Archive for July, 2011

Well, a 3DS price drop eh? That was rather quick. As I’ve mentioned before, Strategy Informer doesn’t cover the handheld portion of our industry so on a personal level I only keep a casual eye on what’s going on over there, especially Nintendo. Still, this is a surprising move, even with the recent news that their share price has also dropped, so something must not have gone according to plan. Personally, I question the 3DS’ relevance on the market at the moment – it’s too little too soon, and at the price tag that was being asked for it, I wouldn’t be surprised if it hasn’t sold that well. Not sure what the software is like for it – are there any games that make the 3D part worth it?

I fell out of love with my DS years ago when I realised there wasn’t that many decent games about – so I traded in nearly all of them for 360 games instead, keeping only Advanced Wars: Days of Ruin and my handful of old GBA games (I’m still rocking the 1st Gen DS’s with GBA compatibility). I just felt like there was too much crapware – and the few decent titles were getting buried. Sure, re-releases like Final Fantasy III & IV were welcome, and I’d bought… III I think before The Great Purge, but in terms of new and interesting IP’s there wasn’t a lot that I could find. Things haven’t changed much from what I can see, but I’m starting to play my DS more and more thanks to youngest brother – he still has faith. Now I’m armed with Final Fantasy III & IV, along with Pokémon Platinum and I got my Breath of Fire II (GBA) game back.

I also bought Infinite Space, by the same guys who did Vanquish and Bayonetta, which is kind of weird, and cool. It’s a space-based RPG with a little bit of strategy involved. As Yuri, you fly out among the stars, gaining in experience and getting a fleet together. Main selling point is the fleet customization, which covers everything from crew, to ship type, to load out and a whole host of other features, or some I’m told. Reading some reviews there  were a few things that put me off – design choices that don’t break the game, but can get on your nerves over time. Still, I had a voucher so I decided to give it a go in order to try and revive my handheld gaming. I’ll let you know how I get on.

On the other hand though, the 3DS price drop means that it will now be significantly cheaper than the upcoming PS Vita, although that at least has games and hardware to back up the price point, without relying on gimmicks. I’ve said this to others whenever it comes up, but I think the Vita, despite sounding like a health biscuit, will have a better time of things than the PSP will. The support just wasn’t there from the third parties, and then there was the PSP Go incident – that was a bad idea if ever I saw one. It wouldn’t have been as bad if there was an easy way to convert games bought on UMD onto the PSP Go. It’s why I’m uneasy about buying a kindle – all my favourite books I already have in paperback form, and I refuse to buy them again just so I can have them on the kindle.

Of course, Nintendo wasn’t the only company whose shares have dropped recently – THQ took a hit as well. Apparently Red Faction: Armageddon didn’t sell that well, which is a shame because I kind of liked it. EA’s Bulletstorm didn’t sell well either, now that I think about it. Child of Eden didn’t do great either… I remember one marketing person (who seems like he knows these things) commenting that the games industry is “so fucked right now”.

Maybe he’s right.

Having watched Game of Thrones, and then read the book, this has got to be the first example that I know of where I actually prefer the televised version over the book. Being able to cover everything in ten hour-long chunks probably helps, but the TV version is such a faithful telling of the book its uncanny – almost to the point where you don’t really need to read the book.

Granted, a book being a book, there’s more detail available, but not as much as you’d think, and it only really helps in a couple of areas where the TV show didn’t make it that clear. In everything else though, I think I kind of prefer the TV show as it’s a better medium for ‘moments’ – those snippets that you always remember usually proceed with “I loved that bit when…”. Reading through those same moments in the book, they seemed stale by comparison.

It’s interesting how these series can just seemingly appear our of no-where – A Song of Fire and Ice is already on its fifth book, and has only just reached mainstream attention through the TV series, I don’t remember hearing much about it before hand. To be honest though, I’ve always been more of a Sci-fi guy, so Fantasy has never really interested me that much. Saying that, so far A Song of Fire and Ice has only light high-fantasy elements, and is for the moment firmly rooted in a more medieval setting (so, not too much magic and elves etc…).

Of course, Game of Thrones is getting its own video games as well – Game of Thrones: Genesis. It’s not a tie-in or anything, just a game set in the same universe, and it actually takes place hundreds of years before the TV show, during the earlier days of the lands of Westeros. Surprise, surprise, it’s a strategy game, so that’ll be another one for me then.

Oh, I’m on Holiday at the moment, in case you’re interested. Well, I say I’m on holiday – I’m visiting my Dad. Same thing really… I don’t really do ‘proper’ holidays. My job involves me sitting around most days, doing what needs to be done. A ‘Holiday’ for me is sitting around most days, doing whatever I feel like doing. I’ve always wanted to go on a ‘lads’ holiday with friends, but we’re so disorganized I doubt that’s ever going to happen. I grew out of family holidays a long time ago, and they just make me restless as I dislike being from my stuff for long periods of time.

Winter is coming.

