Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Peter Molyneux, the Music Man

Molyneux gave no impression that Milo was simply a tech demo when he unveiled it in 2009.  He presented Milo as a real ongoing project, with teams of developers and designers workign feverishly to create the future of video games and AI.  Here is what he was saying one year ago:

“The key thing there is that it seems real. I’m not pretending we’ve cracked the hardest problem of AI; I’m not saying this is the start of Cyberdyne Systems from Terminator.”

“The interesting thing is this uncanny valley and how we’re breaking through it. People who experience Milo really go away believing they can talk to him.”

Even last week, during E3 2010, Molyneux and Microsoft insisted that Milo was real, that it would appear soon, that there was no reason to question its absence from the show floor.  All of which was a lie.  The man's reputation now lies in ruins, destroyed.  I can't come away from the Milo debacle with any other thought.  Monorail...Monorail...Monorail...

Microsoft Admits "Milo & Kate" Demo is a Fraud

A fraud.  This comes as no surprise to anyone.  What's surprising to me is the sheer scale of this fraud.  Microsoft and Lionhead Studios presented "Milo and Kate" not as a mere tech demo, not as an imagining of a future technology, but an actual work-in-progress to demonstrate the abilities of Project Natal.  This was Natal's main presentation at the 2009 E3.  Today's public mea culpa is very, very big news.

So much of the current hardcore gamer backlash against Kinect comes down to Microsoft's shocking disinformation and dishonesty.  They have presented the public with nothing but illusions and lies.  I've never seen anything like this in the videogame business.  Even Sony's pre-release hype of Playstation 2 a decade ago was tame compared to this.  Exactly what is going on?

The more I think about the Kinect saga, the more firmly I believe the target of this disinformation campaign is not the gaming public, but Microsoft's investors.  I think the company's footing is far more precarious than anyone realizes.  Billions have been sunk into the Xbox under the assumption that the convergence of computer technology would happen in the living room.  But this was an assumption made in the mid-1990s; as it happened, the point of convergence was not the television, but the cell phone.

In other words, Microsoft is fighting the last war.  The future of tech lies in mobile technology; the desktop computer is fading, and will not be joined with the television.  The future lies with cell phones, netbooks, and tablets.  And that is the war Microsoft is fighting, not console videogames.  The Xbox is a trojan horse in a war that has moved to a different battlefield.

So why is Microsoft even playing this game?  Why are they in the videogame business, anyway?  This is the question on the minds of the company's investors - and they want out.  They want the consumer division to be scuttled entirely, and that means exiting the console videogame business.  This is what Kinect (and the "360 Slim") is fighting for.  At least, this is what I've concluded thus far.  I think Microsoft's days in this sphere are numbered.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Just Dance 2 - E3 Gameplay Videos

Straight from last week's E3, here are some gameplay videos of Just Dance 2 to get you excited and off the couch.  The song list appears to be as diverse as ever, which is great, and the streamlined graphics are better than ever.  Does it also seem that the dance moves are more involved than before?  I don't think we're going to be seeing the same arm motions used over and over.

Have you also noticed the background graphics?  Everything is brilliantly and stylishly animated.  Even the dancers appear more detailed and colorful, all while retaining their iconic look.  Kudos to Ubisoft for keeping the "iPod Commercial" look, instead of cartoon polygon models.  The filmed actors have a subtle degree of realism - and spontaneity - that rival dancing games cannot match.  Not that I mean to bash the competition.  I'm eager to see dancing video games become the Next Big Thing.

Just Dance 2 is going to be a sensational hit.  I'm buying copies for every Nintendo Wii owner I know.  Heck, I may just buy a couple Wii consoles for the family this Christmas, just for this game.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Just Dance 2 - The Newest Trailer (Featuring James Brown!)

Ubisoft's newest trailer for Just Dance 2, which looks absolutely smashing.  The original game has now sold over 3.3 million copies, and it continues to be a steady seller every week.  And the fact that this was achieved in a near-total media blackout speaks volumes.  The true video game revolution of this decade - the rise of the female gamer - has yet to be acknowledged or reckoned with by the fanboys who write the gaming sites and magazines.  That's a story that needs to be told.

This video just puts a big smile on my face.  The more I see, the more I like, and the more confidence I have in the design team.  I think they're listening to the fans and have some surprises in store.  Duat mode, eight players, refined graphics, more goofy costumes and funky moves...Every person I know in Bogota will be telling me to bring this game.  Video games are twice as expensive in Colombia as in America, you see.  That means yours truly will be playing Santa Claus this Christmas, with a bag stuffed with a dozen (or more) copies of Just Dance 2.

Pay attention, gamers.  Just Dance 2 is going to be one of the year's biggest games.  Nintendo was very wise to secure this title as a Wii exclusive, guaranteeing the nascent dance genre will be firmly in their camp.

