Malik  (6/25/04)

For the most part, this has been a pretty slow week in the world of us geeks, so I decided to take some time and vent my anger on some of the topics that, in my opinion, are the worst of the worst in the geeking world.  So, first and last tonight (I figured I'd try to go full circle) we have two of the lamest issues with XBox Live, in both how developers use (or neglect) it and in how developers abuse it (and us, at the same time).  Then in the middle, we have a touchy issue that keeps causing me pain, and only goes to show why I like to write my reviews how I do, and not just leave my fellow geeks to the stupidity of the more commercial of sites.  So, I'm already pretty bitchy, so let's get the heart of things...

Unbalancing The Equation 

With the advent of online console gaming brought about by XBox Live along with the XBox HD, it seemed like, in many cases, some of the lines separating PC and Console games were being blurred and removed. The best example of this is seen in a game like Crimson Skies, in which you can, on the XBox with Live, download new planes, maps, and even new types of games (like the new Chicken Pox game). While I strictly like to keep my console and PC games separated, this was actually a very good move for console titles. 

This allowed extra life to be issued to aging games on the Xbox. Normally, when a PC title is well aged, it still lives on due to new mods, hacks, skins, maps, game modes, or whatever else the fan-geek community decides to issue. We can even see some add-ons from the developers of the games...I loved going to the Maxis web site shortly after The Sims came out on the PC and downloading their new furniture add-ons. What this, in the end, meant for the fans of a game is that once the game was old, there would still be plenty of ways to squeeze some extra life out of it. 

Meanwhile, an old console title usually faced a different method to keep it alive; a far sloppier and expensive method. The player would have to buy the newest version. Even if the newest version just meant a fix for a few bugs, or a new game mode, or whatever, you would have to shell out up to $50 for the "upgrade". However, with Live, this whole issue was solved. A new "version" of Crimson Skies, as in new planes and maps, could now be downloaded just as easily as a new plane or map for a PC version of the game (why doesn't Microsoft release a new PC Crimson Skies? Now that's a game that deserves some more PC, and XBox, loving). 

So, with this great invention of downloading new content for the console, I'm left with one question; for games that have an exact copy of the Xbox version on the PC, and the games are released at the same relative time (within a month or so of each other), why do some games not offer XBox Live support for downloads that could easily be seen in the future of the PC version? What I'm getting at, and what many Thief: Deadly Shadows (XBox) fans are wanting to know, is why, when a patch comes out to fix the difficulty bug in Thief for the PC, do we have to suffer endlessly? 

Adding XBox Live support for a title that will, in all likelihood, never need Live seems like a move that would require almost no effort and could easily cover a company's ass. In this case, the company would be Ion Storm, and their ass would be the massive hole blown into Thief with the difficulty bug. 

So far, of the Xbox titles I've played (far too many to count) that don't support Live, the number that have a desperate need for a patch are staggering. With a PC version, a patch could be made, with relative ease, after the bug is first reported and that would be the end of things. However, with a console title, if a bug is reported, and the developer didn't chose to take advantage of an easy fix, like using XBox Live support, the only solutions we would see are one of two really poor choices. 

The first one would be the one we Thief fans are suffering through. That solution would be that we play through the game as best we could and basically feel the cold bitch slap of Ion Storm after the PC version gets a patch and we get a great big nothing. This is the usual solution for the majority of console gaming bugs. 

The second solution is a little on the drastic side of things. This is rarely seen in console games, and it costs the companies involved (being, usually, the publisher) way too much to implement. That would be a recall of the game and a new edition of the game being published that contains a fix for the bug. This is something that the gamer and game makers both don't want to see, so it only happens in the most extreme cases (like if a game is not functional). This is not a solution for a difficulty bug that doesn't render the game unplayable. 

So, those who enjoy PC games over console titles can come out on top with cross-platform bug filled games. Meanwhile, we who prefer console versions of games are left with a nice big bitch slap to the face. 


The best solution, and it would be way too easy to implement, would be for all game designers who plan to release a game on XBox to simply implement the Live connectivity. I may not know much about XBox programming (hell, I'm here to play games, not make them), I imagine there must be a rather direct system or tool set up by Microsoft for developers to use to initiate a Live capability. Since games, almost by definition, contain bugs, XBox Live features built into any XBox title will help to save the developers of XBox titles from looking like complete asses when their games hit the market full of bugs and the gamers are left with no option beyond playing the game (with a lot of frustration) and bitching about the developer. 

One Size Shouldn't Always Fit All 

I was looking at some game reviews for a possible fix to get me through after Thief until Tales of Symphonia comes out next month. While doing so, I came across Mega Man Anniversary Collection. I am an old time fan of the real Mega Man games; before he played soccer (not many remember that crappy SNES title one remembered it a whole 2 weeks after it came out even), lived in a network, went 3D, or started to be a card controller fad. So, naturally the Anniversary Collection appeals to me. True, I could play them on the NES, but most of the cartridges are currently (and possibly forever more) AWOL. But the idea of playing Mega Man old-school style on my surround sound receiver on a system that understands what surround sound is appeals to the tech geek in me. 

