Yep (blog titles must be at least ten characters . . . . how about that)

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While it certainly isn't original I'm going to jump on the "I hate the new Gamespot" wagon. A lot of people are complaining the new site but I've been through several "versions" of Gamespot and always adapted . . . but there is something about this time that really rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it's just me being older, or maybe it's that I haven't bothered to post anything in over half a year, but this is the most seriously I've pondered simply deleting my account (which was opened close to a decade ago). The big kicker for me is the new "stacks" instead of games lists. I had a look through the stacks I had post upgrade and they are full of broken links or Japanese titles for games. As it sits now I'd have to do a lot of editing to bring my "owned game stack" back to the orderly state it was in pre-update; and I just can't think of a reason to do so. I've used this site to track my collection for ages now but my Backloggery account does a better job of it. I'll keep coming back to Gamespot for news, reviews, and shows like "escape from mount stupid" but I'm pretty much done here.

The thing that made me like being here was interacting with people like Kefkamania05, DoctorXombie, phoenixDS, Jugend, mexisnake, Nakichiel, DukSol, -INKling-, nate1222, Rheinmetal, SpaceAngelCyn, juianzuca, AzelKosMos, Uesugi-dono, bowlingotter, and too many that I can't remember right now. Several of those I just mentioned are no longer here but they made the site a place for me.

I've written some good things over the years and I've written a couple pieces that I'm somewhat proud of. It made me happy to know that a handful of good people read and enjoyed them. If you are one of those people I'd like to thank you for your time; and if you aren't on the short list of shout outs above you'll just have to accept my apologies and believe me when I say you are awesome anyway. I've also written a lot of garbage over the years too, but I kind of want to archive some of the better bits so I can maybe repost them somewhere else.

I've said it before but if any of you would like to keep in touch we me on the Backloggery or last.fm you are welcome to do so. I go by thedarkorb on both those sites and I wouldn't mind hearing from any of you.

Take care and don't forget to be awesome.

Jim Sterling Talks About Pasta Sauce

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I don't have much to say of late so instead of not posting anything I'll post a link to somebody else who is saying something I think is worth hearing. I've enjoyed Jim Sterling's show The Jimquisition for a while now and while I certainly don't agree with everything he says I think a lot of it is worth listening to; if for nothing else but to generate thought and discussion. While unnecessarily vulgar at times his show fills a void created when I stopped watching The Game Overthinker after Moviebob made it practically unwatchible. If you haven't already seen todays episode you can watch it here. In it he talks about what the game industry, and people that play games, lose through the obsession of replicating the success of Call of Duty. It's very much a counter piece to an episode he did earlier this year in which he took shots at companies for "innovating" just for the sake of innovation.

PS Snore

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So Sony recently announced, to our collective non-surprise, that there will be a PS4 and it's coming soon. They did so at a two hour press conference in New York that did nothing for me but solidify my lack of interest in the future of console gaming. It very much felt like Sony was trying to get the jump on Microsoft and held their little party long before they were ready to do so. We didn't see the hardware itself, just the controller that we already knew about. We only caught a glimpse of what the user interface might look like. We found out that it won't be backwards compatible with anything except the Playstation Move controllers that most of us want nothing to do with. We noticed that thus far pretty much every launch title will be available for PS3 if not being cross platform with the 360 or the nextbox. What we saw a bunch of trailers and little footage of actual play. We listened to a bunch of people try to sell us the idea that is the PS4 and tell us to look forward to E3. I, for one, am not impressed and I can't say I find myself particularly excited or interested.

A lot of my thoughts on the PS4 announcement are summed up nicely in this video which you should watch if you are interested in the subject and have a few minutes.

To date I own two Super Nintendo Entertainment Systems, a Playstation, a PSOne, a PS2 (slim), a Gamecube, a DS Lite, a PSP (3000 model), and a PS3 (slim). Assuming it gets games I actually want to play I see my getting a Vita as an eventual possibility but I have no interest in a PS4. Some of that sentiment comes from my experiences with the PS3, of which I am on my second. I've owned a SNES since the mid 90s but to date my fat PS3, which I bought new in 2008, is the only console I own that has died on me. It gave me the yellow light of death in spite of the open area it was kept in and the dusting it periodically received. The funny thing is that I played more PS2 games on that fat PS3 then I did PS3 games. I've enjoyed a number of great games for PS3 though; with titles like Eternal Sonata, Valkyria Chronicles, FF XIII, and inFamous being some of my favorites to date. But I've never much cared for the machine that is the PS3. It used to get at least one firmware update a month that did took five to ten minutes which did absolutely nothing from a user standpoint (except wasting my time), the internet browser is terrible to the point of being practically unusable, it infrequently freezes up on the menu bar, and the few times the power has gone out while in use it freaks out and runs a hard disk check on restart.

