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EA Sports: The Subscription!

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That exclamation point in the post title, if you’re keeping score at home, is sarcastic. Picture Yogurt shouting, “Spaceballs, the flame-thrower!” I’m just not sure the kids will love the idea of EA trying to gin up another new revenue stream for a wide swath of their games. This time, coming via Pasta Padre (top of the ladder sports game guru), it looks like EA Sport is planning to introduce a new subscription service for their sports games. This service, potentially, would offer the following “perks” for a bargain rate rumored to fall between $14.99 and $34.99 a year:

- Discounts on downloadable content
- Downloadable versions of participating titles before they appear in stores
- Membership badges! (See above regarding the exclamation point.)
- Transfer paid content for a title to a future version of it
- “Free and exclusive opportunities to extend your EA Sports experience to PC and Web.”
- “Free and exclusive” DLC for participating titles

So here’s my thoughts…

First of all, stop using the word “free” in conjunction with a paid for service. If you’re charging somebody for something then whatever you get as a part of it is not free. To claim otherwise is just flat out disingenuous, but I’ll leave the nomenclature nitpicking at that.

Let’s talk DLC, which in most sports games constitutes either stuff you can live without (alternate jerseys, “ultimate” rosters, etc.) or significant gouging for content that in the past would have shipped with the game (half the courses in a Tiger Woods game). I’m not entirely unsympathetic to the DLC thing and the notion of buying yourself cheaper DLC because of the subscription makes a certain amount of sense. It’s the whole, if you know you’re going to buy a ton anyway, then just get this and you’ll pay less thing. There’s fairness in that. But that transfer bullet irritates me. If content I bought for your football game last year is still usable with the content for this year’s edition, you’re really planning to charge me for it again unless I buy an annual subscription service? Yes, I realize maybe it needs updating too, but you do realize I’m already buying your game multiple times, right? That’s the very essence of gouging. Frankly, it borders on low-level extortion.

As for the that second to last bullet, it’s not entirely clear what it implies, although there’s more detail on one of the other screens at Pasta Padre’s site. Based on what’s said there, I’m willing to bet money the team management browser-based features we first saw NCAA and Madden ’10 are no longer going to be a free part of the package. If you’re not familiar, NCAA 10 let you run some of your dynasty tasks -most notably, recruiting- via your web browser. Given what a miserable experience team management is on a console UI, I thought this was a marvelous idea that I do hope is expanded and brought into its full potential this year.

This is where we get to the difference between something that is a part of the package and something left out specifically so the publisher can charge extra. Guys, your franchise/dynasty management on consoles sucks. It always has. And it’s not all your fault. It’s hard to manage a franchise with a game controller. I get it. That’s why the browser-based interface makes sense. You’re addressing a problem. Bravo! But to say you’re going to offer this better option, via a browser, does not equal offering premium bonus content. You’re addressing a flaw and then charging extra for it. That’s low. And I don’t want to hear about server costs. You’re displaying web pages and tying them into our accounts for games that we are buying year over year for $60. A challenge? Sure. But so is coming up with a convincing slapshot animation and (so far) you haven’t asked anyone to pay extra for that. I’ll tell you this, there certainly better be a whole lot more you can do with the online features this year, and they darn well better work flawlessly from day one (which couldn’t be said about last year’s go ’round).

Then there’s just the whole notion of subscription fatigue. Raise your hand if you’re tired of being prodded into paying monthly and annual subscriptions just to keep pursuing your hobby when all you really want to do is buy your game, take it home, and get the play experience you paid for and deserve. Somewhere there’s a fair line to be drawn between offering people significant extra value for providing their extra dollars and just flat out gouging them for every cent in their pocket. All the big publishers are flirting with that line and doing so for obvious reasons, but EA in particular seems to be tap-dancing across it with increasing regularity. We have much more to learn about this program, of course, but at first-glance this looks like it’s going a bridge too far my tastes… And my wallet’s.

