When Namco Bandai voiced their intentions to go in "guns blazing" and handle the upcoming sequel to their niche cult-hit as a massive AAA release last week, it immediately put many of Demon's/Dark Souls fans like myself on notice in regards to its future. The escalating potential of the Dark Souls series ultimately succumbing to a similar fate as that of Resident Evil, Dead Space, and all the other misguided, bloated and grossly compromised AAA failures released over the last few years has become quite disconcerting for a good chunk of its modestly-sized yet fiercely dedicated fanbase.
In a recent post, Jim Sterling of The Escapist puts the legitimate fears of the game's fans and the broken mentality of AAA publishers into perspective quite well: click here for the video link.
There's not really much that I can add that wasn't pretty much covered in the vid. All I can say is that despite my mild amount of forced optimism, it's getting harder and harder to not see the writing on the wall. A part of me always knew the success of the series up to this point was like blood in the water attracting sharks that will inevitably seek to devour everything that made these games what they were, all for the faint chance to be the next [insert western-developed cashcow of the moment].
Super Metroid's release on the Wii U yesterday has apparently broken the brains of it's new generation of players.
Ugh. As cringe inducing as much of this is, I still do not want to be another "jaded hardcore gamer" who will meanspiritedly rag on the various ineptitudes and supposedly poor taste of the younger generations of gamers. I can't find it within myself to blame them too much, most can't help but carry on the bad habits that many of their games have unfortunately conditioned them to fall into. It's just how things have always been. No generation comes and goes without its own fair share of quirks, and despite what any self-proclaimed hardcore gamer will say otherwise, all generations have certainly played their part in turning gaming into what it is today.
But while I really don't have much interest in playing the generational blame game or claiming superiority of that of my own, that doesn't mean I won't still poke some harmless fun at yet another generation that seems so eager to provide ample opportunities to do so. It's safe to say that's exactly what I enjoyed doing and then some when reading about this through the forums this morning (well, after the wooziness of the initial facepalm wore off at least). It was all just too much to pass up.
To me, the mental laziness and impatience that led so many to quickly cave to their dependence on online walkthroughs and complaining after only playing SM for a few moments sums up the less endearing aspects of this generation of gaming as well as any online tantrum from adolescent FPS players. The screenshots from the aftermath say more about this than I ever could.
In the wake of more DRM-related controversy and the last of the new console reveals being due next month, it's become clear that the game industry has come to a significant crossroad, with time rapidly drawing near the point where consumers must finally confront a number of proposed next-gen transitions head-on. The belligerent manner in which these looming industry shifts are being pushed forth by game publishers and console makers has become a cause for apprehension, though, which has led me to question whether or not gaming is heading anywhere gamers might actually want to go.
If the last year or so of drama involving the likes of Diablo 3, SimCity, and ex-Microsoft creative directors is any indicator, quite a few following the industry have also come to share this concern.
A growing number of gamers are not particularly happy with the current course being taken by major publishers and hardware makers, and it's easy to understand why, their arrogance and delusion have hurt the industry more than any used or pirated game ever could. It's not really a mentality that is conducive to a glowing future for a callow industry already amid serious growing pains.
At this stage of its development, the balance of the game industry is way off where it needs to be for the type of service it provides and to whom it is being provided to. This imbalance has led to a growing number of poor business practices that will only continue to undermine its future if left unchecked. How these practices are (or aren't) addressed will play a large role in defining the medium in the years ahead.
But what exactly has led to the business side of gaming to become so brazen in their aggression? What role has the various groups of gaming played in allowing the medium's culture to devolve to the point where this approach is acceptable? And in what ways must gamers change their handling of the modern industry in order to reassert their influence on its future?
My first focus was obvious: the short-sighted greed of bumbling game publishers and it's toleration by a number of passive gamers, which has led to eroding consumer rights and confidence over the last generation.
As a few of the Gamespotters I've had the opportunity to discuss the industrys troubling anti-consumerist trends with over the years might attest to, this particular set of discussions have become quite frustrating. It's the same cycle time and again. 'Outrage' that leaves as quickly as it came over the latest example of the industry attempting to overstep its bounds, with most participants either becoming distracted by the next trend to prattle on about or just losing interest altogether. This of course is followed by complete surprise when the next instance arises and they find that doing nothing of substance and still throwing money at a problem somehow hasn't changed the results.
The only aspect that seemed to separate the recent controversy surrounding the Orth tweets from the usual cycle was how closely it hit home for a number of gamers who were content with ignoring the festering DRM problem because it usually just affected 'other people's games'. The potential of seeing those same problems being laid at their own doorstep (with that type of antagonistic attitude no less) through a total infection of a console they were looking forward to buying appeared to burst quite a few bubbles of intentional ignorance.
But as much as I'd like to discuss that issue further, it's a secondary topic. The more I examined recent anti-consumerist trends, the more I realized they weren't the main cause. Consumers condoning this type of business is a symptom of deeper rooted issues.
My next focus was the rather dysfunctional relationship between the three corners of the game industry.
Brendan Sinclair actually put out a pretty interesting article last month, Entitled Gamers, Corrupt Press, and Greedy Publishers, that covered the bizarre dynamic between the respective groups, a recommended read for those who haven't sat down with it yet. It touches upon a few valid reasons why each corner carries a measure of resentment for the others and why the hostility is still persisting, and pretty much covers most of what I considered adding to the matter.
The problem is though, while I did agree with many of the points brought up in the article, the closing paragraphs is where the piece started to lose me a bit. Dealing with the dysfunction will need to be much more than a 'just wait things out and hope for the best' mentality, or simply asking for one of the corners to take a chance at offering respect to the others as equal participants in the business. The latter sounds great in theory, but part of the problem (the true dysfunction as far as I see it) is the two corners putting their hands out for payment seeing themselves at an equal, or higher, level of the corner that is expected to open their wallets.
I realize that the need for respect is a given if anything is going to improve, but respect in and of itself is not enough in a 'service' industry, it must be observed from the appropriate perspective. Much like how respect between a boss and employee is important to a functional workplace, but proper work is really only possible when accepting their role in relation to one another.
Everyone working within the industry does deserve to be treated with civility, but they knew what they were signing up for when entering their professions. Instead of railing for the consumer to drop their expectations, any journalist or developer that can't accept the reality that they do continually owe the consumers need to do themselves a favor and find another day job. I can't say I have much patience for anyone in the industry resenting their fanbases for supposedly being a "bottom-less well of wanting", mostly due to the fact that gamers routinely tolerate nonsense that you'd be hard pressed to keep a straight face hearing about other entertainment industries trying to pull, all while swallowing a higher cost of entry.
But again, gamers finding themselves falling into this type of dysfunctional relationship with those colluding against them is another unfortunate result of the imbalance, not the cause.
The Consumerist's response to EA CEO Peter Moore's comments leading up to and after their repeat winning of the 'Golden Poo' for the Worst Company in America is what caught my attention next, and in the end struck closest to what I feel is the core issue of many of the industry's problems.
Moore resorted to every diversionary tactic in the book to distract away from the fact that, despite it obviously being a silly little poll, a major presence in an entertainment industry that is still relatively new to the mainstream getting this kind press coverage does not reflect well on the culture of their industry at all.
Response to Moore's pre-emptive press release:
"Gaming might be a multibillion-dollar industry that attracts the worlds biggest names in entertainment, music, and sports, but it is nonetheless treated by both the media and the business world with a reductionist shrug. Companies like EA are happy to foster the misinformed perception of your average gamer as a whiny, nitpicky loner who will complain about anything, as that image only helps to discredit those who have a valid complaint about a relatively pricey consumer product.
Heres our question to Peter Moore: If your entire industry is engaged in the production of something so trivial as to not warrant inclusion in a contest that features a poop trophy, why do you even work in it?"
Following EA's repeat status being announced:
"Moores note also marked the second time EA has tried to deflect criticism by pointing to previous winners of the Worst Company tournament, as if to mock consumers who dared to express their discontent with a mere video game publisher.
Make no mistake: Video games are big business. A company like EA and Activision, Ubisoft, Nintendo, and Sony, etc. merits just as much scrutiny as any other business that plays a leading role in a multibillion-dollar industry. Its only a fractured, antiquated public perception that video games are somehow frivolous holdovers from childhood that allows gamers to be abused and taken advantage of by the very people who supply them the games they play."
All things considered, I feel the lingering insecurities still held by many gamers have had the most impact on the medium this generation, the level to which it has emboldened publishers and console makers has become hard to ignore.
The vulnerabilities that have resulted from these insecurities and the manner in which they've been exploited have been primarily responsible for throwing the balance of the industry off-center over the last few years. The residual effects have helped pave the way for all the issues mentioned above to a host of others. Everything from the persistent attack on used gaming, to the increasing level of heavy handed DRM, to the likes of there still needing to be a debate over game being considered art. All avoidable headaches that have occurred simply because many gamers have allowed them to, because for them to resist these hassles would have involved defending what they have been convinced to feel is 'just' their little hobby of buying videogames.
Positive change will only occur when it is the only financially viable path for that industry to take at a given time. A course that is only possible if customers maintain the mindset that they do deserve the right to expect a higher standard from those trying to sell to them.
If we are to expect the gaming industry to grow up and begin carrying itself in a more appropriate manner, gamers must begin to grow up in the way they handle their business. Being a gamer does not mean being a lesser consumer, which is important for more gamers to realize because a stronger consumer forces companies to focus on more agreeable market strategies before things get out of hand. An added level of rational consumerism would go a long way towards preventing publishers from further deluding themselves into believing they are in a position to dictate the course of an entertainment market, especially one dealing pricey luxury items to which alienated customers can easily find alternatives.
At the end of the day, there are no right and wrong answers, and there are certainly no simple answers, but I still feel it's still a discussion that all serious gamers owe to themselves to have at some point. The importance of constructive contributions from gamers of all view points on the matter should not be understated.
It's hard to overstate just how perfect this review is for the recently released SimCity, the latest always-on DRM infested mess whose publisher's desire to hold legally paying customers at virtual gunpoint has unsurpisingly led to yet another high profile launch debacle.
SimCity was allowed to be turned into another sad example of the industry's stubborn refusal to evolve beyond harassing honest customers amid efforts to fight piracy and pad revenue.
There aren't many differences between this and the other drawn out DRM dramas of late beyond EA's obvious lack of Valve/Blizzard levels of blind worship once again being put on display, their notoriously inept PR department working overdrive, and various reviewers 'actually' hitting the point of revising their reviews to reflect how awful the game's experience has been since being released into the wild. It has certainly been humorous to see this blow up in EA's face, but seeing another group of longtime fans of a historically single-player series subjected to this? Not so much.
Like the number of other DRM-laden games released before SimCity, there will only continue to be a growing amount of games in the future whose titles can be simply copy and pasted into the review posted above. It's all going to be a matter of just how long gamers will choose to tolerate this level of brazen greed and consumer contempt.
If publishers like EA are truly as far down this adversarial path with their customer base as they often appear to be, perhaps it's for the best to allow these deluded corporations to die off sooner than later in an effort to unclog the road for some new blood and a fresh perspective before things inevitably get worse. However long it may take for the industry to rebuild after losing companies of that size, it would certainly be a much shorter wait than the one expecting them to somehow change their ways without being given a real reason to.
The current anti-consumerist course of the industry, if left as is, may very well lead to the need for another industry crash for any semblance of proper balance in the digital age. What being released today is actually worth supporting the publisher power grabs that would possibly lead to those type of problems in the future?
When I posted a blog to the soapbox a couple years ago around Kinect's launch questioning it's unique potential for exploiting the privacy of those who buy it, I was met with quite the colorful array of posts and messages from a number of vocal dissenters who were seemingly intent on deflecting away from the issues and gaming-related examples I was specifically focusing on.
I attempted to make it known to anyone who was willing to listen to what I was actually saying, instead of what they 'thought' I was trying to say and the excessive paranoia I was supposedly displaying, that my two main points of focus were a) the Kinect's intended demographic deserved a more complete perspective in order to make more informed choices regarding it, and b) the technology powering the Kinect had clearly stated motives that went far beyond some dancing games and Kinectimals.
It wasn't about me flying off the handle and telling people to not buy the Kinect, it wasn't about being anti-Microsoft or camera oriented motion gaming, and it certainly wasn't about ignoring the multitude of other non-gaming oriented ways people give away their privacy. It was primarily about my belief that people deserved to know more about the capabilities of the piece of tech they were buying in this particular case, and the longterm intent of those creating it. I felt the mind-numbingly repeated "well, [insert popular technology] already can spy on you so why should I / you care or even talk about it?" argument was lazy, narrow and in no way lessened the importance of the awareness of this topic, especially for interested buyers who weren't very technologically inclined.
