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ASK SEAN
Column 38: Sense of Relief
November 16th, 2007

Sean - 6:42pm EDT

This column will take hours to write tonight. I hope it is an enjoyment for you all to read too! So, in my recent activities, I finally did my presentation. It went really well, and I am relieved. Phew. Now only two more projects and an exam. Yay! Not.

I remember Matt saying that he takes an hour an evening for portable gaming. I admire that, I really do. Now, I just need to figure out how the guy stays awake long enough to get that playtime in! I do try to read or play in bed, but I just can't stay awake long enough to get anywhere. I might just need to go to bed earlier every night, or something. I am plodding through Legend of Heroes 2 five minutes at a time! At least the PSP and DS are built for this style of play...

In other gaming news, I am still enjoying Guild Wars. It is really good and I am happy that I decided to pick it back up. I changed my character to my Monk from Factions, and I like the playstyle much more than with the Mesmer! I've done most of the quests in the first two games, finished 95% of the second and started on the other two. Progress is good.

I did break one of my rules though: I played an evening of PvP. I enjoyed being called a good Monk by my opponents, but dislike being trashtalked by "pro" players. Especially when said "pro" players end up dead in the mud. It was a fun experience that I hope to repeat a few more times, as I do need more skills for my heroes. I bought some heavy fire spells for my little Elementalist pet and I can't wait for a chance to play with him to try them out! Does anyone or has anyone played the Guild Wars games and have opinions on it? I would love to hear about them!

So, what is in the letter bag today?




LETTERS
Welcome to the Console Doctor!


What ails the PS3?

Sean

Lack of quality games, obviously! Uncharted: Drake's Fortune looks try-worthy...

It has a reputation from software developers (Most recently heard from Valve Software) that it is "Hard to develop for" whatever that means. Maybe someone who is a game developer can explain better what that means. This doesn't seem to be a problem exclusive to the PS3 - I remember that the PS2 had this repuation early on.

Sean

Basically, each console manufacturer provides a kit on how to develop for the console. These kits come with tools that explain and connect the software to the hardware. Sony's hardware has been always known for its difficult to use kits, as well as the hard to optimize for hardware.

On the other hand, Microsoft's systems emulate the APIs that PC games use. Basically, it is a Windows box. Developers have been used to that platform for years, and it is why it is so often called "easier to develop for."

Higher development cost: The games industry is moving in a "Studio-focused" direction. You see less and less low development cost games like ADoM (http://adom.de) that almost look like they are homebrewn. Almost all released today have high production value, which means higher development cost. This is a bad thing for the games industry - A game doesn't need a high production value to be fun. The studio approach means developers going forward will take less risks, also a bad thing. Also, don't get me started on clones. You don't see it too much in RPGs. An older example is Legend of Dragoon/FF7 and a more recent one is Two Worlds/Elder Scrolls 4 Oblivion.

Sean

I think the more important point here is that games need high-production values to draw the end-user to purchase them. Sure there are some users like us, people who don't care about the visuals, but for every one of us, there are twenty that do. That is the market that they are trying to tap.

I hate clones, unless they do enough to extend the original's experience, such as how The Witcher improves on Neverwinter Nights 2. Of course, that is mostly due to engine reuse, but it shows the point that I wanted to make.

No back compatibility: Part of the reason the DS sells so well is because it is back compatible with the GBA. Same goes for PS2 and PS1. Back compatibility gives a platform a larger selection of software. That can make it more attractive to buyers, especially early in the life of a console when there is a dearth of "Native" software for the platform. Like most, I'm dissapointed at the removal of this feature from the PS3.

Sean

Like with the other systems, backwards compatibility is only really needed early in life, as you stated. Later on in the life cycle, the majority of players will stop caring about the previous generation, much like how I couldn't stand playing Persona for longer than a few hours. I care a little now, but I won't later. That is how Sony looks at it.

Lack of Titles: This is a problem with every console at release. There are not enough quality PS3 titles to warrant the purchase of a system (IMHO). I am more of a late adopter type. If there are not at least 10 titles that pass my own personal "Worth Playing" test, then the system is not worth purchasing regardless of price.

Let me close by saying I don't yet own XBOX 360, Wii, or PS3, for the reason stated in the previous paragraph.

