I'm heading to Virginia tomorrow for my sister's graduation. She's going to be a doctor of criminology or something like that, I guess. I don't really pay much attention to that kind of stuff because she's an icky girl.
Anyway, I'll be only intermittently online from Saturday until Wednesday, and queries to email@example.com may go unanswered until I get back. I'm sure I missed some emails or PMs this week due to the busy-ness, but feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you haven't gotten a response to something yet. I'll try to get back to you at some point!
I was unemployed from April 1, 2012 to April 22, 2013. That was a pretty long time to be out of work, as you can probably appreciate.
(Note that I'm graciously leaving out a five-week period in which I was Executive Editor of GameSpy.com, mostly because the bulk of those five weeks were spent getting used to the CMS for the site rather than actually creating content for it. It was an honor to write for a site that I greatly respected, but it was pretty clear that IGN didn't really have a lot of resources to bring to bear on GameSpy. In the end, getting laid off was a pretty fortunate turn, especially since it freed me up to come on board over here.)
Anyway, I was out of work for almost a year, aside from occasional freelance assignments. The great state of California is fairly close to the mean when it comes to unemployment benefits, kicking out $450 a week at the maximum level, which I qualified for. Some citizens might have gnashed their teeth at the prospect of living on the dole, but I figured that I had put my fair share into the system over the past eight years of my working life through the contributions that the companies I had worked for had paid out to the state unemployment ledgers. I didn't really feel too bad at getting a workable amount of financial support while I was actively looking for work.
No one takes any kind of pride in living off of government assistance, obviously, but neither was the prospect of drawing unemployment any source of shame or depression to me. Not to get political, but I think most sane people can agree that it's better for a society to support someone who finds themselves unemployed during their search for a new job (for a reasonable amount of time) rather than let said citizen be turned out on the street. I was supported by the state to a not-inconsiderable sum during the year that I was looking for work, but now that I'm back on the job, I'm paying the state of California a not-inconsiderable sum in taxes, and will be for some time into the future. Which is a good thing for everyone concerned, in my opinion.
(One annoyance worth mentioning: when I would report freelance income on my unemployment forms, the following check would deduct the bulk of that income from my benefits. I can kind of get the reasoning behind this, but at the same time it seemed to eliminate most of the motivation to look for part-time or freelance work, since you would wind up making practically the same amount of money not doing that work as you would actually doing it. That conundrum, combined with the amazing annoyance that freelance contracts often wind up being, were almost enough to convince me to write for free rather than ask for payment for them. (Almost.))
I can't claim that my situation was necessarily a standard one, though: despite the fairly ridiculous cost of living in San Francisco, I was still fortunate in that the unemployment benefit that I was drawing covered all of my rent and bills, with a bit left over for food. I say "fortunate," but in the end that situation was just as much a result of my life choices as it was a result of circumstances: I managed to pay off my student loans a couple of years ago, I don't have children, and I don't own a car, the latter two of which are likely to be immediate concerns for the majority of people who are filing for unemployment. (To be fair, the "not owning a car part" is kind of built into the cost of living in San Francisco, since it's such a bike-friendly city; I might pay a few hundred dollars more a month to live here than I would elsewhere, but I wind up saving that money through not having to pay for a car loan, parking, gas, tickets, and etc.)
I wouldn't necessarily say that I'm the best at making smart financial decisions, but I did at least learn to avoid debt pretty early on in life from some unfortunate family mistakes, and I've always made it a point to try and stay away from large financial commitments unless I'm relatively sure I can pay for them immediately without incurring monthly bills. To that end, I don't think I actually even have any real debt; I have a credit card, but I make it a point to pay it off every month and just get some points from spending on it.
Being unemployed also encouraged me to be frugal in other ways, though. For instance: paper towels? Mostly unnecessary! You can wipe down dishes and stuff with rags pretty easily, and they're completely reusable if you're willing to wash and wring them out regularly. Cable television? Cut the cord! Video games? No need to get them right away! Wait for a Steam sale! Haircuts? Why spend 30 bucks a month when you can buy a set of Wahl clippers for 20 bucks on Amazon and do it yourself? The back of your head might wind up looking suspiciously like a mullet, since you can't actually see it when you give yourself a buzz, but you'll wind up saving a boatload of money over a year.
