PS3 “Price Drop”

Written by rob on July 15, 2007 – 11:24 am -

I assume that anyone who goes on the Internet on a daily basis has already heard that Sony announced a $100 price drop to their Playstation 3 console, effective immediately. If you haven’t heard, now you know.

I don’t think the move requires much commentary. It is fairly obvious that Sony must be in trouble… never before in Sony console history (and I venture to say any console’s history), has a price drop been effective so soon after launch. This announcement comes only 8 months after the PS3 was released, and the price drop is rather substantial. $100 represents a 16.6% price drop. With the sales of the system coming to a near halt in the past two months, the move to cut the price seems logical. The amount of sold units has been at 3.5 million for quite some time with not much change.

In combination with the well-received E3 for Sony and this new price drop, not to mention the slew of incoming fall games, I expect the Holiday 07 season for Sony to be a very nice one. 360 better watch out, while Wii needs to keep bringing in games to attract more consumers.

What most people don’t realize about the price drop, however, is that it is only in effect as long as 60GB versions of the console exist. That is, the $100 price drop is for the 60GB SKU only, which Sony has halted production of. They claim that there is still enough supply for a few months, but that is based on their current sales rate… which should be noticeably increased as a result of the price drop. Once all of the 60GB versions are gone (or on August 1, whichever comes first), Sony will be releasing an 80GB version for the original price of $599.

It kind of ruins the point of a price drop if it will be not noticeable in potentially less than half a month. Once the 60GB versions are gone, you will still have to shell out $599 to get a PS3, since the 80 gig version will be the only one around. I think the choice to go with 80GB, as opposed to say 120GB, is a stupid choice. Why don’t we just make an advertisement showing that 360 has 40GB more space than us? (Consumers aren’t going to care that the 40GB, or even 120GB, means practically nothing in the world of HD video.) Furthermore, what is the point of the price drop at all? To liquidate a million units really quick? If they are so interested in selling consoles, why don’t they let the price drop stick and sell a million units every 2 weeks until Christmas?

The choice is interesting, but despite this, it still remains that they have plenty of good games coming soon and their E3 demonstration was considered the best of the three main console companies. One interesting thing to note is that Unreal Tournament 3 (formerly 2007) is going to be PS3 exclusive as far as consoles go (there will still be a PC version). The reason? Not only are the developers more excited about Sony’s system in terms of power, but get this… The Playstation Network offers more flexibility. That’s the same PSN that is allegedly inferior to Xbox Live. And while I think all gamers realize that Live continues to offer much more, the PSN has some tricks up its sleeve… like allowing UT3 to have downloadable mods. Every time a game like Oblivion or UT comes out, you know its going to be heavily modded. Until now, to enjoy that you would need the PC version. The revelation that the PSN network is capable of distributing mods and other user-created content really makes it attractive… the PS3 is even closer now to a PC gaming platform.

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The Evolution of MMORPG Communication

Written by rob on June 20, 2007 – 1:39 pm -

Today I read an article by Clive Thompson about the growing trend of using voice communication services from within MMORPGs (massively multi-player online RPGs), and how it is taking away from the “virtual” experience. You can read his article here (

Just to summarize before I launch into my own opinion, Clive is essentially saying that utilizing voice chat, that is, using a microphone with your computer so that you can speak with other people instead of typing to them, is degrading the sense of a virtual identity. Now I want to elaborate on his idea and then introduce my own take on the new trend.

Role-playing games have always been about creating a character and pretending to be them, as the name of the genre implies. You literally play the role of whomever you choose. In WOW, that role may be a female Night Elf Mage (even if you are a male in real-life), or a male dwarf warrior (even if you are a tall and shy woman). Not everyone plays the opposite genre, but it certainly is quite common in WOW, with Elves especially (I wonder why). Either way, when you create your character, you are making a virtual identity that you then pay $14.99/month to become whenever you choose. You can use magic and do other supernatural things that you could never do in the real world, which creates a sense of an alternate reality.

As these games become more advanced, and online-only, the level of social interaction is increasing exponentially. Ten years ago online play was constrained to RTS and FPS games, where your objective was to kill other players. Rarely were bonds of any kind formed, unless you played Team Deathmatch with members of your clan. Either way, the level of interaction and friendship creation was nowhere near the level it is in modern RPG games (older online RPGs like Ultima Online and Everquest 1 had these elements, but lacked the popularity to be consider “massively multiplayer”, and thus similarly lacked the massive society of players). Nowadays, the online world of virtual characters becomes a virtual society, reflecting on the real society but different in its own ways. Real-world identities usually do not translate into the virtual worlds, and things like age, gender, location, and appearance of the real person rarely go through the minds of players. If you’re playing with a female Night Elf, you can question whether or not “she” is really a she, but overall you respect the virtual character not based on age or gender but based on how that character behaves in the virtual world. Generally, better players are more respected, even if they might be social outcasts in the real world. The way for this complete virtual identity to exist is because the communication is restricted to text, and only text. With only words to identify a person, you a basing your judgments on their knowledge of the game and how they talk from behind the shield of a virtual identity.

All of this leads to what Clive is saying in his article. A recent trend has introduced voice chat into the MMORPG world. Whether it be Ventrilo or TeamSpeak, guilds everywhere are implementing servers that allow their members to communicate using voice rather than text. The implications, pointing out by the article, are obvious: the age and gender of fellow players instantly becomes recognizable via their voice. Clive also says that things such as location or region are obvious by accents. You can tell if someone is from Texas or Boston without a degree in linguistics or much trouble at all. In other words, the voice chat destroys whatever virtual identity you might have, because your real identity is going to be the voice they hear. Your virtual character will becomes nothing more than a puppet commanded by your real life identity.

Not only does this damage the virtual identity, but it also brings some privacy concerns into the mix. Clive brings up the fact that some people may not be comfortable with giving out all of that information against their will. By sharing your voice with the world, you are giving out your age and gender whether you like it or not, and maybe your location depending on accents. What’s worse is that some guilds require you to use voice communication. While you certainly don’t need to join those guilds, it still doesn’t change the fact that you will probably need to start doing voice chat eventually in order to compete in PvP especially. Simply put, a team that can coordinate via talking instead of writing text will be infinitely more productive and efficient.

The voice chat innovation and widespread use is not entirely bad. In fact, it is the first step on the path toward a very, very interesting future. This is where I divert from Clive’s article and speculate instead on what is coming, not what has already taken place. I believe that the MMORPG market is growing at an intense rate. There are studies that show the population of WOW falling, but I attribute that simply to their lack of new game content. WOW would be a really boring place for a Level 70 who has done all the quests, since they don’t add many new things in time frames as long as a year or more. Burning Crusade represents a lot more to do, but that came far too late in my opinion. But let’s not talk about why WOW may or may not be starting its decline… regardless of whether or not it fails, MMORPGs are the future. It will just take one breakthrough game to replace WOW’s spot (if WOW does indeed fail any time soon, which is unlikely).

An important factor to consider, however, is that of monthly fee. WOW charges $14.99, and most other games sport similar costs. I think this slows the growth of the industry. There are a lot of people out there, myself included, that simply refuse to pay that kind of money to play a game. What the monthly fee creates is a commitment to the game, to get your money’s worth. However, this damages the overall point of the game. As you all know, Guild Wars is my favorite MMORPG because it offers a quality game experience, that constantly has new features (via expansion packs), and lacks a monthly fee. That’s right… it has no monthly fee. This isn’t an economics-based post, so I won’t go into why such a practice is feasible, but just know that it is very possible for companies to profit using Guild Wars’ business model (ArenaNet is profiting quite a bit, as far as I know). I think the lack of a monthly fee makes the game more accessible to people, but unfortunately with Guild Wars the game just isn’t popular enough to make a dent in WOW’s population.

In 2008, ArenaNet is going to begin a closed beta for Guild Wars 2. This new game will represent a huge step forward in the MMORPG world, both because of graphics and functionality. They are trying a lot of new things that may or may not succeed, but that is why it is a beta. Either way, I hope that Guild Wars 2 is marketed correctly so that it can attract a lot more new players. Guild Wars 2 will continue the no monthly fee model, and I think that would be a great starting point for advertisement. “Get all the fun of WOW, with no monthly fee, plus better graphics.” Sounds like a good deal to me. With a game like that properly marketed, it should gain huge ground by reaching into untapped markets. Like I mentioned above, there are those who simply won’t pay per-month to enjoy an online game, and Guild Wars and similar games can appeal to them if they are marketed to.

Whether it is Guild Wars 2 or another no-monthly-fee game, I think the world is ready at this point for widespread adaption of the MMORPG. There are plenty of people who would buy into (no pun intended) the lack of a monthly fee. But I think there is another market of people who are not targeted at all by current MMORPGs, and should be if the MMORPG is going to be a universally accessible type of game. The people that I am speaking about are females. It is no secret that females, statistically, don’t game nearly as much as males. In fact, the only game ever to be bought by more females than males is The Sims. The Sims is really one of the only games to ever appeal to females. I think if a company were to make an MMORPG that appealed to girls, in addition to guys, then females could join the growing virtual society. It would be interesting, for once, to actually hear the voice of a female person behind that virtual Female Night Elf. For the true future of MMORPG to be reached, the virtual society needs to be representative of the real society, where there are just as many females as males.

When/if such a time is reached, when there are all kinds of people playing MMORPGs for all different reasons, then the power of voice chat and general online communication within these games will truly be seen. I foresee a future where AIM/MSN/YM/etc. and GTalk/Skype/etc. are completely replaced with MMORPGs. I also believe things like Youtube, MySpace, and FaceBook will be replaced with an MMORPG. In fact, there may come a point where, when you turn on your computer, it comes up to the game instead of a desktop. Who needs YouTube if the huge population of WOW or a similar game is able to share videos with one another, in the game? Who needs AIM when you can simply private-message someone, or meet in an instanced location (easier to do in GW) and chat using the regular text chat with many people at once? And who needs Google Talk and Skype if you have the ability to use Ventrilo or TeamSpeak right from in the game to communicate with other people?

