Friday, May 25, 2018

Survival Horror: Messing with our minds

The survival horror genre has been long with us since the days of the original NES. Games like Castlevania to games like Hugo: and the House of Horrors. The genre is split into 2 real sub-genres, action and story based. The action style survival horror has much more emphasis on fighting and/or killing whatever horrors are attacking you. Story based, where it might have some action sequences, is usually more along the lines of puzzle solver while screwing with your head.

In the early days, it was really hard to make something to make you squeal like you've just been goosed on 8-bit graphics. At any rate, they still tried, and in many cases, succeeded. Usually by jump scares and the like. Actual general earieness was pretty hard to pull off. It wasn't until the rise of 3D that games actually started to become legitimately creepy. The best of the early days was the first Resident Evil.

Resident evil took most of what had been tried before, trashed it, and looked to classic horror film for it's reference. You start as a swat team member, stuck in a mansion full of zombies and other horrors, with no explanation as to why, other than you're looking for a particular person. And this is only the start of it. The game doesn't use a follow camera, but a camera bolted to the corner of the room, like you're some creepy voyeur watching this on a security monitor. Movement is also limited and very slow. Resident Evil was one of the first all 3D games that did not take any advantage of this for controls. All the controls are very tank like and slow. But, oddly, this actually helps the pacing. In so many games, you play as a super-human psychotic killer that can destroy all just by looking at it sideways. In Resident Evil, you are very alone, slower than your attackers (Severely) and with limited dwindling supplies. And not only are your supplies something that you only use if you absolutely have to, but you can only carry so much (unlike said super-human dick) so you have to pick and choose what you carry and hope you chose right.

Admitted, in the early days, RE's graphics were mostly crap. Extremely polygonal characters on a pre-rendered background. But it was cutting edge and the time, and did well enough that the series is still running strong today. They did a remake for the Gamecube, with revamped graphics and voice acting that actually made sense, and this, to this day, is still one of my favorite survival horror games. With the increased visuals, it makes home for some more truly disturbing imagery.

I do want to note, that what made the original RE good, was it's show, don't tell version of story telling. You're walking around, wondering what the hell is going on. You see things that give you the creeps, and most importantly, only use jump scares when they think they can actually get you. Not every 15 f@#&ing seconds. It proved that atmosphere is more important than anything else, and only trying to make you crap your pants every once in a while can keep a game fun. I do want to note, I come from a family of pranksters. We tortured each other with jump scares and the like for my whole life. Because of this, I have become extremely conditioned, and if you can get me, you can consider it a pretty solid victory. Trying to scare me with jump scares constantly doesn't scare, or even startle me, it just irritates me to wanting to turn it off.

Silent Hill is the next big survival horror franchise worth mensioning. It came out a few years after Resident Evil, and played more similarly to say, Grand Theft Auto. It was graphically much more advance, having full 3D rendered environments, and having players that didn't look like Lego blocks stacked together trying to look like a Picaso. Now, Silent hill took a different tact to the Survival Horror genre. Instead of zombies out to kill you wherever you turn. It takes a more supernatural turn, with demons and ghosts. It's actually more of a psychological thriller than RE as well, as it is more more apt to screw with you. The basic story is a guy and his family get in a car accident trying not to hit a girl in the road. When you come to, your wife and child are missing, and you have to find them in a cult down that's in the process of trying to revive some ancient evil (god knows why, maybe he promised them chocolates or something). While the over arching pretenses are a bit weak, the basic story is quite strong. You are a man out to save your family, and shit starts getting weird. It was also one of the first games to offer proper different endings to a game, with up to 5 different endings, and none are decided on if you played and Hitler or Jesus, but actual decisions and storyline points you may or may not have missed.

The next game I want to bring up, many don't consider to be a survival horror, but it plays similar to Resident Evil, is made by Capcom, and deals with Ghosts, Demons and Zombies, so I'm including it. Onimusha takes the more action aproach to this Genre. You aren't a scared and mostly helpless person walking around, not knowing what the hell is going on. You are a badass Samurai, trying to stop the un-dead resurrection of Nobunaga, who (at least in this games history) was a total monster. You spend your time killing spirits, demons and zombies to get to save you're lady master and an orphaned boy from being sacrificed. Once again, limited healing items make you want to take care to not get hurt. But the ability to shred anything within a 10ft. radius of you makes you a hell of a lot more capable than pretty much anyone else in this genre. Where Onimusha did borrow from many games, it also defined the samurai / ninja gameplay in 3D games, even influencing games like Ninja Gaiden and Shinobi when they moved to 3D. It was also one of the earlies games on the PS2 and, at the time, was a gorgeous game.

