Star Trek Online Preview, Post Closed Beta

Star Trek Online Preview, Post Closed Beta

Well, the Star Trek Online closed beta ended yesterday, and the open beta starts early this afternoon. With the media embargo lifted, it’s time to dive into what the closed beta had to offer, providing a sneak peak of what’s to come in the open beta and final product.

First off, let me express my general feelings about Star Trek Online (STO). At first, I was a little disappointed. It doesn’t have the noticeably addictive quality World of Warcraft did at its launch, nor the polish that it has now (no surprise since WoW has had half a decade to apply that polish). That said, I found STO to be a game I could fall into and only notice at 4AM that I had in fact failed to remember to sleep.

Gameplay wise, STO is unique. The best way I can describe it is if Earth & Beyond had a bastard child with Pirates of the Burning Sea. The game, at least within the confines of the closed beta, focused heavily on space-based combat, fitting into Star Trek’s long tradition of slow, tactical, naval like assaults (balanced out with fast paced discussions like on-the-fly energy management and special ability usage). You focus on facing your strongest shields towards the enemy and using the best combination of energy weapons and special skills to take down your opponent’s shields, while preparing a barrage of torpedoes to finish them off once they’re vulnerable. It’s simple to start at, difficult to master, and just plain fun.

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Reflections Upon the FPS for the Modern Connoisseur

Reflections Upon the FPS for the Modern Connoisseur

I was a tender young boy, just 9 years old. I had earned my video game laurels upon the NES and Genesis. The Legend of Zelda was defeated at 3 years old. I was fucking good. Then a new game came out. This new game would change the history of my gaming, nigh, all gaming, overnight. That game was Doom 2. From the moment I picked it up, I was hooked. Never again would my life be the same. Allow me to take you, enchanted reader, through my personal history of the FPS.

Doom 2

IDDQD IDKFA IDCLIP. Doom 2 was a fun game but, unfortunately, too easy.

Battlefield 2142

Oh, how I loved the first person shooter. I just forgot that it was my favorite genre for about 12 years. However, upon going to my friend’s house, he convinced me to purchase the, then, newest Battlefield. I immediately went to the store, excited at the prospects of intense 64 player action. And thus, a new affair began. Upon installing the game, I immediately sprung to action. I modified my character with the few choices given at the outset. Obviously I chose the sniper, because I’m a jackass. Upon figuring out how to find a server, I was loaded onto a magnificent Titan ship.

I then fell to my death trying to get off.

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Dante’s Inferno: Developer’s Diary

Dante’s Inferno: Developer’s Diary

(Electronic Arts Board Room Circa 2008)

Dave: Alright team, I brought you here to discuss new IPs. As we all know, I won’t get that new super-yacht I’ve been eying off Madden and The Sims alone, so it’s time to start thinking up new games for future franchises. We need something new, cutting edge, and a guaranteed hit. We have both Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge in the pipeline and both seem like certified gold mines. We need to push this innovation friendly attitude forward while we finally have the good will of the gamers. So, what intriguing games has everyone been playing lately?

Greg: I just finished playing through what I consider one of the greatest games of all time, God of War II. It has action, story, and charm [Don’t forget to mention horrible web designers – Ed.].

Dave: Alright, let’s go with this God of War idea for a minute. Who’s played it, and what can you tell me?

Barry: Well it seems like a normal hack and slash. However, cinematic kills and a well fleshed out story keep it interesting. It also does a great job of being mature and over the top. The designers, though, never seem to insult the intelligence of their audience. It is done in a classy, yet brutal way.

Dave: Sounds great! EA needs a God of War, so let’s start with the controls.

Greg: It’s a very simple setup: light attack, heavy attack, throw, and jump. The triggers control blocking as well as accessing the magic system. It’s all very intuitive and easy to pick up.

Dave: So, how do we improve this and make it our own?

Charlie: We could switch block to L2 instead of L1.

Dave: Done! Next, let’s look at the story.

