Thursday, October 08, 2015

Initial Impressions of Rock Band 4

Harmonix threw together a launch party on October 6th in Austin and invited some of the internet's biggest gaming humor groups to come down and try out Rock Band 4, which was streamed live through YouTube. Local favorites RoosterTeeth and ScrewAttack, along with newcomers FunHause showed up to test the new equipment, and see just how durable it is. FunHause, I'm looking at you. Way to break the drums.

While it supplies hours of entertainment to gamers everywhere, I want to jump in and talk about the new things I saw in the game that weren't really mentioned on the box or in online advertisements.

Other then the fact that it was obvious that everyone on stage Tuesday night got a chance to access all songs from the past games and every available DLC, there are a lot of new songs and artists to look forward to with Rock Band 4. The base game has about 65 songs, ranging from the 60's to today's music. There is a lot of variety, something I always appreciated with this franchise.

There is also day one DLC. Now I'm not a big fan of this with most games since it's cheaping out on the original product. Why couldn't you put these into the original game? But with Rock Band and Guitar Hero there is a bit of leeway. They have to deal with licensing issues to be able to use the songs in the game. This is why some songs had to be pulled from their library years ago when the licensing contracts ran out. Depending on the record label, that could take weeks, months, or years to get a response back. So you fill your game with the ones you could get a solid yes on, and add in the rest at a later date. And these set of songs were given the "okay" after the game was finalized. It happens. I did notice that Janice freekin' Joplin is on the DLC. Janice! She's my rock icon. I don't know how Harmonix did it, but bravo. That must have been a pain to get approval for.

Freestyle mode during the game is really damn cool. I couldn't tell if this was point based, or if you need to have a full power bar, or what. But at certain points in a song you can trigger freestyle with your instrument and play however and whatever you want. The keys you play will be in tune to the song so it'll somewhat be cohesive to the rest of the music. At times you'll have to move your keys along a winding path highlighted in blue for bonus points. For the most part, you just grip it and rip it. It's not the pure chaos I was anticipating. Downside is that it's only for guitars. Lame. There is a freestyle vocal game mode that as long as you sing on key, you can change up the lyrics however you want. But it's not the same as guitar freestyle.

Clarification for the adapters if you want to use older Rock Band gear: if you have PS2 or PS3 gear you don't need to buy an extra adapter. Just plug and play since it's all USB based. Sweet, right? Sadly with the XBox One you do have to get the adapter. Double lame.

Hyperspeed mode is still there, and if you select it it applies to everyone in your band. Make sure to warn your partners before you go down this route.

In career mode you get to go down 2 paths (business or casual, hah) to "stardom" which unlocks different clothing, songs, and venues. The game also allows players to drop in and out of songs in a set list as they wish. If they want to take a break, they can! And you won't get penalized for having someone sit out. It also allows you to swap instruments with ease and maintain your gamer tag as you do so. How that works, I have no clue. But let's say you're the singer. You decide the next song is something you can't handle, but you know the guitar really well. You can swap your controllers, lock in your instrument of choice, and you're set. Again, no clue how the game is able to do that, but I'll roll with it.

With the built-in streaming app on the PS4 and XBox One you can stream your jam sessions. However, you can not record them. Legal thing with music. So yes to the Live Jam. No to the recording.

I'm still iffy about getting this game. Rock Band is something that works best when you have other people to play, a full band ideally. And it's a challenge to get 3 friends to come over and spend a few hours together. We're adults doing adult things. Yea adulting. But I do think that taking out the online mode (there's no online mode), practice mode, and no keytar has allowed Rock Band 4 to be refined into a solid musical game. Maybe I can convince a friend to buy it and just show up randomly to play.

Oh, and thanks FunHause! I was not aware that Cheap Trick was in the game. Best performance of the night.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Can We Stop Hating on the Prequels?

As an old school Star Wars fan, I'm getting really tired of seeing people dump on Episodes I-III.

You're essentially telling people who are into Star Wars that they're not fans because they grew up on the newer films, or happen to like them more then the original trilogy. And that's not okay. What's wrong with liking Qui-Gon Jinn over Lando? Or Jar-Jar Binks instead of Jawas?

While the Star Wars community is vast, and one of the few experiences that we can use to relate to people half a world away, we're still small in numbers when it comes to open acceptance of our nerdy ways. Only now is it becoming more common to see people dress casually in Star Wars t-shirts and shoes. I even made a skirt (something I never wear) for this year's May the 4th using a Star Wars themed cotton print. A few years ago this would not have been acceptable in any office environment. But the world view on nerdy things is changing and it's great to see.

At the same time, nerds are being incredibly volatile for stupid things. Sorry. I have to call it out as I see it. Why is it such a big damn deal that I happen to like Revenge of the Sith more then A New Hope? It's not destroying the community. It's not destroying the expanded universe (Disney did that, hah!). And it doesn't make me any less of a fan. That's the key point right there.

