I started gaming back in the Megadrive/Genesis era. The first real video game I ever played was Sonic and Knuckles. I used to spend hours trying to beat that game, and the lack of a save feature meant I had to constantly cover the console with a towel as a primitive means of not losing data; this was purely out of fear of my Mum switching off the console during the time I was at school. It wasn't until the N64 that I became a "hardcore" gamer. To this day it's still my all time favourite console.
I've always been a multi-platform gamer. I don't see the point in limiting myself to one console; I want to play all of the exclusives, son.
I have a wonderful, and ridiculously beautiful girlfriend (seriously, she's ridiculously beautiful). I'm not sure how I managed to get her to agree to being my girlfriend, especially considering my first encounter with her involved spilling a drink down her dress... Alas, five years later and we're still very happy. She's the best thing that ever happened to me.
I have a degree in English, and dream of one day becoming a video game journalist. It's a hard industry to break into, but I'm still young and very determined.
I'm currently playing these games:
- Assassin's Creed Revelations.
- Heavy Rain.
- Batman: Arkham City
I would describe myself as having an addictive personality; one who finds it impossible to practice both patience and consumer restraint. Nowhere is this more apparent than when it comes to video games. I’m the sort of gamer that has to have a game as soon as it comes out; I’m not interested in waiting until its price is reduced, or waiting for the “complete” game of the year edition. No. I have to have it now. I'll purchase multiple copies of games that I love because the developer added new content. I’ll re-buy the new model of a console because I hate being left with what my brain perceives as “inferior” technology. (Yes, I am one of those people who immediately pre-ordered the “slim” versions of both the Xbox 360 and PS3, as soon as they were announced).
The story I am about to tell is the crown jewel of my consumerism. It is a tale about my £400 copy of Grand Theft Auto 4.
A few years back, Rockstar announced that they would be returning to Liberty City for their upcoming Grand Theft Auto 4. At first I didn’t care because GTA had never been a franchise I was particularly fond of playing. Sure, I’d dabbled in the birds-eye-view world of GTA 1 and 2, but I’d never found my footing in the later 3D releases. While my friends were raving about San Andreas, I was busy playing Knights of the Old Republic for the 50th time. Gunning people down in the street and causing mayhem with vehicles never struck me as something I would enjoy, especially when applying a sense of realism that 3D graphics had brought to the genre. (In retrospect, this was a bad decision, and I’ve since gone back to rectify it. I discovered that San Andreas is a particularly great title; one that stands the test of time and is still amongst the genre’s best). My usual apprehension, however, began to fade during the build up for GTA 4’s launch; I actually felt myself becoming increasingly interested. Something about GTA 4 stood out to me as a game I had to play. Perhaps it was the genius marketing campaign, or the promise of a more mature and serious story. All I knew was that I had to own this game. That feeling alone meant that come launch day, I would be in line ready to get my copy.
GTA 4 was released on April 29th 2008. I was unable to make it to launch day because I was overwhelmed with University assignments. I did, however, make it to the store a few days later. I was now ready to put my cash in the hands of a major retailer and return home with a game that I hoped would live up to the hype. I approached the cashier and smiled as I asked for an Xbox 360 copy of the game. The cashier took on a sinister tone (at least that's how I remember it), and replied: “I’m sorry, sir, but we’ve sold out of that particular title”. At first I merely laughed it off. I mean, really, was this guy always such a comedian? He stood there, defiantly waiting for me to comprehend the seriousness of his words. They what? I thought, as it dawned on me that I would not be exploring the streets of Liberty City on this day. They sold out of a major release?This is not some obscure imported game that probably shipped with a limited number of copies. This is a major AAA franchise that was guaranteed to be a hot seller. Calm down, I thought, as I tried desperately to reassure myself. I’m sure they’ll have more in a few days. “How long will it be before you’re re-stocked?” I asked. “We cannot guarantee you’ll get a copy for at least a couple of weeks. We have to fulfil new pre-orders.” No. No. No. I’d subscribed to the notion that pre-ordering was pointless. That even if the sought after collector’s editions sold-out, I’d at least be able to get my hands on the regular edition.