All of these games were mentioned because they were milestones in Survival Horror. They all did something, pretty much for the first time, or at the very least, better than the others for the first time. Survival Horror has since been diluted, most of the challenge removed, and almost solely rely on jump scares. To illustrate, I want to talk about one of the Daddies of modern survival horror, Dead Space. Dead Space reached acclaim for being story rich and scary. If you look at Dead Space with a critical eye, you will see very little of both. For starters, the story is so un-original, it's probably been used in more than a dozen movies and just as many other games. You're some sort of a welder or something (I think, just trying to explain the helmet he's so attached to wearing), and the ship is attacked by aliens. Everyone dies, and alone you must take back your ship. Wasn't that the plot of Aliens in 1986? (And every other Aliens movie now that I think of it). As far as the scary factor, it's nothing but jump scares. You walk down a hall, and boo! an alien jumps out of a grate screaming at you. You walk down another hall, and boo! an alien jumps from the roof screaming at you. They don't even do much to make a spooky atmosphere. The hall is dark, there are misplaced ceiling tiles and there's a blinking light. Kind of makes me think more of a public school rather than a ship infested with ravenous aliens. And the aliens are the worst kind of hunters. What jumps out screaming at it's prey before it attacks, rather than hiding in the shadows and kills you before you even knew they were there? Maybe they're just really bad practical jokers like Bill Murray in Zombie Land?

I could go on about the problems I have with Dead Space (and the whole franchise), but that would take forever. I'm perfectly aware, this view might piss some people off, but if you stopped, opened your eyes and looked at something with a critical eye, you might see where I might think games like this are crap. If you can't, that's on you, and I don't really care.

Even Resident Evil is starting to fall into this trap. In Resident Evil 4, you are thrown into Africa, and everyone is zombified and trying to kill you. It's more action based than any of the others, and relies more on jump scares, than any form of story telling and/or atmosphere. Oddly, the most disturbing part of the game is being forced to kill legions of black people, which is what got all the critics butts all clenched up when this game originally came out. Once again, not a popular view, but not a game I could get invested in.

I can't mention survival horror without talking about games like Left 4 Dead. With a 4 smacked right into the middle of the title to emphasize it's 4 player co-op. Once again, this is a franchise that's more dedicated to action and jump scares than actually really being creepy or scary in any real way. Honestly, games like this are the type that will make you want to kill someone in your team because they tripped a car alarm or something getting everyone else killed.

There have been a few glimmers of hope in the survival horror with games like Amnesia and Dementium: The Ward. The problem is even the good ones are starting to all copy each other. These days, survival horror always take place in some sort of hospital, or house (with the periodic alternate location like a cruise ship), you have amnesia, it's dark and there are monsters everywhere, and inevitably, you are why you're there; like you killed your wife or something. Yes, these games can be fun, but damn it all if they don't start seeming all the same after a while. It's like all story writers started huffing from the same bottle of paint and they can only write one story, and leave it to the game designers to try to find ways to mix it up.

If you look back on the early greats, there were truly unique ideas. Resident evil might have spawned the evil house thing. But you knew you were a SWAT (aka STARS) team member, and were looking for someone. And in the end, you were being f@#$ed with in a make shift lab by some dick named Wesker. In Silent Hill, you have the whole down to explore, you know what happened, you know your goal, and you have a cult sicking demons and shit at you while you try to save your family. Clear stories, that are unique and concise. I'm not even a professional game writer and I can come up with something different. You have an outbreak of vampire kittens roaming the streets, or you're a cave spelunker and you find an ancient cult shrine, and you touching it creates an outbreak of zombie hedgehogs. I know I'm being hyperbolic right now, but seriously guys, try something more original than 'YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON, IT'S EVIL AND IT'S YOUR FAULT'.

This is a franchise that might need a bit of a revival, possibly with a defibrillator. It's a franchise that can have amazing story telling and depth, and if done right can scare the willies out of you.

Is Luigi officially more interesting than Mario? - A look at the silent green brother

Since the beginning in 1985, we've always had the Mario 'Brothers'. And even though Luigi has existed from the start, he's always played second fiddle to his brother Mario. In the initial games, both Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros., Luigi was just a pallet swapped 2nd player. Only being played if you weren't the first to grab the controller.

It wasn't until Super Mario Bros. 2 that Luigi had an identity of his own. As this game was a re-sprited version of Doki Doki Panic, which the characters weren't pallet swapped from each other, this allowed for some personalization. Even implementing the famous flutter kick that's still in existence to this day. I believe this also was a semi-defining characteristic used in the cartoons from the late 80's as well. This physically set Luigi as the taller of the two brothers. And the cartoons gave him the persona of being more cowardly. Already, Luigi is breaking away from his brother.

