>The Wrong Lesson

>There was a time when EA seemed to churn out nothing but Madden, craptastical movie license games and sequels. They were all about parlaying brand recognition into sales, with innovation and quality taking a back seat. But under CEO John Riccitiello, EA has been embracing new IP such as Dead Space, and has published innovative, ground-breaking titles such as Mirror’s Edge.

The result? They’ve lost their shorts. Sales are down. So earnings are down. (You’d almost think the entire world was short on cash.) EA’s shareholders are pissed. “Not to fear!” says EA. “We’re gonna focus our future investments on titles with the greatest ‘hit potential’!”

If you’re like me, you’re worried that focusing on “hit potential” means returning to their old sequel-factory ways. And it may be that leaning back in that direction will result in a healthier balance sheet. But I worry that EA will be too quick to blame innovation and new IP for bad sales rather than another major factor: timing of releases.

I should have bought and played Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge, but I didn’t. But it wasn’t because the words “Star Wars” didn’t appear in their titles. It’s because they came out in the midst of a flood of high profile, AAA titles. Take note EA! I would definitely have bought both Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge had I not already been buried in Fable 2, Fallout 3, LBP and Rock Band 2. Even us gamers with full-time jobs can’t buy everything (‘cept Jervo).

Look at Bioshock. A new IP which certainly tried some things that hadn’t been done in a shooter before. And it was released in August, when it had the whole hype machine all to itself. The result? Mofo sold by the bucketful!

Before EA tosses innovation and new IP over its shoulder, I really hope they’ll at least try releasing a few of its more “experimental” titles in the spring or summer, when gamers actually have dollars in their pockets that aren’t pledged to Gears of War 4.

>Into the SD void

>’Tis the season. To gather with friends and loved ones, to decorate the tree, to light the Menorah, to sip a cup of eggnog before a blazing fireplace, to do the Feats of Strength, and to be dragged kicking and screaming from one’s delicious HD/surround setup to spend two weeks in a realm of cruel, offline, two-speaker, 4:3, 480p squalor.

That’s right. It’s time once again to pack the kids (360, daughter, PS3) in the car to do some Christmasing at the parents’ house in New York, and then off for a rustic New Years’ Eve with the in-laws at their country cottage in Quebec. In both locations, I will be condemned to playing my 360 and PS3 on SD TV’s. In Quebec, I won’t have Internets. Not even French ones.

Now, I’m enough of a hardcore nerd purist that I’m reluctant to play through any new AAA content on these antediluvian “televisions”. So Gears 2, Fallout 3, Fable 2… all off the table. So how best to use the gaming time I do have? What does one play in SD?

I can tell you that there will be a lot of Rock Band 2 going on, since I have a passel of siblings who will be in New York to rock it out. I’ve also concluded that my time in SD purgatory is ideal for going back and trying great older games that I never got around to, and probably wouldn’t otherwise. Better to play them in SD than not at all . Last holiday season, I made my way through COD2 (which was terrific enough that I played it again in HD/surround once I got home), and played through most of Tomb Raider Anniversary (not a game that really flexes the 360’s 1080p muscles anyway).

I’m thinking this year I’ll finish TR: Anniversary, and maybe start Legend if I’m not all Lara’d out. And while I’m in New York, and at least have XBL access, I’ll probably burn a lot of time with Left 4 Dead, because even SD can’t take the sheen off that mofo. And of course, Psychonauts is still sitting on my pile of shame. I got a good ways in on the original Xbox, but never actually finished it. (Don’t tell Jervo.) I guess I can also try to get through some more GTAIV.

Plus Ima pick up Chrono Trigger for the DS.

Okay, so maybe the next two weeks won’t be the fun famine I made it out to be.

>Back To The Apocalypse

>I find it hard to believe that it’s really December 19. The year was already moving pretty fast, and now I look up and see that Christmas is next fucking week. What the hell happened?

In any event, the release calendar madness has finally slowed down, and now I find myself with a bunch of titles that I finally have some time to enjoy.

First and foremost, I’m getting back into Fallout 3. I had put it down a few weeks ago for some reason, and when I heard about the forthcoming packages of DLC – one of which would raise the level cap and make the endgame a bit more productive – I felt like my time with the game would be better spent with all that stuff intact, instead of playing it now, finishing it, and then coming back later. (I had originally meant to talk about this very thing in relation to this particular article from MTV Multiplayer.) And I guess there’s a part of me that still does feel that way; I’d like to be able to seamlessly incorporate this new DLC into my Fallout experience. That said, last night I found myself with an empty apartment and a lot of options, and I found myself missing the Fallout experience.

Goddamn, that game is awesome. I believe I said in my 2008 wrap-up that I thought I might be a little intimidated by it; it’s such a huge world and there’s so much to do and I still haven’t totally figured out how good or evil I want to be, even though I’m level 10 and have put in a considerable amount of hours into it already. I put it in last night and it only took me about 30 seconds to remember how it worked and I was immediately hooked, again. I’m trying to stay away from the main quest, and as a result I’ve found a ton of other things to see and explore. I used to do this thing in Oblivion – if I was walking towards my targeted location, and another random, undiscovered location started to appear in my map, I’d always feel compelled to stray away just far enough to see what it was that I’d found, and I find myself doing the same thing here in Fallout. And it’s really incredible to see what Bethesda has crammed in there. I’m currently on a side mission that’s taken me to some pretty awesome locations, and the level of detail in every room is just staggering, and it boggles my mind to think that if I had only made a left turn in Rivet City instead of a right, I would never have seen any of it. And the thing of it is, I’m already well aware that there’s a ton of stuff that I’ve already missed because I went one way and not the other. Absolutely incredible.

Rock Band 2 continues to be a nightly source of amusement at my house; my wife has finally graduated to “Medium” difficulty on guitar, and we’re getting back into Tour mode again. I made a brief mention of this in the 2008 Year In Music post on my other blog; there’s 2 songs in particular that I found in the store that I’ve totally fallen in love with, and I ended up purchasing those songs in iTunes – Maximo Park’s “Girls Who Play Guitars” and Silversun Pickups’ “Lazy Eye.” They’re both fun as hell to play on drums, but they also just kick a lot of ass in general.

I made a special category in my 2008 Year in Games post so as to congratulate myself for not being a total whore and buying the Strongbad Games, even though I’m a big fan of the cartoon and an even bigger fan of point-and-click adventure games. Then, of course, it was announced just the other day that they were releasing all 5 adventures on Steam, and so OF COURSE I went and downloaded them immediately. Steam was acting a little weird last night, though, and I couldn’t actually open Episode 1. But I did check out the tutorial in Episode 5, just to make sure I knew what I was getting into, and of course I’m totally fucking hooked.

I finally beat the single-player campaign in Little Big Planet, and then I started dabbling in user-created levels, most of which are kinda shitty. (It does sound strange to use the phrase “single-player campaign” for a game like LBP, but to borrow a phrase from Donald Rumsfeld, you use the nomenclature you have.) I’m not sure I’m ready to begin designing my own levels just yet; I may end up going back into the single-player to try and find all the stickers and objects that I didn’t get the first time. I gotta say – even though the controls are awfully floaty and the back-middle-front aspect of it can get terribly screwed up, that game’s charm is absolutely impossible to deny. I am fully on board the Sackboy bandwagon.

Finally, my DS is finally starting to come to life again. I’ve been getting into Chrono Trigger a little more, and I’ve also been enjoying the newest Castlevania game. I find it incredible that Konami has basically been making the same Castlevania game for a million years and yet it still ends up being pretty awesome every single time.

And so what are you playing this weekend?