Friday, March 14, 2014

An Alternative Look at Dark Souls

As you likely know, Dark Souls II just released this week and it has already garnered quite a bit of buzz.

I only recently got into Dark Souls at all. I had spent a chunk of time with Demon's Souls previously, so I already had a taste of the grim challenges that From Software is capable of. I originally became interested in playing these games because I had heard all the hype about how hard but rewarding these games are. So, I got a copy of Dark Souls, and I've loved it ever since.

When an acquaintance of mine recently shared this article with me, I was rather intrigued:

Why Dark Souls is the friendliest, most benevolent game of its generation

This article does a great job of explaining why I've fallen in love with this game.

What I've noticed while playing Dark Souls is that time has flown by. For the first time in a long while, I have put about 60 hours into it with very little interruption. I have started dozens of games which I played for about 10-20 hours, then gotten sidetracked by other games only to return weeks or months later with no recollection of what I had done before. But, not Dark Souls. Sure, I put a few hours into Bastion at one point, but I returned to Dark Souls. Why? The article above explains it perfectly. Dark Souls is an experience unlike any I've had in recent memory.

In my mind, I find that From Software was able to tap into some old school game design and successfully marry it with a 3D environment. The way I explain it is this: Dark Souls has the navigation and exploration of early Metroid games, but with the difficulty of NES Mega Man or Ninja Gaiden games, but as a 3D RPG. As someone who grew up on those games and watched 3D engines evolve from their earliest stages, I'm fascinated with what Dark Souls has accomplished. Demon's Souls tried, but Dark Souls just did it better.



On top of this old school design, the atmosphere of Dark Souls is also very enticing. Take a gothic setting, and remove nearly all inhabitants from it. You only come across another non-hostile character every few hours, and they are always very cryptic. It lends a mystique to the world. The enemy design is fantastic, too.

The moment when you realize those aren't the eyes...


Though I'll likely generate some chiding from my fellow SunBros by saying this, I don't think Dark Souls is a perfect game. I don't think such a thing exists. The game does have some downfalls. 
  • The story, because it's so sparse, tends to be obtuse and it takes real digging to piece everything together. (Though, that does have a certain charm in and of itself.) 
  • The controls are not necessarily the most intuitive, and the game has a habit of queuing up button presses. If you button mash, you're likely to not be taking the actions you want to. 
  • There's a good amount of backtracking, which can get tedious. And the list can go on.
Dark Souls, now that I've put a good amount of time into it, has become one of the most rewarding gaming experiences I've had in quite some time. And it's not masochism; I legitmately like being challenged, and I haven't felt a challenge like this in a long time. I salute Bandai Namco for giving From Software the breathing room to create something like this. Most publishers wouldn't have the guts to release such a game in this day and age. 

Praise the sun!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Framerate and Resolution on Consoles: Just How Much Does it Matter?

Not too long ago, I posted about my growing irritation with the gaming community as a whole in regards to the the so-called "Console War." If you'll recall, I expressed my ever increasing frustration with how divisive a new generation of consoles becomes within the gaming community.

Someone posted this article in a Facebook group I frequent. What ensued was another divisive, albeit mostly civil discussion that I found rather fascinating. It made me reflect on this subject of graphical fidelity in the new consoles pretty heavily. I decided that I wanted to share my thoughts on the subject here for all the Internet to see.


Framerate

Higher frame rates result in smoother looking movement. However, the question always arises: how high is too high? At what point does an increased frame rate result in an imperceptible difference to the human eye? According to my scouring of the net, this question is not easily answered and there does not appear to be a clear answer. All I can do is use my personal experience to make up my own mind.

I spent nearly a decade playing World of Warcraft. I would consistently see the public chat discuss how the game was running for different players. I heard people talk about running at 90 fps or higher, and others complaining about only getting 30-40 fps. When I checked my fps, I was lucky to break 20. And you know what? It didn't matter to me. My character at least looked like it was moving somewhat naturally. Sure, when the fps increased, it looked even better. But, was it detracting from my experience knowing that it could have been X times better? Not at all. To me, it met a minimum requirement, and that was good enough for me.


