The Xbox 360 Youtube App is Maximum Garbage

(This could probably go on Tested, but nobody would read it if I posted it over there because I have zero followers on Tested.)
 
So I complained a lot about the new Xbox Dashboard update. I felt it emphasized advertising space too much over genuine features, and actively obscured certain functions, with a plethora of too many and often unorganized sub-categories. Some of you out there felt I was nitpicking or were otherwise incorrect, but the fact that there are still people out there who can't figure out where Xbox Originals or Indie Games went (to the point where somebody made a game about it) says it all, I think.
 

"Game Type", an Xbox Indies game by developer Mommy's Best Games
 
But I reserved my opinion for a lot of the 360's apps. I'd heard some people complain about the changes made to Netflix, but as somebody who doesn't use Netflix Instant a terribly large amount, I found the new Netflix app to be something of an improvement - it better exposes more information about what you want to watch, and brings up a lot of similar content to watch after you're finished with the current video. But what I was always excited about was the Youtube app. I spend a lot of time on Youtube - a worrying amount, infact. I'm subscribed to more than two hundred channels. When I want to watch a video while I do whatever, I can always find something on Youtube. The problem, of course, is running Youtube on the same monitor as where I'm doing everything else. I just can't do it. I'm always minimizing everything else to just watch Youtube.
 
If Youtube was on another screen in the same room, it would be a lot easier to multitask. This is technically something I already do; by way of a plugin for Firefox, I can download the MP4 source file from a Youtube video, throw it up on my network, and watch it through the Xbox 360 that way. A Youtube app would eliminate the middle man and save me some time and a little bit of HDD space. 
 
Sometimes, Youtube knows exactly what I am in to.
 
I've been using the app for over a week now... or, at least, have been trying to use the app. The first thing about it I noticed, which won't be apparent by the above image taken from my capture card, is that all of the Xbox 360 video apps (Netflix, Youtube, The Today Show, etc.) all have slightly busted aspect ratio scaling. I have my Xbox setup with a D-SUB connector over VGA and the widescreen image seems to be incorrect scaled, giving the display a weird, somewhat smudged appearance. It's especially noticeable watching GiantBomb videos for the times when they bring up the Xbox dashboard on camera and everything looks squashed. This is a problem only limited to these video apps - games display at the correct aspect ratio, as does everything else about the dashboard. It only effects apps like Netflix and Youtube. In the long run you kind of end up getting used to it, but it's still something that shouldn't be happening.
 
This is a pretty good reproduction of what happens on my screen (make sure to view full-size).

The next major issue is how the Youtube app handles subscription content. As I said earlier, I am subscribed to well over 200 Youtube channels. Not all of them update regularly, and a pretty decent percentage of them haven't updated in more than 6 months. I keep them around anyway, because one day they might start posting videos again. On the Youtube website, managing such a large number of subscriptions is easy, thanks to a page that shows all of the most recent videos from your subscriptions grouped together in an easy-to-view grid. This makes it simple to get to what's new and watch it. On the Xbox Youtube App, trying to manage your subscriptions is pretty much worthless - you're simply presented with a jumbled list of Youtube channels you're subscribed to. Nothing anywhere in the interface tells you which channels have updated recently - only how many views their channel has, and how many videos they have uploaded - it's up to you to go through and manually check each and every channel individually for new videos. It's totally useless.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the number of subscriptions its willing to list cuts off at 100. If you have more than 100 Youtube subscriptions, you're out of luck. This wouldn't be a problem if the list sorted by date, as I'd be viewing content from the 100 most active channels I'm subscribed to. But it's not. It's not alphabetically sorted, it's not chronologically sorted - I don't know what criteria is used to figure out which channels make it in to the 100 I'm allowed to view, but I do know that it's annoying that there are some Youtube channels that are essentially gone forever. 
 
How am I supposed to use this, like, even remotely?

Perhaps knowing ahead of time this would be a problem, Youtube implemented a fairly thick-headed solution in the form of the "Watch Later" playlist. "Watch Later" is like any other playlist, but it's meant to be accessible across multiple platforms and easy to get to, and I guess it is - to the point where you're given the option to add videos to the "Watch Later" list first, over other things like adding videos to favorites or other playlists. I decided to play along, and added 20-30 videos to "Watch Later" with the intent of letting them play on the Xbox. Unfortunately, this feature is a little bit broken. My first time trying to use it, for instance, was met with an error message from the Xbox that my "Watch Later" playlist was empty - when, obviously, I knew better. When the feature finally started working again, I discovered that all the videos I wanted to watch were suddenly buffering every 30 seconds, even though watching those exact same videos on my PC not even a few feet away was smooth and problem-free. Both systems are on the same router, both systems are using a wired connection, but for some reason, video constantly hitches up on the Xbox. And while not exactly a problem per-say, there is absolutely no way to manage the "Watch Later" playlist on the Xbox - even if you finish watching a given video, it'll stay on the "Watch Later" playlist indefinitely until you use a PC to manually edit and remove videos you've already seen.
 
This feature only makes sense in lieu of everything else about this app being unusable.

Perhaps the worst part of this is that you can't complain to anybody in a position of authority about it; contacting Xbox Support about these issues simply results in them redirecting you to Youtube's community support forum, which may as well not even exist - it's hidden away in a part of Youtube that nobody ever visits, and almost nobody on the Youtube staff pays any attention to anything said there. The key word here is "Community" - it's basically a place for Youtube users to complain to each other and figure out solutions to the problems they're experiencing, because Youtube themselves certainly isn't going to do anything about it. It's a poor substitute for real customer service from a company that really wants to project itself as being "hands on" with their users (and is, instead, completely deaf to the majority of their complaints).

Of course, what is Microsoft's problem is the fact that Youtube, much like Netflix and Hulu, is exclusive to Xbox Live Gold users. While you can go on about adding value to Xbox Live Gold and whatnot, it's a serious issue when I'm in the middle of watching a video on my Xbox on the other screen, boot up a Games For Windows Live game on my PC, and get kicked out of the app on the Xbox because I can't be signed in to the same account on both the PC and the Xbox simultaneously. I have to choose - do I want online connectivity on my PC ( which some games can't function without), or do I want to keep watching video on my Xbox? The answer is that I shouldn't have to choose, and I should be able to do both at the same time. The only other solution is to create a PC-specific gamertag, but then we run in to the problem of a number of GFWL games being registered under the same Gamertag I have for Xbox Live and pretty soon we're talking an unnecessary headache over the crippling ineptitude that is Microsoft's handling of these kinds of issues.

If Microsoft really wants to sell the Xbox 360 as some kind of "set top box for all your entertainment media needs", these are the kinds of issues they are going to have to address as soon as possible, because the longer they wait, the harder it's going to be to change the system.
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My Game of the "Year" 2011 (?)

Game of the Year articles are always tough for me to write. With my rapidly growing backlog crushing down upon me, I find that I do not play very many games in the year of their release. This becomes a problem at the end of the year when everybody's gathering together their "Best of 200X" lists, because hey, news flash: I only just finished Bayonetta last month. So, as some people tend to do, I'm just going to write whatever. Sure, I'll focus on what few 2011 releases I have played, but I'm just going to sum up 2011 as a whole for me. So without further adieu...
 


Best 2011 Release I Still Need To Play But Haven't

BASTION

"The kid really needed to stop procrastinating and just play Bastion already."

So, hey, I know this is GiantBomb and all, so of course I've heard a lot about what a good game Bastion is. A lot of that was also reciprocated in other publications, who sang praise for the game almost as loudly. Even my own friends are telling me that I need to play Bastion. But here's my problem: I have this crippling disease known as "Late To The Party"-itus. For as long as I can remember, I've never played games when they are hot on everyone's lips. Perhaps it's a weird, deep-seated psychological fear that I'll be caught up in some kind of zeitgeist and will have problems forming my own opinion, instead simply parroting what others are feeling (this has actually happened, and I personally find it distressing when I realize it has). There's also the simple fact that, financially, I'm usually behind the curve on a lot of stuff. While everybody was raving about how amazing Half-Life was, I was only just discovering DooM, and to a lesser extent, Quake. I didn't own a Playstation 2 until sometime in 2006. The counter to this, of course, is that I already own Bastion on Xbox Live Arcade, and simply owning it means the most difficult hurdle in wanting to play Bastion has already been cleared. Instead of writing this list, I could be playing it right now - but I'm not. And I might not get to it for a while. Because if there's one thing worse than "Late To The Party"-itus, it's having 90 games all with save files that read "Total Play Time: 20 minutes". I'm not going to start Bastion and then forget about it in the vast ocean that is my backlog; when I sit down to play that game, I'm going to devote as much of my undivided attention to it as possible. Unfortunately, it may be awhile.


