August 30, 2009

Top 5 Reasons to Love PAX

Dale Culp Says The Penny Arcade Expo--or PAX for short--is an annual event that takes place in Seattle, WA. It's been described as a three-day game festival for table top, console and PC gamers from all over the world. In just a few days, I'll be making the journey out there to report back on the goings on and get the skinny on some new games that will be coming down the line in the months to come. In the meantime, I have plenty to look forward to. This will be my second year at PAX, so I have a pretty good idea of what to expect. Here are the top five reasons I love the Penny Arcade Expo.

5) The Panels
The panels can be hit or miss. I, for one, look forward to the live taping of the “Listen UP!” podcast--formerly, 1UP Yours--featuring Garnett Lee and the original cast of the show, but I can understand if not everyone wants to sit through something like that. Then you have the live collaboration on a Penny Arcade comic strip where the entire audience is responsible for what is in it. The Q&A Sessions with Mike and Jerry (a.k.a., Gabe and Tycho) are usually also very funny. And, finally, there is a wealth of information on everything from, “How to break into the games industry” to “How can we make online communities suck less?” There's a lot of stuff going on at PAX and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

4) The Omegathon
Remember The Wizard, starring Fred Savage? Actually, I don't. I've only seen it once and I don't remember much about it except that it felt like one, long commercial for Nintendo's Power Glove and Super Mario Bros. 3. Other than that, however, it completely captured my imagination for how a video game tournament should be. Well, this is it! The Omegathon polls registered PAX goers at random and picks 26 of them to be Omeganauts. The Omeganauts will brutally battle across six games in competition for the Omega Prize. This year's Omega Prize is an all-expenses paid trip to the Tokyo Game Show! The winner receives airfare, hotel and tickets plus $5,000 in spending money if he or she can topple the competition in front of thousands of other PAX goers. It is truly an epic thing to see.

3) The Music
MC Frontalot, Jonathan Coulton, Paul & Storm, Freezepop, Anamanaguchi and Metroid Metal are all slated for this year's line-up, and each one brings an unprecedented amount of aural goodness that you can't help but want to dive straight into and rock out with.

2) The After-Parties
Even after the lights have gone down and the music has faded away, there's still a lot of fun to be had out there on the streets of Seattle. Hotel rooms, night clubs and other hot spots will be filled to the brim with other gamers, just like you and me, who can't wait to hang out and party. Some developers and publishers have even been known to invite gamers off the expo floor to come to their parties where they can see the latest games, meet the people who have worked on them and win cool prizes.

1) The Games!
Are you kidding me? C'mon, gang. The latest and best from Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo? The first public demos of Star Wars: The Old Republic? A chance to go hands-on with games that your friends will only hear about for the next few months? Plus, all the great, free swag you get just for stopping by at a booth as you walk through the expo game hall? How is that not the biggest draw to a gaming convention? Believe me; it is.

Then, toss in the PAX10--10 independently produced games that will compete for best of show – and I'm totally sold. I love indie games. Crazy, crazy game ideas and concepts that turn the industry on its head and show us how cool gaming can truly be. XBLA game The Maw won last year, and I can't wait to see who wins this year.

So, that about sums it up. Getting through the next few days will be nigh on impossible. Pretty soon, however, we'll all be back to our normal, boring lives until next year. Also, no need to cry if you live on the East Coast and can't make it to Seattle. In about 200 days from now we all meet in Boston for the first-ever, PAX East. That should be enough time to find some friends, save up and drive there, right? Start planning, now!

Editor’s Note: Dale Culp is the newly appointed Managing Editor of The Goozex Report. Please join me in congratulating him on his new responsibilities. Dale is attending PAX, so if you’re going, please try and find him to say Hello! You can find him on Twitter as, @daleculp

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August 29, 2009

Wolfenstein Review for the Playstation 3

Erik Kubik Says At some point or another in our lives, all of us have played the original Wolfenstein 3D on one of the many systems for which it was released. That was 1992, today is 2009 and once again Id and Raven have given us another Wolfenstein. You’ll do one thing in this game: kill Nazis.

The year is 1943 and B.J. Blazkowicz is back to stop the Nazis from harnessing a powerful force known as the “Black Sun.” Wolfenstein has some tough shoes to fill. The game comes out behind such popular games as Call of Duty World at War, Bioshock, and 2001’s Return to Castle Wolfenstein. With the Wolfenstein franchise’s track record, gamers should expect new and interesting game play, well developed multiplayer, and a game that fits well into the next generation of fps’.

There is some truth behind that last statement. Graphically, Wolfenstein looks amazing, easily one of the best games I’ve seen to date on the Playstation 3. The textures are fantastic. Water droplets from streams and sewers splash up and obscure BJ’s vision. Combine this with great lighting effects, detailed character models, and flashy effects from the occult powers and it is easy to see where a good portion of the development went; although later in the game I noticed a few of the character models had issues with the textures of their faces and clothing.

Game play is action based; forget the puzzles and the COD-style, squad-based missions against overwhelming odds. It’s just you, as the NPC’s do little to help you fight and are simply there to provide the mission and plot updates. As I quickly found out, if you shoot fast enough you don’t need to be stealthy or try to seek cover. As you progress through the game, keep an eye out for secret stashes of gold and Intel, a staple part of the Wolfenstein series. The gold allows you to upgrade and customize your weapons, improving accuracy, damage, range, and clip size. You can also improve your supernatural powers. Want some real fun? Try stopping “all time” and blasting your enemies with an MP40 submachine gun from across the map. As mentioned earlier, the Intel helps the story move along.

One creative tactic Wolfenstein employs to distinguish itself in an over-saturated market is the in-game missions, which revolve around a central town-like hub. While you’re between missions, you can upgrade your weapons, talk to repetitive NPCs and kill ever-evolving Nazi patrols. Most of the time, you do not have to do missions in a linear form. The bad news is, as you travel from one part of town to the next, it can become repetitive with slow load times and stale Nazi patrols.

For the most part, the in-game weapons are the standard fare of other fps games. There are
grenades, rifles, flame throwers, etc. Weapons like the Particle Cannon and Telsa Cannon keep the rest of the weapons from becoming boring. The supernatural powers you receive are abilities to aid you. You can shield yourself, slow down time, enhance your bullets, and strengthen your vision. Originally, the powers felt cheap and gimmicky, but as the story progresses and the enemies become more powerful, the ability to shield yourself and shoot through their cover does come in handy. Killing enemies is rewarding, as they groan and gurgle when stabbed or shot, and burst in showers of blood when explosives are applied.

My least favorite aspect of the game was the multiplayer. Featuring three games modes, Team Deathmatch, Objective, and Stopwatch, and several upgrades, one would think Id was following on the Return to Castle Wolfenstein Enemy Territory’s success. Not so much, the multiplayer games are tough to find and when you do have an opportunity to play, the lag-filled game play and crummy maps leave much to be desired.

When all is said and done Wolfenstein is an above average fps. It has good graphics. The game features some new ideas. It has an exciting, gore-filled game play that lasts around 10 hours. The stale multiplayer and the bugs hinder the game from becoming great. My recommendation is to play a demo first, then make your decision.

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Introducing "Beat the Blogger"

Beat the Blogger is a chance for new Goozex members, and existing Goozex members, to win tokens. Goozers will compete against jimmy james 70 (yours truly) on the Xbox 360. The games will change from time to time, but this week we are playing Madden NFL 10. Chances are, if you're the lucky contestant, you'll beat me. I haven't won an online match yet…

You have to be a member of Goozex to participate. If you're not already a Goozer, then membership is free and you'll receive a token upon signing up. You can sign up here.

If you beat me at Madden, then you'll win five tokens.

To enter and win the contest, be the first person to leave a comment and answer a simple Goozex Report trivia question. This week's trivia question is, "In Shawn's review of Batman: Arkham Asylum, did he like or dislike the game?" In your comment, please leave your Goozex user name and your Xbox 360 Gamertag, then send me a friend request (I'm jimmy james 70).

The winner will play me on Saturday, August 29 at 2:00 PM PST.

We're going to play 5 min qtrs, All-Pro level, I play as the Chargers and you play with a team of your choice. If you are disconnected during the game, it counts as a loss, but you will remain eligible for future contests.

Contestants that win are disqualified for future events for one year. Contestants that lose can try again next week.

That's right--I said next week--I am going to host contests once a week. Every Saturday morning I will post the trivia question and every Saturday afternoon we'll play.

Happy Gaming, Goozers. I look forward to seeing you on the grid iron.

