My Playstation Life

To adequately express the beginnings of my gaming hobby, I’d like to tell you about the first television I ever gamed on. It was the early 80’s, and my family had a Curtis Mathis console television. A floor-standing unit in a dark wood enclosure, with a flat top upon which sat other components. The whole thing was roughly three feet tall and slightly wider than that. It had actual click-dials on the front and a whopping 25-inch screen.

When I first started gaming, that top sported a potted plant and a pair of Rabbit Ears. Over the years a number of different components would occupy that space; everything from a turntable to a VHS deck to DVD players. Every console I owned as a kid was eventually hooked up to that TV, but it started with a Commodore Vic-20 in 1982, upon which the most commonly played games were Gorf and Radar Rat Race. It was fucking fantastic.

Throughout the 80’s, I was exposed to a wide variety of gaming systems, but my gaming was dominated by Commodore. My mother used our varying Commodore computers for work applications, but our Vic-20, Commodore 64, and Commodore 128 turned out to be absolutely fantastic gaming machines. At one point, I had over 500 games for our 64, all on 5 ¼ floppy disks. It was a pretty glorious time.

I got my first actual console gaming system – a Nintendo Entertainment System – in 1987. Having been a Commodore devotee (and only in single-digit ages), I was blithely oblivious to the rise of Atari and the industry crash. But the rise of the IBM PC was killing Commodore, so I was extremely happy to see dedicated gaming machines becoming a thing. Through the 80’s and 90’s I owned all manner of machines from an SNES, a GameBoy, a Game Gear, a ColecoVision, and even an Action Max, all of which my parents had bought (ostensibly) for me (even though my mom would steal my GameBoy to play Tetris).

I graduated high-school in the summer of ’95, and hadn’t yet decided where I was going to college. So, I was living at home and working at the local TV station (KTVZ21 in Bend, Oregon), and had – for probably the only time in my life – a ton of disposable income. I watched the chatter over the next couple of months about Sony entering the console gaming market with a system that used (gasp!) CD ROM’s instead of cartridges, and had this kinda funky-shaped control pad. When I saw some of the screenshots for games, I was in.

On launch day, I rushed out of work and into the local Fred Meyer about five minutes before they closed, and managed to grab the first gaming console I ever bought with my own money: A Playstation. I was SO FUCKING EXCITED. I rushed home, tore it open, and got it all hooked up to that very same Curtis Mathis TV. I grabbed the weird controller (no analog sticks on this one, yet), and it felt *perfect* in my hands. I emptied the box looking for the pack-in game…only to realize, too late, that there wasn’t one.

My first night with the first console I could call my own, and I was stuck with only Playstation Picks demo disc to play on it. I spent a good chunk of that first night replaying the demos for ESPN Extreme Games, Jumping Flash, and WipEout (I ignored Battle Arena Toshinden after one play). I watched all the videos on the disk of games like Destruction Derby, Ridge Racer, Warhawk, and Kileak, and went to bed having buried all of my original excitement in a heap of disappointment.

And yet, even with that kind of first impression, Sony had me hooked for life.

That Playstation survived my move from Bend to Seattle for college, the rise and fall of my first long-term relationship, and even an apartment fire. Over those years, games like WipEout, Rayman, Tenchu, Chrono Cross, the Oddworld games, the Street Fighter Alpha series, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, the Twisted Metal games, and Tony Hawk solidified gaming as an inextricable part of my life. Oh, and Soul Blade… I mustn’t forget how, for about a six month period, every Saturday afternoon became a SoulBlade party at my apartment, with between 4 and 12 people in attendance. Those were some good times, amongst which the relationship with my now wife of 16 years began.

It was a surprise to no one that the PS2 was the first consumer product I pre-ordered, and the first for which I waited in line. I entered the line at our local GameStop at 11am for a midnight launch, and I was about 100 people back. And all of these were people with pre-orders, with a separate line for those without. By the time the doors opened, the line was 4-5 people abreast and snaked across an entire floor of Bellevue Square Mall, out the door, and into the parking garage. There was a Babbage’s in the same mall with a similar line.

The PS2 amped up everything that had made me love my PS1. Even with a relatively weak launch lineup (I played a LOT of Frequency and Smuggler’s Run in those early days), it went on to have one of the greatest game libraries in the history of console gaming. It’s a library that’s still playable to this day, with games that stand the test of time better than I ever thought they would.

I had friends, at this time, who were huge fans of the Xbox. No matter how many times I played game on it, I just couldn’t bring myself to love it the way I loved my PS2. I had some great times at Halo LAN parties, but the system could just never compare to the experiences I had with some of my now-favorite game franchises like Jak & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank. If the PS1 was really what solidified me as a gamer, it was the PS2 that made me a true Playstation fan. I never owned nor cared about the Dreamcast, and Nintendo had become an afterthought.

