On the Subject of Endurance...

I don't know that anyone out there thought that we would still be going strong on these Persona 4 Endurance Run videos after ten weeks. I don't really know if I'd ever considered doing them for this long when we first started doing them. I figured someone (you or us) would lose interest, or perhaps we'd ruffle some feathers over at Atlus and they'd politely ask us to stop broadcasting their game start to finish. I reckon that our pacing is such that anyone who wants to play the game will certainly have plenty of time to do so before we start spoiling things about it.


But here we are, 50 days later, still going. I get the impression that there's a decent number of people out there who picked up Persona 4 after seeing us play, people who wouldn't have given the game a first look, let alone a second look, under normal circumstances. I've always felt that one of the main things people in my line of work are supposed to do is connect people with the right games, especially when those games might otherwise go unnoticed. While that isn't quite what our aim was when we kicked this off, that's really where it's ended up. With the way the game's progressing, I feel that I really can't recommend it enough.

Though we haven't finished the game (yet), I feel like I can safely say that Persona 4 is one of the best RPGs I've ever "played." Of course, I haven't seriously played a console-only RPG in ages... mostly because they're so boring and so predictable. That's probably my favorite thing about Persona 4. Every time you think it's heading one way, they go in a slightly different direction, or at least get to the point in an unexpected way. And I've been totally impressed with the dialogue. The characters seem to call each other out more than I'd expect. More than once I've started getting exasperated at a dumb line of dialogue only to have the in-game response call it out, too. It's well-written and localized in a way that retains the Japanese feel without feeling overtly "foreign." That's a tough balancing act.

It's kind of funny to see the reaction to the videos. I've been doing a little googling to see what people are saying elsewhere. It's funny to stumble upon some serious-style RPG forum and see people complain about how we're "the worst Persona players ever" or something. I think they're sort of missing the point, and that's part of why RPGs have fallen out of the mainstream. The genre has become more and more impenetrable over the years, to the point where picking up the average Japanese RPG now is nearly impossible for the average player. The games have been built upon one-another to the point where if you haven't been paying attention all along, you're going to have a tough time getting in.

There are a lot of things that Persona 4 does well, but I feel like it leaves too many of its systems unexplained... or at least poorly explained. Things like the way fused persona randomly inherit skills, or the actual importance of Social Links... the game just sort of mentions that stuff in ways that make them seem totally optional, but stuff like that ends up being pretty core to the experience. So when we're fumbling through parts of the game, it's because we're not sitting there with a FAQ, figuring out the exact best way to spend every day... and it's because we're spacing out our play time in such a way that we rarely remember anything for very long.

Anyway, my thoughts will become a bit clearer on the subject as we keep playing, but with a UI overhaul, some pacing adjustments, and more in-game descriptions of core systems, there's no reason Persona 4 couldn't appeal to a larger crowd of players. Of course, at that point you have to start worrying if those changes would alienate the game's existing fanbase. The RPG dudes seem pretty set in their ways.

On top of all that, Persona 4 is currently the most popular game page on the entire site. That's pretty cool.
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New Theme: Motorsports

Motorsports is a new theme in the database that can be applied at the game level.

I'll be going back to my last blog post about genres and themes and adding ones that seem meaningful in the near future. (So consider this post a second chance to suggest some).

Additionally, we will be moving to a new maximum of one genre per game. This means, obviously, that we will be adding a lot of genres to the system, like "Action-Adventure," which is used primarily to differentiate between the console definition of adventure (Legend of Zelda, Fable II) and the PC definition (Maniac Mansion, Broken Sword). Multiple themes will still be possible.

Also still thinking a lot about how to split the Shooter genre to account for the following types of game:

  • Modern third-person shooters like Gears of War and Max Payne
  • Forced scroll arcade shooters like Gradius and Xevious
  • Fixed-screen shooters like Galaga and Space Invaders
  • User-controlled scrolling shooters like Commando or Contra

Any thoughts that don't include the terms "shoot-'em-up" or "shmup" would be sincerely appreciated.
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Do you own a PAL copy of Formula One 06 or F1 Champion Edition?

Hey, looking for a fact check from someone with a European copy of Sony's Formula One 06 or Formula One Champion Edition for PS2 and/or PSP.


