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Lance Icarus's blog

8:12 PM on 05.29.2013

Skyping With Spock: A Star Trek Into Darkness Rant (Spoilers)

I went and saw Star Trek: Into Darkness last night. I've never been much of a Star Trek fan, but the reboot gave me hope by establishing itself as an alternate universe from the original series. This meant the new series was free from the bounds of canon and had license to forge it’s own path and become it’s own story using it’s own versions of the original cast. Basically, Abrams is out to create some good ol’ Star Trek fan fiction. It’s with this mindset that I went to see Into Darkness in the hopes of seeing Abrams do something new and unique with a franchise that’s spent too long resting on its laurels.

It’s also with this mindset that every hope and dream I had for this new franchise died a horrible death. Even worse, I can point it all to one scene. 

Raise your shields, spoilers are incoming.

So you learn pretty early on that fugitive James Harrison is actually Khan, the infamous villain from Star Trek II who is mostly known for killing Spock and making Kirk shout his name for all the Internet to hear. I really enjoyed how Khan was portrayed early on. He’s definitely not a nice guy, but what made him so compelling in the beginning is the mystery that surrounds him and how most of his actions are driven by protecting his “family” (aka his crew). I felt sympathetic to the guy. Sure he mows down Captain Pike and a room full of Starfleet captains, but I might be tempted to do the same if I felt they had killed my family in cold blood. It also helps that Admiral Marcus is a pretty shady dude himself, sending the Enterprise out to unwittingly start a war with the Klingons. It puts Kirk in the interesting situation having to side with Khan or Marcus based not on who he trusts more, but who he trusts less. Unfortunately, all this wonderful mystery and suspense was absolutely killed by one scene right in the middle of the movie.

Are you ready for this one? You aren't ready. I’m going to tell you anyway.

Right after Kirk leaves the ship with Khan in an uneasy alliance to face down with Admiral Marcus, Spock calls Old Spock from the first movie and flat out asks him if he’s heard of Khan. 

I’ll say it again.

Spock calls himself to run a background check on Khan.

It is this scene, this moment that absolutely destroyed all the subtlety and mystery the movie had. Spock just straight up calls Leonard Nimoy and asks if he has ever met someone named Khan. Nimoy first says that he doesn't want to alter the crew’s destinies (Fuck you Leonard Nimoy, all you did was mess with the timeline in the first movie you lying sack of tribbles), but then says that Khan is a really bad dude who can’t be trusted and will kill them at a moment’s notice. Almost on cue, Khan turns on Kirk and crushes Admiral Marcus’ skull like an over-ripe cantaloupe.

After all that compelling drama the first half of the movie presented us with, we go straight into fan fiction mode. Khan goes full bore evil and attacks the Enterprise, eventually cutting power to the ship. Kirk and Spock switch places as Kirk is the one to sacrifice himself for the needs of the many by realigning some radioactive spark plugs and Spock now yells “KHAAAAAAN” to the delight of somebody. Then there’s an action sequence to recapture Khan to use his blood to save Kirk and they do the end (now that I’m thinking about it, do they ever explain why Khan’s blood has magical healing properties? Maybe I just missed the part).

The scene where Spock calls himself is the defining point that both destroyed this movie for me and my hopes for the franchise. You can’t have any mystery about the intentions of old foes from the original series because now we can just call up Old Spock and ask him about it. Even worse, Abrams seems to have no intention of doing something new and interesting with the series, merely content with treading old plots with a fresh veneer of lens flare.

Wouldn't it have been more interesting if Khan was just after his crew and had no intention of conquering the galaxy? Wouldn't it be cool of Old Spock was wrong? What if Kirk had just stayed dead and Sulu became permanent captain? I mean, just do something new and interesting with this franchise. Unless the trailers for the next movie promise some kind of drastic change, I don’t think I’ll be seeing it, because if Skyping with Spock is the best you've got, then I want none of it.   read

4:15 PM on 05.27.2013

Brace Yourself: E3 Is Coming

Now we know all the gladiators that will be duking it out in the arena to crown the next winner of the console generation. The Wii U is the only one who’s seen battle and he has the scars to prove it, having taken big shots from developers and sales reports. The PS4 is stepping into the arena holding high the banner of community, depending on the arena crowd to give it’s social features and “SHARE” button the strength it needs. The Xbox One comes in hoping that a strategy of integration will allow it to fit seamlessly into living rooms and gain strength from a massive install base. The gladiators put on brief displays of their capabilities through small press conferences before going off to the side. The crowd is already in a fever pitch, taking their bets on who will win the war, but only a fool bets now before we've seen the most telling sign of a console’s success, the element that has supported the champions through the generations: the games.

That, my countrymen, is why talking about winners now is useless, because only a fool bets before E3.

Many people have been disheartened about the next generation with all the talk of features and little to no discussion about the games. Wii U has been out for six months without any real news of major game releases past what’s already been promised, leaving fans to comment on potential instead of substance. The PS4 gave a good indication what it’s launch lineup will be like, but showed nothing past a few trailers and the promise of more reveals at E3. The Xbox One reveal concentrated on the console’s features and left next to no information on what kind of games it might play, including a rather bizarre Call of Duty presentation talking about how fish scatter and action shots of a dog’s mouth closing. What people seem to be missing is that the lack of games is all part of the strategy. Everyone is holding back and this looks to be one of the most important E3’s in history.

The biggest announcement about E3 so far is what’s not going to be there: a Nintendo press conference. Yes, Nintendo looks to be forgoing the usual spectacle of the big stage for a more Direct approach, discussing a number of core titles such as Smash Brothers, Mario Kart, and the next Mario on 3DS. This approach has the risk of getting lost in the shuffle of shiny that is E3, but that does mean it can potentially pull the rug out from under the entire event. Really, does Nintendo need an auditorium to get us excited for their IPs? Would the announcement of a new Mario, Zelda, or Star Fox game truly go unnoticed by the gaming press and public were it not broadcasted on a giant screen? It feels like Nintendo is going to let the software do the talking with this style of presentation and it could be their secret in the long run in a generation more excited about tweets and voice commands than core gameplay.

