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by Mike Schiller

16 Apr 2008


This is actually the third season for the current generation of video baseball games, given the Xbox 360’s head start with Major League Baseball 2K6 way back in ‘06.  It’s the second season for Sony’s PlayStation 3 versions of their own baseball game.  As such, it would be plenty understandable for Sony to choose to put all of their effort into the PlayStation 3 version of the game, leaving the PlayStation 2 version behind.  They could have gone the EA route, putting out almost exactly the same game as last year with updated rosters, put it out at a budget price, and been done with it.

Of course, given the number of late adopters who still haven’t hopped onto the PS3 bandwagon, it’s also plenty understandable that they didn’t quite go that route.

Major League Baseball 2K8, as you might have read via today’s review from Jason Cook, has chosen to take the path of innovation, completely overhauling pretty much every aspect of baseball gameplay that we have come to know.  The hitting, pitching, and even the fielding in 2K8 features a heavy reliance of the capabilities that modern controllers wield, capabilities that the classic baseball sims never truly even tried to take advantage of.  MLB 08: The Show for the PlayStation 3 features highly developed online modes, hard drive-utilizing features, and all kinds of the extra features one would expect from a PlayStation 3 baseball sim.  The PlayStation 2 version of the same game, however, might just be perfect for the players weaned on Bases Loaded and R.B.I. Baseball, a classic experience with updated graphics and just enough game modes to keep you happy if you’re in the mood for something new.

The reason MLB 08 works for the classic players is that its primary game mechanics will be extremely familiar to just about anyone.  Sure, it’s a little bit more advanced than “press ‘A’ to pitch”, but not all that much.  You’re still swinging the bat with one button.  Fielding feels as natural as it ever has, because you’re doing it in ways that you recognize.  There’s no new paradigm, no new control ideal that must be learned; even without a look at the instruction book or an ounce of experience, you’ll be able to step right in to MLB 08 for the PlayStation 2 and be able to play.  You’ll probably lose, yes, but you’ll be able to play.

Where Sony chose to improve the game is in ways that help the digitized men in the game to perform better.  A pitcher can study a hitter’s tendencies, and a hitter can study a pitcher’s.  A fielder can use the wall to his advantage to jump up and rob a home run.  These are things that improve the experience without necessarily taking away from the pick up ‘n play scheme.  It eases you in to the new features, as once you’re used to the basics, you can slowl y introduce the more advanced play styles to your arsenal of moves.  The fantastic “Road to the Show” play style has been updated as well, as the success/fail dynamic of the tasks your manager gives you aren’t quite so cut and dried as they were before, which makes the play experience less discouraging.

As such, it’s obvious that Sony didn’t put the full-on effort into the PlayStation 2 version of MLB 08: The Show, not like they did the PS3 version, anyway.  What they came up with is entirely the polar opposite of the Major League Baseball 2K8 approach to baseball, subtle tweaks that improve the game rather than overhauling.

In short: it’s the perfect baseball experience for the ex-core PlayStation 2 owner who just isn’t quite ready to move to “next-gen”.

by L.B. Jeffries

14 Apr 2008


Operating on the principle that a game’s identity comes from the player input which itself is defined by both story and game design, the next stage of creating a critical method for video games is isolating those three variables. We’ll start with the most familiar to the medium of video games: the game design. Making an attempt at objectivity, we’ll examine the subject by looking at games with very shallow game design and ones with very complex design. What is the result of either? Steve Gaynor, in his blog, notes that a lot of people just don’t have the time to learn how to play a game and be competitive. Keep in mind that that’s not just referring to online play, it can be as simple as the player being unable to actually finish a game without a lot of work. At the same time, complex design can instill both a sense of achievement and allow for greater depth of player input. A game with deep design will allow a player to customize their own approach and make the game experience an individual one.

To begin, what are the benefits of having a complex, deep game design?

by Mike Schiller

14 Apr 2008


In summary:

Three systems (the PS2, PSP, and Xbox 360) have absolutely nothing coming out this week, other than whatever not-yet-announced games will be occupying the weekly downloadable slots.  The PS3’s only release is a game that’s not finished yet, released so that gamers can be offered the “privilege” of playing 1/3 of a game for 2/3 of the price (a detail that will not at all deter the fans of the admittedly killer Gran Turismo series).  The DS features three games that actually feature exclamation points as part of their titles.  The PC mostly gets games that console players have picked up, played through, and forgotten about at this point, along with some expansion sets.  And the Wii…well…

The Wii version of Okami

The Wii version of Okami

My game of the week last week was a re-release, too, so I hesitate to do this, but no matter how many times I look over this list, nothing sticks out like Okami does.

Yes, it’s been out for a year and a half.  Yes, it was all over the best of ‘06 lists when it came to awards and all that.  Still, it’s impossible to ignore a game that many said outshined The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess when it came out, and was certainly pulled off with more originality.  Anyone who loves the Zelda series is nuts if they haven’t tried Okami yet, and now it’s appearing for a system that it seems all but made for, what with the painting dynamic that drives so much of its gameplay.  Add in enhanced visuals (Okami in 16:9 does sound appealing) and a reduced price ($39.99), and you have one of the most appealing Wii purchases yet seen on the system.

Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis for the PC

Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis for the PC

In other games, the newly-enabled capability of the Wii’s Virtual Console to handle Sega Master System titles means that Fantasy Zone can actually be released, so now I may actually play it in a form that goes beyond the easter egg in Arnold Palmer Tournament Golf.  Also, for you puzzle-solving types, Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis on the PC looks like it has some serious potential as well, and you probably won’t need a graphics card update to play it.

