Archive for November, 2008

Fable II: Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain

My opinion of Fable II has been in constant fluctuation. I was originally impressed with the game, but my opinion soured somewhat during the week long hiatus I took due to travel. On my return, I jumped back into the game and was again very pleased with what it had to offer – I finished it in a few days, a testament to the game’s drawing power. Unfortunately, after finishing the game, the creeping feeling of disappointment again returned.

The game promises a number of interesting choices for the player to make, choices that supposedly have a very tangible effect on the game world, and on the surface this promise seems fulfilled. NPC’s react (mostly) appropriately to actions you take, and in general the game does a good job of giving you responses to the choices you make in the game. Unfortunately, the game does little beyond this rudimentary mechanism of feedback.

Playing Fable II feels a performance. I’m on stage doing my act, and the crowd is giving me their feedback, either positive or negative. But beyond very outward signs of approval or disapproval, I don’t feel like I’m making a personal connection with anyone in the audience.

The NPCs feel more like parallels to real life people than they do actual characters worthy of emotional response. I had a wife and child in the game, but I felt no real connection to them because the entire game mechanic is so shallow. Instead, I felt a connection to the real life people that they represented. This isn’t a bad thing, per se, because I actually did have to think about some of my actions in the game (there is a choice late in the game that is particularly tough), but only in the context of my real life.

The game is not bad by any means. The fighting system is rock solid, and the visuals are consistent, though not breath taking, thanks to a cohesive art design. But the unfulfilled potential of the NPC interactions, and the way in which that failure renders the game’s interesting choices ultimately pointless, leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

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Zombies!

Fable II continues to impress me. There are some technical issues here and there, but the game exudes such a feeling of exuberance that it’s easy to ignore its foibles. The game really is more than the sum of its parts.

I’ve put some time into the Left 4 Dead demo, and I’m surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed myself. I’m a giant Valve fan, but the concept for this horror title had yet to really grab me. I think it’s because the game is so co-op focused.

The concept of multiplayer has always appealed to me, but beyond Counter-Strike and Team Fortress 2, I’ve never actually sunk a lot of time into a multiplayer mode. I’m not a stats-driven man by nature, so the concept of racking up a lot of kills does very little to rev me up. As most multiplayer games are driven to that end, I just don’t find them very fun.

Left 4 Dead, though, is more an experience than a goal-driven game. Sure, you get kudos for helping out teammates (and generally not being a jerk), but the real enjoyment to be found seems to be the shared experience of facing whatever the AI Director has in store for your team. It’s a very unique game, and I hope that it finds an audience on 360 and PC so that it can really flourish, as it’s a perfect fit for a constant stream of DLC.

NPD October 2008

NPD sales data for October is as follows:

Hardware Sales

(Note: October was tracked as a 4 week month, whereas September was tracked as a 5 week month. All % calculations are adjusted to account for weekly sales, not monthly totals.)

Wii: 803k
360: 371k
PS3: 190k
PS2: 136k
NDS: 491k
PSP: 193k

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Software Sales

  1. Fable II (360) – 790k
  2. Wii Fit (Wii) – 487k
  3. Fallout 3 (360) – 375k
  4. Mario Kart (Wii) – 290k
  5. Wii Play (Wii) – 282k
  6. Saints Row 2 (360) – 270k
  7. SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals Confrontation (PS3) – 231k
  8. Little Big Planet (PS3) – 215k
  9. NBA 2K9 (360) – 202k
  10. Dead Space (360) – 193k
  11. Guitar Hero: World Tour (360)
  12. Guitar Hero: World Tour (Wii)
  13. Kirby Super Star Ultra (NDS)
  14. Fallout 3 (PS3)
  15. Dead Space (PS3)
  16. Rock Band 2 (PS3)
  17. NBA 2K9 (PS3)
  18. Far Cry 2 (360)
  19. FIFA 09 (360)
  20. Guitar Hero: World Tour (PS3)

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Bullet Points

  • Wii had a tremendous month. Supply was higher than at any other point this calendar year, and by the looks of things, things will be even better next month.
  • 360 had a sizable weekly sales increase increase over September, which is surprising because the system saw a price cut last month. Rarely does demand continue to increase throughout the second month of a price drop. Signs point to Microsoft having an excellent holiday season.
  • As expected, PS3, PS2 and PSP sales were essentially flat month over month.

