Malik  (9/03/04)

Last week I was in a bit of a funk as I felt that maybe, just maybe, my opinions were too far removed from the views of the common geek.  That all changed in an instant when I saw what I had just finished writing up on (check the news from yesterday).  This helped me to see that maybe it's not the world that's blind, as much as the world is just a lot slower than me.  Anyway, that's a smaller and less important bitching, so let's get to what matters.  I'm Malik, and you should know the rest by now;

The Hate, CoH-Style 

As I play City of Heroes, and as I try to gain more of a first hand understanding of the different power pools, I can't help but notice a couple of trends. 

The first, and most obvious, being how certain power pools are taken far more readily than other by the average play...I mean when it comes to a blaster you can expect to see them throw out a fireball, and with a defender you can expect then to pull out a fire sword, and with a controller you can expect some fire imps to be in their distant future...see a trend? At first, when I first started my CoH obsession, I thought that this was the case only because fire always seems like a cooler and more dramatic ability to tap into. I mean if you look at the visuals and the whole fantasy element of the game, an assault rifle, a gust of wind, a beam of straight up energy, or a shell of stone just never seem as cool as shooting out pillars of flame from your finger tips. 

However, as I played more and more of CoH, I saw that the dramatic effects of shooting out flames was not the actual deciding factor. Deep down, when all the powers are compared with each other, it's the fire ones that will always win. For example; fire blasters have AoE abilities coming out of their arses, lots of damage potential, quick abilities, and at the same time, these powers are definitely more dramatic (for those few people actually playing in character or to fulfill their long running geekish desire to be a superhero). The other powers for a blaster, besides the assault rifle specialty, are lacking in power, speed, range, or area of effect...and the assault rifle ends up being the most strongly affected, at higher levels, by resistances (resistance to lethal other words, bullets, is far more common than a fire resistance). This, in almost every case, can be applied when a fire power pool is present (fire controllers get the best summons/pets and fire tankers, or tankers with fire for their secondary, get the best damage abilities). 

That shows a good bias towards picking fire and how the CoH gurus decided to overblow the power of fire, but this problem runs both ways...a lot of the other dramatic abilities are just sad and pathetic, even without using fire as a comparison. When I first picked up CoH, I though an ice or electricity blaster would be cool. However, in the end, a blaster is designed for dealing damage, and these two power pools are designed for lower damage as they deal secondary effects (electricity damages endurance along with health, and ice slows or immobilizes villains). So, my two short journeys into these power sets only resulted in my disappointment as parties refused to pick me up (since they will usually want a damage dealer and leave the slowing or other random effects to the controllers and defenders)...yet my fire blaster had no problem picking up a team. In a nutshell, some of the coolest sounding power pools only come out as mediocre, or worse, when put into practice in Paragon City. 

So, when things are looked at, deep down, there is some obvious design flaws with the power pools. In particular, too many of the powers that should be pretty fun and dramatic end up being related to something that the archetype is not related the blasters that are designed for slowing or endurance draining, or the tankers that are not designed to take the hits. It's a simple matter of the designers of CoH messing up the roles of certain archetype power pools, and in turn, this makes it where a lack of variety is seen in the players. 

Sometimes these issues are discussed or handled in the form of patches. However, these patches usually just nerf the overly powerful abilities (like how super speed lost it's defensive edge in one of the patches...super speed + tanker + provoke = ultimate meat least before this patch). There are occasional rumors about a future patch fixing the uselessness of certain powers (like how fear is due to be adjusted in the next patch to not suck ass). However, this is only the case for the powers that are 100% useless as they currently stand; the powers that are just mediocre are left to rot. It seems that the patches are designed with the thought that unless it's completely broken (as in either way too useful or just crap), it shouldn't be addressed. This, in turn makes anyone who wants to design a hero that is not cookie-cutter (or the same as everyone else), is stuck with the endless problem...make a character that is there to have fun with and yet will never make high level (without obsessive levels of dedication) and rarely will find a team, or make the same crap that everyone else is making. 


