Cash For Sins: The Church Indulgence Returns In A 9Yr-Olds Kickstarter
- Mar 24, 2013 7:14 pm GMT
- 0 Comments
I periodically will stumble across items that make me do a double take, meaning I check it and then I check it once more for good measure, because the thing I saw is hopefully not the thing I think I just saw. Sadly, sometimes it is. This is the case for a recent Kickstarter project where a seemingly supportive mother wants to help her daughter in a charming sibling rivalry against her older brothers. The mean duo of males has ridiculed the girl, stating that her gender is incapable of producing good games. Still, at just 9 years of age, the girl isnt fazed and with help from mommy dearest, Kickstarter can come to her rescue and send her to RPG Camp, whatever that is, if they can muster the $829.
Its a noble goal and one we all took to heart, because of the low funds, the charming story and the struggle against adversity that puts us all on the cheering squad for the underdog. That all seems fine; except for a few dodgy tactics of manipulation. However, some of the goals had me taken aback. Now, far be it for me to ask why a sub-$1000 project would need high stakes donations; crazier things have happened. Instead, a first thought occurred that some goals seemed rather unrealistic to a child, even as a goal. For instance, how can you deny or ask someone to alter their vision by creating specific, custom NPCs based on backers that have paid the amount? In a regular setting, sure, but this is a 9 year old were asking to play house exactly like we want to. How many times has that ended well in the chronicles of all house playing ever?
Yet, by far the one that took me for that double take was the final tier, the $10,000 powerhouse donation. First off, the amount itself is more than 10 times the funds needed for the project in its entirety. Its a bit much. Still, thats not the thing that made it seem odd. Again: Kickstarter can be strange sometimes. No, its the fact that one of those prizes states that her brothers will personally apologize to you, the backer, for something you have no involvement in. Rather than just being plain weird, its the fact that morality is paired with currency that sickened me. I use a strong term, but it has made a tangible knot in my insides when I read it for what it really was: The literal concept of evil washed away with cash, which is in itself a redundancy of any remorse. The act is solely done to spite and the regret is only achieved when enough funds are acquired.
This was a major turning point in the ancient world with the Church and its concept of indulgences. In fact, its how the Church got to be the powerful, currency-backed institution it is today and why several branches started detaching from the known concept. Anyone who had sinned could buy their way back into the gates of heaven. It was indeed so popular that the Church began breaking down indulgences in fraction, so that poorer people could repay their since in payment plans. It was so ingenious that fractions would never complete, as youd buy 1/8 of an indulgence, which would then break off in another, smaller fraction and so on. To end this brief history lesson, it was a major catalyst for historic figure Martin Luther to denounce the Church for its greed and notify it of its sober and humble roots. If you follow organized religion today, the new Pope, Francis, has uttered a similar desire.
What I dont mention in that history lesson is the revolutionary movements, bloodshed and atrocities that this mentality has brought forth. This is the mentality in that Kickstarter that upset me: the loss of all morality for financial gain, through any means necessary. While the Kickstarter has long since reached its initial mark, I can only hope that it gets shut down for this deplorable action and the many others inside, which will fill the internet shortly.
There are tons of amazing Kickstarter game projects you can back. Developer Craig Stern has come back with Telepath Tactics for the second time and succeeded, but this strategy title can still use your help. More importantly, the glorious open world game Planet Explorers is still seeking funds for its sandbox RPG. You can support it here.
The Other Side
- Mar 22, 2013 3:00 pm GMT
- 0 Comments
While most software companies only have a few franchises to take care of, Nintendo has developed an unparalleled quantity of easily recognizable titles. Once upon a time, there was only Mario struggling against the giant menace that was Donkey Kong. Eventually, the two characters went separate ways, and ever since those days, Nintendo's properties have grown in numbers. And while the pace - to the disappointment of some fans has not been exactly constant, the result of the combined creative outbursts through the course of over thirty years has put the company in the unique situation where it is faced with two options: either completely drop some of its most recognizable franchises, or hand them over to somebody else to take care of.
As a perfect reflection of the modern business era, Nintendo has adopted outsourcing as a major part of its strategy to keep providing players quality first-party franchises in a steady pace. And much like all responsible companies do, regardless of the business they are in, Nintendo keeps a close look on the teams handling its titles outside of the Big N's Kyoto walls. Other than increasing productivity, that strategy has a second, much more interesting, effect that is directly felt by gamers who have been following those franchises for a while; and that is the considerable benefit that is gained by having another company - with a very different philosophy, which is usually contained to a certain degree by Nintendo - experiment with a franchise with which many of their developers grew up with.
Historically, the results of outsourcing have been generally good, even though they do not always show a considerable change in the franchise's established structure. Such was the case of the twin Zelda titles released for the Game Boy Color: Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages. Both are excellent games, but little to nothing about them shows a significant change implemented by the minds at Capcom. The split between an action-focused title (Seasons); and one with tougher puzzles (Ages), was a great move, but neither one of those factors was exactly new to the series. The other Capcom Zelda experiment followed the same path. Minish Cap was a visual delight, and it had a fantastic core concept, but there was no significant shift for the series.
