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Malik (3/12/07)  

How many times will we keep hearing the same damned thing at the GDC, E3, or whatever other major conference? How many times will we hear that the market is stagnant? How many times will someone say something along the lines of how we need a "punk" movement in the game development world before it either sinks in or it just becomes completely worthless and nothing more than a waste of oxygen?

We should all know by now that the majority of games being made are simple money makers. In other words, the types of games that EA keeps pumping into the marketplace. We see maybe one or two major releases that defy all normal money making conventions each year. We might get one Katamari style game and then one game that takes a popular genre (like rail shooters or FPS) that defy the normal conventions of gaming in one way or another (like Killer 7). However, in the end, despite hearing this each and every year (or numerous times each year), we still see a dozen sequels that are only a perfect rehash of the year before...if not being worse and nerfed each year (Madden, I'm looking at you).

I think reality has sunk in a bit for me. I used to hold this idealistic view that gaming needs to get better or the industry is doomed. However, the simple truth is that games will continue to be poorer with each year as long as a few conditions don't change. The first and most obvious one being that we gamers are the guilty party in this. We are the ones who keep buying new releases of Madden, NBA, Burnout, or whatever else is placed in front of us...without even the slightest hesitation or inclination to investigate if the game we're ready to drop $60 on is actually worth that $60 price tag.

However, while that makes gaming on a "punk" level hard to accomplish, it also falls onto the hardware developers. The consoles on the market right now, with a slight exception to the Wii and any portables, are becoming way too expensive to program for without a guarantee of a financial return. Developers cannot, literally, afford to spend millions and millions of dollars on a game if it's not going to be a major seller. This breeds stagnation in the market.

The other huge obstacle in this puzzle is that too many small groups that come up with amazing titles are now being forced into a state of non-existent like the dot-com industry faced prior to it's collapse. I'm not saying that the game market is doomed to a bust situation, but rather I'm saying that indy developers and small time companies are usually in a state of constant financial worry. A great example would be companies like Clover, Red Octane, Harmonix (give them time), Bullfrog, and the like. These companies are, or were, all great sources of creativity. However, to remain financially viable, they are joined, merged, or were devoured by the powerhouses (EA, Capcom, Activision, Ubi, Microsoft, etc). It's this taking of a simple and promised paycheck for all eternity that leads these groups to either facing a slow death as they get "phased out" or become stagnation in the very core of the definition.

So, basically, what I'm saying in the end is this; the game industry is constantly moving in a single direction. Some rebels (or "punks) will try to change the course of this mighty river, but it won't work. While we are all taught in public school that we're all special snowflakes who can all make a difference in the world (as we get yelled at for rebelling against conformity...forgive me if that sounded poser/goth, since I hate that type of thinking), the truth is obvious. We are only special in name, but in reality, it's those who conform and play nice with the public in general who get far.

Harmonix can keep fighting to make fun and innovative games, I can promise to only buy good titles, and Nintendo can keep making easier and less expensive consoles for developers, but it will not change anything. I will run out of titles to buy, Harmonix will always be forced to jump from one publisher to another as they release one game a year, and Nintendo will continue to have a system that only fulfills the needs for a couple of genres. However, the majority will still buy every damned Madden release, groups like Bullfrog will always be devoured by companies like EA, and the major genres will always surface primarily on the major consoles (which are expensive to program on).

Maybe it's my daylight savings time rattled and sleep exhausted mind speaking, but from an entertainment perspective...we are very doomed.


Malik (3/13/07)  

I haven't downloaded a single Virtual Console game for the Wii as of yet. That's despite how I have 2000 points and a classic controller. The main reason is that there are a few important games I'm expecting that I want to wait for. Namely, something with enough content to keep me RPG. I don't mean Sword of Vermillion, which I always felt was the most lacking of Genesis RPG offerings. I mean something like Super Mario RPG, any other Genesis RPG, or practically any other SNES RPG. There's a lot of potential out there, but Nintendo's selections seem to be skipping the games that RPG fans would want.