While it has not done too much yet, a new patch is the correct solution...or I should say, more than a patch, but a complete update. The current power pools need to all be readjusted to balance out in the end. As one of my friends keeps saying, you need to know your role when you make a character; a tanker who fights is pointless and a blaster that tanks is worthless and a scrapper just has no role to begin with. This is also true to the CoH patch designers. They need to know the roles of the archetypes and thus they need to balance out the powers so that, in the end, all of the archetypes can do it correct job no matter what primary and secondary power pools are picked.

When It Rains It Pours 

So, about 5 months ago, I ended up buying Disgaea. I thought I'd never want to buy it (all because of the bad taste FFTA left in my mouth), but I had very little see, at that time, there were no new games of interest coming out for any of the major consoles, and I was still running too bad of a PC to handle most games (of which there weren't any at the time, anyway). Then, a short time later, I bought La Pucelle Tactics because of this newfound love for Disgaea. That all got me through a good month or so of geekdom. Then, another dry spell occurred and I had to break down and get Thief: Deadly Shadows. Once again, this proved to be for the best, but it only satisfied me for a couple of weeks. Then, I once again had nothing to do for several months...I'd find an occasional game every once in a while, but then I'd go through another drought. This continued until ToS. Then, after ToS, I hit another dry spell until CoH entered my life. 

My point is this; for the first 9 months of this year (I didn't touch earlier than Disgaea since was only a twinkle in my eye at the time), and even a little before that, there were no freakin' games for any system. The only good games for the last year that I can think of would be; ToS, CoH, La Pucelle Tactics, Thief: DS, Disgaea, and Deus Ex: IW. So, while we all struggled through 12 months of mediocre selection (the games I mentioned were awesome, but the selection and timing was pretty lame) and a lot of bad titles with only a rare good one, game developers constantly pushed back titles and delayed the few games that could have made things more bearable...and at the same time they could have made a nice profit since anyone would buy a good RPG when there are no other RPGs available. 

However, now the developers are waking up, deciding they want our love and (more importantly) money, and dusting off those forgotten titles to finally introduce them. Sadly, they are all pulling this move at the same freakin' time and in turn they can kiss their profits goodbye (no one will buy every game coming between now and December), more importantly, the good titles will possibly be viewed as under appreciated in the US and any future offerings from these franchises may have no chance of hitting our shores. If you don't believe me, take a look at some of the offerings for the next 3-4 months; 

Phantom Brave (RPG) Pikmin 2 (Hella Fun) Star Ocean 3 (RPG that should've come out 2/04) X-Men Legends (RPG) LotR: Third Age (RPG) Half-Life 2 (FPS should've been out around 10/03) Halo 2 (FPS...11/03) Shadow Hearts Covenant (RPG sequel of one of the best RPGs ever made) GTA:SA (Need I say anymore) Burnout 3 (Arcade Driving) Fable (RPG...11/03) Paper Mario 2 (RPG) Need For Speed Underground 2 (Arcade Racing) Gran Tourismo 4 (Sim Racing) Wild Arms Alter Code: F (RPG) Metroid Prime 2: Echos (FP Adventure) Baten Kaitos (RPG for GCN) Prince of Pursia 2 (You know the deal) Midnight Club 3 DUB Edition (Arcade Racing) 

Those are just naming some of the games that are facing direct competition from each other. True, not all of these games compete with all of the other games, but you can easily see where the lines of competition will cross. I, for one, am interested in all these titles, so I will have only one option...assuming we don't have another year-long drought of games...and that option is to selectively blow off some games that I have been waiting for for the better part of a decade. In other words, while the game makers are so desperate for my hard earned money, they have forgotten that the average gamer has; limited income, limited time to play games (even if you have no job...bastards...then you still only have 24 hours in a day to get in a moderate amount of sleep and a good amount of geeking), and a very short attention span (of those games you don't get when they are first released that you want, how many will you remember when the next drought hits?). Throw in the final factor of games becoming harder to find the longer they have been out (especially true for RPGs...if it wasn't for La Pucelle Tactics doing so well and creating an bigger interest in Disgaea and thus a re-release, would you ever see it on a store shelf again? I say imagine if LPT came out in the next month; no one would buy it since we have so many RPGs, and thus Disgaea would've been lost forever to most)., and you can see where this is all heading. 

