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6:28 PM on 04.25.2011

Aaamaazing: Conflict: Desert WTF?

Conflict: Desert Storm. How many of you have played it? I hope every last person who reads this blog has played that piece of shit. It was one of the worst games I've ever touched. Looking back on it now, I can say without any reserve or doubt, Conflict: Desert Storm sucked hairy bull balls the size of goddamned coconuts. And I loved it.

For those of you who haven't played this awful gem, the Conflict series started here, mired in mediocrity, stiff animation, lousy controls, bad voice acting, crawling with game stopping bugs and some of the most awful AI you ever imagined there could be. Each successive game did its best to preserve this legacy of shitty design, the same as its predecessors; one great big lineage of failure. Somehow, all of these terrible things came together to form a perfect storm of crap, the final product being by some miracle of ingenuity or blind luck, enjoyable. Like, bad movie night enjoyable. Street Fighter: The Movie enjoyable.

Conflict: Desert Storm and I met in 2003. My best friend had picked it up on impulse, because we were both military mad at the time; any game that revolved around soldiers was a sure bet for our collective library. We also had a hunger for any game set in the desert, because we enjoyed anything that centered on an environment like our own. Jungles aren't something you find in Arizona; at least not any jungle you've ever imagined. Rolling hills, lots of rocks, and lots of little plants that can get right fucking unpleasant if you brush up against 'em. To me, that's home, and Conflict: Desert Storm delivered on all fronts for us. The last nail in the coffin was a lengthy co-operative campaign, a delight, because we'd both been playing SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs and felt the absence of true tactical cooperation. We had no idea what we were in for when we spun the game up in his PlayStation 2.

What followed was two solid years of aaamaazing memories. (See what I did there?)

I honestly can't tell you much about the game now. I don't remember a lot of specifics about it. What I can recall are at least two dozen moments of glorious stupidity, bugs, and various good-but-bad ideas that will forever mark Conflict: Desert Storm as one of my favorite games of all time. So, for your sick voyeuristic pleasure, I give you some of the grand highlights that still make me laugh, years after they occurred.

The first go we had at Conflict: Desert Storm was surprising at the least. The opening mission starts off one player humping through the environment to free the other. Interesting, but it leaves one player out of the loop completely. So, while my buddy was learning how to play, I was puttering around doing nothing and waiting for release. This led to some stupid mid-level problems with controls in which I accidentally took a knife to my poor friend. I don't remember how that happened, exactly, but I vaguely recall trying to read the instruction booklet while he tried to fight off half the Iraqi army single-handedly. He retreated back toward me and I promptly gutted him. This friendly fire discovery led to a little game we played within the game.

During the course of a mission, you can use medkits to heal the soldiers up and revive fallen allies if you reach them in time. The time you're given is generous, and it was the first time I ever played a game where you could revive a fallen ally, and if you weren't fast enough, you could lose a comrade forever. If you lost them, a new version of that "class" would be assigned to your squad in the next mission. Keeping the original soldiers alive had added benefits, leveling up their skills and changing certain dynamics of the game. Our little game within the game was simple and stupid; one of us always used every medkit we had, while the other hung onto them. When we reached the end of the level, there would be a knife fight that served as a kind of coin-toss. If the one with the medkits won, he revived the loser and on we went to the next level. If the one without medkits won, we were off to restart the mission. This stupid little game within a game was one of the ways we were able to extend the lifetime of Conflict: Desert Storm far beyond its own meager offerings. I can still hear the dumb giggling as we each shot our AI buddy, circled eachother, jockeyed for position, and struck.

The revival system and the desire to keep our original team alive led to a lot of other amusing moments. More than a few missions were restarted because we lost somebody, but two incidents in particular stand out in my mind.

Earlier, I mentioned that the AI is appallingly bad. Allow me to elaborate this for you, dear reader. In the cooperative campaign on the PS2 version of Conflict: Desert Storm, each player is given control of two characters. The original team of four in the single player is split right down the middle, with each player taking responsibility for two soldiers with different skillsets. I had the Sniper and Demolitions, my buddy had Assault and Heavy Gunner. In order to facilitate stealth in some segments, we discovered it was best to force a Hold Position order on our respective AI flunkies, and go it alone.

About a third of the way into one mission, we encountered such an opening for a little stealth operation. It wasn't until we were almost finished that I discovered I hadn't told my second character to return to formation and keep up with us. Some boneheaded Iraqi soldiers had shown up out of the blue and were giving us the business, so rather than the safe and time consuming way of switching to my alternate and walking him to us, I ordered an immediate regroup. Two minutes later, my little AI buddy was screaming out for help, in need of a little quick and clean videogame surgery by way of a convenient medpack. We figured he'd gotten ambushed somewhere along the way by a group of enemies we missed.

I doubled back to look for the body and give him a little pat on the back to keep him going, but I couldn't find the runt. Something was screwy about it, so I switched to him, only to find that my order to regroup had completely wrecked his positronic brain. His need to return to my location overrode his desire to live, and he plotted the quickest course to me available: a strait line that walked him right off a cliff to his death. We couldn't get to him, and I was already thoroughly sick of the mission from winning the knife fight coin toss on our first run, thus forcing a restart, and then backtracking and then wandering aimlessly for five minutes trying to find my wayward robot companion. By that point we agreed his death was out of sheer stupidity, and even a rookie would be a drastic improvement. We were wrong, by the way, there was no improvement to be had.

Finally, the last, and still the most amusing Conflict: Desert Storm moment I can remember. This one also revolved around the reviving mechanic.

I'd gotten very attached to my sniper rifle, and splitting up our teams had become a standard way of dealing with challenges. My friend's dynamic duo would start a fight, and I would help him end it with ludicrously high caliber sniper rounds. It was a strategy that worked. Well, most of the time.

The scene is simple. I'm sure you've seen it before. There's a courtyard on the other side of a row of buildings. In that courtyard is every breed of nasty this game can throw at you; soldiers with rockets, machine guns, mortars, tanks, ballistas, battlecruisers, high powered laser cannons, and all other manner of mythical weaponry and sorcery known to man. There's a building, just one building, you can enter which has a good view of the shooting gallery below. It was so patently obvious, that's where I needed to be. My .50 sniper rifle could reach out and touch anything in that area that posed a threat. Our plan was as simple as it could get; I would go up onto the roof of that building, and he would circle around and hit the heart of the group with everything he had. In our heads, this worked out perfectly, but no plan survives first contact with the enemy.

First contact, in this case, was me jumping the gun. I slid out from behind cover, ready to drop death on anything that threatened my partner in military derring-do, and began to put rounds down range. I watched the tanks maneuver, and silently chuckled to myself about how useless they would be without infantry support. I mentally catalogued the slow, lumbering movements of one Russian made T-72 as it slowly oriented itself to me, promptly wrote it off, and dropped another soldier. I was unstoppable. The MVP. By the time I was done, the tank would be all that was left.

Only after the tank's main gun had lifted beyond a point I thought possible, did it appear on my radar as a threat. By then it was far, far too late. A noise erupted from me, somewhere between a wail and a gurgle, as the tank round struck the overhang behind me and dropped me. I wasn't sure what happened at first, and relayed my last known coordinates to my friend, so he could come and revive me. He wandered up to the top of the building, threw a smoke grenade for cover, and failed to find my body there. It took a moment, but we eventually determined my location when I switched to the lifeless corpse lying in the street below. The tank shell had struck behind me and blown me right off the roof. I sighed with resignation and switched back to my other character, to find him in mid flight, having determined the path of least resistance to come to my aid: a strait line, leading directly off the roof and down to the ground. I watched in slow-motion as he plummeted, so intent on his duty that he ignored the danger and died in a shriek as he struck pavement. This was the rookie replacement for the one who'd previously navigated himself off a cliff.

