Super GameSpotting II Turbo: Champion Edition

If you missed the previous 130 iterations, this is GameSpotting, and if you want next, get your quarters up and get your wrist brace tightened up.

If you missed the previous 130 iterations, this is GameSpotting, and if you want next, get your quarters up and get your wrist brace tightened up. Following in the wake of the latest MGS3 trailer, we get right to work on extrapolating significance like a lit major rereading Moby Dick for the 100th time, and following the latest World of Warcraft beta patch, we take a look at some of the curiosities found in beta test communities. After this round, we invite you to hit the GameSpot Community, and if you're feeling particularly articulate, learn how you can participate in the GameSpotting experience.

Rations for Your Health
Greg Kasavin/Executive Editor
"It's become natural for experienced game players to just hunker down and plow through new single-player games in one or two sittings. It's a race."

Crazy Talk Solid 3: Snake Oil!
Tyler Winegarner/Associate Producer, GameSpot Live
"It is with this prefacing that I present to you the GameSpot Metal Gear Solid Speculation Column Gaiden 157 Gundams plus Alpha."

It Takes All Kinds
Brad Shoemaker/Associate Editor
"Beta-testing communities are, in a word, insane. Here are just a few of the personalities you'll encounter."

It's Not Just a Free Game
Bethany Massimilla/Community Manager
"Beta testing is fun!"

To Sleep, Perchance to Video Game
Avery Score/Games Editor, Mobile
"My waking experience is so shaped by games and by gaming that it's no wonder my unconscious follows suit."

Do you know what you're getting into?
James Yu/Senior Hardware Editor
"Be careful of the mind-set that you always have to get the best value for your money. If you underestimate the time and effort required for research, the process can become more trouble than it's worth."

Not The Greatest Star Wars Story Ever Told
Justin Calvert / Associate Editor
"I remember my arrival in the Corbantis Star Wars Galaxies server like it was yesterday."

Here Comes a New Challenger!
Eric C. Baur/GuestSpotter
"That girl never took the sucker out of her mouth the entire time we played. It was like playing a game against Kojak."

Stop Talking About WOW Already!
Thelune Shadowstrike/Level 42 Night Elf Rogue
Are you as tired of reading columns about World of Warcraft as I? Then, in the name of the thieves guild, submit your own GuestSpotting submission today!

Rations for Your Health

My first job at GameSpot back in 1996 involved editing and posting reader-submitted reviews. I still avidly read what our site users have to say about various games, if only because it's interesting stuff written by some often-talented authors and perceptive game players. The avalanche of Doom 3 reviews is particularly noteworthy of late, and of the 200-or-so that we've posted to date, one in particular really struck me: A user by the name of JTR_IceBerg simply stated, "4 years to make, 3 days to beat... Another one under the belt."

Finished. Next!

I completely relate to the underlying sentiment. Whenever I finish a single-player game these days, not only do I feel like I should be chalking it up somewhere (probably on my collection page on GameSpot), but the thought also strikes me that the months and years of effort that went into the game I just played culminated in an experience that, by comparison, was quite brief, made all the more brief by my lifelong tendency to play games in marathon sessions--to wit, unlike JTR_IceBerg, I finished Doom 3 within a single day. Whether that's worth admitting or bragging about, well...

At any rate, it's obvious that games are becoming more elaborate and more expensive to produce--they need more people and more resources to get made. However, as many longtime game players have observed, the games themselves also seem to be getting shorter and easier. Years of effort on the developers' part and years of waiting on the part of the game player sort of come crashing to a halt. Are we really getting enough game for our bottom dollar?

First of all, yes, I think we are. A game like Doom 3 offers a respectable 20-or-so hours of quality entertainment. That comes to something like three bucks an hour, and as a matter of fact, that's pretty economical when you compare it to other dollar-per-fun-capita alternatives out there (going to the movies, going to a bar, going to a baseball game, going to the coffee shop, whatever). So the problem I'm suggesting isn't that games aren't good enough--it's that they've become so story-driven, so seamless, and usually so easy to play that it's natural for experienced game players to just hunker down and plow through them in one or two sittings. It's a race.

Multiplayer gaming experiences don't replace single-player experiences in my book, but it would be nice if more single-player experiences lasted me for longer than a couple of days.

Work with me on this one: I've never owned a goldfish, but it's my understanding that you need to ration its food or else it'll eat itself to death--it won't, can't stop eating, so it is its owner's responsibility to keep it from overindulging. I often wish that game designers would consider taking a similar approach for the sake of us slightly obsessive, not-uncommon types. It would save people like me from blowing through new games at a rate of several a week, and maybe it would save some game developers from feeling like, well, they just flushed several years of effort down the toilet.

I'm talking about rationing gameplay. I can't do it for myself, so you do it for me. At some point, game instruction manuals used to tell you to take a 15-minute break for every hour you played. I used to out-and-out laugh at that idea (it's right up there with those guys who tell you that you shouldn't use the quick-save key so often when playing single-player shooters), and apparently I wasn't alone, because I'm pretty sure game makers just flat-out, altogether gave up on suggesting that people try to control their urges to play more. What they should do, instead, is consider forcing breaks in gameplay in the context of their games. "What?! Who are they to dictate how I play?" you ask incredulously. They made your damn game, that's who. I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that I could sometimes use a slightly forceful reminder to take a break from my playtime. I'd mostly just end up getting more long-term value out of my gaming experiences.

