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Hakael's blog

10:13 PM on 04.09.2013

The revolution isn't here yet, but it's coming.

Itís easy to get jaded about the future of gaming. From an outsiderís perspective, a few corporate giants lord over the medium. Public opinion regarding the most successful publishers is at an all-time low, but this hasnít stopped them from releasing tired sequels and watering down once fan favorite IP in an effort to broaden their appeal. This week Electronic Arts ďwonĒ the Consumeristís yearly poll for Worst Company in America for the second straight year following their mishandling of the SimCity launch. Microsoft has been in news as the apprehension surrounding the possibility of their upcoming console requiring an online connection hit boiling point with a Microsoft Studios employee stirring the pot on Twitter. Anti-consumer attitudes have taken hold with the powers that be and less blockbuster titles are released every year because letís face it, AAA games are expensive. If a publisher already has a proven IP, chances are it will sell on its second, third, or sixth iteration so thereís no incentive for them to invest in a new property that may miss expectations.

It can be hard not to be cynical about this years prospects as you read gaming news, or while watching a preview for the next Assassinís Creed while the previous installment sits on your shelf still in its shrink wrap. But if you look closer, beyond the blockbuster laden surface of the gaming industry, you can see a revolution is in its infancy. Independent developers and underground studios are simmering with talent and alternative technology is catching up to the console makers.

Mobile gaming has a bad rap with core gamers. Mobile is all about time wasting, throw away games; something you can play for five minutes and put down. I wrote a blog a while back about the media hype surrounding Angry Birds and social media gaming with Zynga. At the time many were signaling the death of traditional consoles in favor of mobile simply because millions of casual gamers liked Angry Birds and Words with Friends. Farmville was a runaway success. The thing is, they were right about mobile, just for all the wrong reasons. Android and to a lesser extent, iOS, have amazing potential as platforms. Until recently this potential has been limited by the devices these systems run on being largely smart phones and tablets. Nobody wants an extended gaming session on their 5Ē smart phone. Iím not looking to play a 3rd person action adventure on my tablet. But thatís all about to change.

This year sees the launch of Kickstarter heroes Ouya and GameStick. But these systems, along with other Android focused products like the Nvidia Shield arenít turning my head with the games theyíre going to offer. After release theyíre likely to be overrun with ports of ancient titles and half-baked knockoffs while sporting a truly amazing innovative indie only on occasion. The Ouya has been receiving middling reviews by early backers, and I havenít seen many glowing previews of GameStick, but thatís to be expected. The execution of these systems and the games theyíre going to offer is almost secondary to the goal of bringing an open platform into the living room.

For years the blockbuster system has worked because of the immense cost of creating and distributing games on the major platforms. Sure, both X-Box Live and the Playstation Store have nurtured their fair share of Indies but you only need hear stories from Team Meat or Uber Entertainment to see how many hang-ups there are in developing for the big boys. But for many, it's a small price to pay if you want your game in someones living room. Sony and Microsoft have in recent years taken to approaching gaming as simply a part of their platform as theyíve focused on other entertainment experiences in their consoles instead of spurring innovation or opening easier paths for developers to offer games on their respective storefronts.

The introduction of true open platform console alternatives while the established names are doubling down on closed systems is going to be an interesting story to see play out over the next few years. The releases of Ouya and GameStick will challenge the concept of what kinds of games should be produced on a mobile operating system. While I don't feel like these offerings will be successful, the sale of their concept is what's important and interesting. As the technology these open platforms are based on improves and gets closer to offering what gamers desire in a console, it will increasingly be on developers to take to the front lines and offer a break out game to lead the charge in whatever follows up on the promise of Ouya and those like it. Between Sony and Microsoft releasing new consoles, Valve quietly working on Steambox, and upstarts taking a mobile platform into the living room to see what happens, I canít see where the future lies for gamersÖ and thatís exciting.   read

9:08 PM on 06.07.2011

E3: You need to go deeper...

E3 rages on. Or maybe it just kind of meanders. For me, E3 hasn't held the same punch in the wired age. These days you get constant updates and streaming video from developers year round about various stages of production and what titles you should be looking for in the coming months. Other than proper hardware unveiling to confirm the media leaks of the past few days, much of E3 is established well before the event itself.

