Thank God It’s Thursday News Report 09.11.03

Hello! Welcome to this week’s Thank God It’s Thursday News Report (aka TGIT). Thanks for dropping by.

Last week’s column sucked. Sorry about that. At the end of said column, I told you all to read The Box Score. If any of you did, that’s really strange, because it wasn’t available. I wrote it, but it never got to the site. Probably because that sucked, too. I’m trying to decide if I want to bring that back as a regular column or not. Let me know what you think about it.

I hope this will be a return to form, as I’ve blown the past few weeks. School is back in session and it’s already pretty rough. If anything, this week has more news than the past few (my only goal is for Lee not to have to open his plug next Wednesday with “Bryan’s report was light on news…”) and I hope you guys all enjoy it! You certainly deserve it.

Damn, I’m good.

In a move out of the Bryan Berg Nintendo Business Strategy Guide, Nintendo has announced some more titles that will be receiving the Player’s Choice treatment. These games will be repackaged with a “Player’s Choice” label and a significantly reduced cost. The games will be available at their new prices on September 25.

Nintendo did something really neat with this. They announced three new Player’s Choice titles to be sold at $29.99 – Super Mario Sunshine, Animal Crossing, and Metroid Prime. Then, they took three games that were already Player’s Choices at $29.99 and reduced them to $19.99. These games are Pikmin, Star Fox: Adventures, and Luigi’s Mansion.

The two-tiered pricing is something Nintendo should be commended for. With the holidays coming up, the $20 games will be perfect gifts for some people. Also, any time you can get publicity for a game in this way, it’s a good thing. Nintendo’s decision to add three games to the Player’s Choice line is a wise one, as it is a reward to current GameCube owners after focusing a lot of energy on selling GameCubes to people who don’t have one yet. Nintendo was probably wise to leave Zelda out of the mix; it still sells well and could garner some pretty good publicity being reduced to $30 on it own, rather than lumping it in with three other titles.

Major League Gaming
You may have read some bits and pieces about the upstart gaming league known as Major League Gaming. Well, get ready to see what it’s all about.

MLG makes its much-anticipated debut on October 25-26th in the form of a tournament in New York City. The tournament will allow those competitors who are willing to cough up a $50 entry fee to try their hand at Halo and Madden 2004. Prizes for the winners total $10,000. To enter, applications must be submitted to by September 15.

Major League Gaming seems like the kind of thing that can either hit or miss. One one hand, it’s easy to question its place in the world, as it’s obviously not something that people need. However, we’ve already accepted so much oddball entertainment into our lives that MLG might fit a niche somewhere. It should be interesting to see how this plays out. And if you live in New York (tee hee), you’ll get the first crack at it!

Grand Theft Auto
The recent shooting in Tennessee, in which two teens fired gunshots at a car, is being blamed on Grand Theft Auto. You’ve probably heard games being blamed for all kinds of things, and most of the time, it’s unjustified. In this case, though, the accusers may be onto something.

Gamespot reports that the two teens who did the shooting informed police that they were imitating the infamous video game. Needless to say, the victim’s family has filed a suit against Take-Two Interactive, GTA’s publisher. It should be interesting to see how this holds up with such concrete evidence as the kids admitting that they were influenced by the game.

Usually, when you hear these kinds of arguments, you hear questions about parental responsibility. In fact, our own Frederick Badlissi devoted an entire column to questioning the parents of our society. It’s tough to see where they fit in here. You could make the case that they’re somehow liable for this incident, since they are the ones that (presumably) purchased the M-Rated (17-and-over only) game. And you’d have a good point, too; the lawsuit seems more concerned with getting the word out to parents on today’s video games than anything else, which is a truly refreshing viewpoint.

