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How Microsoft is losing the console war- from a Microsoft supporter

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Microsoft has long been a company that I admire. I'm not at all ashamed to admit that. Hell, I worked for the company when Windows 8, the Surface tablet, Office 365, and the Xbox One were all released. I worked for Microsoft's retail division in sales during a big shakeup in the company's management, reinvention of their image, and the mind-boggling gambles of the last two years. I no longer work for the company, and while that is a story in and of itself, I want to discuss the Xbox One and Microsoft's approach to gaming from the perspective of someone who has worked on the inside and was privy to a lot of internal discussion about the future of Xbox.

I do like my Xbox One, although I don't use it very much. I prefer my gaming PC, but there are a few games I play on the thing. I got it on launch day for a slight discount and I have most of the AAA titles for it. I mostly use it for music and video content, and I do enjoy the cohesive experience with my phone and tablet. All that being said, Microsoft has been issuing a lot of "fuck you" statements to people who bought the console on day one, and now that Microsoft is going to sell the device without Kinect for $100 less than the asking price at launch, I can't help but feel this is a move being made for the wrong reasons and at the wrong time.

The Kinect 2.0 is a nifty peripheral, but it's not the selling point of the console. When I worked for Microsoft, they wanted us to demonstrate the Kinect during just about every customer interaction involving the Xbox One. I managed to sell a few consoles to non-gamers on the promise of the Kinect alone, but I have certainly never much cared for it. It's there, I use it for some convenient voice commands, but I can take it or leave it.

EVERYONE can take it or leave it, and forcing people to pay a premium for it was a mistake.

The games for it aren't particularly good, and navigating menus using the device can be slipshod at best. Using voice commands like "Xbox go to Netflix" while there are other people in the room will inevitably lead to your friends shouting things like "Xbox turn off," or "Xbox suck a fat dick." That last one got real old, real fast. And watching a Netflix movie with people on the couch will often cause the Kinect to pick up on someone's hand reaching for a tasty beverage, sometimes pausing, rewinding, or changing some sort of setting. The Kinect is awesome when you want to use it, which is seldom.

So now they're selling the console for a hundred bucks less without the thing, and those of us who bought it on day one are feeling a bit cheated. Even the Titanfall bundle that was being sold for $450 and packaged with the game was a slap in the face to everyone who bought the console day one, while Sony is enjoying plenty of satisfied customers who have a console with a lot of power and a lower price point.

The option to purchase the console without the thing should have been an option from the start, and making it an option just over six months from launch with no consideration for other consumers is caving to demand while abandoning those who were there from the beginning. Yes, there are a lot of Xbox One owners with a bit of buyer's remorse. There aren't many games, the console isn't as powerful as the PS4, and it's a bulky monstrosity in my entertainment unit. That being said, I still like the device, but this new price reduction leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Microsoft made a lot of mistakes with the rollout of the new console, sending all the goodwill earned by the stellar Xbox 360 up in flames. As one of the experts in my store regarding all things Xbox, I had to answer a lot of questions about a lot of things I wish Microsoft had just not said or done. Microsoft is Microsoft's biggest enemy right now. They're the Peter Molyneux of console manufacturers. They promised a lot that sounded good and a whole lot more that was little more than the wishful thinking of a marketing department run amok. All Sony had to do to seal up launch supremacy was say, "this here. It plays games. Look at them games. Them games is awesome. Buy this and play games." And it worked. Hell, it worked beautifully. If Microsoft had any sense, they would give every "day one edition" consumer a free $60 game of their choice to make up for this.

I still have hope for the Xbox One, but right now the thing is sitting in my entertainment unit gathering dust. My Astro A50 headphones began to have connection issues and firmware-flashing problems from the day I plugged them into the thing, and right now, I use it mostly to watch Blu-ray movies and watch Netflix, occasionally playing a few games of Titanfall or Dead Rising 3. I still have hope, but right now I'm really not appreciating the way Microsoft is looking down its nose at the gamers that were there on launch day, ready to fork over more money for something that didn't live up to its promise.

The sorry state of online discourse- you are what you buy

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I recently rediscovered an article on Destructoid about how PS3 fanboys are the worst. The article can be found here. I will admit that all fanboys, from whichever end of the spectrum they hail, are irritating and add little to the discussion, but I've come to the realization that Sony fanboys are indeed the most poisonous when it comes to what we call the console "debate."

Please note that I am not talking about Sony fans. I think Sony is an awesome company and they make quality products. I don't own a PS3 or a PS4, but I think they are marvelous consoles with a lot to offer, and I think anyone who owns them is certainly having a great time with them. I think that every console has its merit, and that there is no reason to deride someone for choosing one over the other. They're solid products with a well-earned pedigree. Sony has earned its fans, and they deserve the accolades. So has Nintendo. So has Microsoft. I'm not talking about fans. I'm talking about fanboys.

