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Moving and Ownership

All this week I have been in the process of packing up my apartment in preparation for a move in meatspace. It is just a move across town, and there isn’t too much stuff, but the process always feels exhausting. Packing up the essentials feels really easy, but then you get to all the miscellaneous stuff that you hardly ever use, but would likely miss if it were discarded. For example, how many of your pots and pans do you use on a weekly basis? Do I really need a colander, much less two of them?

What really struck me though was when I packed up my PlayStation 2. Both the system and the games didn’t take up all that much space, but I pretty much turned on the system once in the last year, during an abortive attempt to play FFXII. I kept the system around because at some point console designers decided backwards compatibility wasn’t a priority, and why get rid of it if I still have all my classic PS1 gems?

It was at that point that I realized that I didn’t really need these things anymore. In fact, why I had physical media of any type was a hold-over from what feels like ages ago. I am pretty sure that all the PS1 games I own are also on the PlayStation Network, or even on Steam. All the games and systems and movies I own could easily fit on the external HD the size of my hand. I should be finished packing by putting on a backpack, minus that behemoth of a PC I use.

At the same time… it’s hard. First, you have to fight against the feeling of conservation. Why throw anything away? It’s something that still has use, still has value, albeit diminished by the passage of time. Second, there are all the what-if scenarios and general optimism. Maybe I’ll suddenly find myself on a retro-gaming kick, yeah? Playing old games in 640×480 resolution blown up on my wall via 100″ projector screen… that’s the life. And what if I suddenly drop everything and go teach English in Japan? Surely I’ll want to pack… err… uh.

The interesting thing to me about this whole experience is my evolving concept of ownership. Back in the day, I fought hard against “all-digital media” and the notion that nobody ever really owned anything, they just licensed it. I was there jeering at Microsoft along with everyone else during the Xbone E3 reveal. The curbing or removal of the secondary game market was an existential threat in my mind.

Now? In the middle of packing up my life, I feel I’d be better off owning less. I’m not going to play Kagero: Deception 2 again. Or any of the Tenchu games. Even if I felt like I had the time and inclination, it’s tough going back to anything less than 720p at this point. The game discs might have retained some value – I certainly made a few hundred dollars selling my SNES classics a few years ago – but is that value worth the time and eBay headaches? When I finish a Steam game, I delete it and then set the Category to “Finished,” which I keep minimized. I don’t think I have ever gone back and played any Finished games.

Games are largely experiences and experiences only. Some have replay value, sure, and others (like MMOs) can keep you entertained and experiencing them for weeks/months/years to come. The vast majority though? One and done. The more time passes, the more I feel these accumulation of games are no different than old newspapers; the hoarding of which is something less deserving of a nostalgic nod and more of a questioning eyebrow.

I’m going to lug around my box of historical gaming debris this time around – there’s no sense to unpack what I’ve already packed – but the odds are good that this will be the last trip they make in my possession, one way or another. And I am becoming increasingly okay with that.

Open World Flood

I was browsing some reddit threads talking about Dying Light the other day, and came across a comment chain that started with the following:

I dont know about you, but I”m getting kinda tired of open world games now. Literally almost every aaa title is an open world game that exploring them just isn’t as fun anymore. It seems to be the same thing that happened with military shooters last generation. Rinse and repeat experience. Not to say they’re bad games, but i’m just getting tired of the formula.

At first, the sentiment sort of struck me as being funny. How can you get tired of wide-open games that let you do anything? And then I started reading the example games people were giving. Then I looked at my own unplayed Steam list:

  • Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
  • Assassin’s Creed: Revelation
  • Batman: Arkham City
  • Darksiders 2
  • Dead Island: Riptide
  • Dead Rising 2
  • Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
  • Fable 3
  • GTA 4
  • Just Cause 2
  • Prototype
  • Saints Row: The Third
  • Sleeping Dogs

To be fair, not all of those are technically “open-world” games. To be fair the other direction though, I didn’t include the more borderline titles like Tomb Raider, Thief, Prince of Persia (I apparently own 5 of them somehow), the Hitman series, and so on and so forth. Nor does that list include games I want to play, such as Far Cry 4, Shadows of Mordor, and GTA 5. Nor does it include, you know, Dragon Age: Inquisition, which I am still currently playing.

