Date archives for February, 2007

February 22nd, 2007
Blog Entry

Sega’s DS Surprise: Best-Case Scenario

For the past few days, Sega representatives have been claiming they’re on the brink  of revealing a huge secret – see one of many articles here. The actual quote is a title that will “surprise absolutely everyone.” The last time Sega made this promise everyone expected Shenmue III, and we got the Matrix Online. As a lifelong Sega fan, I keep a few pinches of salt on me at all times. However, they did say they were placing much more emphasis on DS development, which leads me onto today’s article.

DS: The Key to Sega’s Dream

So far quite a few DS games have included some form of online play, but often it’s wasted: I want a Harvest Moon with an online marketplace, not a way to compare farm scores with my friends. I want online leagues and extra content. Animal Crossing: Wild World is the only game to get close to 100%, but others are disappointing.

On Wednesday I wrote about Shining Soul II, an action RPG for the GameBoy Advance that’s given me many hours of good fun, and left a fairly crude teaser to tempt you into reading today’s update. The one thing that could propel Shining Soul, Sega and the DS into unbelievable levels of greatness is simple.

Meaningful Online Play.

A lot like the original Animal Crossing, Shining Soul II feels like an online game with the online bits stripped out. Bubbles let you tell your teammates when your batteries are dying, or if you’re going back to town, but surely you could just tell them yourself. If your communication skills stretch to “let’s play Shining Soul II together” I’m sure you can manage “oh dear, a red light”.

The vast amount of items and weapons is one of the game’s strengths, but you’d need a pretty large and committed pool of friends to make the trading worthwhile for everyone. It’s a shame that some aspects of the game are limited by the number of friends you have.

Pokémon games have been like this for a long time of course, and they seem to work fine. I think that’s partly down to the parent-annoying dual cartridge situation – rather than have loads of stupidly rare Pokémon on one cartridge, they’re split across two, increasing your chances of finding them (as long as you have a kind friend, of course). The simple online functions of the new Pokémon Diamond and Pearl – especially the potentially life-saving Trading Board, which lets you specify trades and wait for others to get back to you – lend an extra dimension to gameplay that never really felt restricted anyway.

Make My Online Roleplaying Game

I was originally going to petition for Shining Soul 3 to be a massively multiplayer roleplaying game, but that’s at odds with the whole point of the DS: handhelds’ greatest strengths are their friendliness and that “dip-in” quality. It’s not really possible to dip into a two-hour dungeon siege, and besides, I think WiFi Connection is set up differently, meaning the whole “persistent world” idea is out of the window.

What I propose is a handheld action RPG featuring three identifiable online elements:

1. Competitive play

So far my experience with online RPGs on DS stretches to a single match on Lost Magic: my opponent was chosen randomly and, by the looks of his cohort and magic-drawing skills, was much better than me. I think I lasted about thirty seconds.

Not all games involving character development are suited to player versus player action, but there’s a lot of potential. A tiered structure that matches players against similarly-skilled opponents would cater nicely for the quick play crowd, and you could even introduce bets or prizes and rewards for winning streaks.

2. Co-operative play

Handling this on a handheld would be very tricky. Up until now most WFC games have picked your opponents for you, unless you have added a friend’s code, but this kind of behind-the-scenes grouping defeats the whole spirit of co-operative play.

I think players would log into a centralised lobby – without communication of course – which would display which characters were present, their stats and perhaps a notice about what kind of play they were interested in. Tapping their name would send them an invitation, and after they responded you could group together and choose a level. As long as the process is as streamlined as other WFC games, I think it would actually be very helpful, and could certainly be done without any exchange of personal information, which Nintendo would dictate, of course.

In terms of gameplay it would be much more problematic to organise a party without being able to talk to each other. A QWERTY onscreen keyboard is too intrusive to work, but perhaps a combination of short-text communication as in Sega’s Phantasy Star Online and drawn signals would work. You could even use gestures to indicate your plans – a square for “going back to the castle”, a zig-zag for “I have to leave now” or something similar.

The actual gameplay itself would obviously be very similar to Shining Soul II, but the online levels would take the form of short quests, probably twenty to thirty minutes in length and graded in terms of difficulty. Unfortunately I guess it wouldn’t be possible to add new quests for download, but then most of my PSO play was on the same four levels on four different difficulty levels, so perhaps it’s not so bad.

