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2:51 PM on 05.15.2012  

The best game you've never heard of: WWII Online: Battleground Europe



Your heart pounds in your chest as you crouch beneath the window. Just behind that wall you hear the sound of foot steps running past. Further down the street you hear a Panzer III engine rumble to life. Gun shots ring out across the city interspersed with cannon fire and anti-aircraft batteries opening up on their targets. In the distance you hear the resulting explosion of a bomb impacting the army base.



Nearby, your squad leader is imploring you to get across the street and secure the depot. If you can secure a foothold in this city, you're certain that you'll be able to overwhelm the enemy and take it. It's an important strategic location, it has an airfield that will be key to air dominance in this area of France. It's an uphill battle. Half of your squad died shortly after you para-jumped into the city, and the enemy has already fortified the depot.



Popping a smoke grenade to obscure the vision of anyone down the street, you race to the building closest to the depot. You turn and see your squad leader halfway across the road when he is suddenly cut down by an enemy rifleman. Looking for the shooter you set your sights on the church bell tower. Seeing slight movement, you pull the trigger on your rifle...



It sounds like a heavily scripted AAA shooter. The reality of WWII Online: Battleground Europe is that every unit in the game is controlled by another player. Players crew every tank, fighter, bomber, truck, and infantry unit in the game. It is not uncommon to play infantry and see a squad of tanks engaging the enemy, while over head dozens of aircraft jockey for position in the sky - hoping to open up an avenue for their side's bombers to soften up defenses.

I've played WWII Online off and on for the past 10 years (yes, it's been continuously updated and improved) and have had enjoyable experiences with it. I thought it was time to revisit the game this past month after having not played for a year or so. I also wanted to clue people into what they're missing here.

It should be said that this is not an easy game. It's one of the more hardcore shooters out there. One shot, one kill. It is very unforgiving in that regard, and as such players coming from CoD and it's clones are repelled by this games deep tactical nature in droves. Tactics and cooperation are the name of the game here. That is not to say that you can't be a lone wolf, if that is the case though, you'll want to join up with some people near your base to coordinate your efforts. It doesn't do anyone any good if you get shot without being able to report the enemies that you saw.



Infantry can be quite fragile. Nearby explosions will temporarily blind and deafen you. But coordinated, and with support from armored units, infantry can truly be a force to reckon with. Beyond that, it also makes for some of the most intense gameplay you'll ever experience. With death potentially lurking behind every corner, simply making it from building to building can provide a real adrenaline rush. This also means that real tactics work. Covering fire will actually keep players pinned down, it's a refreshing change of pace.



Vehicles are a huge part of WWIIOL. From the trucks required to tow an anti-tank or anti-aircraft gun into position, to the tanks providing infantry support and blitzing the enemy positions, each contributes to the overall success of the mission. A neat feature of WWIIOL is that is allows for two players to crew a vehicle. Drivers/Gunners on tanks, and Pilot/Bombadier/Gunners on planes and bombers.



The air war is perhaps the most difficult element of the game to master, and the most rewarding. The extremely realistic physics engine means that it takes some time to get comfortable just flying. Over control the plane? Well, someone'll need to explain to Meg Ryan why you died in a flat spin. Again, not very forgiving, but hugely rewarding in the end. The thrill of surviving a 5+ minute dogfight and seeing the wing shear off of your opponents Me109 (yeah, I usually play allied) is unparalleled. Whole books have been written just on the topic and you can dive as deep as you want.

The graphics are looking pretty dated unfortunately. Despite character models that underwent an overhaul a year or so ago, they still look last generation. I suppose on some level that is a concession to be able to have so many units appear on screen at once, but then again, there are still entirely open fields in some places with flat landscapes. The terrain could stand some work as well.

Overall, it's a great experience. It's unique, and its worth trying out. If you dig hardcore simulations like Arma 2 and want something a bit more massively multiplayer, this might be a game for you. I can be found in game @rcmodels. Or on Twitter @SirKerrald.   read


5:28 PM on 08.16.2011  

News: Hasbro Regains D&D Rights, Neverwinter is Delayed



Neverwinter, Cryptic's hybrid coop/MMO entry into the licensed Dungeons and Dragons arena, has been delayed until "late" 2012. Wizards of the Coast, owner of D&D, published a press release announcing that the lawsuits and countersuits between Hasbro and Atari over the rights to publish D&D based video games have been settled. Wizards provided no further details regarding terms of the settlement, only that licensing has returned to Hasbro and that Atari will continue to publish several games under license from WotC and Hasbro.

