How to upgrade the Xbox 360 hard drive & transfer saved data

Posted in News by on Sep 6th, 2013 1:05 PM

When I got my Xbox 360 in December 2008, the included 60 GB hard drive seemed like plenty of space. As long as I deleted any demos I was done with, I always had room for whatever games and saved data I wanted.

Then Microsoft started giving its Xbox Live Gold members two free retail games a month. These games are often several gigabytes each, bursting my hard drive at the seams. Although I knew I could "purchase" the game without downloading it, making it available for later retrieval, I barely had room to download even one game I'd so queued. It was time for an upgrade.

Having the Xbox 360 Premium or Pro model, I couldn't replace its inbuilt storage with any of the many drives available for the Slim model. I bought a third-party 250 GB drive for $50 off Amazon.com and a first-party transfer cable with CD for $9.49. Swapping the hardware was easy, and transferring the data took about an hour.

For anyone unfamiliar with the process, I recorded a tutorial for upgrading your Xbox 360's hard drive:

The old hard drive and transfer cable, both having served their purpose, were bundled and put on eBay, where they sold for a Buy It Now price of $30.

PS4 vs Xbox One: Which console to preorder?

Posted in News by on Sep 5th, 2013 11:17 AM

The Sony PlayStation 4 is releasing on Friday, November 15, 2013, with an MSRP of $399. The Microsoft Xbox One will follow a week later on November 22 for $499. Which one should I get? Watch my latest YouTube video to find out!

Yes, it's true: I've preordered each console twice. GameStop had already stopped taking preorders, and though I prefer not to give my business to Wal-Mart, they were the only ones still taking preorders, starting August 24. I got there when they opened and found no line, though one person eventually showed up behind me and said that Target was also taking deposits. I called that store and found their preorders began on August 25. Their location is closer, so I got the consoles there, too.

Still want a PlayStation 4? As far as I know, you're out of luck — but you can get the Xbox One directly from the Microsoft Store. This special "Day One" edition includes "a commemorative controller, Xbox One chat headset, an exclusive achievement, and special-edition packaging". Hmm… maybe I should get a third?

Honestly, neither console excites me, especially when I consider how many of the current generation of games I've left unplayed — I could continue gaming for years without buying any new consoles. But the opportunities to shoot unboxing videos are rare, so I'll be taking a few days off from work this November to keep my YouTube channel updated. Please subscribe to see what's inside the box!

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EarthBound releases on Wii U eShop

Posted in News by on Jul 18th, 2013 5:27 PM

Earlier this year, I delved into the history of the EarthBound franchise and the failed efforts to convince Nintendo to bring the first and third games in the series to the North American market. Many fans have toiled for years without acknowledgement from Nintendo. Instead, they taunt us by holding back the JRPGs we've longed for these past two decades.

But perhaps those pleas did not fall on deaf ears after all. Today on YouTube, Nintendo announced that Mother 2, released for the Super NES as EarthBound in 1995 and not seen since, is now available on the Wii U eShop.

The game is $9.99, and the Player's Guide that came with the original SNES release is available for free online.

The game's SNES incarnation saw only 140,000 units sold in North America, where the console had an installed user base of 23.35 million units. By contrast, the Wii U has sold only 3.45 million units as of March 31. Proportionately, Nintendo should expect to sell only 20,685 units of the virtual EarthBound — but that doesn't take into account the legacy the game has achieved in the intervening 18 years; few games of that vintage have inspired such followings as seen at Starmen.net. The game commands eBay prices of $150 – $1000, making the $10 eShop pricetag a steal.

I've always believed in voting with my dollars, so I'm going to buy this game immediately — not only because it's a great game to add to any gamer's collection, but because I want to show Nintendo that I'll buy Mother 3 when and if they finally release that, too.

Congratulations and thanks to Reid Young, Clyde Mandelin, and all the community leaders and fans who have asked for this release for so long! Perhaps there is hope to see the franchise's two previously unreleased titles eventually make their way to our shores.

Can I play the Wii U without the GamePad?

Posted in News by on Jul 15th, 2013 12:00 PM

Eight months after posting my Wii U Frequently Asked Questions video, I continue to respond to YouTube comments asking how the Wii U works. Here are a few standalone blog posts that address some common questions.

Can I use the Wii U without the GamePad controller?

