Home State: New York
Currently Residing In: Utah
Birthday: October 13th, 1985 (I'll always secretly consider the NES to have been a week-late birthday present to me from Nintendo.)
I'm a Mass Communication/Journalism graduate from the University of Utah, which I'm starting to question, since it was a tough field to get into even before the economy went down the toilet. I love writing; Not only do I consider it my passion, but I also believe it's an invaluable skill for this socially-connected age in which we live. Writing about video games brings me more joy than I can even describe in words, which is saying a lot, considering.
As far as video games go, I've been a gamer since I was two-and-a-half. I try to play whatever interests me, despite what other people think of those games. I suppose I consider myself to be "obsessed" with gaming, but not in the sense that all I want to do is beat games. I'm fascinated with the industry as a whole, and in some way, shape or form, I'd love to be a part of it professionally someday.
Metal Gear Solid Series (PS1, PS2, & PS3)
Fatal Frame Series (PS2, Xbox, Wii)
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES (PS2)
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 (PS2)
Metroid Prime Trilogy (Wii)
Dead Space (PS3, Xbox 360)
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3)
Anything Zelda-Related (Various Nintendo Platforms)
My most prized gaming-related possession: A factory-sealed copy of the original Famicom Disk System Zeruda no Densetsu (The Legend of Zelda).
Mario and I were tight back in the day, yo.
I've had a few articles promoted on the front page... Check them out if you want. (Thanks, Hamza! :D)
It looks like a bunch of American citizens are trying to get the attention of the U.S. government, hoping to have them ban the use of region locking in a bunch of different forms of electronic media. Games, movies, software and others are all included in this petition.
While I don't think it'll actually pass (at least, not so easily), this is fantastic news. There's literally NO POINT to region locking games. People may argue that it helps companies to better keep track of their sales in a particular region, but I say that all it does is get people to either hack their hardware (which shouldn't be necessary at all) or pirate games. This would be good for everyone involved.
Every once in a while, a video game is released that changes both the way we play and the way the industry works. Super Mario 64 (N64), GoldenEye: 007 (N64) and Resident Evil 4 (every platform ever) are all great examples of games that revolutionized their respective genres, games that have since been looked upon as the "standard format" for at least a certain period of time after their public debuts.
Yes, every once in a while, we get games that revolutionize genres. But, it's far less often that we get a game that actually creates a genre. I'm talking about a game that takes a type of gameplay that was so niche to begin with, and turns it into a household term: the MMO. World of Warcraft, Guild Wars and a myriad of other MMOs have made their presence known in the gaming world of today, and it's all thanks to a single breakthrough game that sucked away close to a thousand hours of my time as a kid.
So, this month, the 12th anniversary of its North American debut, let's take a look at what I consider to be one of the most important games in the history of the industry: Phantasy Star Online.
Mainstreaming the MMO
Abandoning the series' roots as a traditional, SEGA-branded JRPG, Phantasy Star Online (PSO for short, HAVE MERCY ON MY KEYBOARD) was unleashed into the world in Japan at the end of the year 2000. It wasn't the first MMO to ever exist; EverQuest comes to mind as being an earlier title. But EverQuest was an extremely niche game for a couple of reasons: First, it wasn't free. It was released as so many MMOs were back in the day, as a pay-to-play game. That was a concept that people weren't really used to yet, since most of the time, you'd just buy a game and it would be yours. Second, the Internet and online gameplay weren't exactly standard yet. Sure, there were a ton of games with online multiplayer back then (Star Wars: Jedi Knight - Dark Forces II being my personal favorite), but not a game that actually required you to remain online while you played. How would people get phone calls? PSO fixed both of these problems, and what resulted were unparalleled single player and multiplayer experiences woven into one character.
The main reason PSO became so popular could arguably be credited to the SEGA Dreamcast itself, the console on which the game premiered. I've sung my praises of the Dreamcast in the past, and the reason PSO was so successful is because of most of the console's features. Literally everything you needed to play the game came built into the Dreamcast without requiring any external hardware or upgrades other than a memory card.
