June 19, 2008

Decisions, decisions

I'm very interested in the upcoming/just released Space Invaders Extreme. It's fast, has incredible music and seems to be the perfect game for playing in quick bursts when I'm taking a break from MGS4 (or anytime). Also its only USD 20 (+shipping).

Now here's the question: Which version do I pick?

The DS version, with the pros being slightly catchier music and the chance on diverting online and offline multiplayer - although with not much substance or longevity to it as I've heard. The cons would be the smaller screens, simpler graphics and the cramp inducing DS Lite design.

Watch it here:

The other option is the PSP version, with flashier graphics, a nice big crisp screen and the pleasure of a much nicer to hold PSP, with the downsides being a little less interesting (but still very awesome) music and no multiplayer for me.

Watch it there:

Decisions, decisions.

Hideo Kojima Interview Nr. 2: Ceci n’est pas une pipe (Welt Online)

Originally published in German on www.welt.de, June 12th '08
by Thomas Lindemann


Welt Online: Your games are always quite progressive and guide through a complex storyline that often surprises the player. But what are video games at all? Are you telling stories like novels or movies?

Hideo Kojima: If I was sad as a child, naturally, I talked with friends. However, what shaped my experience even more, were movies and novels. Their characters gave me courage. So I always intended to give the user of my games something consistent as well. The telling and the creation of the world and the characters is most important for me.

Welt Online: Are video games art at all?

Hideo Kojima: Not really. Video games are something completely different from movies and novels because everything depends on the player as well. Novels reflect the ideas of the author, a
game adds the freedom of the player. An artist can paint something and then say: this is no pipe. In a game however, a flower always has to be a flower to make the game world usable. A game developer has to comply with this.

Welt Online: This sounds a little too modest. Your games are considered outstanding and have many fans. There has to be something you are doing very well.

Hideo Kojima: A good game developer is similar to a good cook or sommelier. He surprises the users, offers them things they can be happy about. He toys with their tastes. Only in this sense can a video game be art.

Welt Online: In one part of your "Metal Gear Solid" series, a friendly character is suddenly possessed and controlled by evil, at one point. Violence does not help there, the player has to think of something else. How did you know that the allegedly dull game fans would accept that?

Hideo Kojima: At that time, it was 1998, the principle of games always was: There is only you and the hostile outside world. You could shoot at everything that moves. I disliked this style. I wanted that the players have to to think even in an action game, for instance, if the enemy is really an enemy.

Welt Online: Did one really have to think at that moment?

Hideo Kojima: In this scene you are referring to, Meryl, the hero's loyal companion, is suddenly used by the evil Psycho Mantis. Shortly before, she has said to the character controlled by the player, Snake: Shoot me, if I'll ever stand in your way. I wanted to ask the players: What are you going to do, if it really happens? I wanted them to think about their ethics.

Welt Online: The year 2008 is extremely successful for games, yours should once again be a millon seller. Why is there a breakthrough just now?

Hideo Kojima: The new consoles Xbox 360 and PS3 were released, it just took a while for the game developers to adapt to these new technologies. Now is the time. We are influenced by the technology. But we are also ready now, to instill it with our ideas. The gaming industry just made a leap, this is the year of its bloom.

Welt Online: The other big successes this year all came from North America. What is the specifically Japanese aspect in your games?

Hideo Kojima: When I turned on the TV as a child, there were drama-series, quiz-shows and movies from the USA, Europe or other parts of Asia. The same applied to novels. I grew up in a mixed culture. In my games, there are no Japanese characters. Neither are there in the novels I write for myself since my childhood. On the other hand, I am Japanese, never lived anywhere else and have been brought up typically Japanese. The Japanese essence in my work is this weird sense for an intercultural mixture.

Welt Online: Snake, the main character of your game, has committed acts of violence and now has to pay for it. Were you tired of the common insensitive gunslinger?

Hideo Kojima: Old Snake, who I created for this new game, also resembles myself. I am getting older as well. In my games, there is always a theme. The essential question of the saga is: What can we pass on to the next generation? The first part, for example, is about genes. This time it is about things one can not precisely label but has to pass on. For example, values of education. Whoever plays Snake only sees his back. He is supposed to think about what is behind Snake. He only has one year left to live, has to go on a mission, has to save the world, yet what it all means, the player has to guess for him.

Welt Online: This is the last part of your "Metal Gear Solid" series. Would you make a game completely without violence once, too?

Hideo Kojima: For me, the games I make are no violent games, even though many are likely to consider it a shooter. I only wanted to transfer the player into another world and generate a strong tension with it. That is why Snake has to be in war. But in actuality my game is supposed to be a hide and seek. If you are discovered you could be killed. I included it because hiding is boring otherwise. I will continue to look for ways to generate tension in the future. Not necessarily with violence. But it works well. Therefore it is so popular in video games.

Source: Welt Online - "Ein Spiele-Designer ist wie ein guter Koch"

If you liked the interview, please digg it, share it or leave a comment. Much appreciated.

June 18, 2008

What? Metal Gear?!? A frequently updated log of a first playthrough of Metal Gear Solid 4

UPDATE (June 19th 8:56 PM):

I finished Act 3 and a part of Act 4, so there will be my opinion on that here soon. Germany is currently playing against Portugal in the quarterfinals, so there's little time.

My mind was blown throughout the whole end of Act 3 and the beginning of Act 4, more on it later.

UPDATE (June 18th 1:19 PM):

*Act 2 spoilers*

Another 1 1/2 hours later the previous mentioned flaws are all but forgotten. The area I started in, right after the boss, was an open area sneaking extravaganza á la MGS3 par excellence. I was able to use the NV, radar and the OctoCamo how I wanted to and it worked. I even fooled the FROGS for the first time in the game, even though they could hear the sound my NV made. I was able to take my time, explore, toy with the guards, sneak up on people and completely replenish my stock of rations, instant noodles and Regain, which were lost in the two hours before, without being spotted once.

I had a blast.

