Archive for the ‘Console Gaming’ Category



PlayStation Post-script #4: MNK’s Crystal Ball(s)

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

Predictions! Get your predictions here! What will the distant and scary year of 2011 bring – Wii HD? PSP2? Announcements for the Xbox 720? And just what the hell is that damn PSPhone that everyone keeps flapping their damn gums about?

We know. Oh, yes, we know… and that is half the battle.

The other half is a good start.

Oh, yes, it is…

Parjanya Holtz
Senior Editor

Everyone who has been working with and/or for TPS at some point in his or her “career” knows that Marc N. Kleinhenz not only is a hopeless Nintendo fanboy (who sprawls within the realms of a bewildering love/hate relationship with Sony), but he’s also a witch and, henceforth, proud owner of a mysterious crystal ball. To put this into some context, MNK has both successfully predicted that by 2012 California won’t be smart (safe) to live in (which, understandably, is part of the reason why he abhors the idea of living in the Sunshine State so much) and spoiled the next Twilight movie for half the staff. (Except for Aram and Andy, who both had already read the book.)

So, why are we gathering here for yet another group discussion? The answer is simple: Marc likes to see us make fools of ourselves. While he knows what’s going to happen, we speculate wildly on what the new year will have in store for our beloved videogames.

With Sony celebrating the PS3’s fifth – and Microsoft, the 360’s sixth – birthday in 2011, one would think that this hardware generation is about to begin losing its momentum. However, one quick glance at the PS3’s (scheduled) lineup for next year should make every Sony fanboy dance his own name. So what do I predict besides Sony delivering the system’s strongest list of games to date? How about the PSP2 and the PSPhone? Both make absolute sense looking at the most recent developments on the market(s) (the PSPhone will go up against the iPhone, and the PSP2 against the 3DS), plus all the rumors and “leaked” images of both systems popping up on every blog these days pretty much confirm that it won’t be long until we will hear of both. E3 2011. Any doubts?

My other “major” prediction is the surprise unveiling and release of a new independent property that will be exclusive to the PS3. All of Sony’s new IPs have become major successes, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they felt comfortable enough to give a studio like Ready at Dawn a shot at creating an entirely new franchise that’s once again exclusive to the PS3. Actually, thinking about the talk I had with Dana Jan [the God of War: Ghost of Sparta game director], I am pretty convinced that it’ll be them becoming Sony’s next big second-party PS3 developer.

I also predict the unveiling of a Wii HD, which will likely be less of a successor and more of a fully backward compatible “pro” version of the current generation Wii — actually quite similar to Sony’s and Microsoft’s redesigns, but with a few more system-enhancing hardware upgrades. The Wii 2 will probably not be unveiled before E3 2012, alongside the PS4 and Xbox 3.

What do you guys think?

Marc N. Kleinhenz
Features Editor

There will be no Wii HD. Nintendo is following a traditional, old-school philosophy with their systems – just one per generation, thank you very much – and they’ll jump right to the Wii Too (yes, I really do think it’ll be called that). It’s more than likely that Nintendo will “announce” it at next year’s E3, just as they tipped their hand in regards to the Revolution and its Virtual Console at E3 2005, with a full blowout at and release for ‘12. Whether or not the Xbox 720 ships the same year is unknown, although extremely likely.

Another prediction: all three next-gen systems will launch with cameras to complement their packed-in motion controls (and, possibly, their pack-in traditional controls).

One last one: at least a quarter of the 2011 PS3 exclusives, such as The Last Guardian and, just possibly, SOCOM 4, will get delayed until ‘12.

Kyle Heimbigner
Staff Writer

I see The Last Guardian actually finally coming out in 2011. I think we’ll see a lot of it at E3, and then it’ll have a Christmas release. But, yeah, ‘11 is looking to be what ‘10 should have been for Sony. The first half of this year was strong, but Sony’s Christmas has been very disappointing – unless you wanted the PlayStation Move, and even then you are still waiting until 2011 for the good motion games. LittleBigPlanet 2 will be the game everyone talks about next year, too, I think, along with Killzone 3. Most likely, though, LBP2 will get all of the attention – until Uncharted 3 comes out. There is really nothing from Microsoft next year that really makes the 360 stand out like Sony’s lineup of games does.

Aram Lecis
Señor Editor

My first prediction is that there is no way it will be called “Wii Too.” That’s way too clever for Nintendo. It will actually be called SDNES, for Super Duper Nintendo Excrement System.

While I do not think we will even see a reveal of a new console in 2011 (maybe from Microsoft, but even that I sorta doubt), I think Paji is right on with the PSP2 for sure. Maybe there will finally be the PSPhone, but even if such a thing does come to pass, I see it going the way of the Microsoft Kin, and I’d be amazed if it did as well as an N-Gage. Sorry – iPhone has that platform on lockdown, and Droid picks up the slack for those nonconformists that now hate Apple as some big, faceless conglomeration that must be stopped (oh, how the tides have turned).

Game-wise, things look a little grim for 2011 right now. Yes, there is a spate of sequels to highly regarded games, but there is a dearth of new IP, and that makes me a sad gamer. I’m not denying that there can be excellent sequels, but you are still just playing a refinement of an existing game, and as I am an aging product of a society that celebrates short attention spans, it is very hard for a sequel to keep me gripped or get me excited. Still, there are always a few surprises that come out of nowhere to be really good games (like Darksiders in 2010), so I’m betting there is something out there. I am excited about Twisted Metal, which clever readers will point out is another sequel… but when you haven’t put out a full console game in almost 10 years, then a sequel is okay.

My only other thought is that we will probably see a decline in the 3D push by late in 2011 (and perhaps motion controls, too), barring someone coming up with an actual “killer app” that makes 3D (and motion) anything more than a gimmick that adds nothing to the gameplay. I’m probably wrong, but I should be right.

Sam Bishop
Editor-in-chief

Oho, I want to get in on this!

