A new hope … or dying breath?

I know that my intended focus is the world of PC gaming, but this subject speaks back to my childhood. I was there. I took part in the arguments as to whether or not Super Mario World was superior to Sonic 2.  The Nintendo vs. Sega console wars of the ninties was the stuff of legends. 

It’s not important whether or not it was Nintendo or Sony that could be called the ‘winner’ of that console war. What is important is the fact that Mario continued as the gaming icon that he always was, wheras Sonic faded into something far worse than obscurity. He fell into an endless pit of mediocrity. 

The titles released on the 32X and Saturn never captured anything close to the original magic, and the transition to 3D that Mario had pioneered was disasterous for the blue hedgehog.  It started to look like Sonic might have something special on the Dreamcast with Sonic Adventure. However, the sequels to that franchise veered off in the wrong direction, and it got worse from there. Shadow The Hedgehog, Sonic 2006 and many other titles did nothing but outline the fact that Sonic had lost his way, with the exception of the handheld titles.  Sonic Unleashed seemed like a step in the right direction, cross-bred with a God of  War clone, the end result was pronounced an abomination.

The ‘Sonic Cycle’ is still turning, and anyone who would have reason to care about Sonic’s continued horror story of a history should be aware of ‘Project Needlemouse’ that has had a teaser that announced a 2010 release and not much else.

Well, the actual title for ‘Project Needlemouse’ has been released, and along with it, an indication that Sega might have finally taken a hint as to what the fans have been deasperately begging for.

Here are the simple facts so far:

Sonic 4: Episode 1 has been announced.  It is going to be a 3D rendered, 2D based game picking up directly where Sonic & Knuckles left off.  It will be a downloadable title on Wiiware, XBLA and PSN. Beyond that, nothing else has really been set in stone. The trailer shows a little bit of gameplay, and I’m not sure what to think of it yet.

Retconning everything beyond S&K? Smart move. This was the point at which Sonic seemed to start losing his way.

Episodic dowloadable release? Hm, Worked for Valve.  Lower development times, lower cost, less risk per title. The target market, retro gamers, are more likely the ones to take advantage of this kind of release as well.

Is this really the light at the end of the tunnel? Not sure … it could just be the C-Train.  It’s too early to tell whether or not Sega has really learned from past mistakes.  The special thing this time around is the fact that this seems to be the first time that Sega is even acknowledging that mistakes were made. (Okay, there was the reboot, but I try not to remember that.)

I don’t blame any Sonic fan who is feeling bitter and cynical at this point. They all have plenty of reason to be.  At the same time, I hate to admit it, but there is still hope. They might actually do this one right.

And we haven’t seen any new friends … yet.

Here’s to hoping it’ll be availible for PC release.

tl;dr: Will Sonic 4 break the cycle that has trapped sonic in a fiery pit of mediocrity?

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Entitlement

You’ve got to love the PC vs Console debate, so much angst and gnashing of teeth as to whether or not it is preferable to enjoy the gaming experience on a couch with a controller, as opposed to sitting at a desk with a mouse and keyboard.  Recent newslines in various gaming blogs and other sites have only exacerbated this debate, specifically the launches of Left 4 Dead 2 and Modern Warfare 2.

One phrase I’ve read multiple times … repeated to the point that it sounds like a political talking point is “… PC gamers have such an [adjective] sense of entitlement …”. Being a PC gamer, this grates on me a bit, as I’m being actively called out in a collective statement.

This begs the question however. Do I have a sense of entitlement when it comes to the games I play?  Damn right I do.  I feel entitled to receive a quality product in return for the money I pay, knowing full well that I have little to no options as to return or refund. Furthermore, I’ll be very, very lucky to have an opportunity to play a demo of the product before I make this irrevocable purchasing decisions.  All I have to go on are trailers, game play previews and reviews, none have which have been completely successful at predicting how much I would actually enjoy my purchase.

Let’s put all this into context concerning the two controversy’s that have come up as of late.  I’ll start off by saying that I have purchased L4D2 … and I have not purchased, or pirated Modern Warfare 2.  I refuse to pirate for the simple reason that it would rob me of intellectual honesty when arguing the case for games developed for the PC. Yes, I’m that narcissistic, and I have the money to actually pay for the games I play.  I have not participated in a boycott for either of those games as actions speak louder than words.