I wish I could say that I had much of a point to all this; this is really more of a series of thoughts than any kind of narrative. I appreciate all the good wishes that everyone had for me during my time out of the limelight, but in the end, I guess my dirty little secret about unemployment is this: I kind of enjoyed it. I wish I hadn't been unemployed for so long, but after a series of jobs where working 60 hours a week was normal, it was kind of refreshing to be able to read a bunch of books, hang out at bars until they closed, work through some of my game queue, and most importantly sleep as much as I goddamned please for a while. There was a bit of anxiety here and there, but not nearly as much as I would've experienced if I had had kids to feed or a bunch of debt to worry about. I wasn't kicking around like it was a vacation - I was actively looking for work the whole time - but at the same time it was nice not to have to worry about getting up and heading into an office every day.
That's not to say that being out of work for so long doesn't breed a bit of cynicism. I'm a bit of a pessimist to begin with, and I'm still pretty sure that we'll all be unemployed and underwater well before the robots take over in 2060. In the near future, though, it's a good thing to remember that corporations might care about your happiness insofar as it affects your productivity, but that they'll also cut you loose as soon as the calculus shifts against your continued employment. I suppose that's fair, so far as such things go, but it's also a good thing to keep in mind when figuring out how to balance personal needs and the needs of your employer.
Anyway, it's good to be back in the fold of the working man, and a bit of positive cash flow now brings the exciting prospect of actually buying some stuff that I've been holding off on purchasing for a while, like new shoes and some glasses and a new TV and such. But I'll leave that for another blog post, I suppose.
Hey! It's been a fun first week here on the Bomb and Comic Vine. Mostly what I've been doing is getting used to all of the many, many tools that are used behind the scenes as part of the support system here. Giant Bomb is not a completely self-contained site, as we rely heavily on a third-party support site to help us run all of our support stuff. So anything you send to email@example.com actually goes to our account on another website, which makes it easier for us to track those issues over the time periods it can take to resolve them rather than deal with lengthy email chains. From the support site, issues are thrown into github for our engineering and design team to crack them, or I hop over to another site for billing support if someone got double charged or something like that, or I use yet another site to deal with issues with our store orders. So there are a lot of new logins and passwords to remember now, but I'm getting a handle on it. Hopefully we can reduce the amount of time you guys wait on answers to queries by a substantial amount going forward. Hopefully!
Anyway, I was dealing with a lot of incoming messages last week across PMs, Twitter, responses to my blog, and a few other sources. I tried my best to get back to almost everyone who asked a direct question, but I figured that if anyone had any questions regarding recent developments and what's going on around here, I'd be happy to try and answer them now that I've had a chance to breathe a bit. You're welcome to ask things in the comments or send me a PM. There will be another Ramblin' Rorie at some point, but until I have time to do that I figured some of you might still have some lingering questions. So, ask me anything, but let's try to keep the questions about Rampart.
Edit: Sorry, I should've quoted people in my responses. In the past I've hit posting limits, so I responded to a bunch of people in each reply. Hopefully it's not too confusing!
Hey there. I’m now the Product Manager for Giant Bomb and ComicVine.
That’s a fun sentence to write, as you might imagine. It’s been a bit of a long year for me since I left Whiskey Media, but in the end, coming back to CBS Interactive to work with a bunch of people that have been colleagues of mine for almost the entirety of my professional life is pretty much the best possible conclusion to the little sabbatical I’ve been taking. I'll weave the tale of my journeys in a future blog post, I'm sure.
Obviously it’s also a bit of a sad day as well, with Dave moving on from Giant Bomb and ComicVine after over half a decade working on both of those sites. I don’t need to tell you about the talent and drive that Dave brought to the sites, whether you’re talking about design, working with the community, or his sojourns into editorial. He’s a good friend, and the only bittersweet thing about taking this job is that I won’t be working with him, although I'm going to hold him to his promise of coming by for appearances in the future.
