Serena Williams struts her stuff for Top Spin 4

When this video flashed up on Kotaku, I couldn’t help but let out an exasperated groan. For every baby step that the industry makes to try and improve the perception of gamers, it takes just one video like this to put it back at square one.

I’m not much of a sports fan, but Top Spin 4 has piqued my interest in the last few months. I loved playing Virtua Tennis in my local arcade and have been looking for an alternative with a little more depth and realism. Top Spin 4 seems to fit the bill.

Watching this trailer just makes me angry though. The commercial manages to completely degrade the sport, Serena Williams and the use of the Sony Move in the space of less than 60 seconds. Is this really what it takes to get players excited about a new tennis title? Come on 2K Sports… you’re better than this.

(Aside: I have nothing against Serena Williams or the junk situated in her trunk. There’s just a time and a place, okay? ;D)

Update: Joystiq have managed to get an interesting statement out of 2K Sports. Apparently the video wasn’t meant to be seen by the public: “As part of the process for creating marketing campaigns to support our titles, we pursue a variety of creative avenues. This video is not part of the title’s final marketing campaign and its distribution was unauthorized.”


Reaction to Bonus Round: Episode 502

Over the last few weeks GameTrailers have been posting up another of their fantastic Bonus Round episodes, a series of panel discussions featuring some heavyweight publishers. I thought the debate brought up some really interesting points concerning the marketing of so called ‘triple A’ franchises and the use of multiple development teams.

We all love a good video game blockbuster, but I hate the way in which industry pressure is forcing some franchises to make unnecessary evolutions. Players want value for money, but if the content isn’t relevant people simply won’t want to play it. Take Dead Space 2 and Bioshock 2. Both games have phenomenal single player campaigns that deserve respect and recognition. Both were also pressured into tacking on a multiplayer mode that no-one really wanted to play. It might have extended the experience, but I would have preferred it had that part of the development budget gone back into improving the single player story.

It was awkward for Geoff Keighley to suggest that growth in the video games industry won’t come from ‘core’ titles – especially when the owners of Epic and Ubisoft were part of the panel. Although most of the hype last year surrounded Kinect and Move, I think that it’s wrong to argue that new gamers will only be attracted by casual titles. For example, when youths get bored with the lacklustre Kinect Joy Ride, they quickly look to the next step up; Mario Kart, Burnout, etc. Providing quality in those spaces will ensure that new gamers grow into the mature range of content.

Likewise, I know many students that only play a single franchise such as Halo, Call of Duty or WoW. There’s plenty of room to move these players onto a wider range of core experiences on their preferred platform. John Hight, Director of Product Development / SCEA made a great comment when he said that new core titles are conveyed like summer blockbusters in the film industry. It’s driven by the passionate fans and if marketed correctly, can quickly become an anticipated event for more casual players as well.

(Aside: Did anyone else notice Mike Capps say that Epic was already playing with the hardware for ‘Playstation Next’?!)

Digital distribution is already revolutionising the way in which we purchase games. However, the way in which industry analysts are predicting online ‘services’ in the future is truly terrifying. Paid DLC has become universally accepted, but a subscription method would be awful for industry expansion. I already feel a little bit miffed paying for Xbox Live – would I be prepared to pay a premium subscription for a title like Halo Reach – which I only play every now and then? Of course not. Only a minority of gamers would be prepared to pay for a service that they rarely use. In all likelihood, players would simply opt for a single service which they use the most; Call of Duty, WoW or similar. All of the others would be discarded, making it almost impossible for a new IP to enter the market.

The used market has taken a considerable chunk of revenue away from publishers. They’re all worried about the impact of rentals – experienced players who know that they can blitz through a 12 hour campaign in a single night and give it back to the store in the morning. I know that this happens because I do it with a LoveFilm subscription – saving me an incredible amount of money in the process. Multiplayer modes, DLC and community content will go some way to encouraging players to keep their disc. I just think that a subscription will put them off purchasing the game all together.

Watch Episode 502 of the Bonus Round here.

Retrospective: Sony in 2010

The PlayStation 3 made a resurgence this year, revoking claims that the console is forever destined to sit in third place. The system has finally come down in price, rivalling Nintendo and Microsoft with competitive bundles and hardware features. As more homes embrace high definition TV sets, many consumers are starting to see the benefits of a competitive Blu-ray player and free online gaming service.

