Angry Robot

Neil Young To Make Games for iPhone

No, not that Neil Young. Rather, an ex-EA man who had a hand in Majestic, Facebook games and Boom Blox, and Gamasutra has an interview in which he explains the appeal:

The iPhone, from a performance standpoint, is pretty close to a PSP, but unlike the PSP, it’s got a touchscreen, accelerometers, a camera, it’s location-aware, it’s got all of your media on it, it’s awake with you, it’s always on, and it’s always connected to the network. So if you think about the types of games and entertainment experiences that you can build on a platform like that, it’s got to get pretty exciting pretty quickly.

Frig yeah! That GPS is gonna spawn some interesting augmented reality games.

iPhone in Canada: The Math, The Outrage


The base plan costs $60. This includes 150 minutes voice, unlimited “evenings” and weekends (evenings start at 9pm), and 400MB of data. To get necessities like caller ID, an evening that starts at 6pm, and reasonable text message limits, you will add another $20. Then, there’s the $8 “system access fee”, aka bullshit surcharge phrased to sound like something governmental, and our friends the sales taxes. So your $60 is actually $100, all told.

Then factor in 150 minutes a month is basically the “I don’t use a cellphone” plan. It’s seven minutes a day.

Then, consider that 400MB a month isn’t a lot of data, and that you will be thinking twice before using YouTube, the app store, opening email attachments, or emailing pics from the phone’s camera. In other words, the limited data cripples your use of the phone’s features.

Let’s not mention the 3-year contract. Over the course of three years, the cheapest iPhone plan will cost you $3,600. Let’s not forget that by that time, your iPhone will be pathetically out of date and magic future iPhones will be flying around firing lasers at you.

If you want to be the haggard optimist, the WWI soldier in the trench croaking “hey, they only dropped 96 shells on us today,” you’ll point out that these are actually better rates than typically seen in Canada. (Overages are 50 cents a megabyte as opposed to up to $15/MB in some other plans.)

At which point, a chorus of Americans, Europeans, Africans and Asians will spit coffee all over their computers. These may well be the worst iPhone plans in the world.

Anyway, just imagine Ted Rogers firing sith lightning into your wallet and you’ll get the picture.


For more outraged reading:

UPDATE: da hupdate!

The Robot Goes Down

Ouch. As you may have noticed, the site was down for a couple days there. Which is bad. And yes, you may also notice that it’s now up, which is good. Anyway there were disk problems at our host Joyent and the entire server went down and couldn’t get back up. Some files were lost, which is even worse, but I’m thinking I’ve got most things back up now. You may notice some missing images here and there though.

IGN Frowns at the PSP

For every article that’s positive about the PSP (like the previous post), you’ll find one that’s negative. Take this interview with a Sony rep at IGN. There’s four pages of optimistic-yet-vague PR speak, then the final page, in which the IGN editors get pretty goddamn negative on the poor ol’ PSP.

In This Reporter’s Opinion? Yeah, Sony is messing a lot of things up. They claim the PSP is a multimedia machine, but getting movies onto it, especially if you’re a Mac user, couldn’t be much harder without requiring you to pitch a perfect game and then split the atom. And frankly, who’s going to want it for that when the iPod experience is so seamless? It has so much potential, but Sony takes months if not years to bring out new features. Meanwhile, homebrew developers run free being all awesome, giving people all the more reason to run custom firmware, and at that point, why would they pay for games? Which just makes software sales worse. The fact that it’s as expensive to develop for as the PS2, without the benefit of the massive install base, must make it even harder to get third party publishers interested.

That said, it has enough great games in its back catalogue to warrant a buy. And it’s great hardware, with a great screen. For most people, I’d recommend a DS, but there are reasons to get the PSP instead. Or hell, get both!

Honestly? I think its troubles get a lot of ink because we can’t pretend any other console has any troubles right now. People especially like giving Sony a hard time, and you can’t really do that over the PS3 at the moment.

Monster Hunter Mania

The Monster Hunter Portable games are generally understood to be the reason why the PSP sells so well in Japan. This WSJ article explores the monster hunter craze, the appeal of face-to-face social play, and how the game ain’t just for teens. It also points out that Monster Hunter might be singlehandedly responsible for doubling the PSP’s sales. Doesn’t mention that Capcom puts out a new DLC quest once a week.

Man, now I feel like grilling some monster meat.

Hot Sweaty Xbox Live Games for Summer

D: A couple weeks ago, Nadine and I checked out an Xbox Live event previewing some new games for Xbox Live. At least one of these are hot hotness, so check ‘em out…



“Yeah, you know me,” says 1942. “I’m the old school arcade WWII flying game that’s all 2D and awesome.”

