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ESPN for Xbox 360 Review July 31, 2011

Posted by Maniac in Reviews.
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This weekend marks the 17th X Games and like so many people, my schedule did not permit me to watch every single second of the event as it aired.  But then I remembered my Xbox Live Gold Subscription (which I just renewed) did give me access to the ESPN program, and I hoped some of the X Games broadcasts would make their way onto the service.  Low and behold, every second of ESPN’s coverage of the X Games were online for me to watch at my leisure.  Since Thursday night, I’ve been using the ESPN app for the Xbox 360 and I have plenty to say about it that I wanted to share with all of you.

I just want you guys to know right now before I get into the technicals is that this only a review of the ESPN application for the Xbox 360 and not a review of ESPN (the channel) or the website ESPN3.com, which also has a lot of the same content which is provided by the Xbox 360 app.

I came into this review thinking that this program was kind of redundant, and not worth being one of the plugs to why Microsoft jacked up their yearly Xbox Live Gold subscription costs to $60US a year opposed to $50US.  The only people who will have access to the program are Xbox Live Gold customers who have an ISP which supports access to ESPN3.com.  As a cable internet subscriber, I figured that would make the program kind of unnecessary since in all likelihood anyone who would have access to the ESPN program through Xbox 360 would already have access to ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN3.comSo why bother to use it?  Well, the X Games is on this weekend, and I found out the answer why.

After I pulled up the first day’s coverage of the X Games, I was disappointed to see the picture quality.  Thinking I might not be getting a full amount of bandwidth from my ISP (it’s been slow as of lately), I checked the transmission diagram in the pause menu and saw that I was indeed receiving the best quality HD transmission.  So, an occasionally blocky, sometimes distorted 720p image was as good as it was going to get.

So it’s not as good looking, even in a full HD transmission, in comparison to what you’d see on the dedicated ESPN HD or ESPN2 HD channels.  So for that loss of quality, what do you get as a benefit?  Actually, quite a lot.

In the ESPN program you’ll be able to sort through on-air live competitions and a pretty extensive on demand selection of competitions that already saw air.  What was sweet about this option is that they also had events in the program’s on demand option that never saw air.  This is a much better option to watch previously aired games because while ESPN has its own ON Demand through my cable provider, it is not in HD and does not air games, just ESPN exclusive content like independent movies.  They do not rebroadcast matches through my cable provider’s on demand, but on the ESPN app for Xbox 360, they do.

In contrast to the Hulu Plus program I reviewed some time ago, I noticed that these games on the ESPN app do transmit in 5.1 Dolby Digital just as they do through your cable or sat broadcasts (the X Games were sponsored by DTS), however I didn’t notice a good usage of the rear channels.  It’s nice to know that surround is something that is supported though, because the Xbox 360 can do it, and why Hulu doesn’t is beyond my comprehension.  Regardless, if you have your Xbox 360 hooked up to a 5.1 receiver, it will get some use when you run ESPN.

Kinect support for the application is pretty good too.  Just like with the Zune Marketplace and with Hulu, you will be able to control video playback with voice and hand gestures, making the Xbox 360 Remote Control even less of a good purchase idea.  Voice recognition is really good.  It is a lot faster to just say “Xbox, pause,” than to pick up a remote or your controller, and the control is quite responsive.  That said, you will need a controller to navigate the menu systems, although I have read on Major Nelson’s Blog that the next program update will expand Kinect functionality into the menu system, that probably won’t be coming until at least August.

The last thing I wanted to talk about with the program was the last thing I covered with the Hulu Plus application, the commercials.  ESPN’s app does show commercials, but unlike with Hulu Plus, I actually didn’t mind them one bit.  The reason why is because they are actually shorter than the commercial durations the ESPN channel has, and most of the commercials they show are simply just channel promos.  Also, since this is not a premium program which charges an extra fee on top of the Xbox Live Gold Subscription, simply watching a bumper for SportsCenter every commercial break and then getting back to the action doesn’t bother me one bit.  I wonder why the Hulu Plus program sees the need to require extra money from advertising revenue on top of what they’re already charging you for the ability to use the program in the first place if ESPN can make enough just showing channel promos and not charge any extra.  The only conclusion I can draw is the fact that since this is sports we’re talking about, there’s plenty of ad space you’re seeing when the match is on, as well as the sponsor promos for the event to cover the costs.

