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Jumping the Shark Podcast #114

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March Madness strikes early in Jumping the Shark#114. We don’t talk hoops much, but Brandon and I go about eight rounds over whether or not it’s appropriate for Mass Effect to tie its multiplayer component into the single player end game results. It’s a vicious battle of wills that sees at least one of us forever changed! Also in this episode, Brandon goes looking for a free pass out of SSX’s deadly descents. Bill reflects on his Binary Domain experience and finds its culmination lacking. He also spends some time with MLB: The Show and wonders, not for the first time, if his days of playing these games for review need to be behind them. Finally, it’s not all about Mass Effect 3 multiplayer as I talk about my early steps into the main game. It’s all here in another jam-packed episode!

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The Premature Burial of Nexuiz

So that new arena-shooter, Nexuiz… Raise your hand if you’re familiar with the game.

I’m guessing that none of you actually raised your hand, because that would be silly. You do realize that I can’t actually see you, right? But, were we in a group situation where the transmission of physical light might allow me to see such hands ascending, I would venture that ‘maybe’ .5 percent of you made a move.

Not surprising since Nexuiz was delivered with the shock and grace of a dead cat flumped on the doorstep. “Hey kids, I ran over Mr. Gruffles. I think he might be missing an eye. Have fun.”

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Risk: Metal Gear Solid/Street Fighter X Tekken in Review

Two new reviews up at Gameshark that I’m shamelessly shilling here- one is a review of the new Metal Gear Solid variant of Risk and the other is an A- write-up on Street Fighter X Tekken. I’m playing more SFxT than Mass Effect 3, which is surprising to me.

Both of these games bring up an interesting quandary. I have severe, sharp criticisms of both at a fundamental product level. Yet I liked both (well, liked one and loved the other) regardless of the fact that one is a fan-facing cash-in and the other is a fan-facing cash-in with a ridiculous on-disc “DLC” marketing scheme. As a critic of games- and thereby game products- it can be tough to distinguish between the fun or appeal that a game offers and how it exists in the marketplace. But are we “critics” or “consumer reporters”?

With MGS Risk, it’s a fun variant with tons of fan service. But it’s hardly a MGS board game or all that could potentially entail. And it’s hardly as thematic as the Star Wars Original Trilogy Risk.

With SFxT, it’s a top-shelf fighting game that’s outrageous and thrilling with two stables of classic fighters. But between 12 DLC characters (which will likely be $5 a piece), costume packs, enhancement gems, and other future purchases it risks feeling like a storefront as much as a complete product.

But I had a good time with both. So there it is.

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Bioware Clarifies Mass Effect 3’s Galactic Readiness

Last night, while recording Jumping the Shark, Brandon and I went about seven rounds over my utter disdain for Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer being connected to outcomes in the single player game. That show will be posted Sunday night. Bring popcorn.

As we argued over finer points, we found it impossible to reach a consensus, but one thing we did agree on (I think) is that we really had no solid grasp of to what degree this game balances what happens in multiplayer with what you do in single player and how the game ends. Yes, we’re all aware you can get the Uber Mega Happy Ending if you do some chunk of what sounds like “everything” the single player game has to offer. And, believe me, it’s not about whether it’s easy to get such a Super Duper Let’s See Young Anakin’s Ghost at the End of Jedi victory, but whether getting that is in any way harder for pure solo players than it would have been if multiplayer Galactic Readiness weren’t there. As I noted in yesterday’s post, my casting stones and auguries say it probably is harder because I think that’s how EA/Bioware roll these days. It would be in no way surprising were I to be wrong about this.

