When you work in marketing, you hear Apple's name a lot. They're good at marketing products. Really, really good at it. They not only make you aware of their new products, they make you want them. I realize a lot of geeky people read my blog entries, so put your tech opinions aside and look at phone marketing from a non-techy's point of view. Apple does it right. So many others do it very wrong. I'm looking at you Verizon.
Late last week a very buggy and unfinished private beta for Mass Effect 3 slipped on to the Xbox marketplace (only to those in the Xbox dashboard preview). The beta was quickly pulled and disabled, but not before a few folks played it and posted the footage online. Some of the footage was quite unpolished – missing textures, jerky animations, poor lip syncing. I did notice that the camera angles are a little more cinematic during conversations, and the combat looks more exciting and impactful. So overall, the final game should be more Mass Effect, only better. Awesome!
But that wasn't the surprise reveal from the leak. The most interesting thing to me was the mode select. Apparently Mass Effect 3 will offer three modes, presumably for three different gamers: Action Mode, Story Mode and RPG Mode. The demo I watched on YouTube (which has been removed, unfortunately) was played in action mode, a game type for those that prefer challenging combat, but don't care for all that talking. In action mode, the game answers for you in conversation. That's right, no conversation wheel. Initially I thought that was bananas, seeing as the first Mass Effect touted the conversation wheel as a revolution in RPGs, but the more I thought about it, the more it makes sense.
By minimizing the RPG elements and highlighting the stronger combat, Bioware can attract new people to the game and the genre. Sure, their story will be pre-determined and all their conversations will be on auto-pilot, but it gets them in door. Maybe after their first play through they'll want to try a different mode; see how things could have turned out if they were in control of the conversations. That sounds like a good idea to me. More players, means more sales, which could mean more games in the Mass Effect universe.
As for the other modes, Story Mode keeps you in control of the conversations, but scales back the combat difficulty, and RPG Mode is basically what Mass Effect 1 and 2 were. It is worth nothing that Bioware said these modes are still being tweaked as the game is still months from release. I know the RPG purists out there scoffed at this news, viewing it as yet another sign of the impending downfall of Bioware and video games as we know them. Me? I'm optimistic. Bioware is a video game company, out to make money. They don't owe me anything just because I bought some of their older games. I love the direction they're taking, especially as I get older and my time for deep games with steep learning curves diminishes.
Someone in the comments of this story on Kotaku pointed out that System Shock included a similar set up, allowing players to adjust specific parts of the game to suit them. No one seemed upset by that then, but I guess System Shock wasn't touted as an RPG. I really like this idea though. Only two hours in to Uncharted 3 I bumped the difficulty down to easy. I was dying more than I wanted to on normal, and it was frustrating me. With a month-old baby, my play time is limited. I didn't want to spend what time I had on retrying the same firefights. I play Uncharted games for the excellent story and mind blowing visuals and set pieces, not the average gunplay. Adjusting the difficulty let me move through the game and get what I wanted out of it. Some people love Mass Effect for the story, but hate the combat, why not make it easier for them to get what they want?
RPG purists should be happy about this news. Maybe after playing Mass Effect 3, new players might want to check out the first two games, and then from there, check out other, more complex RPGs, like The Witcher. Mass Effect 3 could be their RPG gateway drug. This might also entice newcomers to check out Bioware's new game (don't even get me started on how people freaked out over a super vague screenshot…the Internet bums me out sometimes). Bioware is seeding the soil with Mass Effect 3, and I hope—for them and for everyone that likes action RPGs—that it yields a bountiful harvest.
I think it's time for the game industry to rethink collectibles. They're breaking games, specifically games with a heavy focus on narrative. There are three types of collectibles from what I can tell, and I don't think we need any of them.
