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Khatjal Blog

Selling Violent Video Games to Minors : A Rant

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I was browsing through Gamespot's headlines today and stumbled upon the article concerning California's long standing attempts to ban the sale of video games to minors. This issue has also been brought to the frontline of the news by politicials such as Hilary Clinton, who sought to boost approval ratings by attacking the violent video game industry - an easily identifiable and relatable 'scapegoat' to woo potential voters.

I agree with the spirit of the law that children who lack the maturity to consume violent imagery in a mature fashion should not do so - thats what the ESRB is for. However, I completely disagree with involving the state in an issue which is completely familial in nature. It is up to the parents to monitor and ensure what their children are playing. While I actively consume violent video games, I have no intention of ever letting my children playing violent games before I deem as a parent that they are mature enough to process the images in a pro-social manner. This is plain common-sense, but like the saying goes "common sense isn't so common", it seems.

This issue was brought to life for me by witnessing this parental apathy first hand. When I was standing in line for the midnight release for GTA IV and standing out like a sore thumb in the line-up were at least three or four mothers with their pre-teens in tow. GTA has recieved alot of press in regards to it's content and the political backlash surrounding it (i.e: The 'A' rating debacle over San Andreas' hot coffee mod), so I found it highly unlikely that the parents didn't know what they were buying for their children. I even told the twelve or thirteen year old kid standing in front of me in line that I doubt that the store would sell him the game, but lo' and behold, when he reached the counter the the clerk told him he couldn't sell him the game, he ran back in the store two minutes later with mommy in tow who proceeded to buy him the game.

Niko

"Gimmie your lunch money!"

The fact is you can ban minors from buying videogames deemed unseemly, but this is the wrong thing to do. In the same vein as smoking, drinking and drug-use the more parents rail and legislate the against it, the more minors will be drawn to consume 'the forbidden fruit'. If a kid really wants to play violent video games, what's to stop him from going over to his friend's house with the apathetic parents and play the games there? It seems to me that this whole saga is an epidemic of poor parenting and shifting of responsibility to the law from the household. Rather than taking the time to sit down and engage their children in a discourse about violence in videogames, it's far easier for the parents to restrict and complain about the content in videogames.

The fact is, kids will play violent videogames whether you restrict them by law or not. It remains up the the parents and not the law to make sure their kids understand what is and isn't appropriate.

Gaming in the First Half of 2010 - My Top 5 Best and Most Disappointing

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The first six months of 2010 have come and (almost) gone, and gaming has seen some real gems and stinkers come out during that time. Among the new IP's and sequels that emerged from the game development community, there were undeniably an array of amazing and memorable games. Not surprisingly, accompanying these gaming gems was the inevitable drek that occupies shelf space near our most favorite games (Prison Break, anyone?). However, somewhat to my chagrin there was a number of games that I would have bet the farm would have become instant classics, but came out of the gate with a whimper.

So, in no particular order here are my top five greatest and most disappointing of the first six months in gaming of 2010:

My Top Five of Early 2010

Mass Effect 2 (X360, PC)

To boldly go... no wait...

As far as I was concerned, Mass Effect 2 was digital gold - an immersive shooter RPG that brought to life a dynamic universe while coupling it with interesting personae and a gripping intense storyline. Multiple hours of gameplay, multiple options and intereseting moral system rounded out this extremely well built game. The one thing that marred the whole experience for me was the Cerberus Network Card meant to punish second hand gamers, coupled with content cutting and selling portions of the game as "add ons" (i.e: Kasumi).

Mass Effect 2 is definitely one of the shining stars in 2010 gaming, and the Microsoft exclusivity is a huge coup for the company in their war against Sony for console dominance.

My review of the game is here.

Bioshock 2 (X360, PS3, PC)

Big Daddy

That's one angry Big Daddy.