Sony is still going to have a big press conference full of all the glitz and glamour one would expect from Sony revealing anything, but they’re in an interesting spot. They have already shown off some of the heavy hitters for launch day such as Killzone: Shadow Fall and Infamous: Second Son. What they haven’t really shown yet, however, is gameplay (or their system, for that matter). Yes, Killzone and Watch Dogs got to show off a little gameplay, but that’s pretty much it. The big challenge for E3 is not only showing off more gameplay, but how those games are going to be interacting with all the features of the PS4. E3 might be a good time to let some of the press not only play some of the floor demos, but let them press that Share button to flood YouTube with PS4 footage.

Now we come to the big One. The Xbox One (or the Xbone, as everyone should call it forever) was revealed to the world less than a week ago and gave us next to nothing gamewise. Why should they? E3 is right around the corner, why not save all your biggest game reveals for the biggest game industry trade show on the planet? All that talk about voice commands and exclusive NFL deals was just an introduction for E3. They didn’t reveal anything in that launch lineup that would be considered a “system seller,” so I’m looking for them to try and come in with at least one huge game reveal to try and get core gamers to ask Santa for an Xbone this year. Actually, he’ll think you’re some kind of pervert. Stick with Xbox One for that.

We’ve got two big systems launching in the fall and Nintendo looking like they’ve got nothing to lose. It’s almost time for the gladiators to duke it out, ladies and gentlemen. This coming E3 is going to be a beautifully bloody battle with the early lead in the next console generation on the line, but only one can stand tall. Who among the big three will win E3? Perhaps a fourth warrior will step forward and pull a huge upset, like the Ouya or a debuting Steam Box? The fight begins in two weeks. I promise that you will be entertained.   read

12:02 PM on 05.20.2013

How Nintendo's Ignorance Is Costing Them Youtube

Nintendo has taken steps to “protect” their properties by claiming Content ID on various Lets Play YouTube videos. Now naturally this has led to many crying foul about Nintendo being a big meany blocking out all that ad revenue from those poor Lets Players, but lets sit back for a second and think about this. Does Nintendo have the right to issue content claims on video and audio they created? Of course they do. Now, is it really that bad of an idea to issue copyright claims on your work that someone else is profiting off of?

Yes, yes it is. It’s a catastrophically bad idea in ways they don’t seem to realize yet. In order to understand why this is a bad idea for everyone involved, we first have to understand how YouTubers make money on their videos and how Nintendo’s actions affect them.

YouTube has a revenue sharing program for videos that become popular or users that are apart of it’s YouTube Partner program. The gist of it is that when you upload a video that has revenue sharing enabled, an ad will be placed to the side of the video or one will play before the video starts. When someone clicks on that ad, the content creator and YouTube share the profits from that ad click. When you have only a few hundred viewers, this is usually a rather small amount. Get your video viewed over 500,000 times though and your profits become a sizable chunk.

What Nintendo has done is become apart of YouTube's Content ID system which allows them to find copyrighted Nintendo audio and video clips and tell YouTube what they want to happen to those videos that are using their content. What they’ve chosen is to allow videos to stay up that have Nintendo content, but anything gained with revenue sharing will now go to Nintendo instead of the original uploader of the video.

In an effort to explain their actions, Nintendo gave an official statement to Gamefront:

“As part of our on-going push to ensure Nintendo content is shared across social media channels in an appropriate and safe way, we became a YouTube partner and as such in February 2013 we registered our copyright content in the YouTube database. For most fan videos this will not result in any changes, however, for those videos featuring Nintendo-owned content, such as images or audio of a certain length, adverts will now appear at the beginning, next to or at the end of the clips. We continually want our fans to enjoy sharing Nintendo content on YouTube, and that is why, unlike other entertainment companies, we have chosen not to block people using our intellectual property.”

Take special note of that last line where Nintendo compares themselves with other companies who would instead block certain videos. They’ve taken a moral high ground where they’re the user-friendly company who will let you post your Legend of Zelda walkthroughs without fear of reprisal. They do have a point about how restrictive other companies are (The WWE was so strict on YouTube that uploaders started reversing images and using code names like “Cheese Souffle” to try and stay under WWE’s radar), it shows how ignorant Nintendo is of why people watch videos from these YouTube personalities.

You see, people don’t follow people like JonTron and Zach Scott because they’re using in-game footage and audio. They’ve gained an audience by being personalities that are fun to watch. Nobody is watching these guys for the Nintendo games, but because people want to know their take on a product, what jokes they have to offer, and what insight that may have gone unexplored by others. Now that Nintendo is starting to take away ad money, these personalities are afraid to post anything related to Nintendo, which means Nintendo is now missing out on hundreds of thousands of views of their content they wouldn’t be getting with their own trailers. YouTubers lose out on ad revenue and Nintendo misses out on free advertising for negligible profit. This kind of lose-lose situation is especially sad when you consider how this could have been a far more profitable opportunity for Nintendo.

There are many game companies who understand what an untapped market YouTube can be for them. EA has tried to promote Battlefield and Dead Space using popular YouTube personalities while Muse Games invited people like PBG, Angry Joe, Criken, and Totalbiscuit to play in a Battle Royal to promote their Guns of Icarus Kickstarter. Hell, Sony is putting a “Share” button on the PS4. It’s easy to see why popular YouTubers would seem appealing to an advertiser. Not only will these YouTubers do the bulk of the work for you, but the communities that follow these personalities are very dedicated and loyal. If they see one of their favorite users playing a game and having fun with it, they’ll be more likely to consider that game than if they simply watched a commercial. Not every effort to monetize YouTube views is successful, however, so what could Nintendo do to not only win back the YouTube community, but work with them to increase everyone’s profits?

