GWJ Conference Call Episode 207

Conference Call

Civilization V, Minecraft, Alan Wake Stuff, What to Do With $500, Your Emails and more!

This week Julian, Elysium, Allen, Rob Borges and special guest Rob Zacny talk Civ V and imagine what someone new to gaming might want to do with $500.

To contact us, email [email protected]! Send us your thoughts on the show, pressing issues you want to talk about or whatever else is on your mind. You can even send a 30 second audio question or comment (MP3 format please) if you're so inclined. You can also submit a question or comment call in to our voicemail line at (612) 284-4563!

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Show credits

Music credits: 

Intro/Outtro Music - Ian Dorsch, Willowtree Audioworks

Alpha - (b-sides) - workbench-music.com - 32:36
Coactive (Over My Shoulder Mix) - Chroma - http://sgxmusic.com/ - 50:36

Comments

Woo, Civ 5!

Can't wait to listen.

Hmm, I feel Rob Zacny kinda missed the point when it comes to Alan Wake. His complaint with the storytelling is that the voiceover overexplains everything and states the obvious. But to me, he seems to forget something very important, that the entire game, everything you see and hear is a horror-novel, written by Alan Wake. When you keep that in mind, the voiceover actually makes perfect sense, since you have to explain way more when it's just words and no images.

On gamespy, I can't help thinking it must make sense from the developer/publisher end (I'm sure there's loads of nice support and off the shelf systems to use), but from the gamer's end is often just like trying to play a game with two tin cans and a taut string. I guess what I'm wondering is how much do certain developers place a priority on having something that works okay for setting up network games, or something that is great from the user perspective. There's a lot of games out there that are happy to ship in a 'just about working' state, but not sparking gems.

I think the problem with recommending a Wii to someone trying to get into games on a budget is that the best games on the Wii (namely, first-party Nintendo games) don't really drop in price. I mean, I loves me some Mario Galaxy 2, but for its current going price you could get Alan Wake and Mass Effect 2. That's a heck of a value proposition if you're trying to max out your games per dollar.

Also, for someone who hasn't been following gaming in years and doesn't really know what's good, the WiiWare shop channel is a lot less friendly than Xbox Live Arcade, if only for the fact that there's a demo for everything on XBLA. You want to know what's good on WiiWare, you have to hop on the Internet and do some really in-depth research. You want to know what's good on XBLA, you check the lineup for this year's Summer of Arcade or Spring Block Party or Game Feast or whatever they're calling their current "yo, this is what's good on XBLA" promotion, or you choose a genre and browse a little and download some demos and figure it out for yourself.

As far as the gentleman who asked about game rentals goes, I think at this point you have to resign yourself to the fact that you're going to have to game the system to find a brand new game for rent. On Gamefly, it involves trying to time your returns (or "Keep It"s) to coincide with release dates; at Blockbuster, it involves befriending the surly clerk and trying to get him to set stuff aside for you. Both annoying, but that's just how it goes.

Personally, at this point I use Goozex for the same purpose that renting serves, namely trying stuff out and dipping my toes into something that I might not be willing to drop $60 in real-world money on. I bought a couple thousand points from Goozex in cash during one of their half-off sales and I've just been coasting on that for almost a year now, making back roughly the same amount in offers as I spend in requests. If a game looks pretty interesting to me, but not so interesting that I NEED to have it when it's brand new, I'll stick it on my Goozex request list and let it come when it comes. If it sucks, I turn around and send it to somebody else and get all my points back, and all I'm out is roughly $4 for shipping and a trade token. That's cheaper than a rental any way you slice it.

Yay! Rob's back. Both of em.

Should that have been "Robs' back"?

estorino wrote:

Hmm, I feel Rob Zacny kinda missed the point when it comes to Alan Wake. His complaint with the storytelling is that the voiceover overexplains everything and states the obvious. But to me, he seems to forget something very important, that the entire game, everything you see and hear is a horror-novel, written by Alan Wake. When you keep that in mind, the voiceover actually makes perfect sense, since you have to explain way more when it's just words and no images.

Yeah, but my problem wasn't confusion about why we had a voiceover, but the way that voiceover is used. If a voiceover isn't adding anything to what you can see on the screen, it's detracting from the experience. So when Wake is telling us what's going on, and we can see exactly what he is telling us, then his v/o is just so much noise. It doesn't matter if there is narrative justification for why we are hearing Wake telling his story. He is still not adding anything beyond literal description of what we can already see.