More Donkey Kong Country 4 Goodness

My favorite game from this year's E3, and destined to become the latest in a long line of Nintendo blockbusters - it's Donkey Kong Country 4.  And did somebody say, "mine carts?"  This game just gets better and better.

This video, from GameXplain.com, also shows off two-player action, with Donkey and Diddy Kong running around together.  I see that Kirby's Epic Yarn also features two players.  The Super Mario Bros 5 influence is very obvious, and this is a very welcome trend.  I can't wait to see what more surprises Retro has in store.  They're doing a magnificent job bringing Donkey Kong to the 21st Century.

Please, Nintendo, please let Retro create a 2D Metroid.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Kinect Finds New Ways to Fail

Now you can't even put your hands behind your backs. Hah hah hah hah hah.... This is the comedy gift that keeps on giving. Kinect's problems just never end. Is there any scenario where this stupid hunk of junk even works?

A videogame blogger from Sweeden (!!) shares his impressions from E3. Here's the untranslated website. And here's the Google Translation of the article:

What I really liked about Kinect? Well, that software is surprisingly good. And hardware is unexpectedly poor. Games Kinect Adventures, type five different mini-games. Rafting was, as expected, very funny. Can really see it compete with Wii Sports. Obstacle course, I was also pretty fun with.

But. The hardware, as I said. Microsoft promised that the delay (in reality between the motion and the motion on the screen) from last year were were virtually eliminated. I do not even feel any difference. There is still a significant gap. And although Kinect to be so damn advanced so it works in principle as an EyeToy - if you try on more advanced movements, like holding hands behind their backs, the avatar may snatch. Hugely embarrassing, looks terribly buggy out.

22:31: hit by lots of strange things. When would jump over and duck under the barrier so I got it not work at all. Avatar weird shit did half hope, and floated up into the air, when I tried to duck, for example. Many of my pallets hope it does not replicate at all, but still stood motionless, but the barrier in the face.

This steady trickle of bad news and revelations will prove devastating for Microsoft. Internet memes spread at a lightning pace; here we are, only days after E3, and look at what has happened. November is shaping up to be a nightmare. This machine is dead in the water, and I say good riddance to bad rubbish.

Kinect Only Supports Two Players at a Time

Are you kidding me?!  This is the comedy that keeps on giving.  Am I the only one who's wondering what comes next?  If someone told me the Kinect catches fire and shoots lasers at your pets, I'd believe it.

And have you noticed how silent the gaming press has been?  They were bought off with free Xbox 360s.  The game industry owns the prozines, they always have, and here's the latest proof.

E3 - Flingsmash on Nintendo Wii

Remember this simple rule, kids: Every video game needs a hook.  There must be something - a visual style, a gameplay idea, a novel element - that grabs your attention and your interest.  You look with a smile on your face and say, "I want to try that game out."  This is the hook, and it's the most important ingredient in any successful game.

A strong hook doesn't always translate into great games, so you are never guaranteed anything.  But I can promise you that all the mediocre, awful, formulaic games don't have hooks.  "Shooting things with a gun" is no longer a hook, not in the year 2010.  Flinging a cartoon character through 2D platform mazes like a pinball?  Now that's better.

Flingsmash definitely has the hook.  Here is an arcade game that makes me reach for some quarters; indeed, games like this make the strong argument for the return of video arcades.  The game involves smashing the main character through obstacles, mystery blocks, platforms, and various enemies, much like a tennis racket.  The title is so perfect, instructions really aren't necessary.  You fling the yellow-ball hero, and smash him into things.

This game reminds me so much of classic games like Breakout and Arkanoid, but also Kurururinpa on the Gameboy Advance, one of those quirky games that never left Japan.  There once was a time when Japanese videogames were synonymous with the quirky and the surreal.  These were the sort of games we'd read about in the pages of Diehard Gamefan, knowing they would never be released in America.  We just got an endless supply of mindless shooters.

I'm also reminded a lot of Sonic the Hedgehog on the Genesis, and that may betray the hand of Naoto Oshima, who's most famous for Sonic 1 and Sonic CD.  His company, Artoon, is responsible for Flingsmash, and it promises to be the most notable title in their recent history.  Oshima-san hasn't had a hit in so many years, and in this retro-minded mood of 2010, his time may have come.

This is a surprising game and could definitely become a sleeper hit on the Wii.  It was originally scheduled for an August release, but has been pushed back to the holiday season.  Let's hope it won't be quickly forgotten among the other blockbusters.  Artoon promises Motion+ support and two-player simultaneous action.  Keep your eyes peeled for this one.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Just Dance and the Michael Jackson Dance Game

I think if there is any one video game from E3 that has the potential for blockbuster status, it's the Michael Jackson dance game. Ubisoft is developing the title, with the blessings of the Jackson estate, thanks to their success with Just Dance.

