Thank God It’s Thursday News Report 12.11.03

Hello, and welcome to the latest Thank God It’s Thursday News Report, found exclusively here at 411 Games! Bryan Berg here to provide the latest in gaming news, commentary, and… well, plugs. As always, thanks for stopping by.

Those of you concerned with Bryan Berg, the man behind the magic that is TGIT, and his personal life will be glad to know that he has completed all paper-related obligations to Hofstra University. What does this mean? Well, for one, I’M DONE WITH SCHOOL!!! (Sorry) Just four more finals and I’m done with higher education forever. But this impacts you, the reader, in a few significant ways…

– You know how sometimes writers promise a column or review, which never ends up getting done? Look no further than yours truly to see how often this actually happens. With school done, this ratio will decrease a great deal, which means you will be reading more frequent, more coherent, and more complete writings on a variety of subjects.
– I personally guarantee you that you won’t ever see another rushed, half-assed version of this report. That’s a promise. If I ever go back on this, I insist that you send in a barrage of profanity-laden e-mails taking me to task for not taking this seriously enough.
– School + ShopRite + Girlfriend + Band + 411 – School – ShopRite + Full-Time Job (hopefully) = Full-Time Job + Girlfriend + Band + 411 = More time for my newest toy…

X-Box Live
That’s right. Your favorite news reporter has arrived on X-Box Live. And he’s looking to take YOU on! If you have any of the following games…
– NBA Inside Drive
– NFL Fever 2004
– Top Spin
…you’re game for a whooping courtesy of The Game himself! My Gamertag is Berg411, and I’ve just gotten started with Live (as well as all of the games listed above) recently, so bear with me. If you want a go-round, e-mail me and we’ll set up a time for the showdown to take place. And if you plan on doing something like using your custom team where every player has a 99 rating, please let me know beforehand so I can prepare one of my own to destroy you with. Thank you.

As for the service itself, I’ve played four games of NFL Fever so far. Ironically, three of them were against the Packers. The first was problem-free, even though I got spanked. The second game was miserable, almost unplayable with all of the lag time and lack of a quality connection. In the fourth quarter, the game finally shut down, and I was credited with a win. This occurred at about 2 AM Eastern, so maybe this is just a by-product of a peak activity time. The third game got cut off after the first play (which I forced a fumble on, by the way), and the fourth was perfect. From the two good games, I can tell that this is a really great service that is near-seamless in its presentation. Most of the time, you’d think you were playing the computer – that’s how smoothly it runs.

However, that one bad game left me with a terrible taste in my mouth. If that was my first game, I would have never signed on again. This inconsistency may be due to a bad connection with the opponent, or it might have been a system-wide problem. Either way, it was a great annoyance and it’s something that shouldn’t happen when fees are involved.

Overall, X-Box Live impressed me. I’ll definitely be using it a great deal. I’m also very interested in doing an XSN League using any of the games listed. If anyone wants in, let me know ASAP so we can set it up and get it going.

Lots of good news today. Let’s get started!

Can I See Some ID?
If you look like you’re under 17, you may be asked this question in the somewhat-near future when you attempt to buy the newest M-Rated game. The Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association (IEMA) has declared that it will be forcing its retailers to ask for identification to ensure that gamers under 17 cannot get their hands on M-Rated games. The IEMA, which comprises 85 percent of video game retailers, joins chains such as Blockbuster and Toys R Us in the carding effort.

Three words – it’s about time. How long have we heard politicians, gaming executives, and social commentators bemoan the state of games, where kids play violent games and are transformed into murderers as a direct result of these games? You’d think that somewhere along the line, someone suggested banning the sale of a game intended for gamers older than 17 to minors, but you’d be mistaken. This is probably the best move the “anti-gamers” could pull off, as it doesn’t insult the intelligence of the gaming community like Leland Yee’s proposals did last week. Instead, it provides a very practical social control that people will be forced to conform to.

Now, here’s the part that will irk some moral defenders – as this is a new decree from the IEMA’s top officials, it’s going to take some time to implement this system. It’s estimated that these new procedures will not be affecting game buyers until next year’s holiday season. This definitely lessens the impact of the announcement; however, give credit to the IEMA for taking the time to do this right and ensure that people will take it seriously.

