Posts Tagged XBox 360

XBox Done!? Is Microsoft Losing Focus or Over-Reaching?

ps4vsxb1

Courtesy of Stevivor.com

Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Video Game Budgets: What’s Going On?

A few weeks back, I read an article with EA head honcho, Frank Gibeau. And one statement especially jumped out to me:

“In general we’re thinking about how we make this a more broadly appealing franchise, because ultimately you need to get to audience sizes of around five million to really continue to invest in an IP like Dead Space. Anything less than that and it becomes quite difficult financially given how expensive it is to make games and market them. We feel good about that growth but we have to be very paranoid about making sure we don’t change the experience so much that we lose the fanbase.”

This strikes me as odd and flat out preposterous.  I’ve always been curious about video game budgets.  They just keep growing and growing.   I’ve tried poking around for a few detailed breakdowns with no avail.  But something is not adding up.  These budgets run more than many Hollywood movies.  That alone is crazy.  Once all the costs for licensing, royalty fees, art, QA, post release support and all that is factored in, you’re already looking at pretty chunk of change.  And don’t forget marketing / PR, that alone is sometimes more than the cost of the game itself.  Talk about outrageous, but we’ll save that topic for another time.  In the end, the budget for a standard console/PC game shouldn’t run more than a few million.  So where are they coming up with these inane figures like $25-$100 million?  And what kind of metrics ans analysis are they doing that indicates the need for so many buyers to justify a franchise.  In fact, I’d really like to see a case study detailing video game production costs & sales in contrast to other industries particularly movies and other technologies (laptop, mobiles, etc.).   I realize that sometimes there is a price to be paid for quality; but worth 500 million users?  I highly doubt that.   Again, something is NOT adding up.

The sad but current state of video game budgets

And is it really necessary?  The need to appeal to a broader audience is just a systemic of business in general.  But many franchises, and games in general, are starting to suffer with dwindling sales month over month.  Typically these days, a standard AAA game starts out as a first person shooter (FPS) built on an Unreal Engine with a tacked on gimmicky multiplayer mode.  And now it seems, they’ll be more co-op.  I, personally, love co-op mode; but it seems that co-op today translate more into action shooter.   That aside, including all these features quickly add up to a pretty penny.  But do these companies even considered if it’s germane to the business or the final product itself ?  Why does a game such as Dead Space and Assassin’s Creed need MP modes?  TellTale is already making a phenomenal Walking Dead game, is it really necessary for Activision to make one as well (which, surprise surprise, will be a FPS)?  To me, it seems like a massive waste time and resources  when they would be better off capitalizing on different markets. Do they really think they’re gonna capture that many more gamers with such a such a commonplace format?  I’m not saying they should ignore these kind of opportunities.  You never know what could happen.  Case in point, I thought adding MP to Mass Effect 3 would be a colossal failure.  But it turned out to be a massive success.  So I’m all for trying new ideas, just maybe in a different manner.  In fact, I’d love to see the numbers around these figures.  It may be worth holding off some new features as optional DLC only to be included in future installments based on a scale of their popularity.

But even if that were the case, it still doesn’t account for the absorbent budgets.  Countless indie developers have found marginal to great success producing games on a shoestring budget.  Why don’t major publishers release smaller titles in a similar manner more often?  Everyone wants to produce the next biggest hit, but wouldn’t it be more prudent to release a string of lower budget titles to help back bigger releases?  Movie studios release generic romcoms (romantic comedies) and other low budget clunkers all the time.  That’s possible because studios know there’s a market out there willing watch them.  Even though movies and games are two different monsters, studios should know there’s a similar (huge) contingent of gamers that’d like low budget title.  Low budget titles doesn’t mean low quality.  If you need proof of that, look no further than the countless indie developers and other standard titles that have found great success with not even a 1% of the budget.  Just like mindless popcorn flicks, sometimes all a gamer wants is just a regular game, not an over-produced blockbuster.  But game studios are very risk adverse.  The common excuse is that the physical production and release costs is not worth it, especially if it flops.  That and they’re pushing gaming more to the digital front.  Regardless of the chosen avenue, companies are missing out on a sizable potential market.  They already have a dedicated segment of gamers on lock (and potentially more).  Gamers like me aren’t going anywhere.  This is no excuse for developers to become complacent and produce cookie cutter crap.  But it could allow studios and developers more opportunities to take new risks.

