Authors Posts by Ryan

Ryan

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is the de facto editor and mastermind here at 30lives. He is also unbelievably bad at self-introductions. :sadcam

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Yep, we said “ouch,” too. Mad Catz gave us a quick glimpse of their “Project M.O.J.O.” microconsole last June at E3; not really being forthcoming with any other details apart from “it’s a box that runs Android games.” Today the company—more known in the industry for creating third-party controllers than anything else—released some more details on their entry to the soon-to-be-crowded microconsole market over the newswire.

Madcatz’ M.O.J.O. will be released this December 10th at $249.99, which is a fairly steep price tag compared to its obvious direct competitor, the ever-beleaguered OUYA. Why the relatively high price? The M.O.J.O. comes packed with an Nvidia Tegra 4 T40S processor clocked at 1.8GHz (the very same one powering Nvidia’s Shield handheld), 2GB of DDR3 RAM, and full Amazon App Store and Google Play store access.

The Tegra 4 is quite an impressive beast as far as mobile processors are concerned, but we’re a little worried about the M.O.J.O.’s future standing in the marketplace. At that price, you may as well get a proper console; or pony up $50 more and grab a Shield, which is pretty much the same thing but in an awesome handheld format.

mojo long

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SKn76Z3Signs of the times, or simply an inevitability? Square Enix announced today that they’ll be bringing out the 8/10ths of the full gamut of Dragon Quest games to mobile phones everywhere. The giant conglomerate of all things spiky-haired opened a microsite today announcing the release of these mobile ports and… not much else. Dragon Quests I through V have gotten several console and portable remakes, so I’m fairly curious to see what versions of the games they’ll end up using for the mobile ports, but portable DQ8 is kind of a game-changer.

The only screenshot we’ve been able to source is that of a portrait-oriented DQ8 (update: more at Squenix’ press release here)—does this mean that Level-5 or TOSE or whoever’s doing these ports have finally figured out that some of us actually want to play lengthy RPGs with one hand? Sparing the obvious puff-puff jokes, I can’t be arsed to play with landscape-oriented mobile games anymore.

These ports will be hitting Android and iOS handsets starting this Winter in Japan. Given that we haven’t even heard a peep about Dragon Quest X or the 3DS port of Dragon Quest VII‘s localization status, the chances of these games getting an English release are fairly questionable.

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If you haven’t been paying attention, Valve fired off a few salvos against both the traditional PC and home console markets by announcing three disruptive products: SteamOS, Steam Machines, and the Steam Controller. All three will undoubtedly be part of Valve’s ambitious entry to your collective living rooms, hints of which have already been dropped explicitly with last year’s introduction of the “Big Picture Mode,” essentially a more controller and TV-friendly frontend to the Steam interface.

I’m going to be a real jerk here and say what we’ve all been thinking: it took Valve a week to announce essentially nothing. At the risk of being called a “meme-abusing scumbag gamer” once again, to the right is a good summary of that week’s worth of hype.

It took me a few days to collect my thoughts on last week’s cavalcade of delayed announcements; and nope—I’m still not impressed. I’m not even mad about Half Life 3 being one of the announcements; having resigned myself eons ago that it’ll never happen. It’s not like I’m not the target market for Valve’s attempt to bring PC gaming to the big screen, either. Products such as Intel’s NUC and Gigabyte’s Brix systems essentially are my dream computing devices, having built an NUC system myself (and subsequently selling it in a rare fit of poverty), I’ll have to say that a “consolized” PC is something that should be in every nerd’s living room, with the only caveat that you won’t be able to do much gaming on them (at the moment at least, until Intel comes out with the Haswell versions of these devices). Just to give you a taste of how Valve’s ambitions should play out: I had my NUC boot straight to Steam’s Big Picture mode, with some of my lower-spec games and console emulators front and center. The darn thing takes 20 seconds to boot to Steam, and after that I have immediate access to whatever games the crappy HD4000 graphics chipset could handle.

intel nuc1People have to understand: Microsoft has the home computing market by the balls. Stop making Linux happen—it will never happen. I understand that this is a very pessimistic point of view; but even an optimized-for-gaming fork of Linux simply isn’t going to take the market by storm in the immediate future. It’s a great long-term strategy if they can build the brand and convince OEMs to go with it (similar to what Android has become), but the view from the ivory tower is that this whole mess appears to be Valve’s insecure swipe at Windows 8’s built-in marketplace, which for some reason they perceived as a threat to Steam and similar content-delivery services. It’s not. And in the same token, while Microsoft is having a hard time convincing developers to write walled-garden binaries to fit current Windows Store guidelines, Valve is now saying that developers should be burdened with writing Linux/SteamOS compatible binaries of their game? I don’t think that’ll pan out too well.

Speaking of OEMs, I think that the purported open nature of the OS runs contrary with what the effort is trying to achieve: without a fixed set of hardware standards, you’re going to have a heck of a lot of optimization to do to both the OS core and any code written against it just to satisfy the fragmentation the OS is opening itself up to. For some reason I’m thinking the system itself may end up being slightly closed in terms of what hardware it will support, as well as on the software side to prevent cheating, malware, and piracy. Which is great and is exactly what they need for this thing to actually take off but… probably something the *nix community will appreciate or support. Then again, if a tree falls in a forest…

Perhaps the worst part of this ordeal is the amount of confused ball-washing that’s going on: I’ve seen a fair share of incredibly narrow-minded posts on social media about SteamOS, from both sides of the coin. My favorites are the ones where people want to “stick it to the man” and drop Windows for SteamOS. Good luck doing anything productive on a reskinned Linux distro, I guess? Maybe you can write some OpenOffice documents, or something.

The dark horse that I’m perhaps underestimating is that Valve isn’t targeting SteamOS and Steam Machines for traditional PC gamers such as myself—it’s most likely for console gamers that have this incomprehensible set of hang-ups about PC gaming. Just a few weeks ago, we almost came to blows out here at the 30lives offices because some of us could not understand the logic of paying for Diablo 3 twice, when a perfectly-viable and better-optimized PC version is available. Plug your damn laptop to your TV via HDMI. Instant console.  I’ll never get it, but that’s probably why I don’t get Valve’s direction on these things.

Video game budgets have been skyrocketing ever since Yu Suzuki’s spectacular failure Shenmue saddled Sega to the tune of $70 million. It’s a worrying trend, as oftentimes instead of becoming sure-fire profit or loss products, they become gambits that make or break entire companies, series, or even entire genres.

Grand Theft Auto V embodies the industry’s best and worst excesses in a lengthy, ultra-violent $60 package, in the sense that it currently holds the title of being the most expensively produced videogame in history ($200 million is no chump change to publisher Rockstar), continuing a tradition of open-world crime simulators that it helped build. Coarse language, nudity, and wanton violence are the game’s bread and butter; and while these excesses may seemingly push away a large segment of the game-playing market, it’s clearly an appealing product to the niche that it strives to please.

