Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Playstation Phone - and why it will fail

This is what is believed to be a prototype of Sony's rumored PlayStation Phone, to be built by Sony Ericsson and powered by Android 2.3. The rumored specs according to the original leak by Engadget list a 1GHz processor, 512MB of RAM and all that general high end smartphone jazz, but what is going to make this Android device unique is Sony offering their own games through a special PS Marketplace. Couple all that with dedicated gaming buttons and a trackpad that looks like it could properly replicate the feel of dual analogue controls and it is everything that the PSP fanboys have asked for. Of course because this is what people asked for means that the PSP Phone is doomed to failure, but for some more developed reasons, read on:

1) The target market is gone

Despite the Hanna Montana edition, the PSP never really had a bigger market than '13-17 males with $$$'. That was 2004, here in 2010 that market already has been assimilated into the smartphone market. For at least a year all of those potential PSP gamers have found new homes on iPhones/iPod Touches, one of the million high end Android phones already out in the market, or even one of the several Windows Phone 7 devices that have made it out this year. And since I've brought up WP7, despite its quality analysts still don't see it being as significant as iOS/Android devices over the next few years.

That result stems from MS taking forever and a day to get it out - now imagine a company like Sony (who has been flailing in mediocrity in the smartphone market with the Xperia lineup) coming up and claiming they have the ultimate gaming phone. Consumers aren't going to lineup. They are too busy playing Angry Birds. Whats that you say? The PSP Phone is Android powered so it too can play Angry Birds? Well that brings me to my next topic

2) Android wont be Sony's salvation in gaming

This PlayStation Phone can play Android games, but so can the other million devices that run the Android OS. Every 6 months the benchmark for Android devices seems to jump, leaving past models struggling to run games. Within a year the PSP Phone will be considered obsolete by techheads and will be left struggling trying to play the latest Android games.You only need to look at Rovio's list of Android phones that wont run Angry Birds to see just how many devices are coming out. Some of those phones are less than a year old! While many are released with intentionally lower specs to cut costs, the point stands that Android is a platform that changes and evolves faster than the handheld gaming market. Sony will have to push out yearly revisions to the hardware just to not fall behind on the Android side of things, and thats not even taking into account how this would affect the 'Sony Marketplace' side of these phones.

Does anyone remember PSP Minis? You know, those tiny games that were originally designed to be downloaded and played in quick bursts at a budget price. All I remember was stripped down versions of iPhone games that were sold at inflated prices (to account for classification costs generally since Sony wouldn't take more than Apple for distribution). Sony blames its high price point for the failure of the PSP Go system, but they need to look at the price of software too. Digital gamers have enough trouble paying full rrp for games on services like Steam, and Sony is trying to charge the same (if not higher in some cases) for digital versions of PSP games. To keep things short, NO ONE is going to buy games at that price on a PSP Phone when Angry Birds is available FOR FREE.

Side note: Yes I am aware that this argument contradicts itself somewhat, but despite Androids fragmentation, there will always be an abundance of cheap/free software to distract consumers from anything Sony would offer - which brings us to

3) Sony Marketplace would be a joke

Mobile publishing have made huge levels of growth in recent years, and everyone involved has benefited greatly. Gameloft gets to churn out 500 knock offs a year, independent success stories like Trainyard get as much attention as any professionally published game, and even Epic Games is stepping onto the iOS market with Infinity Blade, aka 'That mobile phone game with graphics that piss on your Wii'. On the Android market side of things, fragmentation and ease of piracy have slowed it down compared to the App Store, but anyone and everyone has access to the content distributed on the Android Marketplace. Which brings me to my question: Why the fuck would EA/Activision/Ubisoft/any other major publisher distribute a game exclusively to a PlayStation Phone when it could just as easily be distributed to 100 other mobile devices at the same time?

Despite how many handsets would be unable to run such games, even just getting distributed on phones with equal power to the PSP Phone (Desire, Galaxy S, EVO .etc) would increase potential profits dramatically. So now we are left with a Sony store distributing only first/second party titles. That might work for Nintendo, but no matter how enjoyable Ratchet & Clank are, or how fast paced Wipeout is, those brands do not have the pulling power of Mario and Pokemon. Sony needs third party support to make a Sony Marketplace (and a PlayStation Phone) relevant.


