2009 – A Look Back At The Year In Gaming

11 02 2010

Looking back at this post, where I talked about my most anticipated games for 2009, I can’t help but be amazed at how after all these years, so many games that seem like sure-fire hits simply don’t make the cut when viewed in retrospect, and how many come out the gates with little fanfare and end up becoming beloved classics.

So, with that in mind, let’s look at that old post and contrast with what really happened in 2009.

MadWorld scrnWhat surprised me most about this past year’s games was not that the games I’d been looking forward to were bad, or terrible…it’s that they were so woefully generic or vanilla, that they simply didn’t connect as promised, all too often.  The games I’m thinking of most in this area were MadWorld, and Halo Wars.

Both games were exactly as promised.  Halo Wars, was, indeed an RTS game set in the world of Halo.  However, that’s about where the innovation stopped.  Sure, it was a decent control scheme to bring RTS to the console in terms of GUI and little ways the game was tailored for the 360, however, in general, this also left the game a bit neutered, and less than exciting, despite the thrill of “zerg-rushing” with a pack of Warthogs. Halo Wars

A similar problem dogged MadWorld as well, as the game’s visuals were striking, stark and unique.  But in the end, repetition (along with over-the-top silly commentary) killed the artistic purity of the idea.

Both games are not bad at all, in fact, I’d still say that missing either would be a detriment to understanding what 2009 offered.  It’s simply that at the same time of being good games, they were nothing more than good, when most of the gaming press and enthusiast fanbase expected greatness.  Neither really delivered, and that’s the disappointment more than anything else.

Mary Smith

Image via Wikipedia

My biggest hopes for the year seemed to come from one game that hasn’t yet arrived.  This “coming-soon” game, Heavy Rain from Quantic Dream looks pretty much as-promised in terms of the visuals as well as the new style of gameplay (that tends to work more like EXTREMELY interactive fiction, rather than actual…you know, gaming).  However, while I haven’t gotten my hands on the game yet to verify this, most recent previews/reviews point the the fact that the dialogue is a bit stilted, and that the voice acting is stiff, which, as a more narrative experience (as opposed to simply a gaming experience), may stifle sales of the game and potentially,  kill this “choose-your-own-adventure-digital-edition” fledgling genre…

Resident Evil 5

Image via Wikipedia

As for the game that lived up to expectations last year, Resident Evil 5 sold extremely well, played just as I had hoped it would, and worked well in a very game-y “extra modes” way, while still maintaining the momentum (although, not really growing) of it’s most recent predecessor.  Co-Op play really changed the face of the survival-horror genre, and was implemented quite well.  This was surprising, and I think really gave the game a lot of replayability, as did the leaderboard aspect of the game (something entirely new for a horror franchise).

Dragon Age: Origins, also was a game that a lot of people had high hopes for, but were worried, because screenshots did not show the game well.  And while BioWare‘s pedigree for RPGs with story held a lot of cred with the gaming public, no one was sure whether this would be a step forward or a large step backward, in terms of the genre.  However, BioWare has once more, hit it out of the park, delivering a very compelling, rich, lore-filled world in which every single character resides.  The story is epic enough to lend drama, but personalized enough to make the player care about the small decisions and conversations.

Batman - Arkham Asylum

Image by sean geer via Flickr

Abel attacking Ryu in Street Fighter IV.

Image via Wikipedia

Beyond what I knew about at the time of writing that anticipation post, more than a couple really great games came out, some out of the blue.  First was Capcom’s Street Fighter IV, which really revitalized and brought some credibility back to the fighting genre.  Also definitely worth mentioning (and also one that was unexpectedly great) was Rocksteady Studios’ Batman: Arkham Asylum.  While the Batman title brought some cool innovation, story/character depth,  and a lot of fun gameplay to 3rd-person brawlers, Street Fighter IV took all of the conventions of the fighting genre and refined them (with some pretty decent net-code for online matches) into something that felt both new and familiar at the same time.

