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I'm Sam Neal, and and I'm an aspiring freelance games journalist looking to break into the industry. In the past I wrote features and reviews for Press2Reset on a volunteer basis, as well as conduct video interviews and host the site's news show.

I'm also a third-year Communications and Journalism student at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.

When not working on articles, I like to create short films and skits.

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The Game: Super Monday Night Combat

Release Date: April 19 2012

Super Monday Night Combat, sequel to the moderately popular XBLA game Monday Night Combat, was one of the first major attempts to bring first-person-shooter elements into MOBA genre. Cruising off the surprising success of the first game, Super Monday Night Combat instituted major improvements in key areas over the first game. It brought the title over to PC, tightened up gameplay elements and balance issues to make Super MNC viable as an eSport, and adopted the League of Legends free-to-play model.

Considering the first game sold over 300,000 copies on a single platform, combined with the explosive popularity of MOBA games on PC, Ubernet's optimism in Super MNC seemed appropriately placed. Super Monday Night Combat had all the necessary pieces in place for a successful new MOBA game.

And succeed it did; for about two months. Early months seemed promising, as servers regularly saw ~4,000 concurrent players. Though the number seems low,it was actually respectable for a new MOBA game.

However, Ubernet had a tough time keeping players interested in subsequent months. Around June Super MNC started to see a steady decline in users. While not a great sign, the playerbase in new multiplayer games tends to shrink during early months as a game finds its dedicated fan base. So Ubernet started releasing new characters, items, and game types to encourage players to stick around as they waited for the decline in players to level off.

But the numbers kept falling. And falling. And falling.

When the player base finally leveled-off, it became clear that SuperMNC was beyond salvation. Servers queues increased with the drop in players, and it was common for players to wait more than 30 minutes to find a match. Even during peak hours, the number of concurrent players topped-off around 300.

Now a days, Super MNC only makes headlines for its desperate attempts to find an audience across every digital delivery platform imaginable. Super MNC is currently available on Steam, Amazon direct download, and even the new Kongregate download service.

And it still can't break 300 concurrent players.

What went wrong?
It's hard to pinpoint the exact reason for SuperMNC's decline; the developers could not have done much else to help out their game.

Ubernet updated the game every Tuesday with balance fixes and character rotations, par for the course for MOBA games, and they responded to player feedback in a timely manner.

Though Ubernet dropped the ball on the timeliness of their additional content. The first new characters was released in July, three months after Super MNC's launch. But by then just adding a new character was too little, too late. Over the coming months Ubernet added three new arenas and two new gametypes, but they released to the echos of an abandoned player base. The most-recent addition to Super MNC was Hobo Robo, who looks exactly as the name sounds, in October.

In addition to untimely support, Super MNC unfortunately shared some mechanics with other, more-popular games. People who play MOBA games passionately often focus their time on a single game. As a result, Super MNC competed with League of Legends and the Dota 2 beta for player attention. The free-to-play MOBA audience is so entrenched in its current games that they don't feel the need to branch out. League of Legends is a sport, and while Super MNC had eSport potential, the game never gained enough traction to break into the public's eye.

Though Ubernet played a large part in the failure of Super MNC to become an eSport. . There were very few, if any, Super MNC tournaments or special events. When Valve launched the Dota 2 beta, they held a public tournament with a $1,000,000 prize. This tournament helped Dota 2 gain publicity, and cemented its place as an eSports.

The most publicity Super MNC ever received was the occasional Twitch stream, and it was never seen on major eSport streaming channels.

Why does it matter?
Super MNC was a beta test for the First-Person-Shooter/MOBA genre. It had a substantial budget, a committed development team, and an attractive free-to-play marketplace. If Super MNC succeeded, other FPS-MOBA games would have quickly followed suit.

But it didn't. And the MOBA genre remains relatively unchanged, just as it has for the last several years.

And all the while the MOBA genre continues to grow stagnant. Each of the major contenders differs in relatively minor ways, and any newcomers who offer interesting takes on the genre are continually shut out.

