Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What’s Blood Got to Do with It?

A lot of video games, particularly RPGs of the SNES and PlayStation 1 era, request a hodgepodge of information at the beginning of the mission. Asking for the player’s name makes sense; after all, you’ve got to call the main character something other than “generic spunky teen,” “guy who never talks but always leads the party” or “idiot amnesiac with outlandish hair.” Even when Earthbound for the Super Nintendo asked me what my “favorite thing” is, it eventually became important to the storyline.

But sometimes the questions get a little bit creepy. Take Dragon Warrior III for the Gameboy Color, which asks of new heroes, “Do you find life boring?” and “Is the sun the king of nature?” Apparently these bizarre, probing inquiries into my hilarious but ultimately trivial psyche somehow determine how hard the hero can swing a sword and how many magic points he or she gets at the start of the quest.

One of the seemingly least important questions a video game has asked before it would let me adventure boldly to my early grave is, “What’s your blood type?” Found in games like the original SaGa Frontier for the PSX, the age-old blood type query is apparently just as pointless as “Is adventuring a hardship?,” another (potentially self defeating) gem from Dragon Warrior III. HOWEVER! According to Japanese culture, one’s blood type determines plenty of aspects of his or her personality, from their temperament to who would make the best lover. I guess it’s a little bit like astrology and horoscopes, but I’m guessing that this stuff doesn’t appear next to Japanese Garfield strips.

To those wondering, here’s a nifty chart explaining the whole convoluted mythology (click here for a larger graphic):

Source: http://www.phlebotomist.net/

Of course, credit where credit is due: This graphic was designed by Lorena O'Neal; you can check out more of her work here.

So the next time a game asks for your blood type, take the question seriously – it just might pay off in the end. Or it’ll be another dumb question you had to answer before the killing can begin, but hey, sometimes that’s just the way things are.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The History of Valve

I finished playing though Duke Nukem Forever a week or two ago and I still stand behind my original assessment: It’s a fun, solid game that should please fans of the Duke – and few others. However, I couldn’t shake a feeling of Forever’s similarity to another shooter that I played long ago: The original Half-Life by Valve. I was starting to think that I was grasping for straws when near the end of the game, when he’s solving a puzzle involving steam pipes, Duke utters, “I hate valve puzzles.”

Maybe I’m not so crazy after all: Duke’s one-liner is a clear allusion to the company responsible for Half-Life 1 and 2, the Left 4 Dead series, and Portal, which educational theorist James Gee often points to as a game that helps students think in nontraditional, nonlinear ways. And Duke making fun of Valve is pretty ironic, given Half-Life’s heavy influence on Duke Nukem Forever.

We’ve been waiting on Half-Life: Episode 3 since 2007, a mere drop in the bucket compared to Duke Nukem Forever’s 14 year development cycle. Also mirroring Duke Nukem Forever’s released date of “when it’s done” is the answer given in March of this year to players demanding Episode 3: “Hang in there.” No specifics where given.

But Valve’s been far from dormant for the last few years. Perhaps taking precedence over Episode 3 was Portal 2, Valve’s recent sequel to the first person genre-bending sleeper hit of 2007. Or perhaps it was the development of Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 that sidelined Episode 3.

But regardless of what’s been delaying Half-Life: Episode 3, the history of Valve entertainment is an interesting one. I found the following awesome chart right here! You might want to click the link for a larger, more easily-read chart.

Source:Video GameDesign Colleges.org

A revenue of 10.5 million in 2008... I'll bet with Portal 2's release that it's doubled by now. Either way, let's hope that it doesn't take another 10 years to see Half-Life: Episode 3.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Happy Anniversary, Sonic!

With his limitless supply of dopey friends, a bizarre appeal to the freakiest of internet crazies and a facepalm-worthy string of successively worse last and current gen titles, Sonic the Hedgehog has fallen on bad times. But 20 years ago today, the original Sonic the Hedgehog game blasted its way onto the Sega Genesis in North America – and for the first time, Nintendo’s fat plumber had a worthy rival.

On June 23, 1991, Sega’ 16-bit revolution forged one of its brightest stars.

YOU CAN'T CATCH WHAT YOU CAN'T SEE. (No, not chlamydia.)

