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10:38 PM on 08.24.2015

One of my blogs got frontpaged. I can die happy now.

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8:08 PM on 08.22.2015

This Week in Nerd News 8/17 - 8/22

Jon Stewart, Gersberms, loads of Nintendo, and more! Tingle shows up where you least expect him, and catch the world's greatest Chatroulette!  Did you see all of this week's Nerd News? If not (or even if you did) catch up here.

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to This Week in Nerd News, my weekly blog series where I recap some this past week's geeky entertainment headlines. I also throw in a little of my own $0.02 for good measure. I don't catch everything but I try to get the interesting stuff. Thanks for reading, I hope you learn something and enjoy.

Hello folks. Welcome to the second issue of This Week in Nerd News. The first one was fun to write and got enough likes that I'm going to try it out for a couple more weeks and see if I like it. The original plan was to go from Sunday night to Sunday night, but one of these stories is timely so it's going up in the wee morning hours. There was a lot of news coming out of Nintendo this week. People are pretty pumped up about the 2DS price cut and Mario Maker (I found a headline for the latter that I think you'll all love) though my favorite piece to come from the Big N involves a certain fighting game. We also say goodbye to an actress and a website, but don't get too sad, because there are a few novelties in here, too. Thanks for coming. Enjoy.

Volume 1 Issue 2 - 8/17 to 8/22 2015 

 

 

 

 

 

8/17 - Super Mario Maker to feature Tingle

Link 1 - Nintendolife
Link 2 - GoNintendo

The Gist:
Originally thought to be photoshopped, a screenshot showing Tingle in Mario Maker has been confirmed to be legitimate.

My Opinion:
These costumes were featured heavily in Nintendo's E3 presentation where they were used as segues between segments. I was delighted at the end when they announced that the things would be an actual part of the game (albeit with amiibo use.) I know a lot of people hate Tingle, but I think it's a creative and unexpected addition. I also don't hate Tingle as much as other people do. I think it's actually kind of clever. Does this also mean that we'll be getting a Tingle amiibo down the line?

 

 

 

 

 

8/17 - Batgirl actress dies

Link 1 - Official Obituary
Link 2 - Comic Vine
Link 3 - Los Angeles Times

The Gist:
Yvonne Craig, the actress best known as Batgirl in the 1960's Batman show, passed away on Monday from complications of breast cancer. She was 78.

My Opinion:
That's very sad news. It's sad when anybody dies, and a two year battle with breast cancer must have been rough. I hope her family can find peace. She did a lot more than just Batgirl, including roles in a couple Elvis movies and having bit parts in various other 60's shows. I only ever knew her as Batgirl, though, which is a pretty good role to be. If you never watched the old Batman show, it was pretty corny. As a kid, I watched it in ernest; as an adult, I watch it for its goofiness. No matter how you look at it, though, Batgirl was a badass in that show.

 

 

 

 

8/18 - Jon Stewart to host Summer Slam

Link 1 - USA Today
Link 2 - E!
Link 3 - Huffington Post

The Gist:
WWE Network announced that former Daily Show host Jon Stewart will be hosting upcoming Pay-Per-View Summer Slam on August 23.

My Opinion:
Given the timeframe of this blog, by the time you read this, it might be either already happening or over. Anyway, Jon Stewart is hosting WWE Summer Slam. I'm only a casual fan of either of those parties but I thought this was actually kind of hillarious. This follows a (kayfabe) feud earlier this year between Jon Stewart and WWE Champion Seth Rollins. Rollins made a quip about Stewart on the air, and Stewart responded by posting a video of himself "cutting a promo" on Rollins in hammy pro-wrestler style. This led to some appearances on either show, and now Jon Stewart's first major gig after retiring is going to be this weekend's Summer Slam PPV. If you're interested, Summer Slam starts this Sunday at 7 Eastern and can be seen on the WWE Network (only $9.99 a month!) Other events on the card this week are Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar; John Cena vs. Seth Rollins; Cesaro vs. Kevin "Owens" Steen; Rusev vs. Dolph Ziggler; and more.

 

 

 

 

 

8/19 - Gersberms getting a video game in October

Link 1 - XBox
Link 2 - Destructoid
Link 3 - GamesRadar

The Gist:
A listing popped up on the XBox marketplace for a point-and-click game based on the Goosebumps book series. The game is being developed by WayForward and will act as a prequel to the upcoming film.

My Opinion:
Gersberms! As a nineties kid myself, I remember Goosebumps being everywhere. They were one of the big trends of the time, right up there with Pogs and digital pets. I had friends who had enough of these to fill libraries. There was TV show based on them, but even back then I recognized it as a crappy version of Are You Afraid of the Dark? Truth be told, the books themselves weren't much better. As popular as they were, though, it makes sense that they'd be a prime contender for the recent 80's/90's nostalgic cash grabs.

 I didn't even know there was a movie coming out, and I have no reason to believe it will be any good. Based on the limitted knowledge we have about the game, I'm slightly less pessimistic. But only slightly. The art looks pretty good. Very nineties-adventure-gameish, appropriately enough. On the other hand, developer WayForward doesn't have the best track record: outside of Santae, the only notable games they've made a mediocre tie-ins. This is also a tie-in. It's really not looking good for Gersberms the game. I'll give it the same hope that I would any other game, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

 

 

 

 

 

8/20 - Blip shuts down

Link 1 - Blip
Link 2 - Channel Awesome

The Gist:
Blip.tv, a video hosting website, shut down after a business deal with Maker Studios.

My Opinion:
Blip was a video hosting website that specialised in web series. It was heavily used by the Channel Awesome/TGWTG crew, among others. Apparently people knew this was coming for a while: the deal went down back in 2013 and users were notified of the impending shut down back in July. I did not know this, and was pretty stunned when I logged on and saw it.

I don't make videos so I have no idea what things were like behind the scenes. From what I understand, it was a pretty user-friendly place. It gave producers a lot more potential to make money off of their work, and it didn't have the same kind of copyright B.S. that YouTube does. The official website is referring people to Maker Studios, while Channel Awesome seems to be taking their stuff to Screenwave or moving back to YouTube. They're far from the only ones affected by this. Basically, if you watch web series, especially review shows or sketch comedies, you've seen something on Blip. Hopefully the users can find a satisfactory replacement so that they can keep up their revenue and viewers won't have to see their favorite stuff get taken down for copyright.

 

 

 

 

 

8/21 - Pokken Tournament coming to Wii U

Link 1 - Pokemon.com
Link 2 - Nintendolife
Link 3 - Destructoid

The Gist:
Nintendo announced that arcade fighter Pokken Tournament is getting ported to Wii U worldwide in the spring. Pokken Tournament is a Pokemon fighting game developed by Namco and was previously exclusive to Japanese arcades.

My Opinion:
YES! I mean, I doubt there were many people out there who didn't think this would happen, but it feels good to get an official confirmation. I think a Pokemon fighting game is one of the best directions they could have taken the series outside of an MMO. The Wii U finally getting another high profile AAA game isn't hurting anything, either. I've been pumped about this game since the first time I heard about it, I'm really glad it's on its way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

8/21 - Best Chatroulette Ever

Link 1 - YouTube
Link 2 - Destructoid

The Gist:
Small indie film company Realm Pictures created an interactive FPS-style game to be played on Chatroulette

My Opinion:
Every once in a while something creative will pop up on one of these video call websites. This might have just taken the cake. This little group went to great lengths to set up a zombie First Person Shooter game that viewers can control by yelling commands. It's really cool. I'd love to give it a try. Heck, I wish I could sign up to do it. If you haven't watched that video, what are you waiting for?

 

 

 

 

 

8/22 - Nintendo files patent for disc-free game console

Link 1 - NeoGAF
Link 2 - Gamespot
Link 3 - Nintendolife
Link 4 - Destructoid

The Gist:
Members of NeoGAF uncovered a patent application filed by Nintendo back in February for a disc-less video game system. The news has sparked speculation on how the patent relates to the upcoming NX.

My Opinion:
This doesn't actually mean anything. Companies file patents for things all the time that never come to fruition. That doesn't make it any less suspicious. We know jack-all about the upcoming NX so any news is news and we're free to speculate. The NX could be something completely original. If it is a disc-free system, we can assume that means digital distribution exclusively. I'm not keen on the idea for reasons that would take too long to type here. Let's just say that I hope Nintendo doesn't give us something like that any time soon.

 

 

That's it for week two of this little experiment. It's going well so far, so if anybody out there is still interested, I'll keep it up next week. My personal schedule is putting this up on Saturday instead of Sunday. I'll try to stick with the original schedulre from here on out, life providing. Thanks for reading.

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9:50 PM on 08.21.2015

Challenger Approaching: A Llama

Whether it's because they're funny, friendly, or fearsome, llamas are very well beloved animal among humans. Maybe not as much as a cat or a dog, but who doesn't love llamas? I think it might be their looks. Llamas just plain look really goofy. They're funny to see. If you're one of the lucky ones who have managed to work with llamas, you may have also been endeared to them through usefulness. They can haul stuff, they have great wool, and they're just fun to be around. Among the llama's biggest fans is Carl from Jimmy Neutron. Remember that show? I do. One of my professors in college was just like Mrs. Fowl.

Speaking of things that are well beloved among humans, the latest Super Smash Bros. is still getting updated. Sakurai recently promised even more DLC characters to square off with the Nintendo crew. If you've been reading this little series, you know my mind is rife with ideas for new fighters to join the roster. As I was mulling over the endless possibilities following recent news about the game, I came across a startling discovery:

SUPER SMASH BROS. HAS NO LLAMAS!

Forget everything I've written about in this blog series thus far. This mistake needs to be corrected immediately. The next DLC for Smash must include a llama. Not a specific llama, like a llama character, just a llama. Why include a llama? I think the better question is, why NOT include a llama?

Disclaimer: I don't know much about llamas. All the information herein comes from the internet. Mostly WIkipedia.

WHAT IS A LLAMA?

The llama, scientific name Lama glama, is a member of the camelid family. That pretty much makes them the western hemisphere's version of camels. Scientists believe they originated in central North America but migrated southward during the last ice age. They are now found naturally in western South America, primarily Peru, although there are modern llama farms all over the world.

