VGT – PlayStation Plus Network Isn’t Perfect

After such a glowing write up about the PlayStation Plus Network during an earlier post I may have had an influence on some of you to give it a try.  A friend of mine signed up and he has had some negative experiences.  He had recently acquired a Playstation 3 (the original large bloated-looking model) that had a broken disk reader and repaired it.  In the name of fair reporting, I am going to share our text conversation.

Friend: PSN SUCKS!! I DOWNLOAD ALL MY GAMES AND INSTALL THEM, AND SAYS THAT MY LICENSES ARE INVALID??  CAN’T EVEN BROWSE PS STORE UNDER MAINTENANCE!!  utter garbage for a pay service.  I haven’t played 1 ps plus game yet…man if this system wasn’t free I’d take it back to the store

Ted: Did you hack it or something?  Maybe the system knows

Friend: I just replaced the laser in the drive with the same one and upgraded my HD…which is supported.  I left it stock.

Ted: I never had that happen

Maintenance Message Screen

Friend: Got this again this morning..how much maintenance do they do!

Ted: I downloaded a game yesterday with no trouble.  Are they picking on you?  Hey, try to take a clearer picture and I’ll use it on my blog

Thank you for reading that thrilling exchange of dialogue.  I checked on the PlayStation website and learned that maintenance was announced.

“In order to continue to deliver you the best online games experience, we will be performing maintenance on the network this Thursday, July 26th. This maintenance will start at approximately 8:00 am PDT (9:00am MDT / 10:00am CDT /11:00 am EDT) and end around 11:00pm PDT on Thursday, July 26th (1:00am MDT / 2:00am CDT / 3:00am EDT on Friday, July 27th).

During this maintenance period, you may receive a message that states “PlayStation Network is undergoing maintenance” when attempting to access the PlayStation Store or PlayStation Home. As long as you have signed in to PSN within 5 days prior to the start of maintenance (meaning: any time since July 21st), you WILL be able to play games online and enjoy apps such as Netflix, HULU Plus and Music Unlimited during this maintenance period. So if you haven’t signed in to PSN in the last few days, we suggest you do so before the maintenance period begins Thursday morning.”

So perhaps it was bad timing that he signed up for PSN+ during a maintenance window.  He continues to get messages that his licenses are invalid and I’m wondering if it is because it has a non-factory part in it?  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  I would appreciate any feedback from readers on this.

In addition to his issues, he commented about how irritating it is to patiently wait during the download of a game, then to wait longer while the game installs.  After that, to click on the game only to discover that there is an update that MUST be installed.  When you finally get to the point where you can actually play the game – you have lost some of your excitement.  This is an area where Microsoft has Sony beat.  With XBox Live, you download the game and then start playing.

I’m going to try a poll to get your opinion.

VGT – My Console Collection Part 2

The banner for my blog shows a variety of old and new video game consoles.  I’m continuing to work my way across the bookshelf and write a little about each console in my collection.  So far I have covered the PlayStation 2, The Sega Genesis, and The Super Nintendo Entertainment System.  As we continue to go right to left, let’s see what’s next in line.

Little, Purple, Different

Nintendo Gamecube – The system is sometimes referred to as “The Purple Lunchbox” but I have always found it to be a powerful gaming platform.  Mine is black.  Other accessories that I have added are the GameBoy Player – which is fantastic and I also purchased a third party mini LCD screen (not in the picture) that mounts on top for portability.  I remember one of the first games I bought for the GameCube  was some adventure game that involved Skittles candy.  Does anyone remember what that was called?  One of the little things I love about the Gamecube is the little theme it plays when you turn it on.  The machine is telling me, “You’re about to have some fun!”