Flamethrower

Sean

Well I used to talk like you, but I never really followed what I said. I see something, I buy it. Easy. Right now I have such a thing going with the 360. I might buy one next year when my apartment is all set up and I have a new HDTV so that my PS3 is no longer lonely. I just don't have the heart to play it on anything other than a good tv...

Just for kicks, what is your current want list like for each? What will need to come out for you to think about purchasing one of them? Thanks for writing in, Flamethrower!



A good lackey is hard to find...


Hey-o Sean,

Favorite Henchman? Wow, that's kinda hard. First it requires me to think about games that have such characters. Which is actually not the common these days it seems. At least not in my game catalog. And Henchmen are usually used for comic relief. Which I like, but my favorite villains are always competent.

There's the trio that works for Magus in Chrono Trigger. There's Harle in Chrono Cross. Umm, let's see those are the first that come to mind anyway. Oh I guess I could count the Turks. They work for a villain, if not Sephiroth himself. They are rather amusing. Reno was just entertaining.

Actually thinking about it I guess it's all in how you look at the question. In Rogue Galaxy there's a character who is either the main villain or the secretary to the main villain. And she's pretty awesome. All about the job, and when she fires someone she actually shoots them. Rather intimidating.

Kingdom Hearts 2 has Pete running around doing the crony thing which is usually funny.

But a favorite? I might have to tap Leon from Tales of Destiny for that. He's badass, no nonsense and totally under the control of another person. If it wasn't for the fact that someone else is pulling his strings he wouldn't be that bad of a guy. But the fact is he's competent and that makes him a scary henchman.

So, now you know, but who is yours?

Ken

Sean

The Turks were henchmen for a while, and the Advent Children version of them are definitely bad ass. For my favorite I would need to say... Fereydoon from Wild Arms 5. That guy had so much class, was confident, charming and a general all around good guy. His one problem? His blind loyalty to his leader. I really liked him. I don't know if he is my favorite, but he is the best example that I can think of right now. Thanks for the opinion!



How could Harvest Moon be fun?


Hey Sean,

Well, I started the topic, I figured I would weigh in again (with a novel ;) )

Many people have been discussing what makes Harvest Moon an RPG instead of a Farming Sim.

Main Points mentioned:
* You control the Main Character
* Social Aspect (Character Interactions)

So, if we use that definition, almost any game where you control a character and talk to people is an RPG. Dating Sims would definately fit this mold. Grand Theft Auto becomes an RPG etc. I am actually going to go ahead and say that despite the fact that I love Harvest Moon, I would not classify it as an RPG. Harvest Moon has many similarities to Animal Crossing, and yet I would in no way consider Animal Crossing to be an RPG. For that reason, I can not classify Harvest Moon as an RPG. The reason is it does not have a combat system. I think this is key to what makes an RPG. Of course the new Harvest Moon will, so maybe it gets to be an RPG.

Sean

Yeah, we keep forgetting that. RPGs really need to deal with a conflict of some kind. Games without battles, just don't cut it for me.

Other discussions have focused on things like:
* Stats
* Non-Linear Gameplay
* Length
* Customization

Using these definitions, Gran Turismo classifies as an RPG. You certainly have Stat based gameplay. It is non-linear since you can race anywhere you want. You can upgrade your cars in many ways, and the game is potentially very long.

You mentioned a game that focuses on Story, rather than Gameplay. That is actually probably closest to the mark however, I think Zelda fails in that category. Zelda has always struck me as being much more about gameplay than story.

Sean

I don't really consider Zelda an RPG series. RPGamer does, as Nintendo says that it is. For me it is just a good adventure series--even the second one.

I think the true answer here is there is no single definition that fits every RPG. Instead there is a set of elements which can be present in different combinations. These elements may be required, or they may be optional. In any case, other games may hit the mark on a few elements, but to be an RPG it has to contain the required elements and a higher percentage of the optional elements.

Required Elements:
* Control of a main character or characters.
* Some form of story driving the gameplay.
* Combat System

Optional Elements:
* Non-Linear Gameplay
* Customizable Character(s)
* Character Stats and Stat Upgrades
* Complex Social Interactions
* Turn Based (or similar) combat

There may be other criteria, but this does help to eliminate a lot of the "questionable" games. As I mentioned, Gran Turismo can not be called an RPG because although it has many of the optional elements, it fails on the Required Elements. You do not control a character, you control a car. You do not have a story driving the gameplay, and there is no combat system.

