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Saturday, July 19, 2014

How Mass Effect 4 Can Succeed (By Learning)

Games are sparse and my wallet is thoroughly empty after the ensuing Steam Sale and approaching Fall semester of college. You may have heard me audibly groan through the computer, and perhaps time depending upon when you're reading this. Instead of simply doing nothing and wasting away, I felt I'd put my two cents into the Mass Effect news... or lack thereof. Seriously, Bioware! As soon as I think you've cut the shackles of EA you show how much the indoctrination has seeped into your company. All joking aside, Bioware is at least third on my favorite game companies list, tied with Rockstar which is a respectable company to be paired with. Each make incredible games and I generally don't have a problem with the way they handle themselves internally. Even with their games that everyone and their grandmother can say was their worst they actually do an admirable job at it being leagues above other games.
I've been playing the Mass Effect series over because I wasn't sure Tali and I had the most stable relationship ever. Admittedly its been kind of bland or otherwise barren as far as new game releases go. E3 is usually, and ironically, the time which games come to a slump and rightfully so because developers have either been polishing their games for E3 or the crap has come to wade in the pool of the market to dirty it up before the triple A developers get angry and bring out the cleaning supplies.
There were a few things I remembered and found out by replaying all three games and felt I'd share it with you... because Bioware isn't taking my calls... again. Namely how Mass Effect 4 can be a good game.

-First off, don't call it Mass Effect 4. Okay that's a minor gripe but the whole thing is that its a new game, new protagonist and pretty much new everything. But on the subject of the '4' title there's something I've always wanted: my own character. So Shepherd wasn't a bad guy/gal right? I suppose, albeit very bland really. Its the classic 'Keanu Reaves is the perfect action hero' in the sense that you take a somewhat boring person to make them relateable to the target audience. Neo was to the 90's was disenfranchised kids felt like back then. Made you feel special, powerful and like you actually mattered. Neo was perfect because he was pretty much the typical male save strip out a lot of character defining factors so we could pretend to be him. And ultimately it worked. Though I think we can go in a different route. My biggest thought on how to make the game great is a simple RPG staple that I think they've seemed to have forgotten with the very first Dragon Age. See you could be one of three different races and within those races were subtle openings from which you were introduced into the story. Say if I was an elf I could either be the boring but nicely not screwed over with ridiculous tattoos on my face like Mike Tyson or I could be the Tyson-esque elf who got into Dalish camps more easily. It was pretty much cosmetic but it was nice the way characters and enemies interacted with me whether giving me a harder or easier time. They did the same thing with the first Mass Effect, but the choices were so bare and they only reared in the sequel never to pop up again. Yes never. They do nothing other than to simply introduce the character of Shepherd as being one of nine possible choices... and then nothing. Nothing came of it other than a simple dialogue conversation between two characters... TWICE. It would be nice if these choices meant anything. Like if I went to a colony as a colonist back story, people may notice me or even someone would comment on it. Mass Effect 2 did sort of more with it as well as 3. Go up to a random news kiosk and listen to it on your way to buying more guns and you'd just hear a small snip it of what your Shepherd was. For me I was a biotic who was a colonist. They gave grants to school kids inside the game. I hope those invisible kids got something out of it cause all I got was a "Huh" from myself. Apart from actually having some story implications, the best thing they can do is add bonuses. Say if I joined the Alliance Navy I could do more damage with a certain type of gun. Or perhaps I could have some extra training with weapons. Or better yet, since I always pick I biotic, it would be nice to have gone to a biotic school or something, giving me more training in the stuff out of the gate. The one thing Dragon Age 2 also got right was the dialogue tree right. I could choose between three different responses: Boring good guy, evil dick head and joker. I. WANT. THIS. BACK. New guy/gal can be a cocky space captain. Shooting first and asking questions NEVER. I can be the guy who's always joking in a situation whether it calls for it or not. Gives my character personality rather than just being 'the boring dude who is going to save us all'. Main problem I had with Shepherd is apart from making decisions and making him look almost exactly like me, he never felt like me. There was no cocky attitude I could take, not snarky comments when I felt it was fun. Sure, he did it every so often, but it was so random I could never really tell what tree choice would make it until I played through it and reloaded it. On a side note, EA: MAKE A GAME WHERE I CAN PLAY AS HAN SOLO. Open world sandbox where I can fly around and do as I please. That's all I ask!... among the other things I ask for.

