Friday, August 20, 2010

Those who can't beat, cheat!

↑ ↑ ↓ ↓ ←→←→ B A START
↓ R ↑ L Y B
↓ A R B Y ↓ A Y
(R + ←) (L + ↓) ← ↑ ↓ (R + C⇐) (L + C⇐) (L + R + ←) (L + R + →)
(L + C⇐)

Cheat codes have been a part of console gaming for over 25 years. Some cheat codes have even become a part of video game history. Some games, like Konami's Contra, were nigh impossible to beat without cheat codes. Beating these games without cheating gave players infinite bragging rights.

That all stared to change in the last few generations of games. As games have become easier, longer, and less linear, with more focus on story and exploration, cheats have become decreasingly necessary, and new features are usually unlocked by performing unique tasks, collecting and spending in-game currency, or simply progressing through the game.

Cheat devices, like the Game Genie, GameShark, and Action Replay, combated this trend. These unlicensed add-ons essentially allowed the user to hack and modify the game code to create their own cheats, such as infinite life, special weapons, and even access features that had been switched off in the final product. These cheat devices fell out of favor as online gaming and scoring became more popular, the consensus being that gamers who cheat ruin the game for everyone else. So what if you want to unlock features, but don't have the time, patience, or skills necessary to complete the required tasks? You still paid full price for the game. Shouldn't you have full access to its features?

For example, when Perfect Dark came out, I bought it day one, full price. Over the next few months, and even years, I played the game a lot and got pretty good at it, but never got good enough to play at the Perfect Agent level, let alone complete the required speed runs, which meant I would never unlock certain cheats and features I had been wanting to try. I had the same problem with GoldenEye 007, but in its case, Rare released well hidden cheat codes a few years after the game's release for those of us who could not do it ourselves. Perfect Dark had no such codes. I ended up buying a GameShark and unlocking features "illegally" after years of frustration.

The first Rock Band had a similar problem. In order to unlock all the songs, you had to unlock them in World Tour mode. The problem was, World Tour eventually forced you to play songs on hard to progress, which for me at the time meant a guaranteed fail. It wasn't until Rock Band 2 came out and I was able to export all the RB1 songs that I finally could play some of those songs that to me were unlockable. Rock Band 2 also had an "ALL SONGS" feature, but that came with a concession: online play, score keeping, and certain achievements were deactivated when "ALL SONGS" was on.

That seems to be a common exchange for the option to play the game in a way other than intended. Grand Theft Auto IV does the same thing. Use a cheat during your play session and not only does it deactivate online play and certain achievements, but if you save, it shows on your gameplay stats. This prevents players from cheating for more than personal enjoyment. That seems pretty fair to me.

So why is using cheats still such a taboo? If I am cheating on my own game by myself and not getting any rewards other than fun out of it, what's wrong with that? I would even go so far as to say that if I want to set up an Xbox Live Party using cheats, just for me and my friends, I should be allowed to do just that. There is no reason why I can't activate "NO FAIL MODE" in Rock Band 2 for the sake of my more rhythm or coordination impaired friends, then join a Party with my online friends in Florida. As long as no one minds, who cares? The Party could just post a disclaimer like, "Fear The Claw wants to activate NO FAIL MODE. This will prevent high scores from being recorded, and certain Achievements from being unlocked for the entire party. Is this okay?"

I bought Saints Row 2 several months ago, solely for the purpose of messing around in the open world, and was annoyed to discover that using any of the couple hundred cheat codes at any point during the game deactivates all Achievements, even if the cheat I am using would not affect the requirements for the Achievement I would have unlocked. ( For example, if I use a weapon cheat, it still deactivates Achievements pertaining to vehicle stunts.)  This also does not reset when I turn the cheat off. That seems unfair to me. On the other hand, Burnout Paradise does not have any cheats, but you can pay 800 Microsoft Points, or $10, to unlock all the cars in the game, an option I wish more games had.

It seems unreasonable to me that more games do not include or allow cheats. Whom does it really hurt, other than arguably the player? I paid for the game. Let me enjoy it the way I want. There are some games I probably would never enjoy fully if it weren't for cheats, because they are either too difficult, too long, or have gameplay aspects that I find annoying. Cheats allow me to reduce, or even eliminate, many of these problems, allowing me to complete games that would normally continue collecting dust on my Shelf of Shame. Now, if you don't mind, I am going to go back to my PlatStation Network port of Final Fantasy VII with the hacked game save I downloaded from GameFAQs.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Game Nutz Podcast Episode 44 - E3 Roundup 2010

Check out our take on the news from this year's E3 on the special, hour-long Episode 44 of the Game Nutz Podcast, complete with an epic, game-related orchestral score!

You can also subscribe to us on iTunes by clicking here!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

In search of the perfect 10

I began to think about this a couple weeks ago, when I recommended Red Dead Redemption to a customer, citing a perfect ten-out-of-ten review as evidence of its quality.  His response was dismissive: "There's no such thing as a perfect ten," he claimed.  Touché, I thought.  Even I can only think of a handful of games I would give a ten-out-of-ten score.  Does that mean those games are perfect?  Are they without flaws, glitches, or frustrating moments?  Do they exceed expectations in everything they attempt to do?  Put simply, no, they do not.  So how do I justify giving a 10/10 to a game that is not absolutely perfect?  Because it really is not that simple.

Looking at a game objectively, it is impossible to make it perfect.  There will always be a pixel or a polygon out of place, AI that behaves questionably, sections of gameplay that take a few too many tries to complete, or any other potential problems you face when dealing with user-controlled media.  The unpredictable nature of video games makes it impossible to prevent every scenario that could detract from the experience.  But video games are not objective, are they?  Unless you are reviewing a puzzle game or a simulated card game, there are very subjective elements that are necessary to game design.  (One could even argue that the aesthetic of a puzzle game can affect the player's enjoyment.)  A video game should be visually pleasing, a factor that cannot be considered objectively.  In addition, most games strive to generate an emotional response in the player — a feeling of joy, fear, excitement, etc.  Certainly emotions cannot be judged objectively.

My point is, there is no such thing as an "objective game review."  You cannot judge a game based solely on its technical aspects any more than any other media.  When you read a movie review, do you want it judged solely on the run time and type of filming equipment used?  Do you want music judged solely on chord progression and time signature?  Do you want literature judged solely on spelling and grammar?  Of course not.  Then why do gamers demand a purely objective review of a video game?

When a reviewer scores a game 10/10, he is not claiming the game is absolutely perfect.  Rather, he is asserting that, from his experience, the game's technical blemishes are so sparse and minute that they do not significantly affect the quality of the overall experience.  A 10/10 can also imply that, despite advancements in technology, years from now the reviewer may still find the same amount of enjoyment in the game.

