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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Gaming: Entrenched in an Expensive Enterprise

Hey Internet. Sorry about the lack of updates. Being a college student STILL IN SCHOOL is quite depressing and harrowing. Busy busy busy this time of year, but fear not! G3TM has not been left by the wayside just yet. Many of our members are, in fact, on break (not me) and will be able to push out regular content again. In the mean time, I offer this interesting bit about gaming.

I’m a member on IGN’s website. Sometimes I poke around and make comments and occasionally make an update here or there that re-posts these articles and whatnot. Aside from being a shameless plug for IGN and their fantastic content, I noticed a really neat thing. As a member on the site, you can “Follow” games, like you would people on Twitter. I had not followed any games up until this point as it seemed quite useless. However, when I actually ventured to follow some particular games that I owned, something peculiar showed up. There were stats that gave a breakdown of my games in several categories including, for the purposes of this editorial, the estimated value of the collection. Intrigued, I assumed that this stat was tracking the full retail price of the games I was following. I had always been curious as to how much money I’ve spent in my time on Earth on videogames. On a boring Saturday night, I had trekked though my memories to remember each and every game I’ve bought and have played to completion or plan to complete to compute how much money I’ve dumped on games. Good God it was a lot.

For a broke college student that has never had a job in his life, the amount of money was staggering: $4,690.76. I could practically pay for a year’s worth of tuition with this money, not to mention the fact that there was $319.90 of MORE games I wanted to buy. Now these are only the games that I’ve finished or plan on finishing, so the figure could be a lot higher if I included the games I’ve bought and never played and even the games I’ve forgotten entirely. Granted, I’ve gotten games on sale and have bought used. Still, over $4,500 dollars on games is a huge shocker. This doesn’t even cover the cost of the game systems that played the damn things either.

For better or worse, I’ve picked a huge money dump to invest in for entertainment. Do I regret a single dollar on any of these purchases? Well, I think games are one of the best forms of entertainment out there. Vicariously living out a world with my character and being an active medium of entertainment is what makes games so powerful. And because gaming is relatively new in terms of its brethren entertainment forms like movies and music, it’s “golden age” has yet to come I feel. Gaming is only going to get better in the future. There’s an unlimited amount of potential. Gaming has yet to have its greatest creators. Movies have a Spielberg. Books have Stephenie Meyer a Shakespeare. Music has a Zeppelin. Games don’t have that genre defining character that has created a golden gaming standard yet (although Shigeru Miyamoto comes close). So to answer, no; I do not ever regret spending a single dollar on games because of what they are and the future of what they can be.



Ok, so maybe I regret buying Jackie Chan Adventures for the GBA…

-Paul Nguyen (Silver Fox 92)


Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Next Nintendo Hardware

Is there room for 3 hardcore consoles?


The biggest news in weeks, maybe even 2011 thus far, has been the rumor buzz on the next Nintendo console. If you haven’t read up on the subject, I’ll give a quick breakdown. There have been strong sources indicating that the next Nintendo console: a) is dubbed “Project Café,” the system does not have an official name yet b) it will be in HD and be purportedly more powerful than the PS3, in what terms of what is unknown, c) Nintendo will be aiming to gain the attention of its hardcore audience again, d) it will be revealed at E3, the Electronics Entertainment Expo, e) the controller harkens back to a more traditional style, meaning dual analog, shoulder buttons, d-pad and will be similar to a GameCube controller in function, not necessarily in form f) this controller will feature a 6 inch screen which will be able to stream content from the console to the screen. These details are available in a more in-depth look can be found at a nifty little list here with links to their sources.

With all these rumors spinning about, it seems rare for a company like Nintendo to reveal its hand so freely when, in the past, the company has played close to the vest, obstinate about giving away details about either game or console. But now that the press has opened up the proverbial Pandora’s Box, the amount of detail we have available about the new system is quite odd. It’s almost as bad as the PSP Go and PS3 Slim leaks, which almost all turned out to be true. Another thing that strikes me as odd is the fact that Nintendo just released another system not a month ago: the 3DS. In atypical fashion, the Big N released a handheld in the same year they are about to blow the covers off a new system. Looking back and the handheld and console cycle for Nintendo, I don’t recall this ever happening. However, I think that it’ll be unlikely the next Wii will be out this year. Releasing two systems in the same year would be an insane move on Nintendo’s part. Any release will more than likely be in the next year or two if the rumors are credible.

