Thunderstarter / Member

Forum Posts Following Followers
2663 151 232

Thunderstarter Blog

First Ever Personal Update

by on

Well, I guess that title is sorta lying, because when I was an active blogger...what...6 years ago (sheesh, that's a long time ago) I had plenty of personal updates. However, once I got my soapbox emblem and AUB privileges I decided to devote the blog largely to editorials.

Well, as you have noticed, all AUB writers have lost that privilege due to some sort of some reason or another that Gamespot felt was good enough to warrant...err..."Gamespotting". While I do wish the AUB system stayed the same, I'll just say that I am grateful for even having had the privilege to get something I wrote on the front page of a very popular gaming website. That opportunity doesn't present itself every day, and I really did appreciate the exposure, even if I did get a few annoying PMs from kickstarter devs trying to get me to promote their game on my blog. 

 

I haven't blogged since June (*gasp*) because, contrary to conventional college student logic, my summer has been extremely busy. I was (and currently still am) working at a condominum complex owned by a family friend for the summer. My official position is "maintenance" but I feel like it should be "grunt" because that's the type of work I do. Not that I'm complaining; my boss pays well (as far as I'm concerned, of course) and it beats the alternative of me going back to my old, pre-college job...bagging at my local grocery store. One year there during my senior year of high school was enough for me.

 

On top of my job, I took two courses because dammit I want to be able to complete a minor in Cyber Security while grabbing my B.S. in Criminology in 4 years. After only one year of courses I'm 3 credit hours away from Junior status at Penn State (due to AP credit and summer courses, of course). I feel like I have plenty of time to grab that minor now, so mission accomplished.

 

Due to how ahead I am in my credits I'm going to apply for the Disney College Program for the spring (and possibly summer) of 2014. For those of you who are unaware as to what that is, you can apply for what is basically a full-time position at either Walt Disney World or Disneyland and, if accepted, you take a semester off and work at one of those two places for the spring/summer or summer/fall. Because I was raised on Disney and still sorta freak out like a child when a new Disney film is released, I feel like this is a great opportunity to do a job I'd probably enjoy but not want to commit my life to. Here's to hoping I'm accepted ^^ I'll be applying this fall.

 

I just can't believe my summer is about to be over, but it's about damn time (Penn State's finals week started in the last week of April and my classes didn't have finals). I'm excited to go back to college, believe or not I feel extremely out of place when I'm not in classes. I miss the microcosm that college towns create, where you don't see any adults that aren't your professors, and where the only person that's responsible for me is me.

 

That all being said, I will miss my friends at home. I feel more connected to them than my friends at school, and we tend to have more intelligent and meaningful conversation here, though that's for pretty specific reasons I may or may not discuss in a future personal blog. They're also much more inclined to play the crapload of board games I have...something that nobody I associate with is at Penn State (though they all kinda suck at playing them, so I guess it's not all bad :P). Tomorrow we're having a massive Arkham Horror session that I've been excited about all week!

 

So yeah, I don't really know how to end a personal blog. Not sure if any of you guys care all that much, but if you read until the end here you must at least a little! ^^

That, or you're really bored.



I'll just stop now. :D

The War Is Over, and We Are The Victors

by on

Well, I dont think anyone saw this coming. At least, not so soon.

Microsoft just announced that the Xbox ONE is dropping all of its DRM policies. That is, you will not need to connect to the internet once every 24 hours, and used games will be treated exactly as they are today.

I think the community at large needs to congratulate itself. Guess what, guys? We have been heard. Twice now.

This is important. I stated in my last blog that I believed that Sony's used game policy came as a result of backlash against the Xbox One (remember how tight-lipped they were until E3?), and it was met with applause. Microsoft heard us (and probably saw the reports that the demand for PS4 might exceed supply) and they have changed their ways.

These past two weeks have shown us something. For these past few years we, as consumers, have been afraid of our rights being taken away. Companies were blaming Gamestop and piracy for their falling revenue. Reports from analysts were telling us that our used games would be taken away. It was all quite appalling, and while we cried out against it, it seemed that nothing could penetrate the giant, bloated bubble that is the gaming industry.

What this has proven to us, as consumers, is that our voices actually matter. For too long we have felt ignored and swept aside. Microsofts ignorance to its own fans when it initially unveiled the Xbox ONE delivered some serious backlash, and yet it still pushed its policies on us, telling us what we want. The future looked bleak, yet when Sony announced their used game policy and everyone cheered, we sent a clear message to Microsoft: fix yourself or get out.

The Xbox ONE still has issues that need to be fixed (mandatory Kinect 2.0, for one) and I still wont buy it at the ridiculous price point of $499. But we've seen something today. We've seen the end of a war. The war between developers and consumers over digital rights. We thought it would be extending into the next generation, but it hasn't. It ended today.

Turns out, we won. And thus ends a chapter of gaming history.

Well done, everyone.

(Brief) E3 Commentary and Console Launches

by on

Well, I do have a blog written up about sex and sexuality in the Mass Effect universe, but Im waiting for a more timely time to post it. Plus, this E3 was incredibly interesting and I would be remiss if I didnt post about it.

The Xbox One

We've had a plethora of blogs railing on anti-consumer policies of the Xbox One (rightfully  so), so I won't waste everyone's time by talking about them again. JustPlainLucas and Kbaily have done great jobs ripping it apart anyway. All you guys need to know is I agree with them. Woo! Come at me Microsheep!

The PS4

This is where I was extremely elated about the conference. Sony listened to their consumers and didnt pull all of the X-Bull being done by Microsoft. Did anyone else find it weird how the thing we all got most excited about (used games having no restrictions) was something we've taken for granted for so long? Our rights were on the verge of being taken away, so it makes sense  that wed get excited over someone protecting them, but I find it ironic that no new feature excited anyone nearly as much as that.

I think the important take-away is that, for once, we can see our voices being heard. It was sort of heard when EA pulled away online passes, but when Sony was being tight-lipped about used game policies until E3, I can only assume they were doing so to see consumer reaction to whatever Microsoft revealed. I think their policy is a result of the backlash against Microsoft, and because of that I love Sony even more.

Nintendo

Here's where most of my thoughts lie for this blog.

