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Evolving Views

Evolving Views

 

One of the most admirable and difficult abilities of the human brain is the ability to change.  People frequently fear change, they fear “looking wrong” instead of “learning something,” and they see stubbornness as some sort of element to be championed.  As we grow up, we out-grow things, and this is a natural change for all normal humans not stuck in some kind of self-destructive anti-life loop.  I’m less inclined to wear jeans with holes in them these days.  Huge shirts with busy front-and-back artwork for Metal bands has given way to nondescript T-Shirts that reference video games or “geeky” stuff for anyone that actually gets close enough to notice.  My old leather biker jacket, long since damaged after I stretched in a movie theater and ripped a bunch of stitches out of the armpit, saw its “more acceptable” leather jacket replaced by something that is wool, nondescript, and was frankly purchased because it was practical, warm, and comfortable instead of being “kinda cool because of leather.”  Essentially, growing up comes with change—changing tastes, maturing ideals, and simply a better understanding of the world around oneself. 

 

In the last couple years or so, I’ve come to realize how many of my old standards concerning gaming have changed—in some cases, quite drastically.  So you now get arguably my most personal and self-reflective blog.  Change is growth.  And some of this was a very long time coming—some of my views have done a complete 180 degree turn on what they used to be.  The only promise here is that this will be my least entertaining blog ever.  You should probably leave now.

 

No Longer a Completionist.


Still here?  Okay.  Well, here it goes.  When I was a kid, I have far fewer games and a lot more time on my hands.  For games I didn’t view as “impossible,” I was essentially a completionist.  I conquered Kirby’s Adventure, Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, Mario 64, StarFox64, Super Metroid (did both a fast time/best ending and a 100% complete game)and a few others as completely as humanly possible.  I even saw my name printed in ye olde Nintendo Power magazines for my 100% completion in Yoshi’s Island and a high score in StarFox64 (it wasn’t one of the top scores because I’m really not that good).  I had Contra and Super C memorized, and spent ample time getting "as complete as possible" with Secret of Evermore and Final Fantasy VI (III on the SNES).

 

These days, it’s extremely unlikely for me to 100% any game, let alone play through it more than once.  The most recent game I started replaying was Super Metroid after getting it during the 30 cents sales on the Wii U, and while the journey down memory lane was nice, that I’ve played it so many times before led to me never finishing.  I didn’t even finish a short game I once basically had memorized.  The last one I played through more than once was the Splatterhouse revival, because it was very short and because I actually genuinely enjoyed it. 

 

Why don’t I do this anymore?  Time is one major constraint.  I work a full time job and when I get home I work on game development tasks (of which many of you are no doubt tired of hearing), and then on the weekends, I spend the time with my son and girlfriend—often on tasks outside of “me gaming by myself.”  The other is my adult income and general gaming addiction/hobby means I have far more games than I can play at any given time.  Over the past year or so, I finished three games that clocked in at over 90 hours of playtime each.  That’s a huge milestone for me.  Longer games are more likely to be abandoned in my gaming—and Skyrim was not one of these three.  Most of the games I play now are co-op with my son or my girlfriend, and 3DS or Vita titles that I can pick up and put down just as quickly. 

 

 

I No Longer Care About Achievements.


When I first bought an Xbox 360, I didn’t care much about Achievements.  Within a year, I started to care, and found that it sometimes drastically altered how I played some games.  I wasted a lot of time in Alan Wake picking up stupid thermoses that had nothing to do with the story in the hope of getting a single Achievement—collecting these stupid things accomplished nothing else.  Prototype had a bunch of glowy balls hidden around the city to collect to earn three Achievements.  It was empty busy-work to add length to the games in the laziest possible way.  I even played a few games on hard mode with “more Achievements” as part of the reason.  This worked out well in the first three Gears games and Rage, but ultimately led to me being unable to finish Dead Space 2 as I was woefully under-equipped for the final battle. 

