Archive for bullshit

Fable 3

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 2, 2013 by caseystorton

Image-Allow me to preface the following entry by saying that I would most likely never have played Fable 3 had it not been free to Xbox Live gold members recently. That said, I stopped paying for Gold almost a year ago, so I used some other trickery to get the free game by other means. 

-The game starts you off having to choose whether to play as a man or a woman. Ever since the hilarious opportunity playing as a female afforded me in Fallout New Vegas, I’ve always chosen a female character in RPGs on the off-chance that the designers decided to leave a present for players that took the road less traveled. Anyway, after that you wake up from an apparently rough night of having sex with your dog (seriously, it kinda looks that way) and your butler kindly informers you that your brother, king of the land has been a massive jerk face for a while now. So after some slow, boring tutorials and walks around the castle, you escape with the butler and your old soldier friend. There’s some more bullshit later, but eventually you get to the meat of the game: earning the trust of influential people in the kingdom so you can raise an army to overthrow your brother. It’s not exactly riveting stuff, and the absence of any real characters other than your old friend Walter makes for a bland time to be had doing odd jobs for stupid villagers just to earn upgrade points.

Image-Now here’s where things start to suck. One of the more important aspects of an RPG in terms of immersion is the interface design. The player will never feel like the hero of Albion if they have to spend tons of time navigating ugly menus to try figuring out how to equip their new sword or change clothes or whatever. That said, Fable 3 might just have the worst interface I’ve ever seen. Rather than a simple menu system, Fable 3 has a “Sanctuary,” basically a room with different doors that represent your weapon stash, clothing stash, map, story progress, options menu, and Xbox live store. It’s a mess, and having to physically walk around in what is basically a 3D menu just feels stupid and clumsy.

Image-Then there’s the combat. Dear lord, the combat. Let’s pause for a bit and discuss the role that difficulty has on a game. A game needs to present at least a minor bit of challenge in order for the player to feel engaged. If a game is too easy, the player will feel as though the game is a waste of their time, more of a chore than an actual game, so to speak. With that said, Fable 3 might just be the easiest game I’ve ever played. In my  entire time playing, I never once died. Hell, I never even used a health potion, or any of those other weird potions that the games puts in to help you with the hilariously easy combat. Melee fighting is a load of shit, with overly defensive enemies not so much making the fight harder as much as drawing it out, so you’re left with guns and magic. Both guns and magic allow you to blast enemies from across the screen with unblockable attacks, and it makes combat feel more like an obligation than an enjoyable experience.

Image-One last thing that I need to mention. The system by which you earn money is the most hilariously exploitable thing I’ve played in a long time. Some background: after you get enough friends, you lead a daring assault on the castle to overthrow your brother. After destroying most of a town in the battle, your brother simple gives you control and lets you become ruler of Albion. Oh, by the way, this big evil monster thing will show up one year from today to destroy the kingdom, and I was acting like a dick so I could save money for an army to fight it off. Now you have to choose between spending the castle’s treasury on keeping people happy only to have them all die in a year, or breaking your promises and making life shit for another year so that you can save all of their lives. These two options are rather stupidly referred  to as “good” and “evil” respectively. That said, you can save everyone and still get the good ending. How, you may ask? Well, the best way to get money is to rent property and own stores which pay out to you every five minutes of real time. The countdown to apocalypse only ticks in between story missions, so basically buy all the best stores and houses, then leave the game running for several hours while you let the money pour on in. I mostly just did this to gain the satisfaction of giving a big fat middle finger to the designers that came up with this stupid “good and evil” nonsense.

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-Basically, Fable 3 is a massive waste of time. The story is dull, the combat is way too easy, and the overall execution can best be described as lazy. Even if it is still free, your time is too valuable to be wasted on something this pointless. 34/100

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Used games, DRM, and everything else, all my thoughts on the current state of the game industry

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2013 by caseystorton

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-I know I haven’t reviewed anything in a while, movies or games, but I just haven’t gotten to it. I still play games, and I still watch movies, I just don’t write about them as much I guess. I’ll try to get to the theater some time soon and review whatever I end up watching, but don’t hold your breath. Anyway, I’ve got an afternoon to kill, and some stuff I want to say. What follows is my own opinion coupled with arguments borrowed from other gaming journalists with much more experience than me (Jim Sterling, Grey Carter, Bob Chipman, among others). Anyway, let’s get started.

DRM

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-We’ll start with DRM, short for Digital Rights Management, a practice that more and more publishers are putting into place in order (hopefully) prevent people from illegally acquiring their games. While various forms of DRM have existed for quite some time as online activation codes and CD keys, recent years have seen the emergence of “Always on DRM.” In short, “Always on DRM” means that the player must have their system connected to the internet at all times in order to play the game with the DRM. It doesn’t take a genius to see the problems with this, and indeed, one need only cite Diablo 3 and the recent Sim City as examples of what happens with DRM backfires.

