Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Re-Emergence of PC Single Player RPGs

A few years from now, the story of 2009 and 2010 may not be 'The Death and Rebirth of Duke Nukem (again)', or the 'Collapse of Midway', or even 'World of Warcraft Breaks Still More Records'. Even 'The Rise of the Wii' and 'Sony Strikes Back' will probably be foot-noted as mere market shifts. And unless Microsoft can show some use for Natal that isn't rigged or riddled with lag, EyeToy-style “controllerless gaming” will find its place in the graveyard beside Virtual Boy, barely missed.

No, the real story in 2009 is that the PC single player RPG began to re-emerge from being long dominated by the MMO variety. For years, good RPGs required internet connections and a willingness to go multiplayer; the single player RPG was a dying breed. Now don't get me wrong, I have nothing against MMORPGs. But I am also a major fan of the single player, stand alone style game. And, finally, it appears to be making a strong come back.

No matter how amazing or successful online RPGs get, it is important for developers to keep in mind that there some things a MMO simply will never do as well as a title designed for the single player experience. And at the top of the list is storytelling. With a single player game, there is no question (from the developers point of view) of how to present important moments and progress the story further. MMOs have to deal conundrums of single- vs multi-player content, changing the world for some and not for all, and how to add difficulty with locking key story elements away from the many. Solo focused games can do just about anything they want. The player can safely be allowed to face the baddest of bad guys, save the world, destroy the world, be made king, marry the king, or just about anything else necessary to the telling of the story. None of the MMO issues appear. A single player RPG can stick the story exactly where it should be for any great RPG, secondly only to gameplay experience on the list of developer priorities.

This past weekend I visited a good PC gaming aisle and counted about half a dozen single player RPGs that had been released or had updates released within the past year. Granted, not all the titles featured in this solo resurgence are high quality acquisitions. Some of them may just suck. That's ok. They exist, and existence is the important thing. The PC needs its single player RPGs just as much as it needs its MMOs, strategy titles, or mice.

Hopefully, one of these days, some smart developer destined to make a mint will find a way to seamlessly meld the offline solo experience with the online social experience in The One RPG To Rule Them All. Until that day comes, I'm content to celebrate the return of the single player RPG to the PC game aisle. With any luck, it will never become so scarce again.

- GameGavel.com Writer - L.T. Blaize

MMO Currency Farmers: Give em a Break

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Think for a minute if you had two choices to provide for your family and that paid equally as well: Play an MMO for hours, or become a coal miner? If you’re on this website I’m pretty sure playing an MMO is definitely the more viable option, unless you think it’s cool to look like Ben Stiller in the mine scene from Zoolander every single day.
Movie references aside, there are some people in Eastern Europe and in Asia that do have to make this choice. From what I’ve seen, the MMO farmers get a hell of a better deal than the coal miners and how can anyone really blame them? The farmers get to work in a clean, dorm style hall where everyone is sitting down playing video games while the coal miners are getting down and dirty and risking their health.
Just like you and I, these farmers are real people. The difference is that they happened to be born in a country that doesn’t always have very promising economic prospects. Skilled labor, such as engineers, are as affordable as McDonald’s workers are in the US. What are the options for the uneducated, then? That’s where the MMO farms come in. It gives these people a chance at life and gives them an opportunity to work in a safe and clean environment. It’s much better deal than being a coal miner or factory worker.
Everyone loves to hate MMO currency farmers, mostly because it’s easy group-think. “They ruined the economy of the game,” “Damn Chinese farmers taking my mobs,” or, my favorite, “He’s probably a farmer!”, always unleashed on the party member that doesn’t respond to chat.
Personally, I don’t think that the farmers ruin the economy of the games. Things get more expensive because players get higher levels and there’s more money going around. On top of that no one aside from the hardcore faithful wants to go to a low level zone just to farm things they need to level a craft. For those Warcraft players out there, you know how much it sucks to level blacksmithing or jewelcrafting if you had to go out and mine every single ore. How much would you spend in gold to do the same? Probably a lot, and the farmers could save you time if you’re willing to part with a little cash.
They offer a service and if you’re like myself and don’t have many hours to play a game, what they have is pretty compelling. I don’t have the time or will to sit down for hours and hours just to get some gold to buy the things I want. My downtime is better spent having fun, not grinding out something so I can have fun later. Buying currency is no different than going to a movie or a bar. If I go to a bar I can drop $50 easily in one night and only enjoy it for a few hours. On the other hand if I spent $50 to buy some World of Warcraft gold I’d have days of fun rather than just a few hours. It makes economic sense to me to buy the gold if you don’t have the time to play as others do.
Now don’t get me wrong, if a farmer cheats, that’s not condonable. Those people should be banned because their money is not earned legitimately. However, the ones that do farm it just like you and I do deserve to be treated with some respect because let’s face it; it’s either they do this or work at a crappy job.
The next time you see a farmer, respect them as a fellow human being. All their trying to do is provide for themselves or their family. If you still feel strongly against the farmers, gank them. There’s nothing that says you can’t and it might even add a little fun to their day. Either way their getting paid the same but let them have some dignity.

GameGavel.com Writer - Smiling Cobra

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Retro Gaming Multiplayer Heaven !

What can I say? I am in heaven. Why, you ask? Because the stars have aligned and given us one of the best, retro multiplayer games in history. And it’s free! Yes, Free! What game could I be talking about? What game could be considered one of the best multiplayer games of all time? Mario Bros? Double Dragon? Goldeneye? Are you kidding?

Four words, “Multiple Use Labor Equipment”. Or what is better known as M.U.L.E. Now if you are of the younger generation of gamers these initials probably don’t mean squat to you. But if you happen to have grown up at the dawn of gaming, then you will more than likely know MULE as one of the best, if not the best, multiplayer video games of all freakin’ time.

MULE was created in 1983 by Ozark Softscape and published through EA. Ya, that EA. MULE was an epic adventure where you and three of your friends each chose a competing alien race. The alien races ranged from Pac Man like creatures, to a long necked E.T. looking creature and everything in between. Once everyone chose their alien race you were then dropped on a new, barren undeveloped Martian landscape with the goal of out producing your alien “friends” while at the same time contributing to the “whole” of your new society and surviving. Games take place over twelve “turns” and usually took two to three hours to complete.

Once the game starts a swift moving land marker moves across the alien landscape, which is a randomly generated screen with flatlands, rivers & mountains. Players would “click” on the land square they want to inhabit and develop. Once all players picked their land plot the real fun begins. Now each player, while timed, has to pick a MULE, outfit it for one of three duties: farming, mining or energy and quickly lead their MULE to their plot of land where they let it go so it can start producing. After the MULE is placed in the plot a quick return to the pub is needed to score some cool cash. Generally the faster you outfit and place your MULE on your plot and return to the pub, the more money you will win.

Generally, to be successful at MULE you need to diversify your MULES and produce equal amounts of energy & food, while also amassing some mining wealth. If you neglect any of these you will pay for it in the end. After all four players take their “turn” by outfitting and placing their MULES the game takes over and randomly generates crops (needed to fuel the MULES), energy (needed to fuel the MULES), and either Smithore and/or Crystite. Food and Energy are required to keep your MULES top producers. Fall short of either of these and you plots stop producing and you fall behind in the game. Smithore and Crystite can be sold to the “store” for big money. After this “development” stage is over there is yet another new aspect to this game – a live “auction”.

The auction is where you get the chance to buy or sell food, energy, Smithore and Crystite from your competitors. The auction is handled ingeniously by each player choosing if they want to buy or sell each of the individual commodities. If you choose to sell, you simple move your player to the top of the screen. Players that want to buy stay at the bottom of the screen. Once the auction starts a timer starts and then players move up or down trying to set a price for said commodities. This is now a game of supply and demand at its essence. If you need energy and two of the other players have a surplus of energy they will compete to sell to you. They can drive the price up or sell to you for less. If there is more than one seller you can expect to buy cheaper than if there is one seller asking enormous prices for the valuable energy or food. Players go back and forth through the four auctions (food, energy, smithore & crystite). After the auction phase is over the screen goes to a tabulation screen and the four players emerge in order of their wealth, one x one to the top of the screen. Then the cycle starts over again by players choosing another plot of land. Choosing plots of land adjacent to each other is recommended. The games sees this as better than dividing your attention among scattered plots. Rivers are better for farming. Flatlands are good for energy and mountains obviously good for mining. So picking correct plots is important to exceeding in MULE.

To mix things up even more the developers throw in random events prior to each players “turn” that can either add to your wealth (your MULE won first place in the colonies talent contest and you won $200) or take from your wealth (your MULES require fixing and will cost you $100/MULE). The randomness of each game insures that no two games will ever be the same.

So where can you find this great game? And should you play it if you have never heard of it or played it before? To answer the second part of this question, “Yes!”. You need to play this game at least once to appreciate one of the best multiplayer games of all time. And thanks to the team at http://www.planetmule.com you can now play this game free of charge. And best of all there are always people in the lobby so you can experience this game as it was intended, with others.

MULE originated on the Commodore 64 and Atari 8-bit computers but was later released for the Nitnendo NES. Whether you hunt down an original game or play it through the newly released version so graciously served up on PlanetMule, do yourself a favor and log some time with one of the greatest multiplayer games of all freakin’ time.

