The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

October 11, 2007

Oh! What a Failing

Filed under: Cars, Games — Tags: , , , , , , — Brian Lutz @ 9:51 pm

Automotive marketing seems to be a rather tricky business to be in these days.  In a crowded field of largely indistinct small cars, marketing is one of the few ways in which one can attempt to distinguish their products from the competition.  To that end, Toyota’s latest effort at capturing the hearts of the much vaunted 18-25 male demographic (or attempt to make their annual quota of loan defaults, I’m not sure which) has just been released on Xbox Live Arcade in the form of Yaris, a  free downloadable piece of advertising with achievement points attached to it, which will probably be the only reason anyone bothers playing the game for more than five minutes.  On the other hand, for those people who might actually consider purchasing a Yaris, the game is packed with all sorts of  useful information.  For example:

  • A hood-mounted laser cannon is standard equipment, but you’ll have to pay through the nose to get the car in any color besides red;
  • The Yaris is capable of defying gravity and driving on ceilings, climbing sheer vertical walls, and maintaining a speed in excess of 150 miles per hour;
  • The car comes equipped with a shield system, and depletion of the shields will cause the car to spin out of control but otherwise remain unharmed;
  • The Yaris will be the perfect car for your daily commute, once the highways have all been replaced with giant danger-filled halfpipes with inexplicable sheer vertical drops, hazards deliberately placed in the roadway, and roving packs of roller-skating toasters bent on your destruction;
  • Oh yeah, you can also get 15″ aluminum wheels as a factory option if you want them..

I will refrain from going too deeply into the relative (lack of) merits of the game itself, as I’m sure other people more qualified than myself will begin ripping it to shreds soon enough.  A far greater issue lies in the fact that the game does absolutely nothing to tell someone why they should buy a Toyota Yaris, as opposed to a similar car like a Chevy Cobalt, a Honda Fit or a Nissan Versa.  In fact, about the only things in Yaris that have anything to do with the actual car at all are the character models used and the paint colors.  Granted, there are some cases (for example, candystand.com) where you can throw a little bit of branding into some game and call it good, but there’s one major difference:  On that site, they’re trying to get you to spend a buck on some candy next time you’re at the grocery store.  Toyota is trying to get you spend as much as $18,000 on a  car, which you’ll probably be driving for years. 

Most people I know wouldn’t ever buy a brand new car on impulse, even if they had the means to do so (at which point, I seriously doubt a Yaris would be anywhere near the type of car they’d be considering.)  Before I purchased my new car a few months ago, I spent hours on edmunds.com and manufacturer websites going through just about every detail I could possibly think of, in order to make sure I knew all about what I planned to buy, and what I would be getting myself into.  In theory, this would put me into the target audience that Yaris is supposed to be reaching.  The problem with this is that if I had encountered something like Yaris while I was shopping for a car, it would have told me absolutely nothing that I wouldn’t already have found out previously, nor would it have provided anything even remotely resembling a realistic simulation of how the actual car drives.  Am I supposed to believe that a car with a 1.5 liter 4-banger with 106 horsepower and 103 ft/lb of torque can hit 200 miles per hour, while driving up a vertical wall?  In the end, the result is that the game bears more resemblance to a rail shooter than a racing game.

That isn’t to say that this completely ficticious and unrealistic approach to advergaming should be avoided entirely, as long as some means of providing actual useful information on the product is included.  Yaris simply doesn’t do this.  There is little to no information about the actual car included, and I couldn’t find so much as a link anywhere in the game to even tell me where to find such information.  As far as I can tell, Yaris appears to be an attempt to salvage a marginal game concept by sticking a licensed car into it and giving it away as a freebie.  If someone who was shopping for a car were to come across this game, play all the way through it (no mean feat, given the frustratingly broken gameplay) and see everything the game has to offer, by the time they were done about all they would have learned from the experience is that Toyota makes a car called the Yaris, and that you can get it with aluminum wheels and upgraded energy shields to protect you from flying MP3 players and flaming snakes. 

With downloadable games finally reaching the mainstream of console gaming in this generation of systems, I’m sure we’ll be seeing plenty more advergames like this before we know it.  With any luck, marketers and developers alike will look at the example of Yaris and learn some valuable lessons on how not to make an effective advergame.

September 25, 2007

Finish the Wait – The Halo 3 Line

Filed under: Games — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 12:27 am

Over the years, I’ve waited in my fair share of lines for the sake of video games.  When the Xbox360 launched back in 2005, I found myself ignoring my better judgment (it’s a hobby of mine) and camping out in front of the local Costco overnight in near freezing temperatures to get one on launch day.  The cold temperatures were mitigated somewhat  by the availability of electricity, which resulted in a number of TVs and Xbox systems showing up to pass the time away.   In spite of the Xbox 360’s spotty reliability record, I still have my original 360, which has never red-ringed on me.  I suspect the fact that it gets relatively light use probably helps that fact.

