Friday, June 26, 2009

Followup: Sony, Sony, Sony...

This article on Kotaku reminded me of my earlier post about how Sony thinks they can get away with charging way too much for their systems:

"The new Sony Europe head man said "When you introduce a new piece of hardware you have the opportunity to say there is a certain premium that is associated with it, and we took that into account."

In other words, the PSPgo isn't $249 because Sony broke the bank researching it. It's not $249 because it uses radical new technology, or because it has to make up for the fact people aren't buying many PSP games.

It's $249 because it's new, and Sony knows (or at least believes) that the kind of people who will buy something when it's new will pay more for it than they probably should."

-"The PSPgo Is Expensive Because, Well, 'There Is A Certain Premium'"

Additionally, a few smaller game chains in the UK are just not going to sell the PSPgo, because they "can't see any justification for stocking it. ... Certainly I'm not getting the response from consumers." The price, of course, is the issue. Announced at $250 during Sony's E3 press conference, the retailers say that "it seems really high, especially the way PSP's going at the moment. The models they've got out now are struggling at basically £129, pretty much [the] cost price, which we're putting them out at, and they're not selling through at that. We're trying to do some bundles just to push them through and the PSP just seems to have died as a format really… Nothing sells at the minute on PSP."

They also refuse to cut the price on the PS3, saying that "the PlayStation 3 has a ten-year life cycle and there are issues of cost and profitability." I think there are issues of cost and profitability when your system ISN'T SELLING because it's $150 more than the Wii and $200 more than a 360!

But they will, of course, "look at price and will address it when the time is right." I'm curious about when this is going to be, since they admitted themselves during the Sony press conference at E3 that even the PS2 is outselling the PS3.

The way I see it, there's an issue here when companies are continuing to make new games for the PS2. With Microsoft and Nintendo, I could definitely be wrong, but I don't think there are that many games coming out for the Xbox or Gamecube anymore, while freakin Rock Band came out on the PS2. Why is that? Is it because Sony is doing some ridiculous overcharging for their new system and developers know lots of people can't/won't pay that much?

So thanks, Sony. Thanks for saying right out what I accused you of in my earlier post - that you refuse to lower the price because you are stubborn. Thanks for proving my point, guys! Appreciate it!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

FFXIV looks identical to all other FF games; exactly no one is surprised

Since I'm a huge RPG fan, most people are surprised when they find out that I've never beaten a single Final Fantasy game. It's nothing against Sony or SquareEnix or anything, but there's something about the games where no matter how hard I try to like them, I just don't get pulled into the story or care about any of the characters. After playing Bioware's incredible games, it's hard for any other game to even come close to how much I love things like "Star Wars: KotOR" or "Mass Effect."

I've tried to like the games. I really have. I'm not usually one to do something because everyone else does, but hey, some things are popular for a reason. And practically everyone I know raves about them. But I just can't get into them. I may not have beaten any of them, but I've played 3-5 hours of most, a little more than that on others, and I've had all the stories summarized to me, hoping that if I like the story enough, maybe I can keep playing.

Maybe it’s the female characters that get to me – how so many of them are totally flat characters without much of a personality, running around in a bra and a skirt the size of a belt. It seems like SquareEnix is just catering to boys who prefer their girls to be the pixel variety. So I try to just play the games, while attempting to shut down that part of my brain that protests to so many of the Final Fantasy girls either being pathetic (Aeris, Garnet, Ashe) or hardasses with big boobs (Tifa, Paine, Rikku).

But nope. It's still no good. And for a while, I asked myself, "why is it that you are such a rebel and don't like these supposedly awesome games? XIII is even going to have a female main character who might not be so annoying! Keep trying to get into the games and maybe they will someday not disappoint you!"

After watching the trailers for Final Fantasy XIII and XIV Online, both shown at E3 this year during Sony's press conference, I think I know the reason I just can’t play them.

Let me summarize the story of every game (with pictures!):

An evil government is doing something shifty, and only a ragtag group of adventurers can stop them.

The government has huge armies

and badasses, often with silver hair, working for them,

plus access to huge intimidating machines

and flying ships.