I can't think of a stronger example of Sean Malstrom's theories of disruption and the Expanded Audience than Just Dance. It was instantly reviled by the hardcore gaming press, and subjected to some of the harshest reviews, when not ignored completely. The published magazines still won't touch it; they don't want the terrible stench of "casual" gamers to invade their precious space.

Despite this rejection, Just Dance found its audience the old fashioned way, by word of mouth. It was simple, easy to grasp, like anyone could try it. Dancing in public is always an intimidating prospect, and this game managed to break the ice admirably. It was fun, especially in groups. There are combos and high scores, but this is not about dominance and power, but cooperation and social play.

Arcade games competed fiercely against one another for gamers' scarce quarters, so they needed something to stand out from the pack. What's needed is a strong hook, and very often this requires a new idea. Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros - each of these classics were very different from their peers, they offered compelling gameplay, they were easy to understand (these were iconic games), they rewarded creativity, they were social games played with your friends.

I believe those are the essential qualities of a truly great video game. Those qualities have largely been abandoned in the Playstation/Xbox era, so perhaps it seems strange that all these "non gamers" would invade the nerds' turf to play Wii Sports and Wii Fit and Just Dance. But this was precisely what video games were like 30 years ago.

Anyway, I hope I'm not rambling, because we're touching on a number of different topics. The bottom line is that Just Dance perfectly captures the values of the Expanded Audience and is one of the Wii's greatest titles. I'd even say it's the best game in the entire library, after Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort and Super Mario Bros 5. And I believe the millions of Just Dance fans would happily agree with me. The people themselves have turned this game into a spectacular hit, bypassing the hardcore gamers and their media gatekeepers in the process.

If you're a believer in Malstrom's theories, then you should be cheering Ubisoft. Just Dance has ushered in a new wave of dancing games, and you want them to succeed. And now comes the chance to take this emerging Expanded genre and create a blockbuster - Michael Jackson. Every one of us who spent an evening with Just Dance has said the same thing: "You have got to make a Michael Jackson dance game. Make it exactly like this!"

Here is a license to print money. If done correctly....that is, if Ubisoft understands why Just Dance became a hit, and if they ignore the tantrums of the hardcore set, and if they present a game that is accessible to all, regardless of age or skill....the Michael Jackson game will become a global sensation.

Above all else, what Ubisoft must recognize is that the Dance Game is, by definition, an Expanded Audience genre. If they look at Microsoft and Sony, and see that they are now getting into motion controls, and then decide to make a "hardcore gamers" game...they will fail. If they remember the values of classic arcade games, the values of Just Dance, they will succeed beyond their dreams. They shall rise to heaven, or sink into hell. No pressure at all.

Microsoft's Albatross

The more I read about Microsoft's Kinect, the worse it sounds.  The buzz on NeoGAF is absolutely toxic, and the meme is now out - the damned thing doesn't work when you're seated.  This isn't a software issue, and it isn't a bug that can be easily fixed.  This is a fundamental failure of the camera technology itself.  And Microsoft has known about this problem for years.

Developers have been told not to create games that involve sitting, and this is a key piece of information.  Many voices within the development community have been quietly complaining, to bloggers, and to magazines such as Edge.  And this is already raising more questions about the software lineup.  At first, we had assumed Kinect was being overloaded with Wii Sports and Wii Fit clones because Microsoft wanted to copy Nintendo's success with "casual gamers."  But now?  Perhaps the reason there was no Halo Kinect is because it's simply not possible.

The Forza racing demo is rather telling.  Despite the pedigree name of an established Xbox racing brand, this new title removes nearly all control from the player.  Acceleration is automatic.  Braking is automatic.  Shifting gears is automatic.  All you can do is steer, your hands invisibly poised at 10 and 2 o'clock.  Why is this done?  Are these control options - standard in all racing games since the 1970s - simply not possible?  Can the Kinect not even do this much?

And just what is supposed to happen when your legs are tired and you want to sit down?  What's going to happen when the casual family discovers their brand-new $400 Kinect falls apart the second you hit the couch?  This stupid box can't even read your hand movements when you want to use DVD controls.  Even for this, you have to stand.

What exactly is the point to this machine?  What's the game plan, Microsoft?  The company spent untold millions of dollars, and years of research, and for what?  To play Wii Sports four years after Wii Sports?  Is there nothing else?  What if the Kinect can't do anything else? 

These are the basic, fundamental questions that Microsoft needed to address at E3.  They did not.  Instead, they tried to conceal a potentially catastrophic design flaw with no explanation how this was possible, or how it will be fixed.  Instead, we've been given evasions and spin.  But Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat.  People are going to discover one way or another.

The more I think about Kinetic, the angrier I get.  Families are being asked to pay a premium on a product that simply doesn't work.  Instead, they will get an enormously expensive camera that can play exactly three kinds of games the very same games that Nintendo has mastered on the Wii years ago.  A $200 Wii, packed with Wii Sports Resort, versus a $400 Microsoft Kinetic?  Is this some kind of a sick joke?

