The Importance of Demos

In a time where many of us gamers judge potential game purchases by reading reviews on Metacritic or the video game publication of our choice, I’ve noticed the growing lack of immediate support for demos on our main consoles. We’ve progressed past receiving demo disks in the mail; packed with trailers and excerpts of a handful of choice games that are poised to be out, because next-gen games are so large in size it simply isn’t feasible. Now that I think about it, this was the main way that I decided what game I wanted to buy when I was much younger. While Youtube bridges the gap between reading about a game and actually playing it, nothing beats test-driving a game where you can judge it yourself, devoid of someone else’s insights and opinions which are inherent to reviews.

Back in the day, demos for the hottest titles dropped months or weeks before their release date. This gave ample time for the intrepid gamer to check out a game, and if they liked it enough, they went out to buy it. Now that demos are digitally distributed through avenues like Microsoft’s Xbox Live, Sony’s Playstation Network, or Nintendos Wii Shop Channel, I’d assume these games would be much more available to us all (since most of us have an internet connection, right). Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that demos for a lot of big name titles don’t go up until months after the game’s original release date. Mass Effect 2 as well as both Call of Duty Black Ops and Modern Warfare 2 are guilty of this. It costs a developer a significant amount of money to provide a demo for users to download, but I’m having trouble understanding why the likes of Bioware and Activision respectably took a while to get their latest games out for people to test out before buying.

As an aside, the only reason I ever considered playing Mass Effect 1 and 2 a few months back was entirely due to the fact that Mass Effect 2’s demo was released. If ME2 didn’t have a demo like ME1 didn’t, I’m quite sure I would have never played it at all.

This week saw the release of the demo for El Shaddai, an action adventure title that is said to blend the fighting elements of Devil May Cry, the platforming of Mario, with the visual style of Okami. After reading an article or two about it in a couple magazines, I was pretty excited to see that this game had been uploaded. My interest peaked after watching a gameplay clip followed by an interview with it’s producer. As I grabbed my credit card to renew my Xbox Live Gold subscription after 3 months of inactivity, I knew I was making the right choice. After completing the demo, I didn’t arrive at a definite conclusion about El Shaddai like I had expected. While the demo had brought something fresh to the table, I saw a couple problems that I knew I would be wrestling with if I went to buy the full game. Luckily, El Shaddai doesn’t release until July – people in my situation have will enough time to evaluate the game more, and most importantly, they haven’t missed the boat and are coming into a new game much later than everyone else. Although I’m personally unsure of if I’ll be buying El Shaddai right now, I still have the opportunity to play the demo as many times as I need to until I can answer that age-old question of “Is this game worth spending my hard earned money on?”

I think it’s very important for more games to do what El Shaddai did this week, regardless of if they’re guaranteed to reach astronomic sales like Mass Effect and Call of Duty does regularly. If there’s a demo to speak of, I believe it would be in everyone’s best interest that it should come out before the full game is released, so we can all play through it and decide to take the plunge and buy it, or choose to skip it. If more people are given the chance to support any given game, it’s preliminary sales would increase, as that demographic of gamers who still prefer trying a game themselves before purchasing them would be accounted for.

Crisis Averted!

Color me infuriated. I’ve had my fair share of issues with my consoles; my third Xbox 360 stands as a testament to that. I’m not a professional, but I’d like to say I’m good at fixing a number of problems that have dropped onto my plate. It’s never easy, but solving them does leave me feeling a little gratified, that is if it’s a problem that can be fixed in the first place.

“That’s not supposed to happen…”

For a few days, Mass Effect 2 was unplayable for me. After finishing the game as a male Paragon Shepard (and subsequently writing an article about the choices in the series thus far, found here), I thought it would be fun to play through the game again on Insanity as a female Renegade. I was having a blast until I had died for the umpteenth time. While I was reloading like usual, my game had abruptly stopped in the middle of the loading screen, forcing me to power off my Xbox. Each time I tried to start the game again, it would freeze up and have to be manually powered off.

