Did 2009 give us a paradigm shift?

I hate that term, paradigm shift. It was so overused by PR folk and fanboys at the beginning of this generation, but luckily it has died down quite a bit. Wikipedia gives this definition for the term:

representing the notion of a major change in a certain thought-pattern — a radical change in personal beliefs, complex systems or organizations, replacing the former way of thinking or organizing with a radically different way of thinking or organizing

With that definition, I think it’s wholly possible that 2009 gave us a game that will actually be far more significant than we realize. The game I’m speaking about is Borderlands. For those that played it, they found out that RPG elements could be successfully infused into more genres that we originally realized, and it could be done without majorly interfering a game’s flow or design. You couldn’t safely call Borderlands and RPG, but you also couldn’t label it an FPS game, it was something new. It wasn’t just a game with some RPG characteristics, it was two genres so intricately intertwined that it was both, but neither. This is starting to sound crazy, but what I’m trying to say is that Borderlands is a game that will be looked upon years from now as a title that had as much influence and weight as games like Mario 64, Grand Theft Auto, or Halo.

Maybe it won’t happen in 2010, at least not in the first half of the year, but in the near future you’re going to see more genres, especially shooters successfully integrate RPG elements into the mix just as Borderlands did. Characters in gaming are going to become more dynamic, even in the most one dimensional genres. Much like Modern Warfare’s perk system (which is being copied or adapted like crazy these days), Borderlands will be the starter’s pistol for a major new trend in gaming.

Moving forward, RPG elements will no longer be the hook into a good game, they’ll be the backbone. And years from now, when we trace back the jumping point, Borderlands will be identified as the first game to make that leap.

My gaming resolutions for 2010

I’ll be the first to admit that these kinds of posts are stupid, but I’m actually serious about setting some goals for myself this year and trying to make gaming a more enjoyable hobby in 2010. Funny enough, several of my resolutions read very similar to those being made by non-gamers.

1. Save more money

In recent years gaming has become more expensive. The average price of a game is $10 higher on consoles and $5 higher on handheld games. And while online retailers like Amazon.com have great sales, it’s still hard to go as far with your gaming dollar as you could during the last round of consoles. To make up for this, I’m going to only grab the absolute must have games on release day and wait for sales, price drops, or (sorry publishers) for used copies of the game to become available. I’m also going to rely on rental stores to help me experience the games that I’m more likely to play through once.

As much as I love gaming, I really think it’s one area in my life where saving a few bucks would be a good idea.

2. Finish what I start

I have a real problem finishing a lot of the games I start. I know I’m definitely not alone in this, but I really could be better about focusing on finishing the games I get into before moving onto newer releases. Doing this will stretch the amount of gaming I get out of each dollar spent, and it will also allow games I’ve yet to get to see a price reduction while I work on my backlog.

This also refers to getting my podcasts recorded, edited, and released more regularly.

3. Lose some weight

I’ve always considered myself a bit of a collector, but lately I’ve been better about selling off some of the excess and dead weight in my collection. I can definitely be better at this, however. Basically I’ll need to be a bit more honest with myself about what games are going to be keepers and what games should be sent along. Not only will I get some extra money to put toward other games, but I can pass along a good deal to another gamer looking to pick up a newer game at a cheaper price.

4. Finish a JRPG and a Western RPG

It’s been years since I’ve finished a console JRPG. If I had to guess, the last one I finished was probably Final Fantasy X. I’ve always like the genre if it’s executed well, but I’ve been horrible sticking with any of them long enough to finish one. Western RPGs are something that I’m still warming up to, but it’s been just as long since I finished one. Knights of the Old Republic was the last Western RPG I completed start to finish, but in 2010 I’ve got a mind to finish Fallout 3 (finally) and Dragon Age: Origins at the very least.

5. Resist the Madden hype

Every single year I get talked into picking up Madden near release date and I every single year I realize that the series hit its peak on the PS2/Xbox last generation. No more buying the game for me until they can prove that the series is indeed worth the yearly price tag once again. Same goes for NCAA football.