The vague nature of YouTube's Content ID system is what is causing the most problems, so why not create your own system to regulate videos based on your product? Nintendo could create a program of their own to let YouTubers become official Nintendo reps and give incentives for creating videos for products that could use a boost of public awareness, such as a smaller or new IP. At the very least, Nintendo could allow videos to go unaltered as long as they follow specific guidelines about how much footage they can use, what kind of videos they can be presented in (such as no Lets Plays, but top 10’s are okay), or even how far YouTubers are allowed to Lets Play a game for (something like no Lets Plays that go past a certain point in the story if the game hasn’t been out for X number of years). Just having a list like that would help clarify what is and is not okay with Nintendo and help ease YouTubers back into celebrating Nintendo instead of viewing it as an omnipresent entity looking to profit off of their hard work.

It’s always a thin line when it comes to policing your fans. Nintendo is showing a very old school business mentality of looking after their trademarks with the tenacity of a hundred wolverines, but the modern world is one where that’s become impossible. They think they’ve found a middle ground where they “reward” loyal fans by taking away their video profits, but this lack of understanding about the YouTube community will only serve to alienate their core fans even further and blind them from the opportunities of working together with people who know how to draw a crowd. They may not have blocked any of these videos, but Nintendo has blocked themselves out of YouTube. What a shame.   read

9:38 PM on 05.01.2013

In Memoriam Lucasarts, My Oldest Friend

When I got the news on Twitter, I was devastated. I learned that one of my childhood friends was gone. I can’t say I didn’t know they weren’t doing well, but I always held out hope that they would get better and their glory days would return. Unfortunately, someone came along and pulled the plug. They were just gone one day. No last hurrah, no blaze of glory, just a quick article about their death. I can’t help but look back at the good times we had and how you were my only friend at one point in my life. You will be missed, Lucasarts.

It’s hard to admit that when I was little I didn’t pick up many social graces. I had just moved to Washington State after leaving my lifelong home in California to pursue my father’s new job and I was constantly switching schools. I had lived a pretty sheltered life and it did me no favors as my awkwardness and shyness lead to constant bullying in any school I’d drop into. For the first couple of years I didn’t have a friend to my name as my parents continued switching me from school to school hoping something would stick. During that time I took a liking to computers and I had tried a few games, but nothing really stuck until my parents bought me a copy of Sam & Max Hit The Road. This game was different from the usual shareware fare my loving mother would give me. These characters were talking directly to me and they didn’t mind that I tagged along in their adventures. At the time, they were the only friends I had.

Sure Sam and Max may not have been the most ideal friends for a seven year old, what with their fascination with wanton violence and collecting of dismembered hands, but it was all I had. The time I got to spend with the pair of freelance police officers made my constant school hopping and run-ins with bullies just bearable enough to get to the next day. I must have spent over a year completing that game, getting stuck at certain points and trying to find “clues” in the scenery. I was convinced that the smudges on the wall outside of Sam and Max’s office was a vital clue that would blow the bigfoot case wide open! Eventually though, I actually did wrap up the case and finished the game. I remember being genuinely saddened that my adventure with my two friends had finally come to an end. It wasn’t easy saying goodbye to Sam and Max, but I was comforted in the idea that maybe there were more games like this; games that would invite me into their world full of people with a joke to tell. I decided the best place to start was with these Lucasarts guys from the Sam and Max box.

It was through this search I discovered the other great games of the Lucasarts library. First I got Day of the Tentacle and teamed up with Bernard, Laverne, and Hoagie to stop a rogue tentacle from world domination. After I thwarted the evil purple tentacles plans, I jumped into Monkey Island and helped my buddy Guybrush Threepwood fulfill his dream of finally becoming a pirate. I would then use all the skills and sword fighting insults I learned on Mêlée Island to stop LeChuck from achieving his revenge. All of these wonderful games and their incredible worlds drew me in and made me feel like I was apart of them. What had started out as stumbling onto a game about a dog and rabbity thing solving crimes became something more. These characters, Guybrush, Bernard, Governor Marley, Sam, Max; we were all a family. They were all characters I could turn to when I needed a place to go and have a laugh. It didn’t matter if it was just raining outside or if I had faked sick again to get away from the bullies at my school, they were always waiting with a line of dialogue I had never heard before or a joke right when I needed it.

Eventually things started to settle down as my family finally found a house and a permanent school for me to go to. The bullies there were just as bad, but I was also able to find my first two real friends. We had bonded together because we were the kids who were picked on the most and would retreat to each others houses to find solace from the harsh treatment from our peers. One guy had brothers who we’d play football with. One guy had an Amiga and an imagination that wouldn’t quit. Me, I had Lucasarts. The first time I shared The Secret of Monkey Island with them was like introducing my new friends to my old ones.

Lucasarts would continue to be a fixture in my life when my friends and I discovered Star Wars. My experience with Star Wars: TIE Fighter would make me fall in love with the space sim genre and finally allowed me to see the universe from the point of view of the Empire.Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire would be a constant contender for attention when I’d play N64 with my friends. We managed to turn what was a single player game into a party experience, laughing as we’d lead stormtroopers right into the claws of a rampaging Wampa and racing each other to see who could bring the AT-ATs down the fastest. Later on, Star Wars: Battlefront II would dominate our gaming nights as we would dogfight in our X-Wings and TIE Fighters in epic clashes over the moons of Yavin. Though these games didn’t bring me into them the way that the old adventure games did, they were still creating the worlds that enthralled me and let me and my friends create the memories we still have today. Lucasarts had now taken a step back and began telling us all the old war stories, allowing us to put ourselves right into the middle of the action.

Now I’m in my mid-twenties and I have a close circle of friends, but I was worried about my old friend Lucasarts. It had been a rough few years with a constant stream of mediocre titles that opted to recap the Star Wars films in lego form and having Han Solo dance for your Kinect’s delight. Lucasarts was more than happy to tell all the old war stories again, but in it’s old age the stories had started to get confused and, at times, nonsensical. Lucasarts would introduce people like Starkiller into his stories like they were there the whole time, tossing around TIE Fighters and bringing down Star Destroyers with the power of the force. Darth Vader could do all this too, but chose not to when Luke was going down the Death Star trench, I guess. The rambling stories were bad enough, but the worst part was how much Lucasarts seemed to hate me interacting with the stories the way I used to.

