Monday, April 30, 2012

I Want To Be Cool

Yes, I know I set that one up, however I’m talking about the characters in MMOs; I want to be cool. Why is it that every MMO tantalizes you with this really cool armor and then lets you flop around in the wind in this piece o’ crap armor at the starting level? Why can’t I look cool from the get go? Every character is supposedly the hero of their own story, why do I have to wait three months and sixty levels just to look cool? I understand; graphics in MMOs are really just getting to the point where armor and how a character looks can be truly distinctive, but why can’t I look cool? I propose that all new MMOs allow you to change your look at will and let you dress your characters however you like. In the old days when each class had to be tallied quickly so that players knew who was playing what it was important for class distinctive looks, but these days not only are MMOs not bound in stone by class the players don’t want them to be either. In this Brave New World let us not be bound by the laws of old, let us prance around in the sweetest digs and be merry. So please, please, please; let me look cool.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Did you hear...?

I read this article the other day that struck me as being rather funny. The article was based a rumor that EA (Electronic Arts), a fairly large American gaming publisher was facing a buyout by Nexon, a fairly large South Korean publisher. The article posited, that because of less than stellar sales and retention rate of The Old Republic a Bioware MMO and massive layoffs around the corner, that EA was ripe for a buyout either hostile or consensual. The article was ridiculous not for its content but for the very basic fact that every single fact in the article was based on rumor and speculation.

You see the article was entirely based up two well published rumors. One, a few days before another article had said that EA was going to layoff a thousand workers. Even for a company of EAs’ size that is still massive layoffs. To put it in perspective, Sony has said they would cut 10,000 jobs after four consecutive years of loss. The second article was about a stock analyst who had given the prediction that EA would lose half a million subscribers to its big budget The Old Republic, which he said had peaked at 1.7 million subscribers; all of this by March of 2013. So there you have it, a story whose entire foundation was rumor and speculation. It very well might happen, EA might fire a thousand people, The Old Republic, might be at 1.2 million next year, and Nexon might buyout EA; but really since when did we base a rumor on other rumors and call it news?

The news is all about the 24/7 coverage these days; the public demands it and the media supplies it, but come on people lets keep our news squarely based on reality, we’ll all be better for it.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Enter the Villain

Where have all the good villains gone? I say that with the full understanding that a good villain is one of the hardest roles to write, a villain has to have purpose and conviction. But so often in video games what we get is little more than the mustache twirling man with an evil laugh. And even those villains are nothing more than shadows compared to Kefka of Final Fantasy VI. Kefka was a mad man who cut swathes through wannabe heroes and villains alike; even going so far as killing his own Emperor. The best heroes have great villains to battle. Where is Shepard without the Reapers, Master Chief without the Covenant or even the Dark Knight without Heath Ledger’s Joker?

I played Asuras’ Wrath, the other day. Combat was forgettable but the story was impressive. These demigods had protected mankind for thousands of years. A few of them get the idea that they can rule better than their Emperor and so murdered him and framed one of their own. It’s not exactly a new story but the villains themselves were so nicely nuanced. Some of them merely lusted for power, while others wanted Evil vanquished no matter the cost. One followed out of loyalty, while another just loved the fight. Asuras’ struggle is reflected in the mirror of each villain’s desires. The best fight is against his best friend. Wearing a mask in shame, the friend makes the argument that Asura has already lost, and that a further struggle is pointless and will cost more human lives. While he acknowledges that the things done to Asura and his family are unforgivable, he tells Asura “next time stay dead”. His fight becomes more than just another revenge story, and become a fairly intelligent thesis on what drives us.

It’s perhaps not entirely surprising that villains are so forgotten when stories are written, but it’s always to the detriment of the story and the heroes struggle when it’s done. Heroes and Villains are always defined by each other; for without struggle victory is meaningless.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Six Million Dollars

