Thoughts on Mafia 2, about 9 chapters in.

 I dunno what to think about Mafia 2.

On the one hand, it's sort of boring.

On the other hand, if you think about great mafia movies, they usually don't have shootouts every 5 minutes or tons of action. And the dialog/story in this game is pretty great. I'm just not sure what else they could have done other than lay on the cutscenes and driving sections for missions like "Go to the burlesque club and then bury a body on the outskirts of town" without adding "rival gang interrupts and shootout occurs" to every mission, which would get predictable and tedious quickly.

I think the more I'm playing it the less I'm seeing it like a GTA and more I'm seeing it like Heavy Rain or something. Maybe the story isn't enough to hold up the rest of the game, but I'm enjoying it. I'm just a little torn on whether more "gamey" elements would have made the game better. I'm not sure they would have.

I guess it's a dilemma all developers who want to focus on story have. Adding the silly GTA side shit probably would have watered down the importance of the plot. Maybe they could have just added more of that to do AFTER the story was done and the split between the two sides would have made more sense. Tell your story, then give the more game-like elements a chance after.
Just as a disclaimer, I did rent the game for free. I surely would be a bit more disappointed at $60. I think it's absolutely a game that shows what's wrong with the current pricing structure in games. The developers put an immense amount of talent and effort behind creating this game, but because it's so story-heavy, you won't be playing it for 50 hours like a GTA. I wouldn't want to, either. Where does a game like this fit? I thought the same about Heavy Rain, which I never played because i didn't see $60 as being worth that experience.


That nagging little icon..

What is it that makes it so satisfying to get 100%, 10/10, or just to remove that annoying little tag on the minimap?
I've noticed in a lot of games lately much of the non-crucial gameplay focuses on some big ugly 28/100 or 58% hanging over your head somewhere on screen.
Why is it so important to climb that ladder? I think it's mostly because games are very expensive to purchase, and to make. All this fluff is easy, fast, and cheap to produce. Use available assets, available mechanics, make them easily repeatable for what the player will perceive as added value for their $60. Nothing wrong with that, as long as it starts with something that's fun. But it usually doesn't. It starts with something that's easy and cheap to create.
Benefit number two being that lengthening the amount of time the player can play the game makes it less likely for that copy to show up in the resale market.  If it gets a player to hold onto their copy for even 2 weeks longer, it probably keeps one more used copy from stealing a new copy from the developer, and I'm all for that.

The need to generate this cheap, recyclable side content for a game is what I see as one of the biggest problems to the industry truly hitting the mainstream outside of Nintendo's children and family oriented efforts. If a game could just be a fun experience or a memorable story for 3-7 hours and cost $20-30, brand new, I think a lot more people would give more games a chance. Save the padding for DLC or "limited editions" that target the hardcore market that's asking for that stuff.  
Right now buying a game is more like buying a season of TV than a Movie. $40-60 for around 15-20 hours of content, on average, maybe more. Who goes into the store looking to buy an entire season of a TV show, not having watched or being able to watch even one episode of it? This gets even worse when you think about how reliant on sequels games are and what kind of barrier that presents.
I have a lot of fun with certain games' side content, but when you think of some of the lesser examples (Prototype, Assassin's Creed 1 flags, GTA4 friends/dating, Brutal Legend, No More Heroes, Far Cry 2's endless checkpoint battles) you think that these games would have been much better with a leaner, more focused development that wasn't so clearly focused on hitting some arbitrary or mandated content amount or game length. Most players don't finish enough games anyway - make them shorter, and cheaper!

We've gotten away from the obligatory multiplayer that hurt games like The Darkness, Metroid Prime 2, and Condemned 2 - I think this is the next step. I don't see a lot of people complaining about this, but the main point is that developers need to identify early on and cut content that doesn't work, doesn't fit with their game,or isn't fun. It's how some of the best games ever made happened.


So, here's my backlog plan- A-Z Amped 3 Edition

I decided I got tired of staring at all those sealed/unplayed games on my shelf.