GameSpot once utilized as part of its scoring process — along with gameplay, graphics, sound, and value — a "Reviewer's Tilt."  This was a score ranging from one to ten that was averaged into the other scores to give the reviewer an influence over the final score.  It allowed the reviewer to account for unquantifiable factors such as aesthetic appeal, emotional response, or in some cases, the cinematic qualities like story and acting.  If a game was average in all of its technical aspects, but had a charming presentation and high replay value, the reviewer can reflect that in his "tilt."  In contrast, if a game had exceptional technical aspects, but an unengaging story and unoriginal gameplay, the "tilt" can be lowered to reflect that.  I think it was a great system and really exemplified the point that gaming is a very personal and subjective experience, and not a purely technical one.

Many movie buffs consider films like The Godfather, The Empire Strikes Back, and Psycho to be "perfect films," earning the conventional four (out of four) star ratings typically given to films of their caliber, despite long lists of continuity errors and technical goofs.  Heck, even Citizen Kane, universally hailed as "the greatest film of all time," has its own list of flubs to challenge its place at the top of the list.   If film critics are permitted to heap such praise on technically imperfect movies, shouldn't we grant video game critics the same privilege?  After all, a ten-out-of-ten game is like a loved one: you know they have flaws, but you love them so much it doesn't matter.

By the way, in case you are wondering which games I'd give a "perfect 10," they are Super Mario Bros. 3The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the PastSuper Mario 64Metal Gear Solid, and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rock Band 3 teased in Green Day: Rock Band demo

There's not much to tell here, so I'll keep this brief.  I downloaded the Green Day: Rock Band demo today to hold me over until the full game arrives at my door next week.  After playing both available songs, Welcome to Paradise and Boulevard of Broken Dreams (both on bass, of course), I exited the demo and, just before returning to the Dashboard, I was treated to a black screen with the Rock Band instrument logos, and the number "3."  That's all.  I told you there was not much to report.

But wait… What's this…?

There are the four standard logos: bass, drums, guitar, and vocals; but the vocal one has three mics.  Well, no huge surprise there.  Harmonies have been featured in both Beatles: and Green Day: Rock Band…

But there's a fifth logo… Is that…?  YES!  A keyboard!  One of the most requested features for a band game.  Honestly, I'm curious, and a little bit skeptical, about how it is going to work, but this could be a real game changer for the genre.

At the very least, it will make Pete Townsend's minute long keyboard solos more tolerable in the game!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Nintendo needs a Touchstone

About eighty percent of (the five of) you reading this are probably saying "What's a 'Touchstone'?" So first, a little history lesson: In the late '70s, early '80s, Walt Disney Pictures released a few movies that earned a PG rating from the MPAA. This was unheard of for the typically kid-friendly company. Some of these movies were released under the Disney label, while others were farmed out to other studios for release. In 1984, Disney CEO Ron Miller created Touchstone Pictures, a rebadge of sorts for adult oriented Disney movies. Under the Touchstone label, Disney released hits like Splash, Ernest Goes to Camp, Good Morning, Vietnam, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Nightmare Before Christmas (later rereleased under Walt Disney Pictures), and several of Jerry Bruckheimer's films.

(Disney also founded Hollywood Pictures, and purchased Miramax Films and Dimension Films for similar reasons.)

So what does this have to do with video games? Well, Nintendo has a similar image in the video game industry to Disney's in the film industry: colorful, cartoony, family-friendly, and innovative; and, like Disney, this image has occasionally had a detrimental effect on how they are perceived by "mature" audiences. "Hardcore" gamers don't want to play a game with a doe-eyed boy in a green tunic any more than they want to watch a 90 minute long cartoon about a singing, dancing frog; no matter how good it may be.

While Nintendo has tried in the past decade-and-a-half or so to shed this kiddy image with more mature games, unusual partnerships, and grittier versions of classic stories, their attempts thus far have had meager results. The designs for their systems have not done much to help this, by opting more for simple and functional, rather than stylish and powerful, their systems look and perform less like a Sony PlayStation, and more like a My First Sony Walkman.

This is fine with me. I believe that there is a place in the gaming industry for the simple fun of "casual" games alongside the complex challenges of "hardcore" games. Unfortunately, while Nintendo's systems offer a wide assortment of experiences, it is this casual style that permeates everything they do. No matter how many "hardcore" games like Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, MadWorld, or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Reflex we may see on a Nintendo platform, they never seem to sell as well as games like Grand Theft Auto IV, Gears of War, or Modern Warfare 2 on Sony and Microsoft platforms; or even as well as Nintendo's own "casual" offerings like Wii Sports, Wii Play, or Brain Age.

The problem here is that Nintendo is so ingrained with its own family-friendly image that even third party developers can't break through its connotation. What is needed is a brand that is disassociated with, but still controlled by, Nintendo. Imagine going into a game store, and you see on display the Nintendo Wii, a tall white box with a Remote controller and a cartoony sports package, and the Sora Revolution*, a flat black box with a Classic Controller and a dark fantasy adventure about a young man who gets turned into a wolf (we'll pretend for the sake of this example that you can play Twilight Princess with a Classic Controller). Which of these do you think would appeal to the "hardcore" gamer? How about the Nintendo DS versus the Sora Nitro*?

My point is, a game like Grand Theft Auto might sell better on a system called the Nitro, while a game like Nintendogs is better suited for the DS. The two systems can be identical in hardware and interface, but the Nitro have a more "hardcore" name and design. While the Wii has targeted casual gamers with its simple, unique controller design, the Revolution can attract the hardcore with a more conventional one. Both SKUs would be fully compatible with each other's games and accessories, but cater, at least aesthetically, to different audiences.

Admittedly, this does pose some problems, like what do you put on the game cases? Wii, Revolution, or both? Maybe they could make a decision based on the target demographic. For example, they could have the key buyers' system name on the front, and "also compatible with [other system name]" on back, or in smaller print on the front. Who knows?

These are all my own personal musings, of course.  It will never happen. Nintendo are proud of themselves; and they should be, as they are currently dominating both the console and portable gaming markets. However, their success has come at a price. They have lost many potential sales and licenses due to the perception of their audience. Perhaps a rebrand may be what Nintendo needs to recapture the "hardcore" gamers, many of whom have moved on to the PlayStation 3 and/or Xbox 360.  It worked for Disney. Con Air, Clerks, the Scream trilogy,... These are all Disney movies. Maybe the next answer to Halo or Grand Theft Auto could be a Nintendo game, under a different name.

