Part of my "front-end" work to get more involved in the gaming community is to register at and get involved with all the major gaming sites, links to which you'll find under the Blogroll on the right.
The first site I am working with is 1up.com, which has a great little profile tool that allows you to build your "collection" of games. I took this opportunity to figure out just how many home-console games I've played in my life, and so far I am up to 307. My reaction to this number is two-fold:
1) Seems awful low.
2) I haven't played enough games.
It also makes me realize just how long I've been a gamer...and it makes me feel privileged to have been here from the very beginning.
One of my oldest memories is of being 4 years old, driving back to my parents' first house in Latham, NY, sitting in the back of my father's green Chevy Impala station wagon, holding the box of the Atari 2600 we had just purchased and starting in awe at all the "screen shots" of the games that were available.
Did you know that someone beat Atari to the idea of micro-processor based hardware and cartridges for home gaming? Check it out: the Fairchild Channel F. The creator went on to found Intel.
There are legions of teenage/early 20's gamers right now who have absolutely no conception as to how far we've come in how little time, who take next-gen home-console graphics for granted, or who never had to step up to PC gaming with all its hardware and software issues in order to have decent graphics and sound before the "gaming PC in a nice plastic case" consoles were released. On the one hand, that could make me feel old...if I weren't talking about video games. On the other hand, I feel sorry for anyone who loves video gaming and who will never know just how blessed we are to have the technology we have such easy access to.
It's also fascinating to look back and see the games that really shaped my tastes in gaming to this day. Point and case: my favorite gaming genre has historically been 3D space combat sims. It's a genre of game that has all but died out, and a friend on my wargaming club forums stated the reason why very well:
"Space flight sims had their peak because of the light graphics needs (compared to processing power at the time). You could pack a lot of game in without making the rasterizer cry for mercy, because Space Is Big, and Spaceships Are (Comparatively) Small.
As the hardware people raced along, it got a lot easier to do more complex graphics within processing limits. Graphics = eye candy = sales = mandatory from the view at the top of management hill. The Graphics (arms) race in games development essentially pushed out certain genres, because they weren't using all the bells and whistles on the GPUs."
Wing Commander was the game that ushered me into the world of PC gaming. It was, prior to Fallout 3, my favorite game of all time purely for the influence it had on my thinking in regards to gaming in general.
And as I am working on my list of played games, I find this:
This was my favorite game on the Atari 2600. I was five years old. I remember that it came with a comic book of appreciable length - and as I look at the screenshots, I totally see how this article correctly identifies Star Raiders as the design precursor to Wing Commander, and X-Wing, and pretty much all the 3D space combat flight sims I loved and played to death until the genre died.
It was the only Atari game I had that used the touch pad controller for the system, which, again at my age, gave the game so much more depth and made me feel like I was in a real space ship. It wasn't just flying around and shooting things, I also had some navigation to do, and there was a story wrapped around the gameplay. I had to manage the shields and repair the ship in-between battles...it was the best game I'd ever played.
The fact that once I began putting together my "list of games played" on 1up I immediately went looking for this game just goes to show the influence it had on me, and I love being able to trace my gaming roots back this far.
It also makes me extremely happy to see just how many other people still remember games like Star Raiders and understand its importance to the history of this artform we love so much.
I traded in Modern Warfare 2 to GameStop this past Sunday.
The computer brought up the trade-in value as $23. I noted that the in-store sign listed it as $28 and that they might want to change said sign. That’s honestly all I meant…the trade-in value was what it was. They kindly gave me the sign price and with my Edge club bonus it came out to $30.80. Bonus. Enough to finish paying for my Battlefield Bad Company 2 pre-order on March 2nd.
I am surprised at how quickly I got rid of MW2. I knew it was never going to live up to the hype which I bought into so readily. I was on vacation in Disneyworld with my wife when the game was released and actually hit a midnight GameStop opening in Orlando to get a copy of MW2 a.s.a.p.. Disney’s “high-speed internet” service (which they charge you up the ass for) couldn’t handle the multiplayer, however. Network settings weren’t right and the Disney I.T. people weren't about to reconfigure just for me, so I had to play through the campaign to satisfy the itch until I got back home.
