I miss you Babbage’s

Some stenches take a long time to leave my nostrils, and subsequently I don’t visit the mall very often. The crowded corridors are difficult to forget, and the cacophony of crying children, whiny teenagers, and rabid salespeople makes the mall an undesirable destination. Nevertheless, there are some occasions for visiting that cesspit of humanity, and with its claws dug so recently into my neck, I found myself ranting once again about inconsequential and irrelevant things.

The problem is that I irrationally blame the wrong party for most of the evils in our lives, and the mall gives me a billion different excuses to start railing against our society. In this particular instance, I happened to visit Gamestop to see if they had a copy of Heroes of Might and Magic 3 for Mac OS X.

Gamestop has become ubiquitous with brick-and-mortar game stores anymore. What was once Babbage’s in all its glory was purchased by Electronics Boutique some time ago, but the store itself didn’t change much so I didn’t really mind. It didn’t change because it didn’t have time, it turns out: EB was quickly purchased by Gamestop, and the world as we knew it came to an end.

Computer games have taken a number of evolutionary steps in the last two decades, each step angering gamers more than the previous. Increased focus on graphics and flash rather than story, cutting our manuals down to keyboard shortcut reference sheets, and the rise of first person shooters coinciding with the death of the RPG… Other than MMOs (of which there are few), PC games just haven’t done well the last few years.

Now it’s all consoles, and Gamestop reflects this. As I spun wildly around the store, eyes wide in horror, it occurred to me that my quest was doomed from the beginning. I don’t know why I even bothered to go in. Gamestop isn’t my gaming store, because the mass culture of gaming has degenerated to nothing more than vendors pushing crap on kids to waste some time.
Gamestop represents the death of the metagame, of thoughtfulness, and of harmony between gamers. And it’s not like their distribution model has resulted in lower prices; games have skyrocketed in price in the last ten years, until now it has become almost reasonable to pay $50-60 for a game.

Of course, I’m making some wildly insulting assumptions with the above observations and statements. I’m essentially segregating the gaming community into two camps: true gamers (old school) and kiddies (console pill poppers). And it’s particularly stupid because I own a console myself and love the toy. It would cost me well over a thousand dollars to build a computer capable of playing a game at an equivalent graphics level as my XBox 360, and I enjoy kicking back on the couch with a controller.

I just wish the rise of the console hadn’t necessitated the death of the PC game. Relatively few games are released for computers anymore, and it is harder and harder to justify doing so when the console market has become so profitable and far-reaching. But I also don’t feel that we get the same quality of games in regards to story and gameplay anymore. When I get with gamers to talk about games, we often gravitate towards titles released five, ten, or more years ago. Those are the ones we remember and crave, and I think it’s largely because of the metagame.

Older games didn’t have as much flash, and so they had to engage the player on more than an ocular level. The game was something you could “play” even when not at a computer by considering strategy, reading the lore and back story, talking with others about where they were going or what they were doing. There was more to the game than just the game… I feel like we are getting less for our money now.

It’s not going to change, and Gamestop will probably someday team up with Taco Bell and rule the world from their deep-fried brain-dead Tower of Hate. As for me, I’ll just have to avoid the mall for as long as possible to let these wounds scar over… and maybe take some vicodin before I come back.

Video playback on the XBox 360

When evaluating which of the top three consoles I wished to invest in, I had originally settled on the Nintendo Wii. Its controller was revolutionary (the code name for the console was originally Nintendo Revolution, in fact), and there are a lot of Nintendo games I like. But then a mate brought his Nintendo over and we played some games, and I found that I really disliked it. I got tired playing the Nintendo, and while some people are drawn to the idea of exercising through gaming, I’d prefer to relax while gaming and get my exercise elsewhere. I’m usually already tired when I sit down to play a game, and I don’t want a system that is prohibitive to play in those circumstances.

The PS3 was overpriced with little promise, so I went with the XBox 360. It had a more mature game selection, the controller’s nice, and it doubles as a DVD player. Since I already had a DVD player, this wasn’t that big an advantage, but now I’m rethinking that. My old player is dying a slow and laggy death, so April and I have begun using the 360 for watching movies. For whatever reason, we find that we like the controls on the 360 (managed through on-screen buttons you navigate with the regular game controller) better than the complicated DVD remote, and I think the picture might be a little better as well. What’s more exciting is how it manages pausing, though.

Another way to put it is that you don’t need to pause. One of the exciting features of the XBox 360 is that updates are fed to it over the Internet by Microsoft. A feature added a few months ago allows the 360 to save where you are in a movie automatically. We didn’t really notice this until we started watching the special features of Lord of the Rings, where we’d watch for an hour or two, then turn the 360 off. A few days later, turn it back on, start the DVD, and playback would begin right where we left off.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve played games in the intermediary time (though I haven’t tried watching a different movie and then switching back), or how long the console has been off. It just comes back to the exact point you stopped at so you can continue watching.

I enjoy the games and the controllers and Live (Internet play) and everything else, but this might be my favourite feature right now. It’s something they didn’t need to add, but is extremely nice, and just a great perk. Attention to helpful details like that is what makes me a satisfied customer and ensures I’ll get another XBox product someday.