Things eventually died down. Time passed, Kinects were sold, issue to the backburner. Unsurprisingly though, as recent headliners like "Microsoft patents tech that watches viewers" on Gamespot would indicate, the issue has managed to make it's rounds once more, and this time around Microsoft has it's eyes on an even bigger prize. In 2010, it was about exploited privacy. In 2012 it is about what tolerated privacy exploitation will be used to achieve, or more appropriately, 'control'. The inevitable progression.
The attention is currently centered on last week's surfacing of a patent Microsoft filed in early 2011 involving the monitoring of viewers through an advanced camera, not for the sake of simple advertising, but enhanced age restrictions and media license enforcement.
"The patent application, filed under the heading Content Distribution Regulation by Viewing User, proposes to use cameras and sensors like those in the Xbox 360 Kinect controller to monitor, count and in some cases identify the people in a room watching television, movies and other content. The filing refers to the technology as a consumer detector.
In one scenario, the system would then charge for the television show or movie based on the number of viewers in the room. Or, if the number of viewers exceeds the limits laid out by a particular content license, the system would halt playback unless additional viewing rights were purchased.
The system could also take into account the age of viewers, limiting playback of mature content to adults, for example. This patent application doesnt explain how that would work, but a separate Microsoft patent application last year described a system for using sensors to estimate age based on the proportions of their body."
Yikes. The exploitation of consumer privacy is being sought after to the pave way for something worse. Who could have possibly seen that coming next?
I'm not going to say the technology is in place yet to fully flesh out the ideas in this patent, but the intent obviously is. Some time, persistence, and crafty Apple-quality marketing that manages to get people to buy into the whole "That required facial-scan login is just hands-free convenience! Our thoughtful camera auto pauses your game/movie when you get up for a drink!" rhetoric as 'features' could land gamers into this realm of possibility sooner than they'd think.
It's clearer than ever that the Kinect is, at it's heart, part one of a much grander design. It is a marketing research tool and hardware testing ground for more than just games and ads. After a successful Kinect launch and the 360 now reaching it's twilight, the sought after knowledge of consumer willingness and preference has been gathered, and the additional technological refinement achieved. One step closer towards the patented tool becoming the marketable weapon of control for business partners. And for XBOX users, that much closer from add-on option to built-in requirement.
Regardless of the arguing over what something like the Kinect is, there can no longer be any doubt what Microsoft wants (and is actively working towards) it and it's future bretheren to someday 'be'.
In the end I believe this all ties into the fact that gamers cannot hide behind what is only currently possible forever, at some point we all need to accept accountability for what we encourage through our spending. The very way consumers are allowed to play purchased games and media is attempting to be greatly redefined by those pulling it's strings, with many willingly throwing money at corporate ploys that would allow it to.
Last week's long awaited release of Diablo 3 greeted both players and observers with yet another high profile spectacle that showed how it really isn't too bright an idea for fans to allow a game company to go unchecked, whether it be due to indifference or blind fandom, in it's bid to consolidate power title by title.
As history has and will most likely continue to show, the toleration of a game's experience and value being entirely funneled through the developer's sphere of control will inevitably lead to the same unfortunate outcome: A mixture of oppressive DRM and methodically whittled down options that put gamers squarely under the corporate thumb well after they've had their fill of pick pocketing.. resulting in the paying fan not only being left wide open to further corporate greed but, as the Diablo 3 launch clearly showed, also perpetually at the mercy of corporate folly and technical issues far beyond personal control.
Only when a company like Blizzard has been allowed to completely dismantle the balance of power between gamer and game maker can a scenario occur where a large number of fans wait out years of anticipation, wade through long lines/download times, and shell out $60-$100 only to finally sit down and be met with this for extended periods of time:
For those who never cared to pay attention to all the noise surrounding Diablo 3, inevitable technical issues on Blizzard's end or busy servers make the game unplayable in any capacity. No multiplayer or singlepayer, just gaming's most expensive menu screen for the unlucky masses who can't squeeze through in time.
This is all courtesy of restrictive DRM requiring an always-on internet connection (whose aim is every bit an effort to protect it's precious real world money auction house as it is to combat the piracy boogeyman) and across the board gutting of basic features like LAN support over the years. This longtime action RPG franchise is now locked down as tight as an MMO.. and now as unreliable as one to. (who doesn't enjoy constant vulnerability to character hacks regardless of whether or not you care to play online, lag while playing singleplayer, and pretty much all of PC gaming's annoyances with none of it's openness or flexibility? )
The irony ofcourse is that the entire mess was seen coming a mile away.
Blizzard had been gimping their games for increased control and artifically increased profit well before D3 and 'features' like the required always-on internet connection were made know well before release. Yet, despite all of this, the hype and preorders persisted with a mere fraction of the hassle given to the likes of EA and Ubisoft for similar tactics. When it came down to it, Diablo 3 was simply being the clusterf*ck it's fans allowed it to become.
Amid the aftermath of the botched launch, the three biggest groups of contributors to the passivity towards what the franchise was being turned into were content to avoid any semblance of accountability:
- Complaining buyers who showed they're pretty much all talk by still deciding to throw money at a monster they knew was growing out of control.
- Shortsighted fans of other genres who are content with looking the other way because the collateral damage hasn't hit their own favorite franchises (yet).
- Mind-numbing Blizzard apologists who seemed to always fail in realizing the irony in the time they spend complaining about those who they feel are spending too much time complaining.. as well as the absurdity of acting as if the developer deserved some sort of an award for trying to clean up the embarassing mess their own excessive greed put them in. No, as usual, there were many among this group that were more than content to aim low and target Blizzard detractors (at times with needlessly antagonistic nonsense) than question the company itself.
Groups of gamers who have done nothing but help continue the undermining of a once protected belief that the consumer's expectation of being able to play a freshly purchased full-priced game whenever they desire to do so should never be allowed to be downplayed or, in the worst cases, ridiculed.
I realize Diablo games have always been Multiplayer-centric, but turning an option into a 'requirement', not a one-time or an occasional requirement, but an actual dependence, while delibrately passing the misconception that always-on DRM will magically prevent potential game-ruining cheating on top of all the exaggerated excuses revolving around the supposed lack of player desire for an offline option in attempts to justify it is ridiculous and insulting. Blizzard has simply made their problems everyone elses to without a balanced tradeoff.
The most disturbing aspect though wasn't a few Diablo fans not being able to play their game right away or the melodramatic arguments that ensued because of it. No, the saddest part is actually what proceeded the drama. It's what I'm unsurprisingly starting to notice as time passes and more people are finally starting to consistently play the game.. acceptance.
The growing amount of acceptance of these types of messes and adoption of the "what are you gonna do, it is what it is" attitude with the stunts pulled on a game of this scale is what will do the most damage to not only the franchise, but gaming in general over the longterm.
Despite the many headaches Blizzard may have endured righting the server issues, they would gladly endure them time and again so long as the end result of paying customers condoning their actions stays the same.
A game like Diablo 3 has no secondhand market, it has DRM tailored to enhance exploitation, and it's basically a herded experience that forces gamers to play on Blizzard's terms and their terms alone. It's a level of control that, whether they would openly admit or not, is the absolute dream scenario that all game companies are currently striving for one layer of fan indifference at a time. All of which is why it is so vital for gamers to always consider the ramifications of whatever leeway they provide to modern game companies. Much like new laws and taxes in the real world, once a new form of DLC, DRM, or any other change to the standard in which games are made / marketed are allowed to pass.. they never really go away. They tend to only compound.
Many have touched upon the war on singleplayer, physical formats, or used gaming when discussing the currently aggressive climate of the industry, but the fact of the matter is that those are merely fronts for what has always been the real war.. the one being waged on the consumer rights of gamers. That is why it is as important as ever for gamers to be wary of what they allow their wallet to vote for if they care to avoid their favorite games or genres descending into depths they may not want to follow them into.
Despite any of my own personal disappointment with the whole Mass Effect 3 spectacle, I can safely say that I've had my fill of discussions relating to it.. resulting in me becoming more than a little burned out in the process. Perhaps the recent statement from Bioware expressing their plans to at least try to address the mess involving the ending will allow the situation to begin dying down sooner than later, although early reports that they'll only add DLC that "clarifies" the original endings may prolong the drama a bit more.
I know there are a growing number of fans holding out hope for the Indoctrination angle, but unless they avoid prematurely giving Bioware far more credit then they may deserve and equally accept the possibility that they actually 'did' just write an ending that bad.. they're only setting themselves up for even more disappointment. Personally, as much as I admire Indoctrination theorist's efforts despite not agreeing with them on more than a few major points, I just can't shake the feeling that the "clarification and closure" featured in the upcoming DLC will run a train on the various Indoctrination theories and any hopes of fans still clinging to the belief that the ending was more outside-the-box intellectual storytelling than the rushed mess the original ending appeared to be.
Anyways, before moving my focus elsewhere I suppose I'll touch on a few things that I feel gaming as a whole will take away from the ME3 controversy long after it finally subsides, industry-wide problems and philosophical divides that I feel go far beyond the plight of a single game.. because the more I looked at all that had been transpiring across the web, the more I couldn't help but realize that Mass Effect 3 had become an increasingly smaller (if not interchangeable) part of a larger scale debate that had fully transcended it.
GS recently asked "Who wins when Mass Effect 3's endings change?"
..certainly not the image of your fellow reviewers, unfortunately.
The controversy indirectly exposed numerous credibility concerns with the current state of mainstream game critics, and the reality that it's penchant for antagonism and sensationalistic reporting coinciding with a number of rather cozy relationships with game makers may have finally polluted the image of modern game journalism beyond repair.
What at first appeared to be another round of 'developer vs. gamer', soon gave way to 'antagonistic critic vs. anyone who dared question the choices of their ad-revenue providing overlords' alongside a storm of intently incited flame wars by traffic hungry game sites.
Despite a choice few maintaining a more professional front in response to the frustration displayed by the Mass Effect fanbase, a number of critics from major game media outlets largely came off as abrasive, disingenuous, and out of touch.. more instigator than impartial commentator. If there were any gamers left who had lingering doubts on where the commercial game critic held their allegiance when things go south, or the kind of insulting antics sites will resort to for the sake of traffic, they got a pretty blunt answer.
The DLC debates heading into launch got things going at first, but it was when a multitude of gamers began showing their displeasure with the ending in waves that the real sh*t storm of animosity began. Childish diatribes and insulting articles aimed at those who felt they deserved more for their time and money than they EA/Bioware gave them were commonplace, even critics who openly admitted to 'not even playing the game' could not hold back the ire of their uninformed opinion and resist condemning the supposed insolence of the average gamer who dared question EA or Bioware's "vision". (which unfortunately seems to be an all too common theme among detractors)
The argument could be made that as the debate dragged on the number of professional articles/videos that questioned the complaining gamer greatly outweighed the number of those that questioned the ending and it's developer.. the part of the industry they are supposedly looked for and paid to examine. While there was a seemingly unending pile of rhetoric blasting gamers for expecting too much, very little was written towards clarifying what opposition exactly felt the fans were actually 'allowed' to expect.
I couldn't help but notice how the professional focus on the problems with the modern industry were vastly more outward than inward:
No expanded articles on the conflicts of interest created by including employees of game critics into the very games they are publicizing reviews for, no clear reasoning on why so many of the game's glowing mainstream reviews largely ignored the very evident problems that were the focus of the controversy that followed the game's launch, not even any real amount of articles pointing out the nonsense used by various critics in their attacks on fans. (Unsurprisingly, the only major news sites that pointed out any semblance of hypocrisy utilized by game critics and provided an actual balanced take on the fan's situation were those that were 'outside' the usual gaming circles and not wholly reliant on ad revenue from the game industry)
The ignoring of ME3's glaring story-related problems in the majority of reviews is the least defensible in my opinion.. especially since problems with the ending are not merely about interpretation, but very clear lapses in quality and cohesion. The game's deus ex machina epilogue had bizarre series cheapening plot devices and plot holes that any honest professional reviewer would drive a truck through. (Hell, the bizarre post-credits scene felt longer and more direct amidst it's DLC peddling than anything featured in the actual ending)
Looking past the story element in a 'Mario' game would obviously be understandable, but with a Bioware RPG the story element is indisputably the main event. While the gameplay of Bioware's games have certainly come a long way over the years it's still not to the point of being a front-page focus on it's own merit, especially when compared to competition that still do it better.. and certainly not to the point where any major story related failures can be overlooked.
