The Diablo III Launch: A Split Fault

Diablo III is brilliant.

It's what we've waited twelve years to play: click your mouse a bunch, murder monsters in gory fashion, and collect loots of randomly assorted colors to one-up your friends and become an unstoppable wrecking machine. It accomplishes every one of those goals fantastically...except for the part where you can barely play the game.

It's no surprise at this point that the launch is a touch-and-go experience, with many becoming "internet rage" infuriated with the constant disconnections and server instability that they have been trying to run uphill against. Within all of that internet rage, the blame is shifted in one hard direction - towards Blizzard. Meanwhile, none of those people throwing their self-entitled ramblings at the developer/publisher do not seem to be lobbing a healthy handful of that chaw they are spitting back at themselves.

That's right. Blizzard isn't the only one at fault here. You are as well.

"How is it that I'm at fault?" Quite simply put, this game is being released feature-incomplete because people continued to beg and beg for its release, even going so far as to say "I don't care if the PvP isn't in it - just release it finally". Sure, Blizzard threw a closed beta out there some four or five months ago that they've been working with, and they had one big open beta weekend to stress test. However, the information that a company gets from a beta still cannot be accurate. How many people playing in that open beta? I can guarantee it wasn't 3.5 million people, which is the projected number for first-day sales of the game.

3.5 million people...worldwide...logging into the same servers...at the same time. I don't care what size your server farm is, even if you've been running the #1 MMO in the world for the last seven years in a row. As a company, you can NEVER be prepared for what is coming. The best you can do is try, hope for the best, and when the issues arise, get them fixed as soon as possible in order to give your customers what they want: some play time.

Blizzard is doing just that. It's not as though this game launched and then every employee took off to the Bahamas, hauling a bag of gold from their basement in each hand and sipping on daquiris in the shade while laughing maniacally. They are still at their desks, working, trying to fix the problems while they are verbally berated by thousands upon possibly millions...

...because you asked for them to finally release the game...feature-incomplete...for your amusement.

There are things that could've made this go easier, sure. They could've done some of the following:

  1. Launched servers based on a time zone basis, thereby preventing immediate overload on the servers due to massive and instant interaction with their servers by millions of people by launching everything all at once.
  2. Had a longer open beta to work out many of the Battle.net bugs as well as the Diablo III bugs, since Battle.net is an interlocked system and a fickle bitch about it.
  3. Delayed the game again in order to ensure a feature-complete product gets released through digital distribution and brick-and-mortar stores that could potentially not have all of these problems.
  4. Include an offline mode (StarCraft II has an option for this).

Unfortunately, all of those have negatives that go against it:

  1. Launching on a time zone basis would mean that 1 million would log in, followed by another million...and another million, meaning that it would still overload the servers...just not bottlenecking the door into those servers.
  2. A longer open beta would've meant more stress on Battle.net, causing issues for the games that people are already playing like WoW and StarCraft II (many don't know that the open beta was causing issues with connection and lag on both of those games during its timeframe).
  3. Delaying the game would've raised the ire of the internet, causing more shitstorms and whiny emo posts about how the game will never come out.
  4. Including an offline mode would've given way to potential hacking, an issue that has been well known and documented throughout the history of the Diablo franchise, meaning that anything you picked up in an offline mode possibly wouldn't carry over to online.

Therefore, when you want to spew your vitriol at Blizzard for all the bugs and glitches in their game, the design decisions they made, and whatever else you feel like beating your chest about, do remember one thing: it's not entirely their fault. No single company can anticipate what it is like to launch an online game with 3.5 million potential people logging on all at the same time, just the same as no single player can anticipate a game too much without realizing that their anticipation can lead to issues.

That's not to say that Blizzard doesn't have fault in this. Battle.net has been an existing system for a while, and it runs multiple different games through its servers. Therefore, they should know how to work multiple titles across the same infrastructure. There is also the fact that they DID host betas, and the open beta in particular was used...their words, not mine...as a way to "stress test". Therefore, they should've known something like this would happen and needed to be far better prepared for it.

But in the end, folks....

....we knew Diablo III wasn't going to be a perfect launch, and we knew there would be bugs and glitches and disconnections. In turn, why are you getting so pissed off about it when you knew this would happen?

Instead, remember that this game isn't going away in a week. Yes, that addiction is in you...but it WILL be fulfilled.

Until next time...piece...and may the Heavens tremble when you can make them do so.

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Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers Performed By Humperdinck & Lambesis

Either that's going to lead to some weird ass "I only read the title and decided to comment on it" comments...or people actually read these fucking blogs that I write.

Let's talk about free-to-play, ladies and gentlemen!

Specifically, let's talk about Tribes Ascend and Super Monday Night Combat. One of these games got my balls all tingly thinking of the good ol' times in college playing over a LAN with friends, while the other got my balls all tingly because it was a surprise of magnanimous proportions (also, magnanimous doesn't come up with an incorrect spellcheck...which is awesome). In the end, only one of these has remained installed...and for good reasons.

