screen. This should be an interesting Christmas.

Xbox 2 Announcement Nears

A story on Gamesindustry.biz states that Bill Gates will be the keynote speaker at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January. He is expected to make the formal announcement of Xbox 2 at that time. Lately, news coming out of the Xbox camp has been pretty good. Peter Molyneux’s action RPG Fable was released for the platform and went on to become the fastest selling game in Xbox history. Though this record is not likely to stand as Halo 2 has surpassed 1.5 million preorders for its November 9 release date.

And to that good news, I would add that the likelihood of backwards compatibility on Xbox 2 has increased with the recent release of Microsoft Virtual PC for MacOS X. Why? Because today’s Macintosh computers are built around the a PowerPC (PPC) architecture similar to that is rumored to be at the core of Xbox 2. Well this is more than rumor since early development kits are also based on PPC. So it is more plausible that backwards compatibility can be achieved using Virtual PC-like emulation. This could also get them around the challenge presented by going from Nvidia to ATI for the graphics chip set. Backwards compatibility would go a long way towards supporting the launch of Xbox 2.

So far from being dead, Xbox 2 is alive and kicking. This probably due in no small part to Bill Gates’ personal involvement or at least interest in the project. Gates didn’t make his money being stupid. Perhaps he realizes that if Microsoft is going to thrive in a post-PC, post-Windows era, it needs to get into other markets. Games are a natural progression and a huge growth market rivalling movies and television. If MS can get a piece of that pie, it won’t hurt so much when Windows and Office shipments start to drop off.

Playboy: The Mansion Slips Past XMas

Well it looks like Playboy: The Mansion won’t be under the tree this year! Citing quality issues, developer Groove Games has pushed the game into early next year. Now why is this here? Why do I care? Well actually, I don’t care about the game itself at all and had no plans to promote or buy it. What I have is the morbid curiousity of one passing a traffic accident in the all too common gaper’s delays we have here in Chicagoland. When hyped up games miss the crucial Christmas shopping season, the best time of the year to release any game, it usually means something catastrophic has happened.

So this leads to the question of, just how badly does Playboy: The Mansion suck at this point? There’s been a bit of a flurry of titillation games released lately. There’s the Guy Game, a new Leisure Suit Larry game, and you even throw in the Sims 2 for that matter. With the exception of the Sims 2, I wouldn’t expect very much since the main selling point of these games is boobs, boobs, boobs! So why the delay? screenshots of the game look pretty good, so it must be play mechanics, or maybe the bounces are not just right. Or maybe the thing just isn’t any fun… Polygonal vixens alone do not a good game make! This reminds me a bit of Showgirls, a movie so bad that even the gratuitous nudity could not make it interesting! Could it just be the curse of the licensed game? Games based on movie and tv licenses are notorious for sucking big time, cough! Matrix! Cough! This usually happens because the game is rushed out with the idea of making a quick buck off of naive fans of the property the game is based on.

Well, perhaps Playboy fans should rejoice. If promises of quality are delivered on, they may just get a good game afterall.

Good Time To Be A Gamer

It looks like this is a very good time to be a gamer. Nintendo and Sony are introducing some much anticipated new hardware at the Tokyo Game Show. Nintendo’s new dual screen DS looks like a nice machine, but I still don’t really get it. I can’t think of just how much more compelling gameplay the second screen adds and certainly not enough to go out and plunk down $150. I’d rather buy a couple of SPs for the kids, or maybe some copies of the new Pokemon titles.

As for Sony’s PSP, weighing in at $300 definitely puts it in wait and see land for me. I like the looks (oh sooo sexy) and the potential, but I won’t be an early adopter there as I have other bills to pay first! Sony also introduced a new slimmed down version of the PS, the PStwo. At $149 with network adapter built in, it’s a tempting cute little package. I don’t really need another PS2, but the small form factor just screams out, portable DVD player!

There are a lot of interesting games coming out too. Maybe I’ll write a bit about that next time.

Will Gran Turismo 4 Miss XMas?

When I received my weekly update from gamesindustry.biz today, I was a bit disappointed to read that there are rumors that Gran Turismo 4 for the Playstation 2 may miss a Christmas 2004 release date in the United States. In the games industry, missing the biggest shopping season of the year is usually a sign that something catastrophic has happened in the development process. This tends to be supported by the observation that games that get pushed out the door in order to meet the holidays or a movie release date (cough!Matrix!cough!!), tend to be full of bugs.

