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Posts Tagged ‘Playstation 3’

As I prepare to say goodbye to to the blog, I thought it would be a great time to revisit “Games of our Lives.”  The original 3-part series was some of my favorite material to write, and I still go back and re-read them every now and then.  I intended to cap off each year with a new entry, but that got away from me after I concluded part 3 with 2007. So without further adieu:

2008 – Super Smash Bros. Brawl – The original Super Smash Bros. on Nintendo 64 was a high school, and later dorm room favorite.  I didn’t play very much of the GameCube followup, but the promise of more Smash Bros. on the Wii – a console I was already having so much fun with – was a no brainer.

Brawl is the last game I stood in line for at a midnight launch, a month before my wedding in 2008.  It could very well be the last midnight launch I EVER attend.

With all its game modes and hidden characters, Brawl is an unbelievably deep game.  A month after launch, I was still having a blast discovering things in the single player mode.  So when I couldn’t sleep the night before our big wedding weekend, I naturally popped in Brawl.

The familiar feeling of smacking around characters like Link and Kirby with my old pal Mario really brought me back.  I had just quit my job the day before, and was about to start my family the day after.  But for a few pre-dawn hours, none of that mattered.  I got to play.

2009 – Uncharted 2: Among Thieves – Last year was the first time since I started writing the blog that I named a Game of the Year, so it would have been easy to choose New Super Mario Bros. Wii. But when I think back on 2009, it all kind of pales in comparison to an unseasonably warm Sunday in early November when I got to meet my beautiful daughter.

I had missed the first Uncharted. It came out before I got my Playstation 3, and while it sounded cool (especially Nathan Drake’s badass shirt per Tim Schafer), but there were a ton of great games in my backlog by then.

Among Thieves was met with critical acclaim upon release, and must’ve set some kind of record for enthusiast press podcasts devoted to singing its praises.  It’s a technically solid game, puts endearing characters into a compelling story, and even threw in rich multiplayer modes for good measure.

All that aside, I was desperately trying to finish Uncharted 2 as my wife’s due date approached, and that’s why it will always stick out in my mind.  That whole week was a blur of making sure we were ready, from packing the hospital bag to washing the newborn clothes.  And whenever my wife took a nap, or I managed to snag a spare moment, I would jump back into Nathan Drake’s search for Shangri-La.  I was at the final boss, this close to beating the game when we finally had to go to the hospital, and I didn’t end up beating it until about a week after we brought my daughter home.  So it has the distinction of being the first game I played as a dad, too.

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Of course this game will be awesome. He looks like the frickin' Rocketeer!

Just like last year, this Christmas’ new games slate went lighter than planned, as quite a few high priority games’ release dates slipped into the first quarter of next year.  Hardly anyone wants to delay a project release, especially when you consider how long the development cycle on current gen games can get.  But sometimes a game could benefit from a few more months of polishing, as was the case with this year’s GOTY contender Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Other times, a real juggernaut hits retail, and it makes more sense for a publisher to hold back a release until it can find more room in headlines and on shelves.  Modern Warfare 2 and New Super Mario Brothers Wii in particular sucked all the air out of the room this year.

It’s been fascinating to watch what Capcom’s community team and developer Airtight Games have been doing with the extra time until the release of their delayed title, Dark Void. Of course, they’ve checked all the necessary boxes: a fan site, a Facebook page, and a Twitter feed. Their Twitter community manager is really committed to speaking as the character of a survivor from within the Void, and ties in the game’s fiction nicely with even routine things like giveaway contests.

And this is where it gets really cool.  Last week Capcom announced Dark Void Zero, an 8-bit “prequel” to their soon-to-be-released current gen game.  Retro lightning already struck twice for Capcom, with Mega Man 9 and the outstanding Bionic Commando: Rearmed, so why not try for a third?  But Mega Man and Bionic Commando really are established, well-loved franchises with all the history and nostalgia that entails. 

Dark Void’s a completely new IP.  And it’s been hard out there for a pimp new property lately.  Just ask EA!  On top of developing an impressive fiction to serve the current-gen Dark Void game and the fan community, AND developing a fun 8-bit game to expand that universe and generate buzz, big C also developed a suitable backstory for the 8-bit game, as if the property had existed during that era.

All this attention to detail in the pre-release period has elevated Dark Void from a title I was merely interested in to pretty much a must-buy on day 1.  I’ll probably download Dark Void Zero to boot.  Well played, Capcom.

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ODST's won the day, but was September a turning point for Sony in the war?

ODST's won the day, but was September a turning point for Sony in the war?