Dave's obviously irreplaceable, but hopefully I’ll be able to provide a bit of continuity as we transition into a post-Snider era. The Product Manager role encompasses a lot of what Dave was doing aside from his engineering and design tasks, meaning that I’ll be helping to keep tabs on the community’s thoughts and wishes (and dreams and hopes and desires), reporting bugs back to the engineering team, attempting to create new premium content for our premium members, and generally helping out in any way that I can to ensure that the sites are growing while also keeping you guys happy. This isn’t an editorial position, so you won’t be seeing my byline on the site every day or anything, but I’m sure I’ll be dropping by here and there with a video or Quick Look appearance when it’s appropriate.
In the meantime, I’ll be on the forums every day, and I’m going to attempt to update my blog much more often than I have during my year off, especially as I weave my web of seduction, betrayal, and lies on the unsuspecting populace of 235 Second Street (this fall on CBS). You’ll also probably be seeing me in whatever responses you get from firstname.lastname@example.org, as well as other sundry interactions we might have around the site. Feel free to PM me whenever you like and I'll try to get back to you as soon as I can, and you can also follow me on Twitter or, of course, Properly Petting Puppies.
So! A big day for me, Dave, and GiantBomb. If you guys have any questions or comments, you can feel free to direct them to me in the comments here or via PM or post on my wall or send me smoke messages or what have you. Thanks for all the well-wishes on Twitter; apologies for not being able to get back to everyone, but man there were a lot of them.
Anyway, with the announcements out of the way, I'll be back soon with more news about what all this means (when we figure it out), and what you can look forward to. Thanks for having me, and cross your fingers that I don't royally screw this up.
Hey, I forgot that I still have a shrinkwrapped SimCity copy if anyone wants it. If you do, just leave a comment below and I'll send the code to someone at random in a few hours. If you register it by tomorrow you should be able to get one of the free games that EA offered due to the crappy launch, as well. So, really, this is like getting Dead Space 3 for free with a bonus SimCity in there as well.
EDIT: I punched the number of responses into random.org and the number matched up with user DwigtK! Congrats to him! Sorry to everyone else! Here's a puppy for you!
(I posted this on my blog, but I figured I might as well put it here, too!)
I’ve been playing a bunch of WoW lately, but my experiences are replaying the usual cycle I go through with every expansion. I start out, level a couple of characters to the max, have a good time running dungeons, then get bored at the endgame. To its credit, Pandaria has kept me interested in my max-level characters far longer than any expansion ever has; there’s a really good variety of things to do when you hit 90.
Still, I’m a tank, and almost every activity I do in the game is targeted towards tanking or finding better tanking gear. Either I’m actually running dungeons or working on rep grinds to get more valor/unlock better gear to buy. I realize that there are a lot of people who enjoy pet battles or PVP or fishing or gaming the auction house or scenarios or whatever, and I think it’s great that Blizzard has managed to incorporate so many alternative ways of playing their game, but none of them have really wound up sticking with me the way that tanking has. My two 90’s are a prot paladin and a brewmaster monk, and I’ve been working on getting a bear druid and my old prot warrior up to the cap, as well. I do one thing in this game, and I like to think I do it well.
Obviously I’ve never been one to make clean UIs.
Which is why it’s too bad that they recently announced that there won’t be any more five-man dungeons in Mists, but at least that announcement has made me feel less guilty about cutting my WoW habit until the next expansion comes out.
I’m not sure I can adequately explain why I enjoy tanking five-mans so much. (For those who don’t play WoW, each five-person dungeon has a tank, who controls the monsters and takes as much of the damage as he possibly can, a healer, who heals everyone in the group, and three DPS, who are responsible for killing everything that you come across.) The bulk of the psychological draw is probably that it’s the ultimate position of authority in the game, in that the tank bears the brunt of the responsibility for achieving the goals of the group. You can limp along with poor DPS, and even a bad healer can be supplemented with self-heals and potions and the like, but a bad tank will often make a dungeon run uncompletable unless the rest of the group composition can compensate for that lack of skill.
