Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Scrooge Alert: Buy refurbished apple devices to save some serious cash

LifeHacker has a fantastic piece on buying refurbished apple products to save money in your wallet and still get kick butt technology.  I highly recommend you check it out.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Defending Duke Nukem Forever

I know it's been established that I'm completely and utterly insane.  However, this next post might actually put me in the looney bin.  I'm going to defend Duke Nukem Forever.


Too many people like to rail on the king with "balls of steel," and he doesn't deserve all the bad rap that he gets.  For that reason, I'm going to ignore all the bad stuff in DNF and talk only about the good stuff.

(Disclaimer: I have received no compensation by 2K games, 3D Realms, Gearbox Software, or anyone related to the development and publishing of Duke Nukem Forever.  I am simply stupid enough to write an article like this for the lulz.)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Top 5 Creepiest Non-Player Characters (NPCs)

Non-Player Characters, or NPCs, are a staple of most single player games.  They can be hapless civilians, wizened teachers, or merchants willing to keep you stocked in exchange for a few coin.  As always, however, there will be at least a few characters that make you scratch your head and wonder what is wrong with them.  Here's my picks for:

Top 5 Creepiest NPCs

5. Christopher (Shadows of the Damned) 

Christopher is not so much creepy as he is misunderstood.  It's easy to brush him off as another demon at first glance, but he's got his charms.  I still can't forget that cut scene when you first meet him. Of all the faces he could have made, why did he have to choose this one?

4. The Merchant (Resident Evil 4)

"Geetings, Strange-ah!"  Just the way that he greets you is more than slightly unsettling.  When you factor in the firepower he's packing at some of his shops, you really have to worry that this guy isn't going to go on a murderous spree or fund people who will.  I dunno about this one, he just seems like a loose trigger.

3. Plasma Man (Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon)

 PU-LA-ZU-MAAA! He sure doesn't wear much. I wonder if that's how he attained enlightenment?  Those awful, heavy clothes must really weigh down your brain.  If we all go nude, maybe we'll be as wise as him!  (Seriously guys, DON'T DO THIS!!!)

2. Happy Mask Salesman (Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask)

Yeah...this is one guy you don't want to make angry.  One minute, he's all smiles.  The next, he's about ready to slit your throat.  He really needs to relax.  Perhaps a cruise to Koholint island would give him the stress relief he needs...

1. Great Fairy (Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time)

I'm not even going to say anything about this one.  Just watch the video...

Are you creeped out yet?  Good!  I'll see you again in two weeks.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The end is nigh! (and that's not a bad thing)

There's an apocalypse coming!  And we're NOT gonna die!


There's an old proverb: "those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it."  It means that we can learn from past mistakes to prevent future ones.  What if repeating history would be good instead?  Before you start dismissing this as a 2012 rant, it's not.  Gaming is on the cusp of another crash, and I can't wait for that to happen.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

MMO tropes that need to go part 2

Continuing the story from last week, here's part two of this article.  If you missed the last one, you can read it here.

That's not what I meant by player versus player...
Player versus Player, or PvP, has always been a staple of the MMO genre.  Just about every MMO has their own take on it, and some do it better than others.  Silk Road, for example, relied heavily on PvP for endgame content.  The faction war between merchants, hunters, and thieves made for a highly entertaining experience at the higher levels.  Of course, this wasn't always the case.  There were several occasions where a level 60 or 70 thief would go to the level 14 area (tiger mountain) and spawn tons of attacking mobs that would kill nearby players.  This usually meant a loss of experience, a significant hit to the equipment's durability, and quite a bit of gold in repairs.  For a higher level character, a loss of experience can mean having to grind an additional month or more to level up.

If PvP is going to work, you cannot have a penalty for dying due to PvP, especially in the open world.  Having an arena or specified PvP zone is helpful, especially if the No Death Penalty applies there.  Penalizing someone for being killed by someone 40 levels their senior is just not good planning at all.  Ideally, PvP needs its own arena.  If that's not feasible, enable someone to "flag" themselves as open to PvP, but keep it to players within the same level.  I remember hearing a story about a level 1 fighter in Final Fantasy XI, who was challenged by a level 60+ character to a duel.  People started stopping to watch, just to see if the underdog could do it.  Some white mages started healing the fighter, and black mages stunned/debuffed the higher level character to keep him from attacking.  By the end of the fight, the spry little dude had quite the following.  So I'm told, he actually won the duel, too.