Somebody stop me.

One and only one game that I've ever played did an effective job of doing just what I'm describing here: Animal Crossing, Nintendo's charming and memorable "communication" game. You probably know or have heard that Animal Crossing is basically a game about mundane things--living the good life, meeting and greeting your colorful neighbors, paying off a nice home, and so forth. The game incorporates a real-time clock and actually plays in true real time, to the extent that if you play the game at night, it'll be nighttime in the game, and things like that. Even more interesting is that Animal Crossing more or less limits the amount of real productivity and activity that you can perform in a day to about an hour's worth of stuff. You can continue to try to run around and fish and catch bugs and things, but basically, the game offers diminishing returns if you attempt to play it in marathonlike sessions. Instead, the game actively encourages you to play for quick sessions and to come back for more the next day. I cannot stress enough to you how brilliant of a model I think this is.

Animal Crossing is one of the only single-player games in years to have the depth and lasting value of a competitive multiplayer game. Some of the only other, similar cases are Grand Theft Autos III and Vice City and The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. These are games with enough sheer substance or gameplay to keep you busy for a long, long time; but Animal Crossing is the only one that actually forces you to play casually, but regularly. The result is an experience that's addictive but not necessarily compulsive. And this experience, as you may have heard, appeals to a lot of people beyond just the usual crop of guys like me who like to play pretty much anything, whether it's good or not.

Games should not feel like a chore or like a commitment. The danger for game designers who choose to put together contiguous 20-hour storylines is that their audiences will naturally feel a sense of urgency and commitment as they play, and urgency and commitment aren't necessarily desirable emotions. Many game players end up not finishing their games because they start off a campaign or story but soon are forced through circumstance or inclination to stop playing for a while, and then they return to the experience at a later time only to feel completely lost and out of touch with what's happening. As if the game assumes you're going to play the whole way through in one session.

That is to say, I think games need to experiment with being less like books and more like television series, in terms of their structure. Ever bought your favorite TV series on DVD? You probably sat down and watched several hours' worth nonstop, only to walk away from the experience feeling dazed. Where did the time go? You can't even remember half the episodes you just drank in. Compare that sensation to what you get when you watch the latest weekly episode of your favorite show--you get just the right amount of content to chew on and are left wanting more. The experience is drawn out and becomes that much richer for it. Likewise, I believe it's the game designer's responsibility, to an extent, to dictate how audiences should consume their work. Otherwise we'll just gobble it all up and have nothing to show for ourselves.

Tyler Winegarner
Associate Producer, GameSpot Live
Now Playing: System Shock 2 (PC) Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven (PS2)

Crazy Talk Solid 3: Snake Oil!

There's a tradition around here that's about as old as the salt in the earth, and that's the Metal Gear Solid speculation column. Well folks, if you haven't seen it yet, there's a new trailer out, and in true Hideo Kojima style, it's playing out the role of leaving us with two new questions for every one that it answers, and the answers are highly questionable to say the least. When you're in the position of working at a gaming publication such as GameSpot, these moments come with a heavy responsibility. We solemnly shoulder the responsibility of taking as many of these disconnected tidbits of information and weaving a web as harebrained and loosely tied as possible in order to make sense of what we just saw and to rush it out to the people as quickly as possible. It is with this prefacing that I present to you the GameSpot Metal Gear Solid Speculation Column Gaiden 157 Gundams plus Alpha.

OK, did you watch the trailer yet? Great. Let's get started. The linchpin of this trailer is the plot about this woman, named "The Boss," (who we shall refer to as Bruce Springsteen for the duration of this column) who is a renowned US Army veteran that has defected to the Soviet Union. We hear Snake's briefing in a little bit greater depth this time around, and it seems that he needs to be told to remain unheard and unseen. Perhaps this Snake is a bit more green than we've been led to believe? We see a rocket sled that resembles a D-12 drone fired from an SR-71 Blackbird, dropping a face-painted Snake into the jungle under the cover of nightfall. That's a big difference from the gruff, bearded Snake making the Halo jump into the jungle by daylight. We see a couple of new characters here and there, such as the electricity-spewing Colonel, who is apparently named Volgin. We see a notably whiny Ocelot, a bit more of the hapless scientist Sokolov, and some more footage of the primitive Metal Gear, which seems to be able to give a pretty good chase on smooth, solid Tarmac. Speaking of chase scenes, we see Snake hanging out in the sidecar of a motorcycle, which gives me my own personal hope that there's some gameplay tied to that, making Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater perhaps the first game in history to allow you, as the player, to monkey around on a sidehack.

Is it just me, or have we seen all this before?

