Gen-Next Thoughts in a Post-PS4 World

Is it too soon to be calling much of anything at this point? Perhaps. Do I still have very strong opinions on the future of gaming and the future of the industry as a whole? Absolutely. In fact, I feel that the unveiling of the PS4 is the ideal time to finally write up a bit on why I feel that consoles are playing to an inclusive audience and how the positioning of these consoles will more than likely cause the downfall of the modern games industry. But more on that.

The problem is both unfathomably complex and incredibly simple all at once. On one hand you have the concept of a game, something that is inarguably part of our (aka the 'developed' parts of the world) collective culture. Where there are people their is entertainment, where there is entertainment their is a media and within that you have games. Consoles came to fruition because hardware makers saw the amount of interest in games and moved to capitalize on the notion of bringing the arcade experience home. While certainly Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo have long since moved passed this mindset, I feel this point is absolutely still a valid one to make.

In this loose metaphor, the consoles are the arcades and the smartphone and tablets are the home video game consoles. The consoles are the bulky expensive dust gathering machines, while the smartphones/tablets bring that experience home just enough to be bearable. Obviously the timelines are far more accelerated and the hyperbole is perhaps overdone, but even still I honestly feel that the modern game console has more to learn historically from the arcade cabinet of the 70-80's than the home console of its day. Gaming consoles, despite their finest efforts will always be caddy-corned into the niche category of hardware. When a $70 box can play virtually any movie on the planet and a $500 tablet can do anything else, why would anyone want to spend just as much on a console that does both of those things 'OK' and in the wrong places? What the industry has succeeded in doing thus far is entrenching themselves on the wrong side of history, the 'Core Gamer'.

I like to think of modern console situation as a small unincorporated township of 8,000. A population of that size allows for all sorts of businesses, practices, and services to exist to a variety of customers and be fairly sustainable doing so. At the same time though this isn't a town that grows, its not nice enough for people to move in or bad enough to move away, it just works. The modern console is that, a small intensely loyal, if not stagnant, community of people who feed of each other. This is not a industry with growth, it is both exclusionary and alienating. This incestuous relationship between producer and consumer benefits no one. The loyal fanbase of Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo is going to buy whatever comes out, whatever box or service or game they put in front of them, their really is no such thing as marketing to that person in a wrong way. Those people are easy to impress, but what about the hundreds of millions of people who play games but who would never pick of a controller and sit down in front of a TV?

These are the people and Microsoft and Nintendo (pre-Wii U) targeted. The Wii and Kinect were the opening salvo of the diversification of consoles. These pieces of hardware introduced the concept of accessibility to the millions of non-console gaming players out there. And this is why in all likely hood Microsoft may very well come out on top in the next generation. That's hypocrisy you might say, how can you say that a unannounced unknown console will "come out on top"? Because by default, they have to, again, if one is to assume consoles are sustainable. It's clear to me that Sony and Nintendo have given up on non-console gamers. Clearly this is the case because of the continued focus on very traditional gaming experiences. Microsoft on the other hand has done its best to focus on everything else. They have created a controller free peripheral and they have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to bring a variety of video and music services to their services. Microsoft has given up on the core gamer for a reason.For several E3's past, the gaming media shuns Microsoft for focusing on non-gaming applications and services, yet in the U.S. the Xbox 360 continues to sell beyond the scope of traditional video game player. It has to be, because 8 years later, 'gamers' aren't walking into Best Buy buying their first 360, these are fringe buyers.

No to counteract this point I'll say that Microsoft still has the ability to completely screw the pooch just as well as anyone. For as much good will and brand recognition, they could just as easily loose through a iterative, unimpressive console launch this year. They will suffer the same fate as their competitors if they do not find more ways to make the Xbox the center of the living room. Otherwise, as previously stated the industry as we know it will not go away this year or the next, but slowly and surely, as the dedicated gaming audience grows up and grows out of games. It is already happening and the gaming industry needs to see that they are going to have to be far more creative to survive.

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Walking Dead

As I said in a status update, I feel like between Halo 4 and The Walking Dead I've experienced the entire spectrum of gaming story telling. One game is a multi-multi-million dollar game that attempts to humanize and long time icon. The other is a certainly far lower budget, episodic series about survival and zombies. By all accounts you would think that the AAA studio with infinite time and creative talent would be able to maybe bring a story to the table worth anything, but 343 should be a fucking ashamed of themselves considering that The Walking Dead accomplishes more than it did in the first half hour.

