What Is He Thinking?
Mere hours after saying farewell to Star Wars Galaxies alongside Kevin VanOrd, I was sat at home squeezing in some playtime with Star Wars: The Old Republic ahead of my Christmas vacation in the UK. Revisiting Galaxies--the first MMO I ever played--and then jumping straight into Old Republic served as a timely reminder of just how much both gaming and my life have changed during my 11-plus years at GameSpot.
When Star Wars Galaxies was released in 2003, the original GameSpot UK site had already gone the way of Greedo, and yours truly was working from home as the European correspondent for the US team. I knew very little about Star Wars Galaxies when I went out and bought it, and upon seeing the size of the manual (something like 200 pages) and being dumped unceremoniously onto the nondescript planet of Talus, I was convinced that I'd made a terrible mistake. My screen filled with confusing pop-up windows, there were no other players in sight, and I was given no clue as to what I was actually supposed to do in this universe.
I remember that, after happening upon my first quest terminal, I figured I should probably spend a great deal of time on Talus before even attempting to venture to another world; blissfully unaware that planets like Tatooine, Corellia, and Naboo were hives of player activity, and every bit as appropriate for me to be questing on. Getting to those planets wasn't too painful either--if memory serves, interplanetary shuttles left Talus every 10-15 minutes. (Yes, they were like buses. If you missed one, you had to wait around for the next one.)
Can you even imagine what players who came into MMO gaming via World of Warcraft would make of a game introduction like this? I suspect few would have persevered with Galaxies for more than a day or two, much less made it through their introductory month. Star Wars Galaxies was a wonderfully ambitious and rewarding game, though, because where games like World of Warcraft and the recently released Star Wars: The Old Republic (which I'm loving right now) offer scripted storylines and carefully developed characters, Galaxies was a destination where you created your own. My character Justy, for example, was a failed bounty hunter who went on to become a master creature handler and--after far too many hours spent seeking out and taming rare pets--eventually went into business selling mounts, meat, and milk. The greatest Star Wars story ever told? Hardly.But after that initial week or two of pain I enjoyed every minute of it.
Fast forward to about three weeks ago, and--more than 5000 miles away from where I created Justy--I've created another wannabe bounty hunter in another Star Wars universe. Currently level 27, Kunoichi is a lot more interesting and successful in her chosen profession than Justy ever was, but the illusion that she is in any way unique is shattered every time I encounter another bounty hunter in the game. Other bounty hunters use similar weapons and armor, fly the exact same ship, and for the most part they're even accompanied by the same companion character. Where at its best Galaxies felt like writing a book, Old Republic feels more like reading one of those old 'choose your own adventure' deals. Yes, we have some opportunities to do things differently, but our stories are ultimately the same. Better, no doubt, but the same.
If everything goes according to plan, this blog post will be the first of a series in which I remember fondly the games that I was playing during my formative years. Growing up in the UK, Sega and Nintendo systems weren't nearly as common as they were in the US, and so when my friends and I went to each other's houses to play games it was invariably on either a Spectrum or Commodore computer. These were fantastic machines in their day, and as I hope to illustrate in these blogs, there were a lot of fantastic games released for them. (Expect extreme Commodore bias since I never actually owned a Spectrum.) I should also mention that I'm using these blogs as an excuse to update our mostly-empty pages for these games with screenshots and gameplay videos wherever possible. Our Paradroid page has never looked better.
Starting out as the 001 influence device.
As a kid, I didn't get to play nearly as many games as I do nowadays, so I like to think that I was pretty selective. Sure, I still bought games that cost a couple of pounds apiece based solely on the screenshots on the back of the cassette box from time to time, but for the most part I based my (parents') purchasing decisions on reviews in magazines. My dad took out a subscription to the excellent Zzap 64 magazine very early in its life, and I remember that he even ordered binders to keep them all in at one point. If a game was awarded the prestigious "Gold Medal Award" in Zzap 64, there's a good chance that we discussed adding it to our collection at one point, even if the screenshots didn't look great. Paradroid was one of those games, and to this day it remains one of my favorites.
Your goal is to clear the whole thing. Eight times.
Paradroid is a shooter of sorts, in which you take control of a puny droid known as an "influence device" and must clear a huge spaceship of other, more powerful droids. You view the action from a top-down perspective and spend the majority of your time either shooting at other droids or attempting to assume control of them. Which weapon you have at your disposal varies according to which model of droid you're currently in control of; most fire lightning bolt projectiles of varying sizes (in any of eight directions!), while a few are armed with cannons that hit all nearby enemies simultaneously. All models of droid have a three-digit number designated to them that's clearly visible when you encounter them, and generally speaking those with higher numbers are more powerful. Your influence device's designation is 001, the ship's command cyborg's is 999, and there's plenty of selection between the two. There's even one (security droid 883) that's modeled after a Dalek from Doctor Who.
Taking control of the 999 command cyborg.
Often, it makes more sense to take control of droids that you encounter than it does to do battle with them; you only get to control droids other than the 001 for a limited time anyway, and using healing stations after sustaining damage drains points from your score. In order to take control of another droid you hold down the fire button (there's only one button, remember, and it's used for a lot of different things) until your current droid changes color, and then you plow straight into the droid that you want to control. This triggers an ingenious minigame in which you battle for control of your target on something vaguely resembling a circuit board. It's a lot of fun, and while it's possible to jump straight from your 001 into the game's most powerful droids, there's a simple system in place that makes the difficulty scale appropriately.
Remember when hacking minigames were this much fun?
