I recently finished playing through Uncharted. There were so many things about that game that just impressed the hell out of me. The attention to detail in the environments, the character models and animation, the control scheme, and last but not least, the incredible voice acting. All the characters had interesting and believable dialog, delivered with perfection by the actors themselves. I just couldn't believe how good of a job they did and how much it added to the characters and story.

Nathan Drake truly came alive during that game. His movements and every other detail were great, but would you have been as interested in Nathan if he didn't speak? Would the game have been as compelling? Would you have been so involved in his quest if he never uttered a word? How would you even know who he was, really know, if he didn't speak? I don't think the game would have been anywhere as interesting as it was if Nathan was silent. From the first cut-scene, you really get a feel for all the characters. You get to see his sense of humor, his concerns, and how he reacts to the situation he's in. Instead of the other characters just talking to him, they talked to each other. To me, this was an important detail to add immersion and concern for the character to the game. This brings me to another character in another popular game, Gordan Freeman from the Half-life series.

I like the Half-life games, but I'm just not as deeply involved with them as I was with Uncharted. Granted, they do have some compelling characters. Eli and Alyx Vance are great, and I am interested in what happens to them, but the main character himself? I really couldn't care less. Gordon has no voice. Hell, he doesn't even have a face. How are we supposed to get into the character if you never get a feeling for his personality? I've played through two Half-life games, the first episode, and halfway through the second, and I still have no idea if I like the guy I'm playing. I can't tell if he has emotions, a sense of humor, trepidation of his mission in life, what he thinks of the creepy guy that's dragging him all over the place, or anything else about him. Hell, I'd be happy just hearing some pointless banter between him and Alyx. And just once, I'd like to hear Gordan ask, "Why me?".

Games have come a long way since the first of the Half-life games were released. At the time, the story, art direction, and graphics were all top notch. Today however, the standard is much higher. The Darkness is a recent first person shooter of note. This game has something that Gordon will never have--a personality. You feel what he is going through. You understand his struggle with The Darkness. You feel his pain when he sees the fate of his girlfriend. You want him to have his revenge. You want him to make Pauly and Shrote suffer. You feel the characters pain. You get none of that with Half-life. In episode 2 something very bad happens to Alyx. There is no reaction from Gordon, and because of that the Half-life series will never seem compete. It just feels half done.

I'll still play the Half-life games. The story is interesting. The world is full of life and conflict. The supporting cast of characters is amazing and they really do seem alive. I'm just not going to play because of the main character. I'll play because I want to know what happens to Alyx and Eli. I want to see where Barney goes from here. I want to see if the Combine get what's coming to them. Heck, I even want to see Dr. Kleiner and his damn headcrab. It's just a shame that I can't care about Gordon the same way. The lack of a voice for Gordon is the only reason I can't say Half-life is the best game out there. It just doesn't have the impact.
Today's word of the day* is HARD-CORE. Let us begin with the formal definition provided by Dictionary.com

hard-core [hahrd-kawr, -kohr]

1. unswervingly committed; uncompromising; dedicated: a hard-core segregationist.

2. pruriently explicit; graphically depicted: hard-core pornography.

being so without apparent change or remedy; chronic: hard-core inflation.

Most gamers will know immediately what I mean by hard-core. I consider myself to be a hard-core gamer. I am dedicated to gaming and the gaming culture. I am uncompromising in my videogame consumption. I have to play. I go through withdrawals if I don't. Am I addicted? Hell yes. But I'm not the only one.

Gamers have been serious about their gaming habits since the beginning, starting with Pong and continuing to the MMO games of today. Spending hours a day in front of the TV or computer monitor, sacrificing a life outside in the real world, is something that hard-core gamers are willing to do in order to finish that level, or gain a few more experience points for their character. Not all gamers have that dedication though. And that brings me to the subject of this post.

In the beginning was hard-core and all was good. Then something happened. Games for people that didn't like games started showing up. The Mom that didn't really understand games started to play. My own Mother loved -and still loves- Ms. Pac-man. She didn't play all the time, nor did she even feel a need to finish a game or get very far. Then came the birth of mini-games. These are small games with little to no story and very simple controls. Soon, there were games released that were only collections of mini-games with a simple story to tie them together. Select a game, play for a few minutes, then leave without any thoughts of completing it or returning to it. We have a name for these people. They are the Casual Gamer.

Being a casual gamer is not a bad thing, but bad things tend to happen to the casual gamer. Oftentimes a game that just isn't good enough or too short to be a good gaming experience is marketed to the casual gamer. These games are very basic and frequently frustrating to play. The reason. The developers and publishers are looking to make a quick buck. Slap Mario or Sonic on a crappy game and chances are you'll make your money back off of it. We are seeing more and more titles that are just plain bad and a lot of those are on the Wii.

Is there anything the casual gamer can do to ensure they get a quality game, and not a cheap poorly designed product? First, do not buy a game just because it's cheap. Little Timmy might like that cheap game about dinosaurs, but not if his dinosaur dies every 5 seconds due to bad controls. Second, do a little research. There are plenty of gaming websites online and many magazines that will help sort out the crud from the gold. Granted, a lot of these sources are geared to the hard-core or mainstream gamer, but it is still presented in a way that most people will understand. Third, if you've done your research and have become familiar with the companies putting out games it'll be easier to find a quality product. Don't buy a game from the XYZ Fly-by-night game publisher. They are just out for the quick buck and their games are generally very basic and not worth any cost. Fourth, don't buy a game just because it's sold well. You very we may find a shovelware game that has squeaked past quality control.

The Wii is not the only console to suffer this blight of poor quality games. They are everywhere from the PS2 to the DS to the Xbox 360 and even cellphones. No system is safe from these shotty shovelware games. They are called shovelware due to the fact that the publisher will just shovel it out onto the market no matter the quality. With a little knowledge, you can prevent yourself from being taken advantage of. Look for first party software, being games that are published by the console manufacturer. Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo all put out quality games. Buzz is a quiz game that is very popular right now, and is available for most systems. Ask your friends what they play and play together. Have fun with games, but be careful what you buy.

*Disclaimer: In using the phrase "word of the day" I am not stating that I will, in fact, write about a word every day. It just sounded better than "word of the week" or "word of the whenever the hell I feel like writing about a word".