A Matter of Perception?

New EdenI’ve never been very big on playing PC games outside of MMORPGs because, as silly as it sounds, the experience just never seemed as appealing as plopping-down on the couch or as stable as gaming on a dedicated console. Why? Probably because the majority of my offline computer gaming is based entirely on the C:/run era of Mega Man X and such celebrated gems as Skunny the Squirrel.

But what does computer gaming have over consoles, anyway? It’s not like the graphics are THAT much different better! At least, that’s what I thought before this morning.

A few months ago, my girlfriend surprised me with a copy of BioShock Infinite because she’s cool like that. We were both completely enchanted by the original and there’s something about dystopian fiction that demands my attention. But when we fired it up and took our first few steps through the lighthouse, we couldn’t believe how ugly it looked! Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not talking about the art direction or style! The textures were terrible and it seemed as though we kept finding worse and worse immersion-murdering examples at every turn. If someone told us that Infinite was released before the BioShock, we would have believed them.

It was the technical limitation of the console that was holding the visuals back as I’m sure 2K had to make some sacrifices to balance resources between eye candy, framrate and all of the other backstage magic required to render an entire floating city. I understood completely, but I just couldn’t get interested in the setting or the story, stellar though I’m sure they are. And so BioShock Infinite sat unplayed, ceding playtime to The Last of Us and, oddly enough considering the circumstances, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

LighthouseA couple of weeks ago, I came home with a brand new Radeon HD 7950 because I wasn’t happy with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn running just fine. The GPU came with three free games: Tomb Raider, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon and you guessed it – BioShock Inifinite! But I didn’t install or play it until this morning, and when I did, I was blown away.

The differences between the console and PC versions are night and day. Columbia is gorgeous, the framerate is seamless, and suddenly that familiar sense of wonder that Rapture burst with is spilling out onto the streets.

I’ve always been a firm believer that graphics don’t make a game – mechanically, Infinite would be every bit as fun in either iteration – but they certainly enhance the experience. However, I don’t think the enhancement is intrinsic to the quality of graphics; I think it has very much to do with player perception of the game’s theme, setting, characters, etc. As I mentioned before, I have no problem playing (a slightly upscaled thanks to Wii U) Skyward Sword whatsoever, and in fact, I think the graphics a great! They fit so well with everything about Skyward Sword that in a way, I often forget they’re even there.

In Infinite’s case, my understanding and perception of the game left me disappointed that it did not meet my own visual expectations. You may have had a completely different experience.

Until now, of course. Which has me rethinking my attitude toward PC gaming entirely.

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The Secret World: Free to Play

secret-worldFUNCOM announced this morning that The Secret World is pay once, play forever effective immediately.

I’m not sure how I feel about the news just yet. To be honest, it took me by surprise. The inclusion of a cash shop at launch made it obvious that they would switch to this model eventually, but I thought they’d last much longer than five months.

I’ve been playing since closed beta, and I bought the lifetime subscription (aka the Grand Master Pack) as soon as the game went live. Apparently, Grand Masters will receive all of the same benefits that people who choose to continue paying a monthly subscription will enjoy, but we’ll get an extra 10% discount in the shop and $10 worth of FUNCOM points instead of $5. But it looks like we’ll still have to pay for new Issues, The Secret World’s major game updates, and I’m not too crazy about that.

I can’t help but feel a little burned.

At the same time, I’m excited to see the game slammed with players and receiving the recognition and publicity it deserves. More players means more PvP opportunities, shorter waits for dungeon groups and raids, and a gigantic pool of new recruits for our cabal, Occultus Curo. There’s also the tremendous influx of money coming FUNCOM’s way, and with it, the potential for better and more frequent content updates.

It’s silly, but I realize I only have reservations about this new business model because I felt like I was part of an exclusive club that has now flung its doors wide open to accept anyone on the street who cares to walk in. And that’s ignorant and bitter.

In the end, this is a brilliant play on FUNCOM’s part, and the future of The Secret World has never looked brighter. Or darker.

Either way, it’s good.

The Slim Jims

Two weekends ago, my girlfriend and I decided to have a few drinks while playing Halo 4.

We exhausted our supply pretty quickly, and made up our minds to brave the cold and hit the 7-Eleven across the street. On the way home, our bags filled with beer, Slim Jims, chips, and other goodies, we passed by the building of lofts adjacent to our own complex and heard people singing to music.