If the ending of any Bioware game is horrifically botched, let alone a trilogy ending finale, the game overall is a disappointment regardless of how good it may have been leading up to that point (much like how even if a new Mario game a quirky story element, it would still be considered a failure if the platforming was bad). Mass Effect 3 was far from a bad game and did plenty right, but in no way does the quality of the 'ride' completely make up for the road unexpectedly leading right off a cliff in the end.
To say the mishandling of the game's most important advertised features is basically inconsequential thanks to the sum of it's less important parts is kinda ridiculous IMO.. and apologists making the excuse of "well, everyone shouldn't have the end overshadow all the good leading up to it" only makes it WORSE. It's basically the equivalent of "oh well, at least they were great up until when it mattered most".
Which leads to next problem fully put on display: The industry's obsession with indiscriminately placing the "entitled" label on any and all dissenting fans.. effectively trying to dilute and distract away from legitimate complaints and courses of action by attempting to group them with immature whining.
As I alluded to earlier, many of the major sites showed just how willing they were to direct the focus on questioning the motives of a gamer-enacted movement instead of exploring any possibility of it being justified. It's seems it is simply easier to dust off angry gamers as being nothing more than a minority of spoiled brats than entertain the notion that 'maybe' a number of them are actually trying to be a responsible consumer in the face of a business that got a bit too cute after taking their money instead of whining for the sake of it.
While I strongly believe it's for the best to just move past the Mass Effect 3 ending as I discussed in my previous blog, I still can't help but understand where angry fans wanting a new ending are coming from.
Most of the ME3 gamers intent on wanting a new ending are just passionate fans who simply want a competent end to the investment they have sunk plenty of time and money into, while not having their intelligence and opinion insulted in the process. Yes, over the top melodrama and lawsuits should be considered an out of whack sense of entitlement, but those gamers who simply making their displeasure known to a company that they feel willingly took their money while practicing questionable ethics and advertising should not, contrary to what many may try to make gamer's believe.
I don't see how a medium that has been so centered around modifying the user's experience over recent years can justify being so resistent to even the mere possibility of this type of fan supported change on appropriate occasions. So many are attempting to bring in parrallels from the more linear entertainment mediums in efforts to shield Bioware from fan scrutiny behind the skirt of artistic integrity, but I feel more should realize trying to fully hide a developer's mistakes behind that excuse can actually do more to stunt gaming's growth as interactive art than help it.
When it comes to 'commercial' art, especially a contemporary medium like gaming, the paying fan should not be told to hold back their displeasure any more than the developer should be told to change their ending. When the accepting of consumer money is involved, it opens a two-way street that can't be selectively closed when trying to drown out any expectations of quality.
I agree that developers should not automatically cater to every fan demand on a whim, but it would be wise to allow themselves to take proper advantage of the unique relationship between creator and player at the core of gaming and acknowledge the importance of at least hearing the fans out in a respectable fashion.
Most importantly, it's just good for business. It shouldn't be overlooked that the same lack of obligation that prevents developers from having to make changes also applies to gamers not having to open their wallet to them in the future. Refusing to be receptive towards fan input on any level is financial suicide.
Lastly, one of the main parts of this entire drama that I personally had the hardest time digesting was how truly easy it was for EA/Bioware and their defending critics to literally pick and choose their side of the "business vs. art" angle whenever they saw fit, regardless of how ridiculous and contradictory their logic became.
Is Mass Effect 3 more about business or maintaining artistic integrity? Well, if we learned anything the past few weeks, it's that the answer apparently relies on which specific brand of bullsh*t that is attempting to be excused at a given moment.
At first, a good chunk of the game media was eager to point out that the game industry is a business, not a charity. If Mass Effect fans didn't like how 3 was being marketed or chopped into DLC, they needed to just get over it and realize that the purpose of these games was to make EA and Bioware money.
Of course, while they proclaimed that EA's business decisions should be respected, any attempts to question them on the grounds of being a unhappy consumer is apparently wrong.. even when dealing with the industry's own entitlment issues with what they feel they are owed through their contrived DLC, online passes, and the war on used gaming. Despite the industry's increasing demands and active pursuit of the fan's money, it is apparently entitled of the 'gamer' to think that they are owed anything at all for what they spend, let alone any appropriate value in return. Apparently game makers aren't charities, but they are expected to be coddled by revolving door wallets as if they are one.
Shockingly, the whole angle changes when fans began demanding a better end to the product they purchased if EA/Bioware wanted business to continue as usual. At that point Mass Effect 3 apparently transformed from 'product' to 'inalieanble art and creative vision'.. and now critics who could never settle on whether or not a videogame could be art in even the slightest sense months and years beforehand all of a sudden where now treating a game in ME3 as if it was high art beyond reproach.
Was ME3 still about "art" when it's story and characters were intentionally being dissected to squeeze more money out of fans? Was it about preserving artistic integrity when they decided to kill an existing news reporter character in order to shoehorn IGN/G4's Jessica Chobot into the game? How about during publicity stunts like having a fan vote for the default female main character design? Or when Bioware was photoshopping stock photos? Or is ME3 really only about 'art' when it's convenient for it be?
Idealy the developer's intended creative vision truly would be preserved from the start of a game's development to long after it has launched, but the unfortunate irony of the matter concerning a game like ME3 is that the corporate machine funding the process of creating it had already lead to the compromising of it's integrity numerous times over to pacify the powers that be.. LONG before it hit the store shelves where the complaining fan was accused of endangering it. Funny how the 'spoiled fan' ended up being the soley casted villain in the fight to preserve Bioware's intended vision, isn't it?
I mean, you really have to love media spin when it comes to something as subjective as artistic integrity. One occurence of the fans pleading for Bioware to right a significant blunder capping the series they have long loved and supported is loudly characterized as unprecedented entitlement and whining.. while routine occurences of EA imposing their will on Bioware to fragment or dilute their work simply to appease their desire for additional monetary gain is quietly shrugged off as just being a part of the status quo.
At this point, when considering the circumstances surrounding the development the ongoing debates involving apologists defending the integrity of an 'entertainment product' whose owners have so willfully and repeatedly undermined it, it all has really just come off as a bad joke.
But I suppose all of this is the entire Mass Effect 3 controversy in a nutshell, the industry sticks to a specific angle or sides with the fan only when it best serves their agenda and image. When EA/Bioware exploits the passion of their fanbase for money, allows them to defend it's games, or simply needs a scapegoat to distract away from the real issues.. they're more than welcome. When the fanbase dares have their own seperate opinion and doesn't sit back and say "thank you" when thrown a sh*t sandwich, the passionate fan is merely relegated to being an '"ungrateful" incovenience.
*******BEWARE OF MASS EFFECT 3 SPOILERS*******
If there is a way one could sum up the past 12 months for EA it's that, despite some scrappy competition the past few years, they've certainly reaffirmed their place in gaming as the premier leader of exploiting and alienating fanbases. Everything from the drawn out Dragon Age II debacle, to the increasingly shameless handling of The Sims franchise with turning what was previously $30 expansion content into a couple of rehashed $40-$50 expansions and a handful of $20 DLC packs, to even questioning the average gamer's disposition for virtual child murder while beginning to shove Origin down their throats through Battlefield 3.. it's been a year long road of controversy that led to the 'cherry on top' that was the launch of Mass Effect 3, and they saved some of their worst for last didn't they?
When looking over the headlines amidst the time leading up to and including the launch it felt like I was reading off their checklist on how to systematically infuriate the very gamers they're trying to hit up:
Spend an exorbitant amount of time focusing on how fans will only get the "full experience" if they plunk some money down towards one of the most expensive lineups of launch DLC in the history of gaming? Check.
Insult the intelligence of fans while trying to prod along more of that lovely day one, "partial on-disc" DLC? Check.
Have a half-a** follow through on the long awaited face reveal of a masked fan favorite character by making it seem like an unpaid intern was sent out and given 20 minutes to photoshop a random stock photo? Check.
Have the Executive Producer completely contradict himself by having the game ending be exactly what he led fans to believe it wouldn't be?:
Follow the "army of sentient giant space robots intent on cutting down those they deem too big for their britches" theme of your cash cow series by unleashing an unprecedented fleet of pocketed critics to take swings at gamers who dare question your 'critically acclaimed' product and policies as well as completey miss the point when attacking those who are understandably pissed about ridiculous narrative choices made in the supposed finale? Check and check.
Personally, it wasn't the contrived MP component or DLC absurdity that got to me the most.. considering EA is the pioneer of the modern approach to DLC and online passes the overload wasn't remotely surprising. The From Ashes controversy wasn't much of a surprise either, if anything it at least had some comedic value for how overblown it has become. I mean, someone should really take a moment to explain to EA / Bioware that if they treated it as a free online redeemable bonus for buying the game new (as they did with Zaeed for ME2) instead of charging an additional $10 for it while dealing in semantics and half-truths to defend it, the blowback would have been a mere fraction of what it ended up being.
The sparring between critics and displeased fans that occured was another unsurprising matter. Fan discontent flooding the internet and subsequent disagreement by antagonistic contrarians amongst the game media regardless of any questionable logic used to do so, or even the legitimacy of the mass complaint, is an inevitable cycle of modern gaming politics.
Hell, despite being an embittered Silent Hill fan I'm even a bit numb towards the increasingly bastardized series becoming more 'mainstream friendly' (this is ofcourse made sadly ironic by the fact that I have a copy of newly released Downpour beside me as I write this).
No.. the part of all this ME3 melodrama that I, and from what I have noticed the past week many others as well, took the hardest was without question 'the ending'. Up until that point I was successful in avoiding all the sideshow antics distracting away from the fantastic story driven experience and greatly enjoyed the ride leading up to it. I won't go too in-depth as to why I found it so bitterly disappointing, there have already been quite a few others that have voiced in appropriate detail sentiments that I also hold on the matter, some more humorously dramatic than others ofcourse.
The fan outrage that I also share has nothing to do with dismay over the lack of some campy fairy tale ending, but the egregious amount of clumsiness and laziness in which the ending was executed.. something completely uncharacteristic in relation to the rest of the series.
An ending so bizarre that I can't help but view it as being far less to do with any allusions of maintaining artistic integrity in regards to how the team in their right frame of mind may have wanted to end this story, and much more to do with a combination of a rushed developer's indecision, overzealous remnants of the old lead writing staff falling FLAT on their face in attempts to give the series an unforgettable end by making it so for all the 'wrong' reasons, and the gimping of what should have been a natural conclusion for the sake of future plans to artificially continue milking the franchise.
All rampant fan speculation to make any sense of it aside, one thing I feel 'is' clear: getting the ending's full context will most likely require more than what was shipped with the base game.. which means it will potentially only get worse for fans who naively thought EA would let them off the hook with just a one time purchase to any get any desired amount of closure with this series.
The manner in which the ending was handled is also one of many reasons why I can't help but call bull**** when hearing others attempt to downplay the mass disappointment with the last 10 minutes of ME3 as nothing more than bellyaching from insatiable crybabies who wouldn't be satisified with any ending Bioware could come up with and are simply 'looking for things to complain about'. This is without question one example of that characterization being completely incorrect.
Over the years there have been many notable games that featured tragic, highly interpretive conclusions that have become celebrated by it's fans.. the likes of Silent Hill 2, Metal Gear Solid 3, and Shadow of the Colossus are prime examples. The difference is that those endings also had a level of quality and refinement that not only allowed it to seamlessly blend with the journey leading to it, but helped add an immense level of depth that allowed further appreciation of said experience instead of cheapening it. The other notable difference is ofcourse the fact that players received a complete ending without having to worry about any part of it being DLC.
Even if one wanted to put Mass Effect 3 on a different plateau due to it being a years in the making anticipated 'finale', I'll make more of a similarly circumstanced ending comparison:
Metal Gear Solid 4
Several games, two decades, 27 hour dramatic epilogue that, while feeling as longwinded and convoluted as the series it was capping, left fandom completely fulfilled and fond memories of previous games intact.
Mass Effect 3
3 games, five years, completely undermined in 10 minutes. Met with an end so nonsensical and inconclusive that it caused the questioning of not only time spent with the franchise, but gaming as a hobby in general.
Yet, besides all of this nonsense being incredibly disheartening for various fans, especially for those who invested plenty of time and money in the 5 years since the first Mass Effect came out, the fact remains that it would be wiser for fans to think about their reactions logically. Even with all of my own complaints.. I realize that what's done is done, there is no real way that Bioware can undo their mistakes or even pacify those unhappy with the ending without things being taken down a road fans would eventually greatly regret.. whether it be due to the further eroding of the integrity of the franchise or even higher levels of exploitation.
