Category Archives: humor

MyGamer.com: The 3D Empire Strikes Back

(This is an editorial I wrote for MyGamer.com back in 2004.)

Is it me, or are we caught in a time-loop? What was fashionable in the 90’s seems to be making a comeback. Amidst uncertain economic and political times, we have: another Bush in the White House, a war in the Middle East, and a deficit the size of Ben Affleck’s head. Much in the same way, it seems that we are experiencing a comeback in gaming trends. While modern updates of classic titles are old-hat, other practices by the gaming industry are returning as well, and their iron-fisted tactics are even less welcome than the recent 3D rehashes of E.T. and Pong combined.

As an avid gamer, I like to keep informed on the latest news. There are several websites and forums that I frequent for my gaming journalism fill. While cruising through various forums one day, a blurb caught me off-guard. Viewtiful Joe, the GameCube-exclusive action-platformer, was rumored to be heading to the PlayStation 2.

Nothing new,” I thought, “Capcom wants to get more sales…

…But then I kept reading. It appears that the PS2 port is planned for Japan (and possibly Europe), but no word of a North American release. This piqued my interest. Games planned for a Japanese and European release usually see the light of day in the U.S. The possibility that we might miss out set me off on a mission. However, after looking for more info I didn’t like what I found. Several articles were devoted toViewtiful Joe, but many of them also contained an unconfirmed rumor: Sony already denied the game for a North American release.

I shrugged it off. “They’re rumors! Rumors, I say!” I didn’t want to believe that Sony would turn a deaf ear to one of the most creative platform games in some time, so I kept reading.

Capcom recently made news of translating several of their games — many once GameCube and Dreamcast exclusives — to Sony’s behemoth. Perhaps in part due to the slowdown of the gaming industry or the sales backlash of Capcom’s GameCube-exclusive deal; several of their games are now being primed for greener pastures. Like the Viewtiful Joe rumors, these releases are in jeopardy for our side of the Pacific. The arcade conversion of SVC Chaos: SNK VS. Capcom as allegedly been canned in the USA. Similarly, news on the PS2 port of Street Fighter III: Third Strike reveals that no date is set for American-soil. Even a few non-Capcom games, Metal Slug 3 and The King of Fighters 2002, are rumored to not meet Sony’s approval.

Then it all hit me. I had seen this kind of behavior before. In September of 1995, Sony stuck its toe into the gaming pool with the original PlayStation. Sony Computer Entertainment of America (SCEA) supposedly enforced strict policies against role-playing and two-dimensional games being released in the United States, much like Nintendo’s ivory-tower policies during their heyday. Never mind the fact that RPG’s had an increasing fanbase, thanks to Square’s stellar SNES Final Fantasy games, Chrono Trigger, and Secret of Mana. Never mind that 2D games were still a viable commodity, and that the majority of game releases were sprite-based. Never mind that 3D console games were still in their infancy and suffering growing-pains. SCEA wanted all of their games to be polygon-based.

Gamers cried foul. Letter campaigns sprouted up to demand Japanese-exclusive releases in the U.S.. They wanted Arc the Lad and Beyond the Beyond to soothe their role-playing itch. Capcom fanatics e-mailed and wrote in hopes of seeing the 32-bit Mega Man 8 one day grace our shores. They fought against SCEA’s oppression, and it paid off a few months later. Sony relaxed the silent ban, and gamers were rewarded with new and exciting experiences — although no one won with the abysmal Beyond the Beyond. They even gave us a crappy port of The King of Fighters ’95 (no, thank YOU! ).

If you think about it, we wouldn’t have Final Fantasy VII orCastlevania: Symphony of the Night if SCEA had their way.

Now almost nine years later, we are seeing a similar trend. 2D games are once again the target of scrutiny. Officially, there is no reason for the sudden turn. For the three year plus life of the PS2 in the U.S., we’ve seen everything from Gradius to Marvel VS. Capcom 2 to Guilty Gear X2 head our way. While there are significantly more 3D games, quality 2D games still find their way onto the shelves.