Created by artist Naoto Oshima, programmer Yuji Naka and designer Hirokazu Yasuhara, Sonic the Hedgehog on Sega Genesis/Mega Drive featured the speed that had been missing from most other platformers of the day. Instead of plodding along looking for secrets and timing jumps with great precision as players were used to doing in titles like Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog encouraged gamers to tear though levels at breakneck speed, stopping for a breather only when a boss appeared. Sonic’s adventure spanned six unique zones, including the lush Green Hill, the bouncy Spring Yard, and the ominous Scrap Brain, home of the evil Dr. Robotnik. Yes, his name is technically “Dr. Eggman.” But that sounds dumb. He’s Robotnik, damn it.

Sonic’s popularity boomed as players all over started noticing Sega’s 16-bit powerhouse for the first time. Finally, Sega had the “killer app” they needed to become a threat to the Nintendo juggernaut; and though the Super Nintendo had yet to hit the market in the United States, it could be said that Sonic the Hedgehog was the first victory in the 16-bit wars that characterized the era. Sonic 1 also planted the seed for Sega’s “gaming with an attitude” campaign, which lasted throughout much of the ‘90s and gave birth to the iconic SEGA! scream.

Notably, the original Sonic the Hedgehog is home to what just might be the worst kept secret in gaming history: The level select code. By pressing up, down, left and right at the title screen, then holding the A Button and pressing Start, players were brought to a screen containing every zone in the game, including the special stage. Perhaps because of its ease of use, the code spread through seemingly every playground and schoolyard in America. Players who used the cheat were likely surprised to find that the zone order in the level select menu was not the same as in the game itself, a curiosity that, we would find out later, was evidence of just how quickly the game was rushed to the market.

I'm out of order? YOU'RE out of... no, wait, you're right.

North American cover art
Sonic’s 16-bit career spanned four titles in the main series on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, such as the massively popular Sonic the Hedgehog 2, as well as Sonic and Knuckles, which featured impressive “lock-on technology” wherein players could piggyback S&K with older Sonic titles to create new experiences. Sonic’s other Genesis/Mega Drive offerings included Sonic Spinball, where Sonic was the speedy stand-in for the typical silver sphere in a giant game of pinball; Sonic 3D Blast – aka Flickie’s Island – an isometric experiment in 3D that pushed the limits of Sega’s black box but ultimately provided lukewarm gameplay; and a host of cameo appearances in other Sega titles.

Sonic’s fall was as swift as his rise, beginning with his second Dreamcast appearance. After Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic titles experienced a massive decline in quality. Sega, it seemed, couldn’t recapture the glory of Sonic’s 2D days. Whether Sonic is an outdated hero from a bygone era or if the franchise was handed poorly for the last decade is debatable, but recent Sonic efforts such as Sonic the Hedgehog 4 and Sonic Colors on the Wii were much better received than almost all Sonic games of the mid and late 2000s. Perhaps the upcoming Sonic Generations, for PS3, Xbox 360 and the 3DS, will settle the debate once and for all.

However, this is not the day to think about the future of Sega’s Blue Blur – this is a day to concentrate on his past. Take some time to pick up Sonic’s first crusade against evil today and you’ll see just why a hedgehog of all creatures took the gaming world by storm 20 years ago.

Sonic's so fast, he can run UPSIDE DOWN.

But don’t knock yourself out just yet: The summer of Sega is only just beginning.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Another Sizzlin' Sega Summer

For about the last 12 years - starting right after the death of the 16-bit era and the rise of 3D capable 32-bit systems like Sony's PlayStation and Sega's Saturn - the soothing, searing heat of the summer brings with it my renewed obsession with Sega's Genesis/Mega Drive and its many failed add-ons. During summers past, I've found myself playing through the Phantasy Star series one year at a time; immersing myself in mediocrity with the likes of Cosmic Carnage, the lazer-blasting humming bird Kolibri, and the forgettable "action" RPG Sword of Vermilion; and basking in the warm glow of the Sega CD/Mega CD's many, many full motion video games. Perhaps my greatest pro-Sega project spanned the length of four summers: I created back-ups of the entire North American Sega CD catalogue, spanning about 250 CD-Rs. The madness even included Bug Blasters, Citizen X and all the other nostalgic crap Good Deal Games resurrected in the early and mid-2000s.

Middle: My Sega CD back-up collection.
Top Left: Some Good Deal Games releases.

