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The very first post here goes back over 7 years, about sometime in August 2006. Since then, this blog has seen posts of a many varied topics, ranging from gaming to tech, personal life, as well as politics. There were periods where I was writing a couple of posts every week, and there were those where there were a total of two posts in a entire year. Simply put, the number of posts have dwindled over time, and the blog itself has no focus.

Taking the above into account, I think it would be best to just consider this blog as being closed.

For the domain, I’m currently using WordPress’s paid domain mapping. However, most definitely won’t renew that when the payment expires. The domain name itself, however, I’m still undecided as to what to do with it. In any case, the direct, and hopefully permanent, URL place of this site would be http://pbored.wordpress.com/.

And that’s it.

Aliens: Colonial Marines, or 2013’s greatest disappointment

I regretted pre-ordering the game a day before it came out.

One of the first reviews to appear was one from a non-English site (I can’t remember the url, I think it was a French one) giving it 5/10. Fans who loved the Alien franchise rushed to the game’s defense immediately, but the majority of the apologists had not have a chance to play it yet.

Fast forward a day later, everyone who cared about the game had finished its woefully short campaign, and the opinion more or less gravitated towards a common consensus. Aliens: Colonial Marines was a train wreck. Right now, the Metacritic score for it is resting at 47/100. In an era where the pass for games seem to hover at around 70, 47 is downright abysmal.

The game plays a lot more like Starship Troopers than Aliens. It’s a shooter, and a very unimaginative one at that. Xenomorphs comes at you in waves, and you kill them, end of story. As a shooter, there really isn’t anything fundamentally wrong with it as far as controls and mechanics go. It could be better, sure, but there are certainly worse shooters with controls flawed in a myriad other ways out there. But as for the things done right, it ends there.

The game feels so hollow and lifeless that I do not even know how to begin to describe it. The story is haphazard and the characters all fall into staple templates that I could hardly care for any of them. The AI will stand in the middle of a walkway and let lose a stream of bullets into enemies it has no line of sight to, completely ignoring the fact that the enemy has gone under cover. Sometimes, it even completely runs past an enemy firing at it, woeful to whatever is going on. The weapons sound muffled and lack the feel of any actual impact. Grenades explode like they did in Counter-Strike 1.0. The cut scenes are reminiscent of FMVs in the 1990s. It’s hard to believe that 5 years of work were put into into a game that is over in about 5 hours.

Now if you excuse me, I’m going to down a fifth of whiskey and forget that I ever bought this game.

Games of 2012 in review

An article on Metacritic lamenting that the game releases in 2012 did not do very well for video games is generating some degree on controversy, partly because it is Metacritic, whose scores of games from big publishers always seems to be higher than they deserved, and also partly because some feel that indie games were not well represented.

More importantly, it is controversial because it is true, at least in this author’s opinion.

2012 had a lot of big titles, but what happened?

By no means was there a lack of titles for 2012. On the contrary, 2012 saw a large number of huge titles being released, but the majority of them either missed the mark, or hype surrounding it died soon after its release, along with the players actually playing it. Mass Effect 3’s ending disappointed. The long anticipated Diablo 3 proved fun for about 2, maybe 3, weekends, and then everyone got bored of the grind. Likewise for Guild Wars 2, which despite a successful launch and overloaded servers in the initial week, had most people reached level cap soon enough and then disappeared. Max Payne 3 departed too much from its previous installments in the franchise, and became Just Another Shooter™. Warfighter bombed, and sunk the entire Medal of Honor franchise along with it. Hitman Absolution, to quote PCMag’s review, is ‘bland and uninteresting’, despite having a trailer that offended quite a number of people.

The real losers? Subscription based MMOs.

The most expensive game produced (not just counting MMOs), Star Wars: The Old Republic, went free-to-play in slightly under a year after its launch. This was then followed a month later by The Secret World, a game only a few months old, dropping the subscription model and going with only the box cost. While I’m not ready to herald that that the free-to-play model will be the future of MMOs, and I still have my doubts about such a model being sustainable AND still producing quality games, the MMO bubble that has been growing ever since every company tried to jump on the bandwagon after World of Warcraft’s success had finally burst. WoW and EVE still have their stable populations, but the barrage of titles coming out in rapid succession year after year has halted. In fact, I can’t think of any title off hand from a Western publisher that’s coming up in 2013. A quick look up just reminded me of The Elder Scrolls Online, but the reason I didn’t think of it in the first place is that I have doubts about the game being able to capture the spirit of The Elder Scrolls series in an MMO setting.

So, what was good?

Some might argue that the best game for 2012 technically isn’t a 2012 game at all. Persona 4: The Golden, an improved port of an older game for the PS2, has been the largest time sink for me. I’ve clocked 89 hours on my saved game thus far, and I’m still not done with my first playthrough, and with plenty of ideas for the next. I don’t think I’ve sunk that many hours into a handheld game since Pokémon. For a single player game, I think it’s probably around the 3rd with the most number of hours clocked, behind Morrowind and Skyrim.

