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Polybren Blog

Too much time on my hands?

So I've been killing some spare time lately making a follow-up to The Undertaken, my Peabody-award winning* SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 create-a-story about the Undertaker's feud with alcoholism. I didn't realize exactly how much time I'd spent on this thing, but I noticed on my forum signature that Raptr had done the math for me.

I've spent nearly 19 hours working on this thing in the last week. I'm just barely finished with what is essentially a first draft, so there could be another 10-15 sunk into this before I get it finished, taped, edited, and posted online. I don't often spend 19 hours with games I like, much less 35.

On the one hand, a creative outlet is usually its own reward, even if you're not exactly enriching people's lives with the end product. So that time wasn't completely wasted, even if I never touch the thing again.On the other hand, that's an awful lot of time to spend on what is a frustratingly limited feature on a thoroughly average game.

Those limitations can make for some good laughs in the ways you work around them, but I'm still interested to see how THQ expands on the mode for SmackDown 2011, if at all.

Anyway, new story coming in the near-ish future. Keep an eye out.

*This did not happen.

EA cover jinx shattered!

So Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane was the cover athlete of NHL 10, and earlier tonight he scored the series-clinching overtime goal in game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals, delivering Chicago its first Cup in 49 years. Has anyone on an EA Sports cover ever won it all before, much less come through in the clutch like that? And don't say Tiger Woods, because we all know the curse was just stored up over time for that guy and took effect all at once last Thanksgiving.

On a related note, thank you Rocky Wirtz and Hawks management for saving this franchise from your father's misguided ways. Thank you Denis Savard for accepting your firing with grace and remaining a supporter of the franchise with class. You deserved better, and I hope you get another chance. Thank you Chicago for supporting a moribund franchise when given the slightest reason to be hopeful, and for continuing that support through its first championship in nearly 50 years. Thank you Dale Tallon for potentially mortgaging the franchise's future to sign Marian Hossa to a long-term contract. I might have a different opinion in 10 years or so, but for now I'm convinced it was worth it. Thank you Jonathan Toews for being some kind of freaky hockey victory machine. Seriously, World Juniors, Olympics, and now the Stanley Cup. I bow before you. Thank you Patrick Sharp, Antti Niemi, Kris Versteeg, Brian Campbell, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Thomas Kopecky, Andrew Ladd, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Dustin Byfuglien, Troy Brouwer, Dave Bolland, and of course Patrick Kane, for each of the playoff games where you were instrumental in delivering victory. I'm less optimistic for next year knowing we'll have to lose some of you to fit under the salary cap.

Also, gotta say I've been a fan of Briere, Hartnell, and Richards for a while, and they showed why this postseason. I even liked Leighton when he was the backup goalie for the Blackhawks, and thrilled to Boucher's shutout streak with Phoenix and his original post-season run with the Flyers (even picked up the McFarlane Toys Boucher figure). If they were playing anyone else, and if it weren't for *******s like Pronger, Carcillo, and (to a lesser extent) Giroux, I really could have rooted for the Flyers this year.

HotSpot listeners on used games and EA Online Pass

We talked a bit about the secondhand game market and EA's Online Pass on last week's HotSpot, and it touched a nerve with a lot of people. Unfortunately, we don't have enough time on the show to address every phone call or e-mail we get, but given how much time people take to compose their ideas and send them off to us, I hate seeing that effort go completely to waste. So here are a few of the e-mails we didn't discuss on the show:

Tom McShea,
I think you are completely wrong for supporting the online game pass. This is just another way of video game companies trying to nickel & dime us, the used game industry, just as any other used industry serves a good purpose.Buying a used car doesn't benefit the original manufacturer, neither does buying a used book benefit the textbook maker. Yet I'm sure you had no problem buying used text books in college to save money.You say that developers are "losing money hand over fist" but so is Ford, GM and many other car companies, do you support car companies taking parts out of used cars, or marking them up thousands of dollars in the same way EA is basically doing? Do you think that people shouldn't be allowed to buy used books at all without incurring extra charges? People buy used for 2 reasons, it saves them money, and a lot of times the only way you can find some games is buying them used. In this economy people have even less money to buy a new game so saving 5+ dollars can actually mean a lot.
--Julian Hayes

