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    On Sunday I threw up a new post in the community blogs; partly as a response to Holmes' article about the term "gamer", and partially in response to the controversy and ensuing internet shitstorm surrounding independent game developer Zoe Quinn. Some people took the post relatively well. They may not have completely agreed with everything I had to say, but they respectfully gave their two cents in response and could at least understand where my concerns were coming from. And I greatly respect and appreciate that.

    A number of the 100+ comments I got on that post however (by far the most attention a c-blog of mine has ever gotten), largely fell into two general categories. The first: "Stop talking about this, shut up and play games, you're not accomplishing anything with your blog, this isn't serious and your concerns aren't valid." The second: "You gamers are making a controversy out of nothing, in the process blaming the victim of your baseless harassment, these types of relationships are perfectly fine, there is nothing to investigate, and there is no legitimate conflict of interest or concern about impartiality." These post have more or less mirrored the comments section of the front page.

    For the former group, I tried to make the case that this situation is more complicated than they might realize. That the press absolutely does have an influence on the industry and has for decades. That the direction the art medium takes is shaped by more than just core consumers, and it will change for the worse at the rate we're going. To the latter group, I began formulating a response on how these types of relationships would either (A) require full disclosure or (B) result in firings if we were talking about another industry. But more importantly, that there is absolutely something to investigate here even if a vocal minority have ruined the discourse on the other side of the fence. Never even made it that far, though.

    I then headed back to work from Labor Day Weekend and I stopped caring. Not about the issue (which I do still find important), but about spending time discussing it here. As you're probably aware (for better or for worse), I'm been by far one of the most active commenters this site. I've greatly enjoyed the debates, discussions, and general discourse I've had here. I've seen a dozen different Dtoid staffs come and go over the last 5 years, some which I've really admired. I've also met a number of people on here who I could honestly consider friends, regardless of whether or not I know their name, where they're from, or anything about their personal life. And I've unfortunately watched quite a few of them leave here as well.

    I think I'm done with the comments section on the front page and the community blogs (please, contain your excitement). After Dtoid decided to take the "safe" road, ignore the controversy, and basically tell us that nothing is changing in regard to their policies on press relationships and game funding, I'm not sure I want to be a part of this site anymore. And with the community slowly turning angrier and more hostile to anything that doesn't fit into the narrow hive mind they've established for many topics, there's really no reason to stay for them either. I'm tired of reading "inb4 ctg867" for having an opinion different than yours (one that I argue and explain rationally and intelligently no less). Especially when half the time I'm just posting memes to avoid the hostility entirely because I've grown tired of the ignorant hatred that's directed at me and a small minority of others who share some of my views.

    This isn't making me happy anymore. I'm out of college and finally have a full time job in my field. Monday through Friday I have less than 7 hours a day to cook, shower, shave, do laundy and food shopping, upkeep my apartment, run errands, etc. And that's before I have any free time to myself. I've made more new music with a friend of mine in the last month than I did in the last year, and shit like that is honestly how I want to spend more of my time from now on. Oh, and actually playing video games, something I wonder if the STFUAJPG people actually do anymore themselves. Not drowning in this hate and vitriol. Not all of you are part of the problem. I love a lot of you guys and I enjoy shooting the shit, debating, or talking games and culture with you. But you're a slowly shrinking segment of this community, and that's incredibly unfortunate. It doesn't help when new staff members are sinking to the level of the majority here and encouraging childish, inflammatory, unconstructive behavior in the comments and on the front page.

    On the flip side, I'm sure a lot of you are happy about this. That there's one less person here to disagree with your dogma. That it'll be easier to argue on the FP with fewer people that actually know how to construct a competent counterpoint. That you'll have one less "SJW" who would challenge you to think about this medium as art and entertainment, not just sex games and kids toys "because this isn't important". To those people I say this: stay salty, bitches ;-)

    You might see a comment out of me from time to time or an upvote when somebody says something I like. But beyond that, my days of being part of the Dtoid community are over. To those sticking around who have enjoyed talking with me over the years (as I have with you), I wish y'all the best of luck and I hope you can keep this place going for the better. Keep fightin' the good fight, whatever you feel that is. It's been real. Cheers.

    Like a lot of Gen Xers and early Millennials who were into games and technology, I grew up on the receiving end of some bullying for my interests. Some people got it worse than others. Walking into high school at six feet tall helped me dodge the physical end of it, and in all honesty that's the hardest kind to avoid. The verbal, social, internet based stuff? Yea. I admit it definitely impacted my development, and there are psychological and emotional hang ups from it which I still carry.

    But I lived. Like just about everyone who was in my position. Yea, we were nerds and geeks with culturally foreign interests who could be socially awkward and didn't always know how best to approach the opposite sex. But we figured it out. We may have argued amongst ourselves about the best console or operating system, but at the end of the day we were all techies or gamers or whatever we called ourselves. There was unity in that. Strength, even. That these were people who shared your interests, cared about what you cared about, and weren't going to marginalize or belittle you for it.

    Today? Well things are somewhat different. The box office revolves around comic book movies, everyone walks around with a computer in their pocket, and most people probably have a dedicated gaming device of some sort in their home. Nerd culture is no longer foreign, it's a major part of American culture. And in many ways, I see this as an achievement. That our community is the one which rose to the tops of society, which found avenues to make its art and products critically and commercially successful, and which made it a cornerstone of what people enjoy and use today.

