Tag Archives: video games

Pop-Gaming – We Asked For It

It’s high time I discussed the phenomenon that is sweeping the video game realm. I’ve avoided it so far – mostly because I want to pretend like it’s not there – but I can’t help but see it creeping into my daily life. What started out as mere curiosity has become a huge part of my gaming life, and I can’t imagine it subsiding anytime soon. My will may be strong, but as more people are embracing this paradigm shift I find it hard to avoid. The phenomenon I’m referring to is “Pop-Gaming”.

At first glance, you might decide to bash the Pop-Gaming market, and complain about how Farmville has given many people a false idea of gaming; or how Prince of Persia should have never been a movie. A closer look will reveal that this is what we’ve been demanding all along, but we never expected it to come to this.

As many people spent the 90s sitting at home, playing hardcore games alone in their basements, they experienced the judging glares and condescending comments of pretentious detractors. These gamers quickly began to demand respect and understanding of their hobby while politicians accused their beloved Mortal Kombat, and other “violent” video games as the core reason for high school shootings and the like. As time has progressed, people have slowly dropped the misconceptions and are taking an interest in our hobby. What started out as a misunderstanding and a “waste of time”, has shifted to curiosity and respect for this thing we call video gaming.

When I think about this shift, thoughts drift into visions of game-related novels, movie adaptations, Farmville junkies, and masochistic little birds with a hankering for pork. These images are enough to make a JRPG fan go nuts and begin slandering these wannabes. My initial reaction was very similar, but as I see these mediums begin to permeate the world outside of hot, sweaty dungeon-crawling warlords, I started to realize that hardcore gamers have very little reason to complain.

Take World of Warcraft, it contains what appears to be a niche market; but how niche can 12 million players be? You may have started out on the ground floor of this MMO movement, but you’ve opened the gates and happily welcomed your friends. You showed them around, got them a glass of wine, and displayed grade A hospitality; but by the time you turned around, the entire room was filled with people. Now you are upset all because you forgot to close the door.

There has been a large movement into the realm of MMOs recently. Leaders of free-to-play games such as Nexon, have paved the road and found ways to convince normal people to pour hundreds of hours and dollars into an endless grind. That market is getting bigger, and as more companies jump on board we will see more people losing their time to the micro-transaction model.

How about first person shooters? How many of you spent countless hours in front of a computer screen with Unreal Tournament, fragging your friends and scoffing at those who just couldn’t understand why you thought that could be fun. Now the tables have turned. You complain because some of the same people who laughed at you then, have all but sold their soul to Call of Duty. It’s a fight that you’ve fought for so many years, but you never thought it would come to this.

We were the ones who wrote blog and forum posts demanding respect from unreasonable parents and conservative politicians, who said that shooting and fighting games were the leading cause of juvenile violence. We fought, and continue to fight, in fear of losing our precious games, and the battle is slowly being won. We proudly wore our Legend of Zelda t-shirts and honorably display our allegiance to the Horde and the Alliance. The floodgates have burst open and we now stare in disbelief at the wave of support we’ve ushered in.

Every movie, book, cellphone or Facebook game that comes out is not bad, but I can understand the frustration when you watch your favorite genres or series get watered down with under-par content. What was once a labor of love has slowly been loosed from the grip of the video game forefathers, altered, and injected into the mainstream of America. Now corporations have seen ways to make additional profit off of our favorite games and have all but forced us to support them.

We can’t blame anyone but ourselves. No matter how much we think that motion controls are ruining the core experience, or cell phones and Facebook have inaccurately inducted business men and stay-at-home moms into the gamer category, we supported the development of our current predicament. If you feel like the issue has gotten out of hand, but you aren’t quite sure what to do about it, then I have one thing to say…VOTE.

“How,” you might ask. With your money. You may be able to get your comrades to support your antics by posting on forums about how much pop-gaming should die, but you aren’t going to affect the decision makers unless you refuse to buy their product. If Angry Birds is ruining your gaming feng shui, then don’t “accidentally” download it and get caught up in the addicting gameplay. If you have to choose between Prince of Persia and Bride’s Maids, then go with the latter…though, at that point, you may have a completely different problem on your hands.