“Well, ‘inspired by WWII,’ perhaps,” you respond.

“What do you mean?” 1942 looks hurt.

“There are lasers, and planes the size of battleships.”

1942 flies into a rage. “SO WHAT!!!”

It may not be painstakingly realistic, but 1942 sure is fun. It’s a natural co-op game – the arcade version had two sticks. The addition of a health bar makes the game less brutally difficult. There are even RPG elements – after you complete a level, your plane improves its total health depending on how well you played. Plus, it has lasers.

N: 1942 was my favourite of this event, I couldn’t get enough! D and I played several times and even replaying certain levels was awesome because you can just totally do everything differently, change up tactics, it’s pure, fast-paced ADD fun! I seriously want to spend hours playing this online with D. There’s this link up attack in co-op where at the press of a button we have this awesome chain lightening flare up between us and it takes shit out!. Super hot.

Commando 3


D: Ah, more adorably retro bloodletting. This time, the ostensible setting is the Vietnam War, one seen through Rambo goggles of an army of one to four gunning down thousands and rescuing POWs. John McCain could have been a guest star. Anyway, it’s another top-down 2D shooter, also featuring unrealistic-yet-upgradeable weaponry and sweet, merciful health bars. You can rock vehicles, too. It’s fun, but there’s rather a crowd of this sort of game on Live, and this one will set you back 800 Microsoft points, so choose wisely. The game is out now. It’s also out on PSN for $10.

N: Vietnam eh…Well, screw the political implications, this game is crazy coked out crazy town! Super big guns, mowing down enemies like tissue paper, crazy names like Wolf and Coyote! What’s not to love?! The art direction of the menus and special attack screens are hilariously righteous. You can totally tell which player was D, think handle bar stache of ultimate potency and then add dynamite and there you have it. Love running around shooting things! I like this game much more than Assault Heroes and that’s be the truths!



N: Oh creepy childlike wonder, how doth you fare these days? Roogoo instantly reminds one of that weird block game many of us played as toddlers. Put the proper shaped block in the proper shaped whole. You know the one. So Roogoo takes this matchy-matchy concept and applies it to fast moving blocks and rotating circular platforms. All very shiny, all very addictive and fast – if you go for the quick reflex sort of thing. But there’s a story too! And that’s where I went “hmm, methinks this reminds me of something….thinksme.” And lo, did I remember Jetsons: The Movie. Ye gods! The whole point of that film was that these ADORABLE wee creatures who lived in a giant meteor were being exploited by the Sprocket Corporation that George Jetson worked for and then in the end they shut down the plant that processed the meteor and save the cute critters. The freaky thing is in Roogoo the wee creatures you are trying to save look exactly like those of the Jetsons! What’s more, the plot of Roogoo is that these magical meteorites that fell on the home planet of Roo started turning the Roogoos into evil Moos. The only way to stop it is to do the whole catch the falling meteorites in the proper order and restore peace. I know it may be reaching, but adorable critters AND meteors twice in a lifetime? It seems bizzare…

D: Uh, I didn’t play this one. Too busy scarfing down little hamburgers.



This game is one of the results of Microsoft’s XNA program, which will hopefully bear many fruits of similar quality. It’s an interesting concept – a co-op game in which the red player can only destroy red enemies, and the blue player blue ones. The only control, at least for the first few levels we played, was one stick. However, if that sounds simple, the difficulty ramped up (almost too) quickly as the game introduced a new form of enemy with every level. It became painfully clear that you would have to work together quite well with your partner in order to survive some levels.

You can play it solo with an AI-controlled partner, and apparently you can unlock a fearsome mode in which one player controls both ships with two sticks. That may very well break one’s brain.

N: Okay for me this game was not exactly fun…I was stressed and freaked out and couldn’t really relax enough to focus. I mean this type of game does stress you out and makes you react quickly, but I find there needs to be a better balance with the stress to make it work and, of course, become addictive. Geometry Wars is a perfect example, you feel loads of stress but you get faster and better. Like that Daft Punk song…So yay for the XNA awesomeness that someone got to deliver their video game vision, but not so yay for the stress of it all.

Other stuff

D: There was a new Sudoku game as well, but the presence of letters in with the numbers just threw my shit off right away and I quit out. So who knows, maybe it’s good… if you like (shudder) letters … There was also a new golf game, but as I barely understand real life golf, I’m not the one to tell you about it.