Assassin's Creed 2 PS3

Image by louisvolant via Flickr

Another suprise hit of 2009 was Assassin’s Creed 2.  Obviously Ubisoft learned a lot from the faults of the original game.  AC2 really developed the story of the Desmond character to a satisfying end, as well as refined and expanded the gameplay which kept the player from feelings of repetition, which was a major complaint in the first game.  Add to this, attractive “side quests” as well as the promise of expansion through downloadable content, and Assassin’s Creed 2 delivers in a way that many other games simply couldn’t.

Uncharted 2_ Among Thieves™3 grenade toss

Image by misplacedparadox via Flickr

Rounding off my list of games that were anticipated, or surprises, is Uncharted 2.  In a year of sequels and more story-driven content, Uncharted 2 really did the best job of pulling off the trifecta of gaming fun.  The story was interesting, and acted well, really giving you a sense of “being in for the ride” much like a good action film.   Secondly, the game plays tightly (gunfights are exciting, not painful), and there’s enough new types of content to prevent you from feeling that it’s simply a rehash of the previous title.  Finally, the visual quality of the game is really top-notch.  So many people have referred to the game as very cinematic, or film-like, and the care which went into crafting the character models, the environments, and the set pieces really are the key to that feeling of realism and getting sucked-in.

All in all, the year (like many others) had a lot of ups and downs, wild successes as well as letdowns.  However, the number of quality, engaging, and replayable titles of this past year really stun me, when one considers that so many developers are making some bold and unique choices with their games.  Sure, Bungie put out some games.  Sure, Ubisoft did as well, but Capcom had a stellar year in terms of original IP, revitalized old IP, and flat-out sales.  relative newcomers like Quantic Dream got a lot of news, and Rocksteady came out of nowhere to claim a (rightful) place amongst the standard greats in the industry.  And who would have predicted that a year chocked-full of sequels would leave us so immensely happy?   It was definitely an interesting and good year for gaming overall, and one can only look forward to now, 2010, when so many games are still on the verge of coming out, all year, and think “what can we anticipate this time?” 

(And yes, that post will come.  Soon.)

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9 02 2010

The Who SB44Still unsure of the mass-market appeal of downloadable content?  Think Rock Band and Guitar Hero are done spitting out song packs and extending their catalogs?  Think again…

If you watched the Super Bowl yesterday, or at the very least, watched the halftime show, you were treated to a pretty darn good medley of The Who’s greatest hits, performed pretty darn well (in this writer’s opinion, at least.)

Immediately after the game’s end, Harmonix put up “The Who Super Bowl S-Mashup” for download in their online track store for Rock Band 2.  Available on all three home consoles, the downloadable “track” will cost only $1.99 (a flat $2 for the Wii), and has some pretty high difficulty ratings (like most of the other “Who” tracks available already).

While I haven’t purchased the track yet, I am considering it, as the set was pretty good, and you can’t beat the value in terms of dollars to the length of the medley.

Including parts of songs like: “Pinball Wizard”, “Baba O’Riley”, “Who Are You” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, this is sure to please a lot of fans of The Who (myself included).

In my opinion, Classic Rock is underrepresented in the Rock Band music store (sure, it’s there, but there’s a treasure trove of songs yet to appear,) and this is a great compliment to the album/studio tracks available.  And again, that price is compelling.

Of course, this is not the actual live version as performed on stage.  There would be no way for them to create the beat-mapping and note tracking required in time to release in a timely manner.  However, The Who recorded the same medley just for the Rock Band folks at Harmonix, so you can be assured that the songs, the transitions, and the screams of YEAAAAAAHHHHHH! will be just as satisfying.

It will definitely be interesting to see how Harmonix responds to future opportunities like this.  One must assume that this specific track is a toe into the water of future “event” track downloads, so if this is piquing your interest, definitely grab this track now!

You can read more about this track, at the Rock Band site: http://www.rockband.com/news/s_mashup

So what about you? Are you planning on picking up this track?  What do you think about this idea that special events will be chronicled through Rock Band (and one assumes, to stay competitive, Guitar Hero as well in the future)?

Madden Predicted The Win. Again.