I laughed so hard I cried. I can count on one hand how many times I've laughed that hard in my entire life. The pressure of my neck, my own blood, and the convulsion of my lungs nearly made me black out. My whole body seized up and I fell helplessly to the floor in incredible pain, unable to stop. This fucking game made me ROFL. An awful embarrassment I have never been able to live down.

Conflict: Desert Storm wasn't the best game I ever played. But it was still the best game I ever played, if you know what I mean.   read

3:44 PM on 10.01.2010

Changes: Fear and Loathing in Silicon Valley (And... introductions?!)

I remember unboxing my first gaming console. The PlayStation. The palpable excitement of hooking the little bastard up and clicking the first disk into place. The months that followed, hours of digital joy chock-full of dragons, bandicoots, ninjas, and guns. Platformers and shooters and beat-em-ups that ignited the fire that still burns inside me today; unmitigated, unfiltered, unsoiled love of games.

For years before that I'd spent time with friends and family alike who who had enough income to support such a pastime during the days of the SNES and the Genesis. I had previously tasted videogames and I had a distinct suspicion that I would be smitten with them forever if I had a console of my own. The PlayStation proved my suspicions had merit. I would never be the same.

Around the same time, we assembled our first computer. An unwieldy, ugly beast of cobbled together parts crammed together in an IBM case. Through this maniacal contraption of backdoors and half-working parts, I learned to love entirely new games. WarCraft II and StarCraft became some of the greatest games I had ever played. They were sewed in with Metal Gear Solid, Syphon Filter, and Doom as the games that shaped me.

When the PlayStation 2 came around, I had not yet matured enough as a gamer to know the difference between a good game and a bad one. I sought out anything that piqued my interest, and played it all with the same joyous reverence as I had before. It didn't matter if the game froze occasionally, or I slipped through a wall, or if the difficulty was utterly mind-shatteringly punishing. All I needed was for something on the screen to move when I pressed a button.

Eventually, though, I developed a nose for good and for bad. My adolescence as a gamer made itself known quite suddenly and without warning. Tastes had developed entirely without my realizing it. I ceased to be content with simplicity in my games, and began to research games on the internet, purchase magazines, and therein made my first discovery of entire communities dedicated to videogames. Not so surprising now, looking back on it, but I found the notion of this utterly shocking at the time. More games came, more games went. My library expanded, and Blockbuster became a weekly event of testing the waters for gems slated for future purchase.

The Xbox arrived on the scene and like so many others smitten with Sony, I wrote it off as a fool's errand. Time would prove me very wrong but I was unwilling to see it at the time. I continued to build upon my library, gathering classics like Onimusha to sit on my shelf, proudly displayed alongside a plethora of Mobile Suit Gundam titles, Metal Gear games, and a dozen others that had intrigued me enough to warrant a purchase. The first and second Splinter Cell titles passed through my PlayStation 2. The third would change gaming for me once again.

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory was the game that changed my mind about the Xbox. It would not be the only game that would force me to enter a platform I had concerns about; later, the Metal Gear Solid siren song would entice me to both the PlayStation Portable and PlayStation 3 systems long before I felt they were viable. My gamble on Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory was about faith, and that faith was rewarded with one of the most incredible games I'd ever played. When my week long journey through its story had come to an end, I found my faith had been rewarded. Halo, Halo 2, Ghost Recon 2, and Ninja Gaiden rounded out my Xbox library in its entirety. I only played five games on the Xbox, and I have never regretted it once.

When the Xbox 360 came it was received with open arms. I said a fond goodbye to my Xbox and bid an excited hello to the next generation.

And now we arrive at one of the most important changes in my life as a gamer. Somewhere along the way, I had lost that giddiness about gaming. It had been replaced with a sort of grim suspicion. Each game I played suddenly lacked that joy I so fondly remembered. It had been replaced by a series of experienced filters, sampling, tasting, touching, and examining what I played in very minute detail; the whole experience had become uncomfortably mechanical. The grand sense of pleasure had been misplaced somewhere and in its stead was merely the sensory input without any of the eager, pleased interpretation.

I still don't know exactly how that happened. For a terrible moment I thought I had outgrown games.

I started to search for anything that could reawaken that sensation. I crawled back to news sites and game magazines in an effort to find something in the works that could ignite that spark again. I returned to old games with feigned vigor, trying my hands at speed runs and other more challenging attempts. The Hard mode became my new Normal setting. Something would flip the switch and I'd be back to enjoying games again instead of looking at them as a time-wasting chore; a second appetite I had to occasionally appease in order to feel whole. My era of fear and loathing had begun.

Every new game was met with my grim expectation of failure. Studios closed, Sony's profit margins dropped, Nintendo started making shitloads of money off of fitness products, and I lost track of what games actually looked good to me. My own tastes had left me. I was staring at a smorgasbord of delights but nothing looked good anymore. I was about as dreary as I could be when it came to games.

And then... Destructoid.

I don't even remember how I got here. Google, probably. I'm just happy I did. I lurked for awhile, watching the news roll in. This and that going on in the industry. A preview here, an editorial there. The occasional interesting community blog. Eventually I started to feel my own excitement return to me. I registered to make the occasional comment. I wrote my first blog ever, an event that was confusing and more than a little hypocritical (I had previously sworn that I thought the practice of blogging was ridiculous). You can even see my pessimistic attitude in action if you read it. Even now it's a little hard to believe I wrote that.

Slowly but surely, Destructoid turned my unhappy state of stagnation around. Surrounded on all sides by people who love videogames the same way I used to, it was only a matter of time before that overwhelming collective joy infected me again. Games became about fun again. The fire was back.

We've known one another for awhile now, but it seemed like the right time to make the formal introduction.

So, hello Destructoid. Hello, and thank you.   read

11:03 PM on 06.01.2010

The Great Escape: Grief

My dog died a few days ago. Not something I was interested in calling attention to here, or discussing at all at length with anyone. But then I saw this monthís musing post, and thought Iíd write this up.

I met Charlie more than 11 years ago, when I was 12. I was spending a weekend at a friendís house with my brother, who just so happened to live within walking distance of a decent little park and the elementary school where weíd first met one another. Together we would often go up to the park, or to the school, simply to be free of our parents and enjoy the weather when it was nice enough not to burn us through and through.

Charlie was a stray. My family has always had a thing about stray animals, as far as I know everyone in my family has had at least one pet that was a stray (or "foundling", as we call them). My grandparents on my motherís side have always been nearly overrun by stray cats; either neighborhood cats that come to spend time with them, or strays that became part of the family. My mother has personally taken in a few animals over the years. My brother, too, stumbled upon a cat one Halloween and came home with him the next day. Charlie was mine.

On our trip up to the school, my friend and I were surprised to find two stray dogs picking at the large dumpsters at the rear of the school. I have always been naturally sympathetic to animals, and resolved myself to provide some food to these two. We wandered back to the house and procured some slices of bologna, which we then hand-fed to the two strays. Both of them were good sized dogs, certainly adults based on their structure, and both mutts. The smaller and leaner of the two was more excited at the prospect of people and food than the larger dog. I fed him the last slice of bologna and as my friends walked away, I quietly apologized that we didnít have more. Then I walked away. It broke my heart, but I couldnít do anything about it.

The next Monday I was waiting patiently at the edge of the parking lot of my junior high, entertaining the thought of videogames upon my return home. I was wrested from that thought as my mother pulled up, and in the backseat of the car sat that skinny, excited, dirty mutt that Iíd hand-fed slices of bologna a few days before. As I entered the vehicle, sitting next to that smelly pile of fur in the back seat, I listened to the tale of how heíd come to be there.

My mother worked for the school district at the time as a teacherís aide. She worked in a variety of roles, including as an assistant for special needs kids. At the time it was convenient because my younger brother was proceeding through elementary school, and she was able to take him in every morning and leave with him every afternoon before picking me up. That Monday, she had exited the school with my brother to find a scraggly looking dog sniffing around the rear doors of her car. My brother told her the story of the weekend, and how nice the dogs had been. My mother was bewildered, but sheís always been a quiet believer in fate. She opened up the back door, and with hardly any coaxing, the mutt jumped inside.

He was never trained, but only because we didnít really have to train him. Under nearly any circumstances he would mind whatever I said; the rest of the family not so much. We came to have a solid bond.

Charlie wasnít young by any stretch of the imagination. He lived a full life, and Iíd like to think a very happy one. He was having trouble; constant heavy breathing, difficulty walking, sleeping often. Nothing any vet could do. For two days the issues were bad, and I spent most of my time checking up on him until finally on the evening of the second day, he went. Those two days were mercifully nice for desert weather, and that evening had been unusually calm and cool.

We buried him the next morning.

I wasnít sure what I wanted to do with myself for awhile. I thought about having a drink. Or two. Or three. But the desire passed quickly, as I do not find inebriation terribly liberating so much as irritating. Eventually I just sat and stared at my TV for awhile before starting up my Xbox and inserting Mass Effect 2. I played for a few hours, and it helped me to put some time between myself and the event.

I escaped grief for awhile. A few hours away from thinking about something as destructive as death is can soothe a person in a lot of ways. They say that time heals all wounds; I donít necessarily believe that it does but it certainly does help. Gaming granted me that time to occupy my mind with something more constructive, which significantly lessened the sense of pain and loss that had consumed me.

Time that granted me perspective, and perspective that eventually granted me peace.

Edit: Yes, that is Charlie in the picture, being lazy on the back porch a few years back. As for how he got the name, well, he's mostly brown. So, Charlie Brown.   read

8:17 AM on 01.16.2010

Top 5 Reasons Why I Hate MGS4

Spoilers will be present in this. You have been warned.

Please donít confuse the word ďhateĒ with ďI think this is a bad gameĒ. Metal Gear Solid 4 is anything but a bad game. Itís a pretty damn good one overall. I literally bought a PS3 just to play this game. But this fact does not save it from my loathing, because I must weigh it up against the rest of the seriesÖ and for me, it comes up far short of its brethren. Far short.

It doesnít even make it to the motherfucking starting line.

Ladies and gentlemen of Destructoid, these are the top 5 reasons why I hate Metal Gear Solid 4.

Number 5: C.Q.C.

The C.Q.C. system in MGS4 was great. It added complexity from MGS3, and felt like a real upgrade. The problem I have with C.Q.C. is the bullshit write-off reason given for Solid Snake suddenly using a technique that isnít even referred to until MGS3. Thereís a codec scene that tries to explain Solid Snakeís use of C.Q.C. in MGS4 and not previously, but it falls flat on its face.


I hope Iím not the only one who thought this was a complete load. Iím not saying I donít understand why C.Q.C. made the jump from MGS3 to MGS4, itís natural to assume a system introduced in a previous game would be coming back. Iím just dumbstruck about the awful, multi-layered explanation that explains nothing at all. C.Q.C. was obviously a technique that Solid Snake made a decision not to use; for him to explain his use of it now as bodily reaction is foolish because he could obviously control himself enough to avoid using it before. Itís a total copout, and a lousy one at that. Iíd have been more happy with Solid Snake coming to the realization that no matter where you get a weapon, itís foolish not to use it if it can save your life. That would have at least made some sense.

Number 4: Acts.

While I understand that in order to get Snake into a wider variety of locations, breaking the game up into 5 acts makes a lot of sense. However, this approach still rubs me the wrong way.

Giving each act its own distinct opening and closing scenes made the game feel very disjointed to me, as if each narrative sequence is occurring in its own little vacuum. Previous MGS games have been broken up into parts (MGS2ís Tanker and Plant chapters, MGS3ís Virtuous Mission and Operation Snake Eater), but neither of these instances interfere too greatly with the overall flow of the narrative. Also, in both of these cases the starting chapter/act was fairly short, a light precursor for the real operation to come. In MGS4, it feels like the acts are getting shorter as time goes on (or at least thatís how it felt to me).

In MGS4, each Act is its own self-contained story and has its own unique terrain and gameplay. This is a good thing, but I think it could have been done in a more seamless way with less stops and starts. MGS3, for example, was able to maintain one consistent narrative, and yet still managed to seriously vary up its environment quite a bit without impacting the story with rather sudden stops and starts.

Number 3: Enemy Types/Difficulty Curve.

Iíve grouped these two things together, but this also includes (to a certain extent) elements from the previous two things on the list: C.Q.C. and Acts.

If there is one thing that drives me nuts about the gameplay of MGS4, itís the fact that Snake is handed so many interesting and fun tools for dealing with enemy soldiers, only to suddenly stop seeing them after Act 3. Even during Act 3 itís not wise to engage the soldiers in the areas, so letís just go ahead and toss Act 3 in there too. So for more than half of the game, all of these new tools and toys Snake has come by become essentially useless (especially C.Q.C.).

Act 3 through 5 are basically defined by sneaking. This isnít something I have a problem with, especially in a stealth-action game. No, the problem I have is that Acts 4 and 5 basically negate most of Snakeís newfound abilities and force you to lay on the ground and crawl to the end of the game.

In Act 4, the only normal patrol enemies you encounter are Gekko and Dwarf Gekko. Essentially your only option for this part of the game is to get through without being spotted, or get close enough to the exit of the area to get out just after getting spotted. With the exception of the boss fight in Act 4, there arenít any soldiers on the field at any time, and the soldiers present during the boss fight are FROGS, which are very difficult to sneak up on/C.Q.C./engage. I donít have a problem with them being difficult, just that theyíre the only flesh-and-blood enemies in the entire Act, and theyíre a bitch and a half to sneak up on and take out on top of that. In Act 5, itís pretty much just the FROGS and a couple of Gekko, plus a couple of boss fights and one Hell of a quicktime event.

To be clear: Iím not complaining that the game gets more difficult as it goes on. I donít mind that at all. What irritates me here is that the enemy types negate about half of Snakeís capabilities, and essentially reduce your tactics to crawling around everywhere. Itís pretty exciting from time to time, but it really kills off the action part of the game. I donít want to be sneaking around because if I get spotted Iím going to get my ass toggled repeatedly by large caliber bullets six ways from Sunday, I want to be sneaking around because I am the predator and my enemies are the prey. Sneaking around your enemies isnít very satisfying without the sense that you get to decide who goes home alive and who goes home in a body bag.

MGS3 got this sensation perfect. If youíve ever played through The Endís boss fight (both normal and when heís replaced by the Ocelot Unit), you know exactly what Iím talking about. Crawling through that jungle not as the target but as the hunter is a sensation thatís very hard to match. This is what I think of when I think stealth action, and itís what I think of when I play any other MGS game. Youíre not there to play hide-and-go-seek, youíre there to kill; youíve got the skills, the weapons, and the equipment to do it, and do it with brutal, lethal efficiency without being seen.

Number 2: The B&B Corps.

There are a lot of reasons I hate the B&Bs. Compared to MGS3ís Cobra Unit, theyíre more fleshed out as individual characters. Thatís a plus for meÖ but thatís pretty much the only plus.

