Category Archives: Editorial Archives

The Future and Fate of Game Chronicles Magazine

The Future and Fate of Game Chronicles Magazine
Written by Mark Smith

Originally Published on February 12, 2009

After a fantastic 13-year run Game Chronicles is slowly winding down its tour of duty, at least as we have come to know it. What started as a one-man operation offering a handful of Strategy Guides quickly morphed into something unexpected, epic, and totally out of control…or at least my control. At one time GCM had a staff of more than 30 freelancers all contributing content to the site, but all that content was funneled through one person – me. I ultimately found myself in the unsavory position of doing all the administration of a mainstream website – a task normally handled by a large staff – all by myself.

When I started Game Chronicles Magazine back in 2001 all I wanted to do was play games and write reviews, but as the site mutated out of control I found myself with less and less time for playing games, let alone writing my own reviews, and creating my signature strategy guides – the very foundation of the site – was totally out of the question.

Recent industry events such as the 1UP and EGM fiasco are clear indications that game media sites are about to see a paradigm shift. Sites are either going to be very “corporate” or very “homegrown”. GCM was a homegrown site trying to operate with a corporate façade. Nobody here was getting rich or even paid for that matter. If we were lucky, the few ad banners we sold each year paid for web-hosting and domain registration. And while GCM was never financially successful, we did acquire a large and faithful following of regular readers and some envious fame – you can see us quoted on several games and TV spots.

As 2009 rolled around I was debating the future of GCM when I received a response from E3 Expo saying GCM was no longer qualified to attend the show because, and I paraphrase, “we aren’t corporate enough”. I’ve been going to E3 for the past 10 years and all it took was a Business License (which I have), a business card, drivers license, and a copy of a recent article for each staff member who wished to attend. One year we had six editors go to the show. Now, unless your site is “making money” and “paying their writers” you can’t attend the show. Oh well. That’s a thousand bucks back in my pocket.

But even if E3 doesn’t respect us, we still have a few million readers and dozens of publishers who do, and for that reason we aren’t just going to slam the door and put an “OUT OF BUSINESS” sign on it. Frankly, it would be impossible to stop this speeding locomotive overnight. GCM is embedded with hundreds of publishers and linked to thousands of websites.

So, for the next year GCM is undergoing massive restructuring. At the end of that year we will either be reborn as something bigger and better, or slip away into a decade of fond memories. During this next year we will continue to offer the same quality content we’ve provided in the past, only not in as much quantity. We are tightening our focus to HD gaming and movies, mobile gaming, and the occasional hardware review. We are phasing out legacy systems like the PS2, and we have a modified site design to reflect this new content.

For those who are used to the old site, the changes aren’t that major. The biggest (and saddest) change is saying farewell to the front cover art. I had a great time making all 80 covers that started with Hitman and ended with Prince of Persia, but that is just one additional time-consuming element that had to go. Thanks to everyone over the years who requested copies of our “print magazine” that never existed.

Additionally, the Preview and Review summary pages have been removed. The redundant information contained on those pages can now be found on the front page and in the various channel pages. We are also changing the game channel pages a bit. Games will be listed by review date and the Upcoming Release Schedule is going away entirely – those dates are never right anyway.

Editorials and Interviews are now combined under one page called “Editorials”, although we won’t be doing nearly as many of these features as we have done in the past. Xbox, PS2, GameCube, and GBA channels are gone (at least from the main menu) and are now part of the Archives channel.

The overall results of these changes is a lot less redundancy for a site that is far easier to maintain (by one person) as well as something that is much easier to navigate and quicker to load on mobile media devices. As always, if you have suggestions or advice, please send them via email or post in our forums.

As for the future of GCM…only time will tell. The next year is going to be an experiment to see if it is even possible to operate a semi-professional gaming and movie review site and still have enough time to actually play the games and watch the movies I love. Hopefully, you’ll stick with us for another year and see how this all plays out as GCM returns to its roots.

Have a great 2009…

Mark “Sinjin” Smith
EiC, Game Chronicles

The Power of Numbers – Defending a Score

The Power of Numbers – Defending a Score
Written by Mark Smith

Originally Published on May 1, 2008

It’s only been 48 hours since my review for Mario Kart Wii went live, and word has already spread to the furthest reaches of the Internet about the 4.2 score attached to the article. Rather than create logins and passwords for two-dozen websites and forums I normally don’t visit to defend my score I thought I would write something here. And if you run one of those two-dozen websites, please feel free to replicate this response on your own website or forum.

To all Mario Kart fans:

I am terribly upset that two numbers separated with a decimal point have become so upsetting and controversial for you. Frankly, I find the fact that 4.20 might be appearing on my local gas station sign far more upsetting and a REAL threat to society than one man’s opinion for a video game.

Before I even wrote this review I knew there were raging fan boys out there already playing and loving it, which is why I prefaced my review with “Now I don’t expect to change the hearts and minds of the thousands (perhaps millions by now) who have already purchased the game…” but it is interesting to know that your personal convictions for a video game can be challenged by one review score. Is the fan boy newness of Mario Kart starting to wear off? Is the shallowness of the gameplay starting to reveal itself?

First off, a 4.2 at GCM, as defined by our very own review score system which you can read by clicking on that “?” by the offending numbers merely indicates a game we deem as BUDGET or RENTAL. It means, wait for a $10 price drop, or try renting it first, just to be sure you like it, hardly as offensive or anti-Nintendo or anti-Mario as everyone wants to think.

Secondly, we don’t intentionally post low scores to attract attention to the site or ourselves. We do quite fine without sensational journalism. And since we are a non-profit website run BY gamers FOR gamers we don’t really care that much about web traffic or ad revenue. We are a self-sustaining entity. Whose score are you more inclined to believe; a site with nothing to lose or a site that owes allegiance to advertisers and game publishers?

What a boring world it would be if everybody agreed with everybody else. If you think a game deserves 9.0 do you really want to go read a bunch of reviews that agree with you? Why? Do you really need to reinforce your own opinion that much? Do you even need to read a review after you have already purchased the game?

As a reviewer I have to keep myself from reading other reviews, at least until my own is posted. When my 4.2 showed up on the bottom of the list at Gamerankings and Metacritic I was surprised, but I wasn’t going to alter my score to conform to public opinion or just “fit in”. Sure, I could have given the game a 6.1 and been the 2nd lowest score on the web and nobody would have cared…or at least not as much. Oddly enough, the people who should care, Nintendo, haven’t emailed, called, or complained.