But in the next number of games, we were back to the Pallet swapped brother for the player 2 controller. Luigi didn't even make an appearance in Super Mario 64. Even in Mario Kart 64, where they did define Luigi as the thinner taller brother, he was still practically a pallet swap. And in a lot of the mainstream games, this has persisted. Luigi, having no identity of his own, and many times, not even showing up. He had a number of cameo and/or playable scenarios in most of the party/kart/sports games, but still not much of an identity. About the only games he was getting any personal development (and not much I might add) was from the Smash Bros. games.

When Luigi really started to get some character and personality is in the Haunted Mansion games. Luigi's Mansion was a launch title for the Gamecube (strangely Luigi got a launch title, and Mario didn't on this console). In this game, Luigi is pitted against ghosts and has to suck them up Ghostbusters style in a specially modified vacuum cleaner. This game, from what I've read, was almost a test to see if the green brother could hold up in his own game. And he succeeded, extremely well I might add. It allowed for personality development, making Luigi out to be a bit of a scardy cat. Having him be slightly clumsy, periodically tripping as he walks through a door, or accidentally dropping things periodically. This gave Luigi something that Mario still doesn't have, a personality you can relate to. Mario is left a blank slate, so you can write on to him whatever personality you want him to have. But after 30 years with no personal development, Mario is starting to get dry.

Nintendo has continued Luigi's development with the Mario & Luigi games. Even though Mario is still technically the main character of these games, Luigi steals the show being the only brother showing any emotion at all. Yes, sometimes they over do it, but it's still miles more character than Mario has ever shown.

Even in his latest solo outing, Luigi's Mansion - Dark Moon, he's dripping with personality. Throughout the entire game, Luigi is very reluctant the entire time he's there. Constantly telling the Professor he doesn't want to go. Sometimes even breaking the 4th wall by making gestures towards the camera, humming along to the background music, etc.

My point is, Luigi has grown as a character. Where he started out a plane slate player 2, they've grown Luigi to be a likable character. For some reason, Nintendo seems reluctant to do that with any of their other characters. Mario has only grown by picking up new moves and/or gadgets, but is generally the same character. Link, well the only game he showed even a modicum of emotion was in the Wind Waker series (which is why that game is so loved and revered). DK is just a dumb gorilla with a creepy blank stare looking for bananas. Samus, well they tried to grow her as a character, but in the end just made her scream and squeal at things she's killed about ten thousand times. That's not to say that Nintendo has no character development, but most definitely not in their main IP's. Luigi shows it can be done, and should be done. Just some thoughts.

The world of Emulation - Classic Gaming Reborn

I first have to start off with the legal stuff. Please keep the law in mind when emulating games. You are not supposed to run an emulation of a game if you don't own the original legally. I do not condone piracy or stealing of licensed software / hardware. With that out of the way, lets get into it.

Emulating classic games is something that's been around since the turn of this latest century. Yes, it existed before that, but it was in it's infancy, and what you would have been emulating (and badly) weren't even that old yet.

The first levels of emulation were pretty basic. You could only really emulate things like the NES and Gameboy, and a little later, SNES and same era consoles like the Genesis. In the early days of emulation, the biggest con would have to be controls. Most emulators only would register input controls from the keyboards. And for those that would input joysticks, USB joypads were both young, expensive and crap. But we emulated our games none the less. Using keyboards awkwardly, and stuck to our PC's as there were no portable devices capable of emulation yet, apart from top tier laptops of the day.

But there were 2 things that kept us coming back. The first was stability and reliability. Many of the early consoles were unreliable, prone to glitch, and saves would oft times erase when the game cart wasn't played for a certain amount of time. The second, which leads from the first, is save states. Save states have existed since the beginning and are an amazing tool for emulation. It made it so you can put down any game, for any amount of time, and pick it up and start playing from exactly where you left off. Alternatively, it also opened the door for cheating your way through games that you might not have been able to beat previously; allowing you to save and load your way through hard sections of a game that you would normally game over on.

It was really in the mid 2000's that emulation started to pick up speed. Around this time, emulators for the N64, and PSX came out, allowing us to play these on the PC. At the same time, peripheral support was much stronger, allowing you to pick up a decent USB game pad for under $20. This not only opened the world up for better emulation and controls, but very real multiplayer games. Before this, you might have had to share a keyboard, which is hardly practical, but having a couple of USB controllers worked perfectly. In these early days, emulating the later consoles, especially the PlayStation was weak at best, but it worked well enough to keep us trying. Support kept on, and computers got better and better, making emulation work better and better.

As hardware evolved in computers, so did the emulators. Better hardware and better code writing made it possible to play more advance games reliably and without fault. But the direction that emulators took surprised everyone. Emulation on mobile devices like tablets and phones allowed for us to play our classic games on the move. This was a huge step and is still going strong today.