I've watched the updates this year, but nothing on the software end has really blown me away. Mass Effect 3 and Uncharted 3 look amazing, but I'd expect as much from the likes of Bioware and Naughty Dog. Other titles have me worried about over saturation. I get that feeling from Assassin's Creed these days. Ubisoft seems to have such a speedy turn around, and while so far they've improved with each iteration I've played thus far, I can't help but worry with each new title that my interest is going to wane faster than the story does. The new title already has Desmond in the animus reliving Ezio using artifacts to relive Altair? Where is my Inception ďWe need to go deeperĒ meme when I need it? They should take note of what happens to game series that become annual staples and act accordingly. I need only mention the fate of the Tony Hawk series and Guitar Hero. But aside from titles I was specifically looking for new information on, the games this year just don't hold my attention. What has me thinking tonight is the hardware, the PS Vita and the Wii U.

I was pleased to see that the PS Vita is arriving at a very reasonable price point. I wonder if Sony stockholders are considering it to be too reasonable, as it hasn't been revealed just how much the company will be losing on each unit upon launch. I'd imagine it's probably the highest margin that the company has seen. The 3G version of the Vita doesn't interest me much, as WiFi is prevalent in most places now, but the option is welcome for some I assume.

Unlike the PSP launch, the Vita appears to have an intensive and impressive line of launch or near launch titles. I was a PSP early adopter, and I can remember going for months where I only had one game and a couple of UMD movies to show for my investment. Things look far more promising with titles like Uncharted, Street Fighter, and Hot Shots Golf standing out as highlight titles. Between the price point and the solid line up, if Sony doesn't trip over themselves I think they have a clear winner.

The Wii U is both amazing and puzzling. While it announces the Big N's return to the core market with competitive HD graphics, the design of the controller with the tablet sized screen both has my mouth agape and my mind racing with questions... and not all those questions are ones Nintendo wants their general consumer to be asking. The first thing that crossed my mind when the new hardware was officially announced was mild internal laughter at the name. There are board rooms of people who come up with this stuff, who get paid exponentially more than most of us... and this was the best they could do? The Wii U? With any luck we'll all collectively shorten it to the U. Or at the very least, the Nintendo U.

The second thought was that if this tablet is the controller, how expensive is this thing going to be? How much will a simple second controller run me? If it's graphically powerful enough to run a game, or at the very least stream it off a running console, it can't be cost effective. The other glaring tidbit I noticed was that Nintendo had very little by the way of software to show off on this thing. A couple of tech demos and third party ports. Granted, the third party ports were anticipated titles the likes of Batman: Arkham City and to a lesser extent, Darksiders 2. They had Kevin Levine in their promo happily talking about the possibilities of the console which leads hope to big name third parties taking the console seriously. These are all great things for Nintendo to be doing if they want the core gamer to take them back, but I still feel like this was a bit of a missed opportunity. Had Reggie announced a game like Skyrim or Bioshock Infinite being available on the U I think it would have made a much bigger splash than it did. Right now all I can digest is talk, more announcements will ease my doubts.

For years E3 has been a mixed bag, between the gaming companies nearly ignoring their core base in their attempt to win over the worlds soccer moms, and this year the showing off of the new shiny touch screen hotness and beating into our skulls how they want to integrate gaming into daily lifestyles. But if the whole point of E3 is to get the fans to take notice, Sony and Nintendo have my attention. Mission accomplished?   read

11:34 PM on 04.26.2011

The future is in your hands... or is it?

Recently there's been a lot of analysts buzzing about the future of video gaming not lying with home consoles, but with mobile formats. The rise of the tablet and the ever innovating smart phone have provided a great medium for new companies and independent developers to push quick, and often addicting games designed for short burst gratification. But do the successes of Angry Birds or the social media empire Zynga mean anything long term for video gaming as a whole?

The answer, as one could wager, is complicated. The industry as a whole is not immune to the success of browser based games like FarmVille, or the quick rise of titles available on the AppStore. However, the big publishers are split as to what this success means and how it translates to their own futures. In 2009 Electronic Arts made their move and purchased Playfish, which is currently estimated to have 35 million active users on Facebook. Activison Blizzard on the other hand has yet to throw their hat in the ring, with Sith Lord Bobby Kotick stating that the marketplace is overcrowded and that the consumer experience is different than what they're looking for with traditional games. Hardware makers have jumped into the game as well, with Sony recently unveiling a new series of tablets. While the big dogs have been trying to put their collective heads around this new market, Zynga has been busy poaching their top tier talent. The most recent acquisition was EA's COO, John Schappert . But are these high profile figures simply going to where the money is? Or are they following buzz and inflated potential?

