Hello, and welcome to issue #74 of RPGamer's Currents!
After roughly 52 hours of playtime, I have completed the masterpiece that is Lost Odyssey. I can say without hesitation that I had virtually no issues with the game from beginning to end, and as a whole, it is the most enjoyable RPG I have played since Final Fantasy XII. I do wish they had tied up a few loose strands of the plot, but these holes are minor and do not seriously detract from the game. My final word: Lost Odyssey is an uncommonly good RPG, and unless you have a severe and uncurable aversion to traditional RPGs, you have no reason not to buy it. I would go so far as to say that the game is good enough to warrant a a 360 purchase, if you are unfortunate enough not to own one at this point.
In general, I feel a lingering sense of sadness after completing a game so divine as Lost Odyssey. However, approximately nine hours after the game's end credits rolled, I drove to GameStop and purchased the long-awaited gem that is Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Needless to say, my sadness has been alleviated. My anticipation for the game had nearly boiled over after so many spirit-crushing delays, but when I finally held the game in my hands, Nintendo was entirely forgiven. As Smash Bros. fans can well imagine, the game is insanely, unthinkably fun, and if I was not so blasted busy all the time, I would probably sit and play it until my Wii melted. If you are a fan of previous Smash Bros. titles, I doubt I need to implore you to purchase it, but I shall anyways. And, furthermore, if you have yet to experience the pure, untainted love that is Super Smash Bros, there is no better time than now. Once again, the game is a system-seller, and I have no compunctions in stating that.
That is enough gushing for one column. Let us get down to BUSINESS! I have assembled a sizeable serving of news for you this week, with Jack Thompson once again taking the spotlight. Read on, my friends.
EA Wants No Help From Thompson
Settle in, everybody; it's time for another, rather large, dose of Jack Thompson. He's been surprisingly active of late, as we all know, and this past week in particular has produced a veritable trove of Jack Thompson buffoonery to giggle at.
First off, do you recall last week when I reported that Jack Thompson had generously offered to assist EA in their bid to acquire Take-Two interactive? He viewed it as a way to take down the "Zelnick trojan horse" and further his goal of destroying Take-Two. As would be expected, EA has, ah, generously declined Thompson's offer. Their very succinct response follows:
We have received your letter to EA's shareholder site. In response to your offer to assist in the proposed acquisition of Take-Two, we would strongly prefer that you not get involved in this matter. EA is a strong supporter of creative freedom for game developers. We feel that your past statements Ė including false claims about content in our games Ė make any collaboration with you impossible.
Sr. Manager Corporate Communications
Electronic Arts, Inc.
Oooh... burn. "False claims about content in our games" refers to Thompsons's attack on EA's Sims franchise back in 2005, in which he claimed that players could customize their sims in order to view graphic nudity. (A rubbish claim, of course.) I just think it's hilarious that EA actually took the time of day to respond to Thompson's ludicrous offer. I commend them however, because as time has shown, Thompson isn't going to just fade away if he's ignored.
Thompson, of course, responded to EA's snub. In fact, he wrote them a rather lengthy letter in which he claimed that he had a client with a claim against Take-Two. Supposedly, his client informed him that "Take-Two has breached a substantial contract with it." He then went on to insult EA for their supposed lack of judgement:
If you all at EA want to pursue a purchase of Take-Two without fully knowing what is "out there" in the form of liabilities, posed by my client and others, of your take-over target, you got [sic] right ahead. Iím sure EA's shareholders will be impressed with your lack of "due diligence" exhibited first by your "donít help us, Mr. Thompson" and now your anticipated "we donít want to know about contractual liabilities of Take-Two" posture. Maybe the new corporate logo of EA should incorporate an ostrich...
I don't get the ostrich remark. Should I?
