Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Some T-Shirts

I feel vaguely like a sell-out using my blog to pimp an off-topic commercial website, but I'm sure that will pass in time.

While we wait, if you check out http://www.torsopants.com/ you'll be treated to a wide range of hilarious shirts that I intend to be wearing in the near future.

You're not allowed to buy any. After that whole xkcd malarkey I'm pretty much over showing up places and finding I'm wearing the same shirt as someone else. So look, but don't touch.

Adventure Gamers Interviews Hothead About Penny Arcade Game

Adventure Gamers has an interview up with Joel DeYoung of Hothead Games on the development of the Penny Arcade RPG, On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness. Actually, the interview's been up for about a month, but that shouldn't stop you from wandering over and examining the madness.

Everything I hear about the creation of this game fills me with a sense of deep foreboding. It's not just the tacked on Mary-Sue protagonist - it's also that the game is set in a kind of steampunk 1920s, apparently features no gaming-related jokes, and will require you to regularly "level up". This is exactly the sort of thing that under any normal circumstances would receive an exceptionally high degree of mocking from the talented fellows at Penny Arcade.

Anyway, I had previously been betting on this torrid monstrosity turning into vaporware, and that's looking less and less likely, so there's always the chance that it could continue to defy expectations. At least they're paying attention to Telltale Games' success with Sam & Max, which is probably a good thing.

As a kind of bonus, the interviewer chats to Ron Gilbert about Deathspank. That game doesn't seem to have yet moved beyond the level of "extended practical joke", so I'll stay tuned for more on that topic once there's something to be said about it.

Upcoming Releases

Because people have been asking me about these ones, and are apparently too apathetic to trawl the web themselves:

* Spore is coming to PCs in September, but the Creature Creator tool is being packaged separately and will be available from June 17. No firm word on whether those are US or Australian dates but, as the publisher is EA and it's a Western-developed game, a simultaneous release is not out of the question.

* There's a new Prince of Persia on the way for Xmas 2008, slated for 360, PS3 and PC, possibly entitled Prince of Persia Prodigy. It's the Ubisoft Montreal team involved (who did the previous games plus Assassin's Creed) so chances are it'll live up to the good name of its predecessors.

* Australia should finally be getting Super Smash Bros Brawl on June 27. If you're one of the maybe four people who haven't imported it yet then this is your chance to get in on the awesome.

* Ace Attorney: Apollo Justice reaches Australia on May 9. I've had an import copy sitting on my shelves for a few months already, even though I haven't played Trials and Tribulations yet.

And for your information, no, I don't care that I could be playing Grand Theft Auto IV right this moment.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin

Sometimes I feel like Galileo. I walk the streets, informing people that the Castlevania franchise is really rather frighteningly good, and the only response I get is a kind of quiet enthusiasm for burning me at the stake.

What with winter coming on, that stake is looking like a viable alternative to the frigid wasteland that men have come to call Canberra, so let me say once again that these games are made out of candy-flavoured sherbert-infused platinum.

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin is the latest entry in the series, and is available on the Nintendo DS. Like past iterations, you'll be playing the role of a vampire hunter tasked with exploring Dracula's castle, beating the nine hells out of a wide variety of low-grade nasties, and eventually sending Captain Bitey himself to his well-earned demise.

Portait of Ruin is in 2D, and like a mad scientist it creates genius by grafting undemanding platforming mechanics to an open-world exploration core, with some RPG level grinding and item collection thrown in for good measure.

Dracula's castle is a big place, and you won't instantly be able to access all of it. But as you defeat bosses and find hidden areas, you'll become able to slide through tight spaces, jump higher and further, push heavy blocks, and eventually transform into an owl, all of which grant you access to new rooms and tougher bosses.

This time around you're paired up with a companion, the spell-casting Charlotte. As you will know if you have played Ico, being saddled with a female sidekick is Not A Good Thing (TM). Her attacks are based on a finite supply of magic points, which makes her a poor choice for exploring the castle, and even in boss fights her low defensive rating and rather limited range of spells makes her an iffy proposition.

Luckily you can turn Charlotte off by pressing the A button, and only bring her back out on the rare occasions that you find a use for her. With the weaker sex thus handily locked in the closet, you can go about enjoying Portrait of Ruin in pretty much exactly the same way as you have the last few games in the series.

Portrait of Ruin introduces a quest system, where an NPC ghost near the entrance of the castle hands out tasks for you to complete while exploring the castle. These typically require you to find a rare item or defeat a rare monster, and the rewards are most often new subweapons, skills, or pieces of equipment. For the most part they're completely optional but they provide some interesting variety to the normal Castlevania formula.