Anyway, over the last couple days I've played a lot more of the game and my impressions have changed a little. Alan Wake is definitely operating at some really strange meta-textual levels, and in some weird ways it's almost like Remedy were aware of what sucked about this game, and were ironically commenting on it. I'm not sure that's a good idea. It's dangerous to ask people to play along with your metagame for that long, because eventually the novelty wears off. But I love the audacity.

Gamespy is only used for hosting mods. The multiplayer is Steamworks.

I've only played the Civ5 demo that doesn't have mods or multiplay, not the full thing, but generally my reaction to seeing the gamespy logo in any game is the same as Rob's: "Ah crap".

Disagree on the comments about mmo games needing to go F2P. One of the reasons that DDO and LOTRO are being successful as F2P games i believe is they started as regular retail box games. I suspect a lot of their first time subscribers are people wanting to check out a game that they didnt think they could afford before and the 5-10$ they spend on knick knacks they'll might argue is cheaper than paying full price.

I dont know of any F2P games that has the production value of those 2 and are just as successful (well non eastern ones anyway) that started that way when being produced.

So the idea that new mmos like DCUO and others should start out as F2P doesnt seem to jive. Ya i can see them moving to that format later down the road after their initial box sales.

For now though i dont mind paying what would be considered full price because personally i want more out of my mmos than a F2P budget can offer.

I feel that any discussion of Civ V would benefit greatly from the following song:

I would argue that while lots of crap always comes out for Wii, there are some great titles there beyond the Mario stuff, too, especially for the RPG and action gamer: Trauma Team, Monster Hunter Tri, Metroid Trilogy (and even Other M, which I actually like), Red Steel 2, No More Heroes 1 & 2, Madhouse, lots of decent Wiiware, etc. And you can get most of these titles for dirt cheap these days.

But then again, I think the PC purchase is probably a better $500 choice with a wide, wide variety of games available on low-end versions via Steam, etc.

Thanks for another great podcast guys!

In regards to this week’s discussion on having $500 toward gaming.

If $500 is the hard limit, then
- As stated in the podcast, the PS3 and the IPad are pretty much out.

As we move on to the other pieces of equipment , it becomes also a matter if the supporting ecosystem is already there or needs to be bought. An Ipod touch needs a computer and/or wireless connection to acquire media. A Wii or XBox 360 needs a television and internet access for online gaming downloads

A PC setup, be it desktop or netbook, would function as an inexpensive gaming platform. Internet access would open it up to free to play online games, download services like Steam or Good Old Games or even acquisition of arcade emulators. If a relatively inexpensive optical drive is present, CD based games can be acquired and still be below budget.

The handhelds such as the DS and the PSP 3000 are able to provide gaming experiences right out of the box with a couple of games with dollars to spare. I find the DS has the more robust library while the PSP has more potential functionality beyond gaming.

What I’m finding most interesting after writing those thoughts are the opposite directions the mobile game and console spaces are moving towards. The mobile space is making large technological gains relative to cost. For example, a portable game machine can now play full length movies. On the other hand, the console space is becoming more expensive, requiring internet access or additional hardware like guitar or motion controllers to enable core gameplay or higher end video and audio setups to take advantage of the true fidelity in modern gaming media.

Interesting discussion about the AI. I've noticed something similar with allot of sequels. The AI improves in every game. Except for Civ4 because of it was redesigned.

Other candidates for the best game rendering of blackness:
IMAGE(http://imgur.com/5tDfO.jpg)
IMAGE(http://imgur.com/UB8U5.jpg)

I found it amusing that in the $500 dollar discussion, basically the only possible options that didn't receive a recommendation were the PS3 and the PSP (well and the iPad). Poor Sony, where's did all the love go?

That said you're certainly correct on the subject - much better value can be found elsewhere. However, like Rabbit my PS3 gets more use than any other electronic device in my house (well I guess the TV is equivalent) simply due to the media streaming/hulu/netflix/etc...