This is generally the part where I defend my stance by being a Sony fanboy and owning all the previous systems and a Bravia TV and all that crap, but that wouldn't get me out of the dog house. The truth is while I may not own that fancy pants Bravia set, I do like Sony and wish their gaming and mobile devisions all the best, but a PlayStation Phone is not the answer. They could make a device that gave blowjobs and cooked you a bacon sandwich at the same time, but its too little too late. If they want to continue the PSP legacy their best bet is in a non-cellular device, while still learning a thing or two from what has recently been going on in the Android/iOS markets.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Heroes – Season Four review and series retrospective

I will admit it; I did not watch Heroes when it originally aired. Back when ‘Genesis’ aired in 2006, I was already being stretched by the long winded mysteries of Lost and the idea of another long serial drama did not excite me regardless of the inclusion of superpowers. I eventually did give the show a chance and fell in love with it. ‘Normal people discovering they had extraordinary powers’ wasn’t a new concept and mainstream audiences had already accepted the live action X-Men movies as a fantastic representation of the subject matter. Heroes took the idea and found a way to make it feel even more grounded in our world; bringing people from different cultures and upbringings together under a common cause. That was season One.

Things never really evolved from there, over the next few seasons the audience dwindled and NBC was forced to pull the plug on Heroes. The fourth season really tried to redeem the show in the eyes of the viewers (going as far as to title the story arc ‘Redemption’) and bring the show back to its first season prime. However a number of issues in the writing and general story direction proved that the show was beyond redemption. The issues that plagued season four were not unique to the season; storylines lost their reins quickly, new characters were rarely introduced and a self-indulgence of series in-jokes kept the show from breaking new ground. With the final season being released on DVD and Blu Ray this month, it felt like the right time to look back at a series that once garnered so much praise, only to collapse under its own weight. So without further adieu, here are my arguments as to why this final season, and the show in general, failed:

Those Pesky Fans: Heroes became a global sensation almost overnight, with a strong following from the internet-browsing, comic-con-frequenting army of geeks. When season two concluded early due to the writer’s strike, fans made their presence known. They hated the slow pace of season two, and Tim Kring acknowledged it and promised a much faster season three. What we got after that was a show that made Lost look like a simple children’s book. Fans responded yet again with even more rage. The writers never stood a chance, they could not please everyone, and the more vocal crowds were far from a true representation of the whole audience.

In an age where feedback from viewership is instantaneous, it can be hard for writers to tell their own story. There are forces from the internet, from the network executives and even from other members of the creative team. Maybe there was no way for the show to evolve without all these opinions influencing it, but one cannot help but wonder just what the show could have accomplished without so many cooks in the kitchen...

Rules Made to be Broken: The first season never really established a set lore for how people acquired their abilities. The book written by Dr. Suresh explained that the powers stemmed from somewhere in the brain, which was why Sylar needed to inspect a person’s brain in order to understand (and replicate) their power. In season three however, the rules were completely scrapped and now abilities were tied to an increase of adrenalin.

This example of not caring about the established rules is not unique. Season two introduced a deus ex machina that could bring people back from the dead. It was farfetched but after a year of laying down the foundation it was believable. Fast forward to season three and every character has forgotten such a feature exists in this world. So when a dead Nathan Petrelli needs to be replaced, they instead use a MIND READER to brainwash Sylar into shape shifting into Nathan. It was a drastic jump that barely worked in the context of the show, and served as little more than a cliff hanger to force NBC to give the show another season. Sometimes science fiction is bogged down by its chronology and lore after decades, such as Star Trek or Stargate. Heroes was already throwing out the rulebook after 3 years, which definitely shows the lack of integrity the writers had to their own lore.

Repetition Repetition: Every season Claire Bennet was hiding her true self from her family while cutting her hand to demonstrate her ability. Every season Mohinder would stick his nose into places where it didn’t belong and get into trouble. Every season Noah Bennet would try to control the lives of everyone around him despite it always failing. Every season – technically, twice in season three – Nathan Petrelli would die. The story beats felt overused by the third season, yet the writers stuck to their guns and continued to drive these once unique plot devices into the ground.

