Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Hive Mind

I'm not sure what will happen with this blog in the future. I hardly come close to posting enough to justify it's existence so in response to my own lazyness I've joined up with the blogging collective that is http://systemlinkblog.blogspot.com/

So go there and support that site. If you do I'll buy you a pony ride.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Bionic Commando: Swinging Headfirst Into Loading Screens

A long running joke among my gaming friends is that a game’s quality can be measured by one simple fact. Can your character jump? If not, move along, nothing to see here. However, in the 80’s there was a game where you couldn’t jump despite being an elite commando but instead had an arm replaced by a robotic grappling hook of an arm. Its lack of jumping was more than made up for by the fact that in the end you killed Hitler. Sure they may have called him something else but we knew better and let’s be honest, any game where you kill Hitler is a fun game.

So here we are in 2009 and our green suit wearing mechano-arm friend is back. This time around he has one of the poorest character designs I’ve seen in recent times. As the player you really shouldn’t be rooting against your own character but his awkwardly flowing dreadlocks and cheesy one liners left me rooting for the bad guys who through a pretty thin plot are the bionic commando’s own bionic brethren. The game obviously centers around your bionic limb and using that to swing around in frantic motion blurred excitement in a world that resembled New York City in the movie I Am Legend. The arm works well with the targeting system but after a while gets a little repetitive. The random floating minefields in the sky that only serve the purpose to give you grappling points get old fast. Seeing a little diversity would have been nice. To dumb down anything that might have resembled a challenge they make your character invincible to any fall damage because he’s wearing steel boots. Yup… steel boots. That’s the only explanation offered up for why your character can survive a 40 story drop. Personally, I’d like to have seen a height cutoff point where a fall from anything over it would kill you. Up until the end of the game the swinging mechanic never really had that sense of urgency to it. Swinging is fun but when you fall just you just climb back up and start over, I felt the game could have benefited from a little more risk in falling. However, in an attempt to keep you on track and prevent you from doing anything resembling exploring there’s radiation hazards. Go too far into radioactive areas and you’re done for. Is there any way to differentiate these areas from safe ones? Nope, none at all. Radiation also apparently stops like an invisible wall in the future which never sat right with me. Swing onto the wrong rooftop or just simply, too high into the air and the radiation warning pops up. All in all, a very awkward and poorly designed way of keeping you on the right path.

One of the first things I liked though was the loading screen. Seems like an odd thing to praise but it was just a floating controller that showed you what the buttons did when you pressed each button. Thankfully I liked the loading screen because in this game you’re going to see it every 5 minutes whether you like it or not. Swing too far the wrong way and blamo! Loading screen. Loading screens are a part of gamer life now and I’ve grudgingly accepted that but they’re so frequent that I expected to see them get a cast of characters mention in the game’s closing credits.

**There’s probably going to be some spoilers for the rest of this review so heads up on that**

For a game that I did enjoy in an overall sense I found the ending to be one of its weakest points. While it is always fun to kill Hitler again even if they are calling him by some other name I just found everything to be very non-climatic. Why does it seem like every game that has a particular mechanic that they force on you throughout the game, in fact, they define the game itself with it, makes you abandon it in the end. Similar to how the last level of Assassin’s Creed had zero stealth involved, the last section of Bionic Commando just had you running through a small enclosed hallway gunning it out with troops to face the last boss. The boss’s reveal a little earlier in the game just left me unhappy. It seemed like an unnecessary ‘surprise twist’ that was only put in the game for the sake of having a twist of some sorts. So throughout the game you’re working towards obtaining this secret government item that they don’t really explain the purpose of, the bad guys get it, you smash into their lab in the end and its only purpose seems to power up a mech-suit of sorts. That’s it, just one little suit that’s not particularly special and gets beaten by something that was a little too close to a quicktime event for my tastes.

When it was all said and done, fun game for the most part but with a terrible script and pointless ending.

Monday, April 27, 2009

You Crazy Kids and Your Mods…

Back in the archaic days of floppy discs and turning to page 42 of the user’s manual to get the authenticity code to convince your PC game to let you past level 2 little fledgling modders crawled out of the primordial ooze to crack open our favorite games and scoop out the sweet juicy insides. Years later we’d enter the Bronze Age of modding and these evolved creatures would use their powers for the good of all gamers and circulate discs of versions of DOOM where all the demons where replaced by Simpsons characters at tradeshows and conventions and all was good in the world. Years later, let’s call it the Iron Age, we’d see games being played online and now people were starting to develop their own levels and maps and still, all was relatively good. You see, these mods didn’t take control of the games from players rather they served to entertain us and give us new ways in which to play the games. Now that we’ve entered the Space Age of gaming (that’s the last of those analogies I promise) mods have in a SkyNet fashion become self aware and now seek to challenge our position on the gaming ladder as the “player” of the game and are moving towards our extinction.

Ok, that may be a little extreme but still, I don’t care for the current state of modding and I’ll explain why as to how it pertains to games like World of Warcraft. I’ve been playing WoW since its launch and as soon as they started emerging something felt inherently wrong about this new breed of mods hitting the streets. I’ll admit I dabbled in a few at first, “gateway” mods if you will that were meant to get me hooked at a young age and usher me into the harder stuff but mod after mod I began to see a trend emerging that every mod in some way took some level of control of the game away from me, even the seemingly innocent ones where actually hidden culprits lurking in the shadows. Take for example a mod that calculates what gear works best and what pieces to pair up with each other. Sure it seems all fluffy and sweet but let’s face it, isn’t that your job as the player to know what works and what doesn’t? I believe so. Back in my younger days of WoW I rolled a tank (if you don’t play MMO’s and don’t know what that is I’m not taking the time to explain it, sorry) in a high end raid guild and did so rather successfully completely mod-free. After months of tanking and successfully downing bosses I pulled back the curtain and revealed to my crew that I didn’t use any mods to play the game to which a very angry guild leader felt the need to chastise me for not using tools that will help me play the game. I was quick to point out that the evidence was there given my track record that mods didn’t make the player, but rather their own skill and understanding of the game. The truth was I had to have a better idea of what was going on in front of me than my guild mates because I didn’t have any add-ons serving as training wheels.

