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Fuel for the fire: advertising stunts in gaming September 11, 2008

Posted by Mike in Articles, Console, Games, Miscellaneous.
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The videogames industry in 2008 is a multi-billion dollar behemoth, fighting for the same consumer dollar as Hollywood and the music business in economic times that are becoming harder by the day. Recession-proof the industry may turn out to be, but any means of drawing wider mainstream attention to videogames past the so-called “hardcore” remains the Holy Grail for publishers and developers alike. Nintendo is fortunate enough to be in the position where its Wii console is regularly pictured in lifestyle magazines and newspaper supplements, usually being enjoyed by bowling-obsessed energetic grannies, but for almost everyone else, there’s only one sure-fire way to find their game in the papers: controversy.

Whether it’s the original Resident Evil magazine advertisement back in 1996, which featured a blood-splattered bathtub; or the bizarre US competition for Turok: Evolution in 2002, where parents were invited to name their newborn baby after the titular dinosaur hunter in order to win $10,000; or the headline-chasing, MP-baiting level of violence in Manhunt 2, throughout the years it seems that no stunt is too risky if it stands a good chance of granting game-makers the oxygen of extra publicity and the resulting higher sales potential.

Last Friday morning was no exception, when EA’s promotion for Mercenaries 2: World in Flames encouraged motorists to beat the credit crunch by filling their cars up with £40 of free fuel at a petrol station in Finsbury Park, London. What could possibly go wrong, right? The no-Mystic-Meg-required result was rush-hour traffic chaos, screaming matches between vehicle owners, police intervention, the premature abandonment of the whole thing, and then the point of the exercise: feigned ‘outrage’ from politicians and motoring organisations plastered all over the news media. The whole affair was irresponsible, ill-advised and breathtakingly naïve. At the same time, it was an absolutely brilliant marketing wheeze. A £20,000 fuel giveaway versus the amount of advertising spend it would take to gain the same level of media publicity… economically, it’s a no-brainer.

The EA spokesperson, Donald Parrish, claimed that, “Petrol is expensive at the moment and people are having a hard time so we just wanted to do something for them.” There was also an amusing attempt to link the chaos to the economic situation in Venezuela that the game’s setting supposedly satirises, which was a leap worthy of an Olympic long jump world record. I find it hard to believe that nobody considered the possible consequences of such a fuel giveaway, particularly when you consider the petrol price protests in 2000 and the continuing public ire towards the Government’s treatment of motorists. The responsible thing for EA to do in the circumstances would be an internal review to “learn the lessons” of the debacle (this must sound rather familiar to followers of politics out there), but it’s likely that instead of heads being rolled, the clever fellow who came up with the idea will probably be patted on the back. If I was EA, I’d be doing the same, particularly as the media coverage no doubt played a part in securing Mercenaries 2’s entry straight in at number 1 in this week’s software charts.

This won’t be the last videogames related controversy of the year, you can be assured of that. Like that bathtub in the old Resident Evil ad, the videogames industry is a bloody battleground that takes no prisoners in the pursuit of publicity.


F.E.A.R… what’s in a name? September 9, 2008

Posted by Mike in Console, Games, News, PC.
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Genero-game-titles are one of the most exciting features of the current console generation. Call of Medal of Underground Honour In Arms: Frontlines… where will it end? What will be the drabbest name come the End of Days (which is tomorrow, incidentally, if you believe the Hadron Collider conspiracy theorists)?

Monolith ponied up with the clear winner in this particular wall of shame a few months back: Project Origin. The amusing thing about this is that the name was actually chosen as the winner in an online competition to title up the heart-stoppingly exciting unofficial F.E.A.R. sequel. Yes, the imagination of the general public was to blame! It could have been called something brilliant, like “Alma-Getting-Outta-Here”, or my personal favourite, “N.O.L.I.C.E.N.C.E.”

Instead, the painfully average Project Origin was chosen (rather suspiciously, there are lingering rumours that a better name actually won in the polls but corporate shenanigans played a part in the final result) and instantly made any gamers who heard the title fall asleep for a hundred years. As a result, Paul McKenna is currently in therapy with feelings of profound inadequacy.

