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3:11 PM on 07.07.2015

Better with age: Morrowind


Yeah, this is going to be a hard sell to some people who haven’t played this one, I’m sure. Morrowind is the 3rd game in the venerable elder scrolls franchise, and one that has remained in people’s minds for years after its release, and it’s a pretty damn fine game even setting aside its issues.


But it has major issues, make no mistake and they do impact the game. The combat is awful, with random number generation guiding the damage you and enemies do, spells being useless without taking the required college course in how to actually cast spells worth a crap, and ugly, ugly graphics. And while some enterprising gents are hard at work restoring this beautiful work from its age based decay, I find myself musing on it.“But wait!” You cry, filled with the corrective righteousness that all comment sections have at least one advocate for, “this is an article called better with age, not worse with age!”And yeah, you’re right but I feel like not acknowledging this games flaws is disingenuous to its legacy. I won’t send out people to look at it with rose tinted glasses, but will instead demonstrate why it rises above that and ultimately why it is, in my eyes, better with age.

But to tell of that, I have to tell you of a dark time. A time before the internet was massively used for online gaming on consoles, a time when some jackass thought the fat Xbox controller was a good idea, a time when DVD discs roamed the earth, HOWLING for the disc drives of the unworthy. Sometime before the PS3 and Xbox 360 and when the game released in 2002.

The past

I remember starting up Morrowind as a younger human quite well. Even then it didn’t look great, but the scope of the world was so impressive that it sucked me into its world and kept me playing. I remember the odd names, giant striding insects used as transport, the starting area of Balmora being a familar place who I learned to traverse time and time again. I remember the disappointment of learning that my race prevented me from wearing certain types of armor, and also leaned some people to disliking me even more than they already did. I remember picking up axes and shields as the tools of the trade, stealing a lightning axe from a bewitched nord and sneaking off into the night, killing ghosts and fighting horrific monsters. And the terrifying nightmares sent by a man in a golden mask….
And then I remember, somehow, my disk getting scratched up and destroyed. I got it resurfaced, but it never quite played the same, the map was rendered useless and I gave up after a time. Years later, though, I would return to the world of Morrowind with the titan of Skyrim looming large in the background. 

The now…..st

It was a few years ago that I bought Morrowind, the complete version. With a new mod coming out that improved the graphics to a degree, I decided now was the time. Now I would dive back in, as an argonian once more, into the world of Morrowind.

It....…was a rough transition.

Even with the graphics mod improving the dated graphics, the game was still pretty ugly graphically. The character move speed was atrocious, making the world difficult to explore as someone used to the run and normal movement speed of Skyrim. The awful combat was still awful, with attacks and the hitting/damage thereof determined by Sheogorath, the daedric prince of madness. Combat that was impossible five seconds ago randomly becomes a breeze at his will, and it makes the game play poorly. This game has a lot of problems, not the least of which are hideous bugs that cause the game to crash or glitch. And the horrible loading times are icing on the cake, icing made of live wasps with a vengence pact against lips. 

But as the game went on, I remembered why I liked it. I did the same things as before, and felt like I returned home when I walked around Balmora again.   The world was odd and interesting, with bizarre bug dog monsters, odd crab-squid centaurs hidden in the water, and odd orange dinosaur monsters. There were huge mushrooms in certain areas, and different areas had different biomes. The game forced you to figure things out, learn geography and rely on your trusty journal to help with longer questlines. It’s so engrossing and interesting in a way some modern games fail to be. The world is a joy to explore, with plants and odd sights all around and pretty ambient noise and sounds. The sound design is great even if the sound quality is poor, the music is beautiful-one of the tracks in it will be familiar to anyone who has played Fallout 3 or Skyrim- and the aesthetics are still so interesting. Things had unique visual styles, indicating what they were and whether or not they had magical properties and you could experience several different armor sets and playstyles. Ghosts were unkillable without magic or silver weapons, forcing you to flee in terror should you run into one before you obtain one of these vaunted weapons. Level up screens held introspection, where your character mused on their increasing age and finesse. It’s a rich world, and in design/lore, I personally like it better than Oblivion by far, and even better than Skyrim. And I really, really liked Skyrim.

But I love weird crap more, and about the time you get to the mushroom lair of a wizard who created wives and will help you with your corpus infection this games pretty damn hard to beat. The world has bizarre areas like that, dungeons filled with people turned monstrous by disease who you cannot kill lest you face the wrath of the sanctuary guards…as well as someone very special indeed to the series lore. I haven’t dived into the sidequests a huge amount, but talking about the game again makes that a tempting prospect, not to mention the DLC pack made for it. The world is so atmospheric, and the weather and ambient noise really fleshes the world out.

The story is fascinating too, as you are believed to be Nerrevar, a reincarnation of an ancient warrior who fought against Dagoth Ur years ago, prophesied to defeat Dagoth Ur and deal with him in the massive volcano in the center of Morrowind whose ash storms spread death and disease. He’s a terrifying figure in your nonsensical dreams, a ghoulish figure wearing a golden mask and one who is built up throughout the game. But from the start, you have no idea if you really are the Nerrevar, until a certain event demonstrates the veracity of that claim. It’s a pretty interesting story, and it kept me slogging through the games issues to get there. I can say I enjoyed it all the way, and comprehending it better has certainly allowed this one to get better with age where it counts. It redefined what I though videogames could be, taught me the difference between east and west and still holds a special place in my heart. And if you’ve never played it, hopefully skywind makes the plunge all the easier. That aside, if you can stomach the issues, I’d say go for it and see for yourself why so many still love this game. And yes, I do think this one is the best of the triumvirate of Skyrim, Oblivion and Morrowind.

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12:03 PM on 06.18.2015

Killzone Mercenary Review: Technically impressive, but anemic

Killzone is a franchise I have never really gotten along with, even though I have tasted of some of the different games it has to offer.

Killzone 2 was a decent game that mistook swearing for maturity and it was fun but not memorable. It was not that colorful and it was mainly gray and brown, and interesting weapons were hard to find.

Killzone shadowfall was a beautiful game with some pretty areas…..that was a bog standard FPS with some bad frustrations that held it back from being something I would hold up as a good game. 

Killzone liberation for PSP controlled like crap and was ultimately so colorless I couldn’t convince myself to continue playing it and just gave up.

I point this all out to illustrate my above point, and to let you know where I stand on this franchise. If you really like the franchise, you may disagree-in fact you probably will disagree and so you should consider that when reading my review to know if what I liked or didn’t like clashes with your opinions. Now if you read on a consistent basis these blogs of mine, bless you sir or madam, I really appreciate it but also you may remember me blogging this particular blog. Or you may notice its sitting around, waiting for your hungry eyes.

This was written before I played shadow fall and I also played Mercenary before then, so I wasn’t as disillusioned on the franchise before then. So now that the set-up for my thoughts and opinions on the franchise as a whole are now laid bare, to tell of the value of my critique is to you, let’s hit it!

Story of Killzone as a whole

Spoilers for the franchise can be found here, skip to the bottom of this section for only kinda spoilers about mercenary.  

Mercenary, and all of Killzone actually, takes place in the future during future world war 2, but in space and also America is actually the bad guys! (More on that in a minute). The heroic ISA flies to two planets, Vekta and Helghan which are owned by the Visari Corporation, ran by a man of the same name. Big corporations don’t like how well his corporation is doing, and bribe the ISA to go boot them off of Vekta, the nicer of the two planets and claim it as their own. The people living there are forced to live on Helghan, a harsh mutagenic environment that alters the genetic makeup of the people living there and turns them into a distinct offshoot of humanity-the Helghast. Crushed under the ISA, they are forced to use cheap and dirty concrete and pollution spewing machines to build up a militaristic society and are called space Nazis because some of their number are big jerks and to be fair they do some pretty nasty stuff. 

Yet they overcome this and develop incredible tech to fight back against the bloated stagnant ISA and try to reclaim Vekta, fail, and are then invaded in turn in a hilariously insufficient attack on Helghan that leads the now mad Visari to bomb his own people and turn them against the ISA before being murdered by a jingoistic madman who serves with the player, the two of whom later literally render Helghan unlivable and lead to a berlin wall situation on Vekta.

And you play as the ISA, IN ALMOST EVERY SINGLE KILLZONE GAME, who are portrayed as generally heroic and noble even though they are clearly the polar opposite of that in most of the games. That forms the crux of my issue with the franchise as a whole, because no matter how much the game tries to make me hate the Helghast, all I can do is look at this from an outside perspective and determine the ISA to be the more monstrous of the two. It makes me roll my eyes at everything the cookie cutter protagonists do, and when you’re rooting  for the bad guys more so than the good guys, you may want to reconsider your entire game story guys.

Which is why I find mercenary to be so much more satisfying story wise than any other game, including shadowfall. It isn’t perfect, or even really that good, but it’s much better than the other storylines in concept at least.

