What Makes Us Stop Playing a Game?

My favorite thing anyone ever said about Minecraft wasn’t from Notch. It wasn’t from some AAA developer or a big-time game journo. It was some random dude on the internet, who complained, “Minecraft isn’t even that immersive or lasting – I got bored after just two months!” My question to him: how long do you expect to play a game?! You can’t play the same one forever. That’s why they keep making more.

Another Everlasting Gobstopper was Skyrim. Despite November 2011 being one of the best months of new releases ever, Twitter was all atwitter with talk of Skyrim until the new year. “Did you do the drunk quest yet?” “I found a talking dog!” “Who’d you marry? … of course you did – she’s super easy.”

Eventually, we all saw the little tricks Bethesda used to keep us playing. The infinite procedural quest generation. The same-y combat. The sense that you weren’t actually playing your own role in this huge, immersive, dead world. But it wasn’t until we’d sunk 50, 100, in some cases 300 hours into this imaginary world that we were done with it. In general, it seemed like we were all enjoying our time with the game. But when it was over, it felt hollow… like we’d somehow been secretly robbed of our last two months of gaming time by sneaky, underhanded developer tricks that just made us want to keep playing the same game. Scandalous, I know! Yet when we only get five hours out of Asura’s Wrath – which also launched at $60 – we somehow feel incredibly cheated, despite the fact that it’s one of the most intense experiences of the current console generation.

It got me thinking, though: what makes us stop playing a particular game and put it on the shelf to collect dust forever? Continue reading

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Steam’s Big Picture Has Some Big Problems

When I first heard about Steam’s “Big Picture” mode, I was intrigued. I might have even been excited, and, as a fairly console-exclusive gamer, that’s no easy task for me when talking about PC games. Sure, the rock-bottom Steam sale prices have encouraged me to buy my share of low-cost digital entertainment every summer, but I grew up with my games on my TV. The PC was just for homework, stealing music, and porn. Could Big Picture finally change that?

It promises a lot: controller-based menu navigation and chat, Steam friends, and a huge screen enabling you to finally see what The Binding of Isaac looks like when he’s 42″ wide. After spending an afternoon with the beta, however, I’ve been left wanting. If anything, it’s proven to me that the stumbling blocks and hurdles that the average PC gamer has to endure just to get your game to work simply aren’t worth the hassle when the ready-to-go console gaming experience is just sitting there on the shelf, licking its lips and eye-humping me as it awaits my silky caress. Continue reading

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Nintendo Should Just Stop Making Tutorials

Bad luck, Brian!

For me, the hardest part about motivating myself to start a new game is actually the process of starting a new game. There’s a whole new set of mechanics to learn and a new set of controls to master. That’s probably one of the reason sequels do so well, honestly – there’s far less of a learning curve. It’s less scary.

Games nowadays – what with all those buttons! – can be daunting. And that’s coming from me; I’ve been playing games since around the time I first learned how to walk. I can only imagine how bad it is for a newcomer. Now that the traditional instruction manual is a relic of the past (if you get more than a black-and-white controller diagram in your game box, you’re doing pretty well for yourself in 2012), tutorials combine with the “How to Play” section of the Options menu to teach us exactly how to get started with our new purchase. But some developers just don’t do tutorials well. I’m looking at you, Nintendo.

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Dissecting the Wall Street Journal Borderlands 2 Review

Borderlands 2 came out in North America on Tuesday, September 18. That same day, plenty of reviews for the game were published, but one stuck out more than the rest – this one, from Wall Street Journal‘s Adam Najberg. It didn’t stand out because Adam gave the game a score that was far removed from the MetaCritic average. On the contrary, there was no score attached to it at all. It stood out because, in a rare showcase of solidarity across the gaming public, nearly everyone on the entire internet agreed that it is one of the worst reviews ever seen in a professional publication.

This gives me hope for the future. It gives me hope because it shows that we gamers are actually (finally!) expecting more out of the people that write about games. Quality can only go up if we utterly destroy those who don’t live up to our lofty expectations. It’s time to watch the world burn. Continue reading

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Seriously, How Unimportant Is Sound in Handheld Games?

I’ve been playing my shiny new 3DS (well, it’s new to me) long enough to determine that, at its heart, it’s really just a better DS. It’s not trying to reinvent the wheel; Nintendo just stuck with what worked, and gave it better graphics, a simply terrific analog stick, and some 3D-ness. One thing in particular I had hoped they would improve, however, is the audio. The speakers are much better, for sure (have a listen on Nintendo Video or Netflix and compare it to any DS game if you don’t believe me), but I still have exactly zero qualms about playing nearly any game with the sound off. When I think back to some of the incredibly catchy melodies from the original NES – over 25 years ago – this lack of advancement in the sound department is simply unacceptable.

