Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Partial Review - Rock Band

I'm going to continue to write more of my feelings about various games that I am playing/have played over time down. I guess I could say I got Rock Band for my birthday, but it would have been an 'unbirthday present', as I was the one that went out on the 20th, bought it, and brought it home.

Rock band is a very simple overall concept game - you simulate the concept of a Rock Band. You get drums, a guitar, and a microphone. You can connect an additional guitar to "round out" the band as well. Each part of the band has a rhythm game associated with it, and while you can work through the "solo careers" in the game, the primary focus is on the "party game" aspect when you get 4 people together to play.

I'd give the single player game minimal reviews, as it's pretty basic. I've completed guitar on easy and medium so far, and done a little bit with hard. Working on adding that 5th fret button is a bit of work. I'm working through the easy mode on Drums, and done a few songs on the Mic. All of them seem to do well. The Hardware is not "professional quality", but so far mine's been solid. Some folks have complained about various issues, but I haven't had anything that I'd say is a problem. EA has already stated a 60-day warrenty is in effect on the hardware, so if folks find a flaw, they can get it replaced by EA. And from what the boards state, they are being rather quick to respond and replace equipment.

As stated above, the real draw to the game is the "Band World Tour" multiplayer. You can get up to 4 people total onto the game and play the various parts of the game. And this is really where this game completely shines. There are parts where if you really want to get serious with it you can get achievements and unlock all sorts of stuff, but in the end what you are really looking to do is have a good time with some friends.

Where this game doesn't shine is in the fanaticism of the folks on the board. I've made a few dozen posts on there, but honestly the game has gotten overly competitive for many. There could be a draw where you wouldn't look to have fun, but rather "recruit" people to play in order to get those last few achievements and unlock the last little bit. With a lack of true online co-op play for Band World Tour, the ability to "rock out" with friends from around the globe is likewise missing, which is a bit disappointing, as I have friends all over. It would be a blast to make up an online band that could rock out together online.

There are also a lot of issues with the concept of "cross game" hardware. For the folks that bought both Rock Band and Guitar Hero games, not all the controllers work either way. So you are buying a controller specific to the game, which always hinders the "value" of the package you bought to some level. So the perceived value of buying both Guitar Hero and Rock Band so you could play co-op on both with a significant other is limited as of right now. Hopefully this is a patch away from being fixed on both the Guitar Hero and Rock Band sides of the fence.

Overall, I'd give this game a 4.5 out of 5 stars or something if I had to rate it, although it's probably more of an arbitrary number more than anything else. I've had a heck of a lot of fun with it, and there is a pretty large amount of replay value even without the download content that is available. Being able to add more songs to play will only increase it. I'm not sure with the pricing of the download content if the draw will be there to buy it for everyone, but they are looking to have a great selection of additional songs to pick from. The drawbacks are needing to find extra people to come over to play, and I'm not even sure that having the online co-op would really help that all that much. The game is definitely an evolution well beyond what the "Guitar Hero" games did, but it's probably still very early in the genre to tell where it'll go. There is plenty of room in the industry for multiple games of this type.

It's interesting to watch the evolution from Pong to PS3/360/Wii how the gaming world has changed, and is still changing, focus. The need for new markets and new people to be interested in games, and the use of games to introduce folks to new ways of thinking, is amazing.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Parental Involvement

This is going to end up being a double-post day for me, a rarity indeed! Gaming is one of my passions, and I really enjoy watching my kids spend time enjoying a pastime I love. With that in mind, it's difficult to find games that I find appropriate for a 4, 5 and 8 year old to really enjoy. Our oldest, since she can read, is easier to find games for, but they are all a challenge. I mean, do I really want to see my daughters in Halo 3 deathmatches?

While it was (and still is) humorous to watch our kids playing the demo of "Virtua Fighter 5" on our 360, we actively try to make sure that they are playing age-appropriate games. I do admit though, watching our youngest play "boxing" and actually do a pretty good job in VF5 is interesting... but I digress.

