Are Used Games Harmful To the Game Industry?

(UPDATE: The article has been edited to take into account information on the XBO and PS4 revealed prior to and during E3.)

(UPDATE 2: The article has been edited to take into account news that Microsoft has rescinded their policy on second-hand XBO games.)

In my article “Do Video Games Cost Too Much?” I defended the video game industry’s current pricing practices, specifically the standard $60 price point for console games. I argued that the common complaints some gamers offer in regards to pricing practices — “Games cost more than ever,” “We’re getting less value for our dollar,” etc. — were false. But I did mention in that article that there are many legitimate complaints gamers have regarding the games industry, and in this article, I’ll be focusing on one of those, namely, used games and industry antagonism towards them. Continue reading

Review: “Halo 4″

“Well Enough Alone”

It has been over two years since Bungie’s final Halo title debuted, the reigns of the series having since been handed over to Microsoft’s 343 Industries. While Bungie’s next project “Destiny” is still a ways off, 343I has just released their first Halo title. Halo 4 is the much-anticipated direct sequel to 2007’s Halo 3, bringing us back to the story of Master Chief and Cortana after Bungie’s last two games took a detour by telling us the story of a squad of ODSTs during the beginning of the Battle of Earth and a retelling of the Fall of Reach from the perspective of a squad of Spartan-IIIs.

So, how goes 343I’s first attempt at making a Halo game? Are they worthy successors to Bungie’s legacy, or has the franchised suffered a blow because of Halo 4? Read on to find out.

A hero returns. But is his latest adventure up to snuff with the series in the hands of a new developer?

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“Do Games Cost Too Much?”: An Analysis of Modern & Historical Video Game Prices

UPDATE (November 2012): In response to complaints made about the recently-announced $300 price point of the Wii U, I have added an addendum to this article addressing console prices.

UPDATE (July 2013): The article has been revised to take into account the announced price points of the PS4 and Xbox One as well as statements from Sony and MS regarding the price of next-gen software. The console price charts have been updated to account for those new systems, but the software price charts have not as the differences would be meager.

(Note: All prices cited in the article are in U.S. dollars.)

If you read any online discussion about video gaming, you’ll see all sorts of arguments and complaints. Some are classic standbys, such as “Console vs. PC” or “Nintendo vs. PlayStation vs. Xbox” or the relative merits (or lack thereof) of the business practices of EA, Activision, Sony, Microsoft, etc. However, one thing that appears to unite a plurality if not outright majority of gamers (or at least those who post their opinions in online forums), the thing that draws their ire seemingly more than just about anything else, is the price of a video game. Many people believe the $60 price point is “too high” and some even believe games cost more now than ever. But are complaints about game prices valid? Do games cost too much? Do they cost more now than they did in the past? The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that the answer to these questions is a resounding “No.”

Now, it is true that $60 is a lot of money to be throwing around. Money that could be spent on a lot of other things like food, gasoline, and other necessities, or other forms of entertainment. Forking out sixty bucks is a serious investment, and if we find we don’t like the game, then we’ve essentially lost out on most of that money (you probably won’t get all that back selling it off to someone else). The fact that a lot of people were hit hard by — and many of them still feeling the effects of — the recession of the late 00s certainly doesn’t help the public perception of the $60 price point. But I contend that complaints about game prices are overblown and based on false assumptions. Personal issues regarding said industry, such as resentment due to being burned by a bad purchase and/or general mistrust/dislike of big business (i.e., the “corporations are bad” mindset) may be a factor influencing people’s opinions as well. For example, many people claim that game companies are engaging in “price gouging.” This sometimes gets ridiculous to the point of unintentional parody. Case in point: Some guy on Yahoo who was complaining about game prices described game companies as, and I quote, “video game robber barons” whose “drive for profit is wrecking the industry.”

Let’s examine first the claim that game prices are at an all-time high. The gamers who are complaining that games are more expensive than ever have a serious lack of historical perspective, and if I had to guess, many if not most of them are either too young to know better or they simply haven’t been gamers for very long. It’s also possible they’re just being hyperbolic, something many gamers are prone to do (e.g., when an 8/10 rating is decried as “terrible” when in fact that’s actually a very good rating).

As it turns out, though, $60 is hardly an unusual price point for a new console game (nor do all new games today cost sixty bucks; $50 is the standard for Wii titles, and even some new 360 and PS3 titles can go for that as well), and you can go back 20 years and find games that cost just as much if not more. For example, see this chart I made showing prices of select console games of note going all the way back to the second generation (I’m leaving out the Neo Geo for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who knows of the system):

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Review: “Halo Reach”

“One final effort is all that remains…”

This is it. The last Bungie-made Halo game. After five titles and more than a decade of working on the franchise, Bungie is now passing the torch to 343 Industries and moving on to a new IP. So, how does their grand farewell to the series compare to past Halo games? Is Reach everything I have hoped for in a Halo game? Read on to find out.

