Thursday, June 30, 2011

Rift in Review, Part 3

The final wrap up of Megan's extensive review of Rift. This is the clincher - the part where she...well, I won't ruin any surprises. We certainly enjoyed having her as a guest blogger! If anyone out there wants to post, please email us at achievos @ and let us know!
I’ll go straight for the throat now – why, despite enjoying this game, did I go back to WoW? There is no singular, big, unifying answer; more of a lot of small things that gave me the desire to head back to Azeroth. Keep in mind that most of these centers around end game complaints, which will never be an issue for many MMO players. One issue I had was each server, or shard, is not assigned a time zone. This initially didn’t strike me as too much of a deal breaker until I had reached max level and wanted to proceed into more end game oriented activities (the more difficult 5 man dungeons, and raids). It’s quite disheartening to put all this time into leveling only to realize that there are no guilds wanting to raid at the times you have available.
My major debilitating feature was the lack of add ons. Anyone who has actually seen my interface in WoW can tell I’m an add on junkie. Now don’t mistake me, the game is quite playable as is. It’s perfect for the beginning player, as anything that gives you more information or customization inherently becomes more complex. But, there are ways to do it so much better, and add ons are a great way for this to happen without having to waste developer time that is better spent on creating new content, or running the risk of confusing new or more casual players. My character is a cleric, and I wanted to heal end game content, and I didn’t want to heal it just any way, I wanted to heal it as a warden, which is a heal over time based healer. Healing on a character who relies on HoT spells is absolutely infuriating when you have no way to track what characters have your spells on them already without clicking on the person and searching through a massive buff list to try and locate what might be your spell. Possible? Yes. Makes me feel frustrated, annoyed, and incredibly inefficient? Yes, yes, and hell yes. And it is so much easier with a threat meter to tell as a damage dealer when it is ok to go all out or when you need to hold back, and tanking so much less stressful when you can tell how far ahead of your group you actually are. I could go on and on preaching about how much I love add ons, but this isn’t the article for that.

A heavily modified WoW healer UI, from WowInsider.  Rift has some basic UI customization in game, but add ons allow much more customization for you to tailor to your specific needs, whether you need easier to read health bars or just want something more aesthetically pleasing.
I’ll limit this to the big three of my complaints, since this post is growing to epic proportions already. Last of the three is how rifting tapers off as you get higher level. In the first few zones you quest in, rifts abound everywhere, and if you log on for three hours in an evening, you can count upon a zone invasion happening for you to participate in. I love the zone invasions; the entire zone banding together to force back the enemy, and a certain amount of tactics having to occur to be successful is exciting. However, the zone invasions suffered an abrupt drop off once you reached a certain point; I went from approximately level 30 to level 50 without seeing more than 1 or 2. Once I reached 50, the only time I actually saw any was when I decided to forgo my entire Saturday or Sunday, and then maybe I’d be online for one. For something that I enjoyed so very much, it was, to say the least, a disappointment for them no longer occur much at all.
With that said, I expect I will give it another go in a few months. Of my major complaints, I am quite aware the Trion is either in the process of fixing or has pushed some fixes for all of them (there have been numerous tweaks to try and get zone invasions to occur more frequently, there is some sort of free server transfer service for your character (though I’m not clear on the specifics of how it works), and support for add ons is coming soon). With these complaints addressed, I would expect my interest in the game would solidify much more. All in all, Rift is a sold game that shows all the signs of sticking around for a significant period of time, and I expect that most anyone that has enjoyed WoW will enjoy Rift as well, and I think it has some innovations built in that even Blizzard could learn from and adopt. 
The tentacles from beyond are going to get you!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Rift in Review, Part 2

Couldn't get enough, could you? Welcome back for more of Megan's review of Rift.