Best Game I Beat In 2011 That Wasn't Released In 2011

BAYONETTA

Bayonetta is "sexy", but that's just part of the joke.

This is actually a fairly difficult category when you consider it: Do I wuss out and list one of those timeless classics I find myself replaying annually, like Half-Life, Donkey Kong Country, or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night? Or do I pick something legitimately fresh, that I haven't been playing and replaying for the better part of a decade? Well, if you really want to read me ramble on about any of those other games, I'm sure you could probably dig up something somewhere about it. So, instead, let's talk about why it took me roughly 11 months to finish Bayonetta: It goes without saying, but Bayonetta is as amazing as it is exhausting. Everybody likes to reference back to that old Spinal Tap joke of how something can be dialed to "11" - well, Bayonetta tweaks that dial so hard it snaps clean off, and then throws it to the ground and stomps on it in those boots with the guns on the heel. After a certain point, that sustained level of completely over-the-top insanity wears out something inside of your brain and you have to go take a rest. Somewhere in the last quarter of the game Bayonetta stops having "levels" in the traditional sense and transforms in to kind of a non-stop boss rush. While frequently awe-inspiring, it also proved to be very draining in equal measure. Every few months, I'd see Bayonetta on the shelf - spend a couple hours with her, and then, completely spent, take a break to let my batteries "recharge". Rinse, repeat. Eventually, I just dug in and resolved to finish the game, frayed reflexes or not - and with a knowing tease, even then, Bayonetta pushed me to my absolute limit. It's one of those extremely rare games that can be punishingly difficult in a way that drives you to play better. Bayonetta is completely absurd, barely makes any sense, and openly basks in these facts with nary a hint of shame. And do not be put off by the game's sexualized aesthetic; like everything else in Bayonetta, the character's own sex appeal is nothing but another out-of-its-mind joke. If you haven't played Bayonetta yet, you should probably track down a copy.


Best Multiplayer

LEFT4DEAD 2

Yo, Nick

I don't play multiplayer games very often, because the dire state of so-called "pub games" is something that I think should always be avoided. I never saw the appeal of climbing to the top of a leaderboard with a bunch of strangers, especially when you run in to that 12 year old who swears you must be hacking (by, ironically, swearing at you) - or who himself must be hacking for being able to headshot you with a knife of all things from the other side of the map. Multiplayer is so much more engaging when you're doing it with people you actually know. For the vast majority of my multiplayer "career", I was fortunate enough to maybe have one or two friends interested in playing multiplayer games with me - and let me tell you: Capture the flag just doesn't work with a team of three. That all changed late last year when I started getting invited to games of Left4Dead 2 by some guys on a forum I was a part of. Before I knew it, I was playing Left4Dead 2 with these guys just about every night for days. Days turned in to weeks. Weeks turned in to months. We were still playing Left4Dead 2. Unlike something like Phantasy Star Online, which would draw in a whole community only until the "fad" wore off a short time later, Left4Dead 2 became something of a nightly routine for me. I've not only grown attached to the game itself, I've grown attached to the people I play it with, in some weird way. It doesn't hurt that the game itself is absolutely fantastic; if you haven't ever really experienced Left4Dead's Versus mode proper, you haven't actually played the game, as far as I'm concerned. For the longest time, I didn't actually like Left4Dead, and that's namely because the game has a limited appeal when all you're doing is playing the game's vanilla "campaign" mode. It's not until you've got a full server of 8 flesh and blood human beings all trying to kill each other that Left4Dead really starts to "make sense". Valve may advertise the game's singleplayer and co-op game modes, but those are like trying to play Rock Band 3 without a plastic guitar: functional, but entirely missing the point. There is absolutely nothing else like this game on the market, and I really hope that Christmas Rush 2011 hasn't killed off "the crew"s resolve to play more Left4Dead, because it's been about two weeks since we last played and I'm starting to have withdrawal shakes.


Biggest Disappointment

COSTUME QUEST

If I never see a barrel full of apples again it'll be too soon.

If none of you mind, I'm going to count this as a 2011 release due to the PC version, despite the fact it originally came out (and I played it) in 2010. Regardless, I feel like one of ten people on planet earth who did not "get" Costume Quest. Sure, aesthetically, it was charming as hell - as Double-Fine games tend to be. But dig even an inch below the surface and Costume Quest is a painfully simplistic game, even by the uncomplicated standards set by the very RPGs it is paying tribute to. I could tolerate the ultra-basic Super Mario RPG-esque interactive battle system, but what really broke Costume Quest for me is when I'd finish a "dungeon" and the game would send me to the equivalent of the next town, only to find it largely populated by the exact same NPCs with the exact same mini-games as the place I'd just come from. It was fun and endearing for maybe an hour, but then the repetition sets in and all of the cute artwork and clever writing in the world could not save me from the crushing boredom of having to go door to door for candy, trade cards with other kids, and bob for apples yet again. I actually resolved myself to finish it for Halloween this year, and could not muster the effort to even launch the game once. What's worse is they had the guts to release Costume Quest DLC that, judging by trailers and other media I've seen, once again recycles everything all over again for what must be the fifth or sixth time - except now there's snow everywhere and it's vaguely Christmas themed! Oooh! Aaah! Ugh.


The Game I Really Need To Go Back To

DEAD ISLAND

"THEY'RE COMING"

My memories of Dead Island are a blur of zombies being kicked to death by four assholes who didn't really have much of an agenda beyond "Hey, what's over there?" It was a single day of complete madness, and while some of my friends didn't seem too thrilled with the game, I thought it was cool. I think. Maybe. It's hard to tell, what with all of the zombie kicking. But, just like that, it vanished in to the aether of my towering videogame backlog, never to be heard from again. It wasn't until recently when I was called upon to co-star in some footage for Nitrobeard.com's Game Of The Year video content that it dawned on me: "Oh yeah, Dead Island! There's like, quests and stuff! There's actually a game in here beyond the zombie kicking simulator. I should really get back to that." The question is, do I try and get the band back together (coordinating a multiplayer game with the original four chuckleheads can be like pulling teeth at times), try and find some new recruits (the Steam sale holds plenty of promise in that regard), or just go it alone? I'd love to play Dead Island with more people, certainly, but I've always been more of a gets-invited than a sends-invites kind of guy. Given that I'll probably never get invited to another game of Dead Island, maybe I should just start a singleplayer character. Singleplayer characters certainly have their benefits; there's a greater opportunity to totally immerse yourself in a world, take things at your own pace and to stop and smell the... well, stopping to smell anything in Dead Island is probably a bad idea on multiple levels - but you get the point. Or maybe Dead Island can just sit on my HDD for another six months while I wallow in indecision. Hasn't hurt anything yet!


Game Of The Year 2011 Runner-Up

SONIC GENERATIONS

Gotta speed, keed.