So, my plan was to get through some of this crap to make way for 2010. The method? A-Z, system by system, until they're all played, sold, or finished.
Pull a game off the shelf, play it until one of two things happens. 
The game is finished, and put back on the shelf.
The game is garbage, and goes to amazon/Gamestop for someone else to be suckered into buying.
No compromises. One or the other. Either it's worth keeping to play again, or it's garbage. Life's too short to hang onto all this junk, i say. Just because I want to someday play through Tales of Vesperia or Tomb Raider Underworld, doesn't mean I'm ever going to.
First up?
 Amped 3
Picked this up on a B2G1 deal with some old GBA games. I couldn't find anything else under $5 that I'd want in my house, thus, we have Amped 3.
 I hoped it would be good for some easy achievements (it's not) or at least some goofy fun. (it is) It's a 360 launch game, really amazing how far games have come since then. Scale back some of the draw distance and I'm sure this would pass for a PS2 game. The game is solid, though. I got through a couple bombcasts/4guys 1up shows while playing it, and I think it's okay. Surely worth the $4 price paid.  It's just lacking any draw for me to keep playing if I don't have a podcast to listen to. Truthfully, I'd spend my time better straightening the house while knocking out a bombcast. 
I did like the goofy menus and story. And doing tricks and filling the map with gold medals could be addicting for some. The ~15 hour figure that was given for getting 1000 on the game was what put me over the edge, though. The thought of putting 15 hours into this game while other unplayed classics sat on the shelf was too much. In the end, Amped 3 was a good diversion for  a few podcasts, but I'm not keeping it. I played a lot more than the achievements would care to tell, also - I got all golds on the first part of the mountain for every event, just didn't play many of the story missions.My goal was achievements, so I went for golds in all the side missions.
The verdict? Sold. For some reason copies are in somewhat demand on Amazon. It's currently listed for $10, if you want it. I'll probbaly pop it in a few times before it sells, but this one is GONE.

I've played about 2/3 of it, but just got burnt out from playing so much. 20 hours in. I expect I'll finish this one. But that's for next time. Thanks for reading!

Every Day the Same Dream

First, go play this. It should only take you about 10 minutes or so.
I had heard talk about this game so I gave it a shot this morning. My life is somewhat like the monotony that this game is trying to get across. Go to work. Come home. Go to work, etc.
When I finished the game, I initially thought it was just some generic anti-corporate hipster type of message. "Hey man, you gotta break out of the daily routine, find your own thing, man" type of rhetoric. But as I thought about it more, I saw a deeper message, whether the developers intended it or not.
By the time the player has "changed his life" on the last day, he's visited a cemetary, been fired from work, petted a cow, cought a leaf, and jumped off a building. Not exactly moving up in the world. What does he get for these deep, profound, life enriching experiences? A lonelier domicile for one. His wife is gone, the old lady in the elevator is gone. When he gets in the car, no one else is traveling to work. The company appears to have gone out of business, leaving those rows of mindless drones presumably without a job. 
The finale, where the player is confronted with himself climbing the railing on the roof was the most effecting. I wanted the game to allow me to run across the rooftop and save myself. But that's not possible - your idle stride remains the same as it always has and you don't even get halfway before watching yourself fall to your doom.  
The more I think about it, the less I think the developers intended this, but what I really took away from the game, (especially with the context of working collections and hearing about people losing jobs and losing homes everyday) was that although the daily routine in the beginning of the game wasn't good, it could be a lot worse, and the player did have a lot to lose, even though it didn't seem like it. Changing his life should have been done in more constructive, enriching ways. I feel like it's a reaction to the Office Space/Fight Club kind of early 2000's message of "fuck your job, do what you want" to the more practical mindset people are moving towards today. If I had to describe the game in one term, it'd be anti-cynical. And I think that's something a lot of gamers could use a healthy dose of.
Anyone else felt the same, or think I'm completely off base?


Buying NO games for one year. Can it be done?

