Thursday, August 21, 2014

Killer App


I received the solemn news the other day that my PlayStation 3, the 80GB model with the PS2 backward compatibility, had died mid-game. My sister had been in the middle of playing the recently released Tales of Xillia 2, when apparently the system froze upon loading a battle. She had tried to resuscitate it to no avail. After she called me over to take a look, I observed that the red light was blinking, but the game wasn’t on. When I attempted to reboot it, a solid red light turned briefly to green, then for a split-second to yellow, before blinking red again. A bit of research told me that, after six years of service, the system had succumbed to the dreaded “yellow light of death” that has marked the demise of so many PS3s past a certain age.

It was bitter news, indeed. I had heard reports before of how widespread the issue was, yet still somehow never believed that it could happen to me. I had heard similar reports against the PS2 in its day, but this was the first PlayStation product to die on me through three generations, during which time I had lost a GameCube, an Xbox 360, and a DS Lite. This meant that all three major console makers had failed me now, leaving little for me to believe in.

Thinking back, it occurs to me now that the GameCube had crapped out while my siblings and I had been in the middle of playing Tales of Symphonia ten years ago. That was a great game, the first Tales any of us had played (I personally wasn’t able to stick with the series very long after that), and maybe the most unified my siblings and I had ever been in our investment in any game we’d played together. We were right in the middle of the story, too, when the GameCube, which was then less than two years old, lost its ability to reliably read discs, and, with no real way to fix it ourselves, we just had to buy a brand new GameCube. Internally, I think we were all quite mad at Nintendo for putting out such shoddy hardware, but we couldn’t let those negative thoughts dampen our positive enthusiasm for the game, and so we played on, enjoyed ourselves, and never really properly grieved/griped over the injustice done unto us.

Now, as much as I enjoyed Tales of Symphonia, I would just as soon never stick another Tales game in any of my disc drives, if the series is evidently such a serial system killer.

*Sigh* I kid, because, right now, I can’t even wrap my mind around the reality of it all.

That PS3 lasted six years, which, in fairness, might have been longer than the active life of any of my other consoles. (Actually, no, I was still playing Persona 3 on my PS2 some eight years into that machine’s life, and I reckon it still works today, though I haven’t turned it on in about four years.) It was not a launch model. It was the 2008 80GB model that came bundled with Metal Gear Solid 4 on the game’s release date. This was reportedly to be the last model to include any kind of backward compatibility with PS2 games, which raised its value considerably for any enthusiast who had so far held out on buying a PS3. Supply might not meet demand was the word, and so, on release day, I headed out early on a workday to wait outside Walmart until store’s opening at 6:00 AM.

A few other people got there as early as I did. There were two guys there together, who looked to be in their late teens or early twenties. A heavyset biker dude in a denim vest and bandanna kept to himself. And an older white-haired gentleman was standing impatiently to the side. There were also a few middle-aged Latina ladies, who I gathered spoke limited English, but it was the four aforementioned males that I supposed to be the guys I might have to outrace to the video games department. One of the young guys, in fact, was telling the other about all the different models of the PS3, so there was little doubt that they were there for the same thing I was.

Finally, a Walmart employee unlocked the doors, and the Latina ladies dispersed, while, sure enough, we males all headed in the same direction. There were no words exchanged, nor any eye contact. We didn’t want to get to know each other, in case it turned out we would have to fight over a limited number of PS3s. But, even though I think we all knew this might be a race, still nobody was actually running. We were all just walking somewhat quickly in the same direction, separately but in a tight cluster.

I wasn’t quite first to the racks, and, to my dismay, there was only one PS3 behind the glass. Of course, we still had to wait another while yet for assistance, and the employee who arrived would have no idea who was “first,” but still I would have honored the order if it had come down to that.