I’ll steer clear of new hardware predictions (though the PSP2 is real and the PSPhone is a PlayStation device only in our clever little naming convention-making minds and is an Android device first with the option to play select downloaded PlayStation titles), but I’ll insist this will be the last full-blown year where everyone’s still fully committed to their home hardware (okay, maybe just MS and Sony). We’ll likely see the best-looking, most refined, and most expanded game concepts of the generation in 2011, with 2012 serving as sort of the swan song for our lovable black brick. There’ll be a price drop to $200 to get hardware sales moving at a pace deserving of easily the most impressive year in terms of sheer software output.

3D has definitely become something of a pratfall for Sony. While I love that games are leading the content charge (seriously, I think there’s, like, 20 times more 3D games than there are TV programming and Blu-rays combined), it’s clear that the tech cannot be bolted onto an existing engine and just left at that. Games need to be made for 3D first, and ideally with Move thrown in there, too, to properly show off an interface that uses all the space in front of the player in more than just waggle ways. I think we may see some interesting experiments in both tech, but until they’re standard in the PS4 and every HDTV out there is also a 3DTV (which will absolutely happen in the next few years), it’s a tough sell for all the performance hit and extra dev time it would take to make a “real” 3D game. I fully expect someone like Kojima to really do it all justice in the next few years, and I can’t wait.

I’d say most of the stuff hitting with definite dates already (like Uncharted 3) will stick to their dates. The Last Guardian is very likely an early 2012 game. I just don’t see it making it this year, but E3 is going to be insane. There’s still a lot of stuff that’s unannounced so far (like Lightbox’s Warhawk follow-up), and there will definitely be a full hardware reveal of the PSP2, so I’m pumped. I don’t mind all the sequels right now; this is the point in every hardware cycle where devs leverage the experience and continued refinements to their engines to make the games rather than the tech, and I think we may see plenty of games with the numeral three after them hitting, but they’ll be hands-down the best of their franchises.

When we start to head into new hardware next year (and that’s 2012, at the earliest), that’s the time for devs to start creating new IPs, and Sony has shown that its first-party studios don’t mind making huge leaps into something new. For now, I’m happy to just enjoy the continued price breaks and advances to familiar gameplay and franchises that the end of a hardware cycle entails.

Aram Lecis
Señor Editor

I WANT MY NEW GAMES YOU SHUT UP!

Sam Bishop
Editor-in-chief

I WANT THEM TOO BUT I ALSO WANT STARHAWK AND G-POLICE AND COLONY WARS AND OH GOD I CAN’T STOP TYPING IN CAPS SOMEONE HEEEEEEELP ME!

(Also, yeah, the PSN has sort of emerged as its own half-platform, and that definitely seems to be the most fruitful germination point for new ideas – and that’s not a bad way to do it, really. Less risk, possibly better rewards.)

Marc N. Kleinhenz
Features Editor

I actually think we’ll see a $199 PS3 (and, of course, Xbox 360) at the end of next year, as opposed to ‘12, but – hey – I was wrong about a price drop for the Wii this year, so who knows.

If we don’t see cheaper systems this coming year… then when will the manufacturers introduce the 512-bit systems? Unless, of course, they all take the PS2 route, with the first several years of the new generation being slightly eaten by a more-productive-for-longer older gen?

Sam Bishop
Editor-in-chief

I’d honestly be surprised if we didn’t see E3 announcements of $200 and permanent bundles for the rest of the gen. Any extensions to current prices could be an attempt to offset R&D costs, but, most of the time, that’s all sunk in the hopes of getting it all back over the course of that gen.

Basically, it’s my guess that if prices hold past the middle of this year, tuck in for at least another full year of the current hardware. And, honestly, as much of a spaz as I am about new hardware reveals, I’m okay with a few more years. Let ‘em work out those motion control kinks to see what works and what doesn’t before we end up just grouping them into the next gen by default.

Daniel Hemsath
Features Freelancer

2011 and the future of gaming… let me peer into my crystal ball… I see… goldfish. Oh, wait… this is a fishbowl.

Seriously, though, I’m sure Nintendo will release an HD system, and I’m inclined to agree that it will be backwards-compatible with Wii games (GameCube, who knows) and feature a camera. It seems a little less “revolutionary” than the Wii was, in light of recent motion-gaming advances, but I suspect that Nintendo will embrace the audience introduced to gaming with the Wii, and still surprise us with a trick up their sleeves. The 3DS is already confirmed for 2011, but I think it’s going to be less successful than the DS was – until the inevitable price drop. It seems like too many “non-gamers” see the DS as a toy, not an interactive media device, like an iPhone. Parents won’t shell out $300 (or even $250) for a device that might make their six-year-old throw up; apparently, they might weigh the consequences if it were cheaper, I guess.

Back when the PS3 dropped in price to $300, I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t figure out how they could afford to do it. I heard they were losing money on every system made. So a drop to $200 sounds crazy – but videogames are a dynamic market. Technological advances come up with memory, production, etc. so fast that I doubt Sony really is losing money on the production of their consoles at this time. So, maybe, it’s not so implausible. For anyone who’s been holding out, $200 is the magic price. Heck, $300’s still a steal.

PlayStation Phone – knowing Sony, it’s guaranteed to release next year. Early reports suggest that it will be modeled after (or crafted from the bodies of) the PSP go, which isn’t surprising. After all, Sony has a way of reusing its technology until it catches on; take UMDs and their progenitor, the MiniDisc. But as for the PlayStation Phone’s audience? With iPhones, Droids, and even the Windows Phone 7, the market’s not just saturated, it’s underwater. Can the PSPhone remain competitive – or even dominant – in its arena?

And as far as the PSP2 goes, I’m sure we’ll see it in 2011, albeit as a holiday release. (Wouldn’t that be something?) I’m interested in seeing what really sets it apart from its competitor, aside from being very pretty, I’m sure. I’m honestly hoping it will push for a sophisticated DLC-oriented library, a la “apps,” or other Media Go-styled content; I believe that this is the future of portable gaming, not cartridges the size of postage stamps you’ll lose in-between the cushions of your couch.

