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  Recommended Reading: ‘The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Second Life’  
Posted 2007-12-12 by Tony Walsh
Recommended Reading: ‘The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Second Life’
Last year, I started up a business in Second Life with only one plan in mind: put as little effort as possible into it. As a result, I sell a few virtual radioactive barrels, voodoo masks, and magic books for the equivalent of real-world pocket-change each month--if you don't factor in the six dollars in land-rental fees I pay out monthly. If an utterly half-assed Second Life entrepreneur like myself can offset his virtual-world expenses simply by shoveling a pile of shoddy goods into the insatiable maw of the fledgling metaverse, imagine what a well-informed businessperson could accomplish.

Technology writer and acquaintance Daniel Terdiman has authored an indispensable book for those wishing to plan, launch, and maintain their own Second Life business schemes. Entitled The Entrepreneur's Guide to Second Life, it stands as a comprehensive examination of Second Life business basics, largely based on the input of selected residents of the virtual world. The Guide speaks in a language even Second Life newbies can understand, and offers practical solutions to common commerce challenges. Thankfully, Daniel hasn't penned a "get rich quick" manuscript, but rather offers a balanced look at what goes in to making real money from in-world entrepreneurship--in short, a hell of a lot of work.

It was only a year ago that a reported 3,000 SL residents were earning at least $20k USD annually in-world. Since then, Second Life's population has skyrocketed, so it's probable a lot more people are making decent money off the virtual world. Not me, though. I'm happy with my pocket-change, thanks.
  Where ‘BioShock’ Lost Me  
Posted 2007-08-30 by Tony Walsh
Cold flecks of brine grinding against my lungs, I swim for dear life from the burning wreckage of the plane crash, flames painting deadly daubs of orange on the slick, black waves. I spy something massive, solid, unmoving despite the seas, and crawl desperately toward the oppressive structure for safety. But there would be no safety in the belly of this man-made whale, I was soon to discover.

The Bioshock game demo had me at "hello," but it lost me almost as quickly. On the one hand, I'm immersed in a gorgeously-rendered, wonderfully-crafted storyworld. On the other, any mysteries concerning the nature of my enemies are dashed: when spotted, their names are superimposed on my screen, like exotic zoo animals subtitled in an educational video. Gone is any illusion that this undersea city is teeming with individual, unpredictable threats. My assailants are like an army of robots, each having a specific name, function, and set of characteristics. Which makes no sense given BioShock's biotechnology-gone-horribly-awry storyline. Each enemy in this story should be unique. And if not unique, then God forbid a precise taxonomy can describe their limited variations. My immersion destroyed, the game becomes just another shooter.

Continue reading: Where ‘BioShock’ Lost Me
  ‘Dungeon Runners’: First Impressions  
Posted 2007-06-21 by Tony Walsh
‘Dungeon Runners’: First Impressions
Dungeon Runners is a new, free MMORPG from NCSoft. All that's required to play is a free "PlayNC" account and modestly-sized download for the game client. Players are encouraged to pay $4.99 USD monthly to make use of the game's premium items and other bonuses--low-rent lurkers such as myself are relegated to less-than-epic gear.

The game treads territory already well-trodden by earlier titles such as Dungeon Siege, World of Warcraft, and the Diablo series. Play is easy. As in, no instructions required if you've ever played any of the aforementioned games. Dungeon Runners reminds me of a BBS-era text adventure game in scope, lacking the complexity and story of larger-scale titles in favor of the simple explore/kill/loot/improve character trope. Unsurprisingly, the player-base seems on the young side (if not physical, then mental age). I'd recommend Dungeon Runners for any kid aged 10 and up--it's definitely easier and cheaper to play than Warcraft.