Basically you are a mercenary, a rough and tough voiceless faceless protagonist who is one of many exploiting the current war for big profits. You work with Merc Company, and spend most of the first half of the game fighting the Helghast, as the ISA hired you to work with them. You save a general, and eventually you’re ISA loving Merc buddy has to sacrifice himself for stupid reasons to blow up a ship while you escape but you never really make a connection with him anyway and I feel that might be somewhat intentional. You then go to Helghan to help with the invasion and attempt to secure a scientist who has information about a scientist who has info on a virus that can be used to kill the Helghast en masse, but get betrayed and have to work for the Helghast for a few, fleeting moments. Then you go back to just killing everyone, because it’s an FPS. There’s also a thing about a virus that can kill tons of the Helghast or tons of normal people, but this is starting to drag.

Honestly, it’s a pretty nuts and bolts story and there’s not too much complexity to it but it gets the job done. I also like how both sides are portrayed as big a-holes, as opposed to the prior games and even Shadowfall to a degree. It didn’t grate or make me roll my eyes as the heroic ISA marches towards justice-in fact, the ISA is portrayed here as a bunch of incompetent idiots who have no idea what they’re doing and have technologically stagnated compared to the Helghast-in least in terms of lightning artillery. This game is mainly a tech and proof of concept demo on the vita than anything, and if you play it for the story you’re probably in for a disappointment, but it’s not the worst story ever told.

 Visuals and Mechanics

This is the most impressive and memorable part of this game for me personally, despite all my other misgivings. This game looks incredible, and shows the amazing things the Vita can do with the power under the hood. The game looks really good, better than PS2 graphics by a wide margin and the game runs smooth too. Mechanically it controls solid as well, though one gets the feeling that a sequel would get the feel better. Generally it controls like a full FPS on a console, but there is a weird awkwardness to it that doesn’t ruin the game but is too noticeable to fully ignore. Enemy AI is generally competent, and the game has stealth in it to allow you to grab more Intel, get more money and get better guns and armor. It runs really well, and sounds pretty solid as well. That this game is so solid on a handheld is just really cool, and it would have been cool to see what could be done if this was expanded if Sony wasn’t stupid.



Also there is a multiplayer scence, which seemed to be reasonably sized and actually provided some enjoyment, but I didn't mess with it all that much and don't expect too much longevity in it, competent as it may be. 

Music and Sound design

Nonfactor honestly, nothing special about it, nothing to write home about music-wise and the sound design gets the job done.

Wrap-up

So there it is, my review. Honestly this game is basically just ok at the end of the day, more notable for the console it’s on and being one of the first of its kind on said console that was actually worth anything. As I expected it looked pretty good, played pretty good, and just meh’d its way through everything else. Had these guys had another crack at it, maybe with resistance or a different franchise than this one if need be, they could’ve expanded on it, and maybe made something to build a story off of and create something really cool. Now that the tech limitations and control limitations have been set, they could have built on that skeleton, tweaked and improved it, and focused more on a new story that could’ve surpassed this one.

As it stands, that’s not going to happen because of Sony and the Vitas poor performance. But this game stands to show off the power under the hood, and how incredibly strong this platform actually is and I think that’s not entirely without merit. If you can get it cheap, hey I’d say it might be worth a shot if only to see what your Vita can do.

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2:46 PM on 06.10.2015

Risk of Rain Review: Dance in the rain

Risk of Rain is an indie game released a while ago that is no longer hugely in the public eye, but one that I have recently decided-for one reason or another-to review.

Ah-hem.

Story and set-up

Anyway, Risk of rain is a side scrolling rogue like pixel art action shooting game wherein you must attempt to escape from a hostile planet after an unknown force destroys the space ship you are riding on. This ship is one that is carrying tons of different and strange things in transit to different areas of the known galaxy-including your character. These items land and can be used to aid in your continued survival in the increasingly hostile world, as you make your way from teleporter to teleporter, fighting a boss at each one till you can reach the ship and send a distress signal to escape once and for all.

It’s a minimal story, but one that’s brilliantly woven into gameplay. Items that fall have descriptions that flesh out the world of risk of rain, as well as giving you special abilities. Said items were in transit and it makes sense for their variety and multiple different applications. Character escape pods hit the ground nearby-similar to the one you find near wherever you start on the first level-when you unlock new ones. It all works pretty well and creates an enjoyable background as you attempt to make it to the end of the game, which is one of the most amazing feelings I have ever had as a gamer.

That said there is an issue, and that’s character unlocking. While the commando is a decent enough character, I like him the least and it’s pretty difficult to get to far if you don’t like his playstyle. For me the engineer and acrid are personal favorites, but there’s such a variety of characters and playstyles associated with them that locking them all behind arbitrary restrictions is somewhat irritating to me. I understand that this is an inherent part of the discovery of items and characters and what not, but when some of the characters are hidden behind random drops that drop really infrequently (logs) and that you have no input in getting, it chafes. The engineer requires 40 drone activations, which at least the player can move towards and acrid has to be found in the sea area and beaten which again fair enough. But I wish there was a better starting variety of characters, so people weren’t forced to slum it with a character they don’t care for until they got another one. I have never played the commando again after getting the engineer and I never will most like.

Controls and mechanics

Risk of rain has 4 abilities for its characters, a jump and an item activation button. Seems not too complex, true, but these different abilities need to be utilized at the right time and in the right way to truly maximize their effectiveness, giving depth to the combat. You can play with keyboard or controller, but the controller is my preferred option. You can learn the buttons and what abilities they link to better, and I feel it controls a little better and more viscerally with a controller but to each their own. That said, the controller control of menus is poor, and you can’t even select item descriptions from your item list with it. Instead of being controlled with just going up and down, the controller moves the cursor on menus, and it’s not really elegant.

Still the main gameplay is tight, and you’ll need to play smart to stock up on items, deal with ever spawning enemies and make it to the boss. There’s also a timer that slowly increases the difficulty, ensuring that no matter where you start on the difficulty scale or how many great items you get, you’re going to have to deal with enemies who are more than a match for you in a sheer numbers game as well as toughness. The game requires you to play smart and learn how to best utilize your characters unique abilities to survive past the first two areas. Maps are randomized a bit on where item crates and teleporters are, and bosses are randomized as well. This keeps the game from having its locations grow stale, and forces you to sometimes backtrack across areas to try and find it while being hounded by enemies. Some random permutations even allow you to get artifacts which add unique permutations to the gameplay and allow you to mix up the gameplay.

Multiplayer, however is one of the areas where this game falls down. Co-op is fun, even if it can be hard to tell who’s who, and the game is in desperate need of a tether to on player so that if one goes off-screen they’re not just given up for dead to the respawning enemies. Additionally characters dont have seperate item lists, meaing you'll only ever know what player one is carrying if you should forget what player two is.  Online play is impossible unless you know how to do port forwarding on your router and get everything set up right, which is a massive pain. I know this is a small indie team, and I am sympathetic to that, but it’s something you should know before you considering buying a copy or two to play online with a pal.

Music and sound design.

Risk of Rain has one of the best soundtracks of any game I have ever played, period. Sound design is solid and gets the job done well, but the music is out of this world. It just works, and I never grow tired of hearing it. Each level has its own unique track, and each one is just fantastic. I sincerely hope that if you don’t at least try the game, you’ll give the incredible soundtrack a try, as it fits the themes and levels perfectly and it’s just a revelation.

 

Visuals

Risk of Rain is a good looking pixel game, with visually distinct locations and interesting enemy design. Enemies move in good looking ways, attacks have good visual feedback, and everything looks pretty neat. Your character is small, so in coop it’s easy to get lost in the chaos if you get cornered by lots of enemies and this can happen infrequently in single player as well. Still even the main characters are really visually distinct, and I like the aesthetic quite a bit. It’s a good looking pixelart game, and the vibrant colors and locales really help sell the alien world.


Wrap up

Risk of Rain is not perfect, not at all. It’s got some bugs, poor design decisions, poor controller support and problematic coop dragging it down.

But in every single other way, it is sublime. This is hands down one of the best games I have ever played, a game that plays great and sounds great and just looks great. That this is the work of a small couple of person team is nothing short of incredible given how great it truly is. It’s my favorite rogue like, and stands as a gold standard for what you can achieve with the genre. It’s so fun to play through, and learning the different characters playstyles is such a joy. I love this game, and even if it’s got issues its still just fantastic. It goes on sale all the time so if you are concerned about investing in it, just wait and grab it when it’s on sale. And then treat yourself to a game that deserves your attention and time due to the high quality on display.

 

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6:58 PM on 06.06.2015

Lone Survivor Review: An intriguing, flawed horror game

Way behind the times, perhaps, but I finally finished it recently and needed something to throw here....SOOOOOOOOOOOO...

I first got Lone survivor as part of a humble bundle, unaware of what it was and any of the buzz it may have had around it. I played it on PC, but never got around to finishing it due to a frustrating basement area (more on that momentarily). I later got it on sale for Vita and have finally completed it. What did I think? Well…

Vita Edge?:

Not really. While I prefer it on the Vita and think that the Vitas OLED and smaller screen add more quality and detail than on PC, it’s more a matter of preference than anything and you should probably just consider playing it on whatever works for you.

Art Style and Music:

One of the interesting things about Lone survivor is its art style, being a pixelated style that still conveys quite a bit of detail. The pixels are pretty visible and lend everything an interesting texture if there’s enough light to see them, and the monster designs are appropriately messed up. There’s enough detail to know what things are, and see certain actions in motion, and personally I like the art style and the messing around with lighting coloration. I like the look and the minimalistic interface keeps things clean and ultimately found it to be a good looking game indeed. I like the music in general, as it generally fits a tone and makes you feel content or worried as the situation demands. The sound design is appropriate and the monsters sound as gross or odd as they need to, with situations introducing different music to indicate different things. The music is also well composed-unsurprising if you consider this guy also made some of the music for Hotline Miami, which I find to be an interesting wrinkle.