The heroes consist of either a wussy or badass princess (or princess-y girl),

a comic relief guy who acts like an idiot,

a rugged manly guy,

an overly-hardass guy,

a surprisingly-powerful or skillful child,

and girls in revealing outfits.

After hours of skipping merrily through very pretty areas,

the heroes are able to overcome the evil government by using their Teamwork!,

glowing gems,

ridiculous angst and supreme pouting skills,

and their ability to stand in straight lines 10 feet from the enemy.

The end.

I used pictures from many of the games to emphasize my point that they are all the same freakin game. Maybe they're called FINAL Fantasy because there is only ONE "fantasy" left, so they keep telling its story over, and over, and over, and over...

Honestly I don't get the appeal. And I don't mean to hate on all the people I know who love these games (hi guys! sorry I'm bashing Sony again!), but what is the deal with repurchasing and replaying the same game over and over?

The story just always seems so, flat. As I described above, it seems to me like the same thing being told repeatedly, with a few changes to settings or characters thrown in every time to "spice things up." Why should I bother with this evil government? I don't know these characters. They don't have personalities that interest me or make me care about their plight. Sony seems to think that pretty graphics will distract us long enough to make us forget that they're rehashing the same things and selling us new $400 systems and $60 games just to play the same story again.

Though the battle system, as always, is my main complaint. The menu-based thing just does not work for me - it takes no skill. It's like Pokemon. I am not kidding. Here's a handy guide: Pick your most powerful move. Use it over and over until the enemy is dead. If the bad guy has an elemental attribute, pick something opposite. Protip: if the enemy has flames coming off of it or any reference to fire in its name, use a water ability and it should be a CRITICAL HIT! IT'S SUPER EFFECTIVE!

"But Impsy," you might say, "what about Final Fantasy XII? Didn't that switch things up?" I would reply, Yes, dear reader, but you can set Gambits, which are conditions for healing or damaging or ANYTHING, meaning that if you set it all up right, you get to sit there and watch your party do absolutely nothing. My friend's friend played the entire game this way - get to a boss, learn the boss's moves and let the party die, reload, set his Gambits up according to what the boss did, and sat there watching himself win.

To me, Final Fantasy games are not games. They're movies where you occasionally press buttons. You have no choice where you want to go - you are instructed to go to this city, this forest, this desert. You accomplish this task, then move on to this next one. If you have thoughts or opinions on characters or the story - too bad, there's no way to express them, and yelling at the tv does nothing (trust me, I've tried).

So when I saw these new trailers, sure I was impressed at how pretty the graphics are. Final Fantasy never lets us down with that, with their new stuff anyway. But as I thought about it later, I realized that as gorgeous as the trailer was, it gave me zero motivation to want to play it. Sadly, this is no big shock.

Even the switch they’re making in Final Fantasy XIII, which will feature a female main character for the first time, is not enough to entice me. The main character, named Lightning (that is a noun, not a name) and her probably-boyfriend Snow (again, USE NAMES), intrigued me at first. Then I did some research.

In an interview with, several of SquareEnix’s bigshots talked about Lightning and the history of female leads in previous games. “Looking at the history of the FF series, there were already female main characters, like in FFVI, FFX, and FFX-2.” Nevermind the fact that the three girls in X-2 were set up as basically Charlie’s Angels, complete with the same image:

The article continues: “This time, one of the characteristics of this heroine is that she's not that feminine. I tried to make her someone very strong, independent. When I asked Mr. Nomura to design this character, I requested someone like a female version of Cloud from FFVII.”

Ok, so let me get this straight. The company realizes that most (if not all) of their female characters are extremely feminine, needy, and have to have someone take care of them. Then we have Lightning, who is the manly main guy from Final Fantasy VII transferred into a female body.

Is there no medium ground? Can there not be a feminine girl who can also take care of herself? Does an independent princess not exist? Do girls have to either be feminine and weak OR masculine and strong?

It seems to be that, like many other companies in the industry, SquareEnix can only see two kinds of gender: the manly man and the girly girl. This “manly girl” – since it is a male characterization with a female body – is not the same as making a strong, independent female character, especially when they go around describing her as a female Cloud! We don’t want a female Cloud. We want a female character who can be strong on her own terms, not strong based on some man.