Hey. Have you watched my Sonic Generations video review yet? You probably should, given that I spent three grueling weeks putting it together. Long story short: Sonic Generations is a great game. Better than Sonic has been in over a decade. Some of its ancillary content is pretty weak, but the core meat of the game - the part you really care about playing through - is the strongest it's ever been. Somebody at Sonic Team finally figured out how to design levels for Sonic in 3D. Actually, scratch that - somebody at Sonic Team finally figured out how to actually learn from their mistakes for a change. Long gone are the days of games like Sonic Heroes that simply rehash the worst elements of their predecessors. Sonic Generations takes all of the best ideas from Sonic 4, Sonic Unleashed, and Sonic Colors, and throws them in to a blender set to "purée". The end result is a game that does not punish you for making the choice to slow down. Rather than expect the player to perfect some amazing high-speed death gauntlet their first time through the level, Sonic Generations provides plenty of ways in its level design for psychotic speedrunners and more leisurely players to co-exist in the same space together, and as simple as something like that sounds to accomplish, it represents a major step forward for this franchise. Whether you want to rip through a stage at 100mph or take it easy, Sonic Generations has a little something for everybody to enjoy. This is the real deal, folks. No human-on-hedgehog kissing, no overly-serious plot, no werehogs, no fishing. Just blue hedgehogs and brightly colored environments as far as the eye can see. May the Sonic cycle never darken this doorstep ever again.


My 2011 Game Of The Year

PORTAL 2

Brilliant beyond words

I'm sort of in awe at just how completely and utterly perfect Portal 2 is. It nails everything with a kind of exacting, pin-point accuracy that you just don't see in very many games, if at all. Often hilarious, sometimes emotionally resonant, Portal 2's storyline is, at least to me, the single best piece of game writing ever put to paper (or otherwise). What few characters are in the game are sharply defined, totally unique, and an absolute joy to be around (relatively speaking to how much some of them want to kill you). Puzzles are just devious enough to cultivate that magical "Ah-ha," moment and the game knows exactly when to pull back and let the player explore and when to buckle down and teach you exactly what to do. Everybody can go on about how crazy Saint's Row is, how long and involved Skyrim is, but neither of those games are so perfectly and expertly executed on like Portal 2 is. There is no fat, no fluff, no filler. Portal 2 is exactly the game it wants to be with no compromises. The only real problem is how Valve follows it up - you can only raise the bar so high before you become eternally trapped in its shadow; and Portal 2 is good enough that I think there's a possibility it may be "that game" for Valve. This is their "Thriller", their "E.T. The Extra Terrestrial". At best we can hope for a Pixar-like scenario where we somehow managed to get The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Wall-E, and Up all one after another - but we eventually had to meet the crushing despair of Cars 2, and Valve's going to stumble at some point. Regardless of my crazy ramblings on the matter, I know one thing for sure: I am dying to see what these guys do next.
 

And that wraps up my Game of the Year stuff for this year, I suppose. I could probably keep going, making up awards to give out (like, say, Best Fangame, or at least the Best and Worst Xbox Live Indie games), but I've been at this for three hours already and I'm ready to call it a night. So I guess I will see you guys in 2012? Sure, why not. See you in 2012!

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The New Xbox Dashboard is slightly a trainwreck

I've hardly been a critic of the previous iterations of the Xbox Dashboard. Sure, there have been some small complaints here or there, but never have I felt genuine offended by the way things were laid out. That all changed with the release of the 2011 Xbox Dashboard. While on the surface it's generally pretty usable, there are a lot of things about it that feel like they were constructed by unfeeling logic robots who don't really understand how human beings comprehend interface.
 

 1000/1000 in Sonic Generations and STILL playing it. Word.
Let's start at the first screen you're met with, the home screen. While an improvement over the "Spotlight" channel from the previous dashboard iteration, it's really not much better. The major complaint people had with the Spotlight channel was that it was essentially a row of unskippable ads you were met with when you first booted your console up, forcing you to manually scroll up to the "Launch Game" option. On the new 2011 Dashboard, your cursor starts on the "Launch Game" option, but they've still worked as hard as possible to flood the bulk of your screen with as many advertisements as there is room for them.
 
STOP PLAYING SO MANY VIDEOGAMES AND BUY SOMETHING ALREADY
To a certain degree, I get why they would want to do this. The best comparison would be Valve's Steam platform on the PC; if you go in to their marketplace, you're basically looking at a huge string of advertisements for everything on their site. It's how they get you to discover new content. If they can't advertise what they have, then you won't know it's available for purchase. There is, however, a pretty significant difference between the way Steam does business and the way Microsoft is trying to do business. When I open Steam to play a game, this is the first thing I see:
 
 You don't think it's too subtle, Marty, you don't think people are going to drive down and not see the sign?
That's because Steam lets me customize my view. By default it's set up to take you to the store page first thing, but with a few simple clicks you can launch Steam directly in to your game library and skip the whole "Dude check it out, Orcs Must Die is only $3 today" advertisement screen. Microsoft still doesn't let you do this, even if you're a paying Xbox Live Gold customer. This was actually the primary feature request with the Spotlight channel - there needed to be some way to let people skip all the ads and get right to playing a game. Instead, Microsoft's solution is to give you the option to play whatever is in the disc drive and the ten most recently used/downloaded games and "apps". One step in the right direction, but two steps back, given that the ads are bigger and more pervasive than ever. (this is saying nothing of the fact that Steam only advertises games on Steam, but the Xbox Dashboard has no problem trying to sell me cars and pizza and movie tickets and World of Warcraft subscriptions)
 
But all of that would be fine if it was the only transgression. But no - the new Xbox Live Dashboard commits sins far more egregious than simply bloated advertising space. Namely, what a pain in the ass it is to get to anything actually related to videogames. Sure, you have the two launch options on the Home menu - but if what you want to play isn't located in either of those options, you have to scroll through two other sections just to get to the "games" part of your game console. Again, comparisons to Steam are apt: I start with a list of every game I own and every game I have installed staring me in the face in that piece of software. On the Xbox Dashboard, I have to go on some kind of safari to find the games I have installed, braving the wilderness of the "social" and "video" categories. And while I own over $400 worth of Xbox Live content, you'd never know it because the dashboard still does not have any way of showing you a complete list of content you've purchase - you're only shown what's currently on the console at that point in time. It's completely up to you to keep track of what you own ( Backloggery has been a lifesaver in this regard), and if you want to replay any of it, you're forced to manually hunt that content down through the hellish landscape known as the "Game Marketplace".
 
 Look upon my visage, ye mighty, and despair!
For years, Microsoft has struggled to find a way to organize content on the Xbox Marketplace to allow room for growth while also organizing everything in a way that everybody can easily find it. The problem it came down to in the past is that it required too many "clicks" in order to drill down and find what you wanted. Again, not to keep going back to it, but Steam can be made to either show you a list of games you might want to buy or a list of games you might want to play as the first thing you see when you launch the software. Previous iterations of Xbox Live required you to flip through multiple sections and sub-categories just to finally get to a page that showed the most recent Xbox Live Arcade releases.
 
This, unfortunately, has not changed. Infact, given the fact that you have to scroll through the "Social" and "Video" tabs just to get to "Games" where the marketplace button is located, everything is potentially buried even deeper now than it ever has been. To make matters even worse, the actual Game Marketplace itself has been transformed in to a nearly unusable disaster. Broken out in to its own six categories, the Game Marketplace as it stands right now on the 2011 Xbox Live dashboard update is bloated and obtuse in a way that is genuinely shocking to me. It's so bad that I'm kind of at a loss for where to start, so we'll start by simply running down each category and it's function: 

  1. "Picks" - This is where games are recommended for purchase based on what the user has recently played and/or purchased.
  2. "Featured" - This is where games are recommended for purchase based on how much money Microsoft has been paid to advertise them.
  3. "Games" - This is theoretically where you are meant to discover new games for purchase.
  4. "Add-ons" - This is where downloadable content lives.
  5. "Extras" - This is where frivolous, overpriced garbage like avatar clothes and premium themes/gamerpics live, in addition to stuff like Halo Waypoint/Call of Duty Elite.
  6. "Demos" - Provided its own entire category, because, uh... well, er....

You may immediately notice that the first three categories are actually the exact same thing presented in three different ways: They are categories designed to get you to find and buy new games. Imagine logging in to Netflix and having three separate categories for recommendations instead of just one (one based on a computer algorithm, another based on how much Netflix was paid to recommend them to you, and a third category called "recommend a movie to yourself"). These three categories could be pretty easily be wrapped up in to one singular place with "Recommendations" and "Featured Games" being sub-sections in the "Games" category. 
 