Nintendo is doing its own thing again (highlighted by the great decision to not have a keynote this year), which Im really happy about. I always thought it was a bit unfair to put them in the console war with Microsoft and Sony because its pretty damn clear that Nintendo doesnt care about what the other companies are doing. It's relying on old IPs (of course) but they do have The Wonderful 101, which looks absolutely fantastic and like a breath of fresh air into the industry. They also (albeit oddly) have Bayonetta 2, which looks a lot better than the original. There're quite a few strong titles coming out for both the 3DS and (finally) the WiiU this year, which leads me to my next point.

Dont expect a stellar launch lineup for the PS4 or the Xbone. Why? Because it's a console launch. I think the current generation has stayed around for a bit too long, and a lot of people forgot during that long period of time without a new console that a console launch generally does not have an impressive game lineup. Sure, youll get one  or two gems from it (The WiiU had Nintendoland and New Super Mario Bros. U ) but other than those gems youre going to be left with an expensive plastic brick doing nothing more than collecting dust for a few months until the game youve been anticipating finally comes out.

I would like to point a finger at the 3DS, which I did buy a few months after launch even after considering the fact that it did not have a solid game lineup at that point. After getting burned on the price cut a month later (and while I respect Nintendo's attempt at compensation, I'm not playing the games I was given so therefore I have not benefitted), I was quite upset about my purchase and considering selling the system altogether at a huge loss just out of spite. I kept it for the sole reason that I knew a new Kingdom Hearts game was announced for it (I think my user icon makes it very clear that I like JRPGs).

I am so glad I kept the thing. I didnt make that brash and hasty decision to sell the handheld and now I get to reap my rewards, Fire Emblem: Awakening, Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, Luigis Mansion: Dark Moon, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor OVERCLOCKED,  Resident Evil: Revelations, Super Mario 3D Land, Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, Mario Kart 8, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and Zero Escape: Virtues Last Reward. Those games have given me absolutely fantastic experiences and the purchase of my 3DS was worth it just for those. But wait! Theres more! Coming out this month is Project X Zone and next month we'll be getting Shin Megami Tensei IV.

Well, the 3DS has picked up steam, hasn't it? I wonder if that's because its had time to be out on the market? Certainly the price cut helped move units and once games like Mario Kart, Fire Emblem, and recently Animal Crossing hit people started buying the system specifically for those games. Nintendo's E3 Nintendo Direct showed off a plethora of noteworthy titles coming for the WiiU. Could this possibly be a sign of the WiiU's library growing as a result of being around for longer than 2 months?

Now, Im aware that the WiiU suffers from a low install base (I attribute that to faulty marketing, Nintendo didn't make it clear to its casual base that the WiiU is an entirely new console), but so did the 3DS. What eventually moved 3DS units? Games. We all know how popular Pokemon is, and generation 6, Pokemon X & Y, come out in October. You bet we'll be seeing a lot of people picking up 3DS units just because a new Pokemon game came out.  

My bet is the same thing will happen with the WiiU. Will it win the new generation of consoles like it has the current one (Im going by sales numbers here, because in the end thats what matters to developers)? Probably not. Will Nintendo die and go third party like Sega did with the Dreamcast? Most definitely not. Nintendo is here to stay, deal with it. 

Hey! Listen!

by on

It's been over a month since I've submitted a blog (hello, again, by the way!), and it's because I've had nothing that I felt was profound to say. I believe that if Im just echoing somebody else in my ideas, then there's no point in me writing them.

Okay, well now I have something to say, and you are all free to rage in the comments below. I brought my crowbar for protection this time ;).

NOTE: I won't be posting about the catatrophe that was the XboxOne announcement today. I do have something to say about it all that hasn't been said yet, so I should probably say it soon before someone else beats me to it...

Zyxe's latest blog discussed Gamespot's recent increase in articles discussing social issues in gaming, and asked for the community to respond to tis question: love it or leave it?.

Now, such user blogs are usually met with a lot what I would call pushback from those reading it, but Zyxe took an approach that was purely to generate discussion, and it worked. She refrained from putting in too much of her own opinion so as not to turn anyone away from the question she was asking, there were only a few comments on her blog that I would deem worthless (i.e. not contributing anything to the discussion at large). I applaud Zyxe for her ability to generate such civilized, thoughtful discussion.

I must admit, I expected less from the community, but Zyxe refrained from putting too much of her own personal opinion on her blog, which is what would usually generate less-than-desirable responses from other users. 

So, where am I going with this? I'm very glad that I finally saw our community engaging in intelligent discussion, but Im sad that we cant do that with opinion-filled pieces and articles. Whenever an article that is slanted and someone's personal bias appears, a lot of people cover their ears and yell, "LALALALA, I cant hear you!" and then comment as to why the writer of the article is   stupid/fat/ugly/communistic/closed-minded/too biased, et al etc. It's a disturbing trend that needs to be discussed.

The issue we're running into as a community is that when someone presents an opinion thats remotely dissimilar to our own, we consider it as an attack. We can't even discuss our opinions on consoles without calling each other out for being elitist/stupid/retarded, or whatever insult you can come up with. It's ridiculous. Choosing a console is a rather arbitrary decision in the first place, and arguing over which one is superior is childish and silly. It comes as no surprise that when we talk about something of considerable magnitude, such as sexism, that we cannot hold civilized conversation, either.

This is my statement to the community at large:

Gaming is a unique industry. It wasn't too long ago that video games were constantly under attack by the media for being too violent, sexual, for bringing down test scores and grades, for creating socially backwards outcasts, and more. Thankfully, that era is, for the most part, over. Video games still get attacked for violence, but I think we can safely say that those arguments are holding less and less sway over the general public because gaming as a whole has become widely accepted and adopted by an increasingly mainstream audience. This is what we've wanted for a very, very long time.

However, with such advancement in gaming's scope, there comes the inevitable scrutiny that comes with being so massive. It's not a bad thing; every form of media undergoes it. Television, movies, books, music, it hasall been brought to the table and examined for hints of sexism, racism, homophobia, and other things that we as society would see as detrimental to the medium and insulting to the groups being affected. Its to be expected, and instead of screaming at those trying to generate discussion about those things and telling them to go away, we should be engaging with them and showing them how we have matured as a community.

