Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter “SimCity”

There’s a great line in a “Sopranos” episode where Tony confronts his long loved crush, and therapist, with the possibility that she may not have taken the chance to truly get to know him.

Forget the way Tony Soprano makes his way in the world. That’s to feed his children. There’s two Tony Sopranos…you’ve never seen that other one…That’s the one I want to show you

EA and Maxis must be relating to that quote now as it pertains to the new “SimCity,” because there are certainly two sides of the game. One is the game that critics have informed players is a brilliant mix of every great thing the series has become up until this point mixed with exciting new evolutions to the formula leading to a title every inch as great as it could be.

The other though is the one that the rest of the world is seeing. It’s the one that is causing the entire internet to roar in fury over the fact that they haven’t even gotten a chance to play the game yet due to server issues so encompassing, it can only be classified as an epidemic. Even if you’re lucky enough to log on to the game, you’ll most likely be booted in an instant for your audacity.

There is no greater example of this dynamic than the astounding difference between the critic review score (82) and the user review score (1.7) on metacritic.

The problem is so bad that Amazon (the world’s largest online retailer it’s worth saying) has refused to sell any more digital copies of the game until the matter is resolved, EA has decided to cut “non-essential” elements of the game to help server clog, and rumors abound that they were banning players that asked for a refund (though these are being denied).

It’s as if EA flipped the disaster option available in the game on in real life, and the name of the chosen catastrophe is “DRM,” as just like “Diablo III” you must be signed in to the internet at all times, even if playing by yourself, and just like that game, the server congestion this causes in unmanageable.

Companies say its a feture that will one day lead to better security in games, and unique social benefits. So far it has only led to catastrophic server issues that break games like Ivan Drago breaks opponents.

It must be stopped.

There can be no room for debate on this topic. Not for now anyway. Putting aside the absurd notion that a gamer can’t play the game they bought and installed without a high quality internet connection available at all times, the cases of “Diablo III” and “SimCity” show that any potential benefits this atrocity of an idea may yield are in no way able to be implemented safely yet.

Actually, let’s not put aside the absurd notion of the idea. Let’s hit it on the head, throw it in a bag, chain the bag, put the bag in the car, and drive the car in the ocean and never speak of it again. It’s a terrible concept that becomes insulting when you consider that the only real explanation of its current existence is that gamers will eventually get used to it.

Yeah well you get used to having your hand on a stove eventually, but you’ve still done permanent damage.

That’s what it boils down to. Even though gamers will one day be able to actually play the game they eagerly waited for and quickly snatched up, much like “Diablo III” and its sales records, “SimCity” will be a game forever tarnished by this incident, that no amount of figures or good will gestures will aid.

At the end of the day gamers just want to play this game, and EA and Maxis (oh who are we kidding, EA) have done the one thing that could prevent them from doing that, and seemingly did it knowingly, as there is no way they could not have seen something like this coming, considering the massive amount of pre-sale orders.

It’s a sick joke that a game years in development and all about effective planning, management, and creation, should be affected by problems that exhibit none of those ideas, and leaves what should be a world of thriving metropolises, into a nothing more than a large ghost town.

If Only They’d Known How Appropriate This Video Would Be

Some “Black Ops II” and “LEGO Lord of the Rings” Customers Aren’t Exactly Getting What They Paid For

So you probably know that digital downloads for games are slowly becoming the norm, but it seems that recently disc manufacturers are going out of their way to insure that happens even sooner.

In what is a set of very improbable incidents, two recent big video games have been released with serious potential errors for customers that purchased the physical versions of the game. The first belongs to EA and Treyarch whose much anticipated “Black Ops II” release was blemished by news that some copies of the second disc of the PC version were not actually “Black Ops II”, but rather copies of “Mass Effect 2”. Of course this being EA, I’m sure that any customers that contacted them in regards to the problem where promptly told “What? You don’t like Mass Effect 2?”

I’m joking, of course, but what is funny is the similar incident that has befallen Warner Brothers at the same time, as their game “LEGO Lord of the Rings” has apparently shipped out some copies of their Xbox 360 version that contained only the demo disc. The gaff was made public when a Game Informer editor discovered that when they tried to purchase the game, it had been recalled only to find that another store they visited had received every single Xbox 360 copy with just the demo disc. The event is even more shameful than the embarrassing incident that occurred when people who bought “LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean” received “LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean” with no apology.

Currently people who received the wrong “Black Ops II” disc are being advised to download the game through the optional Steam method, while an alternate solution has not been brought up at this time. Meanwhile Warner Brothers is working on recalling the incorrect copies of “LEGO Lord of the Rings” which would suggest that they are attempting to resolve the matter, although they have not yet commented on how many copies were affected, or when the correct copies will be available in mass.

EA Shuts Down PopCap’s Dublin Studio

I love PopCap Games, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

While some deeply entrenched veteran gamers consider them a mainstream harbinger of doom, the fact is they have produced some of the most purely addictive games of this, or any, generation with titles like the hall of fame “Bejeweled,”Plants vs Zombies,” “Bookworm,” and the glorious “Peggle.” They toe a fine line between “mainstream” (in the dirty word sense) and merely accessible, and their constant goal of gameplay over graphics and fun over flash is inspiring.

Which is why it’s sad to see that they have become the victim of some massive layoffs, as EA (who bought them out for around $750 million last year) announced the shuttering of the team’s Dublin studio. While the move has been long rumored, that’s certainly no condolence for the 96 employees who were laid off due to this move as they join the initial fired employees who lost their jobs when EA took over last year.

EA has been clear on their reason for this move, saying that they are trying to trim down aspects of PopCap that are similar to services they already offer, and the Dublin studio’s efforts apparently did not fit the need of EA in accordance to their plans moving forward. Both EA and PopCap have announced that many of the employees from the shuttered branch will have employment opportunities available at other PopCap locations and at EA operations, which include call center positions.