All said and done, something needs to happen with the heavy imbalance between budgets and the decreasing sales.  I sure as hell don’t have all the answers but based on declining sales, the business aren’t just as clueless in some ways.  Right now, there are more than a few lucrative opportunities and markets the game industry capitalize on they’re just ignoring or frankly how no clue how to.  But I just hate seeing the traditional console market suffer from their inability to stick to basics and not take advantage of an already, dedicated fan base.  Like the saying goes: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.   And right now, there’s too much fixing going on.

What do you think people?

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

The Psychic Costs of Today’s Gamer

As much as I love gaming, I’ve noticed my buying habits have taken somewhat of a gradual decline.  I’ve become extremely more sensitive to what I’ll spend my money on.  Up until a few years ago, I had a massive collection of video games.  Seriously, I had a closet packed with boxes full of gaming nostalgia.  Each box dedicated to specific system followed by genre sitting in pristine condition.  But today?  Looking at my collection, I estimate about 30 games across all three major platforms.  That’s still a sizable amount or more than your average casual gamer. But it’s nowhere near the pack rat status I had before.  One day I’m sitting on a quintessential library of video games throughout the generations.  But now I’ve scaled back to the bare minimum.  So what the hell happened?  Despite brief stints of unemployment, social / relationship issues, age, and whatnot; that still doesn’t account for the drop-off in my purchasing habits when life is on the up and up.  

A few months back, renowned author, Malcolm Gladwell, wrote a piece regarding the NBA lockout: the psychic benefits of owning a sports team. Basically, the gist is that most (NBA) owners derive a greater value / pleasure from owning items (in this case, teams) more than what they’re actually worth from a market valuation standpoint.  The whole notion of psychic benefits is to evaluate the level of stress involved when considering a transaction or facing a dilemma.  It’s the reason why stores offer rebates or attractive discounts on extra accessories when you’re contemplating buying that pricey, new laptop.  It’s the reason companies and recruiters offer lucrative signing (or referral) bonuses when scouting new talent.  All of this is to help alleviate the psychic cost (i.e. stress) of the situation.  Naturally, I began to wonder how this would relate to the gaming industry.  And it seems to apply just as well.

Same cost, Diminishing Value
Video game MSRP’s (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price) have remained relatively steady throughout the generations.  However, I do believe that the majority of today’s releases are grossly overpriced given the quality of their content, especially for single player games. Granted, the criteria for what qualifies as a $60 game is debatable in itself. What can’t be disputed is the production quality of a game. Case in point, there’s no way in hell a titles such as Hunted: The Demon Forge, Spider-Man: Edge of Time, or even Thor contain the same level of attention and detail as say, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Fortune or even a lesser known gem, El Shaddai.  But I would be more inclined to buying games if they were released at a more reasonable price point.  The problem I face buying games today is twofold:

  1. I feel like I’m overpaying for a half-baked product (see Homefront)
  2. If there’s a generic multiplayer (MP) mode is tacked on, I feel like I’d only get half the value since I’m not a fan MP modes. This is the main reason why I skipped out on the latest released Call of Duty: MW3 & BattleField 3.

This is where the industry is failing.  So much energy and money is dedicated to hyping up AAA titlesm most of which are similar to each other where many of them fall into familiar territory too easily.  It’s no wonder they turn into massive flops (anyone still even playing Brink or Rage).  To me, it’s not worth wasting money on cookie cutter games I’ve already played for the past decade.  My buying influence is furthered weakened when a generic multiplayer mode is needlessly shoehorned in (see Dead Space, Assassin’s Creed, etc).  I’d rather play something that’s a bit more fresh (or shorter). As such, the psychic benefits I used to gain from most games has gradually diminished as a result of all of this.

Lately I’ve come to enjoy bargain bin titles more than many mainstream hits.  They’re short (5-10 hours), relatively simple to pickup and play, and they’re just as fun.  There’s this flawed conception that “cheap” games are bad games.  This is an area where the industry could really make a bigger impact.  These smaller, single player games could yield a larger return with a few tweaks the current model.  Think about it: cheaper production costs would allow developers to explore new ideas / gimmicks in smaller samplings instead of hedging their bets on expensive blockbusters.  Furthermore, it’d free up more capital to actually to market these “standard” titles. Plus, marketing a base of “standard” titles would allow people to move on to other games faster.  It would be even more awesome if these games were initially released digitally, not 3-6 months later when they’re well forgotten. Not to mention, more resources could be delegated to promoting commercially viable games from independent developers. This is another area that the industry continues to fail capitalizing on.  This year alone I’ve spent a fair amount of money and time playing indie titles that could make a commercial impact had the right parties taken notice. I’m not saying the large, AAA hits need to go away.  We still need those; I love those!  But we also need to broaden our focus and recognize what the community outside the majors have to offer.