Perhaps, the three finest examples of how much a game can gain by outsourcing lie in the Metroid franchise. Though it might be hard to make such a conclusion, it is possible to say that the Metroid Prime series would never come to exist had it been developed by Nintendo. Not only are first-person games a specialty of American developers, Nintendo had also no experience whatsoever with that genre. The wonderful discovery of the unknown Retro Studios was the best move the company has done in the past decade, and it paid off marvelously as they have, so far, proven to be able to give new fantastic life to franchises that were stuck in the 16-bit era by either completely overhauling it, in the case of Metroid; or by keeping its roots intact, in the case of Donkey Kong Country, which turns out to be itself a franchise originally created far away from Nintendo's headquarters, back in Rare's English home.
F-Zero is another case of a franchise that experienced a strong growth outside Nintendo. F-Zero GX came to be by the hands of Sega, and the result was, by far, the best game of the series and, possibly, the finest racing title to ever hit a Nintendo console. Once again, F-Zero GX benefited from something Nintendo would have probably not done, which is to turn their franchise into a gargantuan racing game with brutal difficulty, single-player focus and a story mode. Sega unleashed the true potential of F-Zero, something that inside Nintendo would have probably been kept restrained by the company's often conservative approach.
While the Metroid series houses the finest examples of the benefits of outsourcing, it contrasts that by owning the most polemic came that was a fruit of that approach: Metroid Other M. Needless to say, it is unthinkable that Nintendo would have treated the franchise as a cinematic action-packed tale with loads of voice acting and more than ninety minutes of cutscenes. The company noticed Samus' potential as a character with a lot of story to tell, something that was increased by the mystery factor that always surrounded her tragic and courageous life. In the knowing they did not have the expertise to handle such a direction, the game was promptly handed over by Team Ninja, which readily removed Metroid's explorative nature and backtracking, and turned Samus into a pit of sentiments. Other M is the most blatant case of how different minds and a different philosophy can affect a game, and, in this case, results were mixed at best.
Perhaps not as controversial, but with an equally questionable quality, Star Fox Adventures is shunned by many, but beloved by others. As beautiful and well-produced as the game was, the final product felt incomplete. Fox hopped out of his airwing, a sinful move to many fans, and - to make matters worse - he set out on an adventure that felt a whole lot like a Zelda game, but that never really got to the point of being as exciting, clever or impressive as Link's usual journeys. While it did have fantastic moments, the game felt a bit sour as the uniqueness of a traditional Star Fox game was lost and replaced by a generic Zelda-like game instead. Fox would try to recover three years later with Star Fox: Assault, but the game lacked the replay value of the first two Star Fox titles and some of the missions were lackluster. Namco never got a second shot at the franchise, which is a shame, because Assault showed promise. If they were given the opportunity to fix the little flaws and to listen to what fans had to say, they could have created a truly remarkable package within a few years.
More than simply adding something extra to a game, outsourcing also serves as a way for the company to internalize some of the knowledge acquired by its partnerships. In Nintendo's case, there is no better example than the Mario RPG series. What started as a joint experiment with the RPG masters of Square, has transformed into a franchise that is developed more closely to Nintendo, by Intelligent Systems, in the case of Paper Mario; and by AlphaDream, in the case of the Mario and Luigi series. The results have been fantastic, as Mario's RPG bids have produced a handful of games that are among the best ever, such is the case of Super Mario RPG, the first two Paper Mario titles, Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga and the astonishing Bowser's Inside Story. For a company that had never tried its hand on an RPG, Nintendo and its subsidiaries have turned into efficient machines.
The most recent Paper Mario - Sticker Star - though, shows that sometimes some sort of relearning is necessary, and in situations like these it might be a good idea to shake things up a little bit by allowing other companies into the development process. An outsider's view might be very effective in pointing out what exactly are the necessary measures to put a franchise that has been struggling back on its track. It might not be the case of the Mario RPGs, which have one dud in many attempts, but other franchises would certainly fit the bill quite nicely.
Outsourcing can have a number of distinct results and benefits. One thing is for sure, though: it is rather intriguing and exciting to know that a big franchise is being turned over to another company, as the possibilities of changes and considerable developments rise. What franchises would you like to see outsourced? Who would you want to see handling them?
The Day the Music Died
- Mar 22, 2013 7:31 am GMT
- 0 Comments
For Harmonix the long time ago was November 2005, the time when most of us first saw the appeal of playing fake guitars in video games. Its fair to say the music made us smile also, as what looked like a game of niche appeal (especially considering the lack of commercial success of games like Guitar Freaks) became a complete phenomenon. Of course Harmonix eventually parted with Guitar Hero and upped the game once more with Rock Band, ditching the singular instrument focus and opening up a whole new world of gameplay possibilities and music. Rock Band hit the states in 2007 and has since been my go to series for the entire genre, Guitar Hero had the name and a bit more popularity, but it was Rock Band which won over the hearts of so many. The novelty of strumming a guitar along with your game was no longer the key factor and Harmonix exhibited a level of professionalism and polish that Guitar Hero werent pulling off. Sure, if you were crazy into the devil and tired rock n roll iconography then I can see how Guitar Hero would be the game for you (when you arent playing Doom of course), but Rock Band was the one for me.
