Tag Archives: sony

Games of 2012: Journey

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

Journey

I was born in 1980. It wasn’t too long after my birth before I could be found playing video games.

I have lived through the Atari age, the Nintendo hey-day, and the 16-bit wars. I have watched the popularity of arcades rise and fall in long cycles. As a song famously states, I was there.

As happy as I am to gripe about the state of the industry, there are positive threads that run counter to the negative ones. And one of the best success stories of those threads is thatgamecompany’s Journey.

Journey 2

Journey is a beautiful but simple game. It resembles a 3D platformer, with a very limited control scheme – I believe there may be two buttons to use. Your goal is to travel to the light you see coming off the mountain in the distance. You may travel alone, or you may happen onto a companion – played by a randomly matched player on the network, who you can’t really communicate with.

When I consider Journey’s existence, this is what strikes me:

Journey came from a relatively small studio, one that started making games for USC game innovation lab research projects.

Journey was initially released digitally only, avoiding the cost and risk that comes with trying to get a title onto a readily shrinking number of retail shelves. (A retail version did come later, but it was a bundle of three games.)

Journey has a friction-free network function – companions drift in and out of the game, without server browsing or firewall reconfiguring or friends requests. It’s less a game with multiplayer and more a game that just involves other people.

Journey has a strange, ambiguous storyline that’s open to interpretation. I’ve read people argue it’s about life, or death, or rebirth, or companionship, or religion, or God. (I have my own opinions but I don’t wish to argue them tonight.)

Journey

Could a game like Journey exist at any other point in the gaming industry’s lifespan than right now? It feels like it could not, like the pitch would’ve been shot down and laughed out of the room by business executives. It needed to wait until the industry changed as much as it has in recent years.

For all the negativity I have about the gaming industry, I have to recognize that titles are emerging unlike anything we’ve seen before. I can only hope the industry keeps evolving, because the world needs more experiences like Journey.

(There are five games left in my Games of 2012 quiver, and all of them (save tomorrow’s game) share a similar pedigree: I can’t imagine them existing in any year other than now.)

Journey is available for the Playstation 3.

Games of 2012: The World Ends With You Solo Remix

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

The World Ends With You: Solo Remix

I remember getting my hands on The World Ends With You for the first time. It felt like an eternity since the last time I was had my world flipped by a Square RPG. A weird blend of modern Japanese culture and supernatural plots to destroy the world, TWEWY tied together a unique combat system, well-polished art and music, and memorable moody teenagers (this was a Square game, after all). It felt revolutionary, and possibly the start of a great new RPG franchise.

But that was 2008 – and following its release on the DS, nothing more came out of the franchise – until this year. Out of nowhere in August, Square Enix quickly announced and released The World Ends With You: Solo Remix. It didn’t launch on Nintendo’s floundering 3DS, nor was it a near-launch title for Sony’s Playstation Vita. No, it came out solely for iOS, at price points rarely seen on the platform: $18 for the iPhone/iPod Touch version, and $20 for the iPad version. People flipped out.

There are plenty of takeaways from the release – you could spend months trying to break down Square’s pricing strategy, or the effectiveness of reducing a dual screen game to a single screen, or lambasting Square for blocking the iPhone version from running on the iPad and/or not releasing a universal version. But I’d rather focus on the biggest takeaway: it marks the clearest turning point that the mobile gaming landscape has turned away from Nintendo and Sony to instead concentrate on smartphones.

This writing has been on the wall for a while, but it feels inescapable this year. If we’re going off of Metacritic scores to judge quality, there was a single game above 90 on both the 3DS (the eShop re-release of Cave Story) and the Vita (Persona 4 Golden). But somehow, there are 18 games in 2012 that met this threshold on iOS. Many of these are from indie developers; the major studios are represented (EA, Namco, Popcap, Warner Brothers); and the iPad version of TWEWY tops out the list at 95, technically the best reviewed title of the year.

Such a marketplace shift is anathema to long-time mobile gamers, as it seems inconceivable that a platform not dedicated to gaming could provide experiences on par with the big handhelds. But here it is: one of the most lauded, most beloved games in the DS generation, available for the half a billion iOS devices out in the wild.

Some may try to argue the release means little. Isn’t TWEWY:SR just a remake to rake in quick cash? If you’re willing to believe that, then you also have to discount the highest rated game on the Vita (Persona 4 was a Playstation 2 game), and you have to doubly discount the Cave Story release for the 3DS, a veritable remake of a remake! (Cave Story was released for the 3DS as a cartridge in 2011.)

