A scarcely updated (If ever) Blog
19/03/2012Posted by on
Audiovisual media has been around since the dawn of Arts. Earliest examples coming to mind would be Greek plays, performed in an amphitheater. Distinct from books or poetry in that it was something that stimulated both your eyes and ears, hence, Audiovisual.
However, during the middle of the 20th century, Audiovisual media reached its Golden Age with the advent of Television. Unlike theater, which requires present actors to give the performance in one sitting, in front of a live audience, while Television (unless it’s live) is based around transmitting previously recorded shows, with non-present actors that can rehearse and fail their lines without fear of ridicule.
Videogames became part of this in the mid to late 90s, mostly because pre-rendered full motion video was becoming the norm for cutscenes and other animated segments, such as backgrounds or the whole game, in some infamous cases.
Part of the audiovisual entertainment value comes from the artistic portrayal of visuals, music and story, blended together to create an experience for the spectator. It’s common knowledge that all of these factors are equally important to the experience, in the grand scheme of things.
Videogames add another factor the the mix, which is Gameplay. Long has there been a debate over which is more important of all the factors. Is it the plot? The Gameplay? The graphics? (no one seems to care about the sound, for some reason).
It really depends on who you ask, some people will say that they play games for stories, and bad graphics, music or gameplay can be excused in favor of a good plot, while others say that Gameplay takes priority over any other aspect of the game, under the grounds of it being a game, you need to be able to play it.
Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I’m no one to claim to be right. But then again, I’m writing this, you’re reading, so, by natural law of the internet, I’m right, unless someone claims to know better.
The general consensus is that a game can’t rely on graphics alone to sell, and if you buy a game for how it looks, you’re an ignorant, stupid 13 year old Call of Duty playing homophobe who wasn’t even alive when gaming was good. And I’m not here to argue that subject.
What I’m here to actually present is the case that the graphical aspect of a game is actually quite important to the game in question, and doesn’t deserve the treatment it’s given.
As I’ve stated earlier, Audiovisual entertainment media is an ensemble formed by various factors. Videogames, we have Graphics, Sound, Story and Gameplay, that all go hand-in-hand to reach a good immersion for the player. Also, as I stated earlier, if one of these is given a larger priority than the rest, if so is the case, why is it that people seem to neglect the graphical aspect of games?
Well, let’s deconstruct "graphics". Firstly, we have the Graphical Design side of things. This refers to the overall tone and design features of the world, characters and environments. Everything that can be seen within the game falls in this. In short, how it looks.
The other is Graphic performance, which refers to the technical aspect of things. This means framerate, polygon count, textures, resolution, HDR, all those nifty little things that make the game look smoother, sharper, more detailed and overall more realistic or more aesthetically pleasing.
The second factor is the one most people talk about when they refer to "graphics". And, of course, this is the part everyone acclaim, or hates.
Most people agree that graphics are no more important than a good story or good gameplay. Which, is true, however, in this regard we’ve seen plenty of people take this sentiment to hearth, going as far as to say that graphics don’t matter in the slightest to a game.
As I stated earlier, audiovisual media is a merge of various elements that have to come together to become something enjoyable, even art. Which implies that none of them are any better or any worse, less so are any more important than others.
Every aspect that forms a game or movie or TV show is equally as influential and requires the same amount of care being put into it. It’s part of a whole. Like the saying goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
Let me give you an example of what I mean, with the game Hat Fortress 2, the world’s first war themed hat simulator. Hat Fortress 2 is a stylish game, to say the least, and most people will tell you they only play it because of how much fun it is, and it is pretty fun, don’t get me wrong, it’s a really fun Hat simulator where you can trade, craft or buy hats for nine different classes (some hats are even class-exclusive). Oh, also, I think you can also shoot guns or something, I don’t know. Well, here’s how Hat Fortress 2 actually looks:
Sans the hats, of course
… And here’s how it was supposed to look originally
You can pin Hat Fortress‘ success on plenty of factors, but it’s quite hard to forget its cartoonish, yet over-the-top violent graphical design. It’s part of the game’s essence, it’s "soul" if you will, being one of the first things you’d think of when you think of the game. However, what if the game had looked like it originally was meant to look like? a bland, mediocre looking generic military setting.
It’s obvious, the game’s unique and distinctive look creates a very recognizable look that we can immediately relate to the game in question.
This is one of the instances we look at a game and don’t even mention graphics or how inconsequential they are to the game, because it looks good, it blends well with the game’s more comedic tone while starkly contrasting its near-gratuitous levels of violence. And the hats.
Graphics, just like gameplay, require some level of innovation to be good. For the same reason you don’t recycle the same gameplay without some serious flak, you don’t reuse the same graphics or the same look as another game because that’s highly frowned upon (and worryingly common these days), not to mention lazy. This is something a lot of First Person Shooters get flak for, as if the whole genre was nothing but samey brown desert themed shooters. To which I’d like to bring up games like Half-Life, Borderlands, Zeno Clash, the aforementioned Hat Fortress 2, Fallout, etc., which present very stylish and unique environments and designs, not at all like the common "sameish brown desert" image of a shooter.
