Archive for the ‘ Playstation ’ Category

Counterview from a Wide-Eyed Video Game Industry Fool

In a recent pre-E3 post at Scholarly Gamers, video game advocate Patrick Scott Patterson detailed his precarious position on the precipice of cynicism for the industry he loves. I’ve followed PSP for a while on social media, I’ve even had dinner at WingStop with the guy once, and I’ve agreed with a lot of his opinions and efforts, but I’ve disagreed from time to time as well. Where he’s peering into the pit of cynicism, hoping E3 2017 will deliver a swinging vine with which to grab and swing over, I feel quite different about the state of the industry right now.

PSP Pitfall

Totally professional artist’s rendition of Patrick Scott Patterson’s E3 2017 goal.

I think PSP’s lamentation of a time in the 90s where hardware was the focal point of discussion rather than games is fair. He specifically states: “…this time period seemed to focus too much on technology and not enough on games. All I wanted out of the industry – all my friends wanted out of the industry – were games.

I think that’s a fair statement and one that holds true for most gamers today. We saw that in the push back to X-Box One’s announcement focusing on television, television partnerships, a Halo television series with Steven Spielberg, and the multimedia capabilities of the system, to which gamers replied “where are the games?”

In fact, Sony “won” E3 that year and has been “winning” the latest battle for the living room by their message of being for gamers and putting the focus squarely on games at their presentations. Sure, they still had Netflix, were still working on a more a la carte TV offering, and were still a multimedia system too, but they knew that gamers want games and made that their focus.

Where Scott and I first diverge is on the opinion of delivering on this desire. I’ve talked with Scott via social media posts before have the impression he feels the PS4 doesn’t have the library to draw him in. I, on the other hand, have an ever growing library of games for the system that I can’t keep up with (as a typical gamer, my backlog doth floweth over), but I’ll touch on that a bit more later.

Hardware or Software? Who Gets the Spotlight?

GameInformer Issue 289

But is hardware overtaking the spotlight when it comes to games? Overall, I don’t think so. Let’s start by the fairest comparison we can have to the 90s with a print magazine. May’s Issue 289 of Game Informer dedicates four pages to VR hardware technology, but four pages to games coming out that will take advantage of VR headsets. Two pages discuss the Nintendo Switch, which is arguably a look at hardware.

A feature on indie games at GDC 2017 covers 12 different games with quick looks. 12 more games are given quick hit blurbs, then a page each for an afterwards look at Horizon: Zero Dawn and For Honor. Halfway through the issue, we’re on to reviews for Hellblade, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, Injustice 2, Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Perception, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Sonic Forces, Kingsway, Hob, Tacoma, Into the Breach, Quake Champions, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III, Perception, Escape from Tarkov, Tokyo Xanadu, Mass Effect: Andromeda, Ghost Recon Wildlands, Yooka-Laylee, Persona 5, The Elderscrolls Legends, and Tumbleweek Park. That’s 6 pages for hardware with 47 games getting attention in the issue.

Moving beyond print media and looking at the online landscape of games sites, where does hardware fall?

What is Real? – Virtual Reality

Honestly, things are pretty sparse on VR coverage. Many are concerned Sony has already given the PSVR the same vaulted position next to the Vita and PSP under a rug. Where Scott wasn’t impressed with its presence at E3, many are worried about a lack of it this year, myself included.

Specifically speaking, Virtual Reality is another point I disagree with PSP on in general. Or at least, I’m hopefully disagreeing while fearful he’s right, but here’s where wide eyed fool meets at-risk cynic with more matured observational experience. I’m a firm believer that we can look to our actual future by looking to the science fiction of our past. Whatever we imagine, we eventually find a way to bring to life. From Star Trek automatic doors and communicators to modern day….well automatic doors was on the nose, but surpassing the science fiction with Smart Phones, we’ve made science fiction reality. Self driving cars have long been a staple of science fiction and we’re on the verge of reaching for that goal in the next decade.

Likewise, we’ve long imagined virtual reality, where we can be fully immersed in another world, transported through some form of technology, dreaming of a day when the virtual is near indistinguishable from the real. While I don’t think we’re on the verge of that, I actually am excited by the modern adoption and interest in virtual reality and want it to be pushed. I want games exploring the possibilities. I want the clunky headsets of today because they’ll become the sleek visor/ear covers of tomorrow. I want the groundwork laid out now to be deep diving into VR when I’m in a retirement home.

Morpheus

Obligatory Morpheus pic while talking about Virtual Reality…check!

I’ve never liked first person games, but based on my experience with Arkham VR, I look forward to an Elder Scrolls game in VR and am fully hoping next week’s E3 includes the announcement of Star Wars Battlefront 2 being fully playable in VR.  I haven’t played it myself yet, but most reviewers and commenters seem to agree Resident Evil 7 is a whole different experience in VR, and far more terrifying than it is without.

State of the Consoles Address

I somewhat agree with Scott’s view on the state of the consoles, though not completely. Nintendo needed to bring out the Switch to replace the Wii U. While the Wii U had some fantastic games and I agree will likely be seen as an under-appreciate system in the future, this fall will mark 5 years since its release. That’s only 1.5 years less than the Wii’s lifecycle. If the sales-struggling Wii U managed to reach that close to its juggernaut predecessor’s life, I consider that pretty good longevity.

The PS4 Pro and Project Scorpio, however, I agree are a bit unnecessary and I’m not crazy about the idea of half step generations becoming the standard, especially depending on how much more they start to offer in the future over their “lesser” versions. Right now, however, they haven’t seemed to be that much of a game changer. If Scorpio proves to be more of a true next-gen step with Microsoft stepping into a staggered cycle, that’ll be a bit different, but it remains to be seen.

However, going back to hardware overshadowing software, I’m not sure that spec comparisons of PS4 to PS4 Pro and XB1 to Scorpio, as well as PS4 Pro to Scorpio, are really overshadowing the games. Searching “IGN + E3” gives you IGN’s page featuring 29 articles on game expectations with only 2 on Scorpio. Searching for “Game Informer + E3” yields articles primarily about games. Similar results are found at GameSpot’s E3 page.

Obviously, Scorpio and its specs will be a big part of Microsoft’s presentation with them feeling they’re in a similar position as Nintendo and need to get back in the race. I’ll agree a stronger, more horsepower, console isn’t how I’d expect them to win gamers back, though. Scalebound and more exclusive first and second party titles would have done more than a beefier processor in a new system replacing what people already own. But that’s the course Microsoft is taking for E3, so…

Where’s the Beef Games?

When Scott says “I hope I can see an industry that is once again focused on providing wonderful and groundbreaking game play experiences, rather than continuing to hype the boxes that are supposed to run those experiences,” I think that’s a valid desire, one which I think is going to be delivered from Sony and Nintendo this year. Their boxes are out and they’ve said what they do, so now they can focus on the software for them.

He goes on to say, “If anything else, it’s a case of clarity as to where we need to put our hard earned money. There is a clarity and confidence in knowing that you have invested in a video game console that you know is going to give you joy for years to come. There’s a warm, fuzzy feeling in seeing a game library grow and grow on hardware you know will be the focus for quite a while yet, rather than this look-over-your-shoulder feeling the marketplace has created for itself now.

I really feel like here’s where we stop walking on different sides of the path and diverge in two different directions. I got a day one PS4 and I’ve not been disappointed with the first 3.5 years and I expect plenty more games in the next 2 or 3 years as well. I own 59 titles for the system (not including about 50 more from Limited Run games) and have completed less than half of them. And there’s no evidence to suggest PS4 is slowing down with God of War, Spider-Man, The Last of Us 2, Days Gone, Death Stranding and more on the way (though I suspect Death Stranding will be the system’s swan song at the end of its life cycle), not to mention third party titles that will be available on multiple platforms.

