October 2010

Rock Band 3

October 31, 2010

You would think after so many years of music games, the genre would be practically dead at this point. But time and time again Harmonix has proven that they know what they are doing when it comes to this genre, and Rock Band 3 is definitely no different. Taking everything great from Rock Band 2 and The Beatles: Rock Band, improving upon it, and also adding plenty of new features, I can honestly see this being the last main game in the series. It is also easily the best. 

The career mode has been changed for the better. There is a career in the strict sense of the term, giving you road challenges to play and complete, each one taking you to new locations as your band rises to the top. There are also plenty of goals to complete, but those are far from the stopping point. Everything you do in the game, assuming you are signed into your profile, goes towards your career goals as you earn fans for each song you play, which is probably one of the best changes made in Rock Band 3.

The majority of the song choices exemplify the band experience that Harmonix has had down for years. The game still plays exactly like you would expect it to. Guitar, drums, and vocals in their most basic form have generally remained the same, but this is far from a bad thing. If you just go into Rock Band 3 only wanting more Rock Band, you’ll still be in for some amazing stuff. 

There are two major additions to this game, both of which change things for the better. The first is a new instrument: the keyboard. Not only is the controller itself very well designed, it adds a whole new level of enjoyment to the songs and is very accessible for those who have never played a Rock Band or Guitar Hero game before. The track list features plenty of songs that work perfectly to show off just how fun playing keyboard can be. 

The second big addition is Pro Mode, which brings this game to a whole new level. You get pro guitar, pro drums, and pro keyboard, and when set on the highest difficulty are just like playing the actual instruments. Pro drums (with the right attachments) is usable for all songs, including the expansive back catalog of exported songs and DLC, but both pro guitar and pro keys are only for songs in Rock Band 3 and DLC released this point forward.

Every single instrument, the basic instruments and pro mode, include their own tutorials that teach you what you need to know to learn how to play. Although you won’t learn how to play keyboard or guitar from them, you will learn enough of the basics that will get you started on playing and truly appreciating each song. 

While I never had a chance to try out the pro guitar stuff, with the keyboard you are pretty much playing the songs exactly as they would be played. The pro mode is probably the most challenging thing found in any music game, but when you get it down it is also the most rewarding. Being able to play the keyboard parts in your favorite songs on pro mode is one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve ever had playing a game. 

Vocals have also received some changes, adding the vocal harmonies option taken from The Beatles: Rock Band. You can have up to three people singing a song at once, and it, like the keyboard, really helps bring in people who aren’t very familiar with the genre and get them into the music. 

Also improved is the menu system, which is incredibly streamlined and user friendly. Each player has their own pause menu, and through it you can change instruments, difficulty, settings, turn on modifiers, and even swap profiles on the fly. It also lets anyone jump in and out of songs at any time, something that was first shown in Guitar Hero 5, but is truly perfected here.

Harmonix has also nailed the presentation of the game. Not only is the sound quality top notch, as expected, the actual characters themselves look even more lively than they did before. During your career, there will be different scenes that play showing your band’s rise to fame, which are all very entertaining. The character customization is improved as well, giving you plenty of new options and ways to create your very own rocker. 

Rock Band 3 is a groundbreaking success and easily the best music game I have ever played. I honestly cannot see Harmonix topping themselves after this. It really signifies the fact that this is much more than a game, it is a platform, a point the team has been trying to get across since day one. Well Harmonix, bravo, you’ve finally done it. 

Pros: Excellent track list; pro mode adds a lot of depth to the game; the keyboard controller is well designed and is a lot of fun to use; great streamlined menu system and career mode; amazing presentation

Cons: Absolutely nothing


This week we weigh in on a phone, a camera, and the return of an angel-killing witch.

Current score

Andrew Passafiume: +340

Graham Russell: +109

Eric Schabel: +65

Shawn Vermette: +185



PSPGo Price to drop to $200 before Thanksgiving

In a move that was long overdue, Sony finally dropped the price of the PSPGo from $250 to $200 this week, finally making it a viable alternative to the UMD-equipped PSP-3000, which remains at $170.

Andrew 90% = +40

Graham 50% = 0

Shawn 70% = +20


PlayStation Phone to be confirmed by Sony in 2010

Rumors are swirling madly this week over the long rumored PlayStation Phone, not to be confused with the also long rumored PSP2. Engadget is touting pictures of the rumored device, which appears to look similar to the PSPGo, while Sony initially stirred the rumors on by saying that the lack of a cellular connection is limiting the PSP, then follows that with a non-denial when asked about the existence of a PlayStation Phone. At this point, barring this being a massive disinformation campaign, it appears a PlayStation Phone is on the horizon…but will it be announced in what remains of 2010?

