"With great power, there must also come great responsibility" -- Uncle Ben, Spider-Man
"With great power and great responsibility, there must also come walls of text." -- Far too many videogames
It's atrocious, too. Last night, I was forced to read my way through the opening of a game released only a week ago. The game's gloriously rendered prison cell bars would likely have even the rottenest of holding cells in jealous fits, yet mere moments after I moved beyond those gnarled steel beams, I was assailed by a text tutorial of such ridiculous length that it would've benefitted from a rabbit-ear feature.
"This is next-gen?" I wondered aloud.
We can polish graphics to such a sheen that even the most mundane objects wrap their tendrils securely around our eyes and never let go, yet integrating a tutorial with actual gameplay is an insurmountable task? The very thought is absurd, and doesn't exactly get me pumped to play the rest of the game. After all, if gameplay matters so little that the designers couldn't even be bothered to, you know, teach me through interactivity -- a little quirk that I hear makes games sorta cool -- then why should I expect anything better from the rest of their game? It's like popping a Porsche chassis over a Flintstones car; take the thing for a spin and your next stop will be the used-car dealership.
So, which ripe-smelling, antiquated videogame "features" do you think should be given the boot? Are there any that you'd actually like to see stick around?
Today's Roundup is all about the future -- no artifacts from 1993 here. Inside, you'll find only the latest news concerning Deus Ex 3, F.E.A.R. 2 (Yep, that's the name, now), and two separate plans to "save" PC gaming.
I'd like to think that I'm a fairly well-adjusted person. I'm generally jovial, well-versed in a range of topics, and only fly into embittered, cursing rages when people really deserve it, or when they speak to me between the hours of 9 AM and 3 PM without having submitted the proper paperwork. Overall, though, I'm a circular peg in the round hole that is our society.
But it wasn't always this way.
As a wee lad, I was quite the little nerdling. I wiled away my time basking in the glow of a computer monitor, sending tiny green orcs to be trampled into tiny green puddles against insurmountably immense forces.
But that wasn't enough for me.
When I wasn't playing, I was drawing. Covered in construction paper scraps and the glue I didn't ingest, I'd emerge from my lair looking like a Swamp Thing pinata. There was a purpose to my demented sciences, however. In essence, I created the ultimate fan art. Towering paper monuments to my favorite videogame characters, they were. Four feet in height, and crafted with the utmost care. They were at once my greatest friends, yet also my only friends. (Note that I was, like, eight. It was perfectly normal, right?)
So, has gaming ever busted down the doorway into your day-to-day life? Any stories you'd like to share? Art projects? Fan fiction? Halloween costumes?
Regardless, today's Roundup is right up your alley. Boiling in the belly of this monstrous site are stories about a console developer decrying consoles, a PC developer spitting in the face of piracy, and Peter Moore dropping a big, bad F-bomb right on top of Sonic The Hedgehog's creator.
In the past, I've clambered to the top of my soapbox tower in order to wax ludological about why games should be fun. While riding back down the escalator from atop my exceedingly ritzy box, I gazed upon my audience, hoping that I'd at least imparted one tiny nugget of info: I don't care about difficulty -- I'll even turn a game's masculinity meter down to "Very Easy" -- if it means having a good time. Lucky for me, many of today's game developers seem to agree with my sentiment. They hold our hands like an overprotective mother herding her child across the street. They give us failsafes for our failsafes. They design their games to be "fair."
But therein lies the problem. Personally, I think games should flip us a double-sided coin every once in a while. If the scales never tip, then what impact do our choices have? Take, for instance, BioShock. Whether you saved the Little Sisters or ended them, you still gained roughly the same amount of Eve, and bonus powers were negligible. BioShock was supposed to have us wracking our brains every time we made a choice. Your life versus the Little Sisters' -- power because of necessity versus mercy. Instead, though, the whole thing was a sham.
More recently, Mercenaries 2 made a similar mistake -- essentially replicating its weapon set across the game's different factions, making your choice of gun-toting employer basically meaningless.
And guess what? The onus for this trend rests on our shoulders. If the aliens have nicer weapons than the humans, we hop on message boards and join in a chorus of variously pitched whining. Single-player or multiplayer, if a game isn't perfectly "balanced," we get uppity.
