The As-Yet-Unnamed International Tuesday News Report 01.27.04

Don’t you just hate it when random temporal anomalies throw your schedules out of synch? I do. I blame the fact that the university physics labs have just been upgraded… Who knows what they’re up to down there? Things went just a little bit wonky last week, with a couple of important servers going AWOL at my end. This week has up-to-the-minute news, but commentary that was intended for last week.

Anyway, greetings, everyone! To those of you who’ve followed me from Midweek Columns, glad you made it OK. And to everyone else who was expecting Chuck to be here, sorry, there’s been a KliqCabinet reshuffle. He’s still around, but he’s columnising now. So to all the new readers, welcome to Tuesday’s News. I’m your host, Misha Sumra, 411’s token Brit. What to expect over the next while? All the usual news you’d find in a 411 News Report, but with added International Content. Commentary will be here too, but you’re more likely to find discussion abut Rugby than American Football. Speaking of which….

A word of thanks

I’d like to kick things off by thanking Christian (of Christian’s Crazy Game Releases fame) and Matthew Yeager who, after reading my Rugby column about rugby-based video games, were both kind enough to point me in the direction of EA’s series of rugby games. I fully intend to get hold of Rugby 2004 once my exams are over.

Disclaimer

Those of you who’ve read the 2003 Game Awards feature will do doubt have notices some very odd choices made by me. The reason is that I made it a point to ONLY nominate games I’d actually played (which left me with a somewhat limited selection, given the dire release situation in the UK).

Name The GameNews

For those who are just joining us, in the column last time, I put out a request for people to vote on a new name for the column. What with the move to News and everything, I’ve decided to keep the voting on the new name open for another week, to let some of the new folks have a say.

A little reminder of the options (some of which have been modified to reflect the report’s new status)

* Monty Python’s Flying Games News

* Pan-Atlantic Text Adventure

* The European Video Game Conspiracy

* The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Video Games

Votes to be sent here, please!

Right, now that’s cleared up, on with the news. But first

Down-Lo Tribute Rumour Special

Some of the juiciest bits of gaming speculation, served up on a platter of tempting gossip…

Programming God in Coding-Heaven-On-Earth shock

Fresh off the rumour mill is the report that Shigeru Miyamoto will be LEAVING Nintendo’s in-house code team… In order to head up a brand-new second-party development house, consisting of talent poached from Sega, Konami, Capcom, Namco and SquareEnix (amongst others).

My Thoughts: N/A (since the fuse has just blown in my brain due to Excitement Overload)

credit: gamecubenetwork.com

EA: Going Live like Saturday-Morning Kid’s TV

Neither side has officially said anything, but current rumours suggest that EA and Microsoft have resolved their Xbox Live disagreement. Sources in both companies suggest that an Xbox version of EA’s online hit Battlefield 1942 is in development, and WILL support online play. Further speculation suggests that the port is a precursor to EA’s next batch of Sports games being Live-Compatible.

My Thoughts: Anything to promote online gaming is a Good Thing. This will give Xbox a huge boost if it’s true.

credit: gamesradar.co.uk

Actual News

PSX: Patch-Me-Do

In true Windows fashion, Sony have announced that February will see the release of the first software upgrade for the ‘PSX’ DVD-R/PS2/Hard Drive combo, with a further upgrade due in March. The new upgrades, downloadable from the beginning of the month (with CD copies to follow later) are due to reactivate some of the features that were missing from the originally-shipped machines. These include (but are not limited to):
February:
*Faster DVD access/writing speeds
*MP3 Storage/Playback on HDD
*USB keyboard support
*Assorted bug fixes
March
*DVD-RW recording support
*PS2 network gaming support

My Thoughts: I always thought it was Microsoft who released inferior, full-of-problems products? If sales reports from Japan are to be believed, Sony has completely Sega’d this particular hardware release. The patches are a step in the right direction, but it could be too little, too late…

credit: gamesradar.co.uk

Twin Snakes Euro Release

With Lee taking care of US releases, I focus on the European side of things. Big news around at the moment is that Konami have confirmed that Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes will be released for the GameCube on 26th March. Get those pre-orders in now!