I began to fear the worst. “Is my Xbox going to fail?” “Is this the first symptom of a Red Ring of Death error, or the beginning of a chain of bad occurrences leading to a slew of other problems that would render my system dead as well?” A lot of things flew through my mind; it was tough to stay calm. The idea of troubleshooting a console has steadily evolved from simply blowing on the cartridge of an NES game, to running down a long and tedious list of fixes for our current generation consoles that rival a help manual for a computer. When did it ever become so complicated? Throughout the night and the following two days I began narrowing down the possible causes:

1.       Removing all of the Downloadable Content (Stupid mistake)

2.       Cleaning the disks, even though they were in perfect condition

3.       Contemplating using canned air to dislodge any built up dust inside (REALLY STUPID. Thankfully I didn’t go through with this)

4.       Calling Electronic Arts and wasting about an hour of my time (The technician ended up sending me a knowledge base article on Microsoft’s website for how to get on Xbox Live…..)

5.       Playing another game

After four really dumb ideas, I finally landed on something mildly intelligent! As I said before, when you’re not in the right state of mind, foolish things are bound to occur. I proceeded to find out every other game I bothered to put in worked just fine, so it was only Mass Effect 2 not functioning properly. I tried using a different Gamertag as well, and lo and behold, the game was playable again! Only problem is that since I wasn’t using my primary profile, I didn’t have access to the save files I would be using in the first place. Because of this, I realized that the issue had to be centered on my gamertag.

“What seems to be the problem with your game, sir?”

Of the many problems and glitches people have had to battle with to get this game to work, my case had yet to be brought to Bioware’s attention, and because of that, it lacked an official fix. I was literally on my own, unless there were others in my situation that just haven’t spoken up. I did some digging, and eventually got in contact with other Xbox 360 users that had the same problem.

Upon further investigation, the problem lied within the save files connected to my gamertag. Apparently, if you have “too many” save files, a rare instance occurs where an important save file, like your AutoSave(which brings you right back to the last place the game saved before or after a battle or major plot point) or ChapterSave (which brings you to the beginning of the mission you’re in) can get corrupted. This is very problematic because when Mass Effect 1 or 2 is turned on, it is also readying your most recent save to be loaded immediately. Even though you haven’t actually gone about to manually load the save file in question, this is done for you. If these two files or a save you made on your own are corrupted, the game will freeze when you try to advance past the start screen, which was my problem in the first place.

…How I got this fixed isn’t up for disclosure…

….But nevertheless, I had found that my AutoSave for my female Renegade was 0kb’s. Having no file size essentially makes it corrupt, and obviously fails to load. After rectifying that, I was able to load my game up again, and was subsequently able to play as well.

From what I gathered, there are a number of possible causes to this, but I’m willing to bet that this problem won’t be addressed by Bioware or Electronic Arts. Mass Effect 2 has been out for a year and a month now, and if a major issue like this hasn’t gotten some attention yet, it likely never will. I just hope that when Mass Effect 3 comes out, other gamers like me won’t have to wrestle with the system in order to play.

It’s funny. My reasoning behind preferring console gaming to computer gaming is very simple – I don’t have to pray that my machine can handle a new game, and don’t have to be haunted by the idea of having to invest in new tech in order to keep your machine useful. With a console, I just have to pop it in, sit back o the couch and enjoy. For a few days, I had joined the minority of players afflicted with errors. When you aren’t having problems with your game, people like me are invisible; yet if your game fails to work, then you’ll see other people with problems everywhere you look.

Mass Effect 1 and 2 Choices Retrospective

Commander Shepard has saved the galaxy twice. Despite thwarting the plans of both Saren and the Collectors, Shepard must take up the fight against the Reapers for a third time.

Along the way he has made a lot of decisions for better or worse, and it’s an understatement to say that some were more substantial than others. Nevertheless, the majority of his actions have served to shape the well being of many groups, individuals and even an entire species that have come into contact with him.

The key to the Mass Effect series is decision making and accountability. As such, the actions the player makes were said have an immediate outcome in the following adventure. I’ve just recently cleared both Mass Effect 1 and 2, and while I’m completely floored by how vast and massive the game universe is, I can’t help but wonder about a lot of plot points that are hoped to be answered in the eventual release of Mass Effect 3. Some of the choices made in Mass Effect 1 had an immediate consequence (or alteration in cut scene) like whether a certain character is alive or not, was addressed Mass Effect 2. However, bigger choices between both games like the ones mentioned below have left all of us hanging.