I grew up watching 4-6. Even then I got flack for naming Return of the Jedi as my favorite of the films. (What? You don't like Empire? But it's the best one!) Episode I was released when I was 13 and I could relate to the charm, the tact, and the intent behind the Prequels. Are they the greatest films in history? No. And that's fine. I enjoyed them for what they are, and appreciate the grit of the third film that it tops over Episode IV in my eyes.

This still doesn't make me any less of a fans. I celebrate the achievements of the Star Wars franchise. I proudly don my lightsaber earrings whenever my ears allow. I make sure to decorate at least one pumpkin every Halloween to the look of the Empire. I have 4 battle-ready lightsabers. I own some pretty rare figurines (including the C-3PO that looks like he's having a happy in his robot pants) and a bitchin Empire poster with most of the main cast members signatures.

But none of that matters in the eyes of a lot of supposed "fans" because I find merit in the Prequels. Watch me as I sit over here and roll my eyes at that stupidity. No really. Watch me. I'm rolling my eyes as I type this paragraph. It is ridiculous to call someone not a fan because they like the Prequels. Just as it's stupid to call someone not a fan because they like the Avengers movies and that was their gateway into the comics.

What got me onto this topic, you may wonder. Well it started with an article on Kotaku: It's An Awkward Time To Be A Star Wars Fan. I started reading because the sentiment feels very appropriate. Since the purchase of Lucas Film, Disney has been transforming the Star Wars image and re-imagining it. The Expanded Universe (EU) was kicked to the curb and a new legacy has been formed (what once was only the 6 movies and the 1 TV show now includes some video games and the new Star Wars TV series). It's left a number of fans leery, but hopeful that Episode VII will help reclaim some of the losses with the new changes. Though I'm still not buying into the GQ Magazine coat. And with the new movies announced was the hate spam that "they better be better then the Prequels." A number of people stood up for Episodes I-III, myself included. There have been whole communities on Tumblr, Reddit, 4Chan, and other internet heavy forums that support these films. It doesn't stop the hate train, sadly.

But back to the Kotaku article. With the EU altered, a number of original Lucas Film staff members and fans have been trying to preserve it. It's a big chunk of what makes Star Wars, Star Wars. What was always so cool to me about EU is that it was fully endorsed by Lucas. They were additions to the lore that were from the fans, and they soon became canon books and video games that further defined the Star Wars legacy. So when it was taken away, it felt like a part of us had been pulled as well. I look to my friend who use to work for Lucas Arts as an example. He helped with the creation of characters on dozens of Star Wars titles with BioWare and Lucas Arts. He has been a Star Wars fan as long as he can remember, and it was his dream to contribute to the universe through gaming. And then Disney said nope. No longer valid. They closed Lucas Arts and the titles were sold or handed over to EA. It was a blow to a lot of fans who worked to be a part of the legacy.

The article continues with a new novel that's being introduced in the now Disney canon universe: "Star Wars: Aftermath." It essentially fills some of the gaps between Episode VI and VII. The article's issue is that "Aftermath" doesn't dig into the finer details of the universe, incorrectly naming ships, or throwing out names of alien races as a nod to fans of the original EU without really providing depth.

Here's where my issue comes into play. According to the writer's opinion, there are 2 other instances where there was little care for the Star Wars lore: when Lucas Film first created EU continuity guidelines in the 1990's, and the Prequels.

The prequels were bad. For people who aren’t like me—we’ll call them “normal” fans, no disrespect intended—that’s all it was. They were just massively disappointing and shitty. 

I wish this wasn't towards the end of the article. If I hadn't invested so much time into reading, I would have stopped at this point.

No disrespect? Sorry. That does not absolve you of the massive hate that you just threw down. You have essentially said that any fan who likes the Prequels isn't a fan. "No disrespect" is another way of saying "kiss my ass."

What the fudge is a "normal" fan? Why can't someone who likes the Prequel be a "normal" fan? What about the, undoubtedly, hundreds of thousands of children who grew up watching Episodes I-III? Are they not fans because they weren't exposed to Star Wars in the same way that you were?

The article doesn't get much better in the next paragraph:

And it was worse for super-fans. To us, the prequels were an insult.

Silver lining: it's nice to see that the top comment is someone telling the writer to grow-up. A big Star Wars fan who is fully aware that this is a fictional universe with fictional people that he is fully invested in. And he's telling the writer to grow-up for making those remarks. And people support this! Also nice to see. I'm so use to vitriol against the Prequels that to see good defense arguments are a breath of fresh air.

Look. This has nothing to do with whether or not you like the Prequels. I don't care if you do, or don't. I can fully admit that Episode I can hurt to sit through at times with the acting and sometimes weird dialogue. But to outright dismiss them, and to not allow people a chance to enjoy their fandom is plain wrong. I'm not into Adam Sandler movies. But I'm not going to berate people who like them. That's their fun thing to do. Rock on. You go have fun with them. And it doesn't matter if you started with Little Nicky or Pixels. You like his films, it makes you a fan.