When mobile devices like android phones started with emulation, it was rough. They were only capable of playing with touch screen controls, which were difficult, lacked a level of feel, and were commonly unresponsive. I started with this pretty early in Androids life, around build 2.5. I will admit it did get better, and fast. First was allowing support for bluetooth controllers. Unfortunately, this started with only androids that were rooted. Eventually a pretty smart individual came up with a code to link the android with a Wii remote, and was the first real link to actual game controls on a phone. Around this time, there were a few developers coming up with add-ons, buttons and joysticks that you stuck to your screen, Think Geek even came up with a mini arcade console for iPhones. None of these were really viable solutions however.

Around this time, there were some gaming tablets that were starting to be release. Mostly from China, many of these had problems. Most had issues with reliability, buttons and joysticks breaking, and versions of android that were glitchy and had a LOT of problems. I've owned a number of these devices, and in short, there were definitely BIG problems. But it was a step in the right direction. And gladly, many developers have continued to pursue this. Not only have gaming tablets become quite good, they're still relatively cheap in comparison to most devices you can buy in the states. But this still requires purchasing a second device, and more often than not, not up to our devices top specifications.

The real advancement came in 2013, with the Nvidia Sheild Portable. They had a Bluetooth controller that held in place a proprietary tablet. This was (and still is) extremely expensive in comparison to other devices, and was all proprietary. But this was the match that sparked the flame. It's now common place to find Bluetooth controllers with clips, spring holders, whatever is needed to hold phones or tablets in place. And with companies like iPega producing well built and reliable joypads, you can now play emulated games on whatever device you own, easily, practically and affordably. Some of these controllers are getting pretty advance as well. A good example is the iPega 9028. A Bluetooth controler that is designed for smartphones, and has a built in touch sensor. They also have the iPega 9023, a device that can expand

What keeps emulation going is our desire to play games from our childhood. Be it from wanting to relive our past, or in my case, the belief that old games are just better, emulation is going strong and shows no signs of slowing down. It's so popular in fact, Nintendo is re-releasing a version of the original NES, and is constantly having classic games pop up on their Wii and 3DS virtual console titles. Sony, Microsoft and Steam and joined the fray with classic titles on their respective stores as well.

Day of the Tenticle Remastered - The return of a classic adventure game

As an old school adventure game fan, Day of the Tentacle rates high as one of, if not the best, in the franchise. Even all these years later, it's still beloved by fans and ranks high in classic gaming lists. The remastered edition has all hand drawn artwork along with a re-mastered soundtrack. As this is an existing game, I will rate some of the highlights of the game, even if it's not something that was updated in this classic, but treat it as a stand alone.

I'll touch on the gameplay first. The game, as it was released in 1993, is a 2D adventure game with your standard SCUMM controls with Pickup, Use, Push, Talk to etc as commands to get you through the game. In this remastered version, much of it remains the same, save for an updated user interface a la Sam and Max Hit the Road, with Right Click containing all of your commands. However, if you prefer the original SCUMM button commands, it's easily selectable in the options. Admitted for the Adventure game novice, these games puzzles can seem a bit obtuse at times, making you use any random object on any other random object. But once you get into the flow, you pick it up quickly. I will note that Adventure games are not about quick and action packed gameplay, but focus more on puzzles and storyline. If you are a ritalin filled FPS junky, I will wager that Point and Click Adventure games might not be for you. I will note, that if you know the game, and every puzzle (this is a note for people like myself who've beat this game many times), gameplay is less than 4 hours. But that's blazing through the game, and skipping all the witty banter and cut scenes. If you don't know the game inside and out, estimated gameplay time would be 10-25 hours, depending how quick you figure out the puzzles.

Probably the most noticeable enhancement is the revamped graphics. The entire game is now using gorgeous hand drawn animation (similar to the Duck Tales Remastered). This brings the game into this century of gaming, but maintains the style and feel. And if you're nostalgic for the days of old, you can easily and seamlessly change to the original animation. The animation and graphics of the game, both original and remastered are detailed, quirky and fun. You can tell, just by how the game is laid out, it's not taking itself seriously. Everything is caddywhompus and askew. It isn't long into the game (actually largely noticed in the opening credits) that the game takes on a classic cartoon style, harking back to the days of Tex Avery and Chuck Jones. Again, adventure games aren't all about breathtaking graphics and maxing out your processor. The graphics are just used to give a feel of the world you're exploring, and the DOTT does this masterfully.