That's where some of my lack of interest in future console gaming comes from. But the lions share comes from something more depressing; the realization that I'm getting too old to keep up with the times. I don't want a game to connect to my non existant Facebook page or post updates to twitter. I assume this is a popular thing because it crops up more and more but at the same time I only hear people complaining about how lame it is. I've yet to hear somebody actually say I really love games that connect with my facebook/twitter accounts. I have no interest in a console that records what I'm doing so I can upload footage of me playing games (badly) to Youtube. Goodness knows there are already tons of people doing that. I don't like how every time I start playing a PS3 game I have to install to the HD and then download an update patch before I can think about actually starting to play. I hate being caught up in a game, watching a tense cutscene, and having my immersion broken by a little bling sound and a message that I've unlocked a new trophy appear in the corner. I don't like DLC and I don't like multiplayer being shoved into games that don't need it. I want to go back to a time when buying a game it meant that I had the full experience in my hand. I want to go back to a time when all I had to do before enjoying myself was to put the media in the machine and turn it on. I want to go back to a time when a game console did one thing, play games. I want that because when consoles did just one thing they did that one thing well and they certainly didn't do anything to get in between the user and the games that justified the existence of the machine.

But maybe that's just me and I'm not hip enough to enjoy what the kids these days are into.

Third Time Is Still Charming

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I don't celebrate X-mas. I don't buy gifts for anybody and nobody gives me anything over the holidays. So every year I buy myself something for my birthday to offset that fact. I usually use it to acquire an older/rare game that I've been meaning to play for ages and just haven't been able to justify it's expense. I started doing this in 2010 when I got myself Lunar: Silver Star Story, in 2011 I finally invested in a copy of Xenogears and last year it was Digital Devil Saga part I and part II (which were actually quite the disappointment). This year, however, I have bought myself a game that has taken it's place as one of the crown jewels of my collection.

I now own a copy of Suikoden II

Yes, that is a near mint copy of Suikoden II which is one of the rarest Playstation games you can own. I have played it before; but that was almost fifteen years ago when I borrowed it from somebody. I remember it being a fantastic game and I'm absolutely psyched to play it. So while I was waiting for it to arrive this month I decided to prepare myself for it by re-replaying the original Suikoden. I had already played Suikoden twice but I had a great time with it on this second replay, which goes to show how great it is. There are only a few games in my collection that I've played three or more times; those games being FF VI/VII/VIII/Tactics, Half Life, Resident Evil 3, Parasite Eve, and Star Ocean: The second Story. It's something I wish I did more often as I really enjoy replaying a fantastic game. It's my opinion that most games are at their most enjoyable the second time around which is why I'm a big fan on new game + features. You remember how to play the game, the ins and outs of it's mechanics, and when to prepare for a spike in difficulty. You also don't have any periods of wandering aimlessly wondering where to go and/or what to do. Unfortunately my backlog always encourages me to move forward and play something new rather than fire up something old. That said, replaying Suikoden was a fantastic way to start my gaming year and I took the time this morning to write up a review for it. Since it is a birthday present and my birthday isn't till next month I'll hold off playing Suikoden II for a couple weeks but I'm very much looking forward to it.

In gaming news; Microsoft and Sony will be announcing new consoles very soon and people have noticed that their Wii U's are already collecting dust as they fall into the same pattern of use that plagued the Wii. Personally I really couldn't care less about the Xbox 720 or the PS4 as I'm pretty much done with modern consoles. If enough good games get released for it I may invest in a PS Vita a few years down the line but that's about it. I'm sick of firmware updates, consoles that give you a light of death after a few years, installing to HD, in game trophy/achievement pop ups, friend lists, patches for console titles, DLC in general but especially on disc DLC, and games that want to connect to Facebook and Twitter. I'm tired of the hardware getting in the way of what I bought it to do and what I want it to do most, play games. I want to buy and play single player games with no BS around my being able to access and enjoy that content. I want a machine that either just plays games well or does everything I expect a real PC to do. That said, I am interested in whatever Valve decide to unleash on the masses and the OUYA certainly has my attention. Consoles as we know them are dieing a slow painful death. No, that's not true, it's more accurate to say that consoles are slowly and painfully evolving into branded PCs. What we are seeing now is the grotesque process of an animal that has grown functional gills sputter and cough up it's old lungs. Things like the upcoming Steambox are the future and sony will have to do something more dramatic than putting a touch screen in the PS4 controller to keep the idea of a video game centric home console relevant in the coming years. If Valve releases a moderately priced box that I can hook up to my TV which lets me access and play the entire Steam library why would I want whatever bloated, firmware update happy, device Sony is working on?

Somewhere along the lines this reasonably cheerful blog devolved into a rant. I'm not sure how that happened. Also, I seem to be at least temporarily getting back into writing so I might try to comment and offer my thoughts on gaming news.

Thanks for reading.

Hello Again (games played in 2012)

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Hello all, long time no see. It's been the better part of a year since I last posted and I don't see myself posting much in 2013. I have made attempts at writing over 2012 but I lack to motivation to finish what I start writing. I have popped in from time to time to check news and keep my collection up to date and I've read a couple blog posts from people here and there.

Aside from saying hello I wanted to post my yearly "year in review" blog post.

