Archive for the ‘opinion’ Category


Monday, December 17th, 2012

I want to take you on a mental voyage. Back to the winter of 2001. December 17. A time where you couldn’t go for longer than ten minutes without hearing “Lady Marmalade”. A time where I was a student in college.

Fresh from a solar eclipse, I was finishing up another semester when I had an idle computer and an idle thought: “I should probably buy a domain name before they’re all gone, and then people will have an easy way to find all of my amazing articles about video games and video game culture”. And, since most of the short, memorable domain names were taken, I looked around my environment for inspiration. I settled on ‘Crummy Socks’ because that’s what I was wearing that day (I was a poor college student, what can I say?). So I bought the name, and immediately sat on it for a few weeks while I figured out what I wanted to do with it.

I had aspirations of being one of those professional bloggers that you used to hear a lot about, but don’t really hear anything about these days. Someone who works out of their home or office, writing every day about something that they love, while throngs of devoted fans visit every day and I would make enough money somehow to pay my bills and sustain my hobby, but that never seemed to materialize. I also tried my hand at news-reporting for a while. Each time, though, for whatever reason, it didn’t seem to work out. I even spun off a few sister sites where I wanted to try out some of my big ideas, but those, too, met with little success. It’s kind of telling that my biggest brush with anything resembling a spotlight was the time I managed to troll several high-profile blogs.

Somewhere else along the way, I also managed to get myself, at least temporarily, hired in to the video game industry, where I worked on a few titles, and got to see things from the other side of the fence. I realized my childhood dream of helping to make some video games (even though one of them wasn’t particularly well-received). Still, it was an amazing experience, and one that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

But, as time goes on, I find that I am writing about video games less and less. I find that I’m visiting video game blogs more infrequently as time goes on. But that I still love to play video games, and I still like to write on occasion. I wasn’t sure if I was feeling discouraged, disenfranchised, or burned out. After a lot of soul-searching and introspection, I think I finally have a handle on it, and, well, it’s complicated.

This site never really found much of an audience. For a while, I had friends and family who would visit (and several of them still do. Thanks, guys!), but articles don’t really propagate more than that, with rare exceptions. As of this writing, my statistics show that I had 12 visits to this site yesterday. Several of which were me, since my own site is my homepage (if you have a website and it’s not your own homepage, I wonder how seriously you take it). But some time ago I reached a point where I unconsciously decided that since I couldn’t seem to get any traction with an audience, that there wasn’t a point in trying to update regularly, if at all. I saw lots of other websites that started up at the same time or after this one, with writing that was at least the equal to or perhaps a little worse than what you find here, and they seemed to take off essentially immediately. And that kind of boiled over into jealousy, resentment, and maybe a little depression. “If these other jokers can at least get an audience of regular readers in a few months, why can’t I do it in a few years? Why don’t people tell their friends about this site or come back? I must be doing something wrong.”

A partial explanation is something that I call “Nerd Attitude”. It’s kind of hard to quantify, but I think it boils down to an arrogance that lots of members of the video game community seem to have, or, at least seem to want to have. When I was growing up, and immersed in any kind of video game-related thing I could find, in some ways, it was very exclusionary. But I could find others that had similar interests, and we formed a fairly close-knit group of peers. The group never really got very big, but we had a lot of fun hitting the local arcades, playing the newest game we could get our hands on, and discussing the tips and strategies in the current issue of our gaming magazine.

But then the Internet and the World Wide Web started gaining popularity.

Once that happened, it was a lot easier to find groups of like-minded folks to share in whatever passion you have.

Which is a good thing.

But, at the same time, video games and computers were starting to become more mainstream. Eventually, playing video games into the wee hours of the night wasn’t that weird, and hopping on a computer to spend hours chatting with people around the world, or making a website for whatever wacko idea you have, is less bizarre. And all that means is that now you have a group of people, who have grown up with video games and the Internet at parts of their daily lives, who self-identify as nerds. People who like video games, who like the Internet, who maybe even are passionate about those things, but who aren’t really nerds.