The game world is significantly bigger this time than the last couple of outings. Not only is Dracula's castle reasonably large, but you'll also be using portraits hung in key parts of the castle to travel to eight sub-worlds, each quite sizeable and featuring a boss fight at the end. Total play time adds up to maybe 15 hours, give or take depending on how much of a completionist you are.

The game unfortunately retains one of my key complaints from its predecessors. If you play this game entirely without the aid of an FAQ, you'll likely miss the last quarter of the game and get the "bad ending". Progressing to the good ending requires finding a fairly well-hidden spell and using it to win a certain boss fight in a non-standard way. That's just stupid game design, and it's potentially very frustrating to casual players.

Speaking of frustrating, I should add that the US version of this game shipped with a potentially game-breaking bug, for which you should also check an FAQ so as to not have to restart the game at around the halfway mark. European versions like mine are apparently patched and work fine.

Those gripes aside, Portrait of Ruin is an excellently paced game that is likeable and highly satisfying. If you haven't played a modern Castlevania game before then this is an excellent place to dive in, and I highly recommend it.

Friday, April 25, 2008

New Silent Hill In September

If you're a Silent Hill fan like myself you'll be pleased to know that the upcoming Silent Hill 5 has been given the name Silent Hill: Homecoming and will be released in Australia as early as September on XBox 360 and PS3.

The development company involved is unfortunately a bit horrific; Konami has outsourced the creation to The Collective, the perpetrators of such titles as The Da Vinci Code and Mark Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure. In my mind's eye I picture the franchise chained in their basement and only getting fed once a week. Sometimes when it cries they beat it with a stick.

We're also gettting the PlayStation 2 port of the underwhelming Silent Hill Origins in May, which removes one of the few remaining reasons to keep your PSP charged. It's entirely possible if you get Origins and Homecoming together they may add up to being almost a real Silent Hill game.

Next-Generation PSP On The Way?

I draw your attention to the fact that only one game came out for the PSP this month in Australia (UEFA Euro 2008) and there's only two more games after than until the end of August (Iron Man and FF7: Crisis Core). Over the same period, the PS2, an ostensibly superseded console, has five releases.

I don't think I'm being premature in saying that the PSP is thoroughly into its twilight; these are the sort of release schedules that you expect to see on a system once the next-generation model has been out for 6 months or so.

Sony, for all their vices, aren't terminally stupid. I'd be very surprised if Sony are not almost finished development on their next generation handheld. With rumours flying around about a new-model Nintendo DS, it's worth keeping your ear out for something much more interesting coming from Sony. I'd put money on something lighter, easier to hold, with improved battery life and a vastly streamlined connectivity profile. UMD will be out the door, possibly in favour of non-physical media.

It'll be interesting to see the plan for taking on the Nintendo DS giant.

EDIT: A better source puts the Europe-region PSP releases to August at 16, versus 19 on the PS2. (Compare to 47 on the DS.) It may be that the discrepancy is due to shorter announce-time on releases in Australia. Anyway, even with larger numbers, I'm happy to stand by the rest of my comments above.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Why Final Fantasy XIII Will Not Be A PS3 Exclusive

The latest entry in the Final Fantasy franchise is beginning to loom on the horizon, and Square-Enix are currently sticking to their story that it's going to be exclusive to the PlayStation 3.

I keep telling people it's not. That's not just wishful thinking; that's maths. Let's look at the numbers.

Final Fantasy is Square-Enix's flagship series. The regular and predictable success of Final Fantasy (along with Squeenix's other big hitter, Dragon Quest) is what enables them to occasionally work on side projects like Vagrant Story, Kingdom Hearts, and The World Ends With You.

Check out how the last few iterations of the franchise went down. All my stats are derived from VGChartz; if you have reason to doubt their data or my intepretation of their data let me know. The exception are console sales figures which come direct from Sony.
  • First release date is the first date the game was available anywhere. Final Fantasy games are released first in Japan, where they sell the greatest amount of copies, and typically follow 6 to 12 months later in the US and Europe.
  • Worldwide sales is measured in units; this is copies of the disc sold, not currency. Includes sales from Japan, America and Europe.
  • Console userbase at launch represents the number of units of the relevant console which had been sold at the time of the game's launch; ie the total possible number of people who are capable of meaningfully consuming the game.
  • Attach rate is the worldwide sales expressed as a percentage of the installed userbase; ie the percentage of console owners who bought the game.
Final Fantasy XI, being an MMO and therefore having a substantially different sales model, is not included here.


