Archive for January, 2009

Sorry, Mr. Developer, but your game is too long

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

Being a video game aficionado is a little bit different than being, say, a movie aficionado. Barring the occasional ridiculous exception most movies can be seen and enjoyed in one to three hours. You can throw in a movie at the end of a long day at the Widget factory and experience all it has to offer before you go to bed that night. Video games, on the other hand, take a little more work.

Take, for example, a game like Final Fantasy VI. My first time through it took me well past 30 hours to complete it. Which is roughly the equivalent of watching, say, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone about twelve times (or The Number 23 once). But what if you missed some side quest or accidentally killed off a major character? Or what if you just want to play it again? You might be a little more efficient, but you’re still looking spending at least ten more Sorcerer’s Stones worth of time playing this game. And here lies the problem.

If you want to fully re-experience the game, you have to invest virtually the same amount of time into it each and every time. Using our prior example, by the time you finished Final Fantasy VI twice, you’d have invested about 60 hours to it, or viewing the Sorcerer’s Stone 24 times (or Underworld once). Assuming you play the game two hours a day, you’d spend 30 consecutive days playing the game just to see it all twice.

I don’t know about you, but I just don’t have that kind of time.

This isn’t some rant about how I have a Job and Real Life Responsibilities(tm) now that I didn’t have when I was younger. I make time to engage my hobby (though, that’s another article). But games are getting longer and longer. In the month that I’ve been chipping away at whatever the Flavor of the Month is, several other games have come out that are of decent quality, similar length, and demand my attention. I know I haven’t fully experienced everything that my current game has to offer, but I did complete the main thread of the story.

So what do I do? Do I spend another month chipping away at the game again? Unlocking little bonuses, finding hidden story sequences and maybe finding some kind of in-joke that the developers put in? Or do I start a new game, learn about its mechanics, and where everything is fresh and new?

For me, the latter situation usually wins.

I have nothing against the old game or anything, it’s just that I’ve got other games to play, other stories to experience, and other puzzles to solve.

And as much as I’d like to plumb the depths of the game that obviously took years to craft… I just don’t have the time to dedicate to it. In fact, I’d go nearly as far to say that after spending three-dozen hours trying to work my way through a game, I’m borderline sick of it, even if I enjoyed it.

And besides, that that month I spent playing it, there’s a good chance that two or three other several-dozen-hours long titles have been released, and I can’t very well leave them sitting on the shelf unplayed, can I?

The Stages of a Video Game Purchase

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

From a casual glance, it might seem that your average obsessive video-game geek is a slave to retail impulses. That he just goes to the store, picks up an armload of software, and runs home to ravenously digest it all, but you might not know that this is but just one phase in a cycle that repeats itself over and over again. Here’s your guide to recognizing these stages so that you can be better informed about what it is that’s going on in the mind of your local video game hobbyist.

It’s worth noting that these phases may happen slightly out of order or my be skipped altogether. They’re just numbered here for reference.

Phase 1: Rumor-mongering

At this phase a game may or may not exist in any form. The player may have heard from a friend of a friend’s uncle who has a friend who has a daughter that knows a guy that works next-door to a developer of one of his favorite games. Will there be a new game in the BloodPhaser X series? Or another game by the same company, only this time with 34% more applesauce? This person seems to think so. At this stage you’re likely to hear your gamer-friend say ‘You know, I heard that BloodPhaser X2 is totally in the works and supposed to come out sometime in the Spring of 2015′. You, of course, haven’t heard anything, so you should just nod, say something agreeable (i.e. ‘Really? That’s awesome!’) and then move on.

Phase 2: Official Confirmation

You know that game that your friend told you might or might not exist? He’s just been vindicated. Someone with some authority on the matter has openly announced to whoever will listen that the sequel to BloodPhaser X, BloodPhaser X2: Double Montana is indeed in the works and will be released… when it’s ready. (Incidentally, saying that a game will be out ‘when it’s ready’ is a slightly less pretentious way of saying that ‘you can’t rush perfection’.)

