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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Rant: Lines in the (virtual) Sand

MW3 vs. Battlefield 3... Diablo III vs. Torchlight 2... WoW vs. Every other MMO...

Why is it that so many gamers these days are so one-sided when it comes to games in the same genre?  Anyone who paid attention to comments on gaming stories about MW3 or Battlefield 3 prior to release (and even sometimes now) knows what I'm talking about. 

Apparently, according to the majority of those comments, if you're a true gamer, you can only play one game from any given genre at a time.  I've played both, Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 (although not as much BF3 due to time constraints), and guess what... They're both pretty darn good games.  Determining which is "better", in my opinion, comes down to nothing more than personal preference.  MW3 and BF3 are two completely different games, that both excel and fail in certain ways.  Just because they're not the same though, does not mean that you can't play both.

The newest of these "rivalries" I've seen amongst game fans is between Diablo III and Torchlight 2.

I will throw the disclaimer out there that I am probably one of the biggest Diablo fans out there, and "excited" doesn't begin to accurately describe my anticipation for Diablo III in a couple weeks.  I have played the original Torchlight, and I'll be the first to say that it was an awesome game.  I also have no doubts that Torchlight 2 will be a pretty awesome game too.

Am I blaspheming against the gods at Blizzard and against the lord of terror himself by saying I plan on playing Diablo III and Torchlight 2?  No... I'm pretty sure I'm safe from being struck down by any retribution by the burning hells or the high heavens. 

After all, I did commit the ultimate gaming sin and played both MW3 and Battlefield... and I have yet to be taken out by snipers or tanks on my way to work.  If I wasn't struck down for that, I think I'm safe playing both Diablo and Torchlight.

Believe it or not, it's actually good for the industry if people play a variety of games, instead of one or the other.

I just don't understand why so many gamers get so uptight over the fact that someone else might like a game other than the one they personally are a bigger fan of.

I like both chocolate and vanilla ice-cream.  Some days, I'm in the mood for chocolate, other days vanilla.  To prepare myself for any potential cravings, I buy both flavors.  The world continues to turn, even though I bought two different flavors of the same food...  Shocking, I know.

I do not like strawberry ice-cream though... so I don't buy it.  Just because I don't like strawberry ice-cream, and prefer chocolate... that doesn't mean I'm going to hang out around the ice-cream freezer at the store and tell everyone who buys strawberry ice-cream how they fail at life.  I'm also not going to waste my time trying to "convince" them about how much better chocolate is than strawberry... because it really doesn't matter. 

The exact same concept applies to games.

Have you noticed this type of game-flaming?  Why does this type of flaming happen more with games than it does with other things?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Limited time only

First, a disclaimer...  This isn't the normal flavor for a post of mine... since it's been so long since my last post here, I seriously doubt anyone still reads this anyway.  If per chance anyone still checks it, I will once again be posting thoughts here again, but this will not be the normal tone going forward. 

I like to think of a personal blog as a person's own little corner of the interweb.  Sure, some have themes or topics, but that is because that is what they choose to put there.  While this blog has been primarily used for my opinions on things like music and video games (and still will be), it is still my little corner of the web.  If I need a place to vent, this is as good a place as any.

I've had a very rough few months which have resulted in some pretty drastic life changes (multiple deaths of friends and family members, a lost relationship, career changes, and relocation to name a few).  If something important in my life could change... it most likely did. 

This whole post is spawned from the plethora of funerals I've had to go to lately.  While that may sound like a depressing reason to blog... it has seriously gotten me thinking about things left unsaid.

I'll be the first to admit that I probably didn't handle some of the changes happening in my life as well as I could have, and I know I hurt some people and burned some bridges along the way. While I'm sorry for the mistakes I've made that have impacted important people in my life negatively, I don't live my life in regret for the mistakes I've made.  Do I wish I could have handled it differently to avoid hurting anyone?  Yes... but that didn't happen.  There is no changing it now.  I simply try to learn from my mistakes and hopefully try to make amends to the people I may have hurt, somehow. 

I've learned a lot about life in the last few months.  Probably the most jarring thing I've learned about life though, is that it is far too short to be lived in regret.