*"Sora" is taken from Sora Ltd., a Nintendo second party developer founded by Super Smash Bros. creator Masahiro Sakurai.  "Revolution" and "Nitro" were Nintendo's project names for the Wii and DS prototypes, respectively.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Features I'd like to see in Rock Band 3

Ever since I first played Guitar Hero on a demo station in 2005 I've been hooked on the instrument-sim sub-genre of music games.  When I first played Harmonix's next-gen follow-up Rock Band, I fell in love with the aesthetic, diverse playlist, and potential as a party game.  Rock Band 2 remains a frequent activity for friendly get-togethers at our home.  However, while RB2 improved on the original's interface, there's still plenty of room for a more streamlined and varied experience.  The Beatles: Rock Band added harmonies, but aside from that, the formula has remained largely the same across the four main games and several spin-offs in the series.  Harmonix passed on releasing a Rock Band 3 last year, but I'm sure there will still be one, and here is a list of features I'd like to see in order to improve the experience:
  • Harmonies/Duets - The Beatles: RB added this unique feature to make the game more authentic to the Beatles' music, and Green Day: RB will carry it on, but there are several songs in the Rock Band library that could benefit from a multi-vocal option. Songs like Linkin Park's One Step Closer, Gorillaz' Clint Eastwood, and Evanescence's Bring Me to Life, just to name a few, were all recorded with two vocalists, one singing and one rapping. Multiple vocalists could also make artists like The B-52s more accessible to the game.

  • Support for two guitars - Most rock songs feature at least two guitar tracks (not including bass), rhythm and lead. I don't know why this option hasn't been explored yet, especially with The Beatles. The two guitar tracks are usually just swapped between on the single guitar chart, or sometimes the rhythm track is ignored altogether. It would be nice if we were given the option to have one more band mate and to pick the track we prefer, especially since some gamers are better at the "chord changes" and "double strumming" of the rhythm section, while others (like myself) are better with the quick fingering and "single notes" of lead.

  • iTunes-style stat keeping for songs - I can't tell you how many times I've bought a song and completely forgot about it, or played a song once and had it get lost in a field of far more familiar songs. Yes, you can sort songs by alphabet (band or song title), rating (how well you performed on a song, not how much you like it), source (RB1, RB2, DLC, etc.), decade, and genre; but these don't make it much easier to find those rare gems that may have drifted into obscurity as you played Aqualung for the twenty-seventh time. Finding music in iTunes is so quick and intuitive, Harmonix could learn a lesson from Apple. The following criteria should be added to the music sort list:
    • Date added
    • Play count
    • Last played
    • Player rating (taste, not skill)
    • Suggestions

  • Music search feature - Rather than spending 2-3 minutes searching your library for that one song, just press one button, bring up the virtual keyboard, and type the title or artist in. How difficult can it be to add USB keyboard and ChatPad support as well?

  • Optional vocal cadenzas - I don't know about you, but I get annoyed when the game requires me to sing every "ooh," "ah," and "yeah" exactly the same as the original recording, or else lose my note streak. If they're not explicitly written into the sheet music, they should be optional, maybe for extra points, or as an alternate way to activate Overdrive.

  • Button-activated Overdrive - Speaking of Overdrive, there needs to be a more user-friendly way to activate it while on vocals or drums. On guitar or bass, all you need to do is tilt the controller, or hit the Back button. Guitar Hero allows you to activate Star Power on drums whenever you want by hitting the kick bass and both cymbals simultaneously. This can be a little overly complicated, but it's better than waiting half-a-minute for the next drum fill because you missed the crash prompt the first time. As for vocals, my throat hurts enough from singing tenor all night (I'm naturally a bass-baritone, and very few pop/rock songs are in that range), now you want me to scream into the mic at a precise time? Either put an Overdrive button on the Mic controller, or map it to any button on the 360 controller.

  • Adaptive difficulty - Over the years, I've progressed from struggling with the Medium difficulty, to challenging myself with Hard, and in some cases going with Expert because I've already mastered all others. There are some songs, however, that start out deceptively simple, then throw a string of rapid-fire "hammer-ons" or "double-strum" chords at you later on that cause me to instantly fail out. If I step down a level, I could play the song in my sleep with the drop in difficulty. An option should be added, perhaps in place of No Fail Mode, which automatically adjusts the difficulty level based on your current performance. Achieve a 50 note streak or fill the performance bar all the way and the game will take it up a notch. Drop into the red, and the game will automatically bring the level down on the fly. This will make party nights a lot easier for groups of varying skill.

  • Quick-swapping instruments - I almost always play bass, but there are some songs that make me want to drop my Fender P and pick up a mic. Other times I get stuck on drums until my arms hurt and I just need some less physically taxing relief. What do I need to do? Back up to the band member selection screen, log out of my controller, swap controllers with someone (who also had to log out), log into my new instrument of choice (while the person I swapped with does the same), and re-enter the song selection screen. Sometimes the game makes this even more complicated, forbidding me from logging my Gamertag out while the game is playing, and forcing me to either return to the Dashboard, swap my GT to another controller, and reload the game, or worse, shut the system off and start all over again. This is absolutely ridiculous. There needs to be a way I can switch to a different instrument and take my GT and RB avatar with me without spending 5 minutes reconfiguring the entire system.

So there's my Rock Band 3 list of suggestions. Now all I need to do is find out how to share this with Harmonix's development team, and hopefully some or all of these will be addressed in the final product.

Are there any other features or fixes you'd like to see in future Rock Band entries? Please share them in the comments section!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Perfect Dark (XBLA) - Full Review

Last May, I included Perfect Dark in Part III of my list of classic Nintendo games that haven't been remade, but should be. Less than a month later at E3, Microsoft announced Perfect Dark for the Xbox Live Arcade. At the time it sounded like the game would just be a port of the N64 game running in 1080p with online multiplayer, but a few months later Rare released screenshots showing new high resolution textures replacing the originals. On March 17th, Microsoft Game Studios released their version of the N64 classic, ported by 4J Studios.

As I had said I would in my previous post on this topic, I bought this on day one. The first thing I noticed was, aside from the higher resolution, and the replacement of old RareWare and Nintendo logos with new Rare and Microsoft ones, was that the opening was basically identical as the original's. Same sound, same presentation, and the 4J logo very cleverly replaces the N64 logo before becoming the background for the title… but you aren't reading this to find out about the logos, are you?

I started playing the game right away, and was amazed at how crisp and clear the graphics were — Perfect Dark looks as good as you remember it looking, and better than it actually looked — but what really caught my attention was how detailed the faces were. While most of the graphical updates are simply brand new hi-res textures to replace the originals, character models were completely rebuilt with higher polygon counts. Even Jo's hand and gun in first-person are remodeled. You can actually make out the details on the faces, and features such as lips and eyes are well defined. This unfortunately makes cinemas a little annoying because, like the original, the faces are all static and there is no lip sync.

screenshots from

Surprisingly, the game controls well using dual-analog, although I still prefer my C-buttons for strafing. AI is exactly the same as it was in 2000, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Enemies are smart enough to chase you, take cover behind walls, surrender or go kung-fu and fisticuffs when disarmed, and investigate curious sounds and objects; but they're not so smart that you can't still toy with them and set up fairly obvious ambushes. In fact, aside from the graphics and controller itself, nearly everything in the XBLA release is identical to the N64 original.