Phase 3: Media Collection

Invariably, after the Official Confirmation, the Media Trickle begins. The developer will excruciatingly slowly release a screenshot here, an extremely short gameplay movie there, possibly some unrecognizable corner of a piece of concept art to keep the game fresh in the minds of the salivating public (some of them are literally salivating at this point). This slow media release then becomes like a game of Pokémon for the player, he’s gotta collect, or at least view, every screen, every video, every concept piece, and read every last tidbit of information about this game. He’s vicariously playing tiny morsels of this game through the previews and screenshots that he can find.

Phase 4: Early Reviews

After months of very little in the flow of information, finally, the game’s retail appearance is right around the corner. Some media outlets have gotten their mitts on the game a few days/weeks early so that they can get their precious reviews up on their sites. Did they like it? Did they hate it? Did they give an arbitrary number that agrees with what he had built up in his mind that it should be? This is a time for a decision by the player. Is the review and negative, in which case it was probably done by a complete moron, or was the review glowingly positive, in which case it was probably done by someone extremely talented and insightful? Does the review contain anything that might spoil the experience (revealing key plot lines, for example)? Is the review going to even weigh in on his purchasing decision?

There are no easy answers to all these questions. In fact, you’re very unlikely to even find someone in this Phase, unless he makes you read some review online and tell you how great or awful it is. Your best bet here is to just agree with everything that he finds good or bad with the review and move on.

Phase 5: Retail Release

After months and months of nail-biting, collecting and digesting media, and generally knowing as much about the game is if he’d actually been on the development team, the day has arrived. The game is in his local retailer and just waiting to be purchased. But now new issues crop up. Does he buy the dumb-old Regular Edition, or does he get the super-snazzy Collector’s Edition with Concept Art Book, Game Soundtrack, BloodPhaser X pin, window cling, and a coupon to mail-order a customized action figure? Sure, it costs almost twice as much, but he’s getting oh, so much more. You might want to question that decision, telling him that he’s spending an extra $50 for a CD, a pin, some plastic, a ten-page ‘book’, and a coupon that will cost him more money to redeem, but he’ll refute every one of your points and tell you that it’s an investment.

Which, of course, is total hogwash.

But you probably shouldn’t stand in his way. Let him get the limited edition bonus stuff if he wants. He didn’t stop you from getting that super-sweet limited edition novel that was autographed by the guy who swept the floors in the author’s apartment complex, did he? Wasting a few bucks on a couple of junkets isn’t the end of the world.

Phase 6: Getting the game home

It’s all been building to this. The game is in his hands, the cellophane has been shredded, the bonus goodies are in a bag on the floor for later, and the game goes into the game playing device of choice (PC, console, whatever). This is where one of several things might happen:

Phase 6a: The game is phenomenal

This is the best possible outcome. The game is great in every sense of the word. Your game-playing friend will probably lose vast tracts of time to this game. He won’t call, he won’t email, he might even forget to eat, sleep, and/or bathe until the game is done. He’s got to get to the end and see as much of the game as he can as quickly as he can. And if you do manage to see him outside of his house, he’ll probably talk to you about it endlessly, telling you all about the minutiae. You’re going to feel like you’re the one playing the game after all is said and done here.

Phase 6b: The game is mediocre

This isn’t quite as good a result as if the game had been awesome, but it’s not all bad. He’ll play the game off and on until he either trudges his way through to the end or he just gives up on it. The good thing here is that he probably won’t want to talk to you endlessly about it, which is something.

Phase 6c: The game is garbage

This is absolutely the worst thing that can happen (in this context, of course). The game that he’s poured his life into following for the past two-and-a-half years somehow turns out to be slightly less fun than getting punched in the face repeatedly by a guy wearing gloves covered in red-hot sewing needles and dipped in a mixture of lemon juice and salt. He’s disgusted and will actually probably not play the game much at all. He’ll probably quickly jump to…

Phase 7: After the game’s done

Once the player has completed as much of the game as he’s going to, he’s got a choice. He can add it to his personal archive of video game titles and paraphernalia (saying that he’ll play it again someday, but he probably won’t), or he can try to recoup a portion of his money by selling it off. Sure, he spent about $100 getting all the goodies that came with the game, but the used game store doesn’t want those, they just want the disc and they throw the rest of the stuff in the trash, and give him $25 (if he’s lucky) that he can apply to his next purchase.

