Encore Extra Stage #11

Welcome to the first Friday of 2005! I’m Alex Williams, and I’ll be occupying this space for as long as I feel like.

Not much happening so far in the new year, which is how I like it. No school to get in the way of my gaming. Oh, and I have a Live Journal now! Check on it for the latest and greatest from me, which should be coming as soon as I stop talking about GTA: SA. (Damn game actually being good enough to meet some of its own ridiculous hype…)

The column’s a bit on the short side this week, but that won’t stop me from bitching about something I’ve been bitching about before. So, lets get started!


EA + NINTENDO = BLARGH

Something cool was announced a couple of days ago. It is something that is VERY cool, and very beneficial for both parties involved. However, Electronic Arts is one of those parties. So now, you’re going to hear me take something that really IS cool, and piss all over it.

You see, it was recently announced that the GameCube version of EA’s NBA Street Vol. 3 will contain something extra to compensate for the fact that it can’t be played online. It will contain MARIO CHARACTERS. Yes, it will contain an actual Mario team, consisting of Princess Peach, Luigi, and the super-famous red-capped plumber himself. These three will be able to go toe-to-toe with all the NBA greats in an incredible display of street-smashing basketball. For GC owners, this is a COOL feature.

And of course, I’m going to find something wrong with it.

You people are probably scratching your heads and saying, “What possibly could be wrong about something so cool?!? This is just like when Link was included in Soul Calibur 2. It was a COOL edition, even though he was broken as hell. This is no different!”

And it’s true; I guess you can say that. But you can ALSO say that Namco has never been accused of overworking their employees, or using underhanded tactic after underhanded tactic to position itself as a major player in the industry.

I have a problem with this announcement because from a business perspective, it looks like the deal has Nintendo supporting EA. And if a company is supporting EA at this point, they are basically supporting EA’s business practices as well. And if a company like Nintendo is willing to strike a deal with a group that is so morally corrupt only for a few extra dollars, how does that make Nintendo look? More worse off than usual, I can tell you that much.

Of course, simply labeling the deal bad because of EA’s past dealings is unfair and biased. There’s got to be more behind this than meets the eye. After all, the unofficial “outing” of EA’s treatment of their employees occurred less than two months ago. The development of NBA Street Vol. 3 began many months before the incident. The deal struck between EA and Nintendo to use Mario characters in an extreme sports title probably happened not long after development began. So once again, while I want to hate everything about this deal and rip both companies a new one for agreeing to it, it’s not as horribly cataclysmic as it seems.

But on the same token, it STILL looks like Nintendo is supporting EA fully when “Mr. Average Joe” looks at this story. And from the looks of things, a LOT of people are supporting EA these days, whether they want to or not. Microsoft did everything in their power to bring the EA Sports game to their XBox Live service, and subsequently canned their entire sports division once EA finally decided to sign on. The NFL handed them the exclusive license to their video game products after enough money was presented. Ubisoft is now 20% EA’s, and more development studios are currently within EA’s grasp.

It really gets me to thinking about the future. Is this REALLY the direction video games are headed in?

Over the past few years, the gaming world has been moving more towards the mainstream. We’ve been seeing more of companies like EA, and less of companies like Nintendo. Companies like EA are becoming more aggressive, and seeing merger after merger, acquiring as much position as possible in the gaming industry before an actual game is released. Nintendo proceeds with their basic strategy of keeping the kids and fringe gamers happy, and suddenly, it isn’t working as well as it used to. Gaming is moving too much to the main stream.

Not only that, but games aren’t just “games” anymore. They are movies and graphical masterpieces, leaving the actual “game” portion to be left incomplete, or otherwise not as enjoyable. An EA will put out a game like this, and we will fawn all over it. But if a Nintendo puts a out a game based mostly on gameplay, like it has been doing over the past 20 years, it will be lambasted and relegated to the back of the line. After all, story and graphics are better over all else, right?

And with Nintendo’s recent endorsement, it looks as though they APPROVE of this new direction. And with Nintendo, still a big wig in the industry, looking like they approve of EA’s direction, what hope is there for gamers like me who would give their right arm to return back to the olden days for just one hour?

Not a lot, my friend. Not a lot.

(EDIT: Info has just been released that Nintendo is partnering up with Konami and co-publishing a DDR game featuring Mario characters. Hmmm…if this info is true, perhaps I was a little bit hasty with my editorial.)


I GOT MAIL?!?!?

Thought this space would be empty for the week, but as soon as I’m about to give up hope, BAM. Two letters received within ten minutes of each other. I love you guys.

