Friday, December 15, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

How are we doing this week? Yeah it's been pretty crappy, with the FCC doing what we expected them to do. #DouchePai led the vote on repealing Net Neutrality. While it passed in the FCC 3/2, they still have to go through legal channels and a number of states are already fighting against it. So the pop-up is going to stay and urge you to call your Congress members. We can still fight it. Do your duty!

Also, people on social media are being dicks and already spoiling 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi.' So, there's that.

Well, let's try to lift some spirits and get to the Weekly Link Round Up. A gathering of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news of the week.

- The Nintendo Switch gave back one person's video games, according to a short op-ed on Kotaku. It's a quick read, but it's kind of cute. Being an adult, I can understand the writer's perspective. Not the kids thing, but having to be an adult and not having enough time to devote to video games. The compatible portability of the Switch allows him to game in-between school runs in a way he never has had to before.

- The Hollywood Reporter asks why video games are not as respected as movies? We've dabbled in this pool multiple times, but the short answer is time. Eventually games will be respected. Just as it took decades for movies to earn that position, so too will video games. But we must give it time.

- GQ Magazine calls 2017 the year of re-releases for video games! Honestly, I'm not sure if it was as big of a year for that category as it was for new games. We did get a lot of stuff - Horizon: Zero Dawn is the big one that comes to mind. But as well as sequels, prequels, a spin-off to Uncharted. So while it may have been games from franchises, they were new games. Maybe 2017 should be the year of franchises. That feels more accurate.

- BTW, Polygon has confirmed that loot boxes are the most talked about topic of the year. Solid reporting.

- USA Today has an good overview on how Player Unknown's Battleground became one of the most played games of the year. It's one of those oddities that we didn't expect to be such a big hit. But it is! The history of the game and it's development is worth a read-through.

- Curious on what the top 10 trending video game searches were on Google this year? ScreenRant has compiled the list!

- Finally Gaming Bolt has a list of 15 Generation Changing Gaming Moments. They include the reveal of the Nintendo Switch, Sony's E3 Presentation from 2013, and Mortal Kombat. This list may have you scratching your head, but when you think about the choices they make sense. Products like Mortal Kombat did change the landscape of gaming - in that situation helping develop the ESRB. It's a well thought-out list and worth a read-through.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Game-cember: My Favorite Consoles

Let the great debate commence. Today's Game-cember list is all about consoles. The systems we clamored to get from our family for holiday or birthday gifts. Our house has always been a gaming stronghold. It's been more recent that PC has become the main focus, but for a long time we were console gamers only. Why not make a list of my Top 8 Favorite Consoles! Why 8? 5 seemed too few and 10 was too many.

8 - Sega Saturn. You may scratch your head at this entry. I don't mind. The Sega Saturn is sometimes categorized as a forgotten system. If you are one of those that wondered if this was a thing, and yes. It was. The Saturn was one of the first system to utilize CD technology for game consoles. Revolutionary at the time, and now it's a modern staple. Everything about the Saturn was improved from cartridge games. The sound felt crisper. The graphics cleaner and more 3 dimensional. Game play was much faster. Sega gave us a console that stepped up their game. This is where we saw the first console version of Vritua Fighter, and my favorite game ever NiGHTS: Into Dreams. The classic World Series Baseball, considered the best of the franchise, was on the Saturn. As well as quirky, wanna-be mascots, Bug! and Gex: The Gecko.

The biggest problem with the Saturn was it's launch time. Within a year, Nintendo released the Nintendo 64, and it blew away all console sales. From 1994 to 1998, only 9.26 million units of the Saturn were sold. In gaming terms, that's considered a commercial failure. By the end of it's cycle, many of the features the Saturn held were already overshadowed by PlayStation and Nintendo. But the Saturn was a notable footnote in gaming history showing that CD was the future.

7 - Atari 2600. A classic, and one of the first consoles we had in our home. While the ware between CalicoVision and Atari raged on, we always went to the Atari for it's multiplayer games and adaptations from arcade legends. Pac-Man, Pitfall, Pong. Lots of P-titled games. But they created a generation of TV junkies ready to play video games. The Atari is easily the sillies looking system, with wood paneling. How 70's of it. And yeah, the joystick controllers with one button were pretty dumb. At least it wasn't a knob like the CalicoVision. But what it lacked in aesthetics it made up for with a huge library of games. It was easily the winner in content, and helped paved the way for future consoles.

6 - Nintendo 64. The reasons why the Nintendo 64 is awesome has to do with the following: GoldenEye 64, Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, Ogre Battle, and Star Wars Battlefront. Nintendo hit it's golden age with the 64 unexpectedly. In a time where we weren't too sure if cartridges still had life left in them, Nintendo released the 64 and blew our minds. It provided new 64-bit experiences of our favorite games and original titles. The experiences were dynamic. The game play always enjoyable. The controller is arguably one of the best and you'll often find it listed in the top 5 of best designed. Even today's Smash Bros. pros prefer the 64 style over the classic controllers. This was one of the last consoles to embrace cartridges before the change to CD's, and it did it well.