Continue reading: ‘Dungeon Runners’: First Impressions
  Games for Lunch, Breakfast  
Posted 2007-06-07 by Tony Walsh
Kyle Orland has set great expectations for regular game criticism with his new blog, Games for Lunch. One game, one lunch-hour, one review per day. Orland's "playlog" (plog?) attempts to determine if a game's worth playing after an hour, a fair enough pursuit. If a game can't grab a player in 60 minutes, is it worth playing? In my experience, not usually.

If you're the type to skip lunch, I recommend games for breakfast. Or rather, I would recommend games for breakfast if they didn't come printed on Pop Tarts. Kellog's and Hasbro teamed up last year to provide over 200 edible Trivial Pursuit questions for distribution through the Pop Tart platform. Brings new meaning to tabletop games when one can eat the playing pieces, doesn't it? Given the shelf-life of "food" such as Pop Tarts, I reckon you'll be able to enjoy edible Trivial Pursuit for decades to come.
  ‘Gears of War’ Revisited  
Posted 2006-11-14 by Tony Walsh
‘Gears of War’ Revisited
My first impressions of the Xbox 360 game Gears of War weren't favourable, but I did end up taking time to play a good 8-10 hours of the single-player campaign and another hour of multiplayer. My opinion hasn't changed much. Yes, the graphics really are outstanding (even if the colour palette is drab). No, the game is not worthy of the praise that's been heaved on it by fanboy reviewers. At its core, Gears is a game on rails, with no opportunity for meaningful decision-making or exploration. The player is railroaded from one action scene to the next, except that the action and scenery is often repetitive. As I mentioned in my earlier post, the dialog is painful, and the story pretty much worthless. This being said, I think the game would be a lot more fun in co-operative mode. It is a brainless shooter, and therefore a good way to kill an afternoon with a friend.

Multiplayer still seems too limited, and I just read yesterday that the entire model for ranked multiplayer is completely flawed. The Older Gamers Paradise points out lots of easy exploits for gaming the ranking system, most of which seem to be possible because of design flaws. Again, playing with friends would probably alleviate this (but apparently Xbox Live friends can't play with each other in ranked games).

Summary: A great-looking, but mediocre game that would be best suited for 14 year-olds if it didn't have so much foul language in it.
  First Impressions: ‘Gears of War’  
Posted 2006-11-07 by Tony Walsh
Gears of War, a 3rd-person tactical shooting game for the Xbox 360, hits the streets today. In lieu of a surefire blockbuster hit like the upcoming Halo 3, Gears of War is being pushed as this holiday season's must-have title. Microsoft already expects the game to hit 1 million copies, and to sell faster than any new IP for the Xbox platform. I don't care so much how it sells--high sales volume doesn't mean the game is any good, obviously.

I was given a copy of the game yesterday, and had a chance to play about an hour of multiplayer, and 45 minutes of the single-payer game. Overall, I'm unsure of the game's engagement potential--but I am willing to play for another half-day to write up a proper review. Gears of War is a sci-fi action shooter apparently taking place after or during some kind of alien invasion. I don't know if it takes place on Earth or some other planet, but the males in the game look like a cross between Hulk Hogan, Space Marines, and Tom of Finland. These guys are gnarled, burly, and macho to the point of silliness. Maybe they aren't supposed to be human.

Continue reading: First Impressions: ‘Gears of War’
  ‘Cooking Mama’ [DS]  
Posted 2006-09-24 by Tony Walsh
‘Cooking Mama’ [DS]
Although I bought a Nintendo DS Lite for myself, it turns out that my wife's enjoying it a lot more. She was hooked on Nintendogs for a couple of months, and came home the other day with Cooking Mama. Clearly aimed at casual gamers, Cooking Mama involves making up to 76 unique dishes using over 200 mini-games as a metaphor for chopping, mixing, stirring, etc. The game is very cute, extremely easy to learn, and could almost be an example of productive play. While you won't pick up any actually useful recipes by playing Cooking Mama, you will learn generally how certain dishes are made, and what general ingredients are involved. If only real recipes were included, Cooking Mama could have climbed from casual game to interactive cooking show. This one's got appeal for non-gamers, casual gamers, and those who enjoy novel methods of interaction. But for advanced gamers (or those looking for functional fun), you won't get much out of the game.

Sidenote: My Italian side takes great offense to Cooking Mama telling me spaghetti sauce is made with "ketchup." Fortunately, my Irish side doesn't know a thing about Italian food.
  Twitch-Games For iPod:  Don’t Bother  
Posted 2006-09-22 by Tony Walsh
Twitch-Games For iPod:  Don’t Bother
My doubts about the viability of the iPod click-wheel as a controller for games have been confirmed. After having tinkered with Pac-Man for the iPod last night, I'm of the opinion that arcade-style games are practically inoperaple on the iPod. The click-wheel is a terrible control device for 4-direction movement, due to the oversensitivity of the wheel and the distance the buttons (both one-handed and two-handed operation seems equally challenging); the classic Pac-Man, which requires rapid direction-changes, becomes an exercise in frustration. If this isn't enough of a disincentive for you, the games seem to hit the iPod battery quite hard. In short, twitch-games for the iPod seem to be a stupid idea.
  ‘Ninety-Nine Nights’ [Xbox 360]  
Posted 2006-08-21 by Tony Walsh
‘Ninety-Nine Nights’ [Xbox 360]
Her Achilles Heel is her cleavage, obviously.
A glance at the packaging for Ninety-Nine Nights might lead you to believe that the fantasy action game tells an epic tale of the conflict between light and dark. At the very least, the fantasy action game part is true. And I suppose mass-murder qualifies as epic-scale conflict. But after rummaging through the billions of gallons of entrails left in the wake of my Temple Knights, I still couldn't find any sign of a coherent storyline. Ninety-Nine Nights is a shooter without guns, a button-masher with a role-playing game inventory. If mindless slaughter is enough to entertain you (and frankly, sometimes it's enough to entertain me), the $49.99 USD retail price is worth every penny.

Ninety-Nine Nights is my first Xbox 360 game (thanks, High Road), and I'm mightily impressed by its capacity to throw hundreds of highly-detailed humanoids upon the edge of my blades, each creature with an apparently-useful set of AI instructions. In one afternoon I was able to sample the cruel, genocidal talents of the game's starting character Imphyy, and those of her idealistic brother Aspharr (pronounced ASSfar). The idea is that you'll play each of the seven characters (unlocked as you progress) to fully unravel the storyline of Ninety-Nine Nights from varying points of view. What I unravelled over the better part of an afternoon left a lot to be desired, to the extent that I wondered why most bits of the story were included at all.

Continue reading: ‘Ninety-Nine Nights’ [Xbox 360]
  ‘Electroplankton’: Second Impressions  
Posted 2006-07-01 by Tony Walsh
In a recent "First Impressions" post on the Nintendo DS game Electroplankton, I lamented the lack of practicality of the interactive toy. My chief complaint was that in "Performance" mode, generative electronic music can be created, but not saved. I had a chance to let Electroplankton play itself in "Audience" mode for a couple hours on my way to and from meetings yesterday, and am again struck by the lack of sensible features.

In Audience mode, one can pop a pair of headphones into the DS, and let Electroplankton cycle through its various generative music scenarios. Unfortunately, it seems that one must leave the DS open (it features a clamshell-like design) during playback--closing the unit stops the music. Having to leave the unit open while it's just playing music makes it bulky (I had it stuffed into my bag) and wastes the batteries. But the biggest design gaffe is the absence of a playlist--a means to control one's listening experience. I enjoy some of the Electroplankton music scenarios, but not all. Some, I'd like to hear more than others. Some, I'd like to skip altogether. Some individual pieces, I'd like to hear for an hour. But no. I must listen to about 120 seconds of random electronica at a time. It's not like I expect my DS Lite to be an iPod, but it so easily could be *like* an iPod without too much extra design effort.
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Dinozoiks wrote:
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