This is what being type-cast must feel like. Despite working for a website called Strategy Informer – a site who’s history and content historically originated from an obvious source, I seem to be the only guy who handles the strategy genre at the moment. They’ve been others, don’t get me wrong – if you look at a list of all the strategy games we’ve reviewed recently, there’s some other people in there as well, although one of them has moved onto PR now. Others though generally have to be coerced into it, as few these days seem to want to take up strategy projects willingly. Take this one, for example:

It’s a hardcore political-grand strategy game, one of Paradox’s titles. No one’s going to claim it – it’s just going to sit there until I get around to doing it myself because that’s always what happens with games like these. In fact, Susana Graham, Paradox’s Head of Marketing and a very lovely person, once told me that all the good strategy/PC writers (amongst the larger outlets anyway) were starting to move onto other things, and not being replaced, and I can readily see her point. On the UK side, thankfully there’ still a lot of ‘old-school’ games journalists, who have more of an appreciation of PC and Strategy gaming floating about, but even magazines like GamesTM, or popular websites like Videogamer.com lack full time staff with proper experience of these kind of things.

To be fair, this is mainly a problem the smaller or middle-of-the-road publishers (like Paradox, 1C, Kalypso etc…) have to deal with. AAA franchises get a lot more attention. Our news guy Simon, for example, is a Blizzard-nut and so did our Starcraft II review, and we have a fair few freelancers on our books who could easily handle the likes of Total War, or Command & Conquer (If we’re ever going to see that again), even Civilization. But for the rest, it’s usually me who picks them up.

Can’t complain too much – having an identifiable niche and good contacts amongst the key people in that niche is a plus to a resume, and could even be a deal-maker for the right outlet (you could almost say there’s a lack of decent PC writers in general these days, but that’s a point as fluid as the whole “PC Gaming is DEAD” phrase). I don’t mind being the ‘go-to’ guy for that sort of thing, although it does mean I play a lot of strategy games at the moment. You talk about Game fatigue in a general sense, but it can apply to specific genres as well if you play them enough. Still, it does become a problem when I end up with a game even I don’t really like. Supreme Ruler above, a game I did recently called Pride of Nations…  they’re not bad games, don’t get me wrong, but they’re very stats and management based, with a focus on the micro as opposed to macro/action. Thos games are hard to wrap one’s head around, and to be honest I’m not that much of a fan. Heart of Iron and Victoria, two key franchises from Paradox, are about my limit when it comes to grand-strategy.

At the moment, as well as writing up everything from the Ubisoft showcase yesterday (good stuff), I’ve got a review of Storm: Frontline Nation to do (Supreme Ruler, less content, but more fun) and a preview of Sengoku (Crusader Kings set in the Shogunate era of Japan). Not only that, but I hear Tropico 4 code has just come in  as well… although that one might actually get taken by someone, who know. Oh well, I like to think of it this way – I could be doing Le Tour De France  or Cars 2.

I suppose there are worst things than being type-cast – enjoy your weekend! I’m going to be too busy to enjoy mine.

The Internet is an amazing place: It’s now a major source of information, global communication and sharing. It’s a source of great evil, douche-baggery, and generally brings out the worst in people, and it’s also revolutionised basic economics. People on the internet are simultaneously the most vocal, and the most insignificant group ever, but they can still make a difference if the try hard enough. I’ve said this before, but EVE Online – the space-based MMO from Icelandic company CCO – is a fascinating game to hear about. Start playing it, and it requires a level of concentration and patience few can generate, but it’s still amazing to hear about none the less.

Not sure how many of you have been following MMO-news over the past two weeks, but EVE has had a major drama-incident that was a bit of an eye opener all around.

It started, with the release of the latest content expansion for the game, Incarna. (EVE has two free major  content updates a year, along with patches). The first of the two major changes with this update was the first tangible step towards ‘Ambulation’. Before this, there were no ‘people’ in EVE for you to see, just the internet spaceships. For a while, CCP have been working towards allowing your avatar to leave your ship and walk around, and Incarna finally allows you to do that in a limited way with the new Captains Quarter’s area. In this area, you can walk around, do all of the things you could do in the old interface, and even some things you can’t.

There was a little bit of grumbling here, as many of the core fan base resented being forced to adopt something they’d never really wanted in the first place, but this was all within the norm. Change brings about resentment, and there will always be resistance. It’s worth noting though that the Captain’s Quarters actually overloaded some users GPU’s, which is very shoddy design on CCP’s part. It’s fair enough wanting to force people, however gently, into adopting this new evolution, but Jesus Christ at least make sure your user base can handle it.

The second major change – and the main source of the drama- was the introduction of a new micro-transaction store. The store only sells vanity items for your avatars, using a brand new currency called Aurum. Aurum can be bought with real money, or in-game money providing you can generate enough. Anything, from skirts, to jackets, to monocles can be bought, and they will be viewable on your avatar and your avatar picture and are basically a status symbol. The problem here was everything was ridiculously priced ($25 for a blouse, and more than $68 for the monocle, for example), which caused more grumbling and also had some negative bleed back into the main economy via inflation. Again, the grumbling here wasn’t that surprising, as other MMO’s have introduced ridiculously priced vanity items to similar grumbling.

