I Don't Think I Want to Play Anymore

Diablo 3. Hot goddamn, I can't think of a game in recent memory that has pissed off so many people for so many different reasons. The constantly online approach to design, the Real Money Auction House (RMAH), the server issues at launch including downtimes, log on issues. The bugs the baffling restrictions to accounts, account security. The list goes on, and on, and on.

I looked past all that. I played since the Closed Beta. I was anticipating this game ever since I had my fill of Diablo 2 way back when. And for all of its problems, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with 3 (once I could actually log in consistently). Progress wise, for some context, I have completed Act 1 on Inferno with a Witch Doctor, with about 100 hrs played.

However, after seeing the content four times now, not including playthroughs on secondary characters its starting to get stale. The loot pinata aspect of Diablo, which I usually enjoy just wasn't catching me. The frustration of getting to 4 stacks of Nephalem Valour (the buff that increases your Magic Item Drop chance) then meeting an elite or rare pack that is UNDEFEATABLE at my current ilevel and class choice meaning a restart and a loss of all the stacks is becoming more and more frequent. The ~200 ping that I am playing the game at makes it impossible (in most cases) to effectively dodge attacks, and it's compounding my frustration. My character dies in 1 hit. That's not cool.

Playing with a group alleviates this somewhat, but even then the impossible packs are still occurring. The cries of 'get better gear' 'grind out items' 'do some crafting' just annoy me further. I feel like I am making backwards progress, especially the most recent patch, which effectively halved my DPS output, due to it relying on Attack Speed % which was nerfed hard, so I need a better weapon. Sure, I could spend $180 on a replacement, but that's a little bit too crazy for me. (Although, in my moments of extreme frustration, I have been tempted).

And the game isn't really very fun for me anymore. In order to progress, I have to play a Witch Doctor build I don't enjoy. It doesn't suit me and the ping in Aus doesn't suit it. The much touted ability 'choices' are almost non existent at this level, with only 1 or 2 builds being effective. That's not what we were promised. In fact, it's the opposite.

I feel bad. I will stop playing this game. I defended it from all the criticisms and rage directed at it. I am not angry, just melancholic. The game is extremely fun. Playing with my group (shout out to my homies Sovereign, Batlad and Flower!) was such a consistently great experience. Maybe my expectations were too high, overall. I mean, most games end. Maybe I have finished this one? I don't know why that feels strange to say. Maybe because I have enjoyed effectively infinite fun from all previous Blizzard products? I'm not sure. Luckily, plenty of titles to enjoy in 2012. Maybe I'll come back once expansions start arriving, new content is released, or the patch notes finally list changes that make me excited, rather than upset. Who knows.

Thanks for the entertainment Blizzard and Diablo 3. Hope to see you again soon.

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The Death of GAME

On June 19th 2012, the once great TGW Pty Ltd t/a GAME was put into liquidation. An incredibly sad day for the employees still with the company after a incredibly tough couple of years. But not entirely surprising.

For some context, I worked for GAME for just over five years, starting as a Sales Assistant at the, what was then GamesWizards store in Belconnen, and eventually exited the company in late 2010 as the ACT Regional manager. A meteoric rise to be sure, but one built out of necessity.

In early 2007, The Games Wizards (TGW) was acquired by The GAME Group UK. It was all sunshine and happiness back then, an exciting time. New owners bought new opportunities for everyone involved. The thought of more stores opening and a larger presence Australia wide pumped all the staff at the time. GAME was on the rise.

And rise it did. They opened an absurd amount of stores, barely spending time developing locations before moving on the the next, making poor locative decisions, being screwed on rent and other conditions in the mad dash to open more and more stores. Whether this was a directive from up high, or just the Executives riding the high of a massive influx of money from their UK benefactors was never made clear to us guys. And that's where the cracks started showing.

Staff were under trained. The infrastructure to support the stores wasn't properly implemented. The IT systems collapsed under the strain frequently. People at head office were overworked and mistakes were made. Communication to stores was all over the place. As a result, staff attrition started kicking in, turnover was high. But morale stayed strong. Passionate people were still at the helm. The core 'Old Guard', myself included, put in Herculean efforts. We believed in what we were doing.

Then, those cracks started to show, then were structural, then the whole thing started to come down.

Financially, we weren't where we needed to be. Pressure from the top started to build. There was radical shifts in how stores were to be run. Hours and spend budgets were slashed. The customer service focus that GAME was to be known for suddenly slipped. Big box retailers and department stores offered deals we simply couldn't without the loss leading goods of the 'Bigger Guys'. Bit by bit, financial data was looking grimmer and grimmer. Eventually, the axe fell.