Now years later I still play (although not as a tank) and am still proudly mod-free. In fact, I haven’t been involved in a raid in several months where I wasn’t one of the top three people on the damage charts.

**side note, I don’t have a damage meter installed because I consider that a mod **

A few nights ago we were getting ready for a raid and I was listening to some guild mates discussing their character class. One of them suggested to the other to go online and find the “correct” way to assign his character’s skill points and a particular mod that tells you what moves to use and when. At this point ol’ Uncle Fuzzy (fuzzy being the prefix of my character’s name) decided to step in and offer up my two cents. A mod that told you what to press when was something that frankly I found disgusting. Why would you want to willingly apply something that essentially prevents you from the playing the game yourself? Truth be told, you could train a monkey to respond to cues to press certain buttons at the correct times and that’s what these players are to me. Let’s not forget folks, it’s a video game. It’s something you play for fun and not something you should be looking for shortcuts on that will play the game for you. If you were playing an FPS would you use a mod that reloaded your gun for you? Or how about a Ryu fireball spammer mod so you don’t have to be bothered with that pesky issue of pressing buttons and holding onto a controller during Street Fighter sessions?

Essentially, real gamers play the games themselves.


Last night after posting this I healed my first raid (10 man) free of mods and while it certainly involved a lot of fast clicking on my part, mostly due to being new at healing, it was a success and there wasn't a single death. Further proof that mods are not necessary and in my opinion, make for lazy players.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Look Back at Super Punch Out

So in my boredom this past week I dusted off my Nintendo Wii and browsed through its downloadable titles with as much intent to purchase anything as someone wandering into the Mac Store on their lunch break and playing with IPhones. However my eyes lit up as I came across Super Punch Out and raced for my wallet to make my purchase. To say I have fond memories of this game is an understatement. I love this goddamned game on a level that I hoped and prayed would stand the tests of time. Now I know that I’ve badmouthed retro games as downloadable purchases in the past but hey, exceptions can be made.

Like most video games of my youth (and by “youth” in this instance I mean college) it’s shocking how much of the knowledge about this game I’ve been able to retain over the years. In fact I was able to cruise through the game without being knocked down until Super Macho Man, the tanned bastard. This game incorporates much of what I still look for in games: A rising difficulty level, memorization of sequences and patterns, fast reflexes to specific cues and misleading Asian men with large sticks.

Even by my ultra-picky 2009 standards I still have no real issues with this game apart from its length. Only having 16 other fighters to compete against was at the time, and still is, a let down and the difficulty level on the first two circuits is a joke. For me the real game was and still is trying to beat the last circuit with a 4-0 record. Something I could easily do years ago but now I have to retrain my thumb pugilists and get them back into fighting shape.

Friday, April 10, 2009

I promise I’m not lazy, I’m just stubborn

My postings here at Epic Fail Gaming have been pretty sparse lately and I just wanted to take a second and address that. One of my guidelines with this blog is to only post 100% original content. Not that there’s anything wrong with reposting video game news or other stories, I just feel that there are plenty of other, and better, sites to get that information. I’ve been pretty busy lately and pretty broke so my gaming has slowed down but I promise as soon as I have something to write about you’ll see it here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad (bloody) World

So similar to my reasoning for picking up Okami for the Nintendo Wii, I was very excited over the release of Madworld and ran to my local store excited like the bloodthirsty schoolgirl that I am to pick up my copy on its release. My approach to the Wii and its games is I’m really only interested in games that approach its hardware limitations from a different perspective. Rather than making games that simply fall short of their competitors but instead choose to use those limitations to produce a unique experience, which Madworld does as deftly as its use of the word “fuck.”

Madworld is a perfect example of a game that exists on one layer but does it very well. Don’t bother looking under the surface of Madworld for a deeper meaning because frankly it isn’t there. Not only does the game exist on one layer but it celebrates it in all of its blood stained glory. Never once in the course of this game will you enter a new level (and yes there are “levels” so if you’re a whiney open world fan boy keep on moving) do you wonder “well I wonder what I’ll have to do here?” Every level is the same, kill everything, earn points and then go kill a boss. Not to say that’s not an enjoyable time, but there’s not a lot of mystery involved either. However, in every level I found myself, dare I say, giddy over the mini-game which takes a classic element and adds a level of comedic violence to it that I’ll more than likely laugh at no matter how old I get. There’s just something genuinely pleasing on a primitive level about hitting people with a bat into a giant dart board. Unfortunately as the game progresses you repeat several of these games and it really hindered what would have otherwise been the best element of the game.

Combat however, is nothing special. Button mash and wiggle your Wiimote like you were a 14 year old home alone on a Saturday night and then you get to engage in a series of constantly repeating sequenced events where you mash buttons and wiggle your controller to perform “finishing” moves that are funny the first 2 dozen times but then seem to lose their flavor by the time you’ve broken the neck of the same looking steam punk hooligan 80 times in a row. The game does reward your imagination when it comes to slaughter by providing you with an abnormal assortment of items in which to dispatch your mute opponents. For the first few levels I indulged my inner pain artist side and tried to invent the most elaborate methods possible of destroying my enemies and eagerly looked forward to the new methods that the game would surely introduce as it progressed. I looked and looked and looked and eventually the credits started rolling. Basically, the tricks of the trade that you get in the first level are 90% of what you’ll get right up until the end. However, I don’t think any of us will ever look at dumpsters the same way again after playing this game.