Resolution

We live in a day and age where most people who decide to buy a PS4 or an XB1 probably own (or have access to purchase) an HDTV. Many, if not most, of these HDTVs are capable of some form of 1080 resolution. Now, it is a truth that the XB1 does not natively output full 1080p video, whereas the PS4 does. And you know what? The majority of people buying consoles will probably never tell without really scrutinizing the picture. Here's an example of PS4 - XB1 graphics differences at 1080p (taken from the GamingBolt article linked above):


To me, the differences are very slight. The PS4 image seems to have somewhat softer edges in general. But...step away from your screen by a couple of extra feet and you'll probably not be able to tell a difference anymore. Now, here's another example (again, from GamingBolt):


I can see a bit more of a difference in the water in this pic, but little else. I actually like the reflections coming off the car more in the XB1 (left) picture, personally.

But, do you see my point? The differences are very minute. To the Average Consumer, these differences will be so slight that they will probably not make as much of a difference when it comes to purchasing decisions than game selection and brand loyalty.



Next-Gen Increases Are Getting Smaller

When the first gameplay footage of a game running on PS4 and XB1 was shown, I heard a major outcry from the gaming community at large: "That doesn't look better than they do now!" And I kind of agreed. But then I thought about it. The difference between PS1 and PS2 was huge. Case in point:

Final Fantasy VII on PS1
Final Fantasy X on PS2
Then, if we add in PS3 to this mix:

Final Fantasy XIII on PS3
Another noticeable increase, but not quite as drastic. While I wish there was more legacy to dig through to show the diminishing returns on immediate graphic distinction between consoles, I think these three iterations show pretty clearly how the immediate "prettiness" of a new generation is becoming more subtle. Time for a bit of speculation:

Final Fantasy XV (unreleased) on PS4
While there is definitely a difference, again the distinction between the PS4 and PS3 screenshots are not as striking as the ones that have come before. What the newer consoles are doing (and what I suspect future consoles, if they continue to exist as we know them) is increasing the computational power and "oomph" behind those graphics. This is allowing for more complex shading and much higher particle counts. It's the nuances that are increasing in the new generation more than anything. I think this is why so much attention is being paid to things like frame rate and resolution.

Consoles Are Moving Away from Being Just About Games

Both the PS4 and XB1 are pushing social features such as game recording and/or streaming. Sharing your game experience with friends is a major push so far with the new generation of consoles. As long as social media continues to dominate our Internet-fueled society, I imagine this will only become more and more integrated into the console experience. I would dare to predict that Gamertags and PSN IDs will eventually become a sort of gamer manifesto that people will become greatly attached to. When asked which new console I will default to for cross-platform games, I stated I would pick XB1. I made this decision because I'm more invested in my gamertag and achievements than I am with my PSN ID and trophy collection. If these keep carrying over from console generation to console generation, brand loyalty will likely increase greatly and become more and more of a deciding factor for consumers.

In the case of the XB1, Microsoft decided to include an HDMI pass-through with the main intention of allowing users to connect a cable box to their Xbox so they can watch television on their console. Time will tell how much consumers use this function or if other uses are found and how much effort Microsoft and other hardware manufacturers decide to invest in it in the future.

Regardless of the specific functions, extra features are being designed around the gaming experience that is ultimately as the core of a console experience. We will likely see this grow and expand as time goes by.

Who is Buying Consoles, and Why?
Since November when the PS4 and XB1 launched, millions of each console have been purchased by consumers. Despite lackluster lineups from each console, it's been a fantastic beginning to a new generation so far. But, let's think about the different types of people who are buying consoles:


Professionals: These are games journalists and eSports players. True, some of these consumers may receive their hardware directly from the manufacturers, but they still count.