As it stands, a lot of my playtime goes into League of Legends. Why? The obvious and immediately available answer is much like Kurt Cobain's: "I hate myself and I want to die". You don't play a MOBA game unless you truly have some self-loathing issues that have resorted you to abusing yourself by playing with fucking idiots on a regular basis, hoping to find that one group of gleaming, shining examples that stand for everything humanity should be: intelligent, appropriately foul-mouthed, and they know how to beat the shit out of someone. Nonetheless, League of Legends does get one thing right, and that's the free-to-play model. They allow you to collect a form of in-game currency in which to buy runes to increase your power and capabilities during a match as well as purchase the various champions they release on an almost bi-weekly basis. You can also spend real money to purchase Riot Points. These can be used to purchase champions and vanity skins for the different characters. However, you CANNOT use the real money scheme in order to purchase things that affect gameplay.

That is the key phrase here, so let's repeat that, shall we? RIOT DOES NOT LET YOU USE REAL MONEY IN ORDER TO PURCHASE THINGS THAT AFFECT GAMEPLAY!

>.> I'm looking directly at you, Hi-Rez Studios. You and your fucking horseshit. Sure, I could justify spending $50 for the equivalent of two fully built characters (minus only a couple of crucial upgrades to components), but you are allowing the purchase of weapons that are obviously stronger than what any base player who is going with the free-to-play option all the way happens to carry with them. Also, I know that I've played a metric dick ton of Tribes 2 since college and happen to be able to jump into a Tribes Ascend match and fend for myself decently against a group of level 32 players...despite the fact that I am level 6...or something like that.

Nonetheless, this is how you handle a free-to-play model POORLY. I was hoping for things to go differently from the shitty way they handled Global Agenda, but that form of wishful thinking is something I should really train myself to stop believing in.

So fuck you, Hi-Rez. Game uninstalled. If you want to fix your matchmaking, change it to where people cannot buy an advantage over someone, and offer a more comprehensive playground in order to train with, I might consider picking the game back up.

In the meantime, my...time...is going to Super Monday Night Combat. I won't say that I totally agree with the pricing model found within Super Monday Night Combat either. $22.49 for an astronaut skin on Cheston? NO. THANK. YOU. Yes, I am well aware that I spent $15 on a skin for Annie in League of Legends. I also played Annie for well over 200 matches, and it was her Legendary. HER BEAR IS DRESSED UP LIKE THE FUCKING HARE FROM ALICE IN WONDERLAND! I FEEL IT IS JUSTIFIED...or at least I try to feel that way about it so I don't think of how much money I actually HAVE spent on League of Legends.

You don't wanna know.

It's probably close to $700.

I know, I'm fucked up. I need help.

Anyways, back to Super Monday Night Combat... That game is fucking great. By "fucking great", I mean "it's infuriating as hell when people fail to comprehend how to play the game or even fail to listen to their teammates, but it's super satisfying whenever you finally win a match after ROFLstomping a team so hard that you find yourself popping a mystery boner and get turned on by winning so hard".

That hasn't happened. It's just a euphemism.

Nonetheless, the pricing structure seems a little off. Hopefully, it's something that Uber will work out within the course of time. The only other issue I'm finding with the game is the way they handle their "free pro rotation" every week. Essentially, most of these F2P games will offer a handful of their characters for people to play over the course of a week without having to buy them at all. It serves the purpose of letting you check the character out and find out if you like that while also giving people who never want to spend a penny on it (even in-game currency, which is weird but whatever) the opportunity to play. However, the pro rotations that I've looked at from the past few times seem to lack a good balance for creating a strong team. For instance, this week only features low cost characters. No Sniper, no Assassin, no Gunslinger, no Sparks, etc. Essentially, none of the high-cost characters are free. A word to the wise: when you launch your game, you might want to offer one of those up for free so you can entice people to spend some real dough to buy the champ since they probably won't get enough in-game currency without spamming matches for about a week.

Other than that, the game is pretty smooth. The new interface since they had released the beta is slick and works so much more efficiently, but the matchmaking still needs a little work. A lot of that really is due to the lack of people online at any given point (I usually see around 2k people online at any point), but I have a feeling that number with grow as the game grows.

Here is my anti-climatic ending: Lord of the Rings: War in the North is pretty fucking boss, and I love Fez but don't think I'll end up getting through the New Game Plus because I refuse to look any puzzles up.

Until next time, piece.

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HOLY LOST MONTH, BATMAN!

COT-DAMN!

It's been a while, folks! The lack of blogging can be directly linked to two events:

  1. I was recently made the on-site manager at my job of the last six years (minus that whole five months I had quit). It means I've been really digging down and trying to get things done around here, and so far, I think it's going pretty well. I really enjoy it, and it has given me a renewed thirst for the gaming center business.
  2. I've been playing a LOT of Old Republic, as some friends and I recently started our own guild and have been really pushing to clear through raid content before the recent 1.2 patch came out. For anyone interested to know, we're sitting on a full HM KP down and HM EV down except Soa...because Soa is a fucking asshole. A massive, crusty, diarrhea-stained asshole. Seriously, fuck that guy...SO hard.