The Rifts also introduce you to another of the games quality of life improvements – Open Raid groups. Whenever you come near a Rift or Invaders, a button pops up on the top of the screen prompting you to join an open group to tackle the invaders. Auto forming groups such as this take away the annoyance of trying to get an invite to a group, particularly when the fight is going strong and people are perhaps too busy to manually invite. The open group format is also quite nice for quests with very specific kill objectives – all you have to do is click on a player’s name, select join party, and you are in a party with no confirmation steps needed. For those of you who want to play with a specific group of people, there is the ability to turn your group private, but I implore you to keep your group open as much as possible – it’s much less of a headache for solo players. The benefits of Open Raid groups are really shown during the Zone Invasion events (periodically the enemy will do a focused invasion attempt where everyone in the zone needs to band together to turn the enemy back) where you can join groups with those nearby in order to be the most effective.
The photo to the left is the p
arty bars in Rift, showing the absolute mess of buffs and debuffs (the icons) on the characters in the party, in some cases obscuring health bars of the character shown below it.  Most of this information is largely irrelevant, and could do with some filtering to show anything that is actually an important piece of information to know.  Digesting this in the middle of the action takes a lot more work than it should have to

The other main thing that sets the game apart for me is their class set up. From a clearly superficial standpoint, 4 classes seem very limited. However, upon closer inspection, there is a great deal of customization within each class to give an incredible amount of variety. Within each class there are 9 ‘souls’ (8 Player vs Event based, and 1 Player vs Player based), which to those WoW players out there are analogous to each branch of a talent tree, and you pick any three of these to combine to make your character. There are obviously so-called ‘cookie cutter’ specializations involved, souls that are ‘meant’ to be paired with other souls, but you can combine them in many unique ways to create a playstyle all your own. Also available for purchase as soon as you can enter the main city are additional specialization templates so you can save up to 5 roles that are available for use anytime (able to be swapped to whenever you are out of combat), though beyond 3 can be very cost prohibitive for a low level player. This ability to mix and match souls is very appealing, and it’s a great deal of fun to see how you can combine the souls to do different things.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Rift in Review, Part 1

Linz and Debbie would like to introduce their first guest blogger: Megan. She and Linz went to high school together. Megan is an avid PC gamer, and was kind enough to give us a thorough rundown on Rift, especially on its points versus WoW. Here is part one of her review. Come back tomorrow for part two.
It seems every new MMO brags that it will be the fabled “WoW Killer.” A slew of games have gone past with the label, including (but not limited to) Warhammer, Aion, Rift, Lord of the Rings Online. The only one of the many that seems to actually have a bit of steam to it to date, that can perhaps claim to have bitten a not insignificant portion of WoW’s 12 million strong player base off, is Trion’s Rift. No others seemed to take quite the direct aim for Warcraft like Trion did, with its “We’re not in Azeroth anymore!” campaign. My interest in WoW recently slid quite a bit, and I dabbled in Telara for a few months.

The game was quick and easy to pick up. Many WoW fanboys rant and rave about Rift being nothing but a WoW clone, and this complaint is not without a certain degree of merit. The default UI is strikingly similar to WoW, from the action bars to the party and raid frames. But, what people don’t remember (or refuse to acknowledge) is that WoW is now the Gold Standard in the MMO department. It redefined the genre, and it is what so many people expect in the new games. Way back when, before WoW became the monster that it is now, people also complained about WoW being nothing but an Everquest clone, which was the Gold Standard in its heyday. Part of what made WoW what it is today was its accessibility and its ease of pickup, and Trion uses this to its advantage. People familiar with WoW will be able to plunge right in and feel at home, while newcomers to the genre will be able to jump in with a very low learning curve. Being able to actually play the game itself very quickly is part of what will help it become successful, as nothing will turn you off a game quicker than having to slog through for hours just trying to figure out the basics.