Star Wars. Star Trek. Sci-Fi. Video Games. Comic Books. Tabletop. It doesn't matter what the nerdy thing is. There is a serious problem with nerds today in not accepting our fellow brethren. It's perfectly fine to dislike the Prequels. But it is never okay to diss on a nerd for liking them. A fan is a fan is a fan. So pull your head out of your ass and start acting like a human being. This sh*t is the reason why we can't have nice things.

To that end, don't hate on the people who like the upcoming movies (Episode 7-9). It doesn't matter if they're good, bad, or something in between. Let's just be f-ing fans and enjoy the fact that so many people like Star Wars! That it's finally okay to talk publicly about our love for Star Wars! That's an amazing thing - we couldn't do this a few years ago. Enjoy fandom. Love fandom. And don't be a dick about it. Nerds have no room for dicks in the community. There are too many and we deal with them daily outside of our culture. Stop trying to be that guy or that girl. It's annoying and does nothing to elevate the fandom.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Weekly Link Round-Up

Starting the round-up a little earlier then usual. There are so many news articles on the web today that they all need to be shared. Or not. Your call. Here are some of the highlights:

- Kickstarter woes continue as another funded video game has fallen off the map, with the developers taking the cash and running. Well, not literally running. We are gamers after all. But from a digital standpoint, their footprint has all but vanished. Mansion Lord was another 16-bit game that rose in the height of crowdfunding for games. And with a modest $30k request, it seemed more feasible in funding then some of the others that wanted $200k+. Now it's nearly 2 years later and there hasn't been a single updated from the developers. The company's website is gone. And of course people are wondering where their product is. If you remember anything, people, remember this: Kickstarter does not give refunds. If a project meets their goal, the person or group keep every penny - minus the Kickstarter fees. So when you choose to back a project, choose wisely and don't be afraid to research. Now there are 1k+ gamers without a game or any backer rewards to show for their funds.

Fortress of Doors is calling out Square for doing a shoddy port of Final Fantasy V for Steam. The first image posted on the article from the port is very telling: you can see the seams! The heck? The same screen from the original FF5 not only looks finished, but polished, even in it's bit-like nature. That's a pretty big mess-up with "updating" graphics, when you compare them to the clean look of FF1 and FF2. Square. What gives?

- The Cheat Sheet is already calling the AssCreed movie as the breakthrough video game movies need. Their reasoning? Good casting. Good director (who has never worked on a Summer film, but has worked with the lead actor in Macbeth before...). The "right" video game (I guess? I mean the story is original but could fit in with the AssCreed history). And they can't mess it up. The last point makes no sense to me, but this isn't Hollywood reporter that I pulled the story from. Take the opinion as openly as you can!

- Not too long ago the UN held a conference regarding cyberviolence and asked noted internet personalities Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn to attend, and review a report that was created by the UN. Yesterday, the ESA Video Game Voters Network has issued a statement condemning the report for it's inaccuracies and outdated material. The biggest glaring issue is that some of the sources are dated from 2000. That's 15 years ago. Content and research regarding gaming, online harassment, etc. has expanded so much since then, that the concern is that most of the content in the report focuses on stereotypes that represent a false image of gamers. Does harassment happen online? Absolutely. I see it daily with myself or with others. But the numbers are fudgy and out of date. Since the ESA's stance came out, the UN has tossed the report and they will remake it. However the notion that the UN was going to take video games and cyberharassment seriously has now been damaged by putting out a crappy report to being with.

- Speaking of women, games apparently make you fat according to one study in Sweden. That's just the teaser headline. Here's what the study really says: Researchers followed 2,500 people ages 20-24 over the course of 5 years. They concluded that women who played games for one hour a day were more likely to gain weight, an average of 8.2 pounds, over 5 years. The research states that they into account other factors such as age, occupation, total computer time throughout the day, and sleep. But apparently other eating habits, genetics, and social mannerisms were not important. Also, it's important to note that 20-24 is still a time when people are growing and changing. It's not like we hit puberty and we're done. People constantly evolve their entire lives, and gaining weight happens. 8 pounds over 5 years is not a big deal unless. The exception to this would be if you have a pre-disposed medical condition that requires you to be conscious about your weight, or if you're borderline obese. Some type of medical reason, is what I'm getting at. So news articles, could you just stop calling us all fat? Please? Gaining 8 pounds over 5 years is not a crisis moment. Yeash.

- A funny ad campaign popped up in Japan's subway system over the weekend called 'Take Back Video Games from Smartphones.' And it's exactly that! It's to promote a visual novel game for the PS3/PS4 and Vita called Utawarerumono. Ignore the fact that the game started out on PC and Japan has a really high market for cell phone games. Clever slogan and interested to see the results.

