Encore Extra Stage #13

Greetings all, and welcome to another Friday BONANZA of DDR talk and sour grapes towards the video game conglomerate we love to hate. And no, I’m not rehashing the same stuff just for the sake of rehashing it. Find me something more important happening in video games right now, and I’ll cover it with guns blazing. This is all I have to go on these days!

Now I realized that for the last couple weeks, I’ve been teasing a segment on “gamer burnout”. You know, when for some reason you end up with a ton of different games, you try making time for as many as you can, but then end up taking on too much at one time, burning yourself out on game playing for a while. I was at that state not to long ago, but have since been able to get back into the groove of things and assign time accordingly. A piece like the one I was planning requires a certain “mind set” in order to write, I guess. I’ve since moved out of that mind set, so I can’t really write about it. My apologies if I got your hopes up for the segment. (All two of you that look forward to things I might semi-promise.) Perhaps another time, when I try and be in the middle of 17 different games again.

So here’s how this week’s offering will pan out: cool news, slightly depressing commentary, and more cool news, an e-mail, and a plugs section. Memorize the layout? Excellent. Off we go!


SONG PACK 8 INFO RELEASED

KCEH has officially announced what will be on the upcoming SP8 for DDR Ultramix 2. The funny thing is that it should have been up on the first day of the new year. It was certified by Microsoft to appear on the XBox Live servers and everything. However, Microsoft seems to love to sit on its content until it is poked enough to get it to appear. As a matter of fact, there are TWO song packs sitting in the servers waiting for Microsoft to activate them. They are just being INCREDIBLY lazy about putting them up on time. (So if you’re mad at the lack of new Live content, blame Microsoft.)

Anyways, the new songs will be as follows:

BALALAIKA, CARRIED WITH THE WINDJulie Ann Frost [From GF6/DM5]

This song has the definite air of an ethnic folk song about it. Suffice it to say that this type of song is rarely seen in DDR. It’s a very good song, and an excellent addition to the line-up.

COSMIC COWGIRLToshio Sakurai [From GF4/DM3]

It’s songs like these that make me want more crossovers from the Guitar Freaks / Drummania series. We have a pretty fast-paced rock anthem here, which reminds me a bit of “Across The Nightmare”, only slower. Another enjoyable song.

Kind Lady (interlude)OKUYATOS [From DDRMAX2 JP/US]

I already know that most people are not to thrilled with another “Kind Lady” on this song pack. HOWEVER, I have it on good authority that this will come with a full set of difficulties, rather than one set on the PS2 releases it was on. This also means we could be seeing more “Challenge Remixes” in the future with a full set of step patterns.

more deep (ver 2.1)Togo Project feat. Sana [From DDRMAX2 US]

Another PS2 home version exclusive makes its way to the XBox, and it’s a damn good one. Sana has always been a favorite in the DDR community, and this song doesn’t disappoint.

In My Eyes -Neuromix-Neuropa [World Premier]

Much like “i feel… (Junk Circuit Mix)” from SP7, this is a special Konami Original remix done by an artist off the A Different Drum label. I haven’t heard it yet, and NO ONE WILL until Microsoft gets off of their lazy asses and puts this song pack up for download and purchase. I do have good feelings about this song, though. First, it’s a remix of In My Eyes. What’s NOT to like about In My Eyes?!? Second, Neuropa is performing it. Their song “Standing Still In Time” is included on the UM2 main disc, and its great. Easy, but great. So “In My Eyes” + Neuropa = guaranteed gold.

Who knows WHEN this thing will be available, but it will cost $5 to download and play. That is a given. Still, $5 is a small price to pay for more songs you’ll be able to play forever and ever.


NO ON EXPECTS THE EA ACQUISITION!

So I’m sure that everyone and their brother who follows video gaming news on the Internet knows about the latest piece of the puzzle Electronic Arts acquired to add to their dominance in the worldwide sports market and to screw over all other companies in the process. Yes, EA now owns any and all ESPN franchising rights and trademarks for the next 15 years provided no contractual snafus take place between now and 2021. And like the last couple of weeks, everyone and their brother is predicting the fall of Sega Sports, amongst all other companies that DARE to produce sports games under EA’s watch. EA has more of a monopoly now, the consumers will be hurting, EA is incredibly business savvy, blah blah blah, etc, etc, etc.

I bet you’re all expecting me to go on another one of these seven-page hate-filled essays where I tear apart EA for being such douche bags and cheating those at Sega and Take Two out of ANOTHER licensed property to put in their games.