Repetition also came through in the overall plot. The exploding man in New York was a great hook to draw in the audience. Season two introduced a disaster on a much larger scale that killed over 90% of the world’s population – although this idea never fully surfaced due to the writer’s strike cutting the season short. The third season struggled to have its own goal for a while, and even went as far as reusing the exploding man idea all over again. Really there wasn’t enough to distinguish these cataclysmic events from each other, and for a group of people with superpowers there really aren’t many other possible scenarios that would work for the show.

Never Say Die: Reusing those once iconic moments was always easy for Tim Kring and his group of writers – after all, the main cast rarely faced death. In 2006 we saw Isaac Mendez die at the hands of Sylar despite all of Hiro’s efforts to save him. DL and Nikki met tragic ends in second season, but after that it became obvious that the shows head runners were too scared to let go of anymore cast members. Despite dying continuously, Nathan returned every season (how did he ever survive being shot at the end of season 2?) Even the introduction of Tracy in season three was a very weak cop out to keep Ali Larter on the credit roll. Once upon a time, Tim Kring envisioned Heroes with a different cast every season, but after discovering how popular the first season cast was, they became untouchable. If anything, the show became victim to its own popularity.

The worst part about this is the fact that most of the main cast could have very easily died in season four without hurting the story in anyway. Matt Parkman could have died when he was shot, and Sylar could have somehow regained his memories through some other deus ex machina act. Mohinder could have died at the hands of Samuel, with no real change to the story. Hiro could have fought for his honour in the limbo-court room and left the living world with his pride, and the people at the carnival could have just run away faster. But because someone believed this show could receive a fifth season, the characters had to stay alive just so they could repeat their same character growth points for a fifth time.

Useless characters: Most of the main Heroes cast were not envisioned to be sustainable for more than one or two seasons. The build up of HRG’s true name at the end of season one felt rewarding when we finally heard Jack Coleman say to Peter ‘call me Noah’. After that episode the character lost a lot of his mysterious appeal; his name was the final frontier the audience needed to reach. Watching his character fumble around with nothing to do in season four shows just how unsustainable he really was.

Characters like Tracy and Mohinder existed in season four only for the sake of reminded the audience that they were once important roles in earlier stories. Yet they were treated more importantly than many of the new cast, like Jeremy. Remember Jeremy? The teen that could control the flow of life and death? Of course you don’t remember him because the writing staff didn’t care about him and killed him off faster than a Red Shirt on Star Trek. At least poor Jeremy got a closing point to his story, while season two regular Monica was simply forgotten and never mentioned again (it’s okay though, she never got a chance to interact with any of the main cast).

Romantic Issues: Season Two’s love stories weren’t entirely flash hot. Peter and Caitlin proved to be unpopular to viewers. Claire and the West was a little too Clark Kent for some people. And the Hiro/Yaeko/Kensei triangle was too cute for people to swallow. Tim Kring even apologized for the romance driven stories of season two, going as far as saying ''In retrospect, I don't think romance is a natural fit for us.''

But that was not the end of the Heroes love stories. Seasons three and four continued different romance stories, with far worse results. Maya and Mohinder were weaker than anything the series had seen yet. Sylar being in a relationship with Elle took what was once a strong villain and transformed him into an idol for girls to daydream over as if he was a teen idol. And the less said about Noah and Lauren, the better. In short, Tim Kring is a hypocrite and should not be allowed to bring men and women together for the sake of romance ever again.

With so many criticisms to make of the show, it’s hard to believe over 14 million people in the US were watching the show and giving it nothing but praise. The truth is that this show was a cultural phenomenon on the levels of other character driven sci fi shows like Lost and Battlestar Galactica. Honestly, I still love Heroes. I consider season one to be some of the most exciting television to ever be made, with an interesting mythology and some memorable set piece moments (after all, who will ever forget ‘Save the cheerleader, save the world?) If season two had been allowed to continue as it was originally envisioned, we may have seen something even more spectacular.

In the bonus content of the season two DVD, Tim Kring talks about what would have happened if the season had not been cut short at 11 episodes. Without giving away too many details, the creative team had big ideas that would have led to the slow season introduction paying off in a big way. The new characters that were introduced would have had proper time to be intertwined with the established characters and grow. There would have been a cataclysmic event bigger than anything the show ever saw in all of its seasons. If anything, the writer’s strike was a fatal blow that Heroes never recovered from. The long break gave everyone too much time to forget what made the show a hit originally.

