Archive for June, 2011

And all good things must come to an end, but it doesn’t make saying good-bye any easier.

Posted in Video Games with tags , , , on June 25, 2011 by halbard100

http://forums.station.sony.com/swg/posts/list.m?topic_id=1220299

I honestly never thought this day would come. I have been a loyal Star Wars Galaxies subscriber since 2004 about 8 months after launch and, despite the ups and downs, I have loved every minute of it. I’m even a little surprised at how this is effect me, not quite like losing a friend or pet but like realizing a toy you grew up with and would always look for when you’re feeling down was gone for good. I’m tearing up a little. It goes beyond the game, I’m a huge Star Wars fan, but its really more than that. Galaxies has had an oddly profound effect on my life, it was one of the defining games that made me say “I want to learn to program. I want to make games.” and principles in its design are some that have influenced me, and I will keep for the rest of my life in whatever I work on. For me, Galaxies represents much more than a simple game in a lot of aspects, it was an experience. I made real friends in that virtual world, some I kept up with outside of the game but have ultimately lost touch with, and I have never had that experience replicated in any other MMO or game community I have encountered. The support and comradery of the individuals within was something that really made Galaxies what it was.

Experiments with design that came into play with SWG created a special experience with the way people interacted with each other in the game sense that expanded the traditional thoughts of games at the time or even since. Systems that SWG had are even now coming out in other games being heralded as these innovative features and ones that differentiate the game from its competitors.

SWG encouraged a cooperation and interaction between players. Today that looks like a dying principle in MMO: cooperation and reliance. I think that’s what made it so much fun for me. It was social in a way nothing else really was. Everyone could work together in such a beautiful harmony. The interactions were so deep, someone actually wrote a thesis paper on them — for a Sociology class:

http://swg.mrap.info/star_wars_galaxies_and_the_division_of_labor.pdf

That’s one thing that made the game rewarding and made me feel like I was important, I could influence other people through my actions and aid them in a real way. A simple example was crafting, anything good was made by a player. I remember a player initiated PvP event, the rebels were trying to protect a base in a player made town. I got a message from a friend to show up and help the push, when I arrived I was gifted with a new set of armor from the resident armorsmith, who was probably one of if not the most well known crafter on the server. He happened to be a rebel. I don’t know if that armor helped out or not, but it couldn’t had hurt. The tools presented in the game made the community stronger because of the depth of interaction it offered.

Freedom of play by design is something I harp on all the time. Constrictions that keep a player from playing how they want to play are something I want the industry to steer away from. Its something that made SWG such a beautiful thing to behold. The tag line “Now begins the greatest story in the galaxy… yours” that something that I think has been lost in RPGs, especially MMORPGs. They want to force you into a set allotment with no way of breaking a mold. SWG let you march to the beat of your own drum. Craft, be social, be combat oriented, just do what makes you happy.

Star Wars The Old Republic is right around the corner. It does looks interesting, I will probably be playing it the minute it comes out. It wants to offer you your own deep story and role in the world. But narrative is only one part of the puzzle; that principle of individuality and personal experience has to be expanded outward not just in your character but your effect on the world that everyone shares. SWG offered depth in all aspects from combat to crafting, something most other games take for granted or something throw away. You defined yourself the way you wanted to and from that the way you played the game and how other players would interact with you changed and it wasn’t a simple artificial change but something you could cultivate into a large effect. Placing a house, building a city, taking part in an actual society within the game; you defined yourself in a way that other people could see. I doubt there will ever be a game that can offer the same sort of depth of play that expands into a community driven spirit.

I could talk for hours and write for miles about SWG. I truly love the game. I hope that its spirit lives on and that it has inspired others to push boundaries, especially as games mature. I’ll close this with an excerp from Raph Koster’s blog about SWG closing that illustrates what I’ve found profound about the design: “an imprint on all the games since: a brief moment where you can stop saving the world or killing rats and realize the real scope and potential of the medium.” Realize the real scope and potential of the medium, if nothing else, that has succeeded with me. There is so much to offer in this space and Galaxies really taught me that.

E3 2011: Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo

Posted in E3, E3 2011, Video Games with tags , , , , , , on June 7, 2011 by halbard100

Unlike the massive recap of last years E3, conference by conference, this year I’m going to be going a more opinionated route. Basically reactions and observations as a whole, instead of doing a glorified list of everything that was said. So:

Microsoft:

Kinect, kinect, kinect. Geeze, they’re cramming this thing onto EVERYTHING. I haven’t been very secretive about my opinion of motion gaming. I like to sit on my ass and press buttons, jumping around and waving my fat frame around the room just makes me feel like an idiot. That said, if the implementation of the use of the hardware is practical, makes sense, and does something that can’t be done other wise, it might not be my style, but more power to the developer for doing something forward thinking and interesting. Dance Central, while making me feel and look like a fool, is just such an example of that, seamless, ingenious, and impossible to achieve in any other form, so it isn’t surprising there’s a sequel coming. On the flip side, we have trying to shoehorn the tech into the Xbox genre of choice FPSs. I’m sorry, but opening and closing your hand to fire your weapon makes it seem more difficult to play, not lowering the barrier of entry which is part of the whole motion gaming idea: accessibility and immersion. At least, that’s what the idea should be about. There are some places where you NEED a tactile response: the vibration of a controller or the click of a trigger. And to me, pulling a trigger to fire a weapon just seems more realistic than flailing about midair, even if we’ll soon be able to only have to pull an imaginary trigger, there is still a loss of the physical response. The tech demos for Kinect are always so impressive. I drool and ogle at the possibilities the device can do, but more often than not, those capabilities just don’t seem to translate into a practical gaming sense or to that goal of immersion and accessibility. There was also deja-vu from last year as Microsoft paraded their interpretation of a female using Kinect. While not as cringe worthy, it was still sad. That said, my personal highlight of the night was Tim Schafer coming on with Double Fine’s Once Upon a Monster. There was just something honest and endearing about the presentation and the look of the game. It didn’t seem rehearsed or artificial, just fun. Sesame Street has always had an element of getting up and playing with the characters on screen as far as I can remember (its been a few years), and I’ll put my trust in Double Fine in using Kinect to make it feel like you’re truly playing with the crew from Sesame Street. Just make sure the YEP aliens are in there Tim.