Final Fantasy VII (PlayStation)
First Release Date: 31 January 1997
Worldwide Sales: 9.72 million
Console Userbase at Launch: 13.5 million
Attach Rate: 72%

Final Fantasy VIII (PlayStation)
First Release Date: 11 February 1999
Worldwide Sales: 7.86 million
Console Userbase at Launch: 54.4 million
Attach Rate: 14.4%

Final Fantasy IX (PlayStation)
First Release Date: 8 July 2000
Worldwide Sales: 5.3 million
Console Userbase at Launch: 75.92 million
Attach Rate: 6.9%

Final Fantasy X (PlayStation 2)
First Release Date: 20 July 2001
Worldwide Sales: 7.95 million
Console Userbase at Launch: 19.57 million
Attach Rate: 40.6%

Final Fantasy X-2 (PlayStation 2)
First Release Date: 12 March 2003
Worldwide Sales: 5.21 million
Console Userbase at Launch: 51.2 million
Attach Rate: 10.2%

Final Fantasy XII (PlayStation 2)
First Release Date: 16 March 2006
Worldwide Sales: 5.01 million
Console Userbase at Launch: 103.69 million
Attach Rate: 4.8%


So, first of all, if you ever wanted to know why Final Fantasy VII is so venerated, and why Final Fantasy X got a sequel, you need look no further than the attach rates. Three in every four people who owned a PlayStation at FF7's launch bought a copy. That's just ridiculous numbers.

Secondly, just take a moment to look at that attach rate on Final Fantasy XII. With 103 million people in the marketplace Squeenix still couldn't move more than 5 million of these things out the door. Having played the damn thing this comes as no surprise to me. 5 million, it must be said, is still a very profitable game and a success that many developers would kill to be part of, but incredibly disappointing in the context of the franchise's history and the marketplace.

Anyway, the point is that as far as Final Fantasy XIII goes, Square-Enix have to be projecting sales of at least 5 million. Anything less is a massive step backwards for the franchise and is not a direction it can really afford to take after the relatively poor showing of 12. So that's the target. 5 million units sold.

The PS3 has sold, as of today, 11 million units and change. So to sell 5 million copies of the game Squeenix needs an attach rate of 45%. That's right - to do only as well as the worst-received modern entry in the franchise, it needs to sell a copy to roughly one in every two PS3 owners. And that's a rock bottom option. To meet FFX sales numbers it's a 72% attach rate (equalling the record set by FF7), and to reach the lofty heights of FF7's success it's 88% - they'd need to sell copies to almost 9 out of every 10 owners of the console.

Let's be generous and say that the new Final Fantasy launches in January next year, and over the rest of the year and the Xmas holiday Sony sells another 6.5 million consoles, which matches its sales over the same period last year. That puts the userbase at 17.5 million and makes the numbers 28% for the 5 million mark (making it the third highest attach modern entry), 45% for FFX, and 56% for FF7.

Those aren't good numbers. Those are just, however you look at it, unattractive numbers for someone in Sony's position with a product as intensely marketable as Final Fantasy XIII.

So let's take a look at what happens if they go cross-platform and release on PS3 and XBox 360.

Launch Today
Installed userbase (360 and PS3 combined): roughly 26 million
Attach rate for 5 million units sold: 19.2%
Attach rate for 7.95 million: 30%
Attach rate for 9.72 million: 37%

Launch End of January 2009
Projected userbase, based on previous sales: roughly 41 million
Attach rate for 5 million units sold: 12.2%
Attach rate for 7.95 million: 19.4%
Attach rate for 9.72 million: 23.7%

Looks much better already. Or, to put it another way, if Final Fantasy XIII is as well received at a January launch as VII was back in the day, and has the same attach rate, Squeenix are losing out on 16.9 million sales by remaining a PS3 exclusive - which is more units than any two entries in the franchise you care to name combined.

Sony just can't pay Squeenix enough to make a PS3 exclusive worthwhile. You just can't manipulate the numbers to make it work. So all you 360 owners can sit back in the firm knowledge that this game is going to make its way to your system in the fullness of time. All you need do is wait.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

PlayStation 3: Still Not A Good Buy

Look at you. You disgust me.

Remember back at the PlayStation 3 launch, when I was carefully explaining to you how costing twice as much didn't mean it was twice as good?

You were on board with me then. You were cool and rational and you could see that the fact that it was shiny and black didn't necessarily mean that there were magical wish-genies packed under its overpriced undersupported hood.

