‘Viva Pinata’ Review (Xbox 360)

BearA game about cutesy piñatas shaped like animals frolicking in a garden? Gag! Who would want to play that? Of course, this is all before the addiction kicks in, and what once seemed kiddie and simple, has become something so engaging you keep thinking about the game even after you’ve turned the power off, and hours have gone by because you always stick around for just one more event. Kiddie you say? You try getting one of those stupid deer to eat your blackberries, and then you can tell me if that isn’t hardcore.

You are a new gardener, fresh to the Pinata island, and you are tasked with turning this wasted piece of land back into a flourishing garden all manner of piñata would want to visit. The story of Viva Pinata is practically just that, all set up with no execution, though you’ll learn some backstory of the game’s most fabled gardener as you advance through the game, but much like past sim games before it (as really, this is a sim down to the core) it really is about making your own fun.

When you start off, your piece of land is nothing more than scorched earth littered with debris here and there. From there, you’ll make the land fruitful, by pounding the ground with your shovel, and then after that you’ll plant grass. However, as you go about tilling the earth, a lone worm will show up. Now we are getting to the heart of the game.

Viva Pinata is many things at once, but overall the best definition would be that of a sim puzzler. You see, by changing the environment within your garden, you’ll open up the chance for new animals to show up, and with them showing up you open up even more possibilities. So while part of the game is making your garden all it can be, you’ll have to wrack your brain over some puzzles, such as how to juggle several different circumstances, just to make a certain animal appear.

PigsEach piñata advances through the game in various stages. First up, piñata will make an appearance once certain criteria are met in your garden, such as having so much of your garden being this percentage of grass. In the appearance phase, you’ll get a cute introductory cutscene showing the black and white piñata (all wild piñatas are black and white) and then occasionally you’ll seem them walking in the background throughout the world outside your garden. Once they have appeared, piñata will then visit your garden, meaning they actually cross the white line representing the outline of your garden, and to get them to visit you must meet other requirements, such as having corn planted. Next up, you’ll want to try and make these piñatas residents of your garden, which is done by completing other requirements, such as having the piñata eat two of another piñata. You’ll know a piñata is a resident of your garden (meaning they’ll stay and walk around as they see fit in your garden area only) because they’ll change colors. The final step is you’ll probably want to mate your piñata, but first you’ll have to attract another piñata of the same species just like you did this other one, then both of those piñata must meet certain requirements, and then you must build them a house. After playing a little minigame where one piñata runs to the other, avoiding bombs so they can make the sweet sweet love, they’ll then next head to their house, where they don’t actually mate, but instead dance their little piñata hearts away, thus producing an egg which is carried in by a stork lady.

Yes, requirements is a big word in the game, and it can certainly become frustrating and tiring to juggle all these various needs to get what you want, but this complexity transcends the kiddie graphics of the game, because there is quite a lot of planning and thinking required for a game of this type.

As you advance through the game, you’ll discover new villagers, who will do everything from giving you seeds, to selling you goods, to providing your piñatas with accessories they can wear, to performing on site calls as a doctor if a piñata gets sick (by getting beat up in combat). You can also purchase help so the micromanagement of your garden never gets too complicated, as you can hire people to water your plants, gather your goods, and watch out for bad guys.

Romance DanceMoney also plays an important factor in the game, as you need money to heal your sick piñatas to buying seeds and equipment you might need. There are two main ways to make money in Viva Pinata: 1) Plant items that you can sale (bushes and trees that produce fruit over and over make for good investments), and 2) Sale piñatas you raise or bash them open with your shovel (don’t worry, no blood, only candy) and sell that for usually even a higher profit. Each money making scenario has its own risks and rewards, because if you get rid of piñatas you might sale one you need, while with bushes and trees, if you don’t water them just right, you just wasted money on a good investment. Surprisingly, I found poison ivy to be a good investment and big cash cow (go figure) as it produces both seeds and petal tops pretty quickly, with the petals going for a good 100 each time. The downside to the poison ivy (continuing with the risk vs. reward mentality) is that if left unchecked, the quickly germinating and self planting plant will quickly spread and takeover your garden, and unlike many other plants, it actually costs you money to sale.