Anyway, when I looked for some info on the collection, I was torn between the two editions of it. On one hand there's the GCN version; the GCN is not bitchy to me and has never given me a DRE (well, one time it did and I took it to Nintendo Headquarters for a free fix...helps when a console maker is stationed just 15 minutes away...for those around Redmond, WA, who have broken Nintendo products, they have a sweet little setup for customers as they wait on console repairs, including free game playing...pretty nice). Plus something just seems more appropriate using a Nintendo system to play the best of the Mega Man games (2 and 3) since that is where they came from. On the other hand, there's the PS2...while it offers an additional feature (some new music) over the GCN version, the PS2 likes to piss me off with DREs. So, I decided that a good review from a commercial site might at least tell me some of the more minor deciding factors. 

So, when I hit, what did I find? First I read the PS2 review, which was relatively short for a Gamespot review (only one page...and they have a good number of staff writers, yet I am the only current writer for and I crank out about 10 times that much in a single review...that's just sad). The review, also, while being way too short to even cover half of the features in any detail was only a comparison of the GCN and PS2 versions. For a review of a PS2 game, the review should cover the PS2 version of the game in a review format, not some half-assed comparison. So, for those aware of the stupid cross-platform game reviewing tactics of IGN, Gamespot, and several other major net based game sites, you could probably guess what the GCN version's review looked like; the exact same review! Ok, not exactly the same review; the score of the PS2 version was a 8.4 and the GCN version got a 8.3, but there was no real information that told the reader why one was rated lower. 

Some of the points made in the review told how one version had a better feature in one part, but then the reviewer would say how the other version made up for that with a different feature. However, deep down, for being a comparison review (not a game review...they are different things) the review should not be nearly so short. I mean if a short review is used as a review of one game, then it's just a half-assed review that doesn't get to the meat of things. However, if a short review is meant to cover a comparison of two games, then it is not even's more of a quarter-assed (if that's possible). 

The saddest part is when this type of crap is used to review a game that's both on console and PC...and yes, this does happen...a lot. When a game is cross-console, then at least the input method is about (well, maybe "slightly" is a better wording) the same (control pad vs. control pad)...however, nothing else is too set in stone. Meanwhile if a game is on both PC and console, then not even the input method is the same (mouse+keyboard vs. control pad). For example, how can one write one review for Deus Ex: Invisible War when the two differing versions are XBox and PC? I mean the load times, the controls, the graphical abilities, the glitches...none of those will ever equal out.

So, deep down, can anything be gained from reading a one-size-fit-all (or one-console-fit-all) review? At best, these reviews will tackle the issue of how the game plays on one singular console, and at worst, like with and the Mega Man Anniversary Collection, it will be a brief and inadequate comparison of two titles without ever getting down to being how the games (yes, they are different games) play and are enjoyed (or hated) by the player. This cannot, plain and simple, be handled by some quarter-assed comparison review. If you don't believe me, look at the review (or the "reviews" since they are listed as two different reviews...that are the same, word for word) on Gamespot and tell me; are there any control issues with the PS2 version (at least they did touch this issue on the GCN)? How are the load times for the two games (if they want a comparison review...)? What games are in the collection and where do they come from (not all of these were originally NES titles, yet Gamespot only touches on the NES original titles)? This is so quarter-assed that it hurts... 


Ok, this is two-fold. The first step, and the most obvious of solutions, review sites, like Gamespot and IGN (the two worst good bastards...), need to treat each version of a game as unique. Since the games are running on separate consoles with separate abilities, and thus the games will face different controls, load times, glitches, and sometimes different console-exclusive bonus material, more than one short review is needed. So, if you're not up to writing a detailed comparison review (which usually must venture into the philosophy of the two games, and thus is far more labor intensive), then don't treat any two titles as the same, even if they may be the same title at a glance. 

Secondly, you must never treat a PC title and a console title as anything nearly the same. It just doesn't work. EVER. Just like how PC gamers are rabid about their games in a different way than console geeks are rabid about theirs, the games are different too. For example, if you ever try out Morrowind on the PC and the XBox version side by side, you will understand after you easily read some text on the PC version and squint your eyes to struggle with the XBox version's text. Hell, the best example I can think of, even more apt than Deus Ex: Invisible War, Deus Ex (the original), and Morrowind all put together, is the difference of the XBox version of Hitman 2 and the PC version. The XBox version had really sloppy controls that were not suited for the analogue sticks of the XBox while the PC version had tight controls thanks to the complete and fluid control a mouse can give you. I couldn't get past the third level of Hitman 2 on the XBox (not due to difficulty, but rather from controller induced frustration), but the PC version handled like a dream. That made the PC version and broke the XBox version for me. 