But now you're all, "Oh, Greg, but it's a Blu-Ray player!" and "Oh, Greg, but there's some game possibly maybe coming out as a hypothetical exclusive!" and you're talking yourself into buying one of the smarmy little consoles from the Fail Planet. You sicken me.

People! It wasn't a good deal at launch. The fact it now has a low adopt rate, relatively poor game support, no significant online content and no backwards compatibility does not make it more attractive.

The fact you think of yourself as "a PlayStation kind of person" just means that you had the common sense to back the winner in the last two generations of consoles. Stay on a roll; fight gaming evil. Shun the PS3 like a hawaiian-shirt-wearing-leper and if one tries to enter your house strike it repeatedly with a baseball bat until it bleeds and cries for mercy. It's the only humane thing to do.

House Of The Dead 2 & 3 Return

I believe I have stated previously that there is no finer thing on this Earth than discharging a shotgun into the bloated cranium of evil. Whether it's demons, monsters, or zombies, a 12-gauge pump action is the great leveller.

Those drunkards at Sega have seen fit to roust House of the Dead 2 and House of the Dead 3 from the retirement home and ship them out to Wii owners worldwide. You get both Houses on a single disc, for which you'll be paying just under $70 AUD. It's a rail-shooting zombie-themed double feature, and those people who have never heard of either game were clearly spending the 90s in a soundproof arcade-free box with their fingers planted firmly in their ears.

These are games with a lot of problems. They're packed with unlovely graphics that would look out of date on an original PlayStation. They have plots that swerve dangerously between "incomprehensible" and "insulting". House of the Dead 2 is nun-punchingly hard and House of the Dead 3 is off-puttingly easy. The dialogue is atrocious and in House 2 the acting sounds like they've thrown a dementia patient down a flight of stairs and put the result through an intercom.

But for all those horrible, horrible crimes, these games are fun. Because - and here I refer back to my opening paragraph - you get to shoot zombies in the head with a shotgun.

That's really what it comes down to. Either you love shooting zombies in the head with a shotgun, and hence will enjoy these games, or you're a communist. The bad kind of communist. The kind that makes spicy mince pies out of puppies.

Sega wants you to play these games with a Wii Zapper, the most overpriced peripheral in the history of gaming, and I suppose that in some magical gaming paradise filled with leprechauns and Wing Commander sequels a chosen few elite actually do own these things and use them. But for the rest of us you'll be glad to know that all it takes to play House of the Dead is the ability to point a Wiimote at the screen and pull the trigger.

The biggest deterrent to buying these games is the time-per-dollar factor. Each game runs for about 25 minutes from beginning to end, tops. If you're some kind of a highly-trained light-gun ninja you'll blast your way through the entire content of the disc in under an hour, with time left over for a refreshing spot of tea.

In the interests of unnecessarily prolonging the magic, Sega initially grants you a very limited stocks of lives and continues, which is incremented for future games every time you wash out and have to start over. That miserly approach to player happiness is frustrating but, I hate to say it, effective. It encourages players to actually get better at the game, while at the same time eventually giving the terminally uncoordinated the chance to make it to the end credits. Which, by the way, are nothing special.

There's some alternate modes thrown in to the mix, but none of them really improve on the basic game, and you have to remember that these alternate modes were created by Sega, which really should have to go on all Sega games like those apalling cancer ads the government puts on cigarette packets.

Ultimately the key question for House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return is not whether you want to pay for it, but how much you want to pay for it, and if the answer is lower than $70 AUD then this is one you should definitely start watching the bargain bin for.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hybrid Classes and Economic Modelling

Gamasutra has an interesting article up entitled MMO Class Design: Up With Hybrids! An Economic Argument by John Hopson. It discusses the need for hybrid classes in MMOs in order to provide flavour and diversity, then takes a very intelligent look at the problems involved in hybrid classes, and ultimately suggests an economic approach to creating and balancing hybrids.
One of the fundamental assumptions of the comparative advantage model is that a commodity is the same no matter who produces it. [...] If all tanking is the same, then all tanking classes can be directly compared to one another and one will inevitably come out on top.

[...] We can break this assumption by offering different "flavors" of the three basic commodities. If one type of tank is better at absorbing magic damage, while another is better at absorbing non-magical damage, then we have split the single commodity into two commodities, which can be supplied by two classes. The more commodities, the more potential for hybrids who can fill multiple niches.
Check out the full article here.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Political Machine

It may be a bit late to be casting my votes on The Political Machine, seeing as it's been out four years, but this is a PC game, and quite frankly it's taken me that long to work out how to download and install the damn thing.

