In the schoolyard, in front of the TV, on the phone, arguing about what was the best "system" at the time permeated my childhood. "Super Nintendo can play better music than Genesis" would be countered with "Sonic will never be on a Nintendo system," or "Game Gear has a color screen, it's amazing!" It was a golden era for me in many ways: it introduced me to the idea that competition could fuel really good game design, that gaming interfaces can be unique and interesting, and that arguing can be fun and good for you.
In this spirit I embrace the next generation of platform battles. I don't want to speculate so much on each individual platform as contrast today's digital distribution trend with hardware-based platforms of yesteryear.
I will not tire of looking at those real cartridges on my bookshelves... the way the stickers peel a bit at the edge, or the gray plastic sometimes yellows with age. I have strong memories of riding in the car, a 45-minute drive from the nearest place that sold video games, reading the instruction booklet from front to back and imagining what the game would be like. Or renting a game at the local grocery store, hoping that their sole copy of Ocarina of Time would be there, in its plastic clamshell with photo-copied instruction booklet... or having to settle on Duke Nukem 64 again, wondering how far the last player got.
Yet I'm really not sure what the last physical game I bought was. It might have been Metal Gear Solid 4, for the PS3, or Super Mario Galaxy 2. I may be the exception, but I *wish* that those games would just have been downloadable; I wish that the Metal Gear Solid series was available thru Steam. I wish that Nintendo published their games to more platforms than just the Wii, and that the Wiimote interface wasn't mandatory. I would say that I know that's impossible, but hey - who would have ever expected Sonic to be a character in Super Smash Brothers?
I guess it's just that optical discs don't really do it for me the way that they used to. Even Playstation and Dreamcast and Xbox games I equate with as needing to purchase at the game store. At the time, I really did - broadband wasn't available in my area until 2003 or so, and even then, it wasn't the kind of broadband that's available now, for a reasonable price.
It wasn't like you could download Skyrim and a half dozen other games in an evening. But the thing is, you can do that now. And that rather negates the need for physical media.
Before I go any farther, I realize that there's still a need for physical games. I realize that not everyone has broadband or even if they do, it's still on the 160KB/s side of the spectrum, not the 1.6MB/s side. And even *with* the highest-speed available, it's still quicker to pop a copy of Skyrim in an Xbox 360 rather than downloading it on Steam.
Additionally, we can't fully discount the importance of hardware interfaces. Sure, plenty of games on the Xbox 360 and PS3 and the PC seem perfectly interchangeable, but there are those titles that are designed for motion control - no less than three, with the Wii, Kinect, and Move. I can't say they've impressed me much in their depth, but I don't see the major publishers dropping them any time soon. There's also touch-screens, and a whole world of gaming on the iOS and Android platforms. And we can't forget the DS and PSP. And even when a game isn't dependent on special controls, first-party games and other exclusives will continue to exist for the foreseeable future.
In a lot of instances, you do only need one platform to experience a multitude of games. Third-party publishers aren't stupid; there's no reason to limit your audience to single-console owners if you can release your game for a variety of platforms. I've definitely felt welcome to experience a large variety of games these past few years simply by owning a PC and using Steam as my main delivery platform. But even on the PC, a battle is ensuing: aside from Steam, there's Games for Windows Live, which seems to be the "inside" to Steam's "outside," EA's new Origin client their exclusive titles, and Blizzard, who doesn't seem to give a damn about what anyone else is doing. Although each of these delivery/community platforms is much more polished than our GameSpy clients of the past, the fact that I can't download Battlefield 3 on my "platform" of choice is irritating, or that certain games contain GfWL seemingly as DRM despite downloading it through Steam - there's definitely some growing pains, here.
Then there's in-browser gaming, not quite in its infancy but perhaps entering puberty, and shooting up like bamboo. There's loads of gaming happening over on Facebook, for people who would never touch a typical controller, and even games that run straight on Google Chrome, now - I never expected the likes of Bastion or Mini Ninjas to pop up so suddenly. And there's always Flash, and individual websites.
And then there's that other frontier of gaming processed server-side: with the OnLive platform, you theoretically never need to upgrade another piece of hardware or buy a new system again. I've never tried this, and I'm sure I'm not the only skeptical one, but apparently, when it works it is impressive. I'm sure there will only be more of this in the future.