The UK stepped in, in a big way. The Executive were completely replaced by Big Gun Hot Shots from England. Whether they resigned or were forced, was never really discussed. These guys were about numbers, first and foremost. As a result, hours were cut further, new contracts for employees were written up, support for brick and mortar was dropped for focus on the Online presence and finally, the surest sign of all, stores were closed.

I was lucky, only one of my stores, Woden, was shut down. The heartbroken look on the redundant staff's faces is still fresh in my mind. But no one was surprised. Everyone had seen this coming. Like rats abandoning the proverbial sinking ship, the passionate 'Old Guard' started leaving, myself included. I could no longer abide the decisions being made.

And then, it seemed to pick up. The guys I visited in stores, friends I had made seemed happier with their lot. They had been given incentives and pep talks, they had their morale's boosted once again, some of the passion of old was starting to shine through. Then, the 'Marketing' started.

They hired two comedians to act like tools on promotional material online and in stores. They adjusted the Companies image weekly it seemed. One minute edgy and almost offensive, to bargain bin retailer, to 'Hardcore Gamerz' to satirical, to The Place for Mums. They tried too hard, and spent absurd amounts of money doing so. When I left, I had given them 5 years before the Armageddon clock struck midnight, but barely two after I left, the UK Incident occurred.

It started rather interestingly. GAME UK would not be stocking Mass Effect 3. Say what? One of the most anticipated releases of the year not being stocked. It was revealed that distributors and suppliers were refusing to comply with deals until GAME paid their bills. Which they couldn't and subsequently went into administration. With this, they had to call in their debts. And guess who owed them a lot of money.....

Again, another interesting beginning. GAME Aus would not be stocking Diablo 3 standard editions. What? The biggest game of the year, no copies? And of course, not too long after, GAME Aus went into administration, and has since entered liquidation, thus ending the short reign of one of Australia's largest brick and mortar specialist video game retailers.

Reading through the Administrators report (which I highly recommend you do, if your interested in this kind of thing) there is lots of finger pointing at things like the economy, competition, pricing in the Australian market etc etc. But its hard to ignore the shortsightedness of the decision makers in almost all respects.

I'll miss GAME. I have some amazingly fond memories of my time there. I have made lifelong friends and it as shaped what i am today. Farewell, old friend.

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The Greatest Game You'll Never Play

I've never been a massive fan of Rayman. My experiences with his franchise has been limited to playing the original at a friends place when I was knee high and a brief flirt with Rayman: Raving Rabbids when I picked it up free with my Wii purchase. I don't actively dislike the character, he just sort of existed for me, a 'beloved' character that I just never got into.

Until this morning.

I had been hearing increasingly positive things about Rayman: Origins from the various video game sites I frequent. Positive reviews, cries of 'BUY THIS GAME' from reviewers and people whose opinion I trust, people who have generally had the same or similar tastes as my own. I looked into it, and had the same reaction I think everyone will initially have when they look at it. Its a 2D, cartoon platformer, with a full retail release price? ($99 in my neck of the woods, Australia). What? No, thats not right, this stuff is released digitally, for $15-$20, right?

I put it out of my mind, with so many massive time sink titles already threatening to clutter my desk, no way I could devote time and money into this weird thing.

So, to get to the point, I picked up my copy of Skyward Sword and Super Mario 3D this morning. I was trading in some games, and I had some credit left over. The universe aligned, just as the staff member selling me these two titles, I have yet to even unwrap as a result of this confluence of events, was asking me if I wanted anything else, the other staff member opened their delivery box, revealing a half dozen copies of Rayman: Origins. 'Ooh, I'll take a copy of that' I said, without thinking, all the positive praise for the title flooding into my conscious, causing me to not think, just do.

I got home, three games in hand, what to do first? Well, my 3DS hasn't been turned on for well over two months, so I set that on the charging cradle. Wii needs an update to play Skyward Sword? Ok, I'll whack Origins in then, give it a couple of levels, then jump into Skyward Sword.

Four and a half hours later, and I cannot put Rayman down. It prompted me to write this post, something I have never done before, I have messaged all my friends, begging them to try it out, my girlfriend is actually hanging out with me, watching me play a game. She might even be convinced to join me. It is such an amazing experience. Nothing looks like it. The animation is simply astonishing, and COLOUR! COLOURS, I had almost forgotten what they looked like! I don't know how long it will last, at this point I no longer care. It has been such a refreshing change from the drab, realistic, gritty experiences of the past three months that the price for admission has been worth it.

If your sick of Military dudes, shooting other Military dudes, or swinging swords at dragons, or punching guys, get Rayman. Even if you don't, get Rayman. It is such a beatiful, surreal experience, so expertly crafted, and just so damn FUN, as the title of this post suggests, most everyone won't play it. I can't blame anyone for that decision, but I do pity anyone who doesn't.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to it. Those Electoos won't collect themselves!

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