Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year from PLAY READ WRITE

I started this blog a little over a year ago now and I've met every goal I set for myself as I wrote, and I've also achieved some secondary, but perhaps even more important milestones. I tried to write every day, or at times, more than once a day, but I thought that I was always honest with myself about the amount of work I was able to put in, and that honesty came with the recognition of what I was going to get out of it all.

What I did get out of writing this blog was my first trip to E3, my first paid writing gig, and an internship at an established games website, but I think I also got a better sense of what being a real games journalist was like. Sure, free games and an entrance to Mecca are great bonuses, but I don't think they're representative of the greater benefit my writing work has given me.

While my writing slowed down a lot over the past few weeks, mostly due to my finals schedule, my iternship, and my traveling holiday plans, I know I've done a lot of good work here and in my writing at large. Once, in a podcast, or some other piece of gaming media, someone said that in order to make it as a games journalist, one has to be a writer first and a gamer second. I think I can say that I understand what that means now. Gaming is a great hobby, one that more and more people are finding themselves accustom to, one that offers a great deal of value as an entertainment form, especially during times like these. Gaming serves as an amazing escape, but there is definitely something different between playing a game, maybe with friends, for pure enjoyment and playing a game for a review, or even a preview. Motivations aside, something just feels different. Maybe it's the knowledge that you're on a deadline, or the fact that you might not even want to play the game that makes reviewing different. Maybe the possibility of getting paid to write critically about a game you've never even heard of, trashing the terrible bits and praising parts that offer something, new, or fresh to gaming is what makes the whole experience different.

I look forward to what my further ventures in gaming journalism offer me. Of course, even as my workload is added to from as many different sources I can find, I'll keep PLAY READ WRITE in tow. I think it's time to set some more goals:
  • Write four reviews of recent and holiday releases (including, but not limited to, Episodes from Liberty City [TLAD and TBOGT as a pair], Assassin's Creed II, Modern Warfare 2, etc).
  • Write more original posts on topics of my own invention.
  • Another 300 posts by the end of 2010 written and published.
As usual I'm leaving this list open to addition, and I'd love to hear any feedback the odd reader/passerby. If you're reading PLAY READ WRITE today or any day, please drop me a line at, and let me know what you think!

App Reviews and Game Reviews Roundup

It's the end of the year and I can't help but look back at all of the writing I've done for outside sites. PLAY READ WRITE is and will continue to be my own blog, a corner of the internet I have direct control over, but as I move ahead with my writing, it continues to be published in other parts of the world. Here's a round up of all my reviews that weren't published to PLAY READ WRITE:


I'll definitely have more writing at outside games outlets in the new year. I hope 2010 is prosperous for myself and for everyone out there (especially if you're reading this, thank you and hope to see you in 2010)!

PLAY READ WRITE'S Game of the Year (REVIEW: Assassin's Creed II)

Assassin's Creed II is a remarkably bright turn in a franchise that could have repeated some mistakes the previous title managed to make itself infamous for. Maybe the problem with Assassin's Creed (the first) was that it simply plopped a bunch of tools in front of the player and said "have at it." Of course, the lather, rinse, repeat mentality of gathering information, seemingly arbitrarily (hey, they're on the list already, let's get it over with), and THEN making the kill, and THEN reporting back to the boss doesn't do anything for the player in the long run. "Repetition" is the short, buzz worthy review word that basically means the player did a lot of work they didn't feel entirely necessary.

Enter Assassin's Creed II's biggest advancement: a story or player-involvement, and by extension player-emotional-investment. People you/Ezio are supposed to care about hand out missions and give instructions. Sometimes they even do things for you. Skipping investigation altogether and being told that the guilty person is holed up in some tower already makes it all so exhilarating. Maybe assassins were really supposed to do all the foot work, sniffing out clues in an effort to uncover someone who deserves to bleed, but players don't really want to be involved in all the sniffing. They want direct control over all of the bleeding, and Assassin's Creed II projects the player right into that.

You can still find all of the pacing and exploration your heart can desire, simply by keeping an eye out for all of the collectible objects. Even the treasure chests, which are actually purely accessory, are given value when they're placed on the minimap by way of a purchased treasure map. You might or might not be motivated to do all of that slinking around, but either way it's there for you if you want it. That's really what the collectible should be, optional, and not the main attraction.

As you're racing from mission to mission, building an entire society of assassins around (a society the first game said was there but never ever illustrated to the player), there's some beautiful scenery to take in. I didn't think there could be a lot more squeezed into this engine, but some engineer at Ubisoft is wringing the towel dry, and it shows. Everything is beautiful, bright, vivid, and Florence and Venice especially are jewels of design and graphical craftsmanship. There's just so much to interact with, and those damn crazies are replaced with marginally less frustrating musicians. They're a bit more manageable in that you can actually pick them up and throw them off a bridge or whatever you'd delight more in.

