Impromptu Fox (Game) Hunt

Aug 9, 2017

After Let’s Play Game Expo, my friend Phil (@terranceharken) still had the itch to hunt for some games. He wasn’t able to return to the convention on Sunday, so his haul was lighter and he was just really wanting to try and find some new gems. We’ve been friends since grade school and we normally hang out and check out an anime or play games once a week, but he wanted to go hunting this week instead.

As I determined this was “his” hunt, I volunteered him to drive and we headed out.

Since he works nights and I work days, it puts limited time on the options for game hunting and poses serious challenges for the idea of doing game hunt videos at flea markets and garage sales. Truth be told, I’ve long thought we’d not have much luck game hunting on a weeknight since our options are limited, but we’ve had some luck in the past.

I suggested with the limited time we had, we hit pawn shops this time, so we headed off.

First Stop – Goodwill

Goodwill has become extremely hit or miss and I rarely find anything of value. Occasionally they’ll get a good bundle in, but they typically put those in auction either online or in store now. It’s still worth stopping in and checking their games and CDs for the off chance something worthwhile got mis-sorted. We came across a very good condition Guitar Hero II guitar with strap and game case/manual (no disc) still in the box. For a couple bucks, I took it.

Second Stop – First Cash Pawn

I’ve had good luck with this pawn shop chain, finding Wii U games for $5-$10 when they were still worth $30 and coming across some PS3 and Wii games for good value in the past. This stop was severely lacking in games, but they had a $10 Wii U Pro controller. I’ve been wanting one for a while, so I grabbed that in a heartbeat! So far, Phil’s hunt was proving fruitful for me, but not so much luck for him.

Third Stop – Entertainmart

Found in Arlington, TX, this location was featured in the first episode of The Game Chasers. The location has drastically shrunk since it first opened. It closed off its separate game area and brought it into the main area of floor space. It’s since been dwindling the games and everything was marked down or even ½ off when we were there. The music section was a fraction of what it once was. It feels like the place is going out of business.

I talked to one of the employees and it turns out I was right. Sort of. They’re not going out of business, but they’re shifting their focus of what they want to offer. For video games, that means current and previous gen, not older stuff. They’ll still do movies and music as well, and they’re planning to move to a smaller location next year. Personally, I think they’re making the wrong move focusing on current & previous gen games. Plus, they’re moving closer to the Arlington area mall, which puts them in direct location competition with a GameStop inside and outside the mall.  I don’t expect we’ll find any good deals there in the future.

Fourth Stop – Cash America

Another Cash America stop, but this one had quite a few things. Phil went ahead and got Final Fantasy XII Collector’s edition steelbook. I found 11 games for $1 each. I’ll rarely pass on a $1 game. Adding the FFXII to my stack, I got the whole bundle at $5 the total, bringing Phil’s game down to about the sweet spot to pick it up.

Fifth Stop – Game Over Games

I’ve been to Game Over outside Austin, TX before and I didn’t find much I was willing to buy. Most of their games seem terribly overpriced. I found a few Atari games at this location that I needed, but they came out way higher than what I’d pay on eBay. Most PS2 and Xbox games seemed to hover around $20, even when they’re $10 on eBay. I understand stores having some mark up for overhead, but double the price of an Ebay purchase seems really high.

However, I’ve seen others comment that their more common games are overpriced, which are what the casual buyer is more likely to look for and buy without concern, while their rarer games tend to be priced fairly or even at reasonably good deals. This allows collectors to hit their store for the rarities while the store is supported by non-collectors just looking for old games to play. I guess that makes some sense, but it doesn’t keep me coming back in.

Despite my opinion, Phil found a number of games he was looking for, including Sonic 2 on Master System, and some Game Gear titles, for reasonable prices and finally made this hunting trip worth his time.

Final Stop – Movie Trading Company

We mostly went into Movie Trading Company expecting to find nothing because their prices are typically $5 higher than eBay averages, but we were hoping to find something we needed/wanted just to get a bag for all the games in the car outside. We had a couple of stacks and no bag, so hopefully we’d find something.

We looked. We searched. We hunted. We didn’t find anything.

As we were calling it quits, we checked their case one last time and found Grandia Xtreme for a fair price, about $7 under online average. It was complete and on my list, so I bought it to get us a bag. As we were checking out, though, I spotted a Mario statue. It turned out to be a DS holder I’d had been interested in the past. His hat was damaged, the bill of the cap broken off but still able to hold in place. They had it marked at $20 but with the damage, they offered to do ½ off, so I went ahead and took it as well.

Overall, not a bad haul for a day I expected to be fairly empty. Just goes to show, you really don’t know what you’ll find or where. It’s all a matter of going out and looking.

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Game Spent Value
Guitar Hero II $3 $20
Top Gun: Fire At Will $1 $5
Disney Infinity 2.0 $1 $2
Cars $1 $5
Need for Speed Most Wanted PS3 $1 $10
Need For Speed Underground – Most Wanted Disc $1 $10
Wipeout In The Zone $1 $5
Shrek the Third $1 $3
Top Gun Combat Zones $1 $4
Madagascar $1 $5
LotR Return of the King $1 $6
Simpsons Road Rage $1 $5
Grandia XTreme $20 $27
Wii U Pro Controller $10 $20
Mario DS Lite Holder $10 ~$45
Total $64 ~$150

Let’s Play Game Expo 2017

Let’s Play Game Expo (LPGE) started 3 years ago and was held at the Plano Convention Center the first two years. I first became aware of the convention through flyers at one of the stores that helped get the convention started: FX Game Exchange. In only three years, the relatively small convention has rapidly outgrown its inaugural location in Plano. From the start, the arcade set up has been above and beyond what I’d expect at a small convention and this year was no different. There’s also a free play console area in addition to the free arcades.

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Just about 1/3 of the arcades set to free play at the convention for the weekend.

The vendor count has only grown with over 85 vendors at this year’s convention according to the website.

