Mass Defect

Finally, I completed Mass Effect 1, 2 & 3. However, even with free downloadable "extended ending", I have the say that the conclusion to the series was absolute rubbish.

Without spoiling anything, the designers of Mass Effect give you 3 choices at the end of this incredibly long, multi-game journey. Just before the final decision in the game, I put it on pause and ended up looking up each of the endings via the internet. I have to say that I find them all quite repugnant and I easily came up with a perfectly viable fourth solution that would end the series with everyone happy. (Minus the bad guys, of course.)

Life does not always go how we like it, but why would anyone want to continue that trend in a self-created virtual universe designed to bring enjoyment? Over a period of time, I invested 180 hours into this delightful series, taking great care to solve every mission to my satisfaction, helping the denizens of this game universe to survive and so forth. The pattern of the whole series was one of obtaining a negative outcome, a neutral outcome or a positive outcome. (Positive outcomes being something that you had to work harder for.) It seems like a slap in the face by the creators of Mass Effect, when they suddenly divert from this in the final moments of the series, forcing players to choose one of three unsatisfactory endings, which do not reward one for their hard work in the least.

So which ending did I go with? None of the above. I force-quit the game, refusing to accept the inane choices they offered. I realize that there is a trend, where people like to avoid happy endings, because they are predictable, but I worked hard to earn a "good ending", and it was entirely feasible, had they thought their story through better.. Mass Effect 3 was an excellent game, just like the others in the series, but at the end of the journey, all it left me with was the taste of ashes in my mouth.

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Transparently Artificial Experiences

I really hate it when a game uses obvious, contrived methods to force the story along. Take the beginning of Mass Effect 3 for instance. An enemy is running away, you're supposed to catch them, and the story dictates that they cannot be caught. I'm fine with that, but the whole idea that they are immortal pisses me off. Developers should not break the rules of reality simply to force along a scenario. Rather, I would have the enemy evade more skillfully, place objects in your path and so forth. Instead, we get an enemy that we can catch up to, easily tackle, shoot a thousand times, use "psychic" biotic powers to make them float and they are magically immune to all of them. To top it off, when the "good guys" evacuate to their ship, enemy fleet all around, taking their time and walk slowly.

Things like that really take one out of the game, by reminding them that they are at the mercy of the game designer and have no real say in the matter. When all suspension of disbelief is removed like this, it annoys me. I may as well be watching a movie.

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Regressive Game Design?

Most of us who were involved in gaming in the 1990s, will likely remember the whole blood/violence debate, which seemed to be started by Mortal Kombat. It was around this time that game publishers worked to get a rating system in place, so that we could be made aware of various aspects of the in-game content. Did the game have foul language, violence or nudity? How much did it have? This was a step in the right direction, when it came to assisting the customer in making decisions that they could be happy with. In addition to ratings systems, many developers did something else, something that they seem to have fallen out of doing. Companies used to give us in-game options.

At one point, it was not uncommon to see various toggles in the options menu of a game. Be it an on/off switch for blood and gore or a profanity filter. I'm not going to debate whether it is right or wrong to have violence, or nudity in games, or if swearing is something we should just accept. I do think that giving people a choice in the matter was an excellent move on the part of developers.

Just an example: Imagine seeing a game hyped for several months, salivating at the excellent storyline, graphics, gameplay options, etc... and then as the game neared release, you notice the ratings description. "Strong Language". Just exactly how strong and frequent does that indicate? Now let's say that you have kids and your preference is to discourage them from swearing. Obviously, you would not want them to hear it in your gaming experience, as that would be almost endorsing that which you have told them to avoid. Do you take the simple route and just use headphones? What if headphones mean that you may not be able to hear them when they are home, as they block out all extra sound? Wouldn't it be great to have an option in the settings of the game to simply *bleep* out those offending words?

It seems like shame to see so much potential enjoyment in a game, only to have it stopped by one item that you feel strongly against. People should be allowed to have preferences, standards and moral convictions. We cannot expect developers to cater to all moral preferences, but I don't see why they wouldn't in cases where it's not difficult to do and there are enough people who would appreciate such a choice. As the voices died down and rating systems came into effect, did game publishers and developers decide to cut costs and stop implementing these options?

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Revisionary Dreamcast

I simply adore my Sega Dreamcast, but there are areas in which it could have been improved. To be fair, many of these points are easier to see now, in hindsight, but Sega could have seen some of these "issues" beforehand. I did, and I'm sure I wasn't alone.

