Friday, December 23, 2011

Do We Want Ditsy Female Hostesses on Video Game TV?

G4TV has essentially been gamers’ only resort for gaming-related programming for nine years now. As far as I can remember, it flew in the face of the corny and overly enthusiastic direction of GamePro TV and the more game show-emphasis of Nick Arcade that predate me.

Even in the early days of G4TV, the station had a vast array of very compelling content, with the late-night trailer reel of Cinematech, the incredible documentary series Icons, Judgment Day with the charismatic Tommy Tallarico and Victor Lucas, X-Play with its brutally-honest reviewing style, and the very informative, but not-so-in-your-face Screen Savers.

All the programming then looked to gamers with a certain degree of reverence and dignity. It was conceived with the understanding that the viewers are “nerds”, “geeks”, or technology enthusiasts in general, that they have habits that the normal human being does not, and that that difference was acceptable in society.

But perhaps that was not enough. Or, the hardcore gamers that viewed G4TV were not numerous enough to produce numbers that would sustain G4 in its current state. Then by 2006, according to Variety magazine, “G4 is evolving into a lifestyle channel, peppered with videogame culture, as opposed to wall-to-wall games." And this was evident, as this shift coincided with G4’s new logo, as well as a whole host of different non-gaming programs, which personally disappointed me. I can recall turning on G4 time and time again, hoping that I just might tune in at the time when something at least vaguely tech related was being aired.

Perusing can reveal the swath of shows that marred G4 for many. These started out with minor changes, but then G4 must have noticed a spike in ratings, and amped up the emphasis on non-gaming programs. These included meat-head shows like Ninja Warrior and Cops at first, but it all went downhill from there and progressively became more and more meat-headed in nature to include “shows” like The International Sexy Ladies Show, Cheaters, Web Soup, It's Effin' Science, That's Tough, Whacked Out Videos, and Wired for Sex.

The station was clearly pandering for viewers and this was to the detriment of their programming and their audience’s respect. Who are they trying to appeal to? Jocks? Bros? Brojocks? Douchebags? It seems the latter is true anyway.

They tried to appeal to too many personalities at once, that is for certain. Maybe this is the result of “jocks” vastly outnumbering “nerds” in society, and thus, an inevitability of mainstream entertainment culture to wholly engulf niche entertainment culture. Or even “nerds” increasingly using the internet as a resource to view content, whereas “jocks”, or at least their similarly shallow adult selves to continue to prefer entertainment on television. All of this is speculation, however, as I’m grossly generalizing “jock” and “nerd” culture, and ignoring any potential interaction or cross-pollination that may occur.

The internet is an important point though, as it appears television programming is a relic that is no longer revered in as high esteem as internet-driven forms of entertainment. I do not doubt that a considerable portion of G4TV’s viewership was lost due to the internet, which in part explains the channel’s current web presence.

So after all this involved self-discourse, I find myself right where I started with my title, “Do We Want Ditsy Female Hostesses on Video Game TV?” I got the idea for this title from watching Attack of the Show, the more in-your-face successor to the much beloved Screen Savers. With the rolling cast of Maxim models, and otherwise meathead heart-throbs, going in and out of AOTS, do we, or for that matter, did we ever come to watch G4TV as what was supposed to be a video game-centric channel to watch generally unintelligent and completely ignorant “babes” deliver news and issue completely anecdotal reviews on technology?

Let me answer that one for you, probably not. G4TV was popular because it was the only channel available that solely focused on video games and the industry. Now, we as gamers have virtually no where to go should we want to watch video game-related programming, unless we are willing to remain beholden to the station’s limited show spots like X-Play, and AOTS to an extent (although the bro-mentality has leaked into AOTS to an extent as well).

Do Candace Bailey, Sara Underwood, Kristin Adams, Olivia Munn, or Layla Kayleigh really have a passion for games? The prospect of this being true seems doubtful. It appears as if they were brought aboard for no other purpose than for their eye-candy value. This, along with the numerous other decisions like to increase the number and length of commercial breaks lost me as a regular viewer. I don’t see why Sarah Lane and Morgan Webb were not enough, and I doubt that they are the only truly tech-savvy female hosts that aren’t an eyesore to look at.

G4TV, why did you drop so many excellent shows, and add so many horrible ones?! There already exists a place for shows like that, and it’s called Spike TV!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Is the “Death of the PC” a Real Question Anymore?