I pride myself on not being a bad tank, though, and judging by the comments I get from pick-up groups, I’d wager that I’m on the upper end of the skill scale. Healers enjoy the fact that I pop cooldowns to make their job easier, and DPS appreciate that I keep the pace up and don’t waste my time in guild chat during runs. It’s an oddly parental kind of experience, in that you work with a partner (the healer) to try and get your hyperactive kids (the DPS) through a 20-minute dungeon without any of them getting burned by fire or eaten by an angry ghost.
Maybe don’t stand in that fire, y’all?
Another aspect of tanking that I enjoy is that it lets me be kind of a dick without any major repercussions. I should restate that: I can take revenge on the dicks that populate any given multiplayer game by one-upping them and immediately dropping group, forcing them to wait around for another tank to queue up, which can take a while even at max level. It’s the WoW equivalent of angrily hanging up one of those old rotary phones that hung on the wall of the house of anyone who grew up in the 80s: a forceful, emphatic, and entirely pleasing (to me) retort to bad behavior. If you want to be a dick, you can expect me to put you in the time out box.
To be clear, I don’t really mind bad players, and there are plenty of those as well. We’re talking things like melee DPS who always attack enemies from the front, despite the fact that I take more damage when they do so (thanks to the game’s odd parrying system) and that they do less damage than they would if they attacked the mob from behind. Or players who don’t stack up in the middle for the Sha of Doubt or know how to line-of-sight the group of nine mini-foes during the last fight in Stormstout Brewery, or who’ve run the Scarlet Halls a dozen times and still can’t get away from Harlan’s whirlwind attack. (Which, to be fair, kills more players by far than any other heroic attack that I can think of.)
STACK UP JUST STACK UP ON ME IT’S NOT THAT HARD
It’s easy to understand why there are so many bad players in WoW’s endgame: the leveling experience, especially via dungeons, has been made so easy that you can run most content on autopilot without any serious risk of death. The health of every monster in every dungeon between level 20 and 85 should be tripled, just to give some kind of illusion of challenge, and there definitely needs to be more opportunities to emphasize strategic thinking in dungeons before Pandaria. Maybe throw a few mobs into each dungeon that can automatically heal every nearby mob to full, forcing you to CC or target them before taking out anyone else. (The Temple Adepts in Vortex Pinnacle wind up causing wipes, just because no one ever seems to want to interrupt or attack them first.) Or put in a monster or two that can cleave attack for massive damage on anyone who isn’t tanking it, forcing melee DPS to attack from behind or die. Anything to encourage a moment of strategizing rather than blindly running from enemy to enemy for 20 minutes.
Still, if inefficient players bug me, they don’t bug me nearly as much as assholes do, and there are a number of assholes in WoW (although not as many as I would say exist in LoL/DOTA2 or console versions of Call of Duty, from what I’ve heard about those communities). Assholes in WoW are made when players both outgear the challenge in front of them and are obsessed with moving as quickly as possible through a dungeon. They’ll yell at you if you stop to compare your gear with an item that just dropped, will pull extra monsters back onto the group (which makes both the tank and the healer’s job more difficult), and generally just throw hissy-fits and try to kick people if someone needs to take a moment to do anything other than pressing relentlessly forward. True assholery is luckily fairly rare, but it does pop up once in a while.
My answer to the asshole conundrum is usually to just ask politely for them to not do whatever’s making them an asshole, and then drop from the group immediately if they cease to do it. The wait time for tanks to get into dungeons is basically instantaneous, and I’m happy to just log out while the dungeon deserter debuff wears off. I wield the power of the dungeon-drop without much discernment, and I’m sure more than a few innocent victims of it have added me to their /ignore list, but in the end, my guiding principle in gaming is to not put up with being frustrated by assholes.
Epic but stressful.
