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A big lover of all types of media, from Movies to Video Games, Books to Music, Television to Stage.

January 26, 2011

Too Short, Too Long, Or Just Right? DC Universe Review.

Greetings all.  I was just fooling around with yet another title on the Big Fish Games website.  The game I was playing was titled "Spirit Seasons: Little Ghost Story," and after completing 40 minutes of an hour long demo version of the game, I found myself more than halfway done the game.  I went to the forums and checked how long others were finding the title, and the majority were saying that they were completing it within 1 1/2 hours, and complaining that the game was too short and not worth the $7 asking price for the full version.  I heartily agree, and will wait until I see it available as a daily deal before I purchase it myself, and even then I'd have to have a lot of spare change burning a hole in my pocket to do so.  I love hidden object games, but Holy Shortness, Batman, that's nuts!

Which brings me to the other title I'm playing a lot of these days:  "DC Universe Online."  Freaking love this title, honestly.  For those of you not in the know, this title is the most recent MMORPG available on the market, and is only accessible to those using a PC or the PS3.  No X-Box love here, sadly.  Been futzing around with the title since last weekend, and I am enjoying it quite a lot.  It is in fact a Pay-For-Play title, however, and this is the part that is bothering me.

First off, the good.  The game allows you to play as either a hero or villain, but does not allow you to do anything against your archetype.  No beating on cops if you're a good guy, no helping little old ladies if you're a villain.  The quests, as far as I've played, are fairly straightforward being mostly 'go here, beat up these guys, return' or 'go here, interact with this item, return.'  Not overly repetitive, but not a lot of special stuff going on either.  What brings the game to life is the city around you, and the 'instances' you go into in order to complete boss missions.  While unlike games such as WoW, you can easily do these dungeons solo at the level they suggest for the quest, as the game can scale the difficulty for those larger or smaller groups to enter them, and this is a huge step forward for people to be able to access more content without depending on others to be good players.  In fact, except for one quest I just picked up last night, to deal with a wanted poster, I have yet to be urged by the game to group up at all.  There are PvP arenas, to be sure, but those are totally optional rather than necessary.

The game interaction is great, and the tutorial gives you pretty much all the information you need in order to make a good showing of yourself throughout the world.  Tons of hidden objects add depth, and the fact that there is literally TONS of voice-over clips, for each and every person you encounter, is phenomenal.  All in all, a lot of work has been put into this game, and it shows.

Now that the good is out of the way, let's get down to the bad.  As I've said, I have been playing this for less than a week, and it is Pay-For-Play.  The title ships with a code for a free 30 day trial, and then (at it's most expensive) it becomes $14.95 a month from then on.  I don't know how worth it that will be at the start.  I played WoW a lot when my account was active, and with a level cap of 60 it took me a long time to get to the end of what I would consider the 'solo play' aspect of that game.  "DC Universe" only has a current level cap of 30, and I am already pushing 14.  Less than a week, and doing a lot of exploring (read as not trying to level up quickly), and I'm already just shy of halfway to the level cap.  And they want $15 a month for this?  For what?  Yes, I am aware that there will be content releases, maybe even expansions down the road, but $15 a month right off the bat?  I'm on the fence.  Yes, you can play both good and evil, but there are only three storylines for each side (based on which mentor you choose to follow), and I already have a level 6 villain I'm working on as well.  Again, less than a week, folks.

Along with this, it must be said that the character creation aspect of the game leaves a lot to be desired.  I can understand what the limitations are on the PS3 (which is where I'm currently playing the game), but only being able to work with a colour palette of three choices?  That's so very limiting.  Yes, the three colour choices can be individually adjusted to make each one unique, but then being able to only apply those three shades to EVERYTHING you are wearing?  Yeah, it keeps the same scheme active throughout your wardrobe, but how much individuality can you really express when everyone is using the same primary and secondary colours for 95% of their choices?  Additionally, there is no way to really have your avatar sport a character-defining icon in a way that symbolically identifies you over others.  For example, Superman has a giant-ass 'S' on his chest.  Great, and I can have an 'S' too - a little tiny 'S' that gets lost in the detail of whatever chestpiece I am wearing, if in fact the piece I choose will even display the icon at all.  On top of that, I can't put that symbol anywhere else on my gear, like on the back of my cape or backpack.  Nope, tiny symbol, centre of chest if at all.  Good luck standing out in the crowd, unless you choose your colour scheme to be Day-Glo green or orange...then people will identify with you being the one that hurts their eyes, a great way to meet new friends online.

And that brings me to the ugly: No servers are joint PC and PS3.  In other words, in a household like mine where we have a PS3, a desktop computer and a laptop computer, the three of us who live here will NEVER be able to play online together in the same party unless we but either another computer or two more PS3s.  I, personally, think this is fu*king ridiculous.  If you are going to make a cross-platform MMORPG, why in the hell do you make it so that people in the same household can't even play together without buying more hardware than they need?  The company line is that it would make the game unfair due to some people having an advantage over others.  I do not know what the fu*k that means, not at all.  A headset for the PS3 is fairly cheap, as is a headset for a PC.  The PS3 can provide voice chat, Ventrilo provides voice chat.  The PS3 can map abilities to different buttons, and if the programmers did their jobs right the PC can do the same but be limited to the same number as the PS3.  So, exactly who has the advantage, and where is it?  No idea, but if I can't play with my wife and my roommate, then that's a really big drawback.

Overall, I like the game.  There is a lot of fun to be had here, but in it's current state I am not certain that paying to play it is viable.  Depending on when content is scheduled to be released, it may become worth it even before my trial is complete, but given that it takes a long time to develop new areas and new scenarios, I do not believe this will happen right around the corner.  It takes WoW about a year between expansions, and they've been doing this a while.  Oh, and for the record, this game has a buttload of potential, but in it's current version it is most definitely NOT a WoW killer.  I give it a solid 7 out of 10, subtracting a point for the low level cap, a point for not being able to play with my in-house homies, and a point for lacking customization in a title that really screams for it like no other.