I'm in no way saying that all those frustrated with the sideshow or the ending should sit back and take it, what I am saying is the likes of clamoring for an actual 'new ending' through forums and petitions will only compound the problems that led to all of this in the firstplace -
- Jeff Gerstmann Twitter post
While I very rarely agree with what this toad has to say, this is one thing I can say we are in agreement on. For affected fans to truly push forth change, they need to express their displeasure through what they choose not to buy, not what petition they choose to sign. Even if you are among those that are fine with the ending but are disgusted with the way it's being marketed, throwing money at it is not going to fix the problem. Giving a company the impression that they will continue to enjoy the same level of attention and money regardless of the mistakes they make or the arrogance they display is the worst message a consumer can possibly send.
When examining the alternatives, it really is for the best to just move on and regroup. The reality of the matter is that it's EA and Bioware's game.. it's their 'product' to manipulate as they see fit. A fact that they and any critic defending them conveniently only seems to reiterate when trying to excuse unpopular decisions involving it.. and well after your money has already been taken for it.
As hard as it may be, the less time spent dwelling on what could have been with an already finished game and the more time spent assessing where future gaming dollars are directed will have a greater influence on projects going forward.. thus providing a much longer lasting resolution for what caused the mess surrounding Mass Effect 3 than settling for any "Sorry We Picked the Worst Time to Get Cute" patch or "Pay for Our Reactionary Fan Response" DLC ever could.
As for me at moment: That copy of Downpour I mentioned? Borrowed. Any future Silent Hill added to my collection will have a nice big "used" sticker on it until Konami gets their act straight regarding the franchise. And as far as EA and Bioware? I'll allow the internet the pleasure of providing me any alternate/extended storyline for this game without having to condone additional EA nickel & diming, I consider the money spent on that special edition of Mass Effect 3 the last time my fandom allows my wallet to be held up by them until they start cleaning up their act as well.. from what I've gathered, it's well past due.
Amidst the industry currently trending towards a growing amount of exploitive gimmicks that center around the likes of contrived and overpriced DLC bridging annual sequels, online multiplayer being used as a crutch as opposed to a companion piece to a game that actually makes sense having MP, and an overall heavier focus on compromising the integrity of a franchise for the sake of gaining more gullible fans.. it can be hard to avoid becoming disenchanted with how gaming sometimes carries itself.
With that being said, I've always been one of those gamers who sees things health bar half-full. When going over my own picks for the year's best games, I began to realize just how much good still managed to break through the modern industry's often toxic environment.
At a time when the only thing scary about the horror genre is how content most of it is with wallowing in mediocrity while nonchalantly alienating it's core, it's certainly relieving to see one of my other favored genres, RPGs, producing more than it's fair share of faith restoring experiences.
Despite controversy over the eggs genre mainstays like Bioware and Square have laid recently, this year has been proof that the often considered dying genre by the mainstream is more than strong enough to endure those two's struggles. It's a genre that has been thriving across all regions and platforms.The RPG the past couple years has also in large part been a shining example of how it's truly in the best interest of the gamer to avoid stubborn platform loyalty that robs opportunity.
Using the year this genre has had as an indicator, quality releases on everything from the usual suspects to the often overlooked PSP/Wii, I have urged loyalty only to quality to allow the best possible gaming. I feel constantly debating what plays better on what or when something will supposedly be obsolete are distractions that have narrowed perspective as the only real reward.
Most importantly though, the quality gaming I have experienced the past year even beyond the RPG genre has shown me that there is still enough positive to make the negative worth dealing with. Perhaps it is best if gamers collectively reexamine the best use of their time and effort put forth on the medium, and establishing a better balance between dwelling on the industry's antics/platform wars and actually paying attention to what is being done right.
As with anything else in life, don't bother wasting breath complaining about the bad if you're not doing anything to support the good. If you're a part of those gamers who are busy making sure they have all their memberships paid up as they're waiting in line for the midnight launch of the latest generic shooter, but get the likes of a Team Ico game secondhand and torrent copies of titles like The Witcher 2.. look in the mirror when complaining about the way many game companies are currently going about their brazen attempts to milk.
Alright, time for the games of the year themselves. Before I go about my list I'd like to touch on two of the more intriguing GOTY contenders of mine, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Dark Souls.
Skyward Sword, an obvious point of discussion due to all of the rating controversy that anyone reading this has no doubt come across at least once(this site's own review is an example). The melodrama surrounding the review of a game like Skyward Sword continues to amaze considering how obvious it is that a Zelda review is seen as bait, and will always be one of those statement reviews for critics that allow them the greatest opportunities to showcase their agenda with larger fanfare.. feeding the industry's ever growing review beast(one that certain reviewers realized does bite back).
Why anyone would be personally offended by a complete stranger's view on something as subjective as a personal experience with a game is beyond me. I actually welcome insightful opinions presented in a mature manner and would see the value of the discussion even if the view greatly differed from my own. At the end of the day though, my feelings on a game will be soley based on my own experience and preference.. forcing my opinion onto someone else or having an outside opinion subjugate my own is not a part of the process.
Personally, despite the GC Twilight Princess(the last proper gamepad Zelda for some time) still being my post-N64 era favorite and some early skepticism about the controls and art design.. I still think SS turned out to be a good Zelda game. Am I completely happy with the series motion controlled future? Quite honestly no, but it still didn't stop me from enjoying what the game did right, at least so far.
As far as all the constant commenting on the 'Zelda design', I really couldn't care less. My lifelong Zelda fandom is no secret, but neither is my indifference to critics who routinely poke and prod the series while trying to push their distaste onto those who continue to enjoy the games. My only real point of annoyance with negative reviewers? Inconsistency.
The Zelda design is far from the only formulaic approach leaned on by popular games throughout the industry. I can't help rolling my eyes whenever I notice a given critic breaking out their monocle when a Zelda game hits their desk only to give more of a free pass to flashier titles who have a bit more smoke and mirrors to distract away from worn formulas of their own.
I've never been one for blind loyalty. I'll admit that moderate progression wouldn't kill the modern Zelda franchise, but claims of the series' stagnation tend to be as exaggerated as some accuse it's esteem of being. All agendas and critical antagonism aside, the games are still managing to be legitimately 'good'.
If recent titles became short, lazy, glitchy, or chopped up into DLC maybe I would be more receptive of certain criticism.. the absence of those levels of problems just make habitual critics seem like they are vindictively splitting hairs. It's as if to say, "hey, I've enjoyed too many finely crafted 30-40+ adventures the past several years and you're not making a contrived enough effort to force the latest cliched design conventions into the series to sufficiently distract me between shooter reviews".
Natural change never hurts. I'll give the Zelda team the benefit of the doubt when deciding when and how to bring about the right changes at the right times so long as the games continue to maintain quality. The last thing anyone needs is forced change for the sake of it making way for Zelda's own Metroid: Other M debacle.
Now, I'll come right out and admit that while certainly in the running until the very end, Dark Souls didn't end up being my GOTY. Regardless though, it never fell below 1-A for me. Despite the initial heartache that actually caused me to wonder if I hated it, when I came around to finishing the game after a grueling first playthrough I knew that despite it's pitfalls Dark Souls was near the peak of what an epic action RPG should be.
Unlike so many titles in the action/rpg genre, From didn't undermine their vision by settling on softer, more mainstream friendly formula choices in a vain attempt to overcompensate for the doubled edges of their design. The game world wasn't chopped down to a recolored enemy grind from one enclosed area to another, no hiding a lack of non-linear exploration and sluggish combat behind a compelling yet occasionally hammy story centered around the illusion of choice, and not another example of epic boss battles being relegated to quick time events and other limited mechanics.
I'm not trying to bash games in the genre that do settle with these elements, I'm just saying that glazing over the game's rough spots with these approaches would have been a detriment to the character of the experience. Working through the ups and downs of the design and mechanics is a part of the ride.
It seems to me that a good amount of emotion and impatience tends to lead some towards characterizing Dark Souls as shallow tedium for the masochists of the genre.. a gross oversimplification of a game with it's meticulous design, deceptively deep story and immense open ended scale featuring some of the most rewarding gameplay and novel implementations of multiplayer elements this generation(in a genre where it can be quite difficult to pull off no less)all with a compelling artistry that escapes confinement to typical JRPG/Anime or western cliches.
The game is not without its quirks, the camera and framerate can be problematic at times and the stacking curses is something I can say was taken too far. Like Demon's Souls, new players won't be used to the concept of just one difficulty, with the game not being divided into Dark Souls lite, medium and veteran.. and some genre fans will continue to find frustration in not being able to hide behind the safeguards of typical JRPG or PC RPG gameplay.
In the end the game is stern, but not heartless. Dark Souls, like it's predecessor, is an engrossing experience that brings out the best of those playing and expects nothing out of the player that some perseverance, skill and actual strategy beyond Rambo or camper won't ultimately overcome.
Game of the Year
Nominees - Batman: Arkham City, Portal 2, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Dark Souls, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Multi-Platform Game of the Year - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Best PS3 Game - Uncharted 3
Best XBOX 360 Game - Gears of War 3
Best Wii Game - The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Best PSP Game - Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together
Best DS Game - Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
Best 3DS Game - The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
Best PC Game - The Witcher 2
Best Action/Adventure - Batman: Arkham City (multi)
Best Thriller/Mystery - L.A. Noire (multi)
Best Horror - Dead Space 2 (multi)
Best Shooter - Gears of War 3 (XBOX 360)
Best Platformer - Rayman Origins (multi)
Best RPG - Dark Souls (Multi)
Best Fighter - Mortal Kombat (multi)
Best Racing Game - DiRT 3 (multi)
Best Sports Game - NBA 2k12 (multi)
Best Puzzle Game - Portal 2 (multi)
Best Rhythm/Music Game - Patapon 3 (PSP)
Best Strategy Game - Total War: Shogun 2 (PC)
Best Compilation - The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection (PS3)
Best Downloadable Game - Bastion (multi)
Best Piece of Downloadable Content - Old World Blues, Fallout: New Vegas (multi)
*Fallout 3 may have been the better game overall, but New Vegas clearly had the single best piece of DLC. With a neurotic, mug obsessed mini-securitron and a homicidal toaster.. how could it not be?
Best Graphics, Technical - Battlefield 3 (multi)
Best Graphics, Artistic - Ni No Kuni (PS3)
Best Story - To The Moon (PC)
Best Ending - Portal 2 (multi)
Best Atmosphere - Batman: Arkham City (multi)
Best Writing/Dialogue - Portal 2 (multi)
Best Voice Acting - Batman: Arkham City (multi)
Best Sound Design - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (multi)
Best Original Music - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (multi)
Best Licensed Music - L.A. Noire (multi)
Best Competitive Multiplayer - Battlefield 3 (multi)
Best Cooperative Multiplayer - Gears of War 3 (multi)
Best Original Game Mechanic - Advanced facial animation tech, L.A. Noire (multi)
Best Boss Fights - Dark Souls (multi)
Best New Character - Wheatley, Portal 2 (multi)
Best Use of a Creative License - Batman: Arkham City (multi)
Best Original IP - Minecraft (PC)
Most Improved Sequel - Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Multi)
Most Surprisingly Good Game - Catherine (multi)
Honorable Mentions - The Last Story (Wii), LittleBigPlanet 2 (PS3), Alice: Madness Returns (Multi), Outland (Multi), Super Mario 3D Land (3DS)
*Xenoblade = 2010 release
Most Surprisingly Good Game - Driver: San Francisco (multi)
Best Downloadable Game No One Played - The Binding of Isaac (PC)
Most Disappointing Game - Brink (multi)
*A shallow technical mess that launched with a horrific amount of online lag and bugs.. falling well short of it's potential.
Least Improved Sequel - Stronghold 3 (PC)
Worst Game of the Year - Hulk Hogan's Main Event (XBOX 360)
*The Kinect library has managed the impossible by securing a circle of gaming hell lower than Wii shovelware.
Worst Level - Blighttown, Dark Souls (multi)
*Have I mentioned the suspect framerate of Dark Souls? Nowhere is it more unbearable and dangerous than in Blighttown. Mixing in a slideshow with the level's design and it's brutal array of enemies will make the first few runthroughs an unrelenting nightmare. My chosen undead had to sit on an icepack for a week after my first attempt.
Worst Cover Art - Jimmie Johnson's Anything With An Engine (multi)
Worst Piece of Downloadable Content - Horde Command Pack, Gears of War 3 (XBOX 360)
*More unlocked on-disc content garbage. Epic wasn't winning me over with it's obnoxiously priced weapon skins as it was, then they decided to pass this insult along.
