All posts by TheBlackFin

Chief Digital Officer, Agency at Epsilon & Principal at Blackfin360, LLC.

Game Review – Lego Star Wars TCS

starwarscompleteMy 5 year old son and I have enjoyed the Lego Star Wars series. It started with Lego Stars I on the PS2 then on to Lego Star Wars II on both the PS2 and Xbox 360 (100% complete). I even chose a Lego II achievement as the basis for the Official Xbox Magazine call out a few months ago.

So it should come as no surprise that I bought into the marketing hype and picked up Lego Star Wars The Complete Saga on 360. There are a few new levels, 10 more bounty hunter missions, arcade mode, new Lego city, power-ups, and challenge stages not to mention that all 6 story arcs are now nicely packaged in one CD with Xbox Live support this time around.

If you have small children and grew up liking Star Wars and Lego’s then this is a lot of fun. The “drop out” feature makes it very easy to assist first time gamers through tough spots as they make their way around this brick based world. The cut scenes are comical and keep the story moving along and the ability to play a level in about 20 minutes makes it appealing as there is a definitive end to the gaming session.

My favorite feature in this edition has to be the save and exit feature from the pause menu. Now regardless of how far you have progressed in the level, or if you are searching for that last hidden item you can easily just save and exit and all of the money and any special items (mini kits, red power bricks, etc…) are now saved. Before you would have to play the entire level through to the end to get credit.

From an achievement stand point I have been impressed with how the achievements have been presented. Previously it was mainly based on completing a level, then completing the level without dying for a majority of achievements. This time it is based more on gameplay such as the destroy 300 droids, or let the wookie win (pop the arms off of 25 stormtroopers).

The downside is the repetition. After playing through both of the previous titles it can be a bit repetitious as you know what to expect for the most part. Some of the new levels are welcome additions like chasing Zam Wessel on Coruscant or the new Gunship Cavalry level and even Anakin’s mission in the bonus area are fun and something different but for a majority of the game you are playing the same game.

What I liked about the game:
– Star Wars and Lego together can’t go wrong
– Xbox Live Support
– New Achievement Structure
– Save and Exit (Full Credit Option)
– True Jedi Status on either story or freeplay (Before had to complete both)
– Best game series for young ones that I have seen

Could Improve
– Repetition
– Cannot skip cut scenes
– Money pick up is awkward and not as tight this time around
– Not the most challenging game
– No character import this time around

Rating
I am actually going to give this two ratings. The first is for if you have children who are interested in gaming. In that case I give it a perfect 10. There is not a better gaming experience (Yes better than Mario Kart) for small kids who want to play an action adventure type of game. The controls are simple, the world is just open enough without frustrating smaller ones and the visuals are very appealing.

For the older audience concerned about gameplay and the like I would lean towards a 7. But don’t let the rating fool you. This is a definite pick up for anyone who is/was a fan of Star Wars or Lego’s and is a must have in your collection.

Next up is the upcoming Indiana Jones lego release and picking up the Lego Star Wars TCS for the Wii. This series is a definite holiday pick up.

iPhone Update

apple-iphoneWell it has been over a month since I picked up my iPhone and I have to say that I am still very happy with it. It has survived a dive into my infant son’s bathtub and after drying out works like a charm. I have been very happy with the performance and the AT&T network.

I have been impressed with the ability to view documents, select which voicemail I want to listen to as well as the safari browser. I can post to my blog via BlogMailr, read my RSS feeds, while listening to my music via the integrated iPod functionality.

As far as the naysayers stating the iPhone is not for business I disagree. I can access my corporate Exchange account, view documents, set global timezones, view maps, manage contacts and view Web content all from one device.

The only downside is around calendar management. You are required to sync via iTunes to update your calendar.

Retailers are also creating iPhone centric sites such as Amazon.com’s newly launched iPhone site. (Thanks to Scott Watermasysk for pointing this one out).

There are a number of great applications already from the iPhone developer community. From skinning apps to games and with an SDK on the way early next year even more applications will become available.

After testing for a month I have to say that I am very happy with my iPhone!!!

Why $60???

I still remember when I saw my first $60 price tag on a game. My jaw almost hit the floor. Now $59.99 is just what you pay for the latest title. Throw in the collector’s edition ($69.99) or the recent Halo 3 Legendary edition ($125) or the recent Rockbank release ($169) and you see the trend in gaming today.