Well, I’m not going to.

It’s not that I’m not mad at this recent development like I was a few weeks ago, when EA and the NFL partnered up. It’s not that I’m not angry that I have to admit that while this move sucks for gamers nationwide, it was an excellent business decision that only makes EA stronger. I AM mad, and I AM angry.

But really, what would be the point?

I mostly agree with what has been said thus far on the matter, both on IP and the websites offering opinionated responses to go with the press release. It DOES take away from Sega and their sports division, it IS an excellent business maneuver, and the ever-growing monopoly on organized sporting franchises WILL have a more negative impact on the industry than positive. I could go on and on in detail about this move and bitch and whine about the same damn things that most everyone has bitched and whined about. The fact is I did the VERY SAME bitching and whining about the EA/NFL maneuver four weeks ago when I returned to weekly column status. Nothing has changed, except the other party involved.

And to be honest, its not like this move should surprise anybody. ESPN has been notoriously lousy in promoting its OWN video game products. They’ve given more time to Madden brand football games then they have to NFL2K3, ESPN NFL Football, and ESPN NFL 2K5 combined. Madden got special treatment on their network all the way, which really isn’t good for competition. It was like saying, “we’re competing against this behemoth, but we’ll openly admit the behemoth is better.” It was only a matter of time before ESPN themselves gave up on the games with THEIR NAMES ON THEM and jump ship; much as I hate to admit it.

I will say this though: I wouldn’t label this move the death of Sega Sports. Yes, there have been several major blows to the now ailing sports division Sega has, but this move by no means cripples them entirely. They managed to survive before without the ESPN brand name and trademarks, after all. Back in the old Genesis days, we saw items like Joe Montana Sportstalk Football and NFL ’94. No incredibly flashy brands to help support these games, outside of specific players of course. When the Dreamcast launched, we saw NFL2K. That was the title. Period. The same can be said with the next three installments of the series, although ESPN did join them for NFL2K3. And even then, the “ESPN” aspect was underplayed in order to accentuate Sega Sports. Only in the last two years did ESPN play a more crucial role in brand recognition.

So in short, Sega/Take Two/Visual Concepts (whichever combination of the three exists in the following year) can go off the deep end and produce a completely unique sports game with NO TIES to any official sports organization or affiliate. A football game can be made with unique teams, stadiums, and players. Playbooks can be more unique. Tackles and sacks can be more violent. The “NFL rulebook” can be tossed out in order to provide an original experience. (I say field goals should be worth 2-4 points, and the goal posts would expand and retract based on which point value the team is going for.) I’d love to see it happen. Wouldn’t you?

Although if it turns out that Sega losses Visual Concepts as their developer to Take Two, THEN Sega will be hurting bad enough to see a collapse of their sports division. I will admit to that.

So unless EA somehow files a court order whereby they are the only ones allowed to produce American football games under ANY circumstances (which will never happen…although you never know these days), other companies are only limited to their imagination and their pocket books. I myself will continue to not buy EA products, and will encourage others to do the same. But hopefully, you won’t be seeing much more moaning about EA from me. I may be FURIOUS, but not furious enough to keep giving them column space week after week. There are far better things to talk about than a crap company constantly buying their way to the top and treating their ever-growing list of employees like garbage along the way.

I cannot, and will not, give them that satisfaction.


DDR w/MARIO INFO

Last week I offered my thoughts on this new Konami/Nintendo hybrid, and now we got more information to go off of!

The following is summarized from a recently debuted demo:

–While details on the song list are still incredibly sketchy, we know there will be “dozens” of songs. And since “dozens” is plural, we can safely guess there will be at least 24 to choose from. (I’m still not convinced that there will be more than four-dozen, though.)

–Songs will consist of popular Japanese licenses (such as J-Pop and Anime, etc.), Nintendo themes, and Konami remixes. The list will be geared towards the whole family, much like the Donkey Konga games.

–Five songs were playable in the demo presented:

Here We GoFrom Super Mario Brothers
This is a remix of the original SMB theme. (Like you don’t know it by now.)

Hoppin’ Choppin’From Super Mario USA
This is a remix of the main theme from SMB2, or the more recent Super Mario Advance.

Mozart In The PipeFrom Eine Kleine Nachtmuzik
You got me as to what this is. Probably a Mario-esque remix of a classical piece.

There Go The YouKiraKira Hoshi
This might be the Japanese equivalent to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. Then again, it might not be.