From the linked Wikipedia article:

However, those simply adopting the characteristics of nerds are not actually nerds by definition. One cannot be an authentic nerd by imitation alone; a nerd is an outsider and someone who is unable or unwilling to follow trends. Popular culture is borrowing the concept and image of nerds in order to stand out as individuals. Some commentators consider that the word is devalued when applied to people who adopt a sub-cultural pattern of [behavior], rather than being reserved for people with a marked ability.

Which leads to a whole lot more people interested in video games, and that, in turn, will ensure that there are almost always new and exciting games being released practically every day (which is kind of a problem in itself). But it also leads to two main issues:

  • If you spend much time at a website that talks primarily about video games, you’ll end up talking to more people who like video games, but who aren’t nerdy about video games. That’s actually mostly okay, since you get exposed to other points of view, including those you don’t like. But it also means that:
  • There are many people who aren’t nerds pursuing a previously-nerdy hobby.

Which is also fine (heck, you can never have too many ham radio operators, right?). But when the editor-in-chief of a certain high-profile video game website has a video game collection that fits on one shelf (now three shelves), when I have collections for single systems that won’t even fit on one entire bookshelf (I haven’t traded in a game since 2002). I have to wonder if he’s really a nerd. I’m sure he enjoys video games, but I wonder, does he like them as much as I do? It’s like someone who writes about music, but has a collection made up solely of a couple-dozen best-of collections. And, if that’s the chief, it’s no wonder that the site (and many, many other sites on the Internet) no longer speaks to me.

Now, I don’t want to imply that I hate what these guys are doing. I think that it’s great that we live in a time where you don’t have to be embarrassed or ashamed that you like video games. It’s great that you can walk into a gas station and find video games for sale, and nobody thinks that’s weird (okay, maybe I think that’s a little weird).

But those kinds of sites do speak to a huge number of people. People who aren’t really nerds. People who have decided that knowing a lot or being passionate about something makes one a nerd (it doesn’t), that being labeled a nerd is awesome (it’s not, usually).

And it’s mostly those people that I haven’t been able to reach in the last 11 years.

People who visit websites that tell you how awesome they are because they’re not like the other guys (when they’re pretty much identical to the other guys, down to posting essentially the same stories as everyone else, with a few comments added). People who want some snark mixed in with their reporting (or, perhaps, more accurately, a little reporting mixed in with their snark)

So we have a combination of people who like video games, but aren’t nerds, telling other people who like video games, but who also aren’t nerds, that their websites are awesome because they can update 20-50 times a day. And that they, themselves, are also awesome. They must be, because they can update their sites 20-50 times a day. Which creates a situation that feeds on itself, and a niche that is so overcrowded with people reporting on every facet of a part of culture that I love, and telling me how awesome everything is, and how great they are for being gutsy enough to tell me all about it. That’s what video games and video game news is now: a barely edited, pandering stream of consciousness spewed out with such force and intensity, that it’s hard to find much that I can relate to or are interested in.

Which is why this humble site never quite took off like I wanted. It’s a one-man shop of a guy who actually is a bit of a video game nerd, talking about whatever I think is interesting, not necessarily what is popular, or even timely.

And that’s alright. Even though I’ve been close to throwing in the towel on more than one occasion, I’m actually happy with what I’ve built here and elsewhere. This site is not going away any time soon. It will continue to be available for as long as I’m able to keep it going. Which, if I have anything to say about it, will be for a long time yet.

Never trust a gamer who doesn’t own any bad games

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

It’s no secret to anyone that’s visited the Crummysocks family of sites that I do sometimes play the odd, or sometimes very odd, terrible game, and then talk about it at length. Sometimes that’s because the game I played was so bad it crossed over into awesome, but that’s not always the case. A lot of times, the game is just bad. And, yet, I keep most of them.

That doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially for the truly bad ones. Why would I keep something around that I didn’t like, and have very few (if any) good memories about. I’ve touched on this before, but I think it can be summed up as: bad games make me appreciate the good games more.

