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Donutta Blog

Ghosts and sadness

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So I was checking out some Modern Warfare 2 information today when I decided to pop my head into the forums. In particular, I went to The Virtual Underground. It was quite sad to go in there and see that it was a shell of its former self. I clicked on some of the profiles of people I used to know, people I haven't heard from in forever, and saw that many of them hadn't logged onto this site in over two years. I used to share lots of thoughts and feelings with these people, on topics about more than just video games, and now they are effectively gone, their old profiles and posts remaining as ghosts that haunt my old home.

It's sad for me, as GameSpot played a very important part in overcoming my depression in 2002. Some bad things had happened in my life and I literally had no one in my life except my family. Posting on GameSpot gave me a sense of friendship that I needed at the time and it helped me pull myself out of depression and back into the real world. I'll always have a soft spot for it in my heart. I guess that's what makes it even more sad to see what this place has become to me.

It's still an active site with a thriving community, for sure, but for me it will always seem a little dead. :(

Aion is crap (and why hype is bad).

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I hadn't actually heard about Aion until a few weeks ago. Someone in the WoW forums kept talking about it, and I decided to do a little research. I watched a few videos and thought it looked interesting, but what really got me excited was all the chatter before the head-start launch. People were so enthusiastic, talking about how great this game was going to be. I was sucked in and before I knew it I had the game downloading through Steam. Like everyone else I went through preselect, took a screengrab, and shared it with the world. I stoked up on food and drink so that I would be able to immerse myself in the game. I set my alarm so I could wake up at 7 in the morning to play it, just as the servers went live. Man, I was pumped!

At first, it was a great. Everyone was running around fresh and excited. There were people everywhere, and the world felt alive! The starting area was lush and vibrant -- a special treat to see spectacular beasts flying across the sky -- and the quests were genuinely interesting. Poor Tutty! "Aion rocks!" I said to my friends over Steam.

Then, I ascended, and suddenly the game started to look a little shabby. Why could I only fly in one small section of the game? Why only for a minute? What happened to the interesting quests and story? Why all over a suddenly was I sent on huge grinds? Why were the areas so linear? Why did the environment suddenly look like it was missing the creativity I had seen before?

Then it got worse. Then the mechanical problems started kicking in. Queues? Aniticipated and, generally, acceptable. 9-hour queues? You've got to be joking me. Worse, if the game got disconnected from the server, not only would you go back to the end of that 9-hour queue, but you would also have to sit through the entire client needing to reload from scratch -- and boy, that thing is not fast to boot.

NCsoft's support was lacking, wiith vague shrugs being communicated through Twitter, of all things. Just before I quit, there was essentially no options except to waste all your progress and start one of the new servers.

Then the community problems started. For a community that goes on about WoW's community so much, it's hilarious that Aion's community makes the WoW community look like the bastions of civilised society. You thought Barrens chat was bad? You haven't seen anything until you've played Aion. Worse still, everyone seemed to be treating it like a race to the end, with the legion I joined actually telling me I was going too slow because I hadn't reached 25 in two days. Sour and bitter is how I felt, especially every time I saw the letter Q. They honestly seemed to want anyone who wasn't "hardcore" to just quit. "Go back to WoW; it's for casuals like you," was something I heard a lot.

I stuck with it. Lord knows I'd paid $60 for the collector's edition, so why not at least get my money's worth out of it. I did have until the end of October to play. But things only got worse. Why were quests sending me to enemy territory through a rift that only opens randomly? Why was I waiting FIVE HOURS for that rift to open? Why was I suddenly out of quests? Was I really now going to have to just grind mobs to level? Why, even with the stigmas, did I feel like my character exactly the same as everyone elses? Why did I have to wait until 25 to do an instance, and why is there only nine in the game?

WHY, OH WHY DOES AUTO-ATTACK TURN ITSELF OFF RANDOMLY?