Sprite-based titles have become a niche market in today’s gaming culture. Gamers weaned on their Playstation may see 2D games as inferior. The eroding 2D fighting genre is now a shell of its former self, with few games taking advantage of the amazing hardware of the current generation of systems. Many of the more notable releases — Marvel VS. Capcom 2 and Capcom VS. SNK 2 — are ports from the arcade or other consoles. Meanwhile, 2D powerhouse games like Keio Yugetaki and Silhouette Mirage are due for mind-blowing sequels on today’s systems. In general, little advancement has been made in what was once considered an art form.

Unfortunately, 2D titles don’t sell. The gaming industry now carries the burden of multi-million dollar budgets, meeting substantial fiscal goals, and pleasing stockholders. Few developers are willing to pony up the funds to take a chance on a niche game in America. If a game is less than likely to make back the money spent to develop it, common sense would suggest to not bother; and from all sides, 2D games no longer seem to fit into the financial equation. It wouldn’t hurt to note that SCEA pockets a percentage from each game sale, so do the math.

Being a passionate game player, I don’t want to buy into that logic. I don’t care about the bottom dollar. I do not care whether the penny-pinchers cry in red ink. I care about playing the best games, and damn them if they don’t believe it to be in the best interest of their bottom line. What about the gamers that miss out on the releases their Japanese and European comrades get to enjoy? What about the future of hand-drawn, meticulously animated, sprite-based games on console systems? I don’t want to have to modify my system to play the same games we should have received in the first place. Why spend the extra money and void my warranty to import these games? If Capcom was able to bring the ultra-niche (and ultra-expensive) Steel Battalion and controller to America, the less-expensive Hyper Street Fighter II should be more than feasible. I guess I’m crazy, huh?

In the grand scheme of things, the losers end up being the gamers. We should have a voice about what should be brought over. Fiscal concerns aside, the game players ultimately determine the size of the gaming marketplace. Quality games are being left behind because of the ignorant belief that it won’t sell. The market has to tell publishers what will sell, and the only way to do that is with our wallets. The age-old credo of spending money to make a difference speaks volumes.

Another way to get heard is to actually say something. One person might not make a difference, but a few hundred certainly do. Forums and gaming news sites are great places to voice your opinions and learn about possible (and not possible) releases. Publishers are within a few keystrokes of the average gamer, and a few thousand e-mails might drive the point home, it certainly worked for Square fans in 1998. Xenogears anyone?

So it seems that gaming on Sony’s platform has come full-circle; and, once again, the only way to get the games the Japanese and Europeans enjoy is to fight for them. If you care at all about what you’re not getting, let the publishers and Sony know. Some trends are good for gaming, but being denied games on the basis of graphics alone is not a good one. Reading these rumors has me riled up for a good battle. I’d like to have the option to play Viewtiful Joe and SVC Chaos on my PlayStation 2, and I have every intention of letting Capcom and Sony know it. You should, too.

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MyGamer.com: What Defines a Classic Game?

(Here is an editorial I wrote for MyGamer.com in 2004. Enjoy!)

What Defines a Classic Game?
By Trevor Green at 2004-05-04 15:11:19

Every so often, I happen to stumble into an old-school gamer moment. For me, it often involves glassy-eyed reflection or wistful longing for the gaming days of yore. Ignorant gaming fanboys and shoddy sequels tend to evoke the bitter old man within with disastrous results. Lately though, it has been marketers and brainwashed kids claiming the newest mega-hyped game to be the next big thing. When I see how similar those games are to everything else, I yearn for the times where no one rushed to proclaim a game as the offering from the divine gods of digital entertainment.

Recently I had such a moment, but it wasn’t the usual heady rush of reminiscence. I was watching my 10-year old cousin play I-Ninja, and it was about two minutes in that the gears started turning. The borrowing of ideas from better games like Super Mario 64, the bonus games of the Sonic series, and the “pull the switch” tedium of every by-the-numbers adventure game reared their head. Now wide awake, Grandpa Old-Timer was mighty upset! “How can anyone like this durn game? It’s rehash! There’s no way it can be a classic! I’m tired and gassy.” True, the warmed-over escapades of bland ninja-platforming were a stretch, but I somehow snapped out of my tirade. The next-to-last sentence struck a nerve. Why did I care if this game could be compared to the gaming greats? Why would it matter?

