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honestgamer It's not all an elaborate ruse, some misguided attempt to establish for myself an online persona of dubious quality. I really am dull. If you don't find that unbearable, though, this is my blog that examines just how truly boring I can be.

Title: The guide writing is maybe done for awhile...
Posted: December 28, 2009 (06:04 AM)
Well, I just finished up the text for my latest freelance guide that I've written. It's for LEGO Indiana Jones 2 and can be viewed here:

http://guides.ign.com/guides/14329930/

Now that I've finished up with that, I don't have any other waiting freelance assignments. I probably won't seek out any more for a few weeks, either, unless something great comes along. I have too many games to review, too much recovering to do (from both guides and the retail holiday I've just worked through) and too much that I'd like to do on this site.

So in the coming weeks and months, you'll probably see my output increase. I'm pleased to have the guides out of the way for a bit so that we can head into 2010 in style. I'm really excited to have more time to start playing games and reviewing them, effective... immediately.

Well, effective after I get some sleep, anyway.
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Title: Vulnerability in games...
Posted: December 21, 2009 (06:25 PM)
Though he takes awhile to get around to it, NGai Croal raises an interesting point at next-gen.biz as he writes about vulnerability in games:

http://www.next-gen.biz/blogs/being-vulnerable

If you haven't already, I encourage you to read that article. Feel free to respond to it here, on this blog post. I'd like to hear what some of you think!
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Title: The phantom posts issue appears to be fixed.
Posted: December 14, 2009 (04:10 PM)
I seem to have fixed the issue that was prompting phantom posts to appear.

The issue was resolved by modifying the mysql query that determines how many posts should be counted as replies to a given post. Previously, a root_id would be assigned to a post only if it was a reply to an original post, which didn't need the root_id named because its root_id was obvious. Revising the site, I set things up so that edited posts now reference a root_id, which meant that the post was now being tagged as a reply even though there was no obvious indication of that when I gave things a casual look.

The good news is that posts have always had 'message' or 'reply' designation, so the fix was as simple as modifying the query so that it only counted as a reply those posts that had specifically been labeled as a 'reply.' It was a minor tweak that I had to make on four or five pages, but now things seem to be working as they should... but with the benefit of the sexier URLs.

I'm glad that I was able to resolve this now, because here in about 3 minutes I'll be getting to work on a project unrelated to HG that will likely keep me extremely busy for the next two weeks. It's nice not to be leaving behind loose ends as I shift my attention to that project.
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Title: With all of that mostly squared away...
Posted: December 12, 2009 (12:17 PM)
So, a week's worth of solid coding has resulted in some changes that I really like. Hopefully, you do also. Now that I've done that, what's next?

The answer is "Not a lot." I have been pushing aside some freelance work that I have on my plate, plus I have a lot of hours scheduled at my day job in the days immediately ahead of me, so there won't be time for me to work on the site for a bit except in the form of the occasional tweaks. My assignment will keep me mostly busy throughout the remainder of the year.

Once that's done, I'll be diving headfirst into a pile of games that I need to review, so that's probably where you'll see my energies focused during the first two months or so of 2010. And then? If I haven't turned my brain into complete mush, then I might do more coding and will almost certainly make some efforts to recruit new users and to do all manner of busy work on the site.

I'm actually excited about my plans for 2010, even though they'll keep me extraordinarily busy, because I think there's every possibility that the community will see more activity than it ever has before. I hope that you all plan to stick around and be an active part of that. Make it one of your resolutions for 2010, one of the ones that you actually keep!
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Title: So, why the URL change?
Posted: December 11, 2009 (12:08 AM)
You've seen all of the hard work that I've been doing lately on the site (or maybe not), and you may be wondering why I thought this was so important that I chose to spend all of my spare time working on it for the last 5 days or so. The answer? SEO.

