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The Contradictory Support for Online Gaming

Posted by Nick Dinicola on August 21, 2009

I recently renewed my Xbox Live gold account, and I was reminded of the first time that I signed up for it just over a year ago. A friend came to visit and brought Battlefield: Bad Company, and convinced me to sign up for a gold account right then and there. It was easy but only because I already had a silver account and wireless adapter. Getting to that initial point required more effort and money than it was worth. In that short span of a year, online connectivity has become a major selling point for games and consoles. Nearly every new triple-A game has some form of online play, either competitive or cooperative, and even some multiplayer-only games have jumped from the PC to the consoles. The consoles themselves embrace the online world with a mix of downloadable games and community features. Yet, for all of this hype and support, there are many unnecessary hurdles a customer has to face before getting connected. Hurdles that can easily scare someone away, and that have consistently gone untended. Despite their apparent interest in the online space, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo are shooting themselves in the foot.

Microsoft, arguably, has the most invested in its online offerings. There are many aspects of Live that make it an actual community and not just a mish-mash of anonymous people playing the same game. The party system and standard headset encourage communication among players, and the avatars give people a unique visual identity in addition to their chosen gamertag. Members can watch movies from Netflix, with more from Facebook, Twitter, and Last.fm coming in the fall. The “Summer of Arcade,” a five week period which highlights certain Xbox Live Arcade games, has become a yearly promotion, and 1 vs. 100 has emerged as a popular community game that appeals to gamers of every ilk. Yet entering this online world is costly. The hard drive, a necessity when it comes to downloadable games and content games, is prohibitively expensive, as is Microsoft’s official wireless adapter. Even then you only get a silver account, to get a gold account and actually play online with others you have to pay a yearly fee. There’s a workaround for people who don’t want to pay for the adapter, but with all the focus placed on Live and its features, people shouldn’t have to want a workaround.

Read the rest at PopMatters.

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Choosing The Experience Over The Challenge

Posted by Nick Dinicola on July 3, 2009

EndWar - CampaignWhen starting a new game in Tom Clancy’s EndWar, the player is faced with three options for difficulty: Normal, Expert, and Hardcore. When I saw the choices for the first time I immediately choose Expert because I had been conditioned by numerous games over several years to know that the middle option was always the medium difficulty. Sure it was labeled “Expert” but I knew it was just a label. Before getting into the game proper, the player is encouraged to play through the Prologue, what is essentially a series of tutorials familiarizing the player with the various mission types. I did, and I could not beat the third mission. I lost so fast, so many times that I turned off the game in frustration and didn’t touch it for a month. When I finally went back to it, I started a new game on Normal. I beat the Prologue, I won World War III, and I had a blast doing so. As someone who usually never plays a game on the lowest difficulty setting, it was easy for me to rationalize the switch because the setting was labeled Normal. This was the setting the game was meant to be played on, right? Be that as it may, there’s no denying that I had to switch to lowest difficulty setting in order to get past the third tutorial mission. But I don’t really mind anymore, because I loved conquering Europe and Russia and I’d gladly choose that experience again any day.

Read the rest at PopMatters.

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The Flawed Horror of Silent Hill: Homecoming

Posted by Nick Dinicola on June 12, 2009

Silent Hill Homecoming - Cult SymbolSilent Hill: Homecoming was largely seen as a departure from the survival-horror genre when it was released last October. However, this entry in the long running series remained true to its genre roots in many ways. Guns were sparse and ammo even more so, there were plenty of puzzles and dark environments, and while the new combat system bothered many long-time fans because it didn’t actively discourage fighting, since it emphasized dodging over attacking, players still felt weak and disadvantaged in each confrontation. But Silent Hill: Homecoming was a departure from form. It took more inspiration from the Silent Hill movie than from the previous games and ended up with many of the same flaws. It had all the elements of a psychological survival-horror game, but didn’t know how to use them properly, and as a result, it felt like more of a departure than it actually was.

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I’ve also got a review of Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings up on PopMatters as well.

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I recently bought and finished the Epilogue for Prince of Persia, and was surprisingly disappointed by it, but not for the reasons most other gamers were. Read the rest of this entry »

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Looking Ahead

Posted by Nick Dinicola on June 5, 2009

E3 09Having recently finished Far Cry 2 I found myself wondering what I should play next. I had embraced the holiday rush last year, so I had plenty of games to choose from, and I browsed through my collection looking for one that sparked my interest. Since this happened to coincide with E3, I bombarded myself with press conferences, videos, write-ups, and hands-on previews, all hyping the big games to be released in the coming year, and suddenly my collection didn’t seem as interesting as it did last week. I found myself getting more excited for those upcoming games than for the games I already own.

So much of the gaming culture revolves around upcoming games. Previews make up a major part of any news coverage, especially during the build up to E3. Gamers’ desire for the “next big game” is so strong that a ten second trailer for Modern Warfare 2 is cause for a surprising amount of fanfare, and companies make announcements of announcements in order to start the hype as soon as possible. Many people sell older games in order to afford newer games, and Gamestop’s record profits are a testament to how common the practice is. It makes sense then that E3 is the biggest event of the gaming industry. Whereas movies and music have the Oscars and Grammys, award shows that focus on what has come out in the past year, gaming’s major show is a preview event that looks ahead at what’s coming out in the next year.

This kind of attitude is necessary for an industry that relies so heavily on technology. New tech is always being introduced to the gaming world, so developers must always be looking ahead and thinking of new ways to incorporate that tech into their games. Just this week, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo all showed off new forms of motion control, so now it falls to developers to figure out how to integrate that new kind of control into games. The future of gaming is always changing, so it’s understandable that the industry would focus more on its future than its past.

A problem arises when consumers adopt this point of view, and become more concerned with what lies in the future rather then the present. I remember times as a teenager when I would be playing a game and all I could think about was what I wanted to play next. I’d continue playing the first game just to beat it, feeling an odd obligation to finish it before moving on, but the moment I was done with it I would never think of it again. Even if I loved a game, once I beat it I no longer cared about it. Such an attitude is not only a disservice to the game and its creators but to me as a gamer. Instead of savoring my time with those games, I’d rush though them so I could stay up-to-date with each new release: Games were a disposable media to be used once and then forgotten.

I enjoy E3. I enjoy the press conferences, videos, write-ups, and hands-on previews, all hyping the big games to be released in the coming year, but I think it’s important not to get too caught up in the hype. I was giddy with every mention of Assassin’s Creed 2, Uncharted 2, and (to my pleasant surprise) Scribblenauts, but I’ve also recently become enthralled with the voice recognition of EndWar and the wonderful absurdity of No More Heroes. In the wake of E3, I’d encourage every gamer to play a game from last year or even from last console generation just to put things in perspective: older games are still worth your time.

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