Gifters: These consumers do not use the consoles themselves, but usually choose to buy them as a gift for a loved one, usually their children. These consumers may simply be buying what they were told to get and may or may not be very well informed on the differences between consoles.


Casuals: These are the consumers/gamers who play games from time to time, but do not necessary dig too deep. They buy a few new games per year and spend most of their time on those.

Hardcore: These are the gamers who will buy as many new games on a console that they can afford. They will play through a new game in a matter of days, and replay it multiple times. These are consumers who will prestige on COD many times over, max out each class on Borderlands, make Let's Play videos and write walkthroughs.

We can probably come up with more categories than just these four, but this is a pretty simplistic cross section of the console market. Of these four, which group is most likely to notice the subtle nuances between consoles? The hardcore, that's right. These are the gamers who will be spending the most time with their hardware and will want to make sure they are having the pinnacle in available hardware. You could even call them gaming aficionados, not unlike how a sommalier is a wine aficionado. When you spend that much time with something, you being to understand, recognize and criticize it. So, when someone tells me that the majority of gamers will notice the differences in frame rate and resolution shown in the pictures from above, I have a hard time believing that. If a consumer buys one console for reasons of their own and never even looks into the other, how will they know what they are missing?



Games Tend To Evolve During Each Generation

Ever since game consoles have existed, there has been a distinction between how games look when they are are developed and released at the beginning of the console's lifespan, and the ones that are developed and released at the end of the console's lifespan. This happened with Atari 2600:

Combat (1977)

Rampage (1989)
And with the NES:

Super Mario Bros. (1985)
Alien 3 (1993)

Sega Genesis:

Sonic The Hedgehog (1991)



Sonic 3D Blast (1996)

These are just a few examples of how games have increased in detail and style within the lifespan of a single console. In the case of the 16-bit era, developers even found new ways to use already existing hardware, such as implementing parallax scrolling, mode-7, and even took systems generally used for 2D side-scrolling and found ways to create 3D visuals. These intragenerational advances continue to happen today. For example, here are some Xbox 360 comparisons:

Call of Duty 2 (2005)
Call of Duty Black Ops 2 (2012)
So, when I hear someone using Battlefield 4 or Assassin's Creed 4 as a benchmark for the graphical limitations of the PS4 or the XB1, I tune out. It's way too early to know what the full limits of each system are.

This is further complicated by the fact that there have not yet been any games developed for and released solely on both of the new generation consoles. Battlefield 4 and Assassin's Creed 4 were cross-generational so they needed to be scalable. Those games simply will not push either console to it's limits as we understand them so far. The engines they were built on needed to be accessible to both generations. Even Destiny and Watch Dogs are going to be cross-generational and still won't be good benchmarks to compare the two new consoles. You can try to compare console exclusives, but again, you run into the trouble that these games, such as Dead Rising 3 or Ryze (XB1) and Killzone Shadow Fall or Knack (PS4) are using engines incompatible with their competing console. Until a game is developed for and released on PS4 and XB1 only (and probably PC), we will not have a good comparison of how well each console looks compared to the other.

I, for one, look forward to a day where we can fairly compare the PS4 and XB1 together on equal footing. By then, I hope to have a PS4 in addition to by XB1. Both consoles have aspects I like and dislike, as well as exclusive games that appeal to me. A console no longer needs to be judged solely on it's capability to deliver ultra photo-realistic graphics at the smoothest frame rate and highest resolution possible. Resurgence of retro gaming and appreciation of simplistic graphical styles indicates that the new consoles don't even NEED all the power they have reserved for gaming all the time. Ultimately, the decision about which console is best comes down to personal preference and what is important to any given consumer. While one or the other may be objectively more powerful, what matters is the overall enjoyment a consumer derives from his or her time with it. That enjoyment may come from the graphical quality, or it may not. Just figure out what you want, and go with it.

The flame war between the consoles and their minute graphical differences needs to stop.

Gnome out.



