Work in progress (I'm still alive)

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My biggest problem with the general criticism hitting Nintendo these days is that it all seems to stem from this latent desire to "Westernize" the company, or at least in terms of the decisions they make. I don't think anyone is doing it intentionally, actually I don't even think these people know they're doing it. I even happen to believe the things they have to say are true, to the extent that I know the perspective that the ideas are originating from.

What the heck am I talking about?

Look at Sony. Why do many gamers think they are moving in the right direction? Indie developer support (an awesome scene that has been blowing up these last few years), heavy integration into social media and hardware wise is pretty much exactly a PC. We like the sound of this. Better graphics, cooler apps, bigger game library. Sony is truly bringing us into the next-generation.

LA Diapers

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So two and a half weeks after coming to California I'm still without a job.  Dropped the ball on one interview already, but luckily I've had plenty more since.  I'm thinkin' this coming week is my week and by the end of it I should have found a company thats willing to give me money for my services.  That is, if I don't screw things up again. 

As soon as success happens I'll be back gaming and writing about gaming.  So look forward to a lot more stuff from me in the near future.

 

 

Caught in Space

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After 18 months of living in China, I called it quits.  Packed my bags and came to LA.  If you had to ask me why I had to go I would have to tell you, "Because I had to."  Any longer and it would have been too long if you know what I mean.  Too easy to get addicted to the life over there.  Not that I have any disrespect to those who choose to stay longer, but I got a life back here in America.  Well, almost.  Still need a job.

And thats exactly where I'm at right now.  Job hunting.  I'm living with a buddy of mine from back East, my luggage is half-open and spilling out and wedged in the corner and I've been sleeping on the floor.  Don't think of this as any Down and Out in London situation, I got a few bucks.  Have enough to eat.  Have enough to drink. 

How in the world would you review God of War 15?

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It has got to be tough to review a sequel, not to mention the 3rd, 4th, 5th or even 60th installment of a series. Like, I know Resident Evil 4 is a good game but who am to be someone to review it? I've never played the ones that came before it. While I could go into a lot of detail about 4, I really don't know anything about the Resident Evil series as a whole.

Me and a lot of other people are just really lucky I guess. We're lucky the sequels of movies, video games, books and everything else have all, for the most part, been made in a way that we don't need to have experienced the original to still enjoy it.  All while unknown to us newbies, still being self-aware that they are an inextricable part of their series.  

So obviously in the video game industry developers must not only create a sequel that builds off of what came before it but also have the difficult task of creating an experience that can be enjoyed by those who are playing it for the first time.  What we forget to figure in sometimes is that the same trickles down to those few who are given the professional responsibility to review those sequels.

A review of the new God of War for instance, wouldn't be complete without (a) ranking it up against the previous one--show how the story ties in, gameplay tweaks and additions, graphics improvements, etc--and (b) also reviewing it as a general stand-alone gaming experience--essentially, the point of view of someone who has never played a God of War.

If it were only that easy...

Since I'm not a professional game reviewer (and to be honest a very bad amateur one), I guess the rest is just speculation.  And forgive me if the rest sounds a little too much like thinking out loud.  For that is essentially what I'm doing.

I feel that sequel review scores are often inevitably flawed, so there's no point to bicker about what it should or shouldn't have been.  And it's no fault of the reviewer. The reason I feel lies within the nature of the sequel itself. Specifically how it's impossible to deliver a fair review to the gamer who knows the series like the back of his hand, and at the same time to the person who has just come across the series for the first time.  This shouldn't come as a big shock to anyone.  Gamers who know the Gears of War series have a expectation for the upcoming GOW:Judgement--things that it needs to live up to and areas where they'd like to see it improve--while new players go in without any.  