SquareEnix, I challenge you, dare you, nay, Triple Dog Dare you, to change. Give us a story that isn't based on all the other games you've done. Give us a female character who can do her own thing and doesn’t need to be based on a male character to be validated as a badass. Everyone tells me that you're a good company. Now it's time to prove it by taking a risk and giving us something new and really great.

NOTE: This article is also featured on, where I am a writer/contributor. Check it out! :)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sony, Sony, Sony...

When are you gonna learn, Sony? There's this crazy thing called the "recession" going on and I get the impression you guys are just covering your ears and screaming "LA LA LA, I CAN'T HEAR YOU." Because honestly, you guys are getting a lot of bad press lately, and a lot of it is your fault.

I ranted yesterday about the new "lilac" PSP that Sony will be releasing with a Hannah Montana bundle to target tween girls. I don't fault them for that - it's a market, it's money, you gotta do what you gotta do. However, their other announcements at E3 this year were a little less on the good side.

I watched the Sony press conference live on Gamespot, and one thing that really looked cool to me was the PSP Go. A nifty, smaller version of the PSP, with the ability to download files and look more adorable.

Unfortunately, as you can see in this picture, the biggest problem here is PRICE, and this is my biggest complaint with Sony. The presenter of the PSP Go! at E3 was talking all about the cool new features of the system, and he finally announced that it will cost $250, for a HANDHELD, and honestly I was just in shock. Know how much a Wii is? THE SAME PRICE! For an entire PLATFORM! The Nintendo DS is $130, HALF the price of the PSP Go. Sony did say that they were "dropp[ing] the price of the PSP development kit by 80 percent, which should ease developer costs and bring even more games to the handheld." (Gamespot) Well that's great for them, but it'd be nice if the people who want to actually play the games could get a price cut too. During the press conference, they mentioned how the PS2 was actually outselling nextgen systems. I can only assume that PS3 is one of those it's outselling.

Yes, there are cool games for Playstation platforms, and plenty of them are Playstation only. I may not be a Final Fantasy fan, but I know a lot of people are. Katamari Damacy and We Love Katamari are more my style, and I can't play those two on anything but my (old school, amazingly still functioning, original) ps2. Plus, of course, LittleBigPlanet is great, and that does make me want a PS3. But not at these prices. There are some cool, really original ideas on these systems. Unfortunately, it's difficult to check them out because Sony refuses to see reason when it comes to how much their systems cost.

Remember when the PS3 came out and it was like $400 and everyone thought it was ridiculous? And how Sony was all, "hey don't even worry about it guys, it doesn't just play games, it's also a BLU RAY player! It's an ENTIRE ENTERTAINMENT CENTER!!!" Well according to this article, more than half of the people who bought PS3s don't know or don't care:

"According to the results, only 40% of PlayStation 3 owners polled were aware the machine had a Blu-ray player and about 50% of that number had popped in a Blu-ray movie during the last 10 times they turned on the machine -- the other half didn't use the feature."

Admittedly, this article was published in '07, and blu ray has become more popular since then, so I can only hope that more people realize/use this feature on their PS3s. But this doesn't change the fact that they marked up the system, largely, I assume, because of the addition of blu ray capability, and 60% of the people who owned it had NO IDEA. Wow, and apparently PS3s still sell for $400. My god. To compare - $200 Xbox 360 and $250 Wii, both as new systems from Gamestop.

I'm talking about all of this because of an article Gamespot has featured today, where Activision is just about ready to give up on the PS3 and PSP because they're too damn expensive to both develop for and purchase. The PS3 is still way behind the 360 and Wii in how much they've sold.

"I'm getting concerned about Sony; the PlayStation 3 is losing a bit of momentum and they don't make it easy for me to support the platform," he said. "It's expensive to develop for the console, and the Wii and the Xbox are just selling better. Games generate a better return on invested capital on the Xbox than on the PlayStation."