-The most alarming thing about DRM is that it may actually start becoming more commonplace. As of this writing, there is still a chance that the PS4 and Xbox One will have DRM in some capacity. Now, I’m sure nobody is even thinking about this, but I’ll mention it anyway. A next generation DRM console would hardly be the first time that a game company put something in a console specifically to keep the player in line. All the way back in 1991, three full years before I was born, the Super Nintendo included a special “lockout chip” that was meant to prevent players from using their console to play unlicensed games and illegal copies. The thing is, though, the lockout chip has no negative effects on anyone that just plays the console like a good person. The every-man that played legally purchased games on his legally purchased console was probably never explicitly aware that the lockout chip existed. It only served to hinder those that were attempting to play illegal games, which was never an issue for everyone else. DRM on the other hand is something that everyone has to deal with so that game companies can try to stop people from stealing games in a world where illegally obtaining digital media has never been easier.

-While they may not mean much harm by their actions, companies that implement always on DRM cripple gamers with unstable connections and put an unnecessarily heavy load on game servers.

Used Games

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-Here’s a little scapegoat that developers and publishers have recently been blaming for all of their problems. Gaming executives just love to tell you about how used games are killing their profits and don’t do the industry any good. Recently, an article published by one Ben Kuchera at Penny Arcade claims that the death of the used games market would actually be a good thing (http://www.penny-arcade.com/report/article/the-death-of-used-games-and-control-of-the-second-hand-market-could-be-the).  Ben seems to be under the impression that without used games, publishers would make more money, and therefore be able to charge less, citing examples Steam, where used games are not even mentioned, and prices are kept relatively low with daily sales. I wish this were the case. I really do. But the thing is: that won’t happen. That will NEVER happen. While there isn’t a whole lot to go off of, there are still real-world examples of such things not being true. Let’s take a look at Origin, EA’s overpriced, entirely pointless digital distribution service. They now have full control over every new game made by them that is released on PC. Nobody can buy them used. And guess what? They still charge $60 for new games. Activision’s Bobby Kotick has explicitly stated that games would be even more expensive than they are now if he was put in charge of universal pricing. So the thought that games would be cheaper in the absence of a used market is wishful thinking at best and dangerously incorrect speculation at worst.

-I’d also like to point out the demonetization of Game Stop as some sort of leech on the industry that drives profits down with it massive library of used games ripe for the picking. Quick question: do you know why Game Stop pushes pre-owned games so much? While it’s hard to know for sure, I speculate that it has a lot to do with the insanely small amount of money that game retailers make on the sale of new games. While I sources are conflicting, the general consensus is that out of the $60 you spend on a new game at Game Stop, the actual store will only see about $2 of that, with the rest going to the publishers. Basically, Game Stop needs to push used games because they’ve realized that they can’t run a store on such a small profit margin. Also, if publishers and developers wanted Game Stop dead so much, why are there so many “Game Stop Exclusive” pre-order deals for every major release these days? Publishers know that selling new games at Game Stop gets them a large amount of their money, so they try to add on whatever minimal effort gimmicks they can think of to try to entice people into buying their games. I can’t believe the hypocrisy of people that will simultaneously blame all of their problems on something that they then turn around and support in order to further their own goals.

-Let’s get back to Steam here for a moment. Yes, Steam is an example of a market where used products are non-existent, and yet games are kept relatively cheap and have constant mark-downs on prices. However, this isn’t because there is no competition, and thus more money to be had. Quite the contrary. Steam is cheap and accessible the way it is because it has competition in the form of GOG, GamersGate, Desura, Amazon, Origin, and numerous other private sites and distribution services that offer Steam’s same level of convenience that force each-other’s prices down by way of good old-fashioned competition.

The Xbox One

Image-Let’s take a break from anti-consumer bullshit for a moment and talk about what everyone on the internet has been talking about for the past week or so: Microsoft’s next console. I’ll try to keep this short, but here’s a brief rundown of what I got out of the Microsoft press conference last week. Granted, I was unable to watch said conference, as I was in class at the time, so the only way that I was able to get the information that was presented was by reading my Twitter feed. So yeah, the Xbox One does a lot of stuff that helps you use it to watch TV. Yay, how about some games?  Nope, now they’re talking about the new Kinect thing that needs to be on all the time and is always listening in. Alright, there’s no way anyone will hack these things and use them to spy on people, but whatever, games? Now they’re talking about the controller, and apparently Steven Spielberg is working on a Halo TV series. Okay, we’re getting there, now how about you at least mention some games? Now here’s some stuff about the new Call of Duty and FIFA games. Neat I guess, they aren’t exclusives, but they are games. Oh, I guess all the games are being shown at E3 next month. Well okay then, I guess that’s all? Yep, that’s all, you can go home now.

