Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Moving to Metropolis

This week, PS3 gamers find themselves fighting crime and saving the innocent. For today marks the release of DC Universe Online, the Massivly Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) for the PC and PS3. This isn’t the first time one of these infamously addictive games has come to console gaming (Phantasy Star Online (DC) and Final Fantasy XI) however this is supposed to re-open gaming companies and players minds to a genre often considered to be a PC Nerd-only affair.

Before I continue, I should say I have yet to play the game and don’t see it happening in the near future as I only own an Xbox 360, so everything here is speculative and based on my own research. This is the first MMORPG to catch my attention in a way I never saw possible. The RPG I ever played was Pokemon Blue but back then I wasn’t even aware that it was part of a bigger genre, I just thought it was a game. I was definitely apprehensive when I started my first console RPG, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic but was lured in by the well told story and familiarity with the universe. However, I am strongly planted within the mainstream of the DC universe and could absolutely see myself delving into this game on a console. Traditional single player, console RPG gamers like myself, could alone save this game but there are many things this game allegedly does that would win mainstream gamers over.

During my undergrad, I took a class on video game culture. One of the units covered MMORPG’s, specifically World of Warcraft. Our teacher asked one of the students to bring his laptop in to show the class what the game was actually like. This and my freshman roommate were my only exposure to the series. In both instances I found the games to be extremely complex with an immensely busy screen. While DC Universe Online is sure to have plenty of activity, the dependence on a standard console controller – and all its assumed functions – potentially simplifies each activity rather than dumbing it down.

The other reason the game play has the potential to capture the mainstream is that it also has to work less. Other than the fact that all the action takes place online, DC Universe Online doesn’t seem very different from the Marvel Ultimate Alliance or X-Men Legends franchises. I remember playing both of these Gauntlet­ – style games and found them both fun and addicting. Add full character customization, multiple types and sides to play with and the potential for new additions all of which could offer the ultimate superhero experience.

The mythos of the game also has potential to attract the non RPG players. At one point or another, every kid fantasized about being a super hero. While we also played knights of the roundtable, or something of that nature, the mainstreams interest in knights and trolls is significantly less. Superheroes, while certainly geeky, always have the potential to be cool, which can be attributed to the financial success of The Batman and Spiderman film franchises. If the game manages to capture that aura DC Universe Online will become one of the most successful MMO franchises of all time.

Despite all these promising features, there are still some hurdles ahead. The first being in the format, mainly that pay-to-play is still the MMO standard. Many games like Lord of the Rings Online are now free to play but games like this are definitely in the minority. This poses a problem for console gamers who pay $60 a year for Xbox Live and $50 a year for Playstation Plus. With the current pay to play structure, DC Universe Online costs $10 a month, now gamers don’t have to pay for Playstation Plus to play the game but the request to pay more or pay at all to play a game is a tall request for gamers who have played games for the standard $50-$60.

There is one more problem facing Sony Entertainment and the worst thing about it is they caused it themselves. Since their new game is available on both PC and PS3, Sony is dividing their audience. I understand that if home console MMO’s turn out not to be the next big thing, there will be a more traditional home for the game but if Sony wanted this game begin a new age in console gaming, they should fully invest in the game rather than hedge their bets.

If DC Universe Online succeeds as a console game, then the doors will be open for gamers and game developers to a whole new type of game play that could change the gaming landscape forever.

Remember to follow Eyes Open Thumbs Down on Twitter @eyesopnthmbsdwn for the latest news on new blog posts and any quips I have about developments in gaming. Also be sure to vote in the poll on the left side of your screen.

You can also read my Film and TV blog, Audible Motion, at There's a new entry every Friday.

XBL: Docholliday8706

Currently Playing: Super Mario Bros X, Halo: Reach, NHL 11

Can’t wait to Play/Wish I was Playing: DC Universe Online, Portal 2, L.A Noire

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

AWSD: Rediscovering PC Gaming

I have a confession to make: My first home console was an Xbox.

Now before you close the window because you just discovered this blogger’s gaming history isn’t as rich as your own keep reading.

It’s true my parents never allowed a console to have a permanent place in our living room in fear I would become an addict – they may have been right. However due to our frequent traveling, they did give me and my sister each a Game Boy and kept us up to date on that piece of hardware through the Color. We also had the home computer, which began with educational games then expanded to hours spent with games like Madden, Red Alert 2 and The Sims. However, I played many games with an imitation Playstation controller. Deep down I knew I was a console gamer.