It's so horrifying, and yet I can't look away!

Instead, we get the worst jumble of icons in the history of interface. This page right here is bad enough on its own that it deserves to be broken down point by point. To start: The icons they use for these features. We have a strange mish-mash of stock photos and more common pictograph-like icon artwork. The most immediate effect this had was that at first glance I seriously thought the only way to view a list of games was either by genre or alphabetically. "New Releases" and "Most Popular" didn't even register as filtering options, and even when they did, it literally took repeated visits to this category before I discovered that "Game Type" was the way I chose between Xbox Live Arcade, Xbox Indies, Games on Demand, and Xbox Originals. There was a period of about 15 minutes where I was genuinely pissed off that they had taken away the ability to sort games "by platform" because there is no way an actual human brain makes the connection between an image of a stupid asshole in a hoodie doing parkour with choosing whether or not I want to look at Xbox Indies or Xbox Live Arcade games. They all need to be green background with white text icons because that's how you let the user know they are system functions and not advertisements or temporary promotions. And you especially do not mix and match one style with another style. Either go whole-hog with your stupid unrelated stock photos or don't because this is bad enough that it almost seems like you're deliberately sabotaging yourselves, Microsoft.
 
Similarly, there's not enough immediate distinction between "Add-Ons" and "Extras". Both terms basically mean the same thing, but Microsoft has to have their gross little corner where they charge people $7 for an intangible, completely worthless Master Chief costume for their fake computer person (or $3 for what essentially equates to a few JPEG thumbnails). Another problem with this section? The "Most Popular" sorting filter makes a return appearance, but in a completely different spot than it is in other Game Marketplace categories.
 

 Consistency is not Microsoft's strongest suit

Are you deliberately trying to make users get lost? It only reinforces the idea that "Most Popular" isn't a specific system menu function, but is instead some kind of temporary promotional deal. I realize you just had to make room for the new "Subscriptions" sub-section (fits with the massive amount of Gears of War 3 branding in this category) but I'm pretty sure it would have made more sense to keep "Most Popular" in the same location and move "Subscriptions" up above "A to Z", given that's the space that was removed to make room for "Subscriptions" in the first place!
 
Which of course brings us to "Demos", another category that could've probably been rolled in to simply "Games" somehow (if only Microsoft wasn't so keen on me buying a new Volkswagen). There's simply not enough content here to justify having it's own entire category, as evident by the fact that Kinect demos get broken out in to their own unique sub-section. 
 
And the worst part is? If they simply scaled back the advertising space and really stopped to think about how to effectively use the space they've been given, there's plenty of ways to shortcut a lot of these things to make product exposure easier and more streamlined. It took me 20 minutes to come up with this idea: 
 

A bit of a rough draft, but workable

 

The most important information all on one screen. Launch the game, go straight to your game library, and most importantly, a direct link to the game marketplace without having to thumb through multiple menus to get there. Not only that, but advertising links to video content, avatar content, and the deal of the week. On one screen. It's really not very difficult. It just means you don't give the advertisements top billing - something Microsoft probably isn't willing to do.
 
But until they they, we're always going to have dashboard revisions where you constantly have some Microsoft mouthpiece telling us how they're "redesigning the dashboard to make it easier to find content" when all they really mean is "we're making the ads bigger and shuffling some buttons around". 
 
And this isn't even touching any of the other problems with the new dashboard I've heard from other folks, either! (See: Netflix) It's kind of gross!

66 Comments

"That Game" from your childhood

There was a post on NeoGAF recently about "that game" from your childhood. We all had "that game", the one that basically turned gaming from a casual hobby in to something we dedicated a significant portion of our free time to. The response I wrote on there was actually fairly long and involved, so I figured I'd transfer it over to here because it'd probably make a good blog. If you've known me long enough, I've probably told this story before, but every couple years I find myself retelling it for one reason or another...

Blue with attitude

For me, "that game" was the original Sonic the Hedgehog, to a certain extent. It was Christmas 1991, and my brother got a Model 1 Sega Genesis. I wasn't really well educated on gaming at that point in time - I grew up in my toddler years with the family having an Atari 2600, then in '89 we upgraded to a NES with Super Mario Bros. I enjoyed games, but they were an ancillary part of my life. Though at this point I've most likely played a Sega Genesis in store demo kiosks, I never put 2 and 2 together - I thought what my brother got was just a piece of stereo equipment that I wasn't allowed to touch. New Years Eve rolls around and we have some relatives in from out of town. They're watching Citizen Kane, and since I'm 8 years old at this point, I'm told that I probably won't like the movie. Since I'll only be a distraction I'm sent to my room to play. For a kid with a short attention span at 7 in the evening, that of course doesn't last long. To keep me out of their hair, I'm sent to the forbidden zone: my brother's room. My brother is a distant 14 years older than I am. In some regards, he's almost old enough to be my dad. At this point in time, he is a working adult of 22 years old. Being an adult, he largely kept to himself, and his tiny bedroom was a collection of very kid-unfriendly stuff: No toys, only a bed, a dresser, his own TV and a shelf full of pets he kept - snakes, tarantulas and other critters of that nature. You can imagine why was never allowed in there (or perhaps simply never had the guts to go in there). This, however, is a special exception, and I was sat down in front of his TV and handed a black game controller with three buttons. Sonic the Hedgehog begins to play.

To an 8 year old in 1991 who still doesn't even own Super Mario Bros. 3, Sonic the Hedgehog is just about the most amazing thing ever. Fast, unique, and absolutely gorgeous. Even though I struggle to make it past Marble Zone, I am absolutely enamored with the game, and after the movie is over and the night winds down, I can't stop talking about it to my family. I never play my brother's copy of Sonic ever again. Not only because I never go in to his room, but because within the next few months or so, my brother moves out, and with him goes the Sega Genesis. Despite this, I'm hooked. I need to play more Sonic the Hedgehog. Every opportunity I get, I sit on store demo kiosks playing Sonic. I ask for a Sega Genesis for my birthday in '92 and am rebuffed. I ask again for Christmas, and come December 25th I tear the wrapping paper off a large box to reveal... a Super Nintendo. Not even a month prior, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 has landed on store shelves, and "hedgehog madness" has been rekindled in my heart... yet here I am, holding the competition. I try to do that thing where I don't want to seem ungrateful for the $200 gift I've been given, but all I can think of is that I'm missing out on the new Sonic.

This became something of a trend. I've recently come to understand that the entire reason I became such a fierce Sonic fanboy in those early days is because of this repeated cycle of need and denial. Ahab hunted his white whale, and I sought a blue hedgehog. My obsession was growing. It certainly didn't help that when I did finally get a chance to play a little bit of a Sonic game, it was never more than a few minutes - I never really had an opportunity to sit down and actually immerse myself in it. I made the best of my SNES. My Mom had bought it for me under the pretense of how much I liked Mario on the NES, and that was most definitely true of the SNES, as well. Super Mario World was a hell of a game, and sending away for Super Mario All-Stars finally provided me with the opportunity to experience both SMB2 and SMB3. The SNES was a great console - one of the best ever made. Even so, I was constantly trying to find Nintendo equivalents to Sonic. Aero the Acrobat, Bubsy, Rocky Rodent, Konami's Tiny Toons game, even tangential stuff like Alfred Chicken were under my purview. But, as I embraced the "Mascots With Attitude" fad, none of them even came close to replicating the Sonic experience.