Now I understand, apples to oranges, but they are both linearly told story driven games with a lot of story to tell. Theirs no reason why a game like Halo fails so hard to get anywhere near the level of impact that TWD does. Not to say that its a flawless gem of a game, TWD fumbles in its execution of its core gameplay time and time again, and the games presentation and polish leave quite a lot to be desired, but I suppose its the fact that despite these dings that it somehow still manages to make you care about characters, something that is so incredibly hard to do.

I certainly have plentity of thoughts on the game and maybe I'll write something about it later, my point of this was to say that as someone who was COMPLETELY skeptical of this game before hand especially when a lot of different folks were spouting a lot of hyperbole, it really is worth experiencing and I hope that we get to see more of this level of consideration put into story telling/writing more often going forward.

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Halo 4 Thoughts

Since I am incapable on writing proper score-based reviews I'm going to write a bit about my ( slightly spoiler-filled) thoughts on Halo 4 having played through the campaign, Spartan Ops, and many hours of multiplayer.

You can say what you want about ODST, but it was a different Halo experience.

While it may be obvious, I feel it necessary to say that I am big fan of Halo. I was one of those 13 year old kids who played Halo 1 way before they should have and who played through the other games time and time again pouring hundreds of hours into multiplayer. So I was filled with a certain amount of trepidation when Bungie split away from Microsoft and it was announced that Halo would be transferred over to 343 (who at the time had not yet announced Halo 4). It felt like yet another Harmonix situation where the franchise they had birthed had been taken away from them so they could pursue other games. But since Bungie was contractually obligated to release two more Halo games they went and released (in my opinion) some of the most fulfilling Halo experiences thus far. ODST and Reach felt like Bungie pushing the Halo gameplay experience to its natural limits combining new atmosphere (in ODST) and expanding the sandbox with Armor Abilities (in Reach). I'm not going to say that I loved those game as much as 1-3, but as a fan it felt like a whole experience and a more importantly a love letter of sorts to fans giving them the most complete Halo experience possible.

As dismissive as it might sound, the announcement of Halo 4 was essentially looked at by me from Day 1 as more of a cash grab than a logical extension of Halos story. We had reunited the Covenant, defeated the Flood, and Master Chief was floating far off in space ready to be reawaken. Bungie did a decent job of leaving it open ended, leaving 343 with the duty of creating a wholly new experience. After playing through the Halo 4 campaign and most of the other ancillary content its hard for me to say that I feel like they lived up to that premise. Sure, we are exposed to the planet/structure of Requiem, sure we encounter a new enemy and threats, but how much of it is really 'new'? The Promethean enemies are just slightly more different than the Covenant and the weapons fall a bit too neatly into existing weapon archetypes than I would have liked.

These choices simply doesn't make sense, Halo 4 feels like a game made a in a vacuum, it unflinchingly keeps to the Halo gameplay that has always existed, providing very little new 'game'. Not to say that Halo 2 and Halo 3 were so vastly different from their predecessor but I feel like you can point to specific additions (dual weilding, online multiplayer, firefight, forge) as substantial additions to the Halo experience whereas Halo 4's additions merely feel copied from Call of Duty and Reach. If anything the worst thing I can say of Halo 4 is that it bored me. I felt like time and time again that I was simply doing the same things over and over again. Sure, the game is broken up by vehicle sequences and environments but so is EVERY Halo game since the beginning. Not to mention the fact that over the course of the game the majority of your objects are one of the following: 1) Push the button. 2) Activate this console (aka push the button) and 3) Put Cortana onto a podium (press the button). Halo 4 is without a doubt the most expensive green button pushing simulator we will probably ever get.

The other disappointment is the story and narrative overall. While I'm not going to sit here and say that Bungie is a perfect example of story tellers in games, at least their entries were understandable and didn't ask for previous knowledge of its fiction. I'm fairly certain theirs a unwritten writing rule that says if you audience has to go online in order to understand the minutia of your story than you've fucked up. The biggest credit I can give 343 is that they finally made good on Cortanas rampancy. It was something that Bungie nearly touched on, but didn't mostly out of the fact that it wasn't necessary. She is absolutely the star of the show, providing decent food for thought about the Master Chief and his cold nature. Is the 'relationship' between Chief and Cortana still a little weird? Yep, but atleast its handled well enough even if the final scene falls flat due to odd writing and delivery. If the goal of Halo 4 was to expose the more human side of Master Chief than I would say it only partially succeeded. He certainly talks more than in any previous Halo games and by virtue of that being the case we certainly get a little more personality, but not really, we're left with a person who is essentially unchanged after his experiences during Halo 4, the only changes being the fact that Cortana is supposedly gone.

