Sneak Attack

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Short blog today. I just wanted to know how in the world Lunar got remade on the PSP without me knowing anything about it. I didn't play the original on Sega, but played the hell out of the updated version on Playstation. I wish I still had it, but I was a dumb kid when I played it like ten years ago and traded it in. On top of being an incredibly polished RPG, the soundtrack is easily the best I have ever heard in a game. The main song that Luna sings on the boat early in the game brought a tear to my eye every time; I'm not ashamed to admit it. :)

My Crysis Crisis

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Having just finished Crysis this weekend, I have developed mixed feelings about the future of PC gaming. It was completely clear that the consoles couldn't manage the vast environments and depth of gameplay, but this experience came at a cost. I've owned the game for over a year and my computer just decided recently that I was able to run the game.

When I first purchased Crysis, it was able to play for about thirty minutes but would then receive the infamous 'blue screen of death'. This problem spread to the rest of the games I played, then eventually it began to occur when I was just sitting in Windows without any programs running. This frustration eventually led me to give up on computers all together and do my gaming on the consoles.

After unpacking boxes from my recent move to the new house, I found the Crysis box and decided to give the game another shot. I discovered in the end that it was my virus protection that was eating up all my memory and causing the crashes (basically the exact opposite of it's main purpose). Uninstalling it allowed Crysis, and all other programs, to run perfectly. I was then able to experience first person shooting in a way that couldn't be done on current consoles. Some come close; Far Cry 2 has some amazing visuals, but the environments seems strangely lifeless. Uncharted 2 has several photo-realistic moments, but the rest clearly looks like a video game. In Crysis, there is hardly a second that couldn't be mistaken for a real world video.

Most PC gamers praise the vast options to customize the experience that isn't available on consoles. I found this to hurt more than help. At least a dozen times during the seven our adventure, I paused to fiddle with the options in order to find the perfect balance between a good frame-rate and amazing visuals. Nothing breaks the immersion like popping in and out of option menus all the time.

The computer clearly offers the superior gameplay, but I no longer feel as if the hassles are worth it. Buying a new PS3 or 360 game, there is no question that you will be playing within seconds of getting home since the game is designed for that exact system setup. With the PC, there is never quite any guarantee. Even if you meet the system requirements, there is any number of things that could go wrong (such as falling victim to being on the wrong side of the ATI vs Nvidia war that has been going on for over ten years). Several years ago, I purchased Neverwinter Nights and spent the first five hours on the internet and literally re-writing bits of the game's code in order to get it to run. I would gladly sacrifice a bit of visual quality to know that I would never have to go through that again.

PC gaming is in a downfall because, at least in my case, I no longer want to be forced to work for my entertainment. I haven't completely give up on computer games; titles like Crysis will always keep me playing. Anyone without a rig that can handle the game knows it to be the definitive FPS visual experience (especially impressive since it is over two years old). However, the computer will never again be my primary system of choice. The few sacrifices on consoles are more than made up for by the convenience and guarantee that the games will work without the hassles. The final battle may be upon us as Crysis 2 comes to both the PC and consoles. If the consoles can keep up visually, that could be the final nail in the coffin for computer gamers.

When Life Beckons

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You may have noticed my activity has dropped way off lately. One reason is because it was decided to block the Internet at work in an attempt to increase productivity. This completely backfired on them because now I just spend all day playing PSP and iPhone games. Now I don't even look at my computer monitor. The up side is that I will be writing more reviews since I have more time to play portable games.

I don't have time outside of work to get online lately either due to the fact that I just bought a house that certainly qualifys as a fixer-upper. We had to rip out all the carpet and paint all the walls and ceilings. We are trying to do all the work ourselves, so it's taking some time since we both work full time also. It's all good though because for the first time in my life, I will have a room exclusively for gaming. There's nothing in it right now; just concrete floors, white walls, and a faded ceiling that still needs painted. I took some 'before' pictures that I posted below and I'll post some 'after' pictures once I finish with the room.

Game Room Before

The Evolution of Tanya

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Tanyas

The Command and Conquer: Red Alert series has always been known for its live action cutscenes that employed a decent amount of cheese factor. However the only reoccurring and memorable character was Tanya Adams, the American commando who stuck to the tried and true action flick stereotype of tough but beautiful. As the series progressed, the actress playing Tanya was new with each game. In a way, the changes of this character mirror the changes of the series as a whole.