Jan:
(GC) Animal Crossing (7.5)
(PSP) Final Fantasy II (7.5)
Feb:
(PS3) Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (7.5)
(PC) Myst V: End of Ages (7.0)
(PSP) Dissidia 012: Duodecim (8.5)
March:
(PS3) Catherine (8.5)
(PC) Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal (9.0)
April:
(PS3) God of War III (9.0)
(PS2) Digital Devil Saga (7.0)
May:
(PS2) Digital Devil Saga 2 (7.5)
June:
(DS) Final Fantasy III (7.5)
July:
(PSP) Locoroco 2 (7.0)
(PSP) Final Fantasy (7.0)
(PS2) Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (8.5)
August:
(PSP) Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops (7.5)
(PSP) Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (9.0)
September:
(PS2) Metal Gear (6.5)
(PS2) Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (7.0)
(GC) Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes (8.5)
(PS2) Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty (8.0)
(PS3) Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (9.0)
October:
(GC) Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean (7.5)
November:
(PS3) Final Fantasy XIII-2 (7.5)
December:
(PC) Darkstar One (7.5)
(PS3) Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (7.5)

Surprisingly my PSP got the most use this year with me playing six games on it. 2012 was also the year I finally broke down and picked up a DS so I could play Final Fantasy III. To date FF III is the only game I've played for DS but I do have a number of other games purchased that I'll likely hit up sometime this year. I'd say my favorite game of 2012 was Dissidia 012, which is likely why I've sunk over a hundred and fifty hours into the game since I got it in February. Other highlights of 2012 would be my playing the entire Metal Gear saga in chronological order of events. It took me the better part of two months but it was a great experience as the only Metal Gear game I'd played prior was Metal Gear Solid for PS. On the other side of things I'd say the worst game I played last year, I'd have to go with Myst V. I love Myst, and Riven is a fantastic sequel but Myst V just showed that the series really needed to be over. Perhaps the biggest disappointment 2012 had for me was Digital Devil Saga. The two games have a fantastic premise and some solid game mechanics but the story is spread too thinly. That and the random encounter rate is obnoxious to say the least.

Now that I've broken my silence it might be easier to post things in the future. I hope those that have taken the time to read this have had a good 2012 and that you have a better 2013.

Abandoning Ship

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I've been rather busy the past few weeks and will continue to be for much of the summer. So much so that I've had a hard time finding time to play games, let alone write about playing games. Between my shrinking free time and the fact that I haven't enjoyed writing for a little while now I've ecided I'm going to be leaving Gamespot for a while. If I can find a better site I'll likely abandon the site all together. Unfortunately Gamespot still seems to be the most well rounded gaming site on the internet dispite it's recent decline. IGN is close but it suffers from the same problems as Gamespot. Namely that user content like reviews are buried under ads and "professional" content. Screwattack is a great site for user generated contend but it doesn't have a database of games and game information like Gamespot, IGN, or Giant Bomb.

If things here at Gamespot turn around and I don't settle into another site I'll likely start writing and posting things here again. But I'm done here for a few months at least. If any of you want to keep in touch with me feel free to add me over at:

The backloggery: http://www.backloggery.com/thedarkorb

Last.fm: http://www.last.fm/user/TheDarkOrb

or Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/thedarkorb

I also have a personal blog that is updated very infrequently (every couple of months).

I'd like to extend my thanks to those of you that have taken the time to read my blog posts and reviews and doubly so for those of you that have taken the time to comment on what I've had to say. Take care.

Dark Orb

Regarding the Diablo III Launch.

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A few thoughts.

Consideration 1: Blizzard are an extremely successful company whose games are considered among the best PC gaming has to offer. Anything and everything Blizzard will ever release will have a great deal of public interest.

Consideration 2: The Diablo series is the golden standard for any dungeon crawler RPG. Both previous games won numerous game of the year awards and there are still millions of people playing Diablo II over ten years after its release.

Consideration 3: Diablo III has been hyped through extensive advertising across all major gaming websites.

Consideration 4: Diablo III has been extensively beta tested by the public. There was a public open beta weekend a month prior to launch where anybody with a battle.net account to play the game.

With these four things in mind I find it amazing that Blizzard suffered "higher than expected" server load. Jim Sterling brought up a number of points in his show this past monday that strike at the heart of this experience. I don't buy new games but I can imagine there are more than a few people that pre-ordered the game and took time off work in order to play Diablo III at launch and couldn't even enjoy a single player experience.

It's things like this that leave me more and more wary of the direction of the medium. It also further cements my policy of not buying games on or near launch.

What are your thoughts?

Things Present and Things To Come (part 2/2)

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Hello and thanks for reading. If you haven't already read it I would encourage you to read the first part of this multi entry blog post.

Sony

I know this makes me sound like a big Sony fanboy but I'd say that Sony has come out on top the past two console generations and I think in the long run it will be remembered as the top console this generation as well. It didn't have the sales of the Wii at first but it does have the third party support Nintendo doesn't, it has a variety of titles Microsoft doesn't, and solid first party exclusives. Its been slow going but I think history will be kind to the PS3. Perhaps the biggest reason Sony has been on top for so long is because of the RPG. Think back to the SNES and look at any top SNES games list. Go to the legacy platforms board, check out a top SNES games list and what do you see? Chrono Trigger, FF II/III, Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Earthbound will all be on the list if not dominating the top of it. The exodus of third party developers to the Playstation left the N64, the Gamecube, and now the Wii virtually starved of an entire genre. If you look at Zelda games as action adventure titles rather than RPGs then those three systems really only have a handful of titles you could call RPGs. That's likely why people made such a fuss about Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story; they will be for the Wii what Tales of Symphonia and Skies of Arcadia: Legends were for the Gamecube. They will be the great games that collectors look for in five to ten years and reasons to own a Wii; both now and in the future. But I've gotten off track, I'm supposed to be talking about Sony here, not Nintendo. Sony has succeeded by offering an open platform that is easy to develop for with few to no restrictions. Want to make a 2d game, sure; what to make something more adult or with religious themes, sure. Want to use our gimmicky Sixaxis or Move controller? No? That's ok. These are things developers didn't or couldn't do on the N64 and it's the main reason the Playstation has been successful as a game platform since the original. You can say what you want about the decline and stagnation of the JRPG but it's still an easy place to find a great adventure and the best place to find an emotionally involving story. Since the original Playstation Sony's platform has been the place to go if you want to play a great RPG and it's only now that this has started to slip away from Sony. This is a bad thing because really, the biggest thing the Playstation platform has going for it is it's legacy and a lot of great third party software. If your into Call of Duty, or Madden, or even games like Skyrim the only thing the PS3 has going for it is that it can double up as a blu-ray player. If the next Microsoft console has a blu-ray player what card(s) does that leave in Sony's hand? Aside from some great exclusive franchises it doesn't leave Sony with any real trump card. If Microsoft releases something resembling the WinBox I detailed previously above the Playstation, and dedicated gaming devices in general, are quite simply done for.

It's only this console generation that things have started to move out of Sony's favour. A lot of that has come from business decisions made by people in suits that look at video games as a product, not a medium, and they have hurt the brand. While it makes business sense and saves money to drop PS2 support from the PS3 it also upset the user base and limits the use of the console. Even worse, they have started releasing PS2 games via the Playstation store which shows they can work on the system, but you have to buy a digital copy to play them again. Legacy support was the greatest thing the PS2 had in the early days before it got a decent library of games under its belt. The fact that you could pop in a PS1 game and memory card was an amazing feature that Sony should have kept going with the PS3. Since it's release they have removed support for PS2 games and the ability to install Linux, but they still market it saying "it only does everything". Other things Sony is doing wrong would include getting in the way of me enjoying the game I paid money for. I recently played Catherine, a single player game. After installing to the HD it offered me the choice to sign into the PSN (or is is SEN now?) to see leaderboards. When I said yes I was told that I'm not using the latest firmware version and I had to exit the game to download and install it. Contrast that with a Wii or PS2 game which involved putting the disc in the system and *gasp* playing the game. Speaking of updates, they happen way too often on the PS3. Microsoft has the right idea by doing them quarterly and, as far as I know, Nintendo doesn't have anything to do with this foolishness at all. To make things worse I don't think I've ever felt that my console was better as a result of an update. If they wanted to impress me they could start with the internet browser which is still as broken and buggy as it was in 2008. I've never felt that the system ran better or that my user experience had improved by a firmware update but they still roll in at least once a month. It's annoying and coupled with the slowly increasing yellow lights of death it does a lot to harm the generations of goodwill Sony has built up. The yellow light of death is going to become more of a problem in the long run as it's only a matter of time before a given unit gets one. It may take much longer than a 360 but it will happen to most owners eventually. That's not necessarily Sony's fault as it wasn't something they could have figured out before releasing the hardware to the masses. But it is up to Sony to learn from the reasons behind the YLOD and to address them in future hardware releases. The system isn't poorly designed, it just needs a better cooling solution and a way to address the solder cracking on the GPU/CPU which is the main cause of the YLOD.