World and Atmosphere:

The world is a dark place, filled with horrible inside out man-like monsters the narrator calls infected and another more bizarre variety. The world is a creepy one, and an oppressive atmosphere hangs over the player as they make their way through the cramped and confined apartments, leading to a bit of claustrophobia. There’s gross fleshy growths to be found, and hellish looking corruptions spreading across certain surfaces, with certain areas being partially demolished by some unseen forces in the past. The character believes himself to be the last one left, and most of the game takes place in his apartment complex and the city around it. You grow to find landmarks and get pretty familiar with the apartment, knowing its safe zones and tricks to get through the apartments as quickly as possible. You become very familiar with it, and each new item found that enhances your living situation makes your apartment feel more like home and makes you feel like you’re making progress.

However the basement is a black mark on the game, as it’s really frustrating and a pain to get through on a non-lethal run. If you don’t play the game just so, flares become impossible to get and the basement is near impossible to work through without using the gun, which a nonlethal play through prohibits. If you don’t use up your flares at the right time, you won’t find more and basement feels needlessly frustrating, though this is a horror game so perhaps there is fairness to it.  

The unlocking of quicker routes that make backtracking easier make the world feel more coherent and I find it’s a nice feature that allows shortcut use to make things easier.  Getting outside feels good after being cooped up, and the city is also interesting, with different buildings containing different useful items and odd events to find. There’s secrets to be found, and depending on how you play the game and what secrets you find, you get different endings. This is inspired by silent hill, after all. It’s generally well set up, but near the end the game loses steam and just kind of ends after getting through the city, which feels like an interesting new part of the game in its own right but is quickly gone.

Story

The world of Lone survivor is one in which nothing really makes sense, due to the unreliable narrator you play as. He’s literally only called “You” and he can’t remember his name, and as he goes through the world he sees several disturbing things that cannot be explained by anything other than madness or twisted magic. His only goal is to survive, and he can do so by lethal or non-lethal means. There’s things you need to figure out to get everything to work out, and the minimal handholding forces you to figure out things to do as good as you can. The apartment has a lot going on, and it’s interesting to watch the main character go through maddening events that can’t be explained and contribute to this story behind the scenes. After getting out of the apartment complex, the city only lasts for a bit and it isn’t too hard to figure out where to go, meaning the game doesn’t have much left after that and ends pretty quickly afterwards, somewhat anticlimactically I find. I like how the character has his own thoughts and responses to other characters, and how there’s a lot of hidden things in the game that affect your sanity-and by proxy the ending you get. However the ending feels anticlimactic and unsatisfying, and ultimately I wish the game had been longer to take more advantage of the latter half, and I wish it had ended on a higher note. I still enjoyed it, despite its imperfections and I hope Mr. Byrne gets the chance to make a new one at some point.

 

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10:44 PM on 04.22.2015

From Software, with love: Collect all the souls

Band of bloggers has rung the bell, and who am I not to answer the call?

Demons Souls. Dark Souls. Bloodborne.

Maybe Dark Souls 2, if yah squint.

These games-not including the king’s field series that is considered a spiritual successor-make up the soul’s series. All games are classically known for their extreme difficulty, and to those willing to look deeper, for their rich lore and worlds.

Except Dark Souls 2.

But it occurs to me that before we go any further in our discussions, perhaps it’s time to look back on where it all began, how everything went down and sum up the games for those who may not be as familiar. Obviously my personal perspective is at play here, and I’d like to share my views on each game as well as talking about timing and personal impact to perhaps interest those who haven’t had the chance to try one of this venerable series.

Demons Souls-a rough start

Recently I repurchased a used copy of Demons Souls, dredged up from the pits of suffering and eternal torment you tend to find these things dwelling in. After clearing off the ash and silencing the screams of those who came before using calming new age jazz, I popped the game in.

Time…..has not been kind to this game. It runs pretty poorly, even for a console game with lots of stutters and tears, certain animations are prone to breakage and it’s kind of ugly to be honest. Loading times are long, textures are bad, the game definitely has problems.

Now, when I had first played the game, sometime in 2009 I recall it not being quite so deficient, but nostalgia and time make fools of our eyes I suppose, though I do distinctly remember the awful loading times. Still, the core of the game is still pretty solid and once I got back into it, I found there is still enjoyment to be had.I remember getting the game as a Christmas present and being so excited, the trailer still thumping it’s rather unique drum heavy orchestra in the back of my mind. It was such a rich and interesting game, filled with secrets and interesting items to be found.

But make no mistake, difficulty was very high even early on, this is a soul’s game after all. And it pounded me into the dirt more than once, with cheap tricks and cheaper bosses. It’s easy to claim I needed to GIT GOOD but Demons Souls definitely suffers from more obtuse difficulty than its progeny. Certain boss fights are ridiculously unfair, some can only be fought via exploits and the game is hilariously unforgiving, with poor checkpoint systems stemming progress through tougher areas. Enemies that can one hit kill you, bosses that are a huge pain to defeat if you failed to at least get a bow and arrow (metal spider, I’m looking at you) and enemies that punish you for your class choice….yeah there’s problems beyond mere difficulty here. Yet I made it through this game despite these problems, and it’s a testament to the world building that I kept going even though the rough spots. It’s got its problems, but it’s a solid game and even if I find it to be the weakest of the series (not including Dark Souls 2, of course) it’s a solid game and you may want to try it if you can get past its significant problems. It’s a PS3 exclusive sadly, though this wouldn’t be the first time Sony ruined the fun for everyone else…but I will return to that in a moment

Dark Souls-prepare to sublime

Oh yes. Oh yessss. OH YESSSSS. This game, this game is my personal favorite of the series. The difficulty is almost always fair, the combat is weighty and solid as well as being desperate at times, and…URGGHHH it’s just such a wonderful game!

Ahem. But let me collect myself and at least have a set-up to explain how I and this game became acquainted.

It was back in the pre-apocalyptic times of 2011, when I first claimed this game and it claimed my heart in a way only a dominatrix can (the joke is masochism). I went after school, and managed to snag the last metal box copy my local GameStop had. Funny thing about that was that From Software had claimed it was a free upgrade, but failed to specify that it was indeed a free upgrade….for a very limited pool of first come first serve. Regardless I claimed my copy, the last that GameStop had in fact, and destiny on my side went home and proceeded to feast on the spoils. I listened to the phenomenal and sometimes downright bizarre soundtrack, looked at the art book and finally popped in the game to experience it all. I visited the community when I needed help and marveled at this deep, dark world, full of secrets and legends beyond comprehension.

And then proceeded to hit a wall, known better by its in game name, Sen’s fortress. Before then the game had been keeping me on my toes but that fortress stopped my adventure for a time. I needed time to step back and so I went and played Rage to completion….which was a horrible mistake, but I digress. Only when I had surgery was I man enough to leap back into the fray, and by that I mean I got my wisdom teeth out and needed something to do. So thanks to the power of corrective oral surgery, I plowed through Sen’s fortress and continued on, completing one of the finest games I have ever had the pleasure of playing.

Bonfires kept the game moving and made the game flow so much better, weapons were more unique and fascinating, lore was deeper and richer and shortcuts tied the massive world together, giving it a unified feel and creating immense satisfaction with each new shortcut. All of this created such a fascinating atmosphere and world, bosses were so integral to the story and earned their build-up and epic fights, and there was so much hidden that just blew me away. Finding the Ash Lake was one of the most amazing moments of the entire game, and the boss designs were better than ever. This game deserves its praise and proves that having high difficulty and requiring lots of patience can be refined beyond the more obtuse Demons Souls and this game stands the test of time as a game not beautiful for graphics, but with a rich and beautiful world, and I will take that over graphics any day. My favorite Souls hands down, and due to fan petitions it also came to PC. In a horrible state, but it expands the life of the game so much and now I can play it on my favorite system too.

Dark Souls 2

I feel bad for this game, I really do and I have shared my opinions at length before. With the main team secretly making Bloodborne, Namco Bandai/Bandai Namco decided to keep the cash cow-a-milking and split off part of From Software, like Athena from the head of Zeus into something new. But much as you never read about Athena becoming better than Zeus, this game never really succeeded to escape the shadow of its predecessor, something I would argue it forced itself farther into.

Dark Souls 2 released in 2014, and got decent reviews for console. This was good enough to risk getting the game before launch, with a decent discount for me on PC. The last game had been horribly handled, sure, but this one looked better. And to make a long story short, it was better-at least graphically. But remember what I said about pretty faces vs beautiful worlds? If not go up there and read harder, yah lazy non-motile bundle of cocci, you.