Take a site like IGN for example. They love to gush on about how great Latest Blockbuster 4 HD is, and you will find the occasional review where they find something terrible and treat it appropriately. They even address this in their site’s Ratings FAQ

And yes, sometimes people are eager to play games that turn out to be really bad. No one wants to review just the AAA titles. It gets boring after a while to write high praise for everything.

And, even though IGN is currently hovering at about a 68% aggregate rating, which tells me that they might give some of the good games a little too much praise, and might knock a few too many points off for the faults in the less-than-stellar ones, they at least acknowledge that if all you have is wonderful things, those wonderful things become pedestrian, and your perspective is skewed.

So, with that said, I figured I’d share a few of the games from my actual collection, and how they make me appreciate something better.

Exhibit A:

Kung Pow

The uploader of this video has disabled embedding, so you’ll have to click the image above to view the video, and you really should. 15 years later, I’m still wondering how this game got released.

Game: Clayfighter 63⅓
Genre: Fighting
System: Nintendo 64
Released: October 21, 1997
Offenses: Aside from the massive delays, cut features, and the most unfunny jokes imaginable, this game also includes: poor controls, uneven difficulty, blatant racism (it was a different time, 1997), unbalanced characters.
What it makes me appreciate: The very games that this is attempting to parody: Killer Instinct, Street Fighter, Marvel v. Capcom, etc.

Exhibit B:

Game: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan
Genre: Side-scrolling beat ’em up
System: Nintendo Game Boy
Released: August 1990
Offenses: Prerendered cutscenes, challenge-free gameplay, somehow combines cartoon ninja turtles and video games to create something that boring and tedious.
What it makes me appreciate: That we live in an era that allows for video previews, enemies smart enough to not get stuck on terrain, player characters who aren’t just re-skins of each other.

“Oh sure,” you’re probably saying, “pick on games that are 15 years old or more.” Alright, how about something from the last five years?

Exhibit C:

Game: Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Burning Earth
Genre: Beat ‘Em Up
System: Xbox 360
Released: November 12, 2007
Offenses: Just the one. If you’re (somehow) unfamiliar with how the Xbox Achievement system works, it goes something like this: the game developers put in a series of tasks that a player can perform during the course of the game. These can range from hitting certain plot points to collecting some arbitrary number of widgets, to finding all of the secrets hidden in the whole game, to just about anything. Each of these tasks is worth a certain amount of points, which go on your profile along with a little picture and date you performed the task. Most games top out at 1,000 points for completing all of the tasks. Avatar, however, dispenses with most of the challenge of completing the tasks, and instead of giving you numerous varied tasks to perform, it asks you to do one thing. And, even if you weren’t trying to complete all the achievements in two minutes, you’d do it in pretty short order anyway.
What it makes me appreciate: I get it, coming up with achievements that are interesting, challenging, and achievable in a reasonable length of time, is really hard. So, it’s really great to see a list of achievements are actually fun to do, and not tedious grinding.

Now, I’m sure someone will point out that a lot of people sell their used games back to Gamestop or wherever. That they take the bad ones back and exchange them for store credit on something that they’d actually enjoy. And that’s fine. But if I can’t find something at least a little bit bad on their shelf, I start to wonder about where they’re coming from.

Being a successful failure

Monday, April 16th, 2012

Alfred, Lord Tennyson once wrote (among other things)

I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

Which some folks have failed in remembering, attributing, and quoting as some variation of:

It’s better to have tried and failed, than to never have tried at all

I’ve even heard that Abraham Lincoln himself was some kind of colossal failure (which isn’t entirely true, by the way) until he became president. Which is, I guess, supposed to make me feel better about any mistakes I might make or hardships I might encounter, because some day I’ll be president! Then I’ll probably somehow stop making mistakes and be the most best president of all time… at least until some other joker gets elected.

But what does that have to do with this website, or video games, or anything else?

More than you might think.

