Thursday, September 28, 2006

Longest. Blog. Entry. Ever.

I'm coming to you live from Barcelona, Spain (I wish), giving you the latest and greatest from X06, Microsoft's annual gaming event that's like E3 but for the Xbox 360. There's enough news coming out of Spain to choke a matador, so here are the bullet points on a busy past few days.

Hobbit Love - A partnership was announced between Academy Award-winning writer, director and producer Peter Jackson, Academy Award-winning screenwriter Fran Walsh (I just love to write the phrase Academy Award-winning), and Microsoft Game Studios will create two new interactive entertainment series exclusively for Xbox 360 and Xbox Live. The first series will be a collaborative effort with Bungie Studios to co-create the next chapter in the Halo universe. The second series will be an entirely original property targeted at bringing new audiences into the world of interactive entertainment. (What does that mean? I don't know.) In addition, Microsoft Game Studios will partner with Jackson and Walsh to establish Wingnut Interactive, a studio dedicated to the creation of interactive entertainment.

Not enough Halo - Halo Wars is an all-new real-time strategy game based on the world of Halo and designed exclusively for Xbox 360 by Ensemble Studios, creators of the Age of Empires franchise.

Rockin' and Rollin - Rockstar and Take-Two announced they will provide Xbox 360 gamers with exclusive access to two downloadable, episodes of Grand Theft Auto IV via Xbox Live, each with hours of new gameplay and available only on Xbox 360 just months after the release of the title.

Ubiwhat? - Ubisoft confirmed that the next Splinter Cell title, the next installment in the series after Splinter Cell Double Agent, will be a console-exclusive on Xbox 360.

The Shocker - 2K Games confirmed that BioShock will be released exclusively on Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows next spring. I'm beginning to sense a theme here.

I wanna go fast! - Project Gotham Racing 4, the racing franchise from Bizarre Creations, was unveiled. Unfortunatly little details were given on a release date or vehicles for the car. It will only be on the 360.

My son will be happy about this - The Banjo-Kazooie franchise will join the 360 parade of games as an Xbox 360 exclusive from developer Rare.

Excelsior! - Microsoft Game Studios announced its new massively multiplayer online game, Marvel Universe Online for Xbox 360 and Windows Vista operating system. Its being developed by Cryptic Studios, creators of City of Heroes.

Arcade Me - Two additions to Xbox Live Arcade were announced: the first-person shooter that pioneered the network-gaming era, DOOM (800 Microsoft points) from developer id Software and Activision, was available starting yesterday for download via Xbox Live Arcade. The game includes the original four-episode, single-player game, four-player split screen (cooperative and deathmatch) and four-player cooperative and deathmatch over Xbox Live. Also coming to Xbox Live Arcade soon is Sensible World of Soccer from Codemasters, based on the 1994 Amiga title. But where the hell is Cyberball?!?

Creed, the game not the band - Microsoft and Ubisoft confirmed that Assassins Creed, the eagerly anticipated action title set in medieval times, is also coming to Xbox 360. It will be released in 2007.

I want my HD DVD! - Arriving at retailers in North America, the U.K, France and Germany in mid-November 2006 (Why not Japan I wonder?), the Xbox 360 HD DVD Player will retail for $199.99 in North America and £129.99 in the U.K., France and Germany. The Xbox 360 HD DVD Player comes with Peter Jackson's King Kong (Surprise!) on HD DVD for a limited time and with an Xbox 360 Universal Media Remote.

PC gamers need love too - Windows Vista will be getting Halo 2, playable with mouse and keyboard or an Xbox 360 controller. The game comes with a map editor, allows for PC to 360 gaming connectivity and allows gamers to earn Xbox 360 Achievement Points (How? Once again, I don't know.). It'll be available first quarter of 2007.

Air Guitar - Guitar Hero will be coming to the Xbox 360. I don't know when, I just know it is.

Tons of videos and trailers (including a very cool one for Halo Wars) are viewable at

But wait, there's more!

Calling all field generals - Think you're a Madden stud? Prove it in the Xbox Live Madden 07 tournament. Any Xbox Live Gold member (Ha! I said Goldmember!) ages 13 and older are free to enter. Head to this link, to get signed up. Deadline is October 10th. The first round of play starts October 14th.

