All 37 entries tagged Gaming

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January 05, 2009

Things That Piss Me Off #107

Mario Party.


July 19, 2008

Rational bold prediction of the [specified time period]

Rock Band 2 will never see the light of day.


April 09, 2008

Rock Band Europe = Absolute Fail

And so four months after Mannion had already imported the US PS3 version, EA decides now is a really good time to tell people how much they are going to be ripped off for the European release of Rock Band – at least for the Xbox 360.

Now gamers will be fully aware of the constant inflation of price in price compared to the States, where a $40 (£20) game suddenly becomes £40 just because it’s for a different territory. But even that wasn’t enough for EA and Harmonix, they had to go a little bit further.

The cost for the full package? £180. (Source: EuroGamer). Let me just repeat that for you.

£180.

For ONE game.

Let’s put this into context. The US release costs $170 for the same package. You can get an brand new XboX 360 Core for £160. When I imported Guitar Freaks/Drummania with a drum and guitar controller from Japan, even including the import tax and considering that pricing in Japan is also more expensive than the US, it set me back no more than £130.

Of course, the previous argument is that because of region locking, consumers have never had the chance to take advantage of cheap US prices (import games is ) and instead had to put up with the price inflation to be able to buy the product. With the PS3, which is region-free, you don’t have this problem, which is why Mat is already playing away and laughing at those about to be robbed on May 23rd.

Except perhaps this time it will backfire. Harmonix, by attempting to clarify the theft (Source: VideoGamer.com) has only made things worse. VAT at 17.5% is justification for a near 110% price rise? It’s going to take an awful of lot of these “little” things to hide the fact that the price is so inflated is because they can segment the European market off and make them pay the price for it.

You look through the comments posted in response to both links, and once the blue air clears you see one common thought:

DO NOT WANT.

Maybe this will be the turning point for inflated prices. But somehow, I doubt it. Not enough people know – or want to know – the deception taking place.

And most of all, just like Guitar Hero, Rock Band is inferior GF/DM. Srsly.


February 08, 2008

The end of the arcade?

Writing about web page http://uk.reuters.com/article/technology-media-telco-SP/idUKT21027320080207

Namco Bandai, one of the most recognisable names in the history of video gaming, has delivered a shock profit warning, along with the news of that it is closing many of its arcades.

The Japanese arcade network is somewhat different to that of Europe and indeed North America, where instead of the vast majority being formed from either as individual businesses or within other amenities like bowling alleys and cinemas, Japan sees many developers, of which Sega and Taito are two, having their own branded arcades which contain either exclusively or predominantly their own games. However, whereas Western arcades have rapidly died due to the capital investment required combined with the ongoing rise of home gaming, Japan has largely bucked the trend with arcades still very plentiful in cities.

However, home gaming and “public” gaming can’t be compared to home video and “public” video (i.e. the cinema). Put the price of a cinema ticket at £6, stick 100 people in four showings, and you’re suddenly looking at £2400 per screen in revenue on the film alone. No arcade would be able to be able to match this level of turnover, even in an area of devout gamers.

Yet even with video games being a much more “acceptable” part of culture in Japan, cutbacks in visits and other rising costs is making gaming establishments financially less and less viable. It is highly conceivable, as technology evolves, that the arcade could cease to exist, as the cost of the large screens and sound systems and even peripherals used continues to fall, and at a somewhat faster rate than the cost of surround sound speakers and a 100-inch projector.

I can’t see the arcade disappearing completely from the radar, because there will be things that even allowing for cost will just be impractical to make for the home environment. However, I also can see the future scenario where their existence as single-purpose businesses is limited to only the largest cities. When this happens, video games will be limited to only those who are prepared to make the outlay for a system and a game, and not for the person wandering through with a coin in their pocket and some time to kill.


December 30, 2007

Words of advice

  1. Asking ladies if they would like to remove their trousers and shove your USB vibrator down their knickers is not usually the most efficient way of securing their romantic interest.
  2. Asking your girlfriend if she would like to remove her trousers and shove your USB vibrator down her knickers is not usually the the most efficient way of maintaining their romantic interest.
  3. Point 2 above may be bypassed if you’re looking for an excuse to keep video games as a hobby.

November 19, 2007

How bad can a game be?

