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My Long Road to Finishing inFamous (Part 2 of 2)–I’m An Unfocused Gamer

The older I get, the less interested I become in actually reviewing games, and the more interested I become in discussing my experiences with them, and what I learn about myself when I play them.

As I talked about in my last post, it took me three years to finish the first inFamous game. Had I not gotten a copy of inFamous 2, I probably never would have gone back to finish the first game. But I did, and I really liked the game, and that got me thinking. How many other games have I walked away from early on, and missed out on an interesting experience? What does that say about me as a gamer? Is finishing a game the exception rather than the rule for me?

Off the top of my head, here’s a quick list of games that I started but walked away from in the past year or so:

Uncharted: Golden Abyss (Vita)
Resistance: Retribution (Vita)
Section 8: Prejudice (Xbox Live)
MLB ‘12 The Show (Vita)
Mortal Kombat (Vita)
Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater (3DS)
LEGO Batman 2 (DS)
Bit.Trip Saga (3DS)
Battlefield 3 (XBox 360)
Cthulhu Saves the World (XBox Live)
Dead Island (Xbox 360)
Shank 2 (PSN)
Super Stardust Delta (Vita)
Shadows of the Damned (PS3)
Two Worlds II (Xbox 360)

Here are the games I bought, never started, and traded in for something else:

Gears of War 3 (XBox 360)
Uncharted 3 (PS3)

Here are the games I actually played through to completion, or am actually engrossed in:

inFamous (PS3)–completed
Dark Souls (PS3)–completed 100-hour campaign and am 20 hours into second playthrough
Saints Row: The Third (XBox 360)–completed
Mass Effect 3 (XBox 360)–completed and played the last 3 hours again for the “Extended Cut”
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PS3)
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (PS3)
The Walking Dead: Episode One–completed, but it was short
Minecraft (XBox Live)–at least 15 hours in and completely addicted
Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational–easily my most-played Vita game
Marvel Pinball (PSN)–I’ve put several hours into this one
Sound Shapes (PS3)–about halfway through and loving it

So, judging from that list, I actually finish very few games. In fact, most of the time, I start a game and play for a few hours, then walk away. That’s my most frequent pattern of behavior as a gamer, which is kind of disturbing to me. Most of those games on the first list I bought brand new at retail for $60 (or $40 for the Vita/3DS games). That’s a whole lot of money I threw away on games I didn’t spend a lot of time with. With Gears 3 and Uncharted 3, I probably got $40-50 in trade for $120 worth of games I didn’t play. Not a good return on my investment.

So what else do these lists tell me? Well, I can see that I certainly like RPGs and games with heavy RPG-like elements. Really, Marvel Pinball and Sound Shapes are the only one on the “finished/engrossed” list that don’t fit that description (yes, even Hot Shots has RPG elements). Many of those games on my “finished/engrossed” list also either have a strong story (Mass Effect, Deus Ex, Enslaved) or let you create one for yourself (Dark Souls, Minecraft). They also have immersive worlds to explore an, in some cases, get lost in (inFamous, Saints Row, Dark Souls, Mass Effect, Deus Ex, Minecraft).

My takeaway from all this is that I tend to enjoy the games I can get lost in, but that I frequently leave a game before giving myself enough time to get lost in it, which is counter-intuitive. One way to fix this is to not get caught up in the idea of needing to get a game when it first comes out, but rather getting it when I actually have time to give it a fair shake. Also, instead of juggling fifteen games at the same time, I can focus in on one or two, and really devote some time into completing them, or at least spending enough time with them to make an informed judgment.

I’ll post in the future about how well I’m actually sticking to this strategy. My first order of business will be to revisit a couple of games on that first list and see if I can get back into them. I think Dead Island will be my first challenge, as I had a lot of fun with it before walking away.