Platforms within platforms within platforms - nowadays things are a lot more complex than simply choosing Nintendo over Sega, or Windows over Macintosh.
I'm sure, in the end, it will be money that decides what platforms - or types of platforms - survive and thrive. The good thing is, it's our money as gamers that makes the final decisions. So let's spend it wisely.
I couldn't figure out what was causing this. I've just installed a whole bunch of new computer components, so naturally I suspect my video card, or RAM, or CPU, even though other graphically-intense games have been running smoothly. While running GPU-Z to monitor my video card, I waited for the stutter to happen and found that a load is actually taken off of my GPU - it drops from almost 100% (yet stable, mind you) to somewhere in the 70% range. It's like DIRT3 is losing priority for a few moments. It happens with shocking regularity: usually once every 1-3 minutes, which translates to at least once per race, generally.
With a little investigation, I'm positive I've found the culprit.
Games for Windows Live. You know, Microsoft's Steam wanna-be. You've seen it, that ugly program overlay with the slidy animations, that you're forced to log into, and paste your serial code, and probably don't have any friends on. Games for Windows Live, which seems entirely pointless since I downloaded the game through Steam in the first place.
Wanna know how I could tell Games for Windows Live (hereafter GFWL) is at fault? It's very simple. I've logged out of the GFWL service and the problem instantly vanished. Just like that -- gone.
I don't know who's more at fault, here: Microsoft for the programming behind their crappy GFWL "service," or CodeMasters for whoring out their game to MS for no apparent reason and requiring that you be logged in to save any progress in DIRT3, or Microsoft for coding such a crappy, intrusive game overlay.
Let me repeat that in case you missed it.
You can not save your game in DIRT3 without being logged into GFWL.
What the hell.
Why is Games For Windows Live even in this game? It's available on freaking Steam! In fact, the main reason I have this game is because I received a code for a free copy with my new AMD video card. The code was validated through Steam. What a surprise when I found I had to log into GFWL... even after Steam booted the game.
I've heard tell that reinstalling the GFWL program can fix this problem. I'll keep ya updated. Reinstalling the "Windows Live ID Sign-in Assistant" did not help.
DIRT3 is a great game, with really really fun tight controls, challenging AI, beautiful levels, gorgeous menus, and loads of diversity. It's actually one of the best racing games I've played in years, and I've been surprised at how good it is. But no game should suffer artificially because of this crap. I don't know the truth of why GFWL is in this game at all, but my gut tells me it all comes down to money.
CodeMasters, next time, pass on the DRM koolaid, eh? Your game's already on Steam. Leave it at that.
... but I guess Google doesn't do so well with such long strings, still.
Really, though, hopefully nobody had any new computer build mishaps this holiday -- mine went shockingly well, at least after I trusted myself enough that I was putting my Cooler Master Hyper 212 heat sink on properly. I've never used an aftermarket heatsink before, and it's a monstrous thing, and I was terrified that I had butchered my CPU, as if the cracking sound of pushing the 1155 socket bar into place wasn't enough.
I'm not normally one to post a meandering post about goings-on in my gaming diet and otherwise, but I'm trying to stay awake in case my Sleep is Death preorder arrives some time before 4 AM. But I've just poured the remnants of the coffee I brewed at 6:30 this morning into my cup and we'll see where the night takes me.
Admittedly, I haven't put a whole lot of time into the new Mega Man 10 content. I had four dollars hanging out in my Wii account, so it was a no-brainer; I easily put a dozen hours into the game the week it was released. I actually like the DLC schedule for it - Mega Man 9's seemed to be released in about a month's time, but now MM10 has been out over a month and I'm still playing it.
Of course, Bass is rad. I've never actually played as him in any other game, so using Treble to fly around and messing about with the multi-directional shot is pretty darn fun. It certainly opens up some new possibilities for traversing the levels! I started a new Normal game, but didn't put too much effort into foraging ahead - I definitely want to complete a Hard file, but I don't know if I should just do it with the ol' Rockman or just try with Bass.
