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Roundtable 3: Games of the Year 2003 (and Other Topics)


The ever-present danger of the Roundtable is that we'll forgo staying on topic and just bounce from idea to idea with wild abandon.  What follows is a heavily-edited transcript of our latest Roundtable, with most of the digressions removed for one reason or another.  Even then we managed to skip from Games of the Year 2003 to a number of other topics including game news stories of the year, the necessity of online gaming, best graphics, RPGs, Tecmo's "lesbian simulator" and a number of gaming topics.  Your feedback is always welcome, letters@armchairempire.com.


Omni: Check in.

Kurt: Right?

Sylvia: Um.. checking in.

Sidd: I'm here.

Omni: Okay let's start.  Before we dig into Games of the Year, can you name any 5-star games that shipped in the first 6 months of 2003?

Kurt: Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow! Dark Cloud 2, Breath of Fire V, Zelda: Wind Waker.

Sidd: SOCOM 2: US Navy SEALs, Call of Duty, Ratchet and Clank 2.

Sylvia: First 6 months... the months all seem to blur together for me.

Sidd: Oops, sorry. Thought it was last 6 months.  I didn't like Zelda: Wind Walker that much, in my opinion Zelda's entire image turned into a Saturday morning cartoon...

Sidd: First six months would be NBA Street Vol 2, Splinter Cell (PS2, PC and GC), Midnight Club 2.

Kurt: Guilty Gear X2, almost forgot that. I still dig Saturday morning cartoons so that's all OK with me. The later parts of the game were rubbish though. Too much Tingle and sailing. Hot damn, I missed Ikaruga.

Sylvia: Ikaruga?

Omni: From Atari for GameCube.

Sylvia: I thought maybe you meant a staff member of same name.

Kurt: It's like $20 new at Gamestop now, go buy it immediately.

Omni: I ask that question -- Can you name any 5-star games that shipped in the first 6 months of 2003? – for the simple fact that it will be a miracle if anyone remembers them when it comes time to award Games of the Year.


ikaruga          ratchet clank going commando

Ikaruga (GC) and Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando (PS2)


Sylvia: I can tell you my favorite games for each genre of 2003

Omni: Start with Shooters.

Sylvia: That's easy. It's a tie between Raven Shield for PC and Rainbow Six 3 for Xbox (and they are both different games as they play differently)

Kurt: The only FPS that sticks out in my mind is Deus Ex Invisible War – and that's more of an adventure/RPG than a shooter. I guess you could almost stick Max Payne 2 and Freedom Fighters in there...

Omni: And Invisible War was released in the closing months of 2003.

Sylvia: Well as far as that type of shooter – 3rd Person – I really enjoyed Panzer Dragoon Orta.

Sidd:  I would have to say the most outstanding FPS I played last year was Call of Duty for PC.

Kurt: I watched one of my friends play Call of Duty, looked damn awesome. I'll wait for the console port though.

Sylvia: Call of Duty is amazing, a perfect 10 in my book. But it's the kind of game that needs to be played on a PC.



Sidd: Yeah. I am looking forward to the console version, which are supposed to be released in June. However, the console versions have different titles, which could mean different missions or style of play. I have my fingers crossed for online play.

Sylvia: Who knows, maybe they can make it just as appealing when it's ported...

Omni: Let's squash the PC vs. Console thing right here!  Don't pick sides.


Sylvia: Excuse me? Some FPS play better on PC, some play good on both.

Sidd: Yeah.

Sylvia: I didn't say I was right, I said it was my opinion.

Omni: And opinion is what we want.  I just saw that as the first step to a Console vs. PC debate.  I've had enough of those.

Sylvia: I don't get into that, I'm not a fangirl of any sorts...


Omni: How about in the arena of Platformers?

Sylvia: My favorite platformers, hmmm…  Whiplash.

Kurt: Ratchet and Clank Going Commando, undoubtedly.

Sidd:  2003 was a pretty good year for Platformers. I hated Whiplash. The humor was great, but the game play was dull and boring.

Sylvia: Whiplash was just too entertaining. I played it for an entire weekend. It was a good break from my average serious gaming.