I have to agree with Elysium that, with a $500 dollar hard limit, the PC is a difficult one to recommend. You can certainly get a good rig for that amount (though in my recent experience $650 or so is a better number) but you really would be limited to only getting older games and free-to-play stuff. Of which there are vast vast treasure troves on the internet. However, if a person is getting back into gaming it is likely because they have become reinvigorated based on hearing about the new awesomeness that is coming out (insert your favorite modern gaming franchise here). Buying into a console (such as the 360) would provide a great deal more leftover funds to pick up not only some older games but some new stuff as well. The PC route just doesn't provide that ability. (/end reading the minds of hypothetical people in hypothetical scenarios)

The only problem with the iPod touch as a part of a $500 gaming setup is that the machine is a bit crippled unless you have a PC in the house to brain meld it with once in a while. It's best to do that for backups, but it's also the only way to update the firmware and such.

So do you add the PC in as an additional sunk cost?

Minecraft
This whole thing has been weird to me. I am usually so off the beaten path with my gaming. I've never had everyone else end up doing something I like.

Succession games (what Rob was talking about where you hand off the save-game) are an old-school PC tradition. It's been cool to see them come back. I'm next in ours and I'm not sure where I'm going to take it. If you want to get on the list, the thread starts here. Post it up and ask Dimmerswitch hook you up.

The Penny Arcade comics are:
Mine All Mine, Part One: http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/20...
Mine All Mine, Part Two: http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/20...

Civ 5
I cannot know this! I mean, I really can't. I'm in Rob's boat. I can't get the time. I can fit Minecraft in while being bored to death in a phone meeting or while a SQL script is running. Civ won't work for that, and I'm afraid that's all my gaming time. I'm stuck playing Birth by Sleep only while cooking or sitting in traffic as it is, and my only experience with Halo: Reach yet is trying to avoid listening to my sons in the living room shouting spoilers and smack-monkey talk and reminding them they already read the book and they knew the story wasn't going to turn out well for our heroes.

PC hardware has been a problem as well (see bit about $500 gaming below), but will be solved hopefully this weekend. After the first of the year, have at thee!

Starcraft II
Time bites us all in the arse, yet again. That and wanting to see the fallout over the next year or so with RealID and the Facebook stuff. That scared the crap out of me, and I play mostly single-player to keep the embarrassment to a minimum anyways.

Light Gun Games
Do you have Hogan's Alley? Lord, I wasted so much money and time on that in college.

Alan Wake
Yet another game I haven't finished. Sigh. The voiceover didn't bug me, but I play a lot of Japanese RPG's so this kind of stuff is standard operating procedure. Also very used to the "mowing the digital lawn" problem. Too much Dynasty Warriors, I imagine. I haven't played Heavy Rain yet, but I will.

How to be a $500 gamer
I'm with you on the Slim/Live/used games combo.

Another idea would be to go older consoles. If I had that hard a limit and was just starting, a solid option would be to buy a PS2 and a DS. That gives you the PS2's entire 8,000+ worldwide game library (as of 2006 - got the number from the PS3 backwards compatibility press release) and they're still making games for it, plus the PSOne's. The DS gives you the entire GBA and DS libraries as well. That's a whole lotta gaming and even if you bought the hardware brand new you're talking about $225 bucks.

If you're willing to risk used (if your store has a good policy for that) then you can really low-ball things. A refurbed PS2 slim goes for about $75 bucks, and a DS swings between $40 and $75, depending if you want the Phat or the Lite. I just bought my PSP for $80, and that included a 2-year full replacement warranty.

Another factor here that you didn't touch is the player's preferences. It so much depends on what you like to play. If you want to play RTS, then PC is really the only way to go. MMO is almost totally PC unless you're a Square fan. You can go console with FPS but your control scheme preferences are a huge part of that decision. If you like old-school RPG, you need a PS2 or a DS.

With PC gaming, I'm not so sure we're out of the woods yet in the system requirements department. I have a machine that I bought two years ago loosely based on Bioshock's system requirements and limited to what Maya (my big hulking graphics software) can handle, and it can't run Civ 5 at all. I can render the Galactica to scale in Maya (if I had a week and then some to waste on the machine) but the demo for Civ5 crashes. If you didn't buy your machine aimed at gaming, this is a whole 'nother ball game.

Random Notes:
- Minecraft has memory leaks all over heck. I can post a couple core dumps, if you like. Gang, it's an ALPHA! It's a miracle the damned thing runs at all.
- Plants vs. Zombies is frelling awesome, and it's recent re-release on Xbox360 this month has hit my local circle of acquaintances pretty hard.