The biggest thing I hate, though, has to be the background music for each boss fight. I donít know about you, but I generally prefer my boss fights to have a kind of tempo to them. Some embodiment in the music of how intense the fight should be, how much action it should contain. How this one character is standing in the way of my goals, and I absolutely have to take them out, thereís just no other way. Do you want to know what I donít think of when I think of background music for a boss fight? Giggling, screaming, and crying babies. I know, right? I must be crazy.

In all seriousness, the kind of audio stuff going on in the background is very important in a game. Especially one thatís as story and set piece driven as the MGS series has been. The previous games have always had exceptional choices when it comes to standoff moments. The music during the boss fight with Ocelot in MGS3 comes to mind or the choices for the boss fight with Liquid Ocelot in MGS4, but every fight with the B&B Corps is punctuated by the disembodied sounds of the event each B&B is linked to. Youíre stuck listening to fucked up giggling, angry shouting, bawling children, or screaming until you beat each one. I sort of get the vibe that each boss fight is more a mental battle, a clash of wills between Snake and the B&B heís fighting, and that the choice of audio is supposed to either enlighten the player about the feelings of the B&B, or that itís supposed to be a sort of window into their insanity. No matter what the reason, though, the use of these effects didnít get the desired response from me, unless it was to piss me off and make me mute my TV for every boss fight. Seriously, after two minutes of wailing babies I just couldnít take it anymore.

Number 1: Drebin.

Drebin doesnít bother me so much as a character. Taken singularly, I think he would have been an interesting addition to the cast. Heís unique, heís likeable, heís pretty well written.

The problems I have with Drebin relate mostly to his connection to the greater story and gameplay of MGS4.

The first (and biggest) problem I have with Drebin himself is his profession and how it relates to the gameplay of MGS4. Drebinís presence demolishes one of the classic systems of MGS games: not being able to use enemy weapons. The inclusion of this system takes away that sense that Snake is outgunned when he starts the mission. You have an automatic weapon in your hands within ten seconds of starting the first act. Ten SECONDS! This only gets worse as time goes on and you can purchase grenades, ammunition and weapons on the fly as youíre fighting. I realize that itís odd that I donít have a problem with Snake carrying around a proverbial armory in his invisible backpack, but it still bothers the shit out of me that if you have enough imaginary currency you can just crap out ammo whenever and wherever you want.

While you can (and I do) ignore this system, it represents a fundamental design change in the game which, at least in my estimation, resulted in the sudden change of enemy types less than halfway through the game. It is almost as if it occurred to them that giving the player an invisible armory filled with infinite bullets was kind of cheap if they only went up against enemy soldiers and the occasional Gekko or team of FROGS, so to counter the cheapness of this system they turned Act 3 into a situation where you wouldnít really utilize the system, Act 4 into a gauntlet of stealth or BFG levels of destruction, and Act 5 into a mix of the two. A better idea would have been to toss the whole buying guns/ammo/explosives idea out the window, and stick to the system of the previous games. In short, if it works, donít try to fucking fix it.

The second problem I have with Drebin is linked to the B&Bs. Remember how I said there were a lot of reasons I hate the B&Bs? Well, this is another reason, but itís also pretty heavily connected to Drebin.

Drebinís calls after defeating the B&Bs are completely worthless.

I donít hate the content contained within the codec calls. The backstory for each B&B is fleshed out quite nicely, and it all adds to the overall theme of the game. The problem I have with this is the method used for its delivery: a blank codec screen and voiceovers. This is the final chapter of Solid Snakeís saga. Why in the name of all that is holy am I getting a voiceover - without even so much as a character portrait - to explain the tragic backstories of some of the main enemy characters? Furthermore, why is this news being delivered by the newcomer to the series, and not at least by a character more connected to Snake? Or even Rose, for Christís sake, sheís there for psychological shit anyway isnít she?

This was a huge opportunity to delve into the personalities of the B&Bs. Previous boss fights in MGS have often featured at least some revealing dialogue or information. Small tidbits of interaction between Snake and the bosses provide insight and character building, both positive things for the overall narrative. They offer chances for the player to get to know both Snake and the boss better. Look at the classic battles from MGS between Psycho Mantis and Snake, or his hand-to-hand bout with Gray Fox/The Ninja, for Godís sake. We went from that to a generic history channel voiceover; I call bullshit. It seemed to me that the purpose of Drebinís calls wasnít even really to provide backstory on the characters themselves so much as they were there to reinforce the common thread throughout the MGS series: War is bad.

Exposition on the B&Bís themselves appears to have been a secondary effect of delivering this message, and itís really a pity because some potentially amazing scenes between Snake and the demons of his past (the B&Bís codenames being links to FoxHound) and present (the B&Bís themselves and their connection to war and Liquid Ocelot/The Patriots) have been lost in favor of giving a new character more air time, almost as if to justify Drebinís existence to the player beyond ďthat gun guyĒ.

In the end, I think MGS4 was a decent ending to an amazing series. Some of the scenes really blew me away, and had me totally floored. While I keep going back again and again to other games in the series, MGS4 keeps getting left by the wayside, because it just doesnít quite measure up with the rest. That doesnít make it a bad game, just not as good as the rest of the series. The moral of the story, I guess, is: You canít win Ďem all. And also I hate MGS4.   read

5:22 PM on 01.11.2010

RANT: Unlocking Content in Fighting Games

Iíll just come right out and say it: I fucking hate unlocking shit in fighting games. Usually I consider unlocking items/weapons/equipment/costumes in games to be something pleasant. I like the challenge it represents. Just recently I finally went back and unlocked all the characters for Resident Evil 5ís Mercenaries mode. It took awhile, but every defeat made victory seem that much close. Iím the kind of guy who looks at 98% and thinks ďThatís just not good enough.Ē I want every weapon upgrade, every alternate costume, every color scheme, every area on the map picked clean of its hidden treasures.

But when it comes to fighting gamesÖ

Unlocking shit drives me fucking bonkers.

Todayís offender is Street Fighter IV. I love this game. I love the characters, I love the combat, I love the special moves, and there are few things I find more satisfying than sitting down for a few hours to tear it up with Guile. There are also few things I find more aggravating than Street Fighter IVís approach to unlocking character colors and taunts.

For those of you that donít know, the process for unlocking colors and taunts is to proceed through the gameís challenge modes, Survival and Time Trial. Normally these are the kinds of modes I would spend most of my time with (Iíve thrown away countless hours on Dead or Alive 4ís Survival mode), but this is not the case with Street Fighter IV and that is one reason and one reason alone: Special Rules.

I have made somewhere around 50 attempts at beating Time Trial 11. Time Trial 11 has been my own personal purgatory for quite some time now; you start with 50 seconds, +30 for every defeat. Not so hard, right? Hereís the kicker: No Ultra Combo, no EX attacks, no Throw Escape, no Focus Attack, no dash, no Target Combo. The lack of an Ultra Combo isnít really a problem for me under usual circumstances because I main Guile, and his Ultra is almost prohibitively difficult to pull off under most circumstances anyway. However, everything else this Time Trial takes away basically destroys my ability to play; lacking the ability to tech out of throws, lacking EX attacks (which have different properties than normal attacks, allowing you to set up longer/more complex combo strings), lacking the Focus Attack (which allows for canceling out of moves to lengthen combos/go for a throw), lacking the ability to dash (which removes my ability to dash in for a quick combo), all of these things completely destroy my ability to play.

Normally I would have given up around attempt 25, but in order to unlock the last two colors and taunts, Iíve got to make it through to Time Trial 20. This presents a unique problem for me, because Iíd really like to have every option available to me upon selecting a character, but in order to do that Iíll have to push through Time Trial 11 - 20 to achieve that goal. This is a potential gauntlet of agony for me.

So, after 50 times of trying to beat Time Trial 11 with a variety of characters and methods, I decided to sit down and ponder what really made me so angry about this, and I discovered that it wasnít just that it was difficult. It was something thatís always driven me nuts: unlocking content in fighting games.