As I believe the Giant Bomb crew have touched on already, Halo 4 feels like a stop gap. It feels like a safe 'feeling out' of 343. It barely takes any chances and leaves the game open to interesting places given the staple of Chief and Cortana seems up in the air. But that is exactly what the ending of Halo 4 feels like, up in the air. I don't feel like we have what you might want from a start of a new trilogy. The Composer (whatever the hell that is) is destroyed I guess, the Didact is presumed dead (sure he is) and Earth is seemingly safe. We don't have much to look forward to from a narrative stand point. You can say what you want about the Mass Effect series, but those games had a good through line in terms of what we could expect. We knew by the end of the first game that the Reapers were a real threat and they were coming. In Halo 4 were left with a uncertain future with nearly no real closure or mystery. And the Spartans Ops missions that I had hoped might provide back story or atmosphere boil down to tiny bite-sized missions devoid of either. They are so inconsequential that I can't honestly recommend them to anyone.

So I suppose on one hand I'm interested in what the future of the series holds and on the other it disappoints me that even a all-star development team like 343 was not able to add anything of meaning to Halo. I would love it if the series could really become something that I'm genuinely interested in again, but if Halo 4 is any indication its going to take a lot to get there.

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Game....Bomb?

While I have a fairly similar post on GameSpot, I wanted to give a more Giant Bomb focused post to codify my thoughts on today's news. Firstly, as someone who has literally been listening to these guys in my ear (sounds a bit weird when you put it that way) for nearly a decade its obviously a bit crazy to see this predicament unfold as it did. I maintain that the 2003-2007 era of GameSpot are its absolute prime, and the height of its community. Again, I'm slightly biased as I grew up messing around on GameSpots message boards during the Lithium days (and beyond), and saw the site become far more modern and content heavy, producing Lets GameSpot, On the Spot, and the HotSpot respectively, in addition to the various editorial content that has existed since the beginning. All the while I was getting more and more familiar with the folks who have been a part of the Giant Bomb for the last 3 years.

 This is a appropriate image to break up all this damn text. I think.

The formation of the site seemed natural after Jeff exited GameSpot so abruptly in 2007. It become more and more apparent that he had more to say outside of the confines of the website he had more or less helped create. Their was definitely the feeling at the time that Giant Bomb would become the bastion of stupid video game journalism. It was the exodus of GameSpot staff however that was truly the nail in the coffin for me. Some of the absences were not a result of his firing, but none the less, the loss of many of those key personalities made my 'choice' (as if it was a life changing affair) fairly easy. Giant Bomb felt very much like these guys were finally able to be the idiots they always wanted to be, building a website and tone that they wanted to, not beholden to any particular master. While the whole prospect did come off as self indulgent at times the truth of the matter is, much of the appeal of Giant Bomb was to see if it really possible to strike out like that and make it work, a small group of industry vets going out on their own and covering their industry their way. 
 
In some ways today's announcement cements that the answer to that is, "sort of?" Obviously Whiskey Media as we know it today is no more. Many of the folks we associate with Whiskey Media have been split between GameSpot and BermanBraun respectively. What we have learned is that this particular venture was not able to capture a large enough audience to be sustainable. Its apparent by the year membership drives, Giant Bombs planned world tour, and their partnership deals that they have tried time and time again to make the sites work financially. Since I would imagine Giant Bomb represents the majority of its user base its sad to see this come to pass, but it also a realistic truth and is why I have supported them financially, because I believed in what they are doing.
 
Suffice it to say I will continue to do so, as many have said already, Giant Bomb will either be able be allowed to be who they are or not. Their is really no grey area here. My worry is that much of the flavor that made them who they are will be lost in translation. More so it is that the forces that are beyond their control (aka CBS) will decide that the overlap and style of content is no longer appropriate. Of course, I have no idea what the future holds, and as the adage goes, time will tell, but I'll be following the guys until I've got a reason not to.
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Wiki'd

The Giant Bomb wiki is something that I care a lot about. As someone who slips in and out of the top 100 contributors to the site, I am constantly adding images, release, dates, credits, and misc details to various games old and new. This is not some sort of grandstanding comment as it is a description of the type of 'wiki work' I contribute to the site. As someone has been doing this going on 4 years now (sheesh) it frustrates me to see things that I commented on at that time have not been changed much at all.