Sony’s Home that is soon coming to the Playstation 3 makes this idea a reality. In Home, you can do all the things mentioned above… talk with others, text chat with others, share photos/music/videos, play games together, etc. Plus, you can create your own virtual “home” a’la The Sims and show it off to other players. Want to have a chat with a friend? Simply invite them to your virtual apartment and chat using a keyboard or a microphone. I think Home will be revolutionary, in that it will introduce the idea of mixing a massively multi-player world with various media-sharing capabilities to create a huge, interactive social world. The fact that it closely resembles The Sims will also make it very attractive to female gamers. While Home isn’t a game unto itself, it might as well be an MMORPG since you are role-playing using a virtual character.

In conclusion, I think Sony’s Home will open the eyes of the world on the issue of a massively multi-player online role-playing community. I hope that games like Guild Wars 2 and a WOW 2 if there ever is one, will realize that they need to implement some things like that in their games. With no monthly fee and some way to attract female gamers, the world of MMO gaming is going to go to a new level. The current trend of voice chat and its illicit destruction of the virtual identity is going to create a future MMORPG where you don’t role-play at all, but actually be yourself online.

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New PS3 Firmware 1.80 Adds Great New Features

Written by rob on May 26, 2007 – 12:55 pm -

The new PS3 firmware is much more exciting than anything else released lately. This firmware adds three huge new features that should not be taken lightly, as well as some other features that will help a lot of people.

The first large update is the ability for the PS3 to act as a UPnP or DLNA client. You may be thinking, “Wow, that’s great. I don’t even know what those things are.” Well, despite the weird acronyms, this is actually a VERY useful feature that makes up for one thing 360 used to have over PS3. Essentially, any Windows computer running Windows Media Player 11 can act as a DLNA server. Then, the PS3, since it now supports being a DLNA client, can access any media you have available to your Windows Media Player 11 Library. The possibilities are endless.

Some tweaking is necessary to get things working nicely, however. For example, I keep all of my music in iTunes, and none of it in Windows Media Player. So when I logged into my PC from the PS3, there was no music available. To add music from iTunes into Windows Media Player, you can follow the guide located here. As described in the guide, an applet called MusicBridge allows you to sync playlist and other metadata (such as album artwork). This makes your Windows Media Player library contain all the music from iTunes, and essentially gives your PS3 access to all of your iTunes info such as playlists.

Another important consideration is that of video. The PS3 does not support that much, and most notably lacks DivX/Xvid support, which is the format that most internet-downloaded movies are in. If you want to watch such videos/movies on the PS3, another workaround is necessary. This one requires you to bypass Windows Media Player alltogether, and use Nero MediaHome. This requries Nero 7 Ultra Edition, but I’m sure most people have that since it is the best Windows media burning solution available. A guide for using Nero MediaHome to stream various unsupported video files to PS3 is located here.

With those two things taken care of, the power of PS3 as a media center has just gone up exponentially. This part of the Firmware 1.80 update should make every PS3 owner very happy. Beyond that, it should also attract the attention of many PC media enthusiasts… it has been said that PS3’s interface is much cleaner than that of Xbox 360’s (though I have no experience with 360’s), and should appeal to more people. I think this streaming also verifies why a hard drive larger than 20GB is not currently necessary (not like it matters, since the 20GB version has been discontinued, and an 80GB upgrade to the Premium model is rumored and in my opinion likely in the next three months).

The second huge part of the update is a lot easier to reap the benefits of. It is HD Upscaling for DVDs and PS1/PS2 games. This feature is enabled by default, and can be tweaked under the Settings part of the XMB. Not much to say here, other than it works very nicely for DVDs. I have not tried it with PS1/PS2 games, but there is a comparison of God of War II here (via Digg). This is a feature that also greatly enhances the PS3’s abilities and makes its $600 more worth it.

Finally, the third huge update is Remote Play via the Internet. This will allow the PSP to access anything on your PS3 via the Internet using the Remote Play functionality. Combined with the media streaming, you could access your entire home network’s arsenal of media from anywhere in the world with a wireless broadband internet connection. This will require the not-yet-released PSP Firmware 3.50 update, that I am hoping dark_alex converts to 3.50 OE (Open Edition) custom firmware soon, so that I can try out the Remote Play feature finally!

Other added features include (from Sony Press Release):

  • Copying Saved Data to a Memory Card Users can now copy saved data from PlayStation or PlayStation 2 format software stored on their PS3 system to a Memory Card or Memory Card (8MB) (for PlayStation2), using their PS3 system and a Memory Card Adaptor.
  • Photo Printing, Viewing, and Editing The photo capabilities of PS3 system have been enhanced, allowing users to print digital photos stored on a PS3s hard drive or inserted storage media. Currently, select Epson printers connected via USB are compatible. In addition, users will find a new type of slideshow for displaying photos, zoom functionality and the option to crop images.

The photo printing especially is a pretty important addition. It shows how the PS3 is increasingly becoming a multi-purpose media device. With this combined with the streaming, you could use the PS3’s cool photo slideshow effects to show off photography to family and friends (or clients if you take professional photography) from the comfort of your living room. If they like a certain photo, you could then print it right from the living room to one of the support photo printers. The possibilities are great to think consider.

I think this firmware update shows how powerful the PS3 is, and how it truly is not just a powerful gaming machine. All of these new features add a lot of greatness to the PS3, which will hopefully make it an attractive purchase for prospective buyers while we wait for the wave of 2nd half of 2007 releases to hit stores and give the PS3 much-needed gaming merit.

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State of the Game: Playstation 3

Written by rob on April 10, 2007 – 11:26 pm -

UPDATE (04-13-07): Sony has officially axed the 20GB model in North America. No longer will those models be shipped to any retailers. For the reasons stated below in the original article, this is absolutely ridiculous. This single move may mark the end of Playstation 3. I know you thought you’d never hear me say this, but Sony is dead wrong. What they have essentially done is taken the easy way out. While they could have launched a huge marketing campaign to educate the general public about the 20GB PS3 (it would be seen as a price cut, since most people claim the PS3 is $599 while it can [or could have been, before this shocking move] be had for $499) and in the process improve their current bad public image, they instead decided to just can the whole thing.

Because sales were low, they made the move that I predict will have huge consequences. $599 is a ridiculous price for a gaming console (especially when said console has so few good games), while $499 is only $100 away from the technologically-inferior Xbox 360. In a perfect world, Sony’s announcement would tell of the dropping of the 60GB SKU instead of the 20GB one. I look to the future with woe and hopelessness; MGS4 and Home may not be able to cure this damage. I can safely say, all Sony fanboyism aside, that I would not buy a PS3 if I were currently in the market. That extra $100 makes a huge difference, especially considering the fact that there are only one or two good exclusive games, a number that won’t grow to anything substantial for at least a year.

Note that this announcement makes the second rant/argument in the following article (about the 20GB version’s superiority) pretty irrelevant, considering buying one in the near future will be impossible.


I have decided to start a new type of column that would allow me to focus more on gaming, something that I have gotten away from in the recent posting. Dubbed “State of the Game”, it will focus on various aspects of gaming and discuss the latest news about it. All of this will of course be bundled with my commentary on the many issues.

First up is a subject of so much controversy and debate that it is almost scandalous: the Playstation 3. Released in Japan and the United States in November of 2006, the system has been selling relatively well. It was released in Europe, although in a modified form (no Emotion Engine inside, meaning no hardware PS2 emulations, which in turn means less PS2 games work on it) on March 23, 2007, and it’s launch cannot be seen as anything other than a success. There are many videos and pictures floating around on the Internet that show stores with tons of the systems on the shelves. While they are authentic pictures, the context must be considered.

Europe has never been a huge consumer base for gaming, and it doesn’t seem like it can ever catch up to the US and Japan. Unfortunately for those who do live there, this lesser demand means that almost all of their games are released months, if not years, later. This is seen with the PS3, as it was released over four months after the original US release. That said, this relative lack of gaming consumerism in Europe means that the sale of any system on launch day and the few weeks following will usually pale in comparison to US figures. Even so, the numbers for Europe are not at all measly. In all of Europe, the system sold 600,000 units during its launch weekend, about 150,000 of which were in the UK. This is pretty much equivalent to the US numbers, showing how well the system did considering the fewer consumer base. Interestingly enough, as those many Internet photos didn’t hesitate to point out, there was a surplus of systems. The game system did not sell out at launch, so everyone dubbed it a failed launch. That couldn’t be further from the truth, as the PS3 launch numbers in the UK dwarfed both the Wii and 360 launch. In fact, it was the largest launch in the country’s history for any video game console.

Aside from the Sony haters erroneously claiming that the European launch was a failure, there has been a recent retail trend that I care to point out and comment on. As you are likely aware, the Playstation 3 is available in two models: the $499 version that includes a 20GB hard drive in addition to the system itself and a wireless controller, and the $599 version that includes a 60Gb hard drive, the system itself, a wireless controller, a wireless internet adapter, media card readers for various types of flash media (MS, SD, CF, etc.), and of course the all-important chrome trimming on the exterior. While it may initially seem that the $599 is obviously better choice, you must consider what exactly it is that it gives you. All chrome trimming aside, it gives you 40GB more of hard drive space, the wireless internet adapter, and the media card readers. All of that is for $100. I, however, believe that the $599 version is a complete rip-off and that any gamer, no matter what their situation, should purchase the $499 version.

