Gamer’s Hangover News Report 06.30.03

Okay, so it had to happen. My torrid pace of reviews had to get interrupted eventually. Of course, loyal readers (both of you), it’s not my fault:

Hey,

I actually got a copy of Brute Force for Xbox, so I’ve got that one.
They watch closely and since they sent me the game, I should be the one to
Have a review up, don’t want to piss them off!
“¦.
Chris

Undaunted, I tried again:

> Okay, how about Midtown Madness 3 pour le Xbox?
> Anyone get that for free already? ;)
>
> -Cory

Actually yes! We’re getting everything made by Microsoft Game Studios.
Watson already sent in a review of it, so if I use anybodies besides the owner of the free copy, it will have to be his. Back to the drawing board!
“¦.
Sorry about the rejections! /

So now I’m down 12 bucks and no review for this week. The lesson, obviously, is never again to rent anything from Microsoft Game Studios, which, after playing Brute Force and Midtown Madness 3, is fine by me.

Fortunately, Panky came back with an offer to do a weekly news report on Mondays, so here we are. I’m calling it the Gamer’s Hangover because, if you’re like me, on Mondays you’re still recovering from two straight days of gaming. So take a break and go to work, but here’s a little hair of the dog to take the edge off. Oh, and I found two more games to review anyway, but you’ll have to wait a couple more days for those. Until then, viva sarcasm!

THE NEWS

Video Game Industry to Change Ratings System
Fri June 27, 2003 08:29 PM ET
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The video game industry has unveiled a revised rating system featuring more prominent rating displays on game boxes and more detailed information on the kinds of violence featured in some titles.
The Entertainment Software Rating Board said in a statement issued on Thursday that depictions of violence in games would be described by one of four new categories depending on where the action falls between slapstick caricature and more realistic portrayals of injury and death.
The new, more detailed ratings system comes as the video game industry is fighting off attempts by some local governments to ban the sale of violent games to minors.
The ESRB said that as of Sept. 15, it will require new, more descriptive rating information on the backs of game boxes. Also as of that date, the “Mature” and “Adults Only” will be changed to show the minimum recommended ages for each of those categories.
The ESRB said its “cartoon violence” label will apply to games in which violent acts happen to animated characters, while “fantasy violence” will apply in cases in which a scenario clearly distinguishable from reality.
The ESRB defines “intense violence” as bloody, gory and realistic-looking depictions of human injury or death, while “sexual violence” covers the depiction of rape.
Patricia Vance, the head of the ESRB, told Reuters that a major goal of the revisions was to keep the rating system current with the aging gaming population.
“I think certainly one of our goals is to stay current,” Vance said, as the age of the average gamer grows from the teens to the late 20s. “The system has to grow with that as well.”
Vance also said she hoped local governments would not use the new ratings classifications to pursue further legislation.
“We certainly hope it won’t come to that,” she said.
The Interactive Digital Software Association, the industry trade group that started the ESRB, recently won a ruling in federal appellate court striking down a St. Louis ordinance that would have banned the sale or rental of violent games to minors.
The IDSA is also seeking an injunction against the enforcement of a Washington law that would bar the sale of games depicting violence against police officers to minors.

Three things about this news item bother me. First, the very idea that “sexual violence” would ever even BE in a video game. Where does this happen? Did I not get far enough in Vice City?

Second, the line about local governments using the ratings to pursue legislation; I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but the whole purpose of a ratings system is to give the PARENTS a clear, understandable indication of the possibly questionable content in a game. I find the ratings some what unnecessary anyway, because if you’re doing your job as a parent, you’ll know what your kids are watching or playing anyway. Because of this, I find legislation to this end not only superfluous, but damn scary.

This leads us to #3. The Washington law barring sale of games. So, if you’re 18, then it’s okay to live out fantasies of killing law enforcement? What about military games? So it’s okay to kill foreign authorities, but not good ol’ American bacon?

These are the same group of people that bitched and moaned with Body Count released “Cop Killer,” and frankly, I hope the legislation gets unconstitutionalized right on it’s ass, just to piss these people off more. These people don’t look at context, they don’t look at artistic integrity, they just hear, “and you can murder POLICE OFFICERS in this game!” and run out and find a congressman to pester. Someone check the satellite; is Tipper Gore still irrelevant? Did she get out of her cage? Did she hide in Al’s beard?

I’ll spare y’all the rest; yadda, yadda, 1st amendment, yadda, free speech, yadda, yadda, censoring motheryaddas, yadda.