Do me a favor. Open a new tab in your browser and go to the Gamespot homepage. Now look through the new articles on the left side of the page. I want you to notice something. Look at the number of comments for each article and you will quickly notice a trend. Any article about Microsoft or the Xbox One will have exponentially more comments than any others, and there is a reason for this: Sony fanboys that hijack the conversation. I'm serious- go to any article about Microsoft or their new console and read the first 25 comments. They will almost certainly be written by people bashing and deriding the game, news, executive, console, or company to no end. I could seriously make a Gamespot Sony Fanboy comment bingo game. Now look for articles about Sony properties and games and you will notice that the comment sections are relatively small. Xbox fanboys aren't getting left off the hook here- there are certainly some Sony bashers out there to ruin Playstation fans' time as well- but there are a fraction of these kinds of comments on Sony articles. Same goes for Nintendo or mobile gaming articles. Sure, everyone bashes EA when there's an article about them, but any articles about Microsoft fill up with people bashing Microsoft and the Xbox, even when the article isn't even about the console.

This brings me to my topic- how people live vicariously through the products they buy. I love my Xbox 360 and my Xbox One. I love my gaming PC. I'm absolutely certain I would love a PS3 or a PS4 as well. Because I love games. I love games and I love playing games all the time. I'm very fond of the hobby, and I love almost everything to do with it except the culture surrounding it.

I was recently talking with a buddy who bought a PS4. I hadn't gotten to spend a lot of time with one, so I was excited to play Knack and some other games. It was awesome. I really like the controller and the look of the console. I enjoyed my time with it. I asked him if he had an opportunity to check out the Xbox One yet, as we are both gamers and he bought a PS4, I figured he may be interested in coming over to try my new console at some point. I've known this dude for years, and he loves games just as much as I do, but his response shocked me: "You seriously bought an Xbone? Fucking idiot."

He has never spoken to me like that before. Sure, we call each other names all the time because we're buddies, but here I felt like the tone in his voice was legitimately disrespectful. For the rest of the time I was at his place, he kept pointing out every way the PS4 was better and trying to make me feel bad about my purchase when I had merely asked if he wanted to check my new console out. I pointed out that I came over specifically to try out his PS4 because I think it's an awesome console, which he took as me saying I hated my Xbox. He outright refused to even try it. That's bizarre to me. Someone who loves games should take any opportunity to try new ones, regardless of the console or platform. I'm not a big fan of the Wii U, but I happily take a chance any time I can to spend some time with the console to try it out because I love games. I just love games. I bought a console because I love games. Why all the hate?

In this day and age, it's apparently impossible to love one thing while simultaneously loving another. If you like Playstation, you are obligated to hate Microsoft and infiltrate and derail discussion about any topic pertaining to it. This is what has given rise to the insufferable "PC Master Race" idiots that make all PC gamers look like pseudo-intellectual neckbeards. This is what has birthed the vitriolic outpouring of nastiness that pits gamer against gamer, where people can't love the hobby- they have to pick a fucking side.

If you believe that, you really need to figure your personal shit out. We do this for fun. We revel in the escapism and the thrill of fictional worlds that tell us wonderful stories and give us hours of interactive entertainment. There have been profoundly wonderful games on every major console. There is fun to be had in every corner of the wide world of gaming. That there are people who make horrifying personal attacks on each other just because of which shiny box they use to play games is destroying this culture.

I have been a member of Gamespot for 11 years, and I've been a visitor since before then. In that time, visiting this site almost daily, I have never seen gamers so willing to point fingers and talk down to each other, but Sony fanboys objectively do it the most and are consistently the ones aiming to be the most hurtful- not only to Xbox fans, but to anyone who isn't them. I understand you love your console, and you have every right to. It's an awesome console. And I understand the pride that comes with having the most powerful one on the block, because last time around that wasn't the case. It's fine to have pride in your support for something you love, but when that pride translates into spitting venom at others that have every right to love their own choice, you have started to damage the tenuous community that Gamespot has struggled to build over the last 15 years.

I read a news article after a recent school shooting that pointed out the inevitable- the supposed "link" between violent video games and violent anti-social tendencies. The article talked about online gaming communities like Gamespot as being dens of foul-mouthed loners with an axe to grind with everyone. The article talked about how toxic gamer culture was, and how it's breeding angry young people who's only response to anything foreign to them is babbling nonstop vulgarities and rape threats. You'd think they were talking about 4Chan. And they're absolutely right- and it's all our fault. With creative talent like Jennifer Hepler leaving the industry because gamers threatened her life and the life of her children (over the fucking plot of Dragon Age II), to Phil Fish being so inundated with hatred and vitriol that he abruptly cancelled Fez 2, the fans of this industry are fucking embarrassing.

