20170223

Games Media Is a Mess

Back in the late 80s, the day that the latest Nintendo Power would show up was like a mini-Christmas every month (or every other month, when they went bi-monthly.) I had an idea of around when it was going to hit the mailbox. I'd pore through it, drool over the latest Ninja Gaiden or CastleVania screens, then chuckle when Legend of Zelda was still #1 in the monthly most popular games.



I drifted away from gaming in the 16-bit era, as I was focused on playing in a band and chicks, but when I came back, in the mid-90s, there were a lot more gaming mags.


At first, I scoffed at the magazines that were multi-platform, and not directly from the console manufacturer, but that attitude quickly changed, as I came to really enjoy the writing in magazines like Electronic Gaming Monthly, GamePro, and GameFan. In fact, whenever I'd stop at the store with my girlfriend, I'd grab all the latest issues of each one, and devour it.

EGM, in particular, was a standout for me. The writing got better and better as the years went on, and they were my shepherd into the online coverage, via the beloved 1up.com.


What drove EGM, and then later, 1up.com, was the personalities. Yeah, you were reading it for the games, but after a while, each writer's distinct voice, as well as the personality of the mag and site, brought you back to THEM instead of IGN or whatever else there was at the time.

Meanwhile, G4TV became a thing, and I quickly came to adore X-Play, and appreciated the myriad other gaming-based programming (before they just showed COPS reruns 25hrs a day.) It was astounding, the humor that show got away with.



Somewhere around here, podcasts started to catch on, and 1UP Yours was born.

Inevitably, 1UP moved into the video space, and the 1UP Show became, in my mind, the best video game show ever.



1UP Yours and the 1UP Show were absolutely incredible early examples of games media's expansion from the printed word. Again, it was the personalities that made it. The editors and writers around the 1UP office just seemed like the coolest people you could possibly hang out with, and they really grew my interest in gaming.

I've talked before about my 'onboarding' to PC gaming, and the various factors that went into it, and among those factors was Jeff Green and Shawn Elliott, editors at 1UP and Computer Gaming World. Their podcast, CGW Radio (later GFW Radio), ushered me into a whole new way of looking at games, and their outlook on things was so different from the more rosy, cheerful console side. I came to love both tremendously, but Jeff and Shawn helped me want to become a PC gamer, and before long, I was loving Guild Wars and Company of Heroes.

As time went on, the talent left 1UP for dev and publishing, words became fewer, videos became shorter, and 1UP was shuttered eventually. Meanwhile, and since then, articles have become lists or clickbait, videos are now more about someone shrieking in falsetto than talking critically about a game, and the personalities too often move around.

I still love reading about games, and I feel like a couple of recent upstarts, Glixel and Waypoint, are killing it. They are exactly what I want. Beyond that, I still enjoy GameSpot. PCGamer is still probably the first site that I check every day. I also like RockPaperShotgun, GamesBeat, and a handful of others.

On the video side, Twitch and YouTube have totally upended games coverage. In some ways, for the better, but in others, not at all. 'YouTubers' are quickly becoming the preferred mouthpieces for publishers and developers, as 1) most of them (not all) seem more willing to just mouth the message, and 2) they're not actually journalists, and thus don't apply the pressure that comes with being trained as a journalist. Conversely, gamers are seeing more preview builds in more depth than ever, but what's missing, often, is the critical analysis and interesting developer interviews.

Back to the gaming sites, the personalities aren't as sharp, or aren't show. And quit covering fucking movies and comics, please. I think each site has some great personalities, but where is the modern 1UP Show? Why has no one tried to take that on again? It was such a great concept, and did a lot to actually drive the 1UP brand.

On the news side, the clickbait shit is out of control. It is so bad. THAT is killing games coverage more than anything else.

Now, I'm pretty diverse in how I absorb all this. I hit the above sites pretty much every day, I watch a handful of Twitch streamers (Starbuck2190 is my favorite; great Mass Effect streamer), I check my YouTube subscriptions when I get home, and I listen to some gaming podcasts throughout the week, in particular, Elder Scrolls Off the Record and OotiniCast.

But it's messy now. I guess I get what I need from all of it, but I don't LOVE any of it, like I used to. Were an outlet to get really smart, what they'd do is have non-clickbait written coverage, a daily stream, or even a couple, a weekly podcast, and then an end-of-the-week show that captures what has the office chattering. It's a lot, yeah, but that would become a force to be reckoned with. And when I say show, I don't mean a filmed podcast, I mean something produced, like the old 1UP Show.

Shit, even something like X-Play would be cool.

I think maybe we saw the ultimate rise and fall of games coverage, and news in general is becoming democratized, for better or worse.