Status of NBA Jam Poster: Unknown

I enjoyed my SNES for nearly two years. It was 1994 now, and a certain blue hedgehog catches my eye on the cover of Gamepro magazine. They proudly proclaim they have a full color "ProStrategy" guide for Sonic the Hedgehog 3. A third Sonic game?! That issue of Gamepro ended up being the first magazine I ever bought. I poured over the strategy guide, memorizing every inch of the game. By the time I go play Sonic 3 on store demo kiosks, I know every stage inside and out, backwards and forwards. In retrospect, it's actually kind of sad. My mother must've thought so too, because she finally took notice that this Sonic "thing" wasn't going away, and that year I was finally graced with a Sega Genesis to call my own, complete with my very own copy of Sonic the Hedgehog 3. Of course, by now, Sonic & Knuckles is already on store shelves, and the mighty, Voltron-like power of Sonic 3 & Knuckles was within my grasp. Spring break 1995 was a glorious time for me and my best friend. Given that we both owned our own copies of Sonic 3, we'd take turns renting S&K from the local video store. When one of us took it back, the other would head out and rent it. We'd even coordinate over the phone so we knew the moment it would be in. That lasted for what felt like weeks. Not because we had difficulty in beating the game, mind you, but because we quite literally wanted to see everything. We'd beat the game in every configuration possible; Sonic with all Super Emeralds. Sonic with just Chaos Emeralds. Sonic with no emeralds at all. Would there be another secret level like "Doomsday Zone" for us to discover? What changed about the ending? What happened when you did this with other characters? We played it so much we practically made ourselves sick of it. It may have been the original Sonic the Hedgehog that began "hedgehog madness", but it was Sonic 3 & Knuckles where it really blossomed and came in to its own. There was no escaping it at that point.

Which is ironic, given that Sonic 3 & Knuckles marked the end of an era. Occasional spinoffs aside, it would be nearly five years before the next major Sonic game. The cycle of need and denial was beginning all over again. Despite purchasing a Sega Saturn (with my own money, too - the first game console I ever did that with), Sonic X-Treme got the can in 1996. Sonic 3D Blast, Sonic Jam, and Sonic R were decent diversions, but nothing substantial (or terribly qualitative). By the time Sonic Adventure rolled around, I'd like to think I had matured to the point where I could start evaluating the quality of these games beyond simply "Yay It's Another Sonic" (and by 2006, I was seriously considering throwing in the towel for obvious reasons). Nowadays, though, Sonic finally seems to be struggling back to his feet - starting with Sonic Unleashed, this franchise has pulled itself up by its boot straps, giving us the legitimately wonderful Sonic Colors last year. Sonic Generations, set to release in a little over a week, looks to be the best, most polished implementation of the "cinematic"-style Sonic games originally envisioned back on the Dreamcast. Only time will tell - but rest assured, I'll be there.

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I HAVE TAKEN PART IN A "POD CAST" ABOUT "BEARDS"

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages, have you ever wanted to listen to me speak in to a microphone? I'll be you have, and today you're in luck because I've appeared on one of these new-fangled "pod casts". The "pod cast" in question is the Nitrobeard Beardcast, a podcast run by some cool dudes I know.

Actually, this can be considered my illustrious return to the podcasting arena. Those of you who have known me for long enough may remember that I was a regular on the short-lived MoogleCavern.com podcast (before the owner of that site packed his bags and called the whole website business quits). Me appearing on Nitrobeard almost didn't happen, particularly because I'm a shy little girl who runs and hides at the thought of social interaction, but figuring that would be kind of a jerk move given the subject of me being on their podcast had come up multiple times over the years, I decided to "get a grip" so to speak and do it. With the direction my life has been gradually drifting towards, I can't be a wallflower introvert forever, right?

Appearing on their podcast was fun, too, once I got over some of the initial jitters. Wouldn't mind doing it again in the future. In it, we discuss the state of Sonic the Hedgehog, the fandom that surrounds it, Sega's past, what it is I do at TSSZnews.com and how that feels, and so on. Me and Imran also discuss our recent tendency to livestream bad videogames and our tentative plans for some sort of livestream endurance race to the end of Sonic 2006 for charity or some other wacky goal. So give it a listen- who knows, you might even find a new favorite podcast. Sure, I may be buddies with the guys who produce it, but I've found it to be an essential part of my podcast lineup for quite a while now.

So, if you missed it the first two times, third time's the charm: The Nitrobeard Beardcast - Episode 57.

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Dear PC Developers: How to reduce software piracy

A brief recap: June 2010, I found out I won a contest for about $2000 worth of Xbox Live Gold and Microsoft Points (a "lifetime", in their words). It took me six or seven months, but I sold most of it off and ended up buying a handful of new goodies with it, most importantly some new PC hardware that finally put me in the same generational ballpark as everyone else. I can now comfortably run Crysis, Unreal Engine 3 games, so on and so forth (see also: my last blog).

A pretty marked improvement, I'd say.
Something I've noticed now that I have new hardware is that I want to try everything.  I want to see how my system measures up. How does this run? How does that run? Crysis was obviously a big target, as even now, years after its release, it's still one of the high watermarks for computer graphics (until Battlefield 3 comes out, anyway). Eventually, I decided I wanted to see how well the PC version of Grand Theft Auto 4 ran. GTA4 has earned a pretty notorious reputation for being the kind of game that runs amazing on some system configurations and absolutely horrible on others, regardless of how powerful the hardware in question actually was.
 
Not too long ago, Team Meat's co-founder Ed McMillen said something controversial about PC game piracy to IGN. To summarize: Super Meat Boy doesn't have any anti-piracy DRM. Ed McMillen doesn't care if anybody pirates his game, because to him, anybody who plays Super Meat Boy (even if it means not paying for it) is that much more likely to buy Team Meat's next game, whatever that may be. In his opinion, malicious pirates are rare.
 

"The dinosaurs of marketing are really upset by piracy. They think it's literally stealing," he says. "They're old. That's really the reason. They're old and their ideas are old. They don't understand where we are now. They don't understand the mentality of people who are pirating things. They see them as thieves, the same people who go and shoplift. I don't f*@#ing shoplift but I have pirated sh@%-loads of stuff. Like it's just not the same, it's not the same thing at all."

"Sh@% changed," says McMillen, warming to his theme. "Deal with it. Sh@% went digital and this is how it works now. It's really easy to copy and give to other people."

I don't own a copy of Grand Theft Auto 4 for the PC. If it really is true that the game may, for no discernible reason, run absolutely awful on my system, I don't want to roll the dice and buy it. That leaves me with one of two options: Satisfy my own curiosity through the dubious medium of software piracy, or try really really hard to forget that the PC version of GTA4 even exists at all. The latter option is fine, I guess - I already own GTA4 for the Xbox 360, though that would mean missing out on all of the rad car mods and graphical patches people have been producing for the PC version (which as I've found are 90% of the fun). 
 
But going by Team Meat's example, it doesn't have to be this way. If there was a demo for Grand Theft Auto 4 on the PC, this problem simply wouldn't exist - I could download the free trial version, see how it runs, and make a decision from there. The idea here is that a large number of pirates are simply curious about a game, so they, in essence, "make their own demo" - and oh, how convenient - this "demo" just so happens to include the entire rest of the game, too. Unfortunately for a platform that defined itself by the concept of " Shareware", freebie demos for top-tier game releases these days are getting fewer and farther between. Epic Games' Cliff Bleszinski has made it clear that he believes having to take time to produce a demo eats up money and effort that could be better spent on the main game itself - and you'll notice that the only Epic-developed game in the last six years to have a demo was Unreal Tournament 3 ( Bulletstorm was developed by People Can Fly). Gears of War certainly has never had a demo, not on Xbox 360 or even on PC for the release of Gears of War 1. Another prevailing train of thought is that if your game is "important" enough, you simply don't need a demo. I'm sure everybody remembers the Silent Cartographer demo for the original Halo - but the franchise didn't see another demo release for nearly a decade. Even then, it's been implied that the demo for Halo Reach was only to test an Xbox 360 Dashboard upgrade. 
 
And then there's an even bigger problem: developers and publishers who release demos in an attempt to trick consumers in to buying the full product. Bulletstorm, despite having a playable demo, loses points for the fact that what you're allowed to play is literally 3 minutes out of a 20+ minute mission. Before you're even offered an opportunity to get a feel for the game's ebb and flow, you're pulled out of the action and told to buy the full game. In comparison, the original DooM, a game that popularized the first-person shooter, gave you practically an hour of content for free before asking you to pony up the cash back in 1993 - and I'd say that franchise made parent company iD Software very, very happy. 

