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Consoleation Retroactive: The Xbox Experience, Day 2

December 31, 2008 1 comment

Before I go too far into tonight’s update, I want to thank Dan and Andy for their comments and suggestions. Psychonauts is now on my priority list, and I’m going to give Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic a shot next time I go on a haul. Before I got these comments, I had already made a return trip to exchange yesterday’s games that were not working and wound up finding a few more games… which I’ll discuss shortly.

I realize that my decision to take a generational step backwards may seem a bit puzzling. It may even sound rather silly. I had forgotten to mention that issues with my current ISP also had something to do with my decision. It was hard to justify spending the money on a 360 and Xbox Live when my internet connection just isn’t consistent. From my experience with the 360 in the past (for a short time in ’06), the online community is part of what makes the 360 so great… so missing out on that costs you half the fun. I’m certainly still going to get a 360 in the future– but yesterday’s decision was fuled by a ton of factors, and this was a personally important one that I’d failed to note.

That being said, I’ve been having a blast with the Xbox so far. I was up last night playing NFL 2K5 until nearly 5:30am and simply didn’t realize how late it had become. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a session like that where I just lose track of time out of sheer enjoyment. It’s awesome. It reminded me of the time when I started playing Ninja Gaiden on a friend’s NES when I was staying over… I just played, played, and played some more, while my buddy had fallen asleep what seemed like hours before. It’s like “finding the zone”, where the outside world fades away and it’s you and the game you’re playing. Granted, it may be the newness of the experience, but it’s still highly enjoyable, regardless of how old the system may be. I’ll probably be doing the same thing after I write this, trying out the games from today’s haul.

I did promise to update you when new games were added to the library, which has quickly ballooned to 33. Here’s the list of additions:

  • Fable: The Lost Chapters
  • Shenmue II
  • NHL Hitz Pro
  • Project Gotham Racing
  • NHL 2002
  • Castlevania: Curse of Darkness
  • Doom 3 (which wound up being the Collector’s Edition disc!)
  • Capcom Classics Collection Volume 1
  • High Heat Baseball 2004
  • MLB Slugfest: Loaded
  • Jade Empire
  • Darkwatch

Looking at my collection, you’ll probably notice a few things. For starters, I do love my sports games. It may seem silly buying them with obviously outdated rosters and content, but playing the Xbox versions of these is noticeably better than a similar PS2 experience in most multiplatform instances… no memory cards is a big plus, and the visuals are usually better. You may have noticed a pretty severe tilt towards Midway games, such as the three retro compilations, Gauntlet: Dark Legacy, and a couple of Midway’s sports games. In reading past entries in this blog, you’ve probably seen references to Midway before… including a rather lengthy ode to the NBA Jam games, which I adore to this day. Midway games are just special to me, I guess… good, bad, and in-between. (Hey, I still own NBA Hoopz!)

Before I split for the new year (really this time… I have a gig tomorrow), I’d like to reflect for a moment on something I said about my fear of the PlayStation 3 possibly repeating the Dreamcast doom scenario. I know it’s an arguably immature thing to say, but the abrupt demise of the Dreamcast really jaded me. I went from ignoring SEGA after the 32X and Saturn debacles to cautious optimism upon first hearing about the Dreamcast and getting to play an import copy of Sonic Adventure to extreme enthusiasm when September 9th, 1999 finally hit and I spent well over $600 that day alone. A couple of generally positive years went by, and then… BAM! Sammy bought out… errr… merged with SEGA, and the Dreamcast was dead.

I reacted angrily.

I immediately gathered up anything and everything Dreamcast-related and brought it down to my local video game shop to trade it in towards a PlayStation 2. I remember buying Ridge Racer V (which I still own), Swing Away Golf, and SSX to go with it. I washed my hands of the Dreamcast and of SEGA, trying valiantly to spite them for screwing me over.

