July 2003

Snowcone Foreword: I know we got Slashdotted this morning and I know there was a whirlwind of discussion about the article and I felt that some clarification was needed. This article, while it contains much truth, is intended as a satire. Take what you will from it and enjoy it.

I grew up playing video games, as many of you already know. To me, the “chick gamer,” it is perfectly normal and acceptable for a woman to play video games, but to many out there, it isn’t. After attending the Austin Gaming Expo and seeing that my sex was outnumbered I began to wonder why. Gaming is reserved for those with the different chromosomes. Which made me think, in a world dominated by the male sex, why do women choose to put themselves in the position of the minority?

I would like to consider myself a half-way decent gamer. I can play a game all the way through with no help from a cheat book or codes. I can hold my own in a Halo tournament. I know that I am not as good as a lot of people I know, but still, overall I do all right. My little sister is the same way. And, oh wait, so is my other sister. We have embarrassed boyfriends by kicking their butt in a James Bond multi-player game; we have beaten games before them that they have had longer. We have impressed people with our Halo abilities, especially my 12 year old sister. To us, it is the norm. We can play video games with the best of them. But why are our skills impressive or is it embarrassing to be beaten by a girl?

Society tells us that gaming is a hobby reserved for boys. Like so many other things that have stood in the way of gender rules, gaming is one of those things that I think sits in the grey area. A Barbie is for a little girl to play with and a Hot Wheel car is for a little boy. That is a gender rule that is standard in our society, one that most people are comfortable with and understand. (This is not to say that there are not boys who play with Barbie and girls who own Hot Wheels; for there are always exceptions to these gender rules.) But what does society tell us about playing video games? They are for boys and girls until the girls hit puberty and are too concerned with boys and make up to play video games anymore. At this point it isn’t a normal social activity for the female. There are a lot of activities that are shared by both sexes when we are children that become predominantly for one sex as we grow older. I know that a lot of this is changing as gaming becomes recognized as more of a healthy activity to engage in, but I have come up with five reasons why all girls should play in the minority as they grow into young women and eventually adults.

  1. Your social life and Self-Esteem. I talked to the mom of the boy who won the Xbox raffle we had at the AGE and she talked about how good it was when they all got together and system linked their Xboxes for a little crazy massive multiplayer slayer. (So she didn’t word it quite like that, but that is what she meant.) Girls should be able to do the same thing. It would keep them from stressing about which boy dumped them or how they got a D in Chemistry. If there was a positive activity that was practiced when they were together, they would think positively about themselves. Not everyone wins all of the time, but when you do win; you can’t help but be proud of yourself. And playing video games helps you to learn how to work as a team. Not only tha
    t, but your gaming gals would form a close bond that would carry you through the years.

  2. Dating. One thing that is a common complaint about dating is that there was nothing to talk about. So he plays soccer and you are on dance team. You don’t know what an offside is and he couldn’t care less about your new kick routine. The date is a dud. He tells all of his friends that you are boring and you tell yours that he has the personality of a wet mop. Next week, despite your warnings, one of the other girls on the dance team goes out with him. They hit it off. You are baffled. She HATES soccer and she has the same interests as you. You ask her what happened. She tells you that they date was going horribly until she mentioned how excited she was for Halo 2 to come out. They are going out next Friday to pre-order it at their local EB. Most guys play video games, most girls don’t. If you play video games and he plays video games then you have something to talk about. Not to mention something to do together that you both enjoy.
  3. Your Grades. There has been a study that shows that playing video games actually helps you out in the mental department, so why not just play and make better grades. I am in no way saying that by playing video games will make you smarter. What I am saying is that studies have shown that it helps with cognitive recognition or remembering things. So, if playing video games helps me to remember the dates of the battles in the civil war, sign me up for a Halo tournament.
  4. Marriage. Dating will eventually lead to marriage. If you avoided the issue that your man loved to play video games with the guys all of the time, now that you are married you will have to deal with that issue now. If you are a non gamer you spend every Friday night sitting at home watching Lifetime movies fuming that it is almost midnight and he isn’t home yet. Not to mention that his friends resent you for making him come home at midnight. So when you all go out to dinner the next time you could cut the tension with a knife. Now, if you play video games too, you both go over to the guys’ place and play to all hours of the morning and you have a blast. Not only does it save you the trouble of being angry and fighting about your husband’s friends and activities all of the time, his friends love you and are intensely jealous that they can’t find a girl more like you.
  5. The Workplace. It is a well known fact that working in an office is still sometimes a hard task for a woman to conquer. This one applies more for the women of the future then the women now (but it could still be true today). If all boys grew up playing video games and many of them still do in their adult life, wouldn’t it benefit the woman to do the same? There is an X-box in the break room. Your boss goes in there when he gets really stressed about something to play a good game of Halo. You go in there and ask if you can join him. You play a round of Halo with his and voila! Instant respect. (Unless of course you kick his butt and he feels intimidated by you… which is where your own judgment comes in.) He then starts relying on you to do more around the office and before you know it you have a promotion and a fat raise. This of course is a hypothetical situation, so don’t get all pissy if it doesn’t work.