If people want gaming as a hobby and a culture to be accepted as something other than a quirky thing that anti-social losers do- which mainstream culture absolutely thinks- then we need to stop proving how anti-social we are and at least be nice to each other. Whether you play on an Xbox, Playstation, Wii, PC, or mobile device, we are one big community, and we kind of owe it to each other to not only tolerate, but share in the successes and failures of every game console and every game publisher. I don't own a Playstation, but I read all the reviews for Playstation-exclusive titles like Infamous: Second Son. Because I love games. I love all games on all platforms. Sure, there are genres I don't play like sports games, but that's just my personal preference about the content that I enjoy. Why do we hate each other? I most certainly don't, and I think that the vast majority of gamers share my views that games are themselves to be praised on their own merits, not the logo on the box that houses the disc. But that vast majority must be quite silent, because I can't believe how nasty people are to each other on this website. I am often reading comment sections in shock, that gamers would so quickly be at each other's throats over something so petty, so stupid, and ultimately so self-defeating. If you love games, play games and love games. Revel in the culture of games. If you just want to argue, go into politics.

The 1080p debacle- exploring the argument

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It seems everyone has been up each other's asses over game resolution lately, and it makes almost no sense to me. I love games on all consoles and platforms, and from what I have seen over the past few months, Playstation 4 fans in particular seem to be most likely to instigate verbose and pointless shouting matches on forums across the internet. As someone who plays games on PC and consoles, I think I have the necessary qualifications to point something out about this entire argument that I haven't seen anyone really stop to talk about yet; however, I am not one of those insufferable "PC Master Race" jokers that drone on and on about "console peasants" and so on. I aim only to discuss a topic that hasn't gotten a lot of attention in the nonstop noise that is this pointless resolution debate raging among next-gen console faithful.

As a PC gamer, I have been used to gaming in 1080p for a few years now. I play most games at this resolution, and I tend to max all graphics settings where I can. I have a decent rig and most games afford me this luxury. But there are some games that my rig cannot cope with at max settings in 1080p. After speaking to a few of my PC gaming friends about this very topic and perusing some forums discussing this, I have come to the conclusion that most PC gamers are more than comfortable to lower their resolution before anything else to ensure the highest quality textures and post-processing effects while also achieving stable and sustainable frame rates. I play some games like Witcher 2 in 1600x900 with everything else maxed out. And I am actually completely fine with that. I get a stable 60FPS and the game is a stunner on my 40" HDTV. I don't much care what the resolution is as long as I get a solidly playable game whose graphics satisfy me. My graphics card can tell the difference between these resolutions a hell of a lot better than I can, and so long as it doesn't look like something a 9 year old made in wood shop class, I don't much care. My rig can do a lot of great things. So can my Xbox. It's all fine.

This brings me to the dick-measuring contest currently playing out on the forums and comment sections of this very website.

There are two hallmarks of this argument that I would like to draw attention to. The first is that gamers today are an immature bunch that want to justify their own purchasing decisions by making anyone who made a different choice feel like idiots. On some level, this makes sense. You bought something at significant personal cost, and you want to excitedly tell others how pleased you are with your financial decision. Where these people lose me is why they think that anyone who made a different decision must be some stark-raving lunatic or sub-normally functioning mongoloid. Yes, I know you love your new toy, but there's room for more than one on the block, and some people have different purchasing priorities than others. I opted for an Xbox One because I enjoyed the media streaming and entertainment features (I also worked for Microsoft when it was released and I got a good deal on it), but I think the PS4 is an excellent choice as well, just for different reasons. I had limited income, and I wanted a nice new console that could do plenty of things to justify the expense. Games are nice, but I do most of my gaming on PC. I didn't have a blu-ray player or streaming device besides my PC, so after weighing my purchasing options I made a decision that I am quite happy with. That's not to say I think people that didn't make the same choice are stupid or misinformed. They had different priorities than I did. This is why multiple consoles exist in the first place. So we can decide what's important to us and then we can have the experience that we think best matches our entertainment priorities. I'm sure people gaming on their respective platforms are all having fun, which is the entire point of gaming in the first place.

The second thing, and I think the more important aspect of this entire argument, is that console gamers now have something that they didn't before: 1080p gaming. Most games on the previous consoles didn't natively run at these resolutions, and now console gamers can experience it for the first time. The Playstation 4 seems to have had an easier time achieving this than the Xbox One, but that's not the issue here. The issue is how people are discussing this new frontier in home entertainment, and I must say that the discussion has been embarrassing for all gamers. It's wonderful that consoles have come much closer to modern PC's than at any point in home console history, but let's not forget that gamers are arguing over something that is neither new to gaming, nor worth arguing about. The differences in resolution experienced by the two next-gen consoles is practically negligible, and to claim that someone playing on one console is stupid for playing on it undermines gaming as a whole.