N: I tried the golf for a second but…I also do not like golf in any form, real or otherwise. And Sudoku and me is like…see I can’t even think of a proper analogy because even the word Sudoku makes my brain cry out in protest. It looked good though for fans of the mind cramping game.

D: Moral of the story? 1942 for suresies, and download the demos for the others and see if they fit your style.

N: Yes, get thee playing 1942 as soon as humanly possible and then play it all day and have joy! Have joy!

Indie Platformers

Whoa. Check out this post on metafilter by archagon. It’s a huge list of indie platformers, that’s bound to include some of your favourites (N & The Passage, for me) as well as many you’ve never heard of. Some of these have mac versions, but they’re generally all windows.

Entertainment Weekly's Top 50 Videogames

Good morning, welcome back to work. Here’s a list that we can all disagree on. GTA IV ahead of GTA III? Silent Hill 2 ahead of Silent Hill? I mean, there’s no frame of reference, explanation of key evaluation points, or explanations at all, so… Good ol’ lists!

New Girl Talk Album Out

As of yesterday, Girl Talk’s latest release Don’t Feed the Animals is available for download from Illegal Art on a pay what you can basis. We had some people over last night and I played this twice back-to-back and everyone was thrilled. It’s mashup taken to its logical, ADD, lawyer-nightmare extreme, hearkening back to the megamixes of Steinski (another Illegal Artist). People just get this delighted look on their faces when they hear some of the combinations. If you like it, get Night Ripper as well, and check out the Steinski retrospective also available on the site.

Mad Catz Rock Band Instruments

Some of these look pretty awesome. There are dedicated bass and guitar, a mic with controller buttons built in, a portable drum kit, and a deluxe drum kit with crazy fixin’s like a hi hat pedal – although I’m not even sure how that would work.

Tested: The World Ends With You

The world is great, but ends badly.

Sometimes I think developers have a running joke where they can put anything they damn well please into a game as long as it occurs past the 20-hour mark, knowing no reviewer will ever get there. I wonder how many of the 10/10 reviewers of GTA IV ever got to Alderney, for example, and experienced the stale characters and repetitive mission fatigue.

I also wonder what to say about a game that is generally a thrill, with a number of innovative gameplay elements, a refreshingly non-cliched story and setting, and yet with an ending boss battle so frustrating that I’ll never get through it and find out how the story ends. Should I say this is a good game, since you’ll get many hours of enjoyment out of it, or condemn it for wasting your time by hooking you on a story that you’ll never get to finish without at least an hour of mindless repetition?


First, what it does right. As I’ve mentioned before, the setting is the modern day Shibuya district of Tokyo, albeit a strange alternate-reality version in which people who have died must play a brutal game to try and win their lives back. The characters aren’t far out of the JRPG norm, and neither is the dialogue. But the gradual unfolding of revelations about how the game works keep you involved in what is essentially a mystery narrative.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the game is that not only is the story about games, the gameplay incorporates the central thrusts of the story. Since Shibuya is fashion-obsessed, power-imbued ‘pins’ replace the weapons and abilities you’d normally have in an RPG. These pins have brands, and some brands are trendy in some areas, meaning they have enhanced power, or weakened in others. And if your characters wear a certain brand a lot, they will make it more popular in that area.

The combat itself is so different as to be nearly bat shit insane. You control two characters at once, in real time: one with the touchscreen at the bottom, and the other character on the top screen, controlled by simple sequences of d-pad presses. (You can let the upper character get auto-controlled, or you can just spam the forward button, but it’s eventually in your best interests to frantically glance up top and try to control what’s going on.) It’s crazy, but it speaks to a central theme – the need for protagonist Neku to overcome his isolation and learn to work with others.

What else? You buy food, and feed it to your characters; when they ‘digest’ it, they improve some stat or another (depending on the food, of course). You can adjust the difficulty at almost any time in a couple different ways: one is a slider that lowers your character’s level, but leads to more item drops; The other is a simple toggle between normal, easy and hard. If you fail a fight, you get an option to ‘replay on easy.’ The music and art are excellent samplings of J-pop and anime vs. graffiti, respectively. There’s an excellent minigame that uses your pins in a boardgame context, revealing new powers. And yeah – your pins will level up not only based on combat experience, but also how long you spend away from the game.

Thinking back, though, the problems with the final battle are foreshadowed early in the game. The ‘replay’ and ‘replay on easy’ options after a failed battle are only introduced partway through the game; before this happens, if you die in battle, it’s game over, go reload a save. Unfortunately, you can’t save during battle, nor can you skip over the cut-out ‘dialogue’ segments, and at more than one occasion this meant I had to replay not only the battle but an increasingly tedious dialogue exchange that landed on the wrong side of a save point.