Emails
----------------------
Old Microprose Games
I spent a lot of time in a virtual, low-res Poland, if that's what you're asking. I spent so much time on Sword of the Samurai, old-school CGA graphics and all. Talk about a stroll down Amnesia Lane. They were a huge force in the infancy of what we think of as gaming today. They did start Civilization (and Sid Meier's career) as you mention, but you guys forgot about Worms.

You punks need to get off my lawn again!

Going Free-to-Play
Just FYI, Pirates of the Burning Sea is also headed for free-to-play this fall.

I don't think a lot of companies really know what to do here. A lot of of old thought on this topic kind of has gone by the wayside with the economy the way it is and everyone trying to sneak past the big WoW dragon snoozing in the middle of the living room

IMHO, a big indicator of possible success with a change like this has to do with audience. Maplestory, for example, are very successful with this model and are aimed at a different audience who has a different approach to games and have a different approach to paying for them. If your AAA game won't work with that group's mindset, I'm not sure going fremium is going to solve your problems. They're going to have to come up with a new free-type player for stuff like Age of Conan for example.

There are other options than subscription or fremium, and they're not only for the kids and casual crowds. You have the mostly partnership ad-supported games like Runescape, or episodic box-driven models like Aeon and Guild Wars. These aren't just mom and pop games. They are wildly successful by any definition - Runescape is as big or bigger than WoW - it has over 10 million active accounts and 130 million registered users worldwide..

Rentals
I feel your pain as a fellow RPG fan. I solved it by just biting the bullet and buying a lot of used stuff. It's not like it rots and most of those are single-player games. Goozex might be something to check out. See their main site. I didn't know about RedBox - that's cool. I'll have to check them out.

MAME Cabinet UI
Becoming intimate with Notepad made me laugh. A lot.

OnLive spectating
That would be interesting. Especially if they add something Vent-like. But for it to really sell this thing, we have to have games spectating become a bigger deal like it is in South Korea.

Regarding the $500 to get into gaming topic:

I am in the fortunate position to get a biannual bonus through work. Generally I use it to do boring but practical adult things like pay off debt or buy new tires for the cars, but every two years I allow myself to spend $400-500 dollars on my entertainment.

The last console I owned was actually a game cube, so two years ago I bought a 360 bundle (Kung Fu Panda/Lego Indy) with the 40gb HD, a wireless adapter, a XBL gold card, COD: World at War, Left 4 Dead, and Fallout 3 for $470. I sunk 240 hours into Fallout 3 alone and was able to get back into the current gaming generation quite easily for that $500, so I think that a 360 is a pretty good option for someone looking to get into gaming for under $500.

Well two years later I wanted to catch up in my PC gaming. I'll just say that I loved pc gaming growing up (in the Kings/Space Quest, Sim "x" and Doom/Quake years) but time and budgets didn't allow me to really keep up with the curve. Other than a stint with vanilla WOW, I played a tycoon game, SC4 and Civ 3/4 here and there but I won't have called myself a PC gamer and ran those at min specs.

So fast forward to today, I just bought a new laptop w/ a i3-350, integrated graphics , and 4gb RAM for $449. I'm not going to justify the laptop and I know I could have spend the money towards a infinitely better gaming rig but I'm a couch gamer. (Ok, so I justified it.) Anyway, that only leaves $50 for game purchases using the $500 hard ceiling, but for someone like me who had actually been buying games on sale on Steam and not playing them it really has brought on a gaming renaissance. I'm just starting to kick off into Half Life 2, DOW, COH, and other games I missed (specifically EU3, thanks to the TMA crew) and while not a definitive gaming rig I am playing the new hotness that is Civ 5 and Minecraft So while technically cheating, it can be done.

I'll add that we do have a Wii, and while I do play NSMB on occasion, I wouldn't recommend the console as a return to gaming rig.

For the record I directly blame the GWJ community for stoking the PC fire. My wife will be calling you shortly.

nothing to see here nevermind

so if a monitor has to be include in the price of the pc does the tv have to be included in the price of the xbox?