5 - Sega GameGear. While we had GameBoy's at home, the GameGear showed us the future of handheld. It was a clunky system and not the most portable, but it was good enough to travel with. What always impressed me with the GameGear is how vibrant the games were. They were almost a mini-version of what we could get on the Sega Genesis. Sure the screen looked a bit flatter and the characters not as well-shaded, but it was still better then the GameBoy. This one gave us full-framed color! I don't remember the games being as astounding on the system. Most of them were ports from the Genesis. But I do remember enjoying playing this handheld more then anything else at the time.

4 - Sega Genesis. From the GameGear to the Genesis. This console always boasted a rivalry to Nintendo, trying to topple the empire by being the hip, cool, teenage version. All 32 bits of power created some dynamic gaming experiences. This was the console that every kid on our block wanted, and we had it. Mostly to play Mortal Kombat and Sonic. This was easily one of our favorite early gaming systems to have. It felt like one of the most advanced pieces of technology on the market, even compared to the Super Nintendo. What it lacked in games it made up for in unique experiences. It was a system that you had to play to understand why it was so much cooler then anything else on the market at that time.

3 - Nintendo DS. As far as handhelds are concerned, the Nintendo DS is king. It took everything that was great about the GameBoy and GameGear and created new touch-screen technology that worked. It wasn't a gimmick. It wasn't a throw-away idea. The touch-screen capabilities on the DS were the stuff dreams were made of. It was smart. It was thoughtful. And it was well crafted. What I love about the DS is that it brought portable consoles back into the limelight the right way. It was just big enough to get the screen space you needed to game without being cumbersome. The control pad made sense. It was blocky because of the system, but it worked well. And that touch screen. Who knew this would be the future of gaming. The level of interactivity is phenomenal. Games like Ace Attorney, Monster Hunter, and Super Mario are so much more enjoyable with the touch screen. And it brought a wave of new rhythm and music games such as Elite Beat Agents. Because it's Nintendo, this is a system that would last. I still have my original DS and it works as well as my 3DS. You can't go wrong having this with you on a road trip.

2 - Super Nintendo. If you have to pick a Nintendo system, the SNES is usually at the top of the list. While the Nintendo started it all, the Super Nintendo helped refine and define a generation of gaming. Taking many of the classic games such as Mario and Metroid to higher bit-rates, the SNES helped create a culture of gamers. The system itself is not very flashy. It looks like a more adult version of the original Nintendo with much bigger cartridges. The controllers at least looked better and weren't as boxy in one's hands. But what matter the most were the games. Super Mario Kart, Super Mario RPG, Super Star Wars, Clayfighters, Donkey Kong Country, and Final Fantasy VI. These were the games that capitalized on the power of the SNES. It's still hard to believe that Mario Kart and DKC came from the same system. You can't help but be in awe by how creative developers were with the SNES. Without it, we wouldn't have the Nintendo dynasty that exists today.

1 - Sony PlayStation 2. Of all the non-handheld systems on the list, this is the most "current gen" one. The PS2. I remember being floored when this system was released. I couldn't believe video games could look so good. And it easily had one of the best controllers on the market. Much better then the N64. The thumbstick placement and the curve of grips made sense. It felt like anyone could hold that controller and instinctively know how to use it.

The PS2 was the birthplace of franchises and revolutionary games that would change the face of gaming: Resident Evil 4, GTA: Vice City and San Andreas, Ico, Katamari Damacy, Jax and Daxter, Kingdom Hearts - the list is endless. For a time, the PS2 was the most bought console ever. And it was part of the last in a series of consoles that was just for gaming. It wasn't a multi-functional unit. It played games and it did it really damn well. The tech behind the system was phenomenal. The XBox and Nintendo Gamecube couldn't compete with the raw power of the PS2. It was practically a portable computer in a corrugated box.

The PS2 is easily my favorite console. It introduced me to Dragon Quest. For that I am eternally grateful.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017


I'm not going to go off into why you need to support Net Neutrality. I've written a big ol' post about that already. We are less then a day away from the FCC voting on whether to keep it or dump it. 2 of the board members want to keep it. We know the chairman wants to get rid of it, which means there are 2 more people that we have to convince. We also have to pressure our senators to listen to us and act. 22 million comments were left on the FCC's website, a record by all accounts, and they are being disregarded. The time to act is now. Call your senators. Visit that annoying pop-up box that I've added to the blog to fill out your info and find out who to call. It takes less then 5 minutes to have your voice heard.

For those saying we did fine without Net Neutrality, the system has always been in place in some form or another. The FCC didn't make it a Title II restriction until more recently. In doing so, it put a hard line in the sand with ISP's to ensure they didn't screw around customers. Before then, there were rules in place that keep ISP's at bay. It didn't stop them from trying, but it did prevent them from going full tilt on crazy fees and price spikes. The complete disassembling of Net Neutrality will throw away the protections we need to keep the ISP's from destroying the internet.