The biggest change is in the Combat Simulator, PD's multiplayer mode. While all the features of the original are still here (and unlocked from the get-go), the obvious new addition is online matchmaking. Thus far, most of the matches have been pretty even (with me in the usual bottom half of the standings), though there is always the typical unfair match with some FPS expert/cheater. Hopefully matchmaking will smooth out over time, as more people participate and player levels start to balance out. Unfortunately, the only options for online matchmaking are 4 player and 8 player matches, and there is no option for Simulants, meaning you can't set up a humans versus Sims match for random people. This would be a nice feature to add. The most fun we had at my house was humans vs. Sims, with a random Perfect Sim thrown in to keep things interesting. Still, local mulitplayer is exactly the same as it was 10 years ago, Sims and all, only clearer and smoother.

My biggest gripes are what they did not include. I was really hoping they would restore the face-mapping feature that was planned for the original release, but removed due to post-Columbine pressure (Rare claims "technical issues," but I stand by my previous statement). The pieces of cheese hidden throughout the levels, originally meant as an alternate method for unlocking cheats, still do nothing. The N64 version of Perfect Dark (as well as GoldenEye 007) allowed you to change the aspect ratio of the game from a standard 4:3 (1.33:1), all the way to an anamorphic 23:9 (2.55:1, similar to CinemaScope's aspect ratio) on widescreen TVs. The XBLA version only allows full-screen mode, in either 4:3 or 16:9 depending on your system settings.

Overall, the biggest change is the framerate. After years of stuttering single-player, choppy deathmatches, and unplayable co-op, we can finally see Perfect Dark the way it was meant to be seen. This is what Perfect Dark might have looked and played like had Rare held the game over to the GameCube. If you were ever a fan of the original, or even of GoldenEye, and are looking for a solid, old-school FPS on the 360, I'd say you can't go wrong with this. The fact that it's only $10 (800 MP) gives you even less reason not to buy it.

Yea: feels and sounds just like the original; looks a lot better than the original; great classic FPS; nearly unlimited multiplayer options
Nay: short campaign; not much new aside from online multiplayer; needs more GoldenEye multiplayer maps (DLC maybe?)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Does length equal value?

I hear and read the comments all the time: "great campaign, but too short;" "hundreds of hours to complete;" "padded with repetitive tasks;" "not long tnough to warrant a $60 purchase..." It seems people equate hours of gameplay with a dollar amount as if there were a mathematical formula to determine a game's monetary value. But when the dollar to hour ratio is different for everyone, how do you determine the ideal game length?

About 10 years ago, when gamers spent fifty to sixty dollars on a game, they were generally looking at between 5-10 hours of single player gameplay. A triple-A title like The Legend of Zelda or Metal Gear Solid might offer an additional 5-10 hours. The notable exceptions to the rule, RPGs, might cap out at around 40-50 hours. Back then there were also fewer studios releasing fewer games on fewer major systems, so there was potentially more time for gaming. You rarely heard the complaint that games were not long enough for their price.

Flash forward to today...

Games still cost $50-60, but now there are a lot more of them, and a lot more options in the types of games. Most games today average out at around ten hours, give or take a few, and a triple-A titles could easily consume twenty hours of your spare time, or more. An RPG might be finished in 60 hours if you're lucky. Some games, in particular games by developers BioWare and Bethesda, boast over one hundred hours of open world gameplay.

By my estimate, total potential gameplay hours have quintupled in the past decade, while the price of new games has remained mostly the same. Why then do I constantly hear the complaint that certain games are not long enough to warrant a full price purchase? Furthermore, how does a longer game equate to a better game? Certainly quantity does not necessarily equal quality. What constitutes a good value in gaming?

What it comes down to for me is overall enjoyment and replayability. What good is a fifty hour game if most of it is the same old thing for thirty of them? If there's nothing left to do after I'm finished other than replay from the start, the campaign had better be short and memorable. One hundred hours of gameplay? If it doesn't have a non-linear or branching story, I'm not interested, because I'll probably forget what's happened before I'm halfway through it anyway.

What a game is worth should not be broken down into a numerical equation based solely on gameplay hours. It should be based on personal preference and quality of production. I mean, which would you rather spend your hard-earned money on: five hours of gold, or fifty hours of "meh?"

If you do insist on looking at it mathematically, try this formula:

To buy a brand new movie on DVD costs close to $20. The average movie runtime is about two hours. That's $10 for each hour of passive entertainment. Apply that ratio to video games, and that new game you just paid $60 for is a pretty fair deal at "only" six hours, especially when you consider that's an interactive medium which can be experienced at any pace, a nearly infinite number of ways.

(I will admit, my biggest complaint with Ghostbusters was that it was too short. That had nothing to do with its monetary value, but rather that I simply did not want the game to end. The positive side is its brevity makes it easy to play through repeatedly, for example, whenever I get around to watching the movies again.)

Let's try to get away from judging a game's value by its length, and instead by our overall enjoyment of it, and how enthusiastic we'd be to play it through again. After all, New Super Mario Bros. Wii may only take about 5-6 hours to beat, but that hasn't stopped me from getting more than $50 worth of fun out of it.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

My Shelf of Shame

Obviously I have not had time to post much lately. I haven't had time to do much of anything, really — except work, that is — let alone gaming. I have an ever growing backlog of games I've yet to play or finish. The hosts of Joystiq Podcast referred to this as a "Shelf of Shame." Hearing this term got me thinking, what games do I own that have been sitting on my Shelf of Shame?

(footnote links are broken. explanations at bottom of article.)