Clumsiest Major Release - Battlefield 3 (multi)
*Needless Steam drama, a glitchy beta that raised far more concern than hype, official forum mods calling the game's community ungrateful, and an executive producer questioning the darker side of gamers.. all topped off with numerous server issues launch month? EA is going to need both a new PR team and better executed gameplan before it can truly threaten CoD's sales dominance.
Year In Review
Best Trend - Comprehensive 'free' updates/DLC (Portal 2, The Witcher 2, etc.)
Worst Trend - Online Passes Restricting Single Player Content
*I was set to give these 'season passes' the nod, but after seeing games like Rage and Batman: Arkham City(games with little to no online elements) take the wretched online pass to it's inevitable step of progression by locking out single player content, I was thoroughly disgusted. At the rate these passes in all their forms are gaining momentum and being largely met with indifference by far too many consumers.. I would not be shocked to see even the endings of games being at risk in a few years.
Most Surprising News - Nintendo slashing the 3DS pricetag by 40% within 6 months of release
*The surprise wasn't that it happened, but when it did. It was a given that the original 3DS pricetag was far too bloated for it's intended demographic, but sluggish sales forced Nintendo's hand quicker than anticipated. This led many to claim that cheap iOS/Android games to be the primary factor hampering demand, but any unbiased analyst would tell you that the price, Nintendo saturating the market with several versions of its previous handheld leading up to the 3DS release, and a very underwhelming launch lineup were the true culprits for the slow adoption rate. A 200% sales increase post-price drop leading in a holiday slate of games helped show that.
Least Surprising News - A shaky start for Zynga's hyped IPO
*While Zynga certainly made a good chunk of change.. investors recognized the same concerns many within the industry have been pointing out for some time. Zynga is far too reliant on Facebook, and a growing number of competitors to go along with FB's fickle handling of it's game policies make the company a questionable longterm investment. Much of current social and mobile gaming design seems great in theory, but when you try to bring money and inevestor's into the equation one starts to realize how long that part of the industry has to go towards creating a proven and sustainable market for consistent investment.
Most Anticpiated Game of 2012 - Bioshock Infinite (multi)
Most Anticipated Hardware - AMD/nVidia 28nm GPU's
Thanks for reading folks, happy holidays.
Once again it's that time of year when gamers of all backgrounds enjoy bashing each other over the head with their take on game of the year selections. Even with the slightest of glances past the user comment sections when voting on various categories I was welcomed with well more than a years worth of the painfully repetitive "your picks suck" / "my picks are indisputable!" / "you like__ too much" / "you don't appreciate __ enough" nonsense.
I must admit that even after all these years it still continues to amaze me how even the most seasoned gamers can sometimes fall into taking these yearly game awards a bit too seriously.. as well as forget that dispensing any significant amount of time and energy trying to force ideals and preference onto other fans of probably the most subjective of all modern entertainment mediums is rather superfluous.
Anyways, I've had more than my fill of gaming related annoyances and headaches this year.. which is why I am planning to take a bit of a break. But before that I suppose I shall grace the internet with the 2010 Old Skoolies . Happy holidays.
GOTY Nominees: Red Dead Redemption (multi), Mass Effect 2 (multi), Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii), God of War III (PS3)
My Game Of The Year -
Multi-Platform Game Of The Year - Mass Effect 2
(Only exclusives are eligible)
Best PS3 Game - God of War III
Best XBOX360 Game - Halo Reach
Best Wii Game - Super Mario Galaxy 2
Best PSP Game - Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
Best DS Game - Dragon Quest IX
Best PC Game - Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty
Best Action/Adventure - Red Dead Redemption (multi.)
Best Thriller/Mystery - Heavy Rain (PS3)
Best Horror - Amnesia: The Dark Descent (PC)
Best Shooter - Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (multi.)
Best RPG - Mass Effect 2 (multi.)
Best Platformer - Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)
Best Fighting Game - Super Street Fighter IV (multi.)
Best Racing Game - Gran Turismo 5 (PS3)
Best Sports Game - "Tie" NHL 11 & NBA 2k11 (multi.)
Best Puzzle Game - Limbo (XBOX360)
Best Rhythm/Music Game - Rock Band 3 (multi.)
Best Strategy game - Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty (PC)
Best Downloadable Console Game - Pac-Man: Championship Edition DX (multi.)
Best Piece of Downloadable Content - Minerva's Den, Bioshock 2 (multi.)
Best Expansion Pack - Awakening, Dragon Age: Origins (multi.)
Special Achievement Awards
Best Story - Mass Effect 2 (multi.)
Best Ending - Red Dead Redemption (multi.)
Best Graphics, Technical - God of War III (PS3)
Best Graphics, Artistic - Kirby's Epic Yarn (Wii)
Best Atmosphere - Amnesia: The Dark Descent (PC)
*Horribly under covered by mainstream media
Best Sound Design - Amnesia: The Dark Descent (PC)
Best Original Music - Heavy Rain (PS3)
*One of the defining soundtracks of this console generation
Best Licensed Music - Rock Band 3 (multi.)
Best Voice Acting - Mass Effect 2 (multi.)
Best Writing & Dialogue - Red Dead Redemption (multi.)
Best Competitive Multiplayer - Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (multi.)
*I actually enjoyed the Vietnam expansion even more than the base game
Best Cooperative Multiplayer - Halo Reach (XBOX360)
Best Boss Fights - God of War III (PS3)
Best New Character - John Marston, Red Dead Redemption (multi.)
Best Use Of A Creative License - Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 (multi.)
Best Original IP - Heavy Rain (PS3)
Most Improved Sequel - Red Dead Redemption (multi.)
Most Surprisingly Good Game - Deadly Premonition (multi.)
Most Memorable Moment - Revealing of the Origami Killer's identity, Heavy Rain (PS3)
Honorable Mentions - Xenoblade (Wii), Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (multi.), Fallout: New Vegas (multi.), Bayonetta (multi.), Super Meat Boy (multi.)
Best Game No One Played - Vanquish (multi.)
Most Surprising Game to Make It Past Aussie Censors - Splatterhouse (multi.)
Most Disappointing Game - Final Fantasy XIII (multi.)
*All of the franchise's flaws and cliches with none of it's execution and charm
Most Annoying Characters - Vanille, Hope, girl Cloud, etc. Final Fantasy XIII (multi.)
Least Welcomed Genre Introduction - Corridor RPG, Final Fantasy XIII (multi.)
Least Improved Sequel - Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II (multi.)
Worst Game - Fighters Uncaged (XBOX360)
Worst Game Everyone Played - Final Fantasy XIV Online (PC)
*Getting the hint yet about the kind of year Square Enix had?
Worst Piece of DLC - Sinclair Solutions Test Pack, Bioshock 2 (multi.)
*Less to do with quality, more to do with paying 400 MSP/$5 to activate a very modest amount of on- disc content.
Most Despicable Use of In-Game Avertising - Energizer + Verizon, Alan Wake (XBOX360)
*Anyone who played the game for more than 15 minutes knows this won by a landslide.
Most Anticipated Game of 2011 - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (multi.)
Most Anticipated Piece of Hardware/Accessory - Sony PSP2
Most Important Trend to Continue - Strong support for Indie gaming
Which Trend Should Be Done Away With First - Paid DLC overload (especially "Day 1" DLC)
"We can cater which content we present to you based on who you are. How many people are in the room when an ad is shown? How many people are in the room when a game is being played? When you add this sort of device to a living room, there's a bunch of business opportunities that come with that."
- Microsoft's Dennis Durkin discussing Kinect's ad revenue potential at an investor meeting
Anyone with a modest amount of technical insight will already be aware of the possible privacy / security related ramifications of having a online enabled videocamera containing advanced motion, voice and facial recognition capabilities being paraded around as simply a consumer toy, so considering how informed my blog's usual audience is I'll spare any in-depth explanations. I simply ask those reading this to take additional statements from Durkin and try to read between the lines a bit -
"Kinect actually brings an interesting opportunity as it relates to that. Obviously with Kinect, it has facial recognition, voice recognition... we can cater what content gets presented to you based on who you are.
That gives the system the opportunity to adapt the content it suggests depending on who it sees in front of it: Your wife in the future might get a different set of content choices than you, because we have a smart device that knows her preferences are different than yours"
Beyond providing the option to immediately log a gamer into their specific profile via facial scanning, predominantly unannounced local and online storage of a player's facial and voice structures, as well as their gameplay area to create more appropriate advertising err.."features" is apparently a planned part of the equation to.
Hmm, I wonder how many families playing with their Kinectimals and riding rafts in Kinect Adventures are aware of (or are even able to properly comprehend) everything they truly bought into when purchasing a product such as this? One could only imagine how the consequences of longterm uninformed consumer usage and continued indifference to Microsoft's plans for the technology could inevitably play out.
As far as the mainstream take on the matter for now and the forseeable future, though? I imagine this little blurb I noticed in the comment section of the Wall Street Journal's article on the Kinect's possible privacy exploits not being too far off.. -
"hate? a console accessory? time to check your priorites.
On a more rational note. How freaking cool is this thing? I can't wait to get it." (sic) - anonymous poster
Yes, 'anonymous' user, the cool factor of a product is the real priority, not that silly little modern epidemic surrounding the growing amount of exploitive products and services being painted as simple technological conveniences and recreation that are contributing to the electronic demise of personal privacy one hyped fad at a time.
For most mainstream gamers who embrace ignorance as bliss, deflecting away from the potentially serious issues that may arise down the road and downplaying complaints and concerns as simply more paranoia or brand wars is what is truly important and worthwhile discussion.. isn't it?
"We are disinterested in making mini-celebrities out of douche-bags" - Says a particularly pissy Treyarch designer who has droves of obnoxious CoD enthusiasts rather unceremoniously showcasing the obvious fact that he already has a broken MP on his hands, even before the latest grey glob descending from the Activison conveyor belt was officially released.
Another November, another large mass of youths and middle-aged malcontents waiting hours in lines (or even commiting armed robbery) to obtain the newest Call of Duty and be able to jump head first into its swiss cheese multiplayer and the cesspool of modern gaming culture that inhabit it.
The ensuing countdown towards numerous petty fanboy-driven forum wars and showboating oriented Youtube uploads courtesy of shameless attention whores teamed coinciding with plenty of half-assed developer apologies and patches in time for the holidays has now become an accepted inevitability this time of year when it comes to the FPS genre.
A personal inevitability of my own then commences, the bombardment of questions as to why I only sparingly play the major shooter clones of a given year at their respective releases before an extended break away from it. I simply answer that I am kind of like a driver slowing down to gawk at the commotion around a wreck for bit, one who may come back around when the road is eventually clear (or as cleared up as it realistically can be). With a game like Black Ops the foul mouthed middle schoolers and endlessly persistant boosters / cheaters need some alone time first.
In the end I suppose my real annoyance is not the shooter itself, merely the brand of insufferable a-holes they tend to attract. All I can say is the corporate shills at Activison, EA, Bungie, Epic, and the goons that pollute the online communities of modern online shooters.. you truly, truly deserve each other.
I must admit that I find a degree of a humor in the various ways game sites try and siphon some cheap hits by spinning the context of story and its title in a more controversial and dire light or resorting to cliche flame bait topics. Examples of the latter are sites like Kombo becoming increasingly known for their inane lists that usualy revolve around what supposedly is or isn't overrated while peddling their painfully narrow views.
They repeatedly hit the same old targets in usually blatant efforts to get a rise out of notoriously rabid fanbases of the proverbial sacred cows of gaming like Zelda: O.o.T either in individual posts or among their little lists. Yet another group of petty antagonizers that fail to acknowledge that no one would waste time debating a game's merit over a decade after the fact if it wasn't actually worth debating.. all the while conveniently forgetting to ever even raise a voice in the direction of today's popular shooters.
Essentially they are trying to obtain both the added views that flame wars inevitably bring while still trying to avoid alienation of their intended core audience. Too bad that amidst these stunts sites like Kombo lose any and all credibility, if there was actually any to begin with that is.
Anyways my main focus is actually more towards the sensationalism that more and more games sites are falling back on with increased regularity. All it takes is one site to overhype a story and it spreads like wildfire throughout the rest of the internet's gaming news sites trying to grab hits. One prime example is the recent story about new court rulings in the Vernor v. Autodesk case and how it apparently is a sign of the apocalypse for used game sales.. and to the surprise of no one, GS was among those that took it and ran.
Where they the worst offender? Certainly not. But when a mainstream game news site posts a headline reading "Court ruling could affect pre-owned game sales" for an article that is really making a stretch of the possibilities and is quite slim on providing a truly balanced account of the story overall, you know damn well what they are aiming for.. to create a stir amongst the easily agitated, impressionable and uninformed to generate those precious hits.
