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On Futurama Stealing My Attention From Games

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Does anyone else do this: play an old pc game that keeps you somewhat involved while binge watching seasons of Futurama on Netflix?

You know, bender is scheming to make a ton of money by collecting welfare on a bunch of adopted kids while you play Warcraft 3 as the dark elves, carefully growing a mainly useless forest of ancient protectors. Ahh, ancient protectors, you ent-like gods of the warcraft universe that really are somewhat disappointing. The fun is marching them as your army onto someone's second or third base. Can anyone else say 'diversion?'

Or, how about greedily sending a single peasant to each of 14 mining areas in Age of Empires 2, staking your claim early in the game knowing full well that the further ones you are just going to let die with the destruction of their mine when an enemy comes along in just a little bit. Meanwhile, part of you is really wishing Fry would give up on Leela? C'mon. You've thought it if you've watched it.

The point is, for some reason I've found myself lately falling for the multitasking tendencies of our society and time. While first person shooters tend to demand my full attention, I find myself more and more reluctant to so entirely devote myself to one endeavor, whether gaming or watching tv. While I stick to my pc for all types of gaming, I sense that my divided attention is a symptom (or sickness) we all are being subjected to. Consider the in-game access of non-game functions that are increasingly and more fully being integrated into modern consoles. Soon we will be ordering pizza, watching the news, and slowly tracking our way through a level while being able to keep an eye on your twitter and facebook feeds all through a console....though, we're actually pretty much there already.

And that's where I'm at, and on nights like tonight I wonder if I've lost something. Certainly I still immerse myself occasionally, but there used to be a time when games were not as 'immersive,' but gamers lost themselves in them nonetheless. Now games are more immersive, but we find it harder to let go of everything else and just game. And, even if you aren't checking scores or watching tv on another screen (or the same one at the same time), chances are you still pause games on occasion because someone has sent you a text.

I'll continue to enjoy my split attention to games and tv on the nights I choose to do that, but I wonder about everyone else? Are you all about being fully immersed in the game, or are you fine with the many distractions available to the modern gamer?

On Playing Sub-Par Games

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I don't want to get into specifics. In fact, I want to be brief. Let's just assume that you, like me, have spent countless hours playing games that are less than extraordinary. I'm talking about the slow games, the tiring games, the games that reward the player by giving you more of the same monotonous things. But, you keep playing because it happens to be just entertaining enough to keep you staring at the screen. Here is my question, are we really that easily entertained? Take for example a PC game I have been slowly logging hours on, Mount and Blade: Warband. How is it that I have played that game for probably around 150 hours? The game, while sporting perhaps one of the more enjoyable in-game horseback riding I've experienced, becomes all too repetitive. The game, for those who do not know, is a sort of medieval RPG open game that allows the player to gather soldiers, upgrade a few comrades, and take over castles. Battles are the highlight, but how many thousands of men must I kill in a game that eventually sees me become king without accomplishing any key missions? There must be something inherent to these sort of games that catch our minds. For me, getting that one-hit kill is something I can easily spend an hour pursuing, as well as stationing myself at the breach in the wall and hacking down man after man, beating incredible odds. I think that's it. The odds. Good games always put the odds against us, but allow us a way of overcoming them. Our satisfaction comes in the accomplishment of the unlikely, and the good game pulls us on into the night as we see ourselves as an unlikely hero again and again. Take a very simple game like Tetris to illustrate the odds. At the higher levels the odds are stacked against you, but in reality the game isn't too enjoyable until the odds of you lasting become slim. Take some time to appreciate those sub-par games that still beat the odds and steal more of your life than they are probably worth.