So I'm having a problem with my internet one day, I need to update a drive for my wireless connection and I call a nameless big software company to ask them to send me the update on disk or CD, no hurry I would just like the update. I call the first number expecting to talk to someone who can do this for me, I'm not really expecting a technician just a friendly person to help me get the update. After a quick touch tone process I'm talking to a real life person. Politely taking my information I'm directed to someone who can help me with the problem. A little confused but willing to be gentlemanly I keep my mouth shut and wait for the next human to speak to, for a world of six billion and counting its almost comical how when calling a companies customer service you actually never talk to humans, but I digress. After a spot of time I'm forwarded to a new person who begins to ask me the same basic questions as the first person. At this time I'm a little annoyed but I play along. I begin to be asked the 20 questions of how to use your internet. What are you using to connect? What ISP (Internet Service Provider) are you using? And on and on we go. I'm beginning to be think that I'm getting the run around but after about 55 minutes I get on the phone with the person who might actually know what their doing... and my battery dies. After a bit of a chuckle (yeah lets call what I said under my breath a chuckle) I began to wonder... can we really fix it and make it better… I think I’d consider myself lucky if it only cost me six million dollars.

The Facts of Life (As seen by a gamer)

1. Gaming is not always fair, sometimes you won’t be the best at a game or even very good at it.
2. Your character will fail during your gaming sessions; use that as a learning tool. Winning teaches you nothing, it is when we lose that the best lessons in life are learned.
3. The game verse has a set rule of law, which sometimes can be bent but not broken. Fail to understand this at your own risk.
4. Games do not care if you got angry, if a game is worth playing, pause, sit back and ponder a way to get out of the situation
5. What was before cannot be again; change is the only constant. The past will always be that, a sequel can never be the original but it can be great in its’ own way.
6. There is always a choice in playing a game, sometimes the best choice is wait until later.
7. Games are constructs by humans; as such they can be and are often flawed, wishing changes nothing.
8. It is never wise to exceed the limitations of the physical body. Gaming beyond you capacity to endure leads to death.
9. The joy derived from gaming is entirely dependent on you.
10. You cannot change the opinions of other gamers, but you can present other ways of thinking.

Special Thanks to Lazlo Zalezac

The Pursuit of Happiness

As a gamer, I am very self aware of what makes me happy. Every day is dedicated to that goal, both in the short and long term. Games are entertainment, often their very escapist; so it behoove us to get the maximum potential in the time we are able to play. I know; it kind of sounds like work but play is just as important in life as work. Most people wouldn’t start a work project without at least a very general picture of what they need to do to accomplish their goals; however when it comes to play people tend to assume that they’ll have fun and that it’s a given.

Happiness then, at least for the majority of us for who it does not come to naturally, must be attacked from every angle. If life is to be enjoyed, and I believe that is the intention of most humans on this planet, you must have a plan. Games are not one size fits all, no matter the quality, not all games will appeal to everyone. I for instance am partial to Role Playing Games or RPGs; always have been and always will be. Some games I play without guides or instructions; I have a clear picture of how the game is played and I don’t need help. Other games, Final Fantasy XIII is a great example, I was aware of how complicated the game would be and I used a guide. I am frankly unsure whether I could have or would have completed the game otherwise; and I am sure that I would not have enjoyed it at the level that I did. I had a plan and I followed through, making changes where they were needed.

Without an outlet for the trials and tribulations that life throws us we would become a very different people. The universe is vast and the possibilities are limitless. Life is beautiful and happiness helps make it so.

Special thanks for Lazlo Zalezac

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sexism in Videogames

I’m a guy, let’s get that out the way from the get go. Sexism in video games seems to on the minds of everyone these days. As an oft-maligned media, we gamers always have made an art form out of trying to sanitize video games for the general public. Over the last year I’ve read probably a dozen articles from most of the major online websites lamenting sexism in video games.

Video games are an interesting form of entertainment. While the majority of gamers are in fact women; the more hardcore scene which is to say console games and PC games are dominated by men both on the game development side as well as the gamer side.

The problem with doing a real look at video games is that there are exceptions to the rules. Games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Uncharted, and Halo prove that gamers will play games that respect women. However, these games are top tier so in many ways they could be pointed out as the exceptions that prove the rule. For every Halo there is a God of War, or any number of smaller, low budget games with scantily clad women on the cover and in the game.

Let me say however, that video games are at times sexist, just like sometimes their racist and political. Games about War rarely talk about the effects of said war on the populace. Video games are primarily made by Asian and Western developers and as such rarely feature any minorities let alone as the heroes or heroines. The result of that is as obvious as it is tragic; considering the demographics of the respective countries involved it’s hardly surprising though. When I read articles about sexism in video games written by women and then those written by men, I’m struck by the fundamental disconnect between genders on what they view as sexism. Men tend to focus on the physical while women tend to dig deeper when they feel that a game has overstepped itself.

