Monday, June 12, 2017

Gaming on a shoestring

I own a PS3. A PS4. There's a Wii gathering dust, a Vita lies somewhere for the incidental Final Fantasy X session, next to a DS. There are games on my phone, on the kid's iPads, and both PC's run (of course) Steam.

And still I claim gaming is cheap these days.


Executive summary

It's perfectly understandable if you don't like to read all of this. You want to play games! On a shoestring! Which is perfectly possible.

  1. Look for discounts on online game platforms (PS Store, Steam, GOG)
  2. Some platforms have really great discounts in certain periods, put those dates in your calendar, and visit their websites, this may reach up to 90%
  3. Wait... don't buy the latest game right now, just wait... don't be surprised to be able to buy something for half the initial price one to two years later (not always, but it does happen)
  4. Consider second hand - consider a PS3 or PS4 second hand, if it includes guarantee then why not?
  5. Sometimes games are cheaper (or better) on another platform... I think I paid 4.99 for Alan Wake on Steam, how about that?
  6. How about older games, for example GOG (Good Old Games) has a nice selection at decent prices, often including patches to get them running on newer platforms
  7. Retro... who doesn't love retro gaming? It takes perhaps some technical expertise to get those emulators to run on your PC, but there are thousands and thousands of old game(rom)s out there forgotten but waiting to be played again (make sure you understand what is legal and what is not)

A good example? You can get Limbo for 1.99 euro right now on Steam. I would definitely call that affordable!


A Christmas present

December 2015 I bought a nice present, a Christmas present. For myself.

Well, more of a 'cumulative' present as I skipped a few birthdays and that year's Sinterklaas (the
Dutch version of Christmas). I had been teasing my kids for quite a while, telling them I wanted a PlayStation 4 for Christmas (actually for Sinterklaas, but that doesn't matter)... Of course, a PS4 was / is a bit expensive, compared with socks and other knick knack... Then again, we could all use it (yeah, right, who am I kidding) just like the Wii that was under the Christmas tree a few years earlier (and too be honest, that Wii is still being used now and again). Looking for other excuses, there was also the fact that I pretty much skipped my birthdays for a few years, so...

Christmas 2014 I bought a PlayStation, though not the already released PS4. Instead, I bought a second hand PS3.


The PS3

We owned a Wii for years. Little box, quite fun, but graphically not the best. My PC is aging, and PC gaming has its pros and cons. Seeing how other people enjoyed their game consoles, I took the plunge. I didn't go all in, but first dipped a toe...

For a little over hundred bucks I was the proud owner of a PS3 Slim and two controllers. I also bought some second hand games at 7 bucks a piece. Not bad. Gaming isn't that expensive if you settle for either a hacked Wii (start downloading), or a second hand PS3.

The PS3 has been around for ages. Sony discontinued it, but that doesn't mean there aren't any good games on it. And, frankly, second hand games are dirt cheap and the PS3 has enough power to deliver some nice games. Maybe not entirely up to standard these days, but it's not all about graphics. (I still love love love to play the 17 years old 'Command & Conquer Red Alert 2' on my PC.)

I enjoyed the PS3. I grabbed a few games to get a feeling for this side of gaming (which I never tried much before.)


My PS3 launch games

Remember I bought all of these second hand, I think the most expensive one was 15 euro, but everything else was 7 or less.


  • Motorstorm Pacific Rift - nice racing game, good for on-couch co-op racing
  • Enslaved - first person action / shooter / platformer set in the future
  • Uncharted 3 Drake's Deception - a 2011 game with impressive graphics
  • Killzone 3 - wow, this is a PS3 game, isn't it? (had to doublecheck)
  • Heavenly sword - perhaps not the deepest game, but I liked it, and great graphics again
  • Little big planet 2 - great concept, but frankly I found it a little tiring
  • Ratchet & Clank: a crack in time - nice platformer
  • Brutal Legend - funny the first half hour, then go play something else
  • Ridge Racer 7 - I could not get the hang of it

Affordable?

A PS3 goes for around 75 to 100 euro. 2nd  hand games range from 5 to 15 euro (unless you want the latest stuff). And frankly, there are plenty of good games on the PS3, more than enough to keep you busy until a used PS4 becomes affordable, or the apocalypse arrives... In other words: for a 100 bucks a year you can play until the apocalypse arrives. Probably on a Monday.

(In the meantime someone offered me an almost new PS Vita. I could not resist. I hope to keep playing on that one even on the first Tuesday after the apocalypse.)


PlayStation Plus

Just for kicks (And to see what it all meant) I added a PlayStation Plus package. For the PS3 the Plus package isn't required for online play, but it offers you two free games every month. Those games are yours, until you stop your subscription at which moment you can no longer play them.