Its completely fine to be OK with these problems. If they don't affect you, why would they bother you? That's fine, that's fair, but please, please don't yell at people who recognize the issues still present in games who try to bring light to and correct them. Just because you're okay with them doesn't mean they don't exist.

ME3_Diana_Allers.png

Diana Allers' personality goes as deep as her cup size.

 

If you really think they dont exist, that's fair, just be civilized when creating a counter-argument. Both sides exhibit the issue of plugging their ears and ignoring each other when debating about these issues. Instead of listening to each other, the community wishes to engage in a massive dick-measuring contest to see who can insult each other the fastest. This gets us nowhere, and it shows that perhaps we havent grown up, we havent matured, and were still a bunch of bickering children who cry when we are told weve done something wrong. Can you imagine what that makes our community look like to outsiders?

"Why should we care? They aren't gamers." We should care. What do you think those senators that are making decisions about violent games being sold see when they go into the comment sections of our websites? If we want to be taken seriously and not be seen as a bunch of 14 year olds in our parent's basements, we must start taking discussion seriously.

When someone sees something sexist or exploitative of a certain group in games, they're not trying to take your games away from you, they're trying to improve a medium they enjoy. I am a proprietor of the idea that too many times female characters are robbed of their agency in games, but that doesn't mean I think that games (or game developers) are evil or sexist as a whole, and I certainly dont believe that people who play and enjoy these games are bad people. Much of the community would think otherwise, simply because I think that sexism is an issue in games I am automatically viewed as having a certain set of viewpoints and will immediately be attacked for them. It's childish. It's presumptuous; it's everything we dont want to be viewed as.

We need to open our ears and hear every side of the argument, and we need to consider it.

We need to stop talking and take Navis advice for once. We need to listen.

Navi_Artwork.png

 

NOTE: I have been suffering some issues with LiveFyre, sometimes the comment section won't load, and sometimes it will load but I won't be able to post a comment. If I cannot respond to a comment, it's because of that.

Beware: The Community is Toxic!

by on

Anyway, I decided not to mark this blog as an editorial. This is the first blog since I got featured on the front page that Im only showing my followers (and, well, whoever else decides to click on the blog) . This is not something that needs to hit the front page. This, my friends, is a rant, but not about games, and not about Gamespot. Its about us.

But first, a little background on myself. I never really have taken the time to talk about me on this blog.

We all know the internet is a harsh, unforgiving place. Im not sure if it was always this way, I wasnt old enough to really get into the use of the net when it was beginning to gain popularity and widespread use in the 90s. Sure, I did go to Pokemon.com when I was 6, but that was more or less the extent of  my internet browsing. It wasnt until I was about 13 (6 years ago), when I made this account and this blog, that I would step into the realm of internet *ahem* discourse.

(By the way, Pokemon.com was awesome)

During my first few years here (you can actually go back through my blog history and see a lot of horribly written stuff ;) ) I didnt encounter much of what I see today in terms of the general atmosphere that our lovely community seems to permeate today.  I could say something, anything, and the worst attack from another user I would get was being called a fanboy or, sometimes, noob. Perhaps this is because most of my interaction with the community was through the two unions I was active in and the 15 or so bloggers that read my blog/whose blogs I read. Even when commenting on articles I never saw anything that was remotely Feedbackula! worthy.

For those of you who read my blog regularly (THANK YOU, first of all! I write because I love when people read my stuff! ) you know that when I write a post  I am either voicing an opinion that will clash with popular opinion or I am presenting an idea I feel could be presented to the community at large and start a good discussion.  

Well, as good as a discussion as you can get from the internet.

My issue with this community is that there are quite a few members who have absolutely nothing of value to give to the conversation at large. I am a big propreitor of the idea that, if you have nothing valuable to say, don't say it at all. It just dilutes the conversation and distracts those interacting with each other from the focus of whats being discussed.

Now, when , exactly, is a statement considered of value? Surely this term is too vague for us to even begin to measure discussion by it. Its an opinion, really. Some people feel bigoted statements are of huge value to conversation, while others believe that such bigoted statements need to be supported by a strong argument, evidence and (oh GOD please) good grammar. When I post a blog that clashes against popular opinion (like the first blog of mine to make it to the front page) I will, more often than not, get more personal attacks on my character, intelligence, morals, and personality than actual discussion of my points. This is not to say I dont receive thoughtful discourse (its quite the opposite, actually, most of you following me have given thoughtful comments to my blog) but all of the ideas and conversations will inevitably get buried by those who only wish to vent their rage at me, often without reading my blog first. Its not just me, either, its anyone who has an opinion that could possibly deviate from the norm. Carolyns articles in particular seem to set off a massive fire whenever she posts one of her ideas (which really is a shame). I dont always agree with her, but even if I dont, it doesnt make her opinion invalid, which is what much of the community believes.

I think one of the best examples of worthless comments appears on my blog about Microtransactions (if this is from you, reader, I am not sorry):

"I like paying for cheat codes that were free" "I like pay-to-win games"  "I want to encourage game devs to make every game about grinding so everyone will NEED to pay to compete" "I like paying for 'extra' pieces of a game that should've been there in the first place" 

Absolutely retarded, people accepting and defending sucking the industry's balls only hurts us consumers

 

There are so many things wrong with this comment. First of all, his quotes are nothing but conclusions he drew up about me whilst reading (or so I hope) my blog. He put them in quotation marks as if I actually said those things, thinking his argument would become more valid in this way, but it doesnt. Anyone who knows basic argumentative skills knows that a quote cannot be made out of something that has not been said and, on top that, is factually unsupported (and, actually, incorrect). Never once did I indicate that I believed any one of those things, yet this user thought he or she knew me and claimed that I did. This whole comment is an ad hominem attack, that is, its an attack on me personally, and it holds absolutely no argumentative merit.  It ignores my points and just goes for me, the writer, trying to drain me of my credibility through direct attacks, and its worthless. This is true for any blog or post and for any user, we all get it and its digusting, and roughly 40% of the posts I see are comprised of such filth (I made that number up, but I think its correct).

