Friday, November 28, 2014

Play-Through Reviews-Borderlands:The Pre-Sequel Part 3

Otherwise known as: We have gravity again and the butt stomping stopped.

A belated Happy Turkey Day for those of you who celebrate. I've been busy playing catch-up on Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel since I have been unable to play over the past few weeks. Decided to start over with the Jack Doppleganger as my main character. Lasted about an hour until Level 4 and the first boss fight before I had to stop and make Thanksgiving dinner, and just got onto the moon.

So scratch that. I need to finish the main story first before bouncing around to another character. Back to Nisha I went and onward with the quest to stop that laser and take back Helios Station!

I had stopped in my previous play-through at the point where I was going to go back to the station. No more side-quests. Awesome. It was good to feel the story progressing. Up to this point I felt like I was getting lost in the petty fetch and kill motions that the fun of the game was lost. Being able to move forward and into the primary plot line gave me a kick of energy. And with that gravity returned. Which sucks for super butt stomping, something I have become accustomed to as part of my arsenal. Now you can still butt stomp in a gravity environment - it requires you to double jump, holding the second jump for a moment and then slamming to the ground. It works better as you are going downhill. But when you rely on it as a tool for killing the bad guys, to have it removed really sucks.

And I had to swap to a laser gun as my weapon of choice. By this point in the game baddies and plentiful and move around A LOT. In fact, too much. I was incredibly annoyed at how damn jumpy the mercenaries at Helios Station were. As well as the bugs. /sigh Too much skittering and plane clipping causing enemies to get stuck in the environment - making it impossible to fight them but they are more then capable of killing you while sitting in a container.


While Nisha's Showdown skill made targeting the rolling and flying targets really well, nothing can help stop bad guys stuck in the wall. Yippie.

The difficulty level of the mobs was more then I had anticipated.  It feels like they were trying too much to beef up the levels without giving the player a chance to breathe. I barely felt like I had a moment to just sit and swap out weapons before another wave of enemies came along. I think the first time I had a breather was just before we went into the Eye of Helios - which is pretty much near the end of your time on the station! Yea!

Despite these set-backs, the story really picked up. I felt like I was witnessing the transformation of Jack from wannabe hero to anti-villain, and ultimately into the villain that we know. You watch him as he kills an AI to source her code for a super machine. He kills a group of scientists, assuming one is a mole, to help preserve his path to retake the station. You see him break down in front of you, and it made me want to give him a hug. He looked like he needed a hug...before you backhanded him.

I like where the primary story is going. The game has peaked my interest again and I can not wait to see what happens next, now that we're off to the vault!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How Will GTA First Person Change Your Game Habits?

I'm going to skip over the fact that I have a Let's Play obsession right now. The phenom of watching others game and create commentary will not die down anytime soon. But a recent video release from the Rooster Teeth/Achievement Hunter (RT) crew is prompting me to rethink not only Let's Play videos but gaming in general.

Monday's video release focused on Grand Theft Auto V for the XBox One. As mentioned in a post last week, one of the newest features of the game for the One and PS4 is first person mode. While this seems normal for most FPS games, GTA has never gone down this path...well outside of a lap dance at a strip club at least. The game play in GTA has been a top down view or third person. While in a car you can utilize different camera angles - cinematic, dashboard, and the odd driver side tires - but anytime you walk, run, or jump as your avatar, you are in third person. You could do a very weird variation of first person by using the camera phone, but even that requires some effort that isn't feasible for progressing in the game through missions. It only works when you want to take a photo since your avatar can't take a picture and drive a car at the same time.

Now, I'm not fortunate enough to have either next-gen system. I also have a tight budget and real world responsibilities, so a PS4 is not on the top of my "to get" list at the moment. But watching RT play through GTA Online last night in first person initiated 2 responses:

This is like a whole new game.

This is brutal.

Sentiments that mirrored the players involved. It's one thing to experience stealing a car from third person or top-down. It's another when you are looking through the eyes of the avatar. You can see the dashboard and the speedometer, which DOES work in time with your actions while handling the car and shifting gears as you speed away from the pursuing police vehicles. Watching them made me want to do the simplest of actions from my avatar's point of view so I can experience it. From jumping off of a bridge, to jumping off a building, to...jumping out of a helicopter and parachuting down. Okay most of it does involve tumbling to my avatar's doom but dude! It looks so good!

And unlike first person shooters, when you do dodge rolls or get punched in the face, your character's point of view changes. Instead of keeping the camera forward while the avatar 'stumbles' from a hit, the camera maintains that first person perspective and moves with the character. Your vision becomes distorted. The person in front of you vanishes as your head whips around and now your target is lost. It's just like real life. But in GTA's environment.

I am ready to see more tumbling of cars off Mount Chiliad, possibly the Faggio.

At the same time, the realism can be disturbing. Because your point of view is more interactive, the way you punch and shoot a weapon has also changed. Swinging your fist can cause you, the gamer, to lose balance as the camera shifts and moves with the avatar. Many times in the RT video you'll see this happen as the men and lady test out the camera's limitations against each other. Seeing the way an avatar punches, the fact that the camera is still moving with you as his or her head bops around can be jarring. It's the level of you think you're in a real fight. You can see your foot stomping on the body of a pedestrian on the ground. You can hear the dialogue of by-standards as you steal a car in a clarity that wasn't there before.

Which also makes the violence a little more apparent. Explosions are much cooler in first person. Shooting and punching people in the face? Not so much. While the RT gangs level of destruction was par for the course, as the video goes on you'll notice that the type of mayhem dials down. It goes from normal GTA antics to tumbling in cars, helicopters, and planes, or shooting off rocket launchers. More explosions, less blood and carnage. I think they too found the first person mode a bit real that they could only stomach smaller quantities of the fisticuffs. At least with a grenade or sticky bomb everything blows up with little blood and hand to hand work.

My scholastic senses are tingling. I'd be curious to find out how gamers change their habits based on this revelation. Are people going to dial down the GTA-esque hand and gun violence in the game now that first person is out? Will their method of game play change? Or will they find ways to adapt to the camera without changing their style?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Real Blood for Game Blood

Blood Sport, the first game that encourages real life blood loss, has been suspended by Kickstarter because of, well, blood. Real blood. The small Canadian company Brand & Grotesque developed a modified peripheral that would draw blood from the gamer anytime they took damage in the game. The blood loss wouldn't be wasted - in fact the purpose behind this concept was to encourage blood donations at clinics around Canada. The game and set-up would only be available at blood banks and medical centers, and any "blood loss" would be donated to the clinic.