I used to spend hours playing Paradroid, and the goal of completely clearing all of the droids from this huge spaceship was daunting to say the least. Revisiting the game recently it seems like a perfectly attainable goal, but in 1985 I remember thinking that I had achieved the impossible when I managed it. I was stunned, then, when I was greeted not by a "Well Done, Game Over, You Rock" screen but by an invitation to proceed to a second ship. I've since learned that there are eight ships to clear in total, and one of these days I hope to do just that.
If you witnessed my appearances on either Today on the Spot or The HotSpot earlier this month, you might remember that while reviewing LittleBigPlanet 2 I "developed" a game called Lunar Explorer. You might even have caught a glimpse of it on Giant Bomb's LBP2 Quick Look around the 30-minute mark. If you read or watched my LBP2 review you already know that I had a great time with LBP2, but what I didn't really get to talk about is just how fascinating I found the process of designing, developing, testing, releasing, reading reviews of, and even patching my game. I won't be adding "game developer" to my resume's list of previous jobs or anything, but I definitely feel like I gained some insight into some of the trials that developers working on games must face as well as the emotions they surely experience.
I knew from the outset that I wanted to create a game loosely based on Lunar Lander, so job one was figuring out how to make a craft that would be flyable and feel somewhat like the one in Atari's classic using only a thruster and left/right rotation. Ultimately, this meant lots of playing around with engine power, steering sensitivity, gyroscope strength, and the strength of the gravity in my level, but before I could tackle any of that stuff I first had to figure out LBP2's new controlinator gadget. There was a lot of trial and error involved, and just when I thought I had everything figured out, I had to completely redesign the craft because I couldn't figure out how to make my original one blow up properly without leaving unwanted pieces of debris behind. Many Sackboys were harmed during testing.
Once the craft was finished, I started work on the level and, while I'd love to tell you that I had it all planned out on paper or something, the truth is that I made it up as I went along and my only goal was to make something fun that people might play multiple times to try for higher scores. I doubt many real developers work in such an unorganized way, but I reckon that some of the problems I encountered along the way might not be too dissimilar to those that they experience. Early on, for example, I realized that the solid shapes I was using to create the lunarscape were far too complex for me to just have the entire level be constructed from one or two of them. So I had to use multiple shapes instead, and then come up with ways to keep players from seeing the unsightly areas where they met. Nothing particularly clever about it, but I got a real kick out of solving these little problems, and was reminded of my time with WarioWare D.I.Y.'s excellent Assembly Dojo mode while doing so.
The only shape I ever used to make the environment was a pentagon. You'd never guess. (ahem)
Every time I added something new to the level, I made sure to test it over and over again, and because I hadn't (haven't) mastered all of LBP2's tools yet (and didn't think to simply position a start point in the middle), that meant playing the level from the start every time. I identified and subsequently fixed plenty of problems while testing, but the downside of this process was that I got to be extremely good at my own game. I imagine that this must be a big problem for developers and their armies of testers alike; they get so good at their games that it's difficult for them to gauge how other people will play. The two people who got to play Lunar Explorer before I made it available publicly both found the handling of the craft to be overly unforgiving, but I was still able to make it through the entire level without losing a life, so I unwisely chose to ignore their spectacular failures. The result was that the first wave of LBP2 players found the game far too difficult and started giving the game negative reviews.
After working on my game in isolation for several days, I had managed to convince myself that it was great, and that while it was clearly aimed at those players who have played or at the very least remember Lunar Lander, its high score table would be a hive of activity for weeks. Boy, was I wrong. Eagerly looking for feedback in the form of smiley/sad faces and player reviews, I was disappointed to see that almost nobody was able to complete my level and that most weren't having much fun with it. You can read the reviews on the Lunar Explorer page on LBP.me, but in case you can't be bothered, here are some choice quotes:
"…this level is almost unplayable because the ship is so difficult to control."
"I fought the controls more than the turrets."
"The unforgiving controls break this level."
"too damn hard mate"
"didn't like it need smaller ship 2 hardddddd"
Footage of me pretending to work on and subsequently playing Lunar Explorer.
Not all of the reviews were negative, but the sad faces easily outnumbered the smiley faces (and still do), and for the first few days it seemed like nobody else was ever going to get onto the high score table, much less try to relieve me of my top spot on it. Fortunately, some of the reviews offered constructive criticism and ideas for improvements, and so I took it upon myself to "patch" Lunar Explorer (version 1.1) by making some tweaks to make it a little easier. I removed a couple of the plasma turrets that were turning areas of the level into a bullet hell, and made others fire a little less frequently; I tweaked the handling of the craft slightly by making the gyroscope that straightens it up a little more powerful; and I reluctantly gave the craft a health bar so that it would blow up on the fifth impact rather than the first. For me personally, this has made Lunar Explorer a little too easy, but the good news is that I'm no longer alone on the leaderboard. At the time of this writing, 674 people have played the game a total of 1077 times and completed it 40 times. I know… the game is clearly still too difficult, but I really don't want to make it any easier. I like that it's more challenging than most LBP levels, and there are at least a handful of people out there who agree with me based on their reviews:
"Tough but fun. "
"Hard and unforgiving but good fun"
"Level design is awesome!"
"Challenging and addictive, rivals most addictive arcade games!"
"The difficulty was what set it apart. Perfect the way it is!"