Then it hit me: I'd been sucked in. This game is utter crap and the only reason it got any attention is because people are desperate for any game to take down WoW. It's a boring Korean grindfest that will only appeal to people who have no life and get a sense of achievement from investing ridiculous hours into a video game. It's not fun at all.

It's not just me, either. Even the diehards in my ex-legion have become burned out from the grind. When I said I was quitting, many said they might not be far behind.

The problem with Aion is that it doesn't have any personality or soul. It's devoid of charm. So when it suddenly becomes a grind, there is nothing to keep you enthralled. You suddenly realise how dull it is, and how you are not only wasting your time but also your money. Then you realise what a fool you were for wasting $60 on the product.

I consider it an expensive lesson. One I won't forget, though. It's too easy to get caught up in the hype and excitement of a new product and forget that it might not be everything it promises to be. It's easy to fork over money for a product only to then feel cheated when it's not your thing. It's even worse when you can't trade it. I definitely will not be purchasing games at launch now. It's bargain bin or bust for me.

As for Aion: it matters not how many copies they sell, but how many people keep playing. Given the reaction of people who aren't blindly in love with it due to some hatred of WoW, I can't see the game lasting more than a year.

Backlog

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[This is for my own benefit. Maybe GameSpot could implement a feature that allows you to keep track of games you need to finish?]

(Only including games I intend to finish.)

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2
Eternal Sonata
Final Fantasy XII
LittleBigPlanet
Oblivion
The Orange Box
Persona 3
Persona 4
Ratchet and Clank Future: Quest for Booty
Star Wars: Lethal Alliance
Valkyria Chronicles

What's with all the expensive games?

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I was looking at a list of upcoming games for this year, and I couldn't believe how many of them were $140. This isn't even the price for a collector's edition. What the hell is up with that? I can't justify spending that kind of money on a game. Looks like it's time to adjust my tracked list and wishlist.

Just glad that I have so many games to chow through. Should make not buying any feel that little bit less stale.

The hidden cost of the Wii

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I'll keep this quick and simple. The Wii is actually the most expensive console of this generation. Here's why:

Wii = NZ$500
Extra controller w/ Wii Play = NZ$110
Extra nunchuck = $50

Already we're looking at NZ$660. Yes, you get two games that show off the Wii's potential well, but that's a lot to pay, especially when you can get an Elite with Halo 3 and Fable 2 for NZ$60 less. But wait, there's more. Whereas 360 and PS3 games eventually drop in price, Wii games generally do not. Here is a listing for Twilight Princess, a launch title. It's still NZ$90 and that's in a temporary sale. Super Mario Galaxy is nearly two years old now, and it still retails for the same price it sold at launch. Same with pretty much any decent Wii title. (Admittedly, the trash goes cheap and quick.)

So, if you take your NZ$660 and then decide to chuck on three or four decent titles, you're looking at around NZ$1100 or so. Now, that is less than the price that the PS3 launched here for (and less than I paid for mine), so it hasn't always been a hideous deal. But now you can get a PS3 for NZ$700 and that usually has a copy of inFamous thrown in as well. Given that you can pick up platinum titles such as Uncharted for as little as N$35 a pop, you can practically get a PS3 and ten titles for the cost of a Wii with six titles (including Wii Sports and Wii Play).

I can't be the only one that sees a problem with this.

Unfortunately, it keeps me from buying anything new for my Wii, as much as I would like to. I just can't justify paying $100+ for a title any more. (I might make an exception for Final Fantasy XIII.) I don't so much mind the console being the price it is, but honestly there is no justification for having a launch title at the same price it was when it released.

/rant

I Hate Digital Distribution

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Why? 'Cause you can't sell anything when you decide that buying it was a mistake. (I had a big, verbose rant written out, but then decided I could make this much more concise. :P)

Seriously though, some of the crap I've bought just sits there taunting me, reminding me that I should think before I act. The worst offenders are the products of drunk downloading. (Fortunately, I don't drink any more.) I wish I could sell them and make some money back and feel better about them, but I can't -- and that blows.