Dan brought up an excellent point, which I only occasionally considered until now– nearly 7 years after the fact: If I’d held onto the Dreamcast, the games that I owned wouldn’t have died out. They’d still likely be at least as enjoyable as many of the games as I own for the PS2 or XBox today. One can argue that the best versions of Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Street Fighter III, NBA Showtime, NFL Blitz 2000, and several other games were on the Dreamcast… and I owned them all. Perhaps my Xbox purchase is rooted in the same philosophy. Sure, there aren’t any new Xbox games now… but the system still has a great library. I can collect my favorite games from that library and explore new ones, all at relatively low price points as compared to when the Xbox was at the height of its life cycle.

I’m now ready to head to the living room and play. I wish you all the best for 2009.

Categories: Retro Gaming, Xbox Tags:

Consoleation Retroactive: The New Old Addition

December 30, 2008 3 comments

I have added another console to my library. It wasn’t an easy decision, as I wasn’t sure about the viability of getting it. For some reason, I needed something “else” to play games on… not that my PlayStation 2 library was getting old or anything, but I just felt that I had to do something to shake things up.

One option was to sell my PlayStation 3 and move to the Xbox 360. I thought about this long and hard, mainly because I do have some fear about another Dreamcast situation with the PS3. I had dropped well over $1000 combined in store credit and cash on my Dreamcast and its associated games and accessories… and it was all for naught when SEGA abruptly pulled the plug. I don’t think that Sony would do that with the PS3, but it’s possible that publishers will start pulling back third-party support and therefore leave fewer software choices for PS3 owners. That would basically leave my PS3 as a Blu-Ray player and would leave me out of this console generation altogether.

I decided not to go with this option because of what I have invested in my PS3 on the DLC side. I have over 40 downloadable games from the PlayStation Store, plus dozens of songs for Rock Band and few Guitar Hero tracks, as well. Then there are the instruments which I’d have to re-purchase for the 360… I just spent $200 on Guitar Hero World Tour with the guitar and drums, plus I still have the Les Paul from Guitar Hero III and the guitar from Rock Band. As a music gaming fan, I’d have to replace at least two guitars (drums could come later) and rebuy all of my DLC. Lastly, I have hope for Uncharted 2, more great PlayStation Store downloadables (including PSone games that Capcom is promising), and maybe a few surprises. I’ve come this far with the PS3… I guess I need to give it a little more time.

I did, however, have some stuff to trade in that I wasn’t playing… and GameStop is running a pretty good trade-in deal (up to 30% more on trade-ins)… so between that and a gift card that I got for Christmas, I had a decent sum of money to spend. Should I get more PS3 games? Maybe some DS games? How about some rare PS2 RPGs?

Nope. I got… an Xbox. Yup. I’m partying like it’s 2004 all over again. Now, before you boo me or throw shoes at me, here’s why I decided on the Xbox:

  • Price: At $50 for a console, it was a decent deal. I added an extended warranty, too, so I’m set for awhile should this unit give me problems.
  • Hard Drive: I’ve always liked having the ability to save game progress to HDD rather than use memory cards. It’s faster and less confusing, especially if you tend to get involved with a few different games in during the same period. The custom soundtrack feature that the HDD allows for is pretty cool, too. Racing in Burnout Revenge to my favorite music instead of what EA feeds to players is a bonus.
  • Software Availability and Price: There are Xbox games that people are looking to get rid of everywhere. GameStop and FYE, for example, are practically giving a lot of them away. While the rosters aren’t current, NFL 2K5 at $1 is a steal and still has the best presentation of any football game on any console. Burnout 3 and Burnout Revenge were less than $10 apiece– which is cheaper than their PS2 counterparts. The list goes on and on, but I view it as a collection starter– similar to my PSX before those games went AWOL. For little money (less than the PS2), I can quickly build a respectable and fun game collection that’s fun as a diversion or which has games that I did miss out on during the last generation.