 

Then I got the Wii U—and I stopped caring about Achievements almost entirely.  Prior to this, some inkling of “not caring” about these things began to set in after buying a PS3 in 2011.  I have only one PSN “friend” and care little for collecting Trophies.  Even after my recent acquisition of the Vita and the vastly improved Trophy and profile system, I find that I don’t care for them.  I like seeing them unlocked, but I no longer play to get them.  It was a passing fad for me in this regard. 

 

As much as I am a fan of stats and a history of my progress (I love the all the statistics the 3DS records) in gaming, I find trophies and achievements somewhat pointless as they are earned just to have them earned.  Yes, I like the statistical nature of some, but I now generally loathe achievements that want to force you to play a game in profoundly stupid ways, or those which exist just to have more achievements.  In my increasingly jaded view, they should have some meaning, some purpose beyond just adding to a total of those earned.  That’s a hollow victory.   

 

I understand how popular they are, and I do think Nintendo should incorporate a system in the Wii U that uses them—but that’s not for me, but rather because they’re well liked and popular.  I just think they should be improved upon for me to care again.  Ubisoft’s UPlay set-up is a great start—you actually unlock things using it—and I’ve greatly enjoyed spending my points to unlock things in multiple different games.  But as a whole, I don’t care much anymore. 

 

I’m Tired of the Hardcore vs Casual Nonsense.


I was once dismissive of “non-hardcore” games and even believed there was something to define the “hardcore gamer.”  GameInformer featured a blog about whether or not the term “gamer” is still valid, and I think it is—but the hardcore demographic is gone—and most of them seemed to be angry, self-centered, closed-minded jack-asses anyway.

 

I do consider myself a gamer, as in a “hobbyist of video gaming.”  Outside of obvious loved ones, I live for video games.  I collect old ones, I try to play as many as I can with my limited time and resources and even more limited gaming skills.  I read about gaming, I work my ass off to be a part of gaming, and I even get to write about it now on a very new site. 

 

At one time, I thought casual games were kind of stupid.  Then I played several of them, and started to want to play more.  Peggle isn’t stupid.  Peggle is awesome.  Exercise games aren’t stupid—they make sense—especially on the Wii, Wii U, X360, and XBO (using Kinect).   In fact, I’ve played three different exercise franchises, and have found enjoyment of two of them.  Personally, I’d advise everyone to steer clear of EA Sports Active using Kinect because it’s broken as hell—it once registered me doing about 40 push-ups in 8~12 seconds while I was kneeling down to start doing push-ups

 

My Mom bought Wii Fit for her Wii, and I was along the lines of saying, “that’s dumb.”  Now, on the Wii U, I use the sequel a few times a week, time permitting.  I got over it.  Casual and exercise games are fun.  But what makes them fun is that they are so casual.  After trudging for over a ninety hours through Shin Megami Tensei IV or Fallout 3, its actually kind of nice to throw open the 3DS (gently of course), and open up a generally relaxing puzzle game.  A recent download is Quell: Reflect on the 3DS.  Holy crap is that game casual and relaxing. 

 

I’m also less concerned about the elitism that surrounds hating the other type of casual game—those like Call of Duty.  Face it, it’s a casual game.  Its tailor made to reach the widest possible, lowest-common-denominator audience.  It’s a casual game in everything but its core online gameplay.  Madden is casual.  SimCity and The Sims are casual.  Forza and Grand Theft Auto are casual.  If this bothers you and you are adamant about “hardcore gaming,” the only things you should be playing are obscure titles you have to literally search for, shmups, and ultra-challenging indie platformers.  Those are hardcore games.  Call of Duty certainly appeals to the hardcore crowd, as does GTA, but face it folks—those are casual games made to appeal to everyone.  The same cannot be said of Ikaruga or Castle of Shikigami III.

 

But then again, as noted, I no longer care about casual versus hardcore.  As noted, I am a gamer, and I think there is still value in the label—and that means I like all kinds of video games, so long as I’m still enjoying my gaming.    