The final question for Microsoft will be the most foreboding: Exactly what will be the fallout if this machine fails?  How will the company investors respond to a massive failure?  Analysts are projecting three million Kinetics will be shipped to retailers this year.  That is a deluded fantasy.  Kinect is going to crash and the consequences will be severe.

I think we now must consider the possibility of Microsoft exiting the video game market.  Investors are unhappy, the company consumer division has hemmoraged billions, and they want out.  Will Kinect be the straw that breaks the camel's back?  I think that's a question we need to honestly discuss.

Donkey Kong Country 4 - The First Level

I can't tell you how thrilled I am about Donkey Kong Country 4.  This is going to be Nintendo's next smash hit.  This video from the floor at E3 shows the first level, and reveals many new gameplay elements.  I'm glad to see that the Super NES Donkey Kong won't simply be repeated.  In fact, this new game looks much better, much deeper.  There's more of a Mario influence in discovering secrets, and there are some terrific surprises such as a pirate ship and a whale.

With this season's lineup, Nintendo is in a strong position to bring the hardcore gamers back into the fold.  NBA Jam, GoldenEye, Kirby, Epic Mickey, and Donkey Kong Country - the Wii has matured into the true successor to the Super Nintendo.   Speaking of which, this brings up an interesting idea....

Retro Studios has enormous street cred for their Metroid Prime Trilogy, and they have experience in 2D game design with Metroid Prime Pinball on the Nintendo DS.  Many classic gamers like me are hoping and praying that Retro will be given the green light to create a new 2D Super Metroid.  For the old school crowd, Sakamoto's Metroid: Other M is nothing less than an abomination.  The buzz from the show has been tepid at best; hostile at worst.  It's not going to be a hit.

If and when Other M fails at retail, Retro is perfectly positioned to benefit.  They have the experience with the series, and they have Donkey Kong Country on their belt.  So please, Nintendo, give Retro the Metroid series and return it to its proper place - glorious 2D.

Friday, June 18, 2010

E3 - The Konami Conference

Konami's E3 press conference is the most stunning, bizarre, surrealist spectacles you'll ever see.  It seems perfectly fitting for this year's show, like some drunken party on the deck of the Titanic.  It has become an instant legend on the NeoGAF forums, with over 10,000 posts and 200 pages.

You can watch the entire show here.  A description from NeoGAF:

Imagine if Konami, the multi-million dollar company from Japan who have produced some of the gaming industry's most beloved franchises, held a conference that feels like a really bad high school play. Then, add in error messages, trailers that didn't start playing, an incredible fail of a website, crazy hilarious Japanese people, EXTREEMEEEE REAL DANCING, several entirely too-big-for-your-body suits, accidental swearing, a weigh-in of three wrestlers who started bitch-slapping each other, a speaker showing championship belt upside-down, a high school choir doing a complete version of Queen's Somebody to Love including ass-grabbing, a sudden ABC news broadcast, Oprah, constant sound problems, a live decapitation, star-censored loli boobs, creepy serial killer guys, several speakers who were bored out of their fucking minds, an audience that was simply too shocked to applaud, and what appears to be the effect of multiple top-secret Konami-sponsored drugs.

All of this looped through the entire day and night. Current theory is that Konami tried to shut it down, but weren't able to contain the awesomeness that was the infinite Konami Circus time-loop.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Microsoft Kinect Doesn't Work - "Sitting is Something We're Still Calibrating For"

The bombshell revelation of the 2010 E3 expo: Microsoft's Kinect cannot work when the player is seated.  Its cameras can only detect a person who is standing.  This news has been confirmed by multiple press sources, as well as inside accounts from software developers, who have been privately instructed by Microsoft to only make "standing" games.

This screenshot comes from Kinect's E3 presentation, the only where Microsoft greeted attendees with a free Xbox 360 (a shameless bit of bribery for the gaming press).  But you won't be able to play games this way.  You won't be able to sit down at all.

IGN first broke the story last night, but the news was quickly disappeared and replaced with a friendlier, and strangely non-committal, piece of PR.  The same story was later revealed by Endgadget, who confirmed that none of the E3 Kinect demos will work when seated.  And it also confirmed in a lengthy article on Kotaku:

One developer with whom I spoke and who is familiar with how Microsoft is briefing studios making games for Kinect said the company has specifically advised developers to not make games that would involve the player's sitting down.

None of the games shown for Kinect at a showcase early in the week were set up for sitting. Kinectimals, a cute take on Nintendogs-style games, but with tiger cubs, was presented as a player-stand-here demo. That's logical, because the game involves walking up to the animal and then jumping or running or doing some other action you want the animal to replicate. The game's lead creator, Frontier Design's David Braben shrugged when I asked him if the game could be played sitting down. He guessed some of it might work, but it didn't sound like he'd tried, possibly because it was irrelevant to his game design.

