Thursday, November 30, 2006

How to make Gears of War better

Grinding Gears - My review for Gears comes out tomorrow. While I gave it a good grade, there were some things that irked me enough not to mention it with as much awe as some of its earlier reviews have done. And personally if I see CliffyB one more time, I'm going to projectile vomit all over my controller. Have you ever seen a game designer get this much love? Every interviewer I listen to treats him like Bono. Enough already!

Anyway, here are my Top 5 ways a good game could become even better. Feel free to throw your two cents in.

1. More backstory - The reason characters like Solid Snake and Master Chief are so well loved is because gamers feel like they know the characters and can relate (or at least sympathize) with what they are going through. I'm not saying a game has to be story driven to be great but if you want us to care about the characters and have them stick in the minds of gamers at least make us care about them. They should stand out. Marcus Fenix isn't a compelling figure because we know nothing about him except for the fact that he looks like a 3-year olds action figure. I swear he's as wide as he is tall. He looks like my high school football coach. If Epic is going to make references to his past, they should follow through or not mention them at all.

2. Make the teammates carry their own weight - The reviving the teammate thing is a pain in the arse. First of all these guys aren't much help and in the final boss level Dom just gets in the way. I understand each of Marcus' three teammates serve different purposes and try and get you invested in the game. Baird is the comic relief, Cole is the tough trash talker and Dom is your right hand man. That's great and I like it but if I'm going to do all of the work I don't want to have to revive these guys and shoot Locust at the same time. It really is just extra work. Get rid of it.

3. More bosses - Honestly, I felt the only boss in the game was RAAM at the end. He's cool looking, he's tough to beat and he's downright scary. Why can't there be more of these? I did like the beserkers, they were pretty funny. But a great FPS is only as good as the enemy and while the Locust are tough, they need some unique bosses to make them fierce.

4. Lengthen the game - I'm being a little nit-picky here but I felt Gears was too short. The replay value is high so going through the game at the different difficulty settings (the settings are a little wonky too now that I think about it) is worthwhile but I'd prefer one difficulty and a longer game.

5. Bigger online groups - Eight online players is fine but I love the huge maps and number of opponents I can play on other titles. I do love the co-op mode but give gamers some choices.

Halo 3 Trailer/Public Beta - The "Halo 3" trailer will air Monday, Dec. 4 on ESPN’s Monday Night Football and, its a 60-second glimpse of Master Chief in all his next-gen glory. Tune in between 5:50 and 6:20 p.m. PST (sorry thats what the email from Microsoft said and I don't want to mess up the MST conversion but if my brain is working right add an hour) to catch the trailer. Additionally, the ad will be aired that same evening on at 8 p.m. PST. The ad includes a mixture of live action and computer generated animation, will air one time only and will then be made available online worldwide through Xbox Live Marketplace and

In conjunction with the ad, Microsoft today unveiled further details and an official call to entry for the “Halo 3” beta program. Beginning Monday, Dec. 4, by visiting, gamers will be able to register for the opportunity to be one of the members to join the “Halo 3” public beta program, scheduled to kick off in spring 2007. The Xbox Live multiplayer public beta, is a pre-release version of the multiplayer of “Halo 3". The beta represents an opportunity for gamers to participate in the development of the game. The picture up top was taken from a screenshot of the "Halo 3" trailer being shown on MNF.

And finally... Remember how I was whining about not being able to get a PS3 until January? Well never mind, I picked mine up today - much to my surprise. No it wasn't free, I had to pay for it just like everybody else (well except for those guys who jacked people on launch day). I've only had a couple of hours to mess with it but let me share a few quick things.

- The controller is very light (probably because the rumble feature is missing), in fact its too light. It feels cheap. I do like that it doesn't look like a boomerang however.
- At first glance the Blu-ray flick that came with the console (Tallageda Nights?!? Why?) doesn't look any different from a DVD
- Its WiFi enabled right out of the box unlike the 360
- "Madden", "Tiger Woods" and "Need for Speed Carbon" look exactly the same on the PS3 as they do on the Xbox 360
- As promised, online service is free. No $50 fee like the 360. BUT! Xbox Live is soooo much better put together

I'm anxious to sink my teeth into "Resistance: Fall of Man" and a few other PS3 exclusive titles and of course I can't wait for "Metal Gear" to come out. I haven't tried any online gaming or any of the PS1 or PS2 games that I have yet (time to find out if those backward compatibility issues are true) or messed around with the USB ports (iPod?, keyboard?, lava lamp?) but I'm certainly curious to see how the PS3 will perform.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hawaii anyone?

Madden Tourney - While we're scraping ice off of our windshields EA announced today a partnership with IGN to expand the 2006 Madden Challenge to include an online tournament, beginning Nov. 29. The winner of the online competition, which will be conducted via Xbox Live and is free to enter, will receive a trip to the 2006 EA SPORTS Madden Challenge Finals in Hawaii for a shot at $100,000.

Held during Pro Bowl week (week of Feb. 8, 2007) in Honolulu, Hawaii, the 2006 Madden Challenge Finals will feature 32 gamers competing for the championship – one winner from the online tournament, 26 winners from regional tournaments across the United States, and five winners from NFL international tournaments. The winner of the 2006 EA SPORTS Madden Challenge will receive a grand prize package, including a check for $100,000 and the winners of each regional competition will receive $1,000. Last year, 73,000 people attended and 16,000 competed nationwide.