"They have to cut the price, because if they don't, the attach rates are likely to slow," he continued. "If we are being realistic, we might have to stop supporting Sony." When asked about a time frame he said, "When we look at 2010 and 2011, we might want to consider if we supportthe console--and the PSP."
-"Activision threatens to drop PS3, PSP" at Gamespot

How much worse can it get when a major developer flat-out says you are charging way too much for most people to consider buying your systems? Yes, games are still doing pretty well, even in the recession. But the fact that Sony thinks they can charge $400 for a system and $250 for a handheld, when Nintendo charges $250 and Microsoft charges $200 for a system, just seems totally unreasonable. Yes, the PS3 is still selling. But is it selling well? Definitely not. Would a price drop change that? No guarantees, but it definitely couldn't hurt.

Overpricing stuff doesn't mean your system is better, Sony. It just means it costs more.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

"You know, for tweens!"

It's weird, sometimes, being a girl who plays video games, as evidenced every time I join a Vent server on WoW and decide to talk. Most common reactions are, "Are you hot?" "Do you play with your boyfriend or something?" "Oh great. Don't screw this up." or just creepy giggling, which is why I usually keep myself muted. I know that WoW players aren't exactly the most normal or well-adjusted people around (and that includes myself of course), but the fact is that we girls are definitely in the minority in the video game biz.

When I Googled trying to find the latest statistics on the numbers of males vs females that people estimate play games, one of the first results was "List of video games with female protagonists." How interesting! I bet all the Bioware games will be on there since you can be either gender, then Tomb Raider and Metroid and Beyond Good & Evil, let's just see-

Oh. :(

The fact is, it's boys who do most of the game playing. One article, "The New Gender Divide," conducted a survey that said 22% of freshman boys in 2006 played video/computer games more than six hours a week, while only 3% of freshman girls did. Is it that surprising that so many games cater to teenage/20s boys? No. Is it disappointing to see that games are either "crazy violence explosions boobs!" or "let's play with the pretty pixel ponies!"? Absolutely.

I may be exaggerating a bit, but really when I go into a video game store and I can immediately pick out the games for girls because the hot pink burns my retinas, I feel like there's a problem. One article I found put it really well -

"In my experience, the marketing departments of the gaming industry seem to be slow to adapting to genderless marketing," says Schwimmer critically. "They seem to be stuck in the idea that, if you make it pink, then girls will buy it - which is actually insulting."
Hannah Guy, PC World Canada

Though that article is from 2007, the trend is continuing. I watched a lot of the E3 coverage this year live on Gamespot, including Sony's two-hour press conference. I'm not a big Sony person, but I like to be informed about what they're up to anyway, and I sure was glad I watched it after I saw this monstrosity:

That's right. It's a purple PSP. Why is it purple? Because of the new Hannah Montana games, obviously! Again, I have no problem with purple or PSPs or even Hannah Montana for god's sake, it's just the fact that APPARENTLY girls just can't possibly stand to play games on black PSPs. Nope, they need a completely new color. Sony had this to say about it:

"As girls spend as much time listening to music, taking and editing photos, watching movies, chatting with Skype, surfing the net and playing games with their friends as boys do," says Isabelle Tomatis, European Marketing Manager, SCEE, "we thought it was about time that they had their own colour of PSP and we've styled this one up just for them."
-"Hannah Montana comes with a lilac-purple PSP-3000"

They "styled it up" for us? How generous. The Gamespot article that included the announcement said this new color is "targeting the 'tween demographic" with its "female-friendly-hued hardware" and includes"Disney Interactive's Hannah Montana PSP game, ... a UMD disc containing a variety of episodes from the Hannah Montana TV show, a 2GB Memory Stick Pro Duo, and stickers."

Oh boy! STICKERS! And purple is clearly female friendly, because we just can't deal with using the same color PSP as boys. I hear they have cooties, C/D?

Sony's E3 press conference, where they announced this new color, first started talking about other games for the PSP, including, "Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, Star Wars Battlefront, Madden NFL '09, and of course God of War: Chains of Olympus." The packs they've offered before included Rock Band Unplugged, City of Final Fantasy, and Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines. I hate to generalize, but all these are pretty much "boy games." I'd have a hard time talking most girls into playing something like God of War or Assassin's Creed.

