I have been enjoying a lot of Telltale games lately. I finished up the Back to the Future series a few months ago. I have also been trudging through the Jurassic Park games. I had a really good time with the Back to the Future games. The story seemed a little drawn out, but it was really pretty good overall. I liked the writing and the call-backs to the original trilogy. Of course, we all know about the missteps in the Jurassic Park games (the shortcomings have been well documented on GiantBomb. The Walking Dead series was really "the" make-or-break series for the Telltale guys. After hearing all of the praise slathered on The Walking Dead during the Game of the Year discussions, I knew that I just couldn't let this game pass me by.
I just finished the first episode and, while fully understanding that this is just the start of the series, I really thought the first episode was engaging and well paced. A lot of the Telltale games' episodes have been drawn out too much for my own tastes; this is interesting because most of their episodes all last about 2 ~ 3 hours. I really never got too bored with the pacing of this first episode. There was one point in the episode where I thought that I should have prioritized getting the old man his pills instead of going to help Glenn, but once I figured out that the story was plotted out that way I didn't begrudge the design.
The progression of character interaction was plotted out like a good symphony. At first I was a little perplexed about the kind of character that I was supposed to be; was I a good guy or was I a bad guy. The opening dialog between Lee and the officer set this up quite nicely and it gave the user the option to choose the kind of character that s/he wants to be. Soon, Lee encounters a small child who becomes his ward. We start to see the kindness that these characters must depend on in this new world. We, as the user, have to start making some tough choices about which of these characters must live and die. Finally, we encounter characters that we can't completely trust, but we must trust them, for the time being, so that we can tackle the problems that are most urgent.
Robert Kirkman has created a wonderful universe in The Walking Dead. I like that we aren't preoccupied with trying to find a cure or getting to the bottom of why this all happened. His world isn't made for that kind of narrative. His world is not complicated with neo-government corporations trying to take over the world or by governments trying to control the masses through gene manipulation. His world is filled with a silent, deadly menace that is always present ready to kill anybody at any time. His world is filled with the harsh decisions that have to be made to survive in a ever deadly world; a place where one can't stay still for too long, can't get comfortable, and is always a few steps away from starvation, betrayal, and/or becoming one of "them."
The first episode was really just an appetizer to whet the users pallet to the full course meal that is coming. After listening to the Game of the Year discussions on GiantBomb, I know that this is going to be a wonderful Christmas dinner with all the trimmings.
I just downloaded the one hour demo of Need for Speed: Most Wanted from PSN and some would even say that I am just renting the game. I play $50 a year for PS+ like the rest of the hungry masses. I know that all of my $50 doesn't go only to demoing games, I get a lot of great games that I can play through to completion. Recently, with that $50 a year, I have been getting games like Payday: The Heist, Blitz, King of Fighters XIII, and Gotham City Impostors. Games that I wouldn't have gotten if it wasn't for PS+.
It was the last one of those games that really got me thinking about this free-to-play model that Sony has going for it. When I downloaded Gotham City Impostors it was going free-to-play on PC and around that same time PS+ had a free download of the game too. I had been wanting to play the game for a while so I got into it one weekend and I ended up playing it a lot. So much so that I started to buy XP boosters to unlock the weapons and gadgets that the other players had already unlocked. I realized, after my PSN Wallet had reached 56 cents, that I had spent around $30 on those boosters. I had another realization that, when I always whispered to myself I would never be one of those people who payed for boosters, I had been caught; hook, line, and sinker.
I am happy about the $30+ dollars that I spent in-game. I had a great time paying that game. I am glad that I could support Monolith in that way. But, I am starting to see this further pushed out into bigger games. I am still waiting on the download of Need for Speed: Most Wanted, but I can see myself buying this game after I play an hour demo. I love Criterion and I haven't played a "real" Need for Speed game since the first Underground on PS2. I did play Shift (once again, through PS+), but I am glad I didn't buy it because the driving in that was way too squirrelly, even with all of the assists turned off, for me. With Criterion on their game, I could really see myself getting into this game.
With these two services working in tandem, I think we are seeing an all new Sony. A Sony that is quietly positioning themselves as the kings of Service, which, I think most people will agree, is going to be the main fighting ground of the next console war.
Since PS+ was announced at E3 in 2010, the service has been making all of the right movies to position itself as "The" premium service among it's competitors. I really believe that it has done this handedly. Alas, it is too late in the game to prove itself as the top dog of this generation, but with the new roll-out of the PS Store and some of the decisions that Sony has been making with it's PS+ program I can see that Sony is preparing for the next console war that will be disc-less, utilizing more of "the cloud," and integrated through services like PS+.
