Mini Painting tutorial

For those considering getting into the wargaming hobby, here’s an introductory video series to painting by Miniwargamer Jay:

I recently acquired a battle box of Cygnar with the newer plastic models, and Captain Haley, my preferred warcaster back during my brief career in minis. I’m considering going through many of these tutorials and seeing how well they work for me. Though I dabbled almost 10 years ago, whatever skills I picked up them have long since rusted over, and I was a neophyte to begin with. So if there’s interest in that I may make it a regular series on here.

Metal Gear Solid 2 Gameplay and Anniversary

Two years ago I started blogging on this site, and my first post was about Metal Gear Solid 2, since it was April 29. Get it? In honor of both, here’s a walkthrough of the entire game via Tactical Dinner Roll. (Includes all cutscenes and codec conversations)

Tactical Dinner Roll was kind enough to split the gameplay up into 23 parts in a playlist. Most of the clips are less than 20 minutes long, so it’s all digestible. Better than the hours long let’s plays, filled with commentary and editorializing. Nice touch too to have all the boss battles labeled.

A good thing about these walkthroughs is that you can see how others play old and familiar games. You would think that especially in such a small game (compared to today’s games) there’s only so many ways to play it,. And you know them all. A reasonable assumption. But I’m always surprised by somebody’s innovation or little trick I didn’t catch before.

Metal Gear Solid 2 Posts

This wasn’t intended to be a Metal Gear fan blog, but since it is one of my favorite series I ended up posting a lot about it. For those interested here’s a list of the posts I wrote that are specific about MGS2:

For the record, I have yet to get the Virtually Impossible achievement on the PS3 port. I also have not reviewed Kangaroo Notebook. But there are a few more anniversaries for the game coming up, so I can manage them. Certainly by the 20th anniversary.

Thanks for everyone who has read my blog and given me feedback in the last two years. Here’s to many more.

I have something special planned for tomorrow (you do know what day it is tomorrow, right?)

Video game canon

Felipe Pepe wonders about the state of gamer knowledge about games over at Gamasutra:

If 2016 alone saw the release of over 4207 games on Steam, how can a youngling in 2017 learn our history and get up to speed with over 40 years of releases? How can one get acquaintance with the “Game Canon”?

One useful resource he lists is HowLongToBeat.com, which if I’m not mistaken, is a community driven source for game lengths. As you all know I have a rather extensive back catalog that goes back a mere 16 years, so this was useful for ballparks as to how long it would take me to actually beat each game once.

But that’s not enough according to Pepe. He goes on to discuss the Masters of Mario 64 and other games. I have to admit I was reminded of the old skit from PwnPwnage:

Happy New Year – 2017

Happy New Year! I trust everyone is recovered from their revelries. As I write this there’s about 8,739 hours left in the year for me. I’ve been making the most of them so far. I hope you are too.

In 2016 I took time off from blogging regularly, here and on some other platforms while I worked on different projects. Some of them came to fruition, some did not, and a few are still in progress. In any case I’ve decided to reup my commitment to my gaming blog here, and make it more useful for a wider audience.

A few changes I can note right off the bat. Obviously going forward the Metal Gear emphasis will be downplayed. The franchise may or may not be officially dead without Hideo Kojima, but the current directions aren’t encouraging. Besides, I’m far more interested in what Kojima does with Death Stranding, which looks like it’s going to be far more bizarre than even the weirdest aspects of his old series. Secondly, I’ll be highlighting different Kickstarter games I find interesting, along with Greenlight Games, some indies, etc. This will dovetail into one of my in-progress projects that I’ll be revealing here in the near future. I won’t be doing reviews, but extended previews aren’t out of the question. Lastly I’ll be updating more frequently. Once or more per day.

As anybody who has tried blogging before, or still doing it, it’s a rewarding but grueling experience. So I want to make this worthwhile for readers and surfers alike. Shoot me an email if you have any suggestions, I already know the tactics posts and business posts were well received, and I’ll be visiting those topics more often in the future.

 

 

PS1 games: Looking at the aftermarket

Over at TechRaptor today there’s a retrospective for the Resident Evil series; the sire of which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year (March 30th to be precise; belated Happy Birthday Resident Evil). Hard to believe it’s been 20 years plus since the “fifth generation” of video games dawned. It was an exciting time to be a gamer, with healthy competition producing plenty of different types of games for everybody. I’m probably just looking at it through the rose colored glasses of nostalgia but back then it seemed like there were more studios active. They also seemed to be much more willing to take risks with their products than they are today. In a way I can’t blame them but I miss the sheer variety of the console libraries from that era, to say nothing of the PC ecosystem. Now for the most part you can play virtually any of these games on a whim; all the modern consoles have backwards compatibility and extensive back catalogs available. If you have a few bucks to spare or a computer capable of (good) emulation you can indulge those nostalgic feelings whenever you want. Of course, the original systems and games are still around for the more industrious. That got me wondering what the secondary market for these old games is looking like these days.

A brief aside: part of my renewed interest in this topic comes from Rudy of Alpha Investments. Although he’s been mostly focusing on Magic on his YouTube channel, he’s talked about vintage video games and is a collector of them too. I find his videos to be very informative and entertaining; worth your time if you want a different perspective on the aftermarket for Magic cards and investing psychology as well.

