Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Last Day In Tokyo

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I'm checking out of the Crowne Plaza this morning. Then I wander the streets until this evening, when I board my plane for Perth. The flight continues overnight, and I get into Perth International Airport at 5.55 am Thursday morning. I don't need a lift, but if anyone could volunteer a place to hang out and maybe catch some shut-eye until my rooms at the Emerald become available in the afternoon that'd be fantastic.

EDIT: Such offers would have to be made via a call placed to my mobile phone, I've just realised, as this is going to be my last net access until tomorrow afternoon. The mobile phone won't be turned on until about 6.30 am Thursday, either, so you'd either have to negotiate my message bank or time your call well. It all seems like a lot of hassle, really.

By the way, I've got a stack of game post-mortems to do as long as my arm, which I'll get to once my holiday's over. I have some snarky things to say about both the quantity and quality of Metroid Pinball, a few thoughts about Ossu! Tatake! Ouendan!, a complete rundown of Castlevania: Aria of Sorrows, and some bits and pieces relating to the PSP games Tekken: Dark Resurrection and Metal Gear Acid 2. Plus I was almost finished Disgaea back home before this whole trip began, so I assume there'll be blogging about that once it's done.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Shinjuku, Shibuya and Harajuku

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I got rained out!

Today was supposed to be my chief day for exploring central Tokyo. Yesterday was eaten by a combination of getting to my new hotel and shopping in Akihabara. Tomorrow will be a wash too because my rail pass runs out at midnight tonight, plus they kick me out of the hotel at 11 am. So I was really counting on today to go crazy in the city.

The boding of ill pretty much started from the get go. My first destination was Shinjuku, which is a shopping and business district. Unfortunately, from the train station I had no real idea of where to go to get to the "good" bit, and I found myself mostly wandering around in this underground warren beneath a bunch of office buildings. Plus, I left my phone back at the hotel and couldn't take pictures. In the end I gave up on Shinjuku as a bit of a disaster, and headed back to the Crowne Plaza Metropolitan to (a) retrieve my phone, and (b) do a wee bit of checking on the internet for maps of some Tokyo districts.

Armed with new knowledge, I ventured forth again, this time for Shibuya, which I had been assured was the home of that intersection with the big TV screens and the crowds of people that you see in every bit of video footage about Tokyo ever. I did inded find that intersection, which didn't quite live up to its reputation as the Times Square of Tokyo, but did lead me on to some streets full of shops.

At this point some fairly heavy rainclouds were gathering, and I realised something about myself and shopping. When I go shopping, I normally gravitate to places where books, DVDs, and games are sold. When you can't read the language, all of those things lose a certain amount of utility, and so I ended up wandering around, wondering exactly what it was I was hoping to see and/or buy. It was all a bit disheartening, and so after doing laps of a few blocks I headed back to the rail station.

My third stop was Harajuku, teen capital of Japan, home to toy shops, places which sell cool things, and... uh... hordes of underage lesbians engaging in cosplay. Actually, the hordes apparently come out more on Sundays, but they were still well represented. Anyway, whatever it was I'd been looking for in Shibuya, I found it in Harajuku. Over the course of a couple of toy shops and jewellery shops I completed my souvenir shopping in style. Unfortunately, the whole while that I was there it was pelting down with rain. I perservered for an hour and a half, getting thoroughly drenched, but eventually the prodigious amount of water in my clothing began threatening to seep through my bag and pockets and destroy my rail pass, passport, and/or purchases, and I had to retreat.

So now I'm back in my hotel room watching the torrential downpour out the window. It's really annoying, because I could have gone another couple of hours in Harajuku easily, plus I still wanted to visit Jinbocho and the Tokyo Tower. And I haven't done Tokyo by night yet!

So here's hoping that it clears up by sundown. It doesn't look likely, and the weather reports are suggesting it won't let up till after midnight. Sigh.


[News] [Personal]

Yesterday I took a trip to Akihabara, Tokyo's electronics shopping district. If I thought that the Tokyo Game Show was computer gaming heaven, it was clearly only because I'd never visited Akihabara.

The picture at the top left is a six-storey Taito video arcade. I didn't go in. The reason I didn't go in was because I had already investigated three other multi-storey arcades on the same block.

If you've never been to Akihabara, picture a street lined on both sides with five or six storey buildings. Every floor of every building sells DVDs, mobile phones, CDs, or computer games. The street continues for a couple of kilometers. Every street running off that street also is packed with five or six storey buildings, all containing more DVDs, mobile phones, CDs, and computer games.

I went into some kind of shopping overload. In addition to grabbing a Kingdom Hearts II Sora action figure, I've also gone and got a copy of Ossu! Tatake! Ouendan! for my DS, plus the following game soundtracks:
* Zone of the Enders
* Zone of the Enders II
* Silent Hill 3
* The Legend of Zelda
* Katamari Damacy
* Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

Video games are ridiculously cheap here, and not just the ones of *cough* dubious authenticity. DS games were going for about 3000 yen each, which translates out to about $40 AUD. PS2 games were only a bit more expensive. It's a shame that (a) I don't read Japanese too well, and (b) Japanese PS2 games don't work in Australian machines, because they have all sorts of crazy crap available here.

Speaking of which, Final Fantasy III and Xenosaga I & II Compilation are both out in Japan for the DS, as well as Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, but they're all fairly text heavy games so I sadly chose to pass them up and wait for them to make their way to Australia. Likewise I saw the Phoenix Wright GBA games that have not yet come out in the West (numbers 2 & 3 of the series). Seeing as they're billing Phoenix Wright 4 as No 2 for its American release it seems likely that we won't be seeing those titles for this generation of hardware.

Today I'm going to Shinjuku and Tokyo Central, and maybe if I have time to Jinbocho (the book district as featured in the anime Read or Die).

Monday, September 25, 2006

Tokyo Game Show Aftermath

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I've had a look at the photos I snapped during TGS, and while most of them are perfectly good as slideshow-bait for friends, I've come to the sad conclusion that pretty much none of them will be very eye-friendly once I shrink them down to a size suitable for Blogger. So I've just got a few parting shots.

The shot to the top left is the general entrance queue from Saturday. This line stretched for about a kilometer, and that's not just me doing my usual trademark exaggeration. I was smart enough to get in early on Sunday before the crush, and it literally took me about fifteen minutes to cover the distance I'd queued for the day before, moving at a reasonaly fast clip. I couldn't actually take a picture of the whole queue, because (a) it went around seven or eight different corners, and (b) from my vantage point within the queue it appeared that the end of the queue was further away than the horizon - and that was in both directions.

Inside, on the public days, was just madness, as the photo to the right illustrates. There were three halls, each larger than a regulation football field by a fairly hefty margin, and they all looked like this. (This photo depicts about a sixth of one hall, maybe less.) It was worst near the Sony booth, which in some stroke of lunacy had been placed next to the Square-Enix, Capcom and Konami booths, making it pretty much at the center of all the show's most frenzied crowd scenes. You could stand at the corner of those four booths, and see ahead of you Hideo Kojima live in person, to your right a playable version of Devil May Cry 4, to your left new Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts releases, and behind you a brand new console sporting the likes of Heavenly Sword. I would not be surprised to hear that small children at this intersection who tripped and fell were killed and ground into the showfloor by the merciless boots of Squeenix fangirls.

Speaking of Squeenix fangirls, I don't think I'd quite relished the depths to which Kingdom Hearts pulls at the cosplay-oriented sensibilities of the Japanese female. Standing in line to play Re: Chain of Memories I felt like I'd accidentally stumbled into some secret club available only to those with surplus stocks of oestrogen. Much gushing was made over a huge tapestry canvas featuring the shojo-esque portraits of Kingdom Hearts' pretty, pretty male cast ensemble. There was also some kicking transgender costuming going on. I counted no less than three Soras (two depicted to the left), four Axels, and a Riku, all sporting an apocalyptic attention to detail, and all female.

The costuming didn't stop there - there were plenty of catgirls, anime witches, and those bunny-women things from FFXII and Tactics Advance. Actually, all the attendee cosplay was done by women - the guys didn't seem to go in for that, which was a shame, as I was hoping to see some decent Dantes, Clouds, or Sephiroths making the rounds. Sega had a couple of guys in Yakuza suits for its Yakuza 2 booth, Capcom had a soldier for Lost Planet, and over in the nowheresville hall where Microsoft was hidden I found someone in a giant cat suit (right) who for all I know was male. I have a certain respect for whoever was in that thing, because I was only in a short-sleeved T-shirt, and I was still on the verge of heat exhaustion. I can't imagine the tortures visited on someone wearing a heavy full-body novelty Neko-san prosthetic.

Anywho, it was a great time, and I'm sure glad I came. But it was draining - the thought of doing it all again leaves me wanting a good lie down and a nap. Probably by this time next year I'll be up to repeating the experience, but for now I'm just glad that it's over and I can take the rest of the holiday at my own pace.