However, there's now another reason for me to fear the VC. While some games like Temco Bowl are amazing offerings from the old nostalgia perspective, I've been hearing rumors about Tecmo Bowl. While I don't know how true it is, since I haven't downloaded the game, but I've heard that player names have been removed/changed from the original. If this is true, it would just make one have less reason to enjoy the game if they want a nostalgia kick. I know I want Bo Jackson to dominate the opposition, and not for some randomly named Raider...errr...sorry, no team do it.

I wish I could say more today, but I've become re-obsessed with Civ 4. I spent about 10 hours last night playing Civ 4, and I have spent over 25 hours in the last week playing through 3 different games of Civ 4. Once I start playing, it becomes my obsession to end all obsessions. FF6 Advance? Not when the Mongolians are on my borders. Crackdown? Not when I'm trying to subjugate George Washington.

Anyway, I will keep things short since all I can focus on right now is how I'm going to culture bomb Hannibal to assimilate his faltering empire into my glorious French (an awesome country for a cultural victory) society.


Malik (3/15/07)  

I am beyond busy these last few days. That basically summarizes why there was no post yesterday. It's also why you may not see many full length posts for a week or two...depending on the climate of my life.

Anyway, since I'm in a bitchy mood and I, quite frankly, hate more things in my life right now than I can tolerate or enjoy, I want to go off on something...don't worry, it's all game related.

Shadowrun is now scheduled for a June release. In fact, the game will be one of the first to allow Windows Live to XBox 360 Live capabilities. That's a pretty cool idea...except for how a mouse and keyboard will always beat twin analogue sticks in a FPS environment. I just hope the game allows the option, on the 360 version at least, to only play 360 owners. Otherwise, 360 players will have a nice touch of stupidity and insanely difficult battles as they try to battle their controller, and not their opponent...or, there's auto aim. That's the route that the 360 version seems to be heading towards, which will not negate the challenge of mouse versus analogue. Instead, it will just create another unbalanced environment, but for PC players.

Also, I still have to say what I've always said about Shadowrun; it started as a pencil and paper RPG, and the leap to FPS online only action in the theme of CS makes about as much sense as making a kart style racing game out of the Palladium games. Maybe another good one would be a D&D sports game. Maybe Vampire: Card Collector Championship.

I feel the same way that many die hard Shadowrun fans feel. This could be a great and fun game. This could be an understandable title if a subtitle was added to it (Shadowrun: Clan Battles or something like that). However, to give a FPS online only game the Shadowrun title is just blasphemous to the loyal Shadowrun fans who have been with this world for around two decades. Shadowrun is RPG in every sense of the word, and FASA Studio seems like the type of company so desperate to make a blockbuster game that they have to rape a great franchise to do so.

Plus, the basics of the Shadowrun world are not even making the proper transition to the FPS world. Magic has been nerfed, the races have been mutilated, the setting is anything but authentic...this game has as much to deal with Shadowrun as Blitz: The League has to do with NFL football. True, they both can be fun in their unique takes on their genres, but it's not the real thing and no one should dupe themselves into believe anything but the fact that Shadowrun is not Shadowrun.

I also love that this is the first game I can think of for any console, that is not an MMORPG, that requires a subscription to play. It's not a unique subscription, but rather the gold Live membership. However, there is no reason I can think of, without tapping into the more insane or greedy side of my thinking, that says a game "based" on a pencil and paper RPG should require a subscription if it's not an MMO.

It's almost as much fun to think about that as it is to ponder this fact; from all accounts I've read of, this game handles just like CS. That is, you have no customizing or building of a character beyond buying equipment (spells and weapons). Thus, even the most important and basic concept of RPGs, having your own personal character that you work hard to make your own, is gone. At least Battlefield 2 allows you to earn ranks to unlock new kits for your screen name's character.