I can’t understate how much of a disruption this is to a handheld market that was rock solid for the last 10 years. It’s almost reminiscent of the gaming market crash of 1983 – although a bit slower, and there’s already a new business model in place to save us waiting a few years for a new savior. If we don’t have dedicated handhelds after this cycle ends, I won’t bother to feign surprise.

(As for TWEWY:SR itself? It’s pricey, but you get what you pay for – a high quality RPG in a unique setting. It doesn’t feel any different compared to the DS version, save the combat – and I actually liked the single screen version better. If you didn’t play through it in 2008, I highly recommend you save up and splurge on it.)

The World Ends With You: Solo Remix is available for iPhone and for iPad, but not in the same app, because Square Enix doesn’t believe in such things.

Games of 2012: Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale

I come before you tonight to disappoint you. Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale is not the sleeper hit of the century, nor is it a bomb that would deserve a Guy Fieri-style takedown. I can’t remember the last time I felt so middle of the road about a game. (Most of this post will compare the game to the Super Smash Brothers series, which PASBR is widely accused of ripping off.)

The roster? It’s fine. There are some logical choices (Kratos, Nathan Drake, PaRappa, Ratchet); some fun outside choices (Noriko from Heavenly Sword, Spike from Ape Escape, and the feline majesty of Toro); some strange outside choices (Sir Daniel from MediEvil, Colonel Radec from Killzone); and some terrible choices (Dante from DMC, but the new one, not the traditional one; Big Daddy from Bioshock, hardly a Playstation classic). Thing is, if you’re comparing this to Smash Brothers, it’s not significantly different, as that roster follows that same range. There’s this weird belief that Smash is immune to bad characters, but the roster there has plenty of hot garbage. (R.O.B.? Wolf? Pokemon Trainer? Meta Knight? Lucario?)

If you are used to Smash play mechanics, the gameplay will probably feel wrong to you. Rather than piling damage onto your enemies and then smacking them off the level, you build your own energy meter – and then smack enemies off the level. This can feel very backwards, but that passes and eventually feels like a reasonable design decision. The game hinges on the risk/reward decision of triggering your super early or waiting for a later (and better) level. It’s not a better or worse decision, it’s just different.

The title does feel pretty skimpy in terms of content, not helped by a poor menu interface. Story mode, challenges, offline/online play – and that’s about it. Story mode are just straight up fights and no “adventure” levels (which suits me fine, as I didn’t really dig them in Smash); the challenges are in the Street Fighter style of executing on your move list. You can customize characters (via a weird per-character experience point unlocking system), but there’s no sense of history to Playstation past as the capsule toys provide in Smash.

There is one unique feature that PASBR does very well, and that is save syncing. Buying the PS3 copy of the game gets you a downloadable Vita copy for free; the games are identical, save some minor control differences to accomodate the Vita. Given the dual-platform nature, this could have easily become obnoxious, but through some very seamless network syncing of the saves, you can bash through challenges on the Vita version and have all your unlocks on the PS3 side. It just works, and works very well at that. It does help fulfill the promise of “console gaming on the go” that seems to be the only pitch of Sony’s that rings true.

Should PASBR exist? It’s hard to say. Sony has never been a company that’s developed any true mascots of its own, something Nintendo never had a problem with. But there are plenty of recognizable characters, and there’s nothing really wrong with pushing them into a strange fighting game. (I shudder to think what a roster would look like if Microsoft tried to do the same style of game.) PABSR sometimes feels like it’s trying too hard – the battlegrounds mash games up, which is fine until a Metal Gear breaks through on the Locoroco stage for no reason at all. Other times, it feels like it’s not trying hard enough – a game with so many fighting game experts in the credits shouldn’t feel so weirdly unbalanced.

It’s a few steps from being an easy recommendation to buy, but also far enough removed from being something I couldn’t recommend at all. It’s fine. Pick it up when it goes Greatest Hits? Or don’t. It’s cool either way.

Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale is available for PS3 and Vita.