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Pappy Issues

Listen, I’m not here to discuss the game’s myopic portrayal of women, alright? I’ve already heard enough drummed-up complaints that the game should somehow shoehorn a “strong female lead” to appeal to the ever-increasing female gaming segment. I will argue the point of it (excuse my French) being a fucking videogame, a static narrative that you, the player, ride along with. The game’s overarching storyline—while in no means “Oscar-worthy”—conveys a gripping set of scenarios that leaves you wondering what the next messed-up scheme the game’s three anti-heroes will work themselves into. Poor me; alienated because I could not identify with the deranged lunatics I’ve been playing as. Perhaps I should go back and play games featuring heroes that I actually identify with; heroes like Squall Leonhart, Samus Aran, and Ninja JaJaMaru-kun. Oh wait.

And unlike in games like Tomb Raider, or heck even GTA IV where the storyline and cutscenes misrepresent the player’s actions and motives right after (the industry has since coined a term for this: ludonarrative dissonance), V believably puts you in the shoes of three types of criminal minds: Franklin, the “thug for hire” who kills and engages in “scores” out of necessity; Michael, the hot-headed  “reformed” criminal that blames all of his problems on everybody except himself; and Trevor, the wildcard sociopath that kills and robs just for the hell of it. Except if you’ve had issues with self-flagellation or never had a strong male role-model, there is barely anything that the gamer can identify with any of these characters. The game’s about feeling like a badass criminal within the context of a realistic depiction of an American city, and that’s something it does very well.

Since I already fell down the rabbit hole I ironically said I was trying to dodge, let me end this mini-rant with this statement, and something that will echo one of my esteemed colleagues’ sentiments: based on how tight the narrative is and how it flows together until the (bitter) end, clearly Rockstar’s writers had a vision on how to take the player along for the ride. Changing that vision in order to pander to a niche that doesn’t represent the game’s target audience only serves to harm the narrative, and is indicative of what’s wrong with media today: everything has to be safe, focus-tested, by the numbers drivel. Hell, if you want to play as a chick, you can do so outside the main storyline anyways when GTA Online comes out.

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I Wanna Live in Los Santos

Getting back to the point: the game’s hook isn’t its chronicle of events (although Rockstar has done a bang-up job this time); if anything it’s the sense of world-building that Rockstar has carefully spent its budget on that hooks the player in. San Andreas (the game’s twisted version of Los Angeles and its surrounding counties) is a huge place, bursting with life and featuring a truly open and expressive amount of gameplay opportunities. One minute you’re shooting up Grove Street after a deal gone bad, then you’re practicing your swing in a few relaxing rounds of golf the next. Call it schizophrenic, but that’s where the game’s wide appeal comes from: unlike contemporaries such as Saints Row and Sleeping Dogs, the amount of gameplay opportunities is staggering. You can literally play at your own pace for dozens of hours and barely scratch the game’s surface—the glass ceiling almost doesn’t exist.

As a simulacrum of the real-life Los Angeles, GTA V‘s game world hits it out of the park. The usual culprits such as the dingy vistas of downtown LA and the hillside homes of the Hollywood hills are given accurate depictions, but even minor details such as an approximation of the Griffith Observatory and the scenic Santa Monica pier are rendered beautifully, with some of the best-looking shaders and lighting effects I’ve seen this generation, quite an important detail if you’re trying to relive sunny Southern California. Unlike the muggy, dingy sights of Liberty City, driving through the expansive areas of San Andreas—even the awful, white-trash rural areas—is a joy. I did have difficulty with the game’s framerate at times, however: speeding past heavily-populated areas often reduced the game into a slideshow, at least on the PlayStation 3 version of the game I played through. This is exactly why I couldn’t get into MercurySteam’s Castlevania games: I gotta have my locked 60 frames per second!

The game’s “switching” mechanic allows you to swap between characters almost at will (except when missions or certain storyline junctures forbid you to), dividing the plot and missions between the three main characters. It also gives a little bit of insight to the characters as oftentimes you’ll switch to them engaging in mundane or borderline-sociopathic activities before you get to take control. It really shines within missions, however as it gives the player the opportunity to cater to his or her strengths as a gamer and complete given tasks accordingly. For instance, you can come in with guns blazing as Michael, switch to Franklin to snipe away at incoming baddies, and pull back to Trevor’s POV to ready a getaway vehicle… provided that he’s not violating the corpse of a deceased prostitute at that moment.

And while I can harp on and on about the game’s open-ended nature, it’s the new addition of heists that reel in the gameplay and gives missions some much-needed structure. Heists are subsets of missions where the player gets to plan and coordinate thefts or assassinations of certain targets with the core player characters, as well as an extended set of accomplices that gain additional abilities as more jobs are pulled off.

The player gets to choose from a branching path of plans that ultimately require the procurement of the correct “tools” for the job, if you will: disguises, weapons, and getaway vehicles, for instance. Once the main mission commences, the heist can go through with varying degrees of success: you can pull the heist off successfully, lose some team members in the process, or fail spectacularly and get popped back to jail. The structure and scale of these heists are laudable in the sense that missions aren’t one-dimensional affairs anymore: you actually have a solid goal in mind with a payoff that far eclipses that of the little favors you do as a glorified gofer.

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“Don’t Get Smart With Me, Boy”

Satire and subtle social commentary has always been an important hallmark of the GTA series; something that was lost on the initial release of GTA IV, and thankfully brought back in full-swing in this game. While it doesn’t quite knock you over the head with references, I enjoyed GTA V’s intelligent swipes at sensitive topics such as telemetric marketing under the guise of social networking, government snooping, and America’s entitlement problem. Think of it as The Onion to Saints Row IV’s Family Guy. Although the biting commentary has been extant from the series’ inception, it’s one aspect of the game that Rockstar hardly ever gets credit for.

Ultimately, Grand Theft Auto V still succumbs to the same pitfalls that have plagued the series since its move to 3D in 2001. Translation: if you’ve never liked the series, this game probably won’t change your mind. Helicopter and plane missions are still hot garbage, the graphics (although top-notch) will never touch an enclosed narrative like The Last of Us or Uncharted, and the game’s attempts at serious melodrama are hilariously flat. Ultimately these are old complaints, ones that do not mar the game as if you’re picking up a Grand Theft Auto game, chances are you already know what you’re getting into.

I’ll say this: GTA V is fun. And that’s something that Grand Theft Auto lost when it moved to the current-gen era of consoles. Rockstar let the game’s tone and narrative overwhelm the fact that it’s a dumb crime simulator packaged with a dumb (yet oddly engaging) plot. This is an excellent case of a developer trimming down the extra baggage that a series gets after so many iterations, going back to the core of what made the game good in the first place and reinventing it with modern sensibilities and a next-gen coat of polish.

Grand Theft Auto V (5)

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Yep, yet another classic Final Fantasy rehash—with a twist this time. As expected, Square Enix is finally bringing Final Fantasy IV: The After Years to mobile devices, but not in the way we expected. Instead of an up-res’ed port of the 2008 WiiWare release, Matrix Software’s using the Final Fantasy IV engine to give the epilogue to 1991’s Super Nintendo classic a little facelift.

Details are scarce at the moment, but we do know that it’ll be released this Winter in Japan for iOS devices, and sometime 2014 for the Android plebe nation. The game will be released in multiple episodes, much like how it was on WiiWare (and on Japanese feature phones before it).