Peter Pan No More…
Yep, I’m getting older.  The allure of having a mountain of games, midnight game releases, and trumped-up special edition releases just aren’t worth the hassle (or money) as I get older.  I’ll always be a nerdy gamer and I’m glad to help the culture evolve.  But as mentioned above, my priorities are shifting as I slowly become an adult.  There’s a silver lining to be found here in that gaming has transformed from being a mere “kid’s hobby” to a hobby people of all ages enjoy (whether they want to admit it or not) or even productivity applications (see Gamifcation).

I’m pretty confident I’m not alone in sentiments. But the gaming landscape is changing and expanding at an incredible rate.  Casual & mobile games are taking off and console gaming is starting to shrink sales wise.  If the industry wants to stay competitive and retain & grow market demographics, it will need to adjust their brand offerings & pricing model accordingly.  Soon enough you’ll find more gamers such as myself skipping out on even more games and transitioning to more suitable options.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

2011: The Year of Underperformers & Neglect

As 2011 wraps up, let’s take this moment to take a look at the plethora of games to come out this year.  How many of those games really jumped out and grabbed you?  This year was rife with mediocre titles that quickly feel to the way side.  And that’s fine, not every game needs to be a AAA smash hit.  The problem though is that a majority of 2011’s AAA titles were flash-in-the-pain hits that didn’t really merit their hype.  The disappointment spread even further with the lack of pereipheral hits / supports.  Anyone care for Rise of  Nightmares?  What was the last Nintendo Wii title  anyone played before Zelda Skyward Sword came along?  Maybe publishers were playing it safe due to the global economic downturn, who knows.  That aside, this year did yield a few gems.  Since I’m not an industry insider, my gaming opportunities are limited but I’ve played more than my fair share of titles.  So let’s get to it.  


Best Game of the Year:

  • Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception: – I kind of waffled on this one.  Personally, I would have put this as the number one game of the year due to it’s tight succinct story and fully fleshed-out multi-player mode.  But decide again it considering how chockfull of adventure you will find in Skyrim (which will provide you with gameplay for days, if not months on end).  Personally, I prefer more straight forward titles, but it’s hard to argue with a game that provides you with 200+ hours of gameplay.  But Uncharted plays out like a modern day Indiana Jones adventure.  The presentation is so well crafted, i’ve had people just watch me play just to experience the story.  And it definitely is an experience that shouldn’t be missed by anyone.
  • Skyrim: I have a strong love / hate relationship with this game.  Furthermore, it doesn’t even rank as one of my personal top 10 games of the year.  It’s loaded with a load of quests breaking glitches, an incredibly infuriating user interface / menu system, and the carte blanche setting makes no sense.  I’m actually aiming to make an entirely separate post about this in a few days.  That said, I am able to keep an objective perspective and appreciate the game for all the other things it does right, and that’s content!  Skyrim is the game that keeps on giving.  While completing one quest; you can expect to pick up 4-5 separate quests along the way.  The value packed in this game more than it’s MSRP price and can easily keep you occupied for quite some time, if not a full year.
  • Runner-up #1: L.A. Noire – I wrote a piece on this earlier in the year, you can find here. This game has been in development for quite sometime.  Thankfully, the wait was worth it.  A really smart story, interesting characters with depth, and top notch production all in one seamless package.  This game hit many high points and raised the bar to a new level.  Despite all this, the game does fall into familiar GTA territory in it’s mission structure at times (i.e. go here & kill ‘X’, wash, rinse, and repeat).  I have high hopes for this series.  Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait as long.

Worst Game of the Year:

  • Duke Nukem Forever: Oh how the mighty have fallen.  Jesus, I don’t even know where to begin with this shit pile.  After being in developmental hell for nearly two decades, we were finally treated to one of the worst, trivial gaming experiences ever created.  There is seriously not one redeeming quality to be found here.  And to add further insult to injury, Bulletstorm came out just a few months earlier and fully captured everything this game should have been. AVOID AT ALL COST!