Game front cover
Title:
Need for Speed Carbon: Own The City (Nintendo DS)
Publisher:
Electronic Arts
ASIN:
B000HG5LRE
Rating:
1 out of 5 stars

Yes, I admit it: I own a copy of a Ned for Speed game. In my defence, I’d like to point out that I didn’t actually buy it. I had it bought for me as a birthday present by work. I put a brave face on it, didn’t open it for a month, and packed it away to play on holiday.

I hate being a completionist. I don’t like leaving games half-done, which is why it has been bugging me for I can’t remember how long that I’ve never sat down and finished off Final Fantasy 9, or how I have a number of games bought and half-played. I was determined to get through this game, if only to be able to sell it on.

Calling this a game is a bit of a misnomer. It’s not properly localised, instead being thoroughly American – a sign of the global games industry you may say, but I put it down to just developers being damn lazy and not caring about the UK market. The interface is slow, clunky and unwieldy, the “plot” uninspiring, and then you have to go through the trauma that is racing.

The controls are fairly basic: you press left to turn your car into the wall on your left, and right to turn your car into the wall on your right. A press of R speeds your crashes up, whilst for some reason there is a break on L – not that you’ll ever have to use it. The four control buttons allegedly do something, but the only one you’ll ever need is X – your wingman button. Somebody came up with brainwave that to turn “quicker”, you combine left and right with up and down. Whoever thought this is a good idea should be banned from ever developing another control system – if I want to turn quicker, how about turning the steering wheel more?

You see, you do these pointless street races armed with a wingman, a partner who will help you out. One type gives your nitro, that stupid Hollywood-style speed boost, a recharge, whilst the other will run off into the distance and crash into the leader. And every time you’ll pick the smasher, because it basically means you can be really crap and still win through letting somebody else slow the leader down.

There’s no incentive to try and complete the tracks quickly. Never mind the soulless tracks and cars, the most efficient way round the courses is to drive into walls at every opportunity. Even the CPU cars do it, which proves just how little skill you need to drive the cars. But even if you do drive quickly, suddenly your opponents will “improve” in “skill” and catch up. Catch-up is my pet hate in racing games, as it rewards people for being crap and penalises those who are actually good at racing. You might as well plod along in last place for 95% of the race and then win it at the end with two weeks of boost power.

Once you have wasted 6-8 minutes of your life winning a race, which most of the time you will as the difficulty curve doesn’t exist, you earn points which you apparently use to tune up your car. All the changes seem to be cosmetic, because regardless of car and tuning they all seemed to handle exactly the same i.e. badly. In fact, I’m not sure why I bothered adjusting my car at all.

The best races to do are the sprint races, on the grounds you spend the least time playing the game. The worst are the “hunter” mode, which attempts to make things interesting by awarding points for crashing into your opponents. This is great in theory, but the awful collision detection and woeful gameplay turns the whole thing into a frustrating lottery. And that’s not fun.

The game is riddled with bugs. Computer cars get stuck going into walls, your car falls through the scenery, if you try a certain combination of upgrades the game locks. And best of all, during one race, a collision managed to switch my DS off. You would have thought that these would all have been playtested, but clearly not. In fact, you wonder if this even got a playtest, it’s so inept in every department.

I played the game almost entirely on mute; the awful soundtrack was bad enough, but the irritating whine of the engine would have disgraced the SNES/MegaDrive era. The DS has shown that it can support more than just low-quality midi files, but it’s EA, and it’s Need for Speed, so suddenly it becomes OK to churn out vapid franchised junk.

And the best part? I completed it after just 4 hours and 6 minutes of gameplay. This was £30 on release. It’s scandalous that such a pathetic waste of space became last year’s Christmas best seller. Why WB won’t let me give a game 0/5 is almost as much a mystery as how anyone could enjoy this game. It’s just awful, plain awful.


August 11, 2007

I Love Tetris.


August 01, 2007

Things That Piss Me Off #83

The mistaken belief of certain video games being “innovative” when they are in fact blatant clones of other titles, especially in reference to Guitar Hero.


July 29, 2007

More thump, more twang, less session

Writing about web page http://www.play-asia.com/SOap-23-83-1r5f-71-8g-77-2-49-en-15-masterpiece-84-j-70-1s0j.html

Aaah, finally after around three months of waiting does Warwick Blogs get a video game review – and it’s not even a game that anyone is going to get hold of within this country. It’s been even longer than that since I actually bought a game; my willpower finally buckled and you’ll see a review of another imported music game in a couple of weeks, when pick up my other game from home (as they were shipped separately) and have whore the hell out of it.

