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Sep 27

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The original Doom just got released on Xbox Live Arcade. I tried the demo out and realised just how much demos have changed. The original game was released as shareware: the first third of the game was available for free and you had to pay to play the rest. On Xbox 360, only the first level is available for free, and you must pay for everything else.

I can’t say I’m surprised, but I think the new demo is a bit too limited for its own good. You can’t appreciate what makes Doom good from the first level only… The original game became a mega hit by offering a large fraction of the game for free, you’d think this proven success would lead them to repeat this approach…

Strangely, the demo is also quite a bit larger (in file size) than I remember the original game being. I wonder why that is, considering the game is identical.

Sep 24

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So, I’m playing Zelda Minish Cap on GBA these days. It’s standard Zelda fare — indeed, there’s barely anything important that’s new. The presentation is good, but if you’ve played recent Zelda games, you’ve pretty much played this one. It’s also one of the most frustrating Zelda because of cheap design decisions: health is incredibly rare and you have to find areas that would be secrets in other games to go on. I would have given up the game early if it weren’t for FAQs, because some important elements are incredibly hard to notice.

Much to my surprise, this game got very good reviews, with an average of 91% on GameRankings. Mind you, it’s not a terrible game — it’s pretty decent, but it’s certainly not a 91% game. If this game didn’t have “Zelda” in its name, I’m pretty sure its score would be at least 10% lower. This kind of preferential reviewing really annoys me…

It’s not the only game that’s like that. You rarely see sequels of successful games get a low rating — it basically doesn’t happen. I’ve never seen any review score a game badly because it’s just more of the same. Game reviewers seem to believe that being formulaic is a strength, not a weakness.

Why is that? Is it because reviewers don’t consider originality as important, so if the sequel is a glorified expansion pack they find it worthy of as high a score as original creations? Is it because they let their nostalgia overcome them? (”Oh! I love Zelda! This will be great!”) Is it because reviewers are fanboys at heart who can’t rate hyped titles low? (It’s amazingly rare that highly anticipated titles get bad reviews, especially sequels — they can’t possibly be all good, now can they?) Or is it simply because reviewers almost only care about production value, and successful games have bigger budgets?

It’s even stranger because the opposite phenomenon happens in movie reviews. It’s very rare that movie sequels get rated as high as the original, even if they’re very good. It seems movie critics put a lot of emphasis on originality wheras game reviewers don’t.

Take this review of Just Cause by Gamespy. The reviewer didn’t like the game. Why? Mainly because it’s not a straight clone of Grand Theft Auto. Being different doesn’t seem to have any value for this reviewer: he spends a whole 7 lines talking about what’s different from GTA, then the rest of the review talking about how it would be better if it was identical (It should be in a city! The music should be licensed! There should be more GTA-like side-missions!)

Now, I’m not arguing about the actual quality of the game. I’ve played the demo and liked it, but I haven’t played the full version. My issue isn’t that the reviewer didn’t like the game, but rather that the main reason he disliked it is because it’s not a simple clone. That review sounds like a word processor review, where the tester goes through a list of features of the competitor and verify if this title has it. This isn’t a productivity app, it’s a new game — the reviewer should evaluate the game as it is, rather than as what the genre dictates.

Shouldn’t reviewers value difference more highly in the game they review? If game reviewers don’t go above base fanboyism and ask for more creativity, who will? I have a hard time taking the gaming press seriously, game reviews in particular, if the reviewer’s standard are lower than mine. I can get the opinion of a Zelda or GTA fan by going to any web forum — reviews should go beyond that.

Sep 14

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The news broke out yesterday evening that everybody will be able to get their hands on Nintendo’s Wii on November 19th in exchange of $250. The date is a bit later than could have been — it’s 2 days after the release of the PS3 — but the price is exactly what Nintendo said they wouldn’t go over. It’s also much cheaper than either the Xbox 360 ($300 or $400) or the PS3 ($500 or $600).

Yet, general reaction is a bit negative among fans, based on reading a few forums. Lots of people believed that the price would be much lower — $200, or $150, even some mentionned $99! — because Nintendo said it would be “under $250″. Of course, it was a bit naive to believe that a company would mean anything other than $249.99 with that line.

Still, this belief indicates a potential problem for the Wii: overhype. Nintendo was able to get a lot of very enthusiastic fanboys for their new platform. Hearing them, you’d believe that the Wii’s graphics would be as good as the PS3, the controls of every game would be absolutely intuitive and infinitely improved by the wiimote, and that every game will be incredibly fun and highly innovative.

Problem is, it’s not going to be the case. Even if the Wii is a very good platform — and it looks like it is — it will fall short of fanboys expectations. The hype is just too high at this point. This overhype may bring lots of sales on day 1, but it could cause a backlash afterward. If early adopters are let down by the Wii’s capabilities, it could make others reconsider their purchase.

Just look at the Segway for another example of overhype. It was supposed to be a revolution, but when people realised it was just a really cool scooter, the backlash made sales fall. Likewise, the Wii is supposed to be a Revolution, but when people realise it’s still just a really cool console, there may be a backlash.

One thing is certain, it will be interesting to see how this whole console war plays out this fall…