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August 28, 2009

Classic Games: They’re Better Remembered than Replayed

Troy Benedict Says I have been playing computer and video games for most of my 32 years. Some of my earliest gaming memories are of getting dropkicked by Princess Mariko at the end of Karateka, and playing boatloads of Infocom and Eamon text-based adventure games. I recall flying my pixilated snowspeeder at the seemly infinite hordes of AT-AT walkers in the Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back for the Atari 2600, looking for their weakness - a single flashing pixel. I remember the first time I saw a friend’s Nintendo Entertainment System, and immediately fell in love with The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Super Mario Bros, and Contra.

There have been so many great games that I’ve played during my lifelong “career” as a gaming enthusiast. I could probably write endless, sappy articles about all of my favorite games and moments throughout my life, but I will spare you those details.

While I look back upon hundreds of cherished games with fond memories, absolutely none of the games are as enjoyable as they were during their prime.

I’ve read a lot of blogs and posts on message boards from gaming enthusiasts claiming that replaying a classic game was “just as good as I remember it!”

I immediately think to myself, either that person is so caught up in the excitement of nostalgia that they’re delusional, OR they’re outright lying. There is NO way that any classic game lives up to its original glory, and I’ll tell you why.

Let me clarify what I mean by “classic games” before I get to far ahead of myself, as this term can be very subjective depending on when you started playing video games. When I talk about classic games, I’m referring to the games of the 80s and early-to-mid 90s, when the PC and video game industry was still in its infancy.

I remember how absolutely amazed I was when I took my first steps as B.J. Blazkowicz in Wolfenstein 3-D or the thrill of being genuinely frightened while playing Doom, when a maze-like corridor in the Mars facility went dark and the sound of an approaching Pinky Demon could be heard in the distance. I play these games today, and am bored after a couple of levels.

I find it difficult to sit down and play a classic game like Dragon Warrior or Phantasy Star II, as I can immediately see how even the smallest changes over the decades have made for some of the genre’s biggest improvements. You weren’t always able to “try” out a new weapon or piece of equipment to see how it affected your stats. Sometimes you weren’t even notified if the item you were purchasing could be equipped by the character for which you were buying it. Even random battle encounters are becoming a thing of the past. I find these random encounters to insanely frustrating today, maybe even more so now I did in the past, especially when all you want to do is get to a checkpoint, and you run into that one enemy group that kills you. Game over! The controller is thrown – nerd rage achievement unlocked! It reminds me of that scene from Office Space when all that Peter wants to do is get out of the office and avoid Lumberg, and just as he’s finally logging off the network and making his escape – BAM – Lumberg pops up and asks him to come in on Saturday… oh, and Sunday, as well. I digress…

I have downloaded a lot of classic Genesis, NES, and SNES games through the Wii’s Virtual Console, and I’ll admit, I’ve probably played each game once or twice, at the most. It’s good for a brief trip down memory lane, but I can’t help but feel a little underwhelmed paying even $5 for a game that I absolutely loved during its prime, and only honestly enjoy it for a very short amount of time.

It might be a bit pessimistic to think this way, but when I go back and revisit a classic game that I grew up playing, part of me expects the game not to deliver like it did back during its prime. In fact, I expect it to be less than impressive. I’ll explain what I mean by that in a moment.
I’m not knocking what many consider to be the forefathers of the gaming industry. If games like Super Mario Bros, Doom, The Legend of Zelda, Kings Quest, Final Fantasy, never existed, the current gaming industry might be a whole lot different! These greatest games of their time should also be the inspiration for newer better games.

If the pinnacle of gaming stops with a single classic game, then the gaming industry has failed! If there has never been a better side-scrolling action-platformer since Contra’s release over 20 years ago, then we all might as well hang up our controllers and find a new hobby.

Like all industries, what makes the computer and video game industries so great and exciting is that they’re constantly evolving and innovating. Evolution and innovation in the industry is a necessity! Evolution and innovation is the difference between something average and predictable, and something fresh, exciting, and great!

Take the evolution of the First-Person Shooter genre, for example. Wolfenstein 3-D was one of the first games to gather popular and mainstream attention to the FPS genre. It was Doom that incorporated that idea and functionality of Wolf 3D, built upon it, and added multiplayer. Duke Nukem 3-D and Quake added completely new technology – better, more complex level design, smarter A.I., the ability to jump and look around, as well as stronger, more efficient network code for larger multiplayer games. Half-Life built upon those and other popular FPS games before its time, by getting the player to really feel like they were in the game. Valve used techniques in Half-Life, like scripted events and one of the best game openings to an FPS game, to really immerse the player. While Half-Life was still ultimately about shooting things, it also introduced the idea of a more complex story to help carry the game along. Half-Life wasn’t broken into levels either, the progression from area to area in the game was smooth and rarely did the player see a loading screen.

Today, the FPS genre is so completely different than it was in the early 90s. Players now expect a certain level of gradual innovation between game releases, or they’ll complain. And rightfully so! Nobody wants to play the same game over and over, especially with so much technology in our consoles and computers. More modern FPS, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Killzone 2, almost play like role playing games, where players are rewarded for playing more and being more effective on the battlefield. The in-game character is no longer created equally. There are more sophisticated level progression – the more experienced a gamer becomes, the more deadly and effective his character becomes in the game. There are new weapons made available, better weapons upgrades, perks and skills, as well as different classes of characters. Multiplayer games are more team-based today, instead of the massive royal rumbles of yesteryear. Gamers are working together to win, rather than simply being the lone wolf with the highest kill count.

Halo 3 introduced one of the most impressive stat tracking systems to ever grace a first person genre. Not only could players see how effective they are over the course of the game, but they could save, share, and replay online battles – watching the multiplayer session from practically any angle, analyzing where they went wrong, as if they were a football team studying the strategies of other teams by watching replays of the game.

Frankly, the leaps and bounds in technology is amazing, especially in the FPS genre, and it’s still getting better. Sony’s MAG (Massive Action Game), which comes out in early 2010, is pushing for multiplayer games of up to 256 players. Modern Warfare 2 promises to deliver an even better experience than the already fantastic COD4.

Hopefully, you can see that when somebody says to me, “Wow! Doom is still as good as the day I remember playing it!” I can’t help but feel sorry for them. Either they’re just caught up in the comforting glow of nostalgia (which will wear off, I promise) or they really haven’t played and enjoyed any of the more current games.

You might be thinking, you’re an idiot, Troy! There are so many classic games that are still fun to play. Yes, this is true, I am an idiot, and there are still some classics that hold up over the many years. These games have the feeling of being “future-proofed”, to borrow a tech term. They hold up because they have elements and features that are still popular in today’s games. They were innovative for their time, and their innovation is still recognized and respected even today. A game like Super Mario World is one that I can go back and play over and over again, and still get a lot of enjoyment. Perhaps, we can thank the Game Boy and Nintendo DS for helping to keep a more simplified, 16-bit style of gaming popular, even today. Super Mario World offered a lot of depth, especially for completionists who could go back and try to collect all of the hidden coins.

If a classic game is to survive and get the attention of today’s gamers I feel that they have to meet two necessary requirements: 1) the game has to be updated or re-tweeked with today’s industry standards in mind and, 2) it has to somehow contain the spirit of the original game without horribly mutating it into a completely unrecognizable mess. This is very hard to do, and few have succeeded.

Pac-Man Championship Edition is an example of a classic arcade game that was able to update its look and feel, and still feel genuinely like Pac-Man.

I also really enjoyed the new Space Invader’s Extreme -- although it’s backwards E’s were a little to “XTREME!” for me – because it felt and played like a mix of the original Space Invaders, with some of the more modern arcade-style games Geometry Wars and Lumines. The audio and visual flair, along with a very familiar gameplay style, made for a very faithful modern update to a classic game.

More recently, I really enjoyed revisiting my all-time favorite PC game, The Secret of Monkey Island. A lot of time and effort went into completely overhauling the original for the Special Edition release. High-definition graphics, an improved musical score, a slightly different interface, and full voiceovers for all of the game’s dialog. There is even an option to immediately transition from the new Special Edition version of the game to the classic 256-color version to see just how things looked back in the very early 90s.

I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts as to why I believe that classic games aren’t as good as we remember them being. It’s still safe to admire those classics for being the forefathers of the great games we have today, as well as thinking back fondly of playing them. But I personally, can’t enjoy a classic game the same way I did during its prime. Like I said before, innovation and evolution are necessary in order for an industry to grow, and if people are still enjoying a classic game like Doom over a modern game like Call of Duty 4, then something is very wrong.
Great games should exist as inspirational stepping stones for the brilliant minds behind new games: future games designers, programmers, and video game visionaries. Great games, classic or otherwise, should not be expected to stand the test of time.

