01/27/2010

As Good As It Gets?

by Matthew Hawkins

In this post:
1. Time to get a real job! And learn grade school mathematics.
2. No More Heroes 2 is the game of the year thus far (and I haven’t even played the damn thing yet).
3. The iPad, huh?
4. And one last walk down memory lane…

I hate to repeat the obvious, especially since I’ve stated it so many times already, but things have been flat-out shitty for everyone. Many of us were hoping for things to magically turn around once the calendar changed from 09 to 10, but that clearly has not been the case. Those that were poor last year are still in the same boat, myself included, hence why I’ve been forced to look for other forms of income. Translation: a real job!

The Test

Something else you might have heard about already is the census. Which means people will be combing the country all this year, going door to door to ask other people questions. Which also means work, and since I love traveling to new places and talking to new people, such a job seems totally up my alley! Unfortunately, everyone has to take a test before they can be considered for a slot.

On the census job website, one can find a sample test, which caused my heart to immediately sink. I love technology, but it has permanently screwed up my brain; I used to have the greatest sense of direction, but thanks to the advent of the iPhone and GPS and Google Maps, I now get hopelessly lost in a heartbeat. But excuses are excuses, plus I was always woefully pathetic at math (which for an Asian is especially pathetic… thank goodness my mom isn’t around to witness the travesty I’ve become). I’m talking about super simple, junior high-level arithmetic that I was struggling to perform. I knew immediately that I would have to brush up on my skills before the big test this past Friday night, and of course I didn’t, mostly due to me being so busy hunting down other jobs all that afternoon prior. Then again, excuses are excuse.

I was almost late because I had to go to a drug store to get #2 pencils, and then to another when I realized that my pencil sharpener had gone missing (attempts to use Katie’s, which is for make-up pencils, were not successful). But in the end, I had plenty of time to size up the other people who would be taking the test with me. I felt like I was in some bad SNL sketch; you had the cocky white guy who kept making jokes that no one gave a rat’s ass about, the sassy black chick that had to go “for reals?” every two seconds, the totally disheveled woman who looked like she was having the worst day ever, the angry thug who was clearly not there on his own accord, etc. By far the worst was the cranky and clueless old army vet.

Beforehand, while setting up the appointment, I was informed that the test would only take just thirty minutes. But once on-site, the expected stay time had ballooned to an hour and a half; the test itself was still thirty minutes as advertised, but everyone had to sit and wait afterwards for their grades, which would be another half hour. The real kicker was how we all had to fill our applications in unison, requiring yet another half hour. It seemed ridiculous at first, but totally necessary when all was said and done, thanks to the aforementioned old guy, whom we all wanted to strangle. I seriously admire the composure that the census people displayed by answers all his stupid questions and putting up with all his petty complaints. And spare me the “how rude” comments; eccentric old New Yorkers are cute and cuddly till you actually have to deal with them on a regular basis (especially on the subway). Plus you’d also think an ex-army guy, essentially a former employee of the US government, would know enough to bring his ID card when applying for, you know, a government job, let alone refrain from arguing about the point.

Anyhow, I found myself struggling through the 28 questions in the 30-minute time span, which was especially embarrassing since A) again, they were like junior high level, and B) the entire test was identical to the practice version, so I felt especially stupid for not preparing. Mind you, the whole thing wasn’t hard, just the math portion. Everything else, which is mostly related to organization and logic, was a total breeze. Here’s the thing; there’s two types of jobs, the one where you go door to door, talking to people and taking down their info. That’s what I want to do, and not only is there more of it available, but it pays much better. Then you had the clerical jobs, which isn’t nearly as exciting and doesn’t pay as much. Well, the test covered both areas, which not only sucks for me, but is not entirely practical either, since the on the street jobs outnumber the behind the desk slots 5 to 1. Oddly enough, everyone else all wanted the boring, pencil pushing positions. No sprit of adventure, these people.