Top billing goes to Richard Haynes, who asks me:

Dear Alex,
MC GROOVZ dance CRAZE

Do you know anything about this Gamecube dance game from Madcatz? Are you going to cover it in your next column? Are you going to maybe even review it? I know almost nothing about this game, so anything you can tell me would be helpful. Thanks.

Richard Haynes

Good questions, Richard. From what I understand, MC GROOVZ dance CRAZE is the product of Madcatz wanting to develop a dance pad peripheral for the GameCube. Unfortunately, there were no games that USE a dance pad for the GC. So, Madcatz published their own and bundled their a pad with it, kinda like Donkey Konga. Anything for a quick buck, I guess.

I haven’t played it myself, but I have seen it in stores, retailing for about $50 for the whole thing. There are 25 songs from the looks of it, including “That’s The Way (I Like It)”, “Boogie Wonderland”, Jessica Simpson’s “Irresistible.” It’s an interesting track list, but nothing too impressive. Some of these tracks have already been in DDR already, with others already having remixes.

After poking around for information and screenshots, there look to be two modes of play. First, there’s the regular mode that largely mimics the DDR play mechanics. In fact, the only difference is that the “Up” and “Down” arrows on the top of the screen have switched positions. (This is bad for those used to DDR, as we are so used to the original arrow placement.) There’s another mode called “Spin Mode” where instead, the arrows come from the center of the screen, and you have to hit the right direction when they reach the edges. Apparently there are both four-panel steps and eight-panel steps on this one.

As for the graphics…eh, they could be better. From the screenshots, most of them are very generic and…um, “bubbly”. In some screen shots, I had to look twice to see if there were any arrows on the screen at all. They look incredibly distracting, and severely under par. Then again, so are the Madcatz dance pads, so I’m not surprised.

Am I going to pick this game up in the near future? I’m sorry, but probably not. While I’m all for dance games spreading to new home consoles like wildfire, this particular one doesn’t interest me all that much. It smells too much like a knockoff game, and I can’t really use the pad that comes with it on my carpet floor. Plus, there are other games that I want to occupy my time right now. But hey, if you still want to get it, go for it. It’s on sale now at the major retailers for $50.

Next up is Chad Smith, who writes me another novel. Why in the world do I print them? Who knows. But I like him, so it’s all good.

Yo again alex, time for some fan mail from your Canadian fan. By the way, do you actually live in Norwegia? (yes I know it’s Norway, I was attempting to be funny. Ha ha ha. hah. Ahem. I’ll stop now.)

Anywho, nothing really big this time around, I thought I’d just quote up some of your “I learned” and give my opinions on em. I might even add some more of my own on the end.

Okay, let’s see what you got.

“–I learned that tons of unnecessary hype could kill a game in my eyes.”
Ain’t that the truth. Fable was one of the most disappointing games I played this year. Doom 3 is also in that same category.

Agreed.

“–I learned that video game originality is, thankfully, not dead. Katamari Damacy is like a beacon of hope in this regard, followed closely by Feel The Magic: XY/XX.”
That game can not be talked about enough. Katamari Damacy is one of the best games of 2004. It might not be the prettiest, it might not be the longest, but I’ll be damned if it’s not one of the most fun games I had the fortune of playing in 2004. It is game design brilliance. And there’s a sequel coming! Lets hope and pray they don’t screw it up.

Agreed again. KD2 is already at the top of my “2005-Must-Get-List”.

“–I learned that the PSP is incredibly flashy and has a gigantic screen to display impressive visuals. “
I recently had the opportunity to see Wipeout Pure being played on the unit. Two words: Holy crap. If that’s a first-year game on the PSP, I’m salivating with anticipation on seeing what’s in stock when the system is “known” to developers and they start making some killer games. Simply amazing. Oh, and did I mention that TWISTED METAL is coming for it?!

I’ve seen the graphics in screenshots, and I must say they are VERY impressive. Just like I said before about the system having flashy visuals. But flashy visuals does not a killer game make. Wipeout Pure just might be a killer app for the system, but only time will tell if it PLAYS well. And as far as the new Twisted Metal game, they’re going to need to put out a KILLER version to wipe away the bad memories of 3, 4, and Black.

“–I learned that pretty much anyone can be transformed into a Pokemon addict.”
I am still resisting the urge. However.. that new one for the cube… I may become a convert.

If you REALLY want to start, I’d say take it slow and pick up either Fire Red or Leaf Green. Both are excellent RPGs, and are truly what the series has to offer.

“–Finally, I learned that the readers of this site are awesome. (Well, the intelligent ones anyway.) “
Aww, shucks. :)

OK, my turn.

-I learned that Rockstar is a behemoth in the gaming industry. GTA:SA completely met the hype, and to this day the game still blows me away. 80% and counting, baybe.

