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6:23 PM on 11.03.2013

Girls Play Games: Spooky Edition

Hopefully, my fellow Suburban Gamer, you have already followed our Facebook page. No? That's OK. Well I would only assume you keep an eye on us over at our Twitter account...
What did you say? NO?!?!

Well. I'm sorry to say you then missed out on some of the greatest content Suburban Gamers have produced so far. It was a miniseries simply titled Girls Play Games: Spooky Edition, and boy was it a blast.

The premise is simple: we got girls to come over and play video games. Scary video games (ergo "Spooky Edition". Pretty clever, huh?). We wanted to start the series off with a bang so the immediate thought was to pick the Wii horror classic:

Obviously there was some misdirection on my statement above. We can all agree that this game is nothing but a pile of quick jump-scares and wonky controls in comparison to something like Resident Evil 4. The key is in the presentation, however. Games like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Fatal Frame become so cripplingly terrifying by creating ambiance. Making the player feel like something can happen at any moment, but carefully picking the proper moments to do so. All the situations bracing yourself for the potential scare around the corner is just as frightening or more than when it actually happens. Ju-On: The Grudge, however, will take any chance it can to eke even the smallest whimper of fear out of the player, thus making it perfect for quick play sessions and for. Also, the game is relatively simple to control and simple to complete outside of the sometimes poor level design.

We recruited six girls in all, which joined up into three pairs. The girls we invited knew they were going to play a scary video game. What they DIDN'T know, however, that our good friend Dan was hiding out in Grudge-esque attire behind the bookshelf next to them, waiting for the opportune moment to sneak out and take the duo on a one-way ticket to terror-vania. The result was a combination of horror and humor melded together in an explosion of awesomeness. Watch the series below:

Jacyann and Kate in the Warehouse

Tori and Jordan in the Hospital

Chrissy and Jen in the Apartment Complex

Enjoy, and happy (much belated) Halloween!

2:10 PM on 11.02.2013

My Hopes on the Steam Machine

If nothing else, Steam is a company that knows how to market a product to their target demographic. Their videos for Portal 2 and Team Fortress 2 are some of the best video game advertising material I’ve ever seen. And to follow it up, they announced SteamOS and Steam Machines, decked out with a fancy new controller seen above, to the overwhelming joy of fans and press. Seeing all the progress Steam has made in turning PC gaming into a legitimate rival to consoles, the advent of SteamOS and the Steam Machine counterpart seem to be a natural evolution in their plan to win the hearts of all gamers. Moving closer towards console gaming, however, sets Steam precariously close to all the things that it really distinguishes itself from, such as the Xbox, PlayStation, and Wii. Due to this, I am still eagerly awaiting a couple details before turning my currently restrained excitement into all-out schoolgirl giddiness. Here are the big reasons why I am keeping all my fingers and toes crossed about the new Steam system.

Profile Binding to Controllers
OK, I understand that I may still be a little dated with my philosophy on this one, but I still really enjoy the idea of sitting down on a couch with friends physically beside me to play a video game. There is still something inherently missing for me when you switch to online play that feels a bit disjointed. Think like The Social Network but not about Candy Crush Saga or whatever other junk is on there. Yes, you meet and get to hang out with friends online, but in the end you’re still alone in a room talking to a computer. What’s my point? Well, profile binding of course! This is an idea that I had when the last generation of consoles came out and I was disappointed that it never happened. How amazing would it be if Steam allows you to sign in locally to your account just by connecting your controller to your friends’ PC. Share achievements, take screenshots, upload them to the Steam community (does anyone really do that?), and track your gameplay time all while over at your friend’s place. Or even sign into Steam using your controller and download some new game for your friends to try out. Another big point to make along with this is controller layouts. Valve released a demo video of the controller which shows off a ton of potential, but I could see the setup of the controller to be somewhat difficult. So, if your controller could remember the control scheme you use for a given game, jumping into the game at a friend’s house would be as simple as plug and play. There’s a lot of potential to be found here, and I think Valve is just the company to start exploiting those at the expense of my bank account.

Permanent Backwards Compatibility
Mainstay console companies like Sony and Nintendo have gotten into the habit of creating all new interfaces for controllers and accessories when a new system is released. Granted there can be some good reasoning behind this like adding extra functionality or improving their design, but it usually feels like a marketing ploy to consumers like myself. If I get a new PS4 and I want to have enough controllers around for my friends to join in on a game, I would have to dole out another $180 to make that happen. That’s the cost of three new games just to have my friends play with me. I mean I like my friends, but $180? It’s a tough sell. So I would love to see Valve tackle this problem by maintaining as much backward compatibility with the current controllers and future models as possible. Valve already has an advantage given the PC naturally has a universal accessory port in the USB, so the interface will not change anytime soon. All I would ask for, when newer controller models do come out, is that we keep the old ones functional as long as possible. Moving away from this idea severs many of those all-important distinctions that PC gaming has over consoles. And given Gabe Newell’s distaste of console gaming, I think it’s fair to say this idea will likely happen, much to my delight.

What things are you looking to see in the upcoming Steam Machine? Anything that will be a dealbreaker to you?

Image courtesy of Valve Corporation. This post is an early edition of a post on my website Suburban Gamers. Go check it out sometime.   read

7:33 PM on 10.13.2013

Faulty Ceilings, Master Swords, and Supergiant Games

“Proper story’s supposed to start at the beginning. Ain’t so simple with this one."

When my apartment’s ceiling collapsed at 3AM that fateful May night, I did not know I was being jolted out of a pleasant slumber by the thunderous noise of gypsum succumbing to the will of gravity. Surely it was a beast from my deepest gaming fears tearing off our sliding glass door and casting it into the shadows. The hypothalamus is a fickle beast at times, and it caused a tirade of thoughts to race through my mind:

“Who could it be? An Enclave trooper? A Darknut? Or worse yet, PYRAMID HEAD?!”

“How did it get to the third floor of the apartment complex? Must have a grappling hook equipped… Damn…”

“It must be here to kill Steve and I. This shit just got real.”

I flung the covers off and intently scanned my bedroom to find how I will defend myself from my impending doom. “My replica Master Sword! YES!” I think to myself, stealthily dropping to the floor and crawling to the corner of my room. I remove the blade from its scabbard, and lift my head to peer out between the slats of my window blinds. My heart begins to race faster when I find nothing. It must already be inside! I turn to face the door, silently planning my final stand against this menacing foe.

I take a few deep breaths and silently palm the doorknob and turn it with the right hand, holding the sword with the left. I feel my arms and body shaking from the combination of crippling fear and the sudden rush of adrenaline. I close my eyes, inhale one last time, clinch the sword and fling the door open. I quickly make a ridiculous attack stance hoping that the combination of hearing the door suddenly open, seeing me brandish my blade of evil’s bane, and seeing me in my birthday suit would either scare off our intruder or incapacitate them from laughter. To my surprise I am greeted by no monster, no moblin, no living thing at all, but rather a cloud of blown-in insulation. Enough to instantly make you cringe from the pieces landing in your eyes or delving into the lungs. My fears of dying at the hands of a malevolent force dissipate and are replaced with a sudden outburst of “HOLY SHIT!” Steve follows suit when he opens his door seconds later and we gaze upon the remnants of our apartment, looking like this:

“Here’s a kid whose whole world got all twisted, leaving him stranded on a rock in the sky.”