No quarter-munching arcade machine Iíve ever played on required this unlocking horseshit. The things to be unlocked in most fighting games are costumes and colors, which have no functional impact on the actual gameplay experience. Whereas other unlocks in games often have some kind of effect beyond aesthetic, either increasing some sort of stat, granting special abilities, or changing the capabilities of a weapon, in fighting games unlocks serve no real practical purpose. So why in the fuck must they be unlocked?

I understand the purpose behind unlocking the fighters themselves, as each fighter adds a new dynamic to the game. I still think itís stupid to require them to be unlocked in the first place, but I at least understand the logic behind it. With colors and costumes, itís beyond my understanding. I canít even fathom why someone - why anyone - would think up something so stupid.

How about you, Destructoid? What do you think about unlocking content in fighters, yes or no?   read

12:23 AM on 01.05.2010

On Parenting, Gaming, Violence, and Society

Two things I need to get out of the way before I get started here:

First, I am not of the belief that people are inherently good or evil; nothing I am about to say is an attempt to paint people or their actions as good or bad. Itís merely action and reaction, no moral compass to be found. I think that people are people and they simply do what suits them. Their freedom to do so forms the very basis of society. What I am about to say, the opinions I will express, and the conclusions that I draw are all things that apply to my world view alone. I am not trying to change anyoneís mind on any subject I discuss, I am merely expressing my views. I'm not trying to preach, just talk.

Second, if you are offended by anything that follows, thatís fine, but Iím not going to apologize for anything Iím about to say. If it bothers you, take it for what it is; the opinion of someone you probably didnít know existed yesterday, and wonít give a shit about tomorrow. Thatís the glory of the internet, basically nothing anybody says here really matters in day-to-day life.

Also (I know I said two, but this oneís a small one): This is probably gonna be a long read, so if youíre gonna stick in it Ďtil the end, you should probably make yourself some popcorn or something, or at least prepare for a bathroom break halfway through.

Now, with all that said, letís get started here.

Thereís a list of phrases I absolutely hate. This ranks in at number two: ďTheyíre gonna do it anyway.Ē

This phrase is a prelude to a painfully foolish argument. What this phrase amounts to is a justification for either being too lazy, too stupid, or just too damn self interested to exhibit some backbone and some discipline.

The argument is brutally simple. ďTheyíre gonna do it anyway, so why try to stop them?Ē It usually comes out of people talking about raising children. Usually from people who have no idea what theyíre fucking doing with children. ďTheyíre gonna drink anyway, so why not let them do it at home, where I donít have to worry about them going somewhere dangerous to do it?Ē ďTheyíre gonna have sex anyway, so why not get them some condoms, so they can do it safely?Ē ďTheyíre gonna play violent videogames no matter what I do, so I might as well just buy them.Ē

Hereís what happens when you apply this argument to something else. Letís go ahead and do society. ďPeople are going to kill each other. I mean, theyíre going to do it. You canít stop them. You really, really want to, but you canít. So why try?Ē

Do you understand how amazingly stupid this is now?

This phrase, and its argument, is the product of a generation of ďfreedomĒ in parenting. Parents who were either too self-interested and career-driven to spend their valuable time raising their children, or too freedom-loving, bucking the trend of the corporate society by raising their child free of boundaries. The latch key kids who walked home alone from the bus stop, made their own lunch, and sat down to watch TV alone for a few hours while they waited for the parents to get home, only to be ignored just long enough for dinner to get cooked, and then itĎs off to bed because mommy and daddy are tired.

Most of them turned out as pretty decent human beings. A tribute to the human will to survive and succeed. They treat others with a reasonable amount of respect. They go to work every day, they keep good friends, good relationships. Just generally good people on the whole. The problem is, they wound up with no idea how to raise their kids. There was little to no discipline in their lives, and as a result, when itís time to put a family together, itís a Goddamn crapshoot. The sense of morality, right and wrong, and understanding of society they gained with classmates in school during their generationís upbringing isnít there today to shepherd their children into adulthood. Schools are a mess, over budget, under funded, overpopulated and chock full of kids who have to learn most of their values on the streets, not in the home. Potentially good kids wasted not because nobody cared, not because their parents didnít love them, but because the load-bearing structure of our society that cradled their parents into decent human beings wasnít prepared for the next waveís weight too.

The parents are clueless; theyíve got no idea how to discipline their kids. Theyíve never seen it before in their lives. Their parents didnít do it, the books canít teach it, and theyíre lost. They donít know the first thing about keeping their kids safe and molding them into law-abiding, productive citizens. From this, we get about half a generation of use-it-or-lose-it men and women who spend more time trying to find a shrink to make all their problems go away than actually confronting those problems like reasonable adults.

It is from this God awful mess that we get ďTheyíre gonna do it anyway.Ē Two generations of misshapen, misguided, misunderstood, and generally sub-par parenting techniques culminating in one big pile of ďWho gives a shit what happens to my kids, nobody gave a shit what happened to me and I turned out just fine.Ē

Itís my belief that this is whatís most responsible for putting violent games in the hands of kids. Children make demands and under-equipped, limp-wristed, weak-kneed parents who are practically children themselves, give in. Itís not that the parents are well informed about what theyíre doing. Itís not that they understand whatís occurring to their children. Itís just that they arenít steeled to their childrenís screams. Nobody gave them anything, so why should they deny their child now if it will make them happy? They care about their kids and what happens to them, they care so much that theyíll give them anything, they just donít know that itís a profoundly stupid thing to do.

Letís be clear here: I donít think the content is that awful without context. But itís a context that needs to be provided by a loving parent, or at least an adult that is aware of whatís occurring. It canít simply be presented and left; you canít throw a kid in a pool and then walk away and expect them to learn how to swim, can you?

And now, we come to the heart of what I really wanted to talk with you all about.

There has been a lot of talk about the role of violence in media for essentially as long as any form of media has been available. It spans from the first printed media, books, newspapers, art, photographs, film, television, music and todayís supposed ďhot buttonĒ issue is videogames.

Itís important to note that videogames are the latest in a long line of widely available mediums consumed by the public; when the subject of content and videogames comes up, it is often stated that this ďhappenedĒ with music, television, movies, and so on. It is just as important to note that, while the majority of the attention about certain types of content is typically focused on one particular medium or another, the criticism and proposed censorship on other types of mediums does not simply go away. Example: Do you read Stephen King novels to a 10 year old as bedtime stories?

While we do not often see discussion focused on the potentially violent content shown on television programs, it is still uncommon if not unheard of to see graphic footage of actual violence, death, and war on television programs. The occasional story is covered, and footage is sometimes shown of actual violence and events, but very rarely is it shown in entirety, and never, never, never without surrounding context. Even the most horrific of crime-focused programs are censored for the public; the concern about such content reaching the viewer has never receded. It has dulled, perhaps, to include certain allowances, but it has never (and likely never will) disappear, because the content itself remains offensive and potentially dangerous. We have merely adjusted our social practices to accept the information, and interpret it in a way that is not harmful.

I feel it is deeply misleading to simply state that videogames will follow in the same vein as these other mediums without fully exploring what has occurred. People think, ďOh, well, I remember people getting into a lot of arguments over music some years back. Now I donít hear that much anymore, unless somethingís really offensive. Thatíll probably happen to videogames. Letís just say that.Ē And while it is a fair assumption that videogames will be added to the list of ďapproved content not destroying our childrenĒ, itís not accurate to believe that this will lead to less scrutiny, only that less national attention will be paid to it as attention drifts elsewhere.

I also feel that this is a pretty horrific cop-out, and itís taken advantage of in the gaming community far, far too often.