According to stats, around 69% of traffic to the site comes from search engines, with most of that coming from Google and Yahoo! (we get some from Bing, too). If we average around 2000 unique daily visitors, that works out to around 1400 visits a day that are owed to Google, while most of the rest come from either GameRankings, a few forums or people just tying the address into their window. So, the goal here is to turn 1400 into something more like... maybe several times that, in time.

SEO is the answer, because obviously what we want to do is come in near the top of relevant search results. In the past, there's been some temptation to just toss words like 'sex' and 'lesbian' and 'naked' and stuff into meta keywords and call it a day, but even when that works you're just getting a lot of horny visitors who will leave in disgust the minute they arrive. The key here is to bring traffic not at all costs, but because we have something to offer that we want them to see.

I'm no SEO expert, but I have done a LOT of reading on the subect (including PDF literature provided by no less than Google) and I've learned that in general, search engines are a bit like a warehouse full of glass jars. Any page that you have in that warehouse can be represented by a glass jar, and when a user performs a search he is basically seeking out a glass jar. Google (or other engines) will say "This jar has the most pennies in it, then this one..." and so forth. In theory, then, search results are just a sorting method to let users know which jar is likely to have the most pennies. So the trick is to do what you can on your end to make sure that your page/jar has the most pennies in the eyes of the search engine (and in reality, if your site is a good one, like HonestGamers).

Some webmasters will try to game the system. They will get a bunch of inbound links from link exchange services to put pennies into their jar, or they will spam other sites' blogs or they'll stuff their pages with keywords that might not even relate directly to content. I'm not a fan of those approaches, so what I wanted to do was to make sure that each and every one of our pages put our best foot forward while referencing content that users could genuinely expect to find on each page. This will ensure that when someone clicks a link, he finds what he's looking for and is happy to stay on the site and look around for a bit. This in turn will hopefully lead to community growth.

The changes I made recently help with that. Our page titles already are quite optimized to establish brand recognition (by putting our site name at the front of each page title, which costs a little in ranking terms but will make our site's name familiar to people who frequently perform searches) and to place only important keywords. Our meta keywords and descriptions are also good, plus pages are optimized so that key terms are placed within headings. The only thing left to do was to truly optimize URLs. For an example of what I mean, just search for something like HonestGamers Chronicles Mystery Curse Ancient Temple. Notice how those key words are highlighted all throughout the results? This includes the page title, the description and finally, the URL.

This change was important, and there are other benefits. Now that our URLs are shorter, more people are likely to link them without truncating them. And when they link, by default they'll be including the important phrases within the link, which improves the value of each link because it establishes relevance. Nice, eh?

I'm happy with the changes for the reasons stated above, but I made one final change. While updating things, I noticed that many of our pages have several versions floating around on Google. To go back to the 'jars' analogy, this is like collecting pennies in five jars instead of one. There's only a limited amount of traffic, so every jar would take longer to fill. Since only the fullest jars mean jack squat when it comes to search results, duplicate pages were going to bury us. Now that will be fixed.

All of the chagnes will take months to spread across the Internet, and it'll be awhile before the old pages vanish. Once all of that takes place, which could take 3 to 5 months, I'm confident that my work over this past week will really bring in the traffic. In the meantime, it's not a bad idea to remind your friends that we exist. Nothing says that we can't get a jump on building up our community of reviewers, right?
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Title: Musings following sleep depirvation
Posted: November 29, 2009 (05:35 PM)
I'm curious about something. Suppose for a second that going forward, games will no longer have either innovation or refinement. They'll have one for the rest of time, but not the other.

In the first case, you wouldn't see any new genres but you would see ambitious attempts to push current genres to new heights of excellence. You would see old ideas combined in some interesting ways, probably with better production values than in the past, but that would be it.

In the second case, you'd still see pretty games. But because people are so obsessed with innovation, the pretty games would be mostly optional as developers focused on providing something totally unique. Naturally, the number of games produced would decrease drastically and a lot of them would have irritating flaws that no one would ever bother improving upon with a subsequent release, but at least you could be guaranteed a thoroughly new experience with every game that you purchased.