For the last 11 years or so, the network of sites (including this site, this site, and this site, which have all been archived) have taught me a lot. Each of those sister sites that I’ve started over the years scratched a particular itch, and none of them became what one might call successful. But I have learned a lot, and if you don’t mind a little navel-gazing, some of the lessons I’ve learned include:

  • How to set up and run a web/email server in a non Microsoft Windows environment (Hello, all the website software that I tried to use)
  • How to restore your web/email server from a backup once it’s compromised
  • How to secure a web/email server and keep it up to date
  • How to create a blog post every day for 500 days in a row
  • How to set up and administer bulletin board software
  • How to capture and edit screen shots and videos to teach people how to do something they might not otherwise know how to do
  • How to run a collaborative blog
  • How to objectively talk about what I like and don’t like about video games
  • And more things than you probably want to read about here

But what does all of that mean? Not much. I’m not president yet, and nothing I’ve done on the Internet (with a couple of exceptions) made much of a ripple. In fact, it seems like the lesson might be that: You can’t have success without hard work and determination, but just those two things alone won’t make it happen. There’s a bit of luck involved in being in the right place at the right time.

Stated another way. It sometimes seems like it’s possible to have a dream, chase it for years, work as hard as you can, and still fail to achieve it because circumstances favored some other person with the same dream.

So it’s very easy to become bitter and jealous. To look to those who have success doing something you like to do and are good at, and realizing that no matter how many hours you invest in doing the same thing (or something related), you won’t be as successful (or famous, or rich, or paid), if you’re successful at all.

Which is kind of a bummer.

Until you start to reflect on the journey. Until you think back at all the things you’ve learned along the way. The ways you’ve honed your craft, the techniques you’ve discovered, streamlining your workflow, growing as a person, and finding what makes you happy and sticking with it. Most of the time you can’t force success. It either happens or it doesn’t, and most of the time it doesn’t. But it’s pretty obvious that success never comes to those who don’t try, and I’ll keep trying to have a successful website until the day I die. Or the Internet collapses. Whichever comes first.

Community Building (a.k.a. Don’t Be A Jerk)

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

If you missed it (like I did), there was some hullabaloo yesterday when a guy by the name of Aris Bakhtanians had a partial meltdown where he defended a few ideas including:

  1. Sexual harassment is a part of the Fighting Game Culture
  2. People who play fighting games are an elite club, and
  3. Deal with it, if you don’t like it, too bad

There’s a pretty good rundown here for you (and there’s a sort-of-apology available from Aris here.

In my pre-Intenret days (the 1990’s), I played a lot of fighting games, but I never really got to anything that could be considered a competitive level. I did notice that there were a few faces that I would see around my local arcades (back when my town actually had arcades) pretty regularly that were way better than I was. People who could play the fighting games like they were musical instruments. People who were so into the games that they would hang around the arcade and watch me play, newbie that I was, and offer tips on how to play better. Looking back, it’s pretty amazing that we created this ad-hoc community with a welcoming atmosphere without even knowing each others’ names.

I’m willing to admit that maybe this was a product of me living in the Midwest rather than on the West Coast. But around that time I also got into the XBand scene, which let me, for the first time, play fighting games against people from all over the country. I still never really got great at the games, but most of the people that I met who were better than me were more than happy to offer up pointers if I would just ask. It was hardly the ‘nobody will like you until you prove yourself’ scene that this guy is making it out to be.

But why is it different?

I can’t say for sure, but I have a few guesses.

My local fighting game community (and, by extension, the entire arcade game community) was (with a few exceptions) never really a group of friends. We were acquaintances with a shared hobby. Most people that I know, when they’re around people they don’t know well, rein in their behavior, slowly testing the waters, and gradually figuring out what’s acceptable.

But as you get further along in the ranks, you find that there’s less turnover. You find that you see the same people all the time, those barriers that held your behavior in check start to crumble since you’re just playing with your buddies. And since your buddies are okay with homophobic remarks or racial slurs, then they’re okay, as long as they’re just joking.