But let’s talk about GuitarFreaks and DrumMania: MasterPiece Gold, as I actually have that in my bedroom. Far from a Guitar Hero clone, this franchise predates GH by a full six years, having started (as the game proudly states) in 1999. With the home console versions taking a long break, Konami are releasing the MasterPiece series (Gold the second, the first being Silver) as compilation packs of songs from the first 10 mixes of DM and 11 mixes of GF.

As a result, the songlist isn’t nearly as friendly to new players as a “new” CS verison, such as V2. Indeed, by default the easiest song on guitar is a 13. Now for those with experience of dance games, 13 might sound horrendously difficult. But the GF/DM system actually starts at 10, and goes up to 99. You can view this as a 1-9.9 system if you like, but it doesn’t escape the fact that as this is a compilation of fan faves, the target difficulty is slightly higher than normal.

The big advantage of this, however, is that there is very little in terms of bad music. Toccata: awesome. Boogie Train ‘03: cheesetastic. Yara Tum Kahan? Pure lol. Carnival… okay maybe not everything can avoid criticism. There really is a good quantity and more importantly variety of songs for everyone in here, which is something that can’t be said for GH2’s severely rock-metal biased songlist.

Konami have tried to make significant interface changes however, and the bulk of them work. Previously you would have to go through an initial menu to decide whether you wanted to play GF, DM or Session (guitar and drums together) and move on from there. Thankfully this has been cleaned up, so you now just have one title screen and a better player selection menu. The gold interface is polished (no pun intended) and clear, especially as they contain very little Japanese text – Konami are recognising the import market for their other non-DDR music games, to the extent that beatmania IIDX has an official North American release in the pipeline and my previously reported trial of the arcade versions of all their music franchises in Europe. There’s no chance of you looking through and wondering where things are.

With all these sorts of games, you can’t really change the actual gameplay, only its presentation. GF/DM is all about the atmosphere, with its instrument controllers (which unfortunately don’t ship with the game, and you’ll have to fork about a bit for a drum controller; however you can configure GH controllers to work, if you don’t mind not being able strum up) and background videos. The biggest disappointment is for session mode not being allowed to set the videos to on. They’re forced to be off, which granted is very nice for me on my rather small 15” TV but for those with widescreen and surround sound severely diminishes the experience.

Konami did yield to feedback that MasterPiece Silver’s unlock system was crap. The style is exactly the same: depending on your grades, you get to unlock a number of squares from a 4×4 grid, revealing what your next thing will be. However, with MPS you’d typically wait nine or ten songs for a wallpaper because the random cycle would inevitably include lots of squares you’d already uncovered. MPG fixes that, and now only those squares you haven’t unlocked appear. It’s still rather an annoying way of unlocking stuff, and indeed if you turn off this roulette system you can have time-based unlocks instead.

I get a sense that far from just making a cash-in off previously unreleased songs there’s actually some care and attention – as you’d expect from a Japanese game I suppose – paid to the whole package. Yes of course they just want people to pay more money for old songs, but believe me it’s worth it, especially for those who came into Bemani relatively late and missed out on a lot of the old back catalogue.

And yes, the wrist problems I’ve been having are related to the guitar, and not to any other bedroom activities. Honestly…


May 11, 2007

How to sell niche videogames on the international market

Starring… the four peas.

  1. Product: Release niche video in home nation (i.e. Japan) and milk sales.
  2. Place: Observe trends in target market (e.g. Europe).
  3. Acknowledge lack of direct competitor in target market.
  4. Assume lack of direct competitor is due to consumer disinterest and hope to prove otherwise.
  5. Promotion: Give little indication of new release of said game except on GameFAQs and Kotaku.
  6. Place: Release game with a price tag that puts it above all indirect competitors e.g. Ned For Speed, FIFA Backyard, Generic Film Platformer Tie-In.
  7. See sales figures reach tens, maybe even hundreds of units.
  8. Imply that lack of competitor was indeed due to consumer apathy.
  9. ...
  10. ... NO PROFIT!!!

The inspirations for this directly are music game Elite Beat Agents, the indirect sequel to the cult import hit Osu! Tatake! Ouendan! which itself wasn’t expected to hit American shoresnever mind European, and We Love Katamari which was one of the hit games of 2006.

