Welcome to the New Age Part 2: Gaming in the Current Generation

Last week I described how I took a bold step into 2014 and got a current generation console.

This week I thought I’d share some thoughts on the games I’ve played so far and general thoughts on the generation as a whole. I actually jumped in at just the right time as I was able to get a lot of big releases at discounted prices since most of them had been out for months when I finally got my PS4.

  • Shadow of Mordor: As a Lord of the Rings fan this one looked fun and even had the chance of doing predatory stealth without the strange Assassin’s Creed background or the baggage of being Batman…again. It’s a new story with a new character and takes place in a formative stage in the Middle Earth history not often covered. The gameplay is some of the most fun I’ve had doing 3rd person combat. You can string long chains of attacks, defenses, counters, and kills without missing a step and it makes diving in and carving up Uruk Hai as much fun as sneaking up and jamming a broken sword in their skull. The Captains of Mordor mechanic is both brilliant and diabolical depending on the extent of the player’s OCD and wrathfulness. Since I am both OCD and wrathful I obsessively hunted down captains and evilly and relentlessly hunted down any of them that had the luck to best me… A great game, but it didn’t feel like a big leap to the new age.

  • Wolfenstein: The New Order/The Old Blood: I played these in reverse order as I got Old Blood first and beat it before getting New Order. Both are terrific fun, and I don’t even care for 1st person shooters. I haven’t played a Wolfenstein game since they were corridor shooters that could be played from a floppy disk. It says something that these games had the “new” 1st person feel but still captured the strange charm and 90s attitude of the original games. Old Blood especially had the classic sensibility, and even had a boss fight with a big armored dude with Gatling guns on each arm. I actually recommend playing the prequel before the original game. New Order is a deeper, more complex game and Old Blood’s simplistic game play got me back into console shooting again without having as many mechanics. Again it didn’t feel “next gen” moving up from PS3 but is still damn fun.

  • Bloodborne: Good god. I haven’t played completely through a souls game since Demon’s Souls but it was my second favorite game on PS3 (the first being Valkyria Chronicles). It was tough, rewarded patience and thinking, and was ruthless in its player correction. You make a mistake…you pay. And not in the lame Heavy Rain way, in a gameplay way that makes you even more careful and extremely tense. I played Dark Souls but it was at the end of my last console gaming phase and I stopped halfway through. Bloodborne is a work of art. It’s beautiful, brutal, fast, and aggressive. The level design is truly extraordinary and this is a rare game that can make you cuss like crazy out of frustration as some human-sized hunter owns you in seconds…then moments later makes you cuss in admiration as you exit a tunnel only to appear in a location you last saw 9 hours ago in a place that was previously gated. It’s is wonderfully balanced, intuitive in its controls, and masterful in gameplay execution. It’s the first and only game I’ve played that has truly felt like a step into a new generation from PS3 era.

The system is far, far from perfect and the choice of games really shows how much things have changed. My PS2 had dozens of titles I couldn’t wait to choose from. This system has only a few games coming out over the next two years that I will probably end up with (though I DID pre-order the Pipboy Edition of Fallout 4 thank you very much). It may be the change in the industry as a whole, like the difference between boxing now and boxing in the 50s…Sugar Ray Robinson might have fought 10 times a year…but Manny Pacquiao only fights once or twice a year. Games have become too much money and too much development too much investment to release bunches of titles in a year to support a console.

This is where Steam on PC and the indie and small games on PSN have it right (though I really want some of those Devolver Digital games to hit PSN…) These smaller, more reasonably priced games can fill the gap between the more expensive releases and make a system more cost effective. I don’t care about 90% of the AAA releases coming out, but with the smaller digital games I can get plus the other 10% I can only play on PS4 I get my money’s worth.