One last thing:  Anyone interested can find me as Timbuctu on the 360, and Healthbane on the PS3.  Those are my overall gamer handles.  For "DC Universe," I'm found on the Relentless server as either Gutrend (hero) or CutieMcPretty (villain).  When I reinstate my WoW account, Gutrend is my main, a Skeletal Horde Tank, currently found on Kilrogg but changing realms whenever I get back to playing the title.  I have many other toons there as well, including Healthbane as a Horde Warlock, and Stalkress as an Alliance Rogue.

Until next time, gamerscore ho!

January 20, 2011

Here Comes The Nintendo 3DS

Well, we've all known it's been coming, we've seen Jimmy Fallon playing with it on his talk show, and the buzz has been gathering since last year:  Nintendo's glasses-free 3D hand-held system.  For those of you creaming for it, you only have to wait until March 27th to get your grubby little paws all over it, in black and blue, for a North American SRP of $249.99.  Not bad, considering they only announced it just about a year before the release date.  Let's take a look at what we know, and see whether the anticipation is warranted.

So, back on March 23rd, 2010, Nintendo made a press release.  It referenced the fact that they were in the process of creating a 3D gaming system that would require no glasses in order to get the full effect.  The process with which they do this is called autostereoscopy, and involves figuring out where the viewer's eyes are in order to send different images to each of them at the same time, producing a stereoscopic, or 3D, effect.  They've been at it for quite some time, since the Virtual Boy from way back in the 90s was meant to have this capability.  Unfortunately, production got rushed on the VB due to the interest in getting the Nintendo 64 to market, leaving the VB to collapse as one of Nintendo's rare commercial failures.  The March 23rd announcement was rushed itself, since leaks about the successor to the DS were starting to swirl around that time, with some analysts suggesting an E3 announcement and a late 2010 release date.

(A lot of people don't know this, but the Nintendo GameCube is a fully functional 3D displaying system, however there was only one title made for it that utilized this technology, "Luigi's Mansion."  Each and every GameCube sold has the ability to display true stereoscopic 3D, but since 3D televisions and displays weren't around, and the cost of making and selling one would have been through the roof for consumers at that time, that function of the system was never enabled.)

At E3, the unveiling was met with high anticipation.  When the system was revealed on June 15th, 2010, the buzz was centred on the fact that not only could it do 3D, but the graphics and processing power could equal that of the 360 and PS3.  Titles were also announced that day, with  "Kingdom Hearts," "Final Fantasy," "Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater 3D," and "Assassin's Creed: Lost Legacy" among them.  Other Nintendo titles were released after the conference, including "Mario Kart 3DS," and remakes of "Starfox 64" and "Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time."  I personally am getting tired of playing old Nintendo titles over and over again on different systems, especially when the company provides no place for consumers to request titles to be given a chance to shine on the Virtual Console for the Wii, but I digress.

On September 29th, 2010, it was announced that the Japanese release date would be February 26th, 2011, for 25,000 yen, with the rest of the world expecting March 2011 dates.  On this date, it was also announced that the system would have it's own Virtual Console incorporating older hand-held titles, and would include a Mii Studio, comparable to the Mii Channel found on the Wii.  This year, on January 19th, the latest news came out about the other world premiere dates, the prices, and the fact that the system will also allow users to watch movies on it.

The final tally of everything it does is as follows:  Augmented Reality (games that come with the system that allow users to interact with paper pieces that the system will recognize), Backward Compatibility with DS software, a Virtual Console service (providing Game Boy and Game Boy Colour titles), StreetPass and SpotPass modes (multiplayer functionality which also allows for background seeking of WiFi hot spots and can download updates and such whenever near one; also allows for innate connectivity between systems), 3D movies, and the Mii Studio.  System is also capable of taking 3D photos with its dual-camera system, and an included charger allows for speedier uploads and downloads when the system is resting in it.

All told, for $249.99, that sounds like a pretty good buy to me.  It appears that 3D is now something more than a fad, and in the coming years it will likely become the norm, though very slowly in most cases.  Nintendo is poised to jump all over that market early, and even though the iPhone and iPod Touch also have this technology, it appears that Nintendo will have the only game-focused system out there for a little while.  We've seen what even a year's lead can do for the sales and library for a system (I refer to the 360's lead over the PS3 and Wii in North American markets), so it'll be interesting to see what Nintendo does with it's head start.

Until next time, Gamerscore ho!

January 19, 2011

Little Big Planet 2

I've played a lot of games over the course of my life.  Since the 80s, I've avidly thrown literally hundreds of titles into tens of systems, blowing thousands of dollars at gaming stores.  I'm mentioning this to state a simple fact:  I have a lot of experience with old games that I can compare new games to.  That being said, I really loved "Little Big Planet."

The title took things in a direction that I felt was completely unique for the first time in a LONG time.  Sackboy, your in-game avatar, was new in his simplicity, the 3-D while still being 2-D gameplay was an innovation (in the sense of how you could manipulate it), and the ability to create your own levels and distribute them for the world to play was revolutionary.  This was taking an online community into a whole new dimension, with people spending many hours creating and tweaking in order to produce a level purely for other people's enjoyment, with no financial reward at the end of the rainbow.  In that sense, society in general hasn't been that generous with their time since, well, forever.

I personally don't play the title that often anymore.  I got to the point where the difficulty of some of the original levels that comprise the storyline which shipped with the game was not in line with what I wanted to be playing with this title, and as a result I kind of gave up trying to reach the end.  Those of you familiar with the title will understand when I mention the Ninjamaster Castle levels.  Those rotating and moving grab points to climb the towers just put me off the game, but I still look occasionally to see new player-created levels, and enjoy that.  Then, I got my hands on the demo for "Little Big Planet 2."

My excitement for this title stems more from the kind of incredible gameplay that people will be able to create with the game than with anything the game itself contains.  Yes, it is interesting that Sackboy can control new vehicles, it is thrilling that he has a grappling hook that can help him get to hard to reach places, it is wonderful that the environment has changed to provide more interesting ways to get from point A to point B...the gameplay was innovative the first time around, but this time it is just background noise.  No, it is going to be all about creating levels, mark my words.