Sleeper Game of the Year:

  • El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron: This was a quirky little title.  There’s no way to describe this game without it sounding like some generic platformmer.  But the mix of visuals along with its style of combat give it an unique flare.  In many ways it reminds me of a toned down version of Okami (another title I’m sure none of you played).  I know all that doesn’t give it the more glowing endorsement, but it is worth playing and presents a nice change of pace form the typical dreck that’s been  churned out this year.
  • Runner-up: War of the Worlds: This will be a polarizing title due to its style of play.  If you;re an old school gamer familiar with titles such as Out of the World and Flashback, you’ll fall in love with how much this game emulates the old school presentation and gameplay with a modern facelift. But new generation gamers will balk at how finicky the controls are and the unforgiving style of play.  Personally I think it’s a welcome addition to an age where game are so pussified that they practically play themselves.  Plus, it’s fairly cheap, but will worth the money.

Diamond in the Rough :

  • NOTHING: That’s how lame this year was.  The majority of title were either just good enough,that they really didn’t have much of an interesting base to build on.  I would love to have a more positive outlook but this year’s offerings really were tepid.  Very few risks and very little awesome.

Biggest Surprise of the Year:

  • WWE Allstars: Yea, Im surprised as you that a wrestling game would top my list as one of the best games games I’ve played this year.  Admittedly, I do have some bias since I grew up idolizing these characters, but this game really is that fun and worthwhile.  Not to mention it has a much fresh take than the standard WWE games on the market.  It’s pure arcade style goodness.

Wall of Shame:
Admittedly, I haven’t played all this year’s major titles. Here are some those titles:

  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 / Battlefield 3: Yep, I’ve said it earlier before but I am thoroughly burnt out on FPS and as such have chose to avoid both of these titles. But considering the turnout, this lame little rivalry fizzled out into a whimpering stalemate with no clear winner.  Given the massive build up, I would have expected more.  based on reviews and videos, they turned out to be more of the same riffraff from their previous incarnations.
  • Rage
  • Brink
  • Alice Madness Returns
  • Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
  • Shadow of the Damned
  • Infamous 2
  • Killzone 3
  • Yakuza 4
  • MLB 11: The Show
  • Twisted Metal
  • Little Big Planet 2

Personal Top Ten Games of 2011:
My personal favorite titles from 2011. Though I’ve missed some reputable titles, I’ve played enough for a solid definitive list:

1. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
2. Gears of War 3
3. Batman: Arkham City
4. Dead Space 2
5. L.A. Noire
6. Portal 2
7. Assassin’s Creed: Revelation
8. Saint’s Row the Third
9. Deus Ex: Human Evolution
10. Bulletstorm

There isn’t much else to be said.  2011 just flat out reeked of mediocrity and laziness that I’m afraid of what’s to come in 2012, especially considering we’re right at the point where a new iteration of consoles are right around the corner.  Even worse, there was a total lack of peripheral support.  Nintendo barely released 3 titles worth mentioning, not to mention that horrid DS launch.  Microsoft didn’t do any better with the small scattering of Kinect games released, many of which were garbage.  Surprisingly, Sony came through with some pretty surpassing exclusives, though most of them were HD remakes.  But I don’t like being such a debbie downer, I do have hope.  There have been new exciting developments from the indie scene that is yearning to be recognized.  Whatever happens, let’s just hope that gaming continues to maintain its true essence: being fun!

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

2010: Gaming on the Shoestring

Yea, I know I’ve been absent for a few months, but circumstances changed and had to put the blog on the back burner. In any case, I felt the need to drag this back up since this is the end of the year. Overall, it’s been a hell of year: Had a job, lost a job, found another job, moved to the city I love immensely, made some new friends, and then some. I can’t help but be grateful and thankful for all the opportunities, trails & tribulations that I’ve been put through. Now that things seem relatively stable, I’m looking to hit 2011 full speed, guns blazing.

It’s been yet another great year in gaming. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to play everything I wanted. But I have played my fair share of games. And with that, let’s jump into this year of gaming.