The campaign actually turned out to be tied for Special Ops for “best part of the game” in my book, which I’m still kind of shocked about. I met a bunch of my now-regular stable of Xbox Live players through the first Modern Warfare. People who had previously only been into sports games jumped into their first FPS game for MW. We played Domination and Sabotage and Team Deathmatch modes to death. It wasn’t until the first map pack was released and one of our core players wasn’t satisfied with it that the game began to die.
MW2 started dying for my group in late January, just around the time Mass Effect 2 was released. A little shy of three months from release to sliding off the group’s radar. There are a few holdouts here and there but by and large I’d say the game is pretty dead for the players I care about gaming with, and most of the others are also trading MW2 for credit towards Battlefield: Bad Company 2.
Part of the problem with MW2 was the bugs and the glitching. I think our experience with CoD: World at War carried over a little in terms of how quickly many of us lost patience with MW2. When I am 80-year-old man, when I remember back to WaW I will remember snipers floating hundreds of feet over the map until someone called them out so that the team could take them down, or players under the map on Roundhouse who could only be culled out through shooting bazookas at the ground.
I have to admit that it was pretty fun camping the steel door on Roundhouse that people needed to jump through in order to get under the map, and mowing the would-be glitchers down as they hopped up and down like idiots in front of said door. The comedic content thus provided almost balanced out the frustration with the glitch. Almost.
My long-term memories of Modern Warfare 2's multiplayer will be the Care Package and Javelin glitches. I think that's a pretty sad footnote on the multiplayer awesomeness I remember from the first game. Some have blamed the lack of a Beta for the bugs and glitches, and I do think that Infinity Ward’s hubris came into play here. When you know you're sitting on a goldmine you don't have to push yourself too hard.
It almost feels like Halo 3 in reverse. H3 had solid multiplayer but a tacked-on campaign. MW2 had buggy multiplayer but the campaign was excellent. Perhaps a little short, even when I played it on Veteran, but I thought the story was excellent (industry comments on its incomprehensibility were lost on me). I did find myself wondering what General Shepherd meant at the end when he talked about “Losing 30,000 troops in a moment five years ago,” but if that is the biggest question the campaign leaves me with I can turn a blind eye to it. Overall I felt the story was appropriately epic, and I genuinely was shocked when Ghost and Roach met their end at the hands of Shadow Company. I found the battle through the streets of Washington compelling. Having two sisters who live there helps give moments like those (along with downtown exploration in Fallout 3) some extra, personal punch with me.
Spec Ops was fantastic. I’m a big fan of cooperative gameplay over competitive, especially in shooters like MW2 where true cooperation often never takes place, rather each player on a team is individually trying to score the highest kill streak and the team with the most hotshots takes the day. With cramped level design there’s really no such thing as flanking…and when death comes so quickly there’s not much time to truly strategize past calling out enemy locations, or where the team needs to be. Spec Ops was a true test of teamwork, and as such I found it much more satisfying an experience than the multiplayer.
Again I have to draw an allusion to Halo 3, because I felt myself getting sick of MW2's multiplayer the same way I found myself tiring of Halo 3's. It just got boring. Predicatable. When you can go online to look up "the camping spots" and it's a very finite list, or when the same game seems to play itself out over and over again, I think that's the punching snakes moment. I like a shooter experience to be fluid, to have a lot of room for choices and new strategies and tactics. Open-world games like Battlefield really seem to do more for me nowadays precisely because there is more room for innovation and fluidity of play.
Bad Company 2's multiplayer will get old just like Modern Warfare 2's, in the end, but perhaps the variety will keep it around for more than three months. I don't regret the money and time spent with MW2, but I just received my first game through GameFly.
I think my criteria for "purchase over rent" are going to get a lot tougher.
I'd like to begin with a contemporary example of snake punching: scanning planets in Mass Effect 2.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a marked improvement to driving around planets in the Mako trying to handle mountains that the vehicle was simply *not* engineered to navigate in order to pick up rocks for experience points. Now the resources in Mass Effect have some practical use as you need them for equipment upgrades, and it takes much less time to find the specific rocks you need…but it still takes way too long.
The ship improvement for the scanner only increases the speed the scanner moves while it’s *not scanning.* Therefore, the “improvement” is of very limited utility. If you find yourself in need of resources you are still going to be either slowly passing the active scanner over the surfaces of planets, or do what I do and run the scanner up and down the planet while pulling the left trigger for millisecond-long scans that will show a high mineral concentration if it’s there. Not very thorough, but finds you what you want if you need something. It also leads to cramping in your left hand.