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Last week was filled with new flurries revolving around the upcoming Assassin’s Creed game, titled Assassin’s Creed 3. It all started when Game Informer magazine posted a promo banner for the new hub on their site for AC3 with them quickly pulling it down.  Later we found out that the first link in the hub would be the cover reveal for the next Game Informer magazine.  Next up was some leaked concept art that we now know is the cover for the special pre-order edition of the game, currently being displayed by BestBuy.com.  Then Ubisoft, either causing this frenzy or succumbing to the frenzy, whetted our appetites with the cover art for the standard editions for the game.  Many new outlets displayed the imagery, however I think Joystiq did it best. Next there was more supposedly leaked images (which didn’t look fake at all) with screen shots with what look like in-game images.  By the closing of Friday the gaming industry was in an impatient uproar as AssassinCreed.com was updated with a snowy battlefield background and a countdown timer.  It was ticking down to Monday morning (today)…

Finally the wait was over.  At 9 AM this morning Ubisoft relaunched the Assassin’s Creed website for their upcoming Assassin’s Creed 3 game.  IGN also did a live reveal and trailer analysis in which they also revealed more information.  If you watch the trailer below you’ll notice the Assassin’s weapon of choice was nowhere to be found, however IGN confirmed that the hidden blade will indeed still be in the game.

I don’t know about you, but I’m as excited as can be regarding this news.  I’m excited for the departure from well established cities and the order that comes from being well established.  As we see Desmond off in his final outing I’m anxious to see how travel will work as we sprint across the trees instead of rooftops.  I pose one question though, will haystacks be replaced with snow drifts? Maybe we’ll get our answers at PAX East in Boston or PAX Prime in Seattle.  Only time will tell and on October 30th we’ll have our answers.

[UPDATE: Just found this image that is pretty bad ass.  Still no sign of the hidden blade, but we see a sweet new dagger.]

Tanzina Vega, of the New York Times, recently posted an article with John Koller, the senior director for PlayStation hand-held consoles, in which he reported that Sony would be spending $50 million on their newest handheld, the Playstation Vita.  One of Sony’s tag lines is “Never Stop Playing” claiming that you’ll never have to stop playing when you’re getting PS3 quality games built into a handheld.  They seriously stand by their claim with the Twitter hashtag #GameChanger implying that the Playstation Vita will be the “game changer” in the brutal battle going on right now in the handheld market.

Sony is hoping to make a huge splash in North America where they’ll compete against Nintendo’s 3DS along with the new players to the space, the mobile phones.  It’s no secret that the Android, iPhone, and iPad devices are the “go-to” device for gaming, however the majority of the games are designed for casual gamers to pick up and play every once in a while, but nothing has REALLY come out that combines great graphics with an enthralling story.

Does the Playstation Vita finally prove that quality gaming is back on a dedicated device?  If Sony plays their cards right I think they will, but first let’s look at how Sony has mis-stepped so far.  Before the device rolled out Sony held everything very close to their chest.  They weren’t letting out many details and then when they did it was met with harsh criticism.  Case in point is with their proprietary memory solution.  Sony developed special memory cards (which are mandatory to run the system) that are insanely priced.  The largest of them at 32 GB was originally going to cost $120 each, which they later adjusted to $100 each.  During a day and age where you can buy a 32 GB SDHC card for your camera for $30 this is highly unacceptable, however in some ways the “fans” of Sony’s original handheld pushed them to this.  Sony states that piracy was a rampant problem with the PSP and people easily accessed the Memory Stick Duo card loading the pirated game onto it.  If you were to go onto the street and ask people if they’ve ever heard of the Playstation Vita many of them would probably reply with an unsurprising “No.”  This goes back to Sony’s almost non-existent marketing campaign leading up to the launch.  Granted Sony may be spending $50 million in advertising and marketing, however when did the majority of this start happening?  February.  Most of their ads starting releasing the week before the early edition bundle came out.  They’re also doing a promotion with Taco Bell where you can win a Vita every 15 minutes, but you have to purchase their $5 box first to obtain the code.  If they really wanted to get the word out they should’ve been releasing commercials and ads much sooner.  I’m almost depressed that I don’t think I’ve seen a single Kevin Butler commercial for the Vita.