Special Stage 1 is hard. I like it. There are some dickish spike placements, but nothing a little trial-and-error can't solve. However, Enker is tough bones! Only the Mega Buster does damage (when he isn't absorbing it!) and he's a bit tough to avoid taking damage from. It also doesn't help that since you can only play Special Stage thru Time Trial mode, you don't get to retry directly from his antechamber, and of course there are no E-Tanks to be had. Still, a fun challenge.
My sleep schedule has been way crazy. Last week I was camp counseling for fifth graders for the first time in my life (we all have nature name pseudonyms - mine is "Rutabaga") and I apparently got into a rhythm of waking up at 7 and going to bed at 10 that carried over after camp. It's been years since I've got to bed at 10 PM, let alone any hour before 2 AM! It's a strange thing.
And the weather has been so outrageously nice for Pennsylvania's standards this time of year - most Aprils we're still coping with leftover snow and chilly weather, but it has been consistently in the 70's and even 80's for several weeks now. It's bizarre. But it's also given me a chance to spend a great deal of time outdoors (thusly not putting my Mega Man skills in high gear) - paying strict attention to the budding flowers and newly budding leaves, identifying a great deal of birds ... ah, the natural world is so wonderful.
Anyhoo, before I left for camp I was putting some solid work into Final Fantasy 12, a game that I never played previously. Watching a housemate play through the rather questionable FF 13 gave me a hankering for a solid RPG, and FF12 really suits me. Normally the slow, random battles of Final Fantasy give me a headache after a half dozen hours, but I'm really digging the semi-real-time battles of 12, especially as new mechanics are explored, like the gambits. It reminds me of the fun I had first playing Secret of Mana, adjusting the AI behavior of my party and the seamless transitions from exploration to battle. It's ... really a pretty fucking good game.
Of note might be the fact that I am emulating it! I have never tried emulating PS2 games before, assuming they would either be too glitchy or only high-end hardware would have a chance of running it. I totally underestimated the state of PS2 emulation! While it was quite clearly unplayable on my buddy's aging Radeon X800 + single-core CPU machine, it runs really damn well with my 8800GT and Core 2 Duo. Not exactly top of the line, but enough power that I haven't had any issues at all. There is very, very minor slowdown at times, but never to the point of frames being noticeably choppy - mostly the music just slows down in a strange way. It's almost unnoticeable without paying attention to audio. I'm not sure if I would trust it to play an action game like a Devil May Cry, but I'm still really, really impressed. And, of course, what better controller to use than a wireless Dual Shock 3?
(Disclaimer: I actually have a PS2, and I'll probably purchase a used copy of the game in the near future; it's just one more piece of hardware I don't feel like hooking up to play one game.)
Other quickie thoughts:
-Worms on the PS3 downloadable service is a pretty serviceable version of the game. It doesn't have as many weapons as "Worms 2 Armageddon" but it has a pretty balanced selection, complete with Holy Hand Grenade. It uses what appears to be the same engine as the Xbox games, but with some nifty graphical effects like lazily blowing leaves to subtly represent wind direction. I'm most impressed with the level generator - we keep encountering really interesting maps that are a lot of fun to play on. It's a totally worthwhile purchase.
-Where's Waldo for the iPhone is probably about as good as Wheres Waldo can get as a video game, especially for the price, and I never imagined I would find myself saying such things. It's nostalgic in a way. Fun to pass around.
-I'm really pumped to try Sleep is Death, especially after Anthony's "Doctor Who" storyline demo. Speaking of Doctor Who, I'm quite pleased with the new Doctor so far - and the new companion is awesome. Mr. Moffat's genius in storytelling is already apparent with her and the Doctor having a profoundly different relationship than any companions past. I can't wait for more. (I miss Tennant, of course - change is scary!)
-It really sucks that you can't purchase any increment of credit on the Wii downloadable service. I was very nearly about to purchase Cave Story - and I will, if only to support the developer, it's a fantastic game that I played thoroughly on the PC - but it costs $12, and I only had one dollar left in my account. $10 credit isn't enough to cover the bill, and I really can't afford to spend an extra nine bucks to add $20 to the account. I even scoured the emulated games to see if there was anything really worthwhile. I just find it really hard to bring myself to pay $5 for NES ROMs, especially when Steam always has fantastic deals on older games. Like, if I can get LOOM for $2 on Steam, why the fuck is Nintendo charging $5 for fucking Commodore 64 games? Why is there fixed pricing for every game on a system? Why are there never sales? WHY CAN'T I PUT $11 IN MY ACCOUNT TO BUY CAVE STORY AND NOT WASTE NINE BUCKS???