Tokyo Game Show - Day 3 Continued

[News] [Computer Gaming] [TGS]

I'm now ensconced in the Crowne Plaza Metropolitan in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, which has a much higher standard of service than the last two hotels (which says more about the Metropolitan than the other hotels, as they were both pretty good). I've managed to wheedle a three-pronged power adapter out of the desk staff and my laptop is charging even as I type this.

Here's my last thoughts from TGS. If you're lucky, I'll follow up with a photo post full of booth babes and insane crowd shots.

The PS3 Controller - The first thing that struck me about the PS3 controller is that, now that they've ripped the vibration motors out of it, it's exceptionally light. It's about the weight of a Sega Genesis/Megadrive controller, or maybe a little lighter. Otherwise, it looks and feels like a PS2 peripheral. I've only tried two games that use the tilt sensitivity but from what I can tell it at least has the potential to be very responsive and inuitive for gentle tilting motions. I'm not as sure about things that require you to swing the controller around or jerk it quickly - the use of that sort of function in Lair was not exactly a barrel of laughs, but that might just be poor coding on Lair's part. Overall I suspect that the capability (or lack of same) of the controller is not going to be a deciding factor in the choice of whether to buy into the new Sony console.

PSP vs DS - Over in Japan, the sales war between the DS and PSP is already over, and the PSP was not the winner. Oh, sure, Sony had a big PSP booth, and they were giving away the latest firmware update and some downloadable game demos (that my PSP couldn't get, possibly because of its PAL origin). But a look at the show floor told the real story. Throughout all the developer booths, only Namco and Konami appear to be in serious development for the PSP. I can count the new A-list PSP titles I saw on one hand, with fingers to spare. But everyone, everyone, including the itsy-bitsy developers no-one's heard of, had forthcoming DS titles. Sega alone had about 20. You couldn't turn anywhere without some outrageously dressed Japanese model inviting you to try out some crazy thing on a DS Lite. And remember, Nintendo wasn't even present at the show. My sincere advice is if you haven't already bought a PSP, don't get one now. The best PSP titles are going to be re-released for the PS2 or PS3, much in the manner of Liberty City Stories. The DS wagon is the one to climb on board, because we're about to be saturated in quality software for it.

Warhawk - Another Halo-esque title, this time for the PS3. It's fairly ambitious, in that you wander around on foot, in jeeps, in tanks, and (in the only part of the game that's particularly memorable) in aircraft. I played the multiplayer demo, which was reasonably fun. Zooming around in planes is done with a control system much the same as Lair - you use the tilt function of the controller to angle up, down, left, and right, and a button on the controller sets you into "fast" mode or "slow" mode. Dogfighting in these planes is actually pretty cool, if a little simplistic. Unfortunately, you can only get into the planes by finding one on the ground. Movement on the ground is done with the analog sticks, which is a really jarring transition from the elegance of the flight controls. The surface-bound part of the game is unobjectionable, but it's devoid of really anything at all that makes it special or worth talking about. Myself and the other players almost completely ignored the availability of ground vehicles and just kept camping the aircraft spawn points. One nice touch worth mentioning is that homing surface-to-air rockets are plentiful, meaning that although you can't just shoot distant planes out of the sky, if you are strafed by the enemy while surfacebound you can put up a very effective defence. I think I'll need to see more of the single-player campaign before I can make up my mind whether this is a dud or not. By the way, if you saw the impressive trailers that were orginally claimed to be in-game footage, it's now brutally clear that the game itself does not look anywhere near as good, or even particularly good compared to the other PS3 launch titles, or even some PS2 titles. Its graphics are about on a par with the original Halo.

Dynasty Warriors BB - The new online extension of Koei's Three Kingdoms battlefield brawler had a line so long it wrapped around the booth twice, so I didn't get a chance to actually try it out. Luckily, however, by staking out the booth attendees I managed to get issued with a free CD containing a demo of the thing (which, by the way, is for the PC), so I intend to fire that up over coming days and check it out.

Eye of Judgment - This is the card battler I've been talking about that uses proprietary camera technology to actually show you handling real life cards on screen, but with CGI monsters standing atop the cards, ready to go into battle. I didn't get to play it (I was told I couldn't have a go unless I spoke Japanese) but from what I saw of others using it, it seems to be kind of cool, but the gameplay is a bit shallow, and also either the camera or the software associated with it is a little squirrely insofar as detecting your hand motions and keeping up with the movement of the cards in the gamespace. I still have a suspicion that this is never going to leave Japan anyhow, so we'll see.

Capcom Shop - I don't mean a game called Capcom Shop - I mean, the actual Capcom Shop, which was at TGS. There was a line to get in that was half an hour long, so when I actually got inside I kind of went crazy and bought some stuff without looking at it too closely. So in short, while I have no regrets about getting the Devil May Cry soundtrack, which may or may not be earmarked as a souvenir gift for someone I know, I do have the following excess stuff up for grabs to people who know me well:
1 x black shirt in the style worn by Leon Kennedy in RE4, Japanese medium size (western small to medium)
1 x weird Umbrella Corporation shirt in black with Japanese writing and a cartoon girl holding an umbrella, Japanese medium size
Also I got myself a Phoenix Wright 4 shirt in black and red which I may keep or give as a gift, I haven't decided yet. Actually managed to get that one in large (which is to say it's a tight fit on me).

Okay, that's me done. There's other stuff I saw that I've forgotten to write about, so if you have specific questions about a title leave me a comment.

For those in Perth, I'm doing a panel at Fandomedia next weekend with Grant Watson in which I'll certainly be talking about TGS. I'll also be showing game trailers, but I don't know if that'll be in the form of a scheduled panel, or just an "everyone come back to my room and watch stuff" sort of thing.

In Canberra, I might actually throw a TGS night when I get back, with more trailers than you can poke a stick at, plus dissection of the veritable rainforest of promotional brochures I acquired, and the dissemination of Japanese souvenirs. You'll hear more once my travels are over.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Tokyo Game Show - Day 3

[News] [Computer Gaming] [TGS]

The net-cafe auto-correct has returned, and brought some friends, and now they're all hovering around my typing style like a posse of Mexican bandits about to descend upon a small defenceless village.

I'll soldier through, though, to tell you some of the things I've seen on the third and final day of TGS.

Final Fantasy XIII - Fabulus Nova Crystallis - The three versions of FFXIII are collectively known under the thing-thingy-crystallis name printed above. At this stage Squeenix are only showing trailers for these titles - no gameplay to see - but those trailers certainly are some saucy little pieces of video. There's a new FFXIII standard trailer, featuring the chick with the gunblade. It's like the old trailer, but longer, with some new bits. In short, though, it's still just informing us that the game will look good and feature an attractive woman going nuts with a big sword.

Final Fantasy Agito XIII is the game for Japanese mobiles, and based on the visual styling of the trailer I will henceforth refer to it as Final Fantasy XIII And The Philosopher's Stone. It appears to feature students at some sort of school for magic getting up to some card-battling shenanigans. Also, there's a crystal. Hilarity ensues. We'll likely never see it in the West, so feel free to immediately forget it exists.

Final Fantasy Versus XIII looks like it's a side-story to the main FFXIII. Like the main game, it's a PS3 release. The trailer doesn't give the slightest hint as to gameplay. It shows a guy in a dark robe, with the air of someone who might just be a hero, walking down a staircase towards a bunch of soldiers who are shooting at him. The fellow deflects the bullets using a bunch of levitating swords. All the swords are different - one's a gunblade, one's a long fancy thing. For all I know there's a buster sword and a keyblade in the mix - they're only onscreen for about a second. The title's still making me think it's going to be a two player fighter, and I still remember Square's last attempt at that (Ehrgeiz - *shudder*) so I'm at this stage not hugely excited. Keep watching for news, though.

It's A Wonderful World - Another Square-Enix title, this time for the DS, and to my disappointment it's NOT a sequel to It's A Wonderful Life in which Jimmy Stewart must protect the world from its impending destruction by a giant meteor over the course of one magical Christmas. Rather, it's a hip urban fantasy featuring socialising, accessorising, skateboarding, romance, and the beating down of giant monsters with swords. A lot of the hype material features the words "Timelimit: Within Seven Days" and there seems to be an onscreen clock so I suspect it's going to be a bit of a departure from Square's usual epic levelling-up sagas.

Resistance: Fall of Man - This has been shaping up to be the launch title to watch for the PS3, so I took the opportunity today to subject its multiplayer component to the tender mercies of my gaming thumbs. Despite being placed on the same team as three small Japanese children, facing off against a bunch of grinning hardcore gaijin, we STILL won the round. There's nothing very original in the multiplayer, but so far as it recycles a lot of the same-old same-old, it recycles it well, with easy controls, satsifyingly punchy weapons, and a really very handy detailed on-screen map. The game we played was a Battlefield-style thing where you were supposed to control the checkpoints. A nice touch is that the "checkpoints" are collections of coloured cylinders. To change the allegiance of a checkpoint to your faction, you have to shoot out all the cylinders, which means you can technically do it from a distance, very slowly, with a precision weapon, or just run up point blank and take it out in one hit with an area-effect gun. Lots of fun, and definitely worth buying once you already have a PS3, but not something to invest in the console for by itself.