Of course, I can’t stress enough that just because graphics are not less important than gameplay, sound or plot, doesn’t mean it’s the most important factor of a game, either. I appretiate a game with good graphical performance and/or design, it shows effort on the graphical design aspect, but this doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a game with technical limitations or with lesser graphical capabilities. I said it once and I’ll say it again, every part of the whole is equally as important, and you can’t just shrug off one side to focus elsewhere.
That being said, I can’t admit without shame I have at least once played a game solely for its graphics. And that game was Final Fantasy VIII.
Final Fantasy VIII was a bad game. There, I said it. The plot makes no sense and it’s rendered completely moot by the end, its characters are stupid, unlikable and just… stupid, the music is sub-par and the gameplay is so incredibly grindy it pretty much feels like menial work. But I couldn’t stop playing that stupid, unplayable mess because of how fucking pretty it looked. The graphical design, stage design, FMVs, it all looks really, really good. I kept grinding through the game because I wanted to see just what it was going to throw at me next, and, while the ending was horrendously lackluster, I can say that the overall quality of the cutscenes and art direction made the game pretty much worth it.
But then you say "Oh, look, there goes X again, that hollow shell of a human being, who hates everything that isn’t rendered in full 3D with polygons and crap, that nasty waste of air, him", to which I say, chill the fuck off, and no, I don’t have a gripe against 2D games, or, as I stated earlier, games with limited graphical capabilities. Quick, what are my two favorite PC games? Dwarf Fortress and X-COM: UFO Defense.
Heck, 2D-sprite based graphics can look amazing if done right. Look at an example I mentioned in a previous blog, BlazBlue, Guilty Gear‘s sister series’ and spiritual successor. It looks damn good, while the main plot moves in Visual Novel styled narration, the in-game characters are all very well animated and detailed sprites, while the background and effects are rendered in 3D. It looks really, really good, in fact, I’d say it’s the best looking sprite-based fighter this generation thus far. Every stage feels unique, disctinct, as do every character.
What I’m going for with this is that good graphical performance and design can help plenty to immerse you in the game’s world.
In that regard, look at The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and tell me that the graphics don’t matter in that game. Tell me you didn’t feel chills down your spine when the trailer unveiled the beautifully rendered mountainsides and other landscapes. Tell me every time you play the game and reach the top of a cliff, you don’t look down at the rest of the world. Skyrim may very well be the best example of how great visuals can help make a great game. Mind you, the game has a plethora of other merits that contribute greatly to the games quality, but at the same time, you can’t help but wonder if the game would be as good if it didn’t look as well as it did. (Well, Daggerfall was fantastic almost a decade ago, but that’s beside the point)
But, everything good must have a downside, and we all know what happens when you put too much time into the graphics, or not enough effort into them. Look at, for example, Red Faction Guerrilla , Good game, terrible artistic design. The wholeness of Mars looks awfully generic, uninspired and forgettable. It looks like there was little to no effort put into it, there’s nothing but brown hills, brown buildings, brown mountains, brownish-red desert, and it all breaks apart if you so much as look at it. The game eventually needs to rely solely on its destruction engine, and when the entire appeal of your game is to blow up the depressing martian landscape, you’ve got a problem in your hands.
Urban design is pretty hard to get right, too. Since cities all around the world pretty much look the same, how do you make it look so that it’s not just grey concrete against gray asphalt with gray-suited people walking by?
One game that gets it right is the Ryu Ga Gotoku series’, or, as us Americans call it, Yakuza. Specifically, the third game, which is divided into two different urban areas, as I mentioned in an earlier blog. At least there, there’s a distinct look to every new area, everywhere you go you can recognize visual patterns or common buildings, for example, Kamurocho lights up during the night, being full of lights and neon sights, not to mention Millennium Tower, which looks like a glowing monolith. Or Okinawa’s more homely, generally less metropolitan look. As much as you navigate, you’ll learn to recognize landmarks within the cities, which greatly helps navigation. Not to mention the excellent cutscene direction, great and stark color contrasts and fantastic pre-rendered cutscenes and character designs.
Or, how about Saints Row 2, which resorts to the classic trick of making every sector of the city different than the rest. Some are downtown business sectors, there’s the poor side of the city, the Hispanic ghetto, there’s suburbs, a marina, etc. all which have their own buildings, color schemes and models for pedestrians, which helps give each sector of the city its own look and traits that define it, thus helping separating said sector from the others, which in turn translates into you knowing your way around the city.
Where I’m going at is that, in these cases, the graphical design actually helps out in gameplay by letting you navigate a relatively closed sandbox environment. It helps out, when you need to go from one place to the next, and without good visual design, city-based sandbox games would be nigh unplayable, because you’d either be too busy looking at your map to find your way or trying to figure out what goes where.
