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Thought of the Day: Gaming, 10 Jun 13

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While the Sony conference--which I could care less about--is currently playing live, I was at work during the Microsoft conference. Thus, I don't have a lot to say. I've seen on the news that Xbox One will be $500. I saw on a friend's Twitter that Microsoft Points are going away in favor of actual currencies. Thoughts on both...

MS Points: Good riddance.

The $500 Xbox One: Hey, you know what will be a great idea? Going out and buying the Xbox One within the first week of release. First, we know that Microsoft has no history of releasing subpar hardware that negatively impacts early adopters. Secondly, we know that Microsoft will never release a better version of the console in a few months. So yeah, buy it on Day 1, in fact! It's too bad I can't preorder the thing, just to prove what a dumbshit I am.

Post Script: I was being generous when I said the Sony conference is playing live. It is supposed to be playing live. GameSpot has been telling me "The E3 2013 Sony Press Conference starts in: We'll be with you short..." for the entire time it took me to type this.

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 9 Jun 13

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I had some more thoughts on the DRM issue, inspired by recent information regarding Xbox One. Games have been distributed in the following fashion since removable cartridges were invented:

  1. A publisher encodes digital information onto a physical object, like a disc, disk, or cartridge.
  2. That physical object is packaged along with other materials (manual, map, cloth map, registration card, pewter figurine, advertisements, rubbish).
  3. This package is then shipped by via boats, planes, and trains to retailers, who then subsequently ship it to their outlets.
  4. You, the gamer, then travel to a retail outlet, buy this physical object, then return to your home. Alternatively, you order it online, then wait for a day to a week.
  5. Your console or computer transforms the data on the physical media into a game.

All that up there, that is not going to continue that much longer. This is the legacy way of acquiring software. Moving physical objects around to accomplish a digital process is going to look increasingly ridiculous. It's the equivalent of printing off a document, driving it to your coworker's house, and scanning it into his computer, instead of just emailing it to him. Buying software in a box will be gone with the wind pretty soon.

So what does this mean? Let's talk about the logical ramifications of the obsolescence of physical media. The most obvious is that ownership of a game (or properly, I should say, the rights to use a game) will no longer be tied to owning a disc. Your ownership of a game will be virtual, tied to an account that is maintained on some giant company's server. This sort of scheme is already in place, and in fact, has been around for years. A few examples:

  • Xbox Live Arcade
  • Apple App Store
  • Steam

We haven't been able to trade/resell games off any of these platforms since they went operational. Why aren't people complaining about that? I mentioned this in my last blog: Gamer complaints about Xbox One are almost entirely focused around DRM, and the fact that they won't be able to resell boxed copies of games. DRM is an unavoidable consequence of virtual ownership. Virtual ownership models have been around for years in the world of gaming. This is not something new.

One of the complaints levied against Xbox One is that you won't be able to rent games, which proves that the people complaining about Xbox One aren't thinking. Tell me, reader, is it easier--for both a business and end user--to rent a game by mailing out a disc, or downloading the game? Is the Netflix digital subscription or the snail mail subscription more popular these days? With the next generation of consoles (the current generation, actually), there's no reason you couldn't just install the GameFly app, and it allow you to play your two full games per month instantly, without leaving your chair.

Virtual ownership opens up a whole new slew of ways to sell games. Perhaps we can get away from the monolithic $60-per-game pricing that's been around for the last decade. I think some comparisons to music are in order here. In the old days, you bought a CD for $12, and owning that CD defined your ownership of the songs on it. I don't know one person who still buys CDs. Why? Because there are host of more convenient ways to get music: Ad supported streaming, buying tracks/albums online, or buying a subscription. Any of these could be applied to games.

I have an Xbox Music Pass (grandfathered Zune Pass) that allows me to download or stream all the DRM'd music I want, and download 10 DRM-free tracks per month. A similar model could be applied to gaming. For some flat monthly fee, you can play a certain number of full games. For a higher fee, play an unlimited number of full games per month. Companies can come up with all sorts of pricing schemes, and none of them need involve me leaving my house, riding my motorcycle to a store, and spending $60 on a green plastic rectangle with a disc inside.

Once we get away from the "pay $60 for this disc," games could become more modular, similar to how people buy tracks rather than albums these days. Single and multiplayer modes could be purchased separately, and more episodic content could be produced. Obviously the technology to do all this on 360 exists already. I think the reason this doesn't happen is the gamers and publishers are still locked into that $60-for-full-game mindset.

I'm sure when iTunes went operational, there were people complaining about it, how they wouldn't be able to resell an album once they bought it. Such a complaint sounds archaic, and wouldn't even occur to us now. In ten years, no one will give DRM in games a second thought. It'll just be the way we go about our gaming.