Thankfully, sanity has prevailed. Monolith today announced that the F.E.A.R. name has been bought from Vivendi’s home of Activision/Blizzard, bringing to an end one of the more bizarre licensing issues of modern times. (As you may recall, upon splitting with Vivendi, Monolith kept the concepts and the world from the original game, while Vivendi got to keep the name.) Give a cookie to the clever fellow who decided to splash the cash. What this development means for the proposed separate Vivendi-developed F.E.A.R. 2 is, at present, uncertain.

The promising Monolith shooter is now entitled F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin and will be released in February 2009 for Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC. The new moniker is hardly perfect, but at least the game itself now stands a chance of being scarier than its name.

Future Imperfect: The 2006 predict-o-rama roundup September 5, 2008

Posted by Mike in Articles, Console.
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I love the new, of course, but I also have a fondness for nostalgia. Every so often, I’ll randomly come across a piece of writing from somewhere a while back that I read again and smile at – or, if it’s one of my own contributions, cringe at the grammatical errors and pisspoor sentence structure. Anyone who says that nostalgia ain’t what it used to be is trying to be clever and failing. You see, it’s actually good.

Today I came across something that never actually went up on PSO back in the day. It was a piece entitled ‘Knights of the Round Table’. A couple of weeks before the last showbiz E3 in May 2006, various PSO luminaries sat on a long MSN conversation with the intention of predicting which way various aspects of the console war would go. You can tell it’s old, as we were still calling the Wii the ‘Revolution’. The transcript was eventually written out and made almost coherent even though it never made it online, so although it’s more than a little self-indulgent, let’s load it up, set the way back machine to its wibbliest-wobbliest setting, and pick out some highlights and lowlights to find out just how many Mystic Megs out of ten we scored…

First, then, to myself. A discussion quickly evolved about the previous generation of consoles, where a question arose about complacency from Sony regarding PS2’s software, given the success of PS1. Everyone agreed that Sony had been far from complacent, and in fact had the broadest range of games across last gen by a long way. I then said the following about the forthcoming generation: “Where the corporation is complacent, I think, is at the top. But in a world where even many game journos are taken in by quite-obviously CGI promo reels, is it any wonder that the top brass still think they can just coast to victory? A word of warning though… treating Europe as a backwater? Getting complacent? Doesn’t that remind anyone else of Nintendo in the mid-90s? It’s a long way down…” Fluke, or reasoned observation? All I do know is that this prediction turned out to be not so far from the truth. A good start.

We continued with a short interlude about the 360 hardware difficulties at that time, which were still an unresolved issue. Me again: “As for the problems with machines breaking down, as this was the first major home console launch where Internet forums are so numerous and so vocal, it remains to be seen whether it was anything out of the ordinary or not.” Note to self: yes it was. Whoops.

Then we talked about Halo 3. Dave thought the following: “The multi-player potential for the title is undoubtedly huge, and Microsoft will surely be looking to it as bait for masses of potential online gamers. 32, even 64 player maps? Different classes, a la Battlefield online? More focused objective gametypes? Yes please.” This didn’t come to pass on the scale that Dave imagined, but apart from the number of players online at once, this strangely resembles what the at-the-time-unannounced Call of Duty 4 became.

Chris had his own views on Halo 3: “I think the 360 has had a decent enough head start for it to not be quite as important as some think. While it’s going to be massive in terms of sales, I’m not convinced it’s a make-or-break release for the 360.” Pretty bang-on. Halo 3 was a massive release for the console, but the series certainly hasn’t had to hold up the 360 as it did the original Xbox, which is an indication of how Microsoft has moved on.

The next question was about the PS3, and what Sony would have to do to really drop the ball. Here was my take on things: “I think that the only danger is a combination of mistakes, rather than one big one. Too high a price, some big games missing launch, launch games not looking as good as Xbox 360 second gen stuff, online service nowhere near as good as LIVE. If there’s 3 out of those 4 then I reckon they’ll have problems. Any less than that, and I can’t see the Sony juggernaut falling off the road any time soon.” Again, this was just my feeling following the E3 2005 show – that Sony had promised more than they could hope to deliver in the early days of PS3. I remain convinced that it was the spectacular 2005 show that laid the groundwork for Sony’s comparative malaise, and that they’re still recovering from it to this day.

