In My Hands

Because someone has to take a bullet for the team.

Alpha Protocol First Impressions

I pre-ordered Alpha Protocol back when it was an October 2009 release. I have a knack for that, like when I pre-ordered Halo 2 only to have that pre-order sit for over a year and then have Gamestop tell me they might not be able to honor it. I’m somewhat wiser these days, with Alpha Protocol only delayed 8 months and the pre-order from rock solid Amazon.com. However, with a new gaming PC I had switched my pre-order to PC shortly after confirming the new June release date. Lucky me to find out that the PC version is the most temperamental of all platforms for Alpha Protocol.

To answer the most obvious question, “Is it the unplayable mess everyone says it is” the answer would be “No, but kinda yes, except for when it works.” Ugh. Let me just go down the list of common complaints.

The controls, particularly the mouse, are unusable:
Honestly, this is sheer hyperbole. Everyone I’ve read who has played this game have made significant progress into it. I’ve played my share of poor control schemes and very rarely does ANY game ship with the controls in an “unusable” state. They are extremely dodgy and inaccurate, which is problematic because the game often seems to ask for more precision than it provides. If anything, I would not attempt this game on a game pad as some of the mini-games are greatly facilitated by the mouse. Except for computer hacking which is horribly broken and basically was poorly designed even if the control scheme worked.

The graphics are extremely dated:
Alpha Protocol is not one of the most high fidelity games I’ve seen, but at worst this is the kind of game you might have seen in the early XBox 360 days. Again, this is more hyperbole. For some reason people are overly harsh on graphics when they want to criticize a game. Alpha Protocol does facial expressions better than most games on the market, and the graphics are adequate to the story, which is all that is necessary. Are they terrible? No, not even close.

Texture pop-in is horrible:
Ok, the game has an obvious bug somewhere in the code. I’m well above the minimum system specs and running plenty of memory, I still see texture pop-in. I can’t even imagine how bad this must be on the XBox 360.

The AI is stupid:
The only really stupid AI’s are the ones armed with shotguns. Everyone armed with a shotgun is trying too hard to get too close. All I can figure is that every weapon seems to have an optimal range and the AI is trying to get to where the pellet spread can potentially hit 100%, which would be point blank range. The rest of the AI’s are pretty dumb as well, but the “everyone charges to hand-to-hand range and shoots me” claims are overblown. However, only a handful of opponents ever bother to duck into cover. Great AI this is not.

There's also a smart aleck comment somewhere about checking out her guns, but she won't appreciate it.

Combat is bad:
I think the designers saw Fallout 3 and thought “We can make our game based on math as well”. Two problems with this assumption. The first, Fallout 3 would give me a percentage so that I could understand why I missed 2 out of 3 shots. Even then, a 33% in small guns did not mean only a 33% chance to hit. I would likely still hit the target but could not do pinpoint aiming as easily. The second is that Fallout 3 has the VATS system which let me essentially do turn-based combat. Alpha Protocol has neither of these things. The skill system and how it affects your combat abilities are not clearly linked. This is especially painful in the early stages when you’re bad with every weapon and yet rely heavily on combat.

Stealth is impossible:
Yep, sometimes you just seem to be randomly detected, and that’s very annoying. I do everything right. Avoid cameras, silent takedowns, using a silenced weapon, and yet I swear it’s like someone sees me through a wall. The worst part is that once your discovered, that’s it. No more stealth. I get the idea that guards are on alert, but they can all find my exact location even if I eliminate everyone nearby and disable the alarm system. Actively looking for me and knowing my exact location are not the same thing.

The cover system is broken:
The cover system is no worse than the original Mass Effect and better in many ways. I have never found myself “stuck” like many claim, and actually had more problems with the original Gears of War. What is difficult is that it is not always clear what you can take cover behind, and sometimes you can’t maintain cover if you’re crossing under a window. You have to “unstick” yourself, duck, and then go into cover again. Not the most refined cover system, but if they didn’t do anything to this it wouldn’t be a deal breaker.