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WE CALLED IT. Well, kinda. After much speculation and months of nail-biting from the weeaboo crowd, Sega Sammy Holdings announced yesterday that they are purchasing Index Corp (or, to be more real, the only part of the conglomerate that actually makes money: Atlus) for 14 billion yen (roughly $140 million). Looks like that pachinko money is serving ’em well…

Details are a little vague at the moment, but it appears that the transition will begin this November and will involve a complete restructuring of the company, natch. Index Corp has been in a little bit of hot water lately, facing allegations of fraud and having to file for bankruptcy earlier in the year. And because things go full-circle in this industry, it should be noted that Atlus GM Mitsuhiro Tanaka was a former executive of (what was then known as) Sammy Studios, Inc.; hence the educated guess. So scandalous incestuous.

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Spotted on Reddit is a thread discussing a curious configuration file found on a “leaked” (read: pirated) version of the Xbox 360 version of Grand Theft Auto 5 that contains quite a few build references that seem to indicate that PC and PlayStation 4 versions of the game exist, whether planned or simply used for internal testing by the crack devs over at Rockstar.

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Though the oft-rumored PC version was accidentally “leaked”—and its existence subsequently vehemently denied—by Nvidia in one of their advertising materials, this is probably the first solid piece of evidence we’ve seen pointing to next-gen console versions of Rockstar’s latest GTA opus. It just makes sense: much like Ubisoft’s Watchdogs, from what we’ve played so far this latest Los Santos excursion appears to be a little too taxing for current-gen hardware, something that Rockstar can easily fix by throwing more hardware at the problem (or future patch optimizations, whatever works for you guys).

Regardless, it does bring up an oft-problematic dilemma with Rockstar games: are we going to get a flippin’ PC version or not? Red Dead Redemption was a heartbreaker; an oft-teased PC version never did come out. Maybe it was for the best, as the PC port of Grand Theft Auto IV was a buggy, unoptimized mess.

Still, we’re hard at work powering through the game at the moment to be too worried. Watch this space for our official review shortly after the embargo drops!

Though people are more familiar with Capcom’s Mickey Mouse platforming jaunts (the Magical Quest series which eventually made it to the GBA), Sega’s early takes on the franchise were nonetheless as excellent, if not underappreciated. Sega themselves seem to think so, as they made the puzzling decision to remake 1990’s Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse as a fully fleshed-out 2.5D platformer that takes the feel of the original game and modernizes it successfully, taking more liberties from the original than other recent efforts (such as Wayforward’s take on Ducktales).

It’s-a-Me, Mickey!

Castle of Illusion HD (2)Mickey Mouse is, by default, the most recognizable face in all of videogaming. Eclipsing even Mario’s popularity, there have been licensed (and unlicensed!) Mickey Mouse games for systems since the Atari 2600. Unfortunately, as Disney’s properties became more diluted as time went on, so did Mickey’s own videogame appearances. This is why games like Castle of Illusion are important: it reminds license holders that quality games serve to bolster their representative brands, and that quality need not be an expensive venture (as this game unquestionably shames Mickey’s last adventure, Epic Mickey 2).

Remakes are a dicey affair, however: there’s a fine balance between simply upscaling assets to please the fanbase, and adding enough of your own twist to justify them spending another $15-60 on what is essentially rehashed content. Castle of Illusion should be the poster child of HD remakes in the sense that it presents a completely new experience that has enough call backs to the original source, yet stands alone as a completely new adventure befitting its modern platform homes.

Most of the game is presented in a 2.5D perspective, with lush backgrounds that are rife with animation, almost to the point of being distracting. If this was a sprite game, I’d laud it for having well-animated parallax backgrounds, but I can’t quite articulate what this translates to when the entire game is built with polygons. There are also sections where Mickey walks in to the background and competes in another plane, a shout-out to Sega’s own Bug!, perhaps.

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This planar addition improves on other sequences from the original game: take for instance, the Indiana Jones-type chase scene where Mickey runs from an apple barreling down his direction from the original. The remake interprets it as a Crash Bandicoot-style chase towards the players direction. It’s little touches like this that make me appreciate the work put into this remake. Another example: one thing that peeved me off in the original game was the game’s wonky jumping physics (which you simply cannot screw up if you want your platforming game to be successful); which I’m happy to report that Sega’s Australian team successfully alleviated. Even the original’s almost-iconic boss fights have been kept mostly the same, but contain little 3D cues and patterns that freshen up the experience a bit.

Castle of Illusion HD (3)It’s not immediately evident, but you go through the same exact worlds as the original game, with very similar thematic experiences throughout. Even though you have a little castle hub as a level selector, this area simply masks the fact that you are taking a very familiar route to the original game. It’s genius, really: even the most jaded Sega veterans won’t immediately recognize that most of the original’s structure was reused, even with the inspiration being very clear. I really like the added touch of an in-game narrator, making this feel less like a game and more like an old Mickey Mouse hardcover storybook.

For Pistol Packin’ Pete’s Sake

Being a budget game, there are some presentation problems that I found particularly annoying. As I am a stickler for framerates, I found the game’s low FPS count (which dipped to the sub-15s in some areas of the game) to be jarring and unacceptable, given that I’m of the impression that even with the complex backgrounds the developers brought to the table, there isn’t much going on to make the engine crawl. This is exactly why I couldn’t get into the Spanish-developed Castlevania games no matter how hard I tried; though granted, I was playing the PS3 version (shame on me). No word yet on how it plays on the PC, but I’m hoping its a little more optimized.

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Another issue I had which may or may not correlate to the fact that it’s a downloadable game (I’m blaming modern game design ethos myself) is that at around four hours, the game is too short and offers little incentive to play through it again. The game is simply far too easy for platforming savants to even consider a challenge, and while the levels themselves take a bit of time to complete (and collect the collectibles within), the boss fights don’t offer enough of a deterrent to progress, as they all have easily-defeatable patterns.

With those two minor issues set aside, I really enjoyed my time with this new Castle of Illusion. I was pleasantly surprised that Sega’s new Australian studio put so much care and effort into what could merely have been a quick cash-in game to appeal to both nostalgic gamers and Mickey’s built-in fanbase. While it fails to touch the cream of the downloadable platformer crop, Sega’s marvelous redux is well worth your time and investment, a rare example of a game that you can play with the entire family. A Sunday morning kind of game, if you will.

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“Microconsoles,” by their nature, are budget consoles that are gimped—whether intentionally or not—in one way or another to accommodate the low asking price. We’re seeing a resurgence of sorts for these feature-filled little set-top boxes aimed at the casual: with devices such as the Ouya, Game Pop, Gamestick, Madcatz’ MOJO—and even rumored boxes coming from Apple and Amazon—there’s no shortage of options for this already-fragmented new market.

Unassumingly announced as an afterthought during Sony’s pre-TGS press conference, the PlayStation Vita TV is the Japanese conglomerate’s take on the microconsole concept, one that—with enough tweaking and the right kind of marketing—should be far and away the most successful out of this sordid lot of Android hand-me-downs.

ps-vita-tvIt caught everyone by surprise, and seemed like an awful idea at first. A consolized version of a failing handheld? Surely Sony’s R&D department didn’t waste millions researching this? Yet upon further inspection, the PS Vita TV appears more and more to be a very savvy and smart move responding to current market trends; and I’m sure the joke about Sony being the electronics industry equivalent of a senile, out-of-touch old man writes itself at this point.

