Saturday, March 31, 2012

Week in Review - 3/30/2012

Yesterday morning I found out I was having another son.
It sort of threw off my plan to post. So, this is a day late, hopefully not a dollar short.

Tales of Graces f

Thursday morning I found my PS3 had broken with this game stuck inside. I’m still really upset about it. I was hoping to beat this game before Xenoblade Chronicles comes out next week. I was really enjoying it – particularly the battle system. The story still wasn’t as good as Tales of Vesperia, but it was starting to get pretty interesting. I don’t really know what to do about my PS3, or the game tragically stuck inside. All attempts to retrieve it from the blinking red lights has failed.

Dungeon Defenders

My wife and I thought we could handle Nightmare mode on Dungeon Defenders, but we were wrong. We are still struggling to complete Glitterhelm Caverns on Insane difficulty, much less any maps on Nightmare. We are in the process of upgrading our Godly gear and hoping to find Mythic soon. Series EV (pictured) was just released this past week and looks to be the most over-powered class in the game, so we both leveled one up and are hard at work learning how to best utilize them. They are very fun.

Saint's Row 2

My brother has been playing Saint’s Row: The Third which got me thinking about the series. I’d never tried it and I found a deal on Steam to get Saint’s Row 2 for $2. I’ve been poking around in the game quite a bit and find that I enjoy many of the features presented in the game more than “GrandTheft Auto” series. I’ve been told “GTA” tries to remain more anchored in realism, while in “Saint’s Row” series anything goes. Things haven’t gotten that crazy for me yet, but I’m enjoying finding creative uses for my fake money.

Total War: Shogun 2 

I spent a few more runs on easy trying to perfect my strategy with the Chosokabe clan. They haven’t gone very well ultimately. I think I’m too concerned with war and not enough concerned with economy and infrastructure. I feel driven to complete the “missions” assigned to me by my clan, which typically involve capturing provinces nearby. I feel that forces me to expand too quickly, or at least a bit prematurely. Next time I attempt this, I think I will focus much more on building up my provinces and army before leaving Shikoku Island.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Dangers of Download Content

The first time I found myself organizing Pokémon by their Pokédex index number in the original Pokémon Red cartridge (no small task) I realized there was something fundamentally compelling about collecting and organizing things. Perhaps it is our hunter/gatherer origins that drive this motivation. Whatever the source of this phenomenon that most of us share to varying degrees, the video game industry has really locked in on it and is now in the process of exploiting it. You may want to argue that you are not an obsessive-compulsive completionist like I often am, but I am sure that most games that really hook their audience are using a tactic of baiting the player with unlockable content. Hell, it’s the entire business model of an MMO – to keep more content coming at regular intervals to keep you paying your subscription month after month. It’s now something fairly obvious and universal that we have all experienced in one way or another with video games.

Now that's a collection!
I personally like collecting video games themselves. I typically prefer to put them on a shelf and display them rather than resell them for money toward new games. I tend to take really good care of my games and their accessories. When I purchase a used game, for example, if the casing and booklet inserts aren’t included then I am sure to pass on them for a new version with all the bells and whistles, superfluous as they may be. Because of this, I resisted buying digital copies of games from digital distributors for as long as I can remember. Digital copies don’t really come with bells and whistles. There’s nothing really to display. They simply exist as a smattering of electrons that come together before my eyes to entertain me on a whim. It doesn’t have as much to offer someone who likes to display his collection with pride. My attitude toward this is shifting lately, largely due to the quality and convenience of Valve’s digital distribution service, aptly called Steam.

And who wouldn't, Scrooge?
I’ve been building my collection since roughly 1990. I suppose someday I hoped to build a Scrooge McDuck “Money Bin” full of video games that I could swim through lovingly. I’d toss them up in the air and let them rain down on my head while I squealed with delight. As it stands, 22 years later, I have enough copies of games to fill a wheelbarrow. Perhaps I could even fill an inflatable swimming pool and live out the poor man’s version of this fantasy. However, now that I am a recent convert to Steam, I fear that my dream of swimming through mountains of plastic cartridges and laser discs will be dashed upon the proverbial rocks. As I face a personal increase in displeasure with the constant “nickel & diming” video game publishers insist on inflicting upon their presumably loyal customers, I can’t deny that Steam’s prices are quite often the most rewarding and financially responsible solution to this growing problem if you don’t mind waiting patiently for the Steam sales to take effect.

This haircut is irresponsible in so many ways.
If anyone out there is playing video games and doesn’t realize that the market is trying to take advantage of you, you need look no further than The Sims 3 online store (link to example) where purchasing a new hairstyle for your fake people costs some real money. These micro-transactions are becoming quite common, but what boggles my mind is how within The Sims 3 itself things are so inconsistent. As you can see, a single haircut can run you $1. That is to say 30 haircuts will run you about $30, which is equal to the price of The Sims 3 itself, and all of its subsequent expansions – which I can assure you are much greater than the sum of 30 hairstyles. They contain entire neighborhoods worth of people, places and things to do and explore. The compulsive collector in me would love to be able to collect all these hairstyles (not to mention: clothing, furniture, homes, stores, tattoos, etc) and play dress-up with thousands of options, but the often-rational side of my brain is constantly reminding me the value of a single dollar. If my brain felt these prices even remotely reflected their true worth (about 80% or more off their current market price) I’d probably be irresponsible enough to spend $500 on fake clothes for fake people per year. Thanks to EA’s ridiculous (money-grubbing) prices, though, they are lucky if I spend $30 on their expansions – in fact, I often wait for Steam to put them up for sale so I don’t even pay the full asking price of the expansions which are typically worth the $30 to begin with.