The Political Machine is a game from Stardock Entertainment, the same folks responsible for Sins Of A Solar Empire, and much like Sins it has the feel of a boardgame that got too complex for dice and tokens.

The game claims to simulate the 2004 United States election, and it does a pretty good job of it. You pick out a candidate from a list of real-life possibilities and sit down for a protracted session of bamboozling the American public. Candidates range from the realistic (John Kerry, George W Bush) to the "what-if" (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Condoleeza Rice) through to the patently ridiculous (Chloe Sullivan from Smallville). A raft of extra candidates are unlockable as you play. You can also draft up your own by choosing a portrait and assigning points to a variety of traits, allowing you to play as Adolf Hitler or Julius Caesar.

Once you've secured the Democrat nomination for Candidate Hitler, it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty of cheerfully hijacking the electoral system. Over 41 weeks, you'll undertake such tasks as building headquarters, holding fundraisers, giving TV interviews, and launching advertising campaigns.

You'll soon discover that the US only has six or seven "useful" states, and by "useful" I mean large electoral college representation and buckets of sweet, sweet war chest cash. Old Adolf will find himself hanging out in Texas, California, Florida, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, while secretly plotting how best to send the worthless populations of Wyoming and Montana to the gas chambers.

Most of the game revolves around managing issues. You need to determine what the issues are both nationally and in the key states, and appeal to them. Of course, sometimes you're stuck on the losing side of an issue, so if you want your "death camps for homosexuals" plan to fly in California you'll have to talk up an alternate issue, such as "fighting crime" or "quelling internal unrest" until it's the only thing the public cares about.

All this malarkey is a heap of fun the first few times you play it, but you'll soon realise that the game's got a bit of a one-track mind. Every election is the 2004 election. It doesn't matter whether your opponent is Hillary Clinton or Richard Nixon, the key issues on the national mind are the War on Terror and the War in Iraq. It gets old real fast.

Theoretically there are a whole bunch of "endorsements" you can win by building social capital. These range from the Christian right to the Blue Collar left, but because of all this fixation on well-armed men in turbans, most of these endorsements are more useless than a VHS video library. You'll race to grab Foreign Policy and the Environmentalists while repeatedly giving the Women's Movement a one-fingered salute.

The game does feature a "fantasy play" option where you can change the key issues, along with other factors like "international tension" and "national unrest", but there's no real structure to this mode, and it'll leave you asking why you're bothering. The real action is in the campaign mode where you can unlock new candidates, but if you want a piece of it you'll need to love 2004 because that's all you'll be seeing.

You can play the game multiplayer, which is a blast, but you'll need two computers (there's no hotseat play), and there doesn't appear to be any way of chatting to your opponent outside of the pre-game lobby. Without communication, the line between a flesh-and-blood antagonist and an artificial intelligence can grow mighty thin.

While it may seem I've got nothing but whinging and spit for this game, the truth is it's actually reasonably decent considering (a) the game sells for about $25 AUD by direct download, and (b) there's really no other games in the genre to compare it to. If you want electoral gaming, this is the summit, and it's yours for a bargain price. Also, what The Political Machine occasionally lacks in pure fun it makes up for in educational value - you will genuinely learn something about US elections from playing.

The sequel, focusing on the 2008 election, is apparently just around the corner, so there's a good chance that the next iteration will featuring the fine tuning that this one was lacking. And in the mean time, hearing Adolf Hitler tell George W Bush to "kiss his democratic butt" is good for a laugh every time.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe

Not a joke.

Whatever Happened To Alan Wake?

I bumped into my MP3 of the theme from Max Payne this morning, and was reminded that talented Max Payne developer Remedy Entertainment had been working on another game a while back.

Called Alan Wake, it was to tell the tale of a writer haunted by his past who finds his writings are being reflected in the small town he is staying in. Influenced by the likes of Stephen King and David Lynch, it promised to be more than a little different from your average top-shelf game.

Unfortunately, after some impressive trailers at E3 2006, Alan Wake fell off the radar. There's really been no showing of the game since, and while apparently it's still being worked on, the official release date is "when it's done". A projected release of 2008 seems to be slipping, which is a shame as this is one of the few upcoming games I'm really looking forward to.

At least it's not alone; Heavy Rain, the new game from Quantic Dream (Fahrenheit) has also vanished from scopes since 2006, with no word on whether it will reach shelves in 2008.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Soul Calibur Coming to XBLA

Here's one for all you Soul Calibur fans out there - Namco-Bandai have announced a port of the Dreamcast Soul Calibur is coming to XBox Live Arcade, to be available prior to Soul Calibur IV's US release of July 29.

Local multiplayer is included, but no online support beyond leaderboards, which is fine by me as I don't hugely enjoy getting pwned at these things by a worldwide roster of 14-year-olds.

As the Dreamcast Soul Calibur is still considered by many to be the finest entry in the series, this is a great chance to come to grips with the franchise if you've never picked it up before.

Story via Gamasutra.

UPDATE: While we're on the topic, Soul Calibur IV will be reaching Australia on July 31, Gamespot reports.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Finally Dendy got around to showing Grindhouse as a back-to-back feature in Australia, and I was lucky enough to get in to see this incredibly fun experience.

Grindhouse is a joint effort from directors Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, Desperado) and Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill). It's a homage to the exploitation films of the 60s and 70s, and features an outrageous B-movie by each director put back to back and surrounded by some fake film trailers from the likes of Edgar Wright, Eli Wroth and Rob Zombie. The experience comes complete with added film grain, stuttering audio, and "missing reels".

For Rodriguez, Grindhouse is an excuse to make the sort of movies he's been making his entire career, and his contribution (Planet Terror) is a machismo-fuelled zombie flick loaded with hilariously outrageous characters and stand-up-and-applaud over-the-top action. His fetish for hot women, charming outlaws, and guns-instead-of-body-parts is out on display and dancing a flamenco, but where this is occasionally cringeworthy in his other films, in Grindhouse it's right at home.

Tarantino, on the other hand, initially flirts with the exploitation theme in his film Death Proof, but shortly abandons it in favour of making a grrl-power Australian-style road movie. It's not as well-paced as Planet Terror, but it's easily the cleverer film and features a great upbeat ending that left the audience at the cinema I was in cheering. (It also, strangely, features Uma Thurman's stunt double Zoe Bell in a major role, playing of all things Uma Thurman's stunt double Zoe Bell.)

The women are the star of the show in both films. Rosario Dawson (Sin City, Clerks II) is predictably wonderful in Death Proof; co-star Tracey Thoms (Wonderfalls, Cold Case) seems like she's been told to "black it up a notch", and comes across as a little one-dimensional. Zoe Bell is great but seems as if she's in a different type of movie to Dawson and Thoms. Rose McGowan (Scream, Charmed) and Marley Shelton (Sin City, Pleasantville) appear in both segments, and are a perfect fit to the content.

On the male side, Freddy Rodriguez leads Planet Terror as likeable drifter El Wray, and Kurt Russell is the villainous Stuntman Mike in Death Proof - Rodriguez is competent in an undemanding role, but Russell really shines and seems to be having fun in the process.

Many actors appear across both films in roles which are similar or the same. Death Proof and Planet Terror have unfortunately been distributed seperately in Australia, but if you get the chance to see them as they were intended, back to back with trailers included, you should absolutely take it. There's an extra spark that comes from putting these movies together that you won't get from splitting them up.

Grindhouse turned out to be one of the most fun films I've seen this year, and leaves me with almost nothing to complain about. Don't miss out on the enjoyment, and don't let the dodgy Australian distribution cheat you out of the experience.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Aussie Game Charts

These come out every week, of course, but people I talk to always seem surprised to find that what's selling in Australia isn't matching up with what they expect to be selling.

So for the week ending April 6, as reported by Gamespot:

Top 10 Full-Priced Games (Australia)
1. Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, PlayStation 3
2. Brain Training from Dr Kawashima: How Old Is Your Brain?, Nintendo DS
3. More Brain Training from Dr Kawashima: How Old Is Your Brain?, Nintendo DS
4. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock double pack, Wii
5. Transformers: Decepticons, Nintendo DS
6. Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, Wii
7. Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, Nintendo DS
8. The Sims 2: Castaway, Nintendo DS
9. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, PlayStation 3
10. Sight Training: Enjoy Exercising and Relaxing Your Eyes, Nintendo DS

So - what's selling? Mainstream. What's selling? Casual. What's selling? Licensed. And, speaking broadly, for Nintendo systems. To the best of my knowledge, the only reason GT5 is at the top is it just came out late last week - the rest of those games you'll note have been on shelves for a while now. In the case of Brain Training, for more than a year.