I jumped on the Switch at launch as well and I thoroughly enjoyed Breath of the Wild and look forward to Cave Story+ next (even though that’s not new, per se) and have heard ARMS is surprising people with how fun and challenging it is. I think Nintendo has something hot on their hands that isn’t going to cool off for a while still and hopefully that will be reflected in the software down the road for the next 5 or 6 years as well. Since this little device is so unique apart from XB1 and PS4, I don’t see it having to sweat the advance of technology as much for a good while still.

Khajit Has Wares, But Are They Worth Coin?

Sony and Microsoft need to show me something jaw dropping for me to trust them enough to buy their shiny new hardware.

I think Sony’s already made their position clear regarding PS4 Pro. It’s the console enthusiast version of the PS4. Much like a good $800 PC will play most games on high settings and you’ll thoroughly enjoy those games without missing out, there are going to be people with $1800+ PCs that play everything on extreme settings while running 100 resource hog addons at the same time without a hitch. PS4 Pro is merely that higher end one, but nothing demanding PS4 owners to plop down another stack of cash to replace their PS4. Sony’s not trying to convince you otherwise, and if you don’t have a 4K television, it’s a moot point to begin with.

Now, will Microsoft treat consumers the same? Will they assure customers that their X-Box One is just as valid and just as much a focus this holiday season as the Scorpio system? One can hope. I would certainly hope Microsoft wouldn’t be arrogant enough to think they can put all their efforts to the new system and expect everyone to jump on it, especially after so many X-Box fans jumped ship to PS4 at the start of this generation and even more are seeing the PC as the best option for the X-Box exclusives. An X-Box isn’t an Apple product, after all.

In Conclusion

I’ve been gaming for around 26 years, give or take, just about a decade (little more, little less) than PSP has been drawn to the industry and its offerings. Perhaps it’s that decade difference of experience and observation that still has me wide eyed and bushy tailed where he’s resisting what I expect will be a temporary threat of cynicism.

It could also be a shift in tastes. I know Scott’s voiced preference for shorter play times and quick plays with his kids, over the sprawling narratives and vast open world games while I remain single and afforded the free time to explore a large Hyrule or take in the story of games like Uncharted or the mix of both with Horizon: Zero Dawn. I think there’s definitely a difference in approach to games for a husband and father who is self employed versus a single bachelor with time on his hands.

I really hope this happens. For almost 36 years now, I have been one of the loudest advocates for the video game industry, save for that one confusing period in the 90s. I hate that I have been starting to feel like that again, but there it is. Just give me something fun to play, folks. Show me some focus.

Please.

I just feel if further rests on tastes and what you’re looking for. There are a ton of great looking games coming out and while some look similar to one another (yes, I noted the Assassin’s Creed similarities while playing Horizon: Zero Dawn), that doesn’t make them the same ol’ same ol’ either. Each definitely have their own flavor to offer.

I don’t platinum games often, but I try to finish every game I pick up. Even when games don’t hit the mark, I still find them enjoyable in some way and appreciate the different things many try to accomplish, even if they don’t quite get there.

I’d be curious to know what Patrick Scott Patterson’s top 15 games (total, not each) from 360 / PS3 / Wii (and Wii U) are. It would definitely be interesting when watching E3 to speculate what, if anything, catches his eye.

For me, I’m looking forward to all of it. I’ve never been burned by my own E3 excitement. Honestly, and seriously, not once. Bring on the games so I can start budgeting the rest of my year. I’m sure October’s going to hurt, as always.

Going Retro: Getting into Game Collecting

Disclaimer: The top image is not my game collection….yet!

I went to GameStop a few years back (I don’t have nearly as much of a problem with them as some) and saw a friend of mine who was the store manager at the time. Before I left, she recommended I read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Her recommendation was so high that I wound up going to Barnes & Noble the same time to pick it up. I read the full book in a flight to Seattle and back.

I loved the book, but it also kindled a fire in me for nostalgia of my own childhood, primarily for video games. I started thinking about my backlog of games on current consoles and, like many gamers, wondered if I’d ever get through them all. Then the idea hit me: If I couldn’t play through all the games, why not start collecting them and curating a library of of the best ones?

I started by going to garage sales and looking for older games. One of the first I went to I met a guy who was also collecting and working towards a complete North American licensed release NES library. He invited me to join a Facebook group and I began to realize how many people were into retro game collecting. I decided I need t obetter define what games I wanted to start building my own library.

What Games To Get?

I started by thinking about consoles. I still had my NES, SNES, N64, GameCube, Genesis, and PS3 at this point. I decided I would try to get all the consoles I had played growing up and a “Top 100” library of the best games on each system. Then I’d also include memorable games I enjoyed as a child if they weren’t on the “Top 100” list. This meant acquiring an Atari 2600, Sega Saturn & Dreamcast, a Playstation and PS2. I didn’t include hand held systems as they have never been a big interest for me.

To determine a “best of” hunting list for each system, I started with sites like IGN and GameSpot that had done “Top 100” articles before. Next, I went to fogurms where posters had debated their picks for the best games with discussion and votes moving games up/down the list and adding/dropping off the list. I took the titles that appeared across each list and made that my Hunting List.

For example:
IGN Top 100 NES Games
Retro Sanctuary Top 100 Best NES Games
Game FAQs Top 100 NES Games

All in all, I actually came up with a list of:

  • 106 Atari 2600
  • 164 NES
  • 147 SNES
  • 101 Sega Genesis
  • 88 N64
  • 95 Sega Dreamcast
  • 83 GameCube
  • 215 PS2
  • 220 PS3

Obviously the “Top 100” grew with the additional titles I remembered and moreso as I decided to include infamously bad titles and all RPGs.

Benefits of the List, and How to Use It

I highly recommend creating a list to work from, even if you are going for a complete library of every title on a system. Put the list in Google Drive and get the app on your phone. I use a spreadsheet listing the titles and their Pricecharting value across 6 rows to minimize scrolling, divided up by systems. This way your list is always on hand and you can make sure you don’t buy a duplicate of something you’ve already picked up (so long as you update and save the file in Google Drive, of course).

I did mention I keep the price for each game from Pricecharting on my list. I’ve seen in some groups there are people who think Pricecharting is crap and should never be used. I’ve yet to understand why some think this. Pricecharting basically tracks prices of completed auctions from eBay to give an average price. Using completed auctions ensures you’re getting information based on what people are actually willing to pay. I don’t advise taking it as the absolute price, though. You can look at the auctions the data is coming from to make sure they’re recent. If not, you can go to ebay directly and see what recent prices were on sold listings. Sometimes Pricecharting doesn’t have recent data on their averages, but I find this an uncommon occurrence.

One thing to remember is these are largely eBay based prices, so I think it’s safe to push for a bit less than those prices since a seller would lose 10% to eBay fees, not to mention the hassle of shipping.

Where To Hunt for Games?

The simple answer is: everywhere.

Garage Sales / Flea Markets / Thrift Stores / Antique Stores
Obviously these are all hit or miss, but you never know what you might find. I always keep an eye out for other items completely unrelated to video games that I can flip for profit to further pay for game collecting such as vintage posters, Disney or Warner Bros. items, or anything that I think might be worth reasonably more than is being asked.