What has Sony done right?  This, I feel, outweighs the “bad” that they’ve done so far.  First let’s start with the tech.  They learned from the PSP and they included a second analog stick on the right making this a formidable gaming system.  The “guts” of this system is nothing to scoff at either.  It has double the amount of RAM than the PS3 which is absolutely astounding (I know, I know, the V-RAM is half of the PS3, but still it can process more at once than the PS3).  After having mine for less than 24 hours and playing some of the best from the launch lineup (Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Rayman Origins, Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, and Tales from Space: About a Blob) I can honestly say the colors and frame rate of these games is amazing. Ubisoft’s Rayman Origins is a colorful, vibrant, fun game that shows you don’t need a hulking console to show off just how good it looks.  Bend Studios’ Uncharted: Golden Abyss is undoubtedly one of Sony’s flag ship games for this launch and it looks amazing, however I will say it suffers from some jagged edges and aliasing.  That being said you really only see it while standing still and taking pictures.  This brings me to my next point.  Have you ever wanted to convey how cool a level was or what amazing scenery was in a game you were playing?  Well Mr. ShakyCam with your cell phone in hand you no longer need to worry.  The PS Vita can take pictures while in-game and save them to the photo album on the system.  The touch screen is also amazingly responsive.  Finally, the rear touch also detects how hard you hit it which I’m sure will factor into games over time as well.

I’m still playing through all of the games so I’ll give you my reviews of them over the coming weeks.  The big question is what next!?  Well as with any game system its success is built into what games are going to be supporting the system as the years go on.  Sony developers, first and third-party, have hinted or announced games that will be coming out.  Ubisoft has hinted at an Assassin’s Creed, Activision has announced a Call of Duty, Zipper has Unit 13 and that’s just some of them.  Sony has stated that they will be having all of their first party developers make a Vita game.  What ‘s that you say!?  Well that means we might be seeing Naughty Dog work on another Uncharted or maybe a Last of Us game, or maybe another Jak / Daxter game.  That also means that Sony Santa Monica might also be working on a God of War game (one can only hope!).

Only time will tell if Sony has struck gold with the Vita or if this will be just another handheld barely hanging on.  Stayed tuned for my reviews and thoughts on some of the games.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss (Bend Studios)

If you look closely at the straps of their bags you'll see the minor aliasing occurring.

Rayman Origins (Ubisoft)

Online Pass or Online Fail?

The internet lately has been all abuzz lately with talk about Online Passes for new games coming out.  For those of you who might not know what an online pass is here’s Dr. Wikipedia’s clinical definition*:

In the video game industry, an online pass is a form of digital rights management for video games with online functionality. Online passes are commonly in the form of a single-use serial code found in a game’s manual (or in leaflets). Although they are used to unlock content for a game, online passes are often required for access to certain online content, notably online play. However, if a gamer buys a game pre-owned or borrows from another person and their online passes are already used, the gamer can either purchase one via their console, or can access a limited (commonly 2 day) trial of the game’s online content, which is more useful for rented games.

Ok so now that we have that out of the way…

Here’s my thing, I’m a gamer.  Simply stated  as a sweeping generalization, we are a group of people who feel a large sense of entitlement when it comes to the content that’s being delivered to us.  We feel as though we have the right to A LOT of things.  One of those things, which makes this a hot button issue for some, is playing games online.  PC gamers look at the console players and probably laugh.  They’ve been paying for years to play games online, like World of Warcraft, Everquest, etc.  The interesting thing is that the PC industry is shifting, in some ways, in the opposite direction.  Now many games like WoW and DC Universe Online are “free-to-play” up to a specific level cap.

I’m personally torn about the issue.  Is it a good thing or is it a bad thing?

Let’s start with the bad first.  We work hard every day at school, at work, taking care of things around the house and all we want to do is spend $60 on a game and play it online late into the night.  Maybe, because you’re in school, you don’t have a ton of money so you forego picking it up on release day and you stroll into your local brick and mortar “Mom and Pop” shop and pick it up for $20 because it’s been out a while.  All giddy and excited you pop in that new-to-you game and blow through the 4 hour war simulator campaign.  That was the easy part, but now you want to take your skills to the online arena.  You attempt to log into the multiplayer section of the game only to be thwarted by the game asking you for the code for your online pass.  Wait…I don’t remember seeing it in the box!?  So now your only option is to fork over another $10-$20 of your hard-earned cash that mom and dad sent in your latest college care package.  Your compulsion to kill zombie dogs is too much and purchase the online pass.  This now means that a $20 used game turned into a $30-$40 used game. WTF, right?!