My rationale is simple. The chrome trimming is obviously worthless, and in some opinions even looks less attractive than the pure black model. The media readers are also pointless, as many cameras will work on the PS3 via USB; even if they don’t, who really wants to view their SD card on their PS3? USB thumb drives are a much more practical form of flash storage, since everything supports it (including the 20GB PS3). As for the hard drive space, I don’t think the average person will need 20GB any time soon. The Playstation Store has very little content overall, so there isn’t much to fill up that drive. Save games don’t even begin to scratch the surface of one gigabyte, let alone twenty.

The only thing that could use so much space is extensive music or video collections. However, I believe that if someone would fill 20GB with music and video, then the likelihood is that they will also fill 60GB. Therefore, the size of the disk is irrelevant because none of the pre-installed drives are enough for those who want to truly use them. In their case, they can upgrade the hard drive (which Youtube shows us is very easy to do) to a 250GB or greater drive. After all, the PS3’s video format, MPEG-4, makes HUGE file sizes for HD content. A few movies would fill the 60GB drive in no time (not to mention you’d spend half a lifetime converting the files to HD MPEG-4). Therefore, someone will either be content with 20GB or would require way more than 60GB, meaning that either way the 20GB model would suit them (the latter instance would simply remove the 20GB drive and replace it with a larger one; BTW, the $100 saved from getting the cheaper version of the PS3 can buy a 200GB drive last time I checked).

The final difference between the versions is the wireless internet adapter. This is the only feature that I consider to be very important in some cases. Simply put, some people cannot connect their PS3 to their Internet without wireless. The system may be in their living room, while the computer/router is in their bedroom. Whatever the case, it is a fact that some people require wireless. But the extra $100 is hardly worth it… luckily, in a recent system update for the console (something that Sony consistently does to improve the overall features and usability of the system), the PS3 enables the use of an external wireless adapter. It was originally known that Sony would support this, but most naysayers believed that adding wireless in this way would exempt you from using the PSP Remote Play feature; this is NOT the case, and the PS3 w/ external wireless adapter has been confirmed to work with PSP.

Now that I have hopefully established that the $499 20GB version of the PS3 is clearly the better choice for any non-ridiculously-wealthy-and-wasteful gamer, I will get back to my main point about a newly developing trend in retail. The 60GB, more expensive version, is outselling the cheaper one by vast proportions. In fact, an article over on the site posted earlier today tells how certain retail locations and even some online locations (including Sony’s own SonyStyle!) are dropping support for the $499 version. It simply isn’t selling, according to Sony spokesman Satoshi Fukuoka.

The fact that retailers are dropping support is simply them following procedure. If something isn’t selling well, they drop it from inventory to cut needless costs and boost profit. They’re in the business to make money, just like everyone else. It isn’t the retailers’ fault that the 20GB version is failing; they simply provide an outlet through which consumers can buy something. Rarely do they advise on what to buy, and consumers don’t expect them to (though I’m sure many retailer employees would tell PS3 shoppers that the 20GB version is inferior; they get more money that way). The lack of demand shows how American consumers are obsessed with anything that has the word “Premium” in it. The lack of knowledge about the two versions leads consumers to wrongly conclude that the cheaper version is inferior. After all, cheap things must be of lesser quality, right?

Perhaps this is in part due to the Xbox 360 launch a year earlier. The consumers were exposed to the two version system, and it was clear that everyone went with the Premium package. In 360’s case, however, the Core package is horrifically crippled, to the point where getting one is doing yourself an injustice (no HD = no XBL downloads, which means missing half the fun of XBL). No hard drive in that Core system ruins everything for the consumer (and also for developers who cannot assume a hard drive is present due to Microsoft’s publishing terms). When consumers viewed the 360 situation, they probably assumed the PS3’s lesser version was equally as worthless. However, that is not the case as I’ve explained above hopefully in clear detail.

As I’ve said, the retailers dropping of the 20GB version is simply them doing their job and trying to maximize profits. The consumers not knowing what to purchase is not their fault — their lack of knowledge on the subject is the fault of Sony’s marketing. I cast all blame regarding this trend on Sony itself. The fact that Sony is dropping the product from their online SonyStyle store shows how little commitment they have to the success of the product. Never before have I seen a company turn their back on their own product. It seems from the very beginning the 20GB version was setup to fail. It initially was going to come without HDMI and with a wired controller, which likely would have sent the version the way of the 360 Core package. But then when the announcements came that the 20GB version included all the features of the full version minus the minor features detailed above, gamers everywhere should have gotten excited. After all, buying a PS3 would mean $499 instead of $599. But nope… the $599 version eclipsed its cheaper brother. It seems that the general public was never properly educated about the fundamental equality of the two systems. Where is Sony in all of this? They’re nowhere! I believe Sony should make a major effort to educate the consumers about the validity of this cheaper version instead of simply cowering away at the sight of slumping sales figures.

The only reason I can think of for Sony to let the 20GB version fail is because it causes them to lose so much money. Having essentially all the same hardware as its more expensive variation, it costs $100 less. The differences between them clearly don’t add up to $100 from the manufacturer’s standpoint; I’d be surprised if one cost $20 more than the other. Even if this is the case, and Sony fears losing more money per unit than they do with the more popular $599 version, it is still not an excuse. They need to realize that selling the PS3s is absolutely essential for the future of their gaming platform. Developers need to see that making a multi-million-dollar game project exclusively on the PS3 will be worth it — this can only be the case if there are millions of potential buyers for that game, something that will only come to fruition if Sony gets its act together. More PS3s in people’s homes is what Sony needs to succeed, something that would be easier to accomplish if consumers realized that the cheaper version was a viable option and in no way hampered.

It is no secret that one of the biggest problems with PS3 is its price. Most people simply cannot swallow the $599 require to purchase one. But what everyone needs to realize is that it is actually $100 less (assuming the 20GB version doesn’t vanish completely at some point soon). The $499 number may still be high for most people, but once the inevitable price cut does come, that $100 difference may just put the less-than-premium PS3 in the price range of many more people. Say that Sony gives PS3 a $50 price drop in a year or two. Is $549 really that much more of an attractive number? $449, however, would be within one game’s price of a 360 Premium, and by that time the PS3 should have the games to make getting one worth while.

The bottom line: The PS3 is the best selling console in Europe’s history, and its European launch equaled its US launch. Considering it still had a surplus of systems does not mean demand was low, but only that Sony actually met launch demand (something that rarely happens during a console launch) and thus should be applauded for their manufacturing fortitude. As for the two versions of the system: If you are in the market for a PS3, do yourself a financial favor and get the cheaper version. If the 20GB drive gets too small, spend the money and upgrade later to something larger. Don’t be fooled into paying $100 for a 40GB hard drive upgrade or for a wireless internet capability; both can be had for half the $100 difference using third-party add-ons.

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Nintendo DS Save Converter

Written by rob on April 5, 2007 – 3:59 pm -

I received my awesome black-colored DS Lite in the mail on Monday and I’ve been playing it ever since. I’ve been experimenting with various programming tasks for creating programs that run on the DS itself — let’s just say that I’m not doing too well. My biggest plan is to make some way that will allow me to cheat on ROMs. The combination of my flash cartridge with ROMs makes it impossible to do what I want with any pre-existing methods. Hopefully I’ll make progress soon, but as of now things are looking bleak; I barely understand how to access the DS’s memory, let alone how to hook certain functions and modify memory dynamically at runtime (which I will need to do to be able to cheat in the games).

That said, I have accomplished at least one thing. It turns out that most of the save game files available on internet message boards and sites such as GameFAQs are in the format created by an Action Replay DS (they are .duc files). The problem is that my flash cartridge does not support these kind of saves, and instead uses a 4-mbit raw SAV file format. In order to combat this, I made a program in Visual Basic that converts between the two formats. Also, I made it so you can also convert to 2mbit raw SAV files, which is what most flash cartridges other than mine use.

You can see the entry for it on the My Programs page of this site, or you can simply click here to download it directly. I tested it with Windows XP and Vista, but it should be compatible with any Windows as long as you have the runtime file available here.

Enjoy. If you have any trouble using it or have a feature request, let me know in the comments section.

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New Versions of Everything

Written by rob on January 24, 2007 – 1:43 pm -

So, there now seems to be a new version of everything under the sun coming out.

First of all, WordPress 2.1 is immediately available as of yesterday. I already updated. Though I can’t really notice much different, it does seem a lot faster when going to write a new post. It does have some new features (see full changelog here), but not really anything that will affect me (like spell check… Firefox 2.0 did that a while ago). It also lets you post things without a category, and let’s you set any page to the home page of the blog (so it will not necessarily show the latest posts). This is important for me, especially, since I use WordPress as the homepage of my overall site. I don’t know if I’ll ever use the feature, but it represents a powerful step forward… WordPress can now be considered a pretty decent content management system, aside from just a blogging engine.

They also changed how you make posts… now you view it in HTML (minus the BR and P tags). I don’t really mind this, except the new interface for adding links doesn’t give you any options (other than the URL). Previous versions let you “open link in new window” and put in a description of the link, features that I used. I am disappointed to see this, and hope they change it back. One other new feature that is pretty nice is the auto-saving of the post as you type. Now no more killing people when your 1500 word post is lost!

The next big update came today for PS3. Although still not listed on Sony’s official site for such things, Ars Technica has written about the new fixes. The largest thing is the alleged fix to backwards compatibility. Sony haters have taken every chance to point out that PS2 games look poor on PS3, and some even have bigger problems (such as audio glitches). The blog post states that the graphical problems have been almost completely fixed. They also note faster Playstation Store speeds, which is very good considering it was almost unusable. The Store is still rather lacking in the content department though (the same demos have been on there since day one, with few exceptions). I’m still hoping for a huge update to add the covetted Dashboard feature from 360. I don’t care if the haters call it copying… it is a feature that any console aiming to be a media center should have.