When Left 4 Dead launched, I was pleased … the actual game play had the same polish and love that I had come to expect from Valve titles. However, I had some reservations.  It was a Source game that felt like it had been partially redesigned with the console in mind … which it was.  The server browser was gone, replaced by an initially irritating matchmaking system.  The console was still there, and the server browser (albeit modified) and mod support came in time, but there were definite misgivings and alarm about the fact that Valve was starting to cater to the console.

Let me get one thing straight, I don’t hate consoles, but there’s a lot of bad blood with me over the fact that many quality developers who used to make quality games for my platform, had either voluntarily switched to the console gamer as the primary intended audience, or done so at the behest of a gaming publisher.  In too many cases, PC franchises suffered for it.  System Shock to Bioshock, Deus Ex to Invisible War.  At this point there are precious few AAA developers who put a priority into optimizing PC versions of their games.  Valve is at the forefront of those that do … a proverbial last bastion of PC gaming.  ID, Epic, Maxis, Blizzard and many others have switched focus to developing multi-platform titles … with results of varying quality.

The very thought that privately owned Valve might follow in this trend was worrying … as I see very little in the way of PC exclusive content coming out of any of the other AAA developers.  But I kept quiet (for the most part, I still bitched about matchmaking) … I trusted Valve.

Then Left 4 Dead 2 was announced … and oh boy, was that a firestorm of outrage from the PC faithful.

For those of you who don’t understand what all the big fuss was about, Valve takes care of it’s customers, relies on consumer feedback, and takes FOREVER to release a game. I’m talking a five to ten years for a full title launch. Valve had a very clear commitment to quality.  The episodic content for Half-Life was a new and fresh idea that was welcome, as it got good content into our hands much faster and continued the story.  To see a full sequel title announced to launch nary a year after the first game was a surprise. Even bigger was the fact that they would be using the same game engine to simply add more campaigns, weapons and special infected and slapping a sequel numeral at the end of it.

Yes, yes, they promised us support like we were used to receiving for TF2, new weapons and nifty features for free, I got over that “broken promise” in a hurry. What was really troubling was the reason for this move.  Microsoft does not allow content DLC available for XBox 360 titles without forcing gamers to pay for it.

I respected that Valve was trying to co-develop a title for PC and console equally, but in the process it had painted itself into a corner.  Valve would badly damage it’s reputation with it’s core PC gamer consumer base if it started charging for small, incremental updates on the PC. On the other hand, it would not be fair to the 360 players to pay five bucks (or heck knows how many MS points that comes to) for each ‘class update’ equivalent Valve would release if it kept to it’s original plans.  With TF2, PC gamers got quality of service and added content unheard of … we were and still are treated like princes by Valve.  My heart goes out to those who bought TF2 on 360 or PS3, you got shafted.

So, in order to find the best of both worlds, they wrapped up a year’s worth of incremental improvements coupled with a longer set of campaigns than the original, and stuck a big, fat 2 on the end of it.  Not the happiest solution for us PC gamers, but probably the wisest.   I wanted to continue the wacky adventures of Bill, Zoey, Francis and Louis, but with new infected and more weapons … I didn’t get what I wanted. I still got my money’s worth.  L4D2 is an excellent game … an improvement on the original, it’s just a shame that there’s now little incentive to play the original content save for the nostalgia of watching Louis talk about his narcotics habit. Oh, and I may not like the four new survivors as much, but Ellis is so lovable.

In the end, I saw my darling developer make a concession away from the PC gamer, and the thought that this was a beginning of a trend terrified me.  I bitched, I moaned, I joined the mindless throng that erupted into an internet firestorm of protest.  For the record, I did NOT join a boycott. I bought the game, and my enjoyment of it, along with statements from Valve, kept my trust intact. End of story.

Activision coupled with Infinity Ward are not Valve. This much is obvious. Activision is a massive publishing company that rivals Electronic Arts.  Activision is publicly traded, whereas Valve is privately owned.  Activision has a commitment to it’s shareholders, Valve has a commitment to it’s customers.  Get the idea?  It’s not a matter of good versus evil, it’s simply a matter of different priorities.  With that said, the announcement that Modern Warfare 2 would be essentially a direct port of the console version was still such a solid kick to the balls that it made the Left 4 Dead 2 ‘controversy’ look like a weak but affectionate punch to the shoulder. Still, the outrage from the PC gaming community, to me at least, came from the same source.  We had lost another PC centric franchise to the name of profit, completely.

I see a lot of people blaming for Infinity Ward for this … but it doesn’t rub with me. I’ve played Call of Duty 2 and Call of Duty 4, enjoyed them both. A developer like this doesn’t make such drastic changes to a flagship franchise that would needlessly upset the original consumer base without someone or something else calling the shots. I took a good look at Activision and I’m starting to see a pattern.  Paid DLC for aditional optional content in WoW … Starcraft 2 being launched in three parts without LAN support, and now we have Modern Warfare 2 without dedicated servers and no promise of mod support. Then I found this article and things fell into place.

I’m not blaming this on piracy, or on consoles themselves. This all comes from a very painful ‘truth’ that has been slammed in the face of PC gamers for years now.  We aren’t profitable anymore.

I’m going to save you some of my more divisive logic on this subject and simply stick with the simple facts.  AAA titles with massive ad campaigns for well established franchises sell more copies off the shelf for consoles than they do for PC. Far more. Digital distribution and the new face of gaming is just that … new.  Lots of money there but it has still yet to prove itself interesting or compelling to the investor looking to get a return on his money. Statistics for products sold at Wal-Mart or Gamestop can be showcased in analyst meetings and draw more investment money. This is how the business world works, behind the times or not. Unfortunately, being behind the times for big business isn’t hurting the gaming industry nearly as much as it is hurting the music industry … yet.

Don’t believe me? Go to your local Gamestop and look at the proportional shelf space they set aside for PC titles as compared to console titles.  The future of PC gaming is in digital distribution, something that the console market is just starting to experiment with.

Activision is taking a card out of EA’s playbook, and arguably, they’re doing a better, more cutthroat job of it.  Take an established franchise, cut out all unnecessary production costs, spend the money you saved in marketing and it’ll sell off the shelves like hotcakes to those console gamers who don’t know any better.  The product may not be any worse for the intended audience … but I’m still pissed because I’m no longer the intended audience.

Even without this trend with the major publishers, it’s hard to shovel through all the crap to find the good titles for the PC.  The fact that all sales are final and demos are a luxury, rather than mandatory … added to the fact that review scores are of debatable value … and any PC game purchase is a crap-shoot.

We as PC gamers could take all of this siting down, or we could say something about it.  And boy are we … as evidenced by all of the bitching and moaning in the steam forums and at Infinity Ward.  But the investors don’t care about a few whiny geeks who boycott a game and then buy it anyway. We don’t have any damn credibility.

I can tell you with a straight face that I didn’t join any boycotts.  I probably would have enjoyed Modern Warfare 2’s single player, and I really wasn’t interested in the multiplayer to begin with. I didn’t pirate Modern Warfare 2.

I feel that my sense of entitlement to get what I pay for is justified. I also didn’t buy the game.

tl;dr: Big publishers are screwing PC gaming for the sake of more profitable markets. Boycotts are innefective. Vote with your wallet. Make your voice known on the forums, but in a way that lends credibility and maturity. Don’t pirate.  There are a few quality alternatives left. Let’s make those quality alternatives profitable by buying them.

Statement of purpose.

“Put it in a blog.”  Fine, I’ll start one, and I’ll start by telling you who I am and what I’m doing here.

I am C4Cypher … if you know me, you know that I’m an opinionated person. I’m also someone who would like to think that he’s intellectually honest with himself when he isn’t being a raving lunatic.

I am also a PC gamer.  This means that one of the largest hobbies and interests in my life is video games on the PC platform, and to  a somewhat lesser, but related extent, the entire gaming industry as a whole.

I am here to use this place as a platform to share my thoughts on the major issues that affect this hobby, that and stuff that has my attention when it comes to gaming. I am not here to tell you what is right, and what is wrong, only how I see things. It’s up to you to decide whether or not you agree with me.

I’m going to explain in no uncertain terms where I come from when it relates to the subject of gaming, give a background to the positions I will take on the various subjects I address here.  This will mean a lot of self-exposition in crap you may not be interested in.  You’re more than welcome to skip to the next post, but if you want to know who the hell I am to say the things I am saying, I’m putting it all right here.

I’ve been an active gamer since 2002.  Although I have been gaming for far longer than that, 2002 marks the point at which I began funding my own hobby and took complete, adult ownership of such.  In 2002 I became a paying customer to the gaming industry.

My experience up until that point defines my perspective on gaming as a whole, so I might as well share it. During the 90’s I played a lot of PC games, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, SimCity2000 … I have a soft spot for Borderbund, The Learning Company (rest in peace) and pre-EA Maxis.  I played on both the Nintendo and Sega platforms … when I had the opportunity to visit a friend’s house … and as such, I bore witness to the console wars of those times. Mario is a timeless classic, Sonic USED to be awesome, and Zelda will forever hold a place in my heart.   Then I discovered Half-Life, and it changed my world.  Sadly, I missed the Quake era almost completely, although I feel the influences of it to this day.

From 2002 to 2006 I owned three platforms, four if you count the GBA. Most of my time gaming was on the PC with titles such as Half-Life, Team Fortress Classic, Max Payne and various other shooters, mostly single player.  I’m ashamed to say that I lost two years of my life to World of Warcraft, and I view the experience somewhat bitterly, but with fond memories.  City of Heros was, and still is an excellent game.

I also owned a GameCube and a PS2.  I have mixed feelings about the black sheep of the main Nintendo line, but good games such as Eternal Darkness and Metroid Prime are difficult to forget. I don’t even know where to start with the best of the PS2 catalogue.  The Jak & Daxter Trilogy, Ratchet & Clank series, MGS, Devil May Cry 1 and 3, Silent Hill 2 … need I say more?

Needless to say I loved many of the games available only on the console, and as such I would be a hypocrite to denigrate anyone for owning one, even one made by Microsoft.  My primary vice with the console community today is one of willingness to accept treatment that would be unacceptable as a PC gamer, but that will be addressed later.  Long story short, the consoles are excellent platforms, to which I have certain criticisms.

In 2007 I looked at how much I was playing, and spending, on various platforms, and realized I did not want to bother trying to wade through the associated prices and catalogues of four different platforms when I spent the vast majority of my time playing on the PC.  I got rid of my cube and my PS2 and my television, and I do not own anything from the current generation aside from the DS.

These days I spend most of my time focusing on quality single player experiences on the PC.  I am not good at RTS games but I respect them, my interests lie elsewhere.  I enjoy retro style shooters and platformers, and I’m an avid FPS/3PS player.

For multiplayer I focus mainly on a tight-knit player community devoted to Team Fortress 2 … I also play Left 4 Dead and its sequel.   It is extraordinarily rare for me to enjoy a multiplayer experience for longer than a month before I bore and go back to TF2. The only thing keeping me playing TF2 is the solid community I’ve become a part of. For me multiplayer is less about the game and more about enjoying the game with a set of people you know. This is the reason the concept of dedicated servers is important to me.  Left 4 Dead feels like an enhanced single player experience … I completely fail to enjoy versus mode as a result.

It should be apparent at this point that I’m an avid user and fan of Valve products and the Steam platform.  I would not support Steam to the extent that I do if it were not for the fact that Valve has spent years earning and keeping my trust as a customer.  Steam is a good, convenient platform for gaming, DRM and all.  It’s not perfect and not for everyone, but it fits my needs perfectly.

I think you’ve got a pretty good picture at this point, and it will save me from having to explain some of this later, when I’d rather be discussing a topic at hand.  If nothing else, I’d like to welcome you to my little slice of the gaming world.

td;lr:  I’m C4Cypher, and this is MY HOUSE!

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