Sure, no one will argue that Giant Bomb as a website hasn't gone through important UI/usability changes since 2008, and that many features have been introduced that have helped users discover pages and content. However, as I remarked at the very inception of the site, I feel that the wiki aspect of the site will always been overshadowed by the obviously more important personality aspect. People go to Giant Bomb because they like listening to the guys opinions. On most other video game databases/wikis their is rarely a editorial voice. Not that I am suggesting that Giant Bomb should drop this aspect, but that I consistently wonder what the place of Giant Bomb is when websites like MobyGames clearly have a far more in-depth database. Very rarely have I gone to Giant Bomb to look up a game. Why? Because 99% of the time, that information is found elsewhere. The 'exclusive' content comes from videos and podcasts. If anything most of my activities with Giant Bomb revolve around me bringing in data/images, etc to the site. Not that I have any statistics to back this up, but I would imagine that less than half of the games listed on Giant Bomb contain images, a deck, release date, and some type of summary.

Now, what can be done about this? Obviously I can't say for sure, but as I have said before I would like for the wiki tools themselves to be overhauled quite a bit first. For power users, things like entering credits and release information could be far easier than it is. Their are also a lot of questions I still feel like have been left unanswered since day 1. What kind of voice should I write in? Where is the style guide? What is a example of a ideal page?

To their credit Giant Bomb is a far better organized and designed database than any other, but that doesn't mean it can't be better.

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343 Problems and Halo is 1

I feel like every time I 'check in' with 343 Industries, they have both cemented, and completely destroyed my confidence in their handling of future Halo games.

Nostalgic? Sure. The best? Debatable.

As Halo Anniversary is their latest project, I have done similar levels of flip-flop-ery there as well. You essentially have what any self respecting fan has wanted for a years, a big ol' visual update to the most well-recalled entry in the series, Halo: CE. Now, as one who played through that game hundreds of time and has played it several more since then, its interesting to see how much of a outlier Halo 1 really is, ten years later, and how this re-release is indicative of the future of Halo as a franchise.

For anyone who really played Halo 1 as much as I did, making the jump to Halo 2 felt a bit like night and day. The feel of Halo 1 would never be replicated wholly again, mostly because of the time and circumstances of its development. Many of the gameplay systems we think of with Halo today (regenerating health, dual wielding, equipment/armor abilities, lunging melees) were either non-existent or quite different. Halo 1 was so different because it didn't have the same types of ambitions. Halo 1 has a almost Star Wars: A New Hope vibe, by creating a experience with a full beginning, middle, and end (with a big explosion), all while telling a pretty straight-forwward story. No one had any clue the game would become as popular as it did, so it wasn't designed to be some kind of first entry in a long running series. This isn't me saying that Halo 1 is the penultimate Halo, no, in fact in terms of raw gameplay last years release of Reach is by far the most interesting Halo game developed (next to ODST), but again, in retrospect it stands alone in its gameplay and story.

Halo 1 as you remember it.

And this is exactly why I find the upcoming release of Halo Anniversary so confounding. 343 (via Saber Interactive) has decided to painstakingly recreate the Halo campaign as it might appear today, but nothing else. You have a series that has changed a lot from a gameplay perspective over the past 10 years, yet at no point is the game updated with the clear advances that have come since then. Oh, yes, because its sacred 'classic Halo', even though 'classic Halo' is very much stuck in 2001. Part of this is a 'get-off-my-lawn' argument, the other is to say that the way Halo needs to stay relevant is to change, dramatically. We live in a decidedly post Call of Duty world where your not a modern shooter if you don't have sprinting, player progression, iron sights, and 'gritty realism'. Halo simply does not hold the cache that it once did (mostly because its not the new shit), but you can't really fight the cultural movement that is CoD. So how does Halo change? By not being Halo.

343 needs to take a page from Bungie and know when its time to leave it be, they need to have the foresight to see that what Halo needs is another Halo 1, a game that changes the way think of console shooters (in this case, Halo shooters). Now, perhaps the game that comes out of it will be a game that people do not know they want, but people did not have huge expectations for Halo: CE when it was released 10 years ago either, so perhaps 343 should try to defy their corporate ties and take a chance on Halo. Now of course, they never will, because that is essentially financial seppuku, but as stewards of the Halo series I would love them to reinvent what a Halo game is, to push the genre forward in a meaningful way, like its forerunner did (pun intended).

Suffice it to say of course I will be interested to see what the folks at 343 do with Halo. Right now they are behaving in a very Microsoft-ian way, latching into and tugging the heartstrings of every aspect of a universe that they had little to do with, but for better or worse they are Halo and are pushing Halo forward, and its a job that I do not envy in the least.

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'Splosion Redux

The term "putting lip-stick on a pig" pig seems appropriate, but I digress.