The Wii (or Revolution as it was then) had its controller revealed shortly before our conversation, and there was much debate as to how it would be received. Chris had this to say on the subject of it being a potential gimmick: “Not a chance. The Revmote (as I like to call it) is the big difference as far as the Revolution goes. The Nintendo difference, if you like. And, whilst there’s a danger that it will lead to games being shorter and more “arcadey” (it’s difficult to see it being utilised throughout epic 30 hour plus adventure games, mainly thanks to the “knackered arm” aspect) I think they’ve learned from the DS that the method of controller input is vastly important. A simplification like the DS has really attracted a lot of non-gamers. And everyone knows how to use a TV remote, right? So it therefore opens gaming up to people who would be baffled by a standard controller with all the buttons. After all, hasn’t everyone, at some time or another, tried to move their avatar/vehicle, not by moving the analogue stick, but by tilting the controller to aid the turn? Well using the Revmote, now such a movement WILL affect the game. It’s something that could really revitalise old genres too – “new ways to play games” – the ethos has never been more appropriate.” Now that leads me to want to ask Chris what he thinks next week’s Lottery numbers will be. Wiidiculous.

Nintendo’s attitude towards online gaming was next. I had this opinion on the subject: “I think that Nintendo is going to only pay online gaming lip-service to be honest, and only really because it realises it can’t get by without it. I don’t expect a service anything like as comprehensive as LIVE or Sony’s offering. I think it’ll be free and super-easy to set up, which is good. The downside will be that it’ll be very stripped-down like the DS service, and while this may be enough for people who’ve never been online before, and passable for those who want to play the likes of Mario Kart online, for those people used to the functionality of the 360 it may be quite a culture shock.” Okay, so now I’m asking myself serious questions about why I haven’t won the Lottery yet. I seem to keep picking the wrong numbers, clearly on purpose.

Nintendo’s launch strategy for their new console was the last question. What would lead to the best chance of success? Everyone had their own opinion. Chris thought that a still-unrevealed new game would be the lynchpin: “Pilotwings. And I’m really optimistic it IS going to happen. The demo of the toy aeroplane flying around Delfino Plaza shown to select journos by Nintendo themselves has confirmed it for me. I honestly think that could be the killer launch app. Mario will roll out later, I think. TP will be a big draw too.” Sorry, Chris. I really wish you were right. (Note to self: this subject could easily be the basis of an ‘Open Goal’ article.)

Dave completely got what was going to happen with Zelda, though: “Speaking of Twilight Princess, it’ll be interesting to see what effect the Revolution will have on its release. It’d make perfect business sense for Nintendo to release it solely for the new system, but could they get away with such an act after constantly reassuring Gamecube owners they’ll be included in on the act?” Nintendo did indeed end up releasing it on the Cube and Wii, with the bizarre left-becoming-right stuff, like Callaghan to Thatcher.

I, meanwhile, thought this: “I think the smart decision would be to have it Rev-only. A few Cube owners might be annoyed, but they’ll all buy Revs anyway…” Both wrong and unnecessary, as it turned out.

Olly, meanwhile, turned Russell Grant here by predicting a completely new IP. One might even say, Wii Sports. This is probably the best prediction of the bunch: “As much as I’d like to see a new Mario, a new Pilotwings, and a new Metroid and the like on Revolution, I think Nintendo really need to make this a new era and totally define the Revolution as a new way to play games. To do this, they need at least one brand-new Nintendo IP. Something they’ve never done before, and something designed specifically with the Revolution in mind, rather than an existing franchise adapted to the console. Sequels are great and all, but they need to define this as a new beginning, and a brand-new IP from launch would go a long way to doing that.”