Now, next item, courtesy of CNN.com:

After three years of development and a rumored $20 million budget, LucasArts and Sony Online Entertainment launched Thursday their massively multiplayer online role-playing game, or MMPORG, based on the Star Wars universe.
It’s regarded as one of the biggest titles of the year in the video-game industry. But one might not guess that from LucasArts and Sony’s marketing efforts. Instead of using Hollywood-like blockbuster tactics, the companies are taking the art-house-film approach.
“We’re being on the conservative side with the launch of this game,” said Tom Sarris, a LucasArts spokesman. “We’re initially communicating the launch mainly to core gamers.”
The companies are intentionally taking things slow to work out bugs that might crop up. Other online worlds, starting with Electronic Arts’ medieval fantasy role-playing game Ultima Online in 1997, have had shaky launches where software glitches appeared and servers became overloaded — leading to early disappointment and bad word of mouth.
In addition, virtual worlds often aren’t completely “baked” on launch, simply because game designers and developers need feedback and input from initial players to add new content and features.
Analysts said the risk is that LucasArts and Sony won’t be able to hype the game to an audience beyond the hard core, perhaps making it difficult for them to recoup their investment.
Still, there’s something to be said about caution. The Sims Online — the virtual world tied to the bestselling The Sims “people simulator” — had much hype but fell far short of expectations, mainly because players complained that the game didn’t offer enough for players to do.
For now, Sony and LucasArts will be satisfied if serious gamers take the time to tour their new world. Indeed, the software demands a serious gaming machine. Haden Blackman, the game’s producer, indicated that gamers will need at least a 1-GHz processor with 256 MB RAM and an Nvidia GeForce1 or equivalent video card — a rig more powerful than what’s in most homes.
“One of the most important things about the game from a technical standpoint is that it’s built on a really scaleable engine so it can have a shelf life of five years,” Blackman said. “The engine is built to do things that no machine in existence right now can do.
“Blackman explained that the game’s key design goal was to allow players to create their own legend against the backdrop of the Star Wars universe. But players must start from humble beginnings. Upon firing up the game, players set up an initial character from one of eight races (ranging from human to Wookiee), establish that character’s facial characteristics and choose a profession including marksman, brawler, entertainer or medic.
Players can decide whether to align themselves with the evil Empire, heroic Rebellion or remain neutral. A limited number of players can even become Jedis. And yes, characters such as Darth Vader and Boba Fett do make appearances in the game (although you can’t kill them).

“From there, it just depends on what you want to do,” Blackman said. “Some people go into the cantina and socialize all day, while others go right off to kill storm troopers, Tusken raiders or womp rats.”

The game is set between the time of what are now the fourth (Star Wars) and fifth (The Empire Strikes Back) installments in the saga. At its outset, the game will offer 10 different planets on which to roam — with players guiding their characters from world to world on public shuttles. Space adventures and combat will have to wait for a forthcoming expansion pack.

Ultimately, veterans of virtual worlds know that enjoying such games requires commitment, with players averaging over 10 hours a week. The commitment is also economic, with a $15 monthly subscription to Star Wars Galaxies (it drops to $12 if you ante upfront for a year).

Even with the soft launch, the game is unlikely to have much difficulty attracting players. Indeed, LucasArts is limiting its initial shipment — although Sarris would not say to how many units. And the soft-launch strategy may have the effect of simply magnifying the game’s cachet among hard-core gamers and movie fans clamoring to live out their Star Wars fantasies.

“MMORPGs are two-a-penny these days. There is only room for a handful of them due to the time and money required, and SWG’s success is almost guaranteed through its name,” said Jamie Wharton, a 22-year-old recent university graduate from Leeds in the United Kingdom. Leeds participated in the extended beta for the game and recently wrote a glowing preview of it.

“One of the reasons it’s exciting is because we can relate to the game world we will live in before we have even played it, we know what Mos Eisley is about, we know how powerful a Jedi is and we all know the charm of owning your own droid,” Wharton continued. “Everquest and the like can’t do this.”

Five years ago I would have been all over this like fleas on Chewie, but after seeing the Dark Lord of the sith going from one of the Little Rascals to a brooding, impotent Redwood tree, I’m not quite so big on the idea. I’d like to say that they didn’t publicize the pudu out of this because they were hedging their bets; but after reading this, I actually think it’s a good idea. Maybe this time next year I’ll be talking about how I just got my learner’s permit in a B-wing.

I need a bumper sticker that says, “My other car is an A-wing.” Yes, I AM a dork. Why do you ask?

