Thursday, 28 June 2012

Why you should seriously consider building your own PC.

Today’s post is really more of an information piece as I wish to draw attention to an area of gaming that people often don’t even think about; building your own gaming PC.

As we reach the 'fag-end' of the console cycle, the PC has become the lead platform for many of the games now being developed, they also look best on the PC as the power it can bring to the table outstrips what is possible on the aging console hardware. Consequently if you want a system that can give you modern games with the best graphics then you need to turn to the PC.

The following article by Eurogamer helps to dispel the classic myth that PC gaming is expensive. As they show, for very little out-lay you can get a pretty powerful system that allows you to play all the new releases. You don’t even need to worry about having to play at a desk as modern PC graphics cards now come with HDMI ports allowing you to easily hook up your PC to an LCDTV; add in an Xbox 360 wired pad and living room PC play is possible, giving you exactly the same experience as a console, but with better graphics and of course the ability to do everything else you normally can on a PC.

I know for some it may be a bit daunting to think about building your own PC, as the article suggests, but as someone who has built his last three PCs let me tell you that it is totally worth it. It isn’t as hard as it first appears and there is plenty of help out there for when you take the plunge. The first link below is to a site which provides a wealth of useful information and help with building your first PC and the other two are great places to go if you become stuck and need a bit of technical help.

Once you take the plunge you will never go back, plus there are two added bonuses. Firstly you get far more ‘bang for your buck’ when you build your PC from scratch than you do by buying off the shelf, and secondly it is much easier to upgrade.

As someone who is a ‘self built PC’ convert I would heartily recommend that you take the plunge, especially as components have never been cheaper and right now the PC is where you are guaranteed the best graphics. I haven’t even mentioned Steam or the much wider variety of gaming experiences available on the system, but suffice it to say that if you want the best gaming experience possible right now forget the Xbox 360 or PS3, forget the forth-coming Wii , build yourself a PC. I promise you, you will never look back. 

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Do games have to please everyone to be successful?

"In general we’re thinking about how we make this a more broadly appealing franchise, because ultimately you need to get to audience sizes of around five million to really continue to invest in an IP like Dead Space. Anything less than that and it becomes quite difficult financially given how expensive it is to make games and market them."

The above is a quote from EA Labels President Frank Gibeau. He is talking about the next instalment in the Dead Space series, Dead Space 3 and the quote is in answer to the response that the game received from the gaming world during and after E3. At E3 Electronic Arts focussed very heavily on the action side of the game with new features such as unified ammo, an emphasis on action with the introduction of a cover system and two player co-op very much to the fore. There was less shown of the horror side of the game, something that fans associate with the Dead Space series. Consequently fans got a bit upset and questioned whether Dead Space 3 was heading in a direction they didn’t want the series to take. The cover system in particular had people claiming that the game was going to be action focused and that the horror elements were going to take a back seat.

Visceral Games, developers of the game, have quickly moved to quash any fears series fans might have by saying that the original horror element is still present. Senior producer on the game, Dave Altman, told Eurogamer,

"A traditional fan wants to have that alone in the dark on the couch moment. That game's there for you...Tight corridors, atmosphere, tension, horror, everything you've come to know and expect. No AI followers, not anyone chatting in your ear the whole time. It's the game that you know when you see Dead Space."

We won’t know if this is really the case; or whether Visceral are trying to keep fans onside, until the game is released in February 2013. But whoever is right, it is the comments by Gibeau that highlight a problem that I see developing in the game industry, and it’s something EA are becoming more and more guilty of.

It seems that EA and others think that all you need to do in order to make a good game sell better is to bung in a load of features - such as multiplayer and if it is a third person game a cover system - that apparently appeal to a broader audience. Do this and you are guaranteed to instantly boost sales. However, I question the wisdom of spending more money on a game series in order to try and open it up to a wider audience in the hope that it achieves more sales. I just feel that this doesn’t achieve anything.

I have no problem with developers and publishers making games that specifically try to appeal to the broadest market possible. After all they need to make money and just look how successful Call of Duty has been by following this strategy. However, I fail to see the sense in trying to take an existing series that is well liked and has a large, if not huge following, and trying to turn it into a mass market game; all the while trying to keep the series fans on board. I just don’t think it works and EA more than anyone should know this. They tried to do this with Dragon Age 2 and ended up with an inferior product that didn’t attract many new players and seriously alienated those who liked the original. Dragon Age 2 sold around 150,000 units in its first ten weeks which compares with the 250,000 units sold by the original game, Dragon Age: Origins. In total DA2 sold around 1.45m units while DA:O sold over double that at 3.79m. These figures demonstrate that all EA succeeded in doing by making the game more appealing to the mass market was to seriously impact sales, probably by driving away series fans with the precise changes that were meant to result in more sales. Now they look like making the same mistake with Dead Space 3.

Certain companies seem to have it ass-backwards when it comes to making games. They want to hit the magic sales mark, in the case of Dead Space 3 five million, because of the cost of making the game, but the game has only become more expensive because you want to appeal to more people, so you have to put extra resources into it in the hope of broadening the audience. The game then fails to hit the necessary sales mark because the publisher/developer changed the game so much that they ended up not pleasing anyone. 