ParaPara CarmenCarmen
And again, I have no clues as of right now

–The graphical interface is based off of the interface found in DDRMAX and DDRMAX2. So far, it looks closer to the Japanese DDR 5th Mix, as there is no Groove Radar or BPM displays.

–Four difficulties have been displayed: Easy, Normal, Hard, and Very Hard.

–Characters can be turned on and off from the Song Selection menu.

–Speaking of characters, judging from screenshots and promotional materials, the following characters will appear in the game in some form: Mario, Luigi, Toad, Waluigi, Boo and Bowser.

–The letter grades we know of so far range from AA to D. It’s rumored that the AAA grade will be absent, though nothing is for certain.

–The step grades have been changed. Perfect, Great, and Miss are present, but Good and Boo have been removed. In place of it is one overall step grade labeled “Early/Late”.

–A dance pad will be bundled with the game, and feature silhouettes of Mario and Luigi in the center with “Here We Go!” written out in English.

–NO ENGLISH RELEASE has been announced. (Although Konami has recently teased that there will be big news from them next Thursday, the 27th. Whether or not this is related to a US release of DDR w/Mario, we have no idea.

So far, it looks to be pretty much what I pictured it. A DDR game with a song list made to appeal to all ages, slightly easier gameplay mechanics, and Mario and friends plastered throughout. Taking it for what it IS, and not for what most people WANT it to be, it’s looking to be a great entry into the series. Don’t worry, I’ll have more info when it arrives!

(Thanks to DDRFreak for the information.)


I GOT MAIL?!?

Would you like your voices heard? E-mail me! Want to be publicly embarrassed? E-mail me! Both are done at no cost to you!

However, perhaps another function of this mailbag section is to offer a shoulder to cry on. A “virtual ear” that will listen, as it were. I offer this service this week to Tom Pandich, who writes to me specifically about EA and ESPN:

Fuck EA. Fuck ESPN. Fuck the NFL. Oh and Fuck EA.

(NOTE: Before we go on, this is the best opening line I ever received in an e-mail ever. Okay Tom, carry on.)

As a Sega fanboy it pains me how EA has been fighting Sega with not superior games, but rather, superior resources. This has been painfully clear that EA has been after Sega since the days of the Dreamcast. The one minor pleasure that I took from the death of the Dreamcast was that Sega would finally be able to take a degree of revenge against EA by creating superior sports games that would drive EA into the ground as the gaming public would welcome innovation as opposed to the same game coming out every single year. I obviously put too much faith in the gaming public that eats up the same RPGs, the same racing games, the same sports games, and so on.

I agree with you completely. Buying up your competition and the rights to make games with Brand X represented is by no means the right way or the fair way to win a war. It is the lowest, cheapest, most despicable way to get the consumer’s money into your pocket. But the general consumer is very poorly educated in regards to what goes on “behind the scenes” in the industry. So they’ll snap up the new Madden like it was made of candy or hookers or something. Infuriating, yes. But that’s the way it works.

I understand that blaming EA for what can be seen as good business practices is unfair. I’m sick of it though. I’m sick of their buyouts of smaller game firms. I’m sick of their shady business practices. Most of all though, I’m sick of Joe Q Gamer whom allows this to happen. Burnout 3 will be the last EA game I ever buy until there is some serious changes in the industry. They won’t feel my loss because there will always be one more gamer out there who will be able to be impressed by the “new improved running game” and the ability to create a pre-game tailgate party as innovations.

I can’t blame EA for their latest string of corporate conquering for the business aspect. They have positioned themselves with the all the right tools to rule as kings of the sporting world, along with a string of other maneuvers to make them super-giants in the gaming industry. It doesn’t change the fact that this growing monopoly is detrimental to the competition and hurts gamers more than it helps gamers. For all we know, EA could just sit on the ESPN license and not do a thing with it, choosing to release Madden 2005 all over again as Madden 2006 with only a roster update and “Create-A-Stadium-Hotdog Mode” added in.

The only advice I can offer in this case is to spread the word of EA’s treachery as far as you can. Your money won’t go to them, right? Convince others. If you can convince others that EA is a horrible company, it will be that much more money out of their pocket. It may take a while (try millions of gamers across the country), but it just might be enough to make a difference.

