Monday, April 30, 2012

30 Day Video Game Challenge: Day 12

Day 12: A Game Everyone Should Play - Mass Effect 2 (360/PC)

I really had to think about this before I put it up - so much that it caused a few day's delay in getting more content out just because I couldn't quite come to terms with a decision.  I re-wrote this article five times, using all sorts of different games.

I settled on Mass Effect 2 for a few reasons.  The first is that they improved on nearly every aspect of combat from the previous installment of the game, and somehow managed not to totally screw anything up.  Sure, the cover system is still garbage and often leaves you screaming in frustration, but honestly unless you're playing something from the Gears of War series - that's still expected.

The second reason is the character development.  Even if you never played Mass Effect 1, you could jump right into the sequel and pick up on the themes and characters that the story build off of.  Between the separate character development missions, the conversation options, and the relationships you build with your crew, this is an outstanding feature that really put the RPG back into the genre that has been saturated with roleplaying garbage as of late.

The final reason deals with why I didn't pick Mass Effect 3.  Honestly, the game play was improved.  However the character roster and list of in-depth character development pieces were cut in half.  Coupling this with a questionable (at best) story and a lack of reflection on the decisions you spent two prequel's deciding on really puts Mass Effect 3 on a much lower tier then its predecessor.

Regardless of your thoughts on the final installment of the series, however, its undeniable that Bioware got almost everything right with ME2, and regardless of your favorite genre's and personal game play preferences, Mass Effect 2 is a game that everyone should experience - if for nothing else then the story and character development.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

30 Day Video Game Challenge: Day 11

Day 11: My Gaming Platform of Choice - The PC

True, I had an IMac in college - but back then I really only played a handful of games and had the thing boot camped into windows XP nearly the entire time.  There's a reason nearly every major game developer completely ignores Macintosh platforms.  Moving on.

Asking me this question 3 years ago probably would've yielded a different answer.  Xbox had too much to offer back then, and the simplicity of never having to deal with hardware compatibility and performance was very appealing.  Xbox live wasn't as much as a convoluted mess as it is now, with signing out, signing in, downloads, and other stupid 'features' that they've implemented over the past few years.

It's just hard to argue with the performance as well, I can run almost anything on a machine 3 years old.  Minimum investment compared for time actually spent using it.  And I can do other things on it, not just play games.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Review: Entropia Universe

So last week, I wrote about Mindark's Entropia Universe, and how some people are profiting immensely from a video game. You can read about it here.

After 30+ hours of game play, I think it's about time for a review.

The Good:

- Incredible, cutting edge graphics, if you have the hardware to run them.

- Familiar User Interface (UI) / standard UI conventions working correctly and bug-free.

*Personal Note - Basic UI conventions is a HUGE reason why games get abandoned quickly. At this stage of the digital era, it's unacceptable to have basic things working as intended. A prime example was the bug-ridden disaster that was SWTOR's auction house upon release.

- Player driven economy based on real currency.  This was all covered in my previous article, found here.

- A complex, skill based system that rewards patience and time investments accordingly.

- Friendly, knowledgeable community.

The Bad:

- Investment and an understanding of what a cost/benefit analysis can do for you.

In order to get anything out of EU, you have to put something into it.  This means not only time, but cash as well - it takes money to make money.  As harsh as that sentence reads, that's the way of the world.  Trying to break into EU with no monetary investment is certainly possible - but is nothing short of retarded.  You'll spend hours just to earn $.10 - $.20 CENTS.  Work an hour of overtime and put that into the game, and save yourself time.  Also, cost/benefit analysis charts for the win; Grinding 100 hours of start-up cash in-game is stupid if its the $ equivalent of an hour's worth of work.

- The harsh reality of failure crosses the digital medium and echoes into real life.

You will lose money for months before you start earning a profit.  Instead of your $, you will be indirectly purchasing character skills through your time in game.  These investments in your character, although no longer directly monetary, are represented by the skills you increase.  Better skills afford you potential to earn money.  Eventually.

- Everything has real world value.

Want a pair of cool shades?  Or perhaps a purple pimp hat?  That'll be a $1.00.  Soon you'll find yourself in your best dress, and then you'll realize you bought pixels on a screen and can never recoop that loss, unless you turn around and sell the clothing for a profit.  I'm sure many players dive into this pitfall.