Anyhow, let's tie this all together, shall we? If you've played through Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, then you'll know that one of the subplots of that game is the creation of the perfect soldier through the VR re-creation of the events of Shadow Moses, or Metal Gear Solid for the original PlayStation. Then I started realizing that there are a lot of connections between the plot (as we know it) of MGS 3: Snake Eater and the events of the original 8-bit Metal Gear for the NES. Let's draw parallels. You're dropped into the jungle by aircraft in both games. You have to make your way through the jungle, negotiating guards and wildlife, ultimately to infiltrate a fortress and rescue the scientist who is being forced to work on a war machine called "Metal Gear." The plot of both games pivots around a major ally defecting to the side of the enemy. What does this all mean? We already know that Solid Snake is the genetic clone of the legendary soldier Big Boss, and we can pretty much take it as a given that the character you will play as in the 1964-era Metal Gear Solid 3 is none other the grandaddy supersoldier himself.

My theory is this: The game you played in the original Metal Gear (if you played it, that is) was a confabulated military simulation of the events you will play through in MGS 3 Snake Eater, in an effort to turn the inexperienced Solid Snake into the ultimate soldier he turned out to be. It seems that by the time MGS 2 came out, the directors of Fox Hound had figured out that there's more to the ultimate soldier than just nature; there are elements of the psyche that have to be nurtured through training. However, there's nothing to say that they hadn't figured that out sooner, and the VR training was just a way to cheapen the process with technology. However, if the character we'll be playing in MGS 3: Snake Eater is indeed Big Boss, then it's likely that this is the mission that will solidify his role as one of the greatest soldiers of all time, inspiring the preservation of his genes, as well as mapping out the mission and re-creating it later for the next generation.

A bird and a cat--why can't all stories be this simple?

The whole problem with developing theories on limited information is that you often have a lot of loose ends to tie up, and this is no exception. There's still plenty to speculate about why "The Boss" refers to Big Boss as "Jack" while tossing him off of the bridge--if indeed that is Big Boss she's talking to at the time. There is the big question as to if this story is going to discuss the origins of Raiden, and perhaps his parenting. Could it be that the female supersoldier, "The Boss," is his mother? If so, who is his father? Big Boss? Ocelot? The Raiden look-alike we saw in the E3 2004 trailer? And what's the deal with the two different jungle insertions? The Halo jump is what kicked off the demo version featured at E3 2004, so perhaps there are two different missions to be played over the course of the game. Two different time periods perhaps? Maybe we'll be replaying portions of the original Metal Gear as Solid Snake? Is there anything we should be wondering about this Volgin character, other than just assuming he's another insane character from the mind of Mr. Kojima? There's only one way to know for sure, and that won't come to fruition until November of this year. Until then, keep those eyes peeled and keep cranking on that speculation machine.

Brad Shoemaker
Associate Editor
Now Playing: World of Warcraft (PC), Doom 3 (PC), Counter-Strike: Source (PC)
On the WOW Forums, I Am: Always the thankful tester. Sometimes the apologist. Never the whiner, no sir.

It Takes All Kinds

For whatever reason, this seems to be the season for public beta tests. Not open ones, mind you, but some lucky individuals are at this very moment playing highly anticipated, unfinished games in the comfort of their homes, looking for flaws and evaluating game balance. Of course, World of Warcraft is the big one; I myself have played an unconscionable 360 hours of that infernal beta since it started in March (I am not even kidding). The Counter-Strike: Source beta also opened last week to select ATI and Condition Zero owners, and I think a few people have heard of Counter-Strike before, so that one's pretty hot. There's apparently even a Tribes: Vengeance beta coming soon. In any event, there's a lot of free beta action to be had. Good gaming if you can get it.

I know him better than I know my own brother. (Fun Fact: I don't have a brother.)

But if you're really invested in a particular beta test, to the point that you participate in forum discussions of the game, of new changes, of bugs, and so on, you're going to encounter a fringe aspect of humanity, a freak social order in microcosm by which you will be perplexed, enraged, scared, and saddened. Beta-testing communities are, in a word, insane. At least in my experience. The World of Warcraft beta forums are particularly intense at the moment, as countless people argue, flame, complain, and generally act like children about nearly every aspect of the ongoing test—so it goes when you hand the keys to the kingdom over to a passionate assemblage of souls like hardcore MMO players. I don't know how the Blizzard guys deal with it. I also have no doubt that other MMO beta tests have dealt with similarly strong, conflicting personalities in the past, nor that similar things are happening on Counter-Strike forums all over the place. Unless you're looking for a pseudointellectual fracas over character balancing, bug priorities, or theoretical feature improvements, your best bet is to steer clear of these forums entirely. But if you have to visit, here are grossly generalized examples of just a few personalities you'll encounter.

The Whiner

Soulless Dragon demands to knoooooow!

This insufferable lout is the bane of all beta forums, he who makes community managers quail in their boots and fellow forumgoers tear out their hair in clumps. The whiner thinks--sorry, knows--that it's his divine right to play the game, even though he's not paying for it and very likely isn't contributing any bug reports or constructive commentary. The whiner creates useless, clumsy, and poorly written and punctuated forum spam that makes every other reader's time on the board more annoying. Argh.

The whiner was even immortalized in a fairly amusing Penny Arcade strip from a while back. You can't make this crap up, folks.