The strongest part of any adventure game, is in the world and the story. DOTT is no exception to this rule. The game uses the original audio recorded in 1993 (which is brilliant I might add), and through quirky dialogue and frankly bizarre scenery DOTT tells a story of a mad evil tentacle trying to take over the world extremely well. One of the largest aspects of this game is time manipulation. Now a days, time manipulation is used quite seriously, preventing assassinations, or your own death or something. DOTT takes a more passive approach to the matter. You need vinigar to solve a puzzle, find a bottle of wine, and let it sit for 400 years. You need a tentacle costume, changing the design of the American Flag seems the appropriate method to achieve this. This aspect remains unchanged from the original game, which is good, as altering this would have just ruined it.

I did want to go over some of the games extra features. First, is something that was brought over from the original, the complete original Maniac Mansion game is brought in as an Easter egg. In 1993, this was the first time this was ever done. One of the more unique features, is the ability to switch the game from the remastered version to the original, changing not only the graphics, but the audio as well. This feature is actually entertaining, largely for the soundtrack alone. You can see what the original game was like (which oddly serves as a reminder of how close it kept to the original). There is a complete commentary track with the games originators that you can have on as you play. And there is also a complete storyboard section that you unlock more and more of as you play through the game.

Overall, Day of the Tentacle is a masterpiece. It has withstood the test of time, and remains a quirky and funny adventure game, that you will still want to pick up today. I do want to stress again, classic point and click adventure games aren't for everyone. If you want funny story telling in a quirky world, and are a fan of puzzle solving, this is one of the best. If you're looking for something that's action packed, with the latest graphics and explosions, DOTT has none of that.

Console's VS. Computers - The all time gaming battle

In the world of home gaming, we've always had 2 distinct classes of gamers. The console gamers VS. computer gamers. Setting aside all the individual console prejudices that are held toward one another, PC and console gamers have almost always been at odds with each other. There's no denying, that both platforms have swapped places for supremacy over one another. This is just a short article explaining the strengths and weaknesses between the two over the past years.

In the early days, computers weren't really capable of playing games. The earliest computer games were text base adventure games, where at the time these were out, consoles like the Atari were on top of the world in home gaming.

In the 1980's computers were starting to catch up a bit, but were still a bit down in comparison to systems like the NES. Computers in the 1980's were at least able to branch into some of the game markets, even with some direct arcade ports to the system. But it wasn't until the 90's that computers were capable of high quality gaming. The real issue was the game media. In the mid to early 80's, we were stuck with the microscopic 5-1/2" floppy disks with a grand total of 1.2mb of disk space and a horrifically long read time. Later, the 3-1/2" floppy came out with a bit more space (1.44mb) but with the real advantage being the read speed. The problem was still the size. I remember installing games using 10 or more disks. Then there was a small push for a media called 'Zip' disks. These were massive in comparison with 100mb of storage. But again they were not a viable media as they were very slow and extremely prone to viruses. It wasn't until the 90's when CDROM's became common place that computers could keep up.

The CDROM era in the early 90's was when computers really hit their stride. Not only were the 700mb disk size much more capable of holding and playing larger more complex games. But the technology allowed for full movie cinematics and voice acting, something that wasn't really capable in consoles until the release of CD based consoles much later. Even the early CD consoles like the Sega Saturn didn't do this particularly well. The Nintendo 64 and original Sony Playstation were the first to really compete with this. But computers still have a few disadvantages. First and probably the largest was price. To get a computer in the early 90's, complete with monitor, keyboard, mouse and possibly any peripherals, could cost you close to $1000, and this was 30 years ago. Consoles were able to hook up into any TV, and rarely cost more than $300, most selling for around the $200 mark and less. The other, oddly was portability. Often times, as kids, we would bring consoles to friends and family members houses. They were relatively small, and surprisingly durable. Early computers were extremely large, heavy and incredibly fragile. They were stationary unless you absolutely had to move them.

Even with the price, computers dominated the early to mid 90's of gaming. It was the first place you could play full 3D games, and even had full ports of arcade games, where the consoles had to have them completely dumbed down. It wasn't until the mid 90's with the Playstation and the Nintendo 64 that things started to swing back in the consoles favor. During this period, computers still had plenty of capabilities that consoles didn't. Especially with the rise of the internet in the mid 90's. But consoles were still cheaper, more portable, and more reliable. At this time, there were still video rental stores, and you could rent both consoles and console games, but you could never rent computers and/or computer games, giving them an additional edge.

In the late 90's into the early 2000's, there was another shift toward computers. As computers progressively became more powerful, and more affordable, along with the increase of high speed internet, online gaming became a main staple in the gaming world. Even in the early days of Everquest, Star Wars Galaxies and World of Warcraft, online gaming became (and still is to this day) one of gaming's most lucrative formats. This period was a bit of a difficult point for consoles. There were some solid systems like the Playstation 2, Game Cube, XBox and even the Sega Dreamcast. All solid systems, with solid games. But with the ability to only have 2 players (4 in the Game Cubes case) and no online ability, they didn't have the appeal of a lot of computer games. Sega actually had an expansion for online gaming, and later on the Playstation 2 as well; But neither were fully realized and worked poorly. This isn't to say there weren't some fantastic console games released at this point. On the contrary, some of the best of all time were released. But in the terms of appeal, PC's still had the market largely cornered during this period.