Ok… I’ve stalled long enough, time to talk about the visuals. It’s a black and white comic book style of animation with an abundance of red mixed in. It’s very engaging at first and then you realize that the flat style of animation coupled with a lot of colors and shading makes it very hard to distinguish between objects. However like most things you get acclimated to it relatively quickly, or at least I did because I’m Captain Super-Gamer Awesome Man.

My favorite element was the commentators. Two foul mouthed broadcasters watch your every move and talk about you and your blood sport of choice using every possible conception of curse word pairings imaginable. Unfortunately for longer fights you end up hearing the same loop of lines over and over again to the point where you mute them until it’s finished.

All in all I enjoyed Madworld. I don’t really know what it has for replay value yet to be honest but I think it’s a great foot in the door for Nintendo to get into the more mature market.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Ryan Plays With Himself

I made this as a test to learn how to do some fancy editing magic but it shows my undying love for Rock Band.  Enjoy...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Another Pointless Survey Of Sorts:

The decision for, people who aren't completionist nerds like myself and need to own every possible system, to buy a new console can be a pretty expensive and tough choice. But if you're reading this blog then you've probably bought one at some point. So my question is, what was the game that made you spend hundreds of dollars on a console. Chances are when you purchased your new console, if you're broke like me anyways, you could only get one game at that moment. So what was it?

For me they were:
Nintendo (original): Super Mario Brothers (it was included with the console but it was the only game we had for a while)
Sega Genesis: Sonic The Hedgehog (included) ToeJam and Early (purchaed)
Sega CD: Mad Dog McCree
Super Nintendo: Super Mario World (included) Street Fighter 2 (purchased)
Nintendo 64: Wrestlemania 2000
Playstation: (I bought a 2nd hand modded console and don't think I actually 'purchased' a game for months until I bought Tony Hawk Pro Skater)
Playstation 2: Onimusha
XBox: Halo
Nintendo Gamecube: Starfox Adventures
XBox 360: Call of Duty 2 and Dead or Alive 4
Nintendo Wii: Okami

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mirror’s Edge: What’s So Bad About Taking the Stairs?

In a bland wasteland of sequels and uninspired games I was actually very excited when I played the demo for Mirror’s Edge. While the concept of rooftop platforming certainly isn’t anything new it had the potential to offer a fresh and innovative look on the stagnant genre. I played through the demo on several occasions and honestly enjoyed it. Once I got the full version of the game the realization slowly sunk in that the full game is essentially built on taking the innovative platforming mechanics and control schemes and making you rehearse them for 6 hours. Granted, it’s a fun game, there’s just very little depth to it. Essentially level 1 is get to that roof, here’s some red pipes. Level 2 is get to that roof here’s some red plywood. Level 3, here’s a red pipe over some red plywood now go get on that other roof. I’d hope by now you can piece together what the other levels comprise of.

The first person perspective in a high speed platformer certainly takes some getting used to, not for me obviously because I’m awesome, and anyone prone to motion sickness should probably just avoid this game entirely. Once you’ve gotten the hang of the camera work it actually heightens the experience. In my opinion had this game gone the third person tomb raider route it would have vanished into the already staggeringly large pile of mediocre clones. The camera does force the player to leave a certain amount of the game up to a mixture of chance and the players understanding of how a platformer works. Unfortunately the latter part of that only works if the game is consistent and in that aspect Mirrors Edge misses its landing. I had more than one frustrating moment in this game where I’d wallrun, turn and jump into an object that seemingly appeared identical to every other object I’ve interacted with only to have my poor character fall down to their bustling urban death. One gameplay aspect that I found incredibly refreshing was the encouragement to avoid playing the game like any other first person endeavor. As gamers when we see that first person perspective we’re programmed to look for the nearest gun and shoot until our trigger finger is raw but Mirrors Edge included one of my favorite achievements to date which was to go the entire game without firing a gun but rather, use your somewhat out of character martial arts skills to disarm your police pursuers. I’m still not sure why when these highly trained and often heavily geared cops are chopped by a ninety pound girl do they decide to sit out the rest of the engagement but I’ll just cover my eyes and ears and pretend like I didn’t see that for the sake of moving this review along.

One area where Mirrors Edge leaps before it looks (see what I’m doing with these puns here, clever little writer aren’t I?) is the story. The story is as bland and cliché as they come and could have been cut completely from the game and I don’t think anyone would have minded. For as innovative as they approached their gameplay and esurance.com style cut scenes the developers apparently decided to rehash the same old ‘framed by the faceless corporation’ story that we’ve seen time and time again. Personally, I find a story based around the concept that mail couriers are the greatest threat to society pretty thin. Now bike messengers on the other hand…

The most frustrating aspect of this high speed game whose focus is on constant movement and seamless stunts is just how much of the game is spent inside. Not only spent inside but trapped within the narrow confines of an elevator traveling 40 stories in agonizing real time. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Nobody will ever want real time elevators ever in the history of gaming.

In the end though I did enjoy this game for its conciseness and simplicity and would recommend it for a purchase. But grab it used since it’s playtime is short.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Last Word on Okami

At 29 and a half hours with the last remaining bits of conscious thought that I could find I finally crossed the finish line on Okami and promptly collapsed and dragged my exhausted mind into bed to process this surprisingly layered and vast game.

Finally, I can start playing other games again.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Favorite Games Ever

A common debate amongst me and my friends is what our favorite games of all time are. While I could go on for days about my favorite games in various genres I just hastily put together these six games. Write in and tell me what some of yours are. But give me a reason why, don’t just tell me your favorite game is Mutant League Hockey and not offer up any explanations.