PSO had a very key difference when compared to EverQuest: It had a built-in offline mode. SEGA's foray into this new and foreign world was executed with near perfection right out of the box. After creating your character in the game, that same character could be played both online and offline, meaning that when your parents needed to use the phone and you got kicked out of your game, it didn't have to be turned off. Kids could work on their characters offline, jump back into an online session later, and show everyone the rare items they'd found on their own, making for an even more social experience. This offline mode also solidified the ability to be able to play the game in the future, far after SEGA decided to shut the original servers down, without your character(s) that you worked so hard on becoming useless. I know people who still have working Dreamcasts and copies of PSO, and there are even hacked servers set up that allow you to play it online, even to this day. Single player and multiplayer gameplay in PSO was seamless, and it always felt like the same game. Between that and the thousands of weapons available to find as you played, it was like the Borderlands of its time.
Another reason for PSO's high sales was a genius move by SEGA: The game came with a demo of the then-soon-to-be-released Sonic Adventure 2. PSO may have been a new series at the time, but everyone knew who Sonic was. For a lot of people -- myself included -- the main reason Dreamcasts were even bought in the first place was to play the original Sonic Adventure. Who wouldn't want to get their hands on an early preview of the next game? It's not like you could just download a demo, or any black magic like that. So, SEGA was able to hook both sci-fi fans and Sonic series fans in one fell swoop, and the result was money to their ears.
Features from the Future
To say that the Dreamcast was ahead of its time would be the biggest understatement in the history of gaming. SEGA's little white (or black, or Hello Kitty) system had so many of the features that gamers actually demand of currently-available platforms that I actually consider it to be one of the main reasons the console failed -- Developers didn't know how to take advantage of everything it offered, because the sheer amount of innovation was overwhelming. Looking at PSO, this quickly becomes apparent, as the game took everything that made the Dreamcast as advanced as it was and gave gamers an experience that no previous game had offered.
The first major draw of PSO for the Dreamcast was, as its name implied, the online play. PSO brought a type of multiplayer to the masses that had only been toyed around with by other games before its release: cooperative gameplay. Sure, we had a ton of split-screen games, like Perfect Dark (N64), but this was something on a whole new level. We had the ability to play with people from all around the world, and we didn't even have to leave our couches. Because the Dreamcast had everything a player needed out the gate, there was no complicated setup or rewiring that needed to be done; All you had to do was to plug the console into the phone jack, start the game up and have a blast. It was the easiest way of connecting to other players that anyone had ever seen, and it was free, to boot (until Ver. 2 came out, anyway).
Once you connected to SEGA's servers, you were thrown into a lobby, where you could connect with other players and form parties. After a team of up to four players was formed, your own private PSO world was opened up to you, where you could battle enemies, complete missions and trade items with your teammates. I remember how much awe I would be in whenever I saw an amazing new weapon like the Double Saber, or weapons made out of various enemies' appendages. Just seeing what other players were using was a thrill for me, and we hadn't even started killing anything yet. Combine that with the fact that you could actually chat with any of these players, and you had a truly engrossing experience that was unlike anything else I had ever personally experienced. (The text chat portion of the game even had an automatic translation tool, since the game could be played on a worldwide scale.)
The second major innovation that PSO brought to the table was downloadable content. While DLC is delivered a whole lot easier today, the Dreamcast actually handled it pretty well with its available hardware. Content was saved to the VMU, the Dreamcast's memory card, much like the way it's stored on a hard drive nowadays. There wasn't a lot of space, but back then, extra content wasn't nearly as large, either. PSO allowed players to download extra missions to be played both online and offline, and these extra missions came with new, exclusive weapons. Since the game was already chock-full of weapons, and part of the appeal of grinding for hours upon hours was to get the rarest weapons possible, players ate up any opportunity to get more.