First, the controller:

  • Dual analog sticks. The Playstation did it already, so it seems odd that Sega would not follow suit. They really help when it comes to camera control.
  • Buttons. The Sega Saturn controller had two more buttons than the Dreamcast. The six button layout proved excellent with both the Genesis and the Saturn, yet they opted for a more Super Nintendo/N64 layout. Quite odd. I would have left the buttons in.
  • The cable. I've never seen a controller with the cable coming out of the bottom and now I see why. It's rather annoying, getting in the way, and reducing the distance you can have from the console. Fortunately though, Sega was at least wise enough to put a little divot near the bottom front, which can "grab" and hold the cable as if it was at the front. This makes this only a minor issue.

The system:

  • The Fan. It is simply too noisy and they could have easily used a more quiet model.
  • The VMUs. Not everyone wanted to play the mini-games on their memory cards and when the two batteries ran out, the VMU would emit a high-pitched beeping sound on the system startup. You really should not have to physically cut the cable to the VMU speaker as the only other way to avoid this. Put in a warning beep on/off function!!
  • Copy protection. The PlayStation had it. The Saturn included it. ...yet for some reason Sega decided to forgo any real copy protection for their system. Result? Most games were so easy to copy, that anyone could get free games instead of paying for them. Stupid.

The release:

  • The date. I know that Sega was in a bit of a bind with the Saturn not doing so well, but even then I was telling people that Sega's decision to release a new system before the competition was a mistake. Sega should have noted how starting before Nintendo in the 16-bit era, proved detrimental in the end, as it gave their rivals the chance to release shortly afterward, with superior hardware. (...or at least superior in Graphics/Sound.) They made this error with the Saturn as well, and rushed it out of the gates to try and beat Sony to the stores, but the Dreamcast release was an even greater error. Had Sega played possum, and waited until the PlayStation 2 was finalized, they could have increased the specs for their system (which admittedly were still somewhat comparable), but there is another more vital hardware upgrade they could have went with...
  • DVD. Had Sega simply waited, they would have seen the rise in popularity of DVDs. The Japanese would have purchased Dreamcasts for use as DVD movie players, and instead of a mere 1.2GB of storage on GD-ROMs, they could have had up to 8.7GB of storage for their games.

Again, I feel that I must point out that I believe the Dreamcast to be one of the best systems I've owned, but I can't help but feel that Sega's fall from the hardware market could have been avoided, had they simply considered their steps more carefully...

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R.I.P. Old "Friend"

Even though I replaced the thermal paste a good while back, my 60GB PS3 yellow lighted today. None of the on-line tricks worked to get it going again. I took it apart, got my Gran Turismo 5 disc out and ordered a new 160GB slim model. I still have a recent backup for my GT5 save, but most of my other save backups were fairly old. Somewhat frustrating is that, I was a good portion into Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, had unlocked a lot of stuff in Mortal Kombat, but the real annoyance will be that I have to go through Resident Evil 4 again on normal and professional modes. (Not to mention Separate Ways.) I never got around to doing the "Mercenaries" and the "Assignment Ada" modes...

Yet, it could have been a lot worse, as I still have my 500GB HDD to swap into the new model. The new system comes with a free copy of Modern Warfare 2, and I can sell that along with one of my old controllers, the new 160GB drive, and various parts from the old 60GB unit.

I had some good times playing on that system, which was purchased used in 2008. (Six years old as it was a launch console.) The PS2 backwards compatibility won't be too missed, as I never found the HD upscaling to look quite as nice as the games did with a real PS2 on a CRT television. Thanks old "buddy", you did good.


Resident Evils

Slowly, I begin to adjust from the Resident Evil 4 style of gameplay to the original Resident Evil way of things. (GameCube remake.) It was jarring at first, given that you can't simply shoot everything in sight, but I'm getting better at moving around zombies, and have finally picked up the lighter for burning their corpses. Just wish I knew exactly how I'm supposed to use the C-stick to dodge. While I have played through some of the PS1 release, I must say that I am disappointed that the ribbon/typewriter system is still in use. It's certainly manageable, and makes sense from a certain gameplay perspective, but having limited saves makes for some inflexibly awkward situations when real life calls... :-( Still... I'm starting to enjoy things. Between RE1 sessions, I've been alternating with Smash Cars for the PS3, which isn't that bad a game either, and makes for a nice change of pace.

Now if only the jerks on eBay would stop selling GameCube component cables at such terribly inflated prices, things would be perfect.


Rainbow Six: Vegas 2

 Finished Rainbow Six: Vegas 2.  Once again the silenced P90 and G3 w/ Scope prove to be a winning combination; plenty of ammo for up close and some nice stopping power/accuracy for taking out ranged opponents.

They give you the option of customizing your character, and you can even choose gender, which was a pleasant change of for a game like this.  In some ways, I felt that the story lacked the substance of the first, and the levels were certainly more varied in Vegas 1, but the gameplay was there, and I ended up thoroughly enjoying it.   
You can play through the story with a friend in co-op mode, and given the chance to do this, I would play through it again.