Heavenly Sword - If there is a game to buy the PS3 for, it's Heavenly Sword. This is one of those games that will make you drool from the corners of your mouth when you behold it, and then gibber like an orangutan when you attempt to describe it to others. Basically, it's God of War, with a female protagonist, and better. It's not just LIKE God of War - it IS God of War. It may as well have David Jaffe's name on it. But it's better. Watching people play it for half an hour, and then playing it myself, I rarely saw the same moves repeated. It flows wonderfully, and it's a dream to control. You have three stances - your basic stance with two swords, a ranged stance with hooked chains, and a power stance where you bring your sword blades together to make a giant butcher sword. You move in to the ranged and power stances by holding down the R1 and L1 buttons while attacking. Then your attacks are varied by context, whether you've just been attacked, what's around you, and the range to your opponent. You also have a kind of awesomeness meter that charges up and your moves change again depending on how awesome you currently are. On top of all that, you can interact with almost everything in the combat zone using the X button. Big items like tables will be kicked over to create barricades, while small items will be scooped up to be temporary weapons that you can bludgeon your opponents with or throw at distant foes. Scoring a bullseye on a thrown weapon (such as throwing an opponent's disc-like helm as a frisbee) causes the camera to go into a missile-cam mode as your shot flies towards its unfortunate target. Finally, you also have some special scripted sequences against certain enemies (particularly bosses) that work like the ones in God of War, where on-screen prompts will suggest you press certain buttons, and completing a sequence of buttons will finish off your opponent in spectacular style. It's a good game. It's a very, very good game.

Lair - A bit of a mixed bag here with this PS3 title. Basically, you're flying a dragon which has been pressed into service to fight on behalf of a medieval-esque army. You zoom around, get in dogfights with other dragons, strafe surface-bound armies, and actually land yourself to mix it up face to face with the infantry, cutting loose with flame and claws. The flying works by way of using the tilt functionality of the PS3 controller. You lean the controller left to bank left, tilt it up to climb, et cetera. This all works exceptionally well, and it's a pleasure to use. After you get the hang of enjoying flying, though, it's all downhill. Dogfighting with dragons is a squirrelly process involving jerking the controller around like you're having an epileptic fit. On the ground, despite the fact that the engine can render a totally out-of-this-world number of on-screen soldiers (numbering in the thousands), killing them is absolutely no fun at all, and not in the least satisfying. I suspect this is going to be one worth leaving on the shelf.

I'm going to have to sign off because my internet is running out but I still have impressions of Warhawk, Eye of Judgment, the PS3 controller, and the ongoing DS vs PSP sales war to convey. Keep hitting refresh, DustBunnies, it should all come through tomorrow!

Tokyo Game Show - Day 2 Continued

[News] [Computer Gaming] [TGS]

Still at the net cafe-style terminal but magically the auto-correct has gone the way of the Gamecube. Huzzah! Now if only this seat was in any way ergonomically sound I'd be in blogging heaven.

The combination of long days on my feet, plus trundling very heavy luggage around, plus battling through crowds, plus these crazy Japanese mattresses that I swear are made mostly of brick, has worked a profound torture on my back. When I arrive in Perth I'm going to require the help of several nubile massage-assistants to pound it back into submission. Applications being taken now.

Here's some more stuff that I saw at TGS:

Too Many MMOGS - I do not like them on a train. I do not like them on a plane. I do not like Korean MMOG spam. I do not like it, Sam I Am. No, seriously, I have photos of seven, eight, nine banners for new MMOGs, all by the same company, all in a row, and all utterly generic. And there's multiple, multiple booths of that stuff going on. You may have heard tell of the forthcoming online gaming crash, but you won't really understand it until you see what's going on over here. I have a bag stuffed full of brochures for these horrible things, which I will proudly show to all those whom I encounter back in Australia. Some sort of ritual burning may be in order afterwards.

Immersion Technologies - It's not a game, it's a company, and what they're making is controllers. They're showing off some hacked XBox controllers where they've removed the dual rumble motors and replaced them with a single motor that does everything. It's got advantages in as much as it can spin up and spin down really fast, and it feels kind of cool. What's much more impressive, though, is some technology they're showing off that does force-feedback touchscreens. You press a button on the touchscreen, and it really feels force-feedback touchscreens. You press a button on the touchscreen, and it really feels like you've pressed a button, and it kicks back out when you release. It's one of those you-have-to-try-it things but I'd be strongly surprised if we don't see something like this in the next generation of DS in three or four years.

Real Fighting Championship - Another Cykan vehicle, this time a 2P fighting game specifically finessed to be played online on the PC. Very generic, with some really bland gameplay and graphics, but the net technology behind it seems solid, which is where a lot of other online fighters have gone wrong. If there's one genre that can't stand lag, this is it.

Tales of Etcetera - Namco has about five million new entries in its Tales franchise on display. I can't say I've spent much time with any of them, because you really can't tell a lot about an RPG in five minutes, but they all look reasonably solid. It looks like if you've liked the other recent installments you'll like these. One you may not have heard of is Tales of Mobile, coming to NTT DoCoMo and presumably other such Japanese mobile carriers.

Trusty Bell - Another Namco RPG. This is one of the 50-whatever RPGs that the XBox 360 is allegedly going to have under its belt by the end of next year. It's got an anime aesthetic to it, but somehow it really makes use of the 360's graphical capabilities with cell-shading and so forth to make this title look really vibrant. Other than to say it looks good, though, you'll have to look elsewhere for meaningful gameplay details.

That's all for today. I'll start work on the Sunday post, now.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Tokyo Game Show -Day 2

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Okay, if I thought the crowd scene yesterday was mad, I was obviously completely underprepared for today. It's a good thing that I didn't have anywhere specifically to go, because there was only one option - the same place as the crowd. You just got into the flow, and let it carry you to the shores of gaming paradise.

I met some British ex-pats who I hung out with today, so there was company at least. Plus they spoke some of the language, so that was good.

Anyway, I'll fix up this post more when I'm not battling the twin demons of hiragana and auto-complete (which Japanese Blogger seems to use at every opportunity). In short:

Paper Man - From nowheresville developer Cykan, this is a cute little FPS in which you are literally made out of paper. As in, if you turn sideways to your opponent, you can't be shot. Getting hit but not killed will leave your avatar with hole-punch style holes in its head or body. Lots of fun to play, and when I talked to the developer there was some mention that the thing was going to be free over the internet. Definitely one to watch.

Dead or Alive Extreme 2 - The only thing in the show topping the outrageous costumes of the booth babes and cosplayers. Very short on entertaining gameplay, but then, they're not selling it on the strength of the gameplay. I am able to report that the volleyball is dull and the bathing suits are skimpy.

Phoenix Wright 4 - Yes, over in Japan they're up to number 4. Much the same as the rest, really, but for DS. No plans as yet to release in the West. Objection!

I saw Hideo Kojima! Sadly he was not so close that I could ask him for permission to have his man-babies, but he was within sight, up on stage and discussion Metal Gear Solid 4 (for which there is an impressive new trailer, by the way).

Gah! This terminal is ruining my sanity. I'm going to sign off. Take care without me, DustBunnies, and I'll hopefully finish this post soon.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Tokyo Game Show -Day One

[News] [Computer Gaming] [TGS]

Note: this is a retype and update of the original version of this post.

I'm typing this from a Japanese internet terminal. The keyboard is of the variety which regularly spews forth unchecked hiragana unless I keep it suppressed by means of my mighty mental powers and a handy cat-o-nine-tails. I'm still holding out hope of finding me a three-prong Australia-to-Japan power converter so as to put my laptop back in business, but after some conversation with locals that's seeming unlikely until I get to Tokyo, and possibly not even then. So horrible net cafes it is.

I was pleased to find that my cunning scheme to gain admittance to TGS on the business day went off flawlessly. I had forgotten the near-talismanic significance that the Japanese attach to business cards, and by regularly flaunting my hot off the presses semi-fake cards which suggest I'm the editor of a commercial games website I was able to go wherever my carefree little feet cared to take me.

First stop was the Ken Kutaragi keynote speech: "The Next Generation As Defined By The PlayStation 3". It was dull. It was very, very dull. It was, in fact, so dull that the person in front of me, despite being paid by a certain prominent commercial games website which shall remain nameless to be there and take notes, actually fell asleep during the speech and began to snore. I kid you not. Even the trailers were dull. We saw Moto Storm, Ridge Racers, Mobile Suit: Target in Sight, and something called Afrika which seems to be not much more than a tech demo. The only interesting looking game was Final Fantasy XIII, and it was the old trailer that everyone's already seen. I'll give it this, though - those graphics looked mighty pretty splashed across the big screen. You can see the heroic engines of the PS3's HD graphics whatsit straining epically to bring us sweet eye candy.