I think a lot of what is going on is high expectations being dashed by a development team that failed to make the most out of the extra 8 months of development. This game was hyped up bigtime and it seems like all the rumored problems from last year weren’t even touched. This is an extremely rough game and the comments about it being in a “beta” state are not entirely unfair.

The game does have some strengths. The dialogue system is actually pretty good, although Thorton can spout some non sequiters you wouldn’t expect. The reputation effects can be wonky. On one reply I had my reputation go both up and down at the same time. That seemed kinda dumb. If the net effect is zero why even bother showing a reputation change? One thing I really did not like is that the dialogue timer is too strict. You often have to make your choice before the other side finishes talking, and much of the critical information is at the end of their monologues.

I really like the safehouses and how you interact with them, I just wish there was more to do. In particular though, I wish more games allowed me to do pre-mission preparation. Although its a different style of game, I’m irked that Call of Duty preselects all of my weapons and equipment for me. I think an elite government agent should be able to figure out what they need for a mission.

What I really hope for is that despite its flaws, Alpha Protocol will at least spark some interest in RPG’s set in a contemporary setting. I like the espionage aspect as well, but mostly it was the ability to play an RPG that was not fantasy or science fiction. The game has tons of potential and plenty of good ideas, but was executed poorly. Hopefully someone else will see what the game could have been and we’ll see other developers follow Obsidian’s lead. Either that or Alpha Protocol just single-handedly killed the contemporary RPG concept, which would not make me an Obsidian fan at all.

Argh! My ears!

As much as an Iron Fanboy that I am, the voice acting in the Iron Man 2 Videogame trailer is so horrendous that I barely made it through. I’m am the least snobbish person I know about voice acting, but Tony Stark sounds like a high school nerd attempting a Robert Downey Jr. impersonation. As a bonus, the dialogue was obnoxious.

Games as art

I’ve always liked the quote, “I don’t know if it’s art, but I like it!” One of the biggest issues I have with the whole “Games as Art” debate is that in 10 years no one will even care.

Alright, I know that is a helluva statement to make, but let me clarify it. How many children do you know don’t play videogames? Let’s take that a step up, how many teenagers? How many twenty-somethings? Depending on who your general social crowd is, I’ll bet you don’t hit a significant group of non-videogame participants that you know until the 30’s or maybe even 40’s. Even then, they may not be in the majority.

Ta da! Videogames are mainstream. Notice the almost overnight irrelevance of Jack Thompson. Sure, we have the occasional obnoxious legislator trying to pass some bill or another, but it almost always passes in and out of the news. Some random news commentator desperate for attention may ride out the tired trope of evil videogames and protecting children, but it’s about as original as writing an article on Rock ‘N Roll and the decadent influence it has on youth.

The entire concept of what is and what isn’t “art” is fairly nebulous, but if you care about a videogame being “art” you have little to worry about. Anything that is mainstream eventually produces dedicated artistic endeavors. There are numerous games (Which I am intentionally not going to name. Can you guess why?) that are already considered “art” by the videogame community. Outside of the videogame community why would anyone care? The rantings of Ebert on the art-worthiness of videogames are about as relevant as a dog’s opinion of a squirrel. A passing distraction that causes a lot of commotion and barking but will never get.

As for me, I could care less. I don’t worry about how artistic a game is before I play. I am here to be entertained. This is not a different standard. Movies, books, and music are all things I enjoy but I feel no need to support anything for reasons beyond my personal interest. My personal opinion is that videogames are entirely better off without adding some artificial layer of snobbish elitism to them somewhere. Do we not already bemoan innovative games that don’t sell to big budget titles? Doesn’t that sound like the stereotypical struggle of the artistic endeavor already?

How to avoid the next game industry crash

Bill Harris thinks the videogame industry is heading for a crash. I’m not sure if I like Bill, but I do respect him. His general antisocial ways probably appeal to my misanthropic nature and so I try not to have too much positive personal bias, but I can rarely argue with his analysis. He makes some good points about a potential looming crash, though I don’t think he goes far enough.

