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Brooks is a writer, gamer and overall creativity enthusiast. He's been gaming since the early 1980s when the Atari was cool and Bruce Springsteen was first called "The Boss".

When the original Nintendo was released, if he wasn't playing it at home he was at friend's house playing two-player games until dinner time - and sometimes even later. Throughout it all, he just loved to play great games.

Over the years he has enjoyed watching the evolution of the gaming industry. The NES, Super Nintendo, PlayStation, Xbox, Steam - the games have gotten bigger and more diverse, but they've always and will always be fantastic, creative representations of those that develop them.

Lately, Brooks has been writing more and more about the industry. Interviewing developers (indie to triple-A) from all over the world, he has even been featured by Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment for an article or two.

Right now, he's enjoying the games that are concluding the current generation of gaming while the next generation comes into focus.
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It’s cliche, but “To Infinity and Beyond” is how I view the quality of Disney Infinity - the open-world, action / adventure game from Disney Interactive.  Whether or not you are playing the game with a Buzz Lightyear or Sully the Monster Figure, to play the game is to experience an almost limitless game world where you can play as various Disney / Pixar characters.

As opposed to previous Disney videogame titles, the quality is apparent in not only the gameplay, but also with the high-definition graphics and flawless character design and rendering.

But let’s put aside how I feel about the game for a moment.  From what I’ve seen with other people playing the game - and that includes gamers and non-gamers alike - I believe that the game is an enjoyable experience because, how I've previously stated about the true “Value” of the game, it's something that people of all ages can do ‘together’.



The game pulls from various Disney properties that we all know and love (Frozen, Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, etc.), and the freedom that the game provides to players just sweetens the pot even more.

On the other hand, when it comes to what kind of future the game has, I reached out to Mr. Mathew Solie - Disney Infinity Producer and this is what he had to say:


"‘Disney Infinity’ is intended to be a platform for us to continue to add content based on new films and popular IPs for years to come.  The ‘Frozen’ Toy Box Pack featuring Anna and Elsa is a great example of the ‘Disney Infinity’ strategy coming to life."


To elaborate on this further, Solie commented on how Infinity differs from how previous Disney video games were developed:

"In the past, Disney might have developed a standalone video game for the movie characters, but by adding them to the ‘Disney Infinity’ platform, we were able to offer a new ‘Frozen’ video game experience to Disney fans, without asking them to purchase an entirely new video game."




So Infinity is not only about saving time and money for both the developers and the community supporting the game, it's also about providing an ever-growing platform for future titles to be included in.

Uh, cough-cough, Marvel, cough-cough, Star Wars.  Hey, I can dream.  Can't I?

But as I joke about these two massive properties that are now owned by Disney, Solie did provide a glimpse into just how important the ‘Community’ is when it comes to how characters and Play Sets are chosen to be developed into playable additions to the franchise:


"The beauty of ‘Disney Infinity’ is that everything is on the table and we really are relying on our fans to tell (us) what they want in future updates.  We read the message boards and comments, so please keep that up.  It does influence our choices."


More and more, developers are listening to the Community in order to tailor their games because (a) it enables them to make games that they know will sell and (b) it builds a devoted player base around the game before - during beta testing - and after the game is launched.

But even with their ears to proverbial rail in regards to tailoring the game to the demands of the Community, I asked Solie what is the deciding factor for developing different Disney properties into the franchise:


"When looking at the choice of making Toy Box figures or a full-fledged Play Set, a lot has to do with does it fit the overall game.  If you look at all the Play Sets (published to date) you’ll notice each brings different gameplay styles to the overall experience.  ‘Cars’ brought a racing element, ‘The Incredibles’ has that fun combat dynamic, and all of those elements are then unlockable within the Toy Box."


As with any game, to truly lead the player through the main story / campaign, developers present them with one mechanic at a time - like jumping.  So when the gamer runs up to an obstacle, the fact that they've learned how to 'jump' now enables them to get past that obstacle.