And just for kicks, let's say the God of War series was to continue to...I don't know. God of War 15. This whole idea of how to tackle reviewing the 15th game fairly would be ridiculous. I mean, some games are already that deep into their franchises, and if not will be getting their soon. In these cases it's pretty safe to say their stories have been dragged to out the extent that major continuity issues, holes and forgotten moments are everywhere, the plots themselves are hard to take seriously anymore.  It seems the further a sequel gets from the original 1st game of the series, the more pressed a reviewer is to treat that sequel like the other ones didn't exist (obviously not going that far).

And let's not foget how many games there will be by the time God of War 15 is released.  Can we really expect reviewers to know all of these titles, all of the influences and all of the allusions?  Maybe, I guess it depends on what your standards are.

Now what about the other side? If the story breaks down and instead it's the gameplay that is actually what's bringing those longtime fans back for more and more, then on what level does gameplay in the sequels need continuity?  Should reviewers dock points away from sequels that don't resemble their formers? 

Sure no one has any problem with adding things to the gameplay, like Torchlight 2--skill trees got bigger and more complex--but what about a case like Dead Space 3? A lot of gamers suggest it's gameplay does a complete 180 from its original--abandoning its roots in horror and turning it into full-on-action.  But what if the gameplay, regardless of straying from its roots, was good?  Say a person who plays Dead Space 3 without having played 1 or 2 loves 3, what then?  What does he/she know about Dead Space and it's horror roots?

Which leads me back to the people reviewing the game. How the heck do you give a sequel a fair review score?

On the new Tomb Raider and the "Final" version of Lara

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I've been sitting here for too long now thinking about how I want to express what I want to express about the recent Tomb Raider reboot and this is what I came up with:

It seems that the developers changed the gameplay and the image of Lara enough from the old games that they should have just kept on going and made an entirely new female character and titled the game something else. 

I guess the more you think the less sense your thoughts make...Because I'm pretty sure the original plan was to make a Tomb Raider reboot and then build from there.  So regardless of what they came up with, no matter how far it strayed from the previous titles, the name Tomb Raider wasn't going anywhere.  

However my brain just can't stop seeing this whole thing as a weird topic.  As cool as I think the new Tomb Raider looks, I just feel like something odd has occured.  It's made me think about how far a reboot can actually go before we should call it something different?  Especially when the developers who make the reboot have nothing to do with, or need any approval from, the development team(s) that made the originals.  I don't know.  I'm not a genius on the subject of reboots.

And maybe that's not what makes it the most weird.  Maybe what makes it wierd in this case is that now we're left with two completely different images of Lara Croft.  Maybe I'm thinking too far into this, but I'm wondering about what this says about the Tomb Raider series as a whole.

It's obvious the image of Lara Croft was reimagined for the 21st century.  I mean, come on.  You don't need glasses to notice she's not as top-heavy as before.  But even more then that, I feel the developers really wanted to make sure their new image of Lara was going to be accepted by women, and not just written off as some eye-candy for young male gamers.   It's even possible to suggest the developers hoped their new Lara would serve as inspiration and encouragment to other developers to create other action games that also have a female protoganist.  

Which brings me to one point I'm trying to get at.  In retrospect, what does the new Lara say about the old Lara?  What does this say about all the people who created the original Lara?  Maybe nothing.  Maybe you can write it off as, "Those were just the times, man."  Well, probably.  But then does this reboot suggest that a new Tomb Raider game, with Lara created in the likeness of the previous Lara, wouldn't sell?  And moreso, also criticized by women and the "grown-up" gaming industry for perpetuating the old Lara?  

Keeping reboots in mind, who's to even say we've finally found the "final" version of Lara?  Maybe ten to fifteen years to now, long after 3 new Tomb Raiders have been released and the series has gone stale once again, some new developers will come along and want to reboot the series again.  And when they do they decide to change the image of Lara to better suit the "times."  