Omni: Even with competition from Jak II and R&C 2?

Sidd: Ratchet and Clank 2 was great. I regret not seeing Sly Cooper 2 being announced yet. I heard that Sly Cooper 2 was supposed to be announced at E3 last year, but there is speculation that it could be announced at E3 this year.

Omni: There's some speculation that Sly 2 will show up on Sony's PSP.

Sylvia: Never played R&C 2, I'm not a big platform gamer...

Kurt: Yeah, I wasn't really that much before, R&C converted me though.

Sylvia: I-Ninja was okay but nothing great.


Omni: What about Fighters?

Sidd: Soul Calibur 2

Omni: Soul Calibur 2 and VF4 Evolution seem to be grabbing the most attention.

Kurt: Guilty Gear X2

Sylvia: Soul Calibur 2 although I spent most of my 'fighter' gaming playing Capcom vs SNK on Xbox live.

Kurt: I've gotten to kinda like 3D fighters after SC2 and VF4, but I get more excited about a new King of Fighters being release. I really hope those SvC Chaos and GGXX# Reload Xbox ports hit America, I'd get Xbox live for those.

Sylvia: Dead Or Alive online will be great....

Kurt: I've already bought Dead or Alive 2 twice already though. And already have the Saturn one anyway.

Sylvia: Yes, you but you can't take the Saturn online... 

Sidd: Mortal Kombat Online is scheduled to be released later this year. I think the PS2 version was rumored to be online.

Omni: Is it such a big deal that Fighters are moving online?  Is it just an excuse for the developer to skimp on the AI?

Kurt: They've been skimping on AI forever.

Omni: But really skimping...

Sidd: Well everything now is online. Sports games, RPG's, FPS, even music games like Amplitude

Omni: Is there any pay-off though?  Most gamers don't game online.

Sylvia: That's a broad generalization...

Kurt: I still don't have Xbox live. I'm just not much into that sort of stuff.

Sidd: I haven't gotten Xbox Live, but I will get it when Halo 2 comes out.

Kurt: To me multiplayer games aren't any fun if I can't get drunk and fling Cheetos at my friends

Sylvia: I’ve had this argument, I'll just say that I’m on the other side of the fence when it comes to that issue.

Kurt: What, insane drunken gamers?  It's the best way to play Smash TV.

Omni: My generalization isn’t that broad when you consider something like 13.7 million Xboxes out there and there are only 750,000 subscriptions to Live.

Kurt: What would that figure be like if Live were free though?

Sidd: Yeah and only about 2 million PS2 owners have a network adapter. It’s still a growing market.

Sylvia: Next....


Omni: RPGs!  Which one was the best of 2003?

Sylvia: Knights of the Old Republic.

Kurt: Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter, despite it being liked by like me and three other people on the GameFAQs board.

Sidd: Well considering I only played one RPG the whole year, I would say Monster Rancher 4.

Sylvia: Well it's obvious my gaming views are far different than the both of you 

Kurt: KOTOR is a close second, but I never got a hold of the battle system... and I kept praying for a "walk faster" button but it never appeared.

Sylvia: I was glued to KOTOR for 3 days straight while I beat it on Light and Dark side.

Omni: I think it's a toss-up between Morrowind GOTYE (XB, PC) and Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga (GBA).

Kurt: I've barely gotten into Mario & Luigi otherwise I might agree with you. I've never played Morrowind, I thought about grabbing the newer edition they just put out though

Sylvia: Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of The Underdark. That's my favorite RPG on PC for the year...

Omni: No doubt KOTOR is a solid game and as a product of a Canadian company I am bound to support it, but I spent way more hours playing Morrowind GOTYE.

Sylvia: I put 200 hours into Morrowind on PC before it even got to Xbox.

Kurt: Ubi Soft Montreal is rocking all over, what with Splinter Cell and Prince of Persia. They've really surprised me.

Sidd: Didn't Ubi Soft also make Rainbow Six?

Omni: Yep.


knights of the old republic          rainbow six 3

Knights of the Old Republic (PC) and Rainbow Six 3 (XB)


Kurt: I never got into PC RPGs very much – seemed like too much aimless wandering around. Then again I only ever played the later Ultimas. Nothing else really appealed to me.