The moral of the story – if you’re under 17, either make older friends really quickly or start buying all the M-Rated games you can find. Because once your parents find out that these games are so bad that they’re placed in the same area of age-restrictedness as tobacco and alcohol, there’s no way in hell they’re buying you anything with an M on it.

Again – why couldn’t they think of this earlier?

Take-Two Apologizes… Sort Of
It appears as if another offended group has won. What a shocker.

After the backlash that Take-Two Interactive and Rockstar Games have received in the aftermath of the announcements that Haitians everywhere were offended by Grand Theft Auto: Vice City’s representation of their people, Take-Two issued an apology to those who were hurt by the game. The apology expressed regret that the situation got to the point that it did, and blamed the media for blowing things out of proportion in regard to the game’s incendary content.

Take-Two saved major face later in the apology, though, defending the inclusion of the content in the game. The statement issued by the company points out that games have evolved to a point where this type of material is warranted if it helps to build a more realistic portrayal of the situation. Also, Take-Two compared games to literature, music, and movies, all of which have similar content to the GTA games, and all of which are left to police themselves.

Haitian-Americans had appealed to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for help, and Bloomberg responded by threatening legal action. Take-Two responded to this in the apology with the statement which will have the biggest impact to gamers – future editions of Vice City will be edited to remove the material in question, presumably the on-screen prompt to “Kill all the Haitians!”. Not a huge concession, but one that tampers with the original vision of the game.

As angry as some gamers have gotten over this incident, they should thank both sides for resolving the matter in a quick and, for the most part, amicable manner. It’s easy to bash the Haitians for their late reaction and for being offended in the first place, but the truth is, many of us have no idea how much it might hurt to see a game ask the player to kill everybody of their ethnicity on the screen. Of course, this is something Rockstar should have considered while making the game, but they probably knew they couldn’t please everybody and knew something like this was bound to happen.

Take-Two and Rockstar deserve kudos for not apologizing for the gaming content, but for the result of it. It’s important that they didn’t compromise their beliefs too heavily, as that might have set the entire gaming industry back. In this day and age where everybody is offended by everything, the precedent has now been set for how these issues relate to video games, which should help to diffuse future conflicts in an orderly manner.

GameCube Flying Solo in Japan
In an announcement likely predicated by the success of the stand-alone Cube in America, Nintendo of Japan stated that it will cease its “Enjoy Plus Pack”, which consisted of a GameCube, Game Boy Player, and a 251 memory card. Nintendo also announced that it will only sell GameCubes by themselves. No word on how long this will last.

This is smart marketing by Nintendo because it gives consumers one less option. At first, this sounds like a backwards statement, because people generally like to have a choice. However, the Enjoy Plus Pack sounds like something that would give potential purchasers a little too much to think about – do I get the system by itself, or do I pay more for this Game Boy Player bundle? Should I get a GBA game first, or a GameCube game? Will I ever use the GBA Player? Which one is a better value in terms of price?

These are questions that we all ask ourselves when we’re trying to decide between two similar products. And often, when faced with these decisions, we go home to think it over. And often, when we go home to think it over, we never come back to close the deal. By eliminating this option, Nintendo not only makes it easier on the consumer, but promotes the GameCube as a system that’s good enough to stand on its own. Massive price cutting notwithstanding, this is the same type of thinking that got the Cube to become huge in America. Obviously, it doesn’t need that much help in Japan, but this should prove to be pretty effective in fighting the competition.

Mario on Wax
Who’s the latest celebrity to be included in the Hollywood Wax Museum? Adam West? Wayne Gretzky? Alf? Nope.

It’s Mario.

You’ve heard right. Mario, everybody’s favorite plumber, has been immortalized in the form of a wax sculpture and is currently in the lobby of the Hollywood Wax Museum, where he replaced the people from the Matrix. When asked for comment, Nintendo’s senior VP of Marketing and TGIT favorite George Harrison replied with this gem: “This truly is the season of Mario.” My sweet Lord, George. Let the hyperbole reign. Harrison also announced that Wax Mario was in the works for both the GameCube and GBA and should be out for the 2004 holiday season.

(Just kidding about Wax Mario. Sorry.)

Not a whole lot of significance to the Mario waxing except that it really shows how far games have come in terms of defining pop culture. Twenty years ago, nobody would have ever dreamed that a video game character could ever get to become this popular. And the amazing thing is, Mario is just one of a whole slew of characters that have become household names in the past ten years. Who knows? Maybe someday, there will be an entire gaming wing of the Hollywood Wax Museum. It isn’t as far off as you think.