I’m sure that it didn’t matter to my young cousin, who hopped and slashed away happily. But it got me to thinking. Somewhere along the line, it did begin to make a difference. I started grouping the newer games in their own category. Subconsciously, I was comparing the recent generation as if they were challenging the gaming throne. I was putting an unnecessary asterisk next to their accomplishments. Of course I played and liked most of the current greats, but the question still festered beneath the surface: “Can these games be considered classics?” And I knew that I had to find the answer.

Before I started my quest, I consulted my dictionary for the definition of the word “classic”. Webster’s “Wal-Mart 97-cent special” defines the word as: belonging in a certain category of excellence, or having a lasting artistic worth. Not much, (after all, it is a Wal-Mart edition) but it was a good place to start. Both definitions contain the idea of esteem and merit; something that you won’t find in the millionth ad-blurb of big-name magazines. We tend to value something that holds special meaning to us, or stir up a fond memory. More often than not, we deem an item of quality to be of merit. After all, there is a reason that few people loved Superman 64 (and those who did should book a few sessions with a therapist).

Now is a good time to really grasp what is worthy of being classic. We are often bombarded with the word, to the point where it has lost the discriminating nature of its definition. Those magnificent (or malevolent) marketing ad-wizards of the media somehow managed to put the word in our daily vocabulary. Networks like “ESPN Classic” market recently played thrillers as “instant classics”. Everything from movies to food products and computer programs carries the word somewhere in its advertising. Someone wisely figured out that the word “classic” carries prestige, so why not use it to promote pork rinds or “You Got Served”? With all the hype surrounding nearly everything with money riding on it nowadays, it takes something truly special to earn the title.

The first definition, belonging in a certain category of excellence, holds up well. If we were to compare games to cars, would you want the gaming equivalent of a Kia Rio or a Lamborghini? Would you rather have the game that was crafted with love and care, or the economy model that does everything poorly? Any sane person would want the best gaming for their dollar, and games are a pretty penny. So then a classic game would embody the qualities that people seek out in a game. It might have great graphics, a good soundtrack, involving storyline and a healthy challenge. More than that, though, it would be fun to play. And above all else, it would rank up there with the best years down the road. Not many Kia’s could claim to compete with sports cars (not that they do), but a Lamborghini is a lasting favorite that does most things well.

The second definition, having lasting artistic worth, is a little iffier. Art carries a different meaning to different people. There are fans of horrifically-bad movies, giving them gratuitous cult-status. Therefore, artistic can be interpreted in numerous ways. When it comes to games, an extraordinary work is one that pushes the envelope in its aesthetics. Games like Yoshi’s Island obliterated the notion of 2D games, with a living and breathing storybook world that still amazes today. The Final Fantasy series offers warm, enveloping soundtracks that are timeless, as is their engrossing storylines. Super Mario Bros. 3 forever changed the way we view and play plaforming games, with a captivating adventure, dozens of helpful items and powers, secrets upon secrets, and loads of imagination. These games are often ahead of their time, and do not get their due until years later.

A great game a few years back may look and feel dated now. This is often the case with sports game franchises, in which the sequel often outclasses the previous model. For example, try playing Madden Football ’93 after a few quarters of Madden 2004. Meanwhile, another might play as well as back in the day because of the tried-and-true game play that launched a thousand copycats. A classic game is one that stays true to the age-old credo: simple enough to pick up, difficult to master. The true sign of a classic game, or any great game for that matter, is one that you can pick up and play years later.

The main key a game becoming a classic, like anything else, is time. In life, there are few greats and even fewer legends. Eventually, most only remember the true icons from past generations. The greats that are outstanding in their prospective qualities are those remembered down the line. The games that we love as kids are the ones that we wax the nostalgic about years later. They’re the ones that we drag out and dust off the old system to play. Out of thousands of potential options to choose from, the ones that brought us joy are those that we hold dear. As kids, we don’t find ourselves hung up on defining a great game, but we remember having fun playing it. The little things add up. And those rare games that deliver the complete package are the crowning achievements.