One of my favorite parts about this feature is that if you downloaded the missions through the Dreamcast's web browser, you could actually get content that was only released in other regions of the world. I remember downloading quite a few Japanese missions, and all I had to do was switch my native language in the game to Japanese. The missions played perfectly, and I was able to get the weapons I coveted so much.
I could talk about the features and innovations that PSO brought to the gaming world until I'm blue in the face, but none of it would mean anything if I hadn't been such a huge fan myself. The version that I played the most was on the GameCube, Episode 1 & 2 Plus. What drew me into this iteration more than the two Dreamcast versions that came before it? Split-screen multiplayer, that's what. The GameCube version had way more content than the original Dreamcast games, so it was obviously the version I dove into. But I wasn't about to buy a separate broadband adapter for the 'Cube and then pay for a subscription on top of that. So, the addition of local multiplayer was something that sealed the deal for me.
Back then, a friend of mine lived just down the street, so we were constantly at each others' houses grinding levels in PSO for hours at a time. We'd look up the locations of the rarest weapons and armor, and we'd slay monster after monster to get them. There were a ton that we never found, since PSO is a cruel mistress, but it didn't matter. The hours that we spent playing that game culminated into an experience that we still reminisce about today. In fact, talking about those memories is what inspired me to write this whole thing in the first place.
When we weren't playing PSO, we were going online to look up the locations of rare weapons in the game instead. With drop rates of something like 1/36,000, our mouths would drop at the mere thought of trying to find half of the worthwhile items in the game, but it didn't matter. Hours and hours later, we still weren't bored of fighting and leveling up. We never got tired of battling the same creatures in the same areas, over and over. Same music? Didn't matter. Same environments? Didn't matter. There was always the possibility that we'd hit those lucky numbers and find one of the hundreds of rare weapons the game would eventually cough up, and we weren't going to miss out. We gladly played the same levels repeatedly, and we did so for years. We never even scratched the surface of the sheer volume of weapons available to us, a fact that still makes us smile every time we realize it.
This GameCube keyboard controller was made specifically for Phantasy Star Online Episodes I & II. Yes, I actually have one of these things, even though I've never played the GameCube version online. I clearly have a problem.
There was something about PSO that took control of me in a way that no game ever had before, and it didn't let go. In a lot of ways, I still don't think it has. While my friend and I occasionally get online and have a nice session of Phantasy Star Portable 2, there's just something that feels like it's missing from the original game. My love of PSO's magic can be compared to how a lot of people feel that no Final Fantasy title will ever overtake the seventh game in the series. By all accounts, the later games in the series should all have been huge improvements, but something always pulls me back into that original world that happily robbed me of so much of my time, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
So here's to you, Phantasy Star Online. You changed the way we played 12 years ago, and you're still going strong. Let's all pour one out for one of the most revolutionary video games ever made, and I'll see you all online when Phantasy Star Online 2 comes West.
That was a horrible joke, and I'm ashamed of myself.
I'm not primarily a PC gamer. For reasons that I won't deviate to here (and probably because I've made them well-known around here, anyway), I'd much rather just play games on a console. I'm not a fan of using the keyboard to play games, and holding a controller is when I feel the most comfortable. Valve recently realized that a lot of gamers feel the same way, and so they introduced the "Big Picture" mode into Steam with their latest update. The point is simple: Turn Steam into a TV-oriented console, or, at least make it feel like one. And what a good job they've done.
While Steam can still be used with a keyboard and mouse, the main draw is the ability to fully control the platform with a controller. The Xbox 360 controller is natively supported (or, I know it works when I tell my PC that my PS3 controller came from my 360), and you get a nice, clean UI change when a controller is connected. The keyboard icons all turn into standard controller buttons, and everything is very sharp and easy to look at. Navigation is as easy as pressing the d-pad in whichever direction the options are presented, and the triggers are used to flip pages. It's all pretty self-explanatory, but it's really smooth -- much smoother than I expected it to be when I tried it for the first time. In Big Picture mode, I actually PREFER using the controller over the mouse.
