Lost Episode

The lost episode of ROFLcopterDown, episode 13. Never aired due to the time it was recorded and the circumstances surrounding graduation and our ability to access the old blog account. Come hear us discuss the news of yore, back when we went to a bunch of arcades and played the Halo 3 beta for the first time. Stay tuned past the outro for a special treat, Justin and the Millenium Force. Recorded circa mezazoic era (late May). Enjoy this while we create new content!

My first post

I’ve never been consistent with any form of blogging since I started podcasting with RoflcopterDown. Now that we’ve moved up to a big boy site I feel like I should really update my blog frequently. Since I normally just gripe about things that irritate me in my blog I’m going to make a concerted effort to stray from just that.

In order to facilitate this, it makes sense that my first post in my own blog be about making the site. I suppose I should thank our host DreamHost and my friend and fraternity brother Ben Golub for hooking our site up with its new digs. The creation of this site and the message boards has been really simple, I clicked around for a while until the WordPress and phpBB installs were done and then I just had to setup accounts and PodPress to make the site work. All that was left was a lot of style sheet tweaking and photoshopping a new set of logos for the new name.

On a related note: the new name arose at roughly 3:00am EST during a conversation between me and fellow presenter Justin. Maybe Tom will post some of the awesome potential names we were throwing around (mostly inside jokes), or maybe we’ll discuss this on the first or second episode of the new season.

At any rate, I need to get some much deserved sleep, I’ve been puling some late hours to get the new website ready for the awesomeness that will be our new season. I can guarantee the same level of hilarity, fun and debate that went into RoflcopterDown will go into The Rumble Pack. hopefully we can reach a larger audience with the new name, website and image.


Audio Update

Just to keep you in the know: The new site is live, the blogs for the presenters are almost finished, the board is now active. Over the course of the next week we will be finishing the modifications to the website and message boards and, most importantly, we will be posting our first podcast of the new season and the new name. Get ready to enjoy!

Introducing: “The Rumble Pack”

Welcome to the new home of the podcast formerly known as ROFLcopterDown. The site is currently under construction.

 New Features to Include:

  • Streamlined podcast served up to you in engaging visual style.
  • Blogs from the personalities behind the show.
  • Message boards for discussion of the most recent news and shows.

Pac-Man Championship Edition Review

Pac-Man CE is the best version of Pac-Man out there right now.

Okay, admittedly, to most young gamers that doesn’t mean much. It should.

I fondly recall playing Ms. Pac-Man in my Kakar Dental Group orthodontists’ waiting room while my sister was being tortured. Whether or not I fondly recall the game specifically is uncertain. At any rate, you can feel the charm of the original arcade Pac-Man titles in the new XBLA download. This is probably due to the fact that the original creator of the series, Toru Iwatani, was involved in making this new version.

High score addiction has made a triumphant return as of late. Games like Geometry Wars RE and virtual console titles have brought back the spirit of the late eighties early nineties gaming culture. The new Pac-Man surely stokes this fire. Getting the all important high score is making a comeback. I’m even competing with Justin on Pac-Man CE, I’m gonna beat his high score and then he’ll beat mine and we’ll both get better. Read more

Forza Motorsport 2 Review

I hate simulation racing games. I hate them with a passion. When you race in a game you should leave the acceleration button firmly smashed into the controller and the developer shouldn’t even include a brake. The ideal track has gentle bends in it and has multiple jumps, speed boosts and, if possible, a point at which the track goes upside down. The last time I accidentally purchased a sim racer was Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec. That said; I love Forza Motorsport 2.

Somehow, between the time I played GT3 and now, I’ve developed a love of boring games. I enjoy fiddling with sliders in menus. I love laboring over color scheme decisions. I love comparing horsepower and torque curves. Read more

Daxter Review

This lovely came bundled with my PSP slim, so I figured I had to give it a go. And actually, I was pleasantly surprised with what I found inside.

I’ve never been a Jak and Daxter fan. Hell, if you ask me the plot…I’ll tell ya it has something to do with precursor orb collecting, and I figure that is way off. That being said, I know that Jak and Daxter are a pair. A dynamic duo. A terrible twosome. That being said, sidekick spin-offs usually are about as much fun as Spring Cleaning (Luigi’s Mansion anyone?). Daxter is no different than any of these as far as the plot is concerned; Jak is abducted by the bad guys and Daxter’s mission is to get him back. Yeah, there’s no Emmy quality writing in this plot, but as my expectations were already low, I wasn’t too disappointed. But my experience with this game wasn’t for plot, it was for some next-gen handheld platforming, and here it actually delivered beyond some of my expectations. Read more

Interview with Joe O’Rourke (LiBiPl.net)

It’s seems particularly fitting that LittleBigPlanet has inspired such a loyal blog following. Even before the game’s release, new fans were speculating about what to expect from Sony’s hot platformer, and even now, they have plenty to keep them checking back in. We talked with Joe O’Rourke, the founder of the long-running LiBiPl.net, to talk about the game’s community and level editing tools.