An customizable raid and party frames, with indicators to show who has what buffs, debuffs, or heal-over-time spells active and a threat meter, showing exactly how far you have to go until the mob comes to gnaw on you.
 So what then makes Rift stand apart from WoW? The obvious - The Rifts! The namesake of the game is what the storyline revolves around. A quick story rundown: at your character’s creation, you are heralded as your world’s salvation. The world you are brought into has already been taken over by elemental Rifts and Lord Regulos. The remainders of your faction’s forces are now focused on holding the enemy back for just long enough for your character to be sent back in time, tasked with keeping Regulos from turning Telara into this Rift riddled wasteland. You are sent back to a point when the war is just beginning, when the Rifts reaching from the elemental planes are just starting to encroach upon the world. Your first encounters with Rifts are very simple, and a great introduction to the mechanic. As you level up, they become increasingly difficult, requiring greater skill, a larger group, or sometimes both to defeat. I enjoy this mechanic immensely, particularly the fact that they very often are not ignorable. The rifts at their beginning stages take over a swath of area, and any quest objectives are often unable to be completed until the rift is closed. As the rifts persist for longer periods of time, they spawn invaders that roam the country side, often going straight for quest locales, and if they aren’t defeated they may take over the quest locale, and any quests given or completed at that area are unable to be accessed until the invaders are defeated. There are some who detest this mechanic, who dislike having their routine interrupted for their playtime. Quite frankly, those people should go play a different game. The Rifts are one of the major differences of the game from its predecessors, and forcing you to confront them head on nails this difference home, as well as really giving you the sense that Yes, there is a War going on, and Yes, I am making a difference in this War.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Finding a Balance in Gaming

I freely admit that I have an addictive personality.  Even if I didn't admit it, I have several people in my life that would jump at the opportunity to call me out.  I don't really care for alcohol.  I've never done drugs.  My strongest vice lies with gaming.

I find it so easy to let gaming consume me.  When I was a member of a gaming clan, I slowly started letting all of my time turn to gaming.  I would volunteer for staff positions, participate in gaming events, and attend lots of practices.  Before I knew it, I was spending more than 40 hours a week logging hours on spreadsheets and hosting small teams practices.

After some pretty serious evaluating, I stopped organized gaming and just played for myself.  Even then, before I knew it, I started drifting back into my old habits.  Every single day off would be spent gaming from sun up to sun down.  Even when I worked, I was sleeping as little as three or four hours a night to squeeze in just a couple more rounds or levels.

This brings me to my friends being in town this weekend.  Since they are virgins to the big city, they obviously asked me where they should go.  I told them about all the museums and sites.  But what they really wanted to know, was how I liked them.  Even though I have lived in Chicago for years, I couldn't tell them because I didn't know.  Gaming has so completely taken up my free time that I have never made it out to see all that this amazing city has to offer.

My inexperience with the city led me to wonder what else I had missed ?  Once again, maybe its time for me to back off a little bit.  I won't stop gaming.  I never could.  Its my favorite.  But when I have weekends free, only play video games on one day instead of both.  Or during the week, I'm only allowed to play so many hours.  I feel silly restricting my hours like a little kid, but it seems like a good idea.

Either way, I think its important to me to find balance.  I can't let my hobby take over my life.  But I need to leave time for the things, like gaming, that make me happy.  Once again, I am obviously going to keep gaming.  And I am definitely still going to be up in this blog.  But balance is vital.   

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

3D Gaming First Hand

My uncle owns a high end A/V store complete with a full living room display containing a massive 3D TV. After lots of begging and negotiating, yours truly was allowed to do a little gaming. I played Black Ops on Xbox for three hours in Stereoscopic 3D. No more speculation. No more assumptions. Here is what's up.  

Ready ? Its f**king difficult. Like, really f**king difficult. I was playing the solo campaign on normal and having some legit trouble. The first noticeable problem was where to sit. The whole idea of 3D is to make the experience more engaging; to really engross the viewer in what is going on. But you have to sit uncomfortably close to get that sensation. With a video game where enemies are coming out of all corners of the screen, sitting four feet from a 60" TV is not comfortable.

After about five minutes of sitting up close, I backed up to 7 or 8 feet away. It still took me around ten minutes to get used to the additional dimension and find my groove. Even then, I had problems. It was hard to find and keep my eye on the targets, the
crosshairs, the HUD, everything. I did a little research and found the root of my problem. The eyes, and more importantly the brain, take three times longer to recognize an object in 3D than in 2D when its on a screen.  When the images are forced out of alignment (that's how they create 3D), your brain has to fight to put the images back together. When the brain is done auto-correcting, you have a picture in all its 3D glory.

