Tuesday, April 29, 2008

GTA IV Midnight Clusterfuck!

I've never gone to a midnight launch. I didn't go for Halo 3, I passed on the Wii, and I wasn't going to go to the Grand Theft Auto IV one either. Standing in the cold dark amongst a group of pushy teens while sales clerks take their sweet time to let you in? No thanks. I'd rather be home and warm, thank you.

That was how I used to feel, and the little voice inside my head (you know, the one little voice you actually should listen to?) told me that this time should be no different. So what did I do? Yep, I ignored my instincts and went against my better judgment, and I grabbed some old games for trade-in and headed down to the mall at half past eleven. My thinking was that GTA IV was a game worth getting, and my not having to be at work early the next day would still give me plenty of time to play even if I got home late.

So there I was, standing in a crowd of about sixty people who all want exactly the same thing as me. Sixty loud and pushy people who only wanted to cram themselves through the one open door that was viciously guarded by a savage rent-a-cop. This Gamestop store doesn't have a street entrance, so you have to be let into the mall to get to it. That should have been my first clue. Malls in Puerto Rico - or at least this particular one - close at seven (!) on a weeknight, so being here at midnight seemed almost surreal for me. At least it did until the menacing specter of Puerto Rican inefficiency reared its ugly head and reminded me that my situation was all too real.

First of all, there was no organization to the line whatsoever. Logic would dictate that there should have been someone receiving the gamers as they arrived and filing them into a single line along the wall next to the door. This would have established order and allowed for full control of the door by only a single guard. Instead, they just let everyone dog pile around the door and push like fevered lemmings every time it was opened. I never had to even try to move, as people behind me would push me towards the door whenever it was time to let more people in.

There was a single guard watching the door, and he would let gamers in ten at a time. Another guard would escort them down the mall passage to Gamestop, where three (yes, three) more guards placed them in line outside the store and stood watch. Inside, three sales clerks worked like mad to process each sale quickly so they could go home as soon as possible. Things were pretty orderly inside the mall, but they fucked up again with the line of gamers coming out of Gamestop. We had to sit and wait for everyone in our group to buy their game before we could leave, and I was number three. That meant that I had to wait for seven others. Had there been someone controlling the line outside the mall, they could have easily let people in five at a time and had a constant flow of customers that would have made the sale go much quicker.

That's my biggest gripe, I guess. This particular Gamestop has done multiple midnight launches before. Why then, was this still so unorganized? You'd think they'd have their shit together by now. I did manage to get my copy of the game for the Xbox 360, so I'm happy. I also did better than expected since a nice guy in line behind me offered $40 for my copy of Rainbow Six: Vegas 2, a full $10 more than Gamestop would have given me. I quickly plucked the game from the counter and told the clerk not to include it, and instead of having to pay the difference, I actually walked out with $3 in my wallet! That's almost enough for a Whopper combo!

I now know what I've been missing in regards to midnight launches, and I can confidently say that this will by my debut and finale. I could easily have snagged a copy of GTA IV today without all the stupid pre-order hassle, and I only did it to get an extra 20% of trade-in value towards Rock Band, which was replaced and works fine now! I'll chalk this one up to curiosity, and now that it's sated, I have no desire to pursue it further.

Oh, and GTA IV is completely awesome.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Xbox 360 Love/Hate Part Deux

Yesterday, I bought Rock Band. You know, that rhythm game with all the instruments that everyone and their brother is playing? I bought the game by itself, since I already own a guitar thanks to Guitar Hero II. I figured I'd buy it now, and then I'd pick the drum kit later on down the road. I'm loving the game so far... from what I've been able to play, that is.

It's ironic that my last post before this one was about how many used games I bought and what a great asset they were. Well, it appears that I must have stirred up some bad mojo because my wonderful copy of Rock Band - which I bought used - doesn't work. Wait, that's not entirely true. After four or five attempts at getting my 360 to recognize it as an actual game and not some foreign DVD, I can finally start playing. If I'm lucky, I can get through a set without a dirty disc error too.

I can't believe I didn't notice the large scratch the disc has on the outer edge. Had I seen that in-store, there's no way I would have bought it. Now I'll have to take it back tomorrow and exchange it for a new one. And I mean "new" as in "unopened." No more used versions of Harmonix's awesome rock fest for me! I need this one to work flawlessly, as I have some online jamming to do, and a DDE in the middle of a solo is not something I'd look forward to.