Simply stating that videogames will be (or already are) like TV/Music/Film allows us to distance ourselves from taking a serious, hard look at the content contained within, and how it should be considered. Tossing videogames in with other forms of mass-consumed media is like writing a blank check to yourself: ďI donít have to think about this anymore, itís the (media/government/active group/lawyer)ís fault videogames are getting all this negative attention. Itís not my fault for demanding more/being desensitized to more obscene content. Itís not my fault for allowing my children to view/play it.Ē

Itís a get-out-of-jail-free card for the gamer to not have to take these things seriously; because if we did force ourselves to take it seriously, we might not actually get the kind of content we want. We might actually have to take a hard look at ourselves and we might not like what we see. As long as violence has no impact in media, it has no impact on us, and it doesnít matter if we demand it to be satisfied. If, instead, we throw up our hands and say, ďitís the nature of society, itíll be over eventually,Ē we can keep getting what we want while making a convincing argument and letting people ďbitch and whineĒ about it in the background, on the periphery.

Itís pathetic to take such a hands-off approach on something you claim to love so much. If you love games, then I call on you to be the voice of reason. Turn yourself into a gaming interpreter. Teach friends, family, and even strangers how to understand this medium of digital entertainment like we do; show them the cynicism we approach these products with. Donít just buy the new releases when they come out and hole up with them. Take them to your friends, take them to your family. Take them to your parents, your grandparents, and their grandparents if you can, and while youíre there, why donít you ask them if theyíd have let you play that damn game in your hands when you were 10, 11, 12, or even 15.

Forcing yourself to believe that others are simply ignorant of what you hold in your hands is the act of a fool. Instead, teach them to interpret games as you do. Show them the good that comes out of this medium that we love. The communities it compels us to build, like this fabulous one here at Destructoid. The companionship we share in our love (and sometimes hate) of videogames. Teach them that itís never about just one game for us; itís a living archive of experiences we can call upon at all times. The satisfaction of that hat-trick of headshots in Team Fortress 2, the crescendo that chimes in at that perfect moment, that wonderful sensation of completion after getting that 100th feather.

If you canít even muster up the courage to do that, then I think you already know what theyíd have to say about the content in your games, donít you? If you donít feel comfortable sharing your best shot at a high score in Mad World with your mom, but you can both sit down and watch Cold Case Files together and not bat an eye, then why the fuck is it okay to throw the content of videogames in with what happened to TV? If you canít scream ďYOU FUCKING NIGGER FAGGOTĒ in front of your grandparents while playing some Modern Warfare 2, but you can both handle some rock & roll, how is it reasonable to compare the predicament of videogames to what happened music?

Iím not saying anyone should feel bad about playing the games they like to play. Once youíre an adult, you can drink, you can smoke, you can do damn near whatever you like so long as itís legal. And just like you wouldnít want to sit down with your great-grandparents and watch some hardcore porn, you probably wouldnít want to show every game to everyone. But donít allow yourself to be complacent, and donít pretend to be a fool. Do not just scrutinize the content in your games. Cast those piercing eyes upon yourself, and your own impact on the system as a consumer; what do your purchases, your comments, and your thoughts say about what you want out of games, and the industry as a whole. Do you demand more violence? Do you get excited about more realistic gore? When buckets and buckets of blood are spilled, is it awesome, or gruesome and horrifying? What words come out of your mouth when youíre seething at the Television because the same guy knifed you for the third time in a row? Always be aware that you are having an impact on what gets produced. What you buy is what they make. The more you buy, the more they make.

Think long and think hard about what they make, and what that says about not just you, but all of us.   read

5:22 PM on 08.17.2009

On Betas (And Champions Online)

This will be a rant; an unfocused collection of thoughts with regard to the current state of betas and beta testing in the games industry, though this is mainly aimed at Champions Online, which launched into semi-open beta today, and Cryptic Studios, which billed the open beta as a preview.

This is something thatís been stewing in my head for quite some time now. I miss the old beta. By the ďoldĒ beta, I mean the period of time before ďbetaĒ was taken to mean ďdemoĒ. Such a surprise, I know, to learn they are not one and the same!

There has been a lot of rhetoric among gamers about that coveted title of ďbeta testerĒ. To many this has been considered a position of honor, coveted for its early access to games that the public would not get for months or even years. An intense, seething desire drives so many to yearn for this position, to seek it without end, so that they may taste the sweet nectar of that which they thirst for with an appetite which can not be sated.

I think this is what really drives the concept of betas as being primarily demos, for the public to consume and enjoy. Surely, they exist to ďtestĒ whether you wish to buy them or not! Why else would they call them beta ďtestsĒ?

I am not new to beta testing; Iíve tested more than a few things and Iíve found my fair share of bugs. I have thrown my hand in at beta testing a few MMOs, and from time to time I still get offers to do beta testing in City of Heroes for their Issue releases. I stopped participating in betas primarily due to the fact that Iíve simply seen too many blue screens and too many command lines and far, far too many garbled file extensions.

It seems that even as the beta becomes a more and more public thing, people who become involved with them have gained no more insight as to what a beta test actually is.

For those of you who do not understand the concept, allow me to illustrate:

You play a broken game (usually for free if youĎre like me) and try to ensure that the final game works as well as it can. You are either freely participating in, or being paid to, play a broken game, or break a game. It is your occupation to find and identify as many problems as you possibly can. You do not enjoy the game you are playing; it is not there to be enjoyed. You are there to make that game do everything it possibly can to frustrate you. A beta is the bane of your very existence, and it loves nothing more than to snatch the gaming soul right out of you. You spend about half of your time seething with rage, chasing some elusive problem through the devilís underbelly of 1ís and 0ís that make up a torture chamber you may very well never escape from.

That is a beta. It is not pleasant because it is not meant to be pleasant. You are asked to forcibly inflict as much pain as you possibly can on yourself, so that same affliction is not unleashed upon some poor, unknowing soul who just spent good money on a product that has no excuse for not functioning properly.

Beta testers are the thin line between a functional product worthy of every penny you spent, and a nightmare you canít wake up from. It is a position for which I have the deepest respect, and the utmost gratitude.

It is for this reason that I find the current state of beta testing in the industry to be such a sorry sight. The words ďopen betaĒ appear to be synonymous with ďdemoĒ to much of the public. The ďbeta releaseĒ of a game can be a powerful marketing tool for companies to get their games into the hands of hungry players, and keep them enticed through multi-year development cycles.

I am of the opinion that this phenomenon has only thus far served to cheapen the end result, and tarnish the image of the final product potentially beyond repair. Would you play a game that did not work? Would you spend hard-earned money on a product that damaged your computer, or your console? Would you be angry, frustrated, and highly motivated to blame the company responsible? I would be. I have been, from time to time.

Gamers in general have been motivated to treat beta testing as a demo, because that is the manner in which the gaming industry at large has portrayed them in recent years.

Todayís offender is Champions Online. Their official beta launch has been a relatively pleasant stroll through the woods compared to some of the things Iíve tested before. However, their forums are practically on fire with people crying for retribution over something they thought had been delivered to them; a final product for which they had formed some ridiculous sense of entitlement. It is not them to blame, however, as much as Cryptic Studios, for billing their open beta as a ďpreviewĒ. That is the word utilized on the back of the card I received from GameStop after pre-ordering the game; a term which does not at all belong in the same sentence as beta when referencing video games.

The only reason I am writing this is to call attention to a large group of real (and dedicated) beta testers that are hard at work as I type this. Individuals who are currently painstakingly testing the launcher of the game and finding exactly what is going wrong. Individuals who are going far out of their way to find fixes, workarounds, and more information so that they can inform those who are less computer savvy about what to do, and how to do it. These people are beta testers; they are not along on a free ride to play a game that hasnít been released yet. They are working their asses off so that you and I will have a functional game on launch day.