Regardless of who’s responsible for the kids owning the game, accessing the gun, or any other related issues, the fact is simply that this incident was inevitable. When there’s a game like Grand Theft Auto that so realistically portrays something that most people will never experience, there’s always a few people who take it too far. This cannot be blamed on any one thing. It is the nature of our society, and I think we’ve all come to accept this. But what happens from here is the significant part. This is when people form their agendas and see how they can use this incident to further their ideas. We may very well be seeing the most severe anti-violent game backlash since Mortal Kombat’s heyday. In fact, you can pretty much bet on it.

This all comes at a crucial time in gaming history, where games are becoming more and more “legitimate” in the eyes of the average person. Something like this could put a huge dent in the progress that has been made over the past ten years. We all know the power of the media – if they decide that GTA is responsible for this shooting, they’ll pour the heat on. I fear very lean times could be ahead for the gaming community.

Nokia has announced plans to release the N-Gage in Japan. However, it will not be receiving the head-on advertising push that we’ll be seeing in America. Instead, Nokia will be taking a more subdued approach.

While the N-Gage will be released in America and elsewhere on October 7, it will not come out until later in Japan. Also, it will be sold only in an online format.

At first, you might think to yourself, “Why WOULDN’T they put it out in Japan?” Nokia is the world’s leader in cell phone market share (in other words, more people own Nokia phones than any other brand). The target demographic is a perfect fit, as a whopping 97.8 percent of Japanese college students owned cell phones as of November 2001. And it’d be pretty safe to say that the technologically-savvy Japanese would get a kick out of having a cell phone, portable game system, FM radio, and MP3 player all in one concise package.

Despite all of this, though, Nokia won’t be entering the Japan market until later. Why? There could be a few reasons for this. First, Nokia might be waiting to see how the N-Gage performs in America before it pumps serious cash into its Japanese business model. This might not be the worst idea, as it’d get the N-Gage a buzz in the gaming community that it doesn’t currently have. Or, maybe it’s that Nokia wants to spurn Japan like Microsoft has with the X-Box. Japanese gamers buy less than 1,000 X-Boxes a week, yet Microsoft’s sytem is still alive and well. Perhaps Nokia, inspired by this, wants to make its biggest dent in America, as it’s been shown that a company can survive by being potent in one global region.

The third reason might be the most valid. Months ago, a Nokia bigwig slandered the Game Boy, saying it was for little kids and that the N-Gage will be something that 20-something males would like to play. Well, some would say that Nokia is running scared of Nintendo, and they may be correct. Nintendo is riding high right now in Japan with the number one console and the number one handheld. That’s going to be a tough market for ANYBODY to crack, let alone a neophyte such as Nokia. The last non-Japanese company to try it? Microsoft, and you’ve seen how they’re doing in Japan.

It’s wise for Nokia to stay out of Japan until they have a proven winner on their hands. They don’t have that right now. Many are saying the N-Gage will never provide Nokia with what it’s looking for from the handheld market. We will certainly find out in October…. in America, anyway.

References: Japan Media Review; CNet.

Alex Williams – Interview with Daniel Tyrrell. An excellent interview by Alex with the producer of Dance Dance Revolution! A must-read. No quote sticks out, the whole thing is just very solid. Definitely check it out.

Alex Lucard – Retrograding. I’ll let Alex tell you what his column is about….
Ten Books That Need To Be Made Into Video Game Form So Overprotective Psycho Middle Aged Members of the PTC Will Back the Fuck Off.

Alex Williams – Cheat! Definitely read Alex’s bit on the Dreamcast. I thought I was the only one to remember 9/9/99… thankfully, I’m not alone.
So if the Dreamcast is truly dead, no one told me. Or anyone else for that matter.

Best of the Rest
Liquidcross – The Angry Gamer. LC takes on piracy, and does it very well.
if you like a game, support the f*cking publisher and BUY IT! I don’t wanna hear that “try before you buy” bullshit, either; that’s what Blockbuster Video is for.

Rest of the Best
Jeff Watson – Friday’s Slice O’ News. A much improved effort from Jeff this week!
Well, that is it for this week, if I have pissed any one off this week… Oh f*cking well. Get over it.

