10,000 for the win

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I’m told this is a little unusual. Not the fact that I hit 10K in gamerpoints (please, there are people on my friends list in the 30K range), but the fact that it’s 10K even. Thought I would share.

Call of Duty 4 beta … it’s madness

Within the first 10 minutes of playing the Call of Duty 4 multiplayer beta, I was shot, sliced, blown up while trying to toss back a live grenade, and then shot some more through the wall.

And I enjoyed every minute of it.

If the beta is any true indication of the final product, then Call of Duty 4 is shaping up to be a premier title in one of the more loaded holiday seasons of gaming. How fun is the beta? It made me temporarily forget about BioShock. And I really like BioShock.

Im not going to wax poetic too much on CODs visuals. By now, youre heard every possible way in every language saying how great the game looks. I was, however, a little surprised at the level of detail in the beta. Everything from the shine of the weapons to the dilapidated wreckage of a downed helicopter not only added graphical splendor, but also a tangible sense of tension during battle. As one of the people I played with said, The first thing I thought of was Black Hawk Down.

What really stood out to me was the gameplay. Gameplay is the glue that holds an FPS together, perhaps more than any other genre (except maybe sports). Im far from an FPS savant, but playing the COD 4 beta seemed to combine everything I liked about other shooters. Its got the kinetic chaos of Halo, the need for ears-open-eyeballs-click senses like R6, as well as the wealth of on-field options, like GRAW.

The controls, for the most part, are standard FPS fare. One of the notable exceptions is the ability to sprint for a limited amount of time by clicking down on the left stick. Its a handy tool for navigating across open streets, fields, or any other place that could be clouded by gunfire.

Perhaps the most welcome feature for me was the combat knife, which flashes out when you click down on the right stick. It took at little getting used to, but after a few matches, it started to feel very natural. Its a one-hit kill maneuver, so I can sense this is going to tempt a lot of players to get their ninja on any chance they get.

From a design standpoint, I was intrigued by the perks you get with each class of soldier. It reminded me a little of the weapon system in Madden. Youve got stuff like stopping power (more bullet damage) or steady aim, (more accuracy without having to zoom with the left trigger). As with the weapons and other accessories, more perks are unlocked with a higher rank.

The most fun perk is the last stand, where you heroically pull out your pistol after getting gunned down and try to take someone out before you expire. I just got this perk, and I almost cant wait to get shot to take it for a spin.
I did run into a few issues during my play time, but I wont judge because well, its a beta.

I mentioned earlier that I was shot through the wall. Im not talking about hiding behind a wooden fence bullets were tearing through concrete at an alarming level, as if everyone had armor-piercing bullets. It added a weird dimension to gunfighting thats enjoyably hectic at first, but then gets a little annoying. I was also a little irritated at the lack of invincible time right after you respawn, so there were time Id spring up and immediately get caught by some stray bullets and just die again. (However, I do like the killcam, which replays your death from the eyes of the bastard that shot you.)

So far, those are the only minor negatives Ive had aside from being reminded of my rather poor eyesight and rusty reflexes. Im sure Ill find more, just as Im positive Ill discover more stuff to like here until the game comes out in November.

Until then, Im done. Time to get shot up and shanked some more. Enjoy the video from GameTrailers.

BioShock early musings

I got BioShock late last week, and I’ve been playing it since Thursday night. I actually like it more than I did when me and the AGI crew previewed it a month ago.

My main concern about BioShock was that the experience would peak too early. But when a game is keeping you awake until 3 a.m., it’s got to be doing something right. This is one of those games where you only stop playing to shower and eat. Maybe talk to your wife.

I’m still picking away at it, but I’ve got some early thoughts before the official write-up.

- This game is still creepy. I thought it was a sick piece of work to begin with, but the characters you meet in this game are some of the most warped you’ll ever met in the virtual space. Andrew Ryan needs to die. Yesterday.

- If you’re a religious person, you probably won’t like the fact that the Splicers (the bad guys) sing stuff like, “Jesus loves me, yes I know … cause the Bible tells me so.” Then they swing at you with fury, while covered in blood. I’m still trying to figure that out — you’ll know when I know.