And Microsoft? Sure, there’s Gears 3 and Forza 4 (which I’m sure will be Kinect-enabled and big sellers), but what else is there? Is Microsoft really that confident in Kinect that they feel they can coast on it? I can’t even see any significant Kinect games coming out next year that make this accessory a “must have” for 2011; even Child of Eden (which looks slick) is a bit niche. And while I don’t believe that we’ll hear of an Xbox 3 (or 720, depending on preference) or PS4 next year, I’m sure holiday 2011 will determine Microsoft’s future role in gaming – for better or worse – depending on which audience they embrace and which audience they take for granted.

Sam Bishop
Editor-in-chief

Just to chime in one last time on some of this, the PS3 was still losing just a few bucks per unit sold when the Slim dropped at $300, but this was quickly corrected and Sony has been making a profit on the system more or less since it launched. If they do drop to $200, it’ll likely be because they were able to move to a new fab size and maybe squeeze more into less space. Then again, at this point, they really can’t afford to slip any more. The PS2 is dead. The PSP is dead in the States, and the PS3 is chilling in a distant third here, too. I think any future pricing moves will be reactive rather than proactive, but I do still think we’ll see a $200 system. The software isn’t just there, it’s everywhere, so really the only thing holding back consumers seems to be the relative price difference versus the other systems. As long as that barrier is there, no talk of bundled Move controllers or Blu-ray playback is going to knock it down in consumers’ eyes. Two hundo certainly would.

And again, on the PSPhone (sorry I brought it up again), remember that it’s a Sony Ericsson device, not a Sony Computer Entertainment one. It has PlayStation functionality in limited download form, but it’s not a PSP and likely won’t carry the PlayStation name. Sony needs to keep that as pure as possible leading up to the reveal of the PSP2 around E3. The phone may do well (the Xperia devices have been doing okay, I believe), but it shouldn’t be judged by the same metric as normal PlayStation hardware. It won’t get that push, it won’t get that reveal, and (hopefully, in Sony’s mind, I’m sure) it won’t pull focus from the real PSP successor that’s waiting in the wings.

Parjanya Holtz
Senior Editor

Yeah, I think Sam pretty much has it figured out regarding the PSPhone. They want the PlayStation name out there tied to their Ericssons so those will do better, not the other way around. It’s more a marketing coup than a real noteworthy PlayStation release. (Remember, the old Sony Ericsson phones all used to have the PlayStation controller logo already in there, so the interconnection is not entirely new.) However, if they do it right, Sony Computer Entertainment could actually really profit from this. Minis need a push, and in the end it might actually help sell PSP(2)s.

I still stand by my prediction for 2012 being the big year for new console announcements/releases, not 2011, and I still think the Wii HD might actually happen. Nintendo probably sees the PS2 (and especially its later years) as an indicator of how the casual market can help make a console a tremendous success, which is why they’d be stupid not to keep the Wii around for a few more years (alongside the Wii 2). A redesigned HD version might be the way to go, unless they’re afraid it would take away momentum from the Wii 2. Or is their market dominance too frail to pull off such a Sony-ish move? Either way, all three major corporations have a lot of thinking to do regarding the future of their brands. As Sony painfully had to learn, a good start is half the race.

[Editorial] Merry Christmas, Snow! (Part 2)

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

When chatting with my TPS brethren about the hypnotic effect and soothing quality of cold snow on the ground when wrapped up with a warm controller, they offered a tremendous amount of words, most of them strung together in a coherent fashion and many done so quite insightfully. Alarmed and ashamed at my inability to include all their wonderful quotes in the editorial proper, I have decided to collect and archive them here for the reading pleasure of the world and all its future progeny.

Oh, snow, in their own words…

Rus McLaughlin
Bitmob.com staff writer

For reasons I can’t explain, I always loved Swords on Halo 3’s “Snowbound” map. There’s nothing about “Snowbound” that particularly lends itself to swordfighting – and the snow doesn’t have much impact on the game itself – but that never stopped me from cutting a bitch.

As for atmospherics, I think you’ve got to go with two games: Silent Hill and Max Payne. They just felt colder, grimmer, closer to death for having a steady, silent snowfall coming down… that chill in your bones, that unwilling slide into unconsciousness. These are two very different games, but both have a distinct “waking nightmare” vibe going on, and setting them in the dead of winter (as it were) really feeds into the dreamless, semi-delusional states both Max and Harry Mason find themselves in.

Sir Gordon Wheelmeier
Gaming guru

I remember playing the platformers of old, where every one had at least one ice level, and you’d slip and slide everywhere, making jumps and dealing with enemies much trickier. I always hated seeing them when I’d first get to them, because I always thought they felt sort of cheap after a while (after you’ve done a few, the hook there is just the same thing again and again), but I’d always feel rather accomplished after I would finish them.

Shaun Mason
Consultant/mascot

Personally, I haven’t had a lot of experience with snow, primarily because I grew up in areas that never got cold enough for that kind of weather. So the concept of snow, ice, slush, or whatever is somewhat foreign to me. But maybe that’s one of the reasons why I hate ice levels in countless platformers or action games – I’m not even going to attempt to list all of them, because the guilty parties know who they are. But does this sound familiar? You find your character sliding and skating around, with worthless footing or traction on every surface. Did I mention the bottomless pits or the native snow monsters that are just waiting to attack you in your helpless state, forcing you to start over at some distant checkpoint to repeat this Sisyphean task?

What I have liked are the games that use snow with either an atmospheric sense of building tension or for a legitimate gameplay purpose. For example, Metal Gear Solid, MGS4, and the Syphon Filter games managed to use snow to emphasize and heighten tension during some game sequences, as well as provide a true game mechanic – if you couldn’t see the enemy in the midst of a blizzard, chances were they couldn’t see you, either, unless you drew attention to yourself. The mountaintop level in Modern Warfare that has you sneaking into a heavily guarded base and escaping on snowmobile is truly breathtaking and so well-done, cinematically, that some Hollywood directors could learn some lessons in dramatic tension. But I think that what really defines snow, winter time, and the holidays the best, to me, is the SSX series. Like I said, I don’t really have experience with snow, but that franchise was just awesome and made me feel like I could take on any mountain in the world as long as I had a DJ, a board, and a crowd willing to watch me perform insane tricks just so I could gain bragging rights.

