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Month: January 2010

Five iPhone Games Worth Paying For

I have written in the past about how Apple can be pompous with their public image surrounding games. I have also written in the past about the “bottomed-out” level of pricing for iPhone games, and how game developers (specifically the big-name, established ones) have struggled to adapt to and create for a platform where just a couple bucks is somehow seen as “too expensive”. I do think there is a place for “higher”-priced games on the iPhone (that is to say “higher than $1”), but I do agree that the expectation of the price and its respective deliverable is nowhere near its DS and PSP brethren. It is a completely different model where even the big guys have to think like an indie developer.

That all being said, I wanted to share a few games that I have purchased for my iPhone that I regularly return to and genuinely feel are worth the price — regardless of the developer type. These are not fun little applications that you load up once or twice, show off to someone, and never return to again. These are not applications that you pay 99-cents for and feel you got your 99-cents worth of value after a couple days. These are games that take full advantage of the platform they are on, and over-deliver on their value. Picking up any of these is a no-brainer. I present them to you in an order that somewhat resembles my feelings on that value compared with their price compared with how much time I have actually sunk into them.

(5) Wolfenstein 3D Classic Platinum ( Link)

WHAT I PAID: $1.99

I played my fair share of Wolfenstein and Doom back during their original PC release just as much as the next kid. I was never super-into these grand-daddies of the modern FPS (back when the only term was “Doom-clone”), unfortunately, so I could not tell you just how faithful the port is based on my own experience. When you consider that John Carmack worked on it himself, though, I have full-faith this this is how it was intended to look and be played. The control scheme takes quite a bit of adjustment before you start cruising around — it uses a virtual control pad in the bottom-left like many games. Since it was always a very “2D” game with no real strafing in the first place, however, it carries over quite well once your thumb gets used to how it should nimbly and minutely slide back and forth. I have played it more than I thought I would, though I will admit that the sheer curiosity factor of playing Wolfenstein 3D on my phone carries as much weight as it does for simply being good.

(4) Rock Band ( Link)

WHAT I PAID: $9.99

I disagree whole-heartedly with my buddy Bob over at The Appcast. Back on episode 39 of their show, a battle between Rock Band and Tap Tap Revenge 3 (then still a paid app) concluded with my choice as the loser. This could not be more wrong. Whereas Bob liked all of the avatar customization and modes in TTR3 and disliked the “vocals” part of Rock Band, I have had nothing but terrible experiences with the cruft of TTR3 getting in the way of enjoying it. Earnings credits to unlock songs that are totally different from paying (with real money) for them is not as direct as Rock Band‘s simple “beat this playlist and get the mystery song” setup, which (while it is terribly antiquated) just works. The bazillion things on-screen in TTR3 leaves me confused as to what I actually selected — it’s a MySpace-esque assault of terrible design aesthetics. It is slow. It is unresponsive in the menus. Its business model of paid downloads literally gets in the way of me trying to do anything when it takes up 60-70% of the screen.

I may sound like a fanboy, but that’s fine. Harmonix knows what they are doing, and I am fully on board with them. Rock Band is fast. It is minimalistic and yet retains its distinctive look. It is organized. If you are into downloadable content, it is cheap — two (bundled) songs run you a mere 99-cents, a huge discount from the $2-per-song price point that is standard on the consoles, and (unfortunately) even carried over to the PSP’s Rock Band Unplugged store. It is true that this game does not have the huge variety and raw number of  songs available in the Tap Tap Revenge series, but you have to ask yourself which type of game play experience is more your style: do you want random taps that could follow any variety of musical qualities of the song (TTR), or do you want instrument-specific patterns (RB)?

For me, the choice of a music game was clear. I paid the full launch price the day it was released, and while I do think it settled down to a more appropriate $6.99 since then, I do not “regret” my purchase in any way. When I am itching for a little drum action on the train ride home, Rock Band for the iPhone has me covered until I can burst through the door to my ION drum kit. That is the main “problem” with this iPhone version, though — when the full experience is waiting for me at home, the only time I ever play the portable version is during commutes. I cannot see myself sitting in my living room playing the iPhone version when I could get up and belt my little heart out. It is what you make of it, though; if you do not have the cash to drop on the full version, skip a couple cups of coffee and get the portable one.