And that’s when it all came together for me. A classic game is one that stacks up well against those in its genre and its generation. The pieces of the puzzle- graphics, sound, play control, challenge, and replay value- work together in such a way to deliver a fun experience every time you pick up the controller. A classic game might not have the best visuals or tightest controls in comparison to others, but the combination of all the little details make it well worth playing. It is a game that makes a bold statement that sings to your soul. There is at least one aspect that always, and I mean always, brings a smile to your face when you play it. And that is worth more than its weight in hype.

So as I watched my cousin flip another switch in I-Ninja, I sat back and watched his intensity as he played the game. Maybe this will be his classic game, and maybe it won’t. If he’s still playing it five years from now, then that is cool. But as long as he is having fun with it, then that is all that should matter. That’s what gaming is all about, right? “You’re darn right, you crybaby!” the old-timing gamer shrieked.

At least I can agree on that.

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New Writing Samples Unearthed!

Sorry for the long break, but I’ve been busy excavating! What, you ask? Writing samples from the early aughts!

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I dug up my first published samples from 2001-2004. The wonder that is the Internet Archive Wayback Machine (www.liveweb.archive.org) helped me locate and download files that I thought were lost to those damn series of leaky tubes.

So keep yourselves glued to this site as I mix up the UAT posts with features from MyGamer.com, GameFAQs, Bradley Scout college newspaper and the Peoria Journal-Star newspaper.

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MyGamer.com: Burnout 3: Takedown (review)

This is a game review for MyGamer.com from 2004. Do check it out!

Burnout 3 

For a few years now, there has been a hole in my gaming heart that has gone unfulfilled. It has been nearly a whole system generation since I could say I was emotionally complete. Back then, there was no PS1 or PS2 — just some thing called a PlayStation. And that gray contraption housed some of the finest arcade racers since the glory days of the arcades (you remember those, right?). Recalling the giddy thrill of no-limits, physics-be-damned joyrides such as Outrun, Pole Position and Race Drivin’, Namco’s Ridge Racer series was a stunning import to the console scene. The great graphics, tight controls, stunning techno soundtrack and drifting madness were pure bliss. But Namco tried to mature and modernize the series, neutering its fun factor in the process. Heartbroken, I tried to fill the void with the usual vices: food, Smirnoff Triple Black, Crusin’ USA on N64… nothing medicated my wounds, and one had me kissing porcelain (guess which one?).

But little did I know that developer Criterion was feeling my pain. Almost like a love letter delivered in secret, they snuck an arcade racer onto store shelves called Burnout. Despite a few flaws the game had enormous potential, as did its fantastic sequel. It was arcade racing, but with an edge- leaner and meaner than the point A-to-point B racers of old. But there was a spark missing, almost as if the developers were holding something back. And with Burnout 3– the inevitable sequel- it appears that the catalyst was being acquired by Electronic Arts. EA’s limitless coffers seemed to be that extra spark Criterion needed, crafting an utter masterpiece of arcade racing. The breathtaking graphics, licensed soundtrack, and deep game play all speak volumes of a big budget. Not to say that it doesn’t have its faults, but you can see past those when there’s so much to love, right?

There’s no real story to speak of in Burnout 3. There is the anonymous racer travels the globe, racking up cars and accolades angle, but it feels a little impersonal. I guess I’m a sucker for knowing the face behind the racecar, but it’s nothing to complain about. I mean, look at the character development of the female protagonist of Spy Hunter 2.