The PlayStation Move had over 30 titles at launch, driving home the point that Sony is taking motion control very, very seriously. It’s a shame that it was dwarfed by the impact of Kinect, as the controller supports longer and more comfortable gaming sessions in my opinion. Sony say that they’re treating it as a ‘soft launch’, which seems completely unnecessary when they’ve already invested so heavily in both the hardware and software. Why would you not go for broke and invest heavily in the marketing too?

The PlayStation 3 has a powerful position on two fronts; as a HD upgrade to the Nintendo Wii and a powerful competitor to the ‘hardcore’ scene on the Xbox 360. If it can prove its superiority in either or these fields in 2011, we could see a serious clawback toward the end of this generation.

The integration of Move into existing titles such as Heavy Rain and The Sly Collection has shown promise for the ‘hardcore’ market, but it’ll be really interesting to see if players choose to use it in future titles such as Killzone 3 or Little Big Planet 2. Move didn’t have a huge amount of marketing in the United Kingdom, but it’s selling at a healthy pace and is likely to pick up over the Christmas period.

Sony has drawn almost all of its attention away from the PSP, presumably focussing on the handheld successor that was rumoured at this year’s Tokyo Game Show. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, God of War: Ghost of Sparta and Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep were all respectable titles, but had very little hype  and suffered from average sales. The PSP has really struggled to keep up with the success of the Nintendo DS and perhaps Sony has decided to just cut its losses. Launching a PSP2 (if it comes out in 2011) will be incredibly difficult alongside the Nintendo 3DS and the growth of gaming on the iPhone and iPad.

Sony is relying on the reputation of Gran Turismo 5 to spearhead the holiday season, presumably content with just picking up multi format sales on Call Of Duty: Black Ops and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Throughout 2011, I think they’ll try and encourage more third party support for Move  and cut the price of the PlayStation 3 in order to start truly competing with the other home consoles. Infamous 2, Little Big Planet 2 and The Last Guardian are my most highly anticipated titles next year.

Final Grade: B+

5 Things To Do With Your New PSP

The team over at ThumbSticks has asked me to write a beginner’s guide to utilising the Sony PSP’s full potential. Each staff writer has been assigned a different console with the hope that we will end up with an extensive hardware database; now that Christmas has passed, we feel that many gamers will probably be wondering what to do next with their brand spanking new machine. Researching this piece was enjoyable and informative, as the process actually taught me how to use my own PSP in new and exciting ways. A preview of the article is below, but just hit the ‘more’ button if you want to read it in its entirety;

The portable behemoth nestled in your hands has unlimited media potential. The widescreen display and external memory offers high class consumption of video games, movies, music and photographs. Sony’s tiny user manual rarely addresses these issues in great detail though, with only a few pages devoted to explaining the capabilities of the hardware. Many gamers who have received the Sony PSP for Christmas will have played their first UMD game and be wondering what to do next. With so many homebrew and customisation websites to pore over, it can arguably feel a little daunting. Well have no fear, because below is a handy ThumbSticks guide to getting the most out of your PSP. (More)

If you have any suggestions for features or upgrades that I may have missed, feel free to plug them below. I love my PSP, but know that there’s a wealth of homebrew fanatics that have taken the console much further than just the commercial game market. Be sure to keep checking back to ThumbSticks for the other ‘5 Things To Do’ features, as they will no doubt be more journalistically comprehensive than mine.


Thoughts On Dissidia Final Fantasy

By making a game that will appeal ‘to the fans’, developers often fall into the trap of alienating newcomers to a franchise. Dissidia Final Fantasy is a classic example, as although Square Enix has created a fantastic portable fighter, you’ll get absolutely nothing out of it if you’ve never played a Final Fantasy game. The popular RPG franchise has been going for over 20 years, so it makes sense that Square has decided to make a tribute to those who are old enough to have grown up with the originals.

Take all of the heroes from the first ten games, mix them altogether and then pit them against the player’s favourite villains in an all out brawl. It’s simple, but answers most fanboy arguments that have circulated on forums for years; “Zidane was always tougher than Tidus!” or “Sephiroth is easily the best villain!” – Well now you can find out.


Tidus takes on his father Jecht from Final Fantasy X

But can Square, world renowned for creating RPGs, pull of a fighting engine that’s both robust and enjoyable? Luckily yes, although it’s like nothing I’ve ever played before. You’re not fighting on a 2D plane like a traditional beat-em-up, nor are you putting in elaborate buttons combos from contemporary fighters like Soulcalibur or Tekken. Instead you’ll be roaming freely in large 3D environments, going one on one like a multiplayer version of Kingdom Hearts. Very simple and minimal controls send dazzling visual attacks toward your foe, creating a system that’s easy to pick up and a delight t watch.