This is fortunate because he just heard that Dungeon Disaster IV is supposed to be out in a few months…

How not to choose an online name

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

Choosing a name to represent yourself on the wild, untamed Internet can be tough. You have to try and figure out something unique, memorable, and easy to type.

Rather than tell you what to pick, I’ll tell you what not to pick so that you don’t pick something that you’ll end up regretting… though that’s likely to happen anyway.

Video game character names

I know, you really liked Final Fantasy VII, you thought that Sephiroth was some super-awesome bad guy, or that Cloud’s sword was big and really super-cool, or that Vincent is just so awesome because he sleeps in a coffin and is all mysterious-like. But, lots (and lots) of people played that game and liked the characters in it. So, picking something based on these guys means that the name you choose is already taken. It’s just the way things are. Though you could try to be ‘different’ by adding letters, numbers, and lots of junk to the beginning or the end. Then you end up with stuff like: Sephiroth_Cloud_X, Cloud1982, SephClouderoth[84], or stuff like that.

Seriously, don’t pick your name based on something that’s real popular, even if you do like it. Odds are good that several thousand other people have already beaten you to the punch. And if you have any doubts, here’s a (very) partial list of names to avoid, bonus points if you recognize them all (points don’t actually exist).

  • Cloud
  • Sepheroth
  • Aerith
  • Cait Sith
  • Mario
  • Luigi
  • Link
  • Sonic
  • Eggman
  • Toejam
  • Gabe
  • Tycho
  • Dante
  • Master Chief
  • Fenix
  • Radd
  • Wesker
  • Arthas
  • Thrall
  • Sylvanas
  • Gordon Freeman
  • This list could go on nearly forever. I think you get the gist

Avoid a ton of gibberish before and after your name

So you’ve picked something that is interesting, unique, and describes you perfectly, then you find out that a hundred other people picked the same thing. So you decide to ‘personalize’ it by throwing your team affiliation in front of your name, or just some gobbledygook. Or maybe you’ll join all the teams you can and want to support them all. Or maybe you just got frustrated and wanted to put in something, anything that’ll make the name unique. Not only does that make your nickname look goofy, it also makes it hard to type. You might not think that’s a problem until someone tries to send you a private message ingame and your name has lots of brackets, braces, and colons, or worse, characters that aren’t on their keyboards. An occasional team affiliation tag (like [EvL] or {wsVT}) is fine, but if you have {Mje}-tec-|OrangeJuicer[88killazz!!] in front of your name… then you might want to consider trimming it a bit.

Don’t get arty with your nickname

In that same vein, there’s a temptation to make your nickname look awesome by using letters, numbers, and symbols to make your name look way awesome to the max. You want to use your nickname to show how awesome it is that you were able to go to some website and it was able to spit out characters that looked like waves or some other nonsense.

Let’s say that I’ve decided that I want the nickname, basscommbobulator. Then I want to jazz it up a little so I decide to alternate case in each letter


Then, I change the o’s to zeros.


Then I change a couple of letters to recreations with symbols that kind of look like the letters that I’m replacing.

b^s5<0mMb()bU|At0r Then I put my team affiliation on it [EvL]b^s5<0mMb()bU|At0r And we've metamorphosed into something that resembles what you'd get if you threw a PHP book into a blender. And for the people that have never seen your nickname before, how do they pronounce that mess? How do they type it? I guess you might not care so much if you don't want people talking to you, or if you don't mind explaining it each and every time you do meet someone new. So, what do you pick?