One of the llamas most well-known traits is its ability to spit, and spit hard. It's not only gross, it hurts, and is often used by llamas to tell somebody off or discipline their kids. It's their way of establishing who's the boss. If raised properly, they generally don't spit at humans, only other llamas.

In the olden days, llamas were mostly used as pack animals, to haul supplies. They are also sometimes sheered to use their fur for clothes. One of the most interesting uses for them in modern time is as a guard animal. Sheep farms will sometimes employ a llama in place of a dog to keep predators away from their flock. They are reportedly pretty good at it, being more than a match for coyotes and feral dogs.

HOW WOULD A LLAMA WORK?

Let me get the most obvious think out of the way first. It's projectile would be it's spit. It could be as simple at tapping the n-special for a quick low-damage projectile. In researching this article, I discovered that llamas actually have three different kinds of spit, which they bring up from different glands and even their stomachs. Their deepest kind of spit is actually more like throwing up. In Smash, maybe you could charge the spit by holding the button or something. A fully charged loogie would be a big green ball of power, though in keeping with real-life accuracy, that charge would require a bit of recharge time.

As far as the rest a llama's attacks, there's already pretty good precedent for that. IIRC, Pikachu is the only playable quadruped. It's a rare instance when PIkachu is based more on its native species rather than Ash's specific Pikachu from the anime. Being a quadruped, Pikachu would be a great starting point for a llama. Pikachu's basic attack is some kind of headbutt thing, which is perfect for a llama. Llamas have long necks and big heads, so it makes perfect sense. The rest of its physical attacks and movements could fall in the same vein, from its kicks to holding items with its mouth.

In terms of specials, llamas don't have any powers or anything to draw on. I think we can make a decent arsenal out of a llama's basic physical characteristics. In addition to the spit, side-special would be a dash or charge. Down would be either a stomp like Bowser, or it could shake the ground with its hooves like DK's ground pound. For its up special, maybe the llama could spin its head around like a helicopter.

That leaves its Final Smash. Maybe the llama could take its inspiration from the spit, launching a huge blast of third-level spit-puke. Spuke? Spuke. A huge blast of third-level spuke. A transformation is another possibility. The llama could turn into a very angry llama, with glowing red eyes and a mean scowl. That would make it far faster and more powerful than the happy llama. I also thought that it could turn into a camel, seeing as how its related to the camel, but that would imply that camels are the superior species, which is disrespectful to the llama. Also, since llamas are sometimes used to guard sheep, maybe the llama could summon a whole herd of sheep to trample across the battlefield and stomp its enemies to the dirt. On the other hand, I can't imagine the loyal llama endangering its charges for its own gain.

Every fighter needs an arena. A llama would be most at home with a nice green pasture. For alternate outfits, the possibilities are endless. While llamas are most commonly white or gray, brown and black llamas are far from unheard of. There could be all kinds of fur colors and patterns. In addition, why not base a model on the llama's cousin, the camel, or the alpaca. No matter how it ends up happening, a llama would be a great addition to the Smash roster.

WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENING?

With all the great characters at Nintendo's disposal, I doubt they would want to overshadow their own work by including something as prestigious as a llama. It would also be pretty hard to make it DLC, since a llama would deserve top billing. Putting a llama in in the current games would require the Big N to re-release the retail package with the llama in Mario's place in all the artwork.

That said, there's nothing stopping them from doing it. It's not like there are any copyright issues in place. It's not like the llama has to be a character. It would just be llama. The only thing stopping them is because they don't want to. So let's get the word out there. Start a petition or something. Tell Nintendo, we want a llama in Smash Bros.

 

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9:48 PM on 08.21.2015

A pig.

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12:22 PM on 08.17.2015

This Week in Nerd News 8/10 - 8/16

 

Hey! Welcome to my blog. I recently got an idea for a weekly blog series and I thought I would give it a shot. It's called This Week in Nerd News, where I round up all the geeky entertainment headlines of the past week to remind everyone of what's going on in the world, and give my $0.02 on each subject. Nothing out of the ordinary, plenty of people do similar things, I won't be discussing everything, only the stuff that interests me the most. The majority of the topics here will probably be video game related, but expect a fair amount of movie, music, and comic book stuff, as well as anything else that might tickle my fancy.

 This is the first "issue." It's going to be sort of our pilot to see how I like doing it and if anyone else has any interest in reading it. If I get good vibes from the project, maybe I'll make this a weekly thing.

Volume 1 Issue 1 - 8/10 to 8/16 2015 

 

 

 

 

 

8/10 - Dragon Ball Super looks like garbage

Link 1 - Kotaku
Link 2 - Forbes

The Gist:
After a very well recieved opening, the animation quality of the latest Dragon Ball series plummeted with the fifth episode. Fans are not amused.

My Opinion:
To be honest, I'm not exactly keen on the series to begin with. I'm a big Dragon Ball/DBZ fan, but I'm also a fan of leaving well enough alone. I feel that with any work of fiction, there has to come an end eventually, and Dragon Ball's was a long time ago. I'm all for a movie or two here and there, but to create an entirely new canon series just felt like a cash grab to me. That said, if they're going to make it, they might as well make it good. By most accounts, the series up to this point wasn't so bad, but this just looks terrible. Some blame overworked animators. No matter what the cause, I hope it improves.

 

 

 

 

 

8/12 - Fantastic Four sucks

Link 1 - Rotten Tomatoes

The Gist:
One of the highest-profile movies of the year, Fantastic Four, released to terrible reception from critics and fans alike.

My Opinion:
Raise your hand if you didn't see that one coming. I'm probably preaching to the choir here, but this was an obvious cash grab and I think it says a lot about the state of super hero movies. It's the same cycle that happens every few years: a couple great films from a certain genre will get popular and make a lot of money, all the studios decide to jump on the bandwaggon to make a quick buck, the films start to tank in quality, and eventually people lose interest due to oversaturation and half-assed products. Look no further than zombie movies a few years ago, or the FPS genre in the video game market. I think this, along with other recent flops (Spider-Man 2, Man of Steel, Ninja Turtles) clearly indicates where superhero films are on the cycle. I'm not saying they are going to die off any time soon - on the contrary, we probably have at least a couple more years, and the MCU will probably stay strong for a while. I just think we're obviously entering the downswing here.

 

 

 

 

 

8/12 - Resident Evil 2 remake on the way

Link 1 - Destructoid
Link 2 - Gamespot

The Gist:
Capcom posted a video on the official Resident Evil Youtube account revealing that a remake of Resident Evil 2 has been greenlit and will begin development soon.

My Opinion:
Just as big as the announcement itself is the demeanor of the man in the video, Yoshiaki Hirbyashi. He is a producer from Capcom's R&D department who worked on the HD remaster of the last RE remake. He is very enthusiastic through the whole video, and is wearing a shirt that's bound to become a meme. It's refreshing to see so much love for the project. I think it bodes well.

That said, while this is good news for RE fans, let's not get too excited just yet. It's the same kind of thing that the big Final Fantasy and Shenmue announcements from E3 gave us. First, the announcement is that they are going to start working on it soon. They haven't even started yet. So it's still a long way off, assuming nothing happens to stop it. We also don't know what kind of state it will be in when it gets here. We assume that it will be in the style of the other REmake, which makes sense and is what the fans want, but given Capcom's track record, who knows if we won't get some action-heavy shooter like RE6? Plus, who knows what kind of DLC or microtransactions Capcom might dump in it. So who knows. But hey, here's hoping it turns out well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

8/12 - Entertainment Weekly shows off some Star Wars stills and info

Link 1 - Entertainment Weekly
Link 2 - esquire
Link 3 - Collider

The Gist:
The latest of issue of Entertainment Weekly features an article that reveals a few new plot details from Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, as well as a handful of movie stills.

My Opinion:
A major publication doing a feature on a major motion picture is hardly anything out of the ordinary. What has me interested is some of the stuff it has to say. I haven't read the whole article but it heavily talks about villain Kylo Ren and mentions his mask. The mask has always reminded me (and others) of Darth Revan, which makes me a tad nostalgic for the now-shunned Expanded Universe. The Collider article linked above also mentions Leia inheriting Luke's first lightsaber, which blatantly contradicts the EU in which said weapon was given to Mara Jade. The truth is, I have a lot of mixed feelings about the new Star Wars, and I've been trying to stay optimistic

 

 

 

 

 

8/12 - First pictures of Black Panther surface

Link 1 - Gamespot
Link 2 - Comicvine
Link 3 - Yahoo!

The Gist:
Behind the scenes photos from the set of Captain America Civil War have surfaced showing a stunt man in a Black Panther suit.

My Opinion:
There has been talk of a Black Panther solo film for a while now. I had no idea that he was being considered for Civil War. It's nice to see an underappreciated character like this one to get some limelight; he's come a long way from his inception as a token black guy super hero. All the characters that the MCU is getting is finally making it start to feel like the comic book counterpart in scope, althought I do have to question how they are going to be able to fit all of these different personas into their crossover films without some getting pushed to the wayside. As far as the suit itself, the photos are too blurry to get a good look, but it seems to stick relatively closely to the concept art which (as seen in Link 3) is absolutely badass.

 

 

 

 

 

8/13 - Pandora's Tower now in Wii U eshop

Link 1 - Destructoid
Link 2 - Destructoid
Link 3 - Nintendolife
Link 4 - Digital Trends

The Gist:
Wii action/adventure/dungeon crawler Pandora's Tower was released for download on the Wii U eshop in North America for $19.99. It was the third of the infamous Operation Rainfall games and flew mostly under the radar when it was released, despite getting good reviews. It was also one of the last major releases on the console. There is also a game called Wind-up Knight 2 coming out on Wii U, and a few miscellaneous games for 3DS.

My Opinion:
Pandora's Tower is an excellent game. I played it soon after it's initial release and quickly added it to my all-time favorite games list. In retrospect, putting it above Mario may have been a tad hasty, coming from the fact that I had just finished playing it only a couple weeks before writing that, but I still loved it. The only real complaint I could make was a game freezing glitch in the final dungeon in the North American version. No news on whether that's been fixed in the digital release, but I don't see why it wouldn't be. It's a really good game that plays like a mix between God of War  and Zelda, and I highly recommend it.