Note: None of the images in this article/post belong to me. I found everything but the GamingBolt pictures from random Google Images search results. Rights for each picture belong to their respective owners.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds Review - Link Restores Balance Yet Again

In 2013, Nintendo surprised the video game community by announcing a return to the Hyrule of A Link to the Past. Often remembered as the setting of one of the best Legend of Zelda games of all time, many gamers have very fond memories of that version of Hyrule. So, needless to say, many of us were very excited to be given a chance to play a new game in a familiar setting. Personally, I wasn't wowed at first by the trailers. But, I began to warm up to it over time. Now that I've played it, I can honestly say it is not only one of my favorite games on the 3DS, but one of the most polished Legend of Zelda games ever.

As you may expect, ALBW follows a very familiar pattern for Zelda games: Zelda is kidnapped by a villain and Link must rescue her. He goes through a series of dungeons and fights bosses. As expected, the first 3 dungeons are smallish and lead up to a major story point, at which point several more "major" dungeons are introduced. It's a familiar formula, and should be very much recognized by fans of Legend of Zelda. However, ALBW separates itself in a very significant way.

In most Zelda games, each of the "major" dungeons is punctuated by finding a new item, such as the hookshot, boomarang, bow, etc. ALBW introduces a system in which Link can rent any item he needs, and eventually buy them to keep. I was apprehensive of this system at first, as I've always reveled in finding that new item deep in the heart of a dungeon. I was worried that it would diminish my enjoyment of each dungeon by not getting these items in there. Indeed, that was the case to a degree, but not nearly to the extent I thought it would. The dungeons are still a blast to figure out, and there is definitely a feeling of freedom and power by not being restricted by finding the new item. They were also careful to include some sort of upgrade in each dungeon that would provide a general upgrade to Link himself. The rental system also allows the player to visit any of the "major" dungeons in any order, whereas they are normally delegated to a specific order. And, I have to say, Nintendo did a fantastic job of keeping the dungeons balanced so that they really can be done in any order. This leads to a healthy amount of replayability for anyone interested in trying dungeons again in a new order with items at varying levels of power.

Speaking of which, the upgrade system in ALBW was actually one of my favorite changes. While previous games did have some upgrade options available for various items, they could have been easily missed. ALBW introduces the maiamais which look very much like this jerk...



...but cuter!



Mother Maiamai tasks you with finding her wayward offspring who can be found scattered around both Hyrule and Lorule. The map in each kingdom is divided to show you how many lie in each portion. I had a blast figuring out how to get each one. And, I'm glad I took the time to do so. For each 10 maiamais you find, Mother Maiamai will upgrade any item you own (not renting). Each upgrade is significant, and very well worth the effort.

On the whole, the first play through the game was not difficult. I suffered only a handful of deaths during the game. Few of the puzzles left me thinking very hard. Even the final encounter was surmounted without much difficulty (though, to be fair, the final boss fight in most Zelda games tend to be similar). However, those craving a more hardcore Zelda experience will be glad to know that there is a New Game+ mode called "Hero Mode." The only difference is that enemies hit harder. For example: in the first minor dungeon, you have 3 hears. A single hit takes away 2 hearts. This provides a good spike in difficulty without making the game unplayable.


One of the ways that the game did challenge me in an unexpected way was the new "merge" mechanic. This is an ability Link gains in the second minor dungeon which allows him to become a moving painting on a wall. This allows him to move left or right in a straight line and reach areas that would not have otherwise been reachable. He can also get around some obstacles and fit through tight spaces that would have blocked his way. It added an interesting wrinkle to the normal puzzles found in a Zelda game.


One of the elements of the game that surprised me the most was the story. I was not expecting this game to have much of a story, for some reason. However, the ending was one of the most touching I've seen in any Zelda game. There was also a twist that I didn't see coming, though the signs were all there from the beginning.

All in all, A Link Between Worlds is a fantastic game and a must-buy for the 3DS. It is one of the few games where I played with the 3D on max as much as possible. It didn't necessarily add to my experience, but it was just well done and added a nice aesthetic depth to the game (which is weird for a game in which you spend a good portion as a painting on a wall). I don't think people will look back as fondly on this game as they will LttP, but its still a rather entertaining and engaging return to Hyrule that is well worth your time. 