It's funny how finicky the 360 is. It never once flaked on me with Stormfront's turd Just Cause, and it didn't like Rainbow 6: Vegas 2 at first. After I banged the shit out of it, however, the darn thing came around. It just hasn't liked Rock Band from the outset though, but this time around the scratched disc is where I place the blame . Hopefully things will go more smoothly when I get a fresh copy of the game.

I really like this one too. I've downloaded several songs already, including the incredible Shiva by Smashing Pumpkins and More Than A Feeling by Boston. A part of me died though when I purchased Metallica's Blackened. I can just see Lars Ulrich rubbing his hands together like Mr. Burns, silently muttering "excellent... excellent" to himself as the download counter rises. Metallica has represented all kinds of suck since the mid '90s, and its campaign against P2P downloading just left a bad taste in my mouth. Blackened is a metal masterpiece, however, so what the hell? Why not?

I can just imagine how much this game is going to rock when I have the drum kit. I've always loved the drums, and mixing them with video games is better than peanut butter and chocolate!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Used Games & Trade In = My New Best Friends

I know there are a lot of people out there that don't like to buy used games from Gamestop. I know all about the company's douchey history, and I agree with most of it. That being said, when I'm looking for something new to fire up in the ol' 360, modern prices can be downright intimidating.

Here in Puerto Rico, a new Xbox 360 game retails for $62.99 - before tax. Your final tally is around $67, so you can imagine why I don't buy as many new games as I used to. No, nowadays I'm content to pick up those titles that interest me when they drop in price new or appear used for some decent coin. As long as the game is in good condition and complete, I have no problem with it being used. I do prefer my games new when possible, so hunting for the cheapest price has become a necessity.

Sure, I don't play as many games at once as I used to, but is that necessarily a bad thing? How many games can one guy play at a time anyway? Right now, I can think of several titles, like Conan, Condemned 2, Ace Combat 6, and Guitar Hero III, that I'll be grabbing as soon as they drop. Out of the sixty or so 360 games I've owned so far, I've only bought two cash for full price: NBA 2K7 and Oblivion. The good thing about buying games cheap is that once I've beaten them and gotten as many achievements as possible, they become good trade-in fodder. Yes, I used Gamestop's trade-in program! For shame!

Hey, I've gotten great games like Call of Duty 4, Rainbow 6: Vegas 2, and even the mighty Gears of War for pennies cash thanks to trading in old games. Using the membership card and taking advantage of specials, one can really knock off a lot from the total price. My policy is that the less I have to pay cash, the better. And it's not like I'm losing out by keeping these old games around. Once I'm done with them, why have them stick around? Does anyone honestly think I'm screwing myself by trading in Ratatouille once my daughter and I have beaten it?

Games haven't come down in price, despite the spiel of shit publishers shoveled down our throats in the '90s. Remember "CDs are cheaper than cartridges!"? Yeah - for the publishers. It's funny how today's DVD-based games are as expensive as SNES and N64 carts were a decade ago. It's all bullshit, just like how in-game advertising would help reduce prices too.

I'm not a rich dude. I have a mortgage and two kids, so I'm going to get my game on any way I can. If that means I have to wait out some titles and reduce the size of my current library in order to get new games, then so be it. It's not like I'm going to pirate them or anything (I'm totally against that), so who can blame me for not buying games full price? I still get to play all the big titles when they're released too.That's where those old games shine one more time before they're gone. GTA 4? I've got four old games just waiting to be traded in for that one.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Presenting the Super Genintari!

I've seen some great homebrew projects in my time (Ben Hekendorn is a god among men in this area), but this one by a dude who goes by the name vomitsaw just has to be about the coolest I've ever seen. The Super Genintari is a massive console that houses an Atari 2600, NES, SNES, and Genesis - all in one! It sports a quality finish and looks to be one tough little console. I'd get into more on it, but I think this picture and video below say everything much better than I ever could!

Super Guns, meet your match!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Whatever Happened to Commitment?

No, I'm not talking about marriage.

I'm referring to making a commitment - in this case a writing one - and not coming through on it. This has been the case with Sega-16 and its revolving door of staff members since we organized the group a little over a year ago. In total, twelve people have joined up, but only five are actually producing anything lately. Many of those who aren't have either opted out of their positions or just disappeared into the wilderness.

My question stems from the fact that of those who failed to honor their commitment, very few were actually approached by me to join in the first place. In the vast majority of cases, it was the writer who emailed me and asked to join the staff. As we're always looking for talented writers, those who are articulate enough and willing to stick around usually get the nod. It all goes well for the first couple of months, and then BAM! all gone...

