Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

I just wanted to wish everyone a

Happy New Year!

I hope to have a year in review up by tomorrow evening, if I don't get too soused later with the spouse.

Again, thanks for hangin with me this year and I hope to have more interesting content in the year to come.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Console Niche

Over at the Player One forum boards, there was a thread discussing Sony's current PS3 commercial. In the new commercial, Sony tries to sell potential customer's on the PS3's ability to not only play blu ray discs and games, but it's innovated way to download movies and television shows into the home through their PlayStation Network (PSN).

Course, this is not something new, because this has always been a function of the PS3, but since they can't seem to get people to buy it for the blu ray player or the gaming system itself, Sony is trying to entice prospects with the instant gratification of downloading movies and television shows.

Basically, as I see it, Sony doesn't know how to sell the PS3. It does so many things, how can Sony pin it down when trying to market it to the public.

It was selling great as a Blu Ray player, but now that players are under $300.00 it's hard to justify that as a major selling point. If Sony has some decent exclusive games that gamers were just dying to get their hands on, like Gears of War, Halo, or Mario themed games. But those are exclusives for other systems. If a game is released as an exclusive then made available on the PS3 after a few months, then why buy a PS3 when you have an Xbox or Wii?

When Soul Caliber 4 was released on the Xbox and PS3 simultaneously the only difference was that the PS3 had Darth Vader and Xbox 360 had Yoda as playable characters. Now, month's after release, for a small fee, you can download the missing character for either system. So, it wasn't as exclusive as one would have thought. Most games once released for one system, end up eventually on the other system. Bioshock is a great example. Originally for the Xbox 360 systems, it was recently released for the PS3.

So why is Sony marketing the PS3, not as a gaming system, but as a video streaming service? Mainly its because Microsoft recently signed an exclusive deal with Netflix to provide downloadable video content through Microsoft's Xbox 360 live system. Now, all you have to do is select a movie to stream or download and your all set. The new deal lets those with Netflix accounts link them to their Xbox 360 accounts for easier access.

Back in the day, Sony was the king of consoles, but not anymore. They seem confused about how to sell their systems in today's market of downloadable video and game content. They don't seem to have the game exclusives, like Gears of War or Halo, that keep gamers coming back year after year. When those games are mentioned everyone knows they are Xbox 360 exclusives, just like when a Mario is attached to the Nintendo console, a.k. the Wii.

It's not like they don't have exclusive titles, the Ratchet and Clank games are still very strong with the brand, but they just don't have the pull they once did to compete in the next gen race. The Grand Theft Auto franchise use to be a Playstation exclusive, till the Rock Star Games decided it more profitable to release for both systems simultaneously. But Sony is trying. Little Big Planet was a great effort, but they didn't do a marketing push on it before the release and because of that missed opportunity, it didn't sell very well and only now, through word of mouth, is it moving off shelves at all. It's especially sad, because it's a game that could have sold consoles for them, if only they had figured out how to market the PS3.

At least for now, since they can't seem to find the right "Got to have" game to champion the gaming side of the console, it's best to advertise it as a blu ray player and or internet video streaming system. This I feel is the only way they will ever encourage people to buy one. Then, maybe, just maybe, once they get them in the homes, they can tell people they also play games.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Little Big Planet

A few weeks back, I had the chance to try Little Big Planet at a friend's house. Little did I know that when I sat down to play co-op with him that I would have the most fun playing a game than I have had in a very long time.

I've been sitting here wondering how to describe the game, and I find that it's really hard to pin down.

At the heart, it's a side scrolling platform game, similar to the Mario style of games. But it has a look and feel that is completely different from any game that has proceeded it. The levels are mini sets, where most of the background is a cardboard cut out and you swing, jump or run your way through. There are lots of triggers and surprises as you make your way through the different areas. Like Mario or Sonic, you collect items as your make your way throught the level. Some of these items will help you unlock different sections of a level, which adds to the replay value of a level, since a lot of items needed are on different levels.

To start with, you play a character called Sackboy or Sackgirl. Basically, a burlap sack doll, whose facial features and body movements can be animated using the joysticks and D-pad. You can design or dress up your Sack character in many different color, clothes, facial features, etc. As you progress through the game, you get access to different styles and outfits. If you find a look that you like, you can save it and select it at a moments notice.

The most fun is when you can play with a friend. This is where the game really shines, because on most levels there is a section that can only be accessed through co op play. The puzzles in this section are designed for the two players to work in tandem to open up secret areas and advance. Also, there are some unlockable items that can only be found in these sections so for those completists looking to find all the items on a level, they better have a friend. lol

The game also has it's own level design area, which isn't too complicated but will require several hours of diligence to create a unflawed working level. These levels can be uploaded to the Playstation Network for others to down load and try. From what I have seen on you tube, there are several people with just too much time on their hands.

