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Create or Consume?

meI remember reading an interview with an actor that was on a popular TV show many years ago.  In the interview, he mentioned that he had never seen the show that he worked on and went on to say that he didn’t watch much television at all, for that matter.  This struck me as a little odd, because at the time, I thought that seeing yourself on TV would be the Coolest Thing Ever.

I have noticed that something interesting has happened as I have started to use my creativity more these past few years.  I now spend more time writing and working on podcasts and not only have less time to watch TV and play games, but less desire to do so.  I’m creating more and watching and playing less.  While I suppose it is good to be making things, part of me wonders if it has to come at the cost of consuming it.

Sure, the tramautic few months I spent working for a cable company helped kill my desire to watch television, but that’s neither here nor there.

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GAME OVER?

videogamesI think I might be done with video games, or at least done with buying new consoles. I have been playing video games since the days of the Atari 2600 but my enthusiasm for new games and consoles has grown smaller and smaller with each sequel/lookalike/dark-haried protagonist/space marine game announcement for the last year or two.

One reason is I just don’t consume as much media as I used to.  I see movies very occasionally, watch little to no television and don’t buy very many CDs and Blu-Rays anymore.  A bigger reason is a feeling of ‘been there, done that.’  The Big 3’s E3 announcements impacted me with a great big ‘meh’ as I saw the sequel numbers get higher and higher.

So let’s run down the list:

SONY

I like to describe my PlayStation 3  as my “Blu-Ray player that also plays Ratchet and Clank.”  I can count the number of PS3 disc games I own on my hands, and most of the downloadable ones I have are games that I reviewed for original-gamer.com  It should say something that I still haven’t finished Ratchet and Clank: Full Frontal Assault and have yet to even purchase Sly Cooper 4.  As I have nearly zero interest in JPRGs or any of the Sony exclusive titles, I don’t see any reason to get a PS4 anytime soon.

MICROSOFT

The Xbox 360 was easily my favorite machine of this generation, though it bears mentioning that about a third of the disc games I own have either ‘Rock Band’ or ‘Guitar Hero’ in the title.  I’ve also purchased about a dozen downloaded titles and the Kinect is always fun when friends are over.  The Halo and Gears of War series have both been entertaining, but I have little interest in seeing them drug into the ground a la Capcom.  The TV functions of the 360 were also nice: I used it to stream and record HDTV from my PC via Windows Media Center to the living room TV.  I was actually intrigued by the Xbox 360’s TV functionality but the high price and anti-consumer policies Microsoft may or may not be imposing mean I won’t be getting an Xbox One in the near future.

NINTENDO

“Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be,” the old joke goes.  Nintendo has finally gone to the well once too often because Mario has become the new Madden as far as I am concerned.  I think the breaking point was when they started making sequels.  I may yet acquire Super Mario Galaxy 2 but my initial reaction was “Oh boy, they added Yoshi…whee.”  When New Super Mario Bros. 2 was announced,  I saw the ads about the whole ‘collect a bajillion coins’ thing and thought, “That’s IT?”  I am intrigued by the Wii U, but its initial lineup landed with a great big thud and the current game drought makes me feel like I didn’t have it so bad after buying a launch 3DS.  The sad thing is that the one franchise I would like for Nintendo to drag into the ground is one they’ve completely forgotten about: StarFox.

PC

I haven’t done any PC gaming for quite a few years now.  Seriously, the last PC game I bought was Portal…on disc…at Circuit City.  Oddly enough, I may end up playing games solely on my PC from here on out.  Since most of the big multi-platform releases end up on PC, I shouldn’t miss very many of the few AAA titles I’m interested in and there are loads of smaller devs doing interesting things these days on the indie scene.  Maybe I’ll get an Ouya after its had a little more time in the oven.

So there you have it.  I have been a gamer for well over 30 years now, and while it has been loads of fun, it may be time to hang up the controller for good.  Will it happen?  Who knows, but my current consoles and 3DS are doing just fine for now.