Omni: They're just too damn long!

Kurt: Yeah, I'm too damned lazy. If I see "RPG" and "expansive" put together, I'll probably avoid it. I've been meaning to attempt Fallout though - the original one, anyway.

Omni: And if it isn't "expansive" then the RPG diehards rip it to shreds.

Sylvia: There are a lot of 'cliche' attitudes in the gaming world, I just ignore them. I like what I like… and that's that. I own every console there is and a high end PC, if a good game comes along I play it.

Kurt: Cliche? What kind do you speak of?

Sylvia: Well there is the "bash Microsoft"  club, then there is the "bash PS2 club" then there is the "hate tactical shooter club" then there is the "I hate respawn FPS club" then there is "I only play Japanese RPG club"... etc. etc.

Kurt: People just sorta stick with what they know, so you can't really blame someone if they only stick with one genre they really like.

Sylvia: If I stuck with what I knew I'd still be playing Bards Tale on Commodore 64. 


Omni: Okay, maybe we'll hit the more general Game of Year topics:  Best graphics?

Kurt: I never thought I would've liked Max Payne 2 until I had to review it – as it turns out, I’m loving it (once I got the Xbox one anyway).  I was playing the original earlier today - the monologues connect with me in some deep spiritual way I can't fathom.

Sylvia: Best Graphics… um...  Matrix on HDTV (1080i support) was fabulous. If you saw it on a regular set without HDTV it was awful.

Sidd: Best graphics: In my opinion [it was] Project Gotham 2.

Sylvia: Project Gotham Racing 2 was good eye candy.

Kurt: I'm gonna say either Wind Waker or Panzer Dragoon Orta. Maybe ever Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball if uttering its name weren't so embarrassing.

Omni: What about Xtreme Beach Volleyball?  Everyone made a stink about how good it looked.

Sylvia: Didn't that come out Dec 2002?

Kurt: Jan 2003, or so-ish.

Omni: Yep.  I remember that day well.

LEE pulls a chair up.  

Sylvia: The gameplay was so horrific for that title though.

Kurt: It was really only half volleyball; the rest was a lesbian simulator.

Sylvia & Sidd: <laughter>

Omni: Tecmo would have sold more copies if they used that slogan in the print ads.

Kurt: And outraged some actual lesbians, causing the game's banning?  Well, would've sold more copies anyway.

Omni: I liked Armed & Dangerous and some of the new additions to the GTA III Double-Pack for Xbox.

Sylvia: Armed And Dangerous is so much fun. You play the new downloadable mission yet, Omni?

Omni: No.

Kurt: On that note, anyone played Metal Arms yet? Gamestop just dropped the price and a lot of people are saying it's really great.

Sylvia: Yup, Metal Arms rocks, sleeper hit of 2003.  It truly surprised me.

Kurt: Yeah! One of my co-workers was ranting about how awesome it was and I hadn't even heard of it.

Omni: If such a category really can exist, what was the game that was the most fun?

Sylvia: Wow… most fun single player experience or multiplayer experience?  

Tolen pulls up a chair.

Omni: My vote is for C&C Generals Zero Hour (but the multiplayer only).  Single-player had to be Armed & Dangerous.

Sylvia: Single player, KOTOR; and multiplayer Rainbow Six 3.

Sidd: Single player experience: Call of Duty; Multiplayer Experience: SOCOM 2.

Tolen: Single Player: No one Lives forever 2.

Omni: Oh, I forgot NOLF2.

Kurt: Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, because I am a sad, sad Konami whore.

Tolen: Multiplayer: Halo (PC).

Sylvia: Halo PC was limited to 32 FPS – It kinda ruined it for me.

Tolen: No one says Prince of Persia.

Sylvia: Prince Of Persia was great, in fact, I guess that would be my favorite platformer (if you can call it that).

Kurt: Prince of Persia...took me a long time to beat, but I really dug it overall.

Omni: The problem is that what's fun to one person isn't fun for someone else.

Tolen: I love the game, but I've only played about 20%.  Omni keeps sending me long RPG's to review.