What can Sony do to keep themselves relevant and/or dominant in the video game industry? They can do everything I said Microsoft can do. But Sony isn't going to make a PC that runs a Microsoft OS, that wouldn't make any sense from a business standpoint. So what does that leave them with? I see three options here: 1) they can hop into bed with Apple and release a gaming box that runs Mac OS, 2) they can latch onto a Linux distribution like Ubuntu, Debian, Gentoo, or Fedora, or 3) they can make a custom Linux OS in the vein of Android. Of those options I'd say number one is extremely unlikely (bordering laughable the more I think about it), two is quite possible, and three is the most likely/realistic. A version of Linux would be a good fit as Linux distributions are functional, flexible operating systems that don't require Sony designing them from scratch. It was possible to install Ubuntu linux on a Playstation 3 until Sony decided to remove that functionality from the machine for reasons unknown. Personally I'd like to see a Playstation 4 running a custom Ubuntu distribution (maybe called Playbuntu), that comes bundled with a bluetooth keyboard, mouse, and a Dualshock 3. Just like the Winbox it runs on standardized hardware with an upgradable hard drive and does everything a PC does. Browse the internet, check and manage e-mail, compose text documents, edit photo/video, watch movies, play your music library, manage your mp3 player, download and play Uncharted 5 from the PSN. A device that can do all these things is what analysts would likely call a "game changer". If they wanted to make a positive effort they could embrace the Playstation legacy and find a way to make this new machine compatible with PS, PS2, and PS3 games both disc based and through digital downloads. If this happened it would pay off really well to approach Valve and get them to release a Linux version of Steam through the Playbuntu software centre which would go a long way towards making the platform more viable as a gaming PC. It would also open up Valve and Steam to the console market in ways that would benefit all parties and the user. Presumably this Playstation 4 PC would be able access a Playstation store for movies, DLC, games, and patches for PS3/PS4 titles. A Linux based Playstation PC would work on a number of fronts. The easiest way to install a program on Linux distributions is through a software centre that is exactly like an app store. Which makes sure what your installing to your computer isn't actually a virus; you can't just download any .exe file somebody sends you from your inbox and run it, Linux doesn't work like that. Using a Linux OS would allow Sony to make a fully functional PC that doesn't feature a lot of the pitfalls of Windows. Also, Linux is free and if Sony were to offer Canological (the makers of Ubuntu) a modest wad of cash and the hardware it would make the venture a lot cheaper for Sony.

This general direction is the only way I see video games (and computer use in general) going. Whoever wins the console PC battle would achieve a monopoly on the gaming medium and bring us to the one console future you hear analysts talk about from time to time. Whoever loses that battle will become to the victor what SEGA is to Nintendo. I don't mean that we'll end up with trash like Mario VS. Sonic VS. Master Chief VS. Nathan Drake at the 2050 Olympic games. I mean that whoever loses will make ends meat by publishing their catalogue of games on the winners system. What I mean is The uncharted Collection, now available for WinBox PC. Or Super Mario All Stars+, now available for PS PC.

Like I said in part one, the Wii U is somewhere around the corner and it likely won't be long after till Microsoft and Sony announce whatever new console their respective R&D departments have been cooking up. Nobody knows what Microsoft or Sony are going to do to compete but the more I think about it the more obvious it becomes that this is the future looks like this. Your TV will be your monitor and houses will have no need for a dedicated corner in the living room or den for a family PC. Everything will centre around one device that really does everything. Even further down the line we find ourselves in cloud computing territory where the only device in the home is the screen itself and some kind of standardized controller. This is the future, it's only a matter of who does it first and/or who does it best. Regardless of what company achieves this first I like to believe that gaming will be more a more enjoyable pastime once this happens. Once companies have their act together and stop weighing their products with DRM or charging us money to unlock content on a disc we already paid full price for. I like to believe that somewhere in the distant future we'll play our games in some kind of reality simulator like the holodecks seen in Star Trek. Either that or our descendants will sit around communal fires, in bombed out city ruins, and tell of how frivolous and care free life was before the apocalypse. How there was a time when the struggle to survive wasn't all consuming and we had time for things like "art" and "recreation".

Things Present And Things To Come (Part 1/2)

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I've been gaming for close to twenty years and it's only this console generation that I can say I've been an active and informed participant. I got my first ps3 in the beginning of 2008 and have played a number of titles for it since. Not a huge number mind you, but a lot of great games none the less. I missed out on the PS2 generation as I was late to the party getting my PS3 in 2003 and I spent a good chunk of that console generation living in England as a dedicated PC gamer. It was only after my return to North America in 2007 that I really got into PS2 games. It was during this time in England that I really got into reading reviews and editorials in my spare time. This served me well as I was working in video game retail at the time, but I did it because I was genuinely interested. I still follow gaming news and read/watch reviews for a lot of games, even ones I have no interest in playing. In this way I consider myself well informed, despite not being the kind of gamer that plays the latest releases. I would be a more active participant in this console generation but I have a lot of funny ideas that may have a lot to do with both my Genesis, SNES, and PS gaming roots, as well as time spent as a dedicated PC gamer. Funny ideas like $60 dollars being too high an asking for a new game of any length, that it's better to wait for a version that bundles in all the DLC rather than buying the original release, and that the single player narrative is the best part of any game. Even stranger is the belief that buying pre-owned doesn't take money away from the developer, rather it makes the original sale count since I won't trade it in

With the Wii U around the corner responses from Sony and Microsoft are likely deep in development by now. It's certainly not over by any means but we are working towards the end of this console generation. It has brought gamers a lot of fantastic games and more than a few headaches. Mistakes have been made and success has comes from places nobody could have guessed. I'm going to spend this post to offer my thoughts on the big three console makers. More specifically what I think they have done and are still doing wrong and what I think they can do to make things better. I will state for the record that I have never owned a Wii or a 360. All my thoughts on the current Nintendo and Microsoft platforms has been gained over the years through observations of people I know who own the systems, watching reviews, reading editorials/news, and general observations of their respective fan bases. None of this is in any way a definitive analysis of any platform, these are just my observations and thoughts.