Okay, I admite that San Andreas is a friggin’ awesome game. It’s all I ever talk about in my new blog these days, I’m so into it. But remember that NO game, no matter how amazing it might be, can EVER live up to the hype that builds up. The game still isn’t perfect, as the graphics are still around the same level as GTA3, and the draw in problems are really annoying.

-I learned that Blizzard actually stick to their guns. Sure, their games are oft delayed, but they are always quality games. I still play Diablo 2 on battle.net to this day. World of Warcraft is what Everquest 2 wished it was. Blizzard banned people for ebay-selling WoW items. It’s about time.

The only Blizzard game I’ve ever played was Warcraft 3, and while I couldn’t get into it very much, it is still a quality game. I still can’t get over that people will pay MONEY for stupid item data for a game. There’s much better ways to spend your cash. Like on food, and clothing, and stuff.

-I learned that the GBA:SP murders my hands.

-I learned, on a related note, that a GBA equipped with an Afterburner modification is exactly what I needed.

To each their own. I myself used an Afterburner GBA for a while. (T’was a gift after I had my appendix removed, thus proving that surgery rocks. Sort of.) It had everything I could want from a handheld, but it was still a modified system. I now have an SP, and while I had to buy headphone adaptors for it, it is sleek and sexy.

-I learned that making meshes, models and maps for Unreal Tournament
2004 is way, way more time consuming than I thought

-I learned that Steam is a great idea, but valve’s implementation of it is not for me. Online registration should not be a requirement to play an offline game. What if that service disappears over time? Don’t even get me started on the DRM thing. As it would be pages and pages of text, I won’t rant.

Wish I could comment on Steam, but I never used it. Although the “Posting And You” cartoon for their forums is f*cking hilarious.

—-

Re: EA and the NFL

First off, let me say that I am not defending EA, and I too think that they are overstepping things. They might not be the Great Satan ™, but they’re definitely a sibling.

What most people don’t know, or refuse to acknowledge, is that the whole EA/NFL deal isn’t because of EA. EA didn’t go after the NFL any more than any other company. The NFL offered up the license to anyone, and EA put in the most desirable offer. Can you blame EA for that, or do you blame the NFL for offering the license in the first place? I’d take door #2.

Also, if I hear one more person say that EA has a monopoly on football games, I’m going to hit them in the face with a shovel. Hard. It would be like saying that Nintendo has a monopoly on platform games. Or Konami has a monopoly on Dancing games. Give me a break. The only thing EA has, is the NFL license. That’s not holding a monopoly, that’s HOLDING A LICENSE. Do you say that Nintendo has a monopoly on Mario games? No, because they hold the license to mario. Do you say that Sega has a monopoly on Sonic games? No, because they hold the license. Do you say that Sony has a monopoly on GTA: SA, because it’s an exclusive title? No, they hold the license! EA holding the NFL license does not preclude other companies from making football games, they just can’t use the NFL. My advice to other companies: Put in a larger bid on the license next time. My advice to the NFL: Don’t be FUCKTARDS.

…that’s all.

Chad Smith

(1) I consider EA the “Great Satan” mostly because of their business practices and current acquisitions. The NFL deal is another matter entirely.

(2) I said before that EA can’t truly be blamed for the NFL deal. The NFL held the license out to bid, and EA put forward the most money. I WANT to be angry with EA for this, but I know I CAN’T be. I never argued this fact in the column. However, as soon as the NFL put forward the contract, I’m sure that no other company was in the same financial position that EA was at the time. I’m sure that Sega would have jumped at this opportunity in a heartbeat if they had enough money, but they didn’t. And EA KNEW that they didn’t. So, the deal was pretty much EA’s as soon as it was offered.

(3) True that EA doesn’t have a monopoly on the football market, much like they don’t have the monopoly on any of the other sports markets they own the licenses to. Golf games are still made without the PGA, racing games are made without NASCAR, and soccer games are made without FIFA. So the same can be said about football games and the NFL. The thing is that the NFL is a MUCH more prominent license than the other three combined. EA owning the exclusive rights to the licenses might discourage other companies from developing football games because of this. Or, it can encourage the companies to put forward newer football games that are completely free of said license. I’m certainly hoping the latter, but it’s too early to tell for now. Lets wait until E3 before making any harsh judgments.


PARTING THOUGHTS

Running a little late this week, hence another plugs section missing. Hopefully next week, we’ll see a huge turnout of awesome things in the columns sections. So until then, READ US!

I’ll return next week to talk about gaming burnout. WAIT FOR IT!


Alex Williams, The Norwegian Athlete