The next area, the driving mission, was a lot of fun, except for the "zombies", which kept annoying and distracting me. A lot of the atmosphere was thanks to Drebin's awesome voice work and his superb driving skills. A lot of Gekkos were hurt in the process.

It just kept on getting better. The following cutscenes and the marketplace area, although too small, were fucking incredible.

MGS4, you've completely won me back.

Also this:

UPDATE (June 18th ~7:50 AM):

Firstly, be amazed by the OctoCamo. Yes, there's more than grass in this picture.

*Act 2 spoilers*

I only played for about 2 hours yesterday and those weren't the most fun I had with the game up to now. That may partly be because I either suck or am playing the game wrong, but the intrusion into the mansion was way too hectic and unforgiving to me. My strategy so far was to eliminate/narcotize every PMC on the map and then run around and find all the hidden weapons/items/music. Not such a good idea with infinitely respawning (a concept that I HATE) enemies. I especially don't want to miss any music pieces, so I always feel like the game makes it way too hard to look for them in these situations. It also didn't seem rewarding to try the sneaking approach at that moment in the game, which felt weird. I think I should be utilizing the OctoCamo more but somehow it still doesn't feel natural to me.

The other part that that felt wrong was the fight against Laughing Octopus. I pretty much always go for stamina kills because the game rewards you for it, and it took a loooong time to accomplish that. Maybe I used the wrong weapons (stun grenades, tranquilizer gun) or the wrong strategy, (grenades while she is following me, headshots while she is hiding/mimicking) but I couldn't think of many other options and, sadly, CQC didn't work at all, which I found out in a very fatal way.

I ultimately did beat her though, and facecamo was definitely worth the hassle. The little doll seems useless but is a nice thing to have as well.

All these things were a slight impediment to my enjoyment of the game but I don't think they will detract from my final opinion too much. The game is still very, very awesome.

Also, the scene in which Snake's aging body is shown made a big impression for me for some reason. He seemed very sad and weak. The whole scene helped a lot to make me empathize with Old Snake. More of that, please.

UPDATE (June 16th ~11:30 PM):

Oh my god. It is fucking gorgeous. So far, after an 8-hour marathon with a very interested and welcome audience, it is everything I expected and more. The game is so incredibly cinematic, so magnificently fluid, so beautifully beautiful, so georgeously playable, and so much more. Yes, I am an extreme Metal Gear fan. But even disregarding that, this is the first real "Next-Gen" experience I ever had, and probably the most "compelling" experience I ever had with a videogame, period.

*slight spoiler/theory territory from here*

My theory right now, which my brother largely came up with, is that the game will re-use scenarios from the previous Metal Gears in reverse order. Act 1 was MGS4, every trailer we saw before the game was exactly this setting, so this represents MGS4 . Act 2 is a setting with a rich flora and fauna, a day/night cycle, just like MGS3. So we suppose Act 3 will be a Tanker/Big Shell (Mei Ling's reported ship?) scenario, Act 4 a Shadow Moses/snowy/military base scenario and possibly Act 5 an Outer Haven scenario? It would be very awesome.

I love how everything from the past Metal Gears is recycled, or rather paid homage to. The names of the Bosses (Laughing Octopus = The Joy + Decoy Octopus, Crying Wolf = The Sorrow + Sniper Wolf and so on) the aforementioned areas, the characters - I did NOT expect to see Rosemary again and even less in this very awkward relationship - the fantastic level of detail and the little things that are there to find, including the user-triggered flashback sequences. On a sidenote, I can't quite understand why ANYONE would trust Colonel Campbell ever again, but maybe I will find out over the course of the game. Right now it seems highly unreasonable.

I will not comment on the story or the themes and topics used, promoted and criticized until I finished it. There is too much room for a complete turnaround in a game like this.

This is the game I bought my PS3 for, GTA IV was a impulse buy triggered by the immense hype and ultimately, I was quite a bit disappointed with it. Metal Gear Solid 4 alone though, is worth every cent I paid for the console.

I can't wait to play more of it.

(Original Post: June 16th ~11:00 AM)

Better late than never. Please excuse me for the next few days.

June 17, 2008

You suck, Nintendo

Apparently, as NeoGAF and Kotaku commenters report, the new Wii Update version 3.3 does not only kill the Twilight Princess Hack and thus the homebrew channel, no, it also disables the use of the Freeloader. There is no report about the contrary at this moment, so I'll believe it for now without any hard proof.

My opinion on this matter:

I wanted to rant on Nintendo's current philosophy for a long time and never found the right words, but this is just unfair to PAL gamers, if not offending.

Not only do they release one of their biggest titles with a 5 month delay, in a time where the industry is obviously moving more and more towards simultaneous worldwide releases (GTA IV, MGS 4), now they also bar anyone who actually cares from easily importing them. Why? I can't see in which way this policy could benefit Nintendo at all. Sony realized it and made the PS3 completely region-free for games. Microsoft lets the publishers choose and most of them make their games playable on PAL consoles. Even Nintendo's own DS has no region lock and it does not seem to hinder its success even remotely.

Let's just hope Datel will have a new Freeloader available soon or the situation gets resolved in another way. Otherwise, the only option would be to import a genuine US Wii and not everybody is mode out of money. Also there is the possibility of installing a modchip, but there seem to be a lot of issues with this as well.

For now, though:

Feel the need to vent your anger? Do so in the comments.

June 15, 2008

LTTP: Kingdom Hearts Revisited

I am not really Late To The Party at all with Kingdom Hearts, I played the game when it first came out. It is just, at that time, I still played RPGs in a very peculiar way. Leveling up (powering up, as I called it) 1 or 2 levels after each world/boss/dungeon/town was kind of an OCD-ish necessity that I had to fulfill. Of course, that way I actively destroyed any challange (which there is not much of to begin with in KH) and consecutively any enjoyment that comes from following the game's intended pace. I also had a simlary OCD-ish nature of having to collect every. single. item. that was there to be found. Which took hours away of what could have been actual fun.

So I decided to revisit Kingdom Hearts now, hopefully with a different mindset on how to play and enjoy games.

