I have an entire wall in my living room filled with video games from every era of history. All three PlayStations, both Xboxes, most of the Ataris (including the Jaguar CD), nearly every SEGA console, every Nintendo save the Virtual Boy… If you’re in any mood, chances are I have at least one game that you’d like to play, or maybe even something you could discover for the first time. It can be overwhelming, though – sometimes I can’t decide what I feel like doing today and end up aimlessly poring over old instruction manuals for an hour. But have you seen some of these older manuals? They’re like works of art.
Do I want to shoot aliens today? Command a classic civilization? Make music with plastic instruments? It doesn’t matter; I have an abundance of choice, and just looking at this wall of history – this shrine to our digital past and present – I immerse myself in where I was in my life when I first acquired each particular game, what it meant to me, how it felt learning to play it. I think about how pumped I was when I found Shining Force for $2 at a pawn shop in the middle of nowhere, in some 1,000-population town in Northern Minnesota. I remember rediscovering the feeling of being able to reward myself by buying Chrono Trigger off eBay after a particularly low point in my life. These physical things are much more than pieces of plastic filled with thousands upon thousands of lines of code, waiting to be pulled out for a few hours of entertainment once every few years (if that). They are windows to my past, and every single one has a story.
I don’t get this feeling from digital media. Continue reading
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
You’ll see these words a lot in Dark Souls.
New area? Turn a corner, stabbed, die. Trying to get back to your dropped souls (Dark Souls‘ multi-function money/experience unit)? Fall off an awkward ledge, die. Accidentally try to cast a spell that has no charges left? Look confused at your own incompetence, die.
Eventually you hardly notice the backtracking. You explore 1% of a new area, then you fail. You get back to where you died before with fewer problems, get another 1% farther, then die again. Rinse. Lather. Repeat until you can’t take it anymore. If you’re lucky (it almost always feels like you have to be more lucky than good), you’ll reach a bonfire, one of Dark Souls‘ save/checkpoints. These are nearly always off the beaten path, frustratingly hidden in a little corner nook. A lot of people bought this game. Few will ever beat it, let alone invest the hundreds of hours necessary for that platinum trophy.
You learn to spend your Souls as soon as they are acquired. Never saving for the future, you are a lower middle-class gas station attendant receiving an unexpected inheritance from a distant relative. Easy come; easy go. But the little windfalls add up. Your level increases, quickly at first, then slowly. Your armor becomes thicker. Your sword longer, stronger. Enemies that once challenged every reflex in your body begin to fall easily. You see sights you would never expect out of a grimdark game like Dark Souls. You start to have real, actual fun.
Then you come across an enemy that seems impossible. It’s not even a boss. It’s just another random goon. Why can’t you win? Are you in the wrong area for your level? This is totally possible – Dark Souls‘ open world gameplay lets you die anywhere you want, and as soon as you’d like (especially if you snag that Master Key as your starting loot). But maybe… maybe it’s not even your fault. Continue reading
At Sony’s gamescom conference on Tuesday, they made an announcement that is sure to make the thousands of Vita owners very happy: if you buy any of the three upcoming PS3 releases PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royal, Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault (Ratchet & Clank: Q-Force in Europe), or Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, you get the Vita version absolutely free. They’re calling it Cross-Buy, and if you’ve tried Sound Shapes, you’ve already seen it in action.
This is great news for current Vita owners who, besides Sound Shapes, haven’t really had a lot to look forward to recently. This is also great news for people on the fence about getting a Vita in the future; if you are buying any of these titles on PS3 anyway, then you’re basically getting a free packaged-in game with your shiny new Vita. The problem with Cross-Buy, though? While it won’t degrade the perception of value of a standard AAA PS3 console title (that will be a solid $59.99 at least until the next console generation), the perceived worth of a Vita game will go down even farther than it already has. Why would anyone pay $40 for a Vita game when you can get the always-superior PS3 version too for just $20 more? Continue reading
I’ll admit: I had mentally purchased Sound Shapes the second I discovered that the game featured three brand new Beck songs. I will also admit (reluctantly) that I didn’t know this fact until I was looking up Beck on Wikipedia to see what he’s been up to lately. Why was I doing this? Well, my at-work internet is heavily firewalled, meaning that Wikipedia, Yahoo! Finance, and single-player Hearts are the only reprieve I have from long, quiet nights in the press release factory, where I spend 9 p.m. to 5:30 a.m., five nights a week.
By the time release day finally came, I was pumped! Of course, PSN was down… but the next day, I finally got to dive in. Sound Shapes is very much like if you had Super Meat Boy’s difficulty layered over Loco Roco‘s mechanics, and then played trippy chiptunes (triptunes?) in the background, escalating in musical complexity as you progressed through the levels. You stick to walls, and there is only a jump button and a roll-faster-but-you-can’t-stick-to-anything button. Simple. Pure. Delightful. Continue reading