Here's to family and friends lost with things left unsaid, and to making amends to those still with us.

--Tim

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mongrr Metal Update 9/27/2011

Those who know me, know that I have made it no secret that I feel that Machine Head is one of the best metal bands around today, if not of all time. It is also no secret that I regard 2007's release The Blackening as one of the best metal bands of all time. Granted... that's only my opinion, but it's no coincidence that Metal Hammer magazine awarded The Blackening with their "Album of the Decade" award, as well as receiving multiple Grammy nominations.

Well... Today, is a day I've awaited for almost five years, because today, Machine Head released their seventh album. Entitled "Unto the Locust," this album was honestly like a refreshing slap in the face reminding me of pretty much every reason I adore Metal. In my opinion, this album is easily on par with The Blackening... which in the day of increasingly radio friendly melodicism that seems to haunt heavy metal bands, is increasingly rare to see a band match the ferocity of a previous album (especially when their last album was almost a half-decade ago).

Don't get me wrong... when listening to Unto the Locust, you can easily tell that Machine Head has evolved, and matured as a band... but in all the right ways. As I mentioned above, this album keeps all the raw ferocity of Blackening, but it sounds like it comes much more easily this time around, and not so forced. Keeping with their style, all the tracks are between five and nine minutes long, but I found myself not noticing the length because the tracks all flow so well.

Now... if you go on the interwebz and look at reviews for Unto the Locust you'll notice that many American reviewers rated this album negatively, whereas almost all the reviews from Europe gave it rave reviews. I'm honestly not sure why some of the American sites gave it the negative reviews they did, and I almost wonder if they listened to a different album than I did... because I am honestly blown away by it. I don't really know exactly how to convey how incredibly satisfied I am with this album. In a year where most of the "great" bands' releases (i.e. In Flames, Scar Symmetry, Soilwork...) have been either mediocre or downright letdowns, I am relieved that at least one of my favorite bands still remembers how to make decent Metal.

Seriously... if you are a fan of Metal and are looking for something new to listen to, check this album out. It is beyond epic.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mongrr Metal Update 7/27/2011


Five Finger Death Punch, has a new single that was released yesterday. You can stream it here. I really like this track. I have always liked FFDP, but I've always thought they were holding back a bit. The band seems to have a lot of talent, but it's almost like they're putting a throttle on it for mainstream media's sake.

I'm glad to see that with this single, and now that they've achieved a good measure of popularity, they're starting to let loose a little more. You can see Ivan Moody's Motograter side showing a bit with this track... and I think it's a step in the right direction.

For those of you who have never heard Motograter here's their most popular single...




COLD is also back together again, and released a new album since I updated last. The album is entitled Superfiction, and is more reminiscent of A Different Kind of Pain than it is of 13 Ways to Bleed on Stage... which, while disappointing (to me), wasn't unexpected. The album is decent, just a little slower than I was hoping for. I am glad that COLD is back together though, as they were at one point my favorite band (until they broke up). Scooter Ward, in my opinion, will always be one of the most talented and unique vocalists around.

I'll try to update more often going forward.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Video Game Developers, and Their Battle Against Used Games.

It should be no secret that the Video Game industry has become huge over the last decade. The last couple years have seen consumers spending more money on video games, than on movies... which was an unprecedented concept when video games first caught on.

With titles like World of Warcraft that has millions of monthly subscribers, to franchises like Call of Duty that have had releases that generate billions of dollars per title... it's easy to see that there is indeed money in video games.

Where there is money, there are people and corporations that are looking for ways to make more of it, while cutting their own costs, and trying to do better than their competitors. This is just the way business goes.

A good percentage of gamers out there have been to a place like Gamestop, E.B. Games, or even now Best Buy, where used (or "secondhand") games are traded and sold. Now, I'm not saying anything against buying used games or the places that sell them. While I usually like to buy the majority of my games new... Sometimes, I'm simply not willing to spend $60 on a game, and when that happens, I buy used. I'm also a lot more likely to take a risk on a game I've never heard of by spending $12 for it used, than I would be if it were new and had a $30 price tag. Since it's the age of sequels, chances are that if I like the game I spent $12 on now, I'll shell out more money for the sequel later. Used games have their niche in the market, and for many reasons, I think they're good for the industry.