I haven't watched the E3 news conferences in a few years. I just don't find BS corporate speak incredibly enthralling. In the past, I have read preview articles and live streams, but this year I watched Giant Bomb's daily updates on E3 and found myself perfectly satiated.
The show itself was quite underwhelming. I look forward to The Last of Us which looks like a much more serious (i.e. violent) Enslaved. I haven't really gotten into the whole post-apocalyptic genre that has become so popular recently.
The main thing that I took out of this E3: remembering to manage my expectations. I was super fuckin' excited for Heavy Rain and it was a great experience, but it didn't live up to my expectations. Part of the problem lays at my own feet, but the developer is to blame just as much as I am. We have seen studios with vocal leads that have energized the community for their game which in the end didn't live up to the hype (i.e. Silicon Knights/Too Human, Double Fine/Brutal Legend, Microsoft Game Studios/Fable, etc.). Also, on the console end, I have to temper my expectations. So many of us have bought into what Nintendo has been selling us for years; their system is for the casual and hardcore. (I have another article in mind to just talk about the Wii U, so I won't write too much on the subject now.) Nintendo does seem like it is learning from it's mistakes. They got some pretty hardcore games on board but many of those games won't be day and date with the other consoles, which is a problem. This time I am going to wait until Nintendo shows me that it is serious about getting people like me interested in their games for more than the regular Mario, Link, and Samus games.
Microsoft's line up was rinse and repeat. I'm kinda done with Halo. It looks good, but I just don't have the endearment for the franchise that I once had. Even Forza needs to take a break, in this authors opinion. I love racing games, but I am in the crowd of people who only needs one sim racer and one sports game every few years.
Multiplatform games like Tomb Raider, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, and Star Wars 1313 look really promising. But, most of the other games either weren't for me or didn't look interesting. Part of my disinterest could be because of the plentitude of sequels. I like more of the same just like the next person, but sometimes that same tired-ass missionary position gets old. I need a break. I need a departure from the SSDD development cycle.
I am really excited for a few gems, but I am skeptical of a lot more of titles too. Hopefully, I will keep managing my expectations when it comes to using my money too.
I have been playing Saints Row: The Third recently and I have been having a really good time with it. I am about 35 hours into the game and I have just a few more missions left until I am finished with the game. I am trying to get the last of the Vehicle Thefts done before I finish Act 2 because S.T.A.G. ends up lifting all of the bridges in town. I have been having a lot of fun just getting all of the Challenges out of the way.
The game has a lot of good points that keep me coming back to it. The opening to the game is really clever. Most of the actual story missions are cleverly written and reference pop culture in funny yet not overly clichéd ways. I thought that the Star Wars scrolling open was a pretty funny way to start the game. The driving in the game is really tight. After customizing some of the cars, it is easy to tell the difference in the way they handle. It isn't a big change but it is enough to notice.
The music stations in the game are also top tier. I like the variety and I love the on-air chatter between the songs. It should go without saying that for Saints Row to have grabbed the Adult Swim license is a big deal. The Venn diagram that THQ set up to find possible licenses that would appeal to the Saints Row crowd was spot on. I think that these two properties go together like apple pie with a slice of Kraft cheese on top.
The only complaints I have about this game are really just complaints that I have with the open world genre. Some of the side missions were bland. I really didn't like doing the drug missions. When I first started doing the cell phone missions I got my ass handed to me every time because I didn't realize that I needed either some buddies or some serious fire power to finish 5 to 7 rounds against these gangs. And the jank, oh god the open world jank! I got stuck in the environment so many times I can even try to count. If I blew a helicopter out of the sky, one of it's occupants was bound to get stuck in the the ground. I had endless numbers of cars get stuck in the ground, which wouldn't have been so bad if I hadn't been in the middle of a mission a few of those times.
I have a few more missions to go before I finish the game and put a final review on it. I really do like the game and I am even thinking about going back and playing the second game, but, of course, there are so many games sitting in my backlog that I doubt that is going to happen any time soon.
Shigeru Miyamoto caused a scuffle last week with his announcement that he would be moving away from traditional game development towards smaller projects. After the story was published to Wired's Game|Life, Nintendo's stock fell 2%. The comments by Miyamoto, whether correctly translated or mistranslated as Nintendo purported, are in line with the identity crisis that Nintendo is going through right now. Miyamoto and Nintendo President Satoru Iwata are the old guard and even Nintendo can see that the golden touch they once had is starting to fade. Where is the company heading then?