“I think someone’s playing Rock Band!” I told my girlfriend as she animatedly snooped around to find the source. Suddenly, she called into an open window.

“Hey! Are you guys playing Rock Band!?”
“Yeah!”
“I can take anyone in that game!”
“Oh, you’re good!? Well, come on in!”

She motioned for me to follow her, and wide-eyed, I did.

Inside, we were greeted by a crowd of people, drinks in hand and singing along to the music. We were approached by the woman I assume must have been hosting the party, and as she shook my hand an introduced herself, I apologized instantly for wearing sweatpants.

I felt entirely out-of-place and completely uncomfortable, but everyone welcomed us with smiles and waves, and when the hostess selected Bohemian Rhapsody as the next song, how could I not join in the singing? All of us belted the lyrics, banged our heads, swayed from side to side, and shared laughs when it was over.

One of the two gentlemen sitting by the window leapt to his feet and demanded that my girlfriend and I take the mic and the guitar to show everyone how it’s done, and everyone cheered us on until we took our places.

So there I was surrounded by total strangers, wearing a ragged pair of sweatpants and holding a bag of Slim Jims and chips as I sang Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab”. Well, I tried to. I only know the chorus.

When it was over, the crowd dubbed us “The Slim Jims” with cheers and applause before we passed-off our instruments, waved goodbye, and thanked the hostess.

On the walk home, we laughed at the thought of everyone waking up tomorrow, furrowing their brows and asking each other, “Did two total strangers come in here and sing last night…?”

The Fine Line

I play video games to have fun.

My girlfriend and I logged into The Secret World to run some Nightmare Dungeons this past Sunday morning. No one in our cabal was kicking around at 6am, so we jumped into a pick-up group.

Anyone who plays MMOs knows that you’re rolling the dice when you play with a PUG. We’ve had some annoyances in the past, but by and large, we’ve met some great people and have a high opinion of the TSW community as a result.

But this time was different.

Now, despite the fact that I’m end-game, I don’t know everything there is to know about The Secret World. I don’t crunch numbers, I don’t craft theories, I don’t min-max, or anything like that. I build decks that I enjoy playing, and TSW’s 500+ abilities ensures that I can play a role numerous ways and correct any deficiencies on the fly.

A particular DPS in our group was armed to the teeth with QL10.4 gear, The Secret World’s best. When he landed a monstrous critical hit on The Darkness War’s first boss, I lost aggro and we had to wipe.

“what the hell was that come on man”, he scoffed when we regrouped before sending me his own tank build entitled “REAL G SHIT TANK” and then rattling off a list of reasons why I suck. I’m always open to suggestions, so I added it to my collection and resolved to take a look at it later. But I knew what went wrong: I had to really lay on the aggro to keep him covered, and so I did.

When we got to the third boss, who uses an ability to break aggro, the DPS ate it again. “gay”, he opined with grace and tact. I realized he must have been getting frustrated; who wouldn’t? So I changed some things up, and the next few boss fights went off without a hitch.

In the meantime, he kept posting messages in group chat that were intended for his cabal between snarky comments:

“DPS really sucks,” he said, and then quickly added, “my* DPS really sucks”. Humility? Not this guy. Misstell.

Then out of nowhere, “a lot of cabals really hate me”. Can’t imagine why.

When we reached the final boss, my deck was nearly unrecognizable with abilities I’d never used before. After a few wipes, he asked, “landiien can you dps”. I told him, “I could, but it’s melee DPS… >.<“. “switch to dps,” he commanded.

A few moments went by while everyone altered their abilities, when suddenly he asked, “what the hell kind of group is this that use melee in NM dungeons”.

“Somone who usually plays as a tank,” my girlfriend responded, “Would you relax?”

I’ve cleared The Darkness War several times before this with the same deck I always use to tank. Up to that point, I’d done my best to understand his frustration, accept his suggestions, and to be as cordial as possible. The guy had managed to insult and ridicule everyone on the team, and had murdered the mood of an initially chatty group. Suddenly, I realized, I was working.

“Good luck,” I told the team, “I play this game to have fun. This isn’t that serious.”

And we left.

It doesn’t matter how good your gear is, how knowledgable you are, or even how skilled; when you’re playing with a group, it’s all about working together.

He could have been the best player in the entire game, but he still left that dungeon short on bullion and with a sixteen-hour timer before he could try it again.

