Saturday, June 20, 2009

The first ever Thinking out Loud: 11.28.01

Back in the olden-olden-olden days (OK, it started in 2001) when there weren't Twitter feeds or even blogs for that matter, people still read newsletters. How quaint! I'd almost completely forgotten about this - but I used to write one that went out every week called (imaginatively) "Thinking Out Loud." This was before 1UP even existed, and the "official" website of EGM, CGW and the Official PlayStation Magazine was Gamers.com. Remember that? Good times. Well, no. Not really.

Anyway, every week I let nonsense spew out of my keyboard, and it gathered quite a bit of a following. In a weird kind of way, I guess it was a very, very early precursor to the kind of conversation (albeit one way in this case) on 1UP Yours. The brand "Thinking Out Loud" lives on as a gathering of thoughts from bloggers on 1UP, but the original was just me talking shit for a couple of thousand words every week.

If the archive on an old hard drive I just found is to be believed, the piece pasted below is actually the first ever Thinking Out Loud from November 28, 2001. So it's like a digital collector's item or something. Note the seer-like quality with which I observe industry happenings, and the clairvoyance I display in predicting that some obscure game called "Halo" has the chance to be pretty successful.

Here it is. Enjoy. I've not tested any of the links that are still in there. Chances are most of them are broken, given that it was nearly eight years ago.

THINKING OUT LOUD 11.28.01

Apparently, according to conservative estimates, between us we managed to spend somewhere in the region of $400 million during gaming’s “big week”. Considering that the newspapers told us on Wednesday that we’re “officially” experiencing a recession, and we’re all supposed to be broke, that’s pretty darned impressive. There aren’t many actual numbers on system sales, but from what I can gather from contacts at both Nintendo and Microsoft, as well as various retailers is that the official number is “all of them.” According to the majority of news sources, Nintendo alone made more cash in that first weekend than Harry Potter managed to…and that took us all for somewhere in the region of $93.5 million. That would explain why I still can’t find a Gamecube anywhere I guess. I have a copy of Rogue Leader ready and waiting, but I can’t find a system anywhere…let alone a black one. If you stumble across one let me know, eh?

The nice people at Konami announced on Wednesday that they had shipped 1.8 million copies of Metal Gear Solid 2 already and that they’re really rather pleased about this, thank you. If you haven’t bought it yet, go out and do so. There are apparently plenty. If you foolishly pre-ordered it from an online retailer that still hasn’t got round to shipping it, at least check out the official website and let the music make the hairs on the back of your neck tingle while you’re fuming. Do yourself a favor and keep away from the chat forums online about this one until after you’ve started playing it though. People have a tendency to talk about all the bits that you’re not going to want spoiling.

In other PS2 related news, those of you dying to know what’s going on with WipeOut Fusion will be pleased to know that…no, it hasn’t been given a release date, but it does have its own website now. The last thing I heard, the UK release had been pushed back to next year to “make a product worthy of the WipeOut name.” Does that mean that the thing they’ve been working on for the last couple of years isn’t worthy of the WipeOut name? There’s still no word from SCEA as to whether they’ll be releasing it in the U.S.

Did you hear the one about the Xbox making Sony execs rethink the PS3 release strategy? Nope…it isn’t a joke, according to a recent interview with The Financial Times, Kunitake Ando, president and CEO of Sony, said that the Xbox could force the company to transition to the PS3 earlier than intended. "The biggest threat to the PlayStation 2 is that the Xbox changes the industry's life cycle," said Ando, who feels that it is unclear whether the current PS2 business model is sustainable and that its console life cycle could be reduced to three years as a result. This doesn’t sound like the typically bullish Sony to me. Where’s all the talk of “ours is better than yours” and people holding press conferences to say that no-one else has a chance? Check out Gamespot’s full story.