I can only speak to my own experience here, so forgive me for generalising, but I think its fair to say that if you cared about music (and specifically rock music) Rock Band was the gold standard. It was a game made by music lovers for music lovers, with an appreciation for the art form it presented. Just look at The Beatles Rock Band, which was the perfect tribute to one of (if not the) greatest bands of all time. Every aspect of the game was lovingly crafted and all went towards giving you the authentic (though entirely drug free) Beatles experience. Iconic moments were faithfully recreated, the setlist did a great job of showing the bands musical arc and the visual details and buckets of extras just couldnt have been better. It was a true loving letter to the bad and is still a highlight of my video game collection (I feel obliged to say that I am a huge Beatles fan, so make of that what you will). The Beatles Rock Band wasnt the only band specific rhythm game of 2009 though, remember Guitar Hero Van Halen? Honestly, I would be surprised if you did. Harmonix advertised the Beatles to the ends of the earth, going as far as to create a truly fantastic awkward E3 moment featuring the surviving Beatles and Yoko Ono on stage (separately of course). The Van Halen treatment on the other hand was very different. Perhaps aware that they were still making spin-offs while Harmonix was putting out a proper standalone video game (superb in its right), Activision decided to pretty much write Van Halen off. As people gave away their $60 just to play Beatles tracks Activision were giving Van Halen away as a freebie if you bought Guitar Hero 5. This (perhaps unfair) treatment of the game made Guitar Hero Van Halen look more like the free CD or game disc you get with a magazine than a proper tribute to a beloved rock group. Perhaps this was appropriate though, you dont set a B-movie up against Citizen Kane, and while the Beatles game was praised for its attention to detail and authenticity Van Halen was criticised for lacking in this area.
This only part of why Rock Band became so much more important to me than Guitar Hero though. I love music, I love rock music especially, and Harmonix treated it with the reverence that I think it deserves. The key factor though, and the reason why I still play Rock Band 3 to this day, was the Rock Band store, and here we have the true point of this blog. That opening verse form Don McLeans American Pie is more relevant than forced connections between it and the path of Harmonix. Its true that they started a long, long time ago (ok not that long ago, but cut me some slack), made us smile and eventually decided to make us dance when given the chance. The importance is not this though; the importance is that American Pie is the final song to come to Rock Band. Recently they stated they were stopping weekly song releases and now Harmonix have announced that they are stopping updates altogether, and what a way to end it. Im not the biggest fan of the song, I like it and am listening to it as I write this blog, but I will not deny how appropriate it is as a finale. Personally I would have been perhaps more on the nose and tried to get my hands on The End by the Doors (Im imagining Apocalypse Now levels of darkness and insanity in the backing video) but really American Pie is a better fit. This is really an end of an era, these plastic instrument games were so big and this is the last hurrah. Its a genre I dont see coming back next generation, and it is one Im going to miss, for Rock Band (and perhaps plastic instrument rhythm games as a whole) this truly is the day the music died. But what a legacy they have left behind! The dedication Harmonix put into supporting their product is really impressive. Some have criticised them for putting out three Rock Band games rather than pure DLC, but for me Rock Band 3 was so good that this was never an issue. The flow of DLC may have stopped but we are not left deficient in content, there are over 4,000 songs to pick from on the store now, and while half of those are user created Rock Band network songs this still represents quite an achievement.
I will be honest, the Rock Band store never had everything I wanted, but it was never going to. It had enough to satisfy me though, and enough quality material to put a couple of hundred tracks in my personal library (really the limit was my wallet not the quality on offer). This is a paltry amount compared to the Rock Band libraries of so many of your but it was still a significant investment and one I dont regret for a second. This is kind of a sad moment for me then; Im proud of my Rock Band library and am now forced to accept that songs I wanted will never be there. I never really expected the songs to appear but living in denial is still better than being hit in the face by reality. I dont feel we should be saddened by the end though, or rejoice it, merely reflect on the amount of support Harmonix put behind their product for good or for bad. It may be a genre you have no interest in, and you may be happy to see it exit the stage after its final encore, but I think you should still appreciate it. While Guitar Hero sequalised the genre to death Rock Band did live the dream we wanted of a platform for music, and the occasional sequel just refined this further. Harmonix were truly a developer who cared about music, and cared about their product, you may not miss the updates (you may be glad the clutter has gone from XBLA and PSN) but I for one will miss it and I know there are others out there. So I would like to take this moment to thank Harmonix for going above and beyond the call of duty and for showing a genuine passion for what they make and what they represent.
I will leave you guys with a short list of my Rock Band dreams, and I would like to hear yours, so here are five albums that I would have loved to see in Rock Band (not my five favourite albums, just ones I would love to play in the game). Though realistically my biggest wish was Led Zeppelin Rock Band,
1. Appetite for Destruction- Guns n Roses (This would have to be uncensored, which could cause an issue, but this would be so much fun to play. One of the best rock albums ever written and would be a blast on all instruments (bar keyboard I guess))
2. The Bends- Radiohead (Not their best album (though up there) but the one which best translates to a music game)
3. Argus- Wishbone Ash (I saw Wishbone Ash play most of this album live and it was just amazing, when it comes to pure musicality and just amazing guitar music you dont get much better than this)
4. Physical Graffiti- Led Zeppelin (If I cant have the full game, at least give me my favourite album... Oh, I cant have that either? Dammit.)
5. Kill Em All- Metallica (I think this album might be the most fun Metallica album to play, and I would really love to play (Anaesthesia) Pulling Teeth)
The real problem behind real world violence
- Mar 19, 2013 3:46 pm GMT
- 0 Comments
The biggest problem behind incidents like the Newtown shootings isn't video game violence or guns, althought I currently think they can both contribute negatively to an individual situation. The main issue is mental health is mostly ignored in the US and when it comes up the person with the problems is a "psycho nut-case freak". The American public needs to be educated about mental health, the diseases and conditions need to be de-stigmatized and people who seek treatment should be encouraged, not demonized or ridiculed. Most importantly there needs to be somewhere to go when a problem is reaching crisis proportions. A mental disorder should be seen and treated no differently than asthma or any other disease.
From what we know, the Sandy Hook shooter's mother tried to treat his mental issues herself. (http://soa.li/YkqZPGl) She apparently avoided getting him any sort of professional treatment. His issues obviously just kept getting worse. She bought him dozens of the most violent games available. Bought him multiple guns (legally...). No one knows if she was worried when his obsession with mass-murderers was organized into a spreadsheet that took a 4 foot wide printer to produce in something like a 9 point font. By all accounts she tried to do right by her son, but it seems like she didn't know how to go about it right and didn't ask for help from people who do. Rather she isolated her son and herself into an insular little world. Why? As far as I can see, either because she didn't want the stigma associated with a serious diagnosis or ( more likely) people here in the US have no idea where to go with a problem that's getting bad like this one.
To which I would add mostly unassisted.
As someone who has dealt with mental issues with a loved one I know how difficult it is and how long it takes to realize it's impossible to help an irrational person by dealing with them rationally. You can't have someone committed to an institution because there are no institutions, even when you finally admit the sick individual is a threat to themself and/or others. Law enforcement won't do anything until after a violent act has been committed. In this situation, you're left with virtually no choices to help someone and prevent a tragedy.
America really needs to step up it's efforts to educate and provide resources for people with severe mental/emotional problems and those around them so they don't end up doing something like this, or much more commonly, hurting themselves or detaching from society, living on the streets, and on the fringe.
I'm sick of being asked for my money before getting anything in return
- Mar 18, 2013 4:18 pm GMT
- 0 Comments
So I was at a store the other day looking through their video game section when I came across a stack of cards inviting me to take one to the checkout line so I could use it to pre-order the season pass for Bioshock Infinite. Pre-orders for video games have been around for years now, and though I've always thought customers don't get much for giving away their money before they even know if a game is good or not, I've understood why some people might want to put their money behind the next game in a series they liked or from a developer they trusted before the game was even released. This was different though. Now I was being asked to pre-pay for a set of DLC that hadn't even been announced yet for a game that I was weeks away from even being able to play. Am I the only one who thinks this is a bit much to ask?
I'm a big fan of Irrational Games, and I'm confident Bioshock Infinite will be as great as everyone hopes it is, but what if it's not? Pre-ordering this season pass will mean that on top of buying the game before finding out that it wasn't very good, I'll also have added to my folly by spending even more money on extras for a bad game. But let's say the game turns out to be brilliant. I'll then have three set of DLC to look forward to. But what exactly does that mean? What have I pre-paid for? Am I going to be getting extra levels? Extra missions that take place in the same levels that the core game already has? All the information provided says is that I'll be getting "new stories", whatever that means. There just isn't enough information on what this DLC I'm being asked to pre-pay for will contain. But that hasn't stopped 2K games from asking for my money. What exactly do I gain from giving publishers money before they've given me anything? I could just as easily wait for all this DLC to be released and pay for it then, after it's been reviewed and I can make a more informed purchase.
This "pre-order DLC on top of a pre-ordered game" trend is only getting more popular. Since last week, every time I sign on to Xbox Live I'm greeted with an advertisement telling me to pre-order the "VIP pass" for Gears of War: Judgment, yet another DLC bundle for a game that (as I write this) has yet to be released. As this push to squeeze extra money out of us before a game's release becomes more common, I find myself wondering why exactly people seem to be embracing it. After all, if no one was pre-ordering these things we wouldn't be seeing them all the time, right?
Do you plan to pre-buy DLC for a game you've also pre-paid for? If so, I'd love to hear from you in the comments. What kind of value do you think you'll be getting for your money? What advantage do you think there is in giving your money away before getting something for it, or even knowing if that something will be a something you might enjoy?
Fear of the Dark
- Mar 14, 2013 2:29 pm GMT
- 0 Comments
After two disappointing games in my last blog this one should be much more positive! Having enjoyed both of the original games I'd got high hopes for both of the following games and they've entertained me no end.
First up - The Darkness II. The original game was one that took my by complete surprise with its excellent mix of gunplay and close quarter combat with the demon arms. The sequel follows on indirectly from the first game but with a major graphical shift to a completely different look. I was a tad dubious about this but after playing the game for 10 minutes all my fears were put aside as the new look is brilliant. I haven't played many games with this graphic style so it was a much needed change for me after the previous few games I've played. The game is generally pretty colourful and apart from the odd 'brown/grey' indoor scene, the colours are pretty bold and make for a lively game world.
I decided to play the Hitlist and Vendetta missions before the main campaign. I'd had a look at the achievements and these are contained to 250 fairly easy points so thought I'd get my head round the game doing this before getting into the main game with more varied achievements. I think this was my first mistake on this game. The Hitlist missions are not very good and are really just made up of the 'clear this area of bad guys' type which were pretty dull. As a first impression of the game I got bored quickly. Luckily there aren't that many of them so was able to move onto the Vendettas campaign fairly quickly. The four characters have wildly differing abilities and that's where I made my second and last mistake. I picked the guy with the sword and about halfway through the game just got a bit too hard to continue with this character. I decided to take the plunge and restart with Shoshanna and her insanely powerful shotgun that made light work of most enemies. Whilst the story was inconsequential in this mode, there was plenty of enjoyment to be had.
I'd already spent more time on the game than I'd thought I would. I was expecting a 6-7 hour campaign so was surprised there are almost two games in one. By this point I was really hoping the main campaign would impress me even more and I wasn't let down by it. It even starts great with the cut scene explaining what happened on the previous game which was scripted and acted really well. It's been a few years since I played the original so didn't go in with any major expectations which I think made it better to be surprised all over again by its quality.
It took me a while to get into the story but by the end I was totally engrossed in it. I actually questioned a number of times which is the actual reality - Jackie as a psych patient or Jackie with the darkness powers. Although the game is obviously leading you down the darkness route, it really doesn't let on which is the truth. It's not even a particularly new story mechanic but it was just done so well that it's now one of my favourite game storylines from recent memory.
The gameplay itself played second fiddle to the story which for me is a complete turnaround from most games. The guns are pretty standard fare and don't offer anything new you can't find elsewhere. They are useful for the entire game so I'm pleased you get the option to play using just guns if you want, or you can turn to the darkness in an hour of need. The one thing of note for me regarding the demon arms is the way it offers a different take on health. I'm pretty tired of the regenerative health format we see in almost all games now. It doesn't add much of a sense of urgency to dispatch enemies and gone is the desperate struggle to get to the next health pack. This game offers a happy medium in that it your health regenerates to a degree but you need to harvest the hearts of downed enemies to gain health more quickly. This is a great change to the current gaming standard and means that hiding behind a wall no longer resets you back to full health which has never made much sense to me. Games these days actively want you to slow the pace down by taking the time out to regain health whereas The Darkness keeps up a fairly frantic pace throughout.
I've given the game an 8.5 which is a happy medium for me as it's pretty linear but just how I like it. In hindsight I think I could even bump it up to a 9.0 but for the few moments of annoying with the secondary missions I think an 8.5 is about right.
After The Darkness I knew I was in for another great gaming experience with Dead Space 2. It had a lot to live up to with the original being one of, if not my favourite game of the 360 era.
It's been a good few years since I played the original but I still remember it fondly so I was able to come into this one fairly freshly. The sequel seemed to be pretty similar to the original but for me that's not a bad thing. Everything about the game was brilliant and I can't fault it in the slightest. I actually think I've been a bit harsh only giving it 9.0 but that feels about right.
Starting with the game play, it picked up pretty much where the original did similar enemies, similar weapons, and a similar albeit it a more progressed storyline. The story in this was pretty good with the visions Isaac kept having and also with woman he comes across in the 'real' world. It didn't detract from the gameplay but I never wanted to skip a cut scene (not that you could?) which is always a good sign.
The visuals were pretty standard for a second generation game in a series and although nothing was outstanding, the dismembering has always been done well, both visually and mechanically. The locations weren't anything out of the ordinary but the space sections were done well. Getting to fly around in the suit was a welcome break from the gloomy corridors and generally dark interiors. The darkness was fine for most of the game but at some points it just got so dark I couldn't really see what was going on.
The range of enemies from memory didn't evolve much from the first game. I don't remember the weird bomb babies but they were definitely creepy! Was one short on the achievement for them so that was a tad annoying. The range of weapons seemed pretty similar as well but as I love the plasma cutter so much I didn't need any other guns. The plasma cutter was all I used on the original to get the achievement and I barely strayed from it this time.
The puzzles were few and far between and consisted mostly of moving this item from here to there, or simple panel puzzles to find the right coloured light to open a door but they were the only times in the game where I wasn't frantically awaiting an enemy! I did find the little vent quite funny as they just didn't fit the game. Doing one of the puzzles and going between vents really reminded me of The Crystal Maze which always made me smile when I went through one.
I do hope Dead Space 3 isn't as bad as I've heard. It got a fairly decent review on Gamespot so am not expecting a bad game but it doesn't look to have the atmosphere and sense of constant danger/fear that the first two had.
Next up for me are Crysis 2 and F.E.A.R. 2 which are both middle of the road games I'm expecting. I haven't played either of the originals so have nothing to compare them to but am hoping to be pleasantly surprised!
Is 2013 the year that gamers fall out of love with Kickstarter?
- Mar 12, 2013 4:34 am GMT
- 0 Comments
Kickstarter is an amazing thing. It's as revolutionary as ebay was to selling in the way it brings people together, giving us the opportunity to connect directly with artists, inventors, filmmakers, musicians, board game designers, videogame designers, fashion designers and a whole host of creative people who just need that break. It cuts out the need for bank loans, home remortgages and uncomfortable Dragons Den style pitches where the whim of just a few people can decide whether someone's creative vision is fulfilled or abandoned. Instead it throws that vision out to the entire world and we choose collectively what we would like to see. A far more elegant and democratic process and one we can actually feel like a little part of.
It's not just the homebrew designers that are pitching either, elder statesmen from the videogame world are also asking for our support. Tim Schafer, Charles Cecil and David Braben have turned to the crowd-funding model and in an industry where recognised names are few and far between this is like seeing Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg or James Cameron abandon their big studio backers and turn to Joe Public instead. When Cliffy B blogged that the games industry was going to consist of either enormous blockbusters or smaller independents he must have had crowd-funding in mind, you may not like him but when that guy speaks you have to listen (although I get the impression that if you were in the room with him you would have no choice BUT to listen).
While I would love to see these big directors take on smaller projects (I have often heard stated that limitation encourages creativity) I can't get Prometheus, Warhorse and Avatar out my head, films that were as bloated and headless as washed-up corpses and this is where my worries about Kickstarter begins. Well-meaning gamers could walk away feeling burned when projects fail, or even worse, succeed badly.
Kickstarter are very open about the failure of projects and have a clear policy about what happens in these cases. The most straightforward is where a project fails to meet it's target in the allotted time frame. In this case pledges are not charged and the project ends. While this is a shame, I have heard that some game developers have considered this a blessing in disguise. If an idea is not good enough to excite the imaginations of the kickstarter community in it's most open and loose beginnings then it may need to be seriously reconsidered or even ditched.
How about when a project makes it's target but fails to meet it's own development deadlines and eventually tanks? Kickstarter state that in this case they have no liability and the project owners must refund all pledges. This makes sense but if all the money has been spent then what happens next? At the very best this may frustrate people about the Kickstarter ethos but at worst will we see lawsuits? Those that have pledged £5 to Elite: Dangerous might be a little peeved but hopefully happy to write it off in the spirit of adventure but those 6 backers that have pledged a whopping £5000 might be a little less laissez faire. There is also the potential for a game to simply be a terrible, unfinished mess. Just look at Aliens: Colonial Marines. This is especially the case when a project begins to fail.
Ultimately I can see the optimism about Kickstarter waning this year as projects falter or even fail. It happens, and this is where I hope gamers have been reading the Kickstarter FAQ. A pledge alone does not entitle you to any ownership of a project, it is no guarantee of quality or even results and it is certainly not a pre-order, it is a gamble. It's each person stating 'I believe in you' and becoming part of a small community of backers with a shared love of artistic vision. It's an opportunity to become a modest patron of the arts but not get carried away in thinking that in we are in any way going to receive anything good or even anything at all. Take the plunge in good faith but do it knowing that you are throwing caution to the wind.
DLC and How to Do It Right
- Mar 5, 2013 10:14 pm GMT
- 0 Comments
So, I got a lot of comments on my previous blog on micro-transactions regarding DLC, and while that wasn't the topic of the blog, it did have a bit of relevance to the conversation I was trying to start (to varying degrees of success). Instead of writing out my thoughts on DLC (as a separate idea from micro-transactions) in the comments of my previous blog, I decided to write them as a new blog because I have a lot to say.
Now, let me get this out there, while I do not care about micro-transactions in my game, I do take a different stance on DLC. I don't hate it by any means. In fact, there's quite a few games where I welcome it. However, there are, of course, companies that abuse the practice of DLC, and I feel that gamers focus far too much on those companies' practices. The general consensus about DLC from what I've seen is that DLC is pure evil and should not be tolerated in games. It's always content that should have been included in the original release of the game and now [insert developer] is nickel and diming its fanbase with content excluded from the original game.
I like DLC when it's done right. And believe me, there are developers out there who do it right.
To me, DLC is a wonderful opportunity for developers to extend a player's time spent with a particular game in a meaningful way. Whether it's adding new missions, maps, characters, or gameplay modes, DLC can make for some surprisingly great experiences in games you might have forgotten about.
Please note that I used the word "opportunity". In no way, shape, or form do I believe that every single piece of DLC out there matches what I believe it should be idealistically. No, for every Fire Emblem: Awakening (a game that makes proper use of DLC) out there we have two Capcom titles that has on-disc DLC. For every Mass Effect 3 we have three shooters that charge $15 for new maps every 2 months.
What I admire in Fire Emblem: Awakening and Mass Effect 3's DLC policy is that there is a mixture of substantial, meaningful free content as well as paid content. I will go into detail into both of these games later, but I want to note that there are many developers out there that should look at these two titles and take notes. There has been some very positive reception for them both.
Fire Emblem: Awakening's DLC exists in two forms: the "bonus box" and the "outer realms". The bonus box is where gamers will receive their free content, and the outer realms is where you can buy DLC maps and challenges. Now, typically a developer would have the bonus box include a sparse amount of content. It would exist only to entice a gamer to buy more DLC maps, but this is not the case with Fire Emblem: Awakening. The bonus box includes (as of today) seven challenge maps, approximately forty recruit-able characters from past Fire Emblem titles (all with their own army for you to fight), two rare weapons for your army to use, and two bonus paralogue (side missions) chapters, where you can recruit villains from the game's main story to your army. And, if we're going to get everything Japan got in their bonus box, there's a hell of a lot more to come. For free.
The DLC that is paid for is quality, as well. It includes maps where you must fight armies comprised entirely of past Fire Emblem characters, maps where you can harvest loads of experience, gold, and legendary weapons, and in Japan there are maps that constitute entirely new storylines. However, even though these maps exist, the game does not feel incomplete without them. They exist to augment your game, rather than dangle a bit of content in front of your face that the game feels incomplete without (ala Resident Evil 5's multiplayer mode).
Mass Effect 3 does what most multiplayer-focused games (NOT that Mass Effect is multiplayer-focused) should do with its multiplayer DLC and makes it completely free. I remember when I used to have my Xbox 360 and was a frequent player of Halo: Reach and feeling cheated when I had to fork over $15 for 3 new multiplayer maps (for the record, I never paid for it). Or even in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (when I used to play those games), when extra maps meant extra money. At the time, it was an OK practice in my eyes because I didn't really see the issue with charging for the time the CoD devs spent making those new maps. After seeing how Mass Effect 3 handled their multiplayer DLC, I don't understand why other devs won't follow suit. Clearly you can make your new maps, characters and weapons free and not lose any money, otherwise Bioware wouldn't be doing it. The only time I ever paid for new maps was in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and I will never do it again after my experience with Mass Effect 3's surprisingly good multiplayer.
Say what you want about Mass Effect 3's day-one DLC, From Ashes (I do think it should have come with the initial price tag, but some people were OK with it being paid-for. The game does feel incomplete without Javik.) but it does its paid-for DLC, for the most part, correctly. It's substantial, and that's what we should be asking for when paying for something. Quality can be debated upon (I think Leviathan and Omega were sub-par) but one cannot argue that the game feels incomplete without them.
DLC is done incorrectly when it is clear that some desirable part of the game has been arbitrarily withheld from the players in order to make some more money off of it. Capcom is the most frequent offender of this scheme, with many of their titles having DLC that's already on-disc, but blocked off from the players (unless they pay). It's unfair to fans of the game, whether it be holding off two fighters from Marvel vs Capcom 3 or multiplayer mode in Resident Evil 5. The game is complete, we just can't play the whole thing unless we play $5 or $10 more. That's cheating, and that's what I have a problem with.
What's ultimately abusive about on-disc DLC is that what's usually withheld is something that gamers will really want. It becomes irresistible because of its relatively low price, and people will buy into it. I admit, I did buy Jill and Shuma-Gorath in Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 because I hated seeing two grayed out portraits in their places on the character select screen.
What I feel is really important to remember when talking about DLC is that not all DLC is bad (even though that's the popular opinion). The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is a wonderful example of a game where both good and bad DLC exist. Yes, there was that really crappy Horse Armor DLC, but there were also full-on expansions available (ala The Shivering Isles) that allowed you to spend more time in the game's universe, something that many people valued. If done right, DLC can be a very good thing, and I feel we need to stop focusing on the bad.
Gamers are More than the Sum of Their Killcounts (Walk it Off/Charity Edition)
- Mar 4, 2013 8:20 am GMT
- 0 Comments
FPS Doug: Poster Child of Our Gaming Community!
Boom, headshot... BOOM headshot.... BOOM!!! HEADSHOT!!! From the recent publicity attempting to link violent acts in the world to video games, FPS Doug (WARNING: link contains strong language) may as well be the poster child for gamers worldwide in the eyes of the media*.
Whether you believe the hype or not, playing video games have also been linked to some very positive effects. Several studies have shown that video games can ease pain in patients, and that violent video games may increase pain tolerance in some people. My mother, who is in chronic pain due to various conditions, has personally found that Farmville helps her relax and improves her pain management.
Then there are all of the conflicting reports from the media at large, showing that 89 percent of parents believe game violence a problem but that a former FBI profiler says games do not cause violence. So, what to believe?
Enter Cody Thompson: Walking Gamer
Whichever side you're on, there's one gamer who is breaking this stereotype. Enter the Walking Gamer. Cody Thompson is on a mission for both himself and for charity. He is going to walk across the country, from North Carolina to California, on a journey that is to start this weekend and will take an estimated 8 months to complete. During his travels, he will be dependent on the kindness of strangers for lawn space on which to pitch his tent, donations for food and supplies during his travel and support during the difficult months he faces away from his home and his wife.
So, who is this Cody Thompson? In the spirit of full disclosure, he is the husband of one of my sister's dearest friends, and that's how I first heard of his journey. He is an avid gamer and has been since the age of 4, is a former EMS dispatcher and has a bone to pick with DLC--I won't repeat here what he had to say about the horse armor DLC for Oblivion--and he was kind enough to allow me to interview him personally for this blog. (I found out the hard way that he also hates being called "Mr. Thompson", which I did when I first requested the interview and subsequently made him twitch something awful...)
See, when Cody was 4 years old, he had a serious eye disease which required surgery. As a part of his recovery regimen, his doctor actually prescribed video games. With that, his parents got him an Atari. It's no surprise that the charity he is bringing along for his walk is Child's Play, an organization that provides various toys, books and video games to hospitalized children to try to make their stay less arduous and improve their spirits and recoveries.
