Why does everybody still play competitive online FPS games?

Competitive online multiplayer shooters really haven't grabbed me since back during the days of Unreal Tournament 2004 or the first Call of Duty game. Following those two, I really just lost a lot of interest in the genre. I've been playing it since back in the Goldeneye days (sans the online aspect), and I feel like I've seen pretty much all there is to see in the genre, barring a few innovations here and there such as the leveling system introduced in the first Modern Warfare.

I've always wondered why other types of games get so much flak for failing to innovate, yet first person shooters consistently feature the exact same basic design for their online multiplayer and nothing is mentioned about it. A great example is the rhythm genre, which is falling flat on its face thanks to oversaturation and a total lack of any kind of meaningful innovation. Why do we get sick of those games, but a new FPS for us to play online every three months is a totally welcome release?


Favorite video game podcasts

I pass every day at work by listening to a lot of podcasts. I listen to nearly every popular gaming podcast out there. I'm pretty acquainted with the pros and cons of each, so I've thought about writing up a quick little blog post on the three best that I've come across.


You can't toss a stone without hitting a podcast in the modern-day shaping of the video game industry. Every publication has one, and some of the bigger gaming juggernauts produce multiple podcasts to further satiate the demanding masses of fans who pass the work day with them, myself included.

Bored at work one day, I decided to run a search for some new gaming podcasts to listen to. I was disappointed when I couldn't find too many decent podcast lists to use as reference. After downloading and listening to quite a bit of them, I decided to construct this brief write-up to help out those searching for a way to make their nine-to-five move by a little bit quicker.

The Giant Bombcast

The Giant Bombcast is one of the most polished, hilarious, and enlightening podcasts on the internet. Made up of four ex-Gamespot editors with a bottomless heap of gaming knowledge, the show is simply the best all-around gaming podcast on the internet. Whether you're looking for laughs, reviews, or breaking news, the bombcast is the place to go first.

The Joystiq Podcast

While Joystiq doesn't tout the big names like the bombcast does, it does come more reliably and more consistently with laughs. Host Chris Grant has a hilariously dry sense of humor that plays perfectly with Justin McElroy's more obvious style. Joystiq editor Ludwig Kietzmann rounds out the cast to create the funniest video game podcast on the internet.

The Freelancers Podcast

The Freelancers Podcast is a relatively new show created by freelance video game journalists Xav de Matos and Kyle Horner. Xav and Kyle discuss the inner workings of the industry biweekly and interview some of the biggest names in gaming journalism today. While this isn't the place to come for breaking news or reviews, getting a peek into the inner workings of the industry from the point-of-view of a freelancer is both eye-opening and entertaining.


A look back at how JRPGs influenced me with Final Fantasy VII

I grew up as a huge JRPG nerd. One of my first and most memorable gaming experiences was buying the original Dragon Quest (or Dragon Warrior, if you prefer) with my mother when I was four or five years old solely due to the cool dragon on the box art. I brought it home, popped it into my NES, and realized that I was shit-out-of-luck because I would have to do a whole score of reading in order to play it.

When my father arrived home from work that day, he played it with me by his side, explaining at each step the words that I didn't understand. Thus, it wasn't only my gaming that began with JRPGs, but my reading and vocabulary as well. I went on to play a whole ton of text-heavy JRPGs after that, and I credit them with helping to develop my ability to read and write as a young student.

Playing JRPGs that held a high emphasis on reading text dialogue has been a huge boon to both reading and writing in my life. I've never been much good at math or science, so without those valuable early experiences I may never have even made it through college. Sadly, my girlfriend doesn't see it this way. Neither do most non-gamers who hold the opinion that video games "rot your brain", or whatever. But I know better than any where my inspirations have come from.

Final Fantasy VII is acclaimed as one of the high-water marks of the role-playing genre. Many gamers, particularly RPG fans, have played through this game not once but a multitude of times. I downloaded the game off of the Playstation Network and played through it one more time on my PSP to assess how the game has aged.