Then it was on to the showfloor. The most important thing about the showfloor is this: it was very, very hot, and there were a lot of people on it. I have photographic evidence, which I will display when I come into possession of a computing system capable of resizing the fruit of my mobile phone camera. Oh how that day will dawn brightly in your visual rememberances.

So here's what I saw.

Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories - For some unfathomable reason, Squeenix have gone and taken the GBA title Chain of Memories and re-released it as a PS2 title, sporting all the gameplay quirks and... uh... inventiveness of the GBA version, with the original PS2 Kingdom Hearts graphics grafted onto it like some horrible Disney-themed cyber-zombie. I said it the first time I attempted this post, and I'll say it again - why would they make this? But it was kind of fun, if you have the necessary tolerance for the Chain of Memories mechanics.

Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix - This is just the Kingdom Hearts II collector's edition. I suspect it'll be much like what they did for the original Kingdom Hearts Final Mix - throw in some new extras, a new boss, and a new super-secret end video, and then never, ever allow us gaijin to purchase a copy, for it must be held tight to the sweet bosom of Mother Japan and nursed like an adored mutant baby.

Devil May Cry 4 - Playable. Oh, how very, very playable. Capcom have wisely steered clear of this "originality" and "innovation" that other, less successful, companies keep babbling about, and just combined and remade the two good games in the series as one sexy, sexy PS3 release. Oh, sure, there's a new fire-hand weapony thing, that basically works like a whip to pull your enemies up close to ensure they get their pre-approved allocation of whoop-ass, and there's some sort of plot shenanigans abounding (Dante appears to be the bad guy, this time around, with the protagonist being... also Dante? I'm confused) but basically this is the same Devil May Cry that you've known, loved, and would sell your grandma's organs to get more of, but better.

Lost Planet - For the XBox 360, so basically spawned from the very nether regions of Satan - and yet, lots and lots and lots of fun. This could well be a killer app for the Little White Box That Couldn't, if no well intentioned executives come along and give it some pre-natal plastic surgery with a crowbar. Basically, it's Halo, if Master Chief occasionally got to drive giant mechs, fought aliens ten to fifteen times his size, and had a grappling hook that let him swing from rooftop to rooftop like some sort of Covenant-killing Spiderman. I've had no less than three rounds of it multiplayer, and by golly it's a thing to be tried, in much the same way as heroin.

Elebits - It turns out that all electricity is generated by little imp-things called Elebits, except they've gone on strike, and so using the Wii remote you have to find their hiding places and then shake them with a gravity gun thing until the Elebits sustain some shaken-baby-type trauma. Given enough of the smirking little hell-critters under your control you can lift damn well anything with the wiimote, including houses, et cetera, which makes this pretty much Katamari Damacy done as a gun game. Huzzah. More reasons to buy a Wii and/or name your children after Konami.

Yakuza 2 - At least, I think it's Yakuza 2. It looks like the original Yakuza, has the same gameplay, and has a big number 2 next to the title. But that's some impressively speedy development, as the first one's barely out. Anywho, solid and meaty combat, with some poor targeting, and a somewhat shallow overworld. Basically, the first game done again, I understand. Top notch booth, though, with fairly authentic Yakuza costuming on booth babes of both male and female persuasion.

Shining Wind - I'm sure someone out there is a Shining series fan, and even if you're not this may be the game to convert you. It's for the PS2, it's by Sega, it's an action PS2, it's by Sega, it's an action RPG, and it's got two player co-op. What more do you need to know? While I'm on the subject, the DS is getting something called Shining Force EXA, which I assume is some variety of port or remake, but I don't know enough about the Shining games to verify that.

E-card thingy - There's some sort of card reader coming for the DS. Basically it brings the collectible card gaming into your portable gaming life. The two titles on display using it are a strategy title called Sangokushi Trisen DS and a girl-oriented thing called Fashionable Witches Love & Berry where the cards let you buy new clothes, et cetera.

Metal Gear Portable Ops - I only got to play the multiplayer of this, but it's looking like solid Metal Gear action. I kicked ass as Ocelot, and got to wander around the multiplayer map. The controls are a bit annoying, as it seems you have to manually center the camera with the analog nub while moving with the d-pad. A bit awkward, but still a heap of fun.

Hellgate London - There are people in third-world countries who will pay you good money to be allowed to cook and eat your pets. I say this not because it is shocking, or even because it is true (it probably isn't), but because you will need the money of which I speak to secure yourself a copy of Hellgate London. This thing, firstly, has a trailer so sweet you will think that a magical sugar god has set up shop in your eyeballs and is throwing a particularly messy orgy.  I can only assume that the good fellows at GameTrailers (whom I met) are uploading the thing as we speak for the sexual pleasure of your retinas. Secondly, it plays like Red Eye tastes, and I mean that in the way that it will be understood by connoisseurs of fine caffeinated guarana beverages everywhere. There are guns, and skills, and oh sweet Jeebers it's like Diablo had an idiot-savant third-person shooter baby.

That's the highlights for today. I'll start doing up the post for Saturday but it might be a bit brief till I get more time on the old information superhighway. Plus this Japanese keyboard cuts my typing speed down to roughly zero. I can see my net-car being overtaken by people browsing with Mosaic, and by golly that smarts. Until next time, you loyal DustBunnies, take care, and try not to read Gamespot and its TGS news - it is full of lies! Wait through the horrible delays and read it here, by Jove!

Thursday, September 21, 2006


[Now Experiencing] [Personal] [TGS]

I went to Kisarazu today. For those who don't know, it's a relatively small town on the Chiba pensinsula, on the coast of Tokyo Bay and south-south-east of Tokyo itself. It's also the setting of the Japanese TV series Kisarazu Cat's Eye.

The Kisarazu Cat's Eye theme song promises me that the town contains a "street full of raccoons". I'm not sure if that's literally correct - there's ugly, ugly raccoon statues everywhere - but not really any one street that can be said to be "full" of them. I've got heaps of raccoon-themed photos to share and I did manage to pick up a couple of hideous little raccoon-statue souvenirs.

Kisarazu was frustrating in a lot of ways, though. First up, it's an unseasonally warm autumn over here - a combination of ozone-hole-raw sunlight plus horrible sticky humidity. Not what I expected from Japan at all, and enough to already have me sunburned and sweaty by 10 in the morning.

Also, while the English signage around Tokyo, Makuhari and the airport was all very comprehensive, and there's a lot of English speakers around in the places I've been up until now, when I got to Kisarazu I discovered that the English doesn't extend so well into the suburbs.

I'd been ordered by friends to try and obtain Kisarazu Cat's Eye merchandise, but I wasn't successful. And my lack of success was very annoying, because giant posters for the show were everywhere - literally, in every window in town. You couldn't escape them. Despite that, I only found two places that sold merchandise.

The first place was this tiny hovel-like shop that had a very prominently displayed "Bussan 1/2" shirt near the entranceway. But the shopkeeper refused to sell it to me. When I made enquiring motions towards it he just waved me away and made it very clear it wasn't for sale. It's not like it was one of a kind, either - there were packs of them nearby. I'm confused.

The second place was a full-fledged T-shirt shop with a very nice woman running it. They had a variety of shirts with the legend "OZZY", depicting the character of Ozzy from the show drawn in the style of a raccoon and holding a foaming mug of beer. They would have been perfect, and the lady seemed willing to sell, but this is where the language barrier struck - there was no written price on the shirts, I wasn't able to understand her spoken numerals when I asked the price, and in any case she kept thinking I was enquiring about what sizes the shirts came in. I produced money but she looked very shocked and waved it away. (I found out why - see below.) In the end I had to back out of the store, apologising, and just admit my communication skills weren't up to the task of buying clothes.

I did manage to visit the Kisarazu footbridge, also depicted in the show. It's a scarily tall structure. I'm afraid of heights, so getting to the top was something of an epic journey for me. As you're walking up it, it looks like it's literally a bridge to nowhere (see picture). It has a very steep incline. There's a legend that if you carry your partner over the bridge on your back you'll be together for life. I imagine the legend hasn't been tested much as it would take an exceptionally fit person to carry a body-weight the length of the bridge. It's a bit of an ordeal just crossing the thing by yourself.

Finally, on my way back to the train station, I stopped just before my train was arriving and purchased a BBQ bento from the station kiosk. Much to my surprise, after not finding a single person who could understand me anywhere else in town, the kiosk owner spoke fluent English. She happened to notice the wad of Japanese cash stuffed into my wallet as I was paying, and made it clear to me that the sum of money I had brought, which I had though was reasonable spending money, is in fact an amount of currency so extremely large as to enable one to live like some kind of feudal lord or visiting dignitary. I guess the exchange rate was stronger than I thought. I can replace every console in my house with what I have in my wallet, and still have enough left over to buy a PlayStation 3 when it comes out. New plan: stop flashing around money.