The final battle – and I’ll describe this without story spoilers – warns you ahead of time that you better well save. That’s fine, okay. But then you slog through a few screens of real estate, run up against many a dialogue segment, and fight one or two bosses before you get to the real uber-boss, who is exponentially harder than any other boss you have faced.

Okay, you might think, that’s cause you suck at the game, D. Maybe so. Through most of the game I had my slider set to make me a lower level so I’d get more items – I love me some items! However, I’d frequently get killed during boss fights, and as I’m not playing to impress anyone here, I’d replay on easy. And I never had to retry more than once. It was that easy, on easy.

During this final fight, I did so, and proceeded to retry the battle on easy over and over again for an hour, then again for half an hour the next morning, and again later in the day, until my DS’ battery finally gave out, as did the battery that provides power to my patience. Now, if I wanted to go back and retry it with a more complementary selection of pins, say, I’d have to replay all of the boss fights and unskippable dialogue since the last possible save to do so.

There are (what I might propose as) two cardinal rules of gaming that have been broken here: watch the difficulty curve, and don’t create false difficulty through the withholding of save points.

So, where does that leave us? I’ll leave it up to you. If you can deal with either an awesome, incomplete game or a flawed, complete one, then this game is for you. I’m happy to have entered such a world, but ticked off that it ended so badly.

Spore Creature Creator

Yeah, so this game is going to be fun. I’m a huge fan of web integration, and the export to YouTube thing is slick… slick like every game should have this.

Here’s my lil’ monster, which is like the creature equivalent of when Homer Simpson designed a car. Too many legs, wings, eyes etc. He’s my little special little guy though.

Robot Sounds 18

Dude. If nothing else, listen to the first FOUR SECONDS of the show for a CRAZY HUGE SURPRISE guest! After that, stay for the GTA IV discussion between Mags and D, in which we get the Serbian take on GTA, and discuss the hits and misses of the game and how it compares to previous games in the series and even – gasp – Saints Row. Then we go on to blather on about various other games, including Metal Gear.

Angry Robot Sounds 18

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The Latest Thrilling Instalment in What Is Becoming a Game Diary

Beat “Vaseline” finally. To all you bitches who said I couldn’t do it, to all you haters out there, y’all can eat a warm di —

Oh wait. No one cares.

More Rock Band, again, mostly Band Tour, this time with occasional AR contributor Mags. We both foresook challenging difficulty levels for the larger cause, which was to win some roadies in some manner of rock-off. I didn’t know roadies were chattel, to be gambled away like so many head of bison. I’m also starting to realize that drumming is pretty good exercise for something that’s actually fun.

Flow on PSP. Have I mentioned this? It kicks all kinds of ass. I mean you can just play it on the web for free of course, and I know I’ve mentioned that before. But it’s perfectly suited for mobile use. I also love how it controls with one stick and one button. You can effectively control it with one hand while eating Cheetos™ Crunchits with the other.

I think Crisis Core may be losing me. I’ve put a few hours in now, and that might be all I have for it. It’s pretty good, just not awesome, and there are such games out there – too many, in fact.

Secret Agent Clank! Run Don't Walk!

To ther nearest game rental/purchasing venue you can get to! If you have a PSP and any sense of fun or happiness you will find this game, you will play this game, and surely you will feel the power of a god!

I can’t wait to get my grubby PSP lovin’ hands on this game!

Everyone here knows I’m gaga for Ratchet and Clank so I’ve been waiting for this for a while and I am just so tickled about it….my weekend is now complete.

And yeah you can Vader that if you’d like…

The Games People Play

So let’s see here. I didn’t get past “Vaseline” yet, but in my defense I haven’t played any solo tour since I last posted. I did do some band tour with Matt, who is a Guitar Hero guy and had never tried the Rock Band drums. He did really well. It’s actually much harder to play RB drums than guitar, I think, perhaps because even on easy you have to do a few things at once. But after a few songs he was all up in the 90%s.

We did one of those mystery sets, where you don’t know what the songs are going to be. At this point I was the drummer and was doing it on hard – our success would hinge on whether I had played the song before or not. The first two we nailed, the third – “Cherub Rock,” Smashing Pumpkins – kicked my ass. I failed about four times, and Matt’s patience was waning I’m sure, but on the fifth try I managed to hobble through and finish the song despite the angry crowd.