Chrono Trigger: (Super NES) The amount of times I played through this game are staggering, a truly well written, well put together game. I will probably buy a Nintendo DS just for the rerelease of this game.

Legend of Zelda - A Link to the Past: (Super NES) In my opinion the greatest of the Zelda games. I played this game so much that I could beat it in one sitting without any deaths.

Soul Reaver: (Playstation 1) I don’t know why but I truly love this game and wait patiently for the day when the series comes back. Time travel storylines make me happy.

Bioshock: (XBox 360) A true masterpiece in storytelling with interesting combat mechanics. It would be perfect if not for the constant hacking mini game.

Rock Band: (XBox 360) I will never be tired of this game, the greatest party game of all time.

Tony Hawk 3: (Playstation 1) My favorite in the series before it turned to shit. I once won a bet that I could finish this game with 100% completion in under an hour.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cut Scenes: When Video Games Become Movies

Now some of you may or may not know that I enjoy movies. I’m willing to bet that I probably watch more than your average “movie fan” and have on occasion been known to talk in great, and generally angry, detail about various movies. Now with that in mind I’m going to complain about cut scenes. It’s not that I’m against cut scenes, if used correctly they can be a crucial and important part of any game but here’s my issue. At some point, whether it is length of an individual scene or frequency of cut scene occurrences they stop aiding the plot of the game and instead take over in a savage blood coup. Now I know that most of us fear change and at the slightest sight of it we run and hide under our covers and wait for mommy to come in and tell us everything is alright, but let’s face it at this point in video game history we’re at a place where we don’t honestly need cut scenes. Cut scenes apart from acting as a narrative device only have one other function and that is removing the player from the world that the game had more than likely spend a chunk of time trying to draw you into. It’s at the cut scene point where you’re no longer an active participant but rather a passive spectator.

Now, an opening cut scene is somewhat crucial, it helps ground the player on the world they’re entering into and helps establish a place and time. Games that instantly drop you into the action can be jarring, which itself can be an effective narrative tool, but are then usually followed by a cut scene that pulls you out of the game you just got your feet wet in. Sometimes developers try to sugarcoat it and add the word “interactive” to their cut scenes but usually this is only a gimmick packed with busy work to try and trick the player into believing that they’re still actually playing the game. Take for example Assassins Creed; cut scenes gave the players the chance to pay attention to binary code effects in the background rather than the actual dialogue being spoken so they could change get the chance to button mass their way to a different camera angle. Then you have my main problem with cut scenes, when they appear more frequently than the phrase “Hero your health is low” in Fable. We’ve all experienced this game, you’re running your little character around shooting and exploding creatures with glee and whoa, cut scene. Ok we sit through the cut scene and walk down the hallway and what’s that? It’s another cut scene. Ok, we sit through that one and walk up to the guy with the giant arrow on his head saying “COME TALK TO ME” and knock knock:

Who’s there?
Cut scene.
Cut scene who?
Fuck you you’re not playing anymore because it’s another cut scene.

The biggest offender in my opinion is Metal Gear Solid 4. Referring to this as a “game” only applies if you consider the “let’s see who can sit quietly the longest game” (commonly employed by my parents as a child) an actual game. It becomes very clear very early on with Metal Gear Solid 4 that you’re not playing a game, you purchased a movie that on occasion will allow you to control the main character, much like a choose your own adventure book.

In my fantasy utopia where every game is well thought out and beta tested by large chested women cut scenes will go the way of the dinosaur and be replaced by more scripted events. Not to say that every game needs the endless dialogue tree where saying nothing or replying slowly are valid options (Mass Effect comes to mind) to give the player as much input into a scripted scene as possible are necessary but giving the player the feel that even though a scripted event is happening they’re still a part of this world. Bioshock does a fantastic job of storytelling and really only relies on two cut scenes. The first is a brief intro which does a good job of setting up the environment that you’re in, then as the game slowly weans the player into the simulated world you’re privy to witnessing certain scenes that help get across the opening narrative. Shortly thereafter you’re locked in a room as a scripted scene plays out that will never change by way of the player’s actions but because you can still move freely in the locked room it lends a sense of urgency and stress to the scene that is unfolding. The only scripted scene that takes control away from the player blends seamlessly into the game play experience by making it relevant that the player is no longer in control.

Basically, leave movies to Hollywood, let gamers play.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Okami Update

So a ways back I wrote about my (out of character) praise for Okami. I sat down to play some more this weekend and approached what I thought, for the second time, to be the logical conclusion of the game only to sit through a cut scene and find myself staring at my godly wolf character sitting back on the screen awaiting my instructions to move forward into the next "mission." I'd like to preface my next statement with the fact that my entire time spent playing this game has been full of constant progression, there's no Final Fantasy-esque level grinding for hours or anything of that nature. With that said I have passed the 24 hour mark on my playtime and I am at a loss for words. This is long by PC RPG standards. I am now viewing Okami more as a marathon to which I am forced to press onward in, not for the desire to finish because I truly am enjoying this game, but because a game of this length and depth in storytelling deserves to be finished. I've rarely had a game tire me out (note that does not mean "bore me into not playing) and when I finally cross Okami's finish line I may collapse onto the floor in a heap of exhausted satisfaction much like I did into my friend's living room wall after I collapsed off of the drum throne after finishing the 8 song "metal marathon" set list in Rock Band.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Dear News Media: I Play Video Games and I’m not a terrorist

Now a major pet peeve of mine, apart from not writing a new article in over a week, is the need that us as a society have to scapegoat high profile targets as quickly as possible in the even that anything goes wrong no matter how unjustified it may be. Anyone who considers themselves a “gamer” more than likely already knows where I’m going with this and probably shares my opinion. If you’re not a “gamer” then I have no idea why you’re reading this and I’ll wait for you to leave.