Thompson Sues Florida Bar
Egads! Frivolous litigation! (Again)
Wait, there's more. In retaliation to the bar's recent crackdown on Thompson and his perceived moronity, Thompson has filed a lawsuit against the Florida bar -- again. A few weeks before I became RPGamer's resident Currents columnist, Thompson and the bar went at it in a conflict that nearly proved disastrous for Thompson. (Click the link to view GamePolitics' archive of the entire saga). Apparently, Thompson isn't one to be swayed by past (miserable) failures. The filing (which happens to be a 74-page novel) struggles to get its point across, but from what I can tell, Thompson is out to expose the bar's "ideologically-tinged agendas." I suppose we have to credit that kind of resilience. Oh, wait... no, we don't. Heheh.
Thompson "Threatens" Florida Bar
This is possibly one of the more interesting things Thompson has ever done. In my opinion, anyways. In a new filing to the Florida Supreme Court, Thompson included this photo:
If you haven't already read the original filing, (which is a whopping two pages) I'll fill you in:
[Above] is what The Florida Bar will look like if this court acts affirmatively on its show cause order, figuratively speaking, of course.
I simply must transcribe the exchange that Thompson then had with GamePolitics concerning this filing, because it's pure gold:
GP: ...if some kid sent you that picture and said thatís how your house would look, figuratively, of course, I gotta think youíd say it was a threat, no?
JT: You know what the word "figuratively" means, right? Also, the notice was sent to the court sans the image. that was to gig the bar governors getting it. You have to have fun at times.
GP: Do you remember those kids a few years back who made that cartoonish instant message icon that had a big rock rolling over a little stick figure of you and you called the NYPD because you said it was threat? Weren't they just having fun? What's the difference?
JT: Dennis, I know you are challenged by life and by reasoning, but the pleading says "figuratively." Check yourself into a mental health facility.
GP: So, do you really think that instant message icon [back in 2005] was really a threat? Do you think anyone will consider [your e-mail] relating the FL Bar office to a picture of a bombed-out building [a] threat?
JT: Uh, Dennis, I really think you have lost your mind. Iím not posting threats anonymously. If I had intended these people harm, I would have done that quite sometime ago. The notice to the court was sans the picture. Get a grip, Dennis. Youíre so intent on destroying me that you have lost it. You understand what "figuratively" means, or donít you? Stop bothering me.
GP: What do you suppose would happen to a high school student who sent that pic to his school with the "figurative" comment that this is what the school would look like if he didnít get his way?
JT: You're boring, Dennis.
Aaaaahahahaha... "You're boring, Dennis." I love it. What a spectacular method of debate. I'd love to hear a presidential candidate use that precise line during a heated debate. But yes, this is still more evidence of Thompson's insanity. As Dennis implied, if some angry gamer sent Thompson a photoshopped image of his home being blown up by a warthog in Halo, he'd flip a sh*t and claim that his life was in danger. Oh, and for those who are interested, the above image actually depicts the Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Dome.
EGM Publisher Has Close to a Billion Dollars in Debt
Ziff Davis Media, publisher of PC Magazine, Electronic Gaming Monthly, and 1UP.com, has filed for bankruptcy protection. According to Ziff Davis Media CEO Jason Young, "Today's restructuring agreement goes a long way towards resolving the burdens of a debt load and capital structure established seven years ago, during a leveraged buyout of the company." In spite of this the publisher seems to have every intention of continuing their normal operations, at least for a time. They claim to have set aside $24.5 million with which to continue normal operations during the ordeal, as well as new operations after it's over.
Judging by some further comments from Young, Ziff Davis's print mediums (EGM, PC Magazine) seem to be what's bringing them down. "Operationally, we are making great progress. As a result of our employees' hard work, we ended 2007 on a strong note. We matched audience growth with impressive digital revenue expansion. And while the print market continued to be challenging, we continue to be print category leaders in the markets we serve." He went on to say that advertisements in their magazines have significantly decreased in number since a buyout in 2000, and the majority of Ziff Davis Media's revenue now comes from digital outlets such as 1UP.com.