Hardware manufacturers and even content creators have an immense hard-on for locking the consumer in to their own “ecosystems.” Google has its Play Store (of which derivatives exist such as the Ouya Store, Nvidia’s Tegra Zone or Amazon’s App Store), Microsoft owns a myriad of Xbox-related services, and even Sony is coming into the game fairly late with its “Sony Entertainment Network” sphere of multimedia services. In essence, the PlayStation Vita TV is Sony’s shot at getting the casual hooked into their ecosystem. Its a trojan horse in every sense of the word: the entire look (apart from the fact that it can be controlled by a Dual Shock 3) screams AV rather than VG and at 10,000 Yen (approx. $100) the price is unheard of. No console hardware manufacturer has released anything even remotely resembling that price point, one that immediately entices the mainstream consumer as a “no brainer” purchase. The fact that Amazon Japan already sold out of their first shipment after one day of taking preorders solidifies this fact.

ps_vita_tv_8However even marketing it as an all-rounder device rather than a consolized handheld, Sony is making no qualms about injecting the “PlayStation” and “Vita” brands simultaneously into the mix. Why would they? This isn’t 1985’s Nintendo of America quandary; the word “video games” mean way more to the general public now than it did before. Instead of the usual “oh it’s a toy with a robot… no wait it’s actually a computer!” runaround we’ve gotten in the past, the PS Vita TV is marketed as something it actually is: a pared-down, cheaper version of a $400 console experience that doubles as a good addition to your home video system.

Set beside its contemporaries in the field, the PS Vita TV offers so much more: while I’m more interested personally in its remote-play capabilities (the ability to offload and output my PS4 experience to a remote bedroom TV already sold me), the more discerning mainstream customer may see it as an alternative to the Apple TV: another way to play the myriad of streaming services that are out there such as Hulu, Netflix, or even NicoNico Douga. Parents will appreciate the fact that it also happens to pull double-duty as a cheap console with a variety of games for Junior to screw around with. Heck, lapsed gamers will probably elect to pick it up as a convenient way to play old PSX classics with minimal hassle.

In execution, the outlook will probably look a lot less rosy than the picture that I’m painting: I can see this thing disrupting the marketplace in all the wrong ways; with confused consumers wondering if it’s an add-on to the PlayStation 4, or if it actually is the PlayStation 4. The hardcore market will of course scoff at its limited capabilities and balk at the price of games compared to App Store or Play Store offerings.

Regardless of its relative measures of success though, I firmly believe that in Sony’s eyes the PlayStation Vita TV will never be a failure: after all, if they can even get several hundred thousand of these things in cramped Tokyo apartments, that’s a few hundred thousand new SEN subscribers. To all the consumer outlets whining about its relative uselessness in comparison to Sony’s other console systems: deal with it, this product is not for you.

The Suikoden games seem to have a very active, loyal fanbase that truly appreciates the series and rewards Konami with fairly modest (not blockbuster) sales. What does Konami do to thank that fanbase? Let the IP sit out the rest of this console generation, never to be mentioned again, of course! In response to the criminal lack of Suikoden games from the publisher, a small group of these fans have formed translation groups, bringing you a few obscure Japan-only entries to the series. It’s a good thing this particular fanbase is a lot more creative than that of other RPGs, otherwise we’d be stuck with crappy fan-made films up the wazoo.

Suikogaiden is a two-part spinoff released only in Japan (obviously) starring Nash Latkje, a former noble from the Holy Kingdom of Harmonia, embarking on a coming-of-age quest of sorts. A group simply calling themselves the “Suikogaiden Translation Project” released Vol. 2 today, which should make a bunch of you crack some smiles. I haven’t had the time to play through Vol. 1 when it was released last March, so being able to blast through both volumes of this epic visual-novel sidestory should be a treat.

Gensō Suikoden Card Stories is a little more interesting, historically: it’s one of the first few games released on the Game Boy Advance and was also released as a physical CCG. The game takes place in some weird non-canon version of the Suikoden II timeline where bloody military battles are deemed passé and glory on the battlefield is decided through the intellectual staple of… card battles.

I know we’re all a little late on this piece of news, but here’s a quick heads up if you are at all interested in Japanese RPGs. Following the imminent release of Falcom’s awesome Ys: Memories of Celceta for the PlayStation Vita (which, by the way, comes with one of the most enticing LE packages I’ve ever seen), XSEED announced yesterday that they will be localizing the second chapter in the Trails in the Sky trilogy (which then follows a more interesting pedigree in the Dragon Slayer series), with help from Carpe Fulgur, who most notably helped bring over Steam indie darling Recettear.

This is definitely good news as I feel that the Legend of Heroes games are the last of a dying breed: Japanese RPGs that aren’t either fronts for pedophilia or complete graphical wankfests. As with all Falcom-produced games, it also features a killer soundtrack. XSEED also announced today that they’ll be localizing the PC port of the first TitS game and distributing it via Steam.

Right after the jump is XSEED’s press release, which includes a pretty good plot synopsis to get you all caught up!

Torrance, Calif., (September 6, 2013) – XSEED Games, the independent-minded console publishing brand of Marvelous USA, Inc., is pleased to announce a partnership with Carpe Fulgur LLC to bring the much anticipated title, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC, digitally to PC and the PSP® (PlayStation®Portable) system (including compatibility with the PlayStation®Vita handheld entertainment system) in 2014. The first chapter, previously released for the PSP system as The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, will also be released for PC this winter.

The result of a near endless deluge of fan requests to XSEED Games after the company released the first chapter on the PSP system in 2011, this will mark the debut of the English version of The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky on PC, as well as the first release of the English version of The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC anywhere. The two chapters will release as two separate, back-to-back installments.

“We are pleased to finally give the fans what they have been requesting so fervently for over two years,” said Ken Berry, Executive Vice President of XSEED Games. “There’s been a constant demand ever since we released the original The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, and we are extremely grateful for our partnership with the passionate localizers at Carpe Fulgur to finally make it a reality.”

“This is something we’ve had an interest in doing since practically the formation of the company,” added Andrew Dice, Project Director for Carpe Fulgur. “If you talk about or work with ‘PC gaming from Japan’, as we do, you can’t really ignore Falcom’s huge presence over the past three decades. Trails in the Sky is particularly special, and I’d wanted to work on it ever since the day we started business. I’m thrilled that we will finally be able to bring the game to English-speaking audiences, in partnership with XSEED.”

Developed by legendary RPG specialists Nihon Falcom, the multi-part story told in The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky represents an entirely new stand-alone entry in the timeless The Legend of Heroes series. In The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, players venture through the diverse landscape of the Liberl Kingdom, experiencing its unique traditions and cultures along the way and shaping the world itself with their decisions.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky opens in the quaint and peaceful town of Rolent in the Liberl Kingdom. Home to a peacekeeping coalition free of government ties known as the Bracer Guild, the adventure follows two young aspiring bracers known as Estelle and Joshua on their trials to become full-fledged members of this elite organization. As they embark on their quest, their journey will take them across an entire country, unraveling a sinister government conspiracy along the way that’s poised to overtake the throne, threatening the very peace the bracers seek to uphold. Throughout their adventure, players can expect to learn the full depth of these characters’ origins and motivations through dialogue-driven cutscenes and lengthy side-quests.