-EXPLANATION BEGIN-

-Cocci are small, round bacteria and motility is a reference to movement among smaller life forms. This joke has been made as a reference to microbiology, and should be taken as such. If you found this joke to be lacking, contact a local microbiologist to voice your concerns. Carry on please

-EXPLANATION END-

Anyway, yeah, besides the better graphics and smooth framerate this game was not nearly as good as Dark Souls. You can check out my full thoughts on that here, but needless to say it was a bit disappointing. Bosses would track you and attack even if you dodged at the right time, the world was disjointed and shattered by warping…bleh. Overall a bit of a failure, but a decent attempt and good enough to warrant some hope for a future game from these guys, if only they will learn from their mistakes. Not much to say I already haven’t said, so if you’d like more in-depth thoughts, check out the link to a previous blog above.

Bloodborne


Yep. This game has been getting universal praise, mixes up the traditional Souls combat system and has Lovecraftian elements filling it to the brim.

And it’s a Sony exclusive, ala Demons Souls. Unlike the other two, which both released on all systems.

HSSHHHHHHHHHHHH

I thought I was ok. I thought I had got past this fact. Then I watched this:

This fantastic song got my mind on the game, and showed off more and more of the game and what I had been avoiding with my trailer blackout. And it looks so good, and the world looks so good and the game just looks fantastic. IT LOOKS SO GOOD, and the reviews SAY IT’S SO GOOD. I want this game, I want it so bad but….because they made a deal with Sony, in a console war I as a PC gamer have no interest in being a part of I don’t get to play it unless I buy a console when I could just upgrade my rig. Which means I may never get to play this game. I hate to end on a sour note, and to be fair this was really a clever play on Sony’s part, but it doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking to me that I don’t get to play this because CONSOLE EXCLUSIVE HURR DURR. I love this series and arbitrarily not getting to play it makes me sad. I will update if this situation ever changes, but sadly I very much doubt that happening.

End Souls

So there it is. My personal experiences and thoughts on all the games in the soul’s series. Feel free to chime in the comments below and let me know what your experiences were, or your opinions on the games. Thanks for reading, and please rate this message!!!!

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3:02 PM on 03.24.2015

Wolfenstein: The New Order review: Insert Nazi pun here

Wolfenstein: The New Order released last year to critical and commercial success, proving that shooting Nazis is, in fact, timeless. For years Wolfenstein has been a fixture in the industry, even if in recent years its name has fallen into disrepute.

 It was one of the earliest shooters around, and is pretty highly regarded as one of the pillars of FPS history. Yet for years the franchise has somewhat fallen from relevance, and for the past couple of years it hasn't produced all that much of note until this game. With The Old Blood 20 dollar campaign coming soon, I think it's appropriate to write my thoughts on the game-as I finished it somewhat recently-to inform those who may not have tried it yet on what it is and why I think they should consider grabbing it, or indeed the DLC to get their toes wet.

Graphics and Mechanics

The first thing I noticed about WNO was the size of the game, 40 GB to be more precise. That's pretty insanely large for a game, as the next largest game in my library was Assassins creed Black flag, at 36 GB and that was a huge open world game. The size attribution is somewhat clearer, however, when you discover that not only is this running on the Idtech engine, but that it also uses mainly unique textures for lots of different stuff. It's a very good looking game, not the best perhaps, but still a good looker in its own right. 

 The aesthetic is also really neat, oozing a style that fits perfectly with the enemies and giving them a similar but distinct look to their compatriots. The tech looks somewhat old, and somewhat futuristic, which helps make the games aesthetic all the more interesting. There are certain set pieces as well that help illustrate how utterly the world has changed and moments like the drive to the London Nautica help build this oppressive world's atmosphere. Enemies have enough variation to keep you on your toes, but have a unified grim aesthetic that helps cement them as a homogenous force and fits with the overall themes.

The gameplay is rock solid as well, and that ties into the fact it allows you to pick up health packs and dual wield. Look, some people like the Call of duty linearity, 2 gun system, but I personally don't like it and find that it forces you to play one way depending on the guns they give you at the start or how much ammo they're going to drip-feed you determining which guns you have to choose.

 Running into a room, dual-wielding shotguns and blasting away before taking off and sweeping any health in adjacent rooms is much more satisfying to me than sitting behind cover all the time. You can dual wield 4 different gun types, and it's almost always satisfying to do so. You need to use some smarts, as at times the game is pretty unforgiving but the rapid pace and booming action is so engaging, bringing to mind good memories of the new Shadow warrior reboot. You can carry all your weapons at once, and the game forces you to switch by limiting ammo in certain areas for certain weapons. It's quite a well put together combat system, and it feels great. It's a good call back and it's ultimately a very satisfying game that only occasionally becomes way too difficult for its own good. The game is at its best when you have to keep mobile and blast away at your enemies without overwhelming you. However, it can be a bit too stingy with ammo and health for its own good at certain junctures, but overall it's a solid combat system.

Story

One of the big things I respect about this particular game is that it only has a linear single player campaign. The specter of having to have multiplayer hangs over our industry still and I can respect the decision to say no and then find success. Bethesda in particular is proof positive that you don't need multiplayer to sell, and I'm glad they continue to support more games from that school of thought.

Anyway, the story is actually one of the more interesting things to note in this game, simply because of how well executed it is. When you say story, Wolfenstein doesn't always come to mind, and with as bombastic as the combat is you might expect that to even less so, yet this games story is actually quite a large focus. It details an alternate future in which the Nazis gain access to super futuristic tech and manage to take over the world using it. Our hero fails to stop this, mainly owing to the fact that during this conquest BJ Blacsowitz, the player character, is incapacitated and in a comatose state due to brain shrapnel relations. During this time BJ manages to somehow not suffer muscle atrophy, and even manages to pick up a love interest...somehow.

There's some weird quirks to the story here and there, but overall it's actually pretty solid. The Nazis are really vile, the character building back at your home base is interesting and I like BJs inner monologue, even if I wish he would talk to others outside of cutscences. The games villains are twisted and interesting, giving you real reasons to hate them beyond just being Nazis, even if that is normally enough.

The occult magic of previous games also factors in a bit, though it's an interesting new take on the previous games handling of the magic and what not that I enjoyed even if it did remove some of the Nazis fearsome mastery of technology due to what it eventually turns out being. It's a fun game, and even if there are moments you can see coming a mile away it's still enjoyable.

Extras

Another thing that makes this game great is extra moments and text that build the world if you are interested enough to check them out. You can fulfill random tasks for the various inhabitants of your hide out, or just take the time to read news clippings and booklets scattered throughout the world to let you know what's happening in the Nazi controlled areas. There's lots of information on different things to be found, and it helps flesh out the world without shoving it down your throat, in a method similar to Metro: Last Light. There's also music releases based on famous songs but performed in German, which makes sense for the world and is just an impressive extra that didn't need to be included but shows how much the team at hand cared about what they were doing.

Conclusion

Overall this game is not perfect, as my gripes throughout this review may attest to. However, despite is imperfection, it's a great game that's fun and reinvigorates an old franchise in the best possible way via Machine games. If anything I have said piques your interest, I highly encourage you to give the game a shot and decide for yourself, but I think it's worth your time and money to experience this game. And hopefully we can say the same for The Old Blood, so keep your eyes peeled and we'll see how that goes. 

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12:02 PM on 03.11.2015

Why Dark Souls 2 is worse than Dark souls: and why I still hold out hope

The Scholar of the First Sin DLC is coming to Dark Souls 2 (or has already arrived depending on when you read this/when I can be bothered to publish this) with a bevy of improvements, most of which seem like they will help make the game better than when it first released and add some story improvements as well. And that got me thinking about something that had been on my mind since I had finished the game. Dark Souls 2 came out last year to good reviews, and seems to have sold pretty well. Yet if you were to ask most people, they’d probably say that they still prefer Dark Souls to Dark Souls 2 and I find myself falling into that camp. I’d like to talk about why, and in so doing hopefully target what the DS2 team can do to improve and make something on the level of at least Demons Souls.

A major departure

Hidetaka Miyazaki was the director of Dark Souls, Demons souls and the upcoming, fantastic looking Bloodborne.

And more important to consider than that impressive pedigree, is that he was not the director of Dark Souls 2. Now this might seem a bit unfair to the director of DS2, but to me it’s very important because it seems Miyazaki was a major driving force in making the previous games as rock solid as they are. I will delve into the different aspects in more detail, but ultimately I think his influence and vision are an important part of the divide between DS and DS2, and it needs to be considered throughout the discussion. There’s a lot missing in DS2 that could perhaps be due to other team members on Bloodbourne, but without knowing the specifics, the face of the studio has to be given the main credits. 

But without further ado….

Graphics and framerate.

This one is an easy win for Dark Souls 2, and even if they did lie in the trailers-which I find distasteful in the extreme-about the final graphical quality, it’s still a pretty good looking game. Lighting is pretty good, everything looks nice, and the game runs at a glorious 60fps. Dark Souls…has not aged super well, with somewhat poorer lighting, and worse looking textures. Its framerate is a bit choppy, and it has some glitches and problems. To be fair to Dark Souls, it was never planned for PC and only came to consoles, but it’s a very good improvement, and I applaud the team for it.

Unfortunately, this is the only real colossal improvement I find. Minor tweaks here or there help improve the games feel, but ultimately it’s the only thing I can unreservedly say is better.