To wrap up, I said the following, which was only a theory at the time but has proven to be just as true this time around as it was last gen, perhaps even more so: “It’s interesting, you know. The current gen required you to buy every console to really get a well-rounded gaming experience. I’m wondering whether the same kind of outlay will be required yet again next gen. With the differences between the emphasis, features, and exclusive games between the 3 machines, that seems to be the way it’s headed at the moment.”

Reading all this through, we didn’t really do too badly back in May 2006 in predicting which way things would go. But there’s a lot of mileage still left in this console generation. Things could yet be turned completely on their head. That’s one of the things that makes the videogames industry so exciting: the intense competition between the hardware manufacturers, and the ebb and flow of momentum between them. We’re just starting the latest silly season of software releases, and it’ll be very interesting indeed to see where the land lies at the end of it all.

Warming the Bench: Treyarch August 29, 2008

Posted by Mike in Articles, Console, Games.
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Treyarch is the Diego Forlan of videogame developers. More on this later.

There’s something of a glass ceiling in the industry. For every developer creating the latest high-budget blockbuster, there are ten more working on quickly developed movie licenses or Wii minigame compendiums, many of them either folded into, or on long-term publishing deals with, the big publishers. The aim for these devs is to work their apprenticeship on the bread and butter games that allow them to make a living, and then emerge into the public consciousness, either by making their own breakout independent IP, or managing to do a really good job on a licensed release that sells bazillions. But there are many devs that never manage to approach the upper echelons of the industry.

Treyarch is interesting because it smashed this glass ceiling and then fell back down again, which is an intriguing conundrum simply because of the circumstances of the developer’s existence. A part of Activision since its acquisition in 2001, there is little danger of it going bust, and it has two highly critically acclaimed titles to its name: Spiderman and its cunningly titled sequel, Spiderman 2. Released in 2002 and 2004 respectively, they were not only big hits, but good games to boot. Surely, after years of working on minor sports games and licenses, Treyarch had broken through. Surely now the only way was up. With budget and a successful franchise, with word of more on the way, what could possibly go wrong?

But Treyarch never managed to hit the lofty heights of Spiderman 2 again. What made it widely regarded as a fair-to-middling developer, simply plodding along at the behest of a huge publisher was, ironically, something that should have launched it into the stratosphere. Another Activision developer, Grey Matter Interactive, was merged into Treyarch in 2005, and along with it came the Call of Duty spinoff – Big Red One – that GMI was working on at the time, having already released one successful COD expansion pack for PC. Big Red One went on to be released under the Treyarch name, and was a solid if unspectacular game. It appeared to be lucky timing, though, as Call of Duty was subsequently to become one of the biggest franchises in gaming with the release of the second “proper” game at the launch of Xbox 360. With Treyarch now assigned by Activision to provide sequels for the non-Infinity Ward years based on its work with Big Red One, it seemed that future success was assured.

The wheels were already starting to fall off the Treyarch wagon before this, however, as its rapid expansion and quick turnaround time for development affected its output. In short, projects weren’t turning out well. Ultimate Spiderman was widely seen as disappointing compared to its prequels, despite a patchily solid critical reception, and the subsequent Spiderman 3 for next generation consoles was panned by all and sundry. That particular videogame franchise is now pretty much dead in the water, with Web of Shadows, the new game due out in the next few months, not expected to make many waves. Another title, a survival horror called Dead Rush, was seen briefly at E3 in 2004, positively previewed by various websites, and subsequently quietly cancelled. And then, the biggie that solidified Treyarch’s fall from grace and saw it become known as the “substitute developer”: the much-anticipated Call of Duty 3 was seen as an inferior game to 2 because of its buggy and seemingly rushed singleplayer mode, despite an impressive multiplayer suite of options.

All of this contributed to the collective groan across the Internet when it was announced that Treyarch was making the forthcoming Call of Duty: World At War. This was compounded by the revelation that the game was to be set in the much-mined World War II as opposed to the extremely popular modern setting of the Infinity Ward developed best-selling (and highly acclaimed) Call of Duty 4. Treyarch had become the Diego Forlan of videogames: warming the bench until Infinity Ward got tired, at which time it would come onto the pitch, look pretty, and completely fail to score.

