Tag Archives: xbox

Gaming Questionnaire – My Answers

I guess I should fill out my own questionnaire, here are my answers.

  1. When did you start playing video games?
    I started playing games as soon as I could sit up at the computer, when I was 3 years old. I’ve been playing ever since.
  2. What is the first game you remember playing?
    I’m using a very loose interpretation of the word ‘remember’ here, as I actually asked my mom what the first game I ever played was. We weren’t 100% sure of the name, but we think it was Cross Country USA, a game about trucking on MS-DOS. My first console game was Super Mario Brothers, but that was a few years later.
  3. PC or Console?
    Console.
  4. XBox, PlayStation, or Wii?
    XBox. Though for the newest generation I’ve played a lot more games on the PS4. Come on XB1, release some games I’m interested in.
  5. What’s the best game you’ve ever played?
    Planescape: Torment. It’s an amazingly immersive and well-written RPG based on AD&D rules. The story and characters are all amazing, and it’s backed up by very solid gameplay.
  6. What’s the worst game you’ve ever played?
    WWII Combat: Iwo Jima. Part of the problem came from the fact that this game was the definition of a generic, low budget, military shooter. And part of the problem was that testing it was my job. I’ve done QA on a number of mediocre games, but this was a special experience. While QA was expected to test this game for 8 hours a day, the developers were doing something else I guess, and we were only getting a new build every week or two. This made for the most tedious gaming experience I’ve ever had.
  7. Name a game that was popular/critically adored that you just didn’t like.
    To the Moon. It had a really good, inventive concept, but I found the main characters endlessly irritating. They completely ruined what would have been a very sweet and poignant story, and I spent the last half of the game clicking through their dialogue as fast as I could, waiting for the game to end.
  8. Name a game that was poorly received that you really like.
    Remember Me currently has a metacritic score of 6.5 from critics. This is bullshit. Remember Me is a really fun action platformer with an interesting story and a lot of great female characters.
  9. What are your favourite game genres?
    RPG and action-adventure.  I also really like clever puzzle games.
  10. Who is your favourite game protagonist?
    Jade from Beyond Good & Evil. Jade has strength, smarts, and sass. She wields her camera to expose truths as expertly as she wields her jō (staff) to kick ass.
  11. Describe your perfect video game.
    I’d combine the story, writing, and character depth of The Last of Us, with the gameplay of Tomb Raider. It would take place in space, or on some distant, unexplored, gorgeous planet.
  12. What video game character do have you have a crush on?
    Alistair from Dragon Age: Origins.
  13. What game has the best music?
    Final Fantasy VII. It’s good on its own, but I especially like it when it’s remixed or recreated.
  14. Most memorable moment in a game:
    The beginning of Under a Killing Moon. The first time I saw it, it just looked 100x cooler than anything I had seen before. The music and sound were great – it had James Earl Jones reading Poe quotes! FMV is often looked down upon, but in Under a Killing Moon it showed me a whole new idea of what games could be.
  15. Scariest moment in a game:
    The radio in Silent Hill. It was so unnerving that it made me turn the game off and never turn it on again.
  16. Most heart-wrenching moment in a game:
    Saying goodbye to Garrus before you head toward the final showdown in the Citadel in Mass Effect 3. All the goodbyes at the end of the game were hard, but this one was the worst.
  17. What are your favourite websites/blogs about games?
    I really like Polygon for gaming news. It goes beyond the normal review and previews and often looks at gaming from different points of view. Also, I really like The Astronauts blog. It’s written by game developers and often has really fascinating insight on game design and good articles like The 7 Deadly Sins of Adventure Games or How Gamers are the Ultimate Trolls.
  18. What is the last game you finished?
    Broken Age.
  19. What future releases are you most excited about?
    I’m really looking forward to Dragon Age: Inquisition this fall. Also, a little further out, Rise of The Tomb Raider, since the previous game is my game of the year so far. I’m also looking forward to Life is Strange, by the studio that made Remember Me. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Inside, Torment: Tides of Numenera. Lots of games!
  20. Do you identify as a gamer?
    Yes. I’ve been playing video games for most of my life. It’s something I spend a lot of time on – not just playing but also reading about, writing about. I know the term ‘gamer’ is starting to become a dirty word in a lot of circles, but I don’t let the loudest and most awful parts of the community detract from how I identify myself.
  21. Why do you play video games?
    For entertainment mostly, though games can entertain in a way unlike books or movies. I love really being able to put myself in a game, feeling what a character is feeling, and having decisions be difficult. I love the sense of adrenaline they can give when you face a particularly challenging or stressful scenario. And I like that games are ultimately something I like to enjoy on my own while playing, but there’s never a shortage of analysis and people to talk to about the games I’ve played.

