Multiplayer Archive: Week Eighteen

Multiplayer: A Surprise Late-Night ‘Boogie’

New dancing game, slated for release later this year, is standing out from crowd.

It was past midnight. I don’t remember how late. I was getting a chance to see a new exclusive Nintendo Wii game that I wouldn’t be allowed to write about until it got a title. Now it has one. “Boogie” is a dancing game that has you groove with your hands and is slated for release later this year. I nearly missed playing it altogether.

That was two weeks ago, in San Francisco, on the second floor of a bar called Swig. Electronic Arts rented the place out for a Wii party, showing the just-released “SSX Blur” and the then-untitled “Boogie.”

When I arrived at Swig at about 10 p.m., “Boogie” was getting packed up. Electrical difficulties in the back of the bar had shortened the floor demo, and I was left chatting with gaming industry folks. I played some “SSX” and failed a little more at pulling Uber tricks in “Blur.” I asked an EA publicist to help me figure out the identity of the only two people in the bar who were making out instead of making industry connections (or maybe they were?). We were stumped. By midnight I was heading to my hotel a block away.

Then my cell phone rang. I was being called back for a special demo. Someone had found a way to make things work. Now it was past midnight. Could I honestly do my job and assess a game past that hour? Well, Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman at around 5 a.m. local time back in the ’70s, so I could at least try.

EA reps ushered me and three other gaming reporters to an upstairs room where the game’s lead designer, EA Montreal’s Vander Caballero, was setting up a Wii. We were in some sort of VIP room with big windows overlooking the rest of the partygoers on the show floor. I couldn’t spot that couple anymore.

Caballero had the Wii running and took the remote and nunchuck controllers in his hands. Then he paused. He was into the party spirit. In fact, I’m still not sure if the guy whose beer he then grabbed and sipped from was a friend or not. Now he was ready to “Boogie.”

All partying aside, the game is a family product. Caballero showed us a portly alien in a leisure suit standing on a dance floor ready to perform for a crowd. The song “That’s the Way (I Like It)” by KC & the Sunshine Band started up, and Caballero started loosening up. He explained that most rhythm games primarily require players to press buttons or step in patterns that follow a routine. The games are programmed to reward a right way of hitting each note and dock points for trying to play any other way. What Caballero and his team are interested in, however, is a rhythm game that lets people dance with a sense of style, that doesn’t just leave room but rewards improvisation.

To demonstrate the style theory, Caballero started shaking his nunchuck hand in small circles — not with the frantic reel-in-the-fish move required by some other Wii games, but more slowly, like he was feeling the music. As he moved his hand, the fat alien danced. Onscreen cues required Caballero to do other types of shakes and rolls that triggered different dance moves.

The style part really came in with the way Caballero used the Wii remote. The nunchuck moved the alien’s body, but the remote moved its head. The remote had to be pointed at the screen, the point of focus showing up as an icon of two eyes. Wherever those eyes landed on the screen was where the alien looked. Spinning those eyes got its head twirling. Moving them up and down forced a cool nod. As he and the alien got into it, the crowd cheered and lights flashed. A good time was being had by all.

Caballero passed the Wii controllers around. He said to think of them as pulling puppet strings. I took my turn and, mostly, the crowd booed. I can’t dance well in real life, I pointed out. Caballero said my problem was that I was repeating my moves. I didn’t have enough variety. Maybe I just don’t have style. Or maybe it was the late hour. I can play a game at home well into the wee hours. But in front of a crowd? I’m no Muhammad Ali, you know.

Caballero and his EA colleagues pointed out that “Boogie” was still a work in progress. The game’s cartoon-ish graphics looked to me as good as the visuals in plenty of already-released Wii games, but they were talking more about gameplay. They wanted to still work on the dance moves and the scoring system, and probably mess with the controls. They’re promising a karaoke element but haven’t explained how they’d handle the need for a microphone attachment. They also want to include a video capture tool to record performances.

I think we were done by 1 a.m. The Wii got packed up again. The then-unnamed game was retired for the night. The bar was closing.

