Wednesday, October 29, 2014

X-Wing and Tie Fighter Are Back!


Initially, I was going to post about one of the fastest turn-around times for a game court case, involving former Panama Dictator Manuel Noriega - it was thrown out by the way on the grounds of, well, absurdity.

But greatness happened yesterday.

Star Wars: X-Wing and Star Wars: Tie Fighter were re-released.

Holy f-balls!

The 1994 and 1998 PC games were the shiz in my time. I realize that it's been 20 years, but I was a kid back then, and I LOVED X-Wing and Tie Fighter. They were the only flight simulators that I could handle that didn't completely screw with my spatial awareness. Which is funny considering that the games take place in space (Bazinga!). Flight simulations and I have never gotten along well. I have astigmatism and it really began developing around 1992/1993. It has always caused me to have difficulties examining the size of the area around me in my peripheral vision. Which, in turn, has made me a much better driver because I spend so much time checking my mirrors and craning my neck to ensure no one is around me while I change lanes. I put forth extra effort to keep myself and others safe...something Texas drivers could learn a thing or two about.

Star Wars fan aside, I should hate X-Wing because flight simulators fail for me. They just do. My eyes can never properly adjust to the system and I end up crashing or getting blown up by a missile more then half the time. They're infuriating.

Not X-Wing and Tie Fighter.

I think the lack of confines made it easier for me to dive into the games. There wasn't a set course or path. I didn't have to worry about barricades to my left and right that prevented me from making reasonably adjustable turns. I was in the vastness of space, and it was awesome. That may seem trite to some of you; today if a flight simulator didn't include "wide open spaces" we would think the game is trying to cheat us of it's value. But back in the 1990's there were limitations. A diskette could only hold so much, and the Star Wars flights were above and beyond any iteration of simulators for it's time. You could control the location of your shields, the guidance of the laser system, change the boost in your engines, key lock targeting with your enemies and allies - X-Wing and Tie Fighter made use of every damn key on your keyboard! And the joystick too, because hardcore pilots need the joystick (some that is required in order to play the games properly). I was ecstatic when a Tie Fighter version came out: glory for the Empire by shooting down the good guys and defending our way of life! Or something to that effect. Both games were a joy to play for hours on end, leveling up with each mission and challenging my brother to beat the others score. 360 degrees of space battling at it's finest.


the games are still in circulation, if you're lucky to find the CD-Rom versions. However they require a lot of tweaking just to get your system to run the games. Most modern computers, even those built in the earlier part of the 2000's, over compensate on the power and make the games difficult to play (from clipping issues to unexplained overclocking). So the re-releases are a welcomed addition to 2014, and have updated coding to work on existing computers without compromising the integrity of the games.

But for $10 a piece, I can't imagine a better way to spend that money. Except for gas for your vehicle to get to work, to make the money, and then buying said games. I know what I'll be playing this weekend. You can buy X-Wing: Special Edition and Tie Fighter: Special Edition at GOG.com.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Wal-Mart: A Growing Gaming Empire

Remember way back in March that Wal-Mart began accepting used video games for store credit, with the expectation that the average trade in would be $35? And how I laughed at the notion because not even Amazon.com will meet that pricing, usually matching at $10?

Well today Wal-Mart is now selling those used games. All stores across the United States will have "Wal-Mart Certified, Pre-Owned" labels to mark used games. They have accumulated enough of a stock pile to begin selling the products. This will be like GameStop stores in that not all locations will have every game. Stock is going to vary and some older titles from the PS2, Xbox generation will not be included. You're looking at more of the PS3, PS4, XBox 360, XBox One cycles. Pricing will vary, but no word yet on how they look compared to GameStop nor do they mention how these games are tested, what the return system will be and if it will vary from their normal policy. But this is a big deal - Wal-Mart caters to a large portion of the population in the U.S. and can potentially make a dent in GameStop's Christmas sales of used products.

And if that doesn't excite you, Wal-Mart also announced that they will be selling the latest Call of Duty (Advanced Warefare) one day before everyone else. Over half of the stores will have a pre-release party with swag such as CoD patches, Doritos, and Mountain Dew, plus an additional 50% of trade in value for any games going towards the purchase of Advance Warfare.

I bet GameStop is pissed about that. That is a lot of sales that will be lost to Wal-Mart. CoD fans are always antsy at release dates. Always.