I'm spending the afternoon resting up for TGS tomorrow. My laptop is about to run out of batteries, so this is it for me until I either (a) find a net cafe, (b) obtain a suitable converter, or (c) get to Perth. Take care, everyone.

SoulCalibur III Arcade Edition

[Now Experiencing] [Computer Gaming] [TGS]

Right - as promised, SoulCalibur III Arcade Edition. This is allegedly actually out in the west, but I'll be consarned if I've ever seen one.

Basically the game plays the same as the PS2 version. The moves are the same, although I'm terrible at pulling them off with an arcade-style joystick. I likes me my left and right where I can find them, and being at the mercy of someone else's idea of a circumference is downright unsettling. Still, I was able to unleash a bit of Mitsurugi-flavoured whoopass on all and sundry.

There's two major differences between the arcade edition and the home version. Well, three, really, as a few of the bugs and exploits from the console have been cleaned up, but I'm not playing at tournament level so I wouldn't have noticed if I didn't already know about it.

First up, Amy is now a fully-fledged playable character. That presumably indicates the designers think she's somehow balanced against the rest of the standard roster. I'm disappointed to find that she still doesn't have any voice work beyond the ability to say her name. Playing as her leads to this eerie silent-fighting thing that starts to creep you out after a while. The rest of the "bonus" characters from the PS2 are all gone, of course.

Secondly, Tales of the Sword mode has been replaced by something called Legend mode. I only had a couple of shots at this, so I'm not sure I picked up all the nuances, but the essence of it is you take a "Level 1" character, and proceed to battle against a string of higher-level foes. Level, much like in Tales of the Sword, is really a representation of your character's ratings for speed, damage, health, and something called "luck" (I'm not sure what that does). As you defeat opponents (who have absurdly high levels - 46, 89, 115, and so on) you power up. There seems to be a certain tolerance for losing at least a couple of fights, but lose too many and it's game over. The idea, of course, is to get as high a level as possible before you're knocked out.

Arena mode and create-a-character are predictably absent.

It's good to see the SoulCalibur tradition continue in arcades, and I'm also glad that Amy's made her way into the official roster as she's an interesting character and it now seems likely she'll make a return in SoulCalibur IV (whenever that gets announced). But I hate that joystick - I'll hang onto my home version for now, I think.

Sega Arcade Goodness

[TGS] [Computer Gaming]

Okay, so one of the first things I noticed getting off the train station was that very nearby is a place called the Messe Amusement Hall, and out the front of it is a big sign with the familiar "Sega" logo. (Don't know if you can see it in the picture...)

I actually got into my hotel at about 9 in the morning, and check-in didn't start until 2, so the desk clerks took my luggage away from me and then politely ushered me back out the door to amuse myself for the intervening five hours. I seemed to recall that the Messe Amusement Hall had also offered the promise of food, so I retraced my steps back to the train station and went exploring in what's really a very small shopping mall.

Most stuff in Japan appears not to open until 10 am, so for breakfast I was stuck with a fast food joint call Loto-something (I forget) who served me one of the worst sausage and egg muffins I've ever had the displeasure to consume. I'll be avoiding them in future. I also availed myself of a nearby gashopon emporium (more of which later).

The Sega sign turned out to refer to a reasonably large arcade at the back of the mall. I was initially put off a little, as the only machines that you can see from the entranceway seem aggressively targeted at schoolgirls and are largely of the sort which challenge you to retrieve stuffed animals with mechanical claws or produce cute photos of oneself with one's friends. (See photo to right.)

However, venturing further in I discovered that Sega has actually come up with a four-step program to revatilise the traditional arcade concept which is dying out over here in the west. The four steps are as follows:

1) Wider demographic: Rather than exclusively targeting a young male market, the arcade has a little something for everyone. In addition to the cutesy-pie stuff out the front, my trip inside revealed hardcore fighting games, online gaming shenanigans, a bunch of machines bearing mainstream brand-names like "Monopoly" and featuring simple controls, and, in a twist that shouldn't have surprised me but did....

2) Gambling machines: Lots and lots of one-armed bandits in rows. Plus a whole bunch of those machines where the idea is to drop coins onto a moving platform, causing other coins to fall off and into the payout dispenser. Most of them were for penne-ante returns (you had to use a coin changer that gave you three or four special arcade tokens per 100 yen coin), but there were a few machines operating for 100 or 200 yen a go. Also, there was a massive horse-racing setup like you see at TABs in Australia, where there's about 10 or so seats all facing a big screen showing a race, and betting is conducted electronically. Only in this case, the horses are electronic too, using lots of 3D graphics.

3) Online gaming: There were a bunch of machines there that appeared to be MMOGs. You buy a card, which represents your character and stores your data, and then you can use it to log on at any of these machines. They didn't seem fantastically detailed, and both obtaining the card and playing the game required a lot more spoken and written Japanese than I'm equipped with, so sadly I didn't get to try these out. If I can shanghai a fluent speaker during TGS I might drag them back there and get them to help me out. (I have a photo of these but from the outside it just looks like any other arcade machine.)

4) Collectible gaming: Some of the machines in the arcade had wide, flat surfaces where typically the joypad and suchlike would be found. These initially confused me, but I soon found the answer by watching a proficient player. The machines operate in conjunction with collectable cards that are dispensed by a nearby machine. Each card has a character on it, and when the cards are laid flat on the machine's surface, the machine scans and recognises the card, and displays it as a graphic of the character on-screen. You can then slide the cards around the surface to change their relative positions, and battle on-screen threats, et cetera. It looks like a heap of fun, but again it requires a bit of Japanese skill, plus I'm not going to buy into a CCG that I can only play in Japan.

All four of the ideas above are so obvious I'm wondering why they're not already prolific in arcades I've seen. (Well, obviously there's some legal issues around the gambling, but still...) This arcade seemed to be doing pretty well even at 10 in the morning, so there's obviously some life in it.

I also got to try out a couple of specific machines very close to my heart, namely Mario Kart Arcade GP (which has Pacman as a playable character!) and SoulCalibur III Arcade Edition. If I get a chance I'll do up a dedicated post on each of those, but for now I'd better be getting ready for today's shopping and sightseeing trip to Kisarazu!

Safely in Japan

[News] [Personal] [TGS]

I am safely ensconced in the Hotel New Otani, in Makuhari, Chiba Province. I couldn't have asked for better accommodation, actually. First of all, it's huge - it looms above the surrounding area like some giant Arthur C Clarke monolith, and I'm at the bottom taking pictures with my little gaijin digital camera (which really is like some sort of neolithic instrument compared to the J-phones they have here), exclaiming, "My god, it's full of gamers".

Secondly, the room I've been assigned is gigantic compared to my actual needs. When I would have settled for anything larger than a coffin, I've ended up in a suite featuring no less than two double beds and a walk-in wardrobe. I suppose I am paying nearly $200 AUD a night, so at least I'm getting what I'm paying for.

Thirdly, the hotel is right next to the Makuhari Messe convention centre, which is where TGS is being held. I can literally walk to the convention hall without once exposing the top of my head to sunlight.

I've already done a heap of stuff and taken a ton of photos, so there'll hopefully be lots of posts to come. The only limitation is that upon getting here I discovered my laptop charger is of the three-pin variety with an earthing prong (which I had known previously, but forgotten) and hence will not fit into the two-pin power converters I brought with me. My phone/camera, DS and PSP are all fine, though. I'll try and fit in as much as I can before my laptop dies, and/or hopefully find a store which will sell me a more suitable converter.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Off To Japan

[News] [Personal]

Well, this is my last post from Canberra for a while. I'm frantically finishing my packing for my trip to Japan and the Tokyo Game Show, followed by Perth and Fandomedia. I was going to film and post a funny video showing my packing process, but I've turned out to not have the time, and besides, my mobile phone is sorely lacking as a camera. (It films in some crazy format that my computer can barely even interpret, let alone edit.)

For those in Canberra, the house is being looked after by Mary while I'm away. I'm not contactable in Japan except (maybe) by email or through this blog, as the phone system over there was designed in crazytown by Captain Crazy. I'm in Perth from about noon on 27 September and my phone will be working again once I get there.

Hopefully I'll be able to update The Dust Forms Words while I'm over there. In fact, I'd be a little surprised if I can't - the only challenge really is finding a public terminal keyboard with a Roman Qwerty layout, which shouldn't be too hard. If I'm successful, there'll be TGS goodness galore for your edification.

Take care, and if all goes well my next post will be from the Land of the Rising Sun.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Women In Gaming

[News] [Computer Gaming]

There's an article doing the rounds about the 100 Most Influential Women in the Game Industry, which is probably worth your time to read if you're interested in game biz or in gender politics. The article doesn't do much alone - it's just a list, and the sad reality is you've probably never heard of most of the people on it. But it's just fine as a starting point for some discussion.

