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A new age

A long time ago I used to sit around with friends and we would discuss human relationships and the meaning of life. Sometimes when I felt like I was realizing something important or looking at something in a way I'd never had before I'd get this tingling in my stomach, arms, and legs.

Now when I get that feeling it just means I was playing Wii Sports a bit too aggressively the night before, and / or that I slipped on the "slippery spot" in front of the TV while playing.

Gaming at 30

I recently turned years old. My wife and female friends seem to think this is a more significant event than my male friends. I firmly believe that age (at least at this point) has more to do with your state of mind than the exact number years I have spent converting oxygen to carbon dioxide. Anyway I’m going to use this occasion as an excuse to pull out my rocking chair, a nice quilt, and ramble on about gaming at 30. Are you sitting comfortably? Let’s begin.

Time If you have read anything written by a crusty old gamer then will recognize the “not enough time” theme. There’s no avoiding the fact that once you engage in a career path, start paying a mortgage, attending to your spouse, and possibly even attending to the fruit of your loins then your available gaming time decreases significantly. Accordingly I often cringe at the frequent requests for longer games. I admit at one time I enjoyed some of those 40+ hour RPGs and similar games, but the amount of time I have to dump into one game is more limited than it has been ever before and I for one welcome some of these 7 to 10 hour single player games.

Highly concentrated high quality games are far more appealing to me now than some of the longer games. I can certainly understand the folks wanting more from a game but Gears of War’s modest length was just about ideal for me, at least for an FPS. I don't have much more patience or time for games three or four times as long as I find they just offer "more" and not necessarily anything better in terms of gameplay or the overall experience.

Adult Themes If any of the gaming demographic statistics that the industry tosses around are too believed then there are a lot of folks my age buying games, and I would guess there are those folks my age making a fair number making those games. At times this makes me wonder why it seems so few games take on adult themes. Now by adult I’m not talking about including more pixilated sex scenes. If you’re reading this you’re almost certainly on the internet and like it or not you have plenty of that available to you at your fingertips already. I’m talking about games with themes and stories that might be a bit more complicated than “Shoot People in the Face Volume 8” or “Orphaned 14 year old saves the world XVIII”. That’s not to say there aren’t times where I’m looking to sit down and wreak some juvenile havoc on a virtual world while riding my magic shopping cart . Those games have their place and I’d be bummed if they weren’t around, and I’m also not talking about something like thritysomething the video game. Gord no. What I’m looking for is something with a bit more beyond the garden variety badditude and cookie cutter RPG stories. Contrary to popular belief I don’t need to save the world in every game and the characters I play don’t need to be defined entirely by their wish to save the world, conquer the world, or urge to shoot people in the face. I figure there are plenty of developers who also would like to push things just a little farther in terms of storytelling aspects of the gaming. Heck hooking people into a good story and quality characters would seem to be a profitable avenue if you’re looking to establish a franchise, but it seems rarely do games take this path, or at least no farther than most games. I mentioned Gears of War earlier, as amusing as I found the banter between the members of *duxup stops to check the name* … Delta Squad if Marcus Phoenix had dropped dead during the game I wouldn’t have cared much. I would have just wondered who I play as next, and unless I’m up for the same gameplay again I don’t much care what happens in the next game.

I don’t think it takes too much to add great deal a more to video games in terms of their story. Games like the Max Payne series and Mafia did an outstanding job adding atmosphere and a compelling story without taking up too much time in the game or compromising any of the gameplay. Heck I still regularly hear people asking if / when another Max Payne or Mafia game will be released. If the games were just gameplay with a little storyline I don’t think we’d still be hearing those requests. It seems there is an opportunity to push gaming farther when it comes to the narrative, but few developers seem interested in or have the opportunity to take advantage of it.

Don’t Tread on Nostalgia The first video game I played was on an old console that I believed was called OmniVision or something like that. The console that had no less than EIGHT …. versions of Pong. Later I was playing in arcades. Then came the various Atari systems, and then of course came the Nintendo and Sega arrived on the scene. It was probably the NES that hooked me, and rightfully so as many of those games are still genuinely playable today.