The goal was pretty lofty, $250,000, and would require an insane amount of set-up to take the equipment on a country-wide tour. Not to mention the sanitation and sterility concerns. And there is no way of knowing just how much blood the peripheral would take on each hit. There has to be a limit, and what then? Does the game stop when you can no longer donate blood? And how would the equipment know if they took too much blood from your body?

Just thinking about it is making me dizzy.

There are too many questions and health concerns with this project. Kickstarter has invoked their right to not speak about suspended projects. And all Brand & Grotesque wanted to do was raise awareness about donating blood. Well...they got people's attention.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Link Roundup of Unfinished Thoughts

It's just one of those we have an early week link roundup. Most of the stories are amusing, if only for their silliness.

- Forbes says that Assassin's Creed: Unity is a great example of a video game that should be recalled. Why? There are so many bugs across all platforms. PC gamers are use to there being small glitches and issues of minor inconvenience because the game has to work on different machines built with unique specs. What works for an NVidia graphics card won't work when you add in the ram from XYZ manufacturer. As much as developers try to test everything, it's impossible, but they do what they can to release the most polished product possible. Why AssCreed is standing out is the issues also include the XBox One and PS4. Characters falling through maps, the face bug, random game crashes, you name it. A series of patches are releasing this week that will address some of these issues. But as we know, it's bound to cause more problems if the patch clashes with coding in another part of the game.

- Which leads to (fun website name) article over The Problem With Game Patches, focusing on AssCreed in particular. Why? Well according to the writer it's too commonplace. There was a time in our lives where we didn't have patches to fix bugs. Games did not have that luxury of an instant internet connection. They had to be developed as best as they could before release to the general public. Though E.T. would have benefited from a patch, most games were as good as they were going to get and had to be rigorously tested to ensure it was as bug free as possible. Now game bugs are expected which is assbackwards when you think about it. We're buying a product that is guaranteed to have a problem with it? Usually that will cause a customer to throw a fit and demand a refund but as gamers we seem content with it knowing that it will be fixed sooner or later. I don't know about you, but I'd rather get a finished, bug-free game for $59.99. Instead, you'll see more gamers waiting until the problems are resolved and, by then, the game is half the retail price. I don't think this is what developers have in mind these days...

- FastCompany must have had adspace purchased by Disney because they spend an entire article talking about Club Penguin and how the future gamers will be able to resolve #GamerGate. mean I have to deal with that hashtag until the 8 year olds grow up? /sigh

- Writer Mike Diver on Vice goes over a list of why gamers don't finish our favorite games. I'll save you the trouble of reading the bullet points: the game is too hard, it's too long, it's too boring, no rewards to the player, or it's buggy as all hell. So, about what one would expect. But it begs the question on why it's our "favorite" game if we can't finish it for said reasons above? I'll admit that I haven't completed GTA5 and I do like the game. Quite a lot actually. However my free time is lacking as of late. It's difficult to play an open world title when time is unavailable; not when I have dozens of games piling up that require my attention and as I work through personal life issues. But it isn't a favorite game - and I wouldn't call it such until I complete the main storyline. Labeling products as favorites when they have issues, bugs, or simply can't finish it...why are you calling it a favorite then?

- And Business 2 Community is saying goodbye to Disney Theme Parks. Video games are taking over! But the writer seems to have missed the boat entirely on the ambiguous headline. It's not about video games replacing theme parks, rather video game icons are being transformed into the themes for parks. Rovio is working out a multi-billion dollar deal with several countries to have Angry Bird interactive facilities where people can gather together, mingle, ride some rides, and hold tournaments. It's one of several video game parks opening over the next few years - but you know what? Disney is already on top of it. The introduction of the game Disney Infinity allows players to take their cards to parks, beef up their characters as they are entertained, and take them back home to get new content on their consoles. Or how about the test track at Epcot inspired by TRON where you can build your own virtual car to drive? Disney is not going anywhere.

Friday, November 21, 2014

GameStop Says Low Qtr Sales Is AssCreed's Fault

GameStop is blaming the delayed release of Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed: Unity as the reason for their weak 3rd Quarter sales.

Yeah. They're pinning it all on one game for the decline in sales in comparison to last year. I thought it was silly too. Let's not include the fact that September of 2013 was a huge ass month for gaming with the release of Grand Theft Auto V (lest we forget that over 11 million copies sold within the first 24 hours), along with The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, FIFA14 (which always generates millions of sales within the month of release), just to name a few. October 2013 had Pokémon X and Y out, so I'd imagine GameStop is going to use the same excuse again when their 4th quarter isn't as hefty as the prior year. This is always the problem with projecting profits. When you rely on previous year's data, which could be vastly different circumstances from last years products.

Ultimately, it's up to the developers on when they want to release their products, and the dates are always subject to change. You'll find that tagline on every pre-order product from GameStop. Ubisoft opted to delay the release to "polish" the game.

So it's not Ubisoft's fault that your sales were low GameStop. your sales are low because the market is changing. Bigger titles did not release int he third quarter. More people are emphasizing on the October-December releases for the holidays where people are most likely to buy new consoles, therefore new games.

And you're GameStop. Not many people like you. We tolerate you because you're the biggest game retailer. Personally, I'm with Amazon.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

GTA Is Ready for a Female Protagonist

The re-release of Grand Theft Auto V for the PS4 and XBox One has already caused a stir by the introduction of first person mode. Why? Well apparently that also means you can watch the male lead characters have sexual interactions with the female prostitutes that restore your health. Now in Rockstar's defense, something most publications are glossing over (the Huffington Post is the exception - huzzah for good journalism), the women are still fully clothed and there aren't really any actions that should rile up people. At least BioWare gives us naked backs. It's mostly the dialogue. But you know, we're Americans. We are perfectly okay with shooting people but sex? Something that is natural and required for procreation? Get that off the screen! That's bad! Even when they're fully clothed! *rolls eyes*

But that's not what today's blog post is about.