Which is why it came as exactly zero surprise to anyone when my wife and I decided to get in line for the launch of the Playstation 3. Being such a huge Playstation fan was a tiny bit awkward at this point, since I was working for Nintendo at the time. Taking vacation days for the launch of a competitor’s console may not have been the smartest move, but I didn’t really care. This is where my fandom tipped from hardcore to a tiny bit insane. I got off work on a Tuesday night, picked up my wife, and headed to the local Best Buy, where a line had already formed for the 12:01 Friday morning launch. We brought a pavilion to keep the rains off and had an air mattress in the bed of my pickup to sleep in. Yeah, that’s right: we camped in line for two and a half days in the rain and wind for our launch PS3’s.

Through all of that, I honestly tried to get into other consoles. I’ve owned an N64, and Xbox, a GameCube, a Wii and an Xbox 360. None of them ever stuck. The worst was the 360, which we bought for relatively cheap about three years after launch, and it just… sat. I played a bit of Halo on it, and then never touched it again.

Even through nine years working at Nintendo, through the entire lifespan of the Wii, I was still a hardcore Playstation fan. Everything from their console and controller design to their video capabilities to their first-party game properties just drew me in and held on tight. Now, I’ve got a household with three backward-compatible PS3’s, a PS4, a PSP Go (yeah, I’m the guy that bought one), and two PSVitas.

Today, as Japan celebrates 20 years of Playstation, I look back at the 19 years I’ve had them in my life and realized just how huge an impact they’ve had on me as a gamer. Some of my fondest nostalgia still resides in the Nintendo of the 80’s and early 90’s, but as much as I loves me some Mega Man and Super Mario World, there is no gaming company that has influenced me nearly as much as Sony. Well over half my life has been spent gaming on Playstation hardware, and I can’t imagine gaming with anyone else, anymore.

Happy birthday, Playstation. Here’s to another 20 years of awesome.

Reader Perception And Quality Control

I recently read a couple of posts on Chuck Wendig’s blog over at TerribleMinds regarding a self-published author’s responsibility for the quality of the work they publish. For your reading pleasure, the whole discussion started with this post on John Scalzi’s blog HERE, where he drew an analogy between the writerly life to that of a baseball player. Wendig furthered the discussion HERE and HERE.

The gist of Wendig’s point is that, while self-publishing is easy and has destroyed the barrier to entry in the publishing industry, each author who self-publishes now holds the responsibility to do right by their readers. He posits that authors should act as their own gatekeepers, and that the moment an author asks someone to pay for something they’ve written they have a responsibility to the reader – their customers – to present a professional and complete product.

I won’t further that particular discussion except to say that I couldn’t agree with him more. While I was reading through these threads another dynamic was brought into sharp focus: readers’ tendencies with regards to association of quality. Here’s what I mean:

For a moment, let’s take self-publishing out of the picture and rewind to the days where traditional publishing was just called “publishing”. If a reader suffered through a bad book – be it poorly written or unprofessionally executed – that reader associated the lack of quality with the author. Rarely (and this is demonstrated in some of the responses to Wendig’s posts, and echoed all over the internet) did a reader associate poor quality with a particular publisher or the industry as a whole. The inverse was also true: read a good book, follow the author. I can’t remember a time that I’ve ever read a fantastic novel and thought to myself “Man, that publisher really knows what they’re doing.”

Fast forward to the modern era. That dynamic I mentioned still exists with traditional publishers. While the idea of self-publishing has brought publishers in general more into the limelight, readers still don’t tend to associate good or bad quality of traditional books with the publisher or the publishing industry – the quality association still falls squarely on the author. The same cannot be said of self-published work.

When a reader buys a self-published novel and it turns out to be fantastic, that author now has a new fan. The reader associates the quality of the novel directly with the author and that association is more pertinent without a publishing house acting as middle-man. But when a reader gets ahold of a bad self-published book – again, be it poorly written, edited, and/or produced – the mentality no longer defaults to “I’m not going to buy any more of that author’s work.”, it tends to be “Fuck this self-published crap.” The onus of quality now rests on an entire segment of the industry, full of individuals who have nothing to do with one another, the best of which now get dragged down by players whose attitude is simply to dump a block of text onto Amazon without a thought to its quality.

I think that mentality originates from the idea that the traditional publishing industry, with its gatekeepers in place, has developed a reputation for at least upholding a minimum standard of quality. Readers intuitively know that – for the most part – when they pick up a book at Barnes & Noble they can expect it to have run through several editorial passes and have been proofread a few times. Please note that by “quality” I am simply referring to editorial professionalism, not the quality of the actual stories being told.