If you haven’t already, go answer these on your blog or in the comments here.

A History of Control(lers)

Video game controllers are something I have a lot of strong feelings about. When a game has a multi-console release, I don’t care too much about framerates or 720p vs. 1080p. Exclusive content usually doesn’t sell me on one or the other. But the controller – how comfortable it feels in my hands, and how intuitive playing the game will be – that’s important to me.

So today, I’d like to go through a (completely biased) history and review of all the console controllers that have been a part of my gaming life.

NES (1985)

I remember the good old days. Days when controllers were simple. When ergonomics was a term I had never heard. When I didn’t spend all day in front of a computer with my hands on a keyboard and need to worry about repetitive strain injuries. I was 7, and holding a blocky NES controller was second nature to me.

NES controller

Looking back, it’s not a pretty controller. And it’s definitely not a comfortable controller to hold. But it did its job for me at the time, and having only 2 buttons was good enough for the games of that era. Of course, I’m not 7 anymore and my hands are no longer child-sized. Games have also become much more complex. Luckily, controllers evolved.

Sega Genesis (1988)

The Sega Genesis was released in North America three years after the NES and it introduced a much nicer controller.

With the jump to a 16-bit CPU, Sega introduced a controller with a third button. Though the positioning of the buttons was a bit odd, the extra button was nice (and a few years later they introduced a 6-button version). The D-Pad allowed you to push in 8 directions. The shape of the controller was a huge improvement and much more comfortable to hold.

SNES (1991)

Nintendo entered the 16-bit era with the SNES.

Super Nintendo Entertainment System controller

The biggest improvement over the NES controller was the introduction of more buttons. X and Y were added and the diagonal placement of the buttons really worked and became a mainstay for most future controllers. Left and right shoulder buttons were also introduced, bringing the button count up to six. The D-Pad remained pretty much the same and though they added some curves, the way you held the controller didn’t change much.

Playstation (1995)

Sony entered the console wars with the 32-bit PlayStation.

Original PlayStation controller

This is console the one that spawned my love of RPGs. It’s also the one that added the phrase “No, I don’t want to come outside, I’m playing video games” to my daily vocabulary. The PS controller was an absolute joy to use after so many years of Nintendo bricks. PS added another pair of shoulder buttons (L2/R2), but other than that the button configuration was pretty much the same as the SNES. The the four face buttons were labelled with shapes/colours, likely so they weren’t directly ripping off Nintendo. The grip handles were the big selling feature for me, and (thankfully) soon every major console controller would have them.

N64 (1996)

Nintendo, not to be outdone by Sony, released the 64-bit N64 a year later. It was a more powerful machine but still relied on expensive, limited-capacity cartridges rather than moving to CD-ROMs. In terms of sales, the N64 was hugely outperformed by the PlayStation.

Nintendo 64 controller

Here is where the slow descent into madness starts. The N64 controller was odd in that there were a couple different ways you could grip it. It could be held in the traditional way, with the left and right grips – meaning you had to use the D-Pad, and would not be able to reach the analog stick or the trigger (Z-button) underneath. Well, actually you could reach those, but it wasn’t comfortable. I don’t even want to tell you how I held this controller for my first few months of playing Goldeneye. The other option was to hold the center grip and right grip – this way you could use the analog stick and trigger, but couldn’t use the D-Pad or left shoulder button. Not being able to easily reach every button on a controller was a very strange design decision. Nintendo also recreated the wheel by dropping the X and Y buttons and replacing them with 4 smaller C-buttons.

In 1997 the Rumble Pak was released, making the N64 controller the first one that could vibrate in response to in-game events. The Rumble Pak was a separate peripheral that got plugged into the memory slot on the controller.