In short, no two games are ever the same if they are cross-platform, and more importantly, since the PC is not a console and a console is a console (seems simple enough), don't give your readers half-assed reviews. Of course the best solution for us geeks is this; always look at the reviews for the other versions of a title (even if you don't have the hardware for the other versions) just to validate if the review you're reading is a real review or some quarter-assed piece of Gamspot (or IGN) -style shit (no offense, I love these two sites for news, but for the reviews...well, they can do a little better...and by "a little" I mean "a hell of a lot").

Nothing for Money 

Paying for Live updates (like with Project Gotham Racing 2), when it's only a minor update that wouldn't even qualify for an expansion package on a PC game is about the lamest possible method to try to milk money out of gamers. I thought the Live package and the updates were meant to serve two important purposes (from a business standpoint...Microsoft does provide XBox Live just for the hell of it; they are a business after all) when it's such a minor update; to reward those people who already PAYED for the game, and to give an incentive for people who haven't yet bought the game to actually go out and get it. 

Firstly, by rewarding the people who already own the game with new material, it provides us geeks with a better image of Microsoft (and other content providers), and thus we will want to, in theory, keep buying their products. I mean if Bioware gives us a new area to explore in KOTOR (like they did), then it means that (this is all business theory) even if they release a lack-luster game in the future, we could still buy the game with the expectation that new additions will be available for download to improve the game...and if the game is already good, we could still expect it to get better. This serves as a good incentive for people who can't quite decide if they want a game, or if they want a certain title for the XBox (versus other console versions) to go for the XBox title. 

Secondly, if a game comes out and it lacks enough material to interest a geek on it release, Live content can save the title. If a game...let's say a racing title, has fewer cars and tracks than a competitor title that gets released about the same time, then Live can once again come to the rescue. If an expansion is made available, like with PGR2's add-on of Paris and new cars, then those players who overlooked the title at it's release could be enticed to purchase the game a few months down the road. 

However, to charge money for most content is just flat out greed. While some content downloads make sense to be pay services, like music downloads for DDR games (it costs the company, Konami, money to license these tracks and not just some small change to add the content to the game via programmers), it doesn't make sense for the developers to charge for content that would only make them money. Like with the PGR2 downloadable tracks, this is something that costs the programmers relatively little to develop and make available to the public. While it may cost PGR2's developers some money to license the new vehicles from the owning companies, it doesn't cost money to license a fictional track of Paris. So, if the game is going to require money for content downloads, why not separate out the things that cost relatively little money to develop and give them away to entice us geeks to buy the game, and charge for the licensed goodies? There is no reason for this milking of money from us (on average) poor geeks. 


I think I said it best just a few lines ago, but here it is again; Charge money for licensed content since that costs the developers considerably more to make public, but charge nothing for the unlicensed parts. This would mean that those of us who are fanatic about the game can get the premium goodies, and I know there are plenty of people like that for almost any game out there. Meanwhile, those of us who only get minor entertainment from a game can still download the free stuff and keep supporting the developers by buying the game to begin with and continuing to buy the next game in the series. 

I mean, I was not the most impressed with PGR2 and only got a minor level of enjoyment from the game. However, an add-on of Paris would definitely make me feel a little less like I shouldn't have paid full price for this game. Then, with that add-on, in hand, for free, I would feel more compelled to buy the next PGR title since I'd know that even if it was as half-assed as PGR2 (it did lack the tracks...seriously), I could still look forward to free content to make it worth it's value. 

Hypothetical situation; I mean if I had a choice of GT4 (when it comes out) at full price and a PGR3 at $15 cheaper, I would buy GT4 since it'd be more bang for my hard earned buck. However, if PGR2 had free content downloads, I'd assume PGR4 would too, so I may consider it first and wait for GT4 to drop in price or for a future paycheck before getting it. However, since I know PGR2 cost money to get the content downloads, and I wouldn't pay for PGR2 content and thus would probably not pay for PGR3 content, why would I buy the less complete game and skip over the content download-deprived GT4 which is more complete from the launch? I wouldn't. 

So, in a nut-shell, content that only costs money to pay for programmers should be free to entice future purchases, while content that costs money should be limited to licensed products that cost a licensing fee to program. Lastly, if licensed and non-licensed crap are bundled together and you must pay for the download, then separate the stuff out to satisfy both the die-hard fan-boys and the casual (potential return-) gamer. 


So, like I said, I went full circle.  I usually like to handle issues that are a little more current, but considering how slow this week was in terms of news, I think I made the right decision.  I mean, sometimes we have to appreciate what we have in order to appreciate something new when we get it...or something like that.  Well, just to be clear, I may complain about Gamespot, but they are a good source to obtain some quality news in a's just a shame that the reviews are so pathetic...oh well.  Anyways, I'm bitched out for the week.