Next was the big wait for the score. Thankfully I was the first one up, but they also needed clarification; in the application, they wanted to know if I had ever been fired, and for what reason. And what I wrote apparently didn’t make any sense. Mind you, I had to explain in front of everyone, including all these strangers that were taking the test alongside, how I was a game designer at a company for just two months before the head honcho decided that it was best if we parted ways over creative differences. It still made zero sense to the census takers, who are used to hearing reasons like punching their bosses in the face as reasons for dismissal. Anyhow, I was given my test sheet with the score on it, which had a big fat number twenty in red ink. 20 points? I had bombed so bad that I couldn’t help laughing!

After a failed attempt at some self-consolatory street-side Mexican food… there’s all these trucks that are only operational at night, by the highway, which I figured sold burritos, but actually sold really weird stuff, like chicken necks or pig penises… I arrived home, where Katie was hanging out with a coworker (they were getting drunk and playing Katamari). As I explained how badly I had bombed, the phone rang; it was the census folks. They were not supposed to give me the test and were on their way to pick it up. Good thing I didn’t throw it away. Since the girls needed more booze, they accompanied me downstairs where the census folks were waiting for the missing paperwork. They asked how I had done (with so many others taking the test, I was hardly offended that they had forgotten), and I replied with piss poor. But then it was pointed out to me that I had gotten 20 out of 28 (duh), and had somehow ignored the number 87, which was my actual score. I didn’t do bad after-all! And the girls gave me a nice round of applause. In the end, I’m in the que for positions once they actually open up, which will be early next month. Though I intend to take the test again so I can score a perfect 100, since I know I can do better, and hopefully increase my chances once they start calling people. Though how my trip to the Game Developer’s Conference (which at this point looks awfully shaky, though more on that next time), as well as my trip back home beforehand, to visit my father (who btw is no longer institutionalized… for those of you who remembered that small bit… they let him go), will play into all this has yet to be seen.

Heroes Are Hard To Find These Days

So guess what finally came out yesterday? The long awaited American version of Tatsunoko vs Capcom! And on Saturday was the big kick-off party at the Nintendo World Store. Unfortunately, I ended up arriving far later than originally planned, but even more than a few hours under its belt, the place was still crazy packed…

… Lots of folks were waiting in line to compete in various challenges, like getting the highest combo…

… Seth Killian was on-hand of course. We both had a good laugh over his comments from a whiles ago about how there was a snowball’s chance in hell that the game would ever make it to this side of the ocean. Anyhow, it was fun catching up with the guy, and it was simply nice knowing that we was pleased to see me once again… though he seemed far happier to meet my girlfriend (I brought Katie along, to help take pictures or what have you), if you catch my drift. Anyhow, my only burning question was online play, which he said was surprisingly decent. Perhaps some of you can verify this (my copy is still on the way).

Again, the place was jammed…

… I was surprised to see not only those sticks return, but to see them for sale as well. The TvC branded one from Mad Katz was also on-hand (which I stupidly forgot to take pictures of), but the ones above, which were last seen at the Super Street Fighter Club event, were simply prototypes for the new one, or I had simply assumed. So there’s two sticks to chose from! Though with only one game to use them with… not sure if Super Smash Bros is compatible or not.

But the star attraction was the game’s producer, Ryota Niitsuma. Most had waiting all morning to nab his autograph and the sweet looking posters. Here he is pictured with TrueGameHeadz’s Jason Cipriano!

… Unfortunately, because I was there so late in the game, I had completely missed my chance to interview Niitsuma. But then again, the guy had been doing interviews like crazy for the past couple of days, and it’s not like I would have been able to dig up anything that could possibly compare to Siliconera’s revelation of how the Samurai Pizza Cats were potential cast members, and why Speed Racer was never really considered. Also, via Kotaku, Genesis Climber Mospeada was also not included despite Capcom’s wishes.

And guess what else came out yesterday? Anyone who follows my Twitter feed knows the answer to this one: No More Heroes 2. For the past week or so, I’ve been trying to alert this fact to everyone, via this blog, the forum, and Twitter/Facebook, since most had absolutely no clue. Which prompted me to email about five or so different people at Ubi Soft, all of whom were referred by those who felt they might be able to provide answers, as to why they haven’t done jack sh*t to promote the game (though I was a bit more composed when approaching them, I promise). And I’ve been brushed off by big publishers before, but never take it personally, whereas in this instance, it was particularly aggravating. To be honest, a part of me was secretly expecting (or hoping) for a gigantic, last minute marketing blitz. In the end, nothing.