As far as Wind-up Knight 2, apparently it's a runner. There isn't a whole lot of info in those links. Hopefully it will be good.

 

 

 

 

 

8/14 - Iron Maiden release video game themed music video

Link 1 - Ultimate Guitar
Link 2- Destructoid

The Gist:
British metal band Iron Maiden released the first single, "Speed of Light," from their upcoming album, accompanied by a video game themed music video. The video depicts the band's mascot, Eddie, getting sucked into an arcade cabinet and battling his way through four different games. The new album is called The Book of Souls and drops September 4.

My Opinion:
Neat! I love heavy metal. I'm not as big of a Maiden fan as some folks but I really like a few of their songs. Especially The Trooper. The song itself is decent (Bruce Dickinson sounds a little flat in the chorus, but at least you know he's not using auto tune) and I love the video for the shoutouts alone. The first and third games are clearly based on Donkey Kong and Mortal Kombat respectively. It's unclear what the other two are based on. A lot of people keep saying Call of Duty for the last segment, though I don't recall any CoD games where you fight a T-Rex on a pyramid. More likely they are just generic things rather than being inspiried by something directly. Either way, it's a cool video.

 

 

 

 

 

8/16 - Kingdome Hearts III to feature world based on Big Hero 6

Link 1 - Kotaku
Link 2 - Eurogamer
Link 3 - Destructoid

The Gist:
Square Enix announced at D23 Expo that Kingdom Hearts III will feature a world based on the movie Big Hero 6.

My Opinion:
Cool. I've never seen this movie but it's great to see some variety. When KH first came out, there was a thrill in exploring all these different Disney worlds. Over time, they haven't added a whole lot, and so we've just been seeing the same ones over and over again. Hopefully this is an indication that we'll be getting a lot of new stuff in the new game. Still keeping my fingers crossed for Kim Possible.

 

 

That's it for this week. I know I missed a lot, but I don't want to turn this thing into a novel. Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think. I had fun doing this, so if people enjoy reading it, I'll turn it into a regular thing. So maybe I'll see you next week!

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3:42 PM on 08.14.2015

This is an interesting new addition. It seems Destructoid has its own Twitter now.

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12:14 PM on 08.13.2015

Game Review - Xeodrifter Trademark (PC)

A few weeks ago, Nintendo pissed off the gaming public by announcing a Metroid spinoff. This travesty has left fans wallowing in a pit of despair, with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Some have looked beyond Nintendo to quench their thirst for classic sci-fi adventuring. Fitting that description comes this fun-sized throwback from Renegade Kid.

Xeodrifter Trademark
System: PC (reviewed), 3DS, Wii U
Developer: Renegade Kid
Publisher: Gambitious Digital Entertainment
Released: December 11, 2014

All images were taken from the developer's website.

 

Take a look at this picture of my Steam library:

One of these things is not like the other. It annoys the crap out of me when companies do this. I can understand putting the little "TM" in promotional material and copyright notices and whatnot, but is the company so insecure that they have to put that eyesore everywhere the name is mentioned? It sticks out like a sore thumb. Or maybe it's not just a simple legal thing. Maybe the "trademark" is actually an official part of the title. Or maybe it's the character's name. The little astronaut dude that you play as is never given a name, so that makes sense now that I think about it. His name is Trademark, the Xeodrifter.

Anyway. Xeodrifter is pretty straightforward. Trademark is just xeodrifting through space one day when his hyperdrive conks out, so he decides to go explore some nearby planets for supplies to repair it. Thus ensues diet-Metroid. You sidescroll your way through a moderate sized maze (don't worry, you have maps) by jumping around, shooting enemies, and collecting powerups.

Powerups are the breadcrumb trail that lead Trademark around the different planets. Just like Metroid, the areas are blocked off by impenetrable obstacles. When you come across one, you have to turn around and go find a boss to kill, which will grant you the ability to progress to the next section. Abilities don't actually add a whole lot to the game dynamics. For the most part, their sole purpose to get Trademark around the next barrier, and that's it. They have no use in combat, nor introduce any creative new ways to play the game.

The only one that gets any real use is the submarine. There is another one that lets you switch between the background and foreground. That sounds cool in theory, but in practice, all it does is make the sprites smaller. The only really unique thing that powerups do is a late game obstacle where you have to switch while using the dash ability. That's pretty fun, but it only pops up a couple times near the end of the game. As a result, you could probably replace all the roadblocks and abilities with simple locked doors and keys, and it wouldn't change the gameplay very much at all.

Of course, in order to get the abilities, you have to beat the boss. I say "the" because there is only one boss, a giant bug thing, that gets recycled throughout the whole game. Each encounter changes its color and gives it a couple more moves, but it's always the same schtick. And that right there sums up quite a bit about the game: there isn't a whole lot of substantial variation on going around and shooting enemies. The baddies are all pretty similar no matter where you are in the game. Other than the color pallete, the environments don't do much to make them feel creative or different from each other. The music is just kind of there, neither offensive nor memorable.

One of the few unique things it does have going for it is the weapon system. Trademark's gun has different firing modes that can be upgraded or mixed and matched. It's fun to see how different modes work together, and gives a strong sense of satisfaction when you can boost your power to wipe out foes quicker. Even this, though, runs its course pretty quickly. Once you find a winning combination, there's not much motivation to continue experimentation. I need a vacation. Alliteration!*

*Not actually alliteration.

Few of these things are outright offensive thus far. It would be nice if Renegade Kid gave us more depth to make Trademark's adventure more exciting. What is there, though, works just fine. Jumping is tight. The layouts of the maps are fine. Even if there's not a lot going on, it's a nice crisp Metroid clone.

If there is any real flaw, it would be that the difficulty can feel pretty cheap sometimes. Enemies frequently attack from offscreen, faster than you can react to them. There is a lot of trial and error involved in the early boss fights. Health items are scarce and usually hidden. Probably the worst is the lack of checkpoints. There is one in your ship (which is also the only point in the game where you can save) and one in each boss room. That's it.

It's not like the maps are enormous or anything, but they're big enough that you have to re-tread a fair amount of territory when you die. There's a pretty fair amount of backtracking already, especially if you want to collect all the upgrades. You also don't keep said upgrades if you die collecting them between checkpoints, so failure becomes frustrating really quickly.

Xeodrifter doesn't suck. It's an adequate game that only suffers from a little bit of frustration here and there. If it had come out a few years ago, I'd probably be shouting its praises from the rooftops. Problem is, in this day and age, indie retraux Metroidvania games are a dime a dozen. There has to be something more than "not sucking" to stand out, and everything Xeodrifter tries to add flavor or originality ends up in the shallow end of the pool. Again, that doesn't make it bad, just forgettable. If you like Metroid style games, then you'll probably like Xeodrifter.

It's starting to get a little cliche for me to say "wait for a sale." Trademark or not, ten bucks is steep for a game that doesn't stand out and can be beaten in only a couple hours. Seriously, I completed it twice in only three sittings. I would call it a worthy purchase for five or six dollars, and a recent sale saw it down to $3.39. If you're interested, wait until a price drop and you'll be more satisfied.

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9:56 PM on 07.24.2015

Challenger Approaching: The Babes of Bionis

Xenoblade Chronicles. It's a game I've already written about at length. It seemed destined for obscurity when Nintendo announced that it would not be released in North America. Operation Rainfall rescued our dreams, and it would go on to be called one of the best JRPG's in recent history. Xenoblade Chronicles now has a New 3DS port, an upcoming sequel, and a roster spot on the latest Super Smash Bros. in the form of its lead protagonist, Shulk.

Xenoblade Chronicles was the last game I played before purchasing Super Smash Bros. on Wii U. I was excited to pick Shulk, and even more excited to learn how fun he is to play. Shulk is now my most played character, replacing Link was my main. With all this going on, I couldn't help thinking about what else the game could have to offer Super Smash Bros. It is a first party title, after all.

The main order of business is what other characters would fit well on the SSB roster. Besides Shulk, there are six other playable party members and a small handful of enemies that could all qualify. As I pondered and considered, and considered and pondered, I came with the perfect way for the three female protagonists to fit into Smash. I did not set out just to focus on the ladies, but the more I thought about it, the more I feel that the other men would be too generic. The girls have unique abilities that would allow them to stand out more among Smash's colorful roster.

WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for Xenoblade Chronicles, especially regarding the character known as "Seven." If you haven't finished the game or don't want anything spoiled, I suggest coming back to this at a later time.

WHO ARE SHARLA, MELIA, AND FIORA?

Fiora was a plucky young lass with a big heart and a knack for sarcasm. She was the younger sister of the war hero Dunban, good friends with local lunkhead Reyn, and had more than a little romantic inkling for Shulk. She mostly occupied her time with keeping her friends' Y chromosomes in check, but was a pretty formidable fighter in her own right. On that fateful day, Fiora had life in a basket and a bright future ahead of her.

That future would be seemingly cut down when her hometown was attacked by a hoard of robotic insects called Mechon. In the ensuing battle, Fiora would make the ultimate sacrifice to save her friends. This act of heroism ensured the survival of the colony for the time being, but left her loved ones broken hearted. Fiora's death motivated Shulk and his friends to set out on a journey to discover the secrets of the Mechon and have their revenge.

They weren't travelling very long when they met a woman named Sharla, who was having her own fair share of problems. Sharla's hometown had also been attacked by Mechon, leaving it almost entirely destroyed. Sharla had become the de facto leader of a small group of survivors. For once, fate seemed to be on Sharla's side, as Shulk and Reyn quickly helped her rescue her brother, liberate the seiged town from Mechon, and begin reconstruction. Through facing adversity, they formed a powerful bond, and Sharla offered her services as a field medic to our heroes on their journey.

A little later in the game, the party crosses paths with Melia. Melia is the princess of the High Entia (elves with wings on their heads.) When she met Shulk in the forest, she quickly teamed up with his group. Shulk and his friends assisted her with the drama of being royalty (including quelling a coupe) while Melia helped them gain access to a nearby ruin. It was in exploring this ruin where the group would uncover an ancient secret. A sudden Mechon attack at this time would pile on the surprises even more: Fiora was still alive.