Rob Borges, how I've missed thee. Harsh direct to the point opinions. Not afraid to say anything. This podcast has been missing that sort of perspective. Not that I don't enjoy it any other time, but it adds a certain flavor. Rob is like a fine hot sauce added to my chili. It doesn't need it. But it sure does give it that extra kick.

superslug wrote:

so if a monitor has to be include in the price of the pc does the tv have to be included in the price of the xbox?

I kinda like where you're going with this, but the possibility of a television existing on it's own is a lot more likely in any given household than a monitor on it's own, since a monitor without a pc/console/etc is useless. A television without a pc/console/etc. is still a potentially useful television, though. If you're going to go this far factoring costs, might as well include internet rates and the (gadget) lifelong wage consumption per monthly subscription rates while you're at it.

However, I think the intent was initial purchase costs of various gadgetry. If the outlier person in question is like me and doesn't own a television, a decent little $250 monitor and a 4gb 360 will still leave you $50 for a used game or two

headleym wrote:

I found it amusing that in the $500 dollar discussion, basically the only possible options that didn't receive a recommendation were the PS3 and the PSP (well and the iPad). Poor Sony, where's did all the love go?

I agree.

Xbox 360 plus XBLA = $200 for the 4GB model plus $50 per year. That's six years of console use assuming you don't buy any games, considerably less if you do. This also assumes that Microsoft has finally ferretted out all the RROD errors which may cost you more money, depending on when it happens.

A PS3 will run you $300 out of the box, but you don't have to pay for PSN (yet...) which leaves you with a full $200 to spend on games; even multiplayer games; that you can use for the life of the console.

And if you buy used, like some kind of filthy pirate (y'arr!) you can get a lot of value. I recently picked up three games for the PS3 for $32 including tax.

A PSP 3000 will cost you $170 and the games are cheaper brand new than most PS3 and XBox games are used.

clever id wrote:

So fast forward to today, I just bought a new laptop w/ a i3-350, integrated graphics , and 4gb RAM for $449. I'm not going to justify the laptop and I know I could have spend the money towards a infinitely better gaming rig but I'm a couch gamer. (Ok, so I justified it.) Anyway, that only leaves $50 for game purchases using the $500 hard ceiling, but for someone like me who had actually been buying games on sale on Steam and not playing them it really has brought on a gaming renaissance. I'm just starting to kick off into Half Life 2, DOW, COH, and other games I missed (specifically EU3, thanks to the TMA crew) and while not a definitive gaming rig I am playing the new hotness that is Civ 5 and Minecraft So while technically cheating, it can be done.

I don't disagree. The problem here is that, as we learned when the GWJ crew answered my own email about laptops several shows back, any laptop that costs you less than a thousand dollars is going to fall apart in two years. But since you're allowed to spend $500 every two years on fun stuff, I guess that will work out for you.

There's a ton of stuff on the PC that's more or less free, and despite GOG's crummy marketing department, they still offer really good value for money.

Amoebic wrote:
superslug wrote:

so if a monitor has to be include in the price of the pc does the tv have to be included in the price of the xbox?

I kinda like where you're going with this, but the possibility of a television existing on it's own is a lot more likely in any given household than a monitor on it's own, since a monitor without a pc/console/etc is useless. A television without a pc/console/etc. is still a potentially useful television, though. If you're going to go this far factoring costs, might as well include internet rates and the (gadget) lifelong wage consumption per monthly subscription rates while you're at it.

However, I think the intent was initial purchase costs of various gadgetry. If the outlier person in question is like me and doesn't own a television, a decent little $250 monitor and a 4gb 360 will still leave you $50 for a used game or two :)

You could also say a PC(+monitor) is more likely to exist without a powerful graphics card. Just as you could 'upgrade' a TV with a console to make it a gaming setup, I know I could put a reasonable graphics card into my parent's PC and have it playing games fairly well.

The non-financial problem from the PC point of view is that it involves a screwdriver and digging into the internals, and some 'box off the shelf' from some retailers may not be upgrade friendly.

Also, if you wanted to dedicate a PC to gaming rather than as a general purpose computer, all my graphics cards within the last decade have had some form of TV-out, and now all it takes is a DVI-HDMI or a mini-HDMI converter.

