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My first California Extreme (or: I played The Grid...A LOT.)

I'm sitting here on my lunch at work reflecting back at how fun California Extreme was. I was really overwhelmed (in a good way) by the sheer amount of cabinets all in one place, it was incredible. I drove 5-1/2 hours to get there but boy was it worth it. My highlights of the show:

The Grid. How come no one ever told me how fun The Grid is? They had 4 linked machines there and I must have spent 3 hours total playing matches against random people. It's so...manic and the weapons are goofy as hell. Aiming with the rollerball works so well too, I was surprised. The second to last match I played I was tied for 1st with some dude with 10 kills and 3 seconds left on the clock -- I picked him up and threw him (instant kill) as the clock went to 0 and pulled out a win. A loud "NOOOO" came billowing from him as I did a victory dance in front of the cabinet. So good.I got to meet Jeff and chatted with him for a few minutes. Such a nice guy. I later watched him destroy people in NFL Blitz 99. I played Tapper with Ryan. Was super happy to have been able to meet him. Playing a bunch of different Street Fighter matches against random people was really fun. They had a couple of sitdown Street Fighter III cabinets there. Those were really neat.The Ferrari F355 Challenge sitdown cabinet with 3 big-ass screens left me in awe.People were lining up to play "The Irritating Maze" game. It was fun! When you lose there is an extremely bright flash and it shoots a jet of strong wind into your face. it's pretty crazy.I also spotted Drew and Jared Rea moseying about, didn't get the chance to say hi to them.There's more, but I'll stop now. :) Everyone there was so nice, it was packed but it wasn't hard at all to play something you wanted to play.

Who else went this year? I'd love to hear about some of the fun experiences everyone had. Giant Bomb was representin' -- I saw a ton of people wearing various Giant Bomb shirts.


11 games I spent way too much time playing online

I've been wanting to blog about this for quite awhile, but I wanted to put some real time into it so I've been putting it off. When I find a game where I really enjoy the online multiplayer, I play it so much that I usually burn myself out on it in a month or two, with some exceptions of course. :)

Anyway, the 11 games I spent the most time online with in order of hours played;

Edit: I took out the ball parked, hour figures, just because they were all probably off. Most of these games didn't track your hours.

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11. Tony Hawks Pro Skater 4 (PS2)

PS2 North American front cover
PS2 North American front cover


Like many others, I loved, loved, loved the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater franchise before it all spiraled out of control for them. I played this game online long enough to realize while I thought I was fucking raw at every THPS, that I was mearly a peasant. The scores I would see people get regularly were insane -- but that's if you would even get to play any type of game mode. Most rooms you would join were players standing around and chatting, usually about some other clan they hated. One game type which I always rolled my eyes at when it started was "Slap!" It was just too laggy to play that game correctly with everyone skipping around as much as they did.

Overall, I had a good time with this game online. Tons of socializing going, which was cool -- one of those games where you joined the same room every time you played, because you knew the people that would be there. There was no voice chat, which was obviously a bummer.

10. Small Arms (XBLA)

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You know, this game wasn't great but I still spent too long playing this. This game had a really good lively community for quite awhile which is surprising to most, I'm sure. Especially with the way XBLA games tend to be dead on arrival the day they release now, but that wasn't always the case. This was the type of game where a new player who jumped online wouldn't have much fun, so you really needed 4 players who knew what they were doing -- but once you did it was a blast. You could lose hours at a time.

There wasn't much variety to it, that's why it's on the low end of hours played on my list. I burned out on it after awhile. Also, some of the characters were grossly unbalanced and that took away from the fun sometimes too.

9. SRS: Street Racing Syndicate (XBOX)

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My reason for buying this in the first place was that I'm hopelessly obsessed with arcade racers, and Halo 2 was still a few months off at this point so I was looking for anything to fill some time until then. This was a fun game to play online, and again the free roam was what most people played. For most, it was all about customizing your ride and showing it off in free roam, which admittedly was kind of fun. The actual racing wasn't great, as the game had really odd physics but it did run smooth as butter online. No cars skipping around crazily. You could also race for pink slips which was kind of neat, though no one used it in the intended way. Using the pink slip system to send and receive cars from others was really all it was used for.

The community wasn't great, I met some nice people but the ratio of nice to annoying leaned much more towards annoying. It also died out pretty quick, too -- Within 2 and a half months it was already a ghost town.

8. Bomberman LIVE (XBLA)

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This was my go to Xbox 360 game when no big releases were out for a long time. The community in this game was awesome, and very long lived. Met so many good people playing this. A shit-ton of DLC subsequently came out that kept everything fresh, I think that's why I played so much of this -- also the matchmaking was lightning quick. 