So, after experiencing the game first hand, and spending 30 minutes laughing my ass off when I accidently put a donkey tail on the face of my friend's Sackboy, trust me, it was soo funny I couldn't even breath. I decided that I would have to own this game. I had pretty much decided to purchase a PS3, but until I saw Little Big Planet, I hadn't seen a game worthy of rushing out to purchase the system. So yesterday I took the plunge.

To some degree the Playstation 3 is superior to the Xbxo 360. Set up was a breeze. Getting it hooked to my internal network and accessing the internet was better than when I connected my Xbox 360. Funny how it's easier to stream videos and music from my PC to my PS3, compared to the lost connections and misfires I normally have with the Xbox, especially since the Xbox is a microsoft product and should work well with XP. The only downside is the menu, which is much easier to get around on the Xbox than the PS3. But that is the only place that the Xbox wins over the PS3. Course, I would need to purchase a PS3 game that I already have on the Xbox to confirm the quality difference when it comes to games.

Now, currently, I don't own any blu ray movies, but after playing the standard edition of Finding mo yesterday, I have to say the PS3 does not dissappoint on video output quality. The quality was top notch and using a HDMI cable made connections much easier. I plan on picking up Dark Knight this afternoon so I'll finally get to see what the commotion is about blu ray. lol

Well, that's about it. I am enjoying the PS3 and especially Little Big Planet. Both top notch. Not sure what other games on the PS3 to try next since I own a good many of them on the Xbox side, but I'm sure something will come to mind soon.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Surgery

Here is an update as to my shoulder surgery for all those interested. Everything went extremely well. They did not have to repair any tendons as originally thought. My doctor, a very good one I must say, had to break up and remove lots of scare tissue, which will fix a lot of my mobility issues. He cleaned out some bone spurs and did some minor stuff to help my frozen shoulder, which I think was the final confirmed prognosis.

The good news is I don't have to wear a sling, but my shoulder is still pretty sore, tight and suffering from muscle spasms most of the time. Lucky for me, I have physical therapy for the tightness, Perocet for pain and muscle relaxers for the spasms. I only have major pain issues when I try to move the arm, so I'm doing pretty good. I obviously don't have any problems with typing as this blog indicates.

I have physical therapy every day for the next two weeks. I still can't touch the lower part of my back with my hand, which is my goal. If I can do that pain free, then I will call the surgery a success, otherwise, I'll probably be pretty pissed. lol

Everyone at the Moses Cone hospital took really good care of me. I will say during the late night hours, they have some pretty scary people working those shifts, but still they did everything necessary to make my stay pleasant and hassle free, they even brought in a reclining chair so my wife could stay the night with me. Normally this type of surgery would be an outpatient situation, but since I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, I had to stay the night so they could observer me. Which was useless because I couldn't really sleep in that gawd awful bed anyway. The food was decent and every time I need a pain med, I got it.

I'll try and give more updates about the condition of my shoulder when possible, but I don't want to bore my gaming readers with all this real life crap. lol Lucky for me, since my surgery went well, I was able to return to WoW yesterday and hooked up with the CoW's for some really fun achievement unlocks. We managed to get into the Orgrimmar and do the Ragefire Chasm instance. It took about 30 to 40 minutes of corpse crawling to get in the instance, but we managed it ok. Some of use even got a chance to fish in the city, which is part of an achievement unlock called Fishing Diplomat.

We then moved onto Wailing Caverns to get that instance added to our achievement system. After that, I managed to finish off 3 more bubbles of experience and dinged 30 with my warrior. I then made my way to the mount vendor outside Iron Forge to pick up my riding ram. Being unable to make a decision and the mounts only being 9g each, I picked up one of each. Maybe I'll be a little more picky when it comes to picking my elite mount. I moved Oakstout over to Aurberdine to start working on getting my cat mount through reputation grinding.

Hopefully, with some cloth turn ins and reputation through questing, I'll have my cat in no time. But that depends, if my shoulder is feeling better next week, I'll be heading back to work a lot sooner than I would have liked too, not because I hate work, but because I love to game way too much around the holidays.

I'll post some more gaming updates later today.

Who's on first and Why?

Back in the day, Everquest was the hot game on the market. I can't recall all the times I would hear people in electronic stores talking about their new addiction that was slowly being known as Ever Crack. I resisted for a very long time, feeling that if I wanted to play a game on line, why should I shell out a monthly fee when a majority of multiplayer games, like Quake 2 and the new Unreal tournament, came with free online play.