This brings up quite an interesting subject, actually: is the videogame magazine a dying race? You must understand, EGM is the oldest videogame magazine still being being published, and the fact that it's (likely) causing Ziff Davis Media to lose money is rather shocking. The fact of the matter is that nothing lasts forever and EGM will likely die sometime. Sometime soon? Perhaps, perhaps. I've always been hesitant to say that print media is on its way out, but in the case of gaming publications, the argument might hold slightly more weight. We are, for the most part, a more technically savvy generation than those who tend to read newspapers. Selling print media to such a technically savvy audience is probably quite a difficult thing to do. Furthermore, gaming magazines are generally published once a month; that being the case, they are rarely the ideal source for breaking news. Websites such as GameSpot and (teehee) RPGamer are certainly better sources for up-to-date news. For example, I love Game Informer, but I often find myself reading about things that I posted in Currents weeks ago. But then, I can't really offer anything other than my own speculation about the fate of gaming magazines. EGM is just one out of many that are currently being published, and every indication is that they're doing just fine. As for the fate of EGM in particular? Well, as I am fond of saying, only time will tell.
Former Game Rater Talks of How the ESRB Could Improve
Secrets! Dirty ones!
As you well know, the ESRB has been under a great deal of scrutiny from our government ever since the Hot Coffee debacle back in 2005. As it stands now, the company is still functioning just as it always has, without any sort of government intervention. However, there are more than a few politicians (and possibly a lawyer or two) who would like to see the federal government take a role in the videogame rating system. So, how can the ESRB be improved? Ex-employee Jerry Bonner talked to EGM and gave his frank opinions on what should be changed.
First off, and quite reasonably I might add, Bonner says that the ESRB should drop the "Adults Only" rating and institute a T-16 rating in addition to the existing T. I have to agree with this, because there are a great many M-rated games on the shelves right now that, quite simply, should not be labeled with the videogame equivalent of an R-rating. At the same time, I understand that they may be slightly above the T-rating, which is intended for those 13 and up. A T-16 rating is an excellent idea.
Secondly, and in line with what certain politicians have been requesting, Bonner suggests that ESRB employees should actually play the games that they rate.
I would strongly suggest having the raters play the games to completion and carefully log their findings throughout the playtest. I've already heard the ESRBís argument on this one: "That'll take way too long and it will compromise our turnaround time." My solution to that is simple: Hire more people.
I actually don't find his idea to be all that unreasonable. Do I believe it's necessary? No, but at the very least, if they did play the games, perhaps it would silence a few disgruntled politicians.
Bonner also spoke about "parity," the practice of assigning videogame sequels the same rating as their predecessor by default. That does seem to be the case most of the time, now doesn't it? I suppose I had a vague idea that the ESRB used this system of "parity," but it's especially interesting to hear an ex-ESRB rater come out and speak about it. According to Bonner, however, this system hurt more than it helped:
In my time as a rater this concept just handcuffed us more than helped us... Forget the whole concept of parity, or minimize the dependence on it, and judge each individual game solely on its content and nothing else.
Do you think the ESRB is too secretive as a company? To be honest, I'd never really thought about it. According to Bonner, however, the ESRB is unnecessarily secretive in its operations, and this shroud of mystery only hurts the company's image:
I used to tell a joke while working at the ESRB that their acronym should be changed to CIA... Realistically, there is nothing to hide at the ESRB. Everything was above board as far as I could tell... But by acting in a secretive, mysterious way, the ESRB creates an appearance of impropriety.
Of especial interest to me, Bonner said that the raters' opinions were often entirely discredited in favor of a committee approach:
The raters were viewed as more of an electoral college, and our ratings were not always the final ones issued. Sometimes, we'd see a full letter rating change (a game we gave an M would be lowered to a T, for example, or a T raised to an M).
Finally, and strangely, Bonner stated that the development of alternative rating systems would create healthy competition and motivate the ESRB to improve. To be honest, he kinda lost me here. I honestly have no idea how something like that would work, nor do I think there's a soul out there interested in starting a "game rating system war." That aside, Jerry Bonner reveals some rather interesting details here... or does he?
The answer is no, according to ESRB president Patricia Vance. Needless to say, she took offense to just about everything Bonner said, and proceeded to denounce him as a fool and a liar:
Mr. Bonner's article contains numerous misleading statements, factual inaccuracies, and misrepresentations... The author also fails to mention the unique and limited nature of his six-month tenure at the ESRB...