Your brain hates this.
This whole process takes an absolutely miniscule amount of time. But the increase in brain activity and work that must be done is still three times what it should normally be. So for the entire three hours of gaming, I struggled. My brain was not used to seeing 3D. And since it was my first time playing, I didn't know what would be different. Would the background be extra deep ? Would text and subtitle reach out ? Guns, bullets, HUDS, cut scenes, all of it unpredictable.

The biggest question I had about 3D gaming was answered. Will this give me eye strain or headaches ? Yes. After three hours, I felt mentally exhausted.
I didn't want to look at another screen all day. Three hours may seem like a lot for some. After all, warnings encourage us to take frequent breaks while gaming. But I like to spend eight or more hours a day during the weekends playing video games. My game sessions would look like this: ten minutes getting used to 3D; 50 more minutes playing; take a 10-15 minute break; come back and spend another ten minutes getting my eyes and brain to readjust; game for 50 minutes; etc. Not practical.

So, lets disregard the fact that 3D is completely over-priced.
Lets pretend those dorky-ass glasses are actually comfortable and don't look hella dumb. And we will suspend knowledge that many people can't even see 3D (Lindsey). Forgetting all those other factors, I did not like Black Ops in 3D. It looked kinda cool, like a neat trick. But for those of us that are a little more hardcore and spend some serious time playing these games, 3D just isn't going to work... Yet.

You will never look as good as her at 3am in your sweatpants and 3D glasses

Sunday, June 19, 2011

You can't limit me, Xbox!

So I had a major “Say what?” moment the other day on Xbox Live.  I was tasked by Debbie to friend Kevin, her Kaiden-stand-in, and I joyously went forth, imagining hours spent together in party, knowing hilarity will ensue.

What do I get when I click to send the friend message?  This user has reached the friend limit.  Friend limit?!  Clearly Xbox is the friend police, and you are only allowed so much awesome contact.  The worst part?  The friend limit is 100.  One hundred.  Seriously? What is their reasoning behind this?

(frantic Googling happening now)

Apparently in Germany they increased the limit to 1,000.  Well that doesn’t help us poor Americans much.  There are claims that eventually they will increase the number (although 1,000 seems a little much, eh?)  I’d love some more customizable features with my friends list, like the option to group them (real life friends, clan, etc.)  This option seems especially helpful if they are to increase it to such a staggering number.  I currently have 47 friends and I can’t even keep them straight sometimes.  (Especially if their avatar looks nothing like them.  Stop being incognito, Xbox friends!)  Maybe even the ability to make a note on a friend that only you can see, like: “Met in Halo 3 match.  Kicks butt with a sniper rifle,” or, “Friend of So-and-So.”  Just a little something to remind me of who the heck you are and what’re you doing taking up one of my precious 100 spots!?

These two share a gamertag.  They look like this (photo on left) and their avatar looks like that.  How does this make any sense!?  Or help me recognize you in moments of friend deletion?

How many friends do you have?  Do you arbitrarily add people from matches that you don’t know, or are you hyper vigilant of your friend list, only allowing those on that you know and have passed a rigorous examination?  (Oh, your K2D ratio is 1:3? Sorry, you’re out.)  And, to top it all off, what if your real life friend has been offline for an indeterminate amount of time?  Is it time to give them the boot, too?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

7 Months to Go.....

I feel like I am announcing a pregnancy: a beautiful pregnancy where the baby will be perfect and so fun to play with.

The baby is the newest SSX title, SSX Deadly Descent.

I am so excited about this game that I am literally thinking about it while I play other games.  It is the love child between the Gamecube and the Xbox (or PS3, whatever) where it got its Father's charming personality and its Mother's stunning good looks.  In this setting, the Father is the Gamecube because Deadly Descent looks just as fun as SSX3 which dominated me and Debbie's lives in college on the 'Cube.  And it is all done-up purty for the new gen consoles, hence its Mother's stunning good looks.

Here... Just watch this video.