This is one area in which Sony has always excelled – the PSP and the Vita have some pretty great speakers, and the games on those systems recognized that fact, so much so that investing in a decent pair of headphones to play games is actually recommended. (I’d expect nothing less from the creators of the Walkman.) The higher-capacity UMD format helped too, I think, as did the ability to play PSOne Classics on the systems. The CD format and the original PlayStation is when game technology finally made it possible to do sound design, spoken dialogue, and full orchestral soundtracks by real full orchestras justice, and the disc format has helped every console since do more with their games’ sound and music. But the 3DS and DS aren’t disc-based. Continue reading

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What the Crap Is Super Hexagon?

“Hey, come look at this!” I yell at my lady, who is sitting across the room. She takes a look over my shoulder at my tiny iPhone screen for roughly sixty seconds – about three lives – before getting dizzy and having to leave. The thing is: I have some bad seasick vertigo as well (perpetual spinning and falling will do that to you), but I just can’t stop. This is Super Hexagon, the latest minimalist action game from indie god Terry Cavanagh. Continue reading

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The Mumbles Problem

Hey everyone this is Mumbles on NICK’S BLOG!!

Well, I guess the cat is out of the bag. I’ve started my new video series that we’re hosting here on Digital Gumballs. It’s about video games. And the problems they can have. I made my first video about Skyrim because the complete lack of what I want in a roleplaying game really got under my skin. It’s funny because I played the game a lot, even if the whole time I knew my choices didn’t totally matter as much as I wanted them to.

Anyhow. Watch, share, subscribe. Thank you so much to everyone who has already watched it and commented. You guys are awesome.

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Review: Super Mario 3D Land: A Tale of Two Marios

I’ve never had a gaming experience like Super Mario 3D Land before. I’ve never before been so disappointed in a game, for hours upon hours, only to then have it perform a complete 180, destroy every negative feeling I was having before, and deliver a second act so wildly superior, so vastly, incredibly better in every conceivable way, that it was like it was made by a completely different studio. That’s Super Mario 3D Land in a nutshell: a first half of just complete, utter dredge, and a second half that reminds us all why Mario is the single most recognizable character in the world. Continue reading

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A Red Light for Steam’s Greenlight

Just this last week, Steam launched a service called Greenlight. This enables smaller indie developers to submit their game to a community review process. Get enough positive votes from your fans and peers, and your game will be sold on Steam! A potential audience of 40 million players? Yes please. Don’t get enough votes, and you’ll have to just…. keep not making money, I guess. Seriously, how many typical PC gamers use ANYTHING besides Steam to download games, excluding the five die-hard EA fans that like Origin? Yeah, not a lot. But there’s a catch, something holding a lot of small developers back from even trying to submit, a catch with the potential to unravel the democracy of this entire idea. Continue reading

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Would You Rather Have a Bad Port, or No Port? Dark Souls Vs. Dawnguard

Just this last week, it was announced that the long-awaited PlayStation 3 port of the once-Xbox-360-exclusive DLC Skyrim: Dawnguard might, due to technical issues, not be coming to the PS3 at all. The funniest part of this whole story is that Microsoft paid a boatload of money to ensure that the 360 had the first month of Dawnguard‘s release all to itself, which only served to keep it out of PC gamers’ (and modders’) hands for a few weeks. Bethesda argues that, with extra content as huge as Dawnguard, it’s just… hard to make it work. Never mind the fact that in the past they’ve added PS3 DLC for Oblivion, Fallout 3, and Fallout: New Vegas just fine, and those games are nearly as expansive as Skyrim. It sounds like if it won’t live up to internal expectations, Dawnguard won’t hit the final platform at all.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition. The PC port of last year’s PS3/360 masterpiece finally landed on August 24, and it had some issues. A framerate locked at 30 FPS and 1024×720 resolution aren’t technically bad (they’re the same as the console versions, after all), but PC gamers can – and should – expect more. First of all, modern-day PCs are a lot more powerful than 7-year-old home consoles. Second of all, 1024×720 resolution for a PC is laughably bad. Like, worse than feline AIDS. It’s just terrible. So yeah, Blighttown doesn’t lag as badly (playing on PS3, I would have LOVED a solid 30 frames per second), but the game underperforms in so many ways (it also uses the horrid Games for Windows – LIVE architecture) and has been referred to as “one of the worst ports we’ve ever seen.” And these things could have been fixed/improved with a longer development time – the worst part is that From Software skipped that so they could release the game this year, as a gift for the 100,000+ fans that signed the petition to bring Dark Souls to the PC in the first place. Continue reading

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