The Rumble Pack: You started up LiBiPl.net long before the game’s release. What was it about the early footage that inspired you to start the blog?

Joe O’Rourke:
I’ve always been an avid gamer, but nothing about the current generation of consoles had really grabbed me until I saw the GDC 2007 demo of LittleBigPlanet. I’d played with level editors from Doom to Source, even done a tiny bit of 3D modeling; so to see a game where objects could be created as real-world materials with great visual fidelity and reasonable physics, while the game is running and not in a separate tool, just blew me away. The art style was very appealing as well, which became more and more of an additional draw as time went on.

RP: Early reports of sales numbers were initially disappointing, even though I think they’d qualify in the “pretty good” range at this point. But in terms of your own site numbers, have you seen a pretty steady influx of new readers? Do you think the LBP name is still relevant to the average PS3 owner.

JO: Based on Sony’s statements leading up to the release, I didn’t see any way they wouldn’t be disappointed by the sales (which, given the platform and lack of gore, were still pretty darn good); it’s worth noting that Media Molecule was profitable immediately due to their low overhead. As far as my site goes, it’s been downhill since before the release, but that doesn’t surprise or disappoint me. LittleBigWorkshop launched, LittleBigPlanet Central resurfaced, Media Molecule hired excellent community managers, the podcasts started – all of these things made sites like mine less necessary, which is fine.

RP: Your site also mentions that you’re a game design hobbyist too. Are you satisfied with the tools included with the game? What are some additional tools you’d like to see in LBP‘s second year?

JO: The tools were definitely made more accessible since the early demos, which has a huge upside and a slight downside; infinite depth granularity has its problems, but I have to agree with those that say four layers for four players might’ve been better. For the future, though, I’d love to see some creation incorporated into gameplay, as had been planned at one point. It’s difficult to do well, but if anyone can tackle that particular design challenge it’d be the folks at Media Molecule. The other thing that excites me for the future is the demo of wand/sphere/thingy LBP integration that was shown at TGS, which looks like an awesome cooperative (particularly parent/child or gamer/nongamer) experience.

RP: What would you want the PSP version to bring to the table? Do you think it will inspire the same strong community as its console older brother?

JO: The ability to create levels while waiting in line, riding the train, et cetera should be a huge boon to the more mobile among us. I’m not sure how the community will shake out, though. There’s an opportunity to use the PSP’s online features to great advantage, having an in-game portal to LittleBigWorkshop and such, or queueing up levels via browser to be pushed down to the PSP, but I’m not sure how much of that sort of thing is being worked on. I guess we just have to wait and see.

RP: How do you feel about the DLC that’s been released so far? Were you initially hoping for more than costumes when you started the blog so many years back?

JO: It’s difficult to complain, when LBP’s seen more DLC than just about anything short of Rock Band and SingStar. Back before release, I think a lot of us expected most of the DLC to be level packs, but in retrospect that’s kind of silly given that it’d be competing with their own user base. I like the costumes and stickers, but for those that don’t there’ve also been the paintinator, creator pack and music pack (hopfully more to come). I think the Metal Gear Solid pack was such a game-changer, so soon after release, that players want that sort of thing on a more frequent basis than is reasonably possible.

RP: What do you think makes the LBP community so enduring/enthusiastic?

JO: Creation is marvelously addictive. The LBP fanbase is like an artists’ commune with thousands of residents: every day you can see wonderful things being created, and make your own visions into something to share. And it’s not all within the game, as I’m sure you’ve seen. From Sackboy fanart to music videos to whatever you’d call my DevFace vandalizations, there’s a real creative energy that drives the whole community.

RP: And lastly, do you have a favorite level or two?

JO: It’s so hard to pick favorites! In the story mode, I’d have to go with “The Darkness.” That’s the one that made me stop playing, go to the computer and email Media Molecule just to say “this is awesome.” From the pre-release Beta, I loved “Johnny Cash in Folsom Prison.” BasketSnake always does wonderful character contraptions, but this is still my favorite. As far as (somewhat) more current stuff, I loved “Inside the Mind of an ‘H4H’er” by wexfordian. So meta, but also great design and visuals. And some of my favorite levels in the current Beta…oh wait, I can’t talk about that, can I? 🙂

Be sure to check out Joe’s LiBiPl.net for the latest LittleBigPlanet news.