It’s hard to get a feel for the true value of old games. Consider that in many cases millions of copies were produced, meaning games weren’t exactly rare items. Then there were various reissues (Greatest Hits, Player’s Choice, etc). As I already mentioned nowadays you can emulate almost any game. To say nothing of today’s “retro” reissues. The point is artificial scarcity doesn’t seem to be an issue for most old games. I have no scientific evidence to back this claim up, or method to test the hypothesis, but my guess is that this availability depressed pricing. Conventional wisdom seemed to confirm that idea.  Chain retailers (GameStop) and second hand shops were happy to pay you pennies on the dollar for your old games before raising the price for resale. Even those used copies were often 50-80% off the retail face value. Online, I observed similar pricing on eBay, Half, Amazon, etc. In other words I expected old games to be cheap and that’s what I saw. Until I didn’t anymore. I remember getting burned a decade or so ago before the Wii came out, when the prices for SNES games started shooting up.  Imagine my surprise at seeing a complete in box copy of Super Metroid going for $5,000; or cart-only copies of SNES Ogre Battle selling for $350! Some journalists wrote sardonically about people “jacking up prices” of their treasured RPGs on eBay. For my part I refrained from buying any 16-Bit carts and even most discs during that period. Then just like that the market seemed to go back down. I don’t know if the Wii Virtual Console played a role in that, or perhaps it was caused by the greater economic turmoil of 2008. Maybe in the aftermath of the ’08 meltdown gamers on the whole just didn’t have $700 to drop on unopened copies of Final Fantasy VII.

A few years ago I was reading the remarks one of the editors of RETRO magazine made about the games market. He said that the prices for PS1/N64/Saturn games were creeping up as people discovered they had been undervalued, and predicted they would be repeating that process for GameCube/PS2/Xbox games “in a few years.” Of course, perception matters a lot more than our attempts at divination when it comes to the market. If you thought (as I did) that “old games” is basically synonymous with “used games” and beyond sentimental value, they’re practically worthless – it may be worth checking assumptions here.  So the questions I’m interested in now are how much have these games gone up in price, and are they still undervalued?

As with most trips down the rabbit hole this topic ended up being a lot deeper than I had anticipated, so I’ll be breaking it up into a series over the next few weeks. But to share a preview of the investigation and in the spirit of the TechRaptor article: way back in Summer of 2005 I bought a complete long box copy of Resident Evil from Half.com. I still have the receipt, and according to that it cost me $15.59 in “very good” condition. Looking at the same website today in 2016, that game costs $47.95: which is over 200% increase in value. In the same 2005 order I happened to buy the GameCube remake “like new” for $9.99. It doesn’t appear to be available on Half.com anymore, but on eBay it still goes for $9.99. Yet on Amazon, a Prime seller has the GCN remake listed at $64. See what I meant earlier about how hard it is to price these things?

Clearly the first step is to do some market research. More on that in a later post.

One year later: Kangaroo Notebook and Metal Gear Solid 2

This is the first year anniversary of Usualjay Plays Games. If you look over the archives you’ll probably note a dearth of updates over the last seven months or so. Lots of drafts and post stubs but nothing that ended up worthy of being added to the ether of the internet. C’est la vie. But I had the one year birthday of this blog planned out in advance. So in honor of the Metal Gear Solid 2 meta that caused me to start this in the first place, I started reading the book that purportedly served as one of the inspirations for the game: Kangaroo Notebook, the last novel by surrealist Japanese author Kobo Abe.

I knew from what I had read about the game’s development that only some imagery from the 1993 book made it into the final game; particularly the vampire stuff. In fact there’s another work – City of Glass by Paul Auster – which had even more direct impact on the fluff of the game (setting, character names, etc). But I’ve been curious to see what’s in the novel that may have gotten Hideo Kojima’s creative gears turning for Meta Gear Solid 2. Sons of Liberty did end up as one of the most ambitiously bizarre games made in the last 15 years. It’s kind of a mystery, really. One would think, given the runaway success of the first game in 1998, that MGS2 should have been a fairly straight forward example of cash-in mega sequel. In terms of hype, sales, and money it certainly was. But, that story. Controversial back then and something of a punchline today (Trolljima), it gave us the infamous character swap, featured a dense and at times incoherent narrative, and nearly all of its connecting arc points with the first game were either cursory or unsatisfying, to say the least. It was compounded by the fact that the gameplay itself was superb, and it was a technical achievement for its time, just it’s all wrapped up and weaved into a profoundly weird story. You couldn’t have one without the other. It all leaves you with a slightly uncomfortable feeling of “what the hell..” which, ironically, is the last line of dialogue in the game. Any hints to what shaped the creative process behind the story would be nice.

Hence, a Kangaroo Notebook reading.