Without any other information, I can only speculate that further delays in Gran Turismo 4 are due to performance issues related to online network play. Why? Because network play is the biggest thing to be added to the next iteration of the series and easily the most complex. Players have come to expect a lot of what is arguably the greatest driving game ever. If the framerate drops to 20fps when you hook up with your buddies to race online, that will be big trouble! High resolution graphics, detailed models, and online play may not get along too well on the PS2. If that is the case, Polyphony’s engineers may be madly rebuilding and tweaking the car models even as we speak in order to get acceptable performance. Don’t be too surprised if the maximum number of players able to race online drops from 6 to 4. The upcoming NASCAR 2005 from EA only supports 4 online players on Xbox and PS2 and the car models and environments probably are not nearly as complex as Gran Turismo is reported to be. The Xbox can probably support more online players, but they likely develop from a shared code base which means having to meet the lowest common denominator. That is, the PS2 may not have the horses to support more than 4 online racers.

I might further speculate that development of Gran Turismo 4 for the Playstation Portable (PSP) due out in Japan next Spring, could be interfering as well. It has been reported that GT for PSP will be nearly a straight port of the PS2 version. Assuming the same team is working on both versions, the need to port to the PSP may place constraints on available solutions to other development problems. The bottom line is that it all takes more time, and the feature set may be reduced in order to get the thing out.

This is of course all speculative and could be completely wrong. It doesn’t really matter though because whenever it comes out GT4 will be a huge hit and it will be good. It has to be.

New From Hong Kong! A Virtual Girlfriend!

I’m not making this up! In what might appear to be a effort to one up the Japanese in the all important dating sim market, Hong Kong based Artificial Life, Inc. will soon release a virtual girlfriend game for 3G cell phones. I first heard about this on Slashdot and here’s the link to the BBC News story.

This is all very interesting because it sounds like a  tamagotchi pet for men, an expensive one at that. According to the BBC story, the player will have to keep his girlfriend’s affections by buying her gifts and flowers. On top of the subscription fee, these additional gifts incur additional fees. At some point, one has to wonder if the cyber girlfriend is more expensive than a real one would be! And the cynical might further wonder just who is being played! Despite these questions, I suspect that the game will be a big hit which will only spawn numerous imitators. It might even make it to the U.S. considering that Artificial Life, whose global HQ is in Hong Kong, is also incorporated in the United States.

I’m also rather interested in the technology behind the game. Is there real AI technology in play here? In any case, the heavy processing would be done on remote servers. The real trick in the handset will be handling the graphics, essential for a game like this. The clips on the Artificial Life web site also have a very Final Fantasy-esque look to them. Those are cut scenes I would guess, but they probably do define the game’s overall esthetic and may again indicate the market being pursued. The game play described in the company’s press release is also very reminiscent of Shenmue in that the virtual girlfriend has her own virtual daily routine so she’s doing different things in different places throughout the day.

And since the virtual girlfriend looks the same for every player, if the game proves a success, a new star will be born with product endorsements to follow!:) The ladies need not feel left out, as virtual boyfriend is scheduled for a February 2005 release.

Camp Astro Boy — Kyampu Tetsuwan Atom

Oh the wonder of summer camp! My two oldest are away at camp until Friday, leaving us the two youngest and me with a little more time for gaming! Today I’m hoping to pick up Astro Boy Omega Factor for GBA. All of the reviews I’ve read on this have been good, and with my oldest son away in the woods, I might get a chance to play it through myself! Oh joy of joys!

Nintendo has a nice Quicktime movie of the action right here. And here’s a review on 1up.com. I haven’t seen the original Astro Boy anime or read the manga yet (saw a couple of eps of the new series), but I became quite enamored with Osamu Tezuka’s artistic style as reflected in Android Kikaider and Cyborg 009. So I’m adding Astro Boy to my growing list of manga and anime interests.

Cheating On Kana!

Okay, I admit it! I’m a bit of a fan of what are often referred to as "Japanese dating sims". But simulation is really too strong a term. In English, at least, they might be best referred to as computerized trashy romance novels for young men. That said, I’ve been spending a lot of game time working through "Kana – little sister". In short, you take on the role of devoted big brother to frail sick little sister Kana. Perhaps too devoted!