Caving in to the Urge

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Its coming to one of those times...you know...the times when you've been too busy to game. Yeah. That's where I've been the past month. But, at some point you get the itch to game. It's one of those things that I don't really claim to understand, but know the symptoms of all to well. You are at work and you wonder how you can finish quicker because then maybe you can load up that saved game you've been meaning to finish. You are walking outside, look at the trees, and the scenery reminds you of a forest in an RPG you haven't played for three months. Oh, what a weakness I have for RPGs. I've learned that when I reach this point I had better make a little time to game, because it is better to game than to daydream about gaming. Yet, where do I begin? See, I have this problem when I reach this point. Do I restart an old game, or buy a new? I find myself on Amazon, perusing old PC games that I never got around to playing. I've never played Baldur's Gate, and I'm an RPG enthusiast. Maybe I should pick that up...but then again I was wanting Dragon Age II. Sigh. Maybe I should buy one of those, but then again I do enjoy some Hitman, which I already own. Or I can replay some old Diablo. I spoke of symptoms earlier, and this is the worst...I cave in to the buying symptom nearly every time. I have plenty of games on hand, but I spend money on new stuff anyhow. God help me, I was even looking into purchasing a Sega Genesis so I could relive some of my Elementary School after school experiences. If I'm like a lot of people in today's economy, I really shouldn't be buying more games. I should be saving my money. Yet, what kind of gamer would I be then? When it comes down to it, will I really spend $20 dollars on fruit the next time I shop when I can pick up Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II? Of course not. I'm a gamer and that decision is simple. It's time to put my marines to work. So, what is ultimately wrong with the buying bug that I cave in to? I don't always buy good games. You know you've been there. You don't really have money, but that ten dollar special seems to be calling to you. I probably wouldn't knock it as much as some since it is an RPG, but Dungeon Lords just wasn't that great of an investment with the little bit of money I really didn't have. Sure, it was in a collector's edition box, but apparently that was just a cheap marketing ploy to up sales a little for those few suckers like myself who have the buying bug. Well, that's it for me. I just thought I'd share my life with everyone, and here's hoping that next time I write I can share my purchasing triumph rather than failure.

The Soon-to-be World Infamous Day One of Tonight On The Spot

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For those of you who were 'lucky' enough to catch the first episode of Tonight On The Spot during this years E3 conference were sure in for a treat. With a focus on Dead Rising 2 one may well have expected a lot of game coverage revealing the various ways in which one may beat down a zombie in the game. Instead, we were treated to a rather pointless meandering from bar area to gambling area with little truly game related coverage. However, to be fair there was some coverage early on of several guys playing the game with short interviews. One guy talked about the game being 'wonky'...whatever that means. Another spoke of his enjoyment of combining various elements to make his own weapon. As the camera left that particular man I was treated to one of my most enjoyable moments of the night--this random guy beating down a zombie with a small bag of trash. That is what E3 is about! My other enjoyable moments involve GameSpot Producer Ryan MacDonald pointing to a zombie dancer and saying, "Look! A zombie dancer," followed by this reply "As promised by Capcom" or something like that (they haven't posted the archived version yet for me to check--they may not post this particular episode because of how bad it was). I felt sorry for the cute girl that was reporting everything and following Ryan around. She seemed pretty bored even though she put a pretty good face on it, even as she filled some of the time gambling and learning the rules to craps. I think my third and last favorite line of the evening came from her a bit later when she caught the cameraman filming one of the female zombie dancers--I think her frustration showed a little as she said of the dancer "she has a high level of motor skills for the undead." Priceless. If you weren't lucky enough to catch this moment of GS infamy don't feel bad....you wouldn't want to sit through it anyhow. Kudos to the staff for turning out a passable Tonight On The Spot on Tuesday.

What I've Been Up To

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It's been a while since I've blogged anything and I just wanted to blog about why. First, I've been extremely busy. While that isn't particularly significant it does clarify that at least I have been doing something besides blogging, not just sitting around. Second, I've been traveling. The past two weeks have seen me pretty tied up with a sibling's wedding. Third, I've just been busy. However, I do have a blog in mind that I hope to get to decently soon. I've been wanting to put together a blog of what I consider some of the most humorous and/or awkward game preview trailers. While that isn't an original idea in any way, the choices will be my own and due to the amount of games developed each year perhaps I'll have one that hasn't been on any other list. That being said, if you read this that is, look for me to blog again soon with these trailers.

How GameSpot Pulled Me In!

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Running the risk of sounding rather conceited, I'd like to say I'm a fairly qualified gamer with much experience....when it comes to PC games. I've been playing them for the past thirteen years or so with great regularity, and ever since I started staying up all night playing Age of Empires I really haven't looked back. Yeah, as a little kid I spent my time on Super Nintendo and my Gameboy (while envying those kids who got the Gameboy Color when it came out), but I never really took an interest in devoting myself to games until I got hooked on the PC.

Now, I'm not advocating the superiority of the PC. I'm just saying that's where my heart lies in the gaming world. According to GameSpot itself under my "Game Lists" tab I probably have about 1200-1300 dollars worth of PC games in my personal collection. I don't reckon that is quite accurate, but it at least demonstrates a level of commitment to PC that I believe is admirable. What does all this have to do with GameSpot pulling me in? I'm getting to that.

Perhaps I got lonely perusing and playing so many games without engaging in a community. After so many years I guess I finally reached a point where these games have been a big enough part of my life that I wanted to share that part with other people. Enter GameSpot. About a month ago I was looking up some information on the new Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening and I found myself perusing various discussions and reviews of the game here on this site. Of course, I had been aware of and used GameSpot before, but this time I decided I wanted to contribute to the discussion and commit to being more than the casual observer of such a strong gaming community. So, I made an account. I blogged once, twice, thrice...and this is my fourth. I added a ton of games to my list, and rated a few more. I posted a few times in discussions I had interest in, and followed some people whose articles I discovered through Soapbox. I was hooked, am hooked, and will continue to be hooked. I even got my Raptr account (Raptr tracks all my game playing) so that I could in some sense receive some credit for my gaming commitment. Since I've done that I have been thrust into the new GameSpot Fuse (as of now in beta), and I absolutely love it.

GameSpot for me has brought a platform of expression and interaction in an area of life that I enjoy (and am occasionally somewhat obsessed with), but more importantly connects me with ideas and people of like interest...or very different interests but similar commitment. In the short month I've been here I've seen many facets of community from 'Game Nights' to 'On The Spot' trivia that lets gamers of PC, Xbox, PS3, and whatever console you wish to interact and contribute. I was even able to catch a fascinating keynote address by Sid Meier from the recent Game Developers Conference (I highly recommend you watch it if you wonder what part of your psyche these game developers expertly use to attract you to their games). Suffice it to say, with a little bit of everything I am quite happy with the overall experience.

Just wanted to share that. Thanks for sharing the same experience with me. Keep it up GameSpot.

Big Screen Technology: Are Games Really Utilizing It?

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I've recently been considering the use of video games on big screen tv's. With upgrades in technology we've seen high resolution big screens flood the market, and these upgrades are starting to echo in game development. A few days ago I was visiting a friend who has a 60 inch LCD screen and a PS3 and the newly released God of War III. I was somewhat shocked at the sharpness of the game even at such a high resolution and quality. It was kind of one of those moments in which something you already know is first experienced (like you know recking your truck would suck...but it doesn't actually suck until you actually do it).

Basically, newer games are increasingly supporting these high quality formats--and that, I believe, is a good thing. But, it got me thinking about what such technology is doing. I started thinking about the small screens I played on as a kid...sitting near the screen with Duck Hunt for Super Nintendo, or curled up on the couch with the original black and white Gameboy (I still remember how amazing Gameboy Color seemed when it came out). Are we destroying a gaming dynamic? Is there any inherent quality to gaming that is determined by screen size? Is being able to see every single detail so easily actually better?

I'm not saying big screens are ruining gaming, because I do think they are totally awesome. I'm just worried we are stressing technology that doesn't need to be stressed yet. Big screens are cool, but are we really at a point where we have 'big screen' games? Games for handheld consoles are customized for small screens (less detail, smaller maps maybe, stuff like that). We have big screen technology, but do we actually have games that are being designed for big screens, taking advantage of the visual space? I don't think so. Get on that game developers. I like what you are doing for the big screen, but you still got a way to go.

Guild Wars: A Social Dichotomy (The Two Social Aspects Of Gaming)

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Guild Wars: Going it Alone

Several months ago I ran across a game that interested me while shopping at a local Target store. It was in the discount bin. I think it was the dragon on the inside of the front flap that hooked me and got me to buy it. I'm pretty sure that's what it was because I told my girlfriend about it later and she made fun me. I remember things like that. The game, of course, was Guild Wars. Yes, I held in my hand an epic adventure which in my mind chalked me up to be a dragonslayer and a medieval superman of sorts. Now I wonder how far off I was. I am not writing this from the position of someone who has beaten the game, but as a fellow traveler in the land of Tyria (the land in which Guild Wars is set for those unacquainted with its lush and barren landscapes). I have not yet seen a dragon, or even heard a rumor of a dragon, but perhaps I do take a cue from superman.

Superman, as an individual, does not have particularly strong social skills. I submit to the reader, however, that this same lonely (or solo, if you prefer) trait of the hero is part of the allure of being a hero. I think that there is a part of each of us that wants to do things alone. Going solo really makes who gets credit for achievement a simple matter. It is also ego boosting. So, when I started my adventures in Tyria I found myself constantly avoiding other players, not because I am extremely bad at team play but because I just enjoy being completely in control of my own fate. It is no easy matter to switch from wanting to say "I did it" to "we did it."

