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.

Welcome to the New Age: Kicking and Screaming into Current Gen Console Gaming

Toward the end of the PS3 generation I started to become exceedingly disillusioned with the gaming industry.

Games that started as well-paced horror franchises became absurd action shooters, beloved turn-based RPGs became mash-up amalgamations of MMOs and action games, platforming vanished (except the three franchises Nintendo makes every year), and everything became about all the additional content you could buy once you bought the original content.

On PC it was even worse; franchises I grew up with had morphed into poisonous, hateful incarnations of themselves. Diablo 3 came out with no use for weapons (despite the original Diablo having a memorable dev quote “When I pick up an axe I want it to look like an axe”) and that awful real money auction house. Sims 4 and SimCity arrived with forced online and reduced content, not to mention broken states. Not to mention the mess that Steam has become.

So I essentially gave up. I played my NES and Genesis more than any system, reliving the old days when games were just games, not virtual market vectors for publishers to extort money.

Luckily Warhammer and other table top games kept me pretty satisfied, because at least those price vectors give me physical products with palpable advantages.

So when the current gen started I decided not to get a new console and that my days as a modern console gamer were over. I’d been one since the Atari days and I’ve participated in every generation since so it was a momentous decision. I never even considered an Xbox One. Despite their desperate back-pedaling, the fact that Microsoft even considered limiting used games, tried to force always online, and initially forcibly bundled with Kinect made me completely dismiss it as an anti-consumer product. Sony’s new pay wall for some features didn’t make me happy, but everything I normally use still came with the free online so it wasn’t too off-putting. Still nothing was out that I cared about so I wrote off console gaming. Until…

Walking through a local Target with Miss Misty I decided to check their clearance section. There, in a box, with a little red tag…was a PS4. I stopped and actually said, “Is-is that a PS4?” It was and it was 289.90. More than 100 off. It was noted as being “repackaged.” I rolled the dice and took it home.

After setting it up I found someone’s account info was still in there. No funding data, but there were some kid’s gaming install info. “Huh…must’ve been a return…” I thought. Then scrolling through the games, just before factory reset, I saw there was a little disc symbol on the GTA5 icon. I selected the “eject” option and sho-nuff, the GTA5 disc popped out. Even though I’m not a fan of the franchise, a free game in system added to the value of the purchase. Essentially I got a slightly used discount bundle.

Fortress of Games
PS4 with free GTA5 at home with my other systems. The PS3 was moved to my gaming room so I could have a Bluray/Netflix player in there too.

I’ll talk about some games in the next post for now here are some late-to-the-gaming thoughts on the system itself:

  • Aesthetics/System Functions: It looks nice. It looks more solid and dense than the PS3, though the front buttons are a pain to get to. Also the constant glow is a little much especially for creatures of the night like me. It isn’t loud and doesn’t get as hot as I thought it would.
  • User Interface: The PS Vita style UI is much more effective than the old XMB. So much so that when I turn on my PS3 and navigate it I realize how clunky that interface is. I like the sorting of icons, and applications, and find it far easier to use. Also the PS Vita style continuation function, where my videos will pick up where I left off, my games will pick up where I left off, etc., even when changing applications or putting the system in rest mode is glorious.
  • Controller: Yes it has that weird touch pad button that I haven’t found a use for yet, but the controller actually feels better than the old PS3 version. One thing I don’t like about it is there is no turn off for that LED which means it’s always glowing all the time. I do like that the PS button is the only one that can turn it off and on…I can’t tell you how many times I kicked the PS3 controller only to have the system start up by accident and have to wait for the system to load just to turn it off. The battery life is pretty good and the first time it made sound during Shadows of Mordor scared the s**t out of me. I could use a media remote tho, as I still use the system for videos more than games.
  • Network: The network took a LONG time to set up. Not the actual process of me setting it up, pretty standard actually, but it was about 24 hours before the system recognized my network and gave me internet access. So much so that I thought it was why the system was returned. Once it was set up the network has actually been more reliable than the PS3 one (though that might be my aging PS3) and navigating the network options and network applications is much better thanks to the UI mentioned above. The PS Store STILL needs work. It takes a while to load and the lists of games on there are organized in such a way I still can’t find stuff I know is there. The PS Vita store is much more user-friendly.
  • PS Plus: I never even considered this as a feature. I don’t like paying for intangibles and this always seemed like a Book-a-Million discount card or Gamestop Rewards card: pay us money for a bonus or discount. If you DO happen to own a PS3, PS Vita, and PS4 you really do get your money’s worth. Two games for free every month each system. Even though they usually aren’t MAJOR titles (depending on your definition thereof anyway…) there are a TON of great games that show up for free. What talked me into PS+ was when I first went into the store Oddworld New and Tasty was free so…sold…

Next week I’ll do a short list of the games I’ve played. I came in at just the right time where a lot of good launch titles are now discounted and the generation is hitting its stride in terms of software support.