I understand better than just about anyone how the rigors of real life can wreak havoc with one's online persona. Being a full-time English professor with two small children, it's not easy to run Sega-16 and still be there for my responsibilities. Nonetheless, I've not only been able to do it for almost four years now, but I have a higher Xbox 360 gamerscore than a lot of people I know! Even us family guys have to get our game on!

It's not the inability of some people to meet staff requirements that bite me as much as it is the vanishing act that usually follows. If you can't write for us anymore, that's fine, but please have the decency to let me know about it. Idling on the staff forum, waiting to see if these people are going to check in (Bueller...? Bueller...?) is not fun, and it causes chaos with the site's update schedule.

For that reason, I recently had to scale back said schedule. Where we used to update four times a week (two reviews and two features), we'll now only be updating with one feature a week. I love to write them, but I can't write enough of them to meet the schedule all by myself. As it is, I've often had to write reviews and features ahead of schedule just to have something for the update! That's no way to run a site, so I decided to slow things down a bit.

Not that this will really hurt us. With almost five hundred reviews and over three hundred features up already, our readers have more than enough to keep them busy. I just wish that some people had a higher sense of professionalism about writing for an enthusiast site. Many times, writers tend to think of their position as something unimportant ("I'm not getting paid, so who cares?"), and don't take it seriously. I, for one, do take it quite seriously. Sure, you're not getting a check for your efforts, and since we're not a media outlet, we don't usually even get review copies for staff to check out for free. That doesn't make what we do any less important, and it sure doesn't mean that we don't have to be professional in the task.

Those who are looking to break into the games journalism often get their starts at enthusiast sites. While there, they learn how to improve their writing skills, and they are able to get a feel of what writing for a publication is like. They also get their names tossed around in the industry. Take me for example. Four years ago, my journalism experience consisted of nineteen articles written for a Houston area PC magazine (HAL-PC for those interested). With Sega-16, I've managed to produce over eighty reviews and almost two hundred features, including over sixty interviews with people from all corners of the Genesis era. That includes everyone from game testers to both Genesis-era SOA presidents Michael Katz & Tom Kalinske to big names like Yuzo Koshiro, David Perry, and Trip Hawkins. How have I been able to accomplish this? Has it through contacts in the industry? Special skills? Not at all. In fact, all but a handful of my interviews have been the result of two things:

Google and a lot of patience.

Now, four years later, I actually do have contacts in the industry, and I can even get the mighty Sega itself to hear me. I haven't made a dime off my work, and I don't want to. I do it out of passion for the subject I research and cover, and I do it because I feel that people will want to read about it. Judging from Sega-16's growth over these past years and our steady increase in readership, I can honestly say that I think my work hasn't been in vain.

Surely then, those who chose to write for us can come up with two articles a month (one review and one feature). It's not asking a lot, I think. And this obviously doesn't apply to everyone on the Sega-16 staff, of course. We have a core group that has been brilliant over the years, and with talented veterans and enthusiastic newcomers all working together, I'm sure we can meet our schedule and continue to bring our readership the best Genesis coverage on the planet, bar none. I just wish everyone felt the same as they and I do.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Quality Control Is Not A Next Gen Concept

I really, really hate it when I buy a game for the Xbox 360 and the first thing I see is a request for an update. WTF? I just took my new game out of its wrapper, and I'm already being hit up for an update? And on release day?

This is just one of the small nuisances today's gamers have to live with. Thanks to the proliferation of online gaming, the industry is now full swing in its "launch now, patch later" mentality. Shipping a half-assed product is becoming the norm, and it seems there's nothing we can do about it save for protesting with our dollars.

Case in point: Ubi Soft's Rainbow Six: Vegas 2. As if being a $60 expansion pack weren't enough, the game is also chock full of ugly glitches. Bullets miss their targets at point blank range, enemies kill you through concrete walls, and grenades sometimes have less effect than year-old firecrackers. This alone would be enough to get many a panty in a wad, but Ubi Soft has done us one better. See, in its mad dash to boost its quarterly earnings, it shipped a game with glitched achievements.


Remember the original Rainbow Six: Vegas for the Xbox 360? A great game to be sure, but it had the most annoying glitched achievement. Completing the game on Realistic difficulty was supposed to earn you a hearty bonus, but imagine my surprise when I complete the game and get... nothing. It turns out that if you quit to the menu and later reload your save, the difficulty defaults back to normal. The only way to get the Realistic achievement is to play each level individually and set the difficulty manually. This was annoying, especially after I had gone through all the trouble of finishing the game a second time.