GameStop
If you’re looking for XBox 360, Playstation 3, Wii, or Wii U games, it’s worth looking into GameStop prices. There are some titles I’ve gotten much cheaper at GameStop than Pricecharting shows, meaning you’re actually better off with GameStop, especially if you have their Power Up Reward card. A few examples as of the time of this writing:

Sakura Wars on Wii is worth $25, but $13.50 with discount at GameStop
Arc Rise Fantasia on Wii is worth $34, but $27 with discount at GameStop
Ar tonelico Qoga: Kneel of Ar Ciel on PS3 is worth $22.50, but $9 with discount at GameStop

If you’re really lucky and can find a copy of Dokapon Kingdom at GameStop, it will run you $45 rather than $80 for just the disc.

It’s just a matter of researching the titles you’re looking for and checking if they have them near you, then going or calling to verify if they’re complete with manual. If you hunt during a Buy 2 Get 1 Free weekend, you can really clean up.

Half Price Books
People in a lot of gaming groups hate Half Price Books, primarily because they overprice games. I’ve found some stores do, some don’t, and some are reasonably in line with Pricecharting prices. I find it’s worth looking at least and I tend to drive around to as many as I can on the coupon weeks for 20-50% off coupon purchases. That’s how I got Skies of Arcadia on GameCube for $35 and Mario Cement Factory for $50.

Game Stores
The chain stores, such as Game X-Change, are unlikely to offer real deals unless you catch them slipping on values. Sometimes you’ll find fair prices on titles you’ve been looking for but haven’t had luck finding. Game X-Change also offers a B2G1 deal on all games $7.95 or less. This doesn’t help as you get to a point where you’re hunting more expensive titles, of course.

Your best bet is small independent stores where the owner is more likely to be willing to work a deal with you if you buy multiple games at a time and return with repeat business.

eBay
Of course, this is sort of a last resort, but if you’re patient and watch close, you’ll sometimes catch good deals on games you’ve been looking for with no luck for a long while.

Facebook Groups
You’ll find Facebook groups where people buy, sell, and trade their extra games. I recommend taking some time to get a feel for how the group is and if you want to work with them for trades.

Gaming Conventions
If you want to get a good deal at conventions, you probably want to work on your haggling skills and still go in with good games to trade and cash to spend. The last few conventions I’ve been to weren’t too great for deals, but were full of rare things you won’t find at the average store. You might use conventions to target rare and hard to find additions for your collection.

Grown Up Gaming: A Mistake and Playstation 3

I had now graduated college, had a job, and was living on my own. I was still playing games, but over the years I had sold and traded a lot of them. I decided I didn’t need to keep so much of my childhood and started cleaning out things to sell on eBay. He-Man toys. G.I. Joe toys. Ghostbusters toys. X-Men toys. And the video games. I didn’t sell everything, but I did sell most of what I had. I kept my consoles and my SNES and N64 boxed games such as Final Fantasy 3, Breath of Fire, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Star Fox 64, and more, but most of the rest went. The most painful probably is Bucky O’Hare, which has really gone up since I sold it and will be painful to replace.

Playstation 3

Included in the selling was my Playstation 2 once I got the first release, backwards compatible, Playstation 3. I didn’t intend to buy it, but it was time for a new TV and when I was getting that from Best Buy, a 3 year no interest plan made the TV, an HD DVD player, a Playstation 3, and a fancy surge protector a good combo deal. The first game I remember playing was Lair, which looked like it would be a mix of Star Fox and Panzer Dragoon. Sadly, it wasn’t very good, though there was some potential there.

Nothing is Forbidden

I played the first Assassin’s Creed game not too long after it came out and found it interesting, but very repetitive after a while. I also found it hard to pull off the full stealth for assassination missions. My Altair wound up being more of a warrior than an assassin.

Yeah, that’s about how I wound up most of the time.

The sequel, however, made huge improvements to the first’s foundation and was absolutely better in every category one could ask to be improved. Brotherhood built on some of the sequel’s features while Revelations seemed to scale back just a bit, but provided a satisfying conclusion to Ezio’s story arc. The third numbered entry wasn’t as well received by some, but I still liked it, especially the sailing portions (which was then expanded for a larger focus in both Rogue and Black Flag).

The Dark Knight Arrived

Of course I can’t write this entry without talking about Batman. Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, and even Arkham Origins. For the first time, Batman was fully realized in a video game with combat, gadgets, and even some detective work. I thought the end of Asylum was a bit weird with Hulk-Joker, but the story and experience was outstanding. For me, Arkham City was even better with access to part of Gotham, a higher stake story, and the feeling of actually grappling and gliding from building to building. Most don’t care for Arkham Origins, but I still liked it as a prequel and was satisfied with it forming a “Joker trilogy” on the PS3. I would have been fine if Arkham Knight had focused entirely on other villains without Joker at all. Origins also made me really appreciate Troy Baker’s performance of Mark Hamill as the Joker.

The best Batman scene from Hollywood felt like these games came to life.

Bustin’ Made Me Feel Good

Another great game on PS3 was Ghostbusters, which stands as the true “third movie” for me. It should have been the general framework of the connective tissue between Ghostbusters II and the Sony reboot (which I still think should have been a continuation with the new team opening a franchise or taking over the original location after the Stantz & Co. retired). A friend and I got to see a preview of the game before release at a local anime convention. The Terminal Reality dev team at the panel recognized our functioning replicas of Crow and Servo from Mystery Science Theater 3000 and invited us to come to the front of the room and take the mics to riff on their gameplay trailer. That was certainly a lot of fun and they seemed to get a kick out of it, even using a few of our joke comments to bring up gameplay points.

MST3K with Ghostbusters 03

Made them ourselves and I still have the two bots.

He’s Always So Angry…

I played the God of War Games on PS3 rather than PS2 and while the games were fun to play, I never really liked Kratos. He was just too much of an idiot for my tastes and I didn’t like the story direction being repeatedly “trick Kratos to kill things because he’s an angry moron.” Another series I didn’t like the direction of during this console generation was Resident Evil, but I played through 5 and 6 with a friend on co-op. They were fun gameplay wise, but the story and events just got too over the top ridiculous.

Rock on!

There were a lot of good games on PS3 I missed due to work and money, but the biggest factor was probably that I was still playing World of Warcraft and one other PS3 game: Rockband. My friends and I played this game a lot and it was the go-to party game any time we had a group of people over. I don’t know how much I spent on DLC songs and packs, but I’m sure it was no small amount. Once Rockband was out, the only offering Guitar Hero had that got our attention was Guitar Hero: Metallica. Bonus note: Playing drums on expert can give you a decent cardio workout after a while.

Raiding Tombs

Towards the end of PS3’s life, Square & Crystal Dynamics released Tomb Raider, a reboot of the franchise that started with Lara’s first adventure for a mystical artifact that became a fight for survival. I enjoyed the game immensely, though I did feel it was a bit light on puzzle filled tombs the early games seem to be most fondly remembered for. It also lacked dual wielding pistols against dinosaurs, but one thing at a time, I suppose. I did like the silent attacks of the bow and arrow, though. If I can utilize a ninja playstyle, I will play like a ninja.  Except as Altair, apparently.

Thieving Tombs?

Of course, Lara’s reboot owed much to her previous imitator and PS3’s breakout star: Nathan Drake with the Uncharted trilogy. My friend recommended the first to me when the second was announced, I think. I played the first and jumped on the other two as they released. Honestly, the games are so good, I’d rather see them become a film franchise more than see them continue milking the Indiana Jones films. Uncharted could definitely be the Indy of a new generation. The one thing Uncharted definitely has that I feel is sorely lacking in Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider is Victor “Sully” Sullivan. I love that character.