Like most games of this genre, it features sex and adult situations. This one in particular also has a bit of taboo and forbidden love. Yadda, yadda, yadda. So how did this title catch my eye? Well actually it caught my ear first. There was a link to the opening theme song, Shiroi Kisetsu: White Season, on J-List where I usually buy these games. I downloaded the song and was totally blown away by how beautiful it was. So I bought the game and was pleased to find that it also featured two additional full length songs of comparable beauty to the first. Oh, and the game is pretty good too!

I managed to get the first 4 of 6 endings completely on my own. But after spending over a week trying to get endings 1 and 5, I finally decided to cheat. It isn’t too much of a spoiler to say that there is one ending in which Kana can be saved. I had seen everything but that and in playing over and over again, I’d also become rather fond of the characters and really wanted to see the happier ending. After reading a walk-through, I was pleased to find that on a couple of occasions I was really close to the best ending. So my guilt was lessoned, and yes, the ending was worth it! So you could say that in the end I paid my dues, mostly, and got my money’s worth. But more than anything else, the 3 beautiful songs I added to my iPod were well worth the effort!:-)

Open Wheel XBox Racing On A Budget

While perusing the Virgin Megastore on Friday, I ran across the recently released IndyCar Series 2005 for XBox by CodeMasters. I’m primarily a NASCAR fan, but I appreciate open wheel too. And the IndyCar Series is arguably the more competitive of the major open wheel series. I mean really, I love the courses and glamour of F1, but the same guy wins every week, which for me takes the fun out of it.

Anyway, what caught my eye was the $19.99 price tag. A price tag like that is usually reserved by either best sellers, or cellar dwellers. So I resisted the urge to buy until I could read some reviews. The reviews are mixed to just okay. The most frequent criticism concerned the quality and variety of the graphics. Despite that, I’ll probably add this one to my collection eventually because I love racing titles, especially those with online support.

Many wonder what’s the excitement of driving fast and turning left for hundreds of laps?  Racing is so much more than that though. The best racing titles recreate the chess game that is auto racing by giving the player control over everything from car setup to team and sponsor management. And when you can take all of that and go up against real live humans online, that’s racing Nirvana!

Is XBox Dead?

Over the past few months a number of shocking stories have come out of Microsoft that may have some bearing on the future of the XBox. Major games have been cancelled such as Mythica, most recently True Fantasy Online, and the XSN sports line up for 2004. There have also been rumors that the next XBox won’t have a hard drive or may be some PC/Console hybrid. And Microsoft has been releasing tools that will make it possible to use XBox Live in PC games.

There certainly hasn’t been any announcement about the demise of the XBox as yet. But these developments do speak of a move away from single mindedly backing the XBox as the major gaming platform from Microsoft. It almost looks like a retreat into supporting the PC as a gaming platform. If so, it would be true to form for Microsoft to promote that which moves copies of Windows and Office, their two biggest money makers and the source of their power.

PC gaming has been on the decline in terms of sales for a while now. Though there has been a growing popularity of high end gaming PCs, enough that Dell is even offering gamer oriented PCs at a premium of course. Still, I don’t see this profitable niche segment reversing the growth of console gaming. I hope I’m wrong, but it may well be that Microsoft now sees PC games as a way move more copies of Windows and perhaps pull XBox gamers back to the PC.

Weekend In Vana’diel

Friday has come at last which means another weekend that hopefully includes some time playing Final Fantasy XI.

I’d love to spend more time on the game, but there are just too many other things I want to do in my rl for that. Still, the game has been a lot of fun in the 27 hours or so I’ve played since the PS2 version came out. So perhaps I’m proof that a more casual player can have fun with an MMORPG like FF XI, or just proof that I’m nutz! 🙂

Here are some in game shots I took of my character.


Retrogaming Hardware Fetish

Out on my lunchtime walk, I stopped in at the local Virgin Megastore to see if they had anything new from Tofu Records. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any CDs of interest, but I did find something else.

It isn’t news that a lot of the old Atari 2600 and early Arcade boom era games are coming back in neat little packages. I’d heard that Pac Man, my old fav, was coming back in a joystick controller you plug into your tv. But when I actually picked it up in the store, it was like stepping into Heaven for a moment! The joystick and button are very faithful to the arcade and while I already have Namco arcade for my PS2 at home, this new packaging makes this a must buy for retro-gaming fans. I think it had Pac Man, Dig Dug, and Galaxian for about $30.

Granted, I’m not buying for now, but it sure was purty!8)