Suddenly the strange fight I’d heard had broken out in another store in the area was making sense. Earlier, whilst passing by a Game Station store, a friend had witnessed a couple of guys towards the front of the line fist-fighting. At first I put this down to nothing more than juvenile line-cutting. It turned out, however, that this fight was due to one of the individuals learning that there were only a limited number of copies left, and had decided that he was not going home empty-handed. He’d cut in front to make sure he was not left out, and his fellow chav – the English version of a miscreant – had decided he was having none of it. This explanation had crossed my friend’s mind, but at the time I reminded him that video games never sell-out - in my experience - not to mention that chavs often overreact to silly disputes. No, this was a case of impatience, I concluded, and had nothing to do with how many copies of the game were available.
I snapped back to the present, and began to feel a sense of panic overcome me. What do I do? I thought. I don’t want to be left out.This is the most important game of the year; I refuse to be the only person not playing it. It was at this moment I noticed something curious. Behind the counter - beautifully displayed amongst the usual peripherals – was a PS3/GTA 4 bundle. I stared at it intently, letting the beautiful box art imprint itself onto the backs of my eyes. “Do you have any of those left?" I asked, as I pointed towards the console I’d only months earlier described as over-priced. “Yes, we do. We have plenty of the console bundles left.” The cashier replied.
There was a decision to be made. One that could only be reached by conversing with the more rational part of my brain.
My rational mind is a beautiful shade of blue, whilst my foolish self is a more violent shade of red:
Can I do this?Well, you could, but it would be pretty stupid.Yes, but I’d have GTA 4 and wouldn’t have to suffer the torment of knowing everyone else was playing it except for me.Look, I’m not going to lie. I want you to play this game, but buying a console just so you can play one title – a multi-platform title – is really, really dumb.Oh be quiet, it’s a reasonable amount of money for such a brilliant game.Reasonable? £400 is reasonable? You haven’t even played it yet. It’s probably going to be terrible. Besides, that money is supposed to last you through to your next semester.F*** that. It’s GTA 4.Lyle, you’re making stupid split-second decisions again.
Sometimes you have to know when to listen to reason… This was not one of those times.
I handed over my debit card – I wasn’t the poor ex-student I am today – and returned home with a brand-new PS3. I cannot describe the amount of joy I experienced un-boxing that beautiful, black beast. I would later come to realise that the joy I experienced in that moment would far exceed the joy I felt whilst playing the game. Sure, GTA 4 is a brilliant title. Is it worth buying a console for, however? No. Especially when you already own a console capable of playing it. It made no sense for me to not simply practise patience. I could have waited a week or so and purchased the game for £40. I could have waited until it was reduced to £30 a few months later. I allowed my impatience to get the better of me.
I have been called many names by friends who were there whilst this story played out, and they were not at all flattering. Ultimately, however, it proved to be a very good decision, as I was able to experience the incredible library of exclusive titles that the PS3 has to offer. I would have eventually purchased a PS3 – especially after MGS 4 launched – this just sped up the process. After I finished GTA 4 I remember feeling pretty silly. There was nothing else out there that I really wanted to play on the PS3, and for a couple of months I contemplated selling it. After doing a bit of research – looking at PS3 forums and YouTube videos – I quickly became aware of games like Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and Infamous. These two incredible games made me excited to be a PS3 owner, and in the years to come other brilliant exclusives would only further validate my moment of consumer hysteria.
Long after I traded in my copy of GTA 4, I still look upon the massive beast that is my original PS3 with fondness. I’ve since given the console to my girlfriend, on which she loves playing Ratchet and Clank (and only Ratchet and Clank, much to my exasperation!). In the end I can look back on my decision without regret, but for a moment in time, I was a shining example of what happens when someone with an addictive personality boards the hype machine. When one man’s impatience causes him to react without rational thought, and conclude that possession is more important than reason.
Should developers and retailers be allowed to charge full price for a game that sucks? This is a question I’ve been contemplating for a while now, but one that’s bothered me more recently after playing The Force Unleashed 2.
I think we can all agree that the cost of developing a game has sky-rocketed due to rising costs across the board. It’s a sad fact that sequels to proven franchises are more important to developers than creating new and interesting IPs. Of course, this is not true for every developer, and those willing to take a chance on an idea are often met with praise from both the industry and gamers alike. One only needs to look at the Uncharted series as an example of this. The problem, however, is that regardless of how much effort a developer may put into a particular portion of a game, if everyone is not on the same page and putting in equal amounts of effort the project will ultimately be a failure.