This summer greets me with limited access to my collection thanks my clever cousin taking up temporary residence in the "Sega room" and my preoccupation with finding a more suitable job. (By the way, did you know that a Master's degree will get you 50 cents more an hour at Best Buy than a Bachelor's? THANK GOD FOR ALL THAT COURSE WORK I DID.) But despite these factors - and my best judgement - I've got Sega on the brain yet again. You can thank the PlayStation Network re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-release of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for getting this little gem stuck in my head for the 6000th time in my life:

In case you've never experienced it, that's theme of the Hidden Palace Zone, the most publicized of myriad cancelled levels in Sonic’s second adventure. I used to sit and listen to this song in Sonic 2's sound test for hours on those lazy summer days, thinking about the "zone that never was." I’d seen a few pictures of a shimmering underground world, mysterious and alluring. What could it have been like? Why was it cut out of the game? Would it ever be finished on the Sega CD?

I guess I was the introspective type even at 10 years old.

This year, my cousin and I recently raged our way through the streets in Sega’s seminal Streets of Rage 2, bringin’ back memories of ass-kickings of old; seeing the manual to Altered Beast right now is making me want to travel back in time and "Wize from [my] Graweve," and I'd like nothing more than to jam out in the nearest graveyard with the killer robot version of Michael Jackson in Moonwalker. As the sun sets over the lush trees in my quiet neighborhood and the birds tweet their greeting to the coming summer season, I know there are epic battles yet to be fought in Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side, freaky buttons to be pushed and madcap consequences left to pay in Panic! and a plethora of cross country races left to win in Outrun.

I've never understood what it is about warm weather and the sweet scent of 10,000 flowers pouring gently through my window that gets me revved up about Sega's little black box and its uninspired upgrades, but like clockwork every year, the house that Sonic built takes center stage in my gaming world. This summer, grab a cool drink, take up the mighty 3-button controller and  find out for yourself just why the Sega Genesis once again does what Nintendon’t.

Long live Sega's 16-bit battles and the sun's spectacular rays!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Forever Begins Today

The man.
It once looked as if Duke Nukem Forever, the ever-vaporware sequel to the 1996 blockbuster PC game Duke Nukem 3D, would live up to its name by keeping gamers waiting endlessly: By the time a full decade had passed and the game was still in development, DNF had become the gaming industry’s biggest running joke of all time. But in May of 2009, right when the blonde bomber was poised to finally pound the plutonium pavement once more, the Duke of Nukem was blasted to an early grave when his parent company, 3D Realms, had a nuclear meltdown.

For months afterward, a toxic cloud hung over the heads of the Duke faithful, but as wise man once said, “Always bet on Duke.”

That man is an asshole; I lost thousands at the roulette table when I told them to “put it all on Duke” and the little ball instead landed on red 36. Yet it’s all worth it, because Duke Nukem Forever has finally been unleashed upon rabid fans and curious newcomers today, a mere 14 years after it was first announced.

And as you can see, I’ve got Balls of Steel.

I know I’ve been critical of shooters in the past, but Duke Nukem has become a radioactive ray of light in a world gone mad with realism. Hangin’ with the Dukester has always been about hittin’ on hot chicks, blowin’ stuff up, and layin’ the smackdown on a bunch of evil ETs straight from the pages of some sleazy comic book, not this super serious Tom Clancy dreck that the current crop of 14-year-old Xbox fanboys soils themselves over.

Thankfully, DNF holds true to the old run ‘n’ gun formula – for the most part. Forever’s got significant problems and doesn’t have the juice to surpass the legendary DN3D, but unless you’ve got lead shielding your heart, this Duke is gonna nuke his way right into your good gaming graces with a smile on his lips and a shotgun in his hands. The king is officially back, baby!

Relive the final battle of Duke 3D in Forever.
Damn, Duke is looking good in Forever with sweet textures and all the devious details you’ve come to expect from the franchise. The fang-toothed, snarling invaders from space are back too and looking as bloodthirsty as ever, but in all honesty, these graphics aren’t breaking much new ground. Also, besides Duke himself, the other human characters look a little uninspired; I guess one of Mr. Nukem’s stipulations for finally appearing was that no one could look better than him.

Speaking of self-indulgence: The classic numerical representation of Duke’s health is a thing of the past, replaced with an “ego bar” that rises whenever Duke does something manly, such as beating the heck out of an enemy with his bare hands or downing a cold brewskie. If the player hangs out awhile after being shot at or blown up, the Ego bar refills and Mr. Nukem has another chance to take out those slimy alien dirtbags. Regenerating health might make Duke’s latest adventure a little too easy for some, but it’s not all that different from the endless supply of health players can tap into by abusing water fountains in the original Duke 3D.

"He's really, really all out of gum."