Not getting a 360 was a tough decision… but I’m not regretting this move. It’ll be so much easier to impulse buy an Xbox game for $5 or $10 than it will be to buy a 360 title, which can be 3-4 times that amount. I’ve begun the process of changing out last-generation multiplatform titles from my PS2 collection to the Xbox side, such as the Burnout games, Midway’s retro collections, SEGA’s ESPN sports games, and so on. If any of you out there have suggestions for XBox games, feel free to drop them in a comment here. I’ll be sure to keep you updated when I make additions to the collection.

For now, though… here’s the current list:

  • Burnout Revenge
  • Conker: Live and Reloaded
  • Crimson Skies
  • CSI
  • ESPN NBA 2K5
  • ESPN NFL 2K5
  • ESPN NHL 2K5
  • Gauntlet: Dark Legacy
  • Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
  • Lord of the Rings: The Third Age
  • Midway Arcade Treasures
  • Midway Arcade Treasures 2
  • Midway Arcade Treasures 3
  • Panzer Dragoon Saga
  • Project Gotham Racing 2
  • Sega GT 2002 / Jet Set Radio Future
  • TimeSplitters: Future Perfect
  • Unreal Championship 2

Three games that I bought are being exchanged today because they’re defective (Links 2004, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, NCAA Football 2005 / Top Spin)… so I’m hoping to get them replaced with working copies. I have a little bit of store credit left, too… I’d like to try and score Shenmue II and maybe one or two other games.

I know I said that I wouldn’t be posting anything else before 2009, but here you go. Happy New Year… and I’ll be back in ’09!

Categories: Xbox Tags:

Consoleation Vacation: Away Until 2009

December 27, 2008 Leave a comment

I’ve been busy with prepping for the holidays and such, so I’m taking some time off until the end of the year. I do thank all of you for reading what I’ve been able to put together for Consoleation in 2008, and I hope that you’ll keep checking back here occasionally to see what other goodies that I have to post.

I have a feeling that 2009 will being plenty of stories to discuss and some great games to post about. On the game side, Street Fighter IV is right in the center of my radar screen… but the PlayStation Store has been on a serious roll lately and looks to continue this trend in ’09, so downloadable games will also be getting a lot of my attention. For stories, will we see more gaming companies close their doors? Will Sony announce a PS3 price drop at E3? How will the Nintendo DSi fare? Will this be the year that I *finally* afford a 360?

As each year begins, new possibilities and new beginnings unfold. I hope that you’ll share them with me. Until 2009, then…

Happy New Year!

Categories: General

Consoleation Quickie: The Downward Spiral

December 20, 2008 Leave a comment

Bob Slydell must have been working closely with EA regarding their next round of layoffs and closings, as they laid out the bad news on Friday. 1,000 more people lost jobs and EA Black Box (Need for Speed, NHL Hitz 20-02, Sega Soccer Slam) was one of nine studios slated to be closed in the near future. The bad news continued late Friday night when Matt Casamassina (via IGN’s Insider message boards, link at NeoGAF) confirmed that Factor 5 has also shuttered completely… this after reports surfaced earlier in the week that 37 people were laid off from the development firm.

Yikes. When does the bad news end?

The EA announcement was expected, although the timing is harsh. The closure of EA Black Box is unfortunate, as well. Black Box certainly started well… NHL 2K for the Dreamcast was eye-opening, then we saw Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 and NHL Hitz 20-02 not too long after that. There have been other triumphs (Skate) and trials (the more recent Need For Speed titles)… and I do think that it’s been the poor direction of the Need For Speed titles which really helped to do Black Box in. I honestly haven’t enjoyed a Need For Speed game since Most Wanted, and even that game wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. Hot Pursuit 2 on the PlayStation 2 was the series’ high point and the games never reached that apex again.

While Black Box was able to weather some questionable titles, it seems as though Lair was their big downfall. Aside from being exclusive to the PlayStation 3 (which was a revenue-limiter), the game was almost universally panned by the gaming press and never really had a chance at retail. While I have not had the opportunity to personally try it, rumblings have been that the Sixaxis play controls were spotty at best and this didn’t improve all that much after a later patch. This came after generally positive relationships with Nintendo and LucasArts, from which Factor 5 really made their success with titles in the Star Wars: Rogue Squadron series.