Anyhow, went to my local Gamestop yesterday afternoon to finally buy the thing. No dice. They only got enough to cover their pre-orders, which resulted in a grand total of two copies, with zero spares. I checked the three others that were close by, and the same exact story (one didn’t even get any pre-orders, but they did get one random copy for good measure, which had also been sold out). Once again, good job Ubi! I was told that the flagship store near Herald Square might have it, but in the end, a good friend of mine reached out to offer assistance; Stephen Totilo had been following my plight via Twitter (actually, mostly just bitching and moaning) and offered to pass along this spare copy. Again, it’s good to have friends! And while I perhaps should not have mentioned that part, I also love to shamelessly name drop, so there ya go. Sup Steve.

So how is it? Haven’t gotten the chance to actually play it! Katie insisted on getting first dibs, and hasn’t let go of the controller ever since. In fact, she’s close to beating it this very second (she had to take the day off of work due to not feeling good, and it’s at least helping to cheer her up). So the following are my impressions, from just watching and listening her play the thing. So maybe take everything I have to say with a grain of salt…

- For starters, it’s astounding how everything that made the first game so incredible is back in full effect, but completely refined and better than ever (at least from a viewer’s vantage point). Granted, it’s missing some of the charm of the original, but that can be forgiven since that’s pretty much impossible to properly re-create in almost any instance. But more importantly, the dead weight has been tossed aside and plenty of new elements added to the mix, to help justify the existence of the sequel in the first place; sometimes a game is so perfect (despite rough edges and all) that a follow-up, no matter how enticing it might sound, can ruin the mystique of the original, but that is not the case here. It also feels like some of the concepts have been there since day one, and only now has Suda 51 been able to deliver them; similar to how Persona 3 is to Persona 4, NMH1 now looks like a proof of concept for NMH2 more than anything else.

- The game looks AMAZING. The original had top-notch graphics, yet the sequel blows it away easily, both in terms of detail and pure scale; didn’t realize how tiny and bland the environments from part 1 were till I saw this beauty in action. The stages are far more varied and interactive. I had heard of of slowdown, and there’s definitely some, but during the cinemas, and given all the stuff that’s happening on screen it’s totally understandable. And it’s liberal use of the 8-bit, retro aesthetic is impressively implemented, which has become increasingly difficult to pull off these days, since everyone’s doing it and novelty alone is no longer enough.

- The audio is also just as top-notch. Unfortunately, the soundtrack isn’t as mind-blowing as before, mostly because Masafumi Takada wasn’t involved, but his long-time collaborator Jun Fukuda is, and has done an impeccable job of filling his friend’s shoes. I also still consider the soundtrack to NMH1 to be one of the best game scores in the best ten years, period, and more or less an impossible act to follow. At the very least, that familiar tune from before is back, and with lyrics! Plus one of the best tracks from the remix album manages to make an appearance, which is really nice. As for the overall sound design, still the absolute best.

- One of the best things about part 1 was the game’s universe and it’s colorful denizens, so it’s simply a joy to see familiar faces once again, yet slightly evolved and elaborated upon. Some of the story’s logic here is especially wonky, and in a frustrating way (mind you, I’ve yet to see the ending, so it might be off the charts when all is said and done, or those bits that I have issues with might be totally resolved), but for the most part, there’s a level of cohesion that’s rarely found in games, ever. I’m especially happy to see Sylvia back, who is seriously hotter than ever before.

- Like I said, the fat as been cut, and easily the most welcome change is the loss of the open world aspects, something that even the biggest fans of the first title will acknowledge was great in concept, but poor in execution. Though I was afraid of how the NES-style mini games would play out, due to some of the reasons already mentioned, but they seem to be quite excellent, and surprisingly deep! It sounds so clich?d, but some look like they could have actually be stand alone games from back in the day. Though the insane degree of variety permeates throughout the entire experience, not just in the side missions but the main portion of the game as well. Once more, the original seems almost dull in comparison.

