Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Time of Regret

Regret is a funny thing; the internet has thousands of quotes from famous people about how they deal with regret. Presumably fame is something most people want, even if it’s just a small amount. Thus famous people would be the ones least likely to have regrets you’d think; they have achieved what they set out to achieve. And yet even for those that life has gifted with their greatest desires still regret lingers.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Path of the Dragon

In eastern literature there is no mightier creature than the Dragon, I remember watching a martial arts movie where the teacher is trying to explain the concept to his student. He says the difference between the tiger and the dragon is that the tiger only reacts to pain while the dragon considers and thinks, only then acting or reacting. Dragon’s Dogma is Capcom’s first foray into the unforgiving world of RPGs. Best known for their Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, and Street Fighter series; Capcom has made its mission to expand their stable of games in the last five years or so. From Lost Planet to Dead Rising, Capcom has had a few well deserved successes, but they’ve also faltered when they left their comfort zone of Japanese games. The reboot of Bionic Commando was a well-publicized disaster that some took to mean that Capcom wouldn’t take any more chances, but here we are just a few years later with Dragon’s Dogma; Capcom’s biggest roll of the dice yet and boy is it impressive.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Big Bad Review

It’s hard sometimes as a gamer when you see a game that you love or are very interested getting sunk by a shoddy or lazy review. It happens, reviews are for the most part subjective, ‘one man’s treasure is another man’s trash’ so to speak. Reviews have the power to make or break a company in the case of Obsidian and Fallout New Vegas. Obsidian missed out on profit sharing by a few points in its aggregate review score. It happens; sometimes reviewers let personal issues cloud their professional judgment, as we like to say ‘they’re only human’. You never like to see a shoddy review even when it bumps the metacritic score up. It always feels so un-American; you know the whole equality for all.
Reviews are necessary, they put things in perspective, and they give a measuring stick on the quality of the game. A good review and a bad review can oftentimes have the same language but vastly different scores. On the other hand gamer reaction to a popular game being reviewed harshly or vice versa is often vitriolic; not that writers are not without fault. I cannot count the number of times when a review has been positive or negative and yet the score in no way shape reflects it, combine that with the various times I’ve read a review where the author clearly did not finish or understand the game and you have problems.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Where Has All the Science Fiction Gone?

As I was perusing the internet today looking to see when a favorite show of mine, Doctor Who, would be back for a seventh series, I was struck by an odd thought. With the end of Fringe in sight and a second season Falling Skies next month, I realized that was the full extent of the US science fiction I would be watching for the rest of the year. I was sadden to find that out, science fiction on US television has had some great runs; Quantum Leap, Stargate, Star Trek, and a number of smaller less well known shows.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Closed Beta Blues

I love The Secret World closed beta. I always love to pick and choose different classes in betas, to see what skills are the most fun to play, but this beta is pretty awesome. I test out theories and see what falls and what rises to the top, I throw something out or jot it down for later. The thing is though; I kinda hate Closed Beta’s. I know, I know, closed beta’s are bug searches and server testing; and I always try to drop suggestions and the like when I’m in a closed beta but the fact of the matter is I can’t standing getting my character wiped at the end of closed betas.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Return of the King

Blizzards’ Diablo III dropped yesterday, I bought it and I’m enjoying it. After the snafu in the early hours of launch everything seems to be running smoothly. A few people beat the game in the ridiculously short time that some people will always try to achieve. Diablo IIIs' strength is its simplicity. No customization other than a few choices here and there, it is simple and unadulterated action role playing at its best. I made a couple characters and then I was off to the races. It’s a fun game, with a predictable but interesting storyline. Add to that a solid combat, though it makes me itch for a controller, and its one for the ages. And unsurprisingly, beyond the expectations of the vocal minority, it hasn’t brought on the end of the world.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Fall of the Champ

I remember someone once said that ‘it was better to be thought a Tyrant and for it to be a lie than to be thought a fool and for it to be true’. Once upon a time Blizzard was the champion, the unstoppable force, the invincible juggernaut; those days are gone and they are unlikely to return. In this though they are not alone, Bioware, Sony, Nintendo, Square Enix, and a few others were considered the very elite of their respective game makers. Some companies rewrite themselves, while others become something else entirely, rising from the ruins of former studios almost as if they were the mythical phoenix. And if these companies aren’t what they used to be it’s because of one thing and one thing only, gamers.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Perfect Character