- Easily circumvented death penalty.

If you couldn't tell from my Risk vs. Respawn articles, I'm a fan of things being a little more hard core.  In EU, the only penalty is decay on your equipment - which costs money.  However if you're going to die, just take your equipment off.  If you're naked, you don't get penalized.  No cost deaths.  And you usually revive somewhere close-by if your hunting smart.

- Daunting leveling / learning curve.

People are stupid.  There is a lot of misinformation out there because the rumor game gets played and people inadvertently distort the truth.  Example:  I need about 5000 skill points in a skill before I can really use it to make money.  After 30 hours, I have 500 points.  If it was easy to make that skill level, everyone would play this game.  But I was initially informed killing level 1 creatures was the best way to skill up.  I get confused after watching my skill raise over a period of time.  I notice a trend:  I get 1/4 of a point for a skill hitting a level 1 creature - I get a full point hitting a level 3 creature.  Same risk on both creatures, same amount of swings to kill them.  Why, if that's the case, would I kill level 1's?  Because some jerk told me it was faster.  It's not.  Yet they still try to argue.  Even after they are proven wrong time and time again.  Idiots.

In short, there's a lot to learn - and an awful lot of stupid people out there who think they know better.  Trial and error is your friend.  If what you experience after some testing is different, do it your way - not theirs.

- Bugs.

In my brief time playing EU, there has been over a dozen bugs introduced via patches.  That's dangerous for most games, but especially ones that thrive on real-world economies providing their players money to invest.  My favorite bug is the 'revival' one - when you normally die, you respawn somewhere relatively close by.  Instead, now you respawn somewhere literally minutes of running through high-level territory away.  Very annoying.

- 100% Grind Fest, be it mining or hunting, you're grinding in this game, or you're not playing this game.  There's no in between.

The Balanced:

- The game provides you with everything you need in order to succeed.

While not cost/time efficient, you COULD make money playing a video game without investing anything other than hours upon hours of your own time.  Aside from that, the game has a fantastic economic interface the shows you pricing trends, expected sales, markup values, bids, buyouts, and overall sale numbers.

- You can throw $20 into the game and play for months doing more or less whatever you want, unless you're stupid.

There's a way to start succeeding with every profession and a minimal investment.  I've stretched $7 30 hours, and I'm starting to break even.  The possibilities are endless if you're willing to do the footwork and experimentation to figure out the best way to have fun and profit!

- Quick-response support

With thousands of dollars being transferred every second - the customer service better be top notch, and for the most part - it is.

-Some math required to play and understand the game and how your investments reflect on your character.  Efficiency is everything.

30 Day Video Game Challenge: Day 10

Day 10: Best Game Play - The Diablo Series

This isn't here just because Diablo 3's release is right around the corner - but because of all the game's I've played recently, this is the one I have the fewest complaints about, game play wise.

Blizzard struck gold with the first Diablo, a more or less left-click oriented adventure that kept people running the same dungeons and playing the (relatively) same game over and over, for hours, hoping to find better gear for their character.

The gear-oriented infection of gaming ensued, and is the unholy predecessor to the majority of games we play today.  Simple yet elegant game play that leaves very little up to interpretation.  You know exactly what's going to happen as you make your decisions throughout the game.  It's hard to come up with a complaint about Diablo's game play.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

30 Day Video Game Challenge: Day 9

Day 9: Saddest Game Scene


First off, you can't talk about pivotal scenes in RPG's without at least noting the death of Aeris in FFVII.  There, I talked about it.

But the two scenes that will share the honor of this distinction on my blog belong to two very recent games.  The are, in no particular order:

Dom's Sacrifice - Gears of War 3

Dom gives his life to save his best friend Marcus, Sam, and Anya from a horde of Locust. 
"I never thought it would end like this, huh?  Huh Maria?"  Not much else needs to be said about this scene.

Thane's Death - Mass Effect 3

I love Thane's story.  A terminally ill master assassin helping to save the universe.  He dies a hero - and in the end, Shepard even acknowledges his own mortality as Thane's son, Kolyat, completes Thane's final wish - a prayer for Commander Shepard. "Goodbye Thane, you won't be alone long."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

30 Day Video Game Challenge: Day 8

Day 8: Best Soundtrack - Final Fantasy Tactics

I thought about this a lot, not only going over every great game with a killer soundtrack that's been produced over the past two decades - but going over games that stuck with me throughout the years.  What games made me pick up my guitar and try to learn part of the sound track?  What games did I find myself hand-drumming when I was killing time?  When I wrote, if I had to pick a soundtrack to play over a scene I was developing, what game was that track from?

