Saturday, June 11, 2011

All good things...

It's been an extraordinarily long time since I've even come to this page, so it's likely that my message today is long anticipated.  It is for me, anyways. 

I began this project because I had a passion for games and I felt like it was my duty as a gamer to inform the world what people like me really think about games and gaming as culture.  It's been a tumultuous time, with things like Kinect on the rise, and with the Wii U unveiled at E3 it's clear that the future of gaming as I know and love it is very much up in the air.  Thus it's more important now than ever before that I do all I can to make my voice heard and ensure that me, and fellow gamers like me do not get swept out of the way of video gaming.

With this mission in mind, it quickly became clear that this forum was not the most efficient way to do that.  While this blog has given me the opportunity to share my thoughts, my lack of knowledge of the internet as a being and how to take advantage of it meant that I was unable to reach people in the quantity that I would have liked (in fact, I'm pretty sure the only people who EVER read this were those I directed here personally). 

A few months ago I made the decision to branch out and join forces with fellow like-minded gamers who had a similar mission.  I was pleasantly surprised at how much success I've since had in connecting with those who have similar ideas and goals to mine.  My original plan was to work with these people while simultaneously maintaining Force Feedback, using the experience I gained to grow this project into the forum it was meant to be.  Unfortunately, time, life, and other things have gotten in the way and it turns out that this was not realistic.  In the end, I decided that moving forward was best and I have made the decision to lay Force Feedback to rest.

While this project may have been short-lived, I in no way view it as a failure.  While I may not have generated the response I would have hoped for, I have learned invaluable lessons about games journalism, and have been given incredible opportunities to connect with others and share my views on a much larger scale, the way I always wanted.  These opportunities simply would not have been possible without Force Feedback opening the door for me. 

While I'm shutting the book on this particular project, I will still be very active (perhaps even more active) in the games journalism community.  My current undertaking is to get Pixels or Death off of the ground - you can keep track of our progress at  I hope that anybody who may have waywardly stumbled upon this page accidentally appreciates my overall vision and understands that this is the only way to move forward, and to really accomplish what it was I set out to do in the first place. 

Please don't feel bad for Force Feedback - as my first major web project, she'll always hold a special place with me.  I know this is what she would have wanted.

Onwards and Upwards,


Friday, February 25, 2011

The Pros and Cons of a Video Game Playing Girlfriend

I've had this idea since before this blog even officially existed, but never got around to really fleshing it out.  But we all wish that our ladies would pick up a controller every now and then and join the party, so to speak.  Of course, I'm also a huge proponent of not shitting where I eat - thus I put this list together to truly weigh out the benefits and detriments of gaming with your gal.

  • It always puts your Halo party 1 person over the playlist party limit
  • It invalidates your "let me save first" excuse to get out of household chores, because she knows that there are no "save points"
  • She takes more time dressing up her Rock Band character in the Rock Shop than the rest of the band put together
  • Having your headshot fails or lame combos pointed out by a girl somehow hurts twice as much
  • When she drops out of the party it kicks you out as well, since you're on the same console
  • She gets more Xbox Live friend requests in a single game of Halo than you do all year

  • She understands that sometimes saving the galaxy is a little more important than doing the dishes
  • Sometimes she really is ok with watching you play
  • You always have a Doubles partner in Halo
  • MASSIVE street cred online for playing with a real life girl
  • She knows what a 200-hit delayed triple hyper combo is, and gets that it's pretty freakin sweet
  • Understands what you mean when you say you don't love video games more, just differently
Perhaps most important is that it's one more way to bond with that special person in a new way, increasing your shared experiences together.

In other words, you get mad approval points which gets you tons of XP and lets you level up uber fast.
'Til next time, folks.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

MARVEL-ous Thoughts, and Other Bad Puns

Alright, so I know I don't normally just review a game outright since that's somebody else's job, but I figured since a new Marvel vs Capcom is only released every decade or so that I could make an exception in this case.  Still, I'll do my best to talk about the game a bit more broadly and try and avoid a straight nuts-and-bolts review since, let's face it - if you're going to buy this game, you already know it.  In fact, you've probably already bought it.