I’ve rambled long enough already, so here’s my mighty conclusion thingie: Saying "Graphics don’t matter" or "graphics don’t make a difference" is hispterish, close minded thinking that undermines the importance of pretty much the main sensory factor in gaming. Gaming is a visual medium, and the visual side of things deserves better recognition than it gets. Just because graphical performance or design isn’t more important than a good story or gameplay, doesn’t mean one can go all the way as to ignore this factor altogether. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and videogames, like any other form of audiovisual media, is a chain composed of different elements that only together can for a good or great experience, never alone.
Now commence flaming this.
20/02/2012Posted by on
Earlier this year, I decided to give The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion a whirl, when I found the game of The Year edition for cheap on a local store.
The very first thing I did after buying it, as always, was to open up the manual and give it a read. Now, I have very strong opinions on how game manuals should or shouldn’t be, and I’m glad to say that Oblivion‘s instruction booklet was one of the best I’ve seen this generation.
It opens up with a letter from the development team speaking about how many possibilities the game gives you in the sense of exploration and role-playing, directed to appeal to everyone who is playing the game.
The part that catches my eye is at the beginning, though, with this fragment:
Open world sandbox RPG’s are becoming more and more famous thanks to Bethesda’s Fallout and The Elder Scrolls franchises, which are often praised as superb role playing experiences.
I’m not here to argue that point. I’m here to discuss an issue with modern Open World games that’s been buggering me for a while.
Let’s give you two examples from relatively similar games, Fallout: New Vegas and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, both running on the same engine, so they’re fairly similar.
One quest in New Vegas involves going into various different underground Vaults in order to find old salvage components for the air purification system of an underground bunker.
In the context of the game, Vaults are the places that people hid in after the nuclear war, and as such they’re big, labyrinthine structures that are made to house great amounts of people. But that’s not it.
Each Vault was meant as a social experiment under different circumstances. With the exception of a couple Control Vaults (13, 101 and 3), all of them had a fatal flaw or intricate system to control the people on it. For example, one of them was populated by one man and 49 women, one had its residents enclosed in suspended animation inside virtual reality pods, one was populated by one man with a cloning device, and so forth.
In this quest, you’re tasked with searching inside three of these. One is a control vault that was overrun by wasteland raiders once it was opened, one has a device that requires one person to periodically die in order for the vault not to malfunction and kill everyone in it (thus creating a reverse-democracy where candidates ask for you not voting for them), and the last one had an overstocked armory.
These designs and concepts make for interesting, chilling quests in closed, claustrophobic environments populated by irradiated mutants and insects. For the most part, it does its job at being athmospherically immersive, but it’s all killed by one aspect.
In order to find your way around the world, the game’s map sets a cursor in the place of your destination, and the cursor guides you in that direction, in the form of an arrow in your map and compass. If you’re inside a building or the objective is in another area, the arrow points towards the nearest exit and so forth. The problem is that in this quest (and every other), the arrow points directly over the spot the objects you’re looking for are. As a result, all you’re doing is going in and taking the object, the process of “finding” it is rendered completely invalid and almost nonexistant.
Let’s go back to Oblivion for a minute. One quest has your character accept the task of finding an ancient magical pendant in an uncharted temple from the times of a great war, almost a century ago.
You’re given the diary of a soldier stationed at that fort and a translation of it which tells of the entrance to the mountain pass where the temple is located, which the arrow points you to. Once you’ve reached the other side of the cave it marks, the arrow dissapears, and you’re left on your own to find it based on the clues you’re given in the diary.
I found myself very much immersed in this quest. You’re asked to find this temple and retrieve the amulet, and you’re not given directions, it’s your own sense of scouting that will get you there. And that’s what made it fun, for me, since on the way you’ll fight trolls and ice monsters, and eventually you’ll reach the underground fort. Granted that the way there is pretty streamlined and straightforward, but the fact that you’re expected to find this place is what makes it worth it, and gives you a better sense of accomplishment once you’ve done so. It’s a good moment in the game.
I bring up both of those factors to make this point, role playing games shouldn’t have those markers to guide you by the hand to your objectives.
A role playing game is mostly based on the immersion factor, and that depends on how much the game can draw you in while you’re playing it. A good, immersive role playing game will make you feel as though if you weren’t playing the game in the first place, it’s immersive enough to have you worrying about the characters, it’s immersive enough to give you the chills once you’ve accomplished a very hard dungeon crawl.
Part of this effect is accomplished by seeing the events unfold through the eyes of the character, not as an expectator. Which is why, for example, Dead Space had no in-game Heads Up Display within the screen. The more “real” the game looks, the more we see it as such.
Going back to Oblivion, one of the main storyline quests revolves around trying to decipher a secret code in a series’ of books to find a message and joined the secret cult that assassinated the emperor. After gathering the books, you give them to a researcher at the arcane university, where she tells you she’s found that the first word of every parragraph seems to make up a message, and she’ll tell you later what else she finds.
The first time I played it, my first thought was to quickly get a pen and paper and start writing down and trying to crack the code, which I did, the idea was that you had to wait for midnight so a courier for the cult would welcome you and begin your initiation. But, the game wouldn’t move on until I had waited three in-game days so that the researcher got the same result, only then I could go there.
