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Can-Am Conversations: 01

By Anthony Logan and Kellen Scrivens
Welcome to the premier showing of Can-Am Conversations, the first in a line of joint columns by yours truly, Anthony Logan, friend and host, and Kellen Scrivens, my partner in crime. The format is simple; we trade off asking and answering questions about the state of video games as a whole. Now with the intro out of the way, we can get started.

Logan: The hype for Halo 2 has been unbelievable. Do you think that the game can possibly live up to it?
Scrivens: Well considering how much hype it's had, I think it will need to be the best game ever to do it and I don't think it's going to happen. The game has been getting insane amounts of hype for two years running and the bar is being set too high. I can see the game being very good, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of people disappointed. The last time I can remember a sequel to an amazingly good and popular game getting this much hype was Final Fantasy VIII, and it really let down a lot of fans despite it being a decent/good game. I expect this to be the same, to end up very much the same way.

Logan: I disagree. Halo 2 expands on all the areas that Halo fell short in, which is saying something, because there weren't a lot of shortcomings to begin with. Xbox Live got it. More multiplayer games got it. Expanded story got it. It's shaping up to be a game that finally lives up to its own hype, and that's a good thing.

Scrivens: If it lives up to all the hype that it's been getting, I'll be pretty surprised. The game will exceed on the original, it will be a great game, but there's just too much hype to live up to.

Logan: If it does prove itself to live up to the hype and exceed the original, then it will be the best FPS ever, and quite possibly the best game ever. You're up.

Scrivens: Will Mortal Kombat: Deception bring the franchise back to it's arcade glory days?
Logan: Good question. Mortal Kombat, upon its entry into arcades, was extremely popular because it was bringing things that the others just didn't. It had the ultra-violence, had the gameplay, which wasn't new, but most definitely freshened up due to the addition of Fatalities. The games have had a different feel since they started appearing on home consoles. The Fatalities have gotten to the point where really, there's beginning to be no real way to top them. This game solves a lot of the problems as a whole. The gameplay was dramatically freshened up with the addition of weapons, and the addition of the Konquest mode. But, that does a lot for the console version of this game. The arcade glory of Mortal Kombat is long gone, and it will never gain that kind of steam again. Not without a major arcade resurgence and a stellar MK offering there.

Scrivens: The game really does look amazing, and because I've been a fan of Mortal Kombat since the very beginning, I really want to see it gain that popularity back. But as great as Deception looks, I just do not see it happening. Maybe if this game catches on (and it really looks good) and comes up with a great follow-up in a year or so, it might gain its popularity back. But it's a long way to go still.

Logan: What do you think of the exposure of video games in mainstream entertainment?
Scrivens: Well in most cases you see video games being portrayed in a bad light in mainstream media, back in the early to mid 90's Joe Lieberman had the industry reeling with his comments that got around the wire. And while it is not that bad anymore, you still see a lot of bad things associated with it: the six person murder over an Xbox gets way more press than Halo 2 or Doom 3 or how far the ERSB has come along. While you do have some cable channels like G4TechTV showing how great games are, the bad just outweighs the good.

Logan: I agree that the bad outweighs the good, and by a fair amount. An example is when Grand Theft Auto first came out over here, ABC did a special on it. The special had teens play it, and officers of the law, firemen, and people like that play it. With no mention of the fact that the kids used shouldn't have ever played it, the special proceeded to rip the game to shreds as a "moral sinkhole," and a despicable example of how bad games as a whole had gotten.

Having said that, video games are making very large steps towards legitimacy through G4TechTV, and legislation protecting their First Amendment rights. I also think that they're beginning to be seen as a legitimate art form as well, which I believe comes from exposure to the public.

Scrivens: You think the people running ABC would be able to read the ERSB sticker saying 17+. GameFAQS.com is running their Greatest Character Ever tournament, who is your favorite video game character of all time and why?
Logan: I don't really have a favorite, but I have a definite top three. Number one: Solid Snake, from the Metal Gear series. He's the perfect example of a badass! Impossible one man missions, up against legions of genome supersoldiers, and fighting a form of Metal Gear three times. What's not to love? Number two: the town of Silent Hill, from the Silent Hill series. Before you say that the town isn't a character, let me explain. The town goes through so much change, develops, and even has a sentient being in control of it. The town's involvement in the series has been influential in the series' impact. Number three: Raziel, from the Legacy of Kain series. He stands out because he is a vampire, but a tragic vampire. When his wings are ripped off and he is cast into the abyss, that moment, he became the best heroic type of character to me. He's also a different type of hero than Snake, in that he fights to restore Nosgoth his birthplace but also fights to feed his body with souls. Tragic, but still heroic. Those three are mine, what about yours?