That said, at the crux of it all, is a distinct lack of understanding of just how all this Galactic Readiness and Effective Military Strength work together. Mr. B and I could blame ourselves for not digging further into that, but it’s so much more fun to blame Bioware for not making it clear in the game.  (Or maybe I just haven’t properly read my Codex entries. I’ll have to check that when I get home.) Fortunately, Brandon today did dig up this nugget from Bioware’s forums


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Mass Effect 3 Impressions

At this point I have about four to six hours in Mass Effect 3.  The reviews, not surprisingly, are trending towards the very positive end of the spectrum. I am not remotely close to passing judgment on it, but I did want to put some impressions out there regarding what’s stood out to me so far. The short version is, it’s Mass Effect. That’s trite, but it’s accurate. If you were done with this series after the first game, or the second game, or it just never grabbed you from the get go, I can see no reason so far to think you should jump in (or back in) here. You are Shepard, the only man/woman in the galaxy capable of stopping a threat that, for eons, has wrecked galactic civilization at regular intervals. You do this by shooting lots of guys and flapping your gums at people. There’s plenty of nuance involved in all that, to be sure, but that’s the game in a nutshell.

Now, let’s dig into some specifics. Turn on your listening ears…


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Mechanical Reaction: Sorry, Your Game is Now Useless

“The EA servers are currently not available.”

This was the message I received the other night when I booted up SSX, and it’s a message that pinpoints one of my primary concerns with increasing shifts toward online-focused gameplay.

Remember all the hooplah four years ago surrounding BioShock and its lack of online features? Had it incorporated online deathmatches, would anyone still be playing? BioShock helped spark serious discussions about the inclusion of online-play for the sake of expectation. Since then, developers have sought ways to make online features more meaningful, but, in doing so, a new problem has been created.

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Play the Game or the Numbers?

Cliff Harris of Positech Games brought up an interesting notion about game design regarding plate-spinning versus trade-offs. Here’s the heavily paraphrased version:

“Plate-spinning is where tons of stuff is happening at once and you are trying to stay on top of everything and keep everything from falling apart.Trade-offs are much more common. You choose to be a medic, trading ammunition capacity for the ability to heal. You choose to be a scout, trading everything for the ability to move fast. Choosing to have more of X, means less of Y.

Where this system goes wrong in games, is where it is too clear, too obvious, too analytical, to decide exactly what the trade-off is. In other words, the number [sic] are a bit too explicit.”


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DLC and the Psychology of Incompletion


This morning, I went to pick up Mass Effect 3 and Street Fighter X Tekken at the Gamestop around the corner. There was a line of seven or eight people in front me, all accepting delivery on the former. When asked if they wanted to buy the $10 “From Ashes” DLC that adds an extra character and mission on top of the $60 retail price of the game, all agreed on the spot to purchase it. No questions asked. Except me. But I won’t lie, I was definitely tempted because the way that DLC of this kind works at a psychological level is to make you feel like your game is somehow not complete out-of-the-box. I mean, it’s a fully playable character and storyline. You don’t want to miss anything, right? You don’t want to rank low on the Galactic Readiness Meter and get a bad outcome from your 100+ hours of the Mass Effect story, do you? (more…)

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Is Call of Duty all this industry really is?

Those aren’t my words, those are the words of Peter Molyneaux. Molyneau spoke to Eurogamer at Microsoft’s Spring Showcase. He’s saying this because he’s pimping the new Fable game, Fable: The Journey, which is Kinect driven. Here’s the full quote in context:

“We’re doing the same thing that Hollywood’s doing with action movies. We’re inventing a formula, and we’re repeating it over and over again, and we’re grabbing every penny from our consumers and not bothering to think about something different. And they’re the people that need something different. They’re our fans, and this is their hobby, man! We can’t be lazy! We can’t back away from creative inventiveness now, just because it costs a bit more money. Now’s the time to double down on that. Is Call of Duty really it? Is that all this industry really is? If it is, then you should just shift me off to the mental asylum now.”

This all goes back to what we have discussed here at length — it’s what Mike spoke about when he reviewed Syndicate. It’s what I inferred when I wrote about Binary Domain — a game that needs the press and needs word of mouth to succeed. This industry, and I believe this with every fiber of my being, isn’t as big as we want to make it appear. It’s dominated by a handful of what are truly “AAA” games. The rest is filler. The games industry isn’t Hollywood.


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