Sunday, 25 January 2015

The Great Mobile Experiment, Part 2

Okay, there's no part one.  I was just trying to be interesting.  Not really.  This actually refers to my second attempt to find worth while mobile games on my phone.  The first time disappointed me so much that I never bothered again until now.  So on with the story.

Recently, I downloaded two games to my phone.  The first is called 80 Days.  It's loosely based on the Jules Verne novel Around the World in Eighty Days (remember the Jackie Chan move that came out several years ago?  Probably not.  Ha ha.).  I first heard about 80 Days on Gamasutra's site.  I love going there because those folks are on the bleeding edge of gaming and it's a great place to pick up new trends.  80 Days caught my eye because it's basically an interactive novel.  Being a voracious reader (able to use big words like 'voracious') it's a no brainer.

So how was it?  It was boring.  80 Days is essentially about planning a trip around the world.  The key word being 'planning'.  Mostly it's choosing a destination and then sitting back to see what happens.  The goal is to get around the world in 80 days and poor planning means you will fail.  That's just the problem.  I don't have fun planning the trip.  I have fun ON the trip.  On that note, when you do get to your destination, you have a choice of exploring the place, or... plan your next move.  Dull.  Sorry.

My second game, though, is what I really wrote this to talk about.  And it's a bit of a confession.  The second game is........ Kim Kardashian Hollywood.  Yes, you read that right.  Kim.  Kardashian.  No don't go!!!  Stick with me!!  Please! 

ANYway!  This is my first free-to-play game and I've heard horror stories about these types.  They rope you in with a semi-competent game then force you to pay money if you want to make any sort of progression in decent time.  KK Hollywood is no different.  But I expected this.  What I didn't expect was how bad it was.  First, there's the whole concept of energy.  Most of you who have played 'free' games know what this is.  It's a time limit concept where by you cannot do anything until you have sufficient energy stored up.  How do you get energy?  By waiting.  Or by paying for more!  I understand KK Hollywood isn't the kind of game you do a sit-down-and-focus-marathon-style session.  It's mean to be played while waiting in line at the supermarket.  Only problem is, the game gives you so little energy that you barely have enough to make it to the cash register.

Like I said, I expect this.  But there's something worse.  Energy is only one form of currency.  There are two more.  In-game cash, and Stars.  Cash isn't so bad.  The game gives you plenty of those and you don't have to buy expensive stuff if you don't want to.  But Stars... that's another matter.  Stars are used for almost everything from moving on with the story to meeting new NPCs, to fast forwarding time, to buy fashion accessories, to flirt, to keeping relationships and even to repair broken relationships should they go down in flames.  Yes, Stars are important.

How do you get stars?  By doing the usual 'free to play' crap.  Watch video ads, sign up for other apps and of course, pay for them.  At first, I thought: okay, if I really want, I'll plunk down a buck or two, buy a handful of stars and off I go.  Oh now little did I know.  First off, there's no such thing as 'a buck or two'.  Lowest purchase you can make is six bucks. That gets you 50 stars.  How much do 50 stars get you?  A pair of shoes.  The CHEAPEST pair of shoes.  Some of them cost upwards of 100 stars!  This is bull!  Of course, you can also go for the best deal.  Get your self over a thousand Stars...  For over 100 dollars!  That's more than a AAA new release console title!  Are you crazy?

Well, you might not be crazy but I am.  Because I..... actually...... no no I didn't pay a hundred bucks.  I didn't pay a cent!  But I confess to liking the game.  I take it out every 30 minutes to an hour and use what little energy accumulated to do fashion shoots, commercials, go on dates and what have you....  It's... strangely addictive.

I don't suppose I can convince anyone else to play?  Our characters can team up.  Please?