Aesthetic and world

And here is where Dark Souls begins its roaring rise to the top of the hill. For all its ugly features and graphical problems, I still think this game looks better asthetically than Dark Souls 2. The game has more interesting locales and one of the key parts of that is that the world feels like a unified one rather than a disjointed stitching of disparate parts. In Dark Souls the areas tie into the lore and all are linked to feel that they belong together and fit into one beautiful picture. There are odd locations, but their placing makes sense and they feel like they link in some way to similar to the area before. The areas also tie into the lore and even the items build the lore of the area, solidifying its place in the world and explaining its presence to a degree.

Dark Souls 2, on the other hand, suffers from its world design not feeling cohesive or built well. A poison swamp leads to a poison filled windmill-fair enough.

Then that leads to a freaking iron castle sinking into the lava of the land it was built on. That’s the most egregious example, but it helps illustrate that the world feels more like levels created and stapled together than one cohesive world linked and interlinked together. One of the coolest moments in Dark Souls for me was seeing Lost Izalith from the giant’s tomb level, a small touch that solidified both places placement and their belonging in the world. Dark Souls 2 just feels oddly disjointed and certain areas feel like they could have been more fleshed out rather than being quick visual set pieces, ala the interesting tower area near the ocean that’s crumbling but lacking in real depth or areas and is more of an area to walk through than a deep area to explore. Areas are areas, and rarely get that much fleshing out to help build their place in the world, with some limp examples having info here or there, but not much else.

 

Items are also spread and try to build lore, but they feel poorly thought out and don’t build the world nearly as well as Dark Souls was able to achieve. Items in Dark Souls are tied to the wider story and world, so that each item was a reward to lore hounds as well as to your inventory, building a story in the background and leaving it there if you want to dig deeper. Even keys have lore, a small touch that adds to the world even more. Some Covenants in Dark Souls 2 are fine, and work in the context of the world but some feel like they don’t quite belong and are copy-pasted from DS.  They feel like someone’s just throwing stuff out there to seem deep but they feel hollow and too many items and spells are recycled as well. And hey, speaking of recycling...

Bosses

Bosses also get recycled as well, with some being reskins or straight up copies of bosses from Dark Souls. This comes off as terribly lazy, and linked with the fact that most of the boss fights are less interesting or cheap in the hit detection it just takes off more points. Honestly, only a few bosses really made me go wow, as opposed to most of the bosses in Dark Souls, and were so bizarre that I fell in love with their design.

There are some good ideas here, like the royal rat vanguard or the prowling magus boss fights that are actually pretty unique and fun, but they shine all the brighter next to bosses that are either boring or irritating to fight due to special conditions required to fight them. Hitboxes on bosses make several fights feel much cheaper than any Souls game should, with hits that were clearly going to miss nailing you because the game demands it. The hitboxes thing doesn’t ruin the game, but it cheapens and further weakens the boss fights, formerly a highlight of the soul’s series. And besides the looks, because the areas are poorly fleshed out, the bosses are also poorly fleshed out, with some of the bigger ones just being put in the area because they needed to be put there, rather than feeling like a cohesive part of the world. The 4 main bosses’ thing is lifted directly from Dark Souls, but there’s less meaning to it. Those bosses felt like legends, built up and nestled in their domains, with lore adding context and ensuring you knew they were forces to be reckoned with.

Dark Souls 2’s 4 great soul owners are just big bosses, put in there because Dark Souls did it that way and so that’s the way it has to be, without any real buildup and poor lore building robbing them of interesting development. Pretty much the only somewhat interesting boss of the four is The Rotten, but even that is robbed of lore and characterization. It feels like some key lore is missing, and so the world and bosses are weaker for that.

Story

Dark Souls 2 continues to imitate to it detriment, as it too is about you taking over a kingship after beating four big bosses and then one final boss who is one of the previous rulers of the land. You are chosen…blah blah blah...you get the point here, right? Remember Dark Souls storyline? Just that, but less well built, executed, and handled. This ties into the item lore and the buildup of the world, because that’s a massive part of the previous games story and many of the games mechanics tied into the wider story. Bonfires were tied to the undead, as were estus flasks, and bonfires also dealt with the fact that the world was slowly falling into darkness. Dark Souls 2 has no real bigger idea like that behind it, and suffers for the comparison. If they had altered the story more, and focused on a central theme the game would have been better for it. Maybe it feels like I am being harsh here, but nevertheless I am being harsh because this was their chance to really differentiate and create something uniquely their own, but Dark Souls 2 couldn’t help but wallow in the success of the former here. They had chances to make this game more their own, but it just feels like a lot of copying and disjointed story beats with no payoff. I expect better, and actually...

Hope for the future

I really have hope that the team that made Dark Souls 2 gets another crack at the soul’s series. Look, I’ve spent this article tearing down Dark Souls 2, but that’s because it’s a good game at its core. I tear it down because I want to expose the weak points and hopefully show what should be improved so that this team can create a souls game without leaching off their predecessor’s success. I enjoyed the game, but I would have enjoyed it more had it tried to be itself and embrace new ideas more. I want the team to have another go, and them introducing a patch to fix the lore indicates that they understand mistakes were made. It takes guts to fix lore and try and add more to help flesh things out, because it basically admits you made some mistakes. But fixing that gives me hope that this team can create something new in the soul’s series, make it their own and perhaps create another game truly worthy of the soul’s name.

I sure hope they do…because Bloodbourne is probably never coming to PC, and I needs my fix.

Thanks for reading!!!

 

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2:11 PM on 01.27.2015

Caught in the crossfire: Why I dislike GG and Anti-GG



Well, now that it’s the New Year I think a blog is overdue considering my last one was in the fall of 2014. So let’s begin by examining where that whole gamer gate thing stands, now that the dust has cleared a bit more. To say there’s nothing lingering of both sides of this movement would be untrue, but now we know enough and things have quieted down enough to take a look at the rubble and see what we can unearth. Now, as the title suggests, I really don’t care for either “side” of this whole mess and will attempt to explain why here, because some people may be confused how I could dislike both sides. But life is not black and white, it’s black, white and grey, and mainly grey at that. Extremism is the death of thought and conversation in this sort of discussion and it’s where the more despicable players lie so I tend to find myself closer to the center, getting nailed by the crossfire.

But perhaps I should give a little context for what this movement is to my eyes, and then explain my feelings on it more succinctly.

GamerGate: Origins of anger

Gamergate was started by a jealous ex-boyfriend to a game developer. I won’t name him here, but needless to say he is the progenitor of this movement, and considering all he has wrought I find him to be more than a little despicable.
So basically what happened at the beginning, was that the two broke up and the ex-boyfriend refused to move on. A simple story that has clearly spiraled into so much more, but that’s how it started by pretty much all accounts. The ex-boyfriend then proceeded to expose a relationship with said games journalist and a Kotaku employee, which had ended some time before he exposed it. The employee did not disclose his relationship, but neither did he cover anything by the game dev, but it could be seen as concerning to some, though the arguments of the merit of disclosure and what not were swiftly drowned out by the creation of gamergate. Certain elements within GG harassed and insulted Quinn and many other prominent female players in the gaming industry, all while claiming to represent gamers (they didn’t) and claiming that they were out to expose corruption in games journalism (which never really produced much). I may be overly simplifying this, and there’s some evidence that the ex and certain elements on private forums stirred up and whipped GG into a frenzy, but this is what I have observed and the conclusions I have come up to. This crapstorm started blowing up on twitter, and many could see it coming but still it caused a lot of destruction. Some inane GGer’s would harass any supposed article or tweet about them, so much so that some games journalists turned off thier twitter replies, the more violent would threaten women and expose their home address, and the rest who actually wanted better journalism never really pulled together anything solid from the muck.  Had gamergate had leadership and unified purpose perhaps it could do some good-perhaps it still can, even after all this. But their overreactions to any criticism or mentions that weren’t overt praise lost them sympathy in my book, and ultimately its caused a lot more harm than good. People have been chased out of their homes by some members in the movement, and many have had to forgo some aspects of twitter to avoid the bile. Most damaging of all, for all its claims of trying to get ethics into gaming journalism, it hasn’t borne much fruit.

So how could I oppose people who oppose a movement I clearly don’t like? Well to tell that story we have to go back and consider the games journalists who made up the Anti-GG team, because their actions are key to the beginning of my distaste.

Anti-GG: Revelations of contempt

This story begins with the fact that games journalists talk to each other. That’s not exactly a revelation, is it? Professionals are allowed to talk, have friends and interact in the media as long as they try to avoid letting it completely color their views. Even in private, I have no real issue though there is always the risk of collusion to the loss of the consumer. Now, when we talk games journalist we talk people who work at gamasutra, polygon, gameinformer, the escapist, destructoid, arstechnica, really there’s too many to list. These are pretty professional sites, staffed by professional writers, and yet their recent behavior seems to suggest otherwise.

Gamergate was starting to slow down relatively quickly. Support was dwindling, people were sick of the overwhelming negativity associated with the movement, and prominent games people were saying it was time to end it. They falsely labeled people who spoke against them as Anti-GG, and attacked them with gusto, and we were all sick of it. Everyone was exhausted, and just wanted it to stop.