PlayStation DualShock (1998)

It didn’t come with a new console, but Sony released an even better PS controller a couple of years later.

Playstation Dual Shock controller

In 1998, the DualShock controller was released for the PlayStation, which added a number of new features. Most obvious were the two analog sticks, which gave gamers a choice between the D-Pad or the stick for movement, and opened up the door for camera control using the right stick. You could also press the analog sticks down, giving two more buttons to play with (L3/R3). Sony one-upped Nintendo’s Rumble Pak by adding internal vibration motors. The DualShock’s rumblings were far superior to the Rumble Pak’s loud and jarring gyrations.

PlayStation 2 (2000)

Oh PS2, how I loved you. What a great console with an amazing library of games. And that backwards compatibility… It’s the best-selling console of all time for a reason.

PlayStation 2 - DualShock 2 controller

Functionally and aesthetically, the DualShock 2 was not much different from the DualShock 1. Kudos to Sony for not messing with a good thing.

XBox (2001)

In 2001 Microsoft began their journey into the console market with the XBox.
Microsoft XBox controller
The original XBox controller was a hulking beast. I don’t even think that people with large hands liked it much, as even though it had a huge surface area, the buttons were inexplicably squished together. For me, Microsoft’s best design choice was swapping the positions of the D-Pad and left stick, which made everything feel much more balanced. The XBox controller had nice solid feeling trigger buttons, and also added two small black and white buttons (which I honestly can’t even remember a use for).

Nintendo GameCube (2001)

After the N64, which had some great games but lackluster sales, Nintendo released the GameCube, hoping to turn things around. Unfortunately, the sales were still dwarfed by the PS2.

Nintendo GameCube controller

The GameCube controller was quite different from the N64’s. They got rid of the middle grip, which was good. However, they also completely reconfigured the buttons again. Now we were back to 4 buttons (A, B, X, Y) on the controller face, which had 3 different shapes. There was a left and right Trigger, and the Z-button got moved above the right Trigger and changed into a shoulder button. There was no corresponding shoulder button on the left side. Like the XBox, the GameCube controller put the left stick above the D-Pad. I think the GameCube controller is funny looking, but it’s actually my favourite offering from Nintendo.

XBox Controller S (2002)

The next year Microsoft released a more reasonably sized controller for the Xbox, which became the standard.

Microsoft XBox controller

The A, B, X, Y buttons were moved into more standard positions with better spacing, though Start and Back got moved got moved to the left side because giant logo placement is clearly most important. It wasn’t quite there yet, but Microsoft was well on its way to creating a very good thing.

XBox 360 (2005)

Microsoft got a head start on the 7th console generation by releasing the 360 a scant four years after the original XBox.

XBox 360 wireless controller

And here it is. The XBox 360 wireless controller – the pinnacle of gamepad design. I love everything about this controller – the shape, the weight of it in my hands, the perfect placement of every button, trigger and stick in relation to my fingers. It’s sleek and smooth, the black and white buttons from the original XBox controller were removed and replaced with left and right bumpers. The center Guide button was added to turn the console or controllers on and off, or access the 360’s menu. If I could use this controller on every console I’d be a happy girl.

Of course, the problem the best controller being released in 2005 is that the future designs just feel inferior (some more than others).

 PlayStation 3 (2006)

Sony came out with two controller for the PS3 – the Sixaxis and the DualShock 3. However, they’re almost identical so I’ll address them both at once.

Sony PS3 Sixaxis control

Sony seemed to like the design of the DualShock, so the appearance of PS3’s DualShock 3 and Sixaxis controllers was very similar. The Analog button was removed, and a PS button (which functioned much like the 360’s Guide button) added. These controllers also used motion sensing technology to experiment with motion controls. Heavy Rain was the only game I played on the PS3 that used this (actually, it was the only game I ever finished on the PS3, period) and the motion controls weren’t as obnoxious as I expected.

Wii (2006)

The Wii was the last of the 7th generation of consoles, and with its release came the realization that I was definitely not Nintendo’s target audience anymore.