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Analysis

Nintendo (again) had a stellar month in October – Wii outsold 360 and PS3 combined, and DS enjoyed a sizable advantage over PSP. Even though this success has become commonplace over the past couple of years, it’s important to realize how impressive this dominance continues to be. 800k consoles sold in a non holiday month is unheard of, and there a number of indications that stock in November will far outpace October. Look for an absolutely monster number for Wii this month.

It’s hard to be excited about any of Sony’s platforms at this point (from a sales perspective, of course). PS3 saw minimal growth over September, and though Little Big Planet had a solid debut, it didn’t push additional hardware, and Motorstorm 2 and Resistance 2 will fare no better in November. To predict November totals, a general rule of thumb is to multiply October sales by 2. With that in mind, Sony might have a hard time eclipsing their November 2007 total (466k).

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PS2’s continually solid sales remain impressive, but the console is hardly a driving force in the industry’s direction, though it is no doubt providing Sony a counterbalance for PS3’s struggles.  Similarly, PSP continues to put up solid numbers, but it has such a small presence in the software realm as to render the platform practically irrelevant.

I am very impressed with the growth that 360 saw from September to October, especially in light of the price drop that the console saw in early September. Generally, software sales after a price drop are front loaded, and rarely is there growth between the 1st and 2nd months after the cut. Part of 360’s success no doubt had to do with the impressive October lineup (Fable II, Fallout 3, Saints Row 2, etc), but the 199 minimum price point was no doubt as influential, if not more.

The video game industry is inherently price driven (as is the consumer electronics industry in general), and Microsoft is attracting a new segment of the market with the sub-200 dollar price point. This will be even more apparent in the next couple of months, and with the 360 so closely competing with the PS3 in terms of mindshare, Microsoft’s success will no doubt mean more struggles for Sony.

As always, thanks to NPD and the community at NeoGAF.

Predictions: NPD October 2008

NPD video game sales data for October 2008 will be released this Thursday.  Please note that September is tracked as a 5 week month, while October is tracked as a 4 week month. Thus, while total hardware sales in October might be lower than in September for a console, the weekly sales rate of a console might have still increased from September.

Predictions

Format: “Total Hardware” (“Weekly Hardware” | “% change of weekly sales over September”)

Wii: 760k ( 190k | +38.28% )
360: 268k ( 67k | –3.51% )
PS3: 194k ( 48.5k | +4.34% )
PS2: 144k ( 36k | +3.75% )
NDS: 556k ( 139k | +29.47% )
PSP: 208k ( 52k | +9.2% )

Notes regarding my predictions:

  • Wii will see a very sizable increase over September due to an influx of new supply. DS will see a similar bump.
  • 360 should see a less than expected drop off in sales after the the price drop in September.
  • PS3, PS2, and PSP will see small increases in sales thanks to the approaching holiday.

Actual sales data from The NPD Group will be released on Thursday, November 13th after market close (4:00 PM).

Fable II: Better As It Goes Along

I started Fable II the other day, and my initial impressions were extremely negative. More than anything, the controls were the most disappointing aspect of the game.  It’s a chore to move your character through the world, and when something as basic as character movement is frustrating, then it takes a lot for the whole game experience to be fulfilling.

Thankfully, I’ve learned to deal with the horrible movement controls as I’ve continued to  play, mostly because the rest of the package is so compelling. The game is an interesting mix of social interactions and adventure, and true to its name, the game really does feel like you are the star of your very own adventure.

Unlike another popular fantasy adventure game (Oblivion), I feel like my actions have a very real effect on the other characters in the world. The social interaction features of the game are a little exaggerated (you can go from strangers to married with NPCs throughout in a couple of minutes), but they provide a sense of involvement in the game world that few games can match. Fable II has it’s flaws, but it isn’t a static experience, and that really goes a long way in making it a fun game to play.