But isn't this just silly?  This just goes back to what I was originally thinking about.  Why not just make a new character? Borrow some ideas from the old Tomb Raider series, borrow ideas from Uncharted, and just make a new female character and just make an ENTIRE new game.  Then you don't have to worry about  continuity (for example explaining why Lara eventually decided on getting implants) and breaking the hearts of Tomb Raider fans that feel the new version tarnishes the Tomb Raider legacy.  Heck, You'll be lauded for creating a sweet new female protagonist and some new IP at the same time.  

Instead we have Lara again.  Maybe she's changed for the better.  But maybe, just maybe this will have the opposite effect of encouraging more game developers to create more action games with women as the lead.  The game industry will just be like, "Well, sure they'll be more action games with a lead female character. Just wait for the new Tomb Raider 2 and 3...duuuuh."

     

 

 

 

The Wii U and it's Chances to Survive This Generation

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With all this speculation about the PS4 and the next Xbox-- hardware, features, prices, other things that cost money and everything else under the sun-- I can't help but think about Nintendo and their supposed laughing stock of the business, the Wii U. Even Cliff GearsofWar Face recently made some comments on how the gaming industry is on the verge of a cataclysmic collapse (something I know nothing about, nor did he elaborate on the matter) and for some reason also mentioning that Nintendo is on their last hardware legs.  Cliff certainly wasn't the first (nor will he be the last) to say something like this about Nintendo, but I'm here to suggest that Cliff and everybody else who thinks that way is dead wrong.  Not only do I think that Nintendo will manage to survive this new generation of gaming and ensure another Nintendo console, I also will go so far as to say that the Nintendo Wii U will be knighted as the "Big Cheese" when this new generation is over and done with.

Ok.  So where does all this hubbub come from? Especially when I'm aware that Nintendo's latest console is moving at the rate of a semi-truck in a traffic jam.  I've even joked a few times about how Nintendo forgot that they needed to release video games along side their new console.  Forget about jokes, the hardware powering the Wii U is the joke of the internet party.  Can't tell you how many times I've heard something along these lines, "This is the console Nintendo should have released 7 years ago."  And how about that controller?  A lot of us are still baffled why Nintendo released that big thing as the main controller, instead of as some optional accessory.  So why in the heck do I think these plumbers got a shot at taking it all?

I'll begin with my bread and butter.  I feel that because the Wii U's hardware is so underpowered in comparison, there's no other way for Nintendo to effeciently compete in the market than by figuring out a way to release a better gaming library than its competition.  Now, if Nintendo can't do it by impressing the market with graphics, they will have to find a way to do it through innovative gameplay, creativity and by taking major risks with their famous titles and with new IP.  It wouldn't suprise me if we were to see some of the whackiest and wildly interesting games come out for this beast. Sure, I know right now we haven't seen anything of the likes (let alone games in general) thus far, but theres a lot of time. The last time I checked the competition hasn't even stepped foot onto the playing field.

Next I'll serve you a decent hamburger: Price.  I know the official prices of the PS4 and the new Xbox haven't been released, but I'm willing to bet, however you slice it, that upfront the Wii U will be the cheapest console.  However we all know dropping money on a console doesn't get you everything you need.  Right now the PS4 is screaming additional costs.  Just exactly what they are I'm not sure.  But my guess is we'll need to pay for online gaming, cloud gaming, and possibly even just general subscription fees (which would give us free updates and access to the PSplus store and stuff like that). 

Then I'll end on a half burnt pop tart:  When all is said and done and we can finally all go to to our favorite toy store and buy any one of these new consoles (and a power ranger action figure...and some roller skates....and like a spaceship Lego thing) I think the Wii U will resemble a "gaming console" the most...What the hell am I talking about?  Well, I guess I mean on the inside (sounds sexy).  Sony made it pretty clear that the "way we play" is changing.  They are taking the steps to change the concept of their gaming console as a prodominently one function device by giving us more than just games.  Now where that original function (the act of playing a video game) is regarded in Sony's grand scheme is beyond me.  For all gamers sake, I obviously hope it's still their number one priority, but with Nintendo I know it still is.  While we may have many reasons to turn on a PS4, with Nintendo we have pretty much just one. 