The NPD Group’s US Video Game Report for September just hit my inbox last night, and it may be an early indicator of the exciting fourth quarter predicted by some pretty smart cats.  We saw increases across most categories from September ’08’s numbers, but not enough to pull the year-on-year numbers out of their recession doldrums.  However, Sony’s got several reasons to smile, in spite of Halo 3: ODST nabbing the top spot on this month’s Software Top 10:

Rank Title Platform Units
1 HALO 3:ODST 360 1.52M
2 WII SPORTS RESORT WII 442.9K
3 MADDEN NFL 10 360 289.6K
4 MARIO & LUIGI:BOWSER’S INSIDE STORY DS 258.1K
5 THE BEATLES:ROCK BAND 360 254.0K
6 MADDEN NFL 10 PS3 246.5K
7 MARVEL:ULTIMATE ALLIANCE 2 360 236.0K
8 BATMAN:ARKHAM ASYLUM PS3 212.5K
9 GUITAR HERO 5 360 210.8K
10 THE BEATLES:ROCK BAND WII 208.6K

Yes, there are only two PS3 titles in the top 10 this month, but looking at this list, you can practically see the purchase behavior!  Madden and Arkham Asylum both shipped to decent numbers on the PS3  in August, but not enough to overtake their respective Xbox 360 counterparts.  These particular games’ second month in the Top 10, despite the PS3’s much smaller installed base, is a clear indicator of a positive trend in hardware sales for Sony.  More casual gamers that only buy one or two pieces of software a year religiously get Madden, and strong word of mouth among hardcore gamers (not to mention a pretty good ad campaign) for Arkham Asylum has made that a must-have title for anyone just purchasing a current gen system.  So gamers that were holding out for a price drop seem to be gravitating towards the PS3, and they’ve essentially created their own hardware bundle in the process.

The price drop and slim hardware proved to be exactly the 1-2 punch Sony needed.  Take it away, NPD analyst Anita Frazier!

“Compared to last September, the PS3 was the big winner, more than doubling last year’s sales.  This portrays a very strong consumer reaction to the price decrease as August and September both realized a lift of more than 70% over the prior month.  This is the first month that the PS3 has captured the top spot in console hardware sales.”

It’ll be interesting to see if Microsoft rolls out a new hardware bundle or retailer discount for the holiday.  This very well could be the PS3’s year.

In other news, this month’s NPD report saw Wii Fit fall out of the Top 10 for the first time since its introduction 15 months ago.  Of course, it was immediately replaced in the Top 10 by Wii sports Resort.  But for a $90 game to spend 15 months in the Top 10, where even a soft month has the floor somewhere around 200K units, is impressive.  Just like the home crowd standing up for their starter during his 7th inning exit, I’ve got to salute Nintendo on this one.  Well done.standing o

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It’s been almost a year since I saw anything really compelling in games retail, so I was surprised to see a cool idea out of… Wal-Mart of all places.  I’ve only been inside Wal-Mart a handful of times, having grown up in southeast Michigan and thus buying everything at Meijer for the first 20 years of my life.  But Wal-Mart’s in-store “Family Night Center” sounds like it could solve some serious problems getting more casual gamers to warm up to purchasing more games throughout the year.

In a nutshell, it’s a section of the store that is full of products that could help plan a fun family night in, regardless of product category.  So you’ll find family-friendly DVD movies right next to the Doritos right next to Scattergories.  This being Wal-Mart and times being what they are, they put a $30 ceiling on everything in the section.  Smart.

If this section really takes off, it could mean big things for board and video games.  Settlers of Catan* is retailing for right around $30 now, and most of the games on my shelf could really use the boost that would come from being available at the world’s largest retailer.pandemic box

There’s tremendous potential here for the industry to embrace.  Last month, we saw Wal-Mart slash the price of Batman: Arkham Asylum at release in all of its Canadian stores to just above the $30 threshold for the Family Night Center.  It was so well-received, Canadian Gamestops had to follow suit.  I’m guessing this was a test from the überetailer to see how marquee games perform as a  loss leader in a non-holiday part of the year.

Wal-Mart tested lower pricing for the stellar Batman:AA in Canada

Wal-Mart tested lower pricing for the stellar Batman:AA in Canada

New revenue streams like in-game ads and microtransactions could make it entirely reasonable for a big publisher to put out a serious title at a price point of $30 or less, if it means achieving the scale that comes with prestige shelf position inside Wal-Mart.  We’ve already seen plenty of manufacturers create special versions of their product specifically to meet Wal-Mart’s pricing standards.  So by the same logic, couldn’t a developer like EA put together a much less feature-rich version of their next Skate game  for a lower retail price as a Wal-Mart exclusive, qualify for sale inside the Family Game Center (which no doubt boosts the hell out of sales), get a ton more customers into the game, and then reap greater awards by selling these consumers new skaters, outfits and levels a few dollars at a time?  Let’s talk, guys.

