Video games vs. The Movies
- Jan 12, 2010 6:12 am GMT
- 68 Comments
Gamers have been the victims of prejudice for years now, often being labeled as childish geeks who lack "a life". They're often portrayed as glasses-toting, curly-haired, freckled-faced, acne-loving kids who would rather play a game of GTA than hang out with their friends, whose existence is often doubted by others as well.
In some cases, that's true. We've heard stories of people who, over the course of a year, have accumulated over 4,000 hours of World of Warcraft experience. We've heard stories of people who sold their virtual loots for actual cash. We've heard stories of people who popped the question to other people behind their videogame avatars, and we've heard stories of people who Counter-Struck themselves to death, having not eaten, drunk or slept for over a hundred hours of playing a game.
Being a gamer myself, I find myself, like many other gamers, enjoying the company of my friends, the taste of a good Guinness, the sound of music and many other in- and outdoors activities. I play guitar, read books and draw, and I also have a job. You know, being 22 requires that you start adjusting to life.
When I have some free time, I still often find myself firing up a game and, more often than not, having a blast playing it. I've been gaming for about 17 years now across several platforms, and I can't see myself stopping. Why's that?
When I was encouraged to "stop playing games and go see a movie or soemthing", a discussion with a non-gamer friend ensued, and the inevitable comparision between games and movies popped up. Can games and movies really be compared? No, not really, as games have the person actively take actions within the medium of entertainment whereas movies are for your passive pleasure. I, of course, lumped at the opportunity to defend gaming against numerous insults, and have productively come up with a few reasons as to why I think videogames are a preferable entertainment medium to films.
Videogames aren't too cheap today, at least when they're new. With prices going up to and over $60 a piece, they're definitely not the poor man's choice, whereas going to see a movie takes less cash out of your wallet. So where's the question here? Movies are obviously cheaper.
Not at all.
More Bang for the Buck
See, cheap is a relative term. You cannot really say that buying a car for $10,000 is equal to buying a bicycle for $5000. It's a question of how much efficient use you get out of what you buy. Let's say you're going out for a movie, and you end up spending a total of $30, including gas/bus ticket, food and beverages. You get a great two or three hours' worth of entertainment but that's pretty much it. Now let's say you buy Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for your Xbox 360 for $60. You will get about the same amount of single-player content, but multiplayer will keep you coming back for more and more until you haven't realized you've clocked in over a hundred hours of enjoyable playtime. So you pay twice as much for something that gives you over thirty times the hours of enjoyment.
Some may say that this is all well and dandy, but what about single-player games that offer 10 hours' (or less) worth of gameplay? Are they still worth that much?
Well no, not at first when and if they're sold at a full price, but within today's market price drops come rather fast, and by delaying your purchase you don't degrade your experience as you would by purchasing James Cameron's Avatar on DVD without the ability to fully absorb the spectacles only possible with unique 3D glasses. It'll play the same, look the same and sound the same on your preferred system whether it was purchased on day one or six months after release.
Yeah but you have to spend a few hundred bucks on consoles (and a proper LCD for them too!) or a PC!
Right, and if you want to enjoy a film properly at home you also need to buy a big-ass LCD and other forms of home-theater equipment such as great wooden surround speakers, a receiver and a Blu-Ray player. Movies on DVD may be cheaper than videogames even relatively when you buy them at your local store, but upon searching Internet sources such as eBay, Steam, D2D and British gamestore GAME, you might find used- or new copies of your wanted games for just as much money, giving you still, more bang for the buck.
Let us not forget that the videogame industry makes more money than the film industry, even with piracy rates breaking records every year. I'm not sure whether or not there are more games sold than film tickets, though, so the question of popularity is interesting, albeit irrelevant to the topic.
It's all relative!
They're more accessible
There's no question whatsoever as to the accessibility of games. You no longer have to physically go to the store to purchase your games, you can order them via mail (as you can with DVDs) or, alternatively, buy them online to download and start playing immediately, a service available (to some extent, of course) on all three of the major platforms, the PC (D2D, Steam, Xfire store), Xbox 360 (Xbox Live!) and PS3 (PSN). The advantages of the digital market create a win-win situation for anyone who knows his way around the web - is there anything more user-friendly than filling out a form and downloading your new game to start playing immediately? Going out to the store to buy a physical copy not only costs more, but is also of course more of a hassle. The only risk you take is, what if someone hijacks your Steam account? Play your cards right and that won't happen. Be careful as you would with any other password-protected online service and you can create an entire gaming library from your livingroom.
Steam. It's easy to use, it's effective, and it's convenient.
It's a socailly active hobby
Many online gaming services offer people the chance to acquaint themselves with other people who share their love of videogames. By adding people to your PSN, Xbox Live!, Xfire or Steam accounts, you can chat with them and share your stats, achievements and favorite game servers online. Playing with a friend is always nicer than playing with strangers, and over time those people may actually become your actual friends. There's no difference between getting to know a person through Xfire than getting to know them on Facebook, so you might as well do what you love to do on the fly.
But you can also socialize at the movies!
That is correct, my friend. In fact, I'm one of the believers that the best way to meet new people is to actually step out the door and look for them at public places such as the movies, pubs and clubs. Going to a pub and talking to people face-to-face will always be better than chatting with them while backstabbing Heavies, though this is still more expensive than playing a videogame. Is going to the local pub, to me, better than playing a game? Most definitely. Is playing a game better than watching a movie? Most definitely.
It's more active entertainment!
That is my main reason for finding games ultimately superior to movies. Movies are passive entertainment - you sit tight and watch a story unfold in front of you. Games, however, are active entertainment, where YOU are the one who fires that gun at that alien and YOU are the one who dies if a wrong step has been taken. It's just that much more absorbing and immersive, and with such appliances as the Wii-more and the upcoming Project Natal, with which you're physically controlling your character, the options are immense.
On the other hand, with the advancements made by three-dimensional cinema, movies can become a real spctacle, and I'll use the same Avatar example I used earlier - you can't enjoy this movie unless you see it in 3D, and in that case, it's absolutely astonishing. But wouldn't it be that much more fun to step into Jake Sully's shoes and ride that Turuk yourself? Getting to explore Pandora at your own pace and taking the time to smell the roses?
Project Natal. Physically controlling your games, or sitting in a chair and looking at a screen?