Omni: Ain't I awful!

Tolen: Fugitive hunter is still the worst experience of my AE career.

Sidd: Hey, at least you get to capture Bin Laden.

Tolen:… and match kung fu skills with him.

Sidd: Yeah. I am sure that a 45-year-old terrorist on dialysis could do some kung fu.

Sylvia: What RPG's, Tolen?

Tolen: Morrowind plus expansions, Neverwinter plus Expansions, Dungeon Siege, Temple of Elemental Evil, Grandia Extreme, plus some others.

Sylvia: Dungeon Seige 2 is fun, Nevewinter plus expansions are great (I bought them even).

Tolen:  Haven't played Dungeon Siege 2.

Sylvia: DS2 is a blast it's linear as all hell but in a fun hack n slash sort of way – not really an RPG. I just got done beating Arx Fatalis , it was cool in an old school sort of way.

Tolen: I'm reviewing Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark now.  So behind because of my recent move.

Sylvia: Hordes rocks! 

Lee: Sylvia, please tell me Arx Fartalis gets better... I've just started playing it and it's pretty lame

Sylvia: How far are you? You get out of the prison yet?

Lee: Still in the dungeon… killing mutated rats and such.

Tolen: Got to love that computer RPG staple.

Sylvia: Well, it's a linear dungeon crawl, but the magic system is so great, I hope you aren't using arcade magic. If you use arcade magic you really don't experience the best aspect of the game.

Lee: I'm not sure what I have it set at… but it's so 1994 in its gameplay approach.

Sylvia: It's pre-1994. It's also suppose to be, the development team were largely influenced by the Wizardry series.

Tolen: Yay, Wizardry!

Sylvia: Tolen knows what I’m talking about.


doa xtreme beach volleyball          halo combat evolved


Lee: Are we keeping on topics this time, or randomly wandering from topic to unrelated topic?

Omni: Best graphics... but you know, it's been the usual spiral to off-topic-ness.

Tolen: Prince of Persia has the best combination of graphics and art design that I saw last year.

Lee: Well, best graphics definitely ARE NOT in Arx Fatalis... Ugly is being too kind

Sylvia: I like the character detail of the goblins and trolls.

Omni: Max Payne 2 scores some points for the simple fact of Bullet-Time reloads.

Tolen: Unreal 2 is really pretty with the new patch.

Lee: Project Gotham Racing 2 had some revved up good-looking graphics. Although it looks like Gran Turismo 4 will redefine realistic racing graphics.

Tolen: Neither game is as pretty as the Far Cry demo though – just lovely.


Omni: What was the most overblown story of 2003?  (I'm thinking in news surrounding the gaming industry.)

Tolen: Square going to Nintendo.

Sylvia: Microsoft buying Rare.

Omni: How about Microsoft buying Rare?

Kurt: The existence of the N-Gage

Lee: You mean totally UN-eN-Gaging.

Tolen: Yeah, the Rare story really seems lame now that their game design has become so uninspiring.

Lee: That has to be one of the gaming industry's biggest blunders ever.

Sylvia: Bah, and all we got was Grabbed by the Ghoulies. What a waste.

Kurt: I can't wait until it hits the bargain bin, then I can buy one and keep it by my bedside so I can laugh at it every day. Microsoft MUST have bought Rare in hopes to get some kiddie games out of them or something

Tolen: Of course, Perfect Dark: Zero might shut us up.

Omni: Even though it seems to have gone the "cute" route?

Sylvia: Rare has some things planned for 2004. Don't write them off yet.

Kurt: Dude, yeah, that Conker re-release looks like it'll set the industry ablaze

Sylvia: One game is hardly a telltale... at least, yet… give them 2 more chances.

Tolen: Wouldn't ever write Rare off, even if they are suddenly in love with the pre-teen market. Conker was certainly not aimed at the Disney crowd.

Kurt: I'm not a fan of Rare, most of their stuff outside of GoldenEye and Perfect Dark never impressed me.

Lee: But on the N-Gauge, what a horribly executed system and even worse looking bunch of game… for $300?? Who did they think would want original PlayStation quality graphics in today's gaming systems for that amount of money...just because it's a phone too?? Get REAL, Nokia... EB can't even give the things away right now!!