-Let’s talk about why the system they sold us at that event is a stupid idea. The whole internet on the TV and multitasking while watching TV and stuff? Yeah, there are smart-TVs with that kind of stuff already built in, and they don’t require you to have that big ‘ole rectangular monstrosity in the room. I know it really doesn’t matter what the console itself looks like, but that doesn’t mean it has to look like an early 90s VCR that doesn’t even have the excuse of a front-mounted clock. Also, the required Kinect thing is just a completely terrible idea. If it’s always listening to you all the time, couldn’t that be considered an invasion of privacy? Some people seem to think so, as there are already some Australian policy makers discussing the possibility of Microsoft having to register the Xbox One as a surveillance device before it can be sold in Australia. There’s one more thing I’d like to mention about the console, and it’s something that most people haven’t really thought about yet. Remember back at Sony’s PS4 conference when we knew the specs of the console right away? In that case, you may also realize that Microsoft didn’t really mention the specs of the console at the show, and people had to coax the information out of other Microsoft executives and PR reps after the show was over. Do you know why this is kind-of a big deal? You see, the PS4 conference wasn’t perfect, but they made it clear that while there are other neat features being implemented, the focus was still on marketing the PS4 as a video game console, hence why Sony made the specs so publicly known so that hardcore fans could salivate over all of the games that they could play on their new game console. Microsoft didn’t really see fit to make the specs widely known, because it is becoming increasingly apparent that playing games will just be a little part of what the Xbox One is supposed to do. It’s a TV hub, an entertainment center, a web browsing, and oh yeah, it plays games too. Technical specs don’t really matter in a TV provider, so why even bother including them in the big reveal of your new TV machine that also plays games?

Backwards Compatibility

Backwards-Compatibility

 

-One of my ever so gracious friends read this article in its original state, and said that I should add my thoughts on backwards compatibility into the mix. Well Anthony, that’s actually a really good idea, and a much more complex issue than people think it is, so let’s dive in.

-Just for the sake of clarity: the PS4 and Xbox One will NOT be backwards compatible with games for the PS3 and Xbox 360 respectively. However, the Nintendo Wii U is backwards compatible with Wii games. While this looks like a simple case of “why not?” there’s actually a lot that can go into implementing this kind of feature. For example: despite the fact that the PS3 used new CELL processor technology that made developing for it an entirely new experience, the first batch of consoles released were still capable of playing games for both the PS1 and PS2. Considering the unique architecture of the system, more parts needed to be added to allow for the emulation of older games, hence the bulky design of earlier models. While this did ultimately make the console more expensive, it did show that Sony was dedicated to making the system better for consumers. The Xbox 360 was a bit tricky. I don’t really know the specifics, but basically only some original Xbox games are playable on the 360, with more being made compatible by way of console updates. I’m still now quite sure how this worked or why compatibility was such an issue, but I know that early models were already made smaller than they should have been, which ultimately lead to the infamous “Red Ring of Death.” On the other hand, the Nintendo Wii came out of the box with full support for every single game released for the Nintendo Gamecube. They even had to physically alter the outside of the system in order to allow Gamecube controllers and memory cards, but they still made it work.

-Now that we’re caught up on past generations, let’s move on to next gen. Sure, it’s kind of a bummer that the PS4 isn’t backwards compatible with PS3 games, but they’ve already discussed a cheap, convenience streaming service that allows users access to digital copies of their old games for a small price. No work on how much exactly, but it’s nice to know that Sony is at least trying to make this work, and the CELL processor technology of the PS3 would make emulation a bit of a chore on a new console. The Xbox One on the other hand, doesn’t really appear to have much of an excuse. Sure, the switch to a Blu-ray drive likely adds another step to the process, but stand-alone Blu-ray players can run DVDs just fine, hell, they actually IMPROVE the quality of any DVD that’s being played on them. I’m not really seeing the problem with including backwards compatibility with the Xbox One, especially when Microsoft themselves boasted about how easy the console was to develop for, which leads me to assume that emulating a 360 would be easier than emulating a PS3.

-I’d like to stress, I’m no mechanical engineer. I don’t know much about the inner workings of a game console other than what I’ve read online/been told by other people. Backwards compatibility has never really been ubiquitous in the console gaming world, but it’s still very much a selling point of a console, and I really wish that companies cared more about it than they currently do.

Conclusion

Look, I honestly applaud anyone that read this whole thing. I spent way too long writing this, and I’m sure it’s riddled with typos, but I really just wanted to get my thoughts out there. Considering the thought process of most game companies is shifting from “what can I do to make this experience more fun?” to “what kind of annoying bullshit can I get away with while still securing a sale from loyal fans?” I’m glad I have my gaming laptop and Steam library to remind me that all hope is not lost for medium of video games.

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