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My name's Todd, and I'm a gamer.

I have an Xbox 360 and a Nintendo Wii. I have a computer, but it's not exactly a current-gen gaming rig, so it's mostly used just for on-again off-again love-affair with World of Warcraft.

I used to have a Gamecube, but I sold. I also used to have a PS1, but I sold that too. I also used to have a Commodore 64, but that was too many years ago, and you'd have to ask my parents what happened to that one.

My taste in games is somewhat eclectic. Shooters are a blast, though it's taken me awhile to get used to running them on consoles. RPGs are great, but I tend to prefer the North American style to the Japanese style. I'm currently nursing a hardcore addiction to Guitar Hero 2, while having nasty dreams about the potential of Rock Band.

I drink and I smoke, and find that both hobbies, while perhaps not great for my body, improve the gaming experience tremendously.

I have another blog here, but it's not updated very frequently. I also passionately love McDonald's Hot Mustard sauce, and think it is a crime against humanity that it is no longer commonly available.
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As I'm sure we're all aware by now, Fox News recently ran a less-than well-informed look at BioWare's Mass Effect, specifically the dirty, dirty sex filled virtual-rape mini games that it doesn't, in fact, contain.

Near as I can tell, there's no sense in retreading topics that have already been surely overtread by now -- that Fox News isn't exactly known for its "Fair and Balanced" coverage, that the so-called experts on the show were anything but, that the round-table discussion at the end of the segment was an embarassing example of just how far into the sand members of the news media are apparently willing to stick their heads. But there is one topic that I think maybe hasn't seen quite the degree of attention that it should.

This attack on Mass Effect isn't *just* an attack on Mass Effect. It's an attack on any attempt to introduce mature, adult topics or situations into video games. Which, as video games attempt to grow into their own as a legitimate art form, is something we'll hopefully start to see more and more of. Assuming reactions like this don't turn developers and publishers off this sort of content.

I blogged a few months back about how games really need to try growing up a little bit, how they need to start treating sex and sexual situations in grown up ways. And even though some of the romance subplot in Mass Effect was a little be cheesy, let's be fair, it's a fricking space opera, some degree of cheese is to be expected. And even with all that cheese, the infamous love scene was still handled in a way that was logical within the confines of the games story and the characters' motivations. It wasn't an excuse to showcase ridiculously proportioned jubblies, it didn't turn sex into a goofy porn-inspired mini-game. It tackled the subject respectfully.

And what does Mass Effect get for its trouble? Contempt from a bunch of people who don't have the foggiest idea what they're talking about.

Perhaps the most perverse part of this controversy is the fact that there *are* games out that are much closer to the description that Fox slapped onto Mass Effect. Games where the sole point seems to be getting your virtual avatar a little virtual lovin' from a variety of virtual hotties. So while Fox missed the point by attacking Mass Effect something it isn't even guitly of, they dropped the ball a second time by remaining oblivious to the existence of the sorts of games that are exactly what they accused Mass Effect of being. And while I shudder to imagine how Fox News would have covered Japanese hentai gaming, at least that topic would have given them some excuse for their apparent disgust at the whole thing.

Obviously we've still got a ways to go before adult topics and situations are treated as something more than eye-candy for the lonely, or a way to inspire an awkward stiffy from the gamer who hasn't seen much action lately, but I still think it's someplace the industry needs to start heading towards as we struggle to achieve a greater degree of respect for video games as an art form unto itself. Mass Effect, for all its problems, at least takes one small step in that direction. And for that, they should be commended.

3:27 PM on 12.06.2007

So it seems that if you write a blog post at 3:00 a.m. but decide to keep it hidden so that you can copy-edit in the morning and then make it live, it still ends up posted as of the time that it was originally written, which means that by the time it goes live it's buried somewhere way down on the list of other blogs that have been updated in the last several hours.

Not a huge crisis, but it does mean my last post missed it's brief time on the front page. Not saying it necessarily deserves to be there, or necessarily deserves to have anyone's eyes on it, but I'd like to give it one more chance at a decent life anyway.

You can find it here: The Spawn Campers of Guitar Hero 3.

I'll admit this up front -- I like to play video games, even though I may not always be terribly good at them. Video games, at least at the consumer level are about entertainment, and not competition. Sure, it's always nice to be get a decent score during a Call of Duty 4 match, but even more important is, are you having fun?

And as we all know there are things that other people can do that make the game less fun for the rest of us. Spawn camping, for example. We like to call people who do this sort of thing "douchebags."