    As we've clearly seen over the last few weeks, this is not without some serious pitfalls. What we should be having a conversation about right now is integrity in games writing. How personal relationships and conflicts of interests have compromised the impartiality and ethics of the industry, and how games writers and developers both need to be more aware and transparent about how they do their jobs. Instead, I find myself here backed into a corner by this vitriol, looking on as my culture is being both simultaneously appropriated for a "cause" and burned to the ground at its core by a sad segment of the internet on a perpetual warpath.

    I'm glad that the people playing, making, and discussing games are more diverse than they've ever been (even though we still have a ways to go). This is something that everyone should openly welcome and encourage as it directly, tangibly leads to unique and quality experiences that we otherwise never would have played. But with this massive, diverse community of gamers has come exposure. Exposure that has inevitably led to spotlight being shined on the worst parts of the gaming community. Parts that every culture is unfortunately saddled with. But instead of these specific segments being exposed and criticized, the entire gaming community is being dragged down with it.

    Why? Because while our art and entertainment is accepted, we as gamers are still not. We may be able to sit down and talk about our interests with more people than we ever have been before, but we haven't stopped being marginalized as people. That the entire gaming community can be broadly generalized and attacked by wide swaths of the internet over the last month, including the very fucking people who have put food on their tables for the better part of their adult lives on the backs of this very community, is sickening. We are not what a tiny group of assholes on the internet have misled people into thinking we are. We're not what self-proclaimed feminists, journalists, and activists claim we are for page views and to further their careers. We're gamers, god dammit. Respect that shit.

    And yes. I use that word. GAMERS. Just like athletes, sports fans, film buffs, hip hop heads, sneaker whores, gun owners, or any other group of hobbyists or enthusiasts who have labeled themselves with a name of some sort. This is not an exclusive group, it's an inclusive one. Gender, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic standing, sexual orientation, nationality, language, age, I don't give a fuck what you are and anyone who does isn't a part of this community. There is one rule and one rule only to join the gamer club: be genuinely interested and appreciative of the art form. The people harassing others over this shit? They don't get to be in the gamer club. Why? They're assholes, and they don't represent us. So stop acting like they do.

    As I'm sure you're aware, Jonathan Holmes wrote his weekly piece of clickbait today, and as is usually the case some people here were annoyed by how poorly thought it was and how he yet again generalized large portions of the games community to make his "point". Why this man continues to be given a soap box on this site is beyond me. Who knows. Maybe Hamza and Dale feel some irrational sense of loyalty to an individual who brought controversy to this site with years of his condescension and passive aggressive opinion pieces. This time was a little different, though. His discussion on the perceived move towards a death of the term "gamer" is strangely one of a dozen pieces exactly like it all throughout the games press this weekend. All arguing for the exact. Same. Thing.

    If you raised an eyebrow at that, you should have, and this is really the core point of this post: games writing is dead. As we saw with the Zoe Quinn controversy and the conflicts of interest that were created from her multiple romantic relationships with both writers and developers, this is an incredibly incestuous industry and no one seems to have a problem with that. It's not some giant conspiracy, it's just a close group of people who think and act similarly in furthering their interests. In short, we've developed our own Hollywood and all the terrible shit that comes from such an environment. First, you had a complete industry wide blackout on the controversy, and now you have and effort to dissolve the very group of people who called you out on your bullshit.

    And again, I feel the need to make this perfectly fucking clear: this isn't a conspiracy theory. It's not some carefully constructed web of lies and deceit. It's very, very simple. People got some fame, people made some money, and now they want to hang on to both. And guess who's gotta take it on the chin this month to make that happen? Yup. Us gamers. And what's the message? "Hey, let's all get along and stop fighting you guys." Which sounds like a great message, right? I mean, who wants to keep fighting about this shit? Let's just play and enjoy the games, am I right?

    But it's not that simple. Because we're not just bickering with each other anymore. We're not arguing over consoles or genres or franchises. We're targeting this at you. The people who called yourselves "journalists" for the credibility but then gave up and settled on "blogger" because ethics are too hard of a concept for you to wrap your heads around. The people whose pre-release coverage, review scores, and game of the year awards meant something to us because we trusted you for some basic level of fairness and impartiality. But now? Apparently personal and romantic relationships with those who make the products you built a career on is totally fine. And no. This isn't something we need to discuss, so don't expect any of us to actually report on it (spoiler alert: not a single games site has).

    So instead, let's talk about gamers. Let's talk about how you people use that term to attack and exclude others, and not just because you're proud of your interests. Let's talk about how you're really just a bunch of insecure children desperately looking for a label, not enthusiasts who are just as dedicated as film buffs or audiophiles are. And let's talk about how you really just want to play the victim here, and you actually haven't been the target of non-stop cultural bashing and sweeping generalizations over the last few weeks (and well before that).

    Because if we didn't, then maybe we would actually have to start addressing the incestuous and unethical practices we've been engaging in for years. And we sure as shit can't have that, now can we?