Everything became about the spectacle and moral choices at the cost of the characters I had grown so close to in my youth. It wasn’t the Lucasarts I had known, but I still loved it anyway. The writing was on the wall when Disney bought Lucasarts for an absurd amount of money, but I didn’t want to believe it until the plug was officially pulled. Just like that, one of my oldest friends was gone.

I’ll be the first to admit that I felt a little empty inside the day I heard the news. All of the old family was still around for the most part, having primarily taken residence with Telltale Games, but Lucasarts represented more than simple games. For a year of my life, they were the only friends I had. They were always there for me when I needed them. The jokes they told me helped me developed the humor I would use to get the friends I have now. In a way, they taught me how to make friends. After teaching me that, they selflessly stepped aside and made game worlds designed for me and my friends to create our own memories in. I’ll never forget what Lucasarts did for me.

In the adventure game of my life, there is an inventory slot that can never be filled again. Rest in peace, old friend.   read

4:20 PM on 12.27.2011

The Top 3 WWE Storylines Going Into 2012

Man, we were all pretty worried about the WWE in 2011 going into the summer, weren't we? A lackluster Wrestlemania and the retirement of Edge made it feel like this was just going to be another Cenathon where nothing new happened, the status quo would be strictly enforced, and the most exciting thing we'd get was the once in a blue moon live appearance of the Rock. However, that was not meant to be.

On 6/27/2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada, CM Punk took his seat at the top of the entrance ramp and went into a promo that would make everything that had already happened in 2011 obsolete. For a couple blissful weeks, every wrestling fan on the planet asked the questions “What did all of that mean? What's going to happen next?” Sure those questions were eventually answered and the feud between Punk and Cena came and went, but I think those two questions need to be asked once again. This is an interesting time to be a WWE fan and 2012 holds a lot of possibilities.

With 2011 coming to a close, I figured it was a good time to take a look at the major themes that dominated the latter half of the year and how they'll lead into 2012. I figure we should probably start with why I'm writing this in the first place.

"I hate this idea that you're the best, because you're not. I'm the best. I'm the best in the world.
-CM Punk during his worked shoot on 6/27/2011

There's no way the WWE could have foreseen what allowing CM Punk to rant on a microphone for just under six minutes would do. I'm still not sure how that promo actually happened when McMohan is infamous for approving everything down to the last letter and would NEVER allow something this critical to go on-air, but that's what made it all so interesting. It was something new and unexpected from a company who had spent the last couple of years stagnating under a sea of SuperCena comebacks and nostalgic callbacks and guest appearances. Everyone was suddenly paying attention to CM Punk, and he made damn sure nobody looked away. The excellent feud with John Cena catapulted CM Punk through the glass ceiling and into the main event picture. Even now this former ROH star continues to cut the best promos around and continually delivering high quality matches, most recently playing his role in the fantastic TLC WWE Championship match with Miz and Alberto Del Rio.

What it means for 2012: While the “Age of Punk” continues with him going into 2012 as the WWE champion, he's clearly settling into his role as one of the top faces of the company. He doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon and I expect some of his best work to still be ahead, especially when the opportunity to steal Wrestlemania away from Cena vs The Rock will fuel Punk's creative juices and probably end up with him working his butt off to build whatever heat he can going into the show. The road to Wrestlemania in 2012 has everything it needs to be a memorable one, but the lingering effects of Punk's rise could lead to one of the most sought after turns in recent memory.

Oh yes people, it's time to talk about Heel Cena again. This is a discussion wrestling forums have been talking about for years, but now it seems more plausible than ever. The rise of CM Punk and, more importantly, his newfound drawing potential allows the WWE to start toying around with the idea of turning their top face heel. A lot of people are saying that the TLC PPV buyrates will prove to the WWE if Punk can sell a PPV. The new “Anti-Cena” shirts are also testing the marketability of a hated heel Cena. If the results of these two experiments are positive, we could very well be looking at the long awaited turn of John Cena, leading into Punk vs Cena II.

"The reason I started [my show] was either to get noticed or get fired, and because of all you people, I got noticed.
-Zack Ryder After a WWE RAW Dark Match

The PG Era wasn't just about the little box that comes up on the corner of the screen saying “TV PG(V).” The PG Era was about wrestling appealing to the lowest common denominator. RAW and Smackdown were becoming so formulaic that it was possible to predict feuds before they even really started. I remember predicting entire PPV cards with 85% accuracy, my score thrown off mostly due to the pointless diva matches and the occasional “shocking win” designed to continue the feud until the right guy won. The glass ceiling was as strong as ever. One obscure superstar realized he'd never get on RAW in the current system and that he was probably a month away from being future endeavored. With nothing really to lose, he decided to post various promos and sketches on Youtube in the hopes of getting over.

Zack Ryder posted the first episode of Z! True Long Island Story on February 17th. Ryder was just another story of a midcarder who had his one lackluster push and then promptly pushed down to Superstars, waiting for his inevitable release from the company. Bonus points for being apart of a tag team that was broken up. With nothing but a crappy clubber gimmick to his name, Ryder created a persona that was the definition of a plucky and lovable underdog, complete with friends and family showing their support for Ryder in the Youtube vids. Fans connected with the self proclaimed “Internet Champion” in a big way, flooding arenas with Zack Ryder signs, constantly selling out Ryder's only shirt, and chanting for Ryder when he wasn't even on the night's card. With the fanbase growing and Cena reportedly leading the charge in the back, Zack Ryder finally started appearing on RAW and in short order created a feud with Dolph Ziggler that would prove to create heat for the US Title that creative couldn't even hope to match.