I like to take my time when I play RPGs, especially MMOs. I’m always looking for the perfect character. I’m not a big Math geek so for me it’s not the min/maxing that some people love so much, rather it’s trying to find that perfect fit, that makes everything right. When I played Final Fantasy XIII I loved the character of Lightning. She had such strength in the simplicity of her fight. Save her sister that was all she cared about, if she brought down the whole world that was fine as long as she saved Serah. When I was playing the Tera Online closed and then open beta I found it in the Warrior class. The Warrior class in Tera is a dual sword wielding avoidance tank/damage dealer; basically he throws down a fair amount damage all the while trying to not get hit. I tried every class when I played it the open beta, trying to see if I could find something that pleased me more than the warrior. Tera online is really good about giving you a choice to play the prologue with a mid-level character of whatever class you chose. In this you can get an idea of how your character will play endgame. Tera’s combat is fluid and intense; I haven’t had so much fun playing combat since WoW Burning Crusade dungeons. But Tera only has eight classes, and when you come right down to it, it’s all rather the same when played, but Secret World changes all of the old things. In the Secret World every skill is a chance to tweak your character a little that way or a little this way. It’s like your character is constantly evolving even going so far as to change the way they play from ground zero at a moment’s notice. Because you’re not locked down you can quickly jump from a high level area all the way back down to a low level area simply to experience a build to see if you like it. There are no set pieces, no skill builds that are unassailably the best and thus what everyone follows; it is freedom to make the choices that fit you as if you were a vacuum absent from the certainty of the internet.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Great Expectations

I’m playing The Secret World beta, a MMO I am rapidly falling in love with. It’s a game that doesn’t understand the concept of hand holding. Other than a small prologue area the game basically throws you in the deep end and tells you to swim. Maybe it’s not the wisest of choices for long term viability but it is rather refreshing to see a game that doesn’t assume you’re incapable of figuring things out. I have high expectations for Funcoms new MMO, and I look to be playing this for years to come.

It is a very interesting phenomenon; Secret World is one of the few MMOs of the market that don’t fall into one of two categories; the high fantasy world or the hard sci-fi world. Instead the game falls under the urban fantasy or survival horror genre. Zombies, werewolves, vampires, demons, ghosts, ghouls, spirits, Secret World has them all. Every monster from culture gets face time. Most of the time, though, you’re struck by the simple need for people to make sense of the nightmares around them and how they try to hold together the world they love even as it breaks apart.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Importance of Being Difficult

I love Mass Effect 3’s Insanity mode, it’s amazing. Playing it is a revelation; it’s not so much harder than playing normal difficulty as it is sharper. Every good thing about the game is better on Insanity mode. Enemy A.I., flanking maneuvers, even the team aspect of single player; Mass Effect 3’s insanity mode is one of the best “hard modes” in games today. In the old days games only had three difficulties, easy, normal, and hard. Hard mode was the mode I only played when I was using a code like the up, up, down, down code of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III. These days there are often four or five modes though you can rarely tell the difference between one and the next, there are a few shining examples.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Saving the World… Again

I just got finished playing a session of The Secret World, a MMO by Funcom. In the game you’re tasked with fighting the darkness that is sweeping the modern world, one of their taglines is ‘everything is true’, all the monsters under your bed really do exist; essentially you’re saving the world again. I’ve read various comments from game writers and gamers that they’re tired of always saving the world, and that it’s so generic. But as I played The Secret World I wondered why not save the world?

Video games are escapist, like so much entertainment these days. Let’s face it the modern world can be a frightening place, for all of Man’s achievements we still seem to throw rocks at either best of all. In a perfect world, utopia, heaven, etc. one assumes that we’d just have better things to do, but for now we like our entertainment. I think this is why we love to save the world in our video games. We see the world changing for the good and the bad, and we’re helpless to move the proverbial boulder up the hill. In a video game however, we can do anything and be anything, we can throw order onto the chaos of life; we can save the world in a video game. 

I suppose part of the reason we like to save the world so much is because it makes sense. Say the point of the game is to rescue your kidnapped dog, after the first hundred bad guys you mow down how likely is it that big bad boss really thinks it’s worth it to keep your dog? But if the big bad boss is trying to rule the country, or the world, or the galaxy, or the universe what does he care that you mowed down a hundred hundreds of his men?

I like to save the world, not afraid to say it. It’s a lot of fun to save the world. So save the world again and keep on saving the world; who knows it might translate into real life, stranger things have happened.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

It’s All Connected

I remember watching the Bourne Trilogy for the first time and how it was a revelation to me. It was the first time in a long time that an action movie had taken the time to write a story that was connected. There had been movies like the Lethal Weapon series or the Die Hard series that had tried to keep continuity and some even succeeded fairly well but the Bourne Trilogy had done it awe-inspiring fashion, it felt like three parts of the same movie. And others followed its lead. James Bond, the perennial womanizer, shows the loss of the woman he loves from Casino Royale to Quantum of Solace. When I look out on the single player market for video games I see signs of that as well from the Halo trilogy, to Resistance, to Mass Effect, to Assassins Creed, to the Uncharted series; developers are getting the idea that the audience loves to be rewarded for being there step by step, from beginning to end.