nintendo logo

Where, oh where, do I to begin? Of all the big three I'd say I see the most wrong with Nintendo, both in terms of hardware but also general business practices. More irksome is that in Nintendo's case it's not just mistakes but incredible potential and public good will going to waste. Nintendo seems to have painted themselves into a corner on a number of fronts. For one they have chosen to release all their consoles, hand held or otherwise, based around a gimmick of sorts. It worked, for the most part, with the DS and developers found ways that used it in meaningful and/or fun ways. But then they released the Wii and while the initial sales and publicity blitz must have been fantastic, it's long over and the Wii is a joke. Well, maybe not so much a joke as it is a barren wasteland of a platform filled with shovelware, mini game collections, and kids software. When I say kids software I mean games that you play(ed) as a kid but realize to be garbage once you play something on another platform. You know, the kind of things they are releasing as Kinect titles these days. Dotted about this barren landscape there are a number of refuges, a smattering of great games. But if you were to take away first party games (which I'll talk about shortly) what are you left with? No More Heroes, Madworld, Muramasa: The Demon Blade, Xenoblade, The Last Story, and a couple others. It's not much but they are there and they are all fantastic games; the problem is that they are few and far between. No matter what I or anybody else can say about the Wii from a hardware standpoint it's main issue is that if your not a fan of Mario, Zelda, Metroid, or any other core Nintendo franchise, the software lineup isn't worth owning the system for. Everybody I know that owns a Wii loved it at first but found themselves having to dust it off whenever they got an actual game for it down the line. I'm not just talking about adults looking for a linear FPS or a generic JRPG, I'm talking about the kids and the seniors who made the system a smash hit upon release. Most popular game for the Wii is still Wii Sports which comes with the system. This is a problem that Nintendo should have done something about. But they aren't doing anything about this; instead they are releasing a new console based around another gimmick. I find it interesting to note that Nintendo seems dead set on pushing the norm (aka: taking a gamble) on new technology or ideas with every system they release but they've propped them all up with the same franchises they have been using since the NES.

The weak game library is a continuation of a problem that started with the N64, continued with the Gamecube, and came to a point here with the Wii. Back in the late 90s Nintendo wouldn't allow 2D games to be made for the 64 which alienated developers that wanted to make that kind of game for aesthetic, or stylistic reasons. That, along with several other bad decisions and polices, drove many developers to abandon Nintendo and run to the open arms of Sony and their crazy CD based Playstation console. There are a lot of great games available for the N64 but a lot of them are first party titles and almost all of them are platformers. This bad blood between Nintendo and various developers continued through the Gamecubes lifespan though it certainly wasn't as pronounced as the N64. I would go so far as saying that the Gamecube is best Nintendo home console since the SNES. So much so that I think the backwards compatibility function on the Wii is one of that systems greatest assets. Something I'd like to draw your attention towards is the lack of RPGs on both the N64 as well the Gamecube and that the trend continued with the Wii. So much so that when a decent RPG was actually released fans got together and begged Nintendo for an English localization. There are tons of great RPGs released in Japan on Playstation consoles but you don't see North American owners of Sony consoles banding together to get them localized. I feel that this is mostly because there are tons of great RPGs, and great games in general, available for Playstation systems in North America. Playstaion and 360 owners aren't starved for good third party games.

What Nintendo has done about this is to play to their strengths. Their strengths being the powerful nostalgia attached to growing up in the late 80s to the mid 90s when Nintendo really was on top of the world. They've done this through Wii ware and having lots of c lassic games up for download, and by releasing lots of first party titles that play on nostalgic memories of Mario or Link while being great games on their own. Nintendo can and will prop up any future hardware, no matter how bad it is, by releasing first party games that the Nintendo-core have to own. They don't mind that (aside from Metroid) that the core mechanics of any Nintendo franchise hasn't really changed since the 90s. They will buy it because it's a Mario game, or a Zelda title, or because it involves Pokemon. Charging full price for a slightly upgraded or tweaked version of what you already spent good money for; Nintendo is becoming the Apple of the gaming world. The key difference is that Apple products do more than one thing while Nintendo is still making dedicated gaming devices. Both Sony and Microsoft know that users want to do more than play games so their consoles can do things like play music and movies. Nintendo's growing problem is that they are making dedicated gaming devices that will only be bought by a limited demographic. This is likely the biggest problem with Nintendo because the casual market will buy the system and maybe one or two games and then let it collect dust. The Nintendo-core will buy anything that lets them play another Mario game but in reality they are a very vocal minority in the gaming world. Finally, the kids will love it at first but it's only a matter of time before they abandon it for richer or more mature games on a more diverse platform made by the competition. This demographic is not large or stable enough to build a competitive business model on and it's for similar reasons that SEGA chose to stop developing hardware in favour of developing software.

