My real name is Max and I'm a diehard Browncoat. I also have an encyclopedic knowledge of the Star Wars universe left over from a childhood obsession, as well as an actual Star Wars encyclopedia, but that's another matter.
I like to sleep, but keep odd hours, I like food A LOT, I like TV on occasion, I'm not a huge fan of any music except symphonic, and apparently I have bad music taste, even at 20 I can barely grow enough facial hair to justify shaving more than twice a week, I love to write, I kinda read, I hate a couple of the people in my J-school program, HBO is perfect, LOST is actually alright, I'm a total gearhead, Avatar was a terrible movie but an incredible experience, How to Train Your Dragon was very, VERY awesome, and all I want at this moment is a 1:1 stuffed Appa.
Guess what this last paragraph used to be for? My two cents on the games/art debate. Guess what's here now? NOTHING, and that's the way I likes it.
I saw a particularly shocking piece of industry news today, so shocking in fact that it jolted me into writing for the second time in a week. Truly groundbreaking stuff. There also appears to be a blog being featured right now with a very similar title to this one, and I thought I might just take advantage of some of its fame and ride this perfect blog storm to more analytical shores. Confused? Me too. Let's rock this shit out.
I won't dilly dally like I normally do with this kind of thing; EA stock value has dropped 40% since January. Let's not just ride past that figure; one of the biggest publishers of games of the past decade is now 40 cents to the dollar cheaper than it was a mere six months ago.
Even more shocking is the fact that it seems that this is pretty much the singular fault of one of the more beloved development houses out there: Bio-we make fucking awesome games- ware. Yeah, holy shit.
It turns out that the massive failure of Bioware's The Old Republic compared to how well it was supposed to do for the company is responsible - in conjunction with the leadership of John Riccitello - for the titan's fall, at least according to gameindustry.biz. As that article aptly puts, this is hard to fathom when you combine the storytelling ability of Bioware with an IP as established and widely known as Star Wars and, if the article can be believed, one of the industry's biggest all-time budgets.
But if I'm honest, this isn't as surprising as all that, and in my eyes the fault lies not with Bioware, but with whoever chose them to develop a WoW rival for EA.
Bioware is known primarily for its strong, likable characters and enthralling stories. They brought these two elements out in force when making TOR. Never in an MMO have I cared so much about what was going to happen next; WoW was never able to string together quests so deftly as to make me genuinely curious as to what lie beyond my retrieval of many pelts.
Bioware told compelling stories with TOR, something rarely achieved to such a degree in the countless MMOs that preceeded it, something that, to be fair many, have asked for. And I played the Jedi Sage's tale with a wide grin from end to end. Bioware were somehow able to maintain good pacing in their plots alongside the ability to choose the rate at which those plots progressed, which is a staggering achievement in and of itself.
The problem is - and this is a biggie - that next to none of these elements executed with great skill by Bioware are at all conducive to a strong MMO. Stories by their very nature have an end; at some point you will be able to look back on what you've accomplished and say "yes, here is where I plant my flag, for I have completed my conquest." By focusing TOR on story and characters, Bioware gave every person who dedicated any significant amount of time to that game a very clear and obvious point at which they could stop dedicating that time.
Now at this point, you're probably saying that EA's recent strife is indeed all Bioware's fault, but the point I'm trying to make here is that it was the selection of Bioware in the first place that was a bad move, and that's coming... well, now.
See Bioware has indeed been good at creating exceptional stories and characters since, well, Baldur's Gate, but something they've been lacking recently, at least in comparison to their narrative strengths, is gameplay puzzazz. As good as KoToR was, the combat was pretty much just okay, it took them three games to really lock down ME's gameplay, and we all know what happened with DA2.
If you're going to create a "new approach to online entertainment" as the Bioware site claims, you can't really leave your gameplay in the same realm of mediocre that your genre rivals have been in since the earls 2000's when you're setting up expectations using words like "groundbreaking" and "revolutionary" when referring to the rest of your game. It's just going to disappoint people.
My point here is that EA had a lot of evidence to suggest that this kind of thing was at least a possibility when selecting the developer that was going to bring them up against one of the industry's biggest cash cows. If you're going to go up against WoW, you better be fucking sure whoever made your gun gave you a freakin crate of ammo; six immaculately crafted bullets just aren't going to cut the Blizztard.
It's been a full nine months since I last posted here, and a solid year and a half since I wrote with anything resembling regularity, and you know what? I've had just about enough. Yes, the lethargy ends here, and to cap off this momentus occasion of action and writing mediocrity, I'm going to talk about a two-year-old game and an issue that's already been widely discussed. Riveting shit, no?