Contrast that with the MMO genre, the idea that across expansions that there could be a common storyline or thread is something that is mostly ignored. In many ways The Old Republic is one of the shining hopes that developers might get it. I can imagine years from now how people look at SWTOR the same way as they look at Mass Effect. These are different animals in many ways but with the new focus on story in MMO one can believe that change is in the air. Developers are paying attention to weighty meaningful story development. Every clip I watch of The Secret World shows me a level of emotion I rarely attribute to MMOs. The story of each area shows the loss that a character felt as evil has taken root in their homeland and the determination for the storyteller to hold back the tide of the coming darkness. In many ways we’ll have to wait years to see if developers have taken the hint from their SP brethren but we can hope they do, there are few things more satisfying than the completion of a great story and the resolving of a brilliantly written characters arc.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Art of the Soft Launch

I’ve noticed a worrisome trend in the MMO industry lately, a reliance on short term profits rather than long term viability. In the age of the 24/7 everything now age, are we in danger of like the character from Roald Dahls' Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Veruca Salt, wanting everything right now? A MMO is unlike any other game in that is meant to be played for years, even decades. Gaming is business and as such profit and loss is important but game writers, players, and even CEOs’ seem to have lost sight of the big picture.

There are some games that need to have huge launches such as SWTOR to prove that one they are viable in the long term, and two to get back some of the enormous start up costs, in many ways like the R&D development of a company. At first the price is high to get back initial Research and Development costs, but as time goes by those costs are paid down and so the price too can fall. Eventually a friction point is achieved that is perfect for both consumer and producer; in much the same way do MMOs work. In the beginning hundreds of thousands or even millions of copies of games are sold defraying the enormous cost to bring a game to launch. Then the smaller sales of games combined with the monthly fee brings in the revenue to defray the overhead and any remaining start up costs. This is the traditional model, but it is not the model that all MMOs’ must take. One bright example is FFXI.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The State of Play

As I sat in the office I was contemplating the impossible. Yes, I sat there with a Vita in my hands and I saw two possible futures. One saw me in bed with the enemy of an old friend and the second saw me sitting tiredly with a friend that had lost his way. You see I was contemplating buying the next PlayStation instead of the next Xbox.

I know; the Dreamcast was near and dear to my heart. Its brilliant design coupled with working online play, for the very first time showed console players the light. The first real controller with a joystick (suck it Nintendo your controller was garbage for non-Nintendo games), Sega was ahead of the curve. And Sony’s PlayStation killed it, killed Sega for that matter, more than a decade and Sega still hasn’t recovered from the debilitating debacle. But as I look at the horizon I wonder where Microsoft lost its way. They used to young and hungry. Making games, admittedly usually only average games, but at least they tried. These days Microsoft has no vision, no plan. They make money, and as Sony has demonstrated with its year to year losses, that is a nice thing to have but they’ve lost touch with reality. Apple and its mobile ilk are gaining paying, loyal customers with the new and improved IOSs’. Microsoft isn’t paying anything forward. So they lost the gamble with Rare, Bungie made them billions. The 360 was a disaster as a hardware platform and the sinking suspicion on everyone’s mind is that they have a huge security hole in their flagship Xbox Live, their veritable golden goose. So what? A champion brushes himself off and rises again. So why would I choose the PlayStation 4, you ask?

Monday, May 7, 2012

My Game is Better Than Your Game

It’s the bane if my existence as a gamer, the inevitable conclusion of whatever decent discussion that might have been, the soul sucking descent into childhood tactics and name calling; it goes by the name my game is better than your game. It’s everywhere, consoles v. pcs, Xbox v. PlayStation, Bioware v. ArenaNet; and it’s the one of the most irritating things that one has to deal with when trying to enjoy video games.

