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.
Ahoy hoy! This week, Maximum PC is going to be reporting from Nvision 08, Nvidia's three day visual computing festival in downtown San Jose. In addition to being a massive LAN party (bigger than the GeForce LANs of previous years), Nvision is also playing host to an epic gathering of Demo Scene developers, ready to show off their visual coding skills. We'll be there to sit in on the keynotes to be given by Nvidia's CEO and Battlestar Galactica's Tricia Helfer (seriously?), check out the various workshop tracks, and test drive the new hardware and software on display. Keep your eyes peeled for daily photo galleries and event reports. And if you're in the area and going to Nvision yourself, stop by the exhibit hall on Tuesday at 2:30pm to watch a presentation run by our own Will Smith. Personally, I can't wait for the Buzz Aldrin meet and greet session and a chance to heckle the too-kool-for-skool hosts of Diggnation during their live recording session. Hope to see some MaxPC readers there.
Join Nathan Grayson in His "Free From WoW for a Whole Year" Bash!
August 22, 2008 (Dallas, Texas) -- Nathan Grayson, a Maximum PC freelancer and unanimously-voted "snappy dresser," has, on this day, officially avoided Blizzard's World of Warcraft MMORPG for an entire year.
"It's been great finally living life on my own terms," said Nathan, flashing a gloriously bright smile. "To mark the occasion, I'll be canceling my WoW subscription tomorrow. What? Oh sure, I could do it today, but, uh, tomorrow for sure. No problem."
To be sure, the journey from his luxurious armchair into the comforting grip of real life wasn't an easy one.
"Oh, it's been a wild ride," he quipped. "On cold, lonely nights, my mind used to slip back into Azeroth, and I'd dream of raids, epics -- legendaries, even! But it's been, er, I've -- I mean, whew. Anyone have a PC handy? I, uh, just need to check on some things. Sure, I'll follow the cue cards again afterwards."
Nathan Grayson's soul is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. (www.blizzard.com, NASDAQ: ATVID). Nathan is a great guy -- single, too. Really, he's one in approximately 10 million. Among other things, he's well known for posing the following question: Have you ever found your claws locked into your keyboard, signifying your irrevocable addiction to a game? Sound off in the comments section. Passers-by don't really know what to make of it.
He also runs Maximum PC's Gaming Roundup, available every week day. Peep today's edition for all of the latest World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King news and info. Oh, there's some other stuff too -- something about how suing file-sharers is a bad idea -- but that's not really important. The phony PR-speak ends after the break.
"Mwahahaha," I cackled gleefully as I skewered a yet another hapless Storm Trooper in the recent Star Wars: The Force Unleashed demo. "Help!" the poor soldier's cry echoed off the walls. But I didn't care. With a flick of my character's wrist, my foe's armor was put to its final test: a steel reinforced ceiling. My grin only widened when gravity yanked the Storm Trooper out of his skyward flight, planting him on the cold floor with a satisfying crack.
I'm a maniacal jerk.
Or at least I was -- in the game. Actually, "irl," I'd say I'm a fairly mild-mannered person. But unless you consider cheaply-constructed, mass-produced action figures to be an artistic medium, videogames are the only medium that allows us to act out our (seemingly sick) fantasies. Gaming's greatest detractors fault our hobby for being violent, and I'm not inclined to disagree with them. But hey, over-the-top violence goes hand-in-hand with interactivity. With the aforementioned action figures, many of us staged tumultuous battles, with swords, guns, fists -- everything -- in an almost primal manner. And it was fun.
Fact is, people are inclined towards violence. We wolf down popcorn while watching actors pretend to put bullets in each others' brains; we slow down traffic for a gander at a car accident. Our media expresses this -- caters to it, even. But society goes on. Few of our sane population are lugging around shotguns or holding up convenience stores with trusty stabbin' knives. Sure, circumstances cause people to do some pretty awful things, but generally out of necessity -- not for fun. And really, that's why videogame violence is great. It's catharsis -- a harmless arena in which we can live out our horrific, Trooper-smashing fantasies.
So, what's the most sadistic, cringe-worthy thing you've ever done in a game? To take things a notch further, think about the gamess you typically play. How many of them aren't in some way violent?
Today's Roundup features games that are, as you'd expect, violent, but one in particular uses its controversial brand of destruction to further a greater cause. In addition, you'll find Clive Barker's pie-in-the-sky dreams for the horror genre, hardware manufacturers' dirty little piracy-related secret, and more. It's all after the break.