Aram Lecis
Senior editor

There are two games throughout history that leap out at me when I think of snow and videogames. The first is the classic Infocom text adventure The Lurking Horror, which takes place on a snowbound, fictional college campus (really, it was MIT), and the second is Metal Gear Solid.

The first time I played the original MGS on the PSX, it was at a time when I was considering my first move to Alaska. While I thought it was neat that it took place in the state that I was interested in (and knew very little about), I really didn’t pay that much attention to the setting, instead becoming enthralled with the varied gameplay and deep narrative.

Soon after I made the move to the 49th state, a coworker invited me over to his house to play through Metal Gear Solid with him (which we played on an original iMac with Connectix Virtual GameStation) a second time, and now that I was in Alaska and knew the game, I garnered a whole new appreciation for the setting this time around. I don’t think there was any time before or since then when I felt so immersed in an environment. The same cold winds and deep snows that covered the Fox Archipelago could be found right outside the window of my friend’s basement. When I’d leave his house to walk home in the sub-zero temperature, I imagined I could quell the shivering if only I could find some Diazepam lying on the ground. I empathized fully with how physically demanding it must have been for Snake to sneak around outside in these conditions.

Of course, it isn’t just my familiarity with the locale that makes MGS such an outstanding example of using snow in a game. I don’t recall having seen another game at that point where characters would have vapor clouds coming out of their mouths in time with their breathing. The game also modeled your footprints, leaving tracks in the snow, and it wasn’t just a nice cosmetic touch: they could be used to bait enemy soldiers into following them while you hurriedly circled around to sneak up on them from behind and silently snapped their necks. The environment was no longer just a setting and a background – it was now an integral part of the gameplay that added credibility to the rest of the tightly-wound story. Other games have certainly followed suit with making immersive winter environments, but I don’t think any of them will ever resonate with me as well as MGS did.

Contrast this with earlier uses of snow and ice in games, where the main function was to make extra-slippery sections in platformers that caused you to slide into pits or a Goomba and which made you restart the level. I hate the use of snow and ice in those games as much as I deplore the slippery sidewalks outside my house – they never contributed anything tangible to the games they were in and were much more a gimmick than any well-thought-out addition to the gameplay. Thankfully, that is a “feature” that seems to have faded from our collective gaming consciousness. Now we just need a modern, first-person version of The Lurking Horror so I can die happily snowbound!

Sam Bishop
Editor-in-chief

My favorite is definitely Uncharted 2’s various Himalayan areas. Naughty Dog is obviously absolute beasts when it comes to doing textures and complex environments, but what they really nailed was the look of snow drifts on actual physical objects. There’s a lot of that clumpy, bunched-up stuff that you only get in environments where there’s a ton of wind and a ton of snow dumping almost constantly. Seeing various walls in Tenzan’s village, for instance, with all those little tufts of snow just above the ground line, was really, really neat, and of course seeing the blizzard Drake ends up collapsing in was incredible, too. It just made you feel… cold.

Properly doing a snow/ice level is pretty damn huge. Yeah, it’s a pretty well-worn trope of games these days; if a game doesn’t have a fire level, a jungle level, a desert level, and a snow level, somehow people seem to think all the bases aren’t covered. To me, though, stumbling out into the snow is a huge part of changing up the pacing and tone of a game. When done right (Resistance 2 did some really cool particle-based snow, as well), it can make things more plodding and more desperate, and I really like that. Plus, snow levels are simultaneously comforting (who doesn’t love hearing that crunch?) and unnerving (it’s freezing – homeboy or homegirl is gonna die if they don’t get out of the elements), and I really dig that. Done well, they can be a tremendous asset to the immersion and hook of a game.

Andy Curtiss
Staff writer

I love fighting games. I always have. I can honestly say it’s the first genre that ever really hooked me into videogames. You can blame Street Fighter II. I was at the perfect age when it was released in arcades; I was just old enough to be 100% enthralled. And I remember intently watching an older kid play all the way through and getting to Bison before getting his rear-end handed to him.

The love affair with fighting games continued all through my teenage years and into my 20s. I specifically bought an Xbox because of the fighting games that had come out for it. By this time, I was also a huge RPG fan, and, yes, Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind had recently come out for the system, but it had been Dead or Alive 3 that caught my eye. Later, other games would release and entertain me quite a bit, as well: Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Tao Feng, and Def Jam: Fight for NY. But like I said, it was Dead or Alive that did me in, and did so in spectacular fashion.

My cousin had purchased an Xbox and badly wanted to come to my parents’ house and hook it up to the “big screen” TV. (This was, of course, eight years ago, when “big screen” meant something else, but I digress.) With their permission, my cousin hooked up the system and promptly popped in DOA3. The next 24 hours flew by in a haze I cannot even begin to describe.

I had fallen in love – completely and totally, head over heels. The game was beautiful, visually. The next generation in gaming had arrived! The characters were bright but realistic, and dear God… they had texture! But even more, the fighting itself was superior to any game I’d played yet. There were no crazy fireballs or hurricane kicks; it was martial arts based on real martial arts (to some degree, at any rate). How clever! And, of course, there were the characters: ninja like Hayabusa and Kasumi, if you preferred the ladies; wrestlers Bass and his daughter, Tina, whose outfits didn’t leave anything to the imagination; even the big, hunky commando Bayman (whom I still have a crush on years later). But, most of all, there was Helena, with the flowing blond hair and graceful style I’d never seen before. She had me completely and instantly.

