Multiplayer Archive: Week Fourteen

Multiplayer: Thanks For The Memories, GameCube

Our gaming expert has fond memories of Nintendo system.

02.23.07

I'd like to say a few words about my GameCube, a little system that has reached the end of the line.

A couple of weeks ago, at the DICE gaming convention, I asked Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime if Nintendo is still manufacturing GameCubes. "The GameCube is still being made," he said. "The value is tremendous" (see "Where Are All The Wiis, DS Lites? Nintendo Exec Has The Answer").

But yesterday came a report from the Web site GameDaily that Nintendo of America Vice President of Marketing Perrin Kaplan told them at DICE, "Are we producing any more GameCubes? No. But do we have the inventory there for people to still purchase? Yes."

Which is it? I've asked Nintendo PR for clarification.

But let's not fool ourselves: The GameCube, if not dead, is dying. The only new, upcoming, exclusive game I'm aware of for the system is a shoot-'em-up called "Radio Allergy."

So I'm going to consider the system pretty much done. My GameCube is already retired into a trunk where my Nintendo 64, Game Boy Advance, two fat Nintendo DS systems and Xbox hang out. Like a good pet goldfish, the system lasted me five years. Here's how it fit into my life:

I bought the GameCube at a very strange time. I remember pre-ordering it in a game store one floor below street level at New York's Rockefeller Center. I lined up at the store sometime in the late summer of 2001. There were a few guys on the line in front of me. They put deposits down on the black version of the system. I was the first person to order the purple one (Nintendo branded it as "indigo"). I don't think I'd ever bought anything purple before.

(To check out Bubba Sparxxx examining a brand-new GameCube back when it launched, click here.)

I wasn't writing about video games for a living yet. I was primarily a fan, and excited for a new Nintendo machine. Then September 11th happened, and I didn't care too much about it.

On a Sunday in November, with the city still shellshocked from the events two months prior, I headed down from my apartment in Spanish Harlem to Rockefeller Center to pick up my system. I'd already bought "Super Monkey Ball," a GameCube game released days before the system. Earlier at home I had taken the disc out and stared at it. On Sunday, I popped it into my machine. I played some "Luigi's Mansion" and "WaveRace: Blue Storm" too.

The GameCube didn't blow me away at first. This wasn't me unpacking a Nintendo 64 in my college dorm and deciding the real world couldn't compete with the three-dimensional land of "Super Mario 64." In fact, the GameCube never really blew me away. I'd eventually play some GameCube games I consider all-time favorites, like "Pikmin 2" and both versions of "Metroid Prime." But I also remember trying to convey to my girlfriend the magnificent importance of the GameCube release of the first new 3-D Super Mario game in six years, letting her play it first as a gesture of selfless love and then taking the controller from her and essentially saying, "Huh, you're right. This 'Super Mario Sunshine' doesn't feel like an instant classic."

Like the N64 before it, the GameCube was plagued with good-game droughts. The first hit early in 2002. I coped in three stages that each profoundly changed my gaming habit.

First, I found a store in Chinatown that modified my system so it could play GameCube games released in Japan, where there weren't as many dry spells. That introduced me to a charming, obscure game that would eventually come Stateside as "Cubivore," but more significantly, it instilled in me an appetite to get games released in places where I don't speak the local language. In recent years, some of my favorites have been imports.

Imports alone couldn't fix the drought, so I bought a Game Boy Advance. I discovered the joys of portable gaming and couldn't believe what I'd been missing. It wouldn't take a PSP to convince me gaming on the go was good.

My third coping strategy was to buy a second console. In 2002 I got a PlayStation 2. I quickly realized how tribal I'd been, championing Nintendo products because it justified my lifelong Nintendo purchases, ignoring great games from other machines — even assuming the worst about those games — because I didn't have a system that could play them. I was never a one-system gamer again.

The fact that the GameCube inadvertently freed me from single-system single-mindedness irked at least one Nintendo fan. Right around the time I became a GameCube owner, I started writing about games on a freelance basis — emphasis on the free part. By 2003 I was writing a GameCube column for IGN in exchange for a free game every month or so. An IGN reader named Olimario hated the columns. I think he hated me too. He started message-board threads calling for my dismissal. When that didn't work, he posted a list of writing tips that I should at least try to follow. Among them, he implored me to make sure that each sentence I wrote had "no fewer than 19 words." And he wanted more pizzazz. He wanted me to show some "lust" for what I was writing about. It should be clear, he admonished me, that "you would jump at the chance to have sex with Nintendo." My IGN work led to actual paying freelance assignments, then games writing for The New York Times, and eventually that path brought me to my gaming beat here at MTV. I owe some of that to the purple cube.

