#egmr » Imran http://egmr.net Let's Talk Games — Videogame News, Reviews & Opinions Thu, 20 Nov 2014 15:04:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 ImRage: Dead Space 3’s Micro-Transactions Goes Too Far http://egmr.net/2013/02/imrage-dead-space-3s-micro-transactions-goes-too-far/ http://egmr.net/2013/02/imrage-dead-space-3s-micro-transactions-goes-too-far/#comments Thu, 21 Feb 2013 09:00:54 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=113174 If you’ve been a fan of the Dead Space series and you’ve gotten your hands on the latest game, then you’ll notice that it brings something new to the table, […]

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If you’ve been a fan of the Dead Space series and you’ve gotten your hands on the latest game, then you’ll notice that it brings something new to the table, something awful: micro-transactions. Well how do these micro-transactions work exactly? Well at any point in the game you can buy additional upgrade parts or bonus items… for real money. And no this is not premium content or bonuses as is the case with DLC, these are items that are already in the game and can be acquired freely. In this week, I’m going to talk about why this is a shameless policy and why EA might have finally gone one step too far.

So we all know about the DLC buzz that’s been going in the gaming industry as of late. You buy a game off the shelf and it has locked content on the disc, such as bonus levels or costumes, which you then have to pay to unlock having already bought the game. Also, this is content that has usually been developed prior to the game’s release and is already on the disc so ‘downloadable content’ is a bit of a misnomer. Already this is a shameless policy but it does have its defenders amongst corporate suck-ups and greedy developers.

The scary thing about Dead Space 3 is not so much the monsters that you kill in one hit, but rather the lengths that EA is willing to go to extort profit from its customers

The scary thing about Dead Space 3 is not so much the monsters that you kill in one hit, but rather the lengths that EA is willing to go to extort profit from its customers.

Micro-transactions are something new and, frankly, they’re far worse. All you’re actually getting when you spend $5 in Dead Space are items that can actually be found within the actual game. This is not content that you otherwise can’t get as is the case of DLC, these are components to build weapons and med-packs; items that are acquired frequently in a normal playthrough. Corporate defenders will say that these purchases are entirely optional, but this is missing the point about what makes this policy so bad.

For starters, bear in mind that everything that is bought through micro-transactions is essentially free. You aren’t getting value for what you pay for, instead you are getting items that already exist in infinite quantities within the game itself. And once you use those items, they are gone forever; to be honest, they never had any physical presence to begin with. What you’re buying is essentially nothing and this means that EA is printing money out of thin air on anyone foolish enough to buy it. Furthermore, bear in mind that infinite items was once available for free in most earlier games. In anything from Tomb Raider to GTA you were once able to cheat for infinite ammo or health if that’s how you preferred to play the game. In fact, even the original Dead Space had codes you could input to get free money, stasis or items; now, all of those things you have to pay for.

Paying for freely acquirable in-game items might just be the worst design choice ever made in a Triple A game. It opens the door to all sorts of horrible things...

Paying for freely acquirable in-game items might just be the worst design choice ever made in a Triple A game. It opens the door to all sorts of horrible things…

The second thing that makes the micro-transaction element so bad is far, far worse. Sure you can say that it’s optional to buy these items but it no longer becomes optional once the games are designed with micro-transactions in mind. Let me give you an example. In Dead Space 3 you have a robot that can go around the level and scavenge items for you. This is a potentially limitless source of resources but comes with a drawback of waiting 10 minutes for the robot to complete its circuit. There is, however, one way to reduce this waiting to 5 minutes. Guess how? Pay $5.

If this doesn’t strike you as scandalous, then let me explain. What this means is that developers have intentionally placed something negative into the game (waiting 10 minutes) and are then forcing you to pay them if you want it gone. It’s the equivalent of making you pay to reduce loading times. This is perhaps the worst thing that could possibly happen to the gaming industry because who knows where we can go from here? When DLC was first instituted people questioned the idea of paying for additional content that some developers offered for free. When on-disc DLC came about then people questioned the integrity of selling someone a product but then forcing someone to pay to acquire all the features. Now we have developers purposely placing hindrances to the enjoyment of a game and then forcing us to pay money to remove them. Dead Space 3 isn’t the first time that developers have done this. Cell phone and iPad games have been doing this for a while: structuring the game such that it’s impossible to get earn enough gold to complete the game without grinding and then giving you the option to buy gold for real money. Look up Infinity Blade and Dungeon Hunter 3 if you don’t believe me. In fact, triple A games have even dabbled with this before. Prince of Persia 4 forced you to pay over R100 if you wanted to unlock the Epilogue and see how the game actually ends. The same happened with Dragon Age where you had to buy the DLC that let you see the Epilogue of the game and what happened to certain characters.

EA has done similar things before. In Dragon Age, you need to purchase DLC to see the game's Epilogue

EA has done similar things before. In Dragon Age, you need to purchase DLC to see the game’s Epilogue.

Gaming is just becoming worse and worse as times goes. It’s already one of the most expensive hobbies around: you have a buy a TV and a console before you can even get started and then the games themselves cost a fortune. What’s making it so bad is that developers are giving you less and less than what they used to and charging you more for the privilege. In the previous console generation, online gaming was free (it still is on PS3 and PC) but on XBox LIVE you need to pay for a feature already built into the games. And now that same mentality is filtering into the games. With each passing year, more is being removed from games that you have to pay for. First it was the bonus levels and secret missions, then it was alternate costumes and unlocks and now it’s even the cheat codes. The defenders will say this is all optional but as time goes on, the definition of ‘optional’ begins to get blurred. Would you say DS3 charging you to remove hindrances is optional? Imagine going to a movie and being forced to sit through 1 hour of trailers unless you pay an additional 10% on your ticket price and then not being shown the ending unless you pay 25% more? That’s where gaming is going and it’s a scary place.

The scary part is that consumers just don’t seem to be noticing this. They either just ignore these policies or, even worse, they defend them and take the sides of the corporations. But corporate greed, like many things, is a slippery slope and the moment something horrible gets accepted, they’ll try to make you accept something else. It might not be too long until we see micro-transactions in all games and consumers being offered the chance to buy health upgrades or skip levels for the ‘reasonable’ price of $5. If that becomes the case, gaming will move further and further away from its dreams of becoming an art form and degenerate into an extortion service; its possibility of greatness lost forever in the mire of corporate greed. If that’s something you don’t like, don’t ignore it; outright refuse to buy the games from the companies that do this and buy games from developers that deserve it. Remember, they’re games and they’re supposed to be fun. If you find yourself bitter or cheated, then look for fun elsewhere. You don’t need corporations, they need you. And you deserve better.

See you in two weeks

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ImRage: How Long Does A Game Need To Be? http://egmr.net/2013/02/imrage-how-long-does-a-game-need-to-be/ http://egmr.net/2013/02/imrage-how-long-does-a-game-need-to-be/#comments Thu, 07 Feb 2013 09:00:26 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=112870 A friend once asked me: “How long should a game be?” I answered him quite simply: “As long as it needs to be?” The main question that was on his […]

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A friend once asked me: “How long should a game be?” I answered him quite simply: “As long as it needs to be?” The main question that was on his mind as we delved into this was whether a game should rather be longer, and keep you busy for a while, or shorter and perhaps be replayable. I’m of the opinion that there’s a lot more to say on this topic than my cryptic answer so in this week’s column I’m going to be discussing game length and where it can go right or wrong in the development process.

So before we discuss a good way to do things, let’s first look at a bad way to do them. Well, a game can either be too short or too long. If a game is too short, let’s say 4-6 hours in length as opposed to the usual 6-8, then we might feel cheated. It’s fine to pay R50 to watch a two-hour movie but paying R500 for a 4 hour game is just not a good deal. Sure a game can be replayed/resold/traded but on the whole it’s a far more expensive hobby and short games don’t justify the large outlay. But then if a game is too longer, like say 10-20, we might get bored before the end. But let’s be clear here, a game can be 50 hours and entertaining all the way through or it can be 20 hours and excruciatingly painful to complete. So the problem of being too long is a little bit different. And that brings me to my next point.

Dishonored: If a game is so short that you could finish it one sitting you might feel hard done by if you pay full price.

Dishonored: If a game is so short that you could finish it in one sitting you might feel hard done by if you pay full price.

A game should only really be called ‘too long’ if it contains segments that are boring. A game like Mass Effect takes between 20-50 hours to complete but since it’s usually captivating all the way through, you don’t really feel the length in a negative way. On the contrary, you might find that you want more of it. Assassin’s Creed 3 on the other hand might be a case of too long. It’s nice to say that a game will ‘keep you busy’ for close to 50 hours and you’ll get your money’s worth but when most of those missions are frustrating tutorials or grind-fests is it really that great that the game is longer?

This naturally brings us to the issue of quality and there’s a simple thought exercise that’s worth trying here: Is it better for a game to be short but awesome or long but average? Think about it for a second before continuing. Now let me give you two examples. Short but awesome is Portal. Long but average is Final Fantasy 12. Which one would you prefer to buy assuming both were R400-500? It might be a more difficult question for some of you to answer than others, especially if money is tight, but even you might buy FF12, I’d imagine that the majority would admit that Portal is a far superior game (Thankfully, it isn’t R400). And is Portal too short? Actually not really, the length is just right.

Portal: Despite being only 2 hours in length, Portal is considered by many to be a perfect game

Portal: Despite being only 2 hours in length, Portal is considered by many to be a perfect game.

So maybe rather than whether or not the length of a game is high or low, what should be more important is the quality of the experience. Sure too short is still bad (nobody wants to buy a 5 minute game). But above a certain length of around 6 hours, a game could be deemed ‘long enough’ and ‘value for money’. But beyond that? More important is quality. And when it comes to quality, shorter is better than longer. You’re far more likely to enjoy a game if, when it ends, you hunger for more of it than if halfway through the game you get bored and can’t wait to be done with it. As William Shakespeare once said: “Brevity is the soul of wit” (Brevity meaning ‘brief-ness’) and I don’t think Uncle Bill was too far off the mark.

The perfect length game is the one in which every moment is necessary and adds to the overall experience. There are no dull bits because every part is only there on merit. Perfect examples of this are the God of War and Uncharted series in which every level is one that you want to play and any boring moments that would have been in the game have been edited out. An awful example of this is sadly one of my favourite games, Metal Gear Solid 4. Does anyone remember the numerous cut-scenes of Snake walking really slowly and looking at stuff? No they don’t! Because everyone was bored during this and wanted to skip them (but couldn’t because there might be 5 seconds of story in 5 minutes of irrelevance). MGS4 could have vastly improved if the unnecessary parts were edited out, leaving a slimmer but much more solid package (in its current state, it’s probably overweight).

God of War III: A game that's too long makes you bored between the good parts. In a game of balanced length when you ask: "Which parts are the good parts?" the answer is "All of them."

God of War III: A game that’s too long makes you bored between the good parts. In a game of balanced length like GoW III, when you ask: “Which parts are the good parts?” the answer is: “All of them.”

And this should all weight to the statement: “A game should only be as long as it needs to be. Not shorter, not longer”. Too short and you can miss out on design space, but that can be forgiven if the game is good enough. Too long and you risk boring the audience. But how long is too short or too long? Simply put, as long as a segment is awesome, it deserves to be in the game; if it’s not then it doesn’t. And if taking out all the mediocre parts of the game would only leave you with only 2 hours of cool, then the game probably wasn’t worth buying in the first place.

On the topic of replay-ability, my friend also asked if games should perhaps be designed to be shorter but more replayable. My response is that replay extras, like New Game+, challenge modes or unlocks are nice little bonuses that can add to the life of a game, but the primary focus should be on the quality. The best kind of books, movies and songs are the ones you read, watch or listen to over and over again. Any regular fan or serious academic will agree with you on that. While some stories do lose their intrigue after you know what happens in them, if a game is really that good then, when it’s over, you’ll miss it and in the future, you’ll want to play it again… no matter how long or short it is…
(Like Knights of the Old Republic. I’ve played I and II like 5 times each.)

See you in two weeks time…

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ImRage: How ‘Dumb’ Is ‘Dumbing It Down’? http://egmr.net/2013/01/imrage-how-dumb-is-dumbing-it-down/ http://egmr.net/2013/01/imrage-how-dumb-is-dumbing-it-down/#comments Thu, 24 Jan 2013 09:00:55 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=110613 In the beginning, there were games… and they were incredibly hard. If you consider the era of the original Sony PlayStation to be the starting point of where gaming entered […]

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In the beginning, there were games… and they were incredibly hard. If you consider the era of the original Sony PlayStation to be the starting point of where gaming entered the mainstream, then you’ll remember that gaming wasn’t really for everyone. It wasn’t widely accepted and I don’t like to believe that it was because gaming was ‘hipster’ or for ‘no-life losers’. In fact, I think a more likely cause was that games in general from that era were so prohibitive. Take a look at the best games on the PS1 such as Metal Gear Solid, Gran Turismo 2, Final Fantasy 7, Tekken 3, Soul Reaver, Resident Evil 2, Tony Hawk’s 2 and Castlevania and then compare them to their modern day incarnations: the games of old were not only more difficult to play, complete and enjoy than their successors but also more difficult to learn too. In today’s column, I’m going to discuss the change in focus of modern games from being prohibitive to being accessible and give a few thoughts on the topic of ‘dumbing games down’ for modern audiences.

angry-birds-for-android

Angry Birds: Simpler doesn’t always mean worse. Some games with very simple designs are tremendous fun.

So fast forward a decade or two and we’re in the PS3/360/Wii era where gaming has changed drastically from its humble roots. Technology has improved, the industry has become as lucrative as the movies and gaming has become a common and mainstream form of entertainment for teenagers and young adults. Some gamers who’ve been playing for years will tell you that gaming is better than it’s ever been: we’re long past technical limitations and some games look better than real life. More cynical gamers from the old days would argue the opposite: that gaming has deteriorated into a shallow mockery of its former self and, like the superficial characters from Gossip Girl, games nowadays look impressive from the outside but are hollow and devoid of substance on the inside.

As is usual with a topic of widely conflicting opinions, the truth is much harder to discern. Games nowadays have certainly become a lot easier than their ancient counterparts. They’re easier to play and easier to learn and the buzzword here is that they’ve become more ‘accessible’. And what happens when things become more accessible? Well more people access them of course! That’s certainly what the intent has been and that’s probably one of the main reasons that gaming has grown so much in the last two generations: it doesn’t take a genius to figure them out or enjoy them anymore. Few can deny that gaming reaches a much wider audience than it previously used to and this is probably the main driver of gaming’s progress in the last decade or so.

But the flip side of that, of course, is that making them easier can remove the challenge or, in some cases, diminish the worth of the game entirely. As much as marketers would love to simplify everything into an easily-sellable concept, sometimes it just isn’t possible. Sometimes, the beauty of something lies not in its simplicity, but in its complexity. Take Neverwinter Nights for example: NWN is awesome because of nearly limitless character customization options. It’s awesome because you can be anything from a dual-sword archer to a fire-balling cleric and, within those customizations, there’s even more room for individuality still. The game is great fun when you’re on the gravy train and you’re a sorcerer who can morph into a fire-breathing dragon but there’s just as much chance that you botch up your character irreparably and, twenty hours into the game, you have to start from scratch because you messed it all up and are getting killed by weak lizard-men. That’s probably the reason why games like Neverwinter Nights are dead; relegated to the annals of history to collect dust along with Crash Bandicoot and his ilk. The closest thing to another NWN or Baldur’s Gate in the last few years was Dragon Age: Origins and even that, which was already a much simplified version of a classic RPG, got neutered completely in its sequel and became a mediocre hack-and-slash. No, the modern day RPGs such as Mass Effect are nowhere close to the complexity of old and odds are they never will be again.

Neverwinter Nights: The sad thing about gaming becoming simpler is that we may never see another came as beautifully complex as Neverwinter Nights

Neverwinter Nights: The sad thing about gaming becoming simpler is that we may never see another game as beautifully complex as Neverwinter Nights.

So making things simpler and more accessible isn’t always the most elegant of solutions. You only have to take a look at the disappointment surrounding Diablo III this year. Diablo II is widely considered to be one of the best games ever made, being played for over two decades since its release. Diablo III, on the contrary, has managed to bore its fanboys in under a year. Is it then, a mistake for games to become simpler? No that doesn’t seem to be the case either. Relics such as the lives system, save points and complex inventory management are game elements that are better off dead. That’s not say that it’s all bad either. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 still retains all of the intricacy, if not more, from its previous incarnations and it happens to be one of my favourite games but have you ever tried teaching someone to play it? It’s easier to teach someone about the Uncertainty Principle of Quantum Physics (I know, I’ve tried to do both). TTT2 is perfect as it is and any attempt to simplify it would probably ruin it (more tutorials couldn’t hurt though) but the downside is that a game like that will only really be played by a small niche in today’s environment and games of its kind seem to be getting fewer and fewer as the years go by.

It really is a contentious issue this whole ‘dumbing down’ business. On the one hand unnecessary complexity prevents a game from being enjoyed like it should be. Take Gran Turismo 5 for instance: the controls for that game are so involved and complex that you’d have a more fun time driving a real car. But then on the other hand, removing the complexity can kill the soul of a game entirely. Dragon Age 2 is case in point in this regard. A nice balance is, of course, ‘Easy to learn, hard to master’ but most games seem to miss one of these two elements. Either they’re easy and stay too easy or they’re hard and not easy to get into. Few games have managed to get the balance right although two that come to mind are God of War and Street Fighter IV.

Mass Effect 3: Yes games have become a lot simpler over the last decade or so, but simpler doesn't necessarily mean worse. Because of its high production values, good voice acting and stellar writing (minus the ending), ME offers one of the most cinematic gaming experiences around

Mass Effect 3: Yes games have become a lot simpler over the last decade or so, but simpler doesn’t necessarily mean worse. Because of its high production values, good voice acting and stellar writing (minus the ending), ME offers one of the most cinematic gaming experiences around.

So what should actually be done about this? If you’ve got any ideas, tell me below. As for me, I look forward to playing the new DmC quite soon and seeing just how far they’ve managed to ‘dumb down’ my favourite action game. I’m looking forward to beating the entire game by repeatedly mashing one button…

See you in two weeks time…

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ImRage: Why Video Gaming As An Art Form Is Under-Developed http://egmr.net/2013/01/imrage-why-video-gaming-as-an-art-form-is-under-developed/ http://egmr.net/2013/01/imrage-why-video-gaming-as-an-art-form-is-under-developed/#comments Fri, 11 Jan 2013 09:00:17 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=108033 There have been two major events in the gaming industry recently that have reopened the debate as to whether or not video games can be considered art. The first is […]

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There have been two major events in the gaming industry recently that have reopened the debate as to whether or not video games can be considered art. The first is that 14 games (including Portal and Tetris) have been added to the Museum of Modern Art (click here). The second is that the PSN title Journey was nominated for a Grammy for ‘Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media’ alongside The Dark Knight Rises and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (click here). Even if you are a sceptic as to whether or not video games can be considered an art form, the world does slowly seem to be coming to terms with the idea.

For me, personally, it hasn’t really been a contentious issue. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines art as: ‘a visual object or experience consciously created through an expression of skill or imagination’ and video games are nothing if not that. But even though I, and many others, believe that video games are a canvas for creative expression few can deny that, in terms of being a true art form, video gaming is still in its infancy. Very few intellectuals take it seriously and the number of games with profound things to say are limited. So today, I’m not going to reopen that tired old debate of: “Are video games art”. Instead, I’m going to look at the environment surrounding video gaming and point out a few areas where it might be under-developed in allowing video games to flourish as an art form.

 

No Decent Critics

angry-guy

As possibly the most obvious reason for why gaming isn’t taken seriously, this one should be mentioned first. If you want your art to be appreciated, you need to have people that can actually appreciate it. Yes Shakespeare wrote some magnificent plays but a large reason why they are exalted so highly is because they’ve been analysed over and over again by people who really understood what he was doing. You had scholars, playwrights, authors and all sorts of learned and intelligent people all dissecting his works for years and years after they were published. In fact, people are still finding new meaning in them or imitating them today. The same can be said for the music of Mozart or the paintings of Leonardo da Vinci; powerful critics have been able to analyse and appreciate them for years.

In the world of gaming, such critics don’t really exist. You’ve got your review sites and some universities even offer game design as a course but who really writes papers analysing the artistic qualities in video games? Who really takes them seriously or writes books on them? Close to no one really. I suppose that one of the major reasons for no one daring to go as far as to study them is because most universities will probably laugh someone who tries to do this right out of the door. But many artists and art forms weren’t taken seriously in their time until a culture developed that could appreciate them. I believe something similar may be happening with video games.

 

No Recognition of Quality

80th Academy Awards NYC Meet the Oscars Opening

Another problem ties into the way that games are evaluated and appraised. It’s all fair and well to say that there are no critics or scholars to analyse the ‘great’ games but one of the reasons for this is because it’s so hard to identify what a ‘great’ video game really is. For instance, in film, we know that Pulp Fiction and Gladiator are excellent movies while the Star Wars prequels are terrible movies. Why do we know this? Well, if you want a really simple answer (that doesn’t involve my previous point), it’s because the first two won Oscars, while the latter three didn’t.

When it comes to other art forms like film, writing, painting etc. you have internationally recognised bodies that exist to acknowledge the quality of certain pieces of art compared to others; like museums, registries and appreciation societies. In film, for instance, we have the Academy Awards to tell us which movies really stood out from the pack and, when a movie gets a nomination it’s usually because it deserves it. When a new movie is released, it can often quickly be discovered if the film is of a high quality or if it has any artistic merits. In the world of gaming, not really so. All the review sites do is just rate the games 8s and 9s. As a result it becomes very difficult to separate the real gems from the shiny rocks. And when was the last time you saw critics rate an art form out of 10? If they really must, they use the purposely vague five-star system. I suppose there are, of course, end of year awards from various websites like IGN, Gamespot and VGA but these are less like the Academy Awards and more like the MTV Movie Awards… and in the MTV Awards, Twilight won film of the year…

The main why reason its important to recognize greatness in gaming and other art forms is because we learn from analyzing progress and then imitating it until we find the next step. More is to be learned about taking video gaming forward from The Walking Dead than from Call of Duty 57. Likewise, in writing, few are under the illusion that 50 Shades of Grey is taking storytelling forward.

 

Lack of Visionaries

molyneux_jogo_secreto

In my opinion, this may actually be one of the biggest reasons why gaming isn’t taken seriously as an art form. Every art form needs have the kind of artists to take it forward and gaming, surprisingly, seems to have very few. Let’s ignore the ancients like Beethoven and Dante Alighieri and just concentrate on the last 100 years. In music we have the Beatles, Michael Jackson, Metallica, Elvis Presley etc. In film we have Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorcese, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg etc. In writing we have JRR Tolkien, James Joyce, William Faulkner, Vladimir Nabokov, etc. In gaming, who is there? Hideo Kojima, Gabe Newell and… Peter Molyneux? With all due respect, Kojima and Newell are probably two of greatest visionaries gaming has at the moment (for Molyneux on the other hand, if over-promising and under-achieving is noteworthy then George Bush should be called a visionary too) but after that, the list gets pretty thin.

In all fairness, video gaming has only been in existence for around forty years now so its still in its relative infancy when compared to disciplines such as music and writing which have existed for well over two thousand years. Even film and photography are well over a century old. So admittedly gaming does still have a lot of room to explore before it can reach the same heights. But what would certainly help it get there, is a group of keen-eyed visionaries. Special individuals have always been crucial in taking art forms forward and, unfortunately, you can’t just manufacture them or suck them out of thin air. But, if the culture around gaming develops, you can be sure that more intelligent and special people will be attracted to developing gaming.

 

Conclusion

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There are a lot more points to be mentioned as to why gaming isn’t yet universally considered as an art form and the main one simply seems to be that it has a lot more growing up to do. As the environment around it begins to mature and new visionaries are attracted to entering it, we could see a lot of spectacular and groundbreaking games in the next ten years or so. If the last ten years are any indication, then gaming is one of those art forms that’s growing very rapidly in a short space of time and, eventually, we could see the world start to take it more seriously as its potential for interactive storytelling and immersive experiences becomes more widely known.

See you in two weeks time…

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ImRage: Why Silent Protagonists Fail http://egmr.net/2012/12/imrage-why-silent-protagonists-fail/ http://egmr.net/2012/12/imrage-why-silent-protagonists-fail/#comments Thu, 20 Dec 2012 09:00:44 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=107012 If you’ve played Dishonored at some point this year then you’ll remember that it was a good game about an assassin named Corvo Attano who joins up with a rebel […]

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If you’ve played Dishonored at some point this year then you’ll remember that it was a good game about an assassin named Corvo Attano who joins up with a rebel faction to avenge his Empress, save her daughter and regain his lost honour. The trappings of an emotional story no? But the baffling thing about the game is that Corvo says not a single word the entire game. In fact he even has emotional relationships with other characters yet says nothing to them. If you found this strange you’re not the only one. The silent protagonist is nothing new to avid gamers and this week I’m going to explain why, exactly, it’s a bad storytelling technique.

Portal I & II: In Portal, everybody loves GLaDOS. Nobody loves the game's actual protagonist Chell. This is one of the instances where a Silent Protagonist is acceptable perhaps. GLaDOS is supposed to be the star of the show, the game doesn't exactly expect you to care about Chell at all

Portal I & II: In Portal, everybody loves GLaDOS. Nobody loves the game’s actual protagonist Chell. This is one of the instances where a Silent Protagonist is acceptable perhaps. GLaDOS is supposed to be the star of the show, the game doesn’t exactly expect you to care about Chell at all.

Before I explain everything that’s wrong with it, I should note that there are certain scenarios where a silent protagonist is somewhat justifiable. The first is when the main character isn’t significant to the overall plot or when the story isn’t important at all. Perfect example here is the Call of Duty games: in those you’re just one soldier of many fighting in a war and your character’s life or death doesn’t really impact the events that unfold. Or take Super Mario for instance: the ‘story’ of that game essentially exists to connect platforming levels so I doubt many complain about the fact that it doesn’t have an engaging narrative. The second example where a silent protagonist could be justified is when you, the player, are the lead character. Take a game like Pokemon or Oblivion for example: your character not having or a voice or not saying much doesn’t really damage the experience; but that doesn’t mean it enhances it either.

And when is a silent protagonist bad for storytelling in games? Pretty much every other time. A poignant example of where a silent protagonist actually detracted from the game is the original Dead Space. In Dead Space you play as engineer named Isaac Clarke who’s trapped all alone on a monster-infested ship to fend for himself with only mining tools as makeshift weapons. You’d except someone in this position to start going crazy at around ten minutes into the game where he watches an entire squad get massacred. But instead, Isaac just gets on with it like its a routine maintenance job; he neither speaks nor reacts to any of the horrors he witnesses which just seems bizarre. Not only does this diminish the horror of the game but it actually sticks out like a sore thumb when the game tries to make you feel sympathy for Isaac as he searches for his lost-girlfriend/wife/squeeze Nicole. Especially in the last few levels where they try to make you feel sorry for him, it just falls completely flat. How are you supposed to feel compassion for a character who neither speaks, reacts or displays even an entire inkling of awareness to anything in the entire game? Of course, they did make him speak in Dead Space 2 (albeit as a vapid and uninteresting character), but that’s another story.

Dead Space: Isaac Clarke may as well be a killer robot for all the reaction he displays in the story... it would actually make a lot more sense too...

Dead Space: Isaac Clarke may as well be a killer robot for all the reaction he displays in the story… it would actually make a lot more sense too…

You see, the main problem with a silent lead character is that goes against one of the very basic elements of storytelling: the protagonist. While not all stories ‘need’ to have a protagonist, those tend to be the exception rather than the rule. One of the most common and accepted methods of telling a story, especially in a video game, is via the use of a main character. Since we, as players, are outsiders to the story, the protagonist is essentially our window into the fictional world and their thoughts, actions and reactions colour our observations of the events that take place. In your typical story, the protagonist is also the character we are meant to grow attached to. Eventually, they have to overcome some kind of adversity in order to achieve a goal and the drama in the story is a result of us wanting the main character to succeed at achieving said goal.

In an emotionally compelling video game this is very easy to understand. You play as a character, you’re supposed to become emotionally invested in them and then you want them to succeed. In Mass Effect, you want to see Shepard destroy the Reapers and save the galaxy. In Metal Gear Solid 3, you want to see Snake destroy the Shagohod and get out alive. In Max Payne (the original two), you want to see Max avenge his family. All of these are engaging stories and perhaps you can remember feeling sympathy or elation when the protagonists went through hardship or overcame it and, the basis for this, of course, is emotional attachment; something that actually needs to be earned.

Uncharted: As bland and generic as Nathan Drake is, many gamers love him and that's mostly because he has a personality and actually reacts to the fortunes and misfortunes of his predicaments...

Uncharted: As bland and generic as Nathan Drake is, many gamers love him and that’s mostly because he has a personality and actually reacts to the fortunes and misfortunes of his predicaments…

If you want your audience to feel attachment for a particular character and, thus make the story emotionally compelling, they need to be somewhat relatable or, at least, admirable in some regard. You can sympathize with Max Payne’s vengeance because you watch his idyllic life gets torn to shreds when his family dies and while Shepard might be braver and more noble (or more douchy) than you’d ever be, these are at least qualities that you can admire him for. Hell, even Goku from Dragonball Z is a beloved protagonist. It really isn’t that hard to win over your audience, you can even have a blatantly evil character and still make him/her lovable. All they need to have is some likeable definition. The problem with a silent protagonist, is that it has no definition whatsoever.

Building on from that, it’s just not even realistic. A character that goes through an entire journey without saying a single word to anyone is just blatantly unbelievable. It makes it even more jarring when other characters seem to be fine with this. Going back to Dishonored from the opening paragraph, it just seems strange that some characters admire, dislike, love or trust Corvo given that he never says a single word to any of them; the only character he ever shows emotion towards is the little girl and, even then, it’s just a pat on the head or a hug. It also distances you as a player from Corvo’s predicament. Sure you can ‘choose’ if you want to be good or evil, but how are you ever supposed to know what Corvo is thinking? And if it’s supposed to be what you, the player, are thinking, then why does Corvo make certain choices for you without your input? While Dishonored is a good game, Corvo’s silence just means that isn’t a narrative that anyone is going to remember for very long. Corvo kills a bunch of guys and some of his friends die but there just isn’t a single heart-wrenching moment in the entire game; you don’t even feel sad or happy when he gets hurt or wins. And all of that is simply because no effort is made to characterize him whatsoever and for a character who seems pretty much central to all the events that are taking place, this just strikes me as a strange decision by the writers.

Dishonored: If someone was like this in real life we'd find them creepy...

Dishonored: If someone was like this in real life we’d find them creepy…

To conclude, a silent protagonist doesn’t necessarily ruin the game that they’re in, but they severely limit your ability to care for the main character and, in some instances, can detract from a game entirely. If a game is trying to give you an emotionally compelling narrative or just make you care about what’s going in general, then few things do it better than a main character that we have a vested interest in. At the end of the day, love for a character isn’t just given, it’s earned, and with a silent protagonist it’s just that much harder to earn it. I hope the next time a developer tries to make us care about someone in the story, they should realize how easy the job becomes, once the character has something as simple as a voice.

See you in two weeks…

Mass Effect: Aside from its mediocre ending, the ME series is one best modern examples of emotionally resonant games. The characters are diverse and interesting and, even though all the protagonists actions and responses are determined by the player, we still have a strong connection to Shepherd because of good voice-acting and strong characterization.

Mass Effect: Mediocre ending aside, the ME series is one best modern examples of emotionally resonant games. Aside from the diverse characters, what stands out is the protagonist. Even though we control all of Shepard’s actions, we still have a strong connection to him/her because of good voice-acting and strong characterization.

 

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ImRage: Why You Can’t Trust Big Review Sites http://egmr.net/2012/12/imrage-why-you-cant-trust-big-review-sites/ http://egmr.net/2012/12/imrage-why-you-cant-trust-big-review-sites/#comments Thu, 06 Dec 2012 09:00:59 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=89078 If there’s one thing that’s downright poor in the world of gaming journalism it’s the way the games are rated. You log onto the most popular gaming websites like IGN […]

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If there’s one thing that’s downright poor in the world of gaming journalism it’s the way the games are rated. You log onto the most popular gaming websites like IGN or Gamespot and you see swaths of games rated 7, 8 or 9 and, less commonly, a 6 or a 5. Only the worst of dysfunctional unplayable muck get scores below 5 and if 5 is supposed to be an average, then how is it even possible that so many games are above average? (It doesn’t even make intuitive sense if you think about it!) I’m not going to go into the details of why I think rating games based on a number out of 10 is a poor system because many others have tackled that particular issue before me. Instead, this week, I’m going to talk about something a little closer to home: why you can’t trust the big-name rating sites out there.