I won’t put the blame on this on the development team, because it was supposed to be a plot point, and if you solved the riddle yourself, it’d make the introduction of that character completely meaningless, but at the same time, I feel like the game could’ve used this as a great puzzle, decoding the code and every day that passed you received a new clue, with a limit on how much you can wait around without messing the quest up. That way, the character would remain relevant (giving you the clues in case you can’t figure it out) and the game would have you thinking a little bit more.
Let me put this in perspective. Remember Ultima IV: Quest of The Avatar? The game opened up with next to no indications of where you were supposed to go or what you were supposed to do, while at the same time, there were many puzzles that required you to actually think in order to get them done. Quest of The Avatar is renowned as one of the greatest RPGs in history, due to its great philosophical background and rewarding gameplay in general. The game was great, and it didn’t need to grab your hand in order to be played, and because of this, your eventual success was all the more rewarding. Games had a more profound emotional effect with success and reward.
To give just one more example, I recently traded in for Yakuza 3, a japanese game where you play as an ex-Yakuza stuck in a conspiracy that puts his newly formed orphanage in jeopardy. The game is an open world Beat Em Up where you alternate between the areas of Downtown Ryukyu, Okinawa and Kamurocho, Tokio.
The thing is, though, it has absolutely no pointers or markers, you’re given a GPS map and instructions to finish all your objectives in the game and its side missions (to give you an idea on how big this game is, it has 11 chapters of plot, and they amount to 14.83% of the game)
Again, after completing a mission or progressing in them by finding your objective, the sense of reward is rooted deeper still, since some objectives require you to take hints, follow people, and look in every spot of the game to find what you’re looking for. It’s good, it’s fun and it feels like you’ve actually accomplished something by doing all of these. You feel more comfortable walking the streets, and you begin recognizing and remembering locations for further reference. Again, immersing.
With this, I reach my thesis: games shouldn’t guide you by the hand towards where you have to go. True freedom of gameplay includes being able to decide how you reach objectives without being shown the way, true immersion means to be able to find your own way through the game world. A good designer knows how to make the clues guiding your way subtle. Good design doesn’t shoehorn instructions into gameplay, and good games reward your intelligence and clever solutions to situations within itself.
05/02/2012Posted by on
Ever since the dawn of mankind, man has held onto various concepts and Ideals that seem to be latched upon our minds. God, Life, Death and survival spring to mind. Yet the one we seem to quote the most is, in fact, not present in nature, which is the concept of Justice.
What is justice, anyways?
While commonly mistaken, Justice in itself is not fairness. Depending on who you ask, Justice can be a divine, earthly, lawful or unlawful concept of moral and ethical retribution for our acts. In its purest forms, it means simply “To be Just”.
A similar concept is that of “Law”. “Law” In itself is the rules and guidances that enact Justice in our society. The first code of Law was the famous code of Hamurabbi, the brainchild of the society whom we thank for the development of the written code of language. The code was made so that the laws of Men could be represented equally for everyone, so that no man could abuse another man in the name of the law. An eye for an eye, was the rule by which they lived.
In the present day, almost every single democratic system in the world is tied to the concept of Law and Order. However, our society has grown the beard since we first created the code of law. In today’s world, a great many aspects of our society are mostly subject to interpretations. While Hamurabbi’s code was written in a time where the biggest of your issues was how many donkeys were a pig worth, our present society has many more needs than those that can be solved “an eye for an eye”.
Naturally, courts of law are the countermeasure for this effect, but that doesn’t matter. In the concept of Law being made in order to protect the common man from their own laws, we’ve come full circle into what I like to call “The Biggest Irony in History”.
Recapitulating what I said earlier, Law itself is written so that it can’t be manipulated for one’s personal gain. Yet, ironically, that is the exact oposite of what most people think of the wetern world’s Justice system. Specifically, whenever the interests of a big name coporation are at stake.
A “Corporation” is a group of people with common interests, who profit from a certain bussiness. They are mostly responsible for the rise of Capitalism worldwide in the late 17th century. In the American Legal System, corporations are given atributes and rights similar to those given to individuals. This is mostly to protect their own product or service in the face of competition. As an individual, you have the right to your own private property, as in, something that belongs to you cannot be appropiated by anyone else without your authorization. This is the most basic concept of “property” and “theft”.
However, it wasn’t until the early twenienth century where Intelectual property was acknowledged as an atribution of individuals and groups that needed to be protected, just like any phisical products or pertenences. And as such, it was made a crime to use a person’s intelectual property without consent, just as it’s illegal to run over pedestrians in your neighbour’s car.
Now, the concept of Piracy is an old one. We all know about Bucaneers, Privateers and Pirates, plundering away at ships for their cargo. While sea pirates still exist to this day (one of the few groups declared collective enemies of mankind by The UN), the concept of Piracy in question is most commonly used to refer to the act of profiting from an individual or company’s work or products, in the form of Movies, Music, TV Shows, Videogames, Books, basically, anything that can be uploaded to the lawless wasteland that is the internet.
