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  • Ultimate Xbox 360 Library

    Posted on December 7th, 2006 Finster No comments

    The Xbox 360 has been out for a year now, and I’ve played a lot of games at this point. I thought I’d lay out some of the titles I think are the must-own games for this platform. These are the games that you’ll want to buy if you’re thinking about picking one up for Christmas.

    Games that don’t require Xbox Live

    • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (94 on gamerankings) – this is easily the best (and one of the only) single-player RPG’s on the platform. It does have its flaws, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find them without spending hundreds of hours on the game or being a hardcore RPG aficianado. There is plenty to do and many different ways to enjoy this masterpiece.
    • Marvel Ultimate Alliance (84 on gamerankings) – More RPG goodness, this time in a more Diablo-like form. You control a stable of Marvel heroes from the awesome (Iron Man) to the obscure (Moon Knight), including a few of your favorite X-men. The character management and powering up is quite fun, as you can select several different ways of leveling up each character. You can also create and name your own super-team and gather in-game resources to trade-in for special team bonuses. Fun on many levels.
    • Splinter Cell: Double Agent (85 on gamerankings) – It may not be the best in the series, but it’s certainly much better than Pandora Tomorrow. For 3rd-person stealth action, Splinter Cell can’t be beat. The multiplayer is not terribly satisfying in this version, but the single-player is pretty dang fun, with a fairly good degree of replayability.
    • Condemned: Criminal Origins (83 on gamerankings) – This ones probably a little on the violent side, but if that doesn’t bother you, this has a great story and some interesting gameplay mechanics.
    • Viva Piñata (86 on gamerankings) – If you have kids, getting this game is the biggest no-brainer in the history of the world. It’s casual, easy-going gameplay is perfect for children. Also, you can pick up a 2nd controller and control the game in case your kid gets stuck and needs a little help. This way, he won’t have to give up the controller. It’s also good if your wife is playing and you want to annoy the crap out of her. . . . What?

    Games that DO require Xbox Live

    • Gears of War (94 on gamerankings) – The multiplayer on this game is an unstoppable tour de force of chainsaws, grenades, and head stomping. The matchmaking can be somewhat shaky at times, but the gameplay makes it more than worth it. Easily the best looking and best playing game of the next generation, so far.
    • Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter (91 on gamerankings) – This was one of the first quality shooters for the 360, and a recent update to the multiplayer lobby system has improved the online elements tremendously. The single-player and co-op missions are also a huge blast and offer pretty good replayability as there are usually several ways of attacking or defending various objectives.
    • Call of Duty 2 (90 on gamerankings) – Another game that has great single-player campaigns. The multiplayer system is great for picking up a game here or there very quickly. Graphics are pretty good. Not the best of the next gen games, but not horrible. Overall this is probably one of the best WWII shooters.
    • Xbox Live Arcade (various) – There are a TON of great titles on the Xbox Live Arcade. You can get your old school fighter games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat or get your REALLY old school on with hits like Pac-Man, Dig Dug, and Galaga. There are also some great indie titles like Small Arms and Cloning Clyde. Seriously, if you bought no other games for your Xbox 360 and played only Xbox Live Arcade titles, you’d have a lot of fun for quite some time. Just beware of the over-priced turd that is Lumines II.

    On the Horizon, there are still a pretty good mix of titles in the bullpen. Stranglehold, Mass Effect, and of course, Halo 3, all look to continue the trend of great titles.

  • Halo 3 Hype: Meh

    Posted on December 5th, 2006 Finster No comments

    Halo 3 Meh

    When Microsoft released the TV ad for Gears of War, the marketing push (at least just for the commercial itself) felt like a kind of, “We think this ad is kinda good and we hope you like it.” It didn’t feel like it was supposed to be this grand thing, and it kind of took on a life of its own. It was really good.

    But I get a little irked when Bungie says stuff like this:

    We just saw one of Digital Domain’s final submissions before the [1st Halo 3 commercial] gets finished and has Mart-Music added to it, and I have to say, jaws were dropped. I am not going to overpromise to you guys, but the Bungie folks who saw it were very, very impressed. And there are a surprising number of clues and glimpses into the finished game, although it contains not a lick of gameplay in it.

