May 2009

It’s time to kick ass and chew videogame news. And I’m all out of videogame news.

In this issue:

  • Exclusive: Kojima working on countdown clock-based game
  • The Rumor Monger presents: E3 predictions
  • Win a trip to E3 from the Fryer!

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A strong first impression: It’s important for meeting new people and it’s just as important for meeting new games. These days, those gaming first appearances increasingly come during flashy E3 press conferences, where game publishers and hardware makers give presentations that can make or break important product launches.

These conferences have had their fair share of embarrassing, exciting or just plain inexplicable moments since E3 made its start back in 1995. We’ve chronicled what we think are the 10 most memorable of these moments below, but there were many more that didn’t make the cut. Check out the honorable mentions for more E3 press conference goodness.

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Press Pass looks at the judges of the Game Critics Awards — how they’re picked, what they do and why they’re so important.

Press Pass: The Most Important Game Critics at E3

In a little over a week, thousands of journalists and game critics will be among the tens of thousands of industry members descending on the Los Angeles Convention Center for the Electronic Entertainment Expo. But 29 of these critics enjoy a special position in the throng. They’re the judges in the E3 Game Critics Awards (GCAs), and they’re among the most important tastemakers and kingmakers on the show floor.

While the GCAs aren’t directly affiliated with E3 itself, they’ve become the de facto independent standard for evaluating the show’s hottest playable games since their start in 1998. Winning a GCA sets a game apart from the hundreds of games that come out each year, and helps drive the kind of hype and pre-release coverage that can lead to greater interest and sales when the final game eventually comes out. Indeed, winners of the GCA’s 16 categories are often among the best-selling games of the year, and marketers use the “Game Critics Award Winner” badge on game advertisements and boxes as a mark of the game’s quality.

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Ten Key Racing Game Innovations

Today’s virtual racing fans have an embarrassment of riches at their feet. From realistic simulations to arcade-style driftfests to futuristic hover-racing to weapon-based vehicular combat, the genre is as broad as it is deep.

But today’s varied racing-game market is the result of a steady, 35-year progression in technology and game design. With the Indy 500 coming up, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 most important innovations that fueled that progression.

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Even in the context of its PlayStation release in late 1997, Klonoa: Door to Phantomile looked a bit anachronistic. Coming a year after Super Mario 64‘s wide-open three-dimensional worlds, Klonoa was still confined to a linear, two-dimensional plane, using graphical trickery to evoke a 3-D feel. In a time when games like Final Fantasy VII were changing the way we looked at epic videogame storytelling, Klonoa seemed to revel in a simple narrative that didn’t resort to fancy CGI cut scenes. Even in 1997, Klonoa smacked of a gaming past that was quickly receding — a past where bright, colorful levels and mine-cart excursions and collecting 100 freaking gems for an extra life weren’t just accepted, but expected, parts of what gaming was.

Over a decade later, all those anachronisms still remain in the recent Wii re-release of Klonoa. Rather than dating the game, though, they make it a delightfully charming throwback to a style of gaming that seems quaint and nostalgic.

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The last videogame news is in captivity. The Galaxy is at peace.

In this issue:

  • Nintendo DS being traded as currency in Japan
  • New group seeks to preserve Duke Nukem Forever jokes
  • StatSheet: Preparing for E3

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Press Pass: Blogging by the Numbers

When I talk about the subject of blogs (and videogame blogs in particular) with fellow journalists, PR people, developers and readers, I keep hearing the same few complaints:

  • Blogs just publish press releases and stuff from other outlets. They don’t do any original writing.
  • Blogs just post fluff like screenshots and rumors and pictures of cakes. They don’t publish real news.
  • All the blogs just steal stuff from each other (and the partisan corollary, [Blog A] just steals everything from [Blog B]).

While these arguments may apply to some blogs (and have perhaps fit all of blogging at one point), they didn’t really apply to my experience writing for Joystiq from 2006 through 2008. Sure, a lot of our day was spent summarizing and linking to the work of other people, and we posted our fair share of screenshot galleries and picture of cakes. But we also did a lot of original reporting, and wrote consumer-focused reviews, previews and other features that tended to get lost amidst the never-ending drumbeat of news posts.

Of course, I could make this firsthand argument to anyone who cared to listen, but I never had any hard data to back up my claims. Until today.

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 Plants vs. Zombies

It starts out small. So small, in fact, that it’s hard to imagine it ever growing into anything. When the first level of Plants vs. Zombies rolls out a single lane of grass, and asks you to click falling sunbeams for fuel to grow a pea-shooting plant that can hold off a line of slow-marching zombies, it’s easy to assume the worst. They’ve dumbed down the tower defense game! They’ve over-simplified things for the Bejeweled crowd! They’ve turned a proud, new strategy genre into a glorified click-fest with cutesy graphics!

But then the game adds new branches to this simple trunk. First it lets you harness more sunbeams with crucial, resource-producing sunflowers. Then it introduces new, tougher zombies that require more firepower from new, tougher (and more expensive) plants. Then you’re battling it out on nighttime levels where short-range fungus shooters can grow like weeds (except where there are zombie-producing gravestones). Before you know it, you’re deploying watermelon catapults to drive back rows of Zombonis (those are zombies on zambonis, don’tcha know?) while simultaneously erecting a protective canopy of palm trees to protect your balloon zombie-popping cacti from an overhead assault from zombies on bungee cords.

The change is so gradual that it barely registers from level to level, but at some point you look up and realize that Plants vs. Zombies has grown from a small, insignificant seed into a complex, chaotic, fast-paced strategy game that’s as addictive as the best in the genre.

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Nintendo DSi Buyer's Guide

Nintendo’s never been one to leave well enough alone when it comes to hardware. The original Nintendo Entertainment System begat a smaller, top-loading version of the system near the end of its life. The original Game Boy gave way to the smaller, sharper Game Boy Pocket. The clunky Game Boy Advance preceded the svelte, flip-folding Game Boy Advance SP, which itself preceded the tiny, tiny Game Boy Micro.

So it is with the Nintendo DS. After overhauling the original 2004 system with the smaller, sleeker DS Lite upgrade in 2006, Nintendo still couldn’t stop tinkering. The DSi, released in North America on Apr. 5, 2009, again refines Nintendo’s dual-screen portable with a new form factor, new multimedia features and even a new online shop from which to download new games.

Is all this newness worth the $169.99 sticker price? Read on to find out.

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