With the PS3 and the 360 duking it out for the hardcore audience, does the next Wii have a place in that fight? I’m going to have to argue that it doesn’t. Nintendo has always carried the label of being the “family friendly” consoles. The Big N’s mascots have largely been cute and harmless. Your friendly Italian plumber who saves princesses, the adorable green dinosaur he rides on, a pink soft ball that sucks stuff, a yellow electric rat that rides on your shoulder, I could go on. Sure, there’s nothing family friendly about Samus fighting brain jellyfish, but for the most part, Nintendo’s lineup has been about family accessible titles, and that label has never been truer than in the current generation Wii, and I can predict that the label will continue to persist in the upcoming console. So how does this relate to Wii 2 vs PS3 and 360 in the hardcore gamer demographic?

Simply put, the hardcore gamers want what Nintendo doesn’t really do: gritty, mature, violent games. Now I’m not necessarily going to say that Nintendo NEVER releases such games. A statement like that would be ignorant, as the Nintendo consoles have been the purveyors of the FPS genre on the consoles with such titles as Goldeneye and Perfect Dark being released on the N64, not to mention Resident Evil 4 debuted on the GameCube. Rather, the hardcore gamer will remember that the Wii has brought the family into the gaming room, so the hardcore experience won’t be as prevalent on Nintendo’s next console. Family games aren’t what hardcore gamers latch on to. Yes, Nintendo does have hardcore franchises like Zelda and Metroid. Yes, Mario is a fantastic series and is probably the best platforming series, but this game is not hardcore. Metroid and Zelda don’t grab enough of the hardcore gamer audience for the next Nintendo console to succeed. 3rd party developers know that their “kiddie games” sell on Nintendo consoles, and that’s largely what they are going to make. Unless Nintendo leads the way in developing IPs that speak to the hardcore audience, they will never win out against the PS3 and 360 who have cornered that audience.

In addition, Nintendo has frankly never been good at getting the hardcore audience since the NES and SNES. After those years, the PlayStation brand has been king for the proceeding generations with PS1 and PS2. Even this generation, the 360 has that position, with the PS3 nipping at its heels. What makes Nintendo think that the hardcore will be able to capture the hardcore gamer three generations removed of being the top dog in terms of hardcore gamers? Not only that, but who is going to buy the Wii 2 for hardcore games instead of their contemporaries who have been developing hardcore games for much longer and at a more consistent rate? In terms of capturing the hardcore before, I recall Nintendo largely failing in their attempts with the GameCube. The hardcore titles that did release on the GameCube never did as well as the PS2 and Xbox hardcore games. The PS2 had GTA, the Xbox had Halo, and the GameCube? It had the usual gamut of Nintendo IPs which satisfied the Nintendo fanboys, but not much else to appeal to the hardcore. Unless the new Nintendo consoles see the multiplatform releases of their contemporaries like Fallout, GTA, CoD, Nintendo will never succeed at gaining the hardcore audience it wants to.

A dog fight between three consoles is much too much. Developers can be very lazy when it comes to developing multiplatform games. There will always be one console that developers first develop on when making a game. This console will be the highest common denominator, ie the console with the biggest install base. The 360 has this right as of this generation in terms of the hardcore releases, even though the Wii has by far the biggest install base. This is why oftentimes the 360 version games will look slightly better than the PS3 version games, even though the PS3 is more powerful. The Wii 2 will most likely also get this sort of treatment from the get-go and will get the shaft when developers are creating games for it. Developers simply won’t use the power of this new system simply because it will cost too much money for developers to utilize it and maximize its potential, especially if it does not lead in terms of its numbers. Why spend so much more money when there are already more 360s out there? It simply does not make sense for multiplatform developers to harness the next Wii’s power. Of course, the developers that take time to specifically develop for the next Wii will make games that may very well look better than anything on the 360 or PS3, but the amount of time and money it would take to create and engine and graphics system that works with the new Wii games of such caliber will be a long time in the making. So who’s really winning in this situation?