So today I am proposing a toast to those proud individuals who suffer so that we do not, and I offer the hope that eventually the industry as a whole will stop treating the test versions of their games as demo material for mass consumption. It degrades the position that these people serve in, practically thanklessly so far as I can tell, as no one seems to really understand exactly what the position entails and requires.

To all of you working valiantly to hunt down bugs in our beloved games, I offer a sharp salute. And, more specifically, to those hard at work as we speak to make Champions a thoroughly happy experience on September 1st, I raise my glass of very, very cheap Scotch, and wish you an easy ride.   read

4:52 PM on 08.03.2009

I Suck at Games: The Fighting Disease

Hi, Iím Blindfire, and I am a fight-a-holic. I love fighting games, probably more than most rational men should. I only wish that they loved me back.

For me, it all started with Mortal Kombat III. MK3 was my first introduction to the concept of a fighting game, and it was one of the coolest things Iíd ever seen. Punching, kicking, freezing people solid, crazy grappling-hook-spike-rope-things, fatalities. It was intoxicating to watch, and devastating for me to play. I think in an entire day I could manage one or two wins out of sheer luck. It would be a long time before I touched another fighting game. Iíve played a few over the years. Iíve dabbled in Tekken, Iíve tried out Soul Calibur, but nothing to this day can compare to what Dead or Alive 4 did to me.

Dead or Alive 4 was my own personal Armageddon. For awhile there, I was certain that this terrible, terrible thing might have been crafted in magical foundries before time was time, specifically for the purpose of punishing me for some terrible thing I might do in the future; some unholy realm of madness I must be responsible for creating that will someday consume the universe as we know it.

It took a week before I could stand to play long enough to reach my first contact with Alpha. I still remember the first time I met that soulless monster. It is permanently etched into my being because within four seconds, sixty percent of my health bar had been depleted. It was as if time stopped for just a moment, so that I could truly savor the moment which would forever demoralize me, the moment that came as such a terrible shock; all my success up to that moment was for naught. I had been judged, and I was not worthy.

Pictured: Doom Incarnate

I knew that somewhere inside me there was the capability to learn this game. It would just take time, time and dedication. For more than a month I donít think I touched another game. I was consumed by the single-minded desire to not suck at this game. My mouse clicks have led whole armies to victory in the daunting face of assured defeat. My dexterity has sent many a terrorist to their untimely death. My perception has allowed me to be three steps ahead of my opponent at all times. I could defeat this game.

It was somewhere around this point that I no longer desired to play the game for fun. I struggled through defeat after defeat, a man completely possessed by a maddening need to get better, if only to prove that I could do it. I had gone beyond yelling obscenities at my TV screen. I may have gone beyond the ability to form sentences and think rationally. I sat, rigid, hands contorted into some strange controller-like shape, going through motions of moves when my 360 was too hot to use. My brain had become an archive of self-defined movements that could lead fluidly into one another. I knew that this had come a long way from a passing interest in a game. I had twisted it into a terrible obsession, one so deep and dark that it might very well scar me forever. I lusted for success like never before in a video game.

Finally, that moment came. I destroyed Alpha once. Twice. Three times. Four times. I lost count. My mastery was complete. ÖWith one character. I sat down and stared at the character select screen. I could already feel the sense of impending doom as I selected the next character that looked like fun and set to work.

And so the process began anew, and my destruction was complete.

From that point on I have been in love with fighting games.

Today, my poison is Street Fighter IV. Having never played a Street Fighter game before (I know, I know, sacrilege, blasphemy, all that), I was in for a rude awakening to just how punishing a fighting game could be. I had no idea what I was in for as I looked at the character select screen and, for no particular reason at all, picked Guile. Nothing about Guile was easy. Even now, after a lot of experience and a brand new fightstick, nothing about Guile is easy. The odds always appear to be stacked against him, just like me. We are quite the match.

I am still terrible, and fighting games still hate me, but I think that Iíve learned to make peace with that.   read

2:38 PM on 07.09.2009

The Console War: Or, how I learned to start worrying about Sony

Well, it seems like today is the day to weigh in on concerns over Sonyís place in the industry, what with all the discussion over price cuts and lack thereof, and the statements made by Tretton. So, here goes:

I think the price cut is a distraction from bigger problems. I honestly think it isnít price thatís really killing Sony right now, itís the absolutely atrocious marketing strategies Sonyís been utilizing. Their attempts to market their console and their games have had more stops and starts than a traffic jam in New York City during rush hour, and itís almost as frustrating, too.

Instead of focusing on the differences between themselves and their competitors, Sony decided instead to play up their ability to best their opponents in the hardware department. Sony has repeatedly failed to recognize the beauty of the marketing strategies of Microsoft and Nintendo. Microsoftís aggressive expansion into the consumer base allowed them to absolutely destroy Sony on the software front; it doesnít matter if the PS3 is a more powerful system or not (which, frankly, I donít think it really is, and if it is it doesnĎt matter nearly as much as Sony wants it to) when every home has an Xbox 360 and they have essentially the same games. Nintendoís brilliant strategy of offering something different allowed them to slip into previously untouched markets.

Sonyís initial marketing strategy was a complete disaster. It basically consisted of ďWait for us, weíve got better hardware.Ē Some waited, but others recognized the value of the 360 early, with its quickly expanding library thanks to its lightning fast explosion into the consumer base. And while Sony was still working on their console, Microsoft had already begun the second stage of its marketing plan: get more developers working on their framework and producing games.

Microsoft had done the inconceivable; they had gotten their console into so many households that most games that might have been exclusives instead go multi-platform in order to take advantage of the massive install base of the Xbox 360. Remember how Assassinís Creed was a PS3 exclusive, and then it wasnít? Or Final Fantasy XIII, perhaps?

Now, rather than admit or realize theyíre actually in trouble, Sony has the sheer audacity to expect that their hardware will still come out on top because itís ďbetterĒ. Then, in a not-so-quiet fashion they start stripping down PS3s in order to cut the cost of making them. For me, this was basically like Sony screaming ďOh God, oh God, we screwed this up, but we can fix it!Ē, just without the honesty of actually saying it.

It was in this interim between terrible marketing that Sony had its one brilliant ad campaign. It reminded me why I was interested in the PS3, and why I still had a little inkling of hope for Sony: Metal Gear Solid 4 was on the way.

Remember this ad?


I thought this was where it was going to turn around for Sony. Theyíd finally caught on and began to advertise the PS3 primarily as a game system, only gently touching upon the concept that the PS3 could be a multimedia platform of monolithic proportions. It was like somebody smacked Sony over the head with a 2x4 and the amnesia finally cleared up. Thereís the Sony I know and love, itís still in there!

It was during this interim that I finally got a PS3; the 80GB model, packaged with MGS4. Thatís right, I bought the PS3 for ONE GAME, and the potential promise of another in Killzone 2. Since then my library has expanded to include Valkyria Chronicles, Resident Evil 5 (didnít feel right to be buying that on the 360), Dead Space, Street Fighter IV, and a few others.

Then they got conked on the head again and dove headfirst into the miserable joke that has become of Home. Sonyís attempt to market Home as a reason to buy their console is just flat out ridiculous. Itís gone from being a little sideshow to becoming Sonyís main ďdrawĒ for the online community; itís a great big joke that everybody seems to get, except for Sony.

From there Sony moved to their networking campaign, PSPs on the go, in the hands of every trendy kid on every street corner, Playstation Network providing movies and demos and games. Oh no, Sony! No, no, no! Donít tell me I need to spend another $150 to $250 to get the most out of your service!