“I’m so hungry I could eat an Octorok”

Phillips CDi – I remember being a teenager and seeing the CDi for the first time at a “Best” warehouse store.  “Best” was a store that had a showroom that was connected to a warehouse.  You would pay for your purchase and then it would come from the warehouse via a conveyor belt system.  So I was walking around the electronics part of the showroom and I saw the CDi demonstrating a tennis game.  I was able to play it and was amazed at how realistic the players looked.  The game was not fun to play, but it looked fantastic.  A few years ago I bought one for myself on Ebay and it came with several games, included Legend of Zelda – Wand of Gamelon which is a collectible.  There is quite a story connected to the Legend of Zelda franchise and the Phillips CDi console.  It was a perfect storm of bad business deals, bad marketing, and of course horrible programming.  As a result the Zelda games on the console are in the “so bad it’s good” category.  My son attempted a let’s play of the game and was so frustrated that he had to give it up.  I will put a link to his video at the end of today’s post. On the final video he gets pretty angry! Another downfall for the system was the spoon shaped controller.  It is extremely difficult to use and further frustrates game play.  Another cool thing about the CDi was it’s ability to play movies on CD-ROM which was ahead of its time.  They could only fit half a movie on a disk so you have to get up mid-movie and change the disk.  Still pretty cool though.  I have some James Bond movies but they don’t seem to work.  I think I need some additional part to make it play movies.

What’s up with that controller?

Nintendo 64 – The first time I turned on a 64 I knew that the world of video games was headed in a new direction.  The logo itself was three dimensional.  I’m still surprised when I see game footage from some of the classic games.  Many of them hold up well.  The controller had a unique design that I was never able to get used to.  There were a few games that required the Expansion Pak such as Donkey Kong 64, Majora’s Mask, and Perfect Dark.  There were some other games where the Expansion Pack improved the graphics or features of an existing game such as Star Wars: Rogue Squadron or Road Rash 64.  Even though I enjoyed the Nintendo 64, I don’t look back on the system with the same sense of nostalgia as I do other systems.

Tune in next week and I will continue to work my way across the shelf.  I also may need to take a new picture to show some of the systems that were not in the photo.  After that there are all all my handhelds.  It’s good to have material to write about.

VGT – The Great Game Designer

Hello, my name is Ted and I’m the Video Game Theologian.  I’m writing a blog that is a combination of my two greatest interests – the study of God and the playing of video games.  I’m a seminary student and a gamer.  You never know what game or subject we will talk about on the Video Game Theology blog.

I meet every Friday morning at 6:00 am with a great group of guys.  We talk and laugh a lot.  We also support and pray for one another.  We have been reading and discussing the book Mere Christianity a chapter at a time during the summer.  People may agree or disagree with C.S. Lewis on his opinions and conclusions but almost all agree that he has excellent communication skills.  We were reading the chapter called “The Rival Conceptions of God” when we came across this quote.

“The Christian idea is quite different.  They think God made and invented the universe – like a man making a picture or composing a tune.  A painter is not a picture and he does not die if his picture is destroyed.  You may say, ‘He’s put a lot of himself into it,’ but you only mean that all its beauty and interest has come out of his head.”

Now, being a video game theologian, I could not help but to apply the concept to some of the things I know about the making of a video game.  Every game I have ever played is the result of a thought that was put into action and became reality.  Even when I look at some of the job descriptions in the game industry, I see things like Three Dimension Model Artist, Animator, Programmer, Producer, or Designer.  Almost all the roles in the game creation process involve someone doing something.  I have never heard a famous game maker like Tim Shafer or Cliff Bleszinsky say in an interview, “This great game is the result of random chance.  We just kept typing random letters and numbers into the computer and BOOM, there it was.”  It takes a great deal of thinking and doing to make a great game.

When I first played Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, I could not help but experience some wonder at the lush, beautiful environments that were created for the game.  Last night, I played Burnout 3 on my newly acquired original XBox.  Even though the game was not in high definition, it still played remarkably well.  The physics involved in each car crash were amazing.  That game is SO much fun, if they ever make an HD version I am definitely going to buy it.