And finally - EA announced yesterday that Madden 07 and Need for Speed Carbon will available on the Nintendo Wii's launch date...A FIFA 07 demo will be available for download early in October, the game comes out in late October.

Whew! Okay, I'm toast. I feel like I just ran a marthon. I need a gatorade, two hot pockets and to get the hell away from this computer monitor for a few days. Peace out!

Monday, September 25, 2006

I can see clearly now

Do you remember the Sony Eye Toy? I used to have one. I never used it but my kids sure enjoyed it. Nice gimmick. It got my kids into some fun high energy games and they liked seeing themselves on TV.

The Xbox Live Vision camera is not the Eye Toy. Oh sure, at first glance they seem identical but the purpose of Vision is specifically for online play, something Sony has always sucked at. Seeing other gamers as you play poker (not available yet but sometime soon), UNO, or a bunch of other card games is something adult gamers will do, not kids. Which is perfectly fine with me.

Last Friday I picked up my Vision camera, which came with a free UNO download and headset for $40. A pretty good deal if you ask me, especially considering that when the Eye Toy first came out it was $100. After plugging it into my USB port, I was instantly ready for action. I sent a family picture to my brother and started playing UNO with a bunch of other gamers online, most of whom had Vision cameras as well. Here's the good and the bad things I've discovered so far.

The Good
Less trash talking. The best part about playing people online who you don't know, but can see, is that all of the trash talking seems to vanish. Pretty much everybody is polite. Its kind of hard to curse at someone when they're staring right at you. Imagine how much less crap you'd have to listen to in Halo if you could see some of these jerks who do nothing but throw insults at everybody. It also sort of requires you to talk to other gamers. Would you sit around a table and just ignore the person across from you? I doubt it. Connecting with other gamers is always a good thing.

Video Chat. I've only heard of video chats for businesses and the occasional NFL Network training camp cam, I've never done one before. But when I quickly linked with my brother (see the grainy photo I took with my cell phone above) I was happier than Roseanne Barr at an all you can eat buffet. I showed him my old school John Elway jersey I just bought and my daughter's hockey player grin after she had two teeth fall out. My son was then kind enough to take my Master Chief and Snake action figures and perform a puppet show for him. It was hilarious.

The Bad
Now what? Okay, so I can video chat with my brother. Cool. I can play UNO and a few other games online and see my opponent. Also cool. But what else can I do with this camera? At some point I'm supposed to be able to put my face into games. This sounds great. I've always wanted my mug in my Madden created player instead of a shadow. But right now there aren't any games available to do this with. I just hope Microsoft has plans to use the camera properly. If done right, it could really be something gamers want. Hopefully, it won't fall into gaming oblivion like the Eye Toy did - just another camera with untapped potential.

Its not for everyone. I know some gamers who love racing wheels. I personally can't stand them. Just like all video games aren't for everyone, neither is the Vision camera. While I enjoy playing against other gamers online who also have the camera, I wouldn't have bought it if my brother didn't get one as well. Who would I video chat with? Who would I send pictures to? I have quite a few friends on Xbox Live. But like most people, I don't really know many of them. With my brother its different. So if you don't have a friend or two that you don't get to see very often but keep in touch with frequently, you don't really need the camera.

So do I get it or what?
If you have someone you can use this with right away or are really into seeing other gamers during online play, sure. The $40 price point might be attractive to the curious. But if you're looking for a camera that actually does something that enhances game play, I'd hold out for awhile. Wait and see if this is going to make a good gaming experience, great or if its just another gaming gimmick.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Mole: Blurry Vision

What's the deal? - When I received an email from one of my Microsoft contacts that the Xbox Live Vision camera was going to be released this past Tuesday, I was stoked. I've been looking forward to video chatting with my brother in Denver and sending him...humorous photos. Yet when I went to my favorite gaming store, nothing was available. I checked a couple of other places and found the same thing. It wasn't sold out, it just wasn't there. I didn't have time to follow up today but I emailed my contact at Microsoft this evening, I'll let you know what I find out.