6. Improve my reviews

I’ve always been satisfied with the quality of written reviews I do over at Kombo, but I really want to figure out how to improve them even more. Also, I’d like to do more reviews here on the blog as well, and I’m guessing that this would be the perfect place to try out some different review styles.

7. Post more on the blog

I have some new projects coming, but I also want to keep this blog going and  have an active posting schedule. I’m sure that during busy times I’ll struggle to keep up, but I can’t control that. It’s the laziness that I can shrug off a bit better in 2010, I feel.

8. Enjoy the hobby more

I’m not 100% sure how I can enjoy gaming more, but I’m guessing that if I stick to the resolutions I’ve made that I’ll find that 2010 is a better year than 2009 was from a pure enjoyment standpoint.

And to everybody else out there with any resolutions, good luck with them and have a fun 2010.

Feedback Needed: “Mature” videogame content

On the next Stupid Gamer podcast I will be discussing extreme (violent, sexual, language) content. In light of the “No Russian” level in Moder Warfare 2, the upcoming Heavy Rain on the PS3, and years of GTA controversy, I felt like it would be a good time to discuss how the gaming industry should be handling this sort of content and how the industry can be more proactive in dealing with it. Here are a few questions I’d like some feedback to. You can pick and choose one or two to answer or answer them all. I’ll read some responses on the air.

  1. Is violent/sexual/language content a problem in gaming?
  2. Is the ESRB rating system adequate? Does it need to be changed/replaced?
  3. What can developers and publishers do better to educate parents?
  4. Do console manufacturers need to play a role in content control?
  5. Does mature content offend you in any way?
  6. How does mature content in gaming compare to film? Should it be regulated differently?
  7. If you were a parent (or are one), how will you approach mature content with your kids?
  8. Does extreme content add to the enjoyment of a game for you, or is that completely based on context?

god-of-war-3

God of War III will have crazy amounts of blood, brutal kills, and some sexual content.

Send your responses to me at jar155 [at] gmail.com and  I’ll use them in the next show. You can also comment here on the blog, but the email is a surefire be that I’ll see it before going on the air.

I demand an apology, Bungie

I’ve always been critical of Bungie’s shameless attempts to artificially lengthen their games by putting either ridiculously repetitive (The Library) or go one way, come back again (1/2 of all Halo games) levels. I feel that these levels have always been a cheap tactic to make the games feel longer or to inflate the time needed to complete the game. For the most part, however, these sections at least provided some sort of enemy resistance…until now.

In Halo 3: ODST there is a hub world between levels. You’re out on the streets of New Mombasa and you’re looking for your squad mates, intel, and a way to get to the next level. These sections are incredibly long, rarely provide any action at all, and are repetitive to the point where you consider quitting every time you’re forced to play through them. In co-op mode this is particularly painful as you and three friends are removed from the game’s action to wander around a lifeless zone. Let’s call it like it is, this section is purely to expand the length of the game and stretch out the total time needed to complete the game. When Microsoft decided that Bungie needed to turn ODST into a full retail package, this was their way of justifying the length of the game. You might have a few diehards who don’t mind humping every inch of the hub to find audio drops and such, but for those that just want to move the story along or stay in the action, nothing could be more painful than this hub area.

Yeah, I gave Microsoft my $60, but now I’m feeling a little gypped. It seems to me that this really would have been an excellent value at $30 with a shorter overall experience. I would have urged everybody to get it at that price, but now I just feel like I would have been better off renting the thing. It’s a very fun game when you’re in the action, but the hub areas just bring everything to a screeching halt a little too often.

Tighten up those boot straps, it's a long walk, team.

“Tighten up those boot straps, it’s a long walk, team.”

If you’re not interested in ODST, but you do want to know what the hub world is like, I have a suggestion for you. Call up a few friends that all live about 2-3 miles from each other. Have each friend get something you love and put it inside their house. Step out your front door and walk (no running!) to friend #1’s house. Enjoy the object they laid out for you, and then walk (again, no running!) to the next friend’s house. Keep doing this until the walking between each house feels like the worst thing ever. You did it, you now understand the New Mombasa street sections of Halo 3: ODST.

And don’t get me started on that ridiculous VISR…

Is Gamefly worth the price?