I finally, like all of us, got talked into playing EQ by peer pressure. The lure to simulate a session of dungeon and dragons with many of my college friends through on line play across various states, to bring back the luster of the old days was just too good to true and I just had to give it a try. Besides, the guy that ended up talking me into it was a high level jedi and knew how to work the mind trick to his advantage. I played for about 2 or 3 yrs. I really can't tell you the correct number because I was spending all my time trying to level up my barbarian shaman and didn't keep track of the time I was spending. First mistake when buying into the whole MMO atmosphere, never forget how much time your spending away from real life, but that's another discussion.

But for me, Everquest was the "IT" MMO game. I'm sure others talk about how great Asheron's Call was or Ultima online, but as far as advertising in stores, magazines and word of mouth, Sony's Everquest was getting all the hype and promotion. Sony was on top of the MMO world and continued that trend by releasing expansion after expansion. Adding new content on a regular bases to keep the consumer spending and happy. Sure, a lot of stuff had to be fixed because the expansions themselves would either break the game or the game got broke after someone exploited a piece of code to their advantage and developers would have to fix the issues, but at least Sony was trying to get stuff out to the paying customer on a yearly bases.

SoE was on top of the world. No one could touch their subscription numbers, they were the it company. They added a few more games to their stables, like PlanetSide to sweet'n the monthly charge. All an effort to keep the customer happy and subscribing to that monthly fee.

Then the inevitable happened. While SoE was developing their next step forward in MMO's another company slipped in the door and took the spotlight away. SoE made the fatal mistake of assuming that MMO customers will stay loyal no matter what comes out on the market even if your doing your best to turn out the next exciting product. I was that interested in EQ2 but not fully committed to the concept of future proofing, as it came to be called. But, I had a good, wealthy friend friend purchased and then shipped the game to me, so there was no excuse for me not to give it a try, especially after having been a loyal EQ player for so long. But to their own fault, SoE made the game too graphical and hardware dependent. Players, who had spent years playing EQ, just were not ready to spend up to $2,000.00 upgrading their computers just to play a re-envisioned version of EQ.

So one has to ask, if Sony hadn't made EQ2 so graphical heavy, would they still be on top of the MMO industry? I honestly don't know and this is why.

Recently, I've become bored as many others have, with WAR. So, I'm probably going to give it up, but I just don't want to rely on WoW for all my online entertainment. I considered giving EQ2 another shot at some of my hard earned dineros. But when I ventured out to pick up the newest expansion, The Shadow Odyssey, I couldn't find a copy. I searched, Wal-Mart, 2 different Target stores and Circuit City, nothing EQ2 related was to be found. There were plenty of Age of Conan, WAR, LOTRO and even some Tabula Rasa copies, but nothing, unless you count the EQ Anniversary box, on EQ2. But here is the strange thing and why I think the stores are very bias.

Every store had a Wrath of the Lich King display. If they didn't have a display, they had tons of game copies and monthly game cards. The idea came to mind that either Blizzard is pay graft to get their product displayed heavily in stores or the market has already decided who the king is and it's WoW. Whether tons of people are playing EQ2 or not, shouldn't that game be available and readily at hand for any consumer to purchase without having to be bombarded with Blizzard's Lich King?

I finally found a copy at Best Buy, but even there, they had a huge display set up for Lich King, but no display or massive shelf space for the EQ2 expansion, and it was just released as well. So, apparently the market has spoken. Even if your not a gamer, the public recognizes WoW as the winner of the MMO wars. Second I would have to say a tie between Lotro and WAR, followed by AoC then the dead Tabula Rasa. EQ2 is far behind in market recognition and considering that SoE was the big dog several years back, with EQ being top of brand recognition, it's a pretty sad state. So what happened? Did Blizzard just throw a war chest of money at the marketers and say, "We want everyone to know who we are, we don't care the cost." Or is EQ2 that bad of a product that players just can't find a place for it in their MMO hearts anymore?

The irony of going from the industry name for MMO's to having a small amount of shelf space for one or two copies of their current mmo titles was just shocking. Did Blizzard just pass out a lot of kool aid in department stores on day or is SoE's EQ2 just that far back in consumer's minds that they don't deserve any floor space? Either way, it's pretty sad for a company that was riding the high not so many years back.

As a side note, I didn't provide any links to Blizzard or World of Warcraft in this post.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Fate of WAR

As stated in my previous post, the wanderlust of Warhammer online has pretty much faded, as it has with many others. This normally coincides, with most MMOs, when the 30 day trial subscription expires.