The return to Rapture did not fail to deliver the tantalizing promises that all of the teaser trailers and previews promised Bioshock fans. While deviating slightly from the formula of Bioshock 1, the sequel managed to build upon the better elements of its predecessor to bring us the creepy survival horror feeling along with the interesting moral choices. The addition of multi-player was also a momentary fun diversion, but in my mind couldn't compete with other online shooters such as Call of Duty and Battlefield. However, thats not what this title is about. The single player shined through as an innovative shooter with hours of gameplay fun alike for fans and newcomers to the series.

My review of the game is here.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (X360, PS3, PC)

BFBC2: EA's Answer to Modern Warfare

My biggest fear when picking us this title was that it would pale in comparison to the shooter experience in the hit game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Within the first few hours of playing BFBC2 those fears were dashed. Battlefield delivered a different experience that focused on squad combat and vehicular combat and most fun of all... destruction and mayhem. There was nothing like blowing through building walls to get to the enemy, or parachuting off of a helicopter to sneak behind the enemy lines. Rather than being a derivative copy of CoD, Battlefield brought elements that made it a legitimate competitor to CoD's dominance of the shooter genre.

My review of the game is here.

Red Dead Redemption (X360, PS3)

RDR

Grand Theft... Horse or the Ballad of John Marston?

Rockstar's success with the sandbox genre with the GTA franchise is a winning formula, without a doubt. RDR managed to capture all the elements that made the GTA franchise a success and transpose them into the Wild Wild West, without being overly redundant. The new setting, challenges and arsenal made for a very fun game. I mean, who didn't want to be a cowboy at one point during their lifetime? The only knock I personally have against this title is the multiplayer. It has been almost impossible for me to connect to a game online, and when I have been able to there has been consistent lag and gameplay issues for me. Regardless, like Bioshock 2, the multiplayer is more of an afterthought to an amazing singleplayer game.

My review of the game is here.

Alan Wake (X360)

AW

Flashlight? Check! Gun? Check! Crazy shadow monsters? Erm...

Rounding out my top five picks is the X360 exclusive Alan Wake. This title is an immersive, story-centered adventure with an innovative gameplay mechanic that uses a flashlight (of all things) as the main weapon of choice. Great graphics, great gameplay and a story that perfectly blends suspense, horror and a psychological thriller makes Alan Wake one of the most memorable games that I have played since Final Fantasy 7. While the combat is simplistic at times, and the game doesn't have as many "jump out of your seat" moments as your typical survival horror, Alan Wake is a guaranteed 12 hours of sheer fun.

And last but not least, my review of the game is.... here.

Honorable Mentions:

God of War III (PS3)

Napolean: Total War (PC)

My Biggest Disappointments of Early 2010

Dante's Inferno (X360, PS3)

DI

He's a poet and he doesn't even know it

The hype and build up around Dante's Inferno was so immense that it was almost impossible in my mind that this game wouldn't be the 360's answer for God of War. The early gameplay videos seemed detailed and promised a fun beat-em up game. What the finished product delivered was nothing short of a heart wrenching disappointment. A shallow, corny storyline (BEEEEEAAATRRRRIIIICEEE!!!!), boring environmental puzzles, broken game balance issues (cheap deaths galore!) and redundant gameplay made what could have been a fantastic IP into a ho-hum game that left a bitter taste in my mouth.

My review for the game is here.

Aliens Vs. Predator (X360, PS3, PC)

AVP

"Your turn!"

Now this one took me back. I loved, loved LOVED the original AVP for PC when it came out, and was drooling with anticipation over the re-launch of one of my favorite shooters of all time. When it came out, unfortunately, the graphics and gameplay reminded me a little too much of the original. Dated visuals and "meh" gameplay made this one an instant disappointment. If this game had been released pre-2004, it would have rocked the gaming world. 'Nuff said.

For a good review of the game by bob_mckenzie15, go here.