(The PS4 is different. You cannot play online UNLESS you subscribe to PlayStation Plus. This effectively means most PS4 players out there have a subscription to PlayStation Plus. I would not be bothered if Sony would change the free games deal a bit in the future, and would include rehash some previously offered ones. Then again, with the PS3 and Vita both dead why would they bother, except for making their lives perhaps a bit easier. Or perhaps they simply drop both the PS3 and Vita, as there is little to no money to be made. Anyway...)

So I ended up paying around 60 euro a year to Sony, in exchange for perhaps 5 to 10 A to AAA games, and a bunch of crap that I immediately uninstall. I noticed that, even though I only had a PS3, I could also 'purchase' the free monthly games for the PS4 and PS Vita. Which I did, leaving me with a number of unplayable games (as I didn't have the hardware to play them on, obviously, but one could never tell).

You actually get 6 games: 2x PS3, 2x PS4, 2x Vita. I didn't have a PS4 or Vita when I started, though I do now.


PS4

How could I resist... The final trigger for buying a PS4 was not a game, but a movie: Star Wars - The Force Awakens.

So, my motivation (excuse):
  • The (expectation of watching the) movie
  • A commercial for the PS4's Star Wars Battlefront game
  • All those free games I still had not played
  • Watching the Star Wars movies I to VI in preparation
  • Dipping into some Clone Wars cartoons (I like Ashoka)
  • The Lego Star Wars games my oldest daughter always played on the Wii
  • Some Rebels cartoons (Ashoka lives!)
  • A soft spot for most things Disney leading me to...
  • Buying the Disney Infinity Star Wars Clone Wars game (Ashoka!)
  • Browsing my D6 and D20 role Star Wars playing game books

(Ahsoka seems to be a recurring theme 😏)

I succumbed to the Dark Side. I admit it. I even reveled in it, unashamed at that... So I went out, put my money on the table, and drove home with a shiny 500 GB PS4, an extra controller and two games.

Though Star Wars was the trigger, the related games were not even that good...
  • Star Wars Battlefront - looks fantastic, plays well, but is thin, clearly not enough content, and EA wants another 60 bucks or so just for a few more maps, very disappointing... a great game if you are Star Wars fan, just don't expect to play it a lot
  • Disney Infinity - which, you guessed it, Disney discontinued... still the little figurines are easy to find and cost pretty much nothing second hand, and the game is fun with two players in co-op mode (and I'm not interested in the other worlds)
  • Destiny The Taken King - was strongly reduced in price, and included the original game as well as three expansions, I bought it online and played it a lot though I am not good at it

Affordable?

Hell no!

Well...

Perhaps. Not when I bought the PS4. But nowadays? The price dropped to a more reasonable 250 euro for a console, including a game. Just subscribe to PS Plus and (in spite of all rubbish coming along) there is the occasional gem. And why not add a second hand PS3? For 75 euro you should be able to find a good one.

Once you have a PS3, PS4 and Vita, you get six games a month, perhaps just one of them is good, but that still means 12 games a year to play. And if you look for special offers, discounts, or 2nd hand games costs are relatively low.

Since then I have expanded my collection a little... I admit to have added some games simply purchasing them, on top of the monthly goodies... But I'm proud to say nothing at full price. I think the most expensive one was Ni No Kuni.
  • Ni No Kuni - PS3  - a JRPG in anime style with pokemonish elements, it actually is very pretty and feels like you are actually 'playing' an anime, if you like the style this alone could be enough to buy a PS3
  • Gravity Rush - PS4 - I just love falling... (and I think it's actually a little better than Gravity Rush 2)
  • First Light - PS4 - Infamous prequel, came with Plus, fun
  • Okami HD - PS3 - daughter loved the Wii version, so had to get it
  • Final Fantasy X / X2 HD - PS4 / Vita - classic JRPG that I heard much about, very time consuming, I prefer to play this one on the Vita, not on the PS4
  • Catherine - PS3 - naughty, Google for it
  • Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite - PS3 - involving FPS, looks better on PC though, I might have waited for the PS4 release, but alas I have the PS3 as well as a Steam version

The cost of gaming

Is gaming expensive? That depends. If you buy a 2000 dollar gaming PC, and buy every game the moment it arrives, then the answer is yes.

If you buy the latest console and buy every new release, then yes. (60 bucks a game? That's silly!)

If you are selective in what you buy, and try to finish some games before you try something new, then no, I don't think so. An example: a friend of my youngest daughter stayed over for two nights, and looked at the cupboard, containing my stereo and game consoles. A setup that isn't too shabby, but is more about looks than money... PS3, PS4, Wii, PC...