Personally, while I view the market for mobile gaming as promising, I don't see how it translates to current publishers and developers as anything but a new avenue to pursue. The closest thing I could liken it to would be the current models in place for traditional hand held gaming in relation to their console counter parts. The Nintendo DS was long the most successful gaming device on the market, with sales far outstretching any home console. This success didn't always translate to immediate software successes, however. While there is a huge variety of games available for the unit, only last year's Pokemon titles appeared in the Top Ten Sales 2010. Home console software dominates in pure sales dollars.

The biggest difference between previous generations of hand held software and this new mobile marketplace is in cost. Many games residing on the various app stores are available for a fraction of what you'd pay for a traditional hand held game. The biggest of these titles is Angry Birds, which has reportedly been downloaded over 100 million times. Rovio's Peter Vesterbacka has been very outspoken on where he see's the market trending, but I don't think I agree with him. I'm seeing things closer to how Bobby Kotick views this playing field, as much as that makes me cringe. I feel like the two markets have different consumer types, each expecting a different experience. While there is certainly crossover, as nearly everyone breathing in the first world owns a mobile phone... gamers just don't expect our cell phones to provide us with the same kind of entertainment consoles and computers currently provide. I feel that economic analysts are over simplifying and making broad based assumptions simply because there's a promising new market to speculate about, much like they did at the advent of motion gaming spurred on at the success of the Wii. How's that Kinect of yours doing? Or have you already traded it in? But who knows what the future will bring? I can't picture myself playing an RPG on a tablet for an extended period of time, but ten years ago I couldn't picture myself playing a Street Fighter match in 3D against a friend across state while waiting for my morning coffee. I did that this morning. Predicting the future is tough business.   read

8:28 PM on 03.18.2011

Fear and Loathing on Metacritic

It's been a week since PAX East, and I'm just now finally recovered enough to start playing titles I held off on before the convention. I had been looking forward Dragon Age II to since finishing Origins and its currently getting a deserved healthy rotation along with the occasional MvC3 bout. I'm enjoying my rogue a lot, and while the gameplay isn't as micromanaged as the first, I dig how fast I can tie in various skills instead of pausing every three seconds to make sure everything is perfect. The characters in this are a step up from the first game, where I was perfectly fine just rolling with Morrigan and Alistair (quality) and whatever throw away I felt was required for any section. In DA2, I honestly feel bad about leaving certain characters behind because I enjoy them so much. While I'm not quite done my initial playthrough, it certainly has the makings of a great and memorable experience... but the user reviews on metacritic don't necessarily share the same opinion.

To speed up the back story here, the current metacritic user rating is largely a result of backlash from a Bioware employee posting his own favorable user review. Morally dubious, certainly... but the purists that are now posting low reviews and scathing comments (often with horrible spelling) are guilty of the very thing they claim to be fighting against. They're slanting the score out of spite, and not how they feel about the game itself. So one review is biased, it's only going to take one bad review to balance it out... not 500+. It'd be one thing if a marketing division at EA had its hands in multiple reviews in some kind of giant conspiracy... but that's just not the case... this is one guy making his own choice. So why the outrage and the user review crusade?

Metacritic as a whole is a website I don't encourage. It can be a good resource for finding reviews quickly from professionals, but the manner in which it has become a kind of metric goal for publishers leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I don't like reviewers having power over how publishers allocate resources, even if this is only a small consideration in comparison to sales in most cases. If a game has a promising premise and the gameplay/sales aren't quite there yet I'd love to see them take another crack at it to fix and improve instead of saying "Well, this only got an avg 78 on metacritic... lets drop it in favor of another Generic Military Shooter...those are safe". The user reviews are another animal entirely, oftentimes giving a score of zero because of trivialities. Or a 10 for similar reasons.

Certainly EA didn't help matters by essentially supporting the idea of their employees posting reviews for games they're involved in, and saying its how it goes. But lets face facts here, the game is good. If you're on the fence, there just happens to be a free demo available... who the fuck needs metacritic? Decide for yourself. When I think back on this game I don't think I'll remember it for "the controversy"... something tells me i'll remember the hours I put in and the characters I enjoyed.


3:57 PM on 03.03.2011

3DS is coming, but history shows you may want to hold off.