Now with a game like Guitar Hero 3, I really didn't think there was much that someone could do to sap my enjoyment from the game. It's a music game. You hold on to the guitar, you hit the notes, you do the best you can do, and if you're by yourself and really into the song, maybe you'll flail your head around and rock out a little bit. Or a lot. Your call.

But I was wrong, of course. You just can never underestimate the will of the douchebags.

I like to play Guitar Hero 3 on hard. I'm not fantastic at it, for sure, but I can mostly hold my own. I'm passable on expert, but on hard I feel like I can hold my own. And who doesn't like to feel that way when they're playing a game online?

So I'll hop into an online match, and I'll select hard, and the guy I'm playing against will select medium, and I'll think, "Okay, that's fair, he wants to feel like he can hold his own. Nothing wrong with that."

Then it'll come to the song selection stage, and I'll try to scroll down to pick a song, but I can't because, I realize, this is best of 1. And the host picks the song.

And then he does. And it's "Through the Fire and Flames."

And I weep.

I used to actually *try* to play this song, but unless you've practiced it to death there's simply no way to keep up to a competent player who's tackling the song on medium. There's no way to win. And they *know* that. That's what makes it so frustrating. It's like being shot in the back of the head the moment you've respawned in the middle of a deathmatch. You can not win.

This is the spawn camping of Guitar Hero 3.

Now I'll usually just quit the match. They'll get the victory they so clearly want, and I'll save my fingers the torture of playing along without any hope at all.

I know there are some solutions to this problem, but they're half-assed at best. Sure, I could restrict my searches for only best of 3 or best of 5 games, but it's a lot harder to find those. I suspect because everyone who's hosting is busy spawn-camping, waiting to fling that horrible song at anyone who crosses their path.

And, sure, I could host my own games, and hope someone stumbles in. And I've done that. And more often than not I get some decent matches that way.

But inevitably, someone comes along with that song. That fucking song.

You know, I'm probably the last person to ever try to tell someone how to play a video game. We all find different things fun. And as long as we're having a good time, that's all that matters.

But there's a fine, fine line between doing your own thing for the sake of good time and being a douchebag.

Don't be a douchebag.

I'm writing this letter not because I'm aware of any openings in your company, but because I'm assuming there must be one -- or will be one very soon -- in your marketing and PR department.

I'm assuming this based on a story I read recently at a some gaming blog. The story itself was focused on the plans for Rock Band's downloadable content, but near the end of the story, there was a very brief reference to the delay in shipping your game to Canada.

According to this explanation, there was not, in fact, a delay, because you only ever intended to launch the game in the United States, rolling it out to other countries later.

This is fair. It's your company and your product, and entirely up to you to decide how you want to roll that product out. There's just one little problem.

]In your press release, dated Oct. 29, 2007, and available at your official website, you indicate something different entirely.

Specifically: "Rock Band is slated for release on Xbox 360™ video game and entertainment system from Microsoft® and PLAYSTATION®3 computer entertainment system on November 20, 2007, and on PLAYSTATION®2 computer entertainment system December 18, 2007 in North America."

That's North America.

Which, as much as the United States might like to monopolize the name "America," does include Canada too.

I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt here and assuming the mistake wasn't *yours* but is solely the responsibility of someone in your marketing and public relations department. Someone whose departure from your company I am assuming has left an opening for someone like me.

In way of applying for this position, allow me to illustrate the sort of conversation that could have prevented this little PR mistake from occurring. This imaginary conversation is between someone on the Harmonix development team (you) and someone on the Harmonix PR team (me).

DEVELOPMENT: Well, the game is almost ready to ship. It's time to start drafting up some press releases to get the fans all hot and bothered.

PUBLIC RELATIONS: What's the release date?

DEVELOPMENT: November 20, 2007, for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 versions.

PUBLIC RELATIONS: And in which countries will it be released on that date?

You see that last question there? That's the important one. That's the sort of question you need your PR people asking, because it's those little details that are important. The little details are everything.

I am convinced that I would be a valuable addition to your Public Relations department because of my ability to ask these sorts of critical questions. I look forward to hearing from a representative of your company shortly.

Best Regards,

PS: I know this is basically me just ranting about the very same issue I ranted about here, but I think this one is funnier. Or so I hope. And there's a picture. But no bewbs.

Yeah, I know, bunches of people are raving about it. It's awesome. You can have interspecies lesbo-sex. Blah blah blah. We've all heard it before. But I can't help but make *some* comment about it anyway.