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The New Polygon Trailer Makes Me Sad

Twitter pretty much exploded this week when the folks behind the new Polygon gaming site launched a trailer for a documentary they’re taking part in. The series is supposed to chronicle how this group of forward thinking video game journalists have joined forces to create a new type of site and a new angle to cover video games from. Watching the trailer though, I couldn’t help but feel that this group of people is a shining example of what is wrong with video game journalism today.

Personally, I don’t believe there is such a thing as video game journalism. I prefer the term “enthusiast press.” People who get paid to write about games are, in most cases, people who play a lot of video games and spend a great deal of time discussing them, because they are passionate about their hobby (or at least they started that way). They may be good writers, and they may have some interesting things to say about games that other gamers enjoy reading and hearing about. For many of us, being able to write about games and get paid for it would be a dream come true.

I was lucky enough to be a member of the enthusiast press for a couple of years, and it was a great experience. But as cool as it was to gain early access to games, or get free review copies, or attend press events, I never once forgot my place in the grand scheme of things. I was the guy talking about something that someone else had made. And I really think that’s a perspective that a lot of people in the enthusiast press have lost sight of in the current era of game coverage. For many, it has become more about them than the games they are covering. It’s about them as a writer, or their unique “take” on something. It’s become about proving how superior they are because they can point out the technical flaws in a game, or how the writing is sub par, or whatever. It’s become more about building oneself into a personality as a game “journalist” than about covering the games themselves.

And as someone who loves games, I hate how the state of game coverage has changed the way we all talk about the hobby we supposedly love. And I’m ashamed of the way the gaming community treats the people who make game for us. People who spend years of their life toiling away on a project, only to hear about how their level design sucked, or how “texture pop-in” somehow ruins the experience of playing their game. We have become pretentious, spoiled brats when it comes to the hobby we love, and the way video games are covered by much of the enthusiast press has perpetuated that type of discourse.

So that’s why watching the trailer from the Polygon guys pretty much made me sick to my stomach. I wonder what people who are working their tails off making games right now thought about that, and about the current state of game coverage in general. I feel sorry for them.

I love games, and even the most technically flawed, story-challenged games still have something awesome to offer. There was a time when most games were technically flawed and had not story whatsoever. They’re the games I grew up playing, and they are the main reason I still love games today. It would be nice to see a group of the enthusiast press get together and create a site that focused on what’s great about games, and covered games that weren’t AAA titles, and found the great things about bad games and wrote about why those experiences are worth having. The closest thing I can find to that now is the current 1Up, but I fear for how long they’ll be able to keep their current direction without either getting swallowed up or being forced to conform.

In what I think is quite an ironic twist, the cynical, dismissive gaming community that the enthusiast press has helped create is the same one that is lashing back against the Polygon trailer right now. Here is one example:

Garnett Lee of Shacknews (formerly of 1Up), perhaps put it best in his Twitter response to the trailer: “IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. It’s about the games, their art, their creators, their passion. Exactly what we’ve all been struggling to better portray.”

Maybe at some point we can go back to enjoying games and talking about the things we love. And if I’m wrong, and Polygon turns out to be a celebration of all that is great about games large and small, then I apologize to the people behind the site .Everybody makes mistakes. I hope that’s all the Polygon trailer was.

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3DS XL First Impressions: It’s Awesome

Even though I hadn’t really planned on it, I ended up grabbing a Nintendo 3DS XL when they went on sale yesterday. GameStop was offering $100 toward the XL if you traded in your old 3DS, and combined with some other games I traded in, I got the new XL for a mere $11. Turns out it was worth $11 and then some.

I bought an original 3DS on launch day, and I haven’t played nearly enough to justify my $250 investment. My biggest complaint wasn’t the lack of games after launch, but rather the form factor of the device itself. The 3DS was just too darn small, and playing it for any length of time actually made my hands hurt. Over the past several months, there’s been some great games for the 3DS that I haven’t even bothered to pick up. I have a ton of old NES and GameBoy games on the device from the Ambassador Program and my eShop purchases, but I rarely fired up the handheld to play them. Ironically, the game I spent the most time with was Resident Evil Revelations (an awesome game), partly because the added bulk of the Circle Pad Pro made the device more comfortable to hold.