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RANDOM REVIEW REVISITED: Nintendo 3DS

Read my Nintendo 3DS review here.

AT LAST, MY GREATEST CREATION IS COMPLETED!

It has now been almost four months since I purchased my Nintendo 3DS, and I have been happy with it so far.  Of course, you should keep in mind that I paid $200 for it, as I received $50 off for trading in my DS Lite.  A system update in June was pushed out that included some software additions that now complete the system:

The 3DS-exclusive eShop is an extension of the DSi Shop.  In addition to games and apps, videos can be downloaded to the system.  While videos are available to watch in 2D or 3D, the selection so far is limited to movie trailers and previews of upcoming 3DS games.  As far as games are concerned, the only 3D content so far is currently limited to a Pokedex app and re-releases of Excitebike and Xevious.  Nintendo is also bringing some of their older portable titles to the eShop, but for every Super Mario Land and Kirby’s Dreamland there is a Baseball or Tennis.

For those who still have a DSi, the System Transfer utility is also now available for transferring games from a DSi to the 3DS (and vice versa).  After downloading it to both the 3DS and the DSi the utility works as advertised.  Games are removed from their original system after being transferred, so no sharing!  Some games and apps also do not transfer, so they will have to be repurchased or redownloaded, and some don’t make the jump to the 3DS at all: no Flipnote Studio?  Come on, Nintendo!

The Browser is now available.  The first time I tried it, it ran very slowly and locked up my 3DS, so I haven’t touched it since.  Oh well.

A Netflix app is also now available from the eShop.  It works in a similar manner to the versions currently on the PS3 and Xbox 360.  After linking your Netflix account to your 3DS, you can watch your movies on your 3DS via a WiFi connection.  While the picture quality is very good, the 3DS’ teeny speakers make headphones necessary unless you are in a fairly quiet room.

Archer on the 3DS via Netflix

Archer on the 3DS

Finally, there is the recently released Nintendo Video app.  While it is possible to get videos from the eShop, the Video app downloads videos from Nintendo while the system is in sleep mode.  In a message I found slightly creepy, Nintendo encouraged me to leave my 3DS on sleep mode all night.  I’m really not sure that I want to know what ELSE it will be doing as I slumber, though.  The initial batch of our videos included a movie trailer, two funny videos and an introduction video.

STILL WAITING FOR GAMES

While the browser, Netflix and the other functions of the Nintendo 3DS are fun to play with, this game machine is still suffering from a lack of games. While some good titles have dropped, such as Dead or Alive Dimensions and Resident Evil: The Mercenaries, Nintendo again continues the tradition of making the best games for its systems with the recent re-release of The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time.

When I first head about Nintendo pulling the ol’ re-re-re-release thing again, I was disappointed, but I have done a complete one-eighty after playing Ocarina of Time.  Unlike previous re-releases, this version has been remastered from the ground up to take advantage of the 3DS’ hardware and the difference is astounding.  Ocarina of Time literally looks better than ever before without the Nintendo 64 blur and fuzz we’re all come to know and love.  I can’t wait for StarFox 64 now.  With the holidays approaching, there should be more games on the way, but as of now the 3DS’ lineup is still fairly weak.

On the flipside, maybe Nintendo is being a little more judicious in handing out the dev kits this time around.  Hopefully the 3DS won’t become a hotbed for shovelware like the DS and the Wii.

CONCLUSION

The Nintendo 3DS is now complete thanks to the recent system update, and there are lots of things to do with the system besides play games.  Unfortunately, this game system is still lacking in high quality games to play.  Until that little issue is resolved, it is hard for me to recommend buying a 3DS just yet but as we get closer to the holidays that minor quibble should be resolved.  Of course, I should again bring up the system’s relatively poor battery life (3-4 hours) so keep that in mind if you travel a lot.

If you look at the list of current games (which won’t take long) and see enough games there to keep you happy until the holidays, then by all means buy a Nintendo 3DS.  My recommendation for most folks is to wait until there are enough games that you want to play.