I mean Space Giraffe for US$20? What was I thinking? Noby Noby Boy? Was I high? Even reactivating my WoW account can often make me feel dirty a few days after playing it. (The initial rush of being back is nice, and then I realise why I left, only for it then sink in that I paid $15 to play for like a week.)

I think I seriously need to avoid any kind of digital distribution from now on...

Elitism

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So today I found out that Kotaku has totally revamped its commenting system. Apart from making people constantly chase comments that are ever shifting, Kotaku has also decided to give preferential treatment to "star" commentators -- everyone else will simply be hidden.

Great. More elitism in gaming. That's just what we need.

It's a bad idea. For a start, it totally ignores the concept that leaders of communities are promoted from the belly, not appointed from above. Additionally, it creates a disturbing cl@ss system where not everyone is treated equally. They are honestly saying: "These people are better than you."

So, I've stopped reading. I enjoyed posting there as the discussion could be enjoyable, but now it's just a mess to follow discussion that isn't "chosen". I like to decide who I give my respect to. No big deal; I'll move on. But it did remind me of the nature of communities. How many times have you heard someone try and elevate themselves above another by claiming that they were part of the community first? How many times have you seen a person's opinion discounted just because their post count isn't out of the single digits? Communities are often run by elitists with inflated egos who want to preserve a system that benefits them.

I remember way back in the day I joined the Penny Arcade IRC channel. Gabe and Tycho were never in it, but I figured it would be fun to talk to a bunch of like-minded people. However, I was promptly told through a whisper that I should stop talking and learn to lurk. It wasn't even a polite whisper; it was just the word "lurk". This community didn't want to foster new members or even encourage new discussion. To pay my dues I was to sit in the room, not talking, watching other people not talking. (I assume at some point I would have finally been deemed "worthy" of being talked to, but screw that for a joke.) It was how the community worked, with its heirachy, and they didn't want that disturbed.

Am I the only one that finds this a bit pathetic?

You may of may not have heard of the case of David Myers, a professor at Loyola University who managed to get everyone to hate him in City of Heroes. Did he manage this by being an obnoxious troll? No; he managed to do it by playing the game as it was intended. Unfortunately for him, the elitists in the community had decided that it should be played a certain way. Because what Myers was doing didn't fit with that, because it broke their heirachy and elitist culture, he ended up getting death threats. Nice.

Elitists in any community are a poison that slowly and surely prevents growth and expansion. But they like it that way; they want to be a big fish in a little pond. Just look at how everyone is reacting to the success of the Wii. It's sad, really. Ultimately, this whole Kotaku thing has been a bit of a reminder that this is how things operate and it won't change. I guess in the end the best thing to do is not to contribute, ignore the allure of Web 2.0, and to simply go about my business and maybe casually discuss some news with my friends. For now, however, I'll leave you with a little op-ed piece that I wrote for a gaming site that is now defunct. I think it's appropriate given my diatribe.

There I sat staring, mouth agape, at the situation in front of me: a vote about whether to kick me out of the Left 4 Dead game in which I was currently. I had purchased the game as part of Steam's weekend offer (50% off!) and I had only had the game for about 10 minutes. I had fumbled my way around, trying to get a grasp of the controls and what exactly the objectives where and thought that considering the game doesn't come with a manual via digital distribution I wasn't doing too badly. However, it wasn't long until the match I was in with my friend, whom with which I was trying to understand the gameplay, was populated by others. People who took the game very seriously, it seems.

"Please play properly!" I'm told very sternly over voice chat. I press Y and type: "I've only had the game 10 minutes." A reply tells me: "No excuses."

It's an experience that almost has me regretting my purchase. I am a gamer of over 20 years, so I am not exactly a complete scrub at gaming. However, these comments made me feel small and unwanted, like I couldn't be part of the experience because I wasn't good at the game straight away. It was then that a conclusion hit me: gamers are ruining gaming.