I'm not sure what Nintendo's point was with the GameCube, other than to just keep trucking along. The system didn't exhibit the sense of purpose the Wii (gaming for everyone!) or Nintendo DS (so weird it might just work!) did. It was a machine for playing the not-best "Zelda," the not-best "Mario" and some other games. For a couple of years Nintendo claimed that games made to be played with a Game Boy Advance wired to a GameCube would be the next big thing. It never was.

I had fun with the system. I used its silly handle to tote it into my bag and into friends' houses. I relished its wireless Wavebird controller. I played "Killer 7" to the end. Now it's going in the trunk, its half-decade well spent. It may not be the best system ever, but it sure did make an impact on me. Thanks, GameCube.

— Stephen Totilo

Multiplayer: Is In-Game Advertising Really Such A Bad Thing Our games reporter sees something he never thought he'd see: in-game ad he actually likes.

02.22.07

I sat for a demo of Flagship Studios' upcoming PC game "Hellgate: London" on Wednesday and saw something I never thought I'd see: an in-game ad that actually contributed to the game.

Over a year ago, I filed a report about in-game ads (see "Slay A Dragon, Buy A Pizza: Gamers Pitched Real Products In Virtual Worlds"). Companies had figured out ways to integrate billboards and commercials into video game universes, pitching TV shows and pizzas to players otherwise busy saving virtual worlds.

These ads, I was told, could help fray rising development costs or allow players access to persistent online games for free. In some instances, those professing the merits of these things said the ads made games more realistic. What's a sports game without the proper outfield billboards or a racetrack through New York's Times Square without some familiar logos? That's a fair point, but I would consider in-game ads in such situations as simply bringing games closer to even-footing with real life.

In "Hellgate," however, I saw an ad that took things a step beyond.

The game is set in a near-future, post-apocalyptic London. It's made by many developers who worked on Blizzard's multiplayer action-game classic "Diablo" and plays like it has some "World of Warcraft" mixed in its gene pool.

Flagship CEO Bill Roper was running the demo and kept bringing his character to a grimy section of the London Underground subway system, which is nicknamed "the tube." The walls had ads posted all over them, as they do in real life. I saw an iPod ad and one for Guinness, which I'd file in the Ads-in-the-Stadium category. But just as Roper was running his character out of that area and toward some monster-fighting, London-saving quest, he dashed past an ad for the movie "Children of Men." The movie, a critical favorite from late last year, is also set in a near-future, post-apocalyptic London.

Placing the ad in the game, even just temporarily for a demo, I thought, was inspired. It was clever. It drew a connection between the game and a smart piece of fiction, a good movie that might well match the interests of "Hellgate" players. It also gave some extra bite to "Hellgate," since "Children of Men" has a lot to say about why London might wind up in a state of post-world-war trauma.

Roper told me the ads were just placeholders, that his team put them in there to be clever but expects to yank them before the game is released. When he told me that, a thought flashed in my mind for the first time: I'm going to miss those in-game ads.

While I was sitting there disappointed, Roper was running through London streets whacking demons with a sword. I didn't want to talk character classes and spells at that point. I wanted to talk ads. I didn't see any up top. "It actually looks kind of barren up here," Roper said, in reference to the lack of ads there.

One of the early controversies about "Hellgate" — maybe the only controversy so far — has been that the game will require a monthly subscription for players to access the full online multiplayer features of the game. "Diablo" fans complained because that game only cost money to buy at the store but didn't then require a paid subscription fee for online play. Roper has countered, as he did to me, that "Diablo" didn't get a lot of extra content and dedicated customer service because there was no fee. While some undisclosed aspects of the online "Hellgate" experience will be free, the main online game will involve a fee.

Hearing Roper explain that is needed to provide the kind of support players expect from massively multiplayer online games, it got me wondering if there were other ways to cover such costs. Like maybe they could try in-game advertising. And maybe no one would mind if the ads were actually clever. Apparently, such ad placement can be done.