Then a group of small “professional” games journalists decided to reignite the flames and pour accelerants on a dying fire-and in doing so caused more turmoil and anger that eventually led to many sites creating codes of ethics or silencing anyone who said that GG did make some decent points even if their execution was flawed, or calling out and bullying those who said anything nice about GG or even followed a supporter on twitter. Even now the effects are felt, and while those codes and statements were a good thing, as well as full disclosure via totalbiscuits example (from my perspective) it caused a gap between gamers and some games journalists. Not GG and Anti-GG journalists, not gamers and all journalists per say, but journalists who were virulently Anti-GG and gamers.

All gamers, you say? Wouldn’t it make more sense to say some gamers?

Perhaps, but if you agreed with what these people had to say, then you don’t think gamers exist.

Yeah, this small group “coincidentally” released articles in the same time period-some on the same day- that said gamers were dead.

Gamers. Are. Dead.


Let that sink in for a moment. These games journalists, called a significant portion of their audience dead. They made insulting generalizations like schoolyard bullies, and though I will not name them here, these people insulted their audience and told them their identifying hobbyist tag was not true, which would have been one thing. But some took it a step farther, and said we were antisocial basement dwellers, essentially saying that all the hurtful sterotypes the old media held about us were true. Heres a choice quote or two from my “favorite” article.

“‘Games culture’ is a petri dish of people who know so little about how human social interaction and professional life works that they can concoct online ‘wars’ about social justice or ‘game journalism ethics,’ straight-faced, and cause genuine human consequences. Because of video games. “

“This is what the rest of the world knows about your industry -- this, and headlines about billion-dollar war simulators or those junkies with the touchscreen candies. That’s it. You should absolutely be better than this. “

The sheer gall still…well…it still galls me, that’s the only word I can think of that will get past cuss filters. They not only told gamers their title was wrong, which you could argue this way or that way. But then they insulted us, stereotyped us, and said that we were as bad as some of the worst parts of GG. Blamed us personally for the actions of GG, as if we had any say in the movement, as if most gamers weren’t sick to death of the movement. Some articles went about this far, and while some didn’t go this far, but the sheer contempt for their audience was baffling and insulting. And it reignited the GG movement perfectly, but it also did something else-it showed gamers the sheer contempt some of these “professionals” had for their audience, and by their actions they showed that GG actually had some salient points. Anyone in the Anti-GG camp not only wanted it to end, that now wanted to witch-hunt and burn anyone even associated with the movement-even tangentially. Professionalism went out the window, people were attacked who had not themselves been perpetrators of abuse, and that’s still going on. One set of articles helped in one stroke show all this and begin the realization of how both sides operated. And it was hard not to see the similarities between the two.

Gamers Rising

Throughout all of this, a lot of bad crap has gone down on both sides. But you know who kept getting smashed by the collateral damage? By the crossfire?

Ordinary gamers who actually gave a crap about the industry and the medium. Some gamers don’t pay as much attention as I do, and some pay more but games are my passion. They are my hobby. And so, yes, I am a gaming enthusiast and therefore consider myself a gamer. And it’s important to look back to these events, as growing pains but also as how we view our media. Both sides deserve scorn, but the Anti-GG condemnation is longer because it’s more terrible than even GG was at its worst. GG was mainly made up of angry people, but without direction or meaning, just some angry gamers uniting but not marching in one direction. But Anti-GG? It’s been purported by professionals, by people we expect to be better, and who use the “with us or against us” fallacy. They can be just as bad as GG, but it’s almost worse because they should know better.

A lot of good debate has been had, and maybe this article has come a bit late, but I have been struggling to put into words how I feel about this until now. It shows deeper symptoms of problems our industry has, including some games journalists attacking and ganging up on others rather than engage in thoughtful debate. It shows our industry still has problems and that this whole debacle while mostly blown over is not in any way settled. Normal gamers shouldn’t have to fear the abuse of a group of bullies, and they shouldn’t have to see that same abuse coming from the people who work in the industry. Disclosure should be the rule of the day, not something only brought about by two mobs fighting for control. We shouldn’t have to fear voicing our opinions on a topic only to be slammed down or blocked because our opinions are wrong. Yet still this goes on, and gamers are the ones who suffer. Good people left the industry, good devs left and will continue to leave and children get up and try to smear others who have higher ethical standards than them but who aren’t held to those standards themselves. Too much, I find we lean towards anger and argument rather than rational, reserved debate. And there a quite a few game journalists who do try to engage in that. But this whole thing is not over, not resolved and it won’t be until we take a long hard look and find out who stands for gamers and playing videogames, even if they don’t like the same ones we do. People in power with contempt for their audience will start to find the ground eroded, and people who tear others down should be carefully examined by their followers to see if their point is being argued in the best way. Both these sides show problematic parts of the industry, and we have to try to change it so that one of the best media around can grow and mature rather than continue to suffer for its worst parts.

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1:44 PM on 11.24.2014

Ubi-Slop: The new EA?


Those of you with the ability to scroll down a few blog posts worth of headers may remember that I have taken Ubisoft to task for their poor handling of Watch_Dogs graphics issues and their outright lies about the nature of those graphics issues on PC.

But holy hell, these past two weeks have made me spew bile in a way that most doctors would agree is not the default setting for said expulsion. Ubisoft has made mistake after mistake, and I feel its time someone categorized and explained them to you if you are curious about why people are currently so pissed off with Ubisoft at the moment. Because all these mistakes are of Ubisofts own doing, and honestly they deserve to be torn to shreds for their behavior. However, let’s start at the beginning of the nightmare that was Assassins creed Unity’s launch, by qualifying its development teams ideas and why these ideas may have been a warning sign from the get go that this game was going to come out of the gate with three broken legs.

30FPS is more cinematic

Alright, first of all let’s just stop this festering sore from erupting right now. If you prefer 30FPS, I am not saying you are wrong but 60FPS is objectively better. Preference is opinion and numerical fact is that 60>30. If you like 30FPS, that’s fine but it’s not based on objective fact. I say this because I want to focus not on that but on the idiotic idea of being cinematic. Our medium is one of interactivity, and therefore comparing it to a medium of non-interactivity is foolish. And more to the point, the argument that its more cinematic is nothing more than a red herring to distract from the real issue, namely that the designers cannot get the game to run at 60FPS (or at 30-but we will come back to that). And that’s ok.
It really is ok.

But lying that you think it’s more cinematic and that it’s not due to a limitation makes you look stupid, and Ubisoft’s looking pretty stupid from the get-go, especially considering that films run at 24FPS due to LIMITATIONS OF THE TECHNOLOGY at the dawn of movies that are kept around for no other reason than stubborn refusal to change. Yes The Hobbit looked weird, but this is the first time anyone tried that level of FPS, and of course it’s not going to be perfect the first time someone tries it. So already this cinematic argument falls apart, as an excuse and a stupid one at that. Had they simply just admitted they needed to make the concession to make sure crowds ran well, that would be ok, but they chose the stupid buzzword approach.

And then? Things got worse.

Console Parity

You may remember that I leveled accusations that Watch_Dogs was graphically downgraded due to incompetence or actual attempts to make it the same as consoles to make them have parity. Why would they do this? It occurs to me that Ubisoft makes poor PC ports, constantly insults PC players as pirates, and forces its Uplay bull on us to play games-even games bought from Steam, a DRM service that unlike Uplay, actually functions well under high stress. So it’s in their best interest to keep console owners happy and buying consoles, because they don’t like PC and don’t want to be stuck with it on a raft for a couple of weeks when they can try and appeal to a little yacht that’s forced to endure them, though it is slowly sinking-but I digress. This is all just speculation on my part, and the second idea is pure speculation.

That first one though? Not so much a speculation now, as Vincent Pontbriand revealed when he told certain game sites that both consoles were locked at the same level to “avoid the debates and stuff”.

Look, let’s not tiptoe around the issue here-what that statement implies is that one of the consoles was not able to handle the same level of graphics as the other. And while it may be unfortunate that the Xbox-One can’t quite get to the same level as power as easily as the PS4 (PC gamer, no investment in console wars so calm down), that is an inherent trade-off that Microsoft made for other benefits of the system aside from graphics.

But tough crap, because people know that and accept it and reducing the parity of one to help the other one hobble along is dishonest and morally repugnant. Yeah, it sucks, but that’s how it is and Xbox-One owners knew that when they picked the console. Reducing, or at the very least not optimizing graphics for the PS4 means delivering an intentionally worse product to make people feel better about their system. This is stupid because people will debate anyway, regardless of petty things like subjective opinion, or facts (look at literally any console war forum for evidence, cause I’ll be tazed with a cattle prod before I even think about diving into that swamp). And of course debate kicked up anyway, because internet, but now most of our ire was reserved for Ubisofts stupid decision that proved they weren’t above reducing the potential of one game to make the other seem similar on a different system, which led to the obvious conclusion that Watch_Dogs was most likely not mere incompetence. It was most likely intentional, though the reasoning behind this stupidity may never be known to us.

50 cc’s of Steam to Uplay, stat! 