And I was hooked. The game is outstanding. So great in fact, that I had way more fun with it than I ever had playing GTA IV. So, if GTA IV deserves its 9.7 rating - which it certainly does not - Kingdom Hearts is an 11.

Let us get some of the negative points out of the way first. Kingdom Hearts is not perfect by any means. In some parts it is even ridiculously bad. The story is ridiculous, so much in fact that I am only going say this much about it: I was emberrassed by the cutscenes when there was someone in the room with me, and it was the most embarrassing experience I had in a long time, when I tried to explain the world and concept of the game to someone who had never heard of it. ("Are you fucking kidding me?" is an accurate representation of what he said.) The inclusion of Disney gives the game a certain merit but when combined with Final Fantasy and original characters with HUGE feet and lots of belts and zippers, it accumulates into a big mess. The game should have focused on one of the three groups and thus avoided lots of awkward moments for me.

Ridiculously bad in some parts is also the level design. It does not help that the first two levels are basically the worst part of the entire game. In the first world, Wonderland, you're presented with a fetch quest in a world which is neither structured logically in itself nor is it fun to explore. Great choice. Not.
The second level presents you with a similar objective, only does nobody tell you what exactly you have to find or where to look for it. This makes for some great running in circles and me feeling utterly demotivated to continue. Fun! Again, not. After you struggled through both of these, it definitely gets better, but the level design never reaches a point where it is enjoyable to simply explore the worlds. Most of them are designed true to the reference material of Disney movies though and will generate a welcome sense of nostalgia.

Normally, if you eat a sandwich and the first two bites taste a little bit moldy, you should stop. In the case of Kingdom Hearts you should keep eating because there are lots of tasty surprises hidden between the slightly green slices of bread.

To be continued...

June 14, 2008

What’cha been playin’?

I'm planning on making this a regular feature, giving quick impressions on stuff I played during the course of the week.

Nothing I've been actually playing, but still awesome enough to tell about. This was signed at the MGS 4 pre-release event in Hamburg. I was expecting the event to be held like at the HMV in London, where only special paper sleeves could be signed, so I only brought the game with me for the small chance that another item could be signed. Little did I know, you could get ANY one item signed by Kojima and so I missed out on the chance to get my PS3 decorated, as some other fortunate attendees have. Oh well. At least this autograph is a bit of a compensation for the fact that it is the 14th, and I still haven't received my copy of MGS 4. Fuck importing. But I knew what I was getting into when I ordered in the UK so I only have myself to blame. The risk of having only German subtitles and menus was just too big, in my opinion.

Brave Story - New Traveler (PSP)

I'm 15 hours in and, what can I say, it's a JRPG and as generic as they get. Before I whine about that for too long, one thing though: It has the most impressive graphics of any PSP game I have played, on par or even better than Crisis Core. I may be misguided by the bloom, but damn, it has some nice bloom.

There isn't a lot more I can or want to say about it. There is no complicated system to learn like FF VIII's junctioning, you have five equipment slots for which you buy new stuff in every new city, find some in dungeons or craft your own accessoires from enemy loot. Everybody learns skills which range from healing over offensive magic to physical attacks as they level up, and combination skills as they fight together. There is a bird-catching mini-game which I got tired of after a few tries. You can exchange special breeds for advanced equipment though, so there is some benefit for you if you decide to spend some time with it.

If you want a easy, standard JRPG turn-based battle system with O.K. characters and a simple story (which I won't talk about because it won't surprise anyone who ever played a few JRPGS, and that's saying enough), it's perfect for you. For anyone who expects a bit more of a RPG nowadays, skip.

I play it while I do other things like listening to podcasts and for that, it's perfect.

Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops (PSP)

It's not Metal Gear Solid, and because I expected Metal Gear Solid, I am quite a bit disappointed.

The good:
- The graphics, it looks like MGS3, only with an engine scaled down for the PSP
- It fleshes out the story of Big Boss and as you can see from the top of this post I'm a huge fan of MGS3
- The squad system is unique and the missions are very pick-up-and-play friendly because they are short and the areas aren't too big or convoluted

The bad:
- The story. I expect a nice conclusion in the end, but at the part where I am now (after the first boss) it hasn't picked up any momentum at all and definitely didn't make me want to come back to the game for it
- The recruiting, which is a key part of the gameplay, is cumbersome and rarely rewarding enough. Every soldier is pretty much alike stats-wise, except for maybe one or two more or less useless skills, like not being attracted by dirty magazines. I've never seen one lying around, so it is probably for the online, which I'm not really interested in.
- The "disguises" don't work well or logical. If I am playing as a high ranking officer, the enemy low-rank soldiers shouldn't get suspicious when they spot me. As it is in the game, only other officers can't see I'm an enemy, which makes no sense.

The ugly:
- The camera. Ugh. It makes no attempts to show you a good overview of the area you're in, so you constantly have to babysit it with the L-button (center behind the character) or the D-Pad, which is impossible. Sony, if you're reading this, get a second analogue stick for your PSP2. Also, don't call it PSP2.

For now I've put the game on halt. Maybe I will pick it up again, maybe I won't.

Ys - The Oath in Felghana PC

More on it later. Just one sentence:
It reminds me of Mega Man X, if it was an action RPG, and that's good!

I've also played the online demos of Enemy Territory: Quake Wars PS3 and Battlefield: Bad Company PS3.

The first has a terrible name, terrible lag and was no fun at all, except for when I spammed the chat with pre-made voice samples and went on a team-killing spree, which is fun in any game.

The second had a promising introduction to the single-player campaign and a fun yet unbalanced multiplayer mode. It was way too easy for me as a defender to sneak into the enemy base, steal a tank and wreak havoc, thus accumulating five times as many points as anybody else in the match and winning the round for my team. One well aimed shot from a tank will take out any enemy player on foot, while they need around 3 shots from a tank or a rocket launcher to harm me. When my tank was close to destruction, I just hopped into the next one of the three which were conveniently lined up at the back of the base and constantly respawning. While I took care of the enemy base my team had enough time to follow me into it and support my cause. Fun was had by all.
From my observations it may be too vehicle centric (no shit). Because of that, the only class that had any use was the one with the rocket launcher. The recon can't do much with a sniper rifle if he's matched up against an attack chopper and the medic has no time to heal if everything dies in one hit. I'll keep an eye on the game as I definitely want to know if the single-player is as good as I think and if the multiplayer becomes more varied and balanced.