Given GTA's lineage of varied male leads, from black to white, European to American, straight or gay, I think it's time to introduce a women into the scenario as part of the lead protagonist deluge. Now before the super fans jump down my throat, I'm fully aware of the fact that in the very first Grand Theft Auto you could choose to be one of 4 female characters: Katie, Ulrika, Divine, and Mikki. The first game was blank-slate characters that held no personality and did not respond in any form of dialogue. They existed as colorful blocks, literally and figuratively, and did odd jobs around town to rise in the ranks of the gang your character worked for. GTA 2 restricted the characters down to one, a white male named Claude Speed who was, in essence, a sociopath. His personality wasn't defined often in the game, but he held more context then the dummy/doll characters of GTA1. By the time Vice City rolls around, the protagonist is more fleshed out and unique instead of being player driven to create their own backstories. Tommy Vercetii, Carl Johnson, Niko Bellic: these are all names that invoke strong character development for the GTA franchise. There is the option to make a female character in GTA Online, but it is very reminiscent of the first Grand Theft Auto. It's a blank slate and a character with little sway on the world, but at least it gives some options to customize the look and moral compass.

What is lacking is a female presence. Not just with the protagonist, but with antagonists as well. GTA's worlds are littered with villains of all sizes, creeds, and colors, but not so much with genders. The only notable female baddy that I could think of, and find after hunting down wikipedia articles, was Catalina from GTA3 and San Andreas. Catalina is the co-leader/Vice President of the Colombian Cartel, eventually taking over to lead the crew. Of course she is killed because she is, after all, a "bad guy" but her presence opened up a new set of game play for powerful, female characters that was rarely seen.

And it's been quiet since then. Most of the female characters you find are passive, either as the trolling prostitutes, one of Niko's girlfriends, or plot devices to keep the story moving along. And for the strength in Catalina, GTA3 is equally at fault for having the damsel in distress trope to mark the ending missions, with Claude following the bad guy's trail to save his girlfriend, Maria. Even the "gang wars" that pop up in GTA Online are absent of female characters. You'll find men of various ethnic groups but not a single woman. We know that women do participate in criminal activity. They're not focused on as much as men in the media, and typically given less suspicious job tasks because they are considered less of a threat. But if GTA is trying to base their world off of real crime stats, they need to get women involved.

This isn't the ranting of a feminist wanting more women in video games. This is a fan asking for Rockstar to expand on an opportunity. Of all of the games that I have played over the years, GTA has been the most inclusive with diversity of cultures. Yes sometimes they are stereotyped to a comedic extreme, but as the series has developed, characters have provided deeper, thematic meanings that extend beyond their stereotypes. Loss, sorrow, redemption, family, respect - concepts that many of us can relate to in our daily lives. Maybe not as crime lords, but you get the idea.

And honestly, what could be anymore poignant of just how far Rockstar has gone over the years by introducing a female protagonist as a primary player character? What better way to give the finger to all of their critics, then by providing a woman who can throw the crap back at their faces. GTA's worlds needs more Catalina's. They need more of that variation of diversity in their game space to showcase a different level of storytelling. It's not about women being able to roll with the men. It's because they always have. They just need someone to tell their side of the tale.

Maybe something as simple as that, and really it is simple at this point given the broad range of male leads (both pros and antagonist) in GTA, could broaden the other roles in the game. Male prostitutes. Female gang members. Male strippers. Who knows. But at this point, taking this step is necessary for GTA to continue growing and defining open world games.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Not All Top 10 Lists Are Created Equal

Note: I have to post this, mostly as a warning to people to not buy into these type of lists and save their money on better games to come.

The Xbox One is inching towards it's one year anniversary. It was released on November 22, 2013. While not fully able to grasp basic linguistic skills, at least it can sort of walk by this age, or at least shuffle along. But as a system with nary a year under it's belt, it still has quite a ways to go before it becomes a successor over the XBox 360. The last generation system is still heavily in use by many gamers for multiple reasons: non-backwards compatibility with 360 products on the One, the forced Kinect purchase for the One (this has since been dropped, but many games and apps on the One still require a Kinect for use so...that didn't resolve anything, really), just to name a few of the myriad of concerns gamers have. Let's not forget about their hiccup at the One's announcement of Always Online and used games.

It's still early on and eventually Microsoft will stop supporting the 360 and move on to the One. People will eventually have to gravitate towards the system and re-buy all of their XBox and 360 games. But again, I have to point out that the console is not a year old yet.

So when you see lists like WhatCulture's "10 Mandatory Video Games Every Xbox One Owner Needs," stay away. The system is still young. It's still new. It still needs to go through it's growing pains before it finds it's center in the gaming culture. The library of One content is non-existent by comparison to the 360. Don't buy into the hype of loading up your game shelf with products that will not matter a year from now. As tricky as it may be, wait it out. Let the system develop and create new games that will astound you. Minecraft, GTA5, AssCreed IV, Lord of the Rings: Shadow of Mordor, CoD: Advanced Warfare, these are all games you probably already own on your 360 or PS3. These are not the MUST HAVE GAMES on the XBox One. There will be better. Don't get lured in by these crap lists and buy something you'll regret later. 

Practice patience. Save your money. Wait until the XBox One gets the good stuff.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Game Law - How 'Right of Publicity' Is The New Issue with Video Games

Worthy of a reblog, Gamasutra contributor Stephen McArthur, the Video Game Lawyer, provides a fantastic summary of how video games are able to get away with including "celebrity" likeness in their products. Other then the swarm of of #GamerGate, Right of Publicity, as McArthur points out, has been making news throughout the year for gaming and has become a noteworthy issue.

Earlier this year Electronic Arts went against the NCAA for including player's likeness in their annual Football game. The NCAA ended their longstanding contract with EA over it, a huge blow to EA and casual gamers everywhere given the growth of the product over the past decade.

Lindsay Lohan filed a civil suit with the New York Supreme Court over a character in GTA5 named Lacey Jonas. Jonas is a starlet in the GTA5 world and has several mishaps with the paparazzi and public intoxication that, Lohan claims, mirror her life. And apparently selfies were also created by Lohan, because she had an issue about that too in the lawsuit. Last month she amended the suit to include the bikini-clad, blonde hair woman on the cover art, taking a photo of herself on her phone in one hand, and giving the peace sign with the other. "The Plaintiff has been using the peace sign hand gesture for years before and after its use in the video game." Because no one made the peace sign before Lindsay Lohan?

