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A hobby. A way of life.


From a PR perspective, I completely agree that Sony has screwed the pooch on managing consumer opinions, at least within the industry. Outside, however, the average consumer just sees a $499 60GB PS3 on sale.

I disagree with the people that insist Sony is driving for some “magical” $599 price point. If it was, I think the sales spike they will see from this price drop will convince them otherwise. The reality for Sony is that they have a huge number of 60GB systems collecting dust on store shelves. The still-born 20GB is largely vanished, and the 80GB isn’t even available yet.

Now, if Sony was to announce the 80GB system at the same $499 that the 60GB has just been reduced to, how many of those 60GB systems would they be likely to sell, now or in the future? Not many, I’d wager, unless they planned to drop the price on those even further. The company would be foolish to do that, especially since the 80GB won’t be around until August. The smart thing to do — and what I suspect is Sony’s plan all along here — is to release the 80GB at $599 with the no-longer-in-production 60GB at $499 until the 60GB units are either depleted or nearly impossible to find (as opposed to now, where it’s the only thing available!), then get a further PR boost with another price drop lowering the 80GB to $499 as well.

I personally can’t think of a better time than now to invest some dough in the inevitable (for some gamers anyway) of a PS3.  The price has just dropped, and isn’t likely to drop below $499 any time soon.  You might get an extra 20GB for the same price in the not-too-distant future, but at the cost of true backwards compatibility on the system (and it’s not like the the hard drive is very difficult to upgrade way past the 80GB).  If the new price point is still too hot for your blood, that’s understandable, but you’ll be waiting years for it to come far below that, so I’m not speaking to you anyhow.


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How concerned are you about possible criticisms that you should have given European consumers what SCEA has given US consumers, i.e. the option to pay a lower price?

Well, they’re not really are they, because what the US are offering from the 1st of August is a USD 599 version with one game. All they’re doing is taking their stock in trade that they’ve got at the moment of the 60GB model, marking the price down and it will all be gone by the end of July.

So once the 60GB is gone, that will be the end of the 60GB then?

In America, yes.

One step forward and another big step back… Can Sony not see that $599 is more than most people are willing to pay, regardless of how almighty its console is? A discount of over 15% brings it slightly out of the realm of insanity (arguably), and will surely convince some fools to take the plunge. But this move just demonstrates that Sony actually has confidence in their former price point. Just like the suggestion that people will want to work a little harder to be able to afford its videogame system, this once again illustrates just how dangerously (for them) out of touch Sony really is.

The king is dead, long live the king.

[Update: SCEA has apparently corrected the story created by the loose-lipped SCEE president.  “As announced this week, SCEA’s product offering in North America consists of a 80GB PS3 available in August at $599 and a 60GB PS3 available now for $499. We have will have ample supplies of both models to meet the needs of our consumers for the foreseeable future.”  Assuming this is not just some “we have nothing to announce…. right until the moment we have something to announce,” it’s good to see they haven’t completely lost their minds.]


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Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was the next A-list title to fall beneath my hammer of Summer of Adventure goodness.  Unlike the previous, Squeenix-made titles, Zelda has always been much more about the gameplay than the underlying story, so the fact that I have already experienced the core storyline involved here many, many times before is of less importance.  What matters here is how it plays.

And man, does it play well.  Wii Sports may be a fine showcase for what the Nintendo Wii can do for non-gamers and physically active playing, but I can’t think of a better example than Zelda for how the Wii’s novel functionality can be harnessed to service the needs of traditional game genres.  Initially, I was disappointed to learn that swinging the Wii-mote to effect Link’s sword attack is merely a static cue for the system — you can swing from above, from the left, from the right, and your elfin protagonist will do the same single attack as if you had only pressed a button.  I can’t fault the Zelda team too much for this, as it was apparently my mistaken belief that the Wii-mote would act as some divine, simplified motion capture device and channel my fearsome fencing tactics onto the screen.  In truth, only when you delicately aim the Wii-mote at the screen as a pointer does it actually track your precise path; in all other cases, the specific form of your movement serves only to signal the console something like, “Hey, he wants Link to attack!”