Omni: Plus the games can be cracked "like an egg."

Kurt: But you can play Pandemonium. ON THE GO! Do you not understand the incredible ramifications of this?

Tolen: Did anyone mention that you have to take the battery out to put a game in – someone really should have caught that in beta.

Kurt: Someone at Nokia should've just burned the concept plans the minute they saw them, would've done the company a favor.


Lee: The new Nintendo handheld (even though it seems to promise WAY more than what will probably be packed into it) will quickly kill the N-Gage (and it isn't even a phone!!)

Kurt: What, that double-screened craziness doohickey?

Omni: Who knows.  We'll see more at E3.

Tolen: Is the DS exiciting anyone?

Lee: The DS seems totally outrageous! But remember, this is the same company that thought the retina-burning Virtual Boy would be a huge hit!

Omni: I'm interested.  But Nintendo has to show me something.

Lee: They said E3 will reveal all their plans for handheld domination!

Kurt: I'm sure Shigeru Miyamoto and whatever wacky scheme he has cooked up will do it SOME semblance of good, but other than that...

Tolen: I wonder if the DS is just to keep the Nintendo name in the news like the Virtual Boy was?

Omni: Take some of Sony's thunder away?  (I love SPECULATION!)

Lee: Yeah, considering they have had to practically give the GameCube away to put even a minor dent in the PS2 and challenge the Xbox (which they claimed they outsold with the 4th-quarter GC selling season).

Tolen: Well, Nintendo certainly has the track record, right down to putting upcoming games on the Virtual Boy box that weren't even in development.

Kurt: Man no one respects the Virtual Boy...

Lee: The optometrists sure did... sent them plenty of new customers!

Tolen: I loved Red Alarm, Wario, and Nestor's funky bowling.  Virtual golf was great.  I still have and play my Virtual Boy, but, then again, I still have and play every system released in America since the Atari 2600.

Omni: I don't think anyone at Nintendo or M could have deluded themselves into thinking they'd crush PS2's grip on the gaming public.

Kurt: The only way anyone can ever gain control is if Sony does something massive to screw up.

Sylvia: PS2 had such an advance start. However, the gaps are closing every financial quarter. We will see on the next consoles, since they will be headed out the gate pretty much together... That will tell the true story


Omni: Any thoughts on what 2004 will bring?  Will Half-Life 2 finally hit retail?  Fable?  Doom 3?

Lee: Half-Life 2, yes. Doom , no.

Sylvia: True Fantasy Online is what I'm looking forward to.

Kurt: I can't imagine Fable will do THAT well. I mean, it'll probably get great reviews and build a fanbase, but it seems too hardcore for most gamers to digest. (Like most Bullfrog games, sadly.)

Sidd: One game that looks like it could surpass Battlefield 1942 is Joint Operation by Novalogic.

Lee: Fable… whenever the Next Box comes out (2006?).

Tolen: I'm really excited about Far Cry, Half-Life 2, Doom 3, Fable, Halo 2 – that's a pretty good list for so early in the year.

Sidd: Full Spectrum Warrior for Xbox looks great.

Sylvia: Yeah, Halo 2, Doom 3, all good stuff to come.

Tolen: Fable might surprise you.  Morrowind sold really well considering its depth and length.

Kurt: This is true. On that note, makes me wonder about Sudeki. American RPGs designed to be like Japanese RPGs have never really faired that well.

Tolen: I'll agree with that.  Though, I'm biased toward western RPG design; this is likely from my D&D Gold Box background.

Kurt: I'm much more into the Japanese design, though it's been growing weary on me lately.

Lee: Fable's been pushed back so many times (latest push-back is this summer) it will be a miracle if it comes out before Christmas.

Kurt: Next thing you know Valve will announce that their studio has mysteriously been blown up and Half Life 2 will be pushed back until 2007 or something.

Omni: .... and we won't see Duke Nukem Forever, either.


And Tolen gets the last word:


Omni: Until next time.  When we might stay on topic.

Tolen: There was a topic?


(January 26, 2004)


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