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Likewise, this is maybe 1/3 of the vendor area.

The other big draw has been the tournament scene held each year. This year’s tournaments included Low Tier City 5’s national Smash Bros. Tournament, The Ultimate Q*Bert Hi-Score Tournament (with special guest Warren Davis, creator of the arcade game itself), an Oregon Trail tournament, Quake III, and even a Virtual Boy tournament among many others. The Nintendo Playstation was also on hand for viewing.

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Tournaments are shown on a main stage.

Normally, the convention has been in June, but with the move to the new, larger, venue along with tournament scheduling, it was scheduled for the first weekend in August. The problem, at least for me, with this was the short time between LPGE and Retropalooza in October. Not as much time to recover spending money as a June to October stretch.

I had sold some finds, put money back, and had games to trade, hoping to knock out the last 15 or so N64 games still on my hunting list for around $200 to $250, then knock out a chunk of Atari 2600 or GameCube titles on my list. In total, I was taking $825 cash along with $3,000 worth of games to trade. I was more than ready to work a deal to knock those games off my list, taking the losing end of a trade in order to get closer to completing my primary collection goal.

Day 1 of LPGE

My friend Phil, @TerranceHarken, met me at the expo at opening. He and I both paid $8.50 online in advance for convention parking, only to find it was $8 at the parking garage. On top of that, there was no in & out privilege for parking. A bit frustrating as parking was free at Plano’s location.

Nostalgic Nerds

All the same, we headed into the convention to start the big hunt. Our first stop was to visit a buddy of mine that makes up one half of The Nostalgic Nerd. Looking over what they had, nothing jumped out immediately… except Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers 2. For $240.

Let me take a moment to promote these guys just a bit. What Patrick and Matt do with Nostalgic Nerd tends to beat most other vendors at conventions. They price based on Pricecharting and add tax on the sticker, so what you see is what you pay. Rescue Rangers 2 is at $225 on Pricecharting and they had it at $240, but other vendors were anywhere from $250 to $300 for this gem. Overall, their prices were better than other vendors. They also are eager to trade, offering 75-80% of Pricecharting values in trade or 50% in cash. But I wasn’t here to buy an expensive NES game!

First Purchase

Moving on from Nostalgic Nerd, I had to start looking around. We started meandering along the rows of vendors. Phil found a place that had Final Fantasy V for Game Boy Advance complete in box for a reasonable price and was going to buy it, but I hopped in and asked about Superman on NES and got it bundled in for $5 off the total of the two. Comic book based games are a sub-list I’ve been collecting for, so I was happy to grab that one.

“I love the Power Glove. It’s so….bad.”

The first thing that I came across that really interested me was the Power Glove, with hook ups. The Power Glove is one of those items that I don’t need, but think is cool to have. However, they wanted $100 for it and I was definitely not paying that. Moving down a few tables, we found another one for $60, also with everything but the box and any paperwork. I considered it briefly, but wanted to wait before dropping a large chunk of money. When I hesitated, the guy dropped it to $40, which seemed like a good enough deal to me, so I walked away with a Power Glove of my very own.

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The Power Glove gives me John Cena level invisibility

An Unexpected Find

Continuing to venture through the vendor area, I came across a copy of Valkyrie Profile for Playstation. I asked mainly out of curiosity and the guy wanted $120, but right off said he’d do $100 on it, which he was pretty sure was the disc only price on Pricecharting. That seemed fair, but I wasn’t planning on buying pricey Playstation games at this convention. Still, I had to look it up and see and the current price was showing $85 for disc only, so he agreed to do $90 if it was cash. So, once again, I decided it was a fair deal to knock out one of the last 3 notably expensive Playstation games on my list, and an RPG at that. I was quickly going down the spending hole and I had barely been here an hour. (Side note: Funny enough, I am in a Facebook group with the guy and neither of us realized it at the time).

A Few Good Pick Ups

We also came across a copy of Star Fox complete in box for $35 at a vendor that had a few other games well below Pricecharting values. However, they had some issues, so I passed on the others (minor cosmetic issues here and there mostly), but I decided to take the Star Fox so I could upgrade my box at home. I also found an Atari 2600 cartridge of Snoopy and the Red Baron, which I’ve been looking for a good while now for $5 off regular price.

I found a booth that had Ocarina of Time Collector’s Edition, Dr. Mario 64, and a guy sharing the booth that had Tactics Ogre 64: Person of Lordly Caliber. Prices were fair, but I was really hoping to find ALL my N64 targets in one location and work a killer deal in a large bundle. Still, I kept thinking about those for a while.

We made a few more final loops and Phil picked up some extra games before he had to head out around midday due to work.

Going Solo

After he left, I kept looking around vendors, seeing if I had missed anything and what I wanted to make mental notes for a return trip on Sunday rather than pay sticker price. A lot of vendors do deals before closing up the last day to avoid packing and hauling things back home.

I decided I hadn’t seen Ocarina of Time anywhere else, so I went back and got Dr. Mario 64 and OoT together. I didn’t get a great deal for the two, the guy taking $3 off, which brought them down to Pricecharting prices, but it was something.

On my way out, a guy had N64 games they were still trying to get out. Tubs of them. We went through and found a few more on my list: Castlevania Legacy of Darkness, 007 The World Is Not Enough, and Wipeout 64. I went back to the Ocarina of Time booth and tried to get Tactics Ogre for $35, then $40 but the guy was staying firm at $45.

So, having had no luck with anyone willing to take anything I brought for trades, I went back to Nostalgic Nerd and let them pilfer my list for what they’d want. In the end, they cleaned out a good portion of my complete Sega Genesis games, a number of NES carts, some N64, and Wii titles. I left the first day with one final game I never really thought I’d pick up: Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers 2.

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I honestly never thought I’d actually pick this up.

Overall, the first day was pretty good.