Going Solo The Group Grows

I remember well, wandering around somewhat aimlessly at first (like so many tend to do when they haven't adjusted to a new game). It's lucky that in these first lonely hours the visual beauty of the landscape was still so fresh that I had little trouble taking my time. I guess it's the nature of the wannabe loner...if they can survive the first few hours without running for backup then they are probably the type that can go for the long haul. However, while I enjoyed wandering by myself throughout the Tyrian countryside after about ten hours of game play (time spent doing menial and somewhat pointless side quests) I finally caved in and got some henchmen to follow me around. Why? I think that I wanted to be alone, but not the only 'sentient' presence on the screen at any time. Too many monsters, too few friendly faces.

Going With Groups

This is the crux of the matter: many gamers enjoy playing alone, but even through single player campaigns (on all gaming platforms) there is often the presence of other AI units on screen. If these units aren't interactive in some sense (brainless units to be killed do not count) the weight of 'going solo' strikes. Essentially, it is one thing to not take advantage of multi-player options, but it is another thing entirely to insert that same attitude of wanting to do it alone on an in-game character. Whether we realize it or not, our in-game characters are usually very social. Most games require character interaction to complete objectives. Yet, the gamer still is left with a desire to strike out on their own into the wilderness. Games that somehow balance these two social tendencies, I believe, are in a good position to engage the full range of interaction that gamers seek.

Diablo AloneGoing With Groups

Take Diablo for instance. Here is a game that puts the player by themselves for periods of time in complete isolation (the various monsters/creatures encountered beneath the surface do not count as interaction). Yet, this wandering is augmented by short periods of time on the surface in which game characters must interact. While it may be quick to dismiss this idea of two social approaches to gaming consider whether you go right to multi-player when you get a new game. Most gamers, I believe, do not fall into this category. It is after the player has already started or beaten a game on their own that they go multi-player.

Let's go back to Guild Wars. Guild Wars presents a valid representation of this idea. Through guild formation and teams for missions or PvP battles there is an integral commitment to social interaction within the game, whether this is between you and other players online or between you and an AI unit. No matter how BA we like to think our characters are, in-game they depend on information gained from interaction. We depend on that information to complete the game. When I first started using henchmen in the game I remember thinking how sweet it was. I was still immensely stronger than they were, but it was nice to have other people on 'my side' hanging around. Yet, further into the game I started desiring even more interaction--preferably from hearing the stories of the various characters associated with missions. This turned into a drive to start completing the game so that I could more easily conceive of the entire social structure of the game. Perhaps there is some sort of social completion imagined in completing the game. Later still, I found myself wanting to join a guild....not that I intended on only doing stuff with guild members, but I developed a desire for a deeper interaction. Now, I am starting to look for a group of people to actually do missions with.

I am not a sociologist. Is anything I'm saying making sense? I know that this social model won't apply to all games (really short games don't allow for much loneliness to develop), but Guild Wars is a game of sufficient length and involvement that I wonder if the social interaction element was absent it would even be playable? I know that the graphics are good for a game of its size (size referring to length, price, and time of release) but what if there were no guilds or other players to interact with? I think that the game would suck. I think most games would suck. While not all games are online so that interacting with real players elsewhere is possible, there still has to be somesort of social development in the game. The longer the game, the more socially intricate it should be. It's a social dichotomy of sorts. The two social aspects of gaming. I'm trying to find those intricacies in Tyria...where do you find yours?

Links: Related and Interesting, for the curious

www.guildwars.com

http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/320/5883/1592c

http://ctr.concordia.ca/2003-04/mar_18/04/

http://us.blizzard.com/en-us/

Simple Beating UpA New, Fresh Landscape

Call of Duty

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It seems most people agree that the first Call of Duty was a pretty good game. Just to avoid offending anyone immediately let me say I agree. But, I've just returned to playing the game and while the controls remain so familiar (PC) I suddenly become aware how dated the game has already become. I think most who played the game remember how well it engaged the player when it initially came out--now it seems to be just a bit of entertainment. That being said, I appreciate the longevity of the game. As far as I am aware the game is still played regularly and better yet enjoyed by many, and it is just recent enough to have skirted many of the compatibility issues that gamers have seen crop up particularly over the past 4 years. I can't help but think that this is the game that really hooked me on first-person shooter type of games on PC. I've traditionally stuck to strategy oriented games. Anyone else still play this, and look at it as the first of many? I know I've played most of the Call of Duty series since this game, and even ventured on to other games (including the still awesome Halo: Combat Evolved). Perhaps the first Halo was that "first" game for some...share your roots, please.