Regardless of what I've said about it's software problems and the fact that the system is based on an interesting but failed gimmick, the Wii hardware has some sound ideas behind it. It wasn't designed to offer cutting edge graphics, but that made it infinitely more affordable in comparison to the competition for the first few years. That same low spec design should have a) shifted developer focus from "gritty realism" to all forms of artistic stylization, and b) made it easier to design games for. This would have quite possibly been the case for developers had the motion controls been optional. But the decision was made for motion controls to be a must and there were only a handful of studios outside Nintendo that actually made use of the unique control scheme in ways that weren't annoying in the long run. Think about it, how often have you read something along the lines of "plays best if you use the c lassic controller" or "sadly there is no option to use the c lassic controller" in reviews for Wii titles? Perhaps the greatest thing I can say about the hardware itself aside from it's fantastic backwards compatibility is that it doesn't feature issues with reliability. That last one is actually quite important and likely tied to it's modest system specs. The Wii is the only console this cycle that doesn't have problem with heat and isn't giving uses a light of death after X number of years.

So, what can Nintendo do to "get back in the game"? They can release a new console that uses a controller identical to the Gamecube but is also compatible with the Wiimote+. This system should have modest specs to keep it cheap, should be easy to develop games for, and not require developers to use motion controls in any way unless they want to. This console should have some kind of internal storage that allows it to download c lassic titles from an online Nintendo store that extend back to the NES and stop with the gamecube. This console should have a free network similar to the PSN that offers online play without something like a friend code. To top things off Nintendo should activly go after indie game designers and offer to publish their low spec/high concept games through this nintendo network/store. If Nintendo can do that and get third parties to make great games, preferably exclusives, they would havea winner of a console after a few years.


Microsoft

Unlike recent Nintendo consoles, the Xbox platform has always had lots of games actually worth playing on it. The biggest problem Microsoft has is that almost all of those great games are also available on other platforms, which made and makes investing in the hardware less than worthwhile for some of us. Think about it, what exclusive Xbox games are actually worth playing? Well Halo ODST and 3 spring to mind, Gears of War 2 and 3 are also there, Crackdown, and then there is Fable II. That's about it, so if you don't care about any of those titles there really isn't much point in picking up a 360 and the original Xbox had the exact same problem. Back when the Xbox was competing with the PS2 you could argue that games looked better on Xbox but it probably wasn't worth it for most gamers to plunk down a few hundred dollars so they could play a slightly prettier version of GTA: San Andreas. Microsoft has also paid for supporting the failed HDDVD format with their expensive add on drive. Newer versions of the console haven't featured a blu-ray drive and I think that's largely a pride thing. I get that as blu-ray is a Sony idea and it wouldn't look good for Microsoft to start using Sony's disc format. But using the blu-ray format would extend the life of the system and allow developers to do more with the console. Casting off the limitations of DVD space would make room for visually richer experiences and since blu-ray drives are fully compatible with DVDs there shouldn't be a problem playing the current library of 360 titles. That's pretty much all I can say about the Xbox platform in general. Aside from the high failure rate the hardware is sound, offers access to a lot of great games, and if you want to pony up the cash you get a slick online experience. It's a good platform, it just doesn't offer anything meaningful that Sony or your windows PC is offering outside the handful of aforementioned exclusives.

What can Microsoft do to keep themselves relevant? Well aside from releasing Halo games they can marry the Xbox to the PC to make something wonderful. The big problem with portable gaming right now is the question of "why am I paying $40 for a game that runs on a device that only plays games when I can buy a fun game for $0.99 on my phone"? This is an important question and Microsoft can take advantage of this. They can release a line of PCs, running Windows OS, that play console games as well. Basically a WindowsBox PC or something like that. This WinBox should be manufactured by Microsoft, use standardized hardware, and should feature a blu-ray drive. It should come with a wireless mouse, keyboard, and controller in the box and the Live service should be fused with the OS. Xbox Live and Windows Live should be spliced together to form a new Live service that works a lot like Steam. The most important thing for the WinBox would be to ensure that it doesn't have the hardware reliability issues that have plagued the 360. If the user gums everything up by downloading toolbars from porn sites that is their fault. But the hardware itself should be sound and not give users a light of death after a few years of regular use. This would do for home console gaming what Android and iOS are doing to portable gaming. Hardware standardization would eliminate hardware compatibility issues that trouble PC gamers and a console that is also a PC would sell because while a gaming console is a luxury, everybody needs a PC in this day and age. Why would I drop hundreds of dollars on a Playstation 4 that only plays movies, music, and games when I can spend a little more on a WinBox that does all that and anything else a PC can. I can install Steam on my Winbox and get access to everything that service has to offer. My WinBox is also compatible with decades of PC gaming history. I can play Halo 6, Baldur's Gate, Gears of War 4, Command & Conquer 2, the pc or 360 version of the Mass Effect trilogy, Call of Duty 9, and Fallout 2 all on the same machine. It's brilliant and it should happen, because it would be the future, and because I would buy it without hesitation.