So to the Cliff Bleszinskis of the world, I say this: take the money you're funneling in to SecuROM, or Starforce, or whatever "You must always be connected to the internet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, forever" anti-piracy solution you've developed, and redirect it in to creating a meaty demo for your game. Something that offers a good, long, detailed look at the work you've done, and does not try to fool the consumer in to a purchase with some sort of stupid "Gotcha!" bait-and-switch moment. This goes  back to another recent blog I wrote, about Tom Kalinske's aim to make the Sega Genesis a bigger success than Nintendo's hardware offerings: Kalinske was the man who proposed packaging copies of Sonic the Hedgehog for free with the Genesis. Sega of Japan's board of directors were genuinely offended at the idea of giving their best content away at no charge to consumers. Kalinske did it anyway, and it proved to be one of his first major successes at the company (before Sega of Japan eventually drove him away - read my blog on the matter if you haven't already).
 
The ultimate goal in all of this is to satisfy a would-be pirate's curiosity. To showcase everything from how well the game runs on a particular computer system, to what the game itself is even about. No smoke and mirrors, no teasing, just a lengthy, worthy demonstration. I guarantee piracy rates would see a decline.
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Unreal Tournament 3 through the ages

It used to be that I was the kind of person who only updated his PC hardware once every six or seven years. That meant I was often two whole generations behind on game hardware - sometimes more. That's changed lately, as I've found myself upgrading my hardware every couple of years or less - going from seriously old and busted to pretty average hardware. This has, among other things, afforded me the ability to watch how Unreal Engine 3 games evolved as my hardware did.  Check it out:

 2007: 3.2ghz Pentium 4, GeForce 5200 FX, 512mb of RAM. 10-15fps.

 2009: 3.2ghz Pentium 4, GeForce 6600 GT, 2gb of RAM. 15-25fps.

 2011: 3.1ghz Core 2 Duo, Radeon HD5670, 2gb of RAM. 40-60fps.
Now I need a newer monitor, I guess.
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Sega Japan vs. Sega America continues to be fascinating

Ever since reading Sega-16'sinterview with Tom Kalinske, I have been shown a side of Sega I never knew existed - one that I've found continually fascinating. Unfortunately, Sega-16 has completely redesigned their site and never bothered to re-publish these fantastic articles, so the best I can give you is a Google Cache link. That doesn't really matter, though, as I've stumbled upon something else that also touches on the apparent feud Sega of Japan waged on Sega of America in the 16-bit console era. 
 

 Dungeon crawling
The following comes from a (rather old) blog dedicated to a fan translation for SegaGaga. SegaGaga, for those in the dark, was a late-era Sega Dreamcast game developed by Hitmaker and published by Sega. It was an oddball sort of simulation RPG - positioned basically as Sega's last great hurrah. Imagine Game Dev Story with a rigid plot structure and a greater amount of anime/fantasy elements and you have a fuzzy picture of what the game was like. You took control of young game developer who moved through Sega's ranks in an effort not only to save the company, but to save the entire game industry itself. Offices were laid out like dungeons in a JRPG, and you fought mutated versions of irate programmers and designers in an effort to make them work harder. The game also had sort of a "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" sort of feel, as not only did you interact with physical people, but you were afforded the opportunity to speak to iconic characters like Alex Kidd (one particularly notable scene involves meeting a washed up Kidd working as a supermarket bag boy as he laments Sonic taking his place as the company's starlet). As you can imagine, the game was a little too niche to ever come stateside, and on top of that, the Dreamcast had already flat-lined in the west by the time SegaGaga hit Japanese shelves. While the game definitely did not take itself seriously, it does attempt to accurately recreate a timeline of what it was like at Sega, from their 8-bit beginnings all the way up to the eventual death of the Dreamcast. And, thanks to this blog, I've discovered SegaGaga even touches on the Sega of Japan vs. Sega of America Feud. I've deliberately truncated the following text in order to focus on the juicy parts, so you'll want to read the full blog entry to get the whole story - there's a link at the bottom of the post.
 

We’ve encountered a character in SegaGaga that might bother many long-time American Sega fans. In our present rough drafts, the character’s name is Special Task Force Director Cool. SegaGaga most likely uses him as a reference to Sega of America’s former president, Tom Kalinske.

Let’s look at some history first. At the start of the 16-bit console generation, Sega’s CEO (Nakayama) hired Kalinske to turn around the American market in Sega’s favor. Kalinske reviewed Sega’s situation, went to Japan, and told the board of directors how he thought they could remove themselves from beneath Nintendo’s foot. The board of directors hated all of Kalinske’s ideas, but Nakayama gave his approval. With this freedom, Kalinske built a legacy that rests in the memories of anyone who grew up as a gamer during the 16-bit console generation.

Material success strikes Americans as its own justification, at least in business. Sega of Japan’s board of directors hardly regarded Kalinske’s success in America as virtuous. Yes, he put money in their bank accounts, but he brought a lower branch of Sega greater success than the head could hope to achieve. To describe the corporate power relationships in feudal terms, Kalinske was a chief retainer who had brazenly proven himself more valorous than his lord.

The Japanese corporate world has been known to punish insolence without terminating the person’s career. So Sega of Japan seemingly punished Kalinske. They manipulated the company’s structure to strip him of any real authority, and they left him with all the direct power of England’s royal family. Kalinske became fed up with the whole affair, left Sega, and boosted LeapFrog, Inc., to tremendous success.

Of course, Sega began to stumble toward their present state shortly afterwards. In effect, they razed themselves by exposing Kalinske to passive Japanese corporate discipline and driving him away. Tom Kalinske’s entrance into and exit from Sega might mark the most dramatic part of the company’s history. SegaGaga, as a reflection upon the company’s history as well as the industry in general, addresses these events as a matter of course.

According to everything we’ve translated so far, however, SegaGaga renders Kalinske a villain to the point that he opposes and nearly snuffs the plan intended to save Sega along with the rest of the videogames industry. Both Kalinske and Special Task Force Director Cool are American, and both drastically increased Sega’s hold over the American market. The game’s characters–all Japanese, of course–regard him as “shrewd,” an attitude that contrasts with the other characters’ confidence in the genius of a fun-loving wunderkind. Cool intrudes upon Project SegaGaga with the CEO’s authority, just as the Japanese executives perhaps viewed Kalinske’s presence as unfairly forced upon them by Nakayama. All of this, of course, casts Kalinske (by association with Cool) and a generalized idea of “the American approach to game development” in a bad light.


 The full text, including quotes from the game's script and an exploration of what they mean in the grand scheme of SegaGaga's plot, can be found here.
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WiiU: Why are you so disinterested?

NeoGAF has a habit of taking gaming news way more seriously than most other places would, and half the fun of an event like E3 is observing all of the arguments and meltdowns that follow as the big three run through their press conferences. Thus, when arguments quickly sparked in to flamewars about how powerful Nintendo's new console is (or isn't), how many jaggies were in that HD Zelda screenshot, or how they're forsaking the Wii's "blue ocean" strategy in favor of begging hardcore gamers to come back, I figured that it was just GAF being GAF - these are the same people who, for example, will over-hype themselves for a game like GTA4, which inevitably develops in to a huge backlash against that game when it doesn't live up to their unrealistic expectations, which then in itself evolves in to a backlash against the previous backlash. Yeah, GAF's a weird place.
 

 Weeoo weeoo weeooo
Yesterday, Nintendo announced... well, they announced something. Similar to when they brought out the Nintendo 3DS, Reggie and Iwata blew through a highlight reel of factoids about what they're calling the " WiiU" without really touching too much on concrete details. Much like the 3DS, information beyond vague promises is being slowly coaxed out of the third parties that are working with Nintendo to produce software for the device. What we do know, though, is that the console has HD capabilities, a touch screen embedded in the controller, and pledged support from a number of developers working on highly anticipated 360/PS3/PC games. Nintendo is acknowledging which demographics they've been neglecting with the Wii, and are taking steps to, essentially, "please everybody" - hardcore gamers who want traditional controls, and casual gamers who just want to poke at stuff to hear funny noises.
 