If you've take a look at the trailer for the game, or downloaded the demo yourself, you've seen where the future of the title lies.  The remarkable number of variations upon the main theme that can be produced by deft manipulation of the Create-A-Level controls will become the biggest selling point this game has to offer, and rightly so.  Add that to the fact that each and every player-made level from the first title will still be available and playable here, and it is clear to see that Media Molecule knows that their sequel is less a chance to run Sackboy through his new paces, and more of a toybox for everyone to build with.

In that sense, "Little Big Planet 2" might just be Game Of The Year for 2011.  Until next time, gamerscore, ho!

"Little Big Planet 2" released in North America on January 18th.

January 17, 2011

Call Of Duty: Black Ops - Part Two

Morning gamers!  This is the continuation of the post from yesterday, as if you couldn't tell by the title.  Here I will be discussing where CoD is heading from here, and some of the other multiplayer modes found in the game.

Picking up from where I left off, "CoD: Black Ops" is, in my mind, the best FPS multiplayer game available on the market today.  Forget "Halo," this is where it's at.  I know I'll probably catch some flack from "Halo" fanboys, but that doesn't make me wrong.  It can truly be said that where "CoD: Modern Warfare 2" got it wrong, "Black Ops" came along and not only fixed it, but improved upon it tenfold.  Let's break this down.

"MW2" had a few big problems, the biggest of which was the connectivity issue.  There were literally over a hundred times my housemate Scott and I would form a party, attempt to join a game together, and have one or the other of us dropped when either entering the lobby or joining the session.  Keep in mind, this is with two 360s in the same room using the same router and the same internet connection!  How the hell do you justify that?  This was due to some inefficiency at Infinity Ward's end, with their new 'use a player as a server instead of our servers' method of running the multiplayer hosting.  They obviously didn't work out the bugs, but I don't blame Infinity Ward in the slightest.  No, I blame Activision, for rushing the game out by a set date rather than delivering a quality game when it was actually ready to be released.  Infinity Ward has been quite vocal about this situation, and I'm sure the fact that the creators of the software developer being fired by Activision after being so vocal had a lot to do with it never getting fixed.

Another huge problem, which actually did get fixed, was the Javelin glitch.  This glitch allowed players to explode upon death while using the rocket launcher in multiplayer mode, and ruined many a game when even one person was using it.  This glitch alone ruined accurate win/loss stats, as people would immediately leave a game upon spotting someone doing it, and made the multiplayer virtually unplayable until the glitch was patched.  Laughably, Robert Bowling, IW's Spokesman, said this glitch only affected maybe 1% of the players online.  What a crock.  If that's truly the case, then I must have been almost all of that 1% because I could barely play two games in a row without seeing the exploit for over two weeks.  The article quoting him saying that can be found here.  Keep in mind, this glitch shipped with the game.

Other glitches included, but were not limited to, being able to hide 'under' the maps and kill people while being totally impervious to damage, and a second exploit called the Infinite Care Package glitch.  This involved throwing down the smoke canister in order to summon your care package, and then climbing a wall-type object with the canister still in hand, somehow allowing the killstreak to reset the canister, allowing you to throw it again and again.  While it is true that this glitch too shipped with the game, I again blame Activision for not allowing IW to get it right before shoving it out the door.

"Black Ops" had only one problem as far as I am aware since it was released, and that is horrible connectivity issues with only certain game modes.  For example, I personally couldn't get into a Domination match to save my life for the first two weeks I had the game (day-and-date purchase for me), but CTF, FFA (Free-For-All, in which everyone is out for themselves only), Deathmatches (teams against teams, trying to hit a kill limit before the other team does)...no problems whatsoever.  They fixed that problem almost immediately, and there simply have been no problems since.  Huge improvement?  Yes and no.  Infinity Ward did patch the other glitches with the previous title, but the connectivity never did work well.  Thankfully, Treyarch heard and saw what happened and were able to incorporate any fixes needed before shipping the new game.

That leaves us with alternate modes.  The Treyarch titles have included, in the last three games, a Zombie Mode.  This pits players, either individually or with others, against an unending horde of Nazi Zombies.  Ignore the pretense, just go with it.  Attacking over the course of many levels, the zombies get stronger and faster with every level, and players earn money with every kill in order to open the area up larger (to find better defensive positions) and purchase better weapons and ammunition.  Great fun, and quite challenging, many people look forward to this mode as much as the rest of the game.  Treyarch probably could, and might want to seriously consider, release a title that was solely zombies in a CoD setting, no main campaign needed.  Something to think about, honestly.

However, on "Black Ops," Treyarch has gone even better than that!  They have included what are called Wager Matches, which allow you to gamble your CoD points against other players in a variety of different gamemodes, and Combat Training which allows single players to simulate multiplayer games.  Whether used as a substitute for online gaming (for example, by someone without a high-speed connection), or to get familiar with the maps, this provides a great way for new players to get involved in the multiplayer game and actually acquire some skill before slugging it out with the veterans.  I personally am using it to open every weapon, every attachment, every perk and item of equipment, and hone my loadouts to make me as efficient and successful in the multiplayer game as possible.  Remember, my gamertag is Timbuctu - come look me up.

So, suffice it to say that I really adore "CoD: Black Ops."  The question is where is the series going from here?  As I mentioned yesterday, a "Modern Warfare 3" is in the works, apparently at Infinity Ward, but there has been no official announcement.  The ongoing legal disputes between Activision and fired IW head honchos are affecting work on the title, and simply not much is known.  Rumours have been flying for almost a year as to what exactly the CoD franchise is going to become.  There have been suggestions that the whole game will become an MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online), with it becoming a pay-for-play title.  Others see the franchise ending where it is, but given the fact that the money being made by these titles is simply through the roof renders this particular rumour thin at best.  No, CoD will move forward, but we'll have to wait for news to become concrete before I will discuss it seriously.

