GTA Online: Fun Will Cost You

Grand Theft Auto 5 is chocked full of mundane, archaic, or otherwise ill conceived gameplay design. This is not a new or novel criticism of the game. The GTA series has long featured clunky mechanics and missions that we've tolerated in order to soak in the brilliance of the worlds Rockstar creates. We guide our likable yet usually completely schizophrenic and sociopathic heroes through a long phalanx of increasingly tiresome fetch quests and gangland hits to see their tales through. All the while, the world churns and pulses in the periphery, taunting with potential chaos as you nab yet another whip from yet another buster.

This is precisely why I was supremely excited about GTA Online. For the first time we were getting the chance to sink our nasty, sociopathic claws into a huge, breathtakingly realized world and tear to messy, delightfully chaotic pieces with our friends! Madcap shenanigans in a game never had more promise. I was eager to see how far I could launch a motorcycle off a mountain; to jump off of as many skyscrapers as I could; to throw sticky bombs on my friend's car, blowing it up just in time to watch the flaming wreck clear a bus stop full of pedestrians and crush a row of parked cars just beyond; to run headlong into traffic, jump at the last minute and watch gleefully as my blonde-corn-rowed absurdity of an avatar did so many rag dolled cartwheels right to St. Peter's pearly gates.

That'll be $1,000, please.

Imagine my disappointment when I found out that every death, every bullet fired, every mission failed to hijinks in GTA Online costs my denizen of Los Santos hard earned cash. Death penalties in the single player mode are expected and softened by the absurd mountains of cash thrown your way. Honestly, it's baffling more than anything else. Why punish players for the very style of freeform, chaotic gameplay your game is best at? This quandary is doubly baffling when you consider that the gameplay modes on offer you're rewarded for are a collection of unimaginative deathmatches and races that are serviceable at best and boring slogs at most probable. You're looking at wallowing away a few unrecoupable minutes of your life either racing around mostly dull chunks of the map where an unlucky bit of traffic can spell your doom or duking it out in a deathmatch shootout that is nestled in a broken system.

The deathmatch in GTA Online has a positive feedback loop built into the core weapon-unlock system. Don't let the happy name fool you, a positive feedback loop in this situation is a very bad thing. Players with more money can afford better weapons to start with, thus making it easier for them to earn more money by doing well in competitive modes, etc, ad nauseam. You can earn money by completing missions, of course, but the idiotic matchmaking system means that unless you're rolling with a crew willing to do them with you, your odds of matchmaking some teammates are essentially nil. This leaves you doing a bunch of simple missions for the some of the characters from the single player games, wondering why you're even bothering, especially when large chunks of your solitarily-earned dough will disappear like the wind when you return to free roam and the inevitable griefer comes to murder you time and again.

Cars you'll only afford by avoiding human contact.

This free roam wallet drain turns what should be a fun an chaotic mosh pit into an exercise in traipsing carefully though the city, avoiding other players as much as you can. Let that sink in. A game/game mode with "online" right in the title in which most of the time it greatly behooves you to avoid people. If you ask me, this is Rockstar asking us to avoid fun and therefore I will be avoiding GTA Online until they realize they're standing on their game's neck.

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Google Fiber is shaking things up.

I live in Kansas City, and Google's gigabit fiber internet service rollout is in full swing. The way they're installing it and paying for infrastructure is pretty cool. You have two options, you can either sign a two year service agreement for one of their high speed packages or you can pay a $300 dollar infrastructure fee and get internet at current standard speeds for free for 7 years (the $300 can be split up over a year of monthly bills if you'd like). They're taking pre-registrations right now by neighborhood. Each neighborhood has to hit a certain percent of residents registered in order to greenlight the service for that area; the percentage varies depending on the amount of work required to update that area. The cool thing is that once a neighborhood has fiber, Google is going to offer free internet to libraries, schools, and other public/community organizations.

This has the other telecoms companies around here absolutely shitting their pants. I've been hearing that they're going door to door in already greenlit neighborhoods trying to get unwitting people to re-up on their old 2-year contracts and cutting deals - all in the hopes of locking them down before they hear about Google's insanely better deal.