    First off, I wouldn't actually call these the "greatest games of all time". That was just a catchy headline to bring you here. Because to be fair, I haven't played every game, or even most of the ones that are widely considered "the greatest". But for me, these are the ten greatest titles that have had the largest impact on my tastes and interests as a gamer. There's a lot that I left out of course, and my list largely focuses on character driven, single player experiences. Be warned, there will probably be some spoilers if you're unfamiliar with the source material. Following Ratchet & Clank 2 at number nine, let's continue with eight:

    8) God of War
    Developer: SCE Santa Monica, Publisher: Sony
    Release: March 22, 2005 (PS2, PS3, Vita)

    Just wait 'til I get to the top of that thing. You're in for such an ass beating.

    Once upon a time, in a land where broadband wasn't ubiquitous and people still read text printed on sheets of paper, I had a subscription to a number of gaming magazines. One of them was the Ziff Davis published Official Playstation Magazine, commonly referred to as OPM. While I did actually read it for a number of years, I mainly got it for the PS2 demo disc that came with every issue. Most gamers from that era will have a least one story about a game they never would have played without a demo disc, but immediately fell in love with. For me, that game was God of War.

    The opening level to the game (and the demo) starts you in the Aegean Sea, jumping from ship to ship amidst the crew's fight against the Hydra. The first thing you notice is how accessible but rewarding it is to actually play. As you fight through waves of undead soldiers on your quest, the game slowly introduces you to its core mechanics. Light and heavy attacks, grabs, dodging and blocking, and most importantly your combos. A fixed camera gives you the perspective to see everything you need to, allowing you to focus on what's really important: killing everything in your path.

    Oh, I'm sorry. Did you need that neck? With you being undead and all I assumed not.

    Simple enough, right? And that's exactly why God of War works so well: it's simple. You don't need to worry about obnoxious tutorials, memorizing lengthy combos, or dealing with some cumbersome weapon switching menu. Give a Dualshock to anybody remotely familiar with games and they'll immediately be able to pick up and play God of War. Not because it's shallow, it just has one of the best learning curves you'll ever find in a video game. If you don't know something yet, you'll cross that bridge when you get to it. No aspect of the game is ever overwhelming because Santa Monica never throws too much at you at once. In game design terms, this is called passive learning. The gamer becomes familiar with a mechanic by being given an environment where it's fun and easy to experiment with it themselves. The introduction to a new tool or system should be exciting, never frustrating, tedious, or confusing.

    Luckily, God of War doesn't have this problem. You slowly build a mastery of the combat and are introduced to more combos, items, and techniques without every getting lost or confused in the process. But it doesn't feel as simple as it really is. Your first fight against the Hydra is a complete surprise. It breaks through the ship you're on, and with only about 10-15 minutes of game time under your belt you manage to beat it back. And man does it feel good. The first time you land a hit with the Plume of Prometheus, the game going into slow-mo with you in mid-air, right before you come smashing down on the beast in a golden explosion is just... wow. Never has an easy, three button combo made you feel like such a fucking badass.

    What's that? I'm sorry, I can't hear you with all those wood planks in your mouth.

    Call of Duty doesn't just have hit markers in multiplayer to let you know when you land your shots. More importantly, it's there because it feels good. There's a response that lets you know when you've succeeded as a gamer. A visual, an audio queue, a controller vibration. When done right, this acts as an acknowledgement of your win state (however small) and an encouragement to proceed. The foundation of God of War is built on this design philosophy. Every hit you land, every enemy you kill, every orb that comes flying out of a fallen foe and rushes towards you with a satisfying "ahh" that's designed to evoke the feeling of sipping a cold rink on a hot day. It all comes together to build a drip feed of instant gratification.

    All of this is made that much more gratifying with the quick time events. Unfortunately, QTEs have gotten a bad rap in light of all the games after God of War and Resident Evil 4 which use them. They're often criticized for being a game design crutch, taking meaningful control out of the player's hands and boiling it down to rudimentary button prompts. In many games this is true, but in God of War it couldn't be further from the case. For smaller interactions, it helps make the game a little more engaging (ie: something as simple as opening a door). For larger interactions, it becomes a really gratifying, visual conclusion to a successful enemy encounter.

    You just keep spewing that lava around. Just ignore the wooden stake launcher in the back.

    While it would be easy to point to the boss fights to demonstrate this, I don't have to. The gratifying "ching" every time you hit a QTE prompt, the ensuing attack, and the orbs that flow when you're done all come together to validate your mastery of the game mechanics after a boss fight. But Santa Monica's brilliance in execution comes from the area to area fights. The ones where your health is low and a Minotaur, who yields green health orbs from its QTE finisher, is literally the difference between life and death. And as the game goes on and gets more challenging, the speed at which you need to mash circle in order successful execute the QTE ramps up as well. The Cyclops encounters build a similar tension and reward system with the player, where a QTE prompt is a shortcut to a quick kill of a very dangerous foe.

    From a game design perspective, God of War executes what it set out to do almost flawlessly. That being said, I wouldn't have put it on my list if it wasn't for the story that carries you through the carnage. Not because it has groundbreaking writing or because it explores complex themes. The reasoning, much like the core game mechanics, is simple: Santa Monica made a hell of an epic Greek tragedy. From the opening cutscene, all you know is that the protagonist Kratos attempts to commit suicide after the Gods of Olympus apparently abandon him. The game starts, however, three weeks earlier. Every few levels you get another cutscene where the narrator gives you bits and pieces of Kratos' story. This mystery is a major driving force for the plot's progression. The game's story is told in an incredibly non-linear fashion (knowing the future, playing in the present, learning the past), and it leads to a very Tarantino-esque rise (and fall?) tale.