UPN All ‘Over’ Primetime Cartoon
Fri June 27, 2003 02:27 AM ET
By Nellie Andreeva
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – UPN has ordered six episodes of “Game Over,” a comedy poised to become the first computer-animated series in primetime.
The midseason entry, featuring the voices of Marisa Tomei and Patrick Warburton, centers on the Smashenburns, an ordinary suburban family who live in an alternate video game universe inhabited by action heroes, monsters and cartoon characters.
In addition to Tomei and Warburton, who will voice Mrs. and Mr. Smashenburn, the voice cast also includes E.G. Daily and Rachel Dratch, who portray their teen kids, and Artie Lange as the family’s 300-pound pet creature.
Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

Yes. Patrick Warburton. Say it with me kids:

SPOOOOOOOOOOOOONNNN!!

Does Marisa Tomei need the work this bad? She is an Oscar winner, you know. Still, I like the name “Smashenburns.” Maybe they live inside Carmaggedon.

A little PSA for all of you gamers and drivers: Do NOT get into your car immediately after playing 6 hours of Burnout 2. I damn near rolled my truck Saturday night.

Eidos dips, says ‘Tomb Raider’ delay to cut profit
Fri June 27, 2003 04:58 AM ET
By Bernhard Warner
LONDON, June 27 (Reuters) – Shares in British video game publisher Eidos fell as much as 10 percent on Friday after the company said shipment delays in Europe for its new “Tomb Raider” game would hurt 2003 pre-tax profits.
Eidos needed to ship “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness” by June 30, the final day of its current financial year, in order to book the sales for the period. It made the deadline in the United States but missed it in Europe.
“While some units may ship within the current financial year, up to one million units will ship in July, the first month of the next financial year,” the company said in a statement.
“This has led the Board to significantly reduce its expectations for profit before tax for the financial year ending 30th June 2003,” the statement read. The company did not disclose its pre-tax projection for 2003.
By 0855 GMT, Eidos traded down five percent at 132 pence. Shares in Britain’s largest games publisher have dropped 23 percent in the past month.
Analysts and retailers said they grew increasingly concerned about Eidos as it became clear the publisher would not hit its shipment target for Europe over the past two weeks.
The company is expected to ship between 1.5 million and 2.5 million units globally. The company on Friday did not say when it expected the game to ship, but the UK Web site of Amazon.com offered a July 4 shipment date.
The company has delayed the launch in November to February and then to this month. It launched Tomb Raider in the United States on June 20.
Eidos said the European delay was due to last-minute checks by Sony Corp. The game is due for release on Sony’s PlayStation 2 and for the PC.
The company said the delay is not expected to impact Tomb Raider sales, though the company will now be forced to book a percentage of sales in its 2004 financial year.
Analysts had been estimating Eidos would record sales of between 170 million pounds and 180 million pounds ($283 million and $300 million) and earnings per share of eight pence.
Eidos has budgeted to spend two million pounds in Britain and six million euros in Continental Europe to promote the upcoming release.
The company should to get a lift next month when the movie “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life”, a Paramount production starring Angelina Jolie, makes its debut in the United States, analysts said.

No, I’m guessing that by the time the movie comes out, the word will be on the street that the game sucks boulders. Won’t stop me from seeing the movie, though.

FYI, Ms. Jolie is rumored to be going out with Nicholas Cage. Folks, I’M less screwed up than Nicholas Coppola. This is a man who sold off his entire comics collection at the whim of his soon-to-be-soon-to-be-ex-wife. I don’t care if I was engaged to Dana Scully (no, not Gillian Anderson, Dana Scully. Those who know, get my flow.), I’d at least find some place to stash my classic comics. If nothing else I’d pull the this-is-a-first-printing-it’s-worth-a-lot-of-money card. Fortunately for me, my wife is the one with the copy of The Watchmen, so I’m pretty safe.

NON-GAME NEWS and SOAPBOXES FOR EVERYONE

The whole story of Europe’s refusal to allow genetically modified food can be foundhere.

I don’t want to get on a rant here, but these self-righteous, moronic motherf*ckers have been actively trying to convince African nations to NOT accept the genetically modified crops we’ve been offering as aid; crops that were modified for the expressed purpose of increasing yield in harsh conditions (such as Africa) and without the aid of expensive herbicides or pesticides which the poor can’t afford (such as Africa); crops that have been given the A-OK by THREE different U.S. government entities. I don’t care how corrupt you think the U.S. government is, that would be a lot of palms to grease to get ANYTHING moved through; and if it were even the least bit suspected to be dangerous, it would cost THAT MUCH MORE to bribe through. The free market applies to bribes as well as anything else.

Being from rural Kansas, I have a lot of friends who went into agricultural science. I have friends who are environmental consultants for major corporations. They make a lot of money telling companies what they can’t do. So maybe I have a little personal stake in this. Fine. It doesn’t change the fact that genetically modified foods are all over this country today and the worst food-related health problem we have is obesity.