The Other Shoe Drops: The PS3 Repair Odyssey

In May of 2007, my Xbox 360 suffered from what is commonly referred to as the Red Ring of Death. A series of four posts followed, in which:

* I spent 40 minutes on the phone with Xbox Support to request my “casket”.
* A week later, I received an extremely destroyed box that I was intended to ship my 360 back with.
* Two weeks later, I received a 360 that was not my own back. Because of Microsoft’s DRM, I then had to fight to get my purchases reactivated.
* This fight lasted another ten days, and involved a Better Business Bureau case, a text adventure, and much screaming into the phone.

Last, my launch Playstation 3 began to routinely crash after 30 minutes of use. This, as far as I can tell, is not a widespread problem – the closest parallel that Sony has is the “Yellow Light of Death”.

(Strangely, my RRoD occurred while playing Crackdown, a free-world adventure game where you play as a crime fighter with superhero powers. My PS3 issues occurred while playing inFamous, a free-world adventure game where you play as a crime fighter with superhero powers. I will not be buying Prototype, largely for the safety of my hardware.)

After the frustration I had dealing with Microsoft – a combination of poor materials, shoddy business practices, and a cavalier attitude towards the customer’s experience – I figured it would be worth documenting whatever hell Sony would put me through. Horror stories are easily found regarding service for launch units, include time frames of “months”, due to Sony no longer manufacturing that exact type of hardware. And given the bile that was spilled regarding the 360’s failures, it would only be fair to hold the PS3 up to the same light.

Continue reading The Other Shoe Drops: The PS3 Repair Odyssey

Gaming 2008: The PS3, PS2, and PSP

With my 360 still on life support, and the Wii not meeting my needs, the PS3 remains the *de facto* platform I did much of my “real” gaming in 2008. The PS2 provided my usual fixes (long RPGs and IIDX titles), while the PSP gradually shrank into nothingness.
I still maintain that PSN is the best download service across all the consoles – not just for a lot of compelling, full-blown titles, but because of a good UI, fair DRM principles, and the lack of space bucks-style currency.

## High Points & Surprises

While I can understand the frustration from those wanting a tight platformer, LittleBigPlanet is the best full-blown platforming experience I’ve had since Super Mario World. The community features are just icing on an already delicious cake.

I have bought nearly 100 songs for SingStar. It is one of my fall-back games, something I can always play to unwind.

I’ve only just started it, but kudos to Sega for Valkyria Chronicles. This – along with Disgaea 3– means I have a nearly endless supply of strategy gaming in my future.

My favorite studio this generation is PixelJunk. Every PS3 should come with PixelJunk Monsters and PixelJunk Eden. (And if you’ve played those two but not played Racers, you really should.)

Metal Gear Solid 4‘s campaign was exactly what I wanted it to be. As someone who played through the previous three games multiple times, it had the same level of absurdity and over-the-top story telling I have come to expect from Kojima Productions. It was worth waiting in line for 9 hours for.

Echochrome has the best soundtrack of any downloadable title I played this year. It provides the right contrast to the brain-rupturing puzzles.

I could sit and start at the WipEout HD UI all day. It reminds me of the best of the IIDX themes, only…you know, actually HD.

We imported Sony’s Afrika once the Chinese/English version came out. I can understand why Sony is hesitant to bring it out in the US – but this game pierces me at the core. It is the ultimate photo-geek game. I can only hope I have enough money for a zoom lens soon, because I’m tired of scaring the animals away. (I also hope they patch in an Export To XMB function, so I can upload my photos to Flickr.)

Almost all of my RPG cravings this year were filled by a game that started with the word “Persona“. All of my button pushing/disc spinning cravings were filled by two more IIDX titles. The PS2 is still good for something, I suppose!

Patapon was the sole shining point on my PSP this year.

After 10 years of playing Gran Turismo on a Dual Shock, Gran Turismo 5 Prologue convinced me I needed to buy a wheel. It’s a different – and much better – experience. Now I just need the final version.

Buzz! Quiz TV finally became a reality, and all other quiz games pale in comparison. Having had a handful of parties where I pulled out the controllers, I can only describe this game as a crowd pleaser.

## Low Points & Disappointments

Hey, Konami – way to bog down the Metal Gear Online with a needless registration process and a completely separate store!

After being a huge proponent of the first game, I had high hopes for Resistance 2 – but ended up feeling let down. It’s not bad, it’s just not gripping. It’s very middle-of-the-road and currently lost in my pile.

Had it been released last generation, SOCOM: Confrontation would have been fine. But with the current expectations of the basics for online play, it is broken garbage. Until it gets patched to a working experience – any day now, supposedly – it is the quintessential “shitty peripheral pack-in” title, and indefensible as a standalone release.