Shit seriously got real though when a series of internal newsletters, emails and a poorly worded dev-blog were released to try and justify the current state of affairs, and calm the malcontents. Suffice to say, the EVE online community was NOT happy – the dev blog was condescending, the internal memo from the CEO basically suggested that they shouldn’t even bother listening to anything the community says, and the internal newsletter hinted at the sale of gameplay-affecting items via this new store, something that CCP had promised it wouldn’t do.

It was the kind of corporate mentality that you all hate companies like Activision and EA for, and yet you can’t help but expect it from them because they are massive multi-billion dollar entities. CCP, despite not always being the sharpest tool in the shed, have usually been nice about the business side of things, which was why the attitude was so shocking.

What did the community do in response? They rioted. And this is why I love EVE as it’s one of the few games where protest movements like this would actually work. Thousands of players flooded the major economic areas of the game, which overloaded the servers and caused major drop-outs, effectively bringing the in-game economy to a halt for a short period of time. Simultaneously, droves of players were unsubscribing and moving on to other games. Whether it was this event specifically, or just the general sense that things were escalating, CCP offered a truce and flew out the CSM – a democratically elected body of players who are supposed to represent the interested of the EVE community – for an emergency meeting. They met, talked, released a statement, and now things seem to be quieting down.

Just goes to show how rubbish I can be at this whole blogging malarkey – I was supposed to write this as it was all happening, but it’s all finished now. Still, in general it’s a pretty interesting event to watch unfold, even in retrospect. At the time of writing, most issues have been resolved – CCP are working on making Captains Quarters more stable, they addressed concerns over micro-transactions – stating that they will never sell “game-breaking” items (although the definition of which is still vague), and that they will be introducing more, less pricey items. To be honest, the price of the vanity items was never the main point of concern in the first place – yeah, it’s a bit idiotic to not add “low tier” items for the less well off, but everyone generally accepted that ridiculously priced items like monocles were basically a sign of wealth, and they were cool with that.

What they were not cool with was being treated with the level of disdain it appeared CCP had for them. As it turns out, much of the drama was down to basic miscommunication and ill thought-out words. The only thing that hasn’t being addressed was Hilmar’s (The CEO’s) internal email where he said CCP would look at actions, and not words. CCP has refused to comment on the internal email and Hilmar himself hasn’t apologised or anything, so I doubt that’s ever going to get revolved. Players will forget though, and even the ones that don’t, EVE is a game you don’t walk away from over something like that unless you were wanting to quit anyway.

No one would have faulted CCP for trying to expand their business model. Even though players sometimes forget, the majority of us recognised that this is at the end of the day a business, and CCP need to increase their revenue if they want to grow – especially to help find projects like DUST 514, which is something I am very interested in. Communication is key however, and CCP have a history of not being very good at communicating their point of view properly, which is a shame because so much of this could have been avoided otherwise.

On a lighter note, I came across this Cracked.Com article (love those guys) detailing the 7 biggest dick moves in online gaming. Guess what? Two are from EVE Online.

So, today I’ve decided to do a good deed by just trying to raise awareness for a scam that seems to be becoming a bit of a fad at the moment. Basically, from what I can tell, a Call Centre somewhere in India is phoning people offering on the spot free tech support. You can read this post by fellow blogger and friend Emily for more specifics, but basically these guys call claiming that they know something’s wrong with your computer, and apparently attempt to sell you something to fix it.

Funny thing was, I got one of these calls a couple of weeks ago before I moved. I hung up before really finding out what the guy wanted, but only because I thought he was trying to sell me something or it was another one of those calls mobile phone companies like to do. Now that I think about it, it was all a bit odd at the time. He kept saying it was a courtesy technical support call and kept asking about my computer. Didn’t realise this was an actual scam. The reason I bring this up though is that I foresee this kind of thing working all too well. I don’t really have to worry about my own family, because they are never in, but I’m telling you guys about it as I want you to warn the less technical of your family, as it’s all too easy to play on people’s ignorance.

In other news, I pre-ordered Battlefield 3. It felt good, and apparently there’s even going to be a midnight launch, so I might attend that assuming EA doesn’t invite us to its own mega launch event in London or wherever. Worst comes to worst, I get it for free and my mate just buys my pre-order off me. Unless I decide to keep both… depends what format I get it on I guess, but I promised a friend of mine I’d get on the PS3, and my housemate (and other best mate) wants me to get in on 360. I also think I have a free-game code to use on the EA Store… could end up owning it on all three major platforms! Wouldn’t that be wonderfully unnecessary.

Also, I ate Sushi for the first time. It was nicer than I expected:

Also also – Spotted:

Not sure why IGN’s logo is there as well, but that’s a quote from an article I did on the game… probably the preview, as my review was a bit late, but no matter. I’m in teh shops baby!

And here’s some Transformers-themed political humour from 2008, which relates to the title of Sunday’s post. I was going to include these originally but I forgot, so here it is:

Combination of these two posters was combined into this:

It’s odd, because I actually saw this The Sun front page and the Prime poster first, but I think it was actually created for Obama’s 2008 election posters instead. The two are visually similar though, so it’s easy to transfer over. Apparently they’ve made merchandise out of it now.

Hehe.