But, luckily for Treyarch, the story of Forlan doesn’t end with his ill-fated three seasons at Manchester United. After he transferred to Villareal in August 2004 he started banging in the goals, finishing as top scorer for the season – an almost unbelievable turnaround. Treyarch may be on the verge of something similarly spectacular, having been revitalised by the addition of two important things that weren’t present before: time, and a spirit of real defiance.

Activision has given it an extra year to work on Call of Duty: World At War than it had for 3, and the clear subtext of recent interviews is that the development team is tired of being compared unfavourably to Infinity Ward. They really want to show that they’re not just the guys who get assigned a project by Activision, rush it through, and make something that’s “okay”. This change of mindset is rather compelling. There’s a new confidence about them. Even bearing in mind the WWII factor, COD:WAW looks like it could be the first Treyarch game since Spiderman 2 that’s not just a stop-gap release while you wait for something better. And furthermore, having been shown faith by Activision in being handed the keys to the lucrative James Bond franchise, the resulting videogame – Quantum of Solace – also looks like it’s going to be well worth a look.

Diego Forlan ended up sharing the European Golden Boot award with Thierry Henry in 2005, and it’s not completely beyond the realms of possibility to think that Treyarch, the under-achievers of the development world in recent years, and the long-time boot-cleaners of Infinity Ward, could well be similarly feted come the end of 2008. It’s a funny old game.

Shouting Galaga Laga Laga Laga August 28, 2008

Posted by Chris in Console, Games, Reviews.
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The retro revamp is not a new phenomenon in the world of videogames, but of late old-school revivals have been particularly common, with Space Invaders and Pac-Man both receiving excellent updates. Galaga Legions (from the folks behind the recent Championship Edition version of the latter) isn’t quite the same as the aforementioned lovingly-crafted tributes, mainly because if it didn’t have Galaga in the name, you’d never know it was Namco’s seminal blaster being remade.

Waves of increasingly tough enemies and the action taking place across a single screen are about the only similarities Legions shares with the 1981 coin-op, with a host of embellishments making this Galaga a very different beast.  For starters, you’ve gained two handy satellites, which you can position using the right analogue stick, setting them in place individually to shoot up, down or to either side. No diagonals, though – some things are determinedly old-school, not least the fearsome challenge the game offers. The game throws enormous swarms of enemy ships at you right from the outset, and from all directions – it’s a good job you can move from the bottom of the screen this time round. You’re given little visual clues, not only to the entry points of the Galaga enemies (small orange boxes pop up, like a particularly bad case of malware), but also to their projected flight path (a series of blue lines, often interlocking). Though these are intended to help the player, they more often than not simply induce a sense of rising panic, as you desperately guide your ship to a potential safe spot, before realising with a sinking heart that many of your foes shoot bullets too. Occasionally, you’ll encounter a strange type of enemy craft which, when destroyed, sucks all the other onscreen ships into a vortex, creating a barricade of tiny drones which afford you further protection – though inevitably that lasts about thirty seconds before things get back to gloriously hectic ‘normality’.

With all the notifications and the enormous heaving masses of enemy ships, Legions gets a little too busy a little too often, occasionally resulting in slightly unfair deaths. Yet it offers a substantial challenge across its seemingly meagre selection of modes (two) and stages (five), ranking it alongside Ikaruga as one of the most enjoyably hardcore – and surprisingly long-lasting – downloads on the Live Arcade service.

Norse Code – the riddle of Too Human August 26, 2008

Posted by Chris in Console, Games, Impressions.
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I received a copy of Silicon Knights’ much-derided Too Human through the post today. Well, at least if you believe half the stuff you read on internet gaming forums, you’d think it was much-derided. In fact, Too Human currently sits on a Metacritic average of 68 – hardly something to rival Bioshock or Halo 3, but not quite subject to the critical lambasting some were expecting.

Yet has there been any kind of marketing blitz for this key first-party release? Hardly. Then surely a special edition – the likes of which Fable 2 and the forthcoming Gears of War are being treated to? Not a sausage. Even the game’s manual seems a little flimsy and nondescript – neatly laid out and printed, sure, but that paper doesn’t smell very expensive.