You might have expected a seated Kinect experience from the Forza Motorsport team. Those folks are making Kinect driving games and tech demos. They've got a fun highway driving challenge that involves standing in front of the Kinect and steering by holding your hands in front of your body as if you were turning a real steering wheel. The perspective for this game experiment is inside the car, through the eyes of a driver. Rolling your shoulders in front of Kinect turns the game's camera view slightly, letting you look around inside the car. Your lower body is not used — no foot-forward-to-accelerate as was seen in a similar demonstration last year with racing game Burnout. Nevertheless, you have to play this one standing up if you are playing it at E3.

I asked one of the two members of Forza development studio Turn 10 if I could play their demo sitting down. They said I could not, that it was "optimized for standing."

The thought that prompted me to start asking the "sitting question" to so many Kinect-connected game developers and executives at E3 was that the Kinect's sensor can't clearly read a human skeleton if a person is seated. Some developers with whom I was theorizing about this guessed that the Kinect would become confused by the bent knees of a seated gamer — that it would need a player to always return to a resting position that has all their joints on one flat plane, which is the case when you are standing, not when you are sitting. No Kinect developer could or would get that specific with me, so I'm left to guess.

If I know how trade shows like CES and E3 work, this rumor has spread like wildfire.  It will be the topic of every private discussion among the gaming press and software developers.  And now you know why Microsoft handed out free Xbox 360s at its press conference.

Here is IGN's original report, before they scrubbed it from their website (thanks to NeoGAF):

Right now, Kinect only works when you stand. This includes menu navigation. All the cool options to grab a slider and advance through frames of a movie you are watching only work when you are on your feet. Kinect, we've been told, has problems handling your skeletal frame while sitting. The voice commands still work, but every game we've seen and even simple menu navigation have to be done with you out of your seat. That's not exactly how I want to watch my movies. If the focus for Kinect is creating games like Dance Central that naturally would require you to be off your couch, that's great. But I have to say, no one thinks "I am driving a car!" while standing up in their living room.

I am convinced that, after Nintendo's stellar performance, this is the biggest news event of E3.  Microsoft spent millions and years of development on Kinetic.  This is not some minor peripheral, but the console's major thrust against Sony and Nintendo - XBox 360 Part 2.  A spectacular failure, brought upon by shoddy and ineffective hardware, would be a devestating blow for the company.  This is huge.

E3 - NBA Jam on Nintendo Wii

It's NBA Jam, bigger and badder than ever, and exclusively on Nintendo Wii this fall.  This is easily one of the best video games of the year.  But you already knew that, didn't you?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Microsoft's Kinect Malfunctions When Players Are Seated, Only Works When Standing

Oh, good grief.  I can't imagine this actually being true.  Then again....these are the brains behind Windows.  And developers have been privately complaining about this issue for months.

Kinect is going to be a disaster.  I'm already getting visions of New Coke.

E3 - Wii Party

Wii Party is the latest installment in Nintendo's flagship Wii series, and fans of Mario Party should be thrilled, because it's very, very similar.  Heavens knows there are far too many party mini-games on the Wii, but this series has been outstanding from start to finish, and I expect nothing less from Nintendo.

There seems to be a strong emphasis on novel uses for the Wiimote, and that's a relief to see in 2010, when it seems as though the Wiimote's possibilities have been exhausted.  I expect Wii Party to deliver a few surprises, and keep me more physically engaged that I otherwise would be with Mario Party.  I also strongly suspect this game will be even better with shot glasses passed around...hehe hehe.... This could be the drinking game of the year.  Or it could wind up being a dud.  You never know about these things.

I was contemplating what it was about the Wii series (Wii Sports, Play, Fit, and Music) that I enjoy so much.  Then the realization hit me - these are Atari 2600 games.  No doubt that's something that more hardcore gamers would sneer at, and goodness knows these are the Nintendo games they love to hate, but it's that classic and iconic approach that attracts me.  I miss Atari games.  I really enjoy multiplayer arcade games.  And I'm so very tired of first-person-shooters.

Anyway, here are the only two Wii Party videos I could find on Youtube.  There aren't any gameplay videos yet, and there probably won't be.  The hardcore gamers have their attention directed elsewhere.  Don't let that bother you.  If the prozines slag on a Nintendo Wii game, that usually means it's good.  Let's hope for some really nasty reviews.

E3 - Sony Just Bores Me to Tears

Sony's performance at this year's E3 isn't nearly as dreadful as Microsoft, what with the elephant circus and the Kinetic and the shameless bribery of free Xbox 360s to the videogame press.  The best I can say is that Sony left me feeling bored and indifferent.

I really don't know what Sony's plan is, to be honest.  Like Microsoft, they have a larger agenda, and video games are only but a gateway drug.  Sony's scheme is to get us to buy expensive 3D televisions.  Good luck on that.  But they also want to chase after Nintendo, and the Wii's Expanded Audience.  This leads in the opposite direction, away from heavy technology and towards classic arcade games.  Doing so, however, risks the wrath of the "hardcore" gamers who support the Playstation 3, the same crowd who booed and sneered at Wiimotes for the last four years.