I’m sorry to bitch to you Alex, but I know that you of all people feel my pain. For every great game that goes to the bargain bin, that’s one more developer that EA will buy out. I think Nintendo is on the verge of bowing out of the console race too. I fear Nintendo’s Revolution will be their least successful system ever and agree with you that Nintendo is shooting itself in the foot in the long run by just putting out exclusive characters in other people’s games. We’re on the cusp of the second gaming industry crash and it’ll happen when Bill decides that trying to win the console war isn’t worth it. I think it’ll be a creative one though. I don’t think the PS3 will be a failure as a system, but I don’t think there will be any games I haven’t played a million times before.

You can bitch to me all you want, Tom. Doesn’t bother me in the least. I’ll listen. (Bitching AT me, however, puts you on my “bad” list.)

I wouldn’t count Nintendo out just yet, though. Granted that the recent string of EA “loan outs” make me sick, but they’re fairly minor when you think about them. As far as the Revolution goes, the exact same talk happened before the GameCube launched. People were convinced that the system would be a total failure because of bad blood from the N64 days, Nintendo will stick with the handheld markets, blah, blah, blah. Now the GC may be #3 here in the US, but it’s by no means a failure. Hell, in Japan its right behind the PS2 in terms of sales. Japan LOVES Nintendo. Only if the next Nintendo system fails in Japan will there be any doubt in my mind that Nintendo will continue on in the console market.

And I do agree that at this moment, I could care less for the next crop of gaming systems. I’m definitely not going to join the “next” generation on launch day. Maybe not for a year or two.

It has been a great year for gaming both in the mainstream and in the cult game selection. I love Katamari Damacy like my first child. Alien Hominid is frigging awesome. Technic Beat was a breath of fresh air. GTA:SA, Halo 2, KOTOR 2, and Burnout 3 all rocked my socks. I’m not trying to be oblivious to what good has happened this year, I just see a bunch of potential bad on the horizon.

It’s a rarity that we see a gaming year quite like 2004. There were WAY too many huge releases and special games that I wanted. I could barely keep track! But it looks like that trend is slowly disappearing. Now we have to look forward corporate mergers, exclusivity deals from hell, and bland games upon bland games. Thank HEAVEN we have Nintendo, Konami, Sega, Namco, and Capcom to bail us out year after year.

Again, sorry to send a whine/bitch of an e-mail at you based on one company. Maybe things will turn out for the best, but as far as I’m concerned, its a sad time to be a gamer who can remember what NES stands for and how a game can be fun on a joystick with one button.

This is why I collect old systems I used to have. There’s nothing quite like going back to your roots with simpler games from simpler times. But as always, us OG gamers are growing older, watching the younger ones ruin everything for us. WHY can’t a company create a game that ISN’T realistic for once? Maybe put out a good, ol’ fashioned 2D platformer with very little items to collect? Huh?

And again, it’s OKAY to share your feelings on this matter. Lord knows I do it every week.


PLUGS & SHILLS THAT PAY THE BILLS

The plugs section is BACK. Small, but BACK.

NyogthaAlex Lucard
I’ll never fully understand what he divulges in his weekly masterpiece. I guess I’m just not that good a cook. (BA-ZING!)

Rapid FireBryan Berg
Bryan’s back on the scene, offering the other side of the coin in regards to EA and such. I still can’t believe that EA’s success can be pinned solely (or mostly) on Sega’s mistakes, but that’s his point of view, and its a damn logical one.

The Angry GamerLiquidcross
LC brings back old memories of the Clayfighter series. Perhaps they were crappy fighting games, but they were “cool” crappy fighting games, assuming you get the meaning.

Orange Lounge Radio gets some weekly lovin’ for being too damn awesome NOT to listen to. I might as well plug DDRFreak Radio while I’m at it, for they run reruns of OLR on Fridays just in case you missed it the week before. And if you tune in tonight for the OLR rerun, you can hear how I SOUND LIKE! (Big f*ckin’ deal, I agree, but still, you CAN!) Oh, I called my readers “sticky-fingered porn-viewers” as a passing comment. If you’re offended…dude, get a sense of humor.

Oh, and before I go, I have a blog. Just thought you might like to know.


PARTING THOUGHTS

Well, this is my last Friday of freedom as I head back to the Towson dorms to begin my LAST YEAR OF CLASSES. Unless the snow hits badly on move-in day, in which case I’m incredibly screwed. In any case, I’ll be back on XBox Live next week for those who care.

So until next week, go hit some monkeys with car fenders. Why are you looking at me like that? YOU HEARD ME!


Alex Williams, The Norwegian Athlete