I encourage everybody to give me their thoughts on this article, as well as your thoughts on classic games vs. modern titles. Do they hold up for you? In your mind, are they better left remember, than replayed?

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August 27, 2009

Celebrate the Dreamcast’s 10-Year Anniversary

Mike Marks Says It's hard to believe that 10 years ago this very instant, I was at my parents house, pouring over page after page of the Sega Dreamcast magazine I had picked up. It wasn't my first game console, but it was my first console purchase, which was an even bigger deal to me. I had worked as a lifeguard all summer, and I honestly still remember walking into Best Buy and seeing the Sonic Adventure demo running, and racing back home to figure out if I could afford it. As my luck would have it, I could, and on 9/9/1999 I walked out of there one happy guy. The best part is, with 9/9/2009 quickly coming up, I'm still just as happy with that purchase.

You can find a Dreamcast at many used game stores now, and they're usually pretty cheap. So with the big 10-year anniversary on the horizon, I figured some of you might want to see what you missed out on and may need a little help. Most people are aware of Shenmue, Space Channel 5 and the Sonic Adventure games already, so I've decided to list the ones that you might have missed when looking for the classics. Here's some of the more random titles that still have a spot on my bookshelf.

Blue Stinger--Currently: 100 points
Blue Stinger is an odd choice, I'll totally admit that. And because I have to be honest, I'll also admit that I actually own a Blue Stinger poster, and my band name in Rock Band is, in fact, Blue Stinger. This game somehow burrowed deep within my brain, and has lived there since I snagged it around Christmas time, 1999. It's a third person, survival horror/action title, and it's got more flaws than I'd care to admit. The cut scenes look wooden, the voice acting is awful and you run way too slowly. But, even with all that said, it's an absolute blast. It's a campy, sci-fi adventure set on an island, called "Dinosaur Island," that is enclosed in a blue bubble. Using a bunch of weapons found on the island, Eliot G. Bilade (that's you!) and Dogs Bower (that's also you!), will have to find out the mystery of Dinosaur Island, and help out some of the folks they meet along the way. The plot and acting (or lack thereof) is just so out there, you just can't stop playing. Every enemy you kill starts showering you in golden coins, which you can use at the vending machines to buy food and weapons.

And did I mention there's a part where you have to fight the monsters while dressed in a Santa suit? Because that's also there. So is the totally random, and unnecessary, tie-in with the mega obscure "Pen Pen Tricelon" Dreamcast game. And karate! You can karate chop, but only after you put on karate clothes! At 100 points, you owe it to yourself to give the game a shot. It's by no means perfect, but few games out there capture that same feeling as watching a "good" B-Movie, and this one (even if it wasn't trying to...) just nails it.

Cannon Spike--Currently: 550 points

Add it to your queues, folks, because you'll want to have a spot in line if and when this game comes up. The Dreamcast was home to the world's most notorious shooter, Ikaruga, but before that there was Cannon Spike. It's a 3-D, top down shooter, using a random collection of Capcom characters. Pop the game in, and quickly select who you'd like to play as. Arthur from Ghosts 'n Goblins, B.B. Hood from Darkstalkers, Cammy or Charlie from Street Fighter, Mega Man, Shiba Shintaro from Three Wonders, or newcomer Simone. Then you’re thrust into a random level. The game cycles through four levels and eventually you'll battle your way through all of them. Many of them use a different Capcom game as the theme, and almost all of them mash multiple Capcom classics together. Fight off "Evil Balrog" (known as Vega in the U.S.) on the Resident Evil themed level, for instance. There's 10 different difficulty levels, so replay value is through the roof (I still have never beaten difficulty 7), and your sessions with the game are short and sweet. Each level is all about the boss fights, which range from mutant gorillas to giant mechs, and are usually done and over with in under 5 minutes.

Cannon Spike supports two players, and is just as fun with a friend. At first glance, it's your standard shooter, where you're dodging huge sprays of bullets. But the addition of special moves and melee combat adds more depth to it, as well as gives you added incentive to play through as everyone, so you can see who does what. It's a hard game to find because of it's late release in the life cycle of the Dreamcast, but it's the type of game Goozex was made for. Get your name on that list, because at some point, someone will have a Dreamcast die, and they'll decide to part with this gem instead of replacing the system.

Jet Grind Radio--Currently: 200 points

While it is more than likely Jet Grind Radio is something you've already heard of, I needed to make sure I put this on my list. This is my favorite game for the system. On 9/9/09, I'll make sure to pop this in and take a long trip around Shibuya-cho. This game excels on every level. The soundtrack is phenomenal, the graphics are cutting edge (and still look great) and the gameplay has that unique style Sega used to be known for. Starting out as Beat, a member of the gang the GG's, you go around town, spraying your gang tag over the tag of rival gangs. Tagging is done by using the analog stick to match some cues on the screen, a much more fun and intuitive way of doing things, when compared to it's X-Box sequel, "Jet Set Radio Future." On top of that, you can design the tags yourself. There is an editor in the game that allows you to create your own artwork for the different sizes of tags available. I put hours into this thing, and I still think it's awesome when I load it up now. Shibuya-cho is covered in art that I actually created.

The game deserves a lot of credit for the innovation it brought with it at the time, and it's a shame JSRF didn't do too much to continue innovating. That's why I gave it a spot on this list. While I'm sure a lot of you have heard of the series, and almost anyone who bought an original Xbox had JSRF thrown at them, I need to stress how much better I feel this game is than it's successor. The simple ability to create your own tags, and to actually do the spray painting with the analog stick, just adds an unbelievable amount of charm to the title. If you played JSRF, and liked it, but haven't tried this--add it to your queue now.


MDK2--Currently: 100 points
This is a game for those of you who want to be driven insane. One of the hardest games I've ever played in my entire life, MDK2 manages to be both controller-smashing frustrating and an amazingly hilarious experience all at once. You play as three characters, alternating levels as you progress. As space aliens threaten life in Canada, you'll first take on the role of Kurt Hectic. He's a janitor, who has been forced to fight the aliens, and is given a 'ribbon suit,' which allows him to glide around platforms, and gives him a gun for an arm. The gun can be a machine gun from distances, but when using Kurt's sniper mode, is a pretty awesome sniper rifle. His levels are more about platforming, and using the sniper rifle to hit switches that open doors. Rounding out his arsenal are a whole slew of awesome gadgets to help you destroy and distract your foes. Next up, you'll play as Max, a robotic, cigar smoking dog with six legs. Remember what a big deal it was when Halo introduced dual wielding weapons? Psh, Max was quadruple wielding years earlier. Running on two legs, that left Max four that could carry uzi's, pistols, shotguns and anything else he could get his paws on. He has a jet-pack, which gets a little tedious at times when you're running out of fuel, but overall was a blast. Max's levels were straightforward and his firepower was heavy and fun. Finally, you'd get Doc Hawkins, the scientist behind all of this. His levels are pretty funny, and involve him collecting objects. The objects can then be combined to create weapons, and a wide variety of other things the Doc will need to get to his goal. It's much more puzzle oriented and slower paced, but just as entertaining.

MDK2 was unique because it was three games in one. There's 10 levels, each with 3 sub-levels involving the above mentioned characters. The stories mesh together very well, and it seemed everytime I was finishing a Kurt level, I vowed to never play another Kurt level again...only to crave his sniper scope right around the time a Doc level was almost done, making me really excited to continue. The only downsides to this game were it's extreme difficulty (I think I still have a save somewhere around level 9-B, a level I haven't even come close to in recent years...), and the weird control scheme. Moving is done using the buttons (Y is forwards, X and B are strafing, and A is backwards), and that frees up the analog stick to aim and move the camera. As unconventional and awkward as it sounds, it really isn't too bad once you get a handle on it.
So there you have it, my picks for some great games you could pop in to celebrate 10 years of the Dreamcast. I hope you've enjoyed my first column for The Goozex Report, and don't hesitate to let me know what you thought of it. Are these horrible picks? Think you deserve an apology for actually trying Blue Stinger? Wondering what I'd do if I could make an MDK3? Mad I didn't include "Fur Fighters," the one game on the brink of making this list I had to cut? Contact me at mikexmarks@gmail.com, and let me know what you'd like to see in the future.