Of course, the same cannot be said of self-published work. While the barrier to entry has been razed to the ground, so has the expectation of professionalism. Without “gatekeepers” in place, no one is held to any kind of standard at all, which allows any overzealous author to take advantage of the system – of readers – to collect money for sub-par work rather than hone their craft prior to charging for it. Which is exactly Wendig’s point: Without that ingrained expectation of quality that the industry took decades to build in the minds of readers, the responsibility now rests solely on self-published authors’ shoulders to not foist snake-oil onto their customers.

I am never going to be the person to say that a writer shouldn’t be allowed to self-publish (and neither is Wendig, so please don’t assume that as my point). In fact, the ease of self-publishing is likely going to be the reason my book sees the light of day. While I don’t necessarily think that “gatekeepers” – the traditionally difficult standards of entry set by agents, acquisitions editors, and publishers – are healthy in an environment that is beginning to value creator’s rights more than it ever has, I think that publishers will morph their role into that of curators of content rather than locking all the doors and holding all the keys, and in a scenario where self-publishing digitally becomes simple and ubiquitous, it might be time for service providers and device manufacturers to take an active role in building up the quality of self-published work.

In the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s, the emergence of the home video game console experienced a similar issue. Atari created a console that was (comparatively) easy to program for and had almost no barriers to making games for it. Everyone from the big guys like Namco and Activision, down to programming teams of 2 guys in a basement, started making games. The result was an explosion of garbage – sometimes in the form of games that literally did not function. All of a sudden, there was a huge glut of expensive, quasi-functional trash, and no legitimate way to tell the good from the bad. Consumer confidence tanked, Atari went bankrupt, and the video game industry as a whole crashed – hard – and almost didn’t recover until a little Japanese company called Nintendo joined the fray in 1985.

Nintendo set a new standard for video game console manufacturers by providing a system that was easy to use and affordable for consumers, but simultaneously holding their publishers to a standard of quality by running every game through a battery of tests before it could be manufactured for Nintendo’s console. That system is still in place today at all the major console manufacturers, where all of them have a certification department that runs a series of tests on every single game to make sure that it adheres to a set of guidelines for usability and functionality.

These certification departments don’t judge the subjective quality of a game (if they did, we’d be blessed to never see another Petz or Babiez game again) instead simply making sure that a game functions properly, uses the correct terminology, and won’t break the console or hamper the user experience. And, in the face of a huge self-publishing boom in the video game industry, these certification departments aren’t going away – they’re adapting to the boom and working to help small video game developers publish games that never before would’ve seen the light of day.

The same model could be applied to self-published books. A company like Amazon could have a certification department full of proofreaders and copy editors whose jobs were nothing more than to comb over manuscripts and hold them to a certain level of production quality. Like the cert departments at Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo, they would not comment on the quality of the stories, and they certainly wouldn’t act in a true editorial capacity (just like the cert departments don’t act as bug-testing facilities), but they would be able to identify the mechanical problems with a manuscript and have the power to reject one until it passes muster.

Granted, this would require an investment of people and funds from companies like B&N and Amazon who – at the moment – have exactly zero motivation to do so. Quality isn’t their concern, and they make their 30-70% off of every book sold whether it’s crap or not, so it behooves them to promote high quantity with a low barrier to entry.

Atari once thought the same thing.

We may never see something like that come to pass unless Amazon gets a rude awakening like Atari did, which is unlikely to happen in the modern publishing climate (at least not anytime soon). This, I think, is why publishers as curators will become the next wave of business in the publishing industry. The model that immediately jumps to mind is Image Comics.

Creator-owned comics were mostly unheard-of up until the early ‘90’s. Comic book creators, fed up with the Big 2 paying them a pittance for their work and taking their creations away from them, were looking for a new way to do business. Image Comics was formed with what was, at the time, a revolutionary idea: Let the creators keep the rights to their work. Image acts in a publishing capacity insomuch as they provide editorial support, access to printing and distribution, and a unified logo under which readers can assume a certain level of quality.

Image does, to some degree, act as gatekeepers just like Marvel and DC do, but the trade-off for creators is that they retain the rights to their creations. One of the primary drives, for authors, behind the self-publishing movement is creative control and the preservation of their rights. Image has been successful in this practice, which has been followed by other companies like Boom! Studios and MonkeyBrain, and the model seems ripe for introduction into the publishing industry.

It’s unlikely that any of the major publishers like Tor or Random Penguin would ever concede rights to new properties to their authors. The industry seems ready, however, for publishers to act less like gatekeepers and more, as I said earlier, like curators of content, sifting through the morass of self-published books to offer a middle-ground solution for authors who want to couple the benefits of unified brand clout with the flexibility of creator-ownership.

The publisher can develop a brand identity unheard of in traditional publishing, where mainstream readers can go to find works they like based not solely on the author’s brand, but also the publisher. The author retains the rights to his or her work, and can build a brand of their own with the support of a larger entity. Readers would have a way to parse creator-owned work more than just by author, finding a stable or series of stables of curated content that fits their reading tastes. It seems like a win-win-win proposal, but I’m also not a business major.

