Mass Effect 3′s ending, the “Indoctrination Theory” and something I call the “Franchise Imperative”

Anyone reading a gaming blog has probably noticed that a lot of Mass Effect fans are dissatisfied with Mass Effect 3′s ending.

I don’t know exactly what the developers had in mind in crafting the game’s finale, but I am 100 percent positive the ending is not meant to be taken literally. SPOILERS after the jump.

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If I got a chance to write a sequel to L.A. Noire …

The possibility that Rockstar games might – emphasis on might – develop a sequel to L.A. Noire is, to me, the most interesting story circulating on gaming websites today.

Despite some, uh, difficulties in developing a sequel based on the adventures of the original protagonist, LAPD detective Cole Phelps`I think there is plenty of room for a second game exploring the history of crime, corruption and law enforcement in Los Angeles. I know some players would rather see a sequel set in another city, like Chicago, and although I think Chicago would be a great setting for a game, I’m sticking with Los Angeles because I grew up near the City of Angels.

H/t to Kotaku, Joystiq.

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SOPA/PIPA Blackout Day

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Today is marked with a number of protests across the ‘net in opposition to two bills: SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) which is being considered in the House and PIPA (Protect IP Act) which is in the Senate. Over the last few months, there has been a groundswell of opposition from many notable tech giants such as Google and Facebook aided in no small part by a large number of independent individuals concerned over both.

I’m no lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, though the good news is that there is quite a bit of information out there talking points on why both of these are simply bad approaches to the same problem.

On the surface, both bills propose to do the same thing – fight copyright infringement, such as piracy. The problem is that the language in both is so broadly written creating a legitimate concern for potential abuse.

No one is arguing that protecting copyrights is a bad thing. What many are more concerned about is that both of these bills define their powers in such general terms that they can actually stifle open access to information through the collateral damage caused by censorship.

For example. Tech Out like many others has a number of articles focusing on games. If any of the rights holders decides that we’re infringing on their copyrights simply because we have a screenshot of one of their titles, sites like this could be blocked on the internet and starved of hits from search engines which will be required to scrub their results.

Or worse, the San Bernardino Sun’s website could be blocked simply because it hosts Tech Out. Wikipedia, for example, could be attacked in the same way over its entries on musical artists and film despite having so many other articles on different topics. The bills are attacking the same mosquito in a china shop with tanks.

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Granted, these are extreme examples, but they fall right under what SOPA and PIPA in their current forms will allow. The White House has also sounded off in its concerns over both bills, tacitly disapproving of their approach while not dismissing their intentions.

This debate has also demonstrated how technology has reshaped dialogue in today’s world by uniting so many groups in the fight ahead across the ‘net. Sites such as “Good Old Games” which specializes in selling classic PC titles has joined in the fight from overseas. Groups of individuals that might never have gotten to know each other have pitched in by gathering online to share their ideas on what to do to help educate and simply spread the word on why this matters to a worldwide audience.

It’s a series of small steps, but ones that have sparked plenty of new debate as politicans and individuals of every stripe have voiced their opposition to what both bills fail to effectively and convincingly address making it a fight against censorship that few can afford to lose.

Rant: Playing a video game doesn’t actually mean you’re a soldier

“Modern Warfare 3,”the latest edition of the “Call of Duty” series is in stores today.  That means a few things:

1. Activision, the game’s publisher, is going to make a lot of money.

2. People are going to argue on the Internet over whether the game is any good or not.

3. The game’s advertising campaign will tell potential buyers that “there’s a soldier in all of us,” which is absurd.

The third item – the commercial-  is the only one that I have a problem with. I think the way the advertisement pokes fun at the “noob’s” initial challenge in playing a competitive first-person shooter is actually kind of clever, but the silly tagline needs to go away.

Although I can understand why some people would be offended by the idea of a war-themed game, I don’t see anything inherently wrong with using a game to tell a story about war, which has been a fact of life throughout human history.

For example, I thought “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare,” (2007) generally did a good job of imagining what could happen in a modern conflict in the Middle East and Russia. Although the story was definitely told with Hollywood sensibilities, the concept of U.S. Marines and British commandos fighting against members of revolutionary movements in not-Saudi Arabia and Russia, seemed to be a reasonable reflection of the anxieties of our time.

But the game is still, as the saying goes, only entertainment. I have never served in the military nor reported from a war zone, but I nonetheless think Activision’s “there’s a soldier in all of us,” is ridiculous. The soldiers and Marines who have been to Iraq and Afghanistan, have chosen to do so knowing not only that the United States of America is at war, but that the wars have become decreasingly popular among the general public.

Combat troops also have to meet physical requirements, pass basic training and be strong enough to actually fight. All you need to do to play Call of Duty is pay $60 for a copy.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t play the game if they enjoy doing so. But if the advertising team for Madden claimed that playing that game somehow meant players are NFL-caliber athletes, every one would realize how ridiculous that statement would be.

Given that no one is likely to lose their lives or limbs playing Call of Duty, Activision needs to get a new tagline.

Grand Theft Auto 5 gets a huge logo

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Rockstar greeted everyone hitting their homepage today with a dramatic flourish by revealing a huge, Grand Theft Auto V logo and word that a trailer is coming on 11-2-11.

It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that we knew Rockstar was working on it in some capacity and hopefully the trailer will be more than just setting the logo and still shots of the game to music. But Rockstar has been relatively quiet in the last few years on GTA, so any news at this point will undoubtedly set the ‘net ablaze with speculation.

Whatever the case might be, I’m excited. Despite GTA IV’s flaws, it was a ton of fun, though I’m hoping that they add in more worthwhile rewards for collecting things. And an NPC relative who does more than ask to go out bowling.

Report: Goldeneye remake to charge for paintball mode

If one article can summarize everything that’s wrong about the modern state of gaming, this one from Giant Bomb should do the trick.

The website is reporting that paintball mode in Goldeneye: Reloaded will be exclusive DLC for people who buy the game at GameStop. Seriously.

As Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepek reports:

I realize moaning about a simple paintball variant is a weird thing
to get hung up on, but hell, paintball was one of my favorite modes from
GoldenEye 007
Unlocking paintball wasn’t easy, either; it required beating the Dam
stage on Secret Agent in two minutes and 40 seconds. This was a
satisfying achievement before Microsoft
attached scores to such things. My friend group would sit around the TV
for hours, playing each level over and over again, in hopes of shaving a
few seconds off our time.

We never did unlock Invincibility.

But when we finally unlocked paintball, we’d earned the right to play paintball–and damn
it felt good. So while anyone who picked up GoldenEye 007: Reloaded
through GameStop could optionally unlock the mode early, everyone else
would still have the ability to flip on paintball the old fashioned way:
earning it.

Maybe Activision, the company publishing the Goldeneye remake, will be gracious enough to let customers eventually pay for paintball mode, which was indeed a fan favorite. But the nickel-and-dime approach to DLC is one of the most annoying trends within gaming, since it’s getting harder and harder to escape the conclusion that players are being charged for incomplete products when they buy new games.

In this writer’s opinion, there’s nothing wrong with companies charging for substantial DLC, the kind that’s like an expansion pack gives real value for somebody who has already paid $60 for a retail game. Bethesda and Electronic Arts, for example, have done well in offering quality DLC for games like “Broken Steel” for “Fallout 3″ and “Lair of the Shadow Broker” for “Mass Effect 2.”

But DLC that doesn’t actually expand upon a player’s initial purchase is ridiculous. As much as I would praise Lair of the Shadow Broker, I have no interest in paying for Mass Effect 2′s alternate costumes. That’s the kind of thing that gamers used to unlock by actually playing the game, when paying for a new game once was considered to be enough.

Blacklisted faster than a speeding email

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There’s a lot of noise on Twitter over what has been going on with the PR over 2K Games’ release of Duke Nukem Forever.

I’ve played the game and it isn’t as bad as some of the reviews make it out to be, but apparently, the PR firm attached to promoting and sending copies of the game to reviewers has drummed up controversy over a tweet they had made as reported by several outlets such as MTV and Ars Technica. Thanks to the speed of information, scandals can go from zero to public in less than a mouse click.

In what now appears to be a burst of emotional outrage over the panning that DNF is receiving, the Redner Group implied that they would be “reviewing who gets games next time”. You can see the full tweet in the pic above, captured by Ars Technica since it was deleted from the Redner Group’s Twitter feed.

Shortly afterwards, 2K Games severed ties to the Redner Group in a public tweet of their own. It started to look as if the PR group had taken things into their own hands and that 2K’s damage control via blacklisting was the result. That is until Eurogamer’s Tom Bramwell tweeted that they had also been blacklisted by 2K, presumably over comments made in a previous podcast according to one of the moderators for their forums.

As messy as this is, it isn’t the first time PR in the gamespace has fun afoul in implying the need to control who and what reviewers should report back to their audiences. When Dark Energy’s Hydrophobia had come out last year and was the recipient of negativity flowing in tweets and reviews, their PR went on the warpath.

It’s one thing to promote your product, but quite another to begin cherry picking and blacklisting the journalists you want talking about your game. The whole idea of having someone independently review material is to give an honest assessment of its strengths and weaknesses based on their experience – without interference from who would have a vested interest in the game itself, like a developer…or someone paid to promote it.

I’d like to think that reviewers, on the whole, don’t go in expecting to rip apart a game based on hearsay. The good ones will always, for good or ill, tell it straight and give solid reasons why something is or isn’t worth anyone’s time. And it’s not all of PR that should be ashamed for the actions of only a few, though it might seem that way.

In the end, it’s keeping an unspoken level of trust in the system that keeps it working and when either side start picking favorites, the only ones to really lose out in the end are the gamers.

L.A. Noire Addendum: True Life Stories

L.A. Noire is one of the more interesting video games I have ever played not simply because I enjoyed most of what the game’s development team put into the title, but because it brought to mind so many memories – not all of them pleasant – of experiences I have had during my journalism career.

This is not a second review. It’s more of a self-indulgent column about some ideas that came to mind while playing L.A. Noire. Take it for whatever you think it’s worth.

Playing and writing about L.A. Noire led me to wonder how my time as a
news reporter may have made my experiences with the game different from
those of other reviewers whose careers are more firmly rooted in the
gaming and entertainment media.

I have never been a full-time crime reporter – let alone worked in
law enforcement – but I have had at least a glimpse of the
grimier side of California life over the course my newspaper years.

What follows are some stories to explain why I found L.A. Noire to be more affecting on a personal level than other games I highly admire, such as those within the Legend of Zelda, Fallout and Mass Effect series.
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PSN Returns

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It’s not a joke. It’s really happening. The official Playstation Blog writes that PSN was phased back into service inside the United States and Canada in the last several hours.

The official Playstation Twitter had even given a play-by-play on which regions were coming up first, apparently starting in the northeastern states and then jumping to California after that. An updating map was also provided and was colored in as PSN came back to life.

PSN will also prompt PS3s to update with newest firmware which was made available several hours prior to the network relaunch on the official site. If you didn’t download it from there, it will prompt you for the update when you try to get back on PSN. It will also prompt you to change your password, so be sure to think of something creative.

I’ll admit, I didn’t feel as affected as some that had gone as far as to trade in their PS3s for Xbox 360s. After updating my PS3 and changing my password, there wasn’t much fanfare after that. Granted, people will finally be able to blast each other in the face in online match ups now that it’s back, but with the Store still down, it’s still a mixed blessing for some that can’t redeem certain codes for DLC through it.

But for PSN’s team of engineers, I’m sure that it has been a long and stressful road to get to even this point. Despite the bad press and further threats against the network, they had pushed on. A lot of the new improvements that Sony promised will be transparent against the backdrop of Fatalities and co-op. There won’t be a virtual ticker tape parade here, other than in watching players sign back in. Yet for Sony and its team, that might be reward enough.

Tomb Raider Rebooting

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The Tomb Raider movies were alright. They weren’t “great”, but they were entertaining. Even though there were only two Tomb Raider movies, there have been a number of games to help carry on the legend of Lara Croft, give or take a dud or two. I’m still trying to forget that Angel of Darkness had ever happened. It was bad, but I’m not so sure it was to blame for the soft box office returns on her second film, Cradle of Life, which Paramount did. Cradle just wasn’t that great.

A safe eight years later, it looks like someone is thinking about bringing Lara back to the silver screen. According to Inside Movies, it seems that Graham King (producer of films such as The Departed and The Town) has snagged the rights through his company, GK Films, to do a reboot.

It also means that you can likely forget Angelina Jolie returning to the feature role, though I wouldn’t be surprised if she does a small cameo for her fans of the character. After seeing her in Salt, she still has the chops to beat anyone down.

King apparently intends for the heroine to return to the screen in 2013. As for what direction it will follow, that’s anyone’s guess. If the heroine is going to be anything like the new Lara Croft in her own upcoming video game reboot, you can probably expect her to be darker, grittier, and a lot less glamorous – which is fine by me.