Will your race win out and will your colony survive? Play and find out now.
- GameGavel.com Writer – So Cal Mike

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Death of Japanese RPGs

With huge franchises such as Final Fantasy, is the Japanese role playing game (JRPG) going the way of Nintendo’s Virtual Boy? Sadly, it seems so.

While there were plenty of incredible hits earlier in the 2000s and 1990s, JRPGS are slowly declining in popularity. Think about it, which RPG are you excited for in 2010 that’s Japanese other than Final Fantasy XIII? As far as I know, other than FFXIII, there’s nothing too thrilling about the JRPG genre coming out this year.

First, let’s take an in-depth look at why JRPGs are doing so poorly right now. Ever since FFVII every JRPG has been pretty much the same. Somewhat spiky haircut? Check. Character is wielding some sort of over-the-top blade? Check. Everyone else has guns? You got it. How about an annoying little girl for your party? It’s there (even in FFXIII).

And the storylines? Don’t get me started. While some are genuinely well done all we’re getting is more of the same. In fact it’s so easy you’ll see a new one born right in front of you eyes:

Pick a character name, perhaps the name of a geological feature or an animal. For instance, we’ll name the protagonist, Suchi Rukara (literally robot in Japanese) and name her two sidekicks. One will be Mikazuki (a Japanese female name) and the other will be James (we can’t forget our token European name in the game).
The story is set in a futuristic medieval-ish world that includes transforming aircraft that shoot lasers and perhaps a group of peasants that still mine with pick axes instead of super awesome futuristic precision razors.

The peasants aren’t too thrilled about how these transformer planes treat them and Rukara, Mikazuki and James are all peasants. Their enraged and want to fight back the airplanes. Throughout the game you’ll be fighting endless battles because you took a wrong turn or happened to be on the world map, and they happened to be there as well for no apparent reason.

Once you’re done fighting thousands of random battles you may encounter a glimpse of the story line in a cutscene that’ll last for an hour. During the scene it reveals that Mikazuki is actually an airplane in disguise of a little girl and she betrays you. She turns into a massive pink airplane with thousands of razors and you’re forced to fight her with your token European named member and an animal (we’ll call him Bear).

After that fight there’s so many different plot twists that you’re so insanely lost and you’ll have no clue about what the hell is going on. Then finally the player gets an ending finding out that their character was actually half-human, half-airplane (surprise!) and that she is in an identity crisis.

So there you have it, a JRPG written in about 15 minutes.

A quick storyline aside however, that’s how most JRPGs go; plot twists that make no sense, some really annoying characters and a predictable ending.

What’s really been gaining some ground is American RPGs. In the 2000’s and starting this year we’re really getting a sweet deal. We had Knights of the Old Republic, KOTOR 2, Dragon Age: Origins, Mass Effect, ME 2 and loads of others. Most (key word most not all) of them have just been fantastic.

Am I saying JRPGs suck? Not always. But are they getting a little bit more, generic? Absolutely, and the trend seems to be continuing. Hopefully Japanese developers learn that the whole world isn’t Japanese. It’s fine to have their culture and their own tidbits in the game, just don’t make them so damn generic.

We have orcs, trolls, gnomes and elves and most stories containing those creatures turns out different, the Japanese can certainly do the same.

Otakus? Unite and flame me, I’m ready for it.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Top-10 Controller Throwing Moments. ARGGGGGGGGGG!

10. Final Fantasy X – Getting the Venus Sigil


“Just got the Venus Sigil! Gonna go post a rant on Craiglist about it! LOL! Oh, btw, please kill me.”

This comes in at number ten because in theory, you can simply forget about it and move on with the game, avoiding any broken controllers and strokes… but if you are a complete hardcore gamer YOU ABSOLUTLEY NEED TO DO THIS FOR THE VENUS SIGIL because all the rest of your life depends on it. For those who need reminding, the Thunder Plains are a place in the game where you must dodge lightning strikes by quickly pressing the X button. The more you dodge, the better your reward. At 200 dodges, you get the Venus Sigil which enables you to brag to your online friends that you did, indeed, somehow, waste the time to dodge lightening 200 times. Good job. You win.

 9. Everquest – Dying


Brunette: “did you HAVE to aggro you dumass?!” Blonde: “brb leeroy jenkins”

This is more of a ‘kick your keyboard and then go to the bathroom to care for your bedsores and weep about wasted hours’ kind of moment. We all know it’s frustrating to die in your MMORPG, but for you WoW players who never grew up playing EQ, maybe you should try to imagine what it feels like to have your brain whipped with a cat o’ nine tails. After accidently aggro-ing one creature that follows you FOREVER and then KILLS you, you lose a crap load of experience you’ve spent days or even weeks earning. If that wasn’t enough, you then have to go back to your corpse to retrieve your equipment, and if you don’t do it in the allotted time, you lose all the equipment you’ve probably spent months getting. Playing Everquest was very similar to putting sea urchins in your pants.