Games I've never played:
  1. Doom 1
  2. Doom II 1
  3. Doom 3
  4. Final Fantasy V 2
  5. Final Fantasy VI 2
  6. inFamous
  7. LEGO Batman: The Videogame
  8. The Matrix: Path of Neo 3
  9. Metal Gear 1
  10. Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake 1
  11. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
  12. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
  13. Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (Wii) 2
  14. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption 2
  15. Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks 3
  16. Resident Evil Archives: Resident Evil
  17. Resident Evil Archives: Resident Evil Zero
  18. Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition
  19. Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles
  20. Star Wars: Rebel Assault II: The Hidden Empire
  21. Super Paper Mario

Games I've played, but not finished
  1. Banjo-Kazooie
  2. Battle Lode Runner
  3. The Conduit
  4. Dead Rising
  5. Donkey Kong Country 3 (GBA)
  6. Donkey Kong 64
  7. Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem
  8. Far Cry 2
  9. Final Fantasy III 4
  10. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
  11. Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
  12. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
  13. Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony 3
  14. Kid Icarus
  15. Kingdom Hearts
  16. Kirby's Dream Land 3
  17. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
  18. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
  19. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
  20. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
  21. LittleBigPlanet (PS3)
  22. LittleBigPlanet (PSP)
  23. MadWorld
  24. Medal of Honor: Underground
  25. Medal of Honor: Frontline
  26. Metroid 3: Super Metroid
  27. Metroid Prime (Wii) 2 or (GCN)
  28. Metroid Prime Hunters
  29. Mirror's Edge
  30. NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams
  31. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door
  32. Perfect Dark Zero
  33. Pokémon Red
  34. Pokémon Snap
  35. Pokémon Yellow
  36. Pokémon Silver
  37. Pokémon Platinum
  38. Pokémon HeartGold
  39. Punch-Out!!
  40. Puzzle Quest: Galactrix
  41. Red Dead Revolver
  42. Red Dead Redemption
  43. Resident Evil (GCN) 4
  44. Scribblenauts
  45. Shadowman
  46. Sonic Adventure 5
  47. Star Fox Command
  48. Star Fox: Assault
  49. TimeSplitters: Future Perfect
  50. Viewtiful Joe

Games I came close to finishing and stopped:
  1. Final Fantasy IV 6
  2. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
  3. Grand Theft Auto (GBA)
  4. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Master Quest
  5. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
  6. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga 6

1bonus feature on game disc
2part of a compilation
3recently purchased
4sold or traded

(notes: "finished" does not necessarily mean completed.  for example, finishing Super Mario Galaxy means that i reached and defeated the final boss, and saw the end credits, but not necessarily with all 120 stars.  also, games that were purchased without the intention of playing to completion, such as Saints Row 2, and games purchased as party games, such as LEGO Rock Band, are not counted as part of this list.)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Your present is coming in due time

Thursday, December 3, 2009

New Super Mario Bros. Wii — First Impressions

Mario games have always been the epitome of platforming perfection. I loved New Super Mario Bros. on the DS (the first 2D Mario game since the Game Boy's Super Mario Land 2) and I couldn't wait for a sequel. I got exactly what I wanted and more with New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Nintendo's first Mario platformer on a console since Super Mario World on the SNES in 1990. I'll spare you the story — like it really matters — suffice to say it marks the return of the Koopalings.

The ever present Super Mushroom, Fire Flower, and Star all return, along with NSMB's Mini-Mushroom and three new power-ups: the Propeller Mushroom, the Ice Flower, and the Penguin Suit. The Propeller Mushroom gives Mario the ability to jump very high and descend slowly. The Ice Flower is exactly what you'd expect: it's the opposite of a Fire Flower in that with it Mario throws ice balls which freeze enemies into blocks of ice. Ice balls can often be more useful than fireballs because many enemies that are impervious to fireballs can be frozen, then shattered; and ice blocks can be used as platforms in the water. Finally, the Penguin Suit gives Mario Ice Flower abilities plus better traction on ice and improved swimming controls.

Gameplay is essentially identical to its predecessors in almost every way except two. First, NSMBW is freaking hard! I have not died this many times in a Mario game since The Lost Levels. Fortunately, some of this difficulty is alleviated by the second gameplay addition: simultaneous co-op. Up to three additional players (controlling Luigi and two Toads) can run alongside Mario and help by taking out enemies, finding secrets, and collecting hard to reach items. They can also be your saving grace, because as long as one player is still alive and kicking, the dead player will float back onto the screen in a bubble (which must be popped by an active player in order to free them) and the level continues. One of the downsides to co-op play is that characters can bump into each other, or bounce off of each other's heads, making it difficult to maneuver quick jumps and small platforms. The other is that your partners can always turn on you, stealing your 1-Up Mushrooms or throwing you into enemies and traps. Actually, this is less a problem with the game itself, and more a problem with your friends. It's actually a perfect example of the competitive co-op style of gameplay at which Nintendo excels.

At this point we're about three-quarters of the way through the main story mode (I've been playing exclusively with my roommate in two-player co-op), though it's probably more like two-thirds, as we've taken a few short cuts. I'll write a full review with my final score once we've played most of the story, including the final level, and more of the Coin Battle mode. Thus far I'd call this a must have for any hardcore Wii owner.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A transitional period

It's been a very long time since I've posted regularly, and for the three or four of you who check regularly, I'm sorry. A lot of stuff in my personal life has made it difficult to concentrate on non-essentials. It has been difficult enough finding time to spend with my wife and friends. I have blogs already written, it's just a matter of finding the time and ambition to type, edit, and post them. My Beatles Rock Band review is long overdue. But I do have some good news… and no, it has nothing to do with saving money on my car insurance.

Game Nutz, my own personal Cheers in Sherrill, NY (and soon, Canastota), and employer of Boter and Sticky, who invited me on their podcast, has just added me to its roster. Video games and gaming culture have been my life since I first held a ColecoVision controller at the age of three — that is why I started this blog and joined the podcast — and I am proud and excited to be working someplace where my otherwise useless knowledge of video gaming will be applicable. This also means the possibility of getting more writing done, as I can bring my laptop in and write during downtime.

Frankly, I'd like to get paid to do just this: writing editorials and reviews of video games. I love writing, I love expressing my opinions, I love video games and I love getting paid. It would be a dream job. If you're reading this, and know someone who can help me find that dream job, my email is on my profile. Until that happens, I'll take a job in retail. I'll have to do this as a hobby until then.

On a side note, I am going to stop posting links to new podcast episodes, at least for a while. Anyone who is interested should know where to find it (it's linked in this post and available on iTunes), and it's starting to become a cheap filler when I'm too lazy to type up an actual article.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Game Nutz Podcast: Episode 18

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Click the link above to download the latest episode of the Game Nutz Podcast, or subscribe by clicking HERE!

Round 3 of "Which Sucks Less" this week: DS Lite vs. DSi. I had a long list of interesting topics for this week's episode… which is still sitting on my computer desk where I left it that morning, so I pretty much joined in whatever topics came up.

Please, leave us a review in the iTunes Podcast Directory!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Game Nutz Podcast: Episode 17

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Click the link above to download the latest episode of the Game Nutz Podcast, or subscribe by clicking HERE!

First, round 2 of "Which Sucks Less." This week: PS3 "fat" vs. PS3 Slim. We then move on to mostly conversation since it was a slow news week. Sorry I'm so late in posting this, but life has been interfering with my blogging time again. I'll be posting some new editorial blogs soon, but for now, enjoy The guys from Game Nutz (plus me)!

(Stay tuned for the easter egg at the end of the podcast. Unfortunately an encoding error cut off part of it, but there's enough there to get the gist.)

