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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.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hunted: The Demon's Forge 4/10

Hunted: The Demon's Forge is one of those games you see trailers for prior to release that makes you go "Wow... that game's gonna be EPIC!"

I mean... God of War meets Gears of War made for Co-op with a friend? Hell yeah, I mean as a fan of both of those styles of games... who wouldn't want in on something like that?

Unfortunately, after playing through it, Hunted left me going "Wow... what a disappointment... I can't believe I spent $60 on that."

To give credit where credit is due... Hunted wasn't all bad. The game was certainly fun at times. Unfortunately, the fun was so overshadowed by the many flaws and frustrations about the game that once we beat it, my exact thoughts were "Oh thank god we're done with that..."

That, in my opinion, is not a good reflection to have about a game after playing it through the first time.

Eye-Candy: 3/10

Hunted's graphics would not have been bad four years ago... but against today's standards where you have games like Crysis 2, and The Witcher 2 released before this game hit the shelves... there really is not an excuse for the graphics not being up to par. If this had been been released at the same time as the first Gears of War, the graphics would have been comparable... but today they are incredibly "old" looking.

In terms of color, Hunted's graphics would certainly be much more appealing if you're a huge fan of browns, tans, more browns, darker tans, and slightly darker browns and the occasional black and white scene. It seriously felt like the artists for Hunted only had three colors in their pallet. The game was atmospheric for about the first seven minutes of the game... and at that point I realized that they were never going to ever get more vibrant.

The game is rated "M" for graphic violence... but even the blood in the game was drab, and you hardly even noticed the dark brown blood against the slightly lighter brown backdrop that was pretty much the same throughout the game.

Even Hunted's outdoor scenes were drab, and made up of light light browns and tan colors. I realize this was probably an intended graphical style attempt at creating a specific atmosphere for the game... but in my opinion they missed that mark and only succeeded in making the game's graphics incredibly boring.

Also, the lighting in the game seemed to be "off." Not "off" in the sense that the lights were turned off literally and it was dark. "Off" in the sense that some places in the game were so Doom III-ishly dark even at the recommended brightness settings you needed to have a torch or fire-lit arrow to even barely see the walls in front of you. Whereas the next scene in the game (at the same brightness settings) might be so garishly bright that the speaking NPC's face would be nothing but a white blur with black eyes.

Polish: 2/10

Honestly, this game had me literally saying "Did this game's developers even bother to play their own game to see how annoying it is?"

There are so many little annoying bugs in this game it's almost sad, considering as stated above... this game had so much potential.

Things like running up a ramp and getting stuck in the terrain, your character not resurrecting your partner when they die because the icon simply doesn't pop-up in time, the game prioritizing the option to pick-up gold instead of giving the option to interact with a vital boss mechanic, etc.. All these little quirks (whether intended or not) not only made the game incredibly difficult to play, but also insanely frustrating.

There would be times where you have to interact with a wall to push it over, and you'd hit one button to go into the "pose" to push it down. Then you'd get hit by a mob and get pulled out of the "pose" to push down the wall. Once you kill the punk that hit you, there were times where the game simply would not allow you to interact with that wall again. This made some boss fights incredibly difficult, as well as frustrating.

In terms of the game's menu system, I found them very difficult to navigate and figure out what I needed to do to in order to get into a multi-player game. For being a game that's specifically designed to be played cooperatively with a friend... it is much more difficult to invite a friend into Hunted than any other Xbox360 game I have ever played.

Control: 4/10

Controlling your character in Hunted was not all that difficult, but the control was far from where today's game standards should have had it.

Some aspects of the control, like blocking, were incredibly sluggish. Whereas others, like drinking a potion, were so sensitive that you hold the button down for an extra nano-second and you drink all of your potions when you don't need to.

The game offered "cover" in areas to hide behind, in a Gears of War fashion that while a nice thought... usually didn't actually offer any cover. The enemies would be able to hit you just as easily if you were crouched behind a rock as if you were standing right in front of them. Due to the game's enemy mechanics not working with the cover mechanic, it simply made the cover an annoying piece of rock to interact with when you don't mean to... again making combat sometimes incredibly frustrating.

Geek Factor: 4/10

As stated above, Hunted had so much raw potential in terms of just how epic the game could have been... which made me even that much more disappointed when it turned out to be incredibly mediocre.

There were some moments playing the game that were legitimately fun. I personally thought a few of the puzzles were pretty cool, and the game certainly required you to utilize teamwork to get the job done.

The difficulty of the game was a bit of a problem. I enjoy challenging games, don't get me wrong... this game, even on the easiest difficulty setting, was at times "almost-throw-your-controller-at-your-TV-you're-so-pissed-off" frustrating. The final boss fight was far too difficult (in my opinion) for the easiest difficulty. The sheer amount of unavoidable damage being thrown out, and the annoyingly low chance to get extra potions from mobs made it frustrating to the point where it was no longer fun. If you like sheer RNG-based fights... that is certainly the boss-fight for you.