You could, of course, choose to support this change. It’s not all bad. In fact, I find the new shift to be quite the stimulator for the industry. As revenue continues to pour in from the pop-gaming market, we will see funds shift to develop higher powered consoles that can hit the market at more affordable prices. Expect to see the Wii U announced with a fairly low price point, due to the astronomical financial success of the Wii. There’s a lot of good that social, mobile and motion-control gaming can do to support hardcore gamers. Plus, Angry Birds is just plain fun.

At the least, don’t forget the role you’ve played in making pop-gaming a reality; even you have made some bad judgment calls. So, dismount your self-constructed throne of conceit, uncover your hidden stash of Resident Evil and Mortal Kombat films, and face the facts…you’re a Pop-Gamer.

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Nintendo Announces the Next Generation – My Predictions for the Wii’s Successor

Say what you want about Nintendo, but they know how to make money. If this past generation wasn’t enough of a wake up call for gamers everywhere, then it’s time to reconsider your stance on the validity of gimmick gaming. Our first look at the Wii had many of us rolling our eyes at the idea of shaking our bon-bons in front of our TV screens; but take another look under, beside, or on top of your entertainment center and what do you see? A Wii! On November 19, 2006 Grandmas and Grandpas all over the US were shimmying their way into retail centers to buy up the cheap hardware; and Nintendo made billions.

The hardcore audiences that loyally barnacled themselves to underside of Nintendo’s ship felt neglected as it seemed like casual gamers were getting the high-scale treatment on deck. Many of them, understandably bought up other systems in hopes of filling the void that Nintendo had left them, and the recent video game converts eventually left the Wii to dust and abandonment. Now the executives at Nintendo are left to count their money, and have no one to share it with. So what’s the next step? A new console, of course.

The next generation is here, though much later than normal, and Nintendo is tasked with regaining the loyalty of their broken-hearted fans. I won’t sugar coat it, Nintendo’s success balances on their ability to fulfill the fragile hopes of hardcore gamers and finally give what they’ve been asking for. Nintendo can’t hope to win grandma and grandpa back either, they’ve had their fun, and are probably realizing their mistake in purchasing the console in the first place. They have to take two steps forward and hope to quash the steady stream of fans entering the veins of Sony and Microsoft.

If you’ve been following the gaming feed, then you know that rumors have leaked about an upcoming console that may live up to the hype; but don’t get too excited, most of us saw this coming. Rumors point to HD graphics, powerful processors, backwards compatibility, and an intuitive game pad featuring dual joysticks and a gaming screen. Perhaps it’s too little too late for Nintendo. They are known for being one step behind in the most recent console generations, and I can’t imagine Microsoft and Sony not having prototypes in the works that will once again, put Nintendo in the dust. But gimmicks are Nintendo’s forte, and gaming is about getting you to spend your money, not make you happy.