If we want gaming to be taken seriously, shit like these asinine arguments absolutely must stop. It makes gamers, and the industry that supports and cultivates the culture around them, look like a bunch of mouth-breathing children with a chip on their shoulder. I don't like being lumped in with people who get up in arms every time a developer uses the term "1080p." I love games, and I'll play them on whatever console I like. And the resolution won't bother me as long as I'm having a good time. Having a good time is the reason we play games, and why someone would deliberately try to ruin someone else's good time over something this trivial is laughably petty.

Elder Scrolls Online Round Two Beta- An Exercise In Conventional Boredom

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I enjoy MMO's. I've played more than a few in my day, although I don't consider myself a power player. I still play Guild Wars 2 and I love action RPG's like Diablo and Path of Exile. I also adore the Elder Scrolls series. I've played Arena, Daggerfell, Morrowind (plus expansions), Oblivion (plus expansions and a buttload of mods), and Skyrim (plus expansions and a buttload of mods). So when talk of an Elder Scrolls MMO started swirling around on the internet, I wondered if it were true, and when a beta might become available.

Beta signups were made available in January of 2013, and I signed up on the very first day. I practically forgot about it until I received my beta key via email some ten months later. I was working an Xbox One launch event during the beta weekend, and so I gave my beta key to an MMO-savvy friend of mine. He wasn't very impressed, but he's also not the same kind of MMO player I am. I love the lore, the setting, and the experience, as opposed to just becoming the most well-specced and destructive character. I wondered if I would get to play the game before its release. Imagine my surprise when a second closed beta rolled around. I downloaded the client, patched it up, and got playing.

As this was a beta, I'm going to refrain from talking about UI crashes, login issues, and other things. I'm only interested in talking about the core gameplay, which strikes the most bizarre and frustrating contrast I have ever seen in any game. Every time I had something good to say about the game, it was inevitably followed by, "...for an MMO." And any time I had anything bad to say, it was similarly followed by, "...for an Elder Scrolls game." This duality wound up permeating every single facet of the entire experience, from character creation to questing, to combat.

The game starts like every MMO (and Elder Scrolls game for that matter), with character creation. It's a surprisingly robust creation set (for an MMO), as you get to use pretty much all the physique options from Skyrim (plus a few new ideas). But this is also where the game falls at the first hurdle. A cursory look at elderscrollsonline.com shows a prominently-featured video touting the ability to play any way you want to. In Skyrim this was certainly true, as there was no class to play as. You were given a few abilities based on your race and birth sign, and away you go. But Elder Scrolls online drudges up the class-based roleplaying specter of Elder Scrolls games past (notably Morrowind and Oblivion) and forces you to choose a class out the gate. Not unusual for an MMO, but a significant step back for Elder Scrolls. This had me scratching my head already. Picking one class locks you out of a number of abilities, but this is certainly a way of focusing gameplay, and encourages creating multiple characters, so I suppose it's not all bad. The choice of race is also quite important as, like most MMO's, you are also choosing your faction. Choice of race does not affect your ability to join the Fighter's Guild or Mage's Guild, but it would have been kind of interesting to join the Altmeri Dominion as a Nord, for example. Going against the grain and allowing you to play as an upstart rebel against your own race would have been cool, but very unconventional.

Once you've created your character (I went for a wood elf shadow), you're spit out into the tutorial area. You awaken in a jail cell in the Oblivion hell-plane run by Daedric prince Molag Bal, whose minions back in Tamriel are sacrificing people's souls to the dark god. Their souls wind up here, in his fancy little prison, where they labor until they go insane or some such. There are a few interesting characters that you run into in this introductory section, but suffice to say, you have to free a man named The Prophet form some magical chamber, whereupon he assists you in getting back to Tamriel. You fall from the sky near a Khajiti Island (for me, a wood elf anyway) in the South Summerset Isles, and your quest begins in earnest.

From here, it's a pretty good idea to start questing. As in most MMO's, you find the people with floating symbols above their heads and talk to them to get a quest. It's a tried-and-true mechanic, but feels out of place in Tamriel. You go to a quest-giver, they give you a quest, and then you follow the icons on your map (or compass, thank god) to fetch said item or kill said enemy, and return for reward. One thing that actually sets the questing in TESO apart is that all the quests are given by legitimately interesting questgivers. They're all fully-voiced, animated, and quite lifelike (for an MMO). The voice acting is on par with Skyrim, and while the quests are the same asinine "go here and collect three of something" busywork quests we're all used to in MMO's, they're competently written and feel at least somewhat related to overall events. One thing I really enjoyed was how some quests felt almost like true Elder Scrolls questlines, with intrigue and even a bit of player choice, such as one quest where I had to break into an embassy to recover a stolen treaty. I could choose to knock the guard unconscious with moon sugar in his drink or forge a letter from his beloved in town. That was pretty good player involvement (for an MMO), but your minimap shows you where all those options are; so there is no chance of failure which is a bit of a letdown. The questline eventually turned into a fight for the survival of Mistral (the city in this questing area), and once the danger was over, I went on to the next questing area.