Nothing stuck with me as much as the tracks from FFT had.  Perfectly setting the mood throughout Ramza's turbulant journey through Ivalice.  As I said in yesterday's post, if you haven't had a chance to play this game, run out and pick it up.  It's worth every penny - you'll find yourself talking about it for years to come.

Monday, April 16, 2012

30 Day Video Game Challenge: Day 7

Day 7: Favotire game couple - Delita Heiral and Princess Ovelia, Final Fantasy Tactics

Final Fantasy Tactics is nothing short of an incredible game; with turn based combat and a compelling and rich story featuring a massive cast and multiple plot lines - it is one of those games people still talk about, frequently, over 15 years later. All this despite sharing a very close proximity in release to Final Fantasy VII, quite easily one of the greatest games ever made.

Delita is a classic anti-hero.  Ovelia is a classic story book princess in every sense.  Together they go through a ridiculous tale that I literally can't say anything else about without spoiling the insane story for the few of you out there that haven't played this game yet.

Stop reading this.  Go play the game - a remake was made for PSP about 5 years ago.  It's worth every penny.  You'll be playing it for years to come.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Risk Versus . . . Respawn? A Retrospective Look At Death Penalties (Or A Lack There Of) In Modern Gaming: Part 3

So far we've established a few very important points:

1 - Games with a harsh, mandatory death penalty can thrive.

2 - Video games are produced in order to make a profit, and therefore aimed at the majority of potential players.

3 - The crowd desiring a more 'hard core' mode of gaming, aimed at more risk with greater rewards is strong in numbers, but still a minority in the gaming population.

4 - The majority of gamers prefer a nearly non-existent risk/maximum reward system that favors casual gamers investing small, but consistent amounts of time.

With that out of the way, I offer my solution, and in doing so ask for two things: The first is that readers of this take a minute or two of their day and post some of their reactions/thoughts on my solution in the comments section below. The second is more of a plea for forgiveness - I need to use a common example, and it's hard to find a game more commonly familiar amongst the gaming community than World of Warcaft (WOW). Love it or hate it, just about everyone's played it.

Currently in WOW, when you die, you're sent to a graveyard as a ghost. Your equipment takes damage, and you're forced to walk back to your corpse (or the instance it was located in) in order to respawn and continue playing. If your equipment takes too much damage, it can't be used (it takes multiple deaths in a row for this to happen). Repairing your equipment is easy, go to a vendor, click repair all, and you're charged an arbitrary and meaningless amount of gold (the in game currency of WOW) in exchange.

I use the word meaningless because, personally, in the three years I played WOW, I never once worried about repairing my equipment in a monetary sense. It was just something you had to do, and it really never cost me much - even after multiple raid deaths at level 85. Gold is somewhat meaningless in WOW, anyway, because there isn't much to do with it aside from repair equipment and buy crafting materials to save time while mindlessly grinding trade skills. You come across PLENTY of gold on a daily basis, therefore eliminating the death penalty in the game all together - save the very small amount of time it takes to walk back to your corpse when you die.

WOW is a staple example of a game with almost no death penalty for attempting, and failing, to achieve. Respawn, try again.

What if that were to change? Suppose there's a new tab added to the character menu, call it 'difficulty', for lack of a better term.

On the difficulty tab, there is a paragraph, and a checkbox. It reads as follows:

Checking this box enabled a more-severe death penalty then the standard game provides. 24 Hours after you enable this option, it will take effect, and should you die, you will be penalized 15 % of your acquired experience this level OR 15% of the experience it would take to achieve the next level, whichever is greater. This is in addition to the normal death penalties which include equipment damage and subsequent respawn timers for multiple deaths.

In exchange for enabling this option, you will receive the following benefits:

Gold Looted +15%
Experience Gained +5%
Chance for a rare item or better to drop +20%
Whatever else you can think of using WOW as a baseline. These are examples.

NOTE: You may only toggle this option once per week. This option has absolutely no effect on deaths which occur in PVP areas or pvp-only encounters.