— Stephen Totilo

Multiplayer: Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Our unsentimental games reporter does some housecleaning, saying goodbye to 'Lost Planet' and more.

02.21.07

Say goodbye to my little friends.

Over the weekend I ditched a good 15 games from my gaming shelf. I've written about the shelf before, a 2-by-1-foot piece of wood that I've allowed to dictate the size of my personal gaming collection (see "Multiplayer: One Shelf To Hold Them All"). Once in a while I sit down at the shelf and try to weed some games out. Often that time coincides with a moment I should be doing some more serious housecleaning chore like vacuuming or something.

I was shirking the dust bunnies on Sunday when I sat down in front of my shelf and prepared some careful evictions. It got tough a few times. Here are some of the more tortured ditchings:

"Lost Planet": Capcom was nice enough to send me a free version of the collector's edition, a hardcover-heavy box set of the game. That alone made it a hard game to drop into the giveaway pile. The game itself is beautiful: colorful aliens scrambling from my machine-gun bullets in a post-apocalyptic winter wonderland. I started playing the game and was having fun. So why dump it? Call me petty, but when I got to the first major boss battle, I found myself pecking away at an enemy health bar that stretched the length of my TV screen. This beast was old-school, requiring memorization of its movement pattern and a patient, hit-run-hide counterattack. Nothing makes it easier for me to part with a game than old-school design, the kind of gameplay barriers that slow my march through new content while making me pay my dues with a bunch of punishing jumps or overly tough boss fights. I'm passing to make room on the shelf for other stuff.

"Kirby Squeak Squad": This game is fun. It looks and sounds nice. A month ago, I beat it, and it thoroughly enchanted my 3-year-old niece. (Yes, I'm still using the word "beat," even though Alex Ward told me not to — watch right here.) But there's no room for sentiment on my gaming shelf. Save that for the shelf on which I keep seashells from important vacations. Actually I don't have such a shelf, but who keeps games just for sentimental reasons? Not I.

"Peter Jackson's King Kong": Released in fall 2005, this game was supposed to be the rare movie-based game that wasn't just good but actually innovative. And it was. The designers boldly abandoned such conventions as onscreen indicators for the player's health and ammo supply, replacing them with properly timed cues of angelic near-death music and a series of mumblings about the number of bullets left in the good guy's holster. This is the only game I've scored a full 1,000 Xbox 360 Achievements on. I don't think this game is an all-time great, but it is a nice showpiece for some interesting design ideas. That justification kept this game on my shelf for a year. Now I'm no longer convinced it's essential, possibly because I have new showoff 360 games like "Gears of War" and "Viva Piñata."

"Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime": I first bought this game last year in Japan, and it kept me entertained during some bizarre hours of the Tokyo morning, when my body was still running on New York time. I played half the game without caring that I didn't understand a word of its Japanese text. Then, when it was released in America, I bought it again — yes, bought it; no free mailing here — and I played it from start to finish in English. Maybe you can have too much of a good thing, because playing this game one and a half times and enduring many of its repetitious late chapters in six short months leaves me thinking I'll never touch it again. Away it goes.

I recently sat for an interview during which one of the interviewers excoriated me for living by the parameters of my gaming shelf. This guy said he's got about 500 games in his collection and can't part with a single one. I wonder if, for some gamers, that behavior is born in video games. After all, many games are known — usually derisively — as collect-a-thons. You'll need to grab a few hundred gold coins across the length of a Super Mario game or recruit a rainbow of multicolored Jinjo aliens in each level of "Banjo-Kazooie." Sometimes the collecting is good, but often I see right through it for the busywork it is. The collecting pads things out. It dilutes attention from the good stuff.

I won't let games turn me into a rabid collector in their gaming worlds. And I'm not letting games make me one in the real world either. I had fun with the games I listed above, but I'm less interested in being sentimental as I am in having a cream-of-the-crop shelf of just my truly favorite games.

— Stephen Totilo

Multiplayer: Want To Hear A 'Million-Dollar Idea' — For Free?

Our games reporter wants his privacy invaded — again and again.