For 2006 EA SPORTS Madden Challenge Tournament information, including official rules and online registration, players can go to the official EA SPORTS Madden Challenge website at Registration is free.

100K Gamerscore - "StripClubDj" now has 100,499 achievement points, making him the first Xbox 360 gamer to break the 100,000 mark according to Yahoo!. His achievements include perfect scores from the recently released History Channel: Civil War, Cabela's African Safari, and Bionicle Heroes but for some reason is missing out on the 200 achievement points earned through those 3 ridiculous Burger King titles. The profile also has a few games--Eragon, MotoGP 06--listed twice, likely because he's played through different regional versions of the same game. Also included in the list are games that are sold in Japan and Europe only. The dude has earned achievements in almost 100 different games (including both full and Xbox Live Arcade games) and has 144 different titles played under his belt.

And I thought I was obsessed with earning points. Imagine how lonely this guy is.

Xbox 360's stolen - Two consignments of Xbox 360s has been stolen in the UK this week, reports regional newspaper the Express and Star. The first occurred after a truck was flagged down. The driver, who thought he was being waved down to inform him of a problem with his vehicle, pulled over. The men then threatened him and dragged him out of the cab, they then stole the truck and $1.5 million worth of consoles guaranteeing themselves a very Merry Christmas and a story to tell their kids from inside the pokey 20 years from now. The driver suffered minor injuries, and the truck was later found--empty--further down the road.

The second theft occurred in the Hellmann Worldwide Logistics depot on the morning of November 23, when a trailer containing $483,000 worth of Microsoft's next-gen consoles was taken. Staffordshire police spokesman Peter Stevens said, "We are appealing for information from anyone offered in suspicious circumstances, such as in a pub, at a car boot (British slang for trunk) sale, or off the back of a lorry, to help us track down those responsible."

Further proof that crime pays - Vivendi Games announced yesterday that "Scarface: The World is Yours" has hit the 1 million games sold plateau. According to sales records it was the #1 selling game in October (must have been a slow month) as well as the number one seller for the PS2, Xbox and PSP for that month. Originally "Scarface" was scheduled to be on the Xbox 360 but evidently someone had a change of heart and it will not be coming to that console. You can however, buy "Scarface" gamer pics and themes off of Xbox Live Marketplace.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Gamers are pulling their hair out

What is up?!? I hope everybody enjoyed (or had) Thanksgiving break. Mine was great and ended waaay to quickly. I enjoyed my tryptophan induced coma, yelled at my TV during the Broncos/Chiefs game, fought through crowds of Christmas shoppers and saw the new Bond flick (I highly recommend it). There's all sorts of gaming news so lets get to it.

He wears shortages, shortages - The PS3 shortage was expected. In fact my sources have told me another major shipment probably won't be coming out until January and even that one won't be that big. Why the delay? Evidently Sony is pretty self conscious about the problems with its first generation PS3's. Aside from the backward compatibility issues, which I mentioned on this blog the week before the PS3's release (Wow! I'm like the gaming world's Ahmad Rashad!) evidently the PS3 is having a hard time reading Blu-ray discs. I'd love to tell you from first hand experience that this is true (okay, not really because I'd be ticked if I was having these problems) but like many Sony fans, I was left out on the cold on launch day and am not willing to cough up $2,500 on ebay.

For long time PlayStation owners, none of this should be a surprise. First generation PS2's had all sorts of problems (I personally went through two of them) from reading DVD's to locking up during games. Sony wants to put a hold on new shipments to rectify the problem, as well they should. Launching with an already established 360 and a heck-of-a-lot-much-easier-to-find Wii is daunting enough. Having a crummy product could be a death sentence.

As for the Wii, while its been simple enough to locate, the controllers for it are as difficult to find as a Jake Plummer supporter. My son has one locked in a bunker somewhere for Christmas but everywhere I go to find more controllers for it they're sold out. Guys at gaming stores are looking at me like I just asked for a mint condition Beatles White Album.

If you are the few, the proud, the PS3 owner please share your experiences with your new machine - good and bad. If you're a Wii gamer, let us know where gamers can pick up some accessories.

You got to know when to Hold'em - This Wednesday Xbox Live Arcade is running an update on one of its most popular titles, Texas Hold'em. Below is the list of updated features. Look for the Xbox Live Vision Camera to be supported in an update sometime in early 2007.

o Post the blind and play right away – Players can now, if they wish, start playing immediately when joining a table by posting the big blind, rather than having to wait for the blind to come to them.
o New ‘Away’ mode – Players can now set their status to ‘Away’. Hands will be auto-folded and blinds auto-posted until the player returns.
o New ‘Auto-boot’ mode – Players who continuously let the timer expire (more than three times in a game) will be booted from the table
o Faster overall pacing – Timers and messaging durations have been adjusted to speed up game-play among experienced players, but still allow novice players plenty of time to play.
· Improved blind structure – Initial blinds, as well as blind increases, are now more proportional to table stakes, ensuring more meaningful increases during game-play.
· Matchmaking improvements – Players are no longer matched into games they cannot afford
· Improved interface controls – Improvements to controls, such as increasing/decreasing stake amounts
· Leaderboard display – A player’s full winnings and rank are now properly displayed
· Art and text improvements – Game art and spelling issues have been addressed
· Online exploits addressed – Certain known exploits that enabled cheating have been addressed. As a result, the online multi-player leaderboards will be reset to eliminate inflated scores as a result of these exploits.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Anniversary Xbox 360

Xbox 360 is 1 year old today - I'm sorry. I'm sorry I'm making you look at a picture of a young Danny Bonaduce (feel free to get some Partridge Family songs stuck in your head) but you have to admit its hard not to stare at. The dude is a troll! Seriously, its like looking at a car accident. Adult Danny doesn't look much better but at least this picture is disturbing to the point of being funny. Totally unintentional of course but funny none the less.