And finally, for those who challenge my qualifications as a game reviewer…just a few personal stats to smooth your ruffled feathers: I’ve been playing video games since I was 14 (30 years), I have written more than 2000 game reviews in the past 10 years, I love racing games (my second favorite genre next to FPS) and I am pretty good at Mario Kart on GameCube and NDS.

I stand by my original review and the 4.2 score. The 150cc class is a game-stopping paradox, at least when it comes to solo modes. Sure, you can play the game a hundred times and eventually FATE will deal you the right deck of cards so you can cross (or limp over) the finish line, but any racing game that relies more on luck than skill is not much of a racing game.

But that is just my opinion, much like the original review was, and thankfully I have just as much right to express that opinion as you do to disagree with it. So rather than hanging out in the forums defending Mario Kart against one rogue review, how about going back and enjoying the game you obviously love so much. Much like our review, Mario Kart will become a forgotten memory when the next big release hits.

Powerglove: Metal Kombat for the Mortal Man

Metal Kombat for the Mortal Man

Written by Jason Porter

Originally Published on November 29, 2007

Metal Kombat for the Mortal Man is the new full-length album from Powerglove. If you haven’t heard of Powerglove, they’re one of several bands that re-imagines video game music. The Powerglove difference? They play heavy metal covers, usually with original arrangements–and they’re really good musicians. Their sound is pure fun for the nostalgic gamer, high-energy, no-holds-barred fun. It’s totally silly, and so is the band (their MySpace describes them as sounding like “a really bad idea for a band”).

My question was: how silly? They’re certainly a novelty band, in a sense. But is their music just a novelty, that wears off quickly, or is it lasting fun for a game geek like myself? I set up a number of rigorous, highly scientific tests in order to find out just how many miles I’d be able to get out of Metal Kombat for the Mortal Man. The margin of error is 100%.

1) Solo Gaming

My first test would also turn out to be the easiest of the four. I picked a small array of video games from various systems, popped MKFTMM into the stereo and began playing. First up: Super Mario Brothers 3. The tune: “Mario Minor,” a driving reinterpretation of songs from the original Super Mario Bros. and the SNES classic Super Mario World. Heading into World 1-1, a sweet minor-key rendition of SMB’s unforgettable overworld theme blasted out from my speakers at a breakneck tempo. I wasn’t just Super Mario, I was Super Metal Mario! The unsuspecting Goombas and Koopa Troopas never saw their fates coming. Midway through the song, the tune shifts to the ominous boss fort theme from Super Mario World–even better. Suddenly, not only was Mario much more badass than usual, he was also on an epic quest. So far, so good: this was high dorkiness at its finest.

Chris Pompous Magnavox The next game was Squaresoft’s PS1 RPG classic, Final Fantasy VII. The reasons I chose this particular title were twofold: the songs “Omnishred (We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Sword),” reinterpreted from FFVII, and “Red Wings Over Baron,” a surprisingly cohesive medley of songs from Final Fantasy IV for the SNES. I prepped my party and submerged beneath the waves to fight Emerald Weapon with the driving strains of “Omnishred,” a cover of the memorable “regular boss” music, blasting from the stereo. By the time that song and “Red Wings Over Baron” had finished, Big Green was still alive, but I was having more fun fighting him than I have in a long time.

And so it continued, a bit longer than I had anticipated. Where I could, I tried pairing up songs with their games of origin, or close approximations. The Zelda medley “Power, Wisdom, Courage” got my adrenaline pumping while playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Castlevania 3 seemed as epic as it was years ago when paired with “Vanquish the Horrible Night,” a mix of two memorable themes from that game and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. One of the funniest (and most fun) game/song combinations was the classic Zapper game Duck Hunt with “The Duck Grinder” blaring over it. There isn’t much music in Duck Hunt, so Powerglove’s rendition of it is barely recognizable, but picking out bits of the original tunes was a treat. All in all, for those of us who grew up gaming without growing out of it, Powerglove is a silly, dorky load of fun that’s the perfect accompaniment to a solo gaming session.

2) One on One

Bassil Crank Fizzburn For the next trial, I convinced my girlfriend (also a gamer, natch) to sit down with me and go head-to-head for some competitive gaming action. We started off with Guilty Gear Isuka, and the song “Holy Orders (Be Quick and Just Shred),” a souped-up version of Ky Kiske’s theme from a previous series release, Guilty Gear X. The Guilty Gear games and metal music have always gone hand in hand, so it wasn’t like experiencing a whole new game, but the raw energy of the song got us more into the action than usual. I for one felt as though I could take on the world: my girlfriend was about to face a fighting-game steamroller in the form of Sol Badguy! I lost three times before the song was over, but through my bitter tears of defeat, the music carried me on. Immediately following “Holy Orders,” the album jumped into the title track, “Metal Kombat for the Mortal Man.” As set as I was on winning something for a change, we continued to play Guilty Gear until that song, too, was over and we were halfway back into “Red Wings Over Baron.”

At this point I stopped the CD and skipped it back while my girlfriend put Mortal Kombat: Deception, her drug of choice, into the PS2. “Metal Kombat for the Mortal Man” is actually an amalgamation of two songs: the song “Techno Syndrome” from the MK movie, and Metal Man’s theme from Mega Man 2. Not that it mattered to us. “Techno Syndrome” translates into metal surprisingly well (you may recall it as the song with the angry guy yelling “MORTAL KOMBAAAAAT!” over and over again), and it weaved in nicely with the Metal Man theme. I actually managed to win a couple of rounds this time, too!

Finally, we popped in Soul Calibur 3 and just started the CD from the beginning. We played bouts until the CD reached “Metal Kombat for the Mortal Man” again before finally quitting. It was a bit draining to absorb such a huge amount of dorkiness in one night, so we agreed to do the same thing again the next night. It was just as fun as the first time, as we alternated between laughing at the exuberant, silly but well executed and catchy music, and yelling at the TV screen when we lost. If you have a good, dorky friend with whom you game, the two of you ought to have a lot of fun gaming to Powerglove.

3) In the Workplace

Nick Pubert Monsanto In some ways, playing Powerglove at the downtown pizza parlor where I work (only when my fabulous pro-gamer income runs out, of course) was the moment of truth. Sure, I appreciated its mix of solid metal technique and tongue-in-cheek video game silliness, but then again, I’m something of a game aficionado. How would the music hold up under the scrutiny of customers and coworkers? I played the album four straight nights in a row to gauge the effects on the various crowds that frequent the place at different times.

There was no problem getting the music played, at least: my coworkers all liked it. “That’s the Metal Man song from Mega Man 2!” a friend of mine exclaimed the first time “Metal Kombat” came on. “But there’s some other song in there too…” he frowned. I guess he was more about Mega Man than anything else. Another coworker, with an expression of wonderment, commented, “it’s like my childhood all over again, only on crack….” I elected not to ask him from whence he’d drawn the metaphor.