Nintendo Wiimote and nunchuk

Nintendo went off the motion control deep end with the Wii Remote. The Wii Remote is long and skinny, designed to be used with one hand and pointed at the motion sensor. The labelling of the buttons was completely changed – again. Now there was a 1 and 2 where A and B would usually be. A was now a big button near the D-Pad, while B was a trigger on the underside of the remote. Start and Select were now + and -. Some games used the Wii Remote on its own, while others added the nunchuck which gave players an analog stick for movement and a C trigger button. I guess using completely awkward controls and flailing around could be fun if you’re: a) a child, b) playing Wii Sports with a group of people, c) drunk, but otherwise these controllers are total bullshit.

Wiimote horizontal grip

Some games let you hold the Wii Remote horizontally… I have nothing nice to say about this.

Wii Classic Controller

If you hated the Wii Remote, Nintendo also sold the Classic Controller (along with about 90 other accessories). With the exception of the analog sticks, the Classic Controller has a very similar design and shape as an SNES controller. Because of all the controllers you could replicate, why not copy the one released in 1991? Attach the cord to the bottom instead of the top just to show what a special snowflake you are as well.

Wii U (2012)

The Wii U was marketed terribly, and sold accordingly (though it seems to be improving now). As someone who pretty much stopped paying attention to Nintendo after the Wii, I was under the impression that the Wii U Gamepad was the new system, rather than the controller for a long time. Sigh. Nintendo, why don’t you want me to love you? (I could probably write a whole post on this).

Wii U gamepad

The Wii U Gamepad is huge. Like a handheld console, except even bigger. The thing that drives me crazy about many Nintendo controllers (well, one of the things) is that no matter how big the device gets – whether it’s the Wii U Gamepad or the 3DS XL – the controls stay child-sized. The D-Pad is small, the buttons are tiny and close together. My hands aren’t even large, but I pick up a DS and think “wow, this definitely was not designed to be held by me”.

The one cool thing about the Gamepad is that you can use it like a handheld and play in bed or something while the console is in the other room (you do have to get up to put the disc in though). However, playing with this monstrosity when you’re sitting in front of the TV the Wii U is connected to is so completely unappealing. It just isn’t at all comfortable to hold. The touchpad is used to as a 2nd screen to supplement gameplay in a lot of games. That can include things like displaying the track map in Mario Kart 8 (a feature which does not offend me), or having to blow into the microphone or rub the screen to reveal secrets in Super Mario 3D World (a feature which is fucking obnoxious).

Wii U Pro Controller

Thank goodness Nintendo had the sense to release a proper controller for the Wii U, because if I had to use the Gamepad or a Wiimote I would never touch the thing (which would be a shame, because Mario and Donkey Kong are fun). The Pro Controller looks like a rip-off of the 360 controller. I don’t know how Microsoft feels about this, but I think this was an excellent design decision. For some reason they’ve swapped the positions of the right stick and A/B/X/Y buttons, which makes this controller more awkward than it needs to be, but it’s still 100x better than the other options for the Wii U.

PlayStation 4 (2013)

The PlayStation 4 is currently the most powerful console. Apparently, with great power comes great responsibility… and the need to “improve” on an already very good controller.

PlayStation 4 DualShock 4

The DualShock 4 is pretty similar to the DualShock 3, but made a few changes. The grips are wider apart and the Start/Select (now Options and Share) have been moved to the top in order to make room for an gratuitously large touch pad. In games like Tomb Raider and Murdered: Soul Suspect, the touch pad is used open the game menu or map which is okay by me, even though it’s too big for this to be the main function. However, a game like Infamous: Second Son makes you swipe the touchpad to perform certain actions, which feels totally unnecessary. They also added a large light bar along the top edge of the controller. Apparently it’s used for player identification, though the light will often change colours based on things happening in the games. Generally the bar glows a really bright blue, so if you’re playing in the dark don’t tip the controller up if you don’t want to be blinded.

The speaker added to the controller is kind of cool, and the motion sense is still there, but has been used sparingly in most games I’ve played.

XBox One (2013)

The XBox One is the most recent major console release.

XBox One controllerMost of the development for this controller was focused on refinement, while the design was left relatively the same. The textures of the analog sticks have changed and gotten a little smaller. The Start and Back buttons were relabeled. The biggest improvements are on the bumpers and triggers – they feel really nice, solid, and responsive now. The Guide button now glows white instead of a muted green. I’m not sure what it is about the latest generation and making the controllers glow so brightly – isn’t the glow from the tv enough? I don’t find the XBox One controller quite as comfortable to hold as the 360’s, but it’s pretty close.