And so, Sony appears indecisive, overly cautious.  The Move is scheduled for a September release, but I still know next to nothing about the software lineup.  I'm still trying to find gameplay videos, trailers, or descriptions.  The only thing I've seen so far is...sigh...yet another rediculous ripoff of Wii Sports, and promises of the same exercise and dancing titles as Microsoft.

What is the point to the Move, really?  Controllers cost $50 each, which is good.  A package for existing PS3 owners is $99.  But the complete package, which includes the PS3 itself, costs $400, double the price of a Nintendo Wii.  So just who is the audience here?  Perhaps this explains the emphasis on Move controls for existing hardcore PS3 titles.  Those core fans are the only ones who are likely to afford the device.

Does Sony and Microsoft really expect families to spend $400 on their consoles?  Really?  I hate to sound like a broken record on this, but this is not how you break into Nintendo's turf.  This is a recipe for disaster.  And the games...ugh.  These guys don't have a clue how to make arcade games.  They're not interested in videogames, anyway - this industry wants to make movies and sell $2,000 3D televisions with $100 nerd glasses.

Meanwhile, Nintendo just unveiled a 3D handheld that doesn't require glasses and will likely sell for $200 or less.  That's the sound of an iceberg striking the hull of the Titanic, kids.  A FAIL for Sony at E3 2010.

E3 - GoldenEye Returns to Nintendo Wii

Now this will get the fanboys to show up in droves.  If Activision manages to capture the feel of Rare's N64 classic, then this game will be a smash hit.  Nintendo's grestest trade show presentation in living memory continues.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

E3 - Here's the Just Dance 2 Trailer

Just Dance - hardcore gamers despise it, everybody else loves it.  Thanks to a brilliant online viral and word-of-mouth campaign, Ubisoft's groundbreaking dance title became the surprise hit of the past year.  And now it's become the newest video game fad, judging by the arrival of dancing games for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.  And that doesn't even count the four new titles from Ubisoft alone.

Listen to the fans and ignore the haters, kids.  Just Dance is one of the Nintendo Wii's greatest games.  Now here's the eagerly-awaited sequel.  Just Dance 2 promises 40+ new songs, even more colorful and crazy costumes, a few more goofy Austin Powers riffs, and a wealth of new gameplay modes:

- Dancing Duets
- Just Sweat Mode
- Dance Crew Face-Offs
- Up to 8 Players

Just Dance 2 will be exclusive to Nintendo Wii, and is scheduled for a November release.  Expect Ubisoft to continue their path to world domination.  And expect the hardcore gamer press to continue to spazz out.

E3 - Kirby's Epic Yarn on Nintendo Wii

Nintendo is firing on all cylinders at today's E3 presentation.  Kirby returns to 2D platforming in spectacular visual style.  Kirby's Epic Yarn serves to prove, once again, why 2D video games are as relevant and inspiring as ever.  Nintendo has done more to preserve classic arcade games than anyone in this business - and that's precisely why they now dominate the market.

I can't wait to see the new Kirby in action.  This is going to be sensational.

E3 - Donkey Kong Country Returns on Nintendo Wii

This is one of the biggest surprises from Nintendo's presentation - Donkey Kong Country is back!  It looks like we have this year's New Super Mario Bros.  Retro Studios (of Metroid Prime fame) is responsible for the game, and they are determined to recapture the style of the Super Nintendo series.  It looks terrific, slightly rough around the edges, but I'm sure a final coat of gloss paint will make everything perfect.  That, and a cool red cover just like Super Mario Bros.

Nintendo is going to have a spectacular Christmas this year.  Donkey Kong, Wii Party, NBA Jam, GoldenEye, Just Dance 2....very impressive indeed.

E3 - Animal Crossing on Nintendo 3DS

Animal Crossing was my all-time favorite game on Nintendo DS, but even I have to admit the formula has become listless and stale.  The upcoming 3DS version promises new features and all-new graphics, so I'm hopeful that this simply isn't the exact same game recycled for the fourth time.

This time, you are the mayor of your town, and this may set up some interesting scenarios.  Hopefully, there are some new activities and new kinds of items and homes to collect.  The characters appear taller, and the layout.  Colors are lush and detailed and look wonderful.  This is another 3DS game I'll be watching closely.  I'm crossing my fingers and hoping for the best.

E3 - Pilotwings Resort on Nintendo 3DS

When I heard Nintendo had brought back Pilotwings for the 3DS, I wasn't sure what to expect.  To my pleasant surprise, this new installment is based heavily on the airplane portion of Wii Sports Resort.  Yeah!

The original SNES Pilotwings was a lot of fun at the time.  Pilotwings 64 was less enjoyable, but it did have a canyon drop in a hang glider that was spectacular.  Pilotwings Resort promises to perfect the formula.  This is a key title to watch.