For whatever reason, some gamers want to play the Wii U without its trademark input device. But the two products are not sold separately, and you cannot set up the Wii U without the GamePad.

Once the console is configured, how restricted you are to the GamePad depends on the game or service you are using. New Super Mario Bros. U is pretty flexible, allowing you to use whatever controller you like. If you want to use the GamePad for a one-player game, it'll even stream the audio and video to the GamePad, so you can turn off the television.

New Super Mario Bros. U supported controllers

But navigating the Nintendo eShop without a GamePad is prohibited, as warned by this screenshot:

Nintedo eShop supported controllers

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Can I use the GamePad without the Wii U?

Posted in News by on Jul 15th, 2013 12:00 PM

Eight months after posting my Wii U Frequently Asked Questions video, I continue to respond to YouTube comments asking how the Wii U works. Here are a few standalone blog posts that address some common questions.

Can I use the GamePad without the Wii U? Is the GamePad portable? Can I play it in the car?

The GamePad is not a portable game system like the Nintendo 3DS or Sony Vita. It does not have a media slot with which you can input games, saved data, CDs, movies, or cartridges. All media the GamePad displays is streamed from the Wii U console, which must be within 40–60 feet. If you try to use the GamePad without the Wii U, you will get this error message:

GamePad without Wii U

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Can I play the Wii U without a television?

Posted in News by on Jul 15th, 2013 12:00 PM

Eight months after posting my Wii U Frequently Asked Questions video, I continue to respond to YouTube comments asking how the Wii U works. Here are a few standalone blog posts that address some common questions.

Can I play the Wii U without a television?

As previously discussed, the GamePad is not a portable gaming system; it needs to be near the Wii U. But there are plenty of games you can play on your GamePad without needing a television. In fact, this was one of the features that Nintendo hyped prior to the console's launch. It's called "Off-TV Play" and is demonstrated in this commercial video:

However, not all games support this feature. Review Wikipedia's List of Off-TV Play-compatible games. Launch title New Super Mario Bros. U is such a game:

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At long last, an Eternal Darkness sequel

Posted in News by on May 20th, 2013 12:04 PM

Some games not only stand the test of time; they actually get better with age. Such was the case with Eternal Darkness, released for the Nintendo GameCube in 2002. When I reviewed Eternal Darkness upon its release, I gave it 9.0 — a high score, and the fifth best GameCube game I ever rated. But my ratings are often assigned after only 3–6 hours of gameplay, and I could not tell at the time of publication that, whereas I would play each of those five GameCube games to completion, Eternal Darkness is the only one I would play through a second time — then a third, and a fourth. It is a wonderful game with an intricate story, a dozen unique, playable characters, and an innovative Insanity Meter. Some critics say that the game would not have fared as well on the PlayStation 2, where it would've had stiffer competition in the survival horror genre. But we'll never know for sure how this game from Silicon Knights would've performed on other systems. All we do know is that, unlike Resident Evil or Silent Hill, the franchise has lain dormant since its release, leaving us only with a short fanfilm and the hope for more chapters in the book of Eternal Darkness.

Finally, that hope is being realized. Dennis Dyack and the rest of Eternal Darkness's creators have launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $1.35 million $750,000 with which to fund the development and publication of Shadow of the Eternals, a spiritual successor to Eternal Darkness. Here's the pitch:

The solicitation was followed shortly by an effective ninety-second teaser trailer:

Don't like being teased? Then engorge yourself on nine minutes of gameplay:

Several featured characters and settings appear lifted right from the original game, suggesting Shadow of the Eternals isn't just "inspired by" Eternal Darkness but shares many assets and design features, much as Perfect Dark did with Goldeneye. With so much overlap between the art and talent of the two games, why wouldn't people rushing to give this project their money?

Apparently, the reason is Kotaku. In October 2012, Andrew McMillen posted an article examining X-Men: Destiny, a Silicon Knights game that received largely negative reviews and ultimately lost a lawsuit from Epic Games. It's the latest black mark against Dyack and Silicon Knights, as outlined in this comment by Kotaku reader LostToys:

Dyack has been toxic to the industry and has never been willing to admit his mistakes. He blamed the quality of Too Human on Epic; blamed the bad reviews on Too Human on reviewers who just didn't get how "innovative" his game was; blamed Activision for not giving them enough time to work on X-Men. Dude needs to start taking responsibility for his own shortcomings.

