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Analysis and Opinion « Nitpixels

Archive for category Analysis and Opinion

Mass Effect 3 post-mortem thoughts

So yeah, I’m done with Mass Effect 3.

Well, not done. I’ve played it three times now, and am working on the fourth. So here comes spoilers beyond and beyond, if you don’t want spoilers you really shouldn’t read this.

Things I’ll say before going more into detail: no, I don’t like the endings. No, I don’t want Bioware to fix the endings to placate me, I didn’t sign a petition nor do I support it. I’m neither for or against it, I feel it’s pointless. This is the game, this is the story of the game, these are the endings. That being said, pretty much everything up to that point is amazing. I actually found Mordin’s death quite moving (although I still have no idea why Mordin has a new voice actor now) and enjoyed pretty much every cameo and return, loved the story as it unfolded, loved watching Shepard try and navigate the treacherous politics of the galaxy while seeking to unite everyone to fight the reapers. The game is at times spectacular, your choices from previous games have surprising consequences at times. I’ve played a vanguard and a solider and enjoyed both of them. I even find the inventory system fairly easy to cope with, although partially because I only carry a Revenant most places I go because to me, the Revanant is Shepard’s signature weapon. Read the rest of this entry »

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Guest Post: The problem of being a colorblind gamer

This post is brought to the pages of Nitpixels by a guest author. Want your words on Nitpixels? Send a pitch to mailbag@nitpixels.com.

A recent College Humor roundtable discussed the topic of enabling disable gamers. In the video, they featured a quadriplegic gamer who plays Call of Duty multiplayer (rather successfully) with just his face. This gamer, Chuck Bittner, is petitioning game developers for one simple thing: custom button remapping. If the button layout for a game is a certain way, he can’t play it. So he wants the ability to change the layouts to something that works for him.

I can’t play Aquaria because I can’t differentiate the colors for the different songs well enough. I didn’t buy Super Puzzle Figher II Turbo HD Remix because I couldn’t tell the difference between some of the blocks. I have massive trouble with Zuma because my eyes can’t tell the blue balls from the purple and the green balls from the yellow. When I play Risk: Factions I can’t tell the difference between the green and yellow territories and have to ask my fiancée which ones are which color.

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Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association

The Supreme Court is expected to issue [update: has issued, see end of post] a ruling today on Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (formerly Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association). This is in reference to the law California tried to pass to outlaw the sale of “violent” video games to minors. Defining a game as violent, in this case, involves failing a modified Miller Test, normally used to determine if a work is obscene (a.k.a. pornographic).

Currently, video games enjoy the same level of industry-mandated categorization allowed other forms of mass media like film and television. It is not illegal, for instance, to sell a ticket to an R-rated movie to a minor. However, out of a respect for the MPAA rating system and a desire to avoid controversy, many theaters will voluntarily refuse to sell those tickets to minors. Similarly, retailers voluntarily follow the ESRB ratings system for video games and can refuse to sell an M-rated game to minors.

The important distinction here is the “voluntarily” part. The MPAA and ESRB are entities established by their respective industries that provide retailers, consumers, and parents a general guide to the content they are selling or purchasing. (The ESRB, in my opinion, does a much finer job of rating content than any of its analogues in other media, but that’s a topic for another time.) Should the Supreme Court decide in favor of California, following the new government-decided guidelines would be mandatory, not voluntary. The worst case scenario feared by publishers is that M-rated video games would be whisked off the shelf entirely at major retailers like Wal-Mart and GameStop, instead doomed to live its retail life hidden in the shadows of the curtained-off back rooms of specialty retailers next to the latest iterations of Debbie Does Dallas and Hustler videos.

The silver lining: there doesn’t seem to be much expectation that the Court will rule in favor of California in this case. The state’s arguments didn’t carry much weight in the lower courts, and the higher court didn’t seem too impressed during oral arguments. Should the court rule against the law, then nothing changes for us as an industry, aside from getting more validation and precedence defining us as a medium protected by free speech in the United States.

[edit: As I was typing this, the Court issued its opinion, 7-2 in favor of the EMA, Thomas and Breyer dissenting. It’s a strong decision that doesn’t leave much wiggle-room for future laws to try and sneak around the judgement. This is a Good Victory for our industry.]


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inFamous 2’s moral missteps

In this piece I will be discussing the recently released inFamous 2, and I feel I should preface myself with some warnings to the reader.  First is the obligatory SPOILER WARNING;  I will be discussing some of the bigger story events in the game, so should you want to remain unspoiled you should look away.  Second, while I will be taking a rather harsh and critical look at one specific aspect of infamous 2, this should in no way be read as a negative review.  In fact, the gameplay here is an excellent improvement on the original, with tons of content and well worth the full price of admission.  But, as this site’s name implies, sometimes you can’t help but nitpick.

The inFamous franchise aims to take the concept of moral choices in games, mechanics usually restricted to RPG titles, and bring them into its decidedly action-focused game world.  The series follows Cole McGrath, an ordinary guy with a flair for parkour who gets the extraordinary ability to control lightning, as he travels through the fictional vistas of Empire City and New Marais trying to survive and avert-or cause-varying levels of destruction and mayhem.  The player’s choice between good and evil paths is central to the gameplay, affecting not only Cole’s appearance but also what powers he can access, with Evil abilities that tend to exhibit a rampant disregard for collateral damage and civilian casualties.

inFamous handles this concept of morality rather clumsily.  In the first game, things had a fair setup:  you’re given an inhuman amount of power and placed in a horrible situation. Do you go the Spider-Man route and accept the great responsibility to help those around you, or do you put on the Joker makeup and relish in the chaos and madness?  Unfortunately, the games stumble in the execution of these ideas, with inFamous 2 making more missteps than its predecessor.  Both games make the classic mistake of giving each moral conflict only two drastically opposed resolutions without any semblance of subtlety or middle ground.  Cole can either be an electrical messiah, healing the sick and arresting muggers with energy handcuffs, or he can be murderous psychopath, using prisoners as kindling for a bonfire while chucking grenades at innocent bystanders.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Nitpixels Podcast E3 Special: Sony Vita and Nintendo Wii U

The Nitpixels Podcast continues its aural reactions to E3 today with your hosts Mat McCurley and Alex Ziebart. Today’s topics include:

You can listen to the podcast in the embedded player below, download it directly via the link below, or download and subscribe via iTunes. Note: The iTunes store can take an extraordinarily long time to display new episodes on the podcast page. If you subscribe, it will download the episode for you, even though it may not immediately display on the page.

Do you have a question you would like to ask the Nitpixels crew? Have comments about the podcast? Email us at mailbag@nitpixels.com and we’ll answer it on the next edition of the Nitpixels Show if it strikes our fancy. You can also tweet any of us your questions — you can find our Twitter handles on the right-hand side of this very page (unless you’re on our mobile site).

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Your ideal MMO tie-in mobile app

This post is brought to the pages of Nitpixels by a guest author. Want your words on Nitpixels? Send a pitch to mailbag@nitpixels.com.

Blizzard recently revamped their Mobile Armory app for World of Warcraft and added the ability to chat with guild members in the game from your phone. This is in addition to some basic in-game Auction House functionality. I also found out that Dragon Age Legends, a Facebook game, has a mobile site where you can craft items and collect gold. As mobile phones get better at gaming, and indeed have their own MMOs, it seems natural to integrate mobile experiences into persistent world games.

Imagine a game being developed now, where they could integrate mobile phone and other out-of-game features while designing the game from the ground up. What type of mobile integration would you like to see in a next-gen MMO?  Would you like to handle crafting from your phone? What if instead of being menu driven, crafting was a mini-game you could play while away? While it could limit crafting, it’s also nice to be able to accomplish something in your main game while you’re away from your system. It would also be nice to handle all of the “busy work”, like buying and selling items, while you were away, so that when you have time to sit down and play you can jump right into the game.

Social features and communications also seem like a perfect fit. I like the idea of messaging people in-game and modifying an in-game calendar from the device where I do most of my real life messaging and calendaring. Would you like to post achievements and screenshots to Twitter a la RIFT?

What features would you look forward to in a mobile app for your next game?

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Just how bad is the Playstation Network… fiasco? Disaster?

Just to give you an idea of how bad it is, no one knows exactly how bad it is. In a world where various media outlets clamber all over you for something like this, the brute fact that no one knows just how huge the clusterfuck is should be telling you something. I dare you to go to Playstation’s official blog and comb through their Q&A sessions, and then tell me exactly how bad this was. I double dog dare you. I know that, after reading those Q&As, I find myself terrified for the safety of my XBox Live stuff and I don’t even have a credit card attached to that account. That’s how bad this is sounding. It’s sounding so bad that people can actually worry about competing products.

Frankly, as bad as the PSN going down for almost a week is, what’s worse is how the company decided to handle how it informed its customers of this ‘malicious intrusion’ and exactly what it means to them. Days of silence. If you shut down an entire online social gaming network because someone managed to penetrate your security and stole credit card information from it, the time to tell us is when it happens. Customers should not be reading about how the network may have been breached five days later. The first discussion of what exactly happened to people’s personal information on the PSN servers shouldn’t be six days later.

The intrusion and theft are bad, awful, horrible for consumers. But Sony’s decision to basically tell them nothing for days and days while also not providing the service they paid for in this fashion was just a terrible choice on their part. People should have known within a day or two why they couldn’t connect. They should have known if they needed to change their credit card or debit card information, even if it wasn’t actually compromised, just to feel safe. Sony should have given their customers a chance to take that action and get that sense of security as a gesture of respect to the people who pay for the service. Cover their asses before you cover your own.

I’m not currently a PS3 owner, but I did play a Sony MMO for a while, and right about now I’m glad I didn’t give them my credit card or debit card information. Based on how they handled this situation I would absolutely not want Sony to have that information. That’s not how you deal with a crisis. You don’t make it so that your customers sigh in relief that they used a pre-paid credit card to play your game. It’s not the kind of opinion that gets people to come back.

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Guest Post: What makes a mobile game mobile?

This post is brought to the pages of Nitpixels by a guest author. Want your words on Nitpixels? Send a pitch to mailbag@nitpixels.com.

I’ve been playing a lot of mobile games recently. When writing a quick Marketplace review for Dungeon Defenders I noted that it didn’t feel like a “mobile” game. It is a fun game, and its mix of tower defense and Diablo-style hack-and-slash is intriguing. Using Unreal Engine 3 even makes it look like a console game. Unfortunately the 20 minute levels with no way to save also felt too much like a console game, and not something I’d be able to play often on my phone.

One of the biggest factors affecting mobile games is that their users are, well, mobile. The games are targeted to an audience that might not be sitting down for a dedicated multi-hour gaming session. The player could be on a subway, in a doctor’s office, or waiting for their World of Warcraft raid to fill up. The problem isn’t really even that they’re on the move, it’s that they can be interrupted at any moment. The game needs to be able to be paused and saved on the fly. You don’t want to be 15 minutes into a level, have your number called, and lose all your progress.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Soundtrack

Frankly, a well scored game with a sophisticated soundtrack is infinitely better. Take the exact same game and replace the soundtrack with something inferior, some mix tape you have laying around, and you’ll see a difference immediately. Play the game with the sound off and take note. It really doesn’t matter what genre, the addition of a thematic score works to evoke whatever emotional content the game is attempting to create.  Some games, like EVE Online, put their soundtracks online for you to listen to them. Others can be purchased from iTunes or elsewhere.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Jack Wall is one of my favorite musicians, or that Russell Brower is the reason I enjoyed Starcraft II. (I’m not a big RTS player.) Quite frankly I believe the games industry is overtaking Hollywood as the home for talented composers to come and realize a symphonic musical vision. Games seem to require more orchestration, You can go back and listen to games that came out in the late 90’s and hear it. You can listen to Dead Space 2, or Halo Reach and see the unification of music with setting. The game design takes music and ambiance into account, and when done right, it’s unforgettable.

This leads me to wonder what you, the reader (yeah, you, guy with the towel on your head, I even mean you) would nominate as the best game soundtracks. I have my own votes, but I’ll leave that for a future post. For now, what game music made its way onto your MP3 player? What do you find yourself listening to outside the games you discovered it in?

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Magicka: Vietnam post-release reactions

If you listen to our podcast, you know that DLC is a pretty popular topic of here at Nitpixels. We’re all very opinionated about the right and wrong ways to do it. This post is no different. As I mentioned previously on the site, I was extremely hyped about Magicka: Vietnam, Magicka‘s first paid DLC. The base game was a wonderfully good time and the company had a great sense of humor. There’s no way this DLC could go wrong, right? Uh, wrong.

I bought Magicka: Vietnam on Steam the very first moment I could on launch day. That night, right after we recorded the most recent episode of the podcast, I jumped on and played through it with a few friends. The DLC consists of a single 30 minute mission and an arena map. Less than an hour of content for $5. Fun content, yes, but there is very little of it. At this stage in the game, that kind of price for so little content is disappointing at best. I didn’t go in expecting a full secondary campaign (and that’s not what was advertised) but I paid $5 for a 30 minute mission and an arena. To say it did not meet my expectations is a massive understatement.

I didn’t mind the format of the Vietnam mission. The full campaign that was included in the base game is well-designed for a single player experience, but the core entertainment value of the game is playing it online with friends. Who is going to be able to play a multi-hour campaign online with friends in one sitting? Almost nobody. Breaking it up into shorter pieces of content is a very smart move. The Vietnam mission was a perfectly sized chunk of content to play through with some buddies. This DLC just needed more chunks. I don’t think wanting an hour’s worth of mission-based combat is unreasonable.

I still believe that Magicka is one of the most unique, entertaining games to come out this year. I still highly recommend the base game. This DLC, however, feels like a cash grab — and maybe they have a right to that cash grab. The base game was severely underpriced at $10. I would have gladly paid more for it. This DLC feels like they realized that, then rushed out the smallest amount of content possible so they could get a little more bang for their buck. It strikes me as a little dishonest, and that’s a real shame.

Due to the low price point of the base game, I’m really not as angry about this as I could be, or potentially should be. Magicka is worth far more than $10. Even if this DLC was underwhelming, I’ve still paid less overall on Magicka than I would on some other form of entertainment.

As I said, I do still love Magicka and if you asked me right now if you should buy it, I would say yes, absolutely. In fact, it’s less than $10 on Steam right now — it’s $4.99. If you don’t own the game, go buy it right now.

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