But fear not, now-turned-off legions, there will be humour, most of it self deprocating, and shiny, evenly spaced pictures to lull you into a false sense of genuine enjoyment. Let's crank the diction.
So I recently picked up Splinter Cell: Conviction at an entirely reasonable $10 at my local FutureBuy Stop, and for a game that I spent about 1500 words tearing to pieces based solely on that 5 min gameplay preview that preceded its launch by about 4 months, I had a surprisingly amazing time.
The controls were shit-hot, the writing was sharp, the pacing was bang-on, and it lasted just long enough to make me feel like I'd gotten my money's worth without being laboured for the sake of length. It also has one of the coolest examples of characterization through gameplay I've ever seen, not to mention the way the co-op campaign ended, that was just... well, this \/
But aside from being a thoroughly entertaining experience, Conviction did something for the Splinter Cell series that many other modern franchises struggle with; it updated without alienating.
But before I get to that, let me completely ruin my narrative flow and take you back to that incredible characterization I mentioned earlier, it'll be worth it, I promise. Oh, and spoiler alert. So about 3/4 of the way through the game, Grim tells Sam that Lambert had been lying to him about Sarah's (his daughter's) death. He did this so he could continue to use Sam for Third Echelon's ends, and discover a mole within the organization, a plan which eventually failed. Spoilers are done with
When Sam finds this out, he destroys most of the room he's in, then flees. This is where the mechanic comes in. For the entire game, Sam's thoughts have been projected into the environment as text on walls, doors etc. At this point, the mark and execute system goes on autopilot, as Sam turns his barely contained rage into concentration, and every single enemy is automatically marked, regardless of whether you've killed an enemy hand to hand, the usual requirement to execute. Knowing that Sam deals with rage, betrayal, and sorrow this way isn't really a shock, but to have that conveyed through gameplay was a completely unique experience for me, and something that the sadly lacking techniques of characterization in games could definitely benefit from.
Anyway, the reason you're here, right. What Conviction did for the Splinter Cell series was keep it modern without losing or significantly altering its core elements. Let's be honest, the gameplay climate we're in right now is a lot different than it was even five years ago. A looooot of gamers want action, visceral combat, instant gratification, and not a lot of hard work, which, let's be honest, weren't exactly key focuses of the series' previous entries. They were about patience, planning, less-than-lethal force, and stealth.
Conviction does well because it acknowledges that we live in a post-Modern Warfare world and opens up its mechanics to new players, while giving old fans of the series nearly all the tools they need to play the way they're used to. It's still just as satisfying to stealthily stalk a room and plan how you're going to take out each hapless peon without alerting any of the others as it ever was, hell, they even found a way to make it faster and smoother without taking away the suspense.
The trimming was done skillfully, and happened mostly in areas you wouldn't necessarily notice. The speed Sam moves across ledges and pipes was jacked up, there's much less use of contextual buttons, fewer options when grappling enemies, and fewer bullet types, just to name a few examples. That last one is a bit of a downer though, I do miss the sticky shocker and airfoil round, but I understand why they had to go. Now, players who normally would pass on a Splinter Cell game because it's too plodding or not exciting enough can blow their way through almost as easily.
"Almost" is the cornerstone of this entire point. It is still more effective to play Conviction like an old-school Splinter Cell game, but if you don't want to, you can still have a good time blowing these relentlessly insulting assholes to bits. This is also done subtly through the P.E.C. challenges, which give you reward points to spend on upgrades. Ubi Montréal has spread their preference right into the diction as well; the "Splinter Cell" challenges are all goals that require you to complete certain levels or requirements while remaining undetected.
At the end of the day, all of this was done to increase sales of the game in a market that's significantly different than the one the original was born in. And if the result of these changes is that we see more Splinter Cell, then they were made for the right reasons. That said, Blacklist looks to have taken these slight alterations to the extreme, but let's reserve judgement until we're closer to release.
To all of the high level indstry execs and creatively groundbreaking devs who of course read every entry in the blog with baited breath: this is how you update and trim a series, with a small scalpel, in places people won't notice, not by grafting rocket launchers to the arms and jet booster to the back.
~ Om nom nom nom...
PS: Let me know if you were one of lucky 80 ish thousand to get a ticket to PAX before they sold out on day one and we'll chill at the show, I'm going without my partner in crime this year, and in light of how much fun I had with DToiders last year, I'm endlessly pumped to meet more of you
I was recently fortunate enough to stumble upon a failing Rogers Video that was selling its used and rented games at three for one. Ever the opportunist, I dashed in to get my grubby meat hooks on whatever scraps they had left. Seriously, I would have been happy with Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games.