And the customers? There seemed to be four basic types. The average person, as with just about any music, no matter how unusual, didn’t really notice anything about it, or at least didn’t volunteer any comments. There was a fairly large minority of people who started yelling, “Zelda! See, man? That’s effin’ ZELDA!” or “oh my God, it IS Mario! Wait… isn’t it?” in between gulps of PBR, but who otherwise didn’t seem to draw the connection to the other songs. A few people bobbed their heads along in time to every track, leaning over to mutter to one another which theme was currently playing and occasionally asking about the music at the counter. And there was one old guy with a ponytail who just wanted us to “stop playing this, this, heavy metal, this music… it’s too loud… look, I’ll tip you a dollar to put on something else.” What could I say? A dollar is a dollar. Powerglove was out, Zamfir was in. Sorry, Powerglove.

4) Looking for Love

So far, so good: the music seemed to largely be a success at home and at work. But one important test remained. The weekend was upon me and, in the interest of science; my girlfriend agreed that I should test the album in the dating arena. Would this album, which I had become rather attached to over the course of the week, help me to pick up chicks?

Alex Lord Axenhelm I hopped into my beat-up old Nissan and popped the album in. Like any normal person, I knew that the sort of person I would want to meet in real life was not the sort of person who would appreciate me cruising around slowly with my music blaring, making faux gang symbols at them. Since I was going for the easiest possible targets, and not anybody I would actually want to get to know, I decided to do exactly that. I chose one of my ever-increasing supply of Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven T-shirts (current count: 3, all exactly the same) to wear underneath an open white collared work shirt. I even had my Fatal Fury promotional trucker cap (just like Terry Bogard’s!) tilted at an unorthodox angle, though my need for prescription eyewear prevented me from donning a cheap pair of knockoff wrap-around sunglasses to complete the effect. Aside from the subtle video game touches, I looked just like everyone I hated in high school.

Perhaps because of embarrassment, perhaps because of thoughtlessness, I ended up driving out a long ways from home before I rolled the window down, checked the hat and cranked the music up. Where I was, there were very few people, and most of them were twice as old as me or less than half my age. The suburbs: my native habitat. I didn’t have any cool gaming symbols figured out, so I elected to just try to look chill as I rolled past grandmothers and elementary school kids. I did finally manage to cruise by some likely targets, but before I could say anything, they started laughing so hard that I thought they might suffocate. Defeated, I drove home. Powerglove, it turns out, can’t do everything.

On the other hand, my girlfriend went to our local net cafe afterwards, and less than ten minutes later she was frantically pounding on the front door again. I cracked the door open and she squeezed through, followed by several pudgy hands adorned with Naruto watches, waving scraps of paper. I fought them off and finally asked what happened. She told me she’d started listening to Powerglove at the cafe on her laptop, and spent the rest of the run home fending off phone numbers and even an awkward marriage proposal or two from a veritable army of nerds. Gamer girls–is it any wonder they aren’t seen at LAN parties very often?

In The End

With that, my battery of tests came to a close. I can’t speak for the quality of the album, since I’m no music critic. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. But I can say confidently that from the perspective of a hardcore gamer, Powerglove is gold. It’s a fast, relentless good time for anyone who grew up on games like Killer Instinct, Super Mario Brothers and Final Fantasy VII. My only problem with it is that the album is over far too soon when playing a long round of PvP in World of Warcraft. The Alliance can keep DragonForce–Powerglove is superior combat music. I haven’t stopped listening to their wild, wacky, head-banging metal yet, and I doubt I will any time soon.

Activision Trifecta: Bees, Spiders, and Skaters…Oh My!

Activision Trifecta –  Bees, Spiders, and Skaters…Oh My!

Written by Bryce Yaws

Originally Published on September 12, 2007

BeeNox (360, PS2, PC), Smart Bomb (Wii), Vicarious Visions (DS) – Date: Fall 2007

Quick…Where’s my Seinfeld-Swatter?

As a veteran gamer I have always been aware in the back of my mind that I am part of the first generation to have video games readily available. Anyone who is about twenty-five years old or younger in this country has grown up around games, directly or not. As such, the future generations will see things in a different perspective as far as the gaming world is concerned. Where I had NES, they now have Xbox 360, so it is safe to say that gamers will be born younger and younger as the years progress.

Activison has had this revelation, and for that, they have started lowering the age demographic and target, I’m not saying that this is the first time it’s thought of or even been put into use (just look at their DreamWorks line-up), but I have noticed while playing Bee Movie Game that they are definitely targeting younger audiences with greater frequency.

Bee Movie Game, based on the upcoming DreamWorks animated feature, is a fast paced, platform game that has a lot of really original perks, such as the vibrant colors, and very interactive environment (Not to mention Bug on Bug aerial dogfighting..or is that bug-fighting).

The Story stays “true” to the movie; at least that’s what I was told by the developers, although as with most movie games, there will be some creative excursions from the movie plot to explore unseen territory.

Essentially it is a children’s game, but does rule out an older audience. Some of the action sequences that are involved in the game are very entertaining, for example, as in the movie there is a scene in which our main character “Barry” happens to accidentally get himself involved in playing tennis. As the player controls Barry, he finds himself stuck to the tennis ball, and to avoid being caught between the ball and the racket he has to rotate the ball in the opposing direction.

Though most of this is interactive, we expect to see a lot of cutscenes throughout the game as well as lots of quick-action elements where you have to reflexively repeat movements and button presses on command.

Though the game is very linear, due to the fact that it is based off a scripted movie, There is the Base of Operations: New Hive City. NHC Is a living-breathing realm that has traffic, houses, parks, shops, very similar to what you would find in human cities, with the small little detail that it is a Hive…a city full of bees. It is in this city that the player has a handful of small mini-games and quests that create additional game time and a little extra entertainment.

One of the very apparent downsides to the game was a small list of enemy types. As the game progresses the player will see the same dragonflies and wasps that want to make Barry into jelly himself, so I’m sure that killing the same hostile insects a hundred times will get a little boring. The gameplay, while diverse in locations also seemed to repeat the same concepts, just in slightly different ways.

As it stands the game is set to be a hit, and hopefully it won’t follow the path of most movie based games, With a lot of really awesome graphics, it will sure be a great game to watch, but on the other hand, I have to wonder how much fun it will be to play.

Next Level Games (Xbox 360, Wii, PS2), Artificial Mind & Movement (NDS, PSP), Beenox (PC) – Date: Fall 2007

Who Goes There? Friend or Foe?