Realizing these accusations could not be ignored, Dyack, at the urging of Shadow of the Eternals developer Precursor Games, has offered a 33-minute video response to the Kotaku article:

I have played neither of Silicon Knights' two most recent releases, those being X-Men: Destiny and Too Human. But I did play their two immediately previous titles, Eternal Darkness and Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, both excellent games for GameCube. Unfortunately, these are not the games on which the industry is pinning Dyack's reputation.

The memory of the video game industry can be short, as I witnessed when reading the comments on my interview with John Romero: viewers lambasted him for failures such as Daikatana, overlooking his overwhelmingly positive contributions to the industry such as Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake (and Dangerous Dave!). Ditto with Richard Garriott, who may not have had a winner with MMORPG Tabula Rasa but who created the entire Ultima franchise, for which he earned my Kickstarter pledge for a spiritual successor.

I am an ardent supporter of Kickstarter projects that show talent, vision, and good faith. Dennis Dyack and Precursor Games have earned my pledge, and I am hopeful others will help this project become a reality.

Battling the game backlog

Posted in News by on Apr 2nd, 2013 5:54 PM

In January, former Gamebits contributor and now big-time indie game developer Robert Boyd posed a solution to his gaming backlog:

For each new game purchased, three games from my existing library must be completed. No exceptions, no matter how tempting or cheap a particular sale may be.

Boyd isn't the only gamer drowning in software. When gaming is one's primary hobby, it can be easy to acquire media faster than one consumes it: there are so many good games, and only so many hours in the day! But for those of us for whom gaming is only an occasional pastime, a wealth of options can still be challenge. Even though I buy and play less now than I used to, I'm still buying more than I play. A new contributing factor to this dilemma is the move to digital distribution. Whereas retail games sit on the shelf, serving as a visual reminder to be played, downloadable games can be easily lost in the virtual shuffle.

Although I'm not ready to take Boyd's approach to this feast, I did think it important to catalog the games on my "to play" list before I forget I own them. Here's that short list of games, all for Xbox 360:

  • Alan Wake
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum
  • Breath of Death VII
  • Cthulu Saves the World
  • Half-Minute Hero
  • Hard Corps: Uprising
  • Outland
  • Scott Pilgrim
  • Silent Hill: Downpour
  • The Walking Dead

Two of the games are Zeboyd RPGs whose battle systems I never got my head around. Another, Scott Pilgrim, is a good party game that I need some additional players for. Hard Corps is a spiritual successor to Contra that I found too easy once some additional in-game armaments were purchased; I need to lay off those options. And Outland needs only the final boss vanquished — I made it that far before giving up.

Not on this list are games I don't own but want to: Deadlight, and Mark of the Ninja. I will likely buy them not as soon as I finish some of the above games, but rather, as soon as I have some Microsoft Points to burn.

Where will the time for all this gaming come from? Good question. I'm a master of diversifying my commitments, having collected paychecks from six different companies in the last three months, only one of which is my full-time job. Of the five supporting gigs, one runs only through the academic year, suggesting that the summer might present some time for gaming. (Too bad — I play Silent Hill games only after the sun goes down.) At that time, gaming may take its place, not as a hobby but as a professional commitment. I like to be productive, which means engaging in activities which produce something to show for that investment in time. If Let's Play videos for my YouTube channel count, then I'll be screencasting my way through titles that others have played through years ago.

What games are on your backlog, and when will you get to them?

PAX East 2013 photos & cosplay

Posted in News by on Mar 25th, 2013 10:07 AM

The fourth annual Penny Arcade Expo, or PAX East, has left Boston, having given 80,000 gamers the weekend of their lives. From Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering to Tomb Raider and DuckTales to League of Legends and World of Warcraft and more, the show floor was packed with games and media to whet anyone's appetite. Cliff Bleszinski, formerly of Epic MegaGames, opened the event with tales from his childhood, including the Nintendo World Championships, where he, like I, placed second in his age group in Worcester. Panels of industry experts discussed independent journalism, Kickstarter crowdfunding, and sexuality in gaming. Wandering the halls, you could spot cosplayers dressed as their favorite characters, with the best of the best being Pit from Kid Icarus, Lucca from Chrono Trigger, and Quorra from TRON Legacy.