3. Community play

This is the real crux of online play, and why I wrote my earlier post “How Nintendo got online wrong“. The whole idea of playing a game with other people is to interact with them – give them items, watch their back, share a joke and so on. Without any communication, online gaming is simply offline gaming with better intelligence.

The DS setup would naturally be much more conducive to online play with friends or clan members – set up a website or email list where you can share friend codes and when you’ll be online and it’s as easy as that. Sega could even add voice chat with friends whilst in the lobby, or more in-depth communication options when questing with friends.

The Game Waiting

Of course, the worst part of all this speculation is that it doesn’t have anything to do with the production of Shining Soul III, be it an online DS game or not!  However, I wanted to write about a game I’d love that would be a genuine surprise, and also not get too worked up about how NiGHTS 2 might work on Wii or how amazing Shenmue III would look on Xbox 360.

There’s no word yet on when Sega will announce this surprising game, but apparently it’ll be released this year. It must already be pretty far into development in that case.

Until it’s announced, I think I’ll work my archer up to level 100. Let’s not forget PSO too… in fact, wouldn’t a PSO: DS be great too? No, that’s enough for one day!

 I’m listening to Never Die, from Patmore Demo by Christian Bell-Young.

February 21st, 2007
Blog Entry

Truly Underrated Games: Shining Soul II

Shining Soul on GBA didn’t do too well. The most hardcore Shining fans disliked its real-time gameplay when compared to its turns-based roots, and the general games-buying public tended to stay away from it too. However, my experience with Shining Soul II has been nothing but positive.

Streamlined controls

As a fast-paced action RPG on a handheld, the control system has to be absolutely clear, yet versatile enough to support different situations, and SSII gets it just right.

Fast food menus

The L menu holds weapons; the R menu items. Tapping the shoulder button opens the menu and scrolls through, and B uses the item (weapons are equipped automatically). In multiplayer, holding B throws the selected item, letting you heal your teammates.

Pressing A unleashes a standard attack, and holding it charges up a more powerful attack. With higher levels and better weapons come stronger attacks, but they take longer to charge. It’s actually very well-balanced.

Huge selection of items

I was expecting there to be a shortage of useful weapons, items and armour with this being a handheld RPG, but the range is absolutely vast.

  • Multiple weapons. The brawler has the claw and knife – and these increase in grade as you go through the game. Some have effects such as defence up, HP recovery or attack properties.
  • Armour boosts. Wearing all the armour pieces of a particular set gives you an extra boost in certain statistics. This makes it even more desirable to collect the highest-level armour possible, as adding the final piece of the puzzle can put your stats up enormously!
  • Item oddities. Antidotes and healing herbs are present, but most interesting are the stranger items: old Sega consoles, speech bubbles, cats and more. Some of these come in sets that lead to even rarer items.

Gratifying gameplay

I’ve left this for last even though I suppose it should be more important. The best thing about Shining Soul II is that it’s fun to play. For some reason I want to describe it as “scrappy”, not because it’s put together badly but because most of the combat takes place at close range (apart for rangers, who are boring and overpowered, as is traditional!) – I’ve shouted “run away, run away!” to my character many times!

When you level up you get free choice of where to add your four stat points, giving you a great sense of being able to develop however you like instead of boosting or adjusting statistics to compensate for the pre-determined level-up.

You also get another kind of point which you use to level up your character’s skills. These could be the ability to equip stronger weapons, increase their healing power or gain attack power when in danger. Each character has different abilities, so they’re all truly different.

Sometimes the bash-bash-flee gameplay gets a bit tiring, but a great item or weapon always seems to come along at just the right time. Even if it doesn’t, with eight very different character classes you can always explore another aspect – I loved my brawler Groudon until I got a ranger, and loved him until I got a magician and a swordsman!

(P)SO similar

I’m a big fan of Phantasy Star Online (with two level 100+ characters – eek!) and SSII shares some of its best and worst bits.