FYI - I am no longer posting full blogs to Gamespot.com. You can read my full posts on my website, or if it's video game related, on my GiantBomb blog. I'm just going to post a snippet here and a link. As always you can comment here, on my site, through Twitter, Facebook, wherever. I'm still reading and commenting on your blogs here, I'm just tired of the busted GS blogging system. Over the years I've tried Wordpress, Blogspot, SquareSpace, LiveJournal, and a host of blog systems at specialized sites, and this one is by far the worst in terms of usability and features. Other systems fix bugs and get better over time, not this one. The fact that I've been seeing the error below for YEARS is just insane. I'm done with weird html errors and changing my lowercase L's in words like cIass and styIe to upper case I's. That's just dumb.
- - You have encountered a forbidden .html error, and have may used one or more of the forbidden words while trying to include a link in your message. There are certain words, including 'cIass' and 'styIe', that we do not allow while creating links in your messages because they are a doorway into several js exploits. Unfortunately, if you should have words that have 'cIass in them (e.g., cIassify, cIassic, etc), they will also be forbidden. We are looking to find the best solution for this problem, and we apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.
I was eating lunch with some friends at work and we started talking about video games. The coworkers I was eating with are both sports nuts, probably as passionate about them as I am about video games. One of them (we'll call him Schmandrew) said he owned a PS3 just for the yearly sports titles and the built in Blu Ray player. There's nothing wrong with that, but as a geek, it was my duty to scoff. So Schmandrew asked me what I'd recommend as the top five games to play on his system. Specifically, he asked if I'd put it in a blog post. Here it is: The top five games to play on your Playstation 3 (Note: These are PS3 exclusive games. As in, only available on this system. I'll make a different list for excellent multiplatform games).
Earlier this year I got Dragon Age: Origins in from Gamefly on my 360. I played it for about three hours, and then sent it back. It wasn't bad, but it was easy to tell that something wasn't right. It just felt like a PC game. So I resolved to hold off on playing it until I could upgrade my PC. A few months later, my PC was ready to go, and I played Dragon Age: Origins the way it was meant to be played. It was a much better experience on the PC. I didn't have that weird almost spiritual connection some PC gamers had with it (on the scale of Bioware RPGs I've played it's at the bottom—Mass Effect 2, Mass Effect, Jade Empire, KOTOR, Dragon Age: Origins), but I still had a good time with it.
This weekend the divisive sequel, Dragon Age 2, was going for a song on EA's Origin service. Less than 10 bucks! I scooped it up and took it for a test drive Friday night. I played an hour or so of it, but it didn't take long to realize something wasn't right. It felt like a console game. Now I understand what so many die hard PC gamers were angry about. This game feels like it was designed for a controller, not a keyboard and mouse. Luckily, I have Pinnacle.
Pinnacle Game Profiler is the most intuitive and powerful key mapping software I've ever used, and I've used a lot of them. It's packed with awesome features, while still being dead simple to use. It took some tweaking, but I eventually got a great profile set up for Dragon Age 2. I can do everything I need to do and more. Pinnacle has a shift feature that lets you map a crazy number of commands to a single controller. All my abilities and spells, plus a good number of hot keys are all triggered with quick button presses. I started playing as a mage, and targeting some spells with the right stick took some getting used to, but then I switched to a warrior (I played DA:O as a mage anyway), and I'm having more fun. I just tap the face buttons to use abilities, just like the console version, only I have more slots thanks to the shift feature.
As for the game itself, I really like it. Other than the obvious mishandling of the controls, I feel like Dragon Age 2 is better in every way. It looks better both technically and stylistically than its bland predecessor, the combat is faster and more satisfying, and the menus are better designed and more intuitive. I also love that I don't have to spend hours outfitting all my companions. I know that's a huge point of contention for many PC gamers, but I always felt like it was a colossal waste of time in the first game. If I only have an hour to play (and now, with a newborn, it's often less), I don't want to spend 45 minutes of that hour looking at armor stats in a menu.
I'm only a couple hours in, so I don't know how the story flows, but I'm optimistic. I like the idea of the story being about a family and not so much about saving the world. Also, having a fully voiced main character is great. I know some reviewers and gamers were disappointed with the story, but so far I've ended up liking all the changes that most PC gamers hated.