 

Embracing Digital.


Prior to this last generation, I almost never purchased a digital game.  Granted, there weren’t a lot of places to do it even one short generation ago.  Think about that for a second—digital distribution really didn’t take off or have a foothold until the X360, Wii, and PS3 were out.  And in that short time, it has come to dominate the industry.  Digital is now the default way most games are released.  The first system where I bought digital was the Wii—perhaps ironic given its microscopic storage space.  The system where most I looked for digital games was the Xbox 360, but the system that sold me on actual digital-over-physical was the 3DS. 

 

There’s a part of me that’s a little disappointed that Nintendo didn’t put in, say, two or even three slots for physical games right into the system.  The old (failed) Tiger game.com actually had two slots for game cartridges, which I think is brilliant for a portable system.  But then Nintendo opened up the eShop and allowed us to use standard SD cards (instead of that asinine proprietary format Sony demands for the Vita), and all the DSi games became available and lo and behold, the 3DS is my first game system with more downloaded games than physical.  It also marks the first time I ever purchased a brand new AAA game digital instead of physical.  Frankly, getting Animal Crossing digital just makes more sense.  I’m going to fire it up once in a while, play for a bit, and then quit to play something else. It’s the perfect title to have digital and always right there in the menu. 

 

I’ve reached a point now where I’m more interested in what’s coming on the digital pipeline than the physical—and having largely walked away from the Xbox brand lately for Sony, PSN has given me a steady selection of digital gaming options.  I am now coming full circle to wondering why I even bother with dedicated game hardware at all anymore—and keep in mind, I love game hardware!  I collect game hardware, with a Commodore64 being my most recent acquisition (traded one of my Atari 2600’s and one of my Master Systems for it).  Which brings to mind…

 

The One-Console, Unified Platform Future.


Ahhh the old horror story.  Fanboys fear it, and regular gamers don’t understand it.  I’ve explained it enough already, and if you still don’t understand how this would work and benefit absolutely everyone, that’s really on you, sir!

 

But this is a new realization for me.  I was once very much adamant about “WE NEED DEDICATED GAME HARDWARE! BECAUSE COMPETITION!  BECAUSE…”  Well, that’s really the only thing outside of fanboyism for the label on the box (deal with it, kids).  The thing is, part of why I feared this was a form of fanboyism.  I mean, Sega didn’t turn out so well after dropping making consoles, right?  Atari certainly didn’t improve…   What would this do to Nintendo or Sony? 

 

It was exactly the reasons I noted so many times before—games cost too much to make, and in order for many to make any money back, they need to be ported to every platform possible, but making them all so different just makes things harder on developers and ultimately this just harms the industry as a whole.  Gamers get screwed in this if they want more games and are either forced to buy expense different-yet-overly-similar game hardware just to get a few exclusive titles.  That or they sit there with their Xbox and wish for Uncharted or Mario, or they sit there with their Playstation and wish for Gears of War or Bayonetta 2.  What you should be wishing for is a single unified platform where Sony and Microsoft and Nintendo… and Activision and Ubisoft and Valve and EA and Sega all have their own specialty stores all equally available for you to access on a single piece of hardware you purchase. 

 

When we buy both an XBO and a PS4, at best, we’re throwing away $400 that could’ve been better spent on more games for the XBO.  At worst, we’re throwing away $500.  I’ve paraded around the “85% identical” stat a few times concerning the X360 and PS3—and when I came to realize this and that the XBO and PS4 will be even more identical in their libraries, I’ve started to question the very concept of these now archaic and ridiculous dedicated systems altogether.  I’ve gone from fearing this to not only wanting it, but I now fully feel this is necessary for the game industry to move forward without imploding on itself.  My other constantly paraded phrasing has been “Hollywood budgets, but not Hollywood audiences.”  A unified platform can finally give us that.  But that leads to my last change in viewpoint…

 

Tired of the Boys’ Club.