Even for all their problems, a well-done dungeon run is really fun, although they do get repetitive after a while. But Blizzard’s new emphasis on getting everyone into Raid Finder groups is a bit off-putting to me. If a competent group in a dungeon makes for a nice little pas de cinq, LFR runs are rarely more organized than your average mosh pit, with a far greater chance of people yelling “GO GO GO” at you as a tank. LFR groups have 25 players, but only two tanks, with something like five healers and 18 DPS to round out the group. The end result of that is that your actions as a tank are significantly more important to the survival of the raid than that of any other player. (It’s not uncommon for some DPS players to simply hang back and cast a couple spells at each boss, doing the minimum required to get loot without doing so poorly that they get kicked.)
So tanking raids isn’t exactly a fun proposition for me, especially when faced with the prospect of learning new raids and tanking them for the first time. I can watch videos and read up on each encounter as much as I like, but it’s still challenging the first time, and it’s useful to sit and whisper with my fellow tank before each encounter, discussing strategies and the like. That’s actually one of the fun aspects of the LFR gig. Listening to people rage at you in raid chat for taking your time to do things right? Not so much. I haven’t enjoyed many of my half-dozen experiences in the LFR system thus far, needless to say; if I give it another whirl I’ll probably just flip off raid chat entirely.
It’s possible that LFR will eventually wind up keeping me in the game, but it’s unlikely. It’s seems more stressful than fun, I don’t think I’ve gotten a single piece of gear from any of my runs, and it generally seems to be a system designed for people to yell at tanks. It’s supposedly a way to emphasize storylines more than are actually possible in five-mans, but I can’t say that I’ve really picked up on any plotlines in LFRs beyond “standing in fire hurts and the bad guys are supposed to die.” I’m sure taking down Garrosh will be a pretty epic experience, so maybe I’ll come resub for that, but as of April 8th my subscription is expiring.
Still, as said, Blizz deserves a lot of credit for catering to an incredibly wide array of gameplay tastes in WoW. There’s something for everyone; it’s just a shame that my something is going to be given short shrift for the next 18 months until the next expansion comes out.
A quick note: I wrote a Beginner's Guide to Guild Wars 2 for GamesRadar last week/weekend, which is why I wasn't posting much. (On top of being generally under the weather.) Me being me, I wound up writing way too much about it, so it's being split into three different sections and posting over the end of the week. Hopefully you'll enjoy it, and feel free to check it out if you like! It was the first bit of freelance I've done since the old job, and the first game guide-ish thing I've written in four or five years, so it was interesting to work on. There might be more where that came from if the freelance fairy smiles upon yours truly.
Anyway, I've had plenty of time to play the game over the last month, between the (many) stress tests that ArenaNet ran and the head-start launch weekend, so I thought I'd put down some impressions. Obviously, this being an MMO (and a surprisingly full-featured one, considering the lack of a subscription model), so it's a bit premature to call this a "review," but I've had plenty of time to fiddle around with all of the basic mechanics, so I doubt my opinions of the game will change very much on the road to max-level. (The main caveat is that I haven't tried out the dungeon feature yet, which I'm looking forward to; I hear they're pretty tough.)
To put it succinctly, though, this feels like the first MMO I've tried in a long time that actually competes with WoW on a sense of world size and relative innovation. (Note that I didn't try Secret World, which I heard good things about.) GW2 feels iterative rather than revolutionary, but those iterations are almost uniformly positive, to the point where I constantly found myself asking "why didn't anyone think of this before?" (I'm sure that someone's going to point out that the features I really like are in another MMO someplace, but they're new to me, so be gentle.)
Perhaps the most obvious of those is the way the game emphasizes emergent cooperative gameplay by getting rid of the long-standing MMO staples of monster-tagging and resource disappearance. In WoW, for example, the first player to tag or hit a monster will be the only one to get credit for the kill and be able to loot the body, unless they're in a party with other people. In GW2, all kills are shared between everyone who managed to land a blow on an enemy; even if I walk up to the end of your epic fight and send a single arrow into the body of the minotaur you're tackling, I still get full experience and the privelege of looting. (OBAMA SOCIALISM GOOGLE RON PAUL, etc.)