Despite this setback, Twilight Princess did a stellar job in following the gameplay style established with Ocarina of Time (and if you didn’t like that, you won’t like this much more), while adding some real diversity to play through use of the Wii remote.  I understand it was originally designed for the Gamecube, and that most or all of the game’s mechanics are faithfully grafted onto the old generation (or well, the reverse is most likely the case), but I found aiming my bow or clawshot with the pointer’s precision to be a joy, and it makes me giddy like a kid at Christmas to think about how good something like Metroid Prime will be.

Also in need of mentioning is the variety and quality of the game design itself.  The levels were all masterfully laid out, and toe very nicely the fine line of challenge but not frustration (most of the time).  If you can look past the macro view that everything in the game is just concocted to give Link nine (or so) dungeons to crawl, each with a main boss and sub-boss, and each with a new gadget to add to your repertoire, you’ll find some of the most inventive and exciting battles I have ever seen, and more ways to use a boomerang than a young boy should be allowed (wait till you see what Zelda does with it!).

On a critical note, while the “mature” visuals made for a markedly darker story, a welcome new direction for the series, it also highlighted some of the less than creative aspects to Twilight Princess.  I love the use and re-use of the classic Zelda theme songs and sound effects, but it can go too far.  The visual style cries out for dramatic voice acting something fierce, and Midna’s babytalk and Link’s overly repeated moans and gasps just dig the knife a little deeper by hinting what might have been.  I think I forgot to mention it before, but this was something Final Fantasy XII did extraordinarily well, and I think I could have enjoyed Twilight Princess‘ plot, which to their credit they did a decent job at making engaging, far more if I wasn’t constantly being reminded that in spite of the visuals, I’m still firmly in Nintendo KiddyLandâ„¢.

I think Nintendo’s strict adherence to its 1980s-established canon, at least in the case of Zelda, is starting to be more of a liability than a benefit, even down to the classic sound effects and synthy music composition.  It doesn’t seem as much so in other franchises like Mario (at least in its Super Paper incarnation), where Nintendo seems to be going in the opposite direction of Zelda — simple graphics and complete mixing-up of the series lore (Mario and Bowser joining forces, etc.).  At some point, I fear Nintendo is going to play the Link-saving-Princess-Zelda theme a little too often, and the storyline will all but completely cease to be at all compelling.

The Zelda games fall on the far outer reaches of the action RPG genre, to the point that the gameplay matters so much more than the story, Nintendo can get away with rehashing the same Triforce/Princess/Ganondorf shtick so much that even the characters in the game have legends about previous titles.  Fortunately for anyone playing Twilight Princess, both are worthwhile and galvanic, even if the puzzles can occasionally frustrate and the story feel a little played.

Score 8.5 / 10


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The second game title in my Summer of Adventure 2007 shares a lot in common with the first — extremely high visual fidelity, unheard of production values, and another clear triumph of style over substance. Kingdom Hearts II attempts to recreate the enchanting fusion of Disney and Final Fantasy universes that made the first title both unique and endearing. And it largely succeeds, by using the exact same formula as its predecessor, nearly to the letter.

After an incomprehensible introduction, KH2 quickly returns to series protagonist Sora’s search for his fellow beach children, Kairi and Riku.  After the start of the first game, his friends were swept away and Sora found himself chosen to bear the mysterious and powerful keyblade, and teaming with Disney mascots Donald and Goofy as they trek from Disney world to world in their quest.  His search took him to exotic Disney locales from films like Hercules, Winnie the Pooh, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and Nightmare Before Christmas.  At the end, he is momentarily reunited with his friends before being separated again and forced to continue his search.

In the sequel, you will visit exotic Disney locales from films like Hercules, Winnie the Pooh, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and Nightmare Before Christmas as Sora fights with Donald and Goofy, using the keyblade in his search for Kairi and Riku (sound familiar?).  My biggest gripe with the game is not, however, its almost lazy concept recycling to set up yet another game; it’s the story writers’ attempt to pass off confusion, obscurity, and faux complexity as any kind of real plot depth.  This time around, in addition to the myriad of Disney-branded villains, Sora & co. have to contend with the “mysterious” Organization XIII.  Its members are unknown, its intentions are mysterious, and its relevance to any real story the game might have is almost nil.  The antagonistic concept from the first title — Disney villains are summoning violent creatures called Heartless to steal people’s hearts — is twisted and mashed to such a degree that not only do you cease to understand the point, you may well cease to care.  Now, in addition to the Heartless, there are Nobodies, who seem to serve little purpose but make for slightly greater enemy variety.  Apparently, whenever a Heartless is created, so is a Nobody.  Organization XIII is made up of Nobodies whose plan is to use Sora’s unique (?) ability to destroy Heartless (which the Organization itself creates?  how does that work?), which then release hearts into the sky (wait, I thought they were Heartless!)  and ultimately collect them for nefarious and titular purposes.  It’s all needlessly complicated, to a point that I think even many of the characters, including Organization XIII members, cease to be able to keep track.