One thing that isn’t a source of embarrassment is the spectacular visuals. The graphics of Burnout 3 took a giant leap forward in technical prowess- not to say that the previous two were slouches. The photo-realistic backdrops will make you swear that you’re tearing up highways, battling along scenic mountainsides and power sliding through picturesque forests. Little details tucked away like realistic lighting effects-especially the insane sparks and explosions- and shadows only enhance to overall visual punch. The sensation of speed- and burring graphical touches- is remarkable; most other games can’t touch it in this department. The car models leave a little to be desired- one coupe looks like a Subaru Impreza with the rear doors magically erased- but look sharper than the candy-coated vehicles of the past games. Car damage looks realistic, and pieces of metal flying off crumbling racers are equally impressive. With all the spastic action onscreen, it’s amazing that the game’s frame rate stays rock-solid (except in Team Crush mode and, oddly enough, in the menu screens). One problem with the remarkable visuals is that while everything is so detailed, certain objects blend into the background. Imagine the surprise of colliding with a fencepost that pops out of nowhere or a yellow taxi blending with the guide arrows (and the cursing afterwards).

In the audio department, Burnout 3 benefits most from EA’s purchase. The most noticeable inclusion is undoubtedly the “EA Trax” soundtrack- a hodgepodge of scrappy bands and rock greats. Everything from the Ramones to Yellowcard is open game and provides some entertainment. Too bad that most of the newer groups sound similar, leading to a pop-rock blandness that sedates rather than energizes. It is an improvement over the synthetic cheese-rock and techno of the previous games (although it still lingers on the start screen). The sound effects pop from the speakers, with every fender-bender, friction of metal on metal and the engine roar plop you in the thick of the action. Speaking of action, there should be a lawsuit against “extreme” announcers such as Burnout 3‘s Striker. The knowledge he provides is only occasionally helpful, and his “too cool” demeanor was eye-roll inducing. Good thing you can turn him off.

Another noteworthy achievement is the game’s presentation. Receiving some tutelage from Electronic Arts, the menus and other front-end screens are crystal clear and of high quality. Throw in the major-label musicians with the stellar visuals, and Burnout 3 comes out looking like the highly polished gem its predecessors strived to be.

Showing its arcade influences, the controls in Burnout 3 are deceptively simple. Car movement is assigned to the digital pad/left analog stick and brake and gas designated to the face buttons. The R1 button handles the turbo boost and impact time (more later). The basic control structure works well here, and is very accurate. Strategies like takedowns and turbo-boosted drifts are a snap with a few effortless button presses.

The game play of Burnout 3 is the main draw here, with a sizable pedigree to live up to. Criterion wisely tweaked the various modes and play mechanics, making a fun series an all-out thrill ride.

Before you can attack the game modes with panache, you have to learn the driving essentials. Techniques like managing your turbo boost and drifting are basic in nature, but need to be mastered to shave time off your score. Your turbo boost meter is affected by the way you drive. Racing in oncoming traffic, avoiding crashes, drifting and tailgating opponents are a few ways you can increase your turbo thrust. Your opponents won’t take kindly to you finishing first, so you’ll also have to learn to drive defensively- and offensively. Sliding along walls and other cars won’t sap your speed like more technical racers. This is good for avoiding wrecks and obstacles. You engage in combative play by one of several methods including battling, rubbing against your foe, slamming and shunting (hitting the enemy from the back). The most important aspect of slowing your opponent is the takedown. With your rival against a wall or railing, sideswiping or shunting at the right angle and speed will send them airborne and out of contention for a few seconds. Special- or signature- takedowns are rewarded with extra points. Takedowns net you a huge increase in your boost meter, so taking out the competition can put you ahead in several ways. It’s all about puttin’ your life on the line, baby!

There is a whole new stable of racers to play with in Burnout 3. Starting out with the compact cars- i.e.: hatchbacks- you work your way up to more powerful vehicles. Coupes, muscle cars, sports cars and off-roaders are just a few choices to toy with as you go along.

New to Burnout 3 is the impact time. As with most games of the post-Matrix era, impact time is a slow-motion play mechanic. Unlike most games, it isn’t purely for show. Impact time can have an influence on the race itself. Crashing your car starts the impact time, in which you can slow the game down and do one of two things: take in the sights and sounds of destruction, or maintain some control over your car ala crash aftertouch. In crash aftertouch, you can send your careening car towards oncoming vehicles. If used effectively, you can perform takedowns with your mangled wreck and knock out the nearest rival for a bit. It is a useful technique for advanced play.