It's entirely possible that this might wind up being exploitable in some instances (although the downwards level scaling in PVE eliminates the worst opportunities for this), but for the most part, it's a wonderful change of pace, since you no longer have to worry about waiting around for a quest monster to spawn or recruiting a bunch of people to help you with a group quest. Since anyone can participate in a group event and get credit for it, it's an entirely common occurance to see dozens of players coming together to take down a particularly tough objective. As a result, the developers felt free to make many of the tougher world bosses pretty damn tough, with some of them taking a few minutes of constant fire from what's effectively a raid group to take down. (There is a bit of an imbalance between ranged classes and melee classes here, as it feels as though the ranged attackers have a much easier time staying alive.)
That's a great change of pace from the usual "I gotta get mine" attitude of your general MMO player. Since it costs neither you nor the other player anything to help them out, and is instead almost always beneficial (leaving aside the chance of death), I find myself assisting almost everyone I see. (As an aside, I think the XP rewards for assisting a fallen player back to their feet should be boosted, as it's often a pretty risky thing to pull off. Heck, throw some karma in there as well; it's thematically pretty appropriate. Although, again: exploitable if people wish to take advantage of it.) I wouldn't necessarily say that I feel any great cameraderie with the mostly anonymous players that I fight alongside (there are too many of them to really get a feel for anyone's identity as you quest, and people often seem to take different routes through the content), but it's usually more fun to feel like you're a part of a living world rather than a lone adventurer off in the wilderness by yourself.
The other reason that that feeling exists is because ArenaNet did away with consumable material nodes. Again, in games like WoW and TOR, a collectible node (for ore or plants or what have you) is first-come-first-serve, with the first person to reach the node and tag it gaining all of the rewards, while anyone else who was fighting through a group of mobs to get there left with their hands in their pockets. Not so in GW2, where everyone can collect from a node; if someone else mines an ore vein before you get there, it'll still be available on your map when you reach the location. That eliminates one of the more frustrating experiences in WoW, where you'd see an ore vein on your minimap and make a beeline, only to see someone else scooting away as the ore vanishes in front of your eyes. (I am curious if multi-botting farmers dominate the economy as time goes on; if you can net together five warriors, you'll be getting five times the resources in the same amount of time. I assume Arenanet will take an anti-multiboxing stance for that reason alone.)
Those two major changes seem to have allowed the developers to pack many more players into one server instance than in any other game I can ever recall, WoW included; at times it feels like I'm on a Japanese subway platform at rush hour. Granted, it is launch week, and the player base will ebb over time (although the game should avoid the first-month player exodus due to the lack of subscriptions), but the world feels chock-full of players, all of which are fighting towards the same goals as you. That is almost always a positive thing, as you never need to spend time plaintively beseeching guildmates to help you with a tough quest; just wait around and someone will surely come along who needs it as well.
The drawback, so far, is a somewhat ironic lack of a community feeling to the game. Part of the charm of TOR and WoW is precisely the fact that it often made more sense to team up with other players in parties, which in turn made it easier to learn their names, chat with them, see what other quests they had to do that you might share with them, and so on. I've managed around 50 cumulative levels across my four characters in GW2, and I've only been in a party twice, and only one of those was strictly necessary. That makes the game world feel like a true massively-multiplayer experience, but one in which you're often just a cog in a great adventuring machine. That's not necessarily always a bad thing, though (and there's always guild chat to keep you entertained), and to me the benefits far outweigh the negatives.
The list of features that I love could go on and on, but I'd be remiss not to call out the "deposit all collectibles" feature in the inventory, which makes gathering crafting items a painless proposition, and the way the game encourages exploration by giving you a bevy of things to do in every corner of the map. It's a game that just feels extremely well thought-out from a design standpoint, and technically it's performed almost flawlessly as well, with a few hiccups here and there. (Get that auction house up already!)