02.20.07

A friend of mine thinks a new video game brainstorm I had is a "million-dollar idea." She told me so a couple of weeks ago. She should know: She's an excellent video game reporter and has interviewed almost all the big names in the industry. She thinks there's gold in my idea.

So I'm giving it away for free, here in Multiplayer.

Honestly, I don't think I could make money off it. And if someone at Microsoft or Sony hasn't already thought of this idea, I'd be shocked. So maybe it's coming anyway and maybe someone else is already on the verge of making the million.

My bright idea? I want the Xbox 360 or the PlayStation 3 to invade my privacy. Again. And again. Here's my concept: Achievement Photos. That's a million bucks right there, no?

Let me explain. For two years, Xbox 360 users have been getting accustomed to Achievements. Every 360 game is required to have them, and they do, usually about 40 per boxed game. Developers can program Achievements as they see fit — offering some to mark the completion of the levels in a game, others to mark feats like the explosive-aided murder of a few hundred foes or the rescue of a bunch of cats from trees or maybe repeated failure at an online game. When you're playing a game and you win an Achievement, an Xbox 360 icon pops onscreen and a little noise chimes. Over on your gamer profile page, a line of text, a score for that achievement and a little square graphic representing the feat get added to a list of every Achievement you've won. That's your chocolate.

This is the peanut butter: For the past few months, Microsoft has promoted the 360's very own Web Xbox Live Vision Camera, a USB camera not unlike the ones making thousands of regular people famous on YouTube.

So what if I could set up my Vision camera to automatically snap a picture in the direction of my couch every time I score an Achievement on my 360? From that moment on, each of my listed Achievements would be matched with a photo of myself snapped at the moment of my accomplishment. Anyone on my friends list would be able to view them too.

We'd wind up with a visual chronicle of the time I'd spent at any given game. There'd be shots of me bright-eyed and thrilled, winning an Achievement for completing the first section of "Halo 3," followed by a photo of me slouched lower in my seat, winning the Achievement for advancing to another section of the game. There would be a picture of me bleary-eyed next to an Achievement for finishing the game. There'd be ones for me winning various multiplayer Achievements, the photos snapped across several months and showcasing subtle changes in my hairstyle and the décor of my apartment.

In total, we might discover that I have a lucky "Halo" shirt. I might even start dressing up for my Achievements. Let's say I knew I was about to win one for crashing a Warthog jeep a specified number of times. I might wear my bike helmet in anticipation of that photo. I think this could catch on. Other people would be doing it too.

Oh, but what if some people play their games naked? That's the most formidable counterargument I've heard so far. A problem it may be, but not one that seems to be deterring a pair of the biggest companies in gaming. My big idea popped into my head because Sony's head of Worldwide Studios, Phil Harrison, announced at the recent DICE gaming conference that the upcoming PS3 version of the karaoke game "SingStar" will allow gamers to film themselves playing the game with a USB camera and upload the clips to PlayStation's online store for others to see and rate (see "Hints About 'Spore,' Pro-PS3 Arguments At DICE Video Game Conference"). And then a few days later, Electronic Arts announced the purchase of SingShot Media, a company that lets people record their karaoke performances with a webcam and upload them to the Internet. They don't seem too worried that the naked thing is a deal-breaker.

Sony and EA's ideas are clearly inspired by the success of YouTube, "American Idol" and all the other cultural phenomena that thrive on the notion that ordinary people should strive for fame and the rest of us can strive to laugh at how silly they look doing it. The Achievement Photo concept fits nicely with that.

A couple of years ago I finished a boxing game in Sony's "EyeToy: Play 2," a PS2 game that recorded my movements with a webcam. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it recorded a few seconds of video of me as I delivered the knockout blow. It looked hilarious. I looked way too intense and then — suddenly — way too thrilled. I'd like to see more of that.

I'm sure the tech isn't hard, and I'm not even asking for my million.

— Stephen Totilo

» Click here to read the current Multiplayer.

» Click here for last week's Multiplayer run.

About this column: The average gamer doesn't have the time or cash to experience one-tenth of the games that come out every week. Collectively, the MTV News team does — and then some. With games streaming into the office each day, we see a lot, we play a lot and we remember a lot. We want to tell you what we're playing and what's worth caring about it, and we'll do it every day at MTV News: Multiplayer. To follow the column daily, bookmark multiplayer.mtv.com.