However, I'm now at a point where Old Republic is slowing down a bit (because they have a lot of shit to fix with that clusterfuck), so I've been taking some time to check out a good handful of other games...finally. Here's a rundown of that stuff:

  • Fez - So far, I'm only an hour or so into it. It has instantly made me want to purchase the soundtrack. Beyond that, there's a lot of people that are too busy getting hung up on the controversial statements of Phil Fish and saying "well, I'm not going to support that guy". To those people, I would say "pull your head out of your asses and buy the game because you are missing out on something special and pretty incredible".
  • Shoot Many Robots - The night I bought Fez, I also bought Shoot Many Robots. I hit level 34 in one night. The level cap is 50. It's pretty good if you are into high scores and leaderboards, but beyond that, it reuses too many of the same level designs and relies too heavily on quirky loot to really be a fantastic game. It's a fun little playthrough, though.
  • Legend of Grimrock - Right now, this stands as my Game of the Year for 2012. It's not innovative or completely fresh. It's an old-school grid-based first-person dungeon crawler...with a lot of hyphens in the words used to describe what type of game it is. It's Dungeon Master. However, it's a gorgeous looking game that handles the ambience of dungeon-crawling incredibly well, features a simple interface that literally anyone can understand and figure out, and the enemies that inhabit the dungeons can be incredibly difficult without a little bit of strategy. I'm playing on the default difficulty with the auto-map on my Tab key (I know, I'm a fucking loser like that). However, it's a game that I have trouble prying myself away from, like it's tickling every single nostalgia bone in my body while still feeling modern enough to appeal to my matured sensibilities. I highly recommend that everyone pick the game up, especially since it's only around $13-$14 and available on both GOG and Steam.
  • Rayman Origins - I picked this and about seven other games up for the store after becoming manager. It's one of the first ones I plugged in, and I'll be goddamned if it isn't just charming as all fucking hell! The platforming is sharp and concise, the level designs are pretty rad, and the art design is absolutely gorgeous. It's good to see Rayman back in his real element!
  • Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3 - I fucking hate anime, and I doubly fucking hate Gundam. However, this game satisfies my loot whoring in ways that the base Dynasty Warriors series doesn't...and I didn't even know that was goddamn possible! What's more interesting is that Gundam 3 breaks the general amount of time per mission down from around 10-20 minutes in Dynasty Warriors (and sometimes longer) to around 5-10 minutes, in and out. It's that quick and precision execution of getting you through the mission and back to the menu that had me dumping way more time into it than I'd probably care to admit...and that admission is "30 hours or so at this moment". God, I feel like a terrible person for loving the shit out of that game.
  • Splatterhouse - Despite virtually owning the page here on Giant Bomb, I never actually picked this up until my friend earlier this week (who works next door where they sell some used games) hooked me up with a discount on it. Getting it that cheap was basically the same as free. That game...well...it's bloody. Like, really bloody. Like, disturbingly bloody even for my tastes. Nah, it's just the right amount of blood. I think my biggest problem with the game is that I can see where BottleRocket was developing the game and where Namco Bandai's Afro Samurai team took it over...and that pisses me off, because all the shit that BottleRocket was doing was pretty goddamn great. Also, playing Splatterhouse makes me wish like hell that Sony would release an HD collection of Mark of Kri and Rise of the Kasai. That NEEDS to happen.
  • Warhammer 40K: Space Marine - I had wanted to play this game for a while. After about an hour or two of playing it, I put the controller down for a little bit to take in what I had played. It was good, but I wasn't excited about it. It just...I don't know. It didn't feel like something that I want to KEEP playing, even though I know I will. The game isn't qualmed with problems or even anything generic about it. It just...feels too much like Gears of War without cover and proper guns? I really can't put my finger on it still.
  • Dead Island - Remember a second ago when I said I plugged about 30 hours (that's what she said) into Gundam 3? Well, Dead Island was the other game I put a strong amount of time into. That game is basically brilliance on a disc. Yes, I do want to make a baseball bat with nails in it and beat the shit out of zombies with it. If it weren't for the great detail that goes into destroying a zombie, I think the game would be pretty damn boring. However, it's just that satisfaction of obliterating the fuck out of the undead, shredding their rotting flesh from their bodies and crippling their limbs...it just quenches my virtual bloodthirst in a way that something Splatterhouse hasn't quite done yet. Moreover, I believe that all RPGs must now have at least one item where the prefix for it is "Diabolical". Wielding a "Diabolical" weapon just makes you feel like way more of a badass. Plus, that intro song...OH THAT INTRO SONG! "Who do you voodoo, bitch?"
  • League of Legends - I'm still on that shit. My ELO has gotten bombed way more than I am okay with. ELO Hell sucks. I will never escape. Watch me fucking rage as derps and idiots as they continue to flood that game with inane goddamn 50-point I.Q.s. Big ups to the good ol' Mr. Marino, however, for hooking me up with a Riot K-9 Nasus skin from PAX East. I WILL hit you back for the LoL PAX skin love you've seen me, broseph.
  • Syndicate - I bought it. I've played it. It's cool. I haven't really gone much beyond that, as the guild for Old Republic shortly after I bought the game. I'll end up beating it sometime in the next few weeks...I hope.

If that Old Republic patch will stay broken for, like, another week. I really want to dig into the Kingdoms of Amalur DLC as well as possibly even boot SSX back up. I feel so bad for neglecting that game so much.

So there you go: that's what I've been up to for the last month. What games have you guys been jamming on, and what do you think of them?

Until next time, piece.

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The Kickstarter Revolution: Could It Be Bad For Games?

In recent months, we have seen an influx of games that have been finding funding for production through something of an unusual way: fans and ordinary folks like you and I donating money to the company through the site Kickstarter. While Kickstarter isn't necessarily new (it's been around since 2008), the capabilities of this hotspot has become the hot topic of news in our world of gaming. Tim Schafer, head of Double Fine, was able to find solace in knowing that he'd get to make a new adventure game through donations. Other projects have been spawning from many different developers and places, and overall, it seems like a really cool idea: allowing people to truly vote with their dollar whether a game should be made.