Scrivens: Honestly, I'm having trouble deciding between a certain three myself. First would have to be Sonic the Hedgehog, he was the character that really got me into the whole idea of video games. I mean I'd played Mario, but I felt this was so much better. But between the games and the TV shows and comics that backed his character it was so easy to really like him, he was the epitome of cool in my eyes and he still represents that in me. Second has to be Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII, the guy has one of the best developing character's I've ever seen, he goes from a bounty-hunter who wants nothing but a little money to get by, but over time he finds friends and he gets a new lease on life. Then he's dragged to his lowest point again and he works his way up. His character is an emotional rollercoaster. Not to mention that killer sword, of course. For every great hero there is a great villain, Sephiroth (also from Final Fantasy VII) is my final choice. He is a ruthless killer who goes through about a hundred people in the game, including one of the main characters (hope I didn't spoil the game for anyone) and shows absolutely no emotion. The smile on his face as he takes his sword out of Aeris' back is one of the greatest things I've ever seen in gaming. He makes you hate him so much that when you finally face him at the end of the game, it's so fulfilling to finally kill him.

Logan: Final Fantasy is a huge RPG series worldwide, spanning 11 entries. What is your favorite game in the series, and what do you think about the direction (direct sequel, online version, GC-GBA connectivity) that the series is taking?
Scrivens: While I am something of a Final Fantasy fanboy, I've only played one game (VII) front-to-back while sampling many others. But they are all very good. That being said, I will state why I like Final Fantasy VII so much. First: the first few parts of VII I felt a lot better than any of the other Final Fantasy games I played. Anyhow, VII is an incredible game. The story is very good and it has more than it's fair share of twists and turns. All of the characters are very well done and each have a good backstory (if you take the time to use them), the fighting and magic systems are very good, the score by Nobuo Uematsu is mind-blowing (I personally want a copy of that soundtrack). I don't want to get too in-depth since I plan on doing a review of this game in a little bit. In terms of direction, I don't really like the direct sequel because in X-2 it was so different because of the massive amounts of sidequests and the fact that you could only use three characters the entire game. On the other hand, I can't wait for FF VII-2: Advent Children. I'd like to see how a movie sequel to a game would pan out. I'm not much into the MMORPG genre so I haven't touched FF XI yet and I can't comment on the Crystal Chronicles interactivity because I don't have a Gamecube. Although I do hope they do the same using the PSP and FF XII when they come out. How about you?

Logan: My favorite Final Fantasy is IX, because it was the first one that really hooked me. I had played VII at a friend's house, and I liked it, but when I played it by myself, it didn't really hook me. I've always thought that VIII was underrated, but still not exactly the best of the series. In actuality, Laguna would have been a better main character than Squall and he shouldn't have been running around with Ward and Kiros. When I actually got into IX, the first thing that grabbed me was the main character, Zidane. He goes through this process of growing up that I didn't really get from the others, even after going back and playing VII all the way through.

As for the direction of the series up to this point, I can't say that I'm happy with the general direction. The last thing that Final Fantasy needs is too much innovation. Innovation is important, but in the case of Crystal Chronicles (which I liked) it just seemed like innovation for innovation's sake. A decent game, but a shoddy attempt to draw interest into Nintendo's marketing scheme. FF XI, the online fantasy, had rabid fanboys in a state of near climax over the potential to be one of the best online games around. But instead, it was a watered down version of the series that we all know and love. I'm excited to hear about Advent Children, but I'm really tired of VII being the favorite child of the series.

Scrivens: Why not, it was the biggest success Square ever had, it's the #1 sold PS1 game of all time (followed by 6 other FF titles), and made the series as popular as it is today. So long as they don't overkill on it (which I don't think they have), I'm fine.