Building Upon a Solid Foundation

(originally published at Smile Politely, 11/5)

LittleBigPlanet was supposed to change the way we play video games. Unveiled at the 2007 Game Developers Conference, the DIY platformer made a wonderful first impression thanks to its accessible creation tools, a built-in community and the particularly adorable mascot Sackboy. But much like the fellow GDC champ Playstation Home, LittleBigPlanet‘s hype never really translated in big commercial success when it was released last fall. A little more than one year later, LBP remains mostly forgotten by the mainstream crowd. Not a deserving fate for a game that I absolutely believe is a modern classic — and one that I think can be reversed with just a few tweaks and a little luck.

I remain hopeful because by its nature, LBP is constantly evolving. Following the tradition of other genre staples like the Super Mario Bros., the goal here is to simply get to the end of each level by running, jumping and swinging past anything in your path. Much like the burlap-covered hero, nearly everything in LBP has real-world texture. The game had a stitched-together look that hearkened back to the LEGO forts and building blocks of youth. But what really set the game apart is that you could take all of sorts of these ingredients —wood, glass, carpeting, sports equipment, and so much more— and make cohesive levels to be shared online with friends and strangers. And while I’ll often go a month or two without playing the game very much, I’m constantly blown away by the gaming craftsmanship on display.

For instance, there’s a series of levels inspired by Electronic Art’s Dead Space, in which Sackboy has to explore a derelict space station infested with multi-limbed monsters. The first act features a stalled-out elevator, atmospheric lighting and an anti-gravity chamber ripped straight from the source material. When the LBP came out a year ago, such a feat never seemed possible, but now, such results are almost commonplace. Some levels forgo interactivity altogether, such as the “Cause and Effect” series. Here, the creator, “Triple Tremelo,” sets out to impress with technically masterful Rube Goldberg devices. And there are hundreds of other levels of similarly high quality.

Sounds pretty cool, right? So why has it not taken off yet? I think much of the problem is that the game’s tools are not as easy to use as advertised. As shown in the debut trailer (see above), you can create a stack of tennis balls or a skateboard ramp in a matter of seconds, but if you want to create anything more intricate than that, prepare to be frustrated for a very long time. Because there are three different planes to walk on this game (versus old-school Mario’s one) there’s a degree of obfuscation that’s really difficult to reconcile. Gluing things together usually involves a series of pins and switches that just won’t make sense for the first-time players. And most first-timers will also be last-timers if they’re not having much fun.

One idea would be to streamline the tools so that players are only operating on one plane initially. Anybody playing on a modern console understands the 2D side scroller, so why not cater to them initially before moving them onto the more difficult stuff. The engine is versatile enough that you can still make some pretty attractive and functional stuff without including that pesky extra dimension.

I think another potential answer would be to offer more detailed tutorials than what’s offered in the Story mode. For some reason, developer Media Molecule decided it would be best to set a clear division between pre-made levels pressed to the disc and the more creative stuff, which seems like a major mistake in retrospect. The logic here was probably to ensure that the game remained swiftly paced, but I don’t think players would have minded a brief bridge building exercise every so often.

Perhaps Media Molecule could have taken a cue from an even bigger sales-bomb, Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. While Banjo the bear is too dated to resonate with a modern audience, the game’s garage was a worthwhile innovation. For every challenge, players were required to build new vehicles, either from existing blueprints or from scratch. Early in the game, you’d be able to get by with just four wheels and a motor, but later sections required some ingenuity. LBP could employ a similar learning curve. It may be too late for the disc-based content, but there’s always DLC, right?

Maybe not, if the current LBP store is any indication. When the game was first announced, we were promised new levels, some of which would be developed by some of Sony’s other acclaimed developers. What we’re getting right now is costume packs from Judge Dredd. It’s not that we haven’t seen any major additions since launch. The Metal Gear Solid pack included a paintball gun that has significantly changed how LBP is played, and at some point, a water pack —complete with snorkels— should create ripples in the community. But the major DLC releases have been too far apart, with hardly any new levels from the game’s creators. Sony’s missing out on an incredible marketing opportunity too. Your average gamer might not be interested in the cute box art and cheery music, but I think some involvement from the God of War or Killzone 2 guys could potentially sway him or her. There’s a portion of people who would rather just plow through a few obstacle courses instead of sitting down in a virtual sandbox, and this would be an easy way to cater to them.

I don’t know if streamlined tools, better tutorials or these higher profile updates would be the answer, but what I do know is that the game does not need a sequel anytime soon, and it seems that the developers agree. The foundation here is solid, a new PSP version will have people talking about the title again and the recent PS3 price cut means that plenty of new shoppers will be scouring the shelves for older titles soon enough. (I think it’d make a great pack-in game too, but I guess Sony thinks otherwise.) But Sony and Media Molecule need to reassess how they’re selling the game. LittleBigPlanet has sold modestly throughout its first year, but it still has the makings of a blockbuster.

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