In season one, every episode felt like a piece of a giant puzzle that did not fully reveal itself until the season’s conclusion. Season two was an incomplete picture and suffered harsh response for it. In season three there were too many pieces that didn’t fit together properly, but by the end things had somewhat sorted themselves out thanks to Bryan Fuller’s influence. This final season, while probably the most coherent since the first, lacked the polish the show once had. Every week it felt as if the writers were amazed they had not been cancelled yet and did not know how to continue on their story. Maybe NBC pulling the plug in May was the best thing to happen to the series, there was nowhere the show could go to rebuild its reputation. The final scene of ‘Brave New World’ showed the characters opening up and revealing their powers for the first time in four years, and left the show ending on an open note; the best possible ending for everyone involved.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Stop the presses! Print media has a reason to stay alive/10

As someone who has paraded the 'gaming print media is dead' flag for some time now, it is very refreshing to be proven wrong. As an Aussie, the choices of Hyper and ... well, there aren't exactly a lot of choices for local non-platform specific news outlets. We do have access to the odd US/UK import, but by the time we shell out the monetary equivalent of two cups of coffee, the news is outdated and content mostly irrelevant.

Then BAM! Game Informer has the balls to go all Aussie with the latest news and game announcements while also throwing in relevant features regarding issues that are close to home. And at a price that barely deserves the name of 'price'!? Frankly, there is nothing to complain about while going through every issue cover-to-cover ... until I hit the numerical reviews.

While I have admitted being wrong to print media being irrelevant, I'll fight to the bitter end about my hatred of using a numerical symbol to grade an experience after using several hundred words to do the same thing. Numerical scores serve only to please fanboys who believe 'game x' is infinity times better than 'game y' because a reviewer scored it .2 higher. Actually, that is an understatement. Those numbers also give studio executives a quick justification for their dirty tricks.

Its no secret that publishers and business peoples alike look to review score collecting sites such as Metacritic for a quick evaluation on the success of games. Some publishers even determine the payment for the development team. High aggravated review scores on sites like Metacritic keep investors happy, while anything under, lets say 80%, is deemed insufficient and will see heads roll. Since publishers know the bulk of 'hardcore' game sales take place in the immediate launch window, they will put embargo's on major publications that do not say the game is absolutely perfect.

And here we find gaming publications faced with the dilemma of ethics of reviewing a game honestly but later, or being the first review available to the public just because your review has a 10/10 at the end. Those who think they can fight the system can just look at what happened in GameSpot HQ when longtime reviewer Jeff Gertsman gave latest ad-funded release Kane & Lynch a 6/10. For aspiring reviewers it does not paint an optimistic image for what we can do ...

But alas, in my first issue of Game Informer as a subscriber I see this issue addressed 2 pages in! Editor Chris Stead does not hide the honest fact that numerical scores are set up to serve the non-gamers who have money invested in these projects. It was refreshing to have someone from the journalism field come out and admit it. Along with the issues of sites like Metacritic, Stead also brings up the issue of how individual publications have different standards for reviews.

From his letter response in Game Informer #5

'It doesn't matter that every publication scores their games to their own criteria, much like we do as set out on the Reviews Intro page. Some are highly damning of bugs and mistakes, others will cop such things if the addictive storytelling or innovative gameplay overrides them ...

I urge you where possible to educate yourself on a publication's judging criteria, but understand why scores average around the 6 to 7 realm. Because if you were to start dropping 5s for an average score, and giving 4s to what you would usually give 6s the context and reasoning behind such a thing will not be understood in the broader global market...'