The next generation (starting around 2007) is when computers and consoles started fighting on even ground. With the release of the Playstation 3 and the XBox 360, online gaming became normal for consoles. Nintendo, even to this day, still doesn't quite have online gaming down (largely with their fear of offending anyone). But everyone else has pushed so far into online gaming, that even full singleplayer games have online elements. Be it random Co-Op missions, or even just expansions to games, it placed consoles on an even playing ground with PC's. The PS3 was the first real step in this direction. The monolith device that was supposed to be able to cure cancer (literally). It was sturdy, reliable, but also massive and extremely expensive, with the launch versions costing upwards of $700. The Xbox 360 was a bit cheaper at $400 and the Wii at the cheapest at $250 for the base model. At this time capable computers were actually less expensive than the Playstation, and were on par in cost with the Xbox and Wii. But, as the consoles soul purpose is to play games, they were actually better than PC's in most respects when it came to gameplay.

In the last 10 years, gaming has taken sort of an odd turn. The latest generation of consoles, and even many new PC games, you don't really own the software. You can't use it on different machines, and in some cases, are paying monthly for games. Consoles are now watching you when you're in your house, and they're releasing games in fragments, forcing you to pay for each tiny portion release of the game. The problem is, in the last 15 years, video games have surpassed Hollywood in net gains. Companies are seeing this and cashing in. In the process, they have become so paranoid about making every last cent they can, they are robbing the gamers blind. I can understand fighting against piracy. But they are so set on making every dollar, they don't even want you sharing a game with your friends and family. They have to buy their own. What this does, is if someone was on the fence about picking up a game, instead of asking a friend or something if you can borrow it, and you know, see if you like it, they'll just say screw it and not ever play it. This mind set is stopping people (including myself) from picking up modern consoles.
Because of this, I would have to give the current generation of gaming to computers. Especially with even low end laptops being able to play really fantastic games, and you can take them anywhere.

To add to this dilemma, modern gaming is starting to take a downward turn in several areas, just in regards to the games as well. The powerful systems are nice, but the game producers are more interested in vamping up their games graphics, rather than providing us with any real gameplay. I would estimate about half or more of top level games spend half the time in a pretty movie with quicktime events (one of the reasons why there are so many people nostalgic over the games of our youth). It won't be until we can get past this that gaming can really take a new direction.

There's also a new direction that PC's are making that consoles have yet to step into. The world of VR gaming. VR gaming is still really in the steps of infancy, with only a few real games that have taken this direction. But it is a direction worth exploring. Many gamers are looking for a more immersive experience, and VR is the most immersive you can get. It's also the quickest way to get motion sickness, but I'll side step that for now. I've played around with VR, and it has some serious potential, and this is potential that consoles will have to catch up with, or they will fall behind again.

I do want to note, that I'm not one who ever took sides in this spat of gamers. Yes, I have always preferred most console games to computer games. But over the years, I've had both, with favorites in both directions. And now, about the only company with any real exclusives is Nintendo, so even the exclusive argument isn't overly valid anymore either. These days, as time goes on, Consoles and Computers are growing closer and closer in similarities as well. The only company that's keeping it in a different direction is, again, Nintendo. The next 10 or so years will be an interesting study on where gaming goes.

A Rant About Classic vs. Modern Gaming

As I am, what is now classified, a classic gamer, I do often times get asked, ridiculed even, about how old games can be better than new. I can usually silence them with a basic answer, old games were more fun. Now this is an extremely simplified and somewhat objective answer. I will go over what makes most classic games better than the modern games that are coming out now.

I will start with the easiest to compare, gameplay.

Modern games are largely about pretty graphics and sometimes trying to tell a compelling story. The problem is that's all they do. I have a few really big titles that display this really massively. Heavy Rain, almost all the Call of Duty games, and most JRPG's released since the mid 2000's. I understand what they are trying to do, but most of these games are forgetting an extremely important thing. IT'S A GAME! When I turn on the ol' console, I'm looking to actually be a part of something, not feel like I'm watching a 12 hour movie that I have to fiddle with the controller. The worst offender that I know of is Xenosaga, a PS2 game. Xenosaga has a minimum of a 4 hour unskippable intro without gameplay. I say minimum as I gave up. 4 hours of my life I will never get back. I know this isn't exactly a new game, but it was around when this was becoming norm. And so many games have followed suit, as if this was a good idea (I'm talking to you Kojima).

