Thoughts: ESPN on Xbox Live

Just spent some time with the ESPN app they added with the latest Xbox Live update if you have a Gold account.

To start off, it’s mix of both ESPN3 and ESPN Video.  Overall video quality was poor, a good deal poorer than what I get watching either site on my computer.  That is already on top of ESPN’s video quality being worse than what I get from Netflix or MLB.TV over the same connection.  I’m not sure if this is to do with Xbox Live today, when it was appallingly slow, or in general, so we’ll have to see how it shapes up in the long run.  The avatar-populated initial start is just a needlessly overdone way to show you “Top 3 things and a link to everything else”.  Once you’re into the menu structure though, it’s a solid NXE interface, if again, a bit slow on loading the thumbnail pictures.  The video interface itself is your standard Xbox video layout.

On the content side, the ESPN Video stuff is what you’d expect: mostly SportsCenter highlights.  I didn’t find any of their more off-beat stuff like Mayne Street or Sports Science although you can’t find that stuff half the time on the site anyway.  Upside here is that I haven’t run into any ads moving between clips which is quite welcome.

For me, ESPN3 is mostly about live events, and that’s where it tends to have problems.  It can never seem to decide how much bandwidth to use and so the quality changes constantly, and unlike Netflix on Xbox Live, the quality changes mean buffering pauses.  Those are awful at any time, but between pitches it makes me want to drown something.  I’ll see about watching the Lakers game Wednesday night and report back then.

If its a better live experience than the site, even with lower quality, it should be enough to keep my Gold subscription active.

How Virtua Fighter 4 ruined fighting games for me.

Specifically Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution, but that difference isn’t important.

To get something out of the way quickly: I’ve never been good at fighting games.  My ascent up the playstyle ladder usually stops around “find a couple moves that work and stick to them”.  This isn’t through lack of desire to be “good” at fighters.  Before the advent of Internet video though (and honestly now as well), learning about fighting games involved reading ASCII hieroglyphs or knowing someone who could teach you.

(Admittedly, I can talk shop about MMO mechanics with the slightly-less-than-best of them, but the physical act of inputting commands is much less important in WoW than in Street Fighter IV.  MMO play is more about the decisions made before the fight and in-fight decisions measured in seconds versus the fractions-of-a-second scale for a fighting game.)

VF4 had this “Training Mode” that Wikipedia describes best:

The mode consisted of an encyclopedia of fighting game terms, complete character command list walkthroughs, tips on all of the games mechanics, recommended character combos, alternative options for failed combos, detailed command input timings, slow motion for frame counting and timing, and other useful training tips.

The Command Training was really what made it awesome.  You could go through a character’s list move-by-move and learn them by seeing your inputs in real-time and what the move actually was timing-wise.  You could also have the game do the move so you can see what you’re missing.

I’m sure a real person could beat me senseless, but I actually had a lot of fun going through the Quest Mode (going to different arcades, playing in tournaments, and getting customization stuff).  If I ever got stuck, I’d go into the training mode, learn a few new tricks, and get back out and win a couple tournaments.  It was by far the most fun I’ve had with a fighting game which is surprising because the Virtua Fighter series is on the technical-side of the spectrum and I am not technically-proficient in the least.

Now, the lack of such a mode in the next-gen fighters I’ve played hasn’t been a huge deal.  Dead of Alive 4 wasn’t very good and Soulcalibur IV‘s combination of character creation and the Tower mode were a blast to play with.

Enter Street Fighter IV (literally, in the mail today via GameFly).  SFIV’s move list is tiny compared to VF4′s but it is nearly unapproachable.  Its “Training Mode” that I entered into full of hope was just the usual “beat on this turned-off-AI”.  When I go the command list, I get icons that look nothing like the “QCB + K” that the fine folks at Shoryuken tell me is what I need to do C. Viper’s Burning Kick.

Screenshot of C. Viper's Burning Kick

(via Kotaku)

Now, it would be awesome if SFIV could tell me what’s wrong with my “QCB + K” action: am I too slow or am I not actually making a quarter-circle-back?  But, instead, I just have a turned-off-AI Ken to beat on hoping that I’ll get it eventually.

Of course, all this time spent raving about VF4′s amazing training mode (that wasn’t carried over to VF5 apparently) could have been spent learning C. Viper or any other character, but SFIV really doesn’t provide the tools that I’ve now come to expect if I can’t just learn-as-I-hit-things.

I have no problem going to Shoryuken or Calibur Forum to figure out what kind of fighter might suit my playstyle best or to learn some advanced techniques or to get down into the nitty-gritty of frame counting, but that isn’t what I’m talking about.

SFIV seems to expect that I know everything as soon as I put the disc in, which along with VF5 not continuing VF4 in having an awesome, robust training mode, is a real bummer.

Hexic, I’m leaving you.

Puzzle Quest is on Steam.