Finally, the largest of the three updates that I am bringing up in this post, is coming out January 30, 2007, which is less than a week away. It is the much anticipated and also much delayed update to Microsoft’s flagship product, the Windows operating system. The update of which I speak is Windows Vista, which will come out with myriad versions and likely require most users to upgrade their computers to fully enjoy it. I happen to be running Vista Ultimate already (and eventually plan to shift to Vista Enterprise when my 30-day trial runs out), and I’m enjoying it. The biggest set-backs are compatibility with my iPod and the fact that games don’t run too well. I am pretty sure the game issue is due to the beta, and thus not optimized, video card driver.

I’m excited about the launch because I know that Apple will soon roll out a Vista-compatible iTunes/iPod driver, and that ATI will hopefully upgrade their driver. When Vista goes mainstream, big developers (both hardware and software) are going to have to address it, which means all the shortcomings that I experience now will be gone. Though Vista isn’t revolutionary or necessary, it has some much-needed features that you shouldn’t be left without. While I still prefer Mac OSX (and look forward to Leopard on my future MacBook Pro), I’m a PC gamer and thus need Vista in order to experience the next-gen (Direct X 10… Crysis, anyone?).

That’s it for now. Once Vista is launched, I plan on updating everyone on whether or not the iPod issues are addressed. Also, I will make a brief write-up about Vista Enterprise once it comes to that. It is in some ways even better than Ultimate, minus the Media Center. Without a TV tuner, though, I won’t be missing the Media Center too much. As for PS3, I’m still waiting for the dashboard (and rumor has it that February will bring with it the location-free-esque Remote Play for PSP).

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Playstation 3 is the Devil

Written by rob on December 8, 2006 – 4:34 pm -

Maybe it’s just my inner fanboy coming out, but what is the deal with all the negative Playstation 3 press? There are countless articles stating “Wii and 360 beat PS3 sales”, “PS3 sales not meeting expectations”, and just general “PS3 disappoints” articles. And the sad thing is that most of the articles are using ideologies that are completely unwarranted and devoid of reason.

One article concludes that the Nintendo Wii is the best console because it sold more units than the Playstation 3. I’m sorry, but less sales does not mean less demand. The problem with the PS3 is that the manufacturing was a lot later and slower than imagined, and thus only about 200,000 units shipped to the United States. On the other hand, about 600,000 Wii units shipped. While those numbers may be off, it is irrelevant for the point. Just because more units were shipped, and thus sold, does not mean anything about the console’s quality or the demand for it. Also keep in mind that Nintendo’s launch estimates were not met either, so the media has no right to negatively report on the Sony shortages.

If three million each of Wiis and PS3s were shipped, I guarantee you that all of them would sell. It is not until the units are in stock for more than three minutes that people will be able to deduct the winner in terms of popularity. Simply put, every unit that is shipped in the next three months is going to be sold within a few hours at the max. There is an insatiable demand for both systems, despite the vast disparity between their prices and intended audiences.

That being said, there are also negative articles regarding the latest PS3 firmware release, dubbed version 1.30. This firmware was released with the major focus on fixing a problem with 1080i (a particular high definition variant) televisions and particular games. The problem resulted in content being downscaled to 480p (equivalent to a current-gen DVD, and is not considered high-definition). Sony’s rather rough fix merely reordered the priority of the screen resolutions. This solved the 1080i problem, but created issues for 720p owners (which is the vast majority). While I am not defending Sony, because I will probably be affected by this ill-conceived patch, I think it is irresponsible for the media to decimate Sony for releasing a patch that doesn’t necessarily fix things all the way. Microsoft does it all the time with Windows, and to be fair so does Apple.

More importantly, Nintendo also has a problem, but it is with the accessory and not the software. Their controller strap seems to be too weak, and may snap given undue stress that some enthusiastic gamers put on it. The problem with this is that when the strap breaks, the controller often goes flying across the room and may break something (including your TV). This problem that I consider to be a lot more earth-shattering (or TV-shattering, as the case may be) has received little to no mainstream media attention, while the PS3 720p hiccup (that can be easily worked around, I might add) is being bashed by everyone with a blog.

Yes, this is a little rant. I just wanted to express my opinion. I think it is ridiculous that everyone is taking sucker-punches at the PS3 when the Nintendo Wii is suffering from similar ills. Before the release of the two systems, people were ganging up on the PS3. Now, it seems to have come to fruition. However, it doesn’t stop the hoards of people from buying the PS3s as soon as they are released onto Best Buy’s floors, even if those PS3s are in sparse numbers.

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Dirge of Cerberus: Review

Written by rob on August 28, 2006 – 12:08 pm -

Yesterday I beat Dirge of Cerberus for Playstation 2, the recent Final Fantasy VII spin-off that hopes to use the success of the Final Fantasy VII movie, Advent Children, to make profit. My final play clock was 6:45, so that right there should tell you that this is no normal Final Fantasy game. And let me get that out of the way right now: this game is very far from anything you are used to from the Final Fantasy world.

The game starts off with some cut scenes, like most Final Fantasy games. It is a mix of the regular in game cut scenes and the FMV sequences. The former are surprisingly attractive, considering the age of the PS2’s graphic hardware. The latter, on the other hand, are absolutely stunning, and on par with the Advent Children movie. In fact, the three-dimensional models from the movie for the various characters are used in the FMV sequences, so those who buy the game as a supplement for the movie will feel right at home. That being said, this game’s story has very little to do with the main Final Fantasy VII story or the Advent Children movie, instead creating a completely new threat to the world.

That threat comes in the form of a group of soldiers called DEEPGROUND. Through the cinematic and lengthy in game scenes, you learn about the origins of this enemy and also what they hope to accomplish. I don’t want to spoil anything, but suffice it to say that the world will be destroyed if someone doesn’t stop them. That is where the protagonist of the game, Vincent Valentine, comes in. Vincent, who was only a secret unlockable character in the original Final Fantasy VII game, is the focal point of this game. Through his eyes, you learn about the threats of DEEPGROUND, but also of his past. When you find Vincent in the original game, he is in a cave and very little explanation is given on who he is or where he came from. This game aims to solve that, and it succeeds.

By filling in a background story for Vincent at the same time the DEEPGROUND plot is unfolding, you essentially have two very different stories running parallel to each other. Inevitably the two merge into one, but for almost all of the game you are left to decipher these two different plots. The cinematic sequences, as previously mentioned, can get rather long. There are some that are easily ten minutes long, and just throw tons of details at you. While the story isn’t particularly deep, the first half of the game leaves you with many unanswered questions and you will hardly have any clue as to what is going on. The game doesn’t bother to let you figure anything out on your own, however, as the scenes in the later parts of the game will answer everything for you. And keep in mind that when I differentiate between the “early” and “later” parts of the game, there is really only about a two-hour difference. A dedicated gamer could definitely finish this game in one sitting, but given that there is a definite break (the Airship chapter), it is recommended that you take it in at least two.

Overall, I found the story intriguing. The parts of Vincent’s past have interesting moments that introduce moral dilemmas as well as a profound sense of romance. Similarly, the DEEPGROUND plot line explores more horrors of the Shinra Corporation, which naturally introduces moral aspects. It seems the game attempted to work that into the gameplay in some of the earlier chapters, where Vincent has the choice to save civilians from the DEEPGROUND soldiers. However, the presentation is off, and you never feel any consequences for not saving them, other than receiving less gil at the end of a mission. I’m not sure if there are alternate endings, but it didn’t seem like anything I did had an affect on the end of the game. That being said, the main plot line also revisits the concepts of the Lifestream inside the planet. I don’t know about you, but this was one of the most appealing things in the plot of the original Final Fantasy VII for me. I found it an interesting explanation on the cosmos and life and death, and Dirge of Cerberus only adds to the mythos. It is this diversity in the plot that really makes it stand out. The fact that there are essentially two separate plots going on at the same time, each with their own key characteristics, keeps everything fresh.

The ending, to me, was sub par by Final Fantasy standards. I know this is not an RPG, but the game contained enough story to make it feel like it had a true Final Fantasy story, albeit a shorter and less complex one. Still, as epic as the whole “the world is going end” thing was, the ending just didn’t do it for me. Usually when I complete a Final Fantasy game, the ending blows me away and I just sit there, watching the credits, contemplating the awesomeness of what I just saw. With Dirge of Cerberus, the ending feel cliché, but also just felt too stylistic for its own good. The movie sequences used to portray the ending were nice, but there wasn’t any one-liner at the end that wrapped everything up. The feeling is similar to watching a movie’s ending and realizing that they neglected to wrap things up to make room for a potential sequel. I doubt Dirge of Cerberus will spawn a sequel, but it still feels like there is just this lack of closure. Still, the story was fresh and interesting, and definitely warrants the Final Fantasy name.

Characters in this game are a lot less consistent than the story. There are excellent fleshed-out characters like Vincent himself, who has this profound back-story and seems to grow as a person throughout the game, but then there are some empty characters, particularly the bosses. The DEEPGROUND soldiers have an elite group inside them called the Tsviets. These are essentially the bosses that you will fight in the game (occasionally you fight a mechanical soldier or helicopter gunship, but the Tsviets are your primary bosses). They each have names and cool abilities, but they just seem to be “there”. You never learn about their stories, and their actions are never explained. The result is that you the boss fights don’t seem like anything at all, just a stronger version of a regular enemy. It is like you are disposing of nameless, faceless enemies on your way to the end of the game. In contrast, the original Final Fantasy VII and all other Final Fantasy RPGs, have these archrivals that are completely unique. We all know Sephiroth all too well, and his story was aptly explained during the Final Fantasy VII game. There is no such thing in Dirge of Cerberus.