Best Game of the Year:

     

  • Alan Wake: For a game that’s been in developmental hell for the better part of a decade, this title surely didn’t disappoint and was worth the wait. If you’re looking for a horror title with more of a psychological bent, you can’t go wrong with this title. Kudos to Remedy for creating a game that doesn’t cater to the lowest denominator from a gameplay & presentation perspective.
  • Runner-up #1: Mass Effect 2 – I have a whole post that I’m gonna dedicate to this game so I’ll keep my recap brief. I wasn’t too keen on some of the streamlined elements. And the story didn’t retain the “epic-ness” of the original. But the gameplay was 1000 times better. So much so, I carried over all seven of my previous Mass Effect save games. If that doesn’t define a great title, I don’t know what does. The only reason I picked Alan Wake over this was due to Wake being a breath of fresh air among a sea of cookie-cutter titles.
  • Runner-up #2: Heavy Rain – This little gem comes from David Cage who also gave us a personal favorite of mine: Indigo Prophecy. Even though sales surpassed expectation, it still struggled to make a huge impact. I believe a lot of that has to do with the unconventional gameplay. Like Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain plays more like a heavy interactive movie than the standard, run-n-gun video game. The overall experience and story takes precedence over everything else; but it’s well worth every minute. I wish more games took this approach. But as sales indicate, these type of games aren’t cash-cows. If games could convey even a quarter of the emotion and passion found here, video games would be in a much better place. If you have a PS3, you owe it to yourself to buy this game. Or go out and buy a PS3 for this game.
  • Worst Game of the Year:

  • Splatterhouse: I was so heart-broken over how this game turned out. Given the nature of the game, this classic remake should’ve been a slam dunk. But that wasn’t that case. The ridiculously long load times, the spastic camera, the lazy visuals, the questionable AI, and other flaws couldn’t save this game than being anything more than a cheap thrill with its hidden nudie pictures A real heart-breaker considering how much I loved the original games. There is a slight silver lining here. If gamers actually endure the tedious levels, they’ll gradually unlock the original three games.
  • Runner-up: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II – This can be listed more as the biggest disappointment of the year. The first game was stellar with its surprisingly fresh and warm story befitting of the Star Wars universe. But more importantly, it succeeded in capturing Star Wars gameplay the way I always envisioned: Jedi & Sith doing ridiculously, amazing stunts with their force powers. Also, it has some wicked sword saber-play. But the sequel dropped the ball completely. Seems Lucasarts took the easy route this time relying on the generic clone-drone. Major characters from the first game appear only briefly or are completely forgotten. This is was what ultimately killed the game. It completely lacks all the original charm and sincerity, with no real plot or character development anywhere. The biggest insult is that the proceeding DLC on Endor is barely an hour long, but has more depth and potential than the entire game. I know the Star Wars nerds are up in arms about the controversial material. But who cares? It sure as hell would have made for a better story and more enthralling adventure than ther lifeless romp we’re given here.
  • Sleeper Game of the Year:

  • Metro 2033: A4 (the group who did work on the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series) did themselves a disservice by not providing a demo for the console gamers. With a demo and a stronger marketing push, they probably would’ve moved some major units. Some compare it to a more story driven Fallout type of game. Personally, I’d say it’s more reminiscent of Half-Life. Regardless, if you’re looking for a solid FPS, look no further. Despite the lack of demo and abysmal promotion, the PC sales have been strong, so strong that a sequel is well underway. Let’s just hope console gamers get with the program next time.
  • Runner-up: Take your pick of these great games that were either ignored or just flat-out forgotten: Dante’s Inferno, Vanquish, & Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.
  • Diamond in the Rough :

  • Alpha Protocol: Just to clarify, this award goes to that one game that could have been a top ten contender or classic with a bit more polish. Anyway, there was a small amount of hype around this game. The trailers indicated it would be a hardcore, action packed, spy thriller. But then it sort of just disappeared from sight upon release…and with good reason. The game wasn’t broken but it did have some flaws that were hard to ignore. But the game wasn’t that bad IMO. It presented players with a nice mix of dialogue options that altered the course of the game. And it had a fair variety of combat options from stealth, hand-to-hand combat, and guns. I’ll be the first to admit it wasn’t the most seamless experience, but the game wasn’t that bad IMO. And it was judged a bit harshly. With the right amount of polish, this could’ve been stellar. But then again I also enjoyed The Bourne Conspiracy which was equally panned. Take from that what you will. Then again maybe I’m a bit too forgiving with some games. 🙂
  • Biggest Surprise of the Year:

  • Castlevania: Lords of Shadow: The big surprise here is that no one really bought this game. For one, it’s freaking Castlevania. And two, it was backed by Hideo Kojima himself. This should’ve been flying off the shelves. Instead, it struggled in sales just barely cracking one million units. Outside of Fallout: New Vegas, there weren’t any other titles to contend. And it was released a full month before Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood & Call of Duty: Black Ops, so what gives? Kojima accomplished a major achievement here by breathing new life in the series with new gaming elements (notably, by going 3D). This actually would be one of my top 3 games of the year had I not played it’s earlier predecessor this year, Dante’s Inferno. If you enjoyed God of War, Devil May Cry, or Castlevania in general, there’s no reason this shouldn’t be in your library. GO BUY THIS GAME!
  • Runner-Up: Super Meat Boy – This game just stays in the forefront of the gaming world. In my objective opinion, the game is awesome in all it’s retro goodness. But personally, it drives me F’ckin insane! This platforming masterpiece should definitely appeal to the old schoolers like me. But the degree of difficulty will turn off a fair share of other gamers. Playing this game brings me back to my childhood where I threw massive shit-fit, controller breaking tantrums over similar games (old school Megaman games especially). That’s not a place I need to revisit. SMB is how I view spicy food: good to have every now and then, but nothing I’d have regularly. That aside, it is a great game that every gamer needs to check out at least once.
  • Wall of Shame:
    Admittedly, I haven’t played all this year’s major titles. Here are some those titles:

  • Red Dead Redemption: Here’s the saddest part of this story. I’ve bought every bit of add-on DLC but I haven’t even taken the plastic off the game. How sad is that?
  • Starcraft 2: Admittedly, RTS just aren’t my cup of tea. I do enjoy the Civilization series, but the rest….not so much. All the hoop-la around this title, left me a bit baffled and slightly perturbed that I wasn’t able to jump on the bandwagon.
  • Red Steel 2
  • Yakuza 3
  • Skate 3
  • Lost Planet 2
  • Crackdown 2: Again, sitting in plastic but haven’t had time to crack it open.
  • Naughty Bear
  • Dead Rising 2: Another game sitting in my growing video game backlog.
  • Gran Turismo 5
  • Kane & Lynch 2: Another one waiting in the wings.
  • Personal Top Ten Games of 2010:
    Here are my personal favorite titles from 2010. I realize the list may seem incomplete since I’ve missed some of 2010’s major AAA titles; but it’s my list nonetheless:

     

1. Alan Wake
2. Mass Effect 2
3. Heavy Rain
4. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
5. Metro 2033
6. God of War 3
7. Alpha Protocol
8. Dante’s Inferno
9. Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood
10. Metroid: Other M

2010 was a great year in gaming, especially for interactive gaming with the launch of Playstation Move and Xbox Kinect. And 2011 is shaping up to be another stellar year, Dead Space 2 in a few weeks, Epic’s new IP: Bulletstorm, Uncharted 3, Duex Ex, Portal 2, a new Elder Scrolls, to name a few. But the grand prize of all of them…Duke Nukem Forever! Now, let’s see if it actually comes out this time.

, , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Halo: Reach-ing a New Appreciation!

I was never a big fan of Halo.

Saying that probably invalidates any chance I ever had working for Bungie or Microsoft Game Studies (MGS), but so be it. Well…let me back up and clarify that statement. For many years, first-person shooters (FPS) weren’t my particular cup of tea. I just found the format too ‘restrictive’ and highly repetitious in its offerings. But that changed over the years as better games came along such as Quake, Call of Duty, Bioshock, and one of my top 5, all-time favorites, Half-Life 2. But I’m also not the biggest fan of multiplayer (MP) game modes either. Don’t get me wrong, I can do a good game of co-op play all day long. Borderlands dominated my TV most of Thanksgiving and Christmas last year. But standard deathmatch / CTF rounds lose my interest after 15-20 minutes. And let’s be honest: No one buys Halo for its riveting campaign; it’s all about the multiplayer. So what does any of this has to do with Halo: Reach? I’m getting to that; bear with me.