The gameplay is pretty competent (for an MMO... see?) but incredibly flat (for an Elder Scrolls game). The running and jumping is all fine. Quite a lot like Skyrim, actually. The game can be played from a first person perspective, with a crosshair in the middle and a compass/minimap at the top. Finding new landmarks and areas nets you experience, and you can choose to fight in just about any style you like... sort of. Your inventory is pathetically small (for an Elder Scrolls game), and you're not likely to find anything particularly interesting in that crate in that abandoned house, but it retains some of the charm of the exploration from Elder Scrolls past. The biggest difference from older games in the series is the lack of environmental interactivity. In most of the other games, you could opt to steal a single piece of silverware, or throw a melon across the room. Obviously those mechanics don't transfer well to an MMO, but that sort of interactivity is why people love the series so much. You felt like a small, but sentient part of a larger whole, and then you rise up to become a larger part of that whole. Now, I'm running around and killing stuff sort of like I have before, but there are thirty other people within spitting distance, and I feel less empowered to affect my environment.

Combat is a big part of Elder Scrolls and role-playing in general. This is probably one of the better MMO combat systems I have seen, but it's pretty bad for Elder Scrolls. I was a shadow, so I was thinking daggers and bows. You don't unlock the ability to have a hotswappable weapon loadout until level 15, so I opted for a bow. About 20 hours of relatively focused questing has gotten me to level 7, so this game will certainly be a long grind. It takes about two seconds to take my bow out, and a couple seconds between shots, and abilities that target enemies can't be used at all unless they are directly in your crosshairs. It felt like this odd, sterile, and nonsensically limiting exercise in boredom. The enemies always attacked with identical tactics and never really surprised me, although they are surprisingly animated and lifelike when out of combat. Combat was boring. It wasn't interesting, and I didn't really feel all that powerful, despite mowing down everything in my path. I felt weak, and I felt like my enemies were similarly weak. In Guild Wars 2, you start out relatively weak and you feel weak compared to your enemies. Then, once you've gotten to a certain level, you feel more comfortable questing in new areas that were always available to you, but were far too hazardous for your squishy character. In Elder Scrolls Online, it felt like a nonstop grind at all times in combat. I found myself avoiding it half the time because I didn't even want to do it. It's not the action-packed and improvised feel that Skyrim had. It's a sterile and lackluster puff of smoke rather than an explosive experience. The spells were similarly boring, despite their pretty colors and well-balanced abilities. They just didn't make me feel powerful. Maybe it's more fun as a warrior character, or the magic is better as a caster, but that's counter to the entire mission of the Elder Scrolls series. Combat is supposed to be fun no matter what your approach or style, and it wasn't at all for me.

Before I get to what I loved about the experience, I need to talk about the two things that absolutely infuriated me the most. I need to talk about these two things in particular because they saw such amazing improvement from Oblivion to Skyrim. In my opinion, Skyrim has a fabulous leveling system. You use certain skills, and then those skills level up as you use them, just like skills and abilities do in real life. Spend hours honing your bow skills, and you see real and marked improvement in your ability to use a bow. It's elegant, simple, and very easy to understand. Second, I need to talk about crafting. Now I know that crafting is a huge part of MMO's, and it's usually INCREDIBLY convoluted as to how it works, but there is often a sort of glue that holds the concepts together somewhat. First, I need to discuss levelling. Like Skyrim, when you level you get to choose to dump a point into stamina, health, or magicka. That's where the similarities end. After that, you have a few drop-down menus for weapon skills, racial skills, guild skills (if you have joined one of the NPC guilds), and class skills. These skills range from new abilities to improved skills. That's standard fare for MMO's. What infuriates me about the leveling system is how arbitrarily the skills increase. On one occasion, I picked a flower (more on that later) and my bow skill increased. On another, I shot a deer with my bow and my light armor skill increased. There is no continuity between the skills you use and your increased proficiency with them, which makes the entire system meaningless. Now, on to crafting. This one is huge to me, because it removes one of the most unique elements from the entire franchise and adds one of the most frustratingly common in its place. In Elder Scrolls, how cool is it that you can wander into a field and just pick flowers? Pick 'em all you want and go make potions out of them? It's pretty awesome, isn't it? Well kiss that goodbye, because that's been replaced with damn resource nodes. Yes, the flowers you pick for alchemy are nodes now. And, because the art team is undoubtedly used to making the kinds of flowers they normally put in Elder Scrolls games, the nodes are almost always completely invisible, surrounded by a plethora of grass and shrubbery. I ran around staring at the ground to find plants to harvest, and it was tough as hell to see them. Yes, there are wood nodes and ore nodes that are a little more conspicuous, but the plant nodes are almost invisible, and you will repeatedly confuse environmental elements like mushrooms and shrubs for nodes when they are just ornamentation, despite the fact that some mushrooms are collectible. It was so frustrating to find alchemical ingredients, I spent a skill point on a skill that illuminates them when I am within 20 meters. After an hour of using that ability, I had found three nodes meaning they are scarce as hell, taking most of the fun out of ingredient hunting (one of my favorite Elder Scrolls diversions). Once you have your resources, making heads or tails of the confusing crafting menus is another challenge. I couldn't figure out what I had the knowledge to make, how I got that knowledge, or what ingredients were even necessary for certain items. I figured out pretty easily that deconstructing items at crafting stations would yield some pretty necessary crafting items, but it was much easier to improve equipment than it was to craft new gear. Enchanting and alchemy (my favorite disciplines) were just impossible to figure out. I was only able to successfully make a couple potions. Enchanting didn't make any sense at all. I couldn't deconstruct magical items, and the process required glyphs of some kind, and despite having a full set of them, I couldn't get them to work. In all, these two systems have taken dramatic steps back not only in the Elder Scrolls, but in MMO's in general.