We also played some NHL 08, a game that had been gathering dust on my shelf since I got so pissed off at the failures of the Leafs that I tuned out of hockey altogether. It’s quite a good installment of the franchise – the stick control of shooting as well as movement is a nice touch. Matt would have murdered me and then made me cry if we had gone head-to-head, so we tried playing co-op. It’s fun, and challenging, and a bit frustrating. Part of it is that the game is simply not meant to be played this way, and it shows. If, say, I pass to a player that Matt isn’t controlling, it will put this player under his control – suddenly. If he was just pressing the button to change players but he gets switched before he hits it, the new player will wind up passing in a random direction, often icing the puck. This is annoying; the better behaviour would be to switch the pass recipient to my control, more like it plays in single player.

We lost a couple games in classic Leaf manner, so I suppose it was at least realistic.

Treat of the weekend: borrowing Nadine’s PS3 and firing up Metal Gear Solid 4. The PS3 is a magnificent piece of hardware (or this is what I was thinking until last night, when problems occurred). It’s packed to the gills with stuff that Microsoft will make you pay through the nose to get as an add-on, and hey did you know it plays Blu-Ray discs?

Oh, Metal Gear. The original Solid was one of those groundbreaking games on the original PlayStation – I loved that game, and I loved that machine. I mean I don’t even like stealth games at all; I got bored of Chaos Theory a few hours in. I think I actually love MGS games primarily because of the cutscenes, which transmit an auteur sensibility like few other games. That said, I wasn’t thrilled with MGS 2 and I don’t think I played 3. Anyway 4, so far, is a masterpiece. The gameplay is deep, fun and varied – there’s actually a lot more action in it this time around, which is excellent. And Old Snake is so exquisitely captured, both in voice by Mr. Hayter and in appearance by what have got to be the best animators in the business. This whole game is best understood as a methodical raising of the bar by which games will be judged. It’s a glove slap in the face of all other developers. In what other game could an 8-minute loading screen actually be a good thing? It’s rare that I disagree with what Tycho says, but this is one of those times.

Tested: Grand Theft Auto IV

Grand Theft Auto IV is a great game, no question. Unfortunately, it’s not as great as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

Reviews hailed Rockstar’s latest installment as revolutionary and more or less bought Rockstar’s own talking point about it – that it was as much a step as from GTA 2 to GTA 3. This is simply not true.

It took about 10 hours to really get into IV, and at that time (around about when I posted this first thing ) it was really blowing my mind. But my continued efforts saw diminishing returns. With a nod to Game Intestine


But, before that. Let me digress.


Let me crow mildly about the benefit of having foolhardily marathonned through the bulk of the GTAs . While we didn’t come close to finishing any of the games, I have finished them before (GTA 3, Vice City and San Andreas anyway), and the marathon freshened my memory of each chapter.

GTA 3 was the move to 3 dimensions, to a full narrative complete with cutscenes, and to a scope as yet unseen in the franchise or elsewhere. Since there were so many things you could do, the freedom that had lain dormant in the previous two games was finally unlocked.

Vice City and San Andreas fleshed out characterizations, both of the protagonists and of the cities that are the true lead characters of these games. But San Andreas is to me the peak achievement in the series. Where Tommy Vercetti is a cruel sociopath, Carl Johnson is a sympathetic, well-rounded character, thrust into crime unwillingly from the first cutscene. And San Andreas the state is three masterful parody cities, surrounded by lushly rednecked countryside – a free-roaming paradise perhaps only rivaled by Oblivion’s Tamriel. Or Morrowind’s Whatever-It-Was. Of the GTA settings, San Andreas is the largest, most diverse, and most impressive.

On What is New in GTA IV

What, exactly, does GTA IV add? Nothing revolutionary, rather incremental improvements in various areas. One of Rockstar’s catchwords for this iteration is of course detail, and you do see it everywhere. The drive to realism is stronger than in previous games, empowered by the current-gen hardware, mostly manifested in the realistic physics, but the realism of character is presaged by San Andreas’ CJ. The presence of huge reams of parodic content on television and on the internet feels new, but is generally an extension of the parody featured since GTA 3 on the radio, so again, nothing new. The combat system is improved by the addition of cover, which adds to the realism (if that’s the right word for assault rifle shootouts in the heart of NYC).

Liberty City: an impressive achievement in games realism

The phone interface is new too, but you’ve probably read enough about that elsewhere.

The ‘friends’ system is an expansion of the dating minigame from San Andreas. The intent must be to add realism to the game’s simulation; I’m not sure it’s a success. It fails because there is no interactivity to the friendships. Having friends isn’t about unlocking some bonus. It isn’t about throwing darts or getting drunk, it’s about the conversations you have while doing so. With no way to actively partake in those conversations, Niko becomes nothing more than a sounding board and chauffeur, and the player becomes bored. The activities themselves become dull after the second time or so – no, Roman, I don’t want to get drunk again. Stop calling me.