Friday, January 17, 2014

Batman Arkham City Review - The Dark Crusader Delivers A Second Roundhouse Kick Of Awesome To Your Head

(Edit: To be fair, I started writing this review several months ago; long before Arkham Origins was released.)

Disclaimer: To be completely honest, as is the case with a lot of games I play anymore, I got sidetracked after I had spent several wonderful hours in the game. I returned to it after quite some time, and had to get reacquainted. So, feel free to temper any of my comments on the game with that in mind.


I remember not caring much about Batman: Arkham Asylum when it was development. Then, I played the game, and realized that my interests were grossly misplaced. So, when Arkham City was announced, I was immediately hooked in.



I didn't get around to playing it immediately after I got it, because I'm still overloaded with a massive backlog of games. When I did get around to playing it, my expectations were well set. In a large sense, Arkham Asylum felt like a Batman starring in Metroid Prime, whereas Arkham City felt much more like Batman starring in Assassin's Creed. That is in no way a bad thing, but the two games feel like different flavors of the same awesome brand of [insert favorite candy here].



In case it wasn't already so, I want to make it painfully clear just how great this game really is. Arkham Asylum was thought of as the greatest Batman game to date, and I'd agree with that. Arkham City takes that already wonderful formula, removes it from the relatively confined spaces of the Asylum and lets Batman free into the night of the city. He iss more in his element, and it shows. From dive-bombing thugs to traversing the whole map without touching the ground, you really do feel like a badass crime-fighter.



Combat is super-smooth and the variety of animations Batman (and Catwoman) have are fantastic. There is also plenty of depth for the folks who want to maximize combos and come up with creative ways to dispatch foes. You can get by pretty easily without the extra flourishes available to unlock with a little skill, but some of them can be pretty handy in a pinch. Personally, I love the awkward ways that thugs will fall when they get knocked out sometimes (e.g. falling to the left when hit from the left, or ragdoll physics fun). It all adds to the charm, really. This is a game that is almost just as fun to watch as it is to play.

Arkham City itself is a wonder to navigate. The amount of content crammed into each square meter of the place is nothing short of amazing (sure, you can say GTA V still has more...but that's a huge area compared to a relatively small one). Riddler Challenges and side missions abound. If you have the Catwoman "DLC" there is an epilogue you can play through after the main story concludes.

Yeah, her combat kinda feels like that.
This brings me to my least favorite aspect of this game: the story. As epic as the gameplay feels, the story falls flat. There are twists and turns, sure, but they just don't measure up to the environment. Then, there is the fact that it's a slow burn. I took a hiatus from the game around the time I met up with Talia for the first time. I felt like I was about 50% in the story. When I came back after some time and reacquainted myself with the controls, the rest of the story just flew by and left me in shock. Where did the time go? There were even one or two twists that came up and resolved themselves just as quickly, though I was begging for them to get stretched out. Also...

***SPOILER ALERT***




Enough with the Venom already, okay?






 ***END SPOILER ALERT***

All told, Batman: Arkham City is a solid game that gives a lot of love to Batman fans. Sure, some characters got some minor tweaks, but there were others that were oddly absent from Arkham Asylum that show up here and almost steal the show. There may be some ground retread, but that's not such a bad thing. With a great combat system that seems to be getting adapted into other games pretty readily today, you really do feel like Batman. The Catwoman sequences are great and make me wish for a Catwoman spin-off (hold the Halle Barry). The voice acting is top-notch (complete with a supposedly retired Mark Hamill and a Nolan North that doesn't sound like Nathan Drake); let's hope this marks the beginning of more game work from Stana Katic, too.

If you like Batman, play this game.
If you like being a badass one-man army, play this game.
If you like puzzles, play this game.
If you're human, play this game.

