Thoughts on Final Fantasy XIII--Tutorial, Linearity and Bad, Bad Hair
- Mar 22, 2010 12:27 pm GMT
- 35 Comments
I'm about ten hours into Final Fantasy XIII and a few things have struck me about the game so far. Some mild spoilers ahead:
Would You Like to Know More?
Could FFXIII have the longest tutorial in gaming history? Considering I was still getting tutorial menus at around the eight-hour mark, I can't come up with a longer one off the top of my head. This isn't necessarily a bad thing--combat, which starts out as a prettily animated excuse to press the X button--quickly amps things up once you start exploring the paradigm system. Combat came alive for me at around the 10-hour mark, in the boss battle with the Aster Protoflorian--it took me longer to defeat that mutant flower/snail thing than it probably should have but it was the first real glimpse of the power and flexibility of paradigm combat.
The game's unyielding linearity continues to surprise me. That linearity serves the game's mega-extended tutorial well and, from what I understand, it continues well into the game's narrative, only opening up near the end. That's a far cry from the Final Fantasy entries of old; and it precluded me from engaging in the ritual I've engaged in with every FF game up to now: buying the strategy guide along with the game and then proceeding to unlock every item of the game while flipping through the guide page-by-page. Without a guide this time around, there might be the occasional FFXIII nook and cranny I'm missing, but I can't imagine it being that important.
Where There's Hope...
Unlike in previous Final Fantasy games, I don't have strong feelings for any of the characters in XIII. Unlike in FFX, for example, where I liked Yuna and Tidus the moment I saw them; or FFIX, where Vivi's unrelenting cutesiness rubbed me the wrong way from the get-go, I'm not sure I've formed an opinion about anyone in XIII yet. Even Hope and Vanille--two characters who seem to inspire most of the fan ire--haven't gotten on my nerves yet. Vanille can be irritatingly upbeat, of course, but, in the early goings, I think the pairing of her with Sazh makes for some nice moments. And Hope, a character I was sure I would loathe, has had a pretty interesting arc so far, as he tries to cope with his personal loss and what his desire for revenge means to him.
All of that said, I'm still no fan of Hope's haircut, as I've discussed elsewhere. Earlier today I figured out why Hope's 'do is so excruciating to me: it's the exact same cut every woman in the civilized world was wearing circa 2001. Consider:
TLC's Paige Davis
Then again, Hope wasn't the first to rock this style:
Halle Berry, circa 2001:
I will now get on my knees and pray that Final Fantasy's developers never gets wind of Kate Gosselin, else your next Final Fantasy hero might look like this:
But There's No Sense Crying Over Every Mistake...
- Mar 8, 2010 6:30 pm GMT
- 73 Comments
...you just keep on trying 'till you run out of cake. And the science gets done, and you make a neat gun for the people who are still alive."
GLaDOS - "Still Alive"
As we perch on the brink of this year's Game Developers Conference, rumors of some of the biggest gaming establishments of the year are already trickling in. As I have been happily watching the news stream in from various sources, two announced games have particularly grabbed my attention, each one the first sequel to a franchise that altered the face of gaming in ways we never could have predicted. What are these games, you may ask?
With 10,000 new words and 120 new levels, 5th Cell is literally improving on what we thought was impossible in the first place (remember, the first game recognized 22,802 words already). An emphasis is going to be placed on adjectives this time around, which were completely absent in the previous game. I am crossing my fingers that I can give Maxwell a purple bazooka.
While no exact date has been given as of yet, they are planning to release Scribblenauts 2 this fall, only one year after the original. With luck, they may address the control and camera issues present in the first game, and maybe even give the game an actual storyline to help motivate the player, which could make this game...well, how should I put it? REALLY REALLY REALLY COOL. (Calm down, self.)
Well, would you look at that? Three years after the original game was released as a part of The Orange Box, we will be getting Portal 2 this holiday season. I personally find the way they hinted towards this to be a brilliant use of patching - mere days before, the original Portal was updated, adding radios that would play strange messages when positioned correctly, and also adding a slight tweak to the ending scene of the game. The internet community was sent into a tizzy, trying to piece together what all of this meant.
Taking place hundreds of years after the original game, Portal 2 follows Chell, the protagonist from the first game, as she wakes up from stasis (or something like that). GLaDOS, after being nearly destroyed in the first game, has attemped to rebuild the Aperture Science lab, which has not been touched by human hands since the first game, but has instead been overgrown with plants.
And you know what else stinks for Chell?
GLaDOS remembers everything.
The game will be a good sight longer than the original, and will also feature a co-op mode, as well as many new objects to solve puzzles with, like laser-redirecting cubes and paint with strange physical properties. The writing also sounds promising, and they promise not to reuse things like the cake being a lie. I like this fact, because if they did anything more with the cake, we'd all get tired of it, and then I'd be sad! Frankly, I'm extremely excited, even though I still haven't gotten to play the original yet.
Ah, so we have some exciting games coming out towards the end of 2010! Now, I generally like sequels - I like more of a good thing, and if something didn't work the first time, then hopefully it will be fixed the next time around (and the concept of improving on things definitely influnced my title choice, I admit). But, there is something interesting I cannot help but notice: where the general early consensus on Scribblenauts 2 is that it will definetely be better than the first, people are more mixed over Portal 2, a few even going so far as to boycott it already. Why is that?
One word: expectations. Let's talk about sequels and their reception by the denizens of the Internet.
When a game is given a sequel, the opinion can range from joy to sheer hatred, all mostly depending on how the original was received by the public. Let's consider some examples, and hopefully the motivations of the Portal 2 hating minority will become clear.
I suppose I will illustrate some pre-release sequel scenarios to hopefully prove my point. Of course, any of these viewpoints could be wrong once games are released - it's the pre-release hype that is being addressed here.
SITUATION #1: Generally bad game gets sequel. (Slightly edited - now with example!)
So close, so very, very close, and yet so absymally far. I feel your pain, bro - no, actually, I'm lying. I don't.
This isn't hard: if people hate a game, they will automatically assume that anything else related to it will be bad as well (or at least will look upon it with suspicion).
I could not think of a game that followed this pattern, but fellow GameSpot user Just-Adam suggested Tony Hawk's Ride, which is an excellent example - generally panned by the gaming world, it is already recieving a sequel. Hopefully, this quickly-announced Ride 2 means that they have a good idea on how to fix the numerous flaws present in the first game.
SITUATION #2: A game that is generally considered very, very good, but not 'so-good-angels-must-have-descended-to-earth-and-delivered-it-unto-us' gets a sequel.
Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando is sometimes considered by fans to be the best game in the series, while others say it's Up Your Arsenal. I prefer Up Your Arsenal myself. I feel like I'm picking one dirty pun over another. >_>
Also pretty straightforward: before release, the sequel will be anticipated with joy that directly correlates to the enjoyment and quality present in the first game. If the sequel improves on what was present in the first game and adds subtle yet fluid improvements, then people will be extremely happy.
MAXWELL I DID NOT TELL YOU TO JUMP IN THE WATER ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL YOURSELF WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU.
Alternatively, the original game could have had the potential to be spectacular, but was hindered by inherent flaws, like the character controls in Scribblenauts - how many people here accidentally and repeatedly told Maxwell to jump into a lava pit? *raises hand* While Scribblenauts was amazing in concept and still a very good game, issues like this held it back. Thus, an announced sequel makes fans very, very happy - they know that the developers will almost certainly fix the flaws and improve on the overall experience, and there are not many ways in which they could easily and completely ruin the game.
SITUATION #3: A long-running and popular series, known for being extremely good, plans to release another sequel.
Here's a fun game: Pick any entry in the Final Fantasy series, and count every person who says they hate it. You will get a very large number.
Now, this is where issues begin to pop up among the gaming communities. The more well-known a game is, the more loved it is, and the more hated it is. When any innovation or crazy new thing is announced for an upcoming game, like the voice-acting in Final Fantasy X or the real-time combat of Final Fantasy XII, cries of 'RUINED FOREVER' begin to resound. I think this is mostly driven by fear - if the new game turns out to be bad, all the detractor's joyous memories of the series will be slightly tainted by this new game that failed to live up to expectations.
SITUATION #4: A single game is widely considered to be 'so-good-angels-must-have-descended-to-earth-and-delivered-it-unto-us'. It also is (or seems) self-contained storywise, implying that no further action is necessary in the franchise. The game later gets a sequel.
If you though people complained about Final Fantasy games, then you ain't seen nothing yet. I think the key thing in this type of complaint is that the original game could stand alone. After all, not many people complain about there being three God of War games, because I think the original was set up to have sequels.
Rapture didn't turn out so well at the end of Bioshock. How can there be a game set later in Rapture's timeline? Oh, that's easy - we'll just undo all those plotlines we tied up in the last game! Deus ex machina, baby!
With a game like Bioshock or Portal, most people tend to really like it. It also stands alone, so if you decide to make a sequel, you will probably incur the wrath of said fans, even though they would probably love some more of the game. The problem is, as I have mentioned eariler, expectations. You see, there are sort of only three ways a sequel can go:
#1: It is exactly the same quality as the original game - "Well, this is an okay game, I guess, but it's really the same, so I'm dissapointed."
#2: The game is worse than the original game - "This game SUCKS! HATERAGEHATE YOU HAVE KILLED MY HAPPY MEMORIES OF MY PRECIOUS GAME!"
What is being aimed for is reaction #3: The game is actually better than the original. It takes a very gifted developer to pull this off - keeping the original game intact storywise and fan-reaction-wise while also improving on it and naturally and smoothly adding to the story are not easy feats, especially when a story is pretty much begun and ended in the one game. It takes skill to reopen a plot without breaking down the inherent logic and semblance of reason. The stakes end up extremely high, and this might be why some people don't like the sound of Portal 2. However, I have faith in Valve - The Orange Box looks like a boxfull of joy and happiness, so I think they can pull it off. We shall see...
So, what is the point here? Fans can be silly and fickle, which is sometimes justified. Developers should be careful when they make sequels to wildly sucessful games (unless they have established that they plan to do this sort of thing). And Portal 2 and Scribblenauts 2 are happening, and this makes me a happy person.
Oh, and have a happy Game Developers Conference, everyone!
Polling the masses: Should DRM lower review scores?
- Feb 18, 2010 10:29 am GMT
- 262 Comments
I guess I have to use my Soapbox emblem sometimes, just to keep my massive, muscular ego intact and accounted for. So, my proposition for you all is simple. I will explain the question and present my take. Then we can discuss things in the comments. If we all have a rollocking good time I'll write another soapbox article on any general concensus and/or good quotes.
If you weren't aware, Ubisoft has been testing a new form of Digital Rights Management (aka DRM, a form of software intended to thwart piracy) on their newer PC games, notably Settlers 7 and Assassin's Creed 2.
This new form of DRM Ubisoft is using will periodically check for an internet connection, and if found, will verify the game with remote servers. If a internet connection is not found, or the servers cannot be contacted, the game will refuse to run and will quit automatically without saving.
(I want to interject my own explaination here and say that Ubisoft's last unpopular DRM scheme, StarForce, was eventually abandonded after it failed to stop piracy, much like every other DRM scheme concocted thus far).
A usually mild-mannered PC gaming blog erupts in rage. The comments are filled with bitter consumers who wanted a game that they will now refuse to buy. Some commentors lash back by threatening to pirate the game, which at this point is perhaps the only way to catch Ubisoft's attention these days.
The issue here is that Ubisoft intentionally made the PC edition of the game worse than the console version. This is unsurprising - publishers aren't huge fans of the PC game platform. The box now contains an intentionally worse product.
My initial question is, "How can we tell Ubisoft that this is wrong?" If you do not think that this DRM scheme is wrong, why not?
My second question is, "Should game reviewers, such as Gamespot, IGN, PC Gamer or Rock Paper Shotgun, lower their review scores because of this worse product?"
The main question stems from how you see PC game reviews. Should they stick to the game itself? If we need to discuss a buggy game (such as GTA4 for PC, which was pretty dreadful on launch) shouldn't we discuss a game that has been intentionally created buggy and unappealing?
I feel that because a gamer cannot play this game WITHOUT the DRM without resorting to illegal means, it should be included in review scores and the review itself. The reason I think this will work is because Ubisoft tends not to care about the complaints of people not buying their game who want to, but they'll certainly grab their notebooks when their metacritic score starts to dive. If reviewers react negatively to DRM, then the publisher may have to take action. Remember that it was Ubisoft who decided to stop working with Ziff Davis (Eletronic Gaming Monthly, 1up.com and CGW/GFW) because they scored a game too low.
The polls are open, ladies and gentlemen. Please be respectful of my and everyone else's opinions. What do you have to say on the subject?
Has Forza Left Gran Turismo In The Dust?
- Feb 7, 2010 10:45 pm GMT
- 50 Comments
Recently, we all received the not so surprising news that the long awaited Gran Turismo 5 had been delayed...again. Instead of having the eagerly anticipated racing game in our hands by early spring, now no one is really sure when we will see GT5 grace store shelves. While many of us are disappointed, the boys at Microsoft are giddy as their own stellar Forza motorsport franchise remains unchallenged a while longer. But, it got me thinking. Is Forza now the superior franchise in the racing game genre? Its a topic worthy of some discussion and it is made all the more sexy by the fact that GT is a Sony exclusive and Forza is a Microsoft exclusive. Fanboys on all sides....start your engines.
Let's take a trip down memory lane as history is always useful to gain perspective as to the present and future. As we all know, GT did not invent the racing genre. But, in 2001, it redefined it with a vengeance. This was when Gran Turismo 3 came out. While the original GT and GT2 were fine games (the sheer number of cars available in GT2 were somewhat mind numbing) it was GT3 that was the first driving game on the PS2 that really showed what that platform was capable of. With over 30 meticulously detailed tracks and close to 150 stunningly recreated cars, GT3 blew many of us away. How many of you remember the first time you experienced the glare of sun on asphalt and said, "Wow!" I know I did. GT3 added an amazing amount of realism to the physics behind the cars, but it was the endless tuning options that made things so interesting and genuinely unique each time you played it. With so many racing events to play through, the quest to unlock more cars and better parts never got old. If you weren't a fan of the racing genre, you were after you played GT3.
Fast forward to February of 2005, the last time we all got a true, full version of a GT game. That was when Gran Turismo 4 came out. Before I go on, think about that for a moment. It has been 5 years since a true Gran Turismo game was released. Talk about resting on your laurels! Anyway...GT4 one upped GT3 in almost every way imaginable. It had more than 50 tracks and a still incredible 700 cars to choose from. The graphics were even better this time out, even for the PS2. The physics were improved and tuning your car became more intuitive and seemed to make more sense. The career mode was even larger than before and there were mini-missions, rally events, even drag races to play around with. But, GT4 had its issues. It was delayed several times before finally being released (sound familiar?). And, its biggest flaw? No online play. True, the PS2's online capabilities was rather lame most of the time. But, so many of us had wanted GT4 to have an online component, and we had heard for so long that it would (in fact, that's why many of assumed the delays were necessary) when it released with no online play at all, it was a major disappointment. But, lurking on the horizon, Microsoft was about to launch a new franchise that would challenge GT in more ways than we thought possible.
Three months after GT4 came out, Forza Motorsport debuted on the original Xbox. Forza was not the first driving sim for the Xbox and games such as Project Gotham Racing and PGR2 (both excellent titles in their own right) had demonstrated what the Xbox was capable of as far as driving games went. But, Forza was different. Though not anywhere near as large in scope as GT4 had been (only about 230 cars for example), Forza was more user friendly than GT4 was. The game seemed more forgiving than GT4 for folks learning the ropes (like me). A big plus for the game was the graphics. As good as GT4 looked, the vastly superior power of the Xbox as opposed to the PS2 came to light when one compared Forza to GT4. All of that eye candy, however, was not the biggest advantage Forza had over GT4. The big advantage was the fact that Forza had online play through Xbox Live and GT did not have any online play. Again, please note that Forza was not the first Xbox racer to have online play (PGR 2 had it earlier for instance). But, Forza had been designed with XBL in mind the entire time and in really showed whenever you went online to play. It was never perfect (when is online play ever really perfect) but the online experience was very, very solid. The Xbox 360 was about 5 months away, but as the past generation was about to end, Forza had, arguably, surpassed GT already. Others would say that the online play did not matter much because GT had Forza whipped as far as modes and just the sheer depth of the games. Most of us figured that the issue would likely be decided when the next gen consoles came around.
As things would turn out, we would have to wait about 2.5 years to get our first indications as to how this would play out. About 2 years after the original Forza was released, Forza 2 came out on the 360. It improved on the original in about every way we could have expected. Obviously, the technological advantages of the 360 made forsignificant graphical improvements, but we also saw an improvement in the AI over the original game. Beyond that, the game had a more GT feel to it with more cars, more tracks, and many more modes than the first Forza had. The online play was improved and the online events were unlike anything we had yet seen in a driving game. There were online tournaments and, in a nice touch, your online performance would generate cash that could be used in your offline career mode. So, as of 2007, Forza had taken over as the racing game to beat and many of us wondered if/when Gran Turismo would respond.
In reality, GT5 had been talked about since the PS3 launched. Gran Turismo HD had been a teaser for many of us since the PS3 first hit the market. Thus, we all waited patiently for an official launch date for GT5. What we got instead was GT5 Prologue. Released in April of 2008, Prologue boasted only 6 tracks. But, those 6 tracks were amazing. From a purely graphical standpoint, Prologue was superior to Forza 2 with each track recreated with mesmerizing detail. Little things like store fronts on some of the tracks made the tracks something special. The game looked and felt like a GT game, but with some nice new features. Ferrari made its long awaited debut in a GT game. And, for the first time, a GT game had online play. But, the online modes felt tacked on and somewhat unfinished. Still, it was a nice appetizer for the main course, even though it felt like a glorified demo more than anything else. For GT fans though, it heightened the anticipation for GT5 considerably. But, instead of GT5, Forza stepped back in and went for the knockout.
At the end of October of 2009, Forza 3 was released and as good as Forza 2 was, Forza 3 was even better. Taking virtually everything Forza 2 did well and tweaking it to nearly the point of perfection, Forza 3 set the bar for all driving sim games that hope to supplant it. This is particularly true with the online aspect of the game where modes such as drag and drift have been honed to perfection. Yet, what Forza 3, and for that matter the entire Forza franchise does so well, is it continues to be so accessible to driving fans of all levels. Forza specializes in a customizable experience where you can make the game as hard or as easy as you like. This intangible quality is what, in my opinion, gives Forza a leg up on GT, at least for now.
So, has Forza left GT in its dust? Even the most ardent Gran Turismo fan would be hard pressed to argue otherwise. Forza came out of nowhere on the prior generation of consoles and truly challenged GT's supremacy; with this generation, it has surpassed it.In this current generation of consoles, Forza has delivered with two stunning games while all GT has given us is a demo version of GT5. Yes, Gran Turismo PSP is an awesome game, especially for a handheld. But, it is mostly tracks and cars we have seen before. Until GT5 comes out, I believe the only conclusion one can draw is that Forza is now the racing franchise to beat. GT5 has tons of potential. If it can integrate a full NASCAR season mode into what I am sure will be a fantastic GT career mode, we could see a truly stellar title. And, if the online play is refined a bit over what we got in Prologue, GT5 should be every bit as good, if not better, than Forza 3. With GT5 being delayed again, however, who knows when any of us will get to draw that comparison.
Until then, I'll keep playing Forza 3...and loving every minute of it.
Video Game Addiction
- Jan 28, 2010 11:38 am GMT
- 274 Comments
Last night I watched an episode of MTV's True Life about video game addiction. It followed two college students who were struggling to maintain their video game playing with their work and relationships. Playing hours upon hours of Call of Duty, Halo, and Fallout, the two gamers were escaping into virtual worlds where the pressures of real life couldn't touch them. They both were able to balance their gaming habits and their lives to achieve some success during one of their final semesters of college, but I didn't feel that it adequately portrayed how difficult it is to overcome.
Video game addiction is a taboo subject in the industry. Gamers and developers alike see the debate over whether or not video game addiction exists as an attack on the bourgeoning industry. Accepting that video games have addictive qualities is often perceived as giving ammunition to anti-video game lobbyists who seek to control the creation, sale, and use of video games, especially to children.
As a gamer who worked with the Entertainment Consumer's Association (ECA) trying to protect the rights of gamers from infringements of their rights as consumers, I felt as though I was in a tough position. The truth of the matter is that I knew I was addicted to video games.
During middle school I played video games more than the average person, but no more than an hour a day. I loved video games, but I was able to balance it well with my commitments at school, to my sports teams, and to my family. However, as I moved to high school my love of games developed into an obsession. I began to buy lots of games for a lot of different systems and I also discovered the vastness of the video game community online.
I played video games for a couple hours a day while balancing it with the other parts of my life. This balance was disrupted because of something that happened one day at school. Unfortunately, while at a big public high school I was the victim of a robbery at knife point when I was 15. Oddly enough it was my Game Boy SP which was stolen from me. This experience was quite a traumatic one. Despite the kid getting caught and arrested, I soon found myself suffering from anxiety attacks and depression associated with the incident. My personal way of dealing with these issues was to jump head first into a lot of video games.
Playing tons of games was a way to escape the problems that I was dealing with at the time. My time spent gaming increased exponentially over the next year as well as my time spent on video game websites. Essentially my goal was to ostracize myself from my inner demons-- a goal that I unfortunately sucessfully achieved.
My video game playing consumed my other interests and hobbies. I was no longer playing sports, reading, or doing many of the other activities that made me happy in the past. I relied on video games and soon I found myself addicted, unable to stop playing. Around this time the Xbox 360 launched and I became obsessed with getting achievement points. I played hundreds of (mostly crappy) games in order to get a high gamerscore and to impress my circle of friends. However, about this same time I found that I was using video games primarily as a mood regulator, a way for me to make myself feel better when I was feeling upset or nervous. In the past, I utilized exercise to help me feel better, but excercising was yet another casualty of my video game obbession.
My parents approached me on several occassions wanting to talk about my addiction to video games. They saw it negatively affecting my life and were worried about me. At first, like any addict, I resisted. I didn't have a problem, I could stop playing whenever I wanted to. I just really liked video games, I want to work in the industry! However, it was clear to my parents and friends that my gaming habits had consumed my life and I was unwilling and unable to stop playing.
My parents made the decision to take away my video games to prevent me from playing, hoping that going cold-turkey would help me re-realize my other interests. If you couldn't predict, this strategy didn't work well. Without my games I was unable to deal with my anxieties and low mood state that I had beeen struggling with constantly since my violent encounter a few years before. I reacted badly. I began lying to my parents and played games behind their back. I was able to get money together to buy a Nintendo DS and play it at school or in my locked room while pretending to do homework. In addition, the lack of video games didn't inhibit me from thinking about them all the time. I had the internet!
Realizing that their strategy wasn't working my parents relented and let me have my games back. Playing video games wasn't preventing me from doing well in school but it was preventing me from having a vibrant teenage social life. Over the course of these years I distanced myself from certain friends who didn't have the same kind of commitment to gaming that I did. Needless to say, my circle of friends shrank dramatically.
I finally admitted that I had a problem with video game addiction in my senior year of high school. Instead of just playing games all the time or wasting time on internet forums talking about them, I began to read about the inner workings and history of the industry, as well as starting to do freelance video game journalism. This limitation of game time allowed me to live a more balanced and successful life. In addition, I lost a good amount of weight and was excited to start college.
Freshmen year was going pretty well until I had another life altering moment that rekindled my video game addiction. I was given the news a few months into the semester that I had a horrible illness. Understandably distraught, the news derailed my life and caused me to start playing video games obsessively again. I couldn't and didn't want to deal with my health problems and I filled the void with games.
That summer, I realized that I was once again addicted to video games. I needed to figure out a way to deal with the addiction because it was preventing me from living a fulfilling life. Slowly but surely I began to limit my game playing. Instead of having three systems around me at all times, I had one. Instead of buying a dozen games a month, I bought one. When I yearned to sit around playing games when I was feeling worried or anxious about my health situation, I forced myself to go and excercise.
Over time I realized that I was no longer using video games as a mood regulator. I was buying and playing a lot fewer games, but at the same time I was becoming well-read about the issues surrounding the industry. My passion for other things, particularly sports and reading, came back quickly. Games were no longer an addiction--they were a hobby. More importantly, my increase in knowledge of the video game industry opened up new opportunities to me.
I used to write blogs on Gamespot all the time and I used to play hours of games a day. Video games and the gaming culture had become an addiction. My admitting that there was a problem was the first step to alievating the situation. Obviously my story is an extreme and some will see this as nothing more than a diatribe against video games and the people who play them. However, I still am a gamer and I realize that like so many other things (drugs, alcohol, movies, music, books, sex), video games need to be used in moderation. My experiences shouldn't lend credence to anti-video game lobbyist's arguments about preventing the use or sale of video games but should rather inform peopl that like so many other things video games can be addicting.
Video games don't need warning labels about their addictive qualities, but the games industry shouldn't ignore the fact that they can turn from hobby to obsession to addiction. What we need is more dialogue about the issue. Hopefully this article will spread some awareness around this great gaming community.
Mass Effect 2 DLC
- Jan 25, 2010 1:39 pm GMT
- 80 Comments
(Throughout this I am talking from the perspective of an Xbox 360 owner. I do not know how the topics I discuss differ on the PC, if they even do at all.)
Well, the day is about here. I have been looking forward to the release of Mass Effect 2 since I beat the original back in late 2007/early 2008, and the original stands as one of my favorite games this generation. Sure, it had its problems, like the monotony of planetary exploration, texture pop-ins, etc., but overall the game was absolutely superb, and its sequel promises to be just as if not more superb. But, before we get into Mass Effect 2, let's discuss the past few years.
Initially, Bioware discussed the possibility/likelihood a steady stream of DLC for Mass Effect which would supplement the game while fans waited for the sequel. Early on, this seemed like it might happen, as the Bring Down the Sky DLC was released a few months after the game's release. It wasn't the best DLC I have ever purchased, but it was a nice addition to the game. But, from there, the DLC stopped. There was no word of anything, not until this year, when the Pinnacle station DLC was released. Unfortunately, that addition to Mass Effect was rather poor and exploitative. I think the first sentence of Kevin VanOrd's review of the add-on sums it up spectacularly: "Like a diseased steak thrown to the wolves, so this travesty of a downloadable add-on has been tossed to hungry Mass Effect fans."
This, as a fan of the game, was mightily disappointing. I do not know why Bioware's promise never came to fruition; perhaps the business with EA caused too much ruckus, they wanted to more heavily focus on Mass Effect 2, whatever the reason may be, it was terribly disappointing to me as a fan, and Pinnacle station only worsened the sting. But, with the release of Mass Effect 2 mere months away, I got over the frustration rather quickly. Flash forward to last week: Bioware announces that new copies of Mass Effect 2 would come bundled with a code to download DLC which includes new items and characters, as well as future free DLC (but I personally believe that only small things will be offered for free trough it, the bigger things are likely going to cost us, so I'm tempering my expectations there) downloadable from day one right into the game.
Initially, my reaction was one of excitement. Naturally, after the DLC drought Mass Effect suffered, the addition of DLC to Mass Effect 2 from day one seems to hold great promise for content in the future. But now that I have had time to reflect upon this new announcement, I am not so thrilled.
I, as a college student, do not have very much money. The majority of the money I have goes into books and other expenses that I do not have a great amount of money left over to spend on myself. Therefore, outside of games like the new Call of Duty and Mass Effect 2, games I have been looking forward to with great excitement for some time, I buy used games to save the valuable commodity of money. The way I see it, this move by Bioware is a cheap shot at people like me. Say I were to wait a few months, maybe even a year or so, as I do with most big releases that I have interest in these days, and buy the game used at GameStop (or online, whatever) for say, $40, saving me $20. If I did this with Mass Effect 2, I would then have to spend $15 more in order to get the full experience of the game that someone who bought it new would get, nullifying any savings of buying used, which is what people like me thrive on due to economic limitations.
And what about those people who borrow the game from their friends? They cannot experience the full game unless they want to drop some cash on the DLC which came pre-packaged with new copies of the game. Now, if this was DLC that was released, say, a few months after the game's release, this would not bother me as much, as I see it as addition to the main experience of the game. But the fact that it is pre-packaged says to me that it is part of the main game, as it was meant to be played, and that this had to be planned by Bioware/EA/whoever. This to me means they developed it alongside the game, knowing it would not be put into the main game, instead having it as an add-on downloadable via unique code, which will, I imagine, like most other DLC's, be tied to the Xbox it is downloaded on, meaning it cannot be shared with friends.
On the surface, it may look like a good gesture by Bioware, but deep down there really seems to be no reason for this except for scraping a few bucks out of people who buy the game used or share it with their friends. If it becomes a trend, game developers could keep making more and more of the game come pre-packaged with new copies, further undermining the possibility of buying a game used and expecting to have the full experience without paying a premium. Perhaps the entire idea of DLC could be viewed in this light, but pre-packaging a game with a bunch of content not available from the disk seems to be taking a larger step in that direction than simple add-ons like Bring Down the Sky.
I'm still buying the game of course, it looks amazing, and I'm sure based on what I've read it will be better than the original. But as a fan of the game, I suppose I ask that you see this move for what it is, and pray that it doesn't become a larger trend. I won't ask anyone who buys the game used to avoid downloading it, because I know I would, but I'd hope that sales of it are not strong. I realize Bioware is a company that is trying to make money, but that doesn't make this action on their part bother me any less. I seem to be in the minority here based on comments I have read in the news article, as most see it as a fan service, and perhaps it is to some extent, and for all I know my suspicions could be without merit. But unfortunately, I can't shake the feeling of an ulterior motive behind this, one that bothers me greatly.
A Layman Analysis of the 'Star Fox' Series
- Jan 19, 2010 10:16 pm GMT
- 106 Comments
Where is Star Fox Wii?
It seems that not a week goes by that someone, somewhere asks this question on one of the countless threads dedicated to Wii and it's software. Although this question seems to lose impact everytime it is asked, it still is (for a while longer at least) a valid question - however repetitive. After all, each system since the Super NES has had an entry into the series. The Gamecube even had two! There are now many Wii owners whose enthusiasm and anticipation for the series seems to be matched only by Nintendos silence on the topic. As far as I'm aware, there has been no meaningful announcement one way or the other as to whether this series has been 'put out to stud', as it were.
Can we learn anything from the previous releases?