I am not going to say that these are backed by a 100% guarantee to work. All people are different and not all girls (or guys for that matter) will ever be interested in video games. I am in that minority and I love it. I wouldn’t be married if it weren’t for the fact that I played video games. I spent the first summer we were dating staying up all night playing Halo with my boyfriend and his friends. I don’t think he would have put up with me, nor I with him, if I hadn’t been a “chick gamer.” Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying if you play video games you
will find a mate, but what I am trying to say is that it might just be worth it for more of girls out there to join the minority. You might find that you genuinely enjoy yourself.

Abso-fucking-unbelieveable! That’s the best word I can find to describe NCAA College Football 2004. It is now the Mecca of video game football; the standard to which every other football game shall be compared to. Very rarely do I preorder a game and this is one of those rare titles to hold that distinction. I’m pleased to say that not only did EA Sports not let me down; they blew my fucking socks off. In fact, this game is so huge that I brought Pretzel in to give you guys a second opinion.

With the 2004 sports season finally here, I was excited for this title release. I wanted to know what EA had in store for us this year in NCAA football. WOW was the wait worth all the hoopla! EA really thought the improvements through for this year’s title. The additions are freaking insane. Tons of teams, more college spirit and way better graphics. Back to you Soda.

Look Pretzel, just because I’m letting you do this review with me doesn’t mean I like you; so don’t be getting all “cheeky” with me. I do have to agree with you on the insane wow factor on all the new features they added. My personal favorite game mode is Dynasty Mode. There is no better feeling than taking a cupcake one star program and build them into a recruiting powerhouse. The Sports Illustrated covers are by far my favorite addition to the franchise mode. The first time I saw my star quarterback on the cover hyping up my team’s championship run I about pissed myself. It is so the greatest thing of all time. The increased in-depth recruiting process is incredible; the ability to try and talk underclassmen into coming back, everything is so great. There are enough additions to make one’s head explode.

Ok you know what Soda…never mind our readers want to know what I have to say about the game, not you. I really was into checking out all the teams and the different stadiums they added to the mix this year. It totally blew my mind that some of these schools I had never heard of made it into 04; for example, Furman Paladins or how about The Wofford Terriers. The list goes on in this game, plus the stadiums look totally awesome. With different camera angles and all kinds of new school spirit stuff going on…this game will just blow you away with NCAA action. Another thing that I really enjoyed about this years edition is the new intros. Way more intros from all different schools that are just hilarious. Soda wouldn’t know anything about that though. He has no school spirit out at his school; unlike him I supported my school by going to all the football games.

I have to agree with you that the stadiums look fantastic. As a matter of fact, everything looks fantastic. The new tackles added this year are far superior to last year’s version. One of the things that bothered me about last year’s graphics was that most of the tackles looked like the ball carrier was tripping instead of being hit. This year defenders will lunge to shove runners out of bounds, grab players by the shirt and spin them to the ground, and blindside quarterbacks with crushing blows that send their helmets flying. The running animations are fantastic as well, running the option never looked so good. It’s not really related to the graphics, but I must make mention of the play action. In past football games play action was pretty much useless, especially when playing against another person. Welcome to the new world of play action, your quarterback and running back will sell the play action perfectly most of the time leaving the defense vulnerable to the long bomb.

Yes the improvements on the tackling improved so much. I want to add that the rollouts were so much smoother this time around. Not to mention that the running and passing this year are so much more controlled with no delay at all. Last years edition would take forever for my guy to dive, or spin or whatever. This year everything is much more controlled and way smoother. Let me just add that the new plays are also just freaking killer this year. QB screens, WR double reverses, and way more trick plays. The colors are much more appealing and brighter this time around. The atmosphere in the stadiums and during game play is just wild. It totally just draws you into the college experience. EA really emphasized the play-by-play with an elaborate amount of new dialogue for every single play. I was really impressed with that factor in 04. Last year, they would just repeat themselves all the time. So most definitely this years announcing is much more advanced.

The crowds are i ntense, especially when you’re putting a hurting on a high ranked school at home and they start chanting “Over Rated.” This game is excellent is all aspects. Faithful Snackbar readers know that I am a sports game junky, and this would rank very high in my top five sports games of all time. So in conclusion; this game is a must purchase and Pretzel still sucks. Soda out.

I’m currently in the process of building my very own University. It won’t be long until it will be the most ruling, dominate school in the nation. I’m still working on my players and theirs ratings. Overall the 04’s game play is very entertaining and it very much sucks you into the whole college experience. I’m going out on a limb here to say that Soda is right about this game. It’s most excellent! This game is most definitely a must buy for your game collection; whether on PS2 or Xbox, NCAA 04 is where it’s at!

Arrrrr, me hearties! This game reeks of booty and we ain’t talking about treasure.

I really wanted to love this game. I tried… so hard. But, it was a relationship doomed to failure from the start. Luckily, it didn’t cost me my house, car, children, and all of my sanity. The long anticipated Sea Dogs 2 a.k.a. Pirates of the Caribbean (PotC), whose arrival was greeted with cheers of joy and adulation, is one of the most profound gaming disappointments I have experienced in the last few years. I am sure my expectations for this game were a bit high, considering the eternal magnificence of Sid Meier’s Pirates. But, contributing to this already grand expectation were the promises of Akella: totally non-linear game play, meaningful reputation-driven world impact and notoriety, multi-player, and at least two choices for your character. And none of these promises were delivered.

Ah, the vast expanse of the high seas: eight or nine tiny islands.

Graphically, Pirates of the Caribbean pulls out the stops and holds nothing back. It is undisputedly a visually astounding game. With a plethora of pixel-shaded water effects, super-rich textures, beautifully painted skies, appropriately designed towns and jungle environments (although each zone is rather small), and higher-than-normal model polygon counts, this game is a literal feast for the eyes. Hell, the grass even moves when you run through it. There were numerous spots in the game where I would stop, sit back, and take in the spectacular scenery (storms at sea are EXTREMELY well-done, graphically, especially when lightning strikes your ship).

Swabbing the enemy’s deck with my officer’s blood (he sucks soooo bad). I’m not doing so hot either but I’m busy groping for a photo-op.

The audio in PotC is both good and bad. The voice actors did a fine job. Combat sound effects and jungle ambient sounds are appropriate. There are some really strange quirks in the audio response when selecting a townsperson for interaction, particularly in the taverns. For instance, I would strike up a conversation with the barkeep and the audio file that would play would sound as if someone were attacking me. I guess I could just write it off as being characteristic of a very rough and dangerous time period, but it didn’t “fit”. Most of the music in the game doesn’t fit either. A bit of it is nice, but the rest of it is crap, especially the porn-inspired techno drivel that plays during a storm. My solution: turn the in-game music all the way down and crank up Last of the Mohicans.

Making French fries.

PotC’s default control scheme for navigation and combat is absurd and changing it is a huge, but required, pain in the neck. For human navigation/combat, there are two sets of controls: Land and Combat. For ship navigation/combat, there are three: first-person, third-person, and world map. I haven’t played PotC on the Xbox and perhaps the default control system was built with a console in mind and works w
l on it (hard to imagine, though). But, for the PC RPG player, it sucks. Conversation controls are really odd (sometimes use Enter to select an option, sometimes the spacebar, sometimes scroll down then the Spacebar). Occasionally, hitting the spacebar will fire the default action indicated in the upper-left corner of the screen. Other times, it won’t. Sword fighting is horribly simplistic (one attack, one block, one dodge), but the sea combat controls aren’t bad. As a whole, PotC’s control interface for the PC is unintuitive, inconsistent, and a giant pain. Oh, did I mention the manual? Of course not, because the manual is absolutely useless, no help whatsoever.

Storms are normally a good reason to reload the game.

Depending upon how you advance your character each level, PotC’s challenge may be extremely tough most of the way through the game, or dwindle away rather quickly. At the beginning of the game, your character is quite weak in all areas so any sort of fight anywhere (sea or land) is extremely hazardous. That, plus learning the quirks of the crappy interface, equals very frequent reloading. But, I found that by level fifteen, my fully-manned frigate of Death Bombs from Hell could take on most small convoys. By the early twenties, I could mow down convoys of multiple battleships and frigates, as well as forts. Long, drawn-out sword fights, especially those of fort sieges, were still somewhat dangerous and required an occasional healing potion. Sea battles, as indicated above, are very hard in the beginning of the game, but quickly become easy. The amount of time it takes for the game’s difficulty to drop seems to depend greatly on how you build your character. However, the biggest challenge in PotC, one that remains unwavering from beginning to end, is to stay interested in the damn game.

A Kodak moment with my totally worthless officer.

Gameplay. Where to start? The character advancement system has quite a few options based on various stats and abilities and seems nicely complex…at first; but some of the abilities have real balance problems (i.e. some are grossly over-powered and too easy to obtain). Your character also has a level of reputation throughout the game. For the majority of my game it was unchanged, even while I was single-handedly raping the French armada. Then, without warning, my reputation suddenly changed to “Rascal”. Ooooo, that sounds threatening. “Avast ye French bastages, prepare to be boarded for I am the Rascally pirate, DeathHammer”. Or “Good God, captain! Is that the scourge of the high seas, the Rascally pirate, GutBludgeon?” Yep, scary. A seemingly nice feature is that your character may be accompanied by up to three officers. If any of their stats are higher than yours then you act as if you had the maximum value between all of the characters (so long as they remain in your party). You can even equip them with swords and pistols. Not like they can use weapons, though. They fight as if they were lobotomized. I spent the entire game fighting alone, except when a plot-based character forced herself upon me. This, by itself, was hilarious when I realized my fine, plot-oriented comrade was invulnerable. Nice non-linear element there. There is a primary storyline in the game that doesn’t have to be followed, if you enjoy random Fed-Ex quests. Otherwise, there isn’t much else to do in the game aside from leveling your character. Note: there is a PotC movie-related subplot that seems to involve more Fed-Ex quests, but I just didn’t have the attention span to pursue it, even in a shallow context. Oh one more thing: don’t try to take a fo

rt. If you do, there is no one left in the conquered town to run the shops so you can no longer repair your ship, buy ammo, etc.

The scenery continues to improve.

I’m still unclear as to how and why Disney got involved in the original Sea Dogs 2, affecting its title, game content, and mechanics. There are most likely tons of rumors flying around regarding what really happened. Who cares? Sea Dogs 2/Pirates of the Caribbean sucks as a game. Akella promised much and produced very little. However, there are two positive things to note about PotC: 1) the graphics engine is one of the most beautiful I have seen to date in a released game, and 2) it looks as if most, if not all of the game, is scripted in text files accompanying it. These certainly don’t buy redemption for PotC, but perhaps we will soon be seeing the awesome graphics engine developed for this game put to much better use.

If you come to the site often enough then you know that I am a news hog. I typically post anything that I see online that is gaming related that I deem worthy to sit on the front page. The only problem with that is that if I don’t find it interesting and you do, then you won’t hear it from me. Now that may or may not be a problem as I highly doubt we are the only gaming site you read. So what I am going to do from now on is try to utilize my Week in Review to cover a lot of the stories that I didn’t get to during the week. That doesn’t mean exclusively cover things I didn’t touch on, but I will try to get to some of the things that I know will interest you.

To start things off is the fact that the N-Gage is now available for preorder from EB for a whopping $299. I think I could leave it at that and you would know how I feel about that topic.

One of the major stories to hit this week was the Half Life 2 Anti-Aliasing fiasco. It appears that the multisample antialiasing settings used by the most recent cards from both ATI and Nvidia, which the cards use to smooth polygon edges, cause odd texture artifacts along the polygon boundaries in Half Life 2. This was confirmed by Gabe Newell of Valve on the Half Life 2 forum. The problem is apparently easier to fix for ATI based cards and seems to only affect DirectX 9 based cards. If Nvidia users have artifacts on HL2, I would expect to see a mass migration of gamers to ATI based cards as HL2 will be the Christmas blockbuster on PC. We will get more details to you as they become available.