Vincent also has various allies. Yuffie and Cait Sith from the original game make appearances, but aren’t explained all that well, nor are they focused on. The Reeve character, who is the mastermind behind the resistance group that Vincent fights for (the WRO), seems somewhere in between the empty shells of the bosses and the well-thought-out characters like Vincent. He has some moments that show that he is more than a character on a screen, and also delivers intelligent dialogue (in contrast to characters like Yuffie who seem to babble mindlessly). One character that stands out, however, is Shelke, a young girl who grows exponentially throughout the game. Without spoiling anything, I will just say she has a lot of things to work out with her sister, Shalua. Shelke starts as an empty shell, but then becomes filled in as the game goes on. The subplot involving her and her sister, which eventually intermingles with the overall plot of the game, has strong hints of gaining identity and other deep philosophical ideas. Shelke is personally my favorite character because, as the game goes on, she seems to become human, slowly but surely. She, with Vincent, is an example of how characters are meant to be done, and reminds you that the people behind this game are indeed very talented.

I don’t want to make it sound like Square Enix screwed up with the boss characters and some of the others. After all, this game is hardly trying to equal the original Final Fantasy VII (that would be quite a task). Still, with such a talented crew behind this game, having such empty and seemingly worthless enemies damages the immersiveness of the game. What happens is that you start to feel like you are fighting an idea more than a particular person or organization. The game can throw words like Tsviets and DEEPGROUND around all it wants, but what it all comes down to is that you’re saving the planet, and will kill anything that stands in your way. The few excellent characters in the game save it from what would be certain failure, and you as the player will not feel completely surrounded by lifeless beings. It is just that this game could have been so much more epic and could have felt so much more real, if only the enemies were more clearly defined, and some of the characters were explained better.

The gameplay itself is what sets Dirge of Cerberus apart from its other Final Fantasy siblings. It is not an RPG at all, but rather a shooter, or at least that is what Square will have you think. The game controls much like a console shooter, with the right analog stick aiming a crosshair and the R1 button shooting. That is essentially what it boils down to, as the levels are very linear. All you do is point and shoot, and occasionally check your map to see if you are heading toward the orange dot that signifies the location you should go towards to advance the game. As you move through the various maps in each chapter, you discover missions. For example, the first chapter of the game will have you save civilians. You can ignore the mission and simply proceed to the orange dot, but simply by killing everything in your path you usually complete about 50% of the mission, even if you don’t try to. Not completing the other half of the mission doesn’t really penalize you at all, save for giving you less gil at the end of the level. I confess that I didn’t really take these missions seriously… if you failed most missions, the game was not over, and so there was no real incentive to complete them. This sort of takes away from the validity of the missions at all, making them seem like an irrelevant diversion from the normal procedure of killing everything you see.

Aside from the worthlessness of the missions, I found the game to be pretty fun. The shooting and general gameplay kept fresh, as you constantly are faced with new enemies. Vincent has three different guns: a machine gun, a handgun, and a rifle. I used the handgun for the entire game, and only switched to the rifle when required (some enemy snipers were too far away to kill with the hand gun) and to the machine gun for boss battles. You have to pay to upgrade your weapons, so if you choose one or two weapons to focus on, you will be able to put all your money into them. I had the handgun and all its accessories maxed out just after the halfway point, while my machine gun and rifle were still near their original stats. That being said, the game does offer a fairly in-depth customization system for the weapons. You can change the barrel to long, for accuracy, or short, for quicker firing rate. You can also add various add-on accessories that boost Vincent’s stats or make the weapon stronger. Also, you can add materia. By drawing energy from Mako spots around the map, you gain MP. When aiming at an enemy, pressing the L1 button as opposed to the normal R1 to fire will activate the materia. This launches a powerful magical attack at the enemy. It is effective in boss fights and also to clear large groups of enemies (for example, the fire materia makes an explosion that damages many enemies at once), but becomes much more powerful later in the game when there are enemies that block normal gunfire. The customization takes away from the monotony of simply shooting everything, and really does become pretty fun trying to make a cool new feel for your same old weapon.

The levels themselves, as mentioned above, are linear. I found myself backtracking maybe once or twice. Simply put, if you look at the map often, you will never get lost. In one sewer level you had to press two buttons to open a gate, but aside from that you are essentially just moving forward and killing whatever you see. The problem I had with this is that Vincent can double-jump and also crouch. You almost never have to use these abilities of his, especially not the duck (which I didn’t even know was an option until in one of the last levels I had to duck under a pipe to proceed). The worse part about the jumping is that it doesn’t work as expected. You cannot jump anywhere, and there are these invisible walls everywhere that hinder even simple jumping. The end result is that you jump primarily in boss fights to avoid being hit by their fire, but other than that it is largely unused. I would have much preferred if the game had a more platforming feel to it, where you were forced to use some of the jumping to go places. Many third-person shooters have these types of things, like, for example, Tomb Raider. Even Half-Life 2, a first person shooter, has portions where you have to jump from platform to platform. Especially since Vincent is jumping all over the place and doing fancy acrobatics in the cut scenes, I think it would have added a different dimension to the game to have something to do other than run and gun. Aside from this issue, and the linear layout of the levels, the maps are still cool. It is always fun to visit old places that will be familiar to players of the original game, such as the Midgar train graveyard and the Shinra Mansion.

The gameplay is, in simplest terms, fun. However, the missions don’t seem to be very rewarding, the levels are linear, and all you do is run and gun. By the final levels of the game, you start to be glad that this is a short game. One of the biggest problems with this game, beyond all the “minor” problems discussed above, is the pacing of the gameplay. At the beginning and end of each chapter there are cut scenes to give you more of the story… that is to be expected, and even welcomed, by any fan of shooters or RPGs. However, during each chapter, there are also cut scenes. I know in RPGs this happens all the time, but keep in mind that this is NOT an RPG. Dirge of Cerberus is a shooter, but sometimes it seems that Square Enix forgot that. For example, the “save the civilians” mission I keep talking about shows a cut scene every time you actually save a civilian. A cut scene, meaning it cuts from the gameplay. The screen literally fades to black, there is a few seconds of loading, and a fifteen second scene of the civilians thanking Vincent is shown, the screen fades back to black, more loading, then you’re back to the game. The loading isn’t the problem, but rather the face that there is even a cut scene at all in a situation like that. If you are familiar with shooters like Half-Life or Call of Duty, you will know that occurrences like these are not handles by cut scenes, but merely just happen. When a game, especially a fast-paced game like a shooter, interrupts the gameplay just to make someone say “Thank you”, it takes away from the immersiveness completely. In Call of Duty, for example, going up to civilians you save will trigger an in-game event that will have the civilians thank you and run off to safety. The key is that there is no cut scene. Dirge of Cerberus’s tendency to break up the gameplay like that really makes things feel disjointed. What it all eventually feels like is that Square was confused as to what kind of game they were making. At times, when you are gunning away at dozens of enemies in some of the later levels, it definitely feels like a shooter. It is fast-paced and you are running, gunning, and jumping behind cover like crazy. But when you get interrupted and are forced to watch a fifteen second scene in the middle of saving the town of Kalm, it feels like an RPG. The developers really should have made up their mind and focused on making a shooting game.

Aside from the major issue of pacing, there is a similar issue in the voice-overs. I have no idea if this was a conscious design decision by the voice actors or whoever, but much of the dialogue seems just as disjointed as the gameplay. For example, on the air ship, Shelke will say something to the effect of “This feeling. Is this what you meant by doing something for someone you care about?” The way the voice actor says it, it comes out as follows: “This feeling… Is this what you meant…. By doing something… for someone you care about?” This may not illustrate the point well, but keep in mind that you will undoubtedly notice it. The scenes from Vincent’s past seem to be pretty good, but many of the scenes in his present have this issue. Again, I don’t know if there is a reason for the pauses, maybe to emphasize certain points, but even common phrases are split up. It isn’t a huge issue, but takes away from the seriousness of the dialogue, and sometimes completely ruins the mood. “We must… save… her!”

One last thing I would like to briefly mention is the music. I found it very cool, and followed Advent Children’s lead in combining metal riffs with techno beats, and throwing in some classic Final Fantasy goodness. I do, however, have some qualms. The music, for the most part, is well placed. However, during the boss battles there isn’t much of anything. If there was, it was very low and unnoticeable. I don’t know about you, but I love to hear some of those techno beats while fighting a boss, especially in a shooting game like this where you aren’t merely ordering the players what to do. Shadow Hearts, for example, is excellent in this respect… they have the coolest boss battle music I’ve ever heard, and it truly sets the mood. Again, I know Square Enix wasn’t trying to make this into an RPG, but if you are going to have good music, at least try to use it in scenes where it will be effective. All in all, though, the music was well placed, save for the boss battles. A final issue I had is that the theme song didn’t seem nearly epic enough for the game, and when it plays during the final credits you don’t really feel that sense of accomplishment inside. Maybe this was more attributed to the fact that the ending was weak, but I felt that maybe a stronger song would have elevated the game’s ending to the higher level where it should have been. I just love to get that feeling after I finish a game that something was accomplished, and I as the gamer had something to do with it. Dirge of Cerberus does not do this.

In conclusion, Dirge of Cerberus is a great game. Most of the problems come when you compare it to the previous released from Square. Final Fantasy VII, the original game, clearly redefined role-playing games as we know it, and still acts as a benchmark for other RPG developers. Dirge of Cerberus, however, is simply a good game… it will not turn heads, and certainly won’t give you the sense that your life was meaningless before you played it. It has its issues, primarily with empty enemy characters and disjointed gameplay.