There are just so many little things you can do in the game, such as building fences to keep certain piñata safe from harm, raising money for your garden or raising a certain piñata to the best of your ability to see how they are placed on the Xbox Live leaderboards, to even being allowed to trade your piñatas with a friend (complete with your own specialized tag) as you can pack up in a crate not only the piñata you “intended” to give them, but you can screw around with them as well, and do dastardly things such as sending them a sour piñata (black and red piñata who are cruel and will turn your piñata sick or drop sick candy that makes the piñata that eat them sour piñata as well) to have it be an infestation and problem for their garden.

For what recent games like Gears of War and Call of Duty 3 have done for the Xbox 360 by pushing the system into the realm of realistic depression (ie making ugly look good) Viva Pinata likewise does for extreme creativity and beauty. Though the game doesn’t push the world to look real, these are still some of the best graphics I’ve seen in a game yet. The design of the world is insanely creative and gorgeous, from the intricate detail of the piñatas to the more comic looking items like trees. Playing Viva Pinata is like opening the greatest children’s picture book from your youth. The entire game is so bright and cheerful, it really creates a calming effect over the player, luring them into a peaceful and Zen zone.

Though not exactly on part with the graphics, the sound still comes close and is a really top-notch endeavor, as the music is really soothing, and listening to the distinctive audible sounds of the piñatas is sure to bring a smile on your face as you listen to the ducks quack and the deer fight with the ants.

Who cares that this looks like a kid’s game? If anything, it looks like the inner kid in all of us that may have died off long ago or shut itself into some closet while adulthood and responsibilities took over. The gameplay is anything but kiddie, featuring a variety of tasks that will surely test the thinking ability of even the most hardcore gamer. Though not a game for everyone, for those who are up to the challenge of growing a garden, be prepared to lose yourself and precious hours as you find yourself constantly drawn to your little piece of piñata heaven.

Rating: 4star
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‘STACKED – with Daniel Negreanu’ Review (PS2)

BettingThe shame about Stacked (with Daniel Negreanu) for the PS2 is that, for all that it is a slickly presented, well-executed, highly addicting game at the top of its’ genre – I’m just not sure how I can recommend it to you. Neither is anybody else, for that matter. Blurbs on the box read, “Halo with Chips!” and “the Madden of poker games!” You know, the sorts of quotes that are trying to say what you need to hear, but really aren’t saying anything at all.

It’s not easy to push a virtual card game in the console market. I mean, when you’re dealing with those giants of the genre which we all remember, like High Rollers Casino, or World Poker Tour, or Poker Masters – okay, I’m kidding. I don’t remember those games. Neither do you. They’re languishing in the bottom of a Wal-Mart overstock bin somewhere, gathering dust and spiders, lonely and seeking love in a world that doesn’t love them back. It’s not their fault, you know. They have a lot to live up to! Most PC poker games are faster, more no-nonsense, and are either completely free, or give you the opportunity to play for real money. And you can get a plain old deck of cards just about anywhere for far, far cheaper than a video game, and play your friends without ANY of the hassles of online play (my friends do occasionally quit before losing, curse at me, or lag out on me in real life, but that’s my fault for not reading their Terms of Use). For that matter, depending on where you live, you could just put take the money you would have spent on the game, fill your tank with gas, and head to someplace where you can really get your gamble on!

A console poker title has to bring a lot to the table. And I’ll give them this – with Stacked, for all its’ intrinsic weaknesses, developer 5000 Ft. Inc. definitely does bring it.

Texas Hold’em is by far the most popular current variant of the basic poker game, but if you’re not a shark, it might sound a little intimidating to you. Stacked’s “Poker School” tutorial videos, presented by World Series of Poker Tournament champion Daniel Negreanu, provide the new player with a brief but thoughtful and well put-together look at the basic rules of the game. They’re divided into chapters, so you can return to any point you might be unclear on, and Negreanu’s tips on how to play competitively are useful and to-the-point.

House LightsThe character creation system is a bit of a gas, as it really does consist of an assortment of characters that look like you’d find them in a casino. You can find your ideal somewhere in between paunchy older-looking guys, college dilettantes, skinny hustlers, and middle-aged women with librarian glasses. While I like the models, the system itself could have benefited from a bit more depth. You can’t really do much more than change the clothing skins on the basic body types, and once you get into a game you’ll quite frequently see versions of the same body type sitting right by each other, which takes something away from the experience.