Who greenlighted Jeopardy!? Even at the new reduced $9.99 price point, it’s still $20 too expensive given the horrible presentation.

Final Fantasy: Crisis Core was mindless enough to keep me entertained but a little *too* converted for a portable gaming experience. Is it too much to ask for a proper Final Fantasy game? I’d take a remake of FF8 over Crisis Core.

## Open Questions

Does Sony know how to advertise? Buzz! Quiz TV, Singstar, LittleBigPlanet – do non-core gamers know these titles are out and absurdly fun?

Will anyone still be using Home in a year?

Contemplating Home

Contemplating Home

It’s been a strange eighteen months in the private Home beta. It’s hard to believe it’s coming to an end tomorrow.

Sony has announced that yes, tomorrow, December 11th, is the day Home finally goes into Open Beta. The indication I’ve gotten from the in-beta documentation is that we’re looking at a roughly 6PM Eastern launch, with a downtime tomorrow morning so some final housekeeping can be done.

Now, technically, the closed beta doesn’t end until tomorrow at that time, so I perhaps still cannot talk in great detail about the last 18 months. But here’s some things I’ve been mulling over about the service lately:

Gamers who spend a lot of time in a particular title tend to memorize maps. The terrain is always the same, the shopkeepers are always standing in their stores, and the town never changes. But serving 18 months in the Home beta can mess with your brain. Almost all of the areas have undergone multiple overhauls. The “Central Plaza” is on its third or fourth major version. Whatever you may remember from the early demos is probably gone now, so come in with a clean mind.

Home is not the cure to all of Sony’s woes regarding online play. It does not fill in the common holes that people point to when they line PSN up next to Xbox Live Gold. But is it supposed to? Was it ever? I’m not sure. I’m not sure Sony’s sure.

There are two things I’ve seen other fellow testers really get into: spontaneous dance parties, and wall hacks. Expect more of the first than the second as time progresses. R1 opens the Emote menu, and the dance options are at the bottom. They are all pretty awesome. (It is intentionally difficult to see in the picture above, but I am in a position only obtainable through a wall hack. I am explaining this to those who ask as only being possible through “incredible balance”. I’ve only had one person respond with an expletive.)

Above all else, Home is a good encapsulation of what Sony has focused on this generation: a reasonably pleasant user experience, missing a few things you’d probably expect, including a few things you wouldn’t have thought of, and providing a certain je ne sais quoi that makes it a fun place to visit but leaving you unsure if you really want to live there. I’m not sure if I’ll be spending a lot of time in Home, or it’ll just be something to fill the gaps – but it’s nice to know it’s there.

Sing When You’re Winning

Thursday night, we were playing Rock Band, and she was giggling again.

“What?” I asked between a break in the lyrics.

“Nothing, nothing!” Katie smirked as she kept banging on the drums.

But I knew what it was: my vocals were coming through too loudly, and they sounded ridiculous. A quick visit to the controller and my vocals were muted behind the lead vocals, allowing me to avoid being mocked for the time being.

Continue reading Sing When You’re Winning

Lik-Sang Shuts Down

[Another importer bites the dust](http://www.lik-sang.com/news.php?artc=3901):

>Hong Kong, October 24th of 2006 – Lik-Sang.com, the popular gaming retailer from Hong Kong, has today announced that it is forced to close down due to multiple legal actions brought against it by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Limited and Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. Sony claimed that Lik-Sang infringed its trade marks, copyright and registered design rights by selling Sony PSP consoles from Asia to European customers, and have recently obtained a judgment in the High Court of London (England) rendering Lik-Sang’s sales of PSP consoles unlawful.

It’s sad to see importers go – but, I’m not going to be shedding too many tears here.

>A Sony spokesperson declined to comment directly on the lawsuit against Lik-Sang, but recently went on to tell Gamesindustry.biz that “ultimately, we’re trying to protect consumers from being sold hardware that does not conform to strict EU or UK consumer safety standards, due to voltage supply differences et cetera; is not – in PS3’s case – backwards compatible with either PS1 or PS2 software; will not play European Blu-Ray movies or DVDs; and will not be covered by warranty”.