Super MNC represented evolution and change in the MOBA genre, and its failure discourages other developers from taking major risks to change the MOBA genre and halts its evolution as a result.

If this lack of evolution continues, MOBA games may very well be on the same path as adventure games in the mid-90s and fighting games in the mid 2000s.

Grab a drink
Super Monday Night Combat was a fun game with an interesting premise, and made a solid attempt to evolve a rather stagnant genre. It's a damn shame that it couldn't find an audience.

Here's to you, Super MNC.

Pour one out is a bi-monthly column where I spotlight great multiplayer games that never found a community. If you have a suggestion for an under-appreciated multiplayer game, leave it in the comments!
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I skid to a stop inches from a ledge, guided only by the feint glow of my torch. I've been in this section for far too long, the ghost will show up any minute and negate all my progress. It's too late to turn back and look for an alternate route.

I grab a hold of the nearby ledge and peak ever-so-gently downward. It's as dark as Satan's bowels, with no way to judge the depth of the jump. But time is running short. I jump down and pray for a safe lan-


Spikes. Of course it's the spikes. It's always the god-damn spikes.

I don't throw my controller across the room. I don't yell. I don't curse this game and all who made it.

I simply accept my punishment for failure, tap the X button and immediately start over from level 1-1.

See, unlike most other games, Spelunky could not give less of a shit about you. It doesn't care if you had a bad day at work. It doesn't care if you recently walked in on your significant other banging another person. It doesn't care if your dog just died.

Spelunky shows no mercy, and it will punish you for every mistake.

But in this difficulty, Spelunky holds more fun than any other downloadable game this year. Magical moments await in each playthrough. Every small accomplishment brings a feeling of profound joy, while every death comes with a funny story.

Spelunky brings out your inner masochist in all the best ways..

However, as a result of this extreme difficulty, Spelunky is filled with magical moments.

One particularly magical moment started with my friend and I playing Spelunky's co-op mode. In Spelunky's co-op mode, if one player dies they come back as a ghost. This ghost has the ability to affect various objects in the environment by blowing them. Though it seems useful, this feature often causes more harm than good. Thee ghost player can respawn if the other co-op partner comes across a coffin.

After a long 25-minute session, my friend found himself trapped at the very bottom platform in the ice caves arena. Alone.

The ice caves require players to make dangerous jumps from slippery platform to platform. Once players reach a certain depth the platforms stop spawning all-together and any missed jump will drop the player into an endless abyss. Players need to tread carefully to avoid sliding to their death.

Which of course, I didn't.

Earlier in the level, I had been tossed like a shotput by an angry Yeti like straight into an enemy mammoth. Force from the mammoth collision knocked me off the icy platform into the bottomless abyss.

Cut back to my friend, trapped on the last platform the abyss trying to plan his next jump as I circle around him in ghost form doing backflips.

The cave's exit sits only one platform over, but distance between the two platforms is much farther than the character can jump. With no remaining ropes or bombs, my friend has seemingly met his demise.

“Jump. Trust me, and jump,” I told my friend as I smiled. I had given him no prior reason to trust me, and in fact had “accidentally” caused his death multiple times during this playthough, but he had no other choice.

He sprints off the side of the ledge and jumps as far as his little character is able. While he's flying helplessly through the air toward certain death, I attempt to use my ghost's blowing to assist his jump. My small boost propelled him just far enough to reach the exit platform. He landed on his face, mere inches from the ledge of certain death, but very much alive.

We paused the game long enough for a raucous cheer and celebratory high five, and he went through the exit door to the next area.

Only to have his character's skull (and our hearts) crushed seconds later by a giant stone obelisk that fell from the ceiling after he accidentally stepped on a hidden switch.

A magical moment with an entire roller coaster of emotion in a two-minute span.

We were broken, we were defeated, and we immediately started again from Area 1-1 knowing another equally magical moment awaits in the very next playthrough.

12:25 PM on 12.03.2012

I have this big secret in my life that, up until recently, I’ve never really felt comfortable sharing with others.

I say ‘secret’, but there were definite signs. Glimpses of my lifestyle occasionally slipped through the cracks in everyday conversation, but to the general public my big secret remained intact.