So maybe we should just ease off our "!" key and let developers flex their creative muscles from time-to-time. A few failed attempts would be well worth the successes other games might reap.
But what say you, MPC readers? Should games continue down the sterile road toward same-same fairness, or would you prefer developers give some meaning to our choices, even if it means ruffling some feathers in the process?
Either way, this installment of the Roundup is just what you're looking for -- mostly because you're already reading it. Today, you'll find news about a wicked-cheap font from which X-COM now springs, a good reason to nab an Xbox 360, and episodic gaming's great failing.
We've all been there: you're softly striding through a craggy cavern, imperceptibly thin rays of light squeezing their way through cracks in the ceiling. Your eyes pierce through the black just in time for you to notice a vaguely cylindrical enemy galloping your way. Steel clangs against claws and fangs, and your foe slumps to the ground. A thick liquid oozes from the beast's mangled form, but the scent of blood is curiously absent. You decide to take a closer look, and dab your fingers in the liquid. One tentative lick later, you realize what the cave-dweller was dispensing -- the smooth taste of Coca-Cola! Visibly excited, you bottle up a sample. And with that, it's quest complete. Time to head back to Doct R. Peppyre's place for your brand new, Sunkist-orange tabard. Awesome!
But then, while emerging from the cave, you spot a poster on a nearby tree. Turns out, it's a blatant ad for McDonald's. "What the hell?" You wonder aloud. Then, sense of immersion annihilated, you rage-quit the game.
Obviously, the above situation is completely ludicrous. In-game advertising is never so out-of-place or in-your-face. And, in a fairly roundabout way, that's the point I'm trying to make: in-game advertising isn't as bad as gamers seem to think. Given a decent context, true-to-life ads can even make a game more immersive, while also putting extra cash into publishers' pockets.
But what's your take? Are in-game ads a detriment to your experience, or is Human Billboard your favorite race/class combination?
Well, today's Roundup is loyal only to you, fair reader, but could use some extra money and aims its commentary straight at the pleasure center of your brain. Inside, you'll find the latest news on a public E3, the oft-delayed Firefly MMO, EA's secret plans, and more.
As sunlight glinted off a grenade reaching the zenith of its soldier-bound arc, I could only wonder what my hapless opponent was thinking. See, the man was rooted -- as though entangled in nearby bushes -- to his position. There had to be a reason. Maybe he was a mathematician without peer; he'd done the calculations and no matter how fast he ran, he'd soon be engulfed by my ordinance's cantaloupe-colored splash. Or maybe his path in life had been bordered by four leaf clovers -- his luck so great, he was certain the grenade would be a dud. Maybe he just couldn't take life anymore. But then all of that ceased to matter.
As I continued my stroll through the brightly colored playground of destruction, I noticed that other soldiers were, all told, pretty okay with Havok-powered, life-halting flights.
Yeah, my enemies were walking vegetables. The only damage I accrued was a sinking sense of utter disappointment. Mercenaries 2, after its top-notch predecessor, labored development cycle, and catchy commercial jingle, was a big, fat letdown.
So, have you ever surfed a game's hype wave, only to reach a completely non-descript shore? What's your biggest gaming letdown? What game had you brimming with excitement, but only left you shuddering with rage? (And don't say Daikatana, because that's a cop-out.)
Today's Roundup is reporting live from outside a dark, ominous cloud that's recently enveloped one of the decade's biggest upcoming games. Additionally, you'll find stories about the MMO market's failings, a dev whose unmentionables you'll want to boot, and the Xbox 360's upper limits. All that and more after the break.
A few days ago, a friend and I were discussing the venerable Tim Rogers, an opinionated games writer if ever there was one. Here's the fun thing about Rogers, though: If you were to shuffle one of his reviews in with those of ten other game reviewers, his piece would stand out like the Batman in daylight, foremost for one obvious reason -- it'd be really, really long. Rogers meanders all over the place, delving into each aspect of a game, as well as many things seemingly unrelated, which he then acknowledges as seemingly unrelated. Sometimes, after noticing that 15 minutes have ticked away from your life and your web browser's scroll bar thing is only half-way down the page, you just wish he'd get to the point.
