Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Final Thoughts on GameStop

Here's my final thoughts on the gaming industry and how one very important store chain has changed over time.
WARNING: This video contains graphic language and is not safe for work or school.
This one says it all:
Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Little Originality

            Games on a small device can be just as good as one that is made for a high definition super system. Angry Birds has sold over a half a billion copies and I totally understand why. It’s a blast to play. It’s really funny and it is appealing to the entire family. The game consists of pissed off, suicidal fowl that launch themselves (kamikaze style) into the pigs that have stolen their eggs in order to kill them. It’s kind of disturbing that kids all over the world love this game. The game is so well made that this horrible plot that I just described never really affects the game. It’s all done in good taste. Done the wrong way, this game would have been a disaster. Imagine a version of this game with violent sound effects and blood. Yeah. That’s what I thought.
            Truth be told, I haven’t bought a hand held gaming system in quite a while. The last one I got was the original Sony PSP. I had it for a little over a year and only owned four or five games for it. The reason why I got rid of it was because it was clear that the makers of the games for that system weren’t really trying very hard. Most of them sucked. A few exceptions were the God of War games and GTA: Vice City Stories. Those were good but even they seemed lackluster to me. Mostly because they looked and played like slightly enhanced Playstation 1 games.
            They just couldn’t compare to the older generation of handheld games. One the best games ever made in my book is Kirby’s Dream Land for the original Nintendo Game Boy. This game was a blast. The plot stunk. The main character was a white puff ball that sucked stuff up like a vacuum cleaner. It was easy to play and was a lot of fun. In fact, it still is. The other Game Boy game that was amazing for its time is of course, Pokemon. How can anyone deny the kind of quality that went into that games and the sequels to it?
            Since then, I think that the big name game companies have fallen off of their high horse. They just aren’t making those big name games like they used to. Everything is a sequel or a spin off of some kind. The world loves originality. I think the future of portable games lies in the little development teams like Rovio and others that occupy the App Stores of the world.
We’ve got a long way to go. Technology is only getting better and faster with time. I think there will always be a group or company that will be there at the forefront. Those are the ones who will be successful. A little originality goes a long way.

Irreconcilable Differences

There is a big difference between Call of Duty and Battlefield.  A friend tells me, “It (Battlefield) is way more realistic than C.O.D. The damage is better, the vehicles help vary the gameplay and the action is way more exciting.” The employees of Gamestop are pushing Battlefield 3 like it’s the Second Coming of Christ. Somehow, I just can’t see how every single person that works for that company enjoys playing that game. I literally haven’t talked to one of them that does not enjoy the game. Why is this fascinating to me? Because I have played the game and for some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, I just don’t like it.
            I was recommended by a friend who works at Gamestop to put the $5 down on the game and try the multiplayer demo during it’s beta testing period. I like my friend and I share many opinions of his so I gave it a shot. No pun intended. I played it for a couple minutes and I didn’t enjoy it. It wasn’t easily playable. I had extreme problems with the controls. I usually get the hang of a game pretty easily. This one wasn’t like that. I just couldn’t catch on. The action is amazing; I have to say. The graphics are amazing. The destruction is amazing. There isn’t much about it that didn’t amaze me. For some reason, I just didn’t like it.
            It took me a while to understand the fact that the reason why I did not like it was because the controls weren’t easy and the gameplay was a tad too hectic. The vehicles don’t last long enough, the on the ground gunfights were a little spastic and they didn’t really pack quite the punch that I had hoped.
            This brought me back to Gamestop to get my $5 back. I know it’s only five bucks but I’m cheap. I told the manager at the store that he was full of it and I had him put the $5 on my Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 preorder. The manager and I had a few laughs before he said to me, “Oh, so you’re one of those guys.” I wasn’t sure what he meant and he told me that I was more of a Call of Duty guy rather than a Battlefield guy. “A lot of people prefer one or the other. Not both.”
            I asked him if the two games are kind of becoming like a Mac vs. PC type of competition. One of those things that everybody knows but nobody talks about. He told me that the Battlefield franchise rewards the player who plays more and more. I said that Call of Duty does that too. He mentioned how the game becomes easier to control over time. I told him that the controls were a nuisance and that they were hard to remember. To be honest, we almost got into an argument. I had to stop, chuckle, and thank the man and walk away. I guess I’m just a “Call of Duty guy”.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Party Like a Rockstar