And somewhere during that process, these people have become what I like to call “microcelebrities”. They have gotten to a position actually start paying attention to the things they say, but their filter is long gone. And their audience, which is now huge, will latch on to any stupid thing you say.

I have no doubt that most every other sport or professional endeavor is largely the same. That there are tasteless comments being made in locker rooms all over the world. But those comments stay in the locker room. You don’t see someone on commentary for an NFL game trying to guess the breast size of the person reporting from the field.

Another point he made was that he loved the fighting game community because you have to prove yourself to get in. Like it’s a kind of elite club, and if you’re not coming into it on a high level, don’t even bother.

To draw a parallel, let’s say you have an interest in geology and want to get involved in the geology community. But when you go to a gem and mineral show, everyone starts out hating you, and you have to prove yourself somehow to be a part of that group. It’s ludicrous.

“But that’s different,” I hear you saying, “fighting games are a form of competition and geology isn’t!” Fine, replace “geology” with “tennis” and “gem and mineral show” with “tennis club” and it’s equally absurd.

The defense to most of this, of course, is that the fighting game community is full of 15-year-olds, and that’s just how they act. This was probably more true 15 or 20 years ago than it is now, but any of those 15-year-olds who are still playing are now in their 30’s. And, like it or not, we’re the adults here. We have to lead by example and let newcomers know what is and isn’t acceptable. We need to encourage participation by casual fans instead of making them feel unwelcome at the outset, and we need to stop alienating females.

A lot of us have been playing games for over 25 years. It’s up to us to lead by example. To treat other gamers with respect, and to call out those who step over the line. I’m not suggesting that everyone become a paragon of virtue or the Moral Police, just don’t be a jerk. Think before you speak, and help out if you can. It’s easy to forget that we were all newbies once, and how useful it is to have an old-hand guide you along some of the bumps in the road.

Video Game Awards 2009 reactions entry

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

The VGAs are just minutes away. I have a stable Internet connection, a tube of Pringles, and a 20 oz. bottle of Faygo root beer.

It’s on.

Oh, and I can’t be the only person that finds listening to Geoff Keighley’s voice slightly less enjoyable than licking a running powersander, can I?

7:00 PM CST Sounds like we’re opening up with Mark Hamill’s Joker, could be worse, I suppose

7:01 PM CST And we lead off with a Batman trailer, not too shocking. Can’t tell anything about the game from that, though.

7:04 PM CST I should probably check out more media than just video games. I don’t know who half of these people are.

7:05 PM CST Not wasting any time this year getting to the awards. I’d like to see more professional voice actors getting nominations instead of movie / TV actors.

7:06 PM CST Jack Black? Seriously? What’s wrong with the Spike TV audience?

7:08 PM CST A True Crime trailer. Looks OK, but not my kind of game.

7:10 PM CST Our first mercy commercial break.

7:15 PM CST Local commercials that cut off the content of the shows? Yeah, we’ve got’em.

7:16 PM CST Why are we watching this lousy Tron footage on the terrible Jumbotron instead of the TV?

7:17 PM CST I never was that big a fan of Tron, so I don’t get the fangasm about the universe.

7:17 PM CST Tony Hawk looks like he just woke up. And making stupid jokes doesn’t help. He’s here to present the award for best action/adventure game. Because when I think Action/Adventure, I immediately think of Tony Hawk.

7:18 PM CST Assassin’s Creed 2 takes it, not bad.

7:21 PM CST I still can’t believe that someone gave the greenlight to make a Deadliest Warrior video game.

7:22 PM CST That was a short commercial break. And now we have Kimbo Slice out to look drunk, stumble on his words, and talk about the UFC game.

7:25 PM CST Zach Braff? Seriously?

7:26 PM CST Studio of the Year at 26 minutes in? Are we clearing the way for the rock band interlude.

7:27 PM CST Rocksteady gets the nod. Good for them, I guess.

7:29 PM CST Haven’t seen Samuel L. Jackson since the ’07 awards, I wasn’t upset about that.

7:31 PM CST Does this Star Wars Game have a name?