    Oh, Kratos. If you only had a clue what you were in for when this began.

    The truth to this mystery, however, is likely far from what the player would expect. A great general in the Spartan Army, Kratos gave his life to Ares (the God of War, for those not up on your Greek mythology) in exchange for defeating his enemies and saving his life right as defeat was upon him. That sacrifice was more than he bargained for, and in the midst of his newly granted power, rage, and bloodlust he unknowingly kills his wife and daughter. As punishment for his sins, the ashes of his loved ones are permanently burned to his now pale skin, earning him the nickname "Ghost of Sparta". In a quest to be rid of the nightmares that haunt him, Kratos now lives as a servant of Olympus.

    Though I commend Santa Monica for crafting their own Greek tragedy with God of War, the gameplay implications of this are what matter most to me. You play through the bulk of this game under the impression that you are, at least to some degree, a "good guy". You may be ruthless, but defeating evil monsters and fighting for the Goddess of Wisdom seems like a noble cause. Before the truth is revealed, the "nightmares" that are spoken of seem to be the horrors of war. That Kratos is a noble warrior struggling to repent for the causalities of his slaughter. And when Ares turns against you and his fellow Gods, taking him down seems like the logical thing to do as the "hero" of our story.

    As much as the player wishes it were true, God of War is no redemption story.

    But you're not a hero. You're a bloodthirsty coward who chose to live as a slave instead of dying a man, and ended up killing his wife and kid in a fit of blind rage as a result. Is Ares evil? Sure. He's the embodiment of war. But how are you any better than he is? Blades and ashes bonded to your flesh as a constant reminder of what you've become. The Gods never "abandoned" Kratos. As you find out by the game's conclusion, you could never be freed of your sins as no man could ever be forgiven for them. His suicide was an attempt to finally rid himself of the nightmares, and in turn rid of the world of the monster that is Kratos. For a game built on incremental rewards, the ending leaves you to question what you really accomplished with all this.

    And on one final note, I would be remiss if I didn't praise the soundtrack of this game. Really one of the best from its generation. Everything I've said thus far is doubly awesome with that music. Really powerful, energetic, ready-to-kick-some-ass type stuff. That being said, you know the deal. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments, and if you like what you've read feel free to give it a heart/upvote. Hoping to keep this series going all the way to number one, so be sure to check back for the next post in a few days. If you haven't had a chance, check out numbers 9 and 10 here.

    First off, I wouldn't actually call these the "greatest games of all time". That was just a catchy headline to bring you here. Because to be fair, I haven't played every game, or even most of the ones that are widely considered "the greatest". But for me, these are the ten greatest titles that have had the largest impact on my tastes and interests as a gamer. There's a lot that I left out of course, and my list largely focuses on character driven, single player experiences. Be warned, there will probably be some spoilers if you're unfamiliar with the source material. Following Kotor at number ten, let's continue with nine:

    9) Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando
    Developer: Insomniac, Publisher: Sony
    Release: November 11, 2003 (PS2, PS3, Vita)

    Furry protagonist, robot sidekick, big guns, giant explosions. Okay, I'm in.

    When people refer to a game as "formulaic", it's usually done so with a negative connotation. Many annualized franchises today get that term thrown at them as a criticism. With Ratchet & Clank, the opposite is often true. Much like Dota or WoW, the formula to Ratchet's gameplay is by far its greatest strength, and what's allowed the franchise to spawn nine main installments, three spin offs, and a PS4 remake of the original coming next year.

    By Christmas 2003 I had already owned a PS2 for a full year, and two of my uncles decided to buy me the first couple Ratchet games as a gift. I didn't ask for them, but I read in Game Informer that they were made by the guys who did Spyro (which I still love to this day), so I was excited to play them. And for the most part, I enjoyed the first game. The humor, the weapons, the interesting worlds. Unsurprisingly reminded me a lot of Spryo, so I was happy.

    But the sequel is what really grabbed me. The shift to proper dual stick, strafe and look controls was a massive improvement over the original. Combat was now significantly more frantic as the developers were able to expect much more in terms of what the player was capable of doing. So from a mechanical perspective, Insomniac really nailed it with Going Commando. But even more important were the addition of upgradable weapons, health, and armor to the original's shoot, explore, and collect formula. Way before this trend was everywhere, Insomniac found a way to enhance progression with RPG elements in a genre that rarely featured it.

    One of the earliest third person games that really nailed dual stick controls.

    But why is this so important? One of the biggest issues with the first Ratchet game (beyond its controls) was the lack of encouraged variety in player behavior. When you got a gun that worked, you stuck with it. Sure, there were certain situations where some weapons were clearly better than others. For the most part though, once you got the automatic blaster and the rocket launcher, you stuck with them. If that was the most effective way to progress as a player (and the first Ratchet was really hard in some places), why change what wasn't broken?

    For Going Commando, every time you killed an enemy with a weapon you got a little experience on that gun for using it. Once you hit a certain point, the weapon upgraded into a stronger, improved version. Here's the kicker, though: sometimes you'd end up with a functionally different weapon as a result. That gun that shot streams of lava at enemies? Now it shoots balls of molten magma. The one that shot balls of plasma? Now it sends out shock waves as it flies, bouncing off multiple walls (or enemies) until it explodes. The shield charger now shocked back at enemies. The ray that turns enemies to sheep? Now they're giant exploding sheep. You weren't just rewarded with more killing power for using a gun you otherwise wouldn't. Often you'd end up with a different tool in your arsenal that pushed you to think and fight in different ways.