Welcome to the Digital Age

I just read in the news that Cryptic Studios, the owners of Star Trek and Champions Online have discovered that they were hacked in late 2010. I laughed for a second, when I read it that it taken them so long to realize they had an issue. I've played those games and so I was not surprised to read an email about how my information could have been jeopardized. It wasn't nearly a year ago when a European Commission said that cyber warfare won't be an issue until 2030. Even back then I think the whole internet looked in askance at such a bold and obviously shortsighted statement. Trust the Europeans to be oblivious to reality I thought. 

Then of course came the Anonymous and their rage against the machine. News of US v. Iran cyber-warfare dropped as well. Hacking and its counterpart Cyber Security is becoming big business and certainly big news. Even the video game arena hasn't been unscathed. It seems like every major company has been hit with a hacking scandal. From Sony's PSN, to Microsoft's oddly quiet Xbox Live troubles, to Valve's Steam, and the list goes on and on. Anyone who has read the works of cyber punk pioneers like William Gibson, shouldn't be surprised. In fact the only thing that should surprise us is that it took so long. Still, it saddens me. Getting hacked is like being robbed in a lot of ways, its not just the ordeal of proving your you but the tiredness that comes from realizing that all those hundreds of hours could go up in smoke. When I got my World of Warcraft hacked the first time, I was so angry. Someone had violated my very personal avatars. I'd played the game on and off for years. Luckily Blizzard customer service was really good about. I got a authenticator on my Iphone and figured I was all solid. When I got hacked the second time, there's wasn't even any emotion left. I sort of sighed and then quit thinking about it all together. I had stopped playing months before, and while I wondered how someone got my account activated without paying money, I just didn't care.

I know most of the internet is good for us as a race. The more we know about each other the less we'll eventually hate and fear about each other. But until then, I'll just keep my passwords changing every month. I'm reminded of the Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz movie Knight and Day, 'When they say you're safe and secure, that's when you're not'. Welcome to the Digital Age.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

DLC on Disc is it an Evil or Necessity of Fair Gaming?

Recently the Japanese publisher Capcom came under fire, for amongst other things storing DLC (Download content) on the disc for the game Street Fighter X Tekken that was sold to consumers for sixty dollars. Not the first company to practice this, Capcom was the latest company to do so at a time when gamer frenzy seems to be at an all-time high. Long time fighting fans were aghast that Capcom had the temerity to sell them finished DLC on the disc. I suppose if Capcom had simply put the content online available for download a week after the launch of the game everyone would have been happy. Which begs the question what is acceptable?

Capcom and other developers have made the contention that games take a long period to develop and it is only feasible to make DLC for a period of time after the game is launched. No matter how long a shelf life the game has, it’s finite. The argument is made that the game content is a finished game and thus any extra content is fair game as DLC. My personal preference is that I don’t enjoy buying or even playing sports games every year, but there are legions of Madden and NBA 2K fans who would disagree with me. The NBA 2K11 game was considered the best Basketball game ever and the 12 version was considered quite excellent as well. The question then isn’t if games should release every year but how much content can be put into a game and still ask for full price. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Somebody That I Used to Know

I just saw a clip of Matthew Bomer (Bomer plays Neal Caffrey on White Collar) singing Gotyes’ “Somebody that I used to know”. A song that I love, not the least because it reminds me of the second series of a show called Misfits. I could explain it, but maybe if I write all mysterious more people will watch it. It’s a great show, at the very least, for the first two seasons. Anyways my mind wanders from that to FFXIV; A game I played for a few months last year. It was free while they were cleaning up the train wreck it was, in hopes of it becoming the something great that it could be.