Metacritique: Halo 4

Looking for some laughs? Look no further than Metacritic’s User Reviews!

Below, you’ll find the best (worst) negative AND positive Halo 4 user reviews on tap at Metacritic.com!

Score: 3

Whilst I have only played normal difficulty, fighting an elite in past halo games was an awesome challenge. Halo 4’s elites do not feel challenging or smart, as well as the other enemies, something that did not exist on the normal difficulty setting of other halo’s.

Well, if you’re not getting the challenge you want on Normal, there are TWO other difficulty settings.

Multiplayer is fun, but it’s not halo multiplayer – the ultimate thrill of halo multiplayer was never in a perks/ability system, but just in the fact it was halo…

The “ultimate thrill” definitely wasn’t the gameplay. In fact, I often joined multi-player games just to stand around because, hey – it’s Halo!

More plot holes than swiss cheese and it’s not even easy to follow.

Swiss Cheese needs new writers.

Going into the game all I wanted was the same old halo, but 343 in trying to do this actually made it the killer… they need to forget about recycling bungie halo and take some bold steps to make it their own in future titles.…

So more of the same, but different!

Score: 0

This doesn’t seem like a game for people who want to enjoy playing games it’s a marketing tool to advertise Mountain Dew’s and Doritio’s latest gunk they want to shove down your throats.

Yeah, I thought it was kind of weird when Master Chief climbed out of that cryochamber and pounded a bottle of Dew. I’m starting to get tired of Cortana talking through a mouth full of Doritos every time she pops into my HUD, too. Still, I can’t help shoving that gunk down my many throats.

…the dull and uninspiring levels that have been polished to the point I can smell the polish coming off it.

Good…?

Score: 0

Does the game deserve the score itself I have given? Of course not, and no game does, but it’s not really about that.

Reviews aren’t about reviewing, and no game deserves a zero, but this game gets a zero.

When you see so many “professional” reviews giving perfect scores to a game whose existence is embarrassing in the first place, you need to wonder what’s going on.

When so many people don’t share the same opinion that you have, they’re all wrong. Also, conspirators.

Like I said, it does not deserve a 0, but it does not deserve a high score either.

Too bad the rating scale consists of only 0 and 10.

…or the pressure to give an AAA title a good score regardless of its content… Halo 4 simply because it is an AAA title…

Does this guy actually read “AAA” as “ay-ay-ay”…?

And then there’s Cortana. First of all, for some reason they changed her appearance from reasonably respectable and well kept to a naked and chubby butterface, making it look like they tried to shoehorn sex appeal into the game, and failed miserably.

I have a feeling that because he used “chubby butterface” in the latter description, it’s safe to assume what he means by “reasonably respectable and well kept” in the former.

And this is all without mentioning the awful advertising campaign. You’ve probably seen the Doritos and Mountain Dew stuff floating around…

Every time there’s zero gravity, the screen is just lousy with the stuff. Look, none of that advertising affects your experience with the game. No one is following you home and shouting “Doritos” at random intervals while you play.

Videogames have gone from a simple past-time to something that is sponsored by food companies, shamelessly endorsed, and where AAA titles simply must have a near perfect score because it would be incomprehensible otherwise.

It’s still pretty simple. READ reviews.

Score: 0

Absolutely disgusting. Overall, the game is “Good” but in respect to it being a part of the Halo franchise? No. It’s an absolute shame to everything Bungie worked so hard to achieve.

The game is disgusting, but it’s good. It’s good, but zero.

And the Dewrito and Dubstep crap makes me want to vomit.

Again, I have to agree: The rave you bust-up with the Covenant snorting Dorito dust is shameless and tacky.

Not to mention how blatantly paid off the entirety of gaming journalism is. Really? I’ve played this game. It isn’t crap, but by all that is and ever was, it is NOT worthy of the praise and scores it is receiving.

So you think the reviews are bad for giving it great scores when it deserves, in your opinion, much less. And yet, you say it isn’t a bad game, but gave it the lowest score possible. Who can I trust to tell me what to think!?

Everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves for propagating the ruination of this industry.

If only everyone could be so open-minded and enlightened.

Score: 10

The best game of my life .
– Master Chief.
Awesome graphic band story
Halo: Behind the Music.
Thank you Microsoft , i love you All 383 industries
It shows…
Score: 10

All the negative reviews are CoD players who want **** games.