Just introducing certain features like co-op or multiplayer into a game in order to make it appeal to a wider audience isn’t going to work. It’s not ‘back of the box’ features that sell games, but the quality of the product in the box. The reason why the Call of Duty series is so successful is because Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was an excellent game and the series built off that. Make an excellent game, market it correctly and the sales will come. Trying to take a pretty successful franchise and boost it into the top-tier sales wise by messing with the formula and alienating the fans doesn’t work. The fans lose out because the game changes and becomes something they no longer want to play, the publisher loses out because sales aren’t high enough and they either don’t make enough money or no money at all, and the developer loses out as they end up being closed down because the game didn’t sell enough.

I hope Dead Space 3 turns out well and doesn’t end up alienating fans - whilst failing to find that broader audience it strives for - as no one wants to see a good game fail, but if publishers continue to mess around with popular franchises in this way, then we are all on a 'hiding to nothing.' 

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Wii U be buying one?

So the Wii U.

Nintendo had promised that it would be for the core gamers and the press conference at E3 would be all about the games. However the truth turned out to be altogether different. 
Nintendo started strong by showing Pikmin 3 and followed that with New Super Mario Bros U, but things soon went downhill. First up was a lengthy demo of a game that many people have already played, Arkham City:Armoured Edition. Next we had yet more focus put on casual titles such as Wii Fit U and SiNG. Finally they then finished off by showing NintendoLand which, while a good way of demonstrating what you can do with the new controller, it wasn’t a game that the core wanted and to compound things right at the end Reggie told the audience that there was one more thing to come. Were we about to see a quick shot of a new Metroid game or perhaps another Zelda HD movie, no we just got a fireworks display from NintendoLand.

This was not exactly the showing that many were hoping for and indeed there was much criticism levelled at Nintendo directly after the conference ended and in the days since. What made it even worse was that during E3 itself Nintendo went on to show a number of interesting ‘core’ games such as Platinum’s new game Project P-100, Game and Wario and a great on-the-floor demo of Zombie U which could have easily replaced the Batman one shown during the conference. Here were a few games that Nintendo could have shown during the conference that may have tempered the fury a bit.

However the whole of E3 failed to demonstrate to me what Nintendo want to offer with the Wii U. A major message during the show seemed to be about allowing people to keep playing games when someone wants to use the TV–a novel goal, but not necessarily a problem that plagues many people. It may be the case in the East that people only have the one TV and there is a constant battle over who does what on it, but in the West people generally have multiple TVs in their homes so this fails to be a problem. Added to that if the system is meant to be about enticing ‘core’ gamers back to the fold, what do they care about this issue. They certainly are not battling to use the TV. Come on, they are gamers; they either live on their own or in their parents basement. I jest, but seriously if you are a gamer then you will already have some form of setup that will allow you to continue gaming when the main TV is in use.  So this message doesn’t resonate with them.
The other message Nintendo seemed to be championing again was that the Wii U is perfect for the ‘casual’ audience who bought a Wii. A large part of the press conference was devoted to this message, but does this audience want a new system or was the Wii the only console they ever needed. Or indeed have they moved on, perhaps to mobile/tablet gaming. There is also the question as to whether they even know that this is an entirely new console. Much hilarity ensured after CNN posted a story claiming that the Wii U was just a periphery to the Wii. If a major news organisation can’t even tell what the Wii U is, how are consumer supposed to?

The whole thing was a bit of a mess, but I do have a bit of sympathy with Nintendo, even though I thought they blew a great opportunity to sell the Wii U to gamers. What else could Nintendo do with regards to a new console? They find themselves in a tough position. Microsoft and Sony are no doubt going to announce new consoles next year with good money on Microsoft, at least, having a new console on the market by Christmas 2013. This leaves Nintendo with a small window in which to operate. As I see it there are two options open to them. They either try and emulate the success of the Wii and appeal to the casual market, hoping that lightning strikes twice; or they release a system that is much more powerful and aimed at ‘core’ gamers, hoping that they can recapture a similar market share they had back in the 90s. Both options carry risks. As I’ve already mentioned it is debatable whether the ‘casual’ market Nintendo managed to tap into last time around still exists having flocked to mobile and Facebook gaming, although I continue to doubt claims that everyone is happy playing throwaway 5 minute trash on their phones. As for the ‘core’, the last time Nintendo tried to appeal to this market with the GameCube they had limited success, and coming off the back of the Wii they would have to work ten times as hard to convince those who own a 360 or PS3 that the Wii U is where they should be putting their money, especially with successors to both consoles just around the corner. Third party support would be hard to garner and if this kind of gambit failed, it could leave the company in serious financial difficulty. 

In the end it seems that Nintendo has tried to chart a path between the two and while this means that they haven’t really sacrificed anything when it comes to getting the ‘casuals’ invested again, the ‘hardcore’ it seems remain totally unconvinced that the Wii U is anything other than an HD Wii.

Partick Klepek said something that really chimed with my on one of the Giantbomb E3 podcasts. He likened Nintendo’s position to that of Sega when they were in the midst of releasing the Dreamcast and I can really see the similarities. We know how the Dreamcast turned out for Sega and I hope that the same doesn’t happen to Nintendo for although they have a great suite of IPs that would no doubt look great on Microsoft and Sony’s consoles, I can’t help thinking that Nintendo wouldn’t be the same company if they just made games. Making new hardware and innovating in that area drives the gaming side forward. Without those desires to innovate prelevant within the company, I think their gaming output would suffer and then they really would be just like Sega.

Nintendo stands at a crossroads with the Wii U and they need to decide which road they are going to travel down, because right now they want to go both left and right and when you try to do that, you invariably end up crashing into the ditch.