Sean

By the same points, would a mecha-RPG no longer be an RPG as you control a mecha instead of a character? Just wondering.

Grand Theft Auto has the Required Elements, but it has very few of the optional elements (Non-Linear gameplay, and small amounts of social interaction/character customization).

Harvest Moon gets booted from the RPG definition due to a lack of a combat system.

Zelda manages to hold on since it has all the required elements (though the story may be weaker), and it has Non-Linear Gameplay, Customizable Character, Character Stats/Stat Upgrades and some social interaction.

Of course in the end the true definition should just be "Can it be turned into a dice based RPG". If yes, then it counts. Of course this would eliminate a whole slew of RPGs. Oh well.

Eggman.

Sean

Hehe I like the throwback to pen and paper RPGs. Basically, an RPG needs some form of number-crunching for traditional games, and more stats-based rules for action RPGs. But, as you said, I think the proof is in the number of elements that are incorporated in the final product. In any case, people are always going to have different opinions, but I will still never call GTA an RPG. Never. Thanks for the essay!



Returning readers are cool.


Sean,

I was AFK for 5 weeks and just caught up on job related tasks enough to settle back into the world of the internet while technically "working". This hereby excuses me from being topical.

Sean

Welcome back!

I am currently playing Persona 3 and the background music is wonderful. The Velvet Room piece has become one of my favorite game tunes and I listen to the audio CD in the car during my daily commute. This rarely happens to me; Final Fantasy VII is probably the last game soundtrack to get so soundly stuck in my cerebrum. How often does game music get caught in your head?

Sean

Rarely, unless there are lyrics to them. I still have Eyes on Me playing in my head at odd times. Otherwise, I tend to get bored of game music and tend to just shut it off when that happens. I doubt I will play Persona 3 anytime soon. I am still shocked by the horror that is Persona 1!

I seem to have missed several columns on fun RPG villiany. What a shame. I will have to go back and read them sometime. Ogre Battle was one of the few RPGs to truly let you be the villian. In fact, the game was much easier if you played the part of the evil warlord instead of trying to be fair and sympathetic. Over leveling was evil. Letting your opponent take back a town you conquered was evil. Taking too long to finish a map was evil. Conquering a town with chaotic units instead of lawful units was evil. Major plot points checked your evilness and changed accordingly - you could be a righteous liberator or greedy bringer of death in the eyes of the populace.

Sean

Wiping out enemy units was evil. Man, I hated that part of the game. It was the only reason I couldn't play it to the end. I just couldn't stand the thought of being penalized for completing maps. I think that was the first game I used a walkthrough for...

Backlog size and management come up often here. Personally, if I own a game for over 3 years and have yet to touch it, it moves from "backlog" to "game I will probably never play". Accompanied with this demotion is often a physical change from "visible in my living room" to "hidden in a dust covered box where I will never be reminded of the money wasted". So I am not very awestruck by those who claim to have 100 game backlogs. That is not a backlog; that is a video game collection. Right now I have 7 games in my backlog plus 3 I am currently playing. I generally aim for a backlog of 5 or fewer games, so that is high for me. I blame playing FF12, Persona 3, and Disgaea 2 this year. Those were all > 100 hour playthroughs.

Oops. This is too long. Since your QNA letter backlog is low, maybe you should split long e-mails in half to get two letters out of them? I wouldn't tattle on you...

~7thCircle

Sean

I wouldn't cut any letters. It is hard to figure out where to do so. I am usually happy with 4-7 letters per column, so I don't really need to do that at all. My backlog needs to shrink: games marked as "never will play" get sold. I don't tolerate usefulness. I am looking at you, Battle Network! Oh... I also give them away in my contest. I should give away more prizes... Thanks for the letter!



Cons sure look like fun!


Hey ho Sean!

Good to see you are doing such a good job as newly appointed Qna champion. I apologize in advance for not staying on topic(s) with this letter and many links to pictures, but oh well, I'll think you may find it interesting. First to all those, who haven't read GaijinMonogatari's Japandemonium (shame on you), Square-Enix celebrates 10 years of FF VII with potion in cans complete with nice character designs.

Image

Image

Since I've been to the Osaka Game Festa last sunday I bring you (hopefully) news from things to come. The Festa is not so big compared to TGS, the old E3 and PAX but it's still fun, plus Nintendo, who never shows up on TGS, is there too.