My first thought in taking my new 3DS XL out of the box was that it was exactly what the original design for the device should have been. Not only is the display substantially larger than the original, but the device feels a lot more comfortable to hold and play. I fired up Super Mario 3D Land and was really impressed with how much better of an experience it was playing on the XL versus the original 3DS. Even the 3D comes across better. Reading web pages on the built in browser (not that you’d actually spend much time doing it) is actually reasonable now. I could actually see myself using Netflix on the device now, something I did one time on the old model.

So, while I haven’t spent too much time with it yet, I am really liking the 3DS XL so far. I don’t know if the GameStop deal was a one-day thing, but if it’s still going on, I think it’s worth trading in your old model for this one. I know I’ll get a lot more playing time out of the 3DS moving forward.

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My Long Road to Finishing inFamous (Part 1 of 2)–The Third Time’s the Charm

So, I finally finished inFamous, and I really enjoyed it. It only took me three years.

Of all the games in my pile of Shame, inFamous was at the top. I have an attachment to the game because it was one of first big games I covered for Comic Book Resources back in the day. I got to meet some of the devs and spend some time with an early version of the game at a Sony event. I even interviewed Director Nate Fox about the game for CBR (which you can read here). Needless to say, I was excited to finally get my hands on the finished version when it released in 2009.

When I actually started play however, the game just didn’t click with me. At the time, my favorite game of the generation so far was Crackdown, and I kind of expected inFamous to be similar to it (the open world, super powers, shard collection, etc). But the game felt very different mechanically, and I couldn’t stop comparing the two. When the story didn’t grab me right away, and the mechanics didn’t click with me, I never got past the first five hours before trading in the game and moving on to something else.

Fast forward to mid 2011, and Sony’s infamous (pun intended) PSN outage. As an apology for the PSN hack and subsequent outage, Sony offered inFamous as one of the “Welcome Back” gifts for returning PSN subscribers. I downloaded the game, fired up my old save, and jumped back in. This time around, the mechanics did click with me, and I was far enough removed from Crackdown that I could enjoy inFamous without constantly comparing it to my other experience. I put another five hours or so into the game, and made some good progress before getting distracted by other games and leaving inFamous again.

Fast forward to June of this year, and Sony’s E3 press conference. Part of the conference was a rebranding of sorts for PlayStation Plus, which was being molded into more of a subscription game service, with users getting access to a selection games for free each month. To kick things off, Sony offered free access to a dozen titles, one of which was inFamous 2.

Feeling that I couldn’t possibly start inFamous 2 without finishing the first game, I dove back into inFamous, determined to finish it this time. Lo and behold, not only did I finally finish the game, but I really enjoyed my time with it. The power leveling system is great, and as I got closer to the end of the game, I had really customized my version of Cole (the game’s protagonist) to fit my playstyle. I’m more of a ranged attack guy, who likes to swoop in and finish enemies off after softening them from afar, and that style is totally supported by the game. I ended up enjoying the comic-y story as well, even though it took some big leaps of logic toward the end of the game. The entire story is a huge setup for a sequel, and I believe the events of inFamous 2 pick up almost immediately after the first game. All in all, lots of fun, and I’m glad I took the time to finish it.

Finally completing inFamous got me to thinking a lot about how I approach games in general and how rarely I actually finish them. I’ll talk about that more in my next post.

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Darksiders, and the Love of a Good Mashup

Some of my favorite games are absolutely teeming with originality, even if they use familiar game play mechanics, environments, or themes. Take Bioshock for example: on one hand, it’s a first person shooter and “spiritual successor” to System Shock 2 (see Kieron’s brilliant take on that subject) that doesn’t require the player to actually do anything they haven’t done before in a game. On the other hand, well, if you’ve played it you know that the story, setting, combat, and moral choices combine to make for one incredibly original experience overall.