An End to Metal Gear

Hideo Kojima brought the Metal Gear Solid storyline to a close with Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (not that the series ended, of course, but further titles were prequels in terms of timeline). Thus, MGS4 was the canonical conclusion to both Big Boss and Snake’s stories. And it was a hell of an ending. I’ve felt satisfied with game endings before, but this is the only game that truly put a lump in my throat and a sting in my eye. I didn’t cry, but yeah, my eyes got a little teary eyed. Otacon’s struggle to explain to Sunny Snake had something to take care of, knowing he had left to commit suicide was hard. Seeing Snake almost do it was uncomfortable. Then seeing the talk between Big Boss and Snake before Big Boss said his final goodbyes was rather poignant. I was glad to see Kojima give Snake an ending of peace for the last few years of his life.

Dragon Age

The most stand out memorable experience for me on PS3, though, was definitely Dragon Age: Origins. I have still not played through the Knights of the Old Republic games, so this was really my first Bioware RPG since Neverwinter Nights. I played through as a female Daelish rogue archer the first time, focused on saving the world more than the personal relationships and side quests. I remember finishing the game around midnight or 1AM and after the credits finished, I made a male Daelish rogue and started anew, intending to go with the two-sword duelist instead. In this play through, I got to know Morrigan better, who I already liked for her snarky attitude despite refusing her offer at the end on my first playthrough. This time, I not only pursued more about her, but wound up romancing her and loved the change in her character as you get past the facade she wears. To see the uncertain and even fragile side of this badass character was interesting to me. I poured hours into my second play through, exploring everything and playing out my choices with more thought. I did all the DLC available at launch, exploring the Wardens’ Keep and recruiting Shale (who I loved as a character as well).

Accepting Morrigan’s offer since she had gained my trust as a companion, I transferred my Warden over to the Awakening expansion. I liked Anders alright, but really wish Oghren had shown up in later games. With that expansion complete, I waited for the final DLC: Witch Hunt. My Warden pursued Morrigan and had a rather touching final conversation before following her into the portal to raise their child together. I did like how the Warden of Origins is discussed by Morrigan in Inquisition if you romanced her and went through the portal with little comments about how unbearable he’ll be for her asking for help and what she details the Warden is up to during Inquisition.

I wouldn’t quite say she’s quite waifu level, but I really loved the character.

In contrast, I was very disappointed in Dragon Age 2, as many were. I liked the idea of a single, sprawling city location and a long period of time covered, but the game was nothing like Origins. The combat seemed like a straight hack & slash with enemy respawns just falling from the sky half the time. I felt little need to use strategy or even give the party commands. Also disappointing was the lack of political intrigue. I expected a lot of political maneuvering as the Champion of Kirkwall moved up in standing as a known figure with your choices impacting the city and who would ally and support you versus oppose you. Instead the trial of Loghain offered more than all of Dragon Age 2.

What was more frustrating was the lack of choices having any illusion of impact. I think this was largely due to letters telling you of any effect shortly after those decisions were made rather than being held until the end of the game as well as the fact that there simply wasn’t much to alter. Even setting the Anders conclusion aside, the quest disappointed me. I agreed to help him and once we had gathered everything, it felt more like the developers forgot about it more than anything. I never saw the ritual he claimed he would perform attempted. I expected him to at least put on a theatrical ritual to give the appearance of doing what he claimed to have planned. Instead he just seems to say he’ll get around to it later and never mentions it again until the one-conclusion Anders ending came along.

Even all of this might have worked had the game carried an overarching theme of destiny/fate vs free will and questioned if the Champion’s efforts could have ever altered the future Flemeth and Morrigan had foreseen. I also felt like the game suffered by being “Dragon Age 2” and then not seeming at all like Origins. I think I would have tempered my expectations if they had said up front it was a different style and different approach and called is something like Dragon Age: Kirkwall Chronicles or Dragon Age: Hawke of Kirkwall or something of the sort rather than a numbered sequel.

4/17/17 Edit: A Forgotten Title

One game that came at the end of PS3’s life and was considered a crowning achievement that I really enjoyed was The Last of Us. I’m not sure if there’s really much that needs to be said about the game. The story was well done and the characters developed quite well. As far as gameplay goes, it was a pretty fun blend of survival horror, third person shooter, and stealth depending on how well you managed various scenarios. I felt remiss not mentioning it once I realized I had excluded it, so felt it was at least worth editing and adding a note on this title.

And So, Here We Are

That wraps up my most memorable games for the Playstation 3 and the transition of Growing Up Gaming to Grown Up Gaming. I didn’t have a Wii nor any X-Box consoles during this time either. However, I would soon turn my eyes back to the past once I began the hobby of retro game collecting, which I’ll discuss next time.

Growing Up Gaming – PS2 & GameCube

We now reach a milestone in my gaming experience as I entered a new phase of my life. The majority of my experiences with both GameCube and Playstation 2 is set at college where I had both consoles and continued to play EverQuest. I spent the first two years of college going to a 2 year (or junior or community) college and saved money by continuing to live with my parents. I don’t have any stark memories of these consoles during these 2 years as I still spent most of my time on the PC.

As I detailed previously, I was deeply into EverQuest, so a lot of my time was spent on that. I also played a fair bit of Diablo, but the bulk of my time was EverQuest with a little still spent on Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II. My console time started up again the latter half of my college career when I went to a university. I lived in a technically on campus apartment complex with four small bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a living area with kitchen.

I was fortunate enough to share the apartment with three guys I knew from high school. One hooked up his Dreamcast in the living room and I provided the GameCube as these two were designed with four player hook ups. The Playstation 2 was in my bedroom. I remember two of the first games I got for PS2 were Dark Cloud and Ephemeral Fantasia. I didn’t get too far in Dark Cloud and although I really enjoyed Ephemeral Fantasia, I never finished it. I didn’t like the ticking clock mechanic for Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, but found it acceptable here for some reason.

The coolest part of Ephemeral Fantasia was, like Ocarina of Time, playing music. It was more challenging than the ocarina music and I seem to recall there was a free form option as well, but I may be wrong on that.

I had to use an online guide to get pointed in the right direction at times, but the game was fun. It is probably the one PS2 game I would most like to revisit and play through fully that I didn’t complete in the past. Even though it wasn’t reviewed terribly favorably, and is probably fairly average at best, I enjoyed it.

The next memorable game I’d note would be the first Spider-Man game based on the Sam Raimi film. The game itself was a decent game, and I played through it on normal, then on the harder difficulty and had a lot of fun… until a level chasing Green Goblin through the city. Oh the profanities that came from my room were of great entertainment to my roommates (one of whom equally entertained us with the same playing Dreamcast fighting games).

Spider-Man 2, however, was leaps and bounds above the first with the first open world New York City and actual web swinging physics. If there was no building for a web to theoretically attach to, you could shoot a web in the direction. Combined with button combinations to pull off acrobatics while web swinging, the game was fun to just swing around the city being the wall crawler. Speed was based on releasing your web at the right time, you dived off buildings rather than just jumped off, there was a lot of intricacies put into web swinging. Honestly, after they simplified web swinging in the next game, I don’t feel any have matched the feel of it since this one.

