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Sound Off Vol. 1

Deep in the bowels underneath Thunderboltís secret volcano lair there is a secret place – a place that is lit only by a handful of flickering candles (and the occasional GBA SP screen), and smells of moldy artichokes and seaweed (at least until James puts his shoes back on). Inside this secret cavern, game reviews are shown to fellow staffers, new ideas are proposed and, much to the surprise of Chris L. last Tuesday, rats defecate in our beverages while we arenít looking. Quite often, simple discussions concerning seemingly innocuous topics take a turn for the worse and precious time is wasted hurling coffee mugs across the room and performing power noogies on those we disagree with.

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In an effort to direct our passionate opinions on all things video gaming towards something constructive, weíve came up with a controlled outlet and turned it into a feature. Itís quite simple really. One staff member starts things off by asking a question, then the first one to claim it writes a response and proposes a new question. This cycle repeats over and over again in our dank, underground hideout, and once we feel enough questions have been answered, we check for basic spelling and grammatical errors and then post the result on Thunderbolt. The resulting feature allows for a peek inside the minds of our brilliant (in an eccentric, loopy sort of way) staffers and a chance to read some insightful commentary about various interesting video game topics. So sit back and enjoy the inaugural edition of Sound Off – a feature that hits you harder than a groin-punching midget with brass knuckles!

Josh Kramerís Question: Will EAís recently announced Goldeneye 2 be better than the N64 original?

James Frazerís Answer: Given the amount technology has moved on, EA should take notes from titles such as Halo and Timesplitters 2 before even considering typing in the first bit of code for Goldeneye 2. Microsoft’s flagship title stunned the world with amazing graphics, sublime enemy AI and an engrossing storyline – arguably the three most important aspects of a FPS. Not only was Halo pretty to look at, but the darned thing had personality too. Fun yet challenging to play, Bungie’s shoot-em-up is regarded as one of the finest games to grace a home console. Timesplitters 2 on the other hand delighted gamers with its manic multiplayer mode. Offering enough killing pits whilst also satisfying the snipers amongst us, Free Radical kept frag fests ticking over at a grand old pace, so one minute you could be the hunter, only seconds later to find you’re really the hunted. Back in its time Goldeneye had all of these aspects, but given the large strides between Rare’s Bond thriller and Bungie’s alien shooter things have to move on.

However, looking back at the catalogue of re-releases, there’s nothing much to pick out apart from Metroid Prime, Zelda and Mario Kart. Toejam and Earl, plus the sequel, are still sought after today after being hailed as the gems of the Mega Drive (Genesis in the states – ed), as is Lylat Wars for the N64. But look at what was released on the next generation consoles; the trash that was Toejam and Earl 3, the disappointing StarFox Adventures and any incarnation of FIFA Soccer. With the technology available, Goldeneye 2 should be the greatest title yet, but given the reputation EA have for putting their foot in it and fixing something that isn’t broken, I remain skeptical and must say I’d rather dig out the N64 for a bash of the original.

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Jamesí Question: Will Nintendoís policy of making a console solely games-based force them out of the war with Sony and Microsoft?

Matt Wadleighís Answer: In a word, yes. Nintendo is failing to realize that people want more bang for their buck, so to speak. Look at it this way: I have to choose between a PS2 for 100 dollars, and a GameCube for 50 dollars and there’s an equal amount of games on each system that I’m interested in. The PS2 can play audio CDs, go online with more software, and play DVD movies, but at a cost of 50 dollars more. The GameCube doesn’t do any of that, but it’s 50 dollars less. I think that most consumers are going to make the decision to go with the PS2 simply because of the economical value behind it. And then when the next decision comes up, GameCube VS. Xbox, I again think that most consumers would find more value out of the Xbox than out of the GameCube. Nintendo, with their current policy of game-only systems is shooting themselves in the foot. Not only are they limiting the use of their console to the public, but the sluggish sales of the console in comparison to the sale of the others are going to limit developer interest, and then in turn cause many of the people who did decide to purchase it buy a new console to play the games they’re missing out on. In the next round, Nintendo must at least offer some sort of extra bells and whistles if they hope to compete.

Mattís Question: What do you see happening to Microsoft in the next round of the console wars?

Joshís Answer: Well, considering Microsoft has done a very good job of establishing the Xbox brand in this current generation, I believe they will be able to cut into Sonyís overall market control in the next round. If Xbox Live keeps evolving and MS manages to secure more talented dev teams like Bungie, then the Xbox 2 will definitely be appealing to many gamers. One wildcard is Rare, who as of yet have failed to prove they were worth the large sum of many MS spent for them. But, with intriguing titles like Perfect Dark Zero and Conker Online on the way, that all could change in a hurry.

One thing that could possibly hurt Microsoft in the next round is the decision to ditch the hard drive. Hardware-wise, this could end up being a smart move, as the Xbox 2 could be much smaller, lighter, more reliable and cheaper to manufacture. But the lack of a hard drive will virtually guarantee the Xbox 2 will not be backwards compatible with Xbox games (games like Morrowind need the hard drive to run). People may become put off by this, especially if the PS3 offers backwards compatibility with the PS2 and the PSOne.