-Appeal to the fans, not to new players. Small gripe but I'm going to tell you exactly why everyone didn't like ME 3 to the unarguably better ME 2: it was a movie. So not literally but you can kind of see what I mean when I write this. The opening scene says it all. This is basically a war movie with a dash of scifi added to the mix. You run out and things EXPLODE. GUNS. FIGHT STUFF. NO TIME FOR PLOT DEVELOPMENT OTHER THAN STUFF THEY DO IN MOVIES. ME 2 did this best. The beginning is still one of the most breath taking scenes in all of gaming for me. I screwed up with my character in the game so I restarted and I still got the butterflies in my stomach feeling when the moment came back. See that's what 2 did best. It made an almost perfect marriage of combat and RPG when the returning game did its best to make combat up front. Which isn't totally bad but Mass Effect is an RPG first. RPG in the sense I get a feeling I can skirt around certain things like plot and other boring things that end the game faster. They took out all of the sections where you can land on almost any planet and added annoying little sections you thought were good but just ended up being another time waster. I spent most of my time dicking around in ME 3 just trying to avoid the plot... and then I came across possibly the greatest jewel of the game... which I'm ashamed to admit.

-BRING. BACK. THE MULTIPLAYER. God that was painful... I absolutely HATE multiplayer in games. In Dark Souls, it at least felt I had some ability to use it but it was annoying when I got killed by players far better than me and made me feel even worse when I had to compromise between dying by other players but having the ability to summon other players for boss fights or go it solo... which always ended badly. I first played ME 3 on my Xbox and the first time I saw the galactic readiness rating NOT go up, I was furiously pissed. They shoe horned in this little ridiculous thing my anti social personality did not want to play. But for sake of completing the entire game I gave it a shot. Here's my experience: "Kicked from game. Kicked from game. Kicked from game. ETC". Immediately I gave up on the game then and there but when I bought it on Steam I decided to play it. It was actually extremely enjoyable. Yes I was still terrible, but it felt awesome. It actually did something in the game and once I'd gotten to 100% readiness... I kept playing. Unlocking new characters, skills and even weapons was extremely satisfying. Almost insanely so. It didn't have the trappings of a normal EA shooter either. Enemies were controlled by the AI and were difficult in their own right. The AI was intelligent and dangerous at times. Every skirmish was somewhat life and death and it was just awesome. Unlocking new weapons was done with in game cash. Cash that was easily earned through simply finishing a level. Do well and get more cash. Even when my entire team failed, I still got a lot of cash. I never found myself unable to buy one of the replenish-able packs after a match was done. Still... I have my gripes. The galactic readiness rating being the main one as well as it's greatest support. See single player and multiplayer can merge a beautiful relationship and sadly this was the closest I've ever seen. Once I was done with multiplayer, single player had little to do with it. The in game cash I accumulated could have been transferred to my single player character if I chose so. I always found myself scrounging for credits while my multiplayer self was practically burning it just because. I'm not saying the multiplayer should be horned in, far from it. I'm saying when both are amazing and they compliment each other its a beautiful thing. Like if I unlock a gun in single player I can use it in multi. Sounds nice right?

Thanks for reading this little chunk of stuff. Its always nice to know I've got people who are still reading my material. Hope you have a pleasant morning/afternoon/evening/night.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Why I Think Preordering Isn't Totally Stupid (And why its stupid)

I know its been a while since I've written any reviews and I'm sorry... kind of. Not a lot of games out, at least not ones I feel like playing and the ones I do have either are too old or every person and their grandmother has done a review so I don't feel the necessity to do one myself.
Here's a topic I've understood a bit but never fully understood why just about every single gamer out there is totally against preordering. For those uninitiated of you, preordering is basically putting down and extra few bucks to A) make sure you get a copy in the case for physical or in the case for digital... nothing really and B) you're probably going to get some extra content.

First lets start with A for why its good. See, when you preorder a game you're basically saying to the developer "I like this" or "Sequel? Hm... maybe". With smaller products like indie games this is a good incentive for someone to actually create a sequel or some downloadable content to extend the gameplay you can get. In rare cases, like in Dark Souls 2's case, the developer decides off the bat they won't be giving any add ons for the game but it was so well received they feel the need or obligation to give those fans a bit of thanks for purchasing the game. Preordering is a great incentive to say that I am interested in this game and possibly would like more. With sleeper hits like Psychonauts, even though the game was well received the sales were poor so the game's creator, Tim Schafer, has voiced even to this day he has no plans to make a sequel. So despite what anyone says, no ratings and fan base does not extend the life of a game. In the case of what I considered until a few months ago to be one of the worst games I've ever played, DARK (no, not a capitalization issue, that's what the game is called), still got some shameless DLC even though the game was not well received. Game developers usually don't feel an obligation to push out anything for the game even if it was successful sometimes and that's one of the more rarer cases I've unfortunately seen.

Now B for also the easiest reason why its bad. A lot of games boast getting a little extra content 'free' when you preorder the game. Usually this is something small or maybe a map pack, some weapons or maybe even just a costume change. The problem with this is the majority of this content is completely locked away from any unfortunate person who didn't shell out five extra dollars and doesn't have a time machine. A while back I was playing GTA Online with one of my friends. He pulled out a hammer as a weapon. Of course being the unfortunate 'scrub' and not preordering the game, I was unfortunately never going to receive this weapon. I actually do like DLC. Its a way for me to say to the developer, "Great job. I would like more" in some 'Oliver' "Please sir, I want some more" type deal. That small hammer my friend has just sums up how I feel about this entire situation. If I don't preorder I don't receive some minuscule item and therefore my game is now a slight percentage incomplete in my mind. However, if I do, then I receive something almost worthless that I don't need and never needed in the first place. If there was like a small fee afterwards where I could purchase the items, it wouldn't be so bad. Perhaps even where this content has been unlocked for those people but me over here won't be able to get it for a while.
The worst offender of this I have to say would be 'The Old Republic' Star Wars MMO. See the only reason I started playing the game was because it had just gone free to play and I wasn't about to waste my money on a game my crappy PC couldn't run. When I started playing it I noticed this one vendor I didn't have access to who sold really rare items. I asked some other players and every single one said I had to have preordered the game. The game came out nearing the end of 2011 on December 20th and the free to play date came out on November 12th in 2012, almost a year later. So unless I have a time machine that can teleport me back a year, I'm pretty much screwed out of valuable content.

In the end, as long as the content is made available later in the game cycle despite how poor in quality said content is, that's not a deal breaker. The deal breaker is rewarding those who took a chance, which in itself isn't terrible but you should also reward your current customers. It doesn't make sense to give your first born child more privileges than your second or so on born children now would it? Yes I do still preorder some games. Its not the worst idea, it just needs to be fine tuned to be a decent idea.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Remove Auto-Renewal from Xbox Live or Xbox Music

Microsoft has forced this really annoying "feature" onto its subscribers of their Xbox Live and Xbox Music services that automatically renews a member's subscription regardless whether they want it or not. To new subscribers: beware. Microsoft automatically adds you to this list without asking you. I'm sure they ask in some sort of end-user agreement that no one reads, but they never tell you anywhere else during the sign-up, "Hey! We're going to go ahead and set you up for auto-renewal!" The worst part is trying to remove yourself from this list. Microsoft kept sending me to different pages on their website that just told me how to do it. Funny thing is that they change the site so often that the screenshots they had were of the old design and didn't pertain to the new design they created.

Anyway, you probably didn't come here to hear me rant about the annoying "option". You came here because you want to be removed. This is probably the second time of me writing one of these because they change the site's design and remove the old links, so this is current as of today's date, July 2, 2014 and may not work if they change the site again in the future.

To remove yourself from the auto-renewal, you need to first log into your Microsoft account that's connected to your Xbox Live or Xbox Music account. Wherever you receive e-mails for these services is the address you will use to log in with. This can be done through Outlook.com, on Bing's website, Xbox.com, or pretty much any Microsoft owned website that allows you to log in. When you're logged in there, visit this page ==> https://account.xbox.com/en-US/MyAccount

Now, look for this on the page.


Yours may look a little different. But from here, you will select "See all subscriptions" and from that page, you will now be able to remove the annoying auto-renewal "feature" from the services.

I signed on for a free trial of Xbox Music and thought I canceled it, but they've been silently charging me for the past 3 months. I only found out today because they alerted me that I was going to be charged on my Xbox Live account automatically in August. So if you signed on for a free trial or are paying for the service, make sure you check this page often so they don't get to snatch up your money too.

This isn't something exclusive to Microsoft and Xbox either. I got a free $40 gift card from Best Buy and decided to go for a PS+ membership for my PlayStation account and they too added me to an auto-renewal subscription because they have my credit card on file.

I guess when you sign up for paid services, just make sure you check to see if they add you to some plan like this.
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