8. Mike Tyson’s Punch Out – Mike Tyson


Mike Tyson: f*cking scary even in 8-bit pixels

Sure, most of us could figure out the patterns of all the other boxers and get to Tyson (or we just used the infamous 007-373-5963 code, because we loved to cheat), but then when we actually got to him we realized just how ‘little’ Little Mac really was. How many times did you try this fight before ol’ Mike knocked you out one too many times or you ended up throwing your boxy NES controller against the wall and went for the Game Genie? I think I tried once… because I am a real champ.

7. Ninja Gaiden – Act 6 


Five seconds later, they were killed by an eagle.

Ah, if the game wasn’t sadistic enough, when you finally reach the last level, you not only have to battle through four or five stages (I don’t recall, so don’t kill me), but you have to defeat three bosses… the kicker… you have to do it all without dying or you start over again from the very beginning of Act 6. At the age of ten I actually started balding because of this game.

6. License Tests– any Gran Turismo


Just another day of working on those damn Gran Turismo licenses.

Ah, who didn’t love spending hours and hours of their time trying to complete a course in a set amount of time, or drive really, really fast and slam the breaks to stop your car between certain distances? Some of you may have liked this, but I sure didn’t. I just wanted new cars… and a new Playstation controller after I whipped the sucker against the wall using the cord in pure video gaming rage. Hey man, getting that A license was vital to my existence.

5. GTA: San Andreas – Final mission

Why couldn’t this have been the final mission of GTA:SA? Dear God.

If the R.C. missions weren’t enough to destroy your brain and boil your blood, the last mission will serious cause some controller breaking reactions. After about twenty minutes you’ll remember you’re playing a GTA game and you’ll just throw in some cheat codes (as if you weren’t using them already, you cheater)

4. Super Metriod – Wall Jumping


Screw you hot-shot monkey things that can wall jump perfectly.

See if I save you when Zebes friggin’ explodes. Some of you may have mastered this, but I never did, and I am still pissed off to this day… and I am sure there are others who feel the same way… yep… that’s all I gotta say… stupid wall jump… so much easier to do in real life (see below).

3. Mega Man 9 – All of it


“Kiss my ass, fish! Load State! Oh wai-“

Not that I assume playing any Mega Man game would be a walk in the park, but geez! I have never felt like such an epic failure of a video gamer after playing a few levels of Mega Man 9. It is possible I just suck at video games… too many RPGs have softened my reflexes up? Too many save states? Maybe Mega Man 9 is just real freakin’ hard. And it’s such a great game, I just… sometimes I crawl under my bed and cry… because it won’t play nice… and I want it to.

2. Getting your character muddled or confused in any RPG


Cloud would later claim he was suffering from Confuse status at the time.

There you are…. floors past the last save state, maybe even several bosses after the last save crystal… you get into some ultimate ridiculous epic fight, and it’s going YOUR WAY. Way to go partner! You are about to kill the ultimate beast… the ultimate enemy that if defeated, will get you the boyfriend or girlfriend you’ve always wanted (what?) and then you realize you forgot to recast your protection spell.. Or forgot to equip your most powerful character with some kind of relic… and suddenly… your own hero is killing your entire party with one swing of his sword. OMFG WHAT THE HELL ARGRGRGHGHGEdjewdkwkfhekfrhejhhrrr….. Pardon me… I think I just saw my chest hair go gray from thinking about this. That’s right… I’m a hairy guy… so what? Chicks love it. Shut up.

1. T.M.N.T. - Defusing bombs underwater

Urge. To kill. Rising.

This comes in at #1 because if I ever think back to one moment that just utterly chapped my ass for years on end, it was this. Your goal was to diffuse a certain amount of bombs while swimming around killer seaweed and do it in a certain amount of time. Sound easy? Give it a shot and report back to me. After ten minutes you will be back to your world of God-modes and save states.

Runner up for #1:

Losing to your mom at Wii It happens. We don’t know how. You’ve been playing video games all your life, every hour you can, and well, your mom hasn’t. In fact, she didn’t even glance at a video game until Wii became the staple of family hipness. Still, you should be able to win… no matter what… and yet… maybe it was a bad day… maybe you burned yourself out on L4D2… either way… your mom beat you… and that should never happen. Go throw your controller at the wall. It’s okay. I won’t tell anybody.

I will end this blogging with my two favorite classic lines of a frustrated gamer:

“This game cheats.”


“This would be easier in real life.”

- Gamegavel.com writer - Tinydinosaurs

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