Ys Coming!
TurboGrafx owners, prepare yourselves. Everybody else, be warned.

Konami has acquired the worldwide distribution rights to the popular Japanese role-playing game series, Ys. This is a series that has just released its sixth installment for PC in Japan, where Ys VI is one of the most popular games around. Konami plans to update this game for consoles with a projected American release date of late 2004.

Older gamers might remember Ys Books 1 & 2 for the old TurboGrafx system, and those who do will tell you how awesome this series was. Americans haven’t seen an update to the series since then, though they have been made and released in Japan. With this series revived in America, perhaps we could see an anthology-type compilation with all the games we’ve missed? It’ll likely depend on the American performance of Ys VI, which should succeed if given the right promotional touch, which Konami is capable of providing.

Misha – We Want Our Tea Back!. Misha takes a close look at gaming journalism, and makes some really interesting conclusions. Check it out.
On the one hand, you have the “Puerile Problem”. This is the phenomenon where games mags seem to be under the impression that their entire readership is under the age of 12, and dumb everything down to ridiculous levels (or just shove in a load of random, unfunny toilet humour).

Liquidcross – The Angry Gamer. You know, LC hasn’t been that angry in a while, which makes his last paragraph in this last Mega Man column all the more great…
He’s had his stumbling blocks, but Mega Man rarely lets us down. He’s got a rabid fanbase in the US, albeit some are sick f*cks who make Mega Man fanzine-porn.

Alex Williams – Encore Extra Stage News Report. I think one of Alex’s haikus might have had eight syllables in the second line, but it all depends on how you pronounce it. In any event, he’s the best haikuist ever!
I love it. A system that can burn CDs, yet can’t read what was just burned. This is almost as pathetic as game developed for the N-Gage.

Cory Laflin – Gamer’s Hangover News Report. Hey, Mr. Master’s Degree – what’s up with the Chiefs’ D? 45 points? Swiss-cheese run D? Did they pretend to be the Jets this week? Argh. Cory’s still the man, though, so read his report!
Mark “don’t call me Carl” Jung, IGN’s CEO, wins and will be CEO of the merged company, while Herr Surfas will be the company’s “strategy officer” and become a member of the board of directors, obviously raising the number of people in that organization to two.

Alex Williams – 411MAX: News News Revolution. End of Semester Syndrome is catching up to AW, but he’s still cranking out quality content! Make sure you read it.
I know that you loyal readers may be disappointed (All three of you. HI MOM!), but I got to do it to keep my sanity.

Lee Baxley – Hump Day Otaku News Report. How awesome would it be if they made another ActRaiser, or even just put the original out for GBA? That was a classic.
I can’t really comment, because I haven’t played either game, but I do hope Sega wins simply because I like them a whole lot better than EA. HAH! Journalistic integrity my ass!

Behind the Game: Lowrider. This is Alex Williams’ interview with the developers of Lowrider. I forgot to plug it last week, but definitely deserves mentioning, as it’s an excellent interview.

Give Your Sega CD Some Sweet Lovin’! This is a feature we all worked on together, and it deals with some lost classics that we played on Sega CD some ten years ago. It was a lot of fun to revisit these old classics while writing it, and I can assure you that reading it is just as good! Part 1 is linked, 2 and 3 can be found from 1, and 4 will be up on Friday. Don’t miss it!

Michael O’Reilly – Medal of Honor: Rising Sun. The latest in the acclaimed Medal of Honor series is reviewed on 411. See what our own Michael O’Reilly thinks of this new game.
Do you enjoy history that’s been watered down a little to provide you with a few hours of entertainment? Do you enjoy taking long walks into enemy held territory killing hundreds of your country’s foes? Do you enjoy the sights and sounds of the south pacific? If so this game will appeal to you very much.

Alex Lucard – Pokemon Channel. This game got a lot of crap from a lot of people until Alex posted this review. Suddenly, people think it’s a better game. Weird, eh?
It’s just good simple fun. And in that respect, Pokemon Channel succeeds where a lot of games this generation have failed miserably.

Alex Lucard – Onimusha Tactics. Never heard of this game before reading the review. But it sounds pretty cool. And Alex rules.
In truth, half a page doesn’t do the music justice. All I can suggest is to go get the game.