Factor 5’s move away from Nintendo, in retrospect, could be argued to be the company’s turning point. Look at the current state of both companies: Nintendo is on top of the world with the Wii and DS right now, comfortably in the lead for this console generation… and Factor 5 is now nothing more than a chapter in video gaming history. It almost makes you wonder what might have happened if Factor 5 had just stuck with Nintendo… but we’ll never know.

I firmly believe that 2009 is going to bring more of the same bad news, for different companies. Is Eidos next on the list? Maybe Majesco? Will we see further scaling back at EA? And what about Sony’s future? Can the market continue to bear three consoles in these difficult times? Unfortunately, these questions and more related developments will be stories that the gaming press corps and the related blogosphere will be focusing on as much as new games in the coming year.

Let’s just hope that we’ve seen the last of the downward spiral for 2008.

Consoleation Quickie: An Open Letter to Sony

December 18, 2008 1 comment

Greetings:

I am writing to you to lodge a complaint about PlayStation Store updates. I’m certainly happy with the content, but I have to say that your window for updating the store is horribly inconsistent. Is it too much to ask to upload updates at the same time every week? I know that some weeks have more content than others; in fact, your expected releases for this week in particular (with Crash Commando, Penny Arcade Adventures Episode 2, Castlevania Chronicles (PSone), and more) are killer, but it’s now past 6pm EST and there’s nothing.

How about sending mass e-mails to users when the upload is complete? No more mysteries. No more refreshes. We know it’s ready because you tell us it’s ready. Is this a problem because you worry about too much traffic to the store at once? Otherwise, I don’t get all the secrecy and inconsistency.

I don’t think that I’m the only one who spends his Thursday afternoons checking his PS3 every 20 minutes to see if the update has gone live. Let’s stop the nonsense and either set a definite update window or send notifications.

Thanks!

Peter Skerritt

Consoleation Quickie: Signs of the Times

December 18, 2008 1 comment

Unless you’re Nintendo, there are signs that the currently struggling worldwide economy is beginning to take its toll on what was thought to be a recession-proof industry. I mentioned the demise of Midway in a recent blog entry, but the negativity reaches far beyond the fate of the former coin-op giant. Factor 5 recently confirmed considerable layoffs, Electronic Arts may be planning more layoffs soon, and Sony’s stock was recently downgraded. There are now rumblings that Free Radical Design (TimeSplitters series, HAZE) has ceased operations.

Say all you want about November 2008 NPD numbers being fantastic… this recent rash of news serves as proof to me that the recession is affecting the gaming industry more than some might want to believe, and I honestly think that this trend will continue and accelerate in 2009. There will still be winners (notably Nintendo and Capcom), but the future is not so bright for other companies. Can EA escape its funk? What does Konami have up its sleeve to try and strike gold like Metal Gear Solid 4 did in 2008? Have music-based games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band run their course?

We’ll have to let time play out in order to know for sure, but for as much success as Nintendo is having, many other companies are either losing money or going out of business altogether in a time of economic difficulty that this industry has never seen. There’s little doubt in my mind that the financial well-being of the gaming industry will be as big a story to follow in 2009 as any.

Consoleation Impressionism: Dead Space (PS3)

December 17, 2008 1 comment

After struggling to tear myself away from the computer here in the office early this morning, I decided to finally pop in Dead Space, which I’d picked up yesterday as a result of trading in some games that I wasn’t playing. I’d read nothing but good things about Dead Space and saw some interesting footage thanks to G4 On Demand which is what really made me want to grab the title if I could. After completing the first two chapters, I have to say that I’m impressed. It’s not (yet) the Oh-my-God-scary game that some have said that Dead Space is, but I will admit that there have been a couple of moments that made me jump a little.