You pick something that sounds good to you, is easy to type, and is something that you can live with. You don’t want to change up your name willy-nilly, unless you have no problem with your friends not being able to find you. Basically, don’t be this guy:

“Well, I was LeftHandedOcelot241 for a few months, but I decided that name wasn’t who I was any more, so I started calling myself TheOneRealNeal39, but after a year I decided to move on to a new game, because that’s where my friends were playing. I logged in under UnbridledShotgunnery, but for some reason some of the people I’d been playing with haven’t found me yet, not sure why.”

And if you’re still not able to come up with anything on your own, you could always try an online service like this one to get you started.

Snazzy LocoRoco Wallpaper

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

I have just been handed a fantastic bit of LocoRoco art that makes a pretty awesome desktop wallpaper, or whatever else it is that people do with these kinds of things.

The picture above goes to the full size version at the artist’s DA site, which I might suggest you also go check out.

Thanks, Starcharms!

Eleven of the most annoying sounds in video games

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

Sometimes I get the feeling that game designers hate me. Either that or they don’t actually listen to some of the stuff that they put in the games. Alarms, ridiculous sound effects, and just plain grating sounds that just make me want to reach through the screen and throttle the person that composed that mess.

Don’t believe me? That’s why I’ve compiled a few examples for your listening displeasure.

1. Castlevania – Counting Down your hearts.

You all know the old-school NES Castlevania game. The one where you take Simon through the castle and have to make him kill off Drac’s minions. At the end of the stage your points are tallied up, and you get some bonuses for the amount of time and hearts you have left. Time, no big deal, sounds fine. But hearts? Oh man, each one has a metallic, grating ‘ding!’ that sounds as your bonus counts down. And if you’re like me and hoard your hearts to the end of the stage, you’re going to hear a lot of dinging.

Click here to hear what happens when I have 80 hearts at the end of a level.

2. Metroid Series – The HP Alarm

Samus, the heroine of the Metroid series, wears a super-advanced suit that lets her do all kinds of things: jump real high, curl into a ball, grapple from conveniently-placed rocks with grapple-shaped holes in them, and so forth. Her suit even comes with a handy alarm feature that lets you know when it’s low on energy. Even better is that this alarm will continue to go off indefinitely until you either get some energy to shut it up or you mute your television. I’m usually lucky enough to trigger the alarm right before I get to an area where there are no enemies to kill. No enemies = no energy pickups. No energy pickups = throwing your console into a wood chipper to make the sounds finally stop.

Click here for a small taste of the Super Nintendo’s version of the ever-so-helpful reminder.

3. Mischief Makers – Shake-Shake!

Mischief Makers stars a young girl robot who has to go around a planet to rescue the perverted old man who created her.

I think it’s a Japanese thing.

But, one of the core mechanics in this game is to grab things and shake them vigorously to find out what’s inside, or to trigger a switch, or to mix things up in a pot, or any number of other things. Each and every time you do that, your hero belts out a “Shake shake!”.

“Shake shake! Shake shake! SHAKE SHAKE!”

Gah! Good thing the whole game’s built around grabbing and shaking things, I’d hate to have any sanity left after I’m done playing it.

Click here for the tiniest sliver of the joy that you’ll experience as you meander through this game.

4. Mario’s Picross – Timer

Mario’s Picross is a puzzle game where you have to logically deduce how to draw a picture by using numbers. No big deal until you realize that you’re under a timer, and that’s not even that bad until you get to three minutes on the timer. Then you get a ‘ding’ every five seconds until you hit two minutes. Then you get a ding every other second until you hit one minute. Then you get that ding every second until you lose your mind or lose the game, whichever comes first. For me, it’s usually the latter since nothing helps me concentrate more than a repeated beep of a timer’s countdown.

Click here and see if you can concentrate on… well, anything with any sort of complexity while it’s playing.

5. Pokémon Series – The HP alarm

It’s the same old story. Your monsters fight other monsters for the express purpose of getting stronger. They also have a meter that gives you an idea of their overall health. When the meter hits ‘red’, you get a helpful notification that lets you know that your monster is on the verge of passing out. And this alarm keeps on going. Win the battle and cause the other trainer to pass out? Good for you, but the alarm keeps sounding. It just sounds and sounds until you either kill off your monster or the battle ends and you’ve gone through the post-battle speech by the rival trainer. At least the volume slider is really easy to access on the portable systems, of course the system is also really easy to throw from your car over the side of a bridge, too.

