Musings of a Gamer X
1. Counting Colossi
I'll keep this short, as I hope to write about Shadow of the Colossus in far more detail next month, but suffice to say I have been blown away by this PS2 re-master, in spite of the same impossibly high expectations that sunk my experience with ICO. It is stunning, from the towering Colossi to the remarkable HD transfer that frames one of the most desolate yet memorable world maps I’ve ever seen. It takes all the best bits of ICO (atmosphere, sound and setting) whilst doing away with all its less enviable traits, with the exception of the camera which is still a bit shit. I'm up to the fourteenth colossus and, although I feel certain of what the end will bring, I can't wait to see it through to its conclusion.
2. PS VITA and the UMD
A lot of people seem to be getting their knickers in a twist about Sony's abandoning of UMD media for the forthcoming Vita, and their initiative to give consumers the option to transfer their PSP games from physical copies to Vita compatible digital files, at a price. In effect, Sony is asking you to pay for the same game twice so that you may continue to enjoy it on a next generation portable.This has not gone down particularly well with the more vocal sections of the gaming community, with many unhappy about the prospect of paying again for a product that has only changed in format, not content. Of course, no one is forcing you to shell out on a Vita, nor transfer your PSP games, and one could argue that Sony certainly didn't promise you a digital copy when you bought your original UMD, but I think this line of reasoning misses the point and harkens back to an antiquated business model of very separate, console releases.
When you buy a console, you're not just buying into a one off piece of hardware but are actually investing in a brand - one that you expect to continue along similar lines throughout future instalments. A brand such as PlayStation or Xbox should be a continually developing entity, where goodwill is earned with one entry and carried over to the next along with incremental changes and backward compatibility. Sony worked hard to establish a user base with their PlayStation Portable, winning an audience who would look to upgrade within the brand if the price and timing is right. By starting from scratch with the Vita and simply discarding the UMD, Sony is throwing all of this away when it really can't afford to.
In the current economic climate and in light of the challenges facing a game-dedicated, portable platform, familiarity and the ability to transfer old games is of great worth. Looking around shops last Spring, so many seemed to be offering significant 3DS discounts for customers who traded in a DSi or XL, and I would imagine that it netted a lot of business from gamers who knew they could carry their DS library over to the latest handheld. As much as I love my Sony products, I fail to comprehend many of their decisions in the gaming sector. The more I think about it, the more I struggle to visualize the Vita becoming any more than an impressive piece of kit with a clearly defined, and rather limited, audience of willing adopters.
3. One Last Reason to Play my 360
I'm looking for a final reason to fire-up my oft-ignored 360 in 2011. There aren't any retail games that take my fancy so I'm thinking of going for something off XBLA and am open to suggestions. Super Meat Boy is a game I've long had my eye on, and have all but given up on it coming to PSN. I do like tricky games in short bursts, though I'm not sure if it will persuade me to go 360 when I have the option of SoTC, MW3 and Skyrim on my PS3.
The other candidate is Radiant Silvergun. Despite having a hefty collection of Japanese Sega Saturn games, I could never bring myself to lay down the ample coin required for ownership of Treasure's critically acclaimed shmup. This is perhaps my best chance to give it a go, though I remain wary as I have never been a huge fan of the Gradius and Dodonpachis of the world, and if not for its Saturn heritage I'm not sure what my level of interest would be.
4. Free Things & Avoiding Bias
I realize that this set of musings is quickly turning into the Moanings of a Gamer, but I just have one more thing I want to get off my chest before this Monday draws to a close.
Professional video game writers get their fair share of stick. A lot of this criticism is undeserved, and often just plain unintelligible, and stems from the fact that today's writers are very visible and accessible to the average gamer, be it through comment sections, their own blogs or twitter. The distinction between enthusiast writers and professionals has been blurred by the near demise of print publications and the move to online; a far more open forum that has been the main platform for video game critique for a number of years now. It is always tempting for amateur writers to feel that they can do as well if not better than the professionals, if given the time and resources. This is especially the case on sites where the distinction between user blogs and editorial is not always made clear, in placement or quality.
Video game reviewers have increasingly come under fire for a perceived willingness to bend to publishers. It is an unfair assumption that they allow themselves to be influenced by publishers, but it is understandable that readers are wary of a high score on a site that happens to be running a week long advertising campaign for that very same game, and it doesn't help matters that it’s common knowledge that exclusives can be earned through higher scores (see tiered review embargoes). I do not for one minute think that the majority of writers are guilty of allowing such things to cloud their judgement, but those who flaunt the free gifts and perks they receive from publishers - publishers that are always eager to please - are doing themselves no favours at all and display a baffling lack of understanding as to why their readership can at times be so critical and cynical.
I saw one professional on twitter, a writer who I rate rather highly, become quite aggressive in response to readers questioning the integrity of games journalism. They had some choice words for anyone who thought that bias, stemming from close publisher relations, was prevalent in reviews. I could appreciate the sentiment, though I would counter that an industry that so blatantly flaunts its mutually beneficial relationship with publishers would be naive to not expect its readership to question its ability to remain objective. Your vehement denial is doomed to fall on deaf ears when in the last month alone I have seen countless pictures and videos from major websites of staff members acting like infants at Christmas, unwrapping a replica chainsaw-rifle, a huge statue, or giant purple dildo that the developer just sent, in a thinly veiled attempt to curry favour.
My issue is not with these freebies – promotional gifts are of course not peculiar to the gaming industry and do serve a purpose - but that such a song and dance is made about receiving them, and then the very same writers will take umbrage at the mere suggestion that their reviews could possibly be compromised. The smart thing to do when receiving promotional gifts - and this would seem like common sense - would be to either refuse it or, more realistically, graciously accept but don't go advertising the fact. Show some restraint and then maybe your readers will be less hasty in their criticism, however unfair it may be.
Again, I'm confident that the vast majority of writers maintain their objectivity and are unlikely to be swayed by a gaudy lump of plastic, but this contradiction in what many of the big sites say and do is indicative of an industry that sometimes feels like it's stuck in a prolonged adolescence, from which it appears reluctant to emerge. I think thats probably the point I'm trying make here. Sorry it took 800 words to get there.