You’re going to need all the ego boosts you can find if you plan on swapping lead with the alien menace besieging our planet and stealing our chicks, but Duke’s hardly the walking arsenal he was in previous titles. There’s a great variety of weaponry, ranging from handguns and shotguns to explosives and futuristic gadgets galore, but annoyingly, Duke can only hold one type of weapon category at a time (one bullet weapon, one explosive weapon, etc.). To balance this out, there are plenty of guns hanging around in Duke’s domain, so switching weapons on the fly is easy. I suppose this mechanic adds a bit of strategy to the mix, but I much prefer toting around my own armory like in the first person shooters of old.

Sorry for the quality; I was using a TV and a crappy camera. But... PIG COP!

There’s a lot of interactivity with the manmade environments, from picking up and drawing with markers to using showers and toilets, but much of that interactivity disappears in more open levels like the desert, making them pretty stale in comparison. Furthermore, horrendous load times whenever the player starts or restarts a level are a real drag and the rude jokes Duke is known for sometimes cross the line from clever to just crass.

Duke's new pad, and his new women, the Holsom twins.

Occasionally Forever goes beyond self-awareness and reaches the point of unintentional self-parody, but I’m pleased to report that much of that old Duke magic has managed to survive three engine changes, 14 years and the efforts of countless programmers and artists. Even though it took forever, everybody’s favorite foulmouthed alien asskicker has once again delivered a dandy dose of old school, irreverent entertainment.

What are you waiting for, Christmas? Come get some!

It's good!

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Wrong Way to Handle Gaming "Addiction"

While I was lackadaisically browsing the interwebs today, I came across this story about a Massachusetts mother who called 911 because her kid was playing Grand Theft Auto when he was supposed to be sleeping.

“I woke up in the middle of the night and saw the light on in his bedroom,” Angeles Mejia said, explaining that he was playing the game Grand Theft Auto, a violent game in which the player assumes the role of a criminal."

Okay, that's true - GTA isn't exactly for small children. But why is this series the poster child for every anti-gaming crusader ever? What about Manhunt? Halo? Even Mortal Kombat? Could it be that most people are too lazy to do the approperiate research on the subject?

Oh well; them's the facts. Let's see what happens next.

"Laurel J. Sweet and Marie Szanislo of the Boston Herald write that Mejia is among thousands of parents struggling with today’s video game obsessed youth. The Entertainment Software Association reports that 42 percent of adults are intending to give or receive video games for Christmas."

And I'll bet that 12 percent of adults gave each other vacuums for Christmas - and no one blames them for "cleaning addiction" - and another 57 percent gave each other alcohol for Christmas. You know, alcohol? A destructive and addictive substance that people seem to think is fine, but a game of Street Fighter will destroy your psyche and turn you into a rapist?

This is poor journalism. As a reporter of FIVE YEARS FOR THREE NEWSPAPERS, I can tell you: This is poor journalism. So anyway, this is how her son reacted:

“They (police) were just like, ‘Chill out. Go to bed.’”

Sooo... that's it. Some domineering mother calls 911 because her son is playing video games after bedtime and she can't control her offspring; then this non-article appears on a website devoted to eradicating addiction to drugs and alcohol, both horribly odious afflictions with which to live.

GTA!? Noooooo! Call 911!

This just proves how some people will never understand gaming; or for that matter, are simply unable to accept what is currently popular among young people. I understand that maybe you didn't grow up with video games, paranoid helicopter parents of the 2000s, but think back to the stuff YOU did as a child. That music your parents told you was the devil's work? You either stopped caring about it or you became a rational adult regardless of its "influences." The movies your parents told you would ruin your mind? Heck, some of those are considered cinematic classics by now. Every generation has something their parents freak out about that turns into a total non-issue about 15 years later.
How about instead of calling 911, parents either learn to grow a pair and control their kids like they did when I was a child almost 30 years ago, or they just "Chill out [and] go to bed."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

An Underwhelming E3

Despite the best intentions of my plump, juicy (and likely very tasty) brain, my pathetic body slumbered blissfully through Nintendo's E3 presentation yesterday, in which Reggie Fils-aime apparently announced a lot of cool stuff, like the same Zelda game Nintendo promised us at last year's E3 and a Kid Icarus title that's been in the works for quite awhile. Also, there was something about affixing random letters to the end of the already stupid Wii name and calling it a different console - the Wii U, which sounds like a frighteningly surreal college where small children go to become more proficient at Wii Sports. However, I'm a biased, bitter old man with a cane fashioned from the microchips of thousands of copies of Super Mario/Duckhunt, so I promise to withhold my ire until further information on Nintendo's next gen box is available.