You can play a “pick up” Quick game at any time, or once you’ve created a character, you can get started on the long haul of “Career Mode,” which consists of a wide assortment of options. You can just try to build your bankroll in the free public games, or you can start hitting up the various single and multi-table tournaments in order to unlock your way into more casinos, as well as the higher-class VIP tournaments. It’s good to start off in the shallow end of the pool, at the free or low buy-in tournaments, but as you gain skill you’re going to want to move up to the bigger tournaments, not just to unlock the cool pro player models, but because you’re going to want to speed things along. Playing for low dollar amounts, you’re going to find that just as in Vegas, depending on your skill level and your luck, you can stay at the table for hours.

EvelynThe interface is relatively easy to get the hang of, but has a few quirks that could have been polished. Left and right on the D-pad move you back and forth along the menu options, where you can look at your “hole” cards (there’s a menu setting that enables you to display this in a window so you don’t have to look all the time), get in-game tips from Negreanu based on your hand, “Smile” or “Frown” (I don’t really know what purpose these serve beyond trying to irritate other players online), manipulate the camera, or use chat functions. Up and down on the D-pad adjust the size of your bet. It bothers me that you have to close the left/right menu by moving all the way to the left, before you can move up or down – it’s a minor fault, but it got on my nerves quickly.

The in-game advice is about as polished as it can be for a game of this sort. It essentially gives you hints based on a statistical read of what’s in your hand. It usually provides good advice, but following it blindly can lead you to disaster, when that river card comes down and gives your opponent a flush while you’re sitting on your meaningless two pair. Most players will lean on it a bit in the beginning, but it’s best to wean yourself off of it as quickly as possible and learn to go with your gut, using the advice button only when you’re really stuck for a decision.

So how does it really play, though? Historically, virtual poker games have suffered because it’s really hard to come up with an AI that can intelligently navigate the human process of “bluffing,” the thing that changes poker from pure chance into something really deep and interesting. Stacked’s highly-touted AI is based on the “Poki” and “Xenbot” AI developed at University of Alberta, which in turn have been tweaked into a number of distinct personalities in the game, each one with its own aggressive or defensive style and tendencies. This gives a really natural feeling to the games, and you eventually begin to get a real feel for the different sorts of personalities, which ones will go out on a limb for a bluff, which ones will regularly try to bully you into a fold, et cetera. It’s not perfect, but it’s far and away the closest I’ve ever felt a simulation come to putting me into the same mindset that I use to play against real people. In other words, for a moment or two there, it really felt like I was gambling, and that’s pretty amazing when you stop to think about it.

And maybe that answers the question I posed at the beginning of this review. As a PS2 game, in and of itself, it’s very hard for me to recommend this title, because it doesn’t seem to line up with any of the reasons why people actually play cards, like for the gambling rush, or to be social (There’s a LAN option, but really, if you’re sitting around with your friends, why wouldn’t you just reach for a couple of decks of cards?). Nor does it line up with any of the reasons people choose to play video games! The core mechanic of Texas Hold’em is, like good old computer Solitaire, very addictive while you’re in the middle of it, but that’s all it’s got going for it – once you step away, you immediately realize that in a gaming world containing daring adventures of all types and scenarios, there’s very little reason to waste an afternoon doing something you could have done WITHOUT a video game system.

The DealerIt’s best to think of Stacked as a Texas Hold’em trainer or simulator, and as far as those go, it’s absolutely the best thing out there, and more fun than it has any right to be. Keep it as a tool to hone your game from time to time, or to give you the background and courage to maybe sit in on a couple of real games yourself. Or train in secret and card shark your friends and significant others when they least expect it! If you’re going to grab a copy, now is definitely the time – Myelin Media and MTV are promoting this sucker pretty hard, and there are regular online tournaments going on for all platforms. (Check the MTV site for more information). Or get your hands on the PSP version, which is a really handy distraction for a long plane trip or a line at the DMV. I suppose it’s kid-friendly too, but it’s a rare kid that will be reaching for this game before Pokemon or Kingdom Hearts. It’s a game for poker enthusiasts, not for video game enthusiasts.

Rating: 3star
Our Scoring System

‘City Life’ Review (PC)

Actual game boardMany games these days are of the Sims variety where players simulate anything and everything depending on the game system. The popularity of this type of game has been an enduring theme in PC gaming for many years. One of the first and best of these types of games was Sim City, where players built their own functioning city from scratch. For many years and through several versions this idea was expanded, but there was one factor never touched on and that was how to make Sims from different income levels interact. City Life addresses this and attempts to go where no Sim City has gone before.

City life is a simulation city builder in the old Sim City mold. Players start with only city hall and must build streets and develop housing and businesses just as was seen in many of the older games of this type. The new twist is the insertion of six separate and distinct types of citizens for your city. The six types are Blue Collar, Have-Nots, Fringe, Radical Chic, Elites and Suits. In order to succeed in this game you have to have all types of these citizens and they have to get along without causing trouble, which sounds easier then it is.

The game interface is rather easy to understand, especially if you are familiar with builder games. The tutorial is text so you have to do some reading if you are new to this type of game. The first decision upon starting the game is selecting where you want to build, what climate and so on. Once this is done it’s pretty much whatever you want to do, as the first order of business is to build City Hall and some roads and homes.

DowntownAs is common in these types of games the Sim citizens have desires, the earliest being power and waste disposal. Unlike the classic Sim City type games you won’t be building power lines nor making underground pipes. All you need to do is construct an energy plant and a few waste disposal areas nearby, so far so good. From this point on the game is different from traditional city builders. In those games you just waited for money to build up and then placed new building and such. After you have power and waste disposal, the first of your problems arise, as the people want education and shopping as well as medical care.

This may all seem straightforward at this point, but it really isn’t. The reason it isn’t is that you need different types of citizens to make certain services and businesses work, and things like schools and shopping centers are drains on your economy. To run a school or a grocery store, you need Fringe citizens; the problem is at the start, all you have are Blue Collars. So you have to figure out how to get fringe to live in your city.

This is where the strategy of the game kicks in, figuring out the way to lure them in and then getting them close to where they will be useful. Many of the businesses that make money that you desperately need to remain above water require high level citizens of the Elite and Suits professions, which are hard to lure to your city, but you have to start with Blue Collars and then Fringe.

HousingOnce you manage to get Fringe to move in to your city, new things unlock for you. New business and recreation opportunities, as well as better waste and energy management happen. Once you start having two types of citizens they begin to demand police and you will see the beginning of urban tension. Unless you build expensive buildings the citizens of different classes will attack each other, and this will escalate into riots and people will begin to leave the city in droves, which will destroy your economy as taxes are your major income source.

If you are doing things correctly Radical Chics will appear where the Fringes live and they in turn will spawn Elites eventually. Suits and Elites prove the most difficult to lure to your city. As tension between classes rise you will need police and swat teams, and these are HUGE drains on your economy. You will also have to provide firemen as fires can wipe out huge sections of the city easily.

This game has a good graphics engine that allows extreme close-ups so you can see what your city lifers are up to up close and personal. The buildings are well done but there aren’t very many different types. One of the fun things is the streets change color slightly so you will know what group of City Lifers like a particular section of the city.

As the population increases more building types are unlocked from the game menu as are things like better hotels and other improvements. If things go bad economically you can borrow money, but this is always a bad idea in the long run. It’s better to remove wasteful buildings rather then watch your available funds dry up.

The FringeThere are some quirks in this game. You can be making money hand over fist when suddenly your economy goes in the red for no reason, nor does the game tell you what is wrong. At one point I had a huge economy with Suits moving in, and suddenly they were leaving and I had no idea why, and I had no idea if this was working as designed or if it’s just a bug or bad programming.

All of this makes for a nice city builder with a twist, the social component. If you dream of building cities and like urban planning you can have some fun with this, but it isn’t really a lot different from recent entries for this type of game. There was potential here for much more, and they appear to have dumbed down the Sim City model, which I don’t think was really the way to go.

Rating: 3star
Our Scoring System

‘Zoo Tycoon 2: Marine Mania’ – Fishing for Beta Testers

Attention Zookeepers! Want to become a Zoo Tycoon 2: Marine Mania Beta tester? Marine Mania is filled with awesome new zoo experiences. As a Beta tester, you’ll be part of the first wave to go underwater with your zoo while helping us make Marine Mania the best Zoo Tycoon release yet.

