I am religious about backing up my data. If a device lives under my roof and it has a hard drive it gets backed up once a week, with an offsite backup at least once a month.
I've been a Playstation 3 owner since 2008 and shortly after I bought my shiny new toy a friend of mine suffered a hardware failure on his own PS3. This served as a cautionary tale and I began to faithfully make backups every week.
The PS3 backup utility is buried in the system menu on the PS3 Xross Media Bar and it is about as bare-bones as a backup utility can get. It simply copies everything from the PS3's internal hard drive to an external hard drive of your choosing. Or at least that's what I thought.
A couple weeks ago, after four long years of hard work and arduous service, my PS3 finally gave out. It is a form of death informally known as the Yellow Light of Death, much akin to the Xbox 360's similar Red Ring of Death.
For most users this would have been a moment of extreme panic and lament. For myself, however, it was simply an annoyance. I had a very recent backup so when I contacted Sony and set up my "repair" I knew that aside from the $100 fee the only inconvenience would be waiting for my new unit to arrive and then waiting for my backup data to be restored.
I'd never done a full restore of a backup before and I knew anecdotally that certain items wouldn't restore properly (content purchased from the Playstaiton Store, like games would have to be redownloaded), which made sense. But here are a few things that I didn't expect:
1. Swapping hard drives will require firmware on a thumb drive
To compound my problems, not only was I restoring a new PS3, but I also needed to swap back in my 500GB hard drive. The drive was in good shape with no bad sectors but I kept getting an error message when I turned on the PS3. I had forgotten that if you want to swap hard drives, a USB device loaded with up-to-date firmware is necessary. There are plenty of guides for this process, but the one thing they all seemed to omit is if you're having problems getting the ball rolling (aka an annoyingly vague error message) you'll need to initiate recovery mode by holding the power button down when you turn on the PS3 until you hear a second beep to see a list of new options.
2. Media purchased from the 'Video' side of the Playstation Store is gone forever.
I'm still not 100% sure about this one, as I have yet to contact Sony customer support, but from what I have read around the Internet any movies and TV shows purchased from the Playstation Store are gone forever. Apparently buried deep in the Terms of Service it says somewhere that you only get to download these items once. Once you've downloaded them they are locked to that box and if you switch boxes you're out of luck. It's pretty bogus. I didn't own too much stuff, but I had an entire season of Futurama and some other random episodes of shows that apparently I can't get back without re-purchasing.
3. Locked saves are gone too.
It's not too common for developers to use locked saves for their games, but a few of my games used them and those saves did not get backed up. How can you tell if any of your game saves are locked? You can't... at least not easily. The only way I've ever been able to determine it is to highlight a save and hit triangle. If the 'Copy' option is grayed out you've probably got a locked save. Like I said, not too many games use locked saves these days, but all the work I put into unlocking songs and extras in DJ Hero 1 & 2 went down the drain.
4. Your game data is gone.
I knew I'd have to redownload all the games I'd purchased, but what I didn't expect was that none of my game data would make the trip over to the new hard drive. Your game data is separate from your game saves. Game data is all of the "other" stuff that gets saved to your PS3's hard drive. Game installs from disc-based games and downloadable games have to be re-installed. I'd forgotten what a joy it was to load Gran Turismo 5 with it's 40-minute mandatory install.
5. You've redownloaded your games, but don't forget to patch them.
Something else that came as a surprise was that even though I had to download fresh copies of my games, the games weren't patched! Redownloading patches for my disc-based games makes sense after loosing all of my game data, but when I download a fresh copy of a full game I expect it to come fully patched. It took a while to download Burnout paradise, but it took even longer to download all the patches that have come out since its' 2008 release.
6. Your metadata is gone.
This was one of the bigger bummers for me. While I was disappointed to have lost the video content I purchased from the Playstation Store, it wasn't a huge deal to me because I had far more video that I had ripped and copied to the Playstation myself. This was all backed up and restored intact except for one small annoyance that turned out to be a big hassle to fix. I had organized all my videos, games and music into folders. These folders are created and applied on the PS3 and evidently that information is not encoded into the PS3's copy of the file because after the restore my folders were all gone. This may not sound like a big deal, but when you've got 200GB of content heaped into a pile with no way to make sense of it, the only thing you can do is sift through it file by file and place each item into a new folder one at a time. The songs I had on the drive had all been shaken loose of their playlists, TV shows jumbled and all the file names reverted to what they were when I originally copied them over to the PS3.
7. Your trophies are OK
On the plus side, even if your game saves were locked and they didn't get transferred over, your trophies should remain intact. So long as you made a point to go through with that mind-numbing 'sync trophy data with server' every once in a while.
8. Re-registering your device my result in happy bonuses.
It's not all gloom and doom. If you're restoring to a new PS3 or replacement unit re-registering your unit with some services like VUDU or Amazon Instant video may garner you a complimentary credit with the service. VUDU gave me a $5.99 credit (enough for a free HDX rental) and Amazon gave me $5.