The first Tanya appeared when Hollywood still wasn't even aware of the existence of full motion video in games [1996], so the entire cast was made up of unknowns. Played by Lynne Litteer, the character immediately made it clear that she was the only one (besides the player themselves) that could actually get anything done. While all others were content to stay back at headquarters in their fancy uniforms, Tanya was always in the field leading the charge, as well as having a few actual FMV action scenes. Lynne set the tone for the allied campaign and cemented Tanya's place in the history of female video game characters.

With the immense success of the first Red Alert, Westwood had a much bigger budget and decided to go with a more popular actress for the role of Tanya in their second game [2000]. Fresh from television fame, Kari Wührer was an excellent choice. Already experienced with the military tough girl persona from her Sliders character of Captain Maggie Beckett, she certainly fit the role quite well, but came across at times as a bit too hot for front line combat. Apparently, even though bombs and gunfire were almost constant, there was still plenty of time for her to put on tons of make-up and keep her eyebrows waxed to perfection. Although she was absolutely stunning, I never doubted for a second that she could beat the crap out of someone.

With the recent Red Alert 3 [2008], EA (who had purchased Westwood around the release of RA2) went straight for the 'well known hottie' in their choice of Jenny McCarthy, and I personally felt this was a terrible decision. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing but respect for Jenny's conversion from Playboy Playmate to dedicated mother of an autistic child. However, she just isn't a convincing commando and didn't fit the role at all. He hair wasn't even dyed brunette like the past Tanya characters. It was almost as if the main goal of her character was to say, "Look, I'm Jenny McCarthy!" which caused the series to lose respect.

The progress of Tanya from a believable badass to sex icon echoes the changes of the series as a whole. It began as a respectable spinoff of the Command and Conquer series that should certainly be considered one of the cIassics. Today, it is simply an over-the-top, unbelievable war game that embraces the 'sex sells' credo far more than it should (the cover of the box has a scantly clad female Russian soldier who doesn't even appear in the game) and allows all other aspects to suffer as a result. Unless some serious changes are made with the next entry, Red Alert's former days of glory will be lost forever.

Thoughts on GOTY

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A site posting GOTY is almost always in for some serious ridicule. It is impossible to pick a single game that will please every single gamer in the world. Hell, it's fairly improbable that 1/4 of them could narrow it down to less than five. Many sites take the easy way out and make the award a popularity contest, but I am quite glad to see that Gamespot has not.

Though I haven't played Demon's Souls yet, I have heard nothing but how revolutionary it is (well, that and the crushing difficulty). Everyone says it is unlike anything you have played before. What other contender for the award could claim this? The next closest competition would probably have been Uncharted 2. This title may have been an absolutely amazing experience, but is it really anything more than an incredibly refined and polished Tomb Raider? The basic gamplay mechanics are relatively unchanged and pretty graphics can only carry the game so far. Eventually, I felt myself saying "I've done this before." I don't mean to imply it doesn't deserve all the praise it's getting. I would rate it around 9.5 or so, but I don't feel it should define the year in gaming.

Calling for Modern Warfare 2 is even worse. Just because a game sells well does not mean it represents the best of the year. The set-pieces may have been bigger, but the plot was far worse and the mulitplayer was basically the same with new maps. As with Uncharted 2, I'm not knocking this game's review scores, as I myself put a few hours into it about every other night. I simply don't feel it represents the best of the best.

The above examples beg the question, "Should a sequel ever be up for GOTY?" Sure, if they do something completely new, but when has that happened? Most sequels are merely tweaked versions of the original, carrying over animations, graphics, weapons, characters, and most other aspects. Rewarding rehashed aspects isn't a good message to be sending to developers. Why would they ever try anything new if the ultimate goal of any game, a GOTY award, will be earned with the same stuff they did last year?

Not having played Demon's Souls, my personal choice for GOTY is Borderlands. It takes two genres never blended so seamlessly before and wraps it around a game that is just plain fun. Not only is it unlike anything I've played before, but it is also the first game that I continued playing after getting every single achievement. Sure, it wasn't perfect. The graphics could have been better, environments more detailed, and a few glitches snuck into the original retail version. However, nothing else this year that I have played has moved the industry in a new direction, which I feel should be the main goal of any game released. It's for this reason that I whole-heartedly support Gamespot's decision to go with a less popular but more unique title.