Wizards also made note that Cryptic has moved the release of Neverwinter from end of this year to "late" 2012. Noting that Cryptic has recently been sold by former publisher Atari to Chinese MMO publisher Perfect World: "Perfect World will be investing in a more immersive experience for release in late 2012."

Cryptic's community manager commented on the developments on the official forums, saying "Perfect World, our new owners, have decided that they would like us to take more time to make Neverwinter a "more immersive experience". This doesn't mean that production on Neverwinter is stopping (The truth is the exact opposite). This doesn't mean that Neverwinter is being cancelled. This doesn't mean that Perfect World is taking over development and making a grindfest. This means Perfect World is allowing us (Cryptic) another year to work on the game, polish it, and release a better Neverwinter."   read


2:50 PM on 08.08.2011  

Quick hit: What to do with the boxes?

So we're in the process of cleaning out the house. We've got a dumpster, and we're tossing stuff left and right. Now, I've held on to my old game boxes and manuals because i dig the art and always wanted to have some sort of a game library type area. These aren't your small little dvd size cases either, these are mostly the huge PC Game boxes that you used to buy when it felt like you were making a big and awesome purchase. Back when manuals were 300 pages (w00t!) and they actually put effort into the packaging.

Should I keep it? Or should I toss it?

Here's a snapshot of just some of the stuff there:


Also found:
  read


9:13 PM on 05.19.2011  

Being the n00b: Impressions on One Month in Eve Online


The visuals in Eve are absolutely gorgeous.

Eve Online has been around for quite awhile now, and from what I've read it has come quite a ways. The typical thing you hear is that it is incredibly difficult for a new player to learn the game and become effective enough to do what he/she wants for quite awhile. That much, I can assure you, has not changed. It is still an incredibly difficult game to learn. I've been playing for almost a month and I'm still trying to figure things out. Having said that, there are many fun and rewarding things about the game that make it worth sticking out. This is definitely not a game for everyone.

Let's take a walk down memory lane for a moment and look back at my first moments in Eve. I originally played the free trial in February of 2010. And by played the trial, I mean I messed around for a few minutes and suffered through the opening tutorial on my 4 year old laptop where it played like a Powerpoint presentation. I said forget about it after 2 days and moved on with my life. Over the course of the year since then I retained my interest in the game and every subsequent article that I read about the scandals and backstabbing only whetted my appitite for Eve. After building a new gaming computer in May and delving into the backlog of games that I had missed for the past 5 years, I promptly forgot about Eve until Incursion began making news: a major update that promised to make things a bit easier on new players.

At the end of April of this year, a friend whom I had frequently discussed wanting to play Eve with joined the trial with his Rift guildmates. I said the hell with it and jumped in headfirst, dropping $20 for the initial month and cd key. Creating a new character, I was greeted with the somewhat familiar tutorial of 10 missions that walks you through some of the very basics of the game. This tutorial is entirely text driven. It is a combination of courier missions and combat missions, or industry/market/mining related missions depending on what "school" you start off in (think of it like a class, fighter, electronic/tech warfare, economics/trade). This gives you a brief run down on different functions and then pretty much drops you into the game with an ok frigate and some money.

From there on out, you're grinding PvE quests trying to make money, get better ships, and outfit that ship (sometimes more expensive than the ship itself) and eventually make it out to low security space for some pvp and where I view the real game as existing. Nearly a month in, I have yet to take part in any PvP. Leveling takes time. Literally. Skills have a time period that it takes for something to level. I found myself liking this quite a bit actually as I could level my skills while I'm at work and signed out.

I lucked out, my friend's guild has a player that has been playing Eve for several years and has shown us some of the finer points on how to play the game. It's at times confusing or counter intuitive. There are player corporations that are dedicated to teaching new players how to play, like the Eve University. New players really HAVE to either find a veteran player or hook up with Eve University. Interpreting stats and determining how to fit you ship and which items will better benefit you, or which skills to train in what order (there are tons) are quite confusing at first.