For the record, I have no problem with the “vocals” portion of the game — I never expected to actually be singing into my phone, so while it would have been a “nice-to-have”, I do not feel any major loss with having to trace my finger up and down the pitch, instead. No, the performers cannot be customized like their cousins on the consoles, and no, they do not perfectly move in sync with the music. None of these things affect the base game play, though, which is the most important thing to get right in an iPhone game.

(3) wurdle ( Link)

WHAT I PAID: $1.99

As one of the first games I picked up, wurdle certainly deserves a spot on the list. It’s simple, really — a bunch of letters are randomly boggled around in a grid, and you have to draw lines across the letters to form words. More than any other iPhone game, this is the one that I have seen groups of people get involved with (including a train conductor who stood behind us and called out a couple words). It is one of the best two-minute diversions you can find and you will lose more time with it than you choose to admit. There is always something to be said for simplicity, and wurdle hits a home run in that respect. What more can you say?

(2) Peggle ( Link)

WHAT I PAID: $0.99

Depending on how how addicted you already are, even the $4.99 original asking price may have been a steal. The price has fluctuated all over the place since then, but it is well worth it no matter what the cost is at any given time. While I only dabbled in the game on the PC and did honestly enjoy it, this ultra-portable version of the game is exactly how I wanted to play. The wheel on the right-side to pinpoint your exact angle was a great way to compensate for the lack of mouse control. The colorful design looks fantastic on the iPhone’s screen. It runs beautifully, even zooming in to slow-motion with “Ode To Joy” as you hit your last block. It is the culmination of every bit of “casual” PC gaming since Minesweeper, all wrapped up in an absurd and irreverent aesthetic.

(1) Harbor Master ( Link)

WHAT I PAID: $0.99

The “line-drawing” genre is one that has exploded on the iPhone. I initially saw Flight Control and thought it looked neat, but for whatever reason, Harbor Master was the one that grabbed enough of my attention to warrant a purchase. It is clear that my favorite games on the platform are the ones that take their simplicity and work feats of genius with a single, underlying concept — Harbor Master is no exception. You have a boat, you have a dock. Draw a line for the boat to empty its cargo at the dock, and draw a line for the boat to leave. Oh, but watch out for the boats hitting each other. Oh, and watch out for putting the orange and purple cargo in the right places. Oh, and on this stage, watch out for the pirate ships. Oh, and on this stage, take advantage of the fast-unloading dock but also watch out for the monster.

I have sunk more time into Harbor Master than any other application on my iPhone, most likely — yes, that includes Safari and various Twitter apps. Every other day I seem to hit a new high score on a stage, which drives me to want to play it even more. How fascinating is that? A game-lengthening tactic from the industry’s infancy (“beat a high score”) is what brings me back to this game. It is not about unlocking new stages. It is not about unlocking new boats. It is not about multiplayer (though that is also there). It is about the game doing the one thing that it does so well, assigning an obvious 1-point rating to each successful delivery, and making me want to get “just one more” each time. And everyone loves the tropical music that plays, too!

For reference’s sake, my scores are 182 on Cyclone Island, 135 on Fishing Bay, 127 on Monster Cove, 146 on Smugglers’ Reef, 152 on Cannon Beach, and 111 on Sturgeon Creek.

How about you all?

There are plenty of other games that are worth checking out. I still have not grabbed Canabalt, for example, and I know that Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor is worth a look. One of the earliest games, Fieldrunners, still has not made its way to my phone. I also can’t wait for the port of Plants vs. Zombies. How about you all? Which iPhone / iPod Touch games have you grabbed that you feel are more than worth the price of entry? How do you convince people (like our own buddy Andrew, who refuses to pay for a single iPhone app) that some of these are actually worth paying a buck or so for?

Seven Things That Have Blown Me Away In The First 10 Hours Of “Chrono Trigger”

Longtime Akira Toriyama fan. Playing Chrono Trigger fifteen years late. Check. In theory, I like Japanese role-playing games, but ultimately do not finish the vast majority of ones that I actually start. Gotcha. All caught up? Let’s talk about the game, now!