As we get older there are more and more things that creep into our daily lives that interfere with gaming and we often need to spend our money on things more than gaming or general diversions. Instead of stocking up on each new release game, we’re often picking out baby slings with the wife. Gamefly markets itself as a service that allows you to play more games for less money…but does that hold up if you also have less time?

As mentioned, I opted for Gamefly because it looked to be the cheaper way to play games in my limited time. I still love the hobby, but I can’t dedicate hours a day to it anymore. I have the two games out at a time plan, which I’ve had for over a year now.

Plans

So you can see in the image that I’m paying about $23 a month to have two games out at a time. I load up my Game Q with everything that interests me, and Iwatch the mailbox for the games to come. There’s a problem, however. Most times (actually, almost always) I end up getting my 3rd or 4th option for preferred games. So what normally happens is that instead of getting that AAA game that I’ve had my eye on, I end up getting a game that interested me, but I was unsure of whether or not I would enjoy it. It’s the difference between receiving Batman: Arkham Asylum and Dirt 2, for example. What ends up happening is that since I’m rarely getting the AAA titles near launch, the games that do ship to me sit around as my interest in them is generally mild. I think I had Halo Wars on hand for about 3 weeks before finally putting it into my 360. Getting two second-tier games at a time only compounds the problem.

So what to do? Well, I just recently canceled my Gamefly plan in favor of renting locally at brick and mortar stores. Yeah, a single rental is going to run me $7, but that means I can rent three games per month for less than what I pay with Gamefly and I’m not just sent the first available game on the list. When I walk into a store, I either get the game I want or I save my money for another day. In theory I could be getting more games from Gamefly, but time contstraints and the fact that I rarely get my top choice just makes it the wrong service for me.

Now, if you’re not quite tied down as me and you find that you have more time to check out the games that mildly interest you or you just have more time to dedicate to gaming overall, Gamefly probably is a good service. If you are the type that can finish a game or two a week, don’t hesitate to get a Gamefly subscription. If you can’t handle more than a game or two completion per month, it’s probably much cheaper to just rent locally.

PSPgo faces uncertain launch, uphill battle

Back at E3, after some early leaks, Sony officially unveiled the PSPgo to the public and announced all the details about the machine. At first glance, the handheld looks amazing with its pretty screen, compact design, and slider capability. It’s even been reported recently that the Go has a faster guts, though the validity on that remains fuzzy. On paper, this handheld looks like it could be a solid competitor in the handheld space and further muscle in on Nintendo’s share of the pie. Well, there are a few things that are starting to stack up against the PSPgo that range from complaints of form factor, to pricing, to software distribution. Let’s break down the major complaints consumers and retailers have with the PSPgo and see just how big of a deal they could be.

Hardware Price Point
With the removal of the UMD drive and a smaller screen, most everybody figured that the PSPgo would be pretty close to the same price as the current PSP model; with some people even expecting it to be a little cheaper. While I didn’t think the machine would necessarily cost less than the current PSP, I didn’t think that Sony would be essentially resetting the price point back to where the PSP launched at. Yeah, all new products carry a premium price tag, but it’s a pretty big jump over the PSP’s current going rate. While there might be a lot people interested in the PSPgo right now, I feel that many will wait until the price comes down on these things.

So why is the price so high? One word: Retail. This brings us to the next issue facing the PSPgo.

Retailers Don’t Like It
Right now if you want a PSP game you’re most likely heading over to Gamestop, Target, Best Buy, or hitting an online store like Amazon.com. Yes, there are a few games only available online, but they’re few and far between. What happens is that retailers are urged by Sony to sell the PSPgo, but once the handheld is sold, that customer is never coming back in to buy software for that device. All PSPgo games will be available online, so the retailer gets cut out. Basically there’s no incentive for retailers to push the PSPgo, because they lose out on future revenue from software sales while the original PSP and the DS keep bringing people back in the door. To offset this a little, Sony is keeping the price of the PSPgo at a premium so that retailers can take a bigger cut of the sale price. Without that inflated cost, retailers would probably just flat out refuse to carry the handheld.