Monday, October 27, 2014

When You Smash Fantasia and Video Games Together

Now this is a music game I could be interested in: Disney Interactive teamed up with Harmonix, the developers of Rock Band and Dance Central, and made a video game sequel for the movie Fantasia. The 2010 movie, not the original, but sprinkles some of the 1940's in between. But still, that's a pretty cool idea given how music drives the narrative of Fantasia. Fantasia: Music Evolved is an XBox 360/One exclusive that allows the use of motion controls for you to conduct the story.

You, the player, are tasked as the Sorcerer's Apprentice, and must animate the new worlds that the Sorcerer has created. As you move forward in the game, you unlock new gestures, elements, and music. One thing I can appreciation about this collaboration is that Harmonix does not half-ass a product. They are all in when they develop a title. When you talk to fans of music games, people tend to choose Rock Band over Guitar Hero. Why? Better song choices and solid controls. If you want straight up guitar rifts, then GH will be superior. For the rest? Go for the band. So this mash-up with Disney couldn't be a better fit.

The game was recently released, so reviews are a bit scarce right now. I don't have a Kinect so I can't play, but I'll see if I can bum off of a friend to test this out. The music was composed by Inon Zur, who also did a spin on Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody' for the game. Yeah. Queen is in a Disney game. It's a mixture of classical and pop culture. And to take it a step further, you can customize the music in the game.

"In each song you’re going to hear a different soundscape and you’ll be able to customize it and then record a solo, which will loop back into the track at intervals that fit with each particular song." ~ Jonathan Mince, lead designer.

When you have the composer in-house and able to give that artistic freedom to the gamers, that's pretty damn cool. One of the downfalls of music games, I find, is not being able to integrate your spin on classic songs. This game encourages it.

If you've picked up a copy, post your thoughts. I'm curious to try this out.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Video Game Search Engine Expands On Google

Google is catching up on the times and expanding it's search engine to include video games. Now I don't mean that you couldn't find game info via Google before this recent update. What it means is Google's Knowledge Graph will now provide more specific details on a video game after you hit that Search button. Release dates, publisher info, review scores, platforms, and more will now be listed to the right of the search terms, just as if it were a movie or television show search. This also expands into voice searches as well.

But not mobile games.

With the update, you can even ask questions for Google and it will determine the best answer with the detailed databases it is now pulling from. The "People also search for" feature is included as well to lead you into more games that maybe you wouldn't have considered in your playlist before.

Good work Google. Keep at it.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Play-Through Reviews-Borderlands:The Pre-Sequel Part 1


Not the longest title for a post, but it's a start. I'll shorten it next time.

*clears throat*

Welcome to an exciting first installment of a new review series that has been titled "Play-Through Reviews." What does that mean? Well instead of a 5 minute reading of a game review, you're going to get an action-packed, play-by-play, joke-savey insightful review as the game is played. Each Play-Through Review will span multiple blog entries as I go in-depth into the product and provide responses as they occur. The idea is to give you all, the readers, a more realistic perception on what goes through the reviewers head as s/he plays the game. You'll be able to see the highs and lows, and everything in between that you don't normally receive from a one page post.

I hope you all enjoy this first installment with the latest release from Gearbox Software in conjunction with 2K Australia:

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

As I attempt to be the objective reviewer, I was intrigued at the notion of having an in-between game that bridged the gap between Borderlands 1 and 2. Few games dive into interguels. And if they do, they are small flash and/or mobile titles that are lacking in stable content. As a Borderlands fan, I've been eagerly awaiting this since April when it was officially announced at PAX East. Officially.

The general synopsis is you are a gun for hire courtesy of Handsome Jack, the primary antagonist in Borderlands 2. The plot follows Jack's journey from Hero to Villain, focusing on his escape and capture of the Hyperion Company's base centered on Elpis, the moon of Pandora. NPC's of choice are all characters that appear at one point on another in the other BL games. Clap-Trap, Nisha, Athena, and Wilhelm. Yes. Clap-Trap is a character option. Yes, he is quite useful, mostly for groups based on his skill trees.

Okay. Done with the serious journalism stuff. Now let's get to the game!

I'm roughly 6 to 7 hours in, just past Chapter 5 and have a fairly good grasp on where things are going - or so I believe. The beginning of the game starts sometime after Borderlands 2, where one of the primary Player Characters, Athena, is captured and being questioned by some of the original Vault Hunting crew on Sanctuary. You end up playing the game through Athena's point of view as she becomes the narrator from here on out. Even if Athena is not your choice of vigilante and not in your group of friends, she'll always be there. She's the "Angel" of the Pre-Sequel.