EA's Online Pass is a fleecing of the consumer. Plain and simple. Publisher's claim that used game sales are responsible for lost profits. Guess what? EVERYONE is losing money. The economy is terrible at the moment. Yet somehow, game publishers find it acceptable to scapegoat "cheap" consumers who purchase used games. Maybe this is because the game industry maintained its financial viability much further into the economic collapse than other industries, but the train had to lose its momentum eventually. The biggest fallacy about this logic is that the sale of used goods is part of any economy. Publishers act as if this is a new evil that has suddenly been thrust on games, when the reality is that every industry before has dealt with (and survived) used sales. Cars, furniture, books, etc. all have large after market communities (I'm sure you've heard of Craig's List). Manufacturers court new sales in those markets by giving the consumer a reason to buy new, as opposed to penalizing them for buying used.

This after market ********* is unique to the software industry. The software industry is in the unusual position of being able to cripple or entirely disable products from across the Internet because software products don't need a physical manifestation (discs are just a method of transport and storage). The status quo has been changed grossly in favor of the industry over the consumer. And what of double-charging? The $50/yr. charge for Xbox LIVE grants the right to play online with other players. Those subscribers are essentially being charged twice for the same service.
--Jarryd

I would like to interject into the continuing argument on used games.I am a 35 year old married gamer. My wife and our three children are all gamers.Our gaming budget does not support buying all 'new' games.Sometimes between birthdays, Christmas, and big game releases we do not have enough money to support our hobby. We have found that used games really help to buy games for all family members covering all of our diverse interest without leaving anybody feeling left out. We do not copy or buy pirated software.

Sometimes we have had family yard/garage sales. My children and I have sold toys, books, furniture, and other items at these sales. We own those items and is it not our right to sell them to others for some monetary gain? Granted never for what we originally paid for the items. Isn't that roughly the same thing? Yes, the developers may not get a share of the used game sale. Neither does Hasbro, Broyhill, or Hot Wheels when we sell or buy used items. Why should games be any different? Furthermore, the good will that my children have from the ability to have many current games used is cementing them in as gamers, which will translate into them I am sure buying their own new games later when they have their own disposable incomes. I believe in some ways this is good for the industry because we are able to buy games for all family members that allow them to enjoy this habit without being left out and bitter. If games would cost more reasonable New we would gladly purchase those first for the family. Just a perspective from a family of gamers instead of the usual young guy/gal journalist or single person.

--Anthony

We need to read meaning into games that have none.

I've been accused a number of times of taking games too seriously, of reading too much into games and seeing messages where developers never intended to give them (Shadow Complex, almost any military shooter). I do this because people need to realize that they are always communicating. It's very hard to say literally nothing, especially when you're setting your game in a realistic world. And if developers don't inject their own meaning into games, they're leaving it up to other people to dictate to the world what their work is actually about.

To illustrate this, here's something I stumbled onto from the biographer of Ultima creator Richard Garriott (on Wikipedia, so caveat emptor and all that) about why he decided to move the series in a more thoughtful, narrative-driven direction after the first few games:


"He decided that if people were going to look for hidden meaning in his work when they didn't even exist, he would introduce ideas and symbols with meaning and significance he deemed worthwhile, to give them something they could really think about."


Why we fight (the way we do)

There's a pretty massive Super Street Fighter IV threadin the forums, and having just spent my first real time with the game last night, I figured I'd wade in there. When I did, there was one post that stood out for me and got me thinking a bit about why I inherently prefer playing the game (and most competitive games, from Magic: The Gathering to Marvel vs. Capcom 2) the way I do. Also, I hadn't posted a blog in a while so I figured I'd re-purpose my bit of the thread here.

Kreatzion wrote:

It's so frustrating when you hear people ***** about Sonic Booms. I don't understand why people can't seem to grasp defensive play. So I'm just suppose to walk into your damn fist!? Morons!!!



I think it just gets boring when I run into a really defensive player because the only way to win is to chip away a little bit of damage at a time. A lot of times that requires a tremendous amount of focus, when in many cases the defender is basically running through a simple script in their heads (like a Guile version of the Ken players' flowchart). And when I do win, it's not exactly the most satisfying or rewarding thing in the world. It's dull to watch matches like that, and it's dull to play them.