I feel like I got a great deal on Dragon Age 2, thanks to Pinnacle and Origin. I get the controls and lean-back playability of a console game, with the better graphics and mods of a PC game (I currently have a few cosmetic mods installed). The internet is filled with nerd rage for Bioware, but for the most part, I feel like they make games perfect for me. Deep enough to have a decent learning curve, but still accessible for short play sessions. It's going to take me quite some time to move through this one—especially with Uncharted 3 scheduled to arrive in my mailbox next week—but I'm glad I got it. Having a capable gaming PC is a great way to stock up on super affordable rainy day games.
During the fall video game release season it's easy to miss some games in the shuffle; those little ones that pop-up between huge AAA releases. Here's one you shouldn't miss.
You can beat it in five hours or less, it's only $10, and it looks fantastic. If you like platformers, you'll enjoy Sideway.
Oh yeah, I also reviewed Okabu. Don't buy that one. It's okay, but ultimately too tedious to be worth playing for long.
Having a new baby means having a seemingly endless rotation of house guests. Our house is conveniently split in two. Our upstairs loft living room has a bathroom and two bedrooms, so our guests can have a whole area to themselves. Unfortunately it's also where my desktop PC, big screen TV, Xbox and PS3 reside.
Turns out newborns don't do much outside of eat, sleep and poop themselves. Because I'm not about to boot guests out of the way to play games, I've been hanging out with Brooke, Parker and Berkeley in our bedroom. We watch DIRECTV on our 24-inch screen, and I goof around on my laptop, a Core i3 HP Pavilion. For entertainment I've been floating between Resistance Retribution on my PSP (fantastic game), and Steam games capable of running on my laptop. Here's a bit of what I've been playing.
This game is crazy weird, but tons of fun. Everything about it is random. Every level, every enemy, all the item drops, even the bosses. Every time you play it's different, which does a lot to lessen the sting of losing all your items when you die. I've beaten it once, but I feel like I've only seen a small fraction of what this adorably grotesque game has to offer. It's only five bucks, and it comes with a great soundtrack.
I picked this one up in a Humble Bundle several months ago and just now got around to playing it. The weird world twisting gameplay is very neat, but can get a bit frustrating since it's not always clear where you're supposed to go. I like the hand drawn torn paper art and the vocal percussion sound effects and music. Something about it reminds me of the Nickelodeon cartoon "Doug".
I got this during a summer Steam sale for $2.50, and I like to come back to it every now and then. I love the music and the dead simple gameplay. It's super challenging and can get infuriating pretty quick, but it's hard to stay away. The opening tune by Anamanaguchi is one of my favorites.
Somehow I missed this game when it came out, which is weird because I was totally into Splinter Cell and other stealth action games at the time. It looks great, though it kinda pushes the limits of what my laptop can do. I've only played a bit here and there, but I can already tell it's missing modern gaming touches like a good mini-map and intuitive contextual cues. Still, being a sneaky thief is fun, they should make a new Thief game.
Thanks to Gamefly and my freelance game reviewing, I think I've played just about every "good" PSP game available that would interest me (that means I've stayed away from most JRPGs). Resistance Retribution is hands down the best shooter I've ever played on the system. It's even better than the stellar Syphon Filter games, which were also made by the same developers. Unfortunately my copy started freezing up on me last night. Might have to take it back to GameStop.
So that's what I'm dabbling in right now. It will still be a while before I get back to my Xbox, so I'm thinking about sending Alice Madness Returns back to Gamefly in favor of something portable. Any ideas? Maybe Kingdom Hearts for PSP, or Star Fox 64 3D? What about inexpensive Steam games? Let me know if you have any suggestions. Vegging out with games is a wonderful way to recharge in between changing diapers and soothing a fussy baby.
I promise this blog won't turn into a "LOOK AT MY KID,LOOK AT HIM!"blog. But since I've been on paternity leave, he's kinda consumed my life. I go back to work tomorrow, so I have to start adjusting to life in the real world again. I'll get back to writing, doodling, playing games, and so on. Here are some pics we took this weekend, a fun way to cap off my time home with my little family.