Final Fantasy XIII (X360, PS3)

(Insert cheesy JRPG emo line here)

I'm probably going to get alot of flack for this one, but Final Fantasy 13 was probably my biggest disappointment so far this year. I couldn't help but feel like I was being taken along for a ride in a cheesy (albeit very, very beautifully done) Japanese anime. The battle system was a button-mashing fest with little to no subtlety, and seemed only to be filler in between cut scenes. Add to that a storyline that was hard to relate to, which dove far too quickly into very emotional themes of love, revenge etc. with little to no set-up and a almost total lack of choice and customization, i'd call FF13 less a JRPG and more of a J-Movie. My review of the game is here, and I feel it explains my disappointment adequately.

Alpha Protocol (X360, PS3, PC)

AP

"Why hello there!"

There are two major strikes against Alpha Protocol that make it a disappointment. The first is that it was released after Mass Effect 2. When stacking these games side by side, gameplay issues and more importantly graphical issues are plainly evident in Alpha Protocol. The comparisons are inevitable, and when you stack finished product against finished product Alpha Protocol falls short with a dramatic thud. The second major strike against Alpha Protocol is that despite relatively fun customization options and interactions, I couldn't help by feel that it was an unfinished product, and a potential that was hinted at throughout the game but never fully realised.

I agree with Dragonman55's review of the game which can be read here.

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction (X360, PS3)

Fisher is channeling his inner Norris

After being delayed over and over, Conviction was high on my list of "must haves" for 2010, and it just narrowly made the list of disappointing games. The game itself is fun, despite being light on the stealth combat that has defined the series. What made it a disappointment for me was a combination of a short campaign with semi-dated visuals. I could not help but feel that I wanted more from the game while playing it, and when I finished it I was left with a general feeling of "what could have/should have been".

I agree strongly with Spartan1017's review of the game, which can be found here.

Honorable Mention:

Lost Planet 2 (X360, PS3)

***********

Now before I finish my preaching about the best and worst so far, I felt I needed to mention the games I am itching to play but haven't had a chance to pick up yet! In all fairness, I cannot make a list without mentioning which titles I ommited due to a lack of playing time with them. So without further ado, here are the games I want to get my hands on in the next coming months that have come out since January 2010:

Bayonetta (X360, PS3)

Heavy Rain (PS3)

Monster Hunter Tri (Wii)

Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)

And to conclude, I would love to hear what are your top five best and worst so far of 2010!

Gouging Gamers: The Trend Continues

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Earlier in April, I posted an editorial blasting Bioware for withholding extra content from their Dragon Age and Mass Effect IP's (Stone Warden, Kasumi, Warden's Keep). At the end of my editorial, I mentioned how I was alarmed and upset that this would create a trend for publishers looking to fleece videogame sales. The past few weeks have proved my fears to be true.

The next big publisher to withhold content for more money is none other than EA Sports:

To play online, you need to buy a new copy of PGA Tour 11... or pay 10$

EA announced that they will require players to input a code found within new purchases of their sport franchise IP's (Fight Night, NHL, NFL, NBA, MMA, PGA...) in order to access multi-player online content. While it is reasonable that EA wants to promote the sale of new copies of their games, however this hurts second hand gamers like myself who enjoy picking up titles they wouldn't pay full price for, but will gladly pick them up at a discount. This also demarcates from previous iterations of games which allowed access to online features without conditions and stipulations. Mind you, it is not overt gouging on the scales of Bioware, however it is still holding parts of the game ransom needlessly.

This is but another example of the growing trend of gamer gouging that has been sweeping through the video game industry the past few months. As I had stated previously in my Bioware post, I do not begrudge companies adding legitimate content to their IP's - in fact, I encourage it. But to hold ransom aspects of games or content that should be readily accessible to all gamers is wrong. The big game publishers cannot be allowed to get away with this.

EA Sports - you've just lost a loyal customer.

Bioware and DLC - A Disturbing Trend

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With DLC now as common place as games themselves, there is an abundance of extra content floating around cyberspace waiting to be downloaded and played by hoards of video game loving people. As an avid gamer, I don't begrudge companies charging for map packs or add-ons that enhance the gameplay or breathe new life into old titles. In fact, I encourage that because it makes picking up an old video game that much more fun. However, there has been a disturbing trend of unnecessary charging for content. What I am talking about here is the dilberate gouging of gamers like ourselves for content that should have been in the game itself from day one. The king of this trend: BioWare.