Older games mainly focused on the gameplay. And there's a good reason for this. They didn't have anything else. Look at Super Mario Bros. A game release back in 1985, and had the entire disk space of around 35kb. That's .035mb. This small of a space wouldn't even render a single particle effect in a modern game. And yet, with something so basic, they produced a game that fans and newcomers are playing and enjoying, over 30 years later. Not all early games were good. E.T. being the fly in the proverbial ointment. But even in the old Atari days, 4 directions with 1 button, they had to make a game fun to play. If not, no one bought it, or they would even return it. Bless Nintendo for restarting the gaming industry in 1985.

As gaming progressed into the 90's we did see some graphical jumps into the 16 bit era. But gaming was relatively unchanged. Larger file sizes were able to be used, consoles were becoming more reliable and games did become prettier. And more buttons were added, allowing for us to do more. But the basic experience, aside from slight changes and improvements didn't alter much. Oddly, gaming was still very mascot oriented. This wasn't a bad thing back then as many of the mascots were still fairly young, but is did set certain companies in a future direction that would hurt them.

Gaming's next big step cam with the introduction of 3D in 1994-1996. I'm not talking about those pseudo 3D games like Wolfenstien and Dark Forces, but real 3D rendered games. The Playstation coming out, and shortly followed by the N64, this was the new direction. This allowed for some great innovation, and for some serious problems to develop. Although with problems, 3D was a hit. Games like Spyro and Super Mario 64 were well implemented and allowed for new developments in games. It also advanced the FPS into a better direction as well, allowing for real 3D environments.

But with the good and the glitter, started a rise of something that, while at the time seemed cool, was the start of what gaming has become today. The use of pre-rendered graphics to tell a story. The first big company to starry really doing this was Squaresoft (now SquareEnix). Games like the Final Fantasies and Vagrant story, while still excellent games, chose the direction of pre-rendered cinematics to pretty up the game and progress the story. Points in the game where you aren't playing, you're watching. As it was the early days, it wasn't to the point of being abused. But it was a start into a bad direction. There were a number of big name games that fell into this trap permanently.

The company that resisted (granted they didn't have much of a choice with their hardware) is Nintendo. Oh, Nintendo fell into it's own sins. The N64 did not have the hardware capable of pre-rendered cinematics, so they defaulted to what they were doing in the NES and SNES days, walls of text. Again, story telling through non-gameplay methods. And, realistically, since the SNES, Nintendo started the hand holding that exists largely in gaming today. Be it by extremely easy challenges, an inability to fail due to an excess of free lives, or just over explaining something that could have easily been a puzzle.

There were some superb games to come out of these era's. Unfortunately though, this era holds the sin of the birth of bad ideas. Bad ideas that still plaque gaming today.

Gaming has been a shockingly smooth progression from the early eras of 3D to now. Little things have been implemented, better controls, online, etc. But there was one franchise that really altered an aspect of gaming, and that would be Halo. Halo is the franchise that really made PvP a main staple for a game. Now Halo isn't guilty in having a tiny story and focused only on the online play. But they did lay the brickwork for it. The online was so popular, franchises like Call of Duty, Modern Warfare and the Battlefield games popped up. Sure they have a single player campaign.... Kinda. But you can tell it's slapdash, and the 100% main purpose of the games is the online matches. And from that, games that have no single player aspects have popped up. Games like Star Wars Battfront, Overwatch and Battlefield 1 for example. And I can't stand they are charging extremely high prices for these games that have zero playability if you don't have an open network (Or don't care about online). Fighting games can be sort of blamed for this, but console released fighting games always have some reasonably decent single player to it as well. To add, games that focus on multiplayer, with zero local multiplayer ruined a lot of what use to make multi-player games any fun.

There are modern games that do get it right. Games like Darksouls, Shantae and the Pirates Curse and Hollow Knight to name a few. And why are these games so good? They are harking back to something older. Be it just classic gaming styles and 2D platformers that are just fun, or games that might clearly be a modern game, but don't have the modern issue of hand holding just so it can tell the story it wants to. So few games are show don't tell, which is a shame as those are the games with the best story telling elements. What's interesting, most of the games coming out that do hit all the right buttons are being made on the indi market. I guess the indi market is where people exist to make what they WANT to make and not what is being dictated to them.

In the very early days of gaming, I can understand either a very simplified story, or no story at all. The disk space was so minute, that one text box could have cost the space needed for something like a boss battle. But as games progressed, they started to be able to weave quite powerful stories. But in these early days, they didn't skimp on the gameplay to do so. Now, everything is so set on making a game pretty, and rendering the neck hairs of the protagonist, it leaves them with a shortage of both time and disk space to do little else. And story focused games seem to be so set on telling you the story they want to tell, they give little to no way to deviate from their path. In some cases just taking controls away from you because heaven forbid you don't have the exact experience they have planned out.

There is one genre of game that has come out of the 3D era that really has been a strong movement, however. Sandbox games. Starting with Shenmue on the Dreamcast and progressing to the majority of AAA titles today, sandbox games to provide an experience that could never be truly replicated in older games. This direction has led to some of the most interesting games to be launched in the last 15 years. This has also led some games into a corner they shouldn't have gone into. Sandbox games that work, do so because it's a world that you can take just about any direction you like. And most of the time, will allow you to be a psychotic little nut bag. The games that fall down in this manner would be better served in a linear progression, as that's obviously the direction the games push. There are a few games that really fall into this pattern, No More Heroes and Batman: Arkham Asylum, and the first Assassins Creed are 3 good examples. For something that really is a good idea for some games, is just a terrible idea for those that really shouldn't use it.

I don't want to say that the progression of all gaming has been bad. That just wouldn't be true. But certain ideas, many of them bad ideas, have become common in nearly every game.

Just for arguments sake, there is one genre of game, that has only proceeded to get better with technology improvements. That is simulation games. Flight sims, driving sims, hell even farming and truck driving simulators have all benefited from this. Reason being, they only need to focus on one thing. Making gameplay as intuitive, and as realistic as possible. In the early simulation games, it was bad, real bad. Now it's near like doing the real thing. I have a wheel, and can use it to teach people how to drive using Gran Turismo or something similar as the driving program. But this does bring me back to my original point, basing a game around gameplay is what makes a game fun.

I think what game producers need to do, is make a fun game idea, and then come up with a story and world to build around it. This way, even if the story struggles at points, if you make the game fun, you can still play and enjoy the gaming experience.

GPD WIN - A Year end review

The WIN has been out for about a year now, and with a new device on the horizon, now is a perfect time for a post impressions review. I've actually had mine since early March, but 10 months is more than enough time to know the device's quirks, problems and pitfalls, as well as know what it does well. I've done some searching and there really haven't been any long term reviews. Everything is pretty much right after it's received. Let's get right into it shall we?

Build Quality:

I'm just going to say that this was every one's biggest concern when the device was first launched. And it was well founded too, as over the last year, several known issues have popped up. Things like the membrane for the buttons tearing, problems with the hinge and other issues. I will note that mine has had zero of these issues. I'm not sure if I'm just lucky, or if I baby my device more than other people, but I use it nearly every day and play games like platformers and fighting games which are known to be hard on controllers. But 10 Months in, no issues thus far. The Shoulder buttons feel a little.... floppy, but they've held in place and have not become even slightly worse. I still use my device, and in fact will be using it as soon as I'm done writing ;). I also want to note that the fit and finish of the device has held up. Everything is still as it should be, nothing is loose, falling apart, or abnormally scuffed, scratched or damaged in any way.


Another area that can be considered a weak point for the WIN in several areas. The biggest complaint is with the Directional Pad. The membrane is too stiff, or the pivot isn't high enough, and it's really easy to accidentally hit more than one direction at a time. There's also the problems with the location for the L3 & R3. I've gotten use to it, but it is a pretty large point of contention for many. Over-all however, I'm very pleased. The Joysticks feel as nice now as when I picked up the device. All the buttons still feel plenty clicky, and overall the controller still feels nice in my hands.

The keyboard has held up nicely. I actually use mine too. I've gotten use to keyboards like this over the years, and once your use to it, it's a non issue. The key presses could be a little softer. But that's a preference issue. The build quality on it is very good.


The display on the WIN is very nice. There are complaints that it's not a high enough resolution, but they are a minority. The display quality is high with a wide degree of view angles. I'd say my biggest complaint is it doesn't support more displays natively. In order to reduce the display size, you have to create a custom display in the video drivers. This is a minor point, however, as it's pretty easy to do. After a year, the display is still in good condition, no dead pixels and everything is still working.


Possibly the lowest scoring area for the WIN for me. The single Mono speaker located where you hold the device just isn't acceptable. Thankfully, it's easily remedied. It supports both Bluetooth speakers and has a jack for a 3.5mm headphones. So you can at least greatly improve upon sound quality. The the built in the speaker though , ya no. As far as durability, it still works and hasn't broke yet, so that' good. Just crap sound quality.

Overall Impressions:

After a year of solid use, I'm still very happy with the device. There are some things that could use improvement, which it seems is being done in the WIN2. But For what it is, and what it can do, I'm extremely happy with my WIN. Like I said, I use it nearly everyday, and it works extremely well. I do contribute some of my fortune to luck. But I also contribute it to not abusing the device and handling it with kit gloves. If you do pick one of these up, I recommend treating it as a fragile device, and it will hold up better for you.