For me, I think it’s a big mistake for Nintendo to be releasing a system with tech that will most certainly be outdated once the PS4 and the new Xbox release. This move to out the newer system way before the other two is flawed, assuming that the next versions of Sony and Microsoft’s consoles don’t appear anytime soon, which I sincerely doubt as the Move and Kinect has increased the lifecycles of both consoles, not to mention that graphics can still be much improved on these consoles. Nintendo does not have it in them to win a three dog HD war; there are just too many knocks against it. These arguments I’ve presented do not fully encompass my thoughts. If you want to hear more, comment below and I’ll try to answer as extensively as I can.

-Paul Nguyen (Silver Fox 92)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sequel-itis

A Plague on the Game Industry

The acronym “IP” gets thrown around a lot when talking about games. For those that don’t know, IP stands for Intellectual Property and simply refers to a game series, such as Mario or Halo. An original IP, a new game series, is something I feel the game industry is getting afraid of when sequeled titles sell so much more. Looking at 2011’s big releases this year, there are a lot of numbers after those titles: Killzone 3, Resistance 3, Gears of War 3, Assassin’s Creed 3, Infamous 2, Mass Effect 3, Oblivion 5, and another Call of Duty… I could go on. As you can see, sequels dominate the releases not only this year, but years prior as well. There’s a lot to be said about sequels. Hell, even I’m inclined to buy more than half of the list I just mentioned. But what are we saying as gamers when we buy sequels? Are developers tricking us by putting out a game with a fresh set of paint? Do we as consumers gobble up sequels regardless of how much of a cash-in they are?

I touched base on this subject a bit in my last article on Pokémon a bit (go check it out!). Although not a numbered sequel, Pokémon Black and White are definitely a continuation of the main Pokémon games and unquestionably feel like the same basic gaming experience we’ve had over the last iterations of the games. This is a call to gamers to start voting with your wallet. If you’re tired of the same mechanics in a game without much revision, don’t buy the game and complain later as the game companies already have your money. Don’t buy the game at all. I skipped out on the last generation of Pokémon (Diamond and Pearl versions) because I felt that there was nothing in it for me. Black and White brought me back into the fold. If those games don’t do it for you, don’t buy them.

We as gamers have the right to demand more from our game companies. We shouldn't be satisfied with all the incremental features that come out year over year. We deserve better than that. The yearly Maddens, Call of Dutys, Guitar Heroes, MLB 2Ks, etc. shouldn’t sell gangbusters if they’re only offering a couple new modes, a new gun, improved stats or whatever nominal feature they put in. This creates stagnation in our games, which is why so many people on message boards complain about the game. Most are usually the loud minority that buys the game anyway, but this crowd does have a point: we shouldn't be satisfied with the same experience again and again.

I realize that Mass Effect 3 along with other games are trilogies that outline a story. I get that. But, how many original IPs are there this year? This generation of consoles? Certainly less than the numbered sequels we have been seeing and certainly not as big, buzz wise or numbers sold. The blame certainly does not fall 100% on our hands. Publishers have just as big, or even bigger, impact upon what gets into store shelves the next year. There are publishers that are just too afraid to take a gamble on an original IP and would rather take the profit of a sure fire game.

One of the worst offenders is Activision and their CEO Bobby Kotick. In 2008, VivendiGames, which owns Blizzard Entertainment and another studio called Sierra, sought to merge with Activision, forming Activison Blizzard. Along the way, key titles Sierra was developing such as Ghostbusters and TimSchafer’s Brutal Legend were dropped. Bobby Kotick claimed they weren’t “annual-izable.” It's as bad as it sounds. Kotick turned down these later critically acclaimed games because he couldn't turn them into a cash cow? That's downright inexcusable. Big Activision mainstays such as Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero are now former shells of themselves because of this word. No one will want to play these games for years because they were pumped out for all they're worth. Do we really want this for our other games? Call of Duty is actively becoming another Guitar Hero with 3 separate studios working on a different iteration: Treyarch, Infinity Ward, and Sledgehammer Games which is developing an unreleased action-adventure Call of Duty, whatever that means. Not to mention Raven Software known for their games such as Singularity and the recent Wolfenstein remake are now solely working on DLC for Black Ops and the Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer. The amount of activity around this IP could have been better serviced by making more innovative and more interesting games instead of working on this single IP whose mechanics and gameplay are becoming played out to the point of becoming mundane and contrived.