Whiners come out of the woodwork when a new version of the beta is rolled out, decrying every "nerf" to their favorite class/weapon/etc. and complaining that some other such aspect is now too powerful. Perhaps not coincidentally, these guys also seem to be the ones who have no life responsibilities and thus play the game for greater than 16 hours each day. If only that kind of commitment could be harnessed for the powers of good.

The Apologist

This noble soul is of the purest intent--he or she just wants everybody to shut the hell up and remember that we're all playing a beta, for free, and bugs, balance problems, and unfinished content are a fact of life.

Sometimes, the apologist keeps an even keel amid hordes of whiners, calmly reminding everybody to submit bugs in the game rather than scream about them on the forums. Occasionally, though, the apologist becomes a self-righteous ass who effectively tells the other testers to keep their heads down and get back to work, as if beta testing is their job. Well, no, it's not your job--you're not getting paid for it. If you don't want to play the game, you don't have to. But if you do keep playing, then kick in a bug report or suggestion every once in a while.

The Armchair Designer

Valve is doing a good job of updating CS: Source to fix problems--a patch was out the second day of wide release, addressing the first most-reported issues.

This guy has way too much time on his hands and really wishes he were Will Wright/Shigeru Miyamoto/Rob Pardo/insert famous game guru here. The armchair designer will type up a 5,000-word treatise on the uses of pyroblast without batting an eye, constantly attempting to rewrite the rules of the game as he or she sees fit.

I'm sure I don't speak for everybody here, but I usually can't be bothered to plow through the endless litany of minutiae these guys crank out. I like playing the game and all, but I don't really care to know about lengthy damage formulas or anything like that. Maybe the game's designers read everything; maybe they're even deriving good ideas from this stuff. Fortunately, the intensity of the material means that the armchair designer's post output is relatively low, so it doesn't consume too much of your mental bandwidth.

The Thankful, Industrious Beta Tester

Perpetually on the endangered species list. This is the ideal tester, the person who submits bugs and feedback through the proper channels, posts thoughtful comments on the forums, and never complains. You likely won't find many of these, if any at all. Some say they exist only in legend...

Theoretically, the World of Warcraft and Counter-Strike: Source betas will be ending in a matter of months or weeks, respectively, as the products reach final status and head off to retail. So you may not have a chance to experience such riffraff in relation to these particular games, but there will assuredly be plenty of beta tests you may acquire access to in the future. And the best part of all this? Keep an eye on the games' forums after release; these people aren't going away anytime soon.

It's Not Just a Free Game

World of Warcraft is an affliction that persists to work its evils upon my person. Several months and some 353 gameplay hours later (so long as my aggregate total is less than Brad's, I tell myself it'll be OK), I still look forward to spending time during a free evening running around the lands of Azeroth doing all sorts of deeds. I submit the odd bug that I might ferry out in my deed-doing travels and make the odd suggestion that might come to mind at two in the morning while murdering the indigenous wildlife. Brad gave a good overview of some of the shenanigans that go on over at Blizzard's beta boards, and since more and more people will be added to the test as time goes on, I thought it would be a good time to share my thoughts about what being in a game beta is actually like. Playing an unreleased product for free can give you lots of fun and frittered-away time, but ideally you're playing it to make it better for everyone, so here are some things you might want to keep in mind if you've not been in a beta before.

This could be you!

Things Change. Depending on what stage in the beta process you're involved in, you're playing an unfinished product that still has a way to go before it sees a gold disc and the light of day. The way your character or the game as a whole plays will sometimes be altered drastically after a patch--this isn't necessarily a bad thing, and you can never accurately predict how the experience will change simply by reading the patch notes. You have to be prepared to adapt to the game as it--sometimes very rapidly--moves through the development process and gradually becomes more refined. Sometimes it'll lose features that you liked a lot, which is a good time for you to figure out why you liked them so much and whether the game as a whole would benefit if they were put back in. Sometimes you'll get new features that contain exploits that allow you to gain an unintended advantage or otherwise muck with the game, and you should report those as well. Get used to change, because chances are you'll see a good bit of it.

Constructive Criticism Helps Everyone. If there's a feature you don't like, chances are you should let the developers know. However, rather than penning a four-page anecdote detailing some small aspect of your misery, the best method to report potential issues is by thoroughly explaining the problem, explaining why it's a problem (in your experience), and perhaps even adding thoughts you have on fixing it. It's easy to say that you hate something without necessarily giving any kind of input or to put up a message saying, "This game isn't fun. You made it not fun!" Everyone has opinions, but not everyone communicates them well. The more reasonable, specific, and direct you are, the more helpful it is to developers who have to parse it and the more helpful it is to your fellow testers, who may be experiencing similar issues.

Stacks up to five times?! Overpowered! Nerf it!

Change Isn't Always Immediate. If you have found a bug, and you've reported it, go on your way. Unless the beta's getting patched every day, you don't necessarily see an instant turnaround on fixes. Sometimes devs will give you an idea of what they're working on, and sometimes they won't.

Suggestions Are Awesome. Depending on the type of game and when you enter into the whole beta process, the shipping game is not set in concrete. If you are solicited for suggestions, by all means make them! Whether it's a solution to a problem you've noticed, or a new feature that you think would greatly benefit the game and its players, speak up and let your voice be heard. You never know when a recommendation of yours might get implemented in the game.