So, in the end, because of some people constantly pushing back their release dates, everyone shall be screwed. I cannot hold any blame for the companies like Rockstar that are actually meeting their first release dates, and there's no blame for them to feel. However, these honest companies will face the same pain as those who are to blame for the down pouring of games to the market, since they will be stuck in the same over crowded marketplace. This type of crap is why you rarely see two big movies come out to theaters on the same day. However, a movie only has to hold you for a weekend, while a game has to do the same for at least a couple of weeks (for a good game, at least). This overcrowding, which is the blame of companies like Lionhead, who keep pushing back release dates, and thus, they should have been the smart companies to do the right thing...the right thing being pushing back their games a little longer. I know that I don't want to see a game like Fable pushed back, yet again, but in this case, there is little chance without doing so. 

Also, at the same time, the other companies should do the right thing (the right thing for their profits) and push back what titles can be pushed back. For example, GTA titles always hit a Fall release, so it would be pointless to push it, it will sell well no matter how crowded the market is. However, games like Phantom Brave should be pushed back...the games that only have cult followings. These titles will be the hardest hit by this situation (in terms of not being purchased), and thus the companies involved (NIS in this case) should do what's right for both their intended audience and for their profits...once again, the right thing would be to push back the release until a better date (like, if next year is anything like this year was, wait until January or February for a proper release). Hell, even some movies have pulled this tactic when one of their competition comes out of no where with a identical release date. 


Well, those last two paragraphs pretty much summed up the majority of the solution to this issue. However, there is another part to it. This part comes down to us geeks. 

We need to be selective in our purchases. In fact, we need to look at this as one should look at an election; even if you like every candidate, you can still only vote for one for each office...that being said, we geeks will be to pick and choose. Also, for once, our choice goes deeper than what games we comes down to "voting" for what games we would like to see a future sequel for. If I buy Phantom Brave 6 months after it's released (like I did with Disgaea), it will not show up on NIS's radar as well as if I buy it today. Also, a lack of support for some games can even affect the future of the company's actions in the US market (like with how NIS is a young and unstable entry to the American shores)...but in the case of NIS, they should have thought twice before releasing a cult followed RPG when SO3, Fable, Baiten Kratos, GTA:SA (which is not an RPG, but is competition to every game on the market in the US) are all coming out at the same general time frame. 

So, I guess in the end, there is no real solution to this crap. The companies did what they shouldn't do, and while the bigger and stronger games will thrive no matter what (GTA:SA will never suffer from market loss in the US), the smaller ones will only suffer. This even goes for a titan like SquareEnix with SO3, since SO is an obscure franchise in the US and it has already been pushed back and delayed for over a year. While some may say this whole situation is a good thing since we will all have plenty of choice in what to buy, in reality...well, it will only become ugly and pointless...this is a crappy war the game publishers are wageing.

The Lonely Disk

At the Game Developer Conference Europe, it was announced some more details on the PSP and the technology that will go into it...well, actually, for the most part, the Sony PSP rep only restated the same crap that has been said for the last year. However, one subject he discussed that had some new information was the state of the UMD (Universal Mini Disk or Media Disk or some crap like that) and the access of this technology. 

For those who have not been paying attention lately, the PSP will use the UMD disks as their software input. These disks are about 1.7 gig in size, and in physical size they are about 1/3 the size of a DVD (or smaller). These disks will be able to hold somewhere around 2 hours of DVD quality video or about 4 hours of digital-TV quality video. Sony is planning on using these disks as more than just a strange game media. They plan to release movies and music on UMD format so that people could use the PSP as a mobile multimedia outlet...good theory. 

So, the announcements at the GDCE in regard to the UMD involves two key elements...besides another restatement of the same stuff Sony has been saying for a year now. The first element is that the public will not receive UMD writers (as in, these will never hit the market, so you cannot ever record your own UMD to watch on your PSP...NEVER!) in any way. Secondly, the game development and publishing world will...say it with me...not receive UMD writers in any way. 