As there have been no announcements on the series, I thought it would be neat to look back at the history of the games in order to both take a walk down memory lane, and to also see if there are any patterns or clues as to how Nintendo released these titles. Are any of the results conclusive? I'm not too sure. Am I just flogging a dead horse? Probably. But, at least I got a chance to make up some dorky charts and graphics.
Changing with the times...
In my view, if a game series fails to adapt to it's surroundings, it will mostly likely find itself either delayed repeatedly, delayed indefinitely, or cancelled outright. We've all seen titles come and go in all of these categories, but it's uncommon to see Nintendo (a company (too?) conscious of its heritage and legacy) succumb to these industry anomolies.
Is there something innate in the Star Fox series that put a use-by-date on the games? Has the industry and audience changed so much that Fox and co. are now an embarassment, or a laughing stock? To address these burning questions, I thought it might be worthwhile to compare each game's historical place and the features that each offered.
Here we see that the debut title is relatively light on 'features', but anyone who has played this game will tell you it is a fantastic step forward in 3D gaming while still being fun to play.
Critics seem to agree that this is where the series peaked. Exceptional control, graphics, level-design and replay value make this title a fan favourite. Notice the huge jump of in-game features - largely due to the increase in the '64s horse-power as compared to the Super Nes.
A radical depature in the series direction kind of distorts the integrity of my charts, but you can see that this title is the true black sheep in the family. While the series had gained momentum as a hectic 3D space shooter, this was a sort of re-packaging or 're-boot' of the game. I cant quite remember, but it must of been that open-world adventure games were more popular at the time...
The pendulum has swung back a little for 'Assault, we have a mix of both open world adventure and vehicular action. Players seem to agree that the Arwing sections of the game were superior to the on-foot stages - the real downer is that the game was about half/half. Notice the sort of mix of in-game features?
I've often thought that hand-held systems are where console games go to die - just as washed up Hollywood stars end up on late night TV. Besides that, this game was simultaneously a depature and a slight return to form. Fox the General commands the arwing squadron via the stylus. Sadly, the levels lacked any real imagination, and went for more realistic landscapes and environments. No moving blocks, asteroid fields, metropolises or giant mechanical bosses. But check out the features that this game has! It is by far the most well-rounded, but is it too little too late?
- For a Star Fox game to be great, it doesn't seem to need to be too complicated. The '64 release has no core concept that the original game did not already provide. It was simply a clever extension on a working idea. I see that in the charts above, current technologies do not always improve the series.
- The lesson learned from 'Assault is that significant Arwing sections are necessary but not sufficient for a successful experience. 'Command is solely Arwing, but the level design is sparse and fairly passive.
- Furthermore, it can be seen that if there is a new Fox game, it is most probably going to be packed with features (unless of course the genre changes yet again, and we're faced with a Star Fox RTS and puzzle game hybrid)...
The Timeline Nobody Asked For...
Are there any clues in the release dates in the series? Are we even due for a new game, or are we hopelessly, irrecovably overdue?
The longest distance between two releases was between the '64 and the 'Cube games. A five year span seperated these titles, and an even bigger distance in terms of game content/genre. If we take that as the maximum delay between games, can we then argue that 2011 will see a new release? Or is treating the DS title as true release just hopeless wish-thinking? If that is the case (and please don't laugh!), we are due for a game this year.
The Thin Green Line...
Alright, so do we even want a new Star Fox game? What if we track the critical reception of the releases, is there any indication that the series will return? I can't see that happening myself. Why? Well take a look...
The green line tracks the critical reception of each title as noted by GameRankings. As mentioned earlier, the '64 release seems to easily hold the crown as the premier Star Fox experience, and then we see a steady decline right up until the release of 'Command. But, even with all of it's features, legacy and genre mostly to itself, 'Command scored a 75%. To my mind, it seems like a big ask to reverse the trend of that green line in a single release. If you consider that the game has not existed as new content on televisions for half a decade, and the last time it did it under-performed, I don't see a particularly bright future for the series.
But this is one of the things I hope I'm wrong about...
Game Game Rankings Star Fox 86% Star Fox 64 90% Star Fox Adventures 80% Star Fox: Assault 71% Star Fox Command 75%
Kiddie Games Make Gamers Act Like Kids
- Jan 15, 2010 9:38 pm GMT
- 170 Comments
Kiddie games, these days there are those that hate them and those that will also point out that supposedly mature games are not very mature in nature, taking adult themes and presenting them in a very primitive way as if this is some sort of great crime against the gaming industry. But growing up I know the sort of games I played. When Soldier of Fortune came out I was ten years old. It was one of the best games I'd played up until that point. It was violent, and most importantly, it was over the top. Children like things that are over the top (I did anyway) how many of your favourite cartoons or shows that you liked as a child have you gone back and thought was incredibly corny or hammy, or any other sort of food variety that people apply to artistic endeavour?
I mean, I still enjoy them. Anyway I'm rambling a bit here. This blog isn't really about how games aren't really damaging to kids (I mean I think we can all agree I turned out pretty badly) it's that all of a sudden we're acting as if children don't play Modern Warfare 2. Well we're acting like that when discussing that its airport level was removed from the Russian version of the game, while at the very same time on another forum in another topic we're complaining about all the obnoxious 13 year old kids going around shouting the f and n words through their headsets when we play.
And while we try and smile proudly over the fact that most games are young adult males, we are somewhat ignoring our own gaming roots. One thing I've observed about gamers (with absolutely no statistics to back this up) is that their tastes usually don't change a whole lot. Most hardcore FPSer fans I know have always loved FPSers—and that means maybe playing Turok on the N64 when they were ten, or Quake when they were six.
Developers and publishers aren't idiots (mostly anyway). They know that there'll be kids playing Modern Warfare—it's a huge market that they can tap into—and they know that they need to appeal to them. The airport scene just adds to the appeal to children. It's something they shouldn't be playing—something that might disturb them—might turn them into some homicidal maniac. What on earth could be cooler? I mean crack sounds fun, but It's $250 an ounce, and Modern Warfare 2 is $60—err, $90 on Steam. Still a better deal, and besides crack did weird things to Auntie Jeanine. What kid in their right mind wouldn't want to play it?