While I am enjoying my time in the aforementioned Inquisition, I can see the commenter’s point. In fact, they have given voice to the sort of unspoken sentiment I have been fighting against for a while now: open Steam library, look at games, and become physically exhausted.

My issue seems to be more 3rd-person Action game fatigue, but it is basically the same thing. Run around, spam the attack button to auto-chain combos, climb shit, find secrets, defeat boss with large HP bar by waiting for vulnerable spots to light up and completing the Quick-Time Event. Huh… that actually sounds suspiciously close to a cynical MMO description.

Anyway, don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy this specific genre. Just, perhaps, in smaller doses than the horse tranquilizer ones I’m staring down the barrel of. I want to play these games, but somehow I can already feel the sheer volume of virtual space I would have to traverse to get there. When you get sucked in and immersed, you want the game to last forever. Looking through the glass window from the outside though, before it can sink its hooks in you, and it more closely resembles a Little Shop of Horrors.

Devalued Steam Bucks

So this past Black Friday, I took advantage of two deals which, at the time, seemed to be no-brainers. First was a $50 Steam gift card being sold by Best Buy for $40. The second was the Logitech G502 gaming mouse being sold for $80… with a $50 Steam gift card thrown in. Pretty sweet, right?

Well… I’m now having a hard time imagining what I’d buy with this.

It’s not that there are no games I want to purchase on Steam, it’s that there aren’t many games I want to purchase from Steam. My Steam Wallet money isn’t going to pay for purchases on GetGamesGo, or GMG, or Amazon, or Square Enix’s own website, or Humble Bundle, or wherever else. When you limit yourself to just the Steam store, I’m finding that the value just isn’t there in many cases. Or at least not to the same degree. And it feels real damn silly to knowingly pay $2 more or whatever for a digital product you could purchase cheaper somewhere else with a similar number of mouse-clicks.

Basically, I am really hoping that this year’s Christmas Steam sales are extraordinarily good, lest I feel dumb for locking up my dollars in Steam’s storefront specifically. Which is a scenario that would have been outrageous even a few years ago.

Gray Friday

I’m getting into a weird place when it comes to sales. This past Black Friday consisted of…

  • Shadow Warrior ($5)
  • The Banner Saga ($5)
  • Logitech G502 Proteus Core Optical Gaming Mouse Black + $50 Steam card ($80)

I do not anticipate anything worthwhile happening on “Cyber Monday.”

There were indeed deals on games I technically want to play. I have heard good things about AC4: Black Flag, for example, and it was discounted down to $20. The problem I have – and arguably always had – is the fact that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to specifically purchase a game if I’m not going to play it right away.

My “currently playing” list in the sidebar hasn’t be accurate for a while simply because I find myself cycling through games much faster these days. Cycling either because the games aren’t grabbing me (and I’ve finally acquired the intestinal fortitude to just abandon un-fun games) or because they end up being short, 5-10 hour experiences. While I am glad to finally start working on my backlog in a more serious manner, it also means there isn’t much motivation to drop $20+ on something right now.

There was no discount on Warlords, which means I didn’t purchase it either.

SOE technically had a Double Station Cash sale on Friday, but I resisted that siren call as well. Primarily because I was miffed that I had used my Walmart SOE card about a month ago after holding onto it for all of last year (it’s a 1500 SC card with a bonus 500), and I wasn’t about to physically go to Walmart on Black Friday to pick up another. There was that reason, and the follow-up to what I would actually spend SC on these days. PlanetSide 2? The upcoming H1Z1? EverQuest Next, released 20 years from now, or whatever? I can wait.

And that is really what it all comes down to these days: I can wait. There’s an indie game on my Steam wishlist called One Way Heroics and it was discounted down to $0.87. Didn’t buy it. Why? It would make the inevitable Humble Bundle it is a part of that much less of a value. Same with Not the Robots, currently 75% off at $2.49. I am not actually that cash-strapped that it matters in a financial sense, but the question I always ask myself is “do I need this right now?” The answer used to be “No, but I might want to play it later when it’s no longer on sale and I’d feel dumb for letting the deal go by.” These days, the answer is more simply “No.”

