Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Halo 3: love it or hate it (aka: It’s the Multiplayer, stupid)

So, I bought Halo 3. For me and me alone, and to no one else that knows me, this was a controversial decision. I previously thought I would rather have purchased TF 2 and a year’s subscription to Live (I haven’t paid for it yet) instead, but I may have to put TF 2 on hold (calm down, it’s only for budget reasons.)

However, I recanted. So many people were buying it, playing it. I was awake, and at 1:00 A.M. I realized I missed the presale. I felt like I had betrayed someone—something. Perhaps a higher (or lower) power insisted. I can’t put it any other way: I felt it was my duty to get this game, and the duty was to something greater than I am.

Oh right, hesitance. No, really, I truly was conflicted on the matter, because I played FPS on the PC long before it mattered on the console. I’m talking Wolfenstein 3D and Rise of the Triad, here, folks. (Hey, check out the requirements on those babies.) I know this question is old, and people roll their eyes at it, but seriously: why would you think that a first person shooter is better on a console? Hell, the unimpressive Quake 4 was better (on PC) than Halo or Halo 2 (PC or console). On the computer, with a mouse, you have much finer control. It’s much easier to aim exactly where you want, and it takes more skill, too. You can customize how sensitive the mouse is. You can sit closer to a screen, and be more immersed. Also, your characters are more flexible. You can move more easily. You can dodge. You can escape. In Halo, once you engage in combat, running away is difficult or impossible. It’s clunky. It’s predictable. It’s more boring to watch.

Still, on cross-platform releases, the console version always sells better. Why are there more people playing console games? I purchased Halo 3 because I wanted to know why. I have to understand my people, the varied community of gamers, and to do that I have to understand how a genre that was originally intended for a mouse and computer transitioned to a less smooth, less controllable, and more successful version. “Good game, better marketing” was an answer that seemed to only partially explain it.

The frequent discussion patterns I see regarding Halo 3 usually proceed as follows:

“Halo is awesomely awesomer than awesomeness.”
“But PC games are better.”
“But it is Halo—it is inarguably good. Look at what everyone gave it in review—all reviews of it are good, from all kinds of outlets.”
“Right, but PC games are better.”
“Everyone is playing it, and all who play it have never changed their minds. They have kept playing it, and not abandoned it, not for Gears of War, and certainly not for any PC shooter. How can millions be wrong?”

“Most of you, if not all, have not played on the PC. All PC gamers have also known that PC shooters are better, and most, if not all, have not changed their minds. They haven’t abandoned it for any console games, and never will.”

Halo 3 is a big game. It’s a big marketing effort. And how people respond to it, both collectively and individually, is indicative of something that is, fundamentally, more cultural than it is of what they think of a game, genre, or platform.

Halo is not nearly as successful in Europe or Asia as it is here. The unspoken questions are American ones, to be sure. “Do you play it because everyone else does?” “Do you play just because you played the others?” “Do you refuse to get it simply because it’s big?” “Why do you play it or not? Why? Why?” Often in response: “Why are you asking all these questions, and why is everyone feeling so pressed to answer them?”

The reason it goes this way is because FPSs are generally not artistic, nor appreciated for their storylines. There is no ancient higher law of art to appeal to—we’re talking about a new medium, with no boundaries or rules made yet. We haven’t really seen it yet.

I played Halo 3. I liked it. In fact, more than I thought I would. I doubt it will be a better multiplayer game than Team Fortress 2. And I know why the argument proceeds the way it does—because PC gamers know a mouse is much more fun to use than a controller. They’re right—if you’ve played on the PC, it’s better. And I know why console players will keep playing it, even if they don’t—because they can find people to play with. Because they can much more easily transport 4 controllers, a dvd, and an xbox to someone’s house than to get 8 guys to bring keyboards, mice, and computers with monitors, with space to put them all in close proximity on a network that can support it.

PC FPS players play the game for the sake of the game. Console players play FPS games for the sake of the sociality. Halo will assign you a game and server with non-ridiculous settings, and you don’t have to find the server yourself.