One new thing is the addition of branching storylines. At certain moments, Niko may choose whether to kill someone or let them live; the story will branch accordingly. We should welcome any steps toward non-linear storytelling, but this is more like My First Branching Narrative – while the choices Niko must make are more interesting than the good-bad bifurcations of Bioware games, the results of the choices are at times minimal changes, at other times a little too arbitrary and frankly similar in terms of gameplay. You’ll see what I’m talking about, maybe, if you go back and replay. Especially the ending.

Niko, likable guy (mostly)

Rockstar has moved away from the outlandish satire of earlier games and toward a more somber tone, at least where the main story is concerned. You will have your laughs, but the game is definitely trying to make you sad, vengeful, and even reflective. I think the shift in tone was a good idea, but it falls short in many areas. Niko as a character is generally likeable and devoted to his friends, until he suddenly explodes in self-destructive rage. It conveniently results in the classic Rockstar first-act exile to a newly unlocked area, but it also weakens the characterization no small amount.

Rockstar felt a little unsure of themselves in another area as well. You wind up doing missions for New Jersey mobsters who operate out of a strip club. But they stop short of outright Sopranos references, perhaps fearing it might mess up the somber tone thing they were going for. The net result is you see the similarity and find GTA wanting. The second half of the game is dominated by these guys, some Italian New York mobsters and the drunken, emotional Irish family of thieves, none of whom feel like more than pale shadows of greater characters in films and TV shows past. In other words, clichés.

A nondescript Jersey gangster

There’s also, you know, multiplayer. I’m not the man to ask about this; I tried it a handful of times and wasn’t thrilled. The co-op type missions were buggy and confusing, the free-roaming was okay. What I really wanted was a Crackdown-esque “drop into a friend’s game and play the missions or just tool around” option. But I suppose what we got was certainly better than the weak-sauce multiplayer in San Andreas.

On What Is Missing

Many gameplay elements that were gradually added to the formula in Vice City and San Andreas have been removed from this outing. Gone are the role-playing elements like leveling up skills. Gone also are the management-game aspects like buying real estate, businesses and controlling territory. This leaves Niko with a ballooning sack of cash and naught to spend it on but guns, burgers and hookers. Some GTA3 standbys like the outrage-magnet ‘rampages’ are gone too, although those might have been dropped in San Andreas for all my forgetful brain knows. Given the detail of Liberty City, it’s a damn shame San Andreas’ camera and associated photo collection quest have been scaled down to a camera phone that doesn’t save pictures.

The significance of the smaller map should be further considered. As I mentioned before, the settings of these games are their true main characters. The games are about freedom, really; since the beginning the series’ maps have expanded outward like the historic American frontier. The smaller map is like a resignation that you can no longer go west and find freedom – you’re stuck in the relatively constrained, relatively homogenous, more realistic but less fun Liberty City. It could just be me: I favour exploration over most any other form of gameplay. But I miss the hoods, jet packs and rolling hills of San Andreas, high resolution textures be damned.

World maps of San Andreas and IV, scale comparison (source)

On What Is the Same

Short answer: everything else. The shooting and/or driving gameplay, while tweaked, is fundamentally the same, and the general flow of the game is identical to previous outings. There is a strong contrast between mission and non-mission: the missions are quite specific about what they need you to do and are linear as a rule; your non-mission time unstructured, exploratory and is where the magic tends to happen.

a world worth exploring randomly

My enthusiasm for the missions waned as the game went on. The bank heist mission is great but in retrospect, too much too soon, as following missions all start to blend in to each other. It’s

There’s no ‘trip skip’ this time. If you fail the mission, you repeat all the steps except the first one. Unfortunately, since the driving parts of missions are subject to the whims of fate (you know, you miss the turnoff, or crash into a bus, and your target gets away), and the shooting parts are characterized by difficulty based not on enemy AI but on surprise enemy positions (you go through the door or move up the staircase and five mobsters are firing shotguns at you – FAIL), you will repeat missions frequently. The repetition adds to the repetition already built into the missions, i.e. driving out to get the mission in the first place, driving the guy home. It basically becomes a pain in the ass. Taking cabs instead can help since you can skip the cab trips, but you never know when the mission will involve chasing someone and if you don’t bring a tight ride, you may only be able to grab a clunker when the time comes and thereby increase your odds of having to replay the whole damn thing.