The following discussion will be filed under “Video Game Club” and placed behind a cut to prevent inadvertently spoiling the game for those who have not yet played it. You would think there would have to be a statute of limitations for games this old and discussions like this, but since someone like me is only just now getting to the game, I will be kind to the others who also hold their heads in shame!

Continue reading

Individual Contributions to DBZ Fandom

It is always fascinating when we are able to track down the actual first-time uses of certain words or phrases in DBZ fandom. Some of the things we take for granted and simply accept as commonplace were actually created by fans either for simplicity’s sake, out of ignorance, or even sometimes out of honest mis-translation.

Some of our favorite examples are things like:

  • Ultra Super Saiya-jin“, a term coined by Curtis Hoffmann back in 1993 in his summaries of the tankôbon to describe the in-between stages of SSJ that Vegeta, Trunks, and even Goku showcase after Cell has been introduced
  • Kushami“, the Japanese word for “sneeze”, also coined by Hoffmann in 1993 as a nickname for Lunch in her transformed state
  • AD” as used for years in the chronology of the series, a mis-translation of eiji or simply “Age” by Greg Werner in the late 1990s from his translation of the timeline in the seventh daizenshuu

There are other ones that we have not been able to track down the first-ever uses for. There is “Mystic Gohan” to refer to the character after his “upgrade” from the Old Kaiôshin (which goes back to at least the year 2000 in quick searches); there is the word “zenkaiincorrectly used as a proper noun to explain the power-up that a Saiya-jin receives after recovering from near-death, which appears to be an English-language-only development, possibly originating sometime in the early-to-mid-2000s; there is “base” that gets used to refer to the “normal” (tsûjô in Japanese), non-SSJ forms of characters, which appears to have become common-place in the English-speaking fandom during the PS2 video game revival for the franchise.

It really gets funny when people cross the line into delusional territory, though. A commenter on our third “Inconsistencies” video posted and asked why the video was receiving bad comments. When another commenter was challenged on their response of it being from “some guy [who] is being critical and nitpicking when he himself has made no creative contribution to this world”, they followed up and justified their existence and contributions to fandom with:

Well if you really need to know, I’m the first person to use the word “canon” in reference to continuity. That was on the Pojo forums way back in maybe 2002. You won’t find any record of that word being used in that context previous to that time either. So, yeah it’s more of a contribution to a subculture in general and not specifically to DBZ, even tho it was on a DBZ forum.
I’ll add that it was a more or less original contribution and not simply a commentary on a finished work.

Yes. You read that right. This individual honestly believes that they invented the term “canon” as it relates to continuity in a work, fictional or otherwise (or, giving them the biggest benefit of the doubt that I can, perhaps just DragonBall). Either that, or they at least have a hilarious (if not obnoxious) sense of humor about themselves.

The word “canon” shows up at least two years prior on (and probably much earlier if you are willing to dig). This person’s claim is essentially dead-on-arrival from the very beginning.

The word itself goes back thousands of years with this very same definition, so they certainly can’t take the claim in that respect. As far as I know (and I hardly claim to be an expert), the term originated with the Bible and what the church deemed to be the “true” and “correct” stories to include in their official version. The word and its associated phrases (“Such and such is canonical…”) have been floating around with not just anime, but all types of fiction for decades. I know little-to-nothing about Star Wars, but I know there are just as many heightened-emotion arguments about what is canonical with its expanded universe as there are with our own ridiculous arguments relating to DragonBall GT and the movies and the guide books and the international translations and so on and so forth.

That someone honestly believes that they were the first person to use the word “canon” as it relates to DragonBall… and did so only in 2002… and relays this information with the tone they did, propping their “original contribution” above something that is “simply a commentary on a finished work”…

I mean, it goes beyond delusional at that point, right…?

What Makes A Good Blog Entry?

I ask this question both of myself (to try and answer in an actual blog post… how fascinating!), and also of you all, dear readers. What does make a blog entry “good”…?