Picture this: You go the store, you pick Syndicate off the shelf and you pop onto your phone to check your favourite review site for a score. Maybe Gamespot: 7.5/10. Seventy-Five Percent? If we’re going with a standard rating scale (like the ones used to grade you in school or university) then 75% is excellent; at 75% you should be expecting the cream of the crop. I mean if a movie got rated 75% on Rotten Tomatoes I doubt you’d be skeptical about going to watch it. Too bad that with Syndicate, this isn’t the case. For anyone with reasonable quality standards, Syndicate is decent but unimpressive. It’s not something you rush home to play; it’s entirely missable and it’s doubtful that it will be remembered outside of 2012. In fact, many readers of this column probably haven’t even heard of it and if you haven’t, don’t bother looking it up. If you want a good FPS, there are so many better options and, frankly, 75% gives you the impression of Four-Star Cuisine when what you’re getting is McDonald’s.

CLICK TO EXPAND: 18/22 of these entries are 7 out of 10 or higher. Granted there are 3 repeats here but does it make sense that almost 80% of games released in the last two weeks (15/19) are rated 70% or higher? Scroll down the list on GameSpot if you need more convincing…

You see, the problem with video games is that as much as we want to compare them to movies, music and books, they are not these things and they never will be. A movie costs under R50 and even if you go see something mediocre with your friends, it’s not a complete waste if you have a good night out and find something to laugh about; at worst, you’ve lost two hours and the price of a take-out meal. A couple of songs on iTunes are hardly that pricey either and you have the option of previewing them fully on YouTube before you buy them. A book is maybe a little different. If you buy something you don’t like, it’s R100 down the drain, but book reviews tend to be of a much higher quality and most people don’t seem to read much these days anyway.

Video gaming on the other hand, is a huge investment. First you need to put a couple of thousands into a gaming console and TV set or a decent PC and then each game you buy costs in the region of R500 to R700. Even if you make use of the second-hand market and trade-ins, it’s a hobby that costs several orders of magnitude higher than most and if you’re putting that much money into it, you really should be having a hell of a time. If you’re not, then you might as well just go and spend money on things you’ll enjoy more; like travelling or going out with your friends. There are few feelings worse than paying R600 for a game that you really don’t enjoy and then forcing yourself to play through it because you don’t want your money to go to waste; trust me, I’ve been there.

Even if you keep it simple or make use of second-hand markets and trade-ins, gaming is a very expensive hobby.

That’s why I feel that gaming journalists have more responsibility than any other media reviewers in making sure that they correctly evaluate games. Few people are rich enough to afford buying crap games and, especially in South Africa where the prices are high and the incomes are low, gaming is a huge luxury. I guess that’s why it saddens me that gaming journalists do the worst job out of anyone; they’re essentially an extension of the advertising. In fact, that’s pretty much their function. We’ve all heard the story about the GameSpot editor who got fired for rating Kane & Lynch 6/10 (click here) and when Eidos offered to let magazines review Batman: Arkham Asylum early if they scored it 9/10 or higher (click here). It would be nice if these were just isolated occurrences but if you take one look at the image I posted up top, then the inflated review scores should tell you that a lot more than a few games are getting higher scores than they deserve.

And if you think about it for a second, it’s not all that far-fetched, it’s simply a case of misaligned incentives. Reviewing websites make their money primarily off of advertising and, as such, getting website hits are very much on the top of their priority list. One of the best ways to do this, of course, is to review as many games as possible and to review them early so that they can get attention ahead of other sites. Video game developers, on the other hand, make their money by selling as many games as possible and if a popular site is going to rate them highly and recommend them to consumers then this fits right into their plans. What you have then is a market where reviewer sites are trying to please developers so they can get the games first and developers forming relationships with popular sites where they provide games and the sites rate them highly.

If you’ve studied markets with conflicts of interest, like the pharmaceutical industry (click here and here), then you know that this is a very real issue in the world and what this results in is a market where developers and the suppliers look out for each other’s interests and nobody looks out for the interests of the consumers. For your information, that’s us by the way. What’s scary about this, is how much power developers actually have in the industry. Few will complain when mediocre games like FF13 are rated 82% on Metacritic (any game in which you have to play through 20 hours of crap to get to the ‘good parts’ is mediocre) but when Medal of Honour: Warfighter was rated badly recently the developers actually publicly complained about it (click here)! That’s why it’s been positive in the last year to see gamers rally against companies like Capcom and their abhorrent DLC practices. It’s also been encouraging recently to see that gamers are starting to become more and more aware of how untrustworthy the big name review sites can be and that needs to continue.

This baby represents your innocence towards all the big review sites that are trying to take advantage of you.

It surely must be a rude awakening to many to realize that big name review sites aren’t your friends but, in the long run, it really will benefit you as a consumer. Gaming is costly as a hobby and it requires roughly R600 and 8 hours to enjoy a single game; both of which are valuable resources. So the next time you pass a Medal of Honor game on the shelf and it’s rated 9/10, you should think very carefully about whose recommendations you’re going to trust. Maybe ask your friends or watch Zero Punctuation… that guy usually gets it right.

See you in two weeks…

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ImRage: Why Pokémon Is Evil… And Very Successful http://egmr.net/2012/11/imrage-why-pokemon-is-evil-and-very-successful/ http://egmr.net/2012/11/imrage-why-pokemon-is-evil-and-very-successful/#comments Thu, 22 Nov 2012 09:00:45 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=103901 I’ve been spending a lot of time with my Pokémon-obsessed seven-year-old cousin recently and, as one might imagine, that entails playing a lot of Pokémon games. I’m no stranger to the Pokémon franchise, in […]

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I’ve been spending a lot of time with my Pokémon-obsessed seven-year-old cousin recently and, as one might imagine, that entails playing a lot of Pokémon games. I’m no stranger to the Pokémon franchise, in fact I grew up with those games. Ten years since I last played Pokémon Sapphire, the franchise seems as strong as ever so it’s made me wonder what exactly it is about Pokémon that has captivated so many younglings, generation after generation. The strange thing is that Pokémon hasn’t really kept it fresh. The Pokémon are new and the maps are new but the series hasn’t evolved from the same basic formula from when it was released in Japan in 1996. And the answer to why is quite simple: the formula works. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when every new generation of games is meant for a new generation of children. There are many other reasons why Pokémon is successful, such as the TV series, but here I’m just going to focus on three key aspects of the games themselves and how they play on our basic human needs. Let’s roll.

 

Accomplishment

To a 7-year-old, winning this battle and becoming the League Champion basically means you win at life

The first point where Pokémon wins over the kiddies is with a frequent sense of accomplishment. There are always carrots dangling in front of you to go after and the game often rewards for doing so. Levelling up your Pokémon gives you ‘cool’ new moves or evolves them into stronger forms. There’s also the Gyms that you need to keep beating to progress and, for my kid cousin at least, there’s a huge sense of accomplishment in racking up those eight badges before finally taking on the Pokémon League. The reason why this works is because the rewards are so correlated with the efforts. Training your Charmander means getting to use Charizard and beating a Gym Leader means you’re allowed to move to new areas with new Pokémon and stronger trainers. Even after you beat the League, there are still plenty more things for you to do, like fill up your Pokédex or catch super-powerful Pokémon like Mewtwo. The rewards all chain so well into each other and you hardly ever feel like there are no more objectives to accomplish.

This works because we all love to feel like we’ve done something significant during the day and Pokémon, like Achievements or Trophies, plays on this relentlessly. The game also enables this further since it’s less skill-intensive and, overall not very difficult, so that younger children can feel like they’re good at it. I suppose there are more complex strategies for some such as accumulating EVs or picking a Pokémon with a good nature but, for the most part, the game can be beaten without even knowing these exist. Typically all you need to do to is grind your Pokémon to high levels, teach them strong moves and have enough different types to beat most teams; clearly within the reach of your average seven-year-old gamer. In fact, the game even gives you a few cop-outs such as super-powerful Legendary Pokémon like Lugia or Groudon and abusable healing items if you’re struggling. In a nutshell, the game offers a reasonable enough challenge to most young children, gives them tons of ways to overcome them and frequently rewards them for doing so.

 

Progresssion

Aside from making a mockery of Charles Darwin’s life work, Evolution gives kids a huge sense of progression in the game

The second thing that the Pokémon games do well is very much tied to the first; they give you a clear sense of progression. Being rewarded is important but perhaps even more so, is to have the feeling that the obstacles are becoming progressively more difficult. Now Pokémon is a rather easy game that actually gets easier as you go further along but the game still manages to give a massive sense, that you’re a lot better from where you started. Just compare yourself 1 hour into the game to 2 hours. And then to 4 hours and 8 hours. Every hour that you play, your Pokémon gain levels and you get to catch new ones so that over the period of the game you’re constantly moving forward. The game does a great deal to contribute to this by constantly scaling up the levels of Pokémon that you battle, evolving yours and your opponents’ Pokémon and giving them stronger moves. There’s hardly any loss factor in the game whatsoever, and the game does a great deal to give you a constant sense of accumulated resources.

The reason why all of this matters in Pokémon games is because progression is a concept that greatly appeals to us as human beings. We all like to feel like we’re moving forward in life and we hate feeling like we’re moving back. Anyone who’s mastered a craft or worked up a career ladder knows that there’s great satisfaction in knowing that you’re a better chef than you were a year ago or that you’re earning more than you did when you started out. Even if we aren’t really better off, just the idea that our circumstances are somewhat better than they used to be is an encouraging thought and one that Pokémon goes out of its way to keep providing.

 

Autonomy

In response to my teasing of him, my seven-year-old cousin named a weak Shroomish after me… he also spelled my name wrong…

The last point that I want to touch on, and arguably the strongest, is the powerful freedom of choice that Pokémon gives you throughout the whole experience. Pokémon doesn’t just give you an arbitrary set of objectives, they let you accomplish them in any way that you want, often giving you ten times more freedom than most ‘adult’ RPGs. You choose from two or three versions, you choose which starter Pokémon you want and, from there on, you pretty much just do as you please; there are no extensive tutorials or forced story choices to be found anywhere. While the game is essentially linear, you still get to choose which Pokémon you want to catch, who you’re going to include in your party, which types you’re going to favour and which moves you’re going to teach them. Heck, you can nickname your Pokémon to personalize them further. And really, the game imposes very few restrictions on you about this. You could even release your starter and beat the game with a team of level 100 Magikarps if you’re ambitious enough.

The reason why this is so important is because your Pokémon are not just weapons you pick up in a dungeon or guns that you unlock, they are the products of your choices. When you combine this with the sense of accomplishment and progression that I mentioned above, you’ll see that your Charizard is not just some fire-breathing dragon you to use to burn through teams, he’s your Charizard and, if you’re like my seven-year-old cousin, then you probably love him as though he were real. We humans tend to have a strong attachment to the things that we put effort into and the more autonomy we have in their growth, the more emotionally involved we become. It’s the same reason why parents are so attached to their own children and this point is really where Pokémon takes the cake. It gives you a freedom choice that actually matters, so unlike many RPGs of our era. (*cough* Mass Effect *cough*)

 

Conclusion

The first generation of English Pokémon games for the Nintendo Game Boy. Four generations have followed along with numerous special editions, remakes and spin-offs

In conclusion, Pokémon really does do a great deal to play on the impressionable minds of young children but you can’t argue that they don’t do it well. It may be evil that Pokémon takes advantage of the very basic needs we have for accomplishment, progression and autonomy from young ages already but I suppose at the very least it makes them happy. However, if you’re an adult, you should watch out very carefully for similar traits in the games you currently play. Just because a game has hideous demons or foreign soldiers instead of cute cartoon animals, it doesn’t mean it’s not trying to rope you in by playing on your basic human desires. As Dr Seuss once put it: adults are, after all, just obsolete children…

See you in two weeks time…

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ImRage: Dissecting Open-World Games http://egmr.net/2012/11/imrage-dissecting-open-world-games/ http://egmr.net/2012/11/imrage-dissecting-open-world-games/#comments Thu, 08 Nov 2012 09:00:17 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=102266 What makes them… and what ruins them? After finishing Assassin’s Creed III, I have to say I’m really disappointed. The criticisms of it, I’ll leave to other writers so what […]

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What makes them… and what ruins them?

After finishing Assassin’s Creed III, I have to say I’m really disappointed. The criticisms of it, I’ll leave to other writers so what I’d like to focus on today is its sandbox element. Just a quick refresher on what exactly I mean by ‘sandbox’ or ‘open-world’ game; in contrast to your linear game, which consists of a sequence of levels that you navigate from start to finish, a sandbox game typically throws you into some kind of large environment (like a city) which you can traverse at your leisure and complete missions in. Games like Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed and Crysis are notable entries in the genre as well as RPGs like Skyrim and Fallout. Today I’m going to take a look at some of their components and which games manage to execute them well… and which don’t.

 

Mission Structure

Batman Arkham City – used side quests to introduce DC characters not included in the main story. Arguably the best use of side quests in an Open-World game yet. This one was against the Mad Hatter. Brilliant level…

Arguably the make or break of a sandbox game is how entertaining the sandbox itself is. The mark of a good open-world experience is that you always find yourself with things to do but, more importantly, that you actually want to do them. A great example of this would be Skyrim in which the main quest just kind of gets forgotten because of how interesting the side quests are. A terrible example of this would be inFamous in which the side quests are just monotonous and repetitive objectives like ‘kill this many dudes’ or ‘follow this guy for 5 minutes’.

This aspect in sandbox games tends to manifest in the form of side quests, optional objectives and collectibles and sadly this is where many games get it wrong. It’s not fun to collect 500 flags or repeat the same fetch quests ad nauseum for NPCs you couldn’t care less about. The best sandbox games spice their side quests up with variety or use them to introduce new characters or plot threads; they use them to flesh out the world and add more to the experience. In a great sandbox game, the optional parts are as crucial to the experience as the main story. In a bad one, they’re easily forgotten about.

Winners: Skryim, Borderlands, Batman: Arkham City

Losers: inFamous, Assassin’s Creed, Spider-Man games

 

World Dynamics

GTA Vice City – You know you’re a bad-ass when the city sends the army after you with tanks… and then you steal those tanks… and park them in your garage…

An aspect that can take the sandbox experience to another level is how the world reacts to the actions of the player. As is usual in these games, you’re some kind of important character and you want to feel like a driving force in the game world. For instance, in GTA the world gives you a strong indication of the impact you’re making and even reacts directly to the trouble you cause with the Wanted Level System. On the other hand, a poor example is perhaps L.A. Noire in which you wonder at times if you even matter to the game world at all.

The reason why this aspect is so important is because an open world game is about creating your own experiences and being a catalyst for change in the game world. You want to know that your actions have consequences and the good games personalize this to the point where you’ll hear about your exploits on the radio or be liked or disliked by other characters for the decisions that you’ve made. The worst thing that can happen in a sandbox game is for you to be the character that saved the world (or condemned it) and to feel like no one could be bothered for it.

Winners: Grand Theft Auto, Prototype, Fallout 3

Losers: L.A. Noire, Skyrim, Dark Souls

 

World Size & Getting Around the Place

The Amazing Spider-Man – Once you get used to travelling like this, taking the bus just doesn’t cut it any more…

Open-World games, as the name implies, often take place in large open environments, usually a city or geographical region. Exploring the world is meant to be part of the appeal but when you have no convenient way to get to where you want to go, it can quickly turn sour. A bad example of this is inFamous again and the painful amount of effort it requires to get from one end of the city to the other (he’s a bike messenger, why can’t he have a bike?). A better example is Prototype in which you can run at high speeds, scale buildings and fly allowing you to get from point A to point B as easily as possible but also have fun while you do it.

When the game doesn’t allow for magical superpowers like flight or webbing then sandbox games often turn to vehicles or platforming to make this part of the game more pleasant. Having a fast travel system is a useful cop-out when the world is massive but sometimes it does defeat the purpose of having such a big world to begin with. A great sandbox game has a world that’s big enough to keep exploring fresh, small enough so that you can become comfortable with it and gives you an effective and pleasant way to travel. A bad one frustrates you with the simple task of getting around.

Winners: Prototype, Spider-Man games, Batman: Arkham City

Losers: inFamous, Assassin’s Creed, Dragon’s Dogma

 

Resources & Territory

Assassin’s Creed III – Selling pots? Is this really what assassins do in their free time? Or perhaps the developers are the type of people who think that doing accounting is fun…

When I see this aspect of Open World games emphasized, I’m often puzzled at its inclusion. Many sandbox games include some kind of ‘take over the city‘ theme and while it may have been fresh the first time it was used, it really has become a dry and boring go-to mechanic used by many games to add more missions. In general though, managing your resources in an Open-World game can either be very fun or very tedious and the bottom line is that it needs to add options to your game rather than annoyances.

A game where territory control and resource management is executed extremely well is The Godfather II. You can use your soldiers to capture or defend bases and accompany you on missions, leaving you to focus on what you really want to do. The same can’t be said about Assassin’s Creed however and having my bases repeatedly attacked in Revelations led me to just abandon them entirely so that I wouldn’t have to go through that god-awful tower defense mini-game. Oh and constantly repairing your houses in Fable, bowling with your cousins in GTA or selling wood in ACIII isn’t fun either. The key? Remember that the game is a sandbox, not a management sim. If resource management absolutely needs to be in there it should be painless, automated or at the very least, the game needs to give you the tools to make it fun.

Winners: Saints Row, Godfather II, The Saboteur

Losers: Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto, Fable 3

 

Is Open-World Justified?

Dishonored – A game with large open levels doesn’t always need to be Open-World to be successful. Dishonored reminded us that even linear games can give you the freedom to play them in your own way.

I suppose that the last question that needs to be asked to determine whether or not a title is a good Open-World game is, “Should it be Open-World to begin with?” Sometimes its not that easy to answer. I’ve slated inFamous I and II a lot in this column for having many poor sandbox elements but they really are fantastic games with fantastic stories; they just might have been better off being linear. But then a game like Skyrim just wouldn’t be able to exist if there wasn’t a large open province that you had the freedom to explore and affect change in at your whim.

The appeal of an Open-World game is usually to be the main character in your own story or, at the very least, to have some kind of influence on the world itself. Even if you can’t have that, you at least want the luxury being able to approach objectives in the way you want to. A game like L.A. Noire, as classy as it is, isn’t your story; it’s Cole Phelp’s story and, no matter what you do, it’s only going to pan out in one specific way. In contrast, Red Dead Redemption might be John Marston’s story but you can still enjoy it the way you want to. A great Open-World game is only Open-World because it needs to be. Because, if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t live up to its potential.

Winners: Skyrim, Red Dead Redemption, Fallout 3

Losers: inFamous, L.A. Noire, Viking: Battle for Asgard

 

In Conclusion

I hope this article has given you a bit of insight into the many aspects of a very popular genre of games nowadays. By no means are these all-encompassing and there really is a lot more that makes or breaks a truly excellent Open-World experience. In the end though, it’s really quite simple; a truly excellent Open-World experience creates a living place that you’d love to get lost in. And a bad one doesn’t… that’s all there is to it.

See you in two week’s time…

Skyrim – Sometimes all it takes to make an awesome Open-World game is a small man in a big world, making a difference… and Dragons. Definitely Dragons…

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Is Assassin’s Creed The New FIFA? http://egmr.net/2012/11/is-assassins-creed-the-new-fifa/ http://egmr.net/2012/11/is-assassins-creed-the-new-fifa/#comments Thu, 01 Nov 2012 11:15:30 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=101596 So the long-awaited fifth and final game in the Assassin’s Creed ‘Trilogy‘ just released yesterday and Assassin’s Creed III has been produced with the intent to move onto a new […]

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So the long-awaited fifth and final game in the Assassin’s Creed ‘Trilogy‘ just released yesterday and Assassin’s Creed III has been produced with the intent to move onto a new Assassin ancestor in Colonial America and then finally conclude Desmond’s dragged-out story. But is this the end of Assassin’s Creed as we know it? Probably not. Actually let me rephrase that: definitely not. Make no mistake, Assassin’s Creed will come back and it’s not because we can’t get enough of Ezio’s magnificent Italian accent (it’s not that magnificent) but rather because the franchise has just become too successful Ubisoft to let it go.

Just last month, the creative director of ACIII said that the franchise is really popular and that as long as they feel they can produce quality each year, there’s no reason to stop with ACIII (click here). This is pretty much the pattern we’ve observed in the two sequels to ACII (Brotherhood and Revelations) and the release of AC: Bloodlines and Liberation, so there’s plenty of reason to believe that in the future ACIII is going to have some kind of successor whether it’s a direct sequel, spin-off or new direction for the franchise. Part of me feels like this is some form of extortion because Brotherhood and Revelations were so average but I really have to wonder; is it such a bad thing if Assassin’s Creed becomes some kind of annualized franchise? To answer that, let’s digress a little bit.

The original Assassin’s Creed trilogy may be ending with ACIII but this might not be the last we see of Altair, Ezio, Connor and Desmond.

Firstly, while sequels get a lot of shtick in the gaming industry, they really do have to exist and honestly this can be a good thing for everybody. Let’s take God of War for instance. The first God of War took five whole years to develop (as long as your high school career) and was a truly amazing game but it left a lot of design space and story unexplored. God of War II, by comparison, only took two years in development and managed to hit all the notes that the first game missed and raised the bar because it had a strong platform to build on. God of War III came three years later to take the series to its absolute pinnacle and finish off with a bang. So as you already know, continuing the series past the first game benefited the developers with shorter development times and more profitable games and it benefited us too because we got to play through the series as it explored all of its design space and provided higher and higher quality experiences.

The other good thing about sequels is that we, as human beings, are creatures of habit and familiarity is something that strongly appeals to us. Most of us eat from the same take-away places we like or buy (pirate) music from our same favourite artists and the same applies to games. Our tastes can and do change over time but at least for some period of our life, we do get hyped up when the new Elder Scrolls or FIFA game comes out even if it’s just the same thing as last time but slightly better.

And the FIFA business model is certainly living the dream as far as most developers are concerned. Imagine developing the exact same product year-in and year-out and people just flock outside the stores to get a piece of the latest one (*cough* iPad 4 * cough*). Obviously, of course, you need to be doing something right for this strategy to work and FIFA manages to add just enough each year to justify our purchases while also greedily holding other things back so that we can buy the next game in a year’s time when they add those features. It’s a strategy that’s insanely profitable if done well and the success of the Call of Duty series using this model has certainly shown that annual releases can work outside of sports or racing games.

FIFA 13 smashed sales records despite being essentially the same game as last year. It’s a greedy game for sure but I’m not going to lie, FIFA 13 is the best one yet and I’m having a lot of fun with it.

It can be awesome to get a new game every year but there’s also a dark side to it. Sequels and franchises are all fair and well when they’re executed properly like God of War was and each game is intended to take the series to another level. They also work well when they’re done like Uncharted where the intent is to give you a top quality but familiar experience each time but with a new twist on it. The point where they become evil is when they release the same game every single year with a couple of incremental changes and without feeling the need to ever truly innovate or take the series further. In short, it becomes evil when the intent is to spit out another game just for the sake of it, regardless of whether or not there are new places for the series to go (kind of like what Nintendo does).

Somehow FIFA manages to improve just enough each year but they’re the exception. By contrast, franchises like Call of Duty and Halo (and many Nintendo franchises) just seem like they’re going to go on forever and forever regardless of whether or not they can actually bring something new to the table or continue in a meaningful way. Not all series need to be continued ad infinitum and sometimes the greatest service you can do to a series whose design space has been exhausted is to let it end (as opposed to Max Payne 3) or, at the very least, reinvent it or something (like Mortal Kombat).

I suppose this is also the reason why I’m so disappointed in God of War. Because after concluding the trilogy in the most spectacular of fashions they’ve taken a step backwards and gone into the murky realm of prequels with God of War: Ascension. Instead of taking the God of War concept in a new direction, they’re just thrown Kratos into some miscellaneous time era to randomly dispatch giant beasts and Greek deities. To me at least, the existing prequels (Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta) were nothing to write home about and I can’t see Ascension being able to top God of War III. It’s sad actually, because it’s not even trying to. I guess it just feels like the series has jumped the shark I can’t see any reason for Ascension’s existence other than greed.

Left to Right: Good, Better, Best, Unnecessary

I guess I’m wondering if that’s where Assassin’s Creed is heading. Like I said, sequels can be good with the right intentions but bad when they’re shoveled out on an annual basis without really doing anything different. So far, there’s not much reason to be optimistic because AC: Brotherhood and AC: Revelations were exactly that: incremental updates on Assassin’s Creed II that didn’t take the series further or stand proudly in the franchise. It’s disappointing because ACI and ACII were such great games and Brotherhood and Revelations can’t really hold a candle to them. As for ACIII, they’ve been working on it for three years and with a team of their talent, I’m sure that it’s going to be a show-stopper. But after that? I’m not expecting much. I suppose the good part of this is that when Assassin’s Creed III ends, the fans won’t really have to say goodbye. The bad part is that we may have to watch a series we love degenerate into a money-printing machine and ultimately become something we’re disappointed in.

Star Wars Episode 7 anyone? See you next week…

Pray this day never comes…

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ImRage: Why Console Gaming Is Better Than PC Gaming http://egmr.net/2012/10/imrage-why-console-gaming-is-better-than-pc-gaming/ http://egmr.net/2012/10/imrage-why-console-gaming-is-better-than-pc-gaming/#comments Thu, 25 Oct 2012 09:00:58 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=89509 I’m sure that many of you PC-Game aficionados must be frothing at the mouth after reading the very title of this column and I’m expecting a reasonable number of explanations […]

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I’m sure that many of you PC-Game aficionados must be frothing at the mouth after reading the very title of this column and I’m expecting a reasonable number of explanations as to why you think I’m an idiot, but if you’re looking for a well-thought out argument, then you’ve come to the wrong place. No, this is a rage column… and this week I’m directing my rage at Personal Computers.

Before most PC Gamers even read the rest of this article they’re going to begin with their defense of PC games by saying that PCs have superior graphics which is true… circumstantially. The current generation of consoles are bout 6-7 years old now so they are sitting with a significant hardware disadvantage but back when they were released, and for some time after, you had to pay a king’s ransom if you wanted the same level of immersion from a PC and I did the smart thing and paid less than half of that for my entire PS3 console. 6 years later, I could care less if I’m not seeing every last bead of sweat on Nathan Drake’s forehead, console games still look excellent and the advantages PC games have over them is marginal. Graphics have advanced to a point where very few games nowadays are what can be deemed as ‘unplayable’ and if visuals still are make or break for you, then you’re probably better off going to watch Avatar instead of playing games. As for me personally, gameplay comes first. I’ve got plenty of HD re-releases for my PS3 and Vita and I’m more than happy with PS2 graphics if the game is good enough. So that one advantage, doesn’t mean a great deal.

As you can see in this Dishonored (2012) screenshot, the graphics of PC games are so superior to your everyday console games that it hardly makes a difference…

And in any case, you also need to factor in the cost. It’s one thing to say that Crysis 3 can only be fully ‘experienced’ (yawn) on the ‘Ultimate Gaming PC’ and not a PS3 or 360 but the ‘Ultimate Gaming PC’ is most certain to have an ‘Ultimate Price Tag’. Maybe nowadays, with the improvements in technology, it isn’t quite as costly but when the consoles were initially released and for years after that, it required a significant investment to be able to enjoy PC games on a superior level to console games. And if you do want to keep up with the Jones’s and enjoy constant first class graphics, be prepared to upgrade every few years. I have upgraded my PS3 exactly zero times since I got it. Factor in also, that consoles have become cheaper over time (and that the 360 has always been available in 3 different price tiers) and when it comes to bang for your buck, consoles are a clear winner.

The next point that PC gamers will throw at me with smirking aplomb is that PC gamers have a better multi-player experience; something which isn’t even true anymore. PSN/PS Plus and Xbox Live are none too shabby services for online play and hundreds of thousands of gamers happily pay monthly subscriptions for them. Built-in voice chat, universal friends lists, party systems and ease of messaging are just a few of the features that make online gaming on a console a pleasant experience so it’s far easier for the same group of friends to move from Call of Duty to FIFA on a console than it is on a PC. Steam and Mumble can definitely compete but has the downside that your friends have to be online with it as well. And then of course, when it comes to local multi-player, consoles win hands down. If a bunch of people come to your house, it’s far easier to give each person a controller then it is to set everyone up at a PC and there are plenty of console games that support social multi-player like FIFA or Singstar. That’s hard for the PC to match since it doesn’t even have most of these games.

Try doing this on a PC… oh wait, you can’t…

The next argument PC gamers will use is that the mouse and keyboard are better peripherals than a controller. Circumstantial only. First Person Shooters, Real Time Strategy, Role-Playing Games: yes. Action, Adventure, Fighting, Sport, Platforming, 3rd Person Shooter, Racing: a resounding no. Have you ever tried playing Street Fighter or Devil May Cry on a keyboard? It’s like trying to play Jenga with a prosthetic. You can, and are encouraged to, use an Xbox controller to play FIFA on your PC, but that just makes you a console gamer in denial. FPS and RPG games on a console, however, are still enjoyable experiences. Resistance, Modern Warfare, Mass Effect and Skyrim all turned out pretty awesomely for me on PS3 and I have no complaints about the controls at all. In fact, in the case of Skyrim, Mass Effect and Dishonoured, the controls and menus were designed with consoles in mind. There is, however, a PS3 mouse controller hybrid thing available if you’re looking for PC-level precision and that’s just plug-and-play as opposed to installing a controller on a PC.

There’s also a much larger game library available to consoles these days. Games like God of War (Action), Halo (FPS) and Tekken (Fighting) are unlikely to ever end up on a PC and when the PC does get thrown a bone like Assassin’s Creed then it’s usually late. Yes I will admit that the PC exclusive developers Blizzard and Valve still produce top quality games like Diablo III, Starcraft 2 and DotA 2 but those tend to be games that can only truly be enjoyed with online multi-player and then of course you’re at the mercy of server crashes and laggy internet (Error 37 Diablo fans?). Diablo, Starcraft and DotA are amazing games but when it comes to sheer volume, consoles just have so many more exclusives and with so much greater variety.

These are old games yes, but they’re just a drop in the ocean of games the PC will never get…

 

And then of course there’s the secret weapon that consoles have that PC gaming will never be able to match. You see consoles have this amazing ability that when you put a game disc into the drive… it actually works! Believe it. Games can actually be played with minimal fuss and other than a few 5 minute installs on a couple of games, it’s simple as plug and play. For computers there’s the Install Shields and Activation Keys and DRM and Online Verification and God knows what else they’ll come up with next. Its a massive schlep before you get to play pretty much anything and when you finally do manage to get into the game there’s still optimising the settings to reach the right balance between frame rate and graphics and making sure your peripherals are recognized and supported. Nowadays you even have to be logged online just to be able to play many single player games. Frankly, I don’t think PC gaming will ever be able to match the hassle-free ability to play games that consoles have thanks to the anti-piracy measures used by most developers, a problem consoles don’t even have.

And then there’s this last problem with PCs in general that makes my skin crawl. No matter how awesome your processor in your PC is when you first buy it, it eventually grows to suck. Through regular use such as installing and uninstalling applications and games, they all start to slow down. You can clean the registry and fix the errors and defrag the disc and disable startup applications but you’re only prolonging the inevitable. Eventually, your once ultimate machine becomes slow and clunky and the only way to fix it is with a format. Apparently you’re supposed to format your PC every year or two to keep it healthy but honestly, why should you have to go through all that hassle just to make sure that the most expensive machine in your house just does its job properly? I’ve haven’t ever needed to format my PS3 and it still works just like the day I got it.