If you’d like to apply to be a Zoo Tycoon 2: Marine Mania Beta tester, just complete the Beta registration and survey. Then, if you’re selected, the fun begins the first week of July!

Note: You must be 18 years or older to participate in any standard Microsoft Beta programs. If you are under 18 years old and your parent or legal guardian approves of your participation, send email to gbetasup@microsoft.com for more information on how to participate in this and other Microsoft Beta programs.

To register:

1. Go to Microsoft Connect
2. From Connect Home, located in the left navigation bar, click Invitations.
3. Sign in using your valid Microsoft Passport credentials (e-mail address and password).
4. Enter the Zoo Tycoon 2: Marine Mania Beta invitation ID in the Invitation ID box, and then click Go. The invitation ID is: ZT2B-3Y2R-7V9C. (Note: Please use the invitation ID only once to register.)

After you’ve completed the registration form, you’ll be directed to the Zoo Tycoon 2: Marine Mania Beta survey page, where you answer the survey questions. If you meet the requirements to participate in the Zoo Tycoon 2: Marine Mania Beta, we’ll contact you.

E3 2006: Genuine Games for Girls – Mini-Preview

Gordon Ross, CEO of Genuine Games, has a vision for tapping into that elusive female market. His small Scottish game company has its sights set on creating non-violent, family friendly game content that’s easy to understand and easy to play. His goal is to make games the casual gamer (target market being ages 8-25 but includes all ages and both genders) can pick up and have fun with for a short time without a big time commitment.

The company’s publishing a series of vocational simulations under the title of YooStar publishing, that he hopes will draw in a whole section of the public who currently doesn’t play games. The first title, “Fashion Salon” is what you’d expect in a girl game; it’s pink, it’s got a simple interface (almost childlike actually in simplicity) and is extremely simple in concept. You get to make the “clients” over in a very simple way; makeup, hairstyle, hats, etc. by clicking on big pink buttons. There’s unfortunately no way to do more complex alterations like say changing body type or a character’s facial structure. You are then graded according to the level of success achieved through the makeover. And how is success determined?

Each client has some sort of soap-opera-ish backstory that’s interesting but of limited depth, making the game seem perhaps for younger girls. The client comes to you in need of some fashion assistance in order to up the chances of social success. If dressed appropriately, good things happen – if not, someone loses an eye. (Ok, it’s not really that dire but it might be more fun if it was!) It’s a cute game but somewhat typical of girl-game fare. Other Genuine titles coming up entail the player acting as a news reporter (which is perhaps a more interesting concept) and “Dance Academy” which was described as something akin to PaRappa the Rapper.

So while the titles aren’t breaking any ground, where Genuine games gets interesting is in their collaboration with colleges students in their country. The company is committed to encouraging new game industry talent and mentors students interested in earning degrees in game development. They allow these students access to their tech in the interest of teaching the students the game industry ropes.

While Genuine’s titles so far don’t look to start a revolution in designing for or marketing to women, their CEO’s attitude toward cultivating new talent and making game development more gender-inclusive is certainly encouraging. I’ll be looking forward to seeing what they do in the coming years.

E3 2006: ‘Viva Piñata’ (Xbox 360) – Impressions

Many people didn’t like Perfect Dark Zero…I among them. Many more wanted them to go back to doing a Banjo and Kazooie game or a Killer Instinct. Would Rare listen to the fans? Nope. And for that…thank you. I can’t wait to get my hands on Viva Piñata.

Our hand guided tour of Viva Piñata starts with a pile of trash called your land; I mean this ground is busted and trashier than some LA streets (and trust me…I’ve seen a flattened dead rat on the sidewalk while staying here for E3). This is your garden on Viva Piñata Island, and it is your job to spruce up the place and make it a paradise that any lovely piñata creature would want to stay at. You absolutely have nothing in your garden when you first start out, but you do have a few tools like a shovel and some grass. Now, here is where the fun begins.

Since the ground is scorched and parched why shouldn’t you just start fresh, so grab that shovel in hand (figurative since all performable actions are done with a circle on the ground and not a literal person) and dig up the earth to make fresh new dirt. Well, turns out worms like fresh dirt, and here comes a black and white (non-resident piñata are this color) one. A cutscene shows his arrival. Now, this worm can look around the place, and if it suits the requirements he is looking for (there is a menu screen with what he wants) he will become a resident of your garden and will change into wondrous colors.