Are you jealous of my signed copy of MGS3? Got anything to say about the games I played? Leave your opinions on anything in the comments!

Spiegel Online Interview: Hideo Kojima talks about pacifism, movies and GTA

UPDATE: I've translated another interview of the same quality and will post it soon. Kojima talks about art in his games and why a game developer is like a good cook, among other things. Visit again this week and don't miss it!

Originally published in German on www.spiegel.de, June 13th '08.
Questions by Christian Stöcker.


Spiegel Online: Are you a pacifist, Mr. Kojima?

Hideo Kojima: That is a difficult question. I think, I'm neither one nor the other. I do think that war solved a few problems but when I look at history, I also think that it completely failed to solve others. My personal opinion is that war should not be used as a method to solve problems. Therefore I always have anti-war messages in my games. The scary thing with war is: You start one to achieve a certain goal, but then the war develops a life of its own.

Spiegel Online: In the last "Metal Gear Solid" game "Snake Eater" there is a scene in which you as the player character have to walk past all the people you have killed in the game up to that point, they groan and cry. Is this an attempt to educate your audience?

Hideo Kojima: I wouldn't call it education. I wanted it so that the users have to face what they did in the game. What the player character did to survive. It's not so much about war as it is about violence in general. The decisions you made, the casualties you accepted. All the humans in that scene have exactly the wounds the player inflicted upon them, gunshot or stabbing wounds. It is supposed to make the players think. If you want to call it educational - maybe it is, but it wasn't the original intention.

Spiegel Online: The "Metal Gear" games, including the new Metal Gear Solid 4 (MGS4), are in so far unique as they deal with war and violence, yet it is possible to get to the end without killing anyone. However, this is exceedingly difficult - why?

Hideo Kojima: I always include it to bring to mind the avoidance of war and violence. The harder it is, the bigger is the satisfaction if you make it: playing without killing. The hurdle is very high, yet if you jump over it, it is an experience that the player may remember for a long time. That it was a huge accomplishment to avoid violence. This is the message I want to communicate. However, you also get better equipment, bigger rewards, a better rating in the game itself, if you make it without killing.

Spiegel Online: The "Metal Gear" series is now running on various console generations for 21 years. The story is long and very complex - can you manage to summarize it in five sentences?

Hideo Kojima: (laughs, long pause) Things you consider as impossible - around the world and in the game itself - are still possible. In regards to the game's creator as much as to the player. If a player completes a "Metal Gear", he is supposed to question his ideas of what is impossible. The joy, the smiling faces of people who accomplished the impossible - that is what "Metal Gear" is about.

Spiegel Online: So the core idea is on the meta-level? The complex, somewhat convoluted plots, the many characters like Solid Snake, Liquid Snake, Solidus Snake and all the others, how they are related and who is whose clone - it is not all that pivotal?

Hideo Kojima: Below this core idea, to make the impossible possible, there are still other concepts. To surpass one's parents, for example. A central topic is what you hand on to the following generation, to pass on the stick. Life and death and how death creates new life is another topic... but that's not the core of the "Metal Gear" world. (laughs) Sorry, by now I needed 50 sentences.

Spiegel Online: Suppose, you had to explain to someone, who is not interested in video games at all, what you do in a "Metal Gear" game, what actually happens on the screen - what would you say?

Hideo Kojima: It's a game of hide-and-seek.

Spiegel Online: 2008 is an important year for the games industry - not least because of the extreme success of "Grand Theft Auto IV" (GTA IV) by Rockstar Games and the already famous 500 million dollar that were made in sales in its first week. What does this mean for the rest of the industry? Do you surpass the movies now?

Hideo Kojima: In the past, individual games already did yield more than movies. However, GTA of course as a key role this year. Rockstar achieved something big, they gained a lot of feedback from outside the industry as well. There will be other titles that are designed for a similar impact, as a blockbuster.

Spiegel Online: So this is primarily about a commercial effect?

Hideo Kojima: Digital entertainment will grow. Today, there are far more users for it than the "gamers" of the past. Video games use the most current technology, they need technology to grow further. However, if a title like GTA IV unfolds such an economical effect, there will be a second wave in which the people rather pay attention to the contents themselves, not to how often the title was sold. Games are now respected economically, but I would wish for them to be respected culturally - at least as a subculture.

Spiegel Online: "Metal Gear" games are barely subcultural - they resemble manga comics or Japanese anime movies with their highly dramatic plots, that always lead to something huge, to gigantic robots, super weapons, epic battles and so on. Do you think one can also use the medium of the video game for smaller, more private, more personal stories without the megalomania?

Hideo Kojima: The reason why MGS games became so big, as you say, is that they are designed for a global audience. Like Hollywood movies, blockbusters. Always universal in a genre is only action, gambling or sex. Those are immediately understood all over the world. We use action and that is why our games become bigger and bigger - Hollywood big. It is however possible to make smaller, more personal games if you, for example, limit the target region, the gender or the age of the audience. MGS is a Hollywood blockbuster, like GTA. But maybe it is time for something like independent movies, with a smaller target audience, like movies for an arthouse movie theater.

Spiegel Online: Is this your future as well? You already emphasized that it is really your last "Metal Gear" game this time...

Hideo Kojima: It definitely intrigues me. A game, for example, that is based on the life of a small Japanese employee, who works hard in the company and afterwards is oppressed by his wife at home. However, this would probably only work for a Japanese audience. The critics in the USA and Europe would probably say: "This is a great game, very Japanese, very touching" - but it wouldn't become a super-blockbuster. Both kind of games should exist, to enrich the industry.