Of course I picked up Final Fantasy X, the first fully voice acted Final Fantasy game. I remember particularly liking the Sphere Grid leveling progression system and I never really felt the voice acting was terrible. Looking back, even Tidus’ horrid laugh doesn’t bother me too much. I feel in the context of the scene, it’s supposed to be cringeworthy and awkward. It’s a forced laugh, that’s the whole point of that scene. Nothing’s funny, nothing amusing has happened, he’s forcing a laugh for Yuna’s sake. But that’s just me, I suppose! To Zanarkand is also one of my favorite pieces of music from Final Fantasy as a series.

While people were getting their violence kicks in Grand Theft Auto games, I opted to be violent on The Punisher instead. Not the best game ever made, but still fairly solid and it had the over the top “execution” kills if you had an enemy at the right place when they were almost finished off.

Over on the GameCube, there are a few games I particularly enjoyed, but possibly not the first one would venture to guess. First and foremost is probably Hunter: The Reckoning. Based on the tabletop RPG by White Wolf, the video game was a four player isometric game akin to Diablo and with the four of us in the apartment, it was a lot of fun. We played through it a few times and I believe we beat it as a group on the hardest difficulty. An amusing memory was being surrounded by enemies everywhere and telling our friend playing the biker character to use the cleave ability to which he yelled back “What’s a cleave?!”

Similar to Hunter: The Reckoning, a one of the roommates and I played the GameCube Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. Hours upon hours were sunk into that game, playing late into the night, much to our roomate’s chagrin. Put away the torhces and pitchforks, though, as the same friend and I also played Baldur’s Gate on PC (though we never finished it….we got so close to the end and never knew it).

Continuing the trend of these isometric RPGs, X-Men Legends and X-Men Legends II were a huge draw for the same friend that joined me on Baldur’s Gate. Playing as the X-Men and actually building a team that you could play off each other with combos was great. While Marvel: Ultimate Alliance came in the next generation, I’d love to see a new X-Men Legends game.

Similarly, there’s Champions of Norrath, a game set in EverQuest’s world of Norrath. While the game made absolutely no geographical sense for those who knew the world from the MMO, it was fun enough to play. With Daybreak Games shuttering EverQuest Next, I’d honestly love to see a new single player EverQuest game set in Norrath akin to the Champions titles or more like Dragon Age, The Witcher Series, Kingdoms of Amalur, or in an Elder Scrolls style.

I loyally continued with the Star Fox franchise as well, picking up both Star Fox Adventures and Star Fox Assault. Surprising enough, I think I actually enjoyed Adventures more. I would have liked Krystal to have been a more active partner in the story rather than trapped in a crystal (har har), but having enjoyed Ocarina of Time, I liked Legend of Star Fox: Adventures in Time well enough as the game basically blended Zelda concepts and put Fox McCloud in place as the protagonist.

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“YOU STOLE MY GAME, FOX!”

Knowing the history of the game, even setting it in Star Fox universe, I’ll agree I’d have preferred Krystal to be the protagonist, perhaps rescuing the Star Fox team after being forced to land on Dinosaur Planet after a battle or the like. Star Fox Assault, on the other hand, seemed like a less than superb attempt to recapture Star Fox 64’s polish, but the dog fights never felt as hectic as they did on N64. The graphics were certainly a nice step up from N64, though.

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As always, Slippy. As always.

I had been thrilled with Resident Evil 2 through Code Veronica, so when the original was remade on GameCube, I picked it up. I believe I may have played only part of Playstation’s version and after finishing GameCube, I went back to play it again fully. I also enjoyed Resident Evil 0. Does anyone ever wonder what happened to Billy after all these years? In the same vein as Resident Evil, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem was a great game as well.

Another game I can’t recall which I played first, spanning both consoles, is Metal Gear Solid. I don’t recall if I played the original on Playstation or if I went back to play it after Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes on GameCube. Meanwhile, Playstation 2 had Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and later Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, all of which I played as they released and thoroughly enjoyed. Well, maybe less so on Metal Gear Solid 2. Sorry, Raiden, but I’m not a fan of yours.

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I don’t remember all the details, but I was a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer prior to college, so I did pick up the game “Chaos Bleeds” on GameCube to play. Though I don’t remember much of the game, I remember I did like it overall both in story and gameplay. I seem to remember the combat wasn’t too bad.

Lastly for these consoles, I’d note The Lord of the Rings movie tie ins, The Two Towers and Return of the King, the latter of which improved greatly over the former. For some reason, I played Two Towers on PS2 and Return of the King on GameCube, but I don’t think there’s much difference between the two to really warrant suggesting one system over the other. A bit of a smaller scale Dynasty Warriors combat with RPG character progression, the games followed the general story and were fun to play.

A few honorable mentions would probably be Okami on PS2, Enter the Matrix on GameCube (I liked it at the time), Star Wars: Rogue Leader & Rebel Strike in the Rogue Squadron series on GameCube while Jedi Starfighter was on PS2, Onimusha series on PS2, True Crime: Street of LA on PS2, and Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone on PS2 (why Wizards of the Coast hasn’t done a full Drizzt or Elminster game is beyond me).

I played Smash Bros. Melee a little, but we overall preferred the original on N64 more than the GameCube version in the apartment. I never did play Twilight Princess, though I’ve since picked it up and hope to eventually, though I’ll likely play the HD version on Wii U.

Moving on from college, though made for Playstation 2 it was brought to PC, where I played it. That game would be Final Fantasy XI. I had stopped playing EverQuest by this point and a friend of mine was excited for the Final Fantasy MMO finally coming to America. Three of us signed up and started it, but I didn’t last nearly as long as others did.

The Vana’diel March is still one of the most memorable pieces for me.

There were a few problems from the start, such as randomized server placement making us delete and recreate characters until luck put us on the same server. The only other option was a ridiculously cost prohibitive friend invite pass to bring another player to your server. I want to say it was 100,000 if not 1 million gil, which might have been reasonable for the Japanese players who had a year of economy going, but American players were started on the same servers with no gil and an economy already rife with inflation.

I fell behind my friends as they played up to 12 hours a day for a couple weeks when they were between jobs and eventually found myself spending more time shouting “Looking for group” to find a party than actually playing the game. Thus ended my stint in Final Fantasy XI. Now that the PS2 servers are down and I presume the PC servers will follow one day, it would be nice to see Square Enix create a single player version to keep the game alive in some form for the future. Perhaps the mobile edition they’ve mentioned is their intent to do so in a different format.

The last game I played on PS2 was Final Fantasy XII. I enjoyed it to some extent, but wasn’t a fan of the MMO grind in a single player game, perhaps partially because of my distaste for grinding after Final Fantasy XI. Still, I had every intention of continuing to play the game through to completion, but when the Playstation 3 came out, I sold my PS2 when I got a first gen PS3. The problem was the PS3 wanted to pump Final Fantasy XII through in 1080p and the game looked more pixelated and messy than a Playstation 1 game. As such, I’m eagerly looking forward to another chance with this title with the forthcoming HD remake.

Final Fantasy: Star Wars on Ivalice

That’s all for my trip down memory lane with the Playstation 2 and GameCube. I’d estimate there are only three posts left in this series and the next one will bring us right back to the world of MMOs with the one that changed the landscape forever: World of Warcraft.

Growing Up Gaming – Playstation

Like so many others, I started the shift to Playstation from Nintendo for one game in particular. Final Fantasy VII.

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Final Fantasy II and III (still talking US SNES here) made me a full Final Fantasy fanatic. When Squaresoft announced the next installment on Playstation, it was already no question I would get it, but then the commercials showed off some cut scenes and it was like the future had arrived. The cut scenes they showed were like nothing we’d had seen before. If you go back to look at them now, they still aren’t that bad, but certainly show their age.