Do your part today. Call your senators. Help save Net Neutrality. The FCC can't silence us.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

So What About That Rant at The Game Awards?

Curious about Josef Fares rant on The Game Awards last week? Polygon spoke with the indie developer to get his side of the story.

Fares is the co-founder of the Swedish developer Hazelight Studio. He is the writer and director of their first project A Way Out. Originally, he was to appear on The Game Awards to debut their newest trailer, announce the game's March release date, and a unique co-op version (a friend can play the game with you for free). That sort of happened in the three and a half minute rant, with the help of a frustrated-looking Geoff Knightly. Fares said f-you to the Academy Awards and went on a tirade about microtransactions. The latter was the butt of a number of jokes for the night.

What's Fares personal beef with the Oscars? According to him, nothing. He wants video games to be taken seriously like the Oscars and movies. But that's not at all what came out of his mouth during his presentation. Apparently Fares is the type of person that gets excited easily. He lets his passion take over and isn't able to fully articulate himself. Meaning he's probably not the best person to invite onto your award show to introduce a game. At the very least, his spectacle did get his game noticed! Proving once again that there is no such thing as bad press.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Game Awards 2017 Review

The Game Awards (TGA) happened to be rolling during my weekly streaming session. So I had it on in the background while I played a few games and gave a running commentary on the event. What's the final verdict? Well at least they didn't have a razor mascot dancing on the stage.

For year 4 of TGA I still don't know what to make of it. The show seems like it's trying really hard to not be like Spike TV's Game Award show, but it still holds onto the camp. There were still D-List random celebrities making cameos. There were still random cut-aways to gaming lounges. And of course there's always that one over-eccentric developer (NSFW) that makes us laugh and cringe at his behavior.

But they did try to class it up this year. There was the TGA Orchestra which played various melodies throughout the night in short bursts. The stage presentation sure looked a lot nicer. Instead of screaming in your face 'Xtreme Video Games' like you'd see in a Disney special, the stage was clean. Simple. And dynamic.

That's really the only good points I can make about the show. I felt bored through half of it. The World Premieres once again took over. My original guess was 12, but I immediately bumped it up to 22 once my counter went wild. The final tally of World Premieres for the night was 22. Go me!

A lot of the awards were rushed. At one point Knightly ran through 4 or 5 categories in one fell swoop and it was those developers don't matter? Some categories felt half-assed when the teams behind the games should have been given a chance to shine.

Also very heavy on Western developers still. There was Persona 5. But no mention of FF15. Not even a "hey kids, Monster Hunter soon" which was surprising. Unless it's a straight-up Nintendo title, international developers were not really there.

The highlight was always going to be Kojima and Death Stranding. Where there was a new trailer, more questions, and 0 clues about what the game is about.

Other misses were the streaming issues. I watched on Twitch and I always felt like the sound was muffled. Particularly with the musical acts. I could barely hear the crispness of the orchestra. On YouTube it is a bit clearer, but that seems to be a common complaint with the show.

The show also still felt too long, too much emphasis on sponsors and random junk we don't care about. We don't need 100 World Premiers. We want a quick show that is easy to digest and move on from there. The categories also feel outdated and restrictive. Where's the MMO category? That's a huge market being overlooked. And if you have a category for "most played/still playing games" you need one for MMO's. 2017 was a big year for them with new games and expansions. They deserve their time in the spotlight too.

Overall at least TGA wasn't like last year. But it's not much better. Why do we keep watching this?

Friday, December 08, 2017

Game-cember List of Favorite Things – Final Fantasy

Since it is December, the month of gift giving no matter what your religious or non-religious affiliations are, I thought I would do something different to celebrate. Every week I’ll be presenting a list of my favorite things! Maybe they will inspire some unique gift giving of your own. Or open up a can of worms and create a debate. Doesn’t matter. My lists. My opinions. Debate away!

It seems fitting that the first list should be something close to my fangirl heart: Final Fantasy. If it weren’t for this franchise, I wouldn’t be a gamer. Even in its early days Final Fantasy provided story, character development, and uniquely dynamic experiences you wouldn’t find anywhere else. They were the first to define video game RPG’s. They changed how we view video games and elevated it to an art form. With music design, imagery, and storyboards that would transform an industry, Final Fantasy represents so much of what I love about video games.

This is my list of Favorite Final Fantasy games. To clarify, I am only going to be ranking the main FF titles, I – XIV, as I have not played 15 yet. Spin-offs, sequels, and off-shoots will not be included. Otherwise Tactics would rule this list and that’s not fun for anyone to read.

Putting these in order of importance was no easy task. I love the franchise. I’ve been suckered in by their marketing tactics one too many times. I can find good and bad in all of the titles. To rank them was a challenge. Entries 8-14 were the toughest.

14 – Final Fantasy II. This game ranks as the worst on my list because it does so much wrong. Bland story. No character development (the game gives you blank slates and you customize your party). And really wacked up battle mechanics that they never used ever again. The only good thing about this game is that it provided a number of the future Final Fantasy staples: chocobos, summons, as well as infamous names of weapons and spells. The remake is not much better. In fact, it's just as dull. So skip that too!