On the game's relese yesterday, I took the day off work so that I could spend a sufficient amount of time with the game, learn its subtle nuances, and generally get to know it as well as possible.  After many....many [consecutive] hours spent playing the game in its various modes, my overall impression is that Capcom has succeeded in changing the game's mechanics as much as possible from the familiar MvC2 formula while simultaneously retaining the same spirit of the series, and I think that's a good thing.

While I don't want to write a full fledged review of the game, what I will do instead is compare it directly to my "MvC3 Wishlist" to see just what Capcom delivered on, what they surprised me with, and what disappointed me.

Unlockable Characters
Ok, this one doesn't really count since I knew before the game's launch that it was going to be included.  While the game ships with 4 characters that need to be unlocked (Akuma, Taskmaster, Hsien-Ko, and Sentinel), unlocking them is quite simple, and was achieved by me through just a couple hours spent in mission mode.  I would have liked maybe more strict criteria rather than "get a certain number of player points", with stronger characters in return (Akuma and Sentinel were regulars in MvC2, after all), but the fact that Capcom included unlockables at all is a good thing.

Alternate Costumes
When I wrote my wishlist post, I was sure to distinguish between a true alternate costume and merely different "colors" for the characters.  In MvC3 it looks like Capcom has come down somewhere in the middle.  They have opted to include different skins for each fighter, which means that while we do get more than just a simple color change, we still don't truly get any alternate costumes, since they were restricted to working with the default character model.  I suppose it's a decent compromise, though there are some instances (with Marvel characters specifically) where they tried to copy looks from the comics, but were restricted by the character model and what we ended up with was a weird looking skin that was "inspired by" a particular look.  I still haven't given up on the idea that Capcom will release alternate costumes for characters through DLC, a la Street Fighter IV.

A Robust Training Mode
It seems clear that Capcom anticipated that this was the section of the game where most players would be spending the majority of their time, as they've really tricked out training mode with a bunch of options - even a slider to simulate varying degrees of network lag.  Back again is the ability to have a second controler take over for the training dummy, though it would have been even better if this could be done online to train with a friend over Xbox Live or PSN.  Thankfully, managing characters and assists is much simpler, with the ability to change any character's assist in-game through a menu, and an option that takes you directly back to the character selection screen rather than the main menu.  Also included is the new "Mission Mode", which is basically the same as the trial challenges from Street Fighter IV.  It's a great way to learn some devastating combos and setups, though it could stand to be a bit more substantial - each character only has 10 "missions", instead of the 24 trials per character in Street  Fighter IV.

Video/Theater Mode
Oddly enough, this is totally absent from the game.  This is perhaps the most surprising part about the game, since the ability to record and watch replays has become almost standard in modern fighters - not to mention a fairly complex replay/channel system was included in Capcom's most recent fighting game, Super Street Fighter IV, so I have no idea why it didn't make it in here.  Perhaps even more startling than the lack of a theater mode, though, is the lack of any sort of spectator system.  When multiple players join a lobby (which is a favorite passtime amongst my friends and I), the players who are not currently fighting do not get to view the match.  Instead, they're treated to avatars of the 2 opponents' "license cards" (more on those later), bouncing provocatively off one another.  This is a huge oversight since, for many players, watching their friends fight is just as entertaining as fighting themselves.  This too is a convention from Super Street Fighter IV that got cut - perhaps me using that game as a benchmark for what I could expect was folly on my part, but it didn't seem too far fetched to assume that similar, seemingly standard features would be included in both (not to mention that spectator mode was included in MvC2 - a re-furbishing of a 10 year old game!).  This is by far the biggest disappointment I found on launch day.

In-Game Online Profile
Admittedly, when I was writing my wish-list, this was the one item that I thought was least likely to be included, since it was more a product of my own whimsical musings of things I thought would be cool rather than any sort of justifiable inclusion i thought should make it.  Oddly enough, Capcom has actually included something like this in MvC3.  Each player has a "license card" associated with him, which in addition to tracking stats (like measuring your play in terms of things like balance, defense, advanced offense, etc) also keeps track of your win/loss record, your most often-used team, AND gives you the option to save up to 3 teams in reserve that you can "quick-load" at the character select screen - great for keeping your alpha team close at hand.  All this information can be checked by your opponents online as well, which is pretty much exactly what I asked for so I can't complain even a little bit.

