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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Well, last night I finally broke down and slapped a fresh install of Vista onto a new drive. Then I immediately remember how much of a pain in the ass getting a fresh install back up to speed really is. So far, I've mainly been messing around my with iTunes library. It's the most annoying thing so far, because the drive that music is currently on seems to be junk. It's a pity, too, because it's a brand-new drive. I suppose putting it into a machine that's constantly locking up and sputtering while data is being written to it didn't help its cause.
The good news is that the system seems much more stable now. So when it can't ready from F:, it doesn't explode, it just says "hey, we can't read this" and stays up. I figure that copying files through the iTunes library consolidation option isn't helping matters, and a more direct copy would probably have more success. But to accomplish that I'll have to manually (or at least via a find and replace) update all of the pointers in iTunes' XML-based library file. Or I could just wipe the library and reimport all the music, but then I lose playlists and ratings, and sorting music and syncing it to iPods becomes a real hassle again. This would all be way easier if I wasn't dealing with 160GB of content.
Beyond that, the next biggest headache will be reinstalling everything I use for audio editing and song writing. FL Studio isn't a huge problem, but the gigs and gigs of VST plugins certainly will be. I'll probably put a rush on this, as there's been talk of doing some writing/recording over the Christmas break.
Lastly, there's e-mail. But that's just reinstalling Thunderbird and copying the settings and e-mail folders over from the old install, I think. Shouldn't be tough, I just haven't done it in awhile.
Reinstalling most of the games that I actually play will be easy. I've already reinstalled Steam, I just need to tell it to download everything again. Hmm... maybe I could just move some of the files out of the old install to save some time there.
Troubleshooting PC issues has probably become one of my least favorite things in the world. Things go wrong for seemingly no reason, and figuring out exactly what's up is usually a supreme pain in the ass. Over the years I've replaced motherboards, painstakingly salvaged data off of failing hard drives, and spent hours staring at a PC that wouldn't POST only to finally realize it was because there was a small spot where the board was grounding out on the case.
So when my current machine started acting up, I just sort of ignored it. I've since bought a MacBook Pro that I use to do all my important computing, leaving the PC as an occasional game machine, but mostly this quad core CPU and Geforce 8800 Ultra are used to run iTunes so I can sync up my iPod to my full library, instead of the small slice of it I keep on my laptop. That's right, it's a $3,000 jukebox.
Unfortunately, it's not even very good at that anymore. For the longest time it was randomly blue-screening, and the error codes just weren't conclusive. Then it was just locking up without actually rebooting. Now, any sort of persistent disk access (like audio playback) seems to stutter and chug from time to time, occasionally locking up all the way. I just threw a new drive in over the weekend, thinking that maybe the drive with all the music on it was acting up. That didn't really change anything. I tried disconnecting the old music drive, thinking it might be failing and dragging everything else down with it. Nope. I stripped it all the way down to just my boot drive, and it locked up within five minutes.
So I think I've got it narrowed down to one of two things. Either my boot drive is slowly failing, or I'm overloading this thing's power supply, which could be causing all sorts of random chaos. It's a 1,000 watt power supply, but I can't really find any realiable way to figure out how much wattage I'm actually using. I guess I'm going to try to clone my boot drive to a different drive and see if the current boot drive is the issue. If that doesn't fix it, I guess I could reformat and reinstall Windows. I'd really rather not do that. At this point, maybe I should just build something super cheap, throw all these big drives in it, and make it a pure media server. But that wouldn't exactly leave me equipped for playing games or making music, which still requires the PC. While I could (and probably should) make the jump to Logic Pro or some other Mac-based sequencing for the music, there's still this whole "oh, yeah, occasionally you might want to review a PC game" thing.
There are certainly times when I think of just dragging it into a Best Buy or whatever and paying someone to fix it... but I'm not that far gone yet. I certainly believe in the whole "my time is worth money" theory, but not with the insane rates they'd probably charge.
So I'm working on an achievement guide for a certain little game that comes out this Friday. Currently sitting here, watching multiplayer bot matches stalemate against a dead controller to see if that's a good way to rack up "rounds played" while you sleep. After a bit of this, I'll check out a couple of other shortcut ideas I have.
Also not answering 360 chat requests from people who probably want to ask me incredibly specific questions about said game that I can't answer until tomorrow. Got a message from a guy that just said "pirate much?" I love the assumption that anyone playing a game early is OBVIOUSLY a horrific pirate. Knuckleheads!
So I've been trying to get in a good, long SOCOM session for the past five days or so, now, and I've still been unable to do so. If the player stats on my account are correct (and they're not), I've played around five games since it launched. The rest of the time was spent looking at screens that say "NETWORK INITIALIZATION FAILED" or "UNABLE TO CONNECT" or some other variant of the same.
Even when I manage to get connected to a game after weeding through the totally unecessary "channels" setup, that's no guarantee that I'll actually get into the game. More than once I've greened up, joined in, and gotten stuck as a spectator for multiple rounds.
Right now I'm thinking that I'll spend another day or two attempting to get in some serious SOCOM time with hopes of writing a review, but after that, I may have to forego a full review, write up something on the current state of the game (effectively unplayable), and move on to something else.