Her body had been taken back to the Mechon headquarters and forcibly converted into a cyborg to be used as weapon. To make matters worse, she had seemingly been possessed by the consciousness of some other being, whose motives were not exactly clear. This same Mechon attack would leave the king, Melia's father, dead. These events became the catalyst for a permanent alliance between not only Melia and the group, but every race on Bionis into one massive army.

Through their perseverance and determination, the group would eventually rescue Fiora. They would help her to recover her own mind, and she in turn would bring to the party a whole host of new abilities granted by her mechanical body. However, in rescuing her, they learned the most terrifying truth of all. They were not only fighting for their own survival, they were caught in the middle of a battle between two gods!

Fiora is thought to be dead for much of the game. To avoid spoilers, fans usually refer to her mechanical form by the name "Seven," referring to the fact that she is the seventh full time party member.

With Sharla's medical skills, Melia's mastery of magic, and Fiora's cybernetic weaponry, all three women are valuable asset in battle.

HOW WOULD SHARLA WORK?

Sharla's role in Xenoblade is the the party's healer. The majority of her capabilities involve healing and buffing her companions. From the offensive line, she mostly just takes pot shots at enemies with her rifle between healing blasts. Sharla is not much of a fighter in Xenoblade. Her limitted attacking and almost exclusive use of long range tactics don't lend themselves very well to a fighting game.

That doesn't mean that she can't have a role in Smash, however. The same traits that make her ill-suited for fighting also make her an excellent choice for an assist trophy. Upon being summoned, Sharla would run or jump to an out-of-the-way corner of the arena and then proceed to do exactly what she does in Xenoblade. Every couple seconds, for the duration of her stay, Sharla would fire off a random action from Xenoblade. Most of these would be weak attacks or minor healing spells. Occasionally she would throw out a Heal Blast, which heals a great amount of damage, or even a Heal Round if in team mode (heals the entire party.) A shield bullet could protect the player, or a cure bullet if they are stunned or something.

HOW WOULD MELIA WORK?

In Xenoblade, Melia has the lowest HP. In Smash, this would translate to Melia being a very light character. The good news is that Melia would be great in the air. Combat in Xenoblade has no jumping, but it stands to reason that if it did, Melia would be quite good. The High Entia race has strong ties to flying beasts, and the wings on their heads are a defining physical characteristic. At least one other High Entia is shown to be able to fly with those wings. Smash Bros. would be Melia's opportunity to shine in the air, with quick reflexes, spot-on control, and maybe even multiple jumps.

Of all the playable characters in Xenoblade Chronicles, Melia has the most unique offensive capabilities. She is the group's only magic user, which manifests in a summon and release combo attack that makes her play style siginificantly different from any of the other party members. In addition to her regular specials, a good portion of Melia's arts have her summoning an elemental spirit. This spirit takes the form of a little ball that hovers around her head. As long as this elemental is present, Melia and any party members close by gain some kind of buff or special ability. In all, Melia can have up to three active elementals at a tiime, and can stack multiples of the same one.

As long as at least one elemental is active, Melia can release them as attacks. The little balls become magic projectiles, that not only do damage but also usually have some other kind of effect on the target. As Melia uses these attacks, it fills a gauge that grants her the use of even more powerful special moves when it fills up.

Melia's attacks in SSB would work very much the same way. For summoning, Melia would take a page from her stablemate, Shulk. The player would use the n-special button to sift through different icons to represent different elementals. Whichever one they stop on, Melia summons that element and gains a buff. How many she can have at once and whether or not they are stackable would be subject to balance testing, but I'd like to keep it authentic at three. They would also wear off after a little while and probably need some recharge time. When the player wants to attack, a simple down special would release the elementals as projectiles, probably in reverse order.

With the mechanics down, the big question becomes which of her elements would be featured and what would their effects be. Melia has six summons in Xenoblade, which isn't unreasonable for Smash as long as they are balanced properly. Here's a list of what they are and how they might funciton in SSB:

BOLT
Summon: In Xenoblade, Bolt increases the power of magic attacks. In Smash, that would mean basically increasing itself, which would be weird. I'm changing it to increasing movement speed.
Release: A very fast moving electric projectile with high damage and low knockback.

FLARE
Summon: Increases physical attack power
Release: Medium speed projectile that explodes on contact like Samus's missile or Link's bomb. Explosion can damage other enemies if they are close enough.

AQUA
Summon: Heals small amounts of damage over time. A single one doesn't do much but stacking them increases the effect.
Release: Medium speed projectile with medium damage. After hitting an enemy, a big bubble "boomerangs" slowly back toward Melia. Characters can grab it to heal a small amount of damage.

WIND
Summon: Improves jumping by way of increasing height, directional influence, decreasing landing lag, and maybe even add an extra jump.
Release: Fast projectile with low damage and respectable knockback. When it hits, it bursts outward in a large wind vortex that can damage other characters as well.

EARTH
Summon: In Xenoblade, Earth increases physical defense. In SSB, this could translate into Melia taking less damage, knockback, having increased shield strength, or being stronger against certain attacks. It could even be a combination of these.
Release: A slower projectile with medium damage. In Xenoblade, an enemy hit with Earth becomes poisoned. I don't think there is a Smash equivalent, so one could be added in, or it could be changed to a different effect such as Bury.

ICE
Summon: See above. The Ice elemental in Xenoblade increases Melia's magic defense. Since there isn't really "magic" in SSB, it could be changed to some other defensive capability. Probably whichever of the effects described above that doesn't end up in play.
Release: Melia shoots the Ice downward. When it hits the ground, it creates ice spikes that damage characters who touch them. If a player takes a direct hit from the energy ball, they suffer medium damage with high knockback.

The other part of Melia's offense would be her topple combo. She has plenty of other attacks besides these, but there are two in particular that fans, myself included, love due to their usefulness. Spear Break, which is a powerful jab with her staff, and Starlight Kick, in which she runs toward an enemy and does a sort of spinning dropkick. If both attacks are done in quick succession, it forces the target into a type of stun called Topple. Spear Break would be great as a side special or side smash. Starlight Kick could be Melia's up special, or a side special if Spear Break was used for a smash attack. Just like in Xenoblade, this combo could lead to either stun or paralysis if used properly.

For a Final Smash, I think the best contender is Melia's Mind Blast. This is one of the moves activated by the Summon/Release gauge I talked about above, and is one of her most powerful moves. Not only is it useful in game, but one of Melia's shining moments in Xenoblade comes when lays out a very powerful antagonist in a cutscene. Mind Blast has Melia spraying gold energy in a large cone shape. It does a respectable level of damage, but on top of that, it also inflicts Art Seal, which prevents a target from using their special moves.

In Smash Bros., I can see it initally functioning like Samus's FInal Smash, with a shorter but wider range. When it's done, any opponents who took damage from it but aren't knocked out would also be inflicted with Art Seal, complete with Xenoblade's icon for it hovering around their heads. This woudl prevent that character from using their specials for a short time five to ten seconds, depending on how much exposure they had to the blast. I would not completely disable the special moves; most characters use them to recover from falls and move around, so that would just be cruel. I would just prevent those attacks form doing damage, or making them fail if they have some kind of energy or projectile.

I honestly feel that if done right, Melia has a lot of potential to be one of the most creative characters in Smash. The way I outlined it may make her a bit overpowered, but I think that if the makers stuck close to Xenoblade's gameplay elements in designing her, she could be a lot of fun and stand out quite a bit among the rest of the roster.

HOW WOULD FIORA WORK?

In her cybernetic form, Fiora is also one of the more unique characters in Xenoblade. In a game where most people fight with fantasy weapons or magic, FIora has electricity and laser blasts. Hey two main draws are ability to shoot energy beams, and her drones, which are remote-controlled robotic saber boomerang things. Yeah, I know. These two concepts alone could give the makers of Smash a lot of room to craft a character similar to Fox or Samus without having to rely on her actual in game attacks as a basis.

But let's say they do stick closer to her in-game mechanics. In Xenoblade Chornicles, there's a passive battle mechanic called Tension. It raises and lowers depending on how well a characters is doing in battle, and having high Tension can give you bonuses like an increased critical hit rate. It's useful but fairly inconsequential for most of the game, until Fiora comes along. Fiora has a couple attacks that tie directly into her Tension level.

In SSB, Fiora would have a Tension meter similar to Little Mac's Power Meter. It would raise and lower depending on how she does in battle. During this time, Fiora's n-special would likely be Double Wind, a sword attack with moderate damage and descent knockback that boosts Tension when it connects properly. When her Tension is topped out, as indicated by her portrait being on fire like in Xenoblade, Double Wind becomes Final Cross.

Final Cross is a very powerful move, and if not for the Tension system, I'd probably designate it as a Final Smash instead. Fiora levitates off the ground and shoots a series of red lasers at the ground in a cone shape, similar to Master Hand's blue laser fingers. Each one does high damage and has a good degree of knockback. If a character takes enough damage from the attack without being KO'ed, the attack leaves them stunned. In order to keep things fair, once the attack is done, Fiora's Tension would probably drop back to neutral.

Fiora is one of the few Xenoblade characters who has a lot of different possibilities for an up special. Air Fang is a sword attack that begins with an upward slash. That's a little too boring, though. Fortunately, many of her moves in Xenoblade begin with her levitating upward and attacking from the air. In that regard, it wouldn't be out of character to start an up special with Fiora shooting skyward, then hovering in place while she does an attack. There are any number of options for what this. My personal pick would be Mag Storm, where Fiora generates an electric purple force field that would damage anyone who touches it. Maybe she could slightly hover from side to side while performing it. Mag Storm could also be a down special.

There is a whole smorgasbord of options for her remaining specials. Anything that involves an energy field or laser blast. She could do some sword moves, like Double Blade (basically Shulk's back slash) or Shutdown (causes enemies to fall asleep.) She could also deploy her drones to slash out in front of her or spin and come back like Link's boomerang.

Assuming Fiora's Final Smash isn't the aforementioned Final Cross, it would likely be one of her drone talent arts. In her original game, this attack changes based on what kind of equipment she has. My picks for SSB are Sword Drones, in which she deploys four remote controlled blades to slash the crap out of anything in her way, and Cannon Drones, which is a huge plasma beam. The latter would be similar to Samus's Final Smash, or Lucario's Kamehameha from Brawl. I'd probably base it on Lucario's because a.) That's closer to what it looks like in Xenoblade, and b.) That was one of my favorite Final Smashes in Brawl and I'm ticked that they changed it.