I don’t think traditional publishing is going away. Nor do I think that self-publishing is steering the industry toward some inevitable implosion. I do, however, think that new business models will emerge that incorporate the best of both worlds, and maybe with a little bit of quality control on the service-providers’ ends, we could see a more balanced renaissance in the publishing industry that serves the business, the creators, and the consumers alike.

For now, though, all a fledgling author like me can do is ride out the storm, and try desperately not to suck.

The End of a Small Era

Today marks the end of a small era in my life: the publication of the final episode of the After The Fact podcast.

2009 was a really rough year for me. Amongst a terrible work/life balance, personal issues with people at my job, and general life stresses, we had taken in my terminally ill father to live with us so we could care for him. For part of that time we were also letting my brother – whom I do not generally get along with – stay with us. The last few months of that year were the most stressful of my life. My job sucked and my creative life was nonexistent. My brother and I had a terrible falling out. All of this was putting strain on my marriage. And then my father passed away on Christmas Day.

I was not in the best mental space of my life. The next few weeks were just a haze of trying to figure out how to put one foot in front of the other. I was desperate to find something to concentrate on to take my mind off of all the bullshit.

That same year I’d had an idea to do a podcast about classic video games, a subject I was (and still am) fairly passionate about. I have some pretty pointed opinions about older games – especially about the effect of nostalgia on coloring our opinions of a game’s actual quality – and I wanted to talk about that very topic. It had only been a passing notion until the beginning of 2010, when I decided to do whatever I needed to do to make it a reality.

At the beginning, it was a distraction; something to keep my mind occupied so that I wouldn’t just fall into despair. It was a proof of concept for cheap, homemade podcasting that could compete in quality with the high-end shows from 1up and IGN and Destructoid. It was really hard. And, for something that I was doing as a hobby, surprisingly rewarding.

The show never had a hell of a lot of fans. There were a few dedicated followers that loved the show as much as we loved to make it, but I don’t think our real human downloads ever broke 600 for any episode. But it didn’t matter, because we were more interested in the discussions than whether or not we had a huge fanbase. We just loved doing the show. I, especially, took solace in my time preparing, producing, hosting, and publishing After The Fact. It not only allowed me time to heal from quite possibly the worst year of my life, but rekindled a creative spark within me that had been dormant for a long time.

Over time, the show became more and more difficult to maintain. Gaming podcasts by gaming journalists are easier, because it’s those journalists day-job to learn, know, write, and talk about games. The podcasts they do are practically just recordings of their day-to-day work conversations. Our prep for After The Fact was more difficult only because it was layering another time-consuming hobby into lives that were already basically full.

While I never got “burned out” on the show, in the traditional sense, the burden of its production had become taxing after a while. When it all started it was a distraction, but we had pushed so hard for it to become quality entertainment that I very quickly grew to love the show and every minute I was on it. But as I switched to a more intense job and my wife’s work ramped up, and then we expanded into more podcasts on, it became harder and harder to maintain the quality bar we’d set for ourselves. So we decided to end the show on in high note.

And I think we’ve succeeded. In the middle of 2012 we had a meeting about what the final 10 episodes of the show would look like. Our list of games we wanted to cover expanded to 15 – ending the show at episode 80 rather than the initially-planned 75 – and those last 15 shows turned out to be some of the most solid in our run. And some of the most interesting, for me, because they contained some of the most fun games in the show’s four-year run.

And now, it’s over. I just posted the finished, final episode to the web, and that small-but-important era of my life comes to a close. I’m extremely happy with the quality of the show we produced over the last four years, and I’m glad we decided to end the show before it fell apart on its own. But as I posted the final episode I couldn’t help but look back at the terrible time in my life that stood as the impetus for its creation, and everything the show has grown to mean for me over its span.

The show helped me through a difficult time, re-sparked my creative fire, solidified some of my best friendships, introduced me to some new experiences, taught me a ton of new skills, and was some of the most fun I’ve ever had. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t very sad to see it go, but now it’s time to move on to new things. I’ve already started the “next phase” of my life, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it takes me.

Device-Specific Ecosystems Are JUST FINE

I read a few different “bookish” blogs, and have been getting into the world of prose publishing more and more lately for obvious reasons. I mentioned in one of me previous posts how I’ve seen a lot of people in the traditional book world talking about their transition to eBooks.

A recurring theme of these conversations centers around the major e-Reader makers and their DRM. Many people complain that e-Books available on Kindle, iBooks, and Nook are tethered to those devices, citing that you never had to worry about where you could read a book before eBooks. The book-reading community, as it were, seems to believe that eBooks should be an open platform, and available anywhere, all the time.