So how did we get here? Where does the money go? Like any other product there is a breakdown of how the cash is spread around. Take for example a 360 title that sells around 500,000 units. $20 is to pay for the actual development cost of the game. This is everything from coding, level design, QA, etc…Then of course there is publisher overhead which warrants $9 of the $60. Next Microsoft licensing and manufacturing takes $12 for license (You know the Xbox 360 branding and Xbox Live stamps at the top of every 360 title). $7 is spent on advertising of the game. All of the POS materials, TV, magazine ads etc… the money has to come from somewhere right? The final take is the actual retailers cut of $12. This is your Gamestops, Best Buys, etc…

Now throw in strategy guides and downloadable content and the life of a game is now extended as is the profitability of the title. Take for example the latest EA title Need for Speed Pro-Street. It is the best example of a console game that leverages in game play with actual cash based (Microsoft Points) based extras. Don’t want to wait to get your dreamcar in the game? It can be yours for 200 Microsoft points. Not happy with your engine or injection system? No worries upgrade for 150 Microsoft points. It is a great move by EA to add this extra option. This also results in additional revenue for the title.

It will be interesting to see the continual evolution of gaming. I foresee a time when most of the content will be downloaded and the introduction of subscription models moving forward. We will have to wait and see.

Game Review – Assassin’s Creed

acOne word to describe this game… WOW!!! This is a great experience. Ubisoft Montreal (Prince of Persia, Splinter Cell, Rainbow 6) is the team behind this outstanding title. The open level design is visually stunning and the puppet system for directing the main character Altair (Arabic for “the flying one”) is probably the best aspect of the game.

The subtle differences between how you interact with the environment is what I really enjoy. You can scale tall buildings, interact with various people in the crowd and you have the option to go “low profile” and eliminate targets without raising too much suspicion. Otherwise you can go “high profile” for all of the world to see your handiwork.

The story revolves around using stealth tactics to eliminate 9 “targets” across 3 major cities. The cityscapes are some of the most visually stunning you will see in a next-gen title and you can interact with all areas of the cities. Prior to getting clearance to take out your targets you perform intelligence tasks such as eavesdropping,  interrogation,  or pickpocketing information while saving citizens and scaling tall buildings to further synchronize your map.

As you progress through the game you gain or “regain” weapons and skills. This is where the control system comes back into play. The subtle ability to counter and attack during combat is one of the most rewarding aspects of the game. Time it just right and you unleash an animation sequence that is impressive and different a majority of times it is activated.

You have the ability to choose your objectives and the order you want to complete them. You have a vast kingdom to explore and many side quests are available if you have the time. The visuals and open world presentation are what truly sets this apart from other titles.

The main negative at this point is that some of the intelligence tasks can get a bit repetitive as you progress further through the game, but the fact that the AI increases in difficulty as you progress through the game makes it a challenge.

The Good:

  • Story
  • Controls
  • Visuals
  • High/Low Profile modes
  • Open Level Design
  • Crowd Interaction

Could be Better:

  • Repetitive Tasks
  • Pacing Issues
  • Cannot forgo conversations once initiated

Overall:

I give it a 9.0. It is definitely one of the better games I have played this year and ranks with Bioshock and Halo in terms of innovation and I highly recommend it!

Other games I am playing this week include: Mass Effect, NFS Prostreet and Spider-man Friend or Foe (w my 5 yr old).

SMS & Marketing

SMS based marketing is definitely on the rise. Why is that? Well for starters think about this. There are 6 billion people on the planet. There are over 3 billion cell phones in circulation. That is equivalent to 2.5 times more cell phones than internet connections!!! That will definitely qualify as a potential market for advertisers.

How many of you have received a text based ad, more importantly did you respond? In the month of September alone 4.7 milllion people in the US responded to an SMS ad. That may seem a bit surprising. I know I was surprised to read that data. The trend is definitely on the upward swing as well. Response rates have steadily risen since May from 4.3 million to 4.7 million in September.

So if 4.7 million people responded, imagine the increasing number of text based ads. Currently a majority of the ads are from the mobile operators centered around their mobile phone service (Downloads, News, Entertainment, etc..) I expect to see an increase of advertisers focus on this medium. Especially with a generation of individuals who rely heavily on this style of communication.

So do not be surprised if you begin to feel that familiar buzz of your phone when you receive a text message and you look and there is some form of advertisement. Be prepared for more messages from your favorite or not so favorite advertisers are coming to a mobile device near you.

 

Teaching & Learning

January 2008 will be 5 years for me as an adjunct faculty member of Wayland Baptist University. Initially I taught courses such as Principles of Marketing, Market Promotion, Consumer Behavior and Global Marketing on campus. Now I am a member of the Virtual Campus focusing mainly on distance education around Principles of Marketing and Human Resources Management. Each Semester (4 semesters a year) I get two new groups of students and begin the process of introducing them to the various concepts and provide insight into the latest marketing theory.

After interacting with thousands of students from across the globe I wanted to take a moment and reflect on the impact that this profession has had on me. In many ways teaching a course really enables you to emerse yourself in the content. When you are a student your main responsibility is to comprehend the information that is presented to you. When you are on the other side of the desk not only do you need to comprehend the information, but you also need to be able to apply the concepts to real world scenarios that are relevant to your students to truly enhance the learning experience.