I don’t like to rehash other people’s blog posts, so I don’t want to talk about why we’re heading for a crash, just that I do think we’re heading for one. Right now the four big players are playing a four-way game of chicken except the only way to win is to not veer off course, crash into your opponents as hard as you can, and hope you’re the one who can still walk away. While there is the possibility that one or more participants could survive such a contest, a far more likely scenario is that all four wind up on life support.

Then it occurred to me this week that while the crash is almost certainly inevitable, there is a way for at least one company to win.

Instead of playing this four way game of chicken, one company needs to reverse course and completely change their whole approach. Almost every strategy being proposed by EA, Activision, Ubisoft, and Take Two focuses on nickel and diming consumers if not outright treating them like garbage. If one company starts to focus on making consumers happy, they win. That’s not a minor proposition though because it flies in the face of everything the movers and shakers in the market are working in.

Quit spending money on day one DLC. Either it’s in the game or not. Drop your prices for 360 and PS3 games to $50. Stop development on every game we all know is not going to sell. Do we really need a Kane and Lynch 2? Quit worrying about the secondary market. I’m not saying embrace it, just quit drawing attention to it and quit making it look like your trying to screw consumers. In general, start looking at ways to make gamers feel good about spending money on your products. Also, let’s face it, the current release model is unsustainable and the current economy will only make it worse. I don’t have the answer to how, but these companies are supposed to be full of smart people. Figure out how to make the “long tail” work for you and quit this ridiculous death march of trying to sell a million copies in the first two weeks of release just to break even.

Also, I know I didn’t spend much time on the above points but I’m sure the price point thing is going to stick with some people. Look, $30, $50, or $60, the actual price doesn’t matter so long as a game recoups it’s development costs. Once a game gets past the cost of development it is essentially printing money. Valve has proved time and again that lowering the price of games increases sales exponentially. $60 is an off-putting price. There are many more games I’d be willing to buy on day one for $50 instead of $60. There are many games I do buy when they hit $10 off. The difference to consumers between $40 to $50 is not the same as $50 to $60. It is not “just $10 more” in the minds of consumers. I’ve worked in software development for over a decade now and I promise you that a piece of software is only worth as much as someone will pay for it. Trying to sell $20 games for $60 is part of the reason the videogame industry is struggling so much in today’s economy. Trying to market $20 games as though they are worth $60 is just throwing money down the toilet.

The overall strategy needs to be a shift towards doing something good for the consumer.

A letter to my kids about videogames

I have regular discussions about videogames with my kids, but I also have a lot of parents who are less game savvy ask me about what I do and don’t let my kids play. I think the most common question I get is “Why?” In other words, why is one game ok and another is not? Why do I sometimes follow the ESRB recommendations and other times do not. The short answer is that I am using the greatest power any parent possesses. Discretion. However, if I had to sit down and give a lecture to my kids about playing videogames it would go something like this.


Look guys, you see Dad playing videogames a lot. It is one of my favorite pastimes. I play videogames pretty much any chance I get and I play them with you guys on a regular basis. Obviously I think videogames are fun and I know you guys do to. I think we just need to come to an understanding about a few things so we can continue to enjoy them in this house.

First, let’s always remember the word game in videogame. Games can get serious. In professional sports multi-million dollar careers can be made or broken over a game. In this house though, we use the term “game” in the more traditional sense. We play games for fun. If a game is leading to hurt feelings, frustration, or anger, then it’s probably something you don’t need to be playing. Yes, even I can get frustrated at a game. You know what though, there is a point where I’ll give up on a game and simply get rid of it. Games are for fun and if a game is not providing entertainment we don’t want it in this house. Also, Mom says we’re too mean during Rock Band. I know we all want to five star every song and we hate it when someone flubs their part. We need to be more constructive though. Yes, I still entirely approve of you two playing Super Smash Bros. rather than actually beating on each other. When the whining starts the game goes off though.