The camera runs for a measly $40 and allows gamers to send photo messages, video chat in real time, customize gamer tags, and put their faces in supported games. There are also games that are compatible with Vision so that you can see your opponent...if you want to.

Hit Me With Your Best Shot - Yesterday Microsoft announced its Platinum Hits lineup for the Xbox 360. Starting October 15 Perfect Dark Zero, Kameo: Elements of Power, Need for Speed Most Wanted and Project Gotham Racing 3 will be available for $29.99.

The Platinum lineup was a big hit for Microsoft during the Xbox's reign, accounting for 16% of games sold. A second wave of Platinum Hits will be released in the Spring of 2007.

What? Did you hear that? That's the sound of the price difference between the PS3 and all other next-gen consoles growing ever so slightly.

Coffee? Tea? Controller? - Earlier today Electronic Arts announced a partnership with DTI Software, a company known as a leader in providing in-flight entertainment. That's right, some time soon you might be able to fly the friendly skies and kill time playing an EA title. Finally something to keep rowdy kids quiet on international flights!

The Sims 2 and some popular titles look to be the first to take off with DTI's 62 airline partners. When you can actually expect to see games in the air wasn't available.

And finally - The soundtrack for EA's Need for Speed Carbon, coming out November 1st has been released. Hope you see some tunes you like.

Dynamite MC -Bounce, Dynamite MC-After Party, Eagles Of Death Metal-Don’t Speak (I Came to Make A Bang!), Ekstrak feat. Know-1-Hard Drivers, Every Move A Picture- Signs Of Life, Gary Numan/Tubeway Army-Are ‘Friends’ Electric, Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five-Scorpio, Goldfrapp-Ride A White Horse (Serge Santiago Remix), Kyuss-Hurricane, Lady Sovereign-Luv Me Or Hate Me, Ladytron-Sugar (Jagz Kooner Remix), Ladytron-Fighting In Built Up Areas, melody-FEEL THE RUSH (Junkie XL Remix), Metro Riots-Thee Small Faces, Part 2 feat. Fallacy-One Of Dem Days (Remix), Pharrell feat. Lauren-Skateboard P Presents: Show You How To Hustle, Priestess-I Am The Night, Colour Me Black, Roots Manuva-No Love, Spank Rock-What It Look Like, Sway-Hype Boys, The Bronx-Around The Horn, The Presets-Steamworks, The Vacation-I’m No Good, Tiga-Good As Gold, Tigarah-Girl Fight (Mr. D Hyphy Mix), Tomas Andersson-Washing Up (Tiga Remix), Valient Thorr-Heatseeker, Vitalic-My Friend Dario, Wolfmother-Joker And The Thief, Yonderboi-People Always Talk About The Weather (Junkie XL Remix)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Top 5 Ways GTA is Better Than Saints Row

A couple of weeks ago I was fawning all over Saints Row like a teenager during his first trip to Hooters. But now that some time has passed, am I still enjoying the game. Absolutely. But I stick by something else I also said a couple of weeks ago, its not GTA.

I'm still enjoying Saints Row and it certainly will last longer than most games I play but it has flaws. Flaws that become more and more noticeable the longer you play. Some of those flaws are why the GTA franchise doesn't need to be looking over its shoulder any time soon.

Top 5 Ways GTA is Better Than Saints Row

1. Deeper storyline - While there certainly is a decent storyline in Saints Row, its more or less just an excuse to shoot people and blow stuff up. I don't really need excuses to do these things in games but if there is a plot, at least try and keep my interest. The GTA franchise does a great job of creating lead characters that are likable bad guys.

2. Wider variety of missions - The missions in Saints Row can get a little repetitive. Even though there is quite a variety, gamers more or less do three things: pick people/stuff up, drop people/stuff off, shoot people. Again, this isn't a bad thing but there are only so many ways to do them. The limited missions are mostly due to things you can do in GTA but not in Saints Row. In GTA you can go into buildings, there are a greater variety of vehicles to drive (helicopters, boats, motorcycles) and there are the very fun vigilante missions.

3. Better soundtrack - I'm not dogging the Saints Row soundtrack, its actually pretty good. But having tons of great songs from the 80's and 90's, like Vice City and San Andreas has, is almost impossible to beat.