In conclusion I do not recommend using this application as an exclusive alternative to just simply watching ESPN or ESPN2 channel in HD through your cable or satellite provider.  You will undoubtably get a better picture on your TV watching the broadcast through the HD channel.  Heck, the X Games was broadcasting in 3D on the new ESPN3D channel, and if I had an HDTV (and that channel) that’s what I’d choose to watch a live broadcast on first.  However, if you missed a broadcast of something you wanted to see due to other commitments, this is without a doubt the BEST possible option to catch it again.  Totally worth a download, and since the X Games are on all weekend, there could not be a more perfect event to get people to download it.  Alone, it’s not a reason to subscribe to Xbox Live Gold, but when you add it up with all the other services Xbox Live Gold provide, it does justify it’s price.


Nintendo 3DS Price Dropping to $170 July 29, 2011

Posted by Maniac in Game News.
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In a shocking move, Nintendo has announced they intend to drop the price of the recently released Nintendo 3DS handheld from its launch price of $250US to $170US, a price drop of eighty dollars!

The 3DS is the successor to the extremely popular series of Nintendo handhelds, starting with the Game and Watch, moving to the extremely popular Game Boy series, and finally the Nintendo DS series of handhelds.  Since the Game Boy, Nintendo has been the clear market leader of the handheld generations, defeating such rivals as Atari, Sega and even Sony in the previous handheld generations (based upon unit sales).  It was expected by many in the gaming media that the 3DS would continue this trend and meet with massive initial sales, but once the handheld launched, sales petered out.

The 3DS has not had the initial sales that Nintendo was hoping for.  Since it’s launch it is still shy of selling one million units.  Many third party exclusive games for the platform have either been delayed or outright cancelled due to the currently low install base.

Nintendo has admitted the new price for the unit is no longer profitable for them, but they do expect it to not stay this way.  My guess is they intend to increase production of the units, which will bring costs down, but this would be a double edged sword if they exceed demand for the handheld.  They also said the reason for the price drop so soon after launch is due to harsh memories over the GameCube, and the belief if they had dropped the price of the console sooner, they could’ve had better sales in the earlier years of the console’s lifespan.  As such the GameCube finished last in the previous console generation, behind the PS2 and Xbox, and did not get the total amount of units sold they needed to consider it a success to themselves.

The price drop is expected to come in August.  I believe Nintendo is hoping to have a good price for the unit lined up before the holiday season in an attempt to become more affordable to customers in time for Christmas.  This drop is also timed to come before Sony launches their handheld, the Playstation Vita, which is expected to launch this fall at a price of $250 for WiFi only and $300 for a 3G/WiFi model.

Anyone who currently has a 3DS and bought it at the initial launch price will be given free access to a bunch of exclusive Virtual Console downloadable games.

RAGE Behind the Scenes Part 5 July 28, 2011

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The fifth part of the RAGE behind the scenes series has been released on Bethesda’s Official YouTube Channel, and this one focuses on the game’s enemies.  You get to see the different types of enemies, how each will react to you, and what went into creating them.  It really was interesting to see that id Software is is using motion capture this time around, with thousands of unique animations possible in the game.

The behind the scenes series for RAGE will have one final part to go.  RAGE is coming October, 2011 for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.

Darkness II Comic Con Panel July 28, 2011

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Another SDCC 2011 panel has been released to the web for all to see, and it is for the recently delayed sequel to one of the best comic to game adaptations I ever played, The Darkness II.  The panel is joined by the original comic creator, the game’s project lead, and (of course) Mike Patton as the Darkness.

That Darkling imp statue was a cool giveaway they were doing at Comic Con, but if you were like me, who didn’t attend, 2K has stated they will be giving away some of those in the official twitter feed.

The Darkness II is coming to PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 in Feb, 2012.

Uncharted 3 Comic-Con Panel July 28, 2011

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The San Diego Comic Con (SDCC 2011) has wrapped for the year, but there was a huge gaming presence at it this year.  One of the major panels for the show was the Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception Panel, which featured members of the development team and cast.

Writer Amy Henning, actor Nolan North, and actress Emily Rose were among the alumni on the panel discussing the PS3 exclusive, they also showed some exclusive game footage which hasn’t been seen before!  Clocking in at around 45 minutes, it’s a pretty lengthy discussion, but if you have the time it’s totally worth watching.

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is coming November 1st, 2011 exclusive to the Playstation 3.

Top Five Psychonauts Cutscenes July 27, 2011

Posted by Maniac in Site Videos, Top Cutscenes.
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It sure has been a while since the last Top Cutscenes video was posted, so consider that officially rectified.  Maniac takes a look at the funniest five scenes of 2005’s Psychonauts.

This time, I decided to bring something new to the series.  This time, instead of just listing off a top list and why, I included a little history on the game’s development and release is included, as well as some updated information about the status of the game.