My main concern for the rest of my time in Tyria is actually varying up the gameplay experience as I climb towards 80. You can unlock all of the weapon skills available to your character fairly early on, and after that the only customization that you can really do are change up your utility skills and invest in traits. Trait bonuses are mostly passive, as far as I can tell, and many of the utility skills have lengthy cooldowns, meaning that they don't really make a huge difference in the blow-by-blow of combat. All of which means that most fights see me using the same two or three skills (not including my autoattack) repeatedly until something dies. You can change weapons, of course, and even switch them in the middle of combat, but I rarely find myself doing so, as I generally go with a combination of a strong single-target weapon and one that's better at AOE fighting, and those elements rarely seem to mix all that much in any given fight.
In other words, I worry a bit about the game getting boring after the thousandth skirmish, and I sometimes wish the utility skills were a bit flashier or could be used more often. Even the class special skills sometimes feel underwhelming; the warrior's special is basically just an extra, more powerful attack, and the thief's stealing ability feels frustratingly random. They sometimes feel as though they were designed for flavor rather than for fun (and they're all thematically pretty spot-on), which is defensible, but I'd rather have a good balance of the two.
Anyway, as I write I keep thinking of things I want to laud in Guild Wars 2. The game, again, isn't a revolution in MMO design, but it does a lot of things better than any MMO that's come before, and really feels like the first one that I've played that can stand up against WoW in the long run. I'd still give WoW the edge in overall fun factor, simply because I like the combat mechanics better (given that you can bind and use dozens of actions in combat, rather than the limited options available to you in GW2), but we'll see what the future holds. For now, it's easily recommendable as a purchase, especially without the monthly fee structure.
What do you guys think of GW2 so far? It seems to have gotten more buzz than any PC game in recent memory, so I'm curious to hear your thoughts.
EDIT: I really wish I could respond to more than two comments in a row. Alas, I can't!
I never got the chance to play Alan Wake on Xbox, but, now that I've picked it up on Steam, I'm fairly glad that I missed it. That...sounds strange, I think: I actually liked the game quite a bit, but I'm glad I waited for the PC port, since it was one of the better PC ports to come along in recent memory. It's superlative, really; it runs beautifully on high settings and looks pretty spectacular to boot, without a single crash or glitch sticking in my memory. In truth, it's been a pretty good few years for PC ports, but Alan Wake seems to be at the upper end of the range of quality. Borderlands probably comes in near the bottom, at least of the games that I've played; any game that actually forces you to open ports to play multiplayer deserves all the scorn it got, even if it was fairly fun once you fixed the FOV problems. The middle ground is filled with Skyrim-like games that are serviceable ports: relatively uncomplicated, but not doing much to take advantage of the PC platform. (While Skyrim was perfectly playable, its UI was pretty bad on the PC, and it took them quite a while to release that high-res textures pack, if I recall.)
Anyway, Alan Wake was fairly fun, although it's also interesting to consider it as a piece with American Nightmare, which is an odd example of iterative gameplay in that the follow-up DLC makes some pretty drastic changes to its predecessor's gameplay and overall style. It's difficult to get into the minutia unless you've played both games, and I feel like a bit of a philistine when I say that American Nightmare feels like the kind of game that I'd much prefer to play again, given the choice. If you've played Alan Wake, but not American Nightmare, here are some of the basic changes:
Flashlight charges much more rapidly, going to full strength within a couple of seconds of being drained. The flashlight doesn't grant any darkness-busting powers unless it's focused this time around, but you still only need batteries in dire emergencies.
You can sprint for a longer duration before getting tired. Like, much longer: probably 4x the time/distance, at least. Makes a pretty large tactical difference.
Many more weapons to choose from, especially in the handgun slot (magnum, 9mm, SMG, etc.)
An ammo change that eliminates most ammo boxes to being either for big guns or small guns; no more separate shotgun/rifle ammo, in other words. If you find a box of small-gun ammo, it'll fill up your SMG or Magnum or 9mm, regardless of what you're carrying.
Larger maps that enable you to freely roam/explore a bit. Alan Wake did a good job of hiding its linearity with excursions to hidden chests and goodies, but my appetite for exploration was hampered by some poor checkpoint placement, meaning that I'd sometime go a minute or two to find a hidden chest, return to the path, die, and then have to do it all over again. The three maps in American Nightmare are much more free-form, even if you will sometimes go poking around without finding anything.