7:32 PM CST Force Unleashed II, sounds obvious

7:37 PM CST Jake Gyll… um… That actor guy with a name I can’t spell with a first look at the Prince of Persia movie. I probably won’t be seeing that movie willingly.

7:39 PM CST And the cast of a show that I will never watch to present the award for a game genre I don’t typically play, Team Sports.

7:40 PM CST NHL 10? Really? How on Earth did that beat out Madden? And NBA for that matter?

7:42 PM CST More Prince of Persia stuff. I should probably play the new PoP series at some point.

7:49 PM CST That was a long commercial break. Guess Hugh Jackman won best performance by a human male, and for best cast. Good thing he couldn’t be bothered to actually show up, that will speed things along.

7:50 PM CST Best Independent game ‘fueled by Dew’. Why does ‘independent game’ mean something that doesn’t fit into a genre.

7:51 PM CST Flower? Tonight was the first I’ve heard of it, and it won.

7:54 PM CST Snoop Dogg? Well, looks like it’s time for the first bathroom break of the night.

8:02 PM CST I can’t tell if that Split Second commercial was supposed to be part of the show or not.

8:03 PM CST Spec Ops… Don’t really get too into these military-type games either, but this one looks decent.

8:04 PM CST Stephen A Smith, some sports guy. I dunno. I worked in a sporting goods store for over 11 years, I didn’t have time to learn about the stuff I was selling.

8:06 PM CST An awards show on Spike TV, which shows a ton of UFC matches, and the UFC game won? No, I’m not surprised.

8:09 PM CST Crackdown 2? Enough people played the first Crackdown game to warrant a sequel?

8:13 PM CST The second hour seems to be loaded with a few more commercials than the first. But anything that delays the appearance of Mike Tyson is something that I can live with. I’m no good against those one-hit-ko uppercuts he throws in the first round.

8:15 PM CST Snoop Dogg? I thought he went home. But at least he’s presenting best RPG, because nothing says ‘RPG’ like he does.

8:16 PM CST I didn’t think that the lone DS Game would win anything tonight. The VGAs aren’t very Nintendo friendly. Dragon Age takes Best RPG and Best PC game. It’s a great game, but this guy looks a little flustered onstage.

8:18 PM CST Green Day Rock Band? Why not? I don’t know how much longer this series is going to go on, but I’m really excited to see stuff like John Denver Rock Band.

Time for other awards that they just can’t seem to find time to give out in a show whose only purpose is to give out awards. If I had to guess, I’d say that these were the games that won where they couldn’t get someone to appear on the show to accept them:

Best performance by a human female: Megan Fox
Best downloadable game: Shadow Complex
Best Wii Game: New Super Mario Bros. Wii
Best DLC GTA 4: The Ballad of Gay Tony
Most Anticipated Game of 2010: God of War 3

8:24 PM CST Joel McHale, eh? I stopped watching The Soup a long time ago.

8:26 PM CST Screw you, Gamestop

8:27 PM CST Mike Tyson is starting to look a lot Torgo these days. What Mike Tyson and the cast from Jersey Shore have to do with ‘Best Shooter’ is beyond me.

8:28 PM CST Modern Warfare 2 won, and won Best Multiplayer game. It was one of the fastest selling games of all time, so this isn’t really shocking.

More awards where either nobody showed up to accept the awards or they just didn’t think were important enough to bother with the ‘ceremony’.

Best Fighting Game: Street Fighter IV
Best Handheld Game: GTA Chinatown Wars
Best Driving Game: Forza Motorsport 3
Best Soundtrack: DJ Hero
Best Xbox 360 Game: Left 4 Dead 2
Best Original Score: Halo 3 ODST
Best Game Based on a Movie or TV Show: South Park Let’s Go Tower Defense Play

8:35 PM CST Wait, South Park Tower Defense beat out Ghostbusters? Seriously, SpikeTV viewing audience, and video game players, what’s wrong with you?

8:37 PM CST Stevie Wonder presenting Best Music Game? Well, that’s nice.