13 – Final Fantasy III. The funny thing is that my favorite character from Dissidia is in this game: Cloud of Darkness. She has a strange fighting style, but I liked how challenging she was to master. I'm still at a loss as to why she was chosen to represent FF3 in Dissidia, given that she's not in the game for almost 95% of it. Your main target is Xande; the not-quite so flamboyant alter-ego of The Emperor from FF2. When you find out that Xande isn't the real villain but this strange creature controlling him, it feels like the game has set out to ruin your day. You've been built up to fight the ultimate big bad, and then find out it's all a ruse. It destroys the story - that's why this game is only #13.

FF3 has some redeeming qualities. The story is palatable and the class upgrades are much improved from the second game. The mage classes all get an overhaul and become more viable in combat. But the rest of it is meh. It's a game that is fun to tinker with if you're bored at the airport (the remake is available on the DS), but after an hour of running in circles, you'll get bored.

12 – Final Fantasy I. Ah yes. The first. The original. The one and only. Okay so as the distinction of being the first, people will either like it or accept the fact that it gets better. I'm of the latter viewpoint. While I'm loyal to the 'old school' ways, FF1 was a great first entry into the series. When compared to the other games, it's easy to see why this was the first one. This was a game that took exploration and world maps to a new frontier. We hadn't seen a game like this before. Even the dungeons looked impressive. Zelda couldn't compare to the expansiveness. FF1 felt like a visual extension of Dungeons & Dragons. Even going so far as being able to provide some customization to your characters by picking job classes and attributes to assist you on your quest. When the game ends and you fulfill your destiny as the Warrior of Light, it feels pretty darn cool.

The game is not without it's flaws. This was at a time when your party was a blank slate. No personality. No distinctive characteristics beyond their job roles. Most had the same hair color, now that I think about it. Because of this, the story doesn't hold as much weight as it could. You don't feel as connected to your party so if one dies, oh well. No biggie. Use an item and all will be well. That is one of my biggest hang-ups with the early FF titles. Characters. They needed them. Thank goodness it all turned around in FF4.

11 – Final Fantasy XIII. I will defend FF13 as a valid Final Fantasy entry until my dying breath. I think it has a lot of potential but lacked the finesse needed to fully execute the content. It's a lovely game to play through, and fun when you become more involved in the story. The combat is fast-paced while giving the player enough room to breathe and think through strategy. I like that it maintained FF12's visuals with enemies so you can dodge as you see fit. I also liked that the first half was on a linear path. The game's story is so complex that an open world early on would have destroyed the message it was trying to present. It needed to keep players on a simple path to balance out the complex narrative. I find the characters charming in their own ways. Some more then others. The level of difficulty is also a nice surprise. I appreciated the way that the game challenged me to try new battle tactics and swap out party members so I wasn't wrapped up in the same team.

The execution of the game is why this one ranks low. It felt like all the pieces for a great FF title are there, but it was sloppily pieced together. The voice acting never felt quite right. The character animations always looked stiff or too clean. The environment wasn't engaging or worth exploring when given the opportunity. The story was too in love with itself that it's easy to overlook what's really going on. The coincidences between the characters and how their lives interweave were too scripted. Every aspect of this game was off. A number of these issues are addressed in 13-2, but unless you're fully committed to the FF franchise, you probably skipped that one. FF13 was a game with a lot of potential and didn't follow-through.

10 – Final Fantasy IX. I can already hear the screams of the fanboys. "What? Why is FF9 so low on the list?" FF9's story never grabbed me on the same level as the other games. I felt the plot was too predictable and at times and too cliché. The FF formula felt too trite. It lacked originality and stuck to it's tropes that I couldn't connect to the game.

What kept FF9 from sitting at the bottom is one thing they did the best: the characters. Plot and characters are my biggest reasons for playing a game. I have never met a more diverse, divisive, challenging, heartfelt, strong cast of characters in any of the FF titles. Zidane, Garnet, Vivi, Freya (and more!) - these characters are worth a playthrough of FF9. The characters and their stories are the saving grace for this game. I wish other FF titles followed this example.

9 – Final Fantasy VII. Again, hush fanboys. It's not #1. FF7 deserves the credit that it has received as being a game that sold PlayStation consoles. While the franchise has been in the Western market for a while, FF7 helped bring it to the forefront of casual gamers minds. If you've never played a Final Fantasy game, you know about FF7. The look and the characters are distinctly Final Fantasy. It ushered a new era for gaming while updating the RPG formula to fit with a more modern audience.