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Sodium One: The Future of PlayStation Home

Sodium One: The Future of PlayStation Home

With the release of Sodium One (trailer after the jump), PlayStation Home has pushed the microtransaction to center stage. For those of you that do not know, Sodium is a brand new game that is available through Home exclusively. It is a simplified shooter where you control a tank (video below). From playing it, the best I can do is describe it is a modern day Asteroids. Though it is relatively fun, I could not justify paying for the game. The first 5 levels are enough to satisfy my curiosity.

The more disturbing part of Sodium is the prevalence of microtransactions. Immediately upon entering the location on home, there is a console which you may use to purchase the accessories needed for the game. A little DLC here or a premium theme there is one thing, however, Sony has ripped the business model for Sodium straight from the PC’s “free” to play MMOs.

Allow me to provide you an appalling example. In the lobby, there are some robotic scorpions. Obviously being a poisonous, inferior species, these scorpions need eliminated ASAP. Not to mention they’re fricking robots. What decent human being would not want to help prevent Terminator from becoming a reality? Being the philanthropist I am, I decided to start stepping on these bugs for the good of our race. Then, oh then, the horror struck me. The red scorpions were just too large.

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Games on Demand Reviewed, Unfortunately

Games on Demand Reviewed, Unfortunately

See that little robot scratching his head? That is exactly what I’m doing: wondering what the hell Microsoft was thinking when they released the Games on Demand service yesterday.

Microsoft Tinker Cover Art
Microsoft Tinker

I’m the first to point out problems with existing digital distribution platforms. The Impulse store is thin on its game selection and Steam is long overdue for a facelift. However, the condition of Microsoft’s Games on Demand service is just embarrassing. Let’s take a total tally of what the store currently offers:

Full Games: 13

Game Demos: 9

Game Add-ons: 5

Game Videos: 16

(Compare these numbers with Steam, who at last count has nearly 800, or roughly 18.6 times more, games. Note this is games only, this does not take into consideration Steam’s other content such as demos or videos.)

You now have a complete inventory from the Games on Demand service. I also want to point out that Tinker, a puzzle game previously released as an Ultimate Extra for owners of Windows Vista Ultimate, is one of those Full Games, or roughly 8% of Microsoft’s entire catalog. So, let’s say they only have 12 Full Games available. The Games for Windows LIVE platform also still lacks all the nice features Steam users have come to expect like community integration, VoIP, and a damn search box as far as I can tell, despite 3 years of development.

Now, sure, Steam had a rough start too, in 2003. Unfortunately, Microsoft is in the same situation a full seven years later. I am so tired of these half-ass attempts Microsoft pulls on first-releases of products (Games for Windows LIVE is on v3, but Games on Demand is brand new, and both suck). Why not wait until the product is actually viable? The worst part is, from a statistics point of view, Microsoft will likely gain 10-20% of the digital distribution market over the next year or two. This is just normal when a big name player enters an industry. They have the money, marketing, etc. to back up their entry, and some people will jump ship from other platforms for various reasons (they’re unhappy with Valve, love Microsoft, etc.). This will likely hit the smaller guys harder, like Impulse, but also tear at Steam, the current market leader with roughly 70% market share, as well. Hell, this could kill some of the smaller players.

So, that is really the worst part, that we gamers continue to let Microsoft get away with this nonsense. People accept Microsoft products suck until v3. People accept Windows is buggy until the first service pack. Now they launch yet another crappy product and because of their willingness to pour money into a black hole it is almost inevitable Games on Demand will succeed more than it deserves to. (In all fairness Microsoft loses money on just about everything but Windows and Office, with the Xbox team still billions in the hole from subsidized hardware costs and the early release of the 360, cutting into the original Xbox’s prime profit period.)

So, please my fellow gamers. All I ask is simple: do not use Games for Windows LIVE or Games on Demand until after Microsoft fixes their problems. Once the platform is robust, the catalog full, and its feature set comparable to what’s already out there, then try it.

O, whom am I kidding? They’ll make Halo 3 for the PC an exclusive and get away with it as collar-popped backwards visor wearing frat boys around the world rejoice and Microsoft continues its slow assault on PC gaming. It is exactly this sort of refusal to take action that has led to past atrocities like Windows ME, Clippy, and the holocaust.

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