Everything about Assassin's Creed II has been improved, and where the game is tethering itself to is obvious. It's channelling Legend of Zelda games in the way it has the player collect and complete challenges to upgrade weapons, but it's removed all of the obvious gating and filled it in with more and more story. The story is channeling Grand Theft Auto, not in the parodic lampooning sense GTA IV has made a mainstay of the series, but in the sense that the main character has some motivations and frustrations, successes and setbacks, not to mention that the primary goal is almost always to travel, gather, and kill.

And when the curtain is pulled back and even more is further revealed to the player, you just sit back and say "huh..." knowing full well that you're going to be kept wondering again, until the next installment comes. I haven't even said anything about how great the music is, how powerful of a relationship you build with Leonardo, how fun and varied the missions make themselves, how effectively the team learned from the efforts on Prince of Persia, or how Jenna watched the story are from start to finish and was entertained all the way through. If I mentioned all of that would it help to justify my opinion of the game? Whatever, chalk it up to how deeply I enjoyed Assassin's Creed II. I don't think I'm the only one either, and little touches do a great deal toward creating that deep sense of enjoyment.

A reference to Mario is a more out and out way of leading the player in, but a more subtle way is the progression of the plot through time, or the establishment of an enemy force through the boyhood conflict with a rival family's young man (channeling Pokemon's motivation in the direct linking of two people pitted at odds by "fate" or whatever you want to call it, devine, developer hand-holding maybe).

I could keep going, but there really is no need. I haven't played every game that came out this year (and there are some I know could at least contend ACII for this), but I am comfortable saying that Assassin's Creed II is PLAY READ WRITE's Game of the year.

Thoughts? Questions? Contentions? Let me and any of your fellow PRW readers know in the comments.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas from PLAY READ WRITE

Merry Christmas to all PRW readers. I can't help but ask how many of you are out there, but happy holidays to you nevertheless.

This time of year always brings out gamers young and old, gamers new to the scene with a Wii unwrapped and old hands opening up titles for consoles they already own. It's a great time for people to gather around and bring out games for family and friends. One year, slightly ahead of the holidays, an uncle said of Mario Kart 64, "it sounds like a slot machine."

Gaming might be many different things to many different people, but I hope it brings people, friends, family, maybe even complete strangers together in some form or other.

Last night, I opened up some Xbox 360 pajamas and a copy of Scribblenauts, which I had talked up to Jenna in the hopes that we would both get some entertainment out of the title. It turns out that she's played more than I have, and she's playing like a completionist too!

Last week I unwrapped a second copy of Assassin's Creed II from my brother which I returned in exchange for Episodes from Liberty City, Mass Effect (to prepare for Mass Effect 2), and 1600 Microsoft Points. I've since started Mass Effect, completed the story of The Lost and the Damned, and promised myself the DLC for AC2.

As the day comes to an end, I hope everyone has had a happy holiday season. Keep gaming, keep spending time with your family, and if you're reading this, let PLAY READ WRITE know how your holiday went in the comments.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Mystery N64 Game stumps Ebayers

This is probably very late news for everyone involved (the auction is probably over and the cart in questions has probably been shipped), but I thought it was an interesting enough news item so I'm going to write about it anyways.

[CORRECTION: Actually, there's still a day left in the auction. At the time of this writing it's reached $132.00 with a 25% donation of the profits to Child's Play (isn't that nice!).]

The labeless Nintendo 64 cartridge certainly seems like a good ploy to dress up an older game and sell it for a decent sum. I couldn't imagine the crushng disappointment received from sliding the cart in and booting it up only to find John Madden staring back at you. Luckily, the seller has promised that the game is, in fact, "good." Many are speculating that the game is a copy of Super Smash Bros. which, of course is one of the best Nintendo 64 cartridges someone could mysteriously buy. The seller has also tossed in another two mystery carts, but I think at least one of those will be a joke copy of NBA Live 98, or possibly the Nintendo published Kobe Bryant's Courtside. Either way, when the auction goes through, will the internet know the identity of these carts? Or will the story fall by the way side?

I guess it says something about me during the holidays when my first assumption is that the cartridge would turn out to be a lame duck. A friend of mine placed a bid knowing that he wasn't going to win, but I don't think I could ever enter my cash in the ring without knowing what it was going towards. Either way, driving up the price would be a worthwile endeavor, especially with charity being involved at this point. Good for you Zach! I'd encourage you to bid again and further drive up final bell's price, but at this point there probably isn't as many people willing to outbid you.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Soldier and Demoman get an update

The Soldier/Demoman War! Update has gone live, but I'm going to be a little late to the party.... With all of the holiday releases on the 360, I've neglected my computer and Team Fortress 2 in general. Something tells me my TF2 abilities are going to be sore when I do get on to play for more than an hour or so.