End of the interview

Source: Spiegel Online - "Action, Glücksspiel und Sex werden überall verstanden"

Having read something about his wife, on which Rose and Raiden's conversations in MGS2 are based on, the game about the Japanese employee could very well be autobiographic. I was especially surprised by his summary of MGS' story, I believed that the core idea was something different. But who am I to argue with him.

What do you think about the interview? If you liked it please leave a comment or digg it! Much appreciated.

May 21, 2008

Import Report

There are a multitude of reasons why I started importing games. Many of these are becoming more and more obsolete, yet some of them still apply.

- Visual Deficiencies. PAL games (up to PS2) often had problems after the conversion from NTSC. Black borders on the top and bottom of the screen, slower gameplay. Worst offender: Final Fantasy X. NTSC always ran in smooth 60Hz, the way most games are intended to. PAL 60 is the best format to use, combining 576 lines of PAL TV with pleasant 60 Hz refresh rate, but apart from some Gamcube and Xbox games, few ever used it. PS2 has almost no games that use this display method at all. Since most of what I bought consisted of PS2 games, NTSC was the way to go. Current-gen does not have this problem anymore, especially not on HD-TVs.

- Ridiculous German localization. Worst offenders: Suikoden II (Chain Mail, as in the armor, translated into Kettenpost), Breath of Fire III (the back of the box alone is a complete mess, 1/3 of the words do not even exist). This may have changed in recent years as well and more often than not there is a possibility to change the language even in the German version - Uncharted has 13 languages in any version of the game - but since I have been playing games in English for forever now, games and German language just don't mix for me anymore.
Kudos for Nintendo of Germany's localizations though, even back in the SNES days. Those were frequently better and more creative than their English counterparts, even if they took a LOT of liberties with the translations.

- Delays. Games were typically released in Europe 1-6 months later than in the US. In the PSX days, some gorgeous RPGs (Xenogears) were not released at all. Today simultaneous releases are becoming more and more common (GTA IV, MGS 4) and with help of some little independent publishers, (505 Games, Koch Media) smaller games find their way at least to the UK market most of the time, so this is one of the points that really is moot today. If you're not waiting for SSBB, that is.

- Money. US games are almost always cheaper, with the ridiculous Dollar exchange rate now more than ever. Sometimes it is a difference of ~10 € if you include shipping, sometimes it is as big of a difference as $19,99 (13 €) to 38,95 € (~$61) with Patapon, which you can see is a 300% markup for the EU version. US game prices seem to drop faster and lower as well. In conclusion, you are almost always saving.

The cons of importing:

- Hardware. You needed the appropriate hardware, as in a Freeloader, a Modchip or a US console, at least until now. PS3 is region free, I would guess 75% of the 360 library is region free and handhelds were unrestricted all along. Why Nintendo is always late to the party is any one's guess.

- Shipping. If you take the cheapest shipping method, it can take from 1-5 weeks for your game to reach you. If you take courier shipping, you are losing the price advantage and taxation is almost guaranteed.

- Taxes. Germany has the low, low import value limit of 21 €. Everything above that is running the risk of being taxed, although it is totally random if it is or not. In my experience, the bigger the parcel and the greater the distance to where it was dispatched, the bigger the chance of it being held for clearance. Value Added Tax (VAT) for games is "only" the 19% of the normal German Mehrwertsteuer, but it is still a lot and if your product is delivered via courier service, expect to be charged additional fees because they complete the clearance for you. But there is hope. I have heard that the value limit will be raised to 150€ this December. I hope it is true. Until then, ask the shops to mark down the value on the customs form and declare it as a gift. That is all you can do to increase your chances to not get taxed. Also, if shipping costs are proportional to units shipped, ship in as many single orders as possible.

- Payment. You need a credit card or a PayPal account. Preferably both. This is more of a hassle than a hindrance.

- Language. You need to speak English, but if you are here, you probably can.

With that out of the way, here the specific reviews of shops I had experiences with.


One of the biggest retailers in the UK with over 5,000,000 items on sale.

Last purchase: Gitaroo Man Lives! PSP, 15,49 €, free shipping.

Selection/Prices: Very good range of new and older titles back to Gamecube and PS2 with great deals and special sales from time to time. Very often UK/Europe exclusive deals available. If ordering from Europe, currency must be changed to Euro to reflect the increased shipping costs, as they are already included in the price. Still, as cheap as it gets in the UK. If a game is out of stock it will normally restock in a few days to weeks. They also have the PlayTrade program, similar to the Amazon Marketplace, which I had one experience with, went smoothly.

Shipping: Shipping is free worldwide, but as you can clearly see from the prices, it is already calculated into it. GTA IV is advertised as ₤39.99 (50 €) on their site if shipped to the UK, but if the price is changed to Euro to make it available for worldwide shipping, its 55,49 €. So there. Shipping with Royal Mail is normally ₤2,50 to ₤3,50, so that's exactly the increase for the worldwide price point. It takes 1-2 weeks to arrive, since it is based on the Channel Islands, Jersey, which is the reason deliveries may be subject to VAT, but I never had that happen to me.

Customer Support: Ambivalent. First of all, there is no general contact email address or form available anywhere. Got a question? Tough luck. Apart from that, they are accommodating and focused on your satisfaction. Once when a game got lost and did not arrive after 4 weeks, I contacted them through the form (there is one for specific purposes like lost orders or returns, at least) on the site and got a refund in a week. No questions asked. Another time a game arrived that was already unpacked, used and horribly scratched. Once again, I contacted them through the appropriate form on the site, got my return instructions and had my refund 2 weeks later, including my shipping costs. No personal contact in any shape or form ever, though. Good overall.

Payment Methods: Credit Card

Overall: Highly recommended.

Biggest chain of video game-only retailers in Europe, with 800 stores across the continent.

Last purchase: GTA IV PS3, ₤42,94 (54 €) with shipping.

Selection/Prices: Smaller selection than Play.com, seems often sold out of older games. Good selection and prices for current games. They also sell pre-owned games for a discount, though I have never made use of it. Often UK exclusive limited editions and bundles. Multibuy promotions are available (Buy one get one free, buy two get one free, etc.) but most of the time games available in those are not the best.