As a final note, let’s say that I’m wrong. Let’s say that there IS something wrong with GM food. Of course, we haven’t seen any problems from it yet, and the M.O. of most of these issues is long-term health risks such as increased risk of heart disease or cancer. Even accepting that, imagine walking up to a starving mother and son in Africa. Both emaciated, both desperate for any kind of regular sustenance. Imagine walking up to them and saying the following:

“I’m sorry that you’re starving. Our food just won’t grow here, and moreover we’d like you to refuse the aid from the U.S. Their crops would grow abundantly here, but because their crops are genetically modified, we believe that it constitutes a long-term health risk. I hope you understand.”

Do you think that ANYBODY from the EU, or the Soil Association, or Friends of the Earth have done that? No, for two reasons. First, because they don’t have the courage of their convictions. They’d rather take potshots at some imagined U.S. industrio-governmental conspiracy than face the real facts of Africa’s famine; or, God forbid, try to come up with viable solutions themselves.

Secondly, if they had, the surrounding tribesmen would have instantly killed whoever told them that and roasted their plump, well-fed, environmentally-conscious ass over the fire as the entrée to go with a heaping side of genetically modified corn and string beans. As a dad, I can say that I’d say f*ck all to long-term health “risks” if it meant the difference between my boy dying or reaching adulthood.

Okay, I’m done now.

NOT-SO-DAMNED-SERIOUS NON-GAME NEWS

So, I was watching Real Sports to see this feature on wrestlers dying young. I’m sure everyone knows this by now, but Vince made an ass out of himself again, slapping the notes in the reporters hand. His reaction, while understandable given the loaded nature of the question, was nevertheless just more fuel for the detractors of professional wrestling in general and the WWE specifically.

Now, I’m sure that Vince and family still own a majority of the stock, but there are other stockholders, and those stockholders still hold power. At this point, I wonder why the remaining stockholders haven’t formed a confederation and told Vince, “Cool it, or we’ll sell our stock for 10 for a penny; because, Vince, at this rate, it won’t be worth that.”

And if the stockholders could do that, what about getting Stephanie off of Smackdown? How about getting her beard off of Raw, or at least getting hiim to do the job once in a while? How about ordering Vince to fire everybody in the ring over 40? (I consider Ric Flair to be a manager at this point, so he’s safe.)

How about putting a cruiserweight in a main title program, and I’m not talking about Shawn Michaels? Forcing the Big Show to USE Stacker 2? Banishing Jackie Gayda to the Phantom Zone?

Nude pictorial of Randy Orton in next month’s RAW Magazine? (My friend Callene suggested that. I would reciprocate with Torrie Wilson, but it’s been done.) Brian Gerwitz dragged behind a tour bus for 200 miles? Buy TNA and do the Invasion angle RIGHT for once, dammit?!?!

Just a thought. There is power in the WWE besides Vince. If those that had the power would only use it. If anybody wants to send me additions to the above list, I’d be all too happy to post them next week.

PLUGS, PIMPS, and THANKS

The Boss, a.k.a. Pankonin, a.k.a. Panky (as of this column), shares my appreciation of sports games and has given me as much rope as I need to not only hang myself, but strangle half of Wichita in the process. I will battle him to the death for the right to review NCAA Football 2004. And once I kill him, I will declare myself sovereign and reserve the right to review ALL of the wrestling games! HAA!! Er . . . . wait. . . . . (shoots coffee) . . . . Ah. That’s better. Anyway, you don’t get to be boss around here without being damn good, so check him out.

Other than Panky, Lee Baxley was the first to welcome me to the 411. He loves Anime. He wishes he were Japanese. Until retroviral genetic engineering reaches the point that we can make his dream a reality, everybody send him Vapors .mp3s and copies of “Fist of the Northstar.” He’s from Tulsa, which means he’s recovering from Trek Expo today. Pity him. (And Lee, EVERYBODY gets lost in Kansas City. It’s something really odd about the freeway system in that town. Even the locals lose their bearings sometimes. As long as I can find The Plaza and Truman Sports Complex, I’m happy.)

Alex Lucard is an odd duck. He questions my sanity but seems content to let the populace believe he is British. He’s not. His fiancée is, but he’s a PHILLY BOY. Philadelphia; that’s not British, it’s Latin. Roughly translates to “only city that couldn’t keep the Tampa Bay Bucs out of the Super Bowl.” Also, he seems to think nobody in the U.S. appreciates shooters. That’s why every arcade in this country is required by law to have a Galaga machine. He hipped me to EWR 3.0, and as such will be getting my rehab bill. Enabler. (JOB HUNTER! JOB ‘TAKER! HAHAHA! YOU’RE FIRED!!!)