In some ways I think some of those older games are even more playable for folks who are short on time and don’t want to deal with a eight button controller and numerous button combo options. Gord forbid I take a week off from a game and have to learn some of the controls all over again :( It took a while but now we have convenient and legal means to play many of those console and arcade games from oh so long ago, and I probably should have seen the downside coming. Nintendo tried to warn me, or maybe mug me, when they offered Excitebike on the GBA for $20. The GBA should have been littered with great collections NES titles for good prices but instead they chose something akin to punching me in the nose. That’s not to say it is all meadows and song birds for me when it comes to Microsoft, Sony or Nintendo’s current offerings these days. While I don’t feel like I’m being punched in the face, I’m still not happy with the pricing. $5 for Q*Bert? $5 for a NES game? $5 isn’t a ton of many but if you’re thinking of buying more than one game that’s when the price really hits you. Aside from a game like Ice Hockey that is eminently repayable, I’m not going to spend much time with these games. $5 per game for a trip down memory lane seems pricy especially considering the minimal cost to the people offering these games. I might have spent far more than $5 on a game when I was at the arcade but at that time I didn’t have other responsibilities and other things to spend money on. $5 means a bit more to me these days, and I don’t think the pricing on more recent games on these systems gets any more reasonable as you move further up the retro gaming time line. All the gaming companies are of course businesses and it is their job to make money, but I can’t help but feel a bit of my gaming past is being held hostage.

Conclusion So there we go. I’m older, still gaming, and plan to keep it up so long as the industry offers what I want. No doubt the powers that be could make some changes that might make their products more appealing to someone like myself. I’m sure that is their priority and people are holding meetings about this very post right now ;) In the end note of the issues I wrote about are solely the concerns of 30+ year old gaming fans. There are graduate students, university freshmen, auto mechanics, and twelve year olds out there complaining about Q*Bert prices, wondering when the heck their game of Final Fantasy XII is going to end already, and how hard it would be to just add a little something more to good game Gears of War (like a point). No doubt there are plenty out there who think nothing of sort as well. I should go now. It’s getting late, and I’m fairly sure there’s an episode of Matlock on somewhere that I should be watching.

Throwing Stones

In a recent issue of Game Informer Gabe Newell took issue with the PS3.

The PS3 is a total disaster on so many levels, I think it's really clear that Sony lost track of what customers and what developers wanted,

I'd say, even at this late date, they should just cancel it and do a do over. Just say, 'This was a horrible disaster and we're sorry and we're going to stop selling this and stop trying to convince people to develop for it.'

Nothing particularly shocking there. The PS3 release and even the PS3 itself has issues, yup.

Yet I couldn’t help but see some irony that this comes from a guy who noted his own game Half-Life 2 would be released on a particular date, let the date pass saying nothing for weeks, and later announced the game was then delayed for an entire year. It seems to me that Gabe of all people would fit right in with some of the Sony executives.

The 360 is Loud

For all the negative press that the PlayStation 3 and to a larger extent Sony have managed to whip up there is one thing I feel the need to commend Sony on if only because it so greatly contrasts the 360. The PlayStation 3 is quiet. My 360 is not.

Now granted the 360 is a fairly quiet system when you’re playing XBL arcade games. However, once I toss in a disk and choose to play it my 360 sounds like it is getting ready to lift off the rack I have it sitting on. The noise has a wonderful side effect of dulling just about any game’s opening cinematic and the effect really doesn’t diminish much as time goes on. The rushing sound of the 360’s disk drive spinning isn’t the kind of white nose that I stop noticing over time. In fact when a game’s gets quiet rather than the effect the developer was looking for more often than not I find myself noticing my 360. What is tha… oh my 360 is awfully loud.

Now anyone who knows me knows I play a fair number of games on my PC, and historically the PC hasn’t exactly been the quietest appliance to own. Even so the PC’s has quieted down substantially over the years and the simple fact that PC games are installed to the disk means that loud DVD drive access is at most an occasional issue during gameplay. Also my PC typically sits under my desk and that makes my PC substantially quieter than my 360. Even if I still have an issue with the noise my PC makes there are options available to me to reduce the noise further.

Microsoft is notorious for building numerous prototypes of various devices that will never see the light of day before settling on a final design. It’s hard to imagine while testing there wasn’t some feedback from a few people that said Dude, that thing is kind of loud. I suppose for effect the audio may have been cranked up, even so I would hope someone raised the issue. Personally I’m not always in the mood to crank up the sound so covering the 360’s disk noise with the game’s nose isn’t exactly my favorite solution.

Someone certainly could raise the issue of load times. Hey you idiot, do you want a quiet system or fast load times!?!? Perhaps that’s not the right way to approach it but it’s a valid point. The answer is that I want both and I don’t think it is that is an unreasonable request.

In the meantime I’m stuck with my not so calming white noise machine / 360. I’m giving some serious thought to building a sort of enclosure that allows for ventilation and muffles at least some of my 360's inherent wooshyness.