Second, I know some of your cousins get to play games like Modern Warfare 2 or Gears of War. I want to say I respect that I trust you guys enough that I don’t have to put those games up and you’ve shown a lot of maturity. More maturity than some kids your age that are allowed to play games like that. I know you guys get exposed to worse language at school and I’ve watched some pretty intense PG-13 movies with you. I think there is a difference between spectating and participating though. When we play games, we’re a participant. We choose to shoot that bad guy, we choose to race down city streets with reckless abandon. Our willingness to make choices when there are no real consequences does say something about us as people. I want you guys to grow up some more before you’re put in a position to make serious choices without consequences. Just because games are for fun doesn’t mean they can’t be thought provoking. I want to make sure you guys have the proper knowledge to fully understand and appreciate what you’re doing.

While we’re talking about content, I want you to know that the answer to your question “When will I be old enough to play game such-and-such” may well be never. Look, guys, your Dad has held jobs that are best done by rough and occasionally unruly men. You guys know I’m no saint and I’ll never pretend that I was or will be. That said, I want all of us to be good, strong, moral men. To that end there are certain games that I do not play because they contain some very negative content that doesn’t reinforce the type of person I want to be, and certainly not the kind of person I want you to be. Reckless escapism is acceptable in small doses. We’re doing a good job in this house so far. Let’s just remember that we want to be the good guys in the real world. You can role-play as a Sith Lord in Knights of the Old Republic if you want. I think you may have fun but find it’s less fulfilling than you might have guessed. What I really want though is that when your adults and the choice is all yours that you will still ask the question, “Do I want to be exposed to that?” before you see that movie, read that book, or play that game.

Third, we need to always remember that games are just games and that just because we can do something in a game doesn’t mean we should try it in real life. The real world has consequences that we ignore at our peril. You’re my kids and we have a long family history of doing stupid and illegal things in our teenage years. I shudder to think what I’m facing in just a few years time. I just want you to remember that before you go off and do the same stupid stuff that I, your grandfather, and great-grandfather did that you will face Hell’s Wrath if I ever have to come get you out of jail. So be certain that if you try to pass the buck like some of these kids and say you got the idea from a game it will not do anything to lessen your punishment. I’m hoping about talking to you guys about this early and with my own experiences working at a jail you realize there is plenty of fun to be had in your teenage years without involving law enforcement officials. You know right and wrong and you know where the right places to learn it are. Movies, videogames, books, or music will not be your moral compass.

I hate to talk so seriously about something that is for entertainment. I’m only having this discussion because other people have taken this topic way too seriously already. I want you guys to understand appropriateness about everything. Videogames fit in a very particular place in our lives. They are for entertainment, they are for fun, and they can and often do stimulate your minds. Enjoy them, but don’t take it too far or ever forget their proper place in your life.

Trimming the Fat

As I mentioned before and I promise to go into detail later, I am no fan of Japanese RPG’s. Yet I am not alien to the format. Two of my favorite JRPG’s are MS Saga and Lord of the Rings: The Third Age. The first game is essentially Final Fantasy: Gundam. The second game might leave you scratching your head. “That’s not a JRPG!” you might claim. Well, actually, it’s about as JRPG as you can get without the weird anime character designs. Lord of the Rings: The Third Age was essentially a Lord of the Rings game made on the same engine as Final Fantasy X.

Oddly, the Third Age and FFXIII have something in common. They cut out a lot of crap. See, the Lord of the Rings game was widely criticized for the features it cut. Town visits in particular. This is also a common complaint about Final Fantasy XIII. My recent foray into Lost Odyssey reminds me of why I hate town visits in JRPG’s so very much. They are pointless and annoying. The towns are spread out amongst multiple maps, and there will be no more than three things to do on any one of them. When I say “to do”, that could a combination of an alleyway with some minor item in it, some citizen with pointless game minutia to share with you, or a shop of some sort. Often a part of a town will have nothing to do. These sections exist as transitions between parts of the town that do have something to do.