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August 26, 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum: First Impressions

Shawn Lebert Says Among all the mediocre titles the Batman has mustered this past decade, he still remains as one of the most, if not the best, iconic superheroes to be written into comic book history. We still love him no matter all the lackadaisical arrivals on the past three-odd generation consoles. Thinking back, the last suitable and satisfying Batman game experience was perhaps Batman Returns for the Super Nintendo. It was indeed side-scrolling madness, a relatively fun beat-em-up, quite similar to the formula that Super Teenage Mutant Turtles was so fond of using. And for a movie-related gaming title, it was enjoyable.

Hold on tight, as we soar a whopping 17-some years later. Seventeen. We are finally graced with a title that speaks independent from all other Batman titles. Batman: Arkham Asylum for the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 arrives, reinventing and capturing the Batman universe. Quite noticeably, Arkham Asylum roots from the comic source material with crafted inspiration by Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb – real fine artistic style and visual homage to classic Batman graphic novels such as THE LONG HALLOWEEN – as this new title sets stone in a pre-existing, well-developed universe, but performs naturally.

The production value for the title right off feels deep and priceless, given that there was a specific tone that needed to be established and well done for it to be acceptable. Even though it’s a Teen rated game, Arkham Asylum manages to capture mature audiences. Its dark and spooky dimension fits perfectly within the established mythos of the Caped Crusader and becomes an instant attention-grabber moments into the introduction.

The graphics speak for itself, reminiscent of near Gears of War 2 finesse without everything having to blow up. The world feels right at home in the Batman world as the Batmobile screeches to life and roars through the macabre city streets. As the graphics are intense, we’re able to sense the emotion on the characters faces, as their animations are intensely written on their brows; it’s quite amazing. Even Batman looks creepy sometimes when he has to deal with his arch-nemesis.

The gameplay is simple and fun so far. Navigating through the big corridors of Arkham Asylum is intriguing, given the level of detail on its surroundings. The lighting of the game is an important aspect and creates a dynamic interior. As you venture from place to place, you do feel claustrophobic in its chilling atmosphere, and soon enough you have to deal with psychotic inmates who have conveniently broken out.

The combat is actually addicting. You man-handle all of your opponents with your bare fists, and since Batman takes care of the mess non-lethally, you tend to have a ton of men sprawled all over. The animations in the fights are pretty exciting and the intertwining of counter-attacks makes the fighting sequences smooth and real, just like being the master martial artist himself. There’s a little icon telling you when a certain opponent is about to send Batman a punch or two, and if you’re attentive to your surroundings while performing a combo on someone, you can dodge and counter on someone else right away. The last hit is quite devastating as time goes into slow-mo to reveal that final smash into an enemy, sending him into a nice long nap on the steel flooring.

A new feature for the game is Detective Mode, as you become the master of investigating, in order to dig for clues on where you should travel next or simply hunting for the hidden goods. The area goes to a monotone palette of color, making locations transparent. Unsure of what’s around the corner? Switch on Detective Mode. This isn’t just for investigation, of course, Batman has a wide arsenal, as he too is a science genius. Man, this guy knows everything. Use this mode to seek out temperatures within the area or even detect an individual’s heart rate or their emotional state. It’s incredible how detailed the Detective Mode is because they’ve added more elements than you even need, but the developers kept them in there because Batman is just a badass at needing to know the details.

The voice acting steals from Batman: The Animated Series from the 90s, which comprises of Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the infamous Joker. Just like the series, the voice acting is thrilling and totally natural – it’s as if these guys have been in the biz for years .. oh wait. They are the perfect voices for these characters and will forever be remembered and loved, as you all believe that already. (BTAS 4 Life)

So far, Batman Arkham Asylum is a top-notch A+ title that everyone should play, whether or not you’re a hardcore Bat geek. If you love games, don’t miss out on this. If you’re neither, I don’t know why you’re reading this. Stay tuned for the full review in the coming week, only at The Goozex Report. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some riddles I need to solve.

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August 25, 2009

Bargain Bin Goldmine

DrewMG Says One of the best things about trading games is the ability to check out pieces of gaming history for dirt cheap. If the newest AAA title from Infinity Ward or Harmonix isn’t up your alley, why not look into one of these hidden gems? Sometimes, the best games have the lowest price tag. All of the games in the Bargain Bin Goldmine are only 100 points.

Metroid Prime (Gamecube, playable on Wii) – 2002, developed by Retro Studios
Few games have the kind of hype that came alongside Metroid Prime. Nintendo is a publisher known for milking their key franchises year after year, but eight years passed between installments in the critically acclaimed Metroid series. Even more unusual was the story behind the development of “Prime” – Nintendo handed the series off to an unproven western publisher. Could they handle the expectations of bringing one of the most treasured franchises in all of gaming into 3D? As it turns out, yes. Metroid Prime was a phenomenonal success, and went on to revive the series for Nintendo, leading to four more Metroid titles in the next five years.

Why you might have missed it: It seems hard to remember a time when Nintendo wasn’t wildly successful, but in 2002 it was starting to look bleak for the former champion of the industry. Of the major consoles available at the time, the Gamecube was by far the most overlooked by most video game fans and developers. If your Gamecube was hidden under a layer of dust because you couldn’t put down Halo or Final Fantasy X, you might have missed out on this gem.

Why you should trade for it: Although Nintendo just rereleased this title as part of Metroid Prime Trilogy last month, it will cost you almost nothing to relive this modern classic in its original format. If you’re new to the Metroid series, or looking for a deep adventuring experience on your Wii or Gamecube, this is a can’t-miss title.

Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2 (PC) – 2000, developed by Westwood Studios
While Starcraft was tearing up the charts as a critical and commercial success for Blizzard (the King Midas of PC developers), another well known real-time-strategy series was updated in the form of Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2. Set in an alternate universe where Einstein invented time travel and eliminated Hitler before WW2, the Red Alert universe paints a picture of Soviet might threatening the world at large. Set largely in the United States, Red Alert 2 has memorable settings, great controls, and entertaining cut scenes.

Why you might have missed it: You were probably waist-deep in Starcraft tournaments and couldn’t physically make your way to the door. Either that, or you stopped playing PC games because you were afraid of computers in a scary, post Y2K world.

Why you should trade for it: There aren’t that many great classic RTS games that still hold up, but C&C: RA2 is one of them. It will still run well on a modern machine, and while it doesn’t have the sparkle of the modern 3D RTS games, the art design in the Red Alert series has always been top notch. Plus, there’s Tanya. Ah, sweet Tanya.

Gun (PC, PS2, Gamecube, Xbox) – 2005, developed by Neversoft Entertainment
Gaming genres and movie genres don’t tend to overlap cleanly most of the time, but every once in awhile you get something unique like Gun, which is a classic western in the vein of the old Clint Eastwood movies featuring one of the best shots in all of gaming. You play the role of Colton White, a cowboy in a nondescript American setting. The game captures all of the best parts of western movies, while still retaining the feel of a competent open world shooter. A better-than-decent storyline drives the action forward, but you’ll want to venture off the open path early and often, as you track down criminals and seek out your fortune.

Why you might have missed it: The game came out right at the same time as the launch of the Xbox 360, which might have made for a slight distraction. It slipped through the cracks as a graphically subpar 360 title, and a very late-gen title on the PS2, Gamecube, and original Xbox.

Why you should trade for it: This game seemed destined for the bargain bin almost immediately; an original IP in a niche genre. It’s from the developers of the well loved Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero games, so it’s interesting to see something they developed from the ground up as an individual story. It’s available for almost nothing on virtually every platform. Don’t let this one keep away from you forever.

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August 24, 2009

Tips for Trading on Goozex

Troy Benedict Says Being a fairly active member of the Goozex community for almost a year and a half, I thought I’d share some of my tips on getting the most of out of your experiences with Goozex, being both the buyer and seller. This are my own personal opinions.

Communicate, communicate, communicate!
I can’t stress communication enough! Whether you’re the buyer or seller, you need to communicate with the member on the other end of the trade. It only takes a few extra seconds to send a brief personalized message to another member about the trade. Sometimes a little communication can go a long way.

