Friday, September 23, 2011

Top 12 Nostalgic Games of the "Mid" Gamer Generation

Source: EgoAnt
(We all love feeling nostalgia and remembering the times when we were gamers in childhood. 
What games did we absolutely love then that give us nostalgia now?)

To understand the state of gaming now we need to delve into our past to help answer the question of how we got here. Looking at our past should give us information that helps us understand the state of gaming today and may help us predict the future of gaming.

Anyone born in the late 80's or early 90's, as I was, is part of a special group of gamers that got to see the transition of gaming from a small niche market to a popular large movement.

I, like others in my age group, are part of the "mid gaming generation". That's a new term I'm coining for people that weren't really a part of the earliest past of gaming and are also not children now playing games in the modern era.

We didn't play pong, or the Atari, or any of the early generation consoles. We weren't the earliest gamers and nostalgia for us is much harder to attain because most of the games we played are still fairly recent.

Today I'm going to give you some of my most nostalgic games and I think we'll realize that the foundation of gaming for my generation seems to have been on the PlayStation and the P.C.

Although my earliest console was a Nintendo, it seems that the upgraded game quality given by the PlayStation set those games apart in my mind from the older 8 bit generation.

I'll be listing the games in order of most fun/most memorable; number 1 being the best of the group. : )

Since every gamer's taste is different, and gamers themselves are a diverse group, most likely my list won't fit perfectly with yours. That's only because the world is filled with different people of different opinions and different tastes. : )

(In bold I've marked some of the lessons we learn from this list, as to what makes a good game and general knowledge about gaming today.)

Number 12 
(Yes, there were 2 extra games I couldn't cut out of the list so we have a list of 12 :D )
 Street Fighter 2

I remember the long hours I'd play this getting stuck on Vega and then finding out that after I beat him I still had a NUMBER of other enemies before getting to the boss. Finally when you get to M. Bison, especially as a kid, you're just in awe at how to beat him. Especially when he jumps on your head from across the screen or submarine torpedoes you with his whole body.

Today I don't know if I could play a fighting game as long as I played Street fighter, but that may show how rare a gem this game was when it was released back in the 90's. My favorite characters ended up being Guile and Bison. Street fighter is the spiritual source of the vast majority of fighting games today.

Number 11
Nba Street 1&2

To be honest, you don't really need to love basketball to enjoy this game. This game has a winning formula of taking a real world activity and sensationalizing it with gaming. It's a winning formula that works even in today's gaming world. People don't always want the most real simulation of an activity, especially if they can just get a basketball and play the game with friends outside.

But a game where you can do amazing impossible dunks, globetrotter like fakes, and amazing rim breaking specials, is a game worth playing and a game that's definitely fun.

Nba street may not have been the most famous game of the past but it's a gem worth looking at nonetheless.

Number 10
Need for Speed Underground

With movies like The Fast and Furious, NFS underground capitalized on that tuner formula and made the greatest racing game I've ever played.

It came with a short, but very interesting story and it let you customize more parts of a car than a kid thought possible. My favorite mode, hands down, was drag racing. It required both timing and skill to know EXACTLY when to shift and missing a shift early on would nearly always result in a loss.

The speed, the exhilaration, and the atmosphere as you drag raced or participated in the story of the game made everything feel real and sadly I haven't felt that same level of excitement for a racing game in a long time.

Forza may be a realistic game but it lacks all the tuning and fun parts of a racing game and without the fun and over the top sensationalism, it's just a cookie cutter simulation. Forza and other racing games like it might be geared more to professional racers and mechanics while NFS Underground was for the adrenaline rush junkies and those who liked creative customization.

Number 9

This was a game most people probably didn't get a chance to play. Back when games were affordable and there were no review sites, I simply read the outer boxes of games and when I found a game that seemed enjoyable, I bought it.

Pharoah was one of these buys and I fell in love with it. I am very much an RTS or real time strategy fan, and Pharoah gave you missions to create a city to your hearts content and make sure the people living in it were happy by giving them the services they needed.

If you put the hunters(that went out and got you meat) and grain house too far, people couldn't eat in a timely way and as a result their homes would not evolve. When you clicked on the home it told you EXACTLY what the home needed to upgrade to the next level. Sometimes it was as simple as not having water nearby.

There were so many different levels of homes to upgrade to that I've personally never even reached the highest level, which was known as "estates". If i remember correctly the best homes I got my citizens to evolve to were apartments. That was no small feat as it required nearby water, food, bazaars(markets), entertainment, religious homes, doctors, dentists, architects, fireman, and more!!
Imagine trying to cram all that in one small area all competing for resources!

This game is so creative in how it lets you build to your hearts content that it's a must own for any RTS lover. Sadly it never got as popular as it deserved. But luckily the same engine and game progressed on and the latest installments of this game are Zeus: Master of Olympus and Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom. You may have encountered at least one of the games in the series, even if it wasn't Pharaoh. They're all made by the same studio so gameplay is very similar.