What I like about FF7 is the setting and the ever-evolving story. Just when you think you have a grasp on what's going on, a new layer is added. It all ties in to the theme of life - which was the premise Sakaguchi-san set out for this game. And it fits beautifully. For me, FF7 breaks the top 10 because of it's achievements. But I don't feel the game is polished enough to rank higher. The characters are just okay. The broody main character holds so little personality, I was happy in the few moments where I didn't have to play him. The character archetypes are very paint by numbers. It's difficult to become attached to a character when most of them are bland. The story also gets too wrapped up in itself that it looses it's footing. When you figure out who Sephiroth is, that's when it all goes to crazy town. Fan theories aside, it's confusing only to ensure that everyone is corn-fused. I also disliked how the multiple side-stories intercepted each other. I felt like I kept getting pulled out of the main plot too much when dealing with Shin-Ra that I couldn't appreciate what the story was trying to tell me.

8 – Final Fantasy X. Placing FFX was difficult. I feel it's a game that doesn't get enough credit from journalists or gamers. But there are some flaws that kept the game below my top 5 because other FF titles triumphed where FFX failed.

FFX is one hell of a story. On the surface seems fairly straightforward. What FFX is really about is the corruption of religion. At it's most blunt, you have the sea monster Sin and an organized religion, Yevon, that is one step shy of pulling a full-on Spanish Inquisition. But when it's subtle, my goodness do you get hit with some hard hitting questions. And it has Blizball. Easily the second best mini-game in an FF title.

What kept me from bumping FFX up were the characters and the gameplay. Wakka and Lulu are hands down, some of my favorite characters. I enjoy their banter and insight as well as how dynamic their combat abilities were. But the other characters were just okay. They were not as memorable or worth engaging in. The gameplay can best be summed up as linear and slow. FFX returned to the turn-based combat system. While great on strategy, this wasn't a game that required a wait time. It was too easy to hit attack repeatedly and move on to the next fight. The restricted landscapes also didn't add to the atmosphere, making it clunky and sometimes awkward to achieve your goals.

7 – Final Fantasy V. Final Fantasy V is a silly game. You need to have an open mind to get through it.

That's it. I think it is a really silly Final Fantasy title. It will make you laugh. It will make you question your sanity. You will wonder why you are playing it at all. And then a moment happens. You'll realize it's just stupidly fun and you'll keep on playing. It's not the best cast of characters and the story is decent. But you'll play because it's fun.

6 – Final Fantasy XI. I spent a good 7 years of my life in FF11. Vana'diel was a second home to me for quite some time and I'll never be able to forget it. The first Final Fantasy MMO has a good mix of classic FF elements with modern RPG finesse. You got one hell of an evolving story that somehow stayed cohesive, even after so many expansion packs. I'm still amazed that I managed to keep up with all of it. FF11 was not like other MMO's and relied heavily on you interacting with other gamers. Until more recent updates, it was near impossible to do anything in the game on your own. You have to have companions/party members assisting you. While the forced parties seems like it would have backfired, it didn't. FF11 managed to create a good balance between content and difficulty, that many have formed life-long friendships over the harshness of the Dunes. What kept me in FF11 for so long was the story. I left after finishing the Wings of the Goddess expansion, and the ending nearly had me in tears. It was too damn beautiful for words and damn you SE for making me care! *shakes fist*

The downside is, as most FF11 veterans know, is that this game is rough. Only the strong survived and if you were not good at your job, you better find a new one. Because this game offers you 0 forgiveness. If you died you lose XP. Depending on how recently you leveled, you were subject to a potential de-leveling. Crafting something? Well hopefully you're a high enough skill because you can lose everything in your synthesis if you fail that craft. Need to get around the world? Well if you don't have White Mage leveled, you're going to have to take the airship (which you have to wait for in real time to use) or pay a White Mage to teleport you and run to the nearest city. Cities didn't have direct teleports! It was rough being and FF11 player for a long time...but the rewards were well worth it.

5 – Final Fantasy VIII. This game is f-ed up and that's what makes it beautiful. I know FF8 tends to get blasted as "the bad one" from the PlayStation era, but it has a solid story line, good cast of characters, interesting landscape, and time travel DONE RIGHT. Square loves to time travel, and they usually suck at it. FF8 it worked. It made sense. It wasn't a gimmick. I think this game doesn't sit as high on the list for gamers because it requires your full concentration. The story runs on two timelines. The plots match up, but it's easy to feel lost if you're not giving the game your undivided attention.

The cast of characters are far more likeable then FF7. Even Squall, with his broody mcbrooderson self, has some personality. Certainly well above Cloud. The bad guys are straight up cool. Witches from another time who want to mess up the world because they can. The landscape is amazeballs. The world feels rich, detailed, and lived in more so then any other FF game at the time. And of course the best mini-game ever: Triple Triad. One could easily get sucked in to this beast for hours, if not days. PlayOnline, the FF11 portal, had a Triple Triad game and it was always active.

The biggest flaw with this game is the combat. It sounds great on paper, but not so good in practice. It was called the "Draw" system where you could take moves from your enemies and to use later. You can also equip Guardians (Summons) to help boost your stats and provide you with different bonuses. You can make it through 98% of this game without having to draw a single thing because your gear and summons are plenty. The sh*t part to all of this is that none of this matters in the last boss fight. All your Guardians are killed. Your equipment shot to hell. You have to rely on the abilities and spells you drew from past fights to make it through. It is one of the most difficult boss fights and 100% aggravating because the game tricks you into thinking Draw was a harmless, fun mechanic. This still frustrates me to this day.