Cerberus –

It’s very obvious that Cerberus and the Illusive Man had ulterior motives. Much like how a corporation injects large sums of money to help a business, it’s only a matter of time before that corporation starts to try to control that business’ actions from behind the scenes. The Paragon choice at the end of the Suicide Mission results in the Illusive Man’s only show of emotion, as Shepard blatantly disobeys his order. It’s not smart to piss off the only group that took it upon themselves to bring you back to life, especially if it’s Cerberus. The Illusive Man’s connections and intel were what allowed Shepard to assemble his new squad to take on the Collectors in the first place. Needless to say, the team couldn’t have gotten where they did without his assistance. Upsetting him by “doing the right thing” has to have some repercussions in the third game. (Update: the events of the ‘Lair of the Shadow Broker’ DLC may be the answer to this issue.)

Krogan Genophage –

Krogan are the toughest organic species in existence, who were instrumental in saving the galaxy from being overrun by Rachni long before the events of the first game. On the surface, Krogan seemed to be a typical Sci-Fi bloodthirsty race with no goal other than to fight. Learning that each and every Krogan was forcefully sterilized and left to deal with their affliction definitely added a lot of depth to them and rationalized their disdain for other species. The Genophage renders only 1 /1000 births to be viable, while the remaining typically end in stillbirths or serious birth defects, which severely limit their population. The end of Mordin’s loyalty mission makes it clear that the ongoing issue of the Genophage affecting every living Krogan could be rectified, or left alone to run its course. I hope that Mass Effect 3 addresses this decision, because uniting the Krogan to help in the fight against the Reapers would be a definite plus for Humanity.

Legion and the Geth –

Sabotaging or re-purposing a Geth stronghold was one of the more interesting plot points that were posed during Mass Effect 2. Shepard and his crew spent the majority of Mass Effect 1 killing hordes of Geth, only to be helped by an advanced model that had gone “rogue.” In Legion’s loyalty mission, players are faced with the choice of significantly hurting the Geth army by destroying a large amount of them, or reprogramming them into assisting in the fight against the Reapers. Would you kill off machines that could be your enemy, or take a chance in reprogramming them to help further your own goals? In the grand scheme of things, the Geth became pawns to be used for good or evil. Either way, the Geth can become a new ally or continue to be a nuisance in the face of the greater threat.

The Reapers –

It took the combined efforts of much of the Alliance fleet to take down Sovereign at the climax of Mass Effect 1, and even then, there were heavy casualties. The devastation that one Reaper is capable of was apparent, but the image of thousands of them making their way into the Milky Way Galaxy from Dark Space is a bit unsettling. Also, Sovereign was important because he was the only Reaper who wasn’t hibernating in Dark Space to begin with. His role was to send a message to the rest of the Reapers to begin the process of exterminating all life once again. In Mass Effect 2, we’re treated to the disjointed voice of Harbinger, another Reaper that was controlling the actions of the Collectors, the primary antagonist(s) at certain points of the game. If all of the other Reapers were trapped in Dark Space in hibernation, where did Harbinger come from? They seemed to come out of their sleep on their own, which wasn’t explained. How can that many Reapers be stopped, and at what cost? While the final boss in the Collector Base was incredibly large, it was only an embryo compared to what it would be like if it were to mature. Whatever it’s going to take, Shepard is going to need more than a couple shots from a Heavy Weapon or a sniper rifle to take down a fleet of Reapers.

Suicide Mission –

If you’re red, then you’re dead.

It was clear that casualties were to be expected during the Suicide Mission, hence it’s name. However, it’s possible to ensure everyone lives if players are prudent enough to make sure everyone was loyal (And in some ways this is expected, since there’s an achievement / trophy for doing so). No matter what you do, some of the dialogue still implies that people died. This leads to the idea that getting everyone’s loyalty in the first place took a back seat compared to the issue of time constraints. How long of a timeframe did Mass Effect 2 take place? Perhaps Shepard wasn’t intended to take the time to gain the loyalty of each and every squad member, but only a couple of the more important ones. If players were to start a new game in Mass Effect 3, will there be some sort of default roster of squad members who lived and died?

Mass Effect 3 has a lot of plot points to conclude, and having some input on how things go is what makes these choices that much more meaningful. The conclusion of Shepard’s journey has to tie up these loose ends and some others not mentioned here; otherwise the point of playing each of the three games will lose their luster. How will the final game address all of these plot threads?