Just as a quick disclaimer: BioWare is a fantastic company that puts out amazing games, many of which I have highly enjoyed and are among some of my favorite games to date. Mass Effect and Dragon Age are incredible, deep IP's that give many, many hours of gameplay goodness in interesting and fun environments. Despite creating vast and impressive games, this does not give them lisence to gouge us gamers for every cent in our pockets. It is this in mind that I present my two main arguments:

Enter Exhibit A: Dragon Age - The Stone Prisoner and Warden's Keep

Shale - The Stone Bandit

Shale was free to download... if you pre-ordered your copy.

BioWare announced from day one that there would would additional DLC available to download for Dragon Age: Origins. Those who had pre-ordered a copy of DAO could get access to some of the DLC - namely, "the Stone Prisoner" and a shallow addition of "Blood Dragon Armor". However, BioWare was charging for the third which was the Warden's Keep. This immediately struck me as odd.

What this seemed to me was a deliberate move to fleece us gamers, and they even had the audacity to do it from the moment of release, rather than waiting a few weeks or months to sell it as an add-on. I was lucky enough to have pre-ordered my copy, so I went ahead and downloaded the Stone Prisoner for free. In this particular case, I was generally happy with the outcome. Shale was a deep, interesting characther that was well developed and was fun to interact with. This lured me in and prompted me to try out the Warden's Keep, so I shelled out 7$ for it. What greeted me was a fun, relatively short quest with a few "perks" given to the player at the end (the keep as a "base"). I wasn't overly pleased, but I figured this was a one time thing, and I didn't begrudge Bioware their extra few bucks, because DAO was still a fantastic game.

However, it didn't end there.

Enter Exhibit B: The Cereberus Network Card and Kasumi

Sure she looks slick and sex, but is she worth the price tag?

Kasumi - Shadowy, sexy, mysterious... and all yours for 7$!

Bioware did essentially the same thing again, all within the same year, with Mass Effect 2. This time, it was a different incarnation: The Cerberus Network Card - a devious cardboard insert meant to punish second hand gamers by holding content ransom. Now THIS was a deliberate slap to the faces of gamers who cannot afford to pick up new titles every few weeks. Second hand gaming is a stellar way to play games that you normally wouldn't pick up, all at a relatively affordable price. By picking out pieces of content and forcing those who don't buy the game for the full price to pay 10$ is another of their underhanded tactics. All in the name of increasing sales.

Kasumi is the icing on the cake. Yes, she looks cool and sexy (we all know sex sells... right?) but this is a pure example of content that should have been in the game since day one. After her relatively short quest, you are left with an under developed squad mate that doesn't evoke the same sort of gameplay and character development as other squad mates in Mass Effect 2. All for the price tag of 7$, which BioWare happily pockets. This time, BioWare didn't get my money. I was far, far too angry to shell out the cash, and ended up playing it at a friends house who did end up downloading it to see what the hype was about. The verdict? All my anger and fear was vindicated by what I saw and played.

Now, don't get me wrong, if BioWare wants to put out DLC and charge us for it, that is fine. However to charge us for content that seems slapdash, at best, and doesn't really enchance the gameplay is wrong. It is essentially a virtual scam - produce a great IP with great gameplay value, then slice out parts, repackage and then sell it to us gamers who are looking for something of substance to keep our gameplay experience going. It evokes the image of a cheap porno booth where you keep feeding quarters into the machine in order to see the ending. And I for one, am not going to stand for it.

BioWare is setting up a disturbing trend that will ultimately hurt us gamers and cost us our hard earned money. If other developers follow in their footsteps, it will not be long until we are paying far, far too much for bits and pieces of our favorite games.

It is with this that I call on you - my fellow gamers - to boycott DLC that explicitly is meant to gouge us. To charge us 60-80$ for a game, then expect us to shell out another 20$ to get it all is blackmail and banditry. We need to send a clear message to BioWare and other game developers that we will not stand for this!