Then there are the graphics of the actual game. They aren’t too bad in combat, and the backgrounds were definitely beautiful, but the polygonal block bodies of the characters are certainly rough. The game definitely had weaknesses, not helped by some poor localization translations due to a rather short deadline given to the localization team. It has since developed a divided opinion with some feeling it’s an overrated entry and others feeling it’s the best entry in the series.

Personally, I had leaned towards it being a great game that was still overrated, but have started leaning back towards it being pretty damn good. I’m not sure it’s the best entry in the series and I honestly don’t want to try to narrow down a de facto decision of which I think is the absolute best, but Final Fantasy VII, in my mind, definitely deserves its praise.I think Sephiroth is generally overrated and JENOVA is generally underrated in the game’s dual villain dichotomy. While I liked all of the cast, and I was stunned when Aeris (Aerith!) was killed, my favorite team was Cloud, Tifa, and Red XIII (Tifa being the best of waifus past, present, or future).

Hopefully the forthcoming remake collection will make the game what it truly should be, with improved localization and fleshed out segments that were clunky or unclear in the original release.

The summons got more details in their animations and more impressive, but there was one thing I particularly didn’t like about them – too many Bahamuts. I’m on board with Bahamut being among the strongest summons, if not THE strongest, but having Bahamut Zero, Neo-Bahamut, and Super Hyper Ultra Supreme Zeta Excelsior Turbo Arcade Capcom Bahamut got a bit much.

I finished Final Fantasy VIII on the system, but didn’t like the game nearly as much, especially the Draw system. The graphics were a clear improvement over the polygons of VII, but are still pretty rough to go back to today and the story and characters weren’t as memorable for me. I will give VIII credit on having a better ending than VII, though, since it actually had a conclusion for the main characters while VII basically gave us a Final Fantasy ending for Disney’s The Lion King.

I loved Final Fantasy IX much more than its predecessor and it ranks highly in my all time favorites in the series. With the return of characters being specific classes, the game seemed able to really set scenes to give each character their own story arc with personality and growth.It was alos a nice change to have the more cheerful world and cast after the darker, even angsty, atmosphere of the previous two games. Even Final Fantasy VI was a good bit darker, particularly the second half. While I said previously that I would be hard pressed to pinpoint my absolute favorite Final Fantasy, I do think IX is my favorite ending of them all, and definitely my favorite ending of the series on Playstation.

The other Final Fantasy game often overlooked on the system is Final Fantasy Tactics. I had not played tactical RPGs with the aforementioned exception of Shining Force II. I actually liked the earlier portion of Tactics as the story is more grounded in the war and political intrigue amidst the kingdoms before it gets into demons and monsters and nefarious looming evils.

Though I loved Final Fantasy VII, another RPG I have fond memories of came out alongside it on the Playstation – Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete. Where Square Enix was breaking new ground with CG cut scenes gaming hadn’t seen the equal to before, Lunar (originally on Sega CD) had beautifully animated anime cut scenes and vocal songs that kicked off right from the intro. It is a fantastic game a lot of voice acting (and includes a collection of outtakes and bloopers at the end, which get rather amusing).

 

There are so many RPGs on Playstation and so many I never played as a result. A few others I particularly enjoyed were Star Ocean: The Second Story, Wild Arms, Breath of Fire III, and Tales of Destiny. Chrono Cross was a good RPG, but came off feeling a little disappointing for me as a follow up to Chrono Trigger. Likewise, I enjoyed Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete, but not as much as Silver Star Story.

Moving away from RPGs, Playstation pulled me far into a new genre: Survival Horror. I had been exposed to the genre with Alone in the Dark on PC, but didn’t get too far in that one. Now Resident Evil 2 truly dragged me into it. I learned to dread the “click click click” of Lickers and became paranoid of a sudden burst of glass with dogs or ravens coming for me. I really knew to be worried if I found a room with a ribbon, ammo, and herbs with a typewriter. This led me to go back to play the first one and I then continued with each main entry since.

Playstation also had Spider-Man, which was the first really good Spider-Man game (also available on N64) that let you climb the walls and ceilings as well as web swing on top of good combat. It was followed by the equally good Spider-Man: Enter Electro. While the games may not seem as good today, especially without an open world, they were absolutely great at their time. These games began the tradition of having unlockable costumes that I really hope continues on the new Playstation 4 game.

The last game to have the a long lasting impact on me from the Playstation is Metal Gear Solid. I most remember the trippy 4th wall break with Psycho Mantis being such a surprise. The solution was quite clever as well, though it drove me nuts figuring out the call frequency that’s given to you on the back of the case. The Metal Gear Solid theme is one of my favorite video game music pieces.

This line up is far from complete, though. I played Crash Bandicoot and was introduced to Spyro the Dragon on the system. Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver was a lot of fun as well. And yet despite all the good memories on Playstation, I still barely scratched the surface of what was available. As with every console I collect for, hopefully I’ll be able to get back to more of them some day.

That’s it for this entry. Next up, I’ll briefly discuss my time with the overshadowed Nintendo 64.

 

National Videogame Museum Opens Its Doors

The National Videogame Museum (NVM) opened in Frisco, TX on April 2, 2016. It was a bright, sunny Saturday morning. 10:00 AM, to be precise, was the opening of the doors. I was there and I was excited. Obviously, it’s taken a while for me to get to writing my thoughts on the grand opening of the nation’s, the world’s, first museum dedicated to the history of video games (I use “video game” though the museum officially uses “videogame”).

I had arrived at the Frisco Discovery Center, where the NVM is located, at 10:05 with a bit of a hurried step. I wanted to get in with plenty of time to look around as I was meeting someone in 3 hours to hand over some video games I had accumulated that weren’t going into my collection. I knew the doors opened at 10, so I went right in. And found the line. I followed the line outside again and saw just how many had arrived to see the history of their hobby.

There were a lot. The Museum holds about 240 people and the line was well out of the building and along the sidewalk, starting to curl around the build like a human formation of Nibbles.

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One or two people showed up

I stood in line with a mother whose 7 year old son was running around playing with other kids while they waited. Preston was here to see more about video game history, particularly Pac-Man and Galaga. I learned something from Preston’s mother in the hour we waited outside.

Pixels was a good movie. That’s right, Pixels.

Pixels

Yes, THAT Pixels.

Preston saw Pixels more than once in theaters and probably a dozen times at home since it released on blu-ray and DVD. Pixels introduced this young boy to Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Q*bert, and made him want to learn more. He went to Google and began reading about these games and these characters and when they came out. He grew interested not only in the games themselves, but their history.

If a 7 year old boy loves a movie about video game characters, and that movie drives him to pursue the history of the industry, then I have to say the movie did something right. Adults and critics may not like it, but if it stirred the interest and curiosity of children, then it’s a good movie by my measure.

And so, there we were, at the first museum in the nation that would let him explore more of that history. TekForce was present and volunteered to provide music and MC the waiting room that we reached at 11 o’clock. I was able to speak with him a moment and learned that the museum was expecting 1,500 visitors for the grand opening day. In the first hour, they were adjusting expectations to 4,000. They underestimated how many people would come out for the grand opening.

As we waited for our ticket groups to be called there were pictures available to color, music played, and a couch set up with a Wii U and Super Mario Bros. available to play. Kids were having a great time. There was also trivia to win prizes – the question I was present for was regarding Pac-Man’s original name (The answer is Puck Man).

At 11:35, our ticket group was called up and we finally went into the NVM lobby to pay for our tickets to the museum proper. Tickets are $12 for adults, but include $1 worth of tokens for the arcade at the end of the museum. By noon, 2 hours after arrival, I finally set foot inside.