Spider-Man is back…again…and again and again. He never seems to go away, and to be honest I think that most players out there would agree that it is about time that he, as a platform character, be retired. After three solo adventures on consoles plus side-excursions to NDS and GBA as well as appearing in Marvel Ultimate Alliance, Peter Parker should be running out of web fluid by now.

It always seems to be the same tired concepts over and over; “a city built to scale” or “freedom to explore every inch of the city” But I never hear “You get to kick the snot outta the same goon a hundred times! AWESOME!” No, as far as I was concerned it’s over, yet they keep throwing these games at us year after year.

This was my first thought when I heard about Spider-Man: Friend or Foe, that is until I actually played it. When it comes to making a superhero game, it’s really easy to play it safe, and that’s usually what happens, But Developers from Activison walked a little different path this time. Instead of the platform game that we have all grown accustomed to, it’s now an action-platform (with an emphasis on action) title that has a little twist.

Imagine you’re Spider-Man, and your kicking Venom’s butt, then right when you’re about to finish him completely, I mean you’re going to send him to “Game Over”, he tells you he wants to fight with you, so now you’ve got Spider-Man’s agility teamed up with Venom’s Brawn, and your kicking ass! And that’s just the beginning. A whole cast of infamous foes will soon turn out to be “friends” in this latest action romp.

What cooler way to send Spidey back into our hearts and our consoles? The game is developed through Next Level Games, and wow…did they do a great job. I’ve never been a big fan of the Spider-Man video games, but this one blew me away. Set with beautiful graphics with both the Xbox 360 and the Nintendo Wii, and a storyline sure to surprise the player, I can seriously say that this game is a must have, I know that it will be in my hands as soon as I can web me a copy.

The one problem; not so much a problem as a big difference, that I saw between the Xbox 360 and the Wii, is that the control system is a little more simplistic for the 360 whereas the Wii’ version makes full and ample use of the motion controls so that you can flick your wrist to do a certain attack vs. pushing buttons on a hand held controller. This could swing the game in both directions. As we’ve already seen with Spider-Man 3 on the Wii, people had some severe issues with the control scheme and the lengthy learning curve.

One thing should be brought to the player’s attention; this is Spider-Man’s game and as such he is the central character and the player must have him in play at all times unlike a game like Marvel Ultimate Alliance. This is to be expected, but sometimes that boy can just get on my nerves. It would have been nice to mix-up the team and leave Parker at home occasionally.

Neversoft (360, PS3), Page 44 Studios (Wii, PS2), Vicarious Visions (DS) – Date: Fall 2007l

Look…Up in the Sky…it’s BIIIIIIRDMAAAAN!!

No I’m not talking about the superhero, although in the world of skateboard, Tony Hawk has certainly achieved that status. And now, much like tax time and birthdays, Tony Hawk is back for his yearly appearance on video game consoles, and it’s more brutal than ever before. All I can really say about this game is “WOW”

With stunning graphics and a soundtrack to blow the players’ minds, good things should be expected when Proving Ground shows up later this year. As it stands the new Tony Hawk title is based off, of course, Tony Hawk and his professional skateboarding, just like the original games that were developed for the PlayStation and every console since.

But now Neversoft is taking a radical new approach to the world of skateboarding. Running with the “Project 8” engine, then leaping headfirst into next-gen territory, this game features a lot of the original tricks and stunts, but also adds a true feeling of what the world of skateboarding represents; “freedom”, the freedom to go wherever and skate however your imagination can think up, and more.

As with the original games there are pedestrians that may block the player’s path, and in the past, these presented a problem with your tricks since those pesky bi-peds kept getting in the way. No longer do you have to deal with that. Screw those pedestrians and Check them in the Dome! I must say there is something brilliant about watching some unsuspecting citizen fly through the air like a rag-doll – makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.

Along with “checking” there are a lot of really cool additions to the game, such as “Nail the Grab”, and “Nail the Manual” which allows the player to slow things down and pull off unique new grabs and sick moves to rack up more points! Tony himself had a bit to say about this when checking up on the game, and it would be safe to say that creativity involving this game is more freelanced than before.

Though this game has only three cities in which the player can tear up, those three will definitely make it worth the time and effort. And just like in the past, they are still running it with ” Amateur, Pro, and Sick” settings on each trick for near-infinite replayability.

If you’re feeling a little lonely, hop on the web and join the “Skate Lounge” which allows up to 8 players to skate freely around a warehouse that you design. It really does allow the player to show their Personality and Freedom in this game, as well as show off their accomplishments from the main game.

With so much to do, and so little time, the worst part of this game is the learning curve. Even for Tony Hawk veterans, it will take a long time for a player to get really good, but that is probably a good thing. You wouldn’t want a game you could master in a couple weeks. I would definitely recommend Proving Ground for skilled Tony Hawk players, however laid back gamers, in my opinion, will become too frustrated to really get involved in this.

With that being said grab it, tear it up, and see what you thing about it. There is a demo available on Xbox Live Marketplace so find out for yourself. I’m not any sort of a skater, (I tried for 12 years and still sucked!) but I would say that it’s definitely worth a look.

In Conclusion
The titles that Activison are preparing to release this fall really seem to affirm their integrity as far as quality gaming is concerned. The creativity shown in each of these projects and their respective design studios is endless and we should all be excited to see what they will think up next. With so many people playing videogames these days, the future of entertainment is certainly in gaming, and these are three titles to definitely watch out for in the coming months.

Seriously, check these games out – demo’s are available for all of them, then tell me what you thought of these games. I’m always looking for feedback from readers. So with all that being said, stop reading this, pick up the controller, download some demos and have at it! There are games to be played and worlds to be discovered, so what are you still doing here?


360: DEATH BECOMES IT – An introspective look at life without an Xbox

360: DEATH BECOMES IT – An introspective look at life without an Xbox

Written by Blake Kenny

Originally Published on January 29, 2007

Working in the retail industry, especially in the videogame department definitely has its perks. No matter how many people pre-order videogames consoles, I’m sure to get mine. Although the 360’s launch was the last time that the company I work for allowed staff members to order a gaming system ahead of the public. Yaa, I get it, it’s unfair, but in the end, aren’t I paying for it just like everyone else? It’s not like a get a discount, especially when most consoles, unbeknownst to the general public average about $2 worth of mark-up. Still, that neither here nor there, I wanted a 360 badly and nothing was going to stand in my way, certainly not my employer.

So I got my gleaming new premium bundle 360 on launch day and impatiently worked through the rest of my day as I dreamt about my inevitable night of next-gen gaming bliss. For me, a new console supplies more happiness in my life than any Christmas present could ever hope to deliver. There truly is nothing that excites me more. Sure, the $1000.00 bill that comes with a system, an extended warranty and 5 games wasn’t very exciting, but I was sure it would all be worth it in the end.

