PS3 “Home”: Metaphor for everything wrong with Sony

Posted in Consoles, Online Gaming, Rants on January 6, 2009 by kitchen666

Oh man, where to start?

Home is Sony’s newish social networking experiment. I was invited to the public beta and so I strapped on my  pasty, lifeless, zombie-like avatar and wandered around. It’s since gone live, and I have logged in all of one time since then.

Home is sort of like Second Life, only more boring. Instead of making and sharing your own content, as in Second Life, you are stuck with the fare that Sony sees fit to dole out (or, more likely, sell you). Home itself is free to use, and I was at first bemused and then horrified to find that there are stores in Home where you can buy things like virtual lamps for your virtual living room. In Home, you can:

  • View ads for Sony content.
  • Pay (real) money to wear a new (virtual) t-shirt with a corporate logo on it.
  • Pay (real) money to decorate your sterile (virtual) living room with sterile (virtual) furniture.
  • Get cursed at by a racist 14 year old gamer d0od.
  • Fake dance terribly to shitty music. (Really, Sony?)
  • Watch your connection to the Playstation network repeatedly crash.
  • Bowl.

The only people I could ever imagine using this product are masochistic shut-ins, and they’re all busy in Second Life or posting on their blog (…)

I’m going out on a limb with a prediction: this product will never make a dime for Sony, even if they keep it online for a million years. And I hope it never does. Sony doesn’t deserve to make money off it, because it’s terrible. It’s simply not a compelling experience. There’s no content in it that I can’t get better, elsewhere. The inability to create anything, coupled with the ridiculous pay-to-play stores … it’s all just crippling. And the bowling is stupid.

The only real feature the game offers is the ability to use Home as a way to keep in touch with other people on the PS3 network, but there’s already dozens of better ways to do that… many of which are actually already part of PS3. From my PS3 I can instant message, send email, voice and video chat. Most individual games offer their own way to arrange network games. There’s just no reason to load up a giant, clunky interface so that I can do it with a stupid virtual t-shirt on.

I’d rather communicate by carrier pigeon.

This product is a picture-perfect example of what happens to social media when an old-fashioned monolithic corporation gets its grubby fingers into everything. When this happens, you get a product that nobody asked for, that does nothing anybody wants, and looks like it was designed by an octogenarian executive who once read an article in the Wall Street Journal in 2003 about this whole Facebook thing and who uses jargon like “Web 2.0″ with a straight face and whose secretary has a son who’s really into Second Life.

This man thought to himself, “What if somebody had the bravery to harness the power of all this new technology to  … get this … show people advertisements!”

It’s just so cute the way Sony missed the point. The great power of social media is the ability to create your own stuff, that’s what makes it compelling to people. The platform itself (whether it be YouTube, WordPress, Second Life, or Facebook) is just a delivery mechanism. If your platform is just a static ad-delivery-service, it’s not going to attract any users. It’s particularly ironic that the same people who brought us LittleBigPlanet failed so completely at Home.

But then, I’m getting used to Sony failing. And that sucks, because despite it all I still like my PS3. But if Sony sees services like Home as the future of the platform, then the future doesn’t look all that bright.

Captain Obvious: Dead Space is Very Scary

Posted in General on December 31, 2008 by kitchen666

I’ve played through most of it (one or two chapters left to go) – and I have jumped out of my seat several times.

Yesterday I got up for my daily 5am trek to Indianapolis and when I turned away from our hat stand, it fell on me from behind. I was sure I was being eaten by a necromorph.

Yes, it rips off Aliens, Event Horizon, and a thousand other things. But still. Scary.

Also – word to science fiction games: Please go ahead and rip off Dead Space and use zero-g environments in your games. In fact, I’d love to see a FPS that takes place entirely inside an Escherian zero-g playground

Generic Trackback

Posted in General with tags , , , on October 29, 2008 by kitchen666

Endorsement of another blogger’s views. Introduction of said blogger to current blogger’s readership. Link: http://specialagentdalecooper.wordpress.com/2008/10/29/generic-blog

Alert

Posted in General on October 15, 2008 by kitchen666

I have just guest posted over at http://www.shaesplace.com/blog

It’s not video game related, and fits in more with the kinds of political things she writes about…

Won’t Get Fooled Again or Why I Haven’t Yet Played GTA IV

Posted in addiction, Consoles, PC Gaming, Rants with tags , , , , , on August 14, 2008 by kitchen666

I still haven’t played it. I know! I know!

There’s a series of good reasons, and they all amount to an object lesson in why proprietary software sucks and how you can be royally screwed over if a company releases a busted product when there is no community available to provide a fix.

I’ve opined on this topic a few times, and I’m aware of the hypocrisy: I’m obviously touting software freedom while supporting game companies who make the most proprietary of proprietary software (not only can you not see the source code… but you can only run it on one device made by one company).

But consoles are still simply the best way to play games, and I love games so much that I’ve traditionally made a convenient (I know! I know!) exception for them.

Here’s the story.

Probably you’ve all heard of this little game called GTA IV. The one with all the cop killing and prostitutes. The one that makes teenagers shoot up their Social Studies classroom with dad’s unsecured handgun.

Well, I’m a big fan. I think it’s smart (for a game), provides a great example of satire and anti-genre (for a game), and it doesn’t hurt that it isn’t above a bit of cute self-mockery here and there. It’s also fun as hell.

I am aware that it occupies a moral gray area, and I’m fine with that. Moral qualms are not the reason I’ve not yet played this game.

Not owning the game is also not the reason I haven’t played it yet. I actually bought it the day after it was released. For those of you keeping track… that was last April. As I type this, it is sitting on top of my entertainment center.

Not owning the correct platform is also not the reason I haven’t played it yet. I was a PS3 early adopter… in part because I was excited to hear that it supported Linux out-of-the-box. But mostly (and here is the delicious filling of the irony sandwich) — I just wanted to be sure I had a system that could play GTA IV.

That’s right, I bought the most expensive game machine on the market mostly because I like GTA that much.

I was undaunted when I heard they were giving “downloadable content” to XBox owners, despite GTA’s longstanding association with PlayStation. Whatever – I’ve always liked the PlayStation brand, and I figured the PS3 would be a quality product. I never much cared for those in-between releases (like “Liberty City Stories“) anyway, and I figured downloadable content would probably be just more of the same.

About a week before the GTA release date, my PS3 broke. It just powered itself off one day and wouldn’t turn back on. Not even to eject the Seinfeld dvd that I was watching when it died.

I dutifully called the support number on the back of the machine. Talked to several very polite and helpful people (Sony support is pretty good). Learned that my machine was (of course) out of warranty, and that it would cost some money to repair it. Ok, fine. Learned that it will take up to three weeks to repair the machine.

No!

The meaning of this was obvious: I would not be able to play GTA while all of my friends were playing it. I was going to miss out on all the stories about the various discoveries, stupid vehicular tricks and trash talk that goes with a new GTA release. I was never going to feel the pride at being the first person in my acquaintance to find something awesome in this game.

Oh well. It’s just a game. So I paid the money and shipped the system off in the nice box they sent me.

GTA’s release date came and went. I had the cash, so I bought the copy the day after. Just so I could maybe regain some lost time when my machine came back.

I was so excited when it finally returned. They even threw in a new controller! My Seinfeld DVD was in a nice jewel case, unharmed! I unboxed the whole thing, set it up, got all the system updates from the internet. And then I plugged GTA in, breathlessly waiting through the (long) install.

And then I played the game! I lied earlier when I said I haven’t played GTA IV. I have. For five minutes. I played through the intro mission. Just when was taking Niko out to explore… the whole thing locked up. Niko was frozen in mid stride and a bunch of weird angular graphic shit was all over the screen.

I began to feel a tiny bit sorry for myself.

But no need to panic… I just hit reset. Glitches are not uncommon in the current generation of games. Maybe it’ll work after a reset. And it did. For another five minutes.

The small, spoiled adolescent that lives inside my chest began to make himself heard.

Like all sensible people, I got on the internet to look for answers. I poked around on various message boards, and noticed that a respectable number of people on the Official PlayStation boards were reporting the exact same thing. All these people owned PS3s that were about the same age as mine (i.e. the early release ones).

The bad news: No fix (or even acknowledgment of the problem) was yet forthcoming from either Sony or Rockstar Games (the GTA people). My problem was that new. People online were angry — like bees.

Eventually, after a few days, Sony figured out that something was actually broken and published a lame little checklist of things to try to get the game to work. None of them worked. The word began to spread:

“Call Sony, they are replacing machines for free… even if they are out of warranty.”

If you are still reading, I hope this hits home. I had, not three weeks ago, PAID Sony to repair my broken PS3. And now, here they were, replacing them for free because they had obviously shipped machines with some kinda problem. The initial repair had cost me $150. If the machine had held on for another week or two I would’ve gotten a free repair.

The teenager that lives in my chest was locked in his room with black eyeliner on, listening to The Cure and crying with his face in a pillow.

So I dutifully called Sony support again. Once again, they were very polite and very helpful. I described my problem, told them I’d tried all their fixes and that GTA simply wouldn’t play on my machine for more than 5 minutes at a stretch. They said they’d repair it for free… and sent me out another box. No, they would not be able to refund the previous repair costs since they were unrelated to the GTA bug.

After another 3 weeks, I had my PS3 again.

Feeling pretty ambivalent about it, I stuck my GTA disc in. And it worked. I played for about thirty minutes. Enough to satisfy myself that the crashing was over. Then I put it away.

I’ve since played some older games, replayed some favorites, but I haven’t touched GTA IV again. I don’t know why. The thrill is gone somehow.

I’m not wowed by the innovative gameplay, or the graphics. Not because they aren’t great… but because they are just dismal reminders of how much shit that machine put me through and how much of a sucker I am for putting up with all of it.

The thing is, I know Sony didn’t cheat me. I know Rockstar didn’t cheat me. This is just what happens when a piece of highly coveted software gets tied to one specific platform. When that platform dies, or has trouble, you have no recourse.

I still like my PS3. Sony support was fast and courteous. The problem is that the entire business model is designed to leave the consumer helpless. When one of my home computers breaks — I can fix it myself. Usually pretty cheaply. You can’t do that with a Playstation (or an XBox or a Wii). Even if you aren’t afraid of breaking the warranty, most of the parts inside them aren’t off the shelf components.

When software on my Linux desktop has a bug, it is usually quickly addressed and repaired by the massive community of people out there who care about it. If I was smarter, I could even participate in this process (I have, to a very limited degree). Hell, if I want the software on my desktop to do something that it doesn’t currently do – there’s a good chance that I can actually email the person that wrote it and ask them to add it. And even if they can’t or won’t, there’s a good chance they’ll at least write me back.

Try getting that kind of attention from any company who produces mass market software.

I may not be able to get away from proprietary games… but the PS3 will be the last dedicated game console I purchase, so help me. I may miss out on some console exclusives, but I’m not going to be suckered by the system again. No game is worth that.

Mac vs. Windows

Posted in General on August 12, 2008 by kitchen666

Porch Dog started this ball rolling, and I had to bring it home.

As a regular user of approximately 6 different computer platforms who isn’t particularly passionate about any commercial operating system, I’ve recently been thinking about the whole Apple/Microsoft thing.

And you know what?

Fuck the Mac vs. Windows debate and everybody who participates in it. Fuck those smarmy Mac commercials, fuck that Zune guy, fuck U2 and that shitty song they plastered all over those shitty iPod ads, fuck iTunes store, and fuck Windows Media Player.

I like Macs fine. I like Windows fine. Neither of them are my favorite, but neither do I feel particularly put out when I find myself using either. They are operating systems, not Lifestyles. They allow me to access my files, the internet, and various other bits of software that let me Get Shit Done.

My lifestyle is the stuff I do when I’m not using a computer.

If you participate in the Mac vs. Windows debate, you are on the same intellectual level as people who buy plagiarized stickers of “Calvin Pissing on X Product” to put in the rear window of their preferred brand of over sized truck. You are an asshole who thinks that a corporate image says something vital about you. You are a Hoover Vacuum shoveling up industry shit and calling it Apple Pie. Just because technology is less redneck than a truck decal doesn’t make you any less of an idiot. Go buy another shitty version of the iPhone. Get the Zune logo tattooed on your ass.