Oh, and because you deserve it:

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(For the record, I tried to embed the actual scene, but some killjoy told YouTube not to make it embeddable. I have helpfully linked the image to the video, however. Go forth and brighten your day.)

A Missive From The End Of Genre: How Brink Works

Gamasutra has a great read today about Brink, and general game design theory. There’s quotes from various developers about genre and gamer taste as well as a ton, obviously, about Brink. It’s worth reading.

Much of the article talks about the “divide” between gamers who ignore the solo game experience and jump right into multiplayer.

An interesting quote from Rex Dickson, the lead level designer for Homefront. He’s talking specifically about FPS games by the way.

“A single player game’s big draw is that it makes us feel like the hero, the absolute center of the experience. Everything in the world revolves around our actions. [There] is something really appealing about that to people and is a lot harder to achieve in a multiplayer experience, if at all. I don’t want to go so far as to say that divide is irresolvable, but I do think it represents a significant design challenge.”

This little snap doesn’t have anything to do, really, with the entire three page article, but why does it have to be that way? Why does the single player experience always have to place you at the center of attention and the center of the story? I mean part of that is impossible to avoid, to an extent, but should we always have to “play the hero”? The guy/gal who kills thousands to save the World/Humanity/Girl.

Why? Would it be boring to play a cog rather than the entire machine?

Anyway, read the whole piece, it’s good stuff.

Portal 2 in Review

Be warned, this is the only negative review of Portal 2 you will read on the internet. At least the only one where all the words are spelled correctly and the grammar is at or above a 6th grade level. This is potentially dangerous stuff, and I’m already nervously looking out the window and anticipating hordes of nerds wearing “The Cake is a Lie” shirts converging on my yard, wielding pitchforks and torches. I swear I just heard someone outside yell “you monster”. Read more, if you dare.

Portal was an OK game.

I didn’t play it until a year or so after its release and after reading so much effusive, doe-eyed praise of it, I was quite underwhelmed by its simple but definitely clever puzzles. It felt like a proof-of-concept trial more than a fully realized game. I didn’t think it got very interesting until the last act, but when the credits rolled over that terrible song that sounds like a mash-up of Weird Al Yankovic and a bad show tune sung by a robot, I had my fill of it. It was a cute game, that’s all. Nothing really all that special other than a couple of good gameplay ideas and some really lame nerd jokes that I never cracked a single smile at. It was quirky and singular, and that’s about the best I can say for it.

Now, Portal 2 is here and everyone on the Internet is flipping out over what is essentially the exact same game except with enough extra material to justify a full $60 retail price, a couple of visual design and story elements cribbed from Bioshock, and a de rigueur co-op mode. But now, there’s an all-new terrible song to close it out and the stupid, unfunny cake jokes are replaced stupid, unfunny potato jokes. It also explains away some of its more interestingly enigmatic elements to pad out its running time and provide a larger context for its ruthlessly linear levels and lockstep progression. This game is more strictly regimented than a Call of Duty game, and that’s without assessing the single-solution puzzles that occur between hallways.

Gameplay is essentially the same right down to the hidden areas behind panels, but it’s tough to fault Valve for following the “if it ain’t broke” axiom. Portal wasn’t broke, but I also felt like it wasn’t complete. Valve’s response to make this game feel more fleshed out is to add a couple of new mechanics including some fun environmental elements such as a catapult and three different flavors of physics-altering goo that can be sprayed all over the place. But it really is more of the same, right down to the “test chamber” format that gets repeated three times over the course of the game. By the third set, I had a couple of unsavory places in mind where “testing” could be archived for future reference.

There are more non-testing environments as Chell (who is more of a floating portal gun than an actual character) moves through several generations of Aperture Science architecture. Once again the Source engine’s ability to render rusty catwalks, steam pipes, featureless offices, and other boring industrial areas that would be roundly criticized and mocked in a non-Valve title is in full display complete with the same crude platforming that has been around since the first Half-Life. There are a couple of neat and sometimes awe-inspiring moments when levels alter or shift unexpectedly, and there’s some foliage in some parts that at least break up the alternating monotony of brown industrial and gray minimalism.

Puzzles are easy and very disappointingly so considering they’re the main attraction. The design of them is outstanding from an instructional design perspective. Objectives and solutions are almost always clear (if not glaringly obvious), and it doesn’t take a degree from MIT to sort out how to solve any of them with a minute or two of observation. But I’d like to feel at least a little challenged rather than instructed at some point, and the only time that I felt so was when a puzzle would require searching all over the area for a tiny piece of portal-able wall space. But that’s more “Where’s Waldo” than clever, brain-teasing puzzle design. There were a handful of situations where I nearly went to YouTube just to figure out where to look, not necessarily how to solve the problem.

Part of the charm of the game, I think, is that it makes players feel smart. Many games make the player feel empowered in terms of physical ability, but fewer make the player feel brilliant. And I can totally see where this is one of the reasons why these games are as popular and well-liked as they are. But for my part, it’s just not enough to carry the game, particularly when there’s barely any challenge in surmounting its obstacles.

Narrative is another void from the original game that Valve sought to fill, and this time there’s at least a little more story. It’s undeniably well-written and the three voice actors do some absolutely top-flight work with the material. Some of it is genuinely funny such as GLaDOS berating Chell for being too fat, but more often than not the “nerd joke” humor and forced attempts at cultish, meme-generating lines become grating and obnoxious. If you think hearing the voice of the guy at the airport telling you not to leave your bags unattended talk about the apocalypse would be hilarious, then this might be your thing. It’s the exact same joke as hearing a homicidal robot talk about cake. I don’t find ironic juxtaposition all that funny. Some do. It doesn’t help its case in my book that no one in the game ever shuts up, particularly an irritating robot straight out of a Douglas Adams novel. I’m not too crazy about the comic turrets that talk and sound just like the Battle Droids from the bad Star Wars film either.

It’s also disappointing that the back story of Aperture Science turns out to be a variant of the Andrew Ryan/Rapture story from Bioshock. Cave Johnson might not be the idealist utopian and his character trajectory isn’t the same, but there are cloying similarities that observant players will pick up on. It doesn’t help that there’s similar faux-old time graphic design collateral all over the walls, or that Cave Johnson talks at you the whole time via recorded messages, sounding almost like a Simpsons caricature. You’re in caves this time (hence the name, get it?) rather than under water, but the idea of an optimistic, scientific utopia gone to seed is obviously similar.

There is an interesting and quite compelling subtext that I liked a lot that presents Aperture Science in an interesting arc that moves through the futurism and can-do spirit of the 1950s and early 1960s on through cynicism and scientific stagnation in the 1970s and virtual corporate tyranny and disappointment in the 1980s. Black Mesa figures into the story, which is also a subtle reflection of the effects of capitalism, business, and government on scientific progress.

It’s smart stuff and it’s told with a light, inferring touch. The more sophisticated storytelling is totally at odds with other silly narrative events such as an unbelievably silly turn of events involving GLaDOS or the disappointment of learning her origin. It’s not quite as bad as finding out that The Force is just some kind of magical blood cells or whatever, but it does point out that Valve did that whole explain-away-the-mystery thing with this game. I was totally OK with what I knew about the characters, setting, and environment of the first game. I didn’t need any more. Now, it’s bulked up and filled out and it isn’t really anything special, enigmatic, or particularly interesting.