First off, I think the term DRM is slightly misused here. Most of the time, “DRM” (Digital Rights Managment) is used to describe the bits of code a company embeds in a particular file to prevent it from being copied (pirated). In the case of eBook readers, it’s less about piracy and more about file format: Each eReader has it’s own proprietary format that ties a piece of content to that particular type of device. The idea being that purchasing a book on Kindle ties you to that device and thus, into Amazon’s ecosystem, is apparently the Devil’s work in the eyes of many readers. My perspective as a geek and gamer places this practice under a wildly different lens.

I grew up playing console video games. My first console was a Nintendo Entertainment System and over the intervening 25+ years I’ve owned almost every major video game console. Having been a staunch Nintendo fan for many years – a stand that has now shifted to Playstation – the idea of “console wars” is ingrained in my childhood. There have always been two or three major console manufacturers vying for real estate in the video game landscape, each with their own proprietary format and exclusive titles.

And that’s never been a problem. If you wanted to play a Mario game, you owned a Nintendo. Same with Sonic & Sega. In the modern era, Playstation has Uncharted and Killzone, Xbox has Halo and Gears of War. I can’t plug a Playstation disc into an XBox. I can’t use a Wii U gamepad on my Playstation. Not only are these divisions expected, but accepted.

So why isn’t the same mentality true of eBooks?

We live in a world where hardware technology does not support itself. It’s too expensive to develop and manufacture, so hardware makers are forced to find other avenues of profit in order to make their devices successful. Console manufacturers don’t make money on their machines – Sony is a great example of this, having only recently started turning a profit on PS3 hardware after spending 7 years selling it at a loss – they make money on licensing fees and software sales.

Amazon loses money on Kindles, Barnes & Noble loses money on Nooks. Even Apple doesn’t turn a profit on iPads. These companies make all of their money – and fund the development of better hardware – by making it as convenient as possible for the owners of their hardware to stay within their own ecosystem and not venture outward. Every Kindle book sale funnels 30% (or more) into Amazon’s coffers. Without that money – if everyone were able to buy their eBooks elsewhere and read them on any device – the Kindle ceases to exist.

So why is that a problem? The major eBook hardware manufacturers have their own exclusive titles, but the vast majority of eBooks are “multiplatform” – either available in a universal format like ePub or PDF, or are simply released in multiple formats for the different hardwares. This is virtually the exact same model that has been used by the video game industry ever since hardware competition generated the tagline “Genesis Does What NintenDon’t”.

Once the digital publishing world settles down, it will no longer be an issue: It makes ZERO sense for a 3rd Party publisher – be them a behemoth like Harper Collins or a self-published author – to limit their exposure by sticking to a single platform without a major exclusivity contract that pays them hefty licensing fees. The vast majority of books will filter out to all platforms, just like video games from major publishers like EA and Ubisoft do.

I’m sure that the big eBook manufacturers will continue to have their own exclusive titles – especially in light of Amazon starting their own publishing house(s) – but the idea that hardware exclusivity is some sort of demon seed that’s destroying the integrity of eBook publishing is… well, it’s old fashioned and silly. Bookish folk who are just now encountering the notion of hardware exclusivity need to realize that this is not a new idea, nor is it a problem.

Besides, books have a huge advantage in this scenario: If all I have is a Playstation and a game isn’t available there, there’s no way for me to just buy the game in a standalone package and play it anyway. If a book isn’t available on your e-reader of choice, you can go buy a physical copy and still read it, legitimately, without any problems.

Two Topics, One Post

I read a lot online. I tend to gravitate toward book blogs and video game sites, which makes sense with my background. Me recent perusals have brought up two wildly different topics, and I’ve decided to just write about both of them.


Recurring articles pop up all the time in the book-o-sphere, and one that always catches my eye are bloggers and industry folk discussing their “journey” with eBooks. See, many of them were staunch opponents to eBooks. On one end of the spectrum there are folks who didn’t want to support eBooks because they thought it to be the demise of their favorite industry and/or pastime. On the other end are the more hipster-ish arguments claiming that the feel or smell of a physical book is integral to the reading experience.

First, let me say that both of these arguments are bullshit. The publishing game is changing, yes, but the idea that upheaval in the modern book industry would result in the death of prose as an artform is ludicrous. Any arguments regarding the book as a physical object being an inseparable core aspect of the reading experience is equally silly: it is the words on the page that keep you reading, and I defy anyone to tell me with a straight face that when they are immersed in a story they still pay attention to how the pages smell.

On the other hand, I agree that the early days of eBooks were pretty rough. Reading a book off of an LCD screen – especially an older one with a lower refresh-rate – was physically painful for me, causing me tons of eye strain and headaches. Upon the invention and refinement of ePaper, though, all of those barriers go away.

I was thinking about writing an article about my “journey” into eBooks, but it really boils down to this: ePaper is awesome, eBooks rock, and the moment that had the ability to rid myself of stacks and stacks of books and replace them with a single device that could, ostensibly, hold every book I’d ever want to read presented itself I jumped in with both feet. I’m sold.