So why am I torturing you? Because today Microsoft is torturing me. Its the one year anniversary of the Xbox 360 and the company is celebrating with downloadable movies, TV and music videos. When I first mentioned this on the blog, I was pretty stoked. I imagined something like iTunes. So far (and yes, I realize it hasn't even been 24 hours yet) I'm a little disappointed. For starters there are only 5 music videos and one of them is with some dancing penguin from the movie "Happy Feet". They are free, which is good, but for crying out loud give me more choices than that.

There are a decent amount of movies but you don't get to keep them. They only last 2 weeks then they're gone, they're only rentals. Now why the heck would I rent "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn" (I already own it so I wouldn't do this anyway, best Star Trek movie of all time in my opinon)? If I pay for a movie that old, I should own it. If I rent something it should be a recent release. I'm not sure if thats how it works for TV shows yet because I bought an episode of "South Park" and its been downloading for a couple of hours...A COUPLE OF HOURS!

Now I realize there might be some opening day issues. Download times may be longer than normal due to heavy use on the first day and the opening lineup should be expanded fairly quickly (I hope) but I'm still disappointed. Not by the selection of downloads or the non-sensical pricing but by the download times - they're just awful. Now granted, I know that downloads on iTunes for movies and TV shows are almost as bad but at least I can walk away from my computer and it still downloads. If my 360 goes into sleep mode the download stops. Same thing happens if I want to play a game. Sorry, but I just don't have the time.

In order to compete with iTunes, which is obviously what Microsoft is trying to do, they need to make sure downloads are completed quickly. They should also put more recent episodes of TV shows up and they will seriously need to broaden their movie and music video selection in order to compete.

Okay, so its not the second coming of iTunes. The good news is that Microsoft has set themselves up for success in the future if they do this right, IF. Hopefully this won't end up like the Xbox Live Camera, just another bright idea that became an unfulfilled novelty.

Gears sells big - Yesterday Microsoft announced that "Gears of War" has sold 1 million copies in its first two weeks of release. Its the fastest selling game of 2006 and the fastest selling original Xbox title of all time. There have been 10 million online sessions already.

That's pretty impressive. I've been working my way through the single-player and it certainly is a lot of fun. I haven't tackled "Gears" online but I'm looking forward to it. I can't really say how good this game is without playing it online but my initial impressions are that its a very good game. Judging by the sales numbers, gamers are itching for something to keep them occupied until Halo 3, which is what it looks like "Gears" will do.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Want a PS3? Bring your Nunchaku!

As expected, the PS3 sold out quickly on opening day this Friday. And no, I didn't get one either despite pushing little kids down to the ground and biting three security guards (Getting a Wii this morning, however, was considerably easier). Geesh! The nerve of some people. Of course my antics are nothing compared to some of the loons who were running around early Friday morning.

Idiot #1 - According to a report from Lexington, Kentucky's WKYT 27, four people were shot with BB pellets, including the TV station's reporter. No one was severely injured by the drive-by shooting. Police are still investigating the situation and looking for suspects. Lexington Police will be staying at the Best Buy to make sure campers are safe.

Idiot #2 - 15 to 20 people waiting in line at a Putnam, Connecticut Wal-Mart were robbed by two teenagers in ski masks brandishing a handgun and shotgun, according to the Associated Press. The robbers arrived around 3:00AM and demanded money from the crowd.
"One of the patrons resisted. That patron was shot," said state policeman Lt. J. Paul Vance.
The gunmen took off shortly after and the victim was taken to University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester. The victim's condition is still unknown at this point.

Idiot #3 - This one was word of mouth from my brother-in-law. Evidently a man was attacked after purchasing a PS3 outside the mall in Manchester, N.H. The only thing the thief grabbed was his PS3.

So, lets recap. There are some crazy people in the world out there and evidently some of them are gamers (although I doubt any of these jerks are gamers, we're a little to laid-back for something like this). Watch your back, bring a buddy (armed witha shotgun) with you to pick up your new prize or have a store clerk walk you to your car. And please don't be dumb enough to sit in your car in the parking lot, checking out your new system. Gawk at home. Now if thats too much work for you do this right after you buy your system: take off your shirt, whip out some Nunchaku and swing them over your head and start yelling like you've just seen Bea Arthur naked. That should guarantee you get left alone.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Halo 3 News

Halo 3, you know you want it - Yeah, yeah I know. The title of this post says Halo 3 news but there's a picture of Halo Wars. Sorry, but I couldn't upload the Halo 3 screenshots my Microsoft contact sent me. I promise you'll get your money back. Anyway, here's the latest on Halo 3 and again (because I'm incredibly lazy and hate paraphrasing long press releases) its straight from the horses mouth.

On the fifth anniversary of the release of the landmark Xbox video game Halo, Microsoft Game Studios and Bungie Studios celebrated the milestone by announcing an exclusive hands-on experience with Halo 3, one of the industry’s most anticipated sequels. The Xbox Live multiplayer public beta, which is a pre-release version of the multiplayer experience of Halo 3, is scheduled for availability in spring 2007 exclusively on the Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system.