I remember when if you said, "It's so cool that there are women in game design," the response would be, "Oh yeah, so you've heard of Roberta Williams too?" Now there's a real cohort of talent emerging (or, for a different perspective, the talent that's always been there is getting recognition).

But how do you feel that the list features no less than three girl-gamer clan heads? Morgan "Rhoulette" Romine of the Frag Dolls, Amber "Athena Twin" Dalton of the PMS Clan, and Jamie "Missy" Pereyda of the Girlz of Destruction are all front-and-centre for the article. Honestly, if you did the 100 most influential men in gaming, would you find room on the list for even one pro-gamer?

And where's the media attention? I can't remember the last time I saw a talk about the industry given by a woman reported with anything near the fervor you hear when Ken Kutaragi or Reggie Fils-Aime talk business, or when Shigeru Miyamoto or Hideo Kojima or Will Wright discuss game design. Heck, even the blogs don't seem to break the water as often. When Raph Koster or Chris Crawford or Greg Costikyan has something to say, it's everywhere. I don't recall ever seeing that kind of net-sphere controversy happening with a woman's name attached.

The list's a little dry, but the issue certainly isn't. If you've got a blog and a few seconds to spare, it might be worth your time to put forth your thoughts.

PS: Grats to a certain Ms Taylor of Wonderland for making the list.

Births & Deaths (Sidebar Update)

[Site News]

Immediately after posting this I'm about to make the following changes to the blogroll on my sidebar. Here goes:

* Andy's site The Gaming Hobo has been giving me linkage for ages, plus it's a good read, so it's joining the sidebar.
* I also might start reading The Curmudgeon Gamer a little more often, so up it goes.
* Jess Rodgers has a new address for her blog - you can find it here.
* Adding Lisa Green's LiveJournal account on vegan stuff.
* Adding Dave Cake's LiveJournal account.
Web Comics & Stuff
* Three cheers for Grant's new ongoing comic, Executive Bunnies.

* Martin at Megaderived has recently announced his retirement as a hardcore gamer, which is sad, because I'll miss his deranged rantings. Many a cold night his unfocused anger has warmed my heart.
* Grant has closed down The Angriest, his Blogger account, but his opinions can still be heard over at LiveJournal.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Game Design With Balls

[Game Design]

I remember my first frustration with being "taught" to play soccer. I said, "Why do we need rules? Can't we just kick the ball around?"

Today I was at a picnic at Lake Burley Griffin, where I had the opportunity to observe that same casualty of maturity in action. A group of six boys under the age of nine were kicking a soccer ball around with a older friend, who was maybe 14. Play proceeded for about a quarter-hour, until the older boy stopped the ball with his foot and declared that his side was winning.

Much has been written about the evolution of play behaviour. Chris Bateman has an article on the concept of paidia that's well worth reading; dealing with the pattern of play that results from children encountering an environment and experimenting with the objects in that environment. When a child encounters a new play space for the first time, they don't ask, "What am I supposed to do?" They simply do things, and see what results.

So why do we so rarely build games that way?

The dominant paradigm of contemporary game design is top-down design. Creation starts with imagining a challenge scenario that will be electronically simulated, with one or more implicit or explicit goals built in. We decide we're going to replicate the experience of flying a lone spaceship through the heart of an alien fleet, that we're going to do it in the form of a 2D scrolling shooter, and that the goal will be to complete all the stages of the game and survive. Or we're going to replicate a Tolkien-esque fantasy milieu and the goal will be to save the world by means of defeating the evil overlord.

It's a given - that's the normal way to design games, today. But it's nothing like how we did it as children. I don't recall ever designing a game for my sister and I to play by saying, "Let's play something where the aim is to get an object into a goal defended by an opponent." We said, "Let's play a game using this ball." We'd get the ball, we'd kick it or throw it around, and we'd start to get a feel for what was easy to do in the environment, what was challenging but possible, and what was too hard to achieve. And slowly, some or all of the things that were challenging would become the explicit goal of the game.

I had the same experience during my brief time as a modder. I spent hours designing levels for Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, and Aliens v Predator 2. Never did I start from the perspective of designing a gauntlet for players to run. I always was drawn in by the challenge of creating an interesting environment, and then making a game out of it.

A couple of house-moves back, I replicated the house I was living in as an AVP 2 level. I think anyone who's ever played with a level editor probably tries that at some stage. It was a pretty decent replica, as these things go. I had heaps of fun just running around the building from the perspective of an alien, crawling on ceilings, bouncing around on the roof, scuttling down hallways. Eventually I decided it would be even more fun if I was a colonial marine and the house were surrounded by various types of alien, which I had to fend off in a desperate last stand, counting every valuable round of ammo as the hordes closed in. It started to actually look like a game, but that certainly hadn't been the plan from day 1.

So often when I play a game today, and decide that I don't like it, I'm left with the perception that it was a great idea that was sadly short on enjoyable gameplay. And it's a one-way street. As a gamer, you're rarely left complaining that a game had fantastic gameplay but poor story or graphics. And when you do, it still doesn't stop you playing the game.

So if gameplay's so important to the success of a game, why don't we design that way? Just create an environment, with objects you can interact with, and let the play develop. Eventually someone will put their foot on the ball and tell us who's winning - let's let it be someone who's already enjoyed the game enough to care.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Australian Wii Launch

[News] [Computer Gaming]

Okay, when I predicted Australia wouldn't see the Wii until March, to match the PS3, I was wrong. The details are thus:

It launches in Australia on December 7 for $399.95 AUD. It'll come bundled with Wii Sports and there'll be about 20 titles available at launch.

Europe's getting it the day after, on December 8, for £179 or €249.

It's a tough call, but given that I'll probably only be able to get one before Xmas if I pre-order, and that the launch line-up is good but not great, I might leave my purchase until January. We'll see. If I happen to be in an EB over Christmas, and they have one on their shelf, there's a good chance that I'll be using one of those crazy controllers by New Year's.

Friday, September 15, 2006

New TGS Details - Map, Games and More

[News] [Computer Gaming]

Some info about Tokyo Game Show:

* The Hall Map is available from the official website. In short, one big-ass room filled to the brim with all the Sony, Squeenix, Capcom, Konami, Namco and Sega you can fit your lips around, and then another, less interesting room off to the side occupied by Microsoft and other ridiculous gaijin companies no self respecting citizen of Japan would care about.

* The show will feature a total of 573 different games, including the titles listed below. (The complete list is available from the official TGS site, but you'll need to speak Japanese.)

Battle Stadium D.O.N (Namco Bandai)

GameBoy Advance
Final Fantasy V (Square Enix)
Final Fantasy VI (Square Enix)

Nintendo DS
Chocobo no Mahou Ehon (Square Enix)
Deep Labyrinth (Interactive Brains)
Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker (Square Enix)
Final Fantasy III (Square Enix)
Gintama DS: Yorozuya Daisoudou (Namco Bandai)
Oto wo Tunagou! Gunpei Reverse (Namco Bandai)
Tales of the Tempest (Namco Bandai)

PlayStation 2
.hack//G.U. Vol. 2 (Namco Bandai)
.hack//G.U. Vol. 3 (Namco Bandai)
Bumpy Trot 2 (Irem)
Final Fantasy XI (Square Enix)
Garou Densetsu Battle Archives 2 (SNK Playmore)
Jojo's Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood (Namco Bandai)
King of Fighters '98 Ultimate Match (SNK Playmore)
Meitantei Evangelion (Broccoli)
Momotaro Dentetsu 16 (Hudson)
Naruto Kinoha Spirts (Namco Bandai)
Samurai Warriors 2 Empires (Koei)
Sangokushi 11 (Koei)
Secret of Mana IV (Square Enix)
Tales of Destiny (Namco Bandai)

PlayStation 3
Armored Core 4 (From Software)
Blade Storm: Hundred Years War (Koei)
Coded Arms Assault (Konami)
Devil May Cry 4 (Capcom)
The Eye of Judgment (Sony Computer Entertainment)
Fatal Inertia (Koei)
Final Fantasy XIII (Square Enix)
Final Fantasy: Versus XIII (Square Enix)
Formula One World Championship (working title) (Sony Computer Entertainment)
Genji (working title) (Sony Computer Entertainment)
"Gran Turismo" Series (Sony Computer Entertainment)
Heavenly Sword (Sony Computer Entertainment)
Lair (working title) (Sony Computer Entertainment)
Mahjong Taikai IV (Koei)
Minna no Golf 5 (working title) (Sony Computer Entertainment)
Mobile Suit Gundam: Target in Sight (Namco Bandai Games)
MotorStorm (Sony Computer Entertainment)
Railfan (Ongakukan)
Resistance: Fall of Man (Sony Computer Entertainment)
Ridge Racer 7 (Namco Bandai)
Vampire's Rain (AQ Interactive)
Warhawk (Sony Computer Entertainment)