This was Sony’s argument, and it was enough for the courts. Lik Sang, sadly, is determined to flame out:

>”Today is Sony Europe victory about PSP, tomorrow is Sony Europe’s ongoing pressure about PlayStation 3. With this precedent set, next week could already be the stage for complaints from Sony America about the same thing, or from other console manufacturers about other consoles to other regions, or even from any publisher about any specific software title to any country they don’t see fit. It’s the beginning of the end… of the World as we know it”, stated Pascal Clarysse, formerly known as the Marketing Manager of Lik-Sang.com.

I would like to re-emphasize: *beginning of the end of the World as we know it*. I don’t think I need to point out the ridiculousness of equating the “end of the World” to an import shop closing. There are still plenty of others open.

But it’s not just enough to pretend that this is the apocalypse; after all, Sony bashing is all the rage this fall:

>”Blame it on Sony. That’s the latest dark spot in their shameful track record as gaming industry leader. The Empire finally ‘won’, few dominating retailers from the UK probably will rejoice the news, but everybody else in the gaming world lost something today.”

Spare me the “shameful track record” nonsense, especially since it was obvious that they still wanted to profit off of selling Sony’s products.

Perhaps Lik-Sang has forgotten that [Nintendo also successfully sued them](http://www.theregister.co.uk/2003/06/19/nintendo_wins_liksang_piracy_case/) in 2003 for selling flash carts. Or that [Microsoft also successfully sued them](http://news.zdnet.co.uk/business/legal/0,39020651,2123307,00.htm) in 2002 for selling Xbox mod chips.

Lik-Sang has been on the shitlist of all three console makers for years.

**EDIT 1**: Ars [points out](http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20061024-8061.html) that “It also didn’t help that Lik-Sang lacked representation at those hearings.” Mind-boggling. I certainly don’t agree with Sony suing importers, but if you’re going to get sued, you might want to send at least one lawyer.

EDIT 2: [Here’s the judgement](http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Patents/2006/2509.html); indeed, Lik-Sang did not appear.

EDIT 3: [Sony responds](http://www.gamesindustry.biz/content_page.php?aid=20564); they mention that not only did Lik-Sang not show up (thus, no legal costs), but they also have not yet paid the damages.

Singstar Rocks US Tracklist

Anyone who’s talked to me about music games since our trip to London in April knows that finally got my hands on Singstar, Sony’s karaoke game for the PS2.

US gamers haven’t experienced Singstar yet; their exposure has largely been limited to Konami’s Karaoke Revolution in terms of singing games. While K-Rev certainly has its appeal, I’ve always been captivated by Singstar’s clean design, original artist recordings and videos, and better designed songlists.

Singstar is coming to the US in two forms. There is the overwhelming PS3 version, scheduled for around the PS3 launch; this is the one that will hook into the online store and have a limitless track selection.

To get gamers warm to the idea of a different karaoke game first, Sony is releasing a new version of Singstar Rocks in the US on November 14th. (“New version” is because the 5th Singstar game in Europe shared the same title.) The game ships with two very nice microphones and is apparently priced at $49.99. I cannot stress how much I enjoy this series and how much you should pick it up.

Anyhow, the track list went out with the press release today, and I’ve broken the tracklist down by which game it came from.

From Singstar

Good Charlotte / Girls & Boys

From Singstar Party

Scissor Sisters / Take Your Mama
The Police / Every Breath You Take

From Singstar Rocks (Europe)

Bloc Party / Banquet
Blur / Song 2
Coldplay / Speed Of Sound
Hole / Celebrity Skin
Jet / Are You Gonna Be My Girl?
Keane / Everybody’s Changing
KT Tunstall / Black Horse And The Cherry Tree
Scorpions / Wind Of Change
The Hives / Hate To Say I Told You So
The Killers / Somebody Told Me
The Offspring / Self-Esteem
The Rolling Stones / Paint It Black
Thin Lizzy / The Boys Are Back in Town

From Singstar Anthems

Gloria Gaynor / I Will Survive

New To The Series

Aretha Franklin / Respect
B52s / Love Shack
D.J. Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince / Summertime
Dusty Springfield / Son Of A Preacher Man
Elton John / Rocket Man
Fall Out Boy / Dance, Dance
Gwen Stefani / Cool
Joss Stone / Super Duper Love (Are You Diggin On Me?)
Lynyrd Skynyrd / Sweet Home Alabama
Marvin Gaye / I Heard It Through The Grapevine
Naked Eyes / (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me
The Cure / Friday I’m in Love
The White Stripes / Blue Orchid