Until then, I'm going to have to ponder the new weapons that went live with the update, including a more accurate missile launcher for the soldier, and a sticky grenade launcher that lets you selectively destroy bombs. All of the weapons seem to change the game a bit for both classes while maintaining a fair bit of balance. I can't say that my usual load out will change all that much, but once I've played and practiced a bit more I might be able to switch things up.

One thing that's continuing to amaze me about TF2 is the way these small incremental updates really let the community go wild about the game. Small events and contests driven by the game's characters themselves really help to sell the game to a larger and larger audience. I don't know how anyone could be on Steam and not own a copy (or two) of Team Fortress 2 at this point. It helps that the game is so easy on the hardware and that the cast of characters put forward a lot of personality.

A good example of the way a community driven contest really builds upon the game world is the propaganda contest Valve ran over the course of the update wind up. I don't envy the person who had to narrow down all of the entries, but pictured to the right is the grand prize winner's propaganda poster. Contests like this probably generate a lot of positive buzz and help to get a lot of people in the door with the free trial weekend. I'd like to see the Steam sales for TF2 over the course of the update and the free weekend. From my experience, TF2 is a game that I couldn't really put down after I picked it up.

Only recently have I managed to stray away, with more and more of my focus on the constrained console space. If you're an old Steam friend, or just want to get me in game, drop me a line or comment on this post and encourage me back to the Payload, Control Point, or KOTH battlefield (sorry CTF, never been a fan).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Michael Gallagher dropped me a line...

For those of you who don't know, my good buddy Michael Gallagher (I call him Mike), is the president and CEO of the Electronic Software Association. They lobby on behalf of the video game industry and throw really big parties (like E3!).

Anyways, Mike sent me his usual Christmas card, but it sure was dry this year. Normally I get a few pictures of him and his family too, but I had to settle for the following:

Dear Friends,

Before 2010 begins, I thought it would be worthwhile to look back at the computer and video game industry's many accomplishments during the transformative year that is drawing to a close.

Similar to all sectors of our economy, 2009 was a year filled with challenge for our industry. We were not immune to the economic difficulties caused by the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression. However, these difficult times did not prevent us from achieving a number of milestones that position the industry for continued success in the years ahead and further cement our place in our nation's cultural, social and economic life.

Our bright future could be seen in scores of new titles that attained significant sales and critical acclaim. The Beatles: Rock Band from Harmonix and MTV Games, for example, is having a unique impact on popular culture by providing players with a chance to experience the world of the Beatles. In addition, Take-Two Interactive's The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony helped make downloadable content a common term in even the most casual gamer's household.

The Federal Trade Commission commended the leadership of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) as it once again set the bar high as the entertainment industry's gold standard for consumer ratings systems. The federal agency said that "of the three entertainment sectors, the electronic game industry continues to have the strongest self-regulatory code."

One of the year's highlights was the growing recognition that games are making important contributions to all levels of education. In June, The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop issued Game Changer: Investing in Digital Play to Advance Children's Learning and Health, a report analyzing how computer and video games can be used to aid children's health and educational development. Many schools are incorporating computer and video games into their curricula, a trend the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) supported when we participated in the National Middle School Association's 21st Century Classroom Exhibit. In addition, last month, President Obama announced our industry's involvement in a new educational initiative to motivate and inspire students across the country to excel in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Finally, in a trend I am sure you all are following first-hand, an ESA survey found that a record number of colleges, universities and other institutions of higher learning – 254 in 37 states and the District of Columbia – now offer courses and degrees in computer and video game design, programming and art.

Elected officials throughout the nation are recognizing our industry's economic benefits. Texas Governor Rick Perry proclaimed February 3, 2009, "Entertainment Software Day" in Texas and, in April, signed into law a significant improvement in the state's economic incentive program for digital interactive media production. The Louisiana legislature and Governor Bobby Jindal adopted a 25 percent tax credit for investment in game production projects and a 35 percent payroll tax credit for such projects. In total, 18 states actively considered legislation this year to create or significantly expand existing incentive programs for digital interactive media development and production.

With the help of industry advocates, we fended off two major legislative threats seeking to unfairly regulate the distribution of computer and video games in Utah and Louisiana. And as always, we remained vigilant in defending the interests of our industry and gamers. In 2009, we expanded the membership of the Video Game Voters Network (VGVN), which plays an increasingly important role in cultivating advocates and standing up for our Constitutional rights. This year, VGVN members sent thousands of letters to legislators across the country that directly impacted the debates on dozen of bills.

Reflecting our overall health, the ESA's membership roll also grew during this year with eight publishers joining the association. These companies are helping to set the industry's agenda and policies while, at the same time, receiving the unique benefits that come with joining the ESA. Their involvement makes our association an even stronger advocate for the computer and video game community.