Shipping: Standard Royal Mail at ₤2,95 (3,70 €) for one game, probably more for big orders. Very fast delivery, 2-4 days. No VAT possible since it ships from the European Union. Great.

Customer Support: Have not had much experience with it, except once. They have an online form for questions of any nature. I asked them about my MGS 4 pre-order bonus a week ago and have not received a response yet. Maybe it will arrive soon, maybe never. Slightly negative.

Other: There is a part of their site with some reviews, although this could be more advertisement than anything. There are better options if you are looking for critical judgement.

Payment methods: Credit Card

Overall: Highly recommended.


Last Purchase: Bujingai PS2, ₤10.93 (14€) with shipping, Marketplace purchase

Selection/Prices: Huge selection, combined with the Amazon Marketplace, almost any game is available. Good prices, good discounts, nothing special. Marketplace offers can be very cheap if you don not mind pre-owned games. When buying there, treat it like ebay, check the seller's reputation before you decide.

Shipping: Standard Royal Mail again, only this time for ₤4,98 for one game, add ₤0.99 for every additional game. 3-7 days delivery. May differ between retailers on the Marketplace.

Customer Support: Never had to deal with it, but Amazon.de generally has good support.

Payment Methods: Credit Card

Overall: Recommended, but I prefer Play and GAME

North America:

Last Purchase: Baroque PS2, $45,94 (30€) with shipping

Selection/Prices: Huge selection of new and old games back to the PSX, excellent prices, almost any older game for around $20, new games always at least $1 below RRP. No special deals or promotions, sadly. Awesome. New game releases are always 1-2 days late, for some reason.

Shipping: Air Mail for $6.99 (4,50€), $1,50 (€1) for every additional item. 2-4 week shipping. VAT possible, but it's definitely a random chance. Recommended.
Priority for $10,99 (7€), $2,25 (1,40€) for every additional item. Supposedly 6-10 day shipping, I used it once and it took 3 weeks. Also, FedEx was doing it so guaranteed VAT. Avoid.
Express for $26,99 (17,20€), $2,50 (1,60€) for every additional item. 1-3 day shipping. UPS or FedEx means it is fast, secure and there's definitely VAT. If you need the game as soon as possible, go for it.

Customer Support: Had to deal with it only once, and they were very accommodating, fast and friendly. Would have gotten a refund if the game was lost in transit, but it turned up a few days later.

Other: They always mark the exact value on the customs form so be aware of that. Because of the relatively cheap shipping, splitting big orders is advisable.

Payment Methods: Credit Card, PayPal

Overall: Highly recommended.

One of Canada's leading independent video game retailers.

Last purchase: God of War II PS2, $27,48 (17,70€) with shipping

Selection/Prices: Good range of all current systems back to PS2. Sometimes restocks of long sold out and rare games for older systems. Also sells pre-owned games for a discount, again, I never used it. A few years ago it was the cheapest place to shop because of the low Canadian Dollar but since it is now almost 1=1 with the US Dollar, this advantage has vanished. Still, the prices are good, it has regular price drops and special deals. When ordering, leave the price in $CDN, their conversion rates are very "imaginative".

Shipping: $7.49 (4,80€) for every lbs, so basically per game if it is not bundled with an artbook or bonus of some sort . Shipping normally takes less than week. Since shipping is proportional to game units, shipping every game separately to avoid taxation is advisable. Expensive courier shipping via DHL Express is available but since their regular shipping is so fast, I have never used it.

Customer Support: Exemplary. Fast, friendly and accommodating. Nothing to complain about.

Payment: Credit Card, PayPal

Overall: Highly recommended.


Last purchase: Naruto Shippuuden: Gekitou Ninja Taisen EX2 Wii $68,30 (43,60€) with shipping.

Selection/Prices: Great selection of US, PAL, Japanese and Asian version games from PSX and up with offers for classic systems as well. Not many older US and PAL games. Prices are a little higher than in other places for most games. Regularly there's a Deal of the Week and special sales. Also, nice Japanese candy for $1-$3, so add one to your order. It's cheap and tasty!

Shipping: Since it is coming from Hong Kong, customs delays are to be expected. Shipping is calculated by weight directly at checkout. For a single game it is:
Economy Air Bubble: $3,40 (2,20€), listed with 5-10 days but in my experience it is rather 2-4 weeks.
EMS Speedpost: $24.90 (15,90€), listed with 3-5 days but in my experience it is more around 7 days. It's trackable until it reaches Germany, from there it is delivered by DHL. VAT is even more likely to be added here, but not guaranteed.
UPS: $24.90 (15,90€) 1-4 days, definitely fast, definitely VAT. Tracking available all the way.
FedEx: $31.90 (20,40€) Same as UPS, only more expensive.

Customer Support: Friendly and acceptable speed. Once a small part of an order was not delivered and I did not get a refund or a reshipment, even after asking them about it, however it had only a value of $5. I do not know how their policies are if big shipments are lost in transit.

Other: A BIG minus here. They do NOT deliver any PSP or PS3 products to the EU, at all. Bummer.

Payment: Credit Card, PayPal, Moneybookers

Overall: Recommended

Last Purchase: Sony Dual Shock 3 Controller (Ceramic White) $54,99 (35,10€) with free shipping and 5$ coupon.

Selection/Prices: Small selection of recent US, Japanese, Korean and Asian games. If a game is listed as available in 7-14 days, do not bother, it could as well mean "sold out". Prices are often very good. No promotions or sales that I know of.

Shipping: Free Standard shipping on almost everything which does not seem to be reflected in the prices. 6-12 business days, once again, since it is shipping from Hong Kong, expect delays. Also, they promise VAT free delivery on anything. Should you still get charged VAT by local customs, they will refund it. Neat.
Express: $19,99 (12,80€) per shipment, $1,5 (1€) per unit. I think they ship via EMS Speedpost, so the same as Play-Asia applies here.

Customer Support: Never had to deal with it, so no experiences here.