  • Got soul! You can equip items that unleash devastating attacks if you take a lot of damage, rather like Photon Blasts.
  • Hit, run, hit. The whole “run in, hit them, run away” style of play was perfected by PSO, but with SP recovery as standard in SSII it makes even more sense.
  • Stupidly rare items. I know I’m never, ever going to get a Psycho Wand, and I also know I’m probably never going to get a full set of SEGA letters to make a beautiful Sega speech bubble.
  • Co-operative focus. Sometimes I like to compete, but I’d rather work together to solve puzzles and progress through the game, using everyone’s skills together.

In short

Shining Soul II is a simple game with plenty of depth to explore. Sidequests, unique items and other titbits are plentiful, and with the multiple character types you never feel resigned to grinding out levels, as in many similar RPGs for the PC.

I often think that the measure of a good game is whether writing or thinking about it makes you want to play it. I get reminded of their charms and some of the good times I had with them, and I know that if I picked them up again I’d discover so much more. Shining Soul II passes this test with flying colours.

However, there is one thing Shining Soul is missing. Something important and potentially amazing that a Shining Soul III on DS could rectify.

Something I’ll write about on Friday!

February 19th, 2007
Blog Entry

Carnival of Video Game Bloggers

Good evening and welcome to the very first edition of the Carnival of Video Game Bloggers! Tonight we pay tribute to the brightest stars in the world of game blogging and honour their achievements in categories such as Best Soapbox Post, Most Thought-Provoking Post and Best Post by a Sibling or Blood Relative.

Now, on with the night of a thousand stars!

Tonight’s first award is the prestigious Best Blog URL award. This award goes to the website address that most amused and entertained me, and continues to do so. The content has to be good too, and on that basis, the winner is…, and Marek Bronstring‘s “A MySpace for games“, predicting success for indie developers through the Great Games Experiment!

Our second award tonight is for Best Objective Review of Addiction. The winner of this award did well to avoid being sucked in by the allure of his chosen game, and provided an in-depth review of the game and its new features. The winner is… Jaimie from Just Online Games, for Burning Crusade – World of Warcraft!

Next up we have the award for Best Article by a Sibling or Blood Relative. This was a hotly-contested category, but in the end there was only one real winner. And the winner is… Phil Newton, with his article “Computer Love“. Family ties aside, it’s also a tremendous article that poses a very interesting question for developers.

Thanks Phil, and might I say, that’s a lovely dress you’re wearing!

Coming up after the break, the award for Best Anti-Microsoft Post and a look at what this year’s nominees wore on the red carpet! Don’t go away!

Don’t forget to link to or trackback this post, comment on some of the articles featured and spread the word about the carnival!

Hey, welcome back! You know, a funny thought occured to me during that break.

The next award is one of my favourites: Best Writer of Rants and/or Reviews. In order to win this award, the writer has to be adept at balancing the fiery and articulate sides of blogging, and nobody did this better than the winner of this award: Jigsaw hc of Jigsaw hc’s Rants and Reviews! His posts “Top 3 Problems with Xbox Live Arcade” and “ vs” both juggle constructive advice with a little healthy ranting. Watch that blood pressure, though!

Every once in a while, a blog article comes along that really makes you think, and think hard. I can’t think of a more suitable way to introduce our next award, Most Thought-Provoking Article. The winner did a great job of tackling a serious subject in a positive way, and had a top-notch interview and research too. It gives me great pleasure to award Most Thought-Provoking Article to… Alvaro Fernandez from! His article “ADD/ ADHD and working memory training: interview with Notre Dame’s Bradley Gibson” examines how “Serious Games” might actually be good for hyperactive children.

I teased you with this before the break, but now it’s time for that most controversial of awards, Best Anti-Microsoft Post. It’s a good job this carnival is opt-in, otherwise we’d have no chance deciding this one! Seriously though, this article takes a good dive inside Windows Vista and emerges, gasping for air but triumphantly clutching this award. That winner is… Akusai at! His article “Microsoft Hates Gamers” details how Microsoft’s new anti-piracy measures might be counter-productive.

Another commercial break now, but the best is yet to come – top-quality mouthing off in Best Soapbox Post and the chilling Worst Attempt at Modesty in a Blog Carnival. Don’t go changing!

Submit your blog article to the next carnival of video game bloggers on March 19th using our carnival submission form!

The next award goes to the blogger who created the Most Frightening Alternate Reality. Frankly, if the winner’s prediction came true I think we’d all be imitating lemmings and running for the nearest cliff. The winner is… Gianfranco Berardi, for his article “If Old Games Were Made Today?

