June 2007

Namco Bandai has opened up the official US website for Tri-Crescendo’s Xbox 360 RPG Eternal Sonata, simultaneously revealing a handful of positively stunning console faceplates users can swing for pre-ordering the game at either EBGames of Gamestop. I gotta say that I hope the pubs send one over this way in the march up to the game’s September release. My system is currently naked and in need of some full frontal lovin’.

I must say this week has been rough. Besides my normal rounds at Gamasutra, and then evenings writing for Snackbar, it’s been a stressful week all around as companies scramble to get invites out for E3 as I reciprocate their efforts by trying to fit in their last minute phone calls and emails into my quickly overflowing day planner.

But that’s it, I’m done. I think.

E3, like any other industry show, is about picking your battles. You can’t see and talk with everyone, so you have to choose the few that you think are important, throw in a few that genuinely appeal to your own sensibilities, and then cross your fingers as you hope and pray that some last minute change or delay does not hose your carefully hatched plan for journalistic domination.

This year is a wrench unto itself, with multiple hotels, a hanger housing God knows what out in the desert, and other non-E3 participants vying for your time elsewhere out and about the metropolis of Santa Monica. Plus, most of the major companies have setup press conferences nearly back to back as well, leaving little wiggle room for sit downs with smaller outfits or 1-on-1 interviews. Somewhere. somehow there is a RTS design document in all of this.

But as I said, I’ve done my best, and have put together a solid action plan for tackling the show. Now with another Snackbar ninja at my side helping me here, and Gamasutra and Insert Credit writer extraordinaire Brandon Sheffield at my side, I can breath an abbreviated sigh of relief. I feel confident. For now.

While Nintendo not-so-secretly hatches its plans for original downloadable games for the Wii, the company’s never ending onslaught of classic titles for the Wii Virtual Console marches on, as Hudson has confirmed an additional four games hitting the service in July. Chief among these are the futuristic Bonk spin off Air Zonk and hellish electronic pinball game Devil’s Crush.

While no firm dates for these games have been confirmed by Hudson, the company has revealed that the reptilian shooter Dragon Spirit will be among next Monday’s regular Wii VC releases.

Beyond these three games, the quality in Turbografx releases does fall off a bit, however, with largely forgettable titles such as early anime FPS Silent Debuggers and puzzler Drop Off also expected in July.

Each of these games will carry an asking price of 600 Wii Points ($6).

With Games for Windows Live, Microsoft’s initiative designed to bring Xbox 360 and Vista gamers together in a resounding chorus of cumbyeya, now a reality, the big question in players’ minds is “Now what?” An aging shooter and an unimpressive Counterstrike clone do not a platform make.

To answer gamers’ collective call for help, Sega has announced that the forthcoming Universe at War: Earth Assault for the PC and Xbox 360 will support Games for Windows Live, making it the first third-party title to be announced so far that will allow both PC and Xbox 360 players to play together in harmony.

The game is scheduled to ship for the PC in North America and Europe this winter, and for the Xbox 360 in the first quarter of 2008.

Wait, what?

So, Sega and Microsoft are banking on Xbox 360 owners wanting to play against PC players who have had three months or more to train, become good, and potentially bored of playing the game by the time they even get to boot it up? I’m sorry, as much as I don’t care for Shadowrun, it got one thing right. The only way this service, which is still in its infancy, makes sense and can be expected to garner any sort of widespread use, is through simultaneous launches.

Game players are a fickle bunch. I know. I’m one of them. And even with features such as a “persistent-style ‘Conquer the World’ mode” where players compete across platforms to take over the Earth, with this sort of release gap I just don’t see the PC gaming community caring one way or the other by the time the Xbox 360 version ships. They will have had their fill, and moved on to the next flavor of the month.

For those of us who grew up the the golden age of computer gaming, when the term graphics meant little more than a text parser blinking patiently for input on a darkened screen, Infocom’s seminal Zork and its siblings hold a special place in our hearts. That’s why Matt Barton’s terrific Gamasutra feature on “The History Of Zork” is such a great read. The article, like Jeffrey Fleming’s equally compelling look at Spacewar, is part of a larger series offering a historical look back at the Digital Game Canon titles.

As Barton explains, “Zork. For some, the name conjures up little more than a dim notion of the “primitive” era of home computing, back when graphics technology was so lacking that desperate gamers were willing to buy games even if they consisted entirely of text… For others, though, the name Zork still makes their Elven swords glow blue. To them, saying that Zork is obsolete makes no more sense than saying J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ring trilogy is obsolete. Why do people still read Tolkien or any other novelists when there are so many movies and channels available on TV? If graphics and animation are so essential, then why haven’t comics and pop-up books long overtaken “plain text” novels on the New York Times best seller list?”

The article also includes lots of tasty quotes from those involved with the series, as we as the interactive fiction genre it helped spearhead, including this delicious bit from writer Nick Montfort of Twisty Little Passages fame, who notes, “Zork introduced an actual villain, the thief, who opposed the player character during the initial exploration of the dungeon, who could be exploited to solve a puzzle, and who had to be confronted and defeated. This was a real character with the functions of a character as seen in literature, not the mere anthropomorphic obstacle that was seen in Adventure.”

For those of you who are old gaming geezers like myself, or those who are simply interested in the history of gaming, I encourage you to head over to Gamasutra for a read. Just be sure to keep your lantern lit, else you’re likely to be eaten by a Grue.