Graphical technology has only gotten better over the years. Realistic graphics aren’t a thing of the future anymore, they are present day facts. Looking at the engines running Final Fantasy XIII, God of War 3, Crysis 2 and other gaming powerhouses, it’s amazing how far the gaming industry has come since the 8-bit era. No longer are we required to imagine what characters look like. What game developers think of, they can create. Yet with all this power, why aren't we seeing more genres? Why aren’t we seeing any groundbreaking new games? There is so much time, money and man power devoted to all these graphic engines, sometimes developers lose sight of the other aspects of gaming that are important. We should be seeing a renaissance of new games coming. New, unique games that challenge the way we've been playing games. Or even games that have amazing narrative experiences, character development, and plots that blow us away. There are only a handful of these refined experiences out there, but instead we have a lot of games with a lot of mediocre stories. All publishers and marketing teams want to do is hand us the same iteration of the same mechanics of gameplay, just with a graphical overhauls. When is this going to stop? What we as gamers need to do is vote with our wallets. Encourage the small developers who are making those games that aren't exactly on the radar at the moment and are experimenting with our genres. We just can’t be satisfied being spoon-fed the next Halo, the next Call of Duty, the next sequel. We deserve better than that. Time to demand more.


-Paul Nguyen (Silver Fox 92)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Blurb!



HOLY CRAP! Haven't been this excited for a flash game since I was in 6th grade playing stuff at addictinggames! What is it? Ready?





POKEMON TOWER DEFENSE!

......



Well? Ok. I see what you mean. There are a cornucopia of tower defense games on the App store, even more online, etc. Well, this isn't your mom's and dad's tower defense. No sir. This is POKEMON we're talking about. How does it translate? Well, let's just say if the pokemon franchise turned in this direction or they made spinoffs like this, I would pay $30-$40 easy. For each game. Red through Black. Dead serious.

Basic mechanics are the same: weaknesses still apply, you can only carry 6 Pokemon/towers at a time, they still gain exp., and you can catch Pokemon when their health falls into the red. These elements play beautifully in a tower defense type game. It's great! Probably the best thing on the internet, at least this week.

Visit the blogger's site:
http://samdangames.blogspot.com/
and check it out on
Newgrounds:http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/566150


-Paul Nguyen (Silver Fox 92)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Pokemon Black



Pokémon Black: Why it still infects the world with Poké-fever 15 years later


For the uninitiated, the gaming industry tracks the sales of their product through internal numbers, like the amount that they ship, and through the NPD, the National Product Diary.  Major game sites like IGN and Gamespot buy the rights to see these numbers and, with permission, can disclose some of those numbers.  Last year, with the release of Soul Silver and Heart Gold which were remakes of the Game Boy Color games Silver and Gold respectively, the Pokémon games sold a combined 1.78 million copies in HALF a month (they released March 14, 2010).  The upcoming NPD numbers for this March will expect to see Nintendo’s heavy hitters, Pokémon Black and White, top the charts for the umpteenth time. 

The Pokémon series have always been chart topers and are among the best selling games of all time. But I don’t have to tell you that.  Somewhere you have your Red or Blue version lying around. You once touted you caught the elusive MissingNo to your schoolmates.  You’ve trained your Pokémon to beat the Elite Four half a dozen times on several different games.  We all have.  And with the release of Black and White, some of us have shaken off the rust and began anew something so familiar.  Yes, in this new Pokémon game, the same formula persists: beat eight gym leaders, fight the Elite Four and the Champion and capture a legendary Pokémon with the Master Ball (teh spoilarz!).  It’s been the same main game in this regard for the past 15 years since the release of Red and Green in Japan in 1996.  Yet we continue (or at least I do…) to buy them, even though the new one promises a new set of paint.  Why?  Why do we continue to fall into Poké-fever? Why do we buy, essentially, the same game again and again with different Pokémon?

