Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Importance of Gaming Journalism

Recently, a French gaming blog called was blacklisted by Activision after reporting on Amazon's leak of the possible next Call of Duty game: Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. Gamesblog broke no non-disclosure agreements, nor did they break any embargos or laws. They simply reported on a fact: Amazon put up a listing for Black Ops 2.

I'm really disappointed in Activision, and I feel that they blew this completely out of proportion. Punishing someone for reporting on something that will hardly harm your franchise, if at all, is ridiculous in my mind.

However, what I find even more disheartening are some of the comments on Kotaku's article. Not only are some people defending Activision, saying that Gamesblog should have been gentlemen and taken down the article when asked--which would violate journalistic integrity--and, even worse, people claiming that gaming journalism should never be considered as serious journalism because it's all about "toys". I find it quite odd that these commenters say things like this on a site that bills itself as a legitimate news website.
Call of Duty: Black Ops cover. Picture from Wikipedia.

I'll be kind and not directly quote or screenshot the comments I've seen, but looking at the Kotaku coverage of this incident, I personally find it hard to do so.

I recognize that not all gaming writers are part of the Society of Professional Journalists. I'd even go so far to say that most of them aren't; I know I'm certainly not.

But many organizations still strive for integrity and want to be taken seriously. Gamesblog did just that, and I've seen people say they shouldn't have bothered, that they should have caved into Activision, because gaming journalism isn't worth it because they're solely entertainment.

Video games may be entertainment, but that does not mean that they're not legitimate things to study or write about. The industry is huge, and many people care about it; I've seen forum posts about multiple games talking about how some of them made players cry, how they moved them, how they affected their lives. Whether it's something as cerebral as Silent Hill or as straightforward as Persona 4, games indeed affect people, and they merit journalism because of it.

Entire websites, such as The Escapist, pride themselves on insightful commentary about gamer culture, and do more than simply advertise the newest products, though they do touch upon those. According to the aforementioned mindset, though, sites like those aren't legitimate because they cover "toys".

Insisting gaming journalism should never be legitimatized ignores all the aspects of gaming besides just the fact that they are made for entertainment. That train of thought ignores the fact that games have affected people, myself included. It disrespects the effort that people put into each game, all the music and art and programming. Taking that kind of attitude even sets back gaming journalism, whether it comes from a reader or writer.

Video games are more than just the cost of purchasing them. They're more than just "toys" to many people, and they're more than just strings of code created to amuse players. Video games are a medium through which developers tell stories, whether they're well-done or not.

Gaming journalism covers this medium. It can be as simple as reporting on an announcement made by Square-Enix, or as complex as a metaphor of music and lyrics as gameplay and story, or as critical as analyzing male privilege in games, or even as deep as analyzing human nature in horror games.

Let's strive to allow gaming journalism to become legitimate. Hold gaming sites to a high standard, and praise those organizations that stick to their guns even in the face of developer anger.

Let's not belittle it.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Vita First Impressions

I had the opportunity today to stop by a GameStop, and they had a Playstation Vita demo unit on display. From far away, it looked just like a PSP, but when I got closer, I was struck by how big the handheld is.

The Playstation Vita. Picture from Playstation Blog.
It was actually a little off-putting. It may have been the unit that GameStop uses to ensure the Vita isn't stolen but can still be held--it looked to be fastened along the bottom of the Vita and nowhere else--but man, it just looked bulky. Slick, yes, but rather bulky. I put it alongside my thigh to see how it would fit in my pocket, and it didn't seem very... well, portable.

The screen is beautiful. It's definitely the majority of the handheld's size, but it is worth it: crystal-clear and the touch controls are responsive.

The power and volume buttons are along the top of the unit, and I don't remember if there was anything else on there; I'd have to get another look. The Playstation menu button is located, as you can see in the picture, below the left analogue stick; the start and select buttons are below the right. I'm not a huge fan of the location for the select and start buttons, and they seemed a little hard to click because of the way they're set, but overall the layout is okay. The face buttons and D-pad feel higher up than on a Playstation 3 controller, but I think that just needs a little getting used to.

The analogue sticks feel quite strange to me. They're actual analogue sticks instead of the slide-pad that the Nintendo 3DS has, and they work wonderfully, but they feel a little looser than, say, the Xbox 360 or the PS3. Again, it's probably something I just needed to get used to. However, I disliked the D-pad; it felt really loose, like it would pop up or be unresponsive.