Our very own Dawna Wood commented on the rumors by saying,

Personally, even if some of the reports about its power are true, it still won’t matter. Xbox’s userbase is too loyal and invested to hop over to Nintendo, and more or less is the same for PS3 buyers not to mention the millions who have already purchased a Wii. It’s far too late in the game for a new HD console…
I have to echo her sentiments, because I can’t imagine Nintendo being successful in using HD graphics as a ploy. When we think back on the most recent waves of consoles, we see a few areas where Nintendo has failed to produce. Outside of standard definition graphics the lack of easy-to-use controllers, online capabilities, built-in hard drive, and third party support are just a handful of the issues Nintendo has faced. It’s important for these issues to be resolved or the fans may leave them for good.
We’ve seen feeble attempts to support the classic controller, and then watched as it came crashing down. We watched as Nintendo laughably tried to emulate online interaction to no avail, and cringed when we watched the beauty of Super Mario Galaxy stretch across our flat screen TVs. But in my opinion nothing hurts worse than the lack of third party support for the Wii console. It’s unfortunate to see such great talent go to waste, but when your console doesn’t support HD graphics or provide a controller with logical and easy to use functions you run the risk of alienating yourself.
It’s a shame that Wii owners won’t be able to experience the Mass Effect trilogy, or watch the beauty of a sunset over the Tamriel skyline. There are great games on the Wii like Super Mario Galaxy or the Twilight Princess, but you will quickly notice that most of the top-tiered titles are games created by Nintendo and are sequels to increasingly stale IPs. Unfortunately for Nintendo, many gamers did experience the glory of Mass Effect and the Elder Scrolls and as a consequence Nintendo lost a steady cash flow from these dissatisfied gamers. Check out what SFX-360 writer, Stoney has to say about 3rd part support:
It’s a very much needed console for Nintendo. 3rd Party Development sucks on the Wii due to the Wii’s graphical limitations. Developers can port games from PC to 360 to PS3 with little effort and cost. Porting to the Wii is nearly impossible so a new game pretty much has to be made from the ground up. You can’t blame the controls for this difficulty because look how quickly Heavy Rain and other titles accepted new input from the Move controller.
People will always buy the latest Nintendo franchise releases, but without solid 3rd party titles to collect revenue from Nintendo is pretty much dead in the water right now.
Despite the Wii’s success with pushing out old franchises, we are starting to notice a trend of mediocrity in the quality of these games. Since the release of the Gamecube, Nintendo has only had one stand out IP, Pikmin; but what’s sad about this dilemma is that Nintendo is known for its brilliance in the creation of new game worlds and characters. Link, Mario, Donkey Kong, and Samus almost single-handedly made Nintendo a successful brand, but since their creation, Nintendo has done little to introduce new IPs.
The overarching theme here is that Nintendo has to focus on its games this time around by making their system easily accessible for developers and by offering new games for their audience. There is no doubt that if Nintendo manages to hit on all cylinders then we will witness a phenomenon. Nintendo is a name that sells itself; whether they are selling a console, a Mario game, or a wooden block, people have an affinity towards the name. Add on the updated specs of a current generation console and we may finally relive the competitive days of the SNES and the Genesis.
I’ve got a feeling that Nintendo has been planning this launch for a decade or more, and the Wii was simply a product created to pull in billions of dollars. If my theory proves correct, then Nintendo will launch their new console at a very affordable price despite it’s power. It has been confirmed that Nintendo will be showing their new system at E3, and not only will we see the capabilities, but it will also be playable. I would expect a price announcement, and a line-up of launch games by the end of the show. Only time will tell if my theories prove true.
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How Fable III Effectively Implements Choice

I’ve been hearing a lot of complaining lately about Fable 3 and how the game nosedives towards the end.  Most people say that they were upset because they were caught off guard by the quick turn-around after you become King of Albion. It broke the flow of the game for many as you were tasked with having to manage your income and make some tough decisions that would ultimately determine the outcome of the game. After reading an interesting article about how Fable 3 showed a player who he really was as a person, it confirmed some feelings I had about some great things that Fable 3 did.

I have an issue with many critics who clamor for change, and when it is served to them they want to spit it back out. In the case of Fable 3, I feel that not only did Lionhead Studios take the risk of trying something different, but they effectively implemented their new ideas into the gameplay. Our standard game presents choice to us in a way that is usually very predictable.  Fallout 3 and Mass Effect 2 both give you a choice of doing the good thing and gaining valuable help later in the story, or doing the bad thing and getting lots of money or spectacular items.  If you take the bad path you typically pull in just the right amount of dough in order to purchase the high leveled weapons faster, and if you take the good path you will earn the loyalty of powerful friends. Basically those games are offering you balanced gameplay so you are experiencing similar things in both playthroughs. This usually fans the “anti-complacent” flame in many critics and they shout that they are tired of these predictable outcomes and they want something that shocks them, or provides real consequences. Well that’s exactly what Fable 3 does.


At the end of the first part of Fable 3 you kill all of your evil, king brother’s soldiers and take the castle by force.  Upon completing this action you have successfully stepped up from your humble title of Prince and become Ruler of Albion.  What happens next is what is both shocking and unique; your brother tells you that an attack on your kingdom is imminent and that it’s coming in a year.  Your brother wasn’t evil for the sake of it, he was inducing child labor and high taxes to ensure that there would be enough money in the coffers to save Albion.  Whaddya know, an evil villain with legitimate reasons for his evil actions?  Who would have thought that could make sense?

From that point on you have to make some hard decisions about what to do in order to save your kingdom. You’ve spent the entire game making promises to people that you can either keep or break, and now that you are king you will be making those choices publicly. Generally if you decide to do the noble thing then it will cost you; in the same way that giving citizens a tax refund means that the government has to fork out some change. Making the bad decisions, like choosing to build a brothel instead of rebuilding an orphanage, usually means more money for you but it makes the citizens upset.  The dilemma comes when you have to decide to do the bad things in order to get the good results, or do the good thing but kill all of your citizens because you have no money. What does one do?

No game seems to have successfully captured this real life dynamic that actually makes an interesting story. Where most critics get caught up is in the part where they forgot to invest money in stores before they became king in order to make sure they had an income.  Unfortunately, when the darkness came knocking they didn’t have time to build up their capital, so they were faced with unforeseen circumstances and lost control. Brilliant if you ask me.

Fable 3 presents an idea that is rarely used in games and points out how unpopular decisions can sometimes be the most beneficial.  It catches you off guard and can potentially make the outcome of the game a little different then you might have expected.  Why then are we complaining about the way Fable 3 presents us with difficult decisions?  I know we all complain about how we have real problems in life that simply sneak up on us.  What do you do when you know your car is about to bite the dust? You can save money and run the risk of not have some of your immediate desires or needs, or you can assure that your bills are being paid but you may not be able to gather enough money by the time your car is dead. You may not even have a year to decide…it’s now or never. This is a prime example of a video game trying to relate to its players in a way that is unique to other games on the market.

If you are one of the people who is blasting Fable 3 for its change in pace, or for the way it shoves you into a sudden and important decision making that ultimately changes the game then I ask you to take a step back and reflect on the points I’ve made above. Are these really game-breaking mechanics, or are you demanding change so you can look like a progressive game critic?

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Dethroning a Giant: Battlefield vs Call of Duty

There have been few success stories as great as the one surrounding the Call of Duty series. Climbing from a pit of shooters to claim the top spot is no easy feat in this generation of gaming, but the Modern Warfare series has sold millions on the idea of chasing others around a small map and shooting their faces. Over the recent years Call of Duty has developed a new way of playing shooters that involves what most gamers like to call, twitch shooting. For some it’s all they need, for others it’s a poor excuse for exciting gameplay. I happen to fall into latter category, but it’s hard to deny that Call of Duty has a strong purpose and a high fun factor.

If the breaking up of Infinity Ward wasn’t enough of a reason for the demise of the Call of Duty series, a game called Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was another glimpse into the competition that the series would have to face. We all know that you can’t stay on top forever, but Activision is working hard to do it. Providing an addicting style of progressive gameplay and smooth graphics has soothed the itch that most gamers had after making straight A’s in Halo during college. I thought I had found heaven back in 2007 when Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare hit shelves.

I had never played Battlefield prior to Battlefield: Bad Company 2, but I had heard some rumblings when the first Bad Company made its way onto consoles. After watching some excellent gameplay footage I decided that Bad Company 2 was the game for me. Hours and hours later I found that I had discovered a shooter that rivaled the likes of Call of Duty. With more strategy and bigger maps, BF:BC2 provides a much more expansive gaming experience than its rival. Where Modern Warfare is built upon the idea of a one-man army and kill-streaks, Battlefield has a stronger focus on tactical gameplay and teamwork. If you go into a match and think you can rush the enemy with out the support of your teammates then expect to die much more than you kill. The style of combat and match pacing is a stark contrast to what we have become used to in this generation of first person shooters, and I believe that as the Call of Duty series grows stagnant and watered-down, Battlefield 3 will rise in its place.