Gaming, in at least one major way, imitates real life -- and I hate it. Year after year, the game release schedule ebbs and flows with the prototypical real life schedule, and the end result isn't pretty. Spring is simple enough; summer is a time for basking and vacationing. But winter and fall make up for summer with gusto. Papers flutter about as work and/or school top-off on the overwhelming meter, family members get traded amongst households for myriad holiday celebrations, and nothing ever goes according to plan.
Meanwhile, spring showers usually herald games that winter and fall somehow missed, summer deludes us into getting excited about games like Too Human, and fall/winter try to cram as many games as possible into what little free time we have left over thanks to, you know, life. And guess what: everyone's favorite part of the cycle kicks off yet again in only a couple of weeks.
So, my question: as a result of the so-called "most wonderful time of the year," what games do you most regret having missed out on? Are there any games you plan on sacrificing for the greater good this year?
Sadly, if today's Roundup is any indication, don't count on a dam for the annual game flood any time soon. Inside, you'll find a concrete release date for Fallout 3, the first details about the greatly enhanced PC edition of GTA IV, and tons of other news nuggets in between. Give it a read after the break.
The big pc gaming hardware news to come out of this year's Leipzig Games Convention is the announcement of Microsoft's extension of the popular Sidewinder peripheral line. The Sidewinder gaming mouse, which was introduced last year to mixed reviews (we thought it was too big and had a mediocre scroll wheel) now has a little brother, the Sidewinder X5. The wired, 9-button device sports a 2000 hardware-adjustable dpi and the same awesome vertical thumb buttons that we liked about the original. In addition to the new mouse, Microsoft also announced the first Sidewinder keyboard, dubbed the X6. We are much more excited about this product, since it touts innovative features such as a detachable numpad and unique "cruise control" option. Microsoft stopped by our offices to let us get our eager hands on these new products.
Click through for the full specs, impresions, and more hands-on photos!
With the Internet's collective knowledge at our fingertips, we generally know what we're in for when we purchase a game; even when reviews steer us wrong, exhaustively in-depth 75-page forum threads usually give us at least something to go on. But at some point or another, we've all found our more rational sides obscured, and due to a low, low price tag that just screams "Buy me," a movie license that would make a totally rad game, or what have you, we've retched up an all-too-clear "This game sucks."
So, what's the worst game you've ever played? What factor intoxicated your poor brain into giving the game a shot? Was it a friend's recommendation? A movie/comic book/TV show license? A kindhearted, but woefully uninformed birthday gift?
Well take some solace in the fact that today's Roundup won't steer you wrong. Between quantifiable proof that digital distribution is the future, Crysis' surprising success, and one man's dirge for console gaming, the Roundup tells it like it is. See it all after the break.
Each year, we ask, "Was this the best year ever for games?" A good deal of the time, our answer tends toward "Yes," with a few nostalgia-maniacs vehemently worshipping 1998 instead. "Oh, they're just raving fanboys," I've always thought of those stuck in '98. "Their opinions are rooted in so much misguided subjectivism that even a bulldozer couldn't budge them."
However, a recent post at the always-interesting Sexy Videogameland gave me some insight into another, altogether more-acceptable reason for gamers' unyielding grip on the past. The post, by Leigh Alexander, of course, took a look at our tendency to play a game once, shove it into a nice, dusty shelf corner, and leave it there with no hope of excavation. Why do we do this? Especially when, as Leigh pointed out, many of us were happy to bury months of our lives in a single game back in the day.
But the answer's simple, really: You're reading this column.
As a bleeding-edge gamer, when you're not playing a game, you're probably reading about other games -- basking in the ever-brightening glow of a new title's hype -- and getting yourself psyched to play them. This column, with its daily dose of the latest gaming news, only helps propagate this trend.
Really though, does it matter? As Leigh pointed out, our consumer-focused society breeds hit-driven industries. Movies, TV, sports -- you name it. "15 seconds of fame" is an apt phrase. So we're just like other media. Big deal. But I think it does matter. I think games, by virtue of their interactivity, are meant to break the typical, rapid-fire hype cycle. And that's why so many gamers love 1998. The year was chock-full of top-notch titles, but gamers still spent hundreds of hours with their favorites -- testing boundaries and pushing limits. Why? The hype train as we know it hadn't quite picked up steam. Print was still strong and the Internet wasn't the all-knowing force that it is today.
And therein lies the problem. As the gaming industry grows -- as the press expands and the hype train takes on new carts -- it defies its own potential. Someday, games will shrug off the shackles of linearity, but will gamers stick around to experience those trailblazers in different ways? Or will our own anticipation for The Next Big Thing get the best of us?
Today's Roundup details a couple of initiatives that could grab at gamers' ankles and never let go, but will they work? Can't say. But for now, my commentary will have to suffice. It's all past the break.