Now, I've dished quite a bit on how difficult Eve is to learn, but what makes it fun? Why dedicate the time? Because flying with a group of people and running missions, and coordinating attacks is a ton of fun. It's all about the human aspect. Sure you can pull off some big heist or prey upon some lone miner, but the real fun is in the fleet actions. If you are going to play Eve, your number 1 priority needs to be finding a group of real people to learn the game with. If you do not, you will not have a good experience.

I've only played the game for a month, but I'm going to give it a 2nd and evaluate as I go. I've found it can be a fairly casual game because the leveling system easily allows for this. The time sync doesn't need to be huge. I'll post some more updates as I get deeper into the game.

If you decide to take the leap and jump into Eve, hit me up: my pilot's name is Kerrald. I'll be happy to help you learn the game and you're welcome to fly with me.   read


7:31 PM on 05.18.2011  

LA Noire: The Rebirth of Mainstream Adventure Gaming



Adventure games are somewhat of a lost art when it comes to AAA titles. Where once they reigned supreme as pretty much the only games around (think: the Sierra years), today they have been relegated to a niche genre position. LA Noire has hopefully changed that.

My take away from LA Noire is its story. The fact that it takes story seriously, makes it central, integral, and instead of making cutscenes skippable, it makes the action scenes skippable. This is a clear declaration about what is important in this game. A real shift from the idea that story somehow "impedes" gameplay. The developers have made it clear that the gameplay in this game is the story.

Looking at what constitutes actual game play in this game its easy to see how this is a return to the core elements of what made adventure games great: 1) A strong story filled with a wide array of characters at its center. 2) A compelling mystery or series of mysteries that constantly drive you to continue. 3) The opportunity to look around and logically deduce (in most cases) or infer answers to whatever is going on in the story.

In the case of LA Noire, it is this last point that is new and refreshing. Here, it isn't just about figuring out which item goes where. In LA Noire, you get to apply that deduction or inference to your interactions with characters in a meaningful way that dictates to some extent the info you'll have to solve the rest of the case with. And it does this without breaking the missions at all. There is nothing more frustrating in an adventure game than missing a some insignificant pixel sized object 20 minutes ago or longer that you needed to solve this puzzle. Not only that, but you don't even know what it is that you're missing (The Longest Journey, I'm looking at you).


The Legend of Kyrandia 2: The Hand of Fate. Classic adventure gaming goodness.


LA Noire sidesteps this issue remarkably well. You may still be able to come to the correct conclusion, but you'll need to come about it another way. At no time have I truly gotten stuck to the point of banging my head on the desk or rage quitting. That is not to say the game isn't challenging, but it is a bit on the easier side. The hint system never leaves you wondering, in some ways it may be overly helpful, but on the whole I've found it well balanced between giving the play the chance to learn and discover and keeping you from getting stuck.


Syberia: Occasionally frustrating, yet gorgeous all around.

These frustrations have long been a synonymous with adventure gaming. On some level I have to grit my teeth and prepare myself for the aggrevation that I am sure is to follow whenever I boot up a new one. And at the same time it is these frustrations that most people characterize the genre with.

LA Noire has created the perfect fusion of traditional adventure gaming hidden within this persona of being a AAA title (of genre indeterminate if you look at the advertising). Hell, this game needs to wear its genre on its sleeve. As of now, in my mind at least, it is at the vanguard of what is sure to be a renaisance of games along this vein. The IPs that can work in this format and in no other are numerable. The content exists, and I don't think that they all need the same budget as this game.

If you're on the fence with this game, take the chance pick it up. And then try out some other adventure games too.   read


3:53 PM on 03.22.2011  

Sports games and devotion

Today on my Facebook feed, a post from one of my good friends to another popped up. It was about how his relationship with Triple Play 2002 has finally come to an end. To give you an idea of the magnitude of this event, I'm going to post verbatim what he wrote:

So as you probably already know, I've been playing a season of Triple Play 2002 every year since I bought the game in 2001. With every passing season, the Red Sox roster would make alterations. So would I. I made sure that my roster was exactly the same as the opening day roster of the real team. I also updated other team rosters. It got tougher in later years. I had to create the Dustin Pedroias and Jonathan Papelbons of the world. So it is with great sadness that I inform you that I will be ending the streak this year. I turned on the game last night (she's a deeply scratched PS2 mold) and discovered that the only remaining players on the 2001 lineup were Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield. Only Florida Marlin Josh Beckett could be traded for. I briefly contemplated recreating the entire 2011-2012 roster (a full days work probably), but ultimately decided it was time to let go of the past. Sad face emoticons abound.