It's a great game, and one of the best of the PS3/360 generation. (It's still hard to consider it "last-gen" at this point...)

Check back here at roughly the same Gnome time on the same Gnome site for the next amazing adventure from The Atomic Gnome! Stay classy, Internet.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Overdue Update

Hello Interwebz!

It's been quite a while since my last update, as seems to be the norm for me as of late. I'm going to blame work and being a parent again, which is true. But, regardless, let me give everyone a run down of what's been going on with me as far as games are concerned.

My mother-in-law pre-ordered an XBox One for my wife and me during E3. Despite some anxiety over the tracking on UPS's website, it arrived on Launch Day as expected. We set it up, and have not had any troubles with it since. No blu-ray shredding or any of the other issues you may have heard about. In fact, we love it quite a bit. The kinect's voice commands are still spotty, but they're much better than before. Face recognition is pretty good, though it doesn't read my wife very well. But...the games look GREAT so far. Forza is amazing and the frame rate on AC4 is really, really smooth. Looking forward to more games, though. We have Titanfall and Destiny on pre-order, and they can't come out soon enough. I hope to write a more in-depth post about my XB1 experiences so far sometime soon.

Pokemon Y was amazing. To be fair, I haven't beaten it yet. My wife has, but she wasn't focusing on catching all the pokemon along the way like I have been. Regardless, the animated battles are a HUGE breath of fresh air, and some of the new species are really great. I actually like the looks for all three starters this time around, which is rare.

I got A Link Between Worlds for Christmas, and it has been dominating my free time when I'm not near a console. I wasn't sure how I was going to like the rental system before I started playing. I was worried that dungeons would lose some of their weight because you're not finding that new item. To extent, that is the case, but it turns out this hasn't been a huge deal. The dungeons and the boss battles are still extremely fun even if you're not uncovering a new treasure in each one. The "merge" mechanic where you become a moving painting on a flat surface works like a dream and adds a deceptively simple new wrinkle in the Zelda formula. It's also just a BLAST to revisit the Hyrule of A Link To The Past.

My Wii died, so I may be replacing it with a Wii U sometime this year. I'm actually getting excited by the Wii U lineup for this year. Maybe it will come into its own finally, much like the 3DS did after it's own shaky launch.

I got invited to the Hearthstone beta a few weeks ago. I love it! I hadn't heard about Blizzard's plan to bring it to iPad before I started playing. But, I could tell it would be a great fit for a touch screen when I started playing. It's fast, fun and beautiful. I recommend checking out some of Day[9]'s videos on YouTube if you're curious about the game at all.

I'm in the process of applying for some big new jobs at work, so my apologies in advance if my posts continue to be sporadic. Stay awesome, Internet.




Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Gamer Generation Gap

While perusing gaming sites recently, I came across this interview with Aisha Tyler on GameInformer Online. While it was interesting to read about her experience as Ubisoft's go-to presenter for E3 the past couple of years and recording VO for Watch Dogs, it was her experience with being rejected as a gamer...by other gamers that really caught my attention.

I knew this has been something she's struggled with in the past. I don't regularly check Reddit, so I didn't see the post she referenced. However, just based on what she said in the interview, it got me thinking about my post-E3 blog post. While my initial disgust with general gamer decorum has decreased (the console war has changed significantly, and the flame war has died down as a direct result), Aisha's experience really made me revisit the whole debacle.

When I made the aforementioned post, I started to think about why gamers just don't seem to get along as they seemed to in the past. Then it hit me. Video games, and those who play them, have changed drastically over the years. Video Games were basically invented in the 1950's and 60's. It is now 2013. Video gamers are now in their 3rd (or 4th) generation. The second generation, those of us who grew up with Pong in the 70s and Atari and NES in the 80's (let's also not forget arcades) are now parents or even grandparents. There is now a full generation of gamers whose first console may have been an original Xbox or PS2 - or later - simply because they weren't born before then. But, it's not the games or the consoles that have created the generation gap, it's Time itself.