I think all of this is attributed to the fact that Square Enix is used to making role-playing games. When creating a shooter, they stuck with what they knew sometimes, but threw it out at others. I wouldn’t mind a disjointed shooter if all the characters were fleshed out and interesting. Likewise, I wouldn’t mind a super fast-paced run and gun shooter with some platforming aspects that had a cast of empty characters. It seems that Square couldn’t pick sides… they wanted a shooter, but at the same time they wanted an RPG. The problem is that they weren’t consistent and didn’t deliver on either side, and it leaves the game, in its current state, in shambles. I hate to make it sound so horrific, because this game really does entertain and it was a fun seven hours for me. It just lacks the qualities to make it a game that you keep going back to and enjoy for years to come. To top it all off, the ending, which I think can be a redeeming quality in any decent game, was sub par and failed to wrap everything up in a nice package.

The Bottom Line: Dirge of Cerberus is a short, yet entertaining shooter. However, hardcore shooter fans will be disappointed by the disjointed gameplay. Likewise, hardcore RPG fans will be disappointed by some of the weak characters. The story really is amazing and I think the game most definitely deserves a play through by anyone who is mildly amused by the Final Fantasy VII universe. Just don’t expect to want to replay the game a couple times, and definitely don’t expect the same quality that Square Enix is known for. I rented this game, and I recommend you do the same thing. This game certainly isn’t worth a purchase, as there is no reason you would want to play through it again.

OVERALL: 7.5 / 10

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MMO Gaming: The Present and Future

Written by rob on July 22, 2006 – 12:07 am -

Any semi-serious gamer nowadays has either heard of or played some form of MMOG (Massively-Multiplayer Online Game), usually in the form of an RPG (Role-playing game). World of Warcraft (WOW), Guild Wars (GW), and Everquest 2 (EQ2) are three of the MMORPGs that have taken America, and the whole world, by storm.

Combining addictive gameplay features with tons of collectable items and obtainable levels, these games practically never end. They also receive patches every now and then, of various scopes. Some simple patches address equality within the game world (like, say, a particular race/class combo can get an ability too early, and thus has an advantage, or maybe some ability is too powerful for those it is intended for; the game developers will address this and tone down whatever is causing the problem, in an attempt to make the game world fair for everyone), while other major patches may add whole levels to the game. World of Warcraft is about to come out with an expansion pack called the Burning Crusade that will add new races, areas, mounts, etc. Expansions are like mega-patches that vastly change the game world.

I personally have played World of Warcraft a while ago. I played for about six months with one character, and only got him up to Level 37 (60 being the max in WOW). My game clock (how long I played under that character) was 9 days. As in 9 * 24 hours, or 216 hours! You progress the earlier levels quickly, but once you hit about Level 8 the gaps between levels become many hours. At my Level 37, I had about 8 hours to get to the next level, but I choose to stop playing. I found the game to be a wonderfully refreshing experience, as you get gameplay opportunities not possible in normal offline games. Playing in groups and making virtual friends is a type of fun that cannot fully be described. However, while it was enjoyable, I just reached a point in the game where grinding started to become necessary.

Grinding is one of the inherent problems in the huge online gaming worlds. Simply put, grinding is the deliberate leveling up of your character. It usually involves fighting the same monsters over and over again to get experience points, or having higher-level characters run you through instance levels like Scarlet Monastery (SM). The gameplay during grinding is either totally mindless and tedious or just plain boring because you are watching higher-level players beat bosses for you. Sure, SM may be fun the first five times. But in the road to Level 45 you go there dozens of times for the great gold and XP. One run can take about three hours, so you do the math.

Now before I go on, I want to reiterate how wonderful a game World of Warcraft is. I never played Everquest or Everquest 2, but WOW was a great game. I think its multi-million population now shows that others feel the same way. The gameplay moments from the game are among the best in my gaming experience on ANY platform.

But, I quit WOW for reasons that go beyond the monotony of grinding. I had schoolwork and regular work to attend to, and, simply put, I had to live my life. I played the game very litte… maybe two hours a day on average. This is extremely low for MMO players, as 5 hours a day is not uncommon. Still, I could see that it was eating up my spare time. On weekends especially, I did almost nothing but play WOW. It was fun, but you get to a point where you realize that it is going to take over your life. And here is the sad part: many people have become so consumed by the game that they have given up their jobs, girlfriends, spouses, and even health.

One of the larger patches to WOW was the addition of Battlegrounds, something that enhanced the competitiveness of the game, which in turn means people play longer sessions and more often. Battlegrounds is a system that allows players to make huge teams and play against other players. This PvP (Player versus Player) gameplay expanded as they added a Ranks system. Players who had the most wins and least losses in PvP battles would be ranked in the Top 25 or so, and would receive major rewards for doing so. Each rank reaped a special reward, the best reward of course going to the Rank 1 person. Rewards were usually cool mounts (horses, tigers, etc. that you can use to ride around the world) or armor that you could show off. People would know you were one of the top guys just by seeing your armor that couldn’t be received anywhere else. This would give you a level of pride and bragging rights that among MMO gamers is the ultimate reward. It is all about making other players envy you.

The whole Ranks system sounds real nice until you think about the consequences for the gamers. The magnitude of WOW is absolutely gigantic. The game is played by millions of people worldwide, in countries such as America, UK, South Korea, and even China. But no matter what country the gamers are from, they all know that the #1 rank is what they want to get. There are people who play WOW, as well as people who play any MMOG, that are willing to devote 20-24 hours a day to the game. The fact that players do this, and always will do this, ruins the concept of the present-day MMO. Average players like myself who only devoted a “measly” two hours a day cannot hope to compete. I couldn’t even get to Level 60, a goal most serious players eventually reach. But ranking in the Top 20 on any server requires you to give up a job, all schoolwork, relationships of any kind, and even food and bathroom breaks. And don’t think I’m kidding about that last bit. A guy from South Korea played the game so incessantly that he DIED from starvation.

This is where the massively multiplayer online games go from simply games to become a microcosmic view of the real world, with all the bitterness of reality with it. Inside the game, and also inside your life when you need to decide how long to play the game, comes moral and economical decisions. The average player doesn’t even realize that the world they are emerged in meant the death of somebody. And though the death was an isolated case, there are “gold farms” in India and China where players are paid pennies an hour to grind in the game to gather gold that will eventually be sold on eBay for real money. (more on this later) Regardless of whether people know about the exploitation and starvation resulting from the games, almost everyone is aware of the “envy factor” I introduced earlier.

In the real world, much is driven by envy. The people with the newest gadgets, the newest cars, and the trendiest clothes are often the most popular and have more friends. Generally speaking, people want to be with others that can benefit them. Whether it is a mutually beneficial relationship or not, people just love to live off others. They want what they see and hope that by immersing themselves in the lives of people with money and gadgets that some of it will rub off on to them. This envy that breeds much of the social interactions in modern society is deeply embedded into the MMOG world. In fact, it is a massive factor. Almost the entire appeal of MMO gaming is to show off your high levels and special items. The problem that eventually is bred by MMOGs is that the person with the highest level (and PvP rank) and items is not the most skilled player, but rather the one who can devote the most time to the game. Thus, if someone lets their inner envy and desire to get the in-game wealth and collections of cool items drive them, it will eventually lead to the allocation of hours upon hours a day to the game. This is a dangerous scenario that many people fit into.

Due to the fact that extremely hardcore players are willing to devote innumerable hours to the game, the balance of the PvP ranking system and overall game levels are thrown off. No matter how many times the developers release balancing patches, the issue of people that play at different paces can never be dealt with. It is one of the many inherent problems in MMOGs.

Beyond the vastly varying paces of gameplay, and the aforementioned monotonous grinding, there are other issues in almost all modern MMOGs. The next one I want to bring up was previously mentioned briefly: the in-game economy. WOW uses the standard currency of Gold and Silver. Final Fantasy XI uses Gil, Anarchy Online uses credits, etc. Regardless of what the in-game money is called, the problem is always the same. In the game, by excessively grinding in key areas, players can slowly but consistently earn massive amounts of money. This is a combination of the previous two problems that brews a ridiculously large balance problem. Those who are willing to grind for hours on end can have enough money to out-buy everyone else. Especially in games like WOW where there are auctions and a free-market system, economy is always changing, just like in the real world. Just like if the U.S. government started to print countless $100,000 bills and using them to pay for various things, if someone in a game like WOW grinds for fifty hours to get thousands of gold pieces, the balance of the economy is shifted severely. This makes the money worth less. However, in WOW and most MMORPGs, each quest you complete gives you a set amount of money. If the worth of money is less than when the game was originally launched, then players who are legitimately completing quests are going to get ripped off. There are also those who grind for certain items, like powerful swords or shields that can be sold for massive profits. Not only does this make the person who is making the money rich enough to unbalance the economy of the currency, but it also starts to create the same supply and demand issue with the item in question, lessening its value for those who get lucky enough to receive it per chance, as it was meant to be received. All of this is remarkably similar to how a free market economy can be (ab)used in reality, and shows that these “games” really are closer to reality than we give them credit for.