One thing to keep in mind is that I am not talking about a “blog” from a personal standpoint. This is work-work related (as opposed to hobby-work related), so the goals and methods will be slightly different. Are there any “professional” blogs that you follow? If so, what aspects really drag you in?

Here are a couple of my own thoughts:

Authoritative Tone
You know me well, by now — any writing that I do very purposefully takes on a tone of authority. If you simply act as if you know what you are talking about, it is all the more convincing! This is not something I am too concerned about, since the folks I will be calling on for articles have that authority… and I am the final word, anyway, so I get to copy-edit anything that needs it.

Be Personable
What makes a “professional” or “corporate” blog different from a standard press release is not just the tone, but the delivery. There needs to be a real voice. It can be a fine line walking between conversational and professional, but it can and should be done. Guest writers of relevant notoriety can be a huge help in lending a personable, yet authoritative, tone.

Outbound Links
Again, you know how I operate! If there is a source, it must be cited. Providing links to something other than your own website shows that you live in the real world and acknowledge that other people have ideas and opinions.

Make a Statement With the Post Title
It is a little basic, but it is true — grab the reader’s attention.

Know Your Goals
What do you want to actually accomplish with this blog? Do you want readers to comment? You need to ask them a question each time, then. Do you want to be picked up by news media? Be sure to mention your blog in conversations and other cross-promotions, have it readily accessible from your navigation… all the good ol’ regular stuff.

Maybe the best question to ask is: what makes a bad blog entry? What are some tell-tale signs that something is “off” and perhaps not credible, researched, authoritative, and even worth your time? Things like grammar and aesthetics (while important) are blatantly obvious, so we can skip past those!

Podcast Episode Coming – Your Thoughts Are Requested!

I certainly do not claim to be a podcasting expert by any stretch of the imagination. Even after doing this for a bit over four years now, I still run into random tech problems and sound quality issues that I can not always perfectly troubleshoot, though I do the best I can.

The spontaneously-combusting XLR cables are not my fault, though. I swear.

I know it has been well over  a year since the last podcast episode (if you could call it that) for this blog, but I made it a point to say that shows here would be when I have something to say, and I would not do them just for the sake of doing them. That being said, I actually have an idea for a show to do. It is incredibly “meta” (and specifically about podcasting), but that is OK with me if it is OK with you! You have read before how I have upgraded equipment over the years, and what my typical workflow is for producing a show. That was a while ago, though, and a few things have changed.

I really want to do an updated version of that, but more from the audio end of it rather than a text-and-images description. It fine and dandy to talk about it, but what does it all sound like…? Sure, you could compare the earliest episodes of Daizenshuu EX‘s podcast to some of the most current ones, but that would be a pain to do.

What I am planning on doing is recording a few segments, under very controlled (read: “ideal”) situations in terms of surroundings and acoustics, to showcase exactly what my different microphones really sound like, and how that makes a difference for the listener. With myself more than anyone else you will be able to tell how upgrading and tweaking a few things can make a huge difference — it’s no secret that my regular male co-hosts Jeff and Julian have amazing, deep, booming, perfect radio voices, where-as I have to over-compensate.

Not that I can’t form a coherent sentence, or anything like that. Oh, Hell… if you’re reading this blog, you know what I’m talking about!

In a nutshell, I have a pretty good idea of how that part of the show will go. You will hear the different types of mics, positioning from them, what the most basic of software can do to help with it, blah blah blah. What about the other side, though? Is there anything about the behind-the-scenes production that you are interested in learning about? Not necessarily the tech behind things… but the research, methods, reasons, schedules, time-sinks… that kind of stuff.

In general, is there anything about any of the shows I am involved with (Daizenshuu EX, lo-fidelity, vgconvos) that you are curious about? Why we do the things we do and how we do them? Let me know! I will probably pull Jeff on that later segment to answer with me, because he’s just such a swell guy.

It’s True! I Started “Chrono Trigger”

Alert the presses! Headline of the year, right here: “Toriyama Fanboy Plays Acclaimed Game 15 Years Late“.