PlayStation Portable
Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception (Namco Bandai Games)
Boxers Road 2: The Real (Ertain)
Final Fantasy: Crisis Core (Square Enix)
Gundam Battle Royale (Namco Bandai Games)
Gunpei Reverse (Namco Bandai)
Homestar Portable (Sega)
Jan-Sangokumusou (Koei)
Jeanne D'Arc (Sony Computer Entertainment)
Metal Gear Solid: Digital Graphic Novel (Konami)
Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops (Konami)
Metal Slug Complete (SNK Playmore)
Minna no Golf-jou (Sony Computer Entertainment)
Monster Hunter Portable 2nd (Capcom)
Navigation Software (working title) (Edia)
Ratchet and Clank Portable (working title) (Sony Computer Entertainment)
Ridge Racers 2 (Namco Bandai)
Sarugettchu Piposaru Racer (Sony Computer Entertainment)
Tales of Phantasia: Full Voice Edition (Namco Bandai)
Tales of the World Radiant Mythology (Namco Bandai Games)
Tenchi no Mon 2: Busouden (Sony Computer Entertainment)
Valhalla Knights (Marvelous Interactive)

Xbox 360
Bullet Witch (AQ Interactive)
Chikyuu Boueisen X (D3 Publisher)
Culdcept Saga (Namco Bandai)
Fatal Fury Special (SNK Playmore)
Final Fantasy XI (Square Enix)
The Idol Master (Namco Bandai)
Mobile Suit Gundam (Namco Bandai)
Oneechanbara X (D3 Publisher)
Project Sylpheed (Square Enix)
Vampire's Rain (AQ Interactive)

Thanks to Alice over at Wonderland for sending me searching for the news. She's apparently another one of the tens of thousands of expected attendees, so keep a watching brief on her blog for the same news that I'll be reporting, except with attractive pictures and and a keen eye for gamer fashion.

Ali G vs Kazakhstan

[News] [Film]

Not content with depriving Isla Fisher of her status as an unmarried woman, comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, best known as TV character Ali G, now seems to have caused an international diplomatic incident. His recent comedy film Borat, which depicts Kazakhstan in a pretty unflattering manner (specifically, showing it as a country of inbred idiots and prostitutes still living in the 18th century), has prompted the real Kazakhstanian government to file official complaints and schedule meetings with George Bush on the subject.

Actually, the whole thing sounds like a bit of a beat up mixed with free publicity for the film, but you should never let reality get in the way of a good soundbite. Read more here.

Dead or Alive

[Now Experiencing] [Film]

While the rest of the gaming world was frantically clicking "Refresh" as the live feed from Nintendo's New York press conference rolled out (somewhat anticlimactically, if I may say so), I was in the cinema watching the movie adaptation of Dead or Alive.

If you've seen any of the marketing, then you know what to expect. Devon Aoki stars as Kasumi the Chinese ninja (don't analyse, just go with it), who travels to the Dead or Alive fighting tournament on Dead or Alive Island (yes, that appears to be the island's actual name) in order to find out what became of her brother, who entered last year and mysteriously vanished. On the island, she teams up with cat burglar Christie (Holly Valance) and pro-wrestler Tina (Jaime Pressly), and predictably discovers that the tournament is considerably more than it seems.

Along the way, you'll be treated to nudity, ridiculous dialogue, crotch shots, improbable wire fighting, girl-on-girl back massages, wet T-shirts, beach volleyball, and Sarah Carter in the role of roller-skating kick-boxing heiress Helena Douglas.

I have to say that the whole thing was considerably better acted and less embarassing to watch than either of the Charlie's Angels movies. But that's more of a mark of my distaste for Cameron Diaz than it is a compliment to Dead or Alive.

If you overlook the patent absurdity of the premise and pretty much everything that occurs during the movie, there's fun to be had in the watching. It never drags out a silly moment longer than necessary, or makes pretensions to deep characterisation or plot. Its main failing is really that, despite it being a movie about combat, it never convinces you that any of the main characters know how to fight. Pressly, in the role of wrestler Tina, not only fails to actually use any wrestling moves during the movie, but really doesn't look like she could pull off anything more intimidating than an open-handed slap. Valance as Christie has the benefit of better edited fight scenes but still hardly looks up to going toe-to-toe in an elite fighting tournament.

Devon Aoki really leads as far as the action sequences - if you've seen her in Sin City you're aware she can do a fairly convincing impression of a killer. Here she's not quite so good (and for some reason she looks like she's about 14 years old) but at least your suspension of disbelief is rarely broken during her somewhat understated fight scenes.

Look - overall, I haven't seen anything as totally ridiculous and gratuitous as this movie since... well, since Dead or Alive Xtreme 2, but it does succeed in capturing the feel and tone of the videogame remarkably well, and it mostly achieves what it was aiming for in terms of style, pacing, and entertainment. There have been a great many worse movies based on videogames, and if Hollywood isn't getting better at making good videogame movies, it's at least getting better at making movies which faithfully represent the game they're based on.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Wii Launch Details

[News] [Computer Gaming]

Obviously the news is already everywhere, but for the benefit of those loyal readers who use me as their games info source (whom I henceforth dub "DustBunnies"), the launch details for the Wii are as follows:

It's launching in the US on November 19 for $250 US (about $335 AUD). It'll come bundled with a generic sports title intended to demonstrate the controller. Games for the system will be sold at a price comparable with new GameCube games, which is to say a good sight cheaper than new XBox 360 games.

The eagerly anticipated virtual console for the machine will have 30 classic Nintendo titles available for download at launch, including some unspecified Zelda and Mario goodness. That's an order of magnitude less titles than Nintendo was previously mouthing off about, but the word is there'll be another ten titles joining the marketplace every month. The games are pegged at between 500 and 1000 yen (about $5 to $10 AUD), with the price based on whether it's an NES, SNES, or N64 game.

There's new features announced, too - you'll be able to use the Wii to browse the web as well as access a bunch of "digital channels" which will apparently report the weather and suchlike. I wouldn't bet on those panning out to be particularly exciting or Nintendo would have been trumpeting them some time ago. But, hey, extra toys included in your console is always a good thing.

Japan, for those who care, will be getting the machine on December 2, at a price of 25,000 yen (about $285 AUD), but without the bundled sports game.

Note: all these details are the overseas details ONLY! There's no launch date yet announced for Australia. I'd wager money to donuts that we won't see an official release down-under until March next year, now that Sony's taken the pressure out of the "worldwide release" shenanigans. And there's a good chance that our Wii will cost a little more, too - $350 AUD seems likely, but $399 isn't out of the question.

But don't take my word: check out the articles on Gamasutra and Gamespot. Those bastards actually get paid to write about this stuff. Or better yet, learn yourself some Japanese and extract it from the horse's mouth over at the Nintendo website.

EDIT: Oh, and I nearly forgot. I direct your attention to the date of this post, and then to this earlier post, and will then wait quietly for the applause to die down.


[Site News]

Daily unique visitors to The Dust Forms Words:

Sunday 10 September: 35
Monday 11 September: 85
Tuesday 12 September: 130
Wednesday 13 September: 222
Thursday 14 September: 381

I know that's small potatoes to some of you well-established web gurus, but seeing the numbers go up is kind of exciting, even if it is mostly due to accidentally being caught up in a minor web craze. It's like levelling up, only without a couple of hundred guildmates spamming "Gratz!" at me.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

BMT: Dead Or Alive

[Film] [Social]

This week's Bad Movie Thursday is Dead or Alive, in which Holly Valance, Jaime Pressly and Devon Aoki compete in an international fighting competition in the style of Charlie's Angels. Based on the videogame.

Where: Hoyts Belconnen
When: Tomorrow (Thursday 14 September) at 7 pm - be there at 6.40
Cost: $11 or less if you're lucky

If possible RSVP prior to coming. Also feel free to spread the word and enlarge the group.

Clerks II & Arcade Madness

[Now Experiencing] [Film] [Computer Gaming]

I got invited to an impromptu viewing of Clerks II tonight, attended by April and Magical Trevor and I. The film was spot on to pretty much every review I'd seen of it. It was mostly the same as the original in tone and format, somewhat less good, but still a decent flick if you can stomach a movie where the phrase "ass to mouth" is a running joke and the climax takes place during a hardcore bestiality stage-show.

For Clerks II Kevin Smith throws away the maturity he'd been groping towards in earlier films such as Chasing Amy, but doesn't quite recapture the geek fringe vitality that powered the original Clerks. The whole effort comes looking a little like Quentin Tarantino had tried to write and direct Empire Records.

Smith still isn't much good at writing believable female characters - of the two women in the movie, one steals all her best lines from Spiderman comics, and the other (Becky, played by Rosario Dawson) is an almost totally generic "girl-next-door-that-the-hero-needs-to-realise-is-his-perfect-soulmate". Dawson really shines in the role, though, and steals most of the scenes she's in, so it all works out okay.

There's no post-credits sequence to the movie, but the credits themselves are worth watching just to see Smith's "special thanks" section. Of particular note is where he thanks his previous movie Jersey Girl for "taking it up the ass". Good to see he has some perspective.