What will it take for Battlefield to dethrone this giant? Are jets, vehicles, and bigger maps enough to chop COD off at the knees? Will the downfall of Infinity Ward send the Call of Duty series into an uncontrollable tail spin? I think it’s likely that all of these will factor into the fall from grace, but the biggest factor of them all will likely result from DICE’s new engine, Frostbite 2. This new engine is equipped to do almost everything that Battlefield: Bad Company 2 wanted to do, and everything Call of Duty wishes it could do. From dynamic lighting, to large-scale destructible environments, Frostbite 2 hopes to finally tap into the unreached potential that its predecessor was trying to reach. Rather than simply tearing down a building, you will large chunks of debris shooting from the side of a high rise followed by a plume of smoke and dust. Sounds have been upgraded too, making it a more believe experience even though you’re sitting in your living room. Sounds that are closer will typically be louder, while it will be easier to detect the direction of explosions whether they are far away or up close. Realistic movement will also be a key feature in Battlefield 3. Rather than watching character models move stupidly across the map, soldiers will have weight to their steps, and getting up from the prone position (which is making a comeback) won’t make it appear as if your character has spring-loaded knees.

When it comes to multiplayer, developer DICE realizes that they missed the boat on capitalizing on their success. It all came down to, “too little, too late” as they released their new maps and expansion Vietnam, about 8 months after release. In a recent interview with Game Informer (Bertz, 2011), executive producer Patrick Bach admits that “Bad Company 2 was a bigger success than we anticipated.” First hand experience showed me that even the servers were having a hard time keeping up with the massive amounts of players trying to connect to games. A poorly laid out system caused many hiccups and an inability to matchmake. Let’s also not forget how the game almost completely halts progress at about level 25 once you’ve purchased your final upgrade for each class. While the battle experience alone carried me through 80+ hours of online multiplayer, DICE could have given me so much more…and I would have paid for it!

So what are they going to do to fix it? The same interview with Game Informer (Bertz, 2011) highlights the team’s ideas to provide players with continuous progression that was made famous by the Call of Duty series. They may not be giving you fashion choices by allowing you to dress up your characters with make up and have the ability to paint your guns different colors and draw things on them, but DICE promises to use that same energy in the parts of the game that matter.

I enjoyed the class structure of Bad Company 2 despite a few unbalanced features in a couple of the classes. Being able to stick close to my team’s tank and keep it alive by repairing it gave me much more satisfaction than running into a crowded building and getting a triple kill. BC2 has a wide variety of classes that offer unique gameplay when compared to your typical shooter. One particular instance had me playing as the medic class in a game of Rush while attempting to hold off the advancement of the other team. In any regular game the offensive teams would have pushed right through our defense, and we would have been pushed back all the way back to the objective we were trying to defend. Thanks to my quick thinking and my defibulators, I crouched behind some sandbags and revived my teammates as they fell, allowing us to hold the line and defend the objective. It’s moments like these that make BF2 unique, and make it the reason why it will top the charts when Holiday 2011 comes around.

I can’t do the multiplayer enough justice when it comes to words, but Battlefield: Bad Company 2 re-energized my passion for first person shooters during a time when my interest was waning. If DICE is able to fix the issues that were present in BC2 then I think that we will have a blockbuster game lined up for late this year when Battlefield 3 takes the stage. So far I have complete faith in DICE and the talent that permeates the company. They have proven over the years that will dedication and passion, comes great results, and it will only get better from here.

Bertz, M., (2011, March). Battlefield 3. Game Informer, 215, 46-55.

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Mass Effect 2 Is Overrated.

When Mass Effect dropped in we were amazed at the experience that BioWare had presented to us.  We may have had a few gripes with the way combat was handled, or the complicating and tedious inventory system, but we were very satisfied with the world that had been created.  When Mass Effect 2 was announced and we were told that our end game save was important to the way we would experience the new adventure we wet our pants…or that was just me.  No game had successfully pulled off this mechanic, and if BioWare could tether our Mass Effect experience to our Mass Effect 2 experience, then surely this game would be the greatest we had ever played.

Sure enough, the game hit in January and many gamers, including myself, haven’t looked back since.  It was the best game I had played that year, and I seemed content to let it have that title for as long as 2010 was here.  Then Gamasutra recently posted their top 10 games of the year, and I was shocked to find that Mass Effect 2 was number 9 and was considered inferior to Bayonetta.  I thought, “Are you kidding me?  Here goes another group of cult followers who refuse to pick the ‘popular’ game.”  Then to my surprise, after reading up on their evaluation of Mass Effect 2, it struck me that maybe I was giving the game a lot more credit than it deserved.  Perhaps we all are.