Don't get me wrong, I know that business is business, but I can't help but think these stories are only dropping the already lowly bar of online game journalism. The article was pretty typical of what to expect nowadays, a slightly sensationalistic title followed by either a biased or generic explanation that usually misses the overall point.
Yeah, they 'tried' to explain the connecting of the dots of why the various rulings from the Vernor v. Autodesk case involving the secondhand sale of software 'could' affect the used videogame industry in efforts to justify the article's existence on the front page, but they really don't take the time to clarify that it is a case that is years in the making.. one that has had (and will continue to have) multiple appeals.
They among many others failed to convey the various boader details and just how long the legal process for a case like this can be, not to mention the fact that not only was this a ruling from the 9th district court(one that is infamous for having its decisions overturned), but there are numerous other similar court cases that refute Autodesk's type of EULA related claims.
Whether you support the ideal of used game sales or not let me make something very clear.. if our court system erodes to the point of allowing corporate EULAs(End-User License Agreements) to circumvent our country's various fair trade and copyright laws, used games will be the absolute least of our problems.
Here are a few case rulings that I like to place focus on:
Applied Info. Mgmt., Inc, v. Icart (1997) held that the sale of software is the sale of a good.
Novell, Inc. v. CPU Distrib., Inc. (2000) The first-sale doctrine applies to software.
Softman v. Adobe (2001) The first-sale doctrine applies to software and can not be waived or taken away through an EULA.
Whether the game publishers/developers and the opponents of businesses like Gamestop like it or not(you can still believe in the ideal while hating the store as I do), the gaming industry is not special. They are not exempt from following the same laws and legal precendents that the rest of the US's economic industries have to adhere to.
Unless an individual is illegally replicating the disc(digitally / creating multiple physical copies) OR trying to illegally profit off of intellectual properties contained on the disc, the industry needs to stop pouting because their entitlement ends at the checkout line. After they recieved their deserved initial profit in full off of an individual copy of a game, they have no place in future private transactions.
I realize that the eternal lust for continued money and power is a natural part of business, but perhaps for once they should spend more time and money at the planning table to try and get a more creative profit out of individual copies of a game than simply trying to pick gamer's pockets through the legal system.
Yes, we get it. The economy is rough and it's certainly wise try to and maximize earning power to survive, but it's a tough environment right now for everyone. Showing favoritism for a whining entertainment industry trying to further pad their own growing wallets is not going to help anyone.. and if enough policies are not changed to keep more people in their homes, and more jobs + manufacturing within the country why should any focus be placed on going above and beyond to further enrich game makers?
I think an ironic angle is while these developers b*tch and moan about the Gamestop and eBays of the world taking away from their added profit, they are thinking that if laws were magically rewritten for them to recoup any supposed lost profits from the sale of a used game that any significant amount would actually get to them personally.. and would somehow not be quickly pocketed by publishers and other higher on the corporate food chain (most of the money would probably still not make it to those who actually created the game as most payouts are fixed amounts not conditional on sales).
Do they not realize that if the courts actually 'did' crack and allowed special arrangements for continued profit off of secondhand sales that it would only lead to increased piracy.. as well as snowball into even worse problems if everyone got in on the EULA game? It would only create a circle of bullsh*t with loopholes within loopholes inevitably disrupting the entire process thanks to the anarchy allowed by little EULAs bypassing fair and established law.
Anyways, my overall sentiment is this game industry: get over it. I'm all for cracking down on the likes of piracy, because thats were they are truly being robbed of deserved profit, but giving you special rights to invade people's private transactions to shut you up is not on the agenda.
In a fair trade market you got to take the good with the bad, you can't selectively play the capitalism card only when convenient. While used game sales may seem like all bad for developers initially, in the grand scheme of things it is a necessary and legal "evil" that keeps the industry's wheels turning.
Much like when late 2009 saw the release of two successful RPGs like Demon's Souls and Dragon Age: Origins from opposite ends of the genre's spectrum (in which console vs. PC rpg oriented rhetoric ensued), early 2010's western-made Mass Effect 2 and Japanese-made Final Fantasy XIII showcased the other growing division within the genre. Even several months after both have released, fanboyish mudslinging from both gamer and developer alike have persisted.. pretty much the typical egotistical, selective memoried rambling of blowhards throwing stones in glass houses that those familiar with the undesirables of the genre would expect.
The success of western RPG developers like Bioware and Bethesda coniciding with the noticeable drop in the amount of JRPGs this hardware cycle led many to rant about how the likes of Mass Effect and Fallout have managed to kill off it's eastern developed bretheren.. which led to the inevitable backlash from fans using Final Fantasy XIII's immense sales numbers in both markets to begin flaming counter attacks of their own. I recently came upon a good article that discusses the topic.. and since it for the most part covers some of my own thoughts and feelings on the matter I figured I'd save myself some time and post the link.
Much like the last time around, I feel the current debate is nothing more than another pointless squable churned along by narrow minded fanboys who deem their preference as worthy of being the one and only necessary take on an entire genre. Being a major fan of both Square and Bethesda I am a longtime RPG gamer who has observed and appreciated the positives of both st*les to understand that both are indeed necessary.. and also have seen enough of the negatives of both to understand that relying on just one of their takes alone would be costly to the genre as a whole.
It also certainly doesn't help when the developers themselves tag along with the ignorant goons of the fanbase, making petty jabs that end up painting more of a negative light on their own games than of those they are targeting(I'm looking at you Dan Erickson of Mass Effect calling out Final Fantasy). Like I have already said, you got alot of folks in glass houses throwing stones here.. even though I was quite down on Final Fantasy XIII and very much enjoyed Mass Effect 2 I am not prepared to turn a completely blind eye on Bioware's own formulaic approach that is in danger of becoming stale itself.
Bioware should indeed be smart enough to not let some success cloud their common sense and allow themselves to be fooled into thinking that all aspects of their games are running as good as they could be, or that anything they have been doing since the first KOTOR can even remotely be considered new and original.. exaggerating the extent of the illusion of freedom their games try to create is not going to fool anyone for long either. They also shouldn't ignore the fact that many of their game's flaws have been rather overlooked due to them pandering to the action/shooter cravings of their western audience with increased regularity.
Also, I think it needs to be said.. Japanese devs have as much, if not more, to do with the decreasing market share of their RPGs than simply just the success of western made RPGs. Most seem to be stuck in one of two predictable gears.. they either play it safe and stick with the same old basics to a very stubborn degree, or they make a misguided attempt at emulating the current western RPG formulas. I mean.. once upon a time there was "plenty" of creativity within the genre coming from the east, but more recently they have forgotten how to maintain a steady path of growth while staying within their own bounds.
Like I have mentioned before, certain JRPG makers(especially Square) seem to be having trouble keeping proper perspective of why people like their games and RPGs in general when they are amidst those prolonged development cycles that bringing their artistic and technical visions to life on more powerful hardware demand(Square spent so long on the presentation and graphics of FF XIII that they seemed to forget to make the rest of the game..).
While that more powerful hardware has improved other genres in leaps and bounds, I think it might have been a temporary detriment to the length and creativity that made appealing JRPGs.. longer developments cycles, more money needing to be spent, current gamers placing a higher focus on flashy presentations and twitch gameplay.. nothing showcases the pitfalls of those trends like the current JRPG genre. On the flipside.. the current leaders of the WRPG genre were essentially born into early stages of those aforementioned industry trends, so maybe thats one reason why they have had a better time adjusting right now.
Anyways, the JRPG genre is indeed down, but it is by no means dead or even on life support.. much like PC gaming its a genre that quite simply will never die regardless of how far away from the spotlight it may appear to be at a given time. All these devs need to do is keep a steady balance of innovation and reminders to its fans of why they love those kind of games.. they do that and the fans will always come.
The success of those western RPGs should not be interpreted as a level of success that leaves no room for other parts of the genre to maintain relevancy.. from Dragon Age to Demon's Souls, Final Fantasy to Fallout, and Fable to an MMORPG.. the genre has proven itself strong and diverse enough to have several major series moving alot of units so long as they hone their appeal with innovation and quality.
Although 2010's E3 was not as eventful as 2009's.. it still provided plenty of excitement for the upcoming year. I know there are many gamers who debate "who won and who lost E3", but I feel there are far too many pieces of the puzzle to place a broad label on any specific conference.
The first example that comes to mind is Microsoft's.. there seem to be many that have displayed rather strong feelings on the supposed levels of success(or lack there of) of their presentation. I personally found myself riding the fence.. on one hand I felt MS did a great job with the value of the XBOX360 redesign(250gb HDD, 45nm GPU/CPU and built-in Wi-Fi for $299 has officially shut me the hell up), but on the other I felt the Kinect presentation was undeniably disappointing. Not to mention the bizarre theatrics and robotic presentations Microsoft felt it necessary to stage leading up to the conference didn't do them any favors in terms of crowd opinion.. as they seem to play it overly safe this year around and often came off stale(or as the saying goes.. "Not playing to win, but instead playing not to lose.").
Yet again, a high level of hype is proving to be a double-edged sword.. the enthusiasm last year's E3 created for Kinect has slowly become it's most glaring magnifying glass. As most Natal hypesters are finally starting to understand(and like I tried to hammer home last year).. there is a HUGE difference between tech demos and what finally hits the living room. Simply put.. when tech makes it the consumers the buffer zone is gone.. no more pre-recorded gameplay presentations, inflated numbers and large amounts of propaganda to help mask any deficiencies.
Was Kinect a complete bomb? Ofcourse not. The hype is still there, but it "did" lose a few coats of sheen.. funny how choppy/underwhelming gameplay demos can do that to something even with as much potential as Kinect. Throw in the lack of price details, minimal coverage of Kinect-compatible blockbuster games like Fable III, and ofcourse the questionable renaming of Project Natal and you can kinda see why some gamers where rather putoff.
While I may not be "as" firm on my "all or nothing" stance in regards to Kinect as I was last year.. a potentially hefty price tag mixed with a subpar E3 showing and rather bad track record for pricey add-ons is really putting the heat on MS to clean up the Kinect's messier points and follow through on at least some of the initial hype(if not, things could get ugly). Like I alluded to earlier.. it's difficult to lump all aspects of a presentation under one winner/loser designation. Soley based on the ideal that the direction of public opinion afterwards is the true judge of these E3 events.. it is in my opinion that the 360 itself thanks to the likes of the redesign, games like Gears of War 3/Castlevania: Harmony of Despair and securing timed exclusivity for Call of Duty DLC was a mild winner while Kinect was a mild loser.
(On a side note.. what was up with the MGS Rising portion? Great graphics and all, but I take it that stealth is officially dead and gone from that series? Instead we get Kojima announcing for the 47th time that he's passing the torch on the MGS series as well as a Ninja Gaiden-esque watermelon slicing demo..)
Like Kinect, another piece of tech is seemingly trying to run before it first learns to walk. While Microsoft decided to skip setting any platform foundation via controller based motion gaming and instead go straight for body motion tech ripped right out of Minority Report.. Nintendo decided to also skip ahead by passing up glasses-based 3D altogether with the Nintendo 3DS. While they were bold decisions that were rightfully made to set their platforms apart.. they may prove to be costly false starts for both companies.
Luckily for Nintendo.. Sony is not posing the same threat to the 3DS as it will be to the Kinect. By virtue of the PSP2 no-show itself, the 3DS is probably already the winner despite some serious questions regarding the range of view of the 3D gameplay. Regardless.. unless it was earth shattering a PSP2 would have had more than enough work cut out for it to catch up with Nintendo at this point in time. While new games like another PSP God of War and Parasite Eve 3 err.. "The 3rd Birthday" are definitely nice.. Sony is STILL not doing enough to showcase the PSP like it deserves.
The gimmick enslaved fanbase of Nintendo's handhelds is simply too large to keep up with.. and Nintendo throwing in non-glasses based 3D gameplay(even for as flawed as it may turn out to be), multiple 3D enabled camera's, even more hardcore focused franchises like a new Resident Evil & Metal Gear Solid, and an added joystick(I'm surprised they also haven't added scratch and sniff features for the hell of it yet) on top of everything else the DS platform already had makes both this and the next-gen handheld battle pretty much a foregone conclusion sadly.