    The Sheepinator upgrades to the Black Sheepinator. Yup. Still makes me laugh.

    Once you hit the experience cap, you couldn't level the weapon up any further. Unless you were fighting a boss, using already upgraded weapons on regular enemies felt like a waste. The solution? Use a gun that you didn't have upgraded yet. Suddenly, the second biggest issue with the first game is solved. As a player, you're incentivized to rotate your arsenal and upgrade all your weapons. The curve at which you get bolts (your in-game currency) and are able to buy new weapons is set up so you'll almost never be without something to level. As such, this guiding mechanic was able to push you through the game from start to finish.

    Was there a great deal of variety in the worlds you visited and the enemies you faced? Of course. But at the end of the day, all you're really doing is strafing, aiming, and shooting at bad guys while you dodge their own attacks. Being incentivized to constantly change the weapons you used (which were already very unique from each other) made the game rarely feel repetitious. When you factor in the weapon mods, it added another layer to this. Things always felt new, and they always felt fresh. They managed to create a gameplay hook that always kept you moving forward. Studios will spend decades making games but never really manage to pull that off.

    Fuck finding stars in Super Mario 64. Collecting these bad boys was the shit.

    In order to get weapon mods though, you had to spend your collectable Platinum Bolts. Why is it always fun to explore in Zelda? You get cool shit for it. There's a feedback loop there that works, and it incentivizes certain action by the player. Same thing here, and Insomniac were nice enough to add an item late in the game that highlighted the general area for Platinum Bolt locations on your map. If you were smart, you could get them all without ever needing outside help. You also had Skill Points: vague level specific challenges that accomplished the same thing. They may not have had as big of a gameplay reward (they only unlocked cosmetic changes), but they too got you to try things you might not normally do. Plus there was an interesting thought puzzle involved in deciphering the descriptions and finding how to even complete them in the first place.

    Which bring me to my second point. Beyond that feedback loop, the optional "macro-games" in Ratchet did a great job of breaking up the gameplay and letting you do something cool and different for a while. One of them was the arena, which presented you with increasingly difficult and varied combat challenges that rewarded you with bolts (and sometimes unique items). Some would limit your weapon choice, others had a time limit, a few required you to complete it with full health, and a couple threw unique boss enemies at you. The second arena also had a mode that flung you in the air onto what was basically the inside of a hollow cylinder. With your Gravity Boots, you'd fight off waves of teleporting enemies as the lava filled arena below you seemed to spin in the background as you strafed.

    My god, I've probably spent hundreds of hours in the arena alone over the years.

    Maybe you'd be interested in the two hoverbike courses in the game which also featured increasingly difficult and varied challenges. As you progressed, track short cuts and weapon pickups unlocked, and competitors got much more aggressive. How about space combat, fighting off enemy ships, space wasps, and ghosts from your starfighter. Not fast or well armed enough? There's a couple planets were you can mine the comically named "Raritanium" to trade for ship upgrades. Which are coincidentally the same places you find buried crystals you can trade to a crazy old hermit for bolts. Hell, the grind rails, glider segments, and hacking minigames within levels were great at breaking up the experience in and of themselves.

    Up Your Arsenal, the sequel to Going Commando, built on a lot of this. They ditched the hoverbikes and space ships (to which I ask, WHY?), but kept the arena and crystal collecting while adding a couple new things. They lacked the character or the variety of the original macro-games though, and ultimately failed to live up to them. In all honesty, no Ratchet game since has managed to nail this pacing so well. They were all optional, so if you wanted to skip part of all of them you could. But they were a great way to break up the experience and help reward you with bolts for your main journey. Again: feedback loops. Insomniac gets them.

    The Star Explorer is in desperate need of a return. I miss my ship combat!

    And the proverbial icing on the cake? Challenge Mode, aka new game plus. I couldn't actually beat Ratchet 1 when I first played it. I got stuck at the final boss, put it down, and picked up Going Commando (which I proceeded to tear through). So I had no idea the series had a challenge mode. Hell, at that point I had never played any game with one. Beating the final boss wasn't even the real reward; getting to take all my shit and start the game over was. And that's immediately what I did. Insomniac however, added a twist: every enemy you kill ups your bolt multiplier by one. Every time you get hit, it drops to zero. And now you can buy new upgrades for all your weapons that will let you level them up one more time. Which is great, because now all of your enemies are dramatically harder to killer. They really weren't joking when they said challenge, eh?

    You might have notice I've skipped elaborating on some of the things Ratchet & Clank is known for, namely its humor, weapons, and art design. Like I said, they're all great. Insomniac knows how to get that atmosphere right and it's part of why I'm so excited for Sunset Overdrive. That game basically looks like the spiritual successor to Ratchet I've been waiting for. But those aspects aren't the reason why I'm immediately addicted to these games as soon as I pick them up. That perfected feedback loop is the reason, and it may very well be Insomniac's greatest achievement as a developer. If there is such a thing as gameplay "perfection", at least for mechanics, they did it.

    Crazy to think how far this franchise has come in a decade. It looks incredible now.