Sure my closest friends knew, and anyone else who picked up on the pieces, but I have always been afraid to share my lifestyle with my friends and co-workers. Afraid that they would judge me and look at my in a different way if they knew what I was hiding.

But today I no longer care. I’m tired of holding this in, so here it goes:

I play a lot of video games.

I know, shocking right? Most of you probably figured this out already (if not then I really don’t want to know what you meant to look up Google that led you here). My radiance probably set off the gamedar of every gamer within a five-mile radius; yet I still felt self-conscious about my hobby. Maybe I am alone in this, and maybe not, but it is something every gamer has to face at some point in their lives.

I remember my high school years during which I constantly repressed this bit of information. If I discussed my hobbies with friends, it was in hushed tones constantly checking over my shoulder for bypassing eavesdroppers that could out me on my dirty little secret.

I mean, sure, you could talk about Halo, Call of Duty, or even Assassin’s Creed to little consequence; but anything further is to commit social suicide.

See, I played RuneScape religiously for the first two years of my high school life. And for those of you unfamiliar with either RuneScape or the emotional state of high schoolers, if other students found out a person played Runescape, they may as well have had smallpox (if you don’t understand the reference, just replace every instance of RuneScape with World of Warcraft).

By nature, RuneScape encouraged discussion with your friends about obtaining items and boss strategies. Such conversations often included scary phrases such as “What level are you?”, “Buy rune armor” and “by killing moss giants”. Phrases that any teenager can pick up on from 70 feet away. To have these conversations with other people you had to first drop small hints in casual conversation that you played RuneScape, then find a way to talk about sneakily.

Personally, I switched all nerdy-sounding names and items to basketball terms. I know, not the best strategy when you still say that that you “made a few three-pointers in my game last night, but then I died and lost all of my basketballs”, but it avoided setting off any buzz-word nerd alarms.

When a person goes public with the fact that they enjoy video games, all other aspects of their life disappear in the eyes of the general public. The person is no longer “on the tennis team” or “the funny guy at the lunch table”; he is simply “that little kid who spends all his time playing video games”.

I would like to say the world changed as I got older, and attribute this judgmental attitude to the simple fact that most high school kids are dumb. But this isn’t the case.

Unless you work in the games industry or chose a field of study largely populated by gamers, these same social constraints still apply. Even a socially active person will be labeled as a basement-dweller the second they come out of the World of Warcraft closet. If you want to get invited to another company party ever again, be careful who you tell about that raid boss you defeated last night.

Because everyone knows that video games are for children right? It’s common knowledge that the largest portion of the largest worldwide entertainment industry only produces products that appeal to immature kids and people with no career aspirations.

Or so the general public believes.

I recently overheard someone say this exact phrase while talking to his friend on the bus, “…or the kind of people who play video games who, let’s face it, have never even touched a girl.”

Ignoring the fact that 38 percent of gamers are female, this man seems to have met enough of these poor terrified creatures to make a widespread claim about the social abilities of 70 percent of the world’s population.

Somewhere along the line, society developed the archaic notion that gamers are an anti-social breed whose very existence revolves around their hobby. These very same people who mock you for knowing the class benefits of rolling an elf mage can tell you the passer rating, workout plan, and favorite colors of every starting QB in the NFL. But they are not nerds, or geeks, or losers; they’re just really into football. Which in case you haven’t heard, is clearly productive to their life and will benefit them in the long run; unlike wasting your life playing video games.

These old dinosaurs make me sick. Video games are a unique medium that can constantly challenge its consumers and expand their minds in ways that no other form of expression can even remotely accomplish. Games challenge political actions, push social boundaries, expand people’s horizons and force players to confront issues and, as a result, grow as people.

But no, society is too afraid to admit these things. Gamers only love violence and chaos; didn’t you hear about the guy who murdered his wife because he played World of Warcraft?

And I say again, these people make me physically ill.

Can we ever change this terrible stereotype? Probably not, since we would have to break a stereotype firmly implanted in the minds of many over a vast span of years, but damn it we can try.