It's All for the Children. Beta testing is fun! Sometimes it's frustrating when the game's crashing, or something's not working right, or you have to reinstall, but you're playing a game for free, weeks or months before the public gets to see it, and it's often pretty exciting. Whether or not you come out of the experience liking the product or planning to buy it, you can pat yourself on the back knowing that you aided the process of game development for gamers everywhere. Even if you didn't submit any bugs, you can relax in the knowledge that you helped load-test the servers. If you submitted bugs and suggestions and kept from tweaking out if your hat changed from purple to yellow last patch, then there's a special spot in beta-tester heaven just for you.

To Sleep, Perchance to Video Game

"I am not quite sure whether I am dreaming or remembering, whether I have lived my life or dreamed it. Just as dreams do, memory makes me profoundly aware of the unreality, the evanescence of the world, a fleeting image in the moving water."
-Eugène Ionesco

It's only Tuesday morning, and already I feel like a fiction. It usually takes me until the end of a sleepless workweek before my consciousness becomes fluid and intractable as a dream. I wonder if I'm no more than a hollow symbol--the unconscious manifestation of one or another need of my habitually neglected id. The most trivial events start to feel like contrivances, small advancements in the plot of this postmodern, inaccessible narrative, this bizarre, persistent role-playing game.

My job is to inhabit imagined worlds, for a few hours at a time, then to quantify my enjoyment. My current, auspicious employment was anteceded by a lifetime passion for games, for these two- and three-dimensional characters I embody and abandon--each time some 45 dollars and 15 hours worse for the wear. My waking experience is so shaped by games and by gaming that it's no wonder my unconscious follows suit.

Waterfalls, cliffs, and ledges--my perennial incubi.

For as long as I can remember, I've dreamed in a manner graphically (if not thematically) reminiscent of whatever games I'm playing. Needless to say, my dream technology has improved considerably since my early childhood, when my fear of heights would yield visions of my pixelated body being cast off of an equally pixelated waterfall. I've had the obligatory public nudity dream, my crudely animated loins exposed to a classroom of redundant sprites, wobbling jubilantly, their laughter textually represented in a box, below. I've been pursued by nightmarish monsters--not down some ever-expanding corridor, but on a simple world map. These confrontations would inevitably be initiated through liberal use of Mode-7 transition sequences. More recently, I became more acutely aware of my fear of growing old, when I rapidly transmogrified from Virtua Fighter's nimble, young Leon to the middle-aged Lau Chan and finally wound up as Shun Di--finally ending my days suffering from alcoholism, compounded by a healthy dose of senile dementia.

Whenever I've mentioned this particular idiosyncrasy of mine, I've been labeled as either impossibly geeky or certifiably insane. While I don't directly deny either of these charges, I'd like to think of my CG dreams as the products of a creative mind, albeit one absolutely inundated with video game footage.

Ryo Hazuki is goal-oriented, and so should we all be.

During my waking hours, I am constantly interpreting my life through knowledge I've accrued during my many years as a gamer. If I meet someone new, I try to gauge his statistics, AD&D-style. Incidentally, I like to think my own high charisma stat offsets my low agility rating. Most psychological theorists believe that dreams serve a similar purpose, helping us to nocturnally grapple with the perils of daily existence. Freud contended that every image in a dream is a symbol for something that bothers us, converted to something relatively innocuous so as not to disturb our slumber. If this is indeed the case, what better way to confront my worst fears than in the form of video games, my inveterate love and vocation? When a schoolyard bully is no more than a particularly challenging endboss, and a complex and enigmatic love interest can be understood as a picky dating simulator character, a lot can be accomplished.

While gamers continue to be labeled as couch potatoes by moms and spouses everywhere, I like to think that a healthy addiction to gaming makes people more goal-oriented. After a recurring dream in which I fell off the picturesque cliffs in the last leg of Shenmue II (never having truly championed my fear of heights), I finally had one in which I drew chi from the earth, collected it in my belly, and climbed those Dreamcast-rendered boulders. The next morning, I checked the yellow pages for climbing gyms.

Carl Jung asserted that dreams involve archetypes, such as mothers, monsters, heroes, and fathers. We unconsciously grapple with these figures so that we can better deal with them when lucid. Sounds like a game to me. Perhaps, in our Jungian quests for self-actualization, we can use video games to propel us toward success. In the meantime, I'm just wondering if Alexandra Roivas' legs are tired, 'cause she's been running through my dreams all night...

James Yu
Senior Hardware Editor
Now Playing: Counter-Strike: Source (PC)

Do you know what you're getting into?

A PC hardware neophyte, let's call him Teddy, reads a couple of positive Doom 3 reviews and decides to buy a copy. He starts playing the game but notices that it runs a little choppy and the game doesn't look as nice as it does in the screenshots. He asks a knowledgeable friend how to fix the problem, and his friend tells him that he probably needs a faster video card and that he's "surprised that the card could handle the Doom 3 installation window." OK, it's time to buy a new video card. Teddy, being a conscientious young man, decides that he wants the best video card for the money.