Besides, worst-case scenario: just wait a few weeks for another sale.

It’s 25% Off!

A friend of mine still hanging onto WoW for dear life wanted me to see this news:

Wow. Much Savings. Such Doge. Wow.

Wow. Much Savings. Such Doge. Wow.

In other words, character transfers are 25% off for a limited time. Not quite the 50% discount Blizzard was offering back in June of last year, but hey, why would they? They got back 600,000 subscriptions in Q3. Can’t possibly stymie that value-added cash flow equivalent to any number of quality Steam games/bundles/etc.

I kinda get the argument that the value is there for players still invested in playing WoW; even at $18.75 there are only a few Steam games that could stand up to ~100 hours of play that WoW could easily generate in a month. On the other hand, my subscription ended 5/10/13. I am nearly a year and a half removed. And even if I came back tomorrow, all my toons are still stuck on no-Pop Auchindoun-US whatever merged PvP server nonsense exists with just about everyone else I know having abandoned ship to a PvE server. So the costs for me to get back into the game is, minimum, $15 + $18.75 + the expansion. That is a rather serious goddamn commitment for something I don’t even know I will find fun anymore.

So, no thanks, Blizzard: it’s still a wee bit ridiculous. If I could transfer my entire character stable wholesale for that price, sure, maybe. I simply got too much gold, too many alts, and not enough fucks to give.

BM Steam?

So what are the odds that Steam is selling RPG Maker VXA for $17.50 (75% off) the same day that RPG Maker VXA is a part of the Weekly Humble Bundle (i.e. buy it for $1)?

Someone is a bastard and/or genius.

Someone is a bastard and/or genius.

I mean, it can’t be all just some amazing coincidence, right? And I would imagine that the Humble Bundles are, err, less nimble than Steam sales. Then again, maybe this is actually Good Guy Steam for letting us use RPG Maker VXA for free before deciding if one American dollar is worth the risk. Tough call.

On a related note, I was all set to plunk down some monies on the bundle before I realized that I already owned RPG Maker VXA. I’m not sure how, when, or why, but I do. Back in the day, I used a similar program on the PlayStation to start up what would inevitably be The One game that broke me into the industry. But after spending literally 15 hours coding item stats via controller (Stone Sword –> Iron Sword –> Steel Sword –> etc) I decided that my dreams were dumb.

I still have a lot of ideas, but they are tempered in the reality of getting other people to do them.

The Turkey Haul

I had half a mind to forgo any videogame purchases this Black Cyber Fronday, because sometimes a 50+ game backlog just becomes ridiculous to consider adding to. (Un)Fortunately, the half of my mind that controlled the credit card was the other one. I picked up:

  • Battlefield 4 Digital Deluxe version ($26)
  • The Last of Us ($30)
  • 12-month PlayStation Plus subscription ($30)

It could have been worse, of course. I did exercise restraint in not picking up Shadowrun Returns and State of Decay; not because they might not be worth it, but because I have no particular reason to have them right now. Perhaps after, I dunno, I get around to finishing The Witcher 2. And Crysis. And the half-dozen indie games I started but not finished. And…

Alpha Impression: Sir, You Are Being Hunted

I have been spoiled by other games’ betas. That is clear to me now.

This part is okay.

This part is okay.

Sir, You Are Being Hunted is a game I mentioned being excited about back in May, then promptly forgot about. Recently, it was up on Steam Early Access at a discounted rate, and I decided to take the plunge. A few hours of gameplay later, and I feel thoroughly soaked.

The problem I have with the game is that it is basically a sandbox without any sand. When you start playing, you are introduced to the core gameplay – find pieces of the Device, plug them into Standing Stone – given some binoculars and food, and sent on your way. As a veteran of Don’t Starve, this opening felt perfectly fine. What became readily apparent however, is that the game utterly lacks interactivity in its present state. Alpha is alpha is alpha, yes. But when I rummage through three entire villages and am armed with 3 alarm clocks, one bear trap, and two empty bottles against robots with shotgun sniper rifles, things feel lame.