And all the journalists who gave it stellar reviews are corrupt! Or fanbois! What is it with gamers?

Seriously, you can’t buy a game JUST for multiplayer.

Seriously, you can. You can even buy a game JUST to use it as a coaster.

The story was amazing, if all you care about is multiplayer go play CoD, Halo is for serious people who are over the age of 13.

Halo is a bullet on my resume for that very reason. What does it matter? Play what you like to play and let everyone else do the same.

Score: 10

I don’t understand the negative reviews here, seems to be a lot of fanboys from the Call of Duty franchise trying to make this game look bad.

They’re probably getting a cut of the money that journalists get paid for fluffing reviews to get people to buy more junk like Mountain Dew and Doritos. It’s all coming together…

If you are on the fence about this game don’t be, it answers the questions you were looking for and more.

Because in life, we’re all just looking for questions.

Score: 10

Awesome game, great graphics, game play and so on!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
You’re just a few exclamation marks shy of convincing me.

Dust Complete!

As the credits started rolling on Dust: An Elysian Tail yesterday, I dropped the controller and shouted, “Thank. GAWD.”

Not because I didn’t enjoy the 18 hours spent slicing my way through to completion, but because I decided to do so on the Hardcore setting where a single hit will almost always kill you and where spikes, lava or any other environmental hazard will make your blood boil in frustration.

There’s a section in Cimmaron Caves with pockets of spikes on the ceiling and floor. Simple enough to navigate on their own, but not when there are giant poison-spewing bulbs laced throughout. I think I must have spent five hours watching Dust bounce around like a ragdoll into death. I’m pretty sure it took me longer to reload my save than it did to die.

There’s no aerial recovery in Dust: Any Elysian Tail. This means that if you take a hit from an enemy or, say, get splashed with posion juice, you’re going for a ride. Usually into spikes. I went through three Revival Stones on the final boss from just bouncing around in lava. At one point, I’d grabbed Gaius in that swanky mid-air dive-bomb and watched in abject horror as I plummitted for what seemed like an eternity directly into the river of hot death below.

Frustrating.

The combat is a lot of fun, but I quickly realized that the most effective way to dispatch enemies was to knock them into the air, perform a three-hit combo into dive-bomb, then repeat the process on any airborne baddies until none are left standing. I was disappointed to find that Dust doesn’t receive any new attack combos even though the combat never actually felt stale.

But those are really my only complaints! I loved that the game kept feeding me new abilities up to the very end, because even something as simple as double-jump breathed new life and avenues of exploration into the stages. It was great to see so many other indie characters hidden throughout, and solving the environmental puzzles to get to the numerous treasures was thrilling.

Dust is a great game, and I’m not going to caveat that with “considering its development” or “for an Xbox Live Arcade game”.

Dust: An Elysian Tail is a great game. Period.

Next, I think I’ll pay a visit to The Kid and see if we can’t set this calamity straight.

Classifying the Gamer

I stopped over at Wiiublog.com last night to see if a date had been set for the upcoming Miiverse-focused Nintendo Direct and found myself reading through the comments – always a treat.

That’s where I came across the term “Bro Gamer”. I thought I’d heard all of the seemingly countless classifications gamers apparently fall into, but this one was new to me.

So a quick google search lead me to Urban Dictionary.

The “Bro Gamer” is the player who is only interested in the latest Call of Duty or similar shooter, is fiercely loyal to (and only owns) Xbox 360, has an aversion to any game that isn’t a photorealistic powerhouse, and who claims to have had numerous intimate encounters with your mother.

People were quick to denounce the branded commenter, puffing out their chests, proudly proclaiming that they are “real gamers” who defy classification, and implying that they are above all others.

I don’t have to do much research to learn what a “real gamer” is. Based on the example conversations with a “Bro Gamer” on Urban Dictionary and the comments in the Wii U article, it’s not a stretch to assume that self-proclaimed “real gamers” are just snobs; they’re the same calibur of snob you’ll find in interest areas such as music, movies or books.

Some people prefer shooters.

Some people don’t care for racing games.

We all have different tastes and opinions, and none of them make us better or more enlightened than anyone else.

The Greatest Series I’ll Never Play

I’m cursed.

Years ago, I was following the upcoming release of Mass Effect with intense interest. I was on a deployment when the prequel novel, Mass Effect: Revelation, was published, but I still managed to get my hands on a copy and finish it two days later.