The touchpad on the back was different than I expected; from the look of it on promotional photos, I expected it to be smooth yet matte, but instead it felt the same as touching the front of the device. I tested it out a little bit on Modnation Racers: Road Trip's track-building mode--you can build terrain with it--but it didn't seem to respond well. At first, it appeared to change what I did depending on the pressure I put on it, but I had trouble getting it to make mountains after the first one I put. Of course, it could just be because it's a demo unit that everyone can use rather than a personal console, so I'll have to reserve judgement until I'm able to get my own.

Gravity Rush cover. Picture from Wikipedia.
I tried three games while I was there; I didn't take a long time to do so, unfortunately, because there were others in the store that might have wanted to see it. The demos I played were for Gravity Rush, Modnation Racers: Road Trip, and Little Deviants.

Gravity Rush was a ton of fun. I didn't get far into the demo, but the first few minutes of it involve getting used to the controls. It's an anime-styled game in which a cat seems to be able to affect how gravity works for a blonde girl, and players take control of her to fight enemies and walk up buildings. The girl--whose name I didn't pick up during the demo--is able to use her gravity-manipulating powers to jump and kick, as well as jump from building to building. The Vita's gyroscope can be used to change the direction that the protagonist falls, but it wasn't very responsive when I used it; of course, this was a demo and I was just barely familiarizing myself with the controls. Overall, it was a fun game, it looked like something I'd find on the PS2, and it's something I'll definitely buy when I get my own Vita.

I didn't spend much time with Modnation Racers: Road Trip, and I've never played the original game. The main thing I fiddled about with was the track-building option; users choose a basic template for the background, can draw the shape they want their track to take, and then use the rear touchpad to make terrain around it.

Little Deviants was the last title I tried, and again, I didn't play a lot of it. From what I could glean, it was essentially the Vita's version of Face Raiders for the Nintendo 3DS. Unlike Face Raiders, the enemies in Little Deviants aren't generated from photos taken with the handheld; instead, you see little creatures flying around on rocket ships, being chased by robot enemies. Using the gyroscope inside the Vita, you take aim and then fire at the robots to save the Deviants. It seemed like fun, and using the Vita's outer camera it overlays the Deviants and enemies onto reality, but it's not anything I'd recommend playing full price for.

Gravity Rush screenshot. Picture from IGN.

I left with some pretty positive impressions of the Vita. I can't say I like the size of the system--I'd like to be able to take my portables with me in my pocket, and the PSP is just barely small enough to do so--but it feels slightly more comfortable in my hands than my 3DS does, and the display is beautiful. I'm not sold on the rear touchpad; I usually hold my handhelds with my fingers splayed across the back of the unit, and while the Vita has areas for players to put their fingers, but they still weren't as comfortable as my usual style of play, and I feel like I would constantly accidentally hit the touchpad. More exposure to the unit will probably help me shape my opinion better on it.

The game selection thus far, in my opinion, is lackluster. Uncharted looks like fun, and Gravity Rush was really fun, but I can't say that Modnation Racers, Little Deviants, or many of the other announced titles hold any interest to me. I want Silent Hill: Book of Memories and Persona 4: The Golden as well, but most of the games are not things I would play, in contrast to the multiple games for the 3DS I want.

I'm definitely going to have my eye on the Vita... but I can't say it's, at this point, a must-have handheld.

EDIT 2/13/2012: Come to think of it, I forgot to mention something crucial: loading times. The loading times on the demos felt long. Not anywhere as ridiculous as, say, 30 seconds, but they were definitely noticeable, considering these demos were--as far as I could tell--loaded onto the memory card of the Vita demo unit. Perhaps they will fare better in their retail releases, but even Gravity Rush, which I want, had frustrating loading times between stages and menus.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

More about DLC

A friend of mine commented that for anyone who isn't completely familiar with downloadable content--DLC for short--I may want to give a quick rundown of it. Thus, here is an explanation of DLC and the controversy surrounding it.

Downloadable content is exactly what it sounds like: content that can be added to a game through downloading it. Most often, this content--extra costumes, items, weapons, entire game expansions, and more--costs a small amount of money, although some publishers put it out for free. Occasionally, full games are distributed as entirely downloadable.

Microsoft's DLC options for Final Fantasy XIII-2, including new weapons and Coliseum opponents.
The philosophy behind DLC is to expand the game without having to put out an entirely new retail disc. For instance, new scenarios were added to Alan Wake after its original release, adding several hours and some small amounts of plot for around $7 each. Other games have gotten longer expansions, such as Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony, an entirely new scenario that introduces a new, different protagonist from the original game.

