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"Pokémon Platinum": A Kids’ Game with Sophisticated Charms PDF Print E-mail
Lifestyle - Gaming
Written by Luke Hamilton   
Tuesday, 28 April 2009 08:36

Pokémon games are initially released in two different versions. For the current generation of the handheld Nintendo DS system, those were Pokémon Diamond and Pokémon Pearl, which added another 100 Pokémon to the series and presented the first online play the core series has ever had. After the first two set the new standard in what Pokémon is going to be for the current system, a third title is released on the same platform that is essentially a final version that adds new game-play elements and increases the difficulty for a tougher challenge. Pokémon Platinum is that third version for this generation, bringing with it new online mini-games in the Wi-Fi Plaza and difficulty that will frustrate even hardened role-playing-game fans.

 
Bragging Rights 2.0 PDF Print E-mail
Lifestyle - Gaming
Written by Luke Hamilton   
Friday, 17 April 2009 06:38

PlayStation 3 trophy system

The current generation of video-game systems made a number of significant upgrades, from online play becoming standard to high-definition graphics to downloadable content to extend a game's longevity. One addition stands out from the others, though: the inclusion of publicly recognized achievements.

The Xbox 360 launched in 2005 with its Gamerscore system in place, and the growing popularity spawned the Playstation 3's Trophy system in 2007. The idea is simple: Put a task in a game for players to achieve, and when successful they receive an award and points for doing so. The points are then added together and are displayed with a person's online screen name as a sort of status symbol. The goals vary, from just pressing the start button in The Simpsons Game to reaching number one in the global online rankings on Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter.

Xbox 360 achievement messageWhat started as a way to make games more challenging has turned into an almost obsessive desire to get more points and a competition between friends and complete strangers to get on this modern version of an arcade game's high-score list.

It certainly drives me to play a game more thoroughly than I would normally, for the sake of seeing the little message pop up that I gained an award. I, along with friends and co-workers, will pick up a game and play it for the simple sake of increasing a Gamerscore or Trophies. It's like fast cars with gearheads: They get jealous when someone has something better than they have, so they want to get something even better. It's achievement envy.

It used to be that gamers would document their ridiculously impressive achievements via videotape or photos. In some cases, they would send the evidence to a publication such as Nintendo Power or world-record arbiters Twin Galaxies. With online gaming, there's no waiting for recognition; you get awards right away, and your score is available for the whole world to see. Games have given us "bragging rights 2.0."

There are a number of titles that people pick up and play for the sole purpose of gaining more awards, even if the game is not good or interesting to the player. Working at Video Games Etc., I have seen people purchase Avatar: The Burning Earth for Xbox 360 and sell it back to us the next day; I did the same thing myself. The game has 1,000 Gamerscore points that can be earned within two minutes of starting. A number of games for children have similar setups, with points that can be snagged quickly and easily. In essence, it's a brilliant marketing strategy that makes games appealing to audiences outside of their target range.

Achievements have begun to shape how people play their games: They'll spend more time with them, and they're more likely to finish them. Thinking about getting more Xbox 360 Gamerscore points motivated me to complete Prince of Persia a few days ago, even though I hadn't played it in more than three months.

I know I'm playing games I don't like from time to time, and playing games for a longer period of time than I would like to, but it doesn't stop me. I fall into the trap of wanting to make sure my score is higher than my friends' -- to be the "winner." Worse, even though I emphasize that video games need to have a certain level of quality to be worth playing, I send the worst possible message to game developers: "I'll buy a bad game that I have no interest in as long as there are easy points to get." Hypocrisy, thy name is Luke.

But there are a number of publishers that don't abuse the achievement system. And overall, achievements are awarded appropriately. Earning some can be a real point of pride, such as completing a game at the hardest difficulty. And now that online play has become common, many awards also involve the satisfying experience of winning against actual people.

Luke Hamilton is a buyer, creative designer, and online coordinator for Video Games Etc. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 
“Wanted: Weapons of Fate”: Time Flies When Curving Bullets PDF Print E-mail
Lifestyle - Gaming
Written by Luke Hamilton   
Monday, 13 April 2009 06:27

'Wanted: Weapons of Fate'

Many movies have video-game tie-ins released alongside them, but few receive the proper time and attention needed to make a good game. Eragon was poorly designed and repetitive, Watchmen: The End Is Nigh was nothing but fighting the same thugs every five minutes, and just about any big children's movie in the past year had a frustrating game to go with it.

Wanted: Weapons of Fate is a rare occasion when a movie got a video game, but it was released eight months after tr the movie hit theatres. The designers took the time to make a fun game, but it's not without drawbacks.