We like to root for things, we humans. We go to Football games and bring down stadiums, we riot after championship wins and losses, when it seems that every CEO is being indicted for malfeasance we say not our guy; it is a fact of humanity that we root for things that we believe in or enjoy. These days though were no longer content to merely root for our guy as it were, we must make it our mission to sink the other guys’ ships. If I go to read an article about Tera, people will be saying Guild Wars 2 is better. If I read an article about Dragon’s Dogma, people will be writing that Skyrim was so much better. If I read an article about the history of consoles they’ll talk about how PC games are dead

Someone once said that Man spends too much time measuring himself against each other, when the truth of the matter is that what raises one raises us all, and what fells one fells us all. Games are not made better by comparison rather by taking what has come before and building on it. What makes one game great is good for all games, as games are to life, and so on and so on.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Legislation in Video Games

Legislation is coming; it’s only a matter of time. While the Supreme Court has been reluctant to jump on the bandwagon, time and time again their reticence seem to have come down to one reason; bring us proof. While scientists aren’t necessarily on the take, their objectiveness has been called into question; primarily because somehow whoever foots the bill always seems to get the result they desired. And video games like rap music, rock music, comic books, etc. before them are ripe for the picking. It’s true that gamers are older but the fact of the matter is that games are already legislated in Germany and Australia to some extent; Great Britain is testing out the waters and other countries have varying degrees of censorship. What is good though is that the longer groups like the ESA can postpone the inevitable the better. Politicians rarely go against a vocal older constituency, but legislation is coming even if it only focuses on minors. So what do we do?

Well self-regulation helps wonders, support the ESA. It doesn’t mean that will stop the government but it will likely keep out the FCC. We might not like it, but the ESA is much more for us than the government ever will be. Pay attention to politics when it comes to gaming; don’t let those incompetent hacks in Washington mess with your games. Take it seriously. Yes I know, most of these laws are just to get local and national attention for a politician, but the Supreme Court is taking them seriously, so we’d better watch carefully. Lawsuits are great when they’re not frivolous and pointless. To have the legal community take us seriously we have to take ourselves seriously, so let’s stop with the nonsense lawsuits. Scientific studies come out all the time about the benefits of gaming in one form or another, write to your local newspapers, get the word out. People can be swayed. If we tell them games aren’t bad they’ll start questioning when someone tells them they are. Be proactive, play games and have fun.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Next Big Thing

We’re all guilty of it, whether we admit it or not; the grass always looks greener on the other side. The last few days the talk of the town, so to speak, has been on Elder Scrolls Online. It’s the next big thing they say, the third great MMO of the decade after SWTOR and Guild Wars 2; what it really is, however, is one great big hype.

It’s amusing really, not a week ago they were singing the praises of Guild Wars 2 like it was mana from heaven, all the more amusing because most of them wouldn’t have given the first Guild Wars the time of day. And of course five months ago it was The Old Republic. Writers like gamers, can sometimes be caught up in the possibilities and be blinded by hope. I suppose it’s not a bad thing, Hope is one of the great things about Mankind; the hope for a brighter tomorrow. It’s funny though for all the good cheer about this announcement, even over the booing from those who feel Bethesda has bitten off more than it can chew, no one is asking the simple questions. How can a studio known for buggy launches, tepid combat, and weak tea story hope to make a good MMO? It’s not an easy question to ask, instinctively people want to believe that good things will happen but this is huge risk for a company that is fiercely independent. This game will likely be fairly good, but it is highly unlikely it will be what everyone wants it to be, for no such consensus exists.

In our rush to jump ship from one game to another, more realistic expectations could go a long way into softening the blow when a game doesn’t become exactly as we envisioned it, a dream it was never going to become anyways.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Rise of the Gaming CEO

We’ve all heard it, the outrageous statement made that defies common sense and a firm grasp of reality. We used to just laugh, they were science nerds who had made it big, or inventors who didn’t have a good grasp of public relations; but in this new age we have a new breed of them, we call them the Gaming CEO. Bobby Kotick, Ray Muzyka, and others are now the heads of billion dollar companies; but there’s just one problem they still make statements that would be best left on the playground.

Recently the heads of the companies, who make two of the premier FPSs, or First Person Shooters, Call of Duty and Battlefield got into a screaming match. EA and Activision Blizzard are massive companies that compete on many areas of the gaming arena. Activision had a much published meltdown when it lost nearly the entirety of the studio that created its billion dollars a year Call of Duty franchise, Infinity Ward, and the creative heads left Activison and created a new studio under the EA umbrella. Activison came under fire for what was seen as a supreme lack of long term vision. It was the latest in a long line of high profile franchises that had been overproduced and fizzled into nothing. Guitar Hero, Tony Hawk, and even smaller franchises like Spyro and Crash Bandicoot had been laid to rest. Many people considered the latest debacle with Infinity Ward to be another series that would soon follow. And while the franchise appears to still be strong as ever, a lengthy court battle is still ongoing. EA had a much publicized PR nightmare of its own when horrendous working conditions at its major studios were critiqued by a spouse of one of its employees. Business tends to consider the bottom line and so in many ways much of this can be tossed off as business practices for better or worse are the usual way of doing business. However, what aren’t normal are the comments of these highly paid CEOs.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Almighty Comment Section