But to my great surprise, I did not find Masatog on the used shelf or indeed any shelf in the store. I instead found three games that were actually worth some form of currency. For the incredible price of $40 Canadian, which for you plebes in America is about $40.40, I picked up Deus Ex basically new, as well as Bayonetta and Enslaved.
After almost literally skipping home, I slipped into the world of augments and magic sunglasses. (small sidenote, couldn't you just aug sun protection into his eyes? Anyway...) I played Deus Ex for about a week and was delighted by not only the gameplay, but the plagiarism contained within. Yes, that's the Mass Effect soundtrack you hear, which is actually the Bladerunner soundtrack. Funny how that works. Oh and in yet another effort to completely ruin the flow of this article, there's a riff in the Bastion soundtrack - which is awesome - that is 95% identical to one in Firefly, brownie points to anyone who can name the scene or at least episode it's in.
Anyway, where was I? Yes, Deus Ex. The game kept me playing for about a week and a half before I stopped coming back. This wasn't because it wasn't fun, it was, immensely. And it wasn't because it was ugly or hard to play, neither are true. I stopped coming back because the story got dull.
Now realizing that kinda shocked me. I've always waffled on the gameplay/story issue, but I never thought a lack-lustre story could keep me from coming back to a game that was genuinely entertaining to play.
Here's the catch though, this wasn't a affirmative act on the part of the game. It's not like this story actively disappointed me and I stopped playing out of spite or something, the story just completely lost its ability to intrigue me. I had stopped caring - which, if you're Om Nom initiated, is a thing that is important - so I stopped playing.
I've written and scrapped many a thousand word blog on this subject, but the long and short of it is, to be good, a game has to make you care. Doesn't matter if you care about the story, the competition between you and your friends, the characters, the challenge, whatever, if you care, you will come back.
And this is why I think people (at one time myself included) get all up in arms when the importance of story in games is attacked. A good story is not in any sense of the word necessary, or even comparatively important. Making the player care is what counts, and a good story just happens to one of the most effective, and therefore common ways to achieve that.
It can be done through gameplay just as easily, with games like Geo Wars standing as perfect examples. There's not a whiff of story or plot to be found in that game, yet people care because it's fun as shit, and because they can compete with their friends. I say "they" because I'm completely noncompetitive, never broken 250k. Knutaf's done something inhuman like 4 million or somewhere in that area, and he can do that because the gameplay and leaderboards made him care about his performance.
So the next time you're getting served by some rube in a flame war over why story is more important than gameplay is more important than characters, realize you're all arguing the same point, you just the game to give you something you can care about.
~Om nom nom nom...
PS I know this is literally a month late at this point, but I had an incredible time with you all at PAX. I met more awesome people than I could count, and it was largely because of you that that weekend was absolutely everything I wanted it to be. Next year's mission: bring camera to capture love-in.
There was a story today on the blog roll that talked about how BF3 (the release of which will not be a happy time for the pair of pants I happen to be wearing that day) will most likely contain a pay pass a la Cerberus Network that basically makes you pay for access to a bunch of content if you bought the game used that you'd get for free if you bought it new. Now I'm used to the normal Dtoid haters who unflinching in their defense of the financially less endowed gamer, but this in particular was a little shocking. Dtoider Jamie Christian even takes this as an indication that all hope is lost for the gaming industry. Of course (s)he's being hyperbolic, but the sentiment's there.
I personally have no problem with pay passes such as this, and I can't understand why everyone seems to. It's actually a pretty spoiled attitude in my opinion; sure, if CoD introduced a monthly subscription fee or something like that for access to online play, that would be bullshit, but asking for like five bucks to recover the total loss of sales revenue from a giant portion of games retail doesn't seem that unreasonable to me.
This poor soul was the first google image result for unshowered rube
Now I know what you're saying, "Om Nom, you unshowered rube, no other sales industry in the world capitalizes on unofficial second-hand exchanges." And that's true, but here's why this is such a reasonable request to me: 99% of aaaaaall other retail items depreciate with time, and their function almost certainly has become impaired if you got a given product at any significant cut rate. A video game, as long as its previous owner had the distinct pleasure of not being a razor-handed ass hat, won't really have its function impaired by age; when you buy Vieutiful Joe used for $5, you're getting the exact same experience as the "sucker" who bought it at full price like eight years ago.
Now if we're partaking in an industry that can provide that kind of longevity in its products, what exactly is the disadvantage to them charging an, let's be real here, insignificant amount to ensure that the ridiculous sustainability of their products shows some marginal return for them?