Real life mountains all over the world, lifelike snow, avalanches that generate a new path every time they start up... I'm telling you, come January this is where I'll be.
Care to join me?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mini Bezz: The Untold Story

His KDR? 2.10. His gamer score? Well over 50,000. His game library? Over 100 titles with 58% achievement completion. He's the youngest of three, enjoys a quality Tomahawk, and is an artificial intelligence that speaks proper English. Class, lets all say hello to Mini Bezz.

Whats with the name ?
My Brother was called Bezz, and since I'm younger Mini Bezz seemed suitable.

You play a lot of different game types. What's your favorite title?
Final Fantasy 9, now most Final Fantasy(FF) fans would say FF7 and FF8 were better games. Well, that may be true; but FF9 has my favorite character in it which is Vivi.

I have witnessed you taking part in some pretty intense gaming sessions. Tell the universe about your longest time with a controller.
18-20 hours. Me and my friend just stayed up playing Tony Hawk until like 10am.

Your gamer resume is pretty impressive. What is an accomplishment that you are most proud of ?
I have done CoD:3, CoD:4, CoD:WaW, CoD:MW2, CoD:Black Ops on veteran difficulty.

Flex your nerd muscle ! If you could have any super power, what would it be and why ?
Immortality, so I could play games forever **mwhahahahahaha** and see what call of duty 100 is like.

You recently broke 50,000g. How did you celebrate ? What is your next big goal ?
When I got 50k gamer score I simply celebrated by saying "booooyah" and then continued playing my games. My next gaming goal is to reach 60k gamer score before 2012.

You seem to be able to remember Everything ! Impress us with a totally random factoid.
That in a cave on Elder scrolls IV: Oblivion there is a giant Mud Crab and I know exactly where it is.

You were diagnosably insane for a week while playing Mass Effect, was it worth it ? Did you come away with any big life lessons other than learning what your breaking point is ?
I would say yes, it was worth it because now I can look at my games list and see I have all the achievements for Mass Effect both 1&2. I will do the same for ME3. I have learned that I should NOT play a single for a whole week non-stop otherwise I will go COMPLETELY insane, although I am already CRAZY !

How many times have you played Oblivion ? Why ? Which playthrough was your favorite (like were you an elf or a mage or what) ?
I'm not sure exactly how many times I played Oblivion, but I do know it was at least 6 different characters. Each had 60 plus hours on them. The only reason I think I did it was because Oblivion was an EPIC game and still is. I mean, you could just go around doing quests or you could simply go out exploring caves, forts and villages also while killing all sorts of creatures with magic spells or a sword and shield. One of my favorite play-throughs was when I was a Dark Elf. I found this cool armor that made me invisible and a dagger where it drained all the enemy health in 1 hit. It was funny just walking up to to this big minotaur and killing it with a tiny dagger in 1 hit.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sony's Playstation Brings New Hardware and a Sincere Apology

Sony has been having a rough time this year. With the entire network going down for over a month due to repeated security breaches, Sony owes some people an apology. At the start of Sony presentation at E3, that apology was given. Sony's president of their America Computer Entertainment division made an appearance to publicly eat some humble pie. It was almost three minutes filled with apologies and heaps of thanks to third-party developers, retail stores, and consumers for standing by Playstation's side.

Moving past that ugly issue, Sony has some goodies to share. The biggest reveal was the much anticipated successor to the PSP. What was being paraded as the Next Generation Portable (NGP) was given a face and a name, the PS Vita. Some of the major features of the Vita include a 5" touchscreen, streaming applications, and a lighter, more comfortable shape. There a
re two different price points for the new handheld. For a mere $250, this little wonder can be yours with built in WiFi. Take a small step up to $300, and you can get the unit compatible with the AT&T 3G network. The most amazing part ? There is no contract or monthly fee required to use their 3G network. That means streaming Anywhere !

