Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Good vs. Evil and a Rant on Sandbox gaming

More and more games that are released lately come out of their developers hands being praised about all the choices you can make and how you get to affect this and change that and it all boils down to the classic concept of good vs. evil. God vs. The Devil, Rocky vs. Ivan Drago, Gamestop vs. my bank account. Ok, I understand that our gaming technology has come a long way from the wonders of the 1980’s but here’s the thing. Just because we CAN make an abundance of choices in a video game doesn’t mean that we SHOULD.

Hey look I developed this game; it’s a massive open world where you get to make all the choices your character comes across. You can: work, be a bum, go on dates, drive around, go to the park, fight people, rob a bank. It’s called “Your Shitty Life” and it’s in stores now. Now I’m not going to get on a soapbox and tell a person to stop playing games and go live life, that’s not what I’m getting at. What I’m saying is I already have an open world full of choices and moral dilemmas; I don’t want another one with loading screens.

Granted the choices you’re faced with in a Fable or GTA are drastically different from the ones in your day to day life, well hopefully, I know I myself have a habit of using the vulgar thrust expression at passers by. But the reason we all got into games in the first place was to escape the monotony of our daily lives and enjoy shooting aliens or slashing hobbes without worrying about the moral quandary of whether or not the fight will leave a poor hobbe orphan crying out for his slain hobbe parents making you feel like a complete bastard for trying to enjoy your game.

Also, games that give players a choice between good and evil tend to shed light into an area of my psyche that frankly I’d rather not know about. Ok, sure in GTA when you jump the curb and take out a family of tourists it makes you giggle like a child on Christmas Morning but when games start wagging their digital fingers at you and give you +10 douche bag points it makes you stop and think that “wow… I’m a jerk.” Not to keep picking on poor Fable 2 but why would I want a game where my digital child (a product of a bad in game decision after a night of in game drinking) cries at me for not being around the house because I’m too busy working all the time? This is awful in real life; I don’t want this polluting my video game escape from life. I’d rather the game make me have the kid and remove my choice in the matter, then when I come home the kid turns into a giant bat demon and I have to fight him for sweet epics.

I think I’ve longed since drifted from my initial topic so long story short: no more games with choices. I miss linear style level based gameplay.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Classic games: To download or not to download

So those of us on the inside of cutting edge technology have caught rumors of this new thing that’s slowly gaining popularity called “internet” and if I had to guess, I’d say it’s going to be huge. Now how does this affect gamers you ask? Well there’s patching which I’ve already talked about, but then we have entire game downloads. Now granted in a perfect world this would be reserved for new independent releases like World of Goo or Braid the fact is, it’s much easier to take a game your company developed twenty years ago and slap level-based achievements on it and go “look new downloads.”

So ok, when it comes to re-released classic games for download you pretty much have two target markets.

The first is new gamers who weren’t around for the days of painstakingly blowing into NES cartridges hoping that they saved your magic sword that you spend all weekend getting instead of going outside with your friends which of course got deleted because your brother didn’t hold down reset when he powered off the console. (Hypothetically speaking, that’s in no way based on anything that happened in my own pathetic childhood) So this market is I think the tougher of the two to sell to since you’re trying to sell them on games that don’t look as good, aren’t as long and only consist of two buttons. Basically, I can’t imagine any 10 year old gamers out there choosing to download side scrolling classics like Super Mario Bros 3 when they weren’t there to remember that game making its explosive debut in The Wizard. (Not surprisingly one of my favorite movies) More than likely this market will choose to download an endless stream of map packs for whatever “Big Cliché Guy Shoot Fest” titles are new at the moment.

Your other market as I see it is the old, jaded, “you kids don’t know what it was like back in the day” pricks like myself. Oh when I think back to the days of waiting in line for arcade cabinets just to deposit my 50 cents and die in a minute and a half my heart grows three times its size. Or the hours spent with that old trusty grey NES box slaving over games with a finite number of lives and no save feature forsaking meals and sleep just to beat games in one sitting otherwise losing hours of progress in Battletoads. So me and my kind who are trying to reclaim our lost childhoods as desperately as possible we’re what I would say are the better market for these downloads. I recently joined the Wii crowd and merrily skipped down nostalgia lane whistling the Megaman boss screen music as I went through the Virtual Console game listing. After blurting out the phrase “Boogerman! A Pick and Flick Adventure! YES!” I came to a few realizations. First of which is that I’ve clearly made poor life choices, and second is that “are these games even good?” Ok so maybe I spent too much time playing games as a kid instead of learning actual skills, that goes without saying. But did I enjoy these games because of my age/circumstances or were they honestly good? Now granted I can still (and do) sit down and bang out Super Mario World happy as can be but more often than not when I play a classic game I’m left feeling like the magical curtain covering a small part of my childhood was pulled back to reveal a staggering display of mediocre-ness. The more classic games I spend my lazily earned money on and clog up my rapidly filling hard drive with the more I’ve come to realize that ok maybe these games were good for their time but now I just can’t get into it. Even now when I get into my ultra gamer-nerd mode I have a very hard time sitting down and playing these games. Maybe I’m just spoiled now with my new-fangled graphics and complex control schemes but games like Splatterhouse, Toejam and Earl and Star Tropics are better left to my memory than putting them to the test now.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Why Video Game movies suck…