However, is there a danger to be found in all of this that people just aren't seeing?

Let's take a look at the latest BioWare game and the hornet's nest it has stirred up. Many people are incredibly angered by how the game was handled, but even more than that, a large amount are miffed about the ending of the game. What if this had been a game that had been partially funded through Kickstarter? If the ending turned out to be something that people were pissed about and they expressed that opinion, what does that mean to the person who chipped in some money towards the project's funding? No one can say they don't have a right to bitch at that point - their dollars were put into the project.

It's one of the issues we have to look at: how much push and pull does the person donating some money have, and if there is none, how long will it be before people start screaming to have a say in the game's development process? Logically, no sane person would do that. They would realize that by donating, you are funding the creative juices of the development studio themselves and your "say" is strictly that you get a copy of the game and maybe a credit for it as well.

There's also the idea I presented above: partial funding. Kickstarter works great for those indie studios that are looking for money to fully fund their game, but what kind of problems would this take off the shoulders of a company like Activision or EA who are spending millions on a game? They could potentially fuel a portion of their game budget with Kickstarter money, lowering their own internal costs on the product. However, is it something they should have the right to do, and if so, how far does that go? What if the company makes a game, it sells well, and then that game begins a franchise? What stock do the people who donated money have in helping to create this franchise?

Again, no logical and sane person would think that, but are all gamers sane and logical people? If Activision said "hey, we're looking for funding towards the next Call of Duty game - it's your chance to get your name in the credits", do you honestly believe that there wouldn't be thousands of people donating to that in a heartbeat because of the novelty?

How far does it go?

I love what Kickstarter can do in order to help the development process for independent game developers. However, there are larger implications that we either aren't seeing or just don't want to notice or pay attention to.

Since Tim Schafer raised the money for his adventure game, using Kickstarter has become something of a trend. Christian Allen is seeking funding on what he is calling a "hardcore tactical shooter". Tim Schafer has spoken about the potential of using Kickstarter to help fund Psychonauts 2. Brian Fargo has aspirations to use the service to fund Wasteland 2.

It's a slippery slope that we are on. The idea of people financing games that people want is a great idea, but we also know how gamers can be when a finished product doesn't happen to meet the expectations they have. When you move the gamers from the category of "consumer" to "funding", it becomes a little more dangerous than it should be.

Some food for thought, folks. What do you guys think? Is Kickstarter helping the industry, or is it a tool that will soon be oft too abused?

Until next time, piece.

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Don't Rush Your Game

Despite having SSX in my possession, I've been taking intermittent turns between that game and other things, mostly in order to give my fingers a rest from doing insane goddamn runs over and over. The main game I keep returning to is The Old Republic, a game which many have had complaints about while I've been mostly alright with. The experience has been fun as hell, and there are a ton of positives about that game. Last night, unfortunately, I ran into one problem that just pisses me off a little more than I care for.

That problem is the normal Operations. For those not in the know, Old Republic breaks its instances down into two groups: Flashpoints (your normal instances) and Operations (raids). Flashpoints come in the normal and hard mode varieties, offering separate loot tables for each. Each hard mode Flashpoint drops one piece of Columi gear from the end boss, the second best tier set in the game. Meanwhile, the raids come in three different varieties: normal, hard, and nightmare. The Hard and Nightmare modes drop the best tier set in the game, Rakata. Meanwhile, the normal mode drops Columi and Tionese (Tionese being the third best set in the game by most considerations). This sounds all fine and dandy...until you look at the actual statistics of it as well as how goddamn infuriating it is that such a flawed design can happen with raids.

That's not to say that flawed design choices don't exist elsewhere in the game. However, the way looting works in raids is kind of fucking stupid. In Hard and Nightmare, you can either flat-out roll for the gear like you would any other instance...or I'm assuming you can set up master looter. Maybe not. I haven't seen it happen once. However, in normal mode raids, the loot that drops...which is Columi, remember that...is automatically rolled on amongst the classes that could use said piece of gear - even if they already have that piece of gear or something better.

O_O

FUCKING REALLY? Don't get me wrong, folks: I'm already geared out in Columi and Rakata mix, so I don't need anything from the normal mode raids. I got lucky in the one Hard Mode raid that I've done so far to get a good handful of gear already, plus I've been running hard mode Flashpoints for a while. I also understand the purpose of why the normal mode raid looting system is set up this way: it helps to stop ninjas from stealing gear in PUGs. However, it creates another problem: denying people the gear that they could very much use. Moreover, why would you even BOTHER running a normal mode operation AT ALL when you KNOW you can just do a particular flashpoint at least seven times in one week...which will more than likely total the amount of time you spend in a normal operation ANYWAYS...

The math just doesn't work out, folks. It doesn't, and it's frustrating to see such poor design in a game that I personally feel is pretty damn solid for what has been released. I'm still always finding stuff to do, and I haven't gotten to do a whole lot of progression through the raids and such yet. I've got achievements, crafting, mounts, all kinds of stupid shit to keep me occupied in the game, even if all of it isn't the most important shit in the world according to the world of Old Republic.

However, how do you actually launch such a flawed raid setup and continue to let it live like this when you as a company are more than likely sitting around saying "goddamn, this is so fucking stupid, what were we thinking?"