I've been a father for one week now, and it's been a crazy adventure already. We've experienced some amazing highs, and some devastating lows. My son is awesome. He's growing, eating and getting less yellow. He's been seen three times for jaundice, but the doctor feels good about it going away on its own. Brooke is doing good too. She had a very rough labor, and she's healing slowly, but each day she gets a little better. Even the post-pregnancy weepies have been manageable.
Side note: For those that don't know, your wife/significant otherwilllose her mind over some relatively trivial thing in the first few days after the baby is born. Do not try to console her, you cannot relate. If possible, find another woman for her to talk to, it will be good for you both.
I feel like I'm really going to be good at this dad thing. Parker seems to like me. I can't wait for him to grow and for his personality to develop. Right now he's just this little thing that poops, cries and eats, that also happens to look like me. I love him so much already though.
So what about those devastating lows? Well in mid-September our three year old bulldog, Berkeley, started to limp. The vet gave him some pain meds, and his limp got worse. Several vet trips, x-rays, and a specialist appointment later, things look grim. The specialist called me today and said he was 99 percent sure Berkeley has bone cancer. It's extremely rare for a dog his age and breed, so there's a sliver of a chance it's something else, but it's not likely. The median life expectancy for a dog with his condition is about six months. That really sucks.
What's tough about dogs is that you can't let them know what they mean to you. Yes they love you unconditionally, but they don't know how much you love them back. So since I can't get it through his head, I'll type it here:
I love you. I am not a man of many friends, and I count you among my closest. When we moved to Charlotte, just me you and Brooke in the Uhaul, we were so excited to bring you on our adventure. We always wanted a bulldog, and you were perfect. Every time I see a UHaul I still think about you climbing around on the over-sized dashboard as we drove from Arkansas to North Carolina.
In Charlotte, when it took me months to find a job, and I learned tough lessons on pride, budgeting, anxiety and worry, you comforted me. We would walk in the afternoon and you would listen with that dopey smile as I told you about the jobs I applied for and how sure I was this next one was it. In that first apartment you would sit on our old green couch and stare out our second story window, soaking in the sun and letting your happiness radiate out to us. We had just enough money to feed ourselves, and feed you. You didn't know how rough it got, you just kept plugging along, so I did too.
In 2010, when I worked from home at my last job, you were my coworker. You kept me sane in that little spare room, and your contented snores from behind me warmed my heart. Your simple happiness never failed to settle my nerves when I was stressed. Every day I would sit down at my desk with my coffee, and you would hop up on the bed behind me and huff that slobbery sigh that said, "I'm happy here." I was happy you were there too.
In 2011 I got a new job, and you were always the first to greet me when I got home. The funny dance you would do as you galloped my way was something I cherished. I knew you loved me, that I was your Austin. In May, we bought our first home. We had you in mind of course—a big backyard that you could run and play in. It still doesn't have a fence though.
And now here we are, just three years in. You've been dealt a bad hand friend, and I'm truly sorry about that. I had hoped you'd grow old here in this house, and my son would come to know you and love you as I do. It's not fair. Not at all. With Parker's birth you had to drop down a wrung in the importance ladder of the family. But that doesn't mean you aren't loved. You were the first member of our little family, and I'll never forget what you've done for me. These next few months will be rough. The pain in your knee will get worse, and I'll shed many more tears. We're going to make sure you're as comfortable as possible. I hope you know that I love you. You are more than my dog, you are my friend.
Thank you for everything Berkeley. You will be missed, and you will always be loved.
Today, after a long and grueling labor, we welcomed our son, Parker Levi Light to the world. He's 8.7 pounds, 20 inches long, and the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me. I loved him the second I saw him. His cry was like music. It's sappy, and I don't care. I could not be happier. I'm so proud of Brooke, she stuck it out through a very tough labor. Anyway, I know I'm a writer, and it would be appropriate to compose an elaborate, beautiful sonnet for my baby boy, but I'm super tired. So instead, look at these pictures, watch this video, and celebrate with me. I'm a dad!