Next on the agenda is Best Soapbox Post. The nominees for this category were all intensely opinionated and worthy, but in the end there could be only one winner. And that winner is… A Struggling Student, for “I Hate Ebay Sellers Selling Nintendo Wiis: Let’s Screw Them Over“!

Now our first special guest of the evening. To present the award for Worst Attempt at Modesty in a Blog CarnivalMe!

I’d like to give this award to myself, for my article “Five Games To Change Your Life In 2007“, featuring five games that will define your gaming year: Spore, Bioshock and more!

Thanks, James!

And now we come to our final award of this glorious evening, the Inaugural Jordan Bieber Award for Most Articles Submitted. The very first winner of this award has surprised us with his dedication to submitting blog articles, and entertained us with the results. Opening up my email every day to see his name in the inbox cheered me no end, and with his whopping eight articles submitted (at the time of writing) put him way ahead of his nearest competitors. They’re all on very varied subjects too, showing his capability and versatility.

No award could do the winner justice, but the Inaugural Jordan Bieber Award for Most Articles Submitted goes to… Jordan Bieber!

The Jesse Ventura Campaign Video Game – create a game about a wrestling governor!
How to sell your games – fund your addictions with recycling!
How I lost 90 pounds playing computer games – get the celeb look with Physicam!
Wii Play – Worth it – play about!
Tetris + Web Cam = TetroDance – make a move!
Why I am not buying Super Mario World on VC
 – make a stand!
Building a custom Arcade Machine on a budget – make a cabinet!
Zelda TP Ending – Not Epic Enough? – may contain spoilers. I haven’t read it as I haven’t completed Twilight Princess yet. You’ve been warned.

Yes, richly-deserved applause. Sadly that brings this wonderful evening to a close. I’m sure you’ll agree that they were all worthy winners, but I’d like to pay special tribute to them all – this was my first blog carnival but I was very pleased to see how many bloggers submitted high-quality articles. Eighteen for a first carnival is superb, so thanks to everyone who entered! Please add a link to this post on your sites and tell other bloggers about it, and everyone will reap the benefits.

The next Carnival of Video Game Bloggers is back here on March 19th, with the deadline of Friday March 16th. It’s another open mic free-for-all, so be creative and I’ll see you back here in a month!

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February 12th, 2007
Blog Entry

Creating emotions with music

Today I published an article on my brother’s shareware website,, entitled “Creating Emotions With Music“. As the title suggests, it’s about how music enhances the atmosphere in games and makes players feel involved. It’s intended for shareware developers, but it’s still a good read for anyone else. Whilst you’re there, be sure to download one of the very enjoyable demos – I recommend Outpost Kaloki!

This also nicely brings me onto a little site news I didn’t want to post separately. I completely overhauled the Music page, separating my musical identities using some form of beam and placing them in two different ionic containment fields: Prosody and James Newton.

For the first time ever I’ve also typed up my lyrics, so you can finally work out I’m saying in the middle eight of Sky Lights. There’s a lot of instrumental music on the James Newton page, including samples from the soundtracks to “Tanner“, “Dad’s Army and Beyond“, “Shining Online” and “Diversification: The Future of Farming?“, and I’ll be updating it often.

Thanks also to everyone who’s submitted an article to the Carnival of Video Game Bloggers. If you haven’t joined in yet you’ve still got plenty of time – as long as I receive your entry before Friday it’s up. Click here to submit your article and join in!

 I’m listening to The Love We Make, from Emancipation Disc 3 by Prince

February 5th, 2007
Blog Entry

Five games to change your life in 2007

It’s not often I make predictions, but I fully expect these five games will blow your mind this year. Set aside a game budget of £250 and put everything else into an ISA – you won’t need to buy any other games this year.


The main appeal of Spore to me is that it’s a game you can have a mess around with. There are levels and phases and so on, but its appeal as a sandbox – should be sandpit, really – is that you can create your own creatures, evolve and mutate them, and see how they get on. This concept’s been around as long as I can remember – Eco on the Atari ST and E.V.O. on the SNES, for example – but for once the PR cliché is probably true: it’s only possible with today’s technology.