I just realized I haven't been saying much about Microsoft.  Well, I don't know much about what's going on with their new system.  Who knows really.  But my guess is they're still hammering as many gadgets and features onto that thing that could make it power a small NASA spacecraft.  

I also didn't really define what I mean by the Wii U becoming the "Big Cheese."  Sorry about that.  I'm still on the fence whether the Wii U will sell the most consoles. Sony (and maybe Microsoft) may be onto something with their whole social thing.  They may end up with a more customers than ever before because of that.  I guess it just depends on how they market it.  But the "Big Cheese" for me refers to the console with the best value for the gamers.  Meaning, it's going to have the best game library (with an exception to small indie games), the best price, and treat gamers the fairest--meaning no crazy subscription fees, solid backwards compatability and no funny business with used games.  

This is my theory and I'm stickin' to it.

 

 

 

 



  

Here a PS4. There a PS4. Everywhere a PS4 PS4

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I just saw an interesting post by a GS user "Nameaprice" that inspired me to write a quick blurb.  

Nameaprice mentioned that the route Sony was taking by bringing gaming everywhere--the idea of playing the PS4 anywhere and being connected to the PS4 universe on any mobile device---wasn't exactly a good thing for gamers.  Mostly because we shouldn't be spending a huge chunck of entire life around a console or a PC.  Even the worse culprits of game addiction must have a little something that whispers in their ear, "It's time to call it quits."  Sometimes we just gotta' leave the house and "actually" remove ourself from the world of video games (and I'm not just talking about those inevitable times when work, sleep, school or other obligations come breathing down our neck).

Now, I don't want this to turn into a "how much time gamers should and shoudn't be playing video games before it fries their brains" discussion.  More I just want to discuss what Sony's (and Microsoft's if they do go down the same path) motivations for building a system that can and will exist outside the walls of the living room.  I'm a bit lacking upstairs on the subject (and also maybe too old timerish) to fully grasp the benefits of all the mobile features of the PS4.  

It seems that Sony wants us to log more time on their system then ever before, a goal that before  could only be reached by delivering cosumers more and more games.  However now that time doesn't neccessarily need to be used playing a video game, Sony plans to drive usage up by improving things like social networking, exclusive Apps, a better PSplus and most importanly, allowing users to access their PS4 from places that are not within 30 feet of the console.

So where am I going with this?  Well, I'm not really sure.  It more just makes me asks questions like:  Is Sony going to be squeezing more money out of us than ever?  Will all this emphasis on branching the PS4 out into a piece of technology that is not just a one function device effect games in a negative way?  Should gamers be cautious of bringing "gaming" everywhere?  Will Microsoft go down the same path?

 And I'll end this blog the same way I ended my last one...What about Nintendo?  With all this talk about Sony wanting to make their new system simple and easy to use, it seems the WiiU is shaping out to be the simplest of them all. 

Is the PS4 a Gaming Console?

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However long it took me to realize, it still pains me to admit that no longer is the gamer the only type of consumer Sony is concerned with.  Back during the days of the PS1 and 2 us nerds were the only ones Sony was trying to please.  But not anymore. The PS4 seems to be shaping out to be a piece of technology that is the central part of the living room and possibly even the future of social networking.  Two features that don't spring to my mind as that important to my ideal next generation gaming console.  

Now, I still hope that delivering a high-quality video game experience is the number one priority of the boys and girls working at Sony.  They did go out of their way to stress the point that they're making a console that is easy to develop for, whether you're big time like EA or small time like Number Non inc.  But there is no doubt in my mind that Sony is trying to capture a lot of new customers.  No, not necessarliy the fans of Xbox or the next generation of gamers, but the millions of millions of people that have never even considered buying a gaming console.  