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Day 1 results

Day 2 of LPGE

I returned the second day and had a good start to the day saving that 50 cents by paying at the garage rather than online and got a great parking spot. It’s important to appreciate small victories.

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Pretty close to the elevators, I’d say.

No Returns or Exchanges…sorta!

I started off by going back to the guy I had bought Ocarina and Dr. Mario 64 from after I had realized the night before I already had Dr. Mario! Despite keeping a list, it seems I had forgotten to remove it from my hunting list. I was asking for a straight value trade and I’d put the balance of cash towards his price on Battletoads in Battlemaniacs, but he wanted an extra $3 on it. I told him I’d think on it, but was rubbed a little wrong by the idea. He recognized me, he remembered the purchase, he knew I had bought from him the day before, but wasn’t willing to make the trade on value for the mistake. Instead, he wanted to recoup the $3 he had knocked off (which was $3 over Pricecharting to begin with). I was fairly sure I wasn’t going to take the deal, but wasn’t going to completely write it off.

A Really Good Trade In

One thing I had seen the day before was a copy of Thousand Arms for Playstation at a booth that was asking $125 for the game with manual and case. I had a copy of the game without the manual and research had revealed it had originally included a holographic card as well as memory card stickers. The game, case, and manual was regularly $50 on eBay, but I had asked them what the trade value would be on mine without the manual. They had told me $90, but I hadn’t made a trade. The more I thought on it, however, the more it seemed like a good deal considering I had only paid $20 for my copy. As such, they were my next stop for the second day.

Going back, they were still good with a $90 trade credit on my copy without the manual, so I handed it right over and bought a complete copy with manual, case, game discs, along with sticker sheet, a second sticker sheet (missing 1 sticker), and 2 of the holographic cards on eBay for $85. I then picked up Shiren the Wanderer for Nintendo Wii, Radiata Stories, and Banjo Tooie for a friend.

Patience Wins Out

I didn’t find much else and spent most of the day looking around and chatting with vendors, though I did get Dig Dug with a very nice label for $3.  I then went back and got Tactics Ogre 64 for $40 (let a game sit on the table for two days and people are more ready to make a sale!). Next to them, I picked up Shadow Hearts From the New World for $20.

Finally, I was getting ready to wrap up the day and went back by Nostalgic Nerd. I had been considering some Sega Genesis games they had, including Phantasy Star I and II and had brought some more NES games for trade.

Instead, I wound up taking Sonic Adventure 2. I had spent enough cash, I was starting to get tighter on the wallet and wanted to keep to trades. However, Matt just had to tell me of a booth he was sure was cutting good deals during the weekend and with the day winding down, I had to check them out.

Final Deals

Sure enough, they had reasonable prices and I was debating a bundle of games, but really wanted a Star Wars game for Atari 2600 I had seen. I had them put the bundle aside so I could see how the Star Wars panned out. After getting it, Star Wars: The Arcade Game, for $20, I headed back but saw Superman on Atari 2600…and snagged it for one whole dollar!

I returned and scrapped a game from the pile, but still got Golden Axe II for Genesis, Phantasy Star Online Ver 2.0, and Evolution the World of Sacred Device for Dreamcast. However, when I come back to make that deal I find Matt and Patrick of Nostalgic Nerd going through the guy’s stuff to make some deals for themselves! I couldn’t help but swing by their booth and grab a pic.

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“Gone deal hunting, back later.” – Those nerd boys are at it again!

The weekend was winding down to a close and I still had half my money left. I went back to my car and locked everything in the trunk before going back to browse this year’s free play arcade.

All in all, I felt like I took home a pretty big haul of some high value games, which tends to be the real benefit of conventions these days. If you’re still looking for more common and lower price titles, eBay and game stores are still a pretty good source, but for the real valuable games, conventions tend to have a lot of them.

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Day 2 results

I don’t feel like trades are as strong at conventions as they used to be, though. Unless you have rare and higher value things, people just aren’t interested in doing trades, with a few exceptions. Some stores want to boost inventory of common games and anything Nintendo first party is likely to be a consideration. I just didn’t have much luck with anyone even wanting those this time.  As always, cash is king, even if people are taking credit cards at conventions more often now.

So here are my main pieces of advice for conventions:

  1. Look for your rarer and hard to find items on your list.
  2. Walk around to every booth before buying things. Look for price differences and buy the best value for your buck.
  3. Try to look for multiple things you want at a single booth and bundle up. You’ll usually get better deals that way.
  4. Practice your negotiating skills at garage sales and flea markets. They’ll help at conventions too!

Now there’s 2 months left until Retropalooza, so it’s time to get out and hunt, find some deals, and do some trades and flips to build up cash for the next round of convention hunting!

Fox (Game)Hunts 7-22-17

Author’s Note: I’m trying a particular method for writing these game hunting “hunter’s journal” entries. The format and writing style will likely change as I decide what I like best, and what readers seem to like best.

6:40 AM

I had found a Craigslist post for a garage sale that had video games the night before. An e-mail to the poster had confirmed the games were for PSP and PS2. As the correspondence had come back late in the evening, I had elected to retire for the evening rather than answer the query as to any titles I was in search of. My PS2 list is still rather long, so I expected I would simply see what was there on the morrow.

Upon waking, I looked to the clock and had the dreadful realization that I had over-slept. Not by much, but mere moments can prove all the difference when hunting elusive video games. I quickly put the dog out and brushed my teeth before throwing on clothes. I called for the dog to come in, but she ignored me. Going out, she was around the house and upon seeing me, excitedly followed back inside. Another minute lost.

In the car, I drove as fast as I dare go, wary of surpassing posted limits, but making all haste possible. The address of the garage sale wasn’t far, but time was ticking and each red light taunted me. Upon reaching the proper street, a sign posted at the end indicated I had entered a digit wrong in GPS. I hurried to the sign’s address to find no games. Returning to the initial address, I now spotted the location of the morning hunt! The sale was to start at 7 AM and I was still a bit early at 6:55 AM. Hurrying up the drive, I learned the games were purchased in full approximately 10 minutes prior, leaving only Scrabble for Playstation behind. The seller, a kind gentleman I placed possibly in his 40s at most, shared that the games had actually included Playstation 1 titles when he listed Final Fantasy Tactics and Xenogears as examples of what he had.