Start the game, and you’ll likely feel equally unimpressed – production values are hardly sky-high, while the lack of both visual and technical polish (stuttering characters, clipping, enemies dying in mid-air and staying there) betray the game’s troubled development. Whatever your opinion on Microsoft Game Studios’ output this generation, few can suggest its games haven’t felt like they’ve had a thorough going over, with the sort of tiny, niggly flaws seen here all but airbrushed out. Yet Too Human’s blemishes and flabby bits are there for all to see.

Yet these eccentricities seem to add a little character to this curious game – there’s something fascinating about how such a strange title came to be. The story seems to take itself almost laughably seriously, but then there are comments in the manual that can’t be anything but tongue-in-cheek. And the equipment names are almost certain to inspire the odd chuckle – I’m particularly fond of my Willful Conformal Pauldrons of Havoc at the moment. The game is hardly an easy sell – it’s a Diablo-esque dungeon crawler with a combat system that seems to posit itself as an RPG version of Devil May Cry, as your hero Baldur slashes away with swords, juggling enemy mechs and shooting them with twin pistols as they fall. And, weirdly, all this is accomplished by holding and flicking the right analogue stick, the camera controls taken entirely out of the user’s hands. Yet it remains curiously compelling – defiantly its own beast, somehow Too Human mixes Norse mythology and nanomachines, fast-paced hackandslash action and messy menu-fiddling, and just about makes it all cohesive. And it’s addictive enough to make me want to continue playing after the first couple of dungeons, so it must be doing something right.

In some ways it’s little wonder Microsoft is refusing to start a fanfare for Too Human, but this plucky outsider seems plenty capable of blowing its own trumpet – if, admittedly, to a smaller, more cult-sized audience than its publisher usually attracts.

Changing the game: High score chasing in Geometry Wars 2 August 25, 2008

Posted by Mike in Articles, Console, Games.

It’s such a simple idea, but aren’t they always the best ones?

Geometry Wars 2 has singlehandedly changed the visibility of high score chasing, accomplishing this via the use of one exceedingly clever gaming device: putting the online leaderboards front and centre in the game.  Every time you’re in the single player menu, your friends’ high scores for each of the six game modes are there staring at you.  When you start a new game, the score that’s one higher in the list than your own is up in the top-right hand corner, daring you to beat it.  There’s no need to back out to extraneous menus to see this information, which is a revelation.

The sense of competition between online friends on this game is a step beyond what I’ve seen before, and it’s all because of that next score laughing at your inadequate skill level, and the heat of the people behind you slowly getting closer to your own markers.  An intended five minute session on the game quickly turns into a two hour marathon as a result.  I personally have to beat at least one score before I feel able to turn GW2 off, otherwise I know that the names up in lights would still be there while I was sleeping, mocking me for my continuing failure.  The addition of special GW2 Gamercard sigs for online forums on MyGamercard.net, which links to people’s live scores for each of the modes, makes the race to the top of your friends list to remain in the mind even when away from the game itself.  It becomes an addiction.

Every developer of a title where high scores are important is going to copy the idea.  It’s undeniably evil, yet ridiculously compelling.  It’s the three-letter scoreboards from ancient Pacman and Space Invaders machines transported into the modern age: no longer just rivalries within one arcade, but accessible to the entire world, with no one involved able to tear themselves away from the continuing competition.

High score chasing lives, and we never knew how much we missed it until now.  Thank you, simplicity.

Open Goals #1: Daytona USA August 25, 2008

Posted by Mike in Articles, Console, Games.

A new series of articles in which we discuss games that developers should be making, reimagining or sequelling, and urge them to take the plunge…

“Daytona! Let’s go away!”  Prophetic words from Daytona USA’s title song, as it happens.  After one solitary (and inferior) arcade sequel, the racing series, much beloved of gamers of a certain age, has remained on ice for ten years, save for indifferent home console translations.  But following the successes of recent reimaginings such as Bionic Commando and Pacman, shouldn’t Sega’s arcade classic be given another chance?