- Not to be outdone by KFC, Chipotle has a video game too! The game is called Taste Invaders, a play off of Space Invaders. You are a burrito and your job is to shoot at ingredients and foods that have genetically modified ingredients. It's a nice way of saying Chipotle only uses natural products, but still causes you to crap your pants.

- Finally, here's a parody article by Destructoid regarding the new Consumer Rights Act in the U.K. Posting because I find it a bit sad. What happened to the gaming news website for users, by users? It's turning into trash. I can't believe I use to write for that site. What happened to you Destructoid?

Monday, October 05, 2015

Rock Band 4 Releasing Tomorrow? Already?!

Did you know that Rock Band 4 is releasing tomorrow? I was just as surprised given how vocal Harmonix has been in getting user feedback and trying to revive the music games genre, that there was little promotion for it's release. I only found out about it because Kotaku posted about Guitar Hero Live set to release with Activision later this month to counter the Rock Band debut.

I wonder why we're only hearing about it now. Unless you're a die hard Rock Band fan, you're probably in the same situation as myself: wondering about the song line-up, and what's new to bring people back to the game.

From what I can tell, the song list is the most expansive in any Rock Band game to date, with over 60 songs available at release. And it does encompass a variety of bands: R.E.M., Foo Fighters, Judas Priest, The Cure, and Grouplove, just to name a few. Like past games, you can import your song list into the latest version, and that includes any DLC you purchased. There is a freestyle mode with guitar, vocals, and drums, something that was tested in game 3, but wasn't fully fleshed out. New "Show" modes allow you to connect to multi-player with a bit more ease, build multiple song sets, and have a voting system so everyone can have a chance to decide what song to play next. The game will also support all Legacy controllers from past Rock Band games. If you bought an official Rock Band controller in the past, it'll work for 4.

And that's what I've got so far. Nothing Earth shattering, but it's nice to know you don't have to drop $250 on a brand new bundle if you still have all of the original controllers for XBox 360. No word on if there's an adapter for the PS3/PS4 yet.

If you pick this up, give us your review! We'd love to hear what's going on with the new game and if it's worth the money.

Give Back This Holiday With Extra Life Day

Extra Life Day is coming up fast, November 7th to be exact. This year I'm on a team to help raise funds for Seattle's Childrens in Washington state. Dynamic Action Squad will be gaming for 24 hours starting November 7th and through the 8th, and we need your help!

Why do I support Extra Life? A lot of you may be surprised to find out that a lot of charities don't donate 100% of their proceeds. You have to account for paying staff members that are running the events and the company, marketing, paying legal and licensing fees, etc. A quick glance at some of these charities, such as Susan G. Komen, show where the money goes. And it's not always split to the end user in such an easy to digest manner. Some charities give less then 2% on donations to the cause they are raising funds for. 

Extra Life works in conjunction with Children's Miracle Network, one of the few charities that you'll see on Top 10, Top 20 lists as they give nearly 100% of their donations direct to their cause. And Extra Life's efforts are not included. Children's Miracle is a non-profit that funds research for childhood illnesses and provides community awareness to help keep kids healthy. With Extra Life, they don't keep a single penny. Every dollar donated goes right to Children's Miracle. Everyone who works on the website, manages the servers, maintains the privacy of users, all of that is done out of the goodness of their hearts. They don't make any money. 

That's why I support Extra Life.

And it's a different way to donate. Play games for 24 hours and help drive interest in the gaming community. What's not to like about that?

So yes, this post is pandering and trying to get you to donate. But it's also to get you to join our team! If you are looking for a team to play with this year, join us! Or send in a $1 or $5 to help raise money for Children's Miracle Network. You'll be supporting a cause that's worth it.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Success! Dues Ex Crazy Pre-Order Program Cancelled

This hit my Facebook feed and I needed to jump on here and post about it. Immediately.

SquareEnix is canceling the Dues Ex pre-order program!

Yes! See consumers! Your voice, and wallet, make a difference!

Enough people wrote, tweeted, and Facebooked SE to complain about the pick-your-pre-order bonus program that they announced for reservations of Dues Ex in early September. And I'm going to bet that the numbers in pre-order "sales" reflected this. Because a month later, SE is changing tactics.

So that I'm not totally throwing SE under the bus, the intent behind it, as their statement claims, was to provide options to their customers. Instead of pre-making a pre-order and having it region specific, they wanted to give gamers a chance to get the bonuses that they want. Good in theory. But when you tie that into a "you only unlock certain rewards when more people pre-order" is an ass move. I can't think of a nicer way to put it.

Customers saw through this and complained en masse. And now the pre-order program is dead. So what do you get instead? Everyone is going to get every bonus being offered. No region locks. The game is set to release on 2/23/2016, and won't alter based on pre-order numbers.

Now! I wonder how many have pre-ordered Just Cause 3 for the Island giveaway. Hm...