One of the common attacks against a future where we have a single unified platform similar to the burgeoning Steam Machine concept is that “Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo would never do it.”  And that’s why I’m tired of their self-absorbed, exclusionary, archaically-minded boys’ club.  Change needs to happen, but these three companies are not smart enough to do it.  Valve is.  Valve is incredibly smart. 

 

At first, I didn’t get it.  I thought Valve missed the point of making a console.  But now I get it—it’s not about hardware, it’s about an operating system.  It’s about a unified platform that anyone can use.  It’s about nigh-unlimited consumer choice.  Do you want a Steam console?  Do you want a Steam streaming box to the TV?  Do you want to be able to relax with your giant PC gaming collection the same way you can any other console, but with way more games?  That’s the Steam Machine.

 

This is genius, and it’s not coming from the boys’ club because the boys’ club lacks the ability to think outside the box, as it were.  They are stuck in the old ways.  And that is the problem with the boys’s club.  They can’t envision gaming outside of their stupid little boxes that are selling a logo more than anything else.  Sure, Sony seems to have an interesting idea with their upcoming streaming concept, but that’s still not thinking entirely outside their boxes. 

 

But what about innovations like the Wii Remote, Kinect, the Wii U GamePad, and the like?  There’s absolutely no reason that these things could not be possible on a unified platform.  Then, instead of $300~$500 entry price to try out these new devices, it’d just be a $100 cost for the individual controller/camera/etc.  The Nintendo store could feature a bunch of GamePad centric games, the Microsoft store a bunch of Kinect-centric games, etc.  But then everyone has an easier time experiencing these games. 

 

I still like Nintendo, Sony, and to a decreasing extent, Microsoft—but I’m tired of their cloistered, narrow-focused, ancient-brained, old-fashioned, out-dated concepts concerning console gaming and gaming in general.  Microsoft had so few new ideas for actual gaming that they focused their machine on TV entertainment and being a set-top box you can talk to for changing channels.  The best Nintendo could come up with was making a DS-version of a home console.  And frankly, for as impressive as Sony has been lately, nothing they’re doing is actually revolutionizing gaming in any way.  These three are stuck in a loop and unable to actually take the necessary steps toward a future where everyone can be a gamer.  They are still closed off.  They are still expensive, dedicated machines.  They still do not appeal to consumers nearly as easily as, say, a PC or a tablet does.  And that’s why I am no longer a big proponent of traditional console gaming.  I don’t think I’m going to buy an XBO or a PS4.  My 3-year-old laptop is of roughly equivalent power as it is.  I might as well move to gaming on that.  All I need is that rad little Steam controller.

 

 

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And that’s it.  These are my bigger changes over the years.  Things I’ve outgrown, don’t have time for, gotten over, or simply understand more clearly. I’m not randomly flip-flopping like a desperate politician desperate for votes.  These were not overnight changes—they took time, but looking back, they are indeed complete changes from how I used to view and enjoy gaming.  I have just as much fun playing Call of Duty as Peggle or Kokuga.  I like the consoles I have, but see the old way they still do things as problematic for the industry. 

 

Developers shouldn’t have to struggle to find an audience—digital shopkeepers should be competing for the best games to sell in their shops.  Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, etc—they should be all available on the same platform, and they should be competing to get the most games in their individual shops—but which are still available to everyone on every platform.  There’d be no risk in Platinum being exclusive to Nintendo or, say, Konami being exclusive to Sony if both are available to the same numbers of people.  Then Sony and Nintendo, for instance compete as whose specific wacky controller best aids a certain game, who can sell the game the best in their shop, who can reach the most consumers based on their marketing.  Digital games are the future.  There is no such thing as casual versus hardcore, and achievements should be meaningful, not fluff.

 

I guess the question is, then, how have you changed over the years?  Are your changes rational, or emotional?  Did they take time, or were they knee-jerk reactions?  I’m happy that nothing that changed in me was a spur-of-the-moment decision—but an evolving mindset. 

 

 

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