Rogers, as far as game reviewers go, is an anomaly. People don't want a novel; they want pros, cons, and a numerical score, because they'd rather be dashing someone's virtual brains against the pavement than learning. So I guess it kind of makes sense that games generally exist on the flipside of that reviewing stereotype.
Take, for instance, Resident Evil. Find the red lion, blue tiger, and green goat to form a key so that you can crank open the Voltron door. Sure, your gun-toting pyromaniac of a hero probably could've written a book titled "101 Ways To Pop A Door Off Its Hinges," but where's the fun in that?
Oddly, even though we constantly quip about padded-out sequences or pointless sidequests in our favorite games, we sound the sirens on the whaaambulance when those elements finally take a hint.
So which do you want? Games that toss in chores and fetch quests in exchange for that ever so marketable "60 hours of gameplay!" bullet point, or masterfully designed experiences -- like Portal -- that leave you hungry for more?
Well, today's Roundup, described by some as a "masterfully designed experience -- like Portal -- that leaves you hungry for more," hopes to satisfy all comers. Caged within, you'll find stories about a bill of rights for PC gamers, a new race for StarCraft II, and free gas! You heard me -- free gas! It's all after the break.
I can't sate my Twitter addiction. I'm loathe to hit up my favorite gaming sites. I can't even allow my glance to linger on iGoogle. Why? Because PAX is in town, and I'm, well, not. Due to circumstances beyond my control, PAX is out of my reach this year. So while the hardest of the hardcore come together for a weekend of gaming goodness, I'm doing my best to avoid a jealousy-induced pity party. But, even though my non-presence at PAX is a huge loss for the entire gaming community, it got me thinking:
The PAXian legion, as I mentioned earlier, is predominately composed of so-called "hardcore" gamers. Without even being in the same state as the community-focused gaming expo, I can assure you that over 100 attendees will be clad in "Green Linen Shirt" T-Shirts, replete with armor stats and a sour tinge of body odor. Why? The answer's obvious: they're gamers -- and proud. For a number of reasons -- the medium's relative youth, alarmists' tendency to buzz about, etc. -- dedicated gamers embrace their hobby with a near religious fervor.
Sure, movies have "cinemaphiles" and literature has its bookworms, but gamers are Scientology to other mediums' group of co-workers who meet sporadically for a round of Putt-Putt. With time, I imagine our community will fragment -- genres will expand and tastes will narrow -- but for now, we're a thick stew, full of assorted meats and veggies, but still part of a cohesive whole.
So, do you call yourself a gamer? Are videogames an integral piece of your personality? Is your pride inextricably tied to your Gamerscore? Or are you just a person who happens to play games, and nothing more?
Today's Roundup is like a perfect sundae, with just enough gooey non-gamer-friendly fare drizzled over a vanilla base of terms like "ESA," "second-hand videogame sales," and "Starcraft II release date." There is a spoon, and it's after the break.
Last night, before tossing and turning for a good three hours, I finally finished George R.R. Martin's "A Game of Thrones." I'd been nibbling my way through the book -- a 900-page tome -- since late May, so I was understandably thrilled to see its final page, as well as its wildly out-of-place ad for the "A Game of Thrones" collectible card game. But AGoT's only the beginning of a planned seven-part series that began in 1996. Needless to say, AGoT's sequel has been on shelves, Amazon, and wherever else books are sold since before my age had taken on a second digit, and because AGoT ended on a huge cliffhanger, I nabbed the second book from my local Borders with all the subtlety a frothing nerd could muster, clasping it in my hands with a grip that bystanders described as "air-tight."
However, if I'd voraciously devoured AGoT back in '96, I'm fairly sure my satisfied smile would've flipped upside down. The final chapter felt like a build to the climax, but then -- as though it was a badly planned rollercoaster -- the story just ended, leaving readers dangling for roughly two years. (Yeah, the bad kind of rollercoaster.)
Obviously, literature isn't the only medium that backhands its users this way. Games, too, have a habit of rolling out large, red, inappropriately timed stop signs just when things are getting good. Even worse, development cycles now pack double the staff and take twice as long to complete compared to only a few years ago. Looks like the wait between sequels will only grow more arduous before it tapers off.