Cory Laflin – Gamer’s Hangover News Report. Cory will appreciate that Trent Green led my fantasy team to a tie against my heavily-favored opponent. Notice that I didn’t WIN, though. Then again, I could have had Testaverde…
Proving that, even with the excellent-but-surreal commercials for ESPN NFL Football, ESPN is far more interested in filling the advertising coffers than backing their own licensed product; EA Sports has been chosen as this year’s sponsor of a long-running weekly NFL show on the network.

Frederick Badlissi – The Gamer’s Conscience. Freddy explores the always-intriguing issue of parental control of their children’s gaming experiences.
Rather than blame the makers of video games, take a look at the parents who purchase, or allow the purchasing of those video games in the first place.

Bebito Jackson – 411 Games Rumor Down-Lo. Bebito kinda had a bad week, but his column is still rockin’ as always. Make sure you read it.
So yeah, man… England must suck. You people never get to see the sun, you had to deal with being blamed for the spawning of the Spice Girls, AND you receive slow pickins with all the games. Why do you people even bother to LIVE there??

Chuck Platt – A Thumb to the Eye. Chuck posts his first mailbag, and he’s gotten some interesting letters from all of you people. Good work!
I cannot bring myself to be excited about online gaming. A dimbulb yelling obscenities at me while I play a game is not, in fact, fun.

Lee Baxley – Hump Day Otaku News Report. Stop sending Lee the Sobig Virus!!!!!! He’ll kill you. He’s the Bad Guy, you know.
Sony will make excuses, but the point it, they were beat. Why? The GAMES. This thing proves that it’s the games that sell the systems, and hopefully Nintendo will REALIZE that.

Alex Lucard – Pokemon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire. This game looks and sounds really sharp. But it’s still Pokemon Pinball, which seems like the most contrived thing ever. Nevertheless, read the review and judge for yourself!
Jesus! Does EVERYTHING have to be about Pikachu?

Chad Thomas – Silent Hill 3. Chad’s first review is a good effort and explains a lot about the Silent Hill series.
Some folks spend their summer vacation at Disneyland. I spent mine in Silent Hill.

Lee Baxley – ESPN NFL Football. Thank heavens they kept Dan Stevens and Peter O’Keefe (You can’t coach that!) instead of the unlistenable ESPN Sunday Night team. That’s incentive to buy the game right there.
The First Person Football and The Crib are two innovative ideas that were pulled off flawlessly, and you can bet that someone else is going to try to copy them.

Non-411 Games Link of the Week
I’m going to have to go ahead and plug CBS SportsLine. Their Fantasy Football leagues are excellent! We’re doing a keeper league there, and I’ve been thoroughly impressed with what I’ve seen. I spent all day Sunday watching the Real-Time Scoring page update itself (more on this later). It’ll cost you a few bucks, but well worth it. I’d pick SportsLine over all other Fantasy Football outlets, by far.

CD of the Week
Slayer – Reign in Blood. If you’re a fan of metal and you don’t own this, there’s something wrong with you. This CD RULES – it’s probably the fastest thing I’ve ever heard, and you can tell that these guys are very talented in spite of the fact that a lof ot this stuff sounds the same. It’s a metal classic, right up there with Master of Puppets, and could not be recommended any higher.

If you’ve written to me in the past week, yes, I got your e-mail. The problem is, my computer at home is ridiculously slow. It takes about one minute for the average page to load. That doesn’t sound like a lot on its own, but when you have to go to Yahoo, log in, go to the e-mail home, go to your Inbox, and then go through it all, it’s not fun. Somehow, my brother fixed the computer and now it’s running very well. For now.
With that in mind, I figured I’d give a mailbag, as I’d hate for you guys (well, both of you) to think I couldn’t be bothered responding. So here goes.
This one’s from Derek L., who writes in about last week’s CD of the Week.
I noticed that you had the 1st Offspring CD listed as your CD of the week. It’s a pretty good disc, I agree with you there, but I am writing about a disc you could recommend that is in the same vein, but much better and by a band that the Offspring have been ripping off for years.

