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Lament for the bygone days of gaming

November 8, 2009

I just picked up Dragon Age: Origins for the PS3, and it made me realize, really, for the first time, just how far we’ve come (for better or for worse) from the days of, insert cartridge in the slot, turn on system and begin playing. I am going to qualify this by saying that the DS still has this model, as does the PSP, but this rambling is in reference to the home consoles.

Anyone who plays games online (or is even connected to the internet) on a current-gen console is intimately familiar with frequent updates/patches/bug-fixes/etc, and console firmware updates. This is nothing new, and we’ve all been conditioned to expect it, and not be more than slightly inconvenienced. I’m not even going to delve into the whole “devs shipping unfinished games so the publisher can make their target date and make their investors happy” debate, as this could be an entire blog post in and of itself. I merely wish to reflect on how this common ritual smacked me right in the face with the purchase of this game.

Before I could even LOAD the game, I was prompted to do a firmware update for the PS3. I had already been on version 3.00, but the game pretty much forced me to update to 3.01, which was supposed to be an optional update. I had no choice but to do so. As I was downloading the install, I googled the update, and found that on some consoles, especially the 60 gig units, which is the one I own, the update either bricked the system or made the Blu-Ray drive inoperable. This is the same update that has two seperate lawsuits pending against Sony. So, now I was scared. Should I cancel the update, and just forego playing the game? The minutes ticked by with the progress bar continually increasing. The system abruptly turned itself off, turned itself back on, and then installed the update, and again rebooted. Even though I’m not religious in the slightest, I threw out a foxhole prayer that my PS3 would be functional after the update. Lo and behold, it was!

Now, the game comes with codes for 2 free downloadable items. Both of these are legit downloads, not kb-sized disc-based unlocks. But before I could even get to the title screen, I was confronted with a request to subscribe to EA’s online something or another in order to access online features. This was also printed on the back of the package. I found this odd, as it is a single-player, offline RPG. But I jumped through the hoops they wanted me to, in order to get to the title screen and in order to redeem the codes for the “free stuff.” I’m guessing that all future EA games are going to require the player to do this, and in this game, which was single player with online premiums, it was a test for the company. I’m not sure if EA had done this previously on other games, but this was the first time I’d ever seen this.

So now that I was registered, I figured I’d redeem the codes. This took me to the Playstation Store, where I had to add the first piece of content to my cart and then “purchase” it. Thought about downloading, but it was 600+ MB, which would have taken a while. Exited the store, went back to the logo splash screens in the game, back to the title screen, and input the second code, which again took me back to the Playstation Store. Rinse and repeat.

So, I foolishly thought that I could finally begin playing the game. Of course, I’d noticed that the package stated at least 3 gigs were required on the hard drive, so I already figured it was going to be a mandatory install. But after that entire process I had just gone through, it was disheartening to say the least.

Long story a bit longer, it took me probably more than half an hour to prepare my console to actually begin playing the game, and for a portion of that time, I was in a state of unease that my PS3 would be rendered non-functional. Do you remember ANY point in the history of gaming (aside from using unauthorized devices and/or modding your system) where the act of simply playing a game might brick a console? Or a point in time before the current gen where the console needed you to invest a half an hour to make it “ready” to play the game? Whatever happened to, “Put in Super Mario Bros. and Duckhunt and just play the game?”

On the plus side, the instant gratification typical of American gamers that every previous console generation has indulged has been obliterated this gen. In order to play current games, one must learn patience, which, as we all know, is a virtue. Unfortunately, we are being conditioned to accept this as the norm rather than the exception. Which, again, is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s probably a good thing in the face of the impending digital-only distribution model. But there is something to be said for turning on a game, playing for half an hour, and then putting it down to partake in other activities. That half hour currently is spent on hold, waiting.

But we are savvy consumers. We have PCs, so we can browse the internet while we wait. We have television to occupy our time. Or, against all odds, this period of waiting just MIGHT be the prime opportunity to actually READ the (black and white) instruction manual.

I just feel sorry for the person who buys the game a few months from now, and will have to go through not only everything I mentioned above, but also the download and installation of at least one update to the software itself. But hot damn, these high definition graphics look so much better than a pixelated Mario that it makes it worthwhile. Right? Right???

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Robb permalink
    November 10, 2009 2:33 pm

    Yeah, this “issue,” if that’s what it would even be called, is getting worse. Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 (the Juggernaut of Juggernaut releases for 2009) is a huge sinner on this one. My friend just got the game can I accompanied him for its purchase and subsequent geek-out session, and we were greeted with the following upon inserting the round device of visual-auditory candy:

    PS3 Firmware Update: Approximate delay – 7 mins (on a Wired Broadband Connection)

    Software Update: Approximate delay – 4 mins

    Now keep in mind, this was a midnight release, and this was not even 45 minutes after the game had been relentless shoveled into the hands of perspiring, anticipated games that had waited hours to get their greasy hands on it. I suppose it would be 1 hr 45 minutes for those of us on the East Coast, but still, that seems like a new record for Software Updates.

    Thankfully there was no registration that was to be made prior to playing the single player campaign, but it still boggles my mind how a game can have an “update” within an hour of its release. Isn’t the very nature of the term update to mean that it is making something old newer? This is hardly an old title. I think from now on it should be labeled “Software Download” as this is more accurate for what we’re seeing today. But perhaps I’m just providing more fuel to the fire of the entire other topic of development teams intentionally withholding parts of the software to meet a release date.

    Actually, I’m not giving any fuel to any fires, they’re doing a perfect job of it themselves.

  2. November 11, 2009 1:13 am

    Not sure devs are intentionally withholding parts of the software. Publishers need games to hit their target dates, and one of a few things can happen because of this.

    First, sometimes cool and unique gameplay elements might get the axe to focus on the ones that really “matter.” Not facing an impending release date, but I’ve experienced this myself making an RPG Maker game due to memory constraints.

    Second, most of these updates are either bug fixes or updates to balance gameplay, especially in the online multiplayer realm. Chances are, due to the sheer amount of copies of MW 2 that were needed to cover expected sales, the game needed to be in physical form well before ship date. And chances are also likely that a number of bugs or balancing issues presented themselves subsequent to the discs being pressed.

    In the case of MW 2, I actually think it’s preferrable to force this patch on day one. That way, people cannot begin playing multiplayer, find exploits in the code and, well, exploit them until a patch is released, or bitch and moan about how balanced/unbalanced/fun/not fun the game is if they had been playing for a week or a month before a patch for game balance was released. We’ve heard all these whiners before when patches or updates were released for Halo and WoW, to name just two.

    So, yeah, in theory, I agree with you. However, in the case of “the biggest entertainment launch in history,” I think Activision MIGHT have stepped up to the plate and done the right thing. Still does not excuse the behavior of their CEO, nor their behavior as a company. I’m going to try my hardest to make DJ Hero the last Activision purchase I ever make.

    Unless they make a current gen Kaboom. 😐

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