Before video games started to be considered "mainstream" in the mid-to-late 80's, anyone who frequently played video games were considered oustsiders and labeled as "nerds." While systems like Atarti 2600, NES and the rise of arcades certainly increased the overall number of gamers and their exposure to larger audiences, video games were still widely considered an anti-social activity. This led to gamers being persecuted by others. Likewise, video games also provided a safe outlet for many other adolescents who were cast out by society for whatever reason. Many gamers who grew up in this generation recall being bullied and shunned for loving their favorite hobby. As Aisha mentioned, this made many people - herself included - feel excluded by the majority of society.

Another celebrity from that generation is Raheem Jarbo, better known as Random or Mega Ran.


Personally, I feel the song speaks for itself and it has nearly brought me to tears on numerous occasions. 


In this song, he describes being a kid who didn't belong and struggling to make friends. At some point, his mother bought him an NES (a large investment for a single mother) because she felt it was safer than her son being on the streets with gangs. Raheem discovered a passion for video games. As an adult, he attempted to make a career out of hip-hop, but he found little success. He began to create songs that focused on his love of games, and video gamers embraced him wholeheartedly. His story is yet another of how a social outcast found acceptance among others who shared his passion for games and likely had similar backgrounds as his. His story shares elements that many gamers of his generation have related to.

As time marched on, video games became a larger industry and video gaming eventually became more socially acceptable. As the Internet expanded and permeated homes across the world, gamers and many other outlying subcultures found a way to connect with each other without the fear of further persecution. Many have referred to this as the beginning of the "rise of nerd culture." It was the history of persecution that unified these previously isolated individuals once there was a means of doing so over distance.

Fast forward several years. The Internet is now firmly entrenched in society as a source of information and culture. Video games tournaments are webcast (MLG, Twitch) and major annual events with their own subculture (EVO, etc). Online sessions of FPS games can total into the billions of hours invested by players. Video games have become much more than the escape of the downtrodden. Though still the subject to inquires toward their effect on the human psyche, gaming has become a vastly more acceptable pasttime.

Today, there is a new generation that has had access to a much larger community of gamers as well as the Internet. They have known nothing else. While I cannot confirm or deny the identities of anyone who claimed Aisha was not a "gamer," it speaks to a growing divide amongst gamers. Most gamers of the older generation to which Aisha and Raheem belong still view video games as a common ground for social outcasts to commiserate and forget their troubles. Alternately, the younger generation who has grown up with video games as an acceptable hobby and haven't been cast aside because of it have a completely different perspective. They do not see it as the refuge for the downtrodden. To me, this disparity is a contributing factor to much of the "cred" disputes I hear and see in gaming.

In addition, I feel this Generation Gap also contributes to the entitlement I spoke about back in August. Video games themselves have changed drastically since the days of the NES. During the age of cartridges and before online console services became a mainstay, video games contained many flaws, despite the best efforts of the developer. Gamers reveled in some of these flaws, which resulted in glitches, exploits, and cheats. Regardless, developers had no method to fix these flaws once their product was in the wild. As internet connectivity has gained momentum, developers can now issue hotfixes and patches to an imperfect game. While a certain level of quality is expected when a game ships, developers can now be more directly involved with the lifespan of a game. The newer generations of gamers, the same who never experienced the days of glitches and exploits as commonplace, now believe they are due any fixes to a game that they consider to be broken. Thus, we get gamers getting upset about a Day One patch for a game rather than appreciating the fact that a developer can now do this.

Sociologists often say people are products of their environment (which is part of a greater psychological debate about "Nature vs. Nurture"). The same applies to the video game community. As games change, the gamers change. This leads to a sort of culture clash, and results in friction. It's easy for someone like myself to sit back, observe, and say "Well, that's a shame these groups can't get along." It's something completely different to try to act upon this observation and make a change. I encourage you, as a gamer (probably), to read my words and try to accept where your fellow gamers have come from. Let's not dismiss others as "not really a gamer" simply because they don't think like you do. We call ourselves gamers because we share in a specific hobby, and we do so for our own reasons.