Off the Top of My Head: Neo-Retro

Off The Top of My Head

Neo-Retro

I recently had to explain what a MP3 player was to someone just a few years younger than me. I also had to explain what an MP3 was. Her music player was her phone; her music was “iTunes” or “Amazon.” This conversation made me realize that something as relatively recently widespread as MP3 players have kind of been passed by. And a lot of technology and trends have followed suit. This in my mind is “neo-retro”: items or fashions of very recent history that have briefly dominated a sector of the culture only to be replaced by the ever moving march of progress. Here were some of the ones that crossed my mind:

These envelopes made every trip to the mail box like a trip to the video store…

Netflix Disc Delivery: In 2006 I was given a free month of NetFlix from a friend at work. I was hooked on the service and soon signed up as a regular customer. Sold by the cheap monthly rate that would give me unlimited movie rentals for titles you couldn’t find anywhere else. The service sounded ridiculous. I get a disc in the mail? Then send it back and get another one? But after trying it I was able to watch seasons of TV shows and new-release movies in marathons. You became a master of scheduling; you could calculate when you’d watch a disc so you could have the next one by the weekend. I eventually upped my service to include Blu-Ray discs, and eventually added the streaming service, because it was free with my subscription, despite the paltry video library available digitally. Then a shift occurred. The digital library expanded. NetFlix upped their prices so the digital service was cheaper than disc delivery. I eventually cancelled the disc service and now watch everything on Netflix streaming. During a brief period about 2004-2010 to “Netflix a movie” or “Netflix a TV show” meant you got all the discs delivered and watched them in quick succession. Now no one uses it that way. To “Netflix” only refers to the digital service and while disc deliveries still exist the convenience and vast library available digitally has shifted the rental culture. I still remind people, however, that while Netflix (and later Amazon Prime) changed the way we get movies…it was the disc delivery service that spelled the end of the local video stores. Yes. It was that big. But it has come and gone as the prime mover in movie services.

Don’t laugh. AOL changed the way people contact each other over the computer. Despite what people may say about them!

Email and IM: Yes email still exists. Yes it’s widely used. BUT. There was a time when email was the preferred way to contact people. Now email has been relegated mostly to business/commercial purposes. I use it all the time at work, I use it for internet purchases, and I stay hooked in through email for bills, etc. I even get the occasional email from a friend containing a link or something specific. But is it the most common and popular way I connect with friends and family? Absolutely not. Even though it is available on most smart phones. Now even my friggin’ insurance company offers the choice “enter email address” or “connect via Facebook.” Really? Really? My insurance is good with using my Facebook profile as my main contact info!? Similarly AOL began the wide-spread use of Instant Messenger services. All through high school and college I used IM to connect with friends more than any other form of communication. With the proliferation of affordable cell phone plans, text messaging, and services like Skype the classic instant message has been sent to retro history. So much that the venerable AOL IM sound gets guffaws of retro laughter…..for those who remember it.

MySpace: MySpace is still recent enough and its decline so public it’s not as long-lost as the others on this list. Though it was preceded by other similar concepts, MySpace really started the entire popular social media concept. I had a MySpace page and honestly I still prefer the customizability and personalization capable in a MySpace page. You could set backgrounds…music…colors…all kinds of things. When Facebook started to take over the world MySpace slipped into decline, or rather it went back to what it was created for, advertising bands. But, briefly, MySpace bridged that gap between “here’s my email address, write me sometime” and “here’s my Facebook name, friend me” to dominate social interaction.

Trends move quickly. So quickly sometimes they have come and gone before you can even get used to them. “Retro” has become hipster cool, so having records and tapes is considered fashionable…while using any of the above “neo-retro” items is usually considered “lame” or out-of-date.

So the next time you decide to move all your contact info to Facebook or its inevitable successor…remember nothing stays on top forever. The big thing of today is tomorrow’s has-been!

To see more about RevPub’s thought of tech trends check this post out!