My Thoughts: I probably won’t pick up the game, but I know plenty of folks who will.

credit: gamesradar.co.uk

EyeToy gets Personal

Evidently impressed by the face-mapping options found in Tony Hawk Underground, Sony have announced a team-up with a company called Digimask to implement a similar function using their EyeToy peripheral. Players will use the camera to take digital pictures of themselves, which the software will convert into a 3D ‘Head-Map’ which can be saved on memory card and used ion any title that supports the feature.

My Thoughts: Hmm. Not sure letting gamers get their heads in-game is such a good idea… But then again, the concept’s as old as the hills (Sonic Blastman ‘punchbag’ arcade game, anyone?), and it was only a matter of time before Sony got in on the act. And they’ll sell YET more Eyetoys!

credit: gamesradar.co.uk

The Blobs Are Back!!

Sega have released more screenshots of their new Cube title, Puyo Pop Fever. Another sequel in the Puyo Puyo series (previously seen on Western shores as Kirby’s Ghost Trap or Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, depending on which 16-bit machine you owned) The game engine itself is fundamentally unchanged (connect blobs, they go boom, more blobs fall, etc), but there’s a bunch of new special-blobs to look out for, and possibly a new mode or two to play, and it looks like the Japanese theme will be kept elsewhere in the world. See the shots here, courtesy of Cubed-3

My thoughts: YAY for Puyo Puyo. DOUBLE YAY for keeping the Japanese madness.

credit: cubed-3.co.uk

War: What is it good for?

Video games, of course! And both Codemasters and Acclaim have new war-games coming out this year, and thet both remind me of Cannon Fodder Acclaim’s Combat Elite: WWII Paratroopers, worked on by former members of Black Isle Studios (who made such AAA games series as Fallout and Baldur’s Gate series), is described as a “mission-based action-adventure game”, and seems to be the more ‘up close and personal’ of the two. Due out in June, players can expect recreations of some key moments of the Second World War, including D-Day and Operation Market Garden. Meanwhile, Codemasters are pushing on with a new RTS-ish game, Soldiers: Heroes of World War II, which is going for a “movie-like” feel. Taking command of the national forces of either Allied or Axis countries, the game claims to strike a balance between RTS army-battles and individual-unit control (to the point where a soldier can actually headshot an opposing infantryman). Expected release date is Summer 2004.

My Thoughts: Well, looks like it’s WW2 all over again. As far as I’m concerned, anything that reminds me of Cannon Fodder is a Good Thing, and it’ll be interesting to see how both these games turn out.

credit: gamesradar.co.uk

European Gaming goes Federal

Whilst the mere mention of a Federal Europe is enough to make most EU citizens feel violently ill, it appears that the Higher Powers of the European video game industry are planning to team up. An agreement has been reached by video-game-orientated trade groups, such as TIGA UK, A.P.O.M and TIGA Netherlands, to pool resources and form a European Federation of Independent Developers, in order to better have their voice heard in the European Parliament in Brussels. According to reports, the members which have already signed up represent 70% of Europe’s games developers, and the group is encouraging developers from other member states to join.

My Thoughts: Ugh. I generally despise the whole EU thing. But if developers can take advantage of it, and secure themselves some power, they can go right ahead. Who knows, if this group gains strength, they may get powerful enough to stop stupid Let’s-Blame-Video-Games scare-mongering in the press. I’m especially keen for this to work, since it’s designed to represent the smaller code-houses, the ones without a Corporate Legal Department; the ones who enjoy taking the risks and innovating..

credit: spong.com

It’s not just *playing* video games that can drive you mad…

It appears legendary video game coder Jeff Minter is at it again. A veteran developer since way back in the old Vic 20 days, he was best-known in recent years for his work on Tempest 2000, an upgrade of Dave Theurer’s 1981 arcade hit Tempest for the now-defunct Atari Jaguar (T2K being one probably the best game on the whole system). Even back then, the man was considered ‘somewhat eccentric’ (as can be seen from his obsessive fascination with llamas, yaks and their kin) and is currently working on a collaboration with Peter Molyneux’s Lionhead Studios (creators of Black And White) to create a shoot-em-up/lightsynth “hybrid game”, entitled Unity. Imagine a shooter like Wipeout or F-Zero, but where the course is a tube of hallucinogenic colours… Like being in the middle of a huge vortex of swirling shades and hues that make you wonder if someone spiked your drink…