I love Feedbackula!  because, while its funny, its pointing out something that we tend to ignore; we can sound like **** idiots. I love it, because it puts those who cant write properly or have poor, unstructured and unsupported arguments right in their place. Now, the show does feature a handful of good, thoughtful, well-written comments, but seriously, thats not what were there for. And we all know it.

Now, a few of you might say when you open yourself up to a large audience, you are opening yourself up for idiots, too and youd be right. However, this does not mean that we cant hold this community to a higher standard. So what if a 13-year-old can get an account? At 13, most people should know the difference between a good and a bad argument (and hopefully they know how to use good grammar). The internet is not this toxic in every corner. Reddit is a perfect example of this. Going into different subreddits, you can see a lot of great conversation going on. Theres not nearly as much toxicity there as there is here, and I believe thats because each subreddit has reddiquette specific to the subreddit. If a post does not follow the reddiquette, it can be deleted. Id love to see a feature where each user can set up a set of rules that all who comment on their blog must follow. If a user does not follow said rules, the owner of the blog can delete the comment, much like you can someones  comment on a picture post on Facebook.

I would like my blog to be an area of at least semi-intelligent discussion about our favorite industry and where its headed. I would like to be able to moderate it, so that only the worthwhile responses show up on my comment section. Its a dream, but one I really, really wish would come true. 

DLC and How to Do It Right

by on

So, I got a lot of comments on my previous blog on micro-transactions regarding DLC, and while that wasn't the topic of the blog, it did have a bit of relevance to the conversation I was trying to start (to varying degrees of success). Instead of writing out my thoughts on DLC (as a separate idea from micro-transactions) in the comments of my previous blog, I decided to write them as a new blog because I have a lot to say.

Now, let me get this out there, while I do not care about micro-transactions in my game, I do take a different stance on DLC. I don't hate it by any means. In fact, there's quite a few games where I welcome it. However, there are, of course, companies that abuse the practice of DLC, and I feel that gamers focus far too much on those companies' practices. The general consensus about DLC from what I've seen is that DLC is pure evil and should not be tolerated in games. It's always content that should have been included in the original release of the game and now [insert developer] is nickel and diming its fanbase with content excluded from the original game.

I like DLC when it's done right. And believe me, there are developers out there who do it right.

To me, DLC is a wonderful opportunity for developers to extend a player's time spent with a particular game in a meaningful way. Whether it's adding new missions, maps, characters, or gameplay modes, DLC can make for some surprisingly great experiences in games you might have forgotten about.

Please note that I used the word "opportunity". In no way, shape, or form do I believe that every single piece of DLC out there matches what I believe it should be idealistically. No, for every Fire Emblem: Awakening (a game that makes proper use of DLC) out there we have two Capcom titles that has on-disc DLC. For every Mass Effect 3 we have three shooters that charge $15 for new maps every 2 months.

What I admire in Fire Emblem: Awakening and Mass Effect 3's DLC policy is that there is a mixture of substantial, meaningful free content as well as paid content. I will go into detail into both of these games later, but I want to note that there are many developers out there that should look at these two titles and take notes. There has been some very positive reception for them both.

Fire Emblem: Awakening's DLC exists in two forms: the "bonus box" and the "outer realms". The bonus box is where gamers will receive their free content, and the outer realms is where you can buy DLC maps and challenges. Now, typically a developer would have the bonus box include a sparse amount of content. It would exist only to entice a gamer to buy more DLC maps, but this is not the case with Fire Emblem: Awakening. The bonus box includes (as of today) seven challenge maps, approximately forty recruit-able characters from past Fire Emblem titles (all with their own army for you to fight),  two rare weapons for your army to use, and two bonus paralogue (side missions) chapters, where you can recruit villains from the game's main story to your army. And, if we're going to get everything Japan got in their bonus box, there's a hell of a lot more to come. For free.

feawakening.jpg

The DLC that is paid for is quality, as well. It includes maps where you must fight armies comprised entirely of past Fire Emblem characters, maps where you can harvest loads of experience, gold, and legendary weapons, and in Japan there are maps that constitute entirely new storylines. However, even though these maps exist, the game does not feel incomplete without them. They exist to augment your game, rather than dangle a bit of content in front of your face that the game feels incomplete without (ala Resident Evil 5's multiplayer mode).

Mass Effect 3 does what most multiplayer-focused games (NOT that Mass Effect is multiplayer-focused) should do with its multiplayer DLC and makes it completely free. I remember when I used to have my Xbox 360 and was a frequent player of Halo: Reach and feeling cheated when I had to fork over $15 for 3 new multiplayer maps (for the record, I never paid for it). Or even in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (when I used to play those games), when extra maps meant extra money. At the time, it was an OK practice in my eyes because I didn't really see the issue with charging for the time the CoD devs spent making those new maps. After seeing how Mass Effect 3 handled their multiplayer DLC, I don't understand why other devs won't follow suit. Clearly you can make your new maps, characters and weapons free and not lose any money, otherwise Bioware wouldn't be doing it. The only time I ever paid for new maps was in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and I will never do it again after my experience with Mass Effect 3's surprisingly good multiplayer.

Say what you want about Mass Effect 3's day-one DLC, From Ashes (I do think it should have come with the initial price tag, but some people were OK with it being paid-for. The game does feel incomplete without Javik.) but it does its paid-for DLC, for the most part, correctly. It's substantial, and that's what we should be asking for when paying for something. Quality can be debated upon (I think Leviathan and Omega were sub-par) but one cannot argue that the game feels incomplete without them.

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSy6MPhGVQZde4OzZ6UJyo

DLC is done incorrectly when it is clear that some desirable part of the game has been arbitrarily withheld from the players in order to make some more money off of it. Capcom is the most frequent offender of this scheme, with many of their titles having DLC that's already on-disc, but blocked off from the players (unless they pay). It's unfair to fans of the game, whether it be holding off two fighters from Marvel vs Capcom 3 or multiplayer mode in Resident Evil 5. The game is complete, we just can't play the whole thing unless we play $5 or $10 more. That's cheating, and that's what I have a problem with.