I picked up Mass Effect on Tuesday night, dropped in my 360 as soon as I got home, and lost most of the evening to the game.

Struggled out of bed at noon on Wednesday, sat down in front of Mass Effect again, and played pretty much through until midnight, losing, thus far, a day and a half to the game.

The odd thing is that, as much as I'm enjoying it, I wouldn't say that I consider it a jaw-droppingly good, stand-out sort of game. I mean, it's good, yes. It's fun, yes (though for some reason, I still find combat a bit of a pain in the arse, even though I'm gradually getting better at it), but is it great? I...don't know.

Odder still is that, in spite of apparently feeling like it's a fun but not entirely brilliant game, there's a part of me that apparently disagrees. When I shut the game off last night and went to bed, I fully intended to set Mass Effect aside during gaming time tonight, and spend a bit more time with the COD4 multiplayer, because I own Mass Effect, and COD4 is (currently) a rental that's due back in about five days.

And yet the only game I've been able to think about all day is Mass Effect.

When I think about what I'll do when I get home at the end of the day, Mass Effect is on my mind.

When I think about gaming, Mass Effect is there.

When I look at the clock, wondering how long it is until I can punch out of here, it's Mass Effect that is giving me a reason for punching out.

So what the heck is up with that?

Am I in denial about this game for some reason? Am I trying to pretend that it isn't as good as it is? What the heck would be the point of that? Am I going with the "Yeah, it was okay, I guess," attitude just to try to be different? Absurd.

More than likely, Mass Effect works on some *other* level. More subconscious one. It is, perhaps, a fine example of how the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. If you look too closely at the individual components, if you find their flaws, you'll not notice how magical the entire experience can be. And maybe it's that magical experience that I've stumbled upon entirely by accident.

And maybe it's the just the promise of hot, inter-species lesbo-sex. That could be too, I guess.

Dear Harmonix.

I came into this whole rhythm game thing a little late. I didn't have a PS2, so I couldn't get on the Guitar Hero bandwagon, but by the time Guitar Hero 2 was coming for the Xbox 360, I'd heard enough about the game that I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy.

Of course, I had to wait, because there were supply issues. Plus I live in Canada, so there were bigger supply issues. Not sure exactly what they were. Maybe you were misinformed that we Canadians are actually in the 21st century, with automobiles and airplanes and the internet and stuff like that, and so maybe you were trying to sled-dog the Guitar Hero 2 shipments to us. I'm not sure.

Either way, I finally got my hands on a copy earlier this year, and I gotta say, I fell immediately in love with it. Psychotically (though in an entirely platonic way) in love. Seriously. Ask my 360's blog about it.

And then I heard about Rock Band, and I think I almost died.

I've been a gamer for years. I played Doom on my 386. Shooters and RPGs have been my gaming style of choice for more than half my life. My lust for rhythm games is a testament to the awesomeness of your company and the products you develop.

So then I hear, a week or so ago, that you might have some difficulty keeping up with the demand for the game leading up to Christmas. I hear that you might not have quite enough inventory.

And I think...hm, that's odd. I mean, the interest in Rock Band has been pretty solid since its announcement. There's been a lot of coverage here on the Internet -- and there's a lot of gamers and, I suspect, game developers who are familiar with this whole internet thing. So it seems kind of strange that you wouldn't be aware of the rabid, foaming, demand for this game. And it seems sort of odd that you wouldn't, you know, put in the extra effort to meet that demand.

Then tonight I read that not having the supply to meet the demand is the least of my problems. I read that, up here in the great white north, Rock Band is delayed until Dec. 17. And that's just...god, I don't even know what to say about that.

One of the stories I read said something about having to create bilingual game cases -- that contain both english and french. But, seriously, come on, if you're translation staff is going to require four weeks to complete that project, I think it's possible that you've hired the wrong people. Maybe some germans or spaniards or something. Because there is no way it should take that long.

Another story I read speculated that what would have and should have been Canadian shipments of Rock Band have now been diverted back into the US to meet the demand that your current level of production is not able to meet. Which comes back to what I said earlier: Did you not notice that there was a rabid, foaming, passionate desire for your game? Did you not think it was maybe a good idea to produce enough copies to meet that rabid, foaming, passionate desire?

I know, it's your game, and you can do with it as you will. You could ship every copy to gaum. You could stick in a warehouse and never release it to the public. And if you should decide to keep out of Canada until Dec. 17 -- which, apparently, you have -- then that's your decision too. It's just that the whole thing just seems so tragically preventable.

Best regards,