Be prompt and personal with the shipping confirmation
As a responsible seller, I recommend being prompt with a shipping confirmation. Take a few extra moments, while confirming shipment, to also add a personalized message with the details of the delivery. A brief greeting, with the product name and shipment date, is all you need. A seller has two options with which to send the product upon being matched up with a buyer. They can choose to ship within 1 day or within 3 days. I recommend sellers with busy schedules, or those with multiple packages to ship off to other users, to opt to ship within 3 days, unless you are absolutely sure that you’ll be able to send the package by the next day at the very latest. Give yourself the extra couple of days if there is even the slightest doubt that you won’t be able to ship the package within the next day. If you weren’t able to send a confirmation on the day the package was shipped, take a moment to let the member know the shipment date as soon as possible. If you are late shipping off the package, promptly contact the member and let them know of the delay, and give them an idea of when you expect to ship the package. Most people understand if you’re upfront and honest. Nobody likes to be left wondering when their title will arrive, especially if it’s a new or popular item.

Delivery confirmations or tracking numbers are a must!
Second only to proper communication, in terms of importance during a Goozex trade, is getting a delivery confirmation or a tracking number for your package. As a seller, think of it as insurance for a smooth transaction. It may cost a little extra for this feature, but if there is ever a problem with the buyer claiming they never received the delivery, having this information can be invaluable by helping to prevent unnecessary headaches. Make sure to attach this information to your shipment confirmation, as well. As the buyer, it’s reassuring to be able to get the most recent shipping details from the shipping service’s web site.

Check and double-check when sending multiple packages at once
If you are a fairly active member of the Goozex community, it’s not uncommon to be paired up with multiple buyers within a couple of days. If you are expecting to send out multiple packages to different members, make absolutely sure that you send the correct product to its matching user. I can speak from personal experience, as I mixed up a set of games one time earlier this year. It’s a hassle for both the buyer and the seller, as well as for Goozex, to correct this issue. It was recommended to me, that you physically separate the products and the printed-out member address info as much as possible, so that there is absolutely no way a mix-up would occur. Before sealing the package, double-check that the address on the package matches the address and product on the buyer’s request.

Test the product before submitting feedback
As a buyer, make sure to take a look over the condition of your product and ensure that the content of the package matches what the seller promised. At the same time, if there are a few cosmetic flaws with the case, documentation, or disc, be fair and realistic when considering posting neutral or negative feedback. A dog-eared page in the manual of an otherwise mint-condition package should not receive less than a perfect positive feedback, in my opinion. Please keep in mind that a majority of content traded via Goozex is preowned! Not all products you receive will be brand new, sealed copies. Although there are some people out there that send out brand new packages!

Send prompt feedback, and personalize it
Whether you’re sending positive, neutral, or negative feedback, take the time to send a personalized message to the seller. To me, there is nothing less personal to a seller, especially if the product is in excellent or mint condition, to receive feedback from the buyer with no comments attached. Comments for member feedback show up alongside each person’s transaction history, and are viewable to other members. These comments can be helpful in determining the quality of the person you’ve been matched up. The only time comments are absolutely required is for sending negative feedback. However, I think that all members should provide just a little bit of commentary when posting feedback, even if the trade was quick or uneventful. Even a simple “thank you” would suffice. The comments section is also a good place to add any details about the transaction that you were happy or unhappy with. If you had a practically mint-condition product, but there was a minor cosmetic flaw, instead of giving them an unfairly lower feedback rating, post the details in the comments section.


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August 23, 2009

Retrogaming with Goozex

Dale Culp Says Have you hugged your Dreamcast, lately? I have. A few months back, a Goozer by the name of mzipper sent me a sealed copy of NFL Blitz 2000. It's not exactly a classic in the “games you must play” sense of the word, but with the series going into its 8th year, I wanted to see where the series stood long before Blitz: The League II came out in October 2008. In terms of seeing where the series was and where it is today, it was a fascinating history lesson. Then, you have classics that are completely in the “games you must play” sense--games such as Shenmue, Sonic Adventure, Soulcalibur, Phantasy Star Online and Jet Grind Radio. There were quite a few great games on the Dreamcast--and plenty of them are available on Goozex--but you won't find any of them at GameStop. That's the trouble with brick-and-mortar shopping; it's just too limited.

I love retrogaming. I especially love when I come across an old game that was ahead of its time. I love seeing the crazy ideas that were fresh and unique, yet so prolific today that we take them for granted. I love the feeling of nostalgia I get when I pop in an old favorite and relive the old days. There's no better cure for a rainy day than a couple of friends and a few rounds of Contra, as far as I'm concerned. Unfortunately, Goozex doesn't go back quite as far as the Nintendo Entertainment System, but it does cover the PlayStation--a system well over 10-years old. From there, it's only a hop, skip and a jump to the Dreamcast, Xbox, Gamecube and PlayStation 2. So many classics, so little time.

Goozex, for me, isn't about getting the better deal or getting the game before anyone else; it's about choice. It's about searching through the breadth of games that I might have missed in a quick, convenient way, where I can be sure I'm getting what I actually wanted. It's about finding those games that retail shops won't even touch because of their age. Long after the bargain bins have been picked dry and even eBay can't save you, there's a chance some Goozer probably has what you've been looking for. Thanks to them, retrogaming is alive and well on Goozex.

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Meatball Pizza

JimmyJames70 Says I'm on Twitter quite a bit and the other day I tweeted that I was making meatball pizza for dinner. Well, one of my fellow Tweet Peeps said he wanted the recipe for how to make meatball pizza. He then went on to say he thought it would make a great blog entry on The Goozex Report, cause you know, gamers have to eat too.

How many times have you been in a gaming session that's lasted more than a few hours only to realize you haven't eaten yet? It's happened to me more than once. Sure, you can always raid the fridge and come away with some string cheese or grab a bag of chips from the pantry. But sometimes, when you're really starving, that just ain't gonna cut it. Another option is to call for take out, but that can take a really long time, can be expensive--and this might just be my opinion--but the quality of delivery pizza is going straight down hill. Still yet another option is digging a frozen pizza out of the freezer, and I have to admit, a DiGiornio pizza beats delivery every time. But every once in awhile I want a homemade pizza, so that I can control the quality of the ingredients and the toppings on the pizza.

This meatball pizza recipe is super easy, pretty quick, and tastes damn good.

Ingredients:
  • Pizza dough - I don't have the time or the patience to make my own dough so I buy Pillsbury pizza dough or Trader Joe's whole wheat dough
  • Pizza sauce - Any pizza sauce will do but I prefer Ragu
  • Cheese - I use a blend of cheeses, including parmesan, mozzarella, and cheddar
  • Oregano - dried will do just fine
  • Basil - I use fresh basil that I grow on the deck, but dried from the store will work just fine
  • Pepper
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Meatballs - I do make my own meatballs, but not for this pizza. I recommend Aidell's meatballs, they come in several flavors, so choose your favorite. I happen to use sweet teriyaki, but I bet the chipotle meatballs would taste great as well.

I think that's it.

First, preheat your oven according to the package. I think it's 400 or 450 degrees.

Then, spray your oven pan with some kind of non-stick spray like Pam.

Roll your pizza dough out on the pan and stretch it to the corners without tearing it. This takes some practice, but n00bs shouldn't get discouraged if it rips.

At this point, I like to drizzle the Extra Virgin Olive Oil onto the dough and spread it around. Then I add the sauce and spread that around. On top of that comes the grated parmesan cheese (save the mozzarella and the cheddar for later), pepper, oregano, and basil.

Pop that into the oven for about 10 minutes.

While that's cooking, slice the meatballs into thin pieces. You don't want them too thick or they won't heat all the way through.

After 10 minutes, take the pizza out, arrange your meatballs on the partially cooked crust, and then layer the cheese. Don’t go overboard with the cheese as tempting as that might be, just put enough on for one layer.

Put that bad boy back in the oven for seven minutes and you got yourself a meatball pizza that rivals any delivery.

You can thank me for this recipe in the comments.

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August 22, 2009

Is Selling DVDs Worthwhile on Goozex?

JimmyJames70 Says I figured it's about time I looked into the DVD trading feature of Goozex, since after all, it's a new feature and I've got several old DVDs laying around collecting dust.
Before I made them ready and active to sell, I did some math to make sure selling these old movies would make sense. Here's a breakdown of what I'm offering and what they are currently worth on Goozex:

Adding it up, that's 450 points for 4 movies.

For sake of comparison, you can purchase 400 points for $20.

Shipping 4 DVDs would cost approximately $14, given that each shipment would cost around $3.50 (of course, that doesn't include the cost of the bubble envelope and the time it takes to print a mailing label and dropping it off in the mail box). If you wanted to get really technical, then it might cost you around $16 to $17 to mail the DVDs. Even with that factored in, you're still getting more than $20 worth of points while spending less than $18.

Doing the math that way, yeah, you're saving money by selling old DVDs instead of purchasing new points. And plus, your clearing your shelf of DVDs you no longer watch.