While there have been numerous attempts to combat this issue in one way or another, none have been more controversial than the two bills that the Senate of The United States of North America is currently evaluating (Technically, the bill is “shelved”, but discussions about it are still going on), the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, SOPA and PIPA.
Surprisingly enough, I have not come to talk to you about them today.
The idea behind both of them is to stop Online Piracy, as the name implies. I am here today to talk to you about Piracy in gaming.
I’ll not lie, I used to do piracy, a lot. And during that time I managed to make observations on the subject, and most importantly, I drew one conclusion, the one thing I know.
It’s not worth it. You will always be better off paying more for a better product than trying to squeeze by with their cheaper counterparts, or in this case, piracy.
Before I go on in detail, allow me to better explain my situation:
The country I live in (Chile) has intellectual property and copyright laws, however, we don’t enforce them. At all. You can walk into any household with someone under the age of 25 in it and you’ll find a bootleg PS2 with a small folder full of pirated DVD’s next to it, or a Wii or PS3 rigged to an external HDD. Anywhere, it’s always the same. Only if you intend to pass those through the frontier you can get in trouble, and even then, it’s all very lax.
Naturally, this means there is no taboo on the subject. The general view on things is that we don’t live in a country were we can afford to buy originals (which is complete bullshit).
To give you a better perspective on the subject, here’s a conversation I had with a couple of people at school earlier this year regarding my desire to buy the then upcoming Ace Combat: Assault Horizon on PS3.
Worth mentioning is, the person in question owns a jailbroken wii with around one hundred games in an external HDD, none of which were acquired in any “legal” fashion. This should get you the Idea.
I could go on and on about how people in my country don’t believe that entertainment has any monetary value, or any sort of value for that matter, but that’s not the Issue to disscuss here today.
Well, on to my story then.
‘Twas the winter, circa 2007, when I acquired as a birthday gift my own Nintendo GameCube, bundled in with Zelda: Collector’s Edition and Pokémon Colloseum, one controller, and no memory card. You can see I was in quite the situation, where I couldn’t save any of my progress in any games, and all five games I owned were not the kind of game you could just pick up and play. I still had an old SNES with a bunch of games, which I keep to this day.
I don’t intend to excuse myself with the following statement, but during that time, my family was in great economical distress. Eventually, me, my mother and my brother had to move back with my grandmother (with whom I live to this day), later the same year. Because of this, we couldn’t afford any new games for my console, nor could we afford to have it Jailbroken with a modchip, since that process in itself is quite expensive.
Come december with the summer (south hemisphere, before you ask), where I recieved money to buy a game, for the first time since I got the console.
I went for Madden ’05. Because I was a fucking idiot.
Well, not exactly. I went with that game because it was the only one I could afford, since all I had was [$20 USD], and I wasn’t getting any more money until my birthday, which was in July. As a 14 year old idiot, I couldn’t plan ahead. So I bought a game about a foreign sport I didn’t know anything about.
Over the course of 2008, I acquired two more games which, while are not particularly good (or even decent), hold a special place in my hearth as precious memories. Yes, I’m that nerdy. These games were ATV Quad Power Racing 2 (One of the disasters that drove acclaim to the ground) and Dave Mirra’s Freestyle BMX 2 (Which I still defend as the greatest BMX game ever made. It was downright fantastic). That is, before I knew of the magic of Trade Ins.
In the following year I proceded to obtain my videogames via trading at a small electronics shop in my town I still go to to get most of my games, which also provides me with a good couple of SNES games every now and then. It should be noted that due to the fact that no one uses original software, there are no stores that provide that service to their customers, and this one almost never got new inventory. There are some stores that sell original Software, but those same stores always try to push you into jailbreaking your console with them, and they would often leave something to be repaired by them in your console.
The only other games I recall trading in at that store was R: Racing Evolution (an underapreciated gem of Arcade Racing, which also came with Pac-Man Versus) and Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. I also bought Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance later on at that same store, and I still get my PS3 games from there every now and then, and I got Soul Calibur II as a birthday present that year. By the time I sold my GC off, I only had four games, Madden ’05, Soul Calibur II, Tiger Woods PGA Tour ’05 (I LIKE GOLF, OK!?) and fire Emblem. My copy of Zelda Collector’s Edition was “misplaced” when I lent it to someone.
When I entered our equivalent of High School, I was asssigned to a new class with new classmates.
Because I was 15, and stupid, I eventually gave in to peer pressure and by the end of the year, asked for my christmas present to have my console jailbroken, in order to gain pirated games for it.
From here on begins a journey in which I discovered that Piracy is absolutely not as good as advertised. I am writing this in hopes that it provides a good precedent for any of you who might want to go pirate.
First thing off, I sent my console to the shop the day after christmas. I had to wait for three weeks to get it back, with one game courtesy of the store.
Here is where I learned the first lesson about pirates:
Lesson One: Pirates are still bussinessmen, only not bound by the law.