Number 8

Majesty on the other hand became a cult hit. For many years I remember small internet circles buzzing about this game til finally a new studio bought the license to this game and recently produced Majesty 2.

Another PC RTS game like Phaorah, Majesty did one thing that no other game has had the courage to do; stop you from moving troops. You could create as many troops as you can afford in majesty but there was no way to actually move them. They moved themselves, protected you when they wanted to, or ran away and let your kingdom down.

Majesty only let you entice your heroes with monetary benefits IF and only If they killed an enemy or went to a certain area.

The characters were RPG favorites, such as Wizards, Rogues, and Paladins. The feel of the game and this unique element of watching your heroes do what they wanted, was amazing Each hero also acted differently. Rogues were more likely to run away than Paladins would and Wizards were more often studying then fighting on your behalf. Although when they fight, my God, they fight so well :D

Wizards could turn the game around for you, if they decided to pitch in, and although their strength was high, they had very low life, just as the RPG myth indicates and a few hits from a foe could easily kill a wizard.

Majesty is a gem that should be shared with all people. Definitely pick it up, or Majesty 2, if you didn't get a chance to enjoy this game.

Number 7
Dark Cloud

This game was all about adventuring into dark caves for a simple altruistic reason, to rebuild your city that was destroyed. Rebuilding the city is exactly what made this game very unique, as you could place buildings however you wanted but each building asked you to be put in a particular way. Either facing the sun, or near water, or next to a neighbor.

This gave you some flexibility and made your city different from others, but generally in order to get a perfect city, you had to fit a particular pattern.

The sheer customization of weapons and different areas also made this game a must play RPG adventure unparallelled with many other story games I played.  It became an amazing game when you added the catchy story and unique game-play elements, making this an overall great package, especially for the time frame it was released in back in 2000.

Number 6
Age of Empires 2

War was never so fun as it was in Age of Empires. To be honest though it wasn't the fighting that made this game great, but the dramatic buildup to it. That's what made this game exciting. Getting resources, evolving your civilization, and preparing for that war was definitely more fun than the battle itself.

Adding in a great story helped as each mission seemed to have meaning. You were building up to something bigger and you had a larger goal. This wasn't an aimless war and you needed to win and build a team formidable enough to take down your opponent.

Luckily with Age of Empires 3, the game was polished to perfection, especially since we no longer needed to mine both stone and gold, which got very tiring after a while.

This game was leaps and bounds ahead of it's time when it was released on the PC. The first time I evolved my civilization, the mere addiction of doing that, getting new upgrades, troops, and units, had me hooked forever on the Age of Empires series.

It's shocking that we're only at number six and Age of Empires didn't even make the top five. Just goes to show how great the top 5 games are on the list.

Number 5
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 and 2

There is both happiness and sadness at the fact that I'm discussing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. Tony hawk 2 was by far the perfection of the series. It was that sensationalized skateboarding that made this game so fun and launched the franchise.

It was amazingly fun to do tricks no person could do in real life, not even Tony Hawk.
The levels were well designed and the missions kept you working hard to find every last tape or secret area you could. I became really good at the game and eventually could beat anyone else I ever played on it.

The downside though, as I alluded to earlier in the review, is that since Tony Hawk 2 this game has gone downhill. It has become more and more realistic and less and less fun.

It lost it's spiritual source and lost the reason for why we played it in the first place. I hope a new Tony Hawk game remembers their roots and goes back to it. It's a good lesson we can take in this article. Other games like Mortal Kombat realized they were heading on the wrong track and similarly went back to their original successes for guidance. It's known as heading back to basics; to what worked and to what sold us on the game in the beginning.

Let's remember what worked well in games and not destroy our franchises by removing those fun elements; another important gem we get from looking back at the past.

Number 4
Grand Theft Auto Vice City/San Andreas

Sandbox games like Fallout and Red Dead redemption get a lot of their inspiration from these two amazingly fun games. The missions are by far what make these games stand out. They were always fun, a bit tricky, and really tied you into the story and made you feel a part of the game.

These immersive and open world games were light years ahead of their time with amazing graphics and could be played enjoyably even today. That's saying a lot for a game made nearly 10 years ago.

Number 3
The Sims 1&2

Sims 1


I discovered and bought this game simply because of a commercial and an idea. I tried to find the commercial on youtube but sadly wasn't able to : ( . The basic idea was it showed real people having fun and just hanging out at a home then all of a sudden BOOM the home and the people transformed into Sims and now you were in control of everything from the home to the people to the career.

The idea that a PC game could give you THAT much control and look that realistic was mind boggling. The game, when I finally got it, was even more fun than just the idea of it, as the gameplay got you to slowly make your Sims richer and upgrade their items to make them more efficient.

Even going to the bathroom could be efficient! I better upgrade my toilet and shower so i can clean myself faster and get to work quicker! I need a better bed so I can sleep less and work more!

The Sims was definitely a contender for number one on this list and I bought EVERY single expansion available on the Sims one; not a small feat or a cheap enterprise....

The Sims launched a franchise and an idea that gaming and gamers could be amazingly creative and that we thrived on the ability to create and have fun with our creations. This is a very similar idea to Minecraft in many respects.

Number 2
Kingdom Hearts

This game hit home for me. I was suggested it and bought it used a long time after it was released. I was told it was the best story I'd ever experience through gaming. Guess what.... They were right! :D

Kingdom Hearts is amazing open world fighting(the game doesn't pause for fight sequences), an amazing and compelling story that DRIVES you forward and forces you to keep playing, and includes a special monster like summoning capability that increases the drama and tensions mid battle.

Epic is a word I haven't used yet and that's because I rarely use it liberally. This game is Epic. Its battles are Epic, its favorite childhood disney characters are epic, and my God, I have to say it again, Its STORY is EPIC.

The whole reason I eventually bought a PS3 was just to be able to play KH3 when it comes out!!

If you haven't played the first game of this blockbuster franchise, you've missed out on a very important segment of gaming.

Number 1
Final Fantasy 8

You knew this list was probably going to end with a Final Fantasy game as they've become some of the most epic games in recent gaming history.

Choosing FF8 over the others will be very controversial as it does go against the majority of people. Then again the majority opinion is statistically not always correct. Remember that people once thought the world was flat.

Regardless I want to give my opinion as to why I choose 8 over the others. I own 7 and 9, and I tried to play both. 7 is graphically nowhere near FF8, as 7 looks more cartoonish and polygonal. I also tried to get into the story of 7 but early on I gave up on it. It may be my fault more than the game itself.

9 is graphically fine but I also never really got into the story and it began to bore me pretty quickly. I also did get stuck trying to get the carnival ticket, and that's what lead me to eventually stop playing the game.

10 and the other games are too recent to be considered nostalgic, so they can't be on this list even if they are better than 8/7/9.

The GF system, which was a favorite choice of mine, was also scrapped in 9, making 9 loose serious points.

Overall though this isn't about which Final Fantasy game you choose to be number one but the fact that most people's most nostalgic games seem to be topped by Final Fantasy, regardless of which installment they preferred.

Final Fantasy 8 is very compelling, heart breaking in a lot of ways, and uplifting in others. The same can be probably be said about the other Final Fantasy games that have a very nice and fast paced gameplay.

If you don't attack quickly or decide what to do, the enemy will attack you. They will not stop and wait for you to decide what to do. 

The story is what gets you though. It's always what gets you. There are always amazing characters at the heart of some problem that threatens the existence of the world. Through lots of grinding and training, you really feel as if you're honing your skills and getting closer and closer to that last boss battle that will test you in every way it can.

Final Fantasy doesn't pull any punches. It makes you work for that final win. Many people have worked to play the whole game, giving up on the last boss. Final Fantasy won't hold your hand. If you want that ending, and you want that satisfaction of beating the game, you have to work hard to do it. There is no easy ending or easy win.

It's a game I'm currently streaming now over at: and uploading to my youtube channel: Playing it has given me a taste of nostalgic gaming; a feeling i haven't felt in a long time.

Final Fantasy can have a whole article written just about it, but suffice it to say, it's an incredible journey with an amazing story, a fast paced nail biter, that increases in drama and tension as you continue to play it. You can't call yourself gamer, or even a casual gamer, if you haven't played at least one Final Fantasy game.

If you're a "Mid" gamer generation like me, some of these game will be sure to give you that nostalgic feeling that'll make you remember the good ole days of the past.

Enjoy the list, feel free to disagree with it (as we all have different tastes), and comment below your own favorite games of the 1998-2003 era; which was the Mid Gamer generation's childhood years.

Keep feeling that nostalgia everyone. : )

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Top 10 Games of 2010 & 2011 (So Far)

(This past year and a half has been very bright for gaming and we review some of the best games of year, making sure you haven't missed any of these gems. Witcher 2, pictured above, gets an honorable mention for it's compelling story and gameplay. It's also a beautiful work of art.)

This list aims to answer that age old question of what the best recent games are and what you should play. If you don't recognize a game on the list definitely consider buying it as myself and many others have probably verified it as an amazing game to play. Every single game on this list gets a 4 out of 5 or higher on my own rating scale, which is categorized as "Excellent".

Before we get started, I do want to mention that a number of potentially excellent games have not come out yet for 2011. Games like Mass effect 3, Skyrim, and Diablo 3. That's why in the title of this post I put 2011(so far), since this list only includes games we know about, having been released previous to September of this year.

This is simply a round up of all the best games from 2010, til now, and what you should play if you notice a game on here that you haven't heard of or haven't played.

{ A word of advice about my rating system, I never give decimal ratings, such as 4.5's or 3.5's. I think it helps the reader if the game reviewer is forced to choose between a 5/5 game, or a 4/5 game. Decimals make the area murky and gray where as I'm trying to show stark contrasts between games. For that reason a game I rate 4, others may rate a 4.5, and we would both mean the same thing.

But my 5/5's are truly and significantly the best of the best. While others may rate a game a 3.5, it could get a 3 from me, helping you distinguish it from a 4 and not get confused or mislead into buying it. That's why I don't use decimals.}

Number 10
Plants v.s Zombies

What makes this game thoroughly addicting is not just the freedom it allows you to defend yourself, but the numerous items it lets you employ in your arsenal. It's one thing to have to defend your home, but it's another to give someone 100 different possible items and ask them to do what they want, to fight the zombie apocalypse.

That seems to be the greatest aspect of this game, getting new items and using them to become better at destroying zombies. As you progress in levels and get those better items, the game keeps it challenging by upping the difficulty and putting new challenges in your way you didn't have to deal with before.

This makes the game smooth and enjoyable, as far as difficulty goes, and you never feel you have a complete edge over the zombies, while definitely enjoying the new toys the game gives you to destroy them.

Lack of replay ability is an issue though which is why this game gets a 4 out of 5. That's a score of "Excellent" in my book.

Number 9 

This game proves that all you need to have fun is a jump and an action button. The action button letting you interact with your environment and the jump used to save you from that bottomless pit. The creativity, the story, and the yearning this game gives you to get to the end is INSATIABLE.

You want your character to survive, and you've invested your emotions into him. It makes surviving in this game even more important and it makes each death that much more intense and dramatic.

Limbo is simply one of the most creative and interesting games to come recently and it's a must play for anyone who hasn't bought it.

Again a lack of replay ability does make the game lose a point, giving it a final score of 4 out of 5 in my book; again a score of Excellent.

Number 8

This is an adventure game on steroids. Rather than leveling up by destroying enemies, as in most RPG games, Terraria will only allow you to get stronger by the items you loot. To loot better items requires more adventuring and exploring.

More exploring though, inevitably leads to more deaths and tougher monsters. Terraria is a very deep 2d platforming game that on the face of it seems very simple. It's not until you really get into the game and see what's out there that you find bosses and secret areas.

Terraria also keeps updating new content into it's game free of charge and has a very low price point of 10 dollars. In so many ways Terraria was hand tailored for me since adventuring and exploring is one of my favorite elements of gameplay.

The downside of the 2d graphics though is that building becomes less detailed and less rewarding. It's much more difficult to build your dream home when it has to be in 2 dimensions and will never really look like the mansion you envisioned in your head. For this reason, and for the lack of a concrete storyline, Terraria gets a 4 out of 5.

Number 7

The title of the game says it all. You're a miner that can explore your own unique world, going out and scavenging for goods in deep caves and you're a crafter employing those new materials for the betterment of your life and your surroundings.

Possibly the most creative game of the year, or maybe even the decade, Minecraft's survival mode which puts you up against monsters, mother nature, and the fear of the unknown, really is a sandbox game mastered to near perfection.

Each and every world generated is unique and a seed generator which uses your input to create a world is a nifty tool which can give you and your friends the same exact world to toy around in if you input the same numbers. So world 771 is the same on my computer and my friends.

The game makes up for it's downsides by constantly offering updates and new content to fill in those gaps. For instance the future implementation of bosses will make up for the fact that currently there are no bosses in the game and the future implementation of npc's and quests, will make up for the fact that currently their are no such RPG elements.

Having said that, I can't rate a game on work that hasn't been completed yet, and as is, Minecraft gets a 4 out of 5. If it implements everything that it seems to claim it will, it has a very high probability of becoming a 5/5 in my book. A 5/5 by the way, is categorized as a "Near Perfect/Amazing Game", which is essentially a must play game for all audiences.

Number 6
Heavy Rain

I'm a sucker for a good story especially an exceptionally well designed one that you experience with Heavy Rain. This game is hand tailored for those that want to sit back and enjoy an amazing story with minimal gameplay elements. Even though you slightly interact with the game, every interaction really does invest you into the characters, and it completely changes the dynamic so you're not just watching a movie.

The way this game is superbly crafted, it really makes you feel a part of the story, and it's why I'd rather play Heavy Rain than watch a number of Hollywood Blockbuster movies. Movies have you sit back and make you less invested in what actually happens to the characters.

Heavy Rain is dictated by your choices and you will affect the game's ending significantly. What an amazing concept right? This is an interactive movie, with amazing characters, that you get to control to an ending tailored for you. Plus it's a mystery which asks you to identify the culprit, and keeps you guessing throughout the game.

Heavy Rain is truly phenomenal and one of the hardest games to rate as a result. My final verdict again comes back to replay ability, giving the game a 4 out of 5.

Number 5
Mount&Blade Warband

While the last game was very story intensive, this game is a completely different animal. Although it has a very creative and unique back-story selection tool that fleshes out your character from choices you choose, Warband allows you to make the story as you progress.
Once given your back-story it's up to you to continue your life, in a medieval Europe like setting, and to form alliances and conquer how you choose. This is a must own game for those that love politics. You can become friends with the king, do missions for him, and eventually become a recognized lord and king yourself.

The depth of the game is pretty amazing and the sandbox atmosphere is something that will either turn you on or off. Since I love exploring and doing missions on my own, it was a definite plus for me, although other gamers like to be walked to their destinations with clear goals every step of the way.(Like kindergarten school....)

Although the game is very difficult to understand when you start, a nice tutorial over-viewing the main aspects of the game is essential and is something I'm personally working on making for any future Warband players. If you can get past that initial difficulty, Warband is a must play game that has more than a 100 hours of gameplay.

As noted earlier though the lack of storyline is an issue, and the lack of a concise tutorial really does hurt the score of the game that could have been given a 5/5. So as a result it gets a 4 out of 5 and is still one of the best games recently released to play.

Number 4
Deus Ex - Human Revolution

The story of Deus Ex is superb. The gameplay of Deus Ex is superb. The dialog in Deus Ex is superb. The weapons and abilities in Deus Ex are superb. Do you get my point? This game is amazingly superb and brilliant.

If you've played Fallout or Fallout New Vegas, this game is basically how the world would have been if futuristic America were never nuked by the Chinese and growth continued. It's a VERY futuristic mind teasing plot of the world dealing with the politics of human integration with technology.

The game is very open in allowing it's players to beat missions how they deem fit. You can FPS this game from start to finish, or you can stealth your way from the first mission to the last.

Deus Ex is a work of brilliance and I wait with bated breath for the next installment. It's our first must buy and a well deserved 5 out of 5 on my ratings list. Simply a work of art needed to be experienced to be fully appreciated.

Number 3
Starcraft 2

While everyone speaks about the amazing fluidity and balance of the multiplayer of this game, don't be fooled in forgetting about it's single player campaign. Sure this game is amazing when played with friends or put in a tournament setting but the sheer length and brilliance of single player mode of this game cannot be forgotten.

You really start investing in the characters in the story and you upgrade abilities at a nice enough rate to where the game gets more challenging yet more fun as you go.

Starcraft 2 is my favorite game made by Blizzard studios and the fact that they put so much effort and time into the single player campaign shows how much they love their fan base.

While Marvel vs Capcom simply gave their fans a nice multiplayer experience and gypped them of a single player campaign, Blizzard decided to work hard on both fronts and for their resilient effort and hard work they truly deserve their 5 out of 5 rating.

Blizzard's dedication is an example to other game studios that sometimes cut corners. Don't cut corners and you will be praised and rewarded by the masses. Starcraft 2 will go down in gaming History for both it's single-player and multi-player campaigns. How many games can say that?

Number 2
Fallout New Vegas

The main gripe about this game is people say it resembles Fallout 3 too much, to which I ask, "Is that a bad thing"? Fallout New Vegas is everything I wanted in a sequel. I didn't want them to rework this game to something new because you don't mess with something that isn't broken and happens to be amazing.

All the new improvements, such as the DPS meter, new areas, weapons, and features make this a definite step up from it's predecessor.

People who mainly give this opinion, have spent little to no time ACTUALLY playing the game. After playing New Vegas, I loved it so much that I can't even play Fallout 3 anymore. Fallout 3 just lacks too many of the features that I need and love in Vegas.

New Vegas also boasts a unique story ending that lets you control the end of the game based on your singular choices. It makes the end very satisfying and makes your choices very important. One choice directly affects others and one faction will end up liking you or hating you based on your choices with other factions.

This game is very sandbox oriented, letting you do exactly what you want, when you want, and the degradation of weapons/limited resources really forces you to think your moves through instead of running in haphazardly.

New vegas has some of the most unique story dialog options that can get your heart moving or have you laughing till you fall off your chair. Anyone who criticizes this game, really hasn't taken the time to play it. For such an amazing full package experience with more than 50 plus hours of gameplay, if you do the side missions, Fallout New vegas is the story and adventure of a lifetime. The wasteland has now become a permanent part of our digital homes.

This game gets a very well deserved 5 out of 5.

Number 1
Red Dead Redemption

What can you say about a game that has such a compelling story with a built in sandbox mechanism and a number of side missions and side jobs that are fun and entertaining for the player. How can you describe just how compelling this game is?

The story is what gets you in the beginning. You fall in love with John Marston and the future he's trying to build for his family. The gameplay is smooth and slick so that whenever you're working hard to succeed and win, you are definitely rewarded.

The ability to slow down gameplay and shoot your opponents also makes the gameplay amazingly intoxicating. Just like in VATS in Fallout, John can hone his skills and focus in on killing his enemies from his years of practice with running in outlaw gangs.

In so many ways this game is a marvel and Rockstar really has outdone itself when it created this game and revamped the whole Red Dead series of games; just like Fallout did. A testament to this game's greatness is that nearly every gaming site, magazine, and reviewer ended up giving Red dead redemption game of the year for 2010. Such a unity of opinion in gaming is a very rare sight to see and shows just how amazing this game must have been for so many people to have given it game of the year.

For those reasons and for the hours and hours of fun gameplay, Red Dead Redemption gets an easy and well earned 5 out of 5. It's worth mentioning that Undead Nightmare, Red dead Redemptions DLC, is an 8 hour adventure of it's own and is widely seen as the best DLC ever released.

Rockstar definitely got it right when it developed this game. It's too bad they followed it up with the L.A Noire flop....

Final Thoughts

I hope everyone enjoyed my 10 game reviews and got to find a gem in there that they haven't played yet. This list does cater to my style of gameplay but I feel because of sales numbers and reviews in general, most of these games will be big hits with gamers.

There are a lot of themes we see here that seem to make the games reach the top of the list. Story seems a very integral part of any game nowadays, as it engrosses the gamer into the atmosphere of the game.

Gameplay is also significant and the majority or these games have a small or significant sandbox feature. This shows the average gamer today really does want more control over his experience and game companies in the future will have to cater to this command by making their worlds more open ended.

Also creation and creativity is the wave of the future with the introduction of games like Terraria and Minecraft that let people create to their hearts desire. Watch more game companies cater to this new demand of gameplay.

2011 still has a number of games that will be very rewarding and could unseat some of the games in this top 10 list and 2012 is just waiting to give us gems that we'll talk about for years to come. A bright future awaits for gamers and the gaming industry. Stay tuned as we take that journey together and once again review the best of the best next year.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Aggressive DRM and Gaming - A tragic love affair soon to end

Source Picture by Reboppe
Some DRM may be necessary to continue innovation in gaming and protect company profits. But the days of aggressive DRM and abused consumers is over. The consumer is slowly no longer being thought of by game companies as a thief.

DRM or Digital rights management, is what software companies, and specifically in our discussion, what gaming companies use to protect their games from piracy. It has many forms and each form comes with a subset of problems. The biggest secret no one in the industry is willing to tell you is that DRM actually doesn't do what it was designed to do; stop piracy.

Great Walls of China

So in concrete terms, what exactly do companies do to restrict use of their software? Some of the methods they employ are harmless and can be understandable to your average consumer. Other methods make it so the average gamer struggles simply to PLAY the game they BOUGHT.

A few methods are listed below:
  • 1. Serial Codes - Needed to install the game
  • 2. CD only Play - CD must be inserted in order to play the game.
  • 3. In game Robot protection - Continuously scans game online for fraudulent copies.
  • 4. "SecuROM" install limitations - Limits amount of machines that can install product.
  • 5. Starcraft 2/ Steam Style LOGIN ONLY - Online registration only of games, login necessary to play.
  • 6. "Safedisc" copy prevention - tries to prevent copying of games.
  • 7. Malware Style uninstallable piracy prevention DRM.

Legitimate DRM

Now I'm not completely against all DRM or any process by which a company can protect their products. On the contrary, there are a number of ways to do so successfully without completely bothering the consumer. Listed below are examples of that:

Copy Protection

This refers to adding a piece of software, built into the game itself, and not separately running in the background, that makes it harder for people to copy game discs.

It's not a program running in the background and it's simply some code built into the game, that is unobtrusive to the consumer. Overall this is a positive DRM that companies and consumers may be able to live with.

Downsides of method
1. Futile:  A piece of software already exists that is able to get around any current copy protection software in the world. This works on all PC games and all Xbox/PS3 games.

2. Possible Loss of Property: A person's CD will eventually stop working, or may get scratched and then would have no way to reinstall the game, especially if he can't keep a backup copy of his game because of the software.

3. CDs/DVDs are fragile: Compact discs and DVD's, as mentioned above, are bad quality products that rarely last more than a couple years. Even kept in cases, CD's can lose data stop working for a number of reasons.

So while on the one hand this may deter some people from pirating a game, in the long run it doesn't stop it from happening and certain buyers of games will be left with no way to install the game they purchased once their CD dies.

Serial Codes

This is another form of protection that uses long algorithmic codes to verify to an installer. Overall, as long as a user doesn't lose their code, this is a very positive form of DRM that is for the most part unobtrusive to consumers and helpful in stemming Piracy.

1. Futile: Nearly every piece of software in the world now has a Keygen, also known as a Key Generator that knows the algorithm used by the company to make the serials and can generate a free serial for whatever game or program you want.

2. Loss of Product: Again if you lose your code, you would lose your product. No hotline in the world would believe you if you called in and that $50 or $60 dollars you spent would be gone instantly.

Although this is definitely an annoyance to Consumers, I think they are willing to use this form of DRM for the benefit of the game manufacturers. But to be honest, as mentioned above, this cannot stop piracy and at best prevents it for a week or two until a pirate makes a Key generator.

In game Robot Protection Scanning

What keeps most games from being pirated on the consoles is simply this. If you get on a PS3 or an Xbox, all games get scanned constantly for any signs of piracy. Although there are ways around this, according to a lot of data this has made Console games much more profitable than PC games in the last couple years.

Do you remember entering serial codes into your Xbox or ps3? Rather than annoy their customers with that, Sony and Microsoft do that hard work by trying to track down pirated games using sophisticated technology.

1. Partially-Futile: There is a difficult yet possible work around for this that makes any pirated game safe to detection. Although having looked it over, it is very strenuous and most people would not understand how to do it.

This doesn't interfere with the gaming experience of the player and it allows the owners of the games to monitor their products.
It's creative answers like this that need to be found. An answer that doesn't bother the consumer and is powerful enough to stop a variety of piracy.

Illigitmate DRM

All of the above techniques are LEGITIMATE ways for companies to protect their investments and are understandable from the perspective of the consumer. But the methods explained below are unacceptable and should be phased out for use by software producers.

CD Only Play

How annoying is it that a CD must be inserted for a game to load? What if you lose a CD, does that mean you lost the 50 dollars you just spent to buy the game? What if your CD reader breaks or you have a laptop with no CD reader?

1. Completely Futile: Every game ever produced has a NO-CD executable available online from a myriad of sites. I've actually downloaded some for games I've BOUGHT simply because I refuse to put my CD into my computer just to play a game that I purchased and installed already.

A lot of friends I know as well have done this because they don't want the annoyance of finding a disc EACH time they want to play a different game. That requires cataloging and organizing dozens of games, if each game needed to be inserted into the computer to play, AFTER being installed. Too much of a hassle for the average consumer.

Install Limitations(Piracy by Companies)

I understand the mentality of this and how it would protect software industries but computers get viruses ALL the time and need to be reinstalled. Also the days where people owned one computer are over. Every friend I know has multiple computers at their home.

If install limitation is put in place, many games will eventually be unable to install their games because the licenses will run out and people would have had their property stolen by DRM. Install limitation is what I call "Piracy by Companies". This is how companies steal money from people that pay for their games, by limiting how many times they can install the game, and eventually stop allowing the game from being installed or working at all.

1. Futile: There is an easy workaround to every install limitation game out there that requires a simple .EXE file input and can be done by any lay consumer. 

This does not stop piracy and instead makes it harder for consumers to use the licenses they own.

2. Multiple-computer world: This inherently stops you from installing your game on multiple computers at your home. When was the last time you saw anyone that had only one computer at their home? In a multiple computer world, this DRM cannot survive.

Malware style preventative protection

EA, Sony for a little while, and a few other companies have developed programs that lurk in the background and can do some serious damage if they make mistakes or simply do their job properly. From destroying disc drives to not uninstalling themselves on purpose, these programs are now known as malware and can seriously affect your computer if you install the game that you BOUGHT legitimately.

1. Futile: Work-arounds and patches to every game that has these types of software exists. Although they may be very aggressive, an equally aggressive community has cracked and dismantled these softwares and made them available for free online. People have actually started to promote piracy of games that use these "draconian" methods of DRM.

2. Powerfully aggressive: A number of reports are out of damage done to computers simply by using these games that include these powerful DRM programs. From sluggish performance to broken disc drives, these programs do their hardest to stop piracy, but when they make mistakes or simply do their job, they are lethal to your computer.

Future of good DRM - 
A possible solution to this mess

Login online one time activation (Steam/Blizzard)

Rather than only focus on the problems of DRM, I wanted to discuss a possible solution to our problem and a glimmer of hope. The games implementing this technique have for the most part been only slightly affected by piracy and have given large profits to the companies that employ them. Consumers as well have benefited from this easy to use DRM model that is not aggressive and bothersome.

It allows people to use their product on multiple computers, multiple times, with multiple uninstall and installs.  All it requires is a registration online (once preferably) and a login required to play.

While this isn't a perfect solution, in a lot of ways, it is very powerful in protecting companies from piracy and very easy for most consumers to use. In a lot of ways, this may be the future of good DRM.

Final Thoughts

I remember in the early 2000 and late 90's era where games had virtually no DRM protection. People were making very good money and piracy was rarely an issue. I would go out and buy my favorite games and we never had these conversations to begin with.

I'd like to point out though that a key factor in all of this was game price.
Games were much cheaper then and you could get them for about 20 dollars; sometimes less.

I think piracy is directly connected to price. If all games were 10 dollars each, no one would pirate. The effort and time it would take to pirate would not be worth the advantage of owning the game INSTANTLY and having a physical copy.

The key to piracy has always been price. The belief that people would pirate even if games were cheaper ($1), is a calmly told lie by corporations who make profits from larger margins.

A great example of this is the music industry. When Apple's iTunes was launched, everyone thought it would fail. 1 dollar for a song, instead of buying the whole CD was a joke, people would say. Now iTunes is insanely popular and raking in millions for Apple.

When you give consumers a lower cost choice, they always pick up on it. If games were cheaper and more affordable, piracy would die as a natural effect of the market. It's the price points of these games that are creating this black market. The size of piracy of a game can be trended perfectly with the higher the price of a game. A 1 dollar game will not be pirated as much as a 1,000 dollar game.

Minecraft, the 20 dollar independent gaming hit, Terraria the 10 dollar smash sensation, and Plants v.s Zombies the $20 wonder, are all examples of amazing selling low price alternative games that have very small piracy issues with NO DRM whatsoever. All above games have sold MILLIONS of copies, making them some of the most popular games every sold in the history of the P.C! Could their low price have possibly affected the lack or small effect of piracy on their sales? Definitely. Price is Piracy's biggest enemy, and it cannot beat it. Low Price = Low piracy = More sales = More profit.

Aggressive DRM is not the future of gaming. 
Don't take my word for it. Take theirs:

Blizzard’s CEO Mike Morhaime
Wired thus asked what his plans were for DRM in Starcraft II and Diablo 3. "Those are things we’re still evaluating," he said, "but we do wanna make it pretty easy for players to play the game, wherever they are. Nowadays people have multiple systems. They shouldn’t necessarily be able to play the game ... they shouldn’t be able to log in multiple times on as many computers as they have without buying multiple copies of the game. Like, you can play WarCraft III, or World of Warcraft even, from multiple locations. I think you should be able to do that.""

Blizzard founder, Frank Pearce
And the pragmatic game designer's final words on the matter is a mantra which many other game houses would do well to adopt: "We need our development teams focused on content and cool features, not anti-piracy technology."

Bill Gates on DRM in general
Gates said that no one is satisfied with the current state of DRM, which “causes too much pain for legitmate buyers” while trying to distinguish between legal and illegal uses. He says no one has done it right, yet. There are “huge problems” with DRM, he says, and “we need more flexible models, such as the ability to “buy an artist out for life” (not sure what he means). He also criticized DRM schemes that try to install intelligence in each copy so that it is device specific.
His short term advice: “People should just buy a cd and rip it. You are legal then.”
He ended by saying “DRM is not where it should be, but you won’t get me to say that there should be usage models and different payment models for usage. At the end of the day, incentive systems do make a difference, but we don’t have it right with incentives or interoperability.”

Tristan Nitot, president of Mozilla Europe
“I don’t think DRM has a future. Treating your customers like thieves is bad business practice. Today the customer is not ‘king’, they are considered thief first.”
He relates a story about his young son being visibly upset by a DRM-enabled music CD which would not play on his older model HiFi.
“It is stupid to think that the key to a DRM system won’t leak. So if it becomes more painful for a legitimate customer to use a product than it is for the pirates then that’s a problem,” he says.


Codemasters CEO Rod Cousins
DRM measures are “almost counterproductive”, according to Cousins. The solution, he says, is to send games to the retail market in an unfinished state and allow customers to purchase their choice of several small pieces to complete the game as they wish.

Good Old Games' PR and marketing manager, Lukasz Kukawski
The effectiveness of DRM as a piracy-deterrent was 'None, or close to none.'

'What I will say isn’t popular in the gaming industry,' says Kukawski, 'but in my opinion DRM drives people to pirate games rather than prevent them from doing that. Would you rather spend $50 on a game that requires installing malware on your system, or to stay online all the time and crashes every time the connection goes down, or would you rather download a cracked version without all that hassle?'

According to Kukawski, the situation with restrictive DRM has reached the point where gamers often feel pushed into buying a game at full price, but then still download a cracked version to avoid the DRM. 'I know people that buy an original copy of the game just so they don't feel guilty,' says Kukawski, 'and then they will play a pirated version which is stripped of all DRM. That’s not how it should be. Let’s treat legitimate customers with respect and they will give that back.'

In addition to driving gamers to cracked versions of games, Kukawski also asks how anyone can believe that DRM acts as a deterrent to piracy. 'If you see the news on gaming portals that a highly anticipated title has leaked before the release date, and you can download it from torrents without any copy protection because it has been already cracked, how can you possible believe that DRM works in any way to reduce piracy?'

Despite heavily criticising DRM, however, Kukawski still has no love for pirates. 'Piracy is evil,' he says. 'By pirating a game, a movie, or a song you’re stealing from people who put a lot of hard work into creating something for your enjoyment. That’s disrespecting the creator who’s providing you with something that adds joy to your day.'

While Kukawski's comments themselves aren't revolutionary in the DRM debate, it's interesting to see them coming from an online game retail business, as well as a game developer. After all, Good Old Games is owned by CD Projekt; developer of The Witcher 2, which will also be DRM-free. You can check out the trailer for The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings below.

'We are making a bold step by putting up this highly-anticipated title without any sort of DRM,' says Kukawski. 'We believe it’s going to be a huge success, which should really open doubters’ eyes.'