I can assure you that, despite having a gold Live membership, and despite knowing people who are working on this game (I do like to support my friends), I will be 6 feet deep in the cold and damp ground before my 360 ever touches this abomination of a game. If I want Counter Strike, I will play CS on my PC. If I want Shadowrun, I will always remember (fondly) the SNES and Genesis games and dream of finding a GM who runs a Shadowrun game. If I want a half assed rip off of Shadowrun and CS in one neat package...well, that is not going to happen anytime this lifetime.


Malik (3/16/07)  

While I'd love to see a traditional RPG on the Wii, as it will probably be the most lacking genre on the system (just look at the previous two Nintendo consoles), I think that may be a way out. However, Opoona is in the works. From Koei and Arte Piazza (an old school team of FF and Dragon Quest veterans), this game will probably be an RPG more in line with Harvest Moon and other "non-traditional" RPGs.

I'm just happy to see that the creativity of the Wiimote is not the only creativity being shown on the Wii. While a good traditional RPG would be great (and the Wii will need them in the long run), a more novel of RPG will hopefully give this genre a kick start for Nintendo's young system. Especially, this should be true if the game sells reasonably well, which Koei is the master of accomplishing.

The two things I wish I could know a bit more about with Opoona is release date in the US (if it does, hopefully, make it here) and what the game will be like. It sounds silly, and the few art pieces shown are all looking weird, to say the least. However, many games in the RPG genre have fit that bill before, and too many have been nothing more than steaming piles of crap. Hopefully some additionally information will be coming in before too long...especially since this could be my personal most anticipated title for the Wii that doesn't feature Mario in one way or another.

Life has beaten me around a fair bit this last week. Between the fact that I close on my house next Thursday, that I'm moving all my big stuff two weeks from tomorrow, that my lab at work is being moved at the same damned time, and plenty of interviews for a new job (including one between when I type this and when I post this today), it seems like the only fun I'm allowed to have is a bit of FF6 on the GBA and maybe a hair of Civ 4.

I'm now far enough into FF6 Advance to form some opinions on the game. For one thing, this is one of the more enjoyable ports of the SNES and NES era FF games. It is smooth, it plays almost identically to the SNES version (even with a couple fewer buttons), and the new translations make the plot from a confusing and vague experience into one of the deepest SNES era plots I've played through. Many plot holes have been patched with the new translation that only people in Japan (or who speak Japanese and imported the original) could have understood.

Also, unlike FF4 or FF5 on the GBA, the added content is more than just completionist crap. There are four new espers (your magic source and your summons), including a couple overlooked or old time favorites. Cactuar (or "Cactrot") and Leviathan are now present. Also, good old FF5 style Gilgamesh is a new esper. To round this experience out a bit, there's even a few new spells to go with the new espers. This includes an actual water spell for magic users (since it was previously only Strago, via blue magic, who could use water attacks) from Leviathan and valor (a great attack boosting buff) from Gilgamesh. Also, most of the new espers include additional stat boosts at level up, so there's some good fun in them for people who like to nurture their characters at each level.

The best aspect of these new espers is that they each require a challenging, yet fun battle with a boss. These battles fall into a greater theme than just fighting blindly with your best spells. Instead, you have to use some strategy, like one would have seen in battles with Ashura (FF4), or Magic Master (FF6). I still haven't seen the fourth new esper, since it's in the first of two new dungeons, but I may give that a shot.

Unfortunately, the new dungeons are more along the completionist line of things. They are harder than the final dungeon, require a lot of power leveling to get through, and may just not be worth my limited time. Just like the bonus dungeons on FF4 and FF5 on the GBA.

I'm now at the final battle with Kefka, and I'm not sure if I'll save and quit afterwards, or if I'll save and take on the first bonus dungeon. All I know for now is that I will need a good eight characters to take on that nightmare of a challenge, and I only have five characters who I could use without some grinding...ok...a lot of grinding.

Well, I'm out for a good weekend of celebrating a friend's b-day with Lord of the Rings, Steak, booze, and Wii. At least, no matter how stressful my week has been, I can count on my friends to break the tension.


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