Beyond the balance problems associated with in game grinding for money comes an even bigger problem, and a problem that is really becoming a huge problem nowadays. People can sell their money that they have in the game for real money (such as USD $) on eBay or on some other services. Many games are coming out with Terms of Service (TOS) addendums that prevent such selling of in-game wares, claiming that all in-game items are the intellectual property of the developer. However, it hasn’t stopped what is now a booming business. As I mentioned before, there are so-called “gold farms” in foreign countries where cheap labor exists. The term “sweat shop” is often used to refer to similar environments where young children or otherwise poor people in foreign countries are exploited for monetary gain. These gold farms are no different. There are rooms full of computers connected to the Internet in China, India, Korea, etc. where people are paid mere pennies to sit and play WOW or other games continuously, for hours. You may be thinking that this could sort of be fun, despite the bad pay. After all, there are those who play extensively under their own volition. However, these gold farms figure out where in the game has the best gold yields or items that can be converted to gold, and the workers are forced to play in the same area for months. Being in the same place in game for hours a day, for weeks, is practically torture. The in game profits generated are usually pooled to one master account that is then used by the gold farm’s owner to distribute in game currency in exchange for real world dollars. Just a simple example, 200 gold in WOW on average costs $20. That is 10 gold per $1. To give you an idea, it takes roughly 10 hours straight in the game for a high-level character in the best possible dungeon to gain 10 gold. That means that you are paying only $.10/hour to the company for gold. And these people make profit, which means the exploited people actually gathering gold make less than ten cents an hour! And you thought your pay was bad? But in all seriousness, this is morally apprehensible at the highest level, and it really makes you wonder how things like this could be allowed to occur. The worse part is that Americans and Europeans who don’t feel like spending the hours in the game to get gold for themselves are the ones who support this foreign exploitation. Even worse is the fact that the makers of Star Wars Galaxy have created a marketplace for people to sell in game money and items for real world cash, obviously taking a commission. That means that the SWG developers are cashing in on the exploitation, profiting off the weak. Gold farms are the single worst aspect of MMO gaming when it comes to the real world, and truly shows how morals can play a key part on MMO players.

One final problem with present MMO games I would like to discuss is the monthly fee required to play the game. Most of these games go for about $49.99 in a store, just like every other game. However, they then cost an additional amount per month. WOW costs $14.99, while some games (I think Matrix Online is an example) cost as much as $20 (or possibly even more) per month. If you consider that a serious player of any of these games will play for at least a year, the cost of the game and the service will be over $225. With that kind of money, you could buy Playstation 2 and three of four normal RPG games. It is ridiculous to consider that people are willing to pay this. And then you have people that complain about the rumored cost of PS3 games ($65, which I do believe is steep, but try putting it in perspective with MMOGs). I think the cost of MMO games was necessary at one point, for the developers to be able to constantly produce patches and pay for servers. However, there is no longer a reason for the fees, as demonstrated by the games that have no monthly fee (Anarchy Online, Guild Wars). This monetary problem is another area where the MMOG may affect your real life, by putting a dent in your checkbook.

I have spent the last couple of paragraphs discussing the detriments of modern and present MMOGs. I am now going to take a look at what I believe the future MMOG should be, by using a model that I believe is the perfect MMOG. I am going to go through each and every problem I discussed, tell you why my “perfect MMOG” doesn’t have that problem, and why the future will correct this.

What I consider to be the perfect MMOG, which happens to be an MMORPG, is Guild Wars, for the reasons you will soon see. The first problem I discussed above was grinding, the monotonous pursuit of the next level or more gold required when quests just didn’t cut it any more. I’m not going to lie to you: Guild Wars has some grinding in its normal RPG mode. Every MMORPG has grinding; it is simply the nature of the beast. However, by having a lot of densely spaced quests, games can combat the grinding. Guild Wars starts off with a mode called pre-searing, in which you can do all kinds of quests. If you take advantage of all your quests here, and take care in progressing your character’s skills, you can get a nice head start on leveling. The quests in pre-searing are available only at that time, so it is best to do them all if you want to grind the least. You make the explicit choice to progress to the main part of the game, so you can choose to do as many or as little of the pre-searing quests as you want. I did as many as I could, and can tell you for a fact you don’t have to grind at all in the pre-searing mode. Just by doing all the quests you level yourself enough to battle with the Charr, which is necessary to get to the main game mode. Anyway, once you get past the beginning stages of the game, there is a lot to do, and a lot of ground to cover. Your ability to prevent grinding is solely based on how far you are willing to travel. If you stick to the first main areas, you will exhaust your quests quickly and find the need to grind in order to do some of the harder ones. The key is to spread out because there are easy-type quests all over that help you rack up experience points and gain levels. By doing all the easy quests, then all the medium, then all the hard, you can remove almost all grinding from the game. Naturally, no one will find every quest and do them in the right order, so there will be some grinding. I know that I am personally stuck in a grinding rut right now with my character because I stayed in one area for too long. Enough with that, though. The bottom line for grinding in Guild Wars is that there is very little if you tackle quests the right way. But what it basically comes down to is you can do as little or as much as you want, and it never becomes a true necessity.

The next issue I discussed was the pace issues, and the fact that there will always be people who play 24/7 and max out their character. This is always an issue, so it must plague Guild Wars, right? Well, not quite. Guild Wars employs this wonderful mechanism that truly eliminates all need for grinding or super-dedicated leveling. When you create your character, you can pick one of two game types: Normal RPG or PvP (the names may be slightly different, but the concepts are the same as what I will soon describe). The Normal RPG mode is what you would expect. You start at level 1, pick a class, and you’re off on your adventure. You gain levels and items and do the normal RPG thing. The maximum level in GW is 20, which is fairly low for a MMORPG. Getting to Level 20 in GW is a lot easier than getting to Level 60 in WOW, and not just because it is a lower number. But that isn’t the point. In the Normal RPG type game this problem of game pace will still exist. However, and where GW really shines, the PvP type game starts you off at Level 20, the maximum. How on earth could this create a balanced game world if everyone can just start at Level 20? Well, if you make a PvP type character, they don’t go through quests or the story mode. You pick every one of the skills the character will ever have right up front, then go ahead and use the character for PvP battles. You never intermingle with the lower-level characters, so the balance issue doesn’t come up. You can solely fight other players, not engage in the RPG world. GW is a very PvP focused game, and so this PvP mode is a very attractive option because it lets people experiment with different combinations of classes and skills without wasting their time grinding and speed leveling. It is in this way that GW really destroys the competition, as it really eliminates the balancing issues of pace.

Another way the game deals with pace is its instancing of the game world. In MMOGs, instances are your own little world. In other words, if you go into an instance dungeon, only you are in the dungeon, despite the fact that dozens of other people around the world are in the same dungeon. Only you and, if you have a group, your group is in the dungeon. In WOW, there are instance dungeons such as the briefly mentioned SM, as well as many others. When you go there, you can go ahead and do the quest without worrying about others getting the treasures before you, as it is your own version of the world cut off the from “massively multiplayer” part of the game. In GW, everything except the cities and towns are instanced. So, if you go to Fort Ranik (a town), you will see the hundreds of other players that are in that town (there are actually multiple versions of each town, especially big cities, to control lag and manageability, but that’s not the point). However, if you step out of the town (through the exit portal), you will be in your own instance, and only you and, if existent, your group will be there, along with all the items and monsters. That being said, if you never make a group, playing through the GW game, except for cities and towns, will feel like a single player game. That is how the pace issue can really be addressed because you can choose to play by yourself and not worry about others if you really desire. So, in essence, GW can be a single player game. There are even “henchmen” you can add to your group who are computer-controlled people to simulate a group. Using henchmen, you can make it through pretty much the whole game without ever interacting with another user. And, of course, if you want to, you can also go the old-fashioned group way.

The in-game economy of Guild Wars is exploitable just like every other game. There is really nothing that could be done about this. However, for what it’s worth, the problem doesn’t seem to be as widespread as in other games. The selling of entire characters, for example, like is popular in WOW on eBay, is irrelevant on GW since you can start at Level 20 if you so choose. Also, the fact that you can play the game primarily single-player if you want makes the economic factor really minor if you want to ignore it. If you do choose to play a part in the economy and use the various trading services provided in game, you will notice the fluctuation of various in-game commodities such as dyes for clothing. Just like any free market system, you can gamble on the increase or decrease in price of these items and profit that way. However, there is really not much room for exploitation, since so few people value gold in the game (it really is a very minor part, as most of the good items are not sellable).

The problem with most MMORPGs’ monthly fee is completely missing in GW. The game is free to play online, once you buy the $49.99 retail package. It thus feels like any other RPG on your wallet, but plays for so much longer, and of course the world keeps growing. The developers of the game can afford to eliminate the monthly fee by placing a heavy focus on expansion packs. GW recently released Factions, an expansion that added two new races, tons of items and monsters, an entire new continent to explore, and also enhanced PvP functionality. I haven’t bought it yet, but I definitely will eventually. Regardless, the expansion adds enough to warrant upgrade, and really doesn’t feel like you are being robbed like with the monthly fee. I know for a fact that much of WOW’s profits are from the monthly fee. There is no way the developers spend over 15 million dollars developing patches and maintaining servers (and this is assuming there is only one million players, which I know there is more when you count worldwide). GW capitalizes on this and believes that they don’t need to rob the gamer, but still can make money just like every other game developer who sells games at fifty bucks a pop. Anarchy Online is a completely different free approach. The game AND the online service is free. Anyone with an Internet connection can go download the game for free right now and play it for as long as they want. AO used to use the expansion pack system as well, but all the expansion packs are also now free! So how does the company afford all of this? They have in-game advertisements. It may sound annoying, but how could you complain if your getting a totally free MMORPG that is one of the best currently out there (the graphics are dated but it is still very fun). All of these alternative business models really make me happy, and the company is still making money. With everyone happy, it’s a wonder why people even spend money on WOW when there are free alternatives. I predict that developers will eventually all have to offer free service, or else GW and similar games will take over.

The future of MMO gaming will look very similar to the innovative GW. The ability to start at Level 20 for PvP eliminates any grinding. Its fully instanced system helps stop economic balance problems by letting the player completely bypass, if they so desire, the entire interactive part of the MMOG. Finally, the business models of both GW and AO that make the online service free are something that will become more and more of the way things work in the future. In-game advertisements, I predict, will begin to pop up all over the place as game developers realize the potential for profit. In games like AO with urban settings, in-game billboards for real products could actually enhance the realism of the game.