Finally, I am pleased to highlight 2009's rebirth and revitalization of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3 Expo). The improvements made this year once again make the E3 Expo our industry's preeminent event for announcing and previewing trends and cutting-edge and innovative products. The event now once again reflects the energy, innovation and excitement that are so much a part of the computer and video game industry. The support from all industry sectors and corresponding stakeholders position the 2010 E3 Expo for growth at a time when other trade shows are shrinking or fading.

So, as 2009 draws to a close, I look back with great pride at all we have accomplished together. I know that our strength, creativity and innovation will continue to grow in 2010 and beyond.

I wish you and your families a joyous and healthy holiday season.

Michael Gallagher
Michael D. Gallagher
President and CEO
Entertainment Software Association
What happened to you Mike? OK, I guess I should be straight with anyone still reading along.... I just got a little lazy and thought I'd throw the text from Gallagher's year-end letter out to any gamer not listed on the ESA mailing list. Hope you found something interesting in the wall of text I just published.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A nice surprise in my e-mail...

Today was semi-officially the last day of my finals! Do you know what that means? More time for games and blogging! Oh how I've missed you so PLAY READ WRITE.... Did you miss me too?

Anyways, I finally checked my e-mail at 9 o'clock at night and found this little invitation to OnLive in my inbox. While my computer might not exactly qualify for the beta test, what with them wanting to check my hardware and connection, but still it's exciting to be wanted for something.

I'll be sure to let you guys know if I get in, but until then, I hope you'll (all) welcome me back to publishing on a regular basis. The suspense is killing me.... Will I reach 300 posts by the end of the year now after my long hiatus? Who knows!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Today was a long day at the office. I guess I'd like to update any regular readers of PLAY READ WRITE and let them know tag I'm not dead and that I've just been really busy with finals, or in today's case, work at my internship with Game Revolution. Of course I did get to play Bioshock 2 for about two hours today, I had to do some work to go along with it. Hopefully posting to PRW will get a little easier over the next couple of days.

Friday, December 4, 2009

MW2 Javelin Glitch earns a ban

I've run into several opponents exploiting the "Javelin Glitch" in MW2. At first I was confused and frustrated by the large explosion that would consume myself and my team mates. Now I'm merely perplexed by it.

As XBL maestros begin to issue bans for players exploiting the glitch, I think I'll simply step over the offenders and try to have a good time anyways. I don't know why gamers find the need to ruin a good time, but it isn't the first time a glitch has plagued a popular game for a while. One good thing we can attribute to the always-online console is the ability for developers to update titles that encounter problems like this.

Had Infinity Ward held a public multiplayer-beta, would this glitch have been present in the final retail copy?

Gamestop brings back the N64 Kid

That Nintendo 64 kid just never dies does he? Whether hucking BMWs (or whatever) or becoming a soulless face-shifting shill for Gamestop, he'll find his way back into the public interest every holiday season until Armageddon.
So, face-shifting shill for Gamestop is quite the business card title, but I can't help but feel a little touched by the tactic. You see, I was a Nintendo 64 kid myself. When I unwrapped the last console to use cartridges, I freaked out too. My little brother and I probably did our share of jumping around and shouting, so I can't fault the little guy for his excitement.

But damn you Gamestop! You've only opened the door for the dastardly deeds the internet will surely find itself capable of again. Kotaku's Owen Good has already tried The Joker, and I've seen Pyro-disguise-mask and a Crecente kid, but I don't think I can watch anymore.

Instead, I'll just think back to a time when being excited was as natural tearing at the seams of any big box Christmas present. With Jenna's amazing ability to get the right gift, I'm going to have to keep guessing in anticipation before Christmas comes. Last year I was Mini-fridge and Gears of War 2 - Kid, but we'll wait and see what comes next.

A look at the controlled review environment

Kotaku's Michael McWhertor addresses the always pertinent issue of invite-only review events. Of course, as the budgets for games get bigger and bigger, so do the promotions and events in the lead up to released dates. But this poses an important quandary for professional games-journos who get put up in posh hotels and fed to review the latest and greatest game.

This quote from Dan Hsu really sums it all up though:
"As long as the game reviewers can treat the product fairly and objectively, the same as if he were playing at home or in his own office, I don't see a big problem with this," Hsu says of the conditions. "It's either that, or if you want a truly untainted review, stop listening to the professionals and get your feedback from the community instead."
While working at Game Revolution, I heard about the Italian getaway review even Ubisoft held for journalists there to review Assassin's Creed 2. Sometimes I can't believe publishers don't believe in the merit of their own product to ensure a good review. Assassin's Creed 2 can certainly hold it's own, and I couldn't imagine how beat down I would be if I were forced to play through the game in a 2-day period of time. Here's hoping this trend finds its way out.