When someone lagged in this game, it was frustrating because it became almost impossible to hit them because you couldn't judge where they were going. Ugh, hated that -- it wasn't uncommon for someone who was lagging to rack up 8 wins in a row. Also, on a lighter note I randomly got matched up with Jeff and played some rounds against him. (He was still at Gamespot at this point.) He didn't win any rounds, but neither did so I ain't gonna hate.

7. Blur (X360)

Blur US Xbox 360 Box Art
Blur US Xbox 360 Box Art

One of my favorite games in the past 10 years, no question. I would have loved to spend more time online with this game, but the community was small on day one, and it died pretty quickly. People do still play, but not many and they're impossible to keep up with at this point.

Such a fast paced, crazy game online. A full 20 player race really is good for the soul -- the chaos is delicious. The matchmaking in the game is some of the best I've seen, if there were only 35 players online in the entire game, the game would never put you by yourself, you'd always end up with those other people. Seems stupid to point out, right? But I can't even count how many games I've played that failed at that simple task.

My Xbox 360 friends list is composed mostly of people I met in Blur, you'd rarely come across people arguing or bickering, just having fun. You never have enough time to get frustrated, and it's a goofy game anyway. As Ryan Davis once said about Blur: "One thing I can really appreciate about Blur, is that it's always ON, no matter what place you're in."

Though, one complaint I have is that once someone got into first it was too easy for them to stay there and build a huge lead, as everyone else behind them is too busy duking it out.

6. MAG (PS3)

Front cover of MAG (US) for PlayStation 3
Front cover of MAG (US) for PlayStation 3

I played the beta for MAG and despised it, it felt like I had to run for hours to find anyone, then I'd get shot and not know where it came from. Though, admittedly I didn't give it much of a chance.

Fast forward to release, when good reviews are coming out and I decide to give it another shot. I'm glad I did, as I ended having a ton of fun with it. Technically, it ran great -- in 139 hours of playtime I came across maybe 7 matches that were unplayable due to lag, that's it. The community was better than I'd expected especially with the much touted leadership roles in the game being present. I can only remember a few people really abusing, but there weren't a lot of ways to do so anyway. Basically if you were a good player and could communicate well, you were automatically good at being in one of the leadership roles. To be honest, you didn't even have to speak -- if you were just aware of what's going on around you that that was normally enough. Many just lead by example.

When you got into a squad with people who were communicating well, man this game could not be replicated. Running around in a huge pack, doing different objectives quickly while others watched your back was SO GOOD. One good squad of 8 dudes could turn around an entire team of 128 peoples.

The game was filled k/d ratio whores when I played, which was really frustrating as MAG is the epitome of team game. The clan system in the game is ridiculously robust, but getting matched up with a clan was always a pain in the ass with a little good sprinkled in. First of all, they were clans so they took the game really seriously, but at the same time you were matched with people who were organized so you knew you had a good shot at winning. But the bigger problem was that if you were in a 8 player squad with 7 clan members, you'd often get voted (see: kicked) out so they could get one more clan member in that game with them. Sometimes they would do it just for kicks. That abuse of the vote-to-kick system was a huge, huge bummer. Players would also (often) get voted out just for being a low level, and for no other reason than that.

It was hard to keep up with the game even with how many hours I was putting in, because of the constant patches and game balancing. I've never played a game that was getting tweaked and re-tweaked that much before. After almost every patch health for some armor would be different, weapons would shoot differently...Zipper wasn't fucking around, man.

In my 2 months with the game the amount of players playing was dwindling towards the end of my time with it. Still enough to fill servers, but it took awhile. And one of the game modes which never had many players to begin with was nearly unplayable due to lack of interest two months in. Probably because it lasted too long and was too hard to win...yeah, that'd be why actually. But I met a lot of good people playing this, with a healthy smattering of completely elitest assholes. Though no psychos, which is always good.

5. Modnation Racers (PS3)

Front cover of ModNation Racers (US) for PlayStation 3
Front cover of ModNation Racers (US) for PlayStation 3

I played atleast 30 hours of the beta for this game (made it in the top 5 of the XP leaderboard.) Which is saying a lot to how much I loved the game because the beta was nearly broken.

The real game still had many of the issues present in the beta, but ran well enough to play anyway. This was easily one of my most anticipated games of the past 5 years, and I can't say I was disappointed with the actual game, just more with the developers not fixing big issues quicker. But whatever, still awesome. The XP races (ranked match equivalent) are so damn addicting. Over a 5 race series, the rivalries you'd build with the other players were gold. Not many people played player matches, because the only real benefit to them was you would be able to play custom made tracks you downloaded, which in all honestly only 10 percent of them were any good.