An improvement would be to simply call your boss of the moment and have him assign the mission over the phone, as the phone interface basically obviates the Rockstar trope of driving to a letter on the map indicating where you get missions.

In Summary…


If I was handing out stars here I’d still give this game four. Who’s kidding who – it may not reach Sopranos-level drama and the missions can get repetitive, but it’s still heads above 90% of the games that will be released this year. That said, this is just wrong. IGN in their Metal Gear Solid 4 review asks, “Is it possible to give a game an 11? If so, this would be the game that would merit that score,” thereby revealing mainstream games journalism as a Spinal Tap-esque parody of itself, clouding the relative value of games in a haze of 10s. We should consider GTA IV relative to the other GTA games, and in that context the game is no revolution but an evolution, and perhaps a mild devolution from the scale, diversity and freedom of San Andreas.

Vaseline, Giant Robots, Never Finishing Anything

Like I was saying I was all awesome drum tour on hard until I get to motherfucking “Vasoline”. I see it in the list, I’m like “aw yeah, I love that song, great break,” and then FAIL in the first 8 bars. That break did not like me. It just wouldn’t let me in. I practiced for an entire hour and still no MFing joy.

I hereby vow to not cut my hair until I DOMINATE Vaseline.

In other news, I’ve been toying around with some PSP games, which of course is postponing my completion of a swath of DS games including the excellent The World Ends With You. I’m a few hours into Crisis Core, which is pretty okay, and then I stop by EB Games again and pick up the Armored Core PSP version cause no one wants it and it’s only $15. About a half hour of play reveals it to be a long way from an A-list title and a long way from the mythic Great Mech Game that I know will be made someday but hasn’t been yet. Points off for not calling mechs “wanzers” like Front Mission, but extra points for the crazy deep garage. That’s what these games are all about – you can’t just slap a giant robot in a game and call it a day; if you can’t spend hours swapping out radiators and shoulder guns, might as well walk away with your head hanging low. Unlike Front Mission, the Armored Core series definitely transmits the might and majesty of these giant beasts, and both games give you the gearhead tweaking you crave, but Armored Core yawns when it comes to combat. It’s arena-style head-to-head tournaments and that’s it, no real campaign to speak of. If they could slap a proper story onto one of these games they could have a winner.

Like Sherman through the south I cut a swath through the videogame market, leaving the scorched and chapped husks of partially completed games in my wake. Is this article right? Is my attention span devastated by the internet? Isn’t it enough that I managed to put four whole hours into Crisis Core? Not continuously, though, I suppose…. sigh

WTF Wednesday: I'm All For Beer But…

This is…creepy? Weird? Unnecessary, totally. Just why…

For those who do not follow the link…it’s about Dog Beer. It’s about beefy beer for “yappy hours”. Dog lovers want to share their beer with their pups and now they can guilt free!

What an odd world…oooh Oddworld…want to play that again…Stranger’s Wrath that is…


One of the more interesting announcements from yesterday’s Stevenote was MobileMe, the .Mac replacement, now taglined as “Exchange for the rest of us”. That is, it features ‘push’ syncing between devices, eliminating the need to manually sync. The idea being, your data lives ‘in the cloud’ (man a lot of quotes going on here), and is accessed from whatever device you happen to be using at the time, any Mac or PC, iPhone or iPod Touch. The web app versions of mail, iCal, iPhoto etc. are particularly refined.

I use macs at home, will definitely get an iPhone in a month, and have to use a PC at work, so these sorts of cross-platform syncing tools are something I keep a keen eye on. I’m quite happy with Google’s suite, with a few exceptions (no to-dos, no cloud document storage other than office docs). There are a few holes in MobileMe too (no notes or to-dos?), and some big questions (can you use your own domain?), so it will be interesting to see how this shakes out. I like the direction things are going though.

Drum Tour,

Sigh. I’ve been working on a big review of GTA IV, but it’s taking me forever. I want to be thorough and fair. And you spend so many hours playing a game, it seems like a waste to review it in two paragraphs, so shit gets long. I also have perfectionist tendencies, so massaging every sentence of a multi-page review gets a little time-consuming and frustrating.