Ok, I think they’re gone and we can continue. I’ve been playing games my entire life in one form or another so I’ve only seen this trend grow over the years as video games have become more of a mainstream enterprise. I remember being a young nerd at the age of 12 and staring wide eyed and slack jawed at a bright shiny new cabinet in the arcade called Mortal Kombat and despite its poor spelling I knew I was witnessing something big that would have a profound impact on our society. Soon thereafter I would overhear my parents discussing a video game that they had seen on the news that glorified violence and encouraged kids to kill each other in horrible, bloody spectacles of 16bit glory. They quickly questioned me about the aforementioned game and I gave a performance that to this day rivals Charlton Heston in Ben Hur, and explained to my parents how I did not know that game and would stay far away from its murderous influences. Thankfully my parents did not know what a liar their sweet young boy was and how he had spent every cent he had on that game just the day before. I remember making it a point to listen in on the news when they would discuss that marvelous fighter and my young mind started to make certain connections. The news could be wrong, my parents could be misinformed and I could dive headfirst into all sorts of simulated violence.

Now nearly 15 years later I’m a functioning member of society, I have a clean criminal record, I hold down a steady job and am in a healthy relationship with a girl whose only physical harm comes from the Ninja the Cat. So needless to say that when I hear more and more how video games are the cause of the majority of society’s ills I get a little upset. I’ve gored, dismembered, stabbed, shot, impaled and torn apart literally thousands of species in my gaming over the years and never once felt the need to go and perform these actions. In fact, none of my gaming friends have. So why is it that when a kid shoots up a school or a disillusioned twenty-something shoots up a bar that one of the first places people rush to point their fingers is the video gaming industry. In the wake of a recent shooting one of the first sentences in every article I read was that the person in question was “an avid video gamer” and made it a point to mention that he owned a copy of Grand Theft Auto 4 and Halo 3. Well, who doesn’t? Those two games combined have sold well over 10 million copies so finding one in the home of a suspect isn’t that shocking. To me it’d be very similar to reading an article claiming that “the suspected killer was an avid fan of eating and police reported that a refrigerator and microwave oven were found in his home and at this time no actions are being taken against the nation’s beef industry.” The fact that suspects play video games is always brought into the public eye much quicker and more frequently than issues such as: where did this kid get a gun in the first place or where was a parent? Now, granted I do have a Bachelors Degree in History and therefore more privy to this kind of information but the shocking truth is that neither Hitler, Mussolini nor Napoleon ever owned any type of video game. Not only that but video games didn’t even exist. I know it’s shocking and I’ll allow a moment for you all to process that information. So how is it that violence existed before video games or that devil rock and roll music? Could it be that certain people due to very specific and individual events in their lives led to very specific points where they had to make a choice and maybe because of those very specific things that happened to them they weren’t equipped with the necessary balance and mentality that the rest of us have? No, I’m pretty sure that The Son of Sam was thinking about Frogger.

So long story short, I know it’s too late for that, video games do not create violence. If a person is willing to commit real violence because of the influence of video games than the person in question wasn’t emotionally stable in the first place and it would only be a matter of time before something triggered them whether it be a video game, a movie or just having someone give them a funny look on the street. Which is why the recent road warning sign prank made me laugh. Not the prank itself, or when 200 people told me about it before noon, but the fact that the news media whose normally so eager to jump down the pixilated video game throat completely missed blaming the industry when this was actually for once, the fault of a video game. Now ok, granted if I was a like minded prankster who had access to write whatever I wanted on an electric road warning sign sure, I’d think of something, anything really to say whether it be video game related or not. But for once, an honest to goodness link to a video game in a crime and the media dropped the ball. Shame on you media.. shame.

Friday, January 23, 2009

My First Foray into Gaming Accessories

As my nerd-dom continues to grow exponentially like a lizard exposed to gamma radiation I’m constantly seeking out new and interesting ways to expand on my gaming habits. So due to that and Circuit City liquidating their inventory I found myself the proud owner of my new Microsoft Sidewinder gaming mouse. I’ve never owned a PC gaming peripheral before and have been meaning to check out what all the hype is about. So once I got home I shined with delight as my new mouse’s LED lights glowed like the fires of PC hell and damnation ready to consume my foes. I now had a fearsome new gaming weapon, I would never run out of ammo, I would kill every boss, I could never die, I had an 80$ mouse.

At first I was happy that I had a “customizable” mouse in the sense that I could add or subtract small weights from an inner compartment to adjust the mouse’s weight and heft as well as replace the pads on the bottom to adjust its speed and tension as it moves over my mouse pad but after a couple of days I realized that I really genuinely do not care about those features. It’s a mouse; I will get acclimated to its heft without sending me into a frenzy over not being able to add 10 grams to it. As for the variable sliding pads I couldn’t notice any difference so I just put the black ones on since black is always your most badass option. Following the customization attempts I dug into programming its keys to suit my nerdy purposes. This may be the only time I’ll ever admit something like this but maybe I just don’t understand what the purpose of changing the left and right buttons to be anything other than left and right click? Is there really a need to have your primary button function as the space bar or some other pointless option? So I spent the better part of an hour learning how to set the macros for the only two (out of the advertised five) buttons worth programming and I have to say it’s not the best system. You set them as hotkeys for whatever other keys or commands you want and that’s it. Simple enough really except that the hotkeys that I want when I’m browsing the web are not the hotkeys I want when I’m playing game, or working on Photoshop. And while the concept of having a hotkey on my mouse that dumped my screen instantly to the desktop to hide any potential pornography in case my mother randomly decided to visit my house and lurk outside my window intrigued me, a button like that will only cause me headaches in the middle of a boss fight when suddenly I’m no longer engaging in an epic battle but am staring at my desktop art of Stargate Worlds concept art drawings. Basically what I want is programmable button groups. So I set it to group A and my two hotkeys go to the windows hotkeys, then group B is the gaming hotkeys and so forth. Now the three rapid change buttons the mouse comes with only affect the DPI setting which is nowhere near as useful as cycling between potential hotkey groupings. I change between my DPI settings in a neurotic attempt to justify owning this mouse and every time I do I quickly realize that I don’t need to adjust those settings. That’s never been an issue in the 20+ years I’ve been using computers.