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

To Download or Not to Download

The game:  Guilty Gear Xrd Sign
The place:  Gamestop, Commerce Court location
The Dillemma:  Should I buy the retail copy, or download the game from PSN
Normally, this is a no brainer.  A niche Japanese title with a limited run supported by a diehard fanbase.  It's an instant grab just for collecting purposes.  But there is also the flip side.  My home is running out of space for physical copies of games.  I'm still super busy working on Dragon Age Inquisition and I've got tonnes of backlogged games like Assassin's Creed Unity.  Finally, it's actually cheaper on PSN and I don't have to pay any sales tax.  In the end, I bought a couple of PSN cards and called it a day.  Download won.
The collector in me is screaming bloody murder right now.  I've pretty much turned my back on a decade of game buying habits.  A niche Japanese game, more often than not, tend to have resale values greater than the price paid but a downloadable copy is basically worthless to a collector.  Still, times have changed and I think, so is the art of collecting games.  For one thing, a limited edition of Guilty Gear Xrd exists and anyone serious about collecting the game would get that instead.  For another, I want to play the game, not have it sit on the shelf, which means the need to crack open the packaging and thereby, diminishing the resale value.  Underlying all that, however, is the one realization that games just aren't worth collecting anymore.
I came to this conclusion while browsing Guilty Gear Xrd on PSN.  Already, there is an extra downloadable character available for free.  That's when it hit me.  Is the physical copy of a game going to be worth anything when, right out of the box, it's already missing a character?  The answer is no, of course not.  This isn't like the old days.  You buy Street Fighter for the SNES with 8 playable character, wait 20 years, and you will still have a game with 8 playable characters.  This has changed.  If I bought Guilty Gear Xrd 20 years from now, I would actually have LESS characters than buying it this afternoon.  20 years from now, will PSN still be around?  Even if the extra character is one of those on-disk-DLCs, will I need to hack a PS4 to access it?  Why jump through fancy hoops just to enjoy a 20 year old game?
I know I'm talking in theoreticals.  20 years from now, there will probably be more Guilty Gear sequals, rendering Xrd pretty much useless.  But what I described can be applied to just about any number of games.  You name it, it's there.  Senran Kagura?  DLC characters just came out.  Persona 4 Arena Ultimax?  It had free characters for download too.  Almost every game these days will be 'incomplete' in 20 years just because access to some content will be locked out.  Owning the disks maybe worthless.  Not all games are like this, however.  Collecting is still viable but you really have to do some research.  For instance, as far as I know, Dangan Rompa 1 and 2 are still good as stand alone games with no DLCs in sight.  That's more of an exception, however.
Gamestop corporate CEO said recently that game prices have dropped beyond a sustainable point.  People aren't willing to pay more than $35 for a new game even if the game is AAA caliber.  I read this on a news site, and one of the commenters had a very good point.  He says that games are basically worthless right now in the long term and most people know this.  Factoring in DRMs (digital rights management) locking out games, always online features, DLCs, day one patches, etc. and your physical copy of the game is nearly worthless.  At least, before, if you buy a game for 60 bucks and beat it in a month, you can still expect a reasonable trade in value.  Nowadays, people are getting smart and realizing that physical disks just don't have the same value anymore. 
I'm seriously thinking about buying games digitally from now on as default.  If a game is on sale physically, I'll make an exception and get that instead.  A lot of games can be pre-downloaded these days and that makes wait times a non issue.  There are other reasons to get physical copies, but those reasons get thinner and thinner year after year…
Just a quick cap:  I downloaded Sunset Overdrive on the Xbox One because Gamestop didn't have physical copies.  Later, I bought a physical copy of Assassin's Creed Unity and, as I was putting it into the maching, something nagged at me.  Didn't I have to take out the Sunset disk before putting in the Unity disk?  I had totally forgotten downloading Sunselt Over drive.  I gave a mental shrug.  One less thing to worry about.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

The Challenge Premium

I'm getting a bit of writer's block right now, so I'll just come out and say it:  it drives me crazy that professional game reviewers keep giving higher scores to more challenging games.  I'll just jump right into it an name a name.  This is the game that revitalized the whole 'challenge is cool' trend.

Demon's Souls.

This game got rave reviews.  There are some good reasons for this.  It featured a very creative way to play with other people.  You can join another person's session and help them out.  Or you can go in as an invader and try and kill them.  Or you can play by yourself but once in a while see 'shadows' of other players as they do their own thing.  But most of all, I think, the reviewers love the game because it's challenging.