Now, of course, the name of the game is to be, well, hunted. But the present AI behavior reminds me of the delicate, high-wire act that all stealth games must perform. If you have enemies patrol in a set pattern, it turns stealth gameplay into a sort puzzle game with logical, measured moves. It might feel less “realistic” to have the guard always look to the left for three seconds when he walks to the balcony, but as a game mechanic it is grokkable and feels “right.” Alternatively, you could have enemies who basically follow no pattern whatsoever, looking randomly in any direction at any time. More realistic? Sure. More frustrating? Absolutely.

Right now, Sir basically has the worst of all possible stealth worlds. The world is procedurally-generated and I’m not really certain one of the procedures is to place the Device pieces near cover. I basically spent the last 40 minutes trying, futilely, to grab a Device piece in the middle of a field where two robots were “patrolling.” And by “patrolling,” I mean they walked in random, jerking movements in a 3-meter radius around said Device. Tenchu, Dishonored, and Deus Ex this ain’t; the only possible solution is dropping an alarm clock, crab-walking as far away from it as possible, and grabbing the Device and running.

Of course, the robots run as fast as you do, are armed with shotgun sniper rifles as mentioned previously, and the only way to lose them is to be crouched in foliage. Which they immediately begin to search, because that’s the name of the game. But considering how you can’t really sneak through the foliage at any appreciable speed, they will find you immediately and GG.

98% of your gameplay time is this.

98% of your gameplay time is this.

Alpha is alpha is alpha. But right now, Sir You Are Being Hunted is basically a crouching simulator and not much else.

Steam Haul: Summer 2013

Someone asked me the other day what I picked up during the Summer Steam sale. So here’s the list:

  • Antichamber
  • Don’t Starve (of course)
  • Far Cry 3 + Blood Dragon DLC
  • Surgeon Simulator 2013
  • Fez
  • On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4
  • The Swapper
  • Gunpoint
  • Monaco
  • Civ 5 (upgrade to Gold edition)
  • Strike Suit Zero
  • Dungeon of Dredmor (DLC)
  • Rogue Legacy
  • Closure
  • Just Cause (hey, it was $0.27)
  • Sanctum 2

Altogether, that came to around $133.24. Is that a lot? Probably. Then again, that’s about the same price as Far Cry 3 and Civ 5 bought on Day 1. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

That, and Press™. In fact, couldn’t these just be considered business expenses? Hmm…

Xbox One Eighty

I take no credit for either the title nor the picture:

Sort of like SimCity's "cloud computing."

Sort of like SimCity’s “cloud computing.”

If you had not already felt the Earth’s sudden wobble from the magnitude of Microsoft’s about-face, allow me the pleasure of informing you: the Xbox One no longer has its ridiculous DRM. Namely:

  • No internet connection is required to play games.
  • No 24-hour online check-in.
  • You can buy/sell/gift/rent/lend game discs just like on the 360.
  • You can purchase digital versions of games on Day 1 and play offline (once downloaded).

One of the “casualties” of this Lance Armstrong-level backpedaling is that you can’t have that whole “10-person family sharing” plan or the ability to “take your games anywhere by logging in.” Often lost amongst the Apologist tears though was the simple fact that logging on from a friend’s Xbox One basically meant you would have had to wait for a 10+ GB download before playing anyway. And what were the odds that more than one member of the family could play the same game at the same time? In other words, you are not any worse off than the present system of just taking the disc with you.

Plus, you know, used games.

On a semi-related bit of interesting news, apparently Valve snuck some interesting code into the Steam software: shared libraries, e.g. lending digital games. Obviously nothing is formally implemented yet, but the premise seems to be that once you lend a game to a friend, they can play it until you log on to play it yourself (which then bumps them off). Which is… pretty remarkably clever if you think about it. Valve could just as easily went the other way, where you couldn’t play until your friend “gave it back,” which would probably discourage people from using the feature at all. Assuming there is no transaction fee or anything, I would feel comfortable giving one or two of my Steam buddies access to everything.

Regardless of which way the shared library plays out – if it plays out at all – today was a huge win for consumers everywhere. I am not quite ready to declare victory yet, but the future sure is looking considerably brighter than it was, oh, two weeks ago, eh?

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