That is the kind of fanatical dedication that one has to admire, regardless of game or genre.


Rest in peace Triple Play 2002. Gone but not forgotten.


And to Depo: I hope you find solace in the arms of another baseball game.


  read


2:01 PM on 03.20.2011  

The Death of Foreplay: How Manuals Expanded the Gaming Experience

With EA announcing that they are officially killing pack-in manuals, I think its time to take a moment to step back and appreciate the art and design of some of these by-gones from another era in gaming.

This is a small sampling of some of the better manuals I had on hand at the moment.

When I was younger, back in the days before I had a license to drive myself to a store to buy a game (read: the 90s), my first experience with a game was opening the box and reading the manual on the drive home from the mall. The 30 minute drive gave me ample opportunity to read over all the features on the box and dive into the manual and begin learning about the world I was about to enter. Also, it taught me how to play the game, but that was generally secondary to the other information in the manual and other inserts.

I remember vividly getting Wing Commander IV. In the box it had a number of things: trifold with the keyboard layout showing what buttons did what, and the manual. When I opened the manual I found that it wasn't a cut and dry "Push a to jump" type manual, but the opening text was actually that of a story. It introduced the game setting in novel form. On every other page was a boxout of the fighters or weapons found in the game that you were able to use.

Empire Earth came with a behemoth of a manual. At 236 pages, it was partly a history book, part manual, part art book (containing period specific depictions of weaponry and units etc). An epic game should have an epic manual, no? Well, they certainly achieved it on this one. Depictions of the ages, the rise of city-states, advances in technology all flowed seamlessly together with information about how to play the game. It was informative on many levels, and enriched the player in the history of what they were about to play.


Arcanum had a uniquely stylized depiction of its world

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura has one of the best manuals I have ever read. Opening with the Principia Technologica, the entire manual continues in the victorian steampunkish style of the game introducing the player to this world where technology is meeting magic and the schism they have created. It is really a brilliantly written and put together piece for the game. Playable races aren't simply shown with stats and attributes, they're described as though they were written in an academic case study of the period, outlining their theorized evolution (clearly based on Darwin's writings that would've occurred at about the same time), and how they exist in the modern world.


While these manuals may have been for large games, I did find my Madden 2k3 manual that still clocked in at 43 pages. Yeah, that manual actually explained how to do things and was not just a chart for what button did what.

We as gamers need to take the time to congratulate developers for going the extra mile to envelope us in the rich game worlds that we're being invited to experience. These worlds need not exist solely on the screen. I have always found that a game with a rich manual has drawn me in far deeper than games that come solely with a button chart. It helps me understand game mechanics better, and when done correctly, it can bring an element of that game world into our own. Certainly, not ever game is suited to a manual of the type that I have described here, but take a moment and imagine some of the more recent blockbusters with these added elements:

Mass Effect 2 could have had a manual written as a field guide for Cerberus agents, seeding hints about shady practices that would later be revealed. Call of Duty could have included briefing documents on the infiltration mission towards the beginning, or dossiers on enemy targets. Dragon Age II could've done just about anything to bring the player out of Ferelden and into Kirkwall. The possibilities for these things are truly endless.


The opening pages from The Longest Journey

So where do these elements go from here? How do we reach players with this kind of experience in an age of digital downloads and in game tutorials? The answer could be any number of things. I for one, HATE with a burning passion pdf manuals. I would much rather see a wiki style external (and in game) type manual solely to describe gameplay. It should serve as reference. Shogun 2: Total War has implemented something similar with success, but still has faults with its clunkiness and lack of ease in searching for something specific.