8 02 2010
Well, Super Bowl XLIV is in the books, and the New Orleans Saints won by a score of 31 over the Indianapolis Colts’ 17.

Both in Madden and in RL, the Saints said "Sit Down" to the Colts

Every year since 2004, the folks at EA Sports who make the Madden NFL games run a simulation of the year’s championship game.  This year, with Madden NFL 10, they did indeed predict a Saints win (albeit by a much narrower score of 35-31).

So, what is the track record for the Madden simulations versus the reality of the Super Bowls of recent history?  That’s exactly what I decided to check out, and here is the information that I found:

Read the rest of this entry »

Moving (Maybe)

18 01 2010

I’m testing out Dreamhost (I like their back-end abilities, as well as their green cred, and honestly, their cost) and may, within the next couple weeks, be moving OtakuDad to its own domain. More to come as changes occur!

This also leads us closer and closer to the reality of the “Dorkmasters” podcast… 🙂

How to REALLY Help in Haiti

14 01 2010

Donated ChangeI’m going to keep this brief, because I know there’s a low signal-to-noise ratio with this terrible disaster.  But I’ve done some research for a friend, and it’s come up with some fairly startling results.  I want to present the facts as best as I can, with organizations that are not only reputable, but forthcoming with their financials.

So, given that preface, the question is:

Where is the best place to donate my funds, if I want the most to come from my donation to help people in Haiti?

Here’s the deal:  Every charitable non-profit organization has operating costs, and costs that are incurred to simply raise money.  So, reputable organizations post this information publicly.  Most organizations do this through the Better Business Bureau, and the IRS.  Some choose to do so privately.  Another factor here is that when funds are given, are they given to a general fund, or something specific to the cause you wish to donate towards?

So, here’s my breakdown:

Samaritan's Purse Logo

My number one choice is Samaritan’s Purse (based out of Boone, NC, USA).

Samaritan’s Purse gives 89% (as of Fiscal Year 2008) towards programs. The other 11% break down as follows: 6% go towards fund-raising, and 5% goes towards general expenses and administrative costs.

There is one higher-profile organization that gives a higher percentage towards aid, which is the Red Cross.  However, the reason I did not choose them, is that unlike Samaritan’s Purse, where you can specify your donation to go only towards efforts to help Haiti, the Red Cross makes you donate towards an “International Relief Fund” which may or may not go towards this effort.

So, 89 cents of every dollar donated to Samaritan’s Purse goes DIRECTLY to work in Haiti.  They are already on the ground, working, helping and assessing how to best organize their efforts in the future.

I still think the Red Cross is doing a great job, and they’ve already pledged to give $1M towards Haitian relief.  That’s wonderful.  And the verbiage of their site seems to say that the “Texting Campaign” (where you send the word HAITI to 90999, and $10 gets donated to the Red Cross, and it shows up on your phone bill), WILL INDEED GO DIRECTLY TO RELIEF IN HAITI.  So, this appears to be the only way to send money to the Red Cross with a specific target for those funds.

Here’s what is most important:

1) PRAY.

There is terrible human tragedy going on, and God can move in amazing ways there.  Pray that God will send the right people, the right aid, with the right timing to help as many people as possible!

2) GIVE.

Give your funds to an organization you trust, and that you know will help folks out.  I suggest Samaritan’s Purse (I have ZERO AFFILIATION with them, by the way, just to be clear), but anywhere you’ve researched and trust with your funds, WILL HELP.


Your prayers and financial help WILL make a difference.  But combined with others?  If we’re smart and work together to make sure we’re maximizing our resources in this region, we can really work together to make a difference in these people’s lives, for a positive future.  Let’s educate each other on how charities work.  Let’s make sure people know that not all are alike!  Let’s help more people.  Now.

Thanks for reading.  I hope it was informative.

Note after publishing: The Red Cross gives 90% of its income to aid.  So it’s a 1% difference.  Just forgot to give the percentage for them.  Just wanted to be clear.