It's possible that people bought the PS3 for the blue-ray player alone, but I doubt it.  The addition of the Blu-ray player was a really sweet bonus for gamers.  But what about the PS4?  Are all the new features of the PS4 really sweet new gadgets just for gamers to fool around with or is the whole concept of a "gaming console" starting to turn on its head?  Is it possible that the day has come where people are going to buy a "gaming console" with no intention of playing a video game at all? Or maybe they will just see the act of playing a video game as a cool extra feature like gamers once saw the blu-ray feature in the PS3?

Another question to speculate on is, how will Microsoft react?  Will they pitch their new console like Sony did, beating around the topic of single player gaming like the elephant in the room?  And where does Nintendo fit in to all this?  When all is said and done, is it possible that the Wii U will remain as the purest gaming console of them all? 

 

 

 

PS4 Announcement: PS4 Missing in Action

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I'm not sure if Sony knew or didn't know how unprepared they were for their conference.  If they did know then it wouldn't surprise me.  I had already assumed (with the help of many of the bright game analysts of the day) that their sole motivation was to strike first by spreading word about the PS4 as soon as possible, even if it came at the cost of putting together a shabby first impression.  However if they didn't know, and in fact they were 100% ready, then whoever organized the event probably belongs doing some other line of work.  

The first thing I noticed was the lack of enthusiasm.  Beyond videos being full of color and sound, I saw little life in that room.  The audience barely appluaded.  Which is something completely puzzling because this was the announcement of the PS4 for Gods sake.  How hard could it be to spark some jazz?  Just show off the console and your jobs done.Oh wait, right...It wasnt there.

The Presenters  (Please forgive me on not including the presenters names) 

When the first presenter said the words PS4 for the first time ever, officially beginning the dawn of a new generation, there was no pause nor was there an applause.  Now, Im not here to suggest that confetti should have fallen from the ceiling and strippers run up on stage passing out free bubble gum to the crowd (while that may have been nice), a simple pause for some cheers and a few in-house fist pumps could have done the moment justice.

I feel if most of the presenters had shown a little more of themselves on stage, and less of that professional muppet pitching a product that they came off as,  we would have seen some more enthusiastic and genuine presentations that the audience could have got behind.  But instead we got monotone voices and drabness.  I mean seriously, I dare you to go back and watch the Fantastic Bungie 4 again. 

Then there was the part when the creator of Braid got up on stage and threw a jab at the previous presentations.  He said something along the line of, Hard to follow all those explosions.  This remark sort of mocked the general brainless action genre that dominates so much of the gaming market and in turn brings Sony the cash money money.  I know Sony is trying to send a message that its all Indie now (Ya...right) but wedging the guy behind Braid between Killzone: Bloodfest 4 and Final Fantasy 27 felt a bit out of place.

No Core

No, Im not talking about the CPU.  Im talking about the glue that holds all the magic pieces of a presentation together.  In previous years the main core was rock solid because it was so bloody obvious:  Games and a side helping of Hardware.  That was the only way to win fans over.  This time around, as Sony laid out, the gaming industry is changing.  Technology is changing.  So likewise they are looking to set the standard for this changing industry by incorporating features never before seen in a gaming console.  Features like better socialibilty, easier graphical interfaces, developer friendly software, cloud gaming, innterconectivy with mobile devices, and whatever else I'm omitting.  Maybe 8 years later the PS5 will, on top of all that, also cook your dinner, drive you to school, pay your taxes, mow the lawn and marry you if you find yourself still single later in life.  

            And guess what?  Whether Sony wants to believe it or not, this generation's (and every generation of Sony console that follows) central core is still the games.  Yet Sony certainly didnt send that message when the meeting began with a display of hundreds of faces beamed around the room.  The social network.    At points that initial message was so heavy that I felt Sony was treating game demos like they were the elephant in the room or something.  This is what I like to call, getting off on the wrong foot.  This is what I like to call, not knowing your fanbase.  This is what I like to call, stupid.