I am quite enraged at PCs at the moment but then again, maybe I’m just getting sick of Windows. It’s all I’ve been using for the last 20 years and I’ve been through enough PCs to know that it’s just part and parcel of the whole deal. Use it for a year and it becomes slower than a whale. Next computer I’m getting is a Mac… screw over-pricing and no games, I’ll pay any amount of money for something that just flipping works…

See you in two weeks time…

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ImRage: Virtual Reality — The Future of Gaming? http://egmr.net/2012/10/imrage-virtual-reality-the-future-of-gaming/ http://egmr.net/2012/10/imrage-virtual-reality-the-future-of-gaming/#comments Thu, 11 Oct 2012 09:00:18 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=98532 Almost one year ago, SONY released the world’s first 3D Headset and well… it didn’t exactly set the world alight. Few things that SONY are involved in ever do. They’re […]

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Almost one year ago, SONY released the world’s first 3D Headset and well… it didn’t exactly set the world alight. Few things that SONY are involved in ever do. They’re a great electronics company but are truly atrocious at marketing and product design and that’s why you’ve seen the Xbox 360 sell more than the PS3, Samsung HDTV’s sell more than SONY’s Bravia and pretty much everything selling more than the Vita. But even though SONY’s magical headset hasn’t blown the world away (yet) and isn’t even a true VR device, it does bode well for Virtual Reality Gaming in the near future.

The SONY HMZ-T1 Personal 3D Viewer: It could be normal to have something like this in the next 10 years

At the very least, the technology is certainly available. What many gamers are finally starting to realize is that the next console generation is literally around the corner. The 360 released at the end of 2005 and the Wii and PS3 followed in 2006 making this current 7th generation of consoles around 6-7 years old. In computer terms, that means 6-7 years outdated. Processing power and graphics, as they always do, have come a long way since we all thought Crysis was the best looking game ever made. Just take a look at the Crysis 3 tech trailer and the CryEngine 3 Technology Demo. No matter how amazing we think graphics currently are, they keep getting better and if you’ve seen movies like Avatar then you know that photo-realism isn’t just a fantasy, it’s a possibility. If you’re not convinced, take a look at the Infinity blade 2 trailer. 6 years ago, would you have imagined PS3 graphics being available on a device as small as a phone? It looks better than the CGI we saw in movies not so long ago. As time goes on, the technology becomes cheaper and more widely spread, we should eventually begin to see photo-realistic graphics in games. Who knows? Maybe even in the next console generation.

Realistic graphics would be amazing for the VR experience but before that we would need a headset more easily obtainable than SONY’s. Also note that while SONY’s 3D Personal Viewer does offer full-screen 3D and surround sound, it doesn’t support head-tracking. One device that does, however, is the Oculus Rift. It demoed this year at E3 while running Doom 3: BFG Edition to a fantastic reception but sadly, it isn’t yet available for mass-market consumption. Developers, however, can pre-order the dev kit from their website so it certainly seems like that’s what they’re pushing for. It provides huge viewing angles so you’ll always have some images in your peripheral vision (like in real life!) and its head-tracking allows you to look around in the gaming world by simply turning your head (again like in real life!). In one the video links hyper-linked above, Oculus state that their vision is for high quality VR to be available and affordable to the market specifically for gaming. Whether or not this vision can be realized we’ll have to wait and see but I’ve got a lot of belief that we could see common-place VR in the next 10 years. The way technology seems to be progressing, it could even be sooner.

The Rift has huge viewing angles, allowing for peripheral vision

And imagining virtual reality in gaming really does seem amazing. At present, you still need to use a controller to navigate and control your character while using the Rift but the recent popularity in Motion Control gaming tells us that this might not always have to be the case. PS3’s sixaxis is something they’d probably prefer us to forget and the Playstation Move has great handling but no decent games, but Nintendo’s Wii has shown us from the start that Motion Controls can actually provide an enjoyable and immersive experience on a gaming console. Microsoft’s Kinect released in 2010 followed suit by going one step further and removing controllers entirely. Admittedly the technology isn’t perfect with the Kinect having not really done anything significant other than dancing Darth Vader but the potential is certainly there. I personally prefer the feel of a controller in my hands and think some kind of motion controller like the Wiimote or PlayStation Move is the way to go for VR but I’m certainly open to the idea of a completely controller free experience.

For me the main problem with controller-free VR would probably be that you’d expect to actually feel something when you touch objects (like trees) in game. Just the rumble of a dualshock controller in your hand adds more immersion than you’d expect and I’m not sure if simulating textures is a realistic prospect for the mass market. A search on Google led me to a really interesting article regarding haptics technology i.e. simulating touch. If you own a touch-screen phone with an option for haptic feedback then you’d know that just a minor vibration makes the button press feel more satisfactory. In the article they claim to have already created virtual environments where pushing objects with a sensor rod generates resistance and a table tennis game can be simulated using only the handle. Their view is that such technology could be as widely used as the internet within 20 years. A look on Wikipedia took me to another article about some Japanese researchers who found a way to simulate feedback using ultrasound. Technology like this is still in development but requires no special gloves or rods to be used and can even be used by multiple people. And then there are some bizarre articles on the web about researchers working on the prospect of simulating all five senses, including smell, in virtual environments (alternative link). While some of these concepts may seem rather far-fetched to you, take note that they do actually exist; they just aren’t fully developed or commercially viable just yet.

And therein lies the problem of course: price. Technology this expensive would not doubt cost a fortune. Just look at SONY’s HMZ-T1 3D Headset currently retailing at $800. A 320GB PS3 with a controller and a game goes for $300, so you’re looking at 2.67 times the cost of a PS3 for JUST the headset. (Note that in South Africa the 320GB PS3 is R4,000, so the headset would cost well over R10,000.) And SONY’s HMZ-T1 isn’t even a true VR device just yet; in fact, it’s nowhere close. How expensive do you think it’ll be when the first true Virtual Reality system hits the market? Don’t let this put you off though, a few decades ago the first computers were as big as rooms and costed fortunes and now they’re available everywhere and anywhere. Thankfully electronics do become cheaper over time as technology progresses. I remember paying an absolute bargain R14,000 on special for my 3DTV since retail was around R20,000 and  now I’m seeing superior models selling just a few years later for R9,000 and less. The prices drop even more sharply for computers and phones and you can expect the VR headsets to drop to a more reasonable price level within a year or two of their initial mass market release. Remember, firms won’t produce products if nobody can afford to buy them (unless those firms are SONY) and with any luck the world economy might be in better shape in a couple of years compared to the dreadful state it’s in now.

My personal belief is that Virtual Reality Gaming will explode once it becomes affordable and hits the mass market and go on to redefine gaming as we know it. The reason why Motion Controls and 3D graphics haven’t already done this already is because they’re not really that much more ‘fun’ or immersive than gaming with a controller or regular TV (and are sometimes inferior) so there’s not really much incentive to change over. But VR might be able to change that. Once we begin to enjoy truly immersive gaming experiences that can make us feel like we’re in another world entirely, would we really want to go back? If we don’t, we may end up being taken over by suit-wearing programs while the world outside is ravaged by machines who use human beings as living batteries… or maybe that’s just in The Matrix…

See you in two weeks time…

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ImRage: Why Achievements / Trophies Are Useless, And Potentially Dangerous http://egmr.net/2012/09/imrage-why-achievementstrophys-are-useless-and-potentially-dangerous/ http://egmr.net/2012/09/imrage-why-achievementstrophys-are-useless-and-potentially-dangerous/#comments Thu, 27 Sep 2012 09:00:22 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=98029 I’ve got bad news for the Gamerscore and Trophy Level enthusiasts around the world: Trophies and Achivements are useless. But then, you knew that already. They’re nice to look at […]

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I’ve got bad news for the Gamerscore and Trophy Level enthusiasts around the world: Trophies and Achivements are useless. But then, you knew that already. They’re nice to look at and feel proud of yourself, but deep down you must know that these things don’t really mean as much as the value you attach to them. Don’t get me wrong, I was also a ‘Trophy Whore’ once upon a time (13 Platinums on my old account) but yet for all that effort, I really have nothing to show it. On a side note, one of the main reasons I’m writing this column is because I recently read an argument, from an achievement-loving gamer, about why he considers completing a game to be a noteworthy achievement i.e. something that you should pat yourself on the back and be proud of yourself for. If you are someone like him and enjoy hunting trophies or achievements then this column is probably aimed at you.

That said, no offence intended. I’m just trying to reason this out. Let’s roll.

The first thing that I take issue with, is the fact that they’re called ‘Achievements’ or ‘Trophies’. Immediately the name gives you this sense that you’ve accomplished something when really, you haven’t. The gamer who wrote that article argued that completion is an accomplishment because ‘few people have done it’ but really, I can’t agree with that. I’m almost certainly sure that very few people have drowned themselves in mustard while wearing a tutu but would you consider that an achievement? On the other hand scaling Mount Everest is something few people have done and that’s most definitely an amazing feat so I feel like there’s something more needed here to distinguish climbing mountains from drowning yourself in food dressing. Dictionary.com has the following to say:

Sadly, this is another lacking definition. Again drowning yourself in mustard is a fitting counter-example. Self-mustardization (I just invented this word) does take superior ability in that you need self control, special effort to buy that much mustard and great courage AKA stupidity to actually go through with it and I’m sure many people would consider it to be quite remarkable (the Guinness Book of Records might have something to say about it) but really you can’t call it a noteworthy accomplishment. The only thing you’ve really accomplished by doing something that stupid is removing your second-rate genes from the gene pool (unless of course you’ve already had children in which case it is too late). I think a disclaimer needs to be added to the above definition and it probably should include something to the effect that “an achievement is something that enriches someone or the people around them”. Basically an experience that you come out a wiser and better person from; that I’d consider an achievement.

This is an Achievement

So again, context is important here. Its easy to say that writing a book is an achievement, but if you just spend 200 pages writing the word “Walrus” you wouldn’t consider it an enriching experience. Writing a book that you’ve put effort into to make it the best you can, now that’s an achievement. I don’t think it should be important whether or not ‘everyone has done it’. Many people finish school and matriculate but I’d certainly tell anyone with a matric certificate that they’ve achieved something and enriched themselves (it’s arguable how much school really ‘enriches’ you but that’s a topic for another time). In the same vein I’d consider studying to obtain a degree to be an achievement because you’re going through difficulty to develop your skills and understanding of the world. For the same reasons I consider learning to play the guitar an achievement, or starting a business, or helping out at a charity event, or losing 5kgs, or winning a Starcraft Tournament or marrying the woman / man of your dreams. Yes, I agree that people achieve on different levels but the common factor in an achievement should be that you’ve put in effort and that you or others will be rewarded as a result, even if it’s just financially or from lessons learnt. I just don’t see how completing Call of Duty, even on the hardest difficult, can compare to something like this.

This is NOT an Achievement

And that’s because if gaming is simply a hobby to you, then Achievement Hunting is not going to enrich you in any other way than simply being better at games. If you’re a professional gamer or a tournament player then that’s a different story, but if you’re just playing for the Gamerscore then it’s not going give you any benefits, tangible or intangible, other than some mild recognition from your gamer friends. One day when you’re old and sitting on a porch reminiscing about your life, are you really going to count your Trophy Level among your great many accomplishments? But if bragging rights are what you’re aiming for by acquiring these trophies, then I honestly think that’s dangerous. But of course, you need to decide for yourself whether social validation is a good enough motivation to do something.

But let’s say you aren’t seeking validation from your friends. Are you then seeking validation from a machine? Do you really need a ping and an icon to pop-up to convince yourself that you did a good job? Gaming, like reading, watching movies or following a television series is a pastime. Your friends don’t congratulate you after you successfully manage to watch Batman and I doubt your mother pats on you on the head when you finish reading Harry Potter (unless you’re five, in which case it probably is an achievement). So why should you be recognized for completing a game? Do you carry around a list of all the TV series you’ve successfully watched?

Honestly, this is the part where I see Trophy hunting becoming dangerous: when you’re exerting yourself for no other benefit than short term validation. Perhaps this is troubling me more because of what I read in a social study referenced in a book called ‘The Upside of Irrationality” by Dan Ariely. (A quick aside, Dan Ariely is down to earth, funny and his books are easy to read. I highly recommend watching him speak at this conference here and his first book “Predictably Irrational”.) In the second chapter of the book he talks about a study he conducted with regards to people seeking validation for their work. In a controlled experiment he asked students to find 10 occurrences of two letters ‘S’ next to each other on a page full of letters for small financial rewards and diminishing rewards for each page they completed. In the first group the students wrote their names on the sheet and the examiner nodded at them positively every time they finished a page, in the second group the examiner just placed it on a pile and in the third the examiner shredded the page in front of their eyes without looking. He found the second and the third group completed around the same number of pages on average but in the first group, where the examiner just nodded positively, the number of completed sheets was far higher! This is just one experiment, but if you read the book he talks about quite a few others.

Ariely goes on to speak about how positive acknowledgement can vastly increase your productivity but the dangerous side is that simple validation can increase the amount of time you put into pointless tasks just because you like being told that you’re doing a good job. Just by someone nodding at you, you’re more willing to want to waste more time finding more S’s on a page, an activity of no intrinsic benefit to you whatsoever. The same can apply to games. Think about it, before Achievements came along, would you have tried to collect all 100 feathers in Assassin’s Creed or kill 72,000 zombies in Dead Rising? Even if you’re a completionist, chances are you might have let it slide for many games. As someone who has collected all the Shards in InFamous and beat CoD: WaW on Veteran I can tell you that in no way are these tasks fun and doing it all just for a virtual thumbs up just makes me feel sad about it in a way; it truly was a waste of precious time that I could have used to do much more important or worthwhile things, maybe even if it was just playing other games. If you are someone who’s putting a lot of time into hunting achievements, I’d highly recommend that you think about what you’re getting in return for it, especially if it feels like work.

If you bought this game just for the Trophies / Acheivements you may have a problem

Lastly, as a comment, there are also problems with the Achievement and Trophy system themselves that I’d like to point out. For one, they lack consistency. A higher Gamerscore or Trophy Level doesn’t tell anyone at all how good you really are at games. Call of Duty: WaW’s Platinum requires you to beat the game on Veteran, an infuriatingly difficult task that can take an excellent gamer around 30 hours. In Megamind, a toddler could get the Platinum in 3 hours no sweat. And yet both add the exact same value to your Gamerscore or Trophy Level. Secondly, Achievements are often used as a cop-out by developers to avoid adding bonus content. Before the days of Trophies, Uncharted and other games had their own built-in unlock system where performing tasks or beating the games on higher difficulties unlocked cheats, costumes, weapons or alternate modes; nowadays you unlock trophies instead. Before, you’d complete Max Payne 2 on hard to unlock the true ending, now you’d complete Max Payne 3 on hard for a ping sound and an icon.

But that’s about enough for today. I’ve said a lot on this topic but I still feel like there’s a lot more to say. The whole validation thing is an area of study of its own in the social sciences and what we can perceive as an accomplishment certainly is an open ended debate. I suppose there is always the possibility that I’m wrong and that acquiring Achievements is, in fact, an outstanding and life-changing accomplishment. In which case, I would like to put ‘Eating Debonairs’ on my CV. After all it did require superior ability (ability to use the phone), special effort (I had to pay for it), great courage (I had to talk to the cashier) and I’m sure that with the way their quality has dropped in recent years, not many people are doing it.

See you in two weeks time…

Real Achievement lies beyond the realm of Trophies and Gamerscore


 

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ImRage: 100% Free DLC — Why You Should Support Tekken Tag Tournament 2 http://egmr.net/2012/09/imrage-100-free-dlc-why-you-should-support-tekken-tag-tournament-2/ http://egmr.net/2012/09/imrage-100-free-dlc-why-you-should-support-tekken-tag-tournament-2/#comments Thu, 13 Sep 2012 09:00:47 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=95991 As many of you might know, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is due to be released tomorrow and, even before the game’s release, I’m of the opinion that it’s destined to […]

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As many of you might know, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is due to be released tomorrow and, even before the game’s release, I’m of the opinion that it’s destined to succeed. The tag system looks exciting, the battles look intense and it’s overflowing with features; but those factors alone are never enough to guarantee a successful game. What might be more important to it becoming successful is the philosophy behind TTT2; a philosophy that is practically non-existent in developers nowadays. But before we get to that, try this mental exercise quickly: how much would you be willing to pay for a ten character DLC? R50? R100? R200?. Well here’s a Tweet from TTT2’s head developer and here’s what he has to say about it.


Try 0. Read it again once you’ve picked up your jaw because I absolutely struggled to believe it the first time. Is this really a developer going that extra mile to produce a better game? It’s as scarce in today’s industry as a flying cat. It’s actually quite an absurdity when you consider that the game already has 50 characters ready to play off the disc. Think about that for a second, fifty. That’s more than any other fighting game released this generation, more than any Tekken game ever released and there are at least ten more, all downloadable or unlockable for free with Harada promising to work on more in the future. Ten more brings the roster up to 60. Tekken 6 had 41 playable fighters and that was considered ridiculous. Even Super Street Fighter IV’s cast of 35 was considered to be varied and large. 60, and possibly more, just dwarfs it by such a huge factor that its hard to even imagine it. (Full list can be found here.)

It seems too good to be true but in a time when video game developers are too cheap to even include an instruction booklet in their games any more, you have a development team that is trying as hard as it can to fill their game with as much quality content as possible. You can argue quantity versus quality but the Tekken series has always had high quality characters with great models (which have improved since Tekken 6) and between 50-100 moves each so it’s hard to be disappointed as a Tekken fan when nearly every character that the franchise has ever seen is playable in this one game. And that’s not even counting the other free DLC extras. I’m sure the Dead or Alive fans who purchased their Bikini costumes would be jealous when they find out Tekken Tag is giving the exact same thing to its fans free of charge.

I’m actually finding it hard to stay my usual objective self on this and I can’t help but feel the excitement. So many games nowadays are minimalist experiences and once you get through the meagre scraps that they throw at you for about six to eight hours you pretty much have no reason to ever play the game again other than sheer debilitating boredom. Worse yet is the state that the Fighting Game genre is in at the moment thanks to Crapcom. It should come as no surprise to those of you who read this column on a regular basis that even though I am a huge fan of the Devil May Cry and Street Fighter franchises, I hate Capcom and everything they stand for. I actually wrote about why I consider them to be the current generation’s worst developers right here and one of my main reasons for despising them was because of their desire to constantly push more and more paid DLC till it became an industry standard.

And sadly, constant paid DLC is becoming an industry norm. Recently, a BioWare developer spoke up to defend Day 1 DLC (click here) and I quote him saying: “Every game is an ongoing service, almost like an MMO, where on any given day new content shows up. Maybe that’s part of the base package, and maybe it’s a premium feature”. To me, at least, that’s a sad image of the future of gaming. That you can pay R500 to R600 on a game at full retail price (which is already ten times the price of a movie or five times the price of a book) and then still not be entitled to the full experience unless you’re willing to pay an additional 10%-30% premium on your purchase to buy content, some of which might already be on the disc (i.e. having been finished during the standard development cycle). I’m sure it works as a business model, but something about it makes me sick to my stomach.

The most shocking example of this, as many of you are no doubt familiar with, was with Capcom’s very own Street Fighter X Tekken. It was a game that I was really looking forward to, being both a Street Fighter and a Tekken fan, but not even I could deny that it was an un-finished bare-bones experience where you could hardly finish a battle without the timer running out. Within a week I could already see what a flimsy package it was. And then, of course, came the worst shock of all that left everyone who purchased it feeling betrayed; the 12 character on-disc DLC. Twelve additional characters were locked on the disc and could only be unlocked by paying an additional $20 on your original $60 purchase (US figures here). That’s a 25% premium just to fill out a character roster? And don’t get me started on all of the other DLC for that game that’s required to actually make the game feel complete in terms of promised features. Imagine having to pay 25% more on a movie ticket or you can’t see any of the Catwoman scenes in Batman. Ludicrous isn’t it? But that’s essentially what Capcom did.

There were of course ‘people’ (read imbeciles) who defended this strategy and saw the ‘merits’ in it but I felt determined in my beliefs that this was not the right way to do things and that if developers went this route it would be a sad and miserable era for the gaming industry. And now with Tekken Tag’s release, I finally feel vindicated in my beliefs; there are still Triple A developers out there that care enough to produce the best game that they possibly can. Developers whose first priority is to make a great game rather than make a great profit. It really is heart-warming to see developers like Valve and many Indie companies still have the desire to produce amazing games. Even Ubisoft joined the party recently when they decided to finally kill off DRM for good (see here for more).

And now Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is going to show the industry that games don’t have to produced with the intent of milking every last cent from the potential customer base to be successful and, for that, it has my full support. At times, any one of us might feel like a small fish in a big pond with no ability to affect the societal forces at large but remember that a mass of consumers is made up of free-willed individuals. No matter how small it may be, you have a vote. And you can use that vote not only by supporting games that follow practices and philosophies that you agree with, but also by refusing to support those that you don’t. Street Fighter X Tekken was a commercial failure because gamers didn’t like what they saw and didn’t buy it. Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom didn’t even sell a million copies. (See here and here but Google it if you don’t believe me). If any other game tries to extort us, we have the power to fail it by simply ignoring it’s existence. What developers need to realize is that we don’t need them. They need us…

See you in two weeks time…

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10 Phases That Gaming Has Moved Past http://egmr.net/2012/08/10-phases-that-gaming-has-moved-past/ http://egmr.net/2012/08/10-phases-that-gaming-has-moved-past/#comments Fri, 31 Aug 2012 09:00:51 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=90921 Gaming has definitely evolved a lot since it all started three to four decades ago, with the creation of Pong. Since then, consoles of all shapes and sizes have come […]

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Gaming has definitely evolved a lot since it all started three to four decades ago, with the creation of Pong. Since then, consoles of all shapes and sizes have come and gone and gaming has moved on a great deal. Today, I’m going to go through 10 of the more noticeable things, some good and some bad, that gaming has left behind.

 

10. The Lives System

Before the times where gamers had consoles in their own homes, video games were usually played at arcades with tokens. Developers made their money by making games so punishingly difficult that excessive amounts of continues were usually required to beat them. One coin usually meant one life and, when gaming first moved onto consoles, this system actually carried over for a bit. Since about the PlayStation 1 era, developers have finally caught on that we already bought the game so they don’t need to extract more tokens from us and thus, the infinite continue system (and eventually the auto-save system) used in most games nowadays, was born.

 

9. Pure Platformers

Games like Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank and Croc were very popular back in the old days before first- and third-person shooters were insanely dominant. The gameplay usually involved a fun mix of jumping around, collecting items and a smaller combat element. You still get the Mario games on Nintendo consoles, but for the most part the platforming genre seem to have been replaced by the modern third person Action-Adventures like Uncharted, which are more cinematic and less quirky.

 

8. CGI Cut-Scenes

Not exactly a huge difference, but if you’ve played Starcraft, Warcraft III or God of War back in the day, then you’ll remember that much of the game’s story was rendered by computer-generated graphics as opposed to the in-game engine. Back then, the game graphics wasn’t nearly as good, so CGI was a good way of making it look and feel more cinematic. Video game graphics have since improved drastically, where most games nowadays render the story moments using the same graphics as the game itself.

 

7. Save Points and Memory Cards

Geez, am I glad that this is gone. Back in the PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2 era, saving was dependent on memory cards separate from the consoles themselves. It was often a hassle and you usually had limited space to work with. Games often also restricted you to saving at designated save points, at the end or middle of certain levels. Only the handhelds really let you save when you pleased. Thankfully nowadays we have hard-drives on our home consoles and massive memory cards in our handhelds, where most games just automatically save your progress constantly as you play. Losing your progress because you forgot to save, or because you ran out of space, or because your parents wouldn’t let you finish the level is no longer a problem.

 

6. Unfair Difficulty Levels

This is something that’s definitely connected to the lives system and the arcade days. Games become easier in recent times to accommodate for new players. Games released in the console generation are of the kind that you play and finish till the end, but if you think back to before that, do you really know anyone who finished Mario Bros. right to the end? Nowadays, we tend to have multiple difficulty levels so that there’s different challenges for different players, but back in the day of games like Contra, Metal Slug and Megaman X only one difficultly level was around, and it’s called “insanely hard”.

 

5. Unlockable Extras / Post-Game Bonuses

This is another thing that I’m really sad to see enter into the history books. Before the time where every last bit of additional content was given a price tag and sold as DLC, video games often had a lot of extra modes, secrets or easter eggs. Everything from Metal Gear Solid to Pokemon Silver to the Legend of Zelda had a lot of cool extras and bonus aspects that added replay value or altered the game for your next play-through. Other than the occasional unlock here and there, most gaming experiences end when you see the credits roll and if you want more, you’d better be prepared to pay for it. Hooray for profit-seeking capitalism?

 

4. Cheat Codes

This is actually one thing I’m fairly sad to see go. Back in the day, every game from Spiderman to GTA had a ton of secret codes that could either make the game more fun or give you a helping hand, especially you were stuck or just lazy. There was actually a Cheatbook Database that documented the cheats for thousands of games. Much fun could be had with the Tank in GTA3 or ‘Simon the Killer Ewok’ in Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds… ah good times. Other than developer consoles in some PC games, cheats are mostly gone nowadays… ah sad times.

 

3. Point-and-Click Adventure Games

If there’s one genre that really has been obsoleted, it’s Point-and-Click Adventures. Anyone remember Sam and Max? Indiana Jones? Monkey Island? Grim Fandango? Back in the days when computer hardware was severely limited, adventure games were common and popular. Gameplay was simple: you directed your character with a click of a mouse and you solved puzzles by collecting items and interacting with objects and people. Some of these required insanely warped and specific logic to solve and before the days of the internet, you could find yourself stuck for ages on some of these games. Since gaming systems have become more powerful and the focus nowadays is less on puzzle-solving and more on combat, adventure games have faded away slowly to the point where no one even remembers them anymore.

 

2. Batteries and Wires

If you were, at some point, the proud owner of a Gameboy console then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Before the Gameboy Advance SP popularized backlit screens and rechargeable lithium ion batteries, changing your batteries was a big hassle and a big expense. Oh and don’t forget that in the PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2 era, all the home consoles were one big tangle of wires and cords. The PlayStation 3, Wii and Xbox 360 have finally moved onto wireless, and with that, cord tangles are now a thing of the past.

 

1. Lara Croft

Ms. Croft has really fallen a long way since her golden age when she was everyone’s favourite gaming girl. Her games were legendary in the action-platformer genre where she was an icon until she died at the end of Tomb-Raider: The Last Revelation, along with her career. The sequel, Chronicles, wasn’t exactly a smash success and Angel of Darkness nearly finished her off for good. Legends, Anniversary and Underworld were decent enough, and although there will probably be more to come, she’s since been beaten at her own game by Nathan Drake’s Uncharted series. Despite this, there are a few who refuse to admit that her glory days are over.

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ImRage: Would You Steal A Pretzel? – Moral Choices In Video Games http://egmr.net/2012/08/imrage-moral-choices-in-video-games/ http://egmr.net/2012/08/imrage-moral-choices-in-video-games/#comments Thu, 30 Aug 2012 09:00:14 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=91445 So after a very long absence, I decided to get back into Skyrim. Skyrim, as most of you who read this column will know, is the sequel to Oblivion, Bethesda’s […]

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So after a very long absence, I decided to get back into Skyrim. Skyrim, as most of you who read this column will know, is the sequel to Oblivion, Bethesda’s super-hit RPG and probably one of the best Role-Playing Games to be released in the last few years. Now the thing about Skyrim is that the world is huge and there’s tons to do so I picked up where I left off with plenty to keep me occupied. A few hours in and it was all the good stuff all over again: sneaking through dungeons, killing dragons, stealing everything in sight… and then I realised something: stealing is bad.

With a few heart-breaking thefts occurring to people close to me in the savage lands otherwise known as South Africa, stealing has become something of a sore point for me recently. Before then, maybe I didn’t give it as much thought. Not that I’ve ever really stolen anything from someone in my life, but then again I’ve not had much reason to think about it either. If you’ve had something significant stolen from you at some point then anger, bitterness, grief and a sense of injustice should all sound familiar to you. And that’s why many of us won’t steal. It’s not so much the fear of getting caught, because honestly getting away is pretty easy most times, but because we know intrinsically that it’s wrong and the idea of causing such pain to others is what makes us feel guilty.

But in a game like Skryim, it’s completely not the case. Items are littered all over the show and it’s hard to resist the temptation. There are barely any penalties to speak of since it’s easy to avoid getting caught and it really puts you ahead of the curve to be stealing whatever you can get your hands on. In fact, the game even seems to encourage it; there’s an entire skill tree just for pickpocketing and an entire Thieves Guild devoted to helping you steal more and profit from it. And like I said, when there are so many incentives, it’s hard to resist. In real life, I wouldn’t steal a pretzel but in Skyrim I pickpocket and rob every man, woman, child and house I could get my grubby hands on; I’ve even stolen potatoes just for the hell of it! And honestly, it’s really made the game a lot more enjoyable for me. I’m obscenely rich and have an abundance of rare and powerful items, with much of my wealth having been acquired by illegal activities such as theft and murder… and yet I feel nothing of it.

Now many of you are probably thinking that this is kind of the point of role-playing games: to do whatever you want in a world where there are no consequences but, honestly, I think I’ve actually enjoyed it more when there was some kind of morality system to keep me in check. Many of the older gamers might remember Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic I and II, two legendary role-playing games that, to this day, are still miles ahead of Mass Effect and the like. One of the main features of the game was the ability to choose between following the Light Side of the Force or the Dark Side and your story, powers and character would shape according to the side of you that was more dominant. Unlike the Mass Effect and Fallout series where your moral choices have a limited effect on the game world, your decisions in KotOR have ramifications both small and large during your playthrough. Your crew members will either approve or disapprove of your actions and, depending on how you treat them, there’s a lot that can happen in the last few levels. When I played Dark Side (Force Lightning, baby!), I managed to convince one of the characters in KotOR II to follow in my footsteps and become a Sith but in KotOR I, I felt really bad when I was forced to kill some of my own crew members because they refused to go along with my plans and even opposed me!

Now I’ve heard the criticism for KotOR’s morality system and I agree with it: it’s too one-dimensional and too extreme. Once you pick Light Side or Dark Side, it’s best to stick with it all the way and sometimes the choice between Light Side and Dark Side seems to be nobility to the point of stupidity versus overboard evil simply for the sake of it without milder options or an interesting middle ground. The same problem exists in Fable, Dragon Age, inFamous and most other games which adopted the straight Good/Evil morality system; there just isn’t a good representation of shades of grey.

In my opinion, Neverwinter Nights came closer to representing grey morality with its two-dimensional system from Dungeons & Dragons. On the one axis you have ‘Good’, ‘Neutral’ and ‘Evil’ while on the other you have ‘Lawful, ‘Neutral’ and ‘Chaotic’. The different combinations give a much more diverse representation of the type of character you’re playing as. To use the DC Comics characters, someone like Batman would be Chaotic Good since he breaks laws and threatens people for the greater good while someone like Superman would be Lawful Good since he’s righteous and hardly questions authority. Lex Luthor would probably be Lawful Evil since he’s a ‘respected’ member of society that uses his wealth and power for selfish purposes while the Joker would probably be Chaotic Evil since he simply causes wanton destruction and bloodshed on a whim. Your moral compass also has some significant effects on gameplay. For instance, a Paladin can’t gain levels if they ‘lose their way’ and shift away from Lawful Good and they will be forced to change their class, maybe even to the ‘fallen paladin': the Blackguard, but only if they’re evil enough.

Again Neverwinter Nights is closer, but still pretty far off from an in-game system that can properly represent morality. And really, I’m quite sad to see many games shift away from the morality system in general since it’s such a rich topic and can lead to so many interesting scenarios. If you’ve lived in the world long enough, you’d know by now that very few things are black and white; most things exist in shades of grey. Stealing is bad, but how evil are you if you steal because your kid is dying of cancer and you can’t afford the treatment? And then the death penalty is bad, but is it really fair to put a serial killer in jail where he gets 3 meals a day and free medical care while so many law-abiding citizens and good people suffer from hunger, poverty and homelessness? When things are so complicated, it’s hard to deal in absolutes.