Summary: (using example numbers instead of the real numbers from WOW)
*Assume 50 is the max level, and there is no experience buffer to acquire once you hit that level.

Example 1:

A level 50 Character dies, he reverts back to level 49, with 15% of the experience needed to achieve level 50 remaining. Think of him as level 49.85 - get it?

Example 2:

A level 30.10 character (or a character that is level 30 and 10% of the way to level 31) dies. He reverts back to level 29, with 5% experience remaining to level 30, said differently; he becomes level 29.95.

There is ABSOLUTELY NO WAY TO RECOOP THE EXP LOSS, UNLESS you are resurrected by another player within ten minutes of your death. If you release prior to that period, resurrection is impossible. You either spend 10 minutes shouting for someone to come help, or you respawn and take the penalty. What if your entire group dies? Your entire group takes the 15% penalty (if enabled, see below for group rewards).

These are just examples, but see where this is going? The numbers need tweaking, but the premise should be evident. Better rewards for more risk.

Raiders are probably crying at this idea. But imagine having to only raid 1-2x a week to get useful drops, instead of 3-4x and hoping to get lucky. Why would raiders cry? Well, raiding guilds like to brag about how long, or short, it takes them to figure out a boss fight - dying dozens of times along the way.

Imaging a raiding guild that wipes 5-6x on a boss in one night. Those level 85's are now level 84's, and probably have a good amount of equipment they can't currently use because they don't meet the level 85 item requirement. (Lower all item requirements to level 84 instead of 85 to alleviate this and create a buffer for these situations).

Now, you might be thinking this could be abused - what if the raid looter had hardcore mode on - but nobody else does? Too bad, no bonus. It's all or nothing for shared loot - either the entire raid subscribes to the harsher penalties or nobody reaps the rewards. Watch how that culls the raiding ranks and forces people to either play and work together to achieve faster, or play casually.

Finally, a note on world PVP deaths and this getting 'abused' because I'm sure some idiot will come up with an argument. Here's how I'd code it if Blizzard gave me the job: If you and I fight, and there is ZERO NPC interference - no penalty is applied. If we fight and a bear comes and whacks me for 1 hp, I take the penalty. World PVP is dead anyway - disable this in shared world pvp zones as mentioned above, done.

That prevents people from trying to kill hard creatures, and then having their friends come over and PVP kill them for no death penalty and trying to trick the system. In short - if an NPC does anything to you, its a PVE death, and you suffer the consequences.

I think I'm done here. Your turn. Next week, I say the hell with the common examples, and I talk about how I'd design a death/risk/reward system from scratch if I ever got the chance.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Playing a video game as a job? First Impressions: Entropia Universe

I stumbled upon Mindark's Entropia Universe (EU) last week in a column featured on In it, they spoke about how a player from western Europe had dumped $200,000 in virtual real estate three years ago - and had recently sold it for $2.5 million USD.

I'll repeat that; someone put $200k into a video game, and three years later made over 12x his initial investment in three years.

A quick news search for "Entropia Universe" will yield quite a few similar articles - ranging from large multimillion dollar investments in the virtual world to the average Joe playing a video game as his second job.

Obviously, this caught my attention quickly, and I decided since it's 100% free to jump into the game and play around, I might as well give it a shot and see what it's all about. After all, I play a veritable shitload of video games and tend to figure them out pretty quickly - maybe I can find a way to get a little supplemental income in the process.

What I found was a GIGANTIC download and a frustrating launch/patching process. I've done a lot of software quality assurance (QA). I've never seen something quite like what their launcher does: it'll give you the option to select exactly what you want to download - I settled on a specific planet, so I told the launcher I only wanted to download that planet's files - and it happily agreed; I had 900mb to go.

Now I'm on a connection that I fondly refer to as the "Dark Ages" of the internet - 1.5mb down, at best, and only at off-peak hours, so this download went SLOW. About an hour into it, I check its progress - downloading, 105mb completed, 1.67gb remaining.

...what? How is the download size going up if I'm not telling it to download more things? I open the launcher and make sure it's downloading only the files I selected. It's not, it seems to be getting files for every available planet - not just the one that it's still showing as the only planet selected. I close the launcher, and re-open it; 0mb completed, 900mb remaining. What the hell? It didn't save any download progress. I rinse and repeat, and eventually just let it run its course over night. Very, very aggravating. But worth it.