Now for the things that I did like. The graphics were certainly the best I have seen in an MMO to date. The environments are varied, consistent, well-defined, and very dense. I know that some graphical compromises have to be made for MMO's as they tend to be more CPU-bound than other games, but my rig was able to handle the game on ultra settings while getting 45-60FPS which tells me the game is quite well optimized. The character models are emotive, interesting, and quite stylish. The voice acting is top-notch as well. The game plays well, the controls are simple, and the interface feels Elder Scrolls-ish. The game uses its setting well, utilizing the lore and racial strife of the time period in Tamriel's history with care and attention. From a straight visceral check-the-boxes perspective, this game does literally everything right.

So this brings me to my point:

That's exactly how it feels. It's a by-the-numbers, check-the-boxes MMO shell over the Elder Scrolls mythos. You can go to Elderscrollsonline.com and view all the videos and read all the developer interviews where they talk about how they're eschewing convention to deliver a true Elder Scrolls experience that the fans want, but none of that feels true to me. I'm a true Elder Scrolls fan. I've played all the major releases. I still play Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim all the time. The attention to detail, the sense of place, and the freedom that the series offers you is unequaled in single-player RPG's. But this MMO effort feels more like Kingdoms of Amalur than Elder Scrolls. More like Guild Wars. More like Rift. It feels more like everything BUT Elder Scrolls, because it didn't bring anything FROM Elder Scrolls but its world, and that world isn't enough to carry a game by itself. Who is this game for? The Elder Scrolls fans will likely hate it, and the MMO fans might not find enough to keep them interested. It's a bold undertaking, one that I sincerely does well. I want to love Elder Scrolls Online. I want everyone to love it. But I don't. I just don't love it. I don't even really like it. I want to so badly but I simply don't. It delivers almost none of what made me fall in love with the series, but it delivers some of the things that I love about Guild Wars. And worst of all, it got to a point where I quit Elder Scrolls Online and played Guild Wars 2 instead, because I almost feel bad watching Elder Scrolls follow in the footsteps of others instead of blazing its own path, as its players have for over fifteen years. I will probably buy this game when it comes out, but at $15 per month, I expect a few marathon sessions for maybe three months and then I'll deactivate my account. This isn't Elder Scrolls, no matter how much we may want it to be. And that's a damn shame.

And these developers wonder why people pirate games?

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At the time of this writing, people (myself included) are still having trouble getting Farcry 3 retail copies to work properly. I still have framerate hitching, audio issues, and other annoyances. I have spent about four or five hours trying to get the game to work flawlessly on my amply-constructed rig (runs circles around most games with no difficulty at all), but Farcry 3 remains with just a toe over the unplayability line. The game is gorgeous, plays remarkably well, and feels amazing, but I am not able to play it in the way I paid for. I built my rig to perform, and I bought this game with my hard-earned dollars to see it perform in tandem with my hardware.

Well imagine my surprise when I went to a friend's house and saw him playing Farcry 3 flawlessly on a very similar rig. I asked him how he did it. His answer shocked and depressed me: "I pirated it. The retail copies play like garbage. That stupid Uplay DRM from Ubisoft kills it."

I must admit, I went home and pirated the game (which I almost never do- I purchase 99% of my games) and to my astonishment...........


It plays flawlessly. No slowdown. No graphical errors. No audio dropouts. No crashes. 1080p, ultra graphics, DX11... It's amazing.