PvP does not necessarily have to be one on one, either.  Before it was shuttered, All Points Bulletin, or APB, had an interesting take on PvP.  The duel system, or whatever they called it, would, on occasion, pair three or more level 20 characters against one level 40 character, where the weaker team would have to use smarts, teamwork, and a little luck to bring down the higher level character.  Game Informer pointed out that this system was actually surprisingly balanced, and the match would be a fair fight.  Go figure.  It would be interesting to see more MMOs approach PvP in this way, and give the underdogs an entertaining fight.

One of the main endgame features for many MMOs is the raid system.  Usually, this involves gathering a group of twenty or so friends to beat the snot out of a huge "boss" monster.  At the end of the fight, the boss will drop a rare item that can only be obtained through that raid.  This can add a sense of community to a game, especially if the raid requires a large number of people.  On the other hand, it also can be the only place where players can obtain some of the best items in game.

One pitfall that MMOs should avoid in this field is the trope of making the high value drops too rare.  If the players need this gear but can't get it in a timely manner, they will get discouraged and give up on playing.  In addition to the grind issues that Silk Road Online had, getting the "good" equipment, known as Seal of Star, was an exercise in futility.  Seriously, it seemed like the game would drop you one every 16 levels or so, if you're very, very lucky.  A mid-30s set of armor would cost 1 Million gold per piece or more, and Seal of Star weapons at the same level would go for 5 to 10 Million gold.  Seal of Moon/Seal of Sun armors and weapons would go for two or even three times their Seal of Star counterparts.  This wouldn't be an issue if it weren't so blasted difficult to earn gold in the game.  You can see why gold farming is so pervasive in Silk Road.  This video captures my sentiments.


To be fair, I'm not encouraging game developers to give away the best items in the game willy-nilly.  The current World of Warcraft patch falls to this trope a little too much.  Come to think of it, "Nerf Now!" tackled this very topic when the most recent patch went live. Eventually, those "super rare items" that everybody wants will be so commonplace that nobody cares about them anymore.  Between all the PvP and Raid gear available to the people who work for it, everybody and their mother can have a set of epic equipment.  Purple means nothing anymore.

Thankfully, there's an MMO out there that has elevated this balance to an art form.  Phantasy Star Online kept a fantastic balance of rarity and availability.  The boss fights were challenging, but the rewards were worth it.  They also weren't as ubiquitous as World of Warcraft's current shenanigans.  Sega may have shut down its Dreamcast servers back in 2003, but fans have operated private servers ever since, a testament to the staying power of Phantasy Star Online.  Even the Gamecube and Xbox versions have numerous private servers available for fans of this classic.

The MMO genre has opened up a new layer of social activity to the average gamer.  We've covered a lot of ground over the years, but there's still a lot of work to be done.  Developers should learn from the mistakes of their predecessors, or else we will never see progress.  This concludes part two of my rant.  Do you think there's another trope that should go? Sound off in the comments below!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Top 5 Video Games Based on Anime

As long as Japan keeps producing video games and anime, there will be anime tie-ins to video games and vice versa.  Like the movie to video game counterparts in the states, there's a lot of crap and a lot of good titles.  Here's my...

Top 5 Video Games Based on Anime

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

MMO tropes that need to go Part 1

When in doubt...
I've played many massively multiplayer online (MMO) games in my lifetime.  Some of them were free to play, others required subscriptions.  While I routinely say no game is without its flaws, there are some "tropes" that have developed in the genre that are legitimately hurting it.  Here's a look at what game developers did right, and what others didn't do so well.

Since there's a wealth of information to cover, I'm going to turn this into a two part series.  Part two will go live next week, so stay tuned!

Monday, January 2, 2012

2011: Year in Review and Game of the Year

It's a big year for video games.
With spaceships and zombies in flames.
We've seen booms and busts
in under 12 months,
And all of it from games we play.

All joking and limericks aside, it's been an amazing year in gaming. 2011 saw Sony's flagship PlayStation Network get breached, a plethora of huge titles released, and even a few long-awaited reboots. So now, let's take a look at the last 12 months for a Year in Gaming: 2011