Having worked in the same big-box electronics retailer for 4 years at that time, 5 now, I knew plenty of the people lined up to get their 360 systems on November 22nd ‘05. Some of them were casual acquaintances, some were friends and others were co-workers, one was even family. We all got our consoles, everyone was happy and all was right with the world.

Over the past year I’ve played my machine more than I imagine the average gaming fan, all this without any significant problems other than the occasional lock-up. I’ve been pretty lucky, but it was 5 weeks ago that the proverbial fox got into the hen house.

For nearly 10 years now, I’ve spent one morning a week, roughly from 8am until 2-3pm hanging out with a close friend zoning out. We would flip on whatever machine we owned at the time and escape the real world with several hours of consecutive gaming action. When this day arrives, everything else is put on hold. Paying bills, spending time with loved ones, it doesn’t matter, this is our day and it will likely continue until either he or I drop dead. It’s a ritual you might say, the one morning a week that we kick back, relax and forget all the bullshit that’s stockpiled within the annals of the real world.

Five weeks ago, while I was at his house, and without warning his machine started to locking-up literally within a few seconds of a game’s start. It didn’t matter what we played, it did this with each and every game we popped into the tray. There seemed to be no justifiable or understandable reason for it, so with reluctance I took up conversation with an extremely pleasant individual at Xbox tech support. As much as we preferred not to resort to such a measure, he knew and I knew, there was little choice. He asked a few rudimentary questions, we answered, and in the end it helped him to diagnose a possible problem. Unknown to me, first person shooters are “time dependent” as he put it. He informed us that if the systems clock was incorrect that for some reason or another, this could cause the system to freeze up when playing shooters. We fixed the clock (god only knows how it managed to get screwed up in the first place) and the system was back up and running. In fact it worked perfectly. We thanked this fella (damn, I wish I could remember his name, he was awesome) and we resumed our day, which I might add, went off without a hitch or incident.

The following weekend, with the events of the previous week all but a distant memory, evil reared its ugly head once again. Only this time, the red ring of death as it is commonly referred to by the gaming community. I knew this was trouble and probably spelled the end. We wept…

No amount of tech support was going to save this $500 paperweight. Thankfully, launch systems and now all systems come with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty – and Microsoft was going to foot the bill fixing or replacing my buddies’ lifeless shell of plastic, circuitry and glowing red lights, that in all rights should have been green. We spent the rest of our usual gaming day breaking away from tradition to pack his 360’s defunct corpse into a cardboard coffin for its trip to Ontario.

Somewhat reluctantly, thinking that perhaps my friends accursed wall outlet or television was the culprit, I packed up my own Xbox 360 the following weekend and brought it over to his place. As inconvenient as transporting it might be, at least we could still play. We played all day, no problem. In fact, we played the next weekend as well. All without an issue. Happy days were here again.

I still remember him saying to me as we left his house after our 2nd gaming session via my machine…

”I don’t get it, you play your machines 20 times more than I play mine and it’s still runs like a top.”

“I’m just lucky I guess”. I thought to myself.

Call it bad mojo, karma, fate, the wrath of God whatever you will, but for whatever the reason, I was cursed. Soon after I got home and hooked my system back up. My girlfriend has an addiction to only one game that I own and decided she wanted to play some Tiger Woods ’07. She stuck in the disc while the system was on the dashboard screen. After an unnaturally long wait the tray icon on the bottom left of the screen read “Unplayable Disc”. Instantly I was freaking out, the blood draining from my face. I took a deep breath. Even with the memories of a recently deceased 360 fresh in my mind, I knew it was to soon to worry and call in the paramedics. After all, the red ring of death was nowhere to be seen so there was no need to panic, not yet anyway.

We turned the machine off, then back on. Same thing… “Unplayable Disc”. I took the game out and inspected it. Perfect condition, not a scratch, fingerprint or speck of dirt on it anywhere, like all my games, it was flawless.

We started popping in some other games. For some odd reason Tiger had locked up on us several times in the past during the loading screens, so we figured we’d best try something else.

“Unplayable Disc”.

”Unplayable Disc”.

”Unplayable Disc”.


I noticed soon after that even though I could hear the fan running, it didn’t sound as though the disc was even beginning to spin. I figured the DVD drive must have busted, because it wasn’t even trying. I knew from years working at other game related jobs that this wasn’t really an uncommon issue. Anyone who remembers having to flip the original PlayStation upside down to read games will know what I’m talking about.

So here I was, 2 weeks to the day after my friends 360 croaked and now mine was dead too. The manufacturers warranty was out of the question for me, but fortunately I had picked up an in-store warranty from the place I purchased it. I brought it into the store the same day and away she went. Off to the repair depot for diagnostics, and certainly 4 weeks of sitting on a shelf collecting dust before someone even bothered to take a look at it. Naturally this pissed me off. I had tried some troubleshooting tips I read about online, but none of them worked, so I had little choice. I either coughed up another 500 bones to buy another one or I sat at home in the dark with the icy sweats of withdrawal, while I waited for it to come back. I’m not a rich man, you figure it out.

If you’re a serious gamer like I am; you know what it’s like to be without a game system for any significant length of time. It’s an empty feeling, like you’ve lost your legs or something. Hell, I hate to say something so shallow about an inanimate object, but loosing a game console for me is akin to loosing a loved one to a disease or illness, it leaves a hole in my heart.

I knew my system may be gone for up to 8 weeks and against my desires to do so, traded on about a half dozen games that I had intended to keep in order to step backwards and buy a Playstation 2 along with Final Fantasy XII. There was no way I could survive without a game system in my home, even if it meant a serious downgrade in processing power and graphics. While my friend and I had become accustomed to playing the powerful 360, that weekend he came over to my place and we fired up the PS2 for the day. Sure, it’s not as spectacular, but we had a good time playing FFXII, Shadow of the Colossus and Guitar Hero 2 for the day.

Well, it’s been almost a month since my system left. To the surprise of my buddy and myself we were extremely impressed with the lengths Microsoft went to, to satisfy him as a customer. 3 weeks after we sent his system away, it’s been replaced. A brand new machine arrived at his house and we were thrilled to have it back. 3 weeks not a bad turnaround. Surely not everyone has been as lucky, but you won’t find any complaints from us.

In fact he has a regular Xbox as well, and since he still plays Project Gotham 2 like it’s the only game on earth, has been kind enough to lend his machine to me, so I could continue my work for this site and continue playing at the level to which I have become accustomed. His 360 is here now, keeping warm the cabinet space so rightfully designated to my own machine. It’s a welcome visitor to be sure.