The first aspect of this says that when a movie comes out on UMD format, you will have to be a complete idiot to buy it. While it may be nice to use your PSP as a mobile video playback device, there are some flaws with this plan. If you cannot record your own UMD videos, then this device will be limited in it uses. If the uses are limited, then the lifespan of the UMD will be quite limited, as well. If the life is limited, then all of those UMD movies you buy because you think they're cooler than the equally or cheaper priced DVD versions will be useless far in advance of the DVD lifespan ending. In other words, without a reason for the market to push for UMDs (which would include having more access to them technologically), these little buggers will only be good as long as the PSP is active...and they will only be useful in a PSP. 

At the same time, there is another key aspect that I've been saving on the general populace not having UMD burners. It would be this; we do have access to DVD burners...but that's only the first part. The second part is that portable DVD players which could give about equal video quality as the PSP does can cost as little as $100 (regular price...checking eBay or finding a sale can put four of these babies in your hands for less than the price of 1 PSP...estimated to be about $300 at launch). Put those facts together, and the fact that portable DVD players are becoming about the same size as about 1.5 PSPs, and you can see that if you want portable video, there's a more stable way to go (and you wont have to replace all your DVDs with short lived UMDs to do so). 

At the same time, there's that whole aspect of the developers and publishers having to send their gold DVD-R of the finished product to Sony for manufacture. In the 1980's, Nintendo got into a lot of trouble to squeezing extra money out of game developers. A game would not be supported by Nintendo unless it had the Official Nintendo Seal of Quality on the box...which cost something like $5-$10, per cartridge. They also restricted prices of their technology, and had other features of their business plan that basically gave them unlimited access to the influx of money and unlimited control over all things remotely related to Nintendo. Nintendo thus was able to make extra money off of each any every game beyond the normal licensing fees, technology fees, costs associated with a change in technology, and so forth. Sounds to me like Sony is taking a page from the book of Nintendo. 

Once a developer decides to make a game for the PSP, they will have to pay Sony to manufacture the product. They will also have to play according to Sony's rules and according to Sony's schedule (if a good number of new games come out at once, like what is happening right now with the major consoles, limited numbers will be available of each titles, or several will have to be delayed as the only UMD writing software is localize at one general complex). This is a brilliant move by Sony, assuming no developers catch on and pull out from PSP development, to establish a great level of control over the supposedly free (as in "under their own authority") developers. 

Also, this will be a great chance for Sony to completely mess up the PSP market in a hurry. If the UMD writing is localized in one area, we are going to have some ugly problems ("we" being anyone who buys a PSP) if anything goes wrong. In the early 1990's, all memory SIMM chip (PC memory) manufacturing as localized at one area of area that had a severe earthquake that destroyed the SIMM factory. This resulted in a loss of new SIMM chips to the market for about 4 months as the plant was rebuilt. Also, the cost of SIMM chips rose to insane levels as people fought for the last remaining sticks of memory...I remember an average price increase of about 400% in most retailers. Now, if the UMD plants face a similar problem, then the PSP will become as dead as the N64 in no time (the N64 was plagued with a lack of game ever 1-4 months...if the UMD recorders are knocked down by, say, an earthquake, then the PSP could be without software for a good extended time). 


Considering Sony stands to lose a lot of money in the PSP if it fails, and they stand to make a lot of money by selling UMD recorders to the market, I think the solution should be obvious. Their technology could be more stable, their profits are more insured of growth, and they can stop sounding like stuck-up asses. So, to put it plain and simple; Sony needs to get UMD writing to the masses. They claim this will stifle piracy, when the best solution for that problem is never to destabilize your products; it's to make it harder for a mod chip to be installed in the system (like how the PS2 was vs. the PS). 'Nuff said. 


So, like with other weeks, I like to say we all laughed, we learned, and I got a lot of shit off my chest.  As long as the game industry keeps messing around and not learning from past mistakes, I will continue to be here as the avatar of virtue in the land of geek moral decay.  So, as I also always say, if you have a problem with the truth I am saying you can feel free to write me you little opinion or put it on the forums