Warhammer online suffers from many things. Some of them could have been fixed, like limiting the number of races, making area's much smaller so more interaction could be forced between sides or having larger population caps and less servers. The issues many are that the game is lacking in PvE and because of this, they are starting to lack in population. This wouldn't be a problem if the game had large amounts of PvE content to keep those that are still playing interested, but since a majority of the game content is driving off the RvR side and populations becoming smaller, the game will suffer more I fear.

I have often heard people say that they plan to keep Warhammer to slake their PvP urges and World of Warcraft to satisfy their PvE needs. But the concept of WAR only works when people are actually logged in playing, unlike WoW, which doesn't have any content that is driven by gamer attendance. If only Mythic had spent more time developing its PvE side instead of forging ahead with all their RvR concepts, the game wouldn't be suffering such bad losses.

Even now Mythic is urging people to move characters to more populated servers so they can keep the RvR balance in check. They have yet to mention server closings, but that is only a matter of time. With Tabula Rasa already closing it's doors and Age of Conan not fairing much better, I wonder how long before Mythic will have to either release some awesome PvE content or finding another way to entice players back.

I enjoyed WAR when I was able to play, but now I just can't seem to muster up the energy to log in and play a scenario, especially when ques are longer than waiting at Cracker Barrel on Thanksgiving day. (by the way, that wait is approx. 1 hr 15 minutes) I have limited amounts of time as it is, I don't want to spend it waiting to get into a scenario or trying to find enough people to do a PQ.

Honestly, I hope Mythic can pull their game up and make a grand go of it, but I'm starting to think putting all your eggs in one RvR basket just isn't the smart thing to do.

The Fellowship of Good Gamers

Finding a good guild to hang my MMO hat has been a favorite topic of mine. You just don't know what your getting into till you've made the fated choice, wondering if everything will be wonderful or if you'll have to start looking for another place to hang your hat 3 or 4 months down the road.

Lucky for me, I made a great choice when I decided to play Warhammer online.

Casualites of War is by far one of the most helpful and group oriented guilds I have every been a part of. They look after the whole guild, not just the individuals at the top. Their goal is for everyone in the guild to have fun. They plan events that cover all levels of players and they encourage everyone to participate. If you need help questing or doing a PQ, they are more than willing to come help without wondering what's in it for them. That's what I call a great guild.

But, alas, my time in Warhammer was to be brief. Work started to take up most of my time and I was unable to keep up with WAR 0r the guild like I had hoped. When I finally got some free time to play, the wanderlust of WAR had faded and I just couldn't force myself to log in to play. I started spending more time on my Xbox 360, since it only required small amounts of my time rather than tons like MMO's tend to do.

The days of being in a great guild seemed to be fading from me. But alas, I was saved again. Casualties of War decided to branch out, to be more than just a Warhammer guild. Several of the members had lost interest in WAR as well but wanted to keep the guild alive in other MMO's, so they decided to become a multi game guild. Lucky for me, they decided to make World of Warcraft there second guild venture. I was already set to keep my WoW account and pick up WOTLK, so this was fantastic news. The only draw back was, they wanted to start over. I was a bit leery of this, since I was all set to take my two 70's into Northrend, but I didn't want to miss the chance to be in a guild that I knew from experience would look after it's membership as a whole not just the upper elite, which previous guilds I had been in tended to do.

So, I did it. The guild started over on Rexxar, a... well... a PvE server. Man, it hurt to say that. But right now, I'm having more fun these past few days than I have had in the past 2 years of playing WoW. I use to look down on those who had chosen a PvE server over a PvP server, but to be honest, after having experienced both, I am here to say, officially that I prefer the PvE. I mean, after playing WAR and seeing what PvP really is, Blizzard's so called Real World PvP is, well, pretty lame. The best thing to do is, pick a PvE server and just do Battle grounds if your itching for action. The rest is just pointless.

Players have been saying this for years and now I truly understand, the PvP aspect of WoW was slapped on and ever since, Blizzard has been trying to justify it, reshape it and make it their own. The fact is they have failed terribly in trying to make it work. Battle grounds are ok, but real world PvP just isn't working. Some might think that being able to gank someone, who's character is 30 levels lower than theirs is exhilarating, but the fact is, it sucks for the guy or gal getting pounded, especially if they are camped repeatedly. Many a player has quit WoW because of this horrible excuse for PvP.

Anyway, I am happy to have found a fellowship of good gamers.

Go CoWs.