I'm an unemployed college student, I've spent the last few years wading through a program at my local community college to prep me for entering law enforcement. My interests include: gaming, philosophy, sociology, logic and law. I hate math and I have a lousy memory. I'm 24 years old.
I was a late bloomer when it comes to videogames. Growing up, my family has never been especially affluent, and we pretty much just didn't have the cash to throw down on Nintendo or Sega.
I didn't really play a lot of games outside of the occasional visits to family friends in Phoenix, where I got acquainted with classics like Sonic, Donkey Kong, and Mortal Kombat. I was awful at them but I didn't care, I knew then and there that I'd fallen in love with videogames. The next time I'd get to play videogames would be on a PC, home-built basically from scratch by my uncle and my mother. It was a piece of crap that housed everything I could cram onto it, from Doom to WarCraft II. It underwent several hardware mods as time went on, but eventually we moved on to pre-built equipment and haven't looked back since. Some of my fondest memories, though, are of starting up DOS and typing in the command string to start up Rise of the Triad. I still have a huge soft spot for RTS games, as WarCraft II was the first game I really understood all the mechanics of.
The PlayStation was my first console. It was a pastime for me more than anything, really. A handful of decent games that I played occasionally when I wasn't doing something else. It wasn't until Metal Gear Solid that I really started to grasp gaming as a kind of physical concept. Metal Gear Solid made gaming a tangible thing for me, and I still have a powerful love for that series to this day.
I didn't become a real gamer until around 2004. That year, my gaming collection grew exponentially for the PS2, and for my newly-acquired Xbox. I made so many discoveries about games and gaming that year that I literally can't quantify it; it was an epiphany that has led me to expanding my horizons and seeking every new game experience I can find.
These days I try to keep an open mind about games, and let anything surprise me.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.