When I think of snow in videogames, I think of the snowy stream stage in Dead or Alive 3. The wind is blowing and the snow is falling. The sky is grey and visibility passed the fighters is quite low. You find yourself and your opponent fighting on the banks of a small stream or creek. The whole area is absolutely covered in snow. There’s even a tree down nearby, presumably because of the snow. It’s easy to imagine this little forest glade as beautiful in the spring time, but the winter has made it nothing but white. As you and your opponent square off, you find that the snow actually interacts with you as you’d imagine. Where you step, you leave footprints and begin to mash the snow down. When you jump, the powdery white stuff comes up with you in small clouds. Watching Tina body slam someone in a bikini makes me shiver just thinking about it.

There are several other stages that offer a snowy setting, as well – the dojo and the cave, both of which are beautiful, as all the stages in DOA3 were. The cave even offers two “floors” of battling: you actually start outside and above the cave, and, if you manage to knock your opponent down the steep, snow-covered slope, you find yourselves in a cavern with icicles as big as you! But like I said, it’s the snowy stream that makes me think of winter the most – especially if you have selected Kasumi’s Santa outfit!

[Editorial] Merry Christmas, Sam Bishop! (Part 1)

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

Okay, I’ll admit it upfront: I love the snow.

I couldn’t tell you why, although I’m sure growing up in Cleveland has no small part in it, a place where Christmases truly are – thanks to that most magical of phrases, “lake-effect snow” – winter wonderlands. The silent, majestic beauty of these white landscapes, I’m sure, is another piece of the puzzle, as is the atmosphere and ambiance they generate when snuggled nicely in a warm (and warmly decorated) house. Indeed, despite the stress and the massive disruptions snow can cause, it is one of four absolutely indispensable elements to a holly, jolly holiday.

Another of these four essentials is, of course, videogames – it ain’t much of a Christmas if there isn’t at least one videogame tucked away in a stocking – and here, I’ve only recently noticed, the white fluffy stuff pops up again and again in my personal library of fondest gaming experiences: the race against the penguin in Super Mario 64, sneaking around Shadow Moses Island in Metal Gear Solid, running for my life in Silent Hill, beating the snot out of the Covenant on the “Terminal Moraine” map in Halo Wars (why is it that the snow maps are always the best in RTSes?). And my wife and I playing Animal Crossing, on both the GCN and DS, where the picture-perfect snowflakes on the screen matched the weather outside the frosted windows, still brings a smile to my face, even if the game series stopped doing so long ago.

And it is here, remarking on the simple fact of human existence that there are few phenomena as immediately atmospheric or instantly immersive – particularly in as immersive a medium as videogames – as a flurry of snow, that the thought occurred to me that it is perhaps I, having perhaps inhaled a bit too much salt that would coat everyone’s car after five minutes of driving on an icy Cleveland road, who was on the wrong side of the objective-subjective divide; maybe it was I who had warped reality, very much in an ActRaiser fashion (another solid use of winter-weather-as-atmosphere-builder, incidentally), and had created the Great Self-evident Snow Truth instead of merely observing and recording it. There was only one way to find out: turn to those fellow diehard, obsessive-compulsive gamers whose opinions I intimately and infinitely trusted – or merely grab the first person I came across here at the TPS offices – and ask for his input.

“For reasons I can’t explain,” Rus McLaughlin, a former freelancer with IGN and a current editor at Dan “Shoe” Hsu’s Bitmob.com, says in an eerily similar fashion, “I always loved Swords on Halo 3’s ‘Snowbound’ map. There’s nothing about ‘Snowbound’ that particularly lends itself to swordfighting – and the snow doesn’t have much impact on the game itself – but that never stopped me from cutting a bitch.”

While it was nice to know that I wasn’t the only one with a glacial fixation in the Haloverse, there was something more to it – or, at least, something to be more fully expounded upon. Dear Sam Bishop, ex-Podcast Beyond-er and the once and future king of TotalPlayStation, hit the conscious nail on the head a little more self-consciously. What does it for him, he positively enthused, was Uncharted 2’s Himalayan locales. “Naughty Dog is obviously absolute beasts when it comes to doing textures and complex environments, but what they really nailed was the look of snow drifts on actual physical objects. There’s a lot of that clumpy, bunched-up stuff that you only get in environments where there’s a ton of wind and a ton of snow dumping almost constantly. Seeing various walls in Tenzan’s village, for instance, with all those little tufts of snow just above the ground line, was really, really neat, and of course seeing the blizzard Drake ends up collapsing in was incredible, too. It just made you feel… cold.” It was at this point that his face turned blue and his teeth started to chatter, so I left him to his Snuggie and continued on my merry quest.

“When I think of snow in videogames, I think of the snowy stream stage in Dead or Alive 3. The wind is blowing and the snow is falling. The sky is grey and visibility passed the fighters is quite low,” Andy Curtiss, a news-and-JRPG-review-producing machine, said to me as I passed him in the hall. “You find yourself and your opponent fighting on the banks of a small stream or creek. The whole area is absolutely covered in snow. There’s even a tree down nearby, presumably because of the snow. It’s easy to imagine this little forest glade as beautiful in the spring time, but the winter has made it nothing but white. As you and your opponent square off, you find that the snow actually interacts with you as you’d imagine. Where you step, you leave footprints and begin to mash the snow down. When you jump, the powdery white stuff comes up with you in small clouds. Watching Tina body slam someone in a bikini makes me shiver just thinking about it.”

There truly is a technical aspect of beauty to it – recreating water in all of its states is no small feat, as any developer will easily attest to – and there are few things that tech-heads love to reveal in more than a computational display of mastery such as this. But doesn’t the rabbit hole go deeper than sheer and unadulterated aesthetics?