One posed solution to this issue is to allow retailers to sell download codes for the games. This might work to some degree, but the retailer is still losing out compared to the markup that they get for disc-based games. On top of that, there’s not going to be any such thing as a used game market for the PSPgo. How is that going to be received by Gamestop?! In the end, Sony has the muscle to basically force retailers to carry the handheld (either they carry it or they lose out on deals for PS3 games, for instance), but I can’t see many retailers too happy about being cut out of the majority of the software sales market.

Only 50% of Americans Have Broadband
Many of the games offered for the PSPgo are going to be over a gig in size. For people with high-speed connections it’s not going to be an issue, but effectively half of the population in Sony’s most important market is still connecting through dial-up. Downloading games, which is the only way to get them, is just not feasible for dial-up users yet. Broadband penetration is going to be a big obstacle for Sony.

pspgo

The iPhone Effect
Everybody is probably tired of hearing about how the iPhone is going to be such a big deal in handheld gaming. Well yeah, people should stop talking about how big it’s going to be, because it’s a big deal right now. The iPhone is selling tons of software, and there’s actually quite a few solid gaming experiences to be had on the device. Sure, you don’t have the ability for complex control schemes on the iPhone, but when games are available for $.99 to $9.99, the iPhone is going to steal a lot of gaming time away from the PSPgo (and from the DS as well). That $.99 impulse buy from the iTunes app store might keep you occupied just long enough to pass up on the middle of the road release on the PSPgo store.

Sony isn’t going to want to drop the pricing of their games all the way down to the iPhone levels of pricing; and that’s actually understandable given the development budgets. The problem is that Sony is going to have to prove to buyers that their games are worth the premium. Many people keep their iPhone on them at all times; can the PSPgo become a staple in a gamer’s pocket as well? If it comes down to packing around a cell phone or a handheld, the vast majority of people are going to take the phone with them.

Backwards Compatibility Issues With it’s Own Library
The UMD slot is gone. Any games you currently have for your PSP are essentially coasters if you sell your current handheld to upgrade to the Go. Sony is saying that they’ll be supporting the entire–er, most of the–library via downloads, but does that mean that you’ll have to re-purchase your entire library in digital form? If Sony is offering some way to get them discounted if you’ve already purchased the game, how do they prevent people from scamming that service? The only way I could see this working is if Sony will allow you to mail your discs in for a free download code. That solution is unrealistic, however, as Sony doesn’t want to be handing used discs by the millions only to dish out codes that will net them nothing in regards to profit. That sort of program would be disastrous financially. However, for those of us with sizable collections, I think we’re going to be very reluctant to upgrade to the PSPgo and leave our collections behind. Also, will smaller run games, like Gradius Collection, be available from the get go?

It’s Not All Doom and Gloom
One thing that needs to be said is that Sony is pushing the market forward. Maybe the PSPgo is a little ahead of its time, but it’s pretty awesome to see a way for gamers to bypass the retail market and get their games without the hassles of preorders or worrying whether or not an item will be in stock when they show up. Ship dates and release dates will never be confused again, and no longer will you need to pack around a carrying case for extra games. The whole idea of the PSPgo is awesome, but really it’s quite the uphill fight for Sony. I hope the machine does well. I really want one, but ultimately getting one will depend on how soon the price drops, how easy it is to replace my library with digital versions, and just how simple buying and installing games can be.

I have to respect Sony for pushing the digital download services. This really is a step forward for game distribution. I’m just hoping it’s not a case of being a little too early to the party.

David Reeves wonders how to make it worse, does interview, succeeds

Is there anybody in the entire Sony company that is as stupid is David Reeves? I mean, I know it’s disrespectful to say that about someone, but this is the one guy that even the hardcore Sony fanboys actively work to shout down. I also hate being the near constant critic of Sony and their ways, but I think their approach to this generation of gaming warrants some backlash. In recent weeks Sony has endured some PR pain as they’ve had to announce big layoffs, bad financial losses, and terrible NPD sales performances. Now, not all of this can be attributed to their games division, but the PS3 and its money losing ways are definitely a big part of the blame. In an interview with MVC, David Reeves (president of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe) had a few choice things to say that reek of excuses, deflection, envy, and desperation.