Hitler Bad, Vandals Good is a great, great power-pop punk album with a ton of humor, great chops and weird tangents. The drummer, Josh Freese, is THE god of session drummers, and has seen time in Guns-n-Roses, A Perfect Circle, Oingo Bongo, and many others. Joe E is considered to be one of the best guitarists in punk. No Doubt recorded one of their Christmas songs for that charity album.

In any just world, they’d be at the top of the heap of all these Good Charlotte, Sum 41, Blink Clones that have kit big in the last few years, but I guess having The Offspring members run the record company you are signed to makes it kinda hard to get any sort of mainstream recognition.

If you haven’t already checked it out, I suggest you snag a copy in the store, or get some songs off Kazaa and it’s clones. It’s worth the effort.

I actually purchased “Hitler Bad, Vandals Good” the first week it came out, way back in 1998. It was really good, though not as good as their previous release, “The Quickening”, in my opinion. It’s the kind of CD that I’d lose for a while, then find it and love it all over again. Now, I have no idea where it is. Whoops.

If you’re ever bored one day, pick up a copy of TSOL’s “Dance With Me” and compare it to the Offspring’s self-titled. The similarities are downright eerie, as if it’s the same band eight years later. Never has one CD so closely imitated the other.

Next up on the plate, we have Adam Capwell, who got something else out of last week’s column, even though last week’s column sucked. I’ll admit it.
Hello Mr. Berg,

First, I would like to state that I enjoy reading your posting on 411Mania. However, today I finally had time to read your 9/4/03 edition of Thank God It’s Thursday News Report, and while I respect your opinion regarding the issue of game production costs increasing while the consumer price stays the same, I feel that you are sadly mistaken.

Mr. Berg, I am not debating that the gaming industry is not usually one where any fan who is willing to learn the craft can take the leap from customer to creator. Yes computer games can be created in this fashion and so to can console games, however I disagree with your thoughts that the future of gaming is going to weed out the poor games from the great games. If anything I think that this is going to hurt the industry in the long run. While you are correct that the major companies have the funds so as to not be affected, but when everyone else has to quit or become part of the established three, then what happens to the creativity to create games that are outside the “normal demographic”. It seems to me that I remember a time when a game like GTA was unheard of, but once it came onto the scene it totally changed the landscape. Lets look at sports games for example. In the NFL alone there are a great deal of games available, and this competition breeds a better standard of!
games. If Madden outsells all competitors one year then next year those companies must seek to improve the quality of their product in order to compete. What is a possibility in the industry that will lead to a downfall in gaming is that is if Madden outsells ESPN NFL for a year or two, then ESPN is likely to leave the market due to the high cost of competition and focus on another sporting genre. Once this happens and Madden for example is the only NFL game available, then there is no need for improvements and the product gets stale.

This trend is already on the verge of happening in the world of Pro Wrestling. The WWE is the top of the game and while there is competition in the form of NWA, it is like a fight between the elephant and the dog. The dog may have all the energy in the world, but you would lose your money if you bet on it. Now that the WWE does not have a real competitor, it is losing focus on the improvements.

So in closing, please keep up the good work and I look forward to reading your next column.

The course of events that I outlined last week is only one possible outcome from this situation. There’s always the option that the game companies take the Hollywood route and make “safe” games – that is, games that are sure-fire sellers. We see this in the movies with all the sequels and remakes that are made not because the filmmakers have something to say, but because it’s a guaranteed paycheck.

This letter details another scenario that we’re seeing right now in WWE. With no competition, the product is stagnating. The possibility of Madden being the only football game available three years from now is a very real one. And that’d be a terrible thing, because it’s obvious that Madden is feeling the heat from Sega to improve its game.