On the presentation end of things, Fiora is a lot of fun to speculate about. Her into animation would have her landing as the Face Nemesis then jumping out of the cockpit. She also has a ton of battle quotes in Xenoblade that I'd be sorely disappointed not to hear in Smash. It's not that Melia doesn't have battle dialogue, but Fiora's voice acting and girlish charm makes hers a lot more memorable. Just listen to her. There are dozens and dozens of potential taunt and win quotes in there. I'd be giddy to hear "Alrighty!" or the sheepish, "Yay! We win!"

As a little bonus, I think it would be neat to include Fiora's human form as an alternate outfit. That said, I don't know how they could accurately portray her that way and keep the same moveset. The meat of her attacks in this blog stems from her cybernetic body. In human form, Fiora just fights with knives. It wouldn't make sense for her to be able to shoot lasers.

Then again, I guess it doesn't make sense for Mario to be able to shoot fire in his basic outfit either, so whatever. I'm not going to think about it too hard. No matter what they did, if Fiora got into Super Smash Bros., I would be a happy laddy.

WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENING?

Slim but possible. A heck of a lot more possible than Kane or Sub-Zero. Xenoblade is a Nintendo game, after all, and it already has some representation in the Smash Bros. series. The problem is that I just don't think it's popular enough to warrant much more than it already has. While it does have a huge cult following, it's mostly just that: a cult following.

To put it bluntly, if Xenoblade Chronicles was popular enough to warrant a whole cast of characters in the Smash roster, it probably would have happened already. Earthbound is a far more popular series and after four games, it still only has two roster slots in Smash. And one of those is pretty much a complete clone. It's possible that Xenoblade could become more popular with time, but if it ever does get to the point where it gets more recognition in Smash, then Nintendo will likely be looking to future installments like Xenoblade Chronicles X instead of digging into the original. 

The other hurdle is that sadly, I don't think Melia and Fiora are popular enough characters to become playable even if Xenoblade did get more slots in Smash. Fiora is a walking spoiler and Melia doesn't have a particularly commanding presence in the game anyway. Compare that to their male castmates: Riki is practically the series mascot and already has a few appearances in Smash; Dunban is immensely popular in the fandom to the point where there is a Mii outfit for him in SSB4 as DLC; Reyn is a contender for deuter- or at least tri-tagonist and his antics have reached meme level. Out of all of the party members in Xenoblade, those three would be the most likely. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against them as characters. I just feel it would be disappointing to get another generic swordfighter like Dunban when we could be graced with a cool new magic system from Melia.

Like I said, though, it's far from impossible. Xenoblade is a Nintendo game. All the ground work is there. All it would take would be a little muse from Sakurai or another team member for it to happen. I also find some optimism in the Smash Fighter Ballot. Cruising Xenoblade fansites, I see a lot of people writing in Fiora. I highly doubt she's getting as many votes as Goku or Ridley, but all it takes is a spark. So if you're a Xenoblade fan like me, head on over there and cast your vote. And keep your fingers crossed.  

So here ends another issue of Challenger Approaching. Thank you for reading, and if you've been following the series, extra thanks for your support. If you haven't, why not start now? And by the way, if you don't know much about Xenoblade Chronicles, it's a pretty good game that you might want ot check out if you like RPG's. You can check out my thoughts on that as well.

Thanks again. Until next time, stay thirsty my friends.

 

 

 

Psst! Hey! Do you like my writing? Want to read more of my stuff, as well as some stuff by other great writers? Head on over to this little website. I post most of my stuff there a week before anywhere, and there are a few other great writers there as well.

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8:31 PM on 07.16.2015

Game Review - Contrast (PC)

What is it about shadows that fascinates us so much? Dark is merely the absence of light. We fear it because of what it hides, but what of the shadows? Those oblong silhouettes, the dark mirrors that speckle our world like glimpses into some unreachable dimension. It thrills the imagination. Ever since Peter Pan lost his companion, our fiction has tried to explore this other world within our own. It has ranged from the whimsical to the horrific. Now, thanks to the fine folks at Compulsion, we have a video game whose dream of shadows is downright jazzy.

Contrast
System: PC (reviewed), PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbone
Developer: Compulsion Games
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Released: November 15, 2013

All images were taken from the developer's website.

 

I remember when this game was in development. A lot of websites talked it up as the next great indie platformer, and it even got some great press at E3 a couple years ago. It looked great to me, and I got pretty excited for it. Yet when it was released, the gaming public seemed to forget all about it. There was little fanfare, barely even an acknowledgement beyond, "hey, this exists now." I was fairly perplexed, but onto my wishlist it went, and a little over a year later, I got to see if it was any good after all.

It's the roaring twenties. An age of jazz and cabaret, of noir and gangsters, of light and shadows. Living in this world is a little girl named Didi. Life hasn't been kind to Didi: her father ran off, her mother is barely making ends meet as a lounge singer with no time or for her, and her only companion is her "imaginary friend," a mysterious shadow girl named Dawn. That's you, by the way. The player controls Dawn, a leggy young woman in a garish costume with the ability to turn herself into a shadow on the wall. Only Didi can see her; to everyone else, Dawn is merely an imaginary friend. Being mute isn't exactly shedding any light on her character, either.

That doesn't matter. The story belongs to Didi. One night her estranged father, Johnny, rolls back into town with a fancy new suit and a scheme to provide for them. Didi's mother isn't buying it, and neither are the loan sharks riding Johnny's ass. Not wanting to see her family torn apart again, Didi takes it upon herself to help Johnny from behind scenes, enlisting Dawn's help with some of the heavy lifting. The story and conflict belong to them. You're just along for the ride. Didi is the Penny to Johnny's Inspector Gadget, and you're playing as Brain.

The sweetness of the conflict with the noir atmosphere are fitting blend of light and dark. The soulfull score and aesthetics certainly don't hurt. The design of the characters and environment have an almost mildly Burton-esque flair to them. As small as it is, the setting oozes personality. Things in the environment have a dreamy quality to them as well. You can be exploring an otherwise realistic locale then turn a corner and have to jump across a floating piano. The edge of the world drops off into an infinite void like Silent Hill. Little of the fantasy is explained, and it blurs the line between truth and imagination.

Almost nothing is revealed about Dawn and her powers. I've seen other complain about this, wanting more solid explanations about the character and the way the world works. I disagree. Contrast has enough substance that it doesn't need to explain. The story of Didi's family is charming without a bunch of mumbo-jumbo about shadow realms to distract from it. The abstract nature of the environment gives the whole game and air of awe. I think that explaining these things outright would take away more than it would add. It gives the player a sense of wonderment.

The gameplay is puzzle-platforming. There's a decent mix but it definitely skews toward the intellectual side. The way the game unfolds reminds me a lot of Portal. There is plenty of action by way of running and jumping, but the meat of the experience comes from figuring out how to progress. Dawn's main power is to turn into a shadow on the wall and use other shadows as platforms to get around. You have to go back and forth between 2D and 3D to get around.

In this regard, there really isn't aren't many creative uses to the gimmick as you would think. Mostly you're just trying to get yourself or an opject from point A to point B. The most common use of Dawn's ability is to move around a light source in 3D to get your shadow-platforms lined up properly so that you can reach a distant ledge or something. There aren't really any mind-blowing ways in which the shadow realm and real world interact with each other. On top of that, the game is pretty small and linear, so there isn't much in the way of exploration, either.

That doesn't mean it isn't enjoyable. Jumping is still fun, figuring out a solution is still satisfying. The novelty of shifting between dimensions takes a long time to wear off, even if there isn't much to it. For a game with such a cool concept, it doesn't feel like you're doing much more than you could do in most other action-puzzlers. There's still a lot to enjoy, though.

The game's biggest detriment comes from some technical flaws. One in particular sticks out like a sore thumb. Whenever Dawn is in shadow and there is a conflict of solid object (like if she dashes into a wall or gets pinched between moving platforms) she gets ejected back into the 3D space. The game is far from picky about doing this. It's very common to be hopping through a 2D section only to be abruptly popped out because you jumped a hair too far or landed at the wrong angle, or for no discernible reason at all.

This is compounded by the fact that Dawn moves way too fast. She zips around like Sonic and leaps like Superman, making it hard to land short-range jumps with precision. When hopping from place to place, you frequently leap right off the boundary of the shadow, spoiling your progress and forcing you to start the whole platform segment over again. It can turn otherwise straightforward platforming into an unwarranted challenge, and long segments can be outright rage inducing. These long segments are few and far between, but even shorter ones can be a pain because of it. The issue never resolves itself, and will bother players throughout the whole game. If anybody on the dev team is reading this, please accept my apology. I like your product but cursed you out under my breath during the carousel part.

Contrast is a nice puzzle-platform game with a great story and atmosphere. The gameplay doesn't break any molds and is bogged down by some frustrating technical issues, but it's still fun nonetheless. The average playthrough is about four hours, with repeat ventures clocking in at less than half that time. The Steam list price of $15 dollars is pretty steep for such a short game, even if it is ultimately good. I got it on on sale for just south of four bucks and was pretty satisfied. If like puzzle-platform games, give this one a shot when the price drops.

 

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11:45 AM on 07.08.2015

Sweet Lily Dreams review

Bundles! Don't you love them? I bought a Humble RPG Maker Bundle last year and got some RPG Maker games! One of them has been sitting untouched in my Steam library for months, until I got bored enough last week to finally try it out. And now that it's done, and I have a weekly blog quota to fill, I figured I'd review it.

Sweet Lily Dreams
System: PC via Steam
Developer: RosePortal Games
Publisher: Degica
Released: May 16, 2014

All images were taken from the developer's website.

There isn't a whole lot of information out there about RosePortal Games. The most I can find about the group themselves is that they are small and like to make games with RPG Maker. They have apparently made several games in the past. Sweet Lily Dreams was the first to hit Steam last year, followed by its prequel, Whisper of a Rose. The humble little company seems to have some big dreams, which is a very heavy theme within its games, but that doesn't necessarily mean those games are a dream come true.

The problem with RPG Maker games is since it's so user friendly, anybody can make a game by plugging some assets into a menu, typing a few text boxes, and calling it a day. A lot of people don't bother to do anything creative with the game the engine at all. As a result, most RPG Maker games end of playing virtually the same.

The folks at RosePortal clearly weren't satisfied with this approach. Despite using RPG Maker, they crafted the game into their own. The vast majority of the mechanics are customized. RosePortal has implemented a crafting system, a sidequest system, a whole slew of minigames, an interior-decorating thing, they've customized most of the menus, and while I can't tell how it works under the hood, even the combat is at least aesthetically different from other games of this type.

The visuals are also very well done. I've played around with RPG Maker and if Sweet Lily Dreams uses any of the default assets, I haven't noticed. The sprite work is great. The environments are exquisite, with plenty of little touches to make everything a joy to look at. The hand-drawn stuff is mostly spot on. I can't imagine how long it must have taken such a small team to put together all that art so well.

Rounding out the presentation is the music. Tunes range from acceptable to memorable. Every single one is the work of somebody who knows what they're doing. While not all of them are memorable, none of them are offensive. I would love to add a couple of the songs to my music library, I'm honestly surprised that they haven't offered the soundtrack for sale or download to fans.

This game is obviously not something that somebody crapped out in RPG maker for a quick buck. There is a lot of tender loving care put into making this game. RosePortal wanted to make it their own, and for that I applaud them.

The story is about a seven-year-old girl named Lily and a team of dream defenders called Illuminati. Far from a conspiracy theory, this Illuminati is a group of magical warriors who travel between dreams to fight the monsters that turn them into nightmares. With a father who is never around and a mother that she can't quite connect with, Lily combats her lonely home life by reading. In a dream one night, Lily crosses paths with two bumbling Illuminati of the less-than-competent variety: a big hearted dog named Faith, and a cynical Tim Burton-esque "cat" named Curly. The encounter causes a sort of glitch in Lily's dream, which fully integrates her into the dream world. Since the two find her newfound magic powers useful in combat, and since Lily has nothing better to do anyway, she joins the duo on their quest to move up the ranks of the Illuminati and making sleeping a safer place for all.

Let me say one thing right off the bat: the game is a little confused about its target audience. The visuals, audio, premise, and marketing all make it seem very child friendly. Without spoiling too much, it's not. Very, very not. As one user on the game's Steam forum pointed out, anyone who thinks this game is for kids clearly hasn't played it all the way through.

Most of the game has you visiting different dreams based on different works of fiction. The heroes have to go through these levels in a fashion similar to Kingdom Hearts while the story unfolds. I like the plot, and it's fun to visit different places from literature, but the actual progression of the story arc has a few shortcomings. For one, all of the worlds are based on horror stories. The marketing, opening cutscenes, and word of mouth all led me to believe that there would be fairy tales and fantasy adventure, or otherwise a good mix of locales.

Instead, every one of the levels comes from horror fiction or folklore. There's nothing wrong with that, per se; I loved exploring the town of Sleepy Hollow and the mansion of Dr. Jekyll. It just feels like a missed opportunity. They could have let us join Captain Ahab's hunt for Moby Dick or raid Ilium alongside Achilles. Instead, we get six spooky forests and a couple spooky castles. Some even have both of these. Sweet Lily Dreams does do a very respectable job with the lore it chooses to represent - I was always excited to see what the next dream would be and was always happy with how it played out - I just think a little more variety would have spiced things up.

A couple of the selections struck me as a little odd. Most of the dreams are based on classic works or folkore, but every once in a while you'll run into something from modern fiction. I was a little surprised when the party crossed paths with the clown from It and John Kramer from the Saw movies. I don't mean thinly veiled expies; they're actually called by name. One of the worlds comes a comic book. This in a video game that is being sold to the public. If Sweet Lily Dreams was more widely known, I have to wonder if RosePortal might not be facing some copyright problems.

There's something a little awkward about the way the story plays out. RosePortal clearly had a lot of ideas that they tried to implement, but something holds them back. There are moments in the story where something big and emotional is happening on screen, that for all the effort put into it, lacks any kind of potency. I blame the pacing, and the order of events. At the end of one of the early levels, one of the characters has a flashback that is supposed to be a big tragic reveal of his troubled past. The problem is that by this point in the story, said characters has had about two lines of dialogue. We barely know him, and thus his angst is lost on the player.

The whole game is peppered with instances like this. Plot points that lose their impact due to the game's structure and pacing. The villains suffer from this the worst. There are two main antagonists: The Wrtier, some guy who travels between dream worlds to create nightmares just for funzies or something, and The Asureans, an ancient society that something something I don't even care enough to finish describing them. Both of these are practically non-entities. In their few token appearances, my reaction was never "oh snap, bad guys!", rather "oh yeah, they exist."

Part of the villain problem is that their backstories aren't explained in a very cohesive manner. For all the worlds in Sweet Lily Dreams, the one that it fleshes out the least is its own. The Asureans' grudge has something to do with the Illuminati homeworld. Whenever they show up, they ramble on and talk about legends and history without every making the player care. Meanwhile, in the "real" world, there's a company that makes some kind of dream control device. This ties in with the backstory of many of the characters, including both Lily and the Writer, but we scarcely get into the meat of it. It's just talked about in passing while the player scarcely gets any glimpse of what it actually is. There's also some magic apparition lady who shows up a couple times to offer advice to the heroes. We're led to believe that she will have a big role down the line, but unless I missed something, she's never even mentioned after her second appearance.

These come from the game's prequel, Whisper of a Rose. The developer has outright stated in the Steam forums that there are things you probably won't understand without playing Rose first. I think that's a little unfair. Considering how tied-in the plot is, I feel like it would solve a lot of Lily's story problems if they showed us more.

This makes the climax of the game kind of bittersweet. Most of the plot threads come together nicely at the scene of the final battle. It leads up to an exciting conclusion that makes me wish we had been able to enjoy the build-up of these story arcs. Granted, the epilogue doesn't really do it much service with its lack of concrete details and Big Lipped Alligator Moment cliffhanger, but the tail of end of the game was definitely one of the highlights.

If you'll humor me one more nitpick about the story, the characterization is all over the place. Some of the characters have a lot of personality, others are dull as bricks. Curly the cat is the standout character, and Faith is pretty well written too. Lily's personality fluctuates a lot. She's supposed to be a seven-year-old who is smart for her age because she reads a lot. Sometimes that's an accurate description, though sometimes it seems more like an excuse to have her be a lot more intelligent than she should be. Lily mentions reading Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde a long time ago, which makes me wonder if anyone on the development team has actually read it themselves. What's worse, though, is when she acts too young. Whenever the plot demands that she show her age, she regresses to that fake babytalk personality that all writers who don't spend a lot of time around kids use.

For example, there's a point when the group is going up against a mummy. Lily refers to it as a "bandage monster." There is no reason why any seven-year-old wouldn't know what a mummy is, especially one as supposedly smart as Lily. The icing on the cake is that at the beginning of that level, she does call it a mummy, then promptly starts referring to it in baby talk. I facepalmed pretty hard at that one.

The dream worlds are pretty well done. Each has its own self-contained story that are usually at least competent. They look nice as well, despite a lack of variety in their settings. The designers put a lot of scenery into each one, with flowers and bushes and grasses frosted all over the ground. It adds a lot of visual flair to environments. The only problem is that it's hard to tell what is part of the the tileset and what is a solid object. There are tons of the latter, meaning that walking through what appears to be an open field is more like navigating a maze of invisible walls. I wouldn't want the developers to get rid of all the nice scenery, just make it so we can walk overtop of it.

Every world has some kind of puzzle gimmick. This was a very pleasant surprise. It turns the game into something a little more than just walking around and fighting enemies. They're often simple in concept and creative in execution. Part of the fun of visiting each new world was seeing what cool new thing the developer came up with this time. It's one more little thing that shows how much RosePortal cared about this project.

They do tend to push these puzzles to the limit. Whether or not this is a flaw depends on how much you like being forced to think. I wasn't expecting the difficulty of the gimmicks, and while they were fun, many of them started to get old pretty quickly. There's a maze where the floor falls through with no indication of where you can stand, and a dungeon where you have to flip switches to open and close certain doors. The one that takes the cake, though, is the frog swamp. You get an item that lets you summon frogs to help you across a swamp. There are a bunch of different ways to go, but only one correct one, and you only get the exact number of items to make a perfect run through the swamp. It requires a lot of patience and a lot of trial and error.

In fact, some of the dungeons stop just short of requiring a map and trigonometry. It got a little overbearing for me more than once. They still get an A for effort, though. Players who enjoy a nice challenging puzzle will feel right at home here.

Most of the game balances out thus far. For everything Sweet Lily Dreams has going for it, there is some minor scuff that tarnishes the enjoyment. For each factor that makes me shake my head, it isn't enough to brign the game down. If we ended the review here, it would be pretty much a fifty/fifty split on pros and cons. Then we get to the combat.

Sweet Lily Dreams uses turn-based RPG combat. It's as straightforward as it gets, and unless you have no idea what an RPG is, I don't need to lay out the details. The game tries to spice things up in a couple ways but most of them are flat at best, irritating at worst. A major part of the fighting is the element system. Most enemies and attacks have one of four elemental types, giving them strengths and weaknesses to the player characters' elemental spells. Basically, a substantially dumbed-down version of Pokemon.

Pokemon this ain't. The combat is severely imbalanced, and much of that can be traced back to this very type system. For starters, the characters don't learn elemental spells. Their basic attacks never do much damage to begin with and actually seem to get weaker as the game goes along. The special attacks that they learn by leveling are either physical attacks with the same problem, or are buffs that don't actually seem to do what they're supposed to. Elemental spells have to be crafted and taught. While there's no shortage of supplies to craft spells, there certainly isn't enough to equip all of your characters with every element. It doesn't matter what kind of monster you're fighting, almost every battle in the game is going to leave you with at least one disadvantaged character.

The one hit the hardest is Lily. Even her basic attack has a type, determined by an item you can swap out. You have a choice of one of these items at the beginning of the game, and the rest have to be bought. If you make a bad choice (DO NOT START WITH THUNDER) then Lily is completely useless for the first couple hours of the game. Getting the other elements doesn't help much: they can't be swapped on the fly. You have to go to a specific spot in the hub world to change them. If you pick the fire item and the next level has mostly water enemies, I hope you figure that out before you're too far to turn around. The monsters aren't exactly red lizards with fire tails. It's scarcely possible to tell what type an enemy is the first time you encounter it. You have to just throw everything you have and see what works.

Even when you do get the proper magic attacks, their usefulness doesn't last long. All but the most powerful attacks get out-progressed pretty quickly. You can craft the right spells to empower your characters for one level, and by the time you get to the next, the enemies are strong enough that even a type advantage doesn't give you much offense. Which leads me to another complaint: on normal difficulty, enemies just plain take too long to kill. Every fight is a commitment. It can take upwards of four turns for your entire party to kill a single basic monster.

This all adds up to combat being a dull slog. You never feel like you are making any progress. In a good game, a new attack should feel like a reward. A spell is supposed to empower players, to give us satisfaction of a new way to dispatch foes. Sweet Lily Dreams feels like a constant struggle just to keep up. It's not that enemies are particularly difficult if you pay attention and know what you're doing, it's just an endurance contest. Learning new attacks in this game is a necessity, like keeping your gas tank filled so you don't get stranded on the side of the road.

Healing is just as bad. You know how most games have Inns at every town? Sweet Lily Dreams has a genie in the hub world. And that's it. There are no other ultimate healing options anywhere in the game. Once you enter a dream world, you're basically on your own as far as health goes. The only way to heal is with these green balls that you can collect, which the game actively discourages you from getting with the promise of a reward down the line. Healing spells suck for the same reason as attack spells.

That leaves you almost entirely reliant on items. You have to stock up as much as you can on HP and MP potions before entering a new world. If your supply runs out while you're too deep in the level to go home, then you're out of luck. Just like everything else in the game, items get ouleveled. By the last couple worlds, they don't even heal enough damage to counter a single enemy attack. The strategy becomes "heal as much as you can on the overworld, hope for the best in battle." At least by that point you can pretty easily afford to top off your supply, but what good does it do to buy 99 potions if it takes 20 to get a character back to full health?

Trying to avoid battle is a waste of time. Enemies are represented on the overworld so you can theoretically avoid them. Theoretically. In practice, the only way to actually dodge an enemy sprite is if you're lucky enough to trap it behind one of those invisible walls I talked about above. Once the fight commences, don't bother trying to escape. I don't know what factors into it. It seemed completely random whether or not it actually worked, with a success rate of about 1/6. You can't attack the same turn you try to run, so even selecting the option is akin to handing your enemy a free turn. On the off chance that you do manage to make it out of battle, it resets the enemy sprite to its original position on the map. If that's anywhere close to you, it's just going to beeline for your party and restart the battle all over again.

Combat is not fun. The only way to lessen the irritation is to play on the easy difficulty. The Steam forum is packed with users to admit to starting on normal and hard before switching to easy part way through. Easy mode doesn't fix all the balance problems, it just makes your attacks do a little more damage. The issues persist no matter how you play. At least on easy, battles go by faster and you don't have to put up with the crap for as long.

That's kind of a cheap way to make your game playable. It's kind of unfortunate, really. The developers put a lot of time and effort into making the game. It isn't all great, but there's still a lot to admire. It's kind of tragic that the combat drags down their work so much.

Sweet Lily Dreams is not a great game. I don't even think it's a good game. Despite the best efforts from the developer, it is schizophrenic in quality and combat just plain sucks. That's not to say it's a lost cause. What it does do, is showcase a lot of talent from RosePortal. There is clearly a lot of potential in them. With a little practice to iron out their flaws, they could eventually be among the best RPG devs on the indie scene. Heck, this is the only game of theirs that I've played and they've made a lot more since then. As far as I know, their more recent work could be flawless.

There is enough good in the game to keep me from hating it. At the same time, there's way too much bad for me to unconditionally recommend it to even hardcore RPG fans. The people who I think would get the most enjoyment out of these would be those who like difficult Zelda-style puzzles in their dungeons. Other RPG fans might not hate it, but if you decide to give it a shot, don't get your hopes up going in. And play on easy mode.

Even if you do decide it's worth purchasing, wait for a sale. The going price on Steam is fifteen bucks. It's not that the developers don't deserve to get paid for their work - they've definitely put in the effort. I just think that's pretty steep for any RPG maker game, let alone one with as many flaws as this one has.

 

 

Psst! Hey! Do you like my writing? Want to read more of my stuff, as well as some stuff by other great writers? Head on over to this little website. I post most of my stuff there a week before anywhere, and there are a few other great writers there as well.

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1:33 PM on 06.18.2015

Challenger Approaching: The Big Daddy of Destruction

Happy Holidays! Well, Holiday. Singular. What holiday, you ask? Why, Father's Day, of course! That wonderful day of the year when we celebrate the life and times of dear ol' dad! I love my dad in earnest. He has been one of the most positive people in my life. He's a great man who has done so much for our family and I wouldn't be who I am today without him. He's just like Nathan Explosion's!

Hopefully your dad is just as awesome. So this Father's Day, let's celebrate dad the way we know how. Maybe that's going out to dinner, or taking your fishing poles out on the lake, or heading over to London and disembowling some mutant scumbags.

That's right. In honor of Father's Day, this issue of Challenger Approaching is taking a look at one of gaming's biggest patriarchs. THE Patriarch.

WHO IS THE PATRIARCH?

This ugly sumbitch is the big bad of Killing Floor, a coop FPS from Tripwire Interactive. It's a monster mashing game similar to zombie mode from Call of Duty. A small group of players is placed in a map and has to kill off increasingly difficult waves of enemy mutants. If they manage to survive a predetermined number of rounds, the Patriarch appears as the final boss to give the players one last challenge.

The plot of Killing Floor is sparse. The official wiki and fan forums talk about plot devices, but if not for them, you'd barely even know the story exists. There is no story mode in the game itself and so there is very little mention of a plot within it. The Patriarch's background as detailed here is just what I've pieced together from reading various other websites.

Horzine was a biotech company that specialized in genetic experimention of the not-so-ethical type. Among their enterprises was research into DNA splicing, bionic enhancements, and cloning. One of their top scientists was a man named Kevin Clamely. This middle aged milquetoast didn't have the best home life. When his wife tried to divorce him, poor Mr. Clamely decided to take his life...

...to the next level. Clamely seized control of Horzine's technology. With a combination of genetic modification and cyber implants, he forged a group of mutant creatures to be his children. The cloning process developed by Horzine allowed him to multiply these abominations into his own personal army. And he didn't stop there: Clamely ultimately turned the experiments on himself, mutating his body into a monster and replacing his arm with a machine gun rocket launcher. Now calling himself The Patriarch, Clamely unleashed his forces on an unsuspecting London, ravaging all but the most hardened survivors.

The Patriarch is a force to be reckoned with. As the final boss, he is by far the most dangerous force in the game. He has a lot of health, a lot of power, and is never to be taken lightly. It's not uncommon for an experienced group to players to breeze through ten waves of enemies only to get wiped out by the Patriarch in a matter of seconds. 

HOW WOULD THE PATRIARCH WORK?

I'm a little conflicted on how his stats would work. Logic dictates that with his size and power, the Patriarch would be a heavy character like Bowser or Ganondorf. That doesn't quite mesh with Killing Floor; in his home game, the Patriarch is the fastest entity by far. No other enemy or player class even comes close to him. It seems a little unbalanced to make one of the beefiest characters in SSB move as quickly as Zero Suit Samus. Maybe he could just have a really good dash.

The Pat has a whole bunch of abilities in Killing Floor to draw from for Smash. The most obvious is his hardware. The Patriarch's left arm has been replaced with a gatling gun/rocket launcher. His right hand is a claw, and he has a sizeable tentacle in his chest that is great for bashing enemies. He also possesses cloaking technology, which he can use to turn invisible to retreat or sneak up on enemies. And last but not least, he carries around a few syringest for healing.

How most of these would work in Smash is a given. His basic attacks would use the claw. Getting hit by the tentacle in Killing Floor sends players flying backward, so that would be used for his smash attacks. The precedent for the rocket launcher has long been set by Samus and there's no logical reason to alter that for the Patriarch.

I think the Patriarch should use his minigun for his neutral special. He would stand in position, point it out in front, and fire off for as long as the button is held. I'm not sure how accurately the shooting could be portrayed. I don't think there has ever been another realistic firearm in the series, save maybe the Duck Hunt Dog's down special. Instinct says that the Pat's chaingun would be a multi-fire hitscan attack with long range, although that seems overly powerful. For balance, it should be slowed down, the range shortened, and made into an actual physical projectile. Smash has a strong tie with older games, and if you think back to the classic era, guns usually shot little white pellets (think Contra.) That seems like the best option of the Patriarch's n-special. It would be a sort of mid-way point between Mega Man's normal attack and the Super Scope item.

The Patriarch's other key power is his invisibilty. I suppose he could have a special that just straight up turns him invisible for a few seconds. It might be self-blancing: the opponents wouldn't be able to see him, but neither would the player, so it has risks as well as rewards. Maybe the duration is shortened each time it's used. Maybe there could be some start up or ending lag as well.

If that seems unfair, there are a few other ways to implement it. It would make a nice counter move. Another possibility is to use it like Meta Knight's Dimensional Cape. He goes invisible, and before turning back, the player has a split second to input a direction to move him in. This could double as the Patriarch's vertical recovery move, making it a decent option for an up special.

The Killing Floor fanboy in me wants to incorporate his healing, but the more I ponder that, the less I think it would work. Other characters with healing abilities, like the Wii Fit Trainer, have some kind of gimmick to make them fair. I can't think of satisfactory way to portray the Pat's recovery that's not either broken, unreliable, inaccurate to the character, or some combination. Besides, while you can play around to make his attacks less violent, there isn't really a way to PG straight up injecting yourself with a syringe. Healing can be done, but it would probably be better to just drop it.

That frees up a down special, which has a lot of possibilities. A strong close range attack, a weapon attack, maybe one of the invisibility things mentioned above. The possibilities are endless. If I really wanted to geek out, I would incorporate something similar to Zelda's newest down special where she summons a knight. The Patriarch could conjur up a regular enemy from the game for a single attack. Maybe a Scrake to chainsaw them, a Gorefast for a quick sword swipe, or a Bloat to spit some acid. The Bloat could even explode if opponents hit it. Hey, why not all three? The player could tap or hold the button to cycle through them.

The Patriarch is the commander of a whole army of mutant-zombie-creatures, and frequently summons them in battle to help. This should be fully realized in the Patriarch's Final Smash, in which he conjurs up a small group of his "children" to fight. They would be a small selection of weaker enemies (Clots, Crawlers, Stalkers, maybe Gorefasts) and maybe a Siren or Bloat for good measure. They would swarm players, who could fight back was well, making them sort of the like mini-fighters in their own right, or like assist trophies. Which monsters they are would be random (with a penchant toward Clots, since they are the most common enemy in KF) in a base group of four or five, with a couple more added for each extra player in the game.

If the original design is too much for you, there are plenty of other forms of the Patriarch to use as alternate outfits. Every couple months for as long as I've been playing, Killing Floor has an "event." In addition to (usually) releasing a new map, the enemies get re-skinned to match a certain theme. There's the sideshow theme, Halloween, rednecks, and my personal favorite, Christmas! I'd love to see some of these re-skins as alternates for the Pat. How fun would it be to fight a homicidal robot Santa?

Pretty much every franchise that gets represented in SSB gets an Assist Trophy in some form or another. For Killing Floor's spot, I think the honor should go to the fearsome Flesh Pound. The most powerful non-boss enemy in the game, he would jump into battle and wander around the stage with his yellow lights. If a character were to do something to piss it off, like hitting it, it enters the red-lit rage mode and beats that character down.

Finally, every character also needs a stage. There's a wide variety of maps to pick for inspiration in Killing Floor. My first thought goes to West London, arguably the most popular map in the game. However, while London's circular layout is great for an FPS like Killing Floor, it would be kind of boring in a 2D fighter like Smash unless there were some major adjustments made. With that in mind, a multi-floored level like Biotics Lab or Hospital Horrors would probably be a better choice.

WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENING?

Nope.

Not just because Killing Floor is overly violent, either. Nintendo is an enormous company making family-friendly consoles while Tripwire is slightly larger than an indie studio and makes gorey PC games. Nintendo likely doesn't even know that Killing Floor exists, and Tripwire probably couldn't care less about anything that the Big N is doing. The Patriarch doesn't even have the marquee value of Scorpion or Kane. Nintendo putting him in Smash would be like Disney making Frozen 2: Elsa vs. Sharknado.

The only chance this ever has of coming to fruition would be if the currently early access Killing Floor 2 becomes a monster hit and makes the series a household name. Then they might be in a similar position as Netherrealm studios.

That's all for this week. Thank you for reading. Remember to hug your dad extra tight this week, lest his loneliness turn him into a monstrous abomination that thirsts for pain and suffering. Have a good day!

 

 

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7:45 PM on 06.14.2015

What's so great about E3, anyway?

It's that time of the year again. If you didn't come here by mistake, then chances are I don't need to explain what E3 is. Every gaming news outlet on the internet - and even some non-gaming news outlets - are plastered with the latest from the Expo. For the next few weeks, you won't be able to open your browser without seeing some kind of speculation or analysis or reveal or something or other. And we gamers will eat up ever word of it.

Who can blame us? This is the biggest gaming event of the year. It's where pretty much every relevant company in the gaming industry sticks a funnel in our collective mouth and pours in all the juicy details of their current projects. We get to get pumped about what games we'll get to play down the line. We can root for our favorite consoles and developers. We pore over all the things we want to hear. And it's all presented to us on a grand stage with the biggest executives personally the delivering the news.

During E3, I'm always glued to my computer screen along with everybody else. I watch as many live conferences as I can. Between them, I have about a dozen tabs opened to different gaming sites which I constantly refresh in case a new story breaks. Even many of the topics I generally have no interest in, like consoles I don't own or genres I don't play, still grab my attention. It's because E3 is like a second Christmas. It's not only where all of our wildest dreams come true, it's where many of them begin.

It's also a farce.

For all of its positives, there is a huge slew of flaws that come from the Electronic Entertainment Expo. They are well documented. For starters, the very purpose of the event itself could be summed up in one word: hype. For the consumers, that might be misconstrued as being synonymous with "excitement," but the real translation is what the companies are after. Everything about E3, from the big screen stages with the light shows, the rock music montages, the gameplay demos, all the trashing of the competition. It's all engineered by the presenters with the hopes of securing our dollars.

On top of that, we take stock of the individual conferences to pick out a "winner," an act which serves no purpose other than feeding our misguided fanboy egos. We get pissy about what's not shown, or when what is shown doesn't match our hopes. We mock the presenters for anything that might come off as a little bit weird. Don't even get me started on "vertical slices" and the hype fiascos like Colonial Marines and Watch_Dogs.

In fact, E3 might just be the single biggest act of decadence in gaming culture. All of this, the good and the bad, the millions of dollars and all the effort and manipulation happen because of video games. These big reveals take on godlike proportions. When we see something we like, the cheers and excitement would make you think of some kind of religious epiphany. A new Zelda! The sky has been torn back and Link is going to defeat the seven headed Bowser as foretold in the Third Epistle of Saint Miyamoto!

These facts are not lost on the gaming public. There are plenty of critical and sarcastic pieces about the event popping up before, after, and any other time of the year. Unless we're not in the middle of the event itself, it's pretty hard to find an article about E3 that doesn't reference Giant Enemy Crabs®.

So if we know all this, why do we love it so much? Why do we put up with all this crap and buy into all this hype? Just to get an idea of what video games we might want to play a few months down the line? Do we really wallow that much in our own consumerism?

Let me tell you a story.

A few years ago, I was going through a pretty dark time in my life. Some personal events had left me pretty down in the dumps for months on end. To take my mind off it, I decided to take up a couple new hobbies. One of them was magic. David Blaine and Criss Angel were fairly popular at the time. I enjoyed watching them, so I bought a deck of cards and a beat up old magic book and started learning how to pull quarters out of people's ears. It was pretty fun at first. As I got more accustomed to it, I wanted to learn more, so I went shopping online and came across a website that sells magic stuff. It's a fairly well known website. I won't name it because of magicians secrets and whatnot, but if you've ever tried to buy magic supplies on the internet, I guarantee that it was one of the first sites you came across.

When I discovered this online store, I caught magic fever. They had everything a budding Houdini could want. There tons of cool custom decks of cards, there were all kinds of little trinkets, instructional DVD's out the wazoo. It just so happened that I found this website right around the time I got my first job, so guess where most of my newfound disposable income went?

The website featured plenty of great magicians, but what they were even better at than magic was marketing. These people know how to sell a product. Whenever you click on one of their product pages, you're greated with a trailer. It starts out with some avante garde music with some moody shots of a sunset over a bridge or something. There will be shots of the instructor in sunglasses and a trench coat and some kind of trendy facial hair while he gives a voiceover that sounds like some kind of vague beatnick poetry. This goes on for a minute when suddenly MUSICAL STING! followed by a quick montage of crowds screeching and freaking out over how awesome that magic trick was OH MY GOSH HOW DID HE DO THAT AAAHHHH!!!!!;alksdjfhglkasd

I bought every bit of it. Not literally; magic tricks are expensive. But I invested a pretty sizeable chunk of my income into whatever cool new thing caught my fancy each week. For a while, that was great. I'd get them in the mail, excitedly study whatever it was, perform it for all my friends and relatives... and then put it on my shelf to collect dust. After a while I started to notice that it didn't take long for my zeal for these new tricks to wear off. For as much as I looked forward to getting each one, each one left me a little - dare I say it - disappointed. Sure, it was fun to watch people's eyes bug out the first couple times I would perform it, but it never quite had the magic that I was looking for.

The magic I was looking for.

That's why. It dawned on me one day while I was browsing. The reason I was always disappointed wasn't because the products weren't good but because I was expecting something that it couldn't possibly deliver. To put it bluntly, I wanted real magic. I knew that every trick had a secret, but when I watched those trailers or whatever, some giddy little kid buried in my sub-conscious was secretly hoping that it would be real. That this DVD might actually teach me how to do this for real. I was buying a magic spell, and getting a magnet on a string.

That might sound silly. It is, it really is, and I admit that freely. I got caught up in the hype. That's the power of it. Everybody knows about advertising and marketing and all that. We all think we're smart enough not to fall for it. Yet when it comes to something we like, we still get sucked right into it. It's because we want to believe.

It's the same deal with E3. All the pomp and circumstance, the anticipation, it turns gaming into something larger than life. We forget that these things are just time killers to play on our gadgets. We get lost in the bombast, we see the video games as real magic. Maybe the same thing that all materialism stems from. We feel like we are missing something inside of ourselves and only this new thing can fill that void, even though it won't because it isn't God and the novelty will just wear off when the light shows are over. Man, that got really deep, really quickly.

I can't tell you how many times I've been watching E3 and said "WOW! I would buy a console just to play that game!" Then release day rolls around, and that becomes, "Hey, I should pick that up if I can round up the extra cash." That turns into, "Maybe I'll get that when the price drops," to "That would be a good  choice during the next used game sale," to "Hey, I remember that game, I wonder if it was any good?" It doesnt' always go that way. I remember watching Nintendo a few years ago and thinking "WOW! A new 2D Mario game just like the old ones except now I can play with three other people AT THE SAME TIME AAAHHHH!!!!!;alksdjfhglkasd." We all know how that turned out.

Am I saying that we shouldn't love E3? Absolutely not. For all the negative that comes with it, the reason all of that showing works so well is because it's fun. It's great to see the montages and lights and the speakers. It's awesome to see what our favorite companies have been working on. We love to get an idea of what we might want to play down the line. For the majority of us, the best experience we're ever going to have with most of these games is watching their reveal trailers.

There's no shame in liking E3. I'm watching it too, analyzing the conferences and reading all the news coverage. I love it. You should too. But with all of that love, let there come some discretion.

It's okay to enjoy the show as long as we remember that the magic is just an illusion.

 

 

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