What scenario appeals to you most? To hear a lot of people talk, innovation is the only justification for a game to exist, yet I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would choose the first situation. There's a lot of room for great gaming without real innovation. The games I enjoy most are often nothing more than polished reworkings or mixtures of things that I enjoyed years before.

Fortunately, we don't live in a world where we have to choose between innovation or polish. Yet I routinely see great games bashed because they lack true innovation. To me, it's a bit like complaining about Coke because it doesn't reinvent itself often enough. I like new flavors of pop, sure, but sometimes all I want is Coke.
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Title: No Russian - My Reaction
Posted: November 12, 2009 (12:56 PM)
After reading my Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 review, Lewis asked what I as a person thought about the "No Russian" mission. If you haven't played through the game, you should stop reading at this point. In my review, I describe the nature of the mission early in the game and discuss much of what provides its shock value. You can read that if you're curious about a good overview, but I tried to avoid the most significant spoilers. Here, I will do no such thing. You have been warned.

My general response to "No Russian" when I first played through it was that it was unnecessarily violent and thrown into the game for little reason but to shock. It managed to do precisely that, too; within the first 30 seconds, I was feeling slightly queasy because of the sheer detail. Grand Theft Auto has let me mow down civilians standing in line on a sidewalk and that was kind of fun. Here, just watching the civilians standing at the airport and crumpling to the ground as they bled out on the tile floors was a bit much. It evokes a different response because it's not cartoony. It's credible. Though I might enjoy causing mayhem in GTA games, I don't cherish the idea of hurting anyone in real life. Call of Duty feels real enough to make me uncomfortable.

As I noted in my review, that was likely the intended effect. When I first played through the game and felt that the mission was just there for shock value, it's because: 1) it did shock me; 2) it didn't feel connected to anything up to that point. It was the third mission and at that stage in the game, the areas that I was asked to explore felt random. There was no connection between them and I had begun to think that Infinity Ward didn't have any plans to produce an actual narrative thread. If that had continued throughout the remainder of the game, I would probably have appreciated "No Russian" a great deal less than I did. As anyone who has finished the campaign knows, though, the msision represents the start of a sharp and interesting narrative that builds carefully upon that groundwork.

When Malakov killed the 'hero' character at the end of the "No Russian" stage, that was a bit of a moral statement. He'd had the chance to shoot Malakov in the head several times during the mission. Wouldn't that have done something to end the carnage? It could have, and wasn't the whole goal of this mission to get close to Malakov and possibly eliminate him? Following orders for the greater good seems less heroic when it means that so many people will die, when there's no clear reason to watch as so many innocent people go down in a hail of bullets.

And of course, from there the game expands on a lot of things along those lines, including a reminder that history is written by the victors. It's a powerful and worthwhile point as the game reminds the player--with help from that "No Russian" mission, but also others--that the people who go on to be hallowed as heroes can do some awful things. In a way, it felt like a call to tolerate only the best behavior from our modern military, on a worldwide level.

Other forms of media have made such efforts, but this marks the first time that a video game has done so in such a convincing fashion. I've seen people viciously call the game "an expansion pack" and criticize it as worthless, but I have a hard time understanding those responses to a game that not only improves on nearly everything its predecessor did, one that provides a whole slew of new levels and--most of all--one that manages to spark genuine thought about matters weightier than spawn locations or weapon mods.

As I noted in my review, I don't know that I care to play through that mission again. If I repeat the campaign mode--which I may, since overall it rocks so much--I will likely skip "No Russian" now that I've already seen it. I don't think that there's much point in playing through it multiple times, but it's something that accomplished a lot by existing in its current form and I hope that people who experience it will respond seriously (in the nature that I believe was intended) rather than gloating about how many kills they managed. If gamers are willing to respond with more than just "it's only a video game" and actually consider things on a deeper level, then Infinity Ward has accomplished something worthwhile.