In the world of Dissidia (voiced by the cheesiest narrator I’ve ever heard) the evil god Chaos controls the villains, waging war against the struggling heroes lead by Cosmos. They’ve apparently all been summoned to protect the outcome of their respective worlds, but this is never really explained or justified. It’s just an excuse to have them all in the same place, constantly bumping into each other and provoking spontaneous battles. Crystals are involved (when are crystals NOT involved in a Final Fantasy game?!) which each hero has to find after they’ve done a bit of soul searching and self discovery. They’ll voice their favourite one liners and have some friendly banter, but it’s all pretty silly and unmotivated. If you’re looking for a compelling storyline you’ll need to look at the classic RPG’s, because there certainly isn’t one here.


The introductory CG cutscene is beautiful. The in game cutscenes... not so much.

After a wealth of tutorials, you’ll be flung into a brawl and expected to fight. It can feel a little daunting at first, with a wealth of health bars, abilities, accessories, summons and armour to try and cope with. In its purest form the battle system boils down to Bravery Points and Hit Points. Attacks with the circle button will increase your Bravery, while lowering the Bravery of your opponent. The higher your Bravery, the more damage you’ll do when you attack your enemy with square, a HP attack. If your technique connects, your bravery will be brought back to its default level and the process starts again.

The system suits Final Fantasy pretty well, as you constantly play the cat and mouse game of trying to keep the stats in your favour. This is but the basic layer to Dissidia though; characters also have an EX gauge, which fills up gradually as you play. Once its full players can enter EX mode, boosting their stats considerably and opening up the potential to perform an EX Burst Attack (which is as badass as it sounds!)

Each character has a different play style to mimic the game they came from. Fans will lap up the familiar attacks and sounds, but the casual gamer will probably not even bat an eyelid. Which is Dissidia’s greatest downfall; apart from a few character profiles in the theatre tab, the game makes no effort to explain to newcomers who these heroes are. The amount of Easter eggs in this game are phenomenal, right down to the sprites and conversational style of the help menus. Every button you press will give you a nugget of Final Fantasy nostalgia, but this does nothing for the average player looking at their PSP screen in bewilderment. I absolutely adore the Chocobo system of collecting bonus items, but after showing my friend he simply looked at me blankly and asked what a Chocobo was.


The main menu. You could get lost in this for hours.

The amount of time and polish put into this game will make you wonder how it all managed to fit on one UMD. There’s a replay editor, in-game calendar that rewards you depending on the day that you’re playing, museum filled with character profiles and sound bites, multiplayer mode and one of the largest customisation systems i’ve ever seen. You can literally create your perfect Final Fantasy hero. You could easily lose months just grinding all 10 heroes to their maximum level of 99.

If you’re a Final Fantasy veteran, chances are you have this already. If not I highly recommend this massive, entertaining crossover that is bound to stay in your PSP for a very long time. If you’ve never played a game by Square, this could still be worth checking out as a rental, if only for the fighting system. Otherwise the game will wash over you, leaving you wondering what all the fuss was about. It might not be attracting new gamers, but Dissidia is certainly one for the fans.

Turning Your PSP Into A Media Player

After being a little disgruntled at the size of my iPod Classic’s screen, I decided this morning that I should try putting some videos on my PSP. After all, Sony marketed it as not only a games console, but a media player that fully supported UMD movies and external memory. Surely it would’t be too hard to do some snooping on the internet, pick up a few tutorials and start ripping my favourite flicks? Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that it was much harder than I originally thought.


First of all, my PSP Slim & Lite didn’t come with a USB lead. My laptop doesn’t take the Sony memory cards either, so I ended up searching through various digital camera boxes to find a cable that fitted. Once I had it rigged up, I was welcomed with a message on my laptop saying that my ‘Phone Card’ had been found. Another problem; I use the same memory card for both my Sony Ericsson and my PSP, so there are a tonne of folders with odd sounding names. None of them seemed to point to videos or music, so I instantly reverted to the internet for help.