Appeasing gamers who you may have upset with an original concept is important if the ultimate goal is to create a franchise. The most important factor in determining a game's fate is the consumers; after all, a reviewer can give a game poor scores, but the individual consumer decides whether or not to make that game a success with their cash. For example, the original Assassin’s Creed’s many flaws were pointed out by numerous reviewers before it was released, but a smart marketing campaign and interesting game-play videos sold the concept to the masses. Despite its repetitive game-play, simple combat and boring side missions, Assassin’s Creed went on to become a huge success for Ubisoft, and ultimately, allowed them to create a sequel that far outshone its predecessor. The gaming world took a chance by paying full retail price for Assassin’s Creed, and they were rewarded with a brilliant sequel.
Gamers can hold a pretty good grudge. In fact, Gamers probably hold a grudge better than most Star Wars fans. I have many friends who refused to give Assassin’s Creed 2 a shot because they felt cheated by the first game; they were sold on a premise that was not delivered and as a result were not willing to give the franchise a second chance. It did not matter to them that Assassin’s Creed 2 managed to improve on every one of its predecessors faults. It was only after a number of people spoke out in defence of the sequel that they decided to cave in and give it a try. Every one of them was happy with Assassin’s Creed 2, and the ill will they felt towards Ubisoft quickly dissipated.
I have my own grudge against the Fable series. I, like many others, fell for the hype machine that was Peter Molyneux, only to be left with a game that felt hollow in comparison to his descriptions. The third game was perhaps the worst offender, and was the straw that broke the camel's back for me. I will not be handing over cash for any more of Lionhead’s Fable games. I felt cheated out of £40 by the time the end credits rolled. I remember saying to myself that I would have been happy to spend £20 on that experience, but £40 of my hard earned money was too much. I feel like adding a cash value to an experience is a good way of indicating how satisfying it was. Of course, this is all a matter of opinion, but what happens when an opinion is universal? What happens when the majority of gamers agree that the full retail price was not justified?
In the UK we pay £40 for a new game; this roughly translates to $64. It might seem like a lot of money, but when a game offers you countless hours of entertainment, it’s really not that bad. The problem, however, is when a game doesn’t offer this.
A long time ago, on a gaming website I’ve long since forgotten, Lucasarts began teasing their next big project. That project would manifest itself as Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. The hype surrounding this game’s “revolutionary physics”, and ability to unleash The Force like never before, managed to capture the interest of gamers everywhere. However, it wasn’t until Lucasarts announced that Unleashed had been approved as Star Wars cannon by the great Neck Beard himself, that Star Wars fans everywhere came on board. Star Wars is a unique brand in that no matter how a fan may feel about video games, once the word ‘cannon’ becomes involved, they will find some way to experience it. It was pretty much a guarantee that this game was going to be a success. 7 millions copies later and that success was confirmed.
Despite its commercial success, The Force Unleashed was met with very mixed reviews. The game lacked the polish that we've all come to expect from AAA titles, and in many ways felt broken. A lot of the boss battles felt cheap. Many of the platforming sections were badly designed. Even the most important game mechanic, The Force, felt somewhat broken. Despite all of these problems, however, The Force Unleashed was enjoyable. The story was interesting - although it too had many flaws - and the fact that it was cannon meant that it was also important. I loved the overall experience, and spent many hours getting every last achievement. The story felt complete, and much like Bioshock, did not seem to demand a sequel.
So, I was pretty shocked when Lucasarts announced The Force Unleashed 2. After the ending to the first game I could not see how a sequel would be possible. My anger at the lack of a Battlefront 3 announcement aside, I began to think of the possibilities a sequel could offer; there was, after all, a lot to improve on.Hey, maybe they’ll fix everything that pissed me off about the first one, and this will end up being my definitive Star Wars game.No, Lyle, remember what happened when you trusted Obsidian with KOTOR 2?Yeah, but Obsidian were at fault there, right?How quick you are to forget. It was Lucasarts who forced Obsidian to rush the game. It was Lucasarts who felt the need to cash in on the franchise. Do not give yourself to the Dark Side. Anyway, I decided to ignore the voices in my head, and instead started up the hype train ready for destination launch day.