For now, I'm going to go slaughter some campers hiding under the trees in Array.  Gamerscore, ho!

January 16, 2011

Call Of Duty: Black Ops - Part One

Recent gaming news has made me think I should discuss in depth the current best seller dominating the console-based FPS genre (First Person Shooter).  I of course am talking about "Call Of Duty: Black Ops."

There should be no surprise when I mention that, as usual, I am in possession of this title specifically for the X-Box 360, so don't anyone get too shocked.  Love the game, but sometimes hate the players, is a nutshell review, but I'm going to go in depth here to describe what I like, what I don't like, what I wish they would change, what I'm glad they did change, and whether it is overall an improvement upon it's predecessor.

First thing to be noted is that this isn't a typical CoD game.  It is a 'middle' title.  The main CoD games are made by Infinity Ward and distributed by Activision.  Interim titles are made by Treyarch, and this particular title is one of theirs.  "Black Ops" is their third CoD title, done between what are considered the main titles, and it is by far the best CoD game Treyarch has made.  However, my view is slanted, and I'll explain why in just a minute.  I'd like to give a little more background information first.

"Call Of Duty," for a long period, concentrated on World War II as the backdrop for their console/PC games.  This changed with the title "Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare."  Updating the series was a big risk, but one that paid off splendidly for Infinity Ward.  I personally, as has been noted in a previous post, joined the series at the second title, and loved the game, trekking through Germany, Russia and Africa as different soldiers and taking down the Nazis.  Killing Nazis, however, was not all the game was about.

There are two ways to play CoD, single player and multiplayer.  The single player campaign has you playing as multiple people across a wide storyline, with specific goals and checkpoints to get through.  Linear, without being 'on rails,' the titles start at level one, and progress straight to the end of the game.  How you kill your enemy, however, is totally up to you.  Multiplayer is a totally different way to play CoD, and while I first got into the series with CoD2, I only played multiplayer through what is called System Link, which allows consoles to link directly to each other, shutting out other players.  Playing CoD multiplayer with Scott, my best friend and 'brother from another mother,' is part of what got me through my father's death.  We never went fully online with it though, nor did we with CoD3, which was a Treyarch production.  CoD3 failed in the single player aspect too, mainly due to it being more 'on rails' than the game before it.  You had a grand view of a shattered city in front of you, for example, but only ONE path could get you moving forward.  CoD2, if in the same situation, would have multiple paths forward, even if the goal was the same, allowing for strategy.

So, it can be said that my first real foray into the online multiplayer aspect of the CoD series began with CoD4.  I missed the WWII backdrop, but loved the game anyway.  The single player campaign was good, but for me it became something else.  For me it was all about the multiplayer capability.  Since this title, I have been less and less about the single player campaigns, to the point that this discussion can't even involve the entirety of the current title, because I quite simply haven't had the inclination to finish it, achievement points or not!  And it pains me to say that!

My fixation on the multiplayer aspect can be traced to one simple variable, which is the ability to level up my character online.  As you progress in levels, you open up more weapons and perks, and also more challenges to aid you in levelling faster (as well as for bragging rights).  This first iteration only allowed for three of what are known as 'killstreaks,' a bonus attack method unlocked by getting a certain number of kills in a row without dying yourself.  In this game, you had a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) to show where enemies were on the map, air strikes, and attack helicopters.  These were unlocked at three, five and seven kills respectively.  Additionally, levelling up also opens up new game modes, such as Domination (teams need to capture and hold three objective flags, garnering points for each flag, with a score cap to aim for in order to win) and Capture The Flag (each team has a flag at their base and tries to grab the enemies' flag and get it to theirs without their flag being missing; usually three captures is the score cap).

The next Treyarch entry, "Call Of Duty: World At War," kept the same basics and did not improve on the multiplayer in any tangible way.  In fact, due to connectivity problems, which could apparently be fixed in a way I didn't personally discover until I was on to the next title, I played this online the least of any of the titles, even though it moved the series back to WWII.  The single player campaign was again a lesser story than the ones done by Infinity Ward, and though I did complete it I did not really go back to achieve much more than I had during the first playthrough.

Then we come to the two most recent titles in the series, "Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" by Infinity Ward, and "Call Of Duty: Black Ops" by Treyarch.  Here, I must say that the multiplayer took on a much more important role per title than the previous ones.  The changes made to the multiplayer experience with MW2 are enormous, and include (but are not limited to) different types of grenades, different weapon attachments, multiple killstreak combinations, and different equipment combinations.  Multiple online glitches, allowing for massive cheating, were found as well, and that put a distinct damper on the multiplayer aspect for quite a while.  This all changed even more with "Black Ops."

Simply put, with no obvious exaggeration, Treyarch did this one right.  After one patch, fixing some connectivity issues found upon release, this game is as close to a perfect multiplayer experience as has been created thus far in the CoD franchise.  The loadouts for your character are fully customizable, depending only upon your level to unlock weapons.  Once a weapon is available, you only have to purchase whatever attachments you wish and you are good to go.  The ability to do this is provided by a first in the CoD universe, a points system.  You are now not only gaining experience when you play, you also gather points in order to purchase the perks and equipment you want, whenever you want, so long as you are at the level required to gain access to them.  For example, while an item such as the red-dot sight on a weapon needed to be earned by getting a certain number of kills with that weapon in the previous title, here, if you have access to that weapon you can purchase the sight immediately upon buying the weapon.

One part of multiplayer that I did not mention until now is the Prestige System.  This has been around since the series departed from WWII as well, and allows someone to level up to the top, and then choose to reset their level to zero while gaining an icon showing other players that the Prestige Rank has been earned.  In MW2, this was added to by the myriad of callsigns and icons that you could unlock as you got challenges done and levelled up certain weapons, etc..  This too has been changed favourably in "Black Ops," allowing players to fully customize their weapons and their playercards (an identifying nameplate that tells others who you are) with images they create themselves from a wide variety of icons and backgrounds purchasable just as the weapons and perks are, with special icons added as the Prestige Rank climbs.