What really excited me was the announcement of Super Mario 3D for the 3DS, which appears to have ripped a page from Mario 3's book by bringing back the beloved Tanooki suit. I'm sure it won't recapture the magic of Mario's NES days, but I'm still going to keep an eye on it. After all, a pale but well-intentioned imitation of a beloved classic is better than another insipid Pokemon title.


I also missed Sony's pitch, but I assume it was just an hour and a half of high-level businessmen apologizing over the recent PSN outage and committing sepukuu, then a man dressed as Cole MacGrath from inFAMOUS nervously explaining how Sony's new security features will add hours of fun to your PlayStation Home trolling experience.

Thankfully-ish, my brain was able to jolt my body awake in time for the Xbox 360 presentation, which consisted of approximately 4000 first person shooters - all sequels - another Tomb Raider game that didn't look too bad, and the fact that now you can be much more lazy when purchasing content on the Xbox Marketplace by just screaming out what you want to buy instead of using the wireless controller to navigate menus. If my neighbors don't think that I'm crazy at this point, my early morning shouts of "Xbox! Show me Transformers cartoons NOW!" should confirm their worst fears.

Halo 4 or whatever; yawn.

Microsoft's showing show presented me with a conundrum: How could I have been mind shatteringly disinterested in a show completely devoted to my favorite pass time?

The most important thing this year's E3 taught me is that no matter how disillusioned I become with Nintendo, I'd still rather hang with them than wade through the uninspired shooter wasteland that is the Xbox 360.

Monday, June 6, 2011

World of Warcraft's Perilous Plague

I generally don't like multiplayer games unless they're one-on-one, Street Fighter style brawls. By the same token, MMORPGs like Everquest take that concept one step further, which effectively upgrades my dislike to outright hate. I can't stand games that the player can't win; games that just go on forever and ever. Without a way to definitevely know the game is over, a way denote that it's time to stop playing, I simply don't see the point.

I think that World of Warcraft is the most pointless game ever created. I've seen TV shows and read articles about people who lose their jobs, their spouses and their lives playing WoW, all for something at which they cannot possibly succeed - ever.

But despite this introduction, the "plague" I referenced in the title isn't a clever way of saying that WoW players should get a life - it's about an honest to God plague that players experianced within the context of the game. While reading DarkKnight109's list of Top Ten Iconic Glitches over at the oft-dreaded Gamefaqs, I learned about a virtual virus that spread just like a real disease would, and how the savvy players used the glitch to their advantage.

DarkKnight109 wrote:

"The so-called WoW plague was a glitch that was introduced into World of Warcraft during one of the game's early patches. The patch opened up a new dungeon called "Zul'Gurub", the capital of the jungle troll tribes. The boss of this dungeon was one Hakkar the Soulflayer, the physical incarnation one of the trolls' gods. and one of his attacks inflicted a deadly debuff, known as Corrupted blood, on the players attacking him. The disease was highly contagious and would spread even further to anyone close an infected character, dealing several hundred points of damage to the character every few seconds. The disease eventually went away on its own (or whenever the infected character died). However, due to a programming error, pets could also be infected with the disease, but if dismissed soon after the infection, they could retain the disease and carry it out of the dungeon and into the world beyond. It was a seemingly innocuous oversight, but one that had dire ramifications.

"Hunters with infected pets would summon the creatures (unwittingly or knowingly) once they were back in populated cities and the disease would soon spread to any character close to the pet. NPCs could be infected by the disease (and spread it to players), but were immune to its effects, which effectively turned them into contagion vectors. Though high-level characters with lots of health could feasibly survive an infection, low level characters were not so lucky and were often killed outright. As a practical joke, characters with infected pets would often venture into the middle of crowded cities, then summon their pets, and watch in amusement as hundreds of characters collapsed in an ever-expanding wave as the disease leapt from player to player. More savvy-minded players used their pets as weapons, taking them into PvP zones and charging them into enemy groups, turning them into ad-hoc bioweapons.

"Bring out your dead!"