Logan: That's my point exactly. It's good, but it isn't the best in the series. I don't really lump the games together, but I do group them by system. And on the PlayStation, VIII was exceptional and better than VII. While VIII was an outstanding entry, IX was the superior game because it felt like the games of old. It had the old school feel and the new school essentials. It was the best entry on the PlayStation, and it's seemingly always shunted aside for the rabid VII love. Frustrating.

Scrivens: You have your opinion, I have mine I guess.

Logan: Yeah. Next question?

Scrivens: Who is the best third-party game developer of all-time and why?
Logan: Third-party developers make the world go 'round. In all seriousness, I don't really have an opinion on who the best happens to be. But if we're talking favorites, I'll have to go with Konami. They have two of my personal favorite series of all time, Metal Gear and Silent Hill, and a huge library of classics. Contra is one of the hardest and an all time great. Definitely Konami.

Scrivens: You forgot the old TMNT games.

Logan: Damn, the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games were godly. The first one is the one game that always made my day. I can still play that, I think that says enough about the quality of the game. Definitely Konami.

Scrivens: I need to go with Capcom. There are three series that will go down in history for their impact and greatness on the business. Remember the number of quarters Street Fighter 2 took out of the pockets of everyone? Not only that but have you played any of the sequels to that, or any other 2D fighting game they made? They're all great. Next is Mega Man. Need I say any more? The third is Resident Evil. While not as scary as Silent Hill, it was still a pioneer of the genre and is still very fun to play even all these years later. And Resident Evil 4 looks great. Not to mention they had a GOTY candidate last year with their new franchise, Viewtiful Joe. So it's Capcom for me.

Logan: Good choice, but here's the next question. Which online program is the best: Xbox Live or the PS2's "mostly free" plan?
Scrivens: Tough choice. They both have their ups and downs. First, Xbox Live is probably the better actual system. The universal gaming tag is a great idea so you know which idiots to avoid. The fact you can call up friends online regardless of what games you're playing is a nice touch. However there is the price point. Quite frankly, unless you're a pretty big gamer, you're not going to want to pay the $60 (Canadian, I have no idea what it is down there) a year to play online. On the other hand, the PS2 has a decent meat and potatoes system. You can go online to play games, but there are some minor things like separate names through separate games (although some groups like EA have universal tags for their games), however a lot of the cool Xbox Live features are gone. But thankfully, since the network adapter is free and 95% of games are too, it's really a matter of preference. I can't call it either way.

Logan: You cheat! As for me, I have to go with Xbox Live. The price is right up around $60, but in the end, you get a whole year of online play with voice chat, the option of clans, the option to download brand new content for games, and a whole host of other features (that I fail to remember) that are just as useful and awe-inspiring. I especially like the use of one name throughout all games in the network. It certainly allows people to weed out the jerks online, and promotes the idea of accountability online that I love so much. Team Ninja recently released an add-on to Ninja Gaiden that makes the game fresh all over again, and, this year, EA's games are on Live, as well as Halo 2 and Doom 3. A spiffy setup.

PS2 has the benefit of being free, but it also has the detriment of allowing the non-broadband users to play. Not that I have anything against 56k'ers, but when you're playing an online game, a lot of information needs to get down the pipe, and fast. If you aren't broadband, you can't do that. It takes away from the overall speed in the game and it makes people lag. Not fun. I've never heard complaints about lag or connection on Xbox Live. So I believe that Live is the better system.

Scrivens: Yeah, I'm a 56k'er and all the lag makes me angry to the point I don't play too much online.

Logan: It takes away from games, and frustrates everyone. Not fun.

Scrivens: What looks better at this point: Sony's PSP or the Nintendo's DS?
Logan: Another good question. Let's start with Sony. Sony is an up-and-comer in the handheld market, and the PSP is a great way to start. The PSP is very powerful. I don't know the exact specs, but the visuals are looking very impressive for a hand held. The games that are coming out for the PSP are from definite heavy hitters, and its future looks bright.

The DS, however, is from the perennial heavyweight champion, Nintendo. They know what goes into a good handheld, and have consistently upped their game when it comes to the handheld market. The DS doesn't seem too different in that I think Nintendo will do right by it. The studios contributing games to it at this point aren't as numerous, but still a group of ringers. And the system holds a sense of intrigue with its dual-screen and touch screen capabilities. As far as innovation goes, this system is top notch. For games coming out, the PSP has the potential to wipe the floor with the DS. I'm going with the PSP.

