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10:29 AM on 03.18.2013

Kicking and Screaming - The Evolution of our Games

A conversation I had the other day with James Krummel got me thinking about the evolution of our beloved franchises. James and I (firstname basis because he played both PSO and Crystal Chronicles) had a bit of a nostalgia trip with a brief exchange regarding Phantasy Star Online, a game that is near and dear to my heart. Like a lot of games we have a burning passion for, its far from perfect, but they always have some sort of spark to them that allows us to love them despite their problems.

I will be the first to admit that Phantasy Star Online had its faults. The game itself was plodding and grindtastic. Your characters moved with the elegant grace of a jacknifed semi-truck. The targeting system was wonky. inventory management was a menu filled nightmare, and some of the missions were just broken. The story was equal parts enthralling and WTF, leaving you lots of room to fill in the blanks for yourself (I love you Red Ring Rico). Don't get me started on the level designs and sometimes-broken singleplayer missions.

But even as I list these glaring issues, I find this incredible itch to go boot up the game and warp back down to the surface of Ragol all over again. The rich and colorful world oozes polygonal character. Its upbeat and fun, with a great character creator and wonderfully interesting character designs. The weaponry was always exciting, and I still feel the thrum of adrenaline at the sight of a Red Box. I can see why they're going to do a symphony for the game's soundtrack, because it was truly wonderful... to the point where it is on every digital device I own.

Be still my heart.

But this got me thinking... PSO is not the be-all-end-all of the Phantasy Star Universe. Oh right, that's a game too. And then we have Phantasy Star Portable 1 and 2 that have come out for the PSP. And let us not forget Phantasy Star Zero on the DS! That was a thing.

And soon we're going to have PSO2! I am certainly excited. But despite the excitement there is something I have to understand...

This is going to be different.

Its not going to be the same game that I fell in love with so many years ago. But that's okay! Things change, they adapt, stuff happens. When Phantasy Star Universe came out, they addressed some of the issues of the PSO series, with characters being more responsive and such. The level designs, while still randomized, had a rather beautiful update. They also got a more 'focused' Single Player campaign, which was... well it happened. Ethan I still don't like you. No hard feelings.

Things changed! And when Phantasy Star Portable came out, they changed even more. Characters were faster, and weapons got unique and powerful abilities you could assign to them. The story dove deeper into anime levels of weird, and even more things changed.

These were all evolutions of the series, and like it or not, the problems of old were addressed. Sometimes new quirks and issues showed up to take their place, and sometimes you discovered something new you didn't realize you wanted. Despite all the shakeups, adjustments, and evolutions, I'm still a devout Phantasy Star fan... a rabid fan even. But I try not to let the fanboy in me take control and start making demands or expecting all the things that I loved should never be cut or changed. I for one, was a huge fan of the Hunter ID's, and I was sad to see them go as the series progressed and I lament their loss. But I hear they may be making a comeback...

Okay, so I used PSO as a really longwinded example, but it was this whole thought process that got me thinking about how we, as gamers, look at certain series and franchises and get incredibly critical of their evolution. Jet Set Radio morphing into Jet Set Radio Future was one that springs to mind. More mainstream, the changes and evolution of Tomb Raider are very obvious ones. HALO has slowly built up and adjusted itself from game to game, in terms of graphics and the changes to gameplay. Grand Theft Auto and Sainst Row have evolved in two wildly different directions for the same 'concept'.

What is interesting to me is how some gamers get left behind to hold onto their classics, hating the new because its not the old. Sometimes its because of the franchise changing horses in midstream, where an entirely different company is tasked with building the sequel/prequel/threequel whatever. Or maybe the publisher gets snapped up by a bigger fish and what made the game great gets gobbled up by a money-monster. Then there's always The Reboot, where someone feels they've taken the game as far as it can evolve and they need to push the reset button. Or when some new, fresh company decides to bring back some obscure title from our youth and doing... something with it.

We have the most recent fiasco with SimCity, where an old and loved franchise has been twisted into something most of us don't want to touch. I for one thought the game looked beautiful, but was kept away due to the Always Online stuff. It was like that really hot girl you used to know shows back up and she's like, "Oh but herpes."


The thing is, somewhere I feel that someone in the halls of Maxis might have really felt that the 'online' features of SimCity could have been good. Even now, I find myself playing multiplayer games far more than singleplayer campaigns. I've been playing League of Legends, delving into Mechwarrior Online, and fragging in Blacklight. Even when I boot up Mass Effect 3, it's go go play the multiplayer mode with my friends. So that's another way that popular series are changing, the addition of Multiplayer. Dead Space, Mass Effect, Bioshock, Assassin's Creed... all games that started off solo and that slowly added multiplayer additions. I'll let ya'll be the judge on how they did in the end.

But so it goes. Our games evolve, and series that we have loved change and grow. Even my favorite racing game Forza, got twisted into the Dudebro Forza Horizon. Resident Evil fans, well... chin up guys.

So what do you guys think? What needs a reboot or an upgrade? What do you think should be Hands-Off for all eternity and why? Is there a game that is so perfect to you that you don't think anything could be better?   read

9:50 AM on 03.17.2013

Shark Filled Waters - Learning to Play League of Legends

So over the past couple of months, I've taken the plunge into the foul-mouthed piranha-pond that is League of Legends. I had tried it many moons ago, and walked away from it grumpily, but once again, I've started fresh and gave it another shot. My main motivation was that it was picking up with my friends, and where I was off playing Hawken and MWO, they would be running around Summoner's Rift without me. It was time to find out what I was missing out on. So I decided to start off with one simple thought process...