Leave the adults alone.

“But Mr. The MCP… my Mac is so much more reliable/My Windows PC offers me so much more choice/I like my big flying icons/I like my bouncing desktop wallpaper.”

You. Are. An. Idiot. It’s time to admit that even though all the major operating systems have their pros and cons – you can do everything you need to do on a computer with any of them.

Get this – you are allowed to prefer one over the other for your own purposes. But the fact that you like clicking on the “Start Menu” rather than using the “Dock” doesn’t make you special. It doesn’t make you different. I like my Ford Ranger a lot. It gets good gas mileage for a light truck (there’s that little 4-cylindar for ya), and it’s super reliable. It’s also easy to find parts for. But I’m not going to crawl into a corner and cry if my life leads me into the driver’s seat of a Chevy or (god forbid) a Toyota. “OMG THE CUP HOLDER IS IN A DIFFERENT PLACE AND THE RPM GAUGE LOOKS WEIRD.”

Not everybody who prefers OS X is an elitist asshole, and not everyone who uses Windows is a corporate shill. Mostly people just want to type some email, look things up on the internet, listen to some music, and maybe create a presentation. Last I checked, all the available platforms did those things quite capably.

Enjoy your iPhone. Enjoy your new AlienWare gaming rig. Really, I mean it. Computer gadgets really can bring us a lot of joy. It doesn’t make me mad that you own one. I have plenty of devices that I enjoy using. But to feel superior because you paid some company some money to put a slightly different collection of ones and zeros on your hard drive than your neighbor is stupid.

Besides, real men use Linux.

Does the arcade suck, or have I just outgrown it?

Posted in Arcade, Consoles, General, Rants on July 29, 2008 by kitchen666

About one million years ago, some friends and I went to an arcade in Indianapolis just to see what it was all about. It was part of a larger idea I had to pursue the idea of The Arcade as some kind of cultural watermark.

It wasn’t my first arcade, obviously. But it was my first trip to an arcade as someone who could be reasonably called an adult. I’m not sure what I took away from the experience, if anything. Just a lot of disconnected observations.

The music playing over the sound system was pitch-perfect. Our Dear Sweaty B summed it up: “It was as if the arcade had gone into full-on Mrs. Havisham mode – it forever ran the soundtrack of the time immediately prior to its irrelevance.”

The bloated corpse of the 90s loomed large not only in the choice of music, but also the game selection. The “classic games” of the earlier arcade era were limited to one of those terrible multi-game cabinets stuck in a corner. Somehow that wasn’t very much fun to play. Recent titles present were limited to the most recent iterations of the well established thoroughbred brand name fighting and shooting kinds of games.

And of course, being the awesome people that we are, my friends and I made a good stab at having fun with it. And it was fun. Ish.

But the thing is… I couldn’t help but think about how I could be playing better games on a bigger screen with better graphics at home. With the same people. In fact, every one of the friends that I brought with me are people I’ve spent at least some time playing games with in various living rooms starting with my college years up until today.

It’s difficult to blame that lousy mall arcade for the poor selection, broken machines, and general air of boredom that hung around the place. All just more evidence that the audience has moved on.

The arcade at the Circle Center Mall is well aware of its own recent mortality.

It may seem weird to think of games in such grandiose terms – but the ability to play at home really was revolutionary in a basic sense. No more could arcades hold you hostage for 5, 10 or 15 minutes a quarter. You didn’t have to wait in line for the most popular game. You didn’t have to bike across town to a dark, smelly bowling alley.

Is there a trade-off? Sure there is. But it’s an uneven trade the scale of which even a white trader stealing land from a Native American might well appreciate. The winner in this exchange is so obvious that it hardly bares repeating.

There are kids who are already almost grown up who can’t imagine scrounging quarters from couch cushions to play a game that charges them each time they play.

I still carry nostalgia for those old times. And I hear that some prisoners have fond memories of their various prisons. But it’s as hard to imagine an ex-con locking himself back up, and it’s hard to imagine video game culture moving back into the arcade.

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