Monthly Archives: March 2012

Veruca Salt Syndrome, or “I want it Now!”

Entitlement

The word gives images of bratty children, trust funds, and echoes of “You owe me.”  It’s not the most picturesque concept, but here in America it’s just something that is expected to be there.  We all live with it and write it off as the cries of the vocal minority.  Look at the droves of “Trekkies” and Star Wars fans, “Pottermaniacs,” “Twi-hards,” and “filthy” liberals.  Luckily, this type of issue has been more or less infrequent in the games industry.  Yes, there have been occasions, see; backwards compatibility and PSP Passport program, but on the whole things have usually been quiet.  Nonetheless, leave it to EA to bring the issue up again and in a big way with one of their biggest franchises.

Hey, you on the left....I thought I let you die.

Spoliers below for the Mass Effect Series…..You have been warned

Mass Effect 3 is supposed to be the culmination of hours of story and adventuring, a sweeping sci-fi epic that rivals Star Wars in scope, and bring to a close the story of the heroic, or ruthless, Commander Shepherd.  Yet, if one were to read the boards, or, heaven forbid, metacritic, you would never hear about any of it.  It seems that EA and Bioware have created a monster and no one knows how to deal with it.

First off, there is the issue with the day one DLC.  Called, From Ashes, the DLC contains an extra character and respective mission.  If it were that alone there probably would have been any issue at all, but things could never be that easy.  See, the character is a Prothean, and for someone who is close to the Mass Effect universe, that’s a big deal.  For those of you who don’t know, imagine it’s a dinosaur; they’re really cool and supposed to be dead.  Anyways, the DLC was also released day one, and included for free in the collector’s edition of the game.  Before Bioware announced/leaked that the character was a Prothean, it was assumed that the content would be something along the lines of the Cerebus Network with Zaeed, or Kasumi from Mass Effect 2; i.e. not essential and nothing is lost in not having it.  Yet, with that announcement the game’s community attacked Bioware and EA.  They felt that a character so tied to the mythos of the game’s universe is integral to the experience and thus thought that charging for said character was not only bad business, but poor form.  This was obviously compounded when it launched with the game, leading to some to believe rumors that this could have been “on-disc” DLC.  Nonetheless, the dust settled as Bioware and EA both stood their ground and you can purchase From Ashes on XBOX Live and PSN.

Of course, the biggest issue right now is Mass Effect 3’s ending.  Let’s start off with a quick quote from “moua” on Metacritic,

“**** You, EA! Suck my balls hoe! You Damn money hungry **** Bioware, go ****ing get a new Damn publisher already you lazy **** Start explaining all those empty promises too. Enough said.”

If you’re curious, he still gave the game a two out of ten….

So, people are upset about the game and it’s ending, and it is echoing across the industry.  To be brief and give some much needed context; at the end of the game, the player is presented with three choices as to how to conclude the story.  All three decisions are very out of character for a Shepherd of any type, and the whole scenario is very much out of the player’s hands.  The developer had a specific vision for how this was to all play out, and truth be told, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  As much as I could understand that, one cannot look over some of the more gaping plot holes; How is my crew magically transported onto a ship when they were just with me, and bigger, I thought that when those mass effect relays blew up, they took out whole systems?  I’ll even look over the first, but the whole intro to the game is built around that fact that Shepherd destroyed a relay and killed millions.  It’s understandable that, like all entertainment mediums, there has to be some suspension of disbelief, but there has to be a point that someone cannot swallow what you are putting in front of them.

Clearly, the end of the game is not perfect, nor could it ever have been.  The expectation for this game was incredibly high, and like all great conclusions, Lost, BSG, and Return of the King, people were going to be disappointed.  The game makers had a story to tell, and knew going in that they could not please everyone.  Yet, it is there response that is so drastically frightening.  Rather than stick to their guns, like they did the with DLC, Bioware has stated that there will be expansions to the ending, if not a new ending outright, coming in the pipeline.

Just stop and think about that.

There was such a great outcry, Bioware opted to change the ending, or at least a very lengthy postscript to a game they have already finished and published.  Nothing like this has ever happened, and if it has, it has never been on this sort of scale.  What is inherently worrisome about the whole enterprise is simply that now that fans have won this fight, what’s next?  I mean, what’s to stop someone from petitioning Nintendo and asking them to make sure that the princess isn’t in another castle, because it is very unlike an Italian plumber to go through all that for a girl he does not know?  An exaggeration to be sure, but the point still stands.

is that small purple thing Shigeru Miyamoto?

For as much as Mass Effect 3 is a product to be sold, it is also a work of art that the developers have poured countless years into and it seems that according to many who played, “they did it wrong.”  That’s got to be heart wrenching on some level.  It is as if someone told Michelangelo that the Cistine Chapel was great, except for that one section that ruins everything.  All that work, only to be told not only is it not good enough, but you are going to go back to make it all over again.  It just doesn’t seem fair.

I don’t really like the ending of Mass Effect 3. I thought my choices had little impact, I thought it made no sense, and I was incredibly confused as to why some galactic super-being decided to look like an annoying little kid; but would I ask the game makers to change it? No.  It was their story to tell, and I was luckily enough to go along for the ride.  Just because you put in hundreds of hours into multiple games, like myself, it doesn’t mean you can have a say in how a game is made, let alone have any idea on what it takes to do so.  We are only entitled the experience that comes in the box, nothing more.

So there you have it.  With Mass Effect 3, EA and Bioware have set an interesting precedent, and it will fun to watch how this whole kerfuffle plays out and what will follow afterward.  I will leave you with another rant from Metacritic, this one from user “peterrick”

“If i had wanted see sexual relations between two men i would have watched broke back mountain. If you liked the first 2 dont bother with this rubbish!”

 

………..yeah….he’s a goddamn idiot.

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Somewhere There’s a Place for Us…

Should we even be Fighting?

We are now almost a month into the PS Vita’s life here in America and comparisons to the “other handheld” out there are inevitable.  If you were to listen to the enthusiasts on either side, the two systems are waging the eternal war between good and evil, where only one can be left standing; or at least something along those lines.  Their older siblings are dueling, along with the 360, for the public’s mindshare, and it seems that they are following in similar footsteps.  Yet, much as my inner fanboy wants them to join in that eternal conflict, I don’t think that should be their fight.  For just as Sauron rose from Mordor, a greater evil rises to to fight these new handheld gaming devices…

Siri = All seeing Eye?

With the advent of the iPhone and other smart phones, the concept of a dedicated portable gaming device is on the brink of becoming a thing of the past.  The 3DS and Vita don’t have to compete with each other; they have to fight the question, “Why should I carry one more thing around in my pocket?”  As each new iteration of the iPhone and Android devices are released, they become more and more versatile devices; and the more they are capable of, the less we are inclined to carry along with us.

Mobile gaming is now one of the most lucrative divisions of the gaming industry.  The most well known, Angry Birds, has become an international phenomenon. Industry Games wrote:

It was revealed this week that Rovio’s hit mobile title Angry Birds cost only $140k to create and has already generated an estimated $70 million. That’s 500 times more than what it cost to make.

Albeit, that is not the norm for the mobile game development, but the fact still stands that companies are looking at Rovio and thinking that they too want a piece of that pie.  The idea that you could make a small, but addictive, game and make back all of your investment many times over seems like a great idea.  This seems especially appealing because you could make a handful of these small games for the budget you would need for a singular game on one of the handheld platforms.

The other issue is that some of these portable games are giving players just as enriching experiences as the games put out on Nintendo’s and Sony’s devices.  Infinity Blade and its sequel are both touted as being the beginning of something huge in the portable market; running on Unreal engine and giving players a much meatier story than they are used to in an iPhone game.  There is also the recent release of beloved classic GTA III on all iDevices.  The game runs perfectly, and unlike your old PS2, you can now take it anywhere.

Nonetheless, the Vita and 3DS can still survive if they can refocus their efforts.  It can no longer be solely about the games.  Games can be found anywhere now, and for much cheaper.  This generation of handhelds has to show players that they can give experiences that they can get nowhere else.  The 3DS has its 3D going for it, but even some phones are now adding that it.  The Vita has a touchscreen and touchpad, but we’ve been tickling our phones for years now and that’s not nearly impressive as it once would have been.  Both systems have to prove why they are worth your time and money, or they will eventually be overtaken by the phone in your pocket.

For now, games like Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Super Mario 3D Land offer experiences unparalleled in the mobile market, but with each passing mobile generation, that gap seems to be getting smaller and smaller.  The future for handheld gaming looks fantastic, there is no doubt about that.  The question lies in whether or not we will be playing them on a Sony or Nintendo device or just using our phones.

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You Won’t Like Me When I am Angry…

Separated at Birth?

"Wait. You don't need robotic arms to rip someone in half?"

Asura’s Wrath is an interesting game, but I feel like I have played it before.  I am going to go ahead an mention that there will be spoilers for both God of War and Asura’s Wrath ahead, so read at your own risk.

I am going to describe to you one of the games above and I want you to tell me which one I am talking about.

A general is betrayed by those whom he followed, and his family is killed in the process.  He will stop at nothing to kill those responsible in the hopes of sating the anger and rage within…At the end of his journey, he reaches the one responsible and takes his revenge.  He finds his rage still boiling, and finds himself at the precipice of an even greater mystery/conspiracy.


Any guesses?  If you said “both” you are correct!  Congratulations! You have once again proven that originality is dead, and you are a cynic. Go drink yourself into an elitist stupor!

Nonetheless, though the similarities in the games are astounding, it is the smaller details that define the line that separates great games from the average.  Kratos, throughout the God of War series, has never been seen as a “likeable” character.  This is mainly because he maims, kills, and/or dismembers anything that breathes if they get in his way.  He is a violent creature, created out of the ashes of those fallen before him, and there is nothing that can stand in the way of his brutal determination.  Yet, there is something about him that makes the player sympathize with his actions.  Despite all the murdering, the killing, and rage; players find a way in their hearts to relate to Kratos’ struggles.

This is mainly due to the fact that Kratos’ motivation, the unintended death of his family, is constantly and consistently mentioned in the narrative.  There is not a single character beat that doesn’t remind the player of why Kratos is doing what he is doing, and how he may even be justified to do so.  Even within the later games in the series, II and III, the shadow of this initial incident still lingers.  Kratos fights for vengeance over the family he had lost and, as the player experiences this over and over again, the narrative forces the player to come to grips the actions of his avatar in the game world, and in doing so creates and emotional bond, or at least one of simple understanding of one’s motivations.

On the flip side of this same coin is our new hero, Asura.  Like Kratos, he seeks revenge for the family he has lost, in this case his dead wife and kidnapped daughter, and is intent on destroying all who get in his way.  Yet, by the end of his tale, the emotional resonance that the game was trying to convey was non-existent. That’s not for the game’s lack of trying.  Asura calls out his daughter’s name multiple times throughout, usually as he is beating the face in of one of his opponents, but it comes off as forced; as if it is trying to remind the player that your avatar is not a mindless maniac; despite the fact he is obviously shown to be one.  This wouldn’t have necessarily been an issue had it not been for the fact that you only see Asura’s home life once in the entire game.  In that one scene you are supposed to form an instant bond, so that when Asura goes off the rails, you feel that it is justified.

And that’s the issue with Asura’s Wrath; it doesn’t take the time to develop the relationship enough for it to matter. In God of War, the player does not see much, if any at all, of Kratos’ home life, but it is constantly beat into the players’ heads that that is his driving force.  His dialogue conveys his pain for the part he played in who affair, and more importantly his rage at those responsible for setting the whole thing in motion.  Asura’s wife being killed is simply a pretext for him to kick the living hell out of the people he didn’t like to begin with, and that should have been expected.  In the concept art of the game, the player finds out that all of the generals in the game are empowered by one of the seven deadly sins, and Asura’s evil of choice is in the game title.

Ironically, the game does succeed at creating an emotional connection with the player, but not where it matters.  At this point, anyone who has played the demo has enjoyed the over the top fight that takes place on the moon with Asura’s mentor and fellow betrayer, Augus.  The fight is over the top and borderlines on ridiculous, but within the context of the full game the fight carries an unexpected amount of emotional weight.  In the “episode” previous, no actual fighting takes place.  It is simply a conversation between Augus and Asura at a hot spring as they drink tea.  It  is there only as a character beat; to add context to what is about to happen, and so when you finally kill Augus, the player feels something.  If they had put this much effort into building up the emotion the entire game, the end result would have been much different.

Truth be told, Asura’s Wrath is not a bad game.  Actually, it is quite fun and a blast to play through.  It’s less Straw Dogs and more Transformers, but that isn’t always a bad thing.  Asura may not be Kratos, but his journey is worth playing, if only for its interesting take on episodic game play and fantastic blending of Budhist, Hindu, and Steampunk imagery.  Check the game out; the worst that could happen is that you’d  get angry.

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