Like most others, I bought into the hype and played it.  Yes, the game is challenging.  Too challenging for me, I admit.  But despite the challenge it is an uneven game.  For instance, the combat is slow and sluggish.  The story is thin and bare boned and it suffers from a wiggy third person camera.  Fans of the game would probably like this though.  They probably think the slower combat makes for a more intellectual and strategic experience.  I know a lot of people don't care for a good story if the game plays well enough and third person camera wigging out happens all the time.

BUT WAIT!  Let's do a little thought experiment here.  Suppose Demon's Souls was actually 'normal', or even 'easy'.  Would it still get the good scores?  I don't think so, and if you search deep within yourself, I think you'll agree.  If the game was easy, people would complain.  'Oh, the combat is too slow and sluggish.'  'Oh, the story is too thin and bare boned.'  'Oh, the third person camera wiggs out too much.' 

All of a sudden, a game with flaws gets given a free pass because it's challenging.  But you don't have to take my word for it.  The proof is out there for all to see.  Let's do another experiment and in doing so, you will see a double standard..  Ask you self the following:

Have you ever read a single review where a game got high scores because it's easy?

Monday, 16 June 2014

Aliens in Virtual Worlds

A few weeks ago I got done reading a book:  The Future of the Mind by Michio Kaku.  In it, the author tried to make sense of consciousness and in one bold chapter even went so far as to describe the possible consciousness of aliens.  From outer space.  Including reasons why none of them have (as far as I know) visited Earth.  One tantalizing theory is that aliens, being thousands of years more advanced than us humans, are spending time on their home planet with their equally advanced virtual reality simulations. The idea being aliens with such a neat technology would want to use it rather than, say, explore the galaxy for other sentient beings.

Or, as I would say, the aliens would rather play videogames.

As a gamer, this makes perfect sense.  Let's look at Star Trek, for instance, and their Holodeck.  If people had access to a machine that can create any scenario they wanted and have it indistinguishable from real life, then why bother with real life?  I'm surprised these people even bothered to go flying around in space at all.  After all, there are dangers all around the universe.  Just ask any old redshirt.  It's much safer sticking with virtual reality.

Yet, in our day and age, real life still trumps all.  Would I rather fly to Japan and see it for real?  Or would I rather 'go' there with an Occulus Rift program (assuming one does exist)?  Of course I would rather fly there.  Sure, it's gonna be more expensive, but you get what you pay for.  Seeing things with your own eyes, touching them with your own fingers and tasting the food with your own tongue trumps anything and everything VR could offer.  At least, for now.

Already, there are glimpses of the future and I'm not talking about the Facebook acquisition of Occulus Rift.  Although that does how how serious some people in the world are about virtual reality.  I'm talking about games like the upcoming Akiba's Trip.  It takes place in Tokyo in a place called Akihabara, a place I have seen with my own eyes.  Yet, it offers players a chance to do the extraordinary:  strip vampires (don't ask).  That's something I can't do in the real thing.

There are other medium to show where VR might be headed.  The novel 'Ready Player One', is one of the most exciting I've read despite sounding like a glorified fan fiction at times.  The book gives one very plausible scenario of what a VR centric society might be like.  It's not all roses and rainbows.  Or, you can watch the movie 'Her', which my girlfriend and I did just recently.  It's a great movie about a real man falling in love with a virtual artificial intelligence.  No, it's not VR, but it does show how a flesh and blood person can form real attachments with a machine.

Bottom line is:  if you think video games now are immersive (or addictive), oh boy, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Final Fantasy Freedom

No, it's not a newly announced title from Square Enix.  Yes, it's about Final Fantasy 14.  And yes, it is what you think it is, but I will write it out in a long drawn out fashion anyway.

As my long time readers must know, I've been... ahem.... addicted... to Final Fantasy 14 for the better part of a year now.  It's a great game.  A fantastic game.  But, it came at a cost.  Corpses of games are littered all over while I was enjoying FF14.  To this day I have yet to even start Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeros or Dynasty Warriors 8 Extreme Legends.  Of the games I did start, Conception II and the new Professor Layton still languish in limbo.  It was a miracle I was able to beat Infamous Second Son.

