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    Mar 6th, 2008 at 02:46:33     -    Rock Band (360)

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    This entry is spoiler-free!
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    GAMEPLAY
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    Okay, continuing on my comments from last time, another great aspect of the Rock Band experience is the distinct artistic style featured in the game. Everything has a classic rock feel to it, from the vintage typeset, to the fuzzy DV-style camera effects, to the selection of cities you can play in, even to the - how do I describe it - "red shine tint" effect (like from a vintage movie) from menu to menu. Together, these stylistic choices make you feel like you're seeing your band in some sort of vintage "Legend of Rock" movie.


    Another really nice aspect I forgot to mention previously that adds a nice touch is the integration of your customization choices through the game. Yes, of course these characters appear in the game while you're playing - it would be silly if they didn't. But what impressed me is how they use these customizations outside of gameplay. You'll find many times that loading screens will feature dynamically-created pictures from the road that include your characters in a variety of poses, vehicles you've unlocked with your band name printed on the side, and/or posters from your latest gig. There's also times when the loading screen will show a random factoid about the song you're about to play instead. Also, for each gig your character plays in, they independently gain money, which in turn they can use to purchase new clothing in the store.

    There were a couple of minor irritations I came across while playing the game. For one, the Bass is, at times, too easy. I found that, playing on medium, I was barely doing anything on some of the songs. On the other hand, the bass is probably a good instrument to use to introduce someone new to the guitar. Also, there were some sets that were Fan Requests, where the fans would pick the songs that the band does the best on. This is great, in theory, until you end up playing "Here It Goes Again" and "Blitzkrieg Bop" over and over and over again. After a while, the songs kind of lose their charm. Once again, though, these were minor inconveniences and didn't stop me from truly enjoying the Rock Band experience.

    A new feature I tried in my second gameplay session was the single-player tour mode. This mode more or less echoes the style of the Guitar Hero series. You have a setlist of five songs in each venue, with each venue's setlists increasing in difficulty as you progress. Yes, the single-player experience was still fun, but after playing the multiplayer band mode, it felt like something was missing the entire time. Essentially, I felt like I was practicing to get better for the World Tour mode. Still an enjoyable experience, however.

    DESIGN
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    Rock Band, in terms of its gameplay, doesn't stray too far from its Guitar Hero roots. Essentially, the gameplay all comes down to fulfilling actions with your respective instrument in sync with on-screen cues. Yet, the move from a typically single-player experience to a multiplayer-based experience has created a significant difference between the two series. Now, the series moves beyond the typical game-to-user interaction and adds in a social experience that is addicting and amazingly fun to participate in. This is exhibited in much of the gameplay, from having the Overdrive multiplier affect the entire band, to using Overdrive to save a fellow band member from failing.

    Overall, the game is well-polished, from the core gameplay mechanic to the stylistic choices made in presentation. The song selection offers enough diversity to offer something that most players can relate to, yet the selection is still quite cohesive as a top song list from rock history. The graphical presentation of the game adds to the classic nostalgic rock feel, choosing not to go with sharp graphics that convey a more metal feel, but with a softer general rock feel that looks like an old filmstrip. Finally, the ability to customize your band's members, as well as see those customizations applied to elements both inside and outside gameplay, help convey the sense that, ultimately, this is your band, not some computer-generated creation that has been given to you.

    Collectively, all of these design choices create a cohesive, enjoyable experience that is a delight to be a part of. The item that Rock Band excels at that many games fail to include is the idea of collaborative multiplayer. Seeing a game based around this mechanic creates a fresh experience that the masses can enjoy, rather than watch.

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    Mar 6th, 2008 at 02:45:28     -    Super Mario World (SNES)

    Error... this was posted in the wrong game log...

    This entry has been edited 1 time. It was last edited on Mar 6th, 2008 at 02:46:10.

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    Mar 6th, 2008 at 00:27:44     -    Rock Band (360)

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    This entry is spoiler-free!
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    SUMMARY
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    Rock Band (2007, Harmonix/Electronic Arts, Xbox 360) is the latest in a stream of music games to be released. Like Guitar Hero, Harmonix's former project, Rock Band gives players realistic-feeling instruments, like a guitar device, and has them play the instruments in accordance with colored cues placed on the screen. Unlike the Guitar Hero series, however, Rock Band provides players the chance to play four instruments (Guitar, Bass, Drums, and Vocals) in cooperative play as the four players work together to become a world-renowned band.

    GAMEPLAY
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    Over the past year or so, I have become a huge fan of such music games as Guitar Hero. Originally, I really didn't get what the craze was about, but once I played Guitar Hero, I was addicted. It was pretty cool actually having a guitar device and playing along as if I was actually playing a guitar. Even though it didn't really feel like I was playing a guitar. Yeah.