Speaking of items, you're much more restricted in the amount of items you can carry, with a maximum of five flares/flashbangs in your pockets, and seemingly much fewer flaregun rounds. Flashbangs were also greatly nerfed, in that they'll strip away enemies' darkness shield without killing them outright, and even the flaregun doesn't feel like the BFG it was previously. This helps balance out the sprint/flashlight
Many fewer cutscenes. This is a big bonus in my eyes.
I really have no idea what kind of feedback Remedy got regarding the original Alan Wake, but I assume that most of the changes above were reactions to people's impressions of the first game, almost all of said changes are positive, in my eyes. I liked Alan Wake well enough, when I was actually playing it, but the cutscene frequency was a bit ponderous, and they were pre-rendered, so you couldn't skip a line in a conversation without skipping the entire thing. In American Nightmare, most conversations are in-engine, with a short initial conversation that told you the bare minimum, and optional back-and-forths that you can pursue if you really want. (It is a bit funny that all of the people you encounter are sexy ladies, regardless of whether they're mechanics or astronomers or art festival directors, but you can forgive that when you realize that American Nightmare is suppose to literally be an episode of a television show, unlike Alan Wake, which never seemed to know what it wanted to do with its "episode" structure, aside from making it more easy to generate DLC.)
American Nightmare isn't as strong, plot-wise, as Alan Wake, but then, I didn't think Alan Wake was necessarily all that brilliant anyway. The actual gameplay was what occasionally spooked me out; the creepy lady in black and the rest of it didn't really do much for me. American Nightmare also benefits greatly from a lack of Barry, Alan's obnoxious sidekick from the original game. I railed against him on Twitter, and was roundly told by many a person that I'd like him better by the end of the game, but nope! Pretty much annoying all the way through the game. Barely standable, to the point where I debated not even finishing the game when I was subjected to the lengthy farm sequence where he's your sidekick. That's aside from the general over-reliance on Stephen King tropes to drive its plot. I don't particularly care about Alan Wake's fiction, in other words; I mostly enjoy it for the actual gameplay. After a while I even found myself skipping cutscenes outright.
Another sticking point for me was the preponderance of manuscript pages to be found and read. There was a bit of a quandary for me here: I'm sure that the game intends for you to read the manuscript pages as you pick them up, but when they started revealing what was going to happen to people before I had actually encountered those events, I figured that it was better to just pick them up and leave them unread. (I've done the same thing in American Nightmare, which seems to realize that maybe the whole system was screwy to begin with, since it gives you another reason to find the pages: they unlock weapons chests with more powerful weapons in them, whether you've read them or not.) I don't particularly mind supplementary info and world-building textual documents in games (you can bet I read all the newspapers and emails in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, for instance), but when a game starts explicitly spoiling events that haven't even happened yet, that...is weird.
To be fair, American Nightmare does recycle a fair amount of content, making you play through the same areas multiple times thanks to a "time loop" plot. Since the game was originally a DLC-exclusive, I can see the need to cut down on the filesize, and since you spend far more time fighting things than watching cutscenes, I don't mind it all that much. It feels less challenging than Alan Wake did, thanks to the preponderance of ammo, but that's not so terrible since it allows you to fight more enemies more often.
For the $7.50 or whatever that I wound up paying for it, it's hard not to consider Alan Wake to be a pretty damn good deal. I don't particularly think it's presentation or story are all that hot, but it's easy enough to skip everything you might not care about in favor of shooting up some Taken. At the same time, you know that the folks at Remedy had to have had some bitter discussions on the changes made for American Nightmare. It's entirely possible that the stripped-down feel to it might be a result of a much smaller budget, but in the end I hope they incorporate most of the design decisions from it into whatever Alan Wake 2 happens to become.
(I posted this on my blog, but I figured since it was about video games it might as well go here, too!)
I got into the beta (not through any special access or anything; I opted in on my Battle.net account and got into it via that method with the last round of invites.) I've played every character up to level 10 now. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me and I'll try to answer.