This might come as an obvious statement to many. One of the major complaints about Xbox LIVE is that the general population is mainly comprised of racist, homophobic teenagers who take no greater pleasure than screaming obscenities through their headsets. However, this situation was different. The people yelling at me were not obnoxious American teenagers but British adults – adults who took the game too seriously. Did I mention that already?

We're told to go down the hole in the floor together. It's a simple concept that I understand. Just as I'm about to go down the hole, I am ensnared by a zombie and killed.

"For **** sake! What did I just tell you to do?" I am again chewed out for not being amazing at the game – even in a situation where I kind of feel that there is nothing I could have done anyway. It makes me think about the Wii. Perhaps the reason the Wii has been so successful isn't because it's populated with shovelware minigames that the general population laps up because they have no taste. Perhaps the reason is because the console isn't associated with the diehard elitist gaming community. It's not about gamerscore bragging rights or "pwning n00bs"; it's about having fun with friends and family in the same room. It's something that gaming should be: fun. I think about my WoW guild, how a once happy crew that laughed when we wiped in an instance was getting increasingly testy, yelling at each other because not enough damage per second was being dealt, and level 80s were getting their characters audited. Audited? Seriously? The change has me seriously considering leaving.

I see a character jump from rooftop to rooftop and I am unaware how to do this. I ask. Big mistake.

"FFS!" is the reply I receive.

It's this kind of mentality that is holding gaming back and keeping it from becoming a true mainstream medium. When someone's had a hard day at work, they want to kick back and unwind, not be screamed at by others for having inferior skills or being told that their play cl@ss is insufficient and that they should change it to what is considered the standard. Even someone like me finds myself questioning why they are playing, and I've been playing games longer than I can remember.

I think about Nintendo again, how they are making money hand over fist, especially in America. I think about how many gamers have nothing but contempt for the Wii. I laugh at the thought that it is probably their contempt and absence from the Wii community that makes it so attractive to the general public. I think about the current economic crisis, and how so many gaming companies have recently folded or had major setbacks. I think about Midway. I wonder if the gaming industry can really afford to have elitist gamers chasing away potential players and, more importantly, customers. I myself wonder if it's a wise idea getting another online game if this is the kind of experience I am going to be exposed to.

I tell everyone that this will be my last round, and then I will leave. I feel too inadequate to play without some more practice and I don't particularly feel like getting screamed at.

"This is the last round anyway, you ****ing n00b." Great, I can't even leave without being harassed. It makes me wonder if I want to log in and play again, or whether I just want to stick to the campaign.

I log, and decide to climb into bed and read a book. But the thoughts are still salient, piercing my brain. Why were they so mean? Do they have some kind of social problems in real life that makes them take it out on everyone in the game? Do they feel big doing it? Is this cyber bullying in the virtual playground that I am experiencing? All I know is that it makes me feel like doing something else with my free time – and I expect that many others feel the same way. Online gaming community: I now consider it an oxymoron. My final thoughts before I go to bed are simply that if the gaming community wants to grow, if the gaming industry wants to grow, then this kind of behavior has to stop. Then I realize that these people probably don't want it to stop. They want the community all to themselves, their own little elitist corner of the Internet. 'A shame;' I think 'they're killing gaming.'

R.I.P. Michael Jackson

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The first album I ever owned on my own was Michael Jackson's Dangerous. I was eight. I thrashed it so much that the tape stretched and eventually split. Musically, it changed my life and to this day Michael Jackson has three songs that rank in my top ten songs of all time.

I woke up this morning to read of his death, and I just couldn't believe it. I'm still in shock, actually. It's just too unreal.

All I can say is: For the music and the message the world thanks you, Michael Jackson. R.I.P.