I can also see the game developers' standpoint, and why they dislike used-game sales...

The issue that video game developers have with these "secondhand" game sales is that they do not profit from a consumer buying a used game nearly as much as they would if that consumer bought that same game new. Video games are not cheap to develop, and it's only fair that they want to be paid for the product they've developed. I agree, and feel that these developers, if they make a quality game, do deserve to be paid top-dollar for their efforts.

Due to this, we have seen these developers try and find new and creative ways to create value for the consumer for buying a game new, instead of used. Currently, the most popular means of rewarding consumers for buying new vs. used is in the form of downloadable content (DLC). This DLC content with new games is sometimes exclusive, meaning that if you don't buy the game new, there is no other means to get that content. Other times, the DLC is free if you buy the game new, but it is available to everyone, you just have to pay separately for the DLC if you buy the game used. Most of the time, these DLC's for buying new isn't anything game-breaking. Usually it's just a skin, or weapon... but nothing that would actually take any extra time to develop once the game is already made and all the assets are there.

Personally, I like the whole DLC motivation for buying new. It makes you feel like you're getting something "extra" for shelling out the extra bucks for getting it new. From a customer service standpoint, it's like the developers are saying "Thank You" for buying the game new, instead of buying it used. As a customer, I like feeling appreciated... it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

Other developers take it a little too far, and go in the opposite direction... Instead of adding something extra for buying new, they take features away.

For example, the new Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D for the 3DS that was released today, has other more "intrusive" ways to discourage consumers from buying the game used. This new installment in the Resident Evil saga does not allow you to erase your game data. There is a notice when you open the game, letting you know that once you start a game, there is no way to erase it. This means that if you were to buy the game used... you would not be able to start over from the beginning and unlock the content yourself, as a new player.

Now, to me, this seems like it would severely decrease the replay value of the game. I mean... I can't count how many times over the years I've deleted my Super Metroid save games and started fresh... simply because sometimes I find it fun just to completely start over fresh in a game. Capcom, who developed the new 3DS Resident Evil installment states that there will still be ways to replay stages to try and beat high scores, etc.... but in my opinion, it's just not the same. What if I wanted to let a friend borrow the game? What if I didn't like it and wanted to trade it in? You can bet that the trade-in value for this title will be next to nothing once people realize that it's pretty worthless to buy used. I just find this means of promoting "buying new" to be just a little too intrusive because it essentially tries to tell me how I can, and can't enjoy the product I purchased.

I also feel that while Capcom did call out the fact that you can't erase your data, it should have been called out on the outside of the packaging... instead of having to open the packaging in order to find that out. Most retailers will not allow returns on new video games if they've been opened, aside from exchanging it for the same title if the original was defective.

Unlike the warm-fuzzy "appreciated" feeling for buying new that the DLC's give me (as stated above), and instead of the developers saying "Thank You" for buying new... this method seems more like Capcom "punishing" customers for buying their product new. It's kind of like when you were in school and someone in the class did something that warranted a lost recess... but they wouldn't 'fess up so the teacher punished the whole class by taking away everyone's recess. If I were a customer, wanting to purchase this product (I don't have a 3DS), I would feel like Capcom is punishing me by restricting their product because of what other folks they don't like are doing.

Unlike being "thanked" for buying a product, this type of thing would just leave a bad taste in my mouth.

From my experience... it's always better to add a little something to make a customer feel appreciated and happy with their experience... than it is to take things away and make them feel under-appreciated.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

15 years ago today... the world "Quake"ed

Fifteen years ago today (6/22/1996) a FPS developed by id software was released. This FPS would set standards in the FPS genre like the use of 3D graphics, free-look mouse control, the use of lighting effects and ambient sound to create atmosphere, enemy A.I., online play, and others... that set the groundwork for the epic shooters we see on the market today.

All of these things that we expect out of an FPS today, have their roots stemming from one groundbreaking game... Quake.

At the time, everything about Quake was "new." Before Quake the only FPS title even truly on the map was the Doom series (also developed by id), and that was more for controversial reasons than due to the gameplay. Doom was good, don't get me wrong... but Quake was amazing, and in my opinion, put the first-person shooter as a genre on the map.