*In case you missed it, be sure to check out Andrew Curry’s excellent Wired piece on Settlers of Catan.  After years of reading about what a great game it is, and seeing so many outstanding videogame developers list Settlers among their greatest influences, it became my gateway into more elaborate games designed with adults in mind.

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a_christmas_storyWith today’s The Beatles: Rock Band launch, I can’t help but wonder if all the cards are already on the table for what could be a very interesting Christmas’ “console war.”

Sony’s slim hardware redesign was a non-starter for me, until they blinked first and threw in a matching slimmer price point.  Microsoft followed suit almost immediately, discontinuing the Pro SKU and making the Elite model their $300 go-to.  Both good decisions.  While the Wii’s still got them both on price*, it’s a much slimmer gap now that’s more than bridged by the feature sets.

A lot of major third party releases have been pushed back into early 2010, and the ones that are still on the calendar are mostly multiplatform – The Beatles: Rock Band chief among them.  Microsoft will get another Halo title in ODST this holiday, as Playstation fans finally get their hands on Gran Turismo 5.  So we’ll have (at least) one more year where these two boxes duke it out on a fairly even playing field.

Xbox still has a more cohesive online experience, but the Playstation 3’s installed base is finally at the point where you can jump into a well-populated game at any time of day.  While I’m sure the price adjustment was a tough pill to swallow for Sony brass, they’re now offering the best value-for-dollar in gaming hardware (PS3 buyers get a Blu-Ray player while new Xbox 360 owners still need to cough up another $100 to make the thing wireless).

I’m looking forward to a well played, late generation holiday throwdown that will really put the consumers in the driver seat and rely heavily on Sony and Microsoft’s multichannel marketing effort, and maybe some cool pack-in deals.  Game.  On.

*NOTE: I know both the Xbox 360 and PS3 have limited-feature SKUs that fall below the Wii’s $250 price point, but let’s talk about the systems gamers actually want to buy here.

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We finally got the Batman game we’ve always wanted, with the superb Arkham Asylum from Rocksteady dropping this week.  The reviews are glowing, with some lofty comparisons and even “Game of the Year” buzz surfacing.  Going back to last summer with the The Dark Knight movie, we’ve seen two projects take on the Batman license and absolutely nail it.  Great!  The only hiccup is DC’s completely missing the opportunity for comics sales.

Anyone that picks up and plays Arkham Asylum this week would be completely and hopelessly lost if they were to read any of the flagship Batman books on the shelf of their local comic shop this week.  For the love of God, Bruce Wayne’s not even Batman right now*!

Dick Grayson and... Damian Wayne are Batman and Robin

Dick Grayson and... Damian Wayne are Batman and Robin

I’m not saying they should retcon all the events of Infinite Crisis just for the sake of Rocksteady’s game, but would it have killed DC Comics to align the current story arc in the ongoing monthly bat-books with something that resembled Arkham Asylum’s continuity?  I suppose it’s a bit of the tail wagging the dog, but last time I checked COMICS were facing some serious readership issues, while games have an abundance of players.

Marvel took a lot of flack for a similar issue with the core X-Men books around the release window for the first Bryan Singer X-Men movie in 2000.  Only a few characters from the movie were active in the books at that time, and the ones that were looked nothing like their silver screen counterparts.  The House of M has since learned their lesson, and got Spidey back in black just in time for Spider-Man 3.  They even got the last few occurrences of Free Comic Book Day to coincide with the release date of tentpole summer blockbusters starring a Marvel character.

I can’t wait to see the NPD numbers on Arkham Asylum next month.  I’m willing to bet at least the Xbox 360 SKU charts in the top 3.  Too bad none of those buyers could sustain their Batman fix with a nice, tidy jumping-on point into monthly Batman comics.

*For all the lapsed comic book nerds reading this, Bruce Wayne is dead.  In the comic book sense.  As in ‘nobody every really dies in comics**’.

**The REALLY lapsed comic book nerds will recall that this phrase use to read ‘nobody ever really dies in comics except Bucky.’  But he actually came back in 2008.  So, really, NOBODY dies in comics now.

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While I didn’t get out to last week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E³), I was really glad to see the show return to the more recognizable “under the big top” format.  At a time when just about everyone is forced to cut costs wherever possible, it was nice to see some of the industry’s big hitters pull out all the stops once again.  At the very least, it gave us all a lot more to watch than the very weird “editorial speed dating in office parks” feel of the last two years.