Horrible Ad Idea

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So is it just me or is this ad implying that people who use Windows are the pricks that send all caps messages?

Dumb ad

I hate those people. Makes me not want to buy a PC. This would actually be a pretty good Mac ad.

Dragon Age DLC ripoff

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The debate on the value of DLC has been going strong for a while now. Sure, Fallout 3 was a great game, but in the end, I paid nearly as much for about 15 more hours of DLC as I paid for the 60 hour game. This value is debatable since many full priced games nowadays clock in at under 10 hours. However, I have found the DLC for Dragon Age to be a complete ripoff.

The game itself is an amazing fantasy epic, so it shouldn't be wrong of me to expect the same from the DLC. The first I played was The Stone Prisoner. Luckily, this one came included with my pre-order of the game, but for the less fortunate, it will set you back $15. It contains one small outdoor environment (roughly forty feet wide and two hundred feet long) and an underground dungeon that is slightly longer. There is a grand total of two friendly NPC to talk with. The enemies are all darkspawn, of which I had already killed hundreds of in the main game. The final boss is a demon that I had fought at least ten times before. The real draw is the addition of the Golem to your party after completion, but he is basically a variation of the warrior class, and I already had two of them in my group at this point. There was a cool fire puzzle near the end, but it only lasts a couple minutes. The greatest crime here is that the entire DLC can be completed in under an hour. That doesn't mean you can finish in an hour if you rush, this includes exploring every corner and fighting every enemy. $15 for this is ridiculous.

Ironically, the second download, The Warden's Keep (which I did have to pay for) is far better and only cost $7, though still only last about an hour. It consists of a slightly larger environment to clear, but still only consists of the same monsters I had battled before. After clearing the keep, merchants with some impressive merchandise set up shop outside and a storage chest is added to the game, which is something that was sorely missed in the retail game. However, I really think the stash is something that should have been included for free. This DLC contains a few more NPCs to talk with as well as a couple possible conclusions that lead to different boss fights. Oddly, once you 'reclaim' the keep, you are locked out of it for no apparent reason since it is basically implied that it is now your base of operations.

I can forgive the $7 download since it was fun and cheap diversion that added a much needed feature to the game, but one hour of gameplay is still a bit sad. On the other hand, I am immensely grateful The Stone Prisoner was included with my pre-order, because there is no way Microsoft can justify $15 for one hour of gameplay.

Finally Tagged, couldn't last forever

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1. My name is Paul Urbach. Like Bach the composer. It's not that hard people. Call me Ur-back and you're likely to get slapped.

2. I live in Orlando, FL (USA for those not in the know) right near all the attractions. Disney is as fun as expected. Universal gets boring. Sea World is amazingly underrated.

3. I am currently house shopping with my girlfriend, and hoping to find something in the next month in order to get that $8000 tax credit.

4. I have two dogs, yet they can hardly be referred to as such. They look more like rats and act like spoiled, needy children.

5. I've been gaming all my life. The first game I can remember playing is River Raid on my dad's Atari 65XE, which was basically a keyboard and joystick plugged into a disk drive plugged into a TV, but they still called it a computer.

6. I thought RPGs were boring and too complicated until I played Diablo. Then I tried TES: Daggerfall and was hooked. Now its my favorite genre.

7. I helped my friend start the gaming website, gamefury.net, but it doesn't have as much traffic as we would like because four times now he randomly decided he doesn't like the look of it, deletes it, then started over from scratch.

8. I was born in Ohio. We moved to Florida when I was 10 because, well, it was Ohio.

9. I work for the Department of Transportation watching traffic cameras on the interstates and toll roads in the Orlando area.

10. I am currently hooked on Borderlands, after which I will go back to Oblivion and finish it up, then give Fallout 3 another playthrough. I'll be busy for a while.

That's all I got for ya. I'll tag hank 101 since he has been neglecting his blog for the past couple weeks. :D

Should Competitive Multiplayer be the Future?

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Competitive multiplayer seems to be the wave of the future. Most gamers feel that the rush from battling against a real opponent is far more satisfying than fighting a computer controlled one. Though I prefer single player games, I can't argue with this logic. However, multiplayer games appear to ultimately do less for video gaming in the long run.

Is there a way to actually define a good online game? The answers to this seem obvious at first. Well balanced; if the maps favor one team or another, players become frustrated. Plenty of game modes; players want choice, though most still play team deathmatch in every game. Rewards for playing well and ranking up; if players have nothing to look forward to and no goals to shoot for, why play? Each of these things are good points, but only explains how to prevent making a bad game, not how it can rise above others.

I have played a fair share of online games and had the same basic experience in each. A play session of GRAW felt relatively similar to Halo. While bells and whistles are nice, it's ultimately the players that make or break a game. After a while in any game, you will run into the group of players that are amazing and know it. Maybe I'm not a trash talker, so I don't get into these shouting matches that populate the higher ranked sessions in the rare event that I do well. The introduction of clans, unions, and guilds make it harder for player to get into a game. Imagine playing paintball against a S.W.A.T. team and you'll get the idea. Eventually, it breaks down to me getting destroyed, insulted, frustrated, then quitting.

I can see the comments coming now, "Just 'cause you suck at a game doesn't mean it isn't awesome." This basically sums up multiplayer gaming. The better player wins. I remember growing up in the days before online gaming where multiplayer meant a room full of friends crowding around the SNES. In the end, the same person won every time and they were the only ones that really enjoyed themselves, though eventually even the constant winning got old. Although online gaming has expanded the possible pool of players, the same basic rule applies. I don't really have much fun when I start playing a new game against people who have mastered the controls, memorized spawn points, and are simply far better at the game than I am.

Everyone will have differing opinions on what they enjoy, but the bottom line is what's good for the industry. Many developers have taken on the mentality that multiplayer is the only way to keep people playing their game forever. This is a great idea, but only for a big few. Load up Halo 3, Gears of War 2, Killzone 2, Resistance 2, Super Smash Brothers Brawl, or Mario Kart Wii (note that they are all sequels) and you will find them flooded with players. Unfortunately, play almost any other game a few months after release, especially a new series,and you will be hard-pressed to get enough people for a match. For example, I tried finding a game of Hawx online to get some of the achievements and there wasn't one person playing. This is basically the first jetfighter game in the genre since Ace Combat 6 two years ago, yet no one is playing it.

Take a look at the gamer scores on Xbox 360 of some of the players that destroy you in your next match of Halo 3. In my last match, there was a player that had owned an Xbox for two years and his gamer score was 635 (for the uninitiated, every retail Xbox 360 game has a possible 1000 gamer points possible). This is great for Halo, but bad for Microsoft in general. If a player is stuck on one game, they aren't buying others and the industry as a whole is hurting. There are rare games that are universally panned by the critics yet adamantly defended by hardcore fans that find them enjoyable, such as Shadowrun, but these are few and far between.

It is my hope that we lean away from deathmatch type games, and the rising popularity of co-op games gives me hope. A game that focuses on co-op can be just about equally enjoyed by an online and solo gamer. These games still require a decent plot and plenty of enemy variety, but keep the competition of doing better than your fellow gamers. Even if you aren't as good as your partners, you aren't forced to die constantly and still get the satisfaction of eventually winning. The simple fact that they eventually end will drive player to buy other similar titles instead of playing the same game for years on end. Borderlands is an excellent example of this. The PvP arenas are more of an after though and the main point of the game is to work together toward a common goal. Hell, at this rate, players might accidentally learn a thing or two about teamwork if they aren't careful.

Why Bethesda Rocks

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I was sitting at work when my phone beeped with a new email. Opening it up, I was treated to the following message.

Thanks for being the biggest fan of Fallout 3

As a special thanks for purchasing all five Fallout(R) 3 game add-ons,
Xbox 360(R) and Bethesda are happy to present you with this token for
a free, premium Fallout 3 theme. It's our way of saying thanks for
being a huge fan of Fallout 3.

Here's how to collect your reward:
1. Sign in to the Xbox LIVE(R) Marketplace on the Web.
2. Select My Account, then Redeem Code.
3. Enter the token below:
[XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX]

Naturally, I removed the actual code, but you get the idea. I had no idea this message was coming and wasn't even expecting anything from them. Things like this show that a company really cares about their consumers and wants to reward those most loyal to them. It may just be a theme, but it really renews my faith in industry. Bethesda isn't making any profit from this. They just wanted to do something nice for people that bought their product.

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