As with all good things, the Fantasy foray came to an end.  There wasn't much of a choice - two weeks in Tokyo means two weeks without FF14 it's as simple as that.  In this sense, I was very lucky.  The night my subscription ran out was the night before the flight.  I was able to enjoy FF14 almost up to the minute when I can't any longer.

Fast forward a month and I'm back from the trip.  But... still haven't logged back onto FF14.

And it's liberating.

Prior to the trip, the game had it's claws in me real bad.  It's just the way it is.  The game is designed to be played a bit each day.  If you don't, you miss out on various bonuses and as hardcore as I was, missing out was not an option.  Of course, there's also the matter of subscription.  For about 15 bucks a month, can I afford to skip out on even a single day?  The answer, until we had to fly to Japan, was no.

Yet, having gone cold turkey for two weeks straight, the spell has been broken.  The urge is gone.  I can go on with my life without Final Fantasy 14.  I felt free.  Games are opened to me again.  Since I came back, I've dabbled in Child of Light.  Now I'm sucked into Watch Dogs.  Only difference is, Watch Dogs will eventually end.  I'm looking forward to starting Murdered: Soul Suspect and Mind Zero when it does.

That's not all, I can blog again.  You may have noticed my blogging frequency increasing.  This Wednesday, I also promised my girlfriend I'll build models instead of playing games.  I can do this because I'm free from Final Fantasy 14.  Weekends, I feel more comfortable hanging with my friends or hanging outside the house with just my girlfriend and I.  Watch Dogs can wait.  It can't leave me behind.

Officially, I'm on 'break' from Final Fantasy 14.  At least, that's what I've been telling everyone.  But I think, effectively, it's over.  Though I do not bar myself from returning - one day, I might want to go back, just to see - for now, it's so long... and thanks for all the pugils.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Another Reason Why the Japanese are so Thin: The Subways

Okay, I'll give away the punchline right here.  The second reason why the people in Tokyo are so thin is because they walk alot.  BUT, the subway has a lot to do with it.  Here in Toronto, the Transit Commission has been taking a lot of flack for... well... sucking.  It's not until I had a chance to see another city for myself, however, that the contrast sunk in.  Compared to Tokyo, Toronto's transit system is like a child.

Here, the TTC has maybe four lines and I'm being generous.  In Tokyo, there are over a dozen.  We're not talking rinky dink affairs with five or six stops like our Sheppard or Scarborough line.  We're talking routes that span halfway across the city or more.  These lines also cris cross each other at regular intervals, so transfer between subway systems are incredibly easy.  It also means there's alot of places in Tokyo you can reach just by riding the trains.  Indeed, that's what we did.  Everywhere we went was by train.  We never had to take a bus or a street car or even a taxi.

But the thing is... what do we do once we reach our destination by train?  Why, we walk!  And that's the point of this blog.  Tokyo's transit is so efficient and far reaching that owning a car is probably optional in the city.  We see so many people taking transit that I'm convinced it's the default mode of fast transportation.  So my guess is that the people of Tokyo do what we did.  They walk to the subway, get where they are going, then walk the final steps to their destination.  That's a lot of walking.  For some places on our itinerary, we had to walk 15 to 20 minutes to get to.  Most, however, are within 5 minutes.  We got lucky with our hotel which has a two-line junction station less than a minutes walk apart!

But what if, you say, it's too far to walk? What if you live in the middle of nowhere but still must take the train?  Well, there's the bus.  But there's also something else. 

Bikes!  I think this is the second half of the equation.  A lot of people walk in Tokyo, but a great many also bike.  There are so many bikers that pedestrians are constantly threatened of being run over.  In fact, it's nearly happened to us multiple times.  Bike racks are also everywhere outside train stations and a lot of times are filled to capacity.  You can see such example of bikes on the right side of this picture.  People just leave them there and hit the train station.  So even if you cannot walk to or from a station because it's too far, biking is always an option.