I first played Halo the day the original Xbox launched. While I enjoyed the game, it really didn’t win me over as a blockbuster title due to the bland campaign. In short, it wasn’t touching Half-Life 2. Yes, I realize they’re different games with their own merits, but that’s besides the point. Regardless, I still forged ahead with Halo 2 & Halo 3. Again, both were really great games, but still didn’t win me over. In fact, I was so turned off by the trilogy’s campaign that I skipped out on ODST completely. But then, Halo: Reach came along.

I picked Reach (limited console edition) for two reasons. One, I really wanted one of the new, slim 360’s. And two, I sincerely wanted to show support for Bungie’s hard work all these years and experience their final mark on Halo. Despite my indifference to the series, all the Halo games are top notch, quality products worth any gamer’s time, fan or no fan. Having completed the campaign and running the the multiplayer mode, I feel comfortable to weigh in my final verdict. Simply put….

I…LOVE…THIS…GAME!!!!

Everything about it is just a vast improvement from my previous gameplay experiences. Bungie even managed to nail the campaign appropriately. It starts off a bit slow but once it kicks into gear, it really evokes a true sense of overwhelming despair and impeding doom. As a swan song, it’s very poignant, yet very fitting for Bungie. Similar to Noble Team fighting a war that’s already lost, the Halo franchise has grown tremendously and is showing no signs of decline. It’s essentially bigger than Bungie’s bandwidth. Like many successful creations, there comes a point where you have to let go and move on so it can continue evolving. But let’s get back to how awesome Reach is. To Bungie’s credit, they’re never afraid to incorporate new elements into their games. One of the most memorable moments from Halo 3 was taking on the Covenant Scarab. The seamless transition from ground combat, to hopping in a plane to disable the Scarab, and then scaling back to ground combat was simply incredible. But this time, Bungie went all out by dedicating a full level for space combat. And they actually did it well, the sense of speed, the combat audio, etc. It all just works perfectly. I wouldn’t be surprised if their next project is a vehicular combat game or has a heavy vehicular component. But let’s jump into the real meat and potatoes of Reach: the multiplayer.

Based on my previous sentiments above about MP gaming, my expectations were minimal. Having finished the solo campaign, it was time to jump into MP. Now I started playing at about 7:00PM Sunday night, my play session ended a little after 6:00AM the next day. That’s right, I ended up playing over 11 HOURS of Reach multiplayer. And honestly, the only reason I stopped was due to an important incoming call that day, I needed to catch at least a few hours of z’s. That’s how much fun I had and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. The type of game modes and customization aspects can be pretty daunting; but it’s worth poking around for some of the more interesting, user-created game types. Thanks to the great matchmaking system, the level of balance is perfect. Regardless of the game type or weapon loadout, you never feel you’re put at an unfair advantage. That in itself is one of the greatest aspects of this game. In spite of all its depth, practically anyone can join in, have fun, and perform accordingly. Side note: this quick tutorial is great starting point for MP noobs like me.

I would be hard pressed to find anything truly negative about this game. Most of my nitpicking is with the contents of the limited edition console, not the game. The console is a slick, flawless, shiny marvel. Everything else? Ehhhhhh. For starters, it only comes with component cables, not an HDMI cable. Common sense would infer that gamers who can afford a $400 system most likely have an HDTV as well, so why not include both types? HDMI cables aren’t expensive at all. Hell, I’ve even sourced HDMI cables in bulk within a few days at previous employer. Moving on, the wireless controller is pretty slick but comes with regular batteries. Way to be green Microsoft. Again, most gamers buying this system probably play Halo for extended periods of time. As such, I would’ve expect them to include some play-and charge kits or at the very least some rechargeable batteries (some of which are cheaper and last just as long). And it would’ve been appropriate had they branded the headset with the ‘Halo Reach’ logo as well. Again, I know it’s extremely petty, nitpicking on my part. But for a $400 console bundle and as a developer send-off for their flagship title, I’m expecting something with a bit more posh. And these are simply little blemishes that could’ve been avoided. Had I been part of their product team or supply chain group, this would’ve been produced more properly. 🙂