    As far as commercials go for a First-Person Shooter, it might as well have been a Call of Duty ad, or one of those fake gameplay videos for Battlefield umpteen42 that EA craps out of their marketing department every 6 months or so.

    It certainly wasn’t the worst CG ad I’ve ever seen, but it doesn’t give a lot of insight into the Halo universe (as Bungie has claimed). And the music might have been great, but honestly, I couldn’t hear it over the rest of the audio. I don’t mind hype if the game is actually going to be that good, like Gears of War. But one has to wonder if Bungie isn’t getting a little antsy after the great reception that Gears of War has received. It’s almost as if Bungie is trying TOO hard to be cool. Like that kid you know that has two clown syndrome. That can be the only explanation as to why Bungie is publishing such inane weekly updates.

    Seriously, TRYING to produce hype about a commercial is just lame. Please stop. Let the ad speak for itself. That’s what a good ad is supposed to do anyway.

  • Kutaragi Watch: PS3 failure = Promoted!

    Posted on December 3rd, 2006 Finster 1 comment

    Kutaragi Watch

    I generally loathe, but for once they actually had an interesting post. By now, everyone has heard about Kaz Hirai taking over Kutaragi’s position at Sony. Well, apparently Kutaragi is being maneuvered into an even higher position. Brian over at kotaku has noticed a trend which he dubs the “volcano school of management.”

    Heat from bad decisions and poor management builds until a key person involved in the decision-making process is pushed up and up and up and finally ejected entirely from the company.

    Hmm, sounds like Brian could be on to something, here. I’ve seen this kind of thing before. It’s sometimes easier to promote someone to higher and higher positions than to fire them, especially with high-level executive positions. Just ask Steve Ballmer.

    Anyway, with the PSP just getting into its death throes and the PS3 launch being less than impressive, I can’t imagine why a failure like Kutaragi would get promoted, but Brian’s Volcano School of Management explains things pretty well, I think. It’s kind of like how bad game developers at Microsoft get “promoted” to manage things like Database Interoperability in Microsoft Excel.

  • Nintendo DS: I finally have one

    Posted on December 2nd, 2006 Finster No comments

    I know, I know. It’s probably a little late to be jumping onto the Nintendo DS bandwagon, but I am no longer one of the unwashed masses. I picked up a DS Lite (Onyx, if you’re wondering) a few days ago along with Metroid Prime: Hunters and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both games, so far. And whenever I’m monopolizing audio/video resources with Gears of War, the wife has been having a lot of fun with Phoenix Wright. It, like many of the DS games I suppose, is intrinsically accessible. Anyone could pick up Phoenix Wright and start playing.

    Metroid Prime: Hunters, on the other hand, is an almost complete foil to the “casual-ness” of Phoenix Wright. In fact, that’s what I love about it. It’s like Halo: Portable Ops. Great matchmaking and online (even though I totally suck right now), deep and interesting story-line (so far), and the Rival Radar make this one of the funnest games I’ve played on a portable platform.

    Hmm, what to play next…

    There’s a lot of choices for the DS. I really need to find Trauma Center. Meteos, Final Fantasy III, and Mario Kart DS are all definitely on my list, as well. I know there’s a bunch more hot DS games that I’m missing. Now, if only I could watch UMD movies on it…

  • Console Interfaces: It’s Simplicity, Stupid

    Posted on July 10th, 2006 Finster No comments

    With videos of the PS3 user interface starting to percolate through the internet, we now have a better idea just how the PS3 is going to look and feel on the screen, and I think it’s a perfect time to evaluate the PS3 and look at what goes into a good interface.

    (Continue reading at

  • Sony Suicide Watch: PS3 hardware… not looking good

    Posted on June 5th, 2006 Finster 3 comments

    The rate Sony’s going, heads are gonna roll.