    Any fellow Ratchet fans out there? Anybody who's never got a chance to play one but was interested in doing so? Or are you one of those people who think Jak and Sly were better series? (It's okay to be wrong, I still love you). Whatever the case, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments, as always, and if you like what you've read feel free to give it a heart/upvote. Hoping to keep this series going all the way to number one, so be sure to check back for the next post in a few days. Oh, and if you haven't read number ten yet, definitely check that out here.

    First off, I wouldn't actually call these the "greatest games of all time". That was just a catchy headline to bring you here. Because to be fair, I haven't played every game, or even most of the ones that are widely considered "the greatest". But for me, these are the ten greatest titles that have had the largest impact on my tastes and interests as a gamer. There's a lot that I left out of course, and my list largely focuses on character driven, single player experiences. Be warned, there will probably be some spoilers if you're unfamiliar with the source material. With that, let's start with number ten:

    10) Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
    Developer: BioWare, Publisher: LucasArts
    Release: July 15, 2003 (Xbox, Win, Mac, iOS)

    Come on, man. Even the damn box art looks like it should be a Star Wars movie poster.

    As far as Star Wars games are concerned, the ones that really manage to encapsulate that massive universe and put you in the driver's seat of the hero (or villain), Kotor is easily the best thing LucasArts ever published. While most Star Wars games focused on the Skywalker Saga of the films, Kotor went back. About 4,000 years back, to be specific. The "Old Republic Era" that Kotor exists in was established by the Tales of the Jedi comic series first released in 1993. Choosing this time period afforded Bioware a significant amount of leeway in how they told their story. They didn't have to be concerned with canonical restrictions from the movies. This early design decision is responsible for Kotor's greatest strength: choice.

    A lot of people from my generation and earlier probably remember those "choose your own adventure" books from when you were a kid (also known as gamebooks). Rather than being taken through a linear story as told by the author, you got to choose how to proceed in your quest, jumping back and forth between pages when given the option. Kotor wasn't the first game to give you choice in how the plot progressed. Adventure games had been doing that for decades. What Kotor did manage to do was create a 3D world that felt like the Star Wars films, but gave you meaningful choice over not only your story, but the stories of your companions as well.

    Getting the white Force aura from being full light side? A reward in and of itself.

    While Kotor had multiple endings, most of your decisions in the game had no impact on its conclusion. This might seem like an issue, but it wasn't. BioWare didn't need to create weight to character choice by dangling influence on the plot's conclusion over your head like a carrot. When it came to the light side/dark side choices, they did this through gameplay. The more good or bad decisions you made, the more powerful your light or dark side oriented powers like Force Heal or Force Lightening would become. While it didn't drastically influence your power (and Mass Effect arguably improved on the system), it was enough to make you think about these decisions from a gameplay perspective. It wasn't just about morality and choice, it was about how it impacted the way you played.

    Even when Force Points weren't involved, player choice still had gameplay implications. Sure, you had experience, money, and loot to think about. But more importantly, you had to consider what path your dialogue choices would take you down. On my dark side playthroughs, finding ways to double cross and manipulate people was probably more fun than it should have been. Each NPC seemingly coming to life when the opportunity presented itself to "outthink" them. This was vital to how you played on Korriban, the home of the Sith Academy. Could I turn these students against each other (and their masters), then loot the goodies from the blood bath? Sure. But if I'm trying to play a good character, pretending to be evil put you on pretty thin ice as a player. The thought puzzle here was equally engaging. How could I complete my mission without making dark side choices? You had to think like a Jedi to be one.

    The maze of dialogue choices on Korriban easily outclasses the maze of Sith tombs.

    This system of morality and choice leads into Kotor's second greatest strength. Few titles before it (and in all honesty, few after) have managed to make each member of your party feel so significant. Most RPGs try and do this with combat abilities and cutscenes, both of which can be effective from a design perspective. And to be fair, Kotor did this too. When you finally "rescued" Bastila on Taris after hours of searching, adding her to your party felt empowering. You didn't just care about Bastila cause you went through the damn trouble of saving her. You care because she drastically shifts the power dynamic in your party, adding an entirely new selection of tools to use in battle. She was important in both plot and gameplay, especially before your player character got his own lightsaber.

    But more than that, you care about Bastila (and the rest of your crew) for a very simple reason: you talk to them. As much as I loved the fighting, looting, and exploration of Kotor, more so than anything I was just excited to get back on the Ebon Hawk and talk to everyone in my crew. Every time you leveled up, you weren't just rewarded with higher stats and newer abilities. You unlocked new dialogue with your party. The conversation wasn't just awarding for being well voice acted, or for having great writing that managed to engage you in something so passive; the conversation itself was the reward.

    Kotor: the thing the made listening to old men rant an enjoyable gameplay experience.

    How is my relationship developing with Bastila? What secret is Carth hiding? Will Canderous have more stories about the Mandalorian Wars? Can I manage to turn Juhani away from the dark side? Hell, the entire mission to rebuild HK-47 is probably one of my favorite quests in an RPG. I didn't plan my trip to each planet around min-maxing, sticking with the same characters over and over again. Based on my conversations with the crew, I would make my best guess about who would be most interesting to bring along and who would have the best chance of starting an impromptu mission. The plot affected the gameplay, and in turn the gameplay affected the plot. That, at its core, is sound game design.