Now I know this is not the perfect analogy, but why not try it with me?  Today, look at the world we live in as something that was designed and created.  Look at the colors of the landscape as specifically chosen to be what they are.  If you go to a lake or river, observe the incredible programming that went into the water effects – or the lighting effects when you see the sun go down tonight.

This is good – but only a copy of the real thing

Today, I’m going to put the controller down, load up the kayak, and experience this amazing world we live in.

VGT – Local Store: Gamers Alley

Gamers Alley in Cramerton, NC

I live in McAdenville, NC.  It is a small town just south of Charlotte.  About a year ago I discovered a great local resource for gaming – a store called Gamers Alley – owned and operated by Scott Crager.  Located at 202 Market St in Cramerton, this local business is right between Georgio’s Restaurant and Market Pizza.  The store buys/sells games, consoles, accessories, and movies.  I like the arcade machines he has set up in his store.  These machines have many options for classic games.  I always bring a few quarters so I can feel like a teenager again.  For some reason, I have been playing Scramble lately.  I have also played a Street Fighter 2 few times against the owner.  He beat me soundly but I let him win because he was putting his own quarters in!

A customer plays an arcade game

It seems like every time I go there I find some new system or game that someone has traded in.  I recently saw a Sega Master System – but it was not for sale.  Scott is a collector just like me.  I also have seen a Turbo Graphix 16 and a Neo-Geo Pocket.  Those weren’t for sale either.  Come on Scott!  Sell one of them to me.  He does sell some of the systems.  The last time I was there I picked up an original XBox for $24.99.  I don’t want you to think it’s only used games and systems for sale there.  I bought my Nintendo 3DS at Gamers Alley.

He put a power glove over the checkout scanner!

Scott is a family man and I will sometimes see his son or daughter there.  He has also learned the value of community and utilizes Facebook as well as a website.  He posts recently traded items, plans tournaments, and also gives a 10% discount if you “Like” his Facebook page.  His store also provides a community for gamers both old and young.  Whenever I go to the store, there is always someone just hanging out.  I always learn something new just by talking with other customers.  Yesterday I learned that Atari made a wireless joystick for the classic 2600 system.  I need to see that.

A young customer at Gamers Alley!

I have been enjoying the Gamers Alley rental program.  It’s just $16 (after tax) a month for unlimited used game rentals.  I am in paradise!  I am able to walk the aisles, select a game, check it out, and then go home and play it.  This has been perfect for me with games that have value, but are not necessarily my taste.  For example, I have rented games such as the latest Deus Ex, the Mass Effect series, and Skyrim.  I can try all of them and then go back for more.  This rental program has saved me a lot of money and given me the opportunity to try out lots of games.

Paradise on earth!

So if you are ever in the Gastonia/Belmont/Cramerton area and you love all kinds of video games, check out Gamers Alley.  My only complaint is that my spell check keeps wanting to put an apostrophe in their name!

Gamers Alley Information:

202 Market St

Cramerton, NC 28032

704-879-9079

http://www.mygamersalley.com/

http://www.facebook.com/GamersAlley

VGT – Coin-Op Arcade Memories

The year was 1981.  I was in eighth grade.  I had some change in my pocket because I did not get a full lunch in the cafeteria.  Instead, I had figured out how to eat the bare minimum of a young teen’s daily food requirement – a frosting covered sticky bun.  Sure, I would be starving, and I wasn’t following the suggested food pyramid.  But, my greater goal in those days was not to eat.  It was to have a little money for the arcade.

Photo from TimeOutTunnel.com

Time Out Arcade was a short detour during my walk home.  I crossed the street and headed toward a side entrance at the Cary Mall.  There, to the immediate left was a darkened room filled with blinking lights and futuristic sounds.  Often after school, there would be a small crowd of people watching someone play the latest game.  The newer games were always strategically placed near the entrance.