Speaking of the Xbox, it’s shocking how the overall perceptions of the Xbox have changed isn’t it? Let’s be honest and admit that we’ve all spent the last year poo-pooing the idea of Microsoft building a games machine. We’ve all bitched about the crappy software line-up that they showed during the summer. We’ve mocked the system itself for weighing as much as a small car. We’ve mocked the joypad for feeling like a potato with a Pog wedged inside it. Now that it’s here though…it’s a bit different isn’t it? We’re a bit disappointed that the green thing in the middle of the system isn’t the glowing jewel-like orb that we originally thought it might be, but we’ve been wowed by what the box can do. We’ve also laughed at the Dead or Alive 3 commercial (even if, and I may be alone in this, the game itself isn’t really that fantastic). We’ve grudgingly acknowledged that Munch’s Oddysee is really fun and, most of all, we’ve come to the realization that Halo may turn out to be one of the finest games ever made. It’s a wonderful experience that will eat into your free time the way that Microsoft itself is eating into its $500 million ad campaign. Even if the sound track does occasionally sound a bit like Riverdance. C’mon! What do you mean you don’t hear that? There are places when the action gets a bit tough and the music erupts in such a way that you wouldn’t be surprised to see one of the Covenant prancing around like Michael Flatley. I spent the majority of the holiday weekend alienating my loved ones and blasting my way through Bungie’s epic and loving every second of it. Sure, there were some odd moments involving bits of spaceship that appeared to have been built by skatepark designers (why are there little jump ramps sprinkled along a major escape route?) but I haven’t had that much fun with a shooter since the first Quake.

Play Halo all the way through. Play it again and try and finish it on “legendary” level (if you’re man enough) and then try and convince 15 of your friends to gather together four TVs, four Xboxes and 16 joypads so you can experience the superb multiplayer modes. Few people will get the opportunity to play it this way, thanks to supply, cost, friend-availability and space issues…but if you ever get the chance, find a large room away from distractions and dig in. Alternatively, check out GameSpy’s hack that allows you to link your Xbox to a PC with a broadband connection and pretend you have lots of friends by meeting them online and kicking their asses. It may get a bit sluggish at times, but if you have the opportunity, try it out.

The team at Electronic Gaming Monthly have been hopelessly addicted to the game and it’s no secret that Halo was in part responsible for “winning” the magazine’s Xbox vs. Gamecube feature…as well as causing everyone on the team to be late handing their work in on time. There are 11 editors on EGM…six of them voted for Xbox, five for Gamecube. If you speak to them now (hunt them down in the forums) you may even find that some of the Gamecube fans are switching allegiances. Who would have thought huh?

Halo’s probably been responsible for a lot of the positive press that the Xbox has been getting too. That, and the recent surge of patriotism that everyone’s been feeling lately. The most unusual comment I saw was Joe Salkowski of the Chicago Tribune who posed the thought that the “purchase of Xbox [is] a patriotic quandary.” He even closes his piece with the comment “If I don't buy at least one game console this Christmas, I'm afraid the terrorists will win. At least, that's what I'm telling my wife.” Hope she believes you pal.

So…when is Sony going to get round to doing the right thing and dropping the price of the PS2 then? It’s down to 199 pounds in the UK (that’s about $249), in Japan they just dropped the price to the equivalent of, ooh…lookee here…$249, so now it’s starting to look like the U.S. has the most expensive system anywhere. Except Canada where I hear you have to pay with your firstborn child. Right now, everyone at Sony is steadfast in their denial that there are any plans to drop prices. A telling sign could be the prices you can find a GT3 pack for these days. A lot of stores are selling this for $329…which does work out a bit cheaper than a PS2 and a copy of the game separately. If you’re gift shopping – this would be the choice to go for.

Speaking of gift shopping, here’s something perfect if you’re on a tight budget. The recent surge in demand for the Dreamcast thanks to the price drop has prompted the production of 2,000 more black Dreamcast units in Japan, according to Consolewire. It seems that it will never die. The official U.S. price is now $50, although not all retailers are sticking to this at the moment. A giant heap of systems at a local Best Buy here in the Bay Area still has them tagged at $69, but even that is a complete bargain. If you don’t have one – go and get one while you can…if only to play Soul Calibur. And NBA 2k1. And NFL 2k1. And Shemue. And Crazy Taxi as it was meant to be played. And…and…and….and pretty much every other Dreamcast game there is. They’re all bargains. This is like the gaming gods cutting us all a break and handing out gaming manna. This kind of thing doesn’t happen very often, so take advantage of it.

Finally, the big news this week is that Square has taken the bold an unprecedented step of announcing that it will be shipping a game earlier than expected, and on top of that, it’s a game that we really want to ship early. December 26th will be a big day for us all…as it means that we have to rush out, still hungover from Christmas day and try and track down one of the early copies of Final Fantasy X that’s shipping that day. Fantastic eh? If you can’t wait even that long, and can get yourself to San Francisco on December 15th, Square will be previewing the game at the PlayStation store at the Metreon all day.