The Museum is divided into 16 stages, all of which cover a different portion of video game history.

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But first, you’re greeted by Mario

 

Stage 1, “Begin” covers the early days of video game history. In fact, with Ralph Baer’s “Brown Box Prototype” on display, it might be safe to say this touches on video game pre-history and then advances through history from there.

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An important aspect of the NVM is that it’s not just exhibits to look at and read. There are a lot of interactive features at the museum, mostly in the form of playable games in the exhibits. Almost every Stage has something you can play.

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Just like the one you grew up with, right?

Stage 2, “Timeline” is the most time consuming interactive option. With screens set up above oversized Super Nintendo controllers, this allows visitors to browse every single video game console ever released to get some information about them. Release year, MSRP, some highlighted games, as well as notorious games, and some of the most valuable on the system can be reviewed. There are 53 different consoles to read about, all of which are on display on the wall.

Stage 3, “Third Party” showcases a number of the third party titles that helped consoles excel with the public. Pitfall, which is playable in the exhibit, Stampede, Megamania, River Raid are on display in their original boxes in a display case while some notable Nintendo entries from Activision share the bottom shelf of the display with Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II, Rampage, and more.

Stage 4, “Control” is, quite simply, a full wall with a history of controllers through the years. Multiple controllers from each system are displayed, as well as a disassembled Atari 5200 controller.

Stage 5, “Portable” explores portable games. Game n’ Watch is on display, along with others that pre-dated the Game Boy most think of when “portable gaming” is mentioned.

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Again, there are playable games set up here as well. However, one of the most notable items features in this display is the Barbie Edition Game Boy, which is an unreleased prototype Game Boy Pocket. Supposedly the deal never went through and only two of the systems, along with a gaudy carry case, were made.

Stage 6, “Crash” is ironically my favorite exhibit, despite its dark days in gaming history. It deals with the video game crash of 1983. The first thing I liked was the introduction plaque does detail that the cause of the crash is much more complicated than the simple examples often cited, but not without being self aware of these rumors. Poor E.T. still appears in the stage’s image, even though it’s acknowledged the game was not the cause.

What I really liked about this exhibit, though, was the “going out of business” store front. With various 80s items such as Pac Man trading cards and bubble gum under the glass, a Top 5 sign for the week’s hottest games (which includes E.T., I might add), and a sign indicating the store is going out of business, it’s a very nicely done presentation.

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I promise I was also NOT the cause of the crash.

Stage 7, “Rise” presents the return of video games, stronger than ever, on both computer and with the Nintendo Entertainment System. A lot, and I do mean a lot, of set ups are here to play and interact with.

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At this point, as you venture through the museum, you’ll find the bathrooms. Not exactly something you’d think worth mentioning, but this is the NATIONAL VIDEOGAME MUSEUM, so of course the bathroom entries are worth mentioning with their clever indication of “Men’s” and “Women’s” signs.

 

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Women’s

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Men’s

Stage 8, “Create” presents games moving from just being games and actually involving the user in the creative process. Games like Mario Paint are on display, but I wasn’t able to spend much time hands on (there were a lot of people here, remember?).

Stage 9, “Invent” presents a theoretical game studio’s office. Games adorn the shelves, a PC and work station are present, various articles and news clippings are framed on the walls.

Stage 10, “Transmit” discusses the rise of online gaming with various Blizzard entries, Quake, and two terminals that visitors can use to communicate and send a webcam image to each other on either side of the exhibit with.

Stage 11, “Listen” details music coming into games more with entries such as Parappa the Rapper and, of course, Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution.

Stage 12, “Unplugged” is likely to surprise many visitors with the various board games that were released based on video game properties. Frogger, Q*bert, Pac-Man, Legend of Zelda, and more are all on display.

Across from “Unplugged” is an exhibit showcasing various items. Systems, the Pokemon series, rare and valuable games, this section is an eclectic mix of things that didn’t belong to a single exhibit, but are definitely fun to look at.

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Before venturing to the next stage, there’s also an exhibit with various pieces of merchandise, including the wearable Mega Man helmet.

Stage 13, “Family” accurately portrays a family living room from the 1980s, with a console hooked up for play on the television, a fake plant, wood panel walls, and a Dogs Playing Poker painting on the wall! There are even family photos on display.

Stage 14, “Sanctuary” depicts a teen’s bedroom. Bear in mind, the NVM is in Frisco, Tx, so if you aren’t a Cowboys and Rangers fan, forgive the decor!

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A Pac-Man throw pillow, 80s movie posters, a record playing 80s music, and a Mario phone. It’s worth noting that the visitor I caught in this picture….still had trouble with the NES Zapper hitting the ducks in Duck Hunt.

Stage 15, “Respect” isn’t an exhibit so much as an art display. A cube art mural of Ralph Baer hangs near the conclusion of the museum tour.

Stage 16, “Bonus” is a collection of framed posters, displays, arcade machines, and a life size statue of Gabriel Belmont. Along the wall next to Stage 16 are a line of consoles, all of which had someone playing them. I did get to finally play a bit of Bonk’s Adventure on Turbo Grafx-16, though. Above the consoles is a mural with a number of recognizable video game characters.

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Stage 16 leads to an 80s style arcade to conclude the tour of the National Videogame Museum. The lights are dark and lit more by the neon marquees and the screens of video games than overhead light and it was packed with a person on just about every cabinet. A machine is in the arcade to give tokens for dollar bills in case your 4 tokens from entry aren’t enough to get your gaming fix.

Finally, you exit the arcade to find yourself in the gift shop. I didn’t look at everything, but overall they had some cool items in there. Some books particularly caught my eye and they were all priced reasonably compared to Amazon.

I’ve gone on for over 1700 words about this museum and don’t think I’ve scratched describing it. I was hopeful for this endeavor after visiting the “History of Videogames” exhibit at the Experience Music Project museum in Seattle, WA, but this is far beyond what was presented there.

The one thing I’d like to see NVM add if they are ever able to expand in size is to build a display library for every system. The curators, I believe, have only brought out a small part of their overall collection. I would love to see a glass display shelving every Atari or NES title in their boxes. In time, seeing every video game on every system lined up on shelves, their spines facing out would be truly a sight to see.

If conclusion, if you’re in the DFW area in Texas and have time to get to Frisco, the National Videogame Museum is well worth your time. I only had a couple of hours available and don’t feel like it was remotely enough time. I’m looking forward to going back with friends when they come into town, but I might have to sneak an extra trip before they make it.

My only hope is that they get repeat business and are able to stay open for a long time to come. Video games have become a huge part of our culture, both in America and across the globe, and it’s great to see a museum preserving and sharing their history.

 

How Resident Evil’s Horror Could Survive

Capcom has been going in new directions with Resident Evil for a while now with mixed results.  After being one of the most well known series in the survival horror genre with Resident Evil 1-3 and Code Veronica, Resident Evil was always an anticipated release when a new installment was announced.  The Resident Evil REmake and Resident Evil 0 were well received on GameCube and a Resident Evil 2 REmake is one of the most fan requested games out there.