Nintendo Reveals the 3DS - Let the Hype Begin

Nintendo revealed their eagerly-anticipated 3DS handheld today at E3.  This is the star of the show, surpassing even Microsoft's and Sony's new motion controllers, and it's looking very, very nice.  Nintendo promised a strong lineup of titles, including new sequels to Nintendogs, Pilotwings and Kid Icarus, and nearly all the major third-party players are on board.

Like most gamers, I'm excited and giddy at the sight of a new video game system, particularily one that promises cool new technology, in this case, 3D.

Thinking more rationally, I'm feeling a bit more ambivalent about Nintendo's new handheld.  It feels conservative, like Malibu Stacy with a new hat.  It looks almost identical to the existing DS models, only with a 3D display, analog controller, and two cameras for snapping 3D photos.  I'm sure the technology is an improvement as well, but it's in keeping with Nintendo's gameplay-over-graphics philosophy that titles like Kid Icarus looks like a Gamecube title.

I'm looking forward to seeing more details on the games and how they play, but what strikes out at me is that there is no original content.  Everything is a sequel to a sequel to a sequel.  Animal Crossing, Mario Kart, Pilotwings, Star Fox, Nintendogs, Paper Mario, and Kid Icarus, which seems to be the star title of the lineup.  Third-party titles are, likewise, more of the same games we played over a decade ago.  Yet another Metal Gear Solid, yet another Ridge Racer, yet another Namco Museum, yet another Resident Evil, yet another Sims.

I feel like it's 1990, and Atari Corp is still selling Asteroids and Ms. Pac-Man and Robotron and Xevious.  I'm tired of being asked to play the exact same games over and over again, with no discernable differences.  I want new games....remember new games?  Remember when video games were driven by innovation?

Where is the 3DS' Wii Sports?  Where is the must-play hit game that shows me that 3D is the future?  I'll be the skeptic here, if only for the sake of argument.  I think "3D" is a gimmick, a cheap trick to make us pay double for the same rides at the amusement park.  I had a Viewmaster when I was five years old, and it was impressive then.  I'm not so easily impressed now.

3DS needs some killer apps.  It needs some new games and new ideas.  The original DS handheld was amazingly inventive.  It really was a risky move, and it paid off handsomely.  Now it just seems like Nintendo is playing it safe, protecting the franchise.  The novelty of "Viewmaster 3D" will wear off, as all novelties do.  It's our nature as a primate species.  What lies underneath will determine the system's future.

Nintendo is expected to release the 3DS by March 2011.  Let's hope they have the big hits.

Just Dance 2 Coming in November

Just announced an hour ago at Nintendo's E3 presentation, which is superb.  Just Dance 2, 40 new songs, coming this November and exclusively for Nintendo Wii.  Track listings haven't been revealed yet, but expect Ubisoft to provide the details as soon as possible.

Nintendo was wickedly smart to recognize the strongest 3rd party game in their library.  Just Dance is a spectacular smash hit, and by embracing Ubisoft on their main stage, they are encouraging more of the same.  See, development community?  This is how you make a Nintendo Wii game for the expanded audience.  Ignore the disgruntled "hardcore" fanboys.  Their time has passed, and the video arcades have returned.  This game will single-handedly bury Microsoft's and Sony's motion controllers.

Please don't change a thing, Ubisoft.  We just want more songs, more humor, more goofiness, more intense workouts.  Oh, and Marcee is asking for Vanilla Ice.  I'm asking for Devo.

Microsoft's Epic Fail

Microsoft's heavily anticipated E3 show is a disaster.  As always, I am more than willing to give the Natal - now officially named the "Kinect" - the benefit of the doubt.  But everything I see so far leaves me with two simple words: Epic Fail.  The name is a joke.  The price, if early announcements by retailers are to be believed, is outrageous.  Nearly all of the launch games are shameless ripoffs of Nintendo's Wii Sports and Wii Fit, and Ubisoft's Just Dance.  Not one of these games is a hit.

Not one game has a hook.  There's no immediate "wow" factor, nothing that immediately grabs your attention and makes you want to play.  This is the essential trait to all classic video arcade games, and Nintendo's games have it in spades.  Kinect only offers cheap knockoffs.  It reeks of desperation and it shows.

If there are some real games for this Kinect, then Microsoft had better show them on Tuesday.  And they had better allow attendees to play for themselves.  Have you noticed that the on-stage demonstration was faked?  Milli Vanilli for the year 2010.  Microsoft spent how much on this thing?  And they expect to sell it for a $150 - in addition to the Xbox 360?!  They seriously expect us to pay that much?!  This is the biggest laugh to come along since The Gong Show.