The same kind of dynamic applies with how Disney is releasing characters and Play Sets.  They provide characters that can walk, run, jump and attack, but then they provide environments, tools and toys that take those core mechanics and encourage the player to make the world of Infinity their own.

For example, playing as the Mickey Mouse Sorcerer's Apprentice, I can cast magical spells and either walk or run from place to place.  But after playing in the Toy Story and Cars Play Sets, I know how to drive cars in the game, as well as, use different tools, like the Buzz Lightyear jetpack to either fly anywhere or climb up to heights that I wouldn't otherwise be able to do.



Near the end of our discussion, I asked Solie to elaborate on creating worlds inside the Toy Box - the section of the game where any number of Disney characters can play together to create unique experiences and environments.  Having done some creating myself, I wondered about the lack of a ‘Snapping’ feature when it came to placing blocks of all sizes together in order to expand the landscape of the game:


"In the console version, we wanted to give the player as much flexibility as possible when building Toy Boxes.  We wanted to make sure we weren’t limiting the player in any way so they could make their best possible creation.  We have seen feedback where players have wanted this (Snapping) feature implemented, and we are listening to what the players want.  However, in the PC and iOS/Win 8 versions, we have implemented a Snap feature to make it easier to build, especially with the touch interfaces."


So as Solie mentioned earlier, the crew at Disney Interactive really is listening to the Community when it comes to the functionality of the game.  As for whether the Community is vocal enough to bring Thor, Spider-Man, Yoda and Darth Vader to the franchise, we will all just have to continue to make our voices heard so that one day we can use The Force to defend Asgard all while playing as Mike Wazowski from Monsters University. ;)

Disney Infinity is now available for current gen platforms, PC and iOS devices.

Thank you for reading.  And a special thank you to the great folks at Disney Interactive for taking the time to do this interview, as well as, for supplying all of the ‘concept-to-toy’ images!



Find Brooks on Twitter for more articles on the Interactive Entertainment and Personal Technology industries.
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So you may have heard that Ubisoft's Watch_Dogs has finally got a release date of May 27, 2014.  But the last I checked, it's been a while since we last heard anything about the game.

I don't know about you, but I think I need a refresher because with the vast City of Chicago that you will be able to control in the game, there's definitely some prep work that I need to do before I put the disc in my console and hit START.

First let's look at the latest "Story" trailer that was just released:



"I was the best at what I did.  A hacker.  I got in.  Got out.  No one got hurt.  Until I discovered something that no one was meant to see." -A. Pierce


With the primary piece of technology that we use in our daily lives - our smartphones - and with the near-future landscape of Watch_Dogs, the game is looking to hit pretty close to home with how we can use familiar technology to enact a new kind of vigilante justice that only Ubisoft can provide.

On the other hand, if you are new to Watch_Dogs, I recommend a few other articles that I've written on the game that will help to provide some insight as to the game, the technology behind the game and the moral decisions that you will need to make when playing the game:

First is an interview that I did with Jonathan Morin – Creative Director, Dominic Guay – Senior Producer and Frédéric Blais – Technical Lead.  It covers topics like 'What is Watch_Dogs', 'How important is Realism in the game', 'Hacking' and 'Seamless multiplayer'.

Second is an article that I wrote that broke down the highlights from the 2013 San Diego Comic Con Watch_Dogs Panel.  On the Panel were Aisha Tyler - actress, author and Ubisoft spokeswoman, Kevin Shortt – Watch_Dogs Lead Story Designer and Thomas Geffroyd – Watch_Dogs Content Director.  The article covered such topics as "Connectivity", "Surveillance", "Smart Cities", "Technology Grounded in Reality" and "Moral Decisions".

Third is an article that investigates the 14-minute gameplay trailer for Watch_Dogs that was released in 2013.  It looks at each section of the trailer and provides some insight as to important aspects of the gameplay.

The final article looks at the last "Gameplay Series 1: Hacking Is Your Weapon" trailer that was put out for the game.



It focuses on how you will utilize your smartphone's "Profiler" software to "Hack the City", "Gain Access" to various locations in Chicago and even "Get Up Close and Personal" with NPCs (non-playable characters) through upgrading your Skills Tree to make Aiden Pierce a highly-skilled and lethal vigilante.