Not wanting to inflict further disappointment, I did not ask what he had charged. In hindsight, despite the late hour, I should have replied to the e-mail and perhaps even offered to buy them the night before, but alas, I did not and could only move forward.

With Let’s Play Game Expo two weeks away, I had not planned to go garage sale hunting, but out and with the bitter taste of lost games in my mouth, I decided to do a little bit. Finding a post with a CIB (Complete in Box) PS2 in the photo, I headed for another sale. I worried I was again a step behind. After all, another hunter was in the area, so I assumed they would already be on the trail of this one as well.

7:15 AM

I arrived at the house to find no sale. Checking the listing again, I realize it started at 8 and there I sat pondering the best course of action. Ultimately, I decided to wait, hoping for an early start. Not long after, the garage door opened and a short, Asian woman pulled the care out to park in the drive way. I opened my door and half stepped out, asking her if the sale was still scheduled to start at 8. She confirmed the start time and apologized. About 15 to 20 minutes later, she came out again, as well as her husband, who came towards my car.

I got out and he said they had some things to set up, but would start now and I could come look. As I walked up, I told him what I was interested in and they had it sitting on a shelf in the garage. He said something to his wife before going inside, which I thought sounded like he was speaking Japanese. Upon looking at the games, I realize they were all Japanese releases! There was a GunCon 2, which was black rather than the bright orange of the US release. They were asking $50 for the CIB PS2 and games as well as $50 for the CIB Wii and games. A fair price on both, but I only had $100 in my pocket and a game convention in 2 weeks, so I passed.

7:25 AM

I was considering giving up for the morning, but there was another sale just around the corner from the last, so I stopped to check. As I walked up, I spotted a few Wii games along with Call of Duty on PS3 and PS4. They asked $2 each on the Wii games and $5 each on the Playstation titles. I knew Mario Party 8 was worth about $20 and New Super Mario Bros. Wii was worth about $10, so I took them. I had to check values, but went ahead and picked up Michael Jackson The Experience, Brave, and Wii Sports. I tend to always pick up Wii Sports as it sales on eBay for $10 in the cardboard sleeve. This was a Nintendo Selects copy in a plastic case. He agreed to $8 as that was all I had without breaking a bill.

Upon returning to my car, I realized I had not checked to ensure the discs were present and immediately proceeded to do so. Mario Party 8 had no disc, but it was in Michael Jackson’s case. Brave had Michael Jackson. Wii Sports had Wii Sports. I went back and showed them, thinking I would swap the game for Disney Princess My Fairytale Adventure if they didn’t have the disc. Ironically, I should have picked it up first as it’s worth more than Brave.

The man’s wife told him it might be in the Wii, which was in a box right there by the front door. He plugged it in and pressed the button and sure enough, we found Brave. He said the system wasn’t working anymore and I asked what he planned to do with it. He was planning on seeing what a store would give for it, thinking they could fix it. Since I’ve been getting into the repair hobby on consoles, I was interested. For another $10, I got the Wii system with 2 controllers, 2 nunchuks, all hook ups, and the Disney Princess game thrown in.

7:40 AM

Feeling much better about the day’s outing, I had one more stop I wanted to go to, though it was a good 30 minute drive away and would not open until 10 AM. I decided to backtrack and stop at all the signs for garage sales I had passed. The first one I stopped at had a pair of Guitar Hero guitars with their boxes for Nintendo Wii. Normally I’m not interested in the instruments, but it made me ask if there were games and the older gentleman who was busy with numerous people at this sale said there were! Only, he wasn’t sure where they were.

We began searching, looking around different boxes as his wife was asked where they were. I was about to give up and leave him my contact information when his wife found them. Nothing incredible, but 007 Nightfire on GameCube and NBA2K13 for Wii made it worth the $1-$2 each they were asking. I went ahead and took the guitars for $1 each as well. They also had the manual for Pokemon Red & Blue, which was included at no cost.

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9 AM

I continued to stop at any signs I saw on the way, but mostly came up lacking. A Nintendo DS Lite for $2 was my only find before heading for a small resale shop’s closing sale.

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Looks like poor Kirby’s gotten beat up.

10 AM

Once I arrived at the shop, I saw they had Wii accessories and Disney Infinity figures priced rather high to be considered a real deal, but not completely unreasonable either. I kept looking. In the back with a box of casette tapes, I found a pair of N64 games. Sports titles, but $2 each. To finalize the hunt, I picked up a Tiger Handheld Baseball game for $1 to go with them.

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Pulling out of the shop and heading home, I stopped at a final garage sale, but had no luck. Satisfied with the morning results, I headed home to prepare for the evening’s activities: a Facebook group’s game meet up.

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Game Spent Estimated Value
Mario Party 8 $2 $20
New Super Mario Bros Wii $2 $10
Michael Jackson The Experience $2 $10
Wii Sports $2 $10
Brave $0 $10
Disney Princess My Fairytale Adventure $0 $18
Wii System with controllers and hook ups $10 $50
NBA2K13 $1 $15
Ultimate I Spy $1 $4
Game Party 3 $1 $5
007 Nightfire $2 $9
Guitar Hero III $1 $5
Guitar Hero III guitars in box $2 $10
Nintendo DS Lite $2 $20
Track and Field 2000 $2 $11
NBA Showtime NBA on NBC $2 $5
Tiger Handheld Baseball $1 $10
TOTAL $33 $232 Estimated

Facebook Game Group Meetup

5:30 PM

I spent the midday getting all the extra games I have together for a Facebook group meetup. I didn’t think I had anything truly worthwhile at this point, but it was worth taking. My goal was to sell and trade without spending any money.