Anyway, long story short I decided I needed to stop making a big production out of writing for this site so much and just let some shit fly. I’ve been playing Rock Band solo drum tour; y’all still playing Rock Band? I sure as hell am. Besides actual band playing, I went through guitar solo tour on medium, about halfway through it again on hard and then switched to drums. I got some of those drum silencers (which work fabulously, by the way) and now I don’t feel neighbour guilt about banging the gongs for an hour or two here and there. I had done some drumming in band play so I just said fuckit, I’m doing this on hard, baby. And, wow. Best time ever. Look out, Pert and Bonham. I tore through the first couple cities without failing once. I even got 99% on one song. Now, shit toughened up for real around “Blitzkrieg Bop” – definitely had to practice a few. But I am committed to excellence now. And hey, it’s kind of a workout! Sorta.

iPhone Comes to Canada

So there was the big WWDC keynote today. There were big announcements – 3G iPhone for $199, app store not ready yet, .mac is now Mobile me and looks actually worth the money now maybe – but the biggest for us in the .ca is this page. iPhone coming to Canada July 11. It’s listed in the Canadian Apple Store site, but it doesn’t let you buy it, just says it’s available at Rogers and Fido locations. There’s still one big question: data rates.

Happy Monday: A List!

Okay, so I can’t get this out of my head for some reason: Top 5 Video Game Characters I Would Date/Do.

My criteria here is simple, does a character tickle my fancy visually and idealistically?

So here’s what I came up with, feel free to add your own.

5. Liu Kang – Basically I always played him because he reminded me of Bruce Lee and I think Bruce Lee was one of the most amazing physical specimens the human race has to offer so…That’s why that’s there.

4. Fox McCloud aka Star Fox – Yes, I know, not remotely human but he’s a sexy bastard! He’s a super galactic hero and he gets shit done in a super awesome space ship. I just can’t resist him…I feel the same way about Robin Hood from the fox animated version…

3. Mitsurugi – I’m not the best at fighting games, but I find Mitsurugi to be one of the hottest studs in gaming ever, all time ever. I just love his samurai sexy gruffness. I guess he’s kinda like Han Solo in that way or something, I don’t find Han attractive but Mitsurugi…He’s just so cut!

2. Nariko – The game did not satisfy me save for one part and that was the endless legs and beautiful voice of Nariko while she kicked ass and felt shame for being a woman. Ha.

1. Cortana – Yes, perfection thy name is Halo 2’s version of Cortana. The voice, the attitude, the sexy fine of it all…She’s my perfect woman that I wish lived in my cybernetically enhanced head.

PS3 Ascendant

Ars re-reviews the PS3, which they gave a 6/10 upon its original release. What with all the firmware they been revisin’, though, today’s PS3 earns a handsome 9.

From my position of ignorance – not owning a PS3 at present (although thoroughly convinced that Future D owns one) – I can hardly disagree. If people ask me for console advice, after asking them searing and insightful questions that reveal their darkest inner souls and gaming habits, I tend to advise a good hard look at Sony’s fatboy. Sure, the 360 has a great catalogue and online service, and the Wii is great if you like party games and plumbers. But if you’re at all thinking about HD over the next few years, which you probably should be, it’s hard to argue with that Ray of Blu. To say nothing of Sony’s excellent track record in hardware design, and all the games that you know, should come out at some point, hopefully.

And now I’ll shut up about Sony being so awesome already.

PSP, the Aimless Drifter?

What’s up with the PSP? Is it riding the boxcars, bindle on shoulder, swilling rat whisky? Recently an article cropped up titled Ubisoft Urges Sony to Act on Directionless PSP, claiming publishers are abandoning the platform since Sony can’t provide a clear direction. Sky is falling! Except the quote comes from Ubi’s UK managing director, and yes, sales are weak in Europe. But they are far from weak in Japan, where the PSP regularly outsells the Wii. In April in North America, the PSP sold more than the PS3 and Xbox 360 (although they all lagged far behind both Nintendo platforms).

More interesting, perhaps, is this article, which spells out Sony’s, er, direction for the platform, while also filling in some of its background:

When Sony first launched the PSP it had targeted mostly professionals, 28 to 40 years old, who would take it to work every day on subways, trains and taxis. Since then, the purchase demographics have slowly evolved, getting younger and younger, said John Koller, Sony Computer Entertainment PSP senior marketing manager.

The audience has also become more multi-ethnic, with heavy use among urban teens, 15 to 16 years old, from Hispanic, African-American and Asian communities.

That said, Sony seems to have trouble making up their mind about what direction to take. At one point “Sony’s forthcoming marketing efforts will start to put more emphasis on women,” but then the big marketing pushes will include the God of War bundle, a NFL film bundle and a GPS add-on, which are hardly things women are clamouring for. It does seem that emphasizing the system’s non-game functions distinguishes it from the DS, but then that’s hardly the sort of thing that will make game industry folk like Mr. Ubisoft very happy. Oh well.

Bottom line: the system is doing well, so nobody panic.