Please, leave us a review in the iTunes Podcast Directory!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Game Nutz Podcast: Episode 16

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Click the link above to download the latest episode of the Game Nutz Podcast, or subscribe by clicking HERE!

We start out with round 1 of "Which Sucks Less." This week: Xbox 360 Elite vs. Xbox 360 Arcade. (I still stand by that if you buy a used HDD and headset, the Arcade's the better deal, $50 rebate notwithstanding. We discuss the Wii System Update 4.2 issue, then more or less ramble on for the remaining 20 minutes about whatever topics happen to come up. All in all, a bad week for news, but a great week for conversation!

Please, leave us a review in the iTunes Podcast Directory!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Game Nutz Podcast: Fillercast 1

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Click the link above to download the latest episode of the Game Nutz Podcast, or subscribe by clicking HERE!

Boter and Sticky took the week off, so I invited a couple of my friends over to record a podcast to fill in the gap. We ramble a bit, and there's a bit more history, meaning a few inside jokes get thrown around, but I think we pulled off a decent episode. If you like what you hear, let me know and we might make this a semi-regular thing. Check out the cool stereo effect I used on our voices. It's like you're really in the room with us!

We are now featured in the iTunes Podcast Directory, so please leave us a review!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What's wrong with digital distribution?

It's all the rage in music, movies, and now, video games. Digital distribution allows publishers to cut costs by reducing physical components, eliminating retail middle-men, and giving them more control over price. It also makes shopping more convenient for the consumer by allowing customers to make purchases from their own home. It saves time and money for both the publisher and the consumer. It sounds like a win-win situation.

So why, you may ask, am I opposed to digital distribution? I am very wary of what comes with it. Yes, it is more convenient, and in most cases, cheaper (especially if you take traveling expenses into account), but it also takes a lot of control away from the consumer:

  • The lack of a physical disc means if you are unhappy with the product you purchased, or simply done with it, there is no chance of either getting a refund or trading in your used games.

  • Digital Rights Management can get in the way of how you can use what you have legally purchased. You can't usually share, copy, or loan your media if it's DRM-protected. For example, if I bought 'Splosion Man on XBLA, it is tied to both my Gamertag and my system ID number, so I can't loan it to my friend like I did with my Ghostbusters disc. Same goes with Rock Band DLC. I can't go over to my friend's house with a memory card loaded with songs and play them on his system. Lame.

    DRM also limits other media. iTunes songs and movies I downloaded prior to iTunes Plus cannot be played on my Xbox or PSP because they are not approved or registrable devices.

  • Then there are future compatibility concerns. Remember all those maps you bought for Halo 2 on your original Xbox? The only way you can use them now is by hooking up your old Xbox. You cannot transfer them to the 360, even though the game itself is backwards compatible. Do you think all those PSN, XBLA, or Wii Shop Channel games and add-ons you've spent real money on will work on the PlayStation 4, third generation Xbox, or whatever Nintendo creates to follow the Wii? Maybe if they're feeling generous, but they're under no obligation to do so.

Digital distribution also creates a storage issue. Whereas an infinite number of games can be stored on individual removable discs, internal hard drive space is limited. The average Xbox 360 game takes up about 4.5GB. If all you have is the basic 20GB HD, you'll be lucky to fit four games on it after the drive is formatted and NXE installed.

My biggest complaint with digital distribution is over-all support. While companies like Valve promise that games purchased online will always be playable, even if the company goes under, not all game publishers are so kind. I've been burned by digital distribution before, and left with a worthless collection of ones and zeros. It was an iPod game by Rock Band developer Harmonix called Phase. Phase used a special playlist in iTunes to create gameplay tracks with your own music. At some point in the past year or so, probably following a software update, that playlist disappeared, and Phase stopped working entirely, even though the game still appears in iTunes and on my iPod. I paid $5 for a game I can no longer play.

Retailers hate digital distribution too. No one makes money on hardware sales. The profit is in games, especially used games. Some retailers are already refusing to stock the PSP Go because of its unreasonable price and download only game distribution. If the game industry wants to switch to digital distribution, they're going to have to start selling consoles to retailers at an even greater loss than they do now so the hardware profits for the retailers will make up for the lack of tangible software sales.

While downloadable content has helped define this generation of gaming by prolonging the lives of many games, and digital distribution could have a lot to offer both publishers and consumers, right now there are too many obstacles to overcome; and with Blu-ray starting to become an industry standard, I don't see physical media being completely replaced for quite some time. I, for one, have no problem with that.

Game Nutz Podcast: Episode 15

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Click the link above to download the latest episode of the Game Nutz Podcast, or subscribe by clicking HERE!

(Sticky and I take the reigns while Boter's out of town. This episode was a little late because Boter typically does the editing and posting. Also, I forgot to post Episode 14 last week, so if you're not already subscribed, check it out. Finally, there will not be an Episode 16 this week, but keep an eye out for a possible Episode 15½ to hold you over.)

We are now featured in the iTunes Podcast Directory, so please leave us a review!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Can the PlayStation brand recover?

Five years ago, the PlayStation 2 dominated the gaming market. Though under the hood it was less powerful than most of the competition, its vast library and practicality as a DVD player put the black box in almost every gamer’s living room. (While some attribute the PS2’s success to being first on the market, this is untrue, as the less-successful Dreamcast predates it by almost a year.)

What really helped the PlayStation brand was a huge budget, a long list of exclusives (Tekken, Twisted Metal, Metal Gear Solid*, Grand Theft Auto*, Final Fantasy*, etc…), and brand name recognition. By the time the PS2 hit the market, “PlayStation” had become synonymous with video gaming, superceding even Nintendo. In 2003, after dominating the console market for several years, Sony revealed the PlayStation Portable, a revolutionary portable entertainment device that Sony dubbed the "Walkman of the 21st Century." Like the PS2, it could play games with full 3D graphics, DVD quality movies, and digital music. The PlayStation 3 was announced in 2005, promising a revolution in home entertainment through the use of Blu-ray.

(*Series were "timed exclusives" that eventually appeared on other systems after several months to a year.)

At some point between then and now, people stopped caring about PlayStation. Microsoft took over as the default choice for hardcore gamers with the Xbox 360, and Nintendo jumped from last place to first this console generation, while PlayStation took their place at the bottom. How did this happen? Why did this happen? And can the PlayStation bounce back before it becomes the next Sega?

Sony became infamous for over-promising and under-delivering. The PSP was supposed to be a groundbreaking piece of technology that would replace the Game Boy, iPod, and portable DVD player with one unit. It would have PS2 quality graphics, analog controls, and a library of games & movies that rivaled its console cousin. Instead it became a bulky, fragile piece of equipment that had a short battery life, graphics that fit somewhere between the Nintendo 64 and the Dreamcast, faulty control inputs, and not one, but two expensive proprietary media devices: UMD and Memory Sticks. UMDs were slow, pricey, and inefficient, and if you already owned a movie on DVD and wanted to watch it on the PSP, your only options were either to buy it again, or watch it as a low resolution 368×208 mp4 file.