After you get the dirt dug up, why not, say, plant some grass. Once you plant the grass you are more and more likely to start getting different piñata; grass snakes, horses, and other such animals will come to your garden now, but even things like the worm attracts animals like birds (Sparrow) that will want to come and eat the worm up. The basic principal is that if it happens in nature…it will happen in the game. So there is a food chain and the laws of nature in your virtual garden are just like those of the real world. There are 60 various piñatas in the game and the best thing of all is that you never have to connect online through Live to get them all (take THAT Pokemon) and so the Live is more for fun and help.

With Live you can sort of cheat your way into owning all the animals by bugging your buddies if they were smart enough to figure out how to get them, because really, the game is one giant environmental puzzle where the objective is to figure out the perfect combination of factors to attact animals. The fun thing though is that you can mess with your friends by sending animals to them. For instance, say you have a sour piñata (aka Bad Pinata) that is giving you problems in your garden. Well, ship him up in a crate, send him to your buddy, and let them worry about it.

Lets talk about sour piñata for a bit – these guys just need some loving. There are several ways to approach the sour piñata. For one thing you can simply beat the thing to death (though not really cause he bleeds candy and just reappears outside your garden, able to come in again at any moment, and besides, the sour candy he leaves behind can be eaten by the other piñata and make them sour as well. The best way to deal with them is nurture them into submission. Uh oh…someone has attachment issues.

There is some other interesting things like each piñata has a tag up its butt (no kidding…so cute) that details each piñatas’ name and information). Conflicting piñatas can fight, so if you get a dog and a cat nearby each other, then be prepared to have a winner and loser. There are real time environments, so day changes to night, sun goes to rain, and some things like flowers will only bloom under the daylight sun. If a piñata gets killed, there is this funny like “Hooray” children give it and the piñata is reborn just outside the garden, so it is very family friendly as it teaches nurturing attitudes with no real death whatsoever in the game. The upcoming TV show will also give you tips to help you do well in the game, so if you see “Oh, this one likes this,” then that is a tip you can use to do that in the game.

One thing I really dig is that you can tailor the game to the time and level of commitment you want. If you want to do everything in the game and handle it all…you can. If you only have a few minutes a day and need that process streamlined…then there are some helpers who can do some of what you may consider “meaningless work”. I really like that Rare doesn’t make you play it in only one way. Also, the game never ends, so there is always something to upkeep or do, which means you could be playing this game for some time.

And have I gone into how cute this game is, because it just has this amazing cute charm to it thanks to its colorful graphics. The land is nicely round and creative, the piñatas are full of character and express so much with just their eyes and mouth movements, and the game was just a joy to hear about.

I can’t say how much I love this game. Viva Pinata just seems like the ultimate game for parents, kids, and everyone really. I can’t wait until I can have this game in my own Xbox 360 system.

Welcome to the New Dollhouse

The New York Times has an article on what they are terming ‘the new dollhouse’ — that of games like The Sims, where children can now play with pseudo-living dolls that can have eerily similar lives to their own, instead of the typical rag doll or barbie doll. From the article:

As the small animated characters move through their daily lives, they evoke living dolls.

As far as we know, children have always played with dolls of one sort or another to act out variations on their own lives, or lives they observe or imagine. Today, a vast and growing number of kids are doing the same thing — but with a very new tool. Instead of dolls, they are using video games. And perhaps most of all, they’re using The Sims.

Some video games let players battle aliens or quarterback a pro football team; The Sims drops the player into an even more fantastic environment: suburban family life. Each Sim, as the characters are known, is different — one might be an old man, one might be a young girl; one is motivated primarily by money, for instance, while another may want popularity — and it’s up to the player to tend to those needs. As in real life, there are no points in The Sims and you can’t “win.” You just try to find happiness as best you can.

They also note that young girl’s especially are gravitating towards the Sims and have a few choice quotes from Wil Wright (creator of The Sims and upcoming highly anticipated title Spore):

Why might The Sims take girls where no other video game has gone before? Will Wright, its creator (and long one of the luminaries of game design) has a few theories. “To start, I think women are much more discriminating in general than men in their choice of entertainment experience,” he said. “Men will do the same stupid thing over and over again and be happy. Women tend to want a more complex, creative experience. And The Sims appeals to that.”