4 – Final Fantasy XII. FF12 is one of those games where you either get it or you don't. Since it's HD re-release, I've been happy to see people willing to give the game a shot. On the surface it doesn't look like a Final Fantasy title. It has a very different aura to it. But inside it is one of the most epic stories you will ever play.

FF12 can best be summed up as the child of 'Star Wars' and Final Fantasy: Tactics. The latter is important as FF12 takes place in the same world as Tactics. The story focuses on a young man who dreams of becoming a sky pirate. Through an odd set of circumstances him and his companion find themselves in trouble, are rescued by real sky pirates. They save a princess. Find the wise mentor. Go through the "I'm your father/brother" thing. It's a love letter to 'Star Wars.' I don't remember anyone losing a hand though... The scenery is stunning. This is the exact opposite of FFX and provides you a full open world experience. There are zone lines and limitations on where you can go, but FF12 feels like the most expressive games in it's world building compared to it's predecessors. You can see the mobs on the screen for the first time and determine your battle plan. Do you fight or flee? The Gambit system is also really freekin' neat. If you are all about party customization, give this game a shot. You can micromanage your team down to "when should X cast this spell."

With the exception of Balthier and Fran, the characters are just okay. Not as bad as other games, but not exactly thrilling. The original battle system was slow so it did take time to move through areas - with the HD version they have a warp speed button. It looks ridiculous, but it will save you hours of walking. And I'm bummed at how little we were able to see the cities. We get a few corridors, some shops, and that's it! They look so impressive on the outside and we never have the opportunity to explore. Those are my biggest gripes with this game.

3 – Final Fantasy XIV. If you watch my Twitch stream at least once, this should not come as a surprise that FF14 ranks pretty high on my list. When it was first released, this game was not impressive. Easily one of the worst titles in FF history. But with version 2.0 they changed everything and it became a game everyone wanted to play. At 11 million subscriptions and rising, it is the game for FF fans, by FF fans.

If I had to pick one thing that I love about this game it would be the scenery. I feel like I can get lost in the landscapes for hours taking photos. Areas that I've explored dozens of times still capture my interest. Flying through some of the 3.0 zones (Heavensward) I find myself always ready to take a screenshot. I can't help it! The world continue to evolve with each update and I love getting lost in it. There are a load of other wonderful aspects to FF14, but for the sake of limiting the text spam I'm keeping it down to 1 for the rest of the list!

The cons: it could use more endgame content. Also a /sigh emote.

2 – Final Fantasy IV. When I try to describe how enchanting FF6 is to those who haven’t played, I tell people to go to YouTube and look for the opening cutscene. Start at 3:40 for the good stuff. Watch that and you’ll get it.

May as well watch the Opera Scene too while you're at it.

1 – Final Fantasy IV. Was there a doubt here? If you’ve seen my past lists on favorite games, you know FF4 is always at the top. In all fairness, 4 and 6 tend to switch places. I think it depends on my current life situation. Sometimes it feels like FF6 is the best. Other times it's 4. And 4 has been on the top for several months.

FF4 is one of those games that grabs you and doesn't let go. It's the first in the franchise to put names and personalities to your main party. What you may think is the standard good v.s evil fare quickly transforms into following the stories of your group. How each person changes and their journeys throughout the game. Cecil is easily the most distinctive of Final Fantasy characters. He starts out on the bad guy's team. Somehow we have to empathize with him, support him and his actions when he's a bad guy! His transformation to the light side is emotionally impactful that you can feel the depth the developers went to, to make this a moving game.

This is one of the few titles I played as a kid where I felt that games had a purpose. By no means is FF4 perfect, but it always stands out as one of the best in my mind. The writing, the unique cast of characters, the dynamic landscape, the fun boss battles, the amazing music - some of the flaws can be overlooked when you have a story that grips you so. If you have a DS, this is a must pick-up game. Voice acting optional.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

We're running through the Weekly Link Round Up a little early this time. I've got a big post planned for tomorrow that's not quite finished. So enjoy some of the best, worst, and strangest gaming news on the internet this week!

- Reminder: The Game Awards airs tonight at 5:30pm PST. I'll be on Twitch and provide my reactions.

Here's the rules to the drinking game I created after the 2015 show:

1 chaser (water) - When someone says "World Premiere"
1 shot of tequilla - When someone says "Fantastic"
1 shot of rum - When someone says "Awesome"
1 hit of Everclear - When there's a burn again Konami
A pint of your drink of choice - If there are no D List Celebrities throughout the entire show

Motherboard has an interesting op-ed from a former video game "completionist." In their series that focuses on stress, the article looks at how trying to get all of the trophies/achievements may not be the healthiest of attitudes. And I can understand his position. As someone with OCD, I understand the need to get through a game with 100% ranking. You want to collect every artifact, complete each quest, and unlock all dialogue trees. It can sometimes feel like a chore with RPG's and distract you from point of the game: to have fun. Sometimes collecting is fun! Sometimes it's not. Finding the balance between fun and getting in your fill is important. Check out the article. Well worth the read!