That late-night session made it clear to me that Electronic Arts, the biggest third-party game maker in the world, is about making games for the Nintendo Wii that stand out from the crowd. I just hope I don’t really need to know how to dance.

— Stephen Totilo

The Stock Report:

Once a week, Multiplayer provides a Stock Report that should give you a sense of what actually is streaming into the office and how companies are trying to grab our attention:

» Number of games at MTV HQ: 285

» Last three games to arrive: “Earth Defense Force 2017″ (Xbox 360), “Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords” (Nintendo DS), “Cooking Mama” (Wii)

» Last system to arrive: PS3

» Last swag to arrive: No new swag this week!

Multiplayer: Getting Over Gaming Shame

Our games reporter has trouble saying goodbye to ‘dull’ game.

03.22.07

I thought I had nothing to be embarrassed about. I thought I had no secret shame. But now I’m ready to admit it.

Once a week, a group of editors and reporters at games magazine and Web site publisher Ziff Davis Media record a podcast called 1UP Yours, and since I started listening to it a couple of months ago, I discovered that they have a pile of shame. They even started a blog about it, although apparently their shame is so great that they don’t even update it. Their pile is stacked with supposedly important games they’ve never played, like the critical favorite — and commercial flop — “Psychonauts.”

When I first heard of this pile of shame, I think I smirked. I felt superior. I’m quite proud that I play a lot of games and have few blind spots. I’ve filled in my game-playing gaps. In the last few years, I played some “Pokémon,” some “Final Fantasy” and even beat an entire “Suikoden.” I played “Half-Life 2” a year late. I’ve given “Madden” a go. If there’s an important critical favorite or major series out there, I’m pretty sure I’ve sampled it. But you do know what happens to people who feel superior, don’t you?

I have come to realize that I have a gaming shame. It is the opposite of the 1UP embarrassment: I can’t give some games up. I’ve written before about when I bail out of games, but the truth is that some games I just don’t quit even when maybe I should. Even worse, I’ve started lying about it.

About a month ago, I told some friends and associates that I was giving up on the Nintendo DS’ “Hotel Dusk: Room 215.” I liked the mystery-game premise. I liked the adventure-game design. I liked the black-and-white graphics. I was just growing tired of the game’s crawling pace, and the main mystery of the game was losing its allure by the hour. I even told one of those 1UP guys, News Editor Luke Smith, I was bailing out. He had tried the game and decided the same. He was helping me quit. He told me not to worry. He said the game’s praise was inordinately due to the blind devotion of Nintendo’s most hard-core fans. They sometimes fall a bit too hard for a product, he pointed out. I should be able to walk away clean. I told him and I told others that I would give it up. I was done with “Hotel Dusk.”

The shameful part, however, is that I didn’t quit. And it’s not that I kept playing because the game was good. I was in chapter three of 10 and not loving it. Back in college, I had a girlfriend who, in my opinion and that of some of my friends, didn’t always treat me right. I’d unload my problems on my friends who’d just about get me to commit that I would walk away or not try to win her back. Next time I saw my friends? I had to admit, I was getting back together with my girlfriend.

For the last month, then, I’ve been living a lie. I’ve been playing “Hotel Dusk” and not telling anyone. I’ve gotten beyond the game’s dull chapter three and reached sleepy chapter four, creeping chapter five and tedious chapter six. Why did I keep going? I recalled that the frequently un-fun “Killer 7” had some great moments near the end. I was worried I’d miss something.

Surprisingly, my shame may not turn out to be shame after all. I’m in what I think is the final chapter of the game — there’s a showdown in a hidden basement, people are confessing — and the conclusion is turning out pretty well. I can’t believe how many hours I’ve spent thinking I’d rather be playing something else as I tapped away at the next little bit of “Hotel Dusk,” but it might possibly prove to be worth it. Or at least there might be a good dessert to a meal that had a blander-than-hoped for, tough-to-chew entree.

If it all falls apart again, however, I’ll consider “Hotel Dusk” to be on my very own pile of shame. My pile will be constructed of games I couldn’t say no to and saw through to the end. Looking back on the games I finished last year, I think my mid-game impressions of the original “Lego Star Wars” and “Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter” should have stopped me from charging to the end. I thought both games were fun but limited in scope. But I’m the I-finish-my-games guy, so I finished them. I wasn’t the richer for it. Let’s put them on my pile. There are probably other games I played too long. I’m just too embarrassed to even remember them.