But instead of doing a more neutral game, they decided that games either have to be ALL BOY or ALL GIRL. He talks about releasing PSPs for "our younger, more diverse demographic, and further appeal[ing] to teen and tween girls," because making games for girls means they get to call themselves "diverse." When he announced the lilac Hannah Montana bundle, the other developers seemed to think it was a hilarious joke. With the rest of the announcements focusing on shooters and Final Fantasy(s), the little purple PSP got ironic cheers whenever it was mentioned. Even the announcer laughed at the cheering. "I think we just sold a few right there!"

As much as I want to blame the developers for laughing at it, I can't blame them, because I did too. They put that image up on the screen, and I think my exact words were, "Oh Christ." They managed to make a female gamer annoyed with their female-friendly product. Well done, Sony.

Sony is not the only guilty party, even though I'm picking on them. Plenty of games either turn women into nothing but sex objects or make them badasses, but hot, so boys don't mind playing as them. This blog post from 2005 talks about how Lara Croft's boobs were taken down a cup size "to make her more realistic and appealing to females." Even better, Lara Croft's Breast Timeline: In Pictures! Even my beloved Bioware is falling prey. Check out this screencap of a character in Mass Effect 2:

Give this woman a bra, MY GOD.

So why don't girls play games? One article had this to say:

Riedl said that the company informally surveyed girls who didn't play games and asked why they don't play them. The company found a variety of different answers. A lack of purpose in most games on the market was high on the list, with women preferring the emotional draw of a story. A lot of women who didn't play games said that they didn't because the UI was cumbersome for a lot of titles, and they just wanted to jump straight in and play.
He said he found that women also prefer their games to be more grounded in reality. He said, "A lot of the plot and settings for games are quite fantastic, and they wanted something that could happen in real life." Another, well-documented reason is that girls were turned off by meaningless violence.
Riedl said, "I'm not saying that women are nonviolent...But I think women have a different propensity for violence. Men like big explosions and blowing things up, but women show their anger in different ways. For example, with aspects of social violence... creating and destroying relationships."
The most important aspects of gameplay for women were the story, characters, and narrative elements. What he found was not important was winning.
Emma Boyes, Gamespot UK

I think this article is really interesting and more game companies ought to take it into account. Honestly, speaking totally from a personal standpoint here, I agree with most of it. I don't want to "win," I want a plot. I want to care about the other characters and get involved in their stories. And no lie, as crude as it was, the Influence system in KotOR2 was really cool. Whether you went light or dark side, you were able to talk to your party members and convince them to follow you, whether to good or evil. It looks like Mass Effect 2 is going to be incorporating that kind of thing as well (with their "Loyalty" system).

The part of the article about violence I thought was really interesting too. I am the first one to suggest seeing a stupid, senselessly violent movie, but in my games, I can only kill things mindlessly for so long before I just don't care anymore. That's one reason I've never really been able to get in to Grand Theft Auto. I'll steal some cars, do some drive-bys, but then... nothing. Me doing those things in the game has no effect on the setting. I like to feel like I can influence the story or the world of the game in some way while I play.

To wrap things up, I'm not surprised that more girls don't play games, as disappointing as it is. If they don't like ridiculous violence like I do, their choices are pretty much Hannah Montana, Barbie Island Princess, or PetZ (why is there a "z." I don't understand). Maybe once companies start thinking about girls older than twelve and design games for them, we gamer girls won't be quite such oddities.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Obsessed? Never.

That is an outright lie. There's one thing in video games I love more than everything else (and I do love a lot of things about them), and that is a story. And nobody does a great story better than Bioware. (That's right, I said it. Suck it, SquareEnix.) So to celebrate and break in this shiny new blog, I thought I'd start off by talking a little bit about the game I'm most looking forward to in the next... ever: Mass Effect 2. Warning - spoilers for ME1 and all the videos released for ME2 ahead.

I'll leave my thoughts about Mass Effect the First for another post (probably a review, better late than never!), but suffice it to say that there isn't much that I didn't adore about it, and my undying love for Raphael Sbarge's voice (Carth from KotOR and Kaidan in Mass Effect) had nothing to do with it. Okay, maybe a little to do with it.