In addition, Microsoft Game Studios and Bungie confirmed today that consumers will be able to experience the Halo universe this holiday season through a one-time airing of a stirring, 60-second Halo 3 teaser ad (Thank you for quenching my Halo lust with a trailer, please just release the damn game already) . Finally, it was announced that new, premium downloadable content for Halo 2, exclusive to Xbox 360, is scheduled for release in spring 2007.

"The ‘Halo’ Nation has a nearly insatiable desire (For Funyons, hot pockets and living with their parents) ,” said Jeff Bell, corporate vice president of global marketing for the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft Corp. “We hope a taste of advance Halo 3 gameplay satisfies some of their appetite ( pockets) as we count down to the game’s launch later in 2007.”

Expanding on everything that has made the “Halo” franchise so widely recognized, the final version of “Halo 3” will provide a wealth of technical and gameplay advancements, available only through Xbox 360, the leading next-generation video game entertainment system. Via the Xbox Live multiplayer public beta (okay, this is very cool), a first of its kind for the “Halo” franchise, gamers will be able to play online via Microsoft’s premier online entertainment network and participate in a pre-release version of the multiplayer experience of “Halo 3.” This beta also represents an opportunity for gamers worldwide to participate in the development of “Halo 3.” Through the resulting feedback, Bungie Studios will be able to further refine and hone the end result of “Halo 3.”

Unveiled earlier this year at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, “Halo 3” represents the third chapter in the “Halo” trilogy, an international award-winning action series that grew into a global entertainment phenomenon, selling more than 14.7 million units worldwide, which equals nearly $700 million in sales (add another $20 for that Halo 3 faceplate I just bought), and logging in excess of 800 million hours of multiplayer action on Xbox Live.

On Dec. 4, the special 60-second “Halo 3” advertising spot will be broadcast, one time only, on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football (Carolina at Philly, should be a good game).” The ad, created by advertising agency McCann Erickson (blatant plub for some ad firm I never heard of, does Heather Locklear work there?), will provide viewers with a unique and compelling look at Master Chief and the world of “Halo 3.” It is easily one of the most anticipated ads of the year and promises to be the biggest event in appointment advertising this year. It underscores the innovative approach and driving influence the “Halo” franchise has commanded. The television spot will also be available for download exclusively for Xbox 360 users via Xbox Live Marketplace (so if I'm not a Panthers or Eagles fan, I don't have to waste my time).

In addition, gamers who have jumped in to Xbox 360 will be able to join legions of Xbox fans next spring in all-new multiplayer maps for “Halo 2” available for download through Xbox Live Marketplace (now you're talking!). The exclusive “Halo 2” content will bring new experiences and excitement to the seminal sequel that made entertainment retail history in its first 24 hours — with $125 million in sales (Bill Gates Jr.'s college fund) — and that boasts more than four billion online matches since its release in November 2004.

“Since its original release, ‘Halo 2’ has redefined online play, delivering superior multiplayer capabilities in addition to an incredible social experience, and nurturing a constantly growing community through Xbox Live,” said Shane Kim, corporate vice president of Microsoft Game Studios. “After five years of rabid fan interest in the ‘Halo’ franchise and with more than 4 million users and counting on Xbox Live worldwide, this is the perfect time to invite fans to join the global ‘Halo’ phenomenon (Do Do Da Do Do).”

Next-generation high-definition visuals; enhanced artificial intelligence; an advanced real-time lighting engine; and new weapons, characters and challenges are just a few examples of the evolution of design and technology in “Halo 3.” These improvements are designed to give gamers an unparalleled experience and tell an even more compelling and engrossing story. Working in concert with Xbox Live on Xbox 360, “Halo 3” builds on the unique social multiplayer experience of “Halo 2” and promises to expand the innovative and evolving online gameplay and community of “Halo 2” on Xbox Live. In this third chapter of the “Halo” trilogy, Master Chief returns to finish the fight, bringing the epic conflict between the Covenant, the Flood and the entire human race to a dramatic, pulse-pounding climax (Snicker!).

Okay, I'm excited just bring out the game already. A public beta is a great idea and to be honest, not that unexpected. This announcement along with a steady stream of teasers from now until Halo 3 comes out is certain to keep the title on gamers minds. This, combined with the downloadable TV and movies on Xbox Live starting November 22, is a pretty slick move by Microsoft to steal some of the PS3's thunder.

No Live for the PS3 - I got an email from my buddy Angela at 2K the other day who was almost gloating (almost but not quite) at the news that EA will not be releasing NBA Live '07 on the PS3. This of course leaves 2K7 an upper hand (well, except for Madden and NHL Live) on the PS3 sports market. Why would EA do this? I'm not quite sure but I'm sure next year EA will be coming after a much larger PS3 market than the one that exists this Christmas.

Oh, yeah...about that ship - The pic above is of a UNSC Shortsword bomber. A ground based atmospheric bomber that is used primarily for short range, heavy payload, runs against ground targets. Or so I'm told. Primarily developed as a low altitude bomber, the Shortsword has proven to be very effective against Covenant installations. I'm not sure if gamers will be able to control this vehicle (which looks an awful lot like a Klingon Bird of Prey) in Halo Wars, but it sure would be sweet if we do.