This pointless padding just frustrates me, especially since these games rarely have maps and so I find myself wandering lost as I try to find that one person who will give me the information I need to progress the plot. Heaven forbid I actually need to find that shop again. Hopefully the next monster I fight will drop some healing potions because I’ve spent all the time in this town I want to!

Lord of the Rings: The Third Age was story, battle, cut scene. Those were your three options. So far, Final Fantasy XIII is the same way. Is it linear? Almost ridiculously so. You start the game fighting on an elevated highway with two options, forward or back. Really, forward is the only option for obvious reasons. The concern was that in making FFXIII appeal more to western audiences they might have focused on the wrong things. Westerners like our freedom, we like our choices. Don’t take away overland maps or town visits!

Actually, I think that’s a mistake. While westerners do like our freedom and we do like our choices, we also have a very low frustration threshold and a very easy irritation trigger. I don’t want to wander aimlessly and lost through a town were I have to traverse five screens just to buy a handful of healing potions. Actually, I wouldn’t mind if I could at least tell where I was at and which way is the quickest exit? Dragon Age has a fairly large town in it, but it features it’s own map for quick travel between sections. You know what? Thanks for that. Don’t force me to wander around and spend precious gaming time doing nothing.

This is a big improvement for Final Fantasy XIII. Get rid of everything the game doesn’t need. Don’t try to add features to “westernize” a game. Do that later when you understand the culture and can do it in a way that hopefully won’t alienate your home audience. Instead, trim the fat and focus on the game and story itself. I bought this game for a reason, so focus on what it does well as the first step in improving your franchise. Take a page from American game designers on how not to improve your game. More sequels have been ruined by adding features that nobody wanted instead of focusing on the areas that nobody liked or were done poorly compared to the rest of the game.

Crap, I can’t believe with my hardcore anti-JRPG stance in general and strong distaste of Final Fantasy in particular that I’m having to admit they got something very right with this game.

Final Fantasy XIII and the platform philosophy

I could simply do an “In my hands” post like we usually do, but purchasing Final Fantasy XIII is a special milestone for me. You see, I hate Japanese RPG’s. I hate them with a passion. The why’s and wherefore’s are worthy of their own topic and I won’t belabor them here, but the end result is I don’t play JRPG’s. I attempted to play Lost Odyssey late last year. I bought the game for my Dad, which he loved immensely and played through it twice. With his passing I felt like it was an easy way to connect with him. I essentially inherited a game that I bought for him as a gift. I have tried, unsuccessfully, to get into the game but it feels too much like a JRPG in all the wrong ways.

I am, for the first time, buying a JRPG for the story. Stories are important, don’t get me wrong. However, I want to play a game, not watch a game. I get plenty of stories from movies and books already and I don’t need games for their stories. When a game has a good story that’s just a bonus for me. Even Mass Effect 2, which you largely play for its story, is still primarily a game-based purchase, if such a term exists. However, everything I see in Final Fantasy XIII is just gorgeous. I am hoping against hope that they’ll resist to do the usual anime tropes. You know what I mean. The evil corporation, the needlessly convoluted storyline, the betrayal in the third act you saw coming from the first, etc. I’m sure they will, they can’t help themselves. JRPG’s and anime are addicted to a very predictable plot cycle that has made one much like the other in the past decade. Still, this game is brimming with so much potential that I have abandoned my strict “No JRPG” stance. I am hoping this is a game that will transcend it’s genre, like Dawn of War or Borderlands.