What I discovered was a very graphically detailed world with a whole lot of depth and a VERY steep learning curve. I chatted up players, made friends, and read just about everything I could about the game from multiple sources. In other words, I learned as much as I could while participating in the minimal activities available to me without investing in the game.

The one option available to you, aside from chatting to other players and running around exploring (which yields no cash) is 'sweating' monsters, which as you might guess is exactly what it sounds like. You point a machine at a monster and hope to get some sweat off it. This sweat sells to other players, and can be a way of financing your efforts in game. However, you yield 1-4 sweat per successful effort. You fail 90% of your efforts. Once you gather 1000 sweat or so, you'll have enough where someone will buy it for a PED or two. PED is the in game currency - it's exchange rate is $1 = 10 PED.

So, for hours of effort sweating monsters, dying when they get angry, you'll raise some skills and make one or two PED. I'll repeat that - for HOURS of frustrating, mindless, boring work, you'll make $.10-.20 CENTS, NOT DOLLARS, CENTS. You can probably find more in the couch.

Yes, you can be a professional 'sweater' and higher level creatures will give you better rewards, but its a long, long road ahead (in any profession) and truthfully, standing in front of something hoping it doesn't kill me in time to gather its sweat really isn't for me, so I took to hunting, and made my first investment - $20.

Here's where that learning curve came in. What to buy, how to use it, where to sell things, what do skills do and how can I be efficient in my choice of weapons. Mistakes were made, and tears were shed - but after 25 hours of game play, I still have $15 of that $20, and I've not only learned, but actually improved my character tremendously in that time. I'm about 60% efficient in my hunts - which means that it costs me a bit to go out and kill things, but here's where the catch comes in: its an investment.

I'm investing that loss in the skills my character gains while hunting. Eventually, I can hunt bigger things, and narrow that loss more and more until I can fight things that will help me break even, or perhaps even turn a profit. That's realistically months down the road, but that opportunity is there, and realistic - you can literally watch and talk to people doing it in game.

Now hunting isn't the only thing you can do, but its a fun way to pass the time - and you're exploring a beautifully implemented alien world (or worlds if you're feeling brave) in the process. Most MMORPG's cost you $14 a month. EU doesn't just provide entertainment with your investments, but promise. It's a crazy complex system that I'm learning more about every day - but you know what, it's got me hooked. Not on making money, but learning how people do it, how I should go about getting there, and if playing a game like this to unwind, and don't go crazy sinking money into it, what's the harm in that? Right now, if I kept the $20 investment and never put another time in, I could play another 170 hours before I went bankrupt. That's a solid 3-4 months, for $20, in a top entertainment title.

It's not hard to see how that's a good investment - both in and out of game.

If you're wondering how those guys in the articles made their money, I'll provide a brief overview and yes, you can log in the game and do this RIGHT THIS SECOND, if you have the capital and patience. I'm not kidding. But in EU, it takes money to make money. The more you start with (if you're smart), the more you'll make, and the sooner you'll make it. To an extent.

So, EU is divided into planets, planets are corporate entities which can be represented and financed by real world companies. You can move planet to planet, etc. with your character if you choose. I play on the oldest planet, Calypso, which I believe launched in mid-2003.

During the early days, there was a land rush, people paid into the game and acquired land deeds and titles. This enabled them to 'control' the land to an extent, taxing activities on it, holding events (like hunting), etc. The people who dumped a LOT of money into the game got the best land, and have things occurring on that land that draw players to it for participation.

On top of all that, Mindark, the company developing EU, also sells land deeds - which pay dividends to their owners on a weekly basis. You can read about it here.

60k deeds were sold for $100 USD each (initially, they are actively traded on the server for a varying amount).

These deeds pay out dividends based on the server's success. Typically between 5-15 PED a week. So $.50 - $1.50 a week - REGARDLESS of how poorly things do. If the game has a good week, it can pay out significantly more.

Quick math - say you dropped $1,000 on virtual land in EU 8 years ago, some point in early 2004. You'd have 10 plots of land (this is an example).

10 plots of land, paying you an average of $.50 (5 PED) a week, for 8 years.

10 x .50 x 52 x 8 = $2,080

You'd have doubled your investment in 8 years. That's pretty 'meh' even by bank standards.

But imagine you have great land, or that you cultivated your land without further monetary investment, and that it pays out between 30-70 PED a week.