There’s far too many EA is the evil empire articles out there to still have any effect, and I don’t wish to contribute to them here. I will say this though. You may recall that PopCap gained a reputation early on for offering their games for free trial before purchase to help promote them. Even when they featured their games on Steam, they insisted the free demo still remain an option, as they were that confident in their products, and couldn’t wait to share them with the masses.

It’s just a shame then that such a company that held that philosophy had to fall to something like budget cuts and corporate strategy. Good luck to all of the employees of the former Dublin studio, and to PopCap itself who I hope can recover from this round of bad news and continue to produce at a high level.

The Summer Steam Sale is Here????

Oh joy of joys, oh bliss, sweet bliss — the annual Steam Summer Sale is back again. As if Steam wasn’t glorious enough, once a year (well twice if you count the holiday sale) they run wild on their deep catalog of downloads and slash prices to insane degrees.

The sale runs until July 22nd and kicks off today with such deals as “Portal 2″ for $4.99, “CoD Modern Warfare 3″ for $29.99, and entire developer collections like Rockstar, Ubisoft and friggin Bethesda for severely reduced prices on complete collections and individual titles. That means you can buy “Skyrim,” “Fallout: New Vegas” (plus all the expansions), and “Brink” and “Hunted” thrown in for the hell of it for $49.99. It’s such an unbelievable deal, it should have an infomercial at 3 A.M.

Apparently, though, not everyone shares my enthusiasm over this epic event. Particularly, a rep from EA named David Demartini, who heads up the direct download service Origin. According to David, the Steam sale represents a desperate act that will ultimately hurt the industry by making gamers believe that there is no need to buy a game immediately if the same title is going to be available later at incredibly reduced prices. He even goes so far as to compare Steam to Target stores saying, “We’re not trying to be Target. We’re trying to be Nordstrom.”

Valve, being awesome, responds to this with the usual, saying that first day, first week, and even first month sales are all bigger than they have been in a while, and even remind Mr. Demartini that they offer their own titles on sale too, saying, “If we thought having a 75 per cent sale on ‘Portal 2′ would cheapen ‘Portal 2,’ we wouldn’t do it. We know there are all kinds of ways customers consume things, get value, come back, build franchises. We think lots of those things strengthen it.”

The thing is, of course, is that EA is right. If companies wanted to make more bottom line money, they would follow EA’s strategy. But that’s not the point, is it? This sale isn’t done for Valve’s benefit, or the benefit of the industry at large, but rather is ten measly days out of the year they set aside to do something just for gamers. As far as EA’s theory that they are trying to be Nordstrom, and Steam is Target, it doesn’t really hold water when you consider they are selling the same quality products. Also, doesn’t Nordstrom offer sales also?

But hey, picking on EA is like criticizing a Michael Bay movie. Too easy, and a little sad. No, instead, let’s continue to ignore the fact that EA has a stream service at all and focus on this incredible Steam Summer Sale, of which right now I would recommend jumping on the “Walking Dead Season Collection” and the almost unbelievable 24-game Valve complete pack. To quote Ferris Bueller: “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”

NBA Jam heating up on the Wii

NBA Jam.There have been rumors floating around for a week or so that EA purchased the rights to one of my favorite childhood games, NBA Jam. Today that rumor was confirmed via press release from EA. The game will be launched on the Wii later this year, compliments of EA Canada.

Unfortunately there isn’t much news beyond that. The refresh will include some new game modes, new characters, and a new level of depth according to the press release. Personally, I never felt NBA Jam warranted much depth. You get in, play for 5-10 minutes, and boomshakalaka! What more could you want from an arcade basketball game?

For those of you that like to keep up on your developer lore, one of the original series developers, Mark Turmell, currently has a position with EA in Orlando, so it’s not completely absurd to assume that he might help out on the project.

Source: EA

EA job post points to Dead Space 2 multiplayer

Dead Space Marine gettin munched on.A recent job posting from EA suggests we might get a little multiplayer action in Dead Space 2. If you’ve not played through the original game, you should, if only to see how truly terrifying a game can be. As far as multiplayer goes, though, I’m not real sure what that would look like. So much of the original game is devoted to removing body parts that a multiplayer experience sounds more like a drunken Alien vs. Predator match to me.

Here’s the interesting content from the post:

This M-rated action/shooter sequel will set new standards for an action-packed story-driven console experience. Our team values are as follows: Gameplay comes first, controller feel is everything, culture of creativity, be highly iterative, playtest early and often, learn from failure, work fast and smart, and surround ourselves with the best talent in the world.

The previous installment in the Dead Space franchise received numerous awards for gameplay, visuals, and sound design, and the same core team is in place to create an even better follow up.

If you’ll remember, Dead Space had insanely high used sales compared to new sales, which usually means players don’t see a lot of replay value to the game. Multiplayer support would probably help, but only if done right, and really, I’m having trouble dreaming that up.

Red Alert hits the iPhone

Red Alert for the iPhone.If it weren’t for Red Alert 2 I probably would have done a lot better in high school calculus. As it was, I spent most of my time worrying about when my next paratrooper drop was coming in the computer lab. This week EA released an iPhone version of the classic strat game with an extra map pack and the promise of more DLC down the road.

The game’s a little pricey at $9.99, but it’s got a full campaign for the Soviets and the Allies, 12 skirmish maps, and a map pack with another six skirmish maps. EA’s also promised that a future update will bring multiplayer over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth along with additional content. That’s more features than just about any game in the App Store, so maybe the ten bucks is worth it this time around.

The next patch is for the Empire of the Rising Sun and will add a third faction.

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