So while all of this is stupid, it’s only the beginning of this sordid little tale. Next Ubisoft pulled their upcoming big games from Steam in the UK, and then the rest of the world. They have since been returned, although I believe they are still not up in the UK. This is speculation, but I would imagine that since the UK gets treated like crap anyway for gaming, they wanted to test a rollout there and see if switching to Uplay would cause an appreciable drop in sales. The rest of the world, well that was most likely a mistake that was swiftly corrected but evoked the ire of gamers yet again. Irregardless, I believe this signals an attempt by Ubisoft to move us to their Uplay service much as Origin was an attempt to do the same for EA. And much like Origin, I would most likely only touch the service if I needed to. Still, if I was confident in their ability to keep their servers up, I would understand the decision. It’s a stupid decision, to be clear, but from a business perspective I understand it. They did say something vague about reaching a deal with Steam, which means they want a bigger piece of the pie and far be it from me to argue that Steam is perfect. But Uplay is a terrible service that’s just an irritant, offers barely any extra value, crashes when they sell a bunch of games meaning you can almost never play on day one or when a bunch of new players jump on a new sale, and honestly they just treat PC like such crap that I fail to see why I would give them the benefit of the doubt. I predict they will try this again soon though, so keep your eyes out for an announcement of that nature.

An early mornin’ embargo

Now, we approach the hill before the summit, the warning sign that beyond this hill lie something more hideous than Renee Zellweggers new face, apparently.  A day one embargo is never a good sign, and while it does not necessarily mean a game will be poor, it’s a worrisome indicator of publisher faith. The embargo released at around 9 in the morning and then…then the gates were thrown open. Yes, some people had access earlier and posted to forums, but most of us were waiting for the reviews.

And before us was laid bare one of the most high profile disasters of a big-budget AAA game we have seen in some time.

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations…… of horrible Q&A and testing

Assassins Creed: Unity was widely panned as being a buggy mess of a game, with reviewers noting game breaking bugs, problematic AI and broken animations. Even worse, it was later revealed that Ubisoft had not only added microtransactions, which I have talked about before, but there were chests in the game that could only be unlocked via the companion app on phones. And additionally, reviewers wrote nothing of these horrid microtransactions because the system-with some microtransactions reaching the 100$ mark-wasn’t online until after the review embargo was lifted, which may have been a coincidence but looks awfully suspicious in light of how the company has been acting. There was a day one patch, but it didn’t fix a lot of bugs, including the now infamous broken face image that haunts the souls of men in a way only these animation glitches can. More updates have been rolling out, but they still haven’t quashed all the bugs even this far along. That the game was released in this state is embarrassing, and since companies often don’t seem to care about that, financially damaging. Ubisofts stock dropped around 9% for their blunder, causing such a blow that they vaguely stated they would consider retooling the way they handled Assassins Creed development-though I doubt we’ll see it go back to a realistic cycle anytime soon.

And in the end, all of this damage, embarrassment and insult was incurred in a massive amount that had us calling Ubi the new EA. And for what? Short-term thinking turned this franchise into an annual one, destroying its potential and producing games that are not nearly as good as they could have been with more time. Many gamers, myself included, are burned out on this schedule and haven’t bought one of these games in years. And for what, I ask once more?

A mediocre game. Bugs may have plagued it, but regarding the core of the apple, most reviewers gave it mediocre scores, and it got almost no large praise. 2 years of effort went into building simply the Notre Dame, much effort was made to make the city look good. This should have been a return to the Italian heights of the games past, and yet all it turned out to be was a mediocre game in a line of the same. Maybe Black flag was alright, but Brotherhood was the last one I tried and found some enjoyment in. All of this, Ubisoft brought upon itself with its shortsighted greed and a team of developers who I have less and less faith actually know how to make a game properly. All of this could have been presented with smart budgeting, prevention of franchise exhaustion, and heavy testing. But Ubisoft did none of those things, and reaps the thorns it sowed for itself.

But we aren’t done yet, shockingly enough.

Ubisoft blunderbuss blast!

Ubisoft in the preceding week made it very clear to those observing that they had fired their PR team, because they went on to blame AMD-even though the issues impacted NVidia PC’s as well- for some of the issues. They also brillantly announced there would be no new Blood Dragon game, a game which a lot of people, present company included, absolutely loved, for no reason. It was just an announcement that they weren’t going to make another one. And while Far Cry 4 is getting good reviews, it too has some bugs plaguing it currently and it’s a game that is considered one to avoid till patches make it better. Assassins Creed: Rogue has received almost no attention or press, and reviews say it’s alright as well, an interesting concept wasted on an icy reskin of Black Flag. Ubisoft has with one game become one of the most hated companies in the gaming publishing scene, drawing ire from all corners towards themselves. At this point, people have been calling them the new EA, due to the immensity of their error. And what of EA? I have referenced them here a few times, but what about them? Have they released a game recently? Have they messed up recently?

The king of Idiot Mountain dethroned…..for now?

EA recently released Dragon Age: Inquisition, to universal acclaim. It has a few bugs, but it’s a monstrously large open world game, and that’s to be expected, as was the case with Far Cry 4. It was released in a working state, had the embargo lift a week or two before release and EA has been relatively silent on stupid comments. While that is actually be a bit worrying-silence doesn’t equal reform-it appears to be a hell of a lot better than a company that used to be not nearly so close to the crap pile. And we can only hope Ubisoft starts and EA continues their march from that pile towards something respectable. Because this crown is a hard thing to lose, and can be an easy one to gain if you’re not careful.

Conclusion

Ultimately, this whole saga has been a mess from day one, and no one wins. Preordering becomes more of a impedance than a benefit, punishing loyal customers with a broken unfinished product, we see a franchise some of us used to love further pushed into the ground, and Ubisoft loses financially. PC gamers get screwed over and over on this sort of thing, console gamers got a broken buggy game and an intentionally worse product in some cases.
Meanwhile, Ubisoft Montreal becomes the laughing stock of the Ubisoft stable of devs, messing up on a game that was set in the main company’s HOME COUNTRY and one of the most interesting settings any ASC game has explored in a while, not to mention among other games. It’s been a mess of terrible decision after terrible decision, and we can only hope that this sort of thing gets prevented from happening again. Nobody won here, nobody gained anything but a franchise that has imploded on itself and a mess of a game. And that’s just disappointing all around.

 

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5:22 PM on 11.03.2014

I HATE YOU!!-On the response to Hatred


First off, let me put out in the open that I know that by writing this I am indirectly contributing to the admittedly clever douchetastic tactic of marketing the hatred devs have used to promote their game of indeterminate quality. But I feel like it’s time I talked about it, because apparently there’s word of a possible boycott going on via Indies and youtubers, that involves wanting to censor it. And I want to talk about it because of the stupidity of that decision. But allow me to begin at the….beginning.


Shit.


Hatred is announced
Hatred, for those of you who don’t know is a top-down shooter where you massacre innocent people and police officers because you are an insane man with no name who wants vengeance. I won’t link to the video, or the site because I really have no interest in playing the devs game of promotion via outrage, and that’s not what this blog is about. That description I offered may seem dry, but that’s because while I find the game somewhat repugnant, it’s not out yet and honestly it looks like another Postal game.

 

Boring, with no hook but the promise of controversy and stepping over the line of societal decency and if it was making a statement on that, ala Spec Ops the Line and military shooters, I will applaud and pay attention. But I doubt it, and honestly that means it’s not worth getting crazy about. I am quite happy to see that a decent amount of sites I frequent only talked about it once or twice, recognizing the tactic for what it was and simply saying “bleh”, and moving on. But some sites were not so smart, and in an attempt to appear as the moral beacon of gaming helped promote this game far beyond whatever marketing budget the devs had in mind could propel it to. Apparently, sites like Polygon, Kotaku (to a lesser degree apparently) and perhaps others beyond my scope published post after post, screaming at the moral indecency and drawing more and more to see and judge the game. All but two of the google results of “polygon hatred” are articles about hatred from polygon, and each is a unique article. That’s quite a few more than my normal 3 gaming sites, and that right there is part of the issue I would like to discuss, anecdotal as that may at first seem. The game is of smaller importance than the reaction to it, and we must examine and think about that before we have the nerve to try and censor/quash something we deem “immoral.”

Also never ever google that word in image search. 


Those who fail to learn from history…


I want you to stop and think of a moral panic from the last 20 or so years, and I can guarantee that you can name at least one. Metal invokes devil worship, the Beatles and Elvis…something something sex, D&D encourages suicide and devil worship, Ouija boards are devil worship (pretty common, that one), TV media and movies cause violence, comics cause violence, and the most poignant of all? Video games cause mass murders, including Columbine and every mass murder since then. I haven’t seen people saying such things about Hatred, but the moral outrage part feels all too familiar. We are fans of a medium that is frequently attacked by idiots hungry for ratings, and those who are ignorant of the truth that some people are just broken, and there may not be a root cause or rationale behind their crimes, a rather scary prospect.

And I invoke these mindsets because not liking Hatred is one thing,. Censoring Hatred, or attempting to, that’s what evokes these memories in my mind. Why? Well, what you say when you try to censor something because you don’t like it is “it offends the moral palette, and therefore must be crushed and tossed aside” or perhaps “it will cause some harm to the minds of the innocent”.

This mindset is not new or original, as everything provocative triggers this reaction to some degree but we suffer moral outrage even today, so why would we inflict it on those in our community? It’s ok to not like or be disgusted with Hatred, and while I disapprove writing article after article whining about it is your right to free speech, and making their game is their right and censoring it is foolish and stupid. Art pushes boundaries, and by acting just like those who were morally outraged against our medium and still are, you are just as bad as them. Can you get angry at Hatred?