Yet what films do kids loves? Err, apart from Twilight, High School Musical and Toy Story, that is. I know I personally liked Die Hard and The Rock and no one batted an eyelid when I watched them, but no, my favourite was Akira. I saw a scene or two of it at a video store—people were mutating, lasers were cutting peoples arms of. It was, in a word, FREAKING-AWESOME! No one cared when I saw it in full, yet I remember (despite being a few years older) the store clerk giving my mother a few disapproving looks and words of warning when she was with me and I bought Soldier of Fortune.
This guy was a gamer (this was in the days before EB Games was populated by blond surfer chicks to keep the guys entertained, and the footie mums happy) and he was looking at me disapprovingly. This was after Columbine. Us gamers had already been put through a lot of hateful accusations by the mainstream media, and here was a gamer himself doing this to me and my mother! Well thanks a lot jerk, I hope your store goes out of business. Which it did. Thank you GameStop! Actually, maybe it was because of Columbine that he looked at me suspiciously. I could've had a gun concealed in my nappy.
So why on earth is this? Why do gamers ourselves who have to put up with a lot of crap from people who cannot tell the difference between killing someone in game and killing them in real life, do this to our own people? Do we do it all just to look good to the media? "While video games don't have negative effects, we still wouldn't dream of giving our children violent video games!" Are we really going to step down into the tepid depths of hypocrisy to gain acceptance. I say we let Nintendo do the work for us. They're doing a great job so far. Gamers should stick together. (Except for Wii fans, they should be excluded).
Why waste our time and energy trying to claim that going on a rampage is anything but a deliciously immature thing to do? Why waste our time and energy pandering to the media saying that these games are clearly designed and marketed to adults?
Let the disapproval and peer pressure be stuck in System Wars, not in telling parents what to do with their children—children who they're denying a wonderful childhood experience that they themselves probably had. Even if the pixels of blood were a little bigger. Leave the unrelenting parental 'advice' and moralizing where it belongs: in the media and at the hands of all fear mongerers. I just want to blow some bastards up, and I have ever since I became a gamer.*
Maybe I'm wrong, though, and putting too much store in the comments on the internet (like this one, so feel free to get moralizing!). Feel free to tell me if I am!
*In game that is of course!
Is The Future DLC-Only?
- Jan 14, 2010 12:44 pm GMT
- 193 Comments
I've got a lazy bone or two, but I go to the gym three days a week. I park in the outskirts of lots to avoid shopping carriages and idiots who ding your doors. And I'll take a flight of stairs instead of an elevator or escalator when I can. So why am I so averse to getting up to change a game disk in my console when I want to play a different game? I don't have to get up to change the TV channel anymore. Maybe training your cat to swap disks for you is the solution. Or perhaps DLC is the answer.
Downloadable games from XBOX Live or the Playstation Network reside on your console's hard drive. When you want to play them, you select it from your dashboard and play away. No disks to juggle and no cases to store on a shelf. With the XBOX 360's option to upload a game to the hard drive, you'd think you could avoid having to insert the disk any time you wanted to play that game. But no… due to piracy concerns, the disk must be inserted, lest you rent a pile of games, upload them, and wind up with a complete library without having purchased anything.
You do have to admit that keeping disks is a bit of a hassle. They take up space. They can become dirty or scratched, preventing them from playing correctly. They can be lost or stolen. And they require you to get up from the couch when you want to play something different. Okay, that last one is a bit of a stretch. Unless you have trained cats.
But there are advantages to having physical media as well, such as the ability to trade, borrow, sell or buy used copies of games. Right now I'm borrowing a friend's copy of Fallout 3, since I want to play all the DLC, but traded in my copy about a year ago. (However, my friend had to buy this used copy of Fallout 3 after his kids knocked over his XBOX while playing it, causing his original new disk to become damaged beyond repair!) So right there in a single example, I've pointed out some pros and cons to physical media.
With this latest generation of consoles, and on the PC as well, there is an increasing amount of content that can be purchased via direct download. Not just the "small" arcade games, but full games once sold at retail, such as Microsoft's "Games on Demand" program. The PSP Go has eschewed the physical media altogether for download-only software. And look at the iPhone, Blackberry, Android and other handheld devices… everything is downloadable only.
There are many good reasons to embrace this new model of distribution. First: It's convenient. Want a game at 2AM on a holiday? Sure, no problem. You won't find many retailers open at that hour. Plus, you get instant gratification without the need to travel to a retail store. Second, you often have the security of knowing it can't be lost. Even if you delete the game from your device, you can re-download it at no cost, since you own a license to that game.
But there are detriments as well. Digital rights policies can be restrictive, causing annoyances if you replace your console. Downloaded software isn't portable, meaning you can't bring it to a friend's house to play on his machine. And once you purchase it, there is no way to return, trade-in, or sell your games. On top of that, the pricing schemes of DLC often provides no benefit over a physical copy of the same software, despite the fact that there is no physical medium to produce, ship and sell with a middleman's profit.
However, I'm going to make a prediction: The next generation of gaming systems will be downloadable content only, or will heavily favor DLC over physical media. We're already seeing that trend begin with many new games offering DLC expansions and bonus content, DLC-only arcade games, and downloadable re-releases of classic or best selling games. Who's going to benefit from this new age of distribution? Will it be the gamers or the developers? I think gamers will see some benefits (see my points above), but the real winners will be the console makers and developers. The losers will be the traditional retail outlets.
Face it, Microsoft, Sony, et al want to make as much profit as they can. When 100% of the sales of software are funneled through them, they make the maximum amount of money. Right now, every game that is traded in and resold as used, lent to a friend, or rented is lost sale for them. The console maker doesn't get their cut of the new game sale, and the software developers don't make profit from those units to help fund future projects. So it's only natural that the developers and the console makers want every person to play the game to have paid them for it.
That doesn't necessarily mean the end for consumers. Unless you are a pirate, you are already paying for every game you play. Wouldn't you rather see your money go towards the people who make your games (and hardware) to help fund the future of gaming instead of lining the pockets of those who have no influence on the games you play at all? On the other hand, consumers don't want to be ripped off when forced to buy downloadable content.
I've blogged about the "broken" economy of DLC before. When it is cheaper to buy a retail disk version of a game than to download the very same software, something is wrong. When a 4 year old Live Arcade game costs the same today as it did 4 years ago, something is wrong. An example I've used in the past was Forza Motorsport 2. You could buy the Platinum edition for about $20 which included all the DLC that was released for the game. Or you could spend about $23 just to download the same DLC content, plus still need to own the original game!