Polygon "Conspiracy" With Book is Not a Big Deal

A few days ago Polygon posted an excerpt from a new book called "WTF is Wrong With Video Games?" along with a link to Amazon and Gumroad with where to purchase it. The book was written by game critic Phil Owen, who is also a Polygon staff member. Some might see this as a conflict of interest, so Polygon listed the original article as "Polygon Staff." Something they have always done for every book related article or excerpt they have ever written. Ever.

Which apparently outraged enough people to comment and leave scathing remarks about how Polygon is supposedly covering up something. So they put down Owen's name in the credits (it's not like it wasn't already obvious in the article and on the book cover, both mentioned openly in the article) and that just seemed to enrage comments even more. "They're using this to self-promote their own books!" "They're trying to hide money for using this to promo their products!"

People. Chill out. Before you all get riled up about the situation, take a few minutes to breathe and research. Owen and Polygon have spoken to several news outlets to clarify why the Polygon Staff byline exists.

“We’ve posted excerpts from books numerous times before, and our style has always been to post them as “Polygon Staff” rather than going through the process of getting the book writer’s name in our system when they’re technically not a Polygon writer. This hasn’t caused confusion before, but it seems to have this time, so we decided to swap it to Phil’s name to make it clear.

Book excerpts are common on news sites outside of gaming and something we’ve featured on our site since launch. Obviously the controversial nature of this excerpt got a lot of people talking, but not entirely sure where the confusion/anger about the nature of an excerpt has come from.”
It's the format they have always used. And the one time it's a Polygon contributor, they changed it to appease the hate-fueled comments. They also confirmed that no money exchanged hands. Polygon asked Owen if they could feature an excerpt of his book. He said yes. It was that simple.

I think this has to do more with the content in the book and less about how Polygon published the piece. Because again, they didn't do anything unusual or out of the norm. They followed their procedures and they match up with what other newspapers and blogs do... The book looks at how video games and the industry are stagnant in artistic growth. Owen's doesn't see video games as art, and he uses movies as an example on how games need to change to reflect artistic endeavors. It's a discussion that crops up over and over again. So I'm not at all surprised that people feel a strong reaction to Owen's words. But an issue of journalistic integrity this is not. Maybe a note at the beginning on what a book excerpt is would have been helpful, since gamers apparently don't know what that is (and that's sad). Other then, there's nothing to see here. Just another book that I don't have time to read. You can go about your business.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Consumer Rights Act in UK Spells Trouble For Faulty Games

Starting today, in the UK consumer protection is being extended to digital content including video games. When you read the details, you'll wish that we had this in the US.

The Consumer Rights Act of 2015 is coming into focus as an effort to make rules regarding purchases and contracts much clearer for both customers and businesses. Why is this important (other then the obvious - better transparency, yea!)? In conjunction with another Bill passed in March of this year, it gives customers more options on what to do if the product they purchased was faulty.

Such as, and this is direct from the Act, consumers now have a 30 day return/refund window on any faulty physical or digital product. Yeah. If you bought AssCreed Unity, which has been marred with a very buggy release, you can get a full refund within 30 days. It doesn't matter if you've played through the entire game, or that it's a PC product, or that it's been opened. You got a faulty product. You get a refund. That's a pretty big hand up for consumers in the UK. And it's not just video games but also movies, music, eBooks, Steam services - anything digital is covered by this new Act.


Remember when Batman: Arkham Knight's PC version was pulled from shelves and online for it's massive bugs? The new Act would cover a refund (Steam will need to make some slight adjustments to their policy for UK customers, but it's still one of the better refund systems I've seen for digital content).

Companies such as Netflix and Amazon that provide online streaming of movies and tv shows are expected to abide by this Act as well. If they do not deliver on a service that they promised, UK citizens are allowed to file a dispute for a refund. The Act also provides better legal services that hold businesses accountable for not fulfilling their contracts to customers.

Now I don't know about you, but I rarely have issues with streaming movies. Really the only time I see a problem is when Verizon throttles my service. The memorable moments when digital content has been an issue for me was with video games. It's either problems with the software not liking my gaming computer (EA, I'm looking at you), or lots of bugs in the game that cause it to crash or become unplayable. More games are riddled with bugs at release. And as a lot of us know this is becoming the new norm. There's more pressure for developers to release products quickly or during holidays to boost console sales, and in turn, they send out shoddy games that require patching later. It's sad that we're accustomed to this now. We dislike it and gripe about it, but we still pre-order and buy the damn games at release, knowingly waiting for the updates. We tell ourselves it'll get better, but we're still promoting the release of unfinished work by buying them.

While I don't imagine this new UK Act will overturn the entire industry, but to have a major market of gaming sales could turn some heads. Maybe we'll finally get some gamers to open up their eyes and realize that yes, your wallet really does hold a lot of power. If you buy the games when they're buggy, developers are going to continue to release faulty products. If you hold off on your purchases and wait (which I hope will be a growing trend) until the bugs are fixed, you're sending a stronger message to the developers: Stop releasing broken games. We won't pay until we get a product that works as intended.