    Now, the problem stems from the PS3 hardware itself. Look at this image, taken from a recent conference (by Sony) for PS3 developers:

    PS3 Memory Bandwidths

    The Inquirer explains the problem thusly:

    If you can write at 250x the read speed, it makes Cell local memory just about useless. That means you do all your work out of main memory, and the whole point of local is, well, pointless. This can lead to contention issues for the main memory bus, and all sorts of nightmarish to debug performance problems. Basically, if this Sony presentation to PS3 devs shown to us is correct, it looks like PS3 will be hobbled in a serious way.

    The next slide goes on to say “Don’t read from local memory, but write to main memory with RSX(tm) and read it from there instead”, and repeats the table numbers. This is very very bad. The number of times the presentation goes on to say that it is correct, and the lack of anything like “this will be fixed by production steppings, so take measures X, Y and Z” say to me that it is not a fixable snafu. Remember at E3 when I said that the PS3 demos there were object sparse? Any guesses why?

    If the above explanation makes about as much sense as the physics of cream cheese, then allow me to break it down for you.
    The PS3’s architecture is BROKEN. The whole point of the local memory is to give the CPU it’s very own personal scratch pad. The faster and bigger that scratch pad (emphasis on faster), the more useful things the CPU can do each second. For some reason, the speed at which the CPU reads from local memory is… well… crippled. And it takes nothing less than a herculean development effort to work around such a bottleneck.

    I keep wondering what Sony is thinking. Look at Everquest II. Back in “the day”, Everquest was the end-all be-all of MMORPG’s. With World of Warcraft’s 5 million+ users, does Sony really think they are doing a good job with EQII’s 500,000? (Granted, compared to any other MMORPG, that’s still not bad.) Is Sony really going to be content playing second fiddle to the Xbox 360? Well, they better get used to it, because as more and more details about the PS3 are released, it looks more and more grim.

  • Backwards Compatibility Is For Chumps

    Posted on June 2nd, 2006 Finster 1 comment

    Our goal is to have every Xbox game work on Xbox 360.
    –Xbox PR manager Michael Wolf to in May 2005.

    We are chumps.

    Well, at least that is the message from head Xbox marketing wonk over at Microsoft, Peter Moore.

    Nobody is concerned anymore about backwards compatibility. We under promised and over delivered on that. It’s a very complicated thing… very complex work. I’m just stunned that we have hundreds of games that are backwards compatible.

    Frankly, I’m just as stunned as he is! I mean we have such great titles as Barbie Horse Adventures and Fuzion Frenzy. Wow, I’m simply stunned that MS even bothered compiling backwards compatibility updates for some of these titles. I mean, everyone had better dust off their copies of Kabuki Warriors! You might as well trash those old crapfests like Panzer Dragoon Orta and JSRF. Amateurs!

    Well, not to fret, because to the rescue comes Microsoft’s very own Pravda, GamerScore Blog! Yippee! Tell us, GamerScore Blog! What is in store from the hardworking EMULATION NINJAS?

    Lots of talk about backwards compatibility online today. We wanted to get to the bottom of it all, so we went right to the team working on the next back compat update. We hear directly from them that they’re in the testing phase of another update, and it should be out in the next few weeks. We saw the list they’re testing, and it looks like they’re hoping to add at least a dozen titles.

    Golly gee! A dozen titles! WOW! That completely blows the last update (of three titles) totally away! Thank you, oh great Microsoft, for your unending benevolence!


    In all seriousness, it’s a good thing Gamerscore Blog is around to continue the farce that Microsoft still cares about YOU the customer. You know, the people they made these promises to about backwards compatibility. Even though it’s obvious Peter Moore doesn’t give a crap about you, because he’s too busy kissing butt over at Rockstar Games in order to get the next Hooker Beat Down Fest Grand Theft Auto.

    I dunno. I’d rather have a little less Grand Theft and a little more Jet Set Radio.

  • Atari makes me laugh

    Posted on June 1st, 2006 Finster No comments

    There has been a mild uproar in the gaming community over Atari pulling the plug on Bioware’s Neverwinter Nights support. Apparently, this was done with several premium modules still in QA and almost ready to release. Atari was asked about this and responded with some marketing tripe hype about NWN2 and the new editor in NWN2 blah blah blah.

    A lot of people have also been quick to rip on Atari for this, and I don’t see the point. People are still going to make mods for NWN1. For crying out loud, there are still people out there making Quake 2 mods. I’m not really worried about this at all. No more official updates? Oh well. If the major bugs haven’t been squashed from the game after 4 years of updates, it’s not going to magically happen in the next year or so before NWN2 is released.

    What tickles my funny bone about this is Atari’s seeming inability to make any kind of positive contact with the gaming community. When given the chance to issue a salient response to why NWN is no longer being supported, the best they can come up with is, “Our goal is to make Neverwinter Nights 2 one of the most compelling RPG experiences seen in years by also making it one of the most mod-friendly games ever.”

    Seriously. Atari. Free advice for ya: fire your PR department, because they SUCK.

    In other news, I went over to to check out this whole GamersFirst program they’re doing, which really just boils down to cutting prices on all of their back catalog to $20 and then supposedly offering it for download through Direct2Drive and “Valve”. (I guess they meant Steam, but who knows.)

    I’ve checked out Direct2Drive, and my Steam client, and so far there is no sign of any of the newly priced $19.99 titles. I wonder if Atari even talked to Valve, because typically Valve has been pretty eager to announce new Steam platform product offerings.

    Meanwhile, if you go to the GamersFirst site (supposedly the one place these games should be available for download today), and click on any of the titles they have listed as “available for download” (I use the term available loosely, here). You will have the title added to your shopping cart. Unfortunately, Atari appears to be charging $5 shipping and handling and teh delivery method is defaulted to “Physical Shipment”. Yeah, I was a little surprised. I’m sure it’s just a bug in their system, but it’s one more thing that makes me chuckle at Atari’s complete ineptitude.

    It’s like they’re being managed by a team of monkeys or something. All of Atari’s problems remind of the last dying actions of another developer/publisher… Interplay, who, oddly enough, is still filing financial reports with the SEC. And in case Atari doesn’t know, here’s a graph showing how much $100 spent investing in Interplay 5 years ago is worth today.

    Interplay Performance

    Translation: $0

    Good luck, Atari!

  • Kutaragi Watch: PS3 is not just a toy

    Posted on May 26th, 2006 Finster No comments

    Kutaragi Watch

    I saw on Next Gen that Kutaragi was quoted in Famitsu as saying

    If you consider the PlayStation 3 a toy, then yes, it is an expensive toy. However, it is more than a toy. It is a PlayStation 3. And it is the only PlayStation 3. I hope that those who understand this will gladly purchase it.

    Uh… was Kutaragi even TRYING to make sense?

  • I Love Bees and Halo 3

    Posted on May 17th, 2006 Finster No comments

    Almost two years have passed since the “Haunted Apiary” viral marketing game took place. “I love bees” will always be cherished words to hardcore fans of the Halo series. The I Love Bees audio play fleshed out the Halo universe and introduced some new characters, while simultaneously giving us insight into the possible backgrounds of Cortana and the Master Chief. The star character of the “Haunted Apiary” was a time-traveling AI named Melissa. You can read her final letter to everyone who participated in the I Love Bees adventure.

    For most people, you’ll read this and say to yourself, “So what?” I’m about to tell you what, indeed.

    Navigate to and you’ll see a countdown with 199598 days and some change. (You’ll need to use IE, as the timer doesn’t seem to render in Firefox.)

    Take any good date calculator. (I used a MySQL client and the date_add() function.)

    Add the remaining time left on the counter to today’s date.

    The result is November 8, 2552. I know, I know, “SO WHAT?”

    Based on the novels and other background information, The events of Halo 2 take place in late October, with some conjecture as to the date of the Second Battle of Earth depicted at the conclusion of Halo 2, but is likely sometime around November 2, 2552. Based on what Bungie has said about Halo 3, that it may take place “very shortly after” the conclusion of Halo 2, it becomes obvious that some of the “I Love Bees” characters may figure prominently in Halo 3.

    Does the activation of the Forerunner artifact depicted in the Halo 3 Announcement trailer somehow relate to the expiration of the “I Love Bees” countdown?

    Only Bungie knows for sure, but Halo 3 will prove whether Bungie has been able to tie everything together and bring the entire story full circle.