Whether you like it or not, "Grand Theft Auto III" changed things. It changed the way we play video games. It changed the way games are looked at in our overall society. It changed everything.
I had never really played an open world game before "GTA III" and I was pleasantly surprised when I found out how open, open world really was. I could walk around aimlessly for hours, never doing anything. I could steal a car, crash it and run from the cops. I could even casually stroll up to a random character on the street and brutally beat them to death with a baseball bat. And then run from the cops.
It was intense and even a little intimidating at first. For anyone who's played "GTA III", the character you play in the game doesn't have much of a history, never speaks, and his name is never revealed. So, the creators of the game want to give the effect that the guy you're playing can be anybody you want him. You could even say that he is YOU.
Rockstar Games gave the player millions of choices and hundreds of missions and left it up to you. You do what you want to do. They only merely hinted at what you could do. All of the sequels and spin-offs only expanding on the same idea. It wasn't until "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" that I read something that changed the way I look at games.
I read in a magazine, not a video game magazine mind you, that "Vice City" was "the closest a video game has ever been to being a work of art." Don't ask me who said that but whoever they were, they were right. That game was a masterpiece. It was the first time I had ever played a game that I wish was a movie. If it was, I'd watch it over and over again. It was also the first time I can remember that recognizable movie stars provided their voices to a game (and it didn't stink).
Ray Liotta as the main character, who now had a name (Tommy Vercetti) and a back-story, was perfect. He was kind of a scumbag, but he was enjoyable to play. You wanted to hear what he had to say even though most of it was profanity.
"GTA: San Andreas" and "GTA IV" saw more and more improvements. Graphics got better, stories got more interesting and the game play improved. Even though the adult content may scare some and the violence can be a little much at times, no one can deny how much that series has changed the gaming community. Every time an open world game is made, it is instantly compared to "Grand Theft Auto".
The trailer for "GTA V" premiers on November 2nd. I can only imagine where we go from here.
UPDATE (11/2/11): Just saw the trailer and it looks like we're heading back to San Andreas. The preview looked amazing. The graphics look stunning; maybe some of the best I've ever seen. I just wish the trailer showed something about the protagonist. The voiceover really got me excited, this one looks like it could be a very different type of story; maybe even involving a family aspect. A catch that the last couple of Rockstar Games used was the feature of playing multiple characters. I wonder if that will make an appearance in this new one.

(Kinda) Taking a Life

The first time I can remember killing someone was around 1997. I was only about seven years old and my taste for blood hadn't really been conceived yet. I snuck up behind two men in uniform who were carrying automatic weapons. I shot them both in the head with a silenced Walther PPK. They didn't even know I was there.
Of course, this was all in a videogame. I hope I didn't scare anybody. For those of you who got the Walther PPK gun reference, I owe you a Kewpie doll. For those of you who got Kewpie doll reference, I owe you two. The game I'm referring to in case is "Goldeneye 007" for the Nintendo 64. The reason why I'm bringing this up is simple because it really is the first time I ever actually killed somebody in a game. This wasn't like before. At first I was somewhat shocked. I said to myself, "Wow. I just shot those guys. Will you look at that?"
I didn't really know if I was even really right in what I did. Was it a righteous shoot? Those guys didn't even know I was there. I practically executed them! Then I thought about it some more.
"Wait. I am James Bond. I have a license to kill. They are Soviets. If this was a movie, they'd be toast in there too. Maybe this isn't so bad. Whatever, let's just get on with it."
So I proceeded to mow down about 30-40 other guys that obviously weren't very happy with me sneaking around and sabotaging their nuclear weapons plant. The funny part about all of that is that I didn't really care too much about who I killed after those first two guys. I picked up all sorts of assault rifles and grenade launchers, blew people away left and right. I even drove a tank over people and cars and never even blinked an eye. Killing became second nature.
I never realized how this happens until recently when I came upon a episode of "Law and Order" on TV and Jerry Orbach mentioned how "Someone never really gets used to killing another human being. You just try not to think about it." This isn't the case with videogames. Since the player knows for a fact it isn't real life; you can get used to it. It's strangely easy to get used to such a heinous act. It's when the player loses track of where reality starts and stops, that's when the real trouble begins.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Too Close For Comfort