The 3DS arrives in North America later this month, and while I'm excited to get my hands on it a voice in the back of my mind tells me to wait. The past two handheld hardware generations for Nintendo experienced a very small window between the initial unit release and a vastly improved redesign, and while this first 3DS certainly isn't an eyesore, one can't help but wonder how long Nintendo will wait to fix any initial concerns.

The original Gameboy Advance was a significant upgrade to what Nintendo previously had out on the market with Gameboy Pocket Color, but in just over a year they revealed the Gameboy Advance SP, a smaller, sleeker looking GBA with a rechargeable battery and backlit screen. As addicted to Advance Wars as I was, I didn't wait to upgrade from my old glacier to the newer model. Looking back on the two of them, the SP is immensely preferable. Maybe it was because the GBA was such an improvement over the GBC, but I don't know how I tolerated the screen on the original model for as long as I did...It could be a result of owning a Game Gear when I was in grade school... I had been conditioned to accept less than stellar handhelds.

Happy as I was with the SP, when the Nintendo DS rolled out I decided to hold off for a bit. I don't remember taking too much interest in the launch games, or maybe I was broke... I don't remember. Either way, I'm happy I chose to wait because once again in little over a year Nintendo announced the DS Lite, a sleeker design. After the Lite was released I picked up an Onyx Black that I still have to this day. While I was very tempted to upgrade to a DSi XL the 3DS rumors held that move off to see how things shake out.

Don't get me wrong, I'm very excited for the 3DS... the idea of having a decent portable Street Fighter IV is a very enticing option, as I don't have an iPhone. But I just can't help but think that early adopters will once again have regrets when a little over a year from now Nintendo announces their new and improved redesign for this handheld champion... history plays on repeat.


8:29 PM on 02.28.2011

The Cutscene isn't going anywhere, and why you should be happy about that.

Lately I've been hearing a lot of gamers whine about cutscenes and so called "cinematic" games. Sure, in some cases they have justifiable reasons to complain... bad writing is bad writing. Nobody wants to sit through 20 minutes of Otacon crying in Metal Gear. Sure, we know it's there when we buy the game... but somehow Snake makes those minutes worth it. Or the fact that we can get up to get a beer, go to the bathroom, or walk our dog while Hal is busy shedding his tears before Snake can get to the next part of the mission makes it all a wash. But this kind of exaggerated exposition, in my personal opinion... is the rarity, not the norm.

Thinking back on my play of other "cinematic" games I can't think of a time where I tossed my controller in frustration at a new cutscene between Nathan Drake and Sully, or Captain Shepard and Illusive Man. It just doesn't happen. I find myself gripped to the screen to see what is going to motivate my character's next move and how things will change. Cutscenes have provided some of the most memorable moments in gaming history. Aeris dies? Cutscene. Psychomantis? Cutscene. Link receiving the Master Sword in Ocarina of Time? Yeah, another cutscene. Hell, even Andrew Ryan unraveling the plot to Bioshock is essentially a cutscene because it takes complete control away from the player. So why the seething hatred for these moments where you're not pressing buttons?

This isn't to say that there aren't memorable moments in games where you're completely in control of your characters actions. There are plenty. But when I look at a good amount of my favorite games with well written narratives, they oftentimes have scenes to establish motivation, provide emotional impact, or simply provide needed twists to the storylines. A well written and produced cutscene can bring you closer to the characters in the game. Granted, not all games have story worthy of such scenes... but universal moaning against them is unwarranted. Cut scenes give your character narrative weight. Is a character like Nathan Drake any less appealing than a character who doesn't speak, who you inhabit completely? You know who Nathan is through his interactions with supporting characters and through dialogue you have no input in. Does it make him more interesting because he has those interactions while a player character with no speech options only has actions to support the story? Why not have room for both?

While some people will bitch and moan about games striving to achieve better narrative through character interaction instead of providing them a constant barrage of enemies or puzzles, I'll sit back for a few seconds and soak it in to see where the game is taking me. This is becoming a larger medium than we realize, and cinematic cutscenes have their place in the bright future to come. Not to mention, these days cutscenes are nearly universally skip-able should you choose to do so. So quiet down, some of us are eager to see what happens next.   read

6:46 PM on 02.20.2011

A decade without Skies of Arcadia II.