What it means for 2012: A social media push to end all social media pushes. WWE flipped a complete 180 on their social media policy from banning wrestlers from social media outlets (Yeah, Vince was paranoid about storylines getting leaked on the net and threatened to fire anyone posting from a non-kayfabe account) to having it be the only thing announcers talked about, all thanks to Zack Ryder's success with the medium. We've seen only a small taste of it in 2011. That's right dear reader, it only gets worse from here. We're only a couple of months away from the the Gobbledy Gooker coming out as the Twitter bird to promote Twitter use during Wrestlemania weekend.

This push, however, has changed the paradigm. The focus has shifted off of the children that had to beg their parents to buy them one shirt to the internet fanboys willing to buy every piece of merchandise a superstar had at the drop of a hat. The internet smarks that Vince used to hate are now holding his ear. It's a brave new world where two former ROH stars are your world champions and promising midcarders are getting more shots at breaking through the glass ceiling than ever, as long as they're being talked about on Twitter, of course.

Hell, maybe the Internet will finally convince the WWE to drop all the deadweight girls and bring in talented workers to legitimize the Diva division! Hey, a guy can dream, right?

"...It’s fun watching us pretend to be superstars when [Me and CM Punk] are really just a couple of Indy schmucks.
-Daniel Bryan the day after winning the World Heavyweight Championship

I mentioned previously that your current WWE world champions are former ROH world champions as well. Before this year, it was incredibly rare for a popular indy talent to even be in the main event picture, usually dominated by FCW grown talent trained in the “WWE template” of wrestling. We saw the old standbys of John Cena, Randy Orton, and Edge dominate the main event stage while talented indy wrestlers like Evan Bourne (Matt Sydal) and Kaval (Low-Ki) were driven to the bottom of the card with seemingly no hope in sight, so much so that Kaval basically quit the company before the company could do it for him. During this year, however, a funny thing happened.

Edge had to suddenly retire due to an old injury. Undertaker was barely able to even appear at Wrestlemania anymore, let alone Smackdown. Rey Mysterio was injured halfway into the year. HHH only wrestled PPVs when he did wrestle. The age of the vets were finally catching up with them and the WWE needed new blood in the main event picture. Yes we saw plenty of Cena and Orton title reigns, but we also saw perennial midcarders Christian and Mark Henry win the World Heavyweight Title along with international stars like Alberto Del Rio claiming the WWE Title.

What it means for 2012: With the need to create new stars greater than ever for the WWE, many wrestlers are getting chances that they would have never received even a year ago. If there was ever a better time for talented international wrestlers to try and make it in the WWE, this is it. With TNA Wrestling releasing popular X-Division stars in favor of older wrestlers with better perceived drawing power and a flood of lawsuits over treatment of talent (including things like not paying medical bills and forcing workers to work hurt), the image of two former indie stars holding the top titles in the company could be an awfully powerful motivator for wrestlers to head over to Vince's brand instead.

2011 has been a wild ride for people who love the WWE, especially if they also love the indie scene. Well known indie stars CM Punk and Daniel Bryan are your world champions, Zack Ryder went from Superstars obscurity to the US Championship based solely on the support of the fans, and the path to super stardom is available to anyone who's willing to put in the work instead of who fits the WWE template. We're entering 2012 with a level of excitement not seen in years and a feeling that change is in the air. Will the potential of WWE's new direction reach full bloom in 2012 or will the youth movement be buried in favor of the status quo? Only time will tell.

Personally, I can't wait.   read

10:48 PM on 12.19.2009

Love/Hate: Final Fantasy XII's Battle System

I bet the second the “Love/Hate” Monthly Musing came up a majority of gamers went straight to JRPGS and the “Hate” portion of the title. It would seem that I’m no different, but I really do want to finish Final Fantasy XII and love it to death as I tend to do with Final Fantasy games. I’ve heard all the praise for its rich story and dynamic characters, but I can’t bring myself to keep going. I can link the reason to one aspect of the gameplay that makes me want to toss the game disc into rush hour traffic. That aspect is the awful battle system.

I can’t blame the Final Fantasy developers for wanting to try something new. Everyone can agree that the battle system used through Final Fantasy X worked, but was becoming archaic. The system definitely needed to change. When Final Fantasy XI Online was released, we were introduced to the new battle system meant for the MMO community. This was the same battle system that was ported over to Final Fantasy XII, a game that’s strictly a one player experience. This is a shame because I really dislike MMOs.

Positioning during battle doesn't matter in FFXII, leading to battles that boil down to one click combat and constant micromanaging.

I’ve taken my shots playing World of Warcraft and Star Wars Galaxies and have become extremely bored with them. Usually I’ll play with great enthusiasm until I hit level 20 and the grinding (the MMO term for fighting random enemies to gain levels) overtakes the pacing and I begin to lose interest. Perhaps the biggest reason I begin to feel like I’m grinding is the common one click battle systems employed in a lot of them. Final Fantasy XII has that kind of feel to it even though it tries to shoe horn in micromanagement on the fly as a big feature, misunderstanding that strategy is suppose to end battles sooner instead of making them unnecessarily long. It didn’t have to be this way.

The “Tales of” series has my favorite battle system and it would fit perfectly in a Final Fantasy game. My favorite game in this series, Tales of Symphonia, sports all the micromanaging of Final Fantasy XII as a way to prepare for battles. You can set certain buttons as shortcuts to tell a computer partner to do a certain action, set your formation to keep your spell casters back and your melee fighters up front, and if you hit certain attacks together you can create a unison attack that does major damage. None of this stuff is revolutionary and can be seen in other titles, but when you actually get into the battle all the micromanaging gets cut down to “choose spell to cast, cast spell.” The success of the battle is usually a mix of preparation and your actual skill in battle. Yes, battle skill is a player action and not necessarily one of character levels. Since dodging enemy attacks comes down to physically moving out of the way, you can employ real battle strategies like flanking, diversionary tactics, hit and run, and others. Compared to this kind of system, Final Fantasy XII creates an illusion of strategy.