Back in 2004 a relatively unknown hip hop producer came up with a mixtape that combined Jay-Z's seminal (and supposedly final) album, The Black Album with The Beatles' classic 'white' album. The mixture went beyond the simplistic crossfading of normal mash-ups in that Dangermouse sampled and re-invented the instrumentation of the Beatles record to create new tracks for Jay-Z's a capellas.
The result was one of the most amazing albums of the year and a copyright lawyers nightmare (or wet dream, depending on what side of the table you sat). In the end, The Grey Album was released as a free download for a limited time.
I remember that album with extreme fondness. To this day when I think of Jay-Z tracks like 99 Problems or Public Service Announcement, I think of The Grey Album versions.
The Grey Album seemed like a once in a lifetime combination, but now, Tom Caruana has stepped from relative obscurity and dropped a bomb blast of a free download on the unsuspecting Internet. Wu-Tang vs. The Beatles.
Many hip hop fans (myself included) questioned the pairing of Jay-Z and The Beatles. At the time, it hadn't really seemed like Jay-Z had earned his place in the pantheon of hip hop all-stars (despite his constant barrage of lyrics to the contrary) and thought he wasn't deserving of such an honor. Dare I say, Wu-Tang Clan are The Beatles of the hip hop world. A group of hugely talented artists, some how able to keep their super group together long enough to produce some of the most influential albums in the genre, only to break up and go on to create more as solo artists, while one member died early.
After listening to Wu Tang Clan vs. The Beatles, I have surprised even myself with the admission that it is better than The Grey Album. As unbelievable as that sounds, consider that while The Grey Album was limited to samples from the white album and vocals from The Black Album, while the parameters of Wu Tang vs. The Beatles allowed Tom Caruana to pick and sample the very best from The Beatles catalog, the Wu-Tang catalog and even solo work produced from members of both groups. Add in a smattering of interviews with Beatles fans, classic Wu-Tang skits like "Where my killa tape at..." and you have a more cohesive and expansive listening experience.
Don't get me wrong The Grey Album was a fascinating sonic experiment. It remains one of my favorite albums, but it was a much more straight-forward and rigidly defined project, taking one Beatles song and combining it with one Jay-Z track. Wu Tang vs. The Beatles has the luxury of having room to breathe and in the space of one track can run the gamut of resonating like a retrospective homage to a groundbreaking post-modern original remix.
The worst game I played this year was probably The Transformers (PS2) game from 2004ish. I was kind of bummed because I really wanted to play it when it came out and it got decent, not great, reviews. But suffice to say that game did not withstand the test of time. I made it to the second "zone" and threw in the towel. It just wasn't any fun, but I really wanted to like it.
As far as new games go, Bionic Commando was probably the low point for me. That was another game that I really wanted to like, but it just wasn't very good and the whole time you're just sitting there thinking of ways that they could have made the game better.
With the release of Uncharted 2 just a few short weeks ago, I would imagine many people who missed out on playing Uncharted: Drake's Fortune are wondering if they should go back and give it a try before playing the hotly anticipated sequel.
The answer yeah, kind of, at least for a little bit. Before, I continue, let me just state, unequivocally that Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is a breathtaking spectacle of a game. The biggest draws of Uncharted are the characters, their animations and the lush, rich graphical detail of the world they inhabit. Secondary, and probably most importantly to a video game however, is the gameplay. Unfortunately, the gameplay in Uncharted isn't as compelling as the visuals.
As Nathan Drake, you will spend too much of your time firing bullets into ammo-sponge pirates. These pirates can take multiple shotgun blasts before they go down. In between blasts, you'll want to duck and cover, using a cover based system that, 2 years after the game's release, is starting to feel a little antiquated. What's more, is that while you are hiding behind cover you need to make sure you know where all your enemies are, otherwise you risk getting flanked.
While it's refreshing to know that you can't just stay hidden behind a rock for an entire gunfight without your adversaries getting wise, in later battles it can be frustrating to have to repeat a section a couple times only because you didn't know from what vantage point your enemies were shooting you. Hiding behind cover is one thing, staying on the move is another, but the sniper on the ridge behind you with the grenade launcher just feels like a cheap shot.
But don't get the wrong impression, it's not all bad. The gunplay in Uncharted is tough and and it can also be a lot of fun, but it also accounts for about half of the gameplay you will experience. The other half of the game consists of about 40% platforming; jumping, swinging and climbing through the environments, while the remaining 10% is puzzle solving. I would have liked to see the puzzle solving element vastly expanded. The puzzles that were featured in the game seemed pretty simplistic. So, while the gunplay is lackluster, it's shortcomings wouldn't be so noticeable if there just wasn't so much of it. Uncharted does so many things right that the things that aren't quite up to snuff stick out like a sore thumb.
So, should you play Uncharted: Drake's Fortune?
Well, if you've ever played a Tomb Raider game, or enjoyed an Indiana Jones film, then yes, absolutely. The game has the old-time adventure vibe similar to films like Indiana Jones or Romancing the Stone, while being more realistic and believable than a Tomb Raider adventure.