In the end, though, it's really a question of what you enjoy doing more. While it's pretty much a fact that games have a longer life than movies, and they often offer more content for your cash, a person who dislikes video games won't be convinced of the advantages of buying a game. As for me, I just wait a bit for the price to drop, and then I drop the cash on several more hours of fun from home, not bothering with the hassle of taking a bus or driving to the movies. Of course going to see a movie once in a while is very fun and good, but it's eventually a relatively pricy night out that, in most cases, I'd rather do without, instead opting to have a beer with my friends at the local pub. No amount of gaming in the world could replace that, but yeah, I'd take a night of gaming over seeing most overpriced movies at the cinema any day, and it appears I'm not alone.
Irrational Consumption and Games Journalism
- Jan 11, 2010 9:28 am GMT
- 158 Comments
Let's face it; video game journalism is in decline. You can turn the other cheek and pretend that all is well, but you wouldn't be doing anyone a favour. Quality is lacking and we can all see it. You can see it in the news section where misinformation is as common as fact, and you can see it in the reviews section as well. Somebody somewhere needs to stand up and spell out the word change. It's a short word. It has but two syllables. But its echoes can be heard far away down the road. It's just a matter of time. If change doesn't occur from the inside, something from the outside will one day force it upon the incumbents, inevitably. The seeds have already been sown.
So why am I writing this? Where did I get the bug? Two things prompted me to express myself this day.
1) I was studying consumer theory (or choice theory) and I came to the realization that a consumer that buys only top-rated games (Editor's Choice, Game of the Year, etc) is an irrational consumer. (More on this in the body of the article.)
2) I stumbled upon an interesting article about game journalism and the race against quality. I encourage you all to read the article, the whole thing too! It can be found here.
The article eventually explains why video game websites tend to have low quality content. There is a conflict of interest whereby a website behaves as to cover as much as possible before other websites do. The video game websites are essentially spitting out content as fast as they can in order to attract readers first and hence attract a larger total of readers. Fast content comes at price, of course, and I hope I don't have to spell it out.
Here is a short passage taken directly from the above linked article, verbatim:
Whilst much of the vitriol is borne out of conspiracy theory and blown out of proportion, some of the skeptical feelings are arguably not without justification. It's rather extreme to claim that publications are in the pockets of greedy publishers, but a much more viable threat to the quality and reliability of reviews is the culture fostered between writers, their editors, and their advertisers that ostensibly requires reviews to appear so very quickly. This culture causes the time management of writers to be more dictated by inter-outlet competition, and less shaped by the realities that must be confronted to put together the informative reviews gamers increasingly demand.
Here's another one for good measure:
The real risk is when overzealous reviewers make brash, confident and unqualified judgments about games when the sheer pressure of time has resulted in their only having played the minority of a game. If the game in question is linear then the negative impact of this is magnified greatly.
Hopefully I have managed to wet your reading appetites. I once again urge you all to read the integral of the editorial, linked right here for your index finger's convenience. You're welcome .
Irrational consumption is what I call consumption behaviour that is not consistent with choice theory.
Choice theory is the study of how consumers behave and it is the basis of a big chunk of modern microeconomic theory. Now, if you assume that all consumers are rational decision makers that seek to maximize their well-being subject to budget, preference and taste constraints, then you can easily derive basic consumption notions. One such notion is the idea that gamers that buy top-rated video games (as determined by game journalists) don't normally maximize their well-being. This can be seen by simply going back to our realistic assumption. Gamers want to play games that they enjoy personally according to their own preferences and tastes; they don't necessarily want to spend all their money on all the games that other people liked. The fact that a certain game website praised game X does not mean that Johnny Lookforgame will enjoy it too. The numerical appraisal of a game's quality is arbitrary and rarely helpful to the consumer.
So, what I'm trying to say here is simply that gamers that only buy top-rated games are irrational consumers. This is not meant to be an insult, so don't take it as one if you fit that description. Irrational consumers do eventually correct their mistakes, especially if their budgets do not offer much room for preference miscalculations! A few bad experiences are all it takes to realize that you should stop listening to game journalists and start choosing your games more intelligently.
And it all fits together so nicely doesn't it? The low quality nature of game reviews published under insane time constraints imposed by the management departments of the game websites trying to get the most out of their advertisement contracts is having a negative impact on the consumer's well-being. If a consumer takes the game reviews too seriously and lets them dictate his consumption choices then he will generally be made worse off then if he followed his trusty nose so to speak.
This is how, one by one, gamers are conditioned to bypass the video game websites and the game journalists that run them. There is a slow and steady migration away from these game-centric websites occurring right this moment. It has been going on for months, maybe even years. Slowly, advertising revenue is declining and game websites will have to cut costs. Content will continue to suffer, of course, as low revenue affects quality of content. If nothing is done to reverse this trend, the future will not be pleasant for these websites.
This is why I propose change. Now, any business that wants to be successful on the long-run needs to understand the most basic and fundamental rule: your job is to create a customer. If you're not doing everything you can to create customers and eventually maintain them, then you're simply digging your own grave. Game-centric websites need to realize that their job is to serve a customer; in this case the customer is a gamer that is searching for information about a video game. If the site's content is not satisfactory, the gamer will go somewhere else. Site content needs to be informative, intelligent, honest, respectful of all types of gamers and deeper than say: "Game X is for the hardcore! It has sublime production values!" Game journalists must dig deeper and take as much time as it takes to produce quality content that best serves the customer. Now, this is likely to be as much of a poor management issue as it is a poor journalism issue, but all parties must adjust their behaviour in order to succeed.
A few simple adjustments could be:
1) Either focusing on just one console or treating all consoles equally.
2) Offering broad coverage that can appeal to all types of gamers.
3) Explain in depth why a certain game is chosen as Editor's Choice.
4) Numerical scores should no longer be used as a gauge for a reviewer's personal appraisal of a game.
5) Instead, the scores should be simply used to inform the consumer about possible technical flaws the game might have such as: bugs, crashes, long loading times, lack of content, bad difficulty pacing etc. In other words, the score should just communicate to the reader whether or not the game is fundamentally broken one way or another.
Now, there are many paths to success, but if your income depends on the number of readers that visit your website you should at least try and treat your readers as paying customers.
FINAL WORDS (EDIT 1)
It seems I have thrown a rock at a bees nest...
I was actually going to add some sections to my article and make it more clear, but now I see there is no way to satisfy a nest of excited bees. I admit that the word "irrational", the way I defined it, and the way I used it was wrong. Yes, that I admit. I don't feel it is worth my time at the moment to explain my point of view anymore, because obviously there is much resistance over here to that kind of thing. I read all the comments and considered them, responded to some of the more provocative ones, and really though about them seriously.