Stead hits the nail on the head right there with the issues around sites like Metacritic. Different publications use different systems to evaluate games for reviewing purposes. But we still see review scores grouped together without proper clarification as to why individual magazines and websites such scores. I know every time I have been involved with reviewing for different publications the standards are never the same. One mans 7/10 is another mans 5. It can be universally understood when a critic says 'game x is fast paced and entertaining, and should not be missed for fans of incredible action'. But in our ADHD obsessed world, 9.2/10 is somehow much easier to understand.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

You got the touch

For a while, the miracle of digital distribution seemed to only be popular on the PC end of gaming. The opportunity for small indie developers to make their works available to the gaming public for a fraction of the price of retail software has opened the doors for even more people to step into the industry. The current generation of console and handheld hardware has opened up more digital distribution channels with services such as Xbox Live Arcade, WiiWare and the PlayStation Network, but one of the biggest surprises is the success of the App Store on Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch range.

In just over a year of operation, the App Store has become home to over 65,000 individual applications ranging from virtual bubble wrap to touch versions of popular puzzle games like Tetris or Bejeweled. With prices ranging from free to hundreds of dollars, the option for cheap digital distribution of games has taken off. Independent developer Luc Bernard took a chance on the App Store with his strategy game Mecho Wars, and has reported great success from digital sales. On the other side of the coin, big name publishers like EA and Capcom are releasing App versions of some of their biggest franchises, including Madden NFL 2010 and Resident Evil 4.

The success of the App Store has changed Apple's marketing position towards the iPod Touch, with recent advertisements pushing its gaming capabilities over its other multimedia functions. The company has even taken swings at Nintendo and Sony in recent months, touting the App Stores larger library of software compared to both retail and digital offerings available on the Nintendo DSi and PlayStation Portable.

While the DSi is relatively new to the digital market, the PSP has offered access to the PlayStation Network for some time, but failed to reach consumers on a marketing level. The newly released PSP Go! is taking risks by ditching the disc drive featured on older PSP models and working entirely in the digital arena. Over the year, Sony has worked with publishers to make the existing library of games available in digital forms along with hard copy discs for retail – but higher price points and lack of regular sales have kept consumers at bay from ditching their local EB Games of JB Hifi. Although this problem may soon be resolved with the introduction of PSP Minis – smaller, available via download only games released at lower price points.

For now, the biggest difference between these choices are entry prices. All current PSP models can access the PlayStation Network, and are available for AU$279.95. The PSP Go! will be a bit more intimidating with an rrp of AU$449.95. Apple comes off slightly cheaper for consumers with the lowest entry price for the iPod Touch being the 8GB model for AU$268, with 32GB and 64GB editions also available for AU$399 and AU$549 each.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Heavy Rain Retrospective

So I just recently finished my first playthrough of Heavy Rain (review to be featured on The Daily Gamer sometime this week) and with the recent PS3 wordwide crash I thought I might take this downtime to reflect upon my experiences. Obviously there are spoilers ahead for anyone yet to finish the game, but I’m sure some will still read out of temptation and complain that I spoiled the game for them. Nothin I can do about those peoples aside from tell them to GTFO plz, kthxbai.

note: this isn't a proper review of the gameplay/presentation, just my own reflections of my story.


In short, I’m disappointed with my experiences in Heavy Rain. This doesn’t mean that I’m displeased with the quality of the story or characterisation, but more that I am not happy with the outcome that my actions lead to. I may have succeed in saving Shaun Mars from the Origami Killer, but the final outcomes for the main cast left me with little emotional attachment.

Firstly, Ethan Mars SHOULD HAVE DIED! In my story, my choices lead him to be a father in search of redemption; a man willing to do anything to repair his relationship with Shaun. While the earlier challenges posed little more than ‘risk vs reward’ scenarios, I really had to reflect on if it was worth sentencing Ethan to a certain death for the sake of his son. Giving in and taking the poison was one of the more powerful moments in the game and the developers should be rewarded for creating such a set-up. And to only fail and select the wrong address in the end (a fault of my not noticing how obvious the real location was) felt like the ultimate punishment for a man who was destined to fail. Which is why I was ready to start writing death letters to the development team when the epilogue showed Ethan still alive and developing a stable relationship with his son. A can appreciate the final test being more psycological than fatal, but the way in which it was presented felt as if it should have ending with an actual death.