Another major addition is within the Crash mode itself. Brought back from Burnout 2, there are a few new tricks to learn to have success. There are several parts to the Crash mode: regular Crash (one player), Double Impact, Party Crash (two to eight players) and Team Crush (two players working together for the best score) modes. The objective is still to crash and rack up expensive damage, but part 3 takes a more complex approach. Power-ups now add boost, increase the cash and multiply the total score. Crash aftertouch plays a major role, as well as the exclusive “Crashbreaker” feature- earned after hitting several cars. The crashbreaker is literally a self-destruct for you car, sending it skyward. Used in tandem with the crash aftertouch, you can hit multiple cars and grab otherwise unreachable power-ups- which will send your score skyrocketing. This adds a ton of strategy, but also requires memorizing every nook and cranny of the crash site for the best crash point. This is a change from the car go boom, watch cars fly now tactics of part two, which had its own merits. I wish there was an option for playing both types, as I kind of missed the simplistic- but by no means easy- nature of old.

There are four main modes of play: Burnout 3 World Tour, Single Event, Multiplayer and Online. World Tour is undoubtedly the time-waster, packed to the gills with a diverse selection of events and tracks to conquer. Spanning three parts of the world- the U.S. of A, Europe and the Far East- there are more than one hundred and seventy different events. These are spread out over several categories: the standard race (up to three laps with five opponents), Road Rage (getting a set amount of takedowns before time runs out/totaling your car), Faceoff (you and one rival battling on one lap), Grand Prix (two or three consecutive races), Preview Lap/Special Event (one lap fighting the traffic), Eliminator (five laps, with the loser of each lap exploding), and the various Crash events. These modes are spread out over different racetracks, which branch and overlap within the same layout cleverly like Ridge Racer. The Single Event loses the career mode aspects of World Tour, but still has most of its events. Multiplayer houses the Race, Road Rage, and the three buddy-friendly Crash modes. Online mode puts you and up to five other racers on numerous tracks. Either playing solo or with some friends- in the same room or across the globe- is equally a blast. You can track your progress, stats and even how much damage you cause- a plus for stat-freaks and completists.

Placing in the top three of each event nets you a gold, silver or bronze award. Netting an award unlocks cars and events, as does earning a set amount of points and takedowns. There are dozens of cars and hundreds of events to unlock, greatly adding to the replay value. To earn the better cars and novelty rides, be prepared to put in a few dozen hours of play. The more advanced rides are better equipped at handling the gradual challenge of the game, but never get to the point of overexerting yourself on either end.

I did have a few small gripes with the game play. When performing some of the actions (drifts, shunts), seeing it highlighted in big letters onscreen was distracting at first. Eventually, I learned to squint past it. I also didn’t like having to redo the training modes when entering a race or crash event (in single event), and there should have been a marker in my profile to prevent that. I also wished there was a damage meter, as the visible car damage is a little deceptive. The rubber band AI of the opponents- keeping them in the game no matter how far back they are- isn’t bad for an arcade racer such as this, but having them pop out of nowhere (after being assured that they are seconds behind) is a little annoying. And why in the heck isn’t there an onscreen map? I can’t be the only one that wants to know where the opponents and finish line are. Again, these are minor setbacks, and can easily be corrected for…Burnout 4!

Burnout 3 is, without a doubt, one of the best racing games to grace the current generation of consoles. EA’s acquisition has paid big dividends in the qualitiesBurnout 3 exudes, as well as exposing the critically acclaimed series to a wider audience. The Burnout series always captured the essence of action-packed racing, and the third installment ups the ante in almost every aspect. The already great arcade-bred game play is tweaked to near-perfection, making for a enthralling and addicting experience. The superb graphics, sharp audio and precise controls make the time spent that much better. Everything comes together in a way that only Namco’s best could accomplish. They always say that the third time is the charm, and Burnout 3 has made me fall head over heels. I guess you could say that hole in my heart has finally been filled.

Review by Trevor Green on 15 Sep 2004

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