And then of course, complex moral situations have lead to some of the most interesting stories ever told. If you’ve read Watchmen then the horrific things done to bring about peace probably left you thinking for quite some time about what’s right and wrong. Some are even more difficult to fathom, like in one episode of House when Dr. House sacrifices the life of a baby to save the lives of five others who would have died if he hadn’t. It leaves you sick to your stomach but would it have been more evil to let them all die, knowing he could save at least a few? Other stories are perhaps more heartwarming like when a character as evil as Darth Vader turns on the Emperor and sacrifices his life at the end of Star Wars to save his son, Luke. It doesn’t make him a good character or absolve him of all the evil he’s done, but it just goes to show that people are too complicated to be labelled as simply as good or evil.
The main reason I’d like to see a game try to represent morality well is because it could lead to such rich and diverse gameplay experiences. It’s those character defining moments when the choices are difficult and the game doesn’t offer you a clear-cut decision that the storytelling can really shine. And perhaps I’ll consider it a success when a game can actually make me feel bad for stealing something.

So to answer my own question: Would I steal a Pretzel? Only in Skyrim… see you in two weeks

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ImRage: Finding A Game When You’ve Got ‘Nothing To Play’ http://egmr.net/2012/08/imrage-finding-a-game-when-youve-got-nothing-to-play/ http://egmr.net/2012/08/imrage-finding-a-game-when-youve-got-nothing-to-play/#comments Wed, 15 Aug 2012 09:00:18 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=92792 So I often go through phases in my life where I’m in need of some inspiration or entertainment and what I really need to hit that spot is a really […]

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So I often go through phases in my life where I’m in need of some inspiration or entertainment and what I really need to hit that spot is a really good game. Us gamers know the feeling. A movie or a TV series will do at other times but when you need a game you need a game. And then when you go off to pursue said game only to be confronted with a shocking reality… there’s nothing to play. You know the feeling. Your cupboards are full of worn out discs and aged classics that you’ve played between two and three hundred times each but those just aren’t going to cut it. You need something new.

That, my fellow readers, is the predicament I’ve found myself in right now. I’m a busy man who keeps busy with my studies and while I don’t often have time for games in between juggling the many responsibilities and interests in my life, I do still get that itch from time to time that only pixelated violence can scratch. So my usual routine when this craving sets upon me is to peruse eGamer and Gamespot (not that I trust Gamespot) for present and upcoming titles that I might be interested in. Between all the repetitive first person shooters and the ‘innovative’ third person shooters (is that what we call innovative nowadays?), I eventually settled on a list of games I want to play… only none of them are out.

I’d love to play Tekken Tag Tournament 2, in fact I’m pretty damn hyped about it, but that’s only due in a month. The football season is starting soon and I wouldn’t mind FIFA 13; another month or two. Resident Evil 6? The gameplay looks awesome. Nope, that’s still going to be a while. The new Devil May Cry game that’s being advertised everywhere? Only in JANUARY!? Heck I’d even settle for Assassin’s Creed III, no unfortunately it’s still a few months away.

Maybe it’s just that July-August-September dry spell we go through every year where nothing good is released, but really there doesn’t seem to be anything worth playing at the moment! I do have Darkness II sitting on my coffee table at the moment and I believe there was some considerable hype leading up to it but after the dismal and bland experience I had with the first one, I’m not in a hurry to give the second game a chance. And then I still haven’t played Mass Effect 3 so that’s a consideration but I won’t play it for the same reason I still haven’t played Deus Ex 3; I just don’t have 30-60 hours to put into another long-term RPG. At least not when I have Skyrim which I incidentally still play from time to time and have still not finished.

By the way, just because I get desperate for a good game doesn’t mean my quality standards drop. When you’re craving a nice and juicy char-grilled fillet you don’t go for the semi-edible meat-like cardboard that McDonald’s serves, you go to a steak ranch. In the same thread, when I find myself in this *‘I’ve got nothing to play’* dead zone I’ll skip the Lollipop Chainsaws and the Dragon’s Dogmas of the world and head back to the older games for a quality gaming experience (also helps that they’re cheaper. Games are expensive these days!).

In the past at these points I’ve found myself replaying Max Payne 1 and 2 and Sacrifice among others. More recently, I purchased the Metal Gear Solid and Devil May Cry HD collections and I am not sorry that I did. Replaying MGS2 was really awesome and the DMC Collection kept me busy until I finally got tired of it after finishing DMC3 for the 3rd time in succession. I’ll definitely be buying the God of War Saga Collection when it’s released and on a side note I wonder how much Sony makes off these HD Collections. They’re incredibly reasonably priced and multiple best seller games is nothing to scoff at even if they are last gen. I’m too lazy to actually check it up though.

Recently the ‘I’ve got nothing to play’ fever struck again and while Skyrim kept me busy for a while I really needed something new to shake things up. So I took a trip down memory lane to the great games of the past that I might have missed out on or would like to play again and I managed to stumble upon an under-appreciated gem that I was very much interested in playing but had just never gotten around to doing so: Bayonetta.

It was made as a spiritual successor of sorts to the Devil May Cry series and so I was definitely interested in it being the DMC fan that I am. But it was just one of those things and I’d never actually gotten around to playing it. At one point I even got it off a friend but he wanted to sell it so I ended up giving it back without finishing it. But anyway, since a gap had appeared in my life that I intended to fill with a game, I went after Bayonetta and was fortunate to find a single copy available at Century City nicely discounted at less than half price.

I picked up Bayonetta and I’ve started to play it and while I do have my fair share of complaints (so many damn cutscenes that I don’t care about!), I’m overall feeling pretty glad that I took the time to play it. It’s fun, it’s the kind of game I enjoy playing, the production values are high and the price was good. It should keep me busy for a while. At least until October hits and the new game releases come flooding in. Then I actually should have too much to play! But that’s a refreshing thought… it’s better than the alternative.

So maybe the next time you find you have nothing to play, perhaps you should take a trip down memory lane and pick a forgotten classic or an HD collection. Just because a game is old doesn’t mean it still won’t be good and, who knows, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to stumble upon something you wish you hadn’t missed.

See you in two weeks time…

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ImRage: How Gaming Didn’t Turn Me Into A Violent Psychopath http://egmr.net/2012/08/imrage-how-gaming-didnt-turn-me-into-a-violent-psychopath-the-story-of-a-perfectly-sane-gamer/ http://egmr.net/2012/08/imrage-how-gaming-didnt-turn-me-into-a-violent-psychopath-the-story-of-a-perfectly-sane-gamer/#comments Thu, 02 Aug 2012 09:00:05 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=87527 The Story Of A Perfectly Sane Gamer It’s been discussed to death over the last few years whether or not violent videogames can breed aggressive tendencies in children and, while […]

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The Story Of A Perfectly Sane Gamer

It’s been discussed to death over the last few years whether or not violent videogames can breed aggressive tendencies in children and, while I’m no expert, I don’t feel that either I or my brother are at severe risk of going on a rampage in a shopping centre with a chainsaw.

You hear about all sorts of behavioral studies on video games with some experts claiming that violent video games are going to turn the younglings of today into psycho killers and others claiming that it can be a harmless release of aggression and tension, much like sport. You also hear, of course, the most ridiculous stories on the radio where older people who’ve never even seen a video game, much less played one, claim that they’re destroying our youth… you know as opposed to drugs and our materialistic and womanising pop culture. And then of course you have politicians in Australia simply banning the entry of certain games into the country based on excessive violence.

However, despite the drastically different views all over the world, there seems to be no general consensus on whether or not hacking demons to pieces in Diablo is turning us into axe-wielding murderers or if it is just a harmless if gory pastime. Like I’ve said above, I don’t claim to be an expert by any measure; I’m not a psychologist of any kind or an expert on human behavior but I do write columns in my free time and, with the way the internet works nowadays, if you have connection to the interwebs and an opinion then you’re pretty much free to put it out there and be taken seriously (and be quoted out of context). However, I must stress going forward that all of this is purely my opinion and if you do disagree with me, then I’m perfectly open to it. I’m as eager to learn as the rest of you (although not from anyone who thinks Kinect Star Wars is a great game).

I suppose the best way to summarize my opinion is that violent video games don’t so much transform you, rather bring out what’s already there.

You hear some sick cases in the world such as the one where that guy went to school with a samurai sword and a slipknot mask on a drug high and attacked his fellow students and you can’t help but think that the kid must have been messed up for years and stoned out his mind to do something so bloody and drastic (click here for more). And then of course you hear more heartwarming ones like the one about that girl who saved her parents’ lives because of her knowledge of GTA and you smile; but you don’t pay it much heed other than that (click here for more).

Often I think to myself: “How much effect has violent video games actually had on my development growing up?” Some people have told me that games have desensitized me to violence and gore but I still find myself getting squeamish at the sight of blood. I can pull the heads off of gorgons no problem in God of War but honestly I don’t even have the stomach to watch the Hostel or the SAW movies (SAW I was good though). I’d even go as far as to say that the surgeries in House MD freak me out more. The other day I even scraped my knee and got freaked out by the sight of my own blood!

I can’t lie and say that I’ve never had aggressive tendencies. If you’re a man, then at some point or another in your life when someone’s really pissed you off, you’ve wanted nothing more than to kick their asses and I’m sure that most male readers of this column must have gotten into a physical confrontation (however childish) at some point or other in their lives. But if you think back to only 60 years ago during World War II where men in their twenties signed up for the army in droves with the intention to go out and kill other people from other countries then you have to sit and wonder: is our culture today really so much more violent than it used to be?

Wars have been fought since the beginning of man and, in our generation, us males have very few other outlets with which to vent our inherent male aggressions other than sports. If you believe what’s suggested in the movie Fight Club, then I’d almost go as far as to say that aggression is simply part of being a man. It doesn’t mean that we’re all just walking bombs and the moment you light our fuses we’re going to snap and pummel someone’s faces in, on the contrary, many men today are quite peaceful and passive. But on the other hand there must be a reason why more men play contact sports, like rugby and football, than women and it’s probably the same reason why more men play violent video games. On the plus side, at least we’re keeping it to games rather than shooting people who speak different languages to us.

Other than the violence, I do believe that video games can play an important role in our intellectual development growing up; or at least they did in mine. Games are very interactive and the core of nearly every single one is to give you challenges and then to give you some tools so that you can find a means with which to overcome those challenges. Every game from Devil May Cry (yes, I love Devil May Cry) to Dragon Age to Call of Duty has elements of skill, puzzle solving and decision making. If you fail a level more than once, then it already becomes a puzzle to decide which tools in your arsenal are required to progress and which strategy you need to apply. Games like Starcraft, DotA and Guild Wars are far more intellectually stimulating. Now you’re introducing elements such as resource management, interactions, awareness of the actions of other players and the need for both short term and long decision making. The more you play the better you get and I’d certainly say that it takes a reasonable degree of intelligence and logic to be proficient at any of them.

I suppose I always think back to my early years and I strongly believe that video games played a large role in my own intellectual development. I spent my years from Kindergarten to 3rd Grade playing the Jump Start and Magic School Bus educational games and without trying to blow my own trumpet, my reading, writing and arithmetic skills were leagues ahead than they should have been at that level. The first ‘violent’ video game that I ended up playing on a regular basis was Jazz Jackrabbit 2 and I don’t feel that role-playing as a green bunny and shooting a whole lot of turtles ‘damaged’ me psychologically in any significant way. On the contrary, I learned far more from games then I ever did from watching TV and while it would have been healthier for me to play more sports growing up, I don’t feel as though I’ve ended up unbalanced even if I did bend the age restrictions of movies and games from time to time. I suppose that whenever I do wonder about how violent video games have affected me, or if they even have affected me at all, I just thank God that I didn’t have to grow up listening to Justin Bieber…

I’m sure that you all have views of your own and you’re very welcome to share them… see you in two weeks…

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ImRage: Spider-Man Games Aren’t As Crap As They Used To Be http://egmr.net/2012/07/imrage-spider-man-games-arent-as-crap-as-they-used-to-be/ http://egmr.net/2012/07/imrage-spider-man-games-arent-as-crap-as-they-used-to-be/#comments Wed, 18 Jul 2012 09:00:27 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=89507 So I was watching my brother play The Amazing Spider-Man the other day (the movie was pretty good) and I was thinking the game actually didn’t look half bad. The […]

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So I was watching my brother play The Amazing Spider-Man the other day (the movie was pretty good) and I was thinking the game actually didn’t look half bad. The graphics were quite good, the gameplay and the combat actually looked diverse and engaging and, while it did seem to be based on the most popular aspects of other games, the game itself looked pretty solid. A quick check on Metacritic (not that I trust Metacritic) confirmed my suspicions that we were looking a pretty decent game here and so I decided to investigate a little further. Lo and behold my shock when I found out that they actually put some effort into his game. Turns out it actually has an original story that follows from the end of the movie and the open world city is beautifully rendered and fun to explore. Sure enough it has some flaws that prevent it from being a truly great title but the game is a heck of a lot better than I was expecting when I heard there was an inevitable movie tie-in game.

You see my scepticism comes all the way back from 2004 when I was a young-ling (okay not that young) and I happened to make the mistake of buying Spider-Man 2 for PC. If you’ve been that age at some point in your life, then you should know what it’s like to get caught up in the hype of your favourite superhero’s movie and end up buying the related game. Surprise surprise, Spider-Man 2 turned out to be egh… and I mean REALLY egh. Apparently the console versions were radically different and thus far better but the PC game seemed like it was half-designed for idiots (and the other half wasn’t designed at all). If you want to see why the game is crap then watch the game play video below or read some reviews. Note that they downright tell you how to beat each boss right before you fight them, as if they game isn’t already devoid enough of any real challenge or mental stimulation.

Ultimate Spider-Man came a year later in 2005 and, from what I remember, it was pretty good, but not exactly memorable. I remember playing it again some years later and finding the gameplay a little on the shallow side but all in all, it was a nice try and a fun game with good graphics and an entertaining story for Spider-Man fans (also, getting to play as Venom for large parts of the story was pretty damn awesome).

Throughout the years that followed I kept my distance from movie-licensed games. I’m sure that if you’re a gamer you know the golden rule of ‘Licensed Games Suck’ and sure enough, every time some blockbuster movie had a video game tie-in it served as a ruthless cash-in on anyone young or inexperienced enough to buy it. On the instances where I did watch someone play those games, it looked about as fun as washing the dishes or waiting in the queue at home-affairs so at least I felt like my choice to stay away from licensed games was justified. Spider-Man Web of Shadows came in 2007 and, despite my initial scepticism of it, I was convinced by my brother to give it a shot at least. Turns out Web of Shadows was another decent enough game that just seemed lacking in a few crucial areas. Another nice try, but no cigar.

So with all the licensing disappointment I’d experienced over the years, you can understand why I wasn’t exactly hyped at all when Batman: Arkham Asylum was announced for 2008. I suppose I expected it to be mediocre like all that came before it but how glad am I that I turned out to be wrong. Those of you who have played Arkham Asylum from start to finish will know that it’s not only one of the best (if not the best) superhero games ever made, but it’s also one of the best games to be released on our current console generation. eGamer gave it Game of the Year for the year it was released and you’ll get no argument from me on that.

The reason Arkham Asylum was so good was not only because the gameplay, graphics blah blah blah were all good (they were fantastic) but rather because it was the first licensed game that didn’t feel downright inferior to the license it was based on. You didn’t feel like you were getting a sub-standard Transformers experience or a completely forgettable Iron Man game; Arkham Asylum is the real deal. It stands on its own feet and even if you’ve never heard of Batman before, you could still enjoy yourself with it. It wasn’t dependent on its license to be a good game. It’s perhaps the first time I can remember that a licensed game has actually added to a movie license rather than insulting it. While it draws inspiration from the movies and the comics, Arkham Asylum tells a story of its own and gives you its very own interpretation of Batman and a whole different look at his villains. You can really see that the developers had a vision they were trying to achieve with this game and I don’t want to spoil it here for those who haven’t played it yet. It’s good stuff. If you’re a Batman fan, it’s even better. Its sequel, Batman: Arkham City, didn’t quite live up to the insanely high standards set by the first but I’d still say it’s one of the better games I’ve played in the last few years; top-drawer stuff and the developers should be commended on being brave enough to go in a new direction. Even many triple A games don’t have the same level of ambition that Arkham City did.

I didn’t play Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions but from the parts of it I watched my brother play and the news I heard, I gather that the impression was the same: it managed to add to Spider-Man as a whole rather than subtract from it. Getting to play as 4 different Spider-men (Amazing, Ultimate, Noir and 2099) benefited the gameplay and variety just as much as it did the comic book fans. They really played into this with 4 distinct art-styles and combat systems and you have another superhero game that finally has what it takes to break away from being dependent on its license: ambition. Spider-Man: Edge of Time followed and, sure it flopped heavily (probably because it was a cash-in), but I’ll take it as a good sign that at least some of the superhero games released in the last few years tried to break the mould of ‘Superhero Cash-in’.

So like I said at the beginning of this column, I was watching my brother play The Amazing Spider-Man recently and it actually looked like a decent enough game on its own merits despite being a movie tie-in; a game somebody who wasn’t completely sold on Spider-Man could still have fun with. And this made me a smile a bit. If fewer people buy the crap that greedy developers sometimes put on the shelves and instead buy more games like these, licensed games may continue to get better as time goes on. And who knows how long it will be until we see an ambitious developer try to impose their own creative vision on a movie license and we end up with another smash-success like Batman: Arkham Asylum.

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ImRage: The Good Side Of Casual Gaming http://egmr.net/2012/07/imrage-the-good-side-of-casual-gaming/ http://egmr.net/2012/07/imrage-the-good-side-of-casual-gaming/#comments Wed, 04 Jul 2012 09:00:27 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=87520 Sometimes it saddens me a little when I read about all the hatred for casual gamers. It’s not uncommon to see regular gamers (what do we call ourselves now anyway?) […]

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Sometimes it saddens me a little when I read about all the hatred for casual gamers. It’s not uncommon to see regular gamers (what do we call ourselves now anyway?) claiming that casuals have ‘ruined the industry’ and reminiscing about the old days before games were designed so that five year olds could finish them. And to an extent, I sort of understand. The shelves are flooded with generic brown shooters and we may never see another game as punishingly difficult as Devil May Cry 3 or as beautifully intricate as Neverwinter Nights. Instead we have the new ‘DMC’ game which seems to be aimed at adolescent drug addicts and the modern RPGs are essentially hybrid shooters like Mass Effect. It seems easy enough to blame the casual crowd since frankly if Neverwinter Nights 3 was ever produced it probably wouldn’t survive in our current market. And then of course the brilliantly noir Max Payne series was recently revived and downgraded into a sub-standard tropical cover shooter. There’s definitely been a demographic shift in gaming but I think it has to do less with casual gamers and more with factors outside of most consumers’ control.

In my opinion (and I stress that this is an opinion column), the recession and corporate greed has a lot to do with why the gaming industry has been in the state it’s in, in the last few years. You only need to take one look at the mainstream music industry to see what tripe is popular nowadays to understand how developers go about their business. But honestly that’s a topic for another time. I understand the issues that gamers have but what I’d prefer to focus on in this column are some of the very pleasant upsides that have resulted from gaming becoming more mainstream. For starters, the idea of playing video games is far more accepted than it’s ever been. When I was going through noob school, it was easy for people to brand me as a nerd for playing the Pokemon or Tomb Raider games. Same story when I got to high school and was hooked on playing DotA and Guild Wars online and the Tekken and Street Fighter games with my cousins. But it’s since I’ve gotten to varsity that I’ve realized how much things have changed in the last few years.

Maybe it’s just that I’m around more diverse and accepting people these days but it just feels like gaming has become a much more accepted part of modern culture than it ever has been before. The adverts are everywhere, everyone knows about it, an Xbox 360 or a PS3 are a common fixture in middle class homes and a lot more people view it more positively than they did before. It seems very common nowadays that when you’re hanging out at one of your friends’ houses you can end up playing FIFA or Singstar and I’ve actually had girls borrow games such as Uncharted and Tekken from me. Gone are the days where gamers are stereotyped as fat sweaty kids living in their mother’s dimly-lit basements. Nowadays you’ll meet all sorts of ‘regular’ people who play Call of Duty or FIFA in their free time and barely anyone’s going to label you as a nerd if you’re playing Diablo online with your friends. Even the language has filtered down into popular culture. You hear people talking about how they got ‘owned’ by that that exam paper and people actually know what you’re talking about when you call them noobs. It can be quite amusing at times to hear.

Another one of the upsides is that games are designed with the intention of attracting newcomers. Because of this, they’re much more accessible than they were in the previous generation. I’m not going to lie, I get very disappointed when games like Mass Effect get ‘dumbed down’ but simplification doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. I never really enjoyed Starcraft as much as most hardcore gamers did because by the time I got into it, I just didn’t have the free time required to get good enough at it. But despite my time issues, I still managed to thoroughly enjoy Skyrim without feeling the need to constantly read guides and I managed to become reasonably proficient at Mortal Kombat just by playing it every weekend with my cousins. I suppose what made me realize this was the other day when I was playing FIFA with one of my friends who’d never played any video games before (a girl by the way… because gamers nowadays know girls… hot ones even!). I set her up on two button control and we actually had a lot of fun and with a bit of guidance she picked it up very quickly. In fact, even my five year old cousin plays FIFA reasonably well and it always makes my day to beat him mercilessly and then throw it in his face (yeah I guess I’m kind of a prick). The point I’m trying to make is that you no longer have to be as dedicated to get the full enjoyment from a game. Diablo 3 might be one of the most perfect examples of this. Diablo 2 will always be one of the most glorious masterpieces of gaming but it was kind of disappointing for me at the time to get to Act 3 and then have to start the entire game all over again because I built my character wrong and found myself getting owned by dart-blowing midgets. In Diablo 3, by contrast, it’s virtually impossible to ‘screw up’ your character so it’s much more user-friendly and forgiving. I found the same difference when I compared Skyrim to Oblivion: in Oblivion you can make the whole game hard from the first level if you build your character wrong but in Skyrim there’s few ways to permanently ruin your game.

At the end of the day, I’ve never been ashamed of my gaming habits; on the contrary I believe that gaming has actually contributed far more to my intellectual development than watching TV ever could have. So I’m not saying that us gamers had to hide our faces before and now we can come out of the closet; I’m just saying that it’s nice to know that your girlfriend or your wife or whatever won’t think you’re a loser just because you bought the Devil May Cry HD Collection… although if you play Kinect Star Wars then you most certainly are a loser…

See you in two weeks time…

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ImRage: Why Capcom Are The Worst Developers Of Our Time http://egmr.net/2012/06/imrage-why-capcom-are-the-worst-developers-of-our-time/ http://egmr.net/2012/06/imrage-why-capcom-are-the-worst-developers-of-our-time/#comments Wed, 20 Jun 2012 09:00:18 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=87509 Foreword: Hi guys. Caveshen here. I’m proud to introduce our latest columnist to you today: the man who authored the old Machina’s Machinations opinion columns, from way back when. Please […]

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Foreword: Hi guys. Caveshen here. I’m proud to introduce our latest columnist to you today: the man who authored the old Machina’s Machinations opinion columns, from way back when. Please give him a hearty South African welcome, meaning shake his hand then steal his watch and call him a racist.

I’m going to keep the introductions short on this one and say: “Hello to everyone. My name is Imran and I’m a new columnist on eGamer (technically a returning one… long story… not that exciting) and for the foreseeable future, I’m going to be writing a bi-monthly column on eGamer about whatever latest thing in the gaming industry is causing me grief or excitement. I’ll try to keep them under a thousand words a week but this first one is a bit longer due to all my pent-up rage.”

So I recently bought Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 for my PS Vita and while I’m thoroughly enjoying it (awesome game), playing it did bring back a lot of bad memories and gripes that I’ve had with Capcom games over the last few years. Even though UMVC3 is one of the better titles (solid gameplay, plenty of depth and variety) it still carries many of the stigmas that make people absolutely despise Capcom as game developers. You see ‘Ultimate’ Marvel vs Capcom 3 is the sequel to Marvel vs Capcom 3 (hence the ‘Ultimate’ prefix), a game that was anticipated for over 10 years. MVC3 was a smash success, an amazing fighting game with all the characters you know and love from the Marvel comics and the Capcom games and everyone was happy with it until only six months later Capcom released the Ultimate version with twelve new characters and twice as many stages. This isn’t a problem for you if you’re insanely rich and like to take nice long showers in liquid money but for most of us, forking out R600 a year on the annual FIFA or CoD game is just barely worth the marginal improvements. Paying R600 for the exact same game you bought six months ago, feels a bit much like extortion. UMVC3 is actually a really awesome game, but after having just bought MVC3 a month or two after its release for my PS3, I just wasn’t prepared to spend that much money again and I did feel a bit bitter about not being able to play with Vergil from Devil May Cry 3.

Another of the dreadfully sore points that plague MVC3 and other Capcom games is the issue of DLC… or more specifically: paid DLC. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, it stands for Downloadable Content. You pay money and you get to download packages that add extras to your game. Or in the case of Capcom: unlock features that are already on the disc. Let me explain. In Marvel vs Capcom 3 every character has an alternate costume that’s locked away on the disc. Only you can’t unlock it… you have to buy it. So yes, you have to pay additional fees for a game you just paid full price for just to get all the features. Sounds awesome no? Now Capcom defends this strategy. They claim that for the retail price of the game, you get the single player modes, the online modes, over forty characters and over ten stages. They say that the extra content is downloadable after the game’s release as bonus content beyond the original game… they just include it on the disc to make the downloads smaller. Makes sense in a way; if you decide to buy the extra costumes, it’s only a 100kb download as opposed to a several MB download and you can also play against people who have bought the extra costumes even if you haven’t. But here’s what everyone takes an issue with: it’s NOT bonus content, it’s on the disc. If it was on the disc, it means it was completed within the normal development cycle of the game and that means they’re just making you pay for more what they already developed before they even released the game.

In small doses, the locked DLC is bearable I suppose. In MVC3 all I’m missing out on is two characters I’ll never play and a bunch of costumes that don’t really change my life in any significant way. But in their latest game, Street Fighter X Tekken, locked content was present to the point of absurdity (average game by the way). On paper SFXT should be the ultimate game. You’ve got characters from the two best fighting game series of all time duking it out so how can you possibly get it wrong? Well a good way to start would be to be as lazy as possible. Most of the street fighter characters cut and pasted straight out of SSFIV with the same character models, moves and animations. The Tekken characters are really fun but some of them seem like a bit of a hash job at times, borrowing animations and parts of character models from Street Fighter characters when the developers got a bit lazy. Then of course the game has awful music, almost no single player experience, a gem system that was despised even before the game’s release, broken infinite combos (some of which are even easy enough for me to do) and few stages. But despite all of these flaws, I’m sure that the fans (myself included) would still have found reason to like it… if not for the DLC. You see SFXT advertised a whole bunch of features but if you buy the game as is, you don’t get that many of them. The game boasts an in depth colour customization system, but all the colours are unlocked by download. One of the core features of the game is the Gem System, but lots of the gems with strong or unique effects have to be bought. All the characters have alternate costumes, which again have to be bought. And here comes the best part: locked on the disc are TWELVE characters that can’t be used unless you buy the $20 DLC to unlock them. Capcom apparently didn’t have enough time to make a non-ugly face for Paul or remove infinite combos but they had enough time to develop 12 extra characters before the game’s release and then lock them away on the disc just so they could make you pay extra for what they already developed during the planned development cycle. It seems like such a far cry away from the old days where so many games were overflowing with unlockable extras and replay value.

And it’s not only their fighting games that they do this with. Dead Rising 2 was released a year or two ago (average game) only to be followed by Dead Rising 2: Off The Record which happens to be the exact same game but with Frank West as the main character instead… I wish I was joking. And then to top it all off, all the cool extras that you probably bought the game for in the first place, like the lightsabers and the chef weapons, are all paid DLC. I hear that Asura’s Wrath, which I haven’t played, is also a victim of plentiful DLC.

But honestly, none of Capcom’s atrocities can come close to their mistreatment of the beloved blue bomber. I’m talking about Megaman of course, a fan favourite who hasn’t seen much love in the last few years and if you’ve played any of the Megaman X games, you can understand why everyone misses him. One of his incarnations featured in Tatsunoko vs Capcom and he looked set to appear in MVC3 but was ousted by Zero and Tron Bonne, two less popular characters from the Megaman series. That’s not really a reasonable excuse, however, when you consider that there are three characters from Darkstalkers, a game that hasn’t been around for decades, and four characters from Street Fighter and Resident Evil each. It then looked like he would appear in UMVC3 as one of the 12 new characters when he won the Capcom Unity Board poll for most demanded character, but instead Capcom went with Firebrand who you’ve probably never even heard of. Just to mess with you though, Megaman does appear on a wanted poster inside one of the UMVC3 stages and his skin is available as an extra costume for Zero… for a fee of course. Their disregard continued when they announced Megaman Legends 3 for the Nintendo 3DS, a sequel to one of the ironically named legendary Megaman games from the N64 era only to cancel it 9 months into development after showing everyone gameplay footage. They also cancelled Megaman Universe before that. The last straw for Megaman fans came when they finally announced that they were going to include him as a playable character in Street Fighter X Tekken, only they didn’t do it in the way anyone expected. Look at the picture below. That fat bastard is supposed to be Mega Man

If you’re a Capcom fanboy, you’ve probably stopped reading this by now and are busy typing me out a strongly worded e-mail on your Rival Schools keyboard about how we don’t technically own everything that’s on the disc and blah blah blah, but when you compare Capcom fighting games to others, you can immediately see just how far they fall short. Take Tekken 6 for example: 40 characters, 2-3 costumes each, an incredibly detailed character customization system, an amazing soundtrack, a full single player sub-game and fully rendered CGI cutscenes for each character’s arcade mode endings (compared to SFXT’s one paragraph of a guy reading onscreen text). Soul Calibur IV (haven’t played V) also offers a lot: close to 40 characters, two costumes each, tons of stages, a lengthy single player mode, a system that lets you CREATE your own characters with detail and DARTH VADER!!! (V has Ezio Auditore). Next up is Mortal Kombat: close to thirty characters, two costumes each, a six hour single player story mode, a 300 mission challenge mode, literally hundreds of unlockables and Kratos from God of War. While Mortal Kombat does have paid DLC available, it comes in the form of 4 characters developed after the game’s release, chosen by fan demand and each sold separately so you only have to pay for what you actually want. They’re also cheaper than Capcom’s bonus characters. There are also bonus costumes on sale too, but the game already gives you so many extras that you really don’t feel left out.

The point that I’m trying to make here is that when Capcom develop games they focus too little on quality and too much on ways to increase revenue. All of their games released in the last few years follow a very similar pattern: they have fewer features than their competitors and you still have to pay extra to enjoy the full product. Very often as well they’ll also release updated versions of their games at full retail value rather than developing genuine sequels. There’s only so much that gamers are willing to tolerate however and once you’ve broken your consumers’ trust it’s very hard to earn it back. The first sign was that Street Fighter X Tekken was a commercial letdown, selling only 1.4 million copies, 600 000 short of their 2 million estimate. Capcom of course tried to downplay this by claiming there were ‘lagged sales’ and ‘oversaturation of the market’, but honestly the game just carries negative stigma. If Capcom keep up their extortive policies, SFXT won’t be the first game that fails. This whole story is rather sad when you think about it. Only a few years ago, Street Fighter IV was one of he best fighting games ever made. And then when they released Super Street Fighter IV a year later with extra characters, huge gameplay improvements and a reduced price it really looked as though they were heroes of the gaming industry. But Capcom’s evil policies may be symptomatic of our times. Developers are far too willing to cash in when there’s money to be made and sometimes they go too far. If anything however, the failure of Street Fighter X Tekken should tell you that consumers have a lot more power than they think and that your decision not to support developers that you feel are extorting you actually means a lot…

See you in two weeks time…

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Review: Devil May Cry HD Collection http://egmr.net/2012/06/review-devil-may-cry-hd-collection/ http://egmr.net/2012/06/review-devil-may-cry-hd-collection/#comments Mon, 18 Jun 2012 11:15:20 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=87694 Visit review on site for scoring. It’s always unusual to contemplate buying these HD re-releases. The ‘never before seen super special secret bonus content’ is usually negligible so it usually […]

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It’s always unusual to contemplate buying these HD re-releases. The ‘never before seen super special secret bonus content’ is usually negligible so it usually boils down to two questions: “are you getting good value?” and “have the games stood the test of time?”. The answer to the first question for the DMC collection is most certainly a yes. You’re getting two great games (and one crap one) with plenty of replay value at a reduced price and if you end up enjoying them, they’ll keep you busy for a long time. The second question is always more challenging to answer. Gaming has come a long way since the PS2 era so there are always going to be comforts that we’ve taken for granted that you’ll most definitely miss in any old generation re-release. On the other hand, the gameplay of the DMC games is really solid and even if you find that DMC1 and 2 are too dated for your liking, Devil May Cry 3 is so good that I’d even recommend it as a full price purchase to those who enjoys action games. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Devil May Cry Series, I’ll give a quick overview before diving into each game individually.