The Modspot (lobby) of the game was something I really didn't like. Neat idea, but it promoted just sitting around in a lobby crashing into each other rather than getting into actual game modes. It felt like only 20 percent of the people who played MNR ever stepped foot into a race game mode, because you could switch into different Modspots all day, see they were full with people -- then try and get into a race only to realize both the XP Race and XP Series lobbies were ghost towns. And as cool as having 16 player races is, in 150+ hours of racing I raced in a full room 3 times. The more normal number was more like 5. And if you did start a Series with 12 people or more, by the 3rd race it'd always be down to 5 or 6 as people would always just quit. Such a shame -- they were missing out on a kick ass experience if they'd just stick it out.

The community as a whole was...odd. Most people stayed silent -- I rarely ever heard anyone using a Mic. But when I did I usually heard the most heinous shit, which shocked me because Modnation Racers has a very cutesy aesthetic and I wasn't expecting any craziness, really. There was more socializing in the beta than the retail game I noticed. Also, when I stopped playing there was a lot of cheating the XP system going on.

Overall, fun game just wish the developers would have jumped on big issues faster than 1 and a half months after the games release.

4. Project Gotham 2 (XBOX)

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Two words: So good.  There are songs in my collection I just associate with this game from the hours I spent online with a custom soundtrack playing.

Ran smooth as butter online, no weird exploits -- just dudes racing around gettin' Kudos. The community in this game was awesome, you would meet so many fun people playing this. I don't think I ever met anyone who was taking it too serious. I really don't have much to say about this games multiplayer, it just worked and was fun.

3. Halo 2 (XBOX)

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I remember the matchmaking in Halo 2 blew my fucking mind, just for the record. What can I say about this games multiplayer? It's Halo 2, we've all played it. 

Towards the end of my time with the game, hacking was getting really bad. Also, I hit a wall in Halo 2 where I wasn't getting any better, so I was stuck at a certain rank for months and that kind bummed me out. Community wise, Halo 2 is a known quantity. I never heard anything too crazy, and I definitely met more nice people in Halo 2 than I did in Halo 3, or Reach. I played quite a bit of Halo 3, and didn't meet one polite person the entire time.

2. Team Fortress 2 (X360) (Yes, seriously, the X360 version.)

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Again -- yes, really. I played the absolute shit out of TF2 on 360 from day one up until about a year and a half later. To be honest, having never played the PC version at that point I didn't feel I was missing much, and for a good while (I'd say about a year -- the first year) Valve did patch the 360 version every once in awhile to keep it somewhat up to date. Plus, being early on neither the 360 version nor the PC had all the crazy unlocks yet, anyway.

The game was easily ruined by glitchers, as Valves patches usually only covered weapon balancing and adding a tiny feature or two, not fixing up glitches. You could kick them out, but you'd need to be the host (no voting), and often the host would be in on it anyway. Oh and by the way, to host a room your connection needed to be fucking lightning quick, no exceptions. They kinda-sorta fixed that later on. But, Valve did their best to throw the 360 players some bones everyone once in awhile with patches for the first year but after that they must have just said "seriously, fuck this -- holler at us on Steam, where there's no certification process."

The community was pretty large, and dedicated. Almost everyone would shoot the shit, which was a stark contrast from some other online games which were completely silent all the time. There were tons of clans, too. Later the game would get so filled with clans that it was hard to play if you weren't in one, as every room you'd join would be stacked to the gills with dedicated clan dudes one team, just waiting like sharks for a bunch of randoms to join the other team so they could feast. I was always surprised when I would find a room people would make an effort to keep the teams even.

Overall, hell of a game even if it was the console version for peasants. When you could find a room without stacked teams and glitchers, there was a lot of fun to be had. I'd have to imagine it's a ghost town now, though.

1. Tribes: Aerial Assault (PS2)

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Released in 2002, this was a shockingly competent console version of Tribes, with dedicated servers and everything. The community relatively large, and super, super dedicated. There was a fanmade site where people would join clans, organize clan matches and just talk. I still can't believe how organized it all really was, you should have seen the tournaments that were held at different times of the year.

The actual game ran great, even if you were on dial-up. And the developers were adding features and balancing things within the dedicated servers for a long time. I saw one of them playing quite often, as well. If this game had voice chat (or even text chat -- it didn't even have that :| ) it would have been immeasurably better. But still, it was a great early, online multiplayer PS2 game.