- The Overwatch League is in full swing with pre-season matches starting this week. If you find your mind drifting during The Game Awards, there is a match between Dallas and Houston tonight. What good are the matches? They will help determine placement during the season and provide bonuses to the players that do well. Given the 20 million buy-in for each team, any bonuses from Blizzard would be welcomed.

- Valve has announced that Steam will no longer accept Bitcoin as a method of payment. With the instability of the currency, now hovering around $13,000 USD, there is a lot of uncertainty in the future of it. Even though it continues to rise, how long will it last? Because the value of Bitcoin fluctuates so much, Valve's team can't keep up with the changes. It has also increased the cost of processing Bitcoin transactions. What use to be 20 cents per purchase is now $20 or more - think of Bitcoin like a credit card in this instance. Most credit cards require merchants to pay a fee for the card to be used in the store. Merchants will typically eat this $1-$2 processing fee. When the fee is $20, that is not a sustainable method for Valve. The company has no plans to accept alternate payments at this time.

- There's a live-action Detective Pikachu movie in the works, and apparently Ryan Reynolds has been cast to play the yellow lightning blob. Is this real? Is this fantasy? Is this a super early April Fools joke, because Reynolds is known for being a prankster? Who knows! But it's being reported everywhere and we are all scratching our heads. Sorry Danny DeVito fans. Maybe next time.

- WhatCulture has their 2017 lists rolling out this week. We'll take a look at the 10 Best Open-World Games of 2017. Even if you haven't played them, you can probably guess 3 or 4 of them off the bat: AssCreed, Zelda, NiER, Mario, Horizon. Wait. I named 5. See how easy it was! This list is not surprising, but at least it's not as terrible as last week's gem.

- Finally, Art Books! They are still a thing and have grown in popularity over the past few years. Kotaku showed off the latest from SquareEnix with Final Fantasy XV. And the prices are getting bigger. $75, $120. $150. These coffee table books are now becoming prized possession, showcasing some of the beauty of the video games that you love but without having to turn on your console to play. The original hardback of 'The Art of Metal Gear Solid' will probably run you up to $500 if you can find a copy that hasn't been used. Why do we collect these? I don't know. Maybe it's our way of showing our enjoyment of the games but in a more adult manner? Maybe they just look so freekin' cool and it's great to have a collection of art work all in one place? I have a few from SE because Final Fantasy, of course I do. But the BioWare ones are just as impressive. So...who knows! They're cool and we'll keep on collecting. As long as the prices stay within a reasonable rate.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Sorry CNet. Video Game Stories Do Not Suck.

Though I'm mostly certain that this CNet piece was written to be click bait, it does propose a  question that is worth discussing: Do video game stories suck?

The obvious answer is no, not all of them. Some do, but most do not. The CNet writer seems to think they all do except for Bioshock Infinite. A game that's riddled with it's own narrative dismissals, plot holes, and an unfortunate female trope where Elizabeth is a glorified door opener. Seriously what does she go in the game other then get captured, hand Booker items, and open doors? She doesn't fight, doesn't defend herself, and has to use her tears to get you new items. Wow. Great story-telling there! But the writer is more focused on mechanics are what make video games fun and stories are all B-grade at best.

But let's break it down further. What compels us to play a video game? Is it the story? The characters? The mechanics of the game? Pokémon, for example, is a fairly straight-forward narrative. You're a kid. You like Pokémon and you want to catch them all. So you venture out into the world and try to become a Pokémon Master. We enjoy the game not because of the story but the game play. It's fun to go hunting for rare pocket monsters, capturing them, and then fighting or trading with our friends to help complete our collection. Until the more recent iterations of the game, the characters we interact with were atypical. Nothing made them stand apart from each other, with the exception of Professor Oak and some of the gym leaders. It wasn't until the anime became popular that the developer put more emphasis on world building. Since then, the games have been full of enjoyable stories that add to the Pokémon mystique.

On the other end of the spectrum you have The Witcher. A franchise that is steeped in story, character development, and more story. While it is more of a "choose your own adventure" style, to say the story sucks is short-sighted. The game is all about the story. The shortfalls of The Witcher is in it's combat system. I was never fond of it and found it restrictive at times. More often then not I would change the settings back to easy mode so I could power through obstacles and get to the story. The mechanics was never the point of the game. It was about telling this over the top, dark-fantasy epic in a way that only works in a video game. Sure there are books, but what the books don't cover and don't allow you to do, the game does. Are there some tropes in there? Sure! But pit this franchise against any A-grade movie and The Witcher will have more originality by leaps and bounds.