Upon arriving, I looked around at what people had out. A decent spread of NES and SNES, Wii, PS2, and Playstation games, but little N64, which are what I’m particularly hunting right now. I did meet someone I knew to trade Phantasy Star Online on Dreamcast for Fighting Vipers on Sega Saturn. I also had my first sighting of live chodes in the wild as both Billy and Jay from The Game Chasers showed up.

Finding some small space to utilize, I brought my boxes in and set them up for people to look through. A few found things they were curious about, but no purchases or trades. Once things started to clear out a bit, I moved to a table with more room. Still not much overall, but I sold a few Atari games, Rampage Total Destruction on GameCube, and Bottom of the 9th on N64 for around $22 total.

I had left my higher value items in the trunk, but kept eyeing the table next to me where a guy had Earthbound and Suikoden II. After offering to trade the Tiger Handheld Baseball for Suikoden II was declined (though it was clear it was a struggle for the guy, I assure you!), I knew I’d have to trade some big titles. I loaded up what I had out and brought in the good stock.

He was willing to trade Suikoden II for Dokapon Kingdom CIB on Wii, Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker CIB on GameCube, and Super Smash Bros. Melee without a manual on GameCube. I was hesitant to make the trade. These were quality trade bait for Let’s Play Game Expo and had a value of about $165 vs Suikoden II’s $140 average. I started to back out to wait for the convention.

Taking another look, I examined the Suikoden II’s case, manual, and disc. They were in immaculate condition. Despite the value disparity, I decided two common GameCube games I paid $7 for was worth adding to the Dokapon Kingdom trade. We shook hands and I knocked off one of the hard to find, and second most expensive, game on my Playstation hunting list.

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As I left, I noticed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II for NES in a very nice box. The guy wanted $30, but would take the game out and do $20 for the pristine box and manual. I went ahead and spent the $20 I had made selling the earlier games.

All in all, not a bad day.

Game Spent Value
Suikoden II $97 spent on games traded for Suikoden II $140
TMNT II Box & Manual $7 spent on games sold, then cash spent for the box & manual $30

On to Let’s Play Game Expo!

 

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.

Open Letter to Marvel: Diversity Itself Isn’t the Issue

It’s been recently reported that Marvel Comics’ David Gabriel stated Marvel had come to understand “that people didn’t want any more diversity.  They didn’t want female characters out there” as a reason for the recent sales slump. I think this is a narrow view and doesn’t look at the wider elements causing said slump. The House of Ideas needs to look a little deeper here at a myriad of issues contributing to this and what exactly it is about the ‘all new, all diverse’ Marvel that isn’t resonating with readers.

Price

Let’s face it, comics have gotten expensive. $2.99 is the good deal these days with many titles at $3.99 or even $4.99 for a standard length issue while special editions and double size issues can be $5.99. The price really racks up if you’re buying a large number of comics. Alterna Comics made the move this year to bring prices down by returning to newsprint (#bringbacknewsprint) for their books, which might not be a bad idea.

Comics used to be seen as disposable. It’s one of the things that makes issues like Amazing Fantasy 15 so valuable and it might prove beneficial for comics now. If you want the slick beautiful image, digital options are available from the publisher. If you’re a collector, newsprint books for $1.99 or $2.99 could be appealing, especially if you want to collect multiple titles every month and occasionally dabble in new titles. What’s more, if people see the lower quality paper as disposable, they might read and toss once more, making comics kept in mint condition a collector’s item once again.

Events

Being perfectly blunt, Marvel has gotten event crazy. Every year there’s a huge event that will “change everything” or “alter the course of the Marvel universe forever.” Whether it’s Secret War, Secret Invasion, Secret Wars, Avengers vs X-Men, X-Men vs Inhumans, Death of X, RessureXion, or the upcoming Secret Empire, there’s always some huge event involving seemingly every book. Readers are simply getting exhausted.

In the 1980s, there were a total of 11 crossovers events.
There were 27 in the 1990s.
Down to 20 in the 2000s.

And a total of 41 announced from 2010 to 2017. FORTY ONE crossovers with two years left in the decade. In the 80s and 90s, crossovers were also a bit more contained. You usually had a Spider-Man crossover that was contained to Spider-Man titles (3 in the 90s). X-Books had a contained crossover (3 in the 80s, 12 in the 90s, 6 in the 2000s). Over the years, though, it’s become more and more necessary to buy titles all across the publication line that a reader normally never picks up just to follow a single crossover event story, as well as a separate 8-or-so part mini-series.

I personally blame this guy for starting the all-titles crossover mega events.

To solve the event fatigue, just take them down to a smaller level like they used to be. Have a big “Marvel Universe” crossover event that impacts everyone once every 5 years or so to make them feel really special. Meanwhile, you can still do Spider-Man crossovers that cross all the Spider-titles and X-Men events that cross X-titles, and Avengers events that cross various Avenger member titles. Age of Apocalypse never touched Spider-Man or any Avengers or the Fantastic Four and it’s one of the most liked crossover events I can recall.

Politics

This may be a big issue, even bigger than the whole diversity angle, but a lot of readers are just tired of having writers’ politics not just presented, but crammed forcefully in their face and rammed down their throat. Sure, Marvel has always had a little politics in their comics. Steve Rogers punched ol’ Adolf before the US had entered into WW II and he dealt with a Nixon-esque character IN the White House during the Watergate scandal, but largely these on the nose political statements were the peak of a crescendo while their build up was often told with subtlety, nuance, and grace. Now writers push the real world into their stories more often than having readers think about hypothetical story scenarios applied to the real world.

Subtle. Real subtle. And totally what an Asgardian would be spouting, right?

