Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Unpopular Opinions

I know I have a contrarian streak, but I never go in to a game thinking on purpose, "I plan to hate this because everyone else likes it."  Indeed, I like a number of obscenely popular games (Bioshock, Portal, and the Fallout titles among them).

But then a day comes when everyone is writing about World of Warcraft.

Yeah, people.  You go and enjoy that, I guess.  I'll be over here with games that didn't piss me off in every possible dimension.  Seriously: I disliked the art, the camera motion, the controls, the UI, and the community.  That right there is a pretty big set of turn-offs.  I'll never be sitting around saying that just because I don't like something, it must suck -- but it sure sucked for me.

In fact, other than a smattering of Diablo II back in the day, I don't think I've ever particularly enjoyed a Blizzard title.  Blasphemy, right?  It gets worse.

I've written before about me and party-based games.  So also in the Annals of Unpopular Opinions, I didn't enjoy Dragon Age, and really I'm not that big on playing sci-fi environments either, so the Mass Effect titles didn't do it for me.  And while I'm going all Andy Rooney and crapping on everyone's parade, I'll mention that exactly two -- 2 -- Japanese RPGs in all of gaming history have really appealed to me, and both were titles I was able to play on the DS: The World Ends With You and the re-release of Chrono Trigger.  I have yet to be able to make it through more than an hour or two of any other JRPG, including each and every Final Fantasy game.  I was unable to avoid observing FF13 being played in our home (only one living room, after all, and it doubles as my office / PC gaming location), and I was also unable to avoid mocking it.  Constantly.  That thing is beyond ridiculous.

While I'm ranting, I may as well point out that due to time / money / parental restrictions back in the day, I never played a Metroid or Mega Man title.  And that I suck at racing games and loathe PvP titles.


This has been Your Critic's adventure as a Cantankerous Old Coot.  On deck after the holidays: thoughts about the Uncharted series, thoughts on the Syberia series, and an episode in which I realize partway through The Longest Journey that *this* is the game I remember playing but was unable to identify.  Happy Thanksgiving y'all. :)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What I Can't Let Go...

So we all have our faults, right?  Sure.  Right.

If there is a set of something in a game, I must complete it.  I'm kind of weird about symmetry and completion.  So if there's a seven-piece armor set and I stumble across two pieces, I must go find the other five.  Even if this armor set is not one I'm going to wear because it's not as good as my other one.

I'm not a player who must get every single trophy in the game, or every achievement, and I'm certainly not a min/max "best of anything" type of player.  But if there's a numbered, completed set to be had -- or worse, a map to be uncovered! -- then I'll be out there getting every part until it's complete.

The worst system out there for encouraging this problematic trait?  The Nintendo DS.

First there was Animal Crossing.  I didn't really see the point and I wouldn't have bought it for myself, but I was working for GameStop at the time and loads of customers came in for it.  And I was dating a guy who liked to buy two of every game, especially games with a multiplayer component, so that we could both do it.  So I ended up with a copy of the game.

And I made my little town, and I wandered my little red-haired bobblehead around it, and I caught some fish and bugs and dug up some shells.  And I discovered the museum.  A building in the middle of my town that was designed to hold exactly one of everything the town had to offer.

And that's how I was found in bed at my parents' house on Christmas Eve, with my DS on under the covers, at 2:45 a.m., gleefully becoming the owner of a coelacanth.  While in my mid-20s.

Eventually, I let Animal Crossing go.  I think there are still two or three bugs missing from my collection and perhaps a fish or two, but my house is full of pests and my town long since full of weeds growing as if in ruins.  But I still commute to work, and for a shocking percentage of 2008, I commuted with The World Ends With You.

How shocking a percentage?  212 hours and counting.

But, see, there are 304 pins to be had in the game.  And first I realized I'd blundered into 100 of them.  And then I realized I'd blundered into almost 150 of them.  And, well, right now I have 296...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Still Wandering the Wasteland

There is a brief list of reasons why I should probably not have been allowed to buy Fallout: New Vegas.
  1. I am a completeist.  I can leave no quest undone!
  2. See #1.  Even if two quests are diametrically opposed and mutually exclusive (if A is "Go kill B" and B is "Go kill A"), I will probably try my hardest to complete both before I give up and pick one.
  3. I am an explorer.  I can leave no corner of the map uncovered!
  4. I am an adult with a full-time job and a partner.
I am between 45 and 50 hours into the game, somewhere around level 24.  I have recruited all 8 possible companions, completed 20 achievements and a pile of Challenges, and am still only maybe 50% through with what I want to achieve in this game.  I am still playing my first character through and other people have already rolled their evil toon and completed *that* game.  
At this rate it'll be 2012 before I get to play anything else and by then I'll be in Bioshock Infinite.  Which at least will probably go straight start to finish like the first two and leave me off my own just-one-more-location, just-one-more-quest hook.

I'm impressed with a lot of elements of New Vegas, though.  The whole cycle of drugs, prostitution, and gambling in New Vegas is handled with more personality and nuance than I've come to expect from gaming.  RedJenny once asked me what was different playing a female Wanderer in Fallout 3, and of course I had no idea because I've never played a male one.  The same is true so far of New Vegas but given all of the options, and the Perks and such, I suspect it's actually the exact same game for both a male and a female Courier -- including who's available for seduction and so on.

If I ever finish the game I'll write more about it.  And until I do finish it, I'm not going to get to play much else.  Except Uncharted 2, which we started yesterday and I enjoy yelling at. ;)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Marketing Fail

Oh, XBox.  These days I'm kind of glad I don't have one of you: Get your girlfriend into games!

Directly from the source on XBox Live Marketplace:

Get Your Girlfriend Into Games! is a set of minigames designed specifically to engage any woman in video games entertainment. Best played in couples in versus mode. Suitable for children too!

Yes, XBox.  The best way for a male player to coerce his female partner into using the XBox is (1) to cajole with (2) products at a child's level of comprehension and (3) be competitive with it.  Bonus: terrible product, terrible graphics, and offensive cover art.

Look.  There are a lot of women out there who don't game.  There are a lot of reasons for that.  Some women just aren't interested -- they have other hobbies (just like some men!).  Some women were raised to understand that this was NOT a thing for girls.  And some women are turned off by so much of the designing and marketing being aimed specifically at a very certain type of half-imaginary white 18-24 male.

The best thing I can say about this story is that the commenters on Kotaku think it's pandering, ridiculous, and stupid.  And they're right.  I'm deeply sick of every single "Get your girlfriend to play games!" or "get your wife to let you play games!" article and item out there, because all of them ignore one really big, huge, relevant, salient fact: that girlfriend or wife?  Is a thinking human being.  And deserves to be treated like one.

Also?  No-one is going get more into gaming by being exposed to a terrible product.  If you would rather go dig a hole in an asphalt road using only the rear half a lobster than play that game?  Your girlfriend's not going to like it either.  Good games make gamers.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Black Ops Marketing

An interesting item appeared at Jezebel yesterday: Call of Duty Acknowledges Existence of Female Gamers.  The piece basically boils down to its closing sentence:
Even if women are still second-class citizens in the world of video games, hopefully this commercial is a sign that marketers are starting to realize female gamers make up a large and diverse group. And sometimes we enjoy a good explosion, even if it isn't pink.
Personally, I'm mixed on the ad itself -- I'm really not a fan of that genre of game and on a personal level I'm inclined to side with the whines and rants about the level of violence and plausibility in that commercial.  But just because I really don't care to play a Call of Duty game doesn't mean I can't be impressed by the first ever non-Nintendo game-related ad I've seen to feature that much diversity in race, age, gender, and body type.

I hear actual CoD players are more or less fans of the ad.  I wonder if that translates into them not being total jackasses to female players on headsets in online multiplayer?  Someone with an XBox, report! ;)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Threaded Comments!

I've just installed Disqus comments on a trial basis.  I know the format has its problems, but I desperately needed a threaded commenting system (where replies can actually be to a comment rather than to just the original post) and I know that about 85% of this site's visitors and readers already have a Disqus account.  So let's see how this goes...

(Huh.  It appears that installing the widget has rendered all previous comments invisible.  Ah, well.  They were still awesome and so are you.)

(Aha!  I made previous comments visible again.  Woohoo!  Threaded conversations for all!)

(My next trick will be to get the [X] Comments / Comment link visible on the blog front page but in the meantime, click the title of any blog post to get to the page where you can comment.)

Girls don't suck at consoles; *I* suck at consoles.

So, my husband and I play games together.  It's a good way to be a gamer.  At any given time, we'll each have a "me" game (or two, sometimes a handheld as well as a PC / console title) and a running "us" game that we play together.

Our most recent "us" game was Syberia, which I'd played before but never to the end, and we've started on Syberia II.  (And I'll be writing about the character arc of Kate Walker soon, after I see where it finishes.)  But in-between, the gods of GameFly sent us Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, and as I am unable to resist an Indiana-Jones-style adventure, it went from "his" game to "our" game right quick.  And by "our" game, I mean, "he played it, and I made fun of everything and also occasionally spotted snipers for him."

See, here's the thing.  Most modern offline games (particularly in the genres we enjoy) are not multiplayer in any sense (and if they do have a multiplayer mode, it's online and large).  So a dedicated gaming team finds creative ways to share the play.  With the God of War titles, our co-op strategy has me roaming through corridors killin' stuff and pullin' levers to see what happens, and has him doing boss fights and timed events.  Why do we land on this particular division of labor?

(This is not why we land on this division of labor.)

My major failing as a console gamer is that I was not, in fact, a console-using gamer until late 2008.  I'm a PC gamer.  My parents couldn't and then wouldn't buy me an NES when I was a kid, so I didn't even beat Super Mario Brothers until I was 13 and bought a used one from a friend for $25 worth of my babysitting money.  But we had a computer in the house since 1985, and from mazes to math games to Tetris, I was hooked.  I methodically played through the adventure games of the 1990s and loved them, then started downloading text adventures through AOL and seeing what that had all been about.

So, the good news is that after the first year of us having a PS3 in the house, I managed to get the hang of both walking AND running using analog sticks.  Later came jumping, when the two of us methodically played our way through the entire Metal Gear Solid series, with him on the controller and me providing the Mystery Science Theater 3000-style commentary.  In MGS2, he repeatedly kept (unintentionally) throwing Raiden into a chasm, and smartass me took the controller and cleared the jump on my first try.  Sure, we were robbed of the joy of throwing Raiden into a chasm, but I had just had my first successful PlayStation controller experience.

And then somehow, later, we ended up playing God of War (all of them).  So how did my husband end up responsible for all the QuickTime events?

Well.  Here's our living room TV:

Nice TV.  Husband was going through the special features of Uncharted at the time.  But wait -- what's that right above the TV?

This is the open-book monument to my shame.  Because in my head, the square is on top, and the circle is god-knows-where, and by the time I've figured it out, the event is over, the boss has eaten me, and I have to start all over again with that damn sea serpent.

So.  We each play to our strengths!  I can solve puzzles, I can mash buttons, he can tolerate endless dialogue, and he... knows which button x is.

I swear, I'll get there someday.


Or maybe I'll just be using WASD to get through my next game.  Yeah, that sounds like a better plan.

And finally: between the time I started this post and finally remembered to take the SD card out of my camera and finish it, a pair of Gamasutra articles have come to my attention.  Playing games with your significant other and its part two are an interesting look at partners' gaming.  And I also enjoyed this post at Spectacle Rock, from earlier this year, lamenting the lack of good couples' co-op titles.