But I see no reason to waste anymore of my time trying to sell my idea to people that downthumbed every single thing I wrote in the comments section, including the post were I only said this:
"I'll try to respond to as much as I can. I've been away for most of the day so I didn't have a chance until now. I'll most likely just add whatever I have to say to the bottom of the article."
How somebody took offense to THAT is beyond comprehension.
My article may be garbage, but at least I got a debate going.
Even though most of the debate is just people calling me stupid.
Thoughts on GOTY
- Jan 6, 2010 1:53 pm GMT
- 24 Comments
A site posting GOTY is almost always in for some serious ridicule. It is impossible to pick a single game that will please every single gamer in the world. Hell, it's fairly improbable that 1/4 of them could narrow it down to less than five. Many sites take the easy way out and make the award a popularity contest, but I am quite glad to see that Gamespot has not.
Though I haven't played Demon's Souls yet, I have heard nothing but how revolutionary it is (well, that and the crushing difficulty). Everyone says it is unlike anything you have played before. What other contender for the award could claim this? The next closest competition would probably have been Uncharted 2. This title may have been an absolutely amazing experience, but is it really anything more than an incredibly refined and polished Tomb Raider? The basic gamplay mechanics are relatively unchanged and pretty graphics can only carry the game so far. Eventually, I felt myself saying "I've done this before." I don't mean to imply it doesn't deserve all the praise it's getting. I would rate it around 9.5 or so, but I don't feel it should define the year in gaming.
Calling for Modern Warfare 2 is even worse. Just because a game sells well does not mean it represents the best of the year. The set-pieces may have been bigger, but the plot was far worse and the mulitplayer was basically the same with new maps. As with Uncharted 2, I'm not knocking this game's review scores, as I myself put a few hours into it about every other night. I simply don't feel it represents the best of the best.
The above examples beg the question, "Should a sequel ever be up for GOTY?" Sure, if they do something completely new, but when has that happened? Most sequels are merely tweaked versions of the original, carrying over animations, graphics, weapons, characters, and most other aspects. Rewarding rehashed aspects isn't a good message to be sending to developers. Why would they ever try anything new if the ultimate goal of any game, a GOTY award, will be earned with the same stuff they did last year?
Not having played Demon's Souls, my personal choice for GOTY is Borderlands. It takes two genres never blended so seamlessly before and wraps it around a game that is just plain fun. Not only is it unlike anything I've played before, but it is also the first game that I continued playing after getting every single achievement. Sure, it wasn't perfect. The graphics could have been better, environments more detailed, and a few glitches snuck into the original retail version. However, nothing else this year that I have played has moved the industry in a new direction, which I feel should be the main goal of any game released. It's for this reason that I whole-heartedly support Gamespot's decision to go with a less popular but more unique title.
Review Writing Phrases That Get My Goat! (Part 3)
- Dec 29, 2009 4:00 am GMT
- 107 Comments
As a fervent reader (and writer) of video-game reviews, I can't help but see certain patterns emerging in this (admittedly) developing art. Professional journalists are not immune to criticism (as anyone who's ever visited an author's blog might attest), so I've added them into the mix and you'll see that in one case, they are the worst offenders of all!
Sites that do not allow reader review submissions seem incomplete to me, as if they encourage a seperation of opinion between industry and consumer. This is a micro cla$$ system that I feel is bad for all interested in games and game-reporting. I hope to read and write about games decades into the future - even when cybernetic simulants play and opinionate onour behalf.
So, never take these three items as discouragement (I know you've all got thicker skins than that anyhow), but more as a (hopefully) humorous poke at one of my favourite areas in game reporting. Here are three more phrases that cheese me off:
Messaging other players in your review
What does it mean? Using review headings/summaries as a message board
Where do I see it? Using your review as a message system is a peculiar but not uncommon choice among reader reviews. Sure, as listed in my earlier piece, senseless and unfair 0.0 ratings applied to your favourite game is an affront. But to post a review with such terms as "To all those who rated this game low...", or "Don't listen to the haters!", or "You are all a bunch of N00bs" may be tempting, but it surely belongs in another arena. The review article is certainly supposed to be personal, but it's not supposed to be PERSONAL - (if you get my meaning).
(Links to such articles supplied by request!)
Some messages should stay bottled-up.
What does it mean? A review that is based on an impression or incomplete experience with a game
Where do I see it? The reader reviews that are the most baffling are those based on a mere scrap of time with the game. Of course, these reviewers will never admit it, and I cannot actually prove it, but I think we can all read between the lines of these premature pieces. Games journalists (typically) have the decency to annouce that their time is an impression or hands-on, but to post a review based on 5 minutes of demo-play at "Ye Olde Game Shoppe", or an unforgetable night of play courtesy of Blockbuster is, at best, a disservice to those looking for informed opinion. At worst, these lightweight reviews may cost impressionable readers actual money!
(Links to such articles supplied by request!)
"The game felt incomplete, somehow"
"Best Game EVER"
What does it mean? The author has made a enormous claim
Where do I see it? Thankfully, less and less. We all may have some idea of what game deserves this ludicrous title (what, for instance, is the best food in the world?), but to declare this mantle is surely asking for trouble. Carl Sagan said that "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence"; so to make such a far-out claim about the game is gonna' mean a lot of explaining to your peer-group! I'm sorry, but two more paragraphs of ill-arranged praise won't do. Rather, please present a current report with govermental studies, double-blind testing with control groups, economic reporting and collation, stock market figures with informed extrapolation, and a broad, multi-demographic survey campaign. These are merely the first places you shoud start. I now await this data to be posted by those users making such claims...
(Of course, after you've made those inquiries, you'll be gunning for your PhD, not gunning for your Halo 3 achievement).
International Law says that in such debates, SHIRT beats NO-SHIRT
Those gripes that I could not expand on could fill another article themselves, but due to my (and Gamespot readers') patience, I chose to list them quickly here:
"Franchise" - I know it's technically correct, but to use this business term when referring to Halo, Mario, or even Hamsterz only conjures thoughts of Burger King, PIZZA HUT and SUBWAY to me. Also, is it really a franchise if there are no franchisees?
"Hype" - Using this term (my article included) only gives this over-used word more credence.
"To summarise..." - This is for those readers (whomever they are) who need clear announcements every step of the review. (See Part 1)
Holiday Quiz Madness: Final Fantasy Fighting Music
- Dec 22, 2009 11:09 am GMT
- 36 Comments
Nobuo Uematsu has long been one of my favorite videogame music composers, ever since I played my first "proper" Final Fantasy game in 1991 (that being Final Fantasy II on the Super NES, more appropriately known nowadays as Final Fantasy IV). Through over ten iterations of Final Fantasy, Uematsu has evolved his style while keeping certain trademarks alive.