It’s not on the same level of my personal gaming pantheon as Bioshock, but the first Darksiders game is one of my favorites for a very different reason: entirely because of the success Vigil Games achieved by making one of the most wonderfully derivative games ever. The game’s structure and core mechanics? Yep, that’s Legend of Zelda. The combat? God of War lite. The story? The bible (a very loose interpretation, obviously). Heck, they even threw in a little Portal for one of the dungeons! What’s more, you don’t even need to look hard to find these sources of inspiration; hell, if THQ had offered a green tunic and cap costume as DLC for the game, Nintendo might have sued.
And yet, they pulled it off. They took all those elements of great games & stories and did two things: they executed them with polish and precision, and they combined them in a way that made something new and fresh out of the familiar. In a way, Darksiders is like a DJ Earworm end-of-year mashup that lets you recognize a whole bunch of your favorite songs as they blend together into something that stands on its own. Even more impressively, they avoid the trap that some retro homage games fall into (I’m looking at you, 3D Dot Game Heroes) of being so slavishly devoted to the original that they fail to do anything new or worthwhile.
I should also admit that part of why I love Darksiders so much is due to its status as a “mature Zelda game”. I think I’ve played almost every Zelda installment since the original, and long considered it to be one of my favorite game franchises… except that I realized some time ago that what I want more than anything is for Nintendo to radically shake up that series and do something NEW. Send Link into space. Make him and Princess Zelda fully grown adults in a relationship, not the cloying fairy tale-level romance the games usually reach for. Use the Unreal engine! (Just kidding.)
So, yeah, Darksiders is a top-notch mashup of video games that also dives into Judeo-Christian mythology in a fun way. And based on the first 5 or 6 hours of Darksiders 2, Vigil has hit the sweet spot again… only this time they’ve added a healthy dose of Prince of Persia to the mix. Oh, and Diablo. If there’s kart racing in there somewhere, I may pass out.
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Back from the Dead: Co-Op Critics: Mass Effect 1&2

Almost a year to the day of our last post, we’re back–with a repeat. All kidding aside, when Dan and I first started Co-Op critics last year, we certainly intended to have more frequent episodes than the couple we’ve put out so far. However, life got in the way, and it took one of our favorite franchises ever to bring the Co-Op Critics back together.

Today we re-posted our April 2011 episode where we talked about Mass Effect 1&2. On Monday, BRAND NEW content will debut, as our episode on Mass Effect 3 will go live. We hope this is the beginning of more regular episodes (at least one very other month), but time will tell. Games we may talk about in the future include Battlefield 3, Minecraft and the upcoming cold Stream DLC for Left 4 Dead 2.

You can listen to the ME 1&2 epiosde in the player above, or download it here:

http://secretidentity.podomatic.com/entry/2012-07-20T05_21_54-07_00

Here are the show notes for this episode:

Co-Op Critics is Secret Identity’s gaming-centric podcast that takes an in-depth look at a game or series of games each episode. In this episode (origianlly posted in April 2011), Brian and Dan Evans discuss the first two installments of the Mass Effect series. Next week’s episode will focus on Mass Effect 3.

For your reference, here are some links to trailers and articles that are discussed in this episode:

Mass Effect 1 Trailer
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqJuJTIus7U&feature=related 

Brian’s Interview with Mass Effect writer Drew Kapyshyn (scroll down to the bottom of the page)
http://www.seebrianwrite.com/2012/07/rewind-2008-mass-effect-interview-with.html

Brian’s Interview with Mass Effect 2 writer Mac Walters & artist Omar Francia on the ME: Redemption comic:
http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=24300 

Mass Effect 2 Trailer:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2O-0-fQOOs&feature=related

Mass Effect 3 Trailer:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnEej1RfqTs&feature=fvwrel

For more on the Mass Effect series, head over to www.masseffect.com.

Send comments to sipodcast@comcast.net OR leave us a voicemail at 860-698-0468 . Check out www.secretidentitypodcast.com for all things Secret Identity.