- I especially like the little things, which again were mostly built open minor elements from before but are now fully realized. Like all the stuff you can do with your cat, or the animu that Travis loves so much, which btw, blows away Rockstar’s lame-ass attempt at a parody, and then some. There’s even a more fully featured shmup, which while hardly ground breaking, is neat nonetheless (and still far better than any that’s come out for the Dreamcast as of late).

- NHM2 might also be the only game in existence that tries to be funny, but actually succeeds! I mean laugh out loud funny, but just a quiet chuckle. The dialogue and the voice acting is all pretty top-notch.

… In the end, NMH2 appears to be a text book example of the perfect sequel, and already a strong GOTY contender. Granted, my opinions could immediately change once I finally tough the thing, but I doubt it?s going to differ too much when all is said and done. And yeah, I can totally see why Ubi doesn’t want to promote this game. lol.

UPDATE: Well, guess what just showed up in the mail? It’s at least nice to know that my emails did not go totally unanswered… though it still would have been nice to have my concerns addressed. But then again, in light of how things turned out, guess there’s really not much to say, is there? Anyhow, guess I now have a spare copy to give away! Any takers?

“But… the Kindle didn’t save publishing.”

As uttered by Travis (not Touchdown, but Nichols), earlier this morning on Twitter. Anyhow, it’s finally here, the iPad. And yes, I liked iSlate better, but we’ll all get used to it, like the iPod, which despite the nice ring, has never made any sense. Though Colleen put it best with: “Well at least they aren’t calling it the iTampon.” Anyhow, two groups of people have been eying this thing since forever, folks related to the world of games, and folks related to the world of print, and because I’m effectively a member of both, here’s my two cents!

Though it’s perhaps worth noting that most folks on my Twitter feed (which I know is not the best pool of opinions to draw from usually, but in this instance it’s perfectly apt) the reaction from game makers is decidedly mixed, whereas from publishing types, it’s uniformly limp…

From a gaming standpoint, it’s a big iPhone. Yay. It would have been nice during the keynote to see the creator of Eliss on stage, since it’s the only thing that makes this new platform remotely interesting (as much as I LOVE that game… it’s the quintessential example of what an iPhone/iPod Touch’s game should be… the tiny screen of the devices makes the action a bit too challenging). But I can at least understand why EA was brought out, since it’s EA, and they’re a gigantic publisher that everyone knows and cares about, but Gameloft? Give me a break. I half expected them to trot out some downright criminal Super Mario Bros clone (I’m still quite proud of my Super Galaxy Mariu joke title… seriously).

But yeah, it’s just the same games as before, just only bigger, which is both good and bad; those graphics from EA’s driving game didn’t might look great on a small screen and blow away what’s on the DS and PSP (okay, that’s stretching it), but on a bigger format, one can’t help compare it to console fare. Plus, the loss of the camera certainly hinders some potential, but ultimately, the loss of the form factor is it’s biggest hindrance; the main reason why iPhone games are so popular is because they conveniently fit in your pocket and are already on a device that you always have with you, i.e. a phone. Hate to state to the obvious once again, but one seriously gets the impression that the Apple does not know any of this. And while it will certainly be nice to see more of the screen when your forced to used fake, on-screen buttons, it’s not gonna feel any less awkward.

On the print side of things, many have been eager to see if the iPad will indeed be the savior that so many have been longing for. Not gonna lie; I was one of them. As nice as the Kindle is (actually, it’s not), perhaps all that’s needed is that one “magical” device that finally gets everything right. And it would seem that we’ll all be waiting a bit further. Though having big guns like the New York Times behind it is certainly encouraging (then again, as a sinking ship, they’re just as desperate, as well as disillusion). But ultimately, other than being a fancier e-reader, it doesn’t really bring a whole lot to the table. What that might possibly be has yet to be determined, and perhaps there isn’t anything else. Perhaps this is as good as it’s going to get. Which to be honest, is a rather depressing thought.

At this point, I’m mostly interested in seeing how the world of comics comes into play. Though I have yet to hear if parties like Marvel and DC have been approached by Apple or the like. In the end, the ones to benefit the most might be web cartoonists; the iPad does appear to be the perfect converging of necessarily elements; I still don’t enjoy reading comics on a screen while sitting at a desk, and this makes them more attractive to considerable degree. But back to traditional print, as well as gaming, here’s my bold prediction: by the end of today, or tomorrow, EGM will announce that they’ll be the 1st game mag to support the device. Though whether they’ve been planning this all along or how it’ll show that there hasn’t been any actual planning all along remains to be seen!