For those of you still doing so, stop hiding in the gaming closet. Don’t be afraid to shout your love for video games from the rooftops (you get bonus points if you record a video of yourself actually shouting your love for video games from the rooftops). Let the world know that you love video games and aren’t ashamed by this fact. It sounds ridiculous, but gamers have to be proud about their hobby. If we own it, then they can’t take that away from us.

So go post about your WoW character on Facebook, show your friends how video games tell engaging stories with compelling themes, and show the world that gamers are not some strange form of second-class citizen.

I’m Sam Neal, and I play video games.

I've started a new series of blog entries that I'm going to call Impressions Journals. In these articles, I will keep a faux journal of sorts in a stream of consciousness style as I'm playing through a game. It's very much a living piece, and this article will be updated as I get further into Metro 2033. The goal is to keep a record of how my feelings for a game evolve over time.

Session 1:

Wow. Metro 2033 is a much better game than I was expecting. An absolutely steal for ~$1.20 (five games divided by ~$6).

Metro does a fantastic job cuing you in to gameplay mechanics without having to spell out exactly how the work. The air filters stood out most to me as a “wow” feature. The player must replace air filters in gas masks in order to breathe, and the timer for the gas masks is the player's watch. When a gas mask filter starts to run low, your breathing gets heavier. This heightens the tension of the situation, and serves a practical purpose as it clues the player in to the condition of the gas mask. So far managing the filters hasn't been too much of a problem, but I have a feeling that will change as the game progresses.

Though I will say, the lack of explanation for the physical controls is a bit disapointing. The game tutorial seemingly forgets to cover essential game mechanics, such as how to change ammo types (hold the reload button) and how to replace filters on the gas mask (double-tap the gas mask button). The game's options screen was of little help, and a quick Google search confirmed my suspicions that this failure was not my own fault. One person even used the wrong ammo type for over half the game and as a result wasn't able to purchase any gun upgrades.

That must have been tough, Metro 2033 is difficult enough as is.

Session 2

I recall others saying Metro suffered from a general lack of polish, and jarring glitches. I have not yet run into many of these glitches. The only noticeable glitched I've encountered so far is the death screen, which keeps telling me I was killed by ghosts and paranormal beasts. Uh, no, I'm pretty sure I died because that bandit blew my face off with a shotgun.

Metro uses audio to create an atmosphere in a way few other games can, and I'm enjoying my decision to play with headphones. Every gut-wrenching sound and ear-splitting squeak leaves you constantly on edge, and occasionally questioning your player's sanity. This effect accentuates the environmental differences between the surface and tunnels, though neither one is preferable to the other.

Some may think the heavy Russian accents are a bit hokey, but I think the accents come right up to the border of cheesy without crossing it. The only clue as to the team's restricted budget comes in dialogue that is occasionally too on-the-nose, and loading-screen narration that sounds like it was recorded by one of the programers in their home closet through a webcam mic.

Man. The amount of tension in this game during fights on the surface is incredible. Packs of mutants surround your character and take swipes, as the cracks in your gas mask obstruct vision. If the gas mask fails, the character will take radiation damage until he clears out the enemies and creates an opportunity to put on a fresh gas mask. Times are tough out there.

Session 3

Unless you understand Russian, I wouldn't recommend changing the game language to Russian. It's extremely tempting, and seems like a good idea in theory, but subtitles do not lend themselves well to a survival horror game. Trying to read the bottom of a screen while being chased by mutant bat-creatures and reload a weapon is a bit like trying to read a book while running on a treadmill.

And I wasn't sure whether Metro was a survival horror game until this session, where they introduced ghosts. Which are shadows. That can only be seen with your flashlight on. And you have to manually keep the flashlight charged. And the ghosts kill you if they touch you.

The ghosts are extremely effective in storytelling, and provide an appropriately chilling way of quickly filling you in on the Metro's history.

And they're equally effective at scaring the shit out of you.
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3:52 PM on 12.01.2012

A video review of the Indie puzzle/platformer Colour Bind.

Colour Bind is available on Steam for $9.99.