So...last night, I did my first...and beyond getting any achievements out of them...last normal mode operation. They are pointless. There's no need for it. It's a waste of space and development time that could've gone towards...I don't know...fixing some bugs that still exist in the game.

I'm not unsubbing or anything. I just need to vent my frustrations. That's all. With the 1.2 patch on the horizon, a lot of things are changing up and being fixed. Hopefully, this is one of those things.

Until next time, piece.

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My Life Is Now Complete: I Have SSX

I've been waiting patiently for February 28th to come around. By patiently, I mean I've had to buy one of those things that keeps you from grinding your teeth and playing on Bulldog non-stop in the SSX demo until I would eventually accomplish what many others have done: buying SSX. Ladies and gentlemen, that day has finally drawn nigh. The skies have opened up, the rain of the SSX world is pouring on our blessed souls, and it is both refreshing and full of life.

There are few games out there which could bring this level of giddiness to me, those being the words "new Vagrant Story" coming from Matsuno-san's mouth and Level 5 spouting off "Dark Cloud 3". Every gamer in existence have those few games which they will always be unapologetic about, sure. However, there are the very few games which make them pop a raging nerd-boner that refuses to go limp. Those are the three for me, and I now have a game in my hand that I will LITERALLY dump as much time into as I did with WoW (that's from launch until the end of Lich King for anyone curious). I know that seems weird to hear, that someone can dump that much time into a snowboarding game. However, I grew up in an arcade atmosphere, and there's nothing like high scores and the challenge of keeping them that drives me to achieve my own personal greatness.

So I hope to "see" everyone possible on the slopes. I've already gotten a million different friend requests and accepted as many as possible. Meanwhile, I figured I would throw up what my custom soundtrack will consist of for the game, just so you know what I'll be jamming as I tear into the slopes...

  1. Goldfinger - "Superman"
  2. Sylosis - "Teras"
  3. Thrice - "Under A Killing Moon"
  4. Chemical Brothers - "Elektrobank"
  5. 36 Crazyfists - "The Heart and The Shape"
  6. Collective Soul - "Shine"
  7. A Dozen Furies - "The Everlasting Grudge"
  8. Sponge - "Plowed"
  9. Led Zeppelin - "Rock and Roll"
  10. Spineshank - "Synthetic"
  11. The Offspring - "Killboy Powerhead"
  12. Filter & Crystal Method - "(Can't You) Trip Like I Do"
  13. Canned Heat - "Going Up The Country" (thanks to Skate 3 for making me think of this one)
  14. Alexisonfire - "Young Cardinals"
  15. Lupe Fiasco - "Kick/Push" (OF FUCKING COURSE)
  16. The Fugees - "How Many Mics"
  17. Deadmau5 - "I Said (Michael Woods Remix)"
  18. Daft Punk - "Revolution 909"
  19. Periphery - "Icarus Lives"
  20. Unearth - "Crow Killer"

Until next time, piece.

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On American Nightmare and Being A Disappointment

When Alan Wake's American Nightmare was announced, I got giggly with excitement. While many bemoan the combat of the original game and others herald the atmosphere and story that this "franchise" offers, there was a part of me that simply got excited because of a simple idea: more Alan Wake. The first game ranked at #2 for me in my 2010 Top 25 Games. It was the mixture of atmosphere, story, characters, pacing and most importantly a constant sense of mystery that made Bright Falls a wonderful place to visit.

Even Mr. Scratch's little parts and the narrator from Night Springs can't save American Nightmare from being...a nightmare.

It's all of these things, however, that American Nightmare truly lacks, particularly in the first three of those aforementioned fields. It's something that will drive any Alan Wake fan absolutely batty. Sure, you can say "well, what did you expect from a $15 downloadable game", and I will reply with "a lot...because it's a proven formula".

Take a look at Dead Rising 2: Case Zero, a perfect and shining example of how to take the core game and bring it down in size yet still capture everything that the full game could potentially be. It's about being a bite-sized chunk while making sure it's a truly satisfying experience. Granted, I never actually PLAYED Dead Rising 2 because there was not a single friend of mine that could recommend it, and that is rarely a good sign to purchase a game. Regardless, that little $10 downloadable was fucking excellent. In turn, why couldn't Alan Wake's American Nightmare be the same?

I don't want to say that the atmosphere isn't there, but little details that made the atmosphere work correctly are missing. There's no darkness fog that gets thicker as you walk into areas you shouldn't be in. Instead, you have invisible walls. The game isn't all that dark anyways, so you never feel like there is something out there you can't see. Even something as small as just pushing X to reload your weapon rather than mashing that button to reload faster makes a massive difference. The sprint lasts longer before exhaustion kicks in. The checkpoints are frequent. The enemies are too basic and non-threatening. Ammo is readily available at all turns, so much so that there is a box which will automatically give you full batteries and full ammo on your guns. The guns are incredibly powerful, basically handing you carbines and submachine guns and shotguns as if they were water: always flowing and never drying up. The characters (what few of them exist) are wooden statues with moving mouths, not the active and meaningful types you found in Alan Wake proper. Even then (***SPOILERS***), they rarely survive long enough to be meaningful anyways (***END SPOILERS***). The mini-map gives too much information.

Essentially, Alan Wake's American Nightmare is hand-holding in the most egregious way possible. If anything, it's downright insulting to what Alan Wake was all about.

While Alan Wake had too little light at times, American Nightmare constantly has too MUCH light all the time.