I am not usually surprised by a video game. Truthfully I haven't been totally entertained by a game for a little over a year. This past week I was blown away by a game. I was blown away by a game that I have already played. This may sound ridiculous to some but it is the god honest truth. The game was Call of Duty: Black Ops. To some, this game is one of the best shooters of all time. To me, it was a pretty good game with a interesting premise. I liked the multiplayer but only in spurts. I don't know how some guys (and girls) can play the game online for hours at a time; it's just too much for me.
You may be asking: What was so amazing about a game that has been out for over a year? I got to play the game in high definition with 5.1 surround sound and to top it all off, it was in 3D. I have never come closer to virtual reality than that. It couldn't have been in a better location. My friend and I were in his barely lit basement. It was perfect game immersion.
After about twenty minutes and about two online deathmatches, I couldn't take it anymore. Neither could my friend. I couldn't see how staying in that kind of environment could be adjusted to. The bullets zipped by our heads. The bombs blew up in our faces. We died at least ten times. Yet, we were still hanging around in the basement. It felt like we were just on a battlefield of some sort and now we could sit back in a recliner. It just didn't feel right.
It soon became apparent that the feeling I was having was shared by my friend. We looked at each other a moment. I said to him, "This is frigging nuts."
He responded with, "Yeah man, this is crazy. It's a little too crazy. You wanna get something to eat?"
"Yeah. Let's do that."
Over a lovely gourmet meal at a royal burger chain, we discussed the strange feelings that we had just experienced. How it was weird to go from ducking simulated bullets to having a burger. How it was all just too much to deal with after such a short time. And especially how bad of a headache it was giving us. My friend said that it was too close to being in a life or death situation. "You wouldn't want to play a game that makes you feel like crap. That's not the point of playing video games. You want to play a game that makes you feel like a badass."
We also talked about how if that is like warfare, what is actual battle like? How much worse can it get? I guess the real difference is you don't respawn in reality.
I asked him if he would ever play that game in the basement ever again. His response says it all: "Oh yeah man, I'd play it again. Just not in 3D."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Quite possibly the best commercial I've ever seen.

Just happened to be perusing the internet today when I found on another person's blog site a small entry about Sony's new advertising campaign entitled: "Long Live Play".

This new campaign is another decidedly artistic venture by Sony, who in the past, has had their share of extremely weird (and that's putting it mildly) commercials that have aired on everything from prime-time TV to multimillion dollar Super Bowl Spots directed by famous, award winning directors. (Wow that was a long sentence.)

One of these aforementioned ads I remember very clearly from my childhood. I remember it so well because of the single fact that it gave me damn nightmares for weeks at a time. Thanks to the magic of youtube, here it is:
That (whatever it was) was directed by Chris Cunningham. His works have gone from ads like the one you just watched to music videos for artists like Bjork. The thing that haunts me more after I watch it now is that there really isn't anything in the commercial that says it's a commercial. You can't even tell what it's for. The only hint Cunningham gives you is the running time in the upper right hand corner. Near the end the number change from digits to the symbols found on the Playstation controller. That's it. Another strange ad campaign from Sony was this one for PS2 where we find David Lynch directing a series of ads. This one got banned:

Here is the new ad. Simply titled: "Michael" is not only appeals to gamers all over the world but also gives gamers pride in what they do. It truly inspires someone to go out and buy not only a Playstation 3 but all of the games that are mentioned within the advert. It's professional looking and for once doesn't leave the viewer scratching his or her head. I think they're on to something here.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gamers from Another Time (A Work of Fiction)