In Tales of Symphonia, however, positioning means everything, leaving battles more up to skill and on the fly tactics than menu navigation

Even though Final Fantasy XII allows you to run freely during a battle, it doesn’t actually affect the battle itself. You can stand directly behind an enemy and watch him attack where you once were, only to take damage. You can hit an enemy and run away, being a good ten feet away from the enemies attack and still get hit. It will quickly dawn on you that you’re just playing the same old Final Fantasy battle system with some minor MMO clichés tossed in for good measure. All the free roaming does is help you avoid random battles by not attracting attention (Or “aggro” as the MMO players call it) and have you run away manually and waiting for the invisible bungee cord all enemies are attached to fling them back to their starting positions. It doesn’t take long before that same feeling of grinding kicks in.

My copy of Final Fantasy XII continues to sit on my shelf collecting dust. I know I want to finish that game after hearing how great it gets towards the end. Unfortunately the clumsy and convoluted battle system meant for MMOs just takes all the fun out of the game. Instead of rewarding you for skill and strategy like Tales of Symphonia, it penalizes you for not pausing the game every few seconds to micromanage every little thing about your computer partners and seems to loathe the idea of open world battles that aren’t just glorified dice rolls. Maybe one day I’ll be able to get over that system and be able to enjoy the much lauded story I so desperately want to witness. However, it’s far more likely I’ll just get an MMO loving friend to play the game for me and allow me to watch the story while I play Mario Kart DS during the battle sequences.   read

12:56 AM on 12.11.2009

Smackdown vs Raw 2011 Wish List

Thousands every year annually buy the newest Madden football game. For wrestling fans like me, however, Smackdown is our Madden. Every year I always think I won’t be interested in the next year’s game and then the new trailer comes out that makes me want it. That cycle completed itself once again with Smackdown vs. Raw 2010. The thing about these yearly games is that they always leave something I want out. It could be gameplay elements, presentational faults, or just a really bad decision concerning the direction of the game. That is why I present to you my list of things that should be changed in Smackdown vs. Raw 2011.

#1: Taking wrestlers from the ring to the backstage area

In the Smackdown games you usually have a good selection of backstage areas to fight in, but in recent years they made this a separate mode entirely. If you want to fight in the backstage area, your only option is to start out there instead of actually traveling from the ring to the backstage areas, as usually seen in WWE programming. This is one of those gameplay elements that have eluded the Smackdown series for a while now. It’s odd that a feature that’s been around since the Nintendo 64 has yet to make its return on the Smackdown games. It is possible that they may have taken it out to avoid extra load times when transferring to the next area that would break flow, but just have the camera scan the crowd with announcers yelling “Can we get a camera back there” to mask the load time would actually add presentation value since this scenario plays out all the time on TV. The inclusion of this feature would definitely add a little extra drama to the next Falls Count Anywhere match by actually allowing my match to end anywhere .

The Dirt Sheet Brawl area made far more entertaining.

#2: Better backstage areas

Since we’re already on the subject of backstage areas, how about giving us a little more to play around with? In the 2010 game we had some fun areas to play in like Vince McMahon’s Office and the Locker Room Brawl, but there were also the Dirt Sheet Brawl and RAW Interview Set Brawl areas that actually had no environmental interaction other than climbing some scaffolding to jump on an opponent or hitting them over the head with a laptop. The Smackdown series is well known for its amazing backstage areas (most series fans have fond memories of the Time Square area from Smackdown: Shut Your Mouth), but this year’s scaled back offering left a lot to be desired. The most boring areas to fight in were actually the areas you unlocked through Road to Wrestlemania, Smackdown’s main mode. If you’re going to let me unlock backstage areas, make them something different. Maybe get nostalgic with the infamous Boiler Room or go through a supermarket ala “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Booker T. Hell, put them in a graveyard or a space station if you feel like it, just make me feel like I really unlocked something cool.

#3: Hardcore Belt 24/7 rule option

The days of the Hardcore Belt in the WWE were some of the most exciting matches of the 90’s. For the uninitiated, the Hardcore Belt had a 24/7 rule attached to it, which meant that a match could happen any place, any time. This rule lead to some hilarious clips of the champion getting ambushed at amusement parks or the Laundromat, trying his best to run away from his opponents and keep his belt. The belt has long since been retired, but it still lives on in the Smackdown series. Adding the option to turn on the 24/7 rule again would definitely add some interesting elements to a regular match-up and really make the belt feel special again, not to mention adding a little more weight to the newly included WWE Rivals mechanic. Imagine just having a quick match with Hardcore champ Tommy Dreamer when all of a sudden Jack Swagger slides into the ring and begins beating down Dreamer, trying to pin him and win the title. That would definitely spice things up.

#4: Create-a-Crowd Sign feature

Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 was a great year for Create-a-Wrestlers (aka CAWs). You can create up to four attires for your CAW, give them a custom front finisher AND custom dive finisher, customize their entrance, use match clips to create a custom entrance video, use the paint tool to make your own symbols, and more. With this staggering number of ways to customize your CAW, it’s hard to believe they managed to leave out one creation feature that would seem to require the least amount of effort to implement. Crowd signs are a staple of pro wrestling, allowing fans to express their love or hate for certain superstars in ways few other sports can imitate. In a game that already has a paint tool in it, why not simply allow the ability to export the finished creation as a crowd sign? Just make the canvas dimensions the same as a crowd sign and we’re good to go. This is the one suggestion I expect to see in the next game since I’m sure someone on the development team already thought of this one and just couldn’t get it into this year’s game.

Back in Smackdown 2: Know Your Role, you could have entrances where your guy was hit by a missile.

#5: Take Yourself Less Seriously

This has to be my biggest complaint about the direction of the Smackdown series. Back in the original Smackdown where they wouldn’t even render entrance backgrounds (the wrestlers would do their motions in front of their titantron video) you could use the craziest entrance animations for your characters. Even when they started rendering real entrances you could still have three wrestlers come down in the same shopping cart, eventually hitting the ring and causing everyone to crash in different spots. The last few years have been trying to imitate the real WWE product as closely as they can. That’s not a bad thing, but I want to be able to do some outrageous things I can’t see on TV with the colorful characters of the WWE. The humor is still there, even having an achievement for viewing a certain odd move in the create-a-moveset screen. Please bring that humor back to the overall package with wacky entrances, impossible falls, and moves that could only be performed in a video game.