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RANDOM REVIEW: Nintendo 3DS

3DS, charge cradle and AC adapter

The Hardware

UPDATE: The system update I mention at the end of this review has dropped, an update can be read here.

I first saw the Nintendo 3DS at last year’s E3. I had to wait an hour and a half in line with a bunch of other attendees in order to do so, but it was totally worth it.  The 3DS was my first experience with what could be called “modern” 3D, meaning something beyond the old red-and-blue glasses.  I thought it was pretty cool and looked forward to getting one at launch.  Not even a year has passed since then, and I now have a 3DS in my hands.  Was it worth the wait and the cash?

HARDWARE

The 3DS is just a little bit larger than a DSi, though not quite as large as the original ‘fat’ DS.  I opted for the Aqua Blue model instead of the Cosmo Black, and despite its glossy finish, the 3DS isn’t the fingerprint magnet that the DS Lite was.

The 3DS’ controls have been rearranged just a bit compared to the DSi.  Some things have been improved, and others, not so much.  The Power button is now on the right side of the screen where the Start and Select buttons were on the DSi.  I discovered that pretty early on when I went to pause a DS game and ended up shutting off the system instead.  D’oh!

The new Circle Pad control sitting above the familiar D-pad is a nice addition and feels good to use.  When playing DS games you have the option of using either the Circle Pad or the D-Pad which is also a plus.  Another welcome addition is the Wireless slider on the right side of the unit.  Previously, turning on or off the WiFi meant going to the Home screen and then to the Settings screen which was pretty annoying.  Holding up the slider turns on and off the DSi’s wireless, and a handy LED just above the switch lets you know if it’s on or off.  On the downside, the DSi’s volume buttons have been replaced with a slider.

The 3D screen at the top of the unit is slightly larger than the DSi’s screen, and it appears to be slightly more rectangular too.  To its right is the 3D slider which allows the 3D effect to be adjusted or even turned off entirely.  There are three cameras: two facing outward capable of taking 3D pictures, and one facing the player.  An LED on the top-right corner serves as a notification indicator.

Talking about the ‘guts’ of the 3DS, it has a built in motion sensor and gyro sensor, and a custom CPU from Nintendo which makes it capable of producing much better graphics than the DS, as evidenced by launch titles Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition and Ridge Racer.

When in sleep mode, the 3DS can also act as a pedometer, and every 100 steps earns a Play Coin that can be used to purchase items in some games.

The extra horsepower and 3D come at a cost: the battery life of the 3DS clocks in about 3-4 hours; not even enough for a long flight.  Third-party extenders and replacement battery packs are available, but folks on the go may want to invest in a car charger.  Another bad thing that has crept onto the 3DS are load times, it is not unusual to now wait just under 10 seconds for a game to start, and even the internal software takes a little while to get going.

BUILT IN SOFTWARE

The 3DS comes with quite a few built-in games and apps, some which have been carried over from the DSi.  The Home screen has been upgraded from the DSi’s version. Across the top of the screen is row of buttons for adjusting brightness, arranging icons, Game Notes, Friend List, Notifications and the internet browser. In the middle of the screen are the icons for games and apps, and buttons appear across the bottom of the screen that change depending on what is selected.

It bears mentioning that as of this writing, not all of the software is available: the Internet Browser and System Transfer (which allows users to move stuff over from a DSi) should be available soon, as well as the eShop, which will allow the purchase of games and apps, including Netflix and a video service from Nintendo.

The carryovers from the DSi are the Camera and Sound apps.  The Camera app adds the ability to take 3D pictures and increases the functionality of the camera, such as a timer and manual controls, but Facebook integration and some of the funny lenses that were on the DSi’s Camera app are gone.  The Sound app is fairly untouched; the new ability to play MP3s is a welcome addition as is the ability to create playlists.

Miis have found their way onto the 3DS, which includes its own version of the Mii Maker.  It’s the same one on the Wii, and Wii owners can even move their Miis back and forth between the two systems.  So far, Miis are only used in the Streetpass Mii Plaza app and Friends list.