The biker dude claimed the PS3, but the young guy—the one who had been detailing the different models, first to his buddy, then to the older fellow (some kid’s clueless dad, it turned out) as we had been waiting for assistance—immediately inquired if there were any more in the back. The Walmart employee said yes, and asked how many we needed. The same young guy answered for everyone: none for himself but one for his buddy, one for the kid’s dad, and, (after shooting me a glance, which I answered with a nod) he added, one for me. So everybody got one, and we then parted company, as though (I like to imagine) having been to war together.

The bundle was $500 (plus tax)—an outrageous price, even up against today’s consoles—but Walmart was including a $100 gift card with purchase. I stowed mine in the trunk of my car, then proceeded to head off on my forty-minute commute to work.

Even considering the price, I never really regretted that purchase. I bought the PS3 specifically to play Metal Gear Solid 4, billed as the conclusion to the saga that was maybe my favorite video game series of the time. It was the killer app I’d been waiting for, so to speak, and I wanted to be sure to play it before the Internet could spoil the story for me. A few weeks later, and the very next day after I completed it, I left for Anime Expo. At one point, I was waiting in line to see none other than David Hayter himself, and some guy in line was describing the entire plot of the game in explicit detail to his buddy ("So it turns out they were all the Patriots!"), who seemed to be only half-listening. (I got the impression the buddy had never played any game in the series, in which case, I wonder, how could this extensive plot summary have even meant anything to him? Or, if he had played the game, why was the other guy recounting every plot point to him, as if he didn't already know the story?). Of course, during the panel, Hayter himself would hold back no spoilers, so, to me, it was worth the cost of the system to have been able to play the game before all that.

Now, six years later, it’s all gone.

The most infuriating part is that, even now, a new PS3 is not affordable. A 500GB model goes for $269 (plus tax), at a time in my life when I make about half what I was pulling in six years ago. These are the expenses that you don’t see coming and thus can’t budget for, but which I also can’t really put off for long, for the same reasons my siblings and I couldn’t put Tales of Symphonia on hold ten years ago. Speaking just for myself, it may not be my livelihood, in the sense that playing games doesn’t earn me even a cent (while costing me quite a lot), and yet gaming (and then talking and writing about the games I play) is, in all seriousness, a major motivation in my life, without which I would feel far less productive. So I know, at most, I can dilly-dally and agonize over it a few days (basically, until the next billing cycle on my credit card, around which I plan my monthly budget), before ultimately I’ll have to plunk down that money.

I would just buy a PlayStation 4 at this point, except it has no backward compatibility whatsoever, and it so happens that there are no PS4 games I’m currently interested in, whereas I already own a ton of PS3 games that I have yet to play. Hell, I even have a large backlog of PS2 games to get through. I guess, if I’m ever to play those, I’ll have to dust off the PS2 (and the old memory cards and controller), since backward compatibility on the PS3 died along with my 80GB model. Truthfully, I rarely took advantage of the PS2 compatibility, first because I knew it wasn’t perfect, and later because I simply wasn’t playing PS2 games, period. I did use the backward compatibility any time I wanted to check a PS2 game for reference in recent years. Mostly, it’s just a huge bummer that I won’t even have that option anymore.

Even as I complain about the prospect of having to fiddle around with PS2 memory cards again, another pain attached to this PS3 failure is the loss of my data on the hard drive, which, for all its convenience, seems in hindsight less reliable than memory cards. Now all my PS3 game saves are inaccessible, which may not be a huge loss, since I don’t think I was in the middle of anything (but the full scope of the loss is one of the things I haven’t yet been able to wrap my mind around). I had many digital games also, which I guess I could always download again on a new system. Still, what a pain.

Christ, the Tales of Xillia 2 disc is still stuck inside there! That never would have happened on any of the cartridge-based systems, nor on the PS1. Even the PS2 and the Xbox 360, which use sliding disc trays would probably be easier to jimmy open. Now, I may have to attempt some sort of blow-dryer or oven-based short-term home remedy, just to get the disc out and hopefully recover some of my data.

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