So yeah, I own a “gaming mouse” now and while I have grown to enjoy the feel of it in my hand (that’s what she said) and enjoy it’s LED lights I don’t really understand the draw of “gaming” peripherals. Also, it’s LED lights don’t match the ones on my PC case… it’s embarrassing to be seen in public all mismatched like that.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

User Generated Content vs. Professional Developers

So lately I’ve talked a lot about growing trends in the gaming world such as sandbox gaming and the growing monster that is online play, so today I figured I’d take a pissy little look at another recent development: User Generated Content. Now of these three game mechanics user generated content is by far the newest, well in a mainstream sense. The truly nerdy of us were modding Doom levels back in the day after all. More developers are hopping on this recent bandwagon and to be honest, I don’t much care for it. To me, every time I come across a game whose emphasis is on user generated content I’m left feeling a little ripped off and here’s why. I’m not a professional (paid) developer in any way, in fact I’m paying them to use their game. The notion of paying someone my money for a copy of their game just to have it ask me to design the levels or characters just seems like a slap in the mouth. After all, if I went out to dinner sat down and ordered a delicious cheeseburger just to have the waiter come back to me and hand me a raw meat patty and point me in the direction of the grill I’d be severely unhappy. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m the first to go out into the backyard and fire up the grill and start flipping burgers but sometimes I want to leave it up to the professionals and the same goes for my games.

Yes, I understand that players have been allowed to make their own game content for a long time, the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series has had park creators for a good long while and sure when that came out the bright eyed younger man that I was happily rushed to design my own skate parks and every time I finished and looked at my creation it made about as much sense as an M.C. Escher drawing and any attempt to skate it with my little virtual slacker quickly degenerated into an awkward mash up of bails and getting stuck in corners. And the reason is that I’m not a game developer. I have no training or experience in how to design a level that flows well and is fun to play. Game developers however, are trained professionals who understand these things (in theory, there are a lot of poorly designed games out there) and have people who test these things.

Ok, my main issue isn’t with my own limitations as a completely awful developer because those abominations are confined to my own personal gaming. My issue however comes in now that developers have realized that letting players create their own game environment is a lucrative market and use those player created designs in other gamers experiences. Let’s look at Spore, which on an unrelated note was my biggest disappointed of 2008. Now I had a great time with the creature creator pre-launch designing and constantly refining my creations and I do have to say that my ‘Frogmo’ creatures where a true work of art, but once the game launched it became painfully obvious that not every Spore player was taking the time that I was on my creatures. Ok, before anyone yells at me and leaves mean comments (but please leave comments, I’m a vain man who craves feedback) there were some truly amazing creations that players made on Spore but they were few and far between. For the most part my might Frogmos would go out into their worlds and encounter other player’s creatures which generally looked like penises. Then I’d start making buildings, and find other cities who’s user created buildings looked like penises. Then after attacking penises with spears and then airplanes my Frogmos took to the stars and encountered spaceships… shaped like penises. I think you see where I’m going with this.

Ok, those are at least only aesthetic values in the gaming experience, but what happens when the core gameplay is left up to the player’s imagination. Little Big Planet attempted to answer this and while I’m not saying that Little Big Planet isn’t an interesting game but leaving entire levels up to the players can be a dangerous road to travel. Granted again, some players can spend hours slaving away to design their opus but 99.99% of the time players hastily rush out some poorly put together level, which may or may not be conspicuously shaped like penises, and then upload it. For as much as I’m not a game developer I’m even less of a musician and that’s why I choose to leave music writing to actual musicians, so why then would I want to download a random collection of notes strung together by another user that sounds like a circus staffed by sick cats? Or maybe that’s the new Guns and Roses record that I’m thinking of? Either way, leave the developing to the professionals or limit user generated content to something that isn’t going to directly effect gameplay.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Rare Moment

Now I'm not normally one to be short and concise or blatantly praise a game but fuck it, it's my blog and I'll do what I want.

Kudos to you Clover Studios and your game Okami! I know you've been out for a while and I'm in no way relevant with this but I recently picked you up new for a paltry 25$ and I am a happy gamer. Now I know the Wii gives gamers a hard pill to swallow where it's graphics and hardware can't compete with Sony and Microsoft but your unique take on your artistic design has me entranced each time I turn the game on. Not only that but I'm currently 20 hours into the game and still haven't finished it. Now granted I'm one to explore every last bit and see a game in it's entirety but still even I rarely have that kind of play time by a game's finish. For a game without the need to grind out experience levels for hours on end, you've certainly more than given me my money's worth. And finally, the unique game mechanic of using the paint brush to draw specific characters and symbols to perform various moves is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise environment. Kudos to you my friends.