- I’m worried there’s too much stuff to account for in the way of plasmids and tonics. There are so many slots to put everything, it almost feels like I’m building an RPG character. Not sure I like that.

- The more things change, the more they stay the same — give me an FPS with a shotgun, and I’m a happy guy. Especially when it has cool little gears and a gas-powered knick-knack embedded into it. Finding a weapon upgrade station is a joy in itself.

- Sander Cohen. Freak.

- I’m hot and cold on how the game handles death. You never really “die” … you get revived in the nearest “vita-chamber,” almost like re-spawning in a multiplayer match. This even happens when you fight major characters, so you could essentially keep picking away at someone (dying repeatedly until you beat them, with no fear of permanent death or some kind of punishment. This happened in Prey.”

- (SPOILER THOUGHT) I’m starting to expect every 2K FPS to have that one emotionally wrenching “tragic scene.” Prey had one, The Darkness had one, and now BioShock’s got a couple of them. Being a family member/significant other/friend of the main character in a 2K shooter is like wearing the red shirt in a “Star Trek” episode — it means you’re going to die, and die badly.

- I hope I beat this game before I have to write about it. I want to see it to the end … and I hope the ending doesn’t suck.

Madden 08 story in the L.A. Daily News

Here’s the story I wrote for the L.A. Daily News, which was picked up by a lot of the other papers in the group. It ran today, in the papers’ business sections. It was originally slated for features, so it’s not as numbers-heavy as you might expect.

I’ve also been messing with an early copy of the game this past week, which is why you haven’t seen me here :) As of this posting, I still can’t say anything opinion-wise about it, but the review is coming out Tuesday.

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Are you ready for some FOOTBALL?
Fans ready for ‘Madden ’08′ game’s release Tuesday

BY REDMOND CAROLIPIO, Staff Writer

Ah, the signs of the start of football season – the journey to the game store, the crinkling of undone shrink-wrap, the hum of a console coming to life …

Oh, were you expecting something about a stiff autumn wind? Or piles of fallen leaves? Sorry, but when Tuesday rolls around, there’s a good chance a lot of gaming football fans won’t be thinking about that.

Because Tuesday is when the new “Madden” comes out. And for some gamers, that’s going to be a holiday.

“Oh yeah, `Maddenoliday’ is for real,” said David Spohn, an avid gamer and die-hard “Madden” fan. “I’m probably going to call off work when it comes out – just for that one day, you know?”

Thanks to a steady dose of heavy marketing, a zealous fan base and a little love from the ESPY crowd, the “Madden” video game franchise has been given iconic status in pop culture. The game’s yearly release has become save-the-date material, right up there with the Super Bowl or Selection Sunday. From Los Angeles to New York, thousands of stores will be holding midnight release events for the game.

“I can tell you this – we’re going to have a lot of people outside of our door at midnight,” said Valerie Hernandez, assistant manager at EB Games at Universal CityWalk in Los Angeles. CityWalk’s store isn’t the only one having a midnight release – practically every EB Games or Gamestop in the area will be doing the same.

The Toys ‘R’ Us flagship store in Times Square is having a late-night launch gathering as well, with former All-Pro running back (and newest “Today” show personality) Tiki Barber expected to sell the first copy. Bob Friedland, P.R. director for the toy store, said the company expects “hundreds” to show up at the event.

Not all the hype is saved for the big city. Last year, the community of Madden, Miss. (population between 400 and 500, depending on who you ask), declared an official “Maddenoliday” for the release of “Madden ’07.” Jerry Rice, Warren Moon and Marshall Faulk showed up to give away copies of the game, and townsfolk lined up to play it inside air-conditioned tents. The event didn’t last all day. The tents were on a cow pasture – and, well, the cows wanted to graze.

“I guess they looked us up on Google and saw that we were the only `Madden’ around,” said Renodda Dorman, who sits on the Carthage, Miss., chamber of commerce and helped coordinate the event in nearby Madden.