The story is taking its time in revealing itself. It’s not like, say, Bioshock, where the story grabbed me early and never let go. I see a little of what’s going on here… a love interest, a gutsy commander, an alien presence… but I’m not yet identifying or have invested much interest in the background story and character roles and relationships. It’s a kill or be killed mentality, with occasional story information being trickled in. I’m fine with that, I guess, although Bioshock admittedly spoiled me in terms of a story-driven action game. (Uncharted was another one.)

Aesthetically, there’s no denying Dead Space‘s creepiness. The Necromorph designs are twisted and yet fit the game perfectly. Lighting effects really add to the tension that’s evident here… flickering lights, Necromorph shadows in the distance, and so on. There’s blood everywhere, along with a few unsettling sequences, such as ship personnel getting attacked or seeing a doctor perform a procedure on a dead patient, only to mysteriously then finish herself off. The sound design is great, too. Voice work is delivered very well, ambient noise ratchets up the tension, and the music has that horror feel to it. It all comes together during those “jump” moments when a Necromorph drops in out of nowhere and scares you silly.

The gameplay is interesting in that it’s not all about the headshot. Dismembering Necromorphs is the name of the game in Dead Space, so you have to retrain your shooter mentality to aim for legs or arms before the final headshot. You still have to be precise with your aim, but now you must decide whether to go for the legs and stop any advance or whether to go for other appendages to stop attacks. The game’s progression is also generally up to the player. Do you want to explore and find items, or just move from one mission to the next? Lastly, I’m really liking the weapon modification component of the game. Collecting power nodes and applying them to a progressive grid to augment each weapon’s power works well.

I’m looking forward to playing more of Dead Space when I get home from my karaoke gig tonight. Feel free to post your (spoiler-free!) thoughts… does the story begin to reveal itself more as I go? Are there any tips I should keep in mind? I’ll look forward to reading your responses.

Before I go, a couple of other things:

  • Please check out my Twitter friend CrixLee, who stars in a pretty awesome video. The concept is pretty funny, and the results are just as funny to see. Make no mistake… these girls can PLAY.
  • Congratulations to Adam Sessler on his promotion to Editor-in-Chief of Gaming Content for G4. Irregardless of what you may think of Adam and X-Play’s head-scratching selection of Fable II for their Game of the Year, he’s quite knowledgeable and will be a great fit in his new role.
  • Dragon Quest IV on the DS is a welcome return to classic role-playing. It’s perfect for playing while in bed, either unwinding after a long day or first thing in the morning (or afternoon) when you don’t feel like getting out of bed. It’s definitely faster-paced than Dragon Quest VIII was, and that’s a good thing. I’m alternating between this and Chrono Trigger on my DS right now.

That’s about all I have time for today, as I have a karaoke gig to get ready for (and drive to despite some icy roads)… but feel free to follow me on my Twitter page.

Consoleation Quickie: Remembering Midway

December 17, 2008 2 comments

Tuesday’s distressing Midway news sounded like a death knell. More layoffs. Game cancellations. Attempts to spin a bad situation into a not-so-bad situation. Frankly, Midway’s demise has been a painful one for me to watch because of the company’s nostalgic bond to me. So many Midway coin-ops ate my quarters and tokens while growing up (and beyond):

  • Sea Wolf: According to Twin Galaxies, I still hold the world record for this game. A monochrome submarine shooter, the game’s score rolls over at 9,999 points. Sea Wolf is all about timing and memorization.
  • TRON and Discs of TRON: These two coin-ops made excellent use of the film assets that they were based on. One arcade that I used to visit had a sweet pesudo-sit down cabinet for Discs of TRON that had pumping sound and a pretty immersive atmosphere.
  • Arch Rivals: Before the arrival of NBA Jam, this game was a fun 2-on-2 basketball experience that allowed players to punch each other in order to steal the ball. Of course, punching is now the “in” thing in the NBA… just ask Ron Artest.
  • NBA Jam / NHL Open Ice / NFL Blitz series: I won’t rehash what I wrote about these games back in September, but there’s no denying how much money I spent on these games between the coin-ops and home version costs. NHL Open Ice is still the standard for hockey-based arcade games (sorry, NHL Hitz 20-03), and I don’t believe that either NBA Street or NBA Ballers managed to duplicate the magic that NBA Jam and its offspring created.