And finally... - Last night I went to my favorite gaming store (Game Crazy on Academy between Palmer Park and Constitution) and tried out the Nintendo Wii. They had a Wii set up and an Excite Bike demo was running. I got a hold of the controller and all I can say is...WOW! It was incredibly fun. The buttons were easy to reach, the controls were simple yet engaging and the motion control felt very intuitive. It was a blast! I highly recommend you get over there and try it out.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Wonder what it feels like to be a PlayStation fanboy in Japan right now? Just look at the picture. The PS3 launched November 11th in Japan and as you would expect, quickly sold out.

Unfortunately for Japanese gamers, it was quickly discovered that the system was having major problems playing PS1 and PS2 games. In each PS3 there is PS1 and PS2 hardware that is supposed to allow gamers to be able to play games from all three systems. Oops.

When the 360 was launced gamers faced a similar problem but were at least aware of it ahead of time. Initially only the best selling Xbox games (Halo, GTA, etc.) were available for play on the 360. Microsoft periodically updates the backwards compatability list and is currently at a few hundred but they took a lot of heat for it at the time.

This case is a little bit different. The PS3 was supposed to be able to play all PlayStation games right out of the box. Don't think that the U.S. versions will be immune either. According to news organization Reuters, Sony is expecting the same thing to happen to consoles in the States with the number of games being effected in the hundreds. Yikes! I guess I won't be playing Metal Gear Solid or Grand Theft Auto Liberty City Stories any time soon.

Combine this bad news with the frightening stories I've been hearing about the PS3 being harder to find then a Kevin Federline concert-goer and it all spells bad news for Sony and PlayStation fans (unless you're crazy enough to buy one on ebay for $3K). While a software update is expected to solve the problem at somepoint, suddenly that 360/Wii Christmas gift is looking a little more enticing.

And finally... - Here are some Guitar Hero II cheats because I'm a nice guy (sorry Ryan, couldn't find any Sleeve of Wizard cheats for you). Enter these at the title menu.

Orange, Blue, Orange, Yellow, Orange, Blue, Orange, Yellow - Hyper Speed De/Activate
O,B,Y,Y,O,B,Y,Y - Crowd has Monkey Heads
Y,Y,B,O,Y,B - Air Guitar
O,Y,O,O,Y,O,Y,Y - Flaming Head
B,O,O,B,O,O,BO,O,B - Horse Head
B,O,Y,O,Y,O,B - Crowd has Eyeball Heads
Yellow, Yellow, Blue, Yellow, Yellow, Orange, Yellow, Yellow - Performance mode

Friday, November 10, 2006

A great week for gaming

Since cheat codes for games nowadays are as rare as a good episode of Saturday Night Live, here are the Xbox 360 Achievements for two of the best games that will come out all year (which both coincidentally came out this week) - Call of Duty 3 and Gears of War. Look for reviews within the next few weeks.

Gears of War
1. Prison Breakout - Completed tutorial level on any skill level. (10pts)
2. Completed Act 1 on Casual - Complete Act 1 on Casual Difficulty. (10pts)
3. Completed Act 2 on Casual - Complete Act 2 on Casual Difficulty. (10pts)
4. Completed Act 3 on Casual - Complete Act 3 on Casual Difficulty. (10pts)
5. Completed Act 4 on Casual - Complete Act 4 on Casual Difficulty. (10pts)
6. Completed Act 5 on Casual - Complete Act 5 on Casual Difficulty. (10pts)
7. Mercenary - Complete all acts on Casual Difficulty. (10pts)
8. Completed Act 1 on Hardcore - Complete Act 1 on Hardcore Difficulty. (20pts)
9. Completed Act 2 on Hardcore - Complete Act 2 on Hardcore Difficulty. (20pts)
10. Completed Act 3 on Hardcore - Complete Act 3 on Hardcore Difficulty. (20pts)
11. Completed Act 4 on Hardcore - Complete Act 4 on Hardcore Difficulty. (20pts)
12. Completed Act 5 on Hardcore - Complete Act 5 on Hardcore Difficulty. (20pts)
13. Soldier - Complete all acts on Hardcore Difficulty. (20pts)
14. Completed Act 1 on Insane - Complete Act 1 on Insane Difficulty. (30pts)
15. Completed Act 2 on Insane - Complete Act 2 on Insane Difficulty. (30pts)
16. Completed Act 3 on Insane - Complete Act 3 on Insane Difficulty. (30pts)
17. Completed Act 4 on Insane - Complete Act 4 on Insane Difficulty. (30pts)
18. Completed Act 5 on Insane - Complete Act 5 on Insane Difficulty. (30pts)
19. Commando - Complete all acts on Insane Difficulty. (30pts)
20. Time to Remember - Recover one-third of the COG tags on any difficulty. (10pts)
21. Honor-Bound - Recover two-thirds of the COG tags on any difficulty. (20pts)
22. For the Fallen - Recover all of the COG tags on any difficulty. (30pts)
23. My Love for You Is Like a Truck - Defeat a Berserker on Hardcore Difficulty. (30pts)
24. Broken Fingers - Defeat a Corpser on Hardcore Difficulty. (30pts)
25. A Dish Best Served Cold - Defeat General RAAM on Hardcore Difficulty. (30pts)
26. Zen and the Art of Reloading - Perform 25 perfect active reloads on any difficulty. (10pts)
27. Zen and the Art Part 2 - Perform 5 perfect active reloads in a row on any difficulty. (20pts)
28. Clusterluck - Kill 3 enemies at once 10 different times on any difficulty. (20pts)
29. A Series of Tubes - Host and complete 50 ranked matches. (20pts)
30. Dom-curious - Complete 1 co-op chapter as Dominic Santiago on any difficulty. (10pts)
31. Domination - Complete 10 different co-op chapters as Dominic Santiago on any difficulty. (20pts)
32. I Can't Quit You Dom - Complete all acts in co-op as Dominic Santiago on any difficulty. (30pts)
33. Don't You Die On Me - Revive 100 teammates in ranked matches. (10pts)
34. Fall Down Go Boom - Kill 100 enemies in ranked matches with the Boomshot. (20pts)
35. Pistolero - Kill 100 enemies in ranked matches with a pistol. (20pts)
36. The Nuge - Kill 100 enemies in ranked matches with the Torque Bow. (20pts)
37. I Spy with My Little Eye - Kill 100 enemies in ranked matches with the Longshot. (20pts)
38. Don't Hurt 'Em - Kill 100 enemies in ranked matches with the Hammer of Dawn. (20pts)
39. It's a Massacre - Kill 100 enemies in ranked matches with the Chainsaw. (10pts)
40. Curb Appeal - Kill 100 enemies in ranked matches with the curb stomp. (20pts)
41. Capital Punishment - Kill 100 enemies in ranked matches with an execution. (20pts)
42. Is It a Spider - Kill 100 enemies in ranked matches with grenade tag. (30pts)
43. The Money Shot - Kill 100 enemies in ranked matches with a headshot. (20pts)
44. Always Remember Your First - Finish playing a versus ranked match. (10pts)
45. Don't Hate the Player - Finish with the highest points in a ranked match. (10pts)
46. Mix It Up - Win a ranked match in every versus game type. (30pts)
47. Around the World - Win a ranked match on every versus map. (30pts)
48. Can't Touch Me - Win 10 ranked matches without losing a round. (20pts)
49. Seriously ... - Kill 10,000 people in versus ranked match total. (50pts)