By the time I reached the end (which does have, I admit, an amazingly cool turn of events that would be criminal to reveal), I was so completely done with anything Portal that I couldn’t take the disc out of the PS3 and into an envelope bound for a buyer fast enough. It may still be warm by the time they get it. It was one thing when Portal was a cute game that lasted a couple of hours. It’s another when it goes on for eight to ten hours, and that doesn’t include the co-op. The co-op option is interesting- probably much more so than the single-player game- but it really requires that you play with a friend. I tried it a couple of times with random people on PSN before the Great PSN Explosion of ’11 and I just felt really stupid. I think one guy I was playing with pinged a place to put a portal like fifty times before I finally got to it. I’m not even remotely interested in user-created levels at this point, although I’m sure something more interesting and compelling can be done with the tool set.

Let me be clear about it. Portal 2 is hardly a “terrible” game, and in fact I’d call it a good game that just isn’t to my particular liking. It’s undoubtedly a highly polished, well-put together package of content that obviously has an audience. Production quality is uniformly high, and there is definitely plenty to appeal to fans of Valve’s products. It’s a spectacularly designed and packaged piece of software.

With that said, I can’t help but feel that there are particular elements of this universally praised game that are getting a free pass simply because it’s Valve and not Electronic Arts or Activision. As I stated previously, the game is strictly linear with almost zero replay value once you’ve beaten both core modes- but I’m sure paid DLC featuring new levels or modes is incoming. The cardinal sins of day one costume downloads and preorder bonuses are also present, they’re just not as advertised as they are in other games. And for all of the outcry against other sequels that did little but reiterate successful formula, I’m not quite sure how this game is excused from the complaint. Dated graphics, boring environments, and a sub-8 hour campaign are other red flags that indicate some serious critical double standards going on. Had Activision or EA gone out with that whole potato sack scheme, no one would have been OK with it whether or not indie developers were involved or not. But Valve are practically folk heroes for what amounts to an elaborate marketing gimmick.

I’d better wrap this up because I’m due to be burned at the stake out on the lawn. I think I hear Gabe Newell bellowing out in the yard. Oh my god. Where did they get a tank?

Mount & Blade With Fire & Sword: Two Hours In

There may be spoilers here for those that want a totally fresh slate when they start with the new M&B game. So, you have been warned, although M&B isn’t a really spoiler heavy type of game.

Mount & Blade, as Todd likes to say, is a slow burn.

This has never been the kind of game that shows you its teeth right at the start. It takes time to really get to the heart of what it’s all about. At least, that’s what I have been told year after year by those who would know. I’ve always been a M&B “dabbler”, playing a little here and there and respecting the design ideas at work but never really allowing it to fully breathe.

So it’s no shock that the first two hours with the preview build provided by Paradox is the same way…

You start off as a mercenary for hire, basically, thrown out into the wilds of Eastern Europe and right smack dab in the middle of a brewing war. Still, like all M&B games you’re free to do what you want.

Character creation is similar to Warband, although there’s no questionnaire this time – you just take your starting skill points and assign them as you wish.

I was plopped on my horse outside the village of Zamoshye and told that the village elder was the guy to talk to if I needed to find work. Again, like all M&B games, these people are more than willing to let a total stranger do things that really don’t make a lot of sense.

“Hey new guy – here’s a really important letter. Go deliver it to my brother in Kursk.”

“Why sure!”

Very silly. But it’s a game mechanic so I roll with it.

The early quests, at least in this small village (and again you are never forced into doing this stuff) are to dispatch some local bandits, find three bags of salt for the village market, and to talk the mayor of Smolensk into lowering the local tax rate.

(This scene, for whatever reason, cracked me up. Try reading aloud what this commoner tells me. The list just goes on and on like the Monty Python Cheese Shop skit.)

Being With Fire & Sword – you also start with a pistol. Woo hoo!

After accepting these early quests I decide to head to a large town (Kursk in this case) and hit the tavern. The tavern is where you can hire other mercs. You start with I think 500 gold (or whatever it’s called, I forget off hand) and so I hire a band of three light calvary mercs and a guy named Tepes…weird. Tepes is a skilled warrior, will work for cheap, and has the stigma of being a relative of…yeah. Pretty cool. What’s especially cool is that when I started a new game, Tepes wasn’t there; it was just a random encounter in a tavern. I always love that about these games.

So, much lighter in purse but stronger in number I hit the trail in search for bandits.

The AI in the battles, at least at the start, is still very simple. Basically there isn’t any. This band of eight bandits, carrying clubs, charge right at my mercs on horseback. We chop them up piecemeal and collect our cash from the elder.

Afterward I decide to attack some looters who were wandering the countryside and again, another bloodbath. What’s odd about these early encounters is that on the overland map the looters and bandits appear as one unit on horseback but in the battle everyone is on foot. Well the bad guys are anyway. And since they don’t show much care for their own skin the fights are quick, easy, and bloody. Todd tells me in an IM chat afterward that Warband got much more difficult as the game progressed as the enemies grew stronger. Good news.

(bandits on foot, I’m on horseback with a pistol. I like my chances.)

My mercs need payment, and I have enough in the bankroll so I pay them their wage. They have earned it.

The world of Mount & Blade is always evolving and you’ll see game log reports pop up from time to time that such and such a village has been attacked by so and so and this castle is under siege by this army. So after riding around to every large city I can find looking for some friggin’ salt, I finally grab what I need and head back to the village. These people better love this salt.

It’s burning.


The village is literally no more. I try to enter the smoldering village of Zamoshye only to find it completely destroyed. How it happened I’m not sure. I need to check the logs but whatever the reason the village elder and everyone else is dead and I’m now holding three bags of salt and I’m not getting paid for them. That sucks. Well, the village getting crushed is bad too I guess. Poor guys. Being M&B this was almost certainly another random “thing” that just happened to go down as I was coming back, salt in tow.

(Who is paying for all this damn salt?)

So now I’m a leader of a band of mercs, one of whom is a relative of an infamous tyrant, I have two quests in my log that now can’t possibly be completed, and there’s this battle going on right down the road between Muscovites and Poles with 100 men on each side.

Let’s go see what that’s all about…

Great Battles Medieval headed to Android

First of all, today is my 13th wedding anniversary. I expect gifts.

Anyway I know we’ve been posting a lot of phone and pad stuff lately but hey…stuff we’re interested in keeps coming out so what can we do? I have no clue how this will translate to the Android (a phone I use) but here you go.

Slitherine (, Matrix Games (, and War Drum Studios ( are thrilled to announce the release of HISTORY Great Battles Medieval for the Android operating system (all TegraT compatible devices)

Great Battles Medieval is the first 3D strategy game to land on this exciting new platform. The title’s beautiful graphics and innovative gameplay have been used by NVidia to demo their cutting edge mobile graphics chipsets.

HISTORY Great Battles Medieval is optimized for NVIDIA TegraT-based Android devices and is available now on Android Market. Get more information from its official product page:

Jumping the Shark Podcast #66

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Image: Filomena Scalise /

Last week we brought you a couple guests from High Voltage, this week we bring you PhantomEFX’s Nate Sherrets, one of the game designers on BattleSlots. This game is one to watch if you’re a fan of games like Puzzle Quest. It’s a surprisingly effective marriage of that game’s RPG tropes (story, character building, amassing of wealth and loot, etc.) with a casino-style slot machine mechanic. If you hate slots, well, that’s a tougher sell, but otherwise it’s well worth grabbing the demo. I just wish they had an iPad version. Someday. And if Battleslots doesn’t interest you? Well, you should tune in anyway because Nate’s a trip. Definitely someone we should bring back every so often just to talk games.

This week we also talk a bunch of Portal 2, Hunters: Episode One, more Call of Heroes (XBLA), and Danielle returns from vacation to confess her new addiction to playing Pro-guitar in Rock Band 3. (Note: Starting with this week, I’m putting the player embed after the break since it takes a couple of seconds to load.)

Direct Download
iTunes Link
Past Episodes

Calendar Man – Spring Break Edition

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Well I hope your springtime religious holiday of choice was a good one, filling you with memories of family, food and quiet contemplation you can reflect on for the weeks to come as there ain’t nothing coming out this week.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Man vs. Wild comes out for all platforms. With an achievement like “Find all Five Andiperla Willinkis in Patagonia” it’s hard to imagine that this game will be anything but spectacular. Actually, it looks like a spectacular game for an easy 1000 points, so knowing me, I’ll rent it. Oh and Darkspore comes out, finally. Bill and Ashley will be thrilled to death. Go Darkspore, go!

Even the deals suck this week in that there aren’t any. Heck, I didn’t even get a Best Buy ad. My newspaper carrier must hate me. Me or Best Buy, it’s hard to tell which. The only decent deal I could find is that Kmart has Crysis 2 on sale for $40, same as Tiger Woods 12. They also have WWE All start for $50. So there you go. If you like a reality series game about a dude finding bugs in the jungle, or you want to wrestle, golf or shoot aliens in New York City, you’re all set. Those last one’s require you to have a K-Mart though, so good luck.

Maybe this is a good week to either take a week off of gaming, or clear out that backlog, or check out some older games that may have flown under your radar. I’d say go online with your new copies of Mortal Kombat or Portal 2, but that seems like it’s be somewhat insulting to PS3 owners. As a fellow PS3 owner, I feel for each and every one of you.

Me, I’m probably going to finish up Battle Slots, and then maybe watch the complete run of Deadwood on Blu-ray that I bought some months ago. Maybe I’ll clear out some of my TPB collection. Seven Soldiers of Victory is looking mighty appealing. Whatever you do, have fun with it. Soon LA Noire, Brink and Lego Pirates will be upon us and the gnashing wheel of commerce will spin up once again.

Wii 2 Officially A Thing, Playable at E3

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Via a short statement, Nintendo confirmed today what everyone already knew, namely that the successor to the Wii is coming sometime in 2012. They also stated that the console will be playable at E3. At last year’s E3, the 3DS was playable and despite an extremely large showing of Kinect based titles, everyone was talking about the 3DS. Lines for it snaked around Nintendo’s booth as if they were giving away free Master Swords. Granted, Kinect ended up selling pretty well, so a lack of E3 buzz isn’t necessarily a good indicator of commercial failure.

My biggest question will be what, other than more processing power, the Wii 2 will have to get people to buy it in droves. The Wii succeeded because it appealed to people who traditionally don’t buy consoles. Nintendo eschewed processing power on purpose to get a console that cost less and was more appealing to the mass market. Making a new console that’s more powerful and more expensive seems like they’re going back to the audience they were trying for with the GameCube, and we all know how well that turned out.

If the rumors of the system’s guts are true and the IBM chips make it easier to port 360 titles over to the Wii 2 then that would certainly help with the third party support, however games are already expensive enough without having to put a third port in the development budget. It sounds like Nintendo is banking on the fact that people are itching for a new hi-def console and Sony and Microsoft won’t have one available for a couple of years. It could work, but not with the third party support Nintendo has right now. They have to figure out a better way of getting third party games on their system, games that aren’t just shovelware crap. The high price point of the Wii 2 should keep away a lot of the minigame and 20 buck crapware that was all over the Wii, but I still don’t see having the latest technological beast a guarantee of third party support. That’s just me though.

Hopefully GameShark will get a Nintendo booth tour at E3 like last year and one of us, preferably me, can get our hands on it. I dunno though. The idea of buying yet another Nintendo console that ends up collecting dust due to crappy third party support doesn’t exactly appeal to me, especially if it’s going to cost significantly more. I may have to play wait and see on this one.

Sunday Time Waster: Shelf Life

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When are you done with a game?