That’s just a sampling of Midway memories. There are obvious (Mortal Kombat) and not-so-obvious (Gorf) ones, too… but I think that you can see my point about how Midway games were a big part of my gaming life. Unfortunately, Midway never seemed to be able to get past the demise of the video game arcade and spent all of its resources trying (and usually) failing at several different projects in order to try and step out from its coin-op history. Even 21st-century interpretations of Midway classics like Spy Hunter and Gauntlet just fell flat, despite the popular source material. NBA Showtime (the last of the good Jam-based titles) was farmed out to Eurocom for a terrible variation called NBA Hoopz, which was a travesty in every sense of the word– and then Mark Turmell scrapped Jam-style gaming altogether with NBA Ballers, which was only mildly successful.

My big question about Midway’s inevitable shuttering revolves around what will happen to all of the IPs that Midway has under its corporate umbrella. Is it possible that we’ll see more coin-op compilations similar to the Midway Arcade Treasures series if another publisher buys the rights? What will happen to Mortal Kombat– the one Midway franchise that still brings in consistent revenue? What about designers like Ed Boon and Mark Turmell? Where will they end up?

It really doesn’t matter whether or not Midway is able to rescue themselves from the financial armageddon that they find themselves in right now. The game maker will never be the same and has zero chance to recapture even a fraction of the company’s former glory and stature. They’ll be reduced to a footnote in the industry, leaving fond memories for some and a bad taste in the mouths of others. It’s a shame that Midway’s run has come to an end, but an end is where all good things eventually wind up.

Consoleation Reaction: Spike TV 2008 VGAs

December 16, 2008 Leave a comment

Thanks to the magic of digital video recording, I was able to catch Sunday night’s telecast of Spike TV’s 2008 Video Game Awards and skip through segments of the event’s two-hour length at will. That meant no commercials, at the very least… but, to my dismay, the event seemed to be a 120-minute run-on commercial with a few bonuses thrown in.

Jack Black’s antics were not bonuses. The weird use of women for the telecast wasn’t a bonus, either. I skipped by the urban audio assault that Spike TV decided to force upon its live viewers, too.

In fact… I think that I watched maybe 25 minutes out of 120.

I’m sorry, Spike TV… but your sorry excuse for an “awards” show is just that: sorry. Most of the winners were flashed in a short segment late in the broadcast, with only a handful of awards being given on-stage. Why is that? Don’t you think that viewers might be, you know… interested in who won, rather than watching Jack Black make an ass of himself or being musically beaten with a strange mix of rap and emo performances? At the very least… couldn’t you allow for more time for the award winners that you decided to recognize to say more than 8 sentences? How about recruiting presenters that know their lines and might have even a slight affinity for gaming? Kim Kardashian got to introduce one of the more impressive trailers of the event and did such a poor job that it was unintentionally laughable. It was like, “Oh, look at me… I’m on an awards show! What do I do?”

Even the few awards that were presented were snoozefests. Many of the winners were expected winners, and the acceptance speeches were uninspiring. We got to see Metal Gear mastermind Hideo Kojima in the audience with his award, but it wasn’t presented to him during the telecast. Why is that? We get to see Kiefer Sutherland get an award for a manufactured category, but we can’t recognize a visionary in the industry? Really? Even for a high-profile (and, in my opinion, undeserved) Game of the Year award that Grand Theft Auto IV won, you’d expect to see Sam Houser up there instead of two lesser-profile people who really didn’t seem to comprehend what was going on.