Good luck UK. I hope the Act succeeds and the backlash by businesses is low. Consumers deserve to get the products that they paid for, and work as intended.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Now BioWare Wants a Park Ride

Not to be left out on the theme park madness, BioWare announced yesterday a partnership with California's Great Adventure and operator Cedar Fair for a Mass Effect themed ride to appear in 2016. The ride will be a combination of 3-D and 4-D, allowing attendees to visit one of the planets in the game and battle the alien forces with the help of a costumed performer. I'm assuming that would be Commander Shepard and we're probably going to kill a lot of Geth. I think some of the Reapers might be too scary for kids.

The timing couldn't be better, though some may think it's a bit late given the age of the Mass Effect franchise. Nintendo announced this year that they are working on a theme park deal. Ubisoft will have their own park in Malaysia, mentioned earlier this month. There's a wave to get games into parks to draw more people in. The popularity of gaming gear in Disney World, for example, has helped boost attendance rates in Epcot (which has seen a slow decline over the past decade). 3-D/4-D rides are making waves across the country in Six Flags parks for having gamer-like qualities (I'm talking about the Batman ride where you can run around Gotham and shoot up bad guys). And it's good promotion for the upcoming Andromeda.

Now might be a good time to invest in a theme park.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My 10 Favorite Video Games. Ever.

Other then the fact that I have over-posted on "top" lists this past week, someone pointed out to me that I have yet to make my own for "favorite video games."

Well the joke is on the commenter. I did make a "favorite game" list in 2011. There was a segment back in 2010 covering my top 10 favorite cartridge games. Since then my list have been topical, comical, and on the rare occasion insightful. Mostly I poke fun at the other lists. But it's been a few years. I think my original ist could use a face lift and incorporate some games that have wedged their way onto my shelf over the past few years.

So here we are. It's a culmination of lists. And more lists. And now, my list!

I'll preface this with my usual notes that this is all one person's opinion: my own. I haven't played every video game out there (no one has). I'm a retro gamer. I'm not as new-school as kids today, but I have a very diverse gaming background. While I may not be a fan of certain genres or development teams, I don't dismiss a good product if the body of work as a whole is questionable (see Call of Duty and Ubisoft). So expect a varied list.

This list is based on my opinions, and only mine. Feel free to agree or disagree as much, or as little, as you like. Everyone is different. Everyone has their preferences. These are my own. Any flaming and your butt is getting banned. Got it?

With that out of the way, onto My 10 Favorite Video Games. Ever.

10. Halo 2. In my initial list, Halo: Combat Evovlved was number 10. But over the years, I realized that I didn't play Halo 1 as much as I did the second game. That's when the combat really jumped up a few levels and provided some of the best co-op, and online FPS action that I have had in years. Story-wise, it's about on par with what 1 brought to the table. The introduction of the Arbiter helped provide more context to what the heck was going on in the universe. The first game always felt like this weird attempt at being Half-Life (remember kids, Half-Life came out in 1998 while Halo was 2001) with the story. The Flood reminded me of those head-crabs, but were infinitely more annoying. The flailing was also universal. To see the other side of the alien life and to get a better grasp on the story really helped the gamers better understand 'the Halo.' It also had a much better Needler (best weapon ever), more thoughtful online maps, and an array of gravity boosting insanity. This is my go-to for FPS games.

9. Myst. One thing I lacked greatly last time were PC games. I love my PC. For a while, I was a big PC gamer. Mostly to get away from my brother's annoying friends who wanted to trash talk me while playing consoles. So PC's became a hub of entertainment. I don't remember how I stumbled upon Myst, but it was one of those games that sold me within the first few minutes of play.

I liked this game for it's complexity. It's a puzzle questing sort of game with really pretty visuals. Almost like an upgrade to the text-based adventures of the 1980's. But with a lot of puzzles. And riddles. I hate riddles. A lot. But I was determined to follow-through with them in Myst because the story compelled me to do so. You start the game as a "stranger" who has traveled to Myst with a book. Using that book, you must solve puzzles to unlock other locations and figure out the mysteries behind the books. It was also one of the first games that provided you with multiple ending scenarios based on your decisions. And unlike other adventure games, you start with very little backstory in the beginning. It reminds me of the movie Memento where you need to uncover the past as you play; and from that you can determine what your goals are. The game unfolds at it's own pace using patience, observation, and logic. Anyone who likes puzzles needs to pick this up. This was one of the top selling PC games of all time until The Sims, and for good reason.

8. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The immersion of GTA Online is fantastic, and one of the best open world-platforms I have seen in years. But Vice City is where it's at. I selected this game out of the GTA series for a few reasons. Not only am I a fan of everything 1980's (in terms of nostalgia - I really don't want any of the fashion trends to come back), but of all of the GTA's, this one had a story that kept me interested. If you haven't figured out, story is important to me. While we applaud GTA for being very sand-boxy, the story can sometimes suffer as a result. You spend more time driving around doing random acts of stuff, then in engaging the character with the plot. I play for story. And that's what Vice City provides me. I enjoy how over-the-top ridiculous it is in it's 'Miami Vice' nature of plot twists. And how down-to-Earth the characters can be the next moment. I love the witty dialogue of the NPC's, and how thrilling the take-downs of the "bad guys" are. Vice City lives for "moments." That's what makes it stand out against it's counterparts.

7. Super Mario Galaxy. We need a Mario game on this list. And while I could spend decades ranting about how great Mario Kart is (I still play the first DS game whenever I'm travelling), to me the quintessential Mario game comes in the form of Galaxy. Like most traditional Mario titles, you are Mario. Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach once again and it's your task to save her. But this time you're thrown out into the universe and must assist a new-comer, Rosalina, in restoring the Power Stars, which allow you to travel to new worlds and catch up to Bowser. Because his butt stole a bunch of stars and destroyed some of the pathways. So what makes Galaxy different? This is the first game for the Nintendo Wii where we saw Mario evolve with his game dynamics. He went from 8-bit, to 32 in the move from the NES to the SNES. And then three dimensional with the N64. With Galaxy, Mario changed the way we thought about gaming in a 3D realm. Jumping from planet to planet required players to take into account things like gravity (each celestial object had their own gravitational force); walking in some situations was a challenge. You are sometimes restricted to a 2D playing field on a 3D map. The fact that you could run and have the planet rotate with caused some major mind screw the first few times you played. Possibly some motion sickness as well. It also heavily utilized the Wii Remote and Nunchuck, the bane of players existence for every game outside of Wii Sports. But Galaxy used them well. The controls felt fluid and gave some validity to the motion sensors in the new Nintendo products. Plus, you got to jump around in space. I mean, you can't beat that! If there's any one Wii game, one Mario game, to play, it has to be Galaxy.

6. Golden Eye 007. What could possibly beat out a Mario game? Why the original N64 Golden Eye of course! This was the game of all games for Nintendo fans, and the mutliplayer product to beat. Even now I'd say most mutiplayer titles can not match the wonder of Golden Eye. The single player story was equally as entertaining, though sometimes monstrously difficult. This is the first game that I can remember my brother and I playing all day and never being tired of it. The maps, the challenge of finding your enemy, the silly unlocks of big heads and paintball bullets, all of it captured our youth. What I love about this game was that anyone could easily jump in and play. You could make the settings as easy or as difficult as you'd like. And you didn't have to be good at multiplayer to enjoy it. Even if you are the worse Golden Eye player, it was still fun to watch the insanity unfold on the screen. And back then, this was new for us. We didn't have FPS that promoted co-op and multiplayer gaming this way. And the developers did such a great job with the tactical aspects while keeping the game fun, that future products strive to live up to this ideal. The multiplayer really capitalized on split-screens and bringing people together through gaming - something that is lacking in today's content. Even now when my brother is home, we find ourselves bringing down the N64 from it's box and playing a few rounds. We could never get enough of Golden Eye and still don't! The remake for Wii isn't the same. It misses out on a lot of the charm.

5. Mass Effect 2. Until my Let's Play session, I wasn't convinced about the "magic" of Mass Effect. I was still not convinced after finishing the game. ME2 fixed that. And a lot of it has to do with how in-depth BioWare went in developing the characters. Outside of Final Fantasy titles, this was a game that made me give a darn about what happened to these digital beings. For all of the battles, the planet scanning, the non-Mako-antics, the humanity of Mass Effect came alive in the second game. It gave me a better sense of purpose to see the mission through. While the dialogue options seem a bit limited by comparison to the third installment, and future BioWare products, this was a title that really opened my eyes to the possibilities of future gaming. We need more like this.

4. Borderlands 2. I made every effort to get into the first Borderlands and I didn't get it. The story never grabbed me. The controls felt too clunky. The art style too rough. The grinding very grinder-y. At the request of my significant other, I gave Borderlands 2 a shot. That "the story is a lot better" and "you don't need the history of the first game to appreciate the second one." Okay. Let's give this a try. While he wasn't completely on point regarding the history (knowing what happened in the first game really helps with some of the context and jokes, but it's not 100% necessary), the content in 2 allowed me to understand why Borderlands was so popular among adults. For a game with a lot of freekin' guns, it had an entertaining and surreal story. It's one of the few games where I wanted the bad guy to win. The antagonist wasn't "that" bad. Surprising how few video games tackle that topic. I mean, yeah. Handsome Jack is an asshole, but an endearing one. He had good intentions. He went about them the wrong way, but they were good in theory. The characters were much more likeable, relate-able to an extent. The end goals seemed much more admirable then the first game. The jokes felt both adult and childish in one fell swoop. It's a fun game that got better with age. If you're looking to jump into Borderlands skip the first one and the Pre-Sequel. Go to game 2 and you'll get what the big deal is.