Your freaky characters will live alongside other players’ creations – content you create in the game migrates across to others’ machines automatically, creating a feeling of communal play direct interaction. It reminds me of the migratory content in Animal Crossing: Wild World actually; I hope we’ll see more games trading content automatically, without players trawling the web, and I’m all for it.

It was recently confirmed that Spore will be coming to Wii, which will hopefully be the first title to use WiiConnect24 as it was intended. The DS version is promising too, although I’m willing to bet it will be quite seriously cut down compared to the high-powered PC version.

In short: Control life from gene pool to galactic pillaging.

See more:

Virtua Fighter 5

It’s a shame that it took until Virtua Fighter 4 came to the PlayStation 2 for Sega’s flagship fighting game to gain recognition, but with the upcoming sequel out on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 it’s finally hit the big time, and looks to be getting better all the time.

This time introducing two new characters – Rey Mysterio Jr. clone El Blaze and monkey-style Eileen – VF5 features amazing graphics and one of the most finely-tuned fighting experiences anywhere. I believe it’s the most skilful 3D fighter ever: top players go into incredible detail, even memorising how many frames of animation each move lasts.

Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution was probably the best fighting game ever, and if there’s any justice in the world this will hurtle Virtua Fighter way past all pretenders.

In short: Beautiful, addictive, thrilling. 

See more:

Halo 3

Let’s face it – no matter how good it is, Gears of War is no more than a stopgap before Halo 3. While the cinema is flooded with big money trilogy-closers this year – Pirates of the Caribbean 3, the Bourne Ultimatum, Shrek 3, Spider-man 3 – there’s no such competition for Halo 3, which I fully expect to be the year’s highest-grossing game.

Was that a prediction?!

Why yes, yes it was, and with good reason: Halo 2 reputedly made $125m on its first day in the States, and sold over a quarter of a million copies here in one week. Crikey, it even made the news, an honour usually reserved for games that:

  • Kill people;
  • Break TVs;
  • Can be grossly misrepresented.

Unfortunately Halo 3 has no strong release date yet, but I’m predicting an October/November release. Even if it is released that late I still think it’s a very strong contender for best-selling game this year, and a force the PS3 will have great difficulty surpassing or equalling.

In short: A sales juggernaut; buy or die.

See more:


It was a toss-up between this and the equally impressive Crysis, but Bioshock won out in the “games with brains” stakes.

One of Bioshock’s most promising features is its emphasis on emergent gameplay – AI characters have roles and desires, and will make different decisions based on the options presented to them. Similarly, you can mutate your character to suit your own playing style, something we’re more used to seeing in roleplaying games and MMORPGs.

Another thing I like about Bioshock is its combination of gameplay styles. Although a stylish-looking first-person shooter, there’s more to it than that: you can photograph enemies to identify their weak points, a feature reminiscent of Metroid Prime’s very useful scan visor. Resources like camera film are scarce though, so you have to be more tactical when deciding what to use and when.

A lot of FPS promise AI that will be aware of you and react accordingly, but it’s refreshing to see characters whose options are broader than “shoot, hide, run, surrender”.

In short: Intelligent ambitions evolve the genre.

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Pokémon Diamond and Pearl

Okay, perhaps it’s a bit strong to say the new Pokémon games (due this summer, hopefully) will change your life, but I reckon they’ll certainly improve it immeasurably.

Despite the shift from GBA to DS you can transfer your precious Pokémon from previous play, allowing you to use potentially any Pokémon from the series’ ten-year history.

The big news, of course, is that for the first time ever you’ll be able to trade and battle across the Internet using Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, as well as seek out others’ Secret Bases and play a game of Capture the Flag. I reckon FireRed and LeafGreen’s wireless adaptor was a test run for the Wi-Fi side of Diamond and Pearl, but with the coolest bits from Ruby and Sapphire too it looks like being the complete package.

In short: Pokégasm.

See more:

You reached level five!

There we go – my top five games to play this year. There were more I wanted to post, but these won out in a battle of the death. One thing about my choices I found interesting was that none of them were designed for Wii, despite my hopes that Wii will change my life. If Animal Crossing for Wii was confirmed for this year, the other games wouldn’t stand a chance.

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I’m listening to Gateway To Your Dreams, from NiGHTS Into Dreams [Sega Saturn] by Sonic Team.

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