New Technology? I’m Better Off Without It

RavenRant
To Whom It May Concern,

I proudly admit that I activated my first smartphone about two months ago. I also admit I own CDs and DVDs and buy them new when something good comes out. Sure, I have an mp3 player and stream from Amazon, but at the end of the day, I pop in a CD to relax or drive. I receive A LOT of grief about my practices, and people try to argue why their way is better. Well, this week I’m setting the record straight: I’m actually better off than they are. Here’s why:

The smartphone: Ok, they’re not that smart. The text features auto-fill incorrectly so often, I turned mine off. The batteries do not last a full day unless you buy an extended one; they constantly work to connect to wireless or 3 or 4G; and you have to buy separate heavy-duty cases in case you drop it. And if you do, you usually have to replace it. They are also harder to use because you navigate to what you need, whereas with a flip phone, you just flipped it open and away you go!

My flip phones were awesome. Nine-key texting that auto-filled (usually correct). It seems I’m always at a computer, so why do I need to be connected all the time? And when I’m not working, I’m not connected. It’s a well-deserved break, and I’m good with it. No one should be connected all the time. When I dropped my flip phone, I dusted it off and continued using it. No cracked screens, no replacing, and they were more affordable. How much money have you spent on phones the last two years? I’ve spent $30.

Digital music: The difference is compression (thanks, James). The files are compressed (made smaller) so they can fit on the device. Guess what? The sound quality suffers. Most probably don’t realize it, but there is quite a difference in a CD in the car and plugging in your iPhone to listen to music. There’s real bass and clarity. Also, sites go down, devices break and get lost, and believe it or not, the Internet could one day not be there. I’ll still have my CDs though, so I don’t depend on a cloud network or connection for music. Being able to share music so easily is definitely awesome, but we should still buy CDs.

Streaming videos/movies: Same concept. If the connection is slow or there’s bad weather, it spins and buffers and tries really hard to work. But sometimes it doesn’t. With a DVD, you don’t have to worry about it. You place it in the device, and it works – assuming you’ve not abused it, of course. What if Amazon or Netflix takes a movie or show off? You don’t get to watch it and may have to buy it anyway. When you buy a DVD, it’s forever yours.

E-readers and tablets: I love the idea of these, but I prefer hard-copy books for one reason: They are easier on my eyes. I read an average of 30 hours a week, and eye doctors have proven that screens are terrible on your eyes, and cause eye strain, neck pain and headaches. Reading a hard-copy doesn’t cause that damage. You can read in any position and don’t have to worry about glare from the screen or sun. There’s no charging a book, and it won’t break. Once you’re done, you can pass it on or donate it – everyone wins! You don’t have to spend money on special glasses or protectors, and I read faster with hard copies. I bet screens actually slow you down.

To all of you who argue with me about my ways, there’s my argument. I don’t have everything at my fingertips, but walking into the other room or across it is good for me. I don’t lay around or sit for too long, and I enjoy more peace of mind than most I know. Given the choice between connectivity and peace, the latter will win every time.
Feel free to comment below, and I look forward to hearing from everyone!

Story of the Month: The Ghost in the Machine

Story of the month header with quill and ink

The Ghost in the Machine

Over the past decade movies about haunted technology have become popular.  From radios to TVs and from cameras to cell phones, it seems everything can be haunted and wreak havoc on the lives of the living.  This has always been one of my least favorite genres of horror movie for some reason, partially because it shows our over-attachment to our data devices, but I suppose in actuality there’s no principle difference between a haunted house and a haunted Handycam.

I never gave much thought to these kinds of “haunting” until…

Back around 2005 or so the fairer half of RevPub had a computer problem.  She had an aging computer and the modem suddenly stopped working.  This was back in the days when PCs were still white boxes and modems contained numbers like “28.8” and “56k.”  Having recently replaced the modem in my own PC (which bucked the trend and was GRAY) I felt confident I could replace the modem in hers as well.  I took the PC to my house, bought a cheap replacement modem, and installed it.  Turning the computer on, I immediately got a hardware error.  After going through all the options my limited computer hardware ability could handle, I called my friend Mike (an actual expert) to help.

He brought one of his computer shells to see if it was the modem, the slot, or the whole PC that was the problem.  He also brought other spare parts and far more experience fixing PCs with white text on a black screen.  We went through several attempts, and various options, all while watching Mythbusters on DVD.  We only had one keyboard, so he plugged it into his computer, checked settings, and plugged it into the broken one to try to get the settings to work on that one.  We did this several times and hit dead end, after dead end.  It made me feel better that I had failed, since he was having bad luck with it too.  He suddenly had a flash of inspiration, sat up, picked the keyboard up, and began typing commands.  Immediately his commands began to appear on the screen of the stricken computer.  As white text filled the black screen as the system began to respond.  We plugged in the modem and, SURPRISE, it worked perfectly.