Then we have the PlayStation 3, which has been a media debacle from the get-go. First, there was the Killzone 2 "in-game footage" fiasco at E305, then there were the system shortages at launch, lack of games, multiple SKUs, backwards compatibility (or lack thereof), the HD format war, shoddy online functionality, not to mention Sony's arrogance (suggesting that gamers should have to work overtime so they can afford your product is probably not the wisest business move). Sony has managed to dig themselves more holes than Stanley Yelnats. In the past five years they've lost exclusive licenses, billions of dollars, and the trust of gamers and game press everywhere. Is there any way for them to recover?

The first step is ditching not-yet-established proprietary formats. They lucked out with Blu-ray — using the PS3 as a trojan horse for their next-gen format gave them an edge over the cheaper, more consumer-friendly HD DVD — but the Hi-Def war hurt PS3 sales by appending the question of "will it become obsolete?" UMDs were worthless from the beginning, and Memory Sticks were, and still are, the most expensive flash media cards out there.

Second, keep prices down. If the PS3 had been Sony's 1st entry into the gaming market, it would have died like the 3DO. The average consumers, and especially the average consumers' parents, are not going to shell out $600 for a game system. $400 for the 360 was even a stretch. Fortunately, Sony is finally addressing this issue with recent price drops to the PSP and PS3, though the PSP Go is still outrageously overpriced.

Third, improve online functionality. Why is it only Microsoft has gotten this right in a decade of online gaming? If Sony's going to compete in an online market, they need to have a reliable infrastructure.

Finally, ensure backwards compatibility. The PS2 had the largest library and install base of all the last-gen systems — it continues to grow even to this day — and was backwards compatible with almost all PS1 games. Current PS3's are only backwards compatible PS1 games. That means no chance of selling your PS2 when you upgrade if you ever want to play your old games again. Take a hint from Nintendo: The Game Boy Color could play Game Boy classic games; the Game Boy Advance could play GB and GBC games, the DS can play GBA games. Every Wii not only has Gamecube hardware, but controller and memory card ports as well.

Sony and the PlayStation brand still have lot of potential, but they have got to start looking at their business practices from the consumer end if they want to remain relevant for another generation.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Game Nutz Podcast: Episode 13

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Click the link above to download the latest episode of the Game Nutz Podcast, or subscribe by clicking HERE!

(The whole crew is back at last, with topics galore! This episode more than makes up for previous failings with tons of topics, interesting discussions, and even a heated debate or two. Looks like 13 was our lucky number!)

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Game Nutz Podcast: Episode 12

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(Sticky misses another show due to unfortunate circumstances, and Boter and I are at a loss for topics. After fumbling for a while, we try switching seats for inspiration, and eventually admit defeat. Listen to the first 10-15 minutes… after that, you've been warned!)

We are now featured in the iTunes Podcast Directory, so please leave us a review!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ghostbusters: The Video Game (Wii) — First Impressions

I've finally had the opportunity to briefly try out Ghostbusters on the Wii. While it was far from enough time to write a full review, I think I got a good enough impression of the game to compare it with the Xbox 360 version (henceforth referred to as the Terminal Reality version). The first few things worth mentioning are the visuals, controls, and features.

The most obvious change is in the visuals. Instead of trying to duplicate the realistic look of the Terminal Reality versions on the underpowered hardware of the Wii (or the PS2, the version for which is basically the same as the Wii's, save for the controls), developer Red Fly Studio created a more cartoony aesthetic for their game. While these caricatures are easily identifiable as the actors they're meant to portray, some of the designs are a little goofy, and leave me wishing they had licensed DIC's designs from The Real Ghostbusters. Voices, music, and sound effects are all carried over from the Terminal Reality version, which helps to lend this version some authenticity.

Controls in the Wii version are just what you'd expect: move with the Nunchuk joystick, aim with the Remote, shoot with the B trigger. Trapping ghosts is the same as the Terminal Reality version, except that the game tells you what direction to slam the ghost, instead of whatever direction you want.

The features offered are a little different in the Red Fly version. Story mode is basically the same, with a few minor differences, and one major one: co-op. You can play through the entire campaign with a friend locally. You can also choose the gender of the Rookie character (though in co-op there is always one male and one female) which can cause continuity problems, since the game dialog still refers to the Rookie as a male. Also, there is no online multiplayer, nor can you play any additional non-story-related missions.

The couple areas I played were familiar, based on my play-through of the 360 version, but obviously less detailed and a bit truncated. Layouts are changed in some areas; especially the firehouse, which is not nearly as accurately reproduced as the Terminal Reality versions'. Most of the differences, however, would only be noticeable if you had played both versions.

All things considered, Ghostbusters is still a great game no matter which version you get. While I wouldn't recommend the Red Fly version over the Terminal Reality version, if all you have is a Wii or PS2, and you're a Ghostbusters fan, you shouldn't be disappointed by what this version has to offer. If I was to give it a score based on what I've played, I'd give it a solid 8.0.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

If real life were like a role-playing game…

  • Young boys and girls, with no martial arts or weapons training whatsoever, could pick fights with almost anyone or anything and win.

  • Wild, hostile animals could easily (and legally) be captured, domesticated, and trained to fight along side you, or in your place.

  • No one would lock their doors, or mind if you barged into their homes uninvited, initiated random conversations, or rummaged through their possessions.

  • Death would be reversible with an item or spell (unless death occurs during a movie, then it is permanent and irreversible).

  • Invisible creatures would randomly appear and attack you for no discernible reason.

  • Everybody would talk to you about even the most mundane topics.

  • When someone told you something important, they'd ask you if you understood before letting you leave. If you said no, they'd repeat everything word for word until you understood.

  • You'd get money for killing animals.

  • Hospitals would be put out of business by hotels.

  • All shops would be open 24/7, even during the apocalypse.

  • All of our hair would be perfect, even after hours of battle.

  • Most people would have only one thing to say, and repeat it endlessly when talked to. For some, this would be a conversational improvement.

  • Loud blasts of victorious music would accompany the completion of even menial tasks.

  • Social groups in school would change from the jocks and nerds, to the Fighters and Mages.

  • Doctors would only have to examine your HP and status bar to determine your health.

  • You could survive poisoning by staying perfectly still.

  • Blindness would only affect you in a fight; otherwise you could navigate just fine, examine objects, read entire books, etc.

  • Areas would only need 5 houses and a few dozen residents to be legally classified as a city, and most cities would be within a reasonable walking distance from each other.