— Stephen Totilo

Multiplayer: Lara Croft, Zombies And Ponies — Together In One Room

Eidos showed off next round of games Tuesday in New York.

03.21.07

It happens to me often. It’s happening three times this week. A representative from a game company gets in touch with me and we set up a meeting in a hotel room. It’s nothing bad; it’s to show the company’s round of games. I get to see inside fancy New York hotels I’d never stay at. The reps get an hour or so to show me everything their company has coming in the next season or so.

Tuesday was Eidos day at the Dream Hotel in New York. Eidos is a company whose hotel requests I usually answer. Honestly, some companies’ I’m not so sure about. But the Eidos people publish “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” so they make the cut. They also published the first “Lego Star Wars” game. But some of their work? Let’s put it this way: The last time I wrote about an Eidos NYC demo, I focused on why one of the games they were showing was already banned in Australia (see “GameFile: Why Australia Banned ‘Reservoir Dogs’; Nintendo Wii, ‘ShellShock’ And More” ).

So, with reserved expectations, MTV colleague Craig Goldstein and I hustled through Dream’s lobby Tuesday, past a supporting column that somehow doubled as a cylindrical fish tank, and up to the Eidos suite on the seventh floor we went. A trio of Eidos specialists were running the show. One started us off with “Tomb Raider: Anniversary,” a PS2, PSP and PC remake of the series’ original game. It’s slated for late May. The game looks good. Lara moves fluidly — almost too fluidly. Apparently Lara’s movements from the recent games allowed her to bound through the development team’s initial, faithful re-creations of the levels from the original game. The Eidos rep said sections that used to take five minutes to get through could be conquered in 20 seconds. So the remade levels needed to be tweaked and stretched. I was intrigued by the remake but not quite blown away. I wanted to see more.

What I saw next was a music-creation tool for PSP called “Traxxpad.” It’s not a game; it’s a beat-maker. Different PSP buttons cue different sounds that can be recorded and tweaked as if the portable console were a little mixing board. The product seems similar to the PSP music-creation program “Beaterator” that Rockstar Games is also promising. “Traxxpad” will allow the beats to be exported to MP3 files for use outside the PSP. It also supports a microphone that allowed Craig to threaten our friendship by recording a loop of him trying to rap: “Rollin’ with the demo, one, two, three.” The PSP played that snippet again and again. And then it played it some more.

Some of the rougher games shown were the PSP game “Pocket Pool” — which combines a very simple billiards design with the ability to unlock pictures and videos of barely dressed models — and a Wii game called “Escape From Bug Island.” The Wii game, a story of one young man smashing bugs in the woods to claim the girl of his dreams, was released in Japan as “Necronesia.” Reviews of “Necronesia” were poor. An Eidos rep claims improvements are being made for the U.S. release, but the 15 minutes I played were dull. The gesture controls that had me shaking a stick at big bugs were uninteresting. I swiped with my hand. The hero swiped with the big stick. Creepy bugs were smashed. It was fun for a second but old in five.

I did not have time to try the company’s DS title “Pony Friends,” which I know nothing about other than it’s an awww-cute virtual-pet horse game and surely won’t include a label on the box that says, “From the people that brought you ‘Pocket Pool.’ ” I had to split. I couldn’t, though: A zombie DS game was put in my hands.

I’m not one of those people who loves all things zombies. I do, however, appreciate that zombies work well in one-line high-concept pitches. There’s a Japanese game I want to import simply because it’s called “Zombie vs. Ambulance,” a title that tells me all that’s needed to make me want it. In this case, I was being shown zombies in a prison in the DS game “Touch the Dead.” The title evokes a Sega Dreamcast charmer called “The Typing of the Dead,” which had players hook a keyboard to the console and then, well, type shuffling dead people out of existence. “Touch the Dead,” which Eidos initially planned to call “Dead and Furious,” is a first-person shooter on rails. You don’t control where the character moves, you just tap the touch screen in the right spots to shoot at the zombies. When you’re out of ammo, you drag bullets to the gun.

In later levels, the zombies throw their heads at you. The player has to touch those craniums into oblivion. The game, which is slated for May, is running off a crude 3-D engine. It may have been the worst-looking game that Eidos was showing. But it doesn’t matter. It had me using a stylus to tap zombies to their doom. So I crown it the best new game I played Tuesday.

After that, Craig and I rolled out of the demo. One. Two. Three.

— Stephen Totilo

Multiplayer: The Game That’s So Flawed, It’s Awesome

Our games expert can’t hide his love for ‘Earth Defense Force.’

03.20.07

About a week ago, I was offered the chance to do an exclusive review of “Earth Defense Force 2017,” a new game for the Xbox 360.

I’d never been offered a chance to do an exclusive early review before, probably because we don’t review games on this site. But a perceptive publicist noticed something I haven’t hidden very well: I’m kind of nuts for “Earth Defense Force.” The affair has been going on for 11 months.

Last spring I was sent on a last-minute reporting trip to Tokyo and returned with a game labeled “Simple 2000 … Vol. 81,” which was actually the second “Earth Defense Force” game released for the PlayStation 2.

Weeks earlier I had read some rave reviews of the PS2 “EDF” game on the Neogaf.com message boards. The game featured a guy in a red jumpsuit and a woman in a purple skirt and jetpack. He shot bullets. She shot laser beams. Players could control either character or join with a friend for split-screen co-op. The plot was in the title: Defend the Earth.

Level One involved shooting giant ants that were crawling over Big Ben. Later the targets would be giant spiders, robots and flying saucers. I didn’t need to read more than that, and for the most part I couldn’t. Many people posted impressions, but nearly every message was about yet another level, each apparently more pyrotechnic and awesome than the one before. Much of the thread was censored in black, to block the spoilers, but the cackling glee of people playing the game was clear to see.

So I picked the game up in Tokyo and took it home to Brooklyn to play on a PS2 I have that runs Japanese games. I called up my friend and fellow Brooklynite N’Gai Croal of Newsweek (NCroal.Talk.Newsweek.com) and we made a plan to get together for some co-op on Memorial Day. N’Gai took the guy in the jumpsuit. I took the jetpack girl. We shot some ants off Big Ben. We shot them off Parliament. We shot them in the London Underground. Yes, we cackled with glee.

And, as we often do, we found something to disagree about.

There’s one other thing that the Neogaf boards had promised: The game didn’t run all that well. The developers, a Japanese team called Sandlot, had clearly prioritized their desire to march about a hundred giant ants at two players at any given time over the players’ desire to have a smooth experience. Too many ants or exploding giant robots on the screen at once caused the game’s frame-rate to chug down to a slideshow pace. You could practically hear the PS2 wheezing and sputtering as it struggled to keep up with the mayhem depicted in the game. Also the game would take control of the camera away from the players at key dramatic moments, regardless of how that affected my ability to get a bead on a marauding killer robot. So you’d have to run blindly until the programming released the camera view from, say, the tops of jetpack girl’s shoes and to a proper behind-the-back angle. N’Gai thought these problems were a pity. I thought they were great.

We blasted through a dozen or so levels and then retired the console for Memorial Day. On the Fourth of July, we reconvened and blasted through about 20 more. By this time N’Gai was certain that “Earth Defense Force” could be an even better game if developed by “Battlefield“-maker DICE or “Ratchet and Clank” team Insomniac, both groups known for making smoothly produced big-budget spectacles. The raw elements of B-movie plot and over-the-top action were there. He next wanted to see some polish. I protested. Part of what’s great about a B movie is that you can see the strings holding up the planes in the special effects, that the boulders and robots look like cheap paperweight props. “Earth Defense Force” wouldn’t be better if it was better, I said. It would be worse.