Despite running a DragonBall fansite since 1998 (and being a fan of the series for a few years before that), I have many embarrassing stories to tell. While I have read a good chunk of Dr. Slump and own things like Kajika, I have never played a Dragon Quest game, and even worse… I have never played Chrono Trigger.

Despite being a huge fan of its character designer, and despite knowing that it had a “dream-team” of producers working on it, I never played the game back during the SNES days. I had only begun to dabble into RPGs at the time, and would not make any real commitment to one until Final Fantasy VII in 1997. Despite its re-release on the PS1 years later, no matter how many times I told myself to check it out, I never got around to it. Despite receiving it as a Christmas gift from the wife a year ago, it has not had an opportunity to jump into my DS. (Hey, the system saw plenty of action over the last twelve months — Retro Game Challenge was one of my favorite games of the last year.)

Well, that all changed last night. Mike, a.k.a. “VegettoEX”, a.k.a. “Supposed Toriyama Fanboy”, has played half an hour into Chrono Trigger.

Last night the wife and I got home from work, then the gym, and then dinner… and decided we were just too exhausted to do anything. I was planning on playing some more Uncharted 2, but that seemed like it would require more of an attention span than I was willing to give. After putzing around for a while, I decided that an RPG would fill the gaming itch perfectly. I could lounge around and play a game without needing to aim at someone’s head with a tranquilizer gun in an action game, or pull off a frame-perfect counter attack in a fighting game.

I am already enjoying it immensely. Things happen almost immediately from the get-go, giving you a sense of both scale, as well as cause and effect. I dig the music a whole lot, some of which I already know from listening to the included bonus CD a few times over the last year. I have only just reached the point where Lucca meets up with Crono back where Marle had disappeared to (is that vague enough to not spoil any of the first damn thirty minutes?), but that was more than enough to solidify my interest. I am sure you will hear my thoughts on the battle system, character motifs, art style direction, and more as I make my way further into the game.

More than anything else, I am happy to say that I have discovered why I kept accidentally referring to the RPG in Retro Game Challenge as “Guardia Quest” instead of “Guadia Quest” — the kingdom that Chrono Crono (hehe!) comes from is called “Guardia”, which I must have inadvertently run into and unconsciously absorbed over the years.

How about you all? So many of you have playfully criticized me for never playing the game. Without spoiling anything for me, what is it about the game that makes you hold it in such high regard? If you are in the same boat as me, what are your excuses (valid or otherwise!) for never playing it? This is your one chance to give me Hell!

Holiday Gifts: 2009’s Games For 2010

Andrew may have had a chance to play more of 2009’s games than I did, and certainly has a pretty good idea of what his favorites games of last year were. I’m in no such position. There were far too many 2009 games that I just did not get a chance to play, but am interested in playing, that I want to give it a little more time to let them sink in. There are plenty that I simply have no interest in what-so-ever (Hello, Modern Warfare 2), though…

But let’s talk holidays. Christmas. Chanukah. Kawanzaa. Festivus. Whatever it is you celebrate, you probably got a game or two (or twelve). What did your loved ones bestow on you this year?

As for me, here are the games from 2009 that I am just now starting:

New Super Mario Bros. Wii
Our first experience was four-player madness with the wife, the sister-in-law, and her boyfriend. We made our way through half of the first world, and collected most of the hidden coins along the way. After that, the wife and I have done two-player up to the midway point in the second world. The name of the game so far is “frustration”, and interestingly enough, more-so in two-player than in four-player. With four people playing, it became a fuster cluck of insanity and laughs. With two players, though, we were actually trying to accomplish something, and it just was not happening. Even with coordinated plans spoken aloud, we were slamming into and hopping off of each other, falling to our deaths. The two of us are no slouches when it comes to Mario games, either, both having those lovely little stars next to our 96 exits points in Super Mario World. We will probably swap the controller back and forth for single-player gaming from here-on-out. Between the unpleasant multiplayer experiences and the floaty, imprecise controls Nintendo seems to want to go in the direction of, it is probably for the best to go at it single-player if we want to experience what the game’s levels truly have to offer.