In writing this I’m left wonder what, if any point am I trying to make here. Well I’m not really sure. I suppose to me, I felt like I was writing a horror story. Games are such a big part of my life that losing a machine to technical inadequacies is certainly horrific in my eyes. I challenge any serious gamer to face the tragedies which had befallen us and come out so clean on the other side. It leaves one twiddling their thumbs and biting their fingernails with anticipation. It’s not at all a good time. Not as good as holding that white controller in your hands.

Maybe it’s about how a Playstation 2, no matter how inferior by comparison, still does something that’s far more important than the visual bang you get from a glorious HD console. It entertains, because after all, a great game isn’t measured by its looks alone.

Maybe it’s about how Microsoft, the current Northern American leader in this console war is aware that the 360 isn’t without its share of problems. After all, they’ve stepped up the length of their own manufacturers warranty and this if nothing more shows concern for their customers and a continuing desire to try and be there for the people. As upsetting as it has been to a lot of people to have their Xbox 360’s break for no apparent reason, Microsoft does seem to have a willingness to try and remedy these situations. While I’m sure there are plenty of horror stories out there and plenty of pissed of gamers, our personal experience was rather positive. From the great tech support we received to the incredibly fast turnaround on my buddies’ console, we’ve been satisfied to the fullest, despite the inconvenience. Now, if only my system could return as quickly. The wait continues.

On a personal note: In checking on the status of my console, I’ve been informed that as I write this, it’s on it way back to me.

Gen Con Indy 2006 – A Trip Down Memory Lane

Gen Con Indy 2006 – A Trip Down Memory Lane
Written by Mark Smith

Originally Published on August 14, 2006

Much like how May has become synonymous with E3 (at least up until this year), August has held a special place in the hearts of Midwestern RPG gamers with the annual trek to Indianapolis, Indiana for Gen Con, a celebration of all things remotely related to role-playing, whether it be tabletop or electronic.

Ironically, this was my first year attending the Indy show, even though the GCM office is only 50 minutes from the Indy convention center, although I have been to Gen Con once before, in the early-80’s, in Lake Geneva, when AD&D was the only RPG on the block, and thousands of gamers migrated to Wisconsin yearly in hopes of meeting the “master” and possibly playing with the ultimate Dungeon Master.

Back in the 80’s I was a hardcore role-player, or rather the DM of my own local group of players as well as starting the first unofficial AD&D group at Purdue University, at least until university officials deemed the game “too controversial”, at which point we moved to the basement of a nearby frat house.

These were the final years of my role-playing career that had been a part of my life since 1976 when I purchased one of the very first “Dungeons & Dragons” games. At that time D&D was basically a few pamphlets and some starter dice in a zip-lock bag at the local hobby shop.

I quickly became addicted to the game and everything about it, and by 1983 I quite literally owned every TSR and Judges Guild product ever made including every single lead figure, all of which I meticulous hand painted. Of course it helped that I worked at the campus record store and was in charge of ordering and maintaining their role-playing section.

I was “the mobile DM” in my town, and if you looked in my trunk on any given weekend you’d think I had just ransacked Gen Con for everything they had on display. That was the extent of my collection and my addiction. Then, sometime in 1985, for reasons that are still unclear, I sold my entire collection to one of my players and never DM’d or played again.

With the exception of the occasional RPG on computer or console, I have managed to keep my distance from AD&D and all the other RPG games that have sprung up over the past 21 years, so going to Gen Con 2006 was nearly as shocking as the first time I went to E3. I had no idea the extent of this hobby and how it had grown, the hundreds of games, mini’s, cards, artwork, fan fiction, movies, and yes, even a few computer games.  What I can barely remember as a ragtag group of outcasts in Wisconsin, hoping to catch a glimpse of Gary G. and play the latest module has now turned into one of the biggest events of the year.

Unlike E3, which is all about the media, Gen Con is all about the gamers. Only a fraction of the convention center is used for booth space and corporate shills. The rest of the massive halls are just a matrix of tables and chairs dedicated to hundreds of RPG titles that range from Magic the Gathering card-style games to elaborate miniature reenactments of Star Wars Battle of Hoth.

Gamers go to Gen Con to play, trade, and buy games; primarily tabletop games, which made this electronic gamer feel slightly out of place, as I diligently searched for anything with a keyboard and a monitor. It didn’t take long to locate the few computer and console games on display.

Simon & Schuster was showing off the latest incarnation of EVE Online, their epic space MMORPG, which was surprisingly more advanced than what I had seen at E3 a few months ago. This game continues to grow in size, complexity, and sheer wonder each year.

Sierra was showing their amazing action-adventure title, Eragon on both the PS2 and Xbox 360. It wasn’t really an RPG, but it did have a dragon in it – close enough. This was the first time I actually got to play the game and it is shaping up to be one of the better console titles to ship this holiday season. I dare say, it ranks right up there with God of War. It is not only gorgeous; it is truly fun to play.

Atari made a last-minute appearance at the Indy Gen Con just in time to show off their new Neverwinter Nights 2 for PC and Dungeons & Dragons Tactics for the Sony PSP. Both games are brilliant and beyond the scope of this wrap-up coverage, so look for more in-depth previews of these two titles shortly.

Of course the highlight of the show was getting to meet the cast and crew of the new indie flick, GAMERS. If you haven’t seen this movie you don’t know what you are missing. You can read our review if you want or just take my word for it and go watch this movie RIGHT NOW. If you have every held a d20 in your hand, you must see this movie.

We even got to sit in on one of the screenings of the film at the hotel across the street from Gen Con. I had already seen the movie a few dozen times prior to the public screening, but it was reassuring to know that there are other people out there as twisted as me that laughed and groaned in all the right places.

I only attended two of the four days that the show was going on, but by design, this show is targeted for those who are actively into playing these RPG games, and I had pretty much seen everything I needed to by the end of day two. That certainly didn’t stop thousands of other gamers from invading Indy to cast their dice in hundreds of tournaments going on throughout the weekend.

It’s amazing just how big role-playing has become. Even since returning from the Indy Gen Con, I have already gotten word of more Gen Cons in California and Australia. And even though I might have kicked the RPG habit, it’s pretty safe to say that role-playing is here to stay, and there is no better place to sample the energy of the games and the people who play them than Gen Con.

See you next year in Indy…

Revolution Disillusion

Revolution Disillusion
Written by Cliff O’Neill

Originally Published on June 17, 2005

My Game Chronicles bio cites the Nintendo Entertainment System, better known as the NES, as establishing my gaming obsession. It’s true: The NES made me the serious game addict I am today. If it weren’t for Nintendo, I would have spent considerably less time playing video games when I was a wee lad.