What about the retailers? Gamestop is the 800 pound gorilla of video game sellers, and they would be hit doubly hard if all games went download-only. Not only would they have no physical games to sell anymore, but they would lose a large chunk of their profit in the sale of used games. Though there is no love lost with me if they lost the used game market, since they rip off gamers by paying peanuts for used games then turn around and sell them for near-new price. I think the only way a company like Gamestop would survive is if they could sell download codes for games, much like the MS Points or Live subscription cards they already sell, or if they became a portal for downloadable content.
There are a lot of variables when considering a change from one distribution method to another. Who ultimately benefits from a migration to download-only software remains to be seen clearly. Consumers don't seem to mind iPhone, Blackberry or Android phones where the only way to get software is via DLC. And we all know the huge success the MP3 format has had in music downloads. But can this same level of consumer satisfaction be realized in the gaming console market?
I, personally, would embrace and endorse download-only games for my consoles only if the following were to be true:
· Reduced prices – since there are no disks or packaging to manufacture, there is no physical product to ship or warehouse, and there are no distributers or retailers to take a cut of the profit, the price of a downloadable game should be lower than what we pay now for the traditional product.
· Price reductions over time – retail prices of games drop over time as they age. People don't still pay $60 for COD4 today when Modern Warfare 2 is sold for that price. So there is no reason old DLC games should be the same price they were the day they premiered. DLC needs to drop in price at the same rate disk-based games do. Without price reductions, budget gamers would never be able to buy games.
· Promotional pricing – It's not uncommon to find retailers selling brand new games for 10% off or more. To encourage sales, the DLC should have promotional pricing, such as offering 10% off a brand new game if you purchase it the first week of release.
· Returns – Sometimes mistakes happen and you purchase DLC you don't really want. There should be a grace period of a few hours or even day or two to allow you to delete the DLC and garner a full refund.
· Rentals – Not everyone wants to spend $60 on a new game, or even $20-40 on an older game. Gamers should be allowed to rent the use of a game for a specific period of time for a small dollar amount. After which time, the game no longer works unless additional play time is purchased.
· Giftability – Not everyone who buys games buy it for themselves. Sometimes the buyer doesn't even own the device necessary to purchase or play the software. Provisions need to be made to allow anyone to purchase the software and give it to anyone else.
· Phony money – Microsoft is the biggest culprit here. Carnivals used the scam of making you buy 5 tickets at a time, but the ride cost 3 tickets to go on. Inevitably, some tickets would go unused and the carnival made more money off you than they should have. Microsoft Points are no different. DLC should be purchased with the legal tender used in the country the buyer is located in. Or, the buyer should be allowed to buy exactly the number of points they need.
· Trade-In value – Many gamers never play a game again once they finish it. Unlike an MP3 which may be listened to for years to come. Gamers should be allowed to delete a game from their library and gain a credit towards additional purchases. There is no "used" game being sold to someone else which would bypass profit for the console or developer. But goodwill would be fostered towards gamers, and encourage them to purchase additional titles. Many gamers rely on the money they get on trades to fund new game purchases.
I'm not against the DLC-only future which seems so inevitable. But I'm not sure I'm ready for it either. Developers and console makers need to tread carefully, without cramming this new distribution method down our throats. Instead, I'm hoping the steps taken in this migration to DLC-only benefit both the consumer and the companies. After all, MP3's did not bring the end of the music industry like the record labels feared. You can still go out and buy a CD today. And I don't mind the DLC-only format on my iPhone, so I am encouraged that life could be just as easy on future gaming systems.
Here's to not having to get up from the couch in the future. Well… unless you need to go pee, or out in the sun once in a while.
The Evolution of Tanya
- Jan 12, 2010 5:09 pm GMT
- 56 Comments
The Command and Conquer: Red Alert series has always been known for its live action cutscenes that employed a decent amount of cheese factor. However the only reoccurring and memorable character was Tanya Adams, the American commando who stuck to the tried and true action flick stereotype of tough but beautiful. As the series progressed, the actress playing Tanya was new with each game. In a way, the changes of this character mirror the changes of the series as a whole.
The first Tanya appeared when Hollywood still wasn't even aware of the existence of full motion video in games , so the entire cast was made up of unknowns. Played by Lynne Litteer, the character immediately made it clear that she was the only one (besides the player themselves) that could actually get anything done. While all others were content to stay back at headquarters in their fancy uniforms, Tanya was always in the field leading the charge, as well as having a few actual FMV action scenes. Lynne set the tone for the allied campaign and cemented Tanya's place in the history of female video game characters.
With the immense success of the first Red Alert, Westwood had a much bigger budget and decided to go with a more popular actress for the role of Tanya in their second game . Fresh from television fame, Kari Wührer was an excellent choice. Already experienced with the military tough girl persona from her Sliders character of Captain Maggie Beckett, she certainly fit the role quite well, but came across at times as a bit too hot for front line combat. Apparently, even though bombs and gunfire were almost constant, there was still plenty of time for her to put on tons of make-up and keep her eyebrows waxed to perfection. Although she was absolutely stunning, I never doubted for a second that she could beat the crap out of someone.
With the recent Red Alert 3 , EA (who had purchased Westwood around the release of RA2) went straight for the 'well known hottie' in their choice of Jenny McCarthy, and I personally felt this was a terrible decision. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing but respect for Jenny's conversion from Playboy Playmate to dedicated mother of an autistic child. However, she just isn't a convincing commando and didn't fit the role at all. He hair wasn't even dyed brunette like the past Tanya characters. It was almost as if the main goal of her character was to say, "Look, I'm Jenny McCarthy!" which caused the series to lose respect.
The progress of Tanya from a believable badass to sex icon echoes the changes of the series as a whole. It began as a respectable spinoff of the Command and Conquer series that should certainly be considered one of the cIassics. Today, it is simply an over-the-top, unbelievable war game that embraces the 'sex sells' credo far more than it should (the cover of the box has a scantly clad female Russian soldier who doesn't even appear in the game) and allows all other aspects to suffer as a result. Unless some serious changes are made with the next entry, Red Alert's former days of glory will be lost forever.
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