What are your greatest assets?

There is absolutely no denying that Mass Effect 2 has an engrossing world, with complex characters, worlds, and story.  There are few games that know how to flesh out the characteristics of multiple races, and none of them do it quite as well.  When I walk up to a Krogan I know what to expect; he will be hot tempered, slow to trust, and strong.  A Turian will likely not trust me because humans are a newer race and haven’t earned much respect.  I also know that I’m going to be given a complex system of choices that will determine my outcome of my mission through three entirely separate games.   I can also expect to become attached to each one of my party members due to the in-depth quest system that requires me to gain or ignore the loyalty of my comrades.

When it comes to recent RPGs, the Mass Effect series is an original because they provide a unique experience that breaks many misconceptions that other developers had.  I’m beginning to think though, that we may be giving Mass Effect 2 the benefit of the doubt this year.  When we look at many other games that were released this year we can point out some glaring flaws of some otherwise enjoyable games.  Take Final Fantasy XIII for example, one glaring flaw that many critics had with the game was that it was painfully linear.  So linear in fact, that a majority of the maps only gave you a 10 foot wide walking space and consisted of no branching paths.  What makes Final Fantasy XIII so noticeably linear is the fact that it has a mini-map that makes it obvious that you don’t have much room for movement.  Take away that map, or put your focus on the surrounding scenery and you may quickly forget that you are at the mercy of those boundaries.  Mass Effect 2 makes the smart choice by leaving out the mini-map and allowing you to feel as if you aren’t as cramped as you actually are. Though you may be surprised to see that you are still on a fairly linear path, maybe even more linear than Final Fantasy XIII at times.  UH-OH!


Hope I don't get lost

We praise Mass Effect for the number of choices that it allows you to make, and how it allows you to tell your own story.  Dissecting this mechanic may make you realize that you don’t have as much driving power with the story as you thought you did.  It’s kind of like when you would sit in your parents lap with your hands on the steering wheel as they drove the car; you get a sense that you are turning the car right, or speeding the car up, when in fact the parent is doing all of the work.  The game allows you to cut down an NPC with your words, but you never really have much control of the story, and in the end most events are still going to play out the way BioWare wants them to.

I remember making some pretty big decisions in Mass Effect. *SPOILER ALERT* Based on my skills, I was able to talk Wrex down from his rampage and prevent any bloodshed in the first game.  It was nice to know that I would be able to see him in the sequel…for a few minutes!  Wrex ends up showing his face for a little while, sending you on a few quests, and reminiscing on old times; nothing close to what I was expecting.  I also decided to sacrifice Kaiden instead of Ashley so I could get my love on in Mass Effect 2.  To my surprise I was met with animosity and loathing rather than having the ability to add her to my team.  There were also quite a few people you could choose to help out in the first game…but be careful, your decisions have repercussions.  After choosing to help a few people, they decide to repay me by sending me a thoughtful email telling me how thankful they are for what I did.  Are you kidding?  That’s it!?  While all of these examples may be great ways to give players an emotional link to previous games, it doesn’t mean that Mass Effect offers content that is much more compelling than what’s already out there.

I hate you.

It may seem like I’m bashing Mass Effect 2 when in fact I’m not.  I think that Mass Effect 2 does some great things, and is pushing video games to a new level.  What I’m bashing is the praise that we give the game.  Even though it’s pushing games to a new level, it doesn’t mean that they are at that level yet.  We like to think that Mass Effect 2 has already taken us to a magical land where games in a series are effectively linked together and every person’s story is unique.  Taking a closer look can show us that it’s more of a facade, or a glimpse into the future.  I strongly believe that the fate of the series rests on the shoulders of Mass Effect 3, and how it combines your decisions in all of the games.  Perhaps I will be able to fail the entire game, or bring Wrex and Ashley along on the mission with me, or even kill them for the heck of it if I wanted to.  There just seems to be too much riding on the last game, and if Mass Effect 3 lives up to it, then it will be the best game of all time.

If there is any game that deserves game of the year it’s Mass Effect 2, and I’m giving it the title right now, forget what everyone else says.  Let’s just make sure we give it the proper amount of credit.

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