Don’t take this list as harsh criticism or a negative review. I think Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 has been one of the best entries into the series in a long time that will provide anyone with even the slightest interest in professional wrestling hours of enjoyment. However, these annual games cannot remain stagnant and must continue improving with every new installment in a very short developmental window. That’s why I don’t approach this as a rabid fanboy demanding these specific changes on an already great game, but as a fan that has made it a tradition to think to the future and the next big entry into the series. I’m really not that excited right now for Smackdown vs. Raw 2011, but I know myself and when that new trailer rolls around sometime next spring, I’ll be salivating for the newest game all over again.

If you have any ideas on what would make Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 a better game, leave a comment below. Seeing everyone’s ideas for making the games better is what makes this so fun in the first place   read

6:19 PM on 11.27.2009

The Wrong Thing: The Consequence of Sin

Evil is debated immensely in video games. For some it’s the choices a player makes while for others it’s how the game portrays what evil is. In the end, though, evil is the result of something. Evil is a consequence of the actions taken in the game, either by choice or by game design. Video games, however, are notorious for having no permanent consequences for your actions. Therefore, without consequences, video games players cannot perform “evil” acts.

Developers have made attempts to add the weight of consequence to their games. The current fad is the “moral choice” system. The basics of it is that you’re given a series of good and bad choices throughout the game and the game changes accordingly, either giving you a good guy storyline with powers or a bad guy storyline with a different set of powers. The problem here is that all the moral choice system does is affect the storyline into two different routes and the powers are basically color swaps of each other with the exception of the highest level ones. All this type of system does is create replayability, but at no time are there any real consequences to your actions. If an “evil” choice makes a character too dead for your liking, load up that save file and take the other choice to make sure they survive. This lack of permanency is not lost on developers as certain ones have tried a stricter approach to consequence.

Steel Battalion, known for its massive controller, also had a save system where if your pilot died in battle, your save file was automatically deleted. That pilot’s life was gone. Tying this type of system to good or evil where death is a very real consequence for your character would add immense weight to the decisions you make. The problem with this type of permanency, however, is that it really isn’t that fun and ruins the escapist experience of video games. Imagine being near the end of a 40+ hour RPG only to get backstabbed by some skeleton soldier and have your save file deleted. If this system is too heavy on consequence while the moral choice system is too light, what middle ground is there for gamers?

Mass Effect 2 may have the answer for us. It contains a function that allows importing your save file from the original Mass Effect into the new game. While most people would think this leads to a few minor perks to help start your journey, an interview with lead producer Casey Hudson states that the Mass Effect save file tracks everything that you do and is “setting a variable so that as the story progresses we know that you did a certain thing on a certain planet…this is literally hundreds of things” (source). With this system, you could play halfway through Mass Effect 2 and a decision you made back in Mass Effect 1 is finally coming back to bite you in the butt. Reloading your Mass Effect 2 save won’t change anything, which means you’ll have to play through all of Mass Effect and start on a new save file to change the outcome of that consequence. This creates a scenario where it’s incredibly time consuming and difficult to change a decision made in the original game, but it won’t adversely affect your Mass Effect 2 experience by deleting any of your save files. This creates a dynamic where any evil decisions in the old game may catch up to you in the new game and may make you decide to take a journey back to your past to alleviate your sins, thus giving the consequence of your actions a huge weight.

Evil is non-existent if it does not create a real consequence. The moral choice systems of many games have no weight since a load of the save file will wipe any past evil acts away while the stricter systems like the ones in Steel Battalion carry too much weight and take away the escapist fun of a video game. The best solution seems to be something like Mass Effect 2’s save importing system which carries with it a real consequence that cannot be undone easily and may lead some to take a new journey to alleviate those past sins. The escapist nature of video games simply doesn’t allow for permanency, making the feeling of true consequences for evil acts impossible. That doesn’t mean, however, that the journey to alleviate evil sins cannot be a long and difficult one. For those not willing to make that journey, then you’re just gonna have to carry that weight.   read

5:39 PM on 10.30.2009

An Open Letter to College Bands

I love what you guys do with music, always trying to do something different than what's saturating the airwaves. I respect that. However, you guys aren't perfect. I just want to list some of the general mistakes you guys make. Sure some mainstream bands and even some rock legends have made the same mistakes, but college bands are the biggest offenders.

Feedback is not a note. I know you think it's really cool when you hear that screeching sound coming from your instrument and it's forgivable at a live show, but when I sit down and listen to your songs it sticks out like a sore thumb, especially at the end. I've heard songs where feedback is treated like a solo, getting about 30 seconds worth of airtime in the middle of the song! It's annoying to listen to on speakers and it's almost unbearable on headphones.

Only use ambiance sparingly. Sure it's nice to hear some calming bird noises and what I call "space sounds", but when it takes over a minute to get to the song itself, that qualifies as abuse. This isn't that bad if I was planning to listen through the whole album, but these days we're more likely to throw songs together on an iPod and put it on random than go straight through your album without a few other artists between tracks.

Where do these lyrics come from? "You never were safe/incarcerate the talons/Albeit jello street." Does this come from any song in particular? No. Did you think it could be in a song by a college band? Yes. I'm a believer that a song should tell a story, show an emotion. Your lyrics usually do neither. It always seems like your just shredding up a dictionary and tossing the pieces into the air, copying the words down as you catch them. If you're so committed to making no sense at all, just leave the lyrics out of it and make an acoustic track.

Those are just a few suggestions I have, but I'm sure the fine people of Destructoid can help me out and post their own suggestions. Please take these to heart the next time you write your next ballad about the girl who left you for the big city.