Special thanks to all my friends who contributed ideas to this list!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Game Nutz Podcast: Episode 11

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(Sticky takes a much deserved week off, and we address the unintentional one week hiatus.)

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Friday, August 14, 2009

BAFPA: the ideal rating system

FCC, MPAA, RIAA, ESRB… there are plenty of organizations whose job it is to monitor the media and to ensure our children are safe from potentially harmful material. What is considered harmful? Well, for example, violence is okay for children, as long as there is no blood, or it’s being done to cartoon characters. Some profanity is fine, as long as it’s not one of Carlin’s seven (more, or harsher profanity is sometimes forgivable if the source is considered a “classic”). Some innuendo can be overlooked in higher rated media, but nudity, regardless of how tastefully, artistically, or innocently it may be portrayed, is always forbidden; and sex itself is right out.

At least that’s what they tell us…

The fact of the matter is children are like snowflakes: no two are alike. As much as these organizations would like to clump all children into a single, homogenous group, how a child may respond to such material differs depending on various factors including genetics, upbringing, and social interaction. What may amuse one child might horrify another, while another may be “inspired” to imitate it. For example, I have played Grand Theft Auto games since I was 12 or 13, and have never felt compelled to reenact anything from it. A few years ago, a 13 year old boy a played too much GTA and was “inspired” to take a shotgun, point it at his cousin's face, and fire.

The bottom line is that the ESRB (or any other ratings board) has no clue what would be appropriate for your specific child. What they offer is a generic guideline based on a broad interpretation of the material they are reviewing. While their ratings of "E" for "Everyone", "E-10+" for "Everyone 10 and older", "T" for "Teens (13+)", and "M" for "Mature (17+)" (we needn’t be bothered with the extremely rare "eC" and "Ao" ratings at this point) may be accurate for most children, your results may vary.

Don’t take this the wrong way. I am by no means saying that it is okay to buy your seven-year-old that M-rated game. I am a strong supporter of the ESRB. The problem is that the people who complain the most about inappropriate content in video games are usually the ones most responsible for exposing their children to it. You can’t buy your child God of War and then complain about blood and bare breasts in the game. The game case says, literally in black and white, “Blood and Gore” and “Nudity” among its content descriptors. The ESRB ratings have existed for fifteen years now, and appear on both the game case (front and back, with descriptors on the back) and on the label of every video game. In fact, they are larger, more prominent, and better explained than most other ratings systems; yet probably the least heeded.

Below are examples of typical ratings placement and size. Both the Batman Begins DVD (left) and the PS2 game (right) are shown with their respective ratings highlighted in red as they appear on both the label and disc. Click on the thumbnail images for larger versions:

That’s why I propose BAFPA…

BAFPA is a supplement to the ESRB, which takes the individual child’s levels of maturity, tolerance, and self control into account as well as their chronological age. It is a complex, yet intuitive system that can work in conjunction with any and all of the existing rating systems. It requires little-to-no advertisement. Most people should already recognize it, and those who don’t can learn through word of mouth. BAFPA translates easily into any language, and will benefit not just your child, but every child, and society as a whole.

BAFPA stands for Be A F---ing Parent Already. Its absence is easily the biggest detriment to gaming, as well as most other media. It’s a simple enough system, but many people never take the time to learn it. The advantage of BAFPA is also its biggest disadvantage: its process and implementation differ from person to person. What works for one child, may or may not work for another. The system can never be perfected, but trial, error, and correction are ultimately rewarded.

One of BAFPA’s biggest obstacles is time. It takes time to implement the system properly — a lot of time, and patience, and attention — three things many adults are not willing to give up, it seems. I understand it’s easier to let teachers, lawyers, politicians, news reporters, and retailers make the decisions of what’s appropriate for your child for you, or to assume your child will instinctively make good decisions on their own, but without your involvement, either directly or subconsciously, you cannot expect such things to always be what’s best.

This ties into another important aspect of BAFPA: neither you, nor your child, are ever one-hundred percent right or wrong. You may think to yourself, “my eleven-year-old is responsible enough to play Grand Theft Auto,” then find him acting out violent or destructive activities from the game in your living room. Likewise, your child may convince you he’s old enough for Grand Theft Auto, until you find him getting a lap dance in one of Liberty City’s strip clubs.

The last part of BAFPA (as far as this article is concerned, anyway) is that “what” and “why” are often better answers to “can I have?” than “yes” or “no.” For example:

Child: “Mom, can I get Resident Evil 5?”
[Mom looks at rating on the front of game case.]
Mom: “This game is M-rated. Why do you want this instead of Banjo-Kazooie?”
Child: “Because my friend has it and I want to play it with him.”
[Mom looks at descriptors on the back of game case: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language.]
Mom: “This looks a little old for you. What do you do in it?”
Child: “Kill zombies.”
Mom: “Just zombies?”
Child: “Yeah.”
[Mom looks at screenshots and game descriptions on the back of the game case.]
Mom: “Not today. I’ll have to see it for myself, and if I think it’s okay for you, we can get it next time.”

Obviously, your results may vary, but believe it or not, with the right amount of effort and consistency, most children will respond better to, and learn more from, that conversation than this one:

Child: “Mom, can I get Resident Evil 5?”
Mom: “No.”
Child: “Why not?”
Mom: “Because I said so.”

It is also important that you explain to your child why you think [GAME X] is not appropriate for them. That way, when they are eventually and inevitably exposed to the objectionable content, they will recognize it, and hopefully make a mature, informed, and responsible decision based on what you’ve told them.

(On a sadder note, it is important for us to realize that some children, through no fault of their own, are mentally or emotionally imbalanced, and incapable of separating the fantasy from the reality. It is unfortunate, but it happens. These are the children whose distorted sense of reality and/or morality, often coupled with a lack of positive role models, can inspire them to try to emulate the games they play. Before we blame the games themselves, let us consider the fact that they are just as likely to be inspired by movies, television, music, literature, or other arts and media. In other words, video games do not make killers; ignorance and apathy do.)

Ironically, the people who read this and support BAFPA are probably the people who need it the least. The people to whom BAFPA is geared are the ones who will likely be leaving me the angry comments. Bear in mind, I am not trying to tell you how to raise your child, nor am I claiming that raising a child is easy. All I am saying is the responsibility of raising your child is not the ESRB’s, or the MPAA’s, or the government’s, or Jack Thompson’s, or Hilary Clinton’s, or the game studios’, or game retailers’; it’s yours. It is up to you to monitor, censor, and restrict or allow what games your child plays. That’s part of being a parent.

If you need any more help knowing whether you’re being a good parent, remember this:

If you’re worried that you’re not a good parent, you’re probably the best parent you can be. If you already know you’re a good parent, you’re probably doing something wrong.

So stop letting lawyers, retailers, politicians, and ratings boards raise your children, and Be A F---ing Parent Already!