Image

Image

Image

Sean

Ugh. Too many links. I heard the Potion stuff tastes like crap. Your verdict? The character art cans are pretty nice though... I've never been to a gaming convention, but I might go to one next year. I love being part of the press.

Sooo:
Wii Fit: Interesting, very interesting. Nintendo definitely stays on their way of making the Wii a family console. With the inbuilt indexes of checking your training statuses it's as good as Aerobic training, maybe even more. The games are fun too, especially skiing and ski-jumping. Forget the gym, get a Wii Fit.
Sean

The problem with that is that I sweat a lot and I don't want my place smelling like it. When I need to work out, I'll go outside or to a gym.

Mario & Sonic Olympics: All your favorite characters from Mario and Sonic to play with your friends in olympic disciplines, do I have to say more? (They even got the license to use the official Beijing 2008 symbol)
Guitar Hero III: Never played I and II but to me (and my partners in crime at the con) it looks like a solid entry in the series and the game library on the whole.
Fazit: You liked the first two ones, you like this one too.

Sean

Ugh. The Sonic game interests me not at all. I don't see the allure for it. The same goes for that guitar game. Just no interest.

And now for the coup de grāce:
PS 3 with Disgaea 3:
Matt, if you happen to read this: I got to play the new Disgaea, nya nya. Erm, seriously, it retained the style of its predecessor, which means it's definitly not using all the PS3 can offer, in terms of processor power, during "overworld" play. However while introducing new things in combat etc. it also retains the things it made people love/hate it so much, especially it's crazy sense of humor and style of character behaviour. Combat and story were a little bit hard to get for being all in Japanese, but this game will definitely appeal to people, who like something different once in a while. The main character, MAO, is hilarious too.

I just say: Oooohh, Prinny, Prinny, PrinnyPrinnyPrinnyPrinny, Dood, Prinny, Dood, Dood, KABOOM

Sean

Even though it is a PS3 RPG, I would still skip it. I know that I don't like the series now...

Not much too see on this picture, sadly, too much light. (that's NOT me playing, by the way) Image

Among other things were Metal Gear Solid 4, a new Resident Evil and tons of games, particularly for the DS (FF IV anyone? It really looks BEAUTIFUL! Ys too and of course: Dragon Quest IV plays great as well). However it would take too much space ranting about them and this letter is already long enough.

Sean

There certainly are some good games coming out inm the future. I can't wait!

On a personal note: Because of the Festa I finally decided to bite the bullet and get a DS Lite. I stayed away from handhelds my whole life (aside from occasional borrwings) out of fear of cutting further already scarce money and even shorter time.

When did you first decide to get a handheld, Sean? What was your motivation and did you also had serious concerns? (oh, look, an actual question!)

Sean

I bought a Game Boy years and years ago. Why? I got some games from some friends and I needed something to play them with! I've had handhelds pretty much since then! But no, I never did have any concerns regarding them. Well, sometimes, I need to figure out if I need one at that point, but I always end up with it in the end!

And of course, there also were occasional cosplayers. To fuel the yellow fever: Imagine cute, japanese girls cosplaying as even cuter anime/game characters! (I think someone's gonna make me pay for the last paragraph)

Anyway, I'll try write in some more in the coming weeks (Letter backlog: just 1? inconceivable!), maybe I have more news about games too then.

Sean

Hehe, I would enjoy that, if I were allowed to look... *looks at his glaring girlfriend*

Take care,

Belthasar2

P.S: When you dress up as Magus you don't walk around like you own the world. You float around thinking about all the imbeciles, who are somehow allowed roaming your rightful property. How dare they?

How do I know this? I refuse to comment.

Sean

Even Magus needs people to govern--that is why they are allowed to live. And walk around. He just needs them. There is no point in owning a dead world, you know. Thanks for writing in!



QUICKIES

No! NO! NOOO!!! I love the hidden text. What did you think I meant when I said "I care" all those weeks ago. Don't let it fall in the dust!
Draconn

Sean
*poof*



IN CLOSING

Well, it is several hours later than when I started writing this column. As I recall, I started just after finishing my presentation. Since then I traveled home, had to take several detours to get around closed streets and eat supper. I'm tired at this point too. I need to work a good portion of this weekend, if I want to keep up with my classes--this presentation was just the tip of the iceberg. Yay! Enjoy your weekend!



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