He still remembers his first games, Pitfall! and River Raid. He remembers the Christmas his mom scraped together enough to get him the NES with Super Mario 2. In true gamer form, Cody will be bringing his 3DS along for the walk, with an assortment of games (if you donate enough to his Indiegogo campaign, he will even send you one of his used games from his walk!). Cody sequestered his 3DS for the last few months so that the games would be fresh and new for his journey, so he has spent his gaming time lately playing a lot of his console and PC games in the meantime (DMC, Starcraft 2 and others).
Cody's Trusty Walking Companion Will Be His 3DS
The idea to walk across the country originally came from his love of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" which introduced him to a world of adventure and self discovery he wanted to impart into his own life. He says it is only natural to bring a charity along for the ride, especially since Child's Play is so close to his own heart.
Bilbo vs. Frodo: Tough Choice!
For those of you wondering where he stands on the issue of Frodo vs. Bilbo, when asked the proverbial question, "Frodo or Bilbo?" Cody replied, "My answer is............. [darn], that is not a fair question really...the Hobbit is such a different tone than LOTR. Bilbo is having this adventure. He is outside his comfort zone, and I suppose I relate to that more for this walk. Frodo knows he is carrying the source of all evil around his neck, and well.... that [messes] a dude up." So now you know. (Thanks to GunnyHath for suggesting that question!)
While not the focus of his journey, Cody is well aware of how the gaming industry and community is being perceived, and he has his own ideas about games, violence and the roles of parents in all of this. When asked about his thoughts on the connection between violent acts and video games, he responded, "...the issue with games and probably movies is parents think it is just a game, so they get it, no biggie. Let's hand Darksiders over to a 12 year old and not pay attention."
He also recalls how his mom handled video game violence with him as a kid: "I grew up playing violent games. My mom got me Mortal Kombat 2 for the SNES but she watched me play it and she made the call if she thought it was appropriate for me to play." He does not believe in government censorship, and instead puts duties on the parents to make the call. To all who believe that violence in games has a widespread effect on gamers, he replies, "We are going to see a HUGE boom in America's farming community any day now. Farmville was THAT popular." I guess my mom is going to become a farmer. She already has a huge garden at home.... hmmm... I see truth in this sentiment already...
With all of the negative publicity the gaming community faces, it's nice to see something so positive coming from one of our own. So the next time somebody scared of the world and looking for a neat and tidy way to explain the violence in the world blames you, the gamer, just tell them to walk it off.
Well done, Mr. Thomps--er, Cody. Safe travels on your longest journey.
Walk on, gaming brother. Walk on.
Interested in donating to Cody's cause? Donations in his honor can be made to Child's Play by clicking here. Donations will first cover his expenses for the walk, and all unused proceeds will then go directly to Child's Play.
You may also donate directly to him to cover his expenses, which he estimates will be $8,000 by the end of his trip, at his Indiegogo site.
Cody will be updating his Walking Gamer site with blogs during his travels, but you may also connect with him via other social media sites below:
*It should be known that I think FPS Doug is about the most hilarious YouTube video ever, I'm not knocking him in any way, shape or form
Why perma-death is integral to Fire Emblem
- Mar 2, 2013 4:54 pm GMT
- 0 Comments
Was diggin' the recent Gamespot article about perma-death, but as much as it's easy to romanticize the mechanic, it's more than merely a matter of "because it's more manly." I've plugged in over 120 hours (on all three slots) with Awakening, went back and finished Sacred Stones a few days ago, and I'm now midway through Shadow Dragon (the underappreciated, red-headed stepchild of the Fire Emblem series), while simultaneously playing Radiant Dawn off and on. I've got Fire Emblem on the brain right now. The new game has definitely inspired a personal revival.
But what about this whole "perma-death" thing. First, let me just say, though I didn't use the option, I was glad to see Intelligent Systems add the Casual Mode to Awakening (not its first appearance in the series, by the way). The series has had a bit of trouble gaining traction here in the States, in spite of a very devoted, albeit relatively small, fanbase. But it should be obvious by now, Awakening has really made a dent into the mainstream awareness of this series, I'm certain in no small part due to lowering the barrier of entry.
All that being said, I still believe perma-death is absolutely an essential part of the gameplay because, well, if death isn't a concern, all you have to worry about is getting through a given battle. But with perma-death present, you have to think several battles -- even endgame -- ahead. It's really as simple as that. It's not about being elite or manly or hardcore; it's about a fundamental change in gameplay. With perma-death, Fire Emblem is, in a lot of ways, similar to chess. Without it, it has more in common with any number of other SRPGs on the market.
I love Awakening. It's up there with my favorite FE games. I love the options, the production values, the carefree changes that play into all the trappings that make us love games like Final Fantasy Tactics. But don't underestimate the importance of perma-death in a Fire Emblem game. Play it any way you like, but trust me, it's an integral part of the formula.
Get Your Awesome Blogs Featured
Want to be spotlighted? We'll consider every GameSpot blog post marked with the category "editorial" for inclusion. Sound off!
- Last updated: Jan 1, 1970 12:00 am GMT
Recent Editor Blogs
A typical work conversation between myself and Chris Watters
- By shaunmc | 537 days ago
Story Reflections: Bastion--On the Brink of the New World
- By carolynmichelle | 658 days ago