Andrew: Seeing as information about new Sony products is often leaked well before the official details are released, I would not be surprised if this were real. I don’t know if this will be the actual PSP2 or not, or just a way for Sony to try and compete with a company like Apple, but I can definitely see this happening. But with the failure of the PSPGo, it’s hard to tell if Sony is willing to risk another potential handheld failure. 65%

Graham: I can’t see them not officially announcing this project within two months of it leaking. Maybe the details will wait, as they don’t want to distract from the holiday season, but…well, that was my reasoning for doubting the price cut. Let’s go in the complete other direction today. They’ll do it! It won’t make sense, but they will! Probably!  85%

Shawn: You know, I would probably buy a PlayStation Phone if it came out…assuming it was an Android phone. Considering the wealth of information that has released this week, and the strange comments by Sony, I’d say they’re on the verge of going ahead and making it official.90%


Sega to announce Bayonetta 2 by E3 2011

Platinum Games, creators of Bayonetta, have been teasing the possibility of making a sequel to it almost as soon as it was released. So far, Platinum Games has not released a sequel to any of the games they made in conjunction with Sega, however Bayonetta sold better than any of the other games they partnered on. The desire is obviously there for Platinum Games, but is it there for Sega also?

Andrew: Bayonetta, despite a slow start in terms of sales, did do pretty decent business for Sega. I’m guessing if they are willing to get behind a sequel to The Conduit, a game that sold rather poorly on the Wii, they would definitely do a Bayonetta sequel. I’m not sure if it will be announced at E3 though; TGS seems way more likely. 60%

Graham: The deal with Platinum Games gave Sega ownership of the IP, so despite Platinum’s strict no-sequels policy, the game could happen. It’s a more successful property than the others Platinum made, and if there will be a sequel, it’d need to happen soon. People may balk at the idea of Platinum not handling the development, though.  50% 

Shawn: Considering the desire of Platinum Games to make a sequel, and the fairly high sales of Bayonetta, I think the only reason Sega wouldn’t make a sequel is if they don’t have the rights to do so. Thus, I’ve got to lean heavily toward this being announced at E3, if not earlier. I mean, what else does Sega have that they can announce at E3? 75% 

Kinect’s price to drop by July 2011

Microsoft’s Kinect will finally be released on November 4, at the somewhat high price of $150. Granted, this price includes the ability to play with at least 2 players, but it is still a higher price than many expected when it was first announced. We here at Snackbar Games wonder how well it will sell at that price. If it doesn’t sell well, will Microsoft react quickly to drop the price?

Andrew: This all depends on how well the Kinect sells this holiday. If it does good business for Microsoft, it might be another year before we see a price drop, but if it does only decently (or poorly) we might see it drop in price rather quickly. I can definitely see the price drop being more of a possibility than not, but it’s pretty hard to tell at this point. 60%

Graham: There are two reasons for a price drop: phenomenal success or any sort of failure. Products get cheaper when you ramp up production, and if the demand drops they’ll either want to (1) save face and move units or (2) get rid of everything and get the experiment behind them. So…Yes, this will happen. Maybe just down to $129 or so, maybe to $99. Who knows. 90% 

Shawn: I hope that the Kinect vastly outsells the Move this holiday season, and not just because that’s what I predicted. I think it is a vastly superior piece of technology. On that note, I think Microsoft will be aggressive with pricing in order to increase sales or to keep the lead so I can definitely see Microsoft announcing a price drop at E3 next year. 80% 

Inafune leaves Capcom

October 29, 2010

Keiji Inafune, creator of Mega Man and Capcom’s Global Head of Production, has left Capcom after over 23 years working there, and just a month after announcing Megaman Legends 3 for the 3DS. READ MORE

Ever been to a game convention? No, no, I don’t mean those massive affairs like GenCon, PAX or Essen.

I mean that gathering of 50, 100 or 200 people at that local community college or airport hotel. You know the one: you saw their flyer on the counter the last time you were at your local game store. A little black and white slip of paper that probably flew off someone’s home laser, boldly emblazoned with a name like CoolCityCon or Mytown Meetup or StarCon or some such thing. Did you take that flyer? Did you post it on your to do list? Make a point of going with all your friends? No? Well, good reader, let me tell you what you are missing.


What’s in it for me?

Games: Yeah, that’s what you’re here to do! Play games. The local game convention is going to be in a hotel or rental hall and it’s likely to have a few score tables set up for an entire weekend, from the morning to late in the evening where you can game and game and game to your heart’s content. They’ll have organized events in lots of different fields – board, card, minis, and role playing. This is an excellent opportunity to take time out of your daily grind for some focused gaming action. Whether you’re into pickup games with friends or finding something different with strangers, you can know that the local game convention’s gonna have it.

People: You’re gonna be spending hours on end with other gaming fanatics like you. This is your chance to hang out with your tribe, enjoy the jokes and good times you like the most with people who get you – and who want to play the games you want to play. Yep, this is the time to get that special or rare game on the table or to find that new thing you’ve been wanting to try before you buy. Be sure and bring your old gaming friends along with you to share the experience, but expect to make new friends over a game too.

Extras: Your local game convention is going to be the kind of place you’re going to find the local artist who makes cool dice bags, your local game store offering their wares at a special convention discount, raffles, game libraries, silent auctions, awards ceremonies, math trades, movie screenings, wireless handheld meetups, you name it. The local game convention is going to be the kind of place where special events and extras are going to be on the agenda. Make a little scratch on the side by selling your games in an auction.


The local game convention’s great benefits

Networking: You’re gonna be gaming with other gamers. And they’ll want to game again in the future; why wait for the game convention next year? When (not if) you run into people who’d be a good fit for your weekly gaming session, invite them over. And be open to an invitation yourself. This is a great way to reach out and find new folks to game with, new friends who share your interests.

New experiences: The convention is going to have a raft of events and it’s highly unlikely you’ve seen it all or done it all. That game you’ve been eyeing up online may very well be hitting the table with a person ready to teach it to you. Sometimes, even game producers will be there eager to demo their latest offerings. And there are the other gamers there for first person interviews on their experiences with games. Heck, you might even be able to swing a few good playtest runs of that game you’ve been designing – lots of people are interested in seeing the next big thing.

Special games: That game that only plays with 8? Guess where you’re gonna find 8. (Not at your dining room table or in your basement rec room.) But the convention will have plenty to fill up two Werewolf sessions or enough like-minded folks to fill that game of Diplomacy. Wanna get a Magic: The Gathering draft going? No problem. Heck, you might even be able to find a big tournament for a game like that. Multi-round role playing events are doable affairs with convention hours. A whole series of train games in a row might be on tap if that’s what blows your steam whistle. There’s going to be a big group of gamers looking to game, so take advantage of it!

Low costs: Have you flown cross country and stayed in a hotel to enjoy a big game convention? It’s fun, but you’re gonna break the bank on that kind of effort if you do it too often. The entry fee alone at a lot of these things is off the charts, but not at your local game convention. It usually costs less than a pair of movie tickets, and you’re getting days of solid gaming in exchange. You can sleep in your own place and often bring your own food (or go out to your favorite places to get it). Costs often go even lower if you can run a few hours of gaming too.

Close to home: You did get the world “local” right?  This is not going to take days of vacation time from your job just to travel there and back.  You can hop in the car in the morning and be gaming before breakfast if you want.  Driving an hour or so can take you a long way these days at highway speed, but if you’re in a major metro area, you may not even need that.


Got nothing near you? Make it happen!

Frankly, I don’t buy it: gaming is everywhere. If you have to, you can make it happen yourself, but I’d wager there are already a host of people in your area attending a game convention nearby and you might not even know it. How can you make this event an even bigger success for you and your gaming friends? There are at least a couple of ways to contribute.

Volunteering: Local game conventions depend on the host of excellent volunteers they get to organize and run great events. If you’ve got passion for a game or you want to make sure it hits the table, sign up as an event organizer! It’s a casual affair, so you can most likely play in whatever game you bring, teaching something you love to others while helping to make the event a success. Or run something bigger like a tournament; as players to bring their own copies of the game so you have enough to go around.  Write up that killer RPG one-shot you’ve always wanted to run. Paint up your other army for a head-to-head smashup scenario. By running a game you love, you’re making the convention better and making sure you have fun too. 

Organizing: Conventions need infrastructure to be successful. There are registration websites that need to be maintained, a check-in desk that needs staff for an hour here or there, someone to contact and wrangle vendors and guests, setup and takedown specialists and sometimes even food and hospitality experts. A game convention doesn’t just happen on its own; the most valuable people there are the ones giving back to the community to make the event a first-class success. You could always join their ranks to make it even better.

The local game convention is a hub of great gaming activity. If you aren’t already taking advantage of this, what are you waiting for? Dig around online to find something in your area and start enjoying the benefits as soon as it rolls around again.

Eric Jome can usually be found at his favorite local game conventions: Oshcon, Fire & Ice, Gaming Hoopla and Midwinter Gaming Convention.

Fallout: New Vegas

October 28, 2010

War never changes, and sometimes a good formula doesn’t change much either. Fallout: New Vegas takes the 2008 hit and updates it with a few tweaks to bring you right back into the fight. Does a change of venue and some small modifications warrant a trip back into the wasteland? 

Fallout: New Vegas brings you back to the West where the original games were set, transplanting you to Las Vegas which surprisingly was barely touched by the nuclear war that decimated the rest of the United States. New Vegas has become a Mecca in the wasteland as the Colorado River provides clean water and power via the Hoover Dam and as such it has become a home to conflict between multiple factions vying for control of the people. When the New California Republic came from the West to try to stabilize the area, they ran into a brand new group of power-hungry slavers from the East trying to seize control for themselves. In addition, Mr. House tries to maintain peace as he can from New Vegas but he needs more to stop the ruthless killing outside his utopia in the wasteland. You are just a lowly courier assigned to bring a package to New Vegas when you are shot in the head and left for dead in a shallow grave. After you are patched up by a local doctor, you take it upon yourself to find your would-be killers and deal with them as you see fit.

Where the story of New Vegas shines is the ability to affect the outcome of the game by choosing factions to support (or none at all). Karma is still in play, but it doesn’t matter as much as faction reputation does. Past the main three factions are numerous smaller factions for towns and groups that affect how they interact with you, including having a town outright attack you when you come by if your reputation is low enough. While this doesn’t replace karma, it should have. If you play only the main quest this may not even register on the radar, but given that the majority of the game is side-quests that pit faction against faction this seems like a major oversight by the developers to punish a gamer for choosing sides, which you eventually have to do anyway. 

Anyone who has played Fallout 3 will instinctively feel at home as the gameplay mechanics have not changed much. You can alternate between first-person and third-person perspectives as you fight across the Mojave Desert. You could approach this game as a straight-up shooter, or play it as a mixed RPG by using the VATS function that pauses battle while you choose sections of the enemy body to target based on hit percentages. Die-hard shooting fans will be happy to know that bore-sighting has been added to the FPS mode, while VATS fans will be sad to know that implementing VATS commands doesn’t stop an enemy from attacking you while you shoot them. This last was a fair addition, as in Fallout 3 it just seemed silly that an enemy would stop attacking while you performed your VATS attacks. Small additions like this and the new hardcore mode show the developers’ intent to instill a sense of realism.

Hardcore mode is my new favorite game mechanic that all games should implement if they can. Purely for bragging rights (and an achievement/trophy), hardcore mode completely changes the way you approach the game by putting additional constraints on the player. In addition to the Radiation meter you have to monitor, in hardcore mode you have to look after how hungry, tired and thirsty you are, constantly questioning whether you need to take a nap before tackling that band of outlaws, lest you succumb to the sleepless nights you have been working. The mode causes your ammunition to have a weight that slowly adds up, makes all healing items work over time and requires specific rare items to heal critical damage. Without instant-heals, fighting requires a different approach, so you can’t just rush into an overwhelming fight with plenty of stimpacks. If hardcore mode isn’t for you, you can simply turn it off, but for once a game increases difficulty in a way deeper than raising enemy stats.

Every level you gain, you earn skill points to bolster core skills such as guns, lockpick, barter and more, while every other level you get to choose a perk. Each perk is unique and allows you to truly customize how you play your character. Want to have an increased chance to deal damage with rifles? There’s a perk for that. Want to see enemies explode in a pile of goo? There’s a perk for that too. These choices are especially critical in hardcore mode, where you need all the extra help surviving in the desert.

As well as the game replicates its predecessor, it also picked up some annoyances along the way. This is the glitchiest game I have played in a long time. There are graphical hitches that slow frame rate as you wander the Mojave, and cause ghost dead enemies to flicker in and out. Enemy AI is extremely spotty at times. The new mini-game Caravan randomly doesn’t take over the screen so I can’t see what cards to play. The console freezes up completely. Thankfully the autosave feature is robust enough that I never lost more than ten minutes of data, but still these items should have been vetted before the game hit the market.

As annoying as these bugs were, it still didn’t stop me from reloading a save file and heading back out into the wasteland. New Vegas doesn’t veer too far from its 2008 predecessor, but the original was worth it, and this is worth it too.