The Force Unleashed 2 began previewing to the media, and a lot of the feedback was incredibly positive. Journalists raved about how much Lucasarts had improved the frustrating aiming system from the first game. They spoke of new improvements to the physics engine. They even spoke about the incredible rain on Kamino. After all, who doesn’t love rain that actually acts like real rain? In an interview with Gamepro whilst Unleashed 2 was still in development, Hayden Blackman – the game’s writer – even went as far as to say, “we're still not good at telling stories as an industry. In character-driven stories we're very often let down by endings, because we don't allow our characters to evolve the right way…It comes back to story development. It's different than a novel or a movie because it's interactive. A good story in my mind is all about character change. He has to start some place and end some place dramatically different." Bold words, however, many would agree that the most successful component of the original Force Unleashed was its story. So maybe he knew what he was talking about. Maybe he had found the holy grail of storytelling and was implementing it into his sequel. The hype train kept on chugging happily along, until it hit a massive fucking brick wall.
A week or so before release I started seeing various reports from fans who had somehow obtained a copy early. These people were pissed. Not because the game was broken; not because they were frustrated by a cheap boss battle. No, they were pissed off because the game lasted a full 4 hours. Wait, what? That’s got to be a joke, right? No, they were not kidding.
The Force Unleashed 2 has a total of four areas. Kamino, Caito Neimoidia, a Republic ship and Dagoba. You visit Kamino twice, so I suppose at a stretch one could argue that there are five areas in total. Dagoba was the one that seemed to be creating the most buzz. I’d read a comment on the official message boards stating that Dagoba consisted of: Ship lands, get out of ship, walk several meters, meet Yoda, watch cut scene and leave planet. That’s just bullshit, I thought. No way would Lucasarts be stupid enough to ship a game they’d been raving about for so long, in this condition. Four hours? These guys must be speed running.
A day or so before release someone else decided to call the others out on their bullshit. No, he proclaimed. You’re all wrong. The game is not four hours long at all. You must have been playing on an easy difficulty. It’s much closer to five hours, actually.
I must admit I was devastated. Sure, I thought, the game might still be amazing; the story could be very compelling even with a five hour runtime. Alas, I should have listened to the voices in my head.
I received my collector’s edition on release day and proceeded to finish it on normal difficulty in less than five hours. Was the story interesting? No. Was the gameplay improved? In some ways, yes. Was the overall experience worth £50? No. Fucking. Way. I felt cheated. I felt robbed. I couldn’t believe that this game had been given the green light for release.
Rumours had spread towards the end of development about Hayden’s departure from the company. About anger from higher management towards the way Lucasarts was being run. I never imagined it was this bad, and always believed that Hayden took enough pride in his storytelling to at least make sure that that part of the game was presented well.
Perhaps it wasn’t his fault. Maybe he saw the state of The Force Unleashed 2 and wanted to get the hell out before they attached his name to the negative press. I do not have the answers for why, and honestly, I don’t give a shit. What mattered to me was that I felt cheated out of my money. I’d spent as much as I could on this game because I believed that Lucasarts would reward my faith. They’d spent so long admitting the flaws of the first Force Unleashed, and their lead writer had spent so much time promising a deeper and more meaningful story; I was comfortable with my choice. It was probably the worst experience I have ever had putting my faith into a sequel. I hated Bioshock 2, but I could at least appreciate the amount of effort that 2K Marin had put into making it the best game it could possibly be. After finishing The Force Unleashed 2, I was left with the feeling that Lucasarts didn’t give a shit. About me. About their fans. Not even about their reputation. They saw the dollar signs and that was all that mattered.
Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps there was more to this than was made public. In the end, though, none of that matters. All that matters is the final product.
So, my ranting aside; the point of this little blog is to ask you beautiful community members for your opinions about a game’s retail price. Should a game like The Force Unleashed 2, that offers a minimal amount of content, be sold for the same amount of cash as a content heavy game in the same genre? Would a system based on punishing developers who try to release a game for full retail price, with seemingly minimum effort put into it, improve the industry?
How did you feel after playing The Force Unleashed 2? Am I just moaning about something ultimately trivial?
I know that there are many flaws in the argument to punish developers by lowering retail prices. I also know that it's not a simple matter, and includes the retailers as well. I'm just curious to get other opinions on this.