While I am annoyed that Sony didn't bring more to handheld gaming table, I'm not exactly heartbroken either seeing as how despite owning multiple DS's, PSP's, and even iPod Touch's.. the gaming hours I put into the handheld front is only a mere fraction of my overall playtime(basically, me proclaiming that I play my PSP the most isn't exactly saying much). I will say though that the Ocarina of Time remake will single handedly get me to pick up a 3DS.. I'm not even going to bother pretending otherwise
Anyways, Nintendo's conference overall wasn't bad at all(certainly better than last year).. though not exactly groundbreaking by any stretch. I thought the lack of release dates and pricing for the 3DS was another bizarre gaffe made this year. It was nice to see Goldeneye and Donkey Kong Country making a long awaited comeback and more of the new Metroid, but I will admit that the Zelda presentation left me a bit frustrated.
I mean.. I'm happy there is a new Zelda on it's way and will pick it up day one regardless, but I simply can't shake the bitterness I have towards the Wii for caging the Zelda franchise this generation. Having one of my favorite franchises being forced to resort to cheap motion tricks using inferior hardware and motion tech is not exactly a way to get on my good side.. just saying. Oh, BTW Miyamoto.. clean up Skyward Sword's god damn HUD.. it looked absolutely atrocious in that demo. Other than that, not too shabby Nintendo.
All BS fanboyism aside and based on the positive shift of overall dev & consumer opinion(despite not being the complete homerun their fans were hoping for).. I think Sony had the strongest showing from top to bottom. They had the most games, the biggest surprises, and ran in direct opposition to Kinect struggling to maintain momentum.. Playstation's Move seems to be gaining momentum despite it's rather muddled beginnings as essentially a Natal/Wii afterthought last year.
Yet again, referring to my rants last E3.. while not as flashy as it's competition, Move's "functionality" is what will keep it relevant long enough to make it's mark. While certainly not awe inspiring, the Move's tech demo's and dev chatter this year is showing it's potential as a reliable workhorse in the future. "If" the Move can take advantage of the September headstart it will have over Kinect's November release.. "if" the Move can prove itself to be a reliable control option in more hardcore oriented titles like Killzone 3 in February.. things may get interesting.
Although I was a bit disappointed they didn't highlight The Last Guardian.. titles like Killzone 3(looked amazing), inFamous 2, LBP 2 (as well as Gran Turismo 5 FINALLY getting a release date) was good. Obviously being the big Twisted Metal fan that I am I was more than psyched to see David Jaffe finally whip out a new Twisted Metal for the PS3 at the end of the conference. Exclusive special editions of Medal of Honor and Dead Space 2 along with a PS3 Move port of Dead Space Extraction was also a pleasant surprise.
The strong support of EA and Valve of all developers bodes well for Playstation.. I along with many others thought hell would freeze over before any of us ever seeing Gabe Newell's roly poly a** parading on PS3 conference stage. I don't know if Microsoft pissed Valve off.. if Sony paid them off.. or if Valve finally grew a pair and learned the PS3's architecture, but a company like Valve touting the PS3 version of games like Portal 2 to be the "best" console version is VERY troubling for MS. For a few years now we've been seeing traditionally Playstation-only devs making the switch over to the XBOX, but it seems like the pendulum is starting to swing the other way(which longtime industry observers already knew was inevitable).
Like I already stated, the main focus of an E3 is to promote new tech but more importantly to improve brand viability. All three console makers had hits and misses.. and depending on one's preference, the mantle of "best showing" can change from gamer to gamer, but strictly considering which "brand" had the biggest upswing.. it is no doubt Sony. While they took a step back in the handheld front.. the Move and the PS3 platform itself has seen an increased level of developer and public opinion over the last few months capped off by the 2010 E3 conference(Valve's about-face by itself can attest to that).
Overall a decent show.. it's apparent that both the motion control and 3D craze are not going away anytime soon, but hey.. at least all three companies will be churning out some good games while they annoy us right?
My Top 10 Games of E3 2010 -
Fallout: New Vegas (PS3/XBOX360/PC)
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)
Killzone 3 (PS3)
Twisted Metal (PS3)
Crysis 2 (PS3/XBOX360/PC)
Gran Turismo 5 (PS3)
Silent Hill 8 (PS3/XBOX360)
Gears of War 3 (XBOX360)
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (PS3/XBOX360)
Favorite Conference -
Worst Conference -
Favorite Moment -
Kevin Butler had a memorable routine during Sony's conference, but was surprisingly upstaged by Shrek 4 himself Gabe Newell.. where IMO he made pretty important announcements revolving around Steam coming to the PS3.
Worst Moment -
Note to Microsoft: A multitude of French male circus dancers is not the best way to launch hardware. Also, E3 needs to enforce a permanent ban on circus acts and dancing nerds for the sake of all that is holy.
Blurry is the line between sanity and insanity.. more often than not it is almost impossible to foretell which side of said line one will ultimately end up on when pursuing acts of greatness, but it can be argued that some of the most interesting things in life result from such a risk regardless. So needless to say I along with many other old school NES fans were thrilled with the recent web browser game Super Mario Crossover that featured the likes of Mega Man, Link, and Samus as playable characters in the original Super Mario Bros. game.. a project over a year in the making.
(click for game link)
I am certain that those who question the sanity of SMC's creator will no doubt support sending the creator of the next web browser game straight to the loony bin. A fellow Legend of Zelda fan took it upon himself to rebuild the original 2D NES Zelda II into a 3D FPS.
(click for 3D web browserfication)
A lunatic fan who threw away a year of his life he'll never get back? Probably. Cool as hell though? YES.
I'm far from ever being considered a fan of the current motion sensor arms race that the big three have embroiled themselves in. I personally find the benefits of motion controls to be marginal at best for many of today's games especially with the current technology being used, but I guess there are certain sentiments surrounding it that I disagree with to such an extent that I feel it necessary to give certain aspects of the race a slight measure of defense.
While I'm not a 'fan' of motion controlled gaming right now, I should make it clear that I am more so against the current methods of execution than the ideal itself. The first obvious example is the Wii, a system that I have owned for quite some time now, but have yet been able to maintain any sustained level of interest. It has less to do with any supposed lack of mature or quality titles but more to do with the fact that I find so many of it's games to be broken from a control standpoint.
The games that have actually kept my attention for any significant amount of time I either prefer to use a Wavebird for(Smash Brothers, Mario Kart), have a minimal amount of actual motion control and simply uses slight gestures more akin to QTE's(Mario Galaxy, Twilight Princess), or really have no motion control at all(Muramasa). Simply put.. I'm not against a pro-casual approach, but I am against unresponsive hardware that is either of questionable value to some of it's best games or cripples the enjoyment of the vast majority of it's 3rd party titles.
As it stands now it would be quite naive to think that since the Wii and it's own motion control scheme has been on the shelves for the past few years that they have magically cornered all aspects of the market. Should Nintendo be afraid? No, of course not, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't take note of several inevitable developments that will transpire when it's more mature gamer-focused competition wheel out their own motion hardware. It's been stated time and again that the Wii and the PS3/XBOX360 are not direct competition due to such a different intended demographic, which is true. All I'm saying is why act as if they are all of a sudden when discussing motion controlled gaming?
Now, what annoys me are the armchair industry analysts that sit back and basically pigeon hole motion controlled gaming as only being apart of the casual gaming demographic by virtue of writing off Move and Natal as inevitable failures, simply due to the casual gamer focused Wii being on the market for several years now. I feel the likes of motion controlled Halo, Fable, Burnout & SOCOM is an entirely different ballgame than that of motion controlled Mario, armless Mii's and a mountain of shovelware. I don't feel there can be credible opinion on the supposed acceptance levels of motion controlled gaming from a hardcore gamer's perspective until more mature focused content withsome semblance of motion controls has actually hit the market.
Am I saying that Move and Natal will reach the levels of success that the Wii has? No. All I'm saying is that you can't compare such different dynamics with the same scope. Different demographics, hardware capabilities, franchises, and most importantly of all, different market entry method, one that has motion controls built in while the others are add-ons.
I for one cannot definitively say how the market will sway once alternatives make it to stores, some may say that consumers will act with indifference due to what they already have, others would have equal right to say that there will be a number of those craving fresh approaches to a type of gaming they have become disenchanted with due to unfulfilled expectations and lack of desirable titles from the current solution. When all is said and done I firmly believe the level of quality of Microsoft and Sony's new hardware(and not the Wii's) will decide it's level of success. Only time and consumer's wallets will tell.
My other annoyance is with how quickly many gamer's levy the copy cat label and why their intended target's relevance should be downplayed due to it being one. For those who are not already aware of this, 'no' company is innocent. The mere existence of Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo's own versions of the game console is itself an example of supposed 'copying'. Few actions of a modern company are either completely original or unoriginal, deciding the perfect balance between the two is simply part of running a good business. The funny thing is though, the better job a company does copying, the easier time consumers have forgiving it.
This is all obviously alluding to the critics of the final design of Sony's Playstation Move controllers. I'm in no way trying to excuse Sony's methods, the shameless copy/paste job of the Wii's remote/nunchuk design is rather comical, all I'm trying to say is I would rather have Sony draw close inspirations from their competitors while designing something they can get to work right instead of trying to get too cute and pump out another mess. IMO, get a working version of the hardware and the games on the market and then take some time to put your own mark on the design.
In the end, the consumers and most notably the hardcore gaming sect will decide how "casual" motion controlled gaming is(and how viable it will continue to be in the future). It is a mistake to judge the viablilty of the Move and Natal soley on what the Wii has or has not accomplished.
The industry is large and healthy enough to sustain three major consoles there is absolutely no reason why it should not also be able to maintain three different takes on motion controlled gaming.. IF each is designed properly and has a diverse library. Like I have stated before, the Wii is the flawed yet novel trailblazer(as well as the best marketed), Natal has the most ambition(highest ceiling, yet the biggest risk), and the Playstation Move will probably be the least flashy yet most reliable and responsive.
Critics of music gaming are reveling in the news that, in the wake of continued divisional losses, not only will Activision be shutting down Guitar Hero creator Red Octane.. they will also lighten their release schedule to only include one new Guitar Hero and DJ Hero this year. Market saturation apocalypse averted and balance restored? Nope, sorry folks.
Those familiar with my writing will probably recall my recent struggle with understanding one particular part of the modern hypocritical gamer's psyche. I have always wondered what exactly causes one of their kind to get off their a** after a round of pressing a plastic button to simulate virtual gunplay against imaginary zombies/nazis/aliens and hunch over their keyboard to repeatedly reiterate how those who instead press a plastic button to simulate a musical note is.. "stupid".
I've yet to understand why so many gamers today continue to target one specific genre for offenses that most other genres are equally, if not "more" guilty of. I'm no maniacal music gaming fan.. but the constant nonsense spewing out of it's critics mouths have forced me to call bullsh*t in its defense. I understand not being a fan of a given genre or type of gameplay, but to simply brush it off as a fad and not being worthy of existing because you yourself don't like it having success is ridiculous.
Am I fan of the growing amount of games that rely on online interaction with a community that mostly consists of foul mouthed adolescents and supercilious mouth breathers as the primary way to get a satisyfing experience and replay value out of a full priced game? No. Do you see me waging a full on crusade against such games(*cough* 99% of modern FPS's *cough*)? No. Just because I'm no fan does not mean I should waste my breath denouncing it as beneath the right of existence. The way I see it we need as many viable genres as ever.. I suppose even those that reak of developer laziness.
Anyways, my point that I have made before and will make yet again now is that the music/rhythm genre itself is not the enemy.. a situation where there is a genre whose only two major players include a Kotick-led Activision "is". Soon enough more gamers will realize the sad fact that Activision will not be content with sitting back and twiddling their thumbs, this scale down will only lead to them sinking their teeth deeper into other areas of gaming.. they have made it very apparent that annual exploitation is their main goal regardless of how they do it.
The way I see it is that the gaming public's acceptance of paying full price for Microsoft and Activision's cute little 3-5 hour expansion packs err.. Halo 3: ODST and Modern Warfare 2.. will fuel Activision's strategy of reorganizing funds and attention towards fully implementing the release model that they probably wanted all along. Multiple 3-5 hour long(barely) Call of Duty games/spinoffs running concurrently.. bridging one release to another in 8-12 month intervals padded by constant flow of overpriced map packs with a newly installed COD MP subscription service overseeing them all.
You think the neverending amount of Guitar Hero/Rock Band content was nauseating? Wait until we see around that many COD games topped off with other franchises like Battlefield, Ghost Recon, Frontlines, Operation Flashpoint and Medal of Honor(among a multitude of others)taking the non-sensical narratived and creatively bankrupt "modern combat" route. But hey.. oversaturation was only a Guitar Hero problem. At least there won't be as many of those pesky plastic instrument bundles.. maybe more obscenely priced CE's that include Halo spartan helmets and crappy night vision goggles instead(because thats not certainly as ridiculous)? It's not like we've seen generic war oriented shooters before right? ugh..