Having seen what poor translations can do to story comprehension in games like Final Fantasy Tactics, I’d like to think perhaps KH2 has an amazing and deep story just waiting to get out.  But, like most current Square-Enix titles, the localization is superb, and the game’s plot is truly weak and not written with any eye to lasting meaning.  I like to think its planning went like…

  1. Talk about friendship a lot
  2. Talk about hearts a lot
  3. Talk about light and darkness a lot
  4. Throw in a bunch of meaningless but beloved Disney and FF characters
  5. Profit!!

The frenetic action of the original game has also been tweaked for this iteration, and the results are  more or less the same.  Much of the combat system, such as Summons, Limits, and some of the transformations in Sora’s Drive Form, is entirely unnecessary to succeed in battle, and so is ultimately just wasted.  And since so much of it (including merely healing yourself) consumes every ounce of Sora’s Magic instantly, players are actually discouraged from making much use of them.  For my part, I found Sora to be a perfectly effective killing machine in his normal form with a powerful keyblade and occasional healing spell, and progressed through 95% of the game with that setup only (and that’s on Proud/Hard mode). 

It seems like Square-Enix builds their games in committees.  They have dedicated teams working on separate aspects of a game, who meet once a week or so to discuss progress and ultimately integration.  Thus you have endless number of pointless sidequests and subsidiary systems, summon spells, item synthesizing, the Gummi ship system, and the list goes on.  Each is mildly compelling in its own right, but without any real incentive to invest time — the game is almost easy to complete without the need for any of the above — who but the obsessive completionist really cares?

And to just beat a dead horse a bit further, will we ever see the day when stories about friendship, light and darkness, and the depth of one’s heart go a little further than prepubescent boys facing pseudo-complicated adversity, for the sole purpose of exploiting decades of dearly beloved (and heavily copyrighted) franchises?  I know it’s possible — I’ve seen real sincerity and feeling in television shows like Firely, and films like Spirited Away.  There were even real messages behind many of the franchises, both Disney and Squaresoft, unceremoniously plundered for their character likenesses and skeleton plots, but they are virtually non-existent in their KH forms.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed playing Kingdom Hearts II a great deal.  As a mindless game, it largely succeeds in every area.  But the developer shoulders a challenge when it creates a storyline on so many archetypal themes and allusionary depth of character.  Where a television show like Firefly left me feeling enriched and hungering for more, KH2 left me tired of caring about its plot, and a little glad it’s all over.

Score: 7 / 10


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What do you get when you combine the director and musical composer of Vagrant Story with the budget and scope of Square’s flagship franchise? You get a polished, compelling mish-mash that possesses neither the clear intrigue and individual focus of VS nor the standard-setting gameplay and thematic overtones that came to define FF. But hot damn it looks good!

It’s possible FFXII was doomed for me from the beginning. Still bitter from the Final Fantasy that wasn’t (XI), the idea of setting the next game in the universe of a series spinoff, replacing the head job and composer, both new to the series and inferior to the original men, was just asking me to nit-pick the final product to death. Even so, despite an initially negative reaction and what I believe are some serious shortcomings, I came to enjoy it quite a bit.

There is a great deal that FFXII does right. Towering above all is the visual presentation, with level design and graphical complexity, prerendered and in-game, so breathtaking it makes you want to cry. It’s all the more impressive that such a visual feast is served through the seven year old PS2 hardware. If the game’s other aspects matched its exquisite vistas and mind-bending layouts, it would certainly be one of the greatest games of all time.