Mike began to disconnect the keyboard to plug into the other PC to begin to shut it down.  I saw him reach to unplug it.  Sit down.  Stand up and look at it, then sit down again.

Perplexed and a bit freaked out.  He turned to me and said, “I don’t know why that worked…”  Quizzically I asked, “Why?” happy to see the work was finally done.

He still seemed pretty shaken when he responded, “The keyboard was plugged into the other PC the whole time…”

Now my logical side kicked in.  Maybe he was playing a joke?  No the keyboard was definitely plugged into the other PC and I hadn’t left the room.  Maybe the afflicted PC had reset itself?  No his DOS commands were appearing on screen.

We exchanged a “What the…” look.  And the only thing that broke our silence was my announcement, “I want that thing out of my house right now.”  He agreed, we packed up, I moved the possessed computer to the trunk of my car and informed the lovelier half of this company that her PC was repaired, ready to return, and was likely and object of pure evil.  She took it back and used it for years…without incident.

To this day it’s one of the strangest events I’ve ever witnessed.  Two relatively fearless individuals were completely creeped out by a PC that seemed to either be possessed by the machine spirit (emperor protect) or self-aware enough to fix itself.  Either way I was glad to have it out of my house!

When I told Mike I would be using this story on this blog he responded in typical Mike fashion by saying:

“That sh*t freaks me out.”

For one time I will shed my stoicism and concede…yeah that sh*t freaks me out too…

Writing for Web – Chapter 1 – Know Yourself and Your Audience

Assignment: Pick three words to describe your generation. Then write two paragraphs on why you chose those words.

My words: tech-savvy, impatient, opinionated

I am in Generation Y, and although I’m not entirely sure what that means, I didn’t hesitate when I scribbled down the three words above. Afterward, I thought of myself and the dozens of people I know around my age, and those three words applied. You may have noticed I cheated by using tech-savvy. I can do this because I used it properly (adjectives describe nouns, even hyphenated ones) and because I like it way more than techie. Generation Y is a group that is not afraid to try new technology. We are fearless when it comes to computers and devices and often view them as toys. We hear of a new iPhone or iPad coming out, and it is a competition about who can get it first. Others channel their excitement into programming; whether it’s building a new site or developing new software. I don’t know much about coding, but I’m happy to take instructions and work my way through it. If you had told me five years I would know how to work a WordPress site or a Central Content System, I would’ve laughed in your face. That is a common trait in my generation; when it comes to computers and mobile devices, bring it on. The more it can do, the more popular it is, and the harder we work to get it.

The last two adjectives tie together well. We are impatient and opinionated because of the technology used above. I used to get so frustrated in traffic and cussed my way through Tool’s Anemia on repeat, until one day I made myself stop. Generation Y hates to wait. It’s that simple. We whine about being in line too long, a drive thru too long, or sitting in traffic or at a light. We fidget, complain, honk, and yell because we have somewhere to be. We need to get over it and learn to breathe. That leads me to my final word: opinionated. Generation Y loves to tell you what it thinks. I’m definitely guilty of it (as you can see from this very site), and I want to be heard. All of us want to be heard and agreed with all the time. Maybe we’re used to controlling the technology, the machines and devices we own, or we are uncomfortable with real confrontation. With pushing a button, the device does exactly what we want. People do not work this way, and we don’t like it. What happens when we disagree with something? Watch out! Thanks to the world of websites and social media platforms, we can tell you how much or little we agree or disagree, and we expect you to care enough to read about it or watch us talk about it. YouTube, comment sections, “like” abilities, and forums make it possible for people to ramble endlessly about what they think. Not only is it possible, it’s encouraged. Generation Y loves to read its own thoughts.

Notes:

I learned some pretty interesting things in this chapter that focused on me, the writer, and you, the audience. I read about clarity, spark, and meaning – all of which are essential to effective Web writing. The assignments, all 10-minute nonstop exercises, included writing a letter to grandma, texting a friend, and the one above, which was my favorite. This assignment was significant because I had to write about a large group of people I hope to reach with our content.

Felder stresses being lively but straightforward, so I’m eager to learn how to be direct and purposeful without being dry. If the writing becomes dry or boring, she recommends stepping back and looking at it from another viewpoint. I struggle with this the most, and I wonder from what angle should I look?

What are your stepping-back strategies? Do you literally walk away for a few hours, or do you take skyline view approach? How do you change your vantage point?