Dishonored was also a great title, which I covered in a previous article. I’m led to believe that Borderlands 2 and XCOM were also excellent titles, which I couldn’t quite get into. You apparently had to be a fan of the 1994 XCOM to appreciate the current title, which I wasn’t, having never played it then.

Sleeping Dogs is apparently a sleeper hit, but I can’t give my opinion on it yet since I’ve yet to play the copy I picked up during Steam Winter Sales. That is what I suspect I’ll be doing over the next few days.

Dishonored – Beautiful, but a tad short

The new year is upon us and I’m still catching on games bought last year and the first of which I completed this year Dishonored. I’m typing this out just as the credits are rolling down. It’s a great game on the whole, although a few sore points could have made it shined even more.

What impressed me most about this game is the art direction and story-telling. The hints of steampunk, along with the alternating contrasts of a bright, resplendent and opulent world, against a dark, plague filled London-esque city works out well, along with the game’s unusual art style does really well. In the crowded video game market of 2012, where many games seem to be just an increment of its predecessor, a bold new world and setting feels extremely refreshing.

The environment is immersive, not only because of the beautifully done setting, but also in terms of audio cues and environmental sound effects, especially that of the pistol’s. Yes, you heard me right, I’m commenting on how awesome firing a weapon sounds. You have to understand, though, the most of the combat is done in melee, with a cool retractable sword, which I would dearly love to get a replica of, and the occasional wrist-mounted crossbow. Having a enemy cross sword with you, and them stumbling back and reaching out for and firing a circa 1800s pistol with an impactful and reverberating sound has a real kick to it. It made me jump the first time a shot rang out, and I still do when I’m suddenly thrown into combat when I fail at being stealthy.

There are, however, a few things that could have improved the quality of play. A minor nuisance is that the positioning of carrying out a stealth attack seems to be fairly limited to an area directly behind the target. I should be able to flank an attack at single angle, but I can’t, and this makes for frustrating situations where I’m hiding behind a corner, and an enemy passes me, but I have to wait until the enemy passes by me completely, and then take a step to the side so that I’m directly behind him before being able to execute my attack.

Another disappointment is that Dishonored is not an open world game. Although there is a certain degree of freedom when executing a particular mission, each mission is a semi-isolated stage on its own. There’s no free roam to go back and revisit places, which is a pity, considering how beautiful the world is. Furthermore, this means that if you miss out on gold, bone charms and runes in a mission, there’s no way to go back and get them, which means that you might be disadvantaged when it comes to spending on upgrades later.

I finished the game in about 10 hours, split over 3 or 4 game sessions. The game does feel a little on the short side, and my 10 hours did include a significant amount of reloading when I get discovered, so if you don’t care for stealth, you could probably cut off an hour or two off the play time. GIven the relatively short game duration, and no overwhelming desire to replay the game anytime soon, I’m glad I bought it at 50% off during the Steam Winter Sales instead of shelling out full price for it on launch.

Doom 3 – The survivor horror that Resident Evil 6 could have been

It’s a strange state that video game industry is in when a purely FPS game turns out to have more elements of horror and holy-shit-what-was-that moments than a game from a franchise that defined the survival horror genre.

What am I talking about? Doom 3, of course. Doom 3: BFG Edition was re-released yesterday as part of a collection that comprised of an improved version of Doom 3, along with a few new levels, as well as a collection of all the past Doom releases optimized to work on modern versions of Windows (read: no DOSBox needed). Doom 1 played fantastic with proper mouse controls, but I digress  that’s not the point of this article. What I want to talk about is how Resident Evil 6 could have been both an action and horror game at the same time.

Since RE5, The Resident Evil franchise has been trying to reinvent itself as kind of a hybrid – an action third-person shooter while still retaining its horror elements.In RE6 Leon and Ada’s campaign were the highlight of the game, and the story writing felt decent. Chris’s campaign was a gigantic mess and played more like a game in the Call of Duty series. But lets face it, even in the best parts of the game, there was never a moment when I felt even the least bit terrified or felt that I was venturing into an uncomfortable territory. The only un-comfortableness I felt was from the erratic movements of a camera with a field of view that was too narrow.

Doom 3, on the contrast, was a excellent shooter, and there were moments that caught me off guard, like the moment when your vision suddenly turns into grainy red hue and and   you go “oh fuck, what is going on”, and then pentagrams starts appearing on the ground and a couple of demons spawn right out of them. I’ve played Doom 3 back during its initial 2004 release, and some moments still scare the crap out of me. And all this is coming from a game with an emphasis on just mindlessly shooting things.

So what does this tell us? It is possible to put both horror and action in a game, and do it right without compromising too much of either aspect.

How do supposedly bad games sell?

Resident Evil 6 came out this week, and despite a huge number of mixed and some downright negative reviews (hell, even GameSpot who seems to give practically every game at least a 7, gave it a 4.5), it has been doing very well in terms of market performance. 4.5 millions copies have shipped, and while that is not an indicative of sales figures yet, anecdotal information from retailers seems to be that a large number of units are being moved. Capcom itself has a high projection, expecting 7 million units sold by March 31st, 2013.