            As the meeting dragged on it became blatantly obvious that Sony was just pulling mediocore tricks out of a brown paper bag in no particular order.  Tricks that would impress your grandma but would make your buddies yawn.  There was no trick to give Sony a strong lead in or a strong exit.  Nor was there any rabbit or woman getting sawed in half in that bag.  There was no climax or rock bottom.   Everything was just randomly average, without any sense of excitement being built. 

No Hardware

            Im willing to suggest that if Sony had actually brought the PS4 and showed it running and what the OS looks like, I probably wouldnt even be writing this blog.  There is so much latent excitement in gamers ready to splooge all over the place just at the sight of a new piece of hardware.  No matter how boring the presentations might have been that followed, at least we could just stare at the mighty fine and shiny piece of craftsmanship sitting on the stage. 

            Where the hell was Japan?

                I wanted to see more Japanese software and hardware developers there.  From them we got nothing.  Just some CGI and the message, There will be a new Final Fantasy.  Wow.  Seriously? If theres one major advantage the Sony has over Microsoft, its having a monopoly on the brightest minds in Japans gaming industry.

 

 

 

 

                

The End of Something and The End of The Last of Us

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The world is saved, the boy and girl fall in love, the story is won.  Or, the world rots, it doesnt work out for the lovers, the story is lost.

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It seems the majority of movies and video game plots have a similar theme going on.  The beginning usually reflects a birth or awakening of something, while the end usually reflects a death or putting to rest of something.  I know there are reasons for this.  It certainly helps present a new experience in a way that the majority can latch onto and hang with, and to end that same experience with some closure. 

But rarely do movies or games dare to end (or begin) in the middle of something (If they have, you can bet your college fund there's a sequel or it's on the way), which would reflect more on what we experience all the time.  In my life there are so many question marks about the future.  Then when I think about my past, the further back I go the fuzzier it seems to get.  I guess that means there is no clear beginning either.  The only force that can possibly put an end to it all is far more powerful than what the ending of a movie, book or video game can string together. 

Ive been thinking about this subject today because I heard someone mention a theory that the main character of The Last of Us dies at the end. They also followed this by mentioning that in the sequel you would play as the girl.  For me there are a few reasons that come to mind why killing off the main character at the end of the game is an idea that should have been stomped out the second it was mentioned.

First: For what I was going on about at the start of this post.  The death of a character at the end of a plot is so incredibly cliché and convenient from a creators standpoint that as a viewer/gamer its almost impossible to take the moment seriously.  Therefore, taking any emotional investment accrued during the course of the game and flushing it down the urinal.    

Second: For what I was going on about in my last blog post.  You've probably (definetly) already died.  So if the game finally does decide to officially whack you, it would just seem comical.  Its like, "Ya, thanks, I did that like a thousand times already."

It also seems to go against the logic of playing a video game in the first place.  Why go throw the effort to survive, if the game is going to suddenly toss you an unavoidable death?

This is all speculation.  Heck, who knows what the game is going to be like.  If the ending is far from what I just mentioned then this whole blog post will also be seen as wasted effort (A skill which I've come to master in my 26 years on this planet). 

So how could The Last of Us end in a way that both is what I call "In the middle of something" and not be forced into a corner where Naughty Dog must release a sequel? 

First of all, sequels are always options, no matter what sort of cliffhanger is left.  But with the whole Zombie/Apocolypse setting, it really aint hard to end in the middle of something. We can all presume the world in The Last of Us is long past the point of fixing. Both characters just want to survive. Honestly, the developers can just call it whenever they feel like it.  For instance, call it when the characters realize the situation in front of them is just too overpowering, leaving the gamers to speculate on what happens to them.    

And Im not totally against the whole idea of the father figure dying.  Actually, him dying at some random point might work out.  It still would go against my second and third points, but it would leapfrog the first one.  Then, of course, you would have to play the following parts of the game as the girl.  Which is maybe a reason why shes on the forefront of the cover.       

***The title of my post came from Ernest Hemingway's short story with the same name: The End of Something