I am not passing judgment on any of this. This is simply the way things are going. Gamers are complaining about it, because they haven't spent two minutes to think beyond "I won't be able to resell my games!" Well, you won't be able to resell your games, and that's annoying. However, there will be good changes too, like finally getting away from that ubiquitous $60 price tag.

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 7 Jun 13

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I'm going to briefly address the Digital Rights Management (DRM) complaints levied against Xbox One. Here's a summary of said complaints:

Xbox One Whining

Now, I also haven't researched that graphic, and I'm not going to. All of this is up in the air until the final project is released. I'm not going to "research" rumors. I also don't really understand how "You cannot disconnect the Kinect senor" is a complaint. I can't disconnect the WiFi on the latest 360, but who cares? If you don't want it, ignore it. Anyway, that's neither here nor there, as the focus of gamer ire and this article is on the DRM.

The industry push for DRM is not so much oriented at eliminating the used game market, as it is eliminating physical media altogether. That's DVDs, for those of you who don't speak dork. Physical media is going the way of the Dodo bird. Just accept it. I don't know if Sony is going to integrate a similar scheme in their next console, and I really don't care. If they don't put it in the Playstation 4, then they'll put it in the Playstation 5. It's coming. I'll be surprised if the next Xbox even has a slot for a disc at all. Physical media for gaming and other software is going away the same way it's gone away for music. Yes, obviously I'm talking about the mainstream here; I don't care that your hipster friend collects vinyl.

Let's examine some of the common gamer responses, and why they're bogus:

"I'm going to switch to PS4." Fine, but that probably won't work for this generation of consoles, and definitely won't for the next.

"I'm just going to keep playing Xbox 360." No, you won't. One of the reasons game publishers are pushing this is that they know most gamers are stupid. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Most gamers are dumb as shit. Gamers are spoiled children: Demanding instant gratification, quickly growing tired of any toys they have, and wanting more. The fact that preorders exist prove this. Don't blame this DRM business on the publishers. Blame it on every dumbshit gamer who preordered Aliens: Colonial Marines.

"I'm going to start playing PC games and be a gaming snob." Well, I'm a gaming snob, and I do play PC games. And you know what? Screw this DRM nonsense on consoles! I'm going to get on the Steam store, and...oh...wait. Why haven't people been complaining about this for years already?

Good night.

Thought of the Day, 25 May 13

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Re., Xbox One.

First, "Xbox One" is a dumbass name. When you mention "Xbox 1" are you talking about the original Xbox, or the Xbox that is actually the third one? It's the Rambo syndrome.

Secondly, shut up about backwards compatiblity. Backwards compatibility has always been a joke. Gamers bitch about it, the same gamers who preorder every single title they play, thus telling the industry that they value immediate satisfaction over graphics technology, writing, voice acting, writing, score, gameplay, or any other possible facet that constitutes a good game.

Gamers are dumb as sh!t. They will buy whatever you plop in front of them, given sufficient marketing. This Xbox backwards compatibility issue is a "versus" one solely. Leave it to that crowd, who are so goddamn stupid that every publisher should refuse to sell them games; no, not even Angry Birds Friends should work for them. They can download and play Snood, and b!tch to each other about how it works better on Linux.

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 30 Jan 13

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More complaining follows.

Whatever.

I can barely be brought to even care about this, but I don't see why anybody else would either. Anyone who has been wandering around in Oblivion or Skyrim thinking "Boy, this would be so much fun if a hoard of other players were wandering around with me" has obviously never played an MMO. Having a hoard of human players wandering around the world with you is not fun. It's so not fun that pretty much every modern MMO uses instances. They do this specifically so that there aren't a million other people trying to ruin you or your party's fun while you kill critters.

Secondly, I didn't know there were many people itching to explore Tamriel in an MMO. If you don't know what Tamriel is, then A.) Thanks for making my point, and B.) Tamriel is the world in which the Elder Scrolls games take place. Tamriel does not have the same appeal of Star Wars, Middle Earth, or the Forgotten Realms. Even if it did, guess what? There are half a dozen games that already exist where you can explore Tamriel. MMOs aren't about exploring a world and reading lore books anyway. They're about grinding to max level for a year, then raiding high level dungeons with your guild, until you get bored and cancel your subscription.

Finally, the mechanics of Elder Scrolls games do not translate to an MMO. The leveling mechanics won't work without drastic overhaul. I can grind my Blade skill in Oblivion to max level in a day. Most people who play an Elder Scrolls game to its conclusion probably have high levels in a number of skills. That doesn't work when trying to set up classes in an MMO. The open world setting doesn't work in an MMO for the reasons I mentioned above. When you take away the leveling system and the open world, what you're left with is not an Elder Scrolls game.

It will however say "Elder Scrolls" on the box, so I'm sure Bethesda will make a fortune on sales and subscription fees. Go gamers.

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 29 Jan 13

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Complaining follows.

So I turn on my Xbox to play my 160th hour of Dark Souls, and I'm greeted by this on the main dashboard page:

Xbox

Sleeper hits. Far Cry 3 is a sleeper hit.

:|

Xbox dashboard editor: F*ck you. Shove your article up your ass. Far Cry 3 is not a sleeper hit. It's a game with a budget, marketing effort, and production staff larger than many films, and it's developed and produced by one of the biggest companies in the industry. It is the polar opposite of a sleeper hit.

Where does nonsense like this come from? Do some gamers want to pretend that they're appreciating something artsy and independent, while they are in fact playing the very definition of a mainstream title? Here's what this reminds me of: In college, about 50% of the girls I ever went out with claimed to love "hole in the wall bars." When asked to identify a "hole in the wall bar," they would invariably list some gigantic monstrosity of a bar on Bardstown Road, one of the main nightlife areas in Louisville. Guess what: If a bar has two separate dance floors, four bars, shot girls wandering around everywhere, and a line at the door, it's not a goddamn hole in the wall bar.

So yeah, I think that's what it is: People want to imagine that they are a connoisseur, someone who appreciates things rare and subtle, even if they are in fact a common, mass-market consumer. And also, Xbox dashboard editor: F*ck you. Take Far Cry 3 and put it where your article goes.

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 21 Jan 13

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Wow, it's been a while since I've posted anything. My days have been spent: A.) Working, B.) Working out, and C.) Playing the hell out of Dark Souls. According to Raptr, I'm at 130 hours in Dark Souls. Wow. That's over three hours per day since I got the game. I will post all the elements of the game I like sometime here, since I've already complained about it.

On a lighter note, my birthday passed recently (or what I claim as my birthday while pretending to be a human). Look what I got: 20 free Microsoft Points from Xbox Rewards. Sweet! I even got a little e-card in my inbox, announcing my free points. If you are not a member of Xbox Rewards, sign up today. The reason should be obvious: You get free MS points.

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 27 Dec 12

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Issues that annoy me in Dark Souls:

Dark Souls

I mentioned last time how this game reminded me of a very old school RPG experience, what with its lack of in-game reloads. Here's another one: There is no pause button. Think I'm kidding? I'm not. Due to this game's "you're always online playing a mostly single player game" nature, you can't pause it. If you get a phone call or have to run to an elementary school to stop a shooting, you're only option is to quit the game. And keep an eye on your controller's batteries. If they go out, you're screwed.

More old school "fun" in Dark Souls: Nothing is obvious in this game. How do you cast spells? You buy a spell, select it, and press the "cast" button, right? No, dear reader, not at all. You cast spells by following these steps:

  1. Buy the spell.
  2. Buy a talisman.
  3. Go to a bonfire (rest area) and "attune" the spell.
  4. Assign the talisman to either your left or right hand.
  5. Select the talisman (instead of your sword, shield, or whatever).
  6. Press RB or LB to use the talisman in your right or left hand, respectively.

Real obvious, right? Right, but making this better: None of this is in the manual. Let me repeat that: None of this is in the manual. What does the manual say instead? Nothing. Magic is not mentioned anywhere in the manual. When I said the other day that Dark Souls was a Wikia game, boy howdy was I correct. Other than possessing that nice new videogame smell, the manual is completely useless.

The voice acting in this game is terrible, laughably bad. Reader, we could get together, write better dialogue, and record better voice samples than From Software did for this game. As you know if you read my publication here, the other game I'm playing currently is Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Deus Ex has BioWare-level voice acting, so the effect of moving from that kind of quality to Dark Souls is quite jarring.

Not only is the voice acting bad, but the script is poorly written. A guy just said to me "I can share some spells with you if you'd like...unless you find magic unsavory that is." The game prompts "How do you respond?" with the options "Yes or No." Okay...am I answering to "Can I share some spells?" or "Do you find magic unsavory?" The two previous times this has come up, I picked "Yes" to get what the NPC had to offer. "Yes" is a positive response, so I just assumed that was the right choice. But no, of course not. In this case, I was actually saying "Yes, I find magic unsavory." WTF?? Again, this is the sort of ambiguity I've not seen in any RPG developed in the last 15 years.