If you think 100 points is too cheap to sell your movies for, you could always hold out and see if supply-and-demand kicks in and raises the value of the DVD. However, that's probably unlikely for older titles. It looks like the majority of DVDs, that aren't complete collections of a series, will probably stay at the 100 point value. Of course, that's pure speculation on my part. I could be wrong. But then again, I don't foresee a huge spike in demand for Goldmember anytime soon.


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August 21, 2009

Wolfenstein: First Impressions

Erik Kubik Says A new Wolfenstein game!!?? I first heard of this about two months ago. For fans of the series, it’s been awhile. Eight years is a long time to wait. The last game in the series, 2001’s Return to Castle Wolfenstein, thundered onto the Xbox and the PC. I fondly remember the game, with its big boss fights, crazy weapons, zombies, endless Nazi killing fun, and a great multiplayer mode.

Just like the original game back in the early 1990s, I would expect the new Wolfenstein game to garner a whole new set of FPS expectations. However, being “new” and “different” these days is more difficult because of the overly saturated FPS market. My initial impressions of the Playstation 3 version are good. The game opens by thrusting you into the action. The difficulty settings made me chuckle, straight from likes of DOOM, gamers are presented with several difficulty options including “Don’t hurt me daddy” and “Can I Play?”

Here are two things I like so far: the over-copious amounts of gore and the big explosions that send enemies and their limbs flying. There are new mystical powers, and as in previous games, the Nazis are trying to acquire some sort of ancient technology. In the beginning, the powers feel cheap and gimmicky. Slow down time, done! Use powers to look for secrets, done! Nothing screams OMFG: I am a God; well at least not yet.

I’m a little confused on the storyline and how everything ties together. The Intel, journal entries, and character interaction attempts to clarify some things but so far it's failing me.

So far there’s not a whole lot of new things for this aging IP. But the fast paced action and gorgeous graphics make me want to come back for more. As the game progresses, I’m hoping for these things: a large mini-gun, a BFG, and some zombies.

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August 20, 2009

PlayStation 3 Slim: Will Less Be More for Sony?

Troy Benedict Says A new, slimmer PlayStation 3 was officially announced this week. On August 18, 2009, during the Sony press conference at this year’s Gamescom, a trade fair for interactive games and entertainment held in Germany, the new PlayStation 3 Slim was unveiled. The new system is scheduled to be released on September 1, 2009 to North American retailers with the price tag of $299. The PlayStation 3 Slim features a 120GB hard drive, is 33% smaller, 36% lighter, and consumes 34% less power than current models. Additionally, a 250GB version of the Slim model was also filed with the FCC, but no official statement was made regarding it.

A thinner version of the PlayStation 3 has been rumored for quite some time, thanks in part to the release of some digital photographs claiming to show the packaging of a smaller PlayStation 3. Prior to Sony’s official announcement on Tuesday, listings for a PlayStation 3 Slim began surfacing on some online retail sites, which created a buzz throughout the online gaming community that an announcement was eminent.

It’s no secret that sales for the PlayStation 3 have been underwhelming since its release in November 2007. The biggest problem was the outrageous price tag. Early production costs for the original PlayStation 3 models exceeded $800, with the first two systems released to the North American market at $499 (20GB) and $599 (60GB)! Sony was losing at least $300 on every PlayStation 3 system that was sold!

Earlier this month during a meeting with investors, Sony’s CEO Nobuyuki Oneda stated that the PlayStation 3 was now 70% cheaper to build. This announcement of cheaper productions costs also created rumors that a more-competitive price drop for the system was forthcoming.
The PlayStation 3 Slim may very well be the catalyst that helps spur better sales of Sony’s struggling system. In a market where smaller and thinner is better (just see Apple Computers and their line of products), the PlayStation 3 Slim couldn’t have come at a better time. Not only will it be more competitively priced, it’s also “greener.” It will take up one-third less vertical space in the cabinets of your entertainment center, is one-third lighter, and consumes one-third less power than previous models. The new design also appears to be 100% less finger-print prone than its older brethren (but don’t quote me on that)!

It’s obvious that when something is made smaller, a few things need to be discarded. So, what is missing from the PlayStation 3 Slim that was included with the more-recent full-sized models? Surprisingly, the answer is “not a whole lot!”

Most noticeably missing from the Slim is the ability to install a third-party operating system, such as Linux, on the machine. This feature never really garnered a lot of mainstream attention, but I have to admit that I’m a bit baffled why this software-related feature was removed. Perhaps allowing for an alternate Operating System is due, in part, to a possible incompatibility with the redesigned cooling system and updated Cell processor?

Still included are the two USB ports on the front of the system, as well as the standard power, network, and audio/video ports in the back.

Unfortunately, high-definition cables will not be included. This is not a surprise, though. No PlayStation 3 system has ever been sold with HD cables in the box. Then again, the new packaging of the Xbox 360 Elite apparently will no longer include HD component cables, either.

As a personal aside, I think it’s much more forgivable for Microsoft NOT to include HD cables with the Xbox 360, than Sony with the PlayStation 3, specifically because of the inclusion of Blu-ray player on all PlayStation 3 models.

Tech geeks can breathe a sigh of relieve as the PlayStation 3 Slim hard drive can still be upgraded, as long as you have a little bit of computer know-how.

But even with the new slimmer model and a more competitive price tag, will this be enough to help boost sales for the PlayStation 3?

Last week, the video game sales figures for July 2009 were released by NPD Group, which showed an industry-wide decline for the fifth month in a row. The NPD Group also stated that hardware sales have slowed considerably for nearly all platforms, with the Xbox 360 being the only system showing a unit sales increase year-to-date.

If the competitor’s systems aren’t selling as many copies at price points of $199 (for Microsoft’s budget-priced Xbox 360 Arcade) and $250 (for Nintendo’s Wii), is $299 for a PlayStation 3 Slim still going to be a bit expensive?

If Nintendo’s model of releasing redesigned hardware, to spur interest and sales, especially with its line of DS systems, says anything then, yes, Sony may very well see a surge spike in sales that they so desperately need. It is one thing to release the same system with a bigger hard drive, but it’s another thing to release a completely redesigned system with a bigger hard drive. I’ve already seen a lot of interest with some gaming enthusiasts (including press) who have stated that they are considering purchasing the PlayStation 3 Slim, even though they already own a PlayStation 3.

What are my thoughts? Will I purchase one? The answer to that is: no. While I admire the redesign, and I wish Sony all the best with this new system, my current PlayStation 3 works fine. I am, however, hoping to reap the rewards in the next several years of the benefits that boosted sales figures might bring with the Slim. More PlayStation 3 sales equal more people owning PlayStation 3 systems, and more people using the system, make the PlayStation 3 attractive to developers and publishers. Perhaps we’ll see better, more exclusive games over the next couple years.

What are your thoughts about the PlayStation 3 Slim? If you don’t already own one, will this new hardware release help encourage you to buy it? If you already own a PlayStation 3, are you considering buying a Slim, as well?

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August 19, 2009

Video Game $pecial Editions: Why They Suck (Your Wallet Dry)

Shawn Lebert Says Today is a very good day, because a game you have waited months for has just hit store shelves. As the anticipation grows, you already had decided to dish over the extra dollars for the limited, ultra, mega-rare, six-disc collector’s set that’s only available at a specific store. You can’t wait to unwrap its mighty exterior as your fingers feverishly grip at the cardboard ends. Boy, this thing sure feels heavy. Not only did you reserve the $80 game, but it came with a ninja action figure of the main character – which does karate chop action, and the hero says five different lines from the video game! You decide to place him on an empty portion of your wooden shelf. The game’s disc is hastily fed into the tray as you prepare for the game’s main credits.

Whoa, whoa .. you just spent $80 on a video game, and for $20 extra, you spent it on an exclusive, silly action figure that apparently are “limited” in production? “Oh c’mon, it came with some sweet art booklet too!” Yeah, and you’re going to look at that, maybe, once? I suppose if you were one to have purchased such a legendary package, you care for the strong sentiments of a product, too, after the completion of the game. That’s understandable, if you knew the game was a masterpiece before purchasing it, and sadly, no one knows that.

Whatever your reason for purchasing such a thing, The Goozex Report is going to break down why special editions for video games exist and why they suck…your wallet dry.

The birth of special editions for video games sort of just started coming out of nowhere, most notably this generation. The most memorable ones being Halo 3 and Bioshock in its early stages. Who didn’t want to get their sweaty palms on a legendary edition of Halo 3? Came with a Spartan helmet nearly big enough for your own head. The design was wonderful and it was nearly lifelike. It was at least big enough for a cat’s head and we all know the turmoil that ensued on the Internet with countless cats from all over being abused and forced to wear the famous green helmet. The entire legendary package sold for a whopping, gargantuan of a price at $130. That’s 70 more dollars. More than the actual game is worth and people purchased them. They were selling like hotcakes, like massive Spartan helmet hotcakes.

Considering how much alone the Halo franchise has made over the years, making a humungous limited edition for it was inevitable and quite genius. Not only were millions of people purchasing the game alone, but also probably more than half of those were even picking up some sort of extra content for it, which adds more bucks to the power for Bungie in the long run, sending one big, proud hike upwards on that business chart. It was a goldmine to even suggest creating special editions for products.

Let’s not forget another legendary ultra limited edition pack that rivals with Halo 3’s price: Dead Space. Remember? There were only 1000 made at the price of $150. That comes with the game (don’t forget the game is only $60), special packaging, bonus content, the “Downfall” animated film, lithograph artwork, an art book, graphic novel, aaaand an Ishimura crew patch. Yikes. But not many were committed into putting down that much for a game that fell under the radar, unfortunately. Dead Space was great, but didn’t receive as much praise as it should have received initially. However, it’s come around and it’s made millions. The only unfortunate thing is that this ultra limited edition of Dead Space, I’m sure people would have, without a blink, spent on it, knowing it would be so good. Dead Space did have hype, but a lot of companies don’t invest in developing special editions until they know their franchise sells well. It’s a business and the game was a new invention, so putting a limited edition was somewhat of a risk. However, since there were only 1000 made, it didn’t create much of a crater in sales one way or another.

A lot of the creativity that took place into making special editions was quite unique for this generation, but the ideas for developing them did come from a different distributive area. Much of the moneymaking has to do with the notable distribution of movies on DVD. While special editions for hot games surfaced mostly this generation, special editions for movies have been around for years. Loosely inspired from the birth of such DVD special editions, came the same evolution into gaming. Countless number of DVD distributing companies hit the milk spot with limited editions, director cuts, etc. If you have a favorite movie that you keep investing dollars in, don’t be surprised when the next version comes out next year. The process is forever. And even recently with the arrival of Blu-Ray on the market, films are transferred to high definition the minute you read this. That won’t be the end of it either, as codenamed “ultra high definition” will be arriving in years. I’m pretty sure we’ve hit the double digits for Star Wars being milked.
The difference in gaming is that you won’t be receiving new special editions for year old games (there are a few exceptions for those Game of the Year Editions). By the time you open the package, you’ve made the company more than double the amount for each buyer, making a behemoth of sales. We’re not just talking about double either. If paying attention to the accurate sale prices up above that were stated, you’re doing nearly 225% for them.

Modern Warfare 2 has quite possibly the craziest special edition “Prestige” package, and it’ll be hitting the $150 mark, as well. The game comes in its hardened edition, which is in its steel casing and the bonus content, but get this, it comes with night-vision goggles. Real actual night-vision; we’re talking about quality here that you’d probably see out in the battlefield. Consider yourself part of the military now, friend. Has the special edition packaging gone too far? Apparently not, as the prestige edition is actually selling out.

So what makes going too far, going too far? Well, it’s up to the consumer. We create a bar, and if we exceed that bar, the price goes up on special editions. If we do not, perhaps that’s telling the business, “Hey, we’re in an economic struggle here!” But according to sales, that quote isn’t a reality.

According to some, developers are insisting that special editions are developed solely for the purpose of experimentation. Sure, they love the extra dough in sales, and I don’t doubt that, but it’s also a means to find how the consumer ticks and to see just how far someone is willing to buy something. When you think about it: Modern Warfare 2’s prestige edition doesn’t seem to odd considering all the other special game editions out there. One game’s ultimate edition is nearly the entire cost of one set of Rock Band game and instruments. Rock Band has the ability to play with an entire band, and up to four people, but some of these games still to this day do not utilize cooperative play and yet we still cough up a few hundred for a single player campaign.

Don’t disregard Rock Band and Guitar Hero sales, as those are huge sellers. What was once a simple music rhythm game has caused a gaming and musical revolution. This franchise of madness will forever remain as one of the most successful wonders in the biz, sprouting sequels left and right, creating an alternate universe for people who have hidden that inner rocker, and those who have been inspired so much, that they started a real musical instrument.

Special Editions are really just guilty pleasures. We don’t mind blowing an incredible amount of money on editions here and there, given that we have the conscious understanding that it’ll be valuable down the line. Maybe not in monetary value, but the personal value we feel after completion. At heart, we end up spending extra on the special editions simply because we’re geeks who need something physical in order to be reminded of the memories we gather through such an inspirational moment in our lives. Sure, we really don’t need them, but we want them. Who doesn’t want to have a souvenir for their purchase? Perhaps it is silly from time to time, but anyone who doesn’t focus too much on the dollar usually focuses a lot more on the value of collectibles, and how one grows attached to one thing and it inspires.

We love these special things and such special editions are here to stay for good. They could be outrageous in idea – Punch-Out!! comes with a boxing glove!? – to the memorable idea – Master Chief’s head on a mantle, sweet – but no matter what, these editions are around so that gamers like us can have something to remember by.

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August 17, 2009

Grundy The Man's Current Top Five Wish List

Blake Grundman Says Several triple-A titles are no longer scheduled for release in the fourth quarter of this year, and the 2009 Holiday season is beginning to look more bare than any year in recent memory. That said, there are still a great number of worthwhile titles that are on my wish list, including some games that have already been released and some that are coming out next month. Here is a list of five games that I do not want to live without:

1. Left 4 Dead 2 – After the tremendous success of the original Left 4 Dead on both the Xbox 360 and PC, it seemed obvious that there would be a sequel on the way. To the surprise of many, Microsoft announced that the sequel would be coming on November 17th, 2009. This is less than one year after the release of the first game, so it is likely that the game will be overflowing with new content, in order to rebuff the ire of frothy fanboys everywhere.

2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 – Infinity Ward is back at it again, with another soon to be classic installment for both the Call of Duty and Modern Warfare franchises. As much confusion as there has been about the name of the game, in the end it won’t really matter, because this will sell like gangbusters on every platform it is released on. There is no doubt in my mind that with the developer's pedigree, this has the potential to be a legitimate game of the year contender.

3. Halo 3: ODST – Any wish list would seem empty without an appearance from Bungie’s Spartan busting juggernaut. With ODST being the first Halo shooter that doesn’t star Master Chief, there is bound to be some backlash, and I do not expect the game to sell as many units as Halo 3 did; however, the game will most likely not have the same marketing push either. Regardless, look for this to be a big seller.

4. Assassins Creed 2 - Back and better than ever, Ubisoft is looking to throw all of their marketing might behind Ezio’s newest quest into the Renaissance period of Italy. After seeing how well the first game sold, it would not be beyond the realm of possibility to see a repeat of the success. Oddly enough, the publisher decided to release the game side-by-side with Left 4 Dead 2. I am sure both games will do tremendously well, but it will be interesting to see who wins the head-to-head showdown.

5. Wii Sports Resort – This might be at the bottom of my list, but I still want it. Nintendo can do no wrong on the first-party software front, and with the inclusion of the Wii Motion Plus peripheral, there will undoubtedly be droves of housewives that are clambering to get their hands on it; and I'm getting in line right behind them.

So, what's on your wish list?

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DVD Trading Goes Live on Goozex

Dale Culp Says Goozex, the game trading service we all know and love, is about to become even better. A major, new extension of the site will allow movie lovers to enjoy the same, great features that gamers already enjoy. If you've always wanted to trade movies as easily as you trade games, now you can! As the site undergoes its startling metamorphosis, I took the opportunity to get caught up to speed on this fantastic new service with Goozex founder and COO Jonathan Dugan.

One of things I wanted to know was how the back-end of the service was going to work with regards to adding movies to the site. Would they simply open the floodgates and allow every movie ever known, or would there be a limited selection, at first? “Our content provider in the past has been Muze and they continue to provide us with information on a weekly and daily basis. They provided the same information they give us for games but for movies. Some of the information they have provided us has allowed us to boil down the difference between certain special and regular editions of titles whether on Blu-Ray or DVD so that you'll know exactly which edition you'll get – the 3, the 5 disc, or whatever it may be. There's a huge amount of movies you're going to be able to find – some movies go way back. You'll have Spartacus, you'll have Citizen Kane, you'll have a ton of classics that you're going to have access to – some that you'll probably have never found or have heard of. Just like with games, you'll have the opportunity discover movies you might have never heard about or ever played. So, hopefully, you'll have the same experience with the movie section.”

One other question that continues to come up on the forums is the question of “adult” films and how they will be handled. Dugan says that, “You could say there's going to be a filtering process – the filtering process right now is that the adult films have been removed. It's a tricky subject, it's one that we try to avoid. We think it's better to have the physical media for adult content off the site. We don't see adult content and DVDs as being our core.”

I could tell I was hitting a tender subject and my next question was just as poignant, especially when considering that there does exist a strong difference between what makes a Mature game versus what makes an R-rated movie. Certain explicit themes and topics show up in a wide variety of films that just don't exist in gaming. I wanted to know how Goozex was planning to make sure these movies didn't fall into the hands of the wrong people – i.e., minors. “Obviously, you either have to be 18 and over or have a parent or legal guardian sign up for you. What we assume is that anyone on our site either has consent or is 18 or older, meaning they already are permitted to trade or see rated R films. Essentially, if there is someone younger that is trading on the Goozex system, according to our terms of service, they are giving consent that they are 18.”
In other words, currently, there is no realistic way for Goozex to prevent minors from trading mature content. Ultimately, it's up to parents and legal guardians to make sure their kids aren't gaining access to movies and games they, otherwise, shouldn't be seeing.

As for the question of point values and how they get assigned to movies, “It's going to be tricky,” says Dugan. “Hopefully our pricing model works out where a limited edition Terminator is worth more than a standard edition. Whether it's 50 points, 100 points, we haven't really tested it yet. It's something that we're trying to iron out the kinks right now in our beta.” Dugan explains that the beta will be ongoing for the next few months, even once it goes to the public and the real stress test begins. “The system, hopefully, will be able to assign value to each movie pertaining to their edition. Now, we're also going to, hopefully, be able to assign consistent and solid value to box sets – you know, like a season of Futurama, a full season of Battlestar Galactica – and hopefully we're going to have the right point allocation to each box set used. I think, over time, the system based on supply and demand and other metrics, I think a point system should work itself out. As of right now, the movies will likely be a good amount cheaper because, normally, a game is more expensive than a movie, so, from the get-go, movies, most likely will be around the hundred and 400 point range with some box sets going above the 1,000 point mark. Entire box sets of James Bond, for example.”

You might be wondering why a game trading site would be interested in trading movies. As Dugan explains it, “Well, Goozex stands for goods exchange, and originally, the idea was to have a platform that would allow anyone to trade any product. We kinda figured when we first started Goozex that we'd be stretching ourselves thin if we tried to be in every market. Movies, books, music, games – any type of product that you could trade and assign a point value to. We figured that we really wanted to get the trading system down pat and understand how it works, and what we really wanted to do was make sure that it worked really well before we worried about multiple products. So, that's why we started with games. We felt that the most logical product extension for people who play games would have been movies because we assume that a majority gamers, if not all, are interested in watching film.”

If the game trading service works well enough, as Dugan believes it will, there's a huge potential for Goozex to become more popular than ever. Even in the age of rampant movie piracy, Dugan says that the market exists for people who want movies on physical media. “People are losing money, out there,” as he explains, and Goozex is all about saving people money.

The service went live today, August 17, and has already seen trades occurring. According to a tweet from the official Goozex Twitter account, Smallville (blu-ray), Training Day (HD-DVD) and Batman Gotham Knight (blu-ray) were the first three movies traded.

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August 15, 2009

First Impressions on Madden NFL 10

Jimmy James 70 Says If you’re anything like me, and you haven’t played Madden ’09 since last December, then I do not suggest picking Madden ’10 up and re-learning how to play while downing a pitcher of margaritas. The end results are not pretty and you might see some lopsided losses with final scores of 65 to 10; or some such thing. At the same time though, you’ll have lots of fun, and you’ll be itching to get back on the field to recoup your losses sooner rather than later.

Let’s start this review with the soundtrack, which is not for the faint of heart. The menu music, that noise you hear between games, includes an all-star line up of Iron Maiden, Korn, Nirvana, Cypress Hill, Rage Against the Machine and a bunch of others that the younger kids have probably heard of. I was happy to hear Black Sabbath and the Beastie Boys. Cause I'm old school like that. Oh. I forgot to mention Alice In Chains. Rock on. Now, the question is, are you ready for some football?

Madden ’10 has some new stuff and some old stuff; as to be expected. The controls are pretty much the same from last year except you can fight for fumbles by smashing buttons on the controller. I have yet to win a fumble recovery, but then again, I’m not anticipating when the button smashing might take place. This, I’m guessing, will take some practice.

My first impression, after about four hours of gameplay, is the incredibly enhanced graphics. The game runs much smoother over last year with extra animations before the game and between plays, there are more inclusive updates on injured players, the refs get their close ups when using the chains to measure yardage and to discuss a close play, and of course, how can anyone be disappointed in seeing the coaches go off on the players on the sidelines. All of it adds to the game immensely and immerses the gamer into the action. The animations that take place between plays are not gratuitous or unnecessary, and they do not interrupt the flow of the game. Really, they play in the background as you choose your next play. It’s all really very well done.

Madden ’10 comes complete with the Virtual Trainer, the Madden IQ Test, Mini games, Play Now and, of course, the Franchise mode and Superstar players. The mini games were fun to play through once but I’m not sure I’ll go back for second helpings. They provided some practice on refreshing my skills with the controls, but for long-term play, I doubt the mini games have longevity.

Use the Virtual Trainer if you're really having trouble with the controls. It will teach you and remind you some basics of football, such as, use your blockers and don't always sprint as a running back, stay in the pocket when you're the QB and let your defensive linemen protect you. The question is, will this virtual training help you during an actual game? And the answer is: No, it will not help you. Not at all.

As awful as I am playing the game, after taking the Madden IQ, my skills measured at the All-Pro level. After a few games, I'm sure this will drop. There's a big difference between the Virtual Trainer, the IQ test and an actual game. After running through all the training simulators I was ready to get on the field.

I was born and raised in Minnesota, so I have purple blood running through my veins. Naturally, I chose the Vikings as my favorite team. And guess what? My first Play Now match was against the Packers. How cool is that, or was it pure coincidence, that my first Play Now game was against a division rival? I was ready to let the blood run red on the frozen tundra.

Of course, the game did not take place on a frozen tundra, but rather the comfy confines of a dome. And yep, by half time I was losing 40 to 3 (playing with 15 minute quarters). Yikes. I was taking a beating. During that beating though I noticed the play calling is more advanced and streamlined. I really should have stuck to the more basic call playing difficulty level, but I chose the Advanced level and found myself heavily relying on Ask Madden and his opinion of running a Double Z or a Two Man Under... Just give me the option of running the blitz and I'll choose it every time. I think I'm secretly jonesing for the Madden arcade football game that I've heard rumored about on the Internets.

The sports commentators are pretty legendary in EA games to be redundant, and after awhile, downright nauseatingly annoying with their inane comments (or is that just sports commentators in general?). During the half time analysis I was told the Vikings held a slight edge in the game, despite the score being 40 to 3, I had to completely try and tune them out otherwise I'd run the risk of my head exploding. Too bad you can’t simply turn off the commentators…

So, I lost that first game 65 to 10. Ouch. My Madden IQ was at 500 and stayed at the All-pro level. How it did not drop drastically, I have no idea...

The second game I did not fair much better. I continued playing on My Skill level, except this time against the Lions, who basically blow donkey chunks. Anyway, I still lost, but not by nearly as much. What I can't understand is how my IQ raised to 522 and my skills went up on rushing, pass defense, and rush defense, even though I still haven't won a game yet. My passing skill did drop from 9 to 10, but I think that has more to do with the fact that the Vikings have a pro bowl running back on the team and are in desperate need of a good quarterback; but I digress.

For the next game, I'm picking the best team versus the worst team and I'm playing on the Rookie level. I'm really looking for that first win. Oh yeah, I'll probably go back to Advanced play calling. Intermediate was just too basic and did not provide enough options.

As for the Achievements, they are extremely specific down to such details on player, time left on the clock, and if the play happened in the end zone or if it was a gang tackle. This is not a game for easy achievement whoring, no, not at all.

I must get back to playing more football for Madden 2010 is addictive, competitive fun. I'm suggesting you pick it up sooner rather than later.

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