I think the strongest impression I was left with after a full day of playing the game is just how different it feels from MvC2.  Capcom has managed to adapt their awesome series in a way that makes it much more strategic and deliberate without sacrificing what made the first 2 games great.  While some interesting omissions in game modes are disappointing, the great new gameplay and incredible depth has me excited to spend many many hours trying to conquer this game.  It's certainly not MvC2, nor is it Street Fighter IV - it's its own unique package, which I think is just what was needed to reinvigorate this great series.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

My MvC3 Wishlist

With the 10-year wait for Marvel vs Capcom 3 whittled down to a mere 2 and a half weeks, anticipation is understandably building to near critical mass.  While MvC2 is arguably one of the greatest fighting games of all time, it's still a decade old; new innovations have been introduced to gaming in general and the fighting genre in particular that Capcom's newest offering could surely benefit from.  Here are some of the things I'd love to see in the new game.  *Note: what follows is a wishlist.  I have no proof of any kind to substantiate that any of this will actually be included.

Unlockable Characters
Ok, so I do know that this will be included.  With the confirmation of Akuma and Taskmaster as part of the roster, Capcom is reviving the glory of the unlockable character.  Sure it may be great to have a full roster of 35+ characters available to use the first time we pop the disc in, but in reality gamers like to have something to work towards.  Including "secret" characters that have to be unlocked not only encourages gamers to try out many different characters (and get GOOD with them), but it feels damn rewarding to have hours of hard work pay off by being given powerful new characters to use like Akuma. 

Alternate Costumes
Different "colors" are fine, but being able to unlock whole new outfits for fighters is a whole other kind of sweet.  There's a ton of potential here for this game particularly, since half the roster are Marvel characters - the game is a great way to show off a bunch of cool artists' work.  This begs inclusion of things like Iron Man's Extremis armor, Cap's WWII uniform, Spidey's black costume - hell, even throw Beta Ray Bill in there for Thor.  Not only would new costumes add a degree of customizability to the game, but it's a great way to show hardcore Marvel fans especially that their characters are truly being incorporated as part of the game world.  And new costumes just look sweet.  Unfortunately, this is one of those things that I could see being sold as DLC.

A Robust Training Mode
What self-respecting MvC player hasn't spent hours upon hours in training mode?  Since it's such an important part of the game (and arguably where many people will spend most of their time), let's really beef it up this time around.  2-player training would be a great way to practice moves in specific situations without having to resort to presets like "jump" or "stand".  Also, why not take a page from Street Fighter IV's book - the Trial Challenges in that game not only showed how to do each character's moves, but also how to pull off some of their most devastating combos in a level-to-level progression.  This simple addition is incredibly helpful, both in mastering your favorite character as well as making it easy to pick up and learn the basics with a new one.  And few things can match the satisfaction felt by finally landing that huge combo and seeing a big "SUCCESS!" flash up on the screen.

Video/Theater Mode
To be honest, I think that this is something that literally every game could benefit from.  But when you consider this game specifically, with all the air combos and perfectly-executed strategy, the potential for those "oh snap!" moments that just have to be shared is through the roof.  Feeling on top of the world because you just owned your opponent with your #1 team?  Just pull off a crazy 25 hit combo?  The ability to save the match, and even to share it with friends online would enable you to transform mere bragging rights into immortality.

In-game Onlinle Profile
Playing games online these days is about more than just playing the game - it's about the community of gamers that play them.  Supporting an in-game "profile" system would be like your own signature or business card that other people can view when they play you online.  We've seen versions of this in other Capcom games - Tatsunoko vs Capcom let you choose your "style" (fire, ice, or lightning) to display to others how you liked to play, while Street Fighter IV displayed things like your w/l ratio and your most frequently used fighter.  MvC3 could expand on this dramatically - allowing you to set not only a motto or in-game icon, but also letting people know if you like to juggle or play turtle, if you love flashy hypers or big combos.  Incorporating a system like this is not only a great way to meet people, it would also help you to get the skinny on who you're about to fight, and possibly use it to put together a strategy on-the-fly for the upcoming match. 