What's ultimately abusive about on-disc DLC is that what's usually withheld is something that gamers will really want. It becomes irresistible because of its relatively low price, and people will buy into it. I admit, I did buy Jill and Shuma-Gorath in Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 because I hated seeing two grayed out portraits in their places on the character select screen.

What I feel is really important to remember when talking about DLC is that not all DLC is bad (even though that's the popular opinion). The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is a wonderful example of a game where both good and bad DLC exist. Yes, there was that really crappy Horse Armor DLC, but there were also full-on expansions available (ala The Shivering Isles)  that allowed you to spend more time in the game's universe, something that many people valued. If done right, DLC can be a very good thing, and I feel we need to stop focusing on the bad. 

Microtransactions And Why I Don't Care

by on

With Dead Space 3's release, the hot-button topic of microtransactions in AAA titles has been resurfaced again by gamers. Yes, paying an extra dollar for a significant in-game bonus has stirred up more anger among gamers about the current state of their favorite industry (right when you thought nothing else could piss 'em off, too). I guess I can see why...people can now pay for what are essentially the new form of cheat codes. It's obviously a cash from the publishers who do it, but I seriously don't care. And I seriously don't see why other people do.

To understand my point, we should probably talk about the origin of microtransaction-based games; social networks. Games such as Mafia Wars and Farmville are completely free to play, and have a focus on social interaction with your friends who play the game. You can play them and be completely free of the worry of having to pay a dime to be successful, but there's a cost. In these games, you may have an energy bar that lets you perform X amount of actions when full, and once it depletes you must wait an hour or so before it fully regenerates. In others, you must wait for certain tasks to be completed, and if you wait too long to come back and collect on those tasks you may be punished. In order to offset those drawbacks, the game would offer players a chance to buy an item with real money that would make it easier for them to play the game and speed up their progress. The items are never expensive...usually costing around a dollar each...but if you have a game that, say, 50 million people play (I'm guessing here) and 5 million of them (10%) pay a dollar every day for a new item, you have some serious profit. That's why companies like the much-loathed  Zynga are so successful, they have a host of these games that have a large userbase, and even though the majority of players don't pay, the amount of people that do really adds up.

farmer.jpg?9707a5

That Windmill will take 24 hours to build, but if you pay $1 it will build INSTANTLY!

Now, while gamers hated games such as Farmville (because, really, what don't gamers hate?) for being obvious cash-grabs (although they probably didn't even bother with playing them), they didn't have as much of an effect on the industry until recently. EA, the big bad evil devil satan publisher of the video game world, has suddenly included microtransactions in many of their new games, and has announced that they intend to implement them into more, sparking an outcry among gamers.

My question is this: why? Why do they care?

Mass-Effect-multiplayer-1.jpg

Mass Effect 3's multiplayer has a microtransaction system that lets players pay for booster packs that include new armor, characters, and weapons, but they could just earn them from playing the multiplayer enough.

My thing with microtransactions is that they're completely optional and have no direct effect on the game if you decide not to use them. You want to look around for tungsten in Dead Space 3 for free? Go ahead! You'd prefer to grind up credits in Mass Effect 3? Sure! Go for it! Do it! The game is still there in its entirety, completely available to everyone who purchases it. Honestly. You can still craft the weapons and upgrades you need in Dead Space 3 without paying for extra tungsten, and you can still unlock every character and every gun in Mass Effect 3's multiplayer without paying a dime for a booster pack.

 These microtransactions are, essentially,  glorified cheat codes. Remember cheat codes? Those things that were really popular up until this generation? Did anybody else notice that, even in single-player games, cheat codes seem to have fallen off the map? Game Informer used to have a "CHEATS" section, but that was removed a few years back because there were simply no cheats to publish. G4 (may it rest in peace) used to have an entire television program dedicated to cheat codes called, you guessed it, Cheat! Now, one could argue that the rise of multiplayer made cheat codes obsolete (they would destroy game balance entirely), but even in most single-player games and campaigns they just up and disappeared.  

Now, let me ask you a question. If a game had cheat codes, were you a frequent user of them? If not, then what's bothering you about microtransactions? Just like you opted out of cheat codes, you're opting out of paying for bonuses. You still have your full-featured game. You can still play it and beat it however many times you want. You can still sell it second-hand (unless you bought it digitally). Really, these microtransactions have no effect on your game if you don't choose to use them.

If you were a frequent user of cheat codes, I still don't see the complaints of the prospects of maybe having to pay for them now. They've been largely absent from games over the past generation, and that doesn't seem to have stopped anyone from playing. They're back now in their cheating glory, but, guess what, now you'll have to pay some money to cheat.

And before you tell me that I'm an EA apologist and blah, blah, blah, I'm not. I'm just a rational thinker here. I absolutely hate what they did to Bioware and the ending of Mass Effect 3 and I don't like that they have a reactive business model, rather than a proactive one. I would like to see EA dissolve and release all of the developers under their umbrella, but until that happens we're going to have to put up with their money-grabbing.

Some of you will claim that the eventual result of EA's use of microtransactions will be full-fledged, AAA $60 games will have systems like those of Mafia Wars and Farmville. We'll only be able to play 2 levels of a game in 24 hours, and in order to play more we'll have to buy an energy pack for $.99.

Except that won't happen. As soulless as EA is, it's aware that gamers will react extremely negatively to a $60 that employed such a model and would sell a miniscule number of copies. The microtransactions they currently employ are small little boosts that effect your game, and your game only. What's the issue?

And, let's be honest, I'm willing to bet that a lot of people who cry out against the microtransactions have used them at least once or twice. That's why EA will keep using them, gamers are purchasing them. Really, it's nobody's fault but ours that EA will keep this up. I admit, I have paid a grand total of $5 into Mass Effect 3's microtransaction system because I wanted to see if I could get a rare character without having to play 3 matches first. Does my getting a rare character hurt other players? No, the multiplayer is co-op, so, in fact, it almost helps my teammates if I get a rare character.

So, yeah, I don't see what the big deal is. Until a game like World of Warcraft offers legendary items for money, microtransactions can exist and I still won't give a single sh*t. 