END TRANSMISSION.
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Tuesdays and Thursdays are the days when I check to see what's new in regards to game and movie releases.  This week I was excited to see the release of Assassin's Creed: Pirates for iOS and Android, but there was something else that caught my eye.
About three quarters down the page on the (mobile) Apple App Store I noticed a section entitled "Undiscovered Games."  

Now as I write a lot about the world of independent (indie) games, I'm definitely privy to the unsung heroes of the gaming world.

Some of my favorites that were on the "Undiscovered" list were: Strata, rymdkapsel, Hundreds, Mega Dead Pixel and Home - A Unique Horror Adventure.



If you haven't discovered any of these games, I recommend you grab yourself a ship, get a crew and sail towards the horizon in search of some unique and fun interactive experiences.

On the other hand, I noticed one game that not only had an interesting title, it also had a 1990's, bold-colored, racing art style to it.  The game was called Boson X.



Just by the screenshots that accompany the game on the App Store, I could see that it was (1) a runner (like Canabalt) and (2) a sci-fi environment because of the "warp speed" background.  An interesting mix that finally led me to buy, download and play the game on my iPhone.

Once I started up the game and played through the tutorial (tap right, jump right, tap left, jump left, tap both, jump up), the soundtrack immediately came in to focus as the electronic beats gave me a rhythm to move to - kind of like the Guitar Hero series (which I was not a fan).

But there was something else that caught my attention: the character you control.



The nameless man is wearing what appears to be a casual suit with brown elbow pads to boot - not exactly the kind of character that you would think would be in such a game.  But like bitter sea salt mixed with sweet caramel, the combination is intriguing and down-right enjoyable.

For some reason as I played through the first few "experiments" (as the levels are called), all that I could think of was how the game felt like a technological dream.



How you control the man running through an ever-evolving pipeline of sorts, each play-through was unique and kept my interest from beginning to, well, until I had to begin again.

Like many other addictive mobile games out there, Boson X is a game that can only be played and never won.  But is that such a bad thing?

Download Boson X here and see if you can navigate through the experiments.

Thank you for reading and please follow Brooks on Twitter for more links to articles on the personal technology and videogame industries.
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With VGX just around the corner, Massive Entertainment has released a new teaser trailer for Tom Clancy's The Division.  For your viewing pleasure, here's the trailer:



Although it's brief (hence "teaser"), it does show a stunning, photo-realistic "Division" version of the (I believe) Manhattan Bridge leading into New York City.  So that you can check out the real-world version to the Division version, here's a graphic displaying just that:



If this doesn't peak your interest about what is to come with this year's Next-Gen-focused VGX show, watch the trailer again and think about something: if this is where the quality of the game is at now then where will it be when the final game is released next year?
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It's Monday, Cyber Monday to be exact, and my focus is not on the deals that are available.  Why am I not buying up all of the tech and games that are discounted on every other website?  It's because I'm playing Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag on PlayStation 3.

No big deal, right?  Wrong.

Today also marks the launch of the Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag Companion App for iOS and Google Play / Android devices.



Back when I first heard of this App, I was eager to see just how "real-time" it was.  I mean, it's one thing for an App to be connected to Next-Gen devices (PS4 and XB1), but it's something else to see just how well it works with the current generation of consoles.  So far, it's actually pretty fun to use.

When you first start up the App, you will need to log-in to your UPLAY account.  This will establish a connection with the progress that you've made to date within the campaign of the game (not multi-player...yet).  Then after the connection is made (and if you have the game on and your PlayStation 3 connected to the internet), it will offer you the chance to connect directly to your currently game session.

Now begins your AC4 Second Screen experience!!

First you will see the main menu which contains icons for the World Map, Treasure Maps, Progress Tracker, Kenway's Fleet, Animus Database and finally Initiates - which includes "Hot Topics" and "Progress Feed".



