A Plea to Online Game Developers: Can We Please Have Age Filters in Our Game Lobbies?!

This is a topic I have been discussing with my gamer friends for a few years, and it becomes more relevant, or even necessary, in our minds as the years pass. We would like to see some sort of age filters in our online game lobbies. Okay, folks, I am in my 40s, and most of my game buddies are thirty-somethings. Many have families. We all have careers. We have degrees or at least some amount of college. So you can imagine what a turn off and frustration it is to be trying to get into an online match and have to tolerate immature behavior from prepubescent kids and adolescents. Speaking on behalf of more mature gamers, we should not have to put up with the juvenile behavior that spews from them, their lack of sportsmanship, their disregard for game rules, etc. I am not saying that these younger gamers all behave this way, there are those who have shown definite maturity and were a pleasure to game with; but they were the rare exception. (Kudos to the parents that have given them proper social skills.)

So what can we do about this? I think the answer is simpler then most realize. We add age filters to the game lobbies. The data to do this is already in place. As we all have experienced, most online accounts are tied in with credit or debit card data which has birth dates associated with it. Those that do not require the credit or debit cards still ask for birth dates. All that needs to be done is to link that additional data to the gamer identity. With that in place we can institute age filters. Wouldn’t it be nice for adults to be able to have the option to allow only those who are over, let’s say, 21 to enter our game? Even college students could select an age range within their demographic. I, personally, would love to create a match that specifies people within the age range of my friends. This would make online gaming a much more pleasurable experience. No longer would I have to hear some 10 year old, up past his bedtime, running around a Halo map yelling slurs that he doesn’t understand. Nor would you have to put up with the kids who completely disregard the rules of the match you are in. (Yes, there are adults who do this too, and I block them.)

Of course, as has been pointed out to me, there are those who will lie about their age, or play on another account. True, but I point that those would be found out eventually, and if they are violating the rules of online play, or are otherwise being offensive, they can still be booted. I do believe that age filters have become something that needs to be instituted to improve online play. As well, if this were in place I do believe you would see more mature gamers who have been turned off by negative experiences in Halo, Call of Duty, etc., return to play online more.

There is another benefit that parents would appreciate: age filters can be applied to parental controls, and online pedophiles and stalkers would be easier to single out and identify.

So, dear developers and people of the game industry, please put age filters into our online games. The benefits outweigh other considerations.


Enough With the Online Dependency of Games!

As I have done in my past posts, let me briefly state where I stand. I do love to play online. I like to be able to play co-op with friends around the world. I also like to get online and frag-n-bag opposing players in a good FPS. But, I do not feel every game demands this component. So many developers have come out and said that they are only going to focus on online play. I can speak for not only myself, but also for a great deal of my gaming friends, in that we like our single-player campaigns and other solo modes. Many times, after dealing with the real world and the general public all day at work, we want to be able to escape into our virtual realms and not deal with people.

Why is there this huge push for online play? Shouldn’t the focus be on creating a good game with a good story or in the case of platformers, puzzle games, and arcade games, games with innovative play? Before the push for online games we used to have RPGs that you could clock over 100 hours playing. Action and adventure games had storylines that were typically over 40 hours. We had serious content in these games, but that has been sacrificed while more attention is being paid to tacking on an online component. (Currently many action and adventure games typically have campaigns that can be finished in 10-15 hours.) It is analogous to making a movie that is all special effects and no story to hold it together.

Even in single player games, many gamers are forced to go online to activate and/or play them – games by Valve and any game purchased through Steam, for example. A growing number of games require you to be connected online just to play them. One of the latest to do this was the hugely anticipated Diablo III, which not only requires you to be online, but you must have a Blizzard account just to play a solo game. Let’s be realistic, not everyone wants to be online. Not everyone has reliable internet access. Not everyone wants their gaming activity monitored.

I don’t want in any way to be construed as being against the online; I encourage and am a part of its evolution. However, we can’t let that displace quality game content and solo play, and we should not force people to have to get online to enjoy their leisure entertainment.

Downloadable Games vs Boxed Copies, and WTF is up with the price of downloads?

Let the record show: I prefer box editions of games over downloads. Why? Well, I like the box art. I like the extras that come with some games. I like something that I can show off on my bookshelves. If it is title near and dear to my heart, or I want something of extra collector’s value, I will get a collector’s edition, eager for the figurines, statues, art books, or other game swag. What I fail to understand is how they can rationalize charging the same price for a digital copy of a game as they do for the disk copy. Logic would dictate that without a physical disk or any packaging the cost of the game would be cheaper. Right?

Most every time I get on one of my consoles I check their online store for new downloads, etc., and I am always taken aback that they would charge the same for the downloadable version of a game has they do for the retail box copy. You’d think without the cost of packaging you would get some kind of price break. Before I go further, I should remind people that it is not the companies behind the consoles that set these prices (although they have some influence), but it is the game publishers themselves. One argument that I heard, and it makes total sense to me, that the reason for the basically equal pricing between digital vs disk copies is so that they don’t hurt the demand for disk copies. I can respect that; I want to see continued production of my disc games in their artful packaging to display on my shelves. But, seriously, if you want me to buy a digital download version, make it worth my while. Include digital copies of the things that the physical copies have: game manuals, box art, etc. Yes, some have online manuals; but, seriously, have you ever tried to reference one while playing the game? Come on, people, put it in a PDF form so we can open it on an eReader or be able to print it. Give us JPEGs or PDFs of the box art. For that matter, if they are going to charge the same price as the box copies, why not include at least the game soundtrack to make purchase of the download more economically worthwhile. That brings up the argument that if they did include these perks, the added downloads would just be taking up space on the console hard drive. That doesn’t have to be. When you make the purchase, they could send you links for the additional content with the purchase confirmation that gets emailed to you so you save it to your PC.

What logically follows with any discussion on a focus on downloadable titles is having the hard drive space to download them to. Both Sony and Microsoft have been pushing gamers to build their digital games library. At least the consoles now have much larger hard drives than they did a few years ago, but the current 320Gb drives that the top end models have right now are barely enough to hold games and DLC for the serious gamer. (Gaming PCs usually come with at least a terabyte of hard drive.) Most triple-A games released today take 10 to 15 Gb of drive space, and that doesn’t include any map packs or expansions. But I digress… back to the subject at hand.

Now let’s talk about the hidden costs of playing online games that affect both box copies and downloads. No, I am not talking about online fees or anything like that. What I am referring to are the costs of map packs and other DLC that you have to purchase to continue playing online. For gamers that want to continue playing the online component of games in the Halo franchise, Call of Duty, Gears of War, etc., just to name a few off the top of my head, you must keep current with the map packs, or else you are faced with either being booted from the game lobby or not being able to enter a game lobby. The costs of these adds up quickly. In many cases the online gamer will end up spending two to three times the purchase price of the base game in map packs alone just to be able to continue playing online. One may counter that you do not have to get the DLC, but if you don’t you will find yourself not being able to get into most game lobbies. I, myself, spent approximately $100 in map packs for Call of Duty Modern Warfare and Halo 3 each. That was just so I could continue playing online. Some publishers have gotten wise to this and have wisely offered a type of subscription for future map packs and DLC, but we are still faced with doubling the cost of our games just to continue playing online, especially for ranked online play.

In this economy it just doesn’t make sense to have to pay these kind of prices for downloads. I understand and support production costs of creating games having been involved with film and television production, and I have no problem paying for the talent and skills that go into creation of this media. When you eliminate the cost of physical packaging and physical distribution, you should pass some savings onto the consumer. That’s only good business.

Returning to Eorzea: Square Enix Follows Through With Vast Improvements to Final Fantasy XIV

It’s gratifying to see a game publisher like Square Enix admit fault and work to publicly fix a flawed title that we had so anticipated. That is the saga of Final Fantasy XIV. After some encouragement from a friend I gave this game a second chance, and I am glad I did.

Final Fantasy XIV was a title I was drooling over since the first teaser trailers. Then I lucked in to the closed beta of it. The beta had me so excited. Never before had I seen such amazing graphics in an MMO or any other game. The beta, as is the case with any game in testing phases had its issues, but nothing that would turn me off. I pre-ordered my Collector’s Edition of it and eagerly awaited its arrival.

When launch day came I plummeted headlong into it, having decided to retire my Final Fantasy XI character. (FYI: In addition to FFXIV I currently am on WoW and ST:TOR. If you don’t know those acronyms you probably are not a gamer, or at least not an MMO gamer.) Back then, I must say, I was enthralled with the first few levels. On a technical note, thank god I have a powerful gaming PC because initially that was needed to play this game at all. Even with my powerful beast of a machine my fans would whirl like a wind tunnel. People without a hardcore gaming rig were left out in the cold. After my first dozen levels my disappointment started. This was a game I truly wanted to love, but it left me empty. A game, especially an RPG or an MMO needs to give you some sort of raison d’etre, a reason to be. That was lacking, and much time was spent trying to figure out what the hell to do next while my PC was whirling like a NASA wind tunnel. So, I eventually ended up not playing the game at all. I considered deleting it to free up hard drive space, but something in me, whether it was sentimentality or optimism, said wait. My decision paid off.

I must give Square Enix credit for admitting to their mistakes and then developing a game plan to make much needed improvements in both the technical aspects of the game and the game play itself. Here is the link outlining the changes being made for version 2.0, and check out the PDFs that go into further detail about the changes.

After having not played in a year, I have spent the last several nights playing, investing on the average seven hours a night. That being said, the changes I have noticed have been dramatic.

After I got in the game, I grew concerned because my PC was not kicking into overdrive like it did before. Then I checked some of my performance monitors and realized that the system’s resources was being used much more efficiently and economically. With several background apps running on Windows 7 64-bit, total RAM usage was only 2.8Gb, while only 27% of my i7 processor was being used. My rig also runs dual Nvidia 465 graphics cards. For this game I do not use SLI configuration, running graphics on the primary and PhysX on the secondary. Square Enix had said they were changing the graphics engine, and they did. And, there is no noticeable compromise in graphics quality. The game looks amazing. I repeat: amazing. This is some of the best graphics I have seen. And with this new graphics engine, they have made this game much more playable and accessible for people who do not have high-end gaming PCs. To cap off already amazing visuals, the weather effects and time changes in the game will make you stop and watch. The texture detail is, for lack of a better word, dazzling. So, as for the graphics, visuals, and arts style of this title this game deserves an A.

I’m baaa-aaack!

But, visual components alone do not a game make. You have to have some kind of driving momentum. Once I got over the amazing graphics, I was pleased to immediately see those exclamation marks over some NPCs’ heads indicating some available missions. As well, the new leve quests that SE introduced into this game are still there. As promised, Square has added content and refined others. There are also some really nice cut scenes that caught my attention, adding to some of the story lines and tying things together. They have promised more work on this, and I am anxious to see how far they go. Of course, in the time I have played it since going back, it is impossible to see everything that has thus far been tweaked, but I have to say from what little I have seen, that Square is making a valiant attempt at putting its money where its mouth is. It is really a shame that they didn’t get it right at the beginning, but the strides they have made make it worthy of a second chance.

A Man and His Chocobo

If this were a full review, I would take time to write about the character creation, jobs, crafting, and plethora of choices that we have come to know and love in our MMORPGs. I will revisit that when the 2.0 version hits (and/or if I create a new character before then.) I will tell you this, there are a multitude of choices to make, and if you are one of those who like to craft and sell your wares there is plenty to do in that area.

Ultimately, what they are striving to achieve with their version 2.0 slated for release this fall, is a complete overhaul of their game. They have wisely chosen to tackle this incrementally. As of this writing, they seem to be right on schedule. As of this writing they have a game that I am looking forward to playing right now. If you played it before, but were turned off as many were, I highly recommend giving it a second chance. If you haven’t played this before and were considering, you have two options: one, waiting for the 2.0 release and/or its companion PS3 version, or two, jumping in right now to a gorgeous game that at this point is a good solid MMO. Did I mention that it is gorgeous?

All I need is my moogle!

Continuing to Impress – Ragnarok Odyssey (Japanese release)

I just have to add to my previous review: This game is awesome! At least it is in Japanese, a language which I embarrassingly admit to knowing next to nothing. (All the Japanese I know is from watching Kill Bill, anime, and Kurosawa films. A fact which I intend on remedying soon.)

As I mentioned before, it is a testament to a good game its ease of learning when you can pick up a game in a language you do not know and intuit the mechanics and enjoy it. This is the case with RO. This is easily one of the most addictive games I have played in a while.

There have been several updates to the game since I started playing, all of which have tweaked the online features. Because of my ignorance of the language, I hadn’t really experimented with the online… until last night. I wasn’t sure, but I had surmised, that a certain dialog was referring to entering a game lobby in the tavern and inviting players to come along on a mission. And I was right! Much to my elation, a few Japanese gamer brethren joined my party and we rocked some monsters! Although there was some lag in the gameplay, it did not detract from it at all. I was quite impressed to play this Japanese game in America on Japanese servers with people on the other side of the world with little or no problems. And as for the obvious language barrier, the game has quite a few animated emoticons that your character can use to communicate with others, breaking down the language barrier. If they get the localization right for the North American release, this should be the game to own for Vita owners; it already is in my book.

Vita owners, I recommend pre-ordering this title. Or if you can’t wait (like me), get the Japanese import. If you can’t find a copy of the import, let me take this opportunity to refer you to one of my fave places, Video Games New York.

Ragnarok Odyssey (Japanese release) Review, and I Can’t Wait for the North America Release

You know a game is good when you can play it in a language you do not understand and be thoroughly hooked. I am referring to Ragnarok Odyssey.

One of joys of living in New York City is having a local game store like Video Games New York that specializes in Japanese imports and retro games. I frequent this place a couple of times a month just to check out their new arrivals and cruise through their vast selection of retro games and consoles. It was on my last visit that I was chatting with the store clerk. I wish I could remember his name, he deserves a shout-out. (It’s always refreshing to find a video game store clerk that is actually very knowledgeable of video games.) We were talking about their latest Japanese PS3 imports when he pointed out their Japanese PS Vita titles. And there it was: Ragnarok Odyssey. Score!

I must admit, I was totally unaware that this had been released in Japan and there is a North American version due out in Q3 2012. I have always been a fan of the Ragnarok universe, and to see a PS Vita addition had me like a kid at a toy store days before Christmas. Ragnarok Odyssey was released in Japan earlier this year to much acclaim. A Hong Kong release is slated for July 12 that includes both Chinese and English.

Before I go on, let the record show that my knowledge of the Japanese language is limited to what I have learned from Kill Bill, sushi restaurants, and watching anime. (I fully intend to work on this skill in the immediate future…) To be this excited about an action rpg without being able to understand the dialog and menus of the game (or for that matter the items I am purchasing experimentally from the various vendors in the game) tells you that this is going to be a great addition to the PS Vita game library and the Ragnarok universe.

Not being able understand the language yet be able to pick it up and quickly figure out that gameplay is a credit to the designers of this game. A game should not have too steep of a learning curve. Ideally the controls and logic of the game should be somewhat intuitive. And this one has that working for it in addition to everything else. From the lush music of that pops up with the title page, to the amazing opening action-filled battle movie that begins the game, to the stellar graphics and art-style of the game, this game is an audio and visual delight. The gameplay is much like Monster Quest where you take increasing difficult missions of venturing out to rid the area of increasingly difficult foe or gathering items while battling these critters. There are a nice variety of character classes to play. (I am playing the default Sword Master class.) The boss battles are challenging. You will die a few times, and this game does have a certain amount of forgiveness in that it lets you resurrect twice during a mission, but you will still fail a quest every once in a while. There is a lot of loot to be had on these missions too. Developers Acquire and Game Arts and publisher XSEED have also taken unique advantage of the PS Vita’s features by incorporating an unique in-game “near” app access feature in addition to using the touch-screen to bring up potion and communication menus. You will get a kick out of making your character flirt, joke, sass, bow, wave, cheer, anger, taunt, etc., etc. I know I a missing a lot of the content of this game since I am clueless as to what’s being said, but to enjoy it this much… I can’t think of higher praise.

I can’t wait for the English language version. I hope the people behind the localization meet the high-bar that that the developers have set, because this is and shall be a great title Vita, and a great game, period.

Review Rating: 9.5/10

  • Available now in Japan (and your local store that carries Japanese imports!)
  • North American Release Date: Q3 2012
  • RP-T+ for Rating Pending: Targeting a Rating of Teen or Above
  • Genre: RPG
  • Publisher: XSEED Games (and Gung Ho Entertainment in Japan)
  • Developer: Game Arts

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The Absurdity of the Gamer-Led Console Wars, and How I Make My Choices of Platform

As I stated in my previous blog entry, I am a huge Sony fanboy; but that does not mean that I have any less love for my other consoles. Yes, I own all the current gen of hardware: PS3, Xbox 360, Wii (and also PS Vita, PSP, and 3DS). And, I have a huge custom gaming PC. That being said, I think the console wars is ridiculous. It is not the one-upmanship of the console makers that bothers me; that is just healthy competition that brings about evolution in the industry. What I think is really sad and is the bashing and hating perpetuated by gamers themselves. Each console has its merits. Each offers something different. So, although I am a Sony fan, I play each with equal enthusiasm. Why can’t gamers respect the choices of other gamers? These systems are not cheap. Games are not cheap. So most have to make a decision of one console over the others. Respect their choices. Each console has carved its own niche, and with good reason.

Nintendo has some of the best, most classic franchises ever! There is no debating that. I think that is one point on which most every gamer (and non-gamer) can agree. It really pisses me off to hear the inane criticism of “it’s not in 1080p” or “its online sucks.” A game doesn’t have to be in 1080p to look stunning. Resident Evil 4, the Zelda games, Epic Mickey, these all look great. As for online, that is not a deal breaker for me. I love online games, but I also enjoy the solo game or having someone over for local multiplayer. And there are some online games: Mario Kart for example. So what if you don’t have voice chat. It’s not needed to enjoy these games. As for economy, Nintendo is definitely the system to own if you are on a tight budget. The console is almost half the price of the others, and the games are $10 to $20 less in price.

Then there’s Microsoft and the 360. The one thing that I say MS has excelled with is their online capabilities from messaging to voice and video chat and how it integrates in online games and game lobbies. But, consider this: they better have excelled at this. They’ve only had two decades to experiment and tweak it to get it right. They built on their own .NET framework and have incorporated everything they learned from their Windows division. Then there’s the Kinnect. How cool is this? I feel so Minority Report every time I play a Kinnect game. They also have some great exclusive franchises: Gears of War and Halo primarily, not to mention Forza and Fable.

And for Sony and the PS3, they’ve come a long way. Great hardware from the beginning. (I still maintain that their graphical and physics capabilities are best and have not fully been exploited.) It has Blu-Ray, which holds much more data. The GUI is much less cluttered and easier to navigate. And their catalog of games, I feel, is aimed at a more mature demographic of gamer. They have some great exclusive franchises too: Uncharted, Resistance, Killzone, God of War, Gran Turismo. Also, they have PlayStation Plus, which is a huge economic boon for gamers. (See my previous blog.)

So why do gamers insist on trash-talking and bashing consoles? (Psychoanalysis is not my forte, but I surmise it is some sort of envy/jealousy akin to Freudian penis-envy, or whipping it out to see whose is bigger, but I digress.) Each offers something that the others don’t. It’s a matter of personal taste and personal economy. We need a little more tolerance and respect in this community.

This brings me to my second point of this essay, and a question that is asked of me frequently. Since I own all three consoles and a gaming PC, why do I chose certain buying multiplatform titles on one console over the other? The answer is simple: control scheme familiarity for some, graphics for others, and the demographic of the community playing an online title.

The Resident Evil series, for example, I have to play on Sony consoles. Why? I played my first Resident Evil games on the original PlayStation. I am familiar with that controller and that control scheme for those games. For me RE is at home on my PS3, as are Final Fantasy games. On the flipside, the Elder Scrolls series is at home for me on the Xbox line. When it comes to FPS, I go back and forth: I like the community on PS3 that plays Battlefield games (I also played the earlier ones on PS2). As for the COD series, I go back and forth, one installment on one the next on the other. (I have close friends that like to play it on 360, and clan buddies on the PS3.) Then there are some games which I only play on PC: the Crysis games, Portal games, and F.E.A.R. games. These games originated on PC, and I like the control and mod capabilities of PC, not to mention the supreme graphics of PC. And the game ladders and lobbies of PC reign supreme. I have not mentioned Nintendo here because Nintendo has carved it its own unique niche, and all my Nintendo games are Nintendo exclusives.

In gaming, as in other forms of entertainment, it’s about what makes you happy, what really grabs you. Let’s put this war to rest, and enjoy gaming with others (or alone) and sharing our experiences. We have enough negativity in our real world, don’t let it invade our escape.

My First Blog Post (here): Kudos and Thank You, Sony

Now that I have this blog set up, and I am pretty much pleased with it, it is time for my first blog entry…

I should preface this by admitting that yes, I am a huge Sony fanboy. But, that does not mean I have any less love for my other consoles, and I have them all. Each and their respective “only on” titles have given me great satisfaction and many hours of gaming. (I have a future blog planned for why I purchase certain multiplatform games for certain platforms over others.) That being said, time for my praise of Sony.

This last week, coinciding with an impressive showing at E3, Sony rolled out a plethora of AAA titles free to their PlayStation Plus subscribers. Now that I have mentioned PlayStation Plus, let me rant a moment about the PS Plus nay-sayers and haters. How can anybody logically complain about having to pay for this service. Need I remind people that Sony does not charge for playing online like Microsoft does. Sony does not require players to have a “Silver” or “Gold” subscription to take advantage of online multiplayer gaming the way the 360 does. PlayStation Plus is a subscription service whose members benefit by getting discounts on games and downloadable content, exclusive access to other content and features, and early or exclusive access to betas. Xbox Live charges $60 annually for a Gold membership just to play online and take advantage of the online features. Sony does not. But for $50 annually you get 24 times that much in games and savings. Sony reports that in 2011 Plus members received more than $1200 in savings on games and downloads. All that for $50. I rest my case. Nay-sayers and haters, to use the vernacular of leet speak: STFU!

So, as I mentioned above, coinciding with an impressive showing at E3 (and that was a clever public relations strategy), I turned on my PS3 and headed over to the PlayStation Store, something I do every time I power up my black beauty, and what did I discover? At least $240 worth of free AAA titles for Plus members. I was particularly ecstatic because I was literally minutes away from going out and picking up a copy of Warhammer 40,000, which I had been thinking about for a long while and is still selling for $40 to $50 retail. And here it was free! And there were many more titles that I wanted to add to my collection. Now I have most all of them downloaded and installed on my PlayStation 3. In one day, my Plus membership paid for itself 5-fold. Thank you, Sony! Here are the titles that were made free to Plus members this week:

  • Virtua Fighter 5
  • inFAMOUS 2
  • Little Big Planet 2
  • Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One
  • Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine
  • Just Cause 2
  • Saints Row 2
  • Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
  • Hard Corp: Uprising
  • Choplifter HD
  • Zombie Apocalypse Never Die Alone
  • Sideway NY

It occurred to me that the PlayStation Plus service has also achieved something else: it has made PlayStation 3 and its games even more accessible to the public. Let’s face it: this is an expensive hobby (and for some – obsession). But now, for the cost of one game, someone who has spent their hard-earned money on this console is treated to a library of games that, as in the case of 2011 Plus games, is worth up to $2000. All for $50. I can’t think of a better investment for any PlayStation gamer.

For more information on this roll-out of games check out the PlayStation.Blog.

See you online!

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