Call of Duty 3
1. Basic Training - Complete the basic training in the beginning of Saint Lo.5 (5pts)
2. American Infantryman - Complete two missions as an American soldier. (20pts)
3. British Commando - Complete two missions as a British soldier. (20pts)
4. Canadian Highlander - Complete two missions as a Canadian soldier. (10pts)
5. Polish Tanker - Complete two missions as a Polish soldier. (15pts)
6. Won the War - Complete the single player campaign on any difficulty setting. (80pts)
7. Hot Potato - Pick up and return 5 live grenades. (25pts)
8. Rifleman - Complete a mission by firing only bolt action rifles. Melee attacks don't count. (15pts)
9. Assault Trooper - Complete a mission by firing only assault rifles. Melee attacks don't count. (15pts)
10. Battlefield Scavenger - Complete a mission by firing only German weapons. Melee attacks don't count. (15pts)
11. Still Ticking - Complete a mission without dying or using checkpoints. (30pts)
12. Allergic to Bullets - Avoid getting hit more than 30 times during a mission. (25pts)
13. Conservationist - Complete a mission using less than 300 rounds of ammunition. (20pts)
14. Close Quarter Combatant - Complete a mission without firing a round. Player can make use of melee attacks and hand grenades. (100pts)
15. Grizzled Veteran - Complete the Single Player Campaign on Veteran difficulty. (150pts)
16. Supply Officer - Supply ammunition to at least 20 friendly soldiers in a single ranked match. Multiplayer (15pts)
17. Doc - Revive 10 of your teammates in a ranked match without getting a teamkill. Multiplayer (30pts)
18. A War Hero - Capture the final objective in the game mode War. Must be a ranked match. Multiplayer (30pts0
19. Victory Medal - Be the player with the highest score and on the winning team in a ranked match. Multiplayer (30pts)
20. Lieutenant - Receive 200 total points in ranked matches. Multiplayer (20pts)
21. Captain - Receive 2000 total points in ranked matches. Multiplayer (40pts)
22. Major - Receive 8000 total points in ranked matches. Multiplayer (60pts)
23. Colonel - Receive 20000 total points in ranked matches. Multiplayer (80pts)
24. General - Receive 40000 total points in ranked matches. Multiplayer (120pts)
25. Purple Heart - For perserverence despite grevious injuries. (5pts)
26. Big Air - EXTREME! Found a big jump and caught some air! (25pts)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Move over iTunes

Move over bacon, there's something leaner - Yesterday Microsoft made a major announcement that it is partnering up with a number of networks and movie studios that will make full blown movies (not just trailers) and TV shows downloadable on Xbox Live. Here's it is straight from the horses (Microsoft's) mouth because its too hard for me to paraphrase.

"Microsoft Corp. today announced agreements with CBS, MTV Networks, Paramount Pictures, Turner Broadcasting System Inc. (TBS Inc.), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment to bring an initial lineup of over 1,000 hours of hit TV shows and movies to Xbox 360 gamers in the U.S. by the end of the year. Furthermore, Xbox 360 will be the first gaming console to bring standard and high-definition TV shows and movies via digital distribution over the Internet directly to the consumer.