Ok, I promise my next post will be twice as pissy to make up for this.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Plight of the Lone Player

Now granted if you scroll down you’ll quickly learn that I am an avid World of Warcraft player but to be honest with you 9 out of 10 times I’m one of a rapidly dying breed; the single player. Now ok, for the most part developers still try and throw a bone to us friendless wierdos and include a single player mode. Sure sometimes they may try to hide it and call it “campaign mode” or “story mode” but we all know what it really is: “friendless loner” mode. And I’m fine with that, other people only slow me down as my bulky and often mute main characters run around their worlds shooting and bashing other species for the good of manifest destiny. But over the past few years the internet has rapidly smashed its way into all of our lives and forced us to involve it in every facet of human existence from shopping to masturbation, and so to have video games fallen to it’s mighty force. Multiplayer used to mean “four players” or the ever nerdy “lan party” but in both of those scenarios you were actually in the room with your fellow players. Now online gaming has removed even that social aspect.

As much as I love my XBox 360 and often cuddle with it to help me fall asleep, I really have XBox Live to blame for most of this. Now I was fine and happy when the house next door in my happy gaming world was sold to a friendly looking couple named “Online Mode” but soon after they moved in they started throwing cookouts that lasted until 4 a.m. and let their lawn fall into disrepair and ran all of my respectable single player neighbors out of the neighborhood. Now since I probably lost most of you with that analogy let me try to explain. Much like me and the guy who lives across the street from me these two game types can rarely co-exist and the main reason for that is disc space. There’s only so much data that can be burned onto those shiny round wonders and developers have to make a choice. You want more maps and larger teams? Well there went a single player level. You want an online ranking system? So long kick ass boss fight.

Now here’s how I typically play a game: 1: Go to store and spend 60$
2: Go home and beat game
3: Decide if game deserves multiple playings
4: Go back to store and trade it in for 10$

Ok back to why I brought up disc space. When I get a copy of “Jacked Up Guy With Big Guns #5: The Re-Gunning” I’m more interested in the single player mode. The mode that makes an attempt at a plot, and a linear narrative, and some sort of emotional conflict, not the online mode which is there to essentially take carefully crafted levels, dump them full of crates and boxes and give players the chance to anonymously swear at and teabag their fallen opponents. But more and more lately the single player mode is cut short and left feeling uneventful due to having to make room for their drunken neighbor, the online mode. Let’s pause and look at the Rainbow Six: Vegas games. Now I don’t normally go in for that whole tactical group based scenario but I thought, well the demo is fun and it’s raining out so let’s give it a shot. About three hours later the credits started rolling and I watched every second of them because I was convinced that this was a trick and that there had to be more gameplay coming. But just like my 12th birthday party I was left disappointed and sat on my couch alone wanting more. I was confused and the inquisitive part of me went searching for clues as to where the rest of my game went. I checked to see if the game was actually just a larger demo, I checked for a second disc, I even checked out back in the shed (I’m still not sure why but things tend to end up there from time to time) and still couldn’t turn up anything. Oh wait, found it, an intricate online leveling and ranking system with maps that were way more fun and elaborate than the single player ones. I’m also going to recall a conversation with a fellow gaming friend of mine after seeing that he had more achievement points than me in the first Gears of War. I inquired how he felt about the game and we both shared that we enjoyed it but then like a screaming howler monkey across the face, he struck me with the fact that he hadn’t (and still to this day hasn’t) played the single player campaign. My mind was sufficiently blown and I spent about four hours picking up the pieces I could find scattered around my house.

Now granted all is not lost just yet, Dead Space and games like that offer rays of light and hope in my darkened bedroom and offer up only a well written story mode and nothing else. But sadly I know that like the dinosaurs the time has come for my people and we’ll have to grudgingly step aside and make room for games of capture the flag and deathmatches where snipers exploit bugs to kill me every time I spawn.

Although, I did play Call of Duty 4’s online mode an absurd amount but not until after finishing the story mode and giving it the respect I’d give any senile old soldier marching on in the parade.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The 800 Pound Pikachu in the Room

Redd over at http://magmablizzard.blogspot.com/ has written a really interesting article on Nintendo and their approach to game development. Definitely head over and check that.

Also, sorry Redd for not simply reposting this like I said I would, there was a whole video game session thing last night that derailed any attempts at working on stuff.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Lich King: Casual vs. Hardcore Gaming

Granted everyone who talks about video games is talking about World of Warcraft’s new expansion pack Wrath of the Lich King but I was finally able to sit down last night and bang out some end game content for the first time since hitting level 80 and it got me thinking to myself. I said “Hey self, didn’t this game used to be a lot harder?” I pondered that question while talking on AIM and browsing the web on my trusty laptop at the same time as I was engaging in a 25 man raid on my desktop PC. As I pondered that question to myself I realized that the fact that I was able to multitask like that in the first place while running this 25 man raid for the first time meant that yes, this game has gotten a lot easier. Now here’s when old jaded Ryan goes tells you about the good ol’ days and how you kids today don’t know what it was like.

So let me tell all you spoiled brats about the good ol’ days. I remember back when me and my trusty tank would bang our heads against Molten Core and BWL bosses until the sun came up (quite literally despite having a job that at the time started at 6 a.m.) and dag nabbit we liked it! So then after a two year hiatus I came back and jumped into the long since released BC expansion pack and found it about the same. By the time I came back most of the raid dungeons were released and I found that the difficulty curve was about the same as I was used but with the welcomed exceptions of the raids taking less time and not having to organize 40 people. Heroics were also a welcome addition and even my raid savvy guild could still spin our wheels on ever-frustrating heroic boss encounters. So let’s cut to Lich King end game shall we? First off, getting to the new level cap was surprisingly simple. I remember the slow crawl from 60-70 in the BC era and the even slower crawl to 60 in the original game that made reaching it come with an actual sense of, dare I say it, accomplishment. Leveling to 80 was reminiscent of being a kid and needed to do simple chores around the house before I was allowed to go outside and have fun. So after making my bed and doing the dishes in Northrend I was ready to bring Fuzzycakes the priest into a new era of wintery raiding.