Pretty much everything about Quake was awesome... from the amazing 3D graphics (at the time) to the eerie soundtrack (which was composed by Trent Reznor, and produced by Nine Inch Nails).

Probably the biggest thing about Quake that is still felt in today's generation of FPS games, as well as other genres (and will not be going anywhere anytime soon) was the ability to play with your friends online. There were other FPS games prior to Quake that allowed for modem or LAN play... but anyone who's ever played the original Doom over a LAN, knows it never held a candle to Quake. The ability to free-look with the mouse alone made the multiplayer heads and shoulders above anything else on the market. The use of the internet as a means for people to play the game with other players though... really paved the way for your multiplayer oriented shooters of today like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Halo, etc..

There have also been rumors floating around that id is toying with the idea of re-booting the Quake series with a current-gen/next-gen remake. Personally, I think it would be pretty amazing to see the original Quake re-done using today's technology.

Quake had a few follow up games, but they did not follow the same plot-lines as the original. Don't get me wrong... the other Quake games were good (personally, Quake II is still one of my favorite FPS's out there)... but none of them were as eerie, atmospheric, or as ground-breaking as the original.

So... As the classic that is Quake turns 15, I feel a bit of nostalgia. I was 13 years old when the original Quake hit the shelves, and I remember spending many hours tying up the phone-line while I played over the modem with my buddies, and pissing off my parents and sisters... good times... And even though it's 15 years old, I still feel as though the gameplay is awesome enough that I could jump into a Deathmatch on the House of Cython map and still have a blast.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Review: Duke Nukem Forever

Whether you like or dislike the (very) long awaited Duke Nukem Forever all comes down to context. If you go into it with low expectations, you'll enjoy it far more than if you play it expecting CoD with strippers.

If you get the game, expecting a cutting edge, genre defining, standard setting epic FPS... you're going to be disappointed.

However... if you play it expecting nothing more than a sequel to 1996's Duke Nukem 3D that should have been released in 1997... you'll likely get more enjoyment out of it.

The fact is... everything about DNF is dated. It would have been standard setting and cutting edge 14 years ago. The fact is... it wasn't released 14 years ago, and simply can't hold a candle to today's modern shooters like Call of Duty, Crysis, Battlefield, Halo, etc..

Does this make Duke Nukem Forever a terrible game as some reviews are calling it? In my opinion.... no. If you liked its predecessor, Duke Nukem 3D, and are expecting a game very similar to it in terms of gameplay... you'll likely enjoy, at least a little bit, playing this sequel.

Just because the game was in development for more than 14 years, doesn't mean that it was developed with 14 years of FPS evolution taken into consideration. Most of those 14 years was due to the project getting scrapped, restarted, postponed, cancelled, then revived. Honestly... I'd be surprised if much actual development to the gameplay itself happened within the last 12 years.

Eye Candy: 6/10

While DNF's graphics are certainly not up to Call of Duty or Crysis standards... and they are certainly dated-looking, they were not as terrible as I was expecting them to be.

The graphics are not terrible to look at in my opinion. The biggest problem I have with them, and the biggest reason I didn't give it a higher rating is the backgrounds in the outdoor settings are terrible. When you first go outside in the first Vegas stage, I honestly thought I was playing the original from 1996. While this did give me a few warm-fuzzies of nostalgia... I can't say it says anything for this game's graphics.

The other issue I had with the graphics in DNF was the insane amount of texture pop-in that was used. I'm all for texture pop-in to reduce system requirements... but come on... this is essentially a 14 year-old game ported to a graphics engine that uses DirectX9. They could have found a way to make this game run smoothly on pretty much any post 2008 machine without the pop-in.

Polish: 4/10

Let's face it... the purchase of the Duke Nukem IP and release of DNF by Randy Pitchford at Gearbox was probably the single most genius thing a game development studio has done in the last few years. They took a pretty-much completed (albeit extremely dated) game, updated the graphics, added some modern-day references and easter eggs, and turned it into a sales-chart topping blockbuster with very minimal work on their own behalf.