And yet, as I'm sure Nintendo is quickly rediscovering, those hardcore gamers are incredibly fickle. The amount of lukewarm sentiment I'm seeing - not just from places like NeoGAF, but the entire internet - is shocking to me. Part of that is Nintendo's confusing way of unveiling the device - there's a lot of people out there who still aren't clear as to whether or not this is a peripheral for the existing Wii, or if there's even a console attached to it at all. Nintendo did an amazingly poor job of outlining what the "WiiU" is, and the awkward naming scheme does not help. And even among those who seem to "get it", the WiiU has failed to excite. My question is: Why?
 
When you break it down, the WiiU is like the polished result of every weird experiment Nintendo's been doing since 2005. It incorporates touch, multiple screens, and motion controls, on top of a traditional controller interface, with dual analog sticks, triggers, bumpers, and face buttons. It is, theoretically, a Nintendo DS, Wii, and Playstation 3 all in one console. No longer do you have to worry about buying a Wii for a couple of novelties while the rest of system is flooded with cut-down versions of big budget HD console releases. There's little danger in traditional gaming experiences being spoiled by the Wii's lack of buttons or analog sticks. And the new controller opens the door to a wealth of unique gaming possibilities: Playing a multiplayer game? Everybody with a controller in their hands has a mic. Everybody. Remember some of the weird stuff games like Burnout Paradise were doing with the Playstation Eye and 360 Vision? Now everybody has a camera, too. Don't want to show the world your neckbeard? Touchscreen keyboard for text chat. And with the screen embedded in the controller, you can push the chat window off your TV to keep the interface unobstructed. Heck, imagine being able to browse the Xbox Guide without exiting, pausing, or even overlaying your main game screen. The potential here is incredible.
 
Silent Hill: Great use of Wii motion control, or greatest?
"But we've already heard about potential with the Wii!" I hear you cry. "The number of Wii games that successfully implemented motion controls can almost be counted on one hand! Most of the DS stuff was equally underwhelming! We're not falling for this again!" And you're right. But that was in part due to the fact that you had to make games specifically for the Wii or the DS and nothing else. A Wii game that successfully implemented motion control was difficult to translate upwards to the 360 or PS3. Similarly, titles like Red Faction Guerrilla and Assassin's Creed were difficult to replicate on the considerably weaker tech. Interchangeability was not really worth the time, money, or effort it would take to make it work. This was a problem that was twofold, because it meant many publishers, to make those "specifically built for the Wii and nothing else" titles, had to assemble teams of developers who would exclusively create games for that platform. These teams were often made up of low-budgets and B-tier developers, while the company's best and brightest focused their attention elsewhere, on larger budget and higher profile Xbox, Playstation, and PC games. 
 
Assuming the WiiU has the horsepower third party developers are implying it does, that allows guys like Cliff Bleszinski, Yves Guillemot, John Carmack, Ken Levine, Dan Houser and everybody at Valve Software to look at the console and parlay their existing strengths in to creating a new experience without having to break off and create a Wii-specific team, with Wii-specific programmers, and Wii-specific designers, who are compressing their idea to fit within the Wii-specific limitations. This works to eliminate the prevailing thought of "My ideas are impossible on the Wii, so I'm not even going to consider it" among a lot of high-profile developers. Sure, you can argue that Sony and Microsoft have been providing those options to developers for at least a year already - and you're not wrong. But attach rates on Playstation Move and to a lesser extent Kinect have not exactly been 1:1. There are a lot of Xbox 360s out there without Kinects, and even more Playstation 3s out there with no Move controllers. Trying to sell to somebody who has to own two individual gadgets together is a small market compared to a console that launches with all of these features packed in every box ever sold with the console for its entire lifespan. This leaves the door open for developers to play with the WiiU's more unique capabilities, knowing that the console's entire install base can experience the full suite of control options available. The fruits of this are already starting to appear - Gearbox Software has mentioned the possibility of displaying the iconic Aliens motion tracker on the controller's screen, providing Colonial Marines with a slightly more authentic experience.

The "achilles heel" in all of this is an issue of time: All of Nintendo's hard work setting the WiiU up to be an apology for neglecting "hardcore gamers" could be undone with two simple words: "Next Generation". Despite Sony and Microsoft looking for longer tails out of their console hardware, if either of them announced new console hardware at E3 2012, that would give Nintendo mere months of parity before being dumped back down to the exact same hardware disadvantage they spent the majority of the Wii's lifecycle in. Microsoft has already been spotted hiring engineers for the next Xbox, and while Sony once constantly reminded us that the Playstation 3 was on a "ten-year cycle", there's no way they're going to lag behind their biggest competitor when it comes time to pull the curtain back on the Playstation 4. I'm sure this is a fact that already weighs heavy in many third-party developers minds, given companies like Epic Games teasing the next generation of Unreal Engine.
            

"Samaritan" is currently impossible on consumer-grade graphics hardware - but it won't take long for that to change.
           

Perhaps the impending next generation explains the malaise towards the WiiU: Nintendo is banking on Microsoft and Sony keeping true to their word and riding their consoles out for at least another two years. In actuality, it would not be a surprise to find out that either Microsoft, or Sony, or both are probably having meetings right now discussing ways to snipe Nintendo's play at catch-up as soon as financially possible. E3 2012 is when the boys are separated from the men.
 
But until that other shoe drops, The WiiU is an exciting prospect and I'm interested in seeing how it all shakes out.
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Dr. Hoaxtable is in the house - My Hoax History

There may be grumpy old men who hate April Fools day for all of the attempted trickery that goes around. But honestly, as far as the internet is concerned recent April Fools Days have started to resemble something similar to Halloween - everybody figuratively dons their own silly masks to both entertain and occasionally frighten (but never for very long). The only truly mean part of April Fools Day anymore is when somebody goes the extra mile for their joke and creates something so awesome that you wish it was actually real (A Total War game with Dinosaurs? Yes please).
 
It may come as a surprise to you, but given how much I enjoy Halloween, I equally enjoy April Fools Day. Indeed, I actually have quite a lengthy history of being involved with hoaxes. I've never been entirely sure why; creating a hoax is almost like making a puzzle and watching to see how somebody solves it. Once solved, it's back to the drawing board to create a new and improved puzzle, all heading towards the ultimate goal of creating a puzzle so good that everybody wants to play it but nobody can solve it. April Fools Day has always been, to a certain extent, a day of reflection for me. I often go back and re-visit older hoaxes I've made. Given that this makes for a good blog subject, I'm inviting you all to join me as I take a trip down April Fools Memory Lane...
 

 Genocide City
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 - Genocide City
Probably the first real "hoax" I ever tried to pass off as the real deal, this was a mock-up of an old magazine scan to showcase the lost Sonic 2 Beta level named "Genocide City". Back when I made this hoax (sometime around 2000-2001, I wager), there was literally no information about Genocide City Zone save for some probably-also-hoaxed descriptions of what the level looked like. I used these descriptions as a basis for my hoax, most notably the smokestack in the background belching fire. In actuality, this screenshot is a combination of elements from VectorMan 2, Sonic 2's Metropolis Zone, and Sonic 3's Launch Base Zone. I would've gotten away with it, too - at least initially, if not for the fact somebody pointed out that E3 didn't actually start until 1993 or 1994 - after Sonic 2 had come out. If a beta version of Sonic 2 was to be shown anywhere, it would have been at the Consumer Electronics Show. D'oh!
 
 Underground Zone
Sonic Advance 2 - Underground Zone
I had to take things to the next level. Sonic Advance 1 had dropped in Japan in 2001, and hit the United States in early 2002. Knowing that they were probably working on a sequel, I sprung in to action. Rather than create a single screenshot, I went so far as to program a (very basic) game consisting of a single level, which I proceeded to then record myself playing. Then, I turned out all the lights in the room, played the video back, and took pictures of the screen with my digital camera. Once I had enough images of the game, I registered for an Angelfire account (under a different name, of course) and threw the pictures up there, claiming I had an "insider source" that had gotten an exclusive first-peek at Sonic Advance 2. I even deliberately tried to write in a different "style", as to not blow my cover.  To make sure the page was noticed, I dropped the link in a few well-known chat rooms and let it spread from there. It was a ridiculously complicated setup, but ended up being tons of fun to do. I ended up grabbing a few people, until somebody noted that the sprite for Metal Sonic was ripped from one of the Game Gear games.
 