Of his works, it's quite likely that the most recognizable tunes Uematsu has composed are the themes that play when players are forced into battle. Well, duh: With a standard battle theme for each game, it's the piece of music most repeated throughout a player's experience. Well, that and whatever standard theme exists for an overworld map.
Seeing as I have recently re-integrated myself into the world of Final Fantasy for the sake of studying VIII's junction system, I thought I'd kick off the upcoming holiday by bringing back the little music quizzes I used to do. This one, as I've telegraphed above, involves the battle themes from the first nine iterations of Final Fantasy. As such, it won't be quite that difficult; after all, these are some of the more recognizable tunes in franchise history. But who wants to break a sweat during a holiday? It's a time for fun and relaxation, so it's probably best not to start off with something maddeningly difficult. (I'll save that for Saturday.)
With that, allons y! Follow the link to the youTube video and keep this window open to leave your answers / guesses in the comments.
(Sadly, the Gamespot video uploader doesn't want to cooperate, so I'll have to refer you to the version I uploaded on youTube for the time being. Please bear with it--I'll try to upload another version soon if I can figure out why the one I've been trying to upload keeps failing to encode.)
The MLG & EA Connection: Why Competitive Gaming Is In Good Hands.
- Dec 21, 2009 5:16 pm GMT
- 0 Comments
My first blog post here at Gamespot dealt with competitive gaming and e-sports. Recently, I attended an event that made me want to revisit this topic.A few weeks ago, I attended the MLG Event in Anaheim. True, I have attended virtually every California event MLG has had since they formed back in 2003. But, this event was different as it was the first West Coast event that showcased the recent collaboration between MLG and EA. Having mulled things over for a few weeks now, I wanted to write about this event because I really feel that competitive gaming is on solid footing and the promise of continued growth of e-sports is very promising.
I feel quite qualified to comment on this because of my direct involvement with MLG for many years now and my indirect involvement with EA through my either running or being involved in Madden and NCAA football leagues for almost as long. For the better part of 6 years I have felt very strongly that a collaborative effort between the premier competitive gaming league in the world and, arguably, the biggest developer of competitive games anywhere seemed like a natural fit. Perhaps too natural as EA did not make this union an easy one for MLG to accomplish. Having acquired the exclusive NFL license, EA was none too eager to let anyone not physically branded with an EA logo too close to their flagship game.
Several months ago, things changed and this natural union came to fruition. For someone like me, MLG Anaheim was a dream event come to life. Why? Well, ponder this for a moment. Since 2003, MLG has perfected the art of how to turn multiplayer FPS games into an actual sporting event. Personally, I think if not for MLG, the Halo series would not be as popular as it is. For about as long, EA has perfected the art of how to host Madden tournaments. The annual Madden Challenge had become a rather huge event in it's own right. Though MLG specialized in Halo and EA excelled at Madden, both companies were quite adept at other games too. MLG got proficient with Gears, Rainbow Six Vegas, and even WoW. EA was hosting NBA Live Events and Fight Night events all over the place. Both companies knew what they were doing and they each did it well. Put them together and the possibility of something really special was quite real.
And that is precisely what we got in Anaheim. First some East Coast bias from a former resident of DC who has called California home for almost two decades now. Would turnout for this event have been better in say NYC or DC or Philly? I believe so. Was the turnout in Anaheim really poor? Not really. Turnout is always an issue with the West Coast events. Regardless, you have to look at the event on it's own merits and once you do that you begin to realize how unique and progressive the event was. Why do I say that? Because of the fact that this was the first event I had been to where the biggest games in gaming were all being played under one roof...at the same time. Consider this for a minute. You had people playing Halo 3, Madden '10, World of Warcraft, Fight Night Round 4, NBA Live 10, and Gears of War 2 all at the same time, all at the same venue, and all at the highest level possible! That is a tremendous accomplishment, whether you buy into e-sports being a truly legitimate sporting event or not. What was even better was seeing some of the cross-over that was taking place. People who usually only play shooters were wandering over to the EA section to check out the sports games. Meanwhile, Madden junkies would mill around and check out what Halo and Gears were all about. Add to that MLG's top notch event production and you couldn't help but leave the event thinking that competitive gaming was going in the right direction.
There is little doubt that MLG and EA knew what they were doing when they decided to join forces. I have no doubt that the continued combination of MLG and EA will be successful. For what its worth, though, here are my suggestions as to how to make these events even better and to, in my humble opinion, break down the few remaining doors to having e-sports go truly mainstream:
1. EA needs to figure out a way to make Madden a bit more sim based. I don't expect them to eliminate money plays and things like that. But when everyone is running toss plays and screens all game long, it really takes away some of the excitement and makes it much harder for the the average viewer to suspend their disbelief.
2. EA needs to add NHL '10 to the circuit. NBA Live '10 is a fine game, but that too was really nothing more than people running alley-oop plays ad nauseum. There is a reason why the NHL series has been so successful the last few years. Yes, the NBA is a more popular sport than the NHL in the USA...but NHL '10 is a vastly superior game.
3. MLG and EA need to get a competitive Wii game on the circuit. True, that is easier said than done because the words "good, competitive, game" and "Wii" are not all that synonymous. Still, there has to be a way to tap into the immense popularity of the Wii and attract that fan base over to the world of competitive gaming. Perhaps the Conduit is a good choice. Or maybe Mario Kart Wii. Or maybe a game will be released in the near future that accomplishes this. Whatever the case, I think both companies would be wise to keep an eye on a solid Wii title to add to the circuit.
4. MLG needs to add a solid racing game to the circuit and Forza 3 or NFS Shift would make an excellent addition to the competition. In the early days of MLG, Gran Tursimo 3 was a mainstay of competition. I feel a solid racing title would add a valuable component to the Pro Circuit.
5. MLG needs to get a 2nd PC title to legitimize the PC Circuit. WoW is a great game, no doubt. But, if you don't know how to play, watching the WoW competition is like watching a foreign film without sub-titles. There are some great PC games out there that could be added to the mix that would really strengthen and expand the PC Circuit. Counterstrike seems like the most obvious choice for now. When Starcraft 2 finally drops, MLG would be very wise to take advantage of that title and get it into the PC Circuit as soon as they can.
6. MLG needs a good fighting game back on the docket. When MLG went through its big rise to popularity a couple of years ago, the inclusion of Super Smash Bros. Melee was a big reason for that. Now, certainly I don't advocate adding Smash Bros. Brawl to the lineup as it is not comparable to SSBM. But, there are some really excellent fighting games out there that could be added to attract those fans, such as Street Fighter IV, Tekken 6, or even the under-appreciated Blaz Blue.
7. Lastly, MLG and EA should really ponder adding Rock Band or Guitar Hero to the show. Have we been flooded with too many music games as of late? Without question. Still, there is no denying the huge popularity of these two franchises. If done correctly, a Rock Band or Guitar Hero competition that rewards showmanship, in addition to raw score, would be something fun to see.
8. Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 really needs to be added as soon as possible.
As I said at the beginning, I think competitive gaming is in great hands with EA and MLG at the helm of the ship. The 8 suggestions I made are just observations I have made over the years (as well as things that have been told to me by others close to the competitive gaming industry) that I think would make the events into mega-events that the mainstream media, as well as casual gamers, would have to take notice of. I see a bright future for e-sports. In many ways, what I witnessed in Anaheim might only have been the tip of the iceberg.
Happy gaming guide
- Dec 18, 2009 5:22 pm GMT
- 16 Comments
For a gamer, there is no worse feeling than getting ripped off and ending up with a game you won't play after spending sixty bucks on it. This sort of thing should never happen. An unsatisfied customer is a customer that begins to be skeptical and careful about what he buys. After repeated negative experiences, the gamer becomes angry. Angry customers are not good for business and anger is no way to experience your favorite hobby. This is why I've decided to pass on some of the wisdom I have earned through many years of gaming. Seventeen years of gaming, my friends, has taught me to be careful and now I know what kinds of games I'll like. And yet I still get burned every once in awhile.
I will begin with a gross generalization which serves the purpose of making things simple and clear. There are three kinds of games as far as I'm concerned: consumption games, collection games and play-back games.
These games are designed to be played through once and then placed on the shelf never to be touched again. These are the games that are best rented right when they come out. You can spend a week-end completing them without any problems since they are usually short, and paced to be played for five or six sittings of two hours each. You can have a beer or a snack between sessions, go walk the dog and enjoy the sunset knowing that you didn't spend sixty dollars on this game that most likely fell short of your expectations. Come Monday morning, on your way to work or school, you can drop off the game at your local game rental store and smile boldly at the beautiful girl that works behind the counter. And all this cost you a fraction of what the publishers want you to pay. Hooray!
Often, people convince themselves that, despite the game being outrageously short; their money will be well spent because the game has an online multiplayer mode.
What, another copycat online multiplayer game that feels exactly the same as every other one on the market? This is worth sixty dollars? How many identical "death match" and "capture the flag" fiestas do you really need to own for the same platform anyway? If you want an online game, you should buy one that was exclusively designed to be the "be all end all" online experience, because otherwise you just end up with a shelf full of Call of Duty clones with identical online modes that you're already tired of because you've already experienced a shelf-full of them!
So beware of consumption games. They are analogous to buying a $60 movie ticket and then listening to teenagers spill profanities on the internet for a whole week. You can get all that for free!
How to spot a consumption game
Consumption games are the industry's favorite. Game developers love pretending to be brilliant Hollywood movie makers. They love to see scripted sequences in high definition and they adore cut-scenes, plot twists and large budgets.
These games are typically preceded by copious amounts of hype and teaser trailers that look more like Michael Bay movie trailers than video game demo videos. The game sells itself on graphical quality, an epic sound-track and a genius storyline that would make Shakespeare cry. I kid not!
Now, go to the store and pick the game up from the shelf and analyze the cover and the back. Look for giveaways like: "The cinematic experience of the year!", "For the Hardcore!" or "Biggest game ever!" If things look suspect, you should put the game back where you found it and look for something that isn't trying so hard to sell itself to you. Now it's time to go to GameStop and count the number of used copies on the shelf. If you're still unsure at this point, wait it out. If the price drops after a few months, then you know the game is of the consumption variety.
If these games are loved by the games industry, they are usually not so loved by gamers. Of course, it is entirely possible that you like these sorts of games, in which case you should just continue enjoying them. It's your money after all.
Examples of consumption games: James Cameron's Avatar: The Game, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, Halo 3 ODST.
These are the games that sit proudly on our shelves; the ones which have truly achieved something. Sometimes they are cult favorites, and sometimes they are just plain anomalies that should never have been released, and yet they are worth experiencing at least once for the novelty. Owning and displaying these masterpieces is more important than playing them. You would never even dream of trading these games in, for they are too precious to you. Every once in a while you will open one of the game cases to browse the manual, and sometimes you might even play it for a little while, but the memories are too fond; you don't want to taint them. Collectors spend more money on these things then they do on clothes. They actively search every store in town for that one title that escaped their attention when it came out, ashamed that they though it was just a consumption game! See how important it is to differentiate?! Spending a hundred dollars on a game that came out ten years ago can be worse than gambling on a new release.
How to spot a collection game
Game journalists often ignore these games when they come out, since they are too busy drooling over all the latest consumption games that the industry so generously supplies them with, free of charge. These games usually disappear from game stores within a couple of months and thereafter are never seen again. The best way to find these games is to read a diverse selection of random blogs and to keep a keen eye open and alert for bargain bins, for they hold many treasures worth collecting. Collection games tend to exhibit characteristics that are diametrically opposed to the ones exhibited by consumption games, even though both types end up on your shelves.
Examples of collection games: Little King's Story, Scribblenauts, Oddworld series.
The happiest gamers are those that know how to spot a game that they can play for hundreds of hours without getting bored. Play-back games usually contain arcade elements such as fast reflex demanding gameplay that's easy to pick up and play, but hard to master. These are the games you'll record yourself playing and post it on youtube. These masterpieces are so carefully crafted that each play through feels fresh even though the game itself hasn't changed a pixel. The gameplay is just plain timeless and the game contains as little fluff as possible. The more clutter you add, such as side quests and cut-scenes, the harder it is to come back to the game again. Designers that know how to make these games have long understood that you don't gauge a game's length in terms of how many hours it takes to complete the single player segment, but rather in terms of how long it takes you to "get full".
How to spot a play-back game
Playback games are usually the ones that retain their value at retail for the longest time. They also tend to stick around the top sellers charts for years on end. Sadly, they don't really make many play-back games nowadays…but the beauty of these games is that this does not matter since you can always just continue playing your old play-back games! These games are not very much liked by the games industry, unless they entail subscription fees, obviously.
Examples of play-back games: Super Mario Bros., Super Metroid, Unreal Tournament series, Diablo series.
Now as I said above, this is all a gross generalization and should be taken with a grain of salt. There is much cross-over between categories and one man's consumption game is another man's playback game. My aim was only to point out that budgets (time and money) are limited and we all want to make the most of what we have. The more you are aware of what kinds of games you're likely to play through a hundred times, the happier a gamer you will be, guaranteed. Similarly, knowing how to avoid buying consumption games can greatly improve your mood when it's time to pay the bills at the end of the month. Just don't let journalists and publishers tell you what games you like.
Addendum (EDIT 1, taken from the comments section)
I realize my post was pretty flawed and I didn't really explain very well. Now I have a much more clear idea of what I was trying to say, so here is the overall thesis of it all.
There are three game tiers:
Tier 3: Games that you play once and wish you could return or trade in. It's best to just rent these games.
Tier 2: Games that you buy and keep because they have intrinsic value to you. You want to collect them, and you feel that there is a chance you might return to them at some point in the future.
Tier 1: Games that you buy and keep AND play a lot. Games that you can't seem to tire of.
Now, rational gamers would like to maximize their happiness and minimize their expenditure.
Each game will fit in a different tier depending on the gamer. The game's tier is unobservable until the player actually plays the game and makes up his mind.
In order to maximize happiness (and in so doing also minimize expenditure) you must seek out the games that fit into the first tier for YOU. You can't decide for others.
Revisiting the Nemesis: The Final Fantasy VIII Logs (12-17-09)
- Dec 17, 2009 8:15 am GMT
- 51 Comments
Earlier in the week, I wrote about revisiting Final Fantasy VIII, a game I managed to loathe after my first run with it. Often I look back on things that were deemed quality experiences by others (this extends past videogames--movies, most notably Michael Mann's "Collateral"; music; books) and start to think about the things I missed. With Final Fantasy VIII, I realized that I never really explored the Junction system fully; this was mainly because I didn't "have" to, but I felt that perhaps I ended up missing the point. On the Sunday before I wrote that editorial, I had already initiated a new game, and I've made some cursory progress (thanks to my self-proclaimed, most likely WAY overblown ability to multitask) while battling a juxtaposition of insomnia and narcolepsy. (Neither diagnosis is clinical; in fact, I'm just a nutcase.)
(Before I even continue, I should point this out. Final Fantasy VIII is due out on the Playstation Network "soon." Now, I'm playing my dusty old CD of Final Fantasy VIII from September 9, 1999. Having it on my PSP would be so much more convenient, given how little time I actually have to sit down and play a console, and given how wretchedly annoying it is to lug consoles around with me as I travel for my job. This first Final Fantasy VIII Log entry may very well be the last one for quite a while; it all depends on when it appears on the Playstation Store. If its release date is within the next month or so, then I'll stop playing right now and wait for the download. If it doesn't come out until--say--March, then I will press on. Oh yes, I will press on.)
With that, here's my report thus far.
I'm about four hours into the game. I've just finished the SeeD exam portion, where Squall, Zell, Seifer and later Selphie move to stop the Galbadian advance into Dollet. I've spent most of my time drawing in battles, and in fact spent about ten minutes--while on a phone call for work in my hotel room, no less--drawing from this one poor hapless soldier until Squall and Zell had 100 units each of Fire, Blizzard and Thunder. (Screw Seifer--I literally did nothing with him.)
My focus is on taking a deep dive into junctioning and GF abilities. The first thing I aimed for after getting GF Boost for each of mY GFs was learning their refinement skills so that I could set about experimenting with that. Right now, there's not much I can do with regards to junctions since I only have Shiva, Ifrit, Siren and Quezacotl. Squall is the only one with an elemental junction (I've attached the 100 Fires he has to Attack), and across my characters I can really only junction to Attack Power and Spirit. However, I'm definitely anticipating the multitude of things I can do later on in the game when I've more attributes to which I can junction.
However fascinating junctions and GFs are to me, I can't help but be a little unsettled by how similar characters end up being so far. Bear in mind, the following is a generalization, I'm still very early on in the game, and I'm going by my memory of my first run over ten years ago. Yet, when I look at it, how are the characters so vastly different from each other when you take away their limit breaks? Focusing on what really makes them go--Guardian Forces and the resulting junctions--how is Zell all that different from Selphie when you're able to trade magic and GF's between them? I definitely appreciate how your characters are supposed to build affinity with their GF's, and how you're supposed to customize your characters differently to get the most out of the game, but I think this makes each character--from a gameplay perspective--more of a shell with which you play around instead of a wholly unique individual.
Let me clarify. Almost every Final Fantasy up until this point has made each character play some sort of job-based role. Final Fantasy VI started down the precarious path of "everyone can do anything"--with everyone being able to equip Espers and learn every spell--but each character could still be very effective in other ways besides magic (well, unless everyone learned Ultima. That's where the game starts to fall apart a bit, and it pains me to say it). Sabin could still wreck fools with his martial arts techniques; Edgar's tools had certain purposes; Relm had her portraits; Cyan's swordtechs were lethal... you get the point. With Final Fantasy VIII, I feel like instead of developing Squall's inherent abilities and "job" functions, I'm simply customizing Party Member A with junctions and he just happens to have a leather jacket and be named Squall. Is this a problem? I suppose not; I guess I've just been wired to expect that certain JRPG individuals are meant for certain things, and you develop their tree of skills from that unique starting point. And, once again, I'm probably going to be proven quite wrong once I put more hours into it. I'm regurgitating stuff here, but bear in mind that the last time I played it, it was ten years ago, and almost all I did 95% of the time was spam the GF command and hardly had any trouble surviving.
Of course, the ways in which each character is truly special in Final Fantasy VIII is through the story. I get that. I'm not ignoring the story, really; the thing is, I know what happens, and I'm really in this go round just for the gameplay. So, when cutscenes happen and I can't skip them, I start to get agitated, which leads into me remembering just why I had enough of the game by the third disc. (This isn't a good sign for my ability to overlook its flaws for the sake of enjoying its positives, but hopefully I can persevere.) I'm noticing how oddly sophomoric the dialogue is at the beginning. It could simply be a cultural difference, though. I'm talking about things like Zell pantomiming his punches at Seifer before they go up the communication tower, then Seifer saying, "What's this? Swatting flies?" before walking away, and then Zell saying, "Dammit!" and trembling with rage. I mean, who does that? What's that all about? How is what Seifer said such an insult to Zell's integrity to the point where Zell looks like he's about to explode? To me, Seifer's comment was about as witty as the old "Why did the chicken cross the road?" joke. No one older than ten years old would be insulted by that. To be clear, this isn't so much a criticism as much as it is just me being puzzled at some of the writing choices being made. It probably makes perfect sense to a certain audience, perhaps a younger audience, and in the grand scheme of things I realize that it doesn't matter... but it's something I've been noticing for sure.
That's it for now. I'll pour some more onto virtual paper as I get further in the game... if I decide to continue playing. That's a decision I'll make after I find out exactly when Final Fantasy VIII will make its U.S. debut on the Playstation Network.
(Note: This first log is going up as an editorial to spark discussion, but I won't be spamming future editions to the Soapbox. If you're interested in further discussion and following my eye-opening journey, I hope you'll keep up with me.)
Revisiting The Nemesis
- Dec 15, 2009 9:28 am GMT
- 81 Comments
[Update: I'm logging my progress and thoughts. First edition here.]
Sometimes your initial evaluation of a game comes when you're at a point in your life when you're either not ready for, interested in, or understanding of what it has to offer. You might not be able to grasp its complexities; you might be too impatient; you might miss what lies deep inside the gameplay because of another potential flaw that you just can't ignore. Whatever the case may be, you might look back on it and think to yourself, "Maybe I should give it another shot. Maybe I should 'play it right' this time."
For me, that game is Final Fantasy VIII.
By my own recollections, Final Fantasy VIII was the most divisive entry in the Final Fantasy series at the height of its popularity. There was an even split within the small group of my personal friends who had played it: three of us sang its praises, and three of us lambasted it. (This continued with acquaintances I made online on the GameFAQs forums, though I can't quite recall if it was anywhere near an even split.) The positives were typical for a Final Fantasy game: ambitious story; well-directed and pretty cutscenes; an innovative new gameplay system; and tons of nooks and crannies to explore.
I countered with the typical "get up and make a sandwich" arguments: call up a Guardian Force mid-battle (this game's version of summons and/or espers), and you'd probably have enough time to set down the controller and make yourself a quick ham-and-cheese. I had a problem with the tedium of the Draw system, which had you siphoning magic spells from enemies or from specific points in world and area maps. I further took issue with the way this turned magic into a commodity--stocking 99 instances of Cure took something away from the spirit of a magic spell, making it seem less like something earned by, owned by, or inherent within a character and more like a six-pack you'd pick up at the market. The Junctioning system would have paid off for it--had I not cast it aside due to being frustrated by the former issues. I can recall summoning Guardian Forces through 97% of my gameplay experience--which spanned across the first three discs before I decided enough was enough--and doing just fine.
Over the years since I stopped playing Final Fantasy VIII (since 2000), I started to wonder where it all went wrong for me. I was in college and I (supposedly) had more time to muck around, which I theorize to mean that there was more time for my faux-A.D.D. to kick in and demand that I spend less time waiting for a Guardian Force animation to finish. No, instead I should actually be "playing" my games--failing at Bushido Blade, slicing up fools in Soul Calibur, dunking and shotblocking in NBA 2K1, learning abilities and throwing out Eidolons in the leaner, simpler Final Fantasy IX and busting out sick moves in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3. Yet, every so often I'd look back at the Junction system, rich with possibilities for tailoring even the smallest aspects of your characters to make them more effective in battle. Sure, I didn't exactly need to use it in my playtime, which was what ultimately led me to give up on the entire game. But what if I decided to give it another shot and play it "correctly"?
The desire to revisit the game reached another level when, on our podcast (The Trigames.NET Podcast), I was discussing something I heard on Gameslaves Radio--a (sadly) now defunct independent gaming podcast featuring Pete (a.k.a. Ryvvn, who is now a cast member on our show)--about God of War not being entirely enjoyable due to its button-mash nature. Any of us who's played and enjoyed God of War know that there are benefits to be had by actually executing hard-hitting, lengthy combos to maximize the amount of red orbs you get from enemies, thereby increasing your potential to learn special moves. Pete's contention, however, was the same as mine with Final Fantasy VIII: He didn't have to do anything other than mash and dodge to succeed at the game, so he just mashed and dodged. "Play it with technique in mind," I countered, "and you'll see how it benefits you and enhances your experience." Hmm--maybe I should try following my own advice.
The tipping point came when I started playing Titan Quest. Known affectionately as the best Diablo clone out there by I imagine quite a few people, Titan Quest was a game that I enjoyed enough to keep playing for some length of time without getting sick of it. I got sick of Diablo and Diablo II back when they were released, what with the incessant clicking, so what was different this time? I was in a different mindset: I was chasing after items so that I could apply runes to them, upgrade them, and see what I could come up with. I was enjoying the less brutally obvious aspects of the game, specifically its customization opportunities. I finally looked past the annoying mechanics of a PC-based, click-and-slash action-RPG. There's no reason I couldn't try the same with Final Fantasy VIII.
My cohost on the podcast, Al, beat me to the punch and started playing it again. Hearing him talk about Junctioning, refinement and Guardian Force abilities finally sealed the deal, and I started replaying Final Fantasy VIII on Sunday night. I'm eager to find out if I'll be able to overlook my previous issues with the game and explore the depths of its gameplay systems. Past Final Fantasy VIII, I think the bigger picture here is finding out whether or not I can go back and enjoy--from renewed perspectives--games with which I previously became disillusioned. Luigi's Mansion (GCN), F-Zero: Maximum Velocity (GBA), Shadow of the Colossus (PS2) and the aforementioned Diablo and Diablo II--if I'm able to come away from Final Fantasy VIII unscathed, these are all titles that I hope to revisit some day.
What about you? Are there any games you cast aside back in the day, only to return years later to restart it from the beginning with a renewed mindset? What were the results?
What is an RPG? (Updated)
- Nov 25, 2009 10:01 am GMT
- 285 Comments
Anyone in the military or who plays first-person shooters may think it is a rocket-propelled grenade. Geeky programmers may know it as a programming language. Or it may be an acronym for many other things. But the RPG I wanted to write about is the ubiquitous role-playing game. So, what is a role-playing game?
I think it is safe to say that the granddaddy of role-playing games would be Dungeons & Dragons, the pen-and-paper tabletop game created in 1974 by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson and published by TSR. The game was basically a rule system that allowed nerds worldwide to play out their fantasy adventures using their imagination, dice and little painted lead miniatures. But most importantly, it was a game in which you played or acted out the role of your character, speaking with quasi-Shakespearian dialect and actually pretending to be your character. And yes… I was proudly a member of these ranks of nerds who got their game on in dim dining rooms with dice, books, and painted lead figures.
With that said, one would think that the term "role-playing game" means a game in which you play or act out a role, right? Well, it seems that over the years the RPG genre has evolved quite a bit, particularly in its migration from tabletops to computers and consoles. RPG games have also become much more mainstream as well, no longer relegated to the pimply D&D club after school or folks who tote around their dice in Crown Royal velvet sacks.
But something happened during that migration to digital media. The RP in the G lost a lot of its prominence. Early entries in computer RPGs such as SSI's "gold box" games or the original Wizardry had all the dice-rolling, stat-crunching, Monster Manual goodness of the original tabletop games, but lacked the cheesy acting of its pen-and-paper counterparts. Over the years, many games came out wearing the hat of computer RPG. Some of them did better than others with the level of role-playing, but most lacked it altogether. Eventually, the computer RPG genre was at the brink of death.
Many industry insiders claim that 1996's Diablo and 1998's Baldur's Gate collectively resurrected the dying RPG genre. Baldur's Gate was another computer RPG based on the venerable Dungeon's & Dragons rule set, including all the stats and dice rolls, but also the return of role playing to the genre. You got to choose your dialog from pre-defined choices, but it actually allowed you to be nice or evil, suave or belligerent. And the choices you made "acting out" your character's adventure made a difference in the world. Diablo on the other hand was a great and addictive game, but much more action-oriented and focused more on loot and stats than any form or role-playing whatsoever.
So here we have the return to glory of the computer RPG in the late 90's at the hands of two games. One is an action based, loot collecting, level-up-a-thon, and the other is a deep, character driven role-playing experience. Both incorporate characteristics of the original role-playing games, but only one of these two examples is truly a role-playing game, is it not?
Don't get me wrong, I owned both Diablo and Baldur's Gate and both are fantastic games! And I feel that the success of these two games spawned dozens if not hundreds of other RPGs, both in the action and character categories.
Some modern examples of games that hold true to the role-playing roots are Mass Effect, Dragon Age: Origins, Oblivion and Fallout 3. In each, you have a lot of control over how your character acts, and not just what stats to improve when you gain experience. The role you choose for your character effects how people react to you and how the game world evolves. These are the basic principles behind a role-playing game.
On the other hand, your more action-oriented RPG games such as Sacred 2: Fallen Angel, Borderlands or even Bioshock have a lot of the elements of the original role-playing foundation such as stat improvement, loot collecting, and behind-the-scenes dice rolling, but lack altogether or have paper-thin role-playing. While there is nothing wrong with this style of game (I enjoy them very much!), do they qualify to be called RPGs? Maybe they had roots in role-playing games, but based on their current focus should be called something different today like LSL games (Loot, Stats, Levels.)
Yeah, I'm splitting hairs here. In the end, what does it matter what genre the game is in, as long as it is fun to play, right? And with today's games blending the genre lines more than ever before, almost every game defies being shoehorned into any one category. But on the other hand, we don't call cars "horseless buggies" anymore because that's what the modern car evolved from, do we? Whatever the case, I'll end it here because I need to get back to playing Borderlands and Dragon Age! But I got you thinking, didn't I?
Update: Due to many of the responses I've received, I decided to add to the original editorial with this "Part 2".
You can look at role-playing in two extremes: "True" role-playing is where you act out the role of your character in every way. You can say and do anything within your imagination. This is quite possible when playing pen-and-paper RPGs such as D&D. But due to the limitations of game programming, you find your options limited when playing on a computer or console. Video games make great strides every couple years in the level of involvement they allow. But it will take many more years, and quite likely a truly intelligent AI to reach the level of a group of friends and a good game master. Perhaps Natal and devices like it will pave the way for that level of integration.
On the other hand Mario, Sonic… heck, even Pac Man were "roles" you played when playing those games. Is it a stretch to say you were role-playing the little plumber in Super Mario Brothers on your NES? Probably, but you can indeed say that you are controlling the fate of that character. Liken it to playing a role in a stage show, film or television program. You play the role of the character assigned to you. You must follow the script in what you say and how you act and everything is predetermined.
So if what I just said is the case, then nearly every game with a character controlled by the player is an RPG. So why are only some games classified as RPG? Well, it boils down to classifying a game. Stick it in the correct genre to attract the type of gamers who would buy the game. A die-hard fan of first-person shooters probably isn't going to want to buy and play something like Oblivion or Dragon Age. You could say that every RPG is also an Adventure, but that genre title usually refers to games such as Tomb Raider, Psychonauts or The Longest Journey. So over the years, three primary sub-genres of RPGs have matured; the RPG, the Action RPG, and the JRPG.
The RPG does its best to mimic the full-blown experience of the old pen-and-paper gaming. Baldur's Gate, Oblivion, Fallout 3 and Dragon Age, to name just a few, fall into this category. They focus on character development, choice and consequences, and heavy dialog. Combat may be strategic or action oriented. The Action RPG is a much faster paced style of game with more emphasis on collecting loot and improving stats along with action-heavy, non-stop combat. A few examples here are Diablo, Dungeon Siege and Sacred. Finally JRPGs, or Japanese/Eastern RPGs, are best known for their cinematic presentations, deep yet linear stories and character development, and involving combat systems. The Final Fantasy series is a mainstay in this sub-genre, but certainly not the only example.
When you play a game, whether it is a table-top game, video game or outdoor sport, the point is to have fun playing. So it shouldn't matter what genre a game is labeled with as long as you have fun playing it, correct? As for game genres, they have become so muddy over the years because every game blends elements of many genres to make it a richer and more involving experience. So today we have shooters with RPG elements such as Bioshock and Borderlands. Or RPGs with shooter elements like Mass Effect. This blending of game genres isn't a bad thing. In fact, I think games today are better than ever before because of it.
In conclusion, finding an exact definition of RPG is tricky business. And in the end it really shouldn't matter. What does matters is that there are plenty of great games for us to enjoy, and I think that today we have more choices of top-notch games than we will ever have time to play. And that, my friends, is a very good thing indeed.
Update 2: I forgot to mention MMOs like World of Warcraft and Everquest as well. Due to the nature of those games, and who plays them, they can be the "truest" form of computer RPG, or they can be nothing more than glorified action/adventure games. Yet again, just proof that it is nearly impossible to bottle the term RPG in a neat and tidy package and call it a day.
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