Trails in the Sky SC, meanwhile, begins immediately after the events in the first game. Following the explosive revelations at the very end of Trails in the Sky, Estelle feels adrift and must find her resolve along with friends both old and new, and face down the true architects of the chaos engulfing Liberl – a force far more powerful and insidious than she could ever have imagined.

Boasting over a hundred hours of gameplay between the two episodes and featuring an engaging narrative that encompasses everything from politics, economics and conspiracies to tourism, traditions and even a cat-speech dictionary, these two titles in The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky series combine to form an incredibly immersive RPG experience. On top of its meticulously crafted world where all actions and inhabitants are accounted for throughout the story, the game also features a meticulously customizable combat system, a massive cast of characters from all walks of life, a variety of landscapes, an in-game newspaper that publishes new issues as the story progresses, and much more. In The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, players are responsible for shaping the world, and will see direct repercussions from their actions as the game unfolds.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky and The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC are developed by Nihon Falcom, and Carpe Fulgur is spearheading the English translation of the second chapter while XSEED Games handles publishing duties. For more information on XSEED Games products, visit http://www.xseedgames.com. Fans can also follow XSEED Games on Facebook at www.facebook.com/XSEEDGames and Twitter at www.twitter.com/XSEEDGames.

Despite their questionable business practices, overt reliance on dumbed-down games that look down on the player, and continuous forcing of the Assassin’s Creed series down everyone’s throats (face it guys—the game will never be a classic) its games like Rayman Legends that make me forgive Ubisoft as a company.

Nintendo fans seem to be less-forgiving, however. I can understand: Legends was slated for a late-February release, but pushed back quite a few months as Ubisoft reneged on the game’s status as a Wii U exclusive, citing disappointing sales of their exclusive ZombiU as the primary motivator for this purely business decision. As I was curious to see how Ubisoft managed the port to other platforms without ancillary touchscreens, I requested a PlayStation 3 copy of Rayman Legends from the publisher for this review’s purpose.

Well at least you get to tack on a Mario hat on Rayman. That kinda makes up for the delay, huh Nintendo fans?
Well at least you get to tack on a Mario hat on Rayman. That kinda makes up for the delay, huh Nintendo fans?

To get that bit of trivia out of the way: the PlayStation 3 (and I’m assuming Xbox 360) version of Rayman Legends doesn’t feel like a half-baked port in direct comparison to its lead platform. From what I’ve been seeing, the main difference between the touchscreen-deficient versions of the game is that the CPU controls your fairy frog assistant, Murphy, providing context-sensitive actions that are triggered by button presses when needed. Levels that center on touch-screen puzzles are replaced with QTE-type affairs, which is kind of lame. Otherwise, it’s the same game with the same exact content* presented with the same amount of visual fidelity.

High-Fi and High-Fives

Touching on visual fidelity, Legends has that in spades. It takes the charming, flat-shaded look of Rayman Origins and bumps it up several notches, creating a stylized, colorful 2.5D look that reminds me of mid-90s quazi-CGI drivel such as Clockwork Knight… but in a good way. If you’ve played through its direct predecessor Origins you’d already know that Legends has a ton of variety tucked behind its deceptively simple 2D trappings.

That variety extends to its level design: touting more than 150 levels plus 40 more remixed from Origins, there’s a lot of content to wade through, and I could not pinpoint one single stage that I would consider filler. Apart from the main platforming stages, you’ll also run into “musical” levels—fun rhythm/platforming-based romps that serve to test the player’s ear/hand/eye coordination—as well as time-trial versions of the same stages you’ve already plowed through called “invasion” levels (it’s worth mentioning that the upcoming Vita port won’t include these levels out of the box, but will be patched in later).

Rayman Legends (4)

Whipped Cream and Lums

I realized that I jumped in head-first to the game’s mechanics before even explaining what the game’s about to the uninitiated. Legends is a 2D platformer, but one that relies more on twitch reflexes and speed rather than puzzle solving and exploration (because Baby Jesus knows that the world’s had enough of those “indie” puzzle-platformers). And when I say “speed,” I don’t mean that it’s paced the same way as a 2D Sonic; its pacing is more precise, deliberate, and frankly unforgiving. That’s not to dissuade the platforming wussies out there of course, the game is entirely fair, and gives the player ample time (and chances) to learn from mistakes made and eventually conquer any tricky bits.

And if you’ve played Origins before it, this indirect sequel metaphorically picks up where the last game left off, by taking the same ethos that it was built off of, and making just enough changes—visually and gameplay-wise—to get away from the notion that this is merely a level-pack, yet still keeping the core pace that hooked players in the first place. Expectations should be kept consistent: for the smart people who picked up the sleeper hit back in 2011, you already know what to expect here: a no-frills platformer that is thankfully light on the forced exploration and exposition that bogs down similar games in its genre (looking right at you, Ducktales).

I should also take some time to mention Rayman’s excellent co-op options: though not as accessible as a New Super Mario Bros. session, if you can get three other players in the room, the game’s frenetic pace and steady stream of jump-scares and fun boss challenges will keep even the most jaded of ex-gamers hooked until the bitter end. I’ve never had people play through more than ten levels of New Super Mario Bros. Wii but I had no problem finishing out a set of stages with a few non-gamer friends over at the office; which I found a little amazing and perplexing, personally.

Rayman Legends

I love when I’m unable to recite a particularly-good game’s storyline  because it underscores the fact that I enjoyed the ride not for the narrative, but for its gameplay merits. That being said, don’t ask me what Rayman Legends’ thumbtacked storyline is all about. All I remember is that I had to rescue a whole bunch of Teensies, or something like that.

It’s truly criminal that—like Rayman Origins before it—a lot of people will probably scoff at Legends’ appearances as a seemingly-outdated 2D platformer, when it’s not. Ubisoft has a real gem here, and quite a rarity: a game that can arguably out-Mario Mario. And even that bold comparison is doing the game a disservice, as I believe it can and should stand on its own as a unique experience that any gamer should experience and cherish. It’s gone multiplatform now, so there’s absolutely no excuse to skip this.

Rayman Legends (2)

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It was just a matter of time. Microsoft just announced through the press wire that they are acquiring Nokia’s devices and services business for $7 billion—$5 billion going towards the actual business while $2.18 billion going towards its patent portfolio. This, in turn leads to a pretty interesting three-way staredown between Apple, Google and Microsoft in the very lucrative “who’s suing who” game of mobile device patents.

The two companies have pretty much been in bed with each other for the past few years, with Microsoft approaching them as their prime vendor for their flagship Windows Mobile phones, as well as recently partnering up with them in producing the next-generation Surface RT tablet. The Finnish phone maker has been recently displaced in the market its helped build over the past decade, so I am seeing this as a good, if not predictable, move on both parties.

Press release follows after the cut!

Microsoft Corporation and Nokia Corporation today announced that the Boards of Directors for both companies have decided to enter into a transaction whereby Microsoft will purchase substantially all of Nokia’s Devices & Services business, license Nokia’s patents, and license and use Nokia’s mapping services.