Assuming it’s a game you enjoy; one you have been waiting to play ever since the publisher told you how “rich”, “engaging” and “deep” it was going to be upon release. Does there come a time when you decide, “I’m done” or do you simply lose interest like a four year old in a toy store?

Ohh shiny!

Developers go to great lengths to ensure that you spend as much time as possible with a game, even when it doesn’t really deserve it. We’re all different when it comes to shelf life for our games, much of which depends on the game itself which is why putting a “value” tag on any piece of entertainment is really tough to do. Some games are like Twinkies—they’ll last seemingly forever; others more like fast wilting lettuce…

I have been the commissioner of an Out of the Park Baseball League for going on three years. I play that game almost every single day in some capacity. Some days it’s simply running a week of the season and uploading a game file so the other 29 owners in my league can check the week’s games. Other days I find an hour or two vanish right before my eyes as I start to really dig into the league data, looking for potential trade partners and juggling the lineup around like Casey Stengel. You can lose yourself in a game like OOTP, particularly when playing in a multiplayer league format.

I have spent literally hundreds of hours with the game over the years (OOTP 12 comes out next month) and I don’t see my time ending anytime soon; even if version 12 is a bust OOTP 11 has an almost limitless shelf life due to its career based nature. It’s a Twinkie.

As long as the people in the league want to keep going, we’ll keep going. We’re currently in the playoffs of our seventh season and our league has taken on a life of its own. We know the players, the history, and the rivalries. We have created our own sense of history. Owners come and go but the league just keeps churning right along. (NHS user Maceman is in our league and currently battling me in the NLCS…)

Out of the Park Baseball is a game I feel I know intimately. However I don’t think that’s too common in today’s climate of disposable entertainment. As much as I can’t understand the mainstream fascination with Call of Duty and Halo, there are a lot of people who have grown exceedingly intimate with those games, and I am quite sure many of them couldn’t possibly understand how I could spend so much time with a baseball game without player models and what is basically a really pretty spreadsheet.

I have people on my Xbox Live Friends List who every time I see online, they are playing Halo or CoD. The idea of playing anything else, any other shooter specifically, holds no interest or at the very least a passing one. Homefront? Crysis 2? Killzone? Eh, whatever. Those people are not putting down CoD or Halo anytime soon.

It’s much like World of WarCraft.

MMOs come and go and publishers try desperately to crack the Blizzard Shield where inside rests a pot of very large gold, but they all end up failing. Sure, many MMOs are still running—alive and kicking with minuscule user stats compared to WoW but that game has become a part of life for a lot of people. It, too, has limitless shelf life. Another Twinkie.

But let’s back away from those games for a second since they are the exception to the rule and get back to the main question at hand – when do you consider yourself “done” with a game? When was the last time you played a game to the point that you knew every crack, crevice, blemish and stretch mark?

The definition of being “done” with a game is different for everyone. For some, it’s when they see the credits roll. For others it’s not until they have uncovered every secret coin, completed every level and discovered everything there is inside the design. For others still, completing the game isn’t important as just enjoying it until it becomes boring and then moving on to the next thing. All of this has to do, I think, more with our own personalities than it does the game itself.

I’m not a completionist by nature. I don’t have a burning need to “finish” a game. Some, my wife for instance, would claim that personality trait extends beyond the digital space. If you listen to the podcast you know that I reached the end boss of the original Dead Space, got frustrated, and used the disc as an ornate coaster. I felt no burning desire to conquer it because the developer hated me. I played and enjoyed Darksiders but never finished it, either. Some games I’ll play through until I see the credits, others still I’ll play multiple times. Games like OOTP I’ll play for years.

Brandon, on the other hand, has Gamer ADD and has to find every trinket, locate every Riddler Question Mark and collect every orb or his brain revolts against him and won’t let him sleep. A friend of mine played through Dragon Age with every character class option and played through every single romance thread. That’s a level of intimacy with Dragon Age that very few people reach.