Musically, Final Fantasy has always been a standard. Although you can argue the quality of Uematsu’s work of late, even FFX, on which he only partially collaborated, had its share of standout pieces. Hitoshi Sakimoto helmed FFXII’s composition, and he did about as well as his previous works. That is to say, if you preferred the glissando strings and roaming harmonies of Vagrant Story, Breath of Fire V, or Final Fantasy Tactics to Uematsu’s simpler melodic structure, you won’t be disappointed in the least. But for those that can still hum the original FF theme, Prelude, or any of the myriad of character themes that have made the Final Fantasy series an aural powerhouse over the years, you may come away from his latest work as I did – pleased overall, but a bit disappointed. The quality of composition is high, but like many film scores, it’s just present, not memorable. This approach works for some games (and movies), but for a series that almost singlehandedly opened the door to game music as a subgenre, the change is almost too stark. All of that said, I did like the music, just in a different way.

Speaking of changes, by far the largest is the battle system, an ever-evolving piece of Final Fantasy. FFXII jettisons the old system almost entirely, including random battles, static positions, and even the need to individually instruct your party members. Instead it feels like a modified MMO control style, with a twist to allow you command over three party members. The Gambit system lets you preprogram orders for your characters for everything from whom and when to attack, to what status buffs to maintain. This makes combat almost automatic, and without much difficulty reduces the player to simply driving around auto-piloted killing machines (you can still enter commands manually, but you quicky get broken of that in all but special circumstances). There is a notable feeling of accomplishment from maintaining and tweaking your party’s gambits, but in trade for a large dose of passivity. In the end, it just wasn’t quite as fun or engaging as previous installments.

What really let me down was the most critical part of any RPG: its story. The political intrigue of the main über-plot was engrossing enough, if a little dry (Is the princess alive? Will she reclaim her throne? Will the Archadian Empire succeed in drawing Rosaria into a conflict by asserting its dominion over the Kingdom of Dalmasca?). But the main problem lies in piss poor character development. Most of the characters, including Vaan the aspiring sky pirate, Penelo the poor young wench, and Basch the dishonored soldier, get 99% of their development in their introduction, after which they mindlessly follow the party for the rest of the game. The only playable character to really have any depth is Ashe, and that’s primarily because the entire fucking game revolves around her!

Other games in the series have suffered the same problem to lesser degrees. Tifa didn’t have much point beyond breasts, and Zell was about as tag along as they come. But no other game in the series has done so little with its cast after setting them up. While the plot of FFXII itself is passable, the characters themselves are all just faceless retainers in Ashe’s entourage (oh, we find out Balthier has an interesting dad but it never becomes part of the story, and Fran has a segment where we find out the sexy rabbit Viera people are in bizarre tune with nature).

An excellent example of character development done right in a game with a medium-to-large cast is the last great (IMO) game of the series, Final Fantasy X. Every character has an arc, a journey they themselves go on. They may all be going with Yuna on her quest to defeat Sin, but they have their own stories as well. In XII, Vaan has no story – from the start he wants to become a sky pirate. That’s it. I won’t spoil whether he succeeds or not, but it’s the only thing we know of his character from beginning to end.

All this ranting makes the game sound bad… It’s not. It was a lot of fun, and a good story if you pretend it only really consists of one or two characters.

Score: 8.5 / 10


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I’m spending the summer in sunny Pensacola, Florida, for an internship with the Navy JAG (like the TV show!), and so far it’s been great. One mildly negative side effect of completely moving to a new city alone, however, is just that — I’m totally alone! My coworkers so far are good people, but mostly older than me, with families and lives of their own.

I have no doubt I’ll eventually develop a perfectly satisfactory social life in time (though being here just two months or so will cut that process short somewhat), but in the mean time I find myself with a lot of “free” time, especially on the weekends. Fortunately I’ve come prepared for just such a possibility, with a virtual cornucopia of gaming produce to tide me over and provide a healthy sense of accomplishment, despite the fact that I’m not actually achieving anything of real merit (but isn’t that always the case with videogaming? *le sigh*)

In the spirit of doing things of questionable real value, I’ll be commenting on my evanescent exploits here periodically, and any discussion following them would help me even further to whittle my days away (that means you, DS Fanboy). So! Bring on the game reviews!


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When you’re a major retail chain in a highly competitive market, it’s generally not good form to have your customers leave feeling like criminals (as opposed to the RIAA, who benefits from a virtual monopoly over its market and thus can afford to). Such was the case when I recently visited just such a major electronics retail store, who shall remain nameless (but relying on its name you would believe it to be a bustling metropolis in some nation of electronics).