So, what's the least satisfying game ending you've ever come across? How did you react? Did you pen an angry email? Boycott the sequel?
This installment of the Roundup features the successor to a top-notch game with an abysmal ending, a peek behind the scenes of a controversial game that's attempting to tell a titanic, cliffhanger-laden tale, and so much more. See the stunning conclusion after the break.
"Gordon Freeman is a menace to society. When he's not bludgeoning our men with cars and annihilating our demolition teams with their own ordinances, he's white-washing their corpses with paint and treating wild, endangered headcrabs like lowly mammalian bulls. Sure, we enslaved his species and all, but does he have to be such a jerk about it? He toys with us as though this were some sort of game, and we won't stand for it."
--An excerpt from The Combine Times, the final Combine paper to include anything other than obituaries.
--Gordon Freeman's reply
Yeah, Gordon Freeman isn't the most loquacious guy around. He speaks through his actions -- or rather, your actions. But that's what makes him great. He's a videogame character under your direct control. He fights like you, so why shouldn't he think like you?
As you've probably noticed, my particular Gordon Freeman is, well, have you ever imagined what it'd be like if one of the loud-mouthed, rap-prone kids on Xbox Live was tasked with saving all of humanity (and managing a classy goatee)? Am I like that in real life? No, but slipping into the hazard suit of a silent protagonist like Gordon Freeman allows me to project a side of myself into the game that hardly even exists in reality. I'm not constrained by any pre-set personality the man might have, so my imagination washes over the game, and it becomes a whole new experience.
Sure, I enjoy having the tightly braided engagement-lasso of a compelling, whip-smart lead wrapped around my neck as much as anyone, but I also think that such a lead doesn't lend him/herself well to gaming's main strength: interactivity.
So, how do you like your protagonist: strong and silent with a side of whatever you want, or glib -- fried up and delivered just as the developers ordered?
Today's Roundup features heroes of both varieties, along with a smattering of other stories about your favorite industry. From details about WoW's colossal (and free!) pre-WotLK update, to exclusive titles' death knells, there's no way you'll leave this Roundup without something to talk about. Jump past the break for more.
Life is full of shortcuts. Whether it's using connections to briskly bound up the corporate ladder, pumping out a term paper with the help of a less-than-legit online service, or simply cutting through the gas station instead of waiting for the stop light, there's always an easy way out. But no matter how much weight walking the path of least resistance may lift from your wearied shoulders, a nagging voice -- whether in your mind or from the mouth of an onlooker -- will tell you that you're cheating. "Everyone else worked to get where they are. Why can't you?" the voice asks. "You're doing it wrong, and you're only hurting yourself."
Videogames are, of course, loaded with such shortcuts, cheats, and "teh haxxors." And when a gamer admits to kicking their feet up and punching in the ol' Konami code, they're met with derision. "Wimp, wuss, lame" and the ever so fashionable "The developer didn't intend you to experience the game that way" readily come to mind.
Really though, is cheating that bad?
One of the most fascinating aspects of gaming is discovery. Games allow us to traverse fantastical worlds totally unlike our own, yet arguably with more tangible obstacles to keep us from seeing the sights. (Is "living for 21 years" a tangible obstacle?) For someone who can't play a game without hurriedly glancing at their watch every few minutes, cheats seem like the solution -- not the problem. Why drop two hours against a single foe when you can see more of the game world instead?
Frankly, I don't think a game's developers will begrudge you for it, either. You put money in their pockets and you're deriving enjoyment from the world they crafted. It may not be the straightforward, A-to-B path they wanted you to stroll down, but it's still an experience. And isn't that what games are about -- creating "stories" through our unique experiences?
So, do you approve of cheating? Have you been known to crack open the dev console and enter a few choice phrases, or will you sooner rage-quit a game than enter a code for a pithy 20 extra hit points?
Today's Roundup features the only variety of cheating about which I'll really hoot and holler, but that doesn't seem to hinder its unbridled success. Additionally, you'll find a couple of big-name game delays, and a discussion about how games compel us to keep playing. It's all after the break.