Here is the interview in its entirety, but below I have a list of notable achievements by Reeves in the piece: http://www.mcvuk.com/interviews/394/Action-Station

  • He compares Sony’s $3 billion losses in the past two years to Citibank to show why it’s not so bad. Citibank compared to Sony? Really? How is that remotely relevant?
  • He states that they’re not dropping the price, but rather focusing on a “value added” strategy. WHAT?! How is the PS3 added value at this point? You can buy both a 360 and a Wii for the price of a PS3 now. If he’s talking Blu-ray, you can get a 360 and a Blu-ray player cheaper.
  • He states that their objective is to “grow the market”. How are you going to do that with an overpriced console? DROP THE PRICE!
  • “You don’t grow the market by putting out shoddy machines.” Obviously this is a slight at the 360, but the PS2 and PS1 were terribly shoddy. Many people went through several of each. It’s a pot/kettle black deal there…
  • “…as soon as we got the manufacturing price down on PSOne we lowered the price. Same with PS2. But we’re not doing that on PS3 – that’s not the model, but people are expecting it.” Ok…so the PS1 and PS2 owned the market, so you’re just going to go with a different strategy? Makes sense.

There are a few more things in there that are just fine examples of crazy talk, but I think I’ve gone far beyond what I should have on this topic. To be clear, I LIKE MY PS3, but I think the industry needs a healthy Sony. With all the poor decisions Sony makes I keep expecting that they’re going to wake up and get things rolling, but these sort of interviews have me questioning whether or not they’ve actually lost touch with the reality of the situation they’re in and the industry as a whole. Sony got punched in the face big time, but rather than coming back with their own punches, they’ve just been content to take blow after blow while making excuses why this is a better strategy. Sure, it worked for Rocky, but even Adrian new that at SOME POINT the Italian Stallion had to hit back. Do it, Sony.

Stop using these buzzwords to describe games!

I’m not too particular, but there are a handful of words that people toss around frequently to describe games that irritates me to no end. It’s fine to use any word for descriptive purposes, but only if it’s the proper word for the situation. Far too often forum members, game reviewers, and the general member of the public just picks up on a term and runs with it in the description of just about every game they enjoy. Here are some of the ones that need to be scaled back or abandoned completely.

Sleek – Lately, just about any time a game has a nice, unobtrusive interface, reviewers use the word ‘sleek’ to describe it. The word has lost all its original meaning with the gaming public, and now is just a substitute for ‘simple and easy to navigate’. Go read an IGN review by any high quality title, you’ll find this word in probably 3/4 of the reviews.

Epic – This might the most widely abused term as of late, and it’s still on the rise. As every major game release nears, fans are claiming that the experience is going to be epic. As first impressions of games come in, everybody claims that the opening was epic. As the final impressions start to make their way to message boards, we all get to hear just how epic that last boss fight was. Enough already!

Mixed Bag – People say mixed bag when they don’t want to get into the details of their criticism or they don’t know how to express their thoughts. Instead of putting forth the effort to describe what was good and what was less than admirable, reviewers often toss out the “well, graphics are sort of a mixed bag” comment. The term has been used countless times in the past couple of years, I think we can safely let it die now.

System Seller – Games do exist that will sell systems, but no single title is usually justification enough to drop anywhere from $250-$600 on a console each generation. Yes, there are some extreme cases of it happening, such as Wii Sports, but normally a console is sold by the strength of its library and upcoming lineups. This is especially true now that there are fewer exclusive titles than there were in the past. Gears of War isn’t a system seller. GTA IV isn’t a system seller. Ninja Gaiden II isn’t a system seller. All three games together, well yeah, they’ll sell systems.

Paradigm Shift – Much like mixed bag, this is a lazy term that reviewers will use when they don’t know how to say something in simple and easy to understand terms. If a game is great, they should tell us why it’s great, not simply say “it’s a paradigm shift in gaming” to sum things up. This term is also used in conjunction with “a new pinnacle”, “raised the bar”, “precedent setting”, or “…of the likes we’ve never seen before”. Call me cynical, but it’s very rare that these terms need to be used, let alone several times per year from the same reviewer.

Hardcore/Casual – Ok, I’m guilty of using these terms from time to time, but only because were not smart enough to come up with better terms. I agree in saying that there are hardcore gamers and casual gamers, but I don’t like labeling games as “a hardcore/casual experience”. If I’m a hardcore gamer, I’ll be open to playing any type of game to see for myself whether or not I’ll enjoy it. I don’t need somebody differentiating between what games are fit for the hardcore and what is better left to the casual crowd.

Mature/Kiddie – This one really drives me crazy. There’s nothing truly mature about any video game. Yes, a game might contain mature content, but the experience itself shouldn’t be identified as being any more mature than a game with a colorful scheme and a more lighthearted feel. Games are games. If you’re so insecure with your level of manliness that you need to brush aside games for being “kiddie” in favor of the next head-blasting shooter, you need to re-evaluate why you play games in the first place. I’ll say it again, games are games.

There are plenty more terms out there, but these are the ones that have been making their way under my skin most often as of late. I’m sure I’ll be back here in five minutes editing something I forgot into this list, so feel free to check back once in a while to see how the list grows and evolves along with new trends. Of course, it’s entirely possible that I’ll forget all about this post and never revisit it after it falls off the front page. It’s a total mixed bag of results, but either way, it should be epic.

EGM grows a pair, delays MGS 4 review

If you’re wondering why the latest issue of EGM is lacking the Metal Gear Solid review, you don’t have to look any further than 1up.com. The site published a statement saying why they’re holding off on publishing the review for another month. They said:

“Metal Gear Solid 4 will hit store shelves shortly after this issue of EGM lands in your hot little hands. And four EGM editors — Matt Leone, Jeremy Parish, Andrew Pfister, and Shane Bettenhausen — have already invested plenty of time in the game. So why don’t we have a full review in this issue? Simply put: We weren’t happy with the limitations Konami wanted to impose on our comments, and rather than publish compromised reviews in the interest of being the first to rate the game, we’d rather wait until next issue, where we can be completely open and thorough with our thoughts. In the meantime, our MGS4 vets sat down for an informal chat about the game (and remember — [once the limitations are lifted] you can find the full review on 1UP.com!).”

Good on EGM and the 1up Network. In my honest opinion, any review coming out before the release date is in part tainted. Maybe the score wouldn’t have changed, but the limitations placed on the reviewers definitely will have shaped the written content.

Konami wants you to just shut up about it

Originally reported by Stephen Totilo over at MTV’s Multiplayer blog, it seems that Konami has been asking print reviewers not to talk about either the length of the cut scenes in the game or how big the mandatory install will be on the PS3 hard drive. It seems that Konami is worried that either of these “issues” could be viewed as negatives for the title, so they’re hoping that reviewers will keep their mouths shut. Even with this request, reports have come in saying that the game’s install requirement is 4.5GB (mandatory) and that cut scenes can reach up to 90 minutes each.

So what’s the big deal? Shouldn’t Konami be able to make these sort of requests? Well, I guess they can, but it’s a bit shady. With recent examples of the review process being influenced (Gerstmann-gate, Rockstar’s handling of reviewers with GTA IV), this is just another blow to gaming journalism’s credibility. A reviewer shouldn’t need a list of things that they should emphasize or avoid. A publisher should simply put their product into a reviewer’s hands and accept whatever opinion the journalist comes up with. Now, if a publisher wants to point out factual errors in a review, that’s fine, but I’m getting sick and tired of the pressure that publishers and developers are putting on the media when it comes to review coverage.

Personally I’ve had to turn down the rights to an exclusive review because the publisher said that I could only have it if I promised an 8.0 or above. They wanted a commitment from me that same day, despite the fact that I had only spent about 3 hours with the game. I declined their offer, and the next day the game’s first review popped up online with a 9.0 (from a rather humble site). I won’t name that game, but it happened to be for the DS and was a semi-major release for its time. I know this stuff is happening, but I have no idea who is getting caught up in the dirty play and succumbing to the publisher BS tactics.

Thanks to Stephen Totilo for exposing this issue. Even if this looks minor, the implications of this sort of behavior are quite serious.