I'll take another post to describe how gameplay affects the multiplayer experience, as this post is already too long.  Additionally, I shall discuss the future of the franchise, what with legal decisions, delays, greed and the like possibly ruining this great title.  While there is a scheduled "Modern Warfare 3" for 2011, we'll see if it comes about in a way that people will even choose to buy it.  Overall, just know that while I haven't yet finished the single player campaign, "Black Ops" multiplayer mode makes this title the best of the CoD series to date, 'middle' title or not.  And to think, I haven't even touched upon Wager Matches, Combat Training or Zombie Mode yet!

Gamerscore, ho!

January 13, 2011

Big Vs. Small - World Of Warcraft And Big Fish Games

Afternoon, everyone!  If you are in North America, except Florida, it seems like we're all experiencing snow in one form or another no matter which State or Province you're in (even Hawaii has snow-capped mountains), so Happy Winter to you all!

I want to talk a bit about the large versus the small today.  Specifically, I want to discuss the current elephant in the room, "World of Warcraft" (or WoW), and a growing trend for small, bite-sized gaming, represented by my personal website of choice, Big Fish Games.  There are pluses and minuses to both of these names, and I want to describe them both a bit before getting down to brass tacks.

First off, we have WoW, arguably the biggest Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, or MMORPG, of all time.  Eclipses Everquest by a huge margin, and is the current online game to be playing if you are into the whole sword and sorcery thing.  The game itself consists of you controlling an avatar that you build from scratch, venturing out into this massive world in order to level up your character, abilities and weapons/armor in order to get involved in major story and quest lines, furthering the mythos of the game itself.  Make no mistake, there is an epic story being told here, but you need some form of dedication to the game in order to experience a great deal of it.  For those not interested in losing touch with their day-to-day lives, there is a robust economy to be played with, and many holiday-themed events to enjoy for characters of all levels.  The requirements for your computer do increase with each additional expansion to the game, but the monthly cost of pay-to-play is fairly reasonable.

Conversely, there is the Big Fish Games site, or BFG.  Here you can find tons of little games, with a pricing system mentioned earlier in a previous post (January 7th, 2011: Currently Playing).  The games are on average three to four hours in length, with some stand-outs in both directions.  All of the games can be bought at any time, day or night, and system requirements are at the low end of the spectrum and not expected to rise significantly over any given year.

There you have a very generalized idea of what we're putting into the ring today, to duke it out for our enjoyment.  We'll start off with dissecting the big boy first, then go after the little fish with a fine-toothed comb.

The good thing about WoW is that the monthly fee can buy you as much as the entire month of never going offline.  When I stopped playing, $14.95 was the monthly fee I was paying, but I can't remember if it was pre-authorized credit card payments or pay-as-you-go cards I was using for that price.  Suffice it to say that days got lost during the years I was active, often from six to eight hours at a time.  So, there is zero complaint regarding the price, and that's fair.  One movie at a theatre will run you over $10 just going alone and getting a small drink, so given the number of hours bought monthly on WoW it is a worthwhile entertainment expense.  The problem isn't found here.

Nor is the problem to be found with the diversity of the content provided.  There are ridiculous numbers of quests to go on, hundreds of little challenges to complete, and thousands of achievement points to rack up (remember the name of the blog folks, here is where it came from - well this and the 360, but I digress).  You can barter with the best of them in the Auction Houses by choosing a profession and making worthwhile trinkets to sell, and hunt for deals on better armor and weapons between quests.  There are tons of cities to explore, dungeons galore, and over thirty unique 'countries' to travel between.  Content is rich and robust, music is plentiful and engaging, Non-Player Characters (NPCs) are everywhere, and the world does indeed feel vibrant and alive.  Each expansion grows upon this core, adding new continents of material, new quests, new regions, new weapons, new creatures...the game just keeps getting more expansive and immersive with every year.  So, why, then, am I not currently a player?  Why have I closed my account for now, and am taking a year-and-a-half-plus long break?  Two reasons actually, and here they are...

Reason one, simply put, is that WoW accounts can be hacked.  Hacked hard.  Hacked and then sold out from under you.  Less than a week after I vowed I was going to stop playing, and mentioned it online to friends I had made whilst gaming, my account was taken over by someone who took each and every item, some of which I had taken over 80 days to accumulate (no exaggeration, that) and sold them to vendors for gold.  I contacted Blizzard, the makers of the game, and they apparently discovered that my account had indeed been hacked, and returned everything back to my characters.  I assume they did so anyway, because I haven't been back to check.  That is due to the second reason.

Reason two, just as simply put, is that I got sick of dealing with other people.  Within WoW you can become part of a guild, a group of apparently like-minded individuals who wish to quest together through some of the hardest content in the game, for the best equipment in the game, and who are supposedly willing to help you improve your game for the betterment of all the guildmates.  This is the idea of forming a guild, but don't you believe it.  I was in a guild, whose name and realm I will not be mentioning, whose sole reason for existence it seemed was to complain about people not helping others, and then go ahead without helping others themselves.  The last week I played, I spent hours trying to get people together in order to take a look at some content that had just been released in a patch the week before (a patch is when the company making the game gradually adds content in between major expansions, as a way of keeping players involved in furthering their characters and exploring new areas more than one big push per year), and never got close to entering the dungeon I was attempting to explore (for anyone interested, it was the Arena that was placed in Northrend, near all the jousting and such, back in September of 2009).  Simply put., the guild was pathetic, and having to deal with these people when I was playing was just depressing me more, so I took time off with the promise that when I return, and I will, I would move to a different realm to play with different people (realms are the names given servers, which are the computers running the game - by switching realms, it is possible to play with people from entirely different countries ie. when I go back, I wish to play on a European realm so that their schedules will suit when I wish to be playing, and give me more opportunities to get into the upper-end content areas).