I recently went through a traumatic event; I lost my Commander Shepard. Not to the hordes of Saren’s Geth; not to legions of Collector drones; not even to that bastard, Harbinger. No, I lost my Shepard to Microsoft.
Some time ago Microsoft introduced the hard drive transfer cable. A neat little bit of tech that allowed gamers to transfer their beloved XBOX 360 data over to a different hard drive. They were even kind enough to offer the cable for free. That is, if you were brave enough to navigate the verbal minefield that is their customer service line.
I was lucky enough to snag one of these cables when a good friend offered me his. I’d just purchased the - not so - slim XBOX 360, and needed a way to get my delicious data over to my new baby. It was a simple and somewhat boring process, but soon I was enjoying all of my games and DLC as if nothing had ever changed.
So fast-forward to the launch of Gears of War 3, and I was ready to trade in my now boring slim, for a beautiful custom console. You see, I lack the ability to say no to such flashy tech. It’s the reason I traded in my Elite for the “slim”. The new crimson Gears 3 console was like a beacon of light calling me forth; it was guiding my way to the local GAME store. It was here that I met a helpful, young employee. She checked my pre-order receipt, took the goods I was looking to trade-in and began testing them. Everything was going smoothly. I decided now was the time to pop the question: “So, would it be cool if you transfer the data from my old console, to this one?” She smiled, and replied, “that shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll just check with the manager though, because I’m not exactly sure how it works with two slim consoles.”
What? I thought. Surely this is a simple task. Surely Microsoft have a cable for exactly this dilemma. How very, very wrong I was.
You see, Microsoft is the sort of company that doesn’t think ahead to the problems of tomorrow. RROD... it will blow over. Xbox LIVE Gold is about to expire... No need to add the cancel auto renewal button to the dashboard. No, make them come to our website. Slim to slim data transfer... No, we’ll sort that out later. It’s not really a big deal at launch, or the year after.
It is a big deal, though. It’s a big deal because I love my data. I spent hundreds of hours accumulating it, and I’d very much like to keep it. Now, I’m not opposed to starting a game from scratch because let’s face it, few games really go as far as to personalise their data to you. However, this is not the case with Mass Effect and its sequel. That data was very much personalised to me.
The prospect of creating a character, shaping his personality and then having everything carry over to the subsequent games was like heaven to me. I’d dreamed of such continuity since my days trying to permanently kill Tails in Sonic 2. I’d spent an hour perfectly modelling my Commander Shepard’s physical appearance so that he looked like me – albeit with a ridiculous haircut – and hundreds of hours making him a complete and utter bad ass. I’d been waiting on baited breath for Mass Effect 3 to ship so that I, and my avatar, could finally destroy the Reapers. So, as I watched the store manager pace across the shop floor, with a look of utter disgust on her face, I knew that Shepard’s life support was about to be switched off.
“There is currently no way to transfer data from slim to slim using a cable. You can use a flash-drive, but Microsoft caps the limit at 16GB, and you’d have to buy it before we can make the transfer." I knew, even before my hand slid into my pocket to check my wallet, that I didn’t have the funds available. You see, I’d just finished University and I was seriously poor. I was in the process of trading in everything I wouldn’t miss in order to come home with this console. I’m not naïve, however, and I know that my lust for shiny toys was ultimately to blame for my misfortune in this instance, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t want to create a singularity in the middle of that shop floor.
I sucked my tears back into my eye sockets; I handed over the last £20 note I had on my person; I told the young lady she could pull the plug on Shepard, and then left the store with a new console.
Last night was the first time I played Mass Effect since the tragedy of that fateful day. I tried for an hour to rebuild the face that now haunted my dreams, but even after getting 99% of him right I still feel odd when I look at him. It feels wrong, and I know he’s not the same person who deliberately killed off Jacob Taylor because he wouldn’t stop saluting me. No, this is Shepard 2.0; the failed clone of a brilliant and sadistic man.
I guess the point of this is to highlight the attachment a gamer forms with their avatar. It is a strange, yet wonderful, bond, and one that we cherish in a way similar to the way we value our own personal traits. I’m not saying I’d kill you if you salute me, but I am saying that I’d happily let the British Government die if they failed to acknowledge the Reaper threat.