10 x 5 x 52 x 8 = $20,800

Now imagine if you dumped $500,000 into the game 8 years ago, and have played this game like it's your job since. You can hunt the best creatures, you always make money, and all your land is top notch and rakes in 100-250 PED a week. See where this is going?

Sure people have gotten rich in this game - but I'm sure there's hundreds more addicts that have gotten poor as well. Hopefully I'm wrong about that - but I'm sure its happened.

And the final question - how does Mindark make money off EU? A few ways:

1 - The land deeds from the link above cost $100 USD. That goes directly to them.

2 - Mindark makes it VERY hard to make money off of them. Only the top 10% in their professions make money off the game - the top 50% break even, below that, they lose money.

3 - Because of #2, you have to make money either through investments over time in yourself or land, or off other players through trades or the auction house (AH). The AH takes a cut of everything sold - more money for Mindark.

4 - Withdrawing money is easy and almost instant, but can't be done with a balance of less than $1000 PED, or $100. Players like myself who invest $20 and learn the game might not be for them are stuck leaving the money there, or playing it out until they bankrupt and quit. Withdrawing money comes with a fee, 1% or a flat amount (dependent on the exchange rate). Either way, more money for Mindark.

5 - Independent investors looking to partner with the company. You can read about this on their website.

Man, this is a lot longer then I intended, but hopefully it provides some base-level insight. I'll be doing a full review at some point next week - keep an eye out, maybe this game is just what you've been looking for!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

30 Day Video Game Challenge: Day 6

Day 6: Most annoying character - Fi, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Fi is the sole reason I played this game for 5 hours and then shut it off in a rage, never to be touched again.  The character is so mindlessly annoying, offering unbelievably blatant information in a confusing dialogue, that there's just no way I can go through a game dealing with the constantly nonsense and interruptions.  She's that bad.  Don't believe me?  Watch this video.  Then, imagine it being 100 times worse - and you're close.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

30 Day Video Game Challenge: Day 5

Day 5: A game character I feel I am most like (or wish I was most like) - Reeve Tuesti, Final Fantasy VII

For those interested in some official back story on Reeve, I've posted an excerpt from Wikipedia at the bottom of this article.

Aside from his employment by Shinra and his use of Cait Sith to aid Cloud and friends throughout Final Fantasy VII, I chose Reeve for a very specific reason:  Reeve is a man that is willing to risk it all to, despite his employer's agenda, to ensure the right thing is done - at any expense, even his own safety.

Reeve goes out on a serious limb to help the party in FFVII (he's arrested during the course of the game, if the screen shot above doesn't stir up that specific memory.)   by sacrificing the first Cait Sith in order to get the Black Materia.  Then, on top of all that, he continues spying on Shinra from within, giving AVALANCHE valuable insight and information on their enemy - all while staying faithful and even providing one of the cooler limit breaks in the game.

Bottom line, Reeve is someone who realizes he's a normal guy put in an extraordinary situation, and makes the most of it.

The paragraph below was nothing short of mind blowing when I first read it.  Reeve is involved in so much of the story for the FFVII setting that it's not even funny.  Enjoy!

Reeve is the former head of Shinra's Urban Development Department and controller of the robotic cat Cait Sith. In Final Fantasy VII, Reeve originally worked against AVALANCHE until later deciding to help them in their quest against Sephiroth. Due to his job, Reeve is responsible for both the building and ruin of Midgar, hence his concerns about damages and rebuilding costs after Shinra collapsed the Sector 7 plate. He has the job of overseeing the construction of upper Midgar and recognizing the greater architectural vision of the Shinra regime. Reeve is one of the few Shinra officials with genuine concern for the common people; he recognizes AVALANCHE's goal to save the Planet, and begins spying on Shinra officials, using Cait Sith as a means of communication. Reeve is temporarily arrested after Rufus' apparent death, but is released in time to organize an evacuation of Midgar's population before the arrival of Meteor. Reeve is not seen in Advent Children, but is heard leaving a message on Cloud's cell phone offering help. He plays a significant role within Dirge of Cerberus, having established the World Regenesis Organization, dedicated to restoring the Planet and defeating Deepground. In the novella "Case of Denzel", wherein Denzel tries to persuade Reeve to let him join the WRO, Reeve interviews Denzel and listens to his story, before finally informing him that children are not allowed to join the WRO and thanking him for watching over his mother, Ruvie Tuesti. Reeve serves a minor role in Before Crisis as the architect responsible for designing mako reactors and aiding the Turks with the use of Cait Sith.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Risk Versus . . . Respawn? A Retrospective Look At Death Penalties (Or A Lack There Of) In Modern Gaming: Part 2

The Beginning

No, I'm not going to sit here and lecture anyone about the beginning of games.  Yet, everyone has to start somewhere, right?  Therefor I offer the following thought:

Everything, with the exception of nature, exists now because of one of the two following truths:

1 - Someone needed it to survive, or to make survival easier.