"This was arguably the most fascinating glitch ever conceived in a video game for a number of reasons. First of all, the glitch could be more accurately described as a virus (virus being a more literal term here than usual), since it spreads from user to user, and it is one of the only known viruses that had no malicious intent behind its creation. Secondly, its method of transfer and infection closely mirrored that of a real-life epidemic: a few individuals would become infected in a remote area, then they would travel into denser populations wherin the disease multiplied rapidly and infected a large number of hosts, creating more vectors and ultimately killing off the population. The fact that pets were immune to the disease (when not summoned) but could still be infected by it and that they travelled frequently with humans made them textbook virus "carriers", fulfilling the exact same role such creatures do in real life. Cities became charnel houses and players soon learned to avoid any places where people gathered in large numbers, as these were prime targets for the virus. Those who stayed on the outskirts of WoW civilization were largely unaffected by the pandemic. Finally, the disease's properties - high infection rate, immediate debilitation, and high mortality rate - made it an ideal bio-weapon and, unsurprisingly, that's exactly what players started using it for. Blizzard began to quarantine cities in an attempt to halt the spread of the illness, but the plague was only truly stopped when the servers were reset and the glitch allowing the disease to travel outside of Zul'Gurub was fixed.

"The WoW plague actually made headlines in a few newspapers, an unprecedented feat for a video game glitch. It briefly fascinated programmers and behaviourists the world over. It even attracted the attention of both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who wanted to use the virus as a model to study people's reactions to a sudden disease outbreak, and the Center of Terrorism and Intelligence Studies, who observed the tendency for some players to wilfully infect new population centres as a way of studying terrorist behaviours, making it one of the most culturally relevant glitches ever."

Forgive me if this is common knowledge by now, but reading about the plague is officaly the most fun I'll ever have with an MMORPG.

Friday, June 3, 2011

PlayStation Store Welcomes Back the Easily Pleased

Sony says it’s sorry that a bunch of hackin’ hooligans stole my personal information (and 101.9999 million other people’s too) about two months ago, so they’re letting me play Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for free! That’s right; 1991’s badest dude with a ‘tude is back and radder than ever in the much anticipated sequel to the SMASH HIT Sega Genesis game!

I am So EXCITED that the true power of the PlayStation 3 will finally be properly unleashed to play this 16-bit gem and I can assure you that I will be comparing the PSN title’s performance to that of the original Genesis cart, the Saturn Sonic Jam disc, the Sonic Mega Collection for Xbox, PS2 and Gamecube, The Genesis Collection for PS2 and Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for the Xbox 360 and PS3. This is very much worth having my credit card possibly compromised and ultimately canceled due to my own paranoia. I’m sure that my ninth copy of Sonic 2, not including the emulated ones I have on my PC, Nintendo DS and PlayStation 2, will be just as fun as the first. I just won’t be able to access the sound test or enter any cheats this time, because the game is set to automatically bypass that stuff this time around. Yaay!

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 times eight.

I really do enjoy Sonic the Hedgehog 2, but I somehow feel that this and the other shrugworthy games available as part of Sony’s much advertised “Welcome Back!” program are simply not enough to effectively cajole customers into once again suckling complacently from Sony’s blackened teat. As it turns out, the non-PlayStation Plus titles available under the program are all dated. For example, free Little Big Planet is nice, but I could also get the disc-based original with a case and manual for a small but passionate ass-based dance at my local GameStop. I already own and have defeated Infamous, and I’ve never even heard of Dead Nation, but I chose it as my second free game because the others were just as unappealing as the PlayStation Plus content. Oh, and apparently, the PS Plus content will only be available to users for 30 days (or until your subscription to the service ends), so you’d better get playing.

If all this wasn’t disappointing enough, I’m having problems accessing the PlayStation Store. More than once tonight, I’ve received a message that the title I’m trying to download is unavailable because the store is “undergoing maintenance.” Maybe the disturbance is due to so many people logging on at once. Oh well; at least I didn’t lose my second free game, as reported by Mark Hachman of PC Magazine.

In the interest of fairness, it’s full disclosure time: Though I at one point said that I was going to leave the PS3 alone, I - like my comrade Evan Ritchie - cannot find it in myself to stay away from the company that gave me gaming gold like the Tekken series, Metal Gear Solid and a controller that doesn’t suck for fighting games. I’m really not the guy Sony has to impress. But the gaming fate of millions of others hangs in the balance, and I’m not sure this ho-hum peace offering is enough to keep them around.

Sony, you have been warned.

Oh, and for the record: While the “attract mode” demo was playing on my new PSN copy of Sonic 2, for just a second, I felt the same twinge of excitement I used to get in fourth grade when I loaded up the game. Perhaps this Welcome Back program really has given me something worth my trouble after all.

Yeah, not really.