What I Would Like to See in a Sequel to XCOM

by on

So I just picked up XCOM last week and I'm fully aware that I am addicted to it. The gameplay is tight and balanced (the A.I. cheats, dammit!), the progression is addictive, and the atmosphere is wonderfully tense. I love the game and it deserved its 8.5 as well as its multiple GOTY nominations (did it win any awards? If you know, please comment!).

However, there are some qualms I have about the game, and there are a few ways that I think could greatly expand on its replayability. Luckily, Firaxis has strongly hinted through several post-release interviews that they are working on a sequel (HOORAY!) and are looking to improve upon the first game. These are my suggestions.

1) More Maps

One of the things that makes XCOM so great is the tense atmosphere that the game creates while slowly moving through a fog of war shrouded battlefield. The map design in this game is top-notch, but a huge problem I have with it is that they like to repeat. A lot.

I'm in my first playthrough and I have played on the same map on three different occasions (actually, on two of those occasions it was the same mission, too. Just with different enemy spawns). I plan to play the game at least 2 more times (one on Classic and one on Impossible difficulty), and the game loses some of its tension when you know the map before walking into it.

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcS92S39uk3EPxt8EuOGLd3

But...how...? I shot this UFO down last night! It's back!

Another reason why I want more maps is because...well, they're so damn good. I would not mind waiting an extra month or three for the game if it meant I would (truly) not see the same map twice in two playthroughs. That would be awesome. It would be even better if we could get a random map generator that creates these great maps when a mission starts, but it seems that the crafting of the maps must be done by humans. And that's fine; I just want more so that I can keep the feeling of suspense on my second and third playthroughs.

2) More Enemy Types

OK, this one is also aimed at the vein of replayability (excuse me, but this game just screams at you to play it more than twice). To be clear; the amount of variations in the enemies here is great, but there's potential to make it better for subsequent playthroughs if, say...we didn't see them all.

I'll give an example. The very first alien you come in contact with in XCOM: Enemy Unknown is the Sectoid. For those of you who don't know, here's a picture:

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcReq-qaxXSKFsLbi7YsgKz

Him? He comes in one piece, but then I turn him into pieces.

This little guy is the grunt of the game, and quickly becomes the least of your worries as you encounter enemies such as Chryssalids and the terrifying Ethereals.

Okay, so let's say that, in the sequel, on my first playthrough this "grunt" creature is a Sectoid. Good. But what if that only happened by chance? What if there were, say, 3 different "grunt" creatures I could have been given for my playthrough, and I only got to fight the Sectoids by chance? You would get the Sectoids for the entirety of the playthrough for continuity's sake, but let's say you play again. This time, instead of Sectoids you find a creature called a Lurker in your mission, and then Lurkers are the "grunt" creatures for your playthrough?

I feel that adding and then randomizing enemy types would be greatly beneficial to the replay factor of the game, possibly with a feature to start a game where you can select which creatures that you have already discovered that you want to show up in your campaign. I would want to play again and again just to see what else Firaxis created for me to kill (or be brutally murdered by, for that matter).  

3) Flexible Weapon Upgrades

One of the most satisfying moments of the game is when you finally research a new gun to fire at the aliens. The only issue with that feeling is that, once you create the gun, you're done. There's no more for you to do with it. Sure, you can upgrade ammo capacity and such in the Foundry, but there's no way to modify each gun's stats for individual soldiers.

I feel like it's a missed opportunity. My favorite example of this element is in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance where you could craft a custom weapon for one of your soldiers to equip. You could customize its stats and colors, and could even give it a cool name (or a stupid one). Of course, in that game you could just pay for the best stats on any given weapon type, so XCOM would have to do it differently for game balance, but I feel like it could be done.

4) A Story...Maybe?

This suggestion is out there, I know. XCOM isn't a game that's particularly built for a story: aliens are coming to do something bad to humans, and we have to stop them before said bad things happen. The skeleton of a narrative works for the game's structure. But what including a campaign that focuses on the experiences of a squad of soldiers? Their families, their past, their weaknesses and vices, etc. There's potential for a good character-driven narrative here, especially when you throw in that they could still be permanently killed. You'll care about them on the battlefield more, not just because they have really high hit-percentages and psionic abilities, but because you know their story and want to see it end.

---
I know it's a lot I'm asking for, but with the first game out and the formula created, I feel like a good sequel to the series would try to significantly expand upon the first. This all being said, I'm on board with whatever Firaxis wants to do with the next (unnanounced-but-it's-so-happening) title.

What do you think? Am I completely off my rocker here, or do you agree with anything I said? What do YOU want in a sequel to XCOM? 

Fans or Critics?

by on

With the recent bashing of DMC: Devil May Cry by fans on Metacritic, the question that comes to those who are on the fence about buying the game becomes this: who's opinion do we value the most? The critic's, or the user's? Do we take the professional opinion, or the fan's opinion?

It's a topic I'd like to discuss because I, myself have issues buying games when fan/critic reception is polarized as it is with DMC. On one hand, I really do trust critics; they will, more often than not, give a fair, honest, and balanced review of the game at hand. On the other hand, I like to look at what fans have to say about a game because it's nice to have that raw, uncensored opinion, especially with franchises that have lasted years and years.

However, in a situation where the opinion is so polarized, who do we look to for advice?

To me, the choice is and always has been critics. I know that's a bit of an unpopular opinion, so allow me to explain it:

When looking a review for anything...a book, movie, or video game, I always make sure to look at multiple sources. After all, different reviewers have different tastes and biases, so in order to get a full picture of what a game is, you need to look as many of these tastes and biases as possible. To ignore one reviewer's opinion on a JRPG because he doesn't like JRPGs is silly; his opinion is as valuable as everyone else's. In fact, I feel it's important that we frequent the reviews of such biased people.

For example, one such biased person is Yhatzee from Zero Punctuation. Yhatzee is famous for the way he berates most games that come to his screen, and therefore many people don't take his opinion seriously because, frankly, it seems that he doesn't like games. However, when Yhatzee does like a game, it means much more than it would if he praised every single game that crossed him. I am often on his page because when Yhatzee likes a game, it's doing something right (That, or he's just a banana and is getting old). After all, what does the industry learn if we praise everything thrown at us? With too much praise, nothing is left to improve, and games would become stale. That's why anti-JRPG or anti-shooter critics are important; they will nitpick at a game of a genre they dislike, and they will, at least, effectively point out a game's weaknesses even if they look over a strength. What's more, if they like a game from a genre they have an aversion to, it means so much more than if they liked a game from their favorite genre.