He implies that we arbitrarily change ratings after the raters have done their jobs. This is not the case... And, contrary to Mr. Bonner's contention, the fact that a title being rated is part of a series has no bearing on the decision...
She goes on to defend the ESRB's perceived veil of secrecy, claiming that it is necessary in order to avoid "undue influence from external sources." I suppose that makes sense. I'd like to know more about the ESRB's "secretive" policies, and what they supposedly entail. This is all interesting stuff, to be sure, but we have an ex-employee saying one thing, and the president saying another. Who's to know what to believe?
Certain Wiis Having Trouble With SSBB
Thank God it isn't me
Here's a spirit breaker for ya. Apparently, there are a "very small percentage" of gamers having trouble playing Nintendo's recently released four-player fighter, Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Evidently this "small percentage" was large enough to be noticed, because Nintendo is offering a fix for free. The problem? According to Nintendo, it is because SSBB is on a high-capacity, dual-layered disc. Apparently, if there's any contamination whatsoever on the laser lens, then you will likely be greeted with a big, fat disc read error. After filling out this online form, Wii owners can then ship their system off to Nintendo for repairs. Not having gone through the process, I don't know whether or not Nintendo makes you pay for shipping. I should certainly hope not. Oh, and by the way, Nintendo clearly states that "returning the game to the retail store will not solve the problem." Gamers are encouraged to utilize the repair process.
My heart goes out to those experiencing trouble with the miniature piece of heaven that is Super Smash Bros. Brawl. I'm unsure if I can think of a crueler hand that life could deal to a gamer. I thank the good Lord that this did not happen to me, because it likely would have been too much for me to handle. After suffering an absurd number of disc read errors during Lost Odyssey, seeing the same message pop up on my Wii would, in all honesty, have broken me. I suppose we can credit Nintendo for acting so quickly; hopefully the turnaround time for the Wiis will be shorter than 4-6 weeks.
QUICKIES: In Which I Make Passing Mention of Some Relatively Small, But Inherently Awesome News Stories!
BioShock 2 Announced
BioShock is currently occupying a top spot on my list of gaming shame. That is, I have not bought it or played it in face of all the rave reviews and impressive awards. I tend to rectify this inequity at some point, but I'm unsure when that will happen. At any rate, I have a deadline now: Q4 2009. Take-Two has officially confirmed that BioShock 2 is in development at their 2K Marin studio, and they hope to have the game out in time for Christmas next year. When asked if Ken Levine would be involved, Take-Two CEO Ben Feder answered in the affirmative: "Ken is a terrific asset in the company and he is a brilliant game developer. He will be working on BioShock 2, and he will be working on a new IP." So, we have both a BioShock 2 and a new IP from Take-Two headed our way, it seems. I can't say much, as I've never played a game published by Take-Two, but I can imagine there are quite a few of you right now who are doing a little dance in your seat.
It occurs to me that the above quicky may well be the only halfway positive thing I've ever reported concerning Take-Two Interactive. Between Jack Thompson's relentless attacks, the Manhunt 2 debacle in the UK, and the recent attempts by EA to buy the company out, Take-Two just can't seem to get any breaks. And, as you may have guessed, I'm here to report still more bad tidings for the company. They recently released their financial results for Q1 2008, and, well, they aren't pretty. The company reported a net loss of $38 million - 77% greater than the $21.5 million loss they suffered in Q4 2007. In face of this, Take-Two's chairman Strauss Zelnick seemed to remain positive. ""We are pleased with Take-Two's stronger than expected top and bottom line results for the first quarter," he said. "Our performance benefited from a diverse range of hit titles in the first quarter, and we are eagerly awaiting the release of Grand Theft Auto IV in the second quarter. Yeah... I'll bet you are. Don't feel TOO pressured, GTAIV; it's not like your performance determines Take-Two's future or anything.
360 Price Cut in Europe
Of particular interest to all my lovely European readers, Microsoft has recently slashed the price on their Xbox 360 console. The premium version now retails for GBP 199.99, (originally GBP 249.99) while the Elite and Arcade versions retail for GBP 259.99 and GBP 159.99 respectively. As per usual, this has sparked all kinds of speculation amongst analysts of the gaming industry. Well-known analyst Michael Pachter predicts a North American price cut to follow, which would place the Premium 360 a full hundred dollars below a 40GB PS3, and (here's the kicker) place the Arcade model, currently priced as $279.99, below Nintendo's Wii. (This is assuming a $50 price reduction, of course.) Furthermore, analyst David Mercer states that the European price cut alone is enough to put pressure on Sony to reduce the cost of their PS3. "Sony will be nervous that the PS3's recent sales surge may fizzle out now that the premium Xbox 360 undercuts the PS3 by GBP 40, and the cheapest Xbox model is almost half the price of the PS3." Bah. In any case, this sounds like a horrible time to own every gaming system on the market. You late adopters are probably squealing in glee right now, but I have to point at that, as of right now, none of this has actually occurred. Yes, there has been a European price cut for the 360, but other than that, it's all pure speculation.
PS2 Can't Run Disgaea 3
I'm not a Disgaea fan, (largely because I've never had the opportunity to actually PLAY one of them) but I have, at the very least, an idea of what the games look like. In short, they don't look like much, and anyone who's seen screenshots of the upcoming Disgaea 3 has probably been taken aback by how incredibly simplistic the graphics are. Not that there's anything WRONG with that mind you, but in all honesty, the game looks like it could run on the PS2. But can it really? According to NIS America's marketing coordinator Jack Niida, the answer is no. "It's simply because PS2 lacks the processing power and memory capacity to support Disgaea 3," he said. "PS2 could not load the same amount of data on to memory and process it like the PS3; therefore, we decided to develop it for the next-gen platform." Alrighty, then. I'm sure he knows what he's talking about! It seems Disgaea 3 really is a next-gen title, no matter how much it tries to convince us otherwise!
Closet Geek Begs to Have Kotaku Account Removed
I almost feel too sorry for this bloke to post this, but it's so hilarious that I can't resist. The following is a real e-mail sent to Kotaku:
Hi! This is [Kotaku reader], is it possible for you to also delete all my comments from Kotaku, Some guy at my school is going to show them to my gf and im abt of a closet geek. I have only made 3 comments so i hope it is not an inconvienence, also it would be good if there was some way t delete my profile.
To me, this is roll-on-the-floor material. This poor, poor man. Why does he feel that he must hide is geekiness? If this chick would seriously take issue with his gaming habits, then she's not worth it in the first place. Am I right, or am I right? Take me, for example. I make sure that everyone knows damn well that I'm a gamer, and a serious one at that. And if anyone takes issue with it, SUCKS FOR THEM. Of course, this may have something to do with the fact that I am somewhat bereft of female companionship, but I blame it on the fact that I live in Tennessee. Simply put, Tennessee girls enjoy football, horses, and not much else. Gaming, to them, is akin to some sort of contagious disease - they make sure to stay far away from it.
Sigh... my gaming center looks so empty without my Xbox 360 sitting in its rightful spot. I'll be taking it to the UPS store today in order to ship it back to Microsoft. Hopefully I won't be forced to go too long without it, but in all honesty, I have far more than enough to keep me busy on the gaming front. Smash Bros. is here, Crisis Core is coming, Persona 3: FES is coming, the list goes on.
Jack sure has been running his mouth lately. To be honest, I never fail to find him interesting, but perhaps you do? The last thing I want is for Currents to become repetitive, monotonous, dry, or otherwise uninteresting. This being the case, if there are particular news stories you wish I'd quit paying attention to, then feel free to let me know. On the other hand, if there are types of stories that you wish to see more of, let me know of that as well. I derive a great deal of personal satisfaction from this column, that much is true. But if my readers do not, then I will do my best to change and improve accordingly!
Anyways, I'm going to bed. Hope you enjoyed it, and I'll see you all next week.