For a long while, I've expected to see Sony bow out of the video games market, due to their enormous losses with the Playstation 3, the disastrous PSP Go, and the overall collapsing of the hardcore gamer market (all those PS2 owners seem to have disappeared).  And we still haven't brought up the outrageous production costs of modern game titles, which continue to skyrocket year after year without drawing in new customers.  This is a doomed business model, and Nintendo was right all along to face that unpleasant fact.

But now, I'm beginning to wonder if Microsoft is also vulnerable.  Just how much money has the company sunk into its Xbox enterprise over the years?  How much has been thrown away on the Natal project?  And how much money will be burned away if it fails at retail?  We're in the worst economy since the Great Depression.  No family is going to spend $400 to play Wii Sports.

What the Kinect needs are hits.  It needs a killer app.  What it offers is the worst video game lineup since...well, ever.  Like I said, it's still too early to make the call.  But this may be the worst.  Heck, even the Atari Jaguar had Tempest 2000.  Epic fail.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Atari Box Art - Star Ship

One of the original 1977 launch games for the Atari 2600 VCS, Star Ship quickly faded and disappeared, but I always thought it was a pretty good game.  The lunar lander game, especially, kept me entertained as a kid.  Of course, it can't hold a candle to the Atari arcade game, Starship 1, which features spectacular scaling effects.  That's probably why this title was pushed aside.  Oh, well.  At least the illustration is fantastic, and you can't take that away.  Why can't games today look like this?

Atari Box Art - Star Raiders

I'm a great fan of Atari's illustrations for their video and computer games from their golden age.  I really wish Atari Interactive or the original artists would sell poster-sized prints, because this is some spectacular artwork.

And Star Raiders....wow....Star Raiders.  It's impossible to explain to a younger generation just how astounding and groundbreaking this was when it was released.  It was the greatest and most sophisticated video game ever made, far more complex and rich than anything we had ever seen.  It's almost enough to make me want to hunt down an Atari 800 computer from Ebay to play the cartridge again.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Problem is You

The biggest taboo for any American politician is to demand responsibility from the people themselves.  This is a nation of five-year-old crybabies.  They see their Presidents as all-powerful Daddies who are expected to magically solve everything, instantly and without any sacrifice.  "Daddy!  Gulf bwoke!  Fix it!!"

The last elected leader in this country who demanded responsible, grownup behavior from the crybabies was Jimmy Carter.  He told you to stop consuming oil, stop worshipping materialism, and put on a sweater.  And for that, he was practically tarred and feathered.

The crybabies want all their problems solved, but God help you if you ask them to take responsibility for it.  Whaah!! Whaah!!  I want my toy!!

You wanna do something about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?  You wanna save the arctic ice and stop global warming?  Then stop consuming, stop wasting, stop polluting.  Give up your cars.  Give up your a/c units.  Give up your big-screen tv's.  Give up your red meat.

Fat chance on that.  The crybabies won't budge an inch, which means nothing will change, absolutely nothing.  And your children and grandchildren will suffer and die as a result.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Michelangelo and God's Brain

Now this is just about the coolest thing ever.  20 years ago, physician Frank Meshberger published a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association which argued that Michelangelo's depiction of God in the Sistine Chapel - "The Creation of Adam" - was actually the human brain.  Was this, in fact, true?  Was the form of the brain subversively concealed?

Now another discovery has been made, by Ian Suk and Rafael Tamargo in the May 2010 issue of the scientific journal Neurosurgery.  They argue that the image of God in another panel, "The Separation of Light from Darkness", conceals an anatomically perfect rendition of the human brain and brain stem:

Art critics and historians have long puzzled over the odd anatomical irregularities in Michelangelo’s depiction of God’s neck in this panel, and by the discordant lighting in the region. The figures in the fresco are illuminated diagonally from the lower left, but God’s neck, highlighted as if in a spotlight, is illuminated straight-on and slightly from the right. How does one reconcile such clumsiness by the world’s master of human anatomy and skilled portrayer of light with bungling the image of God above the altar? Suk and Tamargo propose that the hideous goiter-disfigured neck of God is not a mistake, but rather a hidden message. They argue that nowhere else in any of the other figures did Michelangelo foul up his anatomically correct rendering of the human neck.  They show that if one superimposes a detail of God’s odd lumpy neck in the Separation of Light and Darkness on a photograph of the human brain as seen from below, the lines of God’s neck trace precisely the features of the human brain.

Michelangelo was one of the greatest geniuses of the Renaissance, a master of anatomy and light.  What subversive message was he trying to impart?  What was his secret agenda?  Remember that study of human anatomy was forbidden by the Catholic Church at this time; there was also the matter of Copernicus' assertion that the Earth revolves around the Sun, and the Protestant Reformation was in full swing.  And Michaelangelo himself had an increasingly rocky relationship with the Church as he grew older.

It's exciting to think that, 500 years later, we may finally be unravelling Michelangelo's great subversive mystery.  And it will no doubt fuel debate over God and the brain - the mystics and the atheists will both see their beliefs confirmed in these paintings.