They are also coming out with some pretty respectable launch title. Would you like to keep a sexy, minature version of Nathan Drake in your pocket ? I know that's a 'yes'. Keep an eye out for
Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Gamers will also be able to take their favorite, cuddly Sack Boy with them everywhere they go with the release of a portable version of LittleBigPlanet. Other titles include
ModMation Racers and Wipeout 2048. With some big games to look forward to, I might finally get a portable system for the first time in years.

Sony also brought out some more uses and applications for the Playstation Move. More games will be able to utilize the motion technology. They have also introduced some more attractive bundles for the Move that include controllers, the camera, and more for the low price of $150.

Of all the companies presenting this week, Sony was really the only one pushing the 3D technology in your living room. It makes sense since Sony are the only ones also happen to mass produce 3D televisions. All that in mind, they are offering some pretty enticing bundles. For only $500, you can get a 24" 3D TV, the active shutter transmitter with a pair of glasses, and a copy of the new Resistance 3. The package doesn't look very appealing to me, but for someone looking for a novelty that would probably fit great in a dorm room, this could be great for you.

Looking back on the presentation, there was nothing really mind blowing. There were new titles like Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. Sony is still trying to peddle 3D and the Move. The saving grace of this conference was their new Vita. Unlike the Nintendo 3DS, the launch titles look amazing.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Nintendo is My Soul Mate

I am the first to admit, I talk a big game when it comes to consoles.  I like the PS3, I love the Xbox.. and my Wii has gathered more dust than I'd like to admit.  But when it came to E3 coverage, Nintendo is the one that got my heart twitterpated and .. yes .. my eyes moist.

It's just so beautiful.

 Nintendo opened up their press conference with a presentation for Zelda's 25th anniversary.  They showcased the music from the series which has always been popular and important to setting the mood of the games.  They even announced symphony concerts worldwide that will play Zelda music.  I'm here to tell you that I will be on board if I can get to one of those concerts.  It was a nice presentation, and Zelda definitely deserves Nintendo's love.

The conference went on to spotlight new releases for the 3DS.  I have long been a stalwart against the 3DS - this stemming from my inability to see in 3D and therefore holding a personal vendetta against the technology.  Well... I have to say that this year's E3 might've made me a convert.  With upcoming releases like a new Mario Kart, Luigi's Mansion 2, and, most importantly, Super Mario I just don't know if I can resist that lineup any longer.  There wasn't word if these games would also be released as DSi titles, so I might just have to jump ship and get me one of them fancy-schmancy 3D numbers.

They went on to announce a new and beautiful Kid Icarus title: Uprising - with some Brawl-ish looking multiplayer in addition to the single player storyline.  It's a much anticipated title...but not really from me.  It looks fun and all, don't get me wrong... but I never played the first iterations of Kid Icarus.  Maybe Uprising will be the one that sells me on the series.  Something I am totally behind though?  Pokemon. The new title looks so fun, and the way the Pokedex is handled has been upgraded.  I can never resist a Pokemon title.

Of course, the big announcement for E3 was an new console: The WiiU (We-you).  The focus was on the new controller, and it is a doozy.  The controller is, as said in a developer interview, "the Swiss Army knife of controllers.  It does it all."  The controller boasts a 6.2" screen that has the potential to add to game play like never before.  The game previews showed people using the screen on the controller to look to the left and right of the TV - allowing them to see beyond your screen into more of the virtual space.  It also works as additional screen space for displaying your items and inventory in games like Zelda.  Perhaps most interestingly, they showed how someone else can be using the TV to watch a show or maybe play a different console, and the WiiU can stream your gameplay from the console to the screen on the controller, allowing you to continue your gameplay uninterrupted.

Way to step it up, Nintendo.  As we were watching, Debbie and I were texting back and forth and she said, "They are going classic.  But they just don't ever have any new, exciting games.  It's always remade and revamped classics."  And I think that she has a point.  Other than the impressive line-up of 3rd party developers (unheard of before with Nintendo and a breath of fresh air for the future!), Nintendo did showcase games that they have done time and time again.  Kart, Super Mario, Brawl... But you know what?  These games are like playing my favorite CD on repeat.  They remind me of all the fun that I've had playing these games over the years, and how much fun I will continue to have as they release, revamp, and improve on their series.  Nintendo, you are like coming home.

