Archives for November 2009

Hold Onto Your Wallets!

Look out, everyone.

It looks like Steam is rolling out the sales over the next five days and every day will have a new batch of sales.

Just when I thought I’d finished spending money this year!

The Auditorium is Open

Remember this flash-based game? My wish was that it would come out for the DS. However, almost a year later it was bought by EA and brought to the iPod/iPhone. At $2.99 for the first 5 acts (30 levels), it’s wonderful. I now have my Thanksgiving travel game. It’s only a $3 for another 90 levels. I will probably be getting those as well.

The Circle Is Now Complete

Super Mario Kart is finally being released on the Virtual Console today. My life is now complete. I can now rest in peace. I won’t be among real people for a while.

Hey buddy, could you spare some free time?

Blogging (and gaming) has been light around these parts as a lot of my free time is spent watching and writing about college football. This happens every year, college football is a love of mine and I continue to enjoy blogging about it. But now, for my team at least, the end of college football (until January) has arrived, which means my blogging load at my other site goes down and I can spend a little more time here.

There are days I wish I could do this blogging thing for a living but until that dream is realized I’m just glad to be have some free time once and a while to play some games and chat with you guys about it.

Now, for some games…

In [Nat’s] Hands: New Super Mario Bros. Wii & Assassin’s Creed II

One game is a Christmas gift so I may not get to play it until then (and has absolutely the worst name Nintendo has ever come up with) and the other is the only game I anticipated this year.

nsmbwii

acii

Oh, and Star Trek on Blu-Ray. This will be a first viewing for the missus. I wonder what her take on it will be.

In My Hands – NSMB Wii & Friends

Dragon Age NSMB

NSMB Wii is awesome, even with a clumsy 5-year old in tow. I’m really enjoying the world of Dragon Age so I figure it’s time to dig into some of the history and lore of the game via the books.

Weekend Gaming

WOOHOO! It’s the weekend! What are you playing?

Me: Forza 3, Torchlight and maybe Halo Wars. Or Borderlands. Or both.

Curse You, Steam!

Valve got me to spend ~$30 today with their weekend deal and another surprise discount. You can get the Crysis games for 50% off (I got the first one) and the entire Overlord collection at 75% off—including the newly released this year sequel—for $10. Ten! Overlord is one of my surprise games I’ve found in recent years to be completely underrated. It’s also evil that Steam stores your credit card info now.

A grim time for gaming

Most of the time I prefer to link to Bill Harris then the actual news article simply because his commentary is usually worth considering. However, while I agree with his points and encourage everyone to see what he has to say I have better things to do then reiterate what has already been said. Instead I want to take some of the facts as we know them and shed some very painful light on them.

Electronic Arts just shed a large number of workers. I think the analysis at Dubious Quality is being conservative in saying they’ve released a quarter of their workforce. 2,600 people this year, around 1,300 in this most recent layoff alone. At a time when unemployment has hit double digits in America (I understand these were not just American jobs at EA) this is a terrible time to be looking for a job much less a job in an industry that is struggling to survive.

Hubris has destroyed many large corporations. I was there to see it bring AOL to its knees. Steve Jobs admitted outright that it nearly destroyed Apple. Yet at the end of 2008 and well into 2009 we had one executive after another talking about the “recession proof” gaming industry. How many development studios have shuttered their doors this year? I have actually lost count. Sadly, the nature of the gaming industry means that even beloved companies will close their doors in even the best of times. The epidemic of failing studios this year does not mean good things for gamers in 2010, and probably 2011. The real lesson learned though is that games are not recession proof. No luxury good is ever recession proof.

While people are out of work and budgets are tightening, the gaming industry is selling games at a higher price, targeted the secondary market, and looked at methods to put their hands in our pockets as directly as possible searching for whatever loose change they can find. One use codes, exclusive pre-order bonuses, and other strategies seem intent on making it clear that “buying new” is the way to go. I have to say that my biggest incentive to “buy new” is when a game hits a price I actually think it is worth. I didn’t hesitate to get Borderlands at $50, but the initial $60 asking price is simply too high to risk on a potentially bad game.

Questionable marketing strategies aside, the grim reality is that EA may not have any choice. At this point the gaming industry, like any industry, just needs to survive long enough for the economy to improve. This means less innovation, less risk-taking, and more “sure bets”. This means that we as gamers will have fewer choices and more of the same. After Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 sells a bazillion copies do you think Activision is going to tell Treyarch “Hey, people are tired of you guys making the sucky Call of Duty versions, so why don’t we just release every 2 years and you can go back to making games you actually care about”? NO CHANCE! Bobby Kotick is going to milk that cow with his calloused little fingers until the udders fall off.

I see fewer and fewer games of interest to me. I think it’s going to be a rough couple of years for my hobby. The good news is, this too shall pass. Like a kidney stone, it will pass.

The infamous Modern Warfare 2 airport shooting

Controversy can be good advertising. Although I have to give Infinity Ward some credit, when your game has been pre-ordered by everyone and their cat it’s not like you need cheap publicity to sell your game. While I tend to take a cynical view of business many times, this is one time when the facts as we know them seem to contradict the more jaded conclusions being jumped to.

I am, of course, talking about the already famous “No Russian” sequence in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Since the cat is already out of the bag and other websites have discussed this in detail I am going to give a spoiler warning here and move on.

Initially I thought I might skip over this scene, especially after finding out there is no way to avoid conflict with the police. Yet when the police came I managed to take advantage of game logic to avoid killing any of them until the very end. At that point I realized that I was not becoming the player. That I could see myself trying to disguise my non-killing of civilians but when shots are fired in anger am I not going to shoot back? I do think some of the game logic ends up sacrificing some of the impact from the scene, since half a dozen armed men are not going to be able to take on what seemed like the entire Moscow police force and real life can’t exploit AI weaknesses to push on to the next checkpoint without killing someone.

The payoff for the scene was anger. While many have criticized Infinity Ward and said there was a better way to portray how villainous the main antagonist is without such a heavy handed (and heavily scripted) sequence, when I took Makarov’s hand and he casually shot me in the head I realized all my agony, all my regret, all my concern over the consequences of my actions were for naught. Despite trying to hold onto my humanity, trying to be one of the good guys, I was going to die for nothing. Worse, I was going to be used to start a war.

The emotional payoff is huge. I don’t think I’ve been this vested in a villain since I was betrayed by Rhalga nar Hhallas (aka: “Hobbes”) in Wing Commander 3. Videogames have seen their fair share of villains and many of them I would consider far more epic than Modern Warfare’s Makarov, but I hate this guy. I can’t wait to take him down.

Was it cheap, exploitative, and unnecessary? Was there a better way to convey the depths of Makarov’s villainy? I think Infinity Ward was desperate to show there was no nuance to this character. No matter what may have happened in his past, there is no justification for his actions. He cheaply slaughtered his own countrymen and women so that he could turn the murder of an American agent into a full-scale war.

People are not going to like this sequence. They’re going to question motives of developers and producers. I think that’s good. It’s a powerful scene that is not to be taken lightly. I would definitely encourage anyone who feels too disturbed by the content to skip it. I think it’s a fair thing to do. Otherwise, experience it, even knowing what is going to happen, because it has a major impact on the story.

Funny, though, that even though the people at the airport are not real I could not shoot unarmed civilians when I was a “good guy”, even if I was in deep cover. Odd that even though they were not real, I began to hate Makarov right from the start simply because he could so casually slaughter them.