The UI is absolutely gorgeous in Big Picture mode. While I don't feel the need for photo-realistic graphics in my games, I do appreciate the little things. In Steam's new TV-oriented mode, smooth animations and subtle sound effects make for an extremely pleasant experience. There was no lag using my wireless controller with the system, and loading times were non-existent despite being a complete UI overhaul. Every single feature of Steam's regular UI mode is present here, including web browsing and chat. The in-game UI can be accessed simply by pressing the Guide button on the 360 controller, and screenshots are set to Guide+RT by default. The UI works so well, that I'm actually a bit surprised it took Valve so long to release it. It seems like it should have been there all along, and I can't imagine NOT being able to access it now.
Typing is an interesting experience in Big Picture mode, but it was really easy to get into. All you do is hold the left joystick in one of eight directions, and then use the face buttons to choose the letter to type. It's obviously nowhere near as quick as using a keyboard, and there's no way in hell I typed this blog using that method, but for some quick Google searches or text chats during a game, it's quite sufficient. I found myself typing rather quickly without making any mistakes within a couple minutes, and the shortcuts to type stuff like ".com" in one click made things a lot easier, as well. The browser loads fairly quickly, although the scrolling can be a bit jarring -- You use the left joystick to scroll the page, but the focus is actually dead-center, so rather than scrolling the page around, you're technically scrolling the screen itself around. You need to find what you want to read, and put it in the middle of the screen. It reminded me a bit of using an iOS or Android browser, but without touch sensitivity. (To be honest, I won't be surprised if touch support happens in the future.)
Overall, I'm really pleased with how Steam's Big Picture mode worked out. I have a laptop, which I literally put on my lap when I use it, and even then, I wanted to pull a controller out and use it instead of Steam's original UI. In fact, I think it actually runs BETTER than the original interface.
If you've ever read anything I've posted on Destructoid, there's one thing that should be very apparent by now: I'm a Nintendo fanboy. If it's Nintendo-related, I'm probably going to be interested. I've been crazy-excited for the Wii U, Nintendo's newest console offering, which releases in just a few days. However, the latest Nintendo Direct and this page from Nintendo's website have me seeing an entire FIELD full of red flags. There's so much not right here that I don't even know where to begin, other than one simple question: What decade does Nintendo think we're living in?
1. USB hard drives are only supported if they have external power supplies That's not to say that drives without external power won't work at all, but Nintendo keeps saying that they recommend hard drives that you can actually plug into the wall. Seriously, who wants to carry stuff like that around when we can get hard drives that are pocket-sized now? And needing that special cable to plug one drive into two USB ports for extra power? What's going on here? On my PS3 and 360, a single hard drive cable is quite sufficient. Hell, I can run entire GAMES straight from my USB flash drive on the 360. Why do hard drives on the Wii U need so much power?
2. You can't move drives between machines, even other Wii Us "Once a device has been configured for use with a Wii U console, it cannot be used with another Wii U console, PC etc. unless it is reformatted." That's what Nintendo's own website says. This means a couple of things: First, it means that you CANNOT take your save data with you. Your drive will not be recognized on any other systems, not even other Wii Us. This means that you'd better not want to take your save data to a friend's house, because from the sound of it, it's going to be absolutely impossible. Second, if you have a hard drive full of games, and you DO want to show your digital library to your friend, you'll have to delete the games, format your drive, and redownload ALL YOUR GAMES on your friend's console through your profile to get any of them to work. If there's a better definition of redundancy, then I haven't been made aware of it. Yes, I understand partitions can be made to use the drives on other machines. But what if I want to back my save data up to my PC, like I've done with the Wii? Hell, what if I just want to move my data to a different console to play with friends? Looks like Nintendo doesn't like that crazy notion.