My own reaction to it has been mixed, with a relatively interesting action play and horrible camera and controls. The graphics didn’t feel that great either, and color banding was a issue in a number of scenes.

Where does all this lead us to? A few very interesting possible conclusions.

This could be the problem of a vocal minority, or that the game is targeting a specific niche that does not have much of a representation within the mainstream community.

In the first case, people who like the game are actually busy enjoying instead of critiquing, and you have the problem of a small disgruntled player base but with access to media channels voicing out. Since we only hear the cries of the dissenters, we have assumption that everyone dislikes the game whereas in reality, people do actually like the game.

In the second case, it would be that the people reviewing the game, along with a number of people who bought the game aren’t simply the intended audience, and the intended audience are actually playing as per case one. This is why games like Darkfall received a lot of negativity despite being a good game on its own. Which brings us to the case of misrepresentation.

This misrepresentation case is interesting, because it represents some kind of a mismatched expectation. It could be the marketing department’s fault for misrepresenting the game, or simply because players attach their own biased expectations on to the game, pretending that it’s something it really isn’t. This seems very plausible, given how Capcom tried to appeal to both the survival horror and action fans at the same time. I would think that I myself fall into this category. Having a PS3, I desperately wanted a Resident Evil experience, and I couldn’t stomach playing through the original because they feel so graphically inferior. Once I bought the game, I’ve already contributed to the sales figure, regardless of me liking it or not, so my opinion really doesn’t matter.

But if enough people think that the game is terrible, shouldn’t there be some kind of a feedback and reaction after day 1 after word of it’s mediocrity or terribleness has spread? Logically, you’d think that people would stop buying after reading the reviews, but this isn’t the case. This is where the game starts to sell based on hope.

Hope. This is like entering into a relationship you knew from that start would turn ugly, but you still think that you could make it work. This is some kind of a cognitive dissonance where on one hand, you know for the fact that the game is going to be disappointment, but on another hand, you want to like it so much that you give yourself reasons like “maybe the reviewer didn’t know what he was doing” and “I could handle this”.

Hope is a powerful emotion, and it moves products.

How I learned to stop worrying and love the social web

I’d like to think of myself as an early adopter of the ‘social’ web, whatever that means. If being involved in a community and having the ability to link back and forth between things created by different people meant ‘social’, then Geocities would qualify as one of the earliest community and social platform. It’s pretty much what blogs, before the term was even coined, was like in the early ages. I was a part of that. Among a few others, I fondly and proudly remembered that I had a site with Digimon cheat codes. I would browse through the directory (search wasn’t great in those days), especially the stuff on UFOs and conspiracy theories and check for updated sites (RSS didn’t exist either), and then talk about and link to them on my own. I displayed a badge with my ICQ UIN, along with my status, whether I was on or offline, publicly on my sites, and just about on every forum I visited.

A few years later, the web gained mainstream acceptance and really took off, making everything I talked about in the last paragraph look primitive. With fly-by-night companies, automated content aggregation and sharing, I was beseiged by fears of losing control and paralyzed by uncertainty.

To be sure, this is a valid concern, and even more so in these days where once’s web presence is more of a representation of one’s self than the physical entity is. Lose a Gmail account, and a part of your life gets wiped out. Sure, we still have memories, but with nothing to confirm the existence of events in said memory, how can you prove that events actually happened? I picked up a love of watching anime lately, and in ‘Serial Experiments Lain’, the concept of existentialism was explored, with the protagonist coming to a conclusion that “if you aren’t remembered, you never existed”. Much like software objects in managed programming languages, once the last reference to an object has been lost or destroyed, the object ceases to exist. But I digress.

My web self took a direction that my panicky real life self would have done. I set sailed for safe harbor and bunkered down. I rented space on a web host and ran my own blog and image gallery, shying away from the publicly available options. The state of my web presence was that of a lonely and depressed old man, left behind and slowly corroding in the wake of the new social web. What I was really doing was effectively living in a gated community where I am the only resident. I’ve all the facilities to myself, but it’s a lonely place.

As shallow as it sounds, having visitors or being referred to is a necessary to validate one’s existence. Privacy and control issues aside, using a web app grants you the power of community, and gives your content better visibility by enhancing discoverability. It is still a gated community and not the true ‘open’ web that is the wet dream of many open source evangelist, but at least it’s a gated community with other residents.

On the topic of more practical concerns, the web environment is a lot more resilient today than it was before. As much as I like to have control, the chances of me losing my own data simply due to poor management is a lot more likely than having the distributed servers of a major web app spontaneously and simultaneously going up in flames. Most major web services supports some form of data portability, decreasing the chances that when the company goes, everything goes with them.

However, there is still some responsibility to maintain local backups or achieves of content posted on the web should the improbable happen. But let me tell you, it’s a lot less work than running and maintaining a web server.