What I want to see: Manuals should be available freely outside of purchasing the game. Set up a company wiki and publish the manual as suggested above there. Set up in-universe websites to create these world expanding experiences. For example in Mass Effect: Cerberus could have a website set up like a company wide intranet filled with information open and hidden. A press website for decrees from the Council, or a news website for that Citadel news station could all serve well. Because you're now forced into relying on the web doesn't mean that this has to apply to modern and futuristic games. A website set up as a library filled with the tomes from the Elder Scrolls games would be a fantastic site.

There are so many great possibilities to expand the experience, and at reasonable costs using the same design teams that would've been used on manuals, and without the waste that EA claims. Let's see some innovation and world building.   read


9:01 PM on 07.23.2010  

Societal changes, technology, Alternate Reality Games, and EA's Majestic



This is a post that I've had rattling around in my skull for several months now, and I've finally gotten around to writing it up. If anyone else played Majestic back in 2001 and would like to chime in with their thoughts in the comments, I'd really like to hear what you thought of it and the ARG genre as a whole.

So, for those not aware back in the middle of summer in 2001, EA launched this new game called Majestic. It was a game you played over the internet, or as their tagline went, it plays you. There were several cool things about Majestic, first of all, it was played across a variety of media. Well, no let's rephrase that, parts of it were experienced across a variety of media. I clarify because the game would contact through various methods. You would receive faxes, IMs on AIM from characters, rerecorded phone calls, emails, etc etc. As a 15 year old kid, I thought this was very awesome. This was before I had a cell phone, and we still had dial up like most of the country, so of course it didn't work very smoothly. Much of the video took forever to download or would constantly buffer over 56k so it looked like crap and really broke much of the suspense of what was happening and reminded you it was just a game. The other thing about Majestic is that you didn't necessarily play it on your time. The calls, faxes, emails, IMs could be received whenever. Getting a call over the house phone when you were home and a family member answering pretty much messed that up. It was a bit of a bummer.

The interactive elements of the game played like an adventure game set across the internet. The premise of the story was that you're playing this game called Majestic, made by this studio called Anim-X, and the game is supposed to involve the "Majestic 12" a government conspiracy concerning a cover up in Roswell. Then you get an email from EA saying the game was cancelled because the Anim-X studio burned down. Holy shit! That sucks! I was just getting into this game, and now there that goes.

Massive disappointment. But wait! Someone from the studio contacts you through the system built for the game. You have to help them. Much like the Dwarves of Moria, the developers dug too deep while researching the majestic 12 and learned more than their research was supposed to reveal. Now they're involved in some kind of government cover up and are being targeted! Now the developers are sending you various clues to help you uncover what they found. You're being set to different websites looking for keywords and links and trying to unravel the puzzle. At the same time, you're able to make contact with other players over AIM that are at the same point in the game as you to help solve the mysteries you were presented with. This was a really well thought out game, and the puzzles were quite difficult.

Around this time the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 happened. EA makes a decision that because of content matter, the game is going to be put on hold for a month or two. For real this time, this is no longer alternate, but real reality.

The game resumed but was cancelled in early 2002. As a paid service ($10/mo, it had on going episodic releases) it just never recovered, which was really too bad. This was a very unique game. Honestly, I think it was way ahead of its time. IM had not quite yet hit its stride, broadband was not in most homes, not everyone owned a laptop as they pretty much do now, and cell phones weren't in everyone's pocket. 9 years makes a huge difference.

So there was a significant bottleneck for subscribers from a technological viewpoint, additionally, because of the nature of shared computers and home phone lines, it was very difficult to experience without missing the right call or having someone else answer the phone and missing a clue. Then to top it off the terror attacks pretty much knocked the player base out from under it when EA pressed the almighty pause button.

Alternate reality games have certainly not gone away. In fact, the genre is most often used as a form of viral marketing, which has proliferated the number of experience out there by a large number, but also decreased the depth of the offering. These aren't the deep on going mystery of Majestic, instead its a breadcrumb trail to eventually sell a movie ticket (Dark Knight), or another game (I love Bees, anyone?), or an album(NiN: Year Zero).