The big hubbub today centers around EA’s release of the new SimCity title, a game they showed at last year’s E3. In a surprise to exactly no one, EA’s been having all kinds of troubles maintaining the persistent, always-on internet connection required to play the game. Players have reported everything from 5+ hour downloads to the loss of hours of gameplay due to a server hiccup to the complete inability to connect at all.

I remember watching the demo for this title during E3 and being really excited for it. I used to play a ton of SimCity on an old Mac Classic, spending hours and hours using cheat codes to get extra money while having natural disasters turned off, then building up a giant metropolis only to turn natural disasters back on and watch the whole thing sink into what amounted to an apocalypse.

When they announced that the game required a persistent internet connection, though, I immediately scratched it off of my want list. The entire concept that if my internet connection goes down I suddenly lose access to games that I’ve either purchased in physical form or downloaded to a local device is appalling to me. It has, and always will be, a deal-breaker.

I really wish I could be a fly on the wall in meetings where executives discuss the reasoning behind requiring an internet connection to play single-player games. Video game industry folk try to sell us this idea as an anti-piracy measure, but I believe that’s more smokescreen than anything else. Executive-level folks like to make a big deal out of piracy, but it has considerably less effect on a company’s bottom line than many would lead us to believe.

In reality it’s more of a way for them to collect data on their players and target all of us with advertising. Plus, with the video game industry about to enter a major era of flux, game companies are panicking because they have no idea what gamers want anymore. Many of them believe that collecting this sort of data will help them figure out what the next big thing will be before it gets here. What they don’t realize is that with game development cycles that last 3+ years, the fickle nature of the industry will have changed between development and release, so all you can do is cross your fingers and hope.

In the meantime, the larger companies like EA and Blizzard are instituting this asinine always-on DRM that will end up losing them way more customers than piracy ever would. How about trying a different tactic: make good games, and make them as easy to obtain and play as humanly possible, for a decent price. Could it truly be that simple? Seems pretty basic to me.

The PS4’s Best Feature

I’m sure I’ll be posting a lot of thoughts in the coming weeks and months about the Playstation 4, but I’m going to start off by talking about my favorite feature – or feature set, rather – about the console: its focus on downloadable content.

Or, rather, the focus on making downloadable content instant and invisible, or at least as much as is possible in this day and age.

Last July, Sony acquired streaming-game service Gaikai. Gaikai, for those of you not familiar with the name (don’t worry, most of us weren’t), created a set of streaming technologies that would operate similar to OnLive, but rather than creating a distinct service, they focused on partnerships that would embed their technology into websites and devices. There was a lot of speculation surrounding Sony’s purchase of Gaikai, most of it centered around whether or not the PS4 was going to be a cloud-based game system like OnLive.

Thankfully, that speculation was incorrect, and the realization of that partnership is even better than we could have imagined. It seems that rather than using Gaikai’s technology solely for game streaming, Sony will instead focus that technology on streamlining the download and play process for gamers, thus addressing one of the largest and longest running complaints about the PS3: constant and frustratingly slow updates.

Sony will combine Gaikai’s streaming tech with something that has never been conceived on a console: internal hardware dedicated solely to managing downloads. In the past, in virtually all digital spaces, the management of background downloading, multiple downloads, or updates to software has been limited to software-side solutions. This would always require the software to set aside chunks of processor real-estate to handle the downloads, and while there have been a few decent PC implementations, it’s never really been done properly. With internal hardware dedicated to the task, gamers will never have to wait for a download to play a game, and background downloads will rarely – if ever – need to be paused in order to accommodate gameplay.

Combine this hardware solution with Gaikai’s streaming tech, and you have an absolute nirvana for gamers: a system that will allow you to download everything in the background regardless of what you’re doing on the console at the time, will let you stream content from the server while you’re waiting for a game to download, and will download and install any and all updates automatically.

Never again will you put a game disc into your console and have to wait for an hour for the most recent updates to download and install. Never again will you purchase a digital title and have to wait for it to download before you can begin playing. Never again will you turn on your system and wait for an interminable system update before you can begin playing.

This set of features, if executed properly, could be one of the best things to come out of console gaming in years. It also proves that not only was Sony listening intently to their fans and detractors, but they took their solution to one of the strongest complaints of this generation a step further than many of us even knew was possible. It bodes well for Sony’s standing in the next round of the “console wars”, which is good news for long-time Playstation hardcores like me.

PS4: Initial Thoughts

If you’re not a gamer, or if you’re some sort of reclusive hobbit gamer that lives in an abandoned missile silo, the news of today’s Playstation press conference may have passed you by. For the rest of us, this was the first shell fired into the newest generation of warring consoles, where Sony spent the better part of two hours announcing their plans for the upcoming Playstation 4.

Anyone who listens to the After The Fact podcast knows that I’m a humongous Playstation fan. I grew up a console gamer and cut my teeth on Nintendo’s classic systems. I was just the right age – a senior in high-school – when the Playstation came out, and it was the first console I ever bought with my own money. I was a mild Playstation fan through the life of the PSOne, mostly because I was wholly disappointed by Nintendo’s offering at the time. When the PS2 came out, though, I was completely hooked, and have been ever since.

Today’s PS4 announcement had a hell of a lot of good in it. It seems, for the most part, that Sony has learned from many of their mistakes during the PS3 generation, and is focused on providing a wholly reinvented online and social experience, combined with a system that is focused on getting you gaming as fast as possible and as soon as you want it.

My only real disappointments with today’s conference came in the form of the games that were showcased. A few really caught my eye like inFamous: Second Son and Knack, but the rest kind of fell flat for me. Killzone looked beautiful but it’s a series that’s never found it’s way into my heart. I’m glad to see that Watch Dogs is a PS4 offering rather than PS3, but the gameplay demo they showed actually didn’t feel as dynamic as the one Ubisoft showed us at E3. The Destiny announcement was a given – especially after their conference in Seattle just a couple of days ago – and the Diablo III announcement left me scratching my head.

The two biggest standouts in my mind, though, are the PSVita connectivity – remote play that might, for once, actually work? – and the controller. The DualShock 4 is the first departure from the standard DualShock design since its introduction in the mid-’90’s, and it looks nigh on perfect to me. A more ergonomic shape, added features, and just slightly re-designed everything means a DualShock that seems like it’s just better.

I’m still processing everything I saw today, and I’ll have more detailed thoughts in the coming week.

The PSN Outage and Gamer Entitlement

Earlier today, I got into a rather lengthy argument on Twitter with a good friend of mine over the current PSN outage. For those of you living under a rock in the Australian outback, the Playstation Network went down last Wednesday and has been down ever since. PS3 owners have been up in arms for days, demanding information.

The timing of the outage is horrible for Sony, coming during the week of three major game releases that all use online functionality. Gamers who purchased SOCOM 4, Mortal Kombat, and/or Portal 2 are understandably perturbed that they can’t get online with their new games, but the outage also affects all online-capable PS3 games, the Qriocity service and the Playstation Store. As the outage continues, gamers are becoming more and more upset, lighting up the internet with complaints.

Sony initially identified the source of the outage as an “external intrusion”, and let gamers know that they shut down the services in order to identify the breach and determine a course of action for fixing it. This backed people off for a day or two, but then began the complaints of Sony’s vagueness in identifying the problem to consumers.

On Saturday afternoon, Sony posted the following update to the Playstation Blog:

“We sincerely regret that PlayStation Network and Qriocity services have been suspended, and we are working around the clock to bring them both back online. Our efforts to resolve this matter involve re-building our system to further strengthen our network infrastructure. Though this task is time-consuming, we decided it was worth the time necessary to provide the system with additional security. We thank you for your patience to date and ask for a little more while we move towards completion of this project. We will continue to give you updates as they become available.”

This time, gamers were not appeased. Since this post, people have been complaining about every aspect of how Sony has been handling this situation, but primarily about the perceived lack of details regarding the process of restoring PSN service. Many feel that Sony should be providing more information – on any number of fronts – and that we as gamers and Sony consumers are entitled to more information. But are we actually entitled to anything?

Absolutely not.

First, people want to know what caused the outage. Of all of the different aspects of this issue that people are complaining about, this is the least valid, and least likely to get answered in any meaningful way. Gamers don’t need to know exactly what caused the issue, and Sony is under absolutely no obligation to publicize that information. If the problem was internal to Sony, releasing that information does them no good whatsoever, and if the problem truly was caused by a breach, then that information just points other hackers in the direction of a successful hack.

Sony has to be very careful with what information they release, and whom they release it to. It is fair to say that the PSN is a selling point of many products, and that a lack of the PSN would constitute the removal of a feature integral to those products. This argument would be valid, if Sony were permanently removing the PSN. But they’re not – it’s just an outage, caused by external forces out of Sony’s control, which is something everyone should expect with any service. Sometimes shit happens.

Besides, Sony is still smack dab in the middle of dealing with this crisis. If their info is to be believed (and we really have no reason to disbelieve them), they’re working around the clock to restore service and plug the holes, lest another incident occur and cause another extended outage. Why should any of us expect to be spoon fed information about their processes? Giving gamers minute-by-minute updates of their progress would do nothing but open them up to further scrutiny by a community of people who have no real knowledge of the problem. They’ve told us they’re working on it, and that’s what we need to know.

Similarly, people are bitching that Sony has not offered any kind of timetable for the return of the service, and are vilifying Sony for it. This is like saying “My favorite restaurant closed down because someone blew up their kitchen with a pipe bomb, but the owners aren’t telling me how long it’ll take to fix or when they’ll reopen, SO FUCK THEM.”

I’m going to sound like a broken record here, buy how are they even supposed to have a timetable? Building an infrastructure like this from scratch takes months, if not years, and rebuilding, testing it, determining a re-launch strategy, and re-launching it is not going to be an instant (or even fast) process. They’re not just deciding to flip the switch mid-stream to sate our hunger for gaming – they’re going to put the service back up when they’re damned good and sure that they’ve done everything humanly possible to ensure that we, their consumers, don’t have to endure something like this again.

Then there’s the question of compensation. Most of the complaints lie along the lines of “What are you going to do for me?”. I won’t deny that Playstation owners are probably due some sort of compensation for lost time. As I said before, the PSN is an advertised feature and a selling point for the console and a great many games. Playstation Plus subscribers have the most valid complaint, since they actually pay for the service directly and can’t partake. Is now the right time to be asking that question, though?

The outage hasn’t even ended yet, and Sony likely doesn’t even know the extent of the damage or cleanup time. With the amount of work they’re doing to fix the problem – namely rebuilding the PSN from the ground up – they likely don’t even know when it’ll be fully back up and running again. If they don’t know how long the outage will last or what it will take to fix it, how exactly are they supposed to determine a proper course of compensation for the affected users?

Probably the worst part of all of this, to me, is that the gaming media are fanning the flames of discontent. Gaming journalists repeatedly lambast gamers for their hot-headedness, even to go so far as to make fun of them (us) for flying off the handle at the tiniest little thing or for making entirely uninformed complaints. This is a time when users need to calm down and back off, and the media is a) making the PR hit that Sony’s taking from this even worse than it would have already been and b) acting just as reactionary as the gamers they make fun of.

What does this all boil down to? Under normal circumstances we, as consumers, are entitled to one thing: to get the product we pay for, as advertised, and to not be misled. That’s pretty much it. Sony hasn’t misled anyone, they haven’t engaged in false advertising, and – most of all – this is all out of the ordinary. Concessions must be made for off-the wall situations such as natural disasters or hackers or other situations out of Sony’s control.

We, as consumers, are not entitled to any specific amount or frequency of information from the companies from which we consume. How Sony handles its consumer service is entirely up to them, based on how they (not we) think it will affect their business and their consumers. Once the problem is fixed and they can take a step back and look at the big picture, they’ll determine a course of compensation and let us know how they are going to try and make it up to us. It would be stupid of them not to, because we are the reason they’re in business in the first place.

Complaining about the flow of information while still in the midst of the issue displays a frustrating sense of entitlement amongst the gamers making the complaints.  If, after all is said and done and we know Sony’s post-outage course of action, you feel that Sony has not treated you the way you want to be treated as a consumer of their products, the solution is simple: stop consuming their products. That is your recourse, and it is available to every single citizen of this wonderful capitalist society.

My Finished Game Room

This weekend, my big project was mounting my game room TV to the wall, opening up space on the top of my entertainment center for some of my classic consoles. The project is complete, and now my game room is officially made of win and makes me very happy. The setup: 50″ Panasonic Viera 1080p plasma, SNES, NES, Genesis, PS3, Wii, XBox 360. To the right of the setup is a shelf of classic games and memorabilia, to the right of that is my shelf of current-gen games, blu-rays, and DVDs. The Nintendo sign was acquired at a garage sale a while back.


Welcome to my blog! If you’re wondering what it’s all going to be about, you and I are in the same boat. As with most blogs, the intent behind this is to be a (hopefully) steady stream of consciousness that will (again, hopefully) be entertaining to some degree. A little rundown of my brain-pan might help define what things I’ll post about, and the categories I intend to separate everything into:

First and foremost, I’m a geek. If there is a geeky pursuit, I’ve probably done it, primarily in the form of games. I play games, and that occupies most of my free time. I play video games, card games, roleplaying games, board games, poker (lots of poker…), and I’ve even spent a good chunk of my life LARPing and playing live-combat games. I’m a gamer, in both the purest and broadest sense of the term.

I’m also a husband, a game designer, an artist, and a writer. I’ve just finished the first draft of my first full-length novel, and I’ve got several traditional game designs in the works.

The posts on  my blog will be split into one of the following categories:

EDITORIAL, which is further divided into:



Reviews, which doesn’t have it’s own image because it’ll usually be tied to one of the categories below.

ENTERTAINMENT, which is further divided into:

Books (including my own):

Comic Books:

and GAMING, which is further divided into:


Video Games:

Traditional Games:

Hopefully you’ll find it as entertaining as I find it cathartic. I’m not here to take you on a journey, I just plan on putting myself out there and seeing what people think. Let me know, okay?