And as such, they’ll try to scam you whenever possible.
Firstly, by “One Game”, they meant “One DVD”. When I got the game there in december 26th, they asked me what game I wanted with my console to come out of the operation with. I chose Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones. I chose the game Three weeks in advance, and when I got there I was told they sold off my copy with another console, So I had to pick between the games they had at the store. They only had an incredibly beaten up disc with the words “SMASH” on it (which I assume was Smash Brothers Melee), so I took the one without a label or anything written on it. It was a white Ridata disc. I took mystery disc with me to start playing with my now pirated console, only to find out it was the first disc of Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and The Lost Ocean (you know, the one where the good guy turns out to be the bad guy). It read clear as day “DISC 1” on the title screen. I was baffled. I was promised one game and I got half a game. So I rode my bike back to the store and asked the counter clerk if they could provide me with the second disc of the game. An understandable request, since I wanted to see through the whole game. Now, before I go any further, I think you probably have the image of some deadbeat gangster selling this thing like crack. This was just a regular, somewhat overweight man behind a desk with a bunch of consoles opened up for examination. The store didn’t sell pirated games (or any games, for that matter), instead, they were a console repair shop. Very bright, and the guy in question was also a rather nice person. At least that was my initial impression, of course, but as I said, he’s a bussinessman, therefore he’s just showing that side of his. In thruth, he was just as scummy as anyone, plus I couldn’t complain because technically, this wasn’t entirely legal, even if the authorities didn’t particularly care about the subject.
I got there and I asked the man if he could give me the second disk. He said he didn’t have it. I asked him if he could get it off the internet, he said he’d charge me the same as a new game. See, this people didn’t see things as “games”, they were just selling Mini DVD’s. So I just walked home. Didn’t make much difference, since I never got past the first disc anyways.
Later that year, at school, Another guy who also happened to jailbreak is GC taught me how to download and burn the games to the Mini DVD’s.
There’s a trick though. You see, the GC is not a particularly easy to manipulate console. The disc reader is designed to read the ClearVu GOD’s (Gamecube Optical Disc, the name of the Format. Yes, Nintendo Patented the GOD), which were different from any other DVD’s of the same size in the market. The only ones that worked for me ever were the Ridata brand. And those weren’t cheap. They went for at least [$3 USD] one by one, but most of the time came scratched or dirty, and the disc wouldn’t record right. This is the second issue with the games.
For some reason I will never quite understand, Everytime I recorded the game with Nero or Alcohol 120%, the game wouldn’t read. I had to run it through a piece of software called “GCTool”, which “Realigned all the data packages so that the console could read them” (whathever the hell that means). Obviously, It had to be done on a .ISO file, and I had to used that program to burn them into the DVD too, otherwise it wouldn’t read. I wasn’t told this, I tried the same ISO on two different DVDs, and only after going through all that trouble it worked. After much research, I found out why.
When I had my console Jailbroken, I didn’t take into account that there were various Chips one could use, specially on the GC. The one I got was an early version of XENOGC, one of the absolute worst ones out there. Of course, I was never given a choice in the matter, but I never tried to replace it in any form, anyways.
In the end, I burned a huge deal of DVDs with little to no results until I asked the guy to burn the games for me, for a small price. Most of the times, they worked. Some other times they didn’t. It wasn’t like I could complain, anyways.
That went on for about a year. In that time, I managed to obtain the huge sum of somewhere around thirty games.
The year was 2010, this marked the last year I used piracy, and in my own social life I call it “The year I stopped trying to fit in”. But that’s another story.
Also, it’s the year I learned my second lesson about Piracy:
Lesson Two: It’s not cost effective in the slightest
By this time, I must’ve shelled out somewhere around $100 USD on games that after a month or so wouldn’t work anymore, So I decided to cut the middleman and start burning them myself. Key words being “Burning” and “Myself”.
I didn’t have a computer at the time, and I did all of this at a cyber-café (of the kind without coffee) just around the corner. I made an agreement with the owner, that I would fill his HDD’s with games and he’d give me a computer to work from 6 PM to closing time, which was midnight. I asked another guy I knew and he lent me his own portable HDD with somewhere around one hundred PC games.
During that time, I would download a game from a forum I usually frequented back then, It had its basic sections and some sort of “basement” in which the stuff they weren’t proud of went on. Specifically, everything Piracy related.
They had a catalogue of around 80% of the GC’s library. The community was also quite a nice group of people. All of them were cooperative, almost friendlike. The kind of online community were there never seem to be any fights in the forums. I remember this one time one of them got arrested in Argentina for trying to pass a bunch of pirated movies through the frontier with Brazil, and the entire forum shelled out the cash to bail him out. Says a lot from a community of online Pirates.
I say this not to be condescending with them, but because chances are you have a pretty demonized image of Pirates. All I want to stress out is that these were a group of people who just wanted to play games and pay nothing. Obviously, they weren’t too proud of stealing (most of them, anyways), and they all had their reasons. Again, not evil scallywags with e-scurvy.
Back on track, I only joined the place to see the links to file sharing sites which contained them. The games were almost always divided into various .RAR files, most of the time up to thirty, or just four (500 mb each). GC Games were about 4.71 GB each.
The routine was always the same. Download the game, run it through GCTool, burn it, go home and play it. Nine times out of Ten the game didn’t work and I had to get a new DVD just to record it again.
Speaking of the DVD’s, as I mentioned earlier, the DVD brand was specific. I needed Ridata brand DVD’s. Any other brand I tried to work with was unreadable by the console, or stopped working soon thereafter. At least the Ridata discs would sometimes work better if the planets were alligned, and if I was extremely lucky a game would still work flawlessly for a couple months. Only a few stores sold these discs, mostly at outrageuos prices (for DVD Standards, at least). I finally managed to find a store that sold them for cheap, but I always needed to check if they weren’t dirty. There was always one thing that killed DVDs the moment I bought them, and that was a small, almost unnoticeable black dot in the recording area. If a DVD had it, and I didn’t see it before leaving the store, I was screwed. Had to buy another one. Again, the law wasn’t with me on this one.
Another issue I’d run into was that some .ISO’s were simply broken. And more often than not, it was the really good games. Twilight Princess would freeze after twenty minutes, The Twin Snakes had all the audio lagging far behind the image, Animal Crossing wouldn’t load some Textures, Mortal Kombat Deception would stop working for no good reason. Yet, somehow, I could still play Qubivore, Gauntlet Legends or Conflict: Desert Storm for hours. I was cursed. I had a zillion games, yet I could play only a few. And that was just the beggining.
Then came to me the realization: Perharps I was doing something wrong? So I decided to learn a bit more about the software in question I was going to use.
Now, remember how I said there were various kinds of modchips available for the GC? And that the one I had wasn’t particularly good? As it turns out, the Internet had pretty much blocked out all information regarding the chip I had. Software, user guides, mostly buried under thousands of forum threads regarding just how bad it was, or asking for said software, only to end up reminding you just how bad it was.
So I decided, Maybe it’s time to get a new one. The problem was that I didn’t have the money to buy it or have it installed. So I went to plan B, which was to see if there was something wrong with my GC.
As it turns out, the GC had some sort of mechanism that rejects the chip naturally after some time. From what I’ve read, this also happens without a foreign modchip, so that you eventually have to send in your console for repairs. There were two ways to combat this issue with a modchip (That I knew of), firstly, to open the console and fix the problem myself. Secondly, to send it to a repair shop.
Obviously, I didn’t want to break my console anymore, so I decided to just shell out [$20 USD] and be done with it. They were done with it in a week. As it turns out, it was all just dirty, had nothing to do with the chip.
So I went home and played fine until a couple of weeks later It started to not want to read the games, giving me a red error message everytime I tried to boot a game. So, it was back to searching online for answers.
The most prominent solution for most DRE (Disk Reading Error) related antics was to open up the console and move the suitch that controls the reading mechanism’s revolution speed. Of course, it always made the case that this was extremely dangerous to do without any professional supervision. So naturally, I avoided this procedure at all costs, and I wasn’t paying to have it done because I had no money.
Other alternatives included pimpin’ out your console in ways that would make Doctor Frankenstein blush. For intance, plenty of users said that using regular sized DVD’s gave them better results, but in order to do so they had to enlarge the disc tray and replace the opening mechanism, and say goodbye to the reset button. Others got around this by rewiring the button and LED light into different positions and just working with it from there. Others flat out built new shells for the console and moved all the insides of it to their new home. The problem was that If you know any nintendo console, you’ll realize they’re made from Nintendium (Nin), our earthly counterpart to Mithril, and thus cutting it open was really, really, really hard and/or expensive. In the end, there was just one thing left for me to do, which was to just give the console a spring cleaning, since I didn’t have the Know-How to dissassemble it or reassemble it without it breaking down. I cleaned the lens, the ventilators, the discs (one by one), the tray, et cetera. If you know anything about hardware you might be rolling in the floor in laughter at my pathethic attempt at fixing this, know that at the time I knew next to nothing about this and I was smart enough to not mess with it.
Finally, I realized a weird pattern. Homebrew software like emulators seemed to work near flawlessly, contrary to games. I have to admit, I still miss my collection of every NES game ever made (plus a good deal of Famicom and Unlicensed ones) all in one comfortable disc, played with an incredibly smooth controller.
And, of course, there were also means to watch movies, listen to music, run PSX emulators, Dreamcast emulators, even a couple of PS2 games adapted to the console (obviously missing some buttons). The most fun of all was a perfectly emulated Super Mario 64. Sadly, outside of SM64, which came ready to boot, I could never get any of the others to run properly.
Strangely enough, that was the one disc that seemed to last forever. It almost never broke down or stopped working, other than just some times it would just freeze up.
I also managed to run an SNES emulator that worked pretty well, but took almost half an hour to boot up for no discernible reason, and once a game was loaded the menus lagged so much it became virtually unusable. Still, I added a couple games I couldn’t get on my SNES and gave it a go.
In any cases, I also tried learning to run the emulators myself with my own other programs in, again. This time… It did not work. I tried to put all of my videos (all of those terrible YouTube Poops I used to post at ScrewAttack back back then, for example) into one DVD, and surprisingly, while they didn’t work, they would read just fine in a regular DVD player.
When I said that my games worked when they wanted to, I generalized a little bit. There were a couple games that I somehow got right and I could play almost endlessly. Such games as Spiderman 2 (The Game of The Movie Of The Comic Book), The Mega Man X Collection (which I never got around to finishing), et cetera. I did play these, but with them crashing every now and again, I was better off just trying to get other stuff running.
Later on that year, my console pretty much gave up on me. It would rarely if ever read anything non original, it would crash all the time and I couldn’t do anything about it. At this point we were better, economically speaking, and so I eventually bought a couple games. Fire Emblem, Soul Calibur II and I got Rogue Squadron III from a friend. Needless to say, being the kind of guy who sees a game to the end (even if it means just seeing a different Title screen, like in SCII) I was very interested in those and as such I kept on playing, with my trusty NES emulator and my SNES with some games I had.
But, the console would still clog up and not read anything, so I had to send it to get dusted almsot preiodically, which costed me a lot of money, money I could have used to buy games. The irony is so obvious you couldn’t hide it behind the moon.
By December, Almost two years since I started the whole Piracy thing, I ended up just using the GC to play original games and nothing else because nothing else would read. So, since I did good enough in school I was given the choice of a christmas present, because I was so in dire need of better grades they would promise everything. So I asked for a PS3 on christmas. And I did get it, but I’ll get to that later.
Before that, near the 23rd, the deal we’ve made was for me to get rid of the almost non-functional GC, and I could do whatever I wanted with the money. Also, after getting my PS3, I couldn’t use my SNES anymore. Family reasons, It’s not relevant.
So, I printed a bunch of ads using a pirated Photoshop CS4 On another ciber-café (again, without coffee) next door, and tried to sell the console to no avail. Luckily, the store I trade in games was feeling generous, since they were offering me [$40 USD] for the console and the games, controllers and memory card. It may seem like a really dumb move, but then again, no one wanted to buy the damn thing, and after christmas it would be completely impossible to sell it anywhere at all. So, I got the money and eventually just used it to buy two PS3 games, Fallout 3 and Dragon Age. I spent the last two days before christmas just playing Super Mario World. Also, the store wouldn’t take either Madden or Tiger Woods PGA 05, so, to this day, I’m still stuck with those like a bad habit.
Which is where I learned my last, most important conclusion of all.
Lesson Zero: It just ain’t worth it.
I call it Lesson Zero for two reasons: Firstly, to make an obvious My Little Pony refference, and secondly to emphasize that it was something so basic, I should’ve known beforehand.
After all the time and money I spent on trying to cheat the system and get some free or otherwise cheaper games, I ended up throwing away so much money that would’ve gone to better use if I had just bought original software. I would’ve saved so much money If I had just forgotten about the false promise of cheaper software, cheaper games, ceaper movies, music, etcetera. And even my schoolmates, people who wholeheartedly believe there’s absolutely nothing wrong with stealing videogames, music, and all that, have come to agree with me on the reasons for me not to jailbreak my PS3, I’m still better off paying more for a better service than just scraping by for free.
It took me two years to learn this. I will admit, My boyfriend, Jesse, did play a large role in this, partly because I didn’t want him to think poorly of me because of using pirated software, but in the end, the desition to not use pirated software was something I learned by pure trial and error. I tried, I erred, I learned.
This also made me take upon digital distribution methods like Steam or the PSN Store to get my games. Surprisingly, I’ve payed a fraction of what I used to, and I’ve got almost triple the games I had when I pirated my console, and all of them are perfectly working, in all of their faculties. As for movies, I’ve got Netflix now, which is limited, but has most of what I want, when I want. I’ll admit, most of the games I own on steam were gifts (of which I’ve been quite ungrateful for, sadly), but all of the games I buy in it are one hundred percent worth the money, even just for the pleasure of hacing them work properly. After struggling with things not working so much, you learn to appretiate that.
Probably, If I were to do the same now, that I know all this, I wouldn’t have so much trouble since I already know how to work things. And if you know more about this sort of thing then probably you’ll have a better ride along with all of this. But in the end, my position on this argument stands still. You shouldn’t try to cheat a system that isn’t working against you. And to all of those who are right now enjoying the benefits of Piracy that I couldn’t enjoy myself, think about this: So long as you do your pirating, companies and law enforcers will try and eventually will get you. And when that happens, you won’t be able to jailbreak your way out of trouble.
In an epilogue of sorts, I want to add what happened when I got my PS3.
While my grandmother was buying it (quite efficiently, I must admit, she got me the version with the PS Move for real low cheap), every major retailer kept pushing Softmods and Modchips for her to buy with the console. When I was asked if I wanted to have any of these, My answer was swift, short and to the point.