In many respects, Nintendo was like a second family, nourishing me with countless hours of entertainment and keeping me out of trouble…well, any serious trouble, like carjacking and drug dealing (things I now do through video games, ironically enough). Constantly having to save some damned princess required a lot of free time, after all, and that’s exactly what I had as a kid. Unfortunately, my relationship with Nintendo began to erode in the ’90s.

For starters, I lost interest in saving the lousy princess; her butt was no longer worth rescuing. Further, the idea of controlling a portly plumber or cute elf started to lose its appeal as I entered my teens. I was looking for digitized blood and guts, in the form of Mortal Kombat, and Nintendo wasn’t willing to give it to me – the Super Nintendo version of MK was censored, much to my dismay.

Naturally, I did what any teenage gamer would have done at the time: I turned to my trusty ol’ Sega Genesis, on which a graphically inferior but delightfully gory version of Midway’s bloodbath awaited me. From that point on, it was clear to me Nintendo wasn’t interested in growing with its fan base, favoring a more family friendly approach instead.

That was just the first of Nintendo’s many questionable strategies that left me feeling perplexed. Next was the Big N’s decision to forgo the CD-ROM format for the Nintendo 64, the highly anticipated (and much delayed) 64-bit successor to the Super Nintendo. Rather, it stuck with restrictive cartridges while its two main competitors, Sony and Sega, fully embraced CD-ROM for their 32-bit systems.

The Nintendo 64 wasn’t without merit, however. Among other things, it featured an innovative controller, four controller ports (a rarity at the time), and some of the greatest games ever made, including Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I was already burnt out on Mario and Link, though, despite how great their games were.

Sadly, N64’s software didn’t really “mature” until the console’s later years, when games like Perfect Dark and Conker’s Bad Fur Day saw release. By then, it was too little too late – the next console cycle had already begun.

And yet, like a battered wife, I was willing to give Nintendo another chance. That chance came when the Nintendo GameCube arrived, sporting a proprietary mini-disc drive. While the system looked adorable, I felt Nintendo had once again dropped the ball by utilizing a restrictive media format. Many developers felt similarly, thus resulting in the absence of several notable third-party titles.

Another disappointment for me was the GameCube’s inability to output digital audio, something the rival consoles boast. Even more disappointing was Nintendo’s decision to remove the digital video output from later versions of the hardware, preventing latecomers from taking advantage of the system’s progressive-scan capability. And do I even need to mention the complete neglect of online gaming?

Mostly, however, I was underwhelmed by the GameCube’s library of games. With a few exceptions, much of it just didn’t appeal to me, an adult gamer with zero interest in Pokémon and other such inanity. Bear in mind, prior to the release of the GameCube, I had already grown tired of many of Nintendo’s key franchises.

No, I was mainly interested in the ’Cube for its non-first-party exclusives, specifically the new installments in the Resident Evil series. Then, shockingly, Capcom announced the once GameCube-exclusive Resident Evil 4 was in the works for the PS2. That was the moment I realized I no longer needed a GameCube.

Ultimately, I sold it when the selling was good, which unfortunately meant missing the GameCube version of Resident Evil 4. (If you must know, the system was sold to someone seeking a GameCube with one of those crazy digital video outputs.) I certainly wasn’t going to let the little guy collect dust, nor did I need to keep it around to play multiplatform games – that’s what a PS2 is for.

Now Nintendo’s next-generation console, the Revolution, draws closer, and I’m not fully convinced it will be all that revolutionary. Admittedly, Nintendo still hasn’t revealed what, precisely, will be so revolutionary about the Revolution. Will the “revolution” be a new type of controller? Or maybe a new way of interacting with games entirely? Inquiring minds want to know.

What is currently known about the system doesn’t exactly have me pulsating with excitement. For one thing, Nintendo has already stated that the Revolution will NOT support high definition – a major bummer for this home-theater enthusiast. What’s more, the Revolution’s main selling points right now appear to be a developer-friendly environment, backwards compatibility, online functionality, and downloadable Nintendo games from the NES era on up. Nothing revolutionary so far…

Obviously, Nintendo is still clinging to the past, looking to attract throngs of Nintendo faithful to the Revolution with familiar classics and updated franchises. It’s also hoping to lure trepid game designers and independents with the promise of easy, low-cost development. The impending “HD era” apparently has some developers shaking in their boots, or at least that’s what Nintendo is banking on.

Nevertheless, if Nintendo wants to renew my interest and receive my gaming dollars, its next-gen console had better deliver a real revolution, not just a couple of baby steps. I have already reserved shelf space in my entertainment center for the Xbox 360 and PS3, and that could very well be all the space I’ll allocate for the future consoles. This gaming hobby is rather expensive, you know.


The Coming of the HD Era

The Coming of the HD Era
Written by Cliff O’Neill

Originally Published on June 6, 2005

With at least two next-generation consoles on the horizon set to take full advantage of the high-definition (HD) format, a basic television will no longer cut it. Sure, both the Xbox 360 and PS3 will display just fine on a regular TV, but it would be like owning a Ferrari and driving it well below the speed limit. To witness all the visual splendor of next-generation games, an HDTV will be an absolute requirement. The time has come to break out the sledgehammer and demolish your crusty old television…or at least unload it.

Understandably, some sentimental gamers may have grown attached to their prehistoric TVs, and not everyone may be completely sold on HDTV. But, seriously, if you’re going to drop a hefty wad of cash on a shiny next-gen console, you ought to get the most out of your investment. An HDTV will ensure that you’ll receive the highest in visual fidelity, not to mention an expanded viewing area.

 Microsoft has already stated that ALL games for the Xbox 360 will run in widescreen and support a minimum resolution of 720p, complete with full antialiasing. And since 720p isn’t a widely popular format in a lot of HDTV’s currently on the market, the Xbox 360 will also convert both up and down to accommodate those with only 480p or 1080i monitors.

Sony, meanwhile, boasts that the PS3 will be capable of dishing out 1080p – a format not yet widely adopted among HDTV manufacturers. At that resolution, your eyes will surely blow kisses. However, it remains to be seen whether the frame rate of next-gen games will hold up at such high resolutions. One thing’s certain: Once you experience HD, you’ll have a difficult time settling for less. Anything else would be uncivilized, as they say.

It’s not all about dazzling eye candy, though. The sharp, crystal-clear video and greater screen real estate of a 16:9 HDTV will provide a more immersive gameplay experience. You’ll see more of the game world and clearly be able to spot ultra-fine detail, such as a character’s pores (assuming someone takes the time to render them). Think of it as seeing the game the way its developer originally intended.

