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Trophies and Achievements are Pointless…but I like Trophies. January 17, 2010

Posted by maxfreund in General, PS3, Xbox 360.
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As a person who has owned both a 360 and a PS3, I have had plenty of experience with both the trophy and achievement rewards system.

For anyone who does not know what they are, they are a rewards system that developers can implement in their games. Any task in a game from beating the final boss on a certain difficulty, to collecting 100 doodads can net you any number of achievement points (if you are playing the 360) or a gold/silver/bronze trophy (for those who game on the PS3). This small measure of reward has no actual function beyond displaying your personal escapades within a game, but most people I have talked to agree that they are a useful way to entice multiple play throughs of games.

Recently, Greg Miller of the IGN Playstation Team, and Charles Onyett of the IGN Xbox Team posted dueling editorials outlining the positives and negatives of each system, and for those who are interested in learning about their full opinions, you can find them here and here.

While Mr. Miller is a self-proclaimed PS3 fanboy, you can expect that his preference lies with the Play Station system. While Mr. Onyett focused more on problems with achievements/trophies that required obnoxious replays, level grinding, or possibly sabotaging a multiplayer game for personal benefit.

I agree with much of what Charles says, their is nothing more frustrating then sitting down to complete a game, and realizing there is some small bronze trophy, or 5 point achievement that is going to take hours and hours of pointless grinding to obtain. That is obnoxious, and is discouraging to players who love a game and wish to complete it.

But for the main point of this piece, let us consider that all things being equal, every achievement or trophy is obtainable in a reasonable manner, and you set off on your quest to complete the game.

Look Ma! I got a Platinum Trophy! I truly belong now!

I recently did this for the first time on the PS3, as evident by my little portable ID on the right hand column of this site. I got a platinum trophy for completing Uncharted 2. And this, my friends, is the whole reason why the trophy system is better.

I had an Xbox 360 for 2 years, and reached 1000/1000 achievement points on both Bioshock and Gears of War. But when I reached that pinnacle of success within each game, i was rewarded with nothing, no extra point boost or emblem of success.

But when I got the last of the bronze/silver/ and gold trophies in Uncharted 2, I got the platinum trophy. Which not only provided me with a hefty point boost in the PS3 trophy leveling system, which is thoroughly detailed in Greg Miller’s piece, but gave me a nice shiny platinum emblem which shows my accomplishment to the gaming world.

It may be a small thing, but can make a big difference to someone who just spent hours and hours trying to complete a game. The Platinum trophy provides a cap to the game, a virtual pat on the back that says, “good job, you did something special here,” and to some gamers that can make all the difference.

Ezio Gets His Chance January 14, 2010

Posted by maxfreund in General, PS3, Xbox 360.
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I recently wrote about my love of Assassin’s Creed 2, and the main character, Ezio, but how I was so frustrated that the AC series had been planned around the annoying Mr. Miles.

Well it seems as if Ubisoft has heard mine and other gamer’s cries.

Although details are scarce at this point, they have released a statement that a new Assassin’s Creed game, staring Ezio will come out this fiscal year, but will not necessarily be the Assassin’s Creed 3 game, which will more than likely be made about Desmond Miles. This new game will pick up the Ezio story line where it ended at a gut-renchingly annoying cliffhanger at  the end of AC 2. Also there will be some form of multiplayer, but that is much less important to me than the fact that my favorite assassin appears to be getting the love and respect he deserves.

AC 2 was great because of Ezio, not Desmond Miles, and it appears that Ubisoft understands that.

God of War Rewind a Welcome Addition January 10, 2010

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As my winter break winds down, I find myself scrambling to get through the games i amassed for Christmas, and surprisingly I keep returning to a 5 year old game. The God of War Collection was released this fall in anticipation of the new God of War III which is slated for release in March.

The collection is an attractive bundle. For $40 bucks, you get God of War I and God of War II, with HD visuals, and fully integrated trophy support. They also threw in a download code for the E3 God of War III demo, to wet your pallet.

While the games do show their age slightly, GOW I more so than II, they are still a tremendous experience. I personally had played GOW I before but not II, and I still found it to be worth my money.

But the release of the God of War Collection got me thinking about storytelling in video games.

Video games are a uniquely difficult meduim for telling stories that span one release. With books, you can take years in between sequels and those who want to follow the story through to the end can do so, because books are independent entities that do not rely on anything to “play” them.

Movies are a little bit more restrictive than books, because the devices used to play them shift occasionally (VCR to DVD and now BlueRay), but most movies are released in theatres, so they do not require an initial investment in a piece of technology.

But video games are different. Systems switch much more frequently than movie viewing technology, and as a result a long running story can be drawn out over two, maybe three consoles. This requires an initial investment of hundreds of dollars in different hardware, and does not even take into account the fact that from generation to generation, people may choose hardware from different manufactures. This can lead to exclusivity problems, and prevents gamers from following a story to completion.

For instance, say a person got into gaming with the original Xbox, and so they were unable to play GOW I or II, since they where exclusive to the Play Station 2. But that person has recently purchased a PS3. They would be unable to be caught up with the GOW series, if it was not for the GOW Collection, and as a result playing GOW III would more than likely be a less compelling experience.

This is exactly why more collections are needed. There is a big difference between a quality collection of a beloved franchise and a cash grab. The Nintendo Wii ports of Gamecube games, where they adjust absolutely nothing visually, and simply slap on clunky waggle controls is a cash grab. The original Gamecube game is not only playable on the Wii, but also in most cases controls smoother.

But a true collection like GOW Collection is a welcome sight. By polishing the visuals and providing trophy support, it is a newer, and more inviting experience for gamers who maybe were too young to play when the games were originally released, but the heart and soul of a great franchise remained intact, and this collection allows anyone who was unable to follow the exploits of Kratos in the past console generation to do so.

Give Ezio a Chance December 28, 2009

Posted by maxfreund in General, PS3, Xbox 360.
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With the holiday season winding down, I have settled in with my newly acquired cache of games, and recently completed Assassins Creed 2.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the game, and plan to go back through it to collect all the extra goodies I missed while playing the main campaign, the overall package brought up a huge pet peeve of mine, and has driven me to write this mini rant.

Assassins Creed 2 is obviously the second game in the Assassins Creed series, which Ubisoft proclaimed to be a pre-planned trilogy during development of the first Assassins Creed.

The trilogy is supposed to follow the life of Desmond Miles, a man caught up in a modern day war between two factions, the Templars, and the Assassins. Miles is a descendant of former assassins, and so far the first two games in the series has had him plugged into a machine that allows him to relive the experiences of his ancestors, in order to gain knowledge and experience for the modern day conflict.

The problem that I had when playing Assassins Creed 2, is that it is an incomplete story, it begins essentially in the middle of a scene and ends with Desmond and his obnoxiously stereotypical chums escaping their facility. No closure, no self-contained story. I understand Ubisoft has grand plans for this franchise, and wants the three games to be played in succession in order for the entire story to be enjoyed, but they executed it so poorly.

If you want an example of doing it right, look at Uncharted. Uncharted 1 and 2 are complete, fully-fledged games that have a beginning, middle and end. Both can be played independently and provide the gamer with a great, immersive story, yet when played together the experience is that much more expansive and deep.

Assassins Creed 2 fails to be an independently functioning game, and for 60 bucks, that is unacceptable. But the most frustrating part of it all is that there is a tremendous story hidden within Assassins Creed 2.

I know who I would pick to build a franchise around, but Ubisoft has chosen a whiney punk in a hoodie instead...

Ezio Auditore de Firenze, Desmond’s Italian ancestor, is whom you spend over 90% of the game controlling, and is the year’s new badass. He is suave, cunning, and wears fashionable left shoulder capes. And the setting of Renaissance Italy is breathtakingly rendered, and a welcome change from the usual post-apocalyptic brown and grey landscapes of modern day games.

But instead of creating a tremendous, complete, compelling assassin game based around Ezio, Ubisoft forces Mr. Miles down our throats. The fact that most of the time you are in Ezio’s world, means that the player gains little to no interest or connection to Desmond, so the few sections that you are controlling him feel tacked on. But since the entire Assassins Creed storyline revolves around Desmond, the Ezio experience lacks the center stage it deserves, and Assassins Creed 2 ends up feeling like an incomplete experience.

For all the negative, there is a great game hidden in there. The time that you are Ezio is tremendous, and all of Italy is worth exploring, I really enjoyed this game, but hate that Ezio does not get the front stage he deserves. If Desmond was scrapped, along with his obnoxious futuristic war storyline, and Ubisoft gave me an awesome 1400s Italy assassin game, it would be on my short list for game of the year. Instead it is an incomplete experience that can only be fully appreciated with prior knowledge of AC1 and subsequent playing of AC3.

New Article December 17, 2009

Posted by maxfreund in General, Wii.
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Check out my latest article. In Iowa City, there is a development company Budcat Creations, and they recently released a game for the Nintendo Wii, Our House: Party! I wrote an article outlining the game, how it has been received, and the process that went into creating the game. Special thanks to everyone at Budcat, as well as all others who let me interview them, check it out here.

Home Shopping Network Leaves Me Conflicted December 6, 2009

Posted by maxfreund in Wii.
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One of my hobbies other than videogames is watching infomercials. I love seeing the crazy products and over the top pitchmen. And recently, with holiday shopping in full swing, I have been seeing videogame bundles being touted on HSN.

For anyone who is not familiar with the HSN channel format. They have a product, be it cookware, or coats, or in this case the Nintendo Wii bundle, and for a full half hour they talk about the product, and take phone calls from customers.

And when I saw the Nintendo Wii was being highlighted, my gamer sense started tingling, and I was forced to see what the fuss was about.

I never thought a half hour HSN show could leave me with such mixed feelings.

On one hand I was happy, because video games were being shown to people that may not have thought about them as an option for their home. HSN is mostly watched by the 40 + middle America demographic, and those people tend not to be thought of as gamers. While the Wii has its faults, I have no problem with it being a mass market introduction to gaming, I think that was lacking, and I applaud Nintendo for filling that void.

On the other hand, the bundle really pissed me off. The fault for this goes to HSN. They were offering the Olympic Sports Bundle for a whopping $329.95. That is a whole $129.95 over the purchase price of a Wii. So what are the extras in this bundle to make it worth the hike in price?

  • Pikmin video game
  • Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games video game
  • 15-in-1 Player’s Kit

That’s right ladies and gentleman, you get an eight year old game with plastered on waggle controls, a crappy mini game collection of thrilling Olympic sports such as Curling… and a pack of 15 useless plastic Wiimote add-ons such as the pool cue attachment and two wrist straps!

I was really sad when I saw this, because dupes who know no better will spend an extra $130 bucks for junk they do not need. It is in HSN’s best interest to make money off of people, I understand that, but the gamer in me was furious.

These buyers are trying to get into a medium of entertainment that they most likely never paid any attention to. But instead, they are getting useless plastic and crappy or old games thrown at them, and they do not know any better.

So for all those recent purchasers of the Nintendo Wii, welcome to the gaming world, we are glad to have you, but shame on you HSN for adding on useless crap, and taking advantage of the naive.

My PS3 Shopping List November 30, 2009

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So my girlfriends family is thinking of buying a PS3 for Christmas, and asked me to suggest some good software. Well being the over-the-top video game dork that I am, I wrote a 5 paged synopsis of multiple genres and titles that should be considered. I apologize McCarthy family, I get carried away sometimes… Well I figured that other people might get a kick out of seeing what I suggested, so take a look!

Max’s Amazingly Great Games for the PS3 List –

Platformers:

Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time – $49.99 – Rated E – Everyone knows and loves the Ratchet and Clank series, and the most recent iteration is no different. It delivers a solid platform experience and is a comedic, family friendly game. Alternative: Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction was released a few years ago for the PS3, and is currently only $29.99. Even though it is a few years old, it would still deliver the same great experience. Simply put a Ratchet game is always fun.

Little Big Planet GOTY: Edition – $59.99 – Rated E – Quiet possibly the cutest videogame of all time. The player controls the adorable Sackboy through imaginative worlds, collecting hundreds of alternative costumes, environments, and stickers. The game itself is tons of fun, but the real mileage comes from the creative tool. Every single level in the game was created using the tools that the player is given. The tools are extremely deep, but there is a learning curve, and a person who is easily frustrated might want to steer clear. If you are the type of gamer who loves creating unique levels, and doesn’t mind a challenge, then LBP is a great buy. But if spending hours creating unique levels doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you might want to steer clear of this one.

Role Playing Games:

Valkyria Chronicles – $19.99 – Rated T – This is a rather strange game. It is a turn based RPG, set in a fake continent during the 1930s. You control a group of anime-esque characters. I have never personally played this game, but have heard very good things about it. It is definitely a hit or miss type of game, but if turn based strategy with 1930s weapons excites you, then Valkyria Chronicles is your winner. I felt I should include it on this list, because it is a relatively new title that has gotten great reviews, but is retailing for only 20 bucks, which is an absolute steal.

Fallout 3 GOTY Edition – $39.99 – Rated M –  Simply put this was the actual game of the year from 2008. And the game of the year edition provides not only the main story, which could easily last 50+ hours of game play, but also all 5 downloadable packs on one disk. The 5 DLC packs released throughout 2009 each sold originally for 10 bucks a piece, so having them all packed onto the disk is a tremendous steal. Fallout 3 is a first person RPG set in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Washington DC. It is a world stuck in the 1950s style, and provides an absolutely mindboggling amount of locations to explore, missions to complete, and items to collect. But be warned, this game is not for the casual player. It will suck your life away, and make you want to play for hours and hours. It is also a rather dark game, dealing with a world that is mired in war. Allowing the player to commit heinous acts for self-improvement, or selfless acts for the good of mankind. It is a great game, and at $40 bucks, there is more content here than you could ever complete. But it is a hit or miss title, and for some it will just be too difficult to get involved in.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivions GOTY Edition: $29.99 – Rated M – Oblivions is made by Bethesda, the same guys that made Fallout 3, and like Fallout 3 this game is deep, and amazing. It is a similar first person RPG, but is set in a more fantasy style realm, unlike the barren post apocalyptic wasteland that is Fallout 3. It is a daunting game, because there is just so much to do, and the GOTY edition includes the Knights of the Nine and Shivering Isles expansions, which add hours and hours of gameplay, and both cost around 30 bucks when they were released. This game is a few years old, and so for 30 bucks it is an absolute steal. And the setting of elves, orcs, magic spells and swords might be a bit more inviting to some than Fallout 3’s guns, grenades, super mutants, and decrepit buildings.

Shooters:

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves – $49.99 – Rated T – Adam Sessler, a tremendously well respected videogame journalist called Uncharted 2 “The greatest single player experience of all time,” and that is not far off. I love this game, it is cinematic, engrossing, beautiful, funny, emotional, essentially a 10 hour action movie. Obviously, if you do not like shooters, then this game will not change your mind, but Sam watched me play this game for about 5 hours and loved it. It is so visually impressive and the game play is top notch, that it is just an experience all gamers must enjoy.

Racers:

Burnout Paradise – $19.99 – Rated E – Burnout Paradise is two years old, and still arguably the best racing title on the market. It is beautiful, expansive, and still provides the white-knuckle arcade style racing of past iterations. There is also a wealth of downloadable content available for Paradise, and some of it is free. There is almost nothing bad to say about this game, if you want a fun racing title for cheap, this is the one to get. The only drawback is there is no local multiplayer. While multiplayer exists over the internet, there is no split screen racing, which is a minor drawback. One added positive is it is available for direct download from PSN, so no having to worry about losing or breaking the disk when it is sitting pretty on your hard drive.

Note – The Motorstorm franchise(two games have been released for the PS3 thus far) is a Playstation exclusive, and offers a more off-road style racing. With a variety of cars such as monster trucks, ATVs, and dirtbikes, it might be the right choice for people looking for a more extreme track style racing than Burnout Paradise’s more “realistic” city style racing. Also there may be local multiplayer with Motorstorm which would be a plus over Burnout.

Sports Games:

Sports games are sports games, if you love football, get Madden, if basketball is your cup of tea then NBA Live is the ticket. They provide a fun local multiplayer experience, and can last for a long time. My only advice when dealing with sport games is buy the year old game. Madden 10 is almost identical to Madden 09, but will cost half as much, maybe less. With only a year between iterations the only changes are menu tweaks, roster updates, and maybe the addition of a new mode. In most cases it is not worth the huge hike in price to get the most recent sports title.

Fighting:

Street Fighter IV – $19.99 – Rated T – If you are yearning for a classic vs style, life bar fighting game, then look no farther than Street Fighter IV. For only 20 bucks, you get a fighting game that is less than a year old, that delivers a great local and Internet multiplayer experience, beautiful visuals, and one of the most trusted names in the whole fighting genre. If fighting games are your thing, then Street Fighter IV is the best choice.

My Personal Pick :

Bioshock – $19.99 – Rated M – I couldn’t in good conscience write a list about games to buy, and not put on my personal favorite. Bioshock is an absolute masterpiece of atmosphere and storytelling. If you want to solve the argument of, “Are videogames art?” your first piece of evidence should be Bioshock. It is a beautiful, twisted, and exhilarating adventure through the fallen underwater utopia, Rapture. It is a 12 – 15 hour experience that every gamer should experience. I have, many many times, and it never gets old.

And Who Said Only 360s Break… November 22, 2009

Posted by maxfreund in PS3.
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Thanksgiving is all about football, family, food, and video games. Well…the last one is subjective, but to me its an important inclusion to the holiday list. And with a full week off from college, I was hoping to get some well deserved time poured into Little Big Planet, and other neglected titles.

But as I sat down to fire up my PS3, a sad reality set in.

No, it wasn’t a total system failure, or a hard drive crash, nothing that has commonly befallen our Microsoft brothers.

But my AV cables do not work! I never ran into this problem, because I have always connected my PS3 through an HDMI. But while at home, away from my HDTV, I thought I could break out the AV cables that come with the system. I was wrong.

Either the cables are dead, or the port on the system has gone bad, but regardless I shall be stranded for a week without my beloved games and firmware updates. I assume this will be similar to rehab for alcoholics. Only time will tell.

If I survive, then I  shall return with a reinvigorated desire to plow through the remaining levels in all games on my shelf, in preparation for the new slew of software that shall accompany the Christmas holiday.

 

Just Keep the Disk Spinning November 18, 2009

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I have been plowing through my second play of Uncharted 2, and the question of, “What constitutes as great re-playability?” jumped into my head.

Re-playability is constantly touted by game developers. Combative multiplayer, unlockables, and scaling difficulty are all components of giving the player more bang for the buck.

And uncharted 2 does it so well. It offers a crushing difficulty, allowing players who loved their first play through the option to get a fresh second run.

As well as a simple, yet highly addictive multiplayer component.

But what I love the most is the money system the developers implemented. Every kill in mulitplayer, and every trophy you unlock provides you with in-game money. This money is then used to purchase everything from multiplayer/single player skins to production videos.

By providing unlockables, there is a drive to make players return for multiple run throughs. But the ability to pick and choose what unlockables a player wants, purchasing them with ingame cash they earn through their exploits, allows a more personalized experience.

Uncharted 2 could have taken the easy route, and they still would have sold tremendously well. Too many shooters are finished when the final credits roll, and that is alright. But the games that entice you to return for a second or third run with additions that make the game fresh should ultimately sell better, and remain in my disk tray longer.

Love Hate Relationship with Bethesda November 11, 2009

Posted by maxfreund in General.
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I pride myself on not being your average gamer. The type who buys the yearly iteration of Madden, maybe the new Halo, and something else to break the boredom or the long summer months.

I like to think of myself as the avid gamer, the type who has no problem pouring 50 + hours into a game world, exploring, dissecting, and enjoying every minute of it. And those beautiful people over at Bethesda have graced this current generation of consoles with two tremendous time suckers, Oblivion IV and Fallout 3.

I have played both extensively, and loved them equally. The fantasy nerd in me loved playing the dark elf in Oblivion. While my quirky love for 1950s culture made Fallout 3 an extremely attractive world to spend time in. I’ve clocked nearly 100 hours in both games, and came away with only one real complaint, but it was the same one for both games.

When you have a game that touts a massive world with a tremendous array of unique items, weapons and clothes, why are we handcuffed when it comes to house customization?

In Oblivion, I obtained an entire castle. A whole castle of my own, outfitted with a winery, dining hall, servant’s quarters, and much much more. But my ability to strategically place a book on a book shelf, or anything on a table was reduced to standing in front of the shelf or table and dropping the item. Needless to say the items clanged to the floor more often than not, and any time they actually did land successfully, they were often askew.

I almost feel like Bethesda is taunting me, for in my bedroom, there were stands for weapons, yet no way for me to access them and place my weapons there. It as like giving a diabetic child a years supply of chocolate.

And with Fallout 3, there are so many unique items, from chessboards, to coffee makers, basketballs, pool ques, why are you taunting me with all these items that I can collect, and not display!

Bethesda does a tremendous job of creating an RPG. They provide the player with an deep world that they want to spend hours and hours in. But when you allow the player to purchase a place of residence within the game, please pleeeeaaaase let them customize their home.