C Ya Greg

As I said in a post on the forums earlier this morning, Greg Kasavin and Gamespot go together in my mind like hot chocolate and whipped cream. Yet things change and you can’t deny a man his dream. I’d toss out some more praise but I think the community's wonderful response says more than I could about Greg’s work. Good luck Greg.

I'm not Rock'n the Video Game Vote

Anytime someone tries to legislate anything in regards to video games there are hordes of gamers raising their voices in opposition . . . on the internet. It is hard to tell how many of those folks are eligible to vote, and if they are if they in fact do vote. Assuming that least some of these people are eligible and do vote there a question I suspect many people face. Are video games important enough to me to change my vote?

The answer for me is a resounding no. Despite the ridiculous amount of time I spending gaming the fact is that I can spend that much time gaming is because many other important things are being done in the outside world. Things like building roads to get me home quickly so I can play games, educating citizens so they can make video games, policing our cities so people don’t steal my 360, inspecting food so I can safely snack while I play my games, and so on.

In my current state of residence, Minnesota, we have even had some gaming legislation. I believe the bulk of the law’s support came from the legislature. Even so it was signed by the current Governor and then defended by the State Attorney General. Both the current Governor and State Attorney General are running for Governor this year.

I’m a bit more miffed by the State Attorney General’s commitment to appeal the ruling that struck down the blatantly flawed law. Granted he has to defend it from the start, but continuing the fight over that law seems unnecessary and foolish. Yet despite my stronger distaste for the State Attorney General’s actions he will be getting my vote.

The fact is that when it comes to pushing the almighty vote button the issue of taxes will take precedence over gaming this year. Provided that nothing crazy happens I suspect that as long as the Bill of Rights is around some other issue will almost always take precedence over games.

Note that for those who are voting today Gamepolitics.com has a handy guide.

The Tangled Web of Gizmondo

Wired has a good article about the Gizmondo executive Eriksson and everything that unravled after his famous Ferrari Enzo crash. It is interesting to read about the cast of characters that are involved in the larger story. I swear that you can't make some of this stuff up.

Staying Awake - XBL Arcade (PC)?

About once a month I am scheduled for these weekend shifts for work. 12 hours long, often late at night. To prepare for such a shift I usually stay up late at night the night before and then sleep in late the day. Usually when staying up late I need to do something to keep myself from nodding off. If I can keep myself engaged doing a fair amount of thinking then I find it easy to stay awake.

That’s not to say I can do anything to keep my mind going. I’ve found that reading, surfing the net, and even watching movies can only last me for so long. Eventually I will find myself rereading the same page and / or growing bored with a book, movie, or the internet to the point where I start to feeling fatigued. So I usually turn to one activity when I need to stay awake. Gaming.

Interestingly different types of games have various limits on how long they can keep me awake. Only the most enthralling of RPGs can keep me awake before fatigue takes over and I start running into situations like “ok that was a great battle not to equip . . . wait, where was I going? ” and suddenly feel very tired. Games that allow for instant gratification and a fair amount of randomness like GTA last longer provided I find enough simple things to do, while platformers that require precisely timed jumps don’t last me long as a few clumsy missteps can turn into frustration and the sudden realization of how tired I am.

Strategy games, be they turn based or real time, last me the longest. I’m not proud to say it but I’ve played more than my share of 24+ hour Alpha Centauri marathons. I’m not sure if sitting there and running all the possibilities of my (and my opponents) next move sort of fills the gap of what can be fairly slower paced games or what the situation is, but I can stay up playing some strategy games for what seems like forever.

Recently I found another type of game that almost rivals strategy games in its ability to keep me going. Card games. Saying I only recently discovered card games might sound a bit weird, but in my house when I stay up until or past dawn I’m usually the only one staying up that late. Until my purchase of a 360 I had nobody to play a game like Uno with at 5 o’clock in the morning. Now it seems there is an endless supply of people who will help keep me up at night such as the singing kid, the insomniac housewife, the student, the 13 year old who won’t hurry up and play his damn card because he’s having too much fun watching himself in his webcam, and others.

The next day when I am at work I usually don’t work for a solid 12 hours. Depending on what is going on I tend to have a fair amount of free time at my desk. It’s one of those jobs where it is almost as important just to have someone there to do work if it is needed as it is to have them do the work. It might sound strange but I’m sure it makes sense to some people out there who have been involved in such work.

With some free time the urge, to nod off can be considerable. Some of my coworkers do nod off but I’m the type that once I fall asleep, I’m done for. I might wake back up but my brain is running on one cylinder at best. So again I sometimes turn games to keep myself awake.

Sitting at work one night I thought to myself /I wish I could play Uno online like on Xbox Live here on my PC./ That got me thinking… hey why shouldn’t I be able to play XBL arcade games on my PC?