The Alamogordo dump site in New Mexico where a number of Atari products were laid to rest after the crash

With the advancement of PC as a gaming and market delivery platform I wonder if the console market will ever be the same. I don’t know if it’ll ever crash like it did in the 80s, but it feels like console as market king that we saw in 90s and early 2000s might be slipping away as companies force us to buy weakened versions of PCs with proprietary software, exclusivity limitations, and features many TVs and media players can accomplish with less trouble. The reason I don’t feel there will be an Atari-scale crash is that always be a market for console gaming due to its relative simplicity (you can always play the game you buy at the appropriate settings without having to mess with hardware, video output, or file structure) but as each generation becomes more tech-savvy those limitations become less onerous and more normal, relegating consoles to the lowest of the gaming spectrum.

I probably won’t ever buy one of these…so console gaming may be where I land for “current gen” titles.

I won’t lie, it’s nice to have a “current gen” system and it is a vast improvement over its predecessor, just in design and usability. Still, I can count on one hand the number of times I decided to go back and play my PS3 and PS2, but I can always find time to load up Streets of Rage 2 on the Genesis or Dragon Warrior on the NES. Even as the graphics get better, the features more extravagant, and the games more “realistic,” I feel the major games that drive these systems have lost some of the iconic beauty of the games drove their forebears. I’m sure there will always be a place for “current gen” on my media shelf. Whether or not each generation stays on the shelf after their time is past remains to be seen.

Life Lessons from Video Games: Versus Mode!

LifeLessonsHeader

I’ve been playing video games since I 4 years old.  My first “gaming” system was an Atari 400 and was replaced (actually it was added to by) an Atari 800XL in the mid-80s.  I was a military kid who lived in secluded base-housing and, essentially, only knew my family.  I just assumed that everyone was playing Centipede, Missile Command, Frogger, and  Pac-Man.  In addition I had loads of games that almost no one has heard of but remain my all-time favorites; Sea Horse Hide n Seek, Ducks Ahoy, and Movie Musical Madness.  It wasn’t until my father retired from the USAF and we moved into “civilian” life that I first learned of what kinds of systems were popular.

I had an Atari…but never heard of an Atari 2600.  My memories of Pac-Man are slightly different from most others…the 400 and 800XL computers I had played different versions that actually (to me) looked superior to the 2600 version.  I only ever saw Commodore 64s and Apple IIs in school.  I never heard of Colecovision until I saw it on VH1’s I Love the 80s and never heard of Intellevision until James Rolfe did a video about it.  I DID hear of NES almost immediately after my we left the military lifestyle.

Atari400

Atari400

Atari800

I can remember being in my elementary school cafeteria in my private school blue shirt and slacks and a vicious little rich kid snarling at me, “What?  You don’t have Nintendo?! What’s ‘Atari’?”  I remember telling my mom that and she said, “I bet our Atari has better graphics than their ‘Nintendo…'”  And I immediately agreed.  And the game was on.

Over my lifetime I’ve seen numerous competitions in video games, systems, and gaming culture in general that are all just as frivolous and subjective as this one.  Sega vs. Nintendo.  Street Fighter vs. Mortal Kombat.  Sony vs. Microsoft.  It’s been fascinating to see them come and go, and each generation of hardware and software customers act like it’s the first time these things have ever been discussed.  I’ve been thinking a lot about all these various, senseless wars I’ve witnessed during my gaming life and thought I’d start sharing some of the most memorable.  Since this is just a little intro I thought I’d start with a brief look at the Atari vs NES.

Of course the Atari 400, which came out in 1979, and even the updated 800XL had nothing, hardware-wise, on the NES.  The NES came over from Japan with a library of games that would become classics (and some hardware strangeness that would fall into pop-culture obscurity).  Since the NES clearly has the edge in nearly every technical sense, I thought I’d look at just one thing that strikes me as amusing in terms of my old Ataris compared to the NES.

I started watching AVGN when the new Ghostbusters game was set to come out on current-gen consoles.  I heard a funny online reviewer had reviewed the NES Ghostbusters game and I was intrigued, I didn’t know there WAS one.  I turned on his review and was alarmed to see him reviewing a game I knew…only I knew it from my Atari 800XL…I knew it on floppy disk……and I knew a MUCH better version!  Smoother gameplay, more “ghostbuster-y” graphics, and less idiotic additions (like the gas station…)  Granted it was still a monotonous “wtf is going on?” kind of game, but the NES version looks like a butchered port…of an Atari game.  The Atari version was no masterpiece…but it’s definitely competitive with the later NES version!