There are plenty of reasons that Majestic didn't survive. I think mostly because it was ahead of its time. Had it launched even just 3 years later I think it would've been a critical success. I would really love to see this type of experience make a come back. The technology is here, the gamers are here, and thanks to the smart phone, everyone expects calls/texts/alerts at all hours of the day. The world has changed since 2001, perhaps it is time to take another crack at this game, or this genre on a large scale.   read


1:28 PM on 07.15.2010  

RIP 1 vs 100

I absolutely loved this game. It was an incredibly unique experience and it was tons of fun by yourself or with a few friends. There is no better domination, than mental domination. It was also the only game I've ever seen my family want to try, which is really saying something.

To paraphrase The Macho Man Randy Savage from his song "Perfect Friend":

"This one goes out to my real close friend and buddy
Chris Cashman A.K.A. Mr. 1 vs 100, just want to
let you know that you're missed but you'll never be forgotten."   read


6:43 PM on 07.13.2010  

My Hope for Kinect, or: One Step Closer to a Holodeck



Ok, maybe not a holodeck (omni-directional treadmill + CAVE screen + motion tracking and we're halfway there), but I just read Wired's recap of Peter Molyneaux's TED presentation of Milo and Kate today http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2010-07/13/peter-molyneux-milo-and-kate-xbox-kinect-preview and I'm still thrilled at the idea and possibility of where this will lead us.

Yetm every time I hear about this project my mind resonates with two words: hope and hype.

It's a given that there is trickery involved in this project as Mr. M is quoted as saying in the article. At the end of the day, all games are trickery. The illusion of freedom bound of the constriction of code, in turn bound by constrictions of finances and time. That said, the fear that this is all hype and no substance is very real. This is something that hasn't really been done before -- of course our expectations will be higher than what will be delivered. But this is just a start in my view. There is so much potential behind this technology.

When games themselves were a new form of entertainment there were a couple basic types of games: puzzle games, arcade style games, and text/point and click adventures. Natal/Kinect will also likely go through some form of infancy where the only games made for it will be arcade style shovelware and puzzle games. But beyond that lies my greatest hope: a new Renaissance for adventure games.



I believe adventure games are a perfect fit for Natal, because they can be heavy on narrative and character interaction. The interaction between Milo and the player is exactly what this genre needs. When thinking over adventure games I am always brought back to the Holodeck episodes of ST: TNG and the episodes where they're playing as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Sherlock Holmes is really a perfect fit for Natal. Tracking your body as you look around for clues, interact with objects (imagine lifting a hanging picture from the wall to find a hidden safe), and more importantly physically speaking with and interrogating other characters. Characters who are able to carry on a fluid conversation (sure it'll never be like the real thing, but better than having 3 options on a screen and choosing the obvious) where you have to dig to get clues. Characters who have agendas and things to hide. There in lies the strength of Natal and whatever successor to it that will come with the next Xbox.

Perhaps a game where you portray an detective in a single interrogation room. The entire game is trying to get a confession or clues out of people as to who committed the crime. You ask questions, you intimidate, you play good cop/bad cop and the AI picks up on that. Everything is verbal. The room itself is undecorated, its just you and the NPC. Technology like what was talked about in this article: http://www.gamepro.com/article/news/215667/the-most-impressive-thing-i-saw-at-e3/ make it possible to tell when you touch a nerve with the character.

Because of this the future needs of game studios is not to be found in graphics, but in AI. As we see today with 3rd party software libraries like SpeedTree, Havok Physics, and other software solutions, we'll be seeing massive 3rd party tools that enable NPCs to talk with players, to understand questions, and generate answers.

While I know that this was another rambling disjointed blog post from me, I hope you all see what I'm getting at, and the potential of this great hobby of ours. It's only a matter of time...   read


7:46 PM on 04.09.2010  

Consoles, mods, and community driven DLC. A win/win for gamers and developers


Wrong kind of Mod
It's a story most of us can relate to: my first experience with a game mod. The year is 1998, you're playing Rainbow 6 for the umpteenth time wondering if there's any more fun that could be had storming the bank yet again. Then it hits you. You can play online with that new fangled internet thing you recently convinced your parents to subscribe to. You log on to one of those matchmaking sites (they were all the rage for awhile before match making was built in, remember?) and play against live people, and you didn't even need to send someone an IP address! So you fire up the MSN Zone or Gamespy or whatever other shitty-yet-passable match making service you happened to have a free account with. Then you see all these rooms with weird headers, wtf are they? Then it hits you and you understand. Holy shit, you can download new maps! And new guns! And everyone has them in the room! And it doesn't break the game! Suddenly, my experience grew in ways I had never imagined to that point. No longer would I be constrained to the same maps, now there would be infinite maps, just 1 click and an hour wait (come on, I had a 28.8) away!