3. The Last of Us. This is zombie horror survival mixed with 'The Walking Dead' drama and soul crushing RPG characters. If this decade could be defined by one game, it would be The Last of Us. Not only  does the plot that pulls at the heart strings, it's how damn creepy this game is even when you're out in open spaces. I thought the zombies in Resident Evil were bad (when they like to creep, they can be too quiet for my tastes). Wait until you get smacked down by a Clicker and never hear them coming. Ugh! It annoys me to no end! This is one of those games where no matter how much I try to explain it, I can't do it enough justice. You need to play. That's all I can say. Be prepared for tissues for those tears at the end.

2. Final Fantasy IV. Yes it's still #2. And if you've read my past "favorite games" list, then you already know what's #1. I'll let this Critical Distance article act as a recap on why I heart this game. Everything I knew about gaming before Final Fantasy was in this little circle of Pong and Mario. FF4 showed me the world of gaming in ways I never expected. It allowed me to open up my eyes and see what else is out there. It taught me how much fun life could be. It made me care about fictional people for the first time. It proved to me how powerful storytelling can be in a digital medium. For all of it's highs and lows, frustrations and silly mini-games, it gives me feels that I can't express with most titles. It may not be the perfect game or the best. But FF4 is the Final Fantasy of all Final Fantasy's. Bar none.

1. NiGHTS: Into Dreams. The number one spot will never change on my list. It will always and forever be NiGHTS. If FF4 was my reason to game as a kid, NiGHTS was my reason to pursue it as a hobby for the rest of my life. There's a great amount of simplistic beauty to the game. It's bright, full of color and joy, as well as darkness and strange nightmares. I think what pulls me back to this game every time is that it is just plain ol' fun. You don't have to have the high-tech graphics, or the coolest voice actors. You can have a simple, compelling story, with captivating art, and engaging characters who act through emotion to create a wonderful game. Without NiGHTS we wouldn't have Journey, Katamari, or Shadow of the Colossus. Games that are very basic on the surface, but hold an intrinsic beauty that can not be matched. This is one of the first games that took 3D realms and tried to wrangle them in with a unique perspective. Your character flies around the world as it bends and curves to your movements. It may seem archaic by today's standards. It was pretty cool in the 90's. And having a story that was stripped down of fluff really allowed this game to blossom. I will love this game forever and ever. There's no doubt about it.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Cosplay Catwalk

Western Canada Fashion Week, WCFW and yes that really is a thing, tried to add in something geeky this year by allowing cosplayers onto the catwalk to show off their sewing skills. Vicky Lau, aka Vivid Vision, was selected to be one of the first to use the runway to present the variety of cosplay to mainstream audiences - or as mainstream as fashion can be. Only one original design was presented, and that was Anna from Frozen in a warrior/cross-over. Lau's theme was 'Female Warriors.'

I don't imagine this transferring into New York Fashion Week anytime soon, but it's nice to see that geeky culture is getting a say in clothing. To note these will NOT be mass produced. This is more of a showcase of skills from the non-fashion industry in Canada, that could influence the future of designs.

WCFW is not the first to do this. San Diego Comic Con invited Her Universe for a second year to allow designers around the country a chance to showcase original fashions inspired by geeky things - such as Dr. Who, Star Wars, Aliens, etc. It culminates in an amazing showing of geeky things that we would all love to have in a retail, slimmed down version.

Welcome to the future! It's turning geeky.

Friday, September 25, 2015

ESRB Ratings Showing Shift in Games

Dadaviz, a data visualization website, has recently crunched numbers on the types of video games released over the past decade based on the ESRB rating system. What they have graphed out is that there is a steady rise in M rated games, while E is on the decline.

Here's what you should take away from this: it's not that big of a deal.

Really. It's not. There are still a lot of E games on the market, and they make up over 40% of the content out there. Has it gone down? Yes. But it's not the end of the world, parents.

What this trend in gaming is showing is that the audience is growing up. Gaming is not an activity for children, as many of us know. And now we have the data to back it up. As the audience matures, so do the games (sometimes). It's further proof that the average age of gamers isn't 12, as many news media outlets would like to assume. We're growing up. Our tastes are changing. And the games we play are growing up with us.

There will always be E content. And as the graph shows the E10+ is steadily gaining momentum in growth to better evolve with kids today. So settle down, parents. You'll still have your Mario. Some of us adults would like to play Diablo instead, if you don't mind.

I also find it freekin' hillarious that the post underneath it tracks the use of profanity in the Die Hard franchise. Die Hard with a Vengeance, one of the best in the series and my personal favorite, uses ass, damn, the f word, and the s word the most at 203 times. This doesn't include other curses or slurs dropped (such as the N word, as this was the movie with Samuel L. Jackson as Zeus). And then you watch it completely plummet in Die Hard 4 and 5. When did John McClain become soft?