I can’t believe I’m the winner of Bryan Berg’s Sports Quote Challenge. People, I finished BARELY above the Mendoza line, and I missed a couple of gimmes. Oh, and Bryan; you have absolutely no idea of the depth, width, and breadth of my dorkiness. Sports, Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr. Who, Invader Zim, I’m the original five-tool geek.

I haven’t said sh!t to Polecat, but he shares my opinion on racing games; therefore, the man is a genius who’s finger is on the pulse of the gaming nation. Read him.

Alex Williams has already gotten a rub from Lucard, but as a fellow newbie reviewer, I’ll pimp him here. He likes shooters. Lucard likes shooters. I see a game of quarters in somebody’s future. (Lesson one to newbies everywhere: Don’t let the vets get you drunk. Trust me on this.)

For your wrestling news yin and yang, I suggest Hyatte and Haley. If that’s too big a mood swing for you, try Eric S. and Grutman. Either way, center your chi before you try it.

On the Wichita front, a big thanks to the helpful, courteous, perpetually friendly staff at the Northrock Hollywood Video. They dig through return bins for me. They let me put off my late fees (which I always pay on my next visit, anyway), unlike the bastards at Blockbuster, who send out bills for late fees. (More on the evil that is the ‘Buster later.)

For sci-fi news and reviews, check out the Warp Zone. They’ve been banished to the internet for a while, but they will put out new shows; and, with your help, they will get back on the radio, syndicated, and with the audience they deserve.

And, while I have the floor, if you’re ever stuck in Wichita for a couple of days (Lee), there are three things you must do: Eat at Red Bean’s or Piccadilly, see a movie at a Warren Theater, and visit the Sedgwick County Zoo. Seriously one of the best zoos in the world, and I’m not just saying that because my wife is Senior Keeper of amphibians and reptiles.

LETTERS FROM MY ADORING FANS (both of them)

The winner of the “who will be Cory’s first fan mail” contest is trcasey@uwm.edu:

I just read your review of NBA Street Vol. 2, and I agree, it’s an amazing
game. I’ve enjoyed it since the day it came out. Good job.

P.S. Busta Rhymes isn’t in Def Jam Vendetta because he’s not on Def Jam
Records. All of the artists in that game are signed to Def Jam. That is all.

Short. Succinct. Informative. Likes my work. Gotta like that.

I think that Def Jam needs to sign Busta just so they can put him in DJV2. I can’t be the only person who thinks he’d make a better wrestler than that skinny-boy, Ludacris.

My other fan is Steven Kowalczyk. He knows the rally circuit and agrees with me. He also does research for me:

You forget the most absurd part of the game: The fact that Colin McRae
doesn’t even drive a Ford Focus anymore! I mean, he did last year, when the
game was in development, but it was about August or September of last year
that it was announced he was leaving to be the lead driver for Citroen’s new
Xsara WRC entry, and pretty much everybody knew he was leaving Ford at the
end of 2002 (Contract was up and Ford was hurting for funds with development
of a new Focus WRC, so they let the older and high-priced McRae and teammate
Carlos Sainz go and went with younger drivers) by as early as the start of
last season. It sounds small, but sports games keep up with player and even
team movement according to their release schedules.

After seeing your review I downloaded the PC demo, and you are right: The
graphics are excellent, but the driving stinks. It’s like a slot-car, always
pivoting around the nose of the car when you slide. It basically drove like
demos of his first game. That gives it the thumbs-down for me. Older games
like RallyMasters and Rally Championship 2000 are better. Combine the
driving model of GT3 with those stages and it’s a winner.

I was actually confused by Nicky Girst’s commentary (Another goof in the
game: He and Colin split in September, 2002, and Nicky is now doing TV work)
because he uses a different system from most other games: There is always
1-5 or 6 for corners, but all my other rally games use 1 as the mildest and
5 as the sharpest corner, but Nicky uses 6 as the mildest and 1 as the
sharpest. I’m just so used to thinking of the higher number being sharper,
it was hard to adjust.

Yes, you can’t drive Colin McRae’s current car for Championship Mode in the current Colin McRae game. Serves ’em right.

I’d like to personally and publically thank Mr.(?) Casey and Mr. Kowalczyk for actually reading my dreck and finding it good enough to praise.

Well, that’s it for the first edition. Maybe by next time, I’ll have some sources other than Reuters and CNN.

Until next time, get some sleep.

Cory