Many gamers seem to have a problem with DLC, as can be seen in any gaming website's comment sections for articles dealing with the matter. I'm focusing a lot on Final Fantasy XIII-2 lately because that is what I'm currently playing, but if we look at the comments on an article about the newest DLC for the game, we see comments such as:

  • Total bullshit. This should be on the disc i purchased.
  • Stop buying this garbage and publishers/developers will stop doing it!
  • Instead of finding the hidden arena with hidden bosses underwater or in the dessert. You now find a large steel door with a keyhole, and next to that keyhole is a tag that reads "Pay $5.00 to enter."  Fuck this industry. Where is all the endgame content that helps make a game survive after beating it? Why must you do this?!
Some companies--such as Capcom in Marvel vs. Capcom 3--have put out DLC that is simply a code that unlocks content already on the game's disc. Other companies release DLC that seems to be something that should have been in the original release, such as an additional character for BioWare's Dragon Age: Origins.

That sort of situation seems to be where the criticism of DLC lies: the philosophy behind putting out a game and then releasing content for it soon after instead of including it in the title itself implies corporate greed, and to many gamers, there seems to be a very, very fine line between putting out quality DLC--such as new campaigns in Left 4 Dead 2 over a year after its original release--and charging money for what should have been in the game originally.

So, a quick rundown: downloadable content, or DLC, consists of various bits and pieces of games that are released after any given game is, in an effort to expand on the original title. Unfortunately, companies have begun to pick up the practice of creating DLC that feels as if it belonged in the game in the first place. Gamers heavily criticize this practice, and it is something to be aware of.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Final Fantasy XIII-2: The DLC Problem

Playing Final Fantasy XIII-2--and mind you, I'm still only at the beginning--I've noticed two spots in the game that are suspiciously empty:

In the menu, there is an submenu labeled "Outfits".

In the Historia Crux--the game's map system, using time travel as its main element--there is a location called the Coliseum.

The only available options in the Outfits screen are the default costumes for Serah and Noel, and I assumed I would find more as the game progressed.

When I saw that the Coliseum was available, I was interested; normally in games, areas like that--in which one can fight varieties of monsters, generally for prizes--are unlocked toward the middle of the game. Strangely enough, the only option I had in the Coliseum when I talked to the shadowy, freaky being called the "Arbiter of Time" was downloadable content (DLC) I won in a contest, a recurring boss in the series called Omega.                                                                                  
                          Omega. Picture from Just Push Start.
After about twenty seconds of shouting "NO, STOP THAT NO NO NO SERAH HEAL NOEL NOW" at my screen--along with multiple profanities--I saw my first "Game Over" screen while playing Final Fantasy XIII-2. I went online to go find out what level was recommended to take on Omega, and what other opponents may show up in the Coliseum.

What I found, though, was quite disappointing: players who didn't get
the Omega DLC weren't even allowed into the area. Others were told that they would never be allowed into the Coliseum unless they purchased DLC, so I did some more snooping, this time on the Outfits menu... and again, the only available costume changes would be in DLC.
Serah's first DLC outfit, the "Summoners Garb". Image from the Final Fantasy Wiki.
Now, I don't have a problem with DLC. When done right, it can extend a game's lifespan in great ways; free content--such as the first extra campaign for Left 4 Dead--is a great way to create support for software, even if Microsoft seems reluctant to allow it, and game expansions can breathe new life into older titles.

However, cutting out content that in older times would have been unlockable by completing in-game challenges is, to me, unacceptable. Had Square put in unlockable Coliseum fights and extra costumes then supplemented them with newer downloadable options, I would be completely content.But to put a menu into the game's interface, to include an entire location to just tell players "NOPE GO BUY THIS LOL"... that's just not cool, Square.

Final Fantasy XIII-2, thus far, has a few flaws but is pretty solid as a whole.

But I'm calling foul.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


An intro to this blog, several blog posts too late.

I'm Brandon, 21 years old. Been gaming since I was young--at least since the Super Nintendo, if not the Nintendo itself--and I've had an avid interest in gaming journalism since I was younger. I saw a prominent games magazine--I'll not mention the name here--pass off some screenshots of a tech demo as confirmation of a game remake, and ever since then I've wanted to ensure that wherever I work, that doesn't happen again.

I play mainly RPGs, horror games, and adventure games, but I'm open to trying almost anything. I strive for professionalism, and more importantly, fair and balanced articles and reviews.