Do me a solid! Look in the credits and tell me if this Keeley Hazell chick is actually credited in the manual or in the in-game credits. "Marketing models" typically aren't credited and this page is up for deletion. Scans/photos of the manuals/on-screen credits would be preferred.

Thanks.
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Killzone 2 wiki page fixed

I went in and fixed a problem that was preventing the Killzone 2 page from accepting updates. Had to cut a couple of images while I was cleaning it up, but that page could really use some clean-up. There's some out-of-date info in there, some typos... all kinds of stuff. Anyone up to the challenge of (re-)writing a kick-ass KZ2 page?

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Disturbing

  


Have we, as a society, become so pathetically insecure that we now must rely on fake praise in order to avoid the crippling grip of depression and convince ourselves that everything is going to be OK? Unless they're buying it as a joke, who gets this? Who decides "heeeeey, I could really use a little pick-me-up in my life!" and gets a CD full of people clapping to play when they feel down?

And how much better is this "metal" version of the above video?

  


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UT3 on Steam

Steam tossed out a news post yesterday stating that you can register your retail Unreal Tournament 3 key with Steam and effectively integrate it into your Steam account. Just did that, totally redownloading UT3 now via Steam. It's cool when developers work to make all this stuff play together nicely, rather than separate the disc users and Steam users. Now I can get Steam acheviements in UT3... when they release the next patch, that is.


UT3 got a bum rap. It's a heck of a game, but shooters have kind of moved on from the sort of thing that the UT series offers. So I guess I agree that it feels a bit stale these days. Plus, it probably didn't change enough to automatically appeal to the ridiculously heavy mod scene that popped up around the previous game. I'm going to check and see if there are any decent maps and mods out there these days, as I haven't played it in a pretty long time.
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A Quick Thought on Ziff Before Sleep

Though I came in through one corporate merger and left via another, for a brief time I was a Zifff Davis employee. Or ZDNet, technically. I sort of forget how all the names changed and how all the mergers went down as a part of that process. That was the period of time when I feel like I really came into my own and started doing this for a living, instead of just blindly showing up to a job and hoping for the best. It was often bumpy... actually it was often a gigantic pain in the ass... but it did feel good to be affiliated with EGM. It was one of those gold standards, one of those magazines that, along with VG&CE, shaped a lot of my views on games and how they're covered. It's weird to think that Ziff has completely crawled out of the game business now. I can't even call the remaining Ziff guys "Ziff guys" anymore. That's totally weird.


My first issue of EGM was the one with Super Mario World on the front. It was a blown-up screenshot that looked ridiculously colorful. That cover alone sold me on the SNES.

It's always depressing when this business stands up and reminds you that it's a business.
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Jeff's Top 10 of 2008

I'm having a really hard time not making this a Top 11 list. But that's a slippery slope, because then you're suddenly spitting out a Top 20 list or something stupid like that. So let's keep it simple, keep it clean, and keep it pure with my top 10 games of 2008. But I actually screwed up and misnumbered it a bit, and accidentlaly posted a Top 9 list. So I get to add Audiosurf after all! It's a Christmas miracle!

10. Audiosurf - As a guy with a large music collection, I can very easily get a lot out of a game that generates levels based on music. But for me, the thrill moved beyond just playing Daft Punk or Justice levels. Instead, I started thinking about the music I was writing, and how to make it work better in the context of Audiosurf. That, my friends, is absolutely crazy.

9. Rock Band 2 - It's hard to argue with the quality of Rock Band 2. The game takes the core gameplay that made the previous one so successful, but the streamlined career progression makes everything much smoother whether you're playing alone or with a group. Stack on a regular dose of great downloadable updates and that cool Battle of the Bands online challenge system and you've got a game that probably (hopefully) won't need a direct sequel in 2009.

8. Bionic Commando Rearmed - I absolutely love the original Bionic Commando. So to hear that it was getting updated and remade as a digital download got me all kinds of hot in the pants. The amazing part is how well the final product came out. It manages to retain the feel of the old game without coming across as dated or useless.

7. Professor Layton and the Curious Village - Layton gets his, son. I used to spend hours staring blankly at books full of brain teasers and riddles, moving around mental matchsticks or figuring out the seating order at a table with very specific instructions. Layton captures all of that wonder and integrates a handy hint system and a mysterious adventure that ties all of the puzzles together with a charming, well-presented story.

6. Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts - The best part about Nuts & Bolts is that all of its vehicle creation tools actively service the game. Sure, you could just hang out and create weird vehicles, but having to construct or tweak your rides to accomplish very specific tasks gives the game an interesting puzzle side that complements the action quite well. On top of that, the writing is quite funny and it looks great.

Minus the early server issues and the troubles with moderation, this could have been a contender.
5. Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe - Most fighting games stick you with the same basic combos and gameplay for, like, a decade. This is the third complete revision of the MK play style, and it skillfully invokes some of the gameplay and strategy of the arcade originals without ditching the things that have worked over the past generation of consoles. It might be divisive, but I found it to be extremely fun, and pretty inventive, too.

TrackMania became the gaming equivalent of comfort food for me in 2008.

4. Gears of War 2 - Given the way this game seems to be selling, I probably don't need to tell you what makes Gears 2 so great. But I will, just in case. The action--the seemingly simple act of shooting--feels absolutely perfect. Tack on an interesting story to keep that action moving and you've got a great campaign. Throw in some of the smartest multiplayer design to come along in ages and you've got one of the year's greatest releases.

3. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots - If you had told me that I'd be sitting here at the end of 2008, proclaiming a Metal Gear Solid game to be one of my favorites of the year, I'd say you were crazy. I've never really fallen for Kojima's cinematic trickery before, despite loving MGS2 for displaying the man's willingness to mess with his fanbase. But everything that hasn't worked out quite so well in the past lines up in MGS4 in ways that must be seen to believed. With plenty of closure, expert cinematography in its cutscenes, and a refined set of controls that let you approach the action in a decidedly modern way, Metal Gear Solid 4 is one of those rare games that both satisfies fans and manages to pull in new people along the way.

Braid's another game that I won't soon forget, but it didn't quite make the list.
2. Burnout Paradise - I feel like this game would be in my #2 slot even if Criterion didn't spend the entire year releasing free downloadable updates that make the game even more robust. This game was all multiplayer for me. Specifically, the multiplayer challenges, which have you racing around to complete tasks as you both compete and cooperate with your partners, had me playing this game way more than any other game I played in 2008.

1. Grand Theft Auto IV - Rockstar's first GTA game for the current generation of hardware takes the open world freestyle crime genre in directions that wouldn't have seemed possible a few years ago. That's not to say that it's bigger and more insane than San Andreas... it's not. Instead, the developers threw the world a curveball and created a smaller, more personal story of a man trying to find some closure in his life, only to discover a lot of things along the way that might be worth a lot more than what he was originally searching for. Watching Niko Bellic and waiting to see if he figures that out on his own was a touching process that impacted me in ways I couldn't have possibly predicted. Watching these flawed personalities try to make their way through Liberty City as best they can was an experience that I won't soon forget.

Bad Company, another game I should give some kind of shout-out to!
Here's a couple of honorable mentions of games that technically don't qualify for this list of 2008 games, even if they were high on my list of things to do this year.

Trackmania United Forever - The Forever update was technically released in 2008, but this seems more like a patch than a whole new product. Trackmania is a really, really weird PC racing game that lets users build insane levels and easily share them up on online servers. Tons of players can connect to a server without any latency issues because most races are conducted as time attacks and you can't actually collide with the other vehicles. With loads of wild stunts and a great community that is constantly adding more tracks and vehicles, Trackmania United Forever is really something special.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare - Obviously, this is 2007's biggest game. But I spent way more time with it in 2008 than I did back in '07. Infinity Ward showed the world how to keep first-person shooter multiplayer modes exciting and deep by adding persistent rewards and a strong collection of modes to choose from. 2008 saw the release of a nice, sharp map pack for the game that kept things moving. There's a reason why COD4 is still so widely enjoyed today--it's one of the greatest first-person shooters of all time.
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The Answer is Always True

Dear Trivia Authors!

You might want to stop writing a bunch of true or false questions. We've got a ton of them, and most of them are pretty bad. They almost all seem to talk about some weirdly specific thing from a game that a person just couldn't make up. And the answer is (almost) always true. My advice would be to right a bunch of convincing-sounding false questions or... better yet... put a little more effort into writing a better question in the first place.
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