It seems like it was just yesterday that the life of the PC as a viable gaming platform was being challenged. This was all the way back in summer, when all we heard were of rampant studio closings in which piracy was cited as a primary cause of lost sales. But gamers fought with their keyboards, arguing on message boards that they ordinarily would not purchase the given game regardless, even though we know through the numbers of pirated games that it was getting to the point where fans of a series would pirate even their most beloved titles.

Since then all that has been forgotten. All it took was for the consoles to gradually dilapidate in terms of graphical fidelity to the point at which PCs have once again become the preferred system of choice thanks to custom optimizing as well as the constantly evolving nature of the machine.

Now, rather than hearing about another Midway or THQ studio shutting down due to piracy, we hear of how much “better” Battlefield 3 is on PC, or that Skyrim on PC is “the way to go.” It stands to reason that until the next generation of consoles are released, the PC will remain the dominant way to play.

The PC has always had many things going for it, like the mouse and keyboard set up, its overall inexpensiveness, being able to mod at one’s will, free-to-play games, more indie games, Steam, a more mature multiplayer community, LAN gaming, being able to alt+tab out of a game to multi-task, not to mention that the PC makes a hell of a better Word Document machine than does an Xbox 360, and yet the 360 can’t even do half the things the PC can! So why even shell out upwards of $400 for the Xbox 1080 coming in 2013? Kinect 2.0? I think not.

With a PC, you can, for much less, progressively modify it to your specific needs and have a much better, and much more economical experience. (Thanks to Steam’s regular deals and free-to-play games, not piracy, you goon!)

I don’t believe the PC as a gaming platform is being put to question any longer, and for good reason.

Long live the PC!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Infinity Blade II: The Definitive Handheld Game

Infinity Blade II for the iOS platform is a deceivingly hardcore game. From the onset, you are presented with an easy, straight path that makes you wonder what all the fuss is about and why Infinity Blade II costs $6.99. But after completing this, numerous other paths are unlocked, making Infinity Blade II a whole lot more expansive. It doesn’t hurt as well that the enemies at each juncture are constantly being rearranged or new ones are being thrown into the mix.

The gameplay at first seems to be run-of-the-mill hack n’ slash style combat, but after spending some time experimenting with the three different weapon types (sword and shield, heavy, and dual swords), the game’s quality amongst the massive heaps of garbage that grace Apple’s App Store truly reveals itself.

Infinity Blade II has an interesting carrot-stick balance, one that favors the carrot for which may turn off the hardest of “core” gamers. Incentives such as experience points, leveling up, gold, the prospect of new and exciting weapons are things likely to keep players coming back when on the go. The game has many reasons for gamers to continue playing even after they’ve exhausted the purported five hours of playtime available.

Its single player increases in difficulty as your character becomes stronger, you find gold bags scattered around the gorgeous Unreal Engine-powered landscapes, which can be used to purchase new weapons, armor, helmets, shields, and rings. Equipped items can be leveled up and augmented, leading to both experience and strength, defense, health, or magic bonuses. Infinity Blade II, along with being a surprisingly robust action game is also a loot-whoring game, which can provide for a surprisingly exciting gaming experience on-the-go. Fights are short and to the point, and cutscenes between one area and the next can be sped up in case you’re in a hurry.

I played Infinity Blade II on my standard iPhone 4, and it is noticeable it was intended for the iPhone 4S. The occasional hiccup has the possibility of being either slight enough to not terribly reduce framerate, or severe enough to give you the sense that you didn’t get a fair fight and can turn the tides in your enemy’s favor due to your delay in commands. All of which leads to massive frustration, and let me tell you, this game does reach a point at which it becomes very challenging (if you’re reading this, and thought it wasn’t sufficiently hard, try playing with heavy weapons only!). But Infinity Blade II is one to reward you for your persistence, and becomes only more gratifying by getting past its issues.

The block-buster app makes an attempt at providing a story to tie together the chain of enemies, but really, it boils down to generic dialogue unfittingly voiced by what are actually some genuinely menacing enemies. The story, suffice to say, is not Infinity Blade II’s calling card, nor is it the reason anyone will pick it up.

Infinity Blade II combines even more fluid combat that was present in the first game, Gears of War-quality graphics in the palm of your hands, Shadow of the Colossus-level of epic boss fights, with on-the-go gaming practicality. I dare say it is one of the most satisfying and engaging games on iOs to date. Once you play Infinity Blade II for the first time, you will be coming back for more, I assure you.