Granted some of the classic arcade games found on XBL could be found on the net and there are services like Yahoo Games that offer free card games where you play against other people. Yet I think the XBL service on the desktop would still be of some value to folks who enjoy those more structured services.

I don’t believe it would be difficult to implement. You could have a program that essentially runs a limited form of XBL Dashboard and from there you can purchase XBL arcade games, play games, score achievement points, heck they could even offer the same media downloads as on XBL thru an interface that is similar if not identical to XBL.

Perhaps this seems a bit weird to the PC folks out there, but even as someone who games a great deal on my PC I admit the streamlined XBL experience has some appeal. Microsoft has already talked about eventually extending various aspects of XBL onto cell phones. Why not try devices that we know can handle something more than just checking if your friends are online?

I wish I could play some Uno right now…

Dear John: Nintendo,

I’m breaking up with you.

You and I have had a long history, but this isn’t the time to go over all of that. We both know this is a “What have you done for me lately?” world so don’t bother leaving me tearful voice mails on my phone about all the NES and SNES. I’m sure you will be wondering why I’m breaking up with you so let’s start with the Gamecube because that is foremost on my mind and has a lot to do with why I’m writing you.

The Gamecube was a solid piece of hardware which is more than I can say than some other systems. The controller was a bit wonky. I can’t say I ever understood exactly what that controller design was supposed to accomplish. As such I avoided playing some multiplatform games on the Gamecube because I didn’t expect that many games designed for a more traditional gamepad would translate well to the Gamecube gamepad.

Despite the unusual controller you excelled at what you’ve always excelled at, first party games. Link and Mario (well paper Mario) made their usual impressive showings. Nobody does games quite like you do Nintendo, and nothing I have to say in this letter this will change that. Yet a relationship with someone who plays games as often as I do can not survive on first party games alone.

Oh I know there were some great third party games. Metroid Prime, Eternal Darkness, Resident Evil 4. As awesome as those games were when I was finished with them they often raised more questions than answers. Questions like “Why don’t we do this more often?” The response would just be silence. Even after the Gamecube was released there was that period of months before we saw anything new. What kind of a way is that to begin a relationship?

Meanwhile I was seeing other people. When I came home from a long day at work, my PC, PS2, and eventually even my Xbox was there for me. You? Sometimes I didn’t even bother to check. I just knew there wasn’t anything for me. Those other guys might not have had your spark, your creativity, or wonderful memories of the past, but they were there.

Later things just got nasty when you took cheap shots at Microsoft and Sony talking about how online gaming isn’t important. I think that said more about you than it did about online gaming. If you want to compete how about you just step up and sell some games and systems rather than trash the competition?

Now you bring in the Wii. Again you are plucky and charming, but it’s not enough this time. Oh yes I know, the Wii is cheaper than any other system. Yet it is a Wii that comes with *one* controller. Toss in some accessories and it is nearly the cost of a full 360. Sure a 360 might need some accessories but I can live without that stuff for a while. The Wii (We) begs for at least one extra controller, but you want me to pay extra :(

The controller is awesome, but will it work? Will anyone but you figure out how to make it fun to play? Third parties didn’t do such a great job on the Gamecube controller… can they handle the Wii?

The concept of bringing back NES, SNES, and N64 tittles is cool, but let’s face the facts that there’s nothing keeping the third parties from releasing those games on XBL Arcade and / or whatever service Sony will undoubtedly jimmy rig into their machine. Let alone the fact that I already own many of those games, and others are available for much much less.

Yet the controller isn’t only the issue and by now you should know what is. It’s your track record that is the problem. Will you leave me for months after the Wii release? If not will you leave me alone later on? Yes I know third parties are fascinated by the buzz surrounding your system, but buzz is fickle and projects and promises can be canceled.

My time is limited and with game and console prices on the rise I can only afford to toss so much money down on game systems, especially at launch time. This year I feel as if I have no choice. I have to go with a known quantity that I feel is more likely to keep me entertained consistently. Sorry.

Maybe this is for the best. You know I was seeing my PC, PS2 and Xbox on the side the whole time, and you’ve made no secret that you’re trying to see other people. I think it is admirable that you’re trying to reach out to people you wouldn’t normally come in contact with and I sincerely hope you’re successful.

I’m sure we will still get together from time to time on the DS, and who knows… One day we might spot each other at Best Buy or a mutual friend’s house and everything might fall into place and we’ll get back together.

In the meantime I wish you the best. The industry would be a lot less interesting if it wasn’t for you.

Take care Nintendo,