    Everything I've mentioned thus far, player choice and your companions, is all before I even get to what set Kotor apart from the many Star Wars games before it: how good it felt to play as a Jedi. The first time you have Bastila in your party, it's like you put in a damn cheat code. Her lightsaber cuts through enemies with ease, she dodges or blocks most attacks against her, and you finally have ability to heal your allies with a Force power after hours of rationing your medical supplies instead. Much as Zero is a tease of what to come in Mega Man X, Bastila is a foreshadowing of what Jedi powers will soon be at your disposal.

    Bow to the power of an almighty SITH LORD! Sorry... got a little carried away there.

    By the time the game ends and you hit level 20, your character is nearly untouchable. Force Wave and Force Lightening can hit a dozen enemies at a time, Force Heal and Death Field keep your party at full health and continuing to deal out damage. And by the time you face Darth Malek, after forty hours of him destroying planets, almost killing you multiple times, and potentially turning one of your crew members against you, Force Choking him during your final one on one encounter makes you wanna start throwing Vader one liners at the guy. I can't harp on this enough: BioWare nailed feeling like a Force wielder.

    But as you know from the films, being a Jedi is more than just killing the big bad guy. It took three films for Vader or the Emperor to go down for the count, after all. As I mentioned at the beginning, the journey here is much more than just a buildup to your fight with Malek. Your visit to Tatooine is the best example of this. In one trip, which adds up to less than a fifth of the entire game, you bump into Bastila's mother, you buy HK-47, you make peace (or war) with the Sand People, you fight Czerka Corporation, and you kill a krayt dragon. None of which have anything to do directly with Malek or the main quest. But everything still manages to be exciting and the choices are still engaging. Sure you're fighting, leveling up with new powers, finding new lightsaber parts, and adding up your credits. But the adventure feels like it belongs in Star Wars. It manages to capture the magic and be a part of that film universe better than any Star Wars game before or after it. And it did this with a prequel that goes 4,000 years in the past.

    BioWare gave me this feeling in the form of a video game. What else can I ask for?

    Knights of the Old Republic is not only a crowning achievement for Western role playing games, but for player choice within the art medium as a whole. Every time I pick this game up, I'm immediately lost in it. Suddenly 30 or 40 hours have gone by in an unhealthily short period of time. No RPG has managed to grab me like Kotor has. The Mass Effect series has been a good spiritual successor of sorts, and it brought a lot of innovation in gameplay and UI design. Ultimately though, I don't think those games stand up to BioWare's work on Kotor. And I really hope that the Swtor MMO isn't the last we'll see of Star Wars RPGs.

    Have any fond memories of Kotor? Wanna join me in complaining about the lack of a Kotor III? Or maybe you'd like to tell me I'm crazy and that Kotor is actually a buggy, broken, overrated mess? Whatever the case, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments, as always, and if you like what you've read feel free to give it a heart/upvote. Hoping to make this a ten part series (as you could probably guess), so be sure to check back for number nine in the next couple of days.

    As it stands, the Vita's probably only getting two types of games from here on out: things that will make a profit with just the Japanese market, and ports of PSN and Steam indie games developed first elsewhere. As much as Sony seems dead set on turning the Vita into a glorified WiiU GamePad for the PS4, it could easily be just as good as the PSP or 3DS as a standalone handheld. So let's take a trip down hypothetical road and imagine how things could have been different.

    Leveraging the Back Catalog:

    What's that? Another excuse to post an image of Crash Bandicoot? You got it.

    One of the major uses for my Vita over the last few months has been for PS1 emulation. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. I love those games. Problem is it only became that way for me because Sony screwed up and let you download any PS1 game you can buy on PS3 or PSP directly to the Vita. Due to licensing issues Sony is either unwilling or unable to resolve, you can't normally do this with every PS1 Classic (especially in North America).

    This is something that definitely needs to be resolved. More than 1,200 PS1 games were released during the system's lifetime. Less than 150 are available on Vita in North America, including the Japanese imports. What gives, Sony? The PSP library available on Vita is also much smaller than it could be. And given that we know the PS3 is capable of software PS2 emulation (thank you hackers), why not bring that library to Vita as well? The system is nearly as powerful as a PS3. Hell, they have Dreamcast emulators running on tablets and smartphones with similar internal specs to the Vita. Why not expand Classics to Sega's backlog, like Nintendo has done on the Wii and 3DS with Virtual Console?

    Turning my Vita into a Genesis emulator? Sign me up, please.

    Is this the only thing the Vita needs to be? Of course not. But the idea of having a portable PS1 and PS2, in addition to the Dreamcast, Saturn, Genesis, and more? Could you imagine a device like this a few years ago? And given how close the Vita is to the PS3 in power, why not go for all three generations? You couldn't emulate it of course, but you could bring over the best PS3 games to Vita. Fuck The Last of Us on PS4. Why not The Last of Us and all three Uncharted games on Vita. Give me a discount for buying it once on PS3 (if not Cross Buy) and I'd be a lot more okay with double dipping.

    Finding a Middle Ground with Third Parties:

    Ideally, I would love for Sony to go to Ubisoft and say "we'll pay to bring Far Cry 4 to Vita, you just have to sell it Cross Buy with the PS3 and PS4 versions". Forget system exclusive content. Give me a free copy of something on my handheld and I'll buy all my third party games on your console instead of the competitor's. Remote Play with PS4 and using PS Now for PS3 games is nice, but this is a far superior solution.

    Won't look like it does on PS4, but I'd still love to take my Far Cry destruction on the go.