DAY 1: We have successfully landed what seems to be the remains of the planet Earth. There isn't much left. We have searched for survivors for over what once was a standard Earth day. We have come up empty handed. Since the Sun is now closer to the planet than it ever was before, we can only venture outside for certain periods of time. It is quite the hassle. Another problem with this planet is that there isn't anything left on it that is edible. The crew and I can only live off of what we have for food and supplies on the ship.
DAY 2: The only real upside is that the technology and certain infrastructure were left intact. We have found what looks like some sort of displays in which the people of the planet must have watched types of video entertainment. The crew also found some handheld devices that even though were slightly damaged, we were able to repair them to working order. One of the devices, the only one that had multiple screens, was most interesting.
DAY 3: We have found out that the strange looking device was a Nintendo DS portable gaming system. The crew has been quite fond of one game in particular. A strange, fast-paced game that keeps the player on your toes. It's called Warioware. I like it a lot. Good test for the reflexes. The crew cannot put this down. What can this game tell us about the people that once thrived on this Earth?
DAY 4: Too busy playing Warioware to do my Captain's Log right now. Will do tommorow.
DAY 5: Now that I've played the game, I can almost certainly say that the people who once lived her were pretty crazy. I can't see how children could ever be able to hone the senses that are require to play this game. It is strenuous compared to the video games we have back home. The fact that you have to use your hands is quite the challenge. Probably made before telekinetic technology was widely released. We would never put this kind of stress on anyone, especially young kids. It's almost disgusting.
DAY 6: Had a close call today. Solar flares nearly fried half the crew. No wonder why nobody is left on this rock.
DAY 7: It's time to get off this planet. The solar flares are only getting worse over here. Thanks to the technology left behind, our civilization will be able to add the history of the semi-psychotic lifeforms that once ruled this place. Maybe the galaxy is better off without them. Maybe we could have learned from them. Either way, I think this trip was worth it. It's just too bad that we couldn't find our friend that landed in a land called New Mexico last week. Oh well. We just hope that he made it out okay.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Surprise, Surprise

The first video game I ever played was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It was on the Super Nintendo. It changed my life forever. It showed me that movies and books weren't the only way to tell an interesting and intriguing story. It also showed me that games are their own special kind of art form (regardless to what Roger Ebert says). Fast forward about ten years into the future and we have a game like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on the Playstation 2. A game that made the line between movies and video games a little shorter. Now, we have L.A. Noire which completely blurs that line. These are the kinds of games that I enjoy playing. The games that push the envelop and totally immerse the player in their own world. Any game I can get lost in, is a good one.
Even though I usually would never even think about playing a game that almost totally relies on a single type of game play I think it's a safer bet than one that basically never stays the same. Warioware is one of the latter. If I had to fully explain this game, in a nutshell, it's a couple dozen old fashioned Atari/Nintendo games mashed together and played at a breakneck pace.
Forget a story. There really isn't any in here. The challenge of the game is found within the many mini games that go from zany to downright ridiculous. I found myself swiping wildly on the Nintendo DS's screen, tilting it from side to side and even a couple times, blowing into it. I'm just happy that no one was watching me play it. If someone were to watch me play Warioware they would think I was nuts. They would also see the fact that I was having a genuinely fun time with it.
I also realized after a hour of play time, I was subconsciously memorizing some of the mini games in order to pass them a tad quicker. At first look, Warioware seems somewhat vapid. After you get the hang of the lighting fast mini games, the game ups the ante one more and forces you to do them even faster in order to progress further. Keep in mind, the mini games normally only allow you to take a couple seconds to beat them. Now it's giving you about second or two. This makes the game seem almost impossible and makes you delve into that subconscious I previously mentioned in order to instantly remember the mini game and how to beat it as soon as it pops up on the screen. You have to do this over and over. This makes the palms very sweaty.
Warioware isn't a game that I would normally play on a handheld system. It would make a phenomenal iPhone or iPad game that could make a ton of people look crazy. I can't see myself playing this game now that I've beaten the main part of it but I will look for a sequel in the coming years. The problem with the game is the lack of story. They don't even bother trying. I'll take a game with a decent story over a game with no story any day.