Thanks for reading this far and if you're interested and your eyes aren't bleeding yet I've posted part two. I'd link directly to it but Gamespot won't allow me to do so at the moment.

dark_orb's Top Ten Final Fantasy Games (#1)

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My apologies to any of you that were waiting for this one. Life just gets in the way sometimes and once I got out of the writing groove it was hard to get back into. I picked at this entry for a while now and I'm still not satisfied with it but I don't think I could ever do justice to the greatest game I've ever played.

#1

FF VI

Original release: 1994 on SNES (Final Fantasy III in North America)

Re-releases: 1999 on Playstation and 2007 on GBA

Thoughts/Comments: Final Fantasy VI is to me what FF VII is to most fans of the series. It's the game that got me into the series and into the genre. My earliest memories of FF VI are me watching other people I knew play it and being enraptured by the experience despite not really understanding what was going on. The first time I played it properly involved me renting it from a local video store for several weeks in a row. I finally got a copy to call my own one x-mas after my parents lucked out and found it in a bargain bin at a pawn shop a few weeks prior to x-mas. FF VI represents everything I love about the genre and stands as the greatest game I have had the pleasure of playing since I started playing video games (almost twenty years ago). Over the years it has collected more than enough sentimental and nostalgia value to ensure that it will likely keep this position for the rest of my days. My attachment to this game runs so deep that I cannot hear this or this without being hit by a tidal wave of emotions and if it's been a while they actually bring a tear to my eye.

Despite my attachment to FF VI I know it isn't perfect but it does so many things so right it should be easy for most gamers to look past its flaws. The story strikes a perfect balance between the c lassic adventure of good people vs. Evil and a modern complexity in narrative and character. It's simple enough to be charming but complex enough to be both compelling and moving. It's a balance that is rarely seen in video game storytelling and the only other good example of it that I can think of was a little game you may have heard of called Chrono Trigger. I can't explain how this balance is struck or how it could be duplicated as its' something ethereal, something a writer could work towards for years but never truly capture. From the moment you start playing FF VI it's obvious your playing something special as you watching the snow fall around Terra, Wedge, and Biggs' mech as they lumber towards the town of Narche during the opening credits. The opening sets the tone and exudes a quiet confidence about itself and it's narrative, it's not pretentious or melodramatic, it's just fantastic and it knows it.

So what does FF VI do right? Well as I've already said the narrative is nothing but fantastic at any given point in time. But it does so through a huge cast of characters, each of which are unique both in character and what they bring to battle. Every character has the same basic commands but every one has a unique talent. Edgar uses various tools (which you buy/find) to inflict massive damage while his brother Sabin executes devastating martial arts techniques that require you to input specific street fighter s tyle commands in order to execute. Celes has a runic blade that allows her to absorb any and all magic attacks until her next turn, and Stezer can spin the reels on a slot machine that result in various effects (some deadly to the party). In total there were twelve main characters, two secret characters, about six guest characters, and each of them were unique in some way. No other FF game since FF VI has had as a cast as large or as diverse.

Even from a visual standpoint FF VI strikes a balance. While it's still a 2D game it looks better than any of the previous FF titles but most surprising is that it's held up much better than the early 3D FF games. As a result FF VI is one of, if not the best, looking SNES game available. Then there is the score which is still amongst the strongest ever composed for a video game, edged out just barely by Uematsu's score for FF VII. FF VI has a score that will stick with you long after you play it.

There is a moment in FF VI where everything comes together to form a moment of perfection. Visuals, gameplay, and music combine in an opera house for one of the most touching moments in video game history in ways that made and make me feel more than Areiths death ever did. If i had to come up with a list of favourite video game moments the FF VI's opera sequence would easily top everything.

But what does FF VI do wrong? Well a few of these unique characters aren't particularly useful in battle *coughcoughGaucoughcough*. Also the character of Mog just feels kind tacked on as he doesn't get much in the way of character development, nor does he contribute anything to the story. This feels like a wasted opportunity as Mog was the first (and last to date) moogle to become a true party member. Then there is the magic system. For the first third or so of the game only Terra and Celes can cast magic but once you start getting your hands on magicite you can teach every party member any spell which detracts from their uniqueness. But these things are just me nit picking at a game that anybody who likes FF VII or VIII should be able to get into and enjoy. Even if your not fond of older RPGs that use gameplay elements like random encounters you should be able to get into FF VI if you have an open mind.

That's it, I'm finished. If you want to learn some more about FF VI I highly recommend this video over at Gametrailers. It does a great job summing up the game but it is filled with plot spoilers. My apologies again about the wait. I'll look into compiling and editing all ten into one editorial blog post at some point, sooner rather than later. I've got another large (or three part) post already underway which I'll look into finishing up for sometime this coming week. I'm kind of diving into system war territory with it but I'm hoping that's what might make it an interesting read.

I'd like to thank those of you that have taken the time to read this list and doubly thank those of you that took the time to comment. You guys are awesome.