Here are some of the games I remember and the impressions they left on me:

Pac Man

Pac-Man – Up to this point, most games were based on outer space.  (mainly due to hardware limitations)  But the day I saw a crowd of people around Pac-Man and I finally had a chance to view the screen – it was truly remarkable.  A friendly yellow circle being chased around a maze by four ghosts.  It was the same maze every time, but it didn’t matter.   Something about that game sucked me in.  I remember buying a book about mastering Pac-Man.  The book had two patterns that you could memorize and play for a long time.  The first pattern worked pretty well.  But the second one would end my game.  It was still a blast.

Dragon’s Lair

Dragon’s Lair – This game was a true innovation in the world of video games.  Rather than traditional programming, it actually used a laser disc with cartoon animations (created by Don Bluth).  At certain points in the video, you had to quickly interact for your character to go up, down, left, or right.  The game was challenging and largely based on memorization as well as fast reflexes.  I saw a lot of that animation where Dirk the Daring (I think that was his name) would cross his arms, look at me with exasperation, and then turn into a skeleton.  I did not play this game very much but it was amazing to watch someone play who was good at it.

Gorf

Gorf – There are two things about the game Gorf that affected me.  First, the game talked to me.  It would say, “Insert Coin” with this robotic futuristic voice.  Second, this game had levels, real levels that were different from the one before.  The first level was like Space Invaders, the second was like Galaxian, the third was like going through hyperspace warp, and the final level was against the mother ship.  I just couldn’t believe that they somehow made a game that could do that!  Four games in one!  Plus I thought the joystick was pretty cool.  It kind of felt like a fighter jet grip.  One thing I didn’t like about the game was that you couldn’t shoot more than one missile at a time.  As soon as you hit the fire button again, the previous missile would disappear.  I wanted to just spam that fire button!

Star Wars Arcade Game

Star Wars – This arcade game featured a cabinet that I could sit inside.  I felt as though I was piloting an X-Wing Fighter in the battle against (the first) death star.  The game featured color vector graphics and looked amazing.  When I played the game, I could imagine what it must have felt like to fly in space like Luke Skywalker.  The game had a space level against Tie Fighters, then moved onto the surface of the Death Star to blow up some towers, and last put you inside that famous trench where you ultimately sent a torpedo into an small exhaust port.  Then you had a front row seat as you watched the Death Star explode.  After that, you did it all over again, except it was more difficult.

I have many more memories but I try to limit myself to 500 words per blog and I’m already over by more than 100.  Let me know if you would like to hear more.

VGT – PlayStation Plus Network

Hardcore gamers do not like to admit that the Nintendo Wii has been the best selling console of the current generation.  However, second place goes to the Microsoft Xbox 360.  If you remember, it came out almost a year before the other consoles.  Third place goes to the PlayStation 3 but it has seriously been gaining momentum over the last year and a half.  One of the reasons why is the PlayStation Plus Network.

When I got my Xbox 360, I signed up for the Xbox Live Gold membership.  It gave me access to online games and Netflix.  I soon found out that I am not much of an online gamer.  I tried Call of Duty but it seems like I just went out onto the maps and died repeatedly.  It may have been fun for the others online, but for me – not so much.  That pretty much left Netflix streaming services, which I absolutely enjoyed.  Then I downloaded the Netflix app to my Wii and to my Playstation 3 and I asked myself, “Why am I paying for this Gold membership just so I can watch Netflix?”.  So I went to the Microsoft Live website and discovered that it was impossible (at that time) to cancel online.  I had to talk to a human being.  I called and talked to a human being at Microsoft.  He told me about all the cool stuff I could do with my gold membership, convinced me to renew, and upgraded me to a family membership.  He also told me Microsoft would only charge me $40 for the year when it was time to renew.  When the time to renew came, I was charged $99 dollars.  Thank you Microsoft for the hassle.  Needless to say, after that I talked to another  real person at Microsoft and cancelled my Gold membership for good this time.