 

Overview

The Devil May Cry series originally started out in development as the next Resident Evil game but after a series of tangents it diverged so far that they just went ahead into making it an IP of it’s own. It follows the story of Dante, the eponymous devil who, according to the title, may or may not cry at some point in the series. He’s a witty and brash half-demon half-human Demon Hunter who’s the son of the a legendary demon named Sparda who betrayed his own kind to protect the human race. The series follows Dante as he takes on powerful demons and also explores his dysfunctional family history.

While the story is often interesting enough to carry the game, the main focus of the DMC games is the action. Dante wields various demonic melee weapons called Devil Arms and several guns and can use his Devil Trigger to turn into a demon at will. The games are difficult, often throwing tons of aggressive enemies at you but also giving you an impressive repertoire of abilities, attacks and weapons. The fights get really frantic and fast-paced and the aim is to kill demons without dying but also to fight as stylishly as possible by avoiding damage, combining attacks and varying the different moves you use. The Stylish meter actually grades you from D to A and then S  depending on how well you’re fighting and it’ll drop immediately if you start running away, get hit or repeat the same moves over and over.

The games normally put you in a giant world that you can freely roam but splits up the gameplay into a series of very linear missions, often with a boss fights in the middle or at the end. There’s usually a decent mixture of combat, boss fights and puzzle solving and plenty of secrets to find, abilities and items to buy and extras to unlock. The games also have multiple difficulty levels and it’s  only really on the higher ones that you can really appreciate how well constructed the game. On the higher difficulties, enemies change their behavior, gain new attacks and, on the highest levels the enemies even gain Devil Triggers of their own.
The series is definitely quite popular for it’s fast-paced nonstop action and deep intricate combat and frankly there’s few other games where you’ll be karate kicking a monster in the face one minute and shooting him with a rocket launcher the next. It certainly is way over the top with a lot of style and flair and while the games don’t take themselves too seriously, the stories are usually written well enough and Dante is a lovable protagonist with more to him than meets the eye.
The HD Collection contains DMC1, both discs of 2 and the Special Edition of 3 as well as a few small extras like art and music. In HD, it’s a great little package to help you enter the series if you’re interested in catching up before playing 4 or the yet to be released 5 and even for a bit of nostalgia if you enjoyed them back in the day.

 

Devil May Cry 1

By the time of this re-release, the original Devil May Cry is almost eleven years old and it’s really feels like a game that was still discovering itself. At the time, it was fairly unique among action games, bringing plenty new to the table with a mixture between sword-fighting and gun-play with the emphasis being on fighting skillfully and stylishly rather than button-mashing. The series has certainly evolved a lot from it’s first incarnation. The game-play has become a lot more varied and deep and when you’ve played the newer games, going all the way back to Devil May Cry 1 can make it seem quite old and dated.

That being said, when DMC was originally released it was a fantastic game and in many respects it still is. It’s hard to say it’s amazing you’ve got DMC3 on the same disc but if you haven’t played it before then it’s most definitely worth your time. The graphics still hold up nicely, the story is still great, the music as always is awesome and after you get past the first half hour or so when you have few moves and one gun, the combat really starts to pick up and become a lot more fun. It also takes a bit of time to adjust to the game because it is quite difficult until you get the hang of it. The game doesn’t give you a lot of guidance on how to play it but once you figure out that you can slash enemies into the air and then keep them suspended in mid-air with the fire from your pistols, you’re beginning to understand the strange logic required to enjoy this game. It also takes a bit of time before you get to the really cool attacks and weapons. But once you do get a few hours in, it does feel pretty awesome to flaming-uppercut a demon in the face or blow a lizard to pieces with the grenade launcher.

The game can certainly keep you entertained because the combat is a lot of fun and you’ll definitely be doing a lot of it. There’s less emphasis on puzzling and platforming and most of the time you’ll just be going from point A to B, killing everything in your way. The boss fights are also all challenging and excellent. You’re probably going to die quite a bit until you figure out how they behave in general but once you’ve gotten into a good rhythm and can come up with a decent strategy for each one, they’re definitely the high point of the game. There’s also a lot of replay value since you unlock ‘Hard Mode’ when you beat the game and then ‘Dante Must Die’ and ‘Legendary Dark Knight’ if you get through that. In DMD Mode, difficulty borders on absurd so if you’re the type of gamer who likes a challenge, then it’ll keep you busy. LDK Mode lets you play as Dante’s father. Not too different, but it’s a nice extra; something you certainly don’t see much of in games nowadays.

Overall, Devil May Cry 1 is definitely worth a play-through if you haven’t before and if you can forgive it’s age you’ll definitely find yourself enjoying it very much. If you have played it before however, then the HD re-release doesn’t offer significant improvements on the original and you could be forgiven for passing it up.

 

Devil May Cry 2

In a word, DMC2 is a disappointment. If you play through 1, then within the first five minutes you can see why it’s widely considered the worst in the series and if you’ve played through all of them, you can also see why it feels like such an outsider in a series of fantastic games. DMC2 is shockingly bland compared to the other games in the series which are stylized to the point of absurdity. It’s clear that a lot of the stylistic elements were purposely removed. In all the other games, Dante is a cocky jackass who won’t think twice about trash-talking demons several times the size of him but In DMC2 he hardly ever speaks and even when he does, he barely shows any personality or character depth at all.

The graphics have definitely improved and it looks good in HD, but compared to the colorful medieval setting of the first game, the washed out and generic urban and town environments look very dull. The enemies also lack a lot of identity and the boss fights don’t really have the same build-up and kind of just pop-out of nowhere. Even the music is less noticeable. It’s sad because everything that made the first game such a blast isn’t there and a game that used to feel so unique now feels so generic and forgettable.

I suppose you’d be able to forgive the lack of any flair whatsoever if the gameplay was good but it’s actually unbelievably poor. The game feels a lot more sluggish than the first and the attacks don’t really chain nicely together. There are fewer weapons and guns and overall and a lot fewer moves. You also start off with all the skills unlocked so Weapon Upgrades are damage only. It’s a bit strange that a lot of the extra weapons are very difficult to find and can be missed in your play through. It seems to defeat the purpose of having extra weapons in the game if the player can’t even find them. Although even if you do find them, it still is disappointing. The shotgun is hardly useful, the submachine guns are hardly different from the pistols, the missile launcher is cool but the melee weapons are horrifying. All three of them are similar looking swords with the exact same attacks. Getting new weapons offers no new moves to your arsenal at all. The only difference between the three is range and damage, so you’re effectively stuck with the same limited repetoire of attacks for the entire game with no way to increase it.

Dante can still do many of his flair moves like launching enemies and following up with aerial combos and he does have a few new tricks like wall running and dodging but there’s often not much reason to do anything other than just mash triangle repeatedly against most enemies. The enemies also have a lot of health and aren’t very threatening in most cases so a game that used to have such amazing combat is now very repetitive.

The boss fights, sadly, are where the game suffers the most. Since the bosses do a lot of melee damage, the best strategy for almost all of the fights seems to be to just run away and gun them down slowly with your ranged weapons. In fact, it almost seems like they were designed this way. Several of the bosses will purposely run away from you or fly so that the only way to attack them is with guns. Further still, a lot of their attacks are easy to dodge at range and some of them outright can’t even hit you if you just stay a certain distance away and keep strafing. It also doesn’t help that the ranged weapons are so strong in this game. In Devil Trigger, the pistols do tons of damage very fast and by the time you get the Missile Launcher, you only really need one button to beat most regular fights. Other than the kraken thing, I literally beat every single boss fight in the entire game by just running away and holding square.

The game isn’t very long and while it can get difficult, if you’ve finished the first one you’ll blow through it with ease. The hardest parts in the game are actually where the level design is so poor that you don’t know where to go. There’s a second story mode where you get to play as the other protagonist Lucia, but she doesn’t really play much differently than Dante and her campaign is even shorter. She’s such an uninteresting character that there’s not much reason to play her story anyway. It’s not like the game even has much story to speak of. It starts with Dante being told that there’s some evil guy they want him to kill and then Dante pretty much just goes off to kill him. You only meet him near the end and it turns out he’s some kind of demonic businessman with the worst French/Russian/German? accent you’ve ever heard. Even the fight with him is disappointing. He just sits on a chair and chills while you fight his minions and barely even moves when you attack him. There’s a Hard Mode to unlock and Dante Must Die after that and you can even unlock Trish from the first game as a playable character but I’m sure that you have better things to do with your time.

All in all, DMC2 just feels lacklustre and if it’s the only game missing from your collection, then you seriously don’t have a problem. There are so many poor design choices in this game that you have to sit and wonder who in their right mind approved the design document. After a while you really start to wonder if the game does anything right at all. If you’ve bought the HD Collection and you really want to play it, then thankfully it is quite short but for most people, I’d recommend that you play the first one and then move immediately onto the third. Those two games alone are more than good enough to justify your purchase so don’t feel too bad that this game is pathetic.

 

Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition

Let’s not mince words; this is what you came here to see. While Devil May Cry 2 gets nearly everything wrong, DMC3 goes the opposite direction and finally hits the sweet spot, getting nearly everything right. The series almost reinvents itself, taking us back to the events that lead up to the first game where Dante is still a youthful prick and is at war with his ambitious and power-hungry brother; Vergil. It also comes with a completely new engine and heavily updated gameplay, drawing mainly from the first game but also finally finding it’s identity as a series and focusing on the aspects that make it so good.

The first thing to note is that the game is hard and, while it will offer a lot more explanations to newcomers than the first two games, DMC3 throws you straight into the deep end from the first level and it only gets harder from there. The first major boss you fight in level 3 is an absolute haymaker straight to the face if you’re still getting to grips with the game. If you’re new to the series, it will take you quite a bit of trial and error and experimentation to figure out how to play the game well but, once you do, it becomes an absolute blast. The game does offer an easy mode if you’re struggling but you have to die a few times to unlock it… almost like the game is mocking you.

But once you do start figuring out all the mechanics like launching, air juggling, cancelling, crazy combos, dodging and style points you’ll begin to start enjoying yourself… and then you’ll start to enjoy it a lot. It’s challenging but the combat is deep, fun and richly satisfying. There’s a ton of moves and a lot of combo potential so experimenting will get you places and the feeling of pulling off an S-Rank combo while dodging multiple enemies at lightning speed is what this game is all about.

The combat is fairly simple to explain. X to jump or dodge, Square for guns, Triangle for melee weapons and circle for Style Action. The new Style System is what the game revolves around. Before the start of the mission you pick a style and the more you use a particular style, the more it levels up and unlocks new abilities. The four basic styles are Trickster for advanced movement and dodging, Gunslinger for additional gun abilities, Swordmaster for additional melee moves and Royal Guard for defensive abilities. You unlock a few more styles as the game progresses but I won’t spoil those for you.

There are also five melee weapons and five guns that you acquire throughout the game and the strangeness of the weapons should tell you about the tone of this game. The Devil Arms are a giant sword, three-headed nunchuks, dual flame and wind swords, a light-emitting body armour and a possessed electric guitar. The guns are Dante’s pistols, the shotgun, a homing laser gun, a sniper rifle and a rocket launcher with a grappling hook. Each of the weapons has a lot of different moves and more can be purchased or unlocked through levelling up your style. You can choose two devil arms and two guns before each mission and swap between them at will so between the different combinations of weapons and styles, there are a LOT of different ways to play and tons of different moves. While sticking to a few weapons and upgrading them does sound tempting, you get the most out of the game by using different weapons and styles based on the level and experimenting a bit to figure out which combination suits your play-style.

Needless to say, the combat is amazing and once again in the series, the boss fights really stand out (The Special Edition has three extra boss fights with Jester). There are a lot of different bosses and, while they’re all quite difficult, they’re usually the fights that keep you entertained the most. Again, it takes some time to learn their patterns and how best to fight them but they will provide an awesome challenge once you do. You fight Vergil himself a few times throughout the game and since he has his own weapons, abilities, combos and Devil Trigger it’s really is quite the epic battle. The soundtrack also really stands out and the heavy metal guitar and gothic tracks are really a trademark of the series. While the game doesn’t focus too much on it, the story is fairly well told and the rivalry between Dante and his brother along with some good voice acting keeps you interested in what happens next.

There’s plenty to do after you finish the game on Normal or Easy. There’s Hard, Very Hard, Dante Must Die and a bonus mode Heaven or Hell where everything including you, dies in one hit. Completing each mode unlocks a new costume, all of which have different attributes and some with different Devil Triggers. There’s also the Bloody Palace after you the complete the game which is a 100 level arena of non-stop fighting. The Special Edition also allows you to play with Dante’s brother, Vergil, after you complete the game and he’s got an entire mode of his own, He’s got three of his own weapons, each with it’s own unique abilities and his own style with plenty of additional moves. While he’s nowhere near as diverse as Dante, he plays completely differently and it’s a nice extra. He also has multiple unlockable costumes like Dante some with additional moves.

All in all, if you’re enjoying DMC3 there’s a lot to keep you busy and, hands-down, it’s the best game on the disc and one of the best action games of the PS2 era.

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Review: Marvel Vs. Capcom 3: Fate Of Two Worlds http://egmr.net/2011/03/review-marvel-vs-capcom-3-fate-of-two-worlds/ http://egmr.net/2011/03/review-marvel-vs-capcom-3-fate-of-two-worlds/#comments Fri, 04 Mar 2011 21:19:33 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=41958 Visit review on site for scoring.   Marvel versus Capcom 3 is the ten-year awaited sequel to the over-the-top, much loved but controversial MvC2 and after a shocking announcement nearly […]

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Marvel versus Capcom 3 is the ten-year awaited sequel to the over-the-top, much loved but controversial MvC2 and after a shocking announcement nearly a year ago, the game is finally available to gamers worldwide. Despite my enthusiasm and extreme love of the game, it’s still an incredibly difficult game for me to review. I could call it a ‘love it or hate it’ game, but that’s not really what it is, because it’s almost certain that a huge number of people are going to enjoy it. But I feel like only a very small audience will be able to appreciate it on the level that it’s designed, while others are going to find the intended craziness of the game too chaotic and unskillful for a fighting game. Despite this, it’s still an amazing game with several of its own merits, but I feel like just hyping it up would hardly be fair for a game of this nature.

So let’s start with the basics. MvC3 follows the systems put in place by its predecessor. Out of a selection of characters from various Marvel and Capcom franchises, you select a team of three and then do battle against other teams. As you’d have expected if you’re familiar with other Capcom fighters, the game takes place in a 2D plane and you get your normal attacks, your special moves and your Hyper Combo combos which use up points from your Hyper Combo Gauge in order to do highly damaging attacks. You play with one character at a time, but you can swap out with your teammates when necessary as well as call them in to assist you with special moves, tag them in to continue your aerial combos or have them appear to chain together Hyper attacks among other things.

Simple enough, it might seem, and the game is designed with beginner friendliness in mind, but yet the game still seems to be incredibly difficult to become proficient at for some reason. Street Fighter 4 was a game which could be enjoyed competitively on several different levels but with MvC3, it seems like unless you’re really good at the game, you’re going to feel like you suck. The speed of the game is a lot faster than what we’re used to from fighters these days and, while the inputs are really lenient, the break-neck pace of the game makes it rather difficult to play, especially for beginners. There is a simple mode included, of course, that makes the combos and special moves a single button press, but it comes at the cost of losing most of your character’s special moves so it’s not really practical for anyone who actually wants to play the game for more than a weekend or something.

While the game is difficult to play, I don’t want to give the impression that it’s alienating or completely unfriendly to beginners, but the learning curve is most certainly steep and players with superior execution skills or knowledge of the game most likely hold a massive advantage. Again, I’ll compare it to Street Fighter 4 here. In SF4, even if you weren’t capable of difficult combos or tricky set-ups, it was still very possible to beat players better than you by intuition, timing and mind games, making the game fun for anyone who learned the basics. In MvC3, by contrast, if you play against even a slightly better player, odds are you’re going to be holding on for dear life as you get death combo’d like nobody’s business. Again, the speed and chaos of the game can make the inputs quite tricky at times and that’s definitely a huge barrier to overcome if you plan on becoming good at the game. If you’re just playing it casually, however, you may still find it frustrating at your tendency to mess up even simple combos at times.

However, like anything really, you’ll get a lot better at MvC3 with good old practice and you’ll enjoy it more. But for most people, who aren’t fighting game aficionados, you’re going to find that ‘cheap’ tactics are a lot more effective in this game than Tekken or Street Fighter and you’ll probably just resort to that. The reason for this is that several characters, like Chris Redfield and Deadpool, have fast and strong ranged attacks that can be ‘spammed’ repeatedly to keep your opponents at bay. While there are obviously effective counters to these strategies, the fact that they’re legitimate and powerful tactics will probably annoy a lot of the less tolerant players. Still, the game isn’t all bad, and while it may be alienating to some players, those who give it a chance and learn it are going are going to find that there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had from the combat. While the game offers very little beside arcade mode, versus, training, online and challenge mode, the combat itself is so well presented and fun that you’ll keep wanting to come back to it.

The comic book style graphic design of the game really works well and the models and attack are beautifully animated; MvC3 is definitely the best looking fighting game we’ve seen in a long time. To say that the game looks amazing in action is an understatement of note. And while the game may have a steep learning curve, once you finally figure out the way that the game works, chaining together attacks and combos that look as awesome as they feel is a rewarding experience in itself. The gameplay itself is also deep and fun enough to make just playing training mode on your own to get better a fun enough experience, and when you have friends to play against in this game you’ll increase its longevity dramatically. There are, however a few slight nuances with the game that people are going to take issue with.

Firstly, there’s the fact that high-level combos are incredibly damaging so playing against a player with perfect execution can be about as fun as watching a trailer, especially if you’re outclassed in knowledge and skill. Secondly, there’s the X-Factor ability that you get to use once per match to cancel whatever you’re doing and give you bonuses to damage and speed. The bonuses from X-Factor increase dramatically as your characters die so its primary use is to give you comeback potential if you’re badly losing a fight, but the bonuses from a fully charged X-Factor are so absurd that it’s possible to kill an entire opposing team with a single character, possibly even with one combo each. While playing around or against X-Factor is intended to be a large part of the game, a lot of players are going to take issue with the fact that you can be dominating a match one minute, killing 2 of your opponent’s 3 characters, and then he activates X-Factor and wipes out your entire team with ease. X-Factor also makes you unable to take ‘chip’ damage while blocking, so it can be used to counter your opponent’s X-Factor or for other defensive reasons.

The game has 38 characters with another 2 DLC characters releasing on the 15th of March, which is honestly quite high for a fighting game these days, rivaling Tekken 6’s 40 and Super Street Fighter’s 35 (25 in first SF4). There’s an enormous variety of play styles and the general ‘uneven’ make-up of the characters leaves very few characters even feeling similar yet alone the same. Even Ryu, Morrigan and Akuma, who fans were concerned might be too similar, are so drastically different from each other that they don’t even work in the same teams. There’s a great representation of both mainstream and less common ideas, mostly from the Marvel side, and you’ll see plenty of familiar faces, like Spider-Man and Deadpool, alongside some of the less common characters like Taskmaster and Dormammu. Still, the Marvel side is fantastically represented, with a diverse variety of franchises, references and fighting styles.

The Capcom side, however, while still quite satisfactory, might seem like something of a let down to some people. There are plenty of fan favourites like, Dante, Amaterasu and Zero, but then you have some really obscure characters like Tron Bonne and Hsien-Ko in the face of some glaring omissions like Megaman (isn’t he almost like Capcom’s mascot?) and Phoenix Wright. Still, Capcom roster does offer a deeper selection of characters than the Marvel side in some aspects as several of the characters have previously appeared in fighting games or Japanese action games and there is some consolation with Capcom announcing the high probability of DLC characters in the future.

As I mentioned at the start of the review, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is a very difficult game to rate. It’s not like Street Fighter 4 where we were almost guaranteed that it will be a long-term success loved by pros and newcomers alike. Instead, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is going to be entirely what the community make of it. It draws heavily on MvC2, making it almost seem like a game that was intended for a different generation of gamers, but given the amount of effort put into the game, it has a very good chance of succeeding in today’s times. If it does, then MvC3 is going to be a game that we play and love for years to come as people constantly experiment and discover things years after the game’s release.

However it also seems probable that the chaotic nature of the game may push away experienced players and newcomers alike as they return to more structured fighters, again like SF4. If this happens, it’s possible that MvC3 may fade into obscurity, remembered as being fun while it lasted but ultimately released far too late. Like I said, it’s difficult to say what will happen with a game like this but I’m inclined to believe that it will be extremely popular, but will probably be overshadowed by the future Capcom fighters such Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition and Street Fighter X Tekken.

*Note: for tons of additional information on the characters, be sure to check out our in-depth character rundowns*

This review was co-written by Tody and EX_Machina

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The Worst Thing About The Gaming Industry [Column] http://egmr.net/2011/02/the-worst-thing-about-the-gaming-industry-column/ http://egmr.net/2011/02/the-worst-thing-about-the-gaming-industry-column/#comments Tue, 15 Feb 2011 16:33:13 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=40069 I’m a big fan of the first Dead Space game. Between playing it on PC and PlayStation 3, I’ve finished it four times, beat Impossible Mode, and also acquired the […]

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I’m a big fan of the first Dead Space game. Between playing it on PC and PlayStation 3, I’ve finished it four times, beat Impossible Mode, and also acquired the Platinum Trophy. Despite its shortcomings as a horror game, there was enough about the gameplay to get me hooked. So when Dead Space 2 was announced, I didn’t really follow the hype surrounding it, but I was very much looking forward to another of Isaac’s adventures through space, while stomping the heads off of Necromorphs… and then Dead Space 2 was released. It wasn’t even three minutes into the game and already I was disappointed and, as I continued through the first few chapters, I only became more and more saddened about what was being presented to me. An hour or two into the game, I just couldn’t take it anymore and decided to stop playing entirely.

Now I’m known as a Trophy-Whore. I don’t play as many games these days as I used to, but I’ve got 17 Platinums and I’ve got no qualms about suffering through Call of Duty: World at War’s veteran mode or finding every single feather in ACII to get 100%; hell, I’ve even played Megamind for six hours to get an easy Platinum… so when I stop playing a game and give up on the trophies entirely, the game must be pretty fricken’ boring… so boring, in fact, that it feels like work (like GTAIV) and I have to stop playing to do something more fun… like watch paint dry.

My brother, Azhar, is the one that’s going to review Dead Space 2 and I know him as someone who tries to look for the best in games even when it’s barely there but even he found Dead Space 2 to be a mindless slog. I’m not going to go into all of the things wrong with it, but there’s plenty of important criticisms to take note of. The first is that the horror aspect has been eliminated entirely. The game now favours cheap and predictable shocks rather than actually trying to build atmosphere, and the enemies are so weak and come in such huge numbers that any fear that you might have of them is quickly eliminated. I’m not joking when I say you might find something close to twenty Necromorphs in a single fight and with plenty of the guns being massively overpowered, what should be harsh survival combat quickly becomes repetitive, tedious Space Invaders. Secondly, Isaac has been changed from the silent protagonist to having a character; only his lines are so sporadic and his reactions are so unrealistic that it’s downright impossible to relate to him.

Any sane man, especially an engineer stuck on a humongous ship filled with thousands of killer aliens would be crapping his pants, but instead Isaac’s reaction flickers between annoyed frustration and bored sarcasm. There’s also zero ambiguity in the plot, with it being revealed about one minute into the game that Isaac is insane and that the ‘ghost haunting him’ is just a delusion and cannot hurt him. You can also add to this that the interesting plot of the first game has been replaced by an absolutely meaningless one in the sequel that amounts to nothing in the end, and serves as nothing more than an excuse to just kill aliens.

So after playing the game for about 2 hours and then watching my brother play almost the entire game, I concluded that Dead Space 2 was probably a bad game and decided to check on Metacritic to see what reviewers had to say about it… it was then that I received a shock greater than any that that insipid game could give me. Not only had reviewers given DS2 a higher rating than its predecessor, they had also given it scores in the 90’s with several of them awarding it perfect 100/100 scores. I was stunned. I decided to read through these reviews and it seemed like I was playing a completely different game. Critics were falling over their feet, lauding on praise to how ‘scary’ and ‘atmospheric’ the game was and how psychologically intimidating the game can be.

The truth is that there is nothing even remotely psychological about the game. Psychological fear comes from the uncertainty and insecurity arising from finding yourself in a threatening situation with no clear escape route and Dead Space 2 certainly has none of that.  Let it be known that I am a coward when it comes to horror – The Shining gave me sleepless nights for two days in a row and even Saw, which isn’t even a horror, disturbed me. You couldn’t even pay me to watch Paranormal Activity – but when Dead Space 2 had necromorphs rise up suddenly off the floor or burst out of the vents while I was in the darkness, I actually burst out laughing… I actually fell on my couch and burst out laughing. I am being dead honest here, the gore in Family Guy grosses me out more than Dead Space 2; the f@#king Twilight Saga is more scary. And yet somehow, the game is receiving more praise than the Godfather trilogy.

I’m sure that many of you have come across instances where you’ve bought a game on the recommendation of a review site like IGN or Gamespot, only to find that the game is absolute tripe and I’m really wondering why this is. Your first answer might be ‘because of money’ but I’m not sure that that’s entirely it. The Movie industry churns out ten times more revenue from its hits than games like Dead Space could ever hope to achieve and yet a site like Rotten Tomatoes has no qualms about giving a blockbuster like Transformers 2 a solid 20%. And Transformers 2 is exactly what Dead Space is, a big-budget mindless action romp with no more substance than a canned fart. The gaming industry has been migrating closer and closer to the film industry over the years but the one thing that hasn’t changed is professional integrity; because professional reviewers have none of it. The only reviewer that I still trust to rate games for me is Zero Punctuation’s Yahtzee because even though he can be petty and ridicule games for a laugh, he’s one of the few people who’s brutally honest enough to call a crap game crap.

I think the key reason why professional reviewers tend to have generic and sell-out opinions is not only because they’re paid to do that (Read up the stories, it happens more than you think. A Gamespot reviewer was fired for rating Kane & Lynch 6.0. Those who have played the game will know that 6.0 is about 5 times the game’s real value) but also because they just aren’t professionals. To be a top professional movie critic, you need to show experience, insight and be worthy of employment by a group as prestigious as the New York Times. To be a professional game critic, you just need to play a lot of games. Movie critics take pride in their carefully calculated opinions and the respect that their position demands; Game critics take pride in the fact that the more games they rate highly, the more games they get sent for free. It seems almost ironic that bashing high-profile games is more detestable than giving them undeserved high scores; hell even we at eGamer got told off by companies for being too harsh on games (fortunately though for us, they learned to live with it).

Creating a truly great movie requires solid directing, excellent writing, good acting and enough to chew on after the movie has finished. Creating a truly great game requires the exact same components. Why then, should the standards be any different? Why can high-budget crap like Tron: Legacy be rated 49%, but mediocrities like Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood are immune to criticism? Sure reviewers take the occasional potshot at some rubbish game like Fighters Uncaged to make themselves feel better for rating every mediocre game 7 or 8, but it’s essentially only the downright unplayable ones that get the bad scores. Too often, high production value is confused with high quality and reviewers are too scared to truly and objectively criticize a game if there’s a big name or a big hype behind it… and that, is the complete opposite of what we need reviewers for.

This, in my opinion, is the absolute worst thing about the gaming industry, because we cannot trust the very people who are supposed to look past the advertising and the hype to tell us which games are truly worth our precious time and money…

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Machina’s Machinations: Marvel Vs Capcom 3 Character Rundown [Part 4/4] http://egmr.net/2011/02/machina%e2%80%99s-machinations-marvel-vs-capcom-3-character-rundown-part-44/ http://egmr.net/2011/02/machina%e2%80%99s-machinations-marvel-vs-capcom-3-character-rundown-part-44/#comments Thu, 03 Feb 2011 15:48:35 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=39220 This week, rather than give my unwanted negative opinion about something irrelevant, I’m going to focus on giving my unwanted positive opinion on something slightly more relevant. Many of you […]

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This week, rather than give my unwanted negative opinion about something irrelevant, I’m going to focus on giving my unwanted positive opinion on something slightly more relevant. Many of you by now will have heard of Marvel vs. Capcom 3, the long awaited sequel to 10 year old game MvC2 which is famous for pitting the most popular characters that each franchise has to offer against in each other in 3-on-3 over the top battles of ridiculous scale.

If, for some reason, you haven’t really heard of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 then I’m not going to explain the game in this article but rather tell you that it’s releasing halfway through February and it is going to be incredibly awesome. If you want to learn more about the game then I’d recommend checking out some gameplay videos on YouTube because MvC3 is a game best seen in action. This article in particular is going to go through the 36 characters that are to appear in the game at launch and tell you a little about each of them. There’s also a video for each that will let you see them in action. Considering the enormous size of both the Marvel and Capcom brands, you’re sure to see plenty of familiar faces here. So without further ado, let’s get into it. Here is the list of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 characters in the general order in which they’ve been announced.

Because there are so many characters, this column will be posted in four daily installments over the next week. Each day, another 12 characters will be presented and at the end of the week, the  DLC characters will also be shown. So check back with eGamer each day.

Click here for Part 1

Click here for Part 2

Click here for Part 3

This is Part 4

Browse through the pages below to see all of the characters and their details.

The post Machina’s Machinations: Marvel Vs Capcom 3 Character Rundown [Part 4/4] appeared first on #egmr.

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Machina’s Machinations: Marvel Vs Capcom 3 Character Rundown [Part 3/4] http://egmr.net/2011/02/machina%e2%80%99s-machinations-marvel-vs-capcom-3-character-rundown-part-34/ http://egmr.net/2011/02/machina%e2%80%99s-machinations-marvel-vs-capcom-3-character-rundown-part-34/#comments Wed, 02 Feb 2011 18:19:53 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=39044 This week, rather than give my unwanted negative opinion about something irrelevant, I’m going to focus on giving my unwanted positive opinion on something slightly more relevant. Many of you […]

The post Machina’s Machinations: Marvel Vs Capcom 3 Character Rundown [Part 3/4] appeared first on #egmr.

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This week, rather than give my unwanted negative opinion about something irrelevant, I’m going to focus on giving my unwanted positive opinion on something slightly more relevant. Many of you by now will have heard of Marvel vs. Capcom 3, the long awaited sequel to 10 year old game MvC2 which is famous for pitting the most popular characters that each franchise has to offer against in each other in 3-on-3 over the top battles of ridiculous scale.

If, for some reason, you haven’t really heard of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 then I’m not going to explain the game in this article but rather tell you that it’s releasing halfway through February and it is going to be incredibly awesome. If you want to learn more about the game then I’d recommend checking out some gameplay videos on YouTube because MvC3 is a game best seen in action. This article in particular is going to go through the 36 characters that are to appear in the game at launch and tell you a little about each of them. There’s also a video for each that will let you see them in action. Considering the enormous size of both the Marvel and Capcom brands, you’re sure to see plenty of familiar faces here. So without further ado, let’s get into it. Here is the list of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 characters in the general order in which they’ve been announced.

Because there are so many characters, this column will be posted in four daily installments over the next week. Each day, another 12 characters will be presented and at the end of the week, the  DLC characters will also be shown. So check back with eGamer each day.

Click here for Part 1

Click here for Part 2

This is Part 3

Click here for Part 4

Browse through the pages below to see all of the characters and their details.

The post Machina’s Machinations: Marvel Vs Capcom 3 Character Rundown [Part 3/4] appeared first on #egmr.

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Machina’s Machinations: Marvel Vs Capcom 3 Character Rundown [Part 2/4] http://egmr.net/2011/02/machina%e2%80%99s-machinations-marvel-vs-capcom-3-character-rundown-part-24/ http://egmr.net/2011/02/machina%e2%80%99s-machinations-marvel-vs-capcom-3-character-rundown-part-24/#comments Tue, 01 Feb 2011 19:55:15 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=39202 This week, rather than give my unwanted negative opinion about something irrelevant, I’m going to focus on giving my unwanted positive opinion on something slightly more relevant. Many of you […]

The post Machina’s Machinations: Marvel Vs Capcom 3 Character Rundown [Part 2/4] appeared first on #egmr.

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This week, rather than give my unwanted negative opinion about something irrelevant, I’m going to focus on giving my unwanted positive opinion on something slightly more relevant. Many of you by now will have heard of Marvel vs. Capcom 3, the long awaited sequel to 10 year old game MvC2 which is famous for pitting the most popular characters that each franchise has to offer against in each other in 3-on-3 over the top battles of ridiculous scale.

If, for some reason, you haven’t really heard of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 then I’m not going to explain the game in this article but rather tell you that it’s releasing halfway through February and it is going to be incredibly awesome. If you want to learn more about the game then I’d recommend checking out some gameplay videos on YouTube because MvC3 is a game best seen in action. This article in particular is going to go through the 36 characters that are to appear in the game at launch and tell you a little about each of them. There’s also a video for each that will let you see them in action. Considering the enormous size of both the Marvel and Capcom brands, you’re sure to see plenty of familiar faces here. So without further ado, let’s get into it. Here is the list of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 characters in the general order in which they’ve been announced.

Because there are so many characters, this column will be posted in four daily installments over the next week. Each day, another 12 characters will be presented and at the end of the week, the  DLC characters will also be shown. So check back with eGamer each day.

Click here for Part 1

This is Part 2

Click here for Part 3

Click here for Part 4

Browse through the pages below to see all of the characters and their details.

The post Machina’s Machinations: Marvel Vs Capcom 3 Character Rundown [Part 2/4] appeared first on #egmr.

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Machina’s Machinations: Marvel Vs Capcom 3 Character Rundown [Part 1/4] http://egmr.net/2011/01/machinas-machinations-marvel-vs-capcom-3-character-rundown-part-14/ http://egmr.net/2011/01/machinas-machinations-marvel-vs-capcom-3-character-rundown-part-14/#comments Mon, 31 Jan 2011 18:02:15 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=39045 This week, rather than give my unwanted negative opinion about something irrelevant, I’m going to focus on giving my unwanted positive opinion on something slightly more relevant. Many of you […]

The post Machina’s Machinations: Marvel Vs Capcom 3 Character Rundown [Part 1/4] appeared first on #egmr.

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This week, rather than give my unwanted negative opinion about something irrelevant, I’m going to focus on giving my unwanted positive opinion on something slightly more relevant. Many of you by now will have heard of Marvel vs. Capcom 3, the long awaited sequel to 10 year old game MvC2 which is famous for pitting the most popular characters that each franchise has to offer against in each other in 3-on-3 over the top battles of ridiculous scale.

If, for some reason, you haven’t really heard of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 then I’m not going to explain the game in this article but rather tell you that it’s releasing halfway through February and it is going to be incredibly awesome. If you want to learn more about the game then I’d recommend checking out some gameplay videos on YouTube because MvC3 is a game best seen in action. This article in particular is going to go through the 36 characters that are to appear in the game at launch and tell you a little about each of them. There’s also a video for each that will let you see them in action. Considering the enormous size of both the Marvel and Capcom brands, you’re sure to see plenty of familiar faces here. So without further ado, let’s get into it. Here is the list of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 characters in the general order in which they’ve been announced.

Because there are so many characters, this column will be posted in four daily installments over the next week. Each day, another 12 characters will be presented and at the end of the week, the  DLC characters will also be shown. So check back with eGamer each day.

This is Part 1

Click here for Part 2

Click here for Part 3

Click here for Part 4

Browse through the pages below to see all of the characters and their details.

The post Machina’s Machinations: Marvel Vs Capcom 3 Character Rundown [Part 1/4] appeared first on #egmr.

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Machina’s Machinations – 2010 in Gaming [Column] http://egmr.net/2011/01/machinas-machinations-2010-in-gaming-column/ http://egmr.net/2011/01/machinas-machinations-2010-in-gaming-column/#comments Mon, 10 Jan 2011 12:15:58 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=38667 Hello one and all and welcome to another exciting episode of Machina’s Machinations. You might notice that this column has come three weeks after the previous one instead of two […]

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Hello one and all and welcome to another exciting episode of Machina’s Machinations. You might notice that this column has come three weeks after the previous one instead of two which would lead you to the conclusion that my lazy habits may be returning, but fear not. I simply delayed this column for a week until the eGamer 2010 awards were posted so that I can discuss what will probably be the most controversial entry on the list: eGamer’s game of the year for 2011. If you don’t know what it is, then go check out this list over here… don’t worry, I’ll wait till you come back. Done? Well ok, let’s get started.

Before we delve into that whole game of the year debacle, let’s take a second to stop and take a look at 2010 as a whole in terms of gaming. I’ll be honest; I was actually not too impressed by 2010 when it came to gaming. Make no mistake, I’m not calling it a bad year for gaming or belittling the quality of the games released this year but I wasn’t as impressed, mostly because 2010 wasn’t very exciting. It was almost predictable in a sense. Most of the top games in the year were sequels of a kind; we had God of War 3, Mario Galaxy 2, Mass Effect 2, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Halo: Reach, Bayonetta (spiritual sequel to DMC) and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood among several others. The games of 2010 were mostly expected when their predecessors were released a year or two ago and while the quality of games was quite high, there were very few breakout titles that really took us by surprise or exciting new IPs that left us wanting more from the idea. All in all, 2010 was a good year but entirely unremarkable. It was the gaming equivalent of Megamind 3D; an entertaining movie that we thoroughly enjoyed and not without its good bits, but ultimately, nothing we haven’t seen before. In the end, the innovation that came from 2010, stemmed mostly from the indie games like Amnesia: Dark Descent and Limbo and from this year’s only breakout innovation title, Heavy Rain.

Next up before we get to the game of the year are the advances in motion controller technnology i.e. Sony’s Playstation Move and Microsoft’s Kinect. We at eGamer are not quite as excited about or interested in these new peripherals as market hype wanted us to be and I’ll explain why in a moment. It’s not that we find them to be disappointing or let downs as such, but we still aren’t convinced of the capabilities of either of them and we feel that 2010 hasn’t truly given them a reason to exist just yet. Sony’s Motion controller consists of the Move Controller, which is essentially an upgraded Wiimote, and the Move Navigator, which is essentially a Wii Nunchuk. Sony has clearly seen from Nintendo that the motion control industry is a lucrative market and has decided that the best way to enter the market would be to steal Nintendo’s idea entirely, which, while utterly shameless, is not such a bad idea when you think about it. The PS3, as a machine, is far superior to the Wii and the Move has so far proven to be more response and accurate than the Wiimote as well as having a few convenient extra features like the glowing bulb and the relocated D-Pad.

So far, the Move hasn’t done anything exciting at all, but I’m convinced that with the recent affordability of the PS3 and with the right marketing scheme, the PS3 may, at some time in the future, lead to the premature death of the Wii or at least steal a sizable chunk of its market share. So the Move, while nothing really new, is a good competitor to the Wii and we can probably expect some good things from it in the year to come. As for Microsoft’s Kinect, I can’t say I’m quite as optimistic. I’ll withhold judgment for now because I actually haven’t had the chance to experience the Kinect per se, but the concept already seems like a huge risk to me and I’m not sure if the whole controller-less gaming idea will actually pay off. I could very well be wrong, as we might discover in 2011, but, so far, I haven’t heard enough good things about Kinect to become excited about it. All in all, I don’t think that 2010 was the year that showed us the best that these new peripherals had to offer, although I’m sure we’ll see plenty new games for both of them in 2011.

The last thing I would like to discuss, before we lay the memory of 2010 in Gaming to rest, is eGamer’s choice for game of the year. We had 10 entrants for game of the year (9 strong contenders and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood) for game of the year and while most of them were high quality experiences that stood up to the rest, we eventually narrowed it down to just three finalists and pitted them against each other for the final prize. Our top three games of 2010 were God of War III, Mass Effect 2 and Heavy Rain. My personal opinion is that God of War III would have been an excellent choice for game of the year because of its amazing massive scale battles, action orientated experience and substantially improved gameplay but I actually fought against it in our debates for game of the year on the basis that it was essentially a much refined version of God of War II and, while it gave the series a memorable send-off, the last two hours of the game (which is what you generally remember) were arguably the weakest. Make no mistake, we at eGamer are not so full of ourselves that we only reward innovative and/or pretentious games but we hardly feel right giving a game the Game of the Year award when it hasn’t shown us something we haven’t seen before.

This thing narrowed it down to Mass Effect 2 vs. Heavy Rain for Game of the Year and, while I strongly argued in Heavy Rain’s favour, it was a debate that took us quite a long time to finally resolve. Mass Effect 2 is an excellent game. It’s scale may not be as epic as God of War III or RPGs that were released this year but, as Tody generally puts it, Mass Effect 2 is a game that focuses on the small decisions and it does those extremely well. You may not be blowing up galaxies all that often but between questioning an NPC or even buying a drink at a bar, it’s amazing how much control ME2 gives you over the personality of your character. Our biggest criticisms against the game were the lack of ability to influence the main story or the ending in any substantial way but the ability to influence the fate of your 10 or so crew members as well your character’s own actions as the story progresses makes the experience extremely worthwhile. Also, the dramatic changes in both the cast and the gameplay have shown us that Bioware are not scared to tamper with their formula even if it works and any company that’s willing to embrace change and execute it well is A+ in our books. The end result is that Mass Effect 2 is a very different game to its predecessor which made the experience feel very fresh to us, while it kept the aspects which made the first game so successful leading to a much better if shorter game overall.

So Mass Effect 2 was an excellent game and if there weren’t any truly innovative titles this year, then ME2 would have surely won it but, fortunately or unfortunately depending on your point of view, there was a game released this year that actually managed to truly surprise us. The game was none other than Quantum Dream’s Heavy Rain. The funny thing about Heavy Rain is that, for such an amazing game, if you describe it to someone they would think you’re joking. The entire game, dubbed an ‘interactive drama’, is 3rd person where the gameplay consists entirely of moving around and performing context sensitive controller movements, known nowadays as quick time events or QTEs. QTEs are largely considered to be the worst of part any 3rd person so basing an entire game on them sounds like an absolutely silly concept but the manner in which it is executed in Heavy Rain has managed to not only prove us at eGamer wrong, but also convinced us that interactive dramas have a real future in gaming. The QTEs are well thought out and contextually relevant which makes the game really immersive when you have to imitate the movements your characters are performing. This experience is enhanced even further with the Playstation Move and I can honestly say that playing the game for a second time when the Move patch was released improved it significantly.

But enough about Heavy Rain’s innovation and gameplay, what truly made it stand above the rest this year was its absolutely heart-breaking and compelling narrative. It’s a murder mystery involving 4 different characters each of which has a strong reason for wanting to find the killer and, what truly makes the game worth playing is not the depth of the characters, or the clever way in which the well written plot unfolds, but rather the emotional experience that the game has to offer. It’s the first game in a long time that has actually made me care what happens to the characters. The main character, Ethan, in particular is so well acted and his quest to get his son back from the Origami Killer is so crushing that you literally cringe when you see what he has to go through; even more so because you’re the one making him go through it all. And seeing him so defeated at so many stages of the game and still pushing gives real weight to the game; it’s a game that definitely leaves you exhausted after you finish it – not because it was bad to play, but because you cared.

Overall, Heavy Rain was able to offer us a thrilling and moving film experience that was further heightened by our personal involvement in it as the player. Furthermore it really pushed the limits of what we thought video games were capable of when it came to drama and provided us with a fresh new look at a very untapped genre of gaming. When it came down to the final battle for game of the year between Mass Effect 2 and Heavy Rain, it was a difficult toss up but it won because Heavy Rain has so many moments worth talking about long after the game has ended. It’s the kind of game you recommend to all your friends no matter what kind of games they play and it’s one that you’ll remember long after you finish. Heavy Rain is most definitely a gaming experience that deserves it’s award as our 2010 Game of the Year and we eagerly await Quantum Dream’s, or any other company’s for that matter, next take on Interactive Drama.

So that’s it from me and eGamer for 2010 in Gaming. To sum it all up: a proficient if predictable year. I have a strong feeling that 2011 is going to far surpass it. Oh and here’s a funny picture that I found on the internet. See you in two weeks people…

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Machina’s Machinations: Growing Past Gaming [Column] http://egmr.net/2010/12/machinas-machinations-growing-past-gaming-column-2/ http://egmr.net/2010/12/machinas-machinations-growing-past-gaming-column-2/#comments Mon, 20 Dec 2010 20:22:09 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=37679 It is often said that ‘games are not what they used to be’… and in a lot of ways this statement is almost true. Most of the longtime gamers from […]

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It is often said that ‘games are not what they used to be’… and in a lot of ways this statement is almost true. Most of the longtime gamers from the glory days of the PC and PlayStation 1/PlayStation 2 age (mostly before online became so rampant) will claim that the graphics in games nowadays are vastly superior to their predecessors, but the gameplay, development times and originality in games has declined over the years. It’s quite a difficult and contentious issue to debate whether the games of old were actually better and more fun for their times than the games released these days and a lot of it will come down to personal preference, but there are a lot of arguments that can be mode for both sides.

While the games of today can be considered to be ‘better’ than their predecessors in several aspects, such as quality, they are also vastly inferior when it comes to innovation, originality and depth and it’s quite rare these days to find a game that can truly transcend its limitations and still be fun several years from now. I would often agree with all of this, remembering the time when I replayed the Max Payne games a year or two ago and found them to be more fun than most shooters released in our present generation. But as time goes on, I’m starting to think that the above is no longer the case.

I’m starting to think, these days, that maybe the reason that past generation gamers, me included, think that the games from ‘our day’ were better, is simply because we’re growing older. At 19 years of age, I’m starting to consider myself to be a young adult and for reasons I can’t quite explain, I’m starting to think that maybe I’m growing out of gaming in general. Maybe the reason that I, and people from my generation of gamers, consider the older games to be better is because we’ve grown past ‘gaming’ as a hobby, and so nostalgia and faded memories make us remember the times when we enjoyed gaming the most. It’s entirely possible that I consider Metal Gear Solid II to be the best game in the MGS series, not because it’s actually the best one, but because it reminds me of a time in my life when the PS2 was still new and the whole gameplay experience blew me away. I loved MGS4 but I don’t view it as highly as MGS II probably because even though it’s a better game and the story is far more epic, it wasn’t like I hadn’t seen a lot of it before. The same thing happened to me with Bayonetta and the Assassin’s Creed series. While Bayonetta is excellent and Assassin’s Creed is debatable, neither of them kept me entertained nearly as much they would have a younger audience, because by the time I had played them, I had been through a million and one other action platformers, and so nothing was new or impressive to me.

It makes sense that if you grew up playing video games, then by the time you finish school and start getting on with your life, you eventually play less of them, not because the games today have become worse, but because there are very few games that can show you something that you haven’t seen before. I’m not sure about the rest of you, but I’ve certainly found that I play a lot fewer games on my own since leaving school. Since I’m now a university student, a workaholic, an over-achiever, and since I’m studying something really difficult, I end up giving up frequent gaming as a hobby during the semester. As a result, the games that I want to play end up stockpiling during the course of the year, leaving me with a huge number of titles to play through during the holidays. And yet somehow I don’t actually end up playing most of them. I did, of course, make time to play the awesome titles like God of War III and Mass Effect II, but even the good games like Heavy Rain and Red Dead Redemption just slipped right by me. It’s not that I don’t get the time, it’s just that I have no motivation to play them. Hell even Killzone 2 bored me after two and a half hours and I ended up selling it before I even finished it. Gaming as a hobby seems to be a lot less important to me over the years and I can’t really explain when it happened or why. I just don’t find most games nearly as entertaining anymore.

But that’s not to say that I don’t play games that much anymore because, to contradict a lot of what I’ve said, I actually still do a hell of a lot of gaming, although the type of games that I play have changed. These days, you won’t find me beating every single difficulty on the newest Devil May Cry or playing Deathmatches online in Resistance 2, but you will find me playing DotA on Battle.net with my cousins. I still make time to play the super awesome single-player experiences like God of War, but 99% of the time that I’m playing games, I’ll be playing FIFA with a group of friends, while we make jokes and talk crap, or playing knockout rounds in Super Street Fighter IV with my cousins and my brother while we taunt each other and try to determine who’s the best. And to be honest, gaming like this is ten times more fun than it ever used to be back then. In fact, today I had a friend over and all we ended up doing for like five hours was transfer movies and games while playing FIFA and catching up, and it was far more fun than I’ve ever had with a Call of Duty game.

I think somewhere along the line, I’ve evolved – or devolved – into a social/casual gamer and the games I play are no longer as important as the people I play them with. Since I’ve changed, gaming has become less of a dedicated pastime, like watching a weekly TV series or reading a book, and more of a platform for social interaction. Me, my friends and my family play games because we grew up with them and because we love them but, for most of us, it’s no longer about actually playing the games, but about hanging out with each other and enjoying something on common ground. So when I think long and hard about whether or not the games of the past are better than the games of today, I could write ten pages of back and forth arguments for either side but the real answer is no, because the games haven’t really changed — but I have.

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Machina’s Machinations — DotA Never Changes [Column] http://egmr.net/2010/12/machinas-machinations-dota-never-changes-column/ http://egmr.net/2010/12/machinas-machinations-dota-never-changes-column/#comments Mon, 06 Dec 2010 14:19:53 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=36632 Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen (but probably mostly gentlemen) to another exciting episode of Machina’s Machinations. This week I’m going to be discussing a game that probably everyone who’s ever […]

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Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen (but probably mostly gentlemen) to another exciting episode of Machina’s Machinations. This week I’m going to be discussing a game that probably everyone who’s ever read this website has ever heard of and probably even played. If you didn’t guess from the title of this article what the game in is, then allow me to ruin all suspense and reveal that it’s none other than Defense of the Ancients, otherwise known as DotA Allstars, and sometimes known as the most infamous map ever made for a game ever.

The reason I bring up this topic at such an irrelevant time is that I started playing the game again. Now people who know me and read this article might possibly gasp in shock, since I swore never again to play DotA on the grounds that I used to be addicted, but I will reassure you that it’s only temporarily. The reason I’m playing again is that one of my DotA-playing cousins has come from the Eastern Cape to rejoin civilization in Cape Town for his vacation, and with our five man DotA team reunited, the temptation to join forces in the act of pub-stomping noobs is simply too much to resist.

Now that in itself is a rather unexciting story and I’m sure none of you want to hear exaggerated stories of how I got scores of 15-0 with the Wisp in my first game back, so instead I’m just going to discuss general ideas around the game that interested me, in particular how little the game has changed in the one and a half years of my absence from it. To be fair, the way the game is played has also changed substantially since I left; there are new heroes, new items, plenty of changes to existing content and the metagame has also changed completely.

To elaborate, in the international clan matches, the First Tier hero bans have changed from gangers like Zeus and Priestess of the Moon to farming heroes and tanks like Doom Bringer and Alchemist and the 3-1-1 lane strat has gone from being laughable to being a core part of many strategies. There’s a lot to learn getting back into the game about hero picks, hero builds and general strategies but despite all of these hindrances, it only took me a match or two to start feeling comfortable in the game again and start contributing to my team instead of bringing it down. And this made me realize that despite how much content they’ve added, removed and changed from the DotA I knew more than a year ago, DotA is a game that never changes… and to be honest, it’s not such a bad thing.

DotA just seems like it’s just one of those games that’s always going to be around and whenever you’re at a loss for what to play or you just miss the feel of feeding 0-12 and costing your team the game, DotA is going to be there waiting and it’s going to be older, but it’ll still be that game you know and love… or hate. And another thing that I realized because of this, is that DotA is pretty much un-killable. And to be honest, it’s very hard to figure out why. If you think about it for a second, you’ll realize that so many of the features that make DotA what it is, seem to be pretty much designed to prevent the game from lasting. The game has a ridiculously steep learning curve, is very difficult, and is so focused on teamplay that a single weak player can be enough to cost an entire team the match. Further more, many of the skills required in DotA, such as last-hitting, ganging, map awareness and movement are specific to DotA and added to this is the fact that there’s over one hundred heroes, ten shops worth of items and even more item combinations to learn. Slowly you begin to realize that this is not a game that just discourages new players, but rather chases them away and then insults them for sucking at a game they have no idea how to play. DotA is very much an elitist game and for most players, you’re going to endure at least a few weeks of losing badly and being flamed by your team before you get good enough to actually start enjoying the game.

If you’ve played the game, then you’ll know that I have exaggerated absolutely nothing in the above paragraph; the game really is very alienating to new players. And yet despite this, it seems to attract them like moths to a flame, lining them up to have their egos crushed and their mothers insulted by other players online. You’d think that a game as elitist as DotA would contain only a small community of highly skilled players who slowly dwindle off because they get bored or find other games until the game itself dies out, but this doesn’t even seem close to being the case. Somehow, something in DotA is so well-crafted and unique that players forget its flaws and keep coming back for more. I’m not going to deny it, it’s a damn fun game and few other games can make me feel nearly as skillful for winning a match. It’s also quite impressive, when you think about it, that the only reason WarCraft III is still alive is because of a single map, which also managed to spawn an entire genre of gaming all on its own.

But that’s a topic for someone bored enough to discuss it. I’ve still got one more thing that I’d like to discuss before I finish off this article and go back to sniffing glue and trying to create the Ultimate Muffin, and that’s the topic of DotA’s continuity. So far, there has only been one thing (or things) that has managed to put a dent in DotA’s player-base and that’s competition. First there was that God-awful ripoff known as Demigod which had amazing graphics and really interesting heroes, but suffered from very repetitive gameplay with the few heroes that were in the game, somehow being quite similar to each other. I’m not going to go into Demigod’s failure too much other than to say that it only really took the skeleton of DotA’s idea rather than the concepts that made it so successful.

Next up was League of Legends from DotA’s original creators, which I didn’t like in the slightest. Now apparently League of Legends is a decent game but I don’t think it will ever come close to competing with DotA on a reasonable level, and my hypothesis for why is that it piggybacked off the success of DotA yet didn’t offer many sufficient improvements over the original formula. It’s essentially the same game with an inferior engine and graphics and with different heroes and items; and the key word here is different. LoL was different for the sake of being different and didn’t actually give you much of a reason to play it over DotA other than because it was different.

The next game to compete with DotA was Heroes of Newerth, or HoN, which I actually liked quite a lot. The HoN creators finally realized that the DotA community actually liked DotA (shocker… I know) and decided that rather than trying to build up from scratch on a similar concept, they would rather just take DotA as it was and then improve it. And on paper, this sounded like a great concept… but they didn’t really manage to do that. You see, the HoN creators weren’t exactly satisfied with just copying DotA and instead only took a handful of the existing heroes, used modified versions of other ones and added in their own heroes and items to make the game their own. The end result was something which was familiar to and yet quite different from DotA at the same time. The majority of players preferred to stick with DotA which was still arguably the better game, but HoN did achieve a moderate amount of success because of its graphics, variety and its vastly improved online system. It still is the best alternative DotA game out there and it’s still a lot of fun to play.

HoN is the latest game to directly compete with DotA and its success is arguable, but there is one game which I think will actually be able to succeed DotA and finally put it to rest. And that game, is DotA 2. To be honest, there’s not much I can tell you about DotA 2 other than that a few screenshots are available if you click here, but I strongly believe that DotA 2 has what it takes to properly succeed its predecessor, and I’ll tell you why. HoN came close, but DotA 2 is the first game to actually acknowledge how good a game DotA actually is. Rather than try to copy the original heroes or modify them, DotA 2 seems to actually take the same heroes you know and love as they are. It’s not like Demigod or LoL where the Slayer doesn’t exist or HoN where she’s reskinned as the Pyromancer; in DotA 2, the Slayer is still the Slayer and this is probably the biggest thing that will make DotA 2 successful. It’s going to be the first game that can actually call itself an ‘improved version of DotA’, rather than a different one. Also, VALVE and Icefrog are making it, so it’s probably going to be good. But if it does take this route, it won’t be a different game… and that will serve to further prove my point: that DotA never changes…

So that wraps it up for this week. With DotA being such a contentious issue, surely there must be a lot of you with ideas of your own. If you agree with me, disagree with me or have something completely different to say about DotA’s past, future, continuity or the game in general, let me know in the comments section below. See you in two weeks people…

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Review: Fallout: New Vegas http://egmr.net/2010/11/review-fallout-new-vegas/ http://egmr.net/2010/11/review-fallout-new-vegas/#comments Fri, 26 Nov 2010 16:53:01 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=36137 Visit review on site for scoring.   That’s not to say that it’s a lazy and rushed out sequel – because honestly, Fallout: New Vegas and its brother, Fallout 3, […]

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Visit review on site for scoring.

 

Click here for a Quick Decision Tree

That’s not to say that it’s a lazy and rushed out sequel – because honestly, Fallout: New Vegas and its brother, Fallout 3, are both damn good games – but if you played Fallout 3 extensively then gameplay-wise, New Vegas has very little to show you. The quickest way to sum it up is that the world is different, the story is different and the quests are different but the FPS and RPG elements are exactly the same, leading to an end product that should be treated as more of a stand-alone expansion pack then a step forward in the series.

A Wasteland: does this look familiar to you?

Because of the similarities between the two games it’s very tempting to make this review a list of differences between the two games, but instead I’m going to assume that you are only vaguely aware of Fallout 3’s existence and more or less start from scratch. Fallout: New Vegas is an FPS-RPG hybrid from Bethesda – the guys who made Oblivion – that’s set in a post-apocalyptic USA after some unexplained nuclear war that broke out presumably around the time of the cold war. The result is that while the game year is somewhere in the 2200’s, the theme of the world and the lifestyle of the people largely resembles America in the 60’s  leading to a very interesting and unique blend of sci-fi in what we would considered to be an old-fashioned world. As opposed to Fallout 3, which took place in the Capital Wasteland (Post-Apocalyptic Washington D.C.), New Vegas takes place in the Mojave Westland (Post-Apocalyptic Nevada) which contains the infamous town/city/whatever of Las Vegas which serves as the central point for the game. The player takes the role of courier who just survived getting shot in the head but the backstory isn’t emphasized much beyond that and the game will fill you in quite nicely as you progress without assuming that you’ve even heard of the first game.

As to be expected from a game set in Las Vegas, there’s plenty of gambling

What might have interested some of you by now is that I classified Fallout as an FPS-RPG. This might tempt you to think that the gameplay is varied and balanced enough to interest you if you’re a shooter fan or a role-playing fan but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The game leans heavily towards the RPG side and while the game and it’s combat take place through the first person camera, the game feels absolutely nothing like a shooter and anyone who bought this game expecting one is going to be sorely disappointed. Compared to an FPS like Call of Duty, shooter fans would find the combat sluggish, unwieldy and unnecessarily complicated while finding the game in general to be too slow-paced with nowhere near enough action or high points. That’s not to say the combat is bad, but it’s slower and more tactical for a reason and it accompanies the RPG and character building system quite nicely.

You could be forgiven for thinking this game is a shooter

That being said, the RPG part of the game is downright fantastic and any fan of role playing of any form is going to find the game to be an absolute treat. While it does suffer from that typical RPG flaw of having a slow start, there is always a blatant shortcut that can be taken through any of the quests so that the player can rush the crappy initial quests and get straight into the good parts. The RPG elements are more or less what you’d expect from a game in the genre; there’s the travelling from place to place meeting people, taking on quests and killing stuff but what Fallout does better than any of its competitor games is make you feel like an actual force in the game world. Unlike Oblivion, where you can save the world from the brink of destruction but still have innkeepers offer you fetch-quests, or Mass Effect, where good and evil puts you on the exact same unchanging story path, Fallout goes a very long way to make you feel like you have a real impact on the way the story unfolds. Fallout 3 players will remember some of the drastic choices the player got to make early in the game such as destroying the entire city of Megaton or assassinating some very important game world NPCs, and New Vegas will not disappoint in this regard.

There are a lot of interesting places to visit and people to kill

When it comes to quests, the player has pretty much free reign to tackle them in any number of interesting ways and what’s more is that completing them will actually give you in-game recognition for doing so. One of the examples is that I decided to kill the head of one of New Vegas’s three principal Casinos and, from then on, everywhere I went, people would either be talking about how he got what he deserved or how awesome I am for doing so. And when I say that there are tons of different ways to complete each quest, I really mean it. One particular quest had me trying to help a town of Super Mutants under siege by a bunch of mercenaries hired by the NCR and one of the ways to proceed in this quest was to bribe the mercenaries to leave the town in peace. I convinced the Town’s leader that the mercenaries could be bribed for 3000 caps (when they had actually asked for 2500) but then, instead of paying the mercenaries, I decided to kill them, leaving me with a very fat wallet. This made me quite happy for a while until the town leader told me that he would have been happier with a peaceful resolution and the NCR got so angry with me that they ignored the previous time I had helped them out and sent some assassins to take me out… and killing these assassins only made them even more angry with me for some reason. And pretty much every single quest goes like this, where there are multiple options along each step of the way and you never feel like there’s an option missing that you wish you could have picked.

Find the men that tried to kill you: going to have to be a bit more specific than that…

The game world itself is also extremely flexible to the random decisions you make. Again, unlike Oblivion where every second character is an unkillable quest NPC or Mass Effect where you can’t engage in combat when in non-combat areas, in Fallout you can pretty much kill anyone at any time whenever you please and the game will still find a way to go on. Obviously killing people will ruin your reputation with various factions (I’ll get to that in a bit) and automatically fail you in some quests but the game does very little to hold you back in terms of choices. At pretty much any point in the game you can just waltz into your boss’s chambers and just kill him for no apparent reason. Doing so will obviously have consequences but the game does very little to stop you from feeling like you really can do what you want. And even the most important of storyline characters can be killed whenever you want to; there’s only a very small handful of characters that you aren’t allowed to kill and most 9*of their immunities tend to be only temporary at best. Explaining how this fits into the context of the story missions would be extremely complicated but it’s pretty damn impressive how the game lets you proceed and still have plenty of options even when you do things as drastic as wiping out an entire faction.

Benny voiced by Matthew Perry. There are a huge number of outcomes to the quests involving this guy

However, like I said, everything you do does tend to have consequences. The game still has the good/evil karma system present from Fallout 3 but this has become almost entirely irrelevant; it’s now more of a play-style tracker rather than something that affects gameplay. The real system that determines the consequences of your actions is the reputation system. In the game there are quite a large number of factions of varying sizes and every time you commit an act for or against them you affect your standing with them. And what’s admirable is that it’s not really as simple as a one way scale between good and bad reputation with them. The good and the bad are on separate axes and your final reputation with them is determined by whether or not your mix of actions leans towards good or bad. Anything you do involving a faction will make you more well known to them, but you also need to be careful about offending  a faction because it’s not really as simple as doing a few quests to just win back their trust. It’s difficult to explain this concept without actually seeing it in game, but suffice to say, factions don’t forget wrongs you’ve done to them even if you win back their trust at a later stage.

The Reputation System: not everyone gets me…

So without getting more into it than I already have, the quests are robust and role-playing is excellent. Next on the hit list would be the character building system. You start out by choosing your S.P.E.C.I.A.L attributes such as your Strength and your Intelligence and these stick with you the whole game. Generally these don’t have a huge impact on the actual gameplay, but they do determine how your character starts out with regard to skills and some innate abilities such as your movement speed and how many skill points you receive at each level up. The bad thing about this system is that the game doesn’t fully make it clear to you what each of these skills really affect and since these attributes can’t be changed for the rest of the game (unless you improve them slightly through certain quests), it’s easy for a new player to misalign them and only realize later that he or she made a mistake. But like I said, they don’t generally have that big of an impact and it’s quite difficult to screw up your character even on purpose. Even so, it does leave a sour taste in your mouth when you set your Strength at 4 and then have to waste two perks to push your Strength up to 6 so that you can wield your new shotgun with full effectiveness.

Allocating your S.P.E.C.I.A.L attributes

But what really determines how your character turns out are your skills and your perks. Your skills determine your proficiency at certain tasks such as lockpicking and handling firearms and this is one of the chief areas where New Vegas has dramatically improved over its predecessor. Because of the way the game is now, every single skill in the game is important and can benefit you greatly in one way or another; usually through offering you additional ways to complete quests. For example, if your skill in Medicine is high enough, not only will you be able to treat your own wounds with more proficiency but you’ll also be able to diagnose other characters of their illnesses and this can let you pick up things about characters that you would have missed entirely on a different playthrough. Another example is that the Science skill primarily lets you hack computers but you can also use it to upgrade robots and machines that you encounter along the way. The way the quests have become, every skill is worth taking and previously useless skills such as speech, have now become incredibly important for certain types of characters. This tends to add a lot of replay value to the game and rewards every play style rather than just focusing on killing everything.