Stay At Home, Dad

10 01 2010

So, two days ago, my wife, along with her mother, and 7 others (including my boss and his wife) left for a seven-day medical missions trip to Tegucigalpa, Honduras.  I’ve been on many missions trips (well, probably about seven), and usually, since they are with the youth group I work with my wife stays home, to watch the kids while I’m away.  This time though, it is my wife’s first missions trip,  the first time she’s been away from the kids for this long, and the longest I’ve been with the kids all by myself.

Now, before you think this is simply about me whining about being a Dad-on-his-own (or a DOHO, as I like to call it), well, okay.  That’s a small part of it.  I mean, it is tough.  Keeping up the house, making breakfast, lunch, dinner, the numerous snacks that they seem to keep getting away with, starting movies, setting up (and playing practically entire levels of, because they’re just “too hard, Daddy!”) video games, changing diapers, wiping butts after the potty, yadda, yadda, yadda…

It’s tough work.  And before anyone says “well, I’m a mom, and I do that all the time!”  Know this:  I do this all the time too.  I’m a stay-at-home Dad two days during the “workweek” and my wife works on-call at a hospital, so I’m often fending for myself here on the home front.  But, there’s usually relief on the horizon.  The cavalry may take a while to get there, but back-up is always on the way…sometime.

And tonight, when I made a paper “ring-chain” to help the kids (and yeah, myself too) count down the number of days until Mommy returns, it really hit me, how long I still have to go until my wife returns… (Let’s ignore the fact that when she does return, she’s going to be exhausted, and not really going to be in the mood to “get back to the grind” right away either….)

But that’s honestly not the point of my writing here.  No, why I write now, is because I’m realizing the hard way (and the best way, I think that God could have possibly done so) what my wife does for me, for my family, and for service to God every time I’m in Saltillo or Mazatlan in Mexico, or Cedar Rapids in Iowa, or New Orleans, Louisiana, and this summer when I’ll be in Erkrath, Germany.

We need to recognize that in situations like this, staying home is not simply a matter of duty to our family, or to avoid amazingly expensive daycare/babysitting costs.  It’s not a burden, giving us reason to sigh and moan.  Being at home while a loved one is away serving God in a missions field is not a matter of us left behind being idle and feeling useless.

God called one of us to the missions field, and the other?  That one didn’t just stay home.  One of us was called to step up and serve the missions field here at home.  My staying home now, just as the many times my wife has stayed at home then (and I know will, in the future), is service to my creator.  It is service to those people in Honduras.  It is service to my wife.  It is service to my kids (although they’d most definitely say otherwise).

But what God’s revealing to me more and more with really, every hour I’m here doing this terrible job on my own, is that this isn’t just “the luck of the draw” that I’m home and my wife is gone.  God is asking me to serve.  And I can do so one of two ways:  begrudgingly, counting down the minutes (nay, the seconds!) until my wife can come home and relieve me from the stress I’ve gone through (remember, wiping butts, endless nights of kids refusing to go to bed…sitting through tearful bouts of “I miss Mommy”, etc…)


I can take joy in knowing that God is working through my humble little family.  I can be encouraged, knowing that my wife is making a difference on the lower hemisphere of our planet, while I support her efforts back here in the north.  Knowing that God has chosen us to do His work.  And every butt I wipe, and every tear I wipe and every nose I wipe (yeah I do a lot of wiping) is making a difference for His kingdom, which is eternal, amazing, and so awesome compared to the wisp of a wisp of a wisp of mist that this week of trial (for both my wife and myself) is at the moment.

So, while I’m missing my wife like mad, and having trouble sleeping because I worry about her well-being and thinking about her more times a day than I have fingers and toes…I’m choosing the second option.  I’m grateful for the chance to serve God, wife and family.  I’m grateful that I’m getting to build into my kids in a way I don’t when my wife is here.  I’m grateful that my wife is building into God in a way that simply doesn’t happen unless you’re out on a limb for Him.

I’m grateful that God told me:  “Stay at home, Dad.”

OtakuMom’s missions trip in Tegucigalpa, Honduras is blogged about here. It is a multi-church effort that aims to bring badly needed medicines, dental help, and hope to some very hurting, very needy, and very-loved-by-God people.


28 12 2009