Another similar franchise that falls into the "what the hell is this combat" pit is Dragon Age. Again, another series that is all about world building, characters, and a stupidly detailed plot. What makes the games so much fun to play are not the mechanics. It certainly isn't Elfroot gathering. And just to make it through the first game I had to mod it to create a super powerful character so I could speed through combat. Fighting Darkspawn was annoying. It prevented me from completing the game the first few go-throughs until I modded it. Once the combat was bearable and I could see the story, it was really good! So good I went back and started another character to try a different story-arc and see where it leads. Combat in all of the Dragon Age games is downright painful at times. It cleaned up a bit in Inquisition (at least being a mage wasn't a chore), but that's not why we play these games. It's all about the story and the characters...which you need to make the story happen.

What compels you to play a game can be for a myriad of reasons. Story is one of them. So I don't know if the crew over at CNet haven't played any decent games, or if they are more focused on Mario - a game that is all about the mechanics and not as heavy on the story. But to say all video game stories suck is cynical and unrealistic. There are a load of great stories if you're willing to play the games.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Gold Farming for a Modest Day's Pay

For a number of MMO players, we look at gold/currency farming as another factor of the game. We may not agree with it. But it's there and it will never go away. As long as the farmers don't mess up the economy, we usually let it pass. Gold farmers help make it possible for people to play who want a head-start in the game and have the money to do it. Need good gear off the bat and the game doesn't have a "buy more gold" option? Gold farmers step in to pick up the slack. They were the microtransaction kings before there were microtransactions.

Today it's rare to see MMO's that don't offer some kind of currency boost if you're willing to pay extra for it. But there are a number of older games that don't have this content. Runescape and Tibia for example. Two games that seemingly hold some worth by hosting anywhere from 500k to 1 million players. Despite the fact that these games come from the late 90's/early 2000's, there is still an active market for currency farmers. That's where this Bloomberg story comes in about Venezuelan golf farmings finding work in their otherwise destitute economy. Say what you will about currency sellers, for a number of people this is their livelihood. Half a day working to sell the gold on the black market to turn into a few dollars so they can eat.

When you have countries like Venezuela or Brazil in dire economic straits, gold farming is an opportunity they couldn't have. Not for lack of trying, but lack of jobs. Farmers will visit internet cafes to use equipment that is already set up and with an active internet connection. That's one less expense for them and/or their families at home. The only thing the farmers have to worry about is not straying from their machine for too long, otherwise someone else will snatch it up. The market for gold has a decent rate of return. For some the few dollars of pay helps support them more then a traditional desk job. As long as multiple people don't try to sell gold in the same market, it's a viable way to sustain one's livelihood. Which is probably why they are going for less popular games instead of World of Warcraft. The market for gold is heavily saturated. Where as with Runescape, because so few people play and the demand is there, they are able to turn a better profit.

I've always found gold farming an interesting aspect to MMO's. It's transformed how developers approach creating these games in hope to both combat and allow gold farming to flourish. I have mixed feelings about the practice. Until recently, it has been a more aggressive practice. In FFXI, whole markets crashed because the farming was prevalent. Gil farmers were pushing prices lower on the Auction House that the general player populace were having trouble making money. Gil wasn't selling, and those prices plummeted too. Gold farmers can be their own worst enemy when they try too hard to make gold, and gold, and cause an imbalance to the market place.

That was always my biggest gripe. If they are doing their thing, selling items on par with the current prices, fine. The people they affect are their immediate customers - the ones buying the gold. You could argue that it's allowing inexperienced players access to better gear faster. But you also know that it's not about the gear that makes the player. Good gear can't help out a crappy healer. For me, the only time gold farming is disruptive is when they break the in-game economy. Otherwise it doesn't bother me.

Knowing that for a number of gold farmers this is the only way they can make money, I give them a pass. I get it. Farm away. Just don't break my game experience in the process and we're cool.

What do you all think? What are your thoughts on gold farmers?

Monday, December 04, 2017

Streamer "Plays" UFC Live Match on Twitch

Gamers: a friendly reminder about using streaming services. Do not broadcast what is on television, Pay Per View, movies, or anything other then a video game. Even that can be questionable.

Twitch streamer AJ Lester broadcasted an entire UFC match on Twitch, while holding a controller to make it look like he was playing a game. He even threw in commentary while "playing," about why he wasn't faring as well in the match. While amusing, this could have dire consequences for AJ Lester. The streamer has stated that he hasn't heard anything from Twitch, EA (which owns the licensing to the UFC games), or the UFC itself. But he has taken down the video of the match.

Twitch has butted heads with a number of entertainment outlets for streaming content that it shouldn't, thanks to it's users. Premier League Football matches are the most common.

Pay Per View movies and events are some of the most highly coveted content to watch since an additional fee is necessary. They have very strict rules regarding watching and broadcasting, and are not afraid to wave their legal rights to punish people who break the rules. Hopefully AJ Lester will learn a lesson from this and not get hit too severely with a fine.

Just remember kids: don't stream it, if they say not to. Re-broadcasting sports events, movies, TV shows, plays, etc, they are all under legal protection and it's near impossible to win against the companies that own the content. I know it seems like a great way to get followers, but when you get sued you'll instantly regret it.