This is one aspect that I'm still trying to adjust myself to. Since the game is playing as a flashback, it makes sense that having a self-imposed narrator is the way to go. But it is a bit jarring when you don't have Athena in your band of misfits. You're not self narrating nor is it the voice guiding you on your path like Angel. It's almost like you're experiencing multiple personality disorder because another person is talking about your journey...and it's not you. It's weird.

Weird overhead voice issues aside, it's been an interesting journey.

One thing you should know is that everyone on the moon is Australian. Everyone. And that's because the game was largely produced by 2K Australia. Go fig. But that's okay. Everyone adapted to the native moon culture. Except Nurse Nina. She still holds that Russian accent quite well for a moon-goer.

Into the actual game play, you begin by assisting Jack as he flee's the Hyperion space station being laid siege by The Lost Legion (essentially the big baddies at this point in time). For new-comers to the franchise, having the game start out in a normal environment was a safe call. It allows for an easier transition into the insanity of Borderlands fights before you throw in lasers, Oxygen bubbles, and that pesky thing called gravity.

From the beginning the story feels a little flat. I think The Lost Legion are brought in a little too quickly, and leave just as fast before you figure out who they are and why they're shooting at you. And for being so insistent on getting off the Hyperion station, Jack is perfectly okay with staying behind while you go to the Moon and disable the overrides. As much as the game tries to ease in newcomers, if you have no idea what went on in BL1 or 2, this whole space mission can be incredibly confusing.

But if you have played the other games, you'll find everything fitting in with the back story gamers sort of know.

As of now, I'm not fully convinced on the story. It's essentially the same set of fetch and shoot quests that Borderlands is known for. When you get shot to the moon, you go through the crash course (hah!) with your first NPC companion, Jaine Sparks, who explains all of the fun that you get to have with gravity and Oxygen. I'm passive about the game from this point because the story is just not gripping me nor as humorous as the previous  games.

What is holding my interest is the game play. Gravity, lasers, and freeze rays add a new level of insanity to Borderlands. You can take more of a tactical role in combat, something you really couldn't do as often, or cleanly, in the past. For example, lasers are essentially beams of light. In a low to 0 gravity environment, they don't spark when they cause damage. In an O2 enriched space, they can catch your target on fire, ensuring additional damage over time. Want to handle a Super Badass while you pick off his friends? Smack the O2 insta-rig, shoot a laser, and let him flail. With the ice weapons are equally entertaining for giggles but! tactical assessment as well. The freezing is just what you would expect. Shoot the enemy, they turn into a giant Popsicle for a few seconds. If they are lower level mobs, they will either die from DOT or with a quick gun shot to blow them to bits - also enjoyable when there is no gravity to watch the ice chunks float away. Bosses and larger mobs are sometimes unaffected, but can succumb to the slowness associated with the freeze effect; great in battles where mobs are swarming your teammates.

Another benefit to low and no gravity scenarios are the super jumps. You will go jump crazy at times, and it can be a bit overwhelming to control at first when you don't realize how much oomph a button tap can do. Initially the super jump is just that: a jump. When you get your first O2 helmet, you earn the power to boost super jump: i.e. you can do your space jump, and tap into your OZ Kit (apparently the manufacturers of the helms thought the #2 looked like a Z so everyone on the moon calls them OZ and not O2), for an extended super jump that allows you to glide across the screen. In my case it has nearly killed me half a dozen times as I sail close to lava-infested ravines. Yes. There is no fire on the moon, but there is lava. Feel free to figure that out. My understanding of high school geology is that some form of carbon and oxygen needs to exist for Magma to be active.

OZ Kits also give you the power of the butt stomp! Jump in the air, do the crouch, and bam! Your feet are on the floor dealing damage to all of those around you. So it's not really a butt stomp, but it's way more fun to say then "accelerated movement in a downward motion." Also enjoyable against frozen enemies.

As of this moment the joy that I have in the game has nothing to do with the story or the characters, and I hope this changes soon. It's nice to see cameos from Lilith, Roland, and Moxxi, but I'm missing the meat of the game. I'm having more fun playing moon-man, law-bringer Nisha. Westerns in space - looks like we have another Star Wars on our hands ladies and gents. Handsome Jack is the new Darth Vader. Let that sink in for a moment. The only thing missing are effective vehicles, which were given me really bad Mako flashbacks from Mass Effect. Try not to hit the walls and run over your enemies. Whoopie.