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcR7MjHq863g0Ay3CeOz-4s

These reviews are seriously entertaining and informative.

That all being said, I do feel that professional reviewers, in general, give a fair and balanced opinion on games most of the time. It's their job to play games, after all, and after playing so many I do not see why I should not trust their opinion. They've played hundreds of more games than I have in my lifetime; surely their perspective is inherently more informed and balanced than my own.

This trust in an informed and balanced opinion is important to my argument; professional reviewers have played a large range of games, larger than most of us have. Their decisions on what to play are determined by their work, our decisions are determined by our wallet and our interests. Reviewers don't always get a choice on what to play; they just play what they're given and review it. We get to choose, and because of that our range of games played will be naturally smaller than those played by the reviewers.

For example, I'm an avid JRPG player. With this information, which game would I be more likely to buy: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch or Hitman: Absolution?

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSMdM1gmC9KR_8N4zJSKge

The answer is clear. I want this game. Now.

Now, let's say that, after a long period of time this year, I buy 4 JRPGs 3 Adventure games and 1 FPS game. Which genre would you trust my opinion on the most? The one I have the most experience playing, of course. If my only exposure to the FPS genre was, say, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, I might think it's a fantastic game. After all, with nothing else to compare it to, why wouldn't I? The game is extremely average, so I wouldn't find anything inherently wrong with it if I hadn't played games such as Half-Life 2 or Bioshock in the past.

This expectation of experience is where I find weakness in the reviews of fans: I will never know what games they've played before, hell I won't even know if they've even played the game they're reviewing. I could go give a review of Ni No Kuni right now, provided I do enough research, and bash the game without even having had played it before. Nobody would know I didn't play it, a fact that makes the entire review invalid. On the flip side, we have to expect that professional critics have played the game before because...well, it's their job. If you don't do your job, you get fired. Clearly a reviewer has done their job if a review is posted.

Of course, this is not to say that fans can't give as good of an opinion that a critic does. Sometimes fan reviews can even be better than professional ones; it's just hard to find those reviews and, honestly, there aren't that many. In a community where fanboyism and trolling run rampant, I take more comfort in a review by someone who I can expect to be above such things.

My Top 10 Films of 2012

by on

2012 was an absolutely wonderful year for films. There was not one time in any given month when there wasn't at least one movie I saw and loved. I consider myself as much as a movie buff as I do a gamer, so when a year this damn good comes around, I cannot help but write up a top 10 list and put it out there for everyone to see.

One thing: opinions on movies are objective. If your favorite movie this year isn't on my top 10, it's not because I consider it a bad movie. After watching AMC Movie Talk, I have developed (*cough* stole *cough*) a new criteria for film. It's simple and all inclusive. Films should make you do one or all of these things:

1) Think

2) Feel

3) Experience

If a film excels in one of these areas, it's a good film. A great film excels in two, a masterpiece does all three.

For clarification, there are times when I definitely will put a good film over a great one, or even a masterpiece. This is not because I feel that they're better as films, it's because when asked what movie I would rather watch, I would put my #8 over my #9. That makes sense, right?

Now, onto the list.

Honorable Mentions:Brave, Ted, The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man

10) The Cabin in the Woods

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQUVbuHH19gmh_N6Zt5ldh

This is a film that too many people missed for the wrong reason. If you haven't seen this film, do not look into anything regarding the plot. Avoid reviews, avoid the trailer, just avoid any mention of the film. In fact, avoid this write-up, because all you need to know is that it's one of the smartest horror movies I've seen since The Ring.

What makes The Cabin in the Woods so inherently wonderful is that it is, in essence, a satire of the slasher genre, much like Scream was in the 90s. However, like Scream, it keeps its integrity as a horror film. And even while I'm going to keep comparing it to Scream it effortless separates itself from the equally great film. A strong cast coupled with extremely clever and extremely funny writing makes for a good film on its own, give it a plot that flawlessly builds upon itself, not giving the audience every answer until the very end of the film, and you have something extremely special. It's my firm belief that everyone who's remotely interested in a smart horror movie has to see this film.

9) Chronicle

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQZ2TW-peO9aGdsdBK7vc7

Talk about a surprise. I remember sitting in the theatre for...you guessed it, The Cabin in the Woods with my father and seeing a trailer for this movie. I thought the idea certainly was novel. Three teenagers get superpowers and start recording their adventures and trials on video. Yes, it's another film that jumped on the POV bandwagon, but it's, in my opinion, the first film to get it right. Underneath a trailer filled with teens performing pranks with their newly discovered powers is genuine tale of friendship, trust, betrayal, heartache, hurt, bullying, revenge and, ultimately, redemption.

Calling Chronicle a superhero movie is misleading. It's a drama with superpowers. It's a story about three teenage boys who have nearly nothing in common and their friendship, how it grows, and how their superpowers ultimately destroy it. It's gripping. It's compelling. It's excellent. Go see Chronicle.

8) Detention

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQlqmHGnx2qHmdf55oyjA1

Oh dear God, it's another horror(?) movie. What the heck is wrong with my list? Absolutely nothing, I tell you.

You see, when I choose to sit down and watch a horror movie, I do extensive research into it (except for Cabin, but that's because I took heed of the advice of the reviewers). If you want to research Detention, do it. Why? You won't see anything coming. I didn't. It's impossible.

Detention is a slasher movie about a villain named Cinderhella who makes homages to 80's films while wearing 90's clothing because it's retro and they go back to the past to fix the future and...wait...wait..wait...what?

If that sounded confusing, I did my job. Detention is many things. The first thing is funny. Josh Hutcherson (of The Hunger Games fame) and Dane Cook work surprisingly well together in the few scenes they have in this film. If you aren't a fan of Dane Cook's work on a normal day (like me) I will come out to say this is one of his best films to date. It's an indie movie with a low budget of $10,000,000, making you wonder if all of the embeddedness of the plot and smart, not-so-subtle movie references are the result of not being able to afford the writers to write a completely original plot, but it's done so well it doesn't matter. This movie has everything from Scott-Pilgrim like effects to time-traveling bears. Oh, and it all makes sense. Complete sense. Go see it.