I’ve been noticing it for a while and I feel it’s time to stare the elephant in the room eye to eye. The comment section in articles has devolved into fanboi-r-us. Maybe it wasn’t intentional, maybe it was over the course of years or decades but the internet seems to made us all rather over muscled. When I went to college we used to say that when a person had enough alcohol in themselves they thought they were invincible, they had drunk muscles. These days it seems the internet serves the same function. Which isn’t to say gamers are the only ones guilty of this breach of manners; but its self-evident to any that frequents gaming sites that discussions of any kind on a non-moderated forum is impossible. And I suppose that speaks about something of us as a race, possibly there is something good in all of that, but the hard cold reality is that hardcore gamers have turned to rather virulent speak to hammer whatever point they seek to champion these days. If that wasn’t enough it has become alarmingly obvious that gamers aren’t even thinking enough to bring forth their own opinions. Time and time again I’ve read comments that not only are erroneous but it’s quite obvious that the person writing them has cribbed them either in part of entirely from other sources; which is to say gamers aren’t even speaking for themselves.

A friend reminded me of the scene from Good Will Hunting when the facetious grad student is parroting straight from books he’s read or studied and Matt Damon’s character calls him out on it, in this at least the student is knowingly plagiarizing another person’s work as his own, often times gamers seem completely unaware of their own deeds. I was skimming through a discussion about Tera and Guild Wars 2, the discussion was pro-GW2 and as such was basically preaching to the choir as the forum was for Guild Wars 2 fans. While both games are seeking to change how we play MMOs, it’s clear to anyone who watches five minutes of combat that Tera is the clear winner. The person had to concede that if only as a token to the other side but at the same time tried to shunt the conversation away from that point through misinformation and obfuscation. What there was, however, was the air of familiarity in the arguments, things I had read before.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Story or Combat?

I just finished playing the open beta of Tera Online. Last week I played say ten hours of Witcher 2, and I am stumped. While I enjoyed my time in Witcher 2, I was struck by how strongly I disliked the combat. The story was all well and good but the combat was irritating at best, and downright annoying at worst. I suppose certainly after Mass Effect 3 and its rather impressive combat I should be expecting a bit of a letdown. But here’s the thing I just finished playing Tera Online as well. See now Tera has combat to die for. It’s quick and agile and standing around clicking tab bars is the fastest way to see a sign asking you to pull your head out of your… well at least something asking you where you want to resurrect your character. And I was bored to tears, the combat was excellent and I couldn’t quit fast enough; the combat was the best I’ve ever seen in a MMO but its story was like being warped back to vanilla WoW. And there’s the rub, on one game combat made me lose interest and yet on another game the lack of story brought me to tears. So I ask, what matters most; story or combat?

I played Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and I was struck by the fact that the combat no matter how sweet couldn’t hide the fact that the story bored me to tears. And people come on its not 1999, we can have fully voiced heroes; it’s not the end of the world. I like to read, I’ve said that before, but in a video game having the hero never speak is such a killjoy. There is something about having your hero, your avatar, speak that completely changes the game experience; it makes it great in a form that is unique to games.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Value of the First Impression

It's a natural thing for humans, for all animals for that matter, to put a lot of stock in their first impressions. It's not entirely surprising; sometimes life and death is decided in only a few seconds. The deer decides whether to stay still or run from the wolf, as does the antelope from the cheetah, even humans have fight or flight responses; they all depend on the first impression.

In the month of April I played four games in particular after the excellence that was Mass Effect 3; The Old Republic, Witcher 2, Tera, and Diablo III. Every game came up wanting for one reason or another; Republics' story wasn't as deep, Witcher 2's combat was a tad wonky, Tera's story was non-existent, and Diablo III was just a shade weaker than expected. Those were all my first impressions. Then came Guild Wars 2, a game lauded for its combat, and I was unimpressed. I found it wanting versus the brilliance of Tera's combat and it made me pause. Earlier in the week I had been sure that I wasn't going to play Tera based on the fact that other than its combat I was bored, sure it doesn't do anything wrong but it didn't feel like it would be enough. When I went to play the Guild Wars 2 beta I realized that my first impression of the game, while not complimentary shouldn't be enough to stop me from playing some more, in this I realized that I had to give Tera more time to pass or fail. 

Still it made me think, so much of life based on our first impressions. With MMOs' we usually get five or ten years to go back and see if we were wrong, but games are different; so to is life. How many times have I not done something, or traveled down a road based on the first impression. It's something to ponder, time is precious to us its true and yet how much sweeter would life be if we took the time to take a second impression or a third.