Beginning Nov. 22, on its first anniversary, Xbox 360 will be the first gaming console in history to provide high-definition TV shows and movies directly to gamers in their living rooms. Xbox 360 gamers will have access to the full-length TV shows as downloads to own and movies to rent via download from the Xbox Live network, the worldwide leader in online distribution of high-definition gaming and entertainment content. This announcement also brings with it several additional “firsts”:

· For the first time, consumers will get an integrated gaming and entertainment experience on a gaming console that includes downloadable high-definition TV shows and movies. This new full-length content adds to the ever-expanding number of choices gamers have on their Xbox 360, whether they want to play games or play a movie on a disc or as a download in high definition or standard definition.
· For the first time CBS will deliver high-definition download-to-own TV shows including “CSI,” “ Jericho ,” “Numb3rs” and remastered “Star Trek” episodes
(Yippee for us Star Trek nerds!); gamers can buy them and watch them repeatedly.
· For the first time on any platform, NASCAR.COM will deliver download-to-own condensed versions of select NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series races from “Race Rewind.”
· For the first time, the Ultimate Fighting Championship will make 50 of its most intense fights available for download as well as select episodes from the original season of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series.

The initial lineup of TV shows available for download to own and feature films available for download to rent will include a growing catalog of popular hits. Examples of content that will be available on the network by the end of year include the following:

· “Robot Chicken” and “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” from Adult Swim
· “CSI,” “Survivor” and “Star Trek” from CBS
· Emmy and Peabody award-winning “ South Park ” and “Chappelle’s Show” from COMEDY CENTRAL
· “The Real World” and “Pimp My Ride” from MTV
· “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and ”SpongeBob SquarePants” from Nickelodeon
· “Skyland” and “The Nicktoons Network Animation Festival” from Nicktoons Network
· “Mission Impossible:III,” “Nacho Libre” and “Jackass: The Movie” from Paramount Pictures
· “Carpocalypse” and “Raising the Roofs” from Spike TV
· “Race Rewind” provided by NASCAR.COM
· Select episodes of the original season of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series and the “UFC: All Access” shows from the UFC
· “Breaking Bonaduce” and “Hogan Knows Best” from VH1
· “The Matrix,” “Superman Returns” and “Batman Forever” from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment"

All I could think of after reading that was...Holy Guano Batman! I've heard how gaming consoles were supposed to be the center of your living room (I first heard this through some Sony hype with the PS2) but now its starting to become a reality. Downloadable TV and movies? To quote Kevin Bacon in Footloose - Jump back! Now that is sweet. The Microsoft Zune, Bill Gates' answer to the iPod comes out later this month. Think there's a chance that there might be some Zune/Xbox 360 connectivity? You bet your controller there is.

As a gamer, this is another shot across the bow for Sony and just another reason (aside from price point and limited availabilty) for a gamer who's undecided to choose a 360. I'm actually surprised I'm not seeing commercials for this already because this is such a huge selling point for Microsoft.

Let me put it this way. I have an iPod, so I use iTunes. I download TV shows and music but if I can do the exact same thing with my gaming console - something that connects my favorite TV programs, favorite Kevin Federline songs and my video games - there's no way I can resist. All of my favorite things in one place? Wow. Again...Wow! Now if Microsoft can figure out a way to take that downloaded content and burn it onto a disc...I'd probably throw up in my mouth.

Who do I have to kill to get Cyberball? - Also on Monday, Microsoft made some announcements about upcoming Xbox Live Arcade titles. On Wednesday Nov. 8, the Konami classic "Contra" (no it has nothing to do with Ronald Reagan or Manuel Noriega and yes I just dated myself with that vague 80's reference) is available for 400 Microsoft Points. Coming out between now and Christmas are "Small Arms", "Novadrome", "Assault Heroes", "Heavy Weapon" and "Defender".

Starting in January 2007, a number of classic Atari games - "Centipede/Millipede", "Battlezone", "Asteroids/Asteroids Deluxe", "Missle Command", "Tempest" and "Warlords" will be released throughout the year.

Of course, you may have noticed that the Atari classic "Cyberball", the greatest robots-playing-football game ever made, is once again not on this list. This is an outrage! A white-gloved (but no sequence please) slap in the face! I strongly recommend that everyone emails Atari at and urge this trend setting gaming company to put one of the most addictive games ever on Xbox Live Arcade immediately. This is an injustice to everyone who calls themselves a gamer. I may just have to start picketing Atari corporate offices with signs that read "Robot football players need love too" or "Give me Cyberball or give me death...but preferably Cyberball!"

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Make your own Halo

Create your own GTA - Last Wednesday Microsoft released the second iteration of its XNA Game Studio Express beta, upgraded with full functionality for Windows and third party toolset support, allowing hobbyists, academics and independent game developers to more easily integrate game content into their creations. The technology promises to ratchet up indie game development with an expanded set of features.

According to the company, Microsoft’s goal is to empower the masses through offering easy-to-use and affordable tools enabling them to bring their creativity to life by offering:

· The addition of XNA Framework Content Pipeline, a feature set that makes it simpler and more straightforward for game developers to use 2D and 3D content in their game projects from third party digital content creation packages like Autodesk 3ds Max, Autodesk Maya and SOFTIMAGE XSI.
· New content importers for .X and Autodesk FBX 3D asset format in partnership with Autodesk.
· Xbox 360 project system gives game developers the ability to preview game design specifically for the Xbox 360 and pre-compile games starting today, giving developers a head start in preparing their games for the XNA Creators Club availability in December.
· Improved game component architecture updated with a simpler design, adding increased usability based on community feedback.
· Overall performance improvements and optimizations – XNA Game Studio Express Beta 2 is a near final version of the tool.