The very first thing that I noticed about the game was the chasm between how well the audio design and soundtrack have aged versus how poorly the graphics have. It becomes clearly apparent that sprites have aged far better than polygons when comparing this game to an older, sprite-based games in the series such as Final Fantasy VI. Sprites carried a certain charm to them, and remain tolerable despite their lack of beauty. Polygons, for lack of a better description, just look strange and ugly. Their blockiness represents a human character far more poorly than even a sprite can. To compare it to Hollywood, sprites are like Disney cartoon of the '70s, while polygons are like the bad special effects of the '80s. The audio, however, has aged gracefully. Nobuo Uematsu's score has always been perfect for the game, and I remembered how fond I was of it the first time around immediately upon starting the game again.

Final Fantasy VII, to me, was the beginning of Square's "hit-or-miss" character design specifically regarding western gamers. As a western gamer, I just can't see the appeal in a character like Cait Sith. While the majority of the characters still have good levels of depth and development, Cait Sith is a worthless entity who brings absolutely nothing to the game. He's a quirky stuffed toy injected into the game to please a culture that I just can't understand. Square Enix has continued down this path even further in future games, particularly in Final Fantasy XII, which saw two children as the main protagonists. Yuck. But there are some game-savers here. Cloud is such a deep and human character that it's worth playing through the game just to witness his growth. Sephiroth's villainy hasn't shown age, either. He's still one of the best gaming villains in history, a title well earned.

It's obvious what to expect from the gameplay. This game is purely old school JRPG. It doesn't bother me, as it's a type of game that I once had a huge affinity for. I can jump back into the more slowly-paced, turn-based battle systems any time and still enjoy it. To others, it may be a bit more tedious. This is especially true regarding random battles. As an old-school JRPG player, random battles are familiar to me and sort of a necessary evil. To others, the tedium may be intolerable. It's difficult for me to be objective enough to say.

I've always loved the materia system. It's my favorite form of character development in any Final Fantasy game, and it holds up. Growing your materia through the management of your weapons is so much fun, and the high-level materia such as Slash-All and Double Cut really make you feel like one powerful SOB toward the end portion of the game. Reaching the next level of these magical orbs is so rewarding.

The main complaint that I have about the game is an issue that never seemed to bother me before. The control of Cloud through the various pre-rendered areas is absolutely atrocious. Pressing up on the directional pad will sometimes cause him to go left or right, and pressing right or left on the pad will sometimes cause him to go down. There's no clear indication of when this will happen -- It's unique to each area. This becomes particularly annoying in areas where random battles occur. Very often I'd find myself doubling back due to this, and fighting far more random battles than I actually had to.

I wouldn't be able to conclude this without mentioning the cutscenes and minigames. The idea of rewarding players with a CGI cutscene during certain parts of the game was a fresh, new concept at the time of the game's release. Seeing Square flew their graphical prowess was mind-blowing, and the cutscenes were unlike anything in video games at the time. They truly were rewarding, and I remember being so impressed that I recorded them on a VHS tape for later playback. The minigames were also groundbreaking, but have aged poorly. Bad control plagues many of them, specifically the motorcycle and snowboarding games. But the inclusion of these changed the genre for years -- The lack of minigames in a post-Final Fantasy VII JRPG was a strange omission.

Final Fantasy VII has got its problems. In some cases, it's aged beautifully and become the historically powerful title that gamers expected it to be upon its release. Final Fantasy VII brought RPGs as a whole into the mainstream. Without Final Fantasy VII, games like Mass Effect 2 and Fallout 3 may never have been developed at all. The graphics and control, however, will be nearly unbearable to any gamer going back in time to play this game for the first time.

The Good: Materia system is still as rewarding as ever. Cloud is deep and interesting main character, and Sephiroth mirrors him as a superb villain. Nobuo Uematsu's score has aged like a fine wine. Huge impact on the RPG genre is undeniable, and the $10 price point on PSN makes it well worth a purchase.

The Bad: Polygonal graphics are ugly and have not aged well. Control in prerendered areas is unforgivably bad. Characters like Caith Sith fall flat with western audiences. Random battles get annoying.

Final Verdict: Like an old painting, Final Fantasy VII continues to be historically relevant and is worth seeing and experiencing if only to recognize the influence it had on present day gaming. But the paint has aged, and the artwork is unfortunately not quite as vibrant and stunning as it once was.


Star Wars: Force Unleashed

Jeez, that's a tough one. I can't even think of the worst game I've played so far this year. Maybe Star Wars: Force Unleashed. What a terribly overrated game that was.