I think I feel sufficiently awake now to end this post.
Here in the woods of Central Pennsylvania, a little nature center known as Shaver's Creek celebrates their annual Maple Harvest Festival this weekend. As much as we may be an indoor culture nowadays, we clocked over 900 people Saturday and 600 and counting today - and about 5,000 pancakes each day, served with Grade A Maple Syrup.
Although I only stopped by today to hang out and see all the stations and grab the meal that I missed out the day before, on Saturday I was "Clarence", from 1850, with my hot wife "Martha" and "Neighbor Levi" and "Cousin Noah," manning the Cultural History station - complete with a cauldron of hot sap, stories about how the Native Americans discovered Maple sugaring, and a chance for kids to make their own Sumac spiles on an authentic shaving horse. I don't know how many times I told the story about Woksis:
"There was a Native American and his name was Woksis. He on a hunt of epic proportions, tracking an elusive goat - hatchet in hand, so close he could almost smell it. Then all of a sudden a storm did come overhead, a storm that lasted only five minutes, no more no less - but enough to wash away all the tracks and any hope old Woksis had of finding the goat on this day. Frustrated as you imagine he might be, he stuck his hatchet in the nearest tree and did sit down under it to take a nap. And he did have a most peculiar dream: that his wife, much like my own beautiful wife Martha here, cooked the day's meat in a most sugary water; and when he bit into that meat he found it so succulent and delicious he could not believe his taste buds. Then he did wake up to find that from where he stuck his hatchet in the tree, Maple sap was dripping onto his head and down his cheek. Thus HE discovered maple sugaring--"
Martha interjects: "Darlin', you do tell that story well, but you keep forgetting the most important part! -- it was his WIFE, who was collecting water in her pail, who saw her lazy husband napping under a tree, and saw this substance trickling down his cheek, and tasted it, and thought to collect it to cook the meat in - which he did not even have to bring home for dinner!"
(That usually garnered some chuckles. "Martha" was downright awesome as her character, bickering about with me all day long. We must have told this story - hell, 40 times over the course of five hours. Perhaps more.)
Not Martha. (All pictures here are from Sunday.)
Any-hoo, there was plenty more to be had at other stations:
"Tree ID" offered visitors a chance to inspect what makes trees different from one another, with magnifying glasses positioned over Sugar and Red Maple buds, fun ways for kids to tell the difference between Alternate and Opposite branching patterns, and took willing families into the woods to inspect some different trees.
The "Tapping" station gave a little history of various tools used to collect sap over the years, from Native Americans slashing the trees and collecting sap in a wooden trough, to early Sumac spiles (the pith burns right out with a hot poker! Perfect!) and metal buckets with lids, to current methods of thin metal spiles and tubing running into plastic jugs.
Finally, the "Sugar Shack" was up and running, demonstrating the evaporation equipment used nowadays to actually boil sap (which is only 2% sugar) down to syrup. There, too, there was a tasting table set up for folks to see if they can tell the difference between the real stuff and Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Buttersworth and Wal-Mart brand. I did provide some relief today at this station and was stunned at one girl's ability to name specifically every single sample - her mom said, "She's VERY particular about her syrup!"
Besides all this, there was reptile presentations going on in a classroom with snakes and turtles; folks wandering about the raptor center with owls on their arms for closer inspection; live music from local artists strewn all about; several folks leading bird walks on the trails - and, of course, all-you-can-eat pancakes. The number of volunteers - some manning stations as credit for classes, others helping cook and serve and clean, or guide traffic for parking, or other logistics - was astounding. Surely there were at least 60 people helping out each day.
I really have little reason to post this except for my pure excitement for the festival - if you're in the Central Pennsylvania area, you should make a point to visit! If not, heck, you should just get out there and visit your local nature center. There tend to be some fantastic people hanging around them.
As Margot demonstrates with six layers, it was pretty cold today.