Of course, that's a bit optimistic. I actually feel uneasy abouth ow the public at large will respond to this game, once the wrong oblivious parent buys it and walks through the living room one day to see a deviant child giggling and mowing down tourists. The only real question is how long it will take that ignorant parent to complain to Fox News and say "But there was never any warning!"
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Title: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Posted: November 10, 2009 (04:56 AM)
Wow, Modern Warfare 2 is intense! I just finished the single-player campaign, with my time weighing in at just under 7 hours, and I have to say that Infinity Ward really has managed to bring the intensity. The first Modern Warfare had its moments, but not like you'll find here. Whether or not that makes for a better game this time around is of course a matter of opinion. I expect that people will debate it for a long time to come.

As far as multi-player goes, I have played it locally with my brother-in-law and we had some good fun. There are 16 different areas available to choose from, so more than enough to keep us busy for a long while. I like that local play is supported, but I'll probably get the most use out of the game online... once I have my Xbox 360 hooked up again. I played on my HD set, but that meant no online play because I don't have the super-expensive wireless receiver yet. That'll happen soon enough. Hopefully.

I expect to review the game sometime soon, once I've spent a decent amount of time online. If online holds up the way it seems likely that it will, this is another stellar CoD game that easily justifies its price tag. Anyone else have it yet?

Title: Quickie Preview - Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble
Posted: October 21, 2009 (06:09 PM)
If you're interested in Atlus games, check out my quickie preview for Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble, which Atlus demonstrated for me awhile back. It took me awhile to find time to write this up, but I'm pretty happy with the result:

http://www.honestgamers.com/systems/content.php?preview_id=76&gametitle=Kenka+Bancho%3A+Badass+Rumble

I'm not convinced that the game will be some sort of marvel like Demon's Souls was. The two aren't really in the same league. But this new game should be good for brawler fans. Not much of anyone else, really, but that's okay. Brawler fans need love too and this looks like it could fit the bill.
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Title: I'm still very active, in case you wondered...
Posted: October 03, 2009 (04:12 AM)
I haven't been able to spend as much time directly on the HonestGamers site over this last week as I would have liked, and unfortunately that won't change much over the next 2 to 3 weeks or so. Here's why:

1) I'm working on the Demon's Souls guide for another outlet. It pays teh bills, plus I'm loving the game and having reasonable success in creating a fantastic guide. I also will get a review out of the whole deal (a review that will appear exclusively on HonestGamers shortly after the game's launch).

2) When I'm not working on the guide, I often have to be at work for my wretched day job. That's going to be even worse starting the day after tomorrow, as I've got two weeks in a row to look forward to where I have 40-hour schedules... this despite me being a 20-hour worker. I hate these long weeks, even under the best of circumstances. They drain everything out of me and it's all I can do to not spend all of my outside time sleeping or watching TV. My day job makes me understand why people might turn to alcohol.

So anyway, those two reasons will keep me from being as active on the site as I'd like, but you don't need to worry that I'm no longer paying attention or motivated to keep things moving forward. I just might not comment as much in threads that interest me, or in response to blog posts or whatever else. I won't likely post as many news stories, either (as you've probably noticed the last 2 days or so).

I'm still around, though, still excited by some of the content that I see coming from you all. I look forward to being more visible again in another three weeks or so--and itermittently in between--when I hope to be able to produce more reviews and catch up on some things I can't spend much time with just now.

Why the update? I feel like you all deserve it. The site won't go anywhere without your continued support and I appreciate the way you've all been pitching in with such excellent content. I don't want you thinking that I'm turning my interests to other things, because I'm absolutely not. The site remains my priority and with any luck, the next year or two will see a lot more growth and a lot of the sort of stuff that can keep everyone excited about continuing to be involved in the HonestGamers project. That's one reason I'm spending as much time as I can right now to take on side projects. The sooner I get enough money to pay down my debts, the sooner I can brush annoying personal stuff to the side and really buckle down to push the site forward.

Anyway, that's enough of all of that. Thanks for your ongoing support, all of you. Let's keep having fun with this!
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