Heroic 5-Mans: Aren’t these supposed to be more difficult than the regular versions? Now granted I’m happy to not spend 2 hours in a single dungeon anymore but aren’t there supposed to be more than 3 trash mobs between bosses? And didn’t the word “heroic” use to mean that it was “hard” and not just a scaled version of the dungeon with level 80 gear. Of all the heroics I’ve run so far, which is honestly only about half of them, I can honestly say that not one single boss fight has challenged me. Ok well Blizzard put in achievements for boss fights to go “hey look over here, it’s a mini-game to hide how easy it is” but even those barely add any real depth to the fight. Also, I’m not saying that every boss fight needs to be as complicated and intricate as the crossword puzzle in the New Yorker but I think we can handle a little more than the standard ‘tank and spank’ especially on the last bosses.

Raids: Now don’t get me wrong I think the option to run a raid dungeon as either a 10 or 25 man encounter is brilliant and wonderful. And so far I’ve only run a single 25 man and that’s it but even that took little time and effort. My rag tag band of jumpy, twirly avatars dropped the bosses like they were trash mobs and the trash mobs like they were well… something easier than trash mobs. I thought it was an issue of being over geared, which I certainly knew wasn’t the case on my part so I checked the other members and nope, they were all about the same as me. All in all I was left confused and bitter.

So here’s my question: Casual vs. hardcore fans, which is more important and which am I? There was a time I’d call myself a hardcore raider but that was a long time ago and now I make more of an effort to eat and sleep and leave my desk. I suppose it’s one of those issues where Blizzard is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t. On the one hand if they make end game easier to accommodate the more casual raider then they piss off the hardcore elite. If they keep it difficult and keep upping the bar to give new challenges then they’ll risk further alienating their casual players. Maybe someday in magical fairy land game developers will be able to strike a balance in gameplay without caving in to either a difficulty level of Machiavellian proportions or running around bludgeoning their poor game to death with a Nerf Bat.

Friday, January 2, 2009

How to Generate Hate Email 101: Disliking Fallout 3

Ok that title may be slightly misleading, I didn’t actually “hate” Fallout 3 but I’m rapidly learning to due to all of the fanboy-esque hype it’s receiving. Now I’m trying to imagine the arguments that I’ll be presented with and will do my best to counter them so please read on before you bite my head off via scathing emails.

Ok, “hate” is a strong word and it may not be how I describe my feelings towards Fallout 3. I’d be better off using words like: repetitive, uneventful, mediocre and predictable. Yes I played Elder Scrolls, yes I really enjoyed it, yes I logged far too many hours in it. No I did not go into this game thinking “Oblivion with guns” but by the end of the game that phrase kept nagging away at my brain which was frantically trying to find another source of stimulus. For me the game peaked very early on and then slowly crawled lower and lower on the graphical representation of the fun I was having. The game looks and feels exactly like Oblivion which is fine because it’s the same engine I know but at least try to make it a separate game. I couldn’t help but having thief guild flashbacks every time I pulled up the map screen. So a big part of why people bludgeon their poor friends over the head with their special lunchbox edition of opinions on this game is that the second you leave good ol’ Vault 101 you’re in an open world where you can go anywhere, do anything, drink any puddle and stink palm any infant. Now I feel like I’m constantly bitching about the drooling legions of sandbox game loving cultists so I’ll try to turn over a new leaf in 2009 and lay off a little but as worlds get bigger and players are given more freedom the gaming experience will end up feeling disjointed and poorly structured. Now maybe I’m getting old and lazy but Fallout never gave me that feeling of excitement of exploring the bleak earth-toned landscape and going “ooo look an abandoned town” or “ooo look an abandoned train station” or even “ooo look another abandoned town.” Yes Oblivion and practically every other RPG in existence suffers this problem but every new location I discovered in Fallout felt and looked exactly like the last location that I discovered but instead of mutant scorpions it was mutant crabs.

Ok, let’s talk about the V.A.T.S. system for a bit. This combat system was a lot of fun in the first 30 minutes of the game where ammo was in short supply and my guy was inept at every weapon but shortly after that it just served as a means to slow down the already sluggish gameplay and make sure that I took every opponents head off by stopping time and not letting them get a shot off. Ok maybe if I leveled and built my character into someone that wasn’t a head erupting juggernaut with extreme firepower and range the game and V.A.T.S. might have been a bit more challenging but why wouldn’t I build a character that’s good at the core gameplay mechanic? By the end of the game I was dreading any kind of combat because it meant that I had to essentially pause the game, go into a glowing green menu where I constantly selected the same option, fired two rounds and moved on. After a while I completely abandoned V.A.T.S. and just played the game as a twitch based shooter and had a lot more fun.

As for the story, it was interesting but not very engaging. I never felt compelled to find out what would happen next but rather just fed my OCD desire to keep my quest log clean. Also, the fact that while pursuing a side quest I “discovered” a location which caused the main storyline to skip a fairly sizeable chunk left a bitter taste in my mouth. Now granted I play MMO’s so I’m certainly no stranger to gathering or “hey go kill so and so” quests but Fallout certainly didn’t make any attempt to change the formula. I got tired of the main quest’s “hey go over there and get that” repetition of quests so I picked up a good chunk of side quests which were also more or less “go into those same abandoned places and get stuff and I’ll give you camps.” By the time I finally wrapped up the game’s main story I was happy to pick the certain non-spoiler giving away ending that let me feel safe in the fact that I wouldn’t have the chance to continue playing and could go trade in Fallout for Left 4 Dead. A game of infinite depth.