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6:49 PM on 11.28.2009

A PS3/X360 Philosophy Disparity?

So I just got a PS3 for Black Friday and 5 games: Little Big Planet, God of War Collection, MGS4, Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Athena, and GT5: Prologue (Is GT5 ever coming out? This is the Duke Nukem of racing games.) After spending a good amount of time this weekend playing it, I've noticed a subtle difference between the design philosophies behind the 360 and the PS3. Namely, how each console prints money and the quality of games on both. I doubt this is anything new or shocking to anyone whose had either or both of these systems, but I think it's worth noting.

On the money thing: Sony bills the PS3 as the system that can do everything. It does a lot of things for sure, but not everything equally well. The media integration is excellent for people looking for another place to store their music, photos, and videos. The controller is excellent (although the SixAxis functionality is kinda gimmicky). The PS Store and online connection controls are robust and well thought out, unlike the 360's blade system. In short, the PS3 is a good value.

However, they are very blatant about microtransactions. I tried Home for about 10 minutes before I was literally pissed off at how much advertising there was in this Sims-like (barely) experience. They charge .99 for each item you want to add to your virtual me, which is actually a pretty reasonable price...until you realize what you are buying. Granted, there are some cool items - the Ryu getup from SFIV, for example - but the Home experience is minimalized by the other, much cooler things about the PS3. Your Home avatar is only accessible through Home and not the main hub of the system. If this is how they are promoting games, demos, trailers, etc., count me out. I prefer Major Nelson's inane previews and Jessica Chobot's "tips" to this. At least they use actual money, and not Microsoft-style banana dollars, in their pricing.

The 360, in my experience, has been good about offering free things when possible and suggesting paid DLC when I might actually want it. Where the blade system is bad about indexing every bit of this content (it takes a while to find and access content for games that aren't currently the new hotness), it makes up for it by promoting deals on semi-older Arcade titles and map packs for games people actually play. There is free stuff on the PS store, but you have to really look for it beyond demos (not very many compared to the 360).

Dollah bills, y'all.

On the quality of games: One of the main reasons I purchased a PS3 was to play some exclusives. Of the 5 games, 4 of them are PS3-exclusive (God of War Collection is an exclusive, on a technicality). These games are really good. I haven't had a bad experience playing any of the exclusives and they represent the kind of quality I was looking for.

However, I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of PS3 exclusives when I was taking up Gamestop on their "Buy 2, Get 1 Free" deal. I literally searched for about 20 minutes looking for games I could only play on the PS3 and the good majority of them were multi-platform titles (which is how I ended up with Riddick). I would have purchased Valkryia Chronicles if they had it, but it looks to be somewhat rare. I'm not sure why, but I find the 360 has more 360-only titles. Going into my PS3 purchase, I was worried about this disparity, but hey - at least I finally get to know what happens to Solid Snake.

Also, the good games are really good, but the mediocre games...are really bad. Riddick is easily the least favorite of the 5 I got, mostly because it feels like a phoned-in effort by the developers. I liked Escape From Butcher Bay a lot (especially for a game based on a movie premise), but Assault on Dark Athena is so...meh. I felt like I could have been playing this on the original Xbox/PS2 and thought much better things about it. The mediocre games on the 360 can be really bad (The Last Remnant, anyone?), but at least they have redeeming qualities/interesting ideas. If I'm playing a game on a Blu-Ray disc, I expect more than Betamax-style design logic behind it, ok? I want the graphics to blow my mind, the loading times to be minimal, and the games to be FUN.

This is so 2004.

There are other things worth comparing between the two consoles and I don't want to start a flame war, but these are really the two things that popped out in my mind. Feel free to disagree. I'm very happy to finally own all three of the current gen consoles. Also, any games worth buying that are PS3-exclusive?   read

9:12 PM on 11.24.2009

I'm Thankful For Gaming Solace

[Warning: By the end of this, you may think I sound like a spoiled brat or a whining toddler. Semi-rantish. You've been warned.]

This was one of the first images that popped up when I Googled "wants to play with you." The only thing this baby wants to do is sleep.

Which brings me to what I was talking about: Thanksgiving is a time of togetherness, right? We all make some journey or cook some turkey/turducken/tofurkey/turlemurken? to be together with family and friends on this holiday. It's also an epic time to catch up on some gaming, since most of us have the weekend off of school and work. And what better way to catch up with old friends during a time we all can than play whatever multiplayer hotness just came out?

Normally, I would be thankful that all my friends can play ONE game together, largely because none of us have the same gaming tastes and let's be honest - getting off of my tookus to switch disks every 20 mins is a pain. However, today I experienced something I wish I hadn't: a mass spamming of my dashboard with invites to play Modern Warfare 2 the second I hopped on my Xbox. Again, not a problem, since we can all play together in peace.....right?

"Tookus" produces some NSFW hits. Here's the first safe one. Relevant.

This turned out to be one of the worst ideas I've had in a while.