Streetpass is a new function where you can share data with other 3DS users wirelessly.  Streetpass is activated if the system’s wireless radio on while it is in sleep mode.  Game data like Mii characters, high scores, and custom characters is be exchanged with other 3DS owners you pass by that also have Streetpass on. The user control what data is exchanged, and data can be exchanged for multiple games at once.  You’ll either find that really cool or really creepy.

Streetpass is a neat idea that is a bit ahead of itself right now, but that’s mainly because of the limited number of systems that are currently ‘in the wild.’  The Streetpass Mii Plaza app allows you to look at Miis you have picked up and you can even use them to play a silly little game called “Find Mii” and collect pieces of 3D pictures in “Puzzle Swap.”

Rounding out the 3DS built-in software are two augmented reality (AR) games: Face Raiders has you spinning around using the 3DS to shoot at faces that you take with the camera.  It’s a quick dose of silly fun and does a good job of showcasing the system’s AR abilities.  AR Games are played with several cards that are included with the system, you place a card on a flat surface, point the 3DS at it, and the system then allows you to play some mini games.  The AR Games aren’t terribly compelling, but on a technical level they are impressive.

Like other systems, the 3DS also has a Friends list, though in the interest of Protecting The Children, Nintendo has kept their silly Friend Code system, which means instead of being “Randomizer9” I am “0044-2809-7081.”  Whether this will hamper Nintendo’s online plans remains to be seen, but given the Big N’s indifference to online play thus far, I’m not holding my breath.  Right now the only things you can do with your 3DS Friends are see that they’re online, see what their favorite game is, and a short quote.  Yippee.  Nintendo promises that more functionality is on the way, so the jury is still out on that.

GAMES

Players have come to expect limited launch lineups whenever a new system drops, and the 3DS is no different.  There was not much to pick from at launch, and we’ve only seen a trickle of games released since then.  Street Fighter IV and Ridge Racer 3D are probably the best of the bunch so far, but it is comforting to see games come to the 3DS that weren’t possible or that just were not done well on its older sibling.

Sadly, it isn’t going to get much better anytime soon, especially since Nintendo is once again pulling the re-re-re-release bit again: Pilotwings, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Starfox 64 are some of the early titles coming from Nintendo.  Come on, y’all, how about something new already!  The system does play DS games, though, which gives it an impressive back catalog.

CONCLUSION

The Nintendo 3DS gets 3 out of 5 pairs of now-obsolete 3D glasses.  I want to give it a 4 out of 5, but the game lineup is just too weak and the battery life is way too low for a Nintendo handheld.

Should you drop the $249 to get one?  I think the answer for most folks is going to be a big fat ‘not yet.’  Its not that 3DS is a bad system, far from it.  It is a really neat gadget with glasses-free 3D, enough horsepower to pump out good graphics, and there are lots of other cool things to do with it besides play games.

Unfortunately, this is a game system and in terms of games, the 3DS is lacking as of this writing.  There are just not enough 3DS games to justify the purchase right now.  If you do not already own a DS, there are plenty of great DS games right now to keep busy until more 3DS games start coming down the pipe.  If you already own a DS system, you should probably stand pat and wait for the inevitable price drop.

ADDENDUM

The latest system update, which adds the eShop, Internet Browser and System Transfer functions, has just dropped, so I will be updating this review soon once I get a chance to check those items out, so check back for that.  Nintendo’s 2011 E3 press conference is also coming soon, so hopefully they’ll have more game announcements, but even then, anything they announce won’t be out for awhile, so the ‘lack of games’ point still stands.

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RANDOM REVIEW: Tron Legacy

The original Tron was a seminal part of growing up nerdy for me.  I actually saw it in the the theater back in the day and loved the (to me, anyway) oh-so-cool visuals, music and jargon, and I still enjoy it today on DVD.  Sure, its a little less impressive now that I actually know about computers and electronics (you could imagine my disappointment upon finding out what a Logic Probe actually does) but it’ll always have a special place in this nerd’s heart nonetheless.  Minor spoilers ahead, though nothing too major.

Tron Legacy picks up a few years after the events of the first movie.  Kevin Flynn is enjoying his “happy ever after” running Encom and spending time with his son, Sam.  Kevin suddenly falls off the map and we catch up to Sam years later being a typical rebel wihout a cause, albeit one that is a 1337 hacker, rides motorcycles like a madman, and apparently does BASE jumping.

Sam gets a sign that leads him back to the “Flynn’s” arcade of the first movie where he finds his father’s secret lab and gets zapped into the Electronic World (now called The Grid) just like dear old dad.

I was disappointed with the look of The Grid, the exteriors looked like the real world with a neon coat of paint, and the Recognizers were a let down. I mean, sure, they were more ‘realistic’ but come on, did they really need to have jets? We’re inside a computer, people!

Unlike the original, Legacy dives right into the action.  Sam has barely had enough time to get comfy in his new neon duds when he is tossed into a disc duel and a lightcycle battle.  The vehicles (Recognizers nonwithstanding, yeah I know, I’ll let it go now) look more “Tron-like” than anything  else and the action sequences are easily the highlight of the movie.

Sam soon escapes and finds Kevin with the aid of smexy program Quorra and they all race to escape The Grid and stop a nefarious plot from unfolding before the door to our world shuts again.

I thought Tron Legacy was a fun ride, the action sequences were exciting and visually breathtaking.  There were plenty of clever in-jokes for geeks and for fans of the first movie.  Some of the dialogue appeared to have been lifted word-for-word from the original, and the technical stuff made a bit more sense this time around.  For example, in an early scene, a programmer stops a hack with the Unix kill command.

While there are some philosophical statements sprinkled throughout about free software and the pursuit of perfection, they play second fiddle to the action.  I was a little disappointed in the climax which felt a bit  ‘deus ex machina’ to me, but to be fair, so was the climax of the original.

I enjoyed Tron Legacy; much like the original, it isn’t going to win any awards for its story, but the acting is good and the visuals and music are great.  I think other fans of the original will like it, but it’ll be a toss-up for newbies.

4 out of 5 Identity Discs.

END OF LINE.

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My PlayStation 3 Died, and I Don’t Really Care

I finally succumbed to temptation last August and bought a PlayStation 3.  I tried my best to hold out, but with the release of the third Ratchet and Clank game for the system and the price drop to $300, I finally cracked.  God of War 3 was on the way, and I also thought it would be nice to have a Blu-ray player.

Fast forward two Novembers, and I have six boxed Playstation 3 games, a few downloaded games, twenty-six Blu-Ray movies, and a busted PS3.  The damn thing won’t start.  I press the power button; hear a beep and the power light turns green.  Yay.  A few seconds later, I hear a click, the system shuts down, and I hear three beeps.  Crap.

Of course, after realizing something was wrong, I tried turning it on and off, held down the power button while turning it on a few times, but still nothing.  The Internets proved to be less than useful; I found plenty of ads for repair services or repair instructions, but very little as far as DIY fixing.  My PlayStation 3 was also just out of warranty.  Sending it to Sony would mean a repair bill of at least $100, not to mention shipping costs.  The repairs would also only be covered for 90 days…forget that.

I have now had one of each generation of PlayStation go kerplotz on me: an older ‘box’ PlayStation (remember how dependable those were?), a launch PlayStation 2 (which, to be fair, did last five years), and now a PlayStation 3 that lasted just long enough to be out of warranty.

My only ‘good’ option would appear to be dropping $300 on a new and hopefully more reliable PlayStation 3.  I’m not sure I want to, though.  It’s not the money (well, okay, maybe a little) but to be honest, I haven’t really missed it.  After the awesomeness that was God of War 3, there just haven’t been many games exclusive to the PlayStation 3 that I’m interested in playing.  I sadly never got around to playing some of the good exclusives like Resistance and Uncharted, and I certainly won’t be anytime soon.  The Xbox 360 continues to be my game console of choice because the online experience is better, and most of my friends also own Xbox 360s.  Lots of big games are also multiplatform these days, so it doesn’t make that big of a difference which system you own.  Unless you own a Wii, which means you’re boned as far as M-rated games are concerned.