3. SD cards don't have any Wii U functionality From what I can tell, the SD card slot in the Wii U will serve absolutely no purpose as far as actual Wii U stuff goes, save for -- are you ready for this? -- storing a picture of your Mii. It's there specifically for original Wii games and original Wii save data. There's nothing you can do with an SD card and Wii U games, which seems like a massive waste to me.
4. You may not even be able to download your own games on other consoles "On the system where you made the initial purchase, you can re-download a deleted game at any time by going to your Profile in the Nintendo eShop Menu and selecting My Downloads." Again, straight from Nintendo's website. They specifically mention being able to redownload games "On the system where you made the initial purchase..." With the Wii U being like any other gaming machine, i.e., a finicky electronic device, what would become of our games if our consoles died? Why is that something we even need to worry about?
5. USB devices are not hot-swappable This seriously, legitimately worries me. You can't switch out USB devices connected to the Wii U unless you turn the system off first, and do what you need to with the power being cut. The last system I had that actually required you to shut a machine down to connect a peripheral to it was Windows 95. There's NO REASON you shouldn't be able to just plug and unplug USB devices. Last time I checked, it was 2012. What's the problem?
I was more pumped for the Wii U this month than I can even describe in words, but after getting hit by this double-whammy of Wii U news today, I'm sincerely wondering if I should wait on it. I know I'll own it one day -- Metroids and Zeldas will come eventually, and I'll be playing them no matter what. But something tells me I can wait -- There seem to be way too many unknowns for a console that's just around the corner. What do you guys think?
The Best Buy near my house has had a Wii U set up for almost a month already, but it rarely works. The glass case it's in apparently causes it to overheat a ton, and it only randomly syncs the right way. Well, it was finally playable the other night, and I got to give Rayman Legends a shot with my girlfriend. And all I can say is that I'm ecstatic that I reserved a console in time to get one at launch.
The game itself plays almost exactly like Origins, if you want it to (I'll get to that in a minute). It's a sidescrolling platformer that can be played with two people simultaneously, and it looks absolutely GORGEOUS. Seriously, the only other game that's ever taken my breath away with its visuals like that is Journey. The UBI Art engine shines in a way that almost shames Origins, and I can't imagine going back to the original game after I finally get to play the full version of this one. As far as gameplay went, if you've played the first game, then you know what to expect here, and that's definitely not a bad thing.
As far as the new controller is concerned, you could optionally (which made me REALLY happy) control a sort of cursor-character, allowing you to point at certain parts of the stage on the touchscreen and interact with the background to get points and items for the main player. It was fun to see the entire game on my own personal screen, but it was WAY more fun to just play as a second player, like in the original game. The touchscreen didn't do this game's graphics justice, even though the screen itself was very clear. I do, however, think that the touchscreen controls will be required for a lot of the levels in the game.
The GamePad was actually quite comfortable, even for something like a simple sidescroller. It has clicky buttons like the 3DS and the original model DS, which I vastly prefer over the ones that actually feel like they're pressing down. The joysticks feel exactly the way they should, and clicking them is just as easy as on any other controller. It's a bit bigger than I expected it to be, but it works just fine, and after a few minutes, it felt extremely natural.
The most surprising part about playing the Wii U was how long it actually took me to realize I had a second screen I could look at. When I tried to use the cursor-character, it took me forever to figure out that I needed to look at my screen to aim where I wanted him to go -- I was constantly looking at the TV, wondering why I was sucking so badly. It was a really, REALLY weird feeling, but one that I definitely want to explore more. I'm not used to using what basically amounts to a giant DS, but the idea gets more and more awesome every time I think about it.
So anyway, that was my experience with Nintendo's new funbox. I can't wait to get my hands on my own, and in just a little over a week, too.
I don't think I need to reiterate how excited I am for the Wii U. With Nintendo actually willing to publish things like Ninja Gaiden 3 and Bayonetta 2 -- something that would NEVER have happened this generation on the original Wii -- I think this console is really going to be something special. It seems like Nintendo has finally found that happy medium that will keep both the group of people who grew up with them and the group of newcomers introduced to gaming with the Wii happy, and my hype level is officially through the roof.
Two different flavors of the Wii U console will become available on Nov. 18: the Basic Set and the Deluxe Set. The Basic Set includes a white Wii U console and GamePad, 8GB of internal storage, an HDMI cable (which is awesome, if you ask me), a sensor bar, and all the electric plugins. The Deluxe Set includes a black console and controller, 32GB of internal memory, and everything else that comes with the basic bundle, but with a few additions: Nintendo Land, the Wii U's equivalent of Wii Sports, is also included, meaning only the Deluxe Set gets a full game right out of the box. You also get stands for both your console and GamePad. The Deluxe Set also comes with an interesting premium subscription to the Nintendo Network, which gives you 10% of your digital purchases back in credit that you can spend on future digital purchases.
I initially had the Deluxe Set reserved at GameStop, and eventually decided to change my mind and go for the Basic Set. This is an odd move for someone like me, because I feel like if I'm going to buy a new gaming machine, I should get the best one that I can. So why would I get the "poor man's" Wii U instead of the bigger bundle?
1. I don't need the extra internal memory, and neither does anyone else, really. Reggie Fils-Aime recently said in an interview that right out of the box, the Wii U will support external USB storage solutions. I think it's safe to say that everyone reading this has at least a portable flash drive. The reason this is better than extra internal memory is because if you want to take your data to a friend's house, or if you just want to simply back your save data up (something I do literally on a daily basis), you can just pop your USB device out of the system and you're good to go. Flash memory and external hard drives are dirt cheap now, too, so chances are you can put that extra $50 toward a hell of a lot more than an extra 24GB.
2. Nintendo Land is going to be a glorified tech demo. I loved Wii Sports on the original Wii, but I'll tell you this much right now: There's absolutely no way I would have paid $50 for it if it had not come with the console. I'm sure Nintendo Land will be a lot of fun, but we all know its main purpose is to show us all the different ways to use the GamePad. I'd rather put that money toward a full title for my new console, since the system's launch lineup is actually quite impressive.
3. I don't buy digital content on consoles. I'm not going to go into my hatred of DRM here -- If you've read pretty much anything I've ever said on Destructoid, then you know I can't stand it. This is why I've never really considered buying much digital content on consoles. There have been horror stories about having to move credentials to new consoles after old ones die, not being able to get games to work correctly on friends' consoles, and, most recently, Sony lowering the PSN account activation limit from five systems simultaneously to two. I don't even buy much digital content on the PC unless it comes from someplace like GOG.com, or if, once in a blue moon, it's DRM-free through Steam. The reason I think consoles are STILL the best places for gaming (although I see that changing in the very near future) is because you can't beat just putting a disc into a drive and being able to play immediately. If I buy more than a couple digital items on the Wii U, I'll be absolutely shocked.
4. Nintendo would be stupid to NOT let people subscribe to their premium service after launch. Right now, we don't know what kind of digital content will be offered on the Wii U, and how much we will or won't be clamoring for it. I can't even begin to imagine that Nintendo would refuse money from people wanting to subscribe to the Nintendo Network's premium service AFTER the Wii U launches. I'd be willing to bet there will be some kind of system in place to allow Basic Set buyers to get the same digital deal that Deluxe Set buyers will be getting automatically.
5. I don't need my console to stand up. Ooh, extra chunks of plastic! Moving on...
6. I prefer white electronics, and this is the only way to get a white Wii U right now. Nintendo likes to make all their stuff glossy, and black, glossy electronics end up looking terrible. I actually sold my black Classic Controller Pro just so I could get a white one, since you can't see any fingerprints at all when you're done using it. I know this is probably really nitpicky, but I really do hate when I put a controller down and it looks like I just rolled it around in the dirt despite having had clean hands.
So there you go. There's just as long of a list of reasons to get the Basic Set as there is the Deluxe Set when the Wii U launches in just under two months. What about you guys? Do you have your preorders secured? What sets did you decide on?