If you look back over Aussie game charts for the last - oh, three years - it's pretty much the same story. What Australia wants to buy is Guitar Hero, World of Warcraft, The Sims, and anything reasonably casual-friendly released for the Nintendo DS. Driving games typically do well, and Aussie sport games make a showing, as do the WWE franchise wrestling games.

Just a little reminder that almost the entirety of what we think of as gaming is better characterised as "niche or fringe gaming".

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Strong Bad's Cool Game For Attractive People

Those talented people at Telltale Games have apparently decided that frolicking in the small bathtubs of cash that their Sam & Max games have made them is not enough, and they need to give the community a little something back. That "something" is a new game, and you'll need to pay money for it.

The game in question is Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People ("but you can play too!"), and it seems to be a point-n-clicky sort of thing which will be delivered in "five adventure-packed action-sodes", starting June 2008. If the trailer's any indication (and the FAQ says it is), it looks like it'll feature writing and voicework by the Homestar Runner crew.

I'm told there's PC versions coming, but what's interesting is that the main delivery platform for the game is going to be Wiiware - the episodes will be 100% downloadable through your Nintendo Wii, and playable with the Wiimote. That's five kinds of awesome.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

More On Movies

While we're talking movies anyway, I somehow had missed the following films in development:

Terminator Salvation, aka Terminator 4, starring Christian Bale (Batman Begins) and directed by the producer of Supernatural and The O.C, coming late next year.

G.I. Joe, starring Dennis Quaid (Vantage Point) and directed by Stephen Sommers (The Mummy, The Mummy Returns). Also for late next year. Set your derision-guns to "kill".

Watchmen, based on the Alan Moore comic, and finally emerging from one of Hollywood's most epic decade-spanning development hells. Directed by Zack Snyder (300), and apparently far enough along to have production stills available. Still no release date though.

And, finally, no joke, Where The Wild Things Are, directed by Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovic, Adaptation). Yes, it's the movie of the Maurice Sendak book. Which fills me with all kinds of squee. I really don't care whether Jonze does it straight or takes it into crazytown, it'll all be good. December this year.

Sorry if the above is old news; I just don't know how I could have possibly missed that these films were happening. The important thing is that I know about them now.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Crazy, Crazy Movie Scheduling

Check out the Australian cinema releases for June 12 (the Thursday following the Greg's Birthday Long Weekend):

The Incredible Hulk, starring Edward Norton, written by Edward Norton, hopefully setting right the appalling wrongs done to the Emerald Avenger by Ang Lee.

Speed Racer, directed by the Wachowski brothers, their first venture behind the camera since Matrix Revolutions, bringing the anime classic to hyperreal life.

The Happening, a story of plague-themed apocalypse in which M. Knight Shyamalan attempts to make up for the appallingness of Lady In The Water.

WTF? Who runs three genre movies against each other? Three of the - what, maybe seven movies left this year I actually want to see at the cinema, and they're all coming out in the same window? What kind of God would allow that? Serbian mothers demand justice.

Controller Family Tree

Sockmaster has put together a controller family tree attempting to chart the evolution of modern videogame controllers. Oddly, it includes the Nintendo Game & Watch but completely misses the DS. Worth a look for console geeks.

Thanks to Julia for the heads-up.

Rock Band Dated For Europe

Rock Band is finally making its way to Europe, with an XBox 360 version coming out May 23 complete with bonus tracks that include Blur, Oasis, Muse and Die Toten Hosen.

There's no word on whether this is one of those "Europe includes Australia" kind of deals, or whether Down Under is still in rock-related limbo. If we've been shafted again I think some UK importing action is going to be the go.

Full story via Gamespot.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Very Quiet Nerdgasm

It's like all my geeky Xmases have come at once. Or, like, maybe, two or three of them. I should save some Xmases for later, probably.

For example, Doctor Who: Season Four (or *sigh* Thirty) is out, and it's reasonably entertaining, even if Russell T Davies has managed to design yet another monster based on bodily contents and fart sounds. Spoilers under this link.

Also, Buffy is apparently sleeping with women now. Or a woman. The good news is it's not Kennedy, and the bad news is it's not Willow. Predictable fan uproar is already well underway. It's hilarious that if you type "Buffy" and "Satsu" into the Google toolbar it will predict you might also want the word "bed".

Author Stephen King has stepped into the videogame politics ring and started punching. He's blasted Massachusetts legislation which would criminalise purchases of games by minors. Is this a prelude to a raft of King-related survival horror? I can only hope!

And much-derided games-to-films director Uwe Boll has promised to hang up his saucy directing beret if presented with a one-million-signature petition. Attention whore that he is, he's probably just trying to get us to go see his latest film Postal. PS - DO NOT SEE HIS LATEST FILM POSTAL.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Sam & Max Coming To The Wii

I've spent so much time pimping the new Sam & Max games at friends recently that I just don't have the mental energy left to develop an extended pimp-themed analogy. In short, they're rather good.

So all you sad sods who can't be bothered to download the damn things for your PC will be happy to hear that it's coming to the Nintendo Wii. Which is a console so ideally suited to puzzle-based point and click antics that it's a shame so few of the blighters have surfaced for it to date.

Mario & Luigi: Partners In Time

That Mario is one charming son of a bitch. He's so damned charming that he can beat you with a hammer for 16 hours worth of Mario & Luigi: Partners In Time (for the Nintendo DS) and then convince you that you had fun at the end. You'll walk away thinking how much you love him, and when people ask you what happened to your face you'll tell them you walked into a door.

Because Partners In Time isn't a good game. It's repetitive, it's unoriginal, and the controls are intensely annoying. But there's just something about it that will keep you grinnning stupidly to yourself as it starts to viciously work your kidneys.

Mario's never been long on story, but Partners In Time makes an effort. When a local boffin invents a time-travel machine, Princess Peach is the first to test it, and soon she's predictably lost in the Mushroom Kingdom's past and squealing like the whiny child she is. Enter Mario and Luigi, who promptly hop back into history to save her. They soon find that the past is under attack by evil mushroom aliens called Shroobs, and in order to combat this threat they enter an unlikely team-up with their 3-year-old baby selves.

The game essentially plays as a platformer/RPG hybrid, in the style of the Mario RPG and Paper Mario games. You'll wander through isometric platform-stewn levels, bopping blocks and pushing switches and the like, but when you make contact with an enemy it's all turn-based, and you and your foe take turns bouncing on each others' heads.

The RPG elements are thinner than Mary Kate Olsen. You gain experience and level up in a fairly linear fashion. You can change your pants (the only form of armour or gear in the game), and you can equip badges to gain situation-based advantages. You can only have one badge per character, though, and there's not really much depth or strategy in deciding what to wear.

In combat the focus is less on your stats and more on your reaction times. Each attack requires some variety of button-pressing minigame to maximise your damage, and incoming enemy blows can be minimised or dodged by jumping or swinging your hammer at the right moment. You'll need to escape roughly two out of every three enemy attacks, so mastering the (incredibly annoying) timing is key.

Outside of combat, each of the four brothers (two adults and two babies) is assigned to one of the four DS face butttons. You select a set of actions with the shoulder buttons, and then perform the action by pressing the relevant brother's button. You can move all four brothers together by piggybacking the babies on the adults, or you can split them into teams of babies and brothers, who can move separately.

Games where you need to independently control two different teams have a long and convoluted history of punching nuns, and Partners In Time is no exception. No one likes cutting their combat effectiveness in half, not least because brothers not present in combat don't gain XP. "Teamwork puzzles" is a phrase game developers use as code for "I have a shrine to Hitler in my basement." It won't take you long to realise that this would have been a vastly better game if the "adults and babies" gimmick were missing completely.

Speaking of which, the "time travelling" scenario really only extends as far as introducing baby characters. You're only going to one time period (the past), and it's not like anything you do there changes or affects the future. You'll want to kick Luigi in the face for having apparently solved all the puzzles as a baby, and then forgotten the solution by the time it comes to do it as an adult.

The game's not long by videogame standards (the 16 hours mentioned above), but that's still about eight hours of padding. Each level is about twice as long as feels right, stretched out with extra switch puzzles and jumping sequences (which are, incidentally, incredibly easy). The pacing just feels completely wrong, and there's a good chance that if the game had been shorter and tighter I wouldn't have had time to be annoyed with its many flaws.

For all the above criticisms, Partners In Time is a game with a lot of soul. The story sequences wring a lot of value out of a small number of animations for the brothers, and both the visuals and the limited snippets of Mario-style speech really bring the Mushroom Kingdom to life. There are even a few laugh-out-loud moments to be found.

If you want a Mario RPG, you'd be better served by almost any other Mario RPG ever made. But if you somehow end up with this one, you probably won't regret it too much. After all, Mario is really a great guy - he just has trouble controlling his temper sometimes.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

April Fool *sigh*

Blizzard's April Fool's offerings are uncharacteristically weird this year.

If you want to really fool people with April Fool's, you can't release these things on April 1. You have to do it, like, September 18 or something. People will never be expecting that.