Well, I'm going to try - My vow was to buy no videogames, new, used, old, new, digital, physical, full price, or on sale for one year.  I was inspired by Robert Ashley's latest A Life Well Wasted show, in which he interviewed someone who stopped playing games entirely for one year. That seemed like a difficult, if not impossible thing to do, so I thought it might be more practical to pledge spending no money on videogames for one year. 
Most obviously, I'll be saving a lot of money that would otherwise keep piling upon the considerable backlog I've accumulated over the years, as I'm sure all of us have. Also, I've missed out on or not fully enjoyed quite a few great games in the last few years and want to catch up on them. But since I've started this resolution, I'm seeing another unexpected benefit - an increased appreciation for getting new games. I never said I couldn't acquire new games for one year, just cannot buy them - so gifts, free games, etc. will be allowed - the goal of this thing is to save money, after all. 
This reminds me a lot of how games were when I was younger - the buildup to Christmas and birthday and those 2-3 new games a year that you simply could not wait for has faded away with having plenty of disposable income for 2-3 new games a month, depending on deals and how many good games come out that month. Not to say those games aren't played and enjoyed, but they're not REALLY played and enjoyed like they were when we were kids. I'm hoping that this resolution can restore some of that magic. 
Hopefully I get some amazon gift cards for christmas. Having to miss out on Bayonetta, Final Fantasy XIII, Splinter Cell Conviction, Mass Effect 2, Bioshock 2, Lost Planet 2, etc. might make this resolution as impossible as the one to not play any games. I also think I'll be enjoying reading about games a lot more as a result. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens and what I get to discover that's been sitting on my shelf for too long.


Persona PSP

I've always wanted to enjoy a persona game, but I realize they're just not for me. After a few hours of the boring battles, pointless story, and awful first person dungeons I sold it immediately. Just not for me. I'm sure others like it for good reasons, but.. ugh. 
 Also: Turtles in Time re-shelled is up there, but that's more disappointment than actual hatred. I hated playing Persona PSP. I don't want to touch a persona game ever again.


Can we all agree to retire the phrase "beating a game"

I mean really. Complete it, finish it, play it, even hate it, but NEVER beat a game. 
*Slight ODST and Killzone 2 final mission scenario-type spoilers inside*
That's not what I wanted to write about, but I do want to talk about two games that I finished today. Killzone 2, and Halo 3:ODST. I think I preferred ODST - the race to the conclusion was much more exciting than Killzone's "BOSS" (another antiquated gaming term that needs to go). Killzone actually frustrated the hell out of me. I played both games on the "hard, but not impossible" difficulty, but Killzone had me tearing my hair out everytime a group of those bug eyed bastards came up the balcony in the visari palace and screwed me over. I eventually had to give in and get a FAQ for some strategy on that last mission. Meanwhile, ODST has you scrambling out of New Mombasa escorting an elephant while waves of covenant ships stand in your way, and a fleet of covenant fly overhead towards Halo 3's beginning sequences. 
One of these left me wanting more, while the other had me thankful it was over. Can you guess which? 
I think it might have been Killzone's goal to exhaust the player with it's final push. The ending has a very kind of anti-war vibe to it and delivers no conclusion or satisfaction for the war you fought for the last 8 hours. Thinking about it that way, it surely accomplished its goal. Killzone left me feeling a little bit guilty about blowing away all those red eyed, faceless enemies. 
ODST's ending is made to be a thrill ride with lots of explosions, easy to defeat, but epic looking enemies, and plenty of nostalgic fan service. Neither the helghast nor the covenant were anything but cannon fodder in both games, and Killzone's attempts in it's last few minutes to make me care about the plight of the helghast were empty and confusing. Meanwhile Halo's covenant have a little more personality but ODST's story doesn't add anything to the overall halo plot other than a new perspective on things we already knew.
If I have a point to make it's that ODST knew it was going to be a simple side story and ran with it, making it easy to digest and fun to play. Killzone 2 starts out seeming simple, but throws this odd "well I guess everything we were doing was wrong" angle in. Maybe if it had ran with this theme the entire time (see HAZE for a reason not to have done that) it would have been a little more satisfying, but it's hard to say.
This is one rare case where I have to go with the simpler, more fast food solution. I really enjoyed both games, but Killzone left me confused and a bit exhausted. ODST had me saying 'hell yeah that shit BLEW UP". I do appreciate the attempt. It's just a shame about the result. Is it better to have a shooter that tries to have you think about things you don't care about, or makes you care about things you don't have to think about?