I rang up Aram Lecis, TPS’s Alaska correspondent (why it was deemed necessary to have a branch office in the 49th state, no one knows – but, then again, no one questions Mr. Bishop’s judgment), thinking that he might not only have a similar appreciation for the Great Snow Truth, but also a likely explanation for its self-evident existence. He immediately zeroed in on Metal Gear Solid as being “an outstanding example of using snow in a game.” He continued, “I don’t recall having seen another game at that point where characters would have vapor clouds coming out of their mouths in time with their breathing. The game also modeled your footprints, leaving tracks in the snow, and it wasn’t just a nice cosmetic touch: they could be used to bait enemy soldiers into following them while you hurriedly circled around to sneak up on them from behind and silently snapped their necks. The snowy environment was no longer just a setting and a background – it was now an integral part of the gameplay that added credibility to the rest of the tightly-wound story. Other games have certainly followed suit with making immersive winter environments, but I don’t think any of them will ever resonate with me as well as MGS did.” I can certainly and heartily agree with that.

But lest he seem to agree too much with his nerd brethren, Lecis-san then went on: “Contrast MGS with earlier uses of snow and ice in games, where the main function was to make extra-slippery sections in platformers that caused you to slide into pits or a Goomba and which made you restart the level. I hate the use of snow and ice in those games as much as I deplore the slippery sidewalks outside my house – they never contributed anything tangible to the games they were in and were much more a gimmick than any well-thought-out addition to the gameplay.”

“Personally, I haven’t had a lot of experience with snow, primarily because I grew up in areas that never got cold enough for that kind of weather. So the concept of snow, ice, slush, or whatever is somewhat foreign to me,” said Shaun Mason, a more-or-less behind-the-scenes guiding light and TotalPlayStation cheerleader here at the offices, when I related Aram’s comments to him. I found both him and Sir Gordon Wheelmeier, so called because of his origin from the very depths of Ye Olde English history, sitting in the so-called cafeteria. “But maybe that’s one of the reasons why I hate ice levels in countless platformers or action games – I’m not even going to attempt to list all of them, because the guilty parties know who they are.”

Sir Gordon couldn’t agree more. “I remember playing the platformers of old, where every one had at least one ice level, and you’d slip and slide everywhere, making jumps and dealing with enemies much trickier. I always hated seeing them when I’d first get to them.”

The three of them were, of course, right – there is a rich vein of frustration permeating the serene wistfulness of a snow-filled night, off-set by roasting chestnuts or not. Whether manifested in slippery gameplay mechanics or treacherous roads, it’s something that cannot be so easily overlooked, even if one has the same pair of frosted-yet-still-rose-tinted sledding goggles as do I.

And yet… not even Lord Wheelmeier can fully turn his back on the cascades of cool night air and strains of Christmas music, for he added, almost under his breath:

“But I’d always feel rather accomplished after I would finish them.”

Bingo.

This is, ultimately, I think, the saccharine-yet-erudite answer, the perfect combination of truism and epiphany. It’s in the contrast that the magic happens, and there is no more pervasive or potent conflict than in winter – staying warm while your avatar is cold; the brightness of the lights on the Christmas Tree that is plunged in the darkest depths of the year; and, of course, the extra challenges of a snow level that give way to a greater sense of connection to the environment and absorption into the world through the bond of gameplay (there is also, in the less-vicarious-and-more-visceral world of the animal kingdom, of course, the tension between hibernating or migrating and perishing). Indeed, this is the very heart of videogames, the give and take of immersion, the push and pull of drama. And this is the quintessential element of existence itself: it is in the contrast – and the division – between ourselves and others around us that we get to know who and what, if not necessarily why, we are (even if we tend to get lost in and subsumed by the multiplicity of these multiplicities), starting with the primal distinction between those who possess life and those, simply, who do not.

All of this is realized within the simple geometric beauty of a snowflake, whether comprised of pixels or constituted by atoms.

Well, at least for me.

PlayStation Post-script #3: Three PlayStations and Four Years

Monday, November 29th, 2010

It seems like just the other day when PlayStation 3s still had backwards compatibility and we wondered who would ever pay $500 or more for a console (not that many people, as it turned out), but here we are, four years after the launch of the PS3, and the little console that could has finally gained some traction and doesn’t need to have little brother syndrome anymore.

So how does the TPS staff feel about the Triple on its fourth anniversary? Do they, like me (Aram), lament the loss of some of the quirkier games we saw released regularly on the PlayStation 2? Or are we happy many of them found a home as downloadable titles on the PlayStation Network? Are there really six years left in this system, like Sony would have us believe? We gathered some of the staff around the DualShock 3-shaped conference table and pretended to listen to each others’ thoughts…

Aram Lecis
Señor Editor

Man, four years goes by fast. When the PS3 was born, so was my daughter, and much like having kids, I can’t remember what life was like before I had this black battleship. The ubiquitous console not only plays two generations of games, it has replaced the old Xbox as the media center of my world. I can watch Netflix movies, Vevo music videos, Hulu TV shows, and stream virtually any video file of my own straight to my TV with little effort. After a slow start, the PS3 is rife with great exclusive content and robust offerings on the PlayStation Store, which has become a haven of sorts for indie development houses. I’m not too ashamed to admit that the idea of Trophies is far more compelling to me than Achievement points ever were. Sony seems poised to deliver an almost unbelievable amount of exclusive content in the next six months. What’s not to love?

Well, for starters, I’m not drinking the Sony Kool-Aid when it comes to backward compatibility. I’m a subscriber to the theory that we could still have the ability to play last generation’s games – only Sony realized they could monetize those old titles again by locking us out and forcing us to buy remakes. Don’t get me wrong, I fully support remastering old titles, but we all know that it is a highly selective process, and many titles we consider “classics” will never get updated.

Which brings me to my other issue… where are this generation’s Disaster Reports and Katamari Damacys? (Yes, I realize there is a “new” Katamari game, but I am talking metaphorically, not literally here). One of the hallmarks of both the original PlayStation and the PlayStation 2 was the plethora of “non-traditional” games that graced their catalogs, many of which came from overseas. There has yet to be a Mister Mosquito or even a God Hand appearing in our stores. I appreciate that we can play most import games natively now, and I am pleased by the appearance of quirky little gems like Trash Panic and Noby Noby Boy gracing the PSN, but I miss those wacky, fully-translated titles like IllBleed. We still have time to reverse the trend, but my hopes are not high.