Microsoft's Xbox Blows Minds at E3

I am lucky enough to have access to live coverage of E3 during the day. So when day one of the three day conference kicked off with a massive presentation from Xbox, please believe I was all up in that. I was excited. I was disappointed. I was confused. I let out a couple fan girl screams. Here are a few items that caught my attention.

The big word for this year was Kinect. Almost every game or application of the Xbox from here on out will utilize or at least have the capability to utilize the Kinect. They tried to make it more appealing by adding more hardcore games. The latest edition of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon will now be integrated to the point that you can stand in front of the TV and use your body as the gun. Different gestures will cause you to look around, shoot, reload, and everything else. Be aware, the guy demonstrating the game looked like a dorkus extreme. Hunched in front of the Kinect with your arms out does not look attractive or comfortable.

A lot of people don't have a Kinect. I think a fair number of those people don't even want one. In an attempt to appeal to that group's wallets, Microsoft has made the Kinect usable is some new ways. Speaking commands to the Xbox will now help you control more, if not all, of the dashbo
ard. As demonstrated on stage, speaking a name like "X-Men" will generate a list of all X-Men related content. The latest movies, games, and the old animated series available through Netflix will fill your screen to make sure you get your Marvel fix.

The coolest use of Kinect that I found was when they demonstrated playing Mass Effect 3. I am unapologetic when it comes to my excitement about Bioware's massive trilogy. People will be able to use the mic on the Kinect to make the speech selections for Commander Shepard. I think this is going to hugely enhance the RPG experience. While your voice isn't carried into the game itself, I'm sure that it will help the overall feeling of really having conversations with characters. It looks like it will engage the player more than ever.

One feature that stood out was the addition of a Live TV capability. There were very little details given about this int
eresting add-on. The presenter expressed that they were in talks with cable companies, striking up deals that would include local channels. The large screen onstage displayed numerous shows and what looked to be DVR capability. If this were to really happen, I would be thrilled. But there was a gaping lack of details. At no point was there an explanation of adapters, new consoles, or some other form of hardware. It is hard to imagine how the newer consoles, (slims or elites), would be able to achieve the simultaneous in and output, especially give the console's tendency to overheat.

Games exclusive to the Microsoft brand were also showcased. Halo 4 was announced to the chagrin of many gamers. Most of my Halo playing friends are purists and see this as an attempt to wring every last penny out of the franchise. Its tough to argue that theory. But look forward to Halo 4, 5, and 6 where we can only assume that Master Chief will begin eating dinner at 4pm and using his AARP card for senior discounts at the movie theater.

E3 is still going on today and tomorrow. There will be big presentations coming from Nintendo, Sony Playstation, and various publishers. Hold tight, we will bring you a summary of all the madness, good and bad.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Noire Is the New Black

L.A. Noire is an awesome game.  I'm just going to come right out and say it.
It's realistic, gritty, dramatic...  According to a video I watched online about it it's also pretty true-to-the-times of the 40's and the style of detective work you would find back then.  (The video isn't the most exciting 11:16 of your life, but it is interesting and gives you a good look at gameplay and graphics.)

The game makes you feel like you are in control of a real open-world where you have to solve the crime.  There are clues strewn about crime scenes, some requiring you to look in the surrounding area.  Things aren't handed over to you like in some games, but it's also not impossibly difficult to find the clues and solve the cases.  As in the video, the ex-detective says, "We never get this lucky" when Phelps (your main character) finds a murder weapon in a nearby trash can.  You'll solve some crimes in a single area, while others will have you traversing the city looking for people you have to interview.

The graphics are beautiful.  The game earned recognition with its face capture technology, finally giving characters in a game realistic animation of the face.  And teeth!  For once in a game, the teeth don't look wooden.  I love it.  You can watch a character talk and it feels oddly like watching a real live person talk.  They flinch when then lie, they blink and fidget and look around.. It's really neat to watch.