With that one faithful post, schild may very well have ruined my life. So, I load up Steam and it sounds pretty awesome off the bat: dinglewtsgrats + a puzzle game? I’m weak for either, but just like Mass Effect combined shooter + RPG (more spam Techs + hold down Right Trigger for great justice than an actual shooter, but the point stands…) the combination is a vice grip on my brain.

It’s good, oh so good. I also imagine it’s a lot better on the PC (versus 360 via Live Arcade or PS2) just by virtue of it having a mouse instead of thumb-aiming for pieces which would make me very sad with this game.

Essentially, you have a standard “line up 3-5 pieces in a row/column and they disappear” puzzle game (plus special pieces of course), but when you take out pieces… you get that color of mana for your spells. Clear 4 red and yellow mana and you chuck a fireball at your opponent’s health bar. Or, my current favorite, use my trained rat mount’s ability to bite them. Yes, I captured a rat and I’m riding it around. What did I tell you about it being good? Sure, there are quests, with it being Puzzle Quest and all, as the world map expands out ala FFT and you go around doing feats of daring do… with puzzles… and spells… and rat mounts!

I have a final in two days… all is indeed lost.

The Ghosts of Awesome, Not Awesome, and Future Awesome.

First off… DMC4 looks awesome, Lady even more so.

In not-future news, I picked up God of War 2 and GH3 recently. More importantly, I picked up a new PS2 for the living room (man is that thing small) and it’s very nice to get off my 14in. + RF connection. What’s not awesome though is that the Kramer Wireless decided that it would devour batteries, or at least not recognize them as inside, so I would get like… to the intro movies before it crapped out.

I went through an entire box, it was a God damn crusade for batteries. But I will rock out… eventually, I swear to you all. (Seriously though, I sucked so bad, like, I don’t know what my fret hand is doing bad.) I did feel badass for the like the half-song I actually got to do though.

GoW2 rocks, but you don’t need me to tell you that. I don’t think I’ve said “shazam” so many times in my life. (In my defense, I had the Simpsons scene with Homer thinking “PYLE!” “Sha-ZAM!” over and over again stuck in my head.) At the same time that I felt awesome, it was completely different from GH3-awesome or any other platformer for that matter, more like playing Fahrenheit with less acid. Like I was watching 300 instead “being” Leonidas, but the smoothness of movement (the wall climbing in the titan’s cave was glorious) and the whole “press one button to do like five different things to the dude’s spine” did let me appreciate how awesome it all looked. (On that note, I’m thinking about getting this poster all nice and framed up.) For more consumer-whore speak, I need to get a nice platformer that isn’t ball-crushing.

Next Gen Impetus or Lack Thereof

So, today I find out that the PC’s GH3 guitar is the same one as the 360′s GH3 one, which forced some to do this to avoid cramps of doom…

GH2's Gibson X-Plorer Guitar for the Xbox 360 with Foam Attached

Yeah, we’re not having that. (Technically I could buy a wireless receiver and buy a separate 360 guitar, but that’s bordering on crazy town, especially because there isn’t a PC-only bundle.)

So, a next-gen system is looking mighty tasty.

  • The Wii’s out of the question, I’m not that desperate (although Super Mario Galaxy is apparently really good).
  • In other news, I can now verify that I’m getting a new model 360 if I buy it with this Pro bundle with Forza 2 and MUA ($350), so that’s a definite leg up. 120GB for save games is a bit excessive for the Elite version (at a $100 premium), especially now that that (and a black tax ala Apple) are its only real advantages it has over the Pro. (For the record: 120GB HDD, black, and HDMI cables that I can’t use. The new Pros can do HDMI out, but don’t come with the cables for it in-box. The hardware is practically the same with the Elite and new Pro.)
  • My best bet on the PS3 front is 80GB with Motorstorm bundle ($500). My original fears regarding the combination of JRPGs and software emulation have not come to pass with the 80GB (i.e. my games work on it). The 40GB on the other hand is straight crippleware, no PS2 guts or software emulation.

Honestly, at this point, I could get a 360 + a slim PS2 (as my launch-day PS2 is getting on in years) for the same price as the 80GB PS3 (i.e. the only good one). It’s basically the first panel’s argument in reverse…

Wiiactions

Which has a certain irony to it. (As a result of a previous revision of this parenthetical, I found that the Firefox’s default spellcheck does not have the word “nunchuk”. That made me sad.)

You know the funniest thing about all this? I realized what I am likely to get.

Slim PS2 + DVD remote for the living room (since I can’t set up shop in the living room permanently, another strike against the next-gens) and a couple PS2 games (MGS3 and KH2 come to mind in addition to GH3). After all, Mass Effect will eventually get ported, I kinda suck at fighters in the first place (see DoA4 and VF5), and by the time new stuff from NISA and Atlus come out for the PS3 and 360 respectively, things should have calmed down a bit.