If you like hockey, it's like comparing the Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr Pittsburgh Penguins teams to the Cup-winning New Jersey Devils squads. They were both great in their own ways and both won plenty, but one was fun to watch for wide open, fast-paced, high-scoring and exciting games. The other was constantly put down by sports fans and media alike for playing a defensive style of hockey that limited scoring chances and led to a lot of games that played out in pretty much the same way. To me, overly defensive play is built on frustrating an opponent (which takes the fun out of it) and slowing down the tempo of the game (which takes the fun out of it).

You can play the game however you want, but I hope you can at least understand why win or lose, some people might enjoy playing a more offensive-minded opponent.

Help a gamer out

So I received this PM from a GameSpotter and I'm hoping some of you guys can spare the time to help him out with a survey for his class. While the questions are a bit standard for gamer surveys, Chirag will post the results of the survey, which I think could be pretty fascinating:

I'm doing a project for a market research class, which involves conducting marketing analytics on a bunch of consumer data. Basically, it's the kind of analysis EA's marketing department might conduct when trying to figure out what consumer preferences are for existing games on the market, and how EA's new game might match up to those preferences.

I've already posted on the forums asking people to take the survey (which is less than 10 minutes), and I was hoping you could give it a plug on the podcast, or at least mention it on your blog. That'll greatly improve the chances that people might actually fill it out. And of course, it would be even more awesome if you and your colleagues at Gamespot could take the survey as well, since you would have a somewhat different perspective than the average Gamespot reader.

The link is:

http://uncodum.qualtrics.com/SE?SID=SV_24aRY6xw6RkFBGs&SVID=Prod

The survey will be open until Sunday, April 18th. Thanks again for your help. I really appreciate it.

Best Regards,

Chirag Fifadra

Why can't Sony convey what makes the PSP great?

Just reading through Sony's fifth anniversary PR for the PSP and came across this tidbit:

In 2008, the PSP-3000 system debuted, which featured an enhanced LCD screen with five times the color contrast ratio of previous models.

"Five times the color contrast of previous models." Geez, put that on a box, throw some exclamation points after it, and who wouldn't buy that thing?If that's how you sell your products, it's no wonder the system is largely ignored by gamers and third-party publishers. It's so damn frustrating to watch Sony repeatedly drop the ball on a system that should be doing for digital distribution in the handheld market what Xbox Live Arcade did for digital distribution on consoles.

Why I buy arcade compilations

So I just got Data East Arcade Collection for the Wii in the mail. As if the purchase weren't justified enough just to relive Bad Dudes, Heavy Barrel, and Burger Time, I found a real gem on there I'd never heard of: Wizard Fire. It's an isometric action game in a fantasy RPG setting, where you pick your character class and then pummel bad guys relentlessly (because you're playing the role of a dude who like to pummel stuff). It's very, very fun. 16-bit era graphics, 8-bit era controls, stone age writing. Take this exchange from the "cutscene" before level 3:

Bard: Curse it! It's poison water!

Knight: I'll smash it to bits!

That made me smile. This is a large part of why I buy arcade collections, especially when they contain stuff I've never heard of or never played. There's a rich treasure trove of weird arcade stuff that never got wide distribution in the US, and it's worth preserving. As much as we might mock poor translations, cheap-as-hell arcade game design fueled by a constant stream of quarters, and the earliest attempts at incorporating story into games, there's probably something to be learned from all of it, and the stuff that's the most illuminating, the most emblematic of the era, is often times not going to be the stuff that was the most popular.

So it all needs to be preserved, and not just in PC-savvy gamers' collections of pirated ROMs. This stuff should be openly accessible and on the level, from the original games to the marketing materials of the time. Gaming is perhaps the only major medium to come of age after our culture has realized the importance of preserving its roots, even for popular art forms. The idea of ignoring lessons that should have been learned from the loss of countless films from every region to the rigors of time and careless storage simply infuriates me. Doubly so when you consider the preservation of the past is something publishers can pay for by passing on the expenses to people like myself.In a shamelessly money-chasing industry, how sad is it to see history fall by the wayside because people didn't even think it was worth the trouble of monetizing?

Transfixed!

From a PR that arrived today:

NIER, whose unique content, characters and hidden, twisting storyline has transfixed gamers and media alike for months, will be available for PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system and the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft at North American retail outlets on April 27, 2010.

I can't decide if it's the "unique content" or the "hidden storyline" that has held me motionless with awe/terror/amazement these last few months.