FIFA 12 Proves the iPad Is a Legit Gaming Console

by Brian LeTendre

“Hardcore” gamers like to eschew claims that mobile devices, particularly Apple’s iOS devices, are legitimate gaming platforms. What a lot of gamers don’t realize though, is that developers absolutely consider these devices gaming platforms, and they are working harder than ever to create content for these platforms that will be able to stand toe to toe with other platforms that gamers consider more “hardcore.”

IGN posted a video this week of EA’s FIFA developers showing off a version of the upcoming FIFA 12 for iPad. This year’s iteration of the game will allow players to use other iOS devices (iPhones and iPod Touches) as controllers for the iPad game. The video also demonstrated how the game looked on a big screen, using the iPad’s HDMI connector.

In other words, the devs demonstrated how they can turn the iPad into a traditional console via the software they are developing. This has already been done with other games and apps on a smaller scale. But, it’s easy to imagine that if FIFA 12 will have this capability, other EA games will end up having it too.

I’m not suggestion that my iPad/iPhone combo will replace my current consoles, but when you look at how consoles are trying to incorporate some of the best parts of mobile tech, and mobile tech is starting to provide console-type experiences, the lines between the two are starting to blur. Personally, I for one can’t wait to see more games with this functionality, because it pretty much means I’ll have a portable console made up of devices that I already carry around with me on a regular basis.

And that’s perhaps the most interesting thing about what’s happening right now with iOS devices and gaming. It’s like a spy movie, where the assassin gets past event security because he’s broken down his weapon into multiple pieces and then assembles it once he’s inside.  Apple has basically snuck a new game console into iOS users homes piece by piece. First the iPod, then the iPhone, and finally the iPad. Then they bring them all together to form the console.

Crazy stuff, and I can’t wait to see what’s coming down the road.  One thing’s for sure–I’ll be buying FIFA 12 on iPad on day one.

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Hardcore No More?

by Brian LeTendre

Something strange is happening to me. Maybe I got bit by a radioactive spider, perhaps I’ve consumed too many artificial sweeteners or colored dyes–I don’t know. But something is going on, because my tastes in video games are rapidly changing, and the change is leading me to ask myself:

Am I not a hardcore gamer anymore?

Over the past four years, I have been a console-dedicated gamer of the RPG and FPS variety. Modern Warfare, Battlefield Bad Company, Left for Dead, Dragon Age, Mass Effect–these were my games of choice. I’ve spent countless hours unlocking everything from chainmail armor to red dot scopes, and for the most part, I’ve loved every minute of it.

Recently however, I’ve not found myself craving 40+ hour RPGs, or multiplayer shooters that require the dedication of a professional sports player.

Lately I’ve been getting my gaming fix with bite-sized, mobile games that feature simple mechanics and aren’t bogged down with elaborate storylines and overly detailed game worlds. These games allow me to come and go as I please, and don’t pounish me for not spending enough time with them. They’re like ‘friends with benefits,’ as opposed to a more committed relationship.

To answer my own question, of course this doesn’t mean that I’m not a hardcore gamer anymore. That’s a stupid term anyway, mostly used by gaming snobs to put themselves above someone else. In fact, this recent change in my tastes isn’t so much a radical departure, as it is a return to my roots. The games I’m enjoying now are the same types of games that I grew up with. I was an Atari 2600 and Commodore 64 kid. I grew up in arcades and roller rinks. I didn’t care about the lore behind why Mario cared so much about Princess Peach, I just wanted to break bricks and stomp on mushrooms until my limited lives ran out.

I think what’s changed is with the explosion of smartphones and tablets, that type of gaming is back in full-force. It started because of the infancy of the technology–there was only so much developers could do when they first got their hands on the tech. We’re already seeing that evolve, as many mobile developers have been able to craft much deeper experiences on those platforms–MMOs, level-based shooters and more. But the marketplace is also filled with smaller, simpler experiences that have struck a chord with mainstream consumers, and that means they are here to stay. For a gamer like me, that means I get to enjoy the renaissance, and get back in touch with my gaming roots.

I know I’ll be picking up the next Mass Effect, and I’ll probably grab at least two or three shooters this holiday season, but much of my limited gaming time will continue to be spent with smaller games that remind me of why I fell in love with the hobby in the first place.

And that’s just fine by me.

The Year with No New Games–Part 1: Mining the Backlog

by Kim Wong

In early December last year, I knocked over one of my piles of shame. Everybody has one, whether it’s made of foods to try, books to read, movies to watch, places to visit, or in my case, Xbox 360 games to play. (There’s a separate pile of Nintendo DS games, but that’s a story for another time.) What made my pile particularly shameful was the fact that I had bought each game with the full intention of playing them, but there they sat in their shrinkwrapped packaging, hidden away from the sun and sight. The nature of being a gamer, faced with great new games to play released every month, made the idea of balancing the new with the old impossible. It was at that point that I resolved that I would buy no new games until I had played to my satisfaction every game in that pile.

For context, here is the pile, broken down by category:

Shooters: Alan Wake, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 – Vietnam, Dead Space, Metro 2033, Singularity, Vanquish, Wolfenstein,

Role-playing games: Alpha Protocol, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Fable II, Lost Odyssey, Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Episodes 1 and 2

Rhythm: The Beatles Rock Band, LEGO Rock Band, Rock Band 3

Platformers: Splosion Man, Super Meat Boy, Trials HD

Action/Adventure: Brutal Legend, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Conan, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom, Prince of Persia (2008), The Secret of Monkey Island

Open World: Bully, Grand Theft Auto IV, Red Dead Redemption, The Saboteur, Saints Row 2
Strategy: Halo Wars

Driving: Burnout Paradise

As always, classification can be a tricky proposition. The heart of the matter was that there were thirty-six games in total, each a good game in its own way, unplayed and shoved further down the pile each time I get a new game.

My original was ambitious. I had aimed to complete at least one retail and one downloadable game a month, which would have cleared most of the backlog. Here’s the original plan:

January 2011: Vanquish, Super Meat Boy, Battlefield: Bad Company 2-Vietnam
February: Alan Wake, Splosion Man, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
March: Dead Space, Halo Wars, Wolfenstein
April: Singularity, Conan
May: Metro 2033, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
June: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, LEGO Rock Band, The Beatles Rock Band
July: Fable II, Penny Arcade Adventures 1 and 2
August: Prince of Persia, Alpha Protocol
September: Mass Effect, Modern Warfare 2 (Veteran difficulty)
October: Saints Row 2, Call of Duty 4 (Veteran difficulty)
November: Bully: Scholarship Edition, The Secret of Monkey Island
December: Grand Theft Auto IV, Trials HD

While drafting this schedule, I clearly neglected a couple of essential factors, like work, family, and sleep. Here are the games from this I’ve completed thus far: Vanquish, Battlefield: Bad Company 2-Vietnam.

The aim of this column is to explore what happened to derail my quest so badly, some of the lessons I’ve learned about being a full time dad and part time gamer, the gaming communities I’ve encountered, and how I can salvage the rest of this year to complete some more games.

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SI #329–Co-Op Critics: Mass Effect 1&2 Show Notes

Hi All,

We’ve posted the latest episode of Co-Op Critics, which focuses on one of our favortie series of all time, Mass Effect. We also have a bunch of links for you to check out as you listen to the episode:

Mass Effect 1 Trailer
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqJuJTIus7U&feature=related

Brian’s Interview with Mass Effect writer Drew Kapyshyn (scroll down to the bottom of the page)
http://www.secretidentitypodcast.com/2008-interviews-archives.html

Brian’s Inter view with Mass Effect 2 writer Mac Walters & artist Omar Francia on the ME: Redemption comic:
http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=24300

Mass Effect 2 Trailer:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2O-0-fQOOs&feature=related

Mass Effect 3 Trailer:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnEej1RfqTs&feature=fvwrel

For more on the Mass Effect series, head over to www.masseffect.com.