However WLK is still only down to £38 on Amazon (although its PSP counterpart Me and My Katamari is currently at £18 on the same site) which makes it in PS2 terms exceptionally expensive. Are parents, in a time where franchises and graphics are worth far more than gameplay to the shareholders, really going to be buying this game ahead of some half-hearted tie-in claptrap? I think not. Heck, how many even know this game exists?

And it’s the same with EBA: its UK release (according to Play July 1st but Amazon are plumping for late October) has so far not exactly been shouted out loud. And yet out of all the games I own for the DS, a friend who was given free rein over my collection only played two games for more than a few minutes: one was the well-advertised Big Brain Academy, the other “little” EBA. (Ouendan was out because of the language barrier.)

Then I think of Guitar Hero. Now it’s been a while since I’ve seen a game so heavily marketed, but it’s at the stage where many people – especially in Europe where it has no competitors – think that it’s a unique concept. Except it’s not, because Konami got there with Guitar Freaks a good seven or earlier – they just never marketed it outside of Japan.

Why not? Well, GF in its arcade incarnations has a direct counterpart DrumMania (to the extent that the two games not only share a songlist, but in home versions both appear in the same game) but Konami were concerned over the patent on the abomination that was MTV Drumscape, a “game” which involves sitting in a booth, picking a song and then looking like a complete retard when the song starts playing and you have no idea what the hell you’re meant to be hitting.

At ATEI this year (an event I wrote about for The Boar) Konami tried releasing its “other” Bemani games (the five being Dance Dance Revolution, the only one already in Europe under the Dancing Stage name; the “session” instrument games Guitar Freaks and DrumMania; and keysmashers beatmania and Pop’n Music) onto the European market, and promptly shelved plans due to lack of interest. Likewise beatmania IIDX Gold was location-tested and localised in America and will almost certainly be shelved. The simple fact is that no arcade owner in their right mind will want to spend £10k on a game that is unlikely to make a return (or in beatmania’s case double the cost and half the pittance of a turnover due to its cabinet size and game difficulty) and thus as the games were they were completely unsuitable for the European arcade market. Seeing this, Konami clearly deduced that people weren’t going to play them.

Now with beatmania and Pop’n I can understand this, despite noting the lack of direct competition (no you can’t say Donkey Conga, if anything that’s most comparable to Taiko no Tatsujin) because the former’s difficulty curve is at best horriffic and the latter would have to be localised to such an extent that the end product would be substantially inferior, but with GF and DM certainly not. Guitar Hero showed that people like rocking out with their axe, but they need the marketing to know about the game first. Konami missed a trick here, and Harmonix (the creators of Guitar Hero) are making them pay not once, but twice. The second strike is a project called Rock Band, which sees two guitarists, a drummer and a singer team up. Sounds familiar? This is what linked GF and DM machines were doing in 1998, just minus a vocalist. Oh hey snap, Konami have their own karaoke game don’t they, called Karaoke Revolution, but that’s been forgotten in the face of the Singstar. And thus you get the full orchestra with vocalists.

Ironically, when Konami did try to launch a newer home version of beatmania on the US market (which had a very poor songlist and awful presentation) it was derided as a poor Guitar Hero clone, despite beatmania coming first by eight years. But the layman wouldn’t know this, because Konami didn’t market the game and instead tried to throw a niche product into the mainstream without the right marketing. What was universally agreed, however, was that beatmania US was crap.

There are plenty of Japanese games whose type would never see the light of day here yet if given the right promotion and price could be smash hits. Will Beautiful Katamari be enough for the series to get the recognition it deserves? Will it take a company making an EBA clone to get the game recognised? Will Harmonix stick two fingers up at Konami by making Rock Band a household name? If marketed correctly, “Beautiful Katamari”, “Elite Beat Agents”, and “Rock Band” may become phrases that flow off non-gamers tongues like “Sonic the Hedgehog” and “Mario & Luigi”. While Rock Band has a headstart with its Guitar Hero forerunner, the former pair could sink without trace in the European market if they don’t get the promotion or price.

With word-of-mouth being useful but not enough, it’s all down to the respective marketing departments to get the games both sold and popular. As all the generic movie franchise platformers show, when it comes to video games you can have a turd of a product sell out when overpriced as long as your promotion and place are right. Just imagine what you can do with a diamond in your hands.


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