Page of Concrete,
Lance Icarus   read

3:19 PM on 10.29.2009

Nothing is Sacred: Rearming the FPS

Do you remember when you could play a game like Turok for the N64 and unleash the Cerebral Bore on unsuspecting enemies, watching intently as brain matter comes gushing out of their doomed skulls? What about the first time you were sniped by The Farsight XR-20 in Perfect Dark? Even going back to the days of Doom and Quake you can find arsenals that were unique and exciting. The First Person Shooter (FPS) genre always felt like something new was right around the corner.

Then in 2001 Halo came out for the XBox and creativity came to a screeching halt. Even though the game itself was immensely fun to play and brought the FPS back to the forefront of consoles, the shockwave it had over the genre devastated the landscape. Things like regenerative health bars and space marines began overtaking the entire genre, being put into situations that made absolutely no sense in context of the game. Even World War II soldiers were magically patched up after ducking behind cover for a few seconds! The worst part of the post-Halo FPS, however, is the same arsenal being seen in 95% of all games. You all know the list, so sing it along with me:

Pistol, machine gun, shotgun, sniper rifle, rocket/grenade launcher, and one unique exotic weapon.

Ever since 2001 it seems that you can find these weapons in order, usually leaving the one unique weapon for the last level to beat the last boss. Usually it isn't even that unique, usually being some type of laser or an explosive that's slightly larger than the rocket launcher. It just seems that developers are playing things safe and are deathly afraid of rocking the boat. I can only think of three interesting and new weapons off the top of my head that can really be considered truly unique that have been out recently (Half-Life 2's Gravity Gun, Portal's Portal Gun, and Bioshock's Plasmids if you're wondering) . I think it's about time to turn the arsenal template upside down and throw some creativity back into the FPS. I've come up with a few ideas myself to help jumpstart the imagination train:

The Pink Pistol

You may think it’s weird to start with a pistol after ranting about the stagnation of the FPS genre, but this is no mere paint job. This baby shoots corrosive acid instead of bullets. It’s like a super soaker from hell. This weapon would be designed more for weakening enemy armor, but it can be used to melt some faces in a pinch. This is just the beginning, however. The next weapon you get is….

The Hole Gun

You remember those old Loony Tunes cartoons when Bugs Bunny would toss a small circular hole in the way of Elmer Fudd and he’d fall right in, then Bugs would pick up the hole and walk off-screen? That’s basically this gun in a nutshell. Just shoot this gun at the feet of your enemies and a small hole pops up. If the enemy doesn’t realize it in time, he’ll walk right into it. The hole shrinks and closes before the enemy can climb back out, leaving them in whatever black void they’ve fallen into. It’s meant for smaller enemies since big enemies wouldn’t drop into it, but it’s a good way to get rid of those stupid little grunts so you can concentrate on the bigger threats. That’s what this next weapon is for.

The Rain Maker

It’s a simple weapon that shoots a mortar shell into the clouds above. After a few seconds, blood will rain down from the sky, creating a surreal scene perfect for any epic battle. The blood will have no effect on your enemies, but the obscene amount of lightning shooting from the sky should get their attention. Every lightning hit causes a good amount of shock damage and stuns for a few seconds, allowing you to go to town on them using other weapons. This one’s definitely for the people who feel the desire to dance in puddles of blood as they destroy their foe. This won’t work inside, however, but we’ve got you covered on that front.

The Sonic Boomer

When you absolutely positively need to clear a hallway in the next five seconds, the Sonic Boomer is here to help. It takes a few seconds to charge, but get this baby at max force and get ready to unleash a sonic boom at your opponents. It’s especially effective in closed spaces, where the boom can’t disperse anywhere but forward. It’ll blow any enemy to the back wall if used correctly, allowing you the opportunity to toss a well placed grenade at the newly built pile of bodies. If the enemy has been weakened enough, however, they’ll simply get their skin and muscles blown away, leaving only a skeleton to crumble to the floor. While it’s an incredibly fun gun to use, it may not hold a candle to this next one.

The Rock You Rocket (aka the RYR)

Sometimes you just need to publicly humiliate your buddies in a death match and send the other team a message. This baby is sure to do the trick. Simply launch this rocket and control it remotely to the target. Once it makes contact, it will attach itself to the enemies back, allowing up to ten seconds to do whatever you want to them. Maybe you want to spell your initials in the air and show the other team who killed their member in style or maybe you want to send them chasing after their teammates. Whatever you chose to do, a smile is sure to follow. There’s even a secondary mode that allows you to attach it to your own back for an immense speed boost, just as long as you remember to jettison the pack before it explodes on its own. As humiliating as this weapon is, it doesn’t have anywhere near the “owned” factor as the ultimate weapon on this list.

The Omega Javelin

It’s just your regular, super-rare secret government project Olympic javelin. You only get a small amount during the course of the game, but that’s due to their overwhelming power. Take a few steps and hurl this thing at your target of choice and get the hell out of the way. The countdown goes for five seconds before everything in a certain radius of the javelin loses all color. If you find yourself in this grayscale nightmare, then I hope you made your peace before the next second.

That’s when a high pitched microwave emission annihilates everything in the grayscale radius, allowing you a split second to see everything simply break apart before the entire field goes white. When your vision returns, you’ll see nothing remaining in that radius, not even dust. All you’ll see is a radius of barren wasteland of unfertile soil. This weapon is most satisfying when you plant it in the stomach of some poor enemy and watch his futile attempts to pull it out before the countdown ends. Feel free to laugh menacingly as you observe this from the safety of your binoculars.

That’s just the list I came up with in a month. Development time for games these days lasts years, even a simple FPS. I’m sure developers do have ideas for weapons such as these, but they’re probably afraid publishers won’t accept wild out-of-the-box ideas and prefer they stick to the “safe” template of Halo. I humbly ask publishers to let the FPS genre off its leash and allow it to bring create the memorable weapons of today that we’ll still be talking about ten years down the road. For the sake of FPS fans everywhere, please put the machine gun away and give a fully automatic unicorn head that shoots horns a try.   read

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