Honestly, I have to wonder how we've allowed console makers to strip games of their modability. Yes, yes, there will forever be that argument about cheaters, and virii etc etc. But there are ways to prevent this. Much like how XNA's indie dev program has community moderation, certification, and testing, the same methods could be implemented with a new Community Content channel or something.

Let's take my favorite game of the moment: Dragon Age: Origins (haven't played Awakening just yet). This is an incredibly deep game as it stands. I'm on my second play through with a polar opposite character. But for the PC version there are mods a-plenty and you receive the editor when you purchase the game in order to make your own mods if you so choose.

<rant>Why the hell am I paying $10 more for a game on Xbox that isn't modable? And why don't I at least get a key to download the editor and play with it? Hell, I paid more, shouldn't I at least be able to fool around with it?</rant>

We gamers are forfeiting a lot of value by allowing MS and Sony to keep games from having mods. I'll point out that Nintendo had an element of modding with Smash Ho's Brawl with its level designer and ability to download to your PC and transfer new files via the SD card reader. This was awesome. Fully functional and intuitive? No. But still very awesome.

Before I get into the win/win for manufacturers and developers, let me be explicitly clear: Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, do I have your attention? Good. If you ever charge for community created mods it will be at your own peril and credibility. Especially as consoles approach the price of entry level gaming rigs, which I expect them to hit or exceed with the next consoles.

That said, while we gamer's stand to benefit a shit ton from this, publishers and console makers will benefit as well. Well how would that happen? Simple, you're no longer paying for what is just in the box when you buy it (which as I've discussed in my last blog post just seems to be a one pager with an epilepsy warning and the most pitiful manual you ever laid eyes on these days), you're also buying into a community of gamers and modders. More value is added. A community is built. The question is no longer necessarily who has the most active subscribers, but who has the most involved subscribers. How many more people are paying members of XBL in order to access this content (yeah, I know it is still free on PC, but this is a hosted service, remember that). While there are several 10s of millions that subscribe to PSN and Live (come the fuck on Nintendo, get with the 21st century where is your online service that isn't just there to sell us stuff? Also: matchmaking) only some small percentage of players actually buy DLC. It turns out that the number of gamers aware that DLC exists is shockingly low. This would change by making community modding a hallmark of a service.

This number would go through the roof. Not because they'd be paying for community content, but because they'd be aware that it exists, and lets face it: production values are higher on professional DLC (most of the time).

The current model of studios trying to pump out the most DLC the fastest (Come on, shipping it on the disc isn't DLC. I'm looking at you Bioshock 2) is all wrong. This isn't a race to the top. This is a race to the bottom. The system that connects with the community to offer this first will win. Players will migrate, they will play, and ultimately they will spend. More importantly, talent will be on showcase, value increases all around, and fun will be had.   read


9:23 PM on 03.29.2010  

What's in the box matters too...


I still remember opening my first modern computer game. We had just gotten a new Packard Bell (the dude at Staples had assured us we'd never need more than 2mb of video ram in our lives) and the next day my dad let me pick out a game at the Babbages near a relatives house that we visited. After looking around I picked up Wing Commander IV. The box had sold me.

Looking at the back panel you could see space battles, full motion video cut scenes, and it had Mark Hamil, John Rhys-Davies, and Malcolm McDowell! The production values looked amazing, not that I understood what that meant or that that was even a buzzword back then. I had the box open by the time I was in the car and peered inside. It had the the usual flier that Origin/EA included at the time that listed upcoming games, it had a keyboard layout card showing what seemed to be endless control options (well, compared to SNES at least), an install guide, and then there was another booklet that I'll talk about in a second. My prior experience with games was limited to SNES and NES games with their instruction manuals that I would read the moment I was able to open the box. They were really the introduction to the games back then.