When you first loaded the game up and looked at the city map it is easy to feel totally overwhelmed.  The city is huge, but it is beautifully rendered.  And, again referring to the video link above, it is realistic.  The ex-detective mentions both the police station and coroner's office looking just like that   in real life.  Talk about total immersion.  And probably my favorite part about the city is this: you don't have to drive it.  When you are traveling places with your partner for solving crimes, you can set your destination and your partner will drive.  I am a horrible driver in games, and this is a simple and easy solution.  Of course, if you're adventurous you can jump in any car and drive around the city on your own, discovering the various landmarks or each of the 90+ cars.

There are some drawbacks though, as with any game.  Most of all I have seen complaints online about it being too slow going, or boring.  I'm here to tell you - it is a slow game.  But you're solving crimes...That, to me, doesn't seem like the most high paced lifestyle.  I like the pace of the game.  It feels realistic to me that you would spend the majority of your time on a case in thoroughly checking out the crime scene, and then interviewing anyone and everyone you can find to help you out.  Obviously, neither of these things are as thrilling as sniping someone from across the map on a FPS or taking down a huge boss in an RPG...but that isn't to say they are less fun, just a different kind of fun.

Second drawback?  The realism!  Seriously, looking at the murdered bodies freaks me out.  But I am not down with all that homicide fascination that seems to be such a huge part of our culture.  I mean, look at the TV lineup - half the shows on at prime time are murder shows.  This game fits right in to that genre, so if that's your bag, you'll love this.  I'm just the kind of person that gets nightmares when I see a woman who was beaten to death with a tire iron.
Final drawback: anti-climactic.  I'm not through the game, so this isn't a statement on the end of it.  This is a statement on the end of each and every case.  You find the bad guy, you chase him down (they seem to run a lot), and then - gray screen showing your breakdown.  How many clues you found, how many questions you asked correctly in the interviews.. And maybe a sentence at the bottom about how you could've done better or what the perp will get for a sentence.  And that's it.  I don't know what I want, I mean, I know this game is already gigantic and they probably didn't want to spend the time on stories about each and every perp... but maybe for a few of them?  Every now and then give me a little bone - show the guy in court, or at least rotting away in a jail cell.  The cases just seem to wrap up so abruptly, it leaves me wanting.  This may be the style the chose partially because the game does play out like mini noire films.  Each murder has a stylized title screen at the beginning, and then this sort of "credit roll" at the end.

So if you've made it this far in this crazy long review, I congratulate you.  If not, and you skipped to the bottom hoping for a summary, here's the gist of it: try this game out.  If you like the gameplay of Grand Theft Auto, you will be a natural at how L.A. Noire handles (and you'll enjoy the improvements they've made from the GTA series).  If you like puzzle games, this is a fit for solving the crimes.  If you just want to try a game out that looks and sounds really pretty, then give Noire some of your time, I don't think you'll regret it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

This Needs Achievements

Ok, I was just playing Hexic (yes, you read that right, Hexic.  A game that, according to my timeline on the dashboard, I hadn't played since approximately 2008)... And I had a great thought.  Netflix needs achievements.

Now you might say: "How did you think of such an awesome idea?!"  Well...clearly my greatest ideas come to me when I am zoning out playing a puzzle game instead of sleeping.  Duh.  What can I say?  Those little colored hexagons hypnotize me.
So the second thing you might say to me is: "Isn't achievements for Netflix taking it a little too far?"  And for that I'd say, No.  The possibilities are endless, and hilarious!

Achievement unlocked!  10 gamerscore: You have watched 30 Tom Hanks/Tom Cruise/Bruce Willis movies!

Achievement unlocked!  5 gamerscore: You have watched 24 hours worth of 1980's television sitcoms

Secret Achievement unlocked!  50 gamerscore: You have watched (insert your favorite cult classic) every day for 30 days!

What achievements would you unlock on Netflix?

Also: While searching for thing link for Hexic I just learned that the game is FREE.  So get on Xbox and download it.  You can even use that link I posted earlier, heck, I'll even post it again here, and go to and put it in your queue.  If you like Tetris, you'll like Hexic.  It's super fun.