We considered getting together on Labor Day to finish saving the planet. Some priority got in the way, though. I can’t remember. I found another friend to battle it out some time in September, but we couldn’t get to the end. I began to worry my PS2 — and my own senses — couldn’t handle it. Plus news trickled out of Japan that the series was getting a sequel on the Xbox 360. I started calling around, and sure enough made enough of a spectacle that “Earth Defense Force 2017″ for the 360 was offered to me for what could have been an embarrassing love letter of a review. I resisted. MTV Games reviewed the game Sunday, scoring it a 1512.75 on a scale of 1 to 2017 (see the review here).

I haven’t played much of the new game yet, though I did annihilate some evil robots threatening a beautiful beach. I also cleared a city of lots of giant ant. So far so smooth. I haven’t lost hope, though. I’m looking forward to finding some flaws.

— Stephen Totilo

Multiplayer: Do Games Make Us Worse Drivers?

Germany study suggests games like ‘Need for Speed’ could provoke unsafe driving.

03.19.07

Traveling across the Internet faster than the speed limit Monday morning (March 19) was news that German scientists believe racing games make gamers more dangerous drivers.

An article in a publication I don’t read every day, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, has been getting a lot of play. It takes a familiar scientific critique of video games and goes down a new path. Traditionally we hear about scientists studying whether violent games such as “Doom” incite violence in the real world. Four German researchers, however, wanted to study the effects of “Need for Speed.” The conclusion in their report? “Playing racing games could provoke unsafe driving.”

If you’ve ever heard vague details about one of these gaming studies and had a strong reaction to either agree or disagree, then this is the study worth dwelling on. Many gamers have played first-person shooters, but the number of them who have committed egregious acts of violence is thankfully low. Millions of gamers have driven a virtual car, however, and a good portion of that population has gotten behind a real wheel as well. So do you think games can affect real-world behavior? Average gamers can more likely judge this study for themselves. How do you think racing in “Need for Speed” or “Burnout” affects the driving of you or your friends?

I live in New York, where mass transit is the most efficient way to travel, so I don’t need to drive very often. I grew up playing “Mario” and “Zelda,” not “Pole Position” and “Mario Kart,” so I don’t play a lot of driving games. When I see a report like this, I recognize that I’m not the best-equipped to add a personal reaction. If you wanted to know whether games make someone more likely to rescue princesses, then I’m your guy.

When a study like the German one comes out, I’ve noticed that few outlets actually dig into the details. You’ll read that some German researchers have studied the effects of racing games, and that’s about it. I gave it a read this morning and found some interesting details:

· The German researchers tested the effects of three racing games: one of the “Burnout” games, one “Need for Speed” and a budget title called “Midnight Racer“. For one part of the study, they enlisted about half a pool of 83 students from Munich’s Ludwig-Maximilians-University to play 20 minutes of one of those games. The rest of the 83 played 20 minutes of “FIFA 2005,” “Crash Bandicoot” or a “Tak” game. After the sessions, the test subjects were shown 10 German words that each had two meanings: a neutral one and an aggressive one. For instance, the report indicates that the word “schneiden” can either mean “to cut (with scissors)” or “to dis someone.” People who played the racing games showed a greater tendency to offer the more aggressive definitions than did the ones playing the non-racing fare.

· Why were subjects given 20 minutes to play the game? The report says: “experimental experience has shown that it takes a minimum of 20 minutes of playing one single game before a participant is really ‘in’ the game.” I’m using that line the next time a friend tries to blow off a game I’m having him try. He’ll need to give it 20 minutes.

· The research subjects got to play their games on a 72-inch screen. I don’t know what bearing that had on the study, but it sure sounds like the participants had fun.

· A final phase of the study was conducted with 68 participants, breaking them out to sample the same three racing games and two of the same three non-racing games. “Crash Bandicoot” got the boot and was replaced with the World War II first-person shooter “Medal of Honor.” Similar word tests and a computer test that showed dangerous driving situations were run. The racing games made the men in the test — but not the women — more aggressive in their attitudes about driving. “Medal of Honor” did not. Maybe “MoH” publisher EA can put that on the box: ” ‘Medal of Honor’ will not make you a worse driver.”

There’s more in the research document, including a discussion on why men seemed to be more affected by the racing games than women. You can read the whole report here.

— Stephen Totilo

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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.