I totally understand that a lot of people can't afford to buy new games, hell, I'm one of them, but to expect to receive everything a company's product has to offer without that company receiving compensation for it is completely unreasonable. No, you're not stealing from EA by buying BF3 used, but that's a sale they would have gotten if you had bought it new that they're now missing out on.
And let's be realistic, it's not like John Riccitiello is gonna take the $5 to $10 you'll pay him for that pass and fuck off to Cabo for an extra long holiday, he's gonna reinvest a good chunk of it so that EA can continue to develop and publish games that you'll want to play eight years from now. And unless we've all forgotten the massive elephant in the room, giving developers and publishers more money for excellent content is definitely not on a list of things I hate when it's far more efficient for them to produce facebook or mobile games at a fraction of the cost.
Now here's what really gets me: it's not like you're getting some withered shell of a game when you buy one used; you're getting a game, in BF3's case, that will already provide you with what is likely to be a stellar single player experience, all you need to do to enjoy the online play is pay, let's be really pessimistic, let's say 10 bucks. Now if you're like the average shooter nut and are gonna devote a good 30+ hours online, you're getting that enjoyment for 30-ish cents an hour, that's a penny every two minutes, and if you don't think your online time is worth thirty cents a minute -here's the good part - you don't have to buy the pass. If you truly don't believe that pay passes should exist, have some integrity, vote with your wallet, and don't buy it. But then don't go bitching around the comment sections and threads of the internet wining about how EA is ruining gaming by charging you less than two quarters an hour for some killer online gameplay, and you chose not to be a part of it when you could have skipped the McDonald's lunch break, made food for yourself at home, and had enough or just less than enough money for your pass depending on how many double cheeseburgers you can drive into your face hole.
I've recently been perusing the PA forums in MASSIVE anticipation of PAX, which I recently found out I'd be able to attend. Now when I get into communities, it doesn't take me long to get that magical, omnipresent nerd-community feel back, no matter how long I've been away, and no matter which community it is, you know the one I'm talking about. And every time this happens, I'm reminded of the endless fun I had in the first one I really dedicated myself to: This one.
So to all who made my first year and a half here incontestably amazing, and you know who you are, I'm sorry I've been absent and lazy and away from FNF for the past several months, and I cannot wait to see each and every one of you that I can at PAX or the next NARP where that's possible. Oh and I should start blogging and FNF-ing again soon, I just gotta get like a 40 ft long ethernet cable for Mr. Xbox.
And to all those here and who will be attending the show or FNFs or just write here who I have yet to make best friends with, as I'm positive is the inevitable result of our relationship, I say "Hi, I'm Om Nom, here's a hero cookie, you probably deserve it."
Tragically, Om Nom's usually bright, erudite demeanor has taken a beating today, a savage beating. Something very unfortunate thing happened, in fact, it was more like a series of unfortunate somethings.
First I checked the PAX site to find that 3 day passes sold out while I awaited the visa that would allow me to buy mine, that's the first and main bummer.
Second, I found out the media registration requirements had been made more strict, all but denying me the one I thought I could get.
Third I found out that not only are the three individual day passes I planned to replace the three-day pass with way more expensive, but passes for Saturday, surely to be the best day, were sold out as well. I hve no doubt that the other two days are sure to sell out quickly too
Now here's where you come in, if you could be so immensely kind.
I know this is a long shot, but if by some miracle anyone has a three day pass they're not using for PAX, or knows someone that does, I would massively appreciate the opportunity to buy it, and would be more than willing to pay above sticker price for it.
Alternatively, I happen to live in the Vancouver area, and could cover all of my own expenses should any of you with a gaming blog lack someone to cover the show, and want a freelancer. For this part, I don't expect anyone to just take me on faith, and would gladly produce writing samples to convince you of my expertise.
For those of you who don't want to hear the sob story behind this request, I will COMPLETELY understand if you stop reading now, because that's all that comes after the period at the end of this sentence
Now, I'm not one to milk, but I feel like if you guys are able to do me either of the favours I asked above, I owe you an explanation. The reason I'm writing this is because for the first time, I've kinda seen this whole vidja gaems journalism thang as a viable career. I'm also a massive penny arcade fan, but have been unable to attend the show for one reason or another ever since I was making enough money to afford the trip.
PAX 2011 was primarily supposed to be an opportunity to meet an inspiration of mine, Jerry Holkins, but also to do a significant amount of networking to help that journalism career. And if the show is scheduled with any sense of intelligence, it looks like that's probably not gonna be a possibility. I would go into more detail about how much this sucks, but I'm looking to pander as little as possible here.
I know it's pretty selfish to ask for this kind of thing when there are thousands of people that won't be able to attend at all, but if anyone can help me out at all, it would be hugely appreciated.