Treyarch: No Excuses.

I read an article recently claiming that video game enthusiasts have been too harsh on developers Treyarch when comparing their renditions of the popular Call Of Duty game series to mainstay developers Infinity Ward's versions. This is, in my own humble opinion, a load of bull.

Here is the article: http://forums.xbox.com/23202585/ShowPost.aspx

Now then, here is the part of the article that I am staunchly opposed to...

"I'm not buying anything from Treyarch, they made COD3..."
Before you put Infinity ward on a pedestal, know this before doing so: Treyarch made one of the best games to ever be made, back when they were named Grey Matter Studios, which was Return to Castle: Wolfenstein. They were also given only 8 months to make COD3, and the normal FPS takes two years.
This time around they had two years, and they decided they are using the COD4 engine.

Please. We don't need to make excuses for Treyarch. The proof is in the games.

They have created two Call of Duty games at this point -- Call of Duty 2: Big Red One, and Call Of Duty 3. Both have been mediocre. This should be evidence in itself that Treyarch does not hold a candle to Infinity Ward, especially after the gem that Infinity Ward dropped with Call Of Duty 4.

Furthermore, citing the Return to Castle Wolfenstein as a reason why Treyarch should be respected is complete nonsense. First of all: Return to Castle Wolfenstein was a very good game, yes. But if you really think it was one of the "greatest games ever to be made" you desperately need to get out there and game a little bit more before you start broadcasting your opinion onto the internet.

Secondly; Gray Matter did not become Treyarch, they merged with Treyarch before the development of Big Red One, and more than three quarters of the staff that developed Return to Castle Wolfenstein did not take part in putting out Call Of Duty 3. The whole "they were Gray Matter seven years ago" argument is completely weak, unfounded, and only serves as proof that the writer of this segment is grasping at straws.

Don't even start talking about time spent on development. Lack of time put into development results in buggy, broken games. Call Of Duty 3 wasn't a bag game because of functionality issues. It was a bad game because the story and gameplay were equally stale, the dialogue was poorly written and unbelievable, and the entire game didn't compare to Call Of Duty 2 in terms of overall quality in the core aspects of video game making. When you consider that Big Red One suffered from the same pitfalls years ago that Call Of Duty 3 did more recently, you start to put two and two together.

Treyarch doesn't need any excuses to be made for them. They have a record of developing mediocre games thus far, and as long as they keep treading the same rails laid by Infinity Ward years ago, they will never be a stellar developer. Infinity Ward made leaps and bounds in the industry last year to pull themselves out of the dry, beaten-to-death hole that is first-person World War II-themed games. While they were doing that, Treyarch passed them on the same path while walking the opposite way.

A stale concept done by a convictedly mediocre developer does not scream "good game". If you've played the original Call of Duty, there's nothing more to see here. Unless you're an absolutely rabid Call Of Duty fanboy, stay far away from Treyarch's next effort in Call Of Duty: World At War and purchase the year-old Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare if you haven't already.


Character issues in Valkyria Chronicles.

I've put about ten hours into this game thus far, not enough to constitute a review yet, but here are some thoughts.

If you have read some of my reviews then you realize that I put great stock into the characters of a game. Characters are what the player is going to spend the most time amongst, and they often shape a huge part of the story. The most important part of a game to me is this story -- without a good story, there is no reason to play a game. This is why I'm not a big fan of sports and puzzle games. There needs to be a motivating factor for me. I'm also a huge fan of literature, so character depth is a huge issue to me and it often makes or breaks a game in my opinion.

Valkyria Chronicles is a quality game thus far. It's innovative, it plays well, it looks beautiful. However, I simply cannot stand one protagonist in the entire game. I know this is utter sacrilege to any fan of the game, but I can't get myself to like them. They're empty vessels filled with artificial character stereotypes.

Welkin himself has no conflict. He's joined the militia simply because he has to. There is huge potential laid by the story for him to grow into his father's character, and it has dragged along so far without even touching on the subject. Small, cutesy sequences of him admiring insects and talking to animals do not make the character worth anything to me, and will save the character only in the eyes of the most shallow minded anime fans.