The only highlights of the event were during a few of the “World Premiere” trailers. We finally got to see a little more of God of War 3 in action. Dante’s Inferno looks awesome, as does Uncharted 2. It was good to see more of Brutal Legend (despite the incredibly awful Jack Black / Tim Schafer intro). Terminator Salvation seemed interesting, at least. Seeing Tyson and Ali in Fight Night Round 4 gave me hope, although the visual style wasn’t all that appealing to me, personally. I watched all of these trailers with interest, although I can’t help but to feel for the poor people in the audience and those who watched the live telecast that had to sit through the filler and other extraneous crap to get to these trailers.

If there’s going to be a yearly awards show for the gaming industry, here’s what’s needed:

  • Awards: If you’re going to call your event an awards show, then how about giving out some awards? You know… on stage?
  • Less filler, more content: I’m all for a couple of musical performances and a skit or three, but focus on relevant content. For all the crap that this year’s VGA telecast forced upon everyone, we should have seen twice the number of award presentations and even a few montages showing the best games of the year for each platform or something.
  • Maturity: Enough with the objectification of women, sexual innuendo, and so on. If you look at the numbers, the majority of video game players today are a lot older than 15… and, although it might be shocking to some… more and more of the gaming community is made up of (gasp!) women! Holy crap! Yes, I know that Spike TV is basically to television what Maxim is to magazines, but can’t we try to forego the stereotypes for two hours?
  • Better presenters: I’m all for getting big-name talent to present awards, but this year’s disasterbacle proves that you might want to consider getting big-name talent that has at least a working knowledge of the industry. Maybe double up on presenters and have a gaming press corps person from the Advisory Panel go up there with them. As it stands now, the awards have no build-up because the presenters either have no clue what they’re talking about or forgot how to read a teleprompter.

It’s nice that Spike TV has decided to try to bring the industry to the forefront with the VGAs, but each successive show puts a worse taste in my mouth. They are insulting to enthusiasts. The humor is not funny, the content is rarely relevant, and I’d honestly be embarrassed to be associated with any event that paints the industry as immature and “me too” as these events have done every year. Unfortunately, G4’s X-Play Awards show needs lots of production work and more solid backing from both the network and from the industry to become even somewhat watchable.

On second thought… leave the awards events to websites and podcasts. I get more out of reading well-written awards features online than I ever will from watching manufactured, overadvertised, immature, and generally irrelevant programming that Spike TV’s awards shows have consistently delivered for a few years now.

Enough is enough.

Consoleation Observation: November NPD Highlights

December 12, 2008 2 comments

By now, I’m sure that most of you have seen the NPD numbers for November, such as in this article. Rather than break it down piece by piece, I’m just going to make some personal observations based on the numbers:

  • Green Light (Nintendo): The economy may be in the tank, but Nintendo is proving to be recession-proof… at least initially. Over 2 million Wii consoles were sold in November, along with over 1.5 million Nintendo DS units. The Wii’s success in November stands out against the plethora of Xbox 360 deals that were out there in November; despite the Arcade SKU retailing for less than the Wii, the Wii outsold the 360 by a ratio of over 2:1 and outsold Sony’s entire gaming hardware suite (PS3, PS2, PSP) by nearly the same ratio.
  • Yellow Light (Microsoft): 836,000 units isn’t half-bad, although falling short of a million units for a big holiday shopping period could be considered by some to be somewhat disappointing. Thanks to recent price cuts and an impressive exclusive software lineup (Gears of War 2, Left 4 Dead, and Fable II), Microsoft has reasserted its position as the dominant high-definition console in the United States and has effectively not only halted any momentum that Sony might have had in recent months– but it’s completely taken that momentum away from Sony, which is treading water in the sales department.
  • Red Light (Sony): The recession is making it very hard to justify big-ticket purchases, and I fully believe that the PlayStation 3’s dreadful showing for November proves this. Little Big Planet is not a system-seller (despite critical acclaim) and Sony is running out of advantages to hold over Microsoft which make the PlayStation 3 a worthy investment. In this past year, we’ve seen Final Fantasy XIII mark Square’s first multiplatform Final Fantasy numbered title, we’ve seen Dragon Quest move towards Nintendo and away from Sony, we’re seeing HOME stumbling badly out of the gate after multiple delays (I’ll address this before the end of the entry), and continued apathy towards the PS3 as a whole. In spite of Blu-Ray winning the HD format war and in spite of offering a free online play service, the PlayStation 3 simply will not be able to catch the Xbox 360 or the Wii in terms of an installed userbase.