I live in the ghetto so the odds of my neighborhood getting fiber is slim, sadly. Imagine what a gigabit up and down would be like! Imagine what that'd do for gaming if everyone had that kind of connection! It's kind of torturous being so close yet so far from that kind of speed.

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Scripting, frustration, and fun in Saints Row the Third

For the most part I'm having a blast with SR3, however I'm finding that scripting and/or poor communication has been leading some some serious frustration on certain missions. Some examples:

On the the first Snatch mission I kept clearing out the Morningstars and then getting in my car, thinking the hos would get in. I honked, I drove up next to them , I tried getting out to see if I could interact with them, all to no avail. Morningstar reinforcements would arrive in increasingly large waves and I'd fail the mission. As it turns out, I was supposed to use what is at all other times the taunt button to call the hos into my car. The game did a really poor job of communicating this. Not only was this a singular instance of a change in control scheme, meaning the player is not conditioned to find this solution, but the prompt informing you about it appears in small text on the screen for about 5 seconds during a sequence where you are required to be actively engaged in shooting and never reappears.

During the escape from the strip club/your first encounter with STAG, Shaundi's scripting repeated and reliably slowed me down to the point where completing the escape driving sequence was impossible, since the game's systems punish you for being slow with significantly increased enemy presence. I tried time and again to complete the mission, cursing Shaundi the whole time until out of pure frustration I left her behind, running in circles in the middle of a STAG clusterfuck, unable to decide if she wanted to pick up a laser gun or get in a car. To my surprise, I was able to finish the mission without penalty.The mission I'm currently gritting my teeth at is the convoy decoy one where you fly the STAG jet. A specific group of ground targets seem to be mysteriously mostly impervious to the jet's laser. Sometimes I can damage them, most of the time I cannot. This fact seems to be unrelated to altitude, angle, area shot, and I'm at a loss. Again I'm increasingly assaulted by STAG forces the longer I hover trying to figure out how to blow up these fucking satellite-dish-having-box-base-motherfuckers.

I think this is very instructive as to how important difficulty must feel fair and related to player skill. I have died a good number of times other than those listed above, but the frustration of broken systems made bare is unmatched. I understand that this is an open world, and that a significant amount of jank is to be expected, but things like invincible enemy NPCs and poor communication of essential gameplay information should be exceptions. This post is a testament to the importance of this. There is so much goofy awesomeness in SR3 that I really enjoyed, yet here I am blathering on about scripting and frustration.I'm looking forward to spending more time with SR3, even if I'm not looking forward to facing those damn invincible boxes again.

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Effective Character Design

Last night I played through the demo for Enslaved: Odyssey to the West and in roughly 10 short minutes I was sold on the game. The thing that really cinched it for me was the character design and he quality of the acting/facial animation. It's weird because I'm one of those guys that always touts gameplay mechanics, revolutionary art design and high-falutin' concepts over all else and this game didn't seem to have any of those.  From what I could tell in my short time with the game, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West plays a lot like a later day Prince of Persia game and it's general art direction isn't anything particularly original.  
There's just something about Monkey that is incredibly likable. He's got the standard protagonist-tough-guy gravelly voice, but it's one of those rare times that it doesn't seem forced. He's got the standard action-game-overly-muscular build, but he's hunched over in a stroke of gestural genius that implies all the trappings of his character that need to be there in order to make him fun to play. This slight scoliosis immediately tells you this guy is beastial, savage, and willing to tear anyone in his way a proverbial new one. The animators also totally nailed the wild-eyed agressive look that you'd expect such a man to have when battling giant death-dealing mechs. Trip, the woman who fitted monkey with his slave-headband and the other lead character, has the perfect doe-eyed expression when Monkey threatens to pulverize her in the demo's closing scene. All this leads to scenes that are engaging and fairly believable. 
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West may not have much new to offer in the way of gameplay, but it's solid characters left me wanting to take the trek anyway.

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A Short Hello

Today marks the turning of a new leaf with Giant Bomb. I threw some hard-earned cheddar at this site this morning and with that monetary commitment, I made a personal commitment as well: To be more engaged in the GB community. I've followed this site from literally day one, as many here have, and have always admired the creativity and energy of the community here.  Today's the day I start contributing to that.  
 
Hello future friends, my name is Andy and I've got cool shit to show you in the coming days, weeks and years.

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