By Redd (courtesy http://www.magmablizzard.blogspot.com/)

Anyone who’s not an accountant for any of the major studios (or Uwe Boll) can tell you that the quality of Video Game based films is not something most people look forward to in a film (B-movie or otherwise). While there are several people (like Roger Ebert) who claim that video games are not a part of the art community or art in general, the real reasons for this diminished quality in video game adaptations deals more with the age of the video game medium itself.

Think about it, how long did it take to make a good Batman film that was true to the tone of an actual Batman comic book?

How long did it take to make a film like The Dark Knight that was actually true to the source material? Well, it would be seventy years if you count from the beginning of the Batman comics as a whole, or twenty years starting from The Dark Knight Returns.

The sheer critical failure of video game related films deals more with the esoteric quality of video games in the psyche of older film executives who often are uninformed of the content of the video games they are adapting.

Video games perceived in the media are the modern day equivalent of an old episode of Dragnet attempting to negatively portray drug use by showing a “juvenile delinquent” attempting to climb a wall as a side effect of “the uppers”. The sheer uninformed status of these directors and studio executives is the main cause for the abuse most of these video game franchises receive.

To use comic books as another example, look at the successes of films like 300 and Sin City and how the respected directors felt about the source material. Both Zack Snyder and Robert Rodriguez really attempted to treat the source material with respect and their films flourished due to that integrity, which is ironic, considering the changes Frank Miller made to his interpretation of The Spirit.

This is not to say that video games as a whole should not be changed for the better. A lot of video games do not really have any character development due to the dependence on the player’s interaction with the game’s characters and a good screenwriter can find a way to develop these characters. But at the same time, if I said I was going to make an adaptation of X-Men that had nothing to do with any of the original comic book characters, and starred Milla Jovovich as a stand alone new main character, I am going to have a film that the respected fanboys and X-Men enthusiasts are going to hate (more than Brett Ratner’s film, that’s for sure).

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The trouble with MMO's

So I've been slacking on posting for a few days, mostly because I've been playing Wrath of the Lich King in what little free time I have. So I guess I'll join the rest of the video game playing internet and write about that for a while.

Here's my problem with MMO's. I hate other people. Especially when playing video games because other people are always slower and get stuck in a closet or something. So ok, Lich King came out and I had solo stuff to do for another 10 glorious levels and what a happy little shut-in I was for it. I will say this, Lich King did a good job of making another 10 level grind enjoyable, partly because they made it so easy that any drooling simpleton could bang it out in a few days. Ok so I hit level 80 and then where do you go from there? Dungeons, raids and never-ending grinds of dailies to get to exalted with a dozen different people so you can go "oooo I have 53 different tabards." Now don't get me wrong, during my unemployed days this was a beautiful way to kill an entire day without spending any money but now that I'm a functioning member of the working society I don't have the time to grind out bosses until 4 in the morning. So here's usually the wall that I hit with MMO's:

They're fun games that I enjoy playing, but once you get to the end you really can't play them unless you have the support of other players. Now while dungeon crawling and raids are fun, if you have a bad group it's basically the same as smashing your face against the wall. So most nights this week because I've been stuck hiding in my bedroom with a cold I've attempted at doing some dungeon runs but you spend an hour trying to put a group together, then halfway through someone bails on you, then your tank's phone rings and everyone dies or any number of constant little problems comes up and I'm left aggravating at having played a game for 3 hours and never actually PLAYED anything. Oh well, there's always PVP but I'm pretty sure that if somewhere were to do a modernized version of Dante's Inferno that PVP would be included as one of the layers of hell.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Review: Fable 2

So I may have been a bit biased when Fable 2 was (finally) released this year since Fable 1 still ranks in as one of my favorite games but the massive disappointment my hopes and expectations suffered is almost unmatched in my long history of gaming. Fable 2 descended on me on a rainy evening like the hand of an angel reaching down and tapping me on the shoulder. Then after an hour or so of play that very same angel lost its heavenly glow for a dull earthy brown tiny and kicked me in the crotch as hard as it could.