You're going to need a new video card, Marine. Good luck on the research. I hope you invested in the Google IPO.

That decision, of course, means research. And Teddy has quite a bit of studying to do since it's been four years since he's had to read a video card review. It means spending hours poring over pages of video card previews and reviews, finding out what cards are actually available and trying to separate the marketing hype from the real hardware specifications. "Shouldn't my GeForce3's nfiniteFX engine be better than the CineFX 3.0 engine--we're talking infinity versus a single-digit number, right?"

Teddy turns to various forums and message boards to gain a tenuous grip on the current video card market and the events that led up to its current state. There are a lot fewer enthusiast-level 3D chip manufacturers these days. S3 had the Savage 3D and Savage 2000 chips a few years back, but most consumers never forgave S3 for the S3 Virge. 3dfx spent its entire R&D budget on the monstrous Voodoo5 6000. The actual development costs weren't that high, but someone forgot to shut off the test machines one night, and the resulting power bill put the company out of business (*rimshot*). Matrox is still around, but it has chosen to concentrate on the business market. Rumor has it that the company is developing a 32-screen multidisplay adapter solution that will be marketed as the "World's first 360-degree Windows XP Desktop Experience." Apparently, there was also a 3D chip called the Kyro, and it had a Kryo II follow-up, but Teddy isn't sure the chip actually existed since "tile-based rendering" sounds a little far-fetched if you ask him.

The only big players left now are Nvidia and ATI. (Intel also makes 3D graphics hardware integrated on the motherboard, but that doesn't count because, well, the graphics are integrated on the motherboard.) In the previous generation, ATI had the Radeon 9700 Pro, which was later replaced by the Radeon 9800 Pro. And everyone loved the Radeon 9700 and 9800 cards because Valve said the GeForce FX wasn't very good for Half-Life 2. But that doesn't matter anymore because ATI and Nvidia just released their newest video cards this summer.

ATI has its new Radeon X800 series, and Nvidia has its GeForce 6800 series. Nvidia first announced the GeForce 6800 Ultra and the 6800 GT. Both chips have support for something called Shader Model 3.0. Teddy isn't sure what Shader Model 3.0 actually does, but he thinks it must be important because everyone keeps saying that ATI doesn't have it yet. The $499 GeForce 6800 Ultra and $399 GT both have 16 pixel pipelines, but the Ultra costs more because it has higher core and memory clock speeds. ATI answered with the $499 Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition and the $399 X800 Pro. The Radeon X800 XT has 16 pixel pipelines and has faster core and memory clock speeds than the GeForce 6800 Ultra, but the Radeon X800 Pro only has 12 pixel pipelines, while the GeForce 6800 GT still has 16 like the high-end cards.

Teddy calls his friend and tells him that he's leaning toward the GeForce 6800 GT, but then his friend asks Teddy about what games he likes to play, since performance levels can vary between the Radeon and GeForce cards depending on the game.

"The GeForce 6800 GT does great in Doom 3, but what happens if you want to play Half-Life 2 or Counter-Strike: Source? The GeForce cards perform well at lower Half-Life 2 resolutions, but then the Radeons take over when you increase the resolution and antialiasing settings."

"Did you consider the regular GeForce 6800? It only has 12 pipes and 128MB of memory, but it's still pretty fast"

"How about the Radeon X600 or the GeForce 6600 and the GeForce 6600 GT? Sure, they're PCI-Express cards, but maybe it's also time to upgrade to an LGA775 system. The GeForce 6600 may look nice because it has eight pixel pipelines and Shader Model 3.0 support, but it only has a 128-bit memory interface. The Radeon 9800 Pro has the eight pipes and a 256-bit memory interface, and you can get those cards in AGP."

"Now that I think about it, you'll probably need a faster CPU to even see the benefits of the video card upgrade. How much do you know about the Athlon 64?"

"Teddy? Hello?"

-End Story-

Buying a video card, as Jason Ocampo pointed out several GameSpottings ago, "can be a nightmare of choices." I totally agree. I'd take it one step forward and add the additional warning that many walk right into the nightmare unknowingly.

Before making the decision to upgrade your computer, estimate how much time you're willing to put into the research process before you begin. If you're actually interested in learning about hardware and see the research as an educational benefit, then go for it. However, if you're only looking to improve your gaming experience and don't really want to learn about hardware, understand that the amount of time you spend figuring out the "best graphics card" will be an additional time cost added onto the final upgrade price.

Be careful of the mind-set that you always have to get the best value for your money. If you underestimate the time and effort required for research, the process can become more trouble than it's worth. You may end up like poor Teddy over there sitting in the corner, rocking back and forth and hugging his Xbox, whispering "2005 isn't that far away. Not at all. 2005 isn't far at all."

Not The Greatest Star Wars Story Ever Told

Episode IV: A New Game
I remember my arrival in the Corbantis Star Wars Galaxies server like it was yesterday...mainly because, after being assured by one of the game's installation screens that mine would be "The Greatest Star Wars Story Ever Told," it was such a disappointment. My starting point was in the city of Dearic on Talus, which, when I arrived, was all but deserted. I didn't have nearly enough money to travel to one of the more popular planets, and the only source of income I had came from exterminating large insects, rabbitlike creatures, and other pests that, more often than not, would end up kicking my ass if I attempted to flee from them. Life on Talus got better, of course, but only after I was befriended by a master tailor who helped me out with a few missions and subsequently offered to make me some new clothes in return for quantities of fur that would go some way toward covering his costs.