But with Resident Evil 4, Capcom switched to over the shoulder gameplay rather than the old clunky “tank control” scheme, yet 4 was still highly praised despite getting away from Umbrella Corporation’s T-Virus.  That warm reception wasn’t waiting for Resident Evil 5, which followed Chris Redfield and his new partner Shiva in Africa where the T-Virus’s origins were first discovered and Umbrella as fans came to know it was born (which las plagas from Resident Evil 4 still factored in).  Resident Evil 5 split fans as the game seemed to get further away from its survival horror roots and go more towards an action game.  Resident Evil 6 had fans hopeful with the apparent return to a city devastated by a new outbreak similar to Raccoon City, but while the game started with more familiar elements of survival horror, it started showing signs of action. When the game picks up with Chris Redfield, it’s more of that action game style with giants stomping through cities and battles of 2 men against tanks.  The final chapter takes it even further with motorcyles outrunning tanks and jumping over helicopters and a plane crashing into a city before a fresh outbreak of a new virus.

Resident Evil has been going bigger and bigger like a Hollywood action film. Explosions are more frequent than tense jump scares as Capcom has sought to pursue a more broad audience.  Left in its wake are the faithful fans who still long for survival horror like Resident Evil was built upon.

Resident Evil Revelations 2 is supposed to be a return to survival horror while still using the over the shoulder model and hopefully Capcom gets it right.  We’ll see how that pans out in February 2015, but in the meantime, here are a few things that I think Capcom should do with the series to get it back on track.

1. Start over but continue forward
Fans are familiar with the established characters of Resident Evil.  Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, Rebecca Chambers, Leon Kennedy, Claire Redfield, and Albert Whesker are the familiar faces the series follows, but that may also be detrimental at this point as well.  These characters are likewise familiar with these events. While they tried to give Chris some PTSD elements, he’s overall able to push through and Leon has become so hardened to bioweapons he’s pretty much a specialist specifically for such operations.

For that reason, I think it’s time to get away from bioweapons being common and time for the old cast to step aside for new characters.  For Resident Evil 7, I would set the game about 5-10 years after Resident Evil 6.  After the incident in China, almost all nations around the globe unified to outlaw the research on bioweapons and aggressively hunted down any cells still continuing work from the days of Umbrella (and Neo-Umbrella was just a ridiculous name).  Essentially start the game in a world where the events of Resident Evil 1-6 are a dark mark in human history but no indication of such things have been seen for years now.

Set the game anywhere you like, though I would likely pick a more remote country – perhaps somewhere in South America. Perhaps an Interpol task force or a drug taskforce infiltrate a compound on information of a major drug production operation.  During the infiltration, something goes wrong and only a handful make it into the facility (yes, mirroring the set up of the original Resident Evil).  As they begin to investigate the facility, they find out a group has been doing research from the ground up based off Umbrella’s T-Virus and have successfully recreated it.  Thus we are thrown back into a game where the protagonist is just as terrified as the player is when creatures start coming at them rather than cool and collected and the player is dealing with claustrophobic corridors, zombie workers, undead dogs, spiders, rats, or whatever creatures you like, and a few mutants as well.  Perhaps you can even bring back a new version of Tyrant if you really wanted.

The key point is to get back to basics of the plot and have this scenario be completely new to the characters in the story so they have reason to be terrified.  Sure, people would have still heard of these things, but even 5 years after the China incident, a 25 year old operative would have been in college and possibly less than concerned with such events.  It yields itself for fear from the characters and if done well, that fear will be passed on to the player as the new research can be completely unknown and with enough variations the game can keep players unsure of what to expect.

2. Over the shoulder, under pressure

The over the shoulder perspective worked well in Resident Evil 4 and has worked well ever since on its own.  Slow moving zombies are easy to get headshots on when you’re able to aim reliably.  But 6 headshots only kills 6 zombies if there’s a dozen shambling towards you and your 6 shooter is slow to reload or worse, you only have 20 bullets to your name and have no clue what’s in the next hallway.

That’s a bit key to survival horror in my opinion.  Limited resources and inventory management.  In a game like Resident Evil 4-6 where you’re moving forward, I understand the need to suspend disbelief and have magical storage units that hold items, but having a dozen guns on your person is a bit much.  Bring back the limited inventory and the storage chests with their own limited inventory.  If the facility we’re in is designed so it makes sense, don’t even have the storage units share inventory and make players have to go back to retrieve what they stashed.

That sense of “did I bring the right weapon and do I have enough ammo” helps build tension as you open one more door or go down one more dark set of stairs.  In Resident Evil 6, having “enough” ammo was okay because you’d be able to blast through the zombies or monsters and collect more ammo from their body to keep blasting away.  In the old Resident Evil games, realizing you were at max capacity on two weapons and just found three more boxes of bullets actually instilled a bit of fear because “Why are they giving me this much ammo? Oh no, what’s about to come after me?!”

3. Bruce Lee doesn’t train zombie defense
This one is a problem we brought upon ourselves.  In the old tank control Resident Evil games, we were always grumbly about having to wildly swing a knife when we were low on ammo.  Why couldn’t we side kick a zombie in the chest? Why couldn’t we have any form of hand to hand combat?

Well, we eventually got it and it honestly made the games trivial enough that survival wasn’t a big deal.  Even without the abundance of zombies dropping ammo, you could conserve a lot by taking two shots and then giving a round house to splatter a zombies head, or deliver a running bulldog worthy of Rick Steiner from WWE.  If you can take out monsters without guns, why worry?

Having this be a new recruit on the team would make the idea of going hand to hand against creatures willing to bite your face off a bit outlandish.  And if they’ve only gone through basic hand to hand, they aren’t in a position to reliably fight off these creatures anyway, giving a reasonable excuse for removing the feature and putting us back to relying on our ever diminished ammunition and somewhat unreliable knife, or maybe a collapsible baton this time. Just cuz…

4. We can still acknowledge our favorite characters

Just because a new character is green behind the ears and about ready to soil himself over this horror he’s stumbled into doesn’t mean we can’t give him some reassurance now and then.  After managing to find a radio, you could get word out reporting what you’ve found.  Later on, your next opportunity to try and make radio contact could be none other than Leon Kennedy, Jill Valentine, or any other of the familiar characters. While not on site with you, they could offer some insight and advice to the new character, encouraging him to keep it together and make it through this alive while they marshal resources to get there.

5. And don’t go straight into the same problem again

At the end of the game, why not have the problem unresolved and even escalating?  Why not have the protagonist stop the researchers at the facility in this game only to radio into HQ at the end to tell them he’s found there are other facilities set up and something worse.  Our final scene could show that the virus has already somehow been spread to contaminate a nearby city.

And that easily sets you up to go right into Resident Evil 8 with an outbreak in a city just like Resident Evil 2.  And again like Resident Evil 2, why not go even worse than Leon’s predicament? Why not have a protagonist that isn’t part of any organization or organized force? Perhaps a retired police officer, or even just a random citizen trying to survive this.  You could have your new character from the previous game arrive and split the game between the two like the old games used to at times and you could again have our established characters remotely involved or arrive late.  For that matter, I’d have them running clean up and just a few steps behind to contain the situation before it gets out of hand so all their specialized skills and knowledge aren’t enough to prevent the horror from breaking out again.

I’d even consider it worth thinking about having each game take place with a new character who may come into contact with familiar characters, and only rarely have the game mostly focus on familiar characters arriving to work in a new location.

Conclusion:

I’ll admit some of this might come across as just re-visiting Resident Evil 1 and 2 with new characters and a new location, but I think that’s almost what Capcom should do at this point.  By going forward without a reboot, it lets fans of the series continue on while also introducing those old games’ style of survival horror elements to a generation that never played the old games.  A generation of gamers never played the Playstation entries and likely have no interest in doing so, which would make this a new experience for them while nostalgia would likely make these worthwhile, yet still different enough, to be interesting for old players.