And Welkin isn't the only one. The more minor characters like Largo and Rosie are similarly shallow and uninteresting. And the squad members you can choose from are basically cookie-cutter molds of the anime style. You have the ditzy blondes, the tough guys, the loners. And none of them are the least bit interesting. The game aspires to be like Chrono Cross, with many characters, but fails miserably due to the fact they're all nameless husks relegated to the role of a dramatic caricature.

The most interesting characters I've encountered are the Imperial generals. They're the only ones with any real depth thus far.

Now, I've heard that the story and characters pick up towad the later part of the game, which is why I have written this as a blog entry rather than added it to the game itself. I will update when I've finished the game and let my thoughts be known.


XBOX 360 vs Playstation 3

I am a long time XBOX 360 nuthugger. I've participated in the ongoing arguments since the day the PS3 was released. I bought a Playstation 3 several months ago (something I hadn't planned on doing at the time) after reading the stellar reviews for Metal Gear Solid 4.

Now that I've played both, I'm going to give as honest a review as I possibly can.

I've owned both an XBOX 360 Premium and I now have an Elite. I purchased my Premium for just over $400 back in March of 2006. It RROD'd me about a month before Christmas 2007. My elite cost me a bit over $450, packaged with both Forza and Marvel Ultimate Alliance- holiday deal- Marvel sucks, spent about 20 minutes with it and never played it again. The elite that I have now- not HDDVD capable without an add-on, but HDMI cable included. Separate rechargable packs for the controller(s) were required to get away from using millions of batteries, and separate plug and play kits were required for that to keep them charged. Both consoles came with one wireless controller.

My PS3 is the 40gb model. Cost me just over $425 with both a Sixaxis and a Dual Shock 3. No HDMI cable included- which sucks. No headset included- also sucks. However, benefits right away are that the controllers require no separate rechargable packs- the battery packs are inside the controllers themselves- and they plug directly into the console via a USB cable and recharge that way. Much more convenient, less clutter, cheaper on the wallet. BIGGEST drawback with the PS3 40gb- no backwards compatability with the Playstation 2. This is a huge drawback for me, since I was an avid PS2 player. I still have my PS2 set up right next to my XBOX 360, so it won't affect me much, but it would have been nice to pack the good old PS2 away and clean up my entertainment center a bit. The lack of PS2 backwards compatability sucks, period.

Moneywise- When compared in total, I spent almost exactly the same amount on the PS3 as I did the XBOX 360. Both had benefits and drawbacks as far as what they came packaged with and what they lacked. I'd call the price totally even FOR ME PERSONALLY due to my personal preferences- since I wanted wireless controllers with both consoles and had to buy a bunch of crap for the 360 to make that work out. More on the prices and how they compare at the end.

Taking the PS3 out of the box- it looks much better and overall just feels like a more quality console than the XBOX 360. It's taller, a bit heavier, but everything feels tighter and more solid. The glossy finish also looks MUCH better than the flat black of the Elite, and better than the white of the Premium (I prefer the white 360s, personally). The look and feel of the console, however, is miles ahead of the 360 in terms of quality- which is to be expected considering the price of the console when it released.

First- controllers. The dual shock 3 is a good controller. It's showing its age a bit, but the revamped triggers from the dual shock 2 are a nice touch. Still, they come nowhere near the complete control and comfort of the 360 controllers. The 360 controllers are heavier in the hand, but not at all in a bad way. The control sticks are more comfortable, the buttons are better rounded, the bumpers and triggers are both easier to grasp and use than the dual shock 3. There's no contest at all here, the 360's controller blows the dual shock 3 out of the water.

Next, the main layout of each system. What you see when you start it up. The desktop of the XBOX 360 isn't poorly laid out, but it's thick with advertisements, and windows are often very slow to pop up. That was something I hated about the 360 even before I got my PS3- navigating through your friends, messages, etc just feels super sluggish and is generally a pain in the ass to do.

The PS3 is the complete opposite. Everything moves extremely quick, and the menus flow seemlessly through each other. It's very easy to navigate, a pleasure to use, and you can get things done very quickly with it. I had more of a grasp over how to use the PS3's menus in 2 hours than I did the XBOX 360's in 2 months.