The downside to all this is that, if you really want to get deeply into the storyline, and there are those who could care less, you really have to not only spend a good amount of time in the game, but you also have to be good enough to get involved in some of the most challenging aspects of the game world, and this means having people you can rely on at your side.  This I found lacking, and thus I split.  As I said, I'm an achievement whore, but even more importantly I want to get my money's worth out of a game, and by missing out on major plot points due to being unable to get into areas with the dregs I was playing with, I figured I'll take a break, get craving it again, and then tear back into it from a new angle.  I'll keep you posted when Gutrend the Warrior (read that as Tank) re-enters Azeroth.

On the other hand, we have BFG, and the upside to this is that hours need never be spent on any game purchased form this website.  Unfortunately, that's also one of the biggest drawbacks.  Don't get me wrong, right now I'm all about BFGs bite-sized games, but there is no multiplayer aspect to them (at least, in none of the over 100 I've demoed) and they are ultimately too short.  Each game comes with a free demo, and I can't count how many times I've bought the game based on a wonderful demo, only to be done the title less than an hour later.  That sucks, and even if I am buying them at the cheapest possible price, I still feel cheated about six times out of ten.  However, there are some real gems I've found amongst the titles.  "Gemini Lost" is a great title, set up for a sequel that many are clamouring for.  "Settlement: Colossus" is another great title, the forum for which is where I met a really great person I have great chats with through the website (you know who you are, Shasta24).  There are fun Match 3 games like "Cursed House," and fun life simulations like "Life Quest."

However, there is one last drawback to BFG, and that is the vast majority of their games turn out to be middle-of-the-road quality Hidden Object games, and it is only the few that really stand out in this over-populated field.  I still love the site, but I wish they'd expand just a little more as far as their selection of game titles.  BFG is not the only site that offers great but inexpensive games.  There are others out there; Alawar comes to mind.  These sites are increasing because the games are 'save anywhere,' not 'after another hour because we have to down this boss' types.  Bite-sized gaming for bite-sized lifestyles.  I love individual titles, but I'd rather spend ten hours instead of two, for my money.  And achievement points, don't forget the achievement points!

So who wins, the bruiser or the mouse?  Well, ultimately the gamer always wins when we have such diversity to choose from.  As for which one you prefer, it all comes down to investiture of time, and the less of it we have stretching our imaginative skills, the smaller the real world becomes.  Then again, I could be wrong, and the whole thing could just be some misguided ramble.  Either way, gamerscore ho!

January 10, 2011

Newer, Not Necessarily Better

Afternoon, gamers.  Hope everyone's day is going well.  I wanted to chat about something that has affected each and every videogame console out there, and that is the need to be at the cutting edge technologically.  When a new console hits the markets, the reports and stories are always covering the processor speed, the graphics capability, how many polygons this, how many audio channels that, and so forth.  Will it look more realistic?  Will it sound true to life, as it were?  Does it have games on disc or cartridge?  Can it play movies as well?  Is it internet-capable out of the box?  How many outputs?  What type of controller does it use?  Is it backward compatible?

These are the questions that always get asked about the systems, but there is one even more important question that never gets asked, and funnily enough it is the only question that actually matters at all:  Are the games fun?

When the PS3 released, everyone was talking about how much more realistic the graphics could be with this system over the Wii and the 360.  How much bigger the processor was.  And Blu-Ray built right in.  The problem they had at release, and it took over a year to change, was that the games sucked.  Sorry, all you PS3 fanboys, but if you are honest with yourselves, the games just simply were crap.  The PS3 had exactly one day-and-date title of any worth, "Resistance; Fall Of Man," and it isn't a bad title.  However, I'm sorry, but it really wasn't revolutionary either.  I waited until the PS3 came as a slimmer model before I bought mine, and one of the first titles I owned for the system was in fact this one.  It looked good, on my 48" HDTV, but to be honest, "Kameo" - an X-Box 360 day-and-date title - filled me with more awe graphically.  And please take note that the 360 released a full year before the PS3 did.  That means an entire year of technology passed, and nothing game-wise improved for first generation titles on competing systems.  If anything, it got worse.

Both systems had a "Need For Speed" title among their early discs, so that is comparing apples to different-shaped apples.  Additionally, there was at least one title that had come out during the first month of the 360's release, "Fight Night Round Three," which came out a year later with only graphical enhancements - no huge upgrade taking advantage of the PS3's anything.  What this simply says to me is that if you wanted to wait a year to play titles that others were already playing, by all means, hold out for the PS3 and be prepared to pay more than $100 more for that particular privilege.  For all it's hype, the PS3 didn't have a title that made the system worth buying for a very long time, with either the newest "Metal Gear Solid" or "God Of War" titles being the first system sellers they had...and it took until June of 2008 for the first title to release, and March 2010 for the second.  One could argue that for nearly two years, the PS3 wasn't a gaming system, but more a Blu-Ray player that might play games if they ever release something worth playing on it.  And if I can be perfectly candid about this, I don't think that they did such a great job with "God Of War 3" when it released either.  I can't speak for "Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns Of The Patriots," but I am a huge fan of the GoW series, and when playing the title, I think they made it look incredible graphically - so incredible that it totally ruins the game.  There are so many instances, during the earlier levels particularly, when I had absolutely no idea where to go next simply because the backgrounds were so intricate, so layered with stuff to look at, that the path was totally obscured.  I still have yet to finish the game, simply because I got tired of staring at the screen attempting to find my way, and couldn't determine if I had missed any secrets along the way.  Don't get me wrong, the cut-scenes are gorgeous.  The gameplay backgrounds give too much to be undesired for me.