Parjanya Holtz
Senior Editor

I knew I was in love when I plugged in my PS3 for the first time and MotorStorm’s intro started playing. Neither my HDTV nor my surround sound system had ever been able to fully demonstrate their potential until that point. Admittedly, the Xbox 360 was a console that I only got my hands on after getting a PS3, so the technological leap from my beloved PS2 was quite the significant one.

I remember thinking, “Man, this is the future.” The irony is that it wasn’t. Sony’s online system was solid but nowhere near what the 360 offered with Xbox Live at the time. Many of the multiplatform titles were graphically inferior on Sony’s big black box, and we were told rumble was “last gen.” Fortunately, it didn’t take Sony long to realize that they had to look at what the competition was doing if they wanted to catch up – or even surpass them in the never-ending console wars.

With time, we were given the DualShock 3, Trophies, better third-party support, Netflix, the video store, and a lineup of exclusives that I think is far superior to that of the 360, and all of this coupled with the initial selling points of the PS3. There is no denying that Sony has allowed the PS3 to mature into a unique and sophisticated gaming machine that is just far more user-friendly than its competition.

But what’s so attractive is also a form of character that has grown around the system that I simply don’t see anywhere else. Kevin Butler is a pop-culture phenomenon, the PlayStation Blog has become one of the most charismatic “official” sources for gaming news on the web, and the unique option of being able to swap and upgrade your system’s harddrive any time are just a few of the reasons why I consider the PS3 the system of my choice. I truly believe that if Sony keeps up the hard work and eventually realizes that you can have both backwards compatibility and remastered originals alongside one another, the transition from the once-arrogant industry leader to maybe and arguably its most important asset is perfect. I, for one, can’t wait to see where the PlayStation brand goes from here.

Marc N. Kleinhenz
Features Editor

Well, if that brand future manifests itself in the form of PlayStation Portable Phones (PSPPs) and more wishy-washy initiatives like PlayStation Plus, I’m not quite certain that it will either be bright or that arrogant-less.

Kyle Heimbigner
Staff Writer

I didn’t get a PlayStation 3 until December of 2009, when all of the really good exclusives were out or were about to come out within the next three months or so. I had just bought a HDTV (50″ 1080p plasma <3), and Blu-ray was one of the first things I really wanted to try the TV out on. The PlayStation 3 was the only thing I could think of; I’ve always been a huge fan of Sony’s consoles – I loved the PlayStation 2 – and I had started hearing rumors of Gran Turismo 5 coming out soon (not surprisingly, I would have to wait an extra year for it!), so it was a no-brainer.

Looking at the list of exclusives, I knew I would love this system. Demon’s Souls, Uncharted 2, and Metal Gear Solid 4, at the time, were the games that really sold me. (Although I still need to give Demon’s Souls a proper play-through one of these days – I have only ever rented the game. :( ) The free online play is what sold me on the console, as well. I’ve noticed that those games whose online play is key really survive a long time on the PS3; their online communities keep going a lot longer than on the PC or Xbox 360. This was a major plus that I discovered shortly after getting the system.

Even though I originally mentioned that the strong Blu-ray capabilities were one of the top reasons for me getting a PS3, I have actually ended up only buying a handful of BR movies. With Netflix taking off big time in early 2010, along with other large streaming services providing HD content, there wasn’t a whole lot of reason to go with Blu-ray, it has turned out. The format is great, though, and I don’t see it going away anytime soon.

But, ultimately, the PlayStation 3 is such a strong gaming system that everything else is overshadowed by this fact. It just has the best exclusives available. While I am not always happy with the way Sony handles system updates and provides new features, the games are what is most important, and, in this regard, the PS3 delivers a lot better then anyone else. I’ve always been a fan of Sony’s consoles because they just simply stick to the most important aspects. Sometimes the little things get ignored by them or put aside for long periods of time, but when it comes to providing the most original game titles, they deliver every time – and that is what is really important to me when I am ready to spend my money on my favorite hobby.

Shaun Mason
TPS Mascot

The first time that I saw the PS3, I was blown away by the demos, videos, and launch lineup that looked like it was going to redefine the gaming industry. Then I saw the price, and I was definitely dismayed – while the games were going to be affordable, the launch systems were in the realm of the NeoGeo (an impressive system, technically, at the time, but an incredible failure). It felt like Sony had freely given up the dominance that they’d established over the PlayStation and PS2 years to Microsoft.

While some of the obvious gaffes, like realistic giant crabs and “Riiiiiiiiiiidge Racer!” became internet memes and cast doubt on the future of the system, Sony battled back in some of the ways it knows best – producing high-quality games. Titles like Resistance and MotorStorm were huge in rebuilding faith in the PlayStation fan community, and this was supported afterwards with incredibly solid hits over time: The Show has consistently been the best baseball series ever produced, LittleBigPlanet redefined user content, and God of War III blew users away with its storytelling.

Sony also managed to score a crucial victory in the format wars by trouncing HD-DVD and establishing Blu-ray as the successor to DVDs. Given Sony’s track record in backing formats (Betamax, anyone?), the win of Blu-ray was huge and was due, in part, to the fact that the player was central to every system. Sony gave consumers a system that could play their old DVDs but also gave them HD-quality new releases and games. The PS3 was a Swiss Army Knife that became the center of many a home entertainment system, and it’s hard to imagine sitting down and watching movies without it – whether that’s with a physical disc or streaming movies through Hulu or Netflix.

However, Sony still has done things that will make even the most die-hard fan scratch their head in confusion. While they have no problem touting the support of DVDs and Blu-rays, they completely eliminated backwards compatibility from post-launch systems. This was a huge selling point that helped Sony retain their fans over the years (and console generations) because fans didn’t feel as though they had to abandon their old game libraries. As someone that still has his old “George Foreman”-style PS3 with backwards compatibility, I will scream out my dissatisfaction with this decision ‘til my dying breath. Then I’ll come back from the grave and scream some more like a banshee.

It’s obvious that Sony decided that they could squeeze and bilk users out of more cash by offering digital versions of older games. However, there’s a large problem with this system: many of the games that are posted in the PS Store aren’t games that anyone wants to play. Personally, if I wanted to play Cool Boarders or Syphon Filter, I’d pull out my old PSX copies. But I don’t. Nor do I care about Rayman 2 or Dirt Jockey – if I did, I would’ve bought them years ago. I’d rather play SSX, MGS2, or DMC3, but those aren’t available in the Store. I applaud the repurposing of older games in collections – the God of War Collection is great, I’m sure that the Sly Collection is awesome (I’m looking forward to diving into that for Christmas), and the forthcoming Ico/Shadow Collection is sure to be unbelievable. But it’s taking far too long to produce these titles or post them on the Store for download

Another issue is that many of the games or genres that were mainstays for Sony aren’t there any longer. Sony used to host incredible RPGs and quirky games that captured the imagination of tons of gamers. Where are they? The PS Store seems to be the lone repository of these titles, like EchoChrome or PixelJunk Monsters.

Will Sony right the ship and reestablish its dominance in this generation? I hope so. Many people believe that the Move has better technology than the Kinect or Wii MotionPlus, and now that developers are starting to get comfortable with programming for the system, some of the truly unbelievable games for the console are on the horizon. However, it does seem like Sony needs a show-stopping string of games or piece of tech that Microsoft and Nintendo can’t match or equal – something that Kevin Butler could constantly Mon-Tage in commercials over and over. Since the whole “Marcus PSP” campaign seems dead, it’s time for the big VP of Everything Gaming to step up and lead the console into the gaming promised land.

Aram Lecis
Señor Editor

It really is a shame that the early years of the PS3 were essentially lost to the unexpected shadow of the Wii and the established dominance of the Xbox 360, a fate that was exacerbated by the aforementioned economically unfriendly pricing. I paid $700 for a 3DO back when it launched in 1993, but I couldn’t bring myself to purchase a PS3 until the price hit $400 – not just because I couldn’t afford one (somehow I can always find the money for something as important as videogames), but because there wasn’t a compelling console exclusive until Metal Gear Solid 4 came along. And even then, it was actually Flower that finally pushed me into purchasing one.

Since that time, my Wii has become merely fodder for my toddlers, and my Xbox 360 barely gets turned on (for which my ears thank me), as I have embraced the return to my true love, for whom I sincerely apologize for ignoring for those two years. I’m here with you on your fourth birthday, and I’ll be there for you when you turn 10 (if not you, then your newer, slimmer sister).

[Editorial] Launching the Release Date

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

What’s in a release date?

Apparently, at the beginning of the modern era of gaming, not much. Console manufacturers, not yet lured by the siren that is the fourth quarter of the year or dominated by the rigors and subtleties of “launch windows,” had an extremely flexible and wide-ranging spectrum of dates. Nintendo released its very first system in October (but only in New York; the rest of the country had to wait throughout the entirety of the following year) and chose July to ship the first iteration of the first Game Boy, while Sega used June as the birth month for its Master System. August, interestingly enough, emerged as the first momentous month for the industry, gaming’s original (and short-lived) November: the Genesis, TurboGrafx-16, and Super NES all hit store shelves within its 31 days. And even the first half of the year saw some action, with the Saturn (sort of) debuting in May.

The tradition of reserving Q4 as the exclusive grounds for system launches didn’t nominally start until Sony entered the arena, ten long and dynamic years later. (Technically, 3DO and Atari beat the Japanese electronics giant to the punch, releasing the 3DO in October and the Jaguar in November of 1993, but their consoles are mere footnotes – literally – in the annals of gaming history.) After the PSX, PS2, and PS3 were shipped in September, October, and November, respectively, manufacturers clung to the merry month of November like vultures to a snowbound carcass: the Xbox saw release on the 15th; the PS3, the 17th; the GameCube and the Game Boy Color, the 18th; the Wii, the 19th; the DS, the 21st; and the Xbox 360, the 22nd. Hell, even non-hardware – or, at least, non-system – launches have favored the eleventh month of the year, with Microsoft in particular leading the charge; it started Xbox Live (on the 15th), debuted Xbox Live Arcade (the 3rd), introduced the New Xbox Experience (the 19th), and, most recently, unleashed Kinect (the 19th once more) all in November.

MARCH
PSP – 03.24.05

JUNE
GBA – 06.11.01

JULY
Game Boy – 07.31.89

AUGUST
Genesis – 08.14.89
Super NES – 08.23.91

SEPTEMBER
PlayStation – 09.09.95
Nintendo 64 – 09.29.96
Dreamcast – 09.09.99

OCTOBER
NES – 10.18.85
PlayStation 2 – 10.26.00

NOVEMBER
Xbox – 11.15.01
PlayStation 3 – 11.17.06
GameCube – 11.18.01
Wii – 11.19.06
DS – 11.21.04
Xbox 360 – 11.22.05

The sole exception to this ad hoc tradition, interestingly enough, comes in the form of handheld systems. Although Nintendo shipped the GBC and DS in the fourth quarter, the Game Boy Advance was in June, while the PSP was, bizarrely, in March. And lest a first-quarter release be seen as being too unusual (or, apparently, unique), the big N has already indicated that the 3DS, its fourth portable, will similarly hit shelves in March of next year.

This latter and latest development may have something to do with the still-burgeoning trend of software publishers treating Q1 as the new Q4, or it may simply be a by-product of end-of-fiscal-year book balancing – or, most mundane yet, the manifestation of assembly-line realities – but it nevertheless sends the same signal: as the videogame industry continues to grow and solidify its presence as a major, not to mention permanent, fixture in the entertainment panorama, it needs to rely less and less on the seasonal, toy-purchasing surge of November, generating instead its own momentums at any arbitrary point in the calendar year.

As the market finishes growing up, in other words, it’s heading back to its adolescent stomping grounds.