That's not all.  The train system itself is ripe with opportunities to do a little walking exercise.  Remember how I mentioned the multiple lines and how you can transfer between them at certain stops?  Well, imagine if you have a stop that's a junction for two, three or even four different lines.  The station itself would have to be huge, wouldn't it?  And that's exactly what we saw.  Alot of the bigger stations are comparable to the PATH we have in downtown Toronto.  It's a maze of shops and hallways leading hither and yonder.  And what does that mean for the citizens' health?  It means a lot of walking.  In some of these big stations, to transfer from one train to the next you often have to walk several hundred meters.  This is true for subway entrances, too.  We've seen signs for the subway in places where you still have to walk several hundred meters for the nearest train.

Tying neatly into my last blog, a lot of these stations are quite vertical with multiple floors.  This means riders are also taking a lot of steps.  Alot of stations even have stairs with no escalators.  You walk up or you don't go up at all.  These are rare, however, but be prepared to really have to travel even if you are within a subway station already.

And this concludes this blog.  I've still go one more reason why the people of Tokyo are so fit, so stay tuned!

P.S.  Below is something the TTC sorely needs.  These platform gates open and close only when a train is on the other side. Rush hour in Japan can get packed, so my guess is they are there so people don't fall onto the tracks by accident.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

I Miss Japan a Little Too much

Close friends of mine are probably pretty sick of hearing this, but I miss Japan.  Alot.  After spending a mere 10 nights at the place, I feel what most likely is homesickness since arriving back in Toronto.  The weird thing is, I've never felt homesick in my life and have never missed any one geographic location before.  After immigrating from Hong Kong back in the early eighties I haven't felt much for land of birth.  After moving out from my old place in which I spent 20 years of my life I never got much urge to go back despite all my memories there.  Japan is the first and only physical location I have ever gotten misty eye over.

That's not an exaggeration.  I missed Tokyo so much I've shed tears over it.  One day, last week, my girlfriend showed me the Dragon Quest Slime coin purse I got her in Akihabara and it was all I can manage to hold back tears.  The tears came later on at work.  This happened twice, actually.  The second time was triggered by a Choro Q figure (basically a cute car, or in this case, a train) of the Narita Express - the train we took from the airport to Tokyo.  I saw the toy in the morning and got teary over it after getting to work.

So yes, this is serious stuff.  Because both instances happened at work it would seem that I don't actually miss Japan.  Rather, I just miss NOT having to go to work.  There is merit in the theory, but I think there's more.  Giving it some thought, one conclusion stands out.  If Tokyo were a person, the personification of the city would be of someone very much like myself.  The city is civilized, clean and most importantly, quiet.  Not a day goes by in Toronto without some jerk ride by in either a noisy motorbike/car or blasting bass from their car stereos.  In Japan, nobody makes any unnecessary noise.  The people riding subways are quiet as mice.  Speaking of mice, even the cats we saw in the cat cafe neither meow or purr.  And the city is steeped in geek culture.  Yes, Toronto has it's expos and conventions but in Tokyo, geek districts are around 27/7.  The people there aren't ashamed of it too.  I've seen men in suits show up at places like Gundam Front.

Leaving Tokyo is like parting with myself.  Like splitting apart.  While on the jet plane back to Toronto, I'm convinced that a small part of my soul got left behind in room 621 of the Higashi Shinjuku Hotel.  Every morning since then, this little spark would visit the places it knows so well.  Maybe Yodabashi Camera in Akiba, or the 901 building in Shibuya, or J-World in Sunshine City.  At night, it might go to Artnia, or visit the kitties in the cat cafe at Shinjuku.  Then it would do that all over again the next day.

Eventually, this little spark would fade and disappear.  Perhaps it would find it's way across the ocean where the big soul lives.  But this too, would be a sad event because it would mean nothing remains of me in Tokyo and all that's left are fond memories.

P.S.  When I first thought of writing this blog, the idea itself was enough to make me sad.  Actually writing the blog, thankfully, didn't do much.  I think... maybe... finally... I don't miss Japan so much anymore.