I’m not that familiar with Japanese literature, I think I’ve read only two or three Japanese books before and they certainly were not in Mr. Abe’s wheelhouse. So this is something of a new critical literacy exercise for me. That said, I’m only about 30 pages into it so far and it does give one a similar feeling to that breathless, down-the-rabbit-hole sensation that permeates Metal Gear Solid 2. The antagonist wakes up one day to radishes growing on his shins, and when he seeks help from a dermatologist, he ends up on a gurney rolling down the street, his destination subtlety marked down as “hell.” It’s a breezy read thus far and I hope to finish it this weekend, at which point I’ll share some thoughts.

With regard to the actual game, my PS3 has been in mothballs for some months now, but it may be time to get it hooked up to a TV again and give Sons of Liberty another playthrough. With a respectful nod to confirmation bias, I’ll be looking for any narrative similarities between the book and the game.

Blog State

It’s been about six weeks since I last updated the website – for a time there I was thinking of changing the blog name to Usualjay Reads Books but I decided against it. Usualjay Plays Games will be undergoing a few updates in the coming days and weeks, with a nicer theme and some more regular content. I’ve been searching for a way to make the site more of a legitimate resource for gamers and developers a like, and slowly I’ve been groping my way to a solution.

Thanks for my small audience that has been supporting my efforts so far. I appreciate it!

Sundry Gaming

I’m going to close out July by talking about a few games I’ve been playing lately and some new gear I picked up. This was a light posting month for me but I’ll be returning to the daily format in the near future, especially as we get closer to the Phantom Pain’s drop date.

Gameplay Recording

I purchased a Live Gamer Portable, produced by AverMedia, in the hopes that it could remedy some of my longstanding problems with recording gameplay videos. I’m happy to say that after two tests the unit seems to be functioning quite well. After I’ve had time to play around with it a little more, I’ll post up a more thorough review. I’ve used a Hauppauge HD PVR recorder in the past; with the shoddy software and a propensity for crashing after about 10 minutes of capture the thing was essentially worthless to me. With the LGP, after minimal set up I recorded two videos from the Wii U and the PS3, about 25 minutes in length each. The software suite had to be downloaded separately but it’s been working quite well. The TS to mp4 conversion took seconds, which I was impressed by, and there were no audio sync issues. So far I’m very happy with this purchase. And that brings me to the next topic.

Back Catalog Update

With the LGP I can move forward with the original goal of this project which was to record small videos about the games in the catalog. Granted this was a more timely idea in 2008 than 2015, but hey, better late than never. I’ll post up the results of my experimenting in the near future.

Windows 10 Xbox Streaming

I updated to Windows 10 on the morning of July 29. I’m not much of an OS geek these days so I don’t have much of an opinion about the changes made from 8.1 – I care more if the thing works and allows me to do what I did previously. So far I’ve gotten the most mileage out of Xbox One streaming, which mysteriously started working the next day. I’ve finally logged a few hours in the Halo Collector’s Edition and Guacamelee. It’s a great feature if you want to play your Xbox at your desk rather than in front of the TV. I’ll give more of the social features a whirl in the coming days .

PS Vita

Believe it or not I actually blew the dust off the Sony hand held and put a lot of time into Geometry Wars 3. It was part of the Playstation Plus freebie month, along with Mousecraft and Entwined. I’ve got  my eye on The Swindle as well.  Geometry Wars 3 brings me back to 2005 on the Xbox 360 launch night, when after a “meh” couple of hours of Perfect Dark Zero, my buddy fired up the casual game, Retro Evolved. We ended up playing that until well past 4 AM. I like many of the changes to the game, which remains difficult but addicting as always.

Metal Gear playthrough

You knew this was coming, right? Look for more in the coming weeks.

Where did two months go?

This is not a gaming related post; rather a state of the blog report after two months. I’ll be taking a short holiday so for the remainder of the week there will be no daily posts. Daily blogging has proven to be more difficult that I originally had anticipated, especially for a narrow topic such as gaming.  That said, when I return on July 6, I will be recharged enough to continue the daily post trend.

In terms of raw data, there have been about 300 unique visitors to the site since April 29, though I suspect that many of them are probably bot traffic from Referral Site spam that seems endemic these days. The most popular search terms have been “Grand Strategy” and OODA Loop, which just goes to show you how hard it is to generate relevant traffic in this sector (if you’re trying to blog about gaming, that is). People like reading the blog at 2AM EST on Sundays.  As this is a personal website I’m not too stressed out about the low traffic. In fact I’d be more worried if I had some kind of spike in traffic: my shared hosting couldn’t handle the load!

Following that line of thinking, I’ve had a few people suggest that I optimize my SEO. SEO is largely an inexact science at best. This has been my opinion on the topic since around 2006 when I was making websites both personally and professionally. To sum up SEO:  make lists, write 1500 words, use headers with keywords, hit an outbound link or two, and everything else is whatever is in fashion as guessed at by the SEO gurus. As you may have noticed I don’t actually follow many of those suggestions too often. I find them to be somewhat stifling.

Two months ultimately adds up to a very small sample size. I’ll provide a quarterly review when there is more data, but if you’re a blogger or webmaster who’s interested in the behind-the-scenes metrics, I’m happy to discuss the numbers privately. In general, the traffic is trending upward, albeit at a slow pace. Thank you to those of you who have visited so far. I hope this site has proven to be entertaining and informative.