The UC3 Beta & Other Things I Love About Modern Gaming
2011 is a great time to be a gamer, with a range of consoles and portables - and let’s not forget the PC - that are rich in quality games and features. Although my time is currently at a premium - I'm spreading myself thin between work, making pressing decisions regarding my long-term career, updating toomanywires-uk, trying to get back into my Japanese study and attempting to establish some sort of keep-fit routine - I will always make time for an hour or so of gaming each and every weekday evening, without fail. With so many worthwhile games to play, I simply won’t allow myself to miss out.
Here are some reasons why the current generation is so unmissable.
1. Bloody Brilliant Beta
I love the concept of a beta, and it was the just now released Uncharted 3 multiplayer vers. 1.01 which caused me to write this post. A chance for developers to have a dry-run and iron out the creases which inevitably hobble, and occasionally cripple, online games, a beta also affords the customer an early look at a potential purchase. As a Q&A tester-lite, gamers are encouraged to offer feedback which the developer may look to integrate into the final product, allowing us the chance to be a part of the final stages of development. Betas are an opportunity for the community to join the experience much earlier on, likely endearing them to the product and developer, and in the long-run it contributes to a higher quality product. In Uncharted 3's case, as its so much fun to play, everyone ends up a winner, with the possible exception of the team running the servers. They most likely have their hands full with so many people able to access the beta from day one, thanks to the free month of PSN+. I think most of you will agree when I say I cant wait for November.
2. Delightful Demos
Like most gamers on a budget, I love demos, as they allow me to sift through my crowded gaming wish list without opening my wallet. What started as a disc mounted on the front of your favourite magazine has evolved into a vital part of the video game life-cycle, accessible by millions of potential customers. The one hour samples offered by PSN+ are the logical extension of the demo, challenging you to explore as much as you can in those sixty minutes. They also encourage us to look outside of our usual tastes, removing the risks of trying something a bit different. Thanks to the modern demo, and increased and exhaustive online coverage, it is rare that I buy a game that I end up disliking. The days of HBO Boxing and Ballz swallowing-up my hard earned cash are long gone.
3. Video Game Pricing
As much as we all like to have the occasional moan about the cost of our hobby, I feel that gaming has become increasingly affordable over the years, especially if you are willing to wait a couple of months before buying. I distinctly remember saving for what seemed like an eternity as a child so that I could buy Desert Strike for the inflated price of £44.99 ($72) and being as pleased as punch when my parents relented and paid £59.99 ($96) for Street Fighter Championship Edition one Christmas, despite their protests that it was too expensive for just one game - which in retrospect it was. The original suggested retail price of ¥11,500 (£89 / $142) on the back of my Japanese copy of Final Fantasy VI (Super Famicom) still surprises me each time I see it.
With the dominance of online retailers, it is easier than ever to buy games on a budget. Many will question the high, initial price points and RRPs of new games, but I don’t think I have ever seen a retailer have the gall to ask the full £49.99 ($80) for a vanilla copy of a new game, with the possible exception of the Call of Duty series. Most new titles are available around the £35 ($56) mark, and the vast majority of them will be hovering around £20-25 ($32-40) after three months, which is where many AAA games become a bargain. Add to this the booming used sector and the ability to buy smaller and inexpensive games through services like PSN, Live and Steam - which offer full experiences at a fraction of the cost of a packaged title - and you have a real buyer's market.
Cho Aniki is no longer outside the reach of Western Gamers. Excellent!
4. The Demise of Exchange Discs and Mod Chips
Although international barriers still exist – Wii owners in the West continue to lament the lack of JRPGs – gaming is increasingly becoming an experience without borders. Tricky disc swaps and warranty-voiding console tinkering are thankfully things of the past as many of today’s consoles are region free (PS3, PSP and DS are free of territory locks, but the 360 is hit and miss. The Wii and 3DS are locked). This makes importing your favourite foreign games far more palatable and affordable.
There is also the opportunity to set-up alternate accounts on your PS3, which along with matching PSN store credit can open up a whole new world of unfamiliar games. The US PSN Store also offers a limited by vibrant collection of Japan-only PSX games, including the gloriously bizarre Cho Aniki. I also love the fact that I can play with or against people from all over the world, as video games transcend barriers of language and culture. It doesn’t matter if you speak English, Spanish, Chinese or whatever dialect, you know that zombies need to be shot and a blue portal is of little use without an orange one.
5. A Shared Experience
Friend lists, integrated messaging and in-game chat have made gaming more of a social event than ever before, finally removing the stigma of it being a distinctly anti-social activity. Through gaming, associated social media and of course blogging, I have come to know gamers from all over the world and chatted about gaming and non-gaming topics. I have a host of bloggers and people on Twitter who I enjoy following, as well as people who regularly comment here, all of whom imbue me with increased enthusiasm for our shared interest.
The rise of Twitter and community based sites like 1UP blur the lines between amateurs and professionals and bring us all closer to the industry we love. It doesn't matter that Suda 51 chose to ignore my direct tweet and attempt at humour, all carefully composed in Japanese. The fact that he and many other industry figures have appeared to make themselves available on sites like Twitter has helped to remove the feeling of "them and us". This encourages the development of a truly international gaming community, where hopefully we all feel a little bit more responsible for the health of the industry.
6. The END Needn't be the End
I first played and fell in love with Red Dead Redemption a little over a year ago. It took me around three weeks to finish the lengthy campaign, but I have returned to it on-and-off over the last twelve months as it keeps giving me new and exciting reasons to come back after the final credits rolled. With side missions, online components and high quality DLC, both paid and free, a game like RDR can become a true investment - continuing to reward you as long as you want it to. News of a final piece of free DLC, a year after release, and four days of quadruple experience across all online modes has me considering loading it up yet again this weekend.
DLC, when it isn't used as a way of with-holding content which should've been included in the first place, is a boon for the industry and gamer. Exhaustive DLC packs for games like Burnout Paradise and the Call of Duty series breathe new life into aging titles and ensure that your favourite games remain current for longer. Trophies and achievements add to this extended shelf-life, offering extra impetus to keep striving for high scores, fiendish combos and hidden collectibles, and add something more tangible to the sense of satisfaction you receive from wading through games on the hardest setting.
Next week I shell return to my usual, sarcastic self and offer-up some of the reasons why I dislike modern gaming. Oh well, at least I managed to keep positive for 1500 words!