August 2009


Script:

  • PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE: After being leaked in ads from Target, Walmart and Best Buy, Microsoft finally confirmed a $100 price drop for its top-of-the-line Xbox 360 Elite system late this week. Anyone taking advantage of the new price should thank my cousin, who bought an Xbox 360 just three days ago, thus ensuring it would be cheaper before too long.
  • CATACLYSMIC: Blizzard this week announced Cataclysm, a 2010 expansion for World of Warcraft that will include two new playable races, a higher level cap, and, most importantly, the ability to master Archaeology as a skill. Indy would be so proud.
  • GOOD TASTE: According to a Twitter report, the sequel to cult classic and critical darling Beyond Good & Evil is “on hold” for the time being. Meanwhile, Cabela announced this week that the Wii version of Big Game Hunter 2010 would come with this large orange plastic shot gun. So congratulation, lowest common denominator. You win again.
  • RECORD BREAKING: Germany’s new GamesCom conference saw 245,000 visitors, making it the largest gaming trade show in history according to organizers. Despite this, attendees failed in an effort to break the record for most cosplayers in a single location. Come on Germans, step up your dress up! Let your freak flags fly!
  • LEGAL LIMBO: A bureaucratic snafu discovered this week means that England’s Video Recordings Act, which prohibits minors from buying adult-rated video games, has not technically been enforceable for the past 25 years. They’re working on fixing the loophole, but in the meantime I expect society will crumble as hordes of Manhunt-addled youths wreak destruction through the streets of London.
  • AND FINALLY this week we saw pro skateboarders gleefully demonstrate how Tony Hawk: RIDE will make all those years they spent enduring injuries and mastering highly specialized real world skills completely obsolete. And that was the week in Gaming for August 28, 2009.

(Watch video)


The consensus seems to be that right now is not a good time to be in the print magazine business. Across the industry, newsstand sales fell 6.3 percent in the first half of 2009 and overall circulation has been flat. The narrower gaming niche is still reeling from the January shuttering of Electronic Gaming Monthly after a successful 20-year run. All over the media landscape, you don’t have to look very hard to find people proclaiming matter-of-factly that magazines are dead.

So it seems an odd time to announce a new 148-page quarterly magazine, focused on a single game, with no advertising pages, no newsstand sales and expensive, high-quality paper stock. Yet that’s exactly what Future Publishing is doing with World of Warcraft: The Magazine (WoW:TM), announced last week at Anaheim’s BlizzCon fan festival. What’s more, Future is doing it with a unique editorial and business plan that might just be crazy enough to work.

(full article)


 

Pinball Wizards: A Visual Tour of the 2009 Pinball World Championships

Take the 376 West through Pittsburgh, then go down 279 South five miles or so, out to the sleepy suburb of Carnegie, Penn. Cruise down the four-lane Main Street, past the abandoned used car lot and the Wheel and Wedge sandwich shop (“Foot-long sub special: $3.99 + tax”). Hang a left across the Hammond Street Bridge to the industrial park on the other side of Chartiers Creek.

 

Pinball Wizards: A Visual Tour of the 2009 Pinball World Championships

For 360 days out of the year, the big white building next to the Clark-Fishman Flooring Solutions warehouse looks like just another underused industrial property. But for four days in August (and a one-night charity event in February), the warehouse opens its doors to reveal over 30,000 square feet of immaculate space, housing over 400 pinball machines and classic arcade games. Welcome to the annual World Pinball Championships, put on for the 12th time in 2009 by the Professional & Amateur Pinball Association (PAPA).

 

Pinball Wizards: A Visual Tour of the 2009 Pinball World Championships

It’s a sign of pinball’s recent tough times that the game’s premier tournament has to take place in such a remote and seemingly inauspicious setting. But it’s hard to feel gloomy about pinball’s fate standing inside the sprawling PAPA headquarters, listening to hundreds of pristine, playable pinball tables dating back to the ’40s fill the air with their clanging. There’s a nervous energy as hundreds of attendees mill about the wide aisles, feed tokens into random machines, gently jostle cabinets to avoid gutters, talk strategy with old friends, or simply look on respectfully as the best of the best show off their skills.

 

Pinball Wizards: A Visual Tour of the 2009 Pinball World Championships

For the 2,000 fans and nearly 400 competitors that will stream through the doors over these four August days, this obscure warehouse is the center of a vibrant, competitive pinball subculture that is far from dead. This is the story of just some of those people.