Almost all skills come in handy sooner or later in conversations

You allocate your skill points whenever you level up and every two levels you also get to take a perk. Perks are special abilities that you can take it you meet certain prerequisites and these go a long way to defining your character. Some of them are funny, such as Black Widow which lets a female character manipulate men, others are more strategic such as Stealth Run which lets you move at full speed without compromising your position when sneaking, and others are downright silly such as the Cannibal perk which lets you eat dead people to regain health. The fact that you only get a perk every two level as opposed to one (as in Fallout 3) is a bit of a letdown but you level up faster and the level cap is raised so it balances out a bit. The only other change to the character building system is the addition of traits, which you pick at character creation and they offer both an upside and a downside, but most of these are either too small to notice or absolutely useless. The only one worth mentioning is the Wild Wasteland trait which makes the game wackier and adds in some strange jokes.

Some of the perks are really funny

The combat aspect of the gameplay is where a lot of FPS gamers will lose interest. Essentially you run around and shoot people with your various guns, but enemies usually have a lot of health and a lot of technicalities like character accuracy, weapon condition and damage threshold make it a lot less simple than just pointing your gun at your enemies heads and one-hit killing them. That’s not to say that the combat is complicated, but it’s pretty damn clear that the game is an RPG through and through in this regard. The thing about the combat that makes it so interesting is the limb damage system. Damage to each limb of a character is kept track of and dealing enough damage to cripple a limb inflicts certain penalties. For example if you shoot the wing of a giant insect enough, it will crash to the ground and if enemies deal enough damage to you to cripple your arm, then your hand trembles when using iron sights and your reload times severely decreases. Because combat can sometimes get chaotic with multiple enemies running around, the game also gives you the VATS targeting system to help you out. Basically you activate VATS, the game pauses and you get to individually target which areas of which enemies’ bodies you want to attack at the expense of action points; then you activate it and your character will perform the actions in slow motion. While you can do some really cool things like shoot a grenade coming at you in mid air or shoot the gun right out of an enemy’s hand, the most effective strategy on non-boss enemies is usually to just shoot two or three in the head and wait till your action points recharge so that you can do it to someone else. Still, it’s an innovative system and even after a year, it’s still as fun as it used to be.

VATS lets you target each part of an enemy separately

The one new addition to the overall gameplay in New Vegas is hardcore mode, which is not nearly as hardcore as it sounds. You can choose to activate it at the start of the game or toggle it whenever you can change the difficulty but its effects are quite simple. With hardcore mode on, the game becomes somewhat more realistic and challenging, mostly with regard to inventory management. You now have dehydration, hunger and sleep deprivation to worry about and will have to eat, drink and sleep occasionally to prevent yourself from suffering penalties. Also, ammunition gains weight so you can’t carry around an entire supply depot with you and your companions can die instead of getting knocked unconscious. The last thing that it does is make stimpacks heal over time, rather than instantly, and broken limbs can only be restored by a Doctor or a Doctor’s bag. To be honest, I found that hardcore mode did make the more interesting and tactical when it came to managing my items but sometimes it can get really annoying. It is, of course, optional so it’s up to you to decide whether you find it worthwhile or not.

In Hardcore mode, you need to monitor hydration, hunger and sleep levels

The last thing I’d like to discuss before I wrap it all up is an issue that many of you in the know will claim that I’ve been dancing around; and that’s the technical aspect of the game. There have been a lot of rumours and stories going around that Fallout: New Vegas is the buggiest game EVAR and crashes more times than a blind alcoholic driver on laxatives and unfortunately there is some amount of truth to this rumour. I’m not sure of the state of the game pre-patch but I played the game with the patch on PS3 for close to 20 hours and during that time I only had 2 crashes (which wasn’t so bad) and one serious big which really annoyed me. The bug involved one of my teammates just disappearing completely but still being considered in my party, but thankfully I was able to fix it by using an elevator causing my teammate to respawn next to me. On the PC version, I did have some slowdown issues and a crash or two but then again, I was playing on a laptop for several hours and it was beginning to overheat. Overall, I think that some of the bugs will annoy you, but after the patch the game-breaking ones are reduced to an absolute minimum. The only other technical gripe you may have is that of the graphics. Fallout 3’s graphics were decent but unimpressive and a year later they’re still pretty much the same.

So here’s the decision tree I recommend for Fallout: Vegas:

Click here for a Quick Decision Tree

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Machina’s Machinations — Where’s Columns Bra? [Column] http://egmr.net/2010/11/machinas-machinations-wheres-coloumns-bra-column/ http://egmr.net/2010/11/machinas-machinations-wheres-coloumns-bra-column/#comments Mon, 22 Nov 2010 21:53:12 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=35907 I have returned from the depths of Hades… Now I’d like to think that the majority of you will emerge from the dismal pre-apocalyptic ordeals that your lives have become […]

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I have returned from the depths of Hades…

Now I’d like to think that the majority of you will emerge from the dismal pre-apocalyptic ordeals that your lives have become without me and press me for details about my absence but I know that deep down inside most of you will be thinking: “Who the f@#k is this guy?” – Which is a valid question. A question which I will answer with another question; and that question is: “Do you know the muffin man?” Because if you do, in fact, know the muffin man, then explaining this is going to be a great deal easier. You see it all starts six months ago on June the 7th when I signed a contract in blood with the demonic overlord of eGamer known as ‘Dean’. The contract was as follows: in exchange for a weekly column on eGamer, I would be rewarded handsomely with priceless gemstones from foreign lands and PlayStation games free of charge. And so I signed the contract without hesitation and pledged to submit a weekly column to eGamer under the title of ‘Machina’s Machinations’. [I remember nothing of this -- Ed]

Machina’s Machinations is where some of you may know me from. During the two month period from the start of June to the end of July I wrote a ‘weekly’ column on this very website and now I have returned to do the same. I use the term ‘weekly’ as loosely as possible because over the eight weeks that I wrote for eGamer, I may or may not have submitted only five of the required eight columns. And the reason for this is simple, I abused a clause in my contract… and that’s partially what got me into the troubles that lead to my absence over the last few months. At first I experimented with the loophole, delaying my columns for weeks at a time until I finally figured out how to abuse it to the maximum. The end result would have been me submitting one column per annum and being paid for the entire year’s work plus overtime, which seemed to be a ‘pretty sweet deal’ if I must be colloquial.

But that blissful dream ended when I failed to notice another loophole in my contract that Dean had placed in my contract for perhaps this very contingency. And to this I can only say: “F@#king lawyers”. What happened next is a very long story and it involves several grueling hours in a courtroom – which is not nearly as exciting as television makes it out to be – followed by over fifteen different convictions including fraud, contempt, treason and first degree littering (long story). But South Africa, being the wonderful country that it is, decided that all of my apparent ‘crimes’ (I’m innocent) were worth only three months in a minimum security facility, which may as well have been a hotel.

Those were three long months in prison in which I learned several valuable life lessons. The first is that I should actually try to get myself jailed more often to save costs on DSTV and KFC, and the second is that crime does actually pay (the original loophole in my contract treated my prison days as 24-hour overtime). But everything that has a beginning also, coincidentally, has an end (it does not necessarily have a middle) and after the three month period ended, I was thrown back into the world to fend for myself. After that, I wandered the earth for seven days and seven nights before finally returning home to my beloved computer and PS3. And that was when I found out that I still have a job – because apparently in South Africa, it’s reaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaally hard to fire people – and that my next column was due in 45 minutes. I, then, began typing up this column…

And that brings my story to a close. Hopefully that explains my absence over the last few months to you in a credible fashion. Thank God it wasn’t really something as boring as ‘I was studying really hard at varsity’ because not only would that just be ludicrous, but also unbelievable. Anyway, enough about the past, it’s time to focus on the future… and everything is going to change. From now on, you can expect a column from me every second Monday and it will somehow be related to gaming. Also, expect the occasional video game review whenever my brother actually let’s me play on my own damn PlayStation. Lastly, columns are going to be quite a bit shorter because apparently all those words that I used to write sent three people to hospital for liver failure which resulted in a currently ongoing lawsuit. However, that’s a story for another place and another time… and another crime… with lime…  on a boat…

So till next time eGamers, farewell and under no circumstances should you accept candy from strangers…

P.S. It has come to my attention that many of you are still wondering what the Muffin Man has to do with any of this seeing as he was mentioned in the first paragraph. I don’t know… why don’t you tell me?

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Machina’s Machinations: Sacrifice Retrospective http://egmr.net/2010/07/machinas-machinations-sacrifice-retrospective/ http://egmr.net/2010/07/machinas-machinations-sacrifice-retrospective/#comments Mon, 19 Jul 2010 20:03:30 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=28313 In case you thought my lack of a column the last week had something to do with laziness, think again because It actually had something to do with procrastination! Well […]

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In case you thought my lack of a column the last week had something to do with laziness, think again because It actually had something to do with procrastination! Well anyway, that random QOTW two weeks back about which old game deserves a sequel actually got me thinking about the good old days when gaming was only 80% about the money as opposed to 95%. It was a time when developers weren’t afraid to make games other than shooters for fear of trying something new.

And as I was thinking about which game from that era deserved a sequel, I remembered one game in particular that stood above all as a font of untapped potential; a game called Sacrifice, a Shiny Entertainment cross genre PC game back from the year 2000. Despite being acclaimed by critics as being original, well designed and having a great story, Sacrifice was declared as a commercial failure due to bad marketing and a lack of mainstream appeal, which is a pity because as I’ll try to convince you in the next 2000 words or so, it really was an amazing step forward in game development. Feeling nostalgic, I decided to downloa-… I mean, purchase the game for full retail price and play it again to see if it could stand the test of time. And amazingly, it could… despite being a decade old, there still hasn’t been a game that has even come close to replicating the unique experience that the game presented. In fact, I ended up liking Sacrifice so much that I finished the game five full times in the space of a week (hence the lack of last weeks’ column). Yes Sacrifice is just that amazing and this week I’ll be taking a break from my usual rant to just to tell you all about it and why I think that it deserves a sequel…

As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, Sacrifice was, and still is, a very unique and original game and, as such, it’s not that easy to describe to someone who hasn’t at least seen it in action; the screenshots don’t even do it any justice. The game was an interesting hybrid of several genres but the simplest way to classify it would be to call it a 3rd Person Real Time Strategy Game with Action and RPG elements. Yes the game was quite a mixed bag as far as gameplay was concerned and due to its unique nature, many found it confusing and difficult until they finally learned what the hell was going on.

In the game, the player controls a Wizard from the third person camera and, as you would expect from a game like this, you have health and mana bars and you can run around the world casting spells and summoning creatures. Now since your Wizard is fragile and only has a limited amount of mana, you’ll need creatures to do most of your bidding for you and that’s where the RTS part of the game comes in. You can issue commands to your units to attack enemies, guard units or structures, take up formations and use special abilities much like any RTS but the kicker is that you’ll be doing all of this using the 3rd Person camera. While this may seem quite difficult and unintuitive compared to most RTS games, which give you a full moving birds eye view, you’d be surprised at how well this system actually works.

Obviously things can get a little complicated when you’re in a large scale battle and you have to micromanage your own units attack orders, health and mana in addition to your own, but this is eased by the relatively intelligent creature AI and the added game play conventions. The game gives you a lot of simple options like grouping, formations and continuous orders that really make the game a lot easier to control than it could have been. But that’s not to say that it doesn’t get chaotic at times, because battles almost always do! As your Wizard levels up during the course of the story (in campaign) or over the course of a battle (in multiplayer), more and more spells become available to him and the huge variety of spells in this game really do make it a lot more fun than simply summoning a bunch of units and then just right clicking on stuff. The game can really be amazing when two giant armies collide while their commanding wizards are summoning Volcanoes, Tornadoes, Exploding Cows or even the Grim Reaper himself to aid in the battle.

But despite all the gameplay conventions, the game is still an entirely new concept and it certainly isn’t easy to get right into, especially for players not already familiar with Strategy or Action games. There’s a definite learning curve to the game when you consider that in addition to controlling your own character and camera and watching out for your health and mana, you also need to watch out for your creatures as well. Add onto this that the game also has extremely simplified RTS elements such as managing resources and building structures and it’s going to take you a bit longer than the extremely helpful tutorial to come to grips with the whole system. That being said, once you learn how intuitive it all really is, the game becomes a blast.

The Campaign in Sacrifice is probably the best you’ve ever seen in a Strategy game period. There’s an interesting mix of role playing and strategy here that, when combined with the compelling story, well acted characters and RPG style choices, make it worth playing several times over. The player takes the role of Eldred, a wandering Wizard from another realm who stumbles across a plane controlled by five warring Gods. The gods use Wizards as their agents and since Eldred is looking for a place to escape from his dark past, this realm seems like a perfect place for him to start over. And all seems well, until a prophet arrives and tells the Gods that one of them is going to betray their old laws and bring destruction to their world. And so the war between the Gods heightens and there’s alliances and backstabbing and betrayal and quite a few interesting twists along the way.

Now the game functions like a strategy game in this regard in that there are 10 missions or ‘maps’ to play through to get to the end, but the beauty comes from all the freedom that the player is given. Each of the Five Gods is unique in that they have their own personalities, motives and agendas and each of them reacts differently to the events that take place throughout the course of the game. This is where the RPG elements come in because it’s up to the player to choose which of the Five Gods to serve. Each of them will offer you a mission at the staging area between maps and it’s up to you to decide which missions to accept and which ones to decline. However it’s not as simple as that because serving one God might get you favour with him/her and their allies but you might also be sent on missions that end up offending other Gods. And while in the start you can pretty much serve whoever you wish, as the game progresses you eventually make enemies of certain Gods depending on your choices and I really don’t want to spoil what you get to do later once you grow in power and favour. Also, aside from the actual missions themselves, you’ll sometimes be offered choices that let you change allegiances or influence some of the major storyline events later in the game. A small example would be in one of the earlier missions for the God of Fire, Pyro, where if you brutally murder all of the innocent villagers for no reason, the God of Strife, Charnel, will notice and congratulate you and then ask you to come work for him.

But aside from all of their distinct characters and motives, the Gods are further differentiated by their play styles. Whenever you accept a mission from one of the Gods, you’ll receive new spells or creatures and while often the Gods tend to have similar units, each of them is always differentiated by special abilities or attributes. For example, the God of Air, Stratos, tends to get fragile units with fast movements speeds and strong abilities, while Pyro tends to get units and spells that just deal damage and blow stuff up. But again, the beauty of this system is the freedom. Since you’re not just restricted to serving one God, you can pretty much build your spell book however you wish. For example if you want to serve the God of Earth, James, to get creatures with high defense and then serve the Goddess of Justice, Persephone, to get healing spells to make your army even harder to kill, you can do just that. While eventually the choices you make do tend to have make some Gods refuse to let you serve them, you still do have a high degree of freedom in customizing your spellbook as you level up. And if you finish the campaign, you unlock the ability to create any Spellbook you wish for multiplayer so that you’re not constricted to following only one God’s skill tree.

While the Campaign is only ten missions long, each of the missions is quite lengthy and the later ones can span multiple objectives. And also, since there are five Gods with their own missions, there’s actually closer to fifty missions in the whole campaign, giving the game a lot of replay value, especially given all the choices you can make.

Even though back in the year 2000, multiplayer wasn’t really a big deal, Sacrifice does have a pretty impressive and extremely fun multiplayer in the form of LAN or online. In multiplayer, the game once again functions more or less like at RTS although with a greater degree of customization. Rather than being restricted to playing as Eldred, you’re free to choose from any Wizard in the game and there’s more to unlock depending on which ending you get in the campaign. You’re also free to choose which God’s spells to use, although if you’ve completed the single player campaign, you’re free to build your spellbook as you wish.

Once you have that sorted out, Multiplayer is a pretty straight forward affair. It’s a battle involving up to four Wizards on their own or on teams on any of the many maps available and, while there are different game modes, the most common one is “banish all enemy Wizards”. Well I’ve actually neglected to mention how the Wizard battling system works in this game, but I figure here is as good a place to mention it as any. To win a battle, you need to do a lot more than just kill the enemy Wizard. When a Wizard dies, all that happens is that the Wizard goes into spectral form until he/she receives enough mana to come back to life. While you’re a ghost, you can still move around and command your units but you can’t cast spells or collect souls which puts you at quite a disadvantage. To actually get rid of a Wizard, you need to go to his/her Altar and desecrate it so that when you next kill them, they’re banished from the realm rather than simply being turned into a temporary ghost. The system is a bit more involved than my simple explanation gives it credit, but rest assured that it works very well in the context of combining the RTS and Action parts of the game.

Winning a battle against another Wizard takes a far amount of strategy and building your army to counter theirs or using the right spells at the right time are essential to coming out on top. More than just taking down the enemy’s base, you need to work to gain ground in other ways such as capturing mana fountains on the map or converting the souls of enemy creatures before they can be reused. In this way, battles can sometimes be very involved and chaotic affairs, but sometimes there’s nothing more fun creating a giant earthquake between your enemy’s feet while your army of Phoenixes burn them to death.

As I mentioned before, the game has aged incredibly well and after ten long years of some very large progress in the gaming world, Sacrifice still somehow manages to be very playable and very fun. While you’re going to need the latest patch to play it on Windows Vista or 7, the game will run perfectly smooth without so much as a chink in frame rate or a single bug despite the massive amounts of on screen action. For its time, the graphics were amazing and they’re still quite playable even by today’s standards. While the game obviously does look dated, the impressive visual effects and quirky artistic design are still enough to make a ten year old game serve as eye candy. The gameplay still feels fresh after all this time and you won’t have to worry about the controls, the camera or technical issues getting in your way. The game was honestly a masterpiece for its time and if you can look past the dated, but still impressive visuals, you’re in for a hell of a time.

If you’re interested in playing Sacrifice after all these years then rest assured that it’s not so hard to find as you might think. You could try your luck finding it in a bargain bin somewhere or stealing a friend’s copy, or you could be desperate enough to pay a fortune to import it, but the best way to get your hands on Sacrifice is to buy it as a downloadable game for dirt cheap off of Steam. If you have Steam installed on your PC, an internet connection and a credit card, you can get your hands on it without a problem. However, if you’re opposed to the idea of shopping online with a credit card and your ethics are sketchy at best, you can email me and I’ll tell you of another way to get hold of the game.

I hope that everyone who reads this article gives this game a chance, you really won’t be sorry…

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Off Topic: Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus [Video] http://egmr.net/2010/07/mega-shark-vs-giant-octopus-watch-this-video/ http://egmr.net/2010/07/mega-shark-vs-giant-octopus-watch-this-video/#comments Thu, 08 Jul 2010 22:34:58 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=27627 We at eGamer don’t usually post LOLPOSTS…(Snip) [Ed: We at eGamer don't post off topic crap. This is what happens when Daddy's not home] This is a video that should[Ed: […]

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We at eGamer don’t usually post LOLPOSTS…(Snip) [Ed: We at eGamer don't post off topic crap. This is what happens when Daddy's not home] This is a video that should[Ed: Not be here] be shared with the world. It saddens me to think that no matter how good an author I become, I will never be able to write something as amazing as this.

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Question Of The Week: Which Game Deserves A Sequel? [Previous Winner Included] http://egmr.net/2010/07/question-of-the-week-which-game-deserves-a-sequel-previous-winner-included/ http://egmr.net/2010/07/question-of-the-week-which-game-deserves-a-sequel-previous-winner-included/#comments Mon, 05 Jul 2010 20:17:33 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=27333 Have you ever played a game, new or old, which was so good that you wanted to play the sequel… only it never got one? Well this week we want […]

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Have you ever played a game, new or old, which was so good that you wanted to play the sequel… only it never got one? Well this week we want to know all about the game that you think most deserves a sequel and why.

If you can give us the most interesting reason and/or idea for a sequel then we’ll give you a free R200 voucher from eDreams with which to buy whatever you’d like.

Leave you answer in the comments section below.

Last week we asked you why more females do not play video games and we got quite a heated discussion. There were a lot of good theories and posts (none of them by M0fla) but in the ended we awarded it to:

DominoZA! Because we stalked your Facebook account and downloaded all of your pictures, the R200 voucher is a peace offering so that you don’t press charges.

Just kidding.

We hope to see more arguments from you in the future. The last ones were pretty convincing.

The rules:

- You must comment with a valid email address else you cannot win!
– This competition is sponsored by eDreams.co.za. They will send out vouchers at the end of the month to minimize admin work. This means if you win this week, you’ll receive it during the first week of the following month.
– Our Competition T&C

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Machina’s Machinations: The Future Of Gaming http://egmr.net/2010/07/machinas-machinations-the-future-of-gaming/ http://egmr.net/2010/07/machinas-machinations-the-future-of-gaming/#comments Mon, 05 Jul 2010 20:01:35 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=27277 In case you were wondering why there was no column post last week, then stop. Sometimes in life, no matter how much we desire an answer to a particular question, […]

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In case you were wondering why there was no column post last week, then stop. Sometimes in life, no matter how much we desire an answer to a particular question, we don’t get it. The same is applicable with this column. Just know that everything happens for a reason and that the reason for why there was no column last week had something to do with sharks.

Well after following the repetitive annual hype-fest otherwise known as E3 and sighing as I saw big-wig company execs talking about how awesome their shitty games are, I did a lot of thinking about what was revealed and where gaming seems to be heading in the next few years. This year’s E3 was pretty poor as far as revelations go so don’t expect this week’s article to be spiritually uplifting or anything. Rather than my usual style of presenting my ‘opinion’ as pure fact and trying to sound really clever, I’m instead going to spend the next couple of thousand words (a picture counts as a thousand words) speculating about where I believe gaming is heading and whether or not I believe that this is a good thing or a bad thing. So without further ado, let’s roll…

Well by now, graphics in games is usually so good that focusing on improving them almost seems redundant, but believe it or not, this is one of the primary developments you’ll see in the next few years. Exhibit A would be the Nintendo 3DS which is basically the DS, but with better and more immersive graphics, Exhibit B would be the PlayStation 3 combined with Sony’s own 3D TVs for 3D gaming in the comfort of your own home, and Exhibit C would be games like Marvel vs Capcom 3 which have interesting visual styles that try to push graphics in another direction. This makes you wonder where Microsoft lies with the whole ‘better graphics’ business but then again it may just be that Sony is stealing ideas from Nintendo (again) like they so shamelessly love to do. Either way, I think that in the next few years, 3D will increase in popularity and developers are going to focus on improving video game graphics.

Now this doesn’t exactly strike me as a bad thing, because everybody likes eye candy and, in contrast other critics, I actually think 3D is pretty awesome; it just seems a little but unnecessary to me. As aforementioned, graphics in games have become really good over time. In fact, it’s pretty much reached a point where they’re really believable and we can no longer feel that poor graphics is harming gameplay in any significant way. I am, of course, referring to the Xbox and PS3 here, because the Wii is still pretty sub-par but even Wii graphics don’t detract from the gameplay all that much.

I guess the point that I haven’t really made yet, is that while graphics are awesome, we don’t need them to improve. Everybody likes a game which looks better than real life and 3D is going to make gaming more immersive if it ever becomes mainstream but the overall quality of games don’t drastically improve as a result. Like I keep saying, graphics are already really good. Focusing on improving them will only increase the already long production time of games while not really improving the games themselves in the long run. Because while graphics have reached a point where they no longer need to be improved, game design still has a long way to go. If developers have any intention of trying to create truly memorable gaming experiences or ‘art’ then there needs to be something more than amazing particle physics and really realistic water.  But of course, graphics are the easiest features to showcase during development. It’s really easy to see from trailers and pictures how awesome the rocks look but showing fantastic level design is a different story. I suppose it was foolish of me to hope that graphics would ever be anything but the centerpiece of future game development.

Well I’m sure I wasn’t the only one watching when Sony basically revolutionized the Wii’s control system by painting it black (and by revolutionize, I mean stole). And of course you can’t forget Microsoft’s ‘Kinect’ system which is honestly the most god-awful pun I’ve heard since Nintendo named the Wii. But criticisms aside, it looks like both of the Console giants are stepping up to leech off of Nintendo’s success in their own special way. Despite the very obvious criticism flaw in the design of motion controls (that being the ‘motion’) it looks like they’re here to stay and you can expect standing in front of your TV and waving your arms like a midget on crack to increase in popularity over the next few years.

Now unfortunately, this is a development that I can’t say that I’m too happy about. Besides the fact that I’m cheap and forking out a thousand bucks for a new controller set offends me, I just don’t think its as revolutionary as Sony and Microsoft does. My biggest gripe is that all motion controls do is change, and not improve, the way that users send their input to their gaming consoles; the output stays the same. Motion controls are the effective equivalent of replacing your cellphone keypad with a touchscreen; it’s an entertaining gimmick but after you get used to it, it’s not really all that different than what you used previously. You see, there was never really any major problems with controllers… well at least not as far as I’m concerned. For countless years, they’ve done a pretty good job of allowing us to transfer our input to gaming consoles. Does that mean we should never strive to make something better? Not exactly… I for one, am in full support of fixing what it isn’t broken, but I just don’t see motion controls as the way to do it. Especially not Microsoft’s Kinect because something that gimmicky is going to be more bug-ridden and unresponsive than a piano made of chocolate. Now again, don’t get my wrong. I think Kinect is pretty awesome as far as controlling your music and movies goes… but when it comes to gaming, it just seems strange.

And then of course there’s the problem with motion controls themselves: the motion. Now I’m not going to use the age old axiom that gamers are lazy and blah blah blah, instead I’m going to say that making your console require more energy to manipulate simply isn’t a good idea by principle. You might argue that adding exercise and entertainment works for sport so it should work for gaming as well, but then I would argue that you’re a moron. When you run around a field and play soccer, your actions are having a tangible effect on a real world and since most of us live in that place, it’s a lot more natural for us to manipulate our surroundings with real world actions. When it comes to gaming, you’re interacting with a digital world i.e. a world that does not exist and so there needs to be a comfortable way for us to transfer our intentions into the game and running around in front of your TV just doesn’t seem like a comfortable way to do this. While it’s an admirable dream to want to try and connect the real world and the digital world in a simplistic way, unfortunately it’s not always going to be that easy. I’ll stop now because I’d like to give PlayStation Move and Microsoft Kinect a chance to prove me wrong but I’m predicting that in a couple of years time, motion controls will not have dramatically improved video game experiences beyond the level at which they were at back when we used controllers.

P.S. It doesn’t matter what kind of ontological or scientific argument you use, if you play Kinectimals in front of other people, they will think that you are a retard.

Casual Gaming… well you might argue that I’m late to the party and that developers have become more focused on casual gamers since a long time already. I would respond by saying “Give me a chance to finish, you idiot!”. Now the reason that developers want to focus on the casual crowd is a topic for another article (and it’s also very obvious if you do that arbitrary thing known as thinking), but I’ll go on to predict that Casual Gaming will evolve from becoming prevalent to becoming absolutely dominant. And by casual games, I don’t mean minesweeper or solitaire or whatever else you play while you’re bored at work, I mean mainstream ‘blockbuster’ experiences like Gears of War and Assassin’s Creed. You might question me again for labeling these as casual games but by the time I finish this metaphor, you’ll know where I’m heading with this.

Let’s take movies for example. Say you decide to watch The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (either because you are gay or because your super hot girlfriend asked you to) or maybe Clash of the Titans. You pay a certain amount of money and then you receive the benefits of being entertained for a few hours and then having something to talk about to your friends (if you have any) or whatnot. This does not make you a movie critic or give you some title functionally equivalent to ‘gamer'; you’re just another person who was looking to have a good time. Of course there exists movies with philosophical depth or artistic qualities and pursuing these movies for enjoyment and trying to delve into them probably does make you a movie critic or something along these lines. But for most people, the ‘casual movies’ are not life changing or definitive of you as a person, they’re simply a form of enjoyment. And I think that this is where gaming is heading if it hasn’t already.

In the past, people who play games have always been labelled as gamers and there existed a learning curve before one could actually enjoy gaming as a hobby (whereas watching movies requires no learning curve). But over time, as gaming has become simpler and more mainstream, this distinction is starting to fade. Games are becoming parallel to movies, music and other mainstream entertainment in that partaking in their enjoyment is a simple process that does not arbitrarily label you in any way. In the same way that listening to music doesn’t make you a ‘music lover’ and watching movies doesn’t make you a ‘movie critic’, playing games no longer makes you a ‘gamer’. It’s simply another form of entertainment that you pay for. And while there still exists a ‘higher level’ of gaming that does make you a gamer, the majority of games are not so. Instead, gaming will eventually become something that most people will do for casual fun when they go to their friends houses or are bored at home; it will cease to be the lifestyle that it used to be. And honestly, I actually think this is a great thing. In a couple of years, the idea that gamers are ‘computer whizz nerds’ will cease to exist altogether. In the same way that everyone can enjoy a good movie on a Friday night, everyone will soon be able to do the same with video games.

And the death of hardcore gaming is probably where all of the above is headed. Hardcore gaming has been dying slowly over the years and over time and eventually hardcore games and hardcore gamers are going to become a ‘niche’ market rather than a large community. You know that small group of people who still get together to play the classic Dungeons and Dragons with a pen and a notepad every weekend or two? That’s probably where hardcore gaming is headed. Game critics and dedicated gamers will still exist en masse but the group of players that want to take their skills to the next level or want to explore deep and re-playable gaming experiences will slowly dwindle. Again I’ll use the movie industry as a metaphor here; in the same way that movies developed to showcase artistic film making have become a scarcity, games of the same caliber will become scarcer and scarcer as well. We’ll be lucky to see another game like Shadow of the Colossus or Grim Fandangofor a long time. And while there still are video game series that aspire to so much more like Metal Gear Solid, it’s only natural that these will become more mainstream and action orientated as time goes on (MGS4 and MGS: Rising).

And all in all, this isn’t really a bad thing. There will always exist that large ‘middle tier’ of gamers who are more serious than the casual crowd and less serious than the hardcore crowd and that’s probably where most of us on this website fits in. I just think that the casual crowd is going to get much bigger and much less defined. In the future, professional gaming will probably never be as respected as professional sport but casual gaming will probably become one of the most accepted of all past times. And I think that over time, more people will come to accept this change to gaming than reject it… or least that’s what I believe…

Anyone else got any takes on the future of gaming?

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Question Of The Week: Why Don’t More Girls Game? [Previous Winner Included] http://egmr.net/2010/06/question-of-the-week-why-dont-more-girls-game-previous-winner-included/ http://egmr.net/2010/06/question-of-the-week-why-dont-more-girls-game-previous-winner-included/#comments Mon, 28 Jun 2010 22:08:06 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=26807 Ever heard of females? You know, those elusive creatures that have their own bathroom and attack with you with pepper spray whenever you try to examine them too closely? Well […]

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Ever heard of females? You know, those elusive creatures that have their own bathroom and attack with you with pepper spray whenever you try to examine them too closely?

Well no matter how you look at it, girls are a scarcity on the interwebs and this week eGamer wants to know your theory on ‘why there aren’t that many girls that play video games and surf gaming related websites’.

If you come up with the best hypothesis, you will not receive any cookies but you will get a R200 eDreams voucher. How cool is that?

Leave your answer in the comment section below.

Last week we asked you what your favourite game was and it was decided that we’d award the prize to a random participant rather than the best commenter (which was obviously me… again).

That being said — Congratulations Rainy for telling us that FIFA 10 is your favourite game. Even though your opinion is wrong, we’ll give you the R200 voucher for standing up for what you believe in.

Note that this week’s winner, will not be random. Instead, the best hypothesis wins.