Anyway, Bioware promised when the game came out that this would be a trilogy where we'd play the same character the whole way through. Badass!, thought I. Now instead of just overidentifying and getting way too attached to characters for one game, I can do the same over the course of three! So long, normal social life!

That promise and my attachment to Shepard did me no favors when Bioware started releasing the first trailers for Mass Effect 2, where they told us that Shepard was dead, wreaking havoc on my emotional well-being. Jerks.

Fortunately, any interviewer EVER who talked to the lead guys about it afterward pointed out that they'd already promised to let us play as Shepard for all three games, and the Bioware people did the best they could to skirt around that issue. Even better, by the time E3 rolled around, they didn't have to deny it anymore - Shepard was NOT dead, but that didn't mean she wouldn't BE dead if we didn't get things done in Mass Effect 2.

Constant threat of death if we try to do too much (save too many people in a dangerous situation) or too little (don't recruit enough badasses before going off to the final planet or wherever). Love it.

The other thing that is gonna be amazing about Mass Effect 2 is the fact you can import your Shepard from ME1 into ME2. Not only that, you're not just playing the Shepard you imported, you're playing all the decisions you made, good or bad. Let some of your party members die? They're not magically coming back - they are GONE. I assume the decision about whether to commit genocide on the Rachni is going to be a big influence on the game, too, and maybe whatever sidequests we did, too.

According to Casey Hudson, one of the exec producers on ME2,

"The Mass Effect savegame doesn’t just contain a couple of your big choices. It contains countless decisions you’ve made, both large and small. These things could each potentially carry forward and affect your story in Mass Effect 2. This has never been done before on this scale, and it means you’re actually continuing your own story from exactly where you left off."

I don't know what decisions are going to carry over - how "small" are they talking here? If I convinced that random lady and her brother in law on the Citadel not to do genetic manipulation on her kid, is that going to play into the game? Somehow I doubt it. All I know is, now I have to go back through the game again and make sure every single decision I make is absolutely the one I want to stick with for Mass Effect 2. Darn, I have to play through it again. Shucks.

Ok, the last thing I'm going to discuss for now. When I was younger I used to love Choose Your Own Adventure books, but it was always annoying to me that most of the decisions were "oh, too bad you picked a legitimate option but we arbitrarily decided it's a bad one, you die, go back to the page you were at and pick the other choice, dummy." In Mass Effect, yeah maybe some of those decisions you make WILL be an insta-death, go reload and hope you saved recently. But in the final battle, there's a chance that not only you will die, but your party members as well. My roommate can attest to the fact that I was a mess at the end of the Virmire scene, and I didn't even like Ashley that much.

"Part of what makes the final mission dangerous in a more profound way is that each squad member could potentially die a real, story-based death during that mission as well. You might have an ending where Shepard’s entire team survives, or where the entire mission is a bloodbath and everyone (including Shepard) is killed, or anything in between. And for all characters, death in Mass Effect 2 means they won’t show up in Mass Effect 3."

Not like I wasn't going to do every sidequest ever anyway, but now I have to or I will let down my poor, helpless party members.

Speaking of party members, I guess not all of the ones from ME1 will be on your squad in ME2. As sad as this makes me (Kaidan! I need you with me!), it does make sense. Tali can go back to the Quarians, and maybe if we're out by the Flotilla we can help her out and she can join up with us for a little bit. Garrus is probably going to either be a Spectre or go back to C-Sec. Maybe Kaidan will be working with Anderson or something, but at least he's not going on this suicide mission with me, there is no way I could ever let him die. That would kill me. At least Joker is sticking around, but I'm wary about getting too attached to the characters now that I know Bioware is totally cool with killing them off. Seriously, emotionally attached, guys. You're killin me here.

To wrap this up, Mass Effect 2 looks awesome. Gamestop even said it was the best RPG shown at E3. (Duh.)

Want more info on Mass Effect 2?

Mass Effect 2's official website
Bioware's twitter
Mass Effect 2's twitter
Gamestop's E3 Editor's Choice Awards
Casey Hudson's post about ME2 "Just the Facts, Man"
Great video review of ME2's new trailer at IGN
Another great article about ME2 at E3