And then there's the Panama dictator who attempted to sue Activision while he's in prison on crimes against humanity for his image being used in Call of Duty. The lawsuit was thrown out last month.

These are just a few of more recent examples, but it could easily be argued that every game has some form of image likeness, which can be protected by state and federal laws. That First Amendment is a tricky beast. the most interesting thing I found is that some of the laws that video games look towards for protection is not in the freedom of speech, but with their local, state governments. Many provide rules and ordinances that allow for more freedom, and in some cases more restriction, for parody and image use without the consent of the original owner. And dead celebrities are a different matter entirely, some having 0 representation through next of kin that books, movies, and television are all equal game to using likeness without having to clue relatives in. I'll let McArthur's post take it away from here. This is a great, Tuesday morning read.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Labeling Gender Biased Games...In Sweden

Dataspelsbranchen, the gaming trade organization in Sweden, is considering an addition to their current ratings system that would label games produced in the country as to whether or not they promote gender equality. An ESRB edition for gender issues, in essence.

The government has already issued a grant to the group to begin studying how Swedish video games and developers portray female characters and handle gender issues. Avoiding sexism and gender stereotypes is a goal that the Dataspelsbranchen's wants to achieve for future titles. As of now this is all hypothetical as to whether or not all games will be labeled or if only the games that promote gender equality will receive a special seal. This may only lead to a study by the group - I'd imagine that trying to pass new laws within the organization to add the additional labels would be a large hurdle. This is also assuming that there aren't laws in place by the government beyond Dataspelsbranchen's reach. It's still a world first for any country to consider gender issues in video games.

Their goal is not to infringe on creativity. The group wants developers to do what they do best, but to also consider how their actions with female and non-white male characters can create hostile environments for new gamers.

Interesting...but I have a feeling this will fizzle out before it's completed. The study may follow through but to implement additions to label new games is not as simple as a yes or no. Not when you have an established system in place and a load of developers to deal with.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Attempting to Dethrone EA as Worst Gaming Company - Is Ubisoft Next in Line?

This was shared among Facebook on Wednesday and I wanted to take a few days to process it before responding. It's a lot to digest. Forbes proclaiming that Ubisoft has overtaken Electronic Arts in customer dissatisfaction is a big step.

Even if you are brand new to this blog, I'm sure you have seen my rants about EA. I'm infamous for them

But to be as bad or worse then EA seems like a stretch. Given the company's history of homogenized games, micropayments and withholding content for DLC, and double win's on Worst Company in America by The Consumerist, that's a tall order to fill if you want to beat them. 

Contributor Paul Tassi seems pretty convinced that Ubisoft has dethroned EA.

"Yesterday, the dam broke for Ubisoft, and the gaming press and gaming public stopped fighting each other after two months of GamerGate warfare to turn toward a new common enemy. In fact, Ubisoft seems to have crossed so many lines with their recent Assassin's Creed dual release, that critical disdain and public outrage over their policies has reached EA levels of fervor."

With the release of the latest Assassin's Creed, titled Unity, there has been a mixed reaction to the game. A number of critics and gamers are not satisfied with the product, essentially calling it unfinished and just a pretty demo for the next generation consoles. Before release, there was an all silence from game reviewers. Speculation was, at least through social media, that this was a way for blogs and magazines to protest Ubisoft's handling of press, fan concerns, and backwards notions on the integration of female characters.      

Now the controversy has sparked a new debate. Did Ubisoft intentionally ask for a review embargo until the game's release because they knew there were issues on the final product?

This was the last straw for Tassi.

His list of Ubisoft's faults over the past year are similar to complaints against EA:

- Watch Dogs accused of being glamorized to look more cinematic then what the game's final product let on. It was less stellar then what was promised for graphics with a next-gen game.

- Let is also be known that Watch Dogs received mixed reviews giving it lower scores then what a number of news outlets suggested. Much of the content and visuals promised ended up not coming to fruition. Ubisoft did some great marketing to get a lot of copies sold, but gamers were not happy with it.   

- At E3, Ubisoft kept stumbling over themselves regarding the next Assassin's Creed and the lack of playable female leads, arguing that it would be "too difficult" to animate them late in the development, even for multi-player. 

(Here it comes...Metal Gear Solid V gives us real-time horse poop. What do you say to that Ubisoft? )

- Before launch, Ubisoft announced that Unity would be locked at 30 frames per second, versus the now standard 50-60 for video games. Many fans and reviewers claimed that it was just a way for Ubisoft to dumb down the fact that they couldn't overcome a technical hurdle in time for the release.

- I've touched on this already, but Ubisoft had an embargo on reviews of Unity and Rogue that neither game could be posted in gaming magazines and blogs until 12 hours after release, which worried a lot of people and made them wonder if the game wasn't as good as boasted by Ubisoft. In fact of the two games, only Unity was sent out to reviewers ahead of time. Rogue was not. 

- Unity features elements that are similar to what we see in EA games. Aspects such as microtransactions (though one is for $99 worth of in-game coins, there is nothing small about that), and actions that can only be done after you download and install the AssCreed app and/or UPlay.

- Far Cry 4, yet to be released, is becoming the next franchise to have yearly releases, and given the reception of Ubi's games this year, fans have a right to be worried. Many are wondering if there is anything new with the 4th title, but videos and screenshots look like an extended DLC of Far Cry 3 rather then a new game. 

- And then there is the general comment that Ubi's games are all just too similar to one another. While stories and characters vary, the tasks and game play are not so different - capture points on an open world as well as repetitive side quests and collectibles that remain the same in multiple titles. Which Tassi says has reached a comedic level with Unity. Take a look at the game map and you'll understand.

To Tassi's credit, he does mention that the issues with Ubisoft are not Ubisoft specific. While they fumbled the female character question, they are not the only developers who are lacking or completely absent in any form of diversity beyond the straight, white, male lead character. Nor are they the first for microtransactions in major video games. *coughsEAcoughs* And review embargoes, Polygon that's a brilliant term - copyright it, are fairly common. Publishers and developers work with the press and give them access to games early to review and release to readers at a designated time. Some may be 1-2 weeks in advance of the game's sales date. Sometimes a month. When it's the day of, or after the game's release, that's when you have to start worrying. Typically reviews drum up extra pre-sales by the boost in appearances the game is making online and in magazines. When a developer requests that reviewers hold back the date of when they can talk about the game, it's a bad sign. Typically it means there is little confidence that the game will do well once reviews are out, and they want to sell what they can. But a game like AssCreed you can't make people wait a full 24 hours after release for a review. It's too big of a title. Even more worrisome is that some magazines are saying Ubisoft had a pretty extreme response regarding Unity reviews- either agree to our demands on no posts until 12 hours after release, or no more Ubisoft games for you. Harsh.

And like some EA games with technical issues (mostly server related), Unity falls into that same boat. Some arguing that the game really hasn't improved on what Ubisoft has promised fans of the franchise and controls being clunky, almost unplayable in some aspects. When your assassin can't properly jump through a window you've got problems. 

What's happening with Ubisoft is commercialization to compete with the likes of EA and Activision, companies that have franchises that produce titles yearly and look for ways to expand revenue. They are no longer like BioWare or SquareEnix who put out a title once every few years. Ubi's consumer base wants more AssCreed and they want it now. They are happy to oblige by cutting down the content and the frame rate if it will help them get it to customer's faster.

That's really what it boils down to: money. Is it ethical to include microtransactions and require downloading and paying for apps just to proceed in a game? I would say no, but if people are willing to do it, Ubisoft will keep obliging.

While the company's negative points are vast for 2014, I still think EA is the bigger villain overall in the scene.

What makes EA stand out as a crappy company is their lack of care for their consumers. See Point 3 in The Consumerist response on why EA won Worst Company for a second year. Ubisoft may be doing what they please, they haven't had the number of customer complaints as EA. I have years of issues with EA, the most recent one being their Origin system having the worse time ever remembering my password if I haven't logged in for a week. And it's damn near impossible to get it reset within a reasonable time. A month ago, it took nearly 2 hours to get a password form e-mailed to me. I made a complaint with their virtual customer service. Their response was apathetic and did nothing to assure me that they would catalog the issue. Truthfully, I wouldn't be on Origin if EA didn't buy up BioWare.

There are 64 million hits on Google for "why people hate EA." There are only 1.2 million for Ubisoft, and a majority of that is the customer experience. Ubisoft may not be everyone's friend right now, they at least listen to their customers and provide them some service, even if it doesn't line up with the consumer's expectations. EA stopped caring and really hasn't picked up on it, no matter how much they have said that they'll try. Service levels are about the same as they always were.

That's the big difference I see between the two companies. Ubisoft is stepping more into EA's territory, it is not on the same level of dislike as the big dog on campus. Not by a long shot.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Weekly Link Round-Up With Lists!

Another busy day ahead, so I needed something lighthearted to start off the day and perused the net to find "top" gaming lists that are currently out. I hope you enjoy some of the sillyness as much as I have.

- Paste Magazine gives us The 13 Best Costumed Characters in Video Games. Why 13? I don't know. There is little sense in the choices that were made - some were picked because a lot of people cosplay the character, such as Yuna from Final Fantasy X. Others were because of the bonus wardrobe content that allows players to swap out looks, like Bayonetta. Most of the options are female and that's a bit sad. There are some very well designed male characters that could easily be on the list, such as Raiden from the Metal Gear Solid franchise, Dante from Devil May Cry, and Wesker from Resident Evil. While the Journey entry is appreciated, it's okay to think outside of the box, list people.

- HNGN (That's Headline Global News) writer Jerry Bonner reminiscence about the Top 15 Most Controversial Video Games of All Time! from what he remembers. I like these kind of lists because they really are all opinions. While news stories may have focused on Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty over the years, we all recall those moments differently and may not see those titles as an offense like Seaman. Someone may think that teaching evolution is evil. *shrugs* Sadly, this is not one of those lists. It pretty much takes the list from the documentary series 'How Video Games Changed the World' and puts it into a readable list. Going to repeat myself - let's think outside of the box.

- WhatCulture has the 15 Greatest Set-Pieces in Video Game History. Not physical sets, except for the recent Call of Duty Modern Warfare and Destiny commercials that use IRL actors.. The list includes any scene with a dragons from Skyrim, meeting the Riftworm in Gears of War 2, and The Paleto Bay Heist in GTAV. Hm...WhatCulture may want to retitle that article as 'The 15 Greatest Video Game Scenes.' There isn't mention about the actual "sets," i.e. the decor, the backgrounds, the locations. Rather, they focus on the actions of the characters in the game. Those aren't sets, guys. Those are scenes. When people are on the screen doing something to move the story forward, that's a scene. A set is the location where the scene is taking place. Google the meaning of the word next time.

- NDTV has the list of 10 Celebrity Doppelgangers in Video Games. Snake from the very first Metal Gear solid cover art bears a likeness to Michael Beihn from The Terminator. Ajay Ghale from Far Cry 4 bears a striking resemblance to Indian actor Sushant Singh Rajpu. Games are going international in their celebrity look-a likes!

- And we'll wrap this up with CNBC's Top 10 Must Have Games for the Holidays. Because it is that time of year where greed is good, and everyone wants the latest and greatest games coming out. Many of the titles listed are obvious: Smash, Halo: Master Chief Edition, and CoD. Which means the writer probably went to BestBuy or GameStop's website, looked at the "popular" new releases and ran with it. The hidden gem is the Fantasia game and Skylanders is still holding on strong to the young crowd.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Reading Video Game Reviews, The Silly Way

The Dorkly brings us a very amusing comic strip on 'How to Read a Video Game Review.'

"The important thing to remember about review scores is to get extremely angry about them, even though they're completely arbitrary and allude to a one-size-fits-all scale to judge games[.] [B]ecause being obsessed with numbers that don't mean anything is what the internet's all about!"

While tongue and cheek, the humor of the comic does bring up a very valid point regarding gaming reviews. The numbers mean nothing. The same with film, tv, and book reviews. 5 Stars. 2 Thumbs Up. 10/10. 20/20. Green light or red light. There is no single, solitary system for reviewing a product for public consumption. Every newspaper, magazine, and website makes it up. And while I appreciate a website like Metacritic that compiles reviews into one, central location, most people just look at the numbers on the top right of the webpage. "What is X item's score?" That is the biggest determining factor to compel someone to buy a product.

Should it be that way? I realize that it's an easier way to digest a review when you see a number so you don't have to read the rest of the words, but if numbers held any meaning, why wouldn't everyone vote a 9/10 for Assassin's Creed: Unity? Recent reviews for the game have been very mixed and range from one extreme to the other. Even user reviews follow this trend. Why? Because the numbers hold no purpose. They don't accurately reflect true thoughts or responses because there is no one, overarching system, to define what the hell those numbers represent. What I may see as a 5/10 as a tolerable game, you may see that 5/10 as an awful title, or person C may think 5/10 is a great score thus a great game.

The bottom line is don't focus on the numbers. Every review is going to be an opinion piece based on the writer's perception of the game. Take their words into consideration, but don't take them to heart. Add them into your catalog of suggestions and make the decision yourself on whether or not to purchase the product. Be a responsible, informed gamer.

See also 'Do you have to play games well to be a good reviewer?'

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Game Awards: VGA/VGX 5.8?

I love the title Forbes game this article: Is 2014 the Year Gamers And Developers Finally Get A Legitimate Awards Ceremony?

You mean...something besides the crap that SpikeTV offers? No way. Hang on. I need to stretch the out like the Goth Kids on South Park. *clears throat*

No waaaahhhhhhyyyyy.

Something strange and mysterious popped up on the internet last night simply titled 'The Game Awards.' A countdown clock has ensued and in 24 days (December 5th) in Las Vegas, Nevada, it will begin. At the very bottom of the page you'll find a surprising note that this partiular awards show has no affiliation with SpikeTV or Viacom Media. So it's not the VGA's. Wait. VGX. Forgot about that name change. But it is produced by Geoff Knightly who developed the VGA's. Ah crap. Deterrent factor is on high alert! It also doesn't help that we're only hearing about this award show less then a month from it's opening night. During a holiday season no less. What a great time to rush together a last minute trip to Vegas when flight prices are skyrocketing. Good call Knightly. Good call.

Sadly, I don't think the list of guests will help influence people's choices to attend: Jideo Kojima, Peter Moore, and the Reggmyster. They're also on the 'advisory board' for selecting the winners. To be fair, there are other video game award "shows" out there that are more industry driven, less pandering to the general audience. Such as the Game Developer Choice Awards and the Independent Game Festival (17 years and counting). But they are on the level of the Emmy or Oscar Technical Awards. They're great to have and show that your hard work has paid off, but no one in the general public cares about them, nor do they know that you exist. I WISH the tech awards were broadcasted for audiences. I want to see the people behind the scenes that made everything happen. Sure you need Gandolf in front of a green screen to act, but you need the 50 people behind that camera to make the magic come together. I'm fairly certain this is a rehash of the SpikeTV show, but with a different coat of paint. Even the vague description of the show content is reminiscent of the VGX: it will celebrate the love of gaming, look at the upcoming hits of 2015, reveal new trailers, and have fun categories.

VGX. New coat of paint. You can watch it on XBox Live, PS Home, Nintendo, and Steam (at least they're hitting all of the platforms), but really why would you waste your time? I'll just sit back and wait on the D-List celebrities that have 0 relations to gaming to.

Monday, November 10, 2014

WoW Mom/Grandma Coping With Illness By Gaming

In 2010, comedianne Andie Bolt learned about her mother's cancer. Neuroendocrine Tumors (NET)/Carcinoids. It's the same type that Steve Jobs had, and she was given 6 months to live. So what did she do to help her through the pain? She played World of Warcraft.

And now it has the potential to be a documentary. With over a hundred hours of footage to pour through, WoW Mom - A Documentary About Cancer and Gaming, has gone to Kickstarter to look for funds to finish the project.

The entire adventure did start in 2010 when Bolt ended up on a Nerdist broadcast and was interviewed by Chris Hardwick. When asked about her standup, she mentioned that she joked about her mother's illness and her need to play WoW as a means of helping her through the rough patch.

“We have to send your mom to BlizzCon!”

Hardwick was clearly on board with making Bolt's mother have the best memories that she can as a new found gamer. And that's what happened! She went to BlizzCon. And since then Bolt has filmed multiple events with her mother and wants to show the world what gaming did to help her and their family.

"Centered around gamer/cancer patient Terry Bolt and her relationship with her daughter, Andie Bolt, WoW MoM shines a light on the positive effects of the online gaming community while at the same time raising awareness for NET/Carcinoids and helping erase the stigma around talking about cancer."

 The money is going towards recouping some basic costs on equipment used in making the film, and for editing a rough cut which will then be shopped around to independent production companies for distribution. There isn't a guarantee that this will air at a national theater, but maybe we can hope for a direct-to-Netflix version. Worthy cause. I'd like to see a positive outcome from this.

Friday, November 07, 2014

When Games Were On Trial...

On November 2, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearings on the case for California (eventually changed to Brown) vs. The Entertainment Merchants Association and Entertainment Software Association about restricting game sales to children - and effectively could have changed the entire system for how games are developed, marketed, and sold. As I mentioned in my initial posting that day, games like Halo could easily be equated to a NC17/XXX pornography rating and be banned from sales for their violent content. By Jun 2011 a decision was reached and the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the EMA and ESA, favoring the First Amendment was being stomped on when California drafted and attempted to enact their law. But it is still a landmark case that deserves more attention, and shows how important our Constitution is when it comes to freedom of creativity.

Spend some time today with a look back via Kotaku and one writer's memories of that initial court day (with photos!).

Also a look at the response from the Supreme Court directly from the judges.

And if you're busy today, there is a Wikipedia article.

We shouldn't forget that as much as video games have been accepted today, there are still people who want to restrict artistic freedom. Celebrate this N7 Day, the unofficial, official Mass Effect holiday, with the love of gaming and continuing to promote diversity and creativity in our hobby.

#N7Day14   #GamesForArt

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Petition To Remove Copyright To Revive Classic Games

Classic gamers, like myself, were giddy to see the Internet Archive release a sub-section called The Internet Arcade earlier this week, with a collection of 900+ games for digital consumption. Nothing recent, but games from the 1970's up to the 90's for a variety of publishers and systems to keep them alive and well for years to come.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation wants to take this a step further by filing an exemption request to the U.S. Copyright office to make it legal to modify older games. As I've mentioned in prior posts, releasing a remake of a game is a lot of work - not just technically, but legally as well. When you look at a game like Daytona USA, it's littered with advertisements from Lay's to Pepsi. Some of those products no longer exist and contracts expired. They need to be renegotiated to give license to show the content in the games, and if you're an outside developer, you have to get the original licensing team involved. Most of the time, that's easier said then done, which is why we see so few remakes, reboots, and re-releases of classic titles.

The exemption request wants to change all of that and make it feasible for developers to bring Atari and NES games to modern times. Most of these adjustments developers want to make is simply bringing the games up to codes. Modern machines are not made to play the retro stuff. It's as simple as that. Emulators are constantly tweaked by fans to keep games going, but even then some content is not able to match the pace. One game I was considered playing for Extra Life was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but even with an outdated emulator I kept running into clipping issues that the game unplayable and unwatchable.

By focusing on abandoned games, those who have been long left alone by developers and are no longer useable on today's machines, are stuck under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It also makes it impossible for law officials to access your car's software during emergencies like, oh, let's say you rolled off the road into a ditch and your OnStar isn't working. Yeah...cops can't help you. They're legally forbidden from accessing the tracking software that may be programmed in your car without your express consent. This is an extreme example, but it can happen.


I don't know if something will come from this petition, but like films and books, as our technology advances, we are leaving older content behind and, unwittingly, forgetting our past. It would be good to preserve it in today's digital realm, however we can take it.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

It Always Looks Easier Then It Is - Making Money By Playing Games

Earn $10,000 a month playing video games. Find out how!

I love how these articles play this up. Gaming is the new "it" job, or rather streaming your game play. It's been going on for years, but only recently has it become noticed by the mainstream public with the sale of Twitch to Amazon. People can play video games and make money from their home? How do I sign up!

I never jumped into this craze because I didn't understand the appeal until recently. The more dressed up Rooster Teeth variation titled Let's Play is my speed. I prefer the edited versions, because they are easier/quicker to consume, and allow for more content to be shown in the shorter time frame. Instead of watching 5 different screens in Minecraft, they are combined into one, streamlined video, edited in a fashion that makes it feel like the viewer isn't missing out on the action. The general gaming through Twitch and YouTube as a live stream never caught my attention. Sometimes it's too long, too boring, or too quiet.

During my Extra Life run, I found myself struggling with things to talk about with the audience. I felt there was too much downtime of me not speaking that people were probably tuning out. While I do talk to games as I play (yes, I really do and yes, I do not expect responses back), after an hour, I didn't know what else to say. My commentary felt flat. I can't imagine watching a full speed run of something like Skyrim or Ghosts & Goblins and expect it to hold my attention. There is only so much the player can say before it becomes repetitive. In small chunks, not a problem. For the pro-gamers, I bet it's a beating.

Gaming really isn't for the faint of heart, and if you want to make a business out of it, you have to fully dedicate yourself to it. There are multiple outlets to get your games online - however most people are doing it for free. That's one thing those articles fail to mention: everyone can do it. You have to come up with a gimmick or a catch that will make people tune in. You're probably going to start out doing it for free and there is 0 guarantee that your channel (YouTube or other) will gain popularity to make it into a lucrative job. For the handful of people that are making this into a career, there are 10 times as many who can't get off the ground floor.

They also fail to mention that it isn't just about playing a game and uploading the video. The quality of the video matters. The quality of the audio matters, both for the game and yourself. How often you post matters. Once every 3 days will keep you present in people's minds versus once a month. Your equipment for recording needs to be top-notch or people won't watch. They want to see the game and hear you - clearly.

You also have to advertise the crap out of yourself. Social media is everything and anything in today's world. If you expect to keep your fans and gain new followers, you have to be consistently present on advertising yourself. In essence, you become your own brand and your social media needs to reflect this. You need to post daily on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, etc. You need to be on top of messages and respond to comments. You need to be actively engaged in the community that is watching and sharing your videos.

And you get to do all of this for no payment until you become big enough that YouTube's Ad Share starts kicking in. You have to be aware of how YouTube and Twitch's ad system can net you money. You need to learn marketing and be active in your role. It's not something that happens overnight - you have to be about you, yourself, and your business 24/7. Most people won't see a penny from advertising until their videos hit 30,000+ and then it's a few cents here and there.

This entire post was meant to poke fun at the articles that talk about how gaming is an easy way to make money. Just like any job in life, you need to work at it to gain success. The YouTube and Twitch personalities on top right now are constantly focused on how to maintain and strengthen their revenue. Gaming is still fun and hopefully they enjoy it, but they can't look at it as an extra-curricular activity. It's work. Just ask game testers. It's brutal.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Weekly Link Roundup

/sigh. Internet. You're not giving me much to work with here for blogging purposes. Everything I'm running into involves #GamerGate, or Wal-Mart is now selling their used game stockpile. You know what? Fine. You win today. The tubes of electric current and digital information have decided that the readers are going to be rehashed the same content. Here's your link round-up. The internet decided for me. But I did narrow down the selection to amusing and interesting articles that hopefully broader your horizons.

 - Mackenzie Kelly is a Republican running for Austin City Council in District 6. Why am I talking about her here? Not because today is election day (PSA moment: Go vote if you're registered or have 10 forms of ID if you live in Texas), but she is a supporter of #GamerGate. What's this? A women that supports the movement? Madness! Well, not really. She joined in on #GamerGate because of the "core values" are about gaming journalism. Which is a meme at this point that no one takes seriously. The chances of Kelly winning her seat are slim to none-she registered late, campaigned with almost no donations, and was only able to get onto the ballet by submitting a 25 signature petition to the state, bypassing the $500 fee because her campaign donations were not enough to cover it. But The Washington Post wants to make it know that there are women who stand behind the principles of #GamerGate.I really enjoy the comments about how normal it is to be verbally assaulted by 12 year olds because "that's part of the community." It doesn't make it right, Kelly. It doesn't make it right.

- Anita Sarkeesian's op-ed piece in the New York Times is making the rounds with lots of responses on both sides of the fence. The article from The Salt Lake Tribune, in the area where Sarkeesian cancelled her appearance at a school, is probably the shortest. At least they get right to the point without fluffing it up.

- Student writer Cameron Grover of Maine Campus says "nobody messes with Felicia Day." Well..okay then! Oh, and there's another "summary" of #GamerGate in there too.

- New York Magazine tries to dive into the origins of 'gamer rage.' It's a long read, but does bring up some interesting points regarding how both sides of the argument, in this case pro-girl gamers and anti-girl gamers, both use language that isolates and threatens others for not confirming to their viewpoints. Of all groups, "gamers" tend to be the most volatile and committed in exclusions by words. 'If you're not one of us, you don't belong' and it isn't left at that-instead it becomes a constant verbal assault. And everyone who games is guilty of it...

- #GamerGate is influencing MIT faculty, and making it harder to do their jobs. Professor Phillip Tan holds online courses for over 16,000 students, including middle and high school students through gaming programs, and the issue has made it difficult to include people in tasks when students are feeling left out by their peers because of their gender, skin color, and sexual orientation. The MIT Game Lab even enforces a stronger code of conduct policy then what the school has in place: Play nice or you're out. The article is worth the read to at least get a glimpse into MIT's gaming program and how they work.

- Not entirely about #GamerGate but does deal with sexism in gaming: Bayonetta Doesn't Care If She's Not Your Kink. You're right Maddy Myers. She doesn't. But I don't know if we can completely dismiss the male gaze argument. I know, you're going to point out that it was debunked in the 1980's be feminists, but that doesn't erase it from history. Movies began as Nickle Slot machines that played images for customers that appeared to move by rapidly cycling through each shot. These weren't for kids, but originally for adult men, the money-earners. Guess what the subjects were about? Naked women. From those small beginnings grew an industry that based itself on camera angles and movement that valued the human body. You can argue all you like that the male gaze is no longer in charge in film and video games, but they affected over a century's worth of camera editing and stylization that to completely dismiss it is illogical.

- Last but not least, 'expert blogger' Laralyn McWilliams posted a stirring note to all of Gamasutra's readers. Here's an excerpt:

Even if each of us didn't make every element in the game they're playing, each one of us is on the game development team for our culture as a whole. We're watching the usability session in action -- right now, today. Yes, it's painful and frustrating. Yes, you may want to argue with the player on the other side of the one-way mirror who doesn't understand your carefully crafted controls. Yes, you may feel shafted because a handful of malicious players are griefing a segment of the player base without your permission, and now you're on the hook to fix it.

But as experienced developers, we all know the answer is not that "She's playing it wrong." The systems of our industry are failing her.


Monday, November 03, 2014

Play-Through Reviews-Borderlands:The Pre-Sequel Part 2

Subtitle: Quest of the Pumpkin-chunkin' Gun.

Jumping back to Pandora's moon, the repetition of Borderlands has kicked into full gear. Fetch and kill quests. Go here. Shoot some stuff. Pick up the items. Return it for XP, money, and possibly an additional reward. This is what prevented me from completing Borderlands 1 the first time, the endless repetition. I think what kept it tolerable in the second game was the dialogue and witty banter of the characters. Right now going through the same motions feels like a chore. You would think that after 30 plus years of gaming evolution we would have moved beyond the fetch quests. I was hoping that the Pre-Sequel would offer something more, an alternative to XP gains, but it doesn't. And that is a bit disappointing.

Character dialogue has not been assisting in the struggle, either. Because the game works as a flash-back from the point of view of Athena, virtually all conversations involve her. It's rare that the others get a chance to speak outside of their combat one-liners. You would think that Wilhelm would have something insightful to say to the quest-giver that looks like Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon. But no. You receive the disembodied voice of Athena, without a word from the other 3 PC's. Frankly, it sucks. I understand that Athena is the story-teller, but that doesn't mean the other characters should be completely removed from the process. It feels even more awkward if you don't choose Athena, or if she's not involved in your party. Then you have to wonder why Claptrap isn't taking charge and talking when he should be.

Maybe this will change with the addition of Doppleganger/Clone Jack with the DLC that was announced at PAX Australia. I'm doubtful, but it'd be nice if at least stunt-double Jack could get a few words into the main-story dialogue and knock Athena down a few pegs.

Aside from the run and gun woes, we jumped into the Halloween event to pick up a special weapon: a shotgun the lobs pumpkins at explodes on impact. Is it great for a level 15? Not really, but it's amusing and makes me giggle like the 5 year old that I am. Not to mention seeing the bad guys run around with Pumpkin heads, and having explosion barrels with pumpkins adorning them. At least Borderlands has not lost it's charm there. I appreciate the sillyness of the weapons and the OZ kit that farts when you buttslam. Yes. I have an OZ kit that farts on occasion, adding corrosive damage to enemies within range. It also gives 100% resistance to acid and corrosion, something that seems to happen a lot on the moon, so it seemed like a good fit. So thanks Gearbox and 2K Australia for keeping the humor alive in the little things.

Right now I'm in grinding mode. The primary story line really hasn't progressed, and it's more about helping the citizens of Concordia, the main home-point on the moon, and jumping up a few levels before the next major plot point. No big bosses to fight. No entertaining banter. Just shoot and loot.

Also a lot of driving around. Those vehicles are weird and do not control well on the moon. I don't know if it has to do with the differing gravity or what, but they remind me of less-then-steller times I had with the Mako from Mass Effect. The Moonbuggy and Stingray. While the lasers and homing missiles are cool, they do not make up for the weird physics. I think what annoys me the most are the boost systems with each vehicle. Like in previous Borderlands, you can get a speed boost with the Moonbuggy to help launch you over cliffs and ravines to the next checkpoint. Unlike other Borderlands, the speed doesn't really seem to work. Most of it seems to rely on timing and damn luck. I have spent more time planning out jumps over the lava-filled pools then I really ought have. With the Stingray, there isn't a speed boost, but a super jump. Which basically means you have to clear out EVERYTHING in your path to take a long start before you hit the edge of the cliff and THEN jump. Because enemies will kill you while you're on your vehicles. That has not changed. And the less there are in your way, the better. Overall, they're just clunky vehicles to roam around with on the moon. They don't provide stability and you feel like you're spending more time running over hills and trying to orient yourself versus being productive. Kind of like the Mako. Except it was much more difficult to destroy the Mako. In Borderlands? It only takes a few well timed hits for your ride to go kaboom.

What's up next: More moon traveling and maybe we'll hit a key plot point. Maybe. Right now I'm rating the game on the meh scale. It's more fun with friends, still weird solo if you're not Athena.