2 - Someone thought they could make money off it.

Lets take the wheel, as an example.  Using a wheel meant you didn't have to carry shit.  Meant you could migrate your entirety of belongings distances to avoid harsh seasons.  Made it so you could carry surplus goods to trade.  Basic and simple, we needed to carry stuff - we made it easier to do so, thus saving energy for other things we needed to do.  Survival 101.

Where's this going?  Truth #3:

Every commercially distributed video game you have ever played exists because someone thought they could make money off of it. Not because its enjoyable, not because you deserve epic loot, and certainly not because it's original and/or engaging and they want you to enjoy yourself in the 'sandbox' they created for you.

Today, Video Games exist because someone, somewhere has an idea that they think you're stupid enough to pay money for.  These people probably have dozens of resources at their disposal undergoing countless hours of market research to find out just how profitable their idea is, and how (if) they could make it more profitable by adapting certain conventions; ability cool-downs, character classes and races, familiar user interface, etc.

It's fair to conclude that these people feel the gaming population as a whole does not support high risk/reward scenario's; but instead favors a low/non-existent risk vs. high reward system. A repetitive one at that.  One makes them feel accomplished because they've memorized a series of sequences and reactions that have essentially turned them into a choreographed cyber dance team that prides themselves on being 'the best'.

Before I get too off track here - lets ask a question:  Eve Online is by far the most popular MMORPG that features a 'harsh' death penalty.  (harsh in quotes because its a relative term, yes, I know other games have death penalties.)  Eve's subscriber base has (at minimum) mostly sustained itself every year since its release in 2003.  In fact, most years it's not only sustained itself, its grown - through trial and tribulations, real-money trading scams, losses, employee revolt, and a ton of other mishaps.  In spite of all this the game is still slowly gaining a subscriber base.

How is it that Eve, which is notoriously known for its harsh game play, is flourishing in a over-saturated market of cookie-cutter MMORPG's that offer an abundance of no risk/high reward situations?  I mean all these companies did their homework before they delivered their product, right?   That's the most successful model they came up with?  I don't believe that for a second.  But what does a successful software project manager know?

Despite all this, I offer a simple answer -Eve is flourishing because people like a challenge.  People become committed to a challenge - and people are willing to pay to stay a part of that challenge once they've gotten a taste.

Sure, with its 400,000 subscribers, CCP (Eve's Development Company) isn't raking in the cash that Blizzard Entertainment is on World of Warcraft - but they're making money, steady money, and they aren't constantly in a struggle to maintain their dwindling subscriber base or to develop their next cash cow.  CCP probably isn't wondering if its game model is getting stale.  I'm sure Blizzard is, as only 1,534,389 games have copied their format since WoW's release, and they're all becoming more and more concerned about their dwindling subscriber base that begins falling off as soon as three months after the game hits the open market.

CCP also doesn't have China bolstering Eve's subscribers numbers.  Blizzard's World of Warcraft has more players on the China/Asian servers then it does anywhere else, current estimates put the Asian Region server population at 3.6 million.  North America is a close second, at 3 million - it tails off significantly after that.

Maybe all those guys in the conference room discussing loss models, death penalties, and risk have it wrong.  Maybe they shouldn't base their games on the initial rush instead of the sustained subscriber growth over a decade, and not worry about struggling to keep their subscriber base.  And just maybe, sustainability will become a much greater focus then delivering 'epic loot' to people with little to no time investment in their product.

Then again, what the hell do I know?  But now that we've got this out of the way, and we can all agree that:

A - People will pay and remain loyal to harsh risk/reward systems.
B - Games exist solely to make money. 

We can pick this up next week, where I'll dig deeper into games at both sides of the spectrum and provide a little more insight about who is doing what - and whether or not what they're doing is working.

Thanks for taking the time to read this - feel free to chat about it below and/or share it with your fellow gamer friends!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

30 Day Video Game Challenge: Day 4

Day 4: My guilty pleasure - League of Legends

League of Legends, or LoL as its commonly abbreviated, sank its teeth into me nearly two years ago and hasn't let up for one moment since.  Truthfully, the appeal of the game isn't really the competitive edge you can get over other players based on your knowledge and skill, but in the fact that every game is a chance to start over.

I've played close to 2000 games (5v5's) in my two year sprint.  Each game takes about 45 minutes (average) form champion select through loading and completion.  That's roughly 1500 hours spent playing this time vampire - or close to nine weeks.  That's a retarded amount of time and really goes to show just how addictive a 'quick' tower defense game format coupled with variety and customization can really be.

Truthfully, aside from the obvious reasons, LoL is bad for my health because in all my long years spent gaming - I've never raged at people and myself as hard as I have when I'm at my peak of frustration in a close LoL match.  Not just because of the frustrating and often inconsistent game mechanics observation caused by a very small amount of server-side lag, but because the game is 100% team based which means you're not only relying on your own skill but that of four other people who hopefully have decent internet connections and won't become bored or fed up and quit half way through the game.  Sadly, I'd estimate 20% of my games in LoL experience this to one extent or another; from players getting frustrated and 'feeding' (allowing themselves to get killed over and over again), to players rage quitting randomly, never connecting, or going AFK mid-match.  Just writing about it gets me seething.

That all being said, its obviously a fun game, and one almost any computer with a stable internet connection can run.  It's easy to pick up and play, and while there is a lot to learn - that's all part of the challenge and glory of Riot's League of Legends.

I love, and hate this game.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

30 Day Video Game Challenge: Day 3

Day 3: A game that is underrated - Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem

I've got a lot of great memories from time spent playing video games with friends.  It goes without saying that this game conjures the best of those memories.  Not only because I spent the majority of my time playing through it with one of my best friends - but because at times, it literally took both of us working and thinking together (in a single player game) to make it to the next area.

You play through the game as a college student exploring her grandfather's mansion - but what unfolds after the initial story is set is anything but typical.  You traverse the story as one of twelve characters, playing through multiple time periods.  The story flows beautifully, and the difficulty is on-par with what most would expect from a puzzle/survival/horror game with a big budget - this game delivers it all: an epic engaging story line with top-notch navigation and puzzle-solving capabilities.

Initially available on the game cube - I highly recommend this to anyone who still has one laying around.  I absolutely guarantee you that it won't disappoint.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

30 Day Video Game Challenge: Day 2

Day 2: My Favorite Character - Vincent Valentine (Final Fantasy VII)

Not only is Vincent a kickass character to have in FFVII, but he's one you can go through the entire game without, and never even know it. As one of the two 'bonus' characters featured in the game, he's often thought of as anything but - his acquisition universally recognized as half-way point through the story. Getting Vincent became a staple - so much so that he even received his own game, Dirge of Cerberus (which sucked, unfortunately).

Vincent's glory and power come into full view during Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, where he appears in the Forgotten City to save Cloud and whisk him away in his cloak - it's probably my second favorite scene in the movie.  I'll save the first for another day.

But it's not so much his ability that makes him appealing to me, but his story.  Involved with Lucrecia, Sephiroth's mother, he has involvement in the FFVII back story as well as the events leading up to Sephiroth's birth.  That, coupled with his history as a Turk, the enforcers of the Shinra Electric Power Company, makes him a solid choice for my all-time favorite video game character.

Monday, April 2, 2012

30 Day Video Game Challenge: Day 1

Saw a few people doing this on Facebook, loved the idea.  Nostalgia incoming!

Day 1: My Very First Video Game - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES Version)

When I first got a Nintendo - I didn't even open the Mario Brother's game for the first two weeks.  I played this instead.

Not only a challenging game (the underwater levels still haunt my dreams) but a rewarding one.  Rescuing friends and desperately trying to follow the plot while cruising streets and launching missiles at members of the Foot Clan, this game had it all - in both overhead and side-scrolling formats!

Side Note: I actually still have the NES Cartridge for this game tucked away for an E-Bay sale 30 years from now.  Wish me Luck!