And speaking of actual deaths, Madison’s death at the hands of the Origami Killer was a fault on my part (and I am willing to accept it) but I can’t help but feel her involvement in my story felt tacked on. I wonder if I were to go back and have her not help Ethan when she first saw him at the hotel, would the story have just gone on withoutany of her scenes? I didn’t hate her investigations into the killer, on the contrary I actually found the chapter with the doctor to be the most thrilling of all, but since the parts of the mystery she revealed were never relayed to Norman/Ethan, her story continued to feel separate rather than connected. Prehaps if she had survived her encounter with Scott, she would have felt more important to the outcome of the story.

Instead that role fell to Norman, the FBI agent with a drug habit and Batman-like detective vision. Looking back, the complaints I have about Madison could just as easily be applied to Norman if he had died instead of her. But with her dead and Ethan MIA, he became the centre focus for the final chapter and the overall hero. The changes in character perspective in the overall game feel as if they are little more than to flesh out one main hero’s journey, but until the last chapter that hero for me was Ethan. The sudden change of having Norman come in and be the saviour was abrupt and would be somewhat confusing in a storytelling perspective in my opinion, but as I stated at the beginning, issues like these were the end result of the choices I made so I cannot hold the game responsible for its storytelling methods.


I think my overall complaint with this method is that the game holds onto all its secrets right until the end. On the first playthrough, the player is doing little more than blindly fumbling through the story with no direction of what outcomes will be had from his actions (assuming hint guides and walkthroughs are not used). When every PS3 in the world stops dying and I go back to play through the game with different choices, I feel like this will be the story that should have been told the first time around, a directors cut, if you will. With the overall story arc now revealed to me, I can succeed in making the right choices that will lead to a conclusion that I will not lose sleep over. But maybe I’m complaining over nothing, maybe this is how Quantic Dream wanted me to experience the story; constantly making mistakes that will lead to an outcome that I do not fully expect, and to rectify my errors only when I have a full understanding of the story at hand.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Film review - Zombieland

I'll make a quick note to start things off: I find the term 'zombie' to be politically incorrect and offensive to those who have difficulties staying dead. So I shall try to get through this review without throwing the term around to the point that I will be sued by the corpse of Bill Murray, now let's start reviewing.

It's hard for me to enjoy movies about the non-living. Aside from the fact that we are already a bunch of brain-dead drones (as proven in Shaun of the Dead), the people in these movies all possess that irritating brain pattern of doing obviously stupid things leading to their immediate deaths. Z-land scores points right off the bat by having what are possibly the most intelligent people ever portrayed in an undead survival movie.

The 'rules' used by one of the main protagonists are pretty much what viewers have learned after years of watching people get caught off-guard and losing brains. Their continuous pop-ups during the movie put a smile on the viewers face, which will probably stay on there thanks to the constant humor.

Yes, Z-land is quite funny at times. While it is nowhere near the level of English wit features in Shaun of the Dead, Z-land relies on a more American type of humor – meaning in-your-face pop culture name drops a la Family Guy. If you can stomach these kind of laughs, then Z-land is one great roller coaster of fun.

If past movies in the genre have annoyed you, or you've grown tired of the same formula, Z-land is a must see. On your way to the cinema, be sure to remember rule #3 – wear seatbelts.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Nobody Miniviews - Afro Samurai

I can't say I was expecting a samurai-themed video game staring Samuel Jackson to hold back at any point, but like so many game adaptations something feels off the moment I start. Maybe its the overuse of in-game symbols in the loading screens alone – more teddy bears than I need to fill my bed. Or maybe its because even the lowly grunts of the video game world take more effort to bring down than Afro ever needed in the hand drawn world.

Even with the comical slapstick of another Samuel Jackson character (since he needs a minimum of two roles in any movie/game/book ever made) doesn't feel right. Maybe its because instead of my bizarre id, he has had to take up a second job as a checkpoint marker to the end of a level. I know the economy is tough all round, but taking it as far as stylised feudal Japan shows how bad it is.

Well if there aren't enough coins/headbands to go around in tough times, I could always thin out the numbers with my trusty pointy object. But for some reason grunts don't fall into a million pieces on the first swing like they used to. Obscene video game rule # 258 “all sharp weapons shall do motherfucking all when trying to cut artificial life”. Oh, I may have spoken too soon! It seems faceless bad guys can become confetti if you rip off The Matrix and slow the fuck down. Motherfucking Success!

Miniviewed by Steven Janjic
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