A fall in review, and the XBox too.

Over the past 4 months, I've been on a work term in scenic Northern Ontario. The weather is cold, but dry, making it nice walking to work in the morning. Unfortunately the small town where I've been living doesn't have a tremendous amount to do. As a result, I've been playing a large amount of my XBox-360 recently and have had the opportunity to catch up on many of the titles I was too distracted to fully enjoy during the summer. I say my XBox and not my PS3 because, well, I didn't have the space to bring it on the plane with me.
 
I was forced to make a very difficult decision about which of my gaming consoles was going to get the job done, and stave off the boredom of living in a location where the closest friend I have is my 50 year old Supervisor and the nearest Wal-Mart is an hour drive away. Although I was forced to improvise, the Elite has done her job well and I've regained faith in much of what the XBox 360 has to offer in terms of gaming experiences.
 
Over the last 4 months, I've effectively doubled my 360's game library. This is in part due to the suddenly available funds for an otherwise poor student, as well as the fact that my library was not all that large to begin with. I've also taken some different directions from my predictable gaming pattern in the past of "buy game, beat game, if still interested in game play until all achievements/trophies are gotten, otherwise put back in case never to be seen again". This is a pattern I would normally repeat ad nauseum with a precious few exceptions. This term however has opened my eyes to some really enjoyable gaming experiences that I would normally overlook.
 
One of these is the wonder of XBox LIVE. I've become quite intrigued with the large array of Arcade titles available on LIVE over the past several months. It started with Braid and Mega Man 9, and after realizing the amazing bang for the buck gaming experiences which were able to be purchased on this service, I've become positively addicted. Before long, I had played to death such rarely talked about titles as The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, as well as the more popular ones such as the classic Sonic games, Gunstar Heroes and of course Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. A few of these were trips down memory lane, while others were new titles made by individual game creators which gave me a little bit of hope for the future of video game development.
 
For example, many people already know the story of Jonathan Blow; This individual developer of Braid who invested his life savings into the development of his vision of how a game should be. The result? One of the most popular games the service has ever seen, in both the popularity and critical acclaim departments. People may have heard a little less about  James Silva, the independent developer of the Dishwasher, whom came from a lowly profession of washing dishes to winning $10,000 and an XBox LIVE Arcade publishing contract through his first place entry of the Dream-Build-Play competition in 2007.
 
What I've come to realize in the past few months, is that as video games become more and more mainstream, it's becoming progressively easier for independents to fulfill their dreams in creating a true vision through video games, without requiring large development teams and budgets, and now even without requiring the luck of being discovered in the first place.
 
Now of course, this isn't to say that all independent games put online are of the same quality of professionally made games (much of the independent section of LIVE is a wasteland of terrible entries designed to siphon your MS points), but it offers a training ground for the new, and a launching pad for the truly skilled and dedicated.
 

Another thing which has come to my immediate attention in recent memory is the fact that the XBox 360 has had a recent break-through which many of even the most dedicated games do not even realize: On November 26th of this year, CAVE, a developer famed for their ridiculous bullet-hell shoot 'em ups, released Mushihimesama-Futari Ver. 1.5 in Japan. While that may not mean much to the majority of the gaming crowd, what makes this so break-through is the fact that it is the first Japanese exclusive game on the XBox 360 ever to be released region-free. I happily imported this game to find myself having a blast, alth ough realizing that this was probably not the sort of thing which would find widespread appeal in the North American market, primarily due to the difficulty (see to the right). Nonetheless, this showed me that developers in Japan were willing to make the effort necessary to make their games Accessible outside of their very niche market in Japan.
 
With all of this being said, I played many mainstream titles as well. I happily picked up and thoroughly enjoyed titles such as Dragon Age: Origins, Borderlands, Halo 3: ODST and Modern Warfare 2. But what really got me thinking were the titles I didn't enjoy. Stinkers like Wet made me realize that not everything in bullet time with the Grind-House filter was destined to be awesome, while the new Prince of Persia made me wonder what was the point of playing a game where it's impossible to die and you can beat most boss monsters in under 10 seconds (let alone doing it 6 times...). When I thought of these more "mainstream" games, I wondered how it was possible for me to spend $10 on a game that a single person created and I thoroughly enjoyed, and an entire studio managed to make me wonder why I spent $60 on something they spent years creating. In that same vein, I was shown that games coming from more niche genres and created by a small team of developers with the intention of selling no more than 10,000 copies, can offer me more fun than I've had with the majority of big name games I've been playing in recent years. 
 
To tie everything up, I came to the realization that sometimes it's worth your time to venture outside of the norm and check out something that has less than 6 million sales that EB sold out on opening day. Just because a game has a big name and all your friends are playing it, doesn't necessarily ensure that you won't find something else that you'll enjoy infinitely more. I've finished these 4 months having been reminded of something regarding my hobby since early childhood. 
 
Now with this experience coming to a close, I go back to civilization on January 1st, where I finally get to play my PS3 again after 4 months of missing what seems to be a very solid set of games. I intend to walk into EB and pick up 2 games: Uncharted 2 and Demon's Souls. Although one is a large and very popular game, and the other is intended for a much more niche audience and comes from a much smaller developer, I can see myself enjoying both equally well, with the possibility of perhaps even enjoying Demon's Souls more (although I will admit I was genuinely surprised when I heard it beat Uncharted 2 as Gamespot's GotY).
 
With that said, I have a ton of gaming to look forward to in 2010, and I'm likely going to switch to my PS3 for my gaming needs for the next little while.
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