Once I won my Xbox (thank-you Taco Bell!) I abandoned gaming on the gigantic E-Machine desktop. I was done with managing resources and was ready to get into some unadulterated shooting, racing and high scoring. This focus on console gaming continued all the way through college, however the situation changed as I moved back home.

It started with my curiosity surrounding the Madden Superstars game on Facebook which stemmed from my desire to regain knowledge of players currently in the NFL. The game is perfectly adequate and I still play it today. However, it broadened my mind back to the PC and I was made aware of the ease of simply clicking an application. My laptop is open most of the time anyway, making the activity much easier than taking the time to walk across the room to put a disk in the Xbox.

Since then I’ve replayed through both campaigns on Red Alert 2 – which allowed me to finally complete the Soviet campaign that troubled me back in the day, downloaded the fan-made Super Mario X, and bought myself an early Christmas gift and purchased Back To The Future:The Game.

It was in Telltale Games newest release, I realized the degree of excitement of great games wasn’t limited to flash titles used to pass the time. Developers are still making excellent single-player games beyond the one major title released every year and some of those are made as a PC game first!

Many claim that PC gaming is dead. A year ago I may have agreed with them but as of late I am second guessing that notion. My laptop will never replace my Xbox 360. I have no plans of purchasing Mass Effect 3 for the PC and I don’t know if I could ever feel the same joy of Team Slayer on a 50 inch screen. However PC gaming definitely has a place in gaming beyond quick rounds of Free Cell on the train.

Remember to Follow Eyes Open Thumbs Down on Twitter @eyesopnthmbswn for the latest news on new blog posts, and any other quips I have about developments in gaming. And be sure to vote in the poll on the left side of your screen.

You can also read my Film and TV Blog, Audible Motion at Theres a new entry every Friday.

Now Playing: Super Mario Bros. X, Halo: Reach

XBL: DocHolliday8706

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Time to Step It Up: How To Save The VGA's

As I alluded to in my last post, the mainstream population has yet to recognize and embrace gaming as a true art form. While this will undoubtedly change in future, the industry has already begun its move towards this goal. Instead of film festivals there are trade shows like E3, and instead of the Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes there are…the VGAs.

The award show’s biggest positive is that it makes Joe gamer more aware of what exactly goes into gaming. These aren’t casual gamers mind you, but gamers that stick with blockbuster franchises like “Madden” or “Call of Duty.” Not many of these players pay attention to a games voice acting and even fewer know the difference between a developer/studio and a publisher. These awards also showcase great lesser known titles to these gamers like “Limbo,” download only games, or just the fact that there are still quality hardcore titles for the Wii. Finally there are announcements for next years’ blockbuster titles we might not otherwise get until E3.

Limbo represents one of the positve aspects of the VGA's.

Unfortunately the rest of the show doesn’t provide any depth outside of these few characteristics. This is due to the choice of celebrity guests and writing based on the perceived gaming audience, the show is on Spike, and the awards don’t feel like the ultimate achievement for any studio that they should be. The result is a show that feels more like VMA’s but without the performances or events recounted in the office and schoolyard the following day.

There is at least some credibility to MTV’s award show as the station used to play and talk about music. Spike is the channel for 12 year-old boys. Their programming consists of nothing but censored “Entourage” episodes, UFC and college debauchery sit-coms (I almost forgot the monthly airing of the entire “Star Wars” saga). As I mentioned in last week’s article, the average gamer is 34 – hardly Spike’s audience.

Should The VGA's Change Venues?

It’s time for a change of venue. This proves difficult as Spike created the show but the station is owned by Viacom. The broadcast would be better suited for MTV instead of “16& Pregnant” re-runs. As far as selling the rights to the broadcast, it’s a chicken and egg conundrum. There’s no doubt the show would do better on a station like FX or USA but the show and medium doesn’t garner enough viewers to warrant that purchase. Since this change is unlikely, Spike will have to work out the kinks.

This brings us to the celebrity appearances which were mainly a victim to poor writing. Neil Patrick Harris did better with the material than he should have and the best job anybody could under that circumstance. Dane Cook, who despite recent backlash can be funny, just looked content in cashing a check with the same amount of effort put into the pre-written jokes. Even Dominic Monaghan, (“Lost,” “Lord of The Rings,”) said he was just reading a bad joke off the teleprompter.

I hope that was a big paycheck.

If Viacom insists on airing the awards show on Spike, then the least they should do is hire some stronger writers. Maria Menounos is a fine green room correspondent but that position isn’t worth however much money she pulled for that gig. They could also save money by putting in some other aspiring reporter with a pretty face. Also, what was the point of the My Chemical Romance performance? Aside from the fact that they’ve fallen in quality after their last two quality offerings, not every gamer is a fan but everyone loves to laugh. These are just two ways to save money better spent on writing to make the event must-see TV.