In some other reality, an evil version of myself has already played and beaten Skies of Arcadia 2. A game that should rightfully exist in our reality but has yet to see light. It's hard to think that the last time I played and beat Skies of Arcadia was nearly a decade ago while in college. To this day I have warm, fuzzy memories about Vyse and the Blue Rogues soaring across the sky, doing battle with the Valuan Empire and the occasional arcwhale. But we've seen no sequel. One may argue that sales numbers just weren't there for Sega to continue on, while it's obvious that many still have fond memories of the lovable air pirates as seen by their cameos in Valkyria Chronicles, a game that didn't see much better sales than Skies, but has seen two sequels on PSP.

Maybe I'm just grasping at straws, but has Sega dropped the ball on every franchise opportunity they've had in the last 15 years outside of Sonic and Virtua Fighter. Many could argue that they've let Sonic slip into obscurity. In my experience as a sales clerk for a good period in the last decade I can say that while Sonic games review numbers have slipped and he's fallen from retro gamers graces, he is still loved by younger audiences. It wouldn't be so bad if Sega didn't tease us about it constantly featuring fan favorites in cameos for their cash cow Wii tennis and racing titles. We'll never see another Jet Set Radio game, but we'll get to see Beat race Big the Cat and Ryo Hazuki from Shenmue on a Super Monkey Ball track. That's not to say that Sega is the only offender here, I could go on for hours about Capcom and my lust for a new Rival Schools game... but I won't do that, my therapist has cautioned me about the dangerous road of pain and destruction that leads me down, and while he's just a guy I see occasionally at the local bar I trust his opinion.

The big question here is why do we see so many games with great reviews fall into obscurity while a new Dynasty Warriors or Tales game is almost a guarantee regardless of how well it does? When does quality translate into sales? When does poor quality hurt them? I could argue about series with annual iterations like Call of Duty or uninspired shooters that seem so prevalent taking over developer and publisher resources so we don't see as much innovation in other genres, but I won't do that. So I sit looking at my old dreamcast collection, remembering how innovative the titles were and how a vast majority of the titles ended there, or shortly after the systems own demise and I wonder what games that evil version of myself in Earth 2 has played, which ones I've played that he never saw? Then my eyes find Hotel Dusk and I remind myself that a sequel is coming for that, so all is not lost.   read

10:53 PM on 02.19.2011

air combos for the masses. or how I learned to stop caring about being a nerd

If you know me personally, I know what youíre thinkingÖ if I had an inner nerd I havenít been hiding him very well. After punching you in the stomach for calling me a nerd, Iíd probably agree with you. Yes, everyone I socialize with knows I play video games, read comics, and can quote random movies off the cuff for devastating effects. But in the last few years Iíve noticed that this part of me, the part that knows the powers and backgrounds to every member of the X-Men and has a favorite Ghostbuster (itís Egon, in case you were curious) is not the social outcast to keep under wraps I once thought it to be. As Patton Oswalt recently opined, everyone is a nerd now to some degree. We almost all have a favorite show that we devote ourselves to every season, or a favorite movie or book series that weíll hit a midnight showing or store opening for. But while the line between nerds and your ordinary fan has grayed, it isnít gone. I know this, because I can look down and see it.

Itís nearly a year since I came to the realization that Iím just a regular guy with hobbies instead of being a hardcore follower of anything. I came to that conclusion last year at the first PAX East. Much of the time spent that weekend was surrounded by people who cared more about their hobby than I had cared about anything in my life. There were people in plate mail armor, a girl who had devoted her entire day to act out as the zombie witch from Left 4 Dead, and guys walking around dressed as Ash from Pokemon, their girlfriends wearing yellow dresses and Pikachu ears. I was in jeans and hoodie. These people live their hobbies, I live around mine. For a time wandering the halls, I felt like I didnít belong to a group I had long identified with. Maybe there is a finite amount of love and attention you can give to personal interestsÖ perhaps all the time I spend on biking, the Boston Red Sox, and politics they had otherwise spent entirely on gaming and nerd culture. They honed their interests, while I diversified. By the end of last yearís PAX I had come to accept that I wasnít the nerd I thought I was, but that didnít mean I wasnít welcome. We were all there for the same thing, we loved this hobby.

I received my three day badge for this yearís PAX East in the mail today, and while Iím really looking forward to it, I remember how I felt about last yearís event. PAX is a second home for a good deal of the people who attend it, for me itís just a fun place to go every year. In a few weeks Iíll be again surrounded by people who love gaming more than I ever could, and instead of wasting a day wandering around dealing with identity issues Iím going to have a great time with people who love the same things I doÖ even if they may love them more.   read

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