To take another example from EA, let’s look at last year’s hockey game battle between NHL 2003 and Sega Sports’ NHL 2K3. Most everybody would tell you that NHL 2003 sucked and NHL 2K3 was great. So, EA went back to the drawing board for NHL 2004, and it looks like they’re doing a lot of work on it. Would they be making all of these changes if not for Sega’s competition? Not likely.

I’d have to say that the idea Adam outlined in his e-mail is likely to happen. Our culture is one of corporate mergers and homogenized products. As gaming becomes more of a business, it’s likely to go through the same struggles. You’d hope that game companies can learn from examples like WWE, but it might not be realistic. Still, it’s really amazing that games have made it this far. Hopefully, they won’t shoot themselves in the foot with bad business deals. They know what’s coming; now they have to get ready for it.

Good e-mails this week! Maybe there will be a mailbag again next week. Please e-mail me?!?

Commentary of the Week
If you think there’s a prayer of me not talking about football, you’re mistaken.

The Jets: I wanted to vomit last Thursday night during the Jets-Skins game. The Jets looked completely awful. Worse, there’s not really a reason to think next week against Miami will be any different. The one thing the Jets couldn’t afford (besides an injury to Chad Pennington) was another slow start, and it looks like we’re in for another one. As much as I love Herman Edwards, this is his 3rd year as coach and this is the third year in a row the Jets have looked horrible out of the gate.

Fantasy Football: I’m in two leagues. One I’m doing with some Fantasy buddies on SportsLine. The other, I’m doing with some other 411 writers at Yahoo. Today, I’m going to talk about the SportsLine one, because I drafted it myself and worked decently hard on shaping it up (as opposed to the autopick Yahoo league). It’s a 3-year keeper league. Here’s my team, with starters for this upcoming weekend in bold:

QB: Matt Hasselbeck, Trent Green, Chad Pennington (IR)
RB: Marshall Faulk, Warrick Dunn, Troy Hambrick
WR: Rod Gardner, Terry Porter, Anquan Boldin, Wayne Chrebet, Mushin Muhammad
TE: Todd Heap, Jay Riemersma (IR)
K: Mike Vanderjagt, Phil Dawson
D/ST: Carolina, New Orleans

I’m thinking of starting Chrebet over Porter, depending on how bad Porter’s injury is. The Jets always play well against Miami regardless of any other factors, and Testaverde looked best last Thursday when throwing to Chrebet. I traded the Giants’ D and Stephen Davis for Carolina’s D and Troy Hambrick last week, but it didn’t go through before Sunday. Good thing. 6 forced fumbles and a defensive TD later, I was in position to defeat my heavily favored opponent. Unfortunately, he had Martin Gramatica kicking for him Monday night, and Martin got enough points for our game to be tied. Which I’m totally fine with, by the way.

I’m also totally fine with you guys sending me your Fantasy teams to compare notes. I don’t think any male could ever talk enough about Fantasy Football.

This Sunday: If I had to pick three games to bet money on (if I had money), they’d be…
Buffalo (-2.5) at Jacksonville
Kansas City (-3.0) vs. Pittsburgh
Carolina (+9.5) at Tampa Bay

Enjoy this weekend’s games! Hopefully they’ll be as good as Week 1, but you still can’t replicate that opening weekend magic. This week, though, we’ll get a better idea of who’s for real and who’s not.

This column was more fun to write than it has been recently. Perhaps it’s that there’s actual news to report, or that I’m adjusting to school, or what have you. It doesn’t really matter. 411 Games is on its way to big things, and I’m glad to be a part of all that. And hopefully you guys will all stay with us as it happens. It’s an exciting time to be a 411 reader/writer, and we will keep bringing top-notch content as long as people are there to read it.

So, have a great weekend, and enjoy Watson tomorrow and the other guys throughout the week. Thanks for reading!