What’s more, in the post-Internet age, we live more than ever in a world of grays rather than stark black and white. While we still like our heroes a bit more cut and dried in right and wrong with the occasional anti-hero walking the gray territory, we know the real world isn’t like this. I’ve seen people sharing panels of Red Skull and questioning why the villain is the one making sense when he says people aren’t evil for fearing space alien neighbors who first pledge their allegiance to an alien emperor with open distaste for inferior humans.

Instead of taking a stance of “liberal politics = hero, anything else = villain” writers could offer some heroes who lean left, some who lean right, some who are more central, and some who personally lean one way but acknowledge understanding of another view.

We’ve seen heroes oppose one another on political issues twice now in Civil War and Civil War II (three times if you count the film). The most positive thing our super heroes could possibly do right now is have opposing political beliefs, but still work together and still respect one another. You want your heroes to reflect what society should strive for? That’s about the most idealistic thing I can think of at this time, bringing people together to work towards a middle ground of common good despite their differences.

Magneto

Also, maybe don’t have good guys say stuff like this to an actual Holocaust survivor, even if Magneto is a villain in his own right.

 Diversity

Now to the topic David Gabriel touched upon, that readers don’t want diversity or women leads. Mr. Gabriel, I respectfully disagree. Readers don’t want hamfisted diversity pulled out of nowhere and forced upon them as a replacement for beloved figures. I personally feel that’s been Marvel’s biggest problem. These characters are quickly tossed in the mix as replacements for long standing characters without ceremony or transition. A few have made sense, but most simply don’t. The most frustrating aspect of this goes back before the big diversity push of the last few years and is probably a bit out of Marvel’s hands, but I’m still going to call it: The X-Men.

We’re not going to pull any punches here: While wanting to promote diversity, you’ve completely shot down the most diversity driven team in your entire roster. Over the last number of years you’ve completely gutted this team.

Jean Grey, Xavier, Cyclops, and Wolverine are all dead now. Probably four of your most popular X-Men killed in the last number of years. What’s worse, before killing off Cyclops, you completely murdered his character as he became more and more militant and resembled Magneto more than Xavier. Whoever thought this was a good idea needs a smack in the back of the head.

The X-Men were always about opposing ideologies (sound like a familiar current societal topic?), Xavier’s Martin Luther King opposed to Magneto’s Malcom X and accepting one another despite our differences (sound like another familiar current societal topic?).

By bringing Magneto to the X-Men in approval of Scott, you eliminated this element entirely and corrupted the X-Men a little in the process. What boggles my mind is how you took them down this path when a clear alternative was available in Havok. Always more brash and hot headed, the right sequence of events could have led Havok towards Magneto’s point of view while Cyclops remained in pursuit of Xavier’s dream (even if he was a little more realist about it. I liked “General Cyclops” vibe that placed him a bit more like Cable in approach, but carrying the weight of his decisions as Xavier would have). Having the brothers as the new flag bearers of Xavier and Magneto’s views would have allowed you to carry on the overall X-Men theme with a new dynamic of opposition in the opposing sides.

So with the X-Men essentially out of the way, the push for a diverse cast of characters moves to other titles. This in itself is fine, but again I feel some stark errors were made.

Diversity via Addition by Subtraction: Race/Gender (and a sexuality) Swapping
This seems to be a big issue for many readers. Instead of creating, introducing, and cultivating new characters, it seems to be more common to replace an existing character, typically an iconic and beloved one, with the new character so the hero name will sell the book rather than the character behind the mask.

Thor, except a woman:
Jane Foster becoming Thor is the most cited example and I still don’t understand that one at all. Nothing about it makes sense and to my knowledge it still haven’t been explained. Nick Fury shouldn’t be able to whisper Thor into unworthiness. What’s more, if Jane Foster picked up the hammer, it isn’t entirely clear why she would transform into Thor rather than just receive his powers. After all, Captain America, U.S. Agent, Iron Man, or Storm didn’t transform into Thor (though I think Storm got an Asgardian outfit from it) when they wielded Thor’s hammer. It also seemed to me that rather than gender swap Thor, you could have had the Unworthy Thor off on his quest while another Asgardian took on his position in the book. Valkyrie would be an obvious choice, but I’m more surprised Sif wasn’t brought up to the big time, especially after she was well received in the Thor films and on Agents of SHIELD on television. If Marvel wants new readers from the movie & TV popularity, having Sif headline the Thor book seemed like a no brainer.

Hulk, except he’s Asian:
Totally Awesome Hulk is race swap that seemed somewhat out of nowhere. Now, I understand that Amadeus Cho has been around for over a decade now, but the point still stands – why a race swapped Hulk to replace Bruce Banner? Why isn’t Amadeus Cho instead a Hulk-like character: able to transform, super strength like Hulk, but not big and green? You could have a character that fits all the traits of Hulk without being Hulk, perhaps even more monstrous than the green goliath. My first thought is something akin to Beast in Bill Willingham’s Fables.

Just ignore that this pic suggests he ignores leg day entirely

Iceman, except now he’s (always been) gay:
This one was a big one for a lot of people because, much like JaneThor, it didn’t jive with history and it was handled really poorly. Iceman has a history of relationships with women, they just aren’t stable and haven’t lasted long (then again, Marvel seems to hate long term relationships for all characters and destroy them anyway). He’s been in a love triangle or two, vying for a woman’s attention against another guy. Nothing but the exception of one single panel that some point to has ever indicated he’s gay (yet some claim it’s always been obvious).

I asked my friend for his opinion on this one, wanting a perspective on how it comes across for someone it would have more impact on and he was pretty adamant: “It’s total crap.” He agreed nothing has indicated Iceman is gay and there’s too much history to the contrary to pull a Jean Grey handwave saying it’s so and thus it’s now canon.

Instead he pointed to Northstar, a character who had much less relationship history, or character history in general, until they decided to do more with him and develop him as one of the first notable gay characters in the X-Men books. Northstar had become one of my friend’s favorite characters and he feels was handled in such an organic way that his development was outstanding. Where Iceman was outed by another character and just went with it, Northstar himself made the announcement and even had a storyline with a team mate being weary of him for his sexuality. Northstar’s story actually dealt with issues that real people face, albeit in a world of super heroes. It’s worth noting I don’t recall an uproar over Northstar’s coming out, nor his marriage in the comics.

Captain America, except now he’s black, after being old, after having a metal arm:
This one I’m a bit conflicted on personally, but some still aren’t crazy with it going as long as it has. On the one hand, it makes sense with Steve Rogers out of action that he’d pass the shield to his most trusted friend in Sam Wilson. On the other hand, once Steve Rogers is restored to super hero status, it seems like Sam would insist the shield go back to Steve. Of course, it’s even more complicated with having them both acting as Captain America at the same time. Sam’s only been wearing the name for two years while Bucky Barnes was Captain America for four before he could no longer carry the shield, so I’d actually put more criticism on bringing Steve back to Cap status too soon. He could have been a SHIELD director for longer, which would have tied in well with the next example…

Captain America, except he’s a Nazi Hydra Agent:
I’m not conflicted on this. Anyone who’s read comics for more than a year knew this was a fake out from the beginning, but it doesn’t make it any less infuriating. This is blatant pandering for shock sales and definitely upset a lot of people. Captain America means something, he stands for something. This is a pretty sticky one to step in, no matter the story you’re trying to tell. On its own, apart from all the other changes and shake ups, I don’t think this one would have been seen as a fake out and readers would have gone along to see how things panned out before Steve is returned to normal. But it was released at a time when it was just another straw on a straining camel’s back.

Riri Williams, however, may have been the straw that did that camel in. With all the various changes building a strain, it was announced a 15 year old black female MIT student would replace the out-of-action Tony Stark as the new Iron Man. There was the inevitable backlash and uproar, which was written off by many people as white nerds angry about a black female lead, but that’s taking a very dismissive and superficial view. These aren’t just white nerds, or angry men. It’s long time Marvel readers of all walks of life, all sexualities, all skin colors that are upset.

Falcon is now Captain America.
Captain America is now a Nazi.
Thor is now a woman.
Hulk is now an Asian kid and Banner is dead.
Hawkeye is now a woman.
Wolverine is now a woman.
Cyclops is dead (after he cheated on his wife, hooked up with his mistress, utilized child soldiers, took an aggressive stance against humans in defense of his declared nation, and became Magneto 2.0, if not worse than, oh and KILLED XAVIER).
Xavier is dead.
Jean Grey is still dead.
Spider-Man sacrificed the love of his life for selfish reasons to the devil himself.
Spider-Man is now also a woman in Silk.
Spider-Man is also now a woman in Spider-Gwen.
Spider-Man is ALSO now a mixed race kid.

On their own, none of these are that big a deal. Some are really well done, even. But character after character gets changed and you build up some ill will that this universe is simply no longer meant for people that loved these characters for the past 10, 20, or 30+ years. So, feeling it’s no longer written for them, they stop buying and you blame the sales slump on “readers don’t want diversity” and paint your customers as sexist, homophobic, misogynistic, etc.?

Marvel, it’s not that readers hate diversity or female characters, it’s just that they don’t like the entire Marvel Universe being completely replaced over the course of a couple of years. They just love the characters they’ve grown up with and don’t want to see them replaced. DC Fans didn’t embrace Dick Grayson as Batman, even though he’s the only heir worthy of the cowl and they KNEW it was temporary. But they still didn’t love it because Bruce Wayne IS Batman.

And Steve Rogers IS Captain America. Tony Stark IS Iron Man. Bruce Banner IS the Hulk. And Thor Odinson IS Thor. Others may step in to fill the role temporarily, but not as a permanent replacement, yet that no longer seems to be something readers can rely on. I thought Jean Grey would come back and the Peter / Mary Jane marriage, or at least relationship, would triumph over the devil Mephisto, yet here we are a decade later and nothing on either front.

Alright, Smart Guy, How Can Marvel Still Do Diversity Then?

First off, pace yourselves. Change doesn’t come overnight and cramming every race, gender, orientation into your books all at once causes massive upheavals and you get what you’re getting now. People get tired of all the changes for the sake of change and just walk away, resulting in sales drops. Decide on a few things to focus on, do those, and do them well.

For example: The Avengers can put Rogers and Wilson together as Cap and Falcon again, using both characters on the team. Keep Stark, but bring in T’Challa (remember when I said opposing ideologies/politics? Iron Man and Panther have enough in common that opposing ideals would make them an interesting pair to butt heads). Bring She-Hulk in as both the Avengers’ legal council and a team member rather than Banner. Keep Luke Cage and Jessica Jones on the team. And introduce a couple of new characters to join up (I would have said Ms. Marvel, but I think she’s getting her own team elsewhere soon).

Over in the X-Men, you could introduce a gay character, or a transgender character, and have them dealing with feeling as a bit of an outsider even among outsiders. I’m kind of surprised a mutant with shape shifting powers hasn’t been used to explore some themes of self identity and orientation themselves, taking real world concepts to the super hero level when their powers allow them to quite literally be fluid in who they seem to be.

And here’s a key: Don’t throw it in reader’s faces right off the bat. You don’t introduce yourself to someone at a party as “Hi, I’m Jeff. My sexual orientation is….” because it’s not THE defining feature of the individual. You start with your interests, your job, who you know in common, what movies or shows you like. Let the readers learn about these characters before you start stepping into the intimate areas of their personal lives. Let your characters breath first.

Second, introduce new characters as entirely new characters. You can base their core features on legacy characters, like I previously suggested with Cho’s Hulk being Hulk-like instead of a copy of the original. For example, Hulk and Thing are the same character – big, strong, brawlers. One’s green and the other’s a blue eyed teddy bear made of stone, but they’re the same super hero qualities in different physical forms. Utilize the key elements, but make the character new and unique.