Payment: Credit Card, PayPal

Other: Once again: Sony. No VAT-free shipping for any Sony products. No Sony consoles or US version games to anywhere in the EU. Bummer again.

Overall: Recommended

Then there is ebay for the UK and the US but this is another complex topic altogether.

E3 - It’s not what it used to be

First of all, this year's E3 will be held at the Concourse Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center from July 15th to 17th. So, why is this worthy of a post? Because the E3 of 2006 was held in the South and West Halls, with the Concourse Hall practically being the hallway between the two, holding about 3-4 booths, or 5% of the show. Talk about downsizing it.

Also it allowed me to post this. It's funny if you get it.



LOST Thoughts, Theories and Predictions

A tad later than I wanted to post it and thus some of my theories have already been disproven and consequently deleted. Here's the rest:

● The Island has a certain effect on the acquisition of foreign languages for the people with a connection to it. I think there already is something like a "Babel Theory" floating around somewhere.

-Walt learning Spanish in Season 1, reading a Green Lantern(?) Comic
-Ben is seemingly speaking a multitude of different languages
-Hurley being able to speak Korean in his dream. Also, in some scenes it looked as if he was able to understand Jin more than he should

  • ● Mikhail is invincible (and will come back), Richard does not age (obiously). They are the same as Jacob, part of the island and different from normal living people. They are also both "natives", as in "living" on the island before Dharma. Maybe all three of them share these powers.
  • Widmore is the head of Dharma/Hanso Foundation and owner or associate of Oceanic Airlines
  • ● Mr. Paik will die in the course of the series with Jin and/or Sun involved in the death
Hints: Recurring theme of the offspring killing the parent.
Kate killed Wayne
Ben killed Roger, his mother died because of complications from the delivery
Locke killed Anthony by proxy of Sawyer
Jack and Claire are partly responsible for Christians death by both rejecting him
Claire killed her mother in a car accident
Jin declared his father dead
Claire dies so that Aaron can live (?)

Paik is also supposedly part of Dharma/Hanso, which makes him a good candidate for death.
  • Rosseau was part of the Dharma initiative and somehow survived the purge. Her recording in the radio tower, "they're all dead", is referring to the purge. We will see her and Ben together in an on-island flashback to the Dharma/shortly-after-the-purge days.
  • ● People who were once on the island can not die/kill themselves off the island
Ben can't kill Charles ("We both know I can't do that")
Micheal can't kill himself
The moment Jack wants to jump off the bridge, he can't do it
  • ● Matthew Abbadon is Walt of the future (how awesome would that be)
"Don't give up Mr. Locke"
Walt always had special powers to "appear in places he wasn't supposed to be". Maybe even in times he wasn't supposed to be?

  • ● Ben is Locke's "course correction".
  • ● Richard Alpert is fucking awesome
  • ● Martin Keamy is fucking awesome, yet totally disgusting

What is the Hurley Bird?
What is the importance of Christian Shepard?
Why did Regina jump off the ship?
Move the fucking Island? What?
What's the real power of the Orchid? (Teleportation/Time Travel?)
What happened to Claire?

See you after the finale in a little over a week.

May 1, 2008

The Age Factor

Remember how games were better when we were younger? Remember how exciting they were?

I do. I still remember how I visited my older sister in the hospital, her having a skull fracture, and the only thing I did was playing Bugs Bunny's Crazy Castle on her brand new original Nintendo Game Brick™ she got for that very occasion. Cruel as it may be, I could not take my eyes from the ugly thing. Maybe half a year later, after enough begging, I got my own Game Boy with Tetris and Duck Tales and that's the point in history where it all began. After that came the Super Nintendo, countless other versions of the Rehash Boy™, a Nintendo 64, a PlayStation and everything else.

It's no wonder why I and many people of my age consider the SNES as one of the best consoles that ever was. It definitely had excellent games that can keep up with today's but my tastes were molded by the games I have played back then. The very same games I regard as outstanding today. I never owned a Sega console or played a Sonic game in my childhood and I can not see what is supposed to be so good about them. I have no connection to the (many, many) characters of the series and the game itself has no value to me. For all I know, Sonic could have always been a mediocre franchise and the people who believe that the next Sonic game will blow us all away still see him through the eyes of a kid that only had a Genesis and no other games to play. Final Fantasy VII was not my first turn-based RPG - before that I played Lufia II and Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest. I respect FF VII but I would give a toe (maybe a little toe) for a remake of Lufia. Seeing the connections?

In retrospect, the games weren't much better than today's games, and definitely not more exciting. We were just more open and excitable. It was the time when it was easily possible to disregard the flaws and intricacies of a game, take something out, imagine something into it. Forget the plot and play your own stories.

The German gaming magazine "GEE" ran a fascinating feature in their April '08 issue about 10 kids from an elementary school located in Hamburg who described their favourite games in their own words. I've taken the liberty to translate the best ones, preserving the language as much as I could:

1. That's actually really weird. So this, don't know what he's called, he kidnaps the daughter. He's, like, a little man, or some make him as a really big man and some make him as a really small one. He looks really weird, with like spikes, really weird to describe. Before, he wanted to rule the world, if you say so now. But he didn't manage it. And that's why he kidnapped her. And he's a little hard to beat. He jumps on you. Can also throw animals. But that doesn't hurt them. He is however not the friend of you. The friend is ***. He,too is such a live saver, too. Don't know, where they know each other from. But he doesn't exist in this game.

2. So, I think he's a sportsman. But he doesn't have to train much. It's natural, I think. He has this high hair. (giggles) But he has no clothes. He's about this old (holds his hand one meter above the ground). I think, he's a human. Don't know. Is no human, I think. But he has no hobbies, I think. They catch his wife and then he wants to find his friend again. That one's orange. He doesn't have high hair. His tail always spins and then he can fly. And nothing more. And the one man always tries attacking with his two men. And then this happens even with the two men. So, it comes back at them. And if the man attacks him... then he runs away fast.

3. That's set in Germany. I don't know though, which city. Have to play it with the keyboard. That's no Superhero though. That's a little boy or so. There you always have to make these boxes break. There are these things coming out of it. There are shoes and always if you take two shoes, then you always get faster. In the beginning you only have one shoe, there you are running slowly. There are these little boxes, if you go in there, you'll come back out on the other side. And then with one it's also like, there you run only fast, there you don't have to floor the boxes. You have to throw *** at the others. Then the other one is out, the one who got hit. And who is left, he has won. And then it still goes on.

4. That's really awesome. There are such little critters and they ALWAYS attack me, no matter where I am, ALWAYS! I think, they get sunburn, they don't like the sun at all. They came into the palace and then one strangled the king. And the daughter then hid herself. But they weren't arrested. Because there is no police there. That's why there are many criminals. You also have to ride on the horse and also like flail around with the sword sometimes. But you have to look out for the shadow, because then you become an animal. Because of the curse. Then there is such a giant man. He is made up of fire. And I know one more, that's like a plant. And the very last, that's the big boss of all of them. That's an evil man. With beard.

5. There are some kind of animals, but different. That aren't real animals, but only some kind of monkey, but he has some kind of glove-tail and things like that. But not all monkeys, it's always different. There are like a thousand. The *** run around freely all-over. You don't have to catch, only if you want to. But it's better, because there you need them to fight, of course. Against enemies. You can't avoid that. Then there is like a line and then a square. And then he runs to them, and then you have to fight. Sadly. You've won if you beat these, *** they're called, if you beat them. But they are five actually. I've seen him on TV once, the one who makes them up. But I forgot what he's called. He was really fat. They aren't fat themselves, though. Depends on which. But some, they are fat.

The *** represent are a word or phrase that would make the whole thing too obvious. Now, leave your ideas what those games might be in the comments, I will post the answers some time in the future.

Most appearent does the whole thing become to me now though, as I'm playing Pokémon Crystal. The first time I played Pokémon has been a totally different experience. It seemed like such an incredbly magical world, something like nothing I've seen before. Now, it's just a really linear RPG with very limited mechanics and slow battles. And monsters for your pocket.

If memory erasure à la "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" is possible someday, I'm going to delete everything connected to Pokémon from my mind and play it all over again. I'd really like that.

April 30, 2008

Bad Country: Trash Everywhere

Read from right to left.
I just wanted to post this real quick prior to my next big article (full of blext), because it fit into the theme.

If I was living in China I'd be dead by now.

April 29, 2008

Laugh No More: Halo Edition - German Assault

Alhough I just started this little blog and no one knows me now or ever will, I was already "featured" on Kotaku with a little story. I did not come up with anything on my own, I just stumbled upon this antithesis of comedy gold, translated it and submitted it. Kotaku Editor Michael McWhertor then invited everyone to rescue the picture with jokes on their own in the comments, which led to even more completely ridiculous contributions.

The original joke was:

Woman: "...Our new neighbor supposedly works at a company that develops video games."
Man: "He definitely has a cool SUV.

No, not much is lost in translation here. As someone wrongly thought, a "German mindset", whatever that is, doesn't help either.

Here's something the Kotakuites came up with:

Woman: Is that master chief?
Man: Forget about that! We still need to decide what we're going to bring to our posh European rave party because we are German!

Wow, maybe you need an American mindset for that one.

"Doesn't that look distinctly phallic? Because I am a German and thus a sexual deviant!"
"Nah, it definitely looks vaginal. Because I am a German and thus a sexual deviant!"

I'm intentionally just picking the especially (false) clichéd ones, because that what this is about, isn't it?

Woman: "Oh my God! Fritz, look at our new neighbor. Isn't he strange? Fritz, how many jews can you fit into a banshee?

Man: Honestly, Agnes... Everytime?

Nazi jokes are always hilarious, right? Right?

It just went on and on and from bad to worse. Then, finally, a fellow German posted this:
In case you missed it: the whole point of the cartoon, and I really hate to explain that, is, that this elderly couple don't even care about Master Chief's outfit or the gun - they merely run their mouth about his supposed employment (computer games, how odd!) and how big his car is.

Thank you! I have to shamefully admit I did not think of that, it makes some sense even saying something true about Germany. Gaming is still a huge unknown territory around here for the most part and even though you don't see people with futuristic guns (or any guns for that matter) running around, ever, and even less Banshees are on the streets, being a video game developer is what really is odd to the couple in the picture.
Maybe far-fetched, I like this explanation and it sets me up for future posts, as this is one of the topics I hopefully will come back to because it's part of what makes it not as enjoyable to be a passionate gamer in Germany, for me at least.

There are other interpretations behind this work and supposedly if you follow Marunde's other work closely there is a theme behind this, but I chose to disregard this for the topic at hand.

Now here is what I learned for myself:

- Stupid stories get the most hits (It was the #1 most clicked and commented "story" of that day)
- Kotaku readers aren't much more funny than Germans are said to be
- I'm not good at interpreting arty jokes printed in TV-guides for the older demographic

April 28, 2008

Gaming in Germany: Commence Operation

As I finally thought about doing something with my momentarily abundant time reserves, I decided to create a blog. And so I did! "Gaming in Germany". Other ideas included "DeutschGamer", "Gaming Galore Germany" and "Gaming Ghetto Germany". The title is still tentative (and bad). It'll probably change very soon.

Whatever the title may be in the future, here I will (in the best case) regularly post about my world and interests, the gaming world, news that I deem important and especially share my views about gaming in Germany, which is one of the the worst places to live as a person who likes games, right after North Korea and Australia.

There will be a lot of game talk, translated articles out of the German gaming press to hone my language skills (and hopefully spark some discussion) and more. You can also expect the odd LOST post or just about anything that strikes my fancy.

All of this is still BETA, as I indicated in proper Web 2.0 style at the top of my page in my hastily thrown together and shabby logo. What that means is that everything and anything can change at any second, or get scrapped altogether. Today alone I changed the layout maybe a hundred times, and I'm far from satisfied. I'm picking up some basic html knowledge along the way though, which is nice. I'm known to not follow through with most things that I do but I shall do my best to keep this site alive and lively.