Time & Money or: Good Titanfall & Bad Mario

I need to vent a little. Videogames and I have a rocky relationship. I've always loved everything about them: the creativity, the exploration, the challenge, the camaraderie, the sheer joy. But as I've aged, I've gone from an active player to more of an interested follower and an avid collector. It's not for lack of passion, but instead due to the simple fact that adult life (or at least the adult life I have pursued) has put me in a situation where success and money are inversely related to time.

Like all children, I had a lot of spare time when I was young, but very little cash. This meant getting 2-3 videogames a year as gifts and playing them to death. In the Atari and NES days, I would play anything I could get my hands on. As I got older, games changed and so did I. I wanted more; the longer the game, the better. I spent hundreds of hours playing classics like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy, Xenogears, and just about anything else that was overly long and unnecessarily dramatic. JRPGs were my go-to genre since they often gave the best dollar:hour ratio and catered to my inquisitive nature.

Fast forward 11 years and now I'm at a time in life where I have plenty of income, but very little free time. I want my games to be high quality, short, extremely focused affairs. But there is just so much available right now and I have so many fantastic games for the 360 and PS3, I often feel joyously overwhelmed by my options. And sometimes I just want to relax with a less involved form of entertainment or try another hobby. Because of these restrictions, I rarely play anything any more. So, I've come to one realization.

IT'S TIME TO ACCEPT REALITY, FORGET THE BACKLOG, AND STOP BUYING SO MANY DAMN GAMES! I'm never going to play the hundreds of games I've accumulated. There I said it and it can't be taken back. I've realized that if I'm going to get through games, I need to focus. I have the new systems and it's time accept my fate. It's 3DS, XBONE, PS4, and Wii U from here on out. Any older games I buy are being bought so my future children will have a kick-ass library of "classic" games to play. With that off my chest, let's move on to next-generation games.

Titanfall

It is as good as they say. I was a skeptic, but have been converted by simply playing the beta

  • I love Halo and enjoy Battlefield, but never really liked COD. This game combines the best elements of all of those games and, amazingly, the sum is greater than the parts.
  • Mobility is king and this is only reinforced by fantastic map design.
  • Mechs are badass, but appropriately fragile. On foot and in-armor are both viable options at all times and having the ability to decide which you use is just plain fun.
  • Burn cards are a great way to do perks. Making them disposable was genius.

Paper Mario: Sticker Star

I feel like I'm playing it wrong because this game is, to put it simply, bad. Allow me to explain:

  • Battles are meaningless and punitive because of the lack of experience points and the disposable sticker system
  • The story is meaningless and, despite some clever dialogue, only gets in the way of progress
  • Wiggler and World 3 (this entire section of the game is actively, offensively bad)
  • Boss fights
  • Being forced to find hidden objects (not difficult, just annoying) and then return to town to convert them to stickers to progress
  • Ugh.

That's all folks.

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The Giant Bomb F2P Quick Look Formula

  1. Immediately complain that game is F2P and offers some sort of transaction model.
  2. Apparently enjoy game for 30 minutes while misunderstanding most gameplay mechanics (free and paid alike).
  3. Repeat complaints about the nature of F2P games and check to see the conversion rate of in-game currency to real world money (If you're Brad, now is a good time to hoard your in-game currency or refuse to test an important gameplay mechanic).
  4. Comment on sad state of gaming even though quality games with a significant amount of content are now accessible to a wider range of people.
  5. Say, "It seems alright."
  6. Rinse, repeat.

-n

P.S. I do realize that I now only show up to complain, which officially makes me an old man.

P.P.S. This entry was spurred by watching the recent Ascend QL and reminiscing about the PvZ2 QL.

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Hugo (a film)

One quick note about the film, Hugo...

I don't like to be a downer, but boy is this movie overrated. I'm talking Avatar level of overrated. To be blunt, this is a horribly cliched storybook romance with mediocre acting that crawls along at a snail's pace (this coming from someone who thinks Kubrick is the greatest director of all time), only to morph into a completely unrelated movie in the last act, requiring 10 minutes of exposition to make it remotely comprehensible. Whew. I need to catch my breath.

That was kind of a long-winded way of saying this Oscar-nominated, Martin Scorsese-directed, critical darling of a film is really, really boring and I would not recommend it to any one. Harsh? Maybe. True? Definitely.

-n

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2,866 Miles, 809 Days, and One Game

Best I can remember, I started playing Zack & Wiki with my girlfriend about two and a half years ago as an attempt to introduce videogames into our relationship. The game itself is marvelous and one of the hidden gems of the Wii library. It's essentially a single-player game, so two player involvement requires a bit of patience and a willingness to give up control, but the experience is what you make it. We had a lot of fun puzzling our way through the early portions of the game, but the last couple levels are downright fiendish and stumped us. As we counted down our last few months together (we were about to part ways and move to our respective residency programs, half-way across the country from each other), videogames moved to the backburner and Zack & Wiki became a distant memory.