When Mass Effect finally launched, I just didn’t have the time to devote to it. So I put the controller down and vowed that I would return for a full playthrough when I could. But each time I picked it back up, I never seemed to make it very far beyond the initial Citadel visit. At first, I had numerous obligations and distractions to blame. Eventually, I started to get burned-out.

Then Mass Effect 2 came out.

Then Mass Effect 3.

With each release, friends and critics raved. “The first Mass Effect kinda sucks,” they’d confess, “Just start with Mass Effect 2! It has a comic that catches you up to speed and let’s you make the important decisions!” That would be the logical thing to do, right?

But I can’t. Why? Because I want to experience everything firsthand. Call me crazy, but I just can’t get over the feeling that blasting through a condensed version might cheapen the experience. How could the story still be as impactful? How would I make those critical decisions without getting to know the people and places that I’d be sending into danger? I have to finish Mass Effect first!

But I can’t. Why? Because the thought of playing through The Citadel for a sixth time makes my stomach turn. It takes hours to get through that first chunk of content, and I refuse skip a single side story or mission.

And so I’ve come to accept the fact that I’ll probably never play through the Mass Effect series.

Also, that I may be a snobby perfectionist.

Gamification at the End of the World

When I got home from work yesterday, I felt like crap.

Around 5:30 yesterday afternoon, I downed some Nyquil and crashed on the couch. My girlfriend tenderly woke me at 12:30 in the AM and passed me the Nyquil again. Another capful, and I was out cold.

I had a dream:

I was standing in a rundown warehouse with a large group of people wearing dirty, makeshift clothes who were strapped-up with guns and supplies. I got the feeling that I didn’t know anyone there, so I kept to myself and watched. Suddenly, a newcomer walked into the room and demanded everyone’s attention.

We all gathered around, and he began to break us all off into groups while passing-out what looked like eyeglass cases of varying colors to each one. He handed one to me last before walking back to the center of the room and explaining that each of the cases held a mission objective.

We would get one point for every zombie we killed in pursuit of the objective if we completed it in the time alloted, two points if we did it in half the time, and three points if we did it in a third of the time.

And then my alarm went off.

So, frantic, arcade-style co-op shooter? Or the foundation for quests in a zombie apocalypse MMOFPS?

Wii U and Achievements

I still can’t decide how I feel about the fact that Nintendo has no plans for an overarching achievement system on Wii U.

I don’t consider myself to be an achievement hunter. You won’t find me playing UNO or experiencing the latest Hannah Montana epic to boost my gamerscore or trophy count with low-hanging fruit – not that I have a problem with people who do this! But if I come across a title that I really enjoy, achievements are icing on the cake.

I was enthralled by Batman: Arkham Asylum, and the platinum trophy I earned is proof. When I finished that final challenge, I was able to step away from the game and reflect on the experience with pride.

Which is a nice way of saying that I dropped the controller, thrust my hands into the air and proclaimed, “I’m f*cking BATMAN”.

I was also completely in love with Super Mario Galaxy, but when I filled my pockets with every star in the game, I felt as though I had nothing to show for it. It didn’t diminish the fun I’d had throughout, yet the victory felt comparably hollow.

fig. 1-1: No big deal.

For better or worse, achievements and trophies have had an impact on the social aspects of gaming. Sure, they’re great for bragging rights (fig. 1-1), but it goes beyond that. Even in single-player games, their inclusion can make you feel as though you’re still connected because they show your friends what you’ve been playing and how far along you are.

In the past, Nintendo has caught a lot of flak for their unwillingness to incorporate the online flexibility that many consider to be a linchpin in modern gaming, but they’re beginning to come around. The 3DS is definitely much more progressive in that regard, and Reggie Fils-Aime has mentioned that Wii U’s mysterious Miiverse will bring new features to the table that PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 haven’t yet touched on.

I’m sure it’ll be charming, delightful and very uniquely Nintendo as always, but I can’t help but feel that as we move into the next generation of consoles, where the coming evolution of their competitors’ flagship consoles will only become more social and connected, Nintendo is dropping the ball by refusing to meet what could arguably be the standard gamers expect in an online suite.

But there’s still a lot we don’t know about Wii U, and I’m confident that Nintendo yet has some surprises up their collective sleeve.