What I have found over the years is that students want the information presented to them to be relevant to their lives in some way. So this makes my job even easier as marketing impacts everyone on a daily basis. It would be very difficult to go through a day without some type of message either directly or indirectly trying to capture your attention. Radio, Television, Print, Online… no matter where you go you are constantly being reminded about various brands trying to maintain their position or gain market share against competitors. 

Many of my students own businesses and this allows them to have a better understanding of how they can reach their target audiences and understand the many facets of their envrionment (Political, Technical, Competition, etc…)

I am very grateful for the experiences and the interact with all of my students. Thank you all.

Game Review – Call of Duty Modern Warfare

cod4logoMy pick for this week was Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare. I was very impressed by the campaign mode of this title except for the lack of co-op play. That would have made the experience that much better. Being able to hold down a position while your friend advances… but that is another story…

COD4 is a big step forward for the series as this is the first venture beyond WWII and the move is welcomed. The basic elements of COD are there… regenerative health, great weapons and frustrating points (you know what I mean…. the spots where you die around 20 times before passing through.) The graphics are first rate and the loading screens keep you interested.

I completed the campaign mode around 6 hours which is relatively short but the gameplay is impressive. You play between the British SAS and USMC and you travel to various hotspots between missions such as Russia and the Middle East. Infinity Ward did a great job (as they did with COD2) and this is a definite step up from COD3. The intensity of COD games of the past are there. The feeling of how am I going to survive this is there. The weapons are there and the story keeps you interested. Again the lack of co-op play downgrades the campaign, but it is fun nonetheless.

The replayability of this game is really tied to multiplayer. One side note for achievement fans, all achievements are tied to the campaign and not a single one is tied to multiplayer. Obviously with multiplayer you look at Halo3 as the standard from matchmaking to tracking your progress (service record) that keep you coming back for more. In my opinion this is where COD4 falls a little short of my expecations. The matchmaking at least for the free for all mode online is not ideal. You have newly minted privates getting owned by 4 star generals with upgraded weapons. I would have liked to have seen matching more on par with actual user levels.

The other issue with the multiplayer is the ease of kills without objectives. By ease of kills I mean you basically look at someone and they are pretty much dead or you will be. There are not a lot of opportunities to engage with someone for more than a second. That is one of the fun and challenging aspects of the Halo multiplayer, just because I see you doesn’t mean I am going to instantly take you down. Also the only options initially are team based or free for all slayer type engagements.

I do like the options to create a class to customize your weapons as well as the concept behind the weapons upgrades being tied to longer gameplay. The barracks section though is a little lacking. I look to the service record on Halo almost daily to see the breakdown of the days events, medals earned and review of maps to see where I can improve.

All in all I would rate COD4 a 9.0 and definitely worthy of your $59.99. Definitely give the campaign mode a go and be ready to have a high death rate on the multi-player, but it is still a good time.

Game Review – Guitar Hero III

Guitar-hero-iii-cover-imageThe game I am playing the most this week is Guitar Hero III. The first day I had it I played through 23 out of the 42 songs on career mode. I would not recommend doing that again as my hand is still numb.

I have to say that the Les Paul wireless guitar is a definite upgrade to the initial Xplorer version. WIth detachable faceplates you can change the look on the fly (Sold Separately). But the most impressive thing about the guitar is the feel. It is very natural with the button placement and just feels right. Being wireless is good as well as when you are thrashing about the living room you don’t pull your Xbox onto the floor.

There are some great songs including the Rolling Stones “Paint it Black” and one thing I was not sure about initially was the battle mode. As you progress through the career you encouter different “legends” such as Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine and Slash of GnR and Velvet Revolver fame. This is also the basis of some of the competition via Xbox Live. Although watch out for the sudden death showdowns if you tie during a battle. Miss a single note and you could be done.

All in all I would recommend GH 3. It is still a fun game with new tracks and a new guitar and having Live access for career co-op or battles is great as that was definitely missing from GH 2.

Other games I am into right now are still Halo 3 and The Orange Box.

iPhone

apple-iphoneI have taken the plunge and traded in my Samsung Blackjack for an iPhone. For the most part I live on my phone so I had concerns around how the iPhone would support my e-mail addiction. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to connect to our exchange server. Simply input the incoming and outgoing server as well as credentials and you are set up.

Activation was simple as it actually occurs through iTunes so your time in the retail store is minimal. So far I have been very impressed by the sleek design,but even more impressed by the multiple options in terms of functionality (iPod,Safari YouTube, maps, etc…).

For those of you waiting for the nextversion to “work the bugs out” I would recommend going ahead and taking the plunge. I am very glad that I did.

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