This is a huge problem for consumers and developers. When the copy we pay money for performs well below a pirated copy, we should seriously start to consider why we should pay for games at all. I pay for games because I like to enjoy a quality experience, and I love nothing more than to reward the hard work of the developers who spent countless hours to bring me a product of their sacrifice. I feel like, for great games, $60 dollars is a pretty fair bet, considering that the average video game will give you at least four times the enjoyment of a $15 movie ticket. But when paying that $60 dollars buys me a technical disaster that results in truncated enjoyment, I have to ask myself who I am rewarding and why. Ubisoft wants to protect its product with its Uplay DRM system. Fat lot of good that did them, because there are pirated copies available anyway, and they play to a higher standard than the ones we are paying for.

Consumers lose in this scenario because the developers know there are always those who will take the game for free, so the developers add these useless DRM programs that result in headaches and other problems (I understand Uplay is making Assassin's Creed 3 for PC a mess as well). Developers lose in this because all they do either way is piss customers off (pay for a copy that underperforms due to DRM, or pirate a copy and contribute to the very reason DRM exists in the first place).

But there is another way to vote with your dollars. Don't spend them. If this is the product that Ubisoft is proud to sell me, then I'll stop buying their products, but I won't pirate them either. I'll stop playing them. I don't like to pirate games, because there are people that made that game and poured their heart and soul into it that don't represent Ubisoft. The average game has dozens of studios and sub-developers that have done nothing wrong. It's the publishers that want to bend the consumer over a table at the expense of product quality while simultaneously ignoring the hard work by talented teams of devoted video game fanatics that want nothing more than to get a great product into people's hands. If Ubisoft wants to dilute my gaming experience because they are afraid of pirates, then they don't deserve my $60.

So to any of the sub-studios that made Farcry 3, if you can break away from a big publisher and perhaps self-publish or go with another publisher with more integrity (like 2k or even Bethesda), I will HAPPILY give you my money. Until then, I'm going to have to say goodbye.

Diablo 3 and the presumption of Blizzard's guilt

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I am not really a fan of Blizzard. Not because I hate their business practices. Not because I haven't played many of their games (I own plenty). I see Blizzard as a company that does amazing things with gaming from a business perspective. They always know how to monotize and capitalize on gameplay mechanics. That's wonderful for a company that wants to keep pushing the envelope.

No. I am not really a Blizzard fan because I feel like the games they make are bigger than the company making them. I am a big fan of the Warcraft series (no, I have never played WoW), Starcraft, and Diablo 2. I love all those games with all my heart. The DotA mod for Warcraft 3 gave birth to the entire MOBA genre. Blizzard is on the cutting edge of gaming, and they deserve a lot of respect and admiration for the work they do. And yes, I am also a huge fan of Diablo 3.

But there are gamers out there (lots of them, apparently) that practically require instant gratification and demand nothing less. When the servers go down for maintenance, they only think of how their inability to play affects their own lives in that moment, and they take to the forums to complain.

What has happened to gamers? We as a culture are quickly becoming the stereotypical epitome of the kid with a temper who demands that things be perfect the first time, while contributing nothing to the system.

Seriously, what happened to us?

Mass Effect 3 and gamer maturity

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I find it kind of embarrassing that gamers are acting so immature about Mass Effect 3. I feel like, in the last three years, gaming has been less about playing the games you like and avoiding the ones you don't, and more like a screaming match between children about how anyone who doesn't play a game they like is stupid/retarded/homosexual.

It's mostly the children doing the yelling. The 13 year olds among us who don't pay for their games. You know the ones. They're at every midnight release with their parents, demanding that they purchase the strategy guide, sitting around on their smartphones trying to beat the adults in trivia contests. Frankly, I don't think these kids should be playing adult-oriented games to begin with, but that's a discussion for another day.

What really irks me about this whole situation is that Bioware, one of the most beloved and forward-thinking developers of the last decade, is getting so much flak from people who clearly DIDN'T play Mass Effect 3. Go on Metacritic and read the user reviews. The negative reviews are mostly commenting about BioWare and EA, not Mass Effect.

Look, I don't really like day 1 DLC either. I hate Origin, which is why I didn't buy Mass Effect 3 for PC (which I wanted to). But I don't just go online and complain and gripe. That solves very little. I don't support Origin, so I don't use it. I vote with my money. Yes, I bought the "From Ashes" DLC on day one, because I wanted to. I wanted the full experience. I understand that the game might not be everything you wanted, but that's life. They made the game THEY wanted to make.

If you don't like it, go make your own Mass Effect 3. See how close you come to perfect.

Metal Gear Solid HD Collection Stuff

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I've always kind of been an MGS fan. While I do not own a ps3, I do enjoy the series. I was playing MGS1 on my PSX emulator at home a couple weeks ago (with an Xbox 360 controller, because that's how I roll), when I got a Gamestop update about a new collection from Konami of a number of MGS games in HD coming out for the 360.

Hooray!

The collection doesn't contain the first game, but I dont really care (as I have it already). Besides, since I can beat the game in about three hours anyway, it doesn't bother me that the game isn't there. After playing through MGS2HD, I must say, there is something about the series that I forgot.