Those are just some of the things I think would be awesome in Marvel vs Capcom 3.  Some of them will almost definitely be included, some of them most certainly won't be.  All of them, I think, would make the game just that much better.  Either way, we'll find out for sure on February 15.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Dual Edges of DLC

Ever since someone somewhere got the idea to plug a console into a modem, gaming has been irreversibly changed.  From online gaming to the inherent social element and gaming communities, taking video games online has redefined the industry in ways few could have imagined.  Today I'm going to talk about one element of online gaming that is at least as significant as these others, and is becoming more and more prevalent in recent years - the inclusion of downloadable content in games - and how it is both the best and worst thing to happen to gaming since motion controles and waggling.

When I played Street Fighter II as a kid, I always played as Blanka.  It wasn't because I liked his style or him as a character (I didn't).  It also wasn't because I was particularly good with him - at least not exactly.  It was because I had figured out how to use him to win almost everytime - cannonball attacks, and electrify any opponent who got too close or jumped in.  Simply put, he was cheap.
I'm not talking about a matter of player skill, where through hours of practice I became adept at pulling off devastating combos with Blanka - this is a case of the developers missing a balance issue and it slipping through into the game's release.  In 1994, your only recourse was to wait until the next game came out, and hope that the issue had been fixed.  Today, however, that's no longer the case.
These problems still exist, and they are myriad in number among many of our favorite games - but now they can be fixed post-release.  In the age of DLC, developers can now fix glitches, balance problems, exploits, or in the case of Gears of War 2 and entire broken online matchmaking system, even after the game has come out so that it is rendered more "playable" and fun, thus extending the game's life.

Aside from bug fixes, re-balancing, and a slew of other mainly "under the hood" improvements, the real value of DLC comes in extending the life of games by adding brand new content.  One of the most prevalent examples of this is the addition of new map packs in many popular fps's, but the sky's really the limit here.  Games of all genres, from RPGs to racers have benefitted from this system with downloadable add-ons like new quest packs, new playable characters, new car/track packs, etc.  Even completely new game modes can be introduced to a game.  This system is a great way to extend the life of a game in a way that keeps it fresh and brand new, sometimes even years after it comes out.  The best part is that you only pay for the stuff you want - you can literally pick and choose the content that appeals to you, and it's in this way that the rise of DLC has really flourished.

For all the good DLC introduces, there are some startling implications that must be considered as well.  Game development is an extensive process, culminating in many levels of quality assurance and beta testing to ensure that the final product is not only fun, but that it is free of bugs and glitches.  On the flip side of this, studios are constantly under pressure from their publishers to turn out a game more quickly or to meet a specific deadline.  The problem is that where before a studio would have taken more time to release a game of higher quality, in the day of DLC the incentive to spend more time polishing a game just isn't there - it's ok if a game hits the shelves with bugs, since any major issues can be found and patched within the first month of the game's life anyway. 
The implications of this are twofold: first, it implies a lower standard of quality for the games that are being released - even ten years ago the idea of knowingly releasing a glitchy game into the market was unfathomable, whereas now it's almost commonplace.  Recent examples of this include Fallout: New Vegas and Gears of War 2.  Secondly, and perhaps more outrageous, is that it implies exploitation of gamers at the hands of studios.  Beta testing is a necessary part of game development - that's why it's somebody's job.  In releasing a glitchy game and releasing patches based on feedback from the community post-launch, developers are essentially using gamers as ad hoc beta testers.  Now allowing the general public to beta test a game for free is fine - but they usually receive some sort of incentive for doing it (since it is work after all), like getting to play the game before its official launch.  With this strategy though, not only are gamers not being paid, but in buying the game outright, they actually have to pay the studio to be able to "beta test" a game that's already been released before it can be fixed and played for real.

I've been following the development of Marvel vs Capcom 3, paying particular attention to their revelation of the roster.  I've been very surprised (to say the least) at the characters that have not been included - series stand-bys like Ken, Guile, Cyclops, Strider, and others have all been cut.  It then occurred to me with more than a little annoyance that these characters would most likely be included as DLC later on, for a price.
This trend of withholding game content in order to be able to release it and charge later is disturbing, as it implies the most blatant harm done to gamers.  It allows studios to release what is in effect a partial game at full price, and then take more money later on DLC.  Not only is it artificially extending the life of a game by selling half of it to you post-launch; worse, it's gouging, plain and simple.  Games used to come packed with content, both readily available and things that were unlockable - it was awesome, since unlocking this content gave gamers something to strive for while simultaneously extending the life of their favorite games.  Simply put, unlockable content made us feel like our games had real value - like we were getting so much for our money.  Nowadays, unlockable content has fallen by the wayside.  Things that previously would have been accesssible through hours of gameplay are now accessible through a credit card, and I think this trend will only grow in the future.
Unfortunately, there's a lot of grey area here, as the line between intentionally withholding part of a game to release post-launch and the release of brand new DLC content to support a game's launch is so fine as to be almost invisible in a lot of cases.  While it's easy to fault a studio for selling us content that they were going to include (or should have included) anyway (I'm looking at you Capcom), how can you tell when a studio is holding out on us and when a DLC offering is a legitimate expansion?  For example, buying a car and having to pay extra for the seatbelts is easy to target as wrong, whereas having to pay extra for a CD player....maybe not so much  Where do you draw that line?

As a quick aside, some studios have become masters of using DLC strategically (and fairly!) to support their games in creative ways.  Bioware's signature edition of Dragon Age 2, for example, includes scads of content, including new characters, quests, and weapons, and is FREE to anyone who pre-orders the game.  This content will also be available for download on game marketplaces, for a price, to all those who didn't jump on the banddragon early.  While perhaps questionable, (after all, if the content is there, why not throw it on the disc?) I can't fault them for this approach.  They're not ripping gamers off, they are trying a creative approach to create hype and drive early demand for their product (and it worked on me), which is a legit business strategy.  It may not satisfy you, but again this is an example of the enormous amount of grey area that this topic is situated in.

As polarizing a topic as DLC is (at least for me), my feeling is that there is still a lot of uncovered territory in the area of extra content, and that more and more interesting topics will be spawned from this seemingly simple concept.  While we may have seen this type of debate before surrounding things like digital music and movie piracy, I feel that gaming more than any other medium is very strongly influenced by the "business" of the industry, and this is just the first of many examples of the gaming/business dichotomy that exists.  While the future of gaming is just starting to take shape, one thing is sure: laud it or loathe it, DLC is only going to grow in scope, so get your credit card ready.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Games with the Worst Stories

Game stories have come a long way in the past 20 years, from simple "rescue the princess" yarns to vast cinematic operas spanning multiple games.  However, with all of the recent storytelling "hits" of gaming, there's bound to be a few "misses" as well...Here are some of the games I think have the WORST stories.  Oh yeah...spoiler alert.

Street Fighter (series)
So there's this dude, Mike, M. Bison, and he's eeeevil.  He's a despotic dictator who rules over Thailand with an iron fist, and he possesses the powerful and mysterious Psycho Power, making him one of the most formidable warriors in the world.  His master plan?  Take over the hosting illegal underground street fighting tournaments. 
Forget marching on the major world superpowers, steamrolling through waves of troops and tanks with one Psycho Crusher after another, this guy clearly prefers economic domination - after all, there've been so many Street Fighter games that he's bound to have made a pretty penny in illegal underground street fighting tournament entry fees, right?

Assassin's Creed
This series is unfortunate enough to actually contain two stories in one.  Oh, the core stories are just fine - Altair seeking to bring order to the Middle East by assassinating dangerous Templar rulers, and Ezio seeking to eliminate a team of conspirators plotting to set themselves up on the papal throne, while simultaneously avenging his family's murder.  But the whole "present day Desmond" thing - we've got modern-day templars, an underground society of assassins (think Kill Bill, not Wanted) with a subscription to the history channel, mind control apples, pseudo time travel, conspiracy theories, end of the world disaster movie type stuff...oh yeah.  And aliens. 
I would much rather the games just be self-contained stories of the individual assassins, situated in their own time periods.  Ezio's quest for family vengeance is interesting and empathetic.  This whole Desmond/Abstergo trainwreck is just a mess. 

Gears of War 2
The problem with the story in Gears 2 isn't that it's bad, it's that the whole story element is just so poorly handled.  The war with the Locust was established in the first game, so in the second game we'll actually explore why we're fighting, right?  Nope.  Gears 2's  story is business as usual - the Locust is still killing us, though we're not sure why.  We also learn that the Locust are capturing humans and imprisoning them in little metal coffins underground.  Why?  They're not using them as labor, since they just sort of sit there, they're not eating them, since the prisoners all just waste away.  The only thing they ARE using them for is torture victims - which means that the Locust have just decided to go with the cartoony evil route. 
They come so close in this game - introducing the Sires hints that maybe the humans and Locust are closely related, or maybe that somehow the humans had a hand in the Locust development.  But instead of using the remaining 2 acts of the game to explore the whole secret Sire production facility, they just leave it hanging.  The Locust Queen looking and sounding totally human - you'd like some background into what's going on there, wouldn't you?  Too bad.  The story in this game is just a series of events that get introduced, never explored, and forgotten.  Though Epic tried their damndest to get us to empathize with their protagonists this time around....MARIA!!!

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
Now see if you can follow me here - Vader, your master, kills you, and then brings you back to life and uses you to help him plot against the Emperor, while you are secretly plotting with the Rebels to kill both of them, and it turns out that the Emperor orchestrated the entire thing the whole time.  The problem with this game is that it Forrest Gumps a lot of the classic Star Wars story - Starkiller is directly responsible for the creation of the Rebel Alliance, which would be fine, if there weren't already a backstory that discusses that in great detail.
The most insulting thing about the story is when it's revealed that Palpatine was the guy pulling all the strings, all the way down to creating the Alliance, which aside from being completely non-canonical doesn't make any sense - he creates an opponent for him to fight a war against which ends up killing him.  Maybe I'm just a crazy Star Wars purist (ok, I definitely am) but that's a bit of a stretch by any account.

You're an Umbran Witch/bounty hunter/borderline prostitute - one half of a light/dark balance of power thing, and you spend your time killing angels/Lumen Sages/birds with baby faces until you're killed/not killed/locked at the bottom of a lake(?) by your own people.  Then you're found by a man who inadvertently frees you and you kill him/don't kill him/disappearance plot device him, and you're chased by his journalist son who wants the truth/your bod.
In your quest for answers you discover a little girl who is your daughter/you from the past, and the 3 of you learn that you were betrayed by your mentor/secret enemy/frienemy and that you are/possess/have heard of some ancient artifact that will awaken god/bring on the apocalypse/allow David Bowie to take over the world.
Honestly, I think they just stopped trying to write a story after the second act.  Towards the end, not only does it make no sense but it just keeps going.  There are literally like 5 final boss fights in this game.  It seems like Platinum has some closure issues.
What the hell is the Left Eye anyways??

Modern Warfare 2
It's Red Dawn.
Only without the 80's red scare or Patrick Swayze to make it charming in retrospect.  Considering this is a series that strives for realism, the story is almost completely implausible - a U.S. spec-ops agent infiltrates a Russian-based terrorist cell who attacks a Russian airport.  You're found out, and they kill you and leave you there so it looks like American elements randomly attacked a bunch of Russian civilians.
The Russian president, rather than, you know, picking up a phone ("Yo, Barack, what gives?"), just decides off the cuff to launch a FULL SCALE INVASION OF THE U.S.
And the invasion is successful.
Yeah.  I know.  All we needed is for Price to yell "Avenge me!!"

So as these examples illustrated, for every game that's got a crack team of writers working on the story, there's one that turns out like a giant brainstorming session.  I didn't even take aim at older games from generations of consoles ago, because that would just be too easy in a lot of cases.  Fortunately, story, while a big part, is still only part of a game.  Many of the games that made this list are still very fun to play - they just won't be winning any pulitzers any time soon.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Daily Affirmation (sort of)

I liken getting sick to a tower defense game.  The waves of virus or bacteria just keep coming, and you have to combat it by building "towers" - drinking orange juice and taking cold medicine.  As towers degrade you have to upgrade them to keep them effective.  Neo Citron is like a leader power.

I'm no good at tower defense games.