 
Upcoming “Bioshock” Sequel Has a Lot to Live Up to PDF Print E-mail
Lifestyle - Gaming
Written by Luke Hamilton   
Tuesday, 07 April 2009 06:00

I know Bioshock came out for the Xbox 360 in September 2007 and the PlayStation 3 in October 2008, but I got distracted by other games. Even after several "game of the year" awards, I kept putting it off. But with Bioshock 2: Sea of Dreams announced for release this fall, I finally decided to give the original a shot. And after being glued to my couch for the past few days, it's obvious I need to pay more attention to "game of the year" awards.

Players start the game in 1960 as Jack, an average guy whose plane has just crashed in the Atlantic Ocean. The sole survivor of the crash, Jack swims to a nearby structure and wanders the building looking for anything that could help him, which leads him to a rail station that travels to the underwater city of Rapture. On the ride to the city, an automated message tells Jack about the idea of Rapture, envisioned as a Utopian society free from the intervention of government and religion.

But once you arrive in the city, you quickly learn that nothing is the way it was meant to be, as the city lies in shambles and gangs of genetically spliced people want to kill you under the orders of Andrew Ryan, the city's founder. Even stranger are the little girls harvesting ADAM (a form of advanced stem cells that can re-write the human genome) from corpses while being protected by a mechanical super-soldier known as the Big Daddy. With constant radio assistance from Atlas - a citizen of Rapture who's looking for a way to escape with his family - you have to fight for your life against splicers, destroy the Big Daddies, and decide whether you're going to save the girls' lives or kill them to obtain ADAM and grow stronger.

The storytelling in this game is different, to say the least, but in a good way. The main story has multiple endings, depending on the player's decision whether to save the children harvesting ADAM. That provides a good reason to play the game multiple times - to see how your actions can change things. And while you can follow the main story without exploring much, the inquisitive will be rewarded with recordings that offer secrets such as passwords for locked doors and the motives of Rapture inhabitants. At the same time, listening to the recordings can also trigger events that lead to more enemies swarming you. It's a unique style that keeps players on their toes; you really won't know what to expect next.

Game play is entirely from the first-person perspective, and you have a large arsenal of weapons, from a wrench to a device designed to shoot napalm or liquid nitrogen on your enemies, with upgrades to make your weapons more powerful and reliable. The coolest idea by far is the introduction of Plasmids, a form of biological modification players can use to give themselves supernatural abilities, such as shooting fire from their hands or releasing a swam of killer insects to attack enemies. The superpowers have uses in the environment as well: You can melt ice with the fire, electrify the water with a lighting burst, or grab distant objects with telekinesis. The play works well, and it feels gratifying to spark an oil slick to trap your enemies in a wall of fire.

Once you set your eyes on the city of Rapture, you'll quickly realize that you're playing one of the best-looking games available, even after all this time. The bottom of the Atlantic Ocean provides a sinister atmosphere, and the dark water reflecting the city lights adds to the sense of dread. The voice acting contributes to this dark aura, as well, with several scenes of insane spliced citizens preaching their brutal lifestyles and treating weapons like their children. Sounds in general can play a major role during game play, with quiet, stealthy approaches working in your favor to take out an enemy before he can cause you problems. At the same time, you need to keep an ear open in case an enemy is sneaking up on you instead. It all plays a part in an edge-of-your-seat experience that's filled with suspense.

Game-of-the-year awards aren't just handed out to anything that comes out during a year, and Bioshock is proof of that. With game play that's both fun and interesting, a deep story hidden within layers of mystery, and a presentation that blends perfectly with the story, it is by far one of the best games made in the past few years. You'll definitely want to play it before the sequel hits shelves.

Bioshock is available for Xbox 360 for $29.95 and PlayStation 3 for $59.95. For this review, the author played the Xbox 360 version and completed both the story's endings.

Luke Hamilton is a buyer, creative designer, and online coordinator for Video Games Etc. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 
"Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection": Past Hits Still Play Strong PDF Print E-mail
Lifestyle - Gaming
Written by Luke Hamilton   
Friday, 27 March 2009 15:06

Sonic the Hedgehog

With so many gamers from the '80s and '90s growing older, retro gaming has been a growing market. Game companies re-release old titles on new platforms so fans can play their favorites without having to find and dust off their original systems, and developers love doing it because it takes almost no time to reproduce these games compared to the months of development for new games on the current generation of consoles.

Before game consoles had access to the Internet, the only way these titles could be released was on a compilation disc, most times costing around $30 for a collection of 10 to 15 games. With the current generation of systems, the Xbox Live Marketplace, PlayStation Network, or Wii Shop Channel can be accessed to download the most popular titles individually for a cost of $4 to $15, which eliminates the costs of disc production and shipping, resulting in bigger gains for publishers for less work.

Don't get me wrong: It's nice being able to download the games I can't find and have them saved somewhere I won't lose them, but it was the selection that I loved about compilation discs. I would have never played classics like Joust or Centipede without them.

 
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