My final complaint is the lack of story. Again, back to this being an old school RPG, the "story" here is the minimum you can have in a game and it even be called a story: The protagonist has an end goal that he wants to achieve that in some way relates to the human condition. Your character experiences no development, at least not that I've seen 50 hours into the game. NPCs are few and far between, and as I've already mentioned, are incredibly shallow. There are next to no meaningful choices to be made that affect yourself or the people around you. The few choices that are present are not obvious. Let me say it again: Nothing in this game is obvious. There are a couple people who you can help and then gain assistance from later, but it's extremely easy to miss these opportunities. There is no quest log in this game. There is no automap. There are no hints in any form as to where NPCs are located. I've already found by reading a Wiki that I could have rescued a knight earlier in the game who would help me later on. I didn't even see him. As if the lack of hints weren't enough, half the NPCs aren't even in plain sight; they're literally in areas you would think of as "secret." Finally, there are factions in this game, but again, nothing is obvious. I joined my first one by accident, and from what I can tell, it has absolutely no effect on anything. Since then I've joined two others. There are no questlines associated with these factions. At best, they open up a new merchant.

Ultimately though, this lack of story is the least of my complaints. Story is not what this game is about. This game is about the gameplay and the RPG elements (e.g., the grind). Frankly, I'd rather a game just ignore the story than make a hackneyed one like in Wolfenstein and waste my time. The game certainly could use some more direction however. After all this complaining, tune in next time, and I'll tell you what I actually like about Dark Souls.

Post Script: There are some stability issues with this game. Dark Souls has crashed twice on me in about 50 hours. Admittedly, that's not much, but considering I've recently played three games from start to finish without a single crash, I think it's worth mentioning.

Thought of the Day: Gaming, 21 Dec 12

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Today I'm going to share some more Dark Souls impressions, both good, bad, and weird. I'll probably split this into several entries.

Dark Souls

Dark Souls is an odd game. In some ways, it's a very old school RPG experience. And I don't mean Final Fantasy old school; I mean Rogue old school. First off, you don't get to save and reload your game. I know you're thinking, "I must not have read that right." What I mean is that in a lot of old-timey PC RPGs (CRPGs), save/load didn't work the way it does today. You could save your game so that you could exit and turn your computer off, and then load when you started up the game again. However, you couldn't reload in the middle of a game (because you died, lost a valuable item, said the wrong thing to an NPC, et cetera). In-game actions were permanent. Dark Souls functions in precisely this fashion. Rarely is this an issue, but let me tell you a little story. I had a special item that's supposed to increase the effect of healing potions (all of them, permanently). This is obviously pretty sweet, so I used it. Instead of upgrading my potions, it manifested a different and much less valuable effect. Apparently, I wasn't supposed to use it. I was intended to give it to some NPC instead, even though there was no in-game clue to do this. Then it hit me like a kick to the dick: I can't reload my game and take the proper action with that item. That was a harsh realization. I'm still not sure how I feel about this.

PvP (Player Versus Player) is handled in Dark Souls in a fashion I have never seen before. Other players can "invade" your game as "evil spirits." You'll be killing monsters, minding your business, and a giant warning will appear at the bottom of your screen "SoAndSo Has Invaded!!" Then they find you and kill you, usually when you're in the middle of fighting some tough enemy. Once they kill you (or you kill them), they are removed from your game. This is just bizarre, and I have never played anything like this. Imagine if you're playing Halo, killing enemies, then the screen flashes "Douchenozzle117 has Invaded!!" Now in addition to worrying about all the normal enemies, there is some human player somewhere in the level, who is deathmatching you! Does that sound like fun? No, it doesn't!

This invasion mechanic is one of the strangest I have seen in any game ever, and a glance at Dark Souls forums reveals its controversial nature. Personally, I do not care for PvP; I enjoy co-op or solo gameplay in RPGs. If I want to PvP, I'll go play shooter. Every since Ultima Online, there are a small but vocal group of PvP fans who want to ensure that everyone gets to "enjoy" PvP. Naturally, these people exist in Dark Souls too. At present, my inclination is simply to disconnect when someone invades me.

I've been killed twice through these stupid invasions. The first time, I was in the middle of fighting some very tough enemies. The other time by some guy with way better equipment than me, who literally killed me in one hit. As the system exists currently, it just seems like a way for people to troll. I've read online there are a lot of cheap tactics involved in getting good at invasions. Why From Software didn't include an online arena or PvP zones, I have no idea. They took an otherwise solo or co-op game and just tacked on this PvP element in a fashion that seems like it would only please people who like to ruin other peoples' fun.

In the next couple days, I'll talk about some things I dislike and like about the game. I don't care for those invasions, but it's so strange and unprecedented that I file it under "weird" instead of "bad."

...

On an unrelated note, it appears everything is still here, on Earth I mean. The world has about five more hours to end so I don't have to pay back that loan shark.