Gamers stuck with standard televisions won’t be quite so fortunate. In fact, HDTV-less gamers may actually be at a disadvantage when playing certain types of games. As an example, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball on the Xbox, though not a true high-definition game, displays more of the court in widescreen mode, making it much easier to follow the action.

That’s a small example, but one that demonstrates how something even as basic as a volleyball match can benefit from an extended picture. Now just imagine how much an intense shooter, rowdy sports title, or exhilarating racing game can gain from full-blown HD. Or, if you prefer, simply fantasize about seeing the lovely DOA gals parading around in mesmerizing high definition. Yowza!

So, what will be some of the drawbacks of such heavenly imagery? For one, game makers will need to devote additional resources to development when the next-gen consoles usher in HD as a standard. This potentially means longer development schedules and higher costs (resulting from all the fancy high-end equipment that’s necessary), which gamers will likely bear the brunt of. It also means smaller developers, particularly those that specialize in creating budget titles, could be left in the cold.

Another issue concerns the small amount of room that exists for graphical insufficiencies. Since HD will magnify the slightest imperfection tenfold, a rough texture or misshapen polygon will stick out like Rosie O’Donnell in Playboy. Just look at the Xbox version of Enter the Matrix. One of the few current-generation games to feature 1080i, the game actually looks worse in HD because its graphical shortcomings are all the more glaring at the higher resolution.

As mentioned earlier, performance issues could arise as well, despite the incredible raw power of the next-generation consoles. Even skilled developers will probably need to make some compromises to next-gen graphics – like keeping a limit on the number of particle effects or characters that fill the screen – in order to prevent the action from bogging down at HD resolutions.

At the end of the day, though, that’s a relatively small price to pay when you consider the next-generation consoles already promise graphics several times greater than those of the current generation. The HD factor – or “era,” as Microsoft keenly refers to it – will just intensify the leap in graphics. But it’s a leap that only those with HDTVs will fully appreciate.

Sony PSP Launch Day – The Shot Heard Around the…err…Block…

Sony PSP Launch Day – The Shot Heard Around the…err…Block…
Written by Mark Smith

Originally Published on March 24, 2005

Nothing can quite live up to the hype of the launch of a new game system, especially when you have those four magic letters (S.O.N.Y.) as part of the media frenzy. In the past I’ve written first-hand accounts of the now-all-too-familiar experience of waiting in line for that magical passage of time when cash registers around the country accept the UPC code for the latest next-gen system.

Unlike those past articles and the waiting in line that preceded them, this launch is far less memorable for numerous reasons. The journey began around 6pm when I started calling the various stores around town (at least the ones who were launching at midnight) to check on the final quantities and if lines were forming. It wasn’t until 10:30pm when the electronics associate at Wal-Mart finally confirmed a lone person waiting “in line”. With 70 units in their known inventory I was confident securing a PSP would be no problem. Getting one that worked, would be the greater challenge, but I get ahead of myself.

So around 11:20pm myself and another GCM reviewer casually sauntered into Wal-Mart and sure enough, despite all the preparedness of a major system launch (extra staff, roped off waiting area, etc.) there were only three people waiting. As the 40 minutes ticked off only another four people showed up. At the stroke of midnight nine people were there to claim one of 70 possible units. And this was a Wal-Mart Super Center. The other Wal-Mart fared a bit better selling 30 units, but they are also located on the fringe of Purdue University.

Bottom line, we could have walked into the store at midnight and gotten out just as fast or even later that same day as I was about to soon find out…

You may have heard about the horror stories from Japan with their 6% defective rate on PSP’s at launch. Well it’s only worse in the States. Between the dead pixels and the embedded particles in the screens, I have never seen a system launch with this number of returns.

My first system had three dead pixels. I exchanged it for a new one only to find that under the screen there were embedded dust particles, or perhaps just chips in the glass (or plastic) that were causing the light to refract in all sorts of prismatic colors. It wasn’t as bad as the dead pixel model but for $250 I am demanding PERFECTION. Back to Wal-Mart for my third system – good thing they are right across the street – and finally, miracles of miracles, I get a flawless unit, but not before learning a few interesting facts.

At the store where I purchased my PSP, five of the 22 systems sold had been returned or exchanged and the other Wal-Mart that sold 30 at launch and another six since then had eight returned as defective. That’s a 23.6% defect rate for those of you who left your pocket calculators at home.

Now before you go saying I am the exception to the rule, Roger, my other editor who bought one (right after me) had five dead pixels on his unit; that’s two units out of 70 sold back to back in one store in one mid-sized town in one state. The mathematical possibilities are staggering.

While I cannot vouch for the life-expectancy of this unit once you do find a good one, I would highly recommend avoiding purchasing a PSP online, especially via eBay or some other auction site where your options for refunds and exchanges are limited or non-existent. Buy it in a store, preferably one close to your house, and keep your receipt. Better yet, ask to plug the sucker in before you leave the store and inspect the screen for any imperfections. The default white screen that comes up the first time you turn the system on is perfect for revealing dead pixels or foreign matter trapped beneath the glass.

The good news, there is NO SHORTAGE of PSP’s as initially expected. The demand and perceived popularity (or lack thereof) is surprising, not only to myself but a lot of retailers who were planning major launch events only to have a handful of people show up. Therefore, nobody should be price gouging on eBay, and there should be ample supply for you to keep exchanging your PSP as long as necessary.

I have to commend Sony for making sure all stores had at least some units. Nobody around here is actually “sold out” of PSP’s, which is a complete 180 from the debacle back in 2000 when the PS2 launched or more recently, this past holiday season when PS2’s were so scarce they were going for $500 on eBay.

But at the same time I have to admonish them for one of the buggiest system launches in history. Even the Xbox with its defective Thompson DVD drives and power cords took more than a year to reveal themselves. At least with the PSP you have instant and visual indications of flawed systems that you can see the moment you turn it on.

Of course no other handheld system in history has sported a screen of this size and clarity, so any imperfections are instantly noticeable, but come on, we’re talking SONY here. I would hope they were assembling these units in a “clean room”. And a few dead pixels might be acceptable to the Sony QA department but anyone shelling out $250 for a system should demand perfection.

The PSP Launch will certainly not live long in my mind. I’ve waited in longer lines to use a public toilet, often with more satisfying results. And while I won’t hold my first two faulty systems against Sony in my forthcoming PSP system review, the phrase “caveat emptor” (buyer beware) has never been more appropriate.

Look for our full system review (now that I have one that works) and launch game coverage coming soon…