All that said, I bought this on the PS3. I like my PS3, but it’s a massive pain in the butt. The ridiculous installation process and the ponderous and intrusive updates actually make the infamously unreliable XBox 360 hardware look good by comparison. That’s an interesting accomplishment considering Microsoft effectively went into overdrive to deliver the most unreliable console of all time. Yet the 360 dominates because, when it works, it is simply a better game delivery platform. Yet there are games, even multi-platform games, that just feel right on a particular system. I loved Fallout 3 on the XBox 360, but the PC is definitely a better platform if you have the hardware. The 360 is my favorite, but I would lie if I didn’t admit Batman: Arkham Asylum just “felt right” on the PS3. If you don’t own a PS3 I’m sure Final Fantasy XIII will stand well on its own merits regardless. Don’t feel bad playing it on the 360. When someone asks me which version I’m getting though, it’s one of the few times I would answer snobbishly “The Playstation 3, of course.” This is a game that demands it look the best, and I’m going to play it on the platform that is best suited for it. Don’t get mad at me, I wouldn’t dream of playing Modern Warfare 2 without XBox Live and I switched Borderlands from the PS3 to the XBox 360 because I realized I had chosen poorly. I’m not a PS3 snob. All I know is that I want to play a game on the platform that will maximize my experience. Alas, like anyone, I often have to make do with the best I have on hand, not necessarily the best there is.

The BioWare Effect

In my opinion, no company is sacred. A proven track record of good products is likely to attract me to a day one purchase but it only takes a single misstep to lose that trust. I’m not asking for spectacular games, just games that don’t make me regret paying full price. BioWare gets a lot of credit in the industry. Too much credit if you ask me, but they make solid games. The key word here being “solid”. Yet they can’t help but meddle with their own success. I’m often stunned that BioWare gets a pass for design decisions and gameplay mechanics that would push a game down as “mediocre” in most reviewers eyes. Only BioWare could get away with massively slashing a sequel down to bare bones simplicity and be considered genius for it.

When it comes to party-based RPG’s, BioWare is the master. Of this there is no doubt. That kind of system is so complex and difficult to manage that rising above mediocrity is a huge barrier to overcome. Yet I remember Might of Magic VI, the Mandate of Heaven, which essentially rebooted the RPG genre and made BioWare’s accomplishments possible. What happened to 3DO and the Might and Magic series? If you don’t remember or weren’t around the answer is simple. They became victims of their own success.

I think BioWare is working overtime not to become victims of their own success, but they don’t seem to stop and ask what works and what doesn’t. When I first heard about Dragon Age I had this picture of Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) ported into a fantasy setting. That’s not a bad thing. Aside from being the long awaited Star Wars RPG that many gamers had been waiting for, what really set KOTOR apart was that it was great in every way. However, it’s greatest triumph was its least appreciated feature. The controls of KOTOR were incredibly easy to grasp and use. There was complexity there, but you didn’t have to use it. Directing my characters in combat was a piece of cake. Navigating the many menus and statistics was easy. Quite an accomplishment considering I was also playing this on the XBox. The brilliance of KOTOR was that, like any RPG, it was essentially spreadsheet gaming without throwing the spreadsheet in your face. You were able to enjoy the story, the combat, the RPG tropes (new equipment, levelling, etc.) because the interface never got in your way.

Dragon Age is a lot like KOTOR in that it’s a party-based RPG, you can control the individual characters, and you can pause (sort of) combat to issue orders. Unfortunately, the spreadsheet is in your face. The difficulty settings in Dragon Age are “Easy”, “Normal”, and “Hard”. The translation of these difficulties is “Cakewalk”, “Pointless Micromanagement”, and “You don’t play games for fun, do you?”. I started Dragon Age on the “Normal” difficulty, only to find that I spent every battle carefully watching everyone’s health and mana. There are these great battle animations that play out, far superior to even the thrilling battles of KOTOR. I was completely missing the battle and instead carefully monitoring everyone’s status like Lt. Gorman in Aliens.

You can futz with “tactics” if you want. This is where the game really breaks down into pointless minutia though. I don’t want to get into that level of detail in the middle of battle. I want my archer to shoot arrows, my mage to rain mystic death, and my warriors to wade in with big swords and their swinging cods. Furthermore, the “tactics” I’ve selected and the actions of their characters on screen seem to line up only loosely. This is always my complaint about real-time battle systems. Look, either I’m in control or I’m not. If I have to take individual control of each character then let me just pause the entire battle while I adjust each person individually instead of the “switch-pause” tango you have me doing.