An interesting but disturbing story this week was showing a decline in the video game market in Japan over the last year. The decline was in hardware as well as software sales. The decline was in the 1-3% range and I expect that hardware sales will stay low or even decline as we build up to the next generation of consoles.

Sammy also announced this week that we would see a new Guilty Gear in arcades soon. The game will be on their new Atomiswave hardware which is a broadband enabled arcade machine that takes memory cards. We can’t be sure if it will come to the US or not at this point, but my initial feeling is that arcade hardware like that is geared toward an audience that doesn’t exist in the US.

In more financial news, Sony reported an overall 18.2% decline in sales for the Q1 of this fiscal year. While I want things to even out between the consoles, I don’t want to see drops like this cuz they hurt the industry as a whole.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic went on to set a new sales record for the Xbox this week. The release of KotOR marked a new era where games based on the Star Wars license don’t suck. 😉 At any rate, it sold 250,000 copies in the first 4 days. While that is a tremendous feat, I have a feeling a little game called Halo 2 could just shatter that record yet again.

Several weeks ago I mentioned Tenchu on the Xbox and this week Activision officially announced Tenchu: Return from Darkness on the Xbox. The game will feature 3 playable characters, 11 levels, and 6 multiplayer maps. This release will also mark the first time a Tenchu title will feature on
line gameplay which will be a form of Live enabled co-op. I am highly anticipating this game and it should be out in the Spring of 2004.

In an odd move, Discreet has announced that Sega of all companies has been assisting in the development of the popular 3d rendering tool 3D Studio Max. The new software which is slated for release this fall will feature many new tools of particular interest to game developers. Wonderful news if you are in the development world.

I am going to end this weeks review with a “Bonehead of the Month” award. It goes to none other than the ex-wrestler Maxx Payne. The wrestler has filed a lawsuit against Rockstar for the theft of his persona. The lawsuit carries a hefty $10 Million tag. “I left wrestling to come home to Utah and be with my family and I find myself in the biggest battle of my life–to save my identity. They stole something from me that I’m not going to give up. I’ll fight until there’s no fight left.” I think that story can speak for itself.

Bienvenidos to all you Snackbarians, the spinning bottle pointed in my direction this week. So don’t fret I am here to give you the skinny on whats been happening in the gaming world. Before we hit all the juicy stuff, let me just tell you that the staff here at Snackbar are gearing up for an exciting time. Were about two weeks away from AGE, the staff here has formulated a few ideas for the event so make sure you guys check it out. Also the guys have been working really hard with the site and some improvements so stay tuned for that as well. As for me, I am mixing up some ingredients for my very own feature, so you faithful readers make sure you look for that in the near future. For you peeps that are around the SA area make sure you continue to check out the forums, Cone and Wraith are always spearheading some really kick ass LAN parties so keep looking for the updates.

In PC news, Microsoft announced an expansion pack for the fantasy RPG, Dungeon Siege, the expansion pack will not be released until late this year. Dungeon Siege: Legends of Aranna will have all new characters, maps, campaigns, spells, weapons, and some other really cool additions. As you already know, Vivendi has announced the prequel to No One Lives Forever 2, which will be titled Contract J.A.C.K. The prequel will include an all new storyline and experience, but it should not disappoint NOLF lovers. The game will include online gameplay, new weapons, vehicles and all kinds of other cool stuff.

The official release date has not been announced yet but it should be released in late 2003. With so much other news this one really stands out for me, Rockstar has announced the sequel to Max Payne, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne. To check out some news and updates check it out here. The official release will be sometime this autumn. EA has released a downloadable map for Battlefield 1942 entitled the Battle of Britain. With new weapons and massive aerial fighting this should be a rockin map. To download it go here. Along those lines, EA has announced Battlefield Vietnam. Its obvious that EA will be using the same engine from BF 1942 for BF Vietnam, but with a different storyline and time. The hype has been much for this awaited title, so keep looking for that in the future.

In console news, Xbox Live has released another new map for Return to Castle Wolfenstien: Tides of War. Activision and id Software will release the final map later this summer. With the final episode in the trilogy due out this November, EA is excited to release the anticipated title Lord of The Rings: Return of the King. EA has stated that it will be a lot more action packed with better visual graphics, and co-op game play. EA has said they have out done themselves from their previous title A