The NES Classic and Economics

We anarchists and libertarians are bothered by a great many things, but one of the things that bothers us most–and that is almost universal among anarchists and libertarians–is the general economic ignorance that pervades the United States. We wouldn’t tolerate this ignorance in any other subject, but it serves the state’s purpose to keep us ignorant of economics (the manner by which we turn energy into product), so it’s a field that is touched only briefly–if at all–in high schools. The average American knows only that there’s a thing called “demand” and a thing called “supply,” and then their eyes tend to glaze over and words like “derivatives” and “inflationary tyreni index G7P 14.7” run through their minds.

So, first of all, forget all of that. Forget about GDP, forget about inflationary indexes, and forget about all the shenanigans that we have come to associate with “economics” now that we have given over control of the entire economy to a coalition of privately owned banks that operate with no Congressional oversight. All of that crap is fiction. They are obfuscations designed to confuse us and distract us. They are smokescreens designed to keep us disinterested in the subject, to make us feel ignorant and stupid, and to make us blindly trust in these experts who seem to know what they’re talking about. In reality, they’re just talking nonsense, like this guy:

I’m not kidding. That’s the average state economist. That’s the Fed Chairperson. That’s the Secretary of the Treasury. For the most part, they have just completely made this shit up and invented rules that don’t have anything to do with reality. It’s a game of Monopoly that they’ve invented and tricked us into playing, and they keep us playing by using complicated language and nonsense to convince us that we need them being the game’s referee.

Now, I am not talking about the fact that Nintendo has ceased producing the NES Classic. For those unaware, Nintendo recently released a mini-console for $60, which contained 30 classic NES games like Mega Man 2, Castlevania, The Legend of Zelda, and others–even some stupid ones like Balloon Fight that nobody wants. Naturally, the thing sold very well, but Nintendo notoriously has problems with supply and did the same thing with their Amiibos (which are little toys that interact with some of their games). Nintendo repeatedly failed to manufacture enough Amiibos to meet demand, which led to accusations that they were doing it on purpose (in fact, one can conclude nothing else, since they publicly addressed the problem and then did nothing to fix it).

This obviously created scalpers, and scalpers are getting a lot of criticism. Some enterprising individual pops into Wal-Mart, buys an NES Classic for $60, and then posts it on eBay for $100 (or whatever price), pocketing the profit. This is actually a good thing, economically, but it’s a band-aid to the situation. Realistically, Nintendo should be the ones directly increasing the price of the NES Classic, instead of continuing to sell them for $60. In fact, thanks to the scalpers, there is no shortage. Calling this a shortage is economically ignorant and incorrect.

A shortage is when consumers are unable to buy an item.

And there you go. What we have with the NES Classic clearly isn’t a shortage. In economic terms, a shortage exists when Demand exceeds Supply–when more people want to buy a thing, and there aren’t enough of those things to go around. In fact, scalpers have ensured that there isn’t a shortage. Rather than condemning them, we should be thanking them.

The people complaining about a “shortage” don’t really mean that they are unable to buy the item, do they? Clearly, they don’t. What they mean is “I’m not willing to pay that much for one.” This is a critical element of economic understanding: price is not some arbitrary thing. Prices are supposed to increase like this, as the increase in price offsets Demand. Again, this is obvious. Many people were willing to pay $60 for an NES Classic. Fewer people are willing to pay $110 for an NES Classic.

This means that, quite literally, supply exceeds demand, not the other way around. In reality, what we have is a surplus, not a shortage. A shortage exists when demand exceeds supply; a surplus exists when supply exceeds demand. Thanks to the increased price, the supply persists today, and the demand has been lowered.

There is a character in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time who sells Magic Beans to the player, and each purchase increased the cost by 10 rupees. The first costs 10 rupees, the second costs 20 rupees, the third costs 30 rupees, and so on. An increase in price because of high demand is a normal, expected, and beneficial part of economics, as it ensures that we never experience a shortage.

During the 1980s, the United States saw pretty severe gas shortages. Gas stations attempted to raise the price as the supply of gas decreased, but the Federal Government put a Price Ceiling on it and forbade them increasing the price beyond that. So, naturally, everyone immediately set their price at the ceiling (even if they weren’t yet that low on supply). As the cost of something increases, people’s willingness to do it or acquire it decreases, which drives them to seek alternatives. Few people would have been willing to pay $100 for a gallon of gasoline, and so they might have taken that money and bought bicycles instead. Is it ideal? No, the ideal solution is to also increase Supply to re-lower the price, which will be necessary because some people have already chosen to go without because of the increased price. “No, we’re not going to go to grandma’s house this week, not for $20 per gallon. We’ll just not buy the gas at all.”

In the real world, some money is better than no money, and this is why producers can be counted upon to increase supply to meet the demand. Otherwise, they’re just leaving money on the table, and that money will go to someone else. This all has to do with diminishing returns, as well–at a certain point, because all goods are scare and finite, the cost of furnishing the supply gets too high, so the price of the good increases beyond the demand, and producers have to come up with alternative solutions for consumers. This is why we don’t have to actually worry about running out of gasoline: once we get up to $17 a gallon, so many alternatives will be cheaper that gasoline will be phased out all by itself.

While it’s certainly bad to have gasoline at $100 per gallon, especially during the 80s, it’s preferable to not having gasoline available at all. If some family had to take their sick child to the emergency room, it’s infinitely better for them to be able to buy gasoline at $100 a gallon than to not be able to buy it. High prices are always preferred to shortages. Those people out there who really, really want an NES Classic can buy one, which is obviously better than their being totally unable to buy one.

Scalpers have performed the critical service of increasing the Price of the good, which in turn lowered Demand so that Supply exceeded it. I was just talking with someone at Jim Sterling’s website about it, and I’d pointed out that marking the item as “Limited Edition” would have made the “shortage” worse. This was before I’d thought about the situation enough to realize that there isn’t a shortage. Sure, one can’t buy one at Target or Wal-Mart, but one can buy one, and that is unequivocally not the case in a shortage.

The only real point of contention is that the thing costs more than they’re willing to pay. Hey, that’s not a problem. There’s a “shortage” of $10 ones, too, and $10 is my price point for one. Every single person out there has their own price point–has their own amount that they’d be willing to pay. Evidently, for most people that number is around $60. For some people, it’s around $120. For me, it’s around $10. The fact that there aren’t any available at my price point doesn’t mean there is a shortage, though. It means that I don’t want one of the things as much as other people do*. These people who want to buy one for $60 are talking about “shortages,” but there isn’t a shortage–their price point simply isn’t as high as other people, and because of the low supply the price of the good has increased beyond the price point as determined by their personal demand.

So scalpers are good. They have performed the critical function of providing the NES Classic to the diehard fans who want them most, and we can say that pretty definitively, as one’s personal price point is determined almost entirely by one’s own demand. It follows that people willing to pay $110 obviously want one more than someone who is only willing to pay $60 for one. This means objectively and measurably that the scalpers have ensured that people who wanted the NES Classic most were able to acquire one.

It becomes little more than a whine when looked at economically. “I wanted one, but he got it because he wanted it more than I did! It’s not fair! Fucking scalpers!”

But, again, all the scalpers have done is ensure that people who are bigger fans of Nintendo and NES games were able to acquire an NES Classic, while people who weren’t as big fans and didn’t want one as badly as those other people weren’t able to, because they weren’t willing to fork over that much cash for one. I can’t even pretend to think it’s a bad thing that people who are bigger fans of Nintendo are able to purchase a Nintendo product that they want, as opposed to people who aren’t as big of fans being able to acquire the product. Clearly, it doesn’t matter as much to them, and the role of currency is precisely to allow us to measure value. That’s literally what currency does. The USD is a unit of measurement for value, and we use it to gauge how much a person wants something. If Person A wants a thing more than Person B, then Person A will be willing to pay more. If Person B can’t get it because he’s not willing to pay as much as, or more, than Person A, then the good should go to Person A, because Person A measurably wants it more.

I try not to tweet much at Jim Sterling, but I think I’m going to tweet this one at him, because he’s been pretty hard on scalpers in the past, and I don’t think that’s fair. Looked at economically, all they do is separate the Diehard Fans from the Casual Fans and ensure that the Diehard Fans are able to acquire the things that they are Diehard Fans of. I agree that this sucks for the Casual Fans, but that’s a problem of Supply, not the scalpers. It’s Nintendo’s fault that someone went without an NES Classic. The scalpers only ensured that it was the Casual Fans who went without, and that the Diehard fans didn’t have to.