In conclusion, GW is all about giving the player choices, and that is really what everyone wants. The ability to play the game the way you want it, without all the hurdles of most current MMOGs, will keep more people coming. I think MMORPGs are quickly becoming mainstream, but as soon as the monthly fees are eradicated and the grinding and balance problems are faced, I think the casual gamer will find themselves right at home with MMOGs. I foresee a future where the MMOG replaces AIM. And by using VOIP and email features, it could replace telephones and email as well. Imagine massively multiplayer online games evolving into massively multiplayer online environments where your grandmother could exchange recipes with her old friends from school. I see computer systems evolving, and telecommunications and operating systems in general, I think, will eventually turn into this world of 3-dimensional avatars and large-scale social interaction. Just as current MMOGs portray society on a small level, I think society can eventually embed itself directly into what we today consider a game, but in the future will be more like a service for everyone to communicate with.

Until this future I speak of comes, enjoy the modern MMORPGs. Even the ones that rip you off with monthly fees and excessive grinding (WOW) are great fun. If you are looking to experience the future in the present, check out GW. This is where the MMOGs of the future are headed, and in the mean time it is extremely fun.

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Gran Turismo 4 Tuning

Written by rob on June 24, 2006 – 6:49 pm -

Arguably the best PS2 racing game available is Gran Turismo 4. However, as its subtitle, The Real Driving Simulator, suggests, this game isn’t your average racing game. Need For Speed games are known for adding tweaks to your car that boost the HP, but aside from that you just go ahead and race. The racing in NFS is primarily about letting off the gas on turns, and maybe a little braking. Anyone can pick the game up and start winning races if they have a superior car. What makes Gran Turismo 4, and all the Gran Turismo games, different is the fact that it is super realistic. Sure, it may not be 100% like driving a car, but if you attack GT4 with the same techniques used in NFS, you will be losing everything except the easiest of races. Simply put, the speed of your car becomes less of a factor, and it is more about how you as the player handles the corners.

I, for one, was utterly killed in Gran Turismo when I first started playing. I got a Nissan Skyline used and won the Sunday Cup, the first and easiest races of the game. With the few thousand dollars I won, I souped up the car and got it well about 250 HP. It easily outperformed every car in most of the Beginner Hall races, so I went to the FR challenge, the next step up above the Sunday Cup but still relatively easy. However, I got smoked. Absolutely destroyed. I made a lucky race and got 4th once, but on every other course of the FR Challenge I came in dead last (6th place). I didn’t understand it because I had such a better car than everyone. It all came down to the fact that I wasn’t taking the corners right and often went off the road. After going through the B and A license tests and following the tips in the manual, I learned that the technique called out-in-out cornering, usable for most of the early courses. Essentially, you start near the outside of the road, then when you get to the corner you brake and turn toward the inside of the road, and follow that around the corner. General inertia will pull your car back to the outside of the road, but if you do it right this will give you a huge advantage coming out of the corner. I mastered that in the Sunday Cup, and then went ahead and tried it out in the FR Challenge. Unfortunately, I still got beat.

I went online and looked for help on GameFAQs. I soon found a Beginner’s Guide, and saw that in there the author uses an old 1983 Honda Civic for all the early races. I took his advice and restarted my game with the slower but easier to handle Civic. I soon started to win races, even the FF Challenge (the Civic’s equivalent of the FR Challenge), and also won the Honda Civic Challenge at the Honda dealer. Every time you win a particular Cup or Challenge, you get a car as a prize. I followed the Beginner’s Guide further and did the Capri Rally special condition race. This netted me a crazy Toyota Rally Raid car with over 410 HP. Since I had improved my cornering substantially, I was now able to handle faster cars like the Toyota, and even bought another Skyline, but this one was souped up to 600HP. With that, I won most of the races in the Professional Hall, and am now trying to do some of the Japanese Championships.

However, cornering isn’t the only difficult thing in Gran Turismo 4. In fact, purchasing parts can also be daunting. Until NFS-type games, it isn’t all about the speed. I didn’t even know what half the parts did, as I’m not really a car buff. Flywheel, Limited Slip, Drivetrain, and Transmission… I didn’t know how any of these would affect the performance of my car. Again, GameFAQs helped a bit, and so did the in-game descriptions of these parts. It isn’t that bad after you spend some time experimenting, but I definitely wasted a lot of money on parts that didn’t help all that much. One piece of advice I can give people is do not underestimate tires… they are ESSENTIAL. Getting the S3, Soft Sports Tires, helps you own the Beginner Hall. Also, don’t overestimate HP. While raw horse power will help in the straight aways, one of my best cars is a Honda S2000 with only 210 HP. It can beat all kinds of other cars with 300+ HP simply because it handles corners so well. Plus, GT4 calculates the A-Spec points awarded for every race based on your HP and number of add-on parts, so if your car has less bling than the others but you are a good enough driver to win, you’ll really rack up the A-Spec points.

I have still yet to dwell upon the most complex part of the game, but also the most helpful: Tuning. Almost every aspect of your car can be tweaked and tuned in the wonderful Settings menu accessible before starting any race. Many beginners don’t even know it is there, and those that do get scared away by its complexity. But with a little initial help, you can be off on your way to becoming a tuning expert. The best part about tuning is that it gives you a major edge on your opponents. Also, based on specific courses, you can balance peak speed and acceleration, just to name an obvious example. The end result is that tuning lets you get every last penny’s worth of your car, and truly helps in the more challenging races that I am now starting to enter in my racing career.

As I stated above, I have very little car experience, as I barely knew what the parts were for. So, then, how is someone like me, and someone like you, who know so little about cars, supposed to know what to set things like Toe and Camber angles to? What about tweaking each separate gear of the trasmission? Well, luckily, GameFAQs comes to the rescue again. A wonderful gentleman by the name of k-wix published a Tuning Guide specifically for GT4 (look for it here). The most useful part of his guide are the “presets”. They are a list of what you should set certain settings to in order to achieve a certain thing. For example, he has a Pure Speed build that you should use on a course with a lot of straight-aways where you want the max speed out of your car. Then there is the Acceleration build for the quickest acceleration. These are just the first two examples. The most useful, however, is the General Improvement build, which does just what its name implies. It doesn’t mess with the balance of your acceleration/peak speed much, but generally improves handling and performance of the car. I recommend anyone to use this on any car if they are unsure how to tune themselves. I know this particularly helped my Honda Civic win those Beginners races and the Capri Rally. The following is the General Improvement build, straight from his guide, presented with permission by the author:

'General Improvement' Build - Simply Put, a good tuneup.

Spring Rate: Front 75% Rear 75%
Ride Height: Front 0% Rear 0%
Shock Bound: Front 60% Rear 60%
Shock Rebound: Front 100% Rear 100%
Camber Angle: Front 4.0 Rear 2.0
Toe Angle: Front 0.0 Rear 0.0
Stabilizers: Front 20% Rear 20%

Brake Balance: Front 25% Rear 25%

Auto: 50%
1st: +10
2nd: +5
3rd: +0
4th: +10 (If It Stops, its okay, leave it there)
5th: +20 (If It Stops, its okay, leave it there)
6th: +20 (If It Stops, its okay, leave it there)
7th: +15
Final Gear Setting Set this how you want, put it between 50% and 25%. Higher means more acceleration, lower means more top-end max speed.

Initial Torque: 5%

Downforce: Front 75% Rear 25%
ASM(Over): 50%
ASM(Under): 50%
TCS: 30%
Nitro: 100%
Ballast Weight: 0%
Front/Rear Balance: 40%

- This build will help you turn a bit better, get a better startup, and even improve your max speed a little.
- There is a bit of emphasis on Oversteer so your car has a bit of a 'looser' feel and takes corners a bit better.
- If you see a lot of sparks coming out of the bottom of your car constantly (all the time) then increase your Ride Height by 5%

The build is pretty easy to apply. There are just a couple things I’d like to mention. First of all, when k-wix states 40% or some other percent, you need to estimate for the most part. The reason it is in percent and not the actual value is because all cars have different max values for different settings, except the ones where he actually gives you a value. The bars used to modify the values of certain settings have three markings denoting 25%, 50%, and 75% respectively. You can use those to estimate the value. You can also use a little math to find the exact value if you want. (Max Val – Min Val) * .40 would give you 40% of one of the bars, where Max Val is obviously the maximum and Min Val is the minimum (which isn’t always 0). For the front-rear balance that goes from -50 to positive 50, I tend to just use +20 as the value. One final note is for the gear ratios. +10 actually means + 0.1, while +5 means + 0.05. They are given in hundredths. You will see when you’re in the menu that the settings are all very precise decimals. Also note that not all cars have the full seven gears. Just do the ones you can.

I would recommend that any beginning use that. Over time, you’ll begin to realize what some of the settings do and modify them for your needs. I noticed that on some really fast cars like my 600HP Nissan Skyline I need to tweak the above a bit to get the max performance out of my car. One major thing I change is the ASM (Over), ASM (Under), and TCM to 5, 5, and 5 respectively (not 50% but the actual value 5). Another thing I tend to change is just leaving Front/Rear Balance to 0. Other than that, k-wix’s General Improvement build is very, very useful for nearly every situation. I’ve used it to win many of the Professional Hall races and am on my way through the Japan Championships now.

I recommend that anyone interested in cars and looking for a challenge (you’ve got to admit that NFS is an easy game) pick up Gran Turismo 4 for PS2. It is a very impressive looking game, especially considering it is for the graphically inferior PS2. Beyond that, it is highly enjoyable and gives you a sense of how real race car drivers have to drive. With the pricey ( ~ $90 ) Logitech steering wheel, you can get the full experience of driving in races. Again, remember that tuning will give you huge advantages, and don’t be afraid to experiment with different settings. Happy racing!

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