The PS3's in-game pause menu, by hitting the PS middle button, is so compact and brief. This may sound like a bad thing. But it's not at all. It's incredibly easy to use, clean looking, functional. The XBOX 360's in-game pause menu looks cluttered, and is massively slow to react in comparison. The benefit is that the 360's menu has far more capabilities as far as messaging, friends, and playing music. It's give and take, but I prefer the clean functionality of the PS3. This area, however, really depends on your preference. I prefer single player games far more than multiplayer, so you guys that love the multiplayer will most likely prefer the XBOX's menu since you can access all of your multiplayer stuff from there and join games directly from there no matter where you are in your single player game.

Graphics, so far, have been completely negligible and even. I really have trouble noticing any difference between games available for both systems. The PS3 is supposedly the more powerful console, but it just isn't justifiable through looking at the games. The XBOX 360 matches it tit for tat as far as graphical muscle.

HD movie capability- obviously time has shown us that the PS3 wins here. The Blu ray is the successful format. However, even prior to that, the PS3 had the built in blu ray while users of the 360 had to buy a separate HD-DVD player for $200. I did this back a couple of years when it first came out, and it really kicks my ass that I have a $200 paper weight sitting on my entertainment center that I couldn't sell for $30 right now. So the PS3 obviously destroys the 360 in this aspect.

Multiplayer- This one is also give and take. The PS3's online is free. I pay about $50 per year for XBOX live. As to be expected, there are more players and more games available on live. The level of skill is also higher. That's where the price comes from. Live also sells tons HD movies (their counter to the Blu ray's success), and other items. Live is a more complete marketplace with better online gameplay than PSN, but PSN is free. I rule this one totally even for me personally, since I prefer single player experiences much more than multiplayer experiences with video games.

Now, to the meat of the review- the games. This one is clear before ever touching either console. The XBOX360 has the benefit of an entire year of game development, but this has given it the overwhelming advantage in exclusive blockbuster titles such as Gears of War, Halo 3, Bioshock, Mass Effect, Forza, and more. The PS3 is just starting to come around with titles like Metal Gear Solid 4. This really isn't a question at this point- the 360 wins hands down on the strength of more console exclusive titles. However, if the PS3 can put out even two more games of the quality of MGS4- such as GT5, Final Fantasy XIII, or God of War 3- it will be right there. I'm serious... MGS4 is the type of game that sell the console by itself- it did for me. The game is absolutely fabulous, revolutionary, and a must-have. Metal Gear Solid 4, in my mind, is the single best game to be released so far this entire generation of console video games. Better than GTA4, better than COD4. It is everything that it's hyped up to be, and more. If you have a PS3 and haven't yet bought the game, shame on you. As far as MGS4 carrying the console, the original XBOX had the same type of game come around for it back when the original Halo: Combat Evolved hit the shelves along with the console.

However, at this point in time, the 360 has the obvious advantage in the game market. And that's what matters most for game consoles- the games. You buy a game console to play games- and you will get the better gaming experience with the XBOX 360.

The PS3 has the better fit and finish, better HD movie support, better menu design, and for me it cost almost exactly the same that the XBOX 360 Elite did (give or take about $20). When I consider everything, I believe the PS3 has everything it needs to win this generation of consoles- EXCEPT GAMES. Like I said before- you buy a game console to play games. That's the point of the console itself. And the XBOX 360 has the better games to play, and the better controller to play it with.

As a true gamer, I still prefer my XBOX 360. However, I wouldn't be upset to see the PS3 succeed. It's a far better designed console and the quality is far higher. It really just feels good to play games on, it's something you really have to experience personally in order to understand. I never understood what people saw in the PS3 until I actually hooked it up and played a game on the console. And this is coming from a longtime XBOX 360 worshipper. The PS3 is just a joy to use- it feels so smooth while navigating that the XBOX 360 makes it feel like a chore to do anything when compared to the PS3. But all of the experience up to playing the game doesn't make up for playing the games themselves- and the XBOX 360 just has more stellar titles than the PS3 does. Which not only means more gaming, but better gaming on the whole.

And when you consider it, the gaming for the 360 is available for far cheaper if you budget yourself.

The conclusion I came to- I still prefer my XBOX 360 for that reason. I am a gamer at heart, and the overall prettiness of the PS3 won't change that- neither will HD movies.

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