If I'm going to write about Final Fantasy XIV though, then I have to start at the beginning. The beginning starts at FFXI, but really it should start before that. I hadn't really given much thought of Squaresoft's, as the company was known back then, FFXI. I was caught up in WoW and EQ2, the bright new shiny MMO's on the horizon. My PC at the time could only handle WoW so even though the Warcraft universe meant little to me that was going to be the game I played. I don't remember exactly when I started reading it but somewhere along the way I fell in love with the FFXI I read about in James 'Milkman' Mielke's blog about the adventures of Gyogi and Milkman and his friends the Roundabouts. Somewhere in a MMO only a mother could love I found something extraordinary, and I had to see myself if it was truly as magical as he described. So I bought the game for the 360. Loaded it up and I was off. A year later, hundreds of hours poorer I hung up my spurs with a smile. When I loved it, when I hated it, FFXI had won me over.

Dragon's Dogma Demo

So I played the Dragon's Dogma Demo today. Wow, who said Japanese developers are dead! Capcom swung for the fences on this one and they hit it out of the park. Character creation was very impressive.The game plays tight and yet everything is instinctive. The buttons are exactly what you think they are. X is light attack and Y is heavy. LT is draw your weapon and RT is grab on to the big ass monster trying to eat you a la Shadow of the Colossus.The game play is fun yet the sense of danger when the gryphon swoops down on you is palpable. When you die it's not like that was cheap, rather its like oh so maybe I should have held on to the flying monster instead of get an extra hit and fall to my death. It's all the best parts of Japanese RPG's melded with the open world draw of Western RPG's. If I was stoked about this game before, I see GOTY contender now.

Monday, April 23, 2012

We Need to Grow Up

We need to grow up. There I said it. Video games are used by adults who on average are approaching the big 3 0. They’re used by both male and females at an equal rate. Who by and large have disposable income for what can only be called a luxury good. Yet time and time again we find that video game enthusiasts act like the rest of the world; spoiled children in bodies of adults.

I suppose then the point could be made, hey we’re only human and we act no better than the rest of the world. Thing is mediocre never set well with me and I’m reminded of the movie Wanted. A thoroughly pointless movie, the last line is the only thing memorable about the whole movie. In it the hero of the story asks the audience “What the f@#$ have you done lately”? When I peruse gaming sites I often ignore the comments section. There’s a certain strategy to that. Somehow no matter what site I’m looking at the comments section always devolves into three simple rules. One, there are the real comments that are interested in the article. Two, there are the comments that have nothing to do with anything and are mostly just noise. Three, there are the comments made only to cause disharmony and chaos merely to get a rise out of people. Whether it’s a comment about a rival game/company being better or it’s merely name calling; it’s always there.

The Uncharted Trilogy

By Patrick Brown
Naughty Dog is the developer of the Uncharted Trilogy. While they are all excellent games, what drives them to greatness is in large part the story. Story wise they are quite excellent; the rare combination of adventure and romance that has become popular since the Jason Bourne Trilogy. You can find it on YouTube, but recently I ran across a fan who have made the stories as movie like as possible. Here they are, the links at least.

Uncharted 1: Drake's Fortune (The Movie)
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

Sunday, April 15, 2012

I Love Mass Effect

I love Mass Effect. I love the ending, I love the journey, and I love the beginning. I’m a science fiction geek. However many books you’ve read I’ve read more. The vast majority of those books were, the until recently, rather niche genre generically called Sci-fi/Fantasy. Back in the day when Mystery novels had their own section, as did Biography and Romance, Fiction and non-Fiction; there was Sci-Fi Fantasy. We didn’t even get separate shelves to house both genres. To further my habit I had to wade through shelves and shelves of lesser books, to get to the diamonds in the roughs; worlds agleam in all the best that Man could be. Heinlein, Asimov, Tolkien, Clarke, Bova, Jordan; they were my philosophers and guides.

It’s no great surprise then that I became enchanted with the RPG. Fighting the good fight, saving the world from Kefka, sailing the seven seas; I was hooked from the word Go.  Time passed and then came the Dreamcast. Grandia II and Skies of Arcadia gave me story and the vast worlds to enjoy them. Then came the Xbox and I was hard put to find them, all my friends had the shiny PlayStation that had killed my Dreamcast, but I stuck with it for Morrowind, and smaller niche jewels until finally Knights of the Old Republic. Oh I knew who Bioware was but I didn’t really play Baldur’s Gate, too much for the Nerds, I was a Geek damn it all, I didn’t need PC’s! Then came Jade Empire, and I knew I had found something worth following. Then the 360 was released and lesser games came out but nothing particularly memorable until Mass Effect.