Leaving Talus behind for good.

I guess I was lucky in that most of the people I met in my formative days were pretty good to me, but it was only a matter of time before somebody tried to exploit the fact that I was new in town--a guy hoping to con me into working for him. One guy gave me a top-of-the-line swoop bike and enough money to buy a small house and then expected me to work off my "debt" to him by spending a number of hours each week sitting at the crafting machine inside his mansion. Needless to say, I wasn't about to give up my dream of becoming the galaxy's most feared bounty hunter to work for this guy, so I rode the swoop to the nearest starport, used my newfound wealth to purchase a ticket to Corellia, and was never seen on Talus again.

I couldn't ignore the galactic civil war forever.

It wasn't too long before I built myself something of a reputation as a pistoleer, and, after a period of time spent living in a small house in the middle of nowhere, I was eventually convinced to join an up-and-coming Rebel guild that had recently established its own base of operations. Previously, I'd wanted to stay out of the galactic civil war as much as possible, but the first time I saw a friend of mine killed by an Imperial AT-ST walker, I knew that my allegiance had been chosen for me. I then knew that I needed to invest some of the money from my increasingly healthy bank account at the local cloning facility.

My creature handler trainer in Coronet.

I was fatally wounded defending the guild's base more times than I care to remember, which is a humiliating record that wasn't helped by the fact that the mediocre composite armor I would put on before charging out of my house and into battle had a nasty habit of vanishing into thin air before I even got to where the action was. The Imperials were metaphorically killing themselves by laughing so hard right before they physically killed me, I'm sure. It couldn't have been every day that they were confronted head-on by an underpowered, pistol-carrying, white boxer shorts-wearing fool who didn't know when to stay down.

I was commended for my bravery (read: stupidity) on more than one occasion, though, and became an increasingly prominent figure in the guild every time we fought--right up until the day that I gave up on the idea of ever becoming a master bounty hunter to instead pursue the creature handler profession. After much soul-searching, I left behind the guild that, in my eyes, had grown too large for its own good. In the weeks that followed, I used the proceeds from the sale of my house to travel the length and breadth of the galaxy in search of new friends, new pets, and new adventures.

To be continued...

Eric C. Baur
Now Playing: Against Other Human Beings for a Change

Here Comes a New Challenger!

Let me start out by saying that I'm an old-school gamer. I'm fortunate enough to have been around for every generation of video game. I've twisted the dials on a Pong machine. I was there for the rise (and subsequent fall) of arcades. I sat on a very uncomfortable bench inside Wal-Mart for 10 hours to ensure that I'd get a PlayStation 2 on launch day. Simply put, I love video games and everything that they entail. However, lately something has been missing.

For the longest time, I couldn't figure out what it was. I own all of the major systems and pretty much every game I've ever wanted. It wasn't a lack of games nor was it a lack of new games. Whenever a new game is in development, I'll track its progress until release. If I'm still interested after the reviews come out, I'll go buy it. Strangely though, even if the game is superb, I almost always still feel let down. The thrill of the hunt is somehow more fun than the kill. This was not the gaming experience of my youth. Back then, even if the game was a real stinker you would still play it to death and have a special place for it in your heart because games were not as easy to come by when your allowance was only $5 a week.

I began to question my allegiance to video games. Maybe I was getting too old for them. I am 27, and most of my friends are into other leisure activities such as golf and fixing up their homes and cars. Perhaps I had saturated myself with too many games. At least once a month, my wife will give me a hard time and say, "I don't think you have enough games. Do you think we could hook up a 9th system to this television?" What happened is that although I still actively followed gaming and purchased new games regularly, I rarely played the games. This went on for several months. I had even pondered selling parts of my collection on eBay. I was at a gaming crossroads, and I had no idea which way to go. In fact, it took an act of God to get me back on the right path.

The first few mixes were it's just overkill.

That act of God came in the form of a severe thunderstorm that trapped me inside our local mall. I was shopping for my wife's birthday when the storm hit, and it was so bad that mall security was at the doors suggesting that nobody leave the building. I was finished shopping so I decided to make my way to the arcade. Going to the arcade today is a bittersweet experience for me. I remember the glory days of the late '80s and early '90s when arcades were packed with rows and rows of the latest machines, and no machine cost more than 50 cents to play. Today it's a different story. Arcades are now filled almost exclusively with the largest, most expensive, and dullest games known to man. On top of that, the games usually look and play worse than the home version--or, they just are the home version. Still, I had a few extra bucks in my pocket and nowhere else to go.