Why? What possible notion would make Remedy say "let's take out all the things that made Alan Wake unique and what it was supposed to be?". Was it sales numbers? Was it to try being like everyone else? Yeah, yeah...we know. It's "not a sequel" and they "focused on action" and blah blah blah. That's fine, but they could've left plenty of those things I mentioned above in this game instead of sacrificing them on an altar of sales numbers and mainstream popularity. Hell, even the DLC for Alan Wake was able to hold onto all of those elements while also introducing new ones and STILL remain more compelling than American Nightmare.

With American Nightmare, we get something that's not even quite a watered-down Dr. Pepper. We get that glass of lemonade that has been sitting around at room temperature for about six months while we've just been walking through a desert for two hours. We'll take it because it's what's there, but it doesn't mean the taste is what we want.

Unfortunately, this is a double-sided blade. We as consumers are supposed to vote with our dollars, right? Here's the dilemma that Remedy has created for themselves. If we vote by buying American Nightmare in droves, we are saying "we want a watered-down experience of hand-holding". However, we already voted on Alan Wake, a game that eventually became profitable but did not see the sales that Microsoft or maybe even Remedy was hoping for when it came out. In short, we've more than likely doomed Alan Wake already no matter which way we go.

Until next time, piece.

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How The Darkness Excels At Emotion Where Many Others Fail

***THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!!!***

Two weeks ago, the possibility of picking up The Darkness II immediately looked like a bit of a stretch. Thanks to Powerup Rewards as well as the guy in front of me that was trading in a fresh copy of The Darkness II, I ended up picking the game up for about $33 total. If anything, it felt like a sign that I had to play the game.

The first Darkness game was something special. Starbreeze took a fantastic comic book series and crafted a story into their game that was both heart-wrenching and well-paced. At the same time, it wasn't just the story that made it matter. The developer took the time to pay attention to the characters; giving them the time necessary to gain an attachment to them allowed for the dynamics of the story to hit that much harder. It was the first video game I ever played that forced me to put down the controller at a difficult climax in the game (those who have played it know exactly what I'm talking about) and walk away from the console. It was a tough blow, a punch to the stomach like someone had a fistful of quarters when they did it. My heart sank...

The Darkness II embraces its comic book roots with a new art style, but it actually HELPS the characters be more expressive.

Fast forward to now.

The Darkness II is here, made by a different developer altogether: Digital Extremes. The level of worry I had going into this game was (I feel) rightfully justified. These are the same guys that brought us Dark Sector and are more involved with multiplayer gaming like Unreal Tournament and the multiplayer component of Bioshock 2 than single player games with expressive character. It makes you ask yourself "can they do this story and its characters justice?"

Seeing a developer respect the material they are working with is a beautiful thing to behold. Very few can ever truly capture that essence of magic - melting good gameplay with characters that make you genuinely "feel". Playing through The Darkness II, you would almost think that Starbreeze was still on the job. Digital Extremes looked at how revered the first game was and made sure to keep that essence which made it meaningful. They delivered a solid story with gripping climaxes and unforgettable moments of character development, but they also kept things that made the first game feel unique (such as the loading screens where Jackie delivered monologues while sitting down in a dark room). They improved the core gameplay mechanics drastically, making it a far more playable game. If anything, Digital Extremes built upon what the first game made, and all the additions were astoundingly good and necessary things. However, the core of the game still lies in how the story and characters are handled.

Watching Jenny die is easily one of the most difficult things I've watched happen in a game.

Jackie lost the love of his life in the first game during a rather painful and vicious scene to behold. It's one of the most memorable moments in gaming for me, solely because of the juxtaposition at play and how well it was executed. Here you are, a man with this power that makes you all-fucking-powerful. However, despite all that power, you are completely helpless when you need that power the most. You can't do anything but watch. Digital Extremes pulls that same thing off again in The Darkness II, and as tragic as it is to behold, it is goddamn beautiful to see a developer who isn't afraid to go there.

It's the one thing that I feel The Darkness has over many other games out there: it has the emotional gravitas and capability to go where few are ever willing to go, and it will always deliver that punch to the gut. Every time I had to make a choice in The Darkness II, I put the controller down and walked away. How can I choose which one of two characters takes a bullet at my order when I care about them both? How can I make a choice whether to stay or leave behind someone I care about so much?

Sure, there are guns and you shoot things. That's great and all, it works fine. Whatever. It's not the reason I'm playing the game. They make all that enjoyable enough for me to get to the parts I genuinely want to see: the story, the characters, and how it all plays out. If you are playing The Darkness II for the shooting aspect, enjoy the eight hours of doing 5-10 different executions over and over followed by using the same 8-10 weapons over and over. If you are playing The Darkness II for what the game is actually about (the world it creates), you are in for a treat as it delivers in spades.

The biggest testament I can give to The Darkness II is its ending. No, I'm not talking about the big reveal. I'm talking about the moment before that. You save Jenny's soul, and right afterwards, the credits roll. When you are done with the credits (you know, by skipping them), it puts you right back to where you were: holding the woman you love after freeing her from the Hell she's been in. One single option comes up, a single button to press in order to finish the game out...

"Let go".

I stood with Jenny for five minutes before I could bring myself to press the button.

Bravo, Digital Extremes. This franchise is in some good fucking hands.

Until next time, piece.

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Where Are The Reboots We Asked For, EA?