Under the terms of the agreement, Microsoft will pay EUR 3.79 billion to purchase substantially all of Nokia’s Devices & Services business, and EUR 1.65 billion to license Nokia’s patents, for a total transaction price of EUR 5.44 billion in cash. Microsoft will draw upon its overseas cash resources to fund the transaction. The transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of 2014, subject to approval by Nokia’s shareholders, regulatory approvals and other closing conditions.

Building on the partnership with Nokia announced in February 2011 and the increasing success of Nokia’s Lumia smartphones, Microsoft aims to accelerate the growth of its share and profit in mobile devices through faster innovation, increased synergies, and unified branding and marketing. For Nokia, this transaction is expected to be significantly accretive to earnings, strengthen its financial position, and provide a solid basis for future investment in its continuing businesses.

“It’s a bold step into the future – a win-win for employees, shareholders and consumers of both companies. Bringing these great teams together will accelerate Microsoft’s share and profits in phones, and strengthen the overall opportunities for both Microsoft and our partners across our entire family of devices and services,” said Steve Ballmer, Microsoft chief executive officer. “In addition to their innovation and strength in phones at all price points, Nokia brings proven capability and talent in critical areas such as hardware design and engineering, supply chain and manufacturing management, and hardware sales, marketing and distribution.”

“We are excited and honored to be bringing Nokia’s incredible people, technologies and assets into our Microsoft family. Given our long partnership with Nokia and the many key Nokia leaders that are joining Microsoft, we anticipate a smooth transition and great execution,” Ballmer said. “With ongoing share growth and the synergies across marketing, branding and advertising, we expect this acquisition to be accretive to our adjusted earnings per share starting in FY15, and we see significant long-term revenue and profit opportunities for our shareholders.”

“For Nokia, this is an important moment of reinvention and from a position of financial strength, we can build our next chapter,” said Risto Siilasmaa, Chairman of the Nokia Board of Directors and, following today’s announcement, Nokia Interim CEO. “After a thorough assessment of how to maximize shareholder value, including consideration of a variety of alternatives, we believe this transaction is the best path forward for Nokia and its shareholders. Additionally, the deal offers future opportunities for many Nokia employees as part of a company with the strategy, financial resources and determination to succeed in the mobile space.”

“Building on our successful partnership, we can now bring together the best of Microsoft’s software engineering with the best of Nokia’s product engineering, award-winning design, and global sales, marketing and manufacturing,” said Stephen Elop, who following today’s announcement is stepping aside as Nokia President and CEO to become Nokia Executive Vice President of Devices & Services. “With this combination of talented people, we have the opportunity to accelerate the current momentum and cutting-edge innovation of both our smart devices and mobile phone products.”

Nokia has outlined its expected focus upon the closing of the transaction in a separate press release published today.

TERMS OF THE AGREEMENT

Under the terms of the agreement, Microsoft will acquire substantially all of Nokia’s Devices and Services business, including the Mobile Phones and Smart Devices business units as well as an industry-leading design team, operations including all Nokia Devices & Services-related production facilities, Devices & Services-related sales and marketing activities, and related support functions. At closing, approximately 32,000 people are expected to transfer to Microsoft, including 4,700 people in Finland and 18,300 employees directly involved in manufacturing, assembly and packaging of products worldwide. The operations that are planned to be transferred to Microsoft generated an estimated EUR 14.9 billion, or almost 50 percent of Nokia’s net sales for the full year 2012.

Microsoft is acquiring Nokia’s Smart Devices business unit, including the Lumia brand and products. Lumia handsets have won numerous awards and have grown in sales in each of the last three quarters, with sales reaching 7.4 million units in the second quarter of 2013.

As part of the transaction, Nokia is assigning to Microsoft its long-term patent licensing agreement with Qualcomm, as well as other licensing agreements.

Microsoft is also acquiring Nokia’s Mobile Phones business unit, which serves hundreds of millions of customers worldwide, and had sales of 53.7 million units in the second quarter of 2013. Microsoft will acquire the Asha brand and will license the Nokia brand for use with current Nokia mobile phone products. Nokia will continue to own and manage the Nokia brand. This element provides Microsoft with the opportunity to extend its service offerings to a far wider group around the world while allowing Nokia’s mobile phones to serve as an on-ramp to Windows Phone.

Nokia will retain its patent portfolio and will grant Microsoft a 10-year non-exclusive license to its patents at the time of the closing. Microsoft will grant Nokia reciprocal rights to use Microsoft patents in its HERE services. In addition, Nokia will grant Microsoft an option to extend this mutual patent agreement in perpetuity.

In addition, Microsoft will become a strategic licensee of the HERE platform, and will separately pay Nokia for a four-year license.

Microsoft will also immediately make available to Nokia EUR 1.5 billion of financing in the form of three EUR 500 million tranches of convertible notes that Microsoft would fund from overseas resources. If Nokia decides to draw down on this financing option, Nokia would pay back these notes to Microsoft from the proceeds of the deal upon closing. The financing is not conditional on the transaction closing.

Microsoft also announced that it has selected Finland as the home for a new data center that will serve Microsoft consumers in Europe. The company said it would invest more than a quarter-billion dollars in capital and operation of the new data center over the next few years, with the potential for further expansion over time.

NOKIA LEADERSHIP CHANGES

Nokia expects that Stephen Elop, Jo Harlow, Juha Putkiranta, Timo Toikkanen, and Chris Weber would transfer to Microsoft at the anticipated closing of the transaction. Nokia has outlined these changes in more detail in a separate release issued today.

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“Skins,” protective layers of vinyl for small electronics, are a dime a dozen nowadays. Almost everyone’s jumping on this manufacturing bandwagon, and unfortunately, the production values on most manufacturers’ skins are uniformly awful: applying the skins is an ill-documented, bubble-filled malady; and removing the skins is an even worse experience—good luck not leaving semi-permanent gunk on your gadget on the way out. Moreover, skin manufacturers offer the tackiest designs ever. I mean, really, who wants to cover their devices with terrible fractal designs straight out of Kai’s Power Tools circa 1998?

Skinomi’s Techskin miraculously solves all of the complaints I previously had with similar products. I’ve been getting their transparent skins for pretty much every tech device I own (their product range covers quite a gamut of gadgets), and I recently decided to slap their very tasteful Natural Wood skin on my laptop.

Applying the skin was a breeze. Though it’s a bit unfair to assume that given my zen-like skill at applying screen protectors and whatnot to my devices, I didn’t have to wrestle with surface bubbles post-application: a quick swipe with the end of a credit card took care of everything. And though I initially aligned one of the bigger skin chunks on the sides of the device incorrectly, to my surprise, the skin peeled off fairly easily and I was able to reapply it without much fuss.

I found the vinyl covering on the Natural Wood Skins to be more than satisfactory. As Skinomi’s marketing material suggests, three kinds of film make up the Snake Skins’ vinyl facade. There’s a waterproof top layer, followed by two more layers that prevent residue from building up inside, beneath, and around the skin. I performed a couple of cursory tests on the skins to see if they were indeed up to snuff, and they all performed admirably. Keying the skins produced nary a nick on the transparent top layer, and leaving a fine spray of water on the unit for a couple of hours didn’t cause the skin to peel off or slip away.