Phew. This went on way longer than I'd intended. Sorry.

So, what say you? How do you like the state of games media?

Tonight and This Weekend
I'll be streaming again tonight, but may not start until close to 2100 central time. My wife is outta town, and I got kid things to take care of before I can settle in and stream more Mass Effect 3. The plan, tonight, is to play through Sanctuary. I'd love it if you came on out and shot the shit with me while I played!

I'll be streaming more Mass Effect each evening this weekend, probably starting around 2000 or 2100.

If you wanna get caught up on my The Road to Andromeda series, in which I play through all of Mass Effect 1-3 (including all DLC + some mods that make it pretty), check it out here or below.



And that's it, for now. I'll post something really brief tomorrow (Fridays are always hectic for me) that probably does little more than pimp my stream, but we'll see.

Anyway, hope to see ya tonight!

Also, five days til Torment/Horizon Day!

-Blaine

20170222

I wish they still made games like ...

I have a cycle that I repeat every so often, and I just noticed it. It seems that, every few years, I start to get nostalgic for a certain type of game, or even a certain game. Eventually, that gets busted up as I fall in love again, but I think I'm on the verge again.

Going into the PlayStation era, I was getting increasingly nostalgic for the OLD JRPGs like the original Final Fantasy, and I was pretty put off by the original Final Fantasy VII demo disc. Looking back, I chuckle, because I think I was hung up on some pretty insignificant shit. I think I get stuck on silly details. I'm embarrassed, but things like the enemies not being in a separate window, and the game was too flashy, and nonsense upon nonsense. I also hated the trend that things had been going with the characters being predefined instead of blank slates. Sigh ...



I'd been building up a bit of resentment for a while.

I ended up preordering the game and loving the hell out of it.

Jump to a few years later, when JRPGs were actually really starting to tank in the post-FFX world. Final Fantasy X had left me ... bewildered and despondent. It's not a bad game, but it's a bad Final Fantasy game. The things I liked about it were the battle system and oops, that's the end. The rest of it, for me was somewhere between bland and annoying.

Little did I realize, until years later, that all JRPGs heroes are supposed to sound barely pubescent and squeaky. That really soured the NES and SNES JRPGs for me, as I couldn't get that 'Tidus shriek' out of my head when I read the hero lines.



KotOR saved gaming for me. That game was such a breath of fresh air for me, and the perfect exit point. It really started my departure from console gaming and JRPGs. I was still a little bitter over the direction that things had gone from the amazing Final Fantasy IX to what Final Fantasy X was, but KotOR and western RPGs really saved gaming for me, and breathed new life into my passion for gaming.

However, the cycle started to repeat after that. Dragon Age: Origins was just as amazing for me, but I was disappointed that I couldn't stack actions in advance. Mass Effect wasn't Star Wars, and was a little too action for me. DA2, at least the PC version, still had the combat mostly intact, but I'll never forget the BioWare directive that 'every time you hit a button, something awesome happens' that had me retching my metaphorical guts out. ME2 was an action game with some RPG aspects. ME3 was actually a great game, up until the meaningless ending. DAI ... I loved it at the time, but it has degraded in quality for me with my second playthrough. It's just lotsa busy work, which wrecks the pacing and sense of immediacy.

Meanwhile, I've been loving games like Pillars of Eternity and The Witcher series, so I think I'm transitioning again, but man ... I'd love something like KotOR and Dragon Age: Origins again. There was just something about those games that suited me just right. This is the same damn feeling I used to have with FFVII (which now feels crazy limited.)



So, yeah, I'm definitely part of the problem. I'm one of those awful gaming enthusiasts that gets stuck on one game and is disappointed when another game isn't just a carbon copy (though I don't voice this in forums or harass developers.) Typically, I just push myself to adapt, and I think I've gotten better about it. I've spread out with games like Divinity: Original Sin, Deus Ex, Dishonored, Fallout, Elder Scrolls, etc. Yeah, I know your cutesy 2D platforming indie media darling isn't listed there, nor is your JRPG that is totally indistinguishable from any other modern JRPG, but I am trying them, especially the JRPGs, since I'd love to get back into that space.

I think Pillars is a step toward that One Game to Rule Them All for the next few years for me. And I'm looking ahead at Torment ... drool ...

I'm torn, though. I think it's OK to love what you love, but I also think we should always be looking to expand our horizons. I think a balance between the two is probably best. Most people I know go too far one way or the other, and I probably skew too far toward 'love what I love,' but I do have evidence that I do eventually evolve.

So, how about you? Are you part of the problem? How do you see your gaming tastes evolving? How have they changed?

Six days 'til Torment/Horizon Day, ya'll.!