Tales of a Woeful Connection

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This image irks me a little. That's probably because everything is relative, and to see someone complaining about broadband I would love is like moaning about your mother meatloaf in front of starving child from Africa. Case in point:

Slow, huh? The worst thing is that this is practically the best internet connection you can get in New Zealand, and it costs me US$50 a month. Oh yeah, did I mention that it has a 40GB cap? After that, it's dial-up speed baby.

Obviously, this affects my gaming. You see plenty of people using lag as an excuse, but for those of us Down Under (you better run, you better take cover!) it's actually just a fact of life. When I used to play Halo 3, it could take up to 10 minutes to find a game. I honestly spend longer looking for a game than I did playing. When I did find a game, my connection was constantly red, and I was always finding myself shooting at things that appeared to be there but in reality were not. Oh yeah, and I paid a yearly fee to do this.

Even the PSN is not immune. While some games do have servers that are "local" (I guess those of us in New Zealand are used to getting lumped in with the Aussies in terms of video games) many games still use a P2P connection for online gaming. This means that generally lag is a given.

In some cases, it renders games unplayable. Take Street Fighter IV, for example. I'm already annoyed enough at the cheap-ass players that make up the community, but it's just so much more annoying when you cannot even defend yourself correctly because of the lag. The game fails to register my focus attacks and even my blocks, and half the time it will execute a move that I pushed the buttons for five seconds ago. Ultimately, it ends up in a lot of losses. This, of course, isn't even talking about the framerate that is often reduced to a slideshow or worse.

At the end of the day, it just makes playing online a pretty frustrating experience. I'm not one to usually get all high and mighty about my gaming skills, but it's certainly annoying being told you suck when you know you're better than what your connection allows.

Of course, there are other problems with having a lacklustre internet connection in a modern gaming world. With many of the major players offering content by digital distribution -- the PSPgo offering it exclusively -- a cap suddenly becomes a massive burden. Our house shares an internet connection, and we probably use about 1.5GB a day. This means by the end of the month, we're approaching our cap. This comes from general internet usage. If you add game downloads on top of that, it suddenly means that your cap will not cope. I already got a lot of flack from my flatmates because I downloaded Mass Effect off Steam and reduced us to dial-up speed for a week. Can you imagine if they only way to get and play games was online?

The internet is becoming an increasingly large part of modern gaming, especially with the hardcore focusing on Xbox Live. However, such a focus often leaves those of us who do not have the luxury of such wonderful connections behind. It leaves us with laggy, unplayable games and the inability to access all the content available to us. Ultimately, we are second-rate citizens because of an industry focus.

But, you know, there are bigger problems in the world. I could be living in Iran right now. I guess all I'm saying is that next time you complain about lag, or the next time you complain about digital distribution, spare a thought for those of us whom it really affects.

I freakin' HATE Street Fighter IV

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God, I HATE this game. Everyone just spams special moves, including the computer. People wouldn't know a combo if it bit them on the ass. Coupled with heinous lag, the game is practically unplayable. I'd rather shove a broom so far up my ass I can brush my teeth with it. It sums up everything that is wrong with the gaming community: do whatever it takes to win, even if it sucks the fun out of the game. In fact, it's sucked the fun out of gaming in general. I went to play something else and I was just like "Awww **** gaming."

I think I'm just going to read a book instead. I wonder how much money I can get for the collector's edition on eBay...

EDIT: So after I posted this, I played some Animal Crossing: Let's Go to the City (City Folk in the USA. I believe) and I calmed right down. Nook's was closed, but I guess you get that at 10 p.m.. It was also nice to just talk to the people in my town and catch some fish. And Nibbles is sooooo cute. After that, I played some Wii Sports and by the end of it I was nice and calm. It made me wonder if it's worth being into this hardcore gaming if it's just going to raise my blood pressure. I play games to have fun, after all. Maybe slowly but surely I'm becoming part of Nintendo's core demographic? More on this later, I guess...