A party of 2 grew into a party of 4, which was fine. But then, the 2 friends who joined our party wanted to invite their own friends to play with us. OK fine, nothing wrong with crashing a party. Growing to a party of 6, we hopped on the matchmaking, ready to kill some durka durkas. We couldn't find a match for a few minutes because our party was a little big to create fair teams. Switch playlists. Everyone (all at once) chimes in on which game type we should play, creating a cacophony of 6 voices all wanting different things.

We finally settle on Ground War, a playlist that will accommodate our party's girth and satiate everyone's need to shoot people. Then, 12 more voices join the fray in my headset, which prompts a quick muting of everyone beyond Ocean's 6. The game starts and we begin the usual XBL shenanigans: asking how everyone's doing, calling out snipers, yelling obscenities and campers, etc. This makes for good times when the party is about 2-3 of your close friends and you don't mind the conversation, but when there's 5 other people, 2 of whom you don't know and 2 of whose voices over XBL are more grating than a Cher concert live, you want to slit your wrists.

Despite what you've heard lady, I DO NOT want to play with you.

After about 2 games, I called it quits and powered down. I like having friends and I like being able to play with them whenever, but I wish there was a way to play my 360 games in peace. Yes, I know you can make it so that you "appear offline," but I really just want the ability to tell my friends' list to wait their turn to play with me. I have 3 kinds of people on my friends list (btw, this includes only people I've met in real life): close friends who call me up to ask if I want to play before dinner/work/meeting, gaming friends who like to talk nerdy to me, and "griefers" who are people I enjoy playing with for fun and saying ridiculous/nonsensical things into the headset. I get along with everybody separately, but these groups do not get along with each other and it is pretty clear that lumping them all into one big party is a terrible idea.

This also struck me in that, if I appear online at any point from now on, I will be blasted with invites to play MW2 pretty much all this Turkey Day weekend and/or until the next Call of Duty game comes out, when all I really want to do is catch up on some Lost Odyssey or sing off-key in Rock Band (and stay online so I get the time stamp on my achievements, unlike when you play offline - a minor gripe).

Also, explaining to people you actually know in real life why you don't want to play with them when you are clearly a) joinable b) playing the same game c)online is an exercise in social diplomacy I do not want to have to go through 5 times a day. Maybe the solution is separate friend lists, kinda like AIM, except you can change your online status appropriately so the right friends can play with you at the time you feel like playing with them? Or maybe being less popular?

I decided the best solution to all of this was to just STFUAJPG on some other system that wasn't so online-friendly. This is where my Wii/DS/PSP come in. Nobody can bother me when I'm playing Punch-Out, Henry Hatsworth, or Persona.

And that is why, ladies and gentleman, I'm thankful this Thanksgiving for my gaming solace.


10:09 AM on 11.01.2009

"Fuzzy Pickles"

Had I known about the Ness kit from Fangamer, I would've used that for my Halloween costume. Instead, I did this on my own.


12:31 PM on 10.30.2009

Nothing is Sacred: The ESRB

The ESRB is a stroke of genius by the gaming industry. To my knowledge, the only other well-publicized, non-profit group that rates its own media in the United States is the MPAA for movies. An organization policing video games so consumers know what kind of content lies within and can make their own informed decisions? Brilliant.

It is also one of the most broken mechanics on every single video game. The ESRB has dropped the ball quite a number of times, not only when it comes to rating "Mature" games, but also with other ratings. An "A/O" rating might as well be a sales death knell for any game that explores the console equivalent of Eyes Wide Shut. Additionally, many of the ratings slapped on games with similar content make no sense. Seriously, WiiSports is rated "E" (with the modifier of 'Mild Violence') and Punch-Out for Wii is rated "E 10+" (with the modifiers of 'Cartoon Violence' and 'Comic Mischief'). Both games contain boxing roughly the equivalent you might see on a Saturday morning cartoon show and yet carry different ratings.

No wonder parents are confused.

Before I get started, I'd like to share with y'all a personal story about my 10-year-old self. It was 1997 and it was the era of the N64 and the PS1. I was mature for my age, generally getting along with adults more than 5 times my senior and just starting to have deep philosophical thoughts (i.e. The Meaning of Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of PB&J). For the most part, I had been playing games appropriate to my age group, which at the time would have included Crash Bandicoot, Super Mario 64, and the like.

However, one fateful day, I decided I wanted to play what the big boys were playing. With permission from my mother, I rented Doom 64, my first "M" rated game. After 10 minutes of playing the game, I put it down and was visibly shaken. For the next week, I had nightmares about demons, chainsaws, and guns. Despite my maturity, I was not ready yet to handle the psychological pressure of violence against Hell's minions. The game was returned and I didn't see another "M" rated game until Clock Tower, when I was much older. (PS. That game still scares the lobster milkshake out of me and I'm a grown man. It sits in my closet, where all the rest of the monsters lie.)

"M" back in the day.