(full story)


Script:

  • SLIMMING DOWN After months of credible rumors Sony finally unveiled the PS3 Slim, a new model that’s 33% lighter, 36% smaller and, most importantly, $100 cheaper than the bulbous old PS3. The new Slim system removes the ability to install the Linux operating system though, drawing protests from the feature’s dedicated fan.
  • Meanwhile, in Britain, Microsoft is reportedly planning to raise the price of the Xbox 360 from 130 pounds to 160 pounds. I know this is due to a weak exchange rate across the pond, but still, someone ought to tell them they’re going in the wrong direction…
  • THE BLOODBATH CONTINUES According to NPD sales data released this week, every single video game system reported a year-over-year sales decline in July. The Wii was particularly hard hit, dipping to its lowest sales rate since systems were in short supply in March 2007. Even so, the Wii still handily outsold every other console on the market this month, so congatulations to Nintendo, the biggest shrinking fish in a smaller-than-ever pond.
  • SURVEY SAYS: YOU SUCK! A survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released this week found that American gamers were more likely than non gamers to be fat and mentally unstable. On the other hand, the same study found the average gamer is now 35 years old, thus proving that GAMES AREN’T JUST FOR KIDS ANYMORE! YAY!
  • MAGICAL MYSTERY SONG: Harmonix this week revealed 19 more songs for their highly anticipated Beatles: Rock Band game leaving the final track as a hidden surprise. The mystery track could be anything, but I’m secretly hoping for “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road.” Classic.
  • LONG LIVE DEAD TREES Future Publishing this week announced a new official magazine devoted exclusively to World of Warcraft. I’d say this would make great bathroom reading for devoted players, but I’m pretty sure most of them are so hooked they’re taking the game with them to the toilet. Ew.
  • TWENTY YEARS AGO this week, the Sega Genesis first hit store shelves. Also 20 years ago this week, I got my first Nintendo Entertainment System for my seventh birthday. Coincidence? I THINK SO!
  • AND FINALLY this week a new Scribblenauts trailer showed Abe Lincoln shooting a giant crab with a mini-gun, which isn’t technically news… or historically accurate… but is definitely cool enough to earn and endlessly looping playback in this space. And that was The Week in Gaming for August 21, 2009.

A casual football fan spends the night observing some Madden experts, and lives to tell the tale.

By any measure, the Madden NFL series is a bona fide videogame phenomenon. Since its start on the Apple II way back in 1989, the series has consistently been at or near the top of the year-end videogame sales charts, generating over $2 billion in cumulative sales for publisher EA Sports. The game is a favorite among sports stars and celebrities, who frequently mention it as a favorite time-waster at home and during long road trips.

Madden’s popularity has spawned the Madden Challenge, a nationwide tournament with thousands of Madden players competing in 18 cities for a $50,000 top prize, and “Madden Nation,” a reality-television competition entering its fifth season on ESPN2 this fall. The Madden Curse, an urban myth surrounding the unlucky fate awaiting anyone picked as a Madden cover athlete, has become a household term, and a 2005 deal with the NFL has turned Madden into the only officially licensed version of America’s most popular sport.

This is a game that is almost impossible to ignore. And yet, for most of my life, I have successfully ignored it.

(full article)


Given its standing among developers, critics and fans, it’s surprising that there aren’t more games that blatantly rip off Super Metroid. Where Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter II and DOOM inspired whole movements of cash-in clones, Super Metroid‘s distinct item-based, nonlinear action-platforming has been confined primarily to two franchises: Metroid itself and Konami’s Castlevania series.

There are a few exceptions in recent memory — indie hit Cave Story, for one — but the subgenre has been coined “Metroidvania” precisely because of those two series. With the release of Shadow Complex, though, the genre may just have to be renamed. I’m still undecided on what that new name should be. Metroidvaniacomplex? Shadowmetroidvania?

(full article)


Script:

  • TOUGH TIMES: Bionic Commando developer GRIN announced this week they were shutting down due to an “unbearable cashflow situation,” while Six Days in Fallujah developer Atomic Games said they’ve had to lay off “many” staffers while searching for a publisher for the controversial docu-game. Meanwhile, SEC documents filed this week showed Midway Europe Director Martin Speiss recently purchased the French and British arms of the crumbling company for… a single Euro? Wow… he got totally ripped off. OOOH BURN!
  • Speaking of stretching your money, Nielsen Research reported gamers were spending 21% more time playing games this summer than last, despite buying fewer new games and systems. Yup, there’s nothing like a recession to make you appreciate all those old games you never had time to finish.
  • LOOKING GOOOOOOD! A major update for the Xbox 360 Dashboard introduced new features such as synchronized Netflix movie-watching parties, downloadable versions of select retail games and the ability to purchase clothes for your avatar. Meanwhile, your local Goodwill announced a new program where you could spend that money on clothes for real people, y’know, if you were so inclined.
  • ANNOUNCING ANNOUNCEMENTS! Square Enix president Yoichi Wada said in an interview with Japan’s IT Media that an announcement of the Final Fantasy XIII release date would be coming “in a few weeks.” Meanwhile, Sony announced they’d be “making an official announcement regarding our forthcoming Video Store, next week, at Gamescom.” So, consider yourself warned, I guess. In other news, it’s August and this is what passes for other news in August, OK?
  • SAFE BETS: Raven Software designer Manveer Heir this week publicly offered to reimburse all receipt-holding purchasers of the upcoming Wolfenstein game, but ONLY if the game outsold the upcoming Madden NFL 2010 in August. So, wait, he’s essentially risking money against the success of his own game? That’s a little depressing, although, given the summertime sales success of previous Madden games… I can’t say I really blame him.
  • Speaking of Madden, in honor of the game’s launch today, Walmart is lowering the price of a dozen roses to $8 for gamers who “may need some early forgiveness [from] gals who don’t want to feel ‘left out.’” Yeah, those flowers ought to shut her up while you spend all weekend sitting on the couch building the Lions into a Super Bowl caliber team.
  • AND FINALLY this week we saw a video of a kid solving two Rubik’s cubes WHILE playing an Expert-level Ozzy Osbourne song in Guitar Hero. This isn’t technically important news but…. uh… sorry, I’m… I’m just mesmerized here. Um… that was the week in gaming. For August 14, 2009.

(Watch video)


Watch the Video

Script:

  • THE NUMBERS GAME! Newly released corporate earnings reports from Capcom, EA and Nintendo revealed some concrete software shipments numbers for a bunch of big name releases. Some highlights:
    Bionic Commando: 550 thousand
    EA Sports Active: 1.7 million
    The Sims 3: 3.7 million
    Resident Evil 5: 5 million
    Wii Fit: 21.82 million
    and Wii Sports: 47.62 MILLION? Good lord. Pretty soon they’re going to outpace those AOL discs.
  • PRICE DROPS? HAH! Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said a Wii price drop is something “there aren’t a lot of discussions going on about” despite slowing system sales. No word from Sony on a PS3 price drop either, even though CEO and executive VP Nobuyuki Oneda admitted this week the system costs them 70% less to make now than it did back in 2006. And Microsoft? Well, they’re reportedly getting rid of their $300 “Core” system configuration, so… hmmm… is a price disappearance is kind of like a price drop.
  • BETTER LATE THAN NEVER! Activision announced that a version of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare will be coming to the Wii this holiday season. That’s the two-year-old original Modern Warfare, not the highly anticipated sequel. That one’s only coming to fancy systems like the Xbox 360, PS3 and, er, mobile phones… *cough*
  • BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: PART II: Games joining the ever-increasing “delayed until 2010 list” include Activision’s Starcraft II, Capcom’s Dark Void and Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell Conviction and Red Steel 2. Some of these delays were actually announced last week, and I’d have told you about them then, but I was… delayed! Eh? See what I did there?
  • UNNECESSARY PROTECTION This week we learned the German Collector’s Edition of Codemasters’ Operation Flashpoint 2 will reportedly include a full sized army helmet. Useful for deflecting all that shrapnel you’re likely to encounter SITTING ON THE COUCH!
  • AND FINALLY this week, the publishers of Golden Tee 2010 produced this music video trailer to promote the game. Because nothing represents the world of golf better than… alt country… And that was The Week in Gaming for August 7, 2009

When I got done writing my Wii Sports Resort review last week, I looked around at some of the other reviews out there to see how my opinion matched up with the consensus. I wasn’t that surprised to see other critics give the game generally good but not spectacular reviews, earning it a good but not spectacular metascore of 80 on review aggregator Metacritic.

What did surprise me, however, was the wide range of opinions on each individual sport within the game.

There were a few offerings that the critics universally loved or hated, but opinions on the majority of the WSR mini-games ran the gamut from exquisite to execrable. While most of the final review scores for the game fell into a relatively narrow range, the particular way each critic arrived at those scores seemed to vary wildly. And while Metacritic gives a good aggregate opinion for the game as a whole, it doesn’t break down the critical consensus on each individual sport.

To fix this oversight, I decided to use a bit of pseudo-statistical analysis to figure out which sport was the generally agreed-upon “best” one on the disc. Call it boredom, call it morbid curiosity, call it a need to have my opinions validated by an outside force; but I just had to know. And once I knew, of course, I had to share it with you.

(full article)