The rules:

- You must comment with a valid email address else you cannot win!
– This competition is sponsored by eDreams.co.za. They will send out vouchers at the end of the month to minimize admin work. This means if you win this week, you’ll receive it during the first week of the following month.
– Our Competition T&C

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Machina’s Machinations: Making It Hard http://egmr.net/2010/06/machinas-machinations-making-it-hard/ http://egmr.net/2010/06/machinas-machinations-making-it-hard/#comments Mon, 21 Jun 2010 18:26:32 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=26106 For those of you who still haven’t been eaten by sharks, welcome back to another week of Machina’s Machinations. I would like to apologize for the way I ended my […]

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For those of you who still haven’t been eaten by sharks, welcome back to another week of Machina’s Machinations. I would like to apologize for the way I ended my column last week, I know that not all of you are as accepting of cats as I am. On the other hand, if my anti-Portugal sign was what offended you then I would like to inform you that it’s not my fault that they suck.

Now it has come to my attention that some of you actually play games other than Jumpstart: 3rd Grade and Microsoft Excel – you know like real hard-core games such as Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland and Pokemon Red – and for those of you who do, you’ll know that sometimes games can get a little hard. Sometimes games are hard due to a progression of the difficulty curve, sometimes they’re inconsistently hard due to some badly designed sections, sometimes they can be hard because of shitty game mechanics, sometimes they can get really hard on the higher difficulties and finally there exists another type of game which is just hard for the sake of it. Sometimes games are are purposely designed to be difficult just to challenge the player at his own game, as it were. Sometimes they can be punishing in their difficulties and sometimes they can be so hard that they make you lose interest in life itself… and funnily enough, these kinds of games can often be the most rewarding to play.

In this week’s column, I’m going to focus on games which intentionally try to be difficult and explain what I believe to be good and bad examples of this.

In this article I’m not really going to discuss difficulty curves in games because that’s an entirely different story for an entirely different article. Instead I’m going to focus on the games which intentionally try to be difficult. Some games are designed specifically to challenge and frustrate the player and a lot of the times these games aren’t really for everybody. But, as is the case with just about anything, there are good ways to do this and bad ways to do this. Some games are hard due to obstacles not controlled by the player (such as broken game mechanics) which can leave the player feeling cheated of victory while others are hard because they require so much skill to overcome. There are obviously a lot ways that a game can become difficult so I’m going to simplify the whole thing and say that a good example of a difficult game is one in which there is a clear progression in the skill of the player as the game goes on i.e. the difficulty should be determined by the player skill and as the player gets better, this apparent difficulty should disappear over time.

While there still should be a clear cut difficulty curve in games like these, the general level of the challenge presented to the player should require much involvement, player skill or talent to overcome. Now I could explain the good and bad ways to make a game difficult but that would use a lot of confusing words so instead I’m going to explain the entire thing using three examples: a good one, a decent one and a bad one. So, just for the novelty of having this kind of article follow a curve like structure itself, I’m going to start with the bad example and move from there.

The game that I’m going to use as a bad example of a difficult game is none other than Call of Duty: World at War’s veteran mode. Those of you who have tried to play CoD5 on Veteran Mode will know that it’s one of the most frustrating and difficult experiences you’ll ever go through in  your life and not really for any good reasons. Now you might want to say that this is a good example of a difficult game because it’s more painful than kidney stones but the reasons for which it is difficult really don’t feel fair. You see, the problem is not actually that the game is too hard, but rather that it’s hard for the wrong reasons.

Those of you who have played CoD5 on Veteran will know that the sole reason for the game’s ridiculous difficulty level is the broken enemy AI. Your allies will charge through the levels, never killing a single enemy and serving only to obscure your firing range. Your enemies seem to have realized that your allies are a liability and will respond by targeting you and only you, even when you can’t even see them. And of course, the game gives them instant reflexes and ridiculously accurate aim with any gun while it gives you so little health that exposing yourself for more than a second is enough to get you killed. And while this is all fair and well, the real reason why this game comes across as unfair is due to grenades. If you’ve played this game you would know what I’m talking about. Enemies will hurl grenades at you… THOUSANDS of grenades. And they’ll never stop! Now the grenade indicator is great for helping you dodge them but when 30+ enemies are all throwing grenades at you constantly with pinpoint accuracy, you’re going to have to move, and since sticking your head out of cover for a second or more is enough to get you killed, you’re going to die a lot. It also doesn’t help that a lot of the fights take place in confined spaces which means that sometimes you literally cannot escape from the onslaught of grenades and you simply have to die because there isn’t any place to go. And when you have to replay a ten minute section from the start because you only have the reflexes of a superstar athlete instead of the reflexes of an android, you’re going to feel incredibly cheated.

Now look back at my definition of a good difficult game and you’ll see why Call of Duty 5 doesn’t make the cut as a good difficult game. It’s because the difficulty is not reliant on the skill of the player, but rather on the forced difficulty of the game itself. There’s no progression of difficulty or skill as you play through the game itself, instead every single section in the game is a pain to get through because of incredibly harsh AI. The truth is that anyone can beat Call of Duty 5 if they simply have the perseverance to retry each section 100 times and that is exactly the problem: It takes luck and determination and not skill to beat this difficult game. Even after beating Call of Duty 5 on Veteran, if you go back to previous levels or previous difficulties you will not have become significantly better at the game; the same difficult parts will always be difficult for you and this will never change. And because skill isn’t a factor, it’s very hard to call yourself ‘good at CoD5′ if you’ve beaten it on Veteran, only persistent; because if you go back to playing it on Veteran afterward, you’ll still never be able to complete a single level without dying. So bottom line is, this game is bad at being hard because the difficulty is not reliant on skill.

Now let’s take a decent example of a difficult game; God of War II. GoW II probably has the most well designed highest difficulty level in the God of War series despite the changes to the game being so minimal. All that happens is that enemy damage scales up quite heavily, player damage scales down and the benefits that the player gains from healing items and currency is substantially reduced. Now while these changes seem really small on paper, the effect that this has on the game is quite substantial. The game changes from a hack and slash game on lower difficulties to an extremely challenging test of skill on higher difficulties, and the well designed enemies and levels really start to show.

In order to beat ‘Titan Mode’, the player has to learn enemy attack patterns and, most importantly, how to dodge. You need to learn to use short strong combos and learn how to position your attacks so that you can still deal damage while out of enemy range. You also need to learn the uses of each weapon and spell in your arsenal, and the skill comes from using the right moves at the right times while figuring out how best to deal with each particular encounter that you face. Now the reason why God of War II is better than Call of Duty: World at War at being a difficult game is that the game manages to be extremely difficult while also feeling like a true and ‘fair’ challenge to the player. In all honesty, it takes a lot of skill and tactics to beat God of War II on Titan Mode, but the reason why GoW II is only a decent example of a hard game and not a good one is because the game also requires luck and patience.

A lot of the time, luck plays a huge factor, especially against some of the bosses and during some of the less well designed parts of the game. Those of you who have played GoW II on Titan will remember the infamous ‘Translator Battle’, which is so unfairly hard that the only way to beat it is to get really lucky and pray that the satyrs don’t gang up on the person you’re supposed to protect. But these problems aren’t enough to condemn GoW II as a bad hard game and the main reason why it’s still a decent example is because there is a clear progression in the skill level of the play. If you finish Titan mode and then go back and play the game on lower difficulties, your increased level will really show because all of your tactics and knowledge will make the game so much easier to beat. The only problem is that if you go back and play the game on Titan Mode again, you’ll still struggle on the same fights, no matter how good you’ve managed to become at the game. A large portion of the game will be easier with your increased skill level but you’ll still die a lot because you got unlucky or because a single mistake cost you the entire battle. You’ll still have to be patient enough to replay some sections several times before you can do them perfectly regardless of how many times you’ve completed them and this is the factor that holds God of War II back from being a ‘good’ hard game. It thus stands to reason that while God of War II is a good example of a difficult game, it’s still not a great example of one because player skill is not always the most prominent deciding factor.

Lastly, let’s look at a great example of a difficult game and probably what I consider to be the best ‘difficult game’ that I’ve played in recent times; Monster Hunter Freedom 2. While the game has no difficult settings, it’s easily one of the most difficult games ever created. The concept is simple enough; you’re a hunter who fights giant monsters – like enormous dragons and giant wyverns – and the game does a lot to make it feel like that. The monsters are incredibly hard to kill and deal ridiculous amounts of damage; you really do feel like you’re fighting something a hell of a lot stronger than you. And while you do get to upgrade your equipment as your progress through the game, equipment is never going to be enough to get you through the game because if you don’t have the skill, even the best armour and weapons in the entire game won’t be enough to help you defeat even the weakest enemies – I’m not joking; I tried this out when I first started the game. I downloaded an end game save with top tier equipment and still got killed by the second boss. Also the boss monsters themselves are relentless in their attack patterns and can kill you in 2-3 hits and have so many hit points that most of them take ages to beat if you don’t know how to exploit their weaknesses. Add to this that there are smaller monsters constantly chase you around and harass you and you have a game that’s actively trying to make your life hard.

But while the game may seem punishing in it’s difficulty, you never really feel like you’re being cheated out of a win, only that your skill is inadequate. The reason for this is that there are a ton of different boss monsters to fight and each of them is intricately designed and requires a special set of tactics to beat. They all have different attacks and weaknesses and it’s up to you to find ways to exploit this and find a way to defeat them; and it’s honestly the most satisfying feeling when you finally do manage to beat them. Since most of the stronger dragons can kill you in a matter of hits, you really need to learn how to avoid their various attacks while finding ways to make their weak spots or leave themselves open to counter attacks. And you can employ all sorts of tactics to help you get there, such as cutting off their tails so that they can’t attack you from behind or using sonic bombs to dizzy the monsters with acute hearing. Aside from the skill that it actually takes to fight the monsters, it also takes a lot of thinking and ingenuity to find better ways of exploiting the individual monsters’ weaknesses and it can really feel like an accomplishment when you finally manage to kill something ten times your size.

Now the reason why I consider Monster Hunter to be a good example of a difficult game is because it takes a lot of skill, strategy and knowledge to defeat each of your enemies but the reason I consider it to be an excellent example of a difficult game is because of the amazing sense of progression. In the start, you’ll struggle with every single mission but as you progress through the game and become more skilled, you really do get a lot better at it. Sooner or later, something clicks and you finally begin to understand how the flow of combat actually works and suddenly the game becomes incredibly fun. Suddenly you know how the game works and when you fight new monsters for the first time you can usually figure out ways to beat them. And as time goes on, you become so much better at the game and then it really becomes fun when an already difficult game like this pits you against the much stronger and larger monsters. And then when you go back to fight the older bosses, you can beat them so much easier because you’ve become so much better at the game. And this is why it’s such a great example of how a difficult game should be; because player skill is the ultimate determining factor. Sure it takes time, effort and patience to master the game but when push comes to shove, skill wins every time. As you get further in the game, you truly become better and better at it and it’s a very rare occurrence where you’ll blame the game engine or bad luck for your losses. In the end, Monster Hunter is a great example of a difficult game because there exists a real sense of progression in player skill as you play it more and more.

So in conclusion, the more a difficult game relies on player skill, the better it is at being a difficult game. And honestly there’s really all there is to it. Sure difficult games can get you frustrated at times but when you can truly feel like you’ve become good at a game, it really feels great…

Till next week…  someone help me come up with ideas for future columns…

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Machina’s Machinations: Numbers That Mean Nothing http://egmr.net/2010/06/machinas-machinations-numbers-that-mean-nothing/ http://egmr.net/2010/06/machinas-machinations-numbers-that-mean-nothing/#comments Mon, 14 Jun 2010 16:49:15 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=25069 To those of you who weren’t eaten by Sharks last week, welcome back to Machina’s Machinations… and for those of you who were, I express my deepest condolences. Last week […]

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To those of you who weren’t eaten by Sharks last week, welcome back to Machina’s Machinations… and for those of you who were, I express my deepest condolences. Last week I spoke about the decision process of game development companies (found here: Beneath The Bottom Line) and this week I’m going to continue where I left off by speaking about something completely unrelated.

It’s not much of an assumption to make that if you consider yourself enough of a gamer to read gaming blogs like eGamer then you must read gaming reviews as well. Whether you read reviews in magazines (like NAG), websites (like GameSpot), stores (like Take2) or on the back of soft drink cans (like Coke), the format tends to be pretty similar. The reviewer types a long story about their experiences with the game and then ends off the review with one thing: a number. And using this number in conjunction with the other numbers that the various game reviews give you, you now need to make the difficult choice of: which games do you play and which games don’t you play? Because simply put, you don’t have the time and the money to play everything – for those of you who do have the time, get a life, for those of you who do have the money, well played – and I, personally, don’t believe that a number is enough to help you make the difficult decision of which games to buy and which games not to buy. So in this article, I’m just going to discuss a few of the reasons why the number review system is a failure.

P.S. For those of who complained about the length of my article last week, I’ve remedied it by making this week’s article even longer…

The first problem that I’d like to discuss with regards to the number system is interpretation; and believe me, it’s a lot more abstract than you’d initially think. Now for the rest of the article, I’m going to assume that games are reviewed on a scale of 1 to 10 with scores out of 100 simply being a number from 1-10 with an attached decimal point. It might seem fairly simple to most people that rating something on a scale of 1 to 10 indicates how good or bad the game is but what’s never made clear is: what exactly is being quantified here? Does the number from 1 to 10 represent the expected ‘fun’ that will be generated from playing the game? Or how good it is from a technical and objective perspective? Does it represent the likelihood that you’ll enjoy the game? Does it represent how close the game is to perfection? Or does it perhaps represent what quality class the game fits into? Now any single one of these interpretations would be useful as long as it’s clearly stated which of these the number in question is referring to, but, as I stated above, it never usually is.

If this still isn’t clear to you then I’ll illustrate it with an example. Let’s take the number 9 for example. 9 out of 10, 90 of 100, 90%. If you get 90% for a Maths Exam, you display a near perfect mastery of what has been taught to you. If you get 90% of people to vote you in as president, then 90% of the voting population consider you to be the best out of all available candidates. If RottenTomatos tells you that a movie was liked by 90% of critics, then you know that there’s a very high chance that you’ll enjoy the movie. If you know that eating Smarties has a 90% chance to give you AIDS, then your chances of walking away free are close to non-existent. If you own 90% of the shares in a company, then it’s pretty much your company. If the judges rate you 9 out of 10 on idols, it means that the quality of your singing is close to perfect. Now in all of the above scenarios, there’s only one  number, the number 9, but in each of them, the meaning is completely different. The same can apply the number ratings for games, in that it’s not perfectly clear what’s being indicated.

Now those of you who aren’t following might say “The number tells you how good the game is, what’s so hard to understand about that?” and I’d respond by saying that it isn’t all that hard to understand. What’s hard to understand is what exactly you mean by ‘good’. The word itself is so broad and vague and has so many interpretations itself that using it in a definition doesn’t really clear anything up. But all the above is simply semantics. The real problem lies in the next three sections, all of which end up coming back to the root problem of interpretation.

The second problem that I’d like to address is called relativity, and it’s a lot more obvious than the first one. I’ll illustrate using a simple example: if every single game ever made was rated 1 out of 10 then a game which was rated 3 out of 10 would be considered to be fantastic even if it’s only rated 3 on the number scale. And this problem is actually a lot more apparent than you think; usually with the numbers 7 and 8. Since it isn’t clearly defined what the numbers represent, the number 7 is more or less supposed to mean decent or playable while the number 8 usually means fairly good. Now the problem with this is quite obvious, the median score for games tends to be 7 rather than 5 and because of this, the number 7 literally does mean ‘average’ when rating games. I, personally, would not pay R700 for what I consider to be average so when websites rate games 7 or lower, I tend to avoid them, which is much more of a problem than you think. You see the problem is that the number 7 fits on the higher spectrum on the 1 to 10 scale. 5 is actually the average of all integers from 1 to 9, while 7 is actually in the upper quartile (read above average). The way games are rated nowadays seems to suggest that most games are above average, which actually makes no statistical sense when you think about it.

The next problematic number in the whole relativity number is 8. Now on standard 1 – 10 number scales, 8 is supposed to mean really good. It doesn’t matter what foreign country you come from, 8 is on the upper end of the number spectrum and it’s only one step down from the highest reasonable score – the number 9; I’ll discuss the problems with 10 in a moment. It therefore follows logically that if you buy a game rated 8 out of 10, you shouldn’t just be satisfied, you should be pretty damn elated. Regardless of what your number scale represents, 8 is supposed to exist for games that are better than the rest. But if you read game reviews then you already know that this isn’t the case. Just to test my theory, I went to GameSpot.com today and clicked on latest reviews. Of the 10 latest reviews, there was one game rated 5, three games rated 7, five games rated 8 or higher and one game rated 9. Now there’s obviously a problem with the system when nine out of ten games reviewed fall into the 7-9 category. The problem is that 8 no longer represents truly great games, only games that are above average or are moderately good. And the problem with this is that 8/10 is no longer any kind of guarantee. You can’t be sure if a game that scores 8 is good, nor can you be sure that you’ll even like it.

Another problem with 7 and 8 being so prominent is that the numbers 1-6 have become almost useless in the 1 to 10 scale. Since most people are already skeptical of games with a score of 7, a game that gets 6 or lower is mostly considered to be unplayable. For this reason, the majority of the 1 to 10 scale represents essentially the same thing: a bad game with almost no distinction between any of the scores. In the end, there’s probably no difference whether you rate a game 1 or you rate a game 4, you’ve essentially grouped it into one single category.

And that just leaves the numbers 9 and 10. Now, for the most part, the number 9 seems to be done right. 9, in general usually does represent exceptional games that are the of the highest caliber in their respective classes. Now due to the failure of the number 8, there are some games worthy of an 8 that usually end up leaking into 9, but the problem doesn’t really lie with 9 to begin with. No, the next problem actually centers around the number 10, the highest possible number on the 1 to 10 scale. Theoretically a game that scores 10 out 10 cannot score higher and thus, we must objectively conclude that there’s nothing that could be done to make the game better. I’ll illustrate it with this example. Let’s say that you can choose between ‘getting your car stolen’ or ‘getting free sandwiches’. Now it doesn’t matter how you look at it, option 2 is unambigously better, there is no debating this. So if we rate Option 1 on the number scale at, say, 7 out of 10, then Option 2 must then get a rating of either 8, 9 or 10. But if we rate Option 1 at 10 out of 10, then there’s absolutely no way we can rate Option 2 higher without breaking the number scale and so we have to conclude that they are equal… which makes no sense.

The same logic can be applied to rating video games. When you rate a game 10, you are essentially claiming that it’s so good that it cannot be improved upon. And depending on the interpretation of the number scale you could also be claiming that everyone will like it. Now if you look back at GameSpot’s archive to  the games they’ve rated 10 in recent times you’ll see Super Mario Galaxy 2, MGS4, GTAIV. I haven’t played Mario Galaxy 2 but I have played MGS4 and GTAIV. I thought MGS4 was fantastic but this was conditional on me being an MGS fan. And I honestly thought that GTAIV was a bucket of shit that felt more like work than actual fun. But since the game is rated 10 out of 10 and is considered to be perfect, GameSpot is implying that he problem lies with me and not the game in question. I could go on about the number 10 for another 2000 words or so but I’m too lazy so instead I’ll say that there’s a very good reason why games should not be rated 10.

Now if you’re still alive after reading that giant wall of text, then I have but one last point to address before I go back to solving Rubik’s Cubes and trying to invent Human-Flavoured Bubblegum and that’s the issue of comparison. Thus far, I’ve mostly talked about the numbers in isolation but the truth is that the number system only becomes more and more unintuitive the longer you use it. One of the biggest reasons not to use the number system is the impression it creates when you compare one game to another. Now there are two problems here: first the issue of comparing one score to another based on numbers and secondly the issue of comparing one game to another via the scores.

So let’s start with comparing scores. Now as I’ve already explained above, there’s enough of a problem when you try to distinguish between games rated 7, 8 and 9 when you’re not sure about what the numbers are supposed to represent but the whole thing becomes a mindf@#k of epic proportions when you add in decimal points. You know what I’m talking about, the biggest problem is when game reviewers use their infinite wisdom to rate a game 8.1 instead of 8. When this happens, I just scratch my head in amazement and say ‘what?’. Now I hold a triple PhD in Mathematics, Applied Mathematics and Statistics (ok not really) so it must be quite a big deal for numbers to confuse me. Let’s say, for example, that you ask Mr Genius reviewer to explain the difference between a game that deserves 8.0 and 8.1. Most likely, he can’t. Then ask him to explain the difference between 8.1 and 8.2 and it’s even less likely that he can explain that. When you mark someone’s Accounting Test, the difference between 81% and 82% is a physical tick on a page that corresponds to a question that you got right. When it comes to rating a game, that 1% difference is a non existent subjective anomaly that you suck out of your thumb. This becomes more of a problem when you realize that while there’s no difference between 8.0 and 8.1, no difference between 8.2 and 8.3 and no difference between 8.4 and 8.5, there’s quite a noticeable difference between rating a game 8.0 or 8.5. If this doesn’t seem like a problem to you, then you’re either drunk or are a communist… neither or which is appropriate for readers of this column.

Now the second problem is when you actually take two games and try to rank them against each other using these scores. Now if you take the number system from 1 to 10 and you’re confined to rating playable games 7,8 or 9, you’re going to end up saying that a hell of a lot of games are more or less equal to each other. My theory is that the decimal point system exists to make up for this terrible failure by making the system fail even harder. It’s one thing that you can’t explain the difference between 8.1 and 8.2 but it’s quite another thing when your system implies that a game rated 8.2 is better than a game rated 8.1 and you can’t explain it. Because that’s what the number system suggests. The whole point of the 10 point scale is that each grade is supposed to be unambiguously better that the grade that precedes it, because if it isn’t, then the entire point of rating games in the first place falls away. So the problem surfaces when your number system just ends up breeding inconsistencies and shooting itself in the foot repeatedly.

Let’s use IGN – because I love insulting those Wii-loving Nazis. If you read their review of MGS3: Snake Eater they claim that it’s the best Metal Gear Solid title they’ve ever seen and they rated it 9.6. This is actually quite funny when you consider that they’ve rated MGS2: Son of Liberty 9.7. Now you might argue that the score is more relevant for its time and whatnot but it’s an inexcusable joke when you find out that they rated MGS2: Substance 9.1 when it’s the same game but with more features. Intuitively the number system is actually saying that the game was 0.6 decimal points better when it had less content which is not really as simple as it sounds. If I was someone who just looked at the scores before deciding to buy a game I would conclude that Sons of Liberty must be better than Substance and then go on to buy the game which has less stuff. It’s like someone offers you the choice between a ticket to a soccer match seated next to a rabid Sabretooth Tiger or the same ticket to a soccer match but seated next to Carmen Electra and you choose option 1.

The sad part is that all of this could have been avoided by rating each of the MGS games 9 out of 10 and then just pointing out that they’re all the same quality class but Substance is an improved version of Sons of Liberty while Snake Eater is the best game thus far.

So in the end, when you try to compare games using the number system there’s always going to be discrepancies. It’s enough work to distinguish which class of quality a game fits into and this problem only becomes that much worse when you introduce decimal points.

So in conclusion, I hope that I’ve at least gotten you a bit more skeptical of the 1-10 rating scale when it comes to summarizing reviews and rating games. You should think harder before you trust a single number to help you decide which games to buy and which games not to buy. eGamer has taken a step in the right direction with their summary box but I would only rate their system an 8 out of 10 because 9 belongs only to exemplary world-class rating systems while rating the system 10 would imply that it cannot be further improved… which would put me in quite the predicament should a better system come along. The truth is that games can be rated on so many different levels that there probably can’t be a perfect universal system for each game… but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to create one.

Till next week, here is a cat… also Portugal sucks…

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Machina’s Machinations: Beneath The Bottom Line http://egmr.net/2010/06/machinas-machinations-beneath-the-bottom-line/ http://egmr.net/2010/06/machinas-machinations-beneath-the-bottom-line/#comments Mon, 07 Jun 2010 20:48:48 +0000 http://egmr.net/?p=24217 Machina’s Machinations will be around every Monday to school you about something new. Or old. Or exciting. Who knows. Just stay tuned. — Ed If you play games, troll forums, […]

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Machina’s Machinations will be around every Monday to school you about something new. Or old. Or exciting. Who knows. Just stay tuned. — Ed

If you play games, troll forums, look at the pretty pictures on gaming news sites and are actually capable of the cerebral phenomenon known as thinking, then you must have questioned the gaming industry’s development choices at times. Maybe you wonder why the long dead Max Payne series is getting another game to further ‘enrich’ its already concluded storyline while your beloved Warcraft III will probably never get a sequel. Or maybe you wish there were original games with new ideas or great stories, but instead all you get are 3rd person shooters made in the Unreal engine voiced by that guy who does Nathan Drake.

Well all these questions have the same simple answer, and most of you will know it already; it’s all about the money. So why am I then writing this article? Well besides the fact that it’s in my best interest to make this column as long and as tedious to read as possible, because I get paid by the word and not per article, there’s actually a lot more to it than: ‘it’s just about the money’. Running a gaming development company, or pretty much any company, is not as easy as it looks on TV — so hopefully by the end of this article, you’ll have an idea of why developers make the choices that they do.

The Fanboys will go on about how much Microsoft cares about them and would do anything for them and only wants them to be happy, but the big dark secret — that everyone knows — is that it’s all about the money. When game developers decide on which games to produce, the first question that has to be answered is: is it profitable? Now this isn’t really a bad thing. Picture yourself in the following scenario: you work for this website owner (let’s call him Dean) and every Friday, you kayak across the Atlantic Ocean to mow the lawn at his Canadian beach house and all he does is pay you back for the lawnmower petrol you used, you aren’t going to be very happy. You’re going to want extra compensation for your time and your effort, and there’s where profit comes in. When game developers decide to make profitable games only, it’s so that you don’t rip them off.

The concept of profit is pretty much timeless and it should come as no surprise to you that developers will only make games which are profitable to them. It’s a decision that you can’t really blame them for because people in general are simply not self-sacrificing altruists who only want the world to be a better place. Now it should come as no surprise that developing video games is very expensive. When you pay R700 for just a disc and a plastic box — and feel cheated, you should take a second to wonder how the developers feel. Regardless of how many plastic boxes and discs you manage to sell, you still have to pay a whole lot of other things. There’s the salaries of the professionals that you have to pay over several years of development, all the development and testing equipment you need,  the advertising and marketing of the game and these are only the direct costs. Remember that they still have to pay for rent and electricity and toilet paper over the years of development and the only time they actually get rewarded for this is if they even manage to finish their game… which takes about 2-5 years usually. When they finally do finish a game, the box and the disc may only cost them like R30 or so but game retails at R700 because they need to recover years worth of development costs and make a reasonable amount of profit for their efforts.

But consider this as well: development of a game takes several years and during those years, companies have to pay costs that number in the millions. They only make money when they actually sell the finished product,  so for years and years they’re just losing money. And the game only retails a tiny fraction of their total costs so they need to sell millions of copies just to break even. And in two to five years, a lot can change. How do they know that their game is even going to be popular, or if it’s going to sell well? Throw in inflation, interest and changing consumer tastes and the only certainty is that they’re going to lose money one way or another. So game developers have to be really, really careful about the games they produce, and they have to be even more careful when they take risks. Which leads me to my next point:

The title is pretty much self explanatory. The more a company knows about anything related to their game, the less uncertain they are about their future. Gaming companies are interested in as much information as they can get, and you’d be surprised by how much they actually know. Using mostly statistics and other methods of extrapolation, gaming companies can usually work out their development costs for games years in advance and, scarily, they can even accurately predict how many copies of the game they expect to sell. Obviously they don’t publish all of their findings, but often enough you get companies that will release their expected sales before a game is even released and more often than not, they’re usually right.

Now you might wonder how they know this. Maybe the reason you didn’t buy Alpha Protocol was because you have a mental disorder that discourages you from buying anything that starts with a vowel, or perhaps you bought God of War, not because of the excessive violence, but because it was the last message your dog left to you in his Will. But despite your otherwise strange motivations, in the end, there’s only one choice you make: do you buy the game or don’t you? And using this information from previous games, in conjunction with all their advertising and whatnot, allows video game developers to predict which choice you’re going to make. Because while the behavior of individuals tends to be invariably complex, the behavior of a giant consumer group is surprisingly easy to predict. The point that I’m so laboriously trying to make, is that game development companies know long in advance, whether or not their games are going to be profitable.

But even if a game would be profitable, and the developers know this, there’s still a very good reason why they may not produce it. Therefore even if you and all your friends at the Harry Potter fan club would buy “Gossip Girl: The Legend of Chuck Bass” and enough people would be interested in it to make it profitable, it’s highly unlikely that the developers will develop it. And the reason for this is simple:

IT’S NOT ONLY ABOUT MAKING MONEY; IT’S ABOUT MAKING LOTS OF MONEY

Which leads me to my next point:

The concept of Opportunity Cost is quite easy to understand, but in case you don’t understand what Mathematics is (you know, that thing with the numbers?), I’ll explain it using the diagram above. Imagine that the World is going to end in 10 minutes and it takes 5 minutes for the fat guy to walk to a pedestal and 5 minutes to eat something. He can either eat the Cake or the Bucket of Glass, but he can’t eat both. No matter what he does in his limited time, he has to make a choice and the option that he forgoes will be forever lost to him (because the world will end). The smart thing to do is to decide whether or not he will benefit more from eating the Glass or the Cake, and the option he loses is called the opportunity cost. If he decides that he likes pain more than chocolate and cream, and he eats the Glass, then the opportunity cost of that decision is the Cake (and vice versa of course).

Now the same concept exists in the games development industry, however it’s infinitely more complex. A games development company only has a limited number of people working for them and because the development process takes such a long time, they simply can’t produce everything. In the same way the fat guy doesn’t have the time to eat the Cake and the Glass, a games development team doesn’t have the time to develop all the games that they want to, even if they are profitable. Instead, they have to look at all the possible options for games that they can develop, and only then go with the one which they think will benefit them the most. It makes sense really, because if you were the fat guy, you wouldn’t waste your time on the inferior option, you would go straight for the Glass — assuming you’re not an idiot who actually thinks that the cake is better. In the same way, a games development company will only turn the best idea that they have into a game. This is also the reason why games aren’t always the best that they can be, especially in the first installment in a series. Developers weigh up the option between spending another year making the game perfect or releasing it now and using that year to start work on a sequel; and they’ll pick whichever option is more profitable.

Which leads me to my next point:

Opportunity Cost is the main reason why so many games nowadays have so many sequels. Take the God of War games as an example. God of War I was amazing where God of War II was considered to be even better, and sold much more copies. However, God of War I took 5 years to develop and God of War II only took 2 years to develop. So even though God of War II was a superior project for the company that developed it (better game, higher profits), it took far less time to develop. And the company didn’t even need to advertise as much because people who knew about God of War I already knew what to expect. Even more important is the fact that the developers knew that God of War II would be successful even before they started developing it, because of the success of God of War I. So it’s really as simple as: developing sequels is better than developing new games.

Developing games from scratch is a lengthy and expensive process that carries a high amount of risk. Following up a successful or well established game with a sequel, is cheaper, has a shorter development time, is much less risky, and it can sell just as many copies as the first game. For this reason, games like Call of Duty and FIFA will receive a sequel every single year as long as they continue to be successful and many other game development companies will follow up their successful games with as many sequels as they can. That’s not to say that developers won’t make new games ever, they just have to be more careful about it. If a developer feels that a new idea has a chance to be successful, they develop them for the long term, usually with a whole trilogy planned out before the first game even goes into development. I’m sure you can see this with games like Dead Space, Mirror’s Edge, Too Human and Mass Effect. In this way, the moment that a game is completed, development of the sequel can begin and, in the rare case that the game is a failure, development can be shut down without the company having wasted too much time. Taking this kind of approach is really good for developers because even if they make a loss on the first game, they can go ahead and develop follow ups to it anyway because the sequels are so much cheaper to develop.

The end result is that game development companies no longer simply develop games; they develop franchises. There’s a lot more to it than just making a single game and hoping that it sells well, it’s all about creating a long term project that will only get more profitable as time goes along. And I suppose that it works to an extent. So, until people can no longer stand the sight of a football or a Greek God, there will always be another FIFA or God of War.

Hopefully that clears a few things up for you and gets you thinking about other industries as well. In the end, developers are not evil; they’re only looking out for their best interests and you can’t really blame them for that.

If anyone has any questions, comments or feels that I missed anything, drop me an email or post a comment. I’ll try to find the time to reply between the long hours I spend stroking my cat and grooming my moustache. If you have any suggestions on what I should speak about next week, then those are welcome too…

Till next week… don’t get eaten by Sharks.

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