And so now I face something of a dilemma, and perhaps it's not wholly unlike those faced by modern game developers. Do I stick to my guns and keep the game challenging, knowing that it won't be enjoyed by everyone? Or do I take steps to make it easier (which actually wouldn't take long) in the hope that it will appeal to more players? I'm torn. I've made a game that I genuinely enjoy playing myself, but I've also made a game that the majority of other players find frustrating. Either way, there's a version 1.2 of Lunar Explorer coming sometime soon because I've been informed that one of my plasma turrets isn't properly attached to the lunarscape (though I still need to figure out which one) and also learned that there might be a way for me to address the problem that the craft blows up if Sackboy touches it while attempting to climb into its controlinator seat. I'm also toying with the idea of adding an option to play the game in black and white or with different lighting, though I've yet to come up with a more elegant solution for switching between the visuals options than having Sackboy interact with a button or lever.
If any of you have LittleBigPlanet 2 and have played (or are now going to play) Lunar Explorer, I'd love to hear your feedback, good and bad. I'd also love to hear about any games that you've made yourselves so I can check them out and return the favor.
This blog is a part of the scavenger hunt.
Share a couple of items on your Christmas wishlist this year.
I don't really have a Christmas list this year; I've already bought every game that I want to play. The only thing I really want over the break is time enough to actually unwrap and play some of them. I haven't even started Call of Duty: Black Ops yet! With that said, a new video card for my PC wouldn't be a bad gift.
What games will you play during the holidays?
I'll definitely be playing Call of Duty: Black Ops and Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, since I bought both of those games at launch and haven't unwrapped them yet. I'm sure I'll end up playing a lot more World of Warcraft as well.
What are the kinds of food or drinks you must have during the holidays?
One of my favorite things about the holidays here in the US is pumpkin pie, so you can bet I'll be eating as much of that as I can get my hands on. I'll also be drinking a healthy amount of beer, and have already stocked up on two of my favorites: St Peter's Old Style Porter, and Schneider Weisse Hefeweizen.
ORNAMENT HUNT ANSWER - CLUE 14
It's been about a week since I contributed to our Gut Reactions piece on the Kinect and so, now that I've been able to spend more time with my own, I figured I'd deliver some updated thoughts on it. Kinect Sports is still the game that I'm spending the most time with, and I've also played a lot of Kinect Joy Ride for review. My copies of both Kinectimals and Kinect Adventures are still sealed, though I did spend a couple of hours with an office copy of the former prior to its release.
A week after allowing the Kinect into my home I'm still impressed by how well it works in my dimly lit living room. Since the regular controller is still much easier, I'm not using it to navigate menu options on my X360 or anything like that, but when I'm not working on games for review or reacquainting myself with World of Warcraft in preparation for the impending Cataclysm, Kinect titles are my games of choice right now. That's largely because they're fun for my girlfriend and I to play together, though I should point out that she's no slouch in "regular" games, as evidenced by a competitive Puzzle Fighter session recently.
Oddly, while her coming over to play Kinect games with me is undoubtedly one of the main reasons that I've been playing with and enjoying it so much, her presence has also served to highlight a flaw of the Kinect that I hadn't experienced previously. The problem, at least in my living room, is that there's almost nowhere that she can stand, sit down, or otherwise position herself when she's not playing where the Kinect won't see her. Escaping its infra-red gaze is tougher than steering clear of the Eye of Sauron.
When it inevitably spots her, it assumes that she wants to play, and--depending on the game--loads in her avatar automatically. This is only a minor irritation, but it'd be great if the Kinect was somehow able to tell the difference between someone who's standing right next to me wanting to play and someone who just happens to be laying on the couch off to the side. Maybe I'm expecting too much of this new technology, but perhaps the fact that her head is about three feet closer to the ground than it was when she created her Kinect ID should clue it in? Or maybe that she's not really inside what the Kinect generally considers to be an acceptable area of the room for playing in?
I guess my only other complaint with Kinect right now is simply that there aren't many Kinect games that I want to play. (The same is true of PlayStation Move, incidentally.) I'm hoping that will change, but as I scour what we know of the release calendar for next year, Child of Eden is the only Kinect game that I'm excited for. I know that Dance Central is great, but games with the word "Dance" in the title just aren't for me I'm afraid. And nor are games that throw around words like "fitness" for that matter.
I'm happy that I bought a Kinect, and I'm very much looking forward to playing it with some non-gamers over Thanksgiving. I'm still not entirely convinced that motion controls are for me, though, and I can't help wondering how long it will be before layer of dust on my Kinect rivals those on my Wii and Move controllers. How many of you already have a Kinect, and how are you liking it so far? Any amusing stories to share? I almost forgot to mention that, while playing at work, one of our Kinects was trying to use its facial recognition on a pedestal fan that I'd stuck on top of a chair to make some room. It was funny at the time, even if it doesn't sound funny now. The opposite is true of this video:
A lot of people are talking about used games at the moment. THQ creative director Cory Ledesma feels that developers get "cheated" anytime of their games get bought used, and although they're not being as vocal about it, a number of publishers are currently experimenting with ways to make money from those of you who buy their games used rather than new. One publisher getting in on the action is THQ, which after doing something similar with UFC 2010 Undisputed recently announced that used buyers would have to spend an additional $10 to play WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 online.
Unsurprisingly, the reaction from what appears to be the majority of gamers--or at least of the most vocal ones--is less than positive:
- "new games already cost 60 f***ing dollars... why can't they just leave the also high-priced used games alone?!"
- "always looking for ways to screw the buyers. it's a freaking GAME, let us PLAY IT!!!"
- "They already got paid once, somebody had to buy it new for it to be used in the first place."
- "Game Publishers: Stop Raping Gamers' Wallets! Nuff said!!"
- "Nice, way to go on alienating a fanbase and people who sometimes don't have 60 bucks to spend on a game, so instead they go for the used games."
There are plenty of people sticking up for the games companies as well, of course, but what I find most surprising is that very few people on either side of the argument appear to see stores such as GameStop as the bad guys in this scenario. Maybe it's because they're too busy attacking each other.
For the record, I don't have a problem with there being a used games market; I very rarely buy used games myself, but I've been known to trade in used games against new purchases from time to time, and recently I've been selling off a few of my old games on Glyde.com. What I do have a problem with, though, is used games that sell for almost as much as new games, and for significantly more than the customer trading the game in was given.
It's been a while since I traded in any games at my local GameStop, but I don't think I've ever received more than $20 for an individual game. Now, I daresay they go a little higher than that if you're trading in something released very recently (you tell me), but I'd be extremely surprised if it's ever as high as, say, $35. Maybe I'm wrong, but the impression I get is that when GameStop (which I have nothing against, by the way, they just happen to be the only brick-and-mortar games store I ever go to) puts used games on the shelf with a $55 price tag, that's a serious mark-up on what they paid for it. I've even had these $55 games offered to me at the counter after waiting in line with my $60 new copy, and told that buying new games is crazy by the cashiers on more than one occasion, but that's a gripe for another day.
The point I'm doing a horrible job of getting around to making is that , in my opinion, it's the stores selling used games that are being greedy. It's not the gamers who prefer to save money by getting their games used, and it's definitely not the developers who'd like a return on all of the time and money they invest in making games that are the problem. We should absolutely have the right to purchase games used, but do any of us really want that right to come at the expense of the developers who work so hard creating the games we love? I'd like to think not.
By charging $10 to unlock online play in used copies, games companies are at least getting a share of the money they've earned, and I for one am all for it. No, it's not a perfect solution. And yes, it sucks if you want to use your copy of a game on multiple consoles or with multiple family members' profiles. But what else can they do? I'm sure it won't be long before a better solution is forthcoming, but in the meantime I'd like to toss a couple of thoughts and questions out there:
- What if those $55 used games were sold for $45 instead? Retailers would still make a decent margin on them, and you'd have the option (but wouldn't be obligated) to spend the $10 you saved on a code to unlock online play.
- What if new games came not with just one single-use online code but two or three? That way a game bought new could be used by two family members, for example, and if only one of the codes was used it would retain more of it's value the first time it was traded in.
Maybe physical game discs and cartridges will be a thing of the past before this mess gets sorted out, but I doubt it. Where do you guys stand on this issue? Do you sympathize with the games companies who are taking risks by investing millions of dollars in game development? Or maybe you feel bad for the game stores that are coming under fire for doing the same perfectly legal things that they've always done, because now the games companies have figured out a way to get a slice of their action?
I'm interested to see you your comments.
Technically, this is my third day on the E3 2010 showfloor, but day one of the show finished just a few hours ago and so, now that my writeups for the day are finished, I figured I'd update my neglected blog. Given that it's 9:30pm I could head out for food I guess, but that'd probably be rude since one of the video team is out on a sandwich mission and already took my order by phone. Anyhow, a quick rundown of my day at E3:
After taking in a bit of the Portugal verus Ivory Coast World Cup game in my hotel room, I walked down to the LA Convention Center and had breakfast in our booth. The booth is significantly bigger this year, and so for the first time we have enough seats that we can assign one to everybody on the team. That might not sound like something worthy of mention, but when you rush back from a meeting to write a story up there's really nothing more frustrating than not being able to find anywhere to sit. Having desks with our names on is a big deal. Trust me.
First job of the day was to report on the Nintendo press conference while watching the live stream at the booth. I already wrote something similar in our Gut Reaction piece on the subject, but I felt like it was a great event and, after attending the Sony one in person shortly afterwards, I can now say without hesitation that it was the best of the big three. The Sony event was decent enough, but there wasn't a whole lot there that excited me personally, and while sitting inside LA's Shrine Auditorium I was very aware of the fact that day one of E3 was getting started for reals a few miles away.
My first appointment of the afternoon was one that I was extremely excited about. Not only did I get to play APB for the first time, but I got to meet Dave "Lemmings, GTA, loads-of-other-cool-games-as-well" Jones for the first time. He's a super-nice guy, and although he seemed reluctant to talk to me about the possibility of a new Lemmings game, he was cool with all of my questions about working on an MMO for the first time. That interview isn't up on the site just yet, but it will be at some point in the not-too-distant future.
Then, I took to the showfloor to play some games! Which, you know, is something that we get to do here from time to time. Crackdown 2, Assassins Creed: Brotherhood, and EA Sports MMA were the highlights for me. I had hoped to play a few more games than I did, but it took me a lot longer to get to the front of the line for AC: Brotherhood at Ubisoft than seemed possible when I joined it.
I'm more or less finished for the day at this point, but there's something I really like about being at E3 after hours. Some of the games are still running, and I can hear music in the background, but it's really quite peaceful, and just because I'm finished with my work, doesn't mean that I won't be able to help other peeps with theirs if I stick around a while longer. Plus, you know, that sandwich didn't arrive yet...
Hope you're all enjoying our coverage of E3 2010 so far. I can honestly say that, at this moment, you've probably seen a lot more cool stuff from the show than I or any other one GameSpot editor has.
…after enjoying a brief stint as the Games Editor on the Official UK PlayStation Magazine, yours truly left Bath for London to join the GameSpot UK team. It was a move that surprised a few people, not only because the gig at OPM was a dream job for me (I collected every single issue before joining the team a few years in), but because while OPM was hugely successful at that time, GSUK wasn't nearly as big as it is today. I'd been working on print magazines for about four years at that point, though, and I was ready for a change.
Back then, GameSpot UK worked independently of the team in the US, although we did borrow a lot of content from across the pond--localized to spell color with a u and to replace some instances of the letter z with an s, of course. We used to keep a close eye on traffic back then, and I remember that the first thing I'd do every single morning was check to see which stories had done well and whether or not we'd hit our meager daily target of around 20,000 hits. Games companies in the UK weren't really taking websites seriously back then, and I guess with numbers like that I can see why it was always a lot harder for me to get games sent in for GSUK than it was for OPM. It was an exciting time to be working online though, and the US team that I'm now thrilled to be a part of was always a source of inspiration as we worked hard to get recognition from publishers in Europe.
I have many happy memories of my time at the original GSUK; we were a team of maybe ten people at our peak, and we got on well enough that we'd all go out for drinks together after work at least once or twice a week. I was mortified then, when in 2003 (or thereabouts) CNET decided to close us down. GameSpot sites in France, Germany, and a number of other European countries had already been shut down for weeks and months before the UK site got axed, but I don't think any of us wanted to believe that it could happen to us. Making matters worse was the way that it was handled; rather than calling the whole team into a room or something, the bosses started phoning us at our desks one-by-one, and by the time my phone rang I realized that every single one of my colleagues had gotten a call before me and never returned to their desks. Friends and colleagues working on other sites expressed their condolences to me as I made the long walk down to the office of no return, as certain as I was that this was going to be my last day at the company.
As expected, I was told that I'd no longer be working for the UK operation, but what I never expected was that the US team--on the lookout for a European correspondent to post news while they were sleeping--would offer me a job. I'd be writing news rather than previews and reviews, but at least I'd still have a job at GameSpot. Needless to say, I accepted the offer, and maybe 18 months later, after I let Greg Kasavin (the then Editor-in-Chief) know that I'd love to move to San Francisco if there were ever an opportunity to do so, he and GameSpot founder Vince Broady gave me that chance, for which I'm eternally grateful.
I've been working at the San Francisco office for almost six years now, and while a lot has changed--including my job title and a good number of the faces, I'm as excited to be a part of this team now as I ever was. I'm also sitting here writing this blog post when I should be working on a review, so I guess I'll end it here. If you've made it this far down the text wall I should probably apologize for not writing anything more entertaining--I need to keep the best stuff for my book "Memoirs of a GameSpot Editor" though, which I plan to get started on once I've racked up 25 years on the job. Hopefully you'll still be here to read the accompanying blog entry.
I've blogged about store-exclusive content in games before, so apologies if this feels like I'm retreading old ground. I've never much cared for store-exclusive preorder bonuses and the like, but before today they've only ever influenced where I buy my games, not whether I buy them. What happened? I went online earlier today planning to preorder a copy of Star Trek Online.
Now, I'm not against the idea of preorder bonuses at all - I think it's great that customers be rewarded for their loyalty to favorite franchises, developers, or marketing campaigns. I don't think we should be rewarded (or punished) for our loyalty to certain retailers though, and I'm becoming increasingly frustrated by games that offer store-exclusive bonuses not just at one retail chain but at several. The aforementioned MMO is one of the more extreme examples of this that I've encountered, and while I appreciate that none of these bonuses are likely to have a huge impact on my enjoyment of the game, I nonetheless find myself in a situation where I feel compelled to buy from whichever store will reward my Starfleet (or Klingon) captain with the best items.
The official Star Trek Online site lists no fewer than 15 different preorder exclusives and, if you navigate to this page and click on a bunch of "Details" links it lets you know which retailers have which of them available. I'm not going to waste our time listing everything here, but the feeling that I get while looking at this stuff isn't so much "which bonus(es) do I want?" as it is "which game content do I least mind not getting access to?". I'm not sure I'm ready to commit to a lifetime subscription so I can play as a Liberated Borg but I do quite like the idea of having a reclaimed Borg Bridge Officer on my crew, even if she does look a bit dumb. For that to happen, I need to preorder from Amazon.
Problem is, if I take that route (that bonus is one of only a few that seems like it might still be useful after the early stages of the game), I don't get to have a pet Targ or Tribble - the latter of which can be used to heal your character more quickly outside of combat. Those are only available at Best Buy. But if I buy the game there or at Amazon then I don't get to fly a Constitution Class Starship, wear Chromodynamic Armor, shoot enemies with the TR-116 Ground rifle, equip the Multi-Spatial Personal Shield, or do a number of other things that, honestly, aren't even worth mentioning.
The end result of all this is that I feel overwhelmed and, at the time of writing, have opted not to preorder the game anywhere. Perhaps that'll change after I spend some time with the open beta this weekend, or maybe I'll just preorder myself a copy of White Knight Chronicles instead - that'll be much easier.
How do you guys feel about preorder bonuses and, specifically, about those that are store-exclusive?
So, I just got home and my plans to jump right into Aion: Tower of Eternity have been temporarily put on hold while I wait in a queue to get into my chosen server. Right now the wait time is sitting at 22 minutes, but it said something similar about 10 minutes ago, and when the number changes it's not always moving in the right direction. Anyhow, since I can't play just yet I figured I'd post an early impressions-style reviews blog entry about the game. And, since I'm having some trouble accessing the reviews blog right now, it's gonna end up here instead - at least for the moment.
In case you're unfamiliar with Aion, it's a new MMO from NCSoft that's been available in Korea for a while, but which officially goes live here in North America tomorrow. I preordered the game several weeks ago, so I was able to get in on the "headstart" launch that went live at noon yesterday. After seven or eight hours of play I'm still only level 12, but I'm starting to get a good feel for where the game is headed I think, and so far I'm liking it a lot. And here's why, in an easily-digestible bullet point format:
- Character Creation
Aion's character creation tools are extremely powerful - like, EA Sports powerful. Sure, you can just pick a head, a body, and a hairstyle if you don't really care for this stuff, but if you want to recreate Pygar from the movie Barbarella, you have the option to tinker with just about every facial feature imaginable. The flipside of the character editor is that it gives you the freedom to make unrealistically proportioned characters with, for example, heads that are far too small for their bodies, or with tree-trunk arms and legs bolted onto a puny torso. Save for some presumably PVP-minded players opting for the tiniest character they can come up with, though, most people appear to be opting for something that at least resembles a human being.
- The Launch
Perhaps it's not surprising given that the game is already out in Korea, but queues aside, Aion's launch has been an incredibly smooth one thus far. I was able to get into the game around 10 minutes after the announced midday start time, and although I was disconnected about 10 minutes later, I've experienced no problems since. With new players descending on the starter areas like a swarm of hungry locusts, content was getting devoured quicker than it could respawn, but getting quests completed was rarely a problem.
So far the assassin that I've spent most of my time playing as is a lot of fun - somewhat similar to a rogue in World of Warcraft, but with less emphasis on stealth. There doesn't appear to be a combo system as such, at least not in the WoW-rogue sense, but you can chain attacks together and, rather than having to map every move to a different button, every move in a chain is mapped to the same button. So, for example, after I perform my "Swift Edge" attack, I then use the same button to perform a "Soul Slash" and, when I reach level 22, I'll be able to press it a third time for a Rune Slash. It's been done before, but after sinking so much time into WoW and into organizing dozens of different buttons, it's a feature that I very much appreciate.
- The Visuals
Even if I end up posting a dozen of these blogs before I'm ready to write a full review of Aion, I think I'll find it tricky to ever do so without mentioning how great it looks. The aesthetic is somewhat similar to that of Guild Wars, but with superior animation and the CryEngine under the hood. I posted some new screenshots, taken on my relatively modest home PC, to the gamespace today - definitely worth checking out.
Perhaps the most unique thing about Aion is that, from level 10 onwards, your character has angel-like wings that you can use to fly. Initially, you can only sustain flight for one minute, but my understanding is that increases as you level up. Also, you can only fly in certain zones, which seems a little odd, but is necessary so that you don't just bypass enemies and stuff completely.
- Gathering & Crafting
Although I've trained as a weaponsmith, I've yet to spend much time crafting - there are a lot of materials that need to be purchased in order to work with metals it seems, and I came close to bankrupting myself long before I was able to craft a simple steel dagger. Gathering is interesting in that, rather than having to train in order to learn how to pick things up off the ground, everyone can do it. So, providing you take the time to pick flowers and fruit early on, you'll find that you're able to mine iron and gather other higher-level resources later on. Bag space is an ever-present concern, of course, but these things seemingly stack in massive numbers (I have 110 of one resource right now), you get big bags (known as "cubes" in-game), and there's a bank/warehouse system with both character-specific slots and account slots that can be accessed by all of your characters on the same server. I'm a pack-rat by nature, so bag space is always a "thing" for me, but right now it's not taking up nearly as much of my time in Aion as it always has in WoW.
And, with that it looks like I'm ready to get back into the game. Be sure to go and check out those screenshots, and expect more Aion coverage from me in the near future.
- Character Creation
I said I wouldn't, but I did. This weekend I started playing World of Warcraft again. Rather than get back into endgame stuff with one of my level 80 characters or push my 70-something death knight to 80, I opted to start a new character. I've never leveled a Horde character past level 30-something, but after just one weekend my new warlock is at 22 and, because Blizzard continues to make the game easier on new characters, he already has a mount.
I'm not writing a blog to bemoan the current state of the game though, nor even to talk about my disappointment that Cataclysm is going to effectively destroy much of the original game's content for anyone who's five or six years late to the party. No, I felt compelled to write here because, while fishing for sagefish in the Hillsbrad Foothills, I was shocked to find that the river is now full of garbage. I'm not sure if it's the residents of Southshore or Tarren Mill that are to blame, but in the time it took me to catch just 6 raw sagefish I also filled my bags with the following:
1x Rumsey Rum Dark
1x Watertight Trunk (containing leather and woollen cloth)
1x Empty Rum Bottle
5x Sickly Fish
10x Tangled Fishing Line
10x Tattered Cloth
0x Other Fish
That's just crazy.
I could sit here and write more, but there are other games that I need to be writing about right now. Please though, next time you're out for a picnic, on a hike, or killing quest-givers in an enemy town, take your trash with you.
No, that's not a typo. GameStop, it seems, has become just as interested in offering its customers exclusive content as we at GameSpot have. Store-exclusive content is nothing new (Shaun White's "Target" mountain will forever be a favorite), but while shopping around for preorder deals earlier today I was amazed at the number of games that now offer additional content if you purchase them at GameStop. Among the games I preordered today, for example, were Forza Motorsport 3 and Tekken 3. Ordinarily I'd probably have ordered these from Amazon, or just swung by a Best Buy on my way home from work on the day of release, but on this occasion I caved and took the GameStop option so I don't miss out onbonus cars and a cardboard tube samurai skin for Yoshimitsu, among other things.
Aion is another game that I preordered recently and, while shopping around for the best deal, I noticed that (slightly) different in-game bonuses are being offered depending on where you purchase the game. I opted for the Steam version in the end, but Amazon and GameStop also have preorder deals with in-game bonuses.
Taking aquick look at GameStop's front page today, it's immediately apparent that these exclusive content deals are something that the retailer is really pushing this holiday season. Below is a list of games (I'm sure there must be more as well) that, if I end up preordering them, I'll probably end up getting from GameStop rather than anywhere else. Yeah, I know, I'm part of the problem...
Champions Online -"Insectoid Airfoil" bonus in-game vanity item.
Marvel UltimateAlliance 2 - Unlock "Juggernaut" character.
Batman: Arkham Asylum - Bonus "DemBones" Scarecrow challenge map.
Dragon Age: Origins - Bonus undisclosed "in-game items".
Assassin's Creed 2 - Two bonus maps.
I don't really care for free posters or t-shirts like those that GameStop are giving away with preorders of Metroid Prime Trilogy, so I can understand why GameStop wouldwant to offerfor more compelling bonuses. I'm not sure that I like this trend though, because (as with day one DLC) it often feels like regular content is being stripped out to serve this purpose. Was the Scarecrow challenge map really created exclusively for GameStop customers, or is it merely being removed from the game for everyone who chooses to shop elsewhere? Will the rest of us have an opportunity to download it at another date? And if so, how much will we be charged for the privilege?
This blog entry isn't intended as a call to action or anything like that, how could it when I'm clearly voting the wrong way with my wallet? I guess I'm just curious to hear what the rest of you think about this stuff. I've always been a sucker for collector's editions and that sort of thing, and I have no problem with them whatsoever, I don't much like feeling like I can only purchase them from one retailer though--especially when in-game items that I definitely don't want to miss out on are involved.
Finally, I get it. For months I've been wondering what all of the fuss about Fallout 3 was, and now I know. I was excited enough about the game prior to its release that I preordered the crazy Amazon-exclusive special that, in addition to the regular special edition, shipped with an extremely cheap and breakable lifesize Pip-Boy 3000. Playing the game for the first time, though, I got incredibly frustrated with the combat and, exactly as I did the first time I played Oblivion, I quit just four or five hours in.
The recent arrival of the Operation: Anchorage DLC got a bunch of people in the office excited for Fallout 3 again and so, since Wrath of the Lich King is no longer occupying my every spare moment now that my hunter has tamed Loque'nahak (don't ask), I figured I should have another crack at it. I feel better about the choices I made when customizing my character this time around, and since worrying about inventory space tends to be something that I let ruin games for me (WoW included) at times, I made a real effort not to pick up every single item that wasn't nailed to the floor. The real reason I'm enjoying Fallout 3 a lot more now, though, is simply that I'm using the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System (VATS) that I mostly ignored previously.
Call me crazy, but when I played Fallout 3 for the first time I was under the impression that I should play in real-time or using VATS. It never occured to me that these two very different systems, neither of which is good enough to use exclusively, could become something quite special when used together. Long story short, I'm about eight hours into the game now and loving every minute of it, and that includes the hour or so that I've spent in Anchorage.
So, now that I'm getting into Fallout 3, it looks like I'll be neglecting the rest of the games that I've been playing lately. I'll still be finishing Afro Samurai at some point, I'll inevitably end up visiting Knothole Island in Fable II sometime soon, and my death knight will become my third level 80 character, but for the moment I'm all about the Fallout 3.
7Nov 08I'm a few days late with this, but I only just learned that Michael Crichton passed away unexpectedly earlier this week. He was best known as the author of Jurassic Park, of course, but if I had ever been lucky enough to meet him it's Westworld that I'd have thanked him for. It's one of the few movies I remember seeing as a kid that I'm still crazy about today. Hopefully the upcoming remake will be a fitting tribute to its creator.
This is cut-and-pasted from our reviews blog.
So, last week I told that you that we were launching a new reviews-related feature, and about five minutes ago we did. After the Fact: Reviews Revisited is a way for us to update our reviews (without actually changing the original text or score) as games evolve after their release. This is a response to us noticing that our reviews, while accurate on day one, are becoming outdated as patches and game "updates" become more common.
For example, we mention in our Battlefield: Bad Company review that the game doesn't have Conquest mode--that's no longer accurate, since it was patched in at a later date. There's now an After the Fact entry to reflect this on the review page and, if you look around the site, you'll find that we've got the ball rolling with updates for several other games as well. This is just the beginning, of course, and while we're not planning to post entries for every single update that's released for every single game, we're definitely planning to cover stuff that we think potential buyers of games need to know in order to make a well-informed purchasing decision.
Oh, and if there are any updates worth covering that we haven't yet posted an After the Fact entry for (there are a lot right now, of course), feel free to let us know via our new email@example.com email address. We'll get to them as quickly as we can.
(This post contains FABLE II SPOILERS.)
I've been playing a lot of Fable II lately. As is invariably the case when I pick up one of these black/white, good/evil, hero/villain, dark/light games for the first time, I've been making "good" choices from minute one. As a result, my hero in Fable II is revered as a saint (complete with halo), his nickname is Chosen One, and last night he officially became the most famous person in all of Albion. It's not all sunshine and rainbows, though... my hero has contracted two STDs after engaging in extramarital relations and, last night, he unwittingly became a bigamist.
How do you unwittingly become a bigamist? I'll explain.
As much as I love Fable II right now, the game is certainly not without its problems. I've yet to encounter any bugs that have brought my progress to a halt thankfully, but my in-game families have been nothing but trouble.
Family attempt #1: Early in the game I chose to marry one of the mob of generic-looking females that was following me around Bowerstone. I moved her into one of the few crumby houses that I could afford and we had a son. Everything was going ok. She never really liked living in our marital dump, but I was sending her more than enough money to make up for it. One day, when she suggested we take a romantic walk somewhere, I agreed. Taking said walk through bandit country, though, was a mistake. They attacked, she died, our son was taken away by the authorities before he was ever big enough to make it out of his crib.
Family attempt #2: Bored of the Bowerstone women, I decide to look for my second wife at the gypsy camp. She's a real looker, and I'm confident that she'll appreciate the high standard of living that I can now afford to give her. We move into the most expensive Bowerstone home that I can find, we have a son, and we're incredibly happy together. Then, without warning, she disappears without a trace. Our infant child is left alone at the house, and though I visit often and keep sending money, my gypsy wife is nowhere to be found.
EDIT: I forgot to mention that, for a short time before she disappeared completely, I was able to trigger wife #2's appearance at our marital home by inviting other women into our bed there. She never suspected a thing despite encountering many of the women as they left, but I never really felt good about using adultery as a way to keep our marriage going. Plus, it stopped working after I'd done it three or four times anyway.
Eventually, I decide to go and look for her at the gypsy camp. There's a clone of her there with the same name, but it's not her. While out on a quest days later I was informed via an insensitive pop-up window that she had divorced me and that our son had been taken away by the authorities. I never saw either of them again.
Family attempt #3: By now I'm at a point in the game where I know time is about ready to advance 10 years, so I hastily find myself another bride in the hope that, one day, I'll get to see one of my kids grow up. The well-dressed Bowerstone jeweller, she'll do. I give her a ring, I take her home, we make a baby girl, and I immediately head out on a quest that will keep me away from my new family for almost a decade.
Upon my return to Bowerstone, I eagerly head back to the house expecting to be greeted by an excited family. The wife isn't working at her jewellery stall, so I assume she's waiting for me at home. Nope. She's nowhere to be found. My daughter is now nine years old, but she's incapable of doing anything but standing where her crib used to be and staring blankly at the wall. Have I failed to do something I was supposed to as a father, or has Fable II simply failed to do something it was supposed to as a non-broken game?
I return to the house countless times in the hope that my little girl will have come back to life, or that her mother might be around to explain her condition to me. It's not to be, and because my family is technically still living there (but can't be interacted with in any way) I'm unable to sell the house or rent it out. Checking my hero's stats it appears that two of my three wives have died--I assume number 3 was one of them since she hasn't been seen in years, so I head out for:
Family attempt #4: Of the three failed marriages that I've had so far, I think the gypsy woman was my favorite, so I head back to the camp to find her clone. She's one of those girls who's easily impressed; I woo her with my "thumbs up" action, and moments later she's asking me for a ring. Not a problem, I always carry several around with me.
Family #3's home is still a no-go area, so I purchase another, equally nice house in Bowerstone, and waste no time moving the new wife in. We have a baby daughter, I visit as often as my busy heroing schedule allows, and everything is great. When my daughter grows up, it becomes apparent that she's black, which neither I nor my wife are. No worries, I'm sure she didn't cheat on me or anything, probably just a skin pigmentation gene that skipped a generation or something.
At this point, I consider family #4 to be a long overdue success story. We've been together for a while, their demands on my time aren't really interfering with my quest, and I think I'm sending them more money than they could possibly spend. It all went a bit pear-shaped last night, though, when I returned to Bowerstone after what I can only assume was some kind of update via Xbox Live.
Upon arriving in town I'm greeted by my excited daughter and some of her friends. Great! This is exactly what I was promised when Peter Molyneux showed off Fable II families for the first time all those months ago. My daughter is white now, which is a little strange, but since she's the first of my offspring to make it beyond the cradle I'm not gonna complain.
I visit the wife, give both her and my daughter the gifts I found them on my latest quest, and then, in the hope that I might finally be able to do something with the house that family #3 was residing in, I pay it a visit. The wall-watching daughter appears to have gone the way of her mother, which is to say that she's vanished without a trace, so I figure I'll finally be able to move a tenant in and make some money.
Before I can reach the front door, my missing-presumed-dead daughter runs in to greet me. There's still no sign of her mother, and as awful as it sounds I have mixed feelings about the little girl's showing up alive and well. Given the absence of her mother I guess I should really have stayed to look after her, but ultimately I decide that just making sure she has plenty of money should suffice and then head out on another adventure.
I don't get far before the missing-presumed-dead wife, her mother, shows up as well--as if nothing had ever happened. She's missed me, she has a gift for me, and she's blissfully unaware (as was I at the time) that I now have two wives living in the same town. That fact didn't go unnoticed by everyone, though, because wife #3 also has a note for me. It's a blackmail letter from someone who knows I'm a bigamist and is demanding 2000 gold to keep his mouth shut.
So that's it. I'm a bigamist. My reputation and my halo are intact for the time being, but now that I've paid the blackmailer his 2000 I'm just waiting for a note demanding an even bigger sum of gold somewhere down the line. I think I'll have to move one of my families out of the city to a farm or something--seems like I own half of Albion at this point, so I have plenty of properties to choose from.
Tune in again next week for the tale of how I accidentally got engaged to one of the traveling game masters and had to lure him into the woods and shoot him to stop him following me around and sarcasitically congratulating me on my marriage to the gypsy clone. Actually, I guess that's the whole story.
Oh, and if you're interested in seeing what my hero looks like, he can be seen killing ghost pirates at the end of our video review.
Our review of Wario Land: Shake It! will be appearing on the site in an hour or two. In the meantime, you should definitely check out this video of the game in action. If you haven't already seen it I promise* you won't be disappointed.
*OK, I can't really promise that. It's a neat video though - make sure you don't give up on it too early.