Don't think that just because I started picking on the PS3 right off the top that I don't have stuff to say about the other two consoles in this seventh generation of gaming.  The X-Box 360, while my console of choice, has done more things wrong in the years since it released, but honestly none of it has been game-related as far as disc-based titles.  As far as their choice of early Live Arcade titles, there have been bad choices, and in another post I will outline them.  Of the four titles released day-and-date with this system, however, I have owned at one time or another every single one, and if I don't have it currently in my catalogue I am attempting to re-obtain it.  The titles were "Kameo," which I already mentioned, "Condemned," "Amped 3" and "Call Of Duty 2."  None of the titles grabbed me graphically as did "Kameo," but all had their selling points:  "Amped 3" is one of the strangest damn games I've played, not for the gameplay, but for the scenes unlocked between stages.  "Condemned" has a really dark, gritty, psychologically disturbing vibe to it, and while the sequel was wonderful, I'm still hoping for more.  Then there's "Call Of Duty 2."  Not much needs to be said, as it is a part of one of the two most well-known gaming franchises the world over (the other being "Halo").  All four of these titles are unique when placed together, all four are still fun to play...and that's the crux of the issue.  When I buy a system, I want to play fun games!  Right out of the box, not a year later!

Of the many Wii titles that released with the system, I'd have to say "Call Of Duty 3" would be the stand-out title, though everyone will say it is "The Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess."  The reason I chose CoD over Zelda is simply the fact that unlike a Nintendo-made game, CoD is meant to be played more like the other systems, and can be compared more equally than a title which relies on the system's gimmick.  I'm of course talking about the Nunchuk controller, the big 'innovation' that the Wii introduced to the world of gaming.  Like the more recently released Playstation Move, the Nunchuk simply requires that games be less inert, causing the player to do more than just sit around when playing the games.  This is great when doing a sports-related title, but becomes downright annoying when having to do certain sweeps of a sword to kill a creature with any degree of haste.  That could just be my own foible, and I'm not arguing that.  However, be reminded that I love the Kinect for the 360, and it requires a lot more interaction than any of the Wii titles.

Finally, when all is said and done, I think that even though I love my 360, have good times with my PS3, and enjoy the new re-makes of classic titles on the Wii, my expectations and hopes lie mainly in what could arguably be called the fourth home console of this generation, and that is the Virtual Console for the Wii.  If Nintendo does it right, and you can see that they really are trying, every title that was worth an ounce of effort to play from every Nintendo console that came before it will at some point be available on the Virtual Console.  From the old "Dragon Warrior" titles up through the likes of "Shining Force" and "Final Fantasy III," all of them can be had here, and more besides - a lot from other systems than Nintendo!  I'm waiting for a few specific ones myself, "SoulBlazer" particularly.  No matter what anyone says, when the graphics sucked the games had more depth than only the best of current generation titles offer.  Play the opera sequence from "Final Fantasy III," or the ending of the original (and still best) version of "Lunar: Sliver Star Story" from the Sega CD, and you'll know what I mean.  The games were harder then, but also had more heart.

So, if any game studio execs ever read this blog, and I'd like to hope that eventually someone of note will indeed do so, take away just one thing:  Without caring about a character, a protagonist who really matters, and a mission that in turn matters to them, all the graphics in the world won't hide the fact that the reviews will be less than stellar, the sales will under-perform, and the audience has the final say.  By that, I mean the PAYING audience, not the playing audience.  The paying audience are those of us in their 30s who have the desire to continue gaming and who know what they like since they've grown up with the maturation of the industry.  The playing audience is the people who expect a new Madden each and every year.  Sega listened to the playing audience instead of the paying audience one year, and the playing audience said they didn't want RPGs, they only wanted sports titles.  Sega listened to them; the Dreamcast was dead less than a year later.  And isn't it funny how, all of a sudden, the best Dreamcast titles are now starting to appear - where?  X-Box Live Arcade.  And none of them are sports-related.

Gamerscore, ho!

January 7, 2011

Currently Playing

Good morning/afternoon/evening all!  Thought I'd pop by and chat about what I'm currently hacking and slashing and puzzling my way through on my systems and PC these days, just to whet everyone's appetite for what's to come.  How about I start off with the PC, just to get that out of the way and then we can settle down to the meat of the meal, hmm?

Right now, I have a lot of time and energy invested in one particular website online.  I'm talking about Big Fish Games here, and I am extremely happy with their site.  Take note, I get nothing from them if you sign up; they don't even have a referral plan in place.  For the price of $6.99 US (keep in mind, Canadian cash is at par or greater at the moment) you get a game per month, with Daily Deals as low as $3 a game, weekly deals of $3.49, and a usual $7.49 for regular titles (down from $10.49 for non-members) and $14.99 for collector's editions (down from $20.99 for non-members) which always include bonus content, most also having an in-game walkthrough for the niggly bits.  Big Fish has a wide variety to choose from, from hidden object games (which is what my wife Andi was looking at the site on my behalf for) to match three games, to puzzle games, bubble popping games, adventure games, word, card, board...you name it, BFG has something for everyone!  There are certain titles I myself have purchased and recommend highly, and I will get into those on a BFG-centric post in the future.  Right now, I want to stick with what I'm looking at presently.

Also on PC, I am giving Starcraft II a spin.  As mentioned yesterday, I have been (and will sometime in the future again be) an avid WoW player (that's World of Warcraft, for all you virgins), but for now I am still taking a break.  I think about WoW a lot, but I'm not quite ready to jump back in the pool just yet.  The rest of my PC game playing is older titles, of the Doom, Quake, Blood variety, and again I shall cover those in another post.

That takes care of the PC side of things, let's get to the consoles.  As stated, I have all three major players, so we'll start with the one I use least and make our way to the powerhouse that gets daily play.

Now, this is going to surprise some, and be expected by others:  The system that gets used least often in this household is Nintendo's Wii.  Simply put, Nintendo has put out a gimmicky system, and they know it.  Why else would you be able to play one of the most highly anticipated and most recently released titles by using their famous 'nunchuk' controller as though it was an old-school controller?  I'm referring directly to Donkey Kong Country Returns.  Here we have a HUGE holiday release, 2010, November 21st, and it can be played without the gimmick that sells the system, that in fact the whole system is based around.  What does that say?  Well, it tells me that Nintendo knows they judged older players wrong.  Anyway, I have quite a few gripes with the Wii, but that's another post which WILL happen.  For now, let's look through the library here...Super Mario Galaxy, both one and two...New Super Mario Bros. Wii...Metroid Prime Trilogy...Metroid Other M...I think I see a pattern here!  These are all remakes and updates of older titles!  In fact, my Wii library consists of only one really unique title, and that's Disney's Epic Mickey.  That's why I don't play the Wii much - the best titles for the first real generation of gamers are all retro remakes.  We've been there, we've done that, why not give us something new that doesn't only appeal to new, young gamers.  We count too, you know!