You can tell that Gearbox did not put a whole lot of effort into this game, aside from updating what was already there. You can tell that this game was put together from the fragments of 14 years of being started, scrapped, and re-started again. The game simply doesn't flow well, at there are quite a few strange bugs here and there that really shouldn't be.

There are quite a few platforming sections in this game, which really don't play very well for a FPS. If they're going to make you do mario-type jumping maneuvers, they should at least make sure your character can actually jump that far first.

I played DNF on the PC, and honestly I had no issues with long load times. I have heard that if you play it on the Xbox 360 though, the load times are insanely long... which they really shouldn't be considering the game isn't all that advanced.

Control: 7/10

There really isn't a whole lot to say about the control in DNF. It plays like most FPS games, with added bits you can tell were ninja'ed from other shooters and added just to try and fit in with today's shooters. For example, Duke can "sprint" now, in sort of a Gears of War-ish type of way... which is in reality a bit awkward, but it's required to make some of the platforming jumps I mentioned above.

If you so choose to use it, DNF offers aim-assist like CoD and other shooters out today, but I found it wasn't really needed considering there usually are not that many enemies on the screen.

The controls for the little "bonus games" you can play in DNF, like air-hockey, pinball, etc., were a bit awkward the first time I did it. Once you get the hang of it though, they actually play pretty well. I probably spent about 30 mins just playing air-hockey with some NPC.

If you're familiar with how most current FPS games control, you should feel pretty comfortable with the controls in DNF.

Geek Factor: 6/10

One of the things that I feel made the 1996 Duke Nukem 3D so great was how much you could interact with Duke's surroundings. You could flush toilets, buy stuff from vending machines, tip strippers, etc..

In this regard, in my opinion, Duke Nukem Forever does not disappoint. You can do pretty much everything you could do in the original and more... which is how a sequel should be. This time around though, the game actually rewards you for interacting with the environment by increasing your life meter, or "ego" meter. Once you play through, you can see how many total possible things to interact with there were, and how many you missed so you can go back later and try to find them all if you wish.

Another thing about the original DN3D that I loved was Duke's one-liners. Duke says them more often this time around, and although some of them are pretty funny... they almost seem "forced." I'm glad they're there, but they just don't seem as well timed as in the original.

One of the coolest and most fun parts of DNF was the boss fights. For a FPS, I felt they were really creative and sometimes pretty challenging. Things like having to use a trampoline-like alien appendage on a wall to bounce a pipe-bomb behind a giant alien queen and explode it so she drops her guard is a whole lot more entertaining sometimes than running and gunning. Although there are a few bosses like that... overall, I found them enjoyable.

Redux: 5/10

I didn't bother trying the multi-player but I did see that it provided your standard types like Deathmatch, Team-Deathmatch, Capture the Flag (or "Capture the Babe" in Duke Nukem terms).

The biggest reason I feel that there is at least some replay value in DNF is trying to find everything you can interact with. As I said above, some of the "bonus games" are pretty entertaining. If you enjoyed the game playing it through once, you will likely enjoy playing it through again to try and find all the fun little interactive items in the game.

Overall, Duke Nukem Forever wasn't anything close to being the greatest FPS out there... but I did not expect it to be. As I said above, the key to liking or hating DNF is all in the context in which you are comparing it to. If you're comparing it to today's shooters, you're going to likely hate it. If you think of it as a sequel to the original, that should have been released 13-14 years ago... then you'll probably enjoy it.

Overall: 5.7 / 10

Also... I've read many reviews that slam on DNF for the "crude" content within the game. As a player/reviewer, who knew the premise behind Duke Nukem... and didn't expect that type of content in this game, I feel they were incredibly naive. Don't get me wrong... I'm not saying this type of content is good... I'm just saying it should have been expected in a game like Duke Nukem, and rating a game negatively because it was there when they should have gone into it expecting it really doesn't make sense. To me, that would be like rating a Saw movie negatively because there was torture and gore. It's all about context and expectations.

While I don't really feel that DNF is worth the $60 price tag... based on the reviews it has been getting, it won't be long before it hits the bargain bins. You can pick it up then and then I feel it's worth a play if you're a fan of the original.