4. Crazy innovation - Is Saints Row innovative at all? Aside from its mapping/waypoint sytem, no. Everything in the game is "borrowed" from GTA. I could list all of the great things the GTA franchise has come up with but it would take me all day. But Saints Row has nothing to be ashamed of because tons of other games have done the same thing. As the great Kevin Federline once said, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery". I think it was right after he started dating Britney Spears and tried to become the next Justin Timberlake.

5. Its just plain funnier - Outrageous radio DJ's, hilarious commericals for fake products, pedestrians who comment on your actions, guys cracking on each other - and those are just the things I thought of in the last 10 seconds. Sure Saints Row has all of those things but after seeing how well GTA has done humor, it just can't keep up. Its like listening to a guy who's naturally funny tell a joke and then his slightly less funny buddy repeats it right after him. Not nearly the same reaction.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

More Wii News...and some other stuff

Whoops! In my hurry to get out the latest news about the Wii, I left out a few details and made one error. Here's the skinny on the Wii and some other recent gaming news.

Taking a Wii - Remember how I said the Wii would have DVD playback? Scratch that, it won't. In a report from Wired News, Nintendo VP of Marketing Perrin Kaplan stated that Nintendo has dropped DVD playback to cut costs. Kaplan also stated that the console will support SD memory cards, meaning no hard drive. The cards run from $17-$65. There will not be a USB port on the console. The system comes with one Wii remote and one nunchuk controller. They will sell for $39.99 and $19.99 individually. Kaplan also noted that first party games will be region free, which means gamers can play games from Japan and Europe.

iPod gaming - Apple announced last week that some classic games are now available for download from iTunes. Cubis 2, Tetis, Texas Hold'Em, Bejeweled, Zuma, Mini-Golf, Mahjong and Pac-Man can be downloaded for $4.99. The games are designed to be played by using the iPod click wheel. Unfortunatley, its for fifth generations iPods only.

Cha-Ching! - Activision proudly announced last week that Call of Duty 2 sales have just gone over the one million mark. Deservedly so, its easily one of the best games on the 360. I'm anxiously awaiting the release of COD3 (and the reality show proceeding it) this fall.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Open Mouth, Insert Wii

Just when I say there's nothing interesting going on, something interesting happens.

Nintendo officially revealed details about the Wii's U.S. launch. The console will be released Sunday, November 19, just two days after that of the PlayStation 3. A console release on a Sunday? Doesn't make too much sense to me but whatever.

Nintendo has said it plans to ship 4 million Wii's worldwide by the end of 2006. The Wii will cost $250 (or more likely $249.99). Nintendo also confirmed that it will have more than 25 first- and third-party games available at launch, with 30 on shelves by the end of the year. First-party games will cost $50, the cost of third-party Wii games is unknown.

Nintendo has also announced that classic NES, SNES, and N64 games will be downloadable to the Wii's console and would range from $5 to $10, just like most Xbox Live Arcade games. Around 30 titles will be available at launch, including games from the Donkey Kong, Zelda, and Mario franchises, with a total of 60 arriving by the end of the year. The console will come with the Wii Sports compilation packed in the console.

After buying the Wii's Opera browser using prepaid Nintendo points, gamers will be able to surf the Web using the Wii-mote controller as a mouse. The Wii's has DVD playback abilities and the console will also have many multimedia functions, called "Wii channels." which include the Wii's weather channel, news channel, messaging services, and "Mii channel," which lets players create custom, cartoon-like avatars for use in games. The Wii will also let users upload and edit photos from SD memory cards and share them on the Web.

Sounds pretty good to me. Tons of similarities to some of what the Xbox 360 does well, I wonder how they'll work and look. The Wii also has a few creative ideas (web browsing, Wii channels) that sound really cool.

Update: PS3 News - Sony announced that only 500,000 PS3's will be available in the U.S. and Japan at launch with the PS3 European debut being pushed back to 2007. Of those 500K, 400K will be released in the U.S. November 17. Supposedly, 1-1.2 million units will be available in North America by the end of the year.

This is obviously great news for Microsoft and Nintendo.

How slow can you go?

Wow! This is the slowest week of gaming news that I can recall. How slow is it? I'm writing about how slow it is!

Normally I like to update the blog about three times a week but I haven't had anything good to report. And I'm sad to say, I still don't. Here are the past week's highlights. Spy Hunter has come out. NASCAR has come out. EA and 2K's hockey games have come out. Worst of all, Yakuza has come out. My review of it comes out next week but let me give you a hint - it sucks.

Let's just call it the calm before the storm. I'm referring to the Hurricane that will hit when the PS3 comes out in November of course. October is positively loaded - Splinter Cell: Double Agent, Battlefield 2142, Just Cause, Family Guy, Bully, FIFA 07, Reservoir Dogs, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance to name just a few - but will these titles be ignored due to the force of the Sony publicity machine that is sure to be in full swing that month? I guess we'll have to wait and see. To be honest, I'm kind of surprised I haven't seen anything about it already.

In the meantime, I guess I'll have to post more rants and top 5 lists.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Rant: Quick hits on the NFL's opening weekend

Check out Javon Walker in this Madden 07 screenshot. Is he blocking on a Tatum Bell scamper or trying to get to the guy who just picked off Jake Plummer for the 10th time? Probably the latter.

Speaking of foosball - Where the heck is the roster update for Madden on the 360? Isn't that what Xbox Live Marketplace is made for? I'm loving the graphics, particularly the player animations and the weather effects and the game play is great. But for crying out loud, I shouldn't have to trade Ron Dayne and Ashlie Lelie and make tons of other roster changes. EA should give gamers a roster update monthly. It should be free, but speaking for die-hard Madden gamers everywhere, I'd be willing to part with a couple of bucks for it.

TDU Second Impressions - A couple of weeks ago I mentioned how impressed I was with my PS2 beta of Test Drive Unlimited. So how does the Xbox 360 version compare? Not that well. Not to give too much away, since my review comes out next week, but the game has some glaring issues. The graphics (not really next-gen) and driving controls (not nearly as tight as they should be for a racer) were my biggest problems with the 360 version. The $40 price point is certainly nice and the mixing of single and multi-player options is a cool feature but there are other racing games available that are better.

Bill Gates wants more of your money - Last week Microsoft announced the pricing for their upcoming operating system, Windows Vista. Here's how much change you'll drop.

Windows Vista BusinessFull: $299.00 Upgrade $199.00
Windows Vista EnterpriseNot Available For Retail Purchase
Windows Vista Home PremiumFull: $239.00 Upgrade: $159.00
Windows Vista Home BasicFull: $199.00 Upgrade: $99.95
Windows Vista UltimateFull: $399.00 Upgrade: $259.00

And finally - I just picked up NFL Sunday ticket and its awesome! What does this have to do with gaming? Absolutely nothing. But the ability to watch any game in the country is just plain sweet and is something that every football fan should be able to do. I've had DirectTV for 3 years and finally caved in and bought it. It costs a little more than I think it should (I'm cheap, what can I say) but its worth it if you are a fantasy football nut. And no, DirectTV offered me no compensation for this endorsement. I just love football and television.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Top 5 ways Saints Row is better than GTA

Yeah, yeah I know. The title of this post is gaming blashphemy but hear me out. This GTA clone (or rip-off, or copywrite infringer, take your pick) does out-perform my favorite franchise in a few key areas. Is it better than GTA: San Andreas.? Certainly not. But there are some things that Rockstar might consider stealing for GTA: IV.

1. Driving Controls - While GTA has a pretty good steering system, Saints Row's controls are almost perfect. The cars all vary in acceleration but all handle extremely well. The emergency
brake really allows for some great manuevers. My only gripe is the camera, which doesn't move quite quickly enough, but it does the job.

2. Graphics - I hate to beat a dead horse but lets be honest, the GTA franchise is not known for its graphics. From CJ's bear hands in San Andreas to the faceless characters in Liberty City Stories, GTA leaves a lot to be desired in the looks department. Not so with Saints Row which has some of the prettiest cars and backgrounds I've ever seen in a game.