Share the love, not the hate.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Next-Gen Blues

Sorry for the delays in posts. To be honest...my heart wasn't in it after E3. It was really cool to see the PS4 and find out about the many awesome games we can expect when these consoles release this holiday season. But, sadly, it was my fellow gamers that sucked the fun out of the console race. Not all gamers, mind you. Of course, zealots are an exception to any rule, but that doesn't make it any less draining to listen to them.

I'm referring to the MASSIVE public relations debacle Microsoft had with the Xbox One. There were many controversies regarding some of the policies Microsoft had in place for the console, many of which would have probably been much much smaller issues if they had been handled more properly, or at least differently, from a PR standpoint. As such, the console war that usually exists became more hostile.

I mean, it really got out of hand fast.
I normally view the Console War of any burgeoning hardware generation as a healthy competition, and enjoy discussing the differences between the two, which one people plan to purchase, whether they plan to be exclusive to one or use both, etc.

"Yeah, you tell 'em!"

But this time around...it really felt different. All of a sudden, it seemed like EVERYONE knew EVERYTHING about each console. It was no longer about opinions, but "facts" (that hadn't even been confirmed nor denied at that point) and who was correct.

It illustrated a viewpoint I've had growing in my mind for several months. As time goes on, I've been seeing gamers as a community become more and more vocal and feeling entitled. The first clue to this was the controversy regarding Mass Effect 3. Granted, BioWare set some very lofty goals with the story of the series, and I admire them for their boldness. Disclaimer: I have not yet finished ME3, so I have no opinion on the ending at this time. But, when ME3 released and the online outcry over the ending opened up, I watched as petitions were signed to have BioWare change the ending. Yes, gamers thought that yelling at a company long and loudly enough would actually change the data that was printed on a physical disc. Eventually, BioWare caved and released a downloadable update that gave more "closure," I guess.

Then, it was Diablo 3. The initial server crash is an indisputable issue that happened, and there should have been more/larger stress tests before launch to help avoid it. The problem I saw afterward was the sheer amount of complaints about "I paid for this game, I should be able to play it!" amazed me. The server crashes happened for, what, 2 or 3 days? I can understand being annoyed that the game was not ready to be played immediately, but...YOU STILL GOT TO PLAY IT. Blizzard is not blameless, but the proportion of outrage seems to be weighed way too heavily against them. And, they fixed the issue pretty quickly, too. I personally call it a "net win" for everyone. It's not like the SimCity server issue...that, was truly a big issue.

Even before E3, I was feeling the fatigue in trying to figure out why my fellow gamers were so upset about everything all the time and felt like the gaming industry owned it to them to deliver the products they wanted. So, when the XB1/PS4 flaming began...I kinda gave up. I avoided articles about either console because I just couldn't stand to read the comments.

nope
All of a sudden I felt like the only person alive who wasn't gearing up for an all-out global conflict. I felt like one of the few people left who remembered that the video game industry is run by businesses who are out to make a profit. (Honestly, if you can't remember that, you should probably find a new hobby - or at least stop bitching about stuff and just not buy into or participate in products you don't support.)

I won't pretend that the Xbox One didn't/doesn't have issues. Microsoft has at least been intelligent enough to listen to the community to an extent and has changed some of their controversial policies for their next console. I strongly believe both consoles will ship, people will have issues with each of them, and things will get corrected. It's kind of how things are done anymore, as much as I miss the days of getting a product - warts and all (that is, after all, how we had fun finding exploits and glitches).

The tsunami has subsided recently, and only now have I felt like I've been brave enough to come out and start joining the community again.

I will not be going into detail about the Xbox One or PS4 until I have them in hand. It's not fair, and it's just a road I don't want to go down. I never review a game without having played it, so how I can I possibly pass judgement on something I've never been within 100 feet of? I just don't like this feeling:


 Now that I've said my piece, enjoy a sloth dropping da bass until my next post.