The rest of the week’s releases…after the break:

by Mike Schiller

11 Apr 2008


Here’s why Google is great, and their advertising scheme works:

Just last week, I was sending an e-mail to somebody about Super Mario something-or-other (I think it was an Ebay seller about a copy of Super Mario Bros. 3 or something, but that’s not all that relevant here).  I couldn’t help but notice that, after I sent the mail from my Gmail account, one of those little one-line text ads popped up at the top, saying something like “Like Super Mario Bros.?  Try Super Chick Sisters!”  What kind of responsible journalist would I be if I didn’t click on that link?

Hovering over the link, I couldn’t help but notice that I was on my way to PETA’s website, but I clicked anyway.  There’s a certain sleaziness about PETA that’s hard to shake, in that what they’re doing tends to be motivated by good (or at least understandable) causes, but their methods tend to be a bit, well, questionable.

Super Chick Sisters has actually been around for almost a year now, as it turns out, and it’s easy to see why it continues to draw visitors:  For a piddly little Flash game, its production values are quite high, and its presentation pretty slick.  Pamela Anderson has been kidnapped, you see (just before she was about to break the story that KFC’s methods are, um, unsavory, to put it lightly), and it’s up to Mario & Luigi

Nugget & Chickette to save the day from the evil corporate KFC warlords who have kidnapped her!  As is told in a variety of cute little cutscenes between levels, Mario & Luigi have been afflicted with “Wiitis”, which I think roughly translates to Wii Sports: Tennis elbow.

It’s not just the cutscenes that are “cute”, either; the entire game has a gloss and a happy feel to it that’s entirely at odds with the information being presented.  It’s classic let-down-your-guard kind of stuff, presenting a Mario-esque functionality and power-up system with a Sonic the Hedgehog Green Hill Zone sort of happy shinyness to it (the first level is most reminiscent of the latter, but the happy shinyness never really lets up).  As you run around stomping on Colonel-bots and whatnot, you also get information from randomly scattered people as to the specifics regarding KFC’s cruelty.  Example: They cut off the beaks while the chickens are still alive.  It’s a terribly gruesome thought, and the juxtaposition of this sort of education with the primary-colored glare that comes off of the game is difficult to resolve.

The difficult thing about Super Chick Sisters is that it’s actually sort of fun as far as Flash games go.  Not only that, but the presence of actual unlockables (in a Flash game!) and an ever-changing landscape is enough to keep you going.  The thing is, the propaganda never, ever lets up.  You see tale after tale about the overcrowded, crippling conditions, and you become either an activist or an accomplice; there’s really no in between once the game beats you over the head with its message long enough.

As such, as much as I’m loathe to allow a game to muck with my psyche as much as this one does, I think it’s a brilliantly executed stunt on PETA’s part.  They have actually managed to tread the line that makes a game casual enough to draw you in and absorbing enough, once you’re in, to keep you for the long haul (something that far too many big name developers have been trying and failing at for years).  As long as they keep you, then, they can slowly wear down your defenses, to the point where you’re putting Pamela Anderson in your MySpace top 8, dousing yourself in sheep’s blood and yelling things outside KFC’s corporate headquarters.  This is brainwashing at its most subversive, and as such, it’s really rather brilliant.

Since the release of Super Chick Sisters, PETA has actually released another game, called Bloody Burberry: The Fur Fighters.  While it appears to use the same color palette, its PETA-specific activities, bleak tone, and questionable attempts at humor (models are stupid, tee hee!) don’t capture the imagination nearly to the extent that something like Super Chick Sisters can.  If you haven’t before, go give Super Chick Sisters a try, and let me know how you feel once you’re done.  Are you comfortable with getting preached at while you’re trying to enjoy a game?  Was the message easy to ignore in the name of silly fun?  How did this survive the legal hand of the mighty N?  Drop your thoughts in the comment box, and, of course, enjoy your weekend.

by Arun Subramanian

10 Apr 2008


It’s bad enough that European gamers have to wait longer than gamers in the States for consoles and games.  But the recent Rock Band pricing announcement for Europe really sticks it in and breaks it off.  In the UK, the cost for the whole thing will be roughly $350 in American dollars, and the rest of the continent has to pay around $375 American.  While the VAT tax is being used, at least partially, to defend the price hike, that tax is around 17.5%, which doesn’t really translate to doubling the price.

One of the most ridiculous defenses comes directly from Rob Kay, director of design at Harmonix.  In an interview with videogamer.com, he said: “This is a different experience. You cannot have a multi-player, multi-peripheral game be in the same price point as a regular game. What it delivers is so much bigger and so much better. We understand that people are going to feel a little bit aggrieved about it but we hope that playing the game will override that feeling.”  I’m having trouble understanding how this “different experience” is different from the “different experience” that was released in the US last year for half the price.

I can’t justify spending the price of a console for a game, particularly one where the high price comes from peripherals.  Steel Batallion, anyone?  You almost had to buy the second game in that series to justify having blown $100 on the first one.  I guess it remains to be seen if the money I’ve spent on the Rock Band peripherals will be a decent investment.  Harmonix is starting to have a history of not supporting interoperability between the peripherals it produces and the various games for which they probably should work.  I had trouble deciding to whether to purchase Rock Band, even living in the States.  If I lived in Europe, I’d almost certainly just have to play at a rich friend’s house.

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