8:39 PM CST Beatles Rock Band, eh? That’s kind of a surprise.

8:40 PM CST Another band interlude. My bladder isn’t full yet, but I’m going to go empty it anyway.

8:48 PM CST I don’t get into Halo. It’s just not that good. I don’t care what you say.

8:52 PM CST Game of the Year? How could these game have kept me occupied ‘all year’ when a couple of them are only a couple of months old?

8:54 PM CST Uncharted 2? Ah, it won Best PS3 game and Best Graphics. No wonder we didn’t see those categories with 6 minutes left in the show.

8:56 PM CST And we’re going to end the show with another song by a lousy band.

I will say that this year’s show came off as a little bit more professional than it has in years past. It looks more like an actual awards show and less like a bunch of idiots making fart jokes and mugging for the camera.

Now the industry just needs to work on getting people who are more groomed to be on television and talking… Except for Geoff Keighley.

Genre bending

Monday, November 30th, 2009

Play enough epic games (epic, in this case, being anything over about 25 hours or so) and you’ll eventually come across a section that turns into an entirely different game. Playing a vast role-playing game? Watch as it turns into a rhythm game for 20 minutes. Playing an action-adventure game? Recoil in horror as it turns into into a real-time strategy game for a stretch.

I haven’t actually figured out why this happens, maybe the developers think that I’m going to get bored playing the game and they throw something in to break up the action, or maybe they had this great idea for a different game waiting in the wings but couldn’t flesh it out to make it its own game, so they crowbarred it into this one instead, I don’t know.

But what I do know is that I do my best to minimize the experience, power through the cross-pollination and get back to the game as soon as possible. I mean, I started playing a game because I wanted to play, say, an RPG, not a rail-shooter.

Mobile gaming

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

Since I’ve become a *gasp* productive member of society (at least somewhat), I have less time to devote to my chosen hobby than I’d like. That is, I’m away from my game consoles more often than I’d like. But to fill the gap, there’s always portable gaming, right?

You betcha!

But it’s not just the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP. Most of us have some kind of cell phone at our disposal, and most of those are just right for playing quick ‘pick-up-and-play’ games in the odd moment of downtime. Which sounds great, but after playing a few of them I’ve made a sad discovery:

Most games available for your cell phone suck.

It’s not the phone’s fault, exactly. Most of them appear that they were designed to be phones first, with the ability to play games just kind of tacked on (there are exceptions, of course). The screen’s too small, the phone interface just isn’t designed to do more than input numbers, or maybe letters, and so on. Playing action games is just an exercise in frustration. Which means that you’ll have to find something that takes less-precise input, and means that you’re left with puzzlers. Slow puzzlers.

Which is what I’ll have to take, so I will.

Oh, and I’m fully aware that this is going to open up the floodgates for people to start telling me how great their cell phones are for playing. But I’m ready for it.

Text Overload vs. Voice Acting

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

We’re at an interesting place in the evolution of video games. It’s now possible to have hours and hours of high-definition spoken words played back in your game. This is a far cry from just 20 years ago when hearing a couple of words compressed nearly to oblivion was considered pretty amazing. Like in Blades of Steel.

So, since space was at such a premium, if you wanted lots of dialogue, you were limited to text, lots and lots of text. Which never bothered me too much, it was a limitation of the media.

But games have now evolved where multi-minute scenes are played out (with varying levels of talent, but that’s fodder for another discussion), and text-heavy exchanges are becoming more and more infrequent.

And, to be honest, I hadn’t really given that a whole lot of thought either, until I was watching some video game review show or another and one of the reviewers actually gave the game a lower mark because he had to read too much. He was of the opinion that technology had progressed to a point where everything can be voiced, so everything should be voiced.

But does it really add that much to the experience? Yeah, it’s great to hear what the developers think the characters should sound like so I don’t have to improvise voices in my head, but I can actually read far faster than most people talk. So if I come across a game that has the audio subtitled, I end up skipping over the dialog and reading the text instead. Which ends up sounding pretty herky-jerky and unbelievable.

So, for me, the jury’s still out. I don’t mind doing a lot of reading, but, I have to admin, having big blocks of text punctuated by the occasional voice-acted section (for the important plot points) is kind of nice.

Eating while gaming

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

In my time behind the various consoles, I’ve put in some marathon gaming sessions, occasionally hitting mental states very near to sleep. But I sometimes actually do remember to eat or drink something during a several-hour binge. Mostly because I start feeling too weak to hold up the controller without significant effort.

It’s about then that I reach for something to get me going again. You’re probably thinking, “Duh, caffeine.” But you’d be wrong. Caffeine for whatever reason doesn’t have much of an effect on me, and besides that, Mountain Dew just isn’t a substitute for actually eating something.

But some foods are better for eating while playing games than others, especially if you can do some planning beforehand. I’m going to run down some choices and their relative pros/cons. We’ll start off with some obvious choices:

Chips are pretty much a given. It’s easy to grab a few during a break in the action, cram ’em down your throat, and continue gaming. But, unless you get baked chips, they’re a little on the greasy side, which makes your controller slippery, and if you do get baked chips, they’re pretty gross. Chips with flavored powder on them (like Doritos) are delicious, but you get that cheesy, gunky residue all over your fingers, which gets on your controller, which gunks it up worse than just the grease does. And anything that requires dip? Forget about it.

Pizza’s convenient, since you can call up your favorite pizza joint and they’ll cook it and bring it right to you. But, eating pizza really requires two hands to do properly, so it’s really only viable if you’re taking turns and it’s not your turn or during the next several-minute long cutscene, and who knows when that’s going to happen.

Candy seems like an obvious choice, especially the non-chocolatey kind. It’s not messy, tastes great, and comes in these little wrappers. Which makes them good for a quick fix, but if you’ve ever eaten nothing but candy for a whole day (and I have) you’re going to start feeling… weird. Weird is not good.

Fruits are actually a decent choice. Not necessarily because they’re reasonably healthy, but because several of them come in their own wrappers. Just stay away from the ones you have to peel and you’re golden. Stuff like pears and apples are OK, but once you eat more than half of it, you can’t just sit it down without getting the flesh all gross, so bitesize stuff is a much better choice. Like cherries, grapes, or strawberries.

Simple sandwiches are also a good choice. Throwing your favorite filling between two slices of bread takes almost no time at all. As long as you don’t go overboard making a Dagwood, that is. Just make sure you have a paper towel or plate handy so you can throw down your sandwich between bites, and you’re in business.

I’ve tried a few other things, like soups, cereal, or even some herbal stimulants that were marketed toward golfers (no, I’m not kidding), but nothing has worked as well as fruits and sandwiches. I’m interested to see what other people have come up with to get them through marathon gaming sessions.

The high price of strategy

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Astute readers might remember that some time ago I gave the existence of strategy guides a hard time. Mostly because I like figuring stuff out and having step-by-step instructions takes some of the fun out of that.

But, I still get them on occasion.

Why? I know that GameFAQs exists, and it’s usually a pretty good resource. But it’s got some flaws. The guides are posted by the site’s users, which is fine until you’re trying to play a brand new game. Then you have to wait for someone to buy it, play it through at least once, and then type up everything you wanted to know about it. That takes time. You also run across the occasional FAQ author who omits information, fails to fully describe what you need to do to to proceed, or just plain gets things wrong somehow. But they are free, and generally usually mostly correct-ish so they have that going for them.

But, I occasionally go for the pre-printed guides for a few reasons: They’re in book form, so I don’t have to sit in front of my computer to read it, which is pretty nice if your console isn’t near your computer. They’re usually pretty complete from day one, which is kind of nice. And they have pictures, which might sound kind of lame, but there are lots of situations that are pretty hard to describe with words alone, and pictures certainly help (incidentally, that’s one of the reasons I started Pro tip of the Day).

But, the problem is, I’m cheap, and guides are ridiculously expensive… We’ll take a recent game, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon. Game: $30 Guide: $20