YES!!

But should you censor it? Of course not, because only the close-minded who are afraid of new boundaries censor things, and the world is a far less interesting place if you take away people’s right to be different. And for all you know, this could be a statement on our kneejerk reactions or how ridiculous claims of videogame violence are and how will we know if you crush someone’s free speech? We have had our favorite medium attacked again and again for being morally repugnant, yet we are eager as hell to censor and tear apart a game that even looks like it might offend our senses. A game that, as you may or may not be aware, is not out yet! (at time of writing) And that little caveat leads into what these sites who are morally outraged are inadvertently doing.


Free marketing


And now the second issue, one that came up more at the beginning, near the announcement trailer, and has somewhat died down, but will no doubt flare up near release date. And that is acting as a marketing arm of something you despise. While I do not advocate censorship, screaming about the game on and on and on is doing far more good for the thing you dislike than bad. Reviews are not good for sales, but freaking out about the game can only draw more attention to it, which is good for sales. So I want to address the people who keep writing about this game. Do you want to let people know how you feel, without drawing way more attention than necessary and beat the little outrage marketing trick they have going on?

Stop talking obsessively about Hatred, or really, anything else that markets itself solely on shock value.

It’s really that simple. Give a succinct, detailed explanation for why you feel the way you feel and then focus that attention on a game that deserves your attention. Don’t censor, but just ignore the game or just say you think its gross and then be done. If you truly want to not help this game out, censoring it is not the way to go. Let it stand and if it collapses under its own weight, let it fall but don’t keep drawing attention and wasting your readerships time with article after article. Because then this slimy marketing tactic works again and it just shows what a kneejerk reaction you have. And where the next talentless, visionless hack will know to strike first.

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9:00 PM on 09.08.2014

My Favorite Game: Fallout 3

I have played games for a decent amount of time, ever since I can remember. I played through some great ones as a kid, and even today I find something that suits my fancy to a good enough degree to declare truly great. We all have a tendency to rate most highly that which we play as children, or at least young adolescence because, in my opinion, this is our moment where something can perfectly define what we are, or do something amazing we never thought could be done. There’s so many different experiences that what caused your favorite game to be there is often up to the right timing, right lifetime frame of reference and perhaps countless other things leading to what that one game is that is just bliss. For most, as mentioned before, this happens as a child. Look at all the fans of Zelda games, or other older childhood games that were made when gaming itself was in its childhood. But irregardless…

Not quite so for me, as you may have ascertained from the title. I have played many games, and had played many before Fallout 3, with Bioshock being in a close span. I had just gotten into gaming websites as a hobby, and read about the game. The box got me, and after doing the research I tried the demo that enthralled me with visions of Rapture (teehee) but then I got another game. This one was a darker looking game as well, and I bought my copy used out of a GameStop with my older brother’s age advantage. The game had an interesting and incredibly detailed little game manual, a little booklet to describe how to survive in the nuclear holocaust. I looked at a back, promising choice and limitless possibility, and the...naughty? Mischievous?...way it said find your father...or not, with a wink made me smile. A game that promised much, and delivered. It trounced the already amazing sequence from that Bioshock demo, and blew me away like so much nuclear ash. And so, Fallout 3 could begin, with a blinding light, the last of many for a new awakening. 

Yes, perhaps I was something of a sucker for that dramatic little intro that so effectively introduced, not with word, or cut scene, or anything so physical-but that entrance into the hell of the wasteland. Yes, the sections where they dazzle you with a sudden revelation seem to have suckered me in as a kid, but nothing but that Bioshock scene has struck me in quite the same way. It threw you out into the world, running from bullets and your previous home into this new, destroyed world. There were so many different directions to go, the world was mine to explore. But the game was signposted well enough to let me know that megaton should be my next destination. This game blew me away, the emotions swirled and mixed and I felt shock and awe at what had befallen the world, even knowing what the game was about. It was an amazing moment, and I spent so much of that first bit just exploring the houses, looking at those skeletons and considering what had happened to those poor people.

The game is so littered with interesting set pieces, and there’s more than a few odd things that even as much as I have played this game-and I am willing to guess it goes above 200 hours- I still find new things. The world is so dark and depressing, but full of potential exploration and good memories. I remember killing raiders and then summoning a robot ally from his stasis to fight their support in the Super Duper Mart. I remember running from raiders and swimming away, my prior choice taking the lead belly perk proving to be a wise one. I remember the eeriness and unsettling atmosphere of the Dunwich Building-and the disturbing, unexplained, unexplainable obelisk within its bowels. I remember the nerve-wracking fight through each building filled with howling ghouls screaming in the distance. I remember the raiders who shook me down for the Nuka Cola formula so they could reinstate the great hockey arena battles that time and bombs had worn into a twisted memory of the true past. Some of these moments were unscripted, and they just happened, or at the least weren't tied to quests persay. So many more happen every time I play the game, and the world is so atmospheric, as things crash and explode in the distance as you wander this lonely, desolate shell of a world. It feels like an apocalypse, the world is deep and oddly quiet, with music kicking in but never being obtrusive or noticeable to an irritating degree. There were things that made me chuckle, things that made me laugh, and through all of it the shocking violence,

the horrible meat sacks the mutants carried and left behind…the first centaur encounter out of nowhere…it’s a game made all the more wonderful by its atmosphere, and the grim sadness that pervades everything.

Yet its enthralling, and the true freedom of choice is astounding, with unspeakable acts of violence or heroic acts of kindness-or the cold detachment that more than a few characters seem to have invested their points into…I love the world. The menu is intuitive and build into a wrist mounted computer, which further immerses you in the world, and the side quests are numerous and for the most part interesting, or linked to something interesting. It’s hard to truly put into words, hard to sum up how I feel about this game without writing a book…..but ok to sum up, if I had to try and end this with mere words…..

GARY!!!!!!

 http://fallout.wikia.com/wiki/File:FO3_Gary_Gaaaaary.ogg

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1:17 PM on 07.16.2014

Youtube promotional questions


Let me begin by saying that I do not use Youtube as a medium of self expression, though I have considered it. Let me also concede that there's a decent amount about this already from people far more ďin itĒ than I, but hey, its something current that needs talking about and I donít want to not post something for too long, lest people who frequent here think I have departed for that big Fallout 3 in the sky.

Now recently, a study was done -link here-of several Youtubers who admitted to taking money for coverage. Now while the numbers that were posted were relatively high, you also have to take into account those who straight up lied about any involvement. This survey should also be taken with a grain of salt, as all surveys should but it does raise issues around promotion.Some people will wonder why people taking money for promotion is such a bad thing, and thatís a fair question. Totalbiscut does this sort of thing, and no-one really takes issue with his promotional stuff. But the key for him is that he discloses when heís doing something promotional and is taking steps to make that even more transparent. And therein lies the issue at the root of the core of the center of this rotten appleÖin the center of the earth. Or something.

The issue is transparency, and this creates a severe question about the ethics of youtube journalism. Theres probably a fair amount of youtubers out there who donít disclose this sort of promotional deal-look no further than Machinima, which was caught producing content for the Xbox one for money. The problem they ran into is that they told no-one about it. It got found out, and they took yet another hit to their credibility, which has slowly been dropping for a while now but this helps highlight the problem at hand. This happened a while ago, but if even a big channel like them is doing stuff like this, than what are the implications for smaller channels? That may have seemed like an unlikely or small issue before, but this survey highlights that it may be neither of those things at this point. Hell, Machinima has been seen as iffy for a while now and could therefore be passed off as an anomaly, but this is undeniable. †

Not only is this practice against the law, but more importantly it violates the trust between viewer and viewee. These laws are weakly enforced at best, at least if this is this widespread without any FTC action, but that means that said laws are pretty unimportant to the discussion at this juncture. Taking money for coverage without telling your audience is unethical, and if my itty bitty little blog got paid to write something up or have adverts or some other stuff, you can bet your ass I would take that sweet cash-but I would also make sure to alert you to the situation. The audience is the reason for your youtube channel and what money you make off of it, and when you lie to them about your coverage and payment you break the trust between them as surely as Ubisoft releasing Watch_Dogs crippled broke the trust between PC gamers and the devs. They deserve to know if you are actually enthusiastic about what you are promoting, or are being paid for the promotion. Yes, maybe if they know they will get upset, or decide not to get interested in that thing due to the promotion aspect, but thatís their decision to make, and considering they are what supports your channel you owe them that decision. Youtubers who do promote gaming content are in the spotlight, and even smaller ones have an audience that depends on them for news and opinions. Taking advantage of that trust is poor form, and if your audience finds out and leaves to find someone they can trust, I canít say I have much sympathy.

So there's my thoughts on the topic. Again, I have very little insight on the topic but I thought I would just let ya know what I thought and maybe make more people aware of the issue. Another blog will be forthcoming, and if I start gettting a regular enough following I will try to be a lot less sporadic. Generally when something happens that pisses me off or makes me happy I want to talk about it, so given the stuff the gaming industry likes to pull, I should have fresh material soon enough. Feel free to let me know what you think, suggested corrections or whatever, I do actually value the feedback.   read


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