And still Sony has the audacity to claim that the PS3 will conquer because theyíre committed to a decade of service. So when weíre buying the next Xbox, and Microsoftís still got a leg up on Sony, thatís when the PS3 will really start to kick into gear?

In the end, I love my PS3. I love everything it can do. I can seamlessly go from direct connect to wireless at the press of a few buttons, thanks to internal WiFi. My model can do backwards compatibility. My controllers donít need batteries. The PSN store is easier to navigate than Microsoftís Xbox Live Marketplace. Thereís no hidden extra charges thanks to a wacky, self-determined currency. The cost of the PS3 isnít the problem; Sonyís schizophrenic ad campaigns and marketing strategies have confused the consumer base so much that people donít know what the identity of the PS3 is. Does it cure cancer, Sony, or does it play videogames?

I think, price cut or not, the real problem is that Sony hasnít figured out how to market its console yet. I think this problem is driven by Sonyís inability to recognize that it is no longer the top dog, and itís only getting worse with every day that they have the sheer gall to claim that the battle hasnít been fought yet. The battleís been fought, Sony, and youíve lost. Youíve lost hard. And the warís not over yet, though it soon will be if you donít recognize whatís happening to you, and why.   read

4:26 PM on 07.08.2009

I, the Author: Epic PWNAGE

There are games in which the player serves as a driving force in completion. We shepherd the little characters on the screen onwards toward some inevitable final victory, and we taste the sweet, sweet nectar of success at the end of the rainbow. The story is told without taking us too greatly into account, and we serve primarily as some kind of mind-control device for the main character of the story, inhabiting their body to wring every delicious ounce of fun we can from their experience and their story.

However, there exists an arena in which the stories of many gamers are told. Where there is no boundary of story or character development to be had. It is a place where skill and luck mingle like no other place on Earth. It is a place where we shed the paper-thin caricatures constructed for us on linear pathways, and we take to the field with our own chosen name.

I am talking, of course, about multiplayer.

The multiplayer arena offers a space in which there is nothing to be had except the gamersí story. Your story. My story. We all have one; that perfect headshot, that one-in-a-million rocket, that lucky break you never saw coming, that one second you saw your opponentís guard come down, that first ďGODLIKEĒ. These are truly our stories and no one elseís. While clever plot twists are interesting, and events culminating in the defeat of a CPU opponent still offer the sweet taste of victory, nothing else provides the same delicious sense of purpose and connection as the multiplayer experience. It is what keeps us coming back to games like Call of Duty, Killzone, Battlefield, SOCOM, Unreal Tournament.

Perhaps it is just the presence of a human opponent that creates this atmosphere. Another gamer, like you or me, is standing on the opposite side, ready to do everything they can to stop you. You have to be better, faster, and luckier than they are to stop them, and they feel the same way about you. The strange combination of human opponents and sheer luck ensures that most of our best moments will never repeat themselves. Iíll never jump out of a helicopter in Battlefield 2 and watch as it careens toward the Earth, only to collide in mid-air with a jet again. Iíll never get that double-headshot with a Scout in Counter-Strike again. These are moments written exclusively by us, to be recounted among gaming brethren, for no other community would understand them.

Now, with that said, Iíd like to share some of those unique moments from my gaming memory.

The Legend of the Terrible Wheelmen.

Battlefield 2 was a game I played extensively. I was so into Battlefield that I recounted stories of triumph and victory snatched from the jaws of defeat to anyone who would listen. It took months of browbeating, but finally Iíd gotten two of my friends to join in. Together we were a formidable three man strike force of Medic, Special Ops, and Sniper. I led us into battle, C4 in hand. Our Medic was never far behind. And the Sniper always had our six covered. On the ground we were practically unstoppable.

It wasnít until one of us got behind the wheel that things turned sour. We all had our distinct habits when it came to driving. I, ever the ground-fighter, avoided driving unless it was necessary to get from Point A to Point B. Jax (our medic) would plow directly into the thick of things and grab the turret to lay down hot lead death from relative safety, and Libra (our Sniper) preferred to approach all objectives on foot, so he often bailed out at a suitable sniping position before we got anywhere near our targets.

The problem was, none of us could drive worth a damn. Each of us had the tendency to profoundly foul things up repeatedly every time we got behind the wheel. Jax, a ďleap before you lookĒ kind of guy, once drove all three of us off a cliff and directly into the only tree in sight in Mashtuur City. Libra, who tended to lose all sense of direction and path finding behind the wheel, took us all for a swim by launching our patrol vehicle into a pond in Gulf of Oman. And I, perhaps the most terrible of all, had a peculiar habit of running into tanks and large clusters of infantry wherever they might be.

No matter how calm or how quiet it was, if I got behind the wheel, you could be certain a tank would be around the next corner, or an infantryman on a TOW launcher, or just some cleverly hidden mines. If it could kill us, I could find it, and itís been that way since we started playing, and itís still that way today. God help any of you who dare to jump into a vehicle with us at the wheel.

The Night of the Hacker.

Counter-Strike was the first game I played where the word Hacker was thrown out at every turn. This trend, of course, continued into Counter-Strike: Source. I canít count the times I saw ďHACKER!Ē appear in the text box, but I can clearly remember the first time I ever pulled off something crazy enough to be called one.

It was de_dust, and it was 2 in the morning. The match had gone downhill from the get-go; weĎd lost three rounds already due to slow starts. We needed a win, if only for morale. The rush we set up for the next round as Terrorists was bound to be messy, but it was worse than I expected. Half our team was gone in the hallway, flash bangs and frag grenades going off everywhere, with a lot of gunfire sprinkled on top. The survivors were ambushed at the bombsite, but weĎd made it in. It was even now, down to two of us, and two of them. I planted the bomb Iíd picked up off one of my comrades during the bloody massacre in the hallway, and we waited. It didnít take them long.

My partner in terror was dropped by an AWP shot to the face. His body crumpled where heíd stood, watching the end of the tunnel. I had no time, I had to take my shot before they got in the bombsite, if they got too close my Scout would be useless, and my Glock wouldnĎt stop two CTs armed to the teeth. I took a deep breath and rounded the corner, but there was nothing at the end of the hallway. My heart was beating so hard in my ears I thought artillery was dropping around me. They had to be going around, coming through the doors to surprise me.

I snapped out of my scope, and knife out, moved as quick as I could. I forgot everything I knew about tactics and rushed out the door, and there they were, running strait at me from the little walkway that comes around the outside of the building that contained our nearly-failed rush. The AWPer had his pistol out, I had a chance!

A weapon switch never took so much time. I mashed the Q key with all my might and watched as the lead CT opened up on me with his M4. Bullets started hitting around me just as my Scout came up. The scope finally lifted and those crosshairs lined up perfectly. You couldnít ask for a prettier shot. The Scoutís snap of a gunshot rang out, and two bodies dropped where they stood. I was dumbstruck. I stared, mouth gaping, at the two headshots Iíd just tagged with one bullet from the Scout. "Terrorists Win."

The entire CT team went nuts; ďHacker!Ē ďCheater!Ē and other words I wonít repeat on this article filled the chatbox. I was greeted with the cheers of my teammates at the start of the next round. I have never laid a hand on a Scout since, to avoid tarnishing that wondrous event.

I have felt similar levels of accomplishment since then, in a variety of games. But nothing will ever be as sweet as the first time.

The multiplayer arena is where our stories are written. Victory, heartbreak, intensity, fear, loathing, and pure delight. No one else can write these moments for us. I am the Author of these, and many other unique stories. I pulled off those stunning victories, and I was stung by those crushing defeats. It was my story to experience and to tell, not an analogue and not a character. They are and always will be mine.

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