That little fact did indeed help remind me that, although the most popular system might dominate the market, the reviews, and rewrite the history, for the minority of us who lived with other brands…we might have found a nice classic gem.

In two weeks I’ll start versus mode in earnest, and will try to do one every two weeks.  The first one will be the most appropriate way to start such a contest and has been a heated debate for almost 20 years…ladies and gentlemen…it will be: Street Fighter vs. Mortal Kombat!

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NES GB

Life Lessons Learned from Video Games 1: Found Food is Good For You!

Like most of the American generation born between 1975-1985, I grew up in the golden age of video games.  Starting with an Atari 400, moving to an Atari 800XL, an NES, and finally settling with Sega consoles throughout much of the 90s, I became a “gamer” at an early age and remain one to this day.  Recently elitists and exclusionists have hijacked that term, but to me a “gamer” is still just someone who enjoys playing games.  Any games from the board variety, to the cellphone kind, to the newest console release.  Whether they play once a month or 24/7, whether they’re hardcore MMORPGrs with hundreds of hours logged or they just play the Sims on their PC, it’s the pure enjoyment of playing a game that makes one a gamer.  Not how high they’re ranked, how many accessories you own, or how many noobs you’ve pwned.  At it’s heart, gaming is just entertainment; it’s not life or death.  So to all my generation who live and breathe by their gear, their rankings, or their e-reputations … seriously … it’s just a game. Kick back and have some fun.

During my long gaming history I have learned a lot of lessons, lessons that apply to both the real world and the virtual world.  Real world lessons aren’t always apparent, and the games that teach them can sometimes be surprising.  Virtual lessons are more about the peculiarities of the gaming world, ways you learn to interact with a world of invisible walls and filled with store clerks who never leave their desks and repeat the same two lines over and over for all eternity.

Since this is the first post of this type, I thought I’d keep it light and start with a virtual world lesson:

If You Are Ever Injured, Seek Out Turkeys, Apples, Pizzas, Pork Chops, and Sodas Hidden in your Environment … and EAT Them Instantly!

I know what everyone’s thinking … eating found food doesn’t sound like a good idea but, trust me, I spent a lot of time playing Castlevania, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Streets of Rage 2 & 3, and Final Fight.  Found food will help you immeasurably.  A turkey found in a garbage can you’ve just smashed into a fading, dented version of  itself after breaking heads all over Metro City or a roast uncovered after you’ve whipped some brick walls of a Transylvania castle into rubble will save your life!  This is one of those lessons I’ve always questioned as I’ve played games, but it shows up again and again.  I can’t imagine grabbing food out of the trash or a crumbling castle being good for one’s constitution, but don’t take my word for it; ask Simon, Donatello, or Axel…it’ll bring you back from near death.

Castlevania Meat
There’s the delicious, life-saving food item…found by smashing open the walls of a musty evil castle…
TMNT Food
Ever been near-death beating up weird spider-things and guys with chainsaws in a warehouse? Look around and see if there’s a pizza floating in the air on a blue square! A WHOLE pizza too. Those are the best ones….
Streets of Rage 2 Apple
Taken some hits pummeling street trash through blue back alleys and baseball fields? Luckily there’s an apple hidden in a roadside sign. That’ll give you the boost you need!  Eat the apple, Axel…EAT IT!
Streets of Rage 2 Turkey
And if you’re in REAL trouble knock over the random trashcan and you may discover a fully-cooked turkey dinner complete with platter!

Now, obviously, game programmers and designers probably got a little sick of using medical kits and vague red crosses as health power ups.  It still seems strange that food as a medical restorative was and still is so popular.  In the amazing fantasy world of video games it’s one of those things we just take for granted.  But who says it can’t be applied to real life?  I say we all give  it a try.

So lesson learned.  Next time you feel life slipping away and the world (or a gang of thugs) is beating you down, break open a nearby sign, rock, garbage can, or potted plant and eat the tasty contents revealed.  Instantly.  And watch the profound impact on your health!