When looking at the Top 10 games of November, the sales numbers for Gears of War 2 (1.56 million) and Call of Duty: World at War (1.41 million) really stand out. That’s just shy of 3 million copies combined for the Xbox 360, along with another 410,000 copies for Left 4 Dead. The Xbox 360 continues to keep software sales at impressive levels despite the $60 price tag in today’s economy. It’s also interesting to see that Guitar Hero World Tour for the Wii sold close to 600,000 copies; where are the music games for the 360 and PS3? Nowhere to be found.

In spite of Microsoft’s relative cumulative success, this month’s hardware numbers continue to beg the question as to whether or not we were ready for the HD gaming era. The PS3’s situation seems parallel to the challenges that the 3D0 had in the 1990s. Before you laugh, consider that the 3D0 was, like the PS3, pricier than its competition– and yet its had impressive technology and some decent (but not consistent) software support. Even with EA’s help (Madden, Road Rash, PGA Tour Golf, Shockwave), the 3D0 had no shot against the Genesis and Super Nintendo consoles. Maybe gamers weren’t ready for CD technology yet (the PlayStation really rang in the era of disc-based consoles for the mainstream), and it’s likely that $700 was just too much for a game system. As for Microsoft, continued fears about the Red Rings of Death and being the only company of the three major players to charge for online play stand as two potential reasons for its somewhat disappointing showing versus the Wii.

I am still quite pessimistic about the effect that the recession will eventually have on the industry. We’re already seeing some effects, including layoffs at EA (and GameSpot, unfortunately), Midway apparently close to dissolution, and an increased backlash by publishers and developers against the sale of second-hand games. Still, Nintendo runaway success and Microsoft domination at the top of the software sales chart both indicate that consumers are still buying– at least for the holidays. Unfortunately, the holidays will end soon, and the trend is very likely to continue away from using disposable income for entertainment and more towards saving for rainy days that are seemingly more frequent.

Other notes from today:

  • I’m sure that it’s a case of growing pains (sans Kirk Cameron), but Thursday’s release of Sony’s HOME Beta to the public was a disaster. Connection woes ran rampant; in fact, it took me all day just to clear the EULA and I still couldn’t log into HOME by 6:30pm EST. I’ll try later today, but I’m not getting my hopes up. I know that it’s just an expansion of the Beta test to the public and that issues should be expected, but the futility that I encountered was inexcusable.
  • I did play Resistance 2 for a bit on Thursday afternoon (in between failed attempts to log into HOME) and I did get past the Swarm. I’m in Chicago now, which has been a pretty impressive stage so far. I still have not tried Co-Op yet, but as for the single-player experience, my feelings are still pretty mixed thus far. It’s fun, but there are way too many unnecessary deaths and sections to trial-and-error your way through.
  • Do yourself a favor: if you were even remotely thinking about purchasing PowerUp Forever from the PlayStation Store for $10, please don’t do it. Even 15 short minutes with this mess have shown me that PowerUp Forever fails where Geometry Wars, Super Stardust HD, and Blast Factor generally succeed. The frame rate chugs, the enemies aren’t really designed well, and there’s nothing here to make you want to play this game over any of the others I just listed. And… why no Trophy support? Geez.
  • I got Persona 4 last night and am looking forward to spending time with this game. The soundtrack– which I listened to in my car– is great.

That’s it from here. Time for bed.

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