“Also,” he said, “if you look at movies and books and television, many of the most successful properties are set in normal contemporary situations. And I don’t really understand why we don’t have more games like that. So if you look at boys and men, there are a lot of games that appeal to them, but it seems like women have fewer choices.”

While I’m always happy to see people mention how limited games for women can be, I also want to caution these folks. Women are as diverse (or more so) as men and we cannot be categorized into a specific game genre. Part of the reason of The Sim’s success can certainly be attributed to a marketing campaign that targets women. Imagine that. It works — any marketers listening?

‘Zoo Tycoon 2: African Adventure’ Goes Gold

The savannah is heating up as Microsoft Game Studios today announced that the Zoo Tycoon 2: African Adventure expansion pack has gone gold. The newest addition to the award-winning Zoo Tycoon 2 franchise will make tracks to retail on May 16. Gamers of all ages will experience firsthand the biodiversity of the African continent and the animals that live there as they customize their African-inspired dream zoo.

With this new, E10+ rated expansion pack from Blue Fang Games, LLC, children and parents alike will broaden their knowledge of the African animal kingdom while improving their zoo keeping skills. Gamers will choose from an abundance of new content, including 20 new African animals from eight different biomes, ranging from the striped hyena roaming the desert landscape to the wildebeest roving the savannah.

Complete with new scenarios and challenges, animal enthusiasts will be tasked with creating African habitats and zoo attractions, sure to please guests and animals alike. Gamers can venture further into their zoo in the new Jeep Liberty vehicle that’s decked out in outrageous, animal-skin paint jobs, also available with the Jeep Wrangler and Commander vehicle options.

‘Civilization IV’ Live On Aspyr Website — Pre-Orders Available

Aspyr Media, Inc. announced this morning Sid Meier¹s Civilization IV is now available for preorder through their Website.

With Sid Meier¹s Civilization IV, rule throughout time and create your own legacy as you guide your civilization from the dawn of man through the space age and beyond. Implement new technologies, conduct diplomacy or wage war to grow your society and become the most powerful leader the world has ever known. The title will retail for $49.99 and is scheduled to ship in June 2006.

Key Features:
* Faster-Paced Fun – Gameplay has been streamlined for a tighter, faster, and more compelling experience.
* Greater Accessibility and Ease of Play – An easy-to-use interface will be immediately familiar to RTS and action game players, and newcomers to the series will be able to jump in and play.
* Tech Tree – Flexible Tech tree allows players more strategic choices for developing their civilizations along unique paths.
* Grow Bigger Empires – More Civilizations, Units, and Improvements to enhance and grow your empire.
* Multiplayer – LAN, Internet, and Play-By-Email offer players all-new strategies and ways to play when competing or cooperating with live opponents.
* Team Play – Whether playing multiplayer or single player, team play offers a new way of setting locked alliances that result in shared wonder effects, visibility, unit trading, and shared territory that delivers a plethora of new strategic and tactical options.
* Beautiful 3D world – Sid Meier’s Civilization IV comes to life with a beautiful 3D world, dozens of fully animated units (including culturally unique units), and totally customizable armies. Cities and wonders will appear on the map. Wonder movies are back!
* Mods and Community Tools – Designed from the ground up for modability, the game contains a powerful map editor with XML and Python support.
* Choose Your Leader – Most Civilizations now have two leaders from which to choose, with each Leader having traits that provide various bonuses to the player.
* Civics – With the discovery of new techs, civic options can become available. Freedom of speech or slavery? Hereditary rule or open elections? This creates endless government choices and possibilities!
* Religion – Now there are seven religions in the game that are unlocked through researching. When unlocked, the religion spreads through a player’s empire allowing them to use the religion to help manage happiness, gain gold and create Great Prophets.
* Great People – As the player uses specialists they gain Great People points in the city that is utilizing the specialists. Great People include the Artist, Tycoon, Prophet, Engineer, & Scientist. They can be used to get free techs, start Golden Ages, or join a city to increase its output.
* Promotions – Each unit has a promotion path that emphasizes specific unit traits. Promotions include bonuses to Attack/Defend on specific terrains/features, movement bonuses, sight/visibility bonuses, and increased withdrawal chances.
* In-Game Cinematics – Sid Meier’s Civilization IV has over 40 in-game cinematics.