I figured that I'd sneak in my last entry for a while in time for Christmas.. and what better way to go out than contributing to growing number of amateur and "professional" best of 2009 award lists?
For me, it's not the average gamer's lists that I find irritating, but the growing level of game sites and magazines that go out of their way to try and artificially elevate the esteem of the awards they pedel in hopes of gaining favor or landing a blurb or two on a popular title's gaudy box art or magazine ads in.
I personally find the lists from regular gamers and specifically fellow fans of my favored genres more entertaining and insightful. These award lists are typically more interesting to sift through for the simple fact that they are more varied in perspective and are without the thinly veiled critical / corporate agendas that pollute many of the professional lists.
GOTY nominess: Uncharted 2 (PS3), Assassin's Creed II (multi), Demon's Souls (PS3), Batman: Arkham Asylum (multi)
My Game Of The Year -
Multi-Platform Game Of The Year - Assassin's Creed II
Best PS3 Game - Demon's Souls
Best XBOX360 Game - Forza Motorsport 3
Best Wii Game - New Super Mario Bros. Wii
Best PSP Game - LittleBigPlanet
Best DS Game - Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story
Best PC Game - Dragon Age: Origins
Best Action/Adventure Game - Uncharted 2 (PS3)
Best Shooter - Killzone 2 (PS3)
Best RPG - Demon's Souls (PS3)
Best Platformer - Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack In Time (PS3)
Best Fighting Game - Street Fighter IV (multi.)
Best Racing Game - Forza Motorsport 3 (XBOX360)
Best Sports Game - NHL 10 (multi.)
Best Puzzle Game - Scribblenauts (DS)
Best Rhythm/Music Game - The Beatles: Rock Band (multi.)
Best Strategy game - Little King's Story (Wii)
Best Original Downloadable Console Game - Shadow Complex (XBOX360)
Best Downloadable Content/Expansions - Fallout 3 (multi.)
Special Achievement Awards
Best Story - Cryostasis (PC)
Best Graphics, Technical - Uncharted 2 (PS3)
Best Graphics, Artistic - Muramasa: The Demon Blade (Wii)
Best Atmosphere - Demon's Souls (PS3)
*Dark medieval fantasy at its best
Best Sound Design - Batman: Arkham Aslyum (multi.)
Best Original Music - Killzone 2 (PS3)
Best Licensed Music - Guitar Hero: Metallica (multi.)
Best Voice Acting - Batman: Arkham Asylum (multi.)
*Longtime fan favorites Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy simply stole the show with their performances
Best Writing & Dialogue - Dragon Age: Origins (multi.)
Best Competitive Multiplayer - Killzone 2 (PS3)
Best Cooperative Multiplayer - Left 4 Dead 2 (multi.)
Best Use of a Control Scheme - Flower (PS3)
Best Original Game Mechanic - Demon's Souls MP & integrated help system (PS3)
Best Boss Fights - Demon's Souls (PS3)
Best New Character - Alistair/Morrigan, Dragon Age: Origins (multi.)
Best Use Of A Creative License - Batman: Arkham Asylum (multi.)
Best Original IP - Demon's Souls (PS3)
Most Improved Sequel - Assassin's Creed II (multi.)
Most Surprisingly Good Game - Ghostbusters (multi.)
*Stay Puft Marshmallow Man FTW
Most Memorable Moment - Assassin's Creed II Ending (multi.)
*All the arguments of whether it was bad/good aside, it certainly had a memorably high wtf factor
Best UK Developed Game - Batman: Arkham Asylum (multi.)
Most Surprising Game to Make It Past Aussie Censors - Madworld (Wii)
Most Disappointing Game - Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (Wii)
*This one was a heartbreaker for me. Between the extremely unbalanced difficulty, uninspired story and it being chopped up into various DLC packs.. this was a hard pill to swallow.
Least Improved Sequel - Resident Evil 5 (multi.)
*Certainly not the worst sequel of the year or even a bad game.. its just that the fall from 4 to 5 was a bit more dramatic than most(and as a longtime survival horror fan I absolutely loathe the direction the series has taken).
Flat-Out Worst Game - Rogue Warrior (multi.)
Worst Game Everyone Played - Terminator Salvation (multi.)
*The definitive achievement/trophy whore bait of the year
Best Game No One Played - Muramasa: The Demon Blade (Wii)
Worst Use of a Great License- The Godfather II (multi.)
Worst Box Art - Guitar Hero 5 (multi.)
*Someone needs to send a memo to the folks at Activision.. it's one thing to have box art so bad its memorable and something entirely different to have box art so lazy its pathetic.
Most Despicable Use of In-Game Advertising - Tony Hawk: Ride, Mobile Phone Interface & Sponsored Achievements (multi.)
Character Most Likely To Fail A Performance-Enhancing Drug Test - Chris Redfield, Resident Evil 5
*Watching him transform from the first RE to RE5 was like seeing Stallone hulk up from the first Rocky to Rocky IV.. it was absurd.
Hit points, finding various quest items, upgrading characters and equipment, battling "monsters".. all of these characteristics bind the various games within the RPG genre through the years, but it's the "execution" that often bitterly divides it's fans.
Few other feuds in gaming are as heated or as drawn out as the various squabbles within the RPG realm.. a conflict that has been raging across gaming platforms since the 80's. I believe the debates on which game should be considered the best RPG of 2009 will once again tempt the varying fan bases into raising arms yet again.
Despite both of these games being quality additions to the genre as a whole the more action oriented console RPG Demon's Souls and the more traditional PC oriented Dragon Age: Origins are more often than not on complete opposite ends of the genre's spectrum. These differences may invoke varying degrees of rhetoric from opposite fanbases as to why "their" RPG is better.. melodrama that has been occuring for quite a while now.
Through the years the face of the RPG genre has taken many forms, but since the early 90's especially the console and PC sects have only continued to divide. This divide has often been nurtured by varying degrees of success for some of the genres iconic titles and the mentalities of the fan bases on either side of the fence.
The genre had its on modest beginnings in the mid-70's with text-based adventures on tremendously bulky mainframe computers.. and had various Dungeon's & Dragons influenced home PC titles during the early 80's like Ultima and Xanadu that began integrating rules of combat, graphics and stories (albeit on a very modest scale). Although small the genre's fan base was a dedicated bunch.
The small fan base then began to have it's loyalties tested as the increasingly Japanese dominated videogame industry of the mid to late 80's began spawning Ultima influenced RPG's of their own within the home console market with games like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy.. which led to a wider mainstream appeal for the genre. With hardware being rather limited on both ends at that particular time.. the RPG's were not too radically different. Many popular PC RPGs were ported to consoles so fans on both sides pretty much had similar experiences and tastes.
It wasn't until console RPGs changes to the genre's status quo in the early part of the 90's that the genre's fan base began to fracture. Japanese games like the more action oriented dungeon crawler RPG, the original Legend of Zelda on the NES, and the first FF on the SNES Final Fantasy IV(II in North America), that introduced the ATB(active time battle) system as well as more involved storyline began shifting the console RPG fans preferences. On the other side of the fence the success of the more text and strategy focused PC RPGs such as the Gold Box engine games developed by SSI further solidified the course taken by PC developers.
Over the next decade after that the escalating differences in not only preferences, but also the hardware it was played on further branched out the genre's audience. But it's lingering niche status overall regardless of platform allowed the conflict to be rather civil because despite the golden age of RPGs in the 16-bit era of consoles which included titles like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy IV & VI, Secret of Mana, Lufia II and Breath of Fire II(among many others).. it's mainstream success was not too far off from its PC brethren. That all changed at the dawn of the 32-bit era though.
The true splintering point was the massive mainstream success of Final Fantasy VII on the original Playstation in 1997. While it's success was welcomed by many fans.. the fact that a "Japanese console RPG" the likes of a Final Fantasy was the one that made the mainstream breakthrough infuriated a good amount of others.. especially among the PC sect. The proceeding years deepened the resentment as console RPGs further enjoyed success while many quality PC games such as Fallout, Planescape, Icewind and Baldur's Gate did not manage to reach the same heights of appeal.
Which leads us to the modern day where both sides have their fair share of quality "and" douche bag fans. The undesirables on both ends attempt to instigate against the other with pointless debates and shameless bias/hypocrisy. Both are so quick to dismiss the other.. blindly ignoring the fact that regardless of preference BOTH platforms have greatly contributed to the genre's legacy. Gamers that are actually familiar with the genre's history will realize that the PC iterations helped create the structure and intellectual elements that the genre needed and the console iterations added the artistic and progressive gameplay elements that uped the ante for the rest of the genre, which was neccessary for it's evolution through the years. But apparently recognizing those facts is simply not an option for the willfully ignorant on both ends.
Thanks in large part to the fact that they are both a PC gamer and a fan of a niche genre the antagonizers within the 'hardcore' PC crowd are the quickest to succumb to spewing out the cliché rhetoric that results from basically the videogame game equivalent of a Napoleon complex. They feel the need to make up for their smaller numbers and appeal by not only overly inflating the stature of a number of quality PC RPGs, but also their own personal ego. They resort to both minimizing the impact and looking down upon notable console RPG sacred cows and even insulting the intelligence of its fans.
It's rather sad and redundant at this point.. antagonistic gamers really need to stop using platform bashing as a means to makeup for some of their insecurities. Simply because a popular game does not meet ones preference is not enough reason to waste everyone's time amidst trying to constantly force beliefs revolving around why fans should just stop being a fan because any of the game's various critics all of a sudden deem it "unworthy".
So many of them are every bit as cliché as what they are actually 'accusing' of being cliché. They'll attack known favorites just to get a rise out of its fans and then proceed to cling onto various obscure PC games in an effort to go into forums and claim that those "simple console gamers" could never possibly have the intellectual/ emotional depth that only they and a select few have to properly comprehend these games .
Basically, they go out of their way to target anything that is successful in the genre.. even games within their own ranks like the traditionally PC focused developer Bethesda. As soon as the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series has some mainstream success and all of a sudden they are not "real" RPGs anymore either. Uh huh.. who could have possibly predicted that kind of nonsense from these people?
Anyways, the console fan base is guilty of PLENTY of their own problems.. the fact that its hardware is more accessible thus giving them a wider range of ignorant followers does not help their cause. So many of them are so painfully shortsighted that they refuse to keep proper perspective when it pertains to the legacy of great games that led up to what they are currently enjoying. They just need to accept the fact that all of those old games with ugly sprites are what paved the way for everything modern gamers enjoy.
The fact of the matter is that both sides need to get over themselves.. broader success does not make all console RPGs better just as being more obscure and unnecessarily sophisticated do not make all PC RPGs worth mentioning. One side suffers from having a number of watered down and cliché iterations while the other suffers from having many convoluted games that suffer from clumsy gameplay and constant glitches. What all RPG fans need to keep in mind is that when at their best.. each side has plenty to offer and should not be dismissed due to lack of preference. Great games on both ends of the spectrum have the same amount of quality and intelligence.. they are just displayed through a different scope.
That sentiment holds true with both Demon's Souls and Dragon Age.. two great RPGs that just happened to be done from a different take. There is no wrong choice when picking among them. Personally.. despite enjoying Dragon Age I would pick Demon's Souls. Not that its anything that Dragon Age did wrong, but moreso what Demon's Souls did right. Despite some shortcomings it was closer to what I have always wanted an RPG to be.. the perfect blend of skill and strategy.
Despite enjoying plenty of PC games from companies like Bioware or Blizzard I more often than not felt like I was just point and clicking something to death. When battling enemies or other players it seemed more a contest of who customized a character better than actual skill.. stat numbers battling other stat numbers via the same repeated battle animation. I dont know.. while the mouse and keyboard setup is ideal for aiming purposes it can can feel impersonal at times in a more action oriented title. Using a keyboard for character movement has always felt so unnatural to me.. which is exactly why using a Playstation gamepad instead is perfect for me in an action heavy RPG.
With an RPG like DS I'm starting to get that balanced gameplay. I'm not just pointing and clicking an enemy OR just choosing the fight or magic command against it like in a Final Fantasy.. I get a more visceral and natural feel. Battles have a high skill AND intelligence factor.. you need to be smart enough to properly strategize + customize your character, but you also still need the skill to put that characters abilities to good use. Then thanks to the gameplay system there is always that X factor.. whether its the environment or timing of the battle there is always something unforeseen that can have major implications. All in all its neither extreme.. its not slowed down to the point of being just an elaborate session of a D&D boardgame OR a mindless hack and slash.. it is moving the genre closer to that happy medium.