I’ll probably end up dropping a c-note on a Blu-ray player, but as far as the PlayStation 3 is concerned, I’m done.  Yeah, DONE. That’s it.  Farewell.  Adios.  Sayonara.  Bueno, bye.  No more PS3 for me!

What’s that?  Sly Cooper 4? Well, nuts…just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!!

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Reviewing Musings

Reviewing videogames‭ ‬sounds‭ ‬like a‭ ‬really cool thing to do:‭ ‬you get to play games before they are released,‭ ‬you get to keep them if they are downloadable games,‭ ‬and well,‭ getting to play ‬games‭ ‬without having to pay for them is nice, too.‭  ‬I’m not lucky enough to actually get‭ ‬paid to review games‭ (yet‭!) ‬but‭ writing and editing ‬for original-gamer.com gave‭ ‬me the opportunity to attend E3‭ ‬back in July.  Totally worth it.

So yeah, on paper, reviewing‭ ‬games‭ ‬sounds like loads of fun,‭ ‬but in practice,‭ ‬it loses a little bit of its luster.‭  ‬When I’m not playing awesome games like‭ ‬Rock Band‭ ‬3‭ ‬or Kirby’s Epic Yarn‭ ‬I’m struggling through crapfests like Power Gig or enduring kiddie games like EyePet.

Yeah.  EyePet.  That’s hardcore.

The most direct effect of reviewing games is that it has turned playing games into work (albeit volunteer work).  Its a mental thing: instead of playing games because I want to, I now play them because I have to.  It gets a little annoying at times when I have a stack of games I need to plow through or when I get asked to play games in genres I don’t particularly enjoy such as fighting or driving.  The most aggravating bit about the whole thing that it takes time away from games that I want to play, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

The first thing I do when I get assigned a new game to review is I write the review’s introduction.  I like to have it done before I even start playing, and in my opinion it should give the reader some context in regards to my relation to the game.  Is it something I have been looking forward to, or something I’ve never heard of?

When I play a game for review, I keep my laptop handy so that I can take notes while I’m playing it.  That way after I’m done playing the game I just have to flesh out the bullet points I have marked down.  I’m not sure if I should be admitting this, but I don’t always finish games I review.  Usually its because I don’t expect to see anything new after having played a game for so many hours.  Let’s be honest, after a certain point, few games really offer anything surprising in terms of gameplay.

One game that bit that strategy in the pants was Gladiator Begins. I played through about 30 days of the campaign, probably about seventy or eighty nearly-identical fights, figured there was nothing else in the game, and wrote my review.  I went back to the game and soon discovered that the levels did start to occasionally change up, and upon seeing the box in a store, I learned that there were even fights against animals.  D’oh.  It was either my fault for giving up on the game too early or the devs fault for taking too long to open up the game’s interesting parts. Probably a little bit of both, oh well.

Writing reviews is a balancing act.  On the one hand, I don’t want to look like a fanboy by gushing praise all over a good game, nor do I want to simply verbally vomit all over a bad one for the sake of being entertaining.  Great games have minor flaws that have to be explored, and bad games sometimes have good ideas that were not executed well.

Picking out a numerical score can also be a bit of a headache, because I want my score to reflect what I have written.  I still read reviews myself, and I get annoyed just like everyone else when the two don’t jive.  I go by what the site says on the “About” page, supposedly we work on the ‘bell curve’ model where the middle point is average.  Despite the occasional “10” handed out, nobody’s really perfect.

At the end of the day, though, the site editor is the guy that says what goes up on the site, and while I haven’t always agreed with Oscar, I think he’s doing a good job for the most part.  Working with him and the rest of the original-gamer.com crew has been lots of fun.

And now, back to EyePet…whee

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