I know shit about this game. I am going to suck. I must learn as much as I can and be open minded.

Thankfully I had (some) help in the form of my brother, who is one of those folks who plays a ton, has a team, and rabidly watches the LoL Matches on Twitch TV like the rest of my family watches football games. I never understood this... watching other people play a videogame that I could be playing myself. But more on that later.

My brother went about explaining to me the basics, things like Last Hitting, where you earn gold from getting the killing blow on monsters and minions. He pointed out the difference between Attack Damage (AD), and Ability Power (AP) and how that related to champions. And then-

-yeah there's a lot of freaking LINGO up in here. It took me a while to get all this. The people who talk about it throw this stuff around like crazy, leaving us new people to stand slackjawed on the sidelines wondering what gutterspeak they're spewing.

Now I know how people feel when I talk about cars...

Anyway, I was going into this the same way about school... except I actually have fucks to give, unlike Calculus... so I have tried my best to learn how all this works, so I understand the inner workings of this beast. I wanted to know where people went, what they did, how the team tactics worked. ALL THIS STUFF.

I played some Bot games. These would be a game of people versus the AI. I did okay, it helped me learn. But my brother gave me one simple phrase to live by for my immediate future, “Don't Die.”

Don't Die. Okay. I can do that.

Spoiler alert! Its kinda freaking hard. All of these gamer instincts are still stuck in my brain, to be aggressive and to win. Well the game has a pacing, and a certain ritual to follow. You have the 'Laning Phase' of the game, which is when you stick to one of the Lanes (Top, Middle, Bottom), teamed up against the enemy champions, and try and Last Hit minions. BUT! You also have to deny the enemy getting those hits. So you have to POKE them. Another bit of lingo that makes me giggle.

Okay. So I'm supposed to stay in my Lane. Last Hit Minions. Chase the enemy Champions Off. And more important than anything else DON'T DIE.

Oh, and stop playing against Bots, because you're not going to learn anything playing against Bots. You need to play against other people. PVP.

“PVP?!” I say in a sound of abject terror. “Other people?! You're MAD!”

He was mad, but he was right. But with the rumor of LoL's community floating around, I expected to log into a match and immediately get yelled at by everyone for buying the wrong boots or getting killed... or my CS was shitty.

Oh... more Lingo. CS is Creep Score. It keeps track of your Last Hits on Minions.

But anyway. I had these friends I played with! So I dove into a few games with them, against Real People(!), and tried Not to Die. For the most part, I did alright. I did turn off the All Chat, because it was just too distracting, and I really don't deal well with getting harassed while I'm trying to learn things. And learning happened!

The first thing I learned is that until I played (and lost) more, because I didn't have an ELO score, I was going to have to deal with a common problem in the LoL world. Smurfs.

LINGO ALERT. Right so ELO is a rating system from Chess that basically keeps track of your Win/Loss record in order to hook you up with players of similar skill. Since I didn't have an ELO score yet, it throws you in with other people that don't have a score yet. Some of these people are Smurfs. Smurfs are skilled players who make a secondary account to play 'Easy Games'. Since on their main accounts they actually have to Try to win, they make these throw away accounts to murder newbs and yell at people for sucking while they're trying to learn. Take note, there are apparently a lot of Smurfs.

The first Smurf me and my friends ran into got Fed, (which means they killed their lane enemies enough that they had more XP and Gold than everyone else in the match, and were a lot more powerful than everything ever). This SINGLE PERSON was then powerful enough that they murdered the lot of us without seeming to try.

This was also the point where I discovered the concept of Surrendering. At 20 minutes into the game, you have the option to Surrender. Good Game. On to the next one. Sometimes its really obvious that you're getting your ass kicked, so rather than playing a losing battle for 15 more minutes, you can just surrender and move onto the next game. As someone who doesn't have a lot of free time, my time is kind of important to me. So this is something I certainly appreciate. The problem is, those people you play with who are unwilling to see what's written on the wall. Surrendering is voted on, and in order to succeed it has to be 4/1 in favor of giving up.

This has led to some serious hair-pulling for sure.

But despite my complaints and bad games, I've had some really good games as well. When you have a good team, and its a close fight, you start to understand why people really like these games. There is a great sense of reward when you manage to defeat someone as a team. I've had some amazing games, and I've been steamrolled far more than that.

I've hit level 18, where Max is 30. More and more I'm starting to run into high level players, and the fights are certainly getting harder. I win some, I lose some, but most of the time I'm having fun. I say most of the time. In random groups you'll inevitably get that asshole who immediately locks in as Akali screaming MID in the first half second of the match.

Expect this person to be a douchebag. Trust me.

Nowadays I'm actually finding the random people in AI matches to be more abusive than the PVP ones. I'll play an AI match in order to learn how a new character works or to practice things. Being screamed at the entire match how we DON'T NEED A JUNGLER against Bots is rather... well, yeah. Calm heads and patience don't typically persevere in these situations. But at the end of the match there is a lovely little Red Button next to the offending player's name. Make use of this.

I still don't know a lot, and I certainly don't think I'm good. But damnit I'm trying to learn, and hopefully that fact stops me from devolving into the profanity spewing types that try and ruin other people's games. If you have any tips for me, or want to see how much I suck, hit me up in game. My ID is TheSteamdriven. Any tips would be appreciated!   read

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