Get a few drinks in me and start talking about my childhood, and I may pay $30 for these costumes.
That’s just one example. The idea of Downloadable Content (DLC) is a marvelous one. Who doesn’t want to add additional options and quests and stories to their favorite games? However, I feared early on that it would devolve into what it’s already becoming. It’s a way for game companies to milk us for money. I feel like if a game is worth $60, and content arrives worth $10, then the content should easily be 1/6th the content you already have. When it’s just an additional 2 hours to a 60 hour game, I feel you are getting ripped off. Remember, I’m only judging these games and these prices based on the retail prices the publishers themselves set. You should not be paying $10 for 5 new weapons, when you paid $60 for a game filled with hundreds of weapons. It just doesn’t add up. The game itself is a microcosm where the developers hold the reins on a monopoly, especially on console games which are not open to public modifications. Your only option to rebel against these outrageous prices is to not buy them, because no one else is making or selling them for reduced prices. There is no competition to drive prices down, and every time someone buys this content they justify the price to the developer.

This brings me back to Steam, which is becoming my primary solution to this problem. It should be common sense that if we are patient and shop around we can typically come to a price we feel is reasonable for the product being offered. Despite my previous distaste for digitally downloaded games, Steam has really won me over with its convenient and easy to access games. While many game publishers are busy running around trying to come up with ways to defeat piracy and shut down used game re-sales, which typically hurt their legitimate consumers most of all, Steam is busy providing accessible, affordable, streamlined service with no chance of used-game resale. They have this bizarre theory that if the service is good, people will pay for your products and although I’m a new member to Steam’s community, I completely agree. Not only have I never had a problem accessing my library of games on any computer I’ve sat down at, I’m constantly being bombarded with amazing sales – where games and their download content are being sold for prices that actually make sense and are even cheaper than buying used, physical copies of retail games.

I am not trying to write an advertisement for Steam. I simply want to encourage other gamers to take a step back and realize where their money is going, and how it could be better spent. I fear for the future of the video game industry when already the DLC is so ridiculously over-priced for what it actually is offering the player. We’re potentially headed into a world where the used game market disappears in place of locked games, locked content, and digital distribution locked to the downloader which is a scary prospect for many. The only way to send a message to game companies that they can’t get away with as over-charging is to not buy their products at all (cold-turkey or resort to piracy; I advocate neither) or stop throwing away money and wait for the deals that reflect the true worth of your money. Don’t be fooled into think “it’s only a dollar.” You could easily spend 5 of those dollars a new character costume for your favorite game, or buy the whole game itself for $10 including that costume and all its other DLC if you’re patient.

Think of all you'd have saved if you waited for the "Ultimate Edition" of Dragon Age: Origins!
I’m providing the link to a forum I recently been acquainted with that features all kinds of deals on video games across the board. I haven’t been buying too many games lately so I haven’t had the chance to put it to good use, but I definitely have it bookmarked to help me fight against being overcharged for games in this current economy. Members of this forum list all the sales happening in both digital and physical retail. Don't be taken advantage of and shop responsibly!


Related Links
Steam -
Cheap Ass Gamer forum -

Friday, March 23, 2012

Week in Review - 3/23/2012

Civilization V

I played my first multiplayer game of Civilization V this week with my brother. Siam versus Aztecs. Good versus Evil. We had a spoken non-aggression pact so I decided to slay him with cultural awesome. We only spent about an hour or two before we decided to give up on our first experimental match. I won with superior scoring techniques. I look forward to a less-experimental match.

Dungeon Defenders

On Saturday, a friend of mine recommended we try Dungeon Defenders during a free trial weekend. My wife and I downloaded it and logged in. We quickly became addicted. The entire weekend melted away as we were absorbed in defending our Eternia Crystals. The game is 1 part tower defense game. During a build phase, you set up traps and towers to defend critical points of the map. The game is also 1 part action Role-Playing Game. You run around the map, weapon in hand, hacking and slashing creatures not being devoured by your towers. It’s a lot of fun.

The Sims 3

I got bored living out the normal lives of Sims, so I decided to work on a project. I made a Sim that looks like me, cloned him three times, and killed them in various ways. That sounds morbid, but I wanted to make ghost versions of myself. Each way you die in The Sims 3 produces a slightly different looking ghost. I can use this household as a template whenever I need a particular ghost of myself I just load it up and extract one. I have not thought of anything creative to do with them beyond this yet.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

I basically logged on and did the end-game Daily quests twice. I also hunted Corellia datacrons. I really think The Old Republic is a strong MMO, but my interest in it has definitely waned. I think beyond the story that really gripped me, there just isn't that fun of a game underneath. It pains me to admit it, especially since I bought a 6-month subscription.

Tales of Graces f

I continue to work my way through Tales of Graces f. Mainly, it’s just making me miss Tales of Vesperia. I really wanted the PS3 version of Vesperia to launch in North America with more content than the 360 version I played. I could easily play through that game a few more times, but I was holding out hoping to get my hands on the updated version. Apparently, it’s not coming out here like so many “Tales” games.  I like Graces but it’s just not drawing me in as quickly or as easily as Vesperia did originally.

Total War: Shogun 2

I’m not a very big (or good) real-time strategy player. I first discovered this playing Shogun:Total War back in 2000. Ever since Shogun 2 was released, however, I’ve had my eye on it. It just went on sale this week and I grabbed it and its first expansion content for $10. As predicted, I lose almost every battle. Fortunately I can ask the computer to simulate battles, making the game play much more similarly to a “Civilization” game. I’m much better at that. I only played for a couple hours to test my spirit in battle. My spirit faltered.