Otherwise, the hardware itself is certainly neat, though I’m certainly going to refrain from calling it sexy. Even the price of $500 is a pleasant surprise… at least for an Apple device, which are always on the pricey side. But you just can’t ask that much for a device that supposed to be the next step in portable productivity and entertainment, yet doesn’t allow for multitasking (I can’t have an instant messenger app and email working at the same time? for reals?), let alone handle multiple media formats (sorry, but YouTube is not the end all, be all of digital entertainment), along with Flash (I realize that’s been a tricky one for everyone, but it’s now 2010 and most of the other big boys, like Google and Palm, have managed to figure it out). Even though it would perhaps be too tricky in the end to actually utilize, the lack of a camera is also a big miss in my eyes too.

Sorry, but I’m still miffed that Apple hasn’t come out with a netbook-sized MacBook, something that people STILL really want. Without an actual keyboard (built in, that cumbersome and more than likely expensive keyboard/dock combo is unacceptable), you honestly can’t do jack with it.

Though the real deal killer is Apple’s continued association with AT&T. When the subject of 3G first reared its head, I was all “Okay, this is when Apple finally says the world ‘Verizon’ on stage!” Nope. That alone killed the interest of many that were actually willing to plunk down serious cash for the thing, I’m certain. Best of all, data on the iPhone is only going to get worse. Splendid! Though what gets me is how the Wi-Fi only version makes no sense whatsoever; if you’re at home, are you really going to watch a movie on the thing when there will be more than likely a far better display readily available? Surf the web or write emails when you probably already have a computer, or some other similar, yet far more competent device?

… In the end, I think the main reason why so many are particularity turned off by Apple’s latest wunder toy is the smugness behind it. Granted, they’ve always been like that, but those videos on the Apple website with Jonathan Ivy seem a tad bit more unbearable than usual (and trust me, I’m a BIG fan of the guy), as well as the use of the world “magical.” Oh well, looks like I’m still getting a MacBook! Nice try Apple. But not the game charger that they’ve been touting, by no stretch of the imagination. Again, I honestly wanted something to finally breath like

The final word goes to Jeff Minter: “Now all I have to do is decide which My Little Pony sticker to put on the back.”

Hermione + Fort90 4 Eva

BTW, for anyone that might be interested, I threw a bunch of pics from this blog onto Flickr late last night, at least all the ones that I produced myself and were not shamelessly stolen from the web. Bear it mind that it doesn’t include anything that’s been uploaded already; whenever I cover an event with a boatload of pics around here, I generally toss the originals, in their high res glory, along with the extras over at that end. So for those of you who weren’t satisfied enough with the 20 or pics I posted of Hilary drawing that bizarro Pokemon cosplayer at the NY Anime Fest, you’ll find the other 80 in the appropriate set!

Yet my personal favorite will always be this, again via Katie…

… Perhaps her greatest creation ever, more so than Nurse Nurse or Bee Girl (btw, have you checked out the latest installment? it’s pretty hawt).

Alright, gotta hustle. I’m meeting Colleen at the First Second office in a bit; we’re heading to Brooklyn to check out the Arby’s that just opened up there, which is supposedly the fanciest one in the entire country! Can’t wait to see hipster douchebags munch of Beef ‘N Cheddars. And then it’s back to my place for some Rock Band with Katie. Later!

  • Sheep_Herder

    Uh, dibs on the NMH2 copy?

    Yeah, I saw nothing promoting NMH2 release, no comercials, nothing. Though, I was surprised at the amount of commercials that did come out for TvsC, especially on WWE’s Raw.

    And congrats on passing the test.

  • http://www.fort90.com fort90

    The game is yours! Email me your mailing address and I’ll try to have it in the mail by week’s end.

  • Slonie

    Can I borrow your copy of NMH1? May as well play it first…

  • http://www.fort90.com fort90

    I’ll be sure to bring it along when I come to San Fran! Well, provided if I can in the first place…

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