Look at your diversity successes – Squirrel Girl, X-23, and Ms. Marvel Kamala are the primary “this is how you do it” examples, I think. Squirrel Girl was introduced in a quirky way, but really struck a chord and has grown in popularity over time. X-23 did the same with her original introduction, then her time with the X-Men (though how Jubilee was Wolverine’s sidekick for years yet you guys never did any father/daughter bonding with Logan & Laura over some ninja killing globetrotting is beyond me). Also, Laura was always cooler as X-23 than she has been as Wolverine’s replacement. Her upcoming new costume looks way better than wearing Logan’s.

X-23

Way cooler. Just enough Wolverine without fully copying Wolverine.

Miles Morales is a bit of a unique situation since he was a response to the Ultimate Universe becoming too carbon copy of 616, but despite some initial resistance, he built up his own foundation and gained his own personality, along with his own costume design, to gain acceptance and a huge fan following.

Moon Girl is also a good example. Yes, she’s a gender swap, but of a character that many readers have likely never heard of or followed if they had. There are plenty of lower tier characters you could revive with a new version and bring them up to A List status.

Ms. Marvel may be your most successful diversity character of all and look how she developed. She wasn’t just a replacement of Ms. Marvel with the same look and similar powers. She could have been given any name, really. That Danvers’ story had taken her on to a new role and left the “Ms. Marvel” name open was a great fit for a huge fan to take on the name (and let’s face it, it’s a very fan girl thing to do). But Kamala has her own look, her own powers, and her own basis. She doesn’t feel like a copy & replace design.

Third, once you’ve created these new characters, with their own superhero persona and their own costume and identity, give them just a mini-series to introduce them or add on stories in other titles. I know it’s risky publishing books that might not sell, but this is where we look back to digital and newsprint options being cheap ways to introduce new books. Who’s going to say a 99 cent first issue isn’t worth picking up, even on newsprint? If the mini-series does well, don’t jump the gun. Guest star them in another title or two or pick an existing team for them to join. Build up their popularity before they break out on their own.

Once these new characters are ready to spread their wings and fly (or swim, bound, teleport, swing, or whatever they do), let them actually do so. Don’t put another hero in New York or Los Angeles. If you want to start introducing new characters to increase diversity, let them spread out. A new character all alone against the street crime of Chicago. A superhero immigrant dealing with criminal schemes of drug or human traffickers in Miami. Put a team in Dallas, Seattle, or Atlanta. You’ve dabbled with these ideas briefly, but give a character or team the devotion the New York characters had in their early years this time.

Occasionally, a legacy character can come through town for a team up. Punisher would make sense to be moving around the country. Blade or Ghost Rider and a new character could go road tripping fighting supernatural enemies as they train them to fight more than just street thugs, but with the expectation they’ll break out on their own once they finish the hunt. I’ve heard Ben Reilly is being brought back as Scarlet Spider, so set him in a city well away from New York and let him mentor a young character if you wish. Just be sure these new characters have their own personalities and gimmicks.

And of course not every character is going to be a big hit. Some won’t resonate with readers, but that just gives you a cast of fodder to introduce on a team and potentially kill off to heighten the stakes of whatever threat they face.

Again, Riri Williams came along at the end of all these changes and may have simply taken the full brunt of reader frustration. Please, Marvel, listen when I say that readers did not show resistance to Riri because she’s a young woman, nor because she’s black. They resisted her because she was presented as Tony Stark’s replacement.

If you had a story that took Tony away from the U.S. on an international trip that lasted a good long time (or into space, or other dimensional), Riri could have been introduced as a “meanwhile, back home” situation. Same basic concept: reverse engineering Stark tech, starts using it as Ironheart, and fighting villains. As the Stark story away continues, you devote more time to Riri until the comic is almost 50/50 split between them. Riri becomes a new character expanding Tony’s book rather than replacing him.

Personally, I would have made Riri an anime fan and given her Iron Man reverse engineered suit a bit more of an anime mech suit vibe to further distinguish it. She looks like she’s simply wearing Tony’s Mark Hojillion armor rather than her own design.

Imagine if a fan of this got Stark’s design and did a merger of the two

Once Tony returns to the US, he could find out about this “new Iron Man” getting headlines and look to confront her over patent violations, copyright issues, and just what the heck she’s doing with his tech and what her intentions are. Once it’s sorted out, Tony goes on being Iron Man while Riri continues being Ironheart. Going back to politics, you could even have Riri not wanting to be under Tony’s wing due to difference of opinion on various matters.

Remember, Peter Parker didn’t take over Johnny Storm’s role. Ororo Munroe wasn’t introduced as the “new Marvel Girl!” X-Force debuted as the “New Mutants” but not the replacement to the X-Men and even the second generation of X-Men were a new team, not replacements of the old.  Storm, Bishop, Dazzler, Jubilee, Black Panther, Luke Cage, Psylocke (including a body swap), Falcon, She-Hulk, Forge, Blade (first Marvel character to get a modern movie was black btw), War Machine, M, Skin, Mondo, Synch, Cloak, and more are all minorities or women and readers didn’t hate them. There was no outcry over them. When they were introduced, though, none of them were brought in as replacements for popular characters, but as additions to existing rosters. Additions that brought diversity to those rosters.

Summary
To summarize this long winded ramble from a long time Marvel fan, diversity itself and female characters themselves are not why readers were driven away from the books. To get readers back, you need to address these simple challenges:

  1. Price point – Consider a return to newsprint to lower cost and potentially revive the collectability of comics.
  2. Politics – Tone it down instead of preaching to your readers. Acknowledge issues aren’t black and white and let your characters have varying degrees of opinions, but mostly address politics through metaphor with occasionally on the nose stories. Super heroes are escapism and too much real world politics shatter that outlet to forget about life for a while.
  3. Build diversity by adding new, well developed, characters without replacing others.
  4. Pull the big events back to one or two smaller ones for specific groups per year with the major events far apart and thus more anticipatory.