This time around, Ubi Soft took even longer to get off its ass, and the achievement is even worse. Now, it's completely random. You might get it by finishing the game solo on Realistic... or you might not. You might get it by beating the game as the host in online/split-screen co-op... or you might not. Hell, a pal of mine over at The Next Level got it after beating the game in online co-op on normal difficulty!

This is just too much. I'm already upset that my reward for having beaten the first game was 2500 XP - and no PFC achievement. That's the first glitched achievement players encountered, and all they did was load the game. Ubi Soft reportedly knows of the problem and is "looking into it," but I have little faith in its ability to fix this promptly. Chances are, the patch will arrive a month after I've moved on to another game (namely GTA 4), and I just won't care anymore. Ubi Soft pulled this shit before after I bought the red map pack for the first R6: V, when they later said it had been a mistake to charge and then GAVE EVERYONE THE MAPS FOR FREE. I'm still waiting for my refund, but I'm sure that was just another empty promise.

Before you raise your shotgun in my direction, please know that I've enjoyed Rainbow 6: Vegas 2 very much, despite its glitches. I've beaten the single-player campaign twice, finished all terrorist hunt maps on Realistic difficulty, and I'm two ranks away from the coveted Elite status. I love the gameplay, and since Ubi Soft only added a sprint button to what was already rock-solid, that portion of the experience is still as enjoyable as ever. I just wish the glitches weren't there, and the developers weren't taking so darn long to fix things.

For that reason, I think I'll refrain from buying anymore Ubi Soft titles at launch. Until the company gets its shit together and actually finishes its games before releasing them, I'll either buy them used or discounted, or I'll just not buy them at all. Perhaps it's time to put my dollars to better use somewhere else.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Sonic Unleashed: Could It Be the One?

Oh God, oh God, oh God... I so want the new Sonic game announced recently, Sonic Unleashed, to actually be good. The poor hedgehog just hasn't been the same since he went 3D, and to say that Sega's recent offerings (Sonic Heroes, Sonic The Hedgehog) were lacking would be quite the understatement. Sonic Team seems to finally have taken fans' complaints to heart and gone back to what made Sonic so cool to begin with: playing as Sonic.

I'm not sure when Sonic Team decided that people should use all of the furry friends that hang out with Sega's mascot. Perhaps Sonic himself decided he needed an entourage. Who knows? All I know is that scavenger hunting with Sonic and galavanting around in a large metal mech with Tails was not the reason I signed up to play Sonic Adventure 2 and the games that followed. When Sega tried to bring things full circle with its latest release on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, things went horribly, horribly wrong. Terrible camera work, poor collision detection, and severe clipping issues were just some of the charges leveled at what was supposed to be the mammal's return to form.

That's what is so exciting about Sonic Unleashed. Going 2.5D could be just what the doctor ordered. For those of you who missed the latest installment of MEGA Bites, check out Sega's official debut trailer and feast your eyes on what could finally be a great modern Sonic game:

Tell me that doesn't make you giddy! Of course, I could be setting myself up for failure (again), and one must remember that this video is just a teaser. It shows nothing about the actual control, the supposed melee combat that's being included, or how the game changes with the time of day. Yep, according to Sega's press release, "both day and night play different, yet important, roles in Sonic’s newest quest… as the sun sets, a new adventure awakens." I don't know what that specifically refers to, but there have been reports of a werewolf coming into play.

Ok, that last part has me a bit skeptical. I really don't want this to turn into a new Shadow the Hedgehog. So long as I can play as Sonic through the whole game, and there are some nifty platforming sections that aren't killed by a bad camera, I'm willing to give this one a chance. Sega-16 will be previewing Sonic Unleashed soon, and we'll also be giving it a full hands-on when it's released this holiday season.

Oh, and we might just have an interview with Sega about it! Keep your eyes peeled!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Rise of Casual Gaming (at my house)

As my daughter Kimberly gets older, she's become increasingly interested in video games. She's become quite proficient as well, actually, and she recently completed the first six stages (Episode 1) of Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga. For that reason, I've recently found myself buying more and more casual games. In just the last month, I've bought and completed Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End and Ratatouille, and before that I beat the aforementioned Star Wars game, along with Cars. All of these purchases have been for the Xbox 360, and since my daughter sometimes prefers to just watch me play, I figure I might as well get some achievement points out of them!

Now though, she's become more engaged in gaming, doing better and better at Super Mario 3, and actually knowing when to use the Force and switch characters to progress in the Lego games. I'm pretty impressed by her talents, and we've been really able to bond over our gaming sessions. Heck, I'm even looking at the Wii library in a new light! Just so long as I don't have to play any Bratz games. Seriously, I hate those things...