She found the setup incredible... Someone who had a PS3, PS4, Steam-box, and (too) many games! That had to have been expensive! She herself owned an Xbox 360 for years, and bought several games over time. She wanted an Xbox One but thought it to be too expensive. I had to hang my head in shame and agree with her

And then, someone called her, and I noticed her mobile phone when she answered that call... She was carrying around a Galaxy Note. At first I suspected it to be a hand-me-down from her dad or something similar, and I said some such. It turned out she actually bought it herself! That bloody phone did cost more than a new PS3 and PS4 together! That shows it yet again: what are your priorities?


Upgrading PS / PS4 HDD and other extras

I did replace the original 120 GB HDD in the PS3 with a 500 GB SSHD I temporarily used in a laptop. The 120 GB HDD was getting full, the replacement SSHD not only offered more space but made it a bit faster in loading and was definitely more silent.


Now I've done the same thing to the PS4. I've replaced the 500 GB HDD with a 1 TB SSHD, as I noticed the 500 GB filling up rapidly with downloaded content. It was about half full just after two weeks of use and that is NOT a good sign. Using the new SSHD improved loading times and reduced pop-up in some games (probably due to the larger 64 MB cache and some smarter drive algorithms). On the Internet many people claim only marginal improvements with an SSHD in the PS4, but I noticed the system menus coming up faster and behaving more fluid, and for example the loading screens in _Destiny_ would sometimes take 2 seconds instead of 10 (though the speed improvement wasn't always predictable). This could be the caching, smarter drive logic, whatever, but it was definitely noticeable.

To be honest, if you game on a budget you probably would not want to do this.

There are things you should buy though...

If you have a Wii or Xbox 360... get battery packs for your controllers. Stop wasting money on batteries. With any console or PC controller: get an external charger stand. Yep, they cost a bit, but do they save you a lot of stress!


There are things you should not buy...

I've tried several 'clone' controllers, and they never satisfied me. Your mileage may vary, but I would settle for the real thing.



Steam (and GOG)

It's time to introduce the next player: Steam.


Valve (once famous for Half Life but these days not so much) is the major player when it comes to online distribution of games for PC's. Lots of stuff there, loads of crap, but also AAA games and the rare indie jewel.

If you don't like DRM (who does) you should first check if the specific game is available on GOG. That way you can always reinstall the game and enjoy your purchase, even if Steam would ever go down or someone would pull a game from the market (Alan Wake for example is no longer available for purchasing, and they could just as well make it unavailable for download).

And there are some very good older games only available on GOG.


DHCP and DRM

I don't mind paying reasonable prices.

I don't mind copy protection mechanisms either, as long as they are not affecting other use. With a platform like stream or the PlayStation we're pretty much at the mercy of the vendor / supplier, but if that comes with low prices and leaves everything else untouched... Fine.

Let's hope Valve doesn't shut down or starts charging monthly fees, just like The PlayStation network, or X-box Live. Even worse, let's hope Valve, as a company, doesn't break down and leaves all my Steam games useless blobs of random data. But I will still stay legal...

What I DO mind, however, are copy protections that break your system, or block outright use. For example there is HDCP, a copy protection that should make it impossible to copy output from DVD
players etcetera. HDCP is years old, and multiple times broken. If copy protection works, fine. If it doesn't and blocks me enjoying, then I get pissed.

I own a flat screen Philips TV, HD ready, which is supposed to be HDCP compliant. So is the PS3. Right... So this is what I ended up with:
  • cheap DVD player to TV - no problems
  • PC to TV - works
  • PS3 to TV - only low res
  • PS4 to TV - only low res

Someone suggested it could be an HDCP issue, and the PS4 would allow me to disable to HDCP (for games) and yes! The PS4 would work!

Unfortunately, no such luck with the PS3, whose HDCP is always on... My last hope? Getting one of those Chinese (modified or poorly designed) HDMI switches that (accidentally) strip out the whole HDCP copy protection thing. AliExpress / DealExtreme, here I come...

Update; I found a splitter and it solved the PS3 issues. It seems my television has an incomplete or buggy implementation of DHCP. The splitter takes out the PS3's HDCP so I can now enjoy full screen high resolution graphics. Good.

It doesn't fix the PS4's HDCP so I can't use the PS4 as a mediaplayer, but I can live with that.

The above shows how certain (forms) of DRM can severely mess up your gaming life.


Retro gaming

You can play countless games on your PC using emulators. Won't cost you a thing. 'Nuff said.



Yes

Gaming is a hobby. Hobbies cost money. But that doesn't mean they have to cost a lot of money. I think, finally, gaming has become an affordable hobby if you spent your money wisely.


Excuse me, I am going to have another go at Heavenly Sword. She's waiting for me... Haven't finished Limo either... nor Alan Wake... Haven't even properly started Ni No Kuni. And will I ever be able to even install FFX2 as I never ever will complete FFX... I need an extra (after)life.

And perhaps I should have started by saying: gaming can be cheap nowadays... It not necessarily is.

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