Top 5

Here’s the TLDR version of what I’d rate the best major console controllers from 1985 onwards.

  1. XBox 360
  2. PS DualShock 2
  3. XBox One
  4. Nintendo GameCube
  5. PS DualShock 4

And the worst? Pretty much everything else from Nintendo, with the Wii Remote taking home the award of “controller I’d most like to throw in a fire.”

What do you think? What are the best and worst console controllers?

Two Telltale Tales

I’ve been playing through Telltale’s A Wolf Among Us, since the first episode was released last fall. After my great experience with The Walking Dead, I was ready to continue my ride on the Telltale train.

A Wolf Among Us is a gorgeous game with the same, heavily-outlined, cell-shaded art as TWD. But it also has some of its own style, with an atmosphere that looks like a cross between Heavy Rain and Vice City. The story (based on the graphic novels Fables), what I’ve seen of it so far, is good. It’s filled with interesting characters and situations. I love the premise of having fairy tale characters living, in secret, in the real world.

The game is usually referred to as an adventure game but in reality it’s more of an interactive story, with quick time events. Ninety percent of the game requires no interaction at all; it’s mostly watching characters interact with each other. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this, as the characters are very watchable and the writing is well done. When you do actually get to play the game, it mostly involves walking through a room and examining things, or making dialogue choices (plus the quick time events whenever you end up fighting someone). Really, the formula is identical to TWD. Heavy on narrative, light on game play.

So I’m left wondering… why did I love The Walking Dead, while my experience so far with A Wolf Among Us is only mediocre?

I think part of the problem is the episodic nature of the games. TWD fit into episodes very well. Though they were all part of the larger story about Lee and Clementine, each episode had a logical endpoint which wrapped up the smaller narrative. Episode 1 was about the characters dealing with the initial zombie outbreak and finding a safe (for now) place to stay. Episode 2 dealt with finding another group of survivors on a farm, etc. Episode 4 was the only one that ended with a real cliff-hanger, something that wasn’t wrapped up within the episode. Wolf, on the other hand, is not so neatly broken up. There are no smaller stories; it’s all about Bigby searching for a serial killer within Fabletown. So when an episode ends, I don’t feel as if I’ve really completed anything, I just feel frustrated that I’ll have to wait another 3 months to get the next part of the story.

Time between episodes is also a big problem. Whereas I didn’t start playing TWD until 4 episodes were already out, I’ve been playing Wolf as it’s released. With TWD I felt like a got a solid 8 hour game, followed by a short wait for the finale, while with Wolf the ratio of game time (episodes take about 90 minutes to finish) to waiting time seems insane. My interest level has gone down with each episode.

There’s also a problem with the characters. The Wolf story and characters aren’t gripping me like they should. This is odd, as the atmosphere and story of Wolf are way more appealing to me than TWD on a surface level. But for some reason it’s not grabbing me. With Lee in TWD I felt very close to his character – decisions he (I) made had an effect on me, and how the rest of the characters saw him was important. With Bigby, I’m just an observer. Whether the other characters respect the tactics he uses to get what he needs doesn’t really matter to me, I just want him to solve the mystery. TWD’s decisions felt like moral decisions. Wolf’s feel somewhat less than – is it really immoral for a wolf to rip out someone’s throat? TWD, for me, was a role-playing game. Wolf is a story, and one I could get through much faster if I just read the graphic novels.

Another aspect that makes Wolf feel more like a story than a game to me is that I’m not finding any of the decisions I make or conversations paths I choose make much of a difference. I know that in TWD the ending was set – your decisions didn’t change what ultimately happened; only who was with you in the end, but regardless of that, the choices felt important. I wanted to make decisions that would make Clem strong, so she would survive (side-note: having a child character so prominently featured in the game who I wanted to save rather than knock off was quite a writing feat). I wanted the other characters in my party to trust me. I wanted to save as many people as possible. In Wolf, I don’t feel any of these things. When the text pops up “Toad will remember that,” I think “so?” he’s going to give me the information I need whether or not I backed him up in the previous chapter. Choosing to visit one location over another makes me think I’m going to miss a small scene, but I don’t think it’s impacting the outcome in any meaningful way.