Daytona USA was the undoubted poster child of Sega’s Model 2 arcade hardware at the time, a graphically phenomenal racing beast far beyond what was possible on consoles at the time of its UK release in 1994.  Its first course, the simple Three Seven Speedway, is the arcade memory of my mid-teens.  Starting off in fortieth place in the race (yes, there were forty cars racing at the same time!  Incredible, or so I thought at the time!), eight intense laps of an oval circuit followed.  The sense of speed, coupled with the force feedback of the arcade steering wheel, gave the player a feeling of immersion that had never previously been achieved in a racing game, and the visceral rush of adrenaline as you fought to negotiate the tight final corner into the finishing straight was almost tangible.

When you added to this the evil AI of the leading computer opponents, and the glorious sight of Sonic the Hedgehog carved into the rock face in a Rushmore-esque manner, it was an experience like no other.  And this was only in single player – the game was even more compelling when played with human opponents.  Up to eight arcade cabinets could be linked together, and whenever I was able to go to London I would seek out The Trocadero arcade, which had exactly that setup.  Racing there had the unabashed glee of an early LAN party, with spirited but friendly competition.  Hard-earned paper round pounds were thrown around like confetti in the wake of Daytona’s just-one-more-go factor.

When I think of the success on Live Arcade of bog-standard arcade ports such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it seems baffling that Sega haven’t looked to update Daytona USA for 2008 for the service.  The idea of sixteen player online racing on Three Seven Speedway is one that has me grinning from ear to ear, and even if it turned out that rose tinted glasses were hiding the flaws of the original game, the popularity of imperfect classics such as the aforementioned TMNT shows that consumers are prepared to go the extra mile to own a nostalgic slice of their childhood.  It would only take a general texture upgrade and the addition of Xbox Live racing to proceedings to make Daytona USA quite possibly the most popular game on Live Arcade ever released, and that’s no exaggeration.  It would even be a welcome inclusion to the lineup if it was a relatively “vanilla” release.

But how about a proper reimagining?  Take the courses from the arcade sequel, and the Championship Circuit Edition on the Saturn (that corrected many of the flaws from the original Saturn conversion), and maybe even the tracks from Scud Race, and deliver it all with a lovely 720p visual upgrade.  Et voila: a Live Arcade racing thriller.  Online championships, leagues… the possibilities for a vibrant community are mouth-watering.  Hell, with that amount of content, Sega could even look at a full retail release.

So, instead of continuing to defecate and piss all over the Sonic series’ decaying corpse, perhaps Sega should get back to what it’s good at.  Sumo Digital would be an ideal developer for the project, given its already fruitful relationship with handling the wares of Sega’s old AM2 division (Outrun 2, Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast), and a new, reimagined, or simply converted Daytona would be an ideal tonic to start to recover some of Sega’s currently faltering reputation with the gaming public.

Here’s hoping that Sega doesn’t continue to Ronnie Rosenthal this gaping open goal.  My message is simple: “Let’s go away”?  No, let’s have it back.

Samba Wii Maracas August 22, 2008

Posted by Chris in Console, Games, News.
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If you like rhythm games which have about twelve songs with ‘mambo’ in the title, then chances are you’re probably looking forward to Sega’s Wii remake of its DreamCast classic Samba de Amigo. Recent previews have suggested that the controls DO indeed work, and now it looks like it’s going to be even more faithful to the original with the release of these maraca shells from Amazon.com.

Here’s hoping there’s another set of shells for those wanting to play with two remotes, as that’s almost certainly likely to provide a more authentic Samba experience. And you’ve no chance of accidentally whacking yourself in the nose with the nunchuk wire when you strike a pose, too.

Company of Heroes – A Belated Review August 21, 2008

Posted by Jevan Moss in Games, gaming, PC, Reviews.
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The summer drought is always a good time to catch up with underplayed games, and as usual I seem to have built up an embarrassingly large back-catalogue. Thanks to our extended hiatus though, it’s the perfect excuse to review some of the games we missed, starting with the rather excellent Company of Heroes. (more…)