I see what all the hype was about, and I see what all the disappointment was about. The controls are absolutely horrific, and it will be up to the individual player to decide if the brilliance of the rest of the game is enough to overcome that major pitfall. For me, it is doing that so far. The number of items available is mind-blowing, and the charming presentation is enough to keep me smiling… even if I am cursing at Maxwell each time he accidentally hops to his death. I definitely prefer the puzzle stages over the action stages, and am thankful for the raw number of stages that are available to me. It is the perfect game for short diversions, similar to what many iPhone games are currently doing. It has been great to bust out the DS again for this type of “casual gaming” in the purest sense of the phrase, rather than just the iPhone.

Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny
I have only put in maybe half an hour or so into some of the missions with Kratos, but it is what it is — a great version of Soul Calibur IV on the portable system. I can now walk around with my main man Voldo in my pocket. Not that I keep my PSP in my pocket, and not that Voldo of all characters is who you probably want anywhere near your pants…

Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth
Having recently rediscovered my love for the series, despite being completely awful at them, some of those Christmas Wii points went right to the re-imagining of the first Game Boy adventure which I never actually played. The music and presentation is exactly what I was looking for, and which Komani has been perfecting with their “ReBirth” line on Wii Ware. I have not had a huge amount of time to put into it, having gotten midway through the third stage on my sole play session thus far. I love the slightly-updated controls (being able to somewhat guide yourself in mid-jump) that are still based on the classic, rigid play style. The secret paths and bonus areas are a blast to search out. It’s a semi-new, cheap Castlevania adventure, and no-one can really complain about that!

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
I’ll admit that the graphical presentation was what drew me in to wanting to play this game, but it was not just how breathtaking the scenery was, how many objects were on screen, or how detailed the characters looked — it was how people moved. For all the talk about the “next generation” (now the current generation) of graphics, nothing has bugged me more than rigid and awkward character movements which persist to this day. We have had plenty of great advances in the last year or so, but no characters move as fluidly and naturally as those in Uncharted 2. It doesn’t end with just their movements, though. The amount of contextual small-talk is staggering and incredibly performed (with Nolan North deserving all accolades received to date), and has already led to one of my favorite lines in video game history (“There’s a guy above you! There’s a guy above you! *silent take-down, tossing the guy down from a ledge* There’s a guy below you! There’s a guy below you!“). So far I have watched cut-scenes just as much as I have played actual game play, but each part has been intriguing. Even the very beginning of the game, having to climb up the totaled vehicle, kept the wife and I on the edge of our seats — I heard more than one gasp from the other couch as pipes ripped apart with Nathan dangling in mid-air. I am dealing with a bit of frustration from time to time, such as the area early on where you go from the water fountain up around to the right on your way to the tower, doing silent take-downs on guards; I had several instances of being inexplicably seen and having to start over from the checkpoint, and mostly being unsure of which route to take. It leads you along pretty well over all, but there have been those couple instances of not being able to see where I am supposed to go. Right now I have just begun the third chapter, and am eagerly awaiting the next opportunity I have to play.

And that’s just what I have happened to start so far. There are plenty of others to either keep playing (Torchlight) or start playing (Bowser’s Inside Story). I am conflicted on whether or not I want to either bother working on my own top five list for the year — I don’t know about anyone else, but I tend to play games years after their original release. I mean, look at the above list of 2009 games I am playing in 2010. Think about Chrono Trigger, a game that I am determined to play in 2010, which was probably one of the best DS games in 2008 based off of one of the best SNES games in 1995.

I really have to give some love to Retro Game Challenge and Flower, though, both of which blew me away in entirely different ways. The former (combined with a replay of Zelda II) brought me back to my roots and re-introduced me to the fact and revelation that I think I really like open-exploration, side-scrolling, action games. The latter is probably one of the only PS3 games to put the SIXAXIS to proper use, let me relax, and actually moved me on an emotional level at the end. Downloadable games have certainly been a huge area of interest for me this past year, and I look forward to what 2010 has to offer in that department.

Which 2009 games do you see yourself playing in 2010? I think I may give Batman: Arkham Asylum another chance at the next price drop…

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