Demon’s Souls is doing this to me. Last night, after a day of boardgames with my wife, daughter, and one of our friends, I played Demon’s Souls without the assistance of the phantoms and hints due to PSN being “under maintenance”. After multiple tries, I finally, triumphantly, defeated the boss in the storm castle area. If you’ve played the game you know what I’m talking about – he of the giant tongue. It was a terribly tough fight until I figured out his weakness.

I sat if front of the television around midnight, smiling at the screen, palms sweaty (another common trait when playing this game) looking at the soul remains of the boss demon shining before me. I wanted to give someone a high five. My dog receive a vigorous ear scratching instead.

Supposedly, there’s only one more general area left. Although I know there are many, many things I haven’t seen or done in Demon’s Souls. There’s that damn red dragon on the first starter area. What’s that machine in the prison section? There’s more to uncover and I genuinely want to get to know this game as much as I can. I want to play with and against other people—and die. I will most assuredly do that. I want to try various classes and run through the game again with a fighter-type and not a mage. It’s rare when a game does that to me.

I see other players enshrined in some hall of heroes with stats that boggle the mind. How did they do that?

Digging deep into a game is normally a rare thing for people in my profession. Time normally doesn’t allow for it. We play, we finish, we write, we move on to the next thing. Demon’s Souls is an old game, and I have no reason to keep playing this, professionally speaking, other than to simply enjoy it and discover all of the things From Software packed into it.

It’s a neat feeling.

And one I wish happened more often. The game may not be a Twinkie, but it’s certainly passed the lettuce stage.


(Happy Easter everyone.)

Fantasy Flight Games vs. Puffin Software

Can you copyright a game mechanic or a game system?

Fantasy Flight Games thinks so. For those unfamiliar with the tawdry world of boardgames–

Richard Borg created a game system called Commands and Colors. He has used this system with colored units, cards, and board sections to great success in games such as Commands & Colors: Ancients and its numerous expansions (which I own and love), Memoir ’44 (which I can’t stand), Battle Cry, a Civil War game which I never played, and the highly popular BattleLore and its numerous expansions which took the C&C idea and created a terribly boring and generic fantasy world around it. FFG acquired the rights to BattleLore and made a Game of Thrones version of it which was decent enough. Even Barnes sort of liked it.

C&C: Ancients remains the king of this genre, for my money. And it cost a hell of a lot of my money to buy all of the add ons.

So anyway, this iPad thing. It’s proving popular, eh? Well, a small outfit called Puffin Software took the C&C design idea, created a game called Viking Lords around it and slapped it up for sale for the iPad–which you can buy right now in the App Store. Puffin actually approached FFG about making a BLore game and FFG seemingly ignored them.

From what I can tell there is no use of anything specifically related to BattleLore or C&C outside of the game’s mechanics, which are clearly “borrowed” (read: stolen) from C&C. Colored units, card play which allows you to move units in a certain area, etc.

Fantasy Flight is none too pleased.

You can read about all of this here — as a user on Boardgamegeek interviewed Johannes Päivinen of Puffin Software and when asked about how some people are “upset” that Viking Lords uses what is essentially the C&C mechanics, Päivinen responds with: “Get over it.” He’s basically saying that you can’t copyright a game mechanic.

That apparently irked FFG’s Christian Petersen who then jumped in the thread waving legal documents.

I have no idea if FFG has a leg to stand on, but I’d like to find out. How many computer and console games do this? Borrowing or outright stealing a game mechanic is…well damn it’s just how we do things, isn’t it? Even boardgames — we see games released all the time that are clearly “inspired” by Game X and from what I can tell Viking Lords takes a design idea and builds its own unique game around it.

The end game, for me anyway, is that I’m now off to buy Viking Lords.

And — if FFG would wake up and smell the cash flow, the company would start cranking out iPad versions (and not just announce them only to see them vanish into development ether) of their games because people would buy them over a knock off any day.

Or they could spend money going to court.