In a story from MacRumors, via Times Online, “Satoru Iwata, the Nintendo president, is understood to have told his senior executives recently to regard the battle with Sony as a victory already won and to treat Apple, and its iPhone and iPad devices, as the "enemy of the future".” Nintendo should be placing it's blinders towards iOS; without a doubt!
Miyamoto's comments, gaff or not, shed light on the crisis that is going on inside Nintendo. If Miyamoto moves on to smaller, quicker projects, I think this would mean that Nintendo as a whole is probably thinking about moving that way as well.
Even though Miyamoto and Iwata are nearing retirement there isn't anybody else at the company who has the branding of Miyamoto. His multiple appearances in Time's Most Influential People and his appearances at past E3s have kept him in the spotlight for gamers, but also for those demographics that Nintendo gained with the Wii. If Miyamoto moves towards smaller projects his name will bring many of those demographics with him.
The biggest problem with the 3DS, which is at the center of this identity crisis, in it's current form has no 3G support. Without 3G support there is no partnership with a mobile provider, which I think is becoming more important every year. It is important to see these devices in cell phone stores. We all go to the cell phone shop more than we would like recently, even if it is to browse the new Smart Phones or what's new with the new iPhone. People are more likely to buy a product like the 3DS or the Vita if they can compare it to a tablet device, i.e. it needs a browser, MP3 support, iTunes like store, and most importantly the ability to download games while waiting for your delayed flight at the airport (3G!). Hopefully, the next iteration of the 3DS will include 3G and larger screens, even if those screens are the size of the DSi LL.
It seems to me that any game that has any kind of grotesqueness to it is automatically put into the category of survival horror. I can see that the progenitors of the survival horror genre could be called "survival" horror: viz. Resident Evil and Alone in the Dark. These game had a survival quality to them because of the lack of ammo throughout the game world and, at least in Resident Evil's case, the lack of save ribbons. The limitations of these games helped to keep the tension at a high point, but with more recent games we have started to move away from these conventions.
I have been playing Dead Space recently and while there has been a time or two that I have run out of ammo, it doesn't have the same quality of tension in it's environments. Part of the reason that I haven't felt very tense about ammo conservation is because the game is littered with stores where I can buy ammo. While I am only a few hours into the game, it seems to me that every enemy is dropping ammo or money which leads me to believe that I won't have too much trouble keeping some ammo around. Even the reviews that I have read for the game have stated that, while the player might run out of ammo once in a while, there is usually ammo in a different weapon or just around the corner.
It seems that the main horror in Dead Space is from the character models or just the monster closet appearance of the enemies. Not since Doom 3 has a game had so many nooks and crannies for these baddies to hang out in until they are ready for you to saunter by. The character models aren't particularly scary either. The way that the Necromorph's arms look like a pirate's peg legs is more comical than freighting.
I think that we should move towards removing the "survival" from survival horror. The genre appellation is an archaic title that we use more out of convenience than actual description. When a game is called "survival horror" fans tend to think to themselves, "Oh, it's like Resident Evil." Moving more towards other mediums classifications I think will help to make gaming more palatable to a wider audience.
Sony has unveiled it's UMD Passport program in Japan and Patrick Klepek outlined in his article how this would work in Japan. It is important to note is that this program has not been announced for any other territories besides Japan. As Mr. Klepek outlined in his article the "discount" (the word discount is used in the add) price will be between 500¥ and 1,500¥,
As mentioned, there is not a flat fee to purchase a digital version, and it appears that will be up to individual publishers to determine. Sony’s press release says the prices will be “reasonable,” and with one exception, the price mostly hovers between 500 yen (about $6.50) to 1,500 yen (about $20).
If we study the image on Mr. Klepek's story we can see that Sony is using the image of the PSP 1000-3000 models. So, obviously those customers who are using those old devices will be able to download the games onto those old machines. What about people with a PSPgo who still have UMDs from a previous PSP? Will they be able to use their friend's older PSP model to download those old games, or will Sony have some kind of device to download games to at retailers?
I like that Sony is thinking of ways to keep their massive PSP catalog still active, but it seems like this Passport program will inevitably be compared to the Online Passes that are becoming ever so prevalent in the console gaming market. Consumers who choose to do this will be paying for access twice, which seems a little dodgy. In the end, Sony is thinking about all of those PSPs sitting around in the market that have never ran a single UMD. I don't really like the sound of this program, but Sony has learned that the goodwill that they have extended to the users has been taken advantage of by those same users. I'm curious if this program will come to the US, and I am equally curious about how the Playstation Store will interact with future consoles. I guess only time will tell.