For now, console wins. Gamers don’t know how to organize themselves. Economic, social, and technological issues are a factor, and it’s staring us in the face. In the future, as PCs and TVs blend into the same thing, we may have these worlds collide, and when it does, it will be beautiful. For now, we must settle on having our PC aristocrats and our console bourgeoisie.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Snobbery about multiplayer games

The news of Bioshock's lack of multiplayer and the brevity of the campaign mode in Halo 3 have resurrected debates that signal the new rising generation's snobbery—instead of being finicky, proud, and elitist about music (like our parents were/are), we're getting that way about video games.

It seems that most of those in their 20s and most of those who are teenagers are divided on the issue of what makes a game worth buying: its single player or it's multiplayer. While the debates have continued, it's not been highly examined how we got here. If a game was good, it was good. That was it. Now there are preset requirements. Games that would have been considered brilliant are now sometimes immediately shot down for lack of an arbitrary standard—Bioshock for not having multiplayer, for instance.

So, how did we get here?

I'm 25, so my early memories are from the 8-bit NES, not from the N64 or Playstation. Back then, there was little in the way of multiplayer. Multiplayer was an interesting diversion with 4 -player games being a rare and delightful novelty. Most of them were primarily single-player or co-op games, private, masturbatory experiences in which we would sit alone in a room and feel the orgasmic chill of beating up bad guys, finding treasures, and conquering evils both medieval and modernistic. We didn't have great multiplayer, and we didn't have any reason to be too competitive, except within our own inner circles.

There was a quiet revolution that allowed for transition, though, and no one realized the ramifications at the time. Within a small time period, some excellent games came out that were quality for both single and multiplayer. The PC had Warcraft II, Diablo, and Starcraft. The N64 had Starfox 64, Mario Kart 64, Bomberman 64, and last but not least, Goldeneye and Perfect Dark.

A younger generation grew up with games that usually had good multiplayer. Lots of other people played them. Small tournaments and bragging matches ensued at college dorms and other social circles. Competitive gaming started to gain a foothold. And this younger generation didn't know much, if anything, before the world of single player. Games were not masturbatory experiences of glory wherein good conquered evil; they were playing grounds in which one contested for glory in real life.

Some people appreciate both sides. Some of us played Street Fighter II or Mortal Kombat in the arcade, where the glory of winning was ahead of its time. Some of us knew a satisfaction from the skill that doesn't simply make one good at games, but better than someone else at them.

And now there's a division. The "hardcore" used to just mean "play a lot"—now it usually means those who seriously want to be the best. It's a title that will likely incite more debate, but the real question isn't "are you a serious, casual, or competitive gamer" but "how and why do you play?"

The Wii, for all its success, does not match up well with either of these mindsets. The Playstation tries to match both, and the Xbox is mostly catering to multiplayers. The PC is anyone's game. Right now the only thing that ensures gaming survives is money. If a game is good on single or multiplayer experience it will capture a segment of the market.

But why groups play the way they do is not examined—at least, not from the view of the entire scope of gamers. While some people have done columns on the type of gamers, and plenty have written about themselves, there is as yet no one who has really chronicled exactly why the collective mass of gamers play games, and how they organize, and how those who are members of more than one camp deal with it.

I'm going to, though, because I want to know if it's possible to play competitively with other 20-somethings and be allowed to take a break and play for relaxation, and if so, how. Because right now, it can't be done, and I want it to be, and I want anyone to be allowed to. If academia, politics, religion, music, or other areas of society have clearly drawn lines (or lack of lines), then video games and video-game-playing, should, too.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

This just in

I got this email while writing the last post. I wrote them ten days ago.


MySpace will not restore deleted accounts. If you deleted your own account, please create a new account and note that if you wish to remove it, the deletion is permanent.

If your account was deleted by MySpace, please review our Terms of Service in order to better understand our community rules. If you wish to create another account on MySpace, please heed these rules in order to avoid future deletion.

If this does not address your issue completely, please press "Reply" and provide any additional information you feel is relevant.

For the most up to date messages about MySpace, subscribe to the MySpace Help blog! You get updates almost every day! Go here to subscribe.

Hope this helps!

Thank you,"

Tom--I hate your website, and I hope that it, or anyone who may acquire it and leave it as is, fails miserably into bankruptcy.

What a piece of garbage.


Why I chose the Xbox 360

As was previously reported, my wife bought me an Xbox 360. A choice like that was difficult, and I will explain why I chose it.

Basically there are three systems to choose from. One that is affordable, doesn’t have good Internet connectivity, doesn’t have a big library, and is impossible to get. One is available, recently had its price reduced, has no community, and it’s library isn’t doing well. Oh, and it costs 5,500 dollars. The last one is in the middle of the price range, has a big library, has a huge community and cheap awesome downloadable games, and sometimes breaks.

I took my chance on the last one. At the moment, Nintendo is winning on the market. (“They’re practically printing money,” BAWB once said.) But Xbox has won over my demographic.

Oh, and I have 2 friends with a Wii, but none with an Xbox. You could say I’m doing it for the team. This is one of those rare times when there is no clear answer. Which is the best one? Depends on how you play. I’ll get to that later.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Busy weekend, Part II / Part Happy

My wife often gmail chats with me while I’m at work. One day I received the following chat from her: “I'm SO EXCITED FOR YOUR BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

My birthday is November 25th.

Then she says to me:

“I mean:

I"M SO EXCITED FOR YOUR BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

I can't wait.

How can you stand the suspense?”

She wants to get my present, she says. She just can’t wait any longer. Absolutely can’t wait anymore. I think, “okay, she wants to get me something. I’m down with that. That’s cool.” It’s not entirely a surprise—she couldn’t take it any longer and we opened all our Christmas presents on the 13th. We’ve told few people about that.

But the thing was, I couldn’t really think of what she’d get me. A game? She wouldn’t be excited about a game. Plus, the few that she knows about aren’t out yet. Maybe it’s something else. I’d think it may be clothes, but she knows that I wouldn’t be as excited about it. (At Christmas, I got her all toys, she got me all clothes. Guess we should have reversed it?)

She says she’ll be getting a good deal on it, too. Nope, still don’t know.

This last Friday I pick her up from work, and on that day she had informed me we’d be going out to get my present. She tells me we’re going to Circuit City. The only reason I don’t think it’s odd is because it’s got some deal, or whatever (turns out the promotion was over when she got in).

Now, Circuit City. This is exciting. It has to be something I want. It’s a toystore. Circuit City and the like are toy stores. I’m getting a new toy. What could it be?! What would she get me? The only thing I know that she knows what I want are some unreleased games (I think), and maybe a DS, and eventually an Xbox 360. But there’s no way she’d get me a 360—she likes watching TV sometimes and she had stated she doesn’t really want to get a console. In fact, she emphatically said no at one point, when I wasn’t as interested in it.

We arrive, and it’s awkward—she doesn’t want me to see it yet. So, I give her the car keys and go in to Target. The Electronics department is located ironically right next to the entrance; I browse through the systems and titles and I get excited and nervous. What is she getting me? What if it’s a disappointment? What if it’s more than I can comprehend? I then grab the little note she gave me to read while I was in Target:

“My Love,

Before we do anything today, I just want that you know that I really do SUPER love you.

I am so excited to do this little thing for you today. I just can’t wait. I really do hope that it will be as exciting for you as I want that it be.

I just love you and I want to make you happy.

So today, let’s just relax and have fun celebrating you.

All my love,

[Muschie’s real name]”

“Little thing” makes my heart pound—that’s Muschie-speak for “huge thing.” It’s a 360! It has to be! But how could it be?! This doesn’t happen! Why does she tease me! I play a lot on the computer, and the console is even more dominating! Women don’t BUY XBOX 360’s FOR THEIR HUSBANDS 12 WEEKS BEFORE THEIR BIRTHDAYS WHEN THEY ALREADY ARE A LITTLE TIRED THAT THEIR HUSBANDS PLAY A LOT OF GAMES!

After 15 minutes of quiet desperation, she retrieves me and we drive home. When we park, she makes me pop the trunk, where she’s put the gift, and I go inside. I go in another room, and she takes the gift in. She makes me close my eyes, and leads me to the couch, and on the couch is an Xbox 360. Elite.

I haven’t cried in a while. Nor have I been as excited. When I was 5, my bro and I got a Nintendo out of the blue—no birthdays, no Christmas, nothing. At 25, I got an Xbox 360 out of the blue for my birthday 12 weeks before the fact. It's like my life is starting over.

She also researched to know that the 360 elite is the most desirable version. And then we got a few games. And she bought an extra controller.

”I asked everyone at work about it,” she said, “so that I’d know to get the right one.”

“Wow. How’d they react to that? Someone had to be freaking out.”

”Yeah. Charles, the only single male there, likes video games. He was like, ‘Dang, wish I could find one single woman like that.’ I think it bothered him for the rest of the day, or maybe the week.”

I feel that Charles and I may be kindred spirits. The biggest difference between us is that one of us has a wife, and she bought him an Xbox 360 for his birthday.

Thank you, love. You really have no idea what it means to me.


New Neskimos Songs

In the last week, the Neskimos recently updated their song list.

F-Zero Port Town and Dr. Mario Fever are my favorites. Awesome.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Busy Weekend, Part I / Part Sad

I've mentioned before that Muschie and I are den leaders for a scout troop. A modern rite that boy scouts participate in is the Pinewood Derby. Three days ago our troop and other troops in the immediate area participated. Our assignment was to give the best design awards. This was a perfect fit for us, as we aren't good with our hands (well, except for my micro and her knitting) and don't know anything about the derby, and consider ourselves more aestheticists than we would mechanics.

The day starts off on a stressful note, because I neglect to hurriedly purchase some cookies for the boys' consumption (I said there would be 1,000 cookies already and thus we didn't need to spend the money, but the real reason is that I had a rare opportunity to get this done and so I made us barely on time). I am dreading the occasion, and Muschie is enthused, though perhaps bludgeoned by my sucky attitude.

We arrive exactly on time to a church gym containing a table with drinks and 1,000 cookies, some parents, a lot of boys, a few little sisters, and a guy on a microphone, obviously not a parent, threatening bloody murder on any boy scout, parent, or boy scout's little sister who dares to mess with his track that is over 18-feet long and has an electronic sensor that detects who finishes 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. He also will “charge five dollars” for each time someone touches it.

We curve around the back of the gym so Muschie takes a look at the cars to get a look at all of them before they start racing. A lady in charge tells me to go into the kitchen to get the important documents (the awards). I discover bags of mini-sized 100 Grands, and one them is open. I take four of them. Muschie gets angry when she sees me munching.

This thing was 2 hours. It was terribly and oddly competitive. It's been that way for so long in some circles that Pinewood Derby competitiveness is now even clichéd. Children and their parents (mainly dads) rise in triumph, slump in defeat, and wring their hands in agony.

Speaking of dads—I've learned there are two types of dads, essentially. One is the kind that is aggravated, and will break the rules and put the car on the track when his son should. He is urgent in his step, and it is desirable to avoid him because you don’t know what he could do if he gets set off.

The other kind of dad will completely support his son's design-concept, help as much as possible while letting his soon do as much as possible, and not nay-say if he knows the design isn't the most feasible in the engineered sense. We noticed some dads were simply happy that their sons did so much work on the cars in the first place. I salute those dads.

At the end, we distributed design awards; I got to use the microphone and call out "Best carving—David Noobolski!" and other such nonsense. A few were pleased, but most knew that it was inferior to what really mattered—winning. Except that we don't want to go next year. There are always plenty of third and fourth-places.

One car we saw was yellowy, with little brown specks on it, and I thought it looked like an banana with little remaining shelf-life. We gave it “Most Unique Design”. On its first race, it only went halfway down the track. The disappointment on the face of the boy who made it could make an army sergeant cry. He had to race four or five more times, the way everyone else did. As with all the cars, the results were the same.

That’s the hardest thing—watching these kids be reinforced by notions of victory and loss when it’s a place that they should be happy to get “Most Original Design.” Some are happy with such awards, but for our banana-loving friend, he knew what was most important—winning.

He wasn’t the only one who was crestfallen.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Upcoming filmmaker

One of these days this blog will be recognized for the awesomeness of its writing and of its frequenters.

There's a movie on his website that he's never told me about and that, to my knowledge, hasn't been shown to many of his friends. I'm sure other people have seen it, but there's been no discussion or recognition that I know of and it's really good. Anyway, his name's Thirdmango and there are two movies here. My Brother Aaron is simply some amazing keyboarding skills, and God Hates Me is the beautiful little gem that gives me hope that he'll be making quality film someday. That's him with the big hair. Make sure to watch until the end. The site's a little slow--man, who'd you get your hosting with, Jon?

So, I'd forgotten about this movie until one day I was listening to a random CD of Muschie's. The Full House theme song came on and all of the sudden I thought of this movie, and it was a very funny, private moment for me. I don't want it to be private, so I thought I'd tell you how funny it was, TM.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

My avatar

My skills at digital creation are minimal, at best. However, I have a small amount of pride regarding my avatar. I use it at Penny Arcade and at Snackbar, where I am currently an editor of most of the stuff they churn out. Really, it represents the sentiments of my feelings about a certain word that, when used without anger or hostility, always makes me laugh.

In all its glory:

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Netflix movies presents: The Juror

My wife, Muschie, has a Netflix list that covers us for over the next year. Somehow, at some point, she gets on certain kicks. One of these is Alec Baldwin. We had Malice show up a few weeks ago, and yesterday we had The Juror. (By the way, is IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes better for linking movies that you don't know about?)

I won't give an overview of the plot, because you can find it elsewhere. I rarely get drawn into movies, and even though this was a bad one, it still drew me in. Part of it is that Alec Baldwin's character wasn't so vanilla as Demi Moore's as the protagonist or Anne Heche's as the friend.

I think the way in which he was crazy and his style of evil was unique enough to keep me watching. Even though the movie is more or less predictable, it at least leaves you interested enough to wonder "how", even if not the what. The end of the trial occurs 75 minutes into a 115 minute movie. That part of the movie could have been shortened, but overall, when Baldwin bites the dust, there' s a certain satisfaction to it. If you're checking out common 90's thrillers, give this one a whirl, but remember that it's mostly forgettable.


Tuesday, September 04, 2007


This weekend we taught a primary class (LDS code for "Sunday School for the kids"). Before we broke for class, we were at Sharing Time (LDS code for "all the kids in one big room managed by a handful of women and maybe a man or two".) There was a simple game wherein a lady had a bag with slips of paper on them, with good and bad deeds on them. The kids were told to give thumbs up and thumbs down when the deeds were read. They were enthusiastic about getting it right. "Copying your friend's homework." Ooh, that's bad. How about the next one? "Giving someone a hug." (I'm not making this up, that was the actual phrase.) "Okay, let's be quiet," the lady up front says. "Let's just use our thumbs, okay?"

The next one we got was "be reverent." The response: "YeeeeaaaAAAHHHHH!!!" The loudest yet.

In other news, we've been having some trouble with a few things that we have no control over, so I decided to lay low and concentrate on adding Myspace friends. I was a little down, and just starting a click-fest. Click click click. I needed to do something that wouldn't shoot the gun prematurely, but would still get something done.

Then Myspace deleted it, and I'm trying to get them undelete it, but I don't think it's going to happen. And we had some good friends, a lot of them, and comments, and by the way, have you noticed there are other video games sites with 4,236 friends and they didn't get deleted for spam or whatever?

I lose at the Internet.

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