    Would that put more of a cost on Sony's end? Yes, but I think it'd be worth it. It'll bring more third party licensing revenue to Sony, and they'll have one more game on Vita for people to buy standalone if they don't want it on PS4 or PS3 (or they just don't own one). It's a win-win for Sony, even if the initial investment is more. With the right marketing for the program (read: a promise of free promotion for any third parties that sign on) I see it pulling in enough money to justify doing it in the first place.

    Hopefully, this wouldn't just be for retail. Valiant Hearts, Strider, DuckTales. Why are these games not on Vita? They don't really tax the PS3, so I doubt it would be incredibly difficult to bring them to Vita. Especially with the APIs and development tools Sony has already created for doing just that. Cross Buy, Cross Save, Cross Play, Cross Controller. These are the types of things that get me to purchase one game over another. And that goes across platforms and storefronts, including those that otherwise wouldn't make Sony any money.

    Using Playstation TV to Expand the Installed Base:

    This thing has far more potential than most realize. It's up to Sony to actually use it.

    The PSTV (known as Vita TV in the Eastern market), could be quite a big deal if positioned correctly. The $100 MSRP gives the base model an incredibly low barrier to entry. But I think the bundle needs a bit more. A PSTV with a Dualshock 4, a memory card, and a month of Plus would be a much better deal at $150. Just enable the DS4 for Vita touch screen/panel use when possible, patch PS Now so PS3 games with analog face buttons will function with the DS4, and allow handheld Vitas to be used as controllers for PSTV. That way all your gaming bases are covered, and the PSTV is immediately a much better value proposition.

    Combined with the aforementioned backlog of three Playstation console generations, two handheld generations, and potentially catalogs from former manufacturers like Sega, NEC, and SNK and suddenly you've got a better $100 gaming micro console than any of these Android alternatives. Sony immediately has by far the greatest competitor in a field that Amazon, Apple, and Google all see the potential for profit from. Rather than having to fragment the Playstation ecosystem with a special low budget console, they can just expand the Vita ecosystem (thus increasing the developer incentive to support the thing).

    Rather than making a special SoC and OS for your Bravias, just put a PSTV in it.

    Here's the clincher though: PSTV needs to be the hardware and OS of choice for all Sony smart televisions, not Android TV. Assuming Sony can get every major streaming media partner on board, there's no reason they need to support Google's ecosystem and online store. If the Bravia division can turn things around (and this could actually help with that), every smart TV sale is another Vita in somebody's home. That means another device that can Remote Play with PS4, another device that can do PS Now, and another device that can buy and play games through the Vita's PS Store. And Sony pockets all that revenue, not Google.

    Oh and, Ya Know, Maybe Some First Party Games:

    No, I wasn't going to skip over this. Right now, the Vita's biggest issue is a lack of upcoming exclusives. Shipping another game on the scale of Uncharted or Killzone isn't feasible on the Vita. They cost too much to make and they don't sell enough copies to be profitable. Especially not next to their superior console counterparts. Instead, Sony needs to work with its smaller second party studios and some of its smaller internal teams on lower risk, lower budget projects.

    ...so I guess Sony is just done making original experiences like this on Vita?

    Sony may not have the IP catalog that Nintendo's got, but as I've touched on in the past it's filled with a number of gems. LocoRoco, Ape Escape, MediEvil, PaRappa, Patapon, Jak and Daxter. Hell, even more recent games like Puppeteer or Into the Nexus, which didn't necessarily get the attention they deserved on PS3, would be a perfect fit on Vita. I think the business model Nintendo has used for the 3DS has worked wonders for them. No need to fix what ain't broke here. Even just one retail exclusive per season would be a massive improvement over the complete drought they've given us in 2014 outside of the Eastern market.

    I think the Vita would also be a great place for some PS4 Cross Buy games. A new Cool Boarders or Jet Moto might not work as a big budget PS4 exclusive. Why not a budget priced, Cross Buy release instead? I could easily see a new ATV Offroad Fury, LBP Kart, or Motorstorm using this model as well. I figure Sony plans on using its AAA retail games to leverage new PS4 purchases, so future PSN games like Resogun and Entwined could come to Vita as day one Cross Buy titles. I can't imagine most of those being massively difficult to port, and knowing that you have "free" games waiting for you on a new platform you haven't bought yet makes it that much easier to justify buying one as a consumer.

    Miscellaneous/Everything Else:

    My thoughts on Vita Memory Cards in my best Joe Pesci voice: You muddafucka you!

    With the aforementioned, I think Sony would be golden. Cheaper memory cards (4GB - $10, 8GB - $15, 16GB - $25, 32GB - $40, 64GB - $60) would help. A PS4 and Vita bundle, either $500 just for both systems or $550 with Plus and a memory card, would also be a smart move. And I still say a $200 Vita bundle with Minecraft and Lego Marvel would do wonders in the US for younger gamers. But more so than anything, the thing just needs the right marketing and the right PR for once. Because as it stands, Sony's comments about the thing's future really haven't done them any favors.

    Could they do this? Sure. Do I think this would work? Yes. Will they attempt anything remotely like this? I highly, highly doubt it. And as a Vita owner, that's pretty disappointing. What do you all think? Am I asking too much? Would this be a good idea? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments, as always. If you like what you've read, feel free to share/like/upvote/etc.

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