We call the maintenance folk for our apartment and begin the process of cleaning out our apartment. Contractors come in and replace the ceiling, and we decided to perform some investigative journalism. Seeing that the contractors have no vested interest in hiding the truth as to why the ceiling collapsed from us, we questioned them as to what — in their opinion — may have caused the entire sheet of drywall to suddenly depart from its lofty home. To our surprise, the answer was not a simple retort like, “water damage, most likely.” The culprit was shoddy installation. Nails spaced too far apart and not long enough to penetrate two layers of drywall and properly hold onto the structural wooden beams. Even worse, my bedroom was the same case. Steve had his ceiling replaced before we moved in (for unknown reasons) but mine was the original, and it needed to be secured. So the contractors gave us a fancy new ceiling as well as reinforcing my room and providing a fresh paint job through the apartment. Now that the work had been completed, I could finally take a good look over my stuff to check for damages. Surprisingly, all the furniture in the living room and kitchen survived the ceiling attack with only minor dents. Even the consoles I owned were no worse for wear. We only had to worry about the fiberglass shower our belongings were given in the incident. My posters, however, did not fare so well. I had been on a bit of a video game poster shopping spree in the months leading to this incident, acquiring exclusive Club Nintendo prints, Earthbound fan art, and — my personal favorite — a Bastion poster of Kid vs. Scumbag signed by Jen Zee, the artist. The posters were tossed around and dinged up pretty bad in the collapse. To make matters worse, the contractors decided to try for a world record in paint time, or wanted to spend their break finger painting, as shown by the giant glob of white paint smeared right through the center of the poster.

I was mad beyond words. I felt that if I tried to explain this issue to the property managers, I would come to an hour later bathing in the blood of my victims. To make matters worse, any damages from the collapse and repair would need to be claimed through the renter’s insurance. Therefore, to make the claim worth our time, there would need to be over $1,500 in damaged goods to overcome the deductible on the policy. Steve and I were nowhere close to that amount.

“He gets up.”

Steve decided to take a chance and contacted Supergiant Games, the developer for Bastion, unbeknownst to me. Just a few days later I get an awesome package with the following letter:

They fixed me up with a fresh replacement of my destroyed poster, plus they gave me another print for me to enjoy. Steve’s action alone was a tremendous gesture of kindness which I am still yet to repay. Moreover, Supergiant Games really had no reason to read Steve’s email, let alone act on it AND go over and above what was asked. These actions really speak to the sort of devotion the indie developer has with their fanbase. Supergiant Games could infer that I enjoyed their inaugural game, Bastion, since I bought the artwork. However, they do not know I recommend Bastion to anyone with a propensity for action or adventure games. They do not know that I have been eagerly awaiting their next release. But Supergiant Games delivered. They understand their fans help spread the word about their game. It certainly helps when critics also rave about the release but I always find personal recommendations from friends are more meaningful to me when making a decision to buy a game. My friends know who I am and know my personal likes and dislikes, so it would only make sense to believe that they would also be more likely to suggest video games that I will enjoy than any critic. This word of mouth form of communication between friends is something widely prevalent in indie games and indie music, where many suggestions come from friends and small-scale bloggers digging up gems for you to enjoy. Supergiant Games understands that a happy fanbase keeps them going as developers, and after all this I am certain to follow anything they up to for years to come.

This awesome gift also rekindled my interest to become involved in the video game industry. I had expressed interest in a career with video games since I was in middle school, but the idea was never supported academically. My guidance counselors did what they could to steer me towards a more “reasonable” career and my high school had no courses available to learn programming. I still attempted to make my dream a reality by enrolling in college as a computer science major, but the first semester really showed how far behind I was with the class from the start. Everyone had a background with programming leaving me with a mountain to climb from the very beginning. Now that I have a career (not in video games) I can still see that my middle school self was still right about one thing: working with video games is the only thing I see that can keep me interested long term. Getting these posters only reinforced that idea. Not that I should expect to work for a company and assume every day will be filled with sunshine and rainbows (unless you work for PopCap), but I can work for a company that creates a product that has a tremendous effect on many people around the world. And knowing that the company also cares about the people that support their game is only icing on the cake.

So without further hesitation, let me finally exclaim:

Thank you, Supergiant Games, both for the posters and for keeping my desire to work with video games alive.

Your loyal fan,
Mike   read

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