“People were trying to move the hay away, and someone said, `No, leave it there! That’s a great image!’ It was great to have that kind of publicity and see all these people come in from all over the country.”

If you follow sports, it’s been pretty hard to miss the game’s presence.

In addition to the occasional reference in movies and other TV shows, there’s also “Madden Nation,” a reality show on ESPN2. Then you’ve also got the yearly “Madden Challenge,” a nationwide tournament meant to crown the best “Madden” player in the land. The commercials for “Madden ’08″ have been in heavy rotation, beckoning “Maddenites” to gather Tuesday.

In terms of sales, the franchise has sold roughly 60 million copies, and in 2003, it was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Much of the exposure can be traced back to Electronic Arts, makers of the “Madden” franchise. They’ve pitched the game hundreds of different ways during the franchise’s 17-year lifespan, but they aren’t the ones who came up with the “game-release-as-holiday” vibe.

“It wasn’t us, it was the fans. We’ve got about 6,000 stores opening at midnight nationwide, and we’ve seen that people kind of take that next day off,” said Chris Erb, director of marketing for EA Sports. “We’d hear stories of that year after year … That’s the truth for our fans. And we’ve embraced that.”

Some fans have embraced the game so much that they’ve practically made a living playing it and earning money in tournaments.

“I remember I called off work in ’05, but I don’t think I’m going to do it this year (for the release),” said David “One9″ Stepney of Pomona, known as one of the best “Madden” players on the West Coast. “But I call off for the big tournaments – ’cause I can make more money that day, if I’m playing for $200 per game.”

Stepney’s been a fan of the game since 1998, and has been a tournament-caliber player since 2004. He said he loves seeing “Madden” forge a presence in mainstream culture.

“This is something I really enjoy doing, and seeing it on ESPN and everything … It gives me more pride to do it,” he said. “I can get more respect out of it.”

And the “cool” people have caught on. The “Madden” brand has received plenty of praise from big-name sports stars and celebrities, which in turn, has boosted the game’s popularity even more.

“Everyone from Snoop to Andy Roddick – they all want that early copy,” said Erb, the EA Sports marketing director. “I also think someone rated our Madden Bowl party at the Super Bowl just behind `Maxim’ and `Playboy.”‘

But it’s the football players – not the celebs – who prove to be among the most devoted to the game. This is where the yearly “Madden Bowl” comes in, where the NFL’s best “Madden” players duel for a chance to be called the champ.

“The first time I won it, I kinda had a lot of people gunning for me,” said Alex Smith, tight end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and two-time Madden Bowl champ. “I’m gonna go for a threepeat. We got some new guys here that think they’re pretty good, so we’ll see what they’ve got.”

Smith isn’t really shocked at the ascension of “Madden,” pointing to the natural progression of game design in the past decade.

“Over time, the technology the gamers have come up with makes the game become more and more like real life,” he said. “It’s always fun to see. We started with 8-bit to watch what it is now.”

David Ortiz, the lead producer of “Madden,” said it helps the product when the people it’s about are as into the game as everyone else.

“These are guys that really want to be in it, and really want to play it,” he said. “One of the coolest guys I’ve probably run into was Chad Johnson. He’s a `Madden’ player.”

Ortiz said he met the chatty Bengals star receiver at last year’s Pro Bowl. Ortiz had the game set up, Johnson saw it, and he wanted to jump on instantly.

“So we’re still playing, and I’m like, `Man, I’ve gotta stop, I’ve gotta get these guys in here (for “scans” of the players’ heads, so they look like themselves in the game) Ortiz said. “So Chad starts running out and grabbing guys to get in and get finished, just so he could play more. He’s that into it.”

Ortiz said he and the design team over at EA are humbled by seeing what their product has become – as well the kind of following it has received. But at the same time, he can’t say they’re shocked.

“What’s crazy is that before we were doing this, wewere the guys putting the reserves down, coming into the store early, or standing in line,” he said. “For a lot of us, this has been our life anyway – it’s just that there weren’t CNN cameras on us at the time. It’s like the rest of the world has caught up.”

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