I don’t think there’s much more to say about this particular product, other than the fact that these guys are my personal favorite out of the bevy of companies that make similar cling-on skin products. They don’t look tacky, leave any residue, and peel away easily; and really, that’s all you need to know. Skinomi currently supports a growing line of gadgets, and the skins are available at brick-and-mortar stores and online starting at $5.

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Much like a dopey Facebook quiz, Alpha Protocol presents to the player one simple question: what kind of secret agent are you? Do you slither into the shadows like Splinter Cell’s Sam Fisher, leaving a trail of broken necks in your wake? Maybe you’re a Jason Bourne, running deep into enemy territory, kicking ass and taking names. Or do you prefer the more indirect approach, systematically dismantling the enemy’s defenses like wily vet Solid Snake? Any way you slice it, Alpha Protocol’s got you covered.  And hey, even the spineless beta-male gadget fetishists can get their James Bond on in this game. All good.

The game takes the standard superspy tropes and shoehorns them into an action-RPG: duck and cover, meet stats and loot. Main dude Michael Thorton thus becomes quite a pliable superspy as the character decisions you’ll be making from the onset of the game will shape his “class,” as it were. The player can customize every stat, every piece of weaponry, and even Thorton’s appearance to a pretty good degree, as you would with any modern WRPG. The only difference is that you’re adding suppressors, scopes, and incendiary rounds to your weapons instead of buffing magic or equipping a +10 cloak of defense.

Alpha Protocol (1)

Protocol’s dialogue tree also differs from any of its contemporaries’ as responses are timed and flow in real-time. They call it the “DSS,” short for Dialogue Stance System, and instead of your usual “good” or “evil” choice, you get three different “stances” or approaches to moving the conversation. The player can be all cold and professional like Jason Bourne, suave and sophisticated like Mr. Bond, or even aggressive like 24’s Jack Bauer.

Post-Mortem

The action plays out… well, a bit too much like Mass Effect for my liking. Though not as stifled and lifeless as Bioware’s take on the space shooter opera, there are stark similarities between the two games; mostly relating to how they ape the cover system and other tropes from established FPS games and meld them with their own RPG conventions. Spells are called “abilities” in the game, and range from your usual buffs (Fury which briefly increases physical strength and Focus Fire which gives the player auto-aim) to neat powers like slowing down the action to scope out a group of enemies. And perks don’t work the same way as in Fallout. Instead of selecting from a pool of perks and building your character around them, the game actually awards you perks based on the way you play, which I thought was pretty clever as it forces the player to do missions a certain way instead of double-dipping with various half-classes.

Why didn’t Obsidian just steal the radial interface from Mass Effect? This is Alpha Protocol’s biggest downfall. This isn’t 1997 guys; I don’t need to wade through fifteen static menus just to change my skills. Thank God I didn’t subject myself to the console version of this game, where I’d imagine switching abilities would take fifteen button presses instead of holding down the left trigger and flicking the analog stick somewhere.

Alpha Protocol (2)

And it’s not as if missions are that linear in the first place; you’ll need to do multiple playthroughs to explore all the content Obsidian’s prepared for this game. There aren’t any particularly evil options, though; as is standard with most WRPGs, “evil” is relative: your real choices are limited to good, neutral, and douchebag. Spoiler alert—unlike other games that use the “good/neutral/bad” mechanic, the choices you make during the game are fairly reversible to a point anyways.

Play It!

With the game’s numerous shortcomings in mind, Alpha Protocol is actually a pretty compelling little game. There’s a lot of good exploration opportunities on the dialog/pathing side of things; and the overarching narrative, though pap and hackneyed, does have its moments. It’s regularly $5 or less on Steam, so there’s lotsa chances for you guys to try it out. I’m a little sad that our coverage has to end here, as there aren’t a lot of mods that extend the game’s lifespan. AP was panned critically, I think for the wrong reasons: in my opinion, reviewers didn’t approach the game correctly; as it’s a one-of-a-kind throwback to the janky B-rated PC games of decades past. It really is a blast once you get past those tedious first two hours and get the hang of what you can and can’t do.

I’m kicking off the weekend by plowing through this game again, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on this underappreciated sci-fi jaunt.

Let’s Play is a new column we’re introducing where we spend a weekend and challenge the readers to hopefully tag along with us and play something on our collective backlogs.

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bildschirmfoto2013-08zcsjl

In an odd show of backpedaling and hubris, Nintendo has decided that the 3D effect isn’t quite what attracts people to the 3DS: it’s the games. Hence the launch of the new, entry-level Nintendo 2DS. The 2DS is a cut-down version of the existing 3DS hardware, containing the same guts inside (including Wi-Fi and all connectivity options), without the ability to display games in 3D. The design is odd, to say the least—it’s a standalone, non-clamshell device that looks more akin to the Game Boy line than its DS predecessors. Instead of “closing” the clamshell to put the device to sleep, there’s a rocker switch that flips the screens to “off.”

Putting it bluntly, it’s a weird piece of tech and a weird choice for Nintendo, overall. It seems geared towards the lower-end youth market but the front-facing design kind of kills that idea, because that was the appeal of the DS (and the GBA SP) line in the first place: you can flip down the system to protect the screens. Still despite the puzzling design, the sad fact is at $129, we here at 30lives will still buy the darn thing just to have it.

The Nintendo 2DS launches on October 12 (alongside Pokemon X and Y). Stay tuned for our hands-on review shortly thereafter!

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Yep, it’s a slow news day so we’re reporting on rumors. After infamous NeoGAF “leaker” crazy buttocks on a train (sic) rightfully got chastised for missing the mark on his PlayStation 4 launch prediction, the alleged Microsoft employee broke his silence today, revealing a few new avenues that Microsoft is pursuing with the Xbox One, including a potential program for reselling digital games, which would change the tide for consumers and cut out retail outlets such as GameStop of a lucrative source of income. As always, we’re marking these tips as hard rumors.

Here’s a rough translation of the poster’s usual cryptic text. What do you guys think? Leaks, or more speculative guesses disguised as such?

Back home now. Yay >_<

Apologies for the late October no show for the PS4. I heard it was that, but Sony is not my strong suit. It happens. Call 1800BUTOCXS for a refund of your money. ;)

Seriously, I am sorry though.

Xbox One November 8th hahaha no. Saw the Kotaku article, then retraction. That’s ok. I could have told them November 8th was a pipe dream. I know MS Better than SCEA haha.

  • Xbox One CS Representitives are being called in for November 15th
  • These are contractual reps, not ones that actually work for MS.
  • New CS software implemented for November 15th with support for the Xbox One
  • Called “Assisted Support Desktop”
  • Anti-phishing stuff to make it hard for scammers to call in about account info that isn’t theirs. If the customer doesn’t have an e-mail or a phone number to associate with the account, xbone reps will have to tell the caller to eff off.
  • I wish I had access to Sony CS 3 weeks ago.

Do you want to sell your digital games? OH NO I ONLY REPORT BAD NEWS FOR XBONE!

     For the following questions please assume that Microsoft Xbox One will offer a digital marketplace where you can purchase and sell digital video games.