I have just started playing Shadows of the Damned. I have nothing but good things to say about Shadows of the Damned. This game represents the golden path to nirvana for the Japanese gaming industry. There has been much talk recently about the decline of the Japanese gaming industry and those of us who are "millenial" enthusiasts have watched this happen for some time. Shadows of the Damned and Deadly Premonition are two games that encompass everything that the West wants from a Japanese game: interesting stories, funny/well translated dialog, and a view into the way Japanese people view Western stories and culture. These are some of the reasons why we all loved Japanese games as kids. We loved the Treehouse dialog from Super Mario RPG, we loved the familiar characters, but we also loved the excentricities of the the characters that Square created. These characters were interesting because they were something un-Nintendo, they weren't washed clean for the mainstream market, and this is just as true for Kingdom Hearts. Nintendo is an anomaly among Japanese developers because, since the beginning, they have embraced both Western and Japanese differences and made quality games that could be consumed by both markets. Shadows of the Damned has made me care about Japanese development again. I hope that the visionaries that have been stifled by the Japanese game development system will continue to see Western publishers as a way to get their masterpieces published. We have few auteurs in our industry, but Suda 51 and the rest of the guys at Grasshopper Manufacture are quickly becoming the artists of this generation. (edit)
I have been thinking of the shelf life of games recently. I am always playing games that came out long ago. The last game I remember playing when it was brand new was Mario 64 on the N64. Of course there have been some other games interspersed here and there that I have played as soon as they came out, but by and large I am usually always behind. Another thing that I have recently started to love to an unhealthy extent is listening to podcasts. I always feel like I am out of the loop because the volume and speed with which those guys go through games dwarfs my own. But, it doesn’t stop me from playing those old games. For example, right now, I am playing Civilization Revolution, Forza 2, Pure, and I recently finished the first Assassins Creed. These are all games that came out a few years ago, but each of these games is a great game that deserves to be played.
I don’t feel bad about playing these games after their popularity has waned, but because of the loss of their popularity it is hard to get some of the Achievements and Trophies. Now, I am not an achievement whore (I use the lower case because I would still call a Trophy Whore an achievement whore.) but I do like to complete games as much as possible, especially games that I have enjoyed. I guess the distinction that I am trying to make is that I am not the kind of player who would play a crappy game just for some achievements.
All of this has led me into the world of achievement tracking websites. I have been using True Achievements lately and so far that has been a really pleasant experience. Because of the achievement whores that do populate those sites they are more likely to be playing backlog games that they are just trying to get polished off. I just joined a community of players that are trying to get the achievements for The Orange Box on Xbox 360. Last summer, on a whim, I threw The Orange Box into my Xbox to see what Team Fortress was like. It could have been because I live in Japan and most Xbox players live in the US, but there wasn’t a single person online for about a half an hour. I tried to join a match for 30 minutes but there wasn’t a single match to join.
I think that it is cool that these small groups of people can get together to finish off some of these games together. Many of these groups just want to boost the games, but there are also options in the Boost Session menu that let you set the game up as a real ‘just for fun’ game. I think this is really cool. Now, I am also using the boosting part of the game because there is an Achievement for Forza 2 for a million online credits. I really don’t want to do that the hard way and Forza 2 is a game that I would like to be able to say that I have completed. I want that game on my list of games that I have all of the achievements. I am more proud of that list than of the overall number of achievements I have. I like playing games on my own schedule. I don’t mind listening to spoilers on podcasts because I know that I will forget them by the time I actually get to the game. But, I do have the option to go back and listen to those podcasts again. I think there are a lot of games, like me, who are toiling away at their backlogs. I just chose to only play my backlog.
This Wednesday saw another release of games for the PS+ service on PSN. As per usual (once a month), Plus users have been issued a PSone game; Jet Moto. I have never played the original Jet Moto, but I did play the hell out the the sequel. As usual, there was also a new addition to massive library of Mini's that PS+ users have access to for just $50 a year. But, the most exciting release this last week had to be the addition of Plants Vs. Zombies to the PS+ users library. Sega has also shoveled it's latest back catalog addition onto PSN. Altered Beast might not be as much of a highlight as the other additions...fuck that! Altered Beast is a piece of shit. ("Which I will probably play to get a few trophies.") Rounding out the "free" additions to the Plus catalog is a PSN Exclusive called Astro Tripper, which I honestly haven't played yet.
Along with the bevy of discounts that are available to PS+ users; games, DLC, and crap most people (hopefully) don't buy. I really think that PS+ is a fantastic service. Live is just as great of a service as the PS+, but it is great in different ways. Live is great in a much more intangible way. But, with PS+ empirically I can see the value of each game that I am downloading for "free." With the games that I have downloaded for "free" with PS+, I know that I have had over $50 worth of fun.