1 and a half-ish weeks with Motorstorm: Apocalypse

Being a big fan of the Motorstorm series, I decided to import a copy of Motorstorm: Apocalypse awhile back. So far I've been really enjoying it, and I thought it'd be fun sharing some of my experiences in a blog.

You know, I saw tons of video for this game and was super excited from the start, if a little apprehensive also. Pacific Rift was slam-your-head-into-wall-over-and-over hard, and while I didn't mind it so much, I was worried the difficulty in Apocalypse would be even crazier because of all the crazy stuff going on while you're racing. Pacific Rift was hard, and you were just racing through jungle settings. Would everything be too distracting? That's another question. First off, I'm 80 percent through the single player story campaign and up to this point it's been tough but not ball-achingly hard. There were times I definitely had to restart races multiple times, but nothing compared to my play through of Pacific Rift. The AI is still uber-agressive, but something about it just isn't as tough. Fine with me, honestly.

The stages you race through are gorgeous, with tons going on. Boats being thrown at you from a tornado, Helicopters shooting the ground right underneath you and you subsequently ending up falling through the ground into a subway system. It's all insane. Did I find it distracting? Yeah, but its supposed to be. When shit goes down in front of you, it's usually pretty obvious how your supposed to get around it. But of course, there are some stages in my opinion which have way, way too much going on in it to a huge fault. The stage with the tornado in it for instance is just too crazy for my liking and i roll my eyes anytime it comes up in multiplayer. Combine the rain, the darkness, the tornado throwing out tons of stuff and the buildings kind of blending in, and it's just annoying to race. The story in the game is...I don't know what it is. The motion comics they use are pretty neat looking, but everything else i feel is just kind of awkward. Just way over the top, and i'm still not sure if i find it funny or not.

Now, the multiplayer is definitely what I'm enjoying the most. While I played a lot of Pacific Rift online, I got into it late and by that time people were raw. it was fun, but I never got into a groove where I could be really competitive. i'm having more much more fun with Apocalypse online --- it just feels more evened out. The perks, medals and accolades just keep me coming back. The betting system is really cool too, but it's got problems that I'll share my thoughts about later.

Getting into a 16 player race and watching the chaos right off the line is crazy. Someone always gets run off the road at the start and smashes into something, then blows up. Always -- never fails. And it's never not funny. Though I wish more people would talk, because it's almost always silent in races. The few times i've heard anyone else say anything, it's been in another language. With the game not being out in America yet, that's to be expected. But with the release in Europe being tomorrow (?), I'm hoping i'll get to chat it up and have fun with folks because as fun as it is now there isn't much socializing going on. :(

Anyway, the perks in this game are way more useful (and powerful) then I had thought they'd be, and it's a game changer. I'm partial to the motorcycles, and I can't even tell you how frustrating it is to get wrecked by every person in a truck, car or by any little piece of geometry in the stages. The "armour" perk changed all that, and now i'm having much more fun. 'Armour' lets you take more damage before you wreck, and now even monster trucks have trouble taking me out. And maybe i'm just crazy, most stages seem to be less hectic when you race online. As in, instead of crazy stuff happening all through the race, it'll just all happen on the last lap (which has completely fucked me over a few times) right in front of whoever is first. I'm not complaining, because if someone is way out in front it gives them a bit of a challenge to stay there which is fine with me.

And the much touted betting system needs work, in my opinion. As it stands now, it's confusing to understand at first (am I betting on someone to win? Is the bonus pot what I'm winning if I beat the person who bet on me? What the hell is that streak all about?) I eventually got it, but it took awhile and there is still one thing I don't understand about it which I won't get into. So, in reality your betting on who you think you can beat. And so of course everyone just bets on the lowest level players in the room -- you routinely see a level one or so player get like 8 bets against him. Which nearly always works out for the betters because usually that person hasn't learned the tracks yet, so they're an easy mark to beat. Once the game has been out awhile and everyone is a little more familiar with the tracks this wont be as much of a problem, but right now it's just silly -- because the amount of chips (XP) you get from betting can get pretty big if you can keep a streak going. (I.E. continually betting on the person in the room who obviously hasn't been playing the game long, and continually beating them.)

But I will say this about the betting, if you bet on someone who is good, it is fun as hell. I've literally jumped up from my chair, fist-pumping after beating a guy by 0.2 seconds.

The multiplayer is good. Real good, and I hope it stays active for a long time. The single player is fun, too -- but for me it was more a training ground for multiplayer. But some of the tracks seem to have more going on in single player compared to multiplayer so i'm glad I played through most of it just to see that stuff.