New digital marketplace where you can purchase and sell digital video games:

  • This will be available through the systems’ premium subscription service (such as Xbox Live Gold/Playstation Plus)
  • You will have the ability to purchase and sell pre-owned digital video games.
  • You will have the ability to sell back/trade in your versions of digital games you have purchased.
  • You will have the ability to buy pre-owned digital versions of games through the online marketplace.
  • You will have a variety of prices and features available to purchase for pre-owned digital versions of games.
  • All transactions will take place via digital downloads/transfers within your next generation gaming system’s digital store.
  • New full game digital downloads will still be available, as will physical (disc) versions sold at retail stores/websites.
  • Pre-owned disc versions of games will be able to be played on the next generation gaming system for free.
  • There will be a marketplace service fee charged to the seller when they sell a digital version of a game.

And from a follow-up post:

To clarify, because some folks are reading it incorrectly and god forbid I post and enjoy Germany only to be yelled at by top internet men about getting things wrong.

Anyway

Digital resale is collating survey information! Not set in stone, but a direction to look at? Xbox One doing a good thing? It’s Impossible!

Okay, see you in 2014

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I suppose MOBAs are the new Pachinko machines in the “let’s take a popular videogame IP and urinate on its fanbase” milieu. Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas—or MOBAs for short—are the hottest new thing to develop especially for developing markets like the SEA region, so it simply makes sense for a company venturing in the MMO space to develop one. You do have to ask though, why King of Fighters of all things? Sure, the series has seen its share of weird spinoffs but I’m not quite sure that there’s ever been a demand to play as Kyo, Iori and the crew in what appears to be a bog-standard DotA clone.

The King of Fighters Online is being developed by Dragonfly, with a closed beta starting September 4th, exclusively for lucky players in Thailand. Check back after the cut for some screens and revel in the weirdness.

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We’ve already established that watching horribly-broken versions of popular videogame and anime characters battle it out in an equally-broken game makes for some compelling viewing. Now, take that same concept, amp it up to eleven by making the match-ups even more ridiculous (seriously, I’m watching Raditz lay the smack down on Barney the dinosaur right now), and add a seedy online gambling component and you get Salty Bet, the latest bit of absurdity the prolific FGC (Fighting Game Community) has spawned. Originally created as a betting site for larger-scale tournament matches (think EVO and the like), the site has found its niche thanks to its “Dream Cast Casino,” a 24/7 stream that features randomly-generated bouts powered by MUGEN, a freeware 2D fighting game engine where you can essentially make your own characters and stages.

No need to soil your pants, random agents of the DTI that happen to be reading this blog: all bets are done with Mickey Mouse money; no real cash is exchanged or gambled away. Users start off with 400 Salty Bucks to gamble away at whatever match is going on at the moment, of which odds are assigned and determined on the fly. If you win, great; if you lose, no biggie, it’s fake money anyway. Lose too much and you end up in the Salt Mines, sadly churning away with the rest of the poor losers, trying to catch a break on an upset. Fascinating stuff, and worth a look even just to gawk and laugh at what kind of weird matchups the virtual bookers put together.

Oh, and they aren’t kidding: always bet on DBZ.

IMG_0027Growing up, a lot of us did not have the privilege of being able to buy games every week. For the most part, I only got games on my birthday and during the Holidays, which might explain why I’m a savant at platforming games but couldn’t cut it in these newfangled vidya experiences.

I still vividly remember receiving Ducktales for my 6th birthday: my “cool” aunt that liked videogames just kind of handed it to me; a stubby purple cart that didn’t quite look like the rest of my monolithic NES cartridges. Looking back at the happy, long-necked yellow goose (which in no way resembled the Scrooge McDuck I’ve been watching on TV) flashing a grin in my general direction as well as its lack of supporting copyright documentation, even at the time it was fairly easy to deduce that this game was a counterfeit. After my initial look of apprehension, I piggy-backed it on my Honey Bee adapter and popped the game into my NES. It was  magical.

Let’s fast-forward some years later: Capcom inexplicably brings out Ducktales Remastered by way of the ever-loving purveyors of all things retro, Wayforward. Kind of an odd choice, really—no Ducktales-related media was released (or reissued) recently to my knowledge, so the timing of this redux is a little suspect. Heck, I’m not complaining; Alan Young (Scrooge) is 96 years old, so if Disney isn’t doing anything with the license soon this may very well be the man’s final gig before he kicks the bucket. Nice to hear ol’ Unca Scrooge for one last time, at least.

Ducktales Remastered (3)

Cel-Shoddy

I really cringe when I chance upon this cliche on any article that I read, but the graphics really are a mixed bag. I understand that meticulously drawing up backgrounds in 2D is a prohibitively expensive venture, but the difference between the low-poly backgrounds and the very well-animated character sprites (can you really call them sprites if they’re vectors, though? This is an important question) is really jarring and oftentimes distracting. Between foreground and background elements, the shading and lighting isn’t even consistent, so what ends up on screen appears amateurish at times.

Still, the amount of love put into the character design more than makes up for this somewhat-annoying distraction. Every character—from Scrooge himself down to the lowliest bats of the African mines—has been meticulously redrawn to look like close approximations of what Disney would draw for their Saturday morning cartoon block. Embarrassingly enough, the one thing a lot of these “HD remasters” miss from the original NES titles they’re supposed to be supplanting is all the “character” behind the sprites: it’s funny when a 16x16px blob of colors can portray more than a meticulously-drawn vector or a well-formed set of polygons. Thankfully Ducktales Remastered avoids that pitfall: every illustration is drawn and animated well; simply top-notch stuff.

I’ve read a lot of people get all uppity about how Wayforward “butchered” the soundtrack, but since I’m not some mealy-mouthed punk that heard the Moon theme the first time on YouTube, I’d say that virt did a bang-up job and found a great balance in modernizing Capcom’s score.

Ducktales Remastered (2)

One Step Backward

The best remakes often take solid ideas and designs from the original source material and seamlessly add new extensions to it. Bionic Commando: Rearmed was a fantastic remake in the sense that you couldn’t even tell which areas Grin (may they rest in peace) added in; the extended areas kept the same old-school sensibilities in its level design. Ducktales Remastered fails in this regard, as its new areas seem dry and functionless in comparison to the original’s streamlined-yet-expansive layouts. Wasn’t quite a fan of the forced backtracking Wayforward tacked on to the stages: the beauty of Capcom’s original Ducktales was that you could blitz through a level using one path and take another once you revisit the stage, so forcing you to go back and revisit these forks in the road doesn’t really jive with me.

Some of the changes are appreciated, however; cordoning-off or completely changing paths I’ve been used to certainly made for a fresher experience, speaking as someone who’s played the original to death. Additionally, Wayforward spiced up the dull boss battles from the original game by making them setpiece battles with a central mechanic/pattern. This is a welcome change from how the original bosses just kind of flew or moved around the screen, stopping every now and then to set up an attack or leave themselves open for a free hit.

Ducktales Remastered (1)

One addition that I really loathe is Wayforward’s needless addition of exposition and story scenes. Apart from giving nostalgialings a chubby from hearing the cartoon’s original cast all over again, I cannot fathom why they wasted their time on making so many drawn-out, soul-sucking cutscenes in between levels. An in-between cutscene here and there wouldn’t have been bad, but the mere fact that almost everything you do merits a nigh-unskippable cutscene and the fact that they hid the “skip” button in the pause menu is an abomination.

Ducktales Remastered (1)