More recently, last November found me spending 8 hours sitting in line in a crowded Hollywood Video store (which is about 7 1/2 hours more than I ever care to spend in a video store again) awaiting the Midnight launch of the Nintendo Wii at the attached GameCrazy.  With about 130 people in front of me in line, and only 2 cashiers, I was given ample opportunity to remind myself why I hardly ever watch movies anymore.   There’s something particularly soul-crushing about the experience sitting around bored out of your skull in the comedy section of a video store at 2 in the morning with at least another hour of waiting in front of you, but given the fact that it would turn out to be four months before I’d have another chance to purchase a Wii, I do not regret doing so.  In addition to the usual swag that’s since been relegated to a dark corner of the closet, I was able to get a free totebag to carry the system in for answering a trivia question correctly.  The bag has proven useful, as the Wii has been a hit with the rest of the family and has done a fair bit of traveling.

Fast forward to today, with the biggest game launch of the year, Halo 3.  Since my copy has been ordered already and should be set to arrive tomorrow, I think I’ll go ahead and sleep in my own bed tonight, and skip the long wait.  I did drop by the Bellevue Best Buy to see what was going on with one of the official launch events.  Here we see the front of the line:

 

More pictures after the jump.

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August 28, 2007

Highlights from PAX ’07 – The games

Filed under: Games — Tags: , , , — Brian Lutz @ 4:57 pm

For some of the people who attend PAX, the main attraction of the place is the huge crowd to hang around with and play stuff.  For others, it’s the concerts and the panels.  I suspect that for most people there though, it’s the chance to play upcoming games that’s the big draw.  Here are some impressions of a few of the games I tried out.  Unfortunately, my camera doesn’t do a very good job of picture taking in the low light conditions of the exhibition hall, so I don’t have a lot of good pictures.  I did post some of the ones that did come out though:Project Gotham Racing 4

Project Gotham Racing 4 (360):  At first, this game doesn’t look like a huge improvement over its predecessors.  Then again, they did a pretty good job with the graphics with PGR3, so there isn’t a whole lot of room to do much there (at least on the current hardware.)  Where they did improve, however, was in the sense of speed conveyed.  In a brief play session, PGR4 just seems to be faster than PGR3.  It is apparent that they are continuing to mess with the Kudos system though, and I’m not sure whether the result is going to improve or diminish the experience over previous games.  I also didn’t get a chance to try out motorcycles (even though they were present on the track I wasracing on.)  Given the relative lack of competition in the niche that the PGR games fill in between the hardcore sims (Forza 2) and the pure arcade stuff (the Burnout series,) I suspect that this will do pretty well.

More after the jump.

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July 12, 2007

Console Check-Up: Microsoft

Filed under: Games — Tags: , , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:58 am

If you’re a gamer, it’s that wonderful, magical time of year where  you get to reenact the old “Kid in a Candy Store” routine of your childhood, only this time, hardly anyone is actually allowed to go to the candy store, none of the candy is going to be available for sale for another three months, and most of the kids just sit around having pointless arguements about whose candy is going to be better when it actually does come out.  Yes, it’s time for E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (such as it is now that it’s been reduced significantly in size.)  Over the past couple of days, the big three in the console business (Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony) have presented their keynotes illustrating their upcoming plans.

 Last October, a few weeks before the PS3 and the Nintendo Wii made their debut, I made a number of predictions about what strategies the major console makers were following with their machines, and where I thought they would ultimately end up.  My predictions for Microsoft and Nintendo can be found here, and my predictions for Sony can be found here (note that the links go to a message board post, since I was not blogging anywhere at the time.)  With E3 providing a convenient opportunity to check up on things, and a look at what’s coming up from each of the Big Three, will take a look at how my prior predictions  have panned out so far, and how things look in the future.  First up is Microsoft.  Posts for Nintendo and Sony will be posted separately within the next day or two.

I have to apologize in advance if I happen to come across as being a bit cynical about this.  Lately, I’ve been a little bit sick of video games in general.  I’m not entirely sure of why this is, just that I haven’t really seen any games worth getting for a while now, and that my consoles have sat mostly untouched for several weeks at a time lately.  My tastes in video games do tend to run outside of the mainstream (the message board I link to for my predictions above is dedicated to 2-D shooters, a largely forgotten genre with a small group of devoted fans,) and I also tend to have little interest in online multiplayer in games (I suspect that I could get the same experience by hanging out in the hallway at the local Junior High between periods, which doesn’t sound all that entertaining to be honest.)  In short, I could probably be best described as a finicky niche gamer, which means that I’m probably not going to have any interest in a lot of the big-name titles for any given system.  That said, on with the show…

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