That’s the biggest flaw with the concept of a video game awards show in general: it’s not the highest authority in deciding which games were the best of the year. The Oscars are the highest honor in film and the same is attributed to the Emmys for television and the Grammys are gold for musicians. Even the ESPY’s are highly regarded amongst athletes despite being second to winning a championship or MVP award. Before it blew up into the billion dollar industry it is today, gaming was very much an underground industry and games journalism was unknown to all its news, sports and art oriented peers. However gamers paid attention to these grassroots publications because they knew these writers were just like them and their opinions could be trusted. Hardcore gamers are now in the habit of following outlets like IGN, Game Informer, and Gamespot for all their gaming news and review needs. How is this show supposed to grow if it can’t even attract its target audiences’ attention?

The show would gain instant credibility if it were to integrate a gaming site into the show. The easiest way to do this would be to purchase an established website and have its writers do the voting. This could give the show interest credibility among games by making it the exclusive way to reveal’s game of the year. The other option is to sell the awards to another corporation with a highly regarded site or publication but this is highly unlikely as anyone of these corporations could turn it into a huge.

After Sunday night’s debacle of an awards show, it’s clear the VGA's need to catch up with rising status of the medium. If Viacom can truly get in touch with what gamers want in an award show, then maybe more will watch instead of checking Twitter for updates.

Now Playing: “Mass Effect,” “Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare”

Remember to follow Eyes Open Thumbs Down on Twitter @EyesOpnThmbsDwn.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Joining the Battle To Keep Gaming Relevant

I remember my first Saturday at college. My eyes opened, hazy from a night out – a state I would grow all too accustomed with. Shouting, sprinkled with high pitched screams of “Here we go!” and “Yahooooo!!!” filled the hall. When I stumbled into the room responsible, just over a quarter of my floor mates had forced themselves into the small living space. Mario Kart 64 decorated the 26” TV screen and commanded the crowd’s attention. The loser passed their controller to whoever had waited the longest for a chance to show off their skills. We spent most of the day in that cramped room, strange smells increasing with every hour. To this day it was one of my fondest memories of college.

College is truly a gamers’ paradise. Almost every male student owns at least one console and a number of games which are traded with a high frequency. This common interest amongst peers also makes forming clans, tournaments and new drinking games (“Beerio Kart” anyone?) an easy activity. It is the pinnacle of everything young gamers dream of while they spend nights playing Madden, Halo or NHL.

However after four years, many expect us to put down the controller as we collect our diplomas.

As much as gaming has found the mainstream with advances in motion gaming, the opinion that games are for kids is still prominent, particularly among the older crowd. However misguided, there is some truth to the opinion. As gamers get older, they must take on more responsibility which leaves less time for recreational activities. Some choose to drop the activity entirely; others struggle to keep it in their lives.

While console gaming renaissance began roughly five years before me or any of my peers was able to pick up a controller, the majority of this generation will take some form of their gaming habits well into adulthood. According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the average gamer is 34 years old, with the number of American gamer over fifty increasing by 17 percent from 1999. Both these trends will no doubt continue in the coming years. Unfortunately, remnants of the traditional social stigma around gaming still remain today as evident in television shows like The Big Bang Theory and South Park.

These depictions of gamers, even if they are hilarious (and in some cases true), prevent non-gamers from taking the medium as seriously as film, television or even literature. Even though gaming has yet to reach the artistic standard of other media, it is a major part of this generation’s perception of what consists of entertainment. The medium will only continue to grow in that regard and if gamers want to silence the haters, their behavior needs to mature with the medium.

Remember to follow Eyes Open Thumbs Down on Twitter @EyesOpnThmbsDwn.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Delay of Game

Hey everybody. I accidentally deleted the .doc with this weeks post. It should be posted later this week. Follow the blog on Twitter @EyesOpnThmbsDwn for more updates.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Welcome to "Eyes Open, Thumbs Down!"

Hey everybody! I wanted to take this time to welcome you to Eyes Open, Thumbs Down! This is a continuation of a column I wrote for The Daily Iowan entitled "2 Cents To Play," which examined the way new releases marked trends and changes in gaming culture. You can go read some of those old stories at (look in the Fall of 2009).

I plan to continue that concept here by putting out at least one new entry every week (gonna try for every Tuesday). So check back in a week and in the meantime look for my old entries or check out my Film and TV blog:

You can also follow Eyes Open, Thumbs Down on Twitter @EyesOpnThmbsDwn.

See you next week!