In the 15 years Pokémon has been around as a franchise, the tried and true formula has worked and continues to work each and every iteration of Pokémon.  The Pokémon games have a very simple premise at first glance.  At its most basic level, Pokémon is the ultimate game of Rock-Paper-Scissors.  Fire beats grass, grass beats water, water beats fire, which also beats ground and rock, ground beats rock but is weak to grass. You could go on.  But this simple game mechanic belies the complexity hard core players look at: effort value training, Pokémon natures that affect stats, egg bred moves, etc.  Pokémon encompasses the idea of having simple yet deep game play, which is why they have so much staying power.  Instead of trying to teach a player hundreds of complex mechanics, Pokémon gives you Rock-Paper-Scissors to the extreme and lets you run with it.  This is why they can be enjoyed by so many ranging from those who go to tournaments spending weeks perfecting the right party, to the casual fan who hasn’t played a Pokémon game in years to see what the new one is like.  Both sides of the spectrum and everyone in-between can feel at home playing these games.  Pokémon can be as causal or hardcore as you make it to be.

Trading, capturing, and battling Pokémon has such an addictive quality. There’s something so intrinsically alluring in the Pokémon games that makes you want to catch and train the best team.  Its 15 year lifespan isn’t due to the ravenous fan boys or the simplicity of the general market to gobble up sequels (although, they do have a tendency to do that…).  This idea sells short the brilliance the Pokémon games have exhibited over the years.  Sequel-itis doesn’t last for 15 years.  Rather, the novel concept behind Pokémon which isn’t seen by many games today is what gives Pokémon its place in gamers’ hearts: the simple, yet deep game play mechanics.  This is not to say we as gamers should be complacent in this, the fifth generation of Pokémon.  No sir.  If we are not careful, Pokémon could fall the way of the Dynasty Warrior games, and no one wants that.  Buy the game if you want to recapture the magic of the Pokémon games.  If you feel you aren’t getting your money’s worth and still feel like you’re paying for the same damn game since Red and Blue version, tell the developers what you think.  You’d be surprised at what they listen to.  As for me, I’ve got an eighth gym leader to battle, 30 hours logged on my game clock, and enjoying every minute of it.


-Paul Nguyen (Silver Fox 92)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Final Fantasy XIII and JRPGS

Final Fantasy XIII
Why Japanese Developers Need to Get Their Heads out of Their A$$ and Make Better RPGs

Before I begin, let me say that I am someone who is pretty well versed in JRPGs and has loved playing Japanese developed games. Some of my favorite games are JRPGs. I’ve spent many hours playing RPGs like Eternal Sonata, Final Fantasy XII, Tales of Symphonia, Tales of the Abyss, The World Ends With You, and many other RPGs. I only point out my problems with the modern JRPG in the hopes to get multi-million dollar companies to stop doing JPRGs by the numbers and truly evolve.

My main problem with FF XIII is its attempt to stick with the traditional. FF XIII is a Japanese RPG that is rife with stereotypes. And I’m not talking about characters either. Game play too. Whereas the Western RPG has given the gamer control of their character by means of customization, dialogue choices, and sometimes a first person view, the traditional Japanese character one controls feels distant from you. You don’t control his/her choice in the dialogue or what action to take. It is very passive in this regard. For example, take the battle system in a JRPG (FF XIII since we are talking about it) as opposed to a WRPG (a game like Fallout 3 or Mass Effect). In FF XIII you don’t really perform the action, you tell your character to do it for you. You never really feel engrossed in the battle as you are merely just telling what the cast of characters should do. In Fallout 3 or Mass Effect YOU are the one shooting, aiming, moving ducking behind something because you’re being fired at. I realize that the WRPG is more shooter based in combat but the active vs. passive argument applies to the story as well.

In the two WRPGs I just mentioned, you craft your own story. You make choices based on where you want to go and what dialogue options you choose. *spoilers* In Fallout 3, you can literally choose to blow up an entire city based on what you choose.*end spoilers* Whether or not you choose to do so can open or close many dialogue options, treasures and side quests not to mention that it also counts as part of a morality system you are given which can also determine side quests and dialogue. You are actually playing a role (the R in RPG) in this game. JRPGs, as tradition holds, sort of pigeonhole you into THEIR story, what the creator WANTS you to do. In this regard, it is more like the passive mediums such as books, television or movies. Not to say that they are bad. As you’ve seen in passive mediums, the stories are well crafted and engaging. You can lose yourself in the story of a well told story or movie. Normally, I would have no problem with a well told story as I’m being strung along through a game. Games like Assassin’s Creed have a quite enjoyable interesting story with their Dan Brown –like historical conspiracy feel. However, in the unique active medium of gaming, don’t you want to be part of the story too? Shouldn’t you have a role in this ROLE PLAYING game?

The biggest problem with the story in FF XIII is that it’s just a big jumbled mess. The cut scenes, whose purpose is to convey story, don’t do the very job they’re supposed to do! If you only go by the cut scenes, you miss ALL the subtleties of the story the creators are trying desperately to convey but are failing at it. How do I know this? After every cut scene, you will see a “Datalog Update” flash at the top left of your screen. If you read the event section, it will tell you all the M.O.s of the characters. You will receive NONE of those subtleties based on the acting of the characters AT ALL. Is it too much to expect that a cut scene will explain the story? ABSOLUTELY NOT! That is what a cut scene is designed to do! But if I have to read an insert as to what the creators wanted me to know about the main heroin, Lightning, and her feelings to understand them, then the cut scenes are just a bunch of wasted animations and hired actors’ voices. Not only is the way the story is told broken, it don’t make a lick of sense! The characters M.O.s, despite reading about them, sometimes don’t make any sense at ALL!

The time where a massive 40 hour plus game could string you along with mediocre story is no more. As consumers, we vote with our dollar and right now, we are voting to keep all this crap in the next production Square Enix produces. The gaming industry is evolving right now. The WRPG has taken a hold in many gamers’ hearts because it is what the consumer wants. There is a lot of hate on Final Fantasy XIII by gamers and reviewers alike not because they are “teh biased,” but because of the failings of the modern JRPG to deliver what is now standard in games: a good story that makes sense with character development and engrossing game play elements. I feel as if Final Fantasy XIII and a lot of modern JRPGs don’t have that. The JRPGs on the market today are by the numbers revisions of old and outdated mechanics. Random battles, no-nonsense stories and bland characters aren’t cutting it today. Final Fantasy XIII is a game I don’t recommend buying. It is not worth your time and money.

As a Japan-ophile (someone that loves Japanese culture, manga, anime, etc.), I would love to see JRPGs have a return to prominence. I definitely don’t want all my games to feature manly, hulking men like Markus Fenix and shooter games populate the entirety of this generation of games. But what the JRPG market needs right now is a kick in the ass. They need a progression – an evolution - in how things are getting done.

-Paul Nguyen (Silver Fox 92)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Welcome!

Welcome to the new and improved Game reviews site (previously game reviews from gamers).  For those of you who may be new to our blog, we are a game team called G3TM, who play shooters (mainly Call of Duty) competitively, but are all hardcore gamers spanning every next gen platform.  As opposed to other game reviews sites from large publishers, we all understand that games are geared towards certain audiences, so while we may not like a particular FPS(first person shooter) because we may be more of a TPS(third person shooter) fan, we understand the merits of that game as a FPS.  While we will give our subjective view points we will always try to include throughout our reviews objective views.

Above all this blog is about gamers as a community, and we welcome open, respectful discussion about games.  To frequently on PSN(PlayStation network) or Xbox Live you here people cussing out other people, or tossing around extremely vulgar insults for no reason, and we feel that this has mis-represented the gaming community and strive to change that. 

We hope that you will like what you find, and although there are a few of us there are a lot more games out there than we can possibly review, so if you have a game you'd like to hear about or share your opinion about please feel free to post here, or email us at G3tm.gamers@gmail.com.  We'd be happy to publish well written reviews and give you credit here on the site.

We also publish montages and other gaming related videos on our YouTube channel, and we have in the works been developing our own amature game.


As always,
Thanks for the support!

-G3TM