I think that’s a good thing. I think that if Person A is a bigger fan of This Thing than Person B and is willing to pay more for it than Person B, then Person A should be the one who gets it.

* Actually, I don’t think I’d even pay that. To be completely honest, I don’t think I’d want one if it was free.

Skyrim Special Edition Review: Shallow & Pedantic

What can be said about The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim that hasn’t already been said? Probably not a whole lot, but bear with me, because I’m going to try to give my perspective anyway. Much of this review naturally applies to the non-special edition, or, if you prefer:

  • Skyrim: The Mundane Edition
  • Skyrim: The Unfinished Edition
  • Skyrim: The “We Could Have Done Better” Edition
  • Skyrim: The Fuck You Edition
  • Skyrim: The Purchased Piecemeal Edition

One has to marvel at the audacity of re-releasing Skyrim in Fallout 4‘s graphical engine as a new product, but here I have to give Bethesda credit that they wholly deserve: the Special Edition of Skyrim is (was?) available for free to everyone who owned the PC version and all its DLC. What can I say? Bethesda knows where its customers are, and this is no small thing. I was a bit irritated when I learned that Skyrim was going to be re-released in Fallout 4‘s enhanced engine, and was supremely and pleasantly surprised to learn that it was going to be available at no cost to anyone who owned the original game and its three pieces of DLC. That’s shocking.

Kudos, Bethesda. In an age where publishers and developers are cutting their games into bits and pieces to squeeze every penny out of customers that they can, your actions stand in stark contrast, and I can’t praise you enough for this decision.

Now, all of that said, my review of the Special Edition is actually going to be pretty brief.

Skyrim: Special Edition

Why would anyone in their right mind go back to unmodded Skyrim? Maybe this is less of an issue with console players, but I can’t imagine any circumstances wherein I would choose to go back to playing Skyrim without the nine million mods that I’m accustomed to. It’s here that the Special Edition falls flat, and will continue to fall flat. The people who made the Skyrim Script Extender have stated they have no intention of releasing one for Special Edition, which severely limits what mods can do.

Additionally, the makers of SkyUI have stated they have no intention of porting their mod to the Special Edition, and all of this is certainly understandable. These people made these things for fun and as personal challenges to themselves. They’ve been there, and they’ve done that. They’ve climbed Everest and see no reason that they should climb it again. While they are willing to allow others to port their mods to Special Edition, it is looking increasingly unlikely that anyone is going to step forward to do it, and I can’t say that I blame them–not when Skyrim is as old as it is. That’s a lot of work to be doing on a game that is very old and not particularly exciting these days.

Without the SKSE, SkyUI can’t function. Without SkyUI, the Mods Configuration Menu can’t function. Without that, things like Warzones, Simple Multiple Followers, Companion Overhaul, Relationship Dialogue Overhaul, and many others either can’t function or can’t be easily changed. Moreover, I have to question Bethesda’s decision to make the mod menu much more like Civilization V‘s, in that it seems to happen primarily from the menus within game instead of externally. Maybe it’s because I’m a PC player, but I prefer to be in charge of the mod installation process. While I’m sure this is still possible, as it was for Civilization V even with its built-in mod browser and installer, it’s a questionable decision nonetheless to include this console feature on PC. It may be elitist, but if you can’t figure out how to Google and learn to install mods for Skyrim, then you probably shouldn’t be playing the game on PC anyway.

Take a good look at that image. It’s at the very beginning of the game, when Ulfric and Rolaf are about to be executed. This is the scene that is presented to the player. This is it. This is Skyrim: Special Edition. There’s a fucking horse’s schnoz taking up half the screen. And, needless to say, this is unmodded. This is the sort of slap-dash thing that can be expected from Special Edition–things added and implemented without much forethought or testing put into them. This image sums up better than anything I could say the entire Skyrim: Special Edition.

Back to Skyrim: Mundane Edition

So because anyone who has played Skyrim on PC before likely finds the idea of playing the game unmodded about as appealing as a root canal, and perhaps just as painful, I found myself almost instantly returning to what I’m going to continue calling Skyrim: The Mundane Edition. Why not? It’s not the Special Edition. What’s the opposite of special? Mundane. It’s a tacit admission from Bethesda that they released a mundane version of the game, isn’t it? Just like the Komplete Edition of Mortal Kombat 9 is an admission that they initially released an inKomplete version.

So let’s tear into the game.

Graphics

Unmodded, Skyrim is pretty. Modded, it can be among the most breathtaking games anyone has ever played. 4k retextures are common, and one of my all-time favorite mods adjusts the lighting so that it’s absolutely necessary to wander dungeons with a torch or the Candlelight spell. The mod I’m using for Serana makes her one of the most beautiful people in any video game ever.

Not to mention that I use a mod that causes snow to accumulate on clothes and bodies–because it only makes sense–and a mod that causes us to leave footprints in the snow.

There’s Serana in her Forsworn Armor–because what else would that gorgeous woman wear?–acting rather more naturally than companions do in the base game. I’m also using a mod that replaced PC skeletons so that females run and walk more like females. I even downloaded and installed a mod that served no purpose other than to put pigeons in Whiterun. I also use a mod that allowed me to marry Serana, because she’s probably the best crafted NPC that Bethesda ever made. Who wouldn’t want to marry Serana?

To be clear, neither I nor Serana continue to wear Forsworn Armor. Instead, I’ve used a mod that makes female armor a tad more revealing–Chainmail Bikini in full effect. My only gripe with it is that, as the Dragon Age: Origins mod that I use did, it went way too far. I think the Forsworn Armor should be used as a guideline as the most revealing piece of armor in the game. Instead, these mods take it and run with it, making the Forsworn Armor look positively conservative. I like half-naked women, I will not lie, but something has to be left to the imagination.

All that said, between the plethora of mods available and the naturally good graphics–although they weren’t really that much better than those of Gothic 3, which released long before Skyrim did–the graphics in Skyrim aren’t just great: they’re whatever the player wants them to be.

Aural Experiences

The default sounds of Skyrim, like the graphics, are good. It’s easy to get pumped up by some of the music and find yourself charging headfirst into a dragon, only to be bitten in half like the guards who once adventured until they took an arrow in the knee stopped adventuring. However, mods again come to the rescue and turn the Skyrim: Mundane Edition into the Skyrim: WHAT IS THIS EVEN HAS ANYONE EVER BEEN SO FAR AS DECIDED TO EVEN GO LOOK MORE LIKE Edition.

From sounds in the wilderness to lightning strikes during storms, wild animals, and ambient creepy noises in dungeons, mods take the ordinary Skyrim experience and turn it into something that borders on marvelous. In fact, Skyrim: Mundane Edition comes off more like a community-made game by the end of it, with Bethesda doing little more than providing the framework for everyone to add their own things to it. Sure, Skyrim: Special Edition has a better base to work with–in theory, at least–but the best have already moved on. I can’t belabor that point enough. There will never be a SkyUI for Special Edition. It’s not “in the works.” It’s not “check back in a few months.” It’s not happening.

All in all, Skyrim: Mundane Edition does a fantastic job of communicating information to the player. This is the job of graphics and sound, after all, and everything from distance detail to surrounding enemies to atmosphere are conveyed adequately and expertly. There’s not much to complain about. Everything else, however, takes a sharp plummet into shoddy territory.

Gameplay A: Quests

I hate Quest Systems. They were invented by MMOs in order to give the player something to do while minimizing the effects of the player’s actions. That’s what they were designed to do, and that’s what they do. The advantage is that the player can do a task for someone and be rewarded; thus, the player will feel as though they have achieved something. Additionally, the limited nature of the quest means that the only thing that changes is that NPC’s dialogue. It’s easy to see why MMOs need this: we can’t have players in MMOs all actually being the Chosen One and saving the world, after all. If players could impact any sort of meaningful change to the world, then the server would be horrifically unstable as it tried to figure out which of two players actually did something, and tried to adjust the world accordingly. Besides, if the game world changed, then those ten kobolds that Player A killed would mean that Player B would never be able to do that quest.