There are many games out there that are not for a younger audience anymore. The days of mostly "innocent" games have long been gone (although a topic for a later day will be how much I appreciate the classics returning, even if I have to pay for them again). Outside of a couple of games on the Live Arcade service for the 360, my kids haven't had a collection of xbox games that I feel comfortable to play. I spent time looking at review sites, but they focus on the "Halo 3's" of the community much more than the "Dora the Explorer"s. And even though it may be a kid friendly theme, most of the "Everyone" games end up being poorly done because they know parents will end up blindly getting it because it has a popular kid's show on it. So you plunk down $50 for a game they don't enjoy, and don't play.. and then go out and get them a game that's not really appropriate because it's what they want to play and you know nothing about it...

Then there's a site called What they Play (http://www.whattheyplay.com). This is a site dedicated to being a resource for parents to help them make good decisions about games for their kids. It's still new on the scene, but I have really high hopes that a community will grow around the seed they've planted, and good quality of parental reviews will prosper and help both gaming and non-gaming parents to get involved with their kids on what games they play, and maybe even join in on some fun!

Lighting your Soul Ablaze

During lunch the other day, a coworker of mine was talking about having to find something that "sets his soul on fire". That got me to really thinking about what I'm passionate about, and how I'm living my life.

These are deep thoughts, and things I don't typically like to be forced into thinking about. In fact, when I usually bring myself to think about these things I tend to become rather melancholy, to the point of near depression. Am I doing what really sets my soul ablaze? Is what I'm doing in my personal, spiritual, and professional life in line with what God wants for me? Where will I be in 5, 10, 20 years? Is it what I'm doing now? What I can say is that this time I seem to have a much more grounded response to these questions that typically.. maybe I'm growing up. I sure hope not!

Where this interpersonal exploration took me was to a place where I seldom really go - self acceptance. I typically spend my time looking at my life and wondering what I'm doing wrong, not what I've done right. I'm passionate about what I'm doing, and typically "flame out" easily on things because of disillusionment or lack of long-term interest. What I can tell you is that if I'm passionate about it, it consumes me. It doesn't matter if it's work, or church, or home.. if it's what's lighting my soul ablaze I will be into it 100%.

What I've come to realize is that I am doing what I love to do, which is dream a better dream. The work I do is all about how to make the network better and improve the company, and I'm pretty dang good at it. While I get upset about where we might be in 5-10 years, I get the chance to dream and research where we should be, and try to help steer our direction. That's really an incredible opportunity. I've had the chance to help build 2 different internet-based services from small online presences. When I first started working here our aggregate bandwidth for all of our customers was under 10meg. We are almost to the 2-gig mark now. Customers are thought of in tens of thousands, not just tens like when I started. It's comforting to see what we've accomplished as a company.

And maybe that's what really sets my soul ablaze. The opportunity to dream.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Current Gaming Addiction - GH3

Okay, going to start something new here - what game I'm currently enthralled with. Maybe I'll start posting up reviews of the games I've been playing or something as well in the future, if I can think of a format that I will actually stick to.

Since getting a xbox360 back in September, I have already gone through several games I really like. Currently the game of passion is "Guitar Hero 3", which I'd say that I'm going to get, or have gotten, my $99 worth of money out of.

That said, the game is fun but also limited. I found the unlockable music to be interesting, but not much to repeat. I'd think they would have some level of golden rock song, or interesting co-op song nestled in there that completing the others would tempt you with. I've found a few of those, but in general the song you "buy" with in-game money (not the MicroSoft Points ones) have been by bands I've never heard of, and several of them are in German - which is kinda cool, but not something I'd say is worthy of "unlock" status in a music game.

And probably the worst part of the game should be it's total redeeming factor - Downloadable Content (DLC). The DLC for GH3 is now starting to show up on xboxLIVE, and the pricing on it is way over the top. While the price of MP3's goes down, and the ways you are entitled to use it are increasing, the GH tracks are limited to just inside the game, and cost more than twice the typical MP3 alternative. From a marketing perspective this is just poor design. You have a fixed cost to create the content, and a near zero cost to distribute it. You have a limited customer base for the product, but the price is set at a very limited take rate. Even a simple bystanding thought would make you think that the pricing is out of line if you aren't getting 60-80% take rate on the songs, since you already know the folks that would possibly buy it would be the ones that already plunked down $60 for the game, and maybe bought a special controller to play.

Oh well, I'd still give the game a high score because it's fun, and more than just a couple of hours of fun at that. Christy and I have played it a lot in the past couple of weeks now, and I don't see us really putting another game ahead of it on the play list much... at least until Rock Band comes out on 11/20.