Click here too see if it inspires you to give your pet electric mouse a ‘potion’ or of it makes your ears bleed.

6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – The HP Alarm

Noticing a trend yet?

In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles you get four turtles to choose from, all with their own separate HP bars. Whittle them down so much and you hear a helpful, shrill, and piercing alarm sound to let you know that your turtle is about to ‘get captured’. So you switch back to a different turtle for a while. Switch back, though, and it’s the alarm again piercing your skull and possibly shattering any glassware you have in the vicinity of the television.

Click here to check it out if you dare. But you might want to remove any glass from the area before you get started.

7. Waverace 64 – The announcer

Waverace tries really hard to be awesome. Even including an announcer to call the hot, Jetski action. The thing is, though, he only has about a dozen things to say, and he has to call absolutely everything that happens to you on the course.

Oh, and I should mention that Nintendo seems to have found the most annoying announcer-man in the country to do the voicework for this game. “OK! Good! Okaaay! No Problem!”

Except, yes, there is a problem. My television’s reception has been compromised by the amount of controllers I’ve wedged into the screen after a couple of races.

Click here to see if you can stand to listen to the guy for more than one race.

8. Yoshi’s unsettling grunt

Somewhere around the time of Yoshi’s Story, Yoshi got a voice. A voice that is equal parts childish and hydrochloric acid. Even worse is that when he jumps and needs to get a little extra lift, he flutters his legs and does a completely bizarre grunting thing. Something like a cross between being constipated and trying to shove a watermelon through a drinking straw.

Even better, he’s kept this sound through the Smash Bros. series, so that in the heat of a battle you hear these grunts pretty well all the time.

Click here to experience the fury of a green dinosaur sounding like he’s about to burst a vein in his forehead.

9. Yoshi’s Island – Mario’s Cry

We can hardly talk about Yoshi without mentioning the Super Nintendo game where he has to take baby Mario through a number of different stages. Touch anything more dangerous than the ground and Mario flies off Yoshi’s back, gets wrapped in a bubble, and starts bawling.

Even better is that he cries in what sounds like a recording of an actual baby bawling. And if you’ve ever heard a baby bawling, you know exactly how this sounds. In fact the sound is so annoying that you anything to get it to stop. You panic, lose your composure, and scramble around trying to get that stupid baby out of that stupid bubble so he’ll stop his STUPID CRYING.

Click here to be indoctrinated into the Church of Baby-Cry.

10. Legend of Zelda Series – HP Alarm

It’s just like the other series. Link takes enough hits and you get a helpful chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp to let you know that your health is low. Which, yeah, is helpful for the first five minutes, but after you kill enemy after enemy, and very very carefully avoid all the projectiles and dangerous articles in the world trying to find just one heart to refill your meter a little bit and get that beeping to stop. Oh, but there aren’t any more hearts for some reason. The world was lousy with them while you had full health, but drop to critical levels and the supply completely dries up. It’s like some kind of Heart Goblin comes down and steals them from beneath every rock and bush in the land.

Click here if you think you can stomach the Search for Just One More Heart To Stop That Beeping sidequest in the Super NES Zelda game.

11. Ocarina of Time – Navi

I could hardly compile a list like this without mentioning the Queen of Annoyance herself, Navi. Navi is a little fairy that helps link out in the Ocarina of Time. She’s oh so helpful by pointing out that you should “Look!” at something, “Hey!” you should “Look!” at something else, “Hey!” “Watch out!”. Every single time you target something, or want to get a closer look at something, or something is possibly interesting in the vicinity, or she just wants to talk to you for a while.

You literally hear her holler at you hundreds of times throughout a playthrough. And you can’t shut her off, she’s going to haunt your dreams once you turn the console off.

Don’t believe me? Click here for an (admittedly mildly excessive) example of what I’m talking about. Gird your sanity.