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Joshís Question: In your opinion, what is the most overrated game series of all time?

Chris Parhamís Answer: The answer is Castlevania. Only Castlevania bases its heritage on three NES games that were hardly among the top titles on the system, and a legendarily rare Turbo CD title that few people have ever played. Rondo of Blood might be great, but that doesnít excuse ten other releases that are only above average–at least not when considering Castlevaniaís reputation as a top-caliber series.

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Castlevaniaís main problem is the fact that this series is largely driven by story and atmosphere, but the realm of vampire-slaying rarely gives it a chance to expand those offerings beyond its original roots. We can commend the deeply Transylvanian feel of Draculaís Castle the first two, three, or four times, but itís not so creepy and not so immersive the twentieth time over. Other series that rely so much on drawing the player into a fictional world–for instance, Final Fantasy, a series others are likely to tout as most overrated–are actually able to take us new places and show us new things. But the world of Castlevania is largely the same time and time again.

Unoriginal and repetitive gaming, stories that would make Bram Stoker roll over in his grave, and once-but-no-longer-exciting visuals are now pretty much the trend with this series, and itís only getting worse as far as I can tell. (This makes it all the more disturbing that the most recent entries have been among the best-selling.)

In answering this question it was just about impossible to come up with a well-regarded series that I disliked. But Castlevania is one with which I have become disillusioned, and every addition to the series underlines my feeling that this horse is dead already–time to stop beating it, Konami. Castlevania as a game? Great. A sequel or two? Warranted, perhaps. But twenty or more games? Thatís just diluting the brilliance of a once-bright star.

Chrisí Question: Microsoft was able to enter the hardware market last generation. Is there any room for another company, small or large, to threaten Xbox 2, PS3, or the new Nintendo console with some as-of-yet-undisclosed machine? To whom would it have to appeal?

Philip Mortonís Answer: Whether the market can support a fourth major competitor is questionable, but the games industry has a history of surprises so I wouldn’t rule it out. Every 18 months or so we seem to have an obscure manufacturer in the news for releasing information about a new games machine. Just look at Infinium Labs and their Phantom; it came out of nowhere and we all thought it was a hoax, but the manufacturer seems determined to break into the console market. Competition is always good and I think it would be a shame to have one company monopolise the industry completely as we’ve seen with PCs.

Philís Question: What do you see happening to the handheld gaming market in the next 3 years?

Joshís Answer: Three years is quite a ways from now to be making any kind of accurate predictions, but I think it can be safely assumed that some big changes are coming to the handheld gaming industry. How big a change, however, rests almost entirely on whether or not gamers will embrace Sonyís PSP. On paper it seems like a sure fire hit. Itís got PS2 quality graphical capabilities, a large developer following and the all-important PlayStation name. But, I question whether Sonyís target audience of 18+ year-old gamers will be comfortable spending cash on a handheld console.

Traditionally, handheld gaming has been more of a hit with the younger crowd. At this point in North America itís not cool to be seen playing your GameBoy Advance in public if you are over 20 (though this is not the case in Japan). If older gamers donít buy the PSP, I doubt it will be able to gain much of a foothold in a niche gaming market completely monopolized by Nintendo. I do think itíll be important for Nintendo to follow up their promises for wireless multiplayer options for the mysterious DS and successor to the GBA.

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Joshís Question: Yoshi is famous for laying multiple eggs in rapid succession and hurling them at his enemies. How does he manage this seemingly impossible feat and do you find his (her?) apparent lack of compassion for future offspring disturbing?

Chris Lamannaís Answer: Although Yoshi is more famous then all of us staffers put together, it does not give him the right to use his offspring as rocks and chuck them at enemies. I find his lack of compassion for his offspring appalling. Everyone in this world is talking about abortion; ìOh, they canít do it, itís murder,î or ìEvery time you have an abortion you kill a child, and therefore should be punished!î Boo frickety hoo! At least your children arenít being thrown as weapons by an unloving parent.

Itís quite complicated how Yoshi is able to accomplish his rapid reproduction. It all involves a scientific process called mitosis. Mitosis is the cell division cycle within an organism. In our bodies it can take months to fully complete the process. But in Yoshiís, the Mitosis cycle lasts 1.3 seconds, allowing him to reproduce every 4.6 seconds. But, wait a minute; havenít I been saying ìhisî this whole time? Well ladies and gentlemen, the answer is simple: Yoshi is a video game character. In the world of video games, anything is possible. It just wouldnít be funny if a female reproduced in a video game, because people want something different, something new, something that says, ìHey, I bet you havenít seen this before!î Yoshi may be a murderer, but what can I do about it, Iím just a kid.

Check back soon for the next edition of Sound Off. Things are just starting to heat up!

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in May 2003. Get in touch on Twitter @Joshua_Luke.

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