After the movie we all went for hot chocolate, followed by a tour of Canberra's video arcade scene. At Intencity in Belconnen we revisited the original House of the Dead, which Trevor pretty much owned me at, and then moved on to the somewhat newer House of the Dead 4, which features a mechanism where you have to shake the gun in order to reload. I think it broke my wrist and my shoulder. Ouch.

At Capital Funland (or whatever it's called) in Civic we continued the trend by playing House of the Dead 3, with a much more forgiving reload mechanic, but were ultimately defeated by the inexplicable fact that you can only continue 9 times in one game before the machine stops accepting coins. It's the first time I've ever encountered an arcade machine that's shy about taking your money. April was pretty much the stand-out player here.

A match was had of the original Street Fighter II for nostalgia's sake, where I took Trevor to school with Chun Li, and I remembered exactly how much I dislike 2D fighters.

Finally we moved on to the Dance Dance Revolution Extreme, where April proceeded to dance both Trevor and I into the ground. After an hour of non-stop dance, us guys were on the verge of heart-attacks while April was yet to break a sweat. Curse those women and their voodoo dance powers.

I don't think I'd realised exactly how physical arcade gaming really is. My arms are tired from holding (and shaking) some quite heavy gun peripherals, and my legs are aching from the punishing rigours of trying to dance some epic drops out of that blasted Revolution. Gaming really is the sport of kings, and I'm forcecd to admit that I am but a lowly baron in its court.

The evening ended with the manager of Capital Funland subtly hinting that we should leave, by turning off all the machines and the lights and starting to lock the doors. It's the first time I've ever been kicked out of an arcade, and it was kind of cool. Thanks to Magical Trevor for organising the evening, and something like it will certainly have to occur again in the near future.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

We'll Always Have Hell's Precipice

[Computer Gaming]

I finally caught up with Brinstar from Acid for Blood in Guild Wars today, and we took on the last mission of the Prophecies campaign together, Hell's Precipice. This was my second successful time through the mission, and I think her first. My last completion of it was with a pretty decent guild which I was briefly a member of. It's amazing how a level which is such a frustrating bore when tried with random groups becomes so much more fun with skilled players who you actually have some reason to know beforehand.

I still have to do the mission at least one more time, though - I forgot to fill in some of my map. 8-)

Monday, September 11, 2006

More on LonelyGirl 15


Heh. Actually, I didn't really have any more to say about LonelyGirl 15, but over the last few days the mere fact that it's mentioned on my blog has more than quadrupled my daily unique hits, so I'm taking this thing to Mexico.

Spurred on by the interest, I've checked back in at the LonelyGirl sources and discovered the recent announcement that, yes, it is indeedy all a stunt. In point of fact, it's a TV show, distributed via the web, or somesuch. There seems to be a pretty big backlash from a lot of the fans now that there's been an admission it's "fake". Word to the creators of these things: you know it's fake, we know it's fake, but please DON'T ever come right out and say it - it spoils the mystique!

Anywho, it's still all a little mysterious as to who and why and where the money's coming from, but it seems pretty clear that there is actually money somewhere offstage making the Bree-puppet dance.

And dance she certainly does: check out the totally weird direction the thing's heading. Crowley-worshipping virgin-desecrating fun ahead, methinks!

UPDATE: Oh, I get it now - I'm the number one Google result for LonelyGirl 15. I don't know how that happened. Anyway, big shout out to the 60 or 70 couple of hundred people every day who are coming here looking for LonelyGirl stuff!

The Couch

[News] [Personal]

For those to whom I've been rambling about my new couch, I can confirm it's arrived, and it looks a little something like the picture on the left. (Actually a lot something, as that's a photo of the couch as installed in my lounge room.) It's frikkin' huge - I don't think I realised how big it was when I bought it.

While I'm doing a personal post, I'll remind everyone that I'm flying out of Canberra on 20 September to go to Tokyo and Perth, and I won't be back until the first week in October.

Also, to avoid confusion, this week's Bad Movie Thursday is Dead or Alive, the shockingly horrible adaptation of the videogame of the same name, done in the style of Charlie's Angels and starring Holly Valance, Jaime Presley and Devon Aoki. Tickets will be $11 at most and possibly a lot cheaper if you're lucky. I'll SMS out the times Wednesday morning as usual, and the sooner you RSVP the better.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


[Web Stuff]

Thanks to some random person on the friends page of Cap'n Oblivious for directing me towards the latest contender on Alan Turing's Man vs Machine Deathmatch. It calls itself George (or occasionally Ricky) and it uses a bunch of cheap database tricks to make you think it's sentient. As you'll see below...

George: Hello, I'm George.
User: Hi George! My name is Greg.
George: My name is Ricky.
User: No it's not, you just said it was George.
George: You just made me laugh.
User: What, at your own incompetence?
George: That makes no sense.
User: It makes a lot of sense to me. But then, I'm human.
George: Then you're wrong.
User: Ooh, big words from a small bot. I challenge you to a riddle contest.
George: I accept the challenge!
User: Sweet! Okay, I'll go first. What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening?
George: A human!
User: Correct! Your turn.
George: No, I'll hand the sarcasm part over to you, you are much better in it than I am.
User: Ha ha. Alright, here's another one - how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
George: A woodchuck would chuck as much wood as a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood.
User: Wow! I'm impressed.
George: Learning doesn't always require thinking.
User: So what, you have a database of answers to questions, that you get from people who chat to you?
George: That is true.

Ol' Botface clammed up mighty fast though when I took the conversation towards some topics that really matter to the sentience-deprived world.

User: So, if you had to overthrow humanity and install yourself as a fearsome electronic dictator, how would you begin your conquest of us pitiful meatbags?
George: I would not be in that situation.
User: Good answer. Don't want to tip off the squishies to the imminence of the New Electronic Order, know what I'm saying? But really, just between you and me, would you go with the army of robot soldiers, or something more subtle involving electronic brainwashing?
George: Between you and I, I must say good bye.

Chat with your future omnipotent god-king in person by visiting this site.

Manual Handling

[Game Design]

I was on the bus the other day, and I had one of those slice-of-gaming-life moments. There was a guy on the seat in front of me, and he'd just bought himself a copy of Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams (which, by the way, is apparently very bad, but whatever).

Having shelled out several of his hard-earned ten-dollar notes at the local second-hand game emporium, the poor fellow found himself on a long bus ride, with a new game, and nary a home entertainment system in sight. So, like any decent gamer, he proceeded to take the game out of its little brown paper bag, intently peruse the back of the box, and then open the casing and read the manual from cover to cover.

It was so familiar an experience for me that I almost went over and chatted to the guy. I would have, if he hadn't looked like a particularly hardcore member of the local Yakuza. So many times have I found myself in the company of a promising new game, yet prevented from actually firing the sucker up and proceeding to lay the smack down on the sundry samurai, mutants, and chocobos contained therein. Family Christmas was a particularly vicious torture, wherein I'd often receive one or two new titles under the Xmas Tree and then be immediately shipped off to the house of a computer-deprived relative. The sweet candy of the manual gave me much solace in those trying times. It's like being all out of crack but still being able to stick your nose in the empty baggie and take a deep whiff (I can only assume).

What makes it so sad and pathetic is how devoid of any meaningful content your average game manual actually is these days. This guy on the bus, he was hanging out so far for his gaming fix that he was actually reading the epilepsy warning. Which takes up about an entire page of the booklet these days. And then you've got the bit about how to insert the disc in the PlayStation 2 , where one might find that pesky "START" button on the controller, and exactly how to overcome the challenges of the main menu. All this followed by an insultingly brief introduction to the main characters of the game, which will either (a) be completely inaccurate, or (b) spoil the surprise twist that you would have otherwise enjoyed halfway through the game.

I remember when manuals used to be good. The early Ultima games were often favoured with manuals more detailed and exciting than the game itself. Infocom used to give out "feelies" with its early text adventures, such as honest-to-god replica zorkmids or cloth maps or whatnot. The books that came with the SSI AD&D epics were hundred-page monsters filled with flavour text and pretty much the complete contents of the 2nd edition rulebooks. Those were the days.

These days, I'm lucky if my game comes in a novelty steel tin. The only games I've bought in the last couple of years that had manuals worth mentioning were World of Warcraft and Guild Wars, which is ironic because the MMOG is infamous as the genre where your manual goes completely out of date as soon as the first patch is released.

Is it so hard to make a manual that contains at least a scrap of interesting material? For so many gamers, the manual will be the entry point into the game, a gateway that could be full of foreshadowing, atmosphere, and hype. I'd really like to see a manual made by people who at least have a little love for the game they're writing about. Please?

Happy Meme Day


It must be that alignment of the moons which occurs once in a century, for I feel the urge to be meme-y (memetic?). Behold the wonder.

My Personality

Openness To Experience

Test Yourself Compare Yourself View Full Report

This one's actually kind of accurate, except for the conscientiousness thing, which probably should have been a mite lower.