Pettiness aside, I take my hat off to Bungie for a job well done. But I really want say, “Thank you Bungie” for helping me gain a new appreciation for how great (& fun) this franchise really is. A lot of passion, sweat, and tears went into producing this game; and it clearly shows through. Excelsior job indeed guys! These are exciting time for both Bungie and gamers alike. It’s safe to say Reach will keep us preoccupied for quite some time. And for Bungie, they get to start with a fresh clean slate to create a new and even better intellectual property. But whatever it is, I’ll definitely be there front and center. Until then, I’m fine with playing numerous firefight & MP rounds while struggling through the legendary campaign.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

The PAX Experience

This was my first time attending the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX).  And I’m proud to say it was one of the most exhilarating and insightful experiences I’ve ever encountered.  The sheer amount of diversity among the gaming community is amazing.  But even more surprising was the congenial nature of the event.  It didn’t matter what type of gamer you are, personal background, or any other discriminatory factor; everyone came together and just had a great time.  It truly was a beautiful event and I will definitely be there next year. First, I’d like to a give shout out to Dave (from Ontario) for procuring my PAX badge on such late notice.  Dave was even nice enough to let me join his group for awhile and grab lunch.  We’ll definitely hook up again for next year’s PAX.  Another shout out to Tom (from Couchsurfing) for allowing me crash at his place during PAX.  Tom and I have so many hobbies and traits in common it was frighteningly weird.  But seriously, Tom was awesome and look forward to many future outings.

Most of my time was just spent bouncing around from different panels, visiting various booths, and socializing with other gamers.  I even played my first tabletop game, Battlestar Galactica, and a really fun dice game called Zombie Dice.  While I did enjoy myself, next year I’d like to go with a  group of friends instead of solo.  Being alone can be  a bit bothersome at times, but I was fine with it for the most part.  Regardless, there was always someone in the same boat as me, so it wasn’t too bad.  In hindsight, the whole point of PAX is not about checking out the latest, upcoming games and the free swag.  But it’s to create a welcoming environment where gamers of all sorts can convene, have fun with one another, and just be themselves.

Highlights of PAX 2010 :

  • Meeting Ed Boon practically five minutes after entering the expo hall, EPIC WIN!
  • Microsoft Kinect was actually impressive and a lot of fun.
  • Twisted Pixel continues to create simple, yet highly impressive fun games, Comic Jumper will be their best game to date.
  • Meeting some of the great people from MS / Xbox. Shout outs to: DMZilla (who forgot who I was the next day when we were in the elevator), EverettGresham (you still owe me a drink), MacheteBetty, Esko, and EpicAndyB
  • Most Impressive Game: Dead Space 2
  • Biggest Surprise: Brink
    Quite honestly, the FPS genre has been played out these past few years in my opinion.  But something about this game has a certain charm that grabbed me.
  • Most disappointing Game: Fable 3
    This series has always been underwhelming and just bland.  And quite honestly, this game is even more streamlined and “simple’ than the previous incarnations, which is hard to believe.

As awesome as PAX is, there were some shortcomings and disappointments.  I’d like to see more…’unique’ discussion panels.  Do we really need to have yet another panel dealing with “the Myth of the girl gamer”?  Yes, we all know there are women gamers out there.  Hell, I’d even say quarter, if not a third, of the PAX attendees were women.  They made up a larger portion of the group more so than the minorities.   Point being: it is no longer a myth or a rarity even.  Let’s focus on something more unresolved such as the lack of diversity in gaming (from hiring to the game characters themselves) or ways to bring gaming to disadvantaged people and / or less fortunate communities, or investigate ways gaming can be used for more educational / professional training purposes.

Additionally, some of the lines were just too long.  You could literally spend all day in 4-5 lines to play a 10-15 minute demo and that’d be your whole day.  Either they need to add an extra day to the event or secure more space for some of the larger developers / publishers.   This way attendees (especially for one day attendees) can see and try out a good portion of games without feeling rushed.

Next year, I’m looking forward to more games, more parties, and more fun overall.  This was a much needed excursion for my soul.  But alas, the vacation is over and now it’s back to the daily grind of hunting for my dream job.  But not to worry, this experience has invigorated me with a stronger resolve.  I have a good feeling about my future.

In the meantime, here are few pictures. I know the quality is crappy. But that is due to the iPhone 3GS camera being utterly horrible.

Me and Ed Boon

Me and Ed Boon

Assassin's Creed Brotherhood

Assassin's Creed Brotherhood

Portal 2

Portal 2

Tron Legacy

Tron Legacy

Dragon's Age 2

Dragon's Age 2

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment