Monday, December 27, 2010

There's Now a Second Blog

I love blogging. As I've said before, I don't plan on stopping anytime soon. As a matter of fact, with Xmas behind me and Wednesday through Friday off, I may finally have the time to sit down and start writing content again.

For now, I wanted to announce to everyone that I have started a second blog, titled Unending in Azeroth. This blog is a World of Warcraft blog.

I decided to make a second blog to talk about WoW to keep my audiences distinct. Most of you who have followed me for so long for my thoughts on achievements, the Xbox 360, or console gaming in general (plus my random ramblings) may not care one bit about WoW, so why push in front of you content you don't want? Likewise, are most WoW fans going to care about my thoughts on New Vegas's Hardcore mode? Unlikely.

Now, there's still a reason to follow my WoW blog, even if you don't play the game. That blog is not primarily intended to be a journal of my exploits in the game. While it will do that, I want to use it as a place to discuss social dynamics in-game and other social aspect that come with playing an MMO. So, if you're looking for some educated opinions (I got a degree in Sociology) about the largest Virtual Environment in human history, keep your eye on that blog.

I just threw it up tonight, so it doesn't have all the bells and whistles I want to add to it. That's a project for another night.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

ThrawnOmega: Achievement Guide Ninja Assassin Editor

While my review writing pace has slowed down considerably over the last year, a new avenue to assist x360a has opened up for me. There's little glory to be had in the position (your average viewer will never see what I do), and it's not something I could easily toss on a resume when trying to get into the gaming industry, but I'm still happy to be doing it, and helping out the site.

I have been brought into the x360a Guide Team to assist, primarily as a guide editor. As I understand it, the job entails taking the best from any and all written guides for a game, tweaking or improving descriptions as needed, and preparing the guide to be posted to the main site. Unlike the guide authors, my name won't be splashed on top of the guide credits. The editing task is virtually invisible to the outside viewer.

Total disclosure: I JUST got access to the guide team yesterday, and haven't actually done anything for them yet. I'm just starting to learn the ropes and expectations. My actual contributions probably won't start until January, when my work schedule lets up a little. Not even sure if they really consider me "Guide Team" yet LOL. I probably have to actually do something to earn the title =)

The position is a good fit for me. I love working on guides, but have written relatively few for the site myself. I can only count The Maw and the Side Quest and Trading Card guides for Deadly Premonition to my credit (and the side quests was co-authored). I have the writing talent to do guides, but I don't like the competition that comes with being "first" and the attention they get during the writing process. Where a review is one-way (MY way), the guide writing process is collaborative, and trying to deal with 1,000 other people isn't my thing.

However, I love editing. Always have. I edited other people's papers in high school and college. I had to edit my own work constantly, considering how much writing goes into English and Sociology degrees. I've had to edit as a creative writer and a review writer. I have fun taking a set of works and making their message even better. Some of you may understand that, other probably won't. So I was excited to hear I could help on the guide team without actually having to write guides. This role suits my skill set just fine.

I'd like to thank the mods and admins of x360a for the opportunity to contribute, and I look forward to helping out... next year. I still have to survive the build up to Christmas, the day-after shenanigans, and then getting the store back in order. Fun!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Thrawn Got WoWed

If you've seen my automatic daily tweet from Raptr, the secret is already out. I've taken the plunge on an MMO again, giving the biggest of them all a shot.

I traded in a few crap old games and a 20GB hard drive in exchange for the World of Warcraft Battle Chest, which had the core game and first expansion. It was basically free, since I just got rid of stuff I didn't care for. This is almost like a glorified 30 day trial.

Fear not, blog readers. No matter how into the game I get, this blog will not become a WoW blog. If I choose to write about WoW, I will make a seperate blog for that, as the two audiences are likely very different. Mentions of WoW here going forward will mostly be in discussion of how the game fits into the larger world of games.

I have parental controls turned on myself, limiting my play to a max of 12 hours a week. I don't want to get too sucked in, or neglect all other gaming. (Yes, this could turn into a total joke, as I set my own limits and could easily change it any time. It's up to my self-discipline not to.)

Why get into an MMO again? I have several reasons:

1 - The appeal of a persistent character. The coolest thing about MMOs is having an alter-ego that you can spend hundreds of hours adventuring with and not get bored. There's tons of things to do, and always some way to improve. I enjoyed thins in EQ2 more than your regular RPGs, as the sensation of growth lasts longer than even the longest offline RPGs. I've always enjoyed the growth more than being Godlike at the endgame.

2 - The social aspects. With my work schedule, I have a lot of weekdays off, which aren't the best days for having a social life. Add to that that most of my friends are at least an hour away, and it's an infrequent treat that I get to spend time with my friends. While I try to establish some local relationships (bonus points if I don't work with these people), it's nice to have an online group of people to BS and have fun with when there's nobody else around to hang out with. I've been disappointed with the level of interactivity I've had with people over Live. Nobody talks in MP. I'm never in any party chats (I'm sure I'm partly to blame for that).

3- It's cheap entertainment. I can't get the complaining about subscription fees for MMOs. These games are ungodly expensive to maintain. I think I read somewhere (don't quote me), that it costs in excess of $15 million a month to keep WoW going. Yes, I know they make that back times a jillion, but still, there's upkeep involved. In my books, if you play the game just 30 minutes a day (15 hours a month), you're getting your money's worth, as that's just $1 per hour. Lool at the other games in your collections. How many of them cost $1 per hour or less for the entertainment they provided? Probably less than 25% of them, unless you're a true bargain bin raider. I'm starting to try to save money like a bastard (partly as proof to myself that I actually CAN), so dropping the more expensive Gamefly and trimming other game purchases to the true AAAs that I want is a way to start. I can always rent from Family Video if I want to check out a different game.

Or borrow it from Silva. That man buys EVERYTHING.

4- Curiosity: WoW has over 12 million players. It's been around the block for six years, and has a huge number of player blogs and sites surrounding it. It has its own norms and internet sub-culture. It has its own collective history. As someone fascinated by the sociological implications of things, I live for this shit. I spend an entire semester researching WoW from the outside (and I got paid for it, by the way), and now I'm curious to observe these types of social dynamics from within.

So yes, I'm dipping my feet into WoW. We'll see how that goes. You'll still see me on Live plenty. I'm not about to retreat into an MMO cave of obsession or anything. I promise. (Oh, and this way I'll probably be the only one who hangs out with Sabre LOL. I rolled my character on his server so we could chill. Helps to have one person you know in the game with you.)

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Math of Gamestop's PowerUp Rewards Program

Game retailer Gamestop has recently unrolled a new version of their Edge card program. The old version of the program came with a year subscription to Game Informer Magazine, plus 10% bonus credit on trade-ins, plus periodic special offers and coupons. These deals are still in place, but there's now an additional points that customers can earn, and redeem for the rewards of their choice.

Best Buy has a similar deal with their Reward Zone, where you earn points for dollars spent, then receive a gift certificate for a certain number of points (roughly $250 spent = $5 gift certificate). Unlike the Reward Zone program, Gamestop's PowerUp Rewards program offers much more than just gift certificates. Customers can redeem points for strategy guides, controllers, microsoft points, and more.

They're giving 10 points per dollar spent on New games on consoles, 20 points per dollar on used games or refurb systems. Obviously, the system is designed to reward players more for buying the products Gamestop has a much, much higher margin in. Customers also get 20 points per dollar for items they trade in, again this makes sense for Gamestop since they make the bulk of their profit in secondhand sales.

Basic enrollment is free, while for $15, you can get a year subscription to Game Informer, plus additional benefits. I know there will be those out there who disagree, but I think 12 issues of Game Informer is worth the $15. The ambiguous part is exactly how much I'd be rewarded for my frequent purchases at Gamestop.

A 1600 Microsoft Points card costs 20,000 Gamestop reward points. Let's assume you only accumulate points for preplayed games and trade-ins (20 points per dollar). Your $20 value reward costs $1,000 spent/traded to obtain.

Below are some more rewards and how much would need to be spent to obtain them, assuming always the higher 20 points per dollar:

360 Wireless controller: 35,000 points, $1750
Turtle Beach X11 Headset: 38,500 points, $1925
$5 off a Preplayed game: 4,000 points, $200
360 Afterglow Controller: 18,200 points, $910

Good news here is that as long as you retain your card (only need to make one purchase a year to retain your points in I remember right), so it's not like you're in a hurry to use those points. The bad news: To get anything decent, you have to spend quite a lot of money. Of course, there are bonus point offers from time to time, but you're still obligated to spend a lot for any rewards.

Would this program get me to shop there in place of my 10% associate discount from Walmart? God no. However, for customers without a store discount, Gamestop's rewards plan is equal, or sometimes a better dollar-for-dollar deal than Best Buy's Reward Zone. For Best Buy, $250 = $5 back, simple as. This dollar for reward ratio is about the same for costs in PowerUp, though slightly better if you go the preplayed game route (Note: It's only on-par if you go exclusively preplayed games).

Would this program make you more likely to purchase from Gamestop, or purchase there more often? Do you find this a good way to give a little something to repeat customers, or is it just a gimmic to try to drum up more sales?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Let's Crank This Blog to 11

I've been making a lot of personal changes in my life lately, all with the goal of rejecting old bad habits and aggressively striving to improve myself. (This tangent will lead to videogame related material, bare with me)

In November, I called myself out on my two-faced approach to writing. I say my dream is to write a novel, yet when push comes to shove, I've put no effort into actually writing one. So, I rose to the challenge and wrote over 50,000 words in one month (that story is available as-is to anyone who provides me an email address to send it to. I'm not posting it online). While it's not a complete story, and there's a ton of editing to do on what's already there, I proved to myself that I could write if I put the effort in, and learned that putting out a decent word count in not NEARLY as hard as I thought it was. Those 50,000 words were really written in only 15 days!

For the last two months, I've finally had enough of being the cliche overweight, out of shape gamer. I'm better than that. So, I've gotten smart about what I eat, renounced soda, and practically go Super-Saiyan on each of my days off with how hard I work out. I mean, my workouts are INTENSE. My motto is, if I can still stand at the end of the workout, I wasn't working hard enough (and that's almost how hard I push myself). The result? I've lost 8 pounds in 5 weeks, and workouts are getting noticably easier. I'm starting to see the payoff, which makes staying motivated to keep going easy.

As I continue to solidify my success with these two tasks, I am already turning my attention to new frontiers. One goal of mine is social in nature, which I'm not going to talk much about until some progress has been made. The other is professional.

Again, it's time I kick my own ass into gear (nobody else is going to) and actually chase what I want, instead of just talking about it. Throw myself out there, instead of waiting to be discovered. Find ways to make myself useful to x360a (I haven't written a review for them in months), or find someone else who wants what I have to offer. Or both. I need to work what few industry contacts I have, and keep myself in top form by continuously writing content.

So, new goal: If I have the day off, there shall be a blog post (there will, of course, be some exceptions to this. Life happens.). And not all of them will be "what I've played" posts, either. I need to get back into review form, so I will be writing a review of every game I finish, no matter how long ago it was released. (Even if you don't care what I have to say about Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, I'm going to write that review for my own benefit, at least) I also need to sharpen my editorial skills, and provide creative features, so look for that too. Special topics will be a part of this blog again if it kills me.

I'll be spending a couple hours each off day working this blog or putting myself out there, chasing my goal of getting into the industry on a paid basis.

You can help. I want to completely overhaul the design of this blog, including taking it off blogger and developing my own site if I have to. Unfortunately, I lack the skillset for this, and the effort required to make a nicer looking blog or website would probably be better spent actually making content. So, if there's anyone reading this who thinks they can help me launch an improved blog or my own small gaming website, I'm receptive to your ideas, and willing to work out a deal to compensate you for your efforts. I'm not expecting a freebie here.

To my kind believers out there, who have been supporting of my desire to get into the industry, you can help me out too. Be my viral marketing team. Talk me up. Retweet my tweets you think others would care about. Link to a blog post you like in the various forums you post to. Basically, if you like what you see (and what will be coming) spread the word. The more people who find out about this tiny little corner of the internet, the more likely it is someone with the power to hire me will take a gander.

I'm tired of being passive about my dreams. I've had enough of looking around myself and thinking "This is good, but I could do better." In my apartment, I have a motivational poster on one of my walls. It shows an eagle soaring over a mountain top, and reads "Achievement... only those who fly high can land on a mountain top." I'll keep pushing on with stubborn determination until my goal is met. No more half-efforts and crapping out.

It's time to crank this blog to 11.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Not a Multiplayer

If you were to study my gameplay history, the games I play, and how long I play them, there's an overwhelming trend pointing to my preference for single player experiences. Where I do engage in multiplyer, it's cooperative far more often than competetive.

The idea for this blog post popped into my head during a round of Call of Duty: Black Ops (a game I enjoy in moderation, though I can't get my K/D ratio to even to save my life).

A recent editorial on x360a (I believe Dan wrote it) talked about how more and more formerly single-player only franchises are branching off into multiplayer, as well. So long as the SP doesn't suffer, I don't really care. But I'd rather see more games go the cooperative Horde mode or L4D routes with coop than throw in competitive MP modes that will be popular for the first few months after release, then quickly fade to obscurity, with only small communities (if any survive). For example, will anyone be playing Dead Space 2 MP six months after that game's release? What's the shelf like of AC: Brotherhood? (Don't know, haven't played it, to be fair.)

I perfer single player for a variety of reasons:

1- It ends. Once I have completed a game and the end credits roll, I feel like I've accomplished something. Or finished something, at the very least. Multiplayer never 'ends.' Sure individual matches are won or lost, but there's no real end point, no final threshold to cross to say "I've done it." To go along with this, when I'm playing multiplayer, I'm often thinking about the other games I could be working on, unless I'm working toward an achievement or, heaven forbid, I actually like the MP.

2- No online douchebags, racists, kids rapping in the mic, etc. etc. etc.

3- I find no satisfaction in online play, win or lose. I won! So what? I'm not even going to remember that match tomorrow, unless it was something rare and epic indeed. Playing with a bunch of random people who don't talk against other random people holds no thrill factor for me. Playing with some friends who communicate is more entertaining. Playing with one group of friends against ANOTHER group of friends is when multiplayer kicks ass, because I know the players and there's a little actual rivalry. Sadly, that rarely happens, as most of my friends are fellow achievement junkies, who you have to prod into any non-scoring gaming session, or I don't have enough people around who have the same game. So, 95% of the time I'm with randoms, against randoms. YAWN.

Coop is a different beast. It's like single player in that there's an ending, but you can take a friend along for the ride. Halo, Gears of War, L4D, Rainbow Six Vegas, Borderlands - all are great games that I played in coop. But coop, like MP, is only fun if I know who my partner or partners are. Playing Borderlands with my brother - awesome. Joining a random session - not-fun-city.

I'm not opposed to joining groups for some MP shenanigans from time to time, so don't hesitate to send an invite if you're considering it, I'm just saying, 95% of my time I spend in single player, and that isn't likely to change.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Imperial Gaming Network (the OTHER IGN)

So, I'm dabbling with the concept of live streaming gameplay footage. I can do this to show people parts of games thet have seen little public hype, to offer game walkthroughs or achievement tips, broadcast some multiplayer shenanigans... you name it.

I've set up a show called the Imperial Gaming Network on UStream for my broadcasted content. I already have one video up, showing the end of Chapter 9 and all of Chapter 10 of Enslaved. It's a great game that hasn't seen mass sales, so it's the right type of game to use to start this project. I understand the video quality leaves a lot to be desired. I'm looking into ways to improve that with what I already have available to me, and may invest in tools to make this even better if the idea becomes popular.

Since videos are currently being filmed using my laptop's webcam, I cannot chat and stream at the same time. I will need to acquire a second camera to do that.

Future streaming sessions will be announced via this blog and twitter. All sessions will be recorded so you can catch the action later if you missed it.

What sort of things would you like to see me stream? How can this effort entertain and/or inform you? I'm open to any and all feedback.

On a seperate note, does anyone know how to make multiple pages for the top of the blog? I seem to be too dumb to make more beyond the "Home" tab, and I'd like to make more to reorganize the blog. Look at how Stallion's blog is set up. I'm aiming for something similar, though my categories would obviously be different.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Questing and Boosting

I'm looking for a group of players to help me boost a few specific games, hopefully in the next three days (sun-tues) if possible. Rather than previous posts where I offer up a long list of titles I could use help on, I thought I'd drop the specific titles I'm ready to roll on RIGHT NOW.

First, Ghostbusters. The extremely-late but still appreciated patch has made the full 1000 possible, so I'm looking for 2-3 Ghostbusters to work with me to complete the multiplayer aspect of the game. I eventually want to go back and snag the full 1k, but at this point, I'm not bothering until the MP is complete. I own the game. If anyone else owns the game or decides to rent it, message me over LIVE. We'll be working on virtually every MP achievement.

Second - Bioshock 2 (360): I need to find a group of people who all own the Rapture Metro maps, so we can work on the virtually impossible (legit) achievements for public play and a public win on the new maps. (2K, you suck SO MUCH for not making a special playlist for these. Seriously, WTF!?) WOuld rather not run the session if I can help it (swear to god I have to run 95% of the boosting sessions I'm in... it gets old), but I'd be happy to help gather the troops.

Third- Bioshock 2 (PC): Want a group to boost the Little Sister capture achievement. The rest of the achievements are easy to obtain legit. Almost nobody plays CTS anymore on Bioshock 2 PC, thus the need for a boosting group.

When not boosting, I'll be continuing to work on the same assortment of Games I've been playing lately. Expect to see me online working New Vegas, Enslaved, and either version of Bioshock 2. I may also spend some time with games newly purchased via Steam during their week of deals, including Mount and Blade or King's Bounty.

I've also decided I'm changing (yet again) the rules for my annual completion challenge, starting 2011. The rules include an expansion of what games count, and a change to the "40 hour rule."

Starting 2011, ALL games count toward the completion challenge, not just 360 games for achievements. 360 games will be considered complete if all their acheivements are unlocked. Non-360, non-GFWL games are defined as complete once I have finished the game to the ending credits. I don't care about Steam achievements, so games with achievements on steam don't have to be maxed out to be considered done.

The 40-hour rule is changing to make for more completion points with the super-long titles out there. The old version is, once I've played a game for 40 or more hours hunting its achievements, it's automatically worth +1 completion point, and +1 more for every 40 hours after that. Next year, I still have to play a game for 40 hours before I see the first +1 for the time involved, but after that, it's +1 every 24 hours, not 40 (excluding the 48 hour mark). This way, I would be seeing bonus points at 72, 96, and 120 hours, not just at 80 or 120. There are a few games I'm looking to finish next year that are long enough to profit from this rule revision.