Everyone knows that EA has a penchant for rebooting shit. In the month of February alone, we're getting two reboots - Syndicate is being reimagined as a first-person shooter and SSX is being brought back from the rigor mortis status that On Tour and Blur cursed the franchise with. Both have a lot of marketing around them, and even a decent level of hype. We've also seen a reboot of the Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit portion of the NFS franchise, which turned out to be a fantastic game that pulled in out of left field. There are even rumors that reboots of Army of Two and Dead Space are in the pipeline (one of which thoroughly confounds me to no end).

However, there are many franchises that fans have been asking to have rebooted...and yet it seems that those words fall upon ever-deafening ears. What's even weirder is the fact that EA has the studios in place already to make these reboots happen pretty easily. The question is "why not?".

For instance, there are millions upon millions of Madden fans around the world, but the biggest problem you face is the constant criticism of how the games are always the same. Sure, the easy answer is to say "IT'S FUCKING NFL FOOTBALL, HOW THE FUCK DO YOU WANT IT TO BE DIFFERENT, YOU WHINY SHITS?". However, the proper answer would be to reboot the Mutant League series of games. For many of us, Mutant League Football was a fond memory of blood, violence, and pigskin mayhem that we are ready to see again. Beyond that, it would give you a chance to change the rules, make football something a bit more interest, and yet you could still keep Madden to your "simulation" style all the same. It's a win-win situation, and with the largest team of developers dedicated to sports in the industry as well as a penchant for rebooting classic over-the-top franchises like NBA Jam and NFL Blitz, there should be little to no reason why you aren't expanding your portfolio with some Mutant League action.

Another prime example of how perfectly things can come together is to take a look at the Strike franchise. David Jaffe recently mentioned Jungle Strike in a brief pass-by during his DICE 2012 keynote and it got me thinking: people have asked for years why the Strike franchise has just been sitting around to rot, but EA has given us no answer. What's more interesting is that EA dumped resources and time into trying to make Medal of Honor such a huge hit because of the popularity of not just Call of Duty but modern wartime games in general. However, they had a game franchise that was already involved in political ideals as well as wartime scenarios that could've easily been used. Bringing a new version of the Strike games out with that same isometric camera angle but with modern day graphics and sound technology would be pure gaming sex. Where is the reboot of this heralded franchise, EA?

The crowning jewel of mistreatment from EA falls on the shoulders of a one-time behemoth, the mightiest of the mighty: Road Rash. This high-speed mixture of racing and brawling was on the road to high success...and then came Road Rash 3D and Road Rash 64 (the latter of which was actually developed and published by THQ), two games that failed to be either financially or critically successful. What went wrong? It's a perfect and relatively easy formula to figure out: go fast and beat a motherfucker up while you do it. Can you imagine going at 100mph in a game based on today's technology, whipping a chain in the air and causing a guy to get plastered into a wall? CAN YOU IMAGINE HOW FUCKING AWESOME THAT WOULD BE?! You have Criterion sitting over in the corner with rumors swirling for a while that they are secretly working on a new Road Rash game. Are they?

These are three sacred franchises from EA's past that many fans have been rabid to see reboots for. Why hasn't this happened? Many of those fans may not realize this, but it could rest squarely on the shoulders of what was a seemed attempt by the company to garner interest in the games for a new generation: EA Replay. This compilation featured all three of the franchises talked about in this blog: Road Rash, the Strike franchise (specifically Jungle Strike and Desert Strike) and Mutant League Football. The compilation was not only poorly advertised, but it was made exclusively on a handheld system that was notorious for its ease of piracy. In turn, EA Replay only sold around 70,000 units, thereby damning any chances of the franchises coming back...

...or so it would seem. Another game featured on that same compilation is seeing a reboot release this month: Syndicate. Therefore, the question stands: is there enough interest amongst the gaming community to get EA to support reboots of these beloved franchises?

Until next time, piece.

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Knee-Jerk Reaction - Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

The purpose of my Knee-Jerk Reaction blogs is to give a perspective of the first hours of a game, the ones that help define whether you will continue playing it or put it down in favor of something else. These are not any form of FINAL opinions on the game, but merely early observations that could or could not change through the course of more gameplay.

Total game time so far: 5 hours

THE GOOD

Kingdoms of Amalur takes out the stale combat of many RPGs and looks at it from a fresh standpoint like most action-oriented games would. If anything, I think the closest comparisons that can be made is a limited version of the systems found in Bayonetta with a flavor of the feel from El Shaddai. You have your primary weapon and secondary weapon, as well as spells, and you can pretty much combo those in any way that you want to take down an enemy. This type of "free-form combat" is something that many RPGs could take note of, as it would easily lift them up to a higher status.

The art design may feel a bit like Fable, but the package as a whole walks miles around Fable's art assets and presentation.

The game also does a great job of realizing its world. Despite the relatively linear way that things seem to feel (it's a bit more Fable and Dark Souls than it is Skyrim), the immensely large world is vibrant and well-stocked with some interesting people to talk to and enemy types that feel original. We've all seen kobolds before, but these kobolds don't feel like many of the others we typically see in RPGs. You can tell that Big Huge Games had a lot of fun developing the art assets for this game, as they are creative and unique to the world.

The other great thing about Kingdoms of Amalur is in how it handles classes. The Destinies system was one of the major selling points, and this could've been an easy hit-or-miss scenario. Luckily, having the ability to free-form my own class with the skills that I want and not have to rely on strictly being a warrior or strictly being a sorcerer is incredible. The actual Destiny cards themselves are little more than some stat bonuses (more crit chance, more melee damage, more spell damage, etc), but you feel unique regardless of it all. Kudos to the developers for this.