Even the quick time events aren’t as exciting to me. In TWD I was afraid that being slow meant that I (or someone else) would get eaten by a zombie. Wolf’s combat is much more prolonged and there’s a lot of spamming of the A button, which often doesn’t even feel like it’s doing anything. You also need to fail a number of actions before you face any consequence (i.e. death).

To make a long story short (too late), I’m disappointed. TWD was one of my best gaming experiences last year, I got totally immersed in it, and the end left me choking back sobs for a good 10 minutes. Wolf just isn’t doing it for me. Perhaps my expectations were too high. I’ll finish the game – hopefully the final chapter will elevate my experience a bit since there will be some closure and no more waiting. Chapter 4 is out next week, so I’ll let you know if it changes my opinion at all.

Have you played both of these games? What do you think?

Footnote: As a life-long inverter of y-axes, I’d really appreciate the ability to do this in future Telltale games. My quick-time responses could be much quicker.

What to play?

Summer, though my favourite time in terms of weather and weekend getaways, is a pretty shitty time as far as video game releases go. All the big titles seem to be released between September and March leaving the other half of the year rather barren (with a few notable exceptions). Since I haven’t seen a new release that’s interested me, I’ve been trying to replay some old favourites.

A few weeks ago I was re-playing Dragon Age: Origins. I was going through that quickly and got about 75% through the game, then I lost interest. I realised I was playing pretty much the exact same character as I did the first time (except this time I was a mage. Pew! Pew!). I had wanted to try out some of the other options when the big decisions came, but in most instances, there only seems to be one satisfying way to resolve the problems in the game. I’m a completionist. I’m going to play the way I think will give me the most experience and open up the most content. I will never tell someone to go jump in a lake when they ask me to help find their lost kitten. It’s a quest! It will give me experience and gold! I must find the kitten! I’m also rather attached to all the characters in my party in Dragon Age, I don’t want to do things that will result in them leaving or dying. I find the thought of Alistair (I <3 Alistair) getting killed by the Archdemon or becoming a wandering drunk quite traumatic. Anyway, after realising I was most likely going to finish the game in the exact same way as my first playthrough I stopped playing.

Last week I had an urge to replay Fallout 3. I have all the DLC, but most of it is unplayed, and I decided to start a brand new game, blow up Megaton and generally be an evil bastard. I played through the intro, left the Vault…and immediately realised I’d rather shoot myself in the foot than play through the whole game again. I quite enjoyed my first playthrough, but the thought of talking to dead-eyed NPCs, trekking through identical sewer maps, getting lost in the Capital and being killed by Giant Radscorpions AGAIN made me turn it off. There are a number of things I like about Fallout. I love the setting. The 50s vibe is great and end of the world scenarios are my favourite. I liked exploring the world – there were so many areas and little outposts to discover. The character customization perks are also a lot of fun. It certainly has its downsides though. For one, the game just screams “Bethesda!” and I can’t help but draw constant comparisons to Elder Scrolls, which I hated. The sewer environments were far too common, repetitive and hard to navigate for my directionally-challenged self. Another thing that bothered me was the sheer amount of crap you could pick up. Really, how many clipboards do I need? Fallout was a lot of fun the first time around, but not something I want to sink another 40+ hours into.

After giving up on Fallout, I tried out Borderlands. I’m not a big fan of first person shooters, but I thought I’d try something different and continued the game I had started when it was released. I got in maybe an hour or two of play before putting Borderlands back on the shelf. It’s not a bad game by any stretch. I like the look of it and it’s somewhat cathartic to blast away the bad guys with my SMG, but as I said shooters just aren’t my thing. I like my games to involve a bit more story and a lot more dialogue. Calling Borderlands a “role playing shooter” is a huge stretch. A talent tree does not an rpg make. The game has barely a hint of a narrative and your character…lacks character. I also wasn’t a big fan of how loot-driven it was. There was too much stuff. I spent more time examining stats on guns than I did shooting them.

So now I’m at a loss. Anyone have ideas for something new to play? I’d prefer a console game. PC games have the distinct disadvantage of requiring me to get out of bed to play them, which is one of my least favorite things to do at the moment. Any suggestions?