I went there to buy a videogame…

  1. The new releases are locked in a glass cabinet, and unlike places like Wal-Mart, which always seem to swirl with the unwashed masses, this store requires I stand around for five minutes pathetically begging uninterested employees to let me do what at another store I might have done in seconds: pick up the product.
  2. Not that they really needed the glass cabinet — every videogame is individually sealed in a sturdy plastic codex (presumably to foil anyone clever enough to break into the cabinet).
  3. Now at the cashier, my photo ID is (obviously) needed to ensure I’m not making my purchase with a stolen credit card.
  4. After swiping my card, the cashier demands to know my telephone number, though I bet with enough resistance I could have fought it (my will was broken at that point). How nice it was, and not at all creepy, to see mine and every one of my other family members’ addresses and telephone numbers pop up on her screen, ensuring our participation in direct-mail marketing and salable consumer statistics for years to come.
  5. The cashier finally slips the printed receipt into a cute holder for me to sign, although my signature on the paper is not what they’re after. Apparently the holder goes ahead and captures my signature digitally as well (for what nefarious marketing purpose I can only guess), after which I am free to take the worthless, signed paper with me out the door.

Much of it is standard these days in the world of retail, but when all combined in what should have been a five minute visit, I just left feeling lucky they deemed me worthy of making my purchase at all. And a little dirty…


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How could World of Warcraft help me to get in shape? The answer is a simple combination of the psychology behind the games and the opening of a YMCA just two miles from my apartment.

World of Warcraft is an MMO and centered largely on social interaction, but part of what makes it so addictive is its system of perceived rewards.  I read somewhere once that the human mind prefers efficient numbers by its nature.  So if given an achievable reward in a visible numerical form, we will naturally find satisfaction in even incremental improvement.  I don’t know if that’s true, but the masses of gamers addicted to games using this principle would lend it some measure of credibility.

So when I decided last January to get serious about physical fitness, I found familiar mechanics in the computerized Fitlinxx system at the Y.  Once registered in the system, the software keeps track of how long you run, how much weight you lift, and your target levels via touchscreen terminals at each exercise machine.  You earn FitPoints for every pound lifted and every minute of cardio, and even get a bonus when you increase your targets.  Over time, you even level up and gain rewards (waterbottles, t-shirts, etc.)!  Toss in a convenient website from which to track your progress from home and enter exercising you do away from the gym (earning FitPoints for everything), and you have essentially the same kind of motivator that keeps people grinding mobs in a virtual world.

Of course, given enough time and the real reward begins to take hold — you are stronger, more fit, and (at least in my case) feel more self-confident.


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HEADLINE: Former Senator John Edwards Turns to Wal-Mart for PlayStation3

Just like the millions of Americans who turn to their neighborhood Wal-Mart for their holiday shopping needs [[including the esteemed former SC senator, I’m sure]], Wal-Mart announced today that former Sen. John Edwards is seeking to be one of the first to get a Sony PlayStation3, one of the most coveted holiday gift items this Christmas season.

Yesterday, a staff person for former Sen. Edwards contacted a Wal-Mart electronics manager in Raleigh, North Carolina to obtain a Sony PlayStation3 on behalf of the Senator’s family. [[Wow, way to use political staffer as personal shopper. But wait, isn’t Walmart for poor people?]] Later that night, Sen. Edwards reportedly re-told a homespun story to participants of a United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union-sponsored call about how his son had chided a fellow student for purchasing shoes at Wal-Mart. [[Yup, apparently so.]]

[Wal-Mart] noted the PlayStation3 is an extremely popular item this Christmas season, and while the rest of America’s working families are waiting patiently in line, Senator Edwards wants to cut to the front. [[Well, he’s rich, and IMPORTANT , after all. What good is being a soulless trial attorney and failed vice-presidential candidate if you can’t use it to screw over the average Joe?]]

[Source]


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So the English-language version of FFXII has apparently been leaked onto the Internet. While this in and of itself is of little interest to me — I’m looking forward to playing it in English, but having already indulged myself in the Japanese import months ago, I’m content to wait it out — the online reaction is somewhat amusing. While I’ve never known the gaming press to be concerned with piracy news, the news post at 1Up.com caught my eye:

UPDATE: Since filing our original report, it appears Square Enix has started asserting legal control. One popular torrent site, where many others were linking to as an originator, has already removed their torrent listing completely, a response we may see echoed at other Internet dwellings eventually, but for now, many torrents remain alive and well.

Furthermore, when news of the torrents broke, thousands rushed to download the files before they started disappearing (or anyone took notice of their existence). Our question: what happens to all the people who were inevitably monitored downloading? Will Square Enix press charges against the offenders? It’s too early to tell, but we wouldn’t rule out the possibility.
[Why should they do that? The same kind thing happened with FFVIII, FFX, and probably a host of other Squaresoft games. Besides that, litigation might punish the downloaders, but the leak’s overall affect on the game’s sales will be negligible (especially considering that these people pirating the game now likely would have done the same after the official release anyway).
On the other hand, this very directed speculation and suggestion about the company’s likelihood to “press charges” (has Square EVER commenced litigation on its own for this kind of piracy?) might very well frighten young, would-be pirates from taking the “risk” in the first place.]

ORIGINAL STORY: Yesterday, the rumor mill suggested an early copy of the US version of Final Fantasy XII, not scheduled for a release until the end of the month, leaked onto the pirating scene. Given the especially large download size and the need for torrents to grow a decent number of seeds (hosts who provide the files for “leechers” on torrents), however, there was little to no confirmation on whether the files were legit.

No, we will not be linking to any venue where a user could download a copy, and any discussion in the 1UP user comments or message boards to that capacity will result in immediate account suspension. [As well they should. Providing a popular location to exchange information of the pirated game would put 1Up at a lot more risk than any single pirate.] Forgetting that pirating is a criminal activity, Final Fantasy XII is supposed to be an absolutely incredible RPG — we strongly encourage gamers to wait a few more weeks for the real game to properly reward Square Enix for their labored work. [Easy for them to say, being already in possession of legitimately obtained copies of the title in question] We don’t mean to be publisher apologists here, but it’s only common decency.

Taking 1Up at its word that it is not a publisher apologist, the question this story left in my head was, “Then why publish such a story in the first place (since I’m sure discussion of pirated material is already prohibited by the click-wrap agreements binding every 1Up forum member)? Is FFXII that good of a game that 1Up feels altruistically inclined to beg its readers not to indulge (despite the fact that posting the story at all probably notified far more people of its existence than if they had remained quiet)?”
No, it’s a scared news outlet covering its ass, and highlighting a major problem with the gaming news “industry” as a whole. The reason: where do you think the pirates obtained the original copy of the game to start the torrents seeding in the first place? Games don’t need to begin replication until a very short time before release. While it’s not impossible someone at a fabrication plant could have pocketed a copy, it’s FAR more likely one of the multitude of review copies Square Enix sent to the news organizations disappeared for a half an hour, and the deed was done. Much like the DVD screeners sent to Academy Award voters prior to the Oscars, if copies are continually leaked to the unscrupulous public, publishers may decide (as I’m sure some do) that the risk of escape is not worth giving the press their advance copies of what is surely to be a mega-seller title anyway. By posting this story as it did, 1Up (and other news sites) have given news of the leak to its entire readership, while still covering its ass in case future publishers put up a stink.  Score one for common decency!
The problem this illustrates is just how beholden the gaming “news” sites are to the game makers themselves. Would the industry covering Hollywood (or, God forbid, REAL press outlets such as Wall Street Journal or CNN) alter their coverage because the targets they are covering might get upset? Doubtful. But the only things gaming sites have are exclusive access (interviews, review copies) and press releases (which everyone receives at the same time). And because so many of them are willing to sell out their reviews, write meticulously criticism-free previews, and post sham news stories like this one, anyone not engaging in the same will be left in the dust. Game reviews are a dime-a-dozen (we even feature them here at Ignophobia, bastion of gaming journalistic excellence), but if you have that exclusive interview with Tetsuya Nomura, you’re sure to get the hits…

The gaming press seems preoccupied with coming across as “legitimate.” For that to truly happen, organizations need to be willing to hold publishers and even developers at arm’s length, stop idolizing them just because they enjoy what they create, and cover the industry in more serious, less “fill our sites with ads and Flash” fashion.


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