Blizzard has attempted to solve this problem with phasing, a point I bring up only to highlight that it is a problem with the Quest System. Players never see the impact they are having on the world. No matter what they do, those kobolds will respawn. The player is incapable of having any meaningful effect on the world, and the Quest System is the reason why. In MMOs, this is both important and critical. That single-player RPGs have borrowed it is nothing short of lazy and tedious.

If I took it upon myself to clear out every Bandit keep in the game, it wouldn’t matter. Skyrim would never react to my having done so. No NPC would ever remark that there don’t seem to be many bandits running around these days. Not only will bandits respawn–another feature typical of MMOs–but some of the keeps can’t be permanently cleared. There is an infinite number of quests in Skyrim, in fact–questing for a Jarl in a hold will ensure that a dragon or group of bandits is always respawning, and that the player can never actually do anything to change the world.

*Spoiler Warning: Dark Brotherhood*

Skyrim takes this and runs with it, becoming the most shallow game I’ve ever played. After going through the Dark Brotherhood questline and killing the Emperor, nothing happened. And I mean: nothing happened. The Emperor died, but that was it–it was no different from killing any other NPC in the game. While fighting the Civil War with the Stormcloaks, I, the mighty Dragonborn, killed the freaking Emperor! Talk about an instant victory in the civil war, right? No. Nothing happened. I don’t think that it was even mentioned when we wrapped up the civil war. It was like I hadn’t even done it. A few NPCs remarked from time to time about the Emperor’s death, but contrast it to the Emperor’s death in Final Fantasy VI to see what I mean. That had consequences–huge, incalculable consequences. The game world changes in Final Fantasy VI rather drastically as a result of Emperor Gestahl’s death. In Skyrim, nothing changes as a result of the Emperor’s death.

*End Dark Brotherhood Spoiler*

Nowhere is the shallow nature of Skyrim more evident than with marriage, another reason that I choose to marry Serana: by the end of the Dawnguard questline, she and I have forged a genuine bond. We’ve stood together and fought together, and even the most jaded of players will probably have to admit that there is genuine chemistry and emotion between Serana and the Dragonborn. Yet canonically Serana can’t be married; it takes a mod to fix that ridiculousness.

Generally, marriage in Skyrim works like this. You do a quest for someone, and then you go the Temple of Mara in Riften and tell the dude there that you want to get married. He sells you an amulet. You wear the amulet and talk to the person for whom you did the quest, and this gives you the dialogue option to propose to them, regardless of their sex or your sex, because everyone is bisexual–which I’ve talked about before. They say “Yes” and you’re married the next day. That’s it.

The official guide lampshades this by saying that, because of how dangerous life is in Skyrim, people tend to live for the moment and are eager to get married and have a partner. The Hearthfire addon adds the ability to adopt children–but one can’t actually have children, presumably because getting pregnant and spending 9 months with an avatar that is gradually growing larger was too much depth for Bethesda, even though even The Sims has managed to do it without much complication… And that could really add an interesting dynamic, especially if the Dragonborn is the one pregnant, since the Housecarl and allies would then be critical in protecting the Dragonborn while she was seven months pregnant. So many possibilities.

Adoption is also shallow–awkwardly and embarrassingly so. If players see a child they want to adopt, and the child is eligible, the dialogue goes like this:

Dragonborn: “How would you like to be adopted?”

Child: “That would be great!”

Dragonborn: “Well come along, daughter/son.”

Child: “Yay, momma/daddy!”

That’s seriously it. The hamfisted way that the Dragonborn says “son/daughter” toward the end of the dialogue is so awkward that I’m genuinely embarrassed for whatever poor sap wrote it. Not only is it painfully expositional–and stupidly so, since we literally just adopted the kid and probably haven’t forgotten that already–but it happens way too quickly.

That’s Skyrim‘s modus operandi, though. Speed, speed, speed! No time for development! It was jarring to join the Companions the first time and find myself as the leader of their order less than one in-game week later, after doing only three or four quests for them. I hadn’t even met some of them, yet this random person out of nowhere was suddenly their leader. The Dark Brotherhood, Thieves’ Guild, Mages’ College, and everything else follows that same pattern. There’s no time to form a genuine relationship with any of the characters or organizations; before the player knows it, they’ll be totally in charge of that organization.

It’s why the Dawnguard expansion stands out so much. Being devoted almost completely to one single questline, it’s able to show off what Skyrim could have been, if Bethesda had opted for quality instead of quantity. The gameworld does change as a result of what the player does in Dawnguard–the vampire scourge that annoyingly harasses the player after nearly every fast travel comes to an end, for one. Serana’s mother returns home, and they have some semblance of a happy family again. It’s not much, but it doesn’t have to go full World of Balance / World of Ruin for the player’s actions to actually have an impact on the world.

Another good example is the main quest, which I must confess I’ve never bothered to complete. Because of the player’s actions–but only because the game is player-driven, really…–dragons begin appearing all over the place. By moving forward with the quest, the player changes the world by unleashing all those dragons.

*Spoiler Alert: Civil War*

And then the Civil War questline totally drops the ball. By far, the most disappointing part happens directly after the Battle of Whiterun–which has its own problems. After taking and defeating the center of the entire region of Skyrim, the player is told to just kinda “do their own thing.” What the hell sort of military is this? There was so much potential here to take on a sort of simplistic Civilization or Age of Empires type of thing, where the player directed military forces here and there to hold off the Empire’s counter attacks and to gain territory.

I’m almost positive there is a mod that does this, by the way, but Bethesda should have implemented it. Having to choose between dispatching a unit to protect supply lines or risk that unit flanking the enemy and cutting off the Empire’s support… None of this would have been hard to do. Instead, the player is relegated to some sort of solo strike force, attacks a few holds, and then that’s it. Skyrim gains its independence, Ulfric is appointed High King, and… that’s it. Nothing changes.

* End Civil War Spoiler*

A mod can’t fix what is fundamentally broken, and Bethesda’s zeal for quantity over quality is Skyrim’s biggest problem. Now that I’ve completed Dawnguard and Dragonborn, I find myself not really having anything to do. Oh, there are plenty of quests that I could do–hundreds, perhaps even thousands. But they’re all functionally identical. They’re MMO quests. Kill these people, collect this thing, collect ten of these, go explore this place, deliver this message…

It’s true that a few of them are sequential chests, but these, too, are shallow and ultimately meaningless. “Ooh, I found Meridia’s Beacon and need to deliver it to a temple… Holy shit! She’s a daedra! Oh. She wants me to clear out the undead in her temple. Yeah, that’s new. I’ve only done that nineteen times since Bleakfall Burrows… Oh, look, druagr. Those are new. Neat. A legendary weapon that I don’t need because I can craft better stuff. And that’s the end of the quest. Hooray.”

This is 99% of Skyrim, these meaningless, trite quests that are identical to every other meaningless and trite quest in the game. The worst offender is the Thieves’ Guild quest, which ends with the forced option to sell one’s soul to the daedra Nocturnal to join the Nightingales. Let me reiterate: this role-playing game doesn’t provide the player the option to refuse to sell their soul and take their chances fighting someone. This is indicative of Skyrim as a whole: the only choice is to do a quest or not to do a quest. Quests happen exactly as Bethesda wanted, or they simply don’t get done. That’s disgusting for a role-playing game.

Gameplay B: Emergent Gameplay

Aside from my various adventures with Serana, one of the most memorable experiences for me was when Lydia and I stumbled across a keep of bandits. This was before I was using a mod to give my followers a mount–honestly, how did Bethesda not include that in the core game? We wandered into the keep mostly by accident. Archers killed my horse. I turned to flee, knowing that we were outnumbered and outmaneuvered, and I looked just in time to watch Lydia fall to the ground, dying. I rushed to her with Healing Hands equipped, but I wasn’t fast enough. An arrow pierced her heart, and my weak healing magic was no match for the steel-tipped projectile.

I was furious. I took my Werewolf form, and I went on a roaring rampage of revenge. I killed everyone in that keep, and then I ate them for good measure. I stormed through that keep like a maniac, ignoring the arrows they were firing at me, and slashing wildly. I smacked them into walls, tore them limb from limb, and then devoured their hearts. I exacted my vengeance decisively, and when it was over I was left with a sort of empty feeling, knowing that Lydia and my horse were still gone, and were never coming back.

Revenge had felt good, but it offered no long-term satisfaction.

But the memory has always stuck with me. I felt Lydia’s death and wanted vengeance much more powerfully than I had when Sephiroth dropped in from above and killed Aerith. I think this was because Aerith had to die–Lydia didn’t. Lydia’s death wasn’t the plot’s fault; it was my fault. I was the one who brought us to that part of the woods, not the story. I was the one who chose to take on the bandits instead of fleeing the moment I realized we were attacking a defended fort. Lydia, who had been with me through many adventures, right by my side and tanking for me while I threw spells and fired arrows from a distance, was dead.

Because of me.

She died doing her duty to her thane.

That sort of thing can’t be scripted, and stories like that aren’t uncommon when people discuss Skyrim. The only gripe I have is that the Quest System puts too much script into the game, and those scripts get in the way of emergent gameplay. This is also something that developers are aware of–it’s why Notch has explicitly refused to put any sort of quests into Minecraft, which, of course, is a game that thrives solely on emergent gameplay.

For reasons surely psychological in nature, if you give players a checklist of things to do, they don’t wander off that checklist. Consider The Legend of Zelda versus The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. How many players spent any serious amount of time exploring dig caverns and side passages in Twilight Princess? If you give a player a list of things to do, then they’ll simply do the things on that list. They’ll hesitate to go into a new, unexplored area before the game gives them an item on that list to go there, because in the back of their mind, they’ll know that somewhere in the game is a person who will add that item to their checklist, and so there’s no point in exploring it now–they’ll just wait until someone tells the player to go explore it.

People like to say about Skyrim that you can just pick a direction and go explore it, and eventually you’ll find a cave or some dungeon or something. That’s true, but how many people have actually done that? And how many players actually do it routinely? I’d wager that fewer than 10% of players have “picked a direction and started walking” and that fewer than 1% of that 10% actually do it regularly. Why go and explore Cave A when you have a quest to go and explore Cave B? Why go and explore a cave of your own volition when you can talk to a few people in a town and get a quest to go explore a particular cave?

So what’s the grand result of all this? Skyrim: Mundane Edition is a great game, but it has some serious flaws with the gameplay–without even getting into how broken and unbalanced it is. Destruction magic is a joke, even with mods that make it better, and I’d venture the guess that everyone ends up playing a sneaking archer by the end of it. Meanwhile, Skyrim: Special Edition brings with it a host of new flaws and carries one major caveat that makes it look pale when compared to Mundane Edition: a lack of mods.

Skyrim: Mundane Edition – 3.5 stars

Skyrim: Special Edition – 2 stars

Switching Zelda Up

I love Zelda. But you probably know that already, and, if you have followed me for a while, then you also know that I’m exhausted and exasperated by the Zelda series and Nintendo’s lamentable tendency to just keep re-releasing Ocarina of Time with modified dungeons and a different title. I very badly want to play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but I simply can’t right now, because I don’t currently own a Wii U, and there is no chance whatsoever that I’m about to go out and buy a Nintendo Switch.

Do You Got the Power?

Nintendo Power used to be an institution of gaming. I don’t know anyone who didn’t have a friend or family member, or themselves, subscribed to the magazine, and for good reason: Nintendo was the gaming company. It’s not hard to navigate to a certain bay of pirates and find the first fifty issues of Nintendo Power and browse them, and I’d highly recommend everyone do it. Something will immediately strike you, though, as you piece together why Nintendo shut down the magazine.

Each issue was filled to the brim with previews and reviews, of course. At one point, Nintendo was running a Top  30 NES games section, and even though most of the top ten were games made by Nintendo, they had more than enough games to on the system to fill a Top 500. In fact, at the end of its life, more than seven hundred titles had been released on the Nintendo Entertainment System, from developers like Capcom, Bethesda, Konami, and others.

The Super Nintendo reached similar acclaim and had more than 700 titles at the end of its life, but then things went awry. Fewer than three hundred titles were released for the Nintendo 64, and a shockingly large chunk of them were first or second party titles. The Gamecube, with more than six hundred titles, at first seems successful–compared to its predecessors, it certainly was. However, this is when gaming really broke into the mainstream, and a whopping 1,850 games landed on its competition, the Sony PlayStation 2. Compared to its competitors, the GameCube was found wanting.

Things only got worse from there, with the Nintendo Wii having a mere 317 exclusive titles. If there’s any reason to continue, the Wii U saw fewer than 300. And, just as was the case with the Wii, the bulk of the Wii U’s library was total bullshit. The GameCube, Wii, and Wii U left no doubt whatsoever that, while Nintendo themselves still made excellent first party games, there simply was not enough third party support to justify purchasing the console. No gamer owned just a Wii, or just a Wii U. Everyone who owned one also owned one of the other two consoles, or a PC.

None of the hit, new games being previewed in Nintendo Power really captured the public’s attention. Players who wanted to read about the latest in RPGs, strategy games, and other genres had to go to a different publication; only players who wanted to read about the new Zelda and Mario continued with Nintendo Power and, let’s face it, there just aren’t enough new Zelda and Mario games to justify a console.

So unsurprisingly the magazine was dropped. The early days of Nintendo Power saw most of its issues filled with talk about third party games. Castlevania 2, Dragon Warrior 2, and so many others. Only rarely was an issue fixed primarily on a first party title, and never was an issue fixed only on a first party title.

The Wii

I made the mistake of buying a Wii. After reaching the second world in New Super Mario Bros., my wife and I were so bored with it that we didn’t anticipate that either of us would ever play it again. In fact, we didn’t. After one night of mandatory bowling and boxing, we took the stupid thing back. Even hacking it didn’t seem very appealing, since we each had a PC capable of running anything we wanted to play.

It wasn’t until the price of the Wii dropped to $40 that I purchased another one, and that was primarily for the purpose of hacking it and playing some of the GameCube games that I still had. It didn’t make sense to try to find a replacement GameCube since the Wii ran them, and I’m pretty sure the Wii was cheaper. Despite my frequent requests, my sister regularly left it on, and it predictably fried the disc drive, exactly as the Wii was prone to doing when left on.

She eventually bought a Wii U, and I borrowed it for a while when she was bored with it, but I never purchased one myself. Mario Kart 8 was a suitable distraction here and there, but it certainly wasn’t enough to command my attention long–just another Mario Kart game, really, with no evolution and only negligible changes to the gameplay. Just as Zelda has been, the Mario Kart series has been stalled since the N64. The only changes have been gimmicks: Oh, now you can have two drivers! Now you can drive upside down!

Nintendo sure loves their gimmicks.

Super Smash Bros. 4 was an enticing and enjoyable game, but extremely lacking in content. I readily admit that I played probably thousands of hours in Smash back on the GameCube, with my wife and friends in Melee, and Nintendo seemed to be under the impression that they could just do that. In fact, it seems they forgot to put an actual game in there. I’d love to play Sm4sh, but… there’s nothing to do.

The HD remaster of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess were neat, but I don’t see much of an improvement over the original WW, and I can’t fucking stand Twilight Princess. It is easily the worst Zelda game ever made. I have no idea how anyone can tolerate that trite, inane, and repetitious crap that was little more than a remake of Ocarina of Time in the first place.

Ocarina of Time… Ah, there’s a classic. Except… it isn’t. Because Nintendo won’t let it become a classic, because they won’t let it age. I’m not referring to Ocarina of Time 3D or the Zelda Collector’s Edition or even the GameCube OOT/Master Quest disc. I’m referring to Twilight Princess, which was pretty much exactly the same as Ocarina. I don’t see any noteworthy difference between the two.

The only truly great game that hit the Wii U was Super Mario 3D World, which is an absolute masterpiece of platform gaming. Goddamn, that game is good. I came very close to 100%ing it–and would have, if my sister hadn’t reclaimed the Wii U so that she could sell it for more Lego Dimensions character sets. The only thing I had left to do was beat the first seven worlds with Toad and Luigi, two characters that I never used. I loved that game.

This game is a masterpiece.

The New Zelda

Nintendo would have been crucified if they hadn’t released Breath of the Wild on the Wii U, so I understand their decision to do it. However, that decision is also the reason that I’m not going to buy a Switch. A Nintendo console gets one, maybe two, Zelda games–HD remasters don’t count. I have to commend Nintendo on putting a great deal of time and care into a product, and I’m not saying they need to release more Zelda and Mario games, but I am saying that… it’s not very likely that the Switch is going to get another Zelda game.

The NES received two. The SNS received one. The N64 received two. The GameCube received two. The Wii received one. Oh, yeah. Skyward Sword. I’d forgotten about its miserable existence. It’s also a remake of Ocarina of Time. The Wii U received three, technically, but really just one. Hell, the Wii U came really close to not even getting a new Zelda game, to be honest.

This decision of Nintendo’s–a pro-consumer decision all the way–to release a new Zelda game on two consoles is not good for them. I never owned Twilight Princess on the Wii. I had it on GameCube. Why on Earth would I buy the tedious, motion-control nightmare that was the Wii version? Why would I have bought a Wii to play it, when I could play it on the GameCube?

Today I’m faced with essentially the same decision that I was faced with back then, when I giddily purchased Twilight Princess at Wal-Mart for the GameCube. Goddamn, I was so excited! I couldn’t wait. And then… Ugh. By the time I completed the second dungeon, I was so bored with it that I purchased a strategy guide and just followed its instructions through the rest of the game. In effect, I remember very little about Twilight Princess. I played it on Auto Pilot, following a guide, because it was so extraordinarily boring. I’ve tried several times to replay it, but always get bored before reaching the lake temple. I honestly don’t understand how anyone who has played more than 2 or 3 Zelda games finds any enjoyment whatsoever in Twilight Princess.

Excitement

While I’m probably going to find a Wii U from a pawn shop–I’m on excellent terms with one of them [they’re a client] and can probably get it for less than a hundred books, and I’ve no qualms about trading in a few laptops or something that I have lying around–and am going to get the new Zelda, I’m not particularly excited for it.

I’ve avoided most of the hype and trailers, just as I always do for a game that I’m interested in, but what I’ve seen so far doesn’t leave me particularly excited. Zelder Scrolls sounds more and more appropriate, but learning that it borrowed Assassin’s Creed “climb the tower, reveal the map” shit really lessened my interest, because I know exactly what to expect. A bunch of meaningless collectibles, a set of items that we’ve all seen before, and a meaningless return to the series’ origins.

I’m judging the game before I’ve played it, and off of very little information about it, but that’s the problem. Even if I didn’t have the personal mandate to avoid all spoilers and information, I’m not interested in information about it. I already know what to expect. It’s another Zelda game. It will have Zelda items and Zelda dungeons set in an Assassin’s Creed overworld and with Elder Scrolls type side quests.

I’ve put off the decision to buy a new graphics card in favor of buying a Wii U, but it’s not really the new Zelda that I’m most excited about–it’s Super Mario 3D World that I’m looking forward to. In fact, it may be a few weeks before I even buy the new Zelda game. It just doesn’t seem appealing, and very few people have more experience and history with the Zelda series than I do.

People are raving about it, and lunatics are criticizing reviewers for only giving it a 9/10. Predictably, some people are saying that Ocarina of Time has finally been dethroned. By a paint-by-numbers Zelda game with an Assassin’s Creed overworld. I’m going to play the game, and these criticisms of it aren’t even fair since I haven’t, but, again, that’s the point. These people praised Dragon Age: Inquisition, and it’s one of the worst games I’ve ever played. Final Fantasy XIII received extremely high scores, and it’s also one of the worst games I’ve ever played. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning got a 7 in Game Informer. These same people are giving the new Zelda a 9 and 10. It doesn’t mean anything to me, because they watched the latest superhero movie and came all over themselves, even though it was exactly like every other superhero movie. So I don’t exactly trust their ability to recognize crap when they’re consuming it.

I should be excited. It’s a new Zelda game! Unlike JP in Grandma’s Boy, I didn’t beat The Legend of Zelda before I could walk, but I had beaten it before I entered kindergarten. This is a series I’ve been playing my entire life. It may even be my favorite series. Other than some of the handheld titles, I’ve never missed one of them, and never failed to get one near its release day. Even Twilight Princess had me excited.

But this?

It’s just “Oh, look. They made another one.”

Nintendo–Still on That Last Life

There once was a game series that I loved very, very much. In fact, I’d go as far to say that it was once my favorite game series, and that series is: The Legend of Zelda. The first game is one I hold in such high esteem that I will not type its name without italicizing it, and I still play it regularly–indeed, it’s my #1 favorite game, as shown on OpenCritic. I’m probably more familiar with the first quest than anyone alive, and can speedrun it in about an hour without actually trying to speedrun. I estimate that I could get down to about 40 minutes without too much more effort, but you’re not going to get sub-40 without utilizing glitches, and I’m not willing to do that in speedruns.

It may have been the very first game I ever played. Like JP from the film Grandma’s Boy, I was playing it at an early age; I hadn’t beaten it before I could walk, but I had beaten it before I started kindergarten. Zelda II, by contrast, was fun, but it was no The Legend of Zelda, and didn’t even come close. Then there was one called A Link to the Past, and it was just like the first one, except more refined, homogenized, and streamlined.

I didn’t own A Link to the Past, but my cousin did. Unfortunately, he’d yanked the cartridge out of his SNES one day, and the pins within became slanted; the game became unplayable. Despite much begging, my uncle didn’t fix it until many months had passed. We were stuck on Death Mountain, my cousin and I, and we couldn’t figure out how to proceed. To make matters worse, my cousin had figured out the trick just before the cartridge messed up–we now knew how to progress, but we no longer had the game in order to do that. It was agonizing, but my uncle finally completed the laborious task of taking a pair of pliers and pulling the pins straight again. He persevered through all two minutes of effort, however, and the game was repaired.

Seeing as my grandmother made only $12,000 a year and supported myself and my sister, chances were slim that I was going to get an N64, and I agonized over Ocarina of Time. I wanted it so badly–more than you can understand. I had played it briefly, because my cousin had an N64 (because of course he did) (I actually did, too, but I’ll come back to that in a moment), and had rented Ocarina from a video store (remember those?). But those moments only tantalized me further, driving my desire higher, much as an opiate addict feels when they can only find one 10.

Through sheer luck, my aunt stumbled across a battered N64 at a store called Bud’s. It was in poor repair, and had sticky residue all over it from duct tape, and there was no guarantee that it worked. It was used, obviously, but it was $25–this was in August, and the N64 was still at its launch price. Being able to grab one for $25 was too much to pass up. When my aunt told my grandmother about it, my grandmother (bless her heart) authorized my aunt to buy it, and then paid her back the money for it. Though I didn’t expect to ever own one, I suddenly had an N64.

When my mom visited for my birthday that year–one of the rare occasions when she did–she went with my brother, sister, and me to Wal-Mart, where she bought me Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. It was the first game I had on N64, and it would be quite some time before I would have another, but I didn’t care. I finally had a game to play on this system that I had acquired through lucky coincidence and extraordinary timing. There was nothing functionally wrong with the N64, though I did have to pop the RAM pak out a few times in order to get it to work the first time. Why? I don’t know. It’s possible that the memory had been knocked loose due to carelessness, and the previous owners hadn’t had the know-how to fix it–but my 13 year old self was unwilling to give up. For an hour, I alternated between Channel 3 and Channel 4 on my old CRT television, flipping the unlabeled RV-switch (I think that’s what they were called) between its two settings, rechecking cables and connections, and reseating the memory.

Finally, the Acclaim logo was visible.

That Christmas, there was no doubt what I wanted, and I made it known to everyone who would listen. I didn’t care if it was all that I got–everyone could just chip in a few dollars and collectively give me Ocarina of Time, and that would be more than enough. All of that bargaining was unnecessary, though–my grandmother bought it for me, and she wrapped it in paper that was just see-through. I didn’t need to be able to see to know what was inside that telltale rectangular package, though–it was an N64 game, and there was only one N64 game for me.

One of the greatest gaming-related regrets of my life is that my dad, seeing my frustration when I reached Lake Hylia, purchased me a strategy guide made by now-defunct Versus Books. I like Versus Books, and I hate that they went under. Their guide had character and personality; it was vastly superior to the guide I would one day use for Twilight Princess. I’ll never forget, “Give the cockadoodle-doo that will get Talon’s lazy ass in gear…” appearing in the guide, which just sealed the deal for me. Contrast it to the Prima guide for Twilight Princess, which is filled with flat, useless, uninteresting information–for example, the authors estimate the age of every character in the game. “<This character> is between 30 and 40 years old…” Oh, my god, who freaking cares? What a waste of ink.

Prima‘s strategy guides are generally useless, though. Even with their guide for Turok 2: Seeds of Evil, I was unable to beat the second level. At one point, it says “Shoot the wall here,” and it gives no indication of where “here” is.

I noticed that the number by my save file in Ocarina of Time was up in the 40s when I was in Lake Hylia. One could say that I wasn’t very good at the game, because that number, naturally, was how many times I had died. But death is common when you’re stumbling through the game world, exploring and discovering the path forward. I don’t think I’d ever have figured out to give a fish to Jabu-Jabu, though. I did successfully get the bottle, but nothing in the game ever suggests that the player needs to catch a fish and release it in front of Jabu-Jabu. That isn’t something that can be figured out.

Prior to that, my grandmother was printing off information about the game from the Internet while she was at work. Everyone knew I was loving the game, but that I was really frustrated at times because of things like Lord Jabu-Jabu, where there is no indication of what to do. Once I had the guide, however, I started my save file over to get all the stuff I missed. I used the guide less extensively than I later used the guide with Twilight Princess, but I still wish I’d gone through it without one.

I didn’t play Majora’s Mask for years–until the Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition, I never bothered, and I had a friend warn me, “You can forget it. If you don’t get a guide, you’ll never get anywhere.”

Challenge accepted, mate.

The entire game is like trying to figure out you’re supposed to give Jabu-Jabu a fish, and I think my friend is right: without a guide, you’re not going to finish the game. I have made it to Ikana Valley, and I still refuse to use a guide, but I always get bored with it around this part and stop playing. A few years later, I’ll try again and start from the beginning (because I never remember what I’ve done and what I haven’t done), only to get bored at exactly the same spot again. I probably could get through Ikana Valley and beat the game without a guide if I forced myself to, but life is too short for me to force myself to play a game that bores me. Getting through the illogical mess of a town, the Moon Logic swamp, the Troll Logic mountains, and the Fail Logic Termina Bay without a guide is pretty good, and reaching Ikana Valley (seeing as it requires a mask acquired through a random sidequest) is a nice feat.

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself, because I played Wind Waker before I played Majora’s Mask, and this whole mess really starts to show how out-of-their-minds Nintendo has gotten. Wind Waker was, and still is, beautiful. If ever a game needed an HD re-release, it was not Wind Waker. I did get the HD re-release, and easily beat it on Hero Mode, but then I sold it to Gamestop for $1.25, their standard payment for brand new games that just released, and returned to the GC version. Since it’s simpler and easier (and prettier, with the Native Resolution at 2x and above), I’d rather just use Dolphin to play the game.

wwlinkI rather enjoyed Wind Waker, but I found its lack of dungeons disturbing. Dragonroost Cavern, the Evil Forest (what did they call it?), the Tower of the Gods, Earth Temple, and Wind Temple. That was it. People have kept track, and, if I remember correctly, a total of 12% of the playtime is just spent sailing from place to place, though this was something I read in college and haven’t been able to find since. The grind for rupees at the end of the game is the tedious part; I didn’t mind getting the Triforce Shards. All in all, I loved Wind Waker, because it had a lot of charm, and it truly gave Link character. Yahtzee said it best: in Wind Waker, Link is endearing, and even a little thick at times, but he tries, damnit.

When I heard about Twilight Princess, I was extremely excited. Though I did enjoy the graphics of Wind Waker and how they allowed Link to have personality, I was excited to see the return to darkness and adult Link. If I’d known that the game was going to just be brown, I would have tempered my wishes. Twilight Princess is unbelievably ugly. The entire game is brown, washed out, fuzzy.

tp1 I like to say that they chose the name “Twilight Princess” because it had the initials “TP,” and TP was what Nintendo used to wipe their asses after they shat out this game.

Seriously, look at that mess! And, let me assure you, the actual game is no better. I don’t know what happened, but it’s very reminiscent of Dragon Age: Origins, a game that looked alright for its time but looks absolutely awful today. Twilight Princess’s graphics leave the game almost unplayable, though I haven’t played the HD re-release. Why would I? I didn’t like Twilight Princess. The game sucks.

Twilight Princess is basically Ocarina of Time 2, except there’s no Child Link. Absolutely nothing new or interesting was added to the game, though the people I work with at Cubed3 cited several of the new items in Twilight Princess as being worthy entries into the series. The Spinner, Double Clawshot, and Ball ‘n Chain, for example, were among those mentioned. The Double Clawshot is just like the Longshot, except you can change angles halfway through, it takes longer to use, and it’s slightly tedious. The Ball ‘n Chain is nothing but Twilight Princess’s version of the Magic Hammer that has been appearing since Zelda II. The Spinner may be the most unique in the series, except it’s not–it’s basically just the Goron Ball again, except it’s slower and sucks. The Dominion Rod also got a mention, although it’s only the Song of Command from Wind Waker turned into an item. Woohoo.

But I completed Twilight Princess. Unlike Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, Twilight Princess wasn’t hard, and I made it to the Arbiter’s Ground before I got a strategy guide. However, I didn’t get the guide because I was stuck. I got it because I was tired of thinking. The game wasn’t rewarding me sufficiently for solving its puzzles, and I didn’t want to continue putting in the effort. I played through the rest of the game on auto-pilot, just doing whatever the guide told me to do. It remains the only Zelda game (sans Majora’s Mask, as I mentioned) that I’ve only completed once. The graphics are unspeakably bad, the music is just a series of shout-outs to earlier titles, the items are bland and duplicates of previous items, the dungeons are boring and easy, and the sidequests are tedious rather than interesting. The only thing that set Twilight Princess apart was Wolf Link, and Wolf Link was severely underutilized.

I was very excited to try out the 1:1 sword movements of Skyward Sword, but that died very quickly when my girlfriend laughed at me–and she had a point. As I completed an area, I had to raise the sword high and vertically, which elicited extreme laughter from my girlfriend who was watching. And she was right. I looked silly, and I felt silly. Why was I having to do this? Why was the game forcing me to make an ass of myself in the living room? Why couldn’t I just press A?

Skyward Sword had two main problems. First, it was just Ocarina of Time again. Secondly, motion controls were shoehorned into everything, to the extent that the game felt like one of the Wii’s minigame compilations that just happened to be Zelda-themed. Use the motion controls for flight, for aiming, for swordfighting, for guiding this stupid scarab, for turning the Master Key, for… Why do I have to do this? Freaking everything was based on motion controls; it was awful.

After I completed the Forest Temple, I foresaw the rest of the game, and I knew that there was no reason for me to continue playing. It was going to be just like what I’d done, only once in a fire place, once in a water place, once in a desert, etc. Yawn. Been there, done that. It’s like New Super Mario Bros. and New Super Mario Bros. Wii U. It’s hardly new, is it? We’ve done this before; we’ve played this game before.

Nintendo is no longer even attempting to hide this fact, and it’s now painfully obvious why the Wii-U, though it certainly has the hardware capabilities, is not compatible with GameCube games. How could Nintendo justify releasing HD versions of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess if the Wii U was backward compatible with the Wii? Since the Wii U upscales to HD rather nicely (see Super Mario Galaxy 2), it would have done pretty similar things to GameCube games, and these Zelda games probably would have looked good enough that no one would have bought the HD re-releases. It’s a messed up ploy on Nintendo’s part, and they should be called out for it. There’s no good reason that the Wii U can’t play GameCube games, except that Nintendo intended to resell its GameCube games as lazy HD re-releases.

Nintendo is increasingly pathetic in how they rely on older games. Ocarina of Time has been re-released as Ocarina of Time 3D. Majora’s Mask has been re-released as Majora’s Mask 3D. Wind Waker has been re-released as Wind Waker HD. Twilight Princess has been re-released as Twilight Princess HD. A Link to the Past got a pretty straightforward sequel that basically just added strafing–I don’t care what you say. You might have been tricked, but it’s just strafing that A Link Between Worlds has.

The only console Zelda games they haven’t re-released are the original and Zelda II, and Zelda Wii U seems like it’s going to basically be the first game again–which would be great, don’t get me wrong–but they’re almost certainly going to make it into Zelder Scrolls. That, by the way, is a sentiment I expressed as soon as I heard about the game and what they were intending to do. I’m tremendously glad that I wasn’t the only one who saw the writing on the wall.

Between the constant re-releases of Zelda games the total lack of innovation, ingenuity, and creativity on full display by virtue of using the word “New” in more than one game title (especially since the core idea itself is anything but new), Nintendo has shown that its glory days are long behind it and that it doesn’t really know what to do any longer. It’s just fumbling around, re-releasing its past glory days in an effort to stave off the admittance to the general public that it has run out of ideas. What else can I conclude?

Publishers, Developers, and Consumers–Don’t Be a Tool

It’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed in many areas, and there are many more serious places where I’ve seen this. The most serious one I’ve seen in recent years was in regard to NSA spying, where a horrifying 50% of Americans supported the NSA. They don’t realize, it seems, that in life it is a matter of us versus the government, and that they have clearly not sided with “us.” Which is particularly odd, because they are a member of “us.” It doesn’t really matter if one personally approves of the NSA or not–that doesn’t change the fact that you’re not part of the government; you’re part of the people, and you should side with the people. It’s really that simple.

In regard to video games, I’ve noticed an alarming tendency of gamers to take the side of developers and publishers. This comes in many forms. The one I’m dealing with now is that I am being blamed for what is clearly a glitch in Final Fantasy VI on PC: http://plays.tv/s/Kbq334Jv4lmP

Let’s just think for a moment. After I made a post in the Steam forums discussing how much I love Final Fantasy VI and how easy it would have been for Square-Enix to make me give it a 10, and pointed out that I simply can’t do that now, the responses I got met one of a few clear types:

  • It’s your hardware/drivers.
  • You don’t meet the system requirements.
  • Don’t go looking for glitches and bugs, and this won’t happen.
  • Why would you give this version a 10 anyway?
  • Go away.

It’s primarily the first that I want to focus on, because that is the go-to response we get from developers and publishers any time there is an issue with their game. Nevermind that this is almost completely irrelevant to a game that doesn’t use 3D Hardware Acceleration because it’s a 2D sprite game with everything pre-rendered. The System requirements for the PC version of Final Fantasy VI are laughable:

  • OS: Windows Vista / 7 / 8 / 8.1 
  • Processor: Pentium 4 2.4 GHz 
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM 
  • Storage: 950 MB available space

Does anyone out there truly believe that I’m not sporting something superior to a Pentium fucking 4 and 2 GB of RAM? As it happens, I’m running on an AMD six-core at 4.2 GHz. For that matter, I’m in the town of Zozo. Do people seriously believe that I made it 4 hours into the game with invisible sprites, CTDs, and other major issues, and just suddenly decided I couldn’t handle it anymore? Did it seriously occur to no one that this is an issue that just appeared, and that drivers and hardware therefore cannot be the issue in this pre-rendered sprite-based game?

They’re parroting that response at me because that is what they’ve been trained to say–and they don’t realize it, because humans are very easy to train, especially when they don’t realize that it’s happening.

A few years ago, I watched a friend be trained by his Ford vehicle to use his seatbelt. It used an irritating sound that went off any time the vehicle was cranked and the seatbelt wasn’t clicked, until he finally got to the point where he fastened his seatbelt first thing upon entering any vehicle. He had been trained. Thankfully, he did realize that he had been trained, but we aren’t usually aware of how we’re being trained.

When you contact a developer or publisher to tell them you have a problem, their response will always be a request for you DXDiag, a reinstallation of Runtimes and other packages, as they do everything possible not to fix the issue but to make you into the source of the problem.

This is, with almost 100% frequency, what I’m running into in regard to this glitch in Final Fantasy VI. It’s my fault; I did something wrong. I, the owner of an I.T. consultant firm, a VB.Net, Java, Python, Ruby, and C++ programmer, did something wrong. I, the person who once wrote his own drivers for the HD4350, did something wrong. It can’t possibly be that Square-Enix was just being Square-Enix and released a glitchy, buggy game prone to CTDs and game-breaking bugs.

I don’t blame them for this, to be clear. They aren’t bad people, and they aren’t really wrong; just misguided. They don’t see things for how they really are. In reality, there are two sides here: the consumers, and the suppliers. Know which side you’re on. Because even if you disagree with the other consumers, they are doing things that will benefit you.

Emulation rights is a great example. I know tons of people who are against emulation and blatantly conflate it with piracy, shown here:

This is what a modern day Uncle Tom looks like.

This is what a modern day Uncle Tom looks like.

Consumers have already fought this battle–we fought it in the 80s when VHS gave us the right to record broadcasts and view them at a later time of our own choosing. The courts basically decreed that publishing meant “to make public,” and that, by publishing, the publisher relinquishes most of their rights over it. This makes… total fucking sense, and that it makes sense is the reason I continue to be surprised the judges made that ruling.

It’s like if I wanted to stand on a street corner performing with my acoustic and singing–if someone wanted to record it to watch later, what the fuck right would I have to stop them? None at all. If I’m doing something publicly then it’s largely up to the public what they do with it.

No emulation is not closely associated with piracy–it’s only so associated by fuckwits like you, Fish-E, who can’t think without the publisher’s permission to have a given thought. You have the legal right to modify your games in whatever way you want in order to make them playable in a way that is convenient for you. We fought for and kept that right in the 80s. Try to keep up. Ripping a game to your computer to play it with an emulator is absolutely no different from recording a broadcast through VHS. What you’re saying is, “Because some people use VHS tapes to make illegal copies of movies, VHS itself is associated with that, and deserving of a ban for discussing.”

No, you fucking moron, and you don’t get to conflate two disparate concepts like that. We have different words for them for a reason. “Emulation” and “piracy” are different things. That’s why we have two different words–to describe these two different things.

As it happens, I’m in favor of both, and fuck the publishers and developers. I’m not here to make EA, Square-Enix, Ubisoft, and WB money. I’m here to enjoy my life.

I will not:

  • pay full price for an incomplete game. See Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim GOTY Edition.
  • pay for a game that I don’t know works correctly. See Civilization 5, Final Fantasy VI.
  • pay more for a game than I think it is worth.

I happen to use piracy largely to try out games, as glorified demos. I never felt that Skyrim was worth $60, plus the price of all that DLC. It had too many problems: it was shallow–oh, so shallow–glitched, bugged, and barely working. I paid $40 for the GOTY Edition not too long ago, and I feel it was worth that.

Last year, I paid $60 for Dragon Age: Inquisition on launchday, even though it cost $10 more than it had any right to cost, in what was clearly a bald cashgrab by EA. It almost the last on-or-near-launch-day purchase I’ve made. Since, I’ve bought a few other games on or near launch day, but, curiously, they are all Nintendo products. Nintendo, I have not and will not pirate your games until you give me a reason to, and I say with a sincere clap and genuine approval that you have never given me a reason to.

I’ll get into the problems with Dragon Age: Inquisition–like the fact that Bioware evidently doesn’t know what an “inquisition” is–one day. For now, let’s just say that purchase bit me in the ass, and that I did not get $60 of entertainment out of that World of Warcraft Wannabe. Prior to that, Bioware was one of the few companies whose games I wouldn’t pirate, because I knew that I was going to get a high-quality product. Dragon Age: Inquisition destroyed that faith.

So if developers want people to stop pirating their games and to stop waiting for GOTY Editions to purchase them, then all they need to do is release working, complete products. Sectioning off parts of the game to sell later as DLC? Nope. Not gonna pay for something that should have been included in the game already. Nintendo has started doing that, with Mewtwo being locked behind a paywall. The really messed up part of this is that you already have the characters and stages if your game is updated–you’re just not allowed to use them until you pay Nintendo an extortion fee. That’s my issue with DLC and multiplayer: if something is on my system, you can’t fucking tell me that I can’t use it. Because at that point you did give it to me, whether you want to admit it or not, and I don’t give a fuck what legal shenanigans and word games you can play to convince another lawyer that you’re correct. I’m talking basic right and wrong here and simple ownership rights, and the fact is that you gave me that DLC in the last update.

The entire gaming industry is a FUBAR mess, and it’s not helping that a large portion of consumers have no idea that they’re being Uncle Toms for developers and publishers. With indie developers, I get it. They’re small studios, and they don’t have the cash flow to keep their studio going. But then you have them saying things like:

“Just pirate it,” Notch said in response to a fan who couldn’t afford Minecraft.

Team Meat actually presented the argument, as I am, that piracy is good for example–the indie studio behind Super Meat Boy. I’ve actually had multiple people bitch at me for using pirated versions of Minecraft and Super Meat Boy. That’s right–these people are such Uncle Toms that they’ll be an Uncle Tom even when the developer itself doesn’t give a shit. People bitch about me pirating Minecraft and hurting Mojang when, prior to being purchased by Microsoft, Mojang themselves didn’t give a shit.

lolwut

lolwut

These Uncle Toms remind me of this dumbass image. It is “extremely offensive”? To who? No one fucking worships Isis. And if they do, they’re retarded, so fuck them anyway. I laughed hard the first time I saw this image floating around Facebook as people expressed how “offended” they were on behalf of this non-existent deity that no significant portion of the population believes in.

Since we're getting offended on behalf of fictional characters now...

Since we’re getting offended on behalf of fictional characters now…

Yes, if you believe that Isis is a real goddess with an actual existence, you’re retarded, and fuck you. Of course, I’m an atheist and think this about most religious beliefs, but the pagan ones that dust off old, defunct gods and believe in them anew are definitely a bit more retarded than others.

Anyway, I’ve digressed a lot, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 is finished downloading. lol–I already had a pirated version. And I just bought it on Steam. Half of my purchases on Steam have been for games that I’ve already pirated. It’s just different to play a game legitimately. I don’t know why it is, but it is. Team Meat is correct; I am correct.

So know whose side your own. Are you an Uncle Tom? Or are you a consumer?

Long live the Pirate Bay.

Gaming Came Too Early

This is going to be a bit more vulgar than my usual stuff. I don’t apologize for that, because if you have a problem with vulgarity, then you’re probably not on this fucking site managed by a transgender lesbian any-fucking-way. But take this as a warning, because we’re going to take the sex metaphor and run with it.

Apparently, Gaming came during the SNES-PSX era, and we didn’t realize it. While we thought Gaming was just pulling out some really awesome moves and that Gaming really knew what it was doing, it turns out that Gaming was reaching what we might call “premature ejaculation.” When I look back on the past decade of gaming, it becomes clearer and clearer that the last several years of video games have basically been Gaming trying to continue thrusting as it becomes floppier and floppier–as things are prone to doing when they blow their loads a tad early.

It’s actually quite alarming how many reboots, remakes, re-releases, HD remasters, and ports we’ve seen. They have been so prolific that the 360/PS3 generation should go down in history as being the Reboot Generation, or the “Shit, We Fucked Up Everything and Need to Start Over” Generation. “Our Stories got too convoluted and haphazard, our gameplay mechanics got lost, our franchises lost their souls… We need to just wipe the slate clean and start over.”

Movies, of course, are really bad about this, too, and so is television. Though there are some obvious differences, The Big Bang Theory is easily identifiable as a clone of Friends, for example. Supernatural is a clear clone of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Doctor Who is a clear clone of… Doctor Who. Wait, what?

The only form of entertainment that we don’t see doing this is literature, and that makes me even happier to be a writer. If literature went through such a period of rewriting, then that period is already behind us, and it can be forgotten like a bad memory.

But evidently Gaming has already done the best it can do, has already shown us its best moves–Gaming has already came. And the best it can do now is try to seduce and say, “Hey, we can do it again. Trust me, babe… I got it this time. That can’t possibly happen again…”

Just off the top of my head, I’m gonna rattle off some remakes, re-releases, reboots, and ports–all of which were given to us in place of actually new content. Some of these are simply “new games” that drop the subtitles and number, which is a reboot whether it’s billed as one or not, especially if, as is the case with Super Smash Bros., the release has noticeably less content than previous installments:

  • The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD
  • Tomb Raider
  • Mortal Kombat
  • Final Fantasy 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 on mobile, then on PC
  • Final Fantasy 7 in progress
  • Super Smash Bros.
  • New Super Mario Bros. Wii-U, the 4th in the series. I shouldn’t have to point out how this reeks of creative bankruptcy.
  • Resident Evil. I think they called it Resident Evil Zero. I’m not sure.
  • Mega Man Legacy Collection. It’s on PC, which is great, and it’s not expensive, but it is inferior to Mega Man Anniversary Collection, where Capcom already re-released the classic Mega Man games. The Legacy Collection excludes the ones that didn’t actually have a legacy: the tournament fighters, Mega Man 7, and Mega Man 8.

And I’m sure that I could come up with a dozen more if I thought about it long enough, but I don’t really care to, because we all know how ubiquitous this has been lately. Let’s also get one thing out of the way right now: everything we’ve heard about Zelda Wii-U screams reboot. It may not be billed as one, but everything we’ve been shown makes it look, sound, and act like a reboot. Considering this is coming from the company that used the word “New” in four different game titles, and the same company who did an HD remaster of a game that still looks fine, it’s not exactly rocket science to smell the distinct aroma of a reboot brewing in the cauldron.

Between all the ports, remasters, remakes, and reboots, it’s a fucking miracle we’re still getting new content at all. It’s just a matter of time before Bethesda releases The Elder Scrolls, before Bioware releases Dragon Age, and before Microsoft releases Halo. Because we didn’t make sure that this shit died with the last generation, did we? No, we’re letting it carry on into the new generation.

Consoles are dumb.

They are, and you’re dumb if you own a console. With the Steam Link device now available, allowing players to connect their computer and play their Steam games on any television for a mere $50 per television, there’s simply no excuse for continuing to buy consoles. Plus, they’re just dumbed down, non-customizable, inferior PCs with monopolized Operating Systems and distribution platforms, absolutely absurd ToUs and license agreements, requirements to pay for online multiplayer (something we PC gamers would revolt against, if Valve tried charging $5 a month for us to play our games online. Not to mention Fraps and other simple recording tools, Raptr, simple sharing to Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, and YouTube. While consoles are struggling to get 60 frames per second at 1080p, PCs are pushing 4k resolutions and multiple-screen configurations.

It’s absolutely absurd how behind consoles are. Consoles are officially holding back Gaming, because games are being designed primarily for inferior hardware. And did I mention that we have Steam? While I do have issues with Steam, that doesn’t change the fact that I picked up every Tomb Raider game ever and all DLC for $20, and that I can sit here and buy as many games as I can afford, with discounts ranging from 10% to 90% off. Consoles are dumb, and there’s literally no reason to get one.

They’re also not cheaper. Just stop buying laptops. Instead of replacing your laptop with a laptop–especially since, be real, you don’t ever actually need your computer when you’re away from your desk anyway… I own an I.T. tech consultant firm, and the majority of people I know who have a laptop have absolutely no need for one, and they could have gotten a superior system for several hundred dollars less if they weren’t in love with the idea of sitting it in their lap for some fucking reason. At least 90% of the laptops I see on a weekly basis could be replaced with a desktop, with absolutely no inconvenience to the user. So get a desktop instead, since you need a computer anyway, and take the $400 you were going to spend on a console and instead buy a bad ass graphics card. Bam, done.

Use the HDMI port on the graphics card–or DVI, if you’re interested in > 1080 resolutions–to connect it to your television, throw a $50 Steam Link device with every other television in your home (a device that can be navigated entirely with a controller, by the way), and buy a $30 Afterglow 360 controller. They’re not the best in the world, but they’re more than sufficient, even for games like Super Meat Boy.

I’ve gotten really off topic, so I’m going to wrap this up now. Stop letting developers get away with remakes, reboots, and re-releases–Yes, this from someone who is still trying to argue for giving the PC port of Final Fantasy VI a 10. Because Final Fantasy VI has never been on PC except through emulation, and that’s not an entirely legitimate avenue for playing it.

“But… But Everything Has Already Been Done…”

No it hasn’t, you stupid jackass.

Look. In the grand scheme of things, our species is barely out of its diapers. Do you really mean to tell me that in just a few thousand years, our species has already reached its creative potential and tapped out every possible idea? Do you really mean to tell me that in less than 40 years, video games used every conceivable good idea, and that all we’re left with for the remainder of our species’ existence over the next ten million years will be a bunch of re-releases, ports, remakes, reboots, and remasters?

No. People just throw out that bullshit as an excuse for laziness. If our species only had enough good ideas to fill a few thousand years with fresh entertainment, then our species doesn’t deserve to survive the cosmic eons. Stop being a tool.