This year’s show was poised for success from the start – we’re far enough into this console generation that most developers understand how to get the most out of the hardware, but we’re not quite to the point where everyone expects to see new all-new consoles unveiled.  E³ 2005 was the most boring show I’ve been to, with the big reveal of the PS3 and all the tech demos and non-games that came with it.  This year was mostly focused on the games.  Be sure to check out the big honkin’ E³ coverage summaries over at Kotaku and Joystiq, just in case you missed anything.  Read on for my highlights (and a few not-so-highlights) from the big keynotes of the show.

MICROSOFT

beatles RB sullivanThe Good: M-soft came out strong right out of the gate with The Beatles: Rock Band.  They managed to have Paul McCartney and Ringo Star onstage, turning an otherwise ho-hum demo into a newsworthy event for even non-game press.  Perhaps most importantly, they created the most newsworthy event of the show for non-enthusiast press, and managed to have the surviving Beatles on stage with all sorts of Xbox branding behind them.  It’s a multiplatform title – in fact, the first Rock Band to ship day and date on the Wii as well as the PS3 and 360.  But Microsoft has managed to “own” this game in the minds of exactly the type of casual gamers that will eat up The Beatles: Rock Band — and a system to play it on.

The Bad: Microsoft managed to grab headlines with their project Natal camera system.  Essentially, at-home, real-time motion capture for gesture controls in games.  It looks like it works pretty well, and is much easier to set up than Microsoft’s earlier efforts with the Live Vision camera.  But I still can’t get excited about applying that technology to games.  I guess time will tell, as no release date or even a price point are in sight yet.

The Rest: All in all, Microsoft had a strong showing with those two reveals, and then a lot of smaller, fan service announcements.  The first ever Final Fantasy game on Xbox, a Metal Gear Solid multiplatform title, and a ton of sequels to familiar Xbox franchises rounded out their hour.

NINTENDO

The Good: Last year, the enthusiast press felt abondoned by Nintendo, with their keynote centered around Wii Motion Plus and the pack-in game, Wii Sports Resort.  This year, they made sure to take care of the hardcore set, with ample stage time given to a new Metroid game by Tecmo’s Team Ninja, The return of Mario Galaxy, and the very classic feeling New Super Mario Bros. finally brought to the big screen as a fun coop game for up to 4 players.  Charming, timeless IP goes a long way toward keeping the Big N in good graces with their loyal fans, and they delivered quite a bit of love for them this year.

wii_vitality_1The Bad: The Wii Vitality Sensor is… puzzling at best.  I’m an unabashed Nintendo fan, and I stand by the notion that failures along the way like the Virtual Boy are essential for a company to foster the free thinking brand of R&D that could deliver the Wii unto us.  But the idea of a peripheral that pinches you on the finger so it can get a read on your pulse… I just can’t see the application here into anything that would make a fun game.  I’ve been wrong before and I really hope I am in this case, but Nintendo certainly didn’t help its cause by not even really demoing this at the show.

The Rest: I was honestly hoping for a little more of a preview of what’s coming down the pipe for DSiWare and WiiWare.  They’re both underutilized networks on the best-selling pieces of hardware out there.  Beyond that, 6 new exercises and 15 minigames added to Wii Fit Plus doesn’t sound like very much new content to me.  I’d prefer to see them deliver more exercises throughout the year as DLC.

SONY

The Good: Team Ico revealed The Last Guardian, the sequel to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. True to form, this one will be a PS3 exclusive, and looks to be hauntingly beautiful.  I will probably buy it on launch day, and cry at least once by the time I beat it.  So will you, if you happen to have a soul and a PS3.

The Bad: Sony’s gesture control (was this a requirement to present his year!?) just seems way too early to show to the public, and I’m willing to bet they wouldn’t have if Microsoft hadn’t made such a big splash with Natal.

The Rest: I’m intrigued by the PSP Go.  That tiny form factor looks to solve a lot of the issues the original design (and subsequent iterations) had to deal with, but not all.  The screen’s still not protected in your pocket, which is a much bigger deal to me than the fact that there’s only one analog nub.  Sorry, FPS fans.

It’s puzzling to me that the PSP, which has had such a hard time reaching any audience other than teenage boys is the first to market with a download-only portable system.  Not to mention, one with a $250 price tag at launch.  If they don’t market the Go hardware the right way, they could be left with a diminishing audience that feels burned about all the useless UMD’s they bought to go with their original hardware.