I really have no idea what any of this means, its way too technical for my small brain. But if this gives people who are much more creative than myself a way to create their own games, I'm all for it.

On a related note... - In August I posted an interview with PSM editor-in-chief Chris Slate and Official Xbox Magazine editor-in-chief Francesca Reyes. My last question for both dealt with how someone could become a gaming writer. They gave some good advice but if you're looking for a different career in gaming I highly recommend the book "Paid to Play: An Insiders Guide to Video Game Careers".

It gives detailed information about a wide variety of gaming jobs, not just gaming journalism. If a career in the world of video games is something you think you would excel at or are considering, I highly recommend a peek at this book. Its a pretty easy read and gives you a great idea of what companies look for and the qualifications you need to get into an incredibly competitive market.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Are video games art?

"I do indeed consider video games inherently inferior to film and literature. There is a structural reason for that: Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control. I am prepared to believe that video games can be elegant, subtle, sophisticated, challenging and visually wonderful. But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art. To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers. That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic." - Roger Ebert

A year ago this month, film critic Roger Ebert made the above comment on his website. Not only did he tick off hard core gamers but he inadvertantly started a debate on a topic that had long needed to be discussed - Are video games art?

Like most gamers, my initial response to Ebert's quote created a torrent of anger and frustrated thoughts like: "The man is too old, he's out of the loop. He's probably doesn't even know what an MP3 player is. He's a movie reviewer, what does he know about games?" and "The guys a moron."

Then I thought of something, this kind of thinking will never get video games to be considered main stream. If the video game industry is to be taken seriously, we have to be able to respond to thoughts like this in an intelligent, rational manner. An angry response of expletives and insults (while always fun) just makes gamers look like a ticked off toddler when their parent tells them they can't have any candy. We look like immature brats who can't think for themselves.

Personally, I'd prefer to be an intelligent teenager (which is what games are to the grandparent-like TV, Music and Movies) and give a thoughtful answer which gives the more established mediums enough pause to reconsider their stance. The Big 3 have been around a heck of a lot longer than games and they deserve our respect. They also, like a stubborn parent or grandparent, need to be enlightened about the changing world around them.

To make an intelligent case for video games as Art, lets breakdown Ebert's statement.

"Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control."

Good point. Games are much more interactive. Players are an integral part of a games story and can guide the development of the a point. You can't actually do anything in a video game that the creator of it doesn't want you to to. To me, this makes the authorial control in a game much more pronounced than in any other medium because in order to get a games full experience, you are required to perform certain tasks. This qualifies video games as a form of interactive art.

This quote also brings me to a gaping hole in Ebert's statement. What about when a film or a piece of literature sucks? Is it still Art? Does he mean to tell me that I have to view all Rob Schneider movies as Art because it fits his definition? Does this mean O Magazine and US Weekly are pieces of Art too? I do consider Playboy Art however.

"To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers."

So what you're saying Rog is that games don't have a Steven Speilberg or a Billy Shakespeare or a Snoop Dog? I hate to agree with you but you're right. We don't have anyone who can consistently create that visceral emotional least not yet. Games are getting closer to that and depending on who you talk to (Final Fantasy and Hideo Kojima fans for example) some would say we are already there. As gaming emerges from its infancy, the opportunties for a different type of story telling combined with the vast visual improvements will gradually attract the types of creative minds that normally flock to film and creative writing schools. Gaming is such a new medium with so much potential that its only a matter of time before it has its own Ernest Hemingway or George Lucas.

"That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic."

Ouch! Now you're hitting below the belt. Yes, "Schindlers List" contains a powerful message and "Where the Red Fern Grows" made me cry as a boy (I'm secure enough in my manhood to admit it) but did anyone become more cultured or civilized watching "Police Academy: Mission to Moscow" or the Sly Stallone arm wrestling flick "Over the Top"? No, in fact I think the world's overall I.Q. dropped 20 points thanks to those duds. And honestly, what wastes more time than watching TV? Can I get the 46 hours of "Knight Rider" I watched in the 80's back? The argument that video games are just a waste of time really chaps my hide.

I look at it like this, the human brain can't be on all the time, sometimes it just needs a break. So what do we do? Veg out in front of the tube, listen to some tunes, shoot some a video game. Playing games can be therapy for your melon, just like those other things. Saying gaming is a waste of precious time just screams ignorance.

Let me conclude with a little story. Two years ago my wife and I spent 2 weeks in Italy. The Misses was an Art History major in college so about a million museums were on the agenda. In Florence I stood in front of the statue of David. I was completely awestruck. I was amazed that a human being could make such a thing. I'd seen pictures of it before but standing in front of it gave me a true appreciation for it.

Here in town I'm also very close to an artist who produces colorful, yet crude drawings that always draw an emotional response - my 6-year old daughter. About a year ago she moved from drawing heads with legs and arms sticking out of them to drawing people with actual bodies. In her drawings of me, I even have curly hair and glasses. Its quite touching, at least from my perspective.

And that's my point. Art is subjective. As a father, my daughter's drawings are Art. To someone else, they're just a goofy drawing a little girl made of some guy with a giant head. Art, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder and trying to agree on what is Art and what is not Art is like trying to get a Democrat and Republican to agree. It just ain't going to happen.

For me (and many other gamers) video games are beautiful works of interactive art. What they're defined as by others really doesn't matter. When it comes right down to it as long as games continue to give us the experience that fulfills whatever need it fulfills, why should it.