Achievement Unlocked!

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m not a typical gamer. A lot of the most popular games ever created just don’t interest me very much. I bought Oblivion and returned it the next day, because I got too bored too quickly with it. Fallout 3 fared a little better, but it’s still sitting on my shelf and I’ve barely played a few hours of it. Still haven’t beaten Half Life 2 (though I’m working my way through it, I swear!) And don’t get me started on WoW. I try that game again every few months, and at some point I get bored and logout. But recently, I’ve learned what it is I play games for: achievements.

I love and hate achievements. They’re evil little tools to squeeze extra replay value out of a game, but that arbitrary number that is my Gamerscore has become this ridiculous thing in my head. I NEED 20 more points! I need that one last achievement! When Beatles: Rock Band came out (best music game ever, for the record), I started playing, and refused to stop until I finished it because of the damn “beat the game in 24 hours” achievement. I would’ve gotten at least 2-3 more hours of sleep that night if that stupid achievement wasn’t there. But noooooo. I needed to prove to the world that I was enough of a loser to stay up all night and defeat a game in 24 hours.

Achievements are important for our ADD generation, I’ve decided. I can’t play a game and see that I’m 30% through and push forward. What I want is a small reward for playing another 2% of the game. Most single player games are good at that these days. Bioshock, Modern Warfare, Fallout 3, are a few obvious examples. Get a reward for beating the next level, for beating the next boss, etc. I bet I’d have a level 80 character in WoW right now if there were more achievements to earn while leveling. All I have are the every-10-level achievements to look forward to, and that’s definitely not close enough to keep me going. Doing all the instances as I level is good, because I get achievements for them, but there’s really no sense of major accomplishment until you actually choose an achievement and work towards it. I don’t want that. I want to play the game the way I want to play it, and get rewarded every 5 minutes for it.

I know I’m being demanding, and I know I’m being childish and stupid. But it’s just the kind of gamer I am, for some reason. Achievements have ruined my ability to enjoy a game for its story. I’ve been having trouble recently picking up Wii games again, because I feel like I won’t be able to show off my accomplishments to anyone. I love Okami so much, and I still need to finish it, but my stupid brain won’t allow me to boot it up because there are no points to be gained. How ridiculous is that?!

Champions has perks in it. Awesome. I wouldn’t even be able to play my own damn game if it didn’t have those small perks to keep me going. I hate what this world has done to me.

Oh, and yeah. I’m back. I like talking out loud, what can I say?

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Where is Facebook going?

Today seems to be a good day for writing blog posts, seeing as I’ve got nothing better to do right now. So I was reading this article in the NY Times about Facebook and where it’s heading. Now, I’m well aware that I’m one of the “college kids” the article mentions, but the thing, I understand where Facebook is trying to head. They need to become profitable, obviously, and their idea of how to do that is kind of cool. By eventually using those interactive ads, I think it will be an extremely effective way to advertise without the users feeling like they’re having their personal space intruded upon. I would happily choose what my favorite M&M flavor is and have it displayed on my profile. I wouldn’t even think twice about it being an ad. THAT is totally fine. What I’m not okay with is ads all over the place. You know those sponsored links that show up in the middle of your news feed occassionally? Those are not okay. Don’t ever intrude on what I’m trying to look up, and I’ll be perfectly happy.

I also understand where Facebook wants to go with the site design. They want it to be useful in real time. That makes sense. Their example of having a coworker post that they’re going to lunch so that you can join them makes complete sense. But where they fall flat is in explaining this sort of thing to their audience. Facebook has engaged multiple times in a farce of a conversation with their users, showing them mockups of what the new design will look like, and asking for feedback. But I’m not sure we have ever seen any of our feedback being used. It seems to me like they come to us with a design they’ve already decided upon and finalized, and then they ask us our opinion just to appease us. But that appeasement doesn’t work if we don’t see any results from it.

Look. I work in the game industry, as you may know. I’ve also been an avid beta tester for years before now, so I’ve followed beta forums regularly. It’s very obvious to a community when you ask for feedback on a feature you’ve already finished. When a high percentage of players (or at least of those who are active on your forums) cry out against the feature, yet you implement it without changing it, there’s going to be trouble.

Facebook seems to have taken the approach of letting their users vent their frustration, and then waiting for it to blow over. It actually turns out to be an effective strategy. Remember the time before this last one that Facebook changed the website around? We all flipped out for a while, posted petitions, made groups, etc, then eventually gave up when it was clear nothing was going to be done about it. Same thing with the news feed when it first appeared. They’re going to design the site they want to design, and there’s nothing much we can do about it. Don’t like it? No one’s forcing you to be on Facebook. Games can do the same thing, to a certain extent. We design the game that we want to make. No matter what complaints a playerbase makes, we’re not going to change our game from a fantasy genre to a wild west theme. Sure, little things can be changed, but in general, the game has already been designed by the time it gets into the public eye. The difference, however, is that games depend on an audience. You make your players upset? They quit, then where’s your money? If I leave Facebook, I’m pretty sure they’ll never even know.

Man. I like all this commentary on articles that I’m doing. This is fun! Maybe I should be in tech more often (*GAG*).

Final Review of Fable II

Summary: Fable II was designed for gamers like me, who want a game that seems to be hardcore, while on the inside, it’s simply a fun game that you will complete no matter what.

I finished Fable a few nights ago. It took me a little while to gather my thoughts on it, because I was so overwhelmed with how quickly it went by. The ending just hits you like a brick wall. Anyways, I liked Fable a lot. I’m excited to start it over again from scratch soon, in order to pick a different ending. I definitely can see myself trying it over and over again, with different strategies each time (I’m going to be Evil next time). But here are some thoughts on different categories.

STORY: The story is fine. Reviews said it was very lame, but I enjoyed it. The voice acting is fantastic, and that really helps pull you in. It’s interesting to see the connections between this game and the last, like learning that your guide in this game happens to be a blind seer named Theresa. The story’s very straightforward, but there were definitely a few times I found myself a little shocked. There is a continual theme of loss throughout the game, and it all comes together at the end, when you’re forced to make your final decision. Again, like all the reviews said, the ending is terrible. (Minor spoiler: there is no final boss battle) It ends, you make a final decision (each of the choices gives you a different achievement). That’s a shame. Luckily, the story doesn’t completely end after the game does. There’s new quests that open up, and purchasing certain properties unlock new stories to investigate. As does getting married and having children. Just last night, I was earning some money, and my wife told me that my child had run away and gotten lost in a cave. Those bastard Hobbes had locked him in a cage and were planning on eating him. So that was kind of cool.

SOCIALIZING: I’m talking two different aspects of socializing. The first, the NPC, is cute. Very simple, though. Each person has likes/dislikes. You perform the expressions for them that they like, using a little timed button press, and they like you more. Eventually, everyone in town falls in love with you. Just like that. It’s simple, but it’s kinda fun to squawk like a chicken and make hand puppets for them. Gathering a crowd of 20 people and then dancing is actually really fun to watch.

The other part of socializing is the Xbox Live aspect. Throughout the world, other players appear as orbs. When you’re near them, you can hear them talking. On the one hand, there are a lot of people playing, so it gets kinda noisy. In fact, you can’t really hear the important quest-givers in-game unless you plug a headset in just to shut out the extraneous noise. That’s annoying. But on the other hand, it really gives the game an awesome MMO feel to it. I run into people all the time, asking “Hey, where can I find this store?”, and I happily help them out. It’s really nice to feel like there’s a community of players all helping each other out. I must have run into 50 people so far all offering to give away gold to anyone who needs it. That’s just awesome.

COMBAT: People complained that combat was too simple. And, well, it is, but it’s perfect for me. X is melee, Y is ranged, and B is magic. Each button can do different things depending on the skills you’ve learned, and how long you hold it, etc. I really like being able to switch up the weapons whenever I get bored with one. I’ll swing the sword around for a while, then switch it up to my pistol, then jump over to some fireballs. It’s quick and easy.

The change in the magic system from Fable I was an interesting choice. The lack of a mana bar is great, because you never have to worry about it. As you earn higher levels of spells, you can charge up the higher ones simply by holding the B button down for longer. Because spells don’t get interrupted when you get hit, you basically have a tradeoff between charging up a high level spell, and taking a few hits while you do it. It’s kinda cool.

And lastly, there’s no dying. Which is awesome. Some people complain that it makes the game pointless. I disagree. There’s nothing more frustrating than playing a game like Splinter Cell and continually reloading at the same checkpoint over and over again. I mean, sure, some people like that, because you have a huge sense of accomplishment when you finally beat it. But that’s not what Fable is about. Fable isn’t about bragging that you beat it. It’s about pointing out all the cool things you’ve done in it. I’m now a 5-star blacksmith, and I’m working my way to a 5-star bartender. I have a wife and a kid, I own about 8 shops and 3 houses, and I’m saving up to buy the huge castle in the middle of town. THAT’S what’s cool about Fable.

So, to sum it up, I had a lot of fun playing. I’m excited for a friend to get Fable, so I can try out co-op. I’d love some company on a second playthrough.

My Fable II First Impressions

SUMMARY: This was an excellent purchase.

Fable II to me feels like what we all expected the original Fable to be like. Everything you do in the game has an effect on the world, and both you and the world around you morphs to reflect that. The scope of the game is huge, you are able to move through the world much more openly this time around, and there are SO many things to do that I’m not sure I’ll ever finish it.

First, the story. Most reviews have said the story is the “same old, same old” of RPG’s. While I haven’t gotten far enough to know whether that’s true or not, I happen to be enjoying it. The end of the intro is a pretty good setup for the rest of the game, and each quest I’m sent on seems to flow nicely from one to the other. I do think it’s stupid that the old guide lady (won’t say her name for spoilerific reasons) can talk to me telepathically, yet requires me to visit her to get a new quest every time. That seems a bit pointless. But there’s enough distractions on the way to keep me happy.

One review I read pointed out that having a glowing trail leading you to your next objective actually encourages exploration, and I agree. I’m not afraid that I’ll never find my way back, so I’m constantly leaving the path in order to see if my dog sniffs anything out or I find some secrets. The trail does get annoying in that it’s constantly bouncing around in different directions, it seems to get really confused when I leave the path. It also occasionally can’t load ahead of time fast enough, so I find myself reaching the end of it and waiting for more of it to load. Because of this, also, the game disc is ALWAYS whirring. I think I may experiment with installing the game to my hard drive when the NXE is released, to see if it makes it any better (it’ll at least be quieter).

So far, I’ve gotten married, had a kid (more specifically, it was an “oops” baby), almost perfected my craft of blacksmithing, bought a shop and two houses, and gotten a chicken suit. There’s so much to do, yet there’s always the nagging feeling in my mind that I should be continuing the quest, which is cool. My dog is cute. While I don’t feel the love that Peter Molyneux wanted us to feel, I definitely gasped when a bandit came up and kicked my dog early in the game. He shouldn’t have done that.

Turning on everyone’s orbs in the game is cool, it makes the game feel much more MMO-like. Last night I was doing a quest in a cave, and there happened to be two other people there doing it too. While I couldn’t see them actually doing it, they were clearly following the same paths as I was, and were doing the same parts of the quest at the same time, so it was fun to play and chat with them while I went. I haven’t tried out co-op yet, but as soon as certain friends of mine purchase a copy, I’ll definitely check it out.

Also, the achievements are great. They’re very varied between storyline ones and miscellaneous ones, and I spent last night grabbing as many as I could. It’s also cool that you can earn lots just by watching a friend do it. That saves me the trouble of doing evil stuff.

Lastly, the main reason I love this game is because there was an Anchorman reference in it. “60% of the time, it works every time.” Two thumbs up.

A Review Made Me Mad

Some of you may be familiar with those people that go absolutely crazy when a review comes out about their beloved <insert media form here>. Those people that threaten the lives of a critic because they only gave a movie a 9.9 out of 10 or something. I hate those people. But today, for the first time, I read a review that actually made me upset. Fable II, the sequel to one of the most popular Xbox games ever, launches tomorrow, and all the review sites posted their reviews today. IGN, one of the most popular review sites, gave the game an 8.8. That’s not a bad score at all, I’d like to point out. But the article itself was written extremely poorly. To me, it makes no sense that you can write in a review “It would have been better if they had done it this way”. Because, well, they DIDN’T. You need to review what is there, not what is not there. I don’t watch a movie and say, “Man, the movie was fine, but it really could’ve used some dead polar bears in it. That would’ve made it AWESOME.” Okay, I mean, maybe I do say that. But a reviewer CAN’T. The development team of a game made design decisions. They decided how the game should work. You need to look at the game as it is, not as you imagined it should be. That’s not fair to the company, and it’s not fair to your readers.

And then the other thing that enraged me was this quote:

If the online co-op works anything like couch co-op on a single system, count me out.

Why does that piss me off? Because if the reviewer had done the absolute slightest bit of research, they would know that that wasn’t the case. Instead of just being obnoxious about the system, why not take a quick peek to see whether it is or not. The tone of the review would have easily changed to “Luckily, online co-op allows you to use your character in another player’s world” instead of “Man, I hope it doesn’t suck as much as this does.” I almost NEVER take the time to check out extraneous links of information, but that’s also because I’m not a professional reviewer. It is your responsibility as such to do so, and I was shocked to see that they didn’t.

I find myself surprised that I feel so passionate about this, but never before have I actually noticed what makes up a poor review. It’s very strange, but I actually, for once, thought that IGN should probably have gotten a second opinion before posting their thoughts. Considering that UK IGN posted a review with a very different tone (a 9.5, along with a glowing review), I would hope they would look for another reviewer’s thoughts as well, like they do with so many games. I had slowly been edging away from reading IGN’s reviews, and I’m pretty sure this one pushed me over the edge.