I realize everyone's exposure and tolerance to violence, graphic sex, and adult themes is different, but I can't help to wonder what kind of impact this is having on the next generation. This is the kind of situation where the ESRB would be appropriate. Step in and help us understand what is okay and not okay for certain age groups. Because of some pushing and shoving, there are now legislators and retailers who help to enforce the ratings, by not allowing certain games to be sold to a minor without the presence of a guardian. I'm not saying I entirely agree with that, but hey, it's a step in the right direction.

You know some series follow a lazy pattern of receiving the same rating, too: generally, the Grand Theft Autos, the Halos, the Call of Duty games get "M"; the Final Fantasy series (with the exception of those on the Wii) and Street Fighters of the world get "T"; the Marios get "E". Most of the ratings are accurate, even if they don't deter the wrong age group from playing them (which makes you wonder WTF is the point). But some ratings are downright laughable, inconsistent, and well...silly.

Anybody remember Digimon World for PS1? Probably not, but if you're like me, you do. The rating on that game is "T", for what I can only imagine is the presence of dookies and the fact that some Digimon can throw them as attacks. Other than those two things, the game includes about the same level of cartoon violence as its closest rival, Pokemon.

Everybody poops, but only teenagers can handle dookies.

In its defense, the ESRB's job is difficult, costly, and largely thankless. Today, many more are games being published and it has become their task to rate every single one, including games not even on traditional gaming consoles! Their website says they rate over 1,000 games a year, but Wikipedia estimates the number this year to be closer to 18,000. On top of this, the ESRB can't prevent parents from allowing children to access content unsuitable for their viewing. It's not illegal, there's no fine, and no penal code for letting kids play Modern Warfare. (In fact, with the leak of the terrorist footage from MW:2, some parents might actually encourage their kids to shoot some commies/A-RABS, with no regard for the civilians or the level of intellectual processing needed to comprehend that you just killed a fellow human being.)

This isn't to say games shouldn't push the envelope - they should. You'd better be believe there's going to be some tits and bodies flying to make it happen, too. Still, the ESRB stamp should mean something and at the moment, it's nothing more than a corner of the box with a letter that a lot of people ignore.

I can't end this discussion without briefly pointing out the Hot Coffee debacle, a scene we see repeated again and again when something controversial pops up in a game. If you don't know what I'm referring to, Hot Coffee was a normally inaccessible minigame in Grand Theft Auto:San Andreas where CJ and his girlfriend could have sex after a date. In the normal game, the sex was alluded to by a shot of the apartment building, some oohing and ahhing, and the camera shaking. However, with some tinkering via a mod (or not, it went back and forth between whether Hot Coffee was in the original source code of the game), you could play bedroom Cool Runnings. Long story short, the rating was changed to "A/O," the minigame was removed, and Take-Two had to pay something in the neighborhood of $20 million to settle a class action suit related to the case.

Feel the rhythm, feel the ride.

A long history of boondoggle ratings, game overload, and mishandled scandals is still no excuse for the broken mechanic of the ESRB. There will never be a perfect ratings system, or a way to keep toddlers from shooting Nazis, but there should be something better. For something that affects every game in known existence, there needs to at least be a sensible system of ratings. Otherwise, we will suffer a ridiculous censorship where even Mickey Mouse games will get the "A/O" rating for showing Mickey sans pants. I imagine there's not even a little nub there.

C'mon ESRB - do it for the kids.   read

7:42 AM on 10.28.2009

Intro Post, Back From The Dead Edition

Hey D-Toid. I am the WankerJist, but you can call me Wanker for short. Just don't call me Shirley: you haven't earned the right yet.

You are a dirty, dirty man, Charlie Brown.

Anyways, you might know my brother Masterledz from the forums. He's a long-time D-Toider, though of late, he hasn't posted anything because he's kinda busy in the real world. I kinda got side-tracked after doing my intro forum post a while back (you can see that on my bio on the right, if you're interested) and haven't posted since. For shame. My brother and I occasionally do video game related costumes. I'm doing Ness this year (complete with Mr. Saturn!).

Ah, the days when I couldn't grow a real mustache. I'm the leading man on the left, btw.

On with the games. I play video games a lot. I'll play almost everything, outside of maybe the Madden-type games (though I'm coming around on those, I owned NCAA 09 at one point). The only modern system I lack is the PS3, which I hope to get this Christmas. I just got a PSP-3000, along with Gran Turismo, Dissidia, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Jeanne D'Arc.

I hope to contribute to the community soon. I read this site everyday and am particularly interested in the monthly musings. You guys have some very interesting things to say about the art of video games. When I have the time, I'll post my thoughts here.

In the meantime, I'm back. Also, ladies, I'm looking for a video game-playing companion. Not just because I'm single, but also because I only know of one girl on my XBL list who plays. My only requirement is that you don't consistently get caught by a certain green-shelled King. <(o.o<)

The Princess is always in another castle. Sigh.   read

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