3. Sound - While Saints Row has great voice overs and a licensed soundtrack (with hilarious DJ's and commercials) just like GTA, the games little details make it truly unique. The weapons all have very distinct sounds. But by far the coolest thing I noticed was when I was "borrowing" a car. As an SUV pulled up, I could hear the muffled sounds of the radio. When I opened the door, it was blasting. Now that's attention to detail.

4. Multi-player - I know I brought this up in an earlier post but so what, it needs to be said - GTA needs online play. Saints Row has it. It sucks (laggiest online game I've ever played) but at least it has it. If the next GTA game doesn't have it, watch out. Riots will ensue, cats and dogs will be living together and gamers everywhere will throw down their controllers in disgust.

5. Create-a-player - I never really considered this an issue until I played Saints Row. With the last two GTA games, I've enjoyed playing playing as Hawaiian shirt wearing Tommy Vercetti (voiced brilliantly by Ray Liotta) and as tough talking CJ. But the chance to make a customizable gang-banger who looks just like me is too much fun to pass up.

Oh, by the way: Battlefield 2142 Beta anyone? - I received an email from my contact at EA today letting me know that they are opening up 10,000 slots to the public to try out the Battlefield 2142 beta. The 10,000 slots are available on a first-come, first-served basis starting Friday, September 8th at 10am PST. A free GameSpy ID is required to participate. Go to for the download. The game comes out in mid-October.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Mole: Family Guy screenshots and some other stuff

Stewie with a ray gun? I'm not surprised - Here are a few screenshots from the Family Guy video game coming out this fall (I apologize for their small size and unorganized appearance but blogspot wasn't being very cooperative). I have no idea what the premise is but from the looks of it Stewie has some plans for world domination, Peter cross dresses and Death is involved. Sounds good to me. I do know all of the "core" cast members are involved and since this is a game based on Family Guy I'd expect it to be pretty edgy and really not a game for kids. Too bad for them. I'll let you know more when I get further info from developer 2K.

More 2K stuff - On August 30, 2K released Prey Patch 1.1, an update of the multiplayer experience for the PC version of the game. If you currently play Prey online, I'm sure you already have it. If you only play the single player or if you're considering buying the PC version, be sure to check it out.

Battlefield Beta - EA sent me a beta for Battlefield 2142 which comes out on PC October 17. Once I get some time to play with it, I'll post some first impressions and some screenshots. Look for those within the next couple of weeks.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Mole: Labor Day Weekend Edition

Signs of the apocalypse - Right now you're probably asking yourself, "What in the world is a picture of Jessica Simpson doing on a gaming blog? Is your readership that bad that you have to resort to putting babes on your site? And if so why does she have clothes on? Please don't tell me she's releasing a game!"

No, thankfully we have all been spared a Jessica Simpson game (Sorry she's not in a bikini, I have to keep it clean. Lousy editors!) Unfortunately for 360 owners, Jessica is the Xbox Live Artist of the Month. I'm assuming they're using the term "artist" liberally. I was under the impression that the whole Artist of the Month thing was for unknowns to get exposure? If there is a woman on the planet who gets more publicity than Ms. Simpson, I'd be surprised. Angelina Jolie (for being a man stealer), Jennifer Aniston (for not getting over it) and Paris Hilton (for never seeing a camera she didn't like) may give Jessica a run for her money but they still can't compete. Its bad enough I see her on the cover of every celebrity magazine at the grocery store, but now I have to see her on my Xbox Live blades? Give me a break.

PSP gets some love - On Friday EA announced it will release a compilation of some its games from the 90's exclusively for the PSP. Set for a November 6 release 'EA Replay" will contain 14 games for $19.99. The titles are listed below.

Desert Strike
Jungle Strike
Haunting Starring Polterguy
Mutant League Football
Road Rash
Road Rash II
Road Rash III
Ultima: The Black Gate
Virtual Pinball
Wing Commander
Wing Commander: Secret Missions

John Madden is Mr. Moneybags - In a press release on Thursday, EA estimated it has sold more than two million copies of "Madden 07", giving it a week-one gross of over $100 million. That's $10 million more than "Snakes on a Plane" and "Miami Vice" have done combined. And some people say video games aren't on par with other forms of entertainment like movies and music. For shame!