We'll see where the story goes from here. The last thing I have accomplished was becoming the grand master of butt-slam dunking. Not while on fire - the bonus to the quest because fire does not last outside of the O2 bubble. So there is still plenty to expect in the upcoming chapters, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the story will pick up.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Play-Through Reviews. Change In The Way We Review Games

There's a reason why you won't find many game reviews on this blog. I was brought up to seek out knowledge, and not look like an ass doing it. And what is more 'ass-ish' then not playing a game and giving an opinion about it? OCD and my need to complete things aids in the non-reviews. My brain won't allow me to give an opinion until I have finished watching a film, read the last page of a book, or defeated the final boss. Most reviews you'll find of video games, television shows, books, anything that takes longer then 2 hours to digest, are going to be general glances at the product. The reality is no one has the time to sit and play a video game for 60 hours. Even if you're paid for it, the company expects you to plow through 10-15 more games by the end of the week. It's impossible to dedicate 60 hours to every game and expect to get your work done.

For some products, such as mobile games, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Many mobile products are designed for 'on-the-go.' They are quick to pick up, play, and pause to save for later. Which makes reviewing them much easier. After 15-20 minutes, you get an idea of what the game is about - many of them are puzzles or simple action point and click. Large scale games like RPG's are a challenge to review when you only have so much time to spend on them. You have to plow your way through the main story and hope you have enough of a grip on the game play to write about it. I wouldn't be surprised if most game reviewers say that they rarely to never finish a game they are reviewing.

But! I also want to provide more review content on this blog. So I'm trying another experiment. Taking a page from Kotaku as their publication enters a new level of maturity, I'll be offering mini-updates on new games that I'm playing instead of a full-out review.  Think of it like the Let's Play Mass Effect series I started in 2012. As I consume more video games over the upcoming months, having one review really wouldn't convey my thoughts and feelings on the product, nor would they be timely. Again, I only like to post reviews when I have finished the game. Something like Dragon Quest would take me 3 months to complete and post, well past the release date and, thus, no longer making it a timely topic.

I like the idea of being able to provide genuine responses as I play a game. In many ways, our perceptions change as we continue to go through the game; our initial reactions can be replaced by other emotions. That's one aspect of the Let's Play series that I really appreciate when it comes to games people have never played before. Honest reactions. Honest feedback.

Over the next few months, expect to see more of these type of...oh let's call them "Play-through Reviews." They won't be one individual response to the video game, but a series of blog posts that make up the whole experience.

I'll be starting out with Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. Let me know what you all think. Feedback. Super important. With the change in how press and gaming work together, I feel this would be a step in the right direction for future review concepts.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Weekly Link Roundup of Porn and F Bombs!

And I have a migraine. A great way to start the week.

So you all will be getting an early link round-up.

Here is the dog pile for a certain hashtag that is still making an impact on the internet, now that mainstream news has caught on to it:

MarketWatch has an interesting spin on how video game ideas are hitting the bottom of the barrel that developers are now turning them into soft core porn. Fan service aside, I don't buy the argument, but a valiant attempt at page clicks.

Video Games Live has launched a Kickstarter to fund their 4th album. This may be a good push for the crowd funding company to get gamers back into their midst.

And Kotaku starts the hunt to find the first video game that dropped the f bomb. They have a few choices in the early 90's, but are there any from the NES and Atari days perhaps?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Extra Life Day

Extra Life Day is this Saturday, October 25th, and I have decided to participate this year and help add to the donations. Last year after a DDoS attack crippled the website for several hours, preventing people from donating, we proved that pranks won't stop us from helping out fellow video game fans and children in need.

For those who don't know, Extra Life began from a very simple start: helping a gaming fan through a disease by giving her video games to keep her spirits up. The project grew from there and is now heavily involved with The Children's Miracle Network.What I appreciate about Extra Life is that they do not make a single penny off of the donations. Not one. 100% of the proceeds go directly to Children's, which is amazing. Private donations help keep the website up and running, and allow for the system to keep going.

So if you need a few laughs on Saturday, come watch me flail around and swear like a sailor on Twitch for Extra Life. Even if you can only spare a dollar, every cent helps kids in need. In the infamous words of Kidd Kraddick, think of it as a good health tax. A number of us are fortunate to have minor health inconveniences or no issues at all. As a way to thank karma, God, or whatever you believe in, help give back to those in need who are not as fortunate. Sometimes something as simple as a video game can brighten a child's year.

After a poll on my Facebook page, I've narrowed down my screen time to include Dead Space and Goat Simulator, the 2 most populist answers. But I've been in super nostalgia mode this week, and the majority of my game time is going to go towards Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.You can't go wrong with Mario and Square. And me, swearing like there's no tomorrow. :)

Friday, October 17, 2014

More Gaming Stamps For Collectors - Now International!