Ok, I'm willing to look past that 25% of the game is spent staring at loading screens since that was there in Fable 1 as well. But this supposed Holy Grail of "choice based gaming" really seemed like a work in progress. I'll try my best to break this review down into specific rants:

The dog: One of the main selling points for the year before release was man's best friend and all that it would bring to the game. Maybe it was me not paying attention, but my dog never showed me where to go in a non-treasure aspect and played the most minimal role in combat. Ok yes it found every stray bit of treasure and silver key in Albion but where's the fun in that? It's an RPG based around open world exploration and customization. Having my four legged friend show me where every "hidden" bit is takes away any sense of satisfaction from actually finding the treasure on your own. Ok, maybe in Fable 1 it was taxing to slowly walk around graveyards looking to see when the "dig" icon popped up but at least when I found treasure, I felt like I was responsible for it. By the end of the game I came to realize that you could replace the dog with giant red glowing arrows that pointed at all the "hidden" treasure and if you still continued to walk by it the game could just automatically put it into your inventory.

Buying property: "You can own everything in the game" was what we were told. Truth is, you can't. You can own a lot, but not all. I like many others played the pub games and had a massive sum of gold at my disposal before the game hit the shelves so maybe I'm to blame for my lack of enthusiasm here but property and gold were a joke in Fable 2. In every other game where money is a functioning system there's that sense of satisfaction when you finally save up the 20,000 gold to buy the absurd Wooly Mammoth mount that carries vendors on it's back, but in Fable 2 where money is as abundant as Hobbes it's just not a big deal. I never once encountered a piece of property or item that I couldn't just buy instantly in Fable 2. Ok, so maybe you don't start as wealthy as I do, then you slowly buy a property or two and then you pass that magical mark where you own just enough and the money pours in. Same end result of money being a broken system.

Character customization: There's not a whole lot to write here because frankly, there wasn't a whole lot of options on this one. You could be a man or woman and dress them as a pirate, bandit, highwayman or properly dressed noble. That's about it. That and your character will get fat. Very, very fat. Don't try to keep them thin, because it just won't work.

Good vs. Evil: Ok, in Fable 1 you naturally went to the good alignment over the natural course of the game and becoming truly evil was a difficult task that pretty much involved slaughtering entire towns on several occasions. In Fable 2 they made up for this by "balancing" the good/evil swing but my complaint now is that the swing happens far too easily. Do one quest for bandits and eat a piece of red meat and suddenly you're the devil himself. I found that the good/evil meter as well as the corrupt/pure meter were always pinned at one extreme or the other and bringing them back to the middle was exceptionally hard.

Story: Ok, the actual game itself. Short, very, very short. The world itself feels small and the separate zones feel very disconnected. Even with doing as many side quests as I could get my evil little bandit mitts on I still finished this game up in under 10 hours. The combat was boring and felt very repetitive. I played a skill/will hybrid so maybe strength was were the fun combat happened but as the game progressed I grew more and more annoyed when having to fight. Overall the game was incredibly easy and I never died once, yet still ended up a frightening scarred mess despite normally sticking to ranged combat. The storyline for the most part was good, but felt a little forced at times. I won't get into any spoilers but the ending was my biggest complaint of the game. Basically the ending is the story stops and you get a small conversation that more or less explains that downloadable content is coming.

I can best sum up this game by it's ending, and that is "surprisingly uneventful." The game knocks on the door of greatness but when greatness answers the game giggles and runs away leaving a flaming bag of dog poop on the doorstep for greatness to have to hose off its shoes.

Friday, December 12, 2008

To Patch Or Not To Patch

With the internet taking over every last facet of human life patching has become the new golden goose to video game developers. Now here's where my problem comes in. Growing up in the age of arcades having 20 person lines for games that you couldn't get at home and blowing into a Nintendo cartridge for half an hour to try and hopefully not have your magic sword erased in Legend of Zelda I came to learn that when a game came out that was it. Forever. Maybe years later if a sequel came out you'd get improvements to the gameplay and you'd get to see your favorite character return and conquer new levels and villains. I for one am still waiting for a sequel to River City Ransom but that's another rant altogether. (I'd like to dream it'd be called River City Ransom 2: The College Years) Anyways back to my original point, patching. Originally developers employed "testers" who "tested" the game to make sure it worked and was fun to play before it came out. These types of people are still employed but I'm convinced that they put as little effort into their day jobs as I do. More and more games are being rushed out to meet deadlines or compete with other releases about mysterious loners who can't remember their past but stumble upon an ancient destiny or some other cliched theme and the focus is more on the business end of things rather than releasing a quality product. Now I understand that gaming is and always has been a business but it's a bad business practice to release products that quite frankly are not finished. Just look at the difference an extra year would have made for the release of Windows Vista. But in rides the internet on a chariot made out of 0's and 1's to save us all in the form of a patch. Now ok, I understand that patching is a useful and important tool and at the end of the day I supposed I am pro-patching but humor me and let me rant.