In fact, here is a link to the end of the first scene in the movie. You'll get it then. I hope. (excuse the quality)

7) The Hunger Games

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTUoj2Hw3mypFnjkB997zB

Fangirlism aside, The Hunger Games is by all means a great film. It's easy to give it a pass, with the Twilight-esque "TEAM PEETA" and "TEAM GALE" nonsense and all. On top of that, it was adapted from a young adult novel, makingThe Hunger Games begins to sound way too close to Twilight.

As someone who took the time to read the entire trilogy, let me say that The Hunger Games is nothing like Twilight. As a film, it's a movie with smart editing, good adapted screenplay, a fantastic cast, and extremely-well handled scenes of kids brutally killing one another. The one thing I was worried about the most in this film is that they would either A) dumb down the killing so as it make it easier to watch or B) glorify it to the extent that the movie becomes a film about who's killing who next. The director did a fantastic job portraying the brutality of the world of Panem, and an even better job of showing what parts of our own society reflect in it. The film is riveting, suspenseful and shocking (that is, if you haven't read books for the last one) and is definitely worth at least one viewing.

6) Argo

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSInIkVfg0I6VJhY2Mxwle

"Argo **** yourself."

I'm a bit more of a conservative fellow, so when I see that Ben Afleck is directing a movie I always get a bit nervous and cautious of a more liberal message that I'd rather not hear (I did, however, love The Town). When I saw Argo, however, I was blown away.

What this film did was take a premise that sounded pretty boring to start with and made it one of the most tension-filled movies of the year. I went with 4 of my college friends, and two of them would not stop freaking out over the constant suspense that permeated the air during the film. They just couldn't contain themselves. The tension is not created by fake gunfights or artificial conflicts; Afleck just let the movie create its tension naturally from the situation it portrayed. And he did it wonderfully.

5) Wreck-it-Ralph

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcT-1zX8o-MXnzLC3nXkMZu

I'm nothing if not a fan of Disney. I'm double-nothing if not a fan of video games. I'm triple-nothing if I'm not going to flip tables over from pure excitement when I hear that Disney is producing a film with a video game theme.

It's hard to talk to about this game in front of gamers. Some will say that "Why didn't [INSERT GAME HERE] get in?" or that the movie spent too much time on Ralph's and Venelope's relationship instead of the gaming world they live in. Personally, I wasn't looking for this game or that game to make an appearance in the film, I was looking for a Disney film set in a video game world. That's what I got. And it was great.

Sarah Silverman, John C Reily, Jack McBryer and Jane Lynch executed all of their lines perfectly, never missing a beat. The animation was an absolute treat to look at (especially Sugar Rush) and Ralph and Venelope's relationship as well as Felix and Calhoun's were wonderfully written and orchestrated throughout. Add in a ton of intelligent implementations of video game ideas, staples, and genres and you have a really unique film. What's especially wonderful about this film is that it didn't forget that non-gamers would be seeing it, too. It effortlessly walked the line between fan service and accessibility, and for that alone it's a great film.

4) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQPt5UVHzwNHM75ZTXeb6P

I understand the mixed reactions on this film. It had a lot to live up to and, indeed, it's a film that fans of the book have been waiting to arrive for decades. I was raised as an avid Tolkien fan by my father, and, as such a fan, I can tell you that I loved this movie.

First off, it's beautiful, especially in 48fps. It's one of the most technically stunning movies I've seen since Avatar (I have yet to see Life of Pi [I read the book before it was cool (I am not a hipster)] so shush). The pacing was wonderfully quick and gave the film an extremely adventurous feel, just as the book did when my dad read it to me as a kid. Andy Serkis blew every single scene he did in the original trilogy away and into space in the highly-anticipated riddle scene. Sure, it pulled some stuff from the appendixes to make it into a trilogy and take more of our monies, but if every movie in this new trilogy is as good as this one...well...take all of mine! (Yes, I just went there)

3) Les Miserables

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRCklgdVA3auAmIUGYxP4B

I don't understand why critics gave this film mixed reviews. I loved every second of it. The live singing allowed the cast to act out their emotions through their singing, with every single member giving a stellar performance. Nobody can deny Anne Hathaway's tear-jerking performance as Fatine, safely securing her numerous awards for best supporting actress. Hugh Jackman surprised everyone with his ability to show that Wolverine can sing, and Russel Crowe was one of the best tragic villains I have seen in movies this year.

I think a lot of the bias against this film comes from the fact that 1) It's an operetta, and critics usually have a certain aversion to any form of musical in the first place and 2) those who are fans of the stage show were expecting something similar to their favorite production, and this possibly did not live up to their standards. That's fine, it might have been done well on stage before, but this is a movie, and it's a damn good one.

2) The Avengers

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRnZaPBp-SgZTsyFPfjzBe

The Avengers. That's all that needs to be said.

1) Lincoln

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcT7uzQ4VNqDiPYc45Nt-t6

I'm not the biggest fan of biopics. They're usually drawn out and a bit boring, and usually fall into a realm of extreme campy-ness and cheesy-ness that is impossible to stomach. Lincoln did not do that, and gave us the best performance of any actor this year via Daniel Day Lewis.

Yes, Daniel Day Lewis. His performance as Lincoln is the product of something that happens when an actor falls in love with their character. You could tell that he wanted to portray one of America's finest presidents as accurately as possible, and he did it flawlessly. Spielberg, a director of extraordinary merit, once again proved his abilities with this film. Even though every audience who sees this film knows the ending before walking into the theater, the tension created when the final vote is being cast is paralleled by no other film this year.

An all-star cast that was clearly gathered to celebrate the life of this incredible man all did amazingly well in their own right. The writing highlighted all of their strengths as actors and actresses, giving us a wonderfully rendered telling of the end of America's days of slavery. Seriously, if you haven't seen Lincoln, go see it. It's one of the best movies I have ever seen and is my #1 movie this year.

---