The inability to have any indication when a cut-scene would be triggered also made the game incredibly annoying... especially since it is meant to be played co-op with a friend. One person could be looking around for loot in the room after an epic battle, while the other player accidentally stumbles into a cut-scene and pulls both players to the next area.

Another annoying thing about the game that I mentioned briefly above was the fact that the game seemed to prioritize resurrecting your teammate last below literally everything else you could possibly do in the area.

Here is a pretty common scenario you'd see in Hunted: Your teammate falls and is rapidly bleeding out, and you're trying to press "B" to throw them a rez vial... the game comes up with: "press B" to pick up gold from a mile away, so you pick up the gold to get it off your screen...

Teammate's still dying, and you're frantically spamming "B" to try and rez them... The game thinks you should "press B" to swap weapons with some random crap weapon you don't need on the ground, so you move to an area clear of loot....

Teammate's still dying... Press "B" to duck behind a rock and take cover when there are no enemies alive in the area... your teammate dies because you took too long to rez them....

It is little things like this that made me wonder if the game's developers even bother to play their own game, so they could see just how frustrating and "un-fun" it was at times.

Redux: 7/10

Assuming you don't factor in the other issues with this game, if you actually enjoyed playing it through once, I could see how this game could have some replay value.

There are obviously multiple endings to the campaign, depending on what you do throughout (I only got one, and couldn't stand to play through again). There is also always the option to play it through as the opposite character, who plays completely different than the other.

The game also has a "Crucible" level editor to make your own maps. You unlock goodies in the Crucible by earning gold in the campaign. This is also a feature I didn't mess around much with, mainly because I didn't enjoy the game much. Like I said above though... if you enjoyed the campaign, and could overlook its flaws (which I couldn't), you'll likely enjoy the Crucible and the replay value it provides.

Overall Rating: 4/10

Video Game Reviews

One of my goals for this blog is to give my own personal review of video games.

Why would I want to do that? Mainly because I tend to read a lot of reviews for games, and while I don't feel that all review sites out there are bad... It's just that sometimes I tend to not agree with them. Or, even if I do agree with a review a gaming site/magazine gave a game... it may not always be for the same reasons given in those reviews.

That... and I just think that writing game reviews is a ton of fun.

Now... when I review a game (either PC or Xbox 360, and in the very rare case Wii... I don't do PS3) I will rate the game from 1-10 based upon the following categories:

Eye-Candy, which is graphics... plain and simple. I'll rate the game on how good (or bad) does the game look? Does it have any awesome graphical styles/features that I want to call out? Do the characters look like they could step out of the TV, or do they look like Pac-Man sprouted legs? etc.. This category is all about how easy (or hard) this game is on the eyes.

Polish, things that fall under this category would be the "technical" stuff about the game. Things like bugs/glitches (if any), load times, how smoothly the game runs, and how easy the menus are to navigate, etc.. If it sounds "technical" in regards to development... it'll probably be included in this.

Control. Do the characters/cars/tanks/other things you control in the game control so well you keep telling them to "get outta your head Charles..." or does it feel like it'd be easier to get your cat to go take a bubble bath than getting the game to do what you want?

Geek Factor, which is essentially how "fun" the game was. Is this entirely based on my own opinion? You bet. Will the number of "Holy $#!%" moments I have while playing the game have an impact on this rating? You better believe it. Can things from the other categories impact this rating? Absolutely, if I feel they impact the overall "fun" of the game. This category is all about my personal experience playing the game. If I had a blast playing it, it'll likely get a high rating. Since video games are meant to be fun, this category carries the most weight.

Redux, or in other words... the replay value of the game. Is there any reason for me to come back and play this game again after I beat it? Does it have a multi-player mode that keeps me coming back for more?

Unfortunately, I don't have the time to play every single game out there... so the reviews you see here will (obviously) be only for the games I actually play. Will you see reviews for many sports games here? Probably not, since I usually can't stand them.

I should have my first couple reviews up very soon.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mongrr Metal Update: 6/14/11

I have been away from blogging for a while... but hopefully it has once again become a regular thing. I figured, what better way to kick off a new blog than with an update of what I feel is significant in the world of metal...

Here it is... the return of the "Mongrr Metal Update."

First and foremost...

Since their 2007 release of The Blackening (which I consider to be one of the single best metal albums of all time), Machine Head is back on the radar with a digital download release of their first single for their new album. Machine Head's new album does not have an official album-title yet, but I do know it is being released on September 27th. Needless to say... I'm excited.



Also... I was lucky enough today to get my hands on the new In Flames album, Sounds of a Playground Fading. While I've only had the chance to listen to the album in its entirety once, it is clear that In Flames is continuing down the more melodic/more radio friendly road they've been heading down for the last couple albums.

While this is not necessarily a bad thing (the album certainly sounds good, don't get me wrong), sometimes it's just hard not to reminisce about epic thrash albums like Reroute to Remain and Colony. While this album sounds good, albums like Reroute to Remain were genre defining... and Sounds of a Playground Fading certainly is not.

I'll go more in depth with In Flames new album once I've had a chance to truly listen to it. Sounds of a Playground Fading is released here in the U.S. next week (6/21).