A Glowing Endorsement for PlayStation Plus

Up to this point, I’ve been so occupied with talking about what is so bad about Microsoft Live that I’ve virtually ignored the subject of this blog.  That’s because Sony has done the opposite of Microsoft.  On the Playstation Network, If I want to play online games, I can do it because it is free.  If I want to watch Netflix, I can do it because it is free.  Sony provides extra incentive to subscribe to PlayStation Plus by offering extras such as “free” software.  Playstation Plus members get a wide variety of games with the subscription.  Not just junky flash-based games, but real honest to goodness titles such as Infamous 2, Warhammer Space Marines, Little Big Planet 2, Lara Croft – Guardian of Light, and Gotham City Imposters.  These are some games that you can sink your teeth into, that you can spend some time in.  I can’t wait to find out what’s coming in August.  There is only one catch, you can play these games as long as your subscription does not lapse.  A year subscription is $50 – but I can spend that on a single trip to the movies for two with popcorn and drinks.

I would not be surprised if at the end of this console generation, the Playstation 3 will have passed the Xbox 360 in sales.  PSN+ is the difference maker.

VGT – My Console Collection Part 1

The banner for my blog shows a variety of old and new video game consoles.  I did not really start out as a console collector but the fever started a few years ago.  So, based on the photo above, I’m going to go from right to left (just like Hebrew) and write a little about each console in my collection.

Sony PlayStation 2 – Original design.  This system technically belongs to my son, Nate.  I bought it for him as a Christmas present when he was about twelve.  His stepmother and I set him up beautifully.  We kept giving him things like save cards and joysticks for the PlayStation 2 even though he didn’t have one.  Shannon kept acting a little upset with herself saying things like, “I thought that was the game system you had, I’m sorry”  I can still see young Nate patting her on the knee saying, “It’s OK.  It’s the thought that counts”  After all the present were opened, I pointed out to Nate that there was still something in the corner behind the Christmas tree.  The look on his face when he discovered it was a PS2 was priceless.  That memory for me is all the more bittersweet since Shannon passed away from breast cancer a few years ago.  I’m happy to share the video from that moment.  At the end of the video his happy screams trigger the “Clapper” that I used to turn the Christmas tree lights on and off!

Sega Genesis – It is a little hard to see the Genesis in the photo.  There are not nearly as fantastic memories about this system.  I was never a huge Genesis fan boy but I picked up this system at a Goodwill store in Charlotte.  They have a store called Computer Works that is often filled with older consoles and games.  I also picked up Sonic 1 and 2 with the original cases.  I also recently picked up Aero the Acrobat.  So this console is more of a collector’s purchase.  If anyone has a good recommendation for a Genesis game to try please leave a comment.

Super Nintendo Entertainment System – I will openly admit at any video game twelve step meeting that I am a Nintendo fanboy.  I mentioned in an earlier post my memories of playing Legend of Zelda on a borrowed SNES.  This is how I received my first SNES as a gift.  I was in my twenties and married to my son’s mom.  We were dirt poor then.  I was making minimum wage working at a warehouse and she had a job at a mortgage company.  At our church, we were part of a group of friends that were doing much, much better financially than we were.  I mean, one of the girls in that group was given a house by her parents as a wedding gift.  We had a gift exchange during the holidays and my “Secret Santa” gave me a Super Nintendo.  It was such a quality gift – I could not believe it – especially since I had given my Secret Santa person a candle or something.  No one there could understand my excitement at the gift though so I felt a little out of place that evening.  But who cared?  I was able to play Legend of Zelda, Super Metroid, Castlevania 4, and We’re Back – A Dinosaur’s Story to play.  (We’re Back was more a favorite of my son)  So thank you Josh for my SNES, wherever you are now.  You were very generous.

I will be writing about my console collection every Sunday until I have talked about each system.  Stay tuned!