First Duke Nukem Forever DLC to Release This Fall July 26, 2011

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Gearbox Software has officially announced in a twitter post that the first DLC pack for Duke Nukem Forever will release this fall.  The DLC will add four new multiplayer maps, three new multiplayer modes, and a new weapon unique to each map ranging from sticky grenades to the DFG (which might be a parody of the BFG, the Big…uh…freakin’…gun).  New game modes involve a new twist on Hot Potato, which the objective will be to see who can hold onto a babe for the longest, and a new mode called Hail to the King.

Duke Nukem Forever’s multiplayer was not considered one of the major highlights of the game upon release.  There were only a few maps at release, and gameplay was quite unbalanced.  This DLC pack looks to be the answer to that.  From the looks of it, this map pack is intended to be a parody of other multiplayer gametypes ranging from Doom to Call of Duty.

As promised, this DLC will be free to all First Access Club members.  The Duke Nukem Forever Hail to the Icons DLC pack is coming this fall for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3.  Details about a chance to play the DLC pack early are included in the link.

Mortal Kombat Legacy Stupidity July 25, 2011

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This weekend, the final episode of the online webseries Mortal Kombat: Legacy was released. Now, I’ve been pretty lapse to link the series up on a regular basis (I think the last one I embedded was Episode 4) so since the series was finished, my intention was to link up the newest episode and all the previous episodes I missed, but I can’t do that…because WB has issued copyright takedowns of all the previous episodes. For those of you who don’t know, it was Warner Bros who released that series online in the first place!

There’s stupidity, and then there’s just shooting yourselves in the foot. Does Warner Bros not know they OWN what has been posted up already, and they were responsible for putting it online in the first place? What idiot at WB whose job it is to regularly sue people who show even the slightest second of something they might own thought that video was invalid? Now I understand WB might have owned at some point every movie ever made, but in that case it might be easier to just send notices to the few videos who didn’t put up something they owned on it and ban every other video on YouTube!

Well, here’s the final episode of Mortal Kombat: Legacy. Try to catch it quick before the bean counters take it down for no reason too!

Mortal Kombat is out for Xbox 360 and PS3 right now.

ESA Intends to Collect 1.1 Million in Legal Fees from California July 25, 2011

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Just as they had with every state they successfully defeated who tried to pass illegal laws, the ESA has just issued a press release saying they intend to collect $1.1 million dollars from the state of California after defeating them on the Supreme Court level. This money will cover their legal expenses fighting their unconstitutional video game law.

The intention of the ESA all along has been to show these states that passing illegal laws would fail and end up harming their states more than the media publicity brought by their passage would help their political careers individually. According to the ESA, they were able to win eight times in similar cases and collect fees in every win from the various states they defeated. They have made it no secret to the states they will do this to them if they pass laws that violate the first amendment. In fact this tactic had prevented one state governor from signing a similar law which already had passed in the legislature.

As I feel is becoming a repeated statement about the state of California, you couldn’t tell them any of this. Leland Yee (D) and the Govenator (R) thought they were right and they were going to force this passage unless they were stopped. And now, like all tragedies, it is the people of that state who will suffer. The law was clearly not on their side. The similar state laws all lost. They were wasting further state money in legal defenses appealing in a futile battle. No one forced Yee or the Govenator to continue to appeal the law, but they did it anyway at the state’s expense.

So now California has one more bill to pay, one they CHOSE to pay. The Govenator did not seek a new term, but If I was a voter in the state, I would be asking for Yee’s resignation right about now.

Penguin Revealed For Batman: Arkham City July 22, 2011

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After announcing it at E3 this year, the game developers for Batman: Arkham City have finally released an official trailer for the game which shows the famous Penguin.

The Penguin is an interesting choice for the game since he has never been so much as a straight out thug villian that Batman could simply beat up, but more of a crime boss in the same vein as Don Corleone, and you get that sense here in the trailer.

Penguin has been previously played by such acting alumni as Burgess Merideth and Danny deVito.  When I was at E3, I was sure I could place this guy’s voice actor when I first heard him speak, but hearing his voice in the trailer, I no longer can recognise the actor playing him.

Unlike the Catwoman gameplay segment I posted up here a while ago, some snippets of the second gameplay sequence I saw at E3 did find its way into this trailer, and it looks just as good here as it did when I saw it back in June.

Also, since we’re revealing villians for Batman: Arkham City here, here’s the announcment trailer for another major villian in Batman’s rogue’s gallery.  He played a major role in the first game, but we never saw his face.  We’ve known for a while that he would be returning in Arkham City, but not what the extent his appearance would be.  Well, now we know.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with Edward Nygma, The Riddler.

Batman: Arkham City is coming October 18th, 2011 for PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3