Second most active system in the house is the PS3.  It actually gets more use as a Blu-Ray player, but that's a different blog entirely.  Here, again, I'm playing some retro stuff - the current game in the player is the Sly Cooper Collection!  By the way, Sucker Punch screwed up in their update of this title, and anyone who has played the new version of the first game through to the end of the swamp level will know EXACTLY what I'm talking about.  Moving on...love the Resistance titles, looking forward to inFamous 2, Uncharted series isn't bad...but when it comes right down to it, the focus of Sony's system has been pretty over quality.  The games look great, but play like crap.  Where's the depth?  Where's the character development?  Ah, well, future posts will take that subject head on.  For now, however, we'll just add that the Playstation Plus membership is worth its weight in gold to anyone who has been gaming for over a decade, and their Home service is slowly getting to the point where it is really worth digging in to...maybe sometime after the third year they'll decide it is no longer a beta test.

Also, the PS3 has some REALLY hot chicks in their premium wallpapers, and I hope they get more A.S.A.P..

Now, since those of you following closely are probably pretty good at deducing the process of elimination, it will be absolutely no surprise to note that the big daddy console in this household is the X-Box 360.  From here on in, it'll be the 360, no other form of address needed.  The only game system of the current generation that I purchased day-and-date (due to a shipping screw-up on EB's part with the Wii, and a total and utter disinterest in the PS3 until the price dropped considerably), the 360 has been my gaming workhorse for many a moon.  Not that there haven't been HUGE problems with the hardware, I admit it.  However, even through all of the red-light issues (and trust me, I'll try to keep that particular subject down to only one future post), this system has been the one to which the other two should be aiming their sights.  Larger library, deeper gameplay, solid graphics, DVD compatible out of the box (yes, the PS3 was Blu-Ray compatible out of the box, but when it came out exactly how many Blu-Ray titles were on the market?), and hands-free peripherals that actually change gaming (yes, I am in fact considering the Playstation Move...which, if you are honest, is a wireless version of the Wii's hardware.  The 360's Kinect is totally controller-free gaming, and it is going to change everything, wait and see).  Also, and this is a big one, they have done the online aspect right, from day one.  Yeah, I get tired of doing the conversion from money to Microsoft Points constantly, but I was grabbing stuff online the same day the console was released.  Bought my first Arcade titles that day too, and I still play them.

Currently getting play in my 360 are a wide variety, some old, some new.  We have a bunch of Kinect titles, almost every one released so far, so I'll get into more detail with them another time.  I'm hardcore into Call Of Duty - Black Ops multiplayer, fooling around with Red Dead Redemption - Undead Nightmare, kicking it (kinda) old school with The Elder Scrolls IV - Oblivion (and how much do all RPG players wish it was November 1st already?), and still noodling with Red Faction: Guerrilla.  There are others getting regular play, like The Sims 3, Civilization: Revolution, Fable III and Fallout: New Vegas.

All of the titles I have mentioned throughout this post can be purchased by following the links to Amazon that I have provided.  I'll be digging deeper into my libraries of titles for all the systems I play in the near future, but this should hold you all for now.  Oh, almost forgot - if you are looknig for me online, for any of the three systems, your best bet is to check for me under the gamertag of Timbuctu.

I'll be back in the near future with more about what I play, and I'll even give a bit of history as to how I got to be the achievement whore that I have become.  If any of you have topics you'd like me to cover, just let me know either by commenting or following the links in the previous post to get to me.  Otherwise, it's time for me to go grab some more achievements!  Gamerscore, ho!

January 6, 2011

Welcome To The Diary

Greetings all.  First, I need to get something off my chest...as you can probably tell by the title of the blog, I am an achievement whore.  This means, in no uncertain terms, that I am one of those people who will do really stupid-tough-insane things in a video game in order to grab those few extra points to add to my Gamerscore.  It is a sickness, one which I nurture regularly, and on these pages I will describe my ongoing attempts to reach for the stars.  I will also be discussing my video game history along the way, and hopefully you'll find some tips and tricks along the way.

For now, a little about me.  I started my gaming lifestyle with the Nintendo Entertainment System, way back in the 80s.  I have had myriad systems through the years, most of which I still own and have in working order, and I am currently looking down the barrel of my 40th birthday.  I have owned popular systems, I have owned popular titles, and I have played them to death.  I currently am in possession of all of the big three:  the 360, the PS3 and the Wii.  I don't play all three each and every day, but all three are in use very regularly.

I also do some gaming on the PC, and am an ex-World Of Warcraft player.  I have suspended my account due to in-game politics and phishing schemes, but am strongly considering returning to the game in the near future.  The latest game expansion, Cataclysm, is only a small part of my wanting to return.  The main reason I left ultimately came down to being in a guild that didn't support its members the way a true guild should, and with all the in-fighting going on, I just chose to hang up my sword and shield for a while.  When I do return, the first thing I will be doing is switching realms, so that I may play with different people on a schedule that more closely suits mine.  More on that in future posts.

So, hopefully this will whet your appetite for more information.  No worries, it will be coming, gradually and in large chunks.  If you have questions or comments, feel free to write me.  You can either comment below, or e-mail me here.  Also, you can follow me on Twitter, here.  I'm also not adverse to giving out help to achieve any and all of the achievements I've gathered, so feel free to request help as well.  You'll have a clearer picture of what exactly I play in the near future, and I will link my 360 Gamercard through the site as well.

For now, happy gaming, and I'll be back soon.  Gamerscore, ho!