To me, at least lately, Microsoft seems to keep having the weakest E3 presentations, and I think it mainly due to them being watered down with Kinect. There was a Gears 3 demo with Ice-T, a Halo HD remake trailer, and the Halo 4 announcement, but all that sticks out in my mind is the constant push of Kinect surrounded by this air of disappointment and lost potential.

PlayStation:

Jack Trenton probably said it best, “This is the second year I’ve come to E3 with an elephant in the room.” I’m impressed with Sony for tackling it head on, I mean, they really couldn’t have been taken seriously if that wasn’t their first point to bring up. The apology even came across as sincere, not simply a PR bit. Sony also pressing the point that they view consumers as their everything. I know that should be obvious, but there is something I like about Sony always mentioning how much they think about the consumers and how much the players mean to them. As a whole, the presentation went pretty standard for Sony: game play and live demos plus a few music videos. The big bit of the night was probably the Vita announcement (Vita is starting to be more catchy with me than PSV). The fidelity and power of the device coupled with cross platform connectivity with the PS3 should pose some very interesting game design down the line. The $250 price point is also a nice bit. Not sure if I’ll be an early acceptor of the thing, but they’re throwing the gauntlet down to compete with the 3DS on the same price point I think. Still, these days, I don’t think any hand held should exceed $200. Hell, I really think that the $170 tag on the PSP is where a hand held launch should be targeted. When you have to start weighing your options between a hand held and a home console, there is a huge issue in my mind. Then again, I guess if all home console are launching at $450 or $500+, $250 is reasonable. Regardless of the cost arguments, I do like the device and look forward to what developers can leverage from it in the coming months. Besides that, there was the typical Sony 3D push. The big thing that I really, really love the idea of is their dorm room size, PS branded, 3D TV, not because of it being a (some what?) affordable 3D TV, but instead of split screen for co-op or competitive games, you can set it so that each pair of glasses sees the respective player’s view as the whole screen. No more shared TV space, no more screen watching either if that’s your thing. That simply blows my, sure its a expensive set for just that, but its cool as hell none the less. For me anyway.

All and all, Sony didn’t hit any extremes for me. I wasn’t bored to tears or on the verge of shouting, but it didn’t give me the urge to call up friends to tell them “Guess what Sony just did!!!” There’s some nice HD collections in the pipe line and some new games (Sly anyone) but what happened to more information on games like The Last Guardian?

Nintendo:

God where to begin. Nintendo more than anyone probably had me go through the biggest range of reactions, from “meh” to “HOLY MOTHER OF-”. The obvious big bit of the show was the new console’s controller, yes just the controller. Picture an iPad with Wii Classic Controller buttons and you’re in the ball park. This thing had my friends and I confused for the most presentation as to whether it was a controller or the actually new console. We finally figured out it was just the controller, but that all Wii peripherals were backwards compatible (something that made the initial confusion of device all the worse during the usage trailers). On top of that, we had the name: Wii-U. … Yep that’s the name. The best reaction I heard was on twitter: “the name wii u makes me giggle. It’s like you’re cursing but not really. Then again that’s just me…#weird” I really couldn’t agree more. The Wii name has become enduring over the years as well as leading itself to a number of phallic related jokes in many a dorm room, but many, including myself, were expecting a new name; not to distance the console from it’s predecessor but to show Nintendo’s increasing move towards innovation. On that note as well, the use of the controller with a screen gives me flash backs to the Gamecube-GBA connector cable, something that I think was only taken advantage of with Zelda Four Swords. With the 3DS, Nintendo seemed to be taking the failed concept of the Virtual Boy and perfecting it, so I can only wonder if the Wii-U is being designed with a similar mentality. If nothing else, there are some nice basic ideas you can do with it. The funny bit is though, it makes me think of the Vita and it’s PS3 interaction. Either way, nearly everything seemed like a big tease leading up to showing just a controller for the system, though if you look around online, you can see some pictures of the full Wii-U.

Nintendo, more than anyone else, caused the most rage and frustration coupled with excitement and happiness between friends and I, mostly spurred by whether or not we were being shown a console or just a controller and at how underwhelming and silly the name came across as. That said, a new Luigi’s Mansion was announced, which is a personal favorite game of mine that I don’t think got enough love and almost sold me a GC, probably would have if I had had the money. Not sure if the Wii-U controller with end up being innovative and amazing or just clunky and cumbersome; the thing is BIG.

Keep an eye here for more reactions, random trailer drops, or general emotional filled rants about games and E3 this week. Maybe even a personal video or two, WHO KNOWS???