Luckily there are a wealth of tutorials that will try and help you out. I found Engadget particularly useful, as well as the software DVD Decrypter and PSP Video 9.  It’ll take a while for your computer to crunch all of the data from DVD quality to the size of a PSP screen, but it’s a worthwhile investment to keep plenty of space on your memory stick. After all, a feature length film can be upwards of 4GB and i’m currently running a 512MB card in my PSP.

So far I haven’t tried uploading music, as I own an iPod Classic and find Apple’s behemoth to be a superior piece of kit. However, I’ve heard from gamers that just like the Sony PS3, the PSP can cope with your favourite tunes pretty well. In terms of video playback, the PSP has a variety of screen choices including zoom, full screen and original. Personally, the whole process felt like a burden though and it’s up to you if you feel putting in this amount of time and tinkering is worth it.

P.S – During this process I managed to delete all of my PSP saved game files. Looks like i’ll be starting Dissidia from scratch tonight… ¬_¬

Dissidia Final Fantasy: Limited Edition

For a good few years Square Enix fans have been wondering why they even bothered shelling out for a PSP. They purchased Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII without hesitation, keen to lose themselves in the world of Cloud and his friends. But what happened to them when that title was exhausted? They looked elsewhere for the next dose of Squeenix goodness, only to find a copy of Tactics (though a good one at that) and not much else. Was it really worth buying a system for this?

Luckily, yes. Dissidia Final Fantasy is a game for the fans, created by developers who have grown up with the franchise and become fans themselves. The Limited Edition version has a handful of extras and I’ll be discussing what comes in the box below.

Postcards, books, soundtracks... there's a lot packed in a small PSP case.

Postcards, books, soundtracks... there's a lot packed in a small PSP case.

What you’ve probably noticed first is that the box is considerably larger than your normal PSP case. It has roughly the same height and width, but the depth of the packaging is around 2.5 UMD cases. It’s made of stiff card and has a matte like finish, which feels both durable and classy to open up. Inside is a whole wealth of material; some worthwhile and some… not so much.

Art Postcards - do people actually send these?

Art Postcards - do people actually send these?

First up are the art postcards. They’re the same size as a PSP case, featuring the cast of characters fighting for chaos and cosmos respectively. I would have preferred hand drawn concept art on these rather than CG, but that’s simply personal taste. I’ve never actually sent gaming postcards to anyone, making the practical use of these nil. However, I always like gaming memorabilia to look through when I’m bored and lets face it; a fan always loves to have something extra for pre-ordering. Even if it’s worthless.

Dissidia Final Fantasy: Original Sound Selection

Dissidia Final Fantasy: Original Sound Selection

As a music fanatic, bonus soundtracks are a big thumbs up. I’ve always said that the best compositions in gaming are the ones you don’t notice, seamlessly blending with the experience to make it even more entertaining or believable. The Mini-CD packaged here has six tracks, teasing at the full version that can be bought on iTunes. They’re all spectacular, including new takes on classic Final Fantasy tunes and some originals made specifically for the game.  The disc looks pretty and at the end of the day, saves you searching the internet for it. I probably won’t buy the full version, but this taster is more than satisfactory.

A double page spread featuring Final Fantasy X hero, Tidus

A double page spread featuring Final Fantasy X hero, Tidus

A hardback art book looks very promising. After all transforming some of the earlier classic sprites into 3D players must have needed some concept sketches somewhere, right? Unfortunately, no. As you can see from the above, on each character profile there is only one drawing and it’s fairly generic. I’m pretty sure i could find it with one Google Image search. The other three images are the various CG costumes, which look nice enough but hardly blow me away. Somehow this book has been a wasted opportunity, for what I think could have been a great insight into the character design process.

BradyGames Mini Guide

BradyGames Mini Guide

Strangely, this teaser-strategy guide has better art than the art book. It’s about 40 to 50 pages in length (they’re not numbered and I’m not going to bother counting) but it takes you through the basic controls, set up and prologue of the game. The detail is fantastic and clear, with the only improvement I can think of is it being too short. Obviously Brady want you to go out and buy the full version, but I think it would have been more worthwhile to up the game’s price and include the entire guide.


So should you be forking out the extra money for the Limited Collector’s Edition? Only if you’re a die hard Squeenix fan, who knows they’ll forever regret having the slightly lesser, normal packaging. Most of the extras here are hit and miss, with only the soundtrack really shining through. My advice would be to buy the normal verion of Dissidia and spend the saving you’ve made on the full soundtrack available on iTunes. Or not at all if you just want a good brawler.