There are a lot of little things that Kingdoms of Amalur also gets right. There are bags already given to you for holding onto reagents, crafting materials, and other things to help keep your inventory space a bit freed up. Also, there is no encumbrance in the game, but instead it is handled by inventory spaces (you start with 70 and can buy different backpacks later with more spots available). The dungeons are well-designed and rarely feel like you are walking into something you've already seen. The faction side stories are just as well-told as the main storyline, something that Skyrim cannot say for itself. I also give mad props to the developers for having a plethora of different weapon types to play around with. Despite having points in greatswords and faeblades at the moment, that hasn't stopped me from playing around with chakrams, bows, daggers, longswords, and even staves. Giving a player variety in a game focused on role-playing is necessary to keep a player intrigued in your combat as well as the gear they pick up.

THE BAD

None of that is to say KoA doesn't have its problems early on. While the combat is more action-oriented, it never feels like the breakneck pace that you WANT it to be. There are also times where you feel like something should've connected in your combo, but it didn't. Some of this could be faulted to the relatively wonky camera that the game uses, as it gets rather scatterbrained and never seems to focus on the combat at hand. This leaves you swinging at things that are somewhere off-camera and wasting precious time fiddling with the camera angle rather than kicking ass. That same camera also could do for being pulled back a little bit, as the up-front style of it really makes me think of Fable a little more than I'd like to.

My other major issue with Kingdoms of Amalur is that a lot of the game feels like it is filled with all the tropes of an RPG...solely to be filled with those tropes, like there was a checklist that said "yes, we have crafting...yes, we have socketing...yes, we have alchemy...yes, we have persuasion and lockpicking and blah blah blah". Some of that stuff is very under-realized. The lockpicking in particular feels a bit clunky and generally easier than you would find in a Bethesda game. I can think of only three times that I've actually had to move the lockpick from its starting position. The magic lockpicking (called dispelling) feels like it was added as a form of variety to the traditional lockpicking mechanism, but it becomes rather irritating because of what feels like a relative amount of inaccuracy when trying to activate the lockpicking runes in the little mini-game it presents.

He walks softly, but he carries a big sword.

I should also mention something about loot here. I love loot. Loot in games is one of the biggest reasons I play RPGs. Yes, I dig the stories that they present and want to know about the world and the inhabitants of that world. However, when it comes down to it, we all just want to look like badasses and chop heads off. The biggest problem with many RPGs comes in devaluing the "carrot-on-a-stick" mentality that most RPGs need in order to continue progressing. For example, I should not have purple gear by level 10...from doing story quests. That's just a bad way of handling your color grading, and in turn, you have now devalued the color grading completely by giving me these epics at a low level. I also should not be getting "set bonuses" by level 10. Throwing out sets all willy nilly at early levels makes a lot of other armor completely worthless to a person. Someone took time to program that stuff, and it will more than likely never be seen now. In turn, this means you as a developer have now made it to where people are going to say "I'm not going to replace my purple with a green, even though that green has some more damage than this does".

There are also a lot of other things that hold Kingdoms back from giving me that super tingly feeling of absolute, unadulterated awesomeness. Jumping is handled via a Zelda-esque "jump point" function, meaning that you can't just scale up a few rocks to get to the path you want and instead have to travel an arbitrary distance. This is also something that helps make the game feel a bit more linear than it actually is. The inventory system is relatively clunky, as if it were designed sometime around the end of the PlayStation 2 era. It's serviceable, but there have been great strides made in something as simple as inventory management. There's also an unnecessary density of side quests that feel like little more than menial tasks that you would find in an MMO - get this many of this item, go fetch this, go do things for me because I'm goddamn lazy. Mind you, there are plenty of times that the NPCs you receive those quests from will make fun of the fact that they won't go do these menial tasks themselves, so the self-awareness is nice. However, there's this feeling brewing up in me that thinks all the side quests are eventually going to feel like artificial padding for gameplay time. Maybe it's because I'm not approaching Kingdoms of Amalur like an MMO, which a look at the world map will tell anyone who has played an MMO before exactly the design philosophy of the game. Crafting feels nigh useless so far, especially if we go back to the whole idea of "devaluing" your gear by giving out epics through the main and side storylines. Even then, it never feels like the crafting system is superbly explained, and something that feels completely unexplained are the different diseases, curses, and other status effects that pop up on the right hand side of your HUD. I know that I'm picking up these buffs from different shrines around the world, but what the fuck do they do? TELL ME WHAT THEY DO!

KNEE-JERK VERDICT

I like it...a lot. Despite all the negatives I can give about it, it's an RPG and I'm only five hours in on a character that is melee-focused. The combat and world more than make up for dealing with nearly decade-old mechanics. The Destinies system raises the bar for all RPGs beyond this to give players more freedom in their "role-playing". If anything, I think that's what I can best classify Kingdoms of Amalur as for me right now: it's a game that's more about playing your role and kicking ass than it is about all of its "RPG checklist" systems. We'll see if these opinions stay the same when I hit over 50+ hours in the game.

What about you? How are you feeling about the game? What are YOUR knee-jerk reactions? Do you agree or disagree? Keep the discussion going.

Until next time, piece.

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