I've broken my photos down into two albums: cosplayers, and everything else. Samples of these galleries are also available on Facebook, Google+, and Flickr, and there is a gallery specifically of the retro console room's Apple IIe, the donation of which I coordinated, at Apple II Bits.

If you are one of the featured cosplayers and wish to have the original high-res version of your photo, please contact me!

PAX East 2013

Photos from the fourth annual Penny Arcade Expo East, held at the BCEC in Boston, Mar 22-24, 2013.

68 Photos

PAX East 2013 cosplay

Cosplayers, or gamers dressed in costume, at the fourth annual Penny Arcade Expo East, held at the BCEC in Boston, Mar 22-24, 2013.

21 Photos

Will Win/Should Win at PAX East

Posted in News by on Mar 17th, 2013 10:55 AM

The fourth annual Penny Arcade Expo East, or PAX East, descends upon Boston this month. As a Massachusetts resident, it'll be easy for me to attend, as I always do … but this year, I'll be doing more than attending. The event schedule has been published, and it features — me!

The National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers, or NAVGTR, each year recognizes the electronic industry's best video games across dozens of categories, including animation, character design, sound editing, and more. In anticipation of this year's winners being announced the Sunday night of PAX, NAVGTR will build anticipation with a "Will Win/Should Win" panel Sunday at 4:30 PM EDT:

Developers and journalists discuss and handicap the NAVGTR Awards races with last-minute predictions just hours before the winners are announced in each category, in one of the weekend’s final panels.

Moderated by Ken Gagne of PCWorld, guest panelists include Susan Arendt, editor-in-chief of The Escapist; Jesse Cox, co-host of the Gamestation podcast; Charles Battersby of Explosion.com; and Will Brierly of Snowrunner Productions and Soda Drinker Pro, downloaded by 10 million popheads.

My connection to NAVGTR came when I met Paul Marzagalli a year ago this weekend at the opening of the Art of Video Games exhibit at the Smithsonian, which I covered for PCWorld. I followed up that piece with the recent "Operation Rainfall vs. EarthBound" feature, which lent me the credentials to moderate this PAX panel under PCWorld's aegis.

I'm looking forward to making even more connections by sharing the stage with so many industry luminaries — especially the EIC of The Escapist, the eclectic and edgy online publication that brought us Unskippable.

If you're at PAX East on Sunday evening, please swing by the NAVGTR panel and say hello afterward!

UPDATE: This session is now available on YouTube and as an iTunes audio podcast.

Operation Rainfall vs. EarthBound

Posted in News by on Mar 9th, 2013 1:35 PM

I've been writing video game reviews for nearly two decades. I don't remember at which point the medium moved me to formally express its impression on me, but the first time I did so for a print outlet that wasn't self-published was 1995. The Boston Herald was where I got my start, and in that first year, I reviewed several Super Nintendo games — most notably, EarthBound, a Nintendo RPG set in modern times but featuring aliens, psychic powers, and parodies based on Japan's interpretation of American culture. Part two in Nintendo's Mother trilogy of games, EarthBound is the only entry in the series to have come Stateside, despite gamers' efforts to the contrary.

So imagine my surprise when Operation Rainfall, a recent fan campaign to convince Nintendo to localize three Japanese RPGs for the Wii, was successful. Sure, the market is different now — EarthBound predated Final Fantasy VII, which brought JRPGs to the American mainstream — but it's still a genre aimed more at hardcore gamers, a demographic the Nintendo Wii is not exactly known to target. Why these games? Why now?

We got these three games localized; why not EarthBound? Read on.

When PCWorld gave me the opportunity to investigate Operation Rainfall, I chose to put their success into historical context. The result is a feature story published this week to TechHive: "Operation Rainfall: How a fan campaign brought Nintendo to its knees". I didn't come up with the somewhat adversarial headline, but I am pleased with the final product and the communities who contributed to it. Richard Ross of Operation Rainfall, Reid Young of Fangamer, and Clyde Mandelin of Starmen.net were all enthusiastic subjects who took time out of their day jobs to speak with me about their campaigning strategies, giving me insight into the state of the industry across the eras and the influence that fans can have, not only with publishers but with each other.

And so it was that, eighteen years later, I was writing about EarthBound again. How many more years before we get the rest of the Mother series?