A world falls. An era ends.

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Review: “Halo 3: ODST”

“Feet First Into Hell”

(SPOILER ALERT: If you’re one of the few who still hasn’t played the game but wants to, you might not want to read this review right now. It contains spoilers for the Campaign.)

Halo 3: ODST, the latest entry in the Halo series, landed on store shelves about two months ago. Now that I’ve logged in a good amount of time playing the game, I feel I’m familiar enough with it to offer my opinions on how it stands on its own as well as against its predecessors. This review will be rather short compared to my review of Halo 3 (about one-fifth the number of words) due to the large number of similarities between the two; it will focus primarily on the things that changed from Halo 3 to ODST, as well as things specific to ODST (story & Campaign, etc.).

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Building the Ultimate Halo Game

UPDATE (Spring 2012): After first publishing it in April 2009, I decided to go back and revisit this article and update it to take in to account the releases of Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach and all they brought to the table in terms of gameplay. The revision also fixes some formatting issues present in the original version and, due to the size of the article, splits the article into several properly-indexed pages for easier navigation and readability.

UPDATE (Summer 2013): The article has been revised to take into account changes in and features introduced by Halo 4 as well as the unveiling of the Xbox One, and to add some other minor revisions. Unless inspiration hits me in regards to writing a story or creating more level designs, this will likely be the last major update to this article, barring Halo 5 doing something really awesome when it comes out in 2014. Minor updates may be added to take into account other future developments that render portions of this article obsolete.

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INTRODUCTION

For me, the Halo series has always stood out from the countless other FPSs out there. The enemy units and the environments you fought them in were inventive and varied. The graphics and art design were wonderful. The sound was great, with the music being some of the greatest to ever grace a video game. The storytelling (at least that in the first two games and in the expanded universe novels) was outstanding as well, with the Haloverse being one of the most well-developed fictional settings in all of video gaming. Also, Bungie set the standard for the FPS genre, with Halo’s blueprint being the template for most modern shooters and the game’s success contributing a major change in the industry. While console FPSs started to emerge during the late 90s on the Nintendo 64 with exclusive titles like GoldenEye (the first successful console FPS), Perfect Dark, and Turok as well as various ports & remakes of PC shooters (e.g., Doom 64, Quake), the genre was still primarily a PC-dominated one throughout the 90s, with the biggest names in the genre including Doom, Quake, Unreal, Duke Nukem, Hexen, and Half-Life. While GoldenEye showed that an FPS could be done on a console, it was Halo that really proved what console FPSs were capable of, and from that point, the genre began to rapidly shift to a console-dominated one. Ever since the seventh console generation began in 2005, shooters were more likely to be designed first and foremost as console titles than as PC titles (the last notable PC-exclusive FPS was 2007’s Crysis), and many are exclusive to consoles.

Of course, Halo earned its distinction as the defining console FPS by being a very well-crafted title. The original game had superb gameplay that set the bar for console FPSs, and it was incredibly fun as well as innovative. The basic controls were excellent and intuitive, with the Xbox gamepad showing how well-suited it was for console FPSs, as opposed to the N64 controller, which while adequate was more limited and often awkward to use for shooters. Halo either introduced or popularized (often by virtue of being the first title to do them right) many mechanics that are now genre standards. One of the most notable examples is the so-called “Golden Tripod.” Being able to melee opponents or throw grenades without having to cycle through your inventory and formally equip a melee weapon (fists, chainsaw, or whatever) or grenades was something I had yet to experience in an FPS. Halo also had the first truly effective integration of vehicular combat in the genre, whereas in previous shooters I played you either didn’t have vehicles, or they were poorly implemented and tacked-on affairs. Both the Campaign and multiplayer stage designs were incredible and included a good mix of massive outdoors environments in addition to the smaller indoors arenas. The AI (at least that of the enemies) was often rather clever, especially compared to what had come before, and it has held up rather well over the past decade. Finally, you could only carry two weapons at a time instead of an entire arsenal, something that was as far as I know a first in the genre. The two-gun limit was interesting in that it forced you to make tough tactical decisions on the fly (“Do I go pistol and rockets, or shotgun and sniper, or maybe something else?”). The weapons themselves were generally well designed and useful, and included genre standards such as an assault rifle and shotgun as well as unique and interesting alien weapons such as the Needler. All told, Halo was the most revolutionary FPS since Doom was released in 1993, and many of the things we take for granted today in FPSs we have Halo to thank for. It really was “Combat Evolved.”