Since that time, we've had other adventures; we've butt-stomped our way through Wario, unraveled the imaginative world of Kirby, and shaken our booties to the beats of Dance Central, but never finished Zack & Wiki. Fast forward to March of 2013, my girlfriend is now my fiancée, we are entrenched in our residency programs and working 80+ hours a week, we are about as far apart geographically as possible (fully across the country instead of half-way), and we have nearly an entire week together. We started our vacation with our usual date-night dinners, romantic walks, and trips to the city, yet inexplicably, our conversation turned to a silly little game that we never quite finished. We are different people now--our jobs, our goals, our lives--are unrecognizable to those who have not known us for years. Even so, cuddling up on the couch and laughing at the most inane solutions our warped minds can conceive is as enjoyable as ever.

Our previous save was created on Jan 11, 2011. We graduated medical school on June 12, 2011. We finished intern year on June 30, 2012. She said "Yes!" on February 9, 2013. We finished Zack & Wiki on Mar 30, 2013, exactly 809 days after our previous attempt.

Maybe it's not a landmark event that should be included in the above list of life accomplishments, but it means more than the simple sentence conveys. The number of holdovers from our care-free days of youth is dwindling daily. It's a sad, yet exciting thought because it means things are changing, and change is scary. We don't know what our next adventure will be, but it will surely take us across space and time and life, and that's good enough for me.

-n

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A Day Late and a... Okay, a Few Years Late

So, I'm finally playing through Crisis Core for the PSP. Not exactly on the bleeding edge of gaming, but FFVII will always be one of my all-time favorites, so I've had a need to play this game for years. It is almost the sole reason I purchased a PSP a couple years ago and is only the second game I've really played on the system. This has led me to a few harsh realizations:

  • I hate the PSP analog pad. It is positioned terribly too low for my hands, which I consider to be of average size. If it were just placed in the position of the D-Pad, it would feel great. I don't have much else to complain about when it comes to the system and I hope the Vita feels a bit more comfortable.
  • You can't go back. While I'm enjoying the experience of seeing Gaia again, I'm finding it a little hard to care like I used to. I've heard that Zack's story is really great and, even, touching towards the end of the game, so I will press on. However, I'm finding all the melodrama to be a bit much right now at 6 hours in. I don't know if it's because I'm becoming a cranky old man (FFVII was released 16 years ago!) or I just don't have the time any more for long-winded JRPGs, but I'm just not getting swept up in a roller coaster of nostalgia.
  • I really despise the leveling system and the DMW. They have given the player so much more control of the combat, which often makes it quite entertaining, only to take so much depth away. A bit baffling.
  • On a positive note, Aerith's introduction was pretty much perfect. Very serene and beautiful.

So that's where I am. I will continue on and see what I came to see. I just hope I can relive a little bit of the magic that 12 year old me felt in 1997.

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The Valve New Employee Handbook

I realize this has been available for quite a while now, but I just read through Valve's New Employee Handbook. It is utterly fascinating and I highly recommend reading through it, even if only as a sociologic and economic study of a unique business model. The fact that a company can function and be successful with such an odd structure is amazing. It really speaks to the quality of their employees and extremely high standards upheld in their hiring process. I'm so intrigued by the breadth of employee skills that I'd honestly like to apply for a job there and see if my medical degree is of any interest to them. They are just a few minutes away from where I live...

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The Cycle of Cynicism

The following is a response I wrote to a thread in the forums discussing cynicism in the video games industry, whether it be by fans, journalists, or developers.

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I think this is the natural course of a developing medium. When video games first emerged as a viable form of entertainment, they just needed to be fun to be good (perhaps a bit of an oversimplification, but I think it is a generally true statement). As with any young technology, the path towards achieving that goal was significantly limited by the hardware available. It is difficult, after all, to complain about controls when you have only one button available or graphics when you're working with 8 colors and a handful of pixels. If it was fun, it was worth playing, that was really the bottom line. Now, with the immense technology, endless information, and multiple channels of distribution available to every one of us, the boundaries of what can be done are not so clear. The potential to do something great is at our fingertips, but it's not as simple as it used to be. The fun factor is not the only factor any more, there are just too many moving parts. To be clear, I am not claiming that designers no longer set out to make fun games (Frog Fractions), they certainly do. There are plenty of passionate people out there who just want to make others happy. Unfortunately, making people happy is not a great back-of-the-box bullet point.

Coupled with this exponential increase in design complexity, we must also remember that the video games industry is growing at an unbelievable pace and that means there is a stead influx of cash. People gravitate to what they love and what they can get paid for; video games can now fulfill both of those roles. And the connectivity of the internet gives every person posting on a message board the feeling that he/she is just one revelatory post away from being the next reviewer on Giant Bomb. I mean, how cool would it be to go to work with Jeff, Ryan, Drew, and the rest of the crew every day, play videogames, become internet famous, and get paid? To do that, you can't just be the guy or girl who says a game is fun. It's not enough. Successful critics are half entertainer, half informer (okay, maybe ninety percent entertainer, ten percent informer, but that's not the point). No matter how you break it down, the people who run these sites are influential and they are good at what they do. Cynicism sells. They produce it because we buy it. We are swayed by what we see and hear, so we parrot that back in our blogs and on these forums. It's a vicious cycle.

Now, I don't want this entire post to come off as pessimistic and cynical in itself, so let me remind you that there are a few holdouts left in this world. For instance, one, Caravella. I don't know him personally, but every time he talks about games, he wears his heart on his sleeve. I can't help but think, "That is a man who loves games because they are fun." I really believe he is genuinely happy to be playing them. He's not afraid to express an unpopular opinion, even when he stands alone. In just the last couple of weeks, this has been painfully obvious with Castlevania: LOS. So I implore you all, try to avoid being swept up in the tidal wave of cynicism. It may be the natural evolution of journalism and criticism, but it doesn't have to be your point of view.

Now, with all that being said, I'm a laid-back kind of guy, and I just want to have fun with my games, so let's all go play and be happy. :-)

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Backlog, Broken Bones, and Big Changes

  • Spending about 95% of my time on doctor stuff right now with my in-training exam only a few days away. Videogames, movies, and any real attempts at exercise have been on the backburner for way too long and I can't wait to get back to them.
  • Healing up nicely from a rib injury I obtained snowboarding at the beginning of the month and a foot injury while playing soccer last week. Realizing I should probably not be quite so aggressive with my sporting. I'm not 20 years old any more.
  • My backlog is excessively and, in a way, pathetically long. I need to stop buying things I don't have time to play. That being said, I've finally given up on the idea of playing through Persona 4 in this lifetime. As such, I'm downloading the entire P4 Endurance Run, which I've completely avoided for fear of spoiling the game for myself. I'm excited, yet wary. Can it possibly live up to the inhuman praise it receives around this site? Only time will tell, but just the fact that Vinny is the frontman gives me faith.
  • Exciting things are happening in my life right now and over the coming months. Getting ready for a vacation to Vail in a couple weeks for some much needed R&R. Big news coming.
  • My pick for the Super Bowl? 49ers
  • Hockey is back. Go Wings!
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Trials & Tribulations

I honestly believe that Trials HD and Trials Evolution are two of the best games of this generation. I realize that's a bold statement for what is essentially a 2D sidescroller with a robust physics engine, so here are a few reasons to justify my wild claims:

  • I've Got Blisters on My Fingers!: Any time I get into the Trials groove, I develop some badass blisters on my hands. Excluding the titular puzzle racers (that, of course, being the technical name for this genre), the only recent game to even slightly offend my digits is Super Meat Boy. And it's not just a time thing that produces these badges of honor; it takes some serious, aggressive force. If counting pain and physical deformity as positive endpoints for a gaming session seems ridiculous, you didn't play enough NES games.
  • Full Body Workout: You can probably chalk this one up to nostalgia as well, but I love the way these games make me move. And I'm not talking about dancing here, I'm talking about the infamous Nintendo Lean. If it worked for millions of Marios, it can work for a nameless, faceless stuntman. Take my lean and use it little man!
  • Nerves of Steel: These games ain't easy. Extreme difficulty isn't always a positive trait, but when coupled with the appropriate sense of accomplishment, it can be cathartic. The quick restarts and the omnipresent reset counter turn failure into fun, or at least that's how I'd try to sell it if I were an ad-man.
  • Gaming 101: Gas, break, forward, and back. That's it. Yes, there are some gradations thanks to the analog controls, but you won't find a simpler instruction manual or a more intuitive experience this side of the 8-bit days. So if you don't have Trials, bust out your copy of Excitebike and start grinning.

That's it for now. I'll be hiding away for the next few months studying for my in-service exam and taking lots of call. And, if I'm lucky, scavenging Forerunner technology here and there.

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Diabolical

I finished Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box today and I can't help but feel disappointed. The game is every bit as good as its predecessor, but it just didn't grab me. I really think it comes down to the novelty factor. The original game was just that, original. This one is just more of the same. Not far into it, I got sick of tapping the screen, solving simple math problems, and trying to decipher sometimes ridiculous puzzle instructions. There are clearly a lot of people out there who love this style of game and want more, hence the multiple sequels, but I'm not one of them. GB just put up a QL of the newest 3DS game, so I'll check that out to see if things have evolved, but I have a pretty strong feeling I won't be returning to the land of Layton any time soon.

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