Yep, it scares me, too. Though if Molyneux’s backing it, it’s got to have something going for it… It’ll be a Gamecube-only title, and may well turn out to be a huge sleeper hit (or fade into obscurity, you never know…). Screenshots courtesy of Cubed-3 can be found here

credit: www.lionhead.com, www.cubed-3.co.uk

Happy Winter-Een-Mas

Wondering what I’m on about? It’s simple. Tim Buckley, aka Absath, writer/artist of Ctrl+Alt+Del has had a thread running through his comics for a week or so now. Ethan, resident lunatic, has decided that Gamers need a holiday, in the vein of Christmas, Easter or Mardi Gras, to celebrate the wonders of gaming, and all that falls within its sphere. And in honour of his efforts, people around the world are taking up the challenge to celebrate their hobby. Sometimes, it feels like the whole world’s against us gamers, so a little chance to reflect and enjoy it is always good. The holiday itself is January 25-31, but the season has lasted all month. For more info on the holiday, put far more eloquently that I can, click that little link and go see for yourself. But be sure to come back when you’re done, yeah?

Commentary

Ever had a really terrible song stuck in your head? One that you REALLY hate, but can’t stop hearing, played mentally, on and endless loop? One which you find really catchy, even though you don’t like it? I have, many a time. For most of these, I blame the ambient music from my sister’s bedroom.

As I sat down in front of my GameCube the other day, I was suddenly struck by something. Between me and my housemates, we have a whole slew of AAA titles for a selection of formats. On the Cube alone, we have Mario Kart, Eternal Darkness, Wind Waker, the list goes on… But instead of playing any of those, I’ve just loaded up Wrestlemania XIX. And it’s the same syndrome; you know it’s not good, you know there’s infinitely better stuff out there, but you still find the far-less-good to be Strangely Compelling.

It’s very odd… I know the game is flawed; I see it in the iffy countering system, the stupid way being ‘busted open’ works, the dodgy collision detection, some ridiculous AI issues… All the things Alex Lucard complained about in his review all those months ago. And yet I still play it regularly, even in the face of all the other options. And I just wonder why. It’s not like I’m a mark for wrestling games. The Smackdown series is take-it-or-leave-it at best, I got bored of No Mercy, and Raw on XBox is just dire. It’s not as though it’s Car-Crash fascination, either: The game isn’t bad; as Alex said, it’s great in parts, abysmal in others, and comes out average overall.

Yet there is something about this game that makes me want to keep coming back. At the moment, I’m well on the way to unlocking everything. And that required me to play all the way through the infamously annoying Revenge Mode TWICE, and even now, keep going back to some of the stages. I could have spent all that time grooming my Milotic, or unlocking new things on Mario Kart, and in my higher brain, I know that they would be far better uses of my limited gaming-time. But instead, I’ll be taking my favourite CAW up against a Royal Rumble, or trying to get Rey Misterio to chokeslam The Big Show through a table by liberal use of the “Steal Your Finisher” function. WHY??

I really wish I knew what kept me coming back. But I don’t. It’s just something intangible, a literal “Je ne sais quoi”. If they sold it by the gram in some of Sheffield’s less reputable clubs, I’d be down there buying it on a regular basis.

Perhaps, sometimes, all reasoning goes out the window, along with personal taste. Or maybe, I find the game sufficiently easy as to require no actual thought (thus making the game ideal for a quick blast). Perhaps, just perhaps., there’s actually a real gem of a game underneath it all. Or maybe I’m just mad.

Plugs like the National Grid

Bryan is looking at the new Nintendo system, and commenting on the TurboGrafx

Alex Williams has outdone even himself this week. He’s breaking his own DRR records. And innovating his plug-spot. He’s also writing Haikus. And a Space Channel 5 review (because if you have a dancing game to review, no-one else can help, and if you can find him… Maybe you could hire… Tuxedo Alex!)

Alex1 has a mailbag up. Maybe your letter’s there? Go see. Just beware he doesn’t FLIP OUT AND KILL YOU NINJA STYLE!!

Fred has Pac-Man’s family on his Conscience this week. The results are disturbing.

LiquidCross talks about things that Man Was Never Meant To Code.

In closing

Well, the Giant Foot Of Doom has once again landed squarely on my report, ending it. As ever, feedback is appreciated. Read everyone else, play some games, and I’ll see you all next week.