One that sticks out from SNES was the manual to Donkey Kong Country. It was fully of glossy background pictures from the game, it established some narrative and gave the world context. It showed off all the Kremlings in glorious pre-rendered 3d that I couldn't wait to experience in the game. It had humor with comic style interjections (by Cranky Kong if I recall correctly), and it did its job and taught you the game.

But WC IV had something new, it had basically half a book with it. Included were the first couple chapters of the novelization to the story. I read the entire thing on the hour and a half drive back to our house. I had owned the SNES version of Wing Commander, but it never clicked. I never got into it, I never understood it. Frankly, I didn't even connect the two games until weeks later when I came across it, relegated to the back of a box of my SNES games, rarely seeing the light of day. Those opening chapters opened up the universe of Wing Commander for me. I met Maniac and Blair and learned about the Kilrathi War that was covered by the 3 previous games. It gave the whole game depth. By the time I installed and ran my first game in Windows 95 I had an idea of who was who.



A few years later I got the Jane's Combat Simulations "Fighters Anthology" for Christmas. It came with the biggest manual I had ever laid eyes on. It was something like 200 pages! Opening it up I found explanations of tactical manuevers, discussions of radar, descriptions of jets, armaments, how to handle engagements, hell after reading that I felt like I could be an ace myself! I read that manual into the early morning, committing nearly everything to memory, and then I read it again the next day. I would repeat that when I got 688i and Longbow 2 as well, both of which had tomes of equal length and tons of information.

These manuals made the experience richer. Reading about those tactics, learning the background story, they all added to the worlds I was about to enter. It set the stage for the Border Worlds war in Wing Commander. I was the Captain of a submarine before I even fired up the cd. They made the games better and more immersive.

Somewhere along the cost cutting line, these were deemed unimportant. Publishers stopped giving a shit. I bought Jane's Fleet Command and opened the downsized box to find nothing but a cd case and a warranty slip. Where was my manual? Turned out to be a file on the cd. Cost cutting, yes, but at what cost? I could never get into that game. The tutorials were garbage, and I never played it much after that first attempt. This instance grew into a trend that I've seen over and over again. The excitement of opening the box to see what is inside has vanished. I no longer have any expectations for published manuals and it sucks.

Neal Stevens over at www.SubSim.com had this to say in his review of the recently released Silent Hunter 5:
"The game manual is no longer printed (US versions) but still quite awful and sparse. It spends a mere 1/2-page about torpedoes and targeting, nothing about the TDC, but six pages of cheesy crew profiles. It's galling that a simulation cannot come with better information about the game and how to play it, let alone tactics and historical background, when the manual is not even printed. Why can't the developers assign someone to write out simply how the game works? What are the yellow and red disks around ship icons in the tactical map? What are those lines coming from you sub when you are submerged? Why are some black and some blue? How do you steer the boat? An experienced player who cut his teeth on Aces of the Deep in the '90's can figure it out, but what about some high school kid who bought SH5 as his first subsim? "

This is pathetic. There's no excuse. That is just sabotaging your own hard work. Neal may in fact have a point as well. Simulations really took a nose dive in the market around the time that they switched to the pdf manuals. Everyone talks about accessibility these days, but did it ever occur to them that all that might be needed is a printed manual? Help the player help themselves by giving them the information in a readable format. I sure am not going to sit and read a 50 page manual on a screen, but I'll read 3x that much in a well done paper manual. Asking the player to print it themselves is a disservice as well.

Ask yourself for a moment, how much quicker and fuller would you have understood Mass Effect and its world if the opening codex entries were part of the manual? How drawn into Dragon Age would I be if there was an addendum covering some of the history of this new world of Ferelden instead of picking it up piecemeal? Or the world of the Elder Scrolls, the list can go on. Not only does it serve these purposes, but it gives us a chance to imagine this world before we experience it Or even while we experience it.

There certainly are games where a simple card showing controls is all that's needed. But pdfing manuals, ignoring source materials and not inviting the gamer into the world in other ways is not only doing the gamer a disservice but the people working so hard to produce these wonderful experiences as well. After spending millions upon millions in development, this is a drop in the bucket. What comes in the box matters as much as what is on the disc.   read







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