Commentary of the Week
It’s a sports commentary! How surprising, eh?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: I am not a college football fan. There are a number of reasons for this. I cannot allow myself to get attached to players who will be replaced by new players within three or four years. I cannot understand how teams can get ranked when every team wins eight games by a score of 62-17, wins two close games against ranked opponents, and loses one game they should win. I cannot, as a college student, root for players who are the same age as I, if not younger, and yell at them as if they were older professionals.

I am not a college football fan. But I am still perplexed by the recent BCS rankings, which have the country’s #1 team not playing for the national championship. Despite this, I can understand how it works. If Oklahoma had lost in the middle of October rather than in the Big XII Championship game, and if USC had lost at the end of November, Oklahoma would have made their way back up to #1. Timing is everything in the rankings because evidently, if you lose a game, you’re worse than the other teams, even if they might have the same record you do.

That’s what bothers me about college sports. It’s got very little to do with standings, and everything to do with what writers (who can’t actually watch every Top 25 team play) think and what computers say the rankings should be. That, and these guys playing are just kids and have no right being scrutinized by the media just the same as they would do to a 30-year old NFL veteran. That’s assuming they don’t live in a traditional “college town”, where the kids are placed on an even higher pedestal than the pros. That’s just scary.

BASEBALL: I’m not sure about this Kaz Matsui thing. They say he’s a good player, which was turned into him being a great player because of the success Ichiro and Hideki Matsui have had. But here’s the truth – the Mets didn’t need Matsui when they already have a franchise shortstop in Jose Reyes. Now they have to move Reyes to second base, where he might not be able to produce the somewhat gaudy numbers that we’ve come to expect from the 2B position. Furthermore, the move doesn’t address the Mets’ glaring needs regarding the outfield, the uncertain first base scenario, the bottom of the rotation, and bench depth. Most of the good relievers not named Keith Foulke are off the market, and the best the Mets will do in the outfield is Mike Cameron. Which wouldn’t be the worst thing, but you get the feeling the Mets could have done (and hopefully will do) better this offseason.

On the other side of New York, the Yankees are in mid-offseason form, throwing ungodly amounts of money at 35+ free agents and neglecting their own unsigned players. Pettitte’s as good as gone, and it’s nobody’s fault but the Yankees, who are far too consumed in their “bats race” with Boston to make any rational decisions. The Vasquez trade was okay, as each gave up a somewhat unproven player with star potential. But the Yankees are trying to replace Nick Johnson with Rafael Palmeiro. Not the best move, guys. They’re also this close to bungling the Sheffield deal. If that falls through, they’re targeting Vladimir Guerrero, whom I guarantee will fall on his face in New York. Guerrero isn’t the most media-friendly player, which will work against him here. The Yanks also plan on signing Kenny Lofton, whom I think has now played for every MLB team. Mark my words – in five years, the Yankees will be as bad off as the Mets are now.

As for the Sox, I’m a big fan of the Schilling deal. They gave up next to nothing for an ace, and Schilling and Boston seem to be a perfect fit for each other. He’s going to have a huge year and should get the Sox through Pedro’s DL stint, whenever that happens. There are all kinds of rumors going around about Alex Rodriguez coming to Boston, which may or may not be a good thing. A-Rod is, obviously, the best shortstop in the game, and would give any team a boost. But is Nomar that much on the decline that they’d need to replace him? And how would A-Rod handle the intense baseball atmosphere of Boston? Then again, if they don’t get him, they’re stuck with Manny Ramirez, whom they tried to give away for nothing earlier this offseason.

Just about done here…

This weekend begins the playoffs of the 411Mania Fantasy Football League. I finished the regular season with a record of 7-7, with one mysterious reversed decision taking a win away from me and turning it into a loss. Turns out I would have had the same opponent – Aaron Cameron of the Music section. He’s got Vick, who will be throwing to my Peerless Price (who may or may not get the nod over Marcus Robinson). Then again, my Trent Green will be throwing to his Johnnie Morton. I’d give the edge to my RB’s and our WR’s are pretty even. It should be a good one. He’s won both times we played this year, but this time may be different.

And with that, I close this edition of Thank God It’s Thursday. Remember to get in touch with me if you want a piece of me on X-Box Live, and if you want in on an XSN League, let me know ASAP. Thanks for reading!