Let's look at the MMO Vanguard. This is a game that has been out for over a year now and is just starting to finally look like a finished game. For those of you not in the know Vanguard is your standard fantasy MMO with swords, dragons and elves. Nothing ground breaking but a fun game. It took over 6 months for them to release a patch that would install into the game the animations and designs for helmets. Yes, helmets. You know those things you wear on your head that any person who plays an MMO contributes to the majority of your appearance. (that and shoulders) They were in the game in terms of names and stats and so forth but you couldn't see them. So they finally get patched in in very basic forms and slowly over several months became more and more detailed with more and more patching. This is an example of bad patching.

Another example of bad patching for me is downloadable content. Ok, yes I'm a sucker for it too and have spent more money on downloadable tracks for Rock Band than I did on the game itself but here's my complaint. Finish the game, make all the levels and maps you want and then release it. Don't release an RPG (Fable 2, Mass Effect and Fallout 3 come into mind) and then a few months after finishing it release an extra world or level or quest campaign for me to go droolingly into the XBox Live Marketplace and spend my Microsoft points (which I frequently forget translate into real money) on them and then play them and think to myself "this should logically fall into place in the middle of the game somewhere" since my overpowered end of the game character can power through and everything found in it is of zero value to me at that point. To me it's like putting deleted scenes into a dvd. It's something that either wasn't finished or good enough to put into the final product and rightfully shouldn't come at an extra cost later on down the road when greedy patch-happy developers want to keep rehashing existing products rather than work on something new.

Review: Left 4 Dead

So anyone who knows me in real life, which 99.999% of you don't, knows that I'm not a big multiplayer guy. Even when I log days at a time playing World of Warcraft I prefer to quest alone than group up because when I was 12 I was picked last in gym class and it's kept me from developing the necessary social skills needed to truly enjoy multiplayer games by barking out comments about people's mothers into a headset and making my in-game character squat up and down on players I just killed. With that in mind I went into Left 4 Dead thinking that while I never play games online I certainly do love zombies and Valve had left a sparkly, shiny golden taste in my mouth called Portal I figured lets give it a shot. I instantly loaded up the single player game and played through the first two campaigns without and real issues or stumbling blocks and figured out the game pretty quickly. In a nutshell it's: Go from point A to point B and shoot zombies who for some reason have magical zombie powers. There's no plot, there's no character development, there's 6 guns and that's about it. So two hours in all I could think was how repetitive it felt and couldn't imagine myself actually replaying any of these levels more than two or three times. But then an angel from Valve sensing my fear that I wasted 60$ reached down in the form of an xbox live invite to join a game my buddies were in. Add a headset and my friend screaming in my ear that he was "being eaten in the corn field" and suddenly the game took a sharp 180 degree turn. 5 hours later I realized I had forgotten to eat dinner and the batteries in my headset were dead. Ok, fast forward to the next day with round two of the single player mode. Not even ten minutes later I turned it off because it was either keep playing that or smack my head against the wall for something different to happen. As a single player game it best resembles the typical zombie movie feel that they were going for. I love zombie movies but there's a lot of them that while fun, you can't watch more than once. That's the single player of Left 4 Dead. Fun but there's little reason to revisit it. Multiplayer however still hasn't gotten old to me. My growing concern though is without a solid single player mode the game will only have as much of a lasting appeal as long as my friends are still playing it. Random online games are good and all but it's only a matter of time before an 8 year old yells at me for doing the melee attack on the witch for shits and giggles and calls me a "noob" and that I should be raped in hell by the devil and when that happens, well that's when letting the xbox live gods decide my fate comes to an abrupt end because I have the patience of an ADD child after eating an entire box of count chocula.

An introduction

Hello and welcome to my blog in which I'll be reviewing as many games as my tragically small bank account will allow me as well as long-winded articles about my own thoughts and opinions about video games and their industry in general. I have been a lifelong gamer for nearly 30 years and an incredibly critical person. Basically I love video games, I play them, I read about them, I talk about them, I read about people who make them and well you get the idea. Long story short there are framed posters for games in my bedroom so that should give you some idea to the depths of my gaming-nerdom. My issue however is the growing amount of "reviews" that either professional or amateur are nothing more than fan-boy rants in an attempt to fit in and be accepted in the ever-growing gaming world. So in that line of thinking I've decided to carve out my own little corner of the internet where I pick apart games as critically as I possibly can. Not because I'm a negative bitch (well I am) but because in my opinion, a reviewer who points out every irritating flaw is far more useful that someone who spouts on about how Halo revolutionizes gaming and then you buy it and go "oh it's just another game where I shoot aliens with a laser." (for the record I am tragically a Halo fan-boy and celebrated "Halo 3 day" by not leaving my room until I finished the game 8 hours later) So here it is, I don't really have an overal goal for this blog in terms of a posting schedule or using "drafts" to make any of my thoughts remotely cohesive but I hope you enjoy it. If not, well you probably stopped reading a long time ago.