Since I have had a blog entry for quite some time I'll try to do what I do best, complain/rant about things! This time the apple of my proverbial eye is the recent release of Ms Splosion Man. What puzzles me about this is that I can recall a few days before, probably when GB posted their quick look that I said to myself "Man, I remember how much Splosion Man kind of pissed me off, this looks exactly the same, too bad." Yet here I am, played it and am probably a bit more than halfway through it and low and behold it is and it is. They have certainly upped the production values of the game, but you would like to think so, right? It is not even evolutionary, much like its protagonist it is simply a (kind of) prettied up version of the original. If you enjoyed the merciless trial and error gameplay of the original than brother are you in luck because it is here in full force.

As mentioned by many, Ms Splosion Man is difficult not in what it asks, but under what conditions. Even after hours of playing I never feel 100% certain of the characters movement and general physics. Due to puzzle design many times it does not come down to real creative puzzle solving, but simply moving precisely where you should be and figuring it as you are flung from room to room with little time to consider what it happening. That seems like a old man complaint, but their were simply too many times when it boils down to reacting, lead to countless checkpoint restarts. Additionally, insta-death is everywhere and few rooms do not contain some way for you to meet your demise. Certainly Mario and Sonic games contain their fair portion of these, but they had arguably more tight control and only in much later levels asked you to be so precise. Splosion Man does this from the start and if anything it acts on it like a crutch. Though it certainly doesn't help that I am about the most impatient gamer imaginable, the first games lack of checkpoints between protracted gameplay set-pieces is another aspect puzzlingly left intact. I pretty much despise backtracking and replaying sections, so for me anything that causes that kind of roadblock pretty much makes me want to stop playing immediately.

So in conclusion, or the too long did not read version: DId you like Splosion Man? Then that's how your going to feel about this, Twisted Pixel has done little to fix its flaws and in the process released something that only somewhat quenches the thirst of its fans.

2 Comments

Water #3!

If you've been swept up in the frenzy that is the Giant Bomb quest thing, then you know exactly what's up. Needless to say I can't wait for more game related quests to be added to the site (because really who wants to recommend reviews all day?). Sure, some of them seem a bit too left-field for my tastes....RPG-Scavenger...but overall it's been really fun seeing the Giant Bomb community spring into action and try to help everyone else figure out what was up. 
 
Here are some general hints if you have yet to jump in (which, honestly I doubt, still):

  1. If you can't find the first of a particular quest try thinking for generally about the info....
  2. As weird as it may be, think of recent quick looks, coverage, conversation relating to some quests, you'll figure it out.
  3. And finally...trying to finish off the Globe-Trotter quests? Good luck, seriously, those things are NUTS. Give the forums a visit and of course, the search bar is your friend.
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Alliteration!

Trust me the title will (sort of) make sense in due time...

He's irked about the campaign too.
 
So obviously I've been back from school for a week now and I've pretty much gone through the two games I had 'waiting for me': ODST, and Brutal Legend since then. Very different games, but both very interesting in their own ways. Maybe I'll be able to write out more detailed thoughts on Brutal Legend at some point, but suffice it to say I tend to agree with what the folks at Giant Bomb have to say about the game.  Barring said thoughts, as much as I enjoy the artistry and characters of the world I can't shake the feeling that Double Fine managed to make a single player game that is basically a gloried tutorial for the multiplayer. It's a odd thing to say, but honestly that's how I feel and like I said hopefully I can put some of my thoughts into some kind of review...post...thing...
 
Anyway, the other B related topic is ye ol' backlog, no not my list here on Giant Bomb, but my backlog of games I need to go back and really play. If theirs anything that I've realized, as completely crazy and OCD as websites like Backloggery are they cement one very important and inescapable truth: people need to stop and smell the roses. I'm not saying every game everyone owns is worth revisiting to the fullest, but the fact that I've got 20 odd games that I have not even beaten yet is kind of telling, at least for me. That said, now that I've kind of gone through my two new releases I'm going back through Mass Effect to finally get a character that I might, say, carry on to Mass Effect 2 and get some points in the process. So yeah, give your collection a look at if you haven't already, might be surprised.
 
With that little PSA out of the way I guess I'm out.
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And the prize for geekiest purchase of the day goes to...

Honestly, I'm really not about going "hey look at this cool thing that I got", but, uh, got this in the mail the other day:
 

 
My solace in the purchase of the soundtrack is mostly that it has all the music from original Gold/Silver as a third disc. Otherwise I kinda don't want to listen to the new music since the US release has yet to happen. 
 
Right.
 
Otherwise, looking forward to playing some games over the break that I missed out on these past few months. This time around that  lists include: Brutal Legend, Halo 3: ODST, and (maybe) The Ballad of Gay Tony. That's enough for me and besides, my Backlog grows ever larger and more formidable looking by the day.
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