    Anyway, enter Rock Band, which is really nifty because it doesn't offer just one instrument - it offers four. The coolest aspect of Rock Band I enjoy is the multiplayer experience that is native to Rock Band. In the game's World Tour mode, you grab three of your friends and join together to form a band and tour the world, gathering cash, groupies, and sweet rides. Really, it is the multiplayer aspects of this game that truly breathe life into the experience. When we were playing the game in my friend's room, we quickly gathered a group of people that were itching to try the game. As a side note, incidentally, the most popular instrument was the drum set, probably because it is the newest instrument to the console and the drum set that comes with the game truly feel like a real drum set. We'd find through the evening that we'd switch off instruments so everyone could get a chance to try all the instruments and have a great time.

    What's also really fun about Rock Band is the level of customization it offers. The customization it does offer is not as deep as other games, but is still satisfying nonetheless. Not only do you get to name your band what you want (Our band name was "She Likes Cloth." Don't ask, I don't know what it means, either), but each player can create their very own rocker using their Xbox Gamer Account. The player is given the option to select their name, their appearance, their home city, and even their "rock style" (i.e. Rock, Punk, Metal, Goth).

    Me? I have two characters, actually - one singer and one drummer. My vocalist, Spark, is a rocker hailing from Los Angeles (the closest city to my hometown) that has a rocker's face with attitude and a shredded shirt. Oh, and blue hair. My drummer, Sonic, is a topless metal rocker hailing from San Francisco (closest city to my college) with a "baby" face that makes him look like he leaped out from a Japanese RPG. Oh, and blue hair. Overall, while there is ultimately a limited number of selections, I felt that there was quite a large level of customization in these characters. Plus, creating these characters was fun and it's fun talking about who you created.

    Rock Band also has a really nifty design style to it, but I think I'll save that for my next entry. Until then, I'm going to go back and keep rocking out.

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    Feb 21st, 2008 at 03:57:35     -    Super Mario 64 (N64)

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    This entry is spoiler-free!
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    GAMEPLAY
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    Upon playing a second session of Super Mario 64, I realized that there was one critical aspect of the game I had forgotten to mention, in terms of its open-world feel. Another great aspect of Super Mario 64 is that not only are the level designs open-ended, but the player’s choice and order of levels is left much more to the player’s discretion than in previous games. I came to appreciate this as I would find challenges that seemed tedious or too difficult, as I could simply choose to go to another world and go after another star, instead. At first, you must go after a specific star on the first level, but beyond that, the world slowly opens up to the player as the game progresses. After collecting the first star, the player could choose to play the level again for another star, or move on to a newly-unlocked level.

    Beyond this, though, I must mention a couple of gripes I have with the game thus far. Yes, the game is good, but it is by no means perfect. The biggest problem I have faced thus far playing the game is the clunky controls. This observation probably comes from having played many modern platformers, but the controls could have used some polishing. At times, I find it very difficult to get Mario to walk in a straight line, especially over narrow ledges. I’ve gotten better at this, but it still seems Mario sometimes moves weirdly in a way I can’t control. But beyond Mario’s movement controls is the camera controls. Instead of fluid camera controls, like most modern games, Super Mario 64 features a camera that moves to a static angle on each movement of the control stick. Being used to the ability to manipulate the camera to whatever angle I choose in modern games, this gets to be frustrating. There are even some times when the camera is controlled by the computer that it decided to place itself at the most inopportune angle, like around a corner from where Mario and his enemies are at. But, it must be remembered that Super Mario 64 is not a modern platformer by any means and, for the time it was released, the controls were impressive.

    DESIGN
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    What must be remembered about the design behind Super Mario 64 is that what made it such an impressive seller at the time was the innovation it featured in its Core Gameplay Mechanic and Level Design. These are the key aspects of Super Mario 64 that makes it a truly great game.

    For its Core Gameplay Mechanic, the main mechanic is the simple fact that you can control Mario through a three-dimensional space. A few games had attempted this before, but were usually limited in control. Super Mario 64 was the first game to get 3D platforming right.

    But to show off this new Core Gameplay Mechanic, there needed to be a suitable space for the user to move through. This is where the beauty in the level and world design comes in. The levels in Super Mario 64 are much larger than previously imagined and are not really restricted. Sure, the levels are designed to guide the player towards the goal, but the player is by no means obligated to follow the breadcrumbs.

    These wide open worlds, combined with the ability of the player to pick and choose which challenges they would like to face in what order and three-dimensional movement all contribute to one key design innovation: player freedom. The beauty in the design of Super Mario 64 is the emphasis towards giving the player freedom to move about in this created world in whatever order they choose. The player could choose to follow the breadcrumbs left by the design team. On the other hand, the player could simply choose to explore the vast worlds created by the design team. The player has the freedom to choose what they want to do, an innovation previously unexplored in the industry as a whole.

    Because of the innovative design in Super Mario 64, many games today are much more open to player choice and movement. This is a trend that continues to grow as designers seek the creation of photorealistic worlds that interact and change with the player’s input.

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