 Pocket Chief
Halo for the Gameboy Advance
Probably my most well-known hoax, for reasons we'll get to in a moment. It was sort of a crazy time - apparently Microsoft and Nintendo had entered in to an agreement to bring select Xbox titles to the Gameboy Advance, starting with a horrifically poor port of Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee. Rumors began to fly that we may see Halo on a Gameboy Advance, to which Bungie repeatedly refuted. Following in the footsteps of my 2002 Sonic Advance hoax, I took it upon myself to create a simplistic "Halo" game running at Gameboy Advance resolution and proceeded to record a video of myself playing it. Where I changed things up was how I portrayed it - with the advent of Gameboy Advance emulation, the "game" I created was patterned after a popular GBA emulator. The video showcased me opening the emulator and loading a "Halo Advance.GBA" ROM. After playing the game for a minute or two, it would then "crash" and the video would end there. Creating the Halo game was fun - I went a little overboard and gave the enemies special A.I. routines that would allow them to run away from Master Chief if they were wounded, and implemented little touches like sticky grenades actually sticking to enemies. I also searched for some Halo MIDIs - running them through FruityLoops with chiptune instruments and Super Nintendo sound fonts to really capture that Gameboy Advance "sound". Rather than alert everybody to the videos existence, however, I decided to instead "lay a trap" by quietly posting it to Google Video and telling nobody I had done so. Eventually, somebody searching for Halo related videos would stumble upon my creation and the trap would be sprung. 
  
  
 
The wait was excruciating. Every few months, I would check and see how many views the video had gotten. Surely, if somebody had happened upon it and posted it to a major gaming outlet, it would be getting hundreds, if not thousands of views per day. Instead, the video sat. And I waited. And it sat, and I waited. A year passed. Then two. Then, out of the blue, IGN's Matt Cassamassina dropped a bombshell: he had played Halo on a Nintendo DS. Interest in a portable version of Halo was renewed, and not long after, I found a fish tugging on my hook. And not just any fish, but a fish named Kotaku. Somebody had ripped my video from Google and posted it on Gametrailers, which is where it was picked up. Unable to contain myself, I admitted to the hoax in their comments section. Though other Kotaku posters patted me on the back for my accomplishment, I think I upset the notoriously high-strung Brian Ashcraft, because a month later, I found myself permanently banned from the site for life after making a catty comment regarding a story he posted. Harsh!
 
 It's-a me
Super Mario 128
A lot of rumors flew after Nintendo's Gamecube tech demo called Mario 128. Even though Super Mario Sunshine was technically the successor to Super Mario 64, Nintendo maintained that no, that was not Mario 128. Thus, it became customary around E3 time to try and hoax together something for Mario 128. This is one of the many attempts I actually saved. Obviously Mario himself is from Super Smash Bros. Melee, but the environment he's in marks my first foray in to trying to create a hoax in 3D. If you can believe it, the bricks and the pipe are actually a Doom map - I never bothered to learn how to do 3D geometry, but I knew how to do a Doom map, so I used that to create some basic shapes using textures from Super Mario World. A "direct feed" version of that screenshot is here, before I made the HUD smaller.  I forget what was originally on that screen, too. 
 
 Sonic Boom~
Sonic Advance 3
I felt I had to follow up my Sonic Advance 2 hoax with one for Sonic Advance 3. This time, I tried to play off the " Sonic & Knuckles" idea for "Sonic & Shadow". This time I decided to try and mimick the style of a Japanese magazine like Famitsu or something. Which... basically meant I ran english text through Google Translate and hoped for the best. Honestly, this is probably the most lazy hoax I ever made. I mean, just look at those screenshots - it's amateur hour. And that logo? It looks like I made it in Flash (I didn't). Nobody believed it for a second. I do kind of wish the real Sonic Advance 3 would've incorporated Sonic-CD-esque time travel, though. It's kind of mysterious that they've never tried to revisit that specific concept, despite Sonic CD's popularity. 
 
 Blue skies forever
Sonic Rush 2
There was a period of time where nobody was sure if a sequel to Sonic Rush would ever get made. Sega (the publisher) and Dimps (the developer) apparently had a falling out at some point over Dimps' King-of-Fighters-esque fighting game, The Rumble Fish. They eventually patched things up, but there was a good two or three years between the first and second Sonic Rush games, leaving an opening for somebody like me to swoop in and do something stupid. As if you hadn't already guessed by the horrible level art in my other Sonic hoaxes, making tiles for this stuff is a lot harder than it looks. Still, anything's better than that abysmal Sonic Advance 3 hoax. Not that anybody believed this one, either, though. I still like the cloud graphic I made in the far background, though. Outside of the Egg Pawn and the rings, I made all of the stuff in this screenshot. Well, I guess I didn't make Sonic - I think his model was from the PC version of Sonic Adventure DX.
 
 
 Block Tree
New Super Mario Bros. 2
After so many limp-wristed hoaxes, I was starting to lose interest in creating something for April Fools. I couldn't get any ideas together, nor could I successfully execute on them properly. 3D hoaxes were becoming increasingly hard for me to pull off, and I was beginning to doubt my ability to replicate 2D artwork. I practically forced myself to do this one, and in all honesty it turned out better than I expected. The main idea I was going for was to echo Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA), what with the doors, shy guy, and the plants rooted in the floor. 
I actually had a whole series of screenshots planned, too; the Mario model used in this screenshot was actually from Mario Kart Double Dash, and I had models for Princess Peach, Luigi, and Toad posed and ready, in addition to sprites for Ninji and a few other level locales half-finished. If it wasn't for the dopey shy guy sprite in this screenshot, this might've actually been pretty nice to look at. At this point I was done trying to fool people, however, and was just doing this sort of stuff for fun.
 
 Damn Chaos Emeralds
Shadow the Hedgehog 2: Redemption
Shadow the Hedgehog was such a bad game. There aren't too many things that could be worse, save for a sequel. I actually patterned this layout after an issue of EGM I saw. I think it came out really, really nicely; it looks like it really was clipped from a magazine scan. There was even the unintentional side-effect of me trying to do an "E3" background behind the text that ended up looking like the other side of the page fading through - something that frequently happens when you scan the cheap, incredibly thin paper that magazines are printed on. I wish I still had the source file for this - I had originally written an entire paragraph and a half on this game, about planned features and whatever, but it seems I've lost them to the sands of time. When I posted this, I was actually shocked how quickly people recognized where all the individual parts were from: the city street you see there is from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (despite me trying my hardest to pick a non-descript area). The Shadow the Hedgehog model is from Sonic Heroes, and the solders are from The Specialists (a Half-Life 1 mod patterned after The Matrix). Just goes to show you, no matter how good you think you are, you're still not good enough!

 Spin and win time
Telltale's "The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog" 
And that brings us to this year, the first real hoax I've sat down and finished in years. I was going for a similar style like the old Lucasarts SCUMM Adventure Games ( Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max Hit the Road, etc.). The idea was that Sega and Telltale would partner, and Telltale would "cash in" on the psuedo-retro fad started by Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10 by doing an Adventure Game about Sonic in SCUMM, complete with low-fidelity graphics. I had a lot of fun doing this; it was kind of awesome working in so few colors. I think I'm actually starting to figure out how to do sprite art. Sonic's a little weird looking, but part of me blames that on my scanner, which seems to scan my artwork at crooked angles (either that or I draw crookedly). And before you ask, yes - I drew Sonic's sprite by hand. The Swatbot I cheesed a little bit and just pulled off of Google Image Search. The backdrop is more traditional sprite work. Special thanks to a friend of mine for giving me the idea about the character interaction menu, there. 
 
And that's it! There's a couple of hoaxes I did that I didn't put on this list, generally because they were too lame or weren't ever actually finished. Stay tuned to see if I actually end up doing another hoax next year. ;)
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