Approaching combat in Alan Wake as if it were a one-player WoW raid reminds me of my experience watching the movie version of the Battle of Helm's Deep; my inner tactician came out and completely shattered the immersion. ("You idiots! If you think now is the time for a cavalry charge, you deserve to die!")

hbi2k wrote:

Personally, at this point I use Goozex for the same purpose that renting serves, namely trying stuff out and dipping my toes into something that I might not be willing to drop $60 in real-world money on. I bought a couple thousand points from Goozex in cash during one of their half-off sales and I've just been coasting on that for almost a year now, making back roughly the same amount in offers as I spend in requests. If a game looks pretty interesting to me, but not so interesting that I NEED to have it when it's brand new, I'll stick it on my Goozex request list and let it come when it comes. If it sucks, I turn around and send it to somebody else and get all my points back, and all I'm out is roughly $4 for shipping and a trade token. That's cheaper than a rental any way you slice it.

This is exactly what I would have recommeded. The only thing is timing can be tough, especially since everyone on the service seems to like to add new big games to their "hold" queue the moment they come out so you can be left waiting for a while. But really, it's the cheapest way to try/rent stuff with not a lot of hassle.

I'm starting to cringe every time I see "Minecraft" on the topics list.

disobedientlib wrote:

I would argue that while lots of crap always comes out for Wii, there are some great titles there beyond the Mario stuff, too, especially for the RPG and action gamer: Trauma Team, Monster Hunter Tri, Metroid Trilogy (and even Other M, which I actually like), Red Steel 2, No More Heroes 1 & 2, Madhouse, lots of decent Wiiware, etc. And you can get most of these titles for dirt cheap these days.

But then again, I think the PC purchase is probably a better $500 choice with a wide, wide variety of games available on low-end versions via Steam, etc.

Thanks for another great podcast guys!

I agree that the PC would make a good $500 purchase if the goal of the consumer is to play outdated or insignificant games. What I dont get is why anyone would recommend the PC to someone coming back to gaming after 5+ years away from the hobby. First, the individual was a gamecube era gamer which means he didnt start on the PC. To bring him back and tell him to use a system that may require something more than a gamers understanding of a PC is unfair. Imagine him installing a game that CTD every few minutes. Not to mention, this amount of money will only give him an entry level system with a selection of games that he has never heard of or has no care for. The obvious answer, though a hated one by the PC community, is an Xbox 360, xbox live, and 5 platinum hits or 2-3 newer titles that will surely justify his/her return to gaming.

On renting and the $500 question, I feel like I need to actually plug Blockbuster.com. Admittedly, their streaming options are weak relative to Netflix, but we already were paying for 3 movies at a time, and renting games by mail carries no extra cost. They avoid the GameFly game by not releasing new titles to rent-by-mail for a couple months after release, which I think is just fine if you're not reviewing or a huge online multiplayer fan.

garion333 wrote:

Yay! Rob's back. Both of em.

Should that have been "Robs' back"?

No.

Rob Zacny wrote:
estorino wrote:

Hmm, I feel Rob Zacny kinda missed the point when it comes to Alan Wake. His complaint with the storytelling is that the voiceover overexplains everything and states the obvious. But to me, he seems to forget something very important, that the entire game, everything you see and hear is a horror-novel, written by Alan Wake. When you keep that in mind, the voiceover actually makes perfect sense, since you have to explain way more when it's just words and no images.

Yeah, but my problem wasn't confusion about why we had a voiceover, but the way that voiceover is used. If a voiceover isn't adding anything to what you can see on the screen, it's detracting from the experience. So when Wake is telling us what's going on, and we can see exactly what he is telling us, then his v/o is just so much noise. It doesn't matter if there is narrative justification for why we are hearing Wake telling his story. He is still not adding anything beyond literal description of what we can already see.

That's the thing. At best, it's distracting fluff after the framing device is established. If you can bowl without ever throwing a gutter ball, there's no need to keep the bumpers up for every frame.

And frankly, the time and money invested in those voiceovers could have been spent elsewhere.

Rat Boy wrote:

I feel that any discussion of Civ V would benefit greatly from the following song:

Baba Yetu already has lyrics. The song is based on a translation of the Lord's Prayer. ("Our Father, who art in heaven ... .")

blackanchor wrote:

I agree that the PC would make a good $500 purchase if the goal of the consumer is to play outdated or insignificant games

There are plenty of cheap, downloadable games that are neither outdated nor insignificant, despite their age.