No, Mr. (or Mrs.) I Deserve the World on a Platter, not WTF!  You need to keep in mind where all of the money is going first before you can get mad.  I’m not going to get into a tizzy about “New vs Used” games, but you gotta keep in mind that the $20 you spent for the game itself went straight to the store you bought it from and the developers and publisher are seeing none of that money.  Developers need to find a way to produce income based off the used game market.  Those matchmaking servers don’t run off Bawls Energy Soda and 13 yr old kids yelling derogatory words at you. (Side note: if they did the world would be able to be powered completely for approximately 88.6 years) No, it takes time and money to keep those servers going, not to mention the hard working IT employees making sure that they are patched, secure, and running smoothly so you can two-piece that grub on Escalation or spawn camp the n00b while you call in an air strike.  Sure, you can argue that they’re making you pay for all of those additional maps and skins and that $4 times thousands or millions of gamers adds up and it does, but some of that money still goes to the Sony’s and the Microsoft’s of the world for hosting that content on XBox Live or Playstation Networks.  They needed to figure out a way to supplement that money loss and I think they have.

I’m not saying I’m right and I’m not saying I’m wrong, but from a perspective of dollars and cents online passes just make sense.  Yes, it sucks to have to fork out more money to play online, but count your lucky stars because as the age of digital distribution comes to fruition you’re going to be paying full shot for all games.

So, what do you think? Are you for or against online passes? Sound off in the comments below.

*Please note Dr. Wikipedia is not a clinical doctor, has never earned a PhD, and is user-edited content. This means the definition might not be 100% accurate, but it’s more accurate and quicker than if I were to take the time to write something out.

The day is Tuesday, January 17th, and the major snow storm for the winder season has started to encroach upon Seattle.  After leaving work early my brother meets me at the garage door.  He tells me not to freak out as we approach the front door.  As I lays my eyes upon the entrance to my house I see wood splintered and drywall shatters.  …Someone broke into my house.

My immediate thoughts and concerns were revolving around what else was damaged and what had been taken.

The most noticeable things were my watches, some of my brothers bookbags, some cash, family heirlooms of my brother’s, his PSP, and all of our Wii and Xbox 360 games.  Funny thing is they didn’t take any movies, they left the games directly in front of the TV.  They must be Xbox and Call of Duty fans because they left Halo 2, Halo 3, and Halo 3: ODST (it was only later that I realized that they took Halo: Reach).

This event, needless to say, was is traumatic and it really got me thinking.  Firstly, thank God that they only took what they did and that they didn’t trash the house.  They could’ve taken so much more, like the Xbox itself.  We think they tried to take the Wii, but the got too frustrated with trying to figure out how we had wired it.  The other thing that it got me thinking about were the games that they had taken from me.  As I compiled the list of games from Xbox.com that I had achievements for (thank God for Xbox.com) and knew I still owned at the time of the break-in I began to get nostalgic.

It got me really remembering all of the good times I had with each of those games so I pose the question: Do memories live in your physical items?  Now if I were reading this I would be thinking “What?! Are you out of your mind?  How the eff do memories live in physical items?” and I ask you bear with me for a minute.

I’ve spent so much time with some games in particular — Assassin’s Creed, Gears of War, GTA 4, etc — that I find it hard to believe that memories don’t live in those items and it’s a two-way street for each item, I believe.  I spent time beating the campaigns (Assassin’s Creed 2 I got 100% of the achievements — still the only one to date) and I’ve spent plenty of time enjoying the stories, both online and off with Marcus Fenix and the Delta Squad of the Gears Universe so how can I not cherish the battles we’ve been through. Sure, I have insurance and I’d be able to buy these games again, however would it really be the same?  It’d be like the first time Buzz Lightyear realized he was one of thousands of toys modeled after a cartoon.  I could re-buy them and I might remember the epic return to Liberty City as well as taking revenge upon Third Echelon with Same Fischer, but deep down I’ll look at the game and remember that this is a replacement, a sham of what was once mine and has now been taken from me.

Over time the wounds will heal and maybe I won’t feel the same way.  That’ll be because I fall back in that sense of security that I’ve had for so long.

So I turn that question to you, fellow reader and possibly gamer, do you think that a game is a game? Is it nothing more than a piece of plastic waiting to be pulled off your shelf and popped back into the disk tray or is it something more?

-Chris

P.S.
Not all posts will be so dramatic or deep, but this is something I feel deeply about now.  More posts to come, more upbeat, more technical, more nerdy.
Stay tuned and thanks for reading!
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