My impression is that Dragon Age is adequate graphics, decent story, horrid gameplay mechanics. I finally just put the game on easy so I could get through missions. I’m trying to decide which is worse now. The utter insipidness of the game on easy, or the ridiculous micro-management of normal. Neither mode is hard, but neither is particularly fun either. That’s what really surprises me. Once I peeled away the combat system I find the rest of the game is, well, good. Just not super great. Not “A+++, Perfect 10, 99.5%” or whatever reviewers are doing to fellate BioWare right now.

Which leads to Mass Effect. At least it doesn’t pretend you’re in control of your squadmates. You can direct them to use powers or have them switch weapons, and that works well enough. Sure, it’s a radial menu, which seems to be BioWare’s addiction lately. At least Mass Effect and its sequel don’t have radial menus that open up other radial menus (ARGH!!!! I’m looking at you Dragon Age!) Mass Effect had a neat system going, but it probably was too complex and usually poorly presented. I want to sell off some armor, when I go to the store I can’t see what the armor looks like. I get a colored box that the armor might have come in. Which one was that? Was it the black kickass armor I want to keep or the green camo crap that was worthless? Actually, that was Mass Effect’s other problem. Too much crap. You’d think it was a loot drop grind the way they kept picking up the same worthless pistol or upgrades. There was actually a point in the game, on the first playthrough no less, that if you meticulously sold everything that you didn’t need then you would never lack for money in the game.

Mass Effect 2 keeps “simplifying things”, but to what end? I think they’ve cut too deep. The game feels oddly generic. It’s all about the story now, but this just displays how mediocre writing in videogames still is. It’s not a bad story, it’s just not great. I think it would actually be more interesting if I didn’t have everyone telling me how awesome I am all the time. Hey, I get it, the guy effectively saved all sentient life before. They don’t even talk about that though. It’s a never-ending praise parade of how awesome it is to see me in action. How over the top is Mass Effect 3 going to be? Women spontaneously ripping their clothes off when Shepard walks into a room? They’re not far from it now.

In a lot of ways I think that is what gets BioWare it’s legendary reputation in the gaming media. They provide the ultimate in geek wish fulfillment. You’re not just a Jedi in KOTOR, you’re a secret amnesiac badass who brought worlds to their knees. In Dragon Age you are the last and only hope to keep the world from literally going to hell. In Mass Effect you’re the only individual in the entire universe that can save the entire universe. The Campbellian theme of the “Hero’s Journey” is tossed right out the window. We start at the end of the journey and proceed from there.

Gamers rejoice, for my time is at hand!

I am unapologetically something of a Grinch or Scrooge around Christmas. The actual holiday doesn’t bother me and I try to celebrate it both from a secular and religious standpoint. After all, what better excuse am I going to get to buy cool stuff for the kids?

No, it’s the Christmas Season that I loathe, or really the whole generic Holiday Season that ramps up in October and doesn’t end until January. I just tend to single out Christmas since that is the holiday everything seems to be geared for. The constant sales, increased traffic, and crowds of people at the store does nothing for me. In 2007, before the economy went belly up, the mall was so crowded that I had to find a different route home to avoid it on Fridays. How crazy is it that malls get so crowded that you get the effect without actually going to one?

However, the Season of Jason O takes hold after Christmas. The first is the immediate post Christmas sales and I am usually flush with cash and gift cards. Then a series of sales in February followed by predictable permanent price drops for many games in March and April. The four months after December are my most prolific buying times of the year and I try to make the most of them since I know game companies are still stridently clinging to their increasingly failing and antiquated business model and will release nothing for the bored gamers of summer. (Note to publishers: I’ll say it before and say it again, I get the same paycheck all year!)

With Christmas finally behind us, I am looking forward to my favorite gaming time of the year.