Scrivens: I'm a Sony fanboy and I will admit that. Also, I will admit that the games coming out for the DS look incredible as well as the PSP. The graphics for both are going to be good, although PSP will be a little better in that respect. The touch screen and dual-screen look a lot like gimmicks to me. Personally, as gaming systems, I'd have to give the slight edge to the PSP, especially when you add in the fact that you can play mp3 and mpeg files. Also I can say that since some videos are going to come out in the UHF format that is being used for the PSP. Although the PSP is $100 (US) more, I'm still going to buy it.

Logan: Brilliant. When it comes to systems, the fanboys all have reasons for treasuring their system of choice, but really, if price wasn't an issue, which current generation system is the most bang for your buck?
Scrivens: No question for me, it comes down to the PS2 and the Xbox. They both have, without question, a better choice of games and better graphics. Between the two of them I'd have to say it comes down to what games you really want to play. PS2 has the SOCOM games while Xbox has Halo and I could go on all night with that. We've already discussed the online capabilities for both so I won't go into that. Xbox has that pre-installed hard drive which is a plus, but it's available for the PS2 (separately). Honestly, I'd call it a draw. But since I'm a Sony fanboy, I say PS2.

Logan: A draw I could see, but a win for PS2? Outrage! Blasphemy... eh, it's your opinion. The Xbox has so many advantages to the other systems that it's a shame. The Xbox not only has Halo as it's flagship series, but a talented in-house studio, in Bungie and a good team making its first-party games. Sony has a lot of good exclusives, but when it comes down to it, Microsoft ends up with a great deal of their "exclusives" on the system, albeit late. The hard drive isn't just some storage device, nor a piece that would make the Xbox a second rate PC. It is a whole new arena for what a system should be. Not only do you not need a memory card for it, you can also rip your own tracks onto the drive and use them in your games, a much appreciated feature for yours truly. The PS2 has to have an adapter for games that can have more than 2 players, which is a real drag for parties. The Xbox comes with four ports. The controller was the only weak point in the Xbox armor and that's been remedied with the controller S. It's perfect.

Scrivens: Well, there's just one question left, and it is: The arcade industry is leaning on a crutch by the name of Dance Dance Revolution. How long will it be before it gives out and the industry collapses?
Logan: The arcade industry has been in a real rut over the last few years, and DDR was the game that pulled a large number of arcades out of the red and into the black. The game itself is extremely addictive if a little intimidating and extremely fun at its core. As long as the game continues to add new elements, more licensed music and have a truckload of fanboys and girls to play it, the industry will at least pull even. If the game starts to falter, however, then the industry will need more killer aps from past heavy hitters, such as Capcom or Sega, to help pull people back into arcades.

For me, the game represents a whole new generation of games to play, whether they exercise the body or the mind. A good alternative to sitting on the couch and playing Halo or some other game that involves twitch reflex as opposed to actual physical ability. That is another of the reasons that I think the game is so popular in the first place. The game is so different, that it has both niche and universal appeal.

Scrivens: As fun as the game is, you also need to realize that there are more and more home versions of DDR coming out for the PS2 and the like, and they are just as good. Another thing that I need to point out is that there are so many former arcade hotshots like Capcom starting to port straight to home systems. Look at a game like Capcom Fighting Jam. Unless I was misinformed, I'm pretty sure is being ported to the PS2 direct, just like Dead or Alive 3 was ported directly to the Xbox. So at this point I don't see it lasting very long, because the home market is just taking over.

Logan: The thing is, the home market is very strong, but the arcade is a completely different experience. As long as that different experience is still enjoyable, then the arcades will still be around.

Scrivens: Good point. It was fun to do this with you, and good luck with what you're working on currently. What is that by the way?

Logan: I'm working on a Silent Hill 2 analysis/review, and a series of horror game reviews.

Scrivens: I've done the two Sonic the Hedgehog reviews and I'm working on Sonic & Knuckles soon. I'm also planning on doing a Final Fantasy VII review after that.

Logan: Awesome, I'm looking forward to those.

There it is, ladies and gentleman, the first Can-Am Conversation. If you have any questions for the participants, you can get ahold of Kellen at Kscriv@hotmail.com, or myself at logan_am@yahoo.com. I hope you enjoyed reading this, and if you did, drop us a line and tell us so! We encourage constructive criticism.

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