Completionists may be inclined to play it all the way to the end. Just be advised that some of the final chapters take an extremely creepy survival-horror tone. I wish that Naughty Dog (the game's developer) hadn't felt the need to follow the footsteps of games like Tomb Raider and include a supernatural element. The characters and villains established early on in the game were enough to make for a compelling ending to the game, although I understand the desire to ratchet up the tension by including a new scary "element".
Trophy-hunters should be aware that hunting for the hidden treasures (little items you pick up in random locations throughout the game) should be done with a guide. You can find quite a few without the guide, but you will need help for the harder items. Luckily after beating the game you can go back through each chapter in a level select mode to find missed treasures. Another series of trophies are contingent on beating the game on the hardest difficulty setting, but I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy. The game's difficulty is already borderline frustrating on the 'easy' setting. There's a reason why the game's hardest difficulty level is called 'Crushing'.
Playing casually, on the easiest difficulty (I started on Normal, but switched after a couple chapters) yielded 24 trophies for me, which is about 40% of the number available.
In the end, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is definitely worth some of your time. I would suggest renting it, borrowing it or getting it for cheap and play at least until somewhere between Chapter 5 and Chapter 8. At that point, you will have seen most of the great things the game has to offer. All of the major characters are introduced within the first couple chapters (some of these characters will be making a return in the sequel) and the plot, while well executed, is not overly complex, so you don't need to worry about being lost in Uncharted 2 if you've played through a bit of the original. Enjoy the spectacle that is Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, but don't stay too long. And remember that most of the shortcomings of the 1st game have been addressed in the sequel.
I recently, found myself at a crossroads in my gaming lifestyle. For most of my video game career I would have described myself as a "hardcore" player without hesitating. Over the last 5 years or so, I've come to a point where I no longer think "hardcore" is accurate and... I'm okay with that. Times have changed and now I find myself looking back on the way I used to play versus the way things are going today.
Let me sum up my path from then to now very quickly:
So there you go. It wasn't until 1999 that I had my first taste of Gran Turismo, Metal Gear Solid and Tony Hawk which broke me away from my Nintendo crony-ism. However, college put a temporary end to playing games, except the occasional Tekken bout.
Even when I wasn't actively playing games, though, I was always informed as to what was going on in the industry. It was the one hobby that no matter how much I distanced myself from it, I could never fully shake. From Nintendo Power (1989-2000) to Gamespot (2000-present) and now Giantbomb, even if I was in a period of my life where I was not playing games, I was always watching, always reading.
In 2002, I threw caution to the wind, bought a Gamecube instead of an Xbox and started voraciously playing again. I bought new releases the day they came out, burned through them in a weekend and went back for more. Even through the droughts of not playing, I continued to watch and read coverage of video games.
In 2004, I graduated with a B.A. and went out in the world to find a job, which wasn't available. Money was tight, so the first things to go were games. I continued to pay attention to the industry and in 2005, I eventually I got some cashflow and a PS2, having decided to catch up on the old games I had missed before the launch of the PS3 and competitors.
Later that year, I started grad school and the idea of continuing to buy new releases (or even older used games) became laughable. Money was tighter than ever and I was living on my own in a new town with no friends that played games. I gave up the idea of being hardcore. I no longer had the time or the finances to hang with the 1337, and when I really thought about it, I realized I didn't want to anyway.
Without generalizing too much, hardcore players tend to treat video games as commodities. They collect games as any other collector would seek baseball cards or comic books. The play most of their games once (sometimes they leave them unopened) and then put them on their shelf like trophies on display. They don't buy "Greatest Hits" games because they have different color packaging from the rest of their game collection, and they never miss a big new release, even if it's a game with a subject or play style in which they have no interest.
Make no mistake, I am not disparaging hardcore players, I just simply realized that I wasn't cut out to be one and from that moment of epiphany in 2005, to present day it is only now that I have finally figured out what I am after. I have become something of the wandering soul-searcher of video game consumers. I'm no longer in search of what's hot, or hyped, I'm looking for games out of which I can derive enjoyment. A big part of that enjoyment was letting go of my hardcore collectible ownership issues and looking at games more as experiences rather than notches on my bed post. I strive to be a video game playing zen master, at peace with the games I play, excited about those on the horizon yet completely un-obligated to play anything at all!
I'm not going to espouse the virtues of Gamefly, because really you can insert any similar service and come to the same conclusion. I have the most basic Gamefly plan, coupled with a free Gametap account and I even use my public library. I can rent, and borrow games and no longer have to worry about making investments in titles or whether or not I recoup my expense based on my percentage of customer satisfaction. I don't have to care anymore. If I try a game and it's crap, I can send it back, delete it, return it to the library and move on. I don't have to sell it back to Gamestop for pennies on the dollar or worse yet, leave it on my shelf as a testament to my bad decision making skills.
I am able to pursue games that look interesting to me, regardless of review scores. And best of all, I can sidestep the petty squabbling of purchase justification that comes in the form of fan-boyism. I am freed from expectation.
If you find yourself getting caught up in the exhaustive lifestyle of being a "hardcore" gamer, take a step back and a deep breath, re-assess and make sure what you're doing is really making you happy.