Game Industry Quest, Part 02

A few topics strike my fancy, one in particular related to my previous post.  GameStop has recently published a formal apology to customers along with a $50 gift card and a buy-two-get-one-free used games coupon.  With regards to their written apology, it’s…very intelligently and carefully worded, though not altogether transparent.  Still, it’s to be expected and certainly a step in the right direction.  Still, I can’t help but wonder why GameStop put themselves in such an…unenviable position.

The other topic I wanted to address was the idea of consequence in story, and with that, the Dragon Age universe as a whole.  This was something I meant to address in the last post regarding Dragon Age 2, but decided to put off as it’s a topic worthy of its’ own post, and the last post was large enough as is.  Also, I should warn any would-be readers that spoilers are fast approaching.  Consider yourself warned.

The expansion to Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age: Origins: Awakening (how many subtitles can a game have?) was a strong, fun effort by Bioware.  In that particular expansion, we were introduced to a new companion character named Anders.  Looking somewhat like Alistair, he behaved similarly to the bastard child of former King Maric, and was an apostate mage to boot.  He was eventually recruited by the main player character into the Grey Wardens.

Anders from Dragon Age: Origins: Awakening

I didn't do it.

His one-liners weren’t as amusing as Alistair’s, but still, he was certainly amusing.

Another character introduced in Dragon Age: Origins: Awakening (most unwieldy title ever) was Justice, a spirit of Justice from the fade (the world of dreams) trapped in the dead body of a Grey Warden named Cristoff in the land of the living.  Taking the name Justice, this recruitable warrior stands ready to smite Darkspawn and evildoers alike.

Justice from Dragon Age: Origins: Awakening

For Justice...Mmm...Braaaiiins...Mmm...

A more serious character than Anders, he served as a tank for gameplay purposes.

The reason I mention these two characters is that when the game ended, I was treated to screenshots with paragraphs depicting the fate of these two companion characters.  The same occurred with Dragon Age: Origins.  For Anders, he more or less stayed with the Grey Wardens.  As for Justice, he eventually returned to the fade, leaving the body of Cristoff to a grieving widow who can now move on from her loss.

Except apparently, none of that happened.

Instead, in Dragon Age 2, I learn that Justice merged with Anders.  Justice for his part is now gone, twisted from Anders anger at the Templars to a spirit of vengeance (Ghost Rider, anyone?)  Wait…when was he so angry against the Templars?  Anders always seemed cheerful, always running away instead of being so angry all the time.  If he was so angry, I’d think he’d come off more of a brooding character (maybe more Loghain-ish) rather than the mage version of Alistair that the character began with.

This would happen to be a case where it feels like Bioware wrote themselves into a wall.  Though come to think of it, their short production life cycle may have had something to do with it.  Nevertheless, it would be best to speculate on what I know rather than what I suspect happened, and I know that by using Anders/Justice the way they did…I can’t help but wonder if it really added anything to the game.  That is, if Bioware created a new, original companion as opposed to recycling Anders / Justice, if it would have been better.  Or alternatively, did using Anders / Justice add anything to the game?  Could any original character have been put in that specific role?  I would argue that recycling these characters did not add to the game, and perhaps they could have been worked in the way Alistair and Leliana were, making cameo appearances.  A new, original character who seems angry at the world could have filled the role Anders eventually did.

To be honest, the bigger picture was how it felt like the decisions I made no longer mattered.  I knew how Anders story ended.  I knew how Justice’s story ended.  Except what I knew was apparently untrue.  It begs the question of how consequences in the game should be made to matter, especially in story-driven games like the ones Bioware develops.  By that token, I am in no way suggesting it is easy to do these things.  Keeping track of all the decisions one makes in a single Bioware game, let alone a series of games, would require supreme organization.  As Dragon Age moves forward, I am hoping that retcons (retroactive continuity, used abundantly in superhero comic books) and reboots are kept to a minimum.

With all this said, there’s a time and place for everything.  Perhaps the day will come, sometime around Dragon Age X-2, where a retcon is necessary to progress the series forward, similar to what Star Trek did with their latest film.

Ultimately, it feels like the consequences to my actions in the Awakening expansion were rendered meaningless.  And this is a trend I would like to see minimized in any story-driven series of games.  If the consequences of actions the player made are rendered meaningless, then what’s the point of telling this story in an interactive game?  Perhaps the story could have better been told in a movie, television series, or comic book.

UX Lab Quest, Part 02

The limitations of having us producers double as developers/programmers was made abundantly clear this past Friday.  We had a mission due that day, and because of various producers trying to figure out how certain types of software works (Flight Simulator X Software Development Kit (FSX SDK), G-Max, etc.)), and just general lack of training / familiarity with the software, the mission wasn’t completed until 3:30 AM on a Saturday morning, technically mission the deadline but c’est la vie.

Homer Simpson Saying D'OH!

D'OH!

This leads to a few concerns on my part, which I’ve always suspected but were more or less verified from this mission 2 debacle experience.  The foremost concern is the lack of a full-time, dedicated developer / programmer for this NFA project.  Standing side-by-side with this concern is the fact that the producer most skilled with these programs is graduating by the end of this week.  There is a rumor that Tech Games, who is associated with this project, will offer him a job.  When I ask myself what’s best for the project as a whole, I’m hoping the job offered is competitive and that he accepts.

But I digress…

Luckily, we do have a producer with a programming background, so hopefully he can step into that lead designer role.  As for the remaining producers excluding myself, I know there have been some interesting difficulties that have emerged with regards to learning FSX SDK.  Actually, that would be an understatement.  We’re quite a ways beyond our comfort zone.

For myself, I can say that it’s far beyond my skill set to script things.  Some people find certain things easier than others: math, music, language, etc.  Being the oldest one in the lab, and having worked in life, albeit in different industries from gaming, I’ve grown to be able to give fair assessments of my limitations.  Learning Flight Simulator X Software Development Kit (FSX SDK) for myself would be a full-time job that would personally take me at least 3-6 months of consistent effort.  The level I would need to be at to script the missions we’re doing would be two weeks.

With that said, curriculum development for the missions has kept me busy enough that I haven’t had time to attempt to learn FSX SDK anyways.  My former teaching background helped me in this regard, though not entirely.  I think I talked about it at greater length in part 01, so I’ll refrain from doing so here.

Ultimately, I’m still trying to figure out if not having time to learn FSX SDK is a blessing or a curse for both my sanity and the NFA project as a whole…in the meantime, I better get a head start on the mission 3 curriculum development powerpoint.

Game Industry Quest, Part 01

One thing I love about the game industry is how everything flows.  Oftentimes, we (including yours truly) tend to look at things as if they exist in a static bubble: unchanging and rigid.  Truthfully, the more I think about it, things and people change all the time, and yet for some reason this progression of sorts is not always taken into account.

But I digress…(I probably should have titled this blog that.)

For this introductory post, where I need to talk about 4 game-related topics, I’ll stick to some 2011 news that I would have commented on when the news was initially released.

1.) The Nintendo Wii U

The Nintendo Wii U

A gaming tablet thingie combines with some 360-ish looking console to form...the Wii U! Form blazing sword!

My initial thoughts are how comfortable it will be to play with the Wii U’s tablet interface.  I see the analog sticks…the picture doesn’t show it, but there are triggers so traditional console controls for shooters can be played.  Furthermore, being comparable in power level to XBox 360 and PS3, it opens the door to multi-platform development, though I wonder if Nintendo will have requirements to have touchpad functionality.  For example, could Activision publish essentially the same Call of Duty game on all three consoles and not be required to have the game “take advantage” of the tablet interface?  As an aside, I know Batman: Arkham City will be coming out on the Wii U, and I assume the experience will basically be similar to XBox 360 / PS3, but again will there be exclusive Wii U controller functionality?  I can understand if Nintendo will have that requirement in place for third parties, but considering the lack of third party support on the Wii, I can’t help but think that it would be in Nintendo’s best interest to encourage and support third parties by not making it a requirement to support the Wii U’s controller functionality (like “Must use touch screen,” for example.)  If a multi-platform release doesn’t necessarily call for touch screen use, why must it be used?  To have it tacked on rather than be part of the project’s scope seems…unwise.  Then again, I’ve been wrong before…actually often as of late, but I digress.

Another couple of other thoughts that flow through my head is how Nintendo will respond if and when Microsoft and Sony release their new consoles.  Despite the talk of the cloud, if I had to make a prediction based on the state of the economy and how quickly people are adopting new technologies (blu-ray, 3d, cloud computing, etc.) I suspect that Microsoft and Sony will be releasing a next generation Playstation and XBox.  The only question for myself is when?  Conversely, how will Nintendo respond to their rivals?  Ultimately, what is the hardware life cycle of the Wii U?  Is a Wii U 2 already on the horizon?

I also find the cost of the console curious.  How much will the Wii U cost?  With absolutely no insider knowledge, if I had to guess…$299.99-$349.99 is the price range I would put the Wii U, with the former being the exact price would estimate if asked for a more specific guess.

I got away from the ergonomics of the tablet, but just looking at it, I’m not completely convinced that it’d be comfortable to play with that particular tablet controller for long periods of time.  There’s a reason the XBox 360 and PS3 controllers are designed as they are.  The following statement is a vast oversimplification, and intended with zero malice, but an iPad with analog sticks and triggers does not a controller make.

2.) The PSP Vita

The Sony PSP Vita

It only took Sony six+ years to add that second analog "nub" I've desired since the release of the original PSP.

Two contextual details before I go into my thoughts on the PSP Vita. Firstly, I do not own a smart phone at the moment, and thus have not experienced playing games on a phone.  Secondly, I am an early adopter of the Nintendo 3DS, which has not been great, but pretty good as far as handheld gaming is concern.  But I digress…

The PSP Vita looks impressive and yet I won’t be an early adopter for the device.  One thing that concerns me about the device is the battery life.  The battery life of the Nintendo 3DS isn’t all that great.  In fact, I intend to dedicate a future post to an imprecise experiment I’ll be running in the future.

The PSP-1000, which I was an early adopter of, had rather poor battery life.  Somewhere around the realm of 90+ minutes, which I would honestly grade as poor for a mobile device.  Also, the PSP-1000, with a single analog “nub,” forced developers to remap their controls for the Playstation ports that plagued the early days for the system.

On a side note, whoever thought Playstation ports would help sell the system early on may not have entirely thought things through.

Anyways, the PSP-1000 sits in a desk in my parents home, collecting dust.  That’s not to say great games have not appeared on the system.  On the contrary, I submit that great games can be found on any system.  However, is it worth investing in a newer PSP to play these games, especially with the impending release of the PSP Vita?

There’s another point to consider that applies to both Nintendo and Sony; with the success of mobile gaming on smartphones, iPods (portable music players), and iPads (tablet PCs), how will this impact 3DS and Vita sales?  I’m sure there are many factors as to why the 3DS has not sold as well as Nintendo would have liked, and I’d like to think the success of their mobile counterparts is one of these factors.  When the Vita is released, how will it be impacted by this factor?

Also, it doesn’t help that Sony chose AT&T as their exclusive 3G partner for the Vita, not that there’s anything wrong with that.  However, I think the collective groan at Sony’s E3 press conference is telling to this point.

3.) Dragon Age II

Dragon Age II

Not as great as it's predecessor, but still worth playing in my opinion.

I have no aspirations to become a game reviewer / critic.  With that said, considering Dragon Age is a franchise I’ve come to love, it’s really no surprise that I have thoughts about their most recent game, as well as some phenomenon that impacts the franchise as a whole.  Also please keep in mind that these are ultimately personal opinions and observations; nothing more, nothing less.

I actually want to commend the Dragon Age 2 development team.  Considering the presumably short development cycle the game had, it’s actually impressive that the game was as good as it was when one keeps that in mind.  With that acknowledged, I’ll also say that in my opinion, combat was improved from Dragon Age: Origins.  It was more visceral, more engaging and yet managed to retain a strong tactical experience.  However, with that said, the removal of the isometric view camera from the PC version of the game was, in my opinion, a mistake.  I spent so much of Dragon Age: Origins playing from that viewpoint, and ultimately feel that the isometric view was tactically the most compelling.  You could more or less see the entire battlefield and tactically plan accordingly.  Considering the advantages it lent to the player, as well as the ad copy that was used months leading up to the release (off the top of my head: fight like a spartan, think like a general), again, its removal was…baffling.

However, despite the improved combat system, the actually seemingly endless battles became an exercise in monotony and frustration.  Why is that so, if the battle system is improved?  Simply put, care must be taken in planning your battle encounters.  People were quick to jump on the reused environments, but I’m more inclined to believe that’s just a single element of planning encounters and there are several other elements that should have been considered just as strongly.  To pull from tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons, care must be taken in planning your encounters, as one could view an adventure as a series of encounters.  Simply putting a dozen dragons into a dungeon is lazy planning, and is at least in part what separates a good dungeon master from a great dungeon master.  There are many elements that must be considered, from enemy placement, how will second and third waves enter the fray, enemy AI, types of enemies, environments used, etc.  Ultimately, the encounters just felt, for lack of a better word, lazily planned.  Again, I would say time was a factor in the planning, or lack thereof, with regards to the many battle encounters.  To put things in context, every single battle in Dragon Age: Origins felt different to me, from the minor skirmishes, to the large boss battles.  Sometime around the second act, virtually every battle felt the same with a few notable exceptions.

A final constructive criticism I have refers to an advertisement leading up to Dragon Age II.  I need to preface that Bioware is not the only company guilty of what I’m about to describe.  A beautiful trailer played advertising the game, called Destiny, portraying a male Hawke in combat with the Qunari Arishok (the menacing, horned guy).  There were tons of cool things going on in the trailer, such as a mage seemingly having combat skills close to a warrior and ending with a powerful spell that looked vicious and satisfying.  The problem is that none of that cool stuff was present in game.  Case in point, while a well built mage is certainly capable of defeating the Arishok in single combat, one could certainly not engage the Arishok in melee combat and hold his/her own.  The Arishok would tear a mage apart under those circumstances.  The exaggerated combat skills were disappointing.  To top that all off, the spell that was cast at the end of the trailer is not in game.  Ultimately, the point I’m trying to make (and failing miserably) is to not include cool looking stuff in a trailer/cut scene that the player cannot do in game.  It more or less guarantees disappointment for the player.  I’m not saying to not make a beautiful, stylized trailer to advertise a product, but I’d recommend keeping any such media grounded in the reality of the what the game allows players to do and not do.

4.) Star Wars: The Old Republic

Star Wars: The Old Republic

I honestly cannot wait for this game to be released!

I’m not into MMO’s.  That’s not to say I’ve never been tempted.  In fact, since I’m more or less a comic book nerd with a love of superheroes, I’m shocked that I never got into DC Universe Online, much less Champions Online or City of Heroes.  I managed to exercise just enough willpower to stay away, as the paranoid side of me feared that I would become hopelessly addicted.

So what makes Star Wars: The Old Republic so special?  To be honest, I used to love Star Wars as much as anyone else, but it’s honestly been reduced to a high liking due to the prequel movies.  With that said, I’m taking a risk with Star Wars: The Old Republic, and it’s all due to my faith in Bioware to develop a great game.  I’m also thinking of performing a Let’s Play of my experience with the MMO.  I’d like to think it might make for amusing entertainment, as I completely mess everything up.

Extra Points

Due to the lateness of the post, relevant (I use the term objectively) game industry news seems to crop up.  Since I want to improve my blogging by minimizing being late to the party, it would be smart to mention some of the goings on this past week.

Extra Point 1: Steve Jobs Resigning as CEO of Apple.

Is this really game industry news?  Does Apple even view themselves as being in the game industry?  I personally would argue that this not only qualifies as gaming news, but that Apple is absolutely a part of the game industry.  I’ve already mentioned in this massive post that it’s reasonable to assume that their portable devices have taken some of Nintendo’s (and presumably Sony’s) mobile gaming market share. With regards to his successor and whether Apple can thrive without Jobs at the helm, I personally would take a wait and see approach.  I would be shocked if Apple falls far from their perch, but then again, before Jobs came and rejuvenated the company, Apple was not exactly setting the world on fire like they are now.

Incidentally, I’m hoping Tim Cook strongly considers releasing the iPotato.

I honestly know about as much about Steve Jobs as what is written, and thus it makes it hard to judge him except by how the press judges him.  With that said, he always struck me as an extremely intelligent, driven and creative individual.  He also struck me as a man who personally is not into gaming.  I honestly don’t know if the latter is true, but hopefully in his retirement he can perhaps be turned around on that point, and play a few games.  Who knows, perhaps playing games will improve his health.  A little fun never hurt anyone.

Extra Point 2: GameStop Pulling OnLive Coupons From PC Copies of Deux Ex: Human Revolution

Apparently, GameStop began to do what the title says.  Their reasoning is that Square Enix did not tell them about this coupon and they are not interested in helping their competition.  It’s hard to know where the communication breakdown occurred between GameStop and Square Enix without being privy to all the details, but for GameStop to open packages, remove a coupon, then sell the product as brand new is not the most ethical business practice I’ve ever heard, in my opinion.  At this point, my understanding is that they’ve stopped selling the product altogether, which is a move I much more approve.

With all that said, mistakes happen; we’re only human.  However, GameStop’s decisions regarding these mistakes are…mildly disturbing.  I’m no businessman, but I can’t see how difficult it would be to request Square Enix to humbly stop packaging these coupons with the game, and simply sell the stock that has made it to stores as is.  The idea that they don’t want to support a competitor to their own online game services is valid, but other stores that sell the exact same game with the exact same coupon can use that point to do the same.  So the question is, why aren’t Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, etc. opening Deus Ex: Human Revolution packages, removing coupons, and selling them as new?

Personally, if I could address GameStop’s “leadership”, I would ask them a simple question:

Optimus Prime, Leader of the Autobots

Only the greatest leader in the history of all fictional leaders!

What would Optimus Prime do?

UX Lab Quest, Part 01

Mm ba ba de
Um bum ba de
Um bu bu bum da de
Pressure pushing down on me
Pressing down on you no man ask for
Under pressure – that burns a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets
Um ba ba be
Um ba ba be
De day da
Ee day da – that’s o.k.
It’s the terror of knowing
What the world is about
Watching some good friends
Screaming ‘Let me out’
Pray tomorrow – gets me higher
Pressure on people – people on streets
Day day de mm hm
Da da da ba ba
O.k.
Chippin’ around – kick my brains around the floor
These are the days it never rains but it pours
Ee do ba be
Ee da ba ba ba
Um bo bo
Be lap
People on streets – ee da de da de
People on streets – ee da de da de da de da
It’s the terror of knowing
What this world is about
Watching some good friends
Screaming ‘Let me out’
Pray tomorrow – gets me higher high high
Pressure on people – people on streets
Turned away from it all like a blind man
Sat on a fence but it don’t work
Keep coming up with love
but it’s so slashed and torn
Why – why – why ?
Love love love love love
Insanity laughs under pressure we’re cracking
Can’t we give ourselves one more chance
Why can’t we give love that one more chance
Why can’t we give love give love give love give love
give love give love give love give love give love
‘Cause love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And loves dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
Under pressure
Under pressure
Pressure

Under Pressure by Queen with David Bowie

One of my favorite songs from Queen along with 80’s glam sensation David Bowie, it’s more or less how I’ve felt as of late.  C’est la vie.

I’m currently pursuing a Master of Science in Game Design at Full Sail University.  I’ve alluded to this before, but to reiterate it’s a production degree as opposed to a game design degree.  I’d like to comment on all the classes I’m taking, but for the moment I’ll put that aspiration in my blog backlog and continue with what I intended for today.

In the final five months of this twelve month program, one can choose to do something called Final Project, where X number of Master’s students join forces with X number of game artists (from the Bachelor’s game art program) and X number of programmers (from the Bachelor’s game development program) to produce a game.

The potential alternative is to apply to become a full-time producer (formerly full-time intern) at Full Sail’s User Experience Lab (UX Lab for short).  This lab is associated with Full Sail’s Research Department (wait, they have a research department?), and works with project associated with ESPN, Garage Games, National Flight Academy, and potentially Phillips.

The ESPN, Garage Games, and Philips projects are under NDA, and even if they weren’t, I’m not the producer assigned to work on those projects.  For clarification, there are seven full-time producers at the moment.  Meanwhile, the National Flight Academy (NFA) project is not under NDA, so I can speak to that at length.  All seven producers are working on the project in some capacity.

The NFA project is associated with Tech games, and requires the delivery of missions to be used for educational purposes in the classroom.  The project has twelve missions in the pipeline, on a roughly 1 1/2-2 week delivery schedule.  Missions are created using Flight Simulator X Software Development Kit (FSX SDK), by the producers who are essentially doubling as developers.  Luckily, we have eight digital artists from Full Sail’s Bachelor’s program who create original art assets, such as the Wright brothers’ flyer, and other historical planes.

Among additional responsibilities as a UX Lab Producer is to come into the lab twenty hours per week (I usually surpass this number rather easily).  Furthermore, I’m actually required to write a blog, basically dedicating one paragraph to the lab experience and one paragraph to gaming in any context on a weekly basis.  Since I spent so much time on the introductory posts, I’m naturally behind on this task.  However, I intend to use this post to catch up, starting…right…now!

Week 1: The first few days were spent adjusting to life as a producer.  I would have liked to have eased myself in, but with the NFA project in full swing, I basically dived in as fast as humanly possible.  One reality to the beginning of this internship is that there is an ongoing class going on throughout the month.  The unfortunate effect this is having is that I find I can’t quite devote the time and focus I would like towards the internship.

Week 2: Towards the end of week 1 and going into the beginning of week 2, roles and responsibilities were delegated to all the producers.  Since there are so many of us, and all of us began the internship at different times, it’s important to have multiple producers on any role / responsibility in a lead / associate relationship.  This ensures that when a producer graduates at the end of five months, the associate could take over the lead role.  But I digress; I act as an associate producer for managing developers / programmers, audio design, documentation, and am the lead producer on developing curriculum for the missions we’re making.  Because of an upcoming deliverable that is due the following Monday, myself and a couple of other producers and an artist put in some extra hours in the form of donating our time and efforts all day Saturday, well into the night.

Week 3: The beginning of the week marked the delivery of our first mission 1 deliverable and curriculum powerpoint.  Also, at the middle of the week my joystick arrived from Amazon.  This essential piece of hardware isn’t supplied by the lab, unfortunately, and is essential to using FSX or FSX SDK.  Admittedly, I’m the one producer not working on scripting a mission, but there is an actual method to this madness that was stumbled upon.  I had mentioned that the previous Saturday was spent finishing up mission 1.  My lack of expertise / ability with FSX proved invaluable during playtesting, as many of the problems I had were likely to be experienced by the actual clients (teachers and students).  So I may actually remain where I am in that regard, though like many things in life, that’s all subject to change.

Week 4: This brings me to the current week, where I strive to not only catch up on blogging, but to slowly but surely complete the curriculum powerpoint for mission 2.  I had not mentioned it before, but one reason this task is so time consuming is that I’m trying to align the curriculum with Florida state teaching standards.  The standards are specific to each subject and grade level, so it can be hard to make a connection work.  For example, the first mission dealt with the Wright brothers’.  However, all the standards involved with grade 7 social studies don’t necessarily deal with history around that time, so I have to be creative and try to think of a way to make everything work.

And with all that, I am caught up on the internship portion of the UX Lab Quest.  Later in the week, I’ll catch up with some thoughts on some of the gaming stories for 2011.

In the Beginning…The Undiscovered Country

Hold your grandmother’s Bible to your breast.
Gonna put it to the test.
You want it to be blessed.
And in your heart,
You know it to be true,
You know what you gotta do.
They all depend on you.
And you already know.
Yeah, you already know how this will end.

How It Ends by DeVotchKa

The first verse to How It Ends by DeVotchKa.  It’s a terrific song, especially if you’re in a brooding melancholy mood.  I guess the rollercoaster that is life will take anyone to that place sometimes.  Everyone should give it a try, if possible.  For context, this song was used to advertise Gears of War 2.

Going over all the consoles I’ve owned in my lifetime was a nice walk down memory lane, but playing games growing up weren’t exclusive to consoles and handhelds.  There was arcade gaming to enjoy at my local shopping mall.  It was always a treat whenever the neighborhood kids and myself went to our local shopping mall to play at the arcade.  I couldn’t tell give you an exact chronology of favorite games, but off the top of my head: Area 51, Captain America and the Avengers, Mortal Kombat, Soul Calibur, Street Fighter II, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, WWF Wrestlefest, Virtua Fighter, X-Men and one of the biggest quarter monsters ever, NBA Jam.  A single, shiny quarter to play one quarter of the game: brilliant!

PC gaming was also near and dear to my heart growing up.  Sierra was a great developer of point-and-click adventure games for the PC.  Admittedly, the King’s Quest series wasn’t my favorite among those games.  Rather, the Quest for Glory (previously known as Hero’s Quest) series by Lori & Cori Cole was my absolute favorite series growing up.  Also, the Police Quest and Space Quest series was great fun as well.  Sadly, while a variety of compilations of these classic games are available via Steam, Direct2Drive, Good Old Games, for reasons I can only speculate on, the Quest for Glory series remains readily unavailable.

With this post, we come to the end of this introductory series.  I don’t profess to be the greatest gamer around, but at the same time, I felt it necessary to discuss my gaming experience for contextual purposes, so people will understand where I come from whenever I discuss anything related to the game industry. Speaking of which, I now need to catch up on the actual posts required of me.  But that’s for next time…

In the Beginning…The Final Frontier

When Microsoft announced the original XBox, there was something about it that piqued my interest.  Enough interest where I pre-ordered it from Gamestop, though I was not fond of the bundles the video game retailer forced upon unsuspecting consumers.  It’s partly why nowadays I buy my games from Amazon (online) or Best Buy (brick-and-mortar) and avoid Gamestop altogether, though browsing the store is still an amusing diversion.

But I digress…

The Microsoft XBox

Almost as big as a VCR...does anyone even remember what a VCR is?

The XBox pictured shows the Controller S, which actually debuted later.  The original XBox shipped with these GIANT controllers lovingly referred to as the Duke.  Despite being too large for my average-sized hands, I did eventually get used to it, though Controller S ended up being a much better controller experience.

The debut of Halo on the original XBox was also a landmark event in that it successfully brought a first-person shooter (FPS) to a console with great control.  While I did play Doom and the lesser known Heretic on the PC growing up, I never felt comfortable with the mouse / keyboard control for FPS’s.  In contrast, console control for FPS’s feels much more comfortable and natural for me.  Go figure.

It’s tough to remember all the games I played on this system, simply because there were so many games to be played.  Halo goes without saying, but Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee (no, that’s not misspelled), The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind, Shenmue 2, and Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and eventually Halo 2 were great fun.  However, the landmark game for me was Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.  It was also the game that started my love affair with any game made by Bioware.  Their next game on the XBox, Jade Empire, should be played by all gamers at least once (in my very humble opinion).

Despite having tons of games I’d like to play, I actually have never owned a Sony Playstation 2.  Conspicuously absent from my game console collection.  Perhaps one day I’ll rectify that, as there are still games of that generation I’d like to play and Sony has long since taken out the backwards compatibility functionality out of the Playstation 3.

Making a brief detour into the handheld market, I must admit that I was an early adopter for both the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP.

The Nintendo DS

Fun times on the go!

The Sony PSP-1000

Gaming on the go...with questionable battery life...and a bunch of Playstation ports I wasn't interested in.

As implied by the captions, while the Nintendo DS saw plenty of gameplay by me, I can’t say the same for the Sony PSP.  In fact, this PSP-1000 sits in a desk in my parent’s home collecting dust.

But I digress…

There are quite a number of games that came out on the Nintendo DS that even to this day I still play.  Meteos will always be great fun on short trips, and games that used the touch screen in innovative fun ways include: Trauma Center: Under the Knife, Trauma Center: Under the Knife 2, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword and Golden Sun: Dark Dawn.  To top that all off, I love the DS’s and DS Lite’s backward’s functionality with Gameboy Advance games (and am somewhat sad that the DSi and DSi XL removed that specific functionality).

Returning to consoles, I was also an early adopter for the XBox 360, once again pre-ordering a bundle from Gamestop.  I remember The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion was originally supposed to be a launch title, but was eventually pushed back.  Despite this I found there to be a slow, yet steady growth of great games to play, to the point where now it feels like the market is saturated with great games to play.  This has also lead to the slow, steady growth of a backlog of games that I own, and have not yet played.  In no particular order: Halo 3, Halo: Reach, Gears of War, Gears of War 2, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Call of Duty, Modern Warfare 2, Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age 2…the list goes on and on.

The XBox 360

Despite being as loud as a lawnmower, the 360 is an awesome video game console.

Regarding the PS3, the initial price point it debuted at ($499.99 and $599.99) were simply too rich for my taste, and I waited until the price became competitive with Microsoft’s offerings before investing in the system.

The PS3

The PS3's exercise and diet regiment really worked!

I not only bought the system this past year, but also immediately upgraded the hard drive from 250GB to 500GB.  Fun times, and absolutely zero worries with installing games from blu-ray disks.  Right now, I’m making my way through the God of War Collection, along with God of War 3.  I’m also looking forward to playing the Uncharted and Infamous series as well, though at the moment they’re technically in my backlog.

I’ll end this video game console overview with my most recent purchase: the Nintendo 3DS.

The 3DS

Ooohhh...Shiny!

The 3D effect is pretty cool, and I’m hoping that more and more games will come out to take advantage of that feature.  I got Super Street Fighter IV and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow War early on, and am now reliving younger memories with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D.  Right now, the game I’m most looking forward to at the moment is Star Fox 64 3D, to be released next month.  Not only was that game tremendous fun, but I can’t help but think that the 3D effect will work very well with its’ rail shooter gameplay.

My next post will be the final introductory post, mentioning the PC games I grew up with as well as the impact arcades had on my life.  So much for my plan to split the introductory posts into thirds.  Oh well, c’est la vie.

In the Beginning…Part 33 1/3

So here’s where I make a confession: after years of loyalty to the Sega brand, I became a double agent of sorts, with the acquisition of a Nintendo Gameboy.

The Nintendo Gameboy

Tetris FTW!

Super Mario World and Tetris were all I needed to make me happy, and despite the severe lack of color, I remember that not being a detriment to the fun the system provided.  And let’s not forget the portability aspect of the whole thing.  Four AA batteries provided sufficient power for hours of gaming.

Moving back into consoles though, one may think I got the Sega CD or Sega Saturn, but it was around this time that my family and I got a Nintendo 64 around Christmas time.

N64

Mario graduates side-scrolling school!

Super Mario 64 blew my mind at the time, in a good way of course.  The idea of moving a character in three dimensions was proven with this game.  And of course, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a classic, and one of my favorite action-adventure games ever, despite Navi’s constant nagging.

Moving forward, Sony’s entry into the video game industry with the Sony Playstation proved to be fortuitous for the hardware giant.  I got a Playstation fairly late in its’ life-cycle, somewhere around 1999/2000. At the time, people were ranting and raving about Final Fantasy 7, and I admittedly wanted to join the party.

Sony Playstation

Spinning CD's FTW!

Interestingly, my first game was actually Final Fantasy 8, which was released somewhere around the time I bought the console.  While the game itself was pretty fun, with impressive (at the time) cut scenes, I found myself spending more time with Vagrant Story, Spider-Man, and Front Mission 3.

At some point, I upgraded my Gameboy to a Gameboy Color, specifically the Pokemon Yellow bundle that was sold at the time, primarily because I heard it was a good game, though I’m admittedly not the biggest Pokemon fan.

Gameboy Color Pikachu Edition

Pika Pika! Piiikaaachuuu!

While Pokemon Yellow (I miss my Pikachu and Zubat) was a good game, I remember getting stuck at some point and never completing the game.  I also remember not being terribly fond of the color screen, as it was not backlit and thus made the colors look…dull for lack of a better word.

Moving back to the world of consoles, my brother and I got a Sega Dreamcast fairly early on in its life-cycle, still somewhat loyal to the brand (though not completely so).  Still, it really was a terrific console to have, with lots of fun games to play.

The Sega Dreamcast

Oh Dreamcast, how I miss thee!

Crazy Taxi, Grandia 2, and my personal favorite, Shenmue, took up most of my gaming time on this particular console.  With regards to Shenmue, a part of me is still hopeful that its’ story will be completed one day in some way, shape, or form.

Originally, I had planned for these introductory posts to be divided into thirds, but I think I forgot to take into account handheld systems, which is ballooning my posts more than I would have thought.  So I’ll push my entry into the modern era of consoles for next time, and perhaps save a fifth entry dedicated to PC gaming, as I grew up playing games on both consoles and PC.