Although this App was just released today (and I'm still working on trying it out - especially in regards to the "Kenway's Fleet" management portion), the section that I enjoy the most so far is the World Map.

My previous game session (prior to downloading the App) put me in Kingston.  I had just sync'd the closest View Point, so only a small portion of the map (and subsequent icons) were visible.



So I chose to stay in town in order to test the "real-time-ness" of the App.  Besides tracking my exact location in the game with only a minor (and I mean minor) lag to Kenway's movement, it tracked where he was, who was around him (via red or blue markers) and even showed the way-point (see the dashed circle around the View Point in the graphic above) that I had specified within the game.

Needless to say after I sync'd the View Point, the map on the App opened up just as it did within the game.  Pretty impressive, actually.



On the other hand, when I got more into using the App to compliment my game session, it was a little disorienting to go back and forth between the App and my television.  I didn't like how I couldn't tap on icons to specify new way-points, but all-in-all, it was a handy companion to have as I continued to explore the city.

In regards to the other sections of the App, the usability is fairly intuitive.



You scroll through menu options by either tapping or swiping, you view which Treasure Maps you've acquired, as well as, which treasure you've found, and you can view your fleet and track it's progress whether you are playing the game or out and about.

So enough already!  Go check out the App on iOS or Google Play and see how it can compliment your game sessions within Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag!
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I'm a fan of gaming.  If you're reading this, there's a strong possibility that you are a fan as well.  As fans, we keep our eyes and ears open for games that are coming out in the days, weeks and months ahead.  Sometimes they are delayed, sometimes they are discontinued, and sometimes they disappear and become legend as to when they "may" come out - or at least that's how it feels sometimes.

For me and a few others, Icycle: On Thin Ice, the sequel to the browser-based, Flash game Icycle from Damp Gnat, is one of those games.

Icycle: On Thin Ice (iOS [Reviewed on an iPhone 5])
Developer: Damp Gnat
Publisher: Chillingo
Release Date: November 27, 2013
MSRP: $0.99 (In-App Purchases Available)

But now with its launch on the Apple App Store, the wait is over and the adventure can begin.  And what an adventure it is.

Taking inspiration from the Art Deco art style and even the artist Magritte, On Thin Ice puts you in, at first, the sock hat (because that's all he's wearing) of Dennis -- a hopeless romantic who has fallen into a state of reality that, like the mission statement of the game's developer reads, "tickles the brain and challenges expectations."



20 levels, versus the 8 original from the first Icycle game, present varying landscapes and obstacles that define this platformer puzzler.

You will traverse a frozen wasteland (above and below sea level), a war zone, a fractured city, the mind of Dennis and even a deadly department store - not exactly Super Mario Brothers, but it's presentation is nearly flawless.

The animation behind Dennis and the world around him is vector-based -- meaning that the quality of each graphical element is crystal clear at any resolution.  You will see subtle facial nuances, hear him call out "Hello" in varying tones at the beginning of each level and even feel the chill of the air as it breezes by the oddly dressed traveler.

But the dress and unlockable elements to the game are another thing entirely.



Besides just trying to reach the end of each level, collecting Ice is your goal if you want to unlock more wearable and driveable items in the game.  A bowler hat, a Christmas jumper, a red BMX Raleigh Burner and even a beach umbrella are just some of the items that you can buy to customize Dennis on his journey through ice caves and the occasional hazardous department store.

There’s two tips that I’ll leave you with you before you head out into frozen unknown as Dennis.  One, at the beginning of each level, don't immediately head forward.  There might be something behind you.  And finally two, play this game with headphones as the echo at the beginning of each level really does resonate to the point where it acclimates you the landscape around you.



Icycle: On Thin Ice is a beautifully crafted, customizable game that takes you on an adventure unlike any that you’ve seen or expect.  For the price, this game is a bargain if only to look at the artwork for each level, but you’ll find Dennis an instantly-likeable character to pilot through the various obstacles.  Replayability is high thanks to the 80 challenges in the game, and more levels, in the form of “Dreams”, are possibly on the way.  Good luck and stay frosty!
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