-Blaine

20170221

MMOs and Time and Dollars and How Much Can I Really Enjoy Four of Them?

I love MMORPGs. I love the 'instant play' aspect, and I love getting to live inside their worlds. I love the community (usually.) Modern MMORPGs very much cater to the love of story that I have, plus they heavily feature math, which makes me swoon.

The problem is that there are too many that I like. I go through this every year or two, when I need to pare down, especially relative to the lack of free time that I have, and the fact that I mostly play gargantuan single-player RPGs.

So, here's what I have in rotation at the moment.

Star Wars: The Old Republic
This is my champion. Of any game I've ever played, I've put more hours into SWTOR than any other. I was in the beta, and fell in love HARD. I still play this pretty regularly. I adore this game. I've put over 1000 hours into it, and there's still a ton of content I've never played. This one stays, no matter what.



Yeah, I know, this game became fashionable to hate or loathe or whatever weird emotional assignment you tied to it, but it really is delightful, especially if you're a fan of the now-deleted Expanded Universe, specifically the KotOR stuff. This is a natural extension of it.

The free-to-play option is a good demo, but I'm a subscriber, and I feel just fine about that. The Knights of the Fallen Empire and Knights of the Eternal Throne mini-expansions were great. What this game needs is a proper expansion.

The Elder Scrolls Online
I had a bumpy ride with this one early on. Like SWTOR, I was in the beta for a long time, and it was decent, and then once the game launched, I decided to unsub for a time while they worked out some issues. At no point was it bad, but it had some problems that I wanted worked out before I came back. Eventually, I did, and really enjoyed it. I don't sub anymore, because it went buy-to-play, but I buy each of the DLC, and I've prepurchased the Morrowind expansion, which looks AMAAAZING.



What's interesting about this and SWTOR is that I approach each as a living single-player game. I'll group when I need to, and I belong to fairly active guilds, but I don't raid a lot. I do enjoy it when I do, but I'm fairly introverted, and MMOs are an OK way for me to brush up against being social.

I actually got my oldest son pulled in, and he's playing now. Once he's leveled, maybe we'll hit Cyrodiil together.

Guild Wars 2
This is another game in which I've been since the beta. I actually had some IRL friends playing with me for a while, but they've dropped out over the years, and I'm now the last man standing.

I finished the main campaign a while ago, and have been pushing through the Living World content, though I've hit a bugged dungeon, and have been waiting for it to be fixed so that I can continue. It is very frustrating, especially since I've enjoyed the game so much.

Guild Wars 2 is also the most fun 'just sit down and start playing' game that I play. It's just silky smooth.



The world is a hell of a lot of fun, too. Not only the lore, but the reactive elements, which, in my opinion, makes it the ultimate theme park MMO.

The lack of a subscription helps the enjoyment, too. I think the base game is F2P now, too.

Final Fantasy XIV
This is the tough one for me. I pay a sub for it, I used to really love Final Fantasy, I adore the combat and the mechanics of this game, as well as the structure of the world, but it has a few things that really bug me.

I play games that lack voice acting all the time, but FFXIV's flapping lips really bother me. I'd rather that there wasn't any camera work or anything, and that it just had textboxes over static images, or even handled it like the old SNES Final Fantasy games. The flapping lips just bother me.

This is a game that I really need to get more into. The above games were all 'my main game' for some period of time, which allowed me to really propel myself into the game. I've never done that with Final Fantasy XIV. I was even a launch day player, and got to enjoy the debacle of the original version of the game.



I've got Stormblood prepurchased, I've paid my sub through August, so I am going to try and really take the plunge.

Star Trek Online
I played the shit outta this when it first came out. I am absolutely nuts about Star Trek (and Star Wars), and this was my only connection to the franchise for a period of time. The Abrams fan fiction films were fun, brainless action movies, and we'll see if Discovery ever amounts to anything in spite of CBS. This is all I had for a while, and it was really enjoyable. The ship-to-ship combat is great, the ground combat has improved, but is still basically crap, but the game is a fun dip in the Star Trek universe.



I haven't been a subscriber in years, and I really barely play anymore, but I want to play more.

In Conclusion
So, that's five MMOs, plus my constant itch to fire up The Secret World again. I just checked, and holy shit, that's an expensive game to jump into right now and buy the full game.

It's too many, flat out, and I could use some help paring it down. I'd love your opinions. SWTOR and ESO are definitely sticking around.

On the flipside, I could also dial back the single player games that I play, to make more time for the MMOs. I dunno. Having too many quality games to play is a good problem to have, and a very, very first world problem. Still, it can be a fun discussion, and I'd appreciate any input ya'll have.

BTW, one week 'til Torment/Horizon Day!!!

Hit me!

-Blaine