It's UNBELIEVABLY frustrating.

Most of this is in a good way, but there are some things that are just too hard on the face of it. Sneaking is easy, but you will instantly fall off any ledge due to the jerky controls. The controls are absolutely intact from the good old days of yore, but that's a blessing and a curse. The controls are jerky and didn't receive any loosening in the transition. This is unfortunate, because a number of sequences require careful timing and precise movement. These quickly become the most soul-crushingly maddening parts of the package.

Of couse, MGS is a joy to play when you're doing well. That's not the issue here. The games survived the move to "HD" pretty well, if you could really call it HD. Basically, the graphical fidelidy is the same, but the bitrate on the image and textures are cranked up. Surprisingly, the RE4 HD remake was a more convincing effort, but this one is pretty good. Peace Walker looks on par with the others, and obviously received the most attention out of any game in the package.

In the end, you have to ask yourself why you love MGS. Is it the story? I thought it was, but then I remembered how convoluted it gets and how ridiculous parts of it are. The gameplay is still loads of fun, but trial and error moments slow down the action. It's nice to see these games updated for a new generation of consoles, and at $40, it's totally worth it for an MGS fan. It has moments of unbelievable frustration, but that's MGS on the whole. Snake Eater seems to be harder this time around than I remember. You also get Metal Gear 1 and 2 in the game, which means that the only major releases missing are MGS, Portable Ops, and MGS4. Only three out of 8 are missing from the entire collection.

Not bad, Mr. Kojima.

Battlefield 3's horribly broken matchmaking system

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I have been playing a lot of Battlefield 3 since its release. It's pretty fun, and has a good flow to the combat. I have pretty good stats- 1.27 K/D ratio, level 27, 408 SPM, and over 2,500 kills. I have a good time playing... or at least I did until a few days ago.

I noticed it almost instantly. All of a sudden, games weren't coming down to the wire. TDM games used to finish with a few points of difference between teams. It felt balanced, like there were two equally-equipped forces locked in combat with each other. That's over now.

In my last 16 games, I have only been on the winning team once. All other fifteen games have not come within 25 points of victory. One game I was in saw my team finish the game 54 to the other team's 100. Not only is this annoying, but it's entirely due to the broken matchmaking system. I just got done playing a game where my level (27) was more than double the level of my highest level teammate. The opposing team? None of them were under level 30. This is a statistical mismatch that dooms one team to failure before the game has even started. I would be equally upset if I had been on the winning teams this whole time. This is an unacceptable lapse in gameplay integrity.

EA and DICE- fix this NOW. I want to keep playing this game, and I want to keep having a good time, but the matchmaking system is indefensibly broken, and it comes down to you and ONLY you to fix it. 15 out of my last 16 games were doomed from the start due to statistically unbalanced teams. I added the total levels of my team to a total of 196. The opposing team was 359. If your matchmaking system used a metric even THAT simple, it would be more fair. I don't know how your system works, but it has failed tens of thousands of gamers, and it falls on your shoulders to fix it.

Skyrim- 120 hours in

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Skyrim is everything I had hoped it would be. It is, in a word, mesmerizing.

Now that I am level 47, decked out in full Daedric armor, playing on Master difficulty, I feel like I have given the game ample time to sink in, and to give a final verdict. If you ever play one game from this generation of consoles/hardware, Skyrim is that game. This is the game that all future RPG's will be measured by. At least until Elder Scrolls VI.

There is one unfortunate thing that this game will never grant me, and it is something that depresses me. I can never play it for the first time again. I remember walking from Riverwood to Whiterun for the first time. I crossed the bridge over the river, and walked down the path to the North toward Whiterun. The ridge dropped away and revealed a stunning view of Whiterunhold's spectacular tundra, and I sat completely transfixed by the sight. I stood there, in complete awe, at the sight. The game treats you to numerous moments like this, that fill you with wonder and awe, but you will never experience them for the first time again. This is a game whose moments are made to be relished and experienced with a sober mind and a gentle touch.

Congratulations, Bethesda. You've got another winner on your hands.

NOTE:

Interesting DLC news has reached my ears. It turns out that the entire countries of Morrowind and Cyrodiil (the setting for Oblivion) are actual polygonal objects in the game. Cyrodiil even has the White Gold Tower in the middle of the Imperial City grafted to the landscape. These continents serve no purpose in the game whatsoever... yet...

Obviously, invisible walls prevent the player from accessing them, but some intrepid PC modders have found the landmasses, and there is a gate East-Southeast of Riften leading directly into Morrowind. I have seen the gate for myself. The player cannot walk through it, but it's there, and Bethesda doesn't put stuff like that in a game for no reason.

Once again, I am eagerly awaiting new DLC news. I guess I'll blog about it once news reaches my ears, but in the meantime, enjoy Skyrim.

So, will the DLC see players venturing once again into the lands of games past? Who knows.

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