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As I’ve written before, Sony’s big draw for me (and many others) during the original Playstation era was the level of respect they had for the audience.  Ridge Racer, Tekken, Wipeout, and the Resident Evil series all made their home debut on the system, and all elevated their respective genre to new heights.  Sony marketed to a slightly older audience (remember ‘UR Not E‘?) and introduced an exciting brand of popcorn entertainment.

Fast forward to this Valentine’s Day, and Sony offered up ThatGameCompany’s latest ambitious think-piece, Flower.  For the record, I LOVE this game.  The design is breathtaking, with no HUD and a minimalist control scheme.  The music is subtle and, at times, even a bit somber.   In my short time with the game, it made me think about how our planet functions, mankind’s impact on it, why the movie The Iron Giant is underappreciated, and how various faith’s interpretation of God are different.  Like any good pice of art in any medium, Flower makes you THINK.

It scratches itches that I didn’t even know I had, and makes me want to DEMAND a full apology from Roger Ebert on behalf of theentire industry.  But the million dollar question is, “how many people will really dig this game?”  Perhaps more importantly, “how many people need to buy (and like) Flower for it to be a success?”  Between this game, and PSN exclusives like Echocrome and FlOw, and weird avatar chat/meeting space Home, I can’t help but wonder if Sony may be getting too arty for it’s own good.  It came up in this month’s EDGE Magazine review of Prototype, and I think it’s a valid point.  After all, art that pushes the envelope to an extreme will almost always have a high point of entry that limits commercial success.

Microsoft has exclusive GTA4 content, Gears of War and the HALO franchise to satisfy precisely the type of gamer that Sony connected with over the last two console generations.  Third parties like EA and Ubisoft certainly keep that audience entertained on Sony’s big black box, but I can’t really see Little Big Planet connecting with them.  And with a big gulf in hardware prices in this economy, can Sony afford to let such a big audience go?

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Fellow marketer and WordPresser Doug Meacham tied together some stirring evidence to back up a thought I’ve been chewing on for quite a while: popularity of music games will lead to greater interested in playing actual musical instruments.  It makes perfect sense.  While there were a few sky-is-falling critics of the genre early on, Guitar Hero and Rock Band allow a whole new audience to interact with music in a very real way.

Beyond trading up for real instruments, the Guitar Hero audience has shown plenty of love to previously obscure bands from the game during a dark time for record sales.  And I’m willing to bet there are quite a few GH fans that “discovered” older bands (that totally play, like, their dad’s music) through the game, and really learned to appreciate them.

Rock music games give us a nice, tidy package to study the direct correlation between games and non-game merchandise sales.  The genre was created well after gaming moved from a niche hobby to mainstream entertainment, it consists of only 2 flagship series, and interest can be tracked through solid sales numbers on (mostly) tangible products that are tied to only this one genre: guitars, and records and downloads of  music from featured bands.  There’s no spillover data from other genres here, because no one rushes out to pick up a new guitar ’cause they had an awesome time playing Left 4 Dead.

It would be interesting to see what other games had similar effects, if only it were trackable.  I’m sure there are plenty of guys out there who learned the rules of football (and eventually an interest in the sport) from Madden.

Licensed NFL merchandise continues to move at a steady clip despite the young male audience move away from watching TV, but it’s a real leap to call an uptick in sales of footballs, helmets and jerseys “the Madden effect.”

So when I see a team like the Yankees loading up their luxury boxes with PS3s and copies of MLB 09: The Show, it’s clearly a deal designed to

benefit Sony.  But I think MLB might be pleasantly surprised with how much interest a wider reaching games initiative could generate in the sport.  At the very least, it would bring some of the cool factor they despereately need to make the very worthy RBI program a success.

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In case you missed it, Sony announced their first official corporate partner in Home – and it’s none other than Red Bull.  For the uninitiated, Home is Sony’s oft-delayed avatar based virtual world that (theoretically) connects every PS3 owner, so they can meet up, chat, and play together.

It’s not the worst idea ever, but I’m not entirely sure all the infrastructure and planning will be worth it in the end.  I can’t imagine anyone buying a PS3 exclusively to get access to Home, and Second Life already showed us just how fickle tastes can be when it comes to virtual real estate.  Sony definitely needs a more cohesive, end-to-end online environment to even have a shot at Xbox Live.  No argument there.  But will the audience really want to commit so much time to non-gaming during their gaming sessions?

Red Bull’s no stranger to edgy marketing tactics, and I honestly hope this venture proves as worthwhile to them as Flugtag and their other experimental pursuits.  We’ll see…

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