I went into the arcade and was greeted with the obligatory DDR machine belting out the latest remix of "Butterfly". After that was the endless line of boring redemption games that I'm not sure even small children would enjoy. Around the corner was a worn-out Blitz 2000 machine and a broken Gauntlet Legends machine. Yawn. Wait a minute, here's something new...Need for Speed: Global Challenge. Boo-yeah! I love the Need for Speed series. This has to be great! I sat down and put in my tokens. What a rip-off! It was an exact port of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit II, a game that I've been playing at home for almost two years. Already knowing the track like the back of my hand, I easily came in first place. Then I was greeted with a "Game Over" screen. "But I came in first!!!" I said out loud. The game didn't care. In the good old days, you got to keep driving until you lost. I was livid. That simple "Game Over" had reaffirmed my disdain for today's arcade scene and put me in a foul mood. I decided to spend the rest of my money on the classics. I played a few rounds of Galaga, Ms. Pac-Man, and a game of pinball. Then I made my way to the fighting games. I was really in the mood for some old-school 2D action, but all I saw was 3D. Soul Calibur II, No. Virtua Fighter 4, No. Tekken 4, No. Then I saw what I was looking for--that tried-and-true six-button layout that my hands practically melt into. It was Marvel vs. Capcom 2. I had only played it once or twice before, but I knew my wealth of Street Fighter knowledge would be enough to get me by.

I put my money in and made my way to the character selection screen. It took me a while to find them, but I picked my two ringers: Ken and Ryu. I chose Wolverine as my third. The match started up, and I immediately started in on the computer. As I suspected, all the moves and combos from previous iterations of Street Fighter-based games had come over pretty much intact. However, I was thrown for a huge loop when I hit the fierce kick/punch buttons and my guys started tagging in and out. When I discovered that there were no longer three punch/kick buttons, it was yet another nail in the arcade scene coffin. A Capcom fighter that uses only four attack buttons? Blasphemy. Still, I adapted quickly and was defeating most of what the computer threw at me. Then it happened.

Who loves ya, baby?

"HERE COMES A NEW CHALLENGER!" flashed on the screen. I looked over and a little girl had joined in. I'm terrible at estimating ages, but I'd place her somewhere around 13. She had a sucker in her mouth and didn't say anything as she picked an all-female team of Sakura, Chun-Li, and Cammy. I laughed to myself thinking, "Girl Power!" The match started, and because of her age, I decided to play nice and give her a break. Instead of jumping in with my usual combo, I jumped back just to see what she would do. She didn't do too much. She threw a few fireballs and jumped at me with various kicks. She tried a few simple tag combos that I easily blocked. After a minute I got serious again. I jumped in with one of my more reliable combos. She blocked it. I picked at her for a minute and then went at her with a more technical combo. Blocked again. She threw a few more fireballs and jumped around a little. I was becoming annoyed. I saw an opening and jumped in with my most devastating combo, ending it with a super. She blocked every bit of it. I was dumbfounded.

My heart was racing. I had butterflies in my stomach. I realized that losing was actually a possibility. These are things that never happen when I play against the computer. To paraphrase Matt Damon from the movie Rounders, "I sat down at that game, and I felt alive." I found what had been missing from my gaming life: human competition. As I mentioned earlier, I'm pretty much a lone wolf when it comes to gaming. Since the late '90s, I've been playing games mostly by myself. I have learned to quickly and easily pick apart computer AI. But playing against someone else is a different matter. Humans are 100 percent unpredictable. And this match was proving just that.

I looked over at the little girl for a moment, and she looked at me. Then she made her move. She had been toying with me. She came at me with everything she had. She was pulling off double-digit combos, super cancels, super tag combos, and more with the greatest of ease. I simply wasn't ready for it. Still, I wasn't going to give up without a vicious fight. This was my arcade. I was the veteran here. I went at her with combo after combo, some successful, some not. She did the same. I took out one of her guys, and she did the same to me. Finally, we were both down to our last character. I had Ryu and she had Cammy. I was ready to rumble because Ryu is my best fighter. I jumped in with a kick and followed it up with a dragon punch. I landed them both. I had her on the ropes. I faked a jump-in punch and then threw Ryu's super fireball. She blocked it completely and immediately unleashed some ungodly 18-hit super KO combo that put my butt neatly into a little doggy bag.

I was stunned. I had been owned by a 13-year-old girl. Still, it was one of the most memorable matches in the literal thousands of matches I've played in my lifetime. I had to show my respect. I turned to her and said, "Great match!" She took the sucker out of her mouth (for the first time) and gave me a little smirk. I turned around and walked out of the arcade smiling. Looking back, that whole match is funny for two reasons. One, because I used to be the 13-year-old who would school all of the older players at Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter, and two, because that girl never took the sucker out of her mouth the entire time we played. It was like playing a game against Kojak.

Still, I left the arcade exuberant and rejuvenated with gaming joy. I knew what had been lacking in my gaming life. This was reaffirmed a few nights later when I visited a friend who is as into gaming as I. We played four-player Tetris Worlds on Xbox Live for about an hour. I came in last place in every single match and had the time of my life doing it. It didn't matter that I lost. I was having a great time playing with other people who were as good as, if not better than, me. It's funny. Before that fateful match, I was quite smug about my video game knowledge and thought I knew everything. It took a butt-kicking from a 13-year-old girl to remind me that gaming isn't just about the games, but also about the people you play them with.

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