However, the series has had its ups and downs, with each entry having its own strengths and weaknesses. For example, I feel that the sequels weren’t quite as good in terms of gameplay despite having the same solid controls as well as the high-quality visuals, sound, and music that Bungie is known for, not to mention a couple of interesting new gameplay mechanics. Numerous changes and additions detracted from the gameplay and made for a less enjoyable and sometimes very frustrating experience, though in other ways the sequels surpassed the original. I have written extensive criticisms of the sequels elsewhere, so refer to those for in-depth details (there will be some commentary here as well, however). Of course, while the sequels didn’t quite measure up to the original, Combat Evolved was itself flawed in certain ways, and its follow-ups each had aspects that were the series’ strongest. Halo 1 was strongest on gameplay and had superb writing but its weakest aspect is its age, which results in it being both rough around the edges in certain parts and a comparatively bare-bones affair compared to later Halo titles (no XBL support, for example), though this isn’t exactly a fair comparison. Halo 2 had perhaps the strongest storytelling in the series (just edging out Halo 1), but it also had the weakest gameplay in the series, including being riddled with glitches, having the worst weapon set in the series, and being quite simply unfair on Legendary due to outright broken difficulty balancing. Halo 3 had a weak storyline but was very strong on extra features, introducing players to Forge and saved films. Halo 3 also improved on Halo 2’s gameplay, fixing many of the latter’s most glaring flaws, though it had its own flaws (the AI in Campaign certainly didn’t impress) and ultimately it still fell short of Halo 1’s gameplay. ODST had great gameplay and was an interesting change of pace from the typical Halo game, but it was too short. Reach had much better gameplay than Halo 2 & 3 (but not quite as good as Halo 1) and was even more feature-rich than Halo 3, but it had bad writing (namely retcons that conflicted with the novel The Fall of Reach and other parts of the expanded universe) and several nagging issues in the gameplay department. For example, there are difficulty balancing issues (though nothing quite as severe as Halo 2) and the new armor ability mechanic, while conceptually much better than Halo 3’s equipment, could have been implemented better. Finally, Halo 4 is… well, it’s a step in the wrong direction for the series, I can say that much.

While a combination of the best parts of the individual games in the series as well as a refinement of many game elements could benefit a future Halo game, it might not be enough to keep the Halo series on the cutting edge of shooters. Certain aspects of the series as a whole may have to be rethought entirely. If there are going to be other Halo FPSs in the future, perhaps it is time for combat to evolve once again. Continue reading

Review: “Halo 3″

“To war… *click*”

(SPOILER ALERT: If you’re one of the few who still hasn’t played Campaign but wants to, you might not want to read this review right now. It contains spoilers for the whole Campaign.)

Like a lot of Halo fans, I closely followed the development of Halo 3. I watched all the ViDocs. I listened to all the podcasts. I read the EGM articles. I watched G4TV’s E3 coverage just to see the Halo 3 Campaign trailer. And of course, I participated in the public beta. After all those months of waiting, September 25 finally arrived. I stood outside of GameStop that night to pick up my copy of Halo 3 (Legendary Edition, of course). Now that Halo 3 has been out for several months, I feel that I’ve gotten familiar enough with the game to offer my thoughts on it. This is rather late for a review, but I prefer not to do “first impressions” or anything like that, at least not with a game series like Halo which I’ve invested a lot of time and interest in. I like to get familiar with whatever I review. Plus I’ve been preoccupied with other projects.

So, how does Halo 3 stack up against the first two games? As many who are familiar with me or my writings know, I regard Halo 1 as one of my all-time favorite games, and one of the best FPSs ever made. As for Halo 2, while I enjoy it and consider its graphics, music, and story to be excellent, I regard it as inferior to the original due to such things as an excessively linear Campaign and a number of changes made to the gameplay, which I described in detail in my September 2006 article “My Thoughts on the Halo Series: An Open Letter to Bungie.” In that same article, I also talked about what changes and additions I think should have been made to Halo 3 to make it a better game than Halo 2. Did things turn out the way I would have liked? Not quite.

Halo 3 falls somewhere between the first two games in terms of how good it is. While it corrects many of Halo 2’s flaws and has overall better gameplay and also brings some great new stuff to the table, it has flaws of its own that keep me from regarding it as being of the same caliber as Combat Evolved. Of course, while I could just say “I like Halo 3 more than Halo 2 but not as much as Halo 1,” and leave it at that, it’s not like me to be so simple and concise in my writings. Like the rest of my articles, this review will go rather in-depth, so expect a long read. While it won’t be as long as my “Open Letter” article (it has about two-thirds the word count), it will have a similar layout, being divided into several sections each devoted to a particular aspect of the game (though some sections will have interconnecting material).


The Master Chief is back again to kick ass and take names. But does Halo 3 kick as much ass as he does? Read on to find out. (click image for full size)

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