A change of pace today - we won't talk about the topics that have been blowing up the internet this week. Instead, I have done a little bit of digging and found us some stamps to collect.

Yep. Stamps. People still use mail to send things small enough to fit into a #10 envelope, and that requires a stamp to be placed upon them to pay for the service of shipping. If this is a foreign concept to you, then you are probably too young to be reading this blog.

Yesterday, An Post (which is the Ireland postal system) released 4 stamps to commemorate and honor the impact video games had on our culture. And they went with the classics that changed our views of games: PacMan, Space Invaders, Mario, and Sonic the Hedgehog. The stamps were designed by Dublin based ZINC Design Consultants. Their webpage is undergoing renovation so there's no way to see what other cool things they have created.

The stamps are only available in Ireland, of course, but for collectors you can purchase them online and they do ship overseas. And the designs are pretty classy. Simple and statement driven. They say "Yes. I am a gamer and I'm paying my water bill. What of it?"



Thursday, October 16, 2014

Are Threats Necessary? The Side of #GamerGate That Few Are Discussing

Pissed off video game fan is pissed.

I don’t want to be labeled as a “gamer” anymore because the word is so heavily filled with hatred and anxiety these days with the hullabaloo that is #GamerGate.

In my overtly opinionated piece yesterday morning, I expressed my displeasure at the entire situation.

Those who support #GamerGate, I get it. You all are afraid of change. You like your video games just as they are. Some of you feel that sexism isn’t really involved and people are nitpicking at every detail to find flaws in a hobby that you enjoy. Some of you do see the sexism and don’t think it’s a big deal – that it’s a part of gaming and there’s no reason to cause a fuss over it. And some of you are dicks. I don’t know how else to put it, because if there is anything that I’ve learned about #GamerGate is there are a lot of dicks on the internet who also play games – if you don’t conform to their standards (white male) then you are beneath them and it should always stay that way.

What I’m disturbed by is just how vitriol this whole situation has become. What started as a Twitter hashtag has blown into advertisements being removed, death and violence harassment, and now a school shooting threat?

This morning I left a retro gaming group on Facebook – their focus is on buying and selling classic gaming material and open discussion on older games. Most of the users are fairly civil. There were a few bad apples, but they posted so rarely that they were easy to ignore. Someone posted an article about Sarkeesian cancelling her speech at the University of Utah. What followed was a slew of comments ranging from vulgar to asinine, and a few people approving of the school massacre threat stating along the lines of “obviously it wasn’t going to happen but it’s the only way she’ll be stopped.”

Seriously.

These aren’t 12 year old boys but grown adults anywhere from age 30-60. This is ‘gamer’ rage on a new level of insanity. And it sickens me that people consider it “the norm” to issue threats of violence and death against others because it’s part of the gaming scene.

Try that against a government official and see what they have to say about your “playful threats.”
We live in a country that gives us the freedom of speech, which is fantastic. But we also live in a post 9-11 world where any threat is taken seriously. You can’t joke about it. If you even hint at violence against another living creature, you are going to be investigated and found. It’s as simple as that. And I expect the legal bills are quite daunting.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. Everyone. You don’t have to agree with what is being said and you have the right to not listen. Throwing around violent memes is not going to force a person to back down from their point of view. And frankly, all it’s doing is lumping ‘gamers’ into this extremist group which is not at all who we are. The majority of ‘gamers’ are fairly open and laid back.

I don’t expect this post to change people’s point of view regarding gaming. If you like things as they are now, then keep playing your games and make your opinions know. NOT VIOLENT OPINIONS. I’m sure you would be equally afraid if someone threatened you or your family because it is not funny. Ever. And if you want things to change with gaming, that’s fine too. Make your point of view heard around the globe.

The bottom line is our response to opinions should NEVER lead to violence. It’s perfectly fine to be passionate about your perspective. When you threaten people, that’s crossing a line that is serious and never funny.

Our concerns right now should be not about making changes in games (as difficult as that is for me to say) but at our culture that is promoting and glorifying these acts of violence and harassment.


Note: I have been critical of the Feminist Frequency videos and other gaming critics. Being a feminist does not mean that I need to share the same point of view as others like Alexandria Leigh. I’m allowed to openly review their work and provide rebuttals. I don’t always agree with their opinions, nor do they agree with mine. This piece was written not in defense of writers who want to dive deeper into video games, but as a plea to bring sanity back to ‘gamers.’




Today's additional reading material: