Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Geek Spot's Favorite Things

Last year, my final post of 2014 was a reflection on my blogging style - what I  posted, what I liked, and what I questioned about my writing. I want to continue the tradition this year with a review of my favorite The Geek Spot articles of 2015. The highs. The lows. And everything in between.

I like to think that I've grown over the years in my style of writing. While the blogging format does allow me to be more free-form and less conventional, I still try to approach my work as if I were writing for one of the larger gaming/geek sites. I can be personable and professional, except when it comes to EA and Ubisoft.

Here are some of my favorite stories of 2015:

- I played a lot of Dragon Age: Inquisition. Probably way more then what should have been allowed, or is considered healthy to consume. But with such an in-depth world that continued to expand with 3 DLC packs released in 2015, is anyone really surprised that I fell head over heels with this game? #culleniteforlife

- With all of my posts and articles covering Anita Sarkeesian, I was looking forward to her lecture when she came to UT Dallas during the winter earlier this year. While I don't typically agree with  some of her her points of view, I felt that this side of Sarkeesian in the academic setting was far more personable then I had ever expected. And it's something I wish people could see of her more often. She turned me around. I still don't agree with some of her prose, but I have more respect for her and what she's trying to accomplish. As fans of any hobby, we sometimes forget that there are people behind the microphone with feelings and concerns just like the rest of us. It's important that we keep that in mind any time we decide to raise our voices and cry foul.

- The topic of writing video games as well as game reviews has been a full-fledged firestorm this year. I dove in with some tips for new writers who were interested in writing for games - as scriptwriters, character developers, or as a reviewer. There is so much content out there these days that anyone can jump into the fold. But what makes the leaders stand out from the followers is how they write.

You have to write a lot, and then some more, and then more then that. And then you keep on writing until you're sick of it. Then you take a few classes, get a degree and learn about alternate forms of writing. You need to absorb yourself into writing that it becomes you. Hopefully some of you found the article helpful!

- Gamification. I still think we should try to get rid of it. :)

- 2015 is the year of my first book review on the blog! "The Game Believes In You" by Greg Toppo. If you haven't had the opportunity to read this yet, I highly encourage it. It's something I've  recommended to some of my professors to use as required reading.

- I realize that this next blog post has nothing to do with video games, but I'm a movie nerd too. Roll with it. My piece on keeping Gone With The Wind in film history is one of the few that I'm really proud of. It was posted at a time when there was a growing trend in the country to remove everything and anything that acted as a reminder of slavery. Some people were asking to have this movie boycotted as well as taken out of the National Archives and the Library of Congress, which was further pushed by a writer at the NY Post. I can understand and respect that some people don't want to be reminded of a disdainful history.

However it's from the past we learn our mistakes, we grow, and we do our best to not repeat them. GWTW is not about slavery, and if you want a movie with some serious racial implications, go watch John Wayne in Stagecoach. Removing our history, removing our artistic views is not the way to resolve issues.

- A health website, aimed towards healing those with eating disorders, whipped up a reverse photoshop on some female video game characters. I found it silly and wrote a rebuttal. It's one thing to point out that the bodies on women in video games is not realistic. It's another when you use a character from a fighting game, who has the body of a fighter, and alter them to the point that they would most likely be disqualified from the tournament they're attending. My issue with women's bodies in games is not how busty they look. I just want them to have some real pants and a shirt covering their boobs. Is that too much to ask for?

- The other big howdie-doo this year was pre-orders. Pre-orders, pre-orders, pre-orders. We may not see the practice die down anytime soon, but there's hope that as writers we've put a small dent into the system to give people enough pause and reconsider their purchases.

- My final favorite article of the year is a list I created on 11 Things That Are Currently Hampering the Growth of Gaming in the Industry and the Community. It started as a response to an article I found on that was complete click-bate, and turned into an epilogue listing the issues we currently face as gamers and developers. It's one of the more in-depth lists I have created, and one I'm proud of.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Mini Weekly Round-Up

The end of the year is upon us! Time for one more Weekly Round-Up before 2016 hits and the world continues to spin. It's been a busy year for the gaming world, and the news doesn't stop even as the year sees it's conclusion.

- Polygon was kind enough to write a wrap-up of all of the weird gaming news this year. Remember when Nintendo hired a new VP of Sales with the name Bowser? Or how about when Apple removed any and all apps that included the Confederate Flag? It ended up removing some legitimate historical games and teaching tools. A number of those games have been restored after review, but it shows how poorly an all-out ban can work. And then there is Peter Molyneux publicity stunt for Godus, where the winner of the challenge never received their prize. Whoops. Great stories here, Polygon!

- Inverse attempts to make a case for bringing back game demos. As technology has evolved, the days of disc demos in magazines are long gone and we rarely see them grace console digital stores. The world in which we receive our gaming news, reviews, and updates has changed. Magazines are still around, but in very small demand. If it can't be downloaded and consumed in 1 minute, we tend to move on to the next thing. The rise of YouTube gaming stars has also diverted our attention from traditional media and marketing techniques. Studios are more likely to spend money on Tubers to demo the game for the greater public at a fraction of the cost. Most exposure, less cost on having to develop individual discs or work with the consoles to get a digital version up? It's a smart way to market. While I miss game demos, I don't expect them to return anytime soon. They'll be the unicorns of the gaming world whenever a publisher decides to release one.

- Fashion designer Louis Vuitton's latest craze has been with video games, manga, anime, and science fiction. Creative Director Nicholas Ghesquiére posted on his Instagram account a new ad campaign featuring, who else, Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII in the Spring collection. It was also modeled on a living person, so it's a real thing. Ghesquiére has been pulling inspiration from Sailor Moon, Evangelion, and has even alluded to Minecraft in a video at the latest runway show. It's interesting to see geeky culture merge with other areas, such as high fashion. While this isn't Lightning's first stint at modeling, it's still newsworthy.

- Lots of DLC came out this year and Arts Technica takes a look at the hits that helped improved the games. Hint: Desinty is on the list.

- If you were concerned about Michael Fassbender not being a gamer and knowing squat about Assassin's Creed before he was casted for the role, you need to worry no longer! He's been playing the games to help with his role and figure out more of the dynamics of the AssCreed franchise. While his character will have no relationship what so ever to any of the AssCreed game characters, he still felt it was worth his time to dive in and take the role seriously. So good on him.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Gaming Stereotypes Redefined with Jamie Lee Curtis

Jamie Lee Curtis is an awesome person. Not because she's a respected actress who likes to have fun with her rolls, but she's also an outspoken feminist and a gamer. She's been spotted at BlizzCon and other gaming events, roaming the halls in costume so she can be another fan like the rest of us. She's currently involved in an IndieGoGo campaign for Twin Galaxies, auctioning off meet and greets and some of her retro movie swag.

Twin Galaxies is, essentially, the go to source for all video game records. They have been keeping up with the books since the early 80's but the platform is in dire need of a major overhaul to the site, and is looking to branch out to social media (creating their own version for gamers), a mobile app, admittance to eSports competitions, and such. Curtis became interested in video games after getting involved in her son's gaming habits. It started with Street Fighter and has evolved to World of Warcraft and League of Legends.

When she's not attending game conventions, she's campaigning for video games and eSports to be more mainstream. She loves the work of indie directors (one of her favorite movies is Dogtown, about the rise of the skateboard scene) and how the rise of gaming is the next evolution in entertainment. She's been to live League matches and was floored to see tens of thousands of people up and cheering for 10 people on a stage. Video games have a lot to offer, and she is proof that age doesn't matter. It's the fun of gaming, which is one of the reasons why she is involved with the IndieGoGo campaign. She met the current owner, Jace Hall, through a friend. She loved the work Twin Galaxies was doing in promoting gaming record keeping and ensuring fair, fun play, and wanted to help out. Simple as that.

So if you really loved that black dress of her's from 'True Lies,' you can pick it up for $100,000.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Fallout 4 So Addicting That Man Sues Bethesda

Inevitably, someone was going to sue a video game company for making a product that is too addicting. I wouldn't say that tobacco was the start of it, but they have a long history of consumers suing for addiction and long-term health issues for using their products. And we all know the power of video games. They can start out with just a few minutes of play that turns into half a day gone in an instant.

A Russian man is currently attempting to sue Bethesda for Fallout 4. Playing the game for a 3 week binge led to the loss of his job and his wife leaving him.

I'd like to point out that a 3 week game time is insane. Even for Fallout 4. You could, you know, attempt to interact with the world and take a break. That's a thing.

This isn't the first time someone has made an effort to sue a company for having a long game time. In 2010, Craig Smallwood from Hawaii went after NCSoft for Lineage II, after wracking up over 20,000 hours of play time. He claimed that he had no idea the game would be so addicting and wouldn't have played otherwise. The case was heard, and portions were dismissed. NCSoft only had to cover Smallwood's legal fees by the end of it.

The Russian plaintiff is seeking 500,000 roubles in damages (roughly $7 grand USD). And his legal team is wanting to use this as a test case for potential future lawsuits against gaming companies for creating addicting products. It even says it in the article - quoted and everything! Clearly they're trying to make money out of this venture with people that can't turn that part of their brain off and understand the importance of moderation.

For Bethesda, they have a pretty strong counter-argument. Hundreds of thousands of people have played the latest Fallout and have not had any disruption to their daily lives. And there is no easy way to measure a game's addictive properties, unlike tobacco or alcohol that has chemicals that produce that reaction in our bodies. Also, unlike many of it's counterparts, Fallout 4 has no micro-transactions. So it's not like the addiction led to overspending. The man liked to play the video game. A lot. That's all this really is.

To those who would argue that it's just $7 grand, give it to the man and be done with it: that's not the point of the case. If this man wins on the grounds of addiction, or if Bethesda pays up without another word, it can encourage people to go on the bad behavior route and try suing other gaming companies for the same thing. I spend 7 years playing Final Fantasy XI. I couldn't tell you how many tens of thousands of hours I packed into that game. But I don't consider myself an addict. I still went to school, picked up 3 degrees, and lived a life outside of Vana'diel. But if this case with the Russian does make it through court and he wins, it will set up a precedent for others to follow - and that's not good for future games.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Games You May Have Missed In 2015

Oh crap. I'm reposting another list. But bare with me, because this one is one I not only agree with, but I encourage you to play the games on this list! GameRant took a moment to list the Most Underrated Games of 2015. And it's also proof that when you release a game will have a big impact on your sales, because all of these games suffer from poor timing of release dates.

The one you are most likely to know about among the rest is Rise of the Tomb Raider. For some inexplicable reason, SquareEnix decided to keep it's original release date of November 10, 2015. And I'm sure 99% of you have instantly realized why that's a problem. It was the same date as Fallout 4.


Even with the floundering of sales, it's posted one of the highest review scores of a Tomb Raider game in decades. It dives deeper into Lara Croft's backstory and really goes more into the "tomb raiding" aspect that we missed out on the last remake. More action, more adventure, and it's a well polished game. I really dig the story and it's so much fun exploring ruins again! I'm enjoying the direction the developers are taking the new Tomb Raider story. But yeah...that's release date was a big no-no. While Fallout may not hold the same sway in the East, in the West we love Bethesda . As much as we love Tomb Raider, but Bethesda wins more. There was just no way to compare the two, and Fallout 4 clearly won. It also probably doesn't help that Rise is an XboxOne exclusive. Double oops.

Next up is Her Story which was an active winner at The Game Awards earlier this month. An indie game with a very ambiguous story that can change based on your decisions. Her Story follows a woman who's husband has gone missing. You watch her interview tapes as she's questioned by police officers and slowly see how the story unfolds to figure out the mystery. It's not on the level of L.A. Noire but it involves a heightened sense of realism since the game is all through live action. The writer is Sam Barlow of Silent Hill fame, so you know it's a good story. Again, timing was a factor as Batman: Arkham Knight and the backlash against the very broken PC version of the game was on the top of everyone's minds at the time.

2015 was also a big year for indie horror games. Stasis and SOMA made GameRant's list for very good reasons. SOMA was developed by Frictional Games, the creators of Amnesia. They know how to scare gamers. It takes place in an underwater facility where you have to figure out what happened to the rest of the crew. It's a lot of psychological horror mixed in with existential questioning about life and robots. It's weird, but in such a cool way, you can't help but want to play more of this game. I also have to give major props to how the artists utilized lighting. It can be your best friend or your worst enemy, and it really amplifies those scary moments, while highlighting some of the beautiful scenery surrounding your character.

With Stasis the scary factor is that it builds up the tension using classic action-adventure game mechanics. It's also very claustrophobic, so if have issues with that, I don't recommend this game. It can feel restrictive and tight in many situations to add to the suspense. You are the lone survivor on a space ship, and you have to use your wit, puzzles, and speed to find out what happened. What's cool about Stasis is that you're not playing in first person, like most  horror games. Everything takes place in a top-down layout/map view where you can see your character move from room to room, and can plan out where you are going. Which is weird because you'd think "well hey, if it's like that, then why does it feel claustrophobic?" Developers The Brotherhood did a fantastic job at creating a story and mechanics that grapple with most people's base fears: loneliness, tight spaces, and creepy ass noises.

Both of these games were side-saddled by another horror title that took over beyond anyone's expectations: Until Dawn.

The last game on the list is full of lulz and highly recommended to give you a fun laugh while still experiencing a great action-adventure game. Crypt of the Necrodancer is part Legend of Zelda and part Dance Dance Revolution. It had to compete with GTA5 for the PC, which ended up being just as big of a sale as the PS3/360 versions of the game.

So! If you're looking for something new to play this holiday and want to pick up some 2015 critic favorites, I encourage you all to give any of these titles a shot. They are well worth your time.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Events In Your Games!

Nintendo has created their own holiday! Starting tomorrow, and lasting though January 4, 2016, it's National StreetPass Holiday.

It basically means that if you have a 3DS, you can get a lot of free stuff if you StreetPass in public spaces or head to one of the 29 thousands Nintendo hot spots. You can earn up to 6 StreetPass tags from across the country, along with new characters and decorations if you own the Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer game.

But if you're looking for other gaming freebe's this season, here are a few more to look out for:

- Rock, Paper, Shotgun has compiled a list of MMO's that are currently running winter/Christmas celebrations. We all know that World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy would be on the list, but even The Old Republic is celebrating "Life Day." And if you don't know what Life Day is, go Google it. Witness the horror and hilariousness that was unleashed upon the world. Thankfully if you're in TOR, there's really nothing going on for Life Day other then random NPC's that throw snowballs at you, giving your character the ability to trail snowflakes behind you for 5 minutes. It could be way worse.

- Grand Theft Auto Online is hosting another year of shenanigans with new Christmas outfits, car horns, and the return of snow! Which makes it a bitch to drive in, and it's hilarious to see so many people spin out. The in-game content lasts until January 5th, so pick up your goodies while you can.

- Mercenary Day began earlier this month, but if you're into Borderlands you can still utilize the Shift codes to get some cool swag, such as the snowman helmet. Because it's Borderlands and why not?

- Rocket League, the car-soccer game that took over our PC's like crazy this year, is having a snow day! Instead of grass and a ball, you get an ice rink and a hockey puck. Enjoy this through January 4th.

- An oldie but a goodie if you have an original Dreamcast, or if you've purchased the remastered version of this game on PSN, Steam, or XBox Live - NiGHTS: Into Dreams will be all Christmas-like when you boot it up! At the initial release, a separate NiGHTS game was developed for Christmas and allows you to traverse the landscape with snow, trees, presents, and Sonic. With the remastered version, the Christmas section was added into the game. And even if you don't have the original Christmas disc for the Dreamcast, you'll still see little nods to the holidays throughout the game. It's even more fun on New Years when you can play as Reala.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Most Memorable Gaming Moments in 2015

I'm almost positive that Forbes is being trolled by one of their opinion article enthusiasts.

Erik Kain is his name, and with his 19 thousand Twitter followers he reports on gaming content for Forbes. Apparently his work has appeared in The Atlantic and he's a curator on Steam. But that's really easy to do. You just need a Steam account and either create a group or join a group and smack that Curator button. Bam! You're a Curator. Your opinion matters.

Sarcasm aside, I'm not sure who Kain is, but Forbes felt he was important enough to write opinion articles for them. One includes a slap in the face at the Star Wars Prequels with a satire on what would make Episode 7 better (including Senate debates and Jar Jar).

I had to dig into this guy's credibility when I read his list of the 15 Most Disappointing Games of 2015. Because this list blows. It's not the level of crude and tact as a WhatCulture list (and that says a lot). It's just a bad list. And I don't know if he's joking! At least with the Episode 7 article he made it clear at the end that he was joking. This...he is either kidding around, he's trying to instill click bait by prompting fan rage (to which I will not rise as you will see with the Do Not Links), or he truly believes his opinion and he needs to be schooled in gaming 101.

On this glory hole of a list are Fallout 4, for not being polished and could be a better game. There's Metal Gear Solid V, for Keifer Sutherland and being too open world. And The Wither 3: Wild Hunt for the change in the combat (even though he didn't like the original combat system), the open world scenario again, and for not being as pretty as other games.

Yeah. I'm thinking he's trolling. Even the most argumentative of gamers would appreciate one of those games as great. Not a disappointment.

In my fashion of retooling an article to provide more in-depth gaming coverage, I'm going to take this and transform it into a new list of the Most Memorable Gaming Moments in 2015. And it does include a disappointment! So it's kind of in line with the Forbes article.

There are a lot of things that went down in 2015 - some great. Some not so great. And we still have a long way to go before we see more diversity in gaming. But we have to start somewhere, and this list will showcase some of the changes to the gaming world we saw this year.

- The Kojima/Konami Debacle. This isn't about Kojima leaving Konami. Since Metal Gear Solid IV, it's been publicly known that Kojima was done with the MGS franchise and wanted to jump into new games. And then Konami gave him a lot more money. What made this memorable was how poorly Konami handled the impeding departure. It started with issues on the box art. Kojima wanted it one way, Konami wanted it another. It ended up with the removal of Kojima's name entirely from the box (though some retailers took it upon themselves to fix it).

When the box war began, Konami officially cancelled Silent Hills, which was a collaboration between movie producer Guillermo del Torro and Kojima. There had been a lot of stories going back and forth between Kojima and Konami since then. It's speculated that the working conditions for Konami are sub-par, and they would fight back with more changes to MGS5's marketing.

The real kicker came with The Game Awards when host Geoff Keighley dropped that Kojima was forbidden from attending and accepting any awards for MGS5 per an obscure contract clause with Konami. Basically the man is not getting the recognition he deserves for his decades of service to Konami. Instead he was allowed to leave the company quietly last week and jump on board with Sony, who were eager to have him.

Konami has not been doing a good job at saving face. Their social media responses have either been non-existent or come off as emotionally callous. They're the company to be hated by gamers right now, even as their stock continues to grow due to their change in direction as a business to mobile.

- Female Default Avatar. You're probably wondering why this is here or what the heck it's about. It's a pretty simple concept: we're slowly starting to see changes to the industry where women and POC are headlining games. Minecraft, arguably one of the biggest games in the world, made waves in May by releasing a female avatar as part of the default selection to new characters. Until then there was only one option: Steve. As the world has changed, games need to update as well. And if Minecraft can do it, you know the demand is high enough that other companies are sure to follow. Ubisoft learned very quickly with their floundering on Unity that a female avatar shouldn't just be an option, but a requirement. This isn't about throwing more women and POC into a game so we will stop complaining, but providing fair and equal representation to all characters that we're no longer stereotypes in these fictional universes. And we're seeing that change, slowly but steadily.

- Episodes are the Future? The biggest news for PlayStation fans came with the announcement of Final Fantasy 7 will be remade for the PS4. Earlier this month, SquareEnix gave a microscopic glimpse on what that would entail: episodes! Not a lot of fans are happy about this. But episodic content has been the BIG deal this year. Looking at games such as Tales of the Borderlands, Life is Strange, The Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones, all products that have sold well (and most of them from Telltale Games), and have really thrived in a market that wasn't designed for episodic content. All 2015 games that really stood out and provided a new way to tell a story. Is it really that crazy for large scale franchises like Final Fantasy to consider taking that route and provide more content in the long run?

- The Dwindling Power of Pre-Orders. Kotaku aficionado Luke Plunkett has been preaching the anti-pre-order lingo for years, but in 2015 he really ramped it up with a thoughtful piece on on how much pre-orders affect games. Essentially we're paying for unfinished product and a potential promise that it'll be fixed later. Since then, the internet has been busy with attempting to slow down the pre-order craze. I've written numerous articles about the topic this year. The outrageous "bonuses" developers were offering to get people to pre-order their games were astounding. But! We have seen progress. The Dues Ex crazy pre-ordering program (where you needed to convince your friends and family, and their friends, and then their friends to pre-order to unlock all the perks) was met with an overwhelming negative reaction, SquareEnix cancelled it and will give away all the perks no matter when you pre-order the game.

It's proof that your wallet holds all of the power. If you don't want to buy an unfinished game, don't pre-order. If you don't want to wait on updates to fix a game, don't pre-order. And we're seeing it influence the industry now that gamers are starting to realize that their money talks.

- Nintendo Testing Mobile Games. This is a BIG step for Nintendo. This is the one company that has been very stuck in the mud, pun intended, in moving forward with providing new gaming outlets. They wanted to focus on their products, not licensing out content to other developers. They have been insistent for years that this isn't the route that they wanted to take. And then they changed their minds! Their first game will release in 2016 called Miitomo, a mixture of social networking and Tomodachi for your Mii. Will this new era of Nintendo produce the same results that we come to expect from the company, or will it fall flat? And if it works, will other big developers follow? The trend is mobile, if Konami's big move is any indication.

- eSports Gaining Ground. ESPN, the biggest sports network globally, has been steadily airing eSports matches since April. TBS is currently in production for a new TV show to air in 2016 with video game competitions. The country's largest eSports groups have created a drug policy. With games like League of Legends drawing in crowds by the millions in theaters all over the country, eSports is a big deal. A very big deal. It's going to change how people are viewing games, how we play games, and how we talk about games. It won't be long until we can comfortably talk about our favorite gamers like we can American Football athletes. Gaming is more mainstream!

And now to wait for the madness 2016 brings with it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Caleco Is Back?

I'm a bi-product of the 1980's and the 90's. I had a CalecoVision, the rival gaming system to the Atari that promised an arcade experience in your home (because arcades were a thing at one point, and they were incredibly popular). Caleco faded away over the years, a toy company turned electronics that died out in 1989. In 2005, River West Brands based in Chicago revived Caleco to create a handheld system for classic Sega cartridges (yea for that!) and this week, they announced a new console that will have a number of the retro gamers salivating.

Calico Chameleon.

As more companies focus on next gen branded content, a number of independent devs have been scaling back to go for the simple look, but chock full of so much story and character evolution that it would make some of the Triple A companies cry. One of the top games this year was Undertale, a game created by 2 people with a bizarre plot line, interesting characters, that somehow stole the hearts of millions. Caleco feels that retro games still have a place in today's world, and created a system that will only accept cartridge games.

Yep. Cartridge. Games.

No downloading. No updates. No internet connection needed. The goal of this system is to strip away all of the issues with modern consoles and to give gamers what they want: a chance to play their games the second they place the cartridge into the system. It's a refit of the RETRO VGS, which held a failed IndieGoGo campaign just shy of 2 months ago. They asked for $2 million and raised just over $80 thousand. Calico saw the potential in a system that only used cartridges and swooped in to save the idea.

A few things to note: this will not play your old Nintendo, Atari, or Sega games. This is meant for new games who want to go the cartridge route. And feedback for the idea has been positive so far. A number of investors are on board and gamers can't wait to see it for the first time at the Toy Fair New York in 2016.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Let's Play Dragon Age II: Part 3

Act 3 is a long Act in Dragon Age: II. I honestly thought I was nearing the end of the game when a slew of new quests began popping up on my radar once I began to work through the main story.

But let me roll back a bit - back to the beginning of Act 3. I've felt my game play slow down drastically since the first two Act's as I tip-toe my way through these new quests. So many of the activities involve the mage/templar divide, that I'm now overthinking every time I have to put a party together. It's not about choosing a team that can keep me alive, but creating a group that won't get pissed off at me for my choices.

Right now I'm playing the field and favoring both sides until I have to make that ultimate choice to pick one or the other. And it's blatantly obvious that you need to do this eventually. Since mid-Act 2 it likes to throw your face into it. Constantly. Until then, I need to build up reputation points with my companions and ensure they don't get too pissy at me for picking whatever side I decide upon.

Here's my problem: unlike my experiences with Origins and Inquisition, number II has me on the fence as to which side I should saddle up with. Because they are making mage's looks like major dicks. Typically I'm very sympathetic towards their cause. They are locked up and jailed, essentially, for their lives simply because they can cast magic. The conditions in most Circles (the nice way of saying "prison" where the mages stay) are deplorable, downright horrid if Kirkwall is any example of that. A mage looks at your the wrong way and he can be made Tranquil (think of it like being turned into a Borg on Star Trek - all of your emotions, your memories, your self-worth are stripped away to prevent you from using magic ever again). Mages get the short end of the stick. And I like to fight for the little people, even though it's fun to play as the bad guy now and again.

But in DA2, they're really pushing my buttons. A number of the mages that you meet along the way are either too self-righteous, too eager to use blood magic (which is a big no-no in my book. Do you want demon's to possess you that badly? Damn), or have no regard for the safety of people around them and just do...whatever they damn well please. Between the blood magic, the kidnappings, and random violence, these mages are making the templars look like freekin' saints. And I know that Knight-Captain  Meredith is bonkers. She needs to be kicked out. Even her brand of insanity seems more sane then what some of these mages are pulling.

So thanks Bioware. You turned my easy decision into a headache that I'm now juggling party members to ensure they're happy with my chat choices before I make my final selection on who to side.

It'll still probably be the mages because templars suck. But I can appreciate the fact that a the story is prompting me to rethink my choices. Enough that I want to go through a second game to see what happens when I change my decisions.

So let's see, what have I done so far. I've gone through another companion quest or two to get them even more on my "good" side. I think my digital relationship with Fenris is solidified? I have no idea anymore. That elf confuses me. "I want to be with you, but I can't because my old Master is holding me back. But he's dead now, and I still don't know." Dude. It's been 3 years. Make up your mind already.

Also that whole "3 year gap between Acts" thing is old. Little tired of it. It makes the likely-hood of my companions sticking around for so long even less plausible.

I've also noticed that the scaling mobs issue is apparently a long-time Dragon Age staple. I discussed it in my review of Inquisition and made mention of it in the first game, but I was hoping it wouldn't rear it's head again in number 2. Guess I was wrong. It's interesting how I can kill a dragon at level 20 and be successful at it, but I can have half of my team die at level 21 against 2 rebel mages within 10 seconds of a battle beginning. I mean...what? Really? I'm on Casual mode, so this shouldn't be an issue. And yet it is. Not too happy about it. Even with the ass-end unusually difficult fight at the end of Act 2 against the Qunari, I had some hope that the scaling would still maintain it's pace. Guess not!

The quests are also very repetitive at this point. I can see where some of the linearity can feel tiring since we're re-visiting the same areas. Off to the coast, then the mountain, then the mines, and then into the underbelly of Kirkwall where we go to the same 4 storage rooms every quest cycle. Lot's of fetching and finding people. Woohoo. Picking up all of those Qunari swords better be worth it on the final turn-in. I dropped 10 gold on three of them, and only received 30-50 silver a piece!

So not much has happened other then I think I've officially romanced Fenris, I'm doing a ton of fetch quests, and I'm taking way too long creating my party so as not to piss them off with my mage/templar dialogue choices.

What I've figured out in Act 3 so far is that I'm going to play this game again as a warrior (and hate myself the entire time) and choose completely different options for the story. I don't think my Hawke is snarky enough to be running around Kirkwall as she is right now, and I want the game to be more of a mental challenge for me - less of a physical one. Which apparently as a mage, that puts me in the best position for insta-death with my squishyness. Meh. At least I have my cool Hawke armor now!

Friday, December 18, 2015

'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Review

Subtitle: Thar be spoilers here, so run away now while you can. Go! Flee! Hide from the internet, television, radio, and any and all forms of social interaction if you do not want to be spoiled with the plot of this movie. Live under a rock for a few days, or dig yourself into Fallout 4 and finish up that second game you've started but disregarded because it was too much Fallout. Which is crazy because it's Fallout. You can't have too much.


If you're still here then you either don't care about spoilers, care about what happens with the 'Star Wars' franchise to not care about being spoiled, or you must really enjoy my style of writing to keep reading. In which case, thanks! I always appreciate the extra eyes on the blog.

I'm going to do my best to approach this post as one would any standard movie review with my brand of humor. I'll keep the spoilers to a minimum as much as possible. I want this review to be something that doesn't deter you from seeing the film, but to try and look at it from a different perspective. Got it? Good.

Here we go!

I attended the premiere last night at a local theater during opening hour. While the rest of the world waited for midnight to arrive, I was already in bed to get ready for work the next day, having spent my evening doing a lot of driving and 2 plus hours of movie watching.

For those wanting the tldr version, I can safely say that 'The Force Awakens' (TFA) is an okay movie. It will entertain and delight you. You'll snicker at some of the bad puns and the robot interactions. You'll smile at the action sequences and maybe, become slightly heartbroken by the dramatic tonal shifts. As a stand-alone movie, it succeeds in capturing the fun of going to the movies. And that's what a Star Wars film should do. Whether it's your first time seeing Star Wars or your hundredth, it's a movie that everyone can enjoy from beginning to end.

Now onto the long form.

I liked this film for providing that movie experience that I have been missing for so long. Part of what I love about going to the theater is sitting in the crowd and feeding off their energy. It pumps up the film to the next level. When everyone gasps, you join in. As people applaud when good triumphs over evil, you find yourself clapping along before you realize it. To get wrapped up in the excitement of the film is why movies exist. They pull you out of reality and into this other world where you can experience something new for a couple of hours of your time.

And that's what TFA delivers. If you have a chance to see this movie with a large audience, I not only recommend it, I encourage it. It doesn't detract from the film, instead building on the content that already lives in the story.

At the core TFA is a good movie. It's a patented J.J. Abrams style of storytelling within the Star Wars universe. You'll find yourself twisting in your seat at some of the turns and build ups in the plot, but not to an uncomfortable level. The action is laid out well enough that you're not surprised by the development of the story nor disappointed in it. It's a happy-medium that one would expect with a Star Wars film.

On that front, TFA fits decently into the franchise and the scenario Disney is wanting to follow for future films. Since Lucasfilm's acquisition in 2012, Disney has made it clear that they wanted each of the follow-up Star Wars movies to be stand alone stories so that new directors, cast members, and crew can jump in and interpret the universe in their own way. TFA has a very distinct beginning, middle, and end. There are still a few loose strings to tie up, but the primary plot line is wrapped up in a nice bow that if the next director decides s/he doesn't want to use any of the characters from Episode 7, that would be okay. We got enough content from TFA that pushing them into the next chapter isn't necessary.

It also makes it easy for any new Star Wars aficionados to jump right in without worry that they would be lost. You might miss out on some of the inside jokes, or why some of the adults were cheering when the Millennium Falcon makes its appearance, but it doesn't detract from the movie. You can go in with fresh eyes and enjoy the film for what it is. TFA is an ideal December film - enough to bring audiences back for a second or third round without them feeling burnt out by the story.

I wish I could say the same for Disney's marketing tactics. My goodness. If there was ever a need for "calm the f down!" it would be Disney and Star Wars. I thought the promotions for the Prequels were bad. Disney kicked it up by 100% to such an insane level I found myself deliberately avoiding all forms of social media, nearly all internet interactions, keeping my television and radio off, and not reading newspapers so I wouldn't have to see any more Star Wars stuff.

I knew I was being over-saturated with marketing content and poor product tie-ins (what the hell does a Lexus have to do with Star Wars?) that it would change my view of the film. I would have went in with more disdain then one should have because I was so sick of the marketing.

I seriously hope Disney considers scaling back next time. There was no reason to hype up TFA this much. It's Star Wars. It's a built in marketing tool all of it's own. You just need to say "new movie is on X date" and people will buy tickets. You don't have to slap Yoda's face on coffee creamer to get us to see the movie. So chill out a bit on your marketing , Disney.

Pro-tip: If you plan to see TFA soon, absolve yourself from all human communications for 48 hours to cleanse yourself of the Star Wars marketing machine. It will help you enjoy the movie.

I've talked about the new fan experience, but what about those of us who grew up with Star Wars?

Right now I'm torn on my opinions as an elder fan. I feel that TFA fits within the lexicon of Star Wars that Disney has deemed as "canon." And it is a good movie. I don't want my opinion to detract from the experience, because I think this is something that a vast majority of people will enjoy for decades to come. I wasn't counting lens flares. I was that engrossed in the film that my academic brain didn't kick over and start picking apart the camera angles or J.J.'s obsession with the flares.

But I also come from a background where my knowledge of Star Wars is different from the average consumer. I knew of Star Wars beyond the 6 movies. There were novels, comic books, and video games that were all approved by Lucasfilm to be the story beyond the films. It's the infamous Expanded Universe (EU) that has been removed from the Disney library. But this is what I grew up with. I loved reading about the adventures of Mara Jade in paperback, and exploring the world before the movies with Knights of the Old Republic. It gave me such depth to the lore that I found it incredibly difficult to separate my knowledge of the Star Wars universe with the new Disney branded Star Wars. What I know from the books is vastly different then the future-past that Disney is presenting to us.

If you're strictly a Star Wars movie fan, then you won't be in the quandary that I've been experiencing for the past 12 hours. For a number of my friends and family who have the EU history, I can hear the murmurs trembling through the Force that all is not well. We like TFA for what it is, but it doesn't fit with the canon that we've grown-up with. What happens to Luke, Han, and Leia after Episode 6 in the EU is definitely not what happens in Episode 7. And it's jarring. Even for as much as I knew that TFA was going to be different, I wasn't expecting such a dramatic shift in the universe that I grew up with. Disney gave J.J. the reigns (within reason) and told him to create the next chapter from scratch.

I want to like this movie, but I'm struggling with the last 31 years of my life that focused on the EU of Star Wars as the lore that I know.

This is a terrible transition, but I want to move on to some of the story elements, casting choices, and more of the "movie review" type things. So this is an all-ages, all-fans section.

First off - the pacing. It initially feels a bit slow even with an action sequence thrown into the opening. By the time you get off the first planet and the primary cast members make their escape from the clutches of the First Order (the new Empire), it feels like 2 hours have passed when it's truly only been about 30-40 minutes. And then it speeds up out of no where, throwing tons of plot points at you that it can be a bit cumbersome to keep up with. What irked me was that a lot of big things were revealed in this 2 hour movie that could easily have been stretch into another film. To go from slow to light speed pacing is a little insane. As if J.J. knew that this was his one Star Wars movie, so let's cram all of the story ideas into this now since there won't be another opportunity.

Some of the big plot points (finding out who Kylo Ren is, for example) felt like throw-aways that would have held so much more impact if they drew out the reveal to another film. We're talking about "Luke, I am your father" level of plot points that are casually tossed into TFA that they never felt like surprises. Which makes me not as happy as a fan, because part of what makes Star Wars so gripping were those big moments that had us on the edge of our seat.

The casting choices were well thought out. It was clear that everyone gave it their all, and brought a new level of talent to the franchise. I'm still unsure of if I like the direction of the acting with the Commanders and Generals of the First Order (not to mention their outfits), but within the context of the film it worked out nicely. I really enjoyed the life everyone brought to each character. Also, we need more Captain Phasma. She was cool and sorely lacked being featured, for as much as she was advertised by Disney.

I can also report that J.J. did not abuse the lens flares. There were a few here and there, but not to the level of the 'Star Trek' movies where there were random lens flares even in non-sun, non-shiny environments. The fact that he utilized the classic Star Wars transitions with iris-in (where one shot is moved to another via a shrinking circle) and wipes is a huge step forward for J.J. That's not his style of cutting. I'm impressed that he handled it with such class. And I appreciate the different types of camera angles used in some of the action sequences with the spaceships. It felt a little more engaging and less about showing off the fancy digital effects. Though I could have done with less close-ups on the actors. Some of those felt forced (hah) and out of place - not to mention the focus felt too blurry on the outline of the actors. It became distracting and took me out of the film so my eyes could adjust to the setting.

As a whole, I recommend The Force Awakens to anyone who wants to go to the movies and have fun again. It's a story that pulls you in, keeps you in your seat, and doesn't let go until the final moments. You'll laugh, you'll cheer, you'll boo at the bad guys, and enjoy the ride the whole way through. It doesn't matter if you're young or old, new or and original Star Wars fan, there is something in this movie that everyone will enjoy.

Aside: As I began to work my way through this review, I had an epiphany. This will be the most spoiler-filled section of this post. There's your warning.

The Force Awakens is a re-imagining of A New Hope (aka Episode 4).

From beginning to end, the way the movie paced itself, it felt like the film was trying too much to be like A New Hope that it couldn't find the proper footing. And I think this is why I'm having difficulty in forming a personal opinion of what to make of the TFA outside of "it's fun to watch." It doesn't add to the creativity of Star Wars as well as one would want.

Which sucks. I was pulled in right from the start with the chilling opening shot. To see an Empire-esque ship eclipse a planet as it slowly crawled across the screen, but in complete darkness so you don't see the details of the ship - it was a bold move and set the tone for the rest of the film.

But after that, you figure out very quickly that you're re-watching C-3P0 and R2-D2 from New Hope in the form of BB8, the new lovable droid on the block, and it's journey through the movie.

BB8's mission is to keep secret plans safe from the First Order (Empire), who are hunting it down to obtain said plans. The droid runs into a scavenger (read that as wide-eyed moisture farmer) on a sand-dune planet, who dreams of a better life in the stars. And then it becomes a quest to get the droid back to the Republic (Rebels). Our scavenger picks up a Chewbacca-like ally, and a mentor (Han Solo of all people), and delivers the droid to the princess (Leia in both cases!). Finally they go and blow up a big death-ray that's 10 times larger then the Death Star and the movie ends with a happy.

Stop me if you've heard it all before. Because you have.

This is where my frustrations lie. Not that the EU was dumped by Disney, which was my initial assumption. In time I will get over that mess.

But TFA isn't a unique story. It took A New Hope, sprinkled in with bits of The Empire Strikes Back, and flipped for a new generation.

I'm torn. I want to like this movie because it is fun! Don't let my comments stop you from seeing it and having a good time. It will give you hope that going to the movies can be a joyful experience once more.

As a Star Wars film from a creative perspective, I'm not buying it. And that makes me a sad.

If you've read through the entire review. Congrats. Have an internet cookie. You deserve it!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Dirty Word of "Gamer"

In yesterday's weekly link round-up, I mentioned the recent Pew Research Study regarding the gaming habits of Americans. While the focus has been on the findings that the majority of people don't see a correlation between violent games and violent real world behavior, there are some other interesting tidbits to the study that seem to be overlooked. Such as the word "gamer." It averages out to about 10% of the U.S. population considers themselves "gamers."

Men aged 18-29 are more likely to call themselves a gamer, at least 1/3rd of them relate to the term. With Women in the same age range the number drops drastically to 9%. For all age groups, Men are at 15% and Women are at 6%.

What's with the wide disparity between Men and Women? And why will only 10% of the population call themselves "gamers," while the rest are not? It's interesting given earlier studies this year from the ESRB and the ESA show that a lot of people play games, even if they don't realize it. 4 out of 5 households in the U.S. have a gaming console. People spend an average of 3 hours a week playing a game. But the Pew Research shows that 51% of people claim that they don't play video games.

Couple of things to keep in mind about all of these numbers I'm throwing out.

First, there's the stereotype of video games that has not broken through to the mobile industry yet. It's believed to be a solitary activity that one does in their home, on a console or at a computer, and they have no interaction to the outside world. I can guarantee you that those 51% of people who state that they don't play video games actually do. They're playing them on their phones. Why else would Angry Birds and Candy Crush have nearly half a billion downloads? With Candy Crush, it's estimated that roughly 190 million of those downloads came from the U.S. There are currently 349 million people in the U.S., which means half the population has downloaded the game.

But people don't think they're playing a video game, do they? It's just a mobile app to kill time. I'm not being anti-social or hiding in my parent's basement.

Too bad. You're playing a video game.

Video games don't require you to be at a gaming console like an XBox One. They can be accessed anytime, anywhere, on any device. If you're played Angry Birds, you've played a video game. Lucky for the mobile app industry, a number of people haven't caught on yet and they're able to use it to their benefit.

51% don't think they play video games...yeah right.

Second, continuing on the stereotype train, "gamers" are generally pictured to be "That Which Has No Life" from South Park. Overweight, middle-aged man-child, who lives with their parents, and does nothing but sit on their couch or at their desk all day as life passes them by, while eating Doritos and drinking Mt. Dew. It doesn't help that most gaming tournies with large prizes are sponsored by those companies in question.

It's been this way since, well for as long as I can remember. If you say you're a gamer, people automatically judge you in the same way they would a comic book fan, or a movie aficionado, or a theater tech. Every fandom has a stereotype, even knitters. Just think about it for a second - when you picture someone knitting you're probably imagining that it's an elderly women, probably in her 70's, with grandchildren and she's making socks and sweaters for their birthday, or knitting a dozen cozies for no reason then to have more nick-knacks around the house. Am I right?

But did you know that the average age of knitters is now in the mid-30's and it's a 50/50 split on men and women who actively knit? It's a fashion statement now, and it's use actively on shows such as Game of Thrones. From high fashion to crafts on Etsy, anyone can knit. It's not just grandmas, but it doesn't stop the stereotype from spreading around.

Which is why you're not seeing Women actively proclaiming that they are "gamers." It brings a negative connotation that most of us are told to avoid. Women in particular are given a much harsher world view from an early age that we are expected to fit into G mindset and we can't stray from it, otherwise we'll be ostracized throughout our lives. (I don't want to insinuate that Men don't incur the same. Societies in each civilization have expectations for both genders that if we stray outside of the norm, we are considered outcasts. But for Men, it's not as severe as what Women have to endure. There's more acceptance that Men can play baseball and be an artist, and be a rock star, and wear nicely tailored suits, and have a shoe fetish, and like the color pink, and enjoy dressing up for special occasions, and play video games. And, and, and. The list goes on. For Women, we're often controlled into one way of thinking - to be pretty and please the male gaze. We're often dismissed or shunned if we take an interest in math and science, if we want to play baseball, if we want to play video games - because these are activities that are typically associated with Men. But if  Man wants to be in ballet? Sure! Have at it. There might be some who don't agree with it, but overall, they're praised and lauded for their strength.)

And that's why Women have a difficult time calling themselves a "gamer." It conjures up the image that you're fat, ugly, lazy, and incapable of being a responsible adult. The exact opposite of everything that we've told since birth. It's difficult to overcome that stereotype no matter how many faces we see playing video games.

Third, the word "gamer" also has the stereotype that you need to be full-on into the activity and completely devoted to gaming and nothing else. Which is why I suspect only 15% of Men consider themselves a gamer. And again this has been a visual that has been in the mindset of many since the early days of gaming.

"The people who play all the time are "gamers." The people who only play Call of Duty and nothing else are "gamers." I'm just playing Madden 2015. I'm not a gamer."

But you are! It doesn't matter what type of game you're playing. If you play and you enjoy talking about games, then you're a gamer.

Overcoming the stereotype of the word "gamer" is not going to happen overnight. And I don't know if it'll happen at all. Comic book fans have been dealing with it since the 1920's and it's still the same ol' song and dance. But a good start would be to stop putting pressure on Men and Women to fit into certain molds that society dictates. The great thing about video games is that there are so many out there on consoles or through mobile app that don't care about your gender. They just want you to play (and spend money but let's not be cynical here).

Even with all of the crap going on in the industry and the fandom as of late, I still call myself a gamer. I'm not as hard-core as the League of Legends teams, but I enjoy talking about my hobby. I enjoy playing my hobby. And I get a kick out of bringing new people into the fold! It's always great to see people jump into the community and see what they have been missing out on.

My two cents, or in this case about three fifty, for the day.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Weekly Link Round-Up

Is anyone else getting sick of Star Wars before the movie has had a chance to release to the public?

I know I am, and I love Star Wars. That says a lot when your fans are getting just as annoyed with all of the advertising and marketing tie-ins as everyone else. I thought the Pizza Hut boxes with Episode 1 characters were bad. Disney really needs to calm their tits and back off on the advertising. It's Star Wars. People are going to go. You don't need to smack us in the face with an ad every minute, or put out more Darth Vader crap like shower heads and coffee creamer. I can feel the desire to want to hate the movie simply from Star Wars inundating my life consistently with so much advertising. You can have too many ads.

On that note, this blog will be spoiler-free for The Force Awakens. You can safely come here for your gaming and geeky news without being disappointed by reviews and jackasses of the internet who decide to talk about the movie. A couple of my friends have already been hit on Facebook so now I'm avoiding that too like the plague. No social media until Friday. Which might be an issue since I need to monitor social media at work...I'm sure they'll understand.

So let's do a weekly link round-up today! It seems early, but there are a lot of random articles on the interwebs today that require exploring.

- Kojima's contract has expired! He is finally able to leave Konami and pursue other ventures! Yesterday it was announced that he'll be saddling up with Sony, with the first product released from the studio as an exclusive game only for the PS4. That'll sell a few more consoles. But expect it to be a while before the product is off the ground. The contract with Konami ended on December 15th and knowing Kojima's time-line for content, it'll probably be 4-5 years before we have a game release.

- Ahhh to live the life of a programmer and a developer! I don't want to. Making video games is a hard businesses, as this blog has mentioned time and again. Kotaku looks at 2 indie developers who showcased games at PAX Australia within a year of each other, both best friends, and only one saw success. Building your own video game can be an all-consuming process. Family and friends become a passing fad, and that's a scary thing to think about.

- I enjoy Letter's to the Editor when there's a discussion about a "hot button issue." It's interesting to read other points of view, and sometimes learn something new. This one for the Columbus Dispatch in Ohio is not one of them. Reader Simon Bee remarks on a story suggesting that violent video games should be banned, and has a 2 pronged response to it: First, many people play video games for an adrenaline rush and to 'lose themselves' in the game. Second, people play games to experience things that they can't in reality...such as causing violence. Even with the 200 word limit, this is a horrible response from a gamer on why it's okay to play violent video games. Someone needs to send this guy some James Paul Gee books and read up on why violent games are okay!

- The Pew Research Center recently released their study on gamers and who's playing said video games. No surprise here, over half of American's play some form of a video game almost daily. But we knew that already. The interesting stat are the ones who identify with themselves as gamers. Only 10% of the population believe they fit that category. This may have a lot to do with how video games are perceived. A number of people don't view mobile or family games like Mario Party and Quiplash as actual video games. While the perception is altering as we move forward, it's a pretty staggering difference in numbers between self-professed gamers and those playing video games.

- Kotaku listed their top gaming surprises of 2015. I mention this mostly because I appreciate the fact that one of the surprises was personal to the writer: he managed to finish Bloodborne. Good on him!

- "Developer Diversity Changes the Way Video Games are Made." Um...duh?! Engadget may need to rethink their titles; they're generally not very gripping and/or state the obvious. Which is sad because the article is composed well. It focuses on the changes in gaming over the past 10 years and how diversification in the market, and the rise of indie developers, have improved the culture.

- Another Op-Ed piece, this time on Nintendojo and the subject of Linkle - the female version of Legend of Zelda's Link. I'm still on the fence on how I want to feel about this character. A part of me is afraid that this is too much like the "Mister Man" trope, taking a male character and turning her female to sell more games. In that scenario she doesn't have her own identity, and we won't really know what her purpose is until the next game is released. A gender swap puts less value on the character. On the other hand, I appreciate the fact that Nintendo wants to add another female warrior to their line-up. Again, it'll depend on how Linkle is handled in the games. Go forth and debate!

- It wouldn't be a round-up without WhatCulture presenting another list. This time it's 9 Superhero Games that would have made MILLIONS if they were finished. I'm not so sure. Superhero games tend to be apathetic. With the exception of the Batman Arkham series, some of the most well-made superhero titles are from Lego and Marvel vs. Capcom. And the worse? Superman 64 and Aquaman. Doubtful that these cancelled projects would have made millions - more of the developers were cautiously aware that the stack was built against them and bailed out before it was too late.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Is There A Growing AI Problem?

ExtremeTech believes there is. As games have developed over the decades and have become a visual likeness of reality, the mechanics behind the games haven't evolved as much as we would expect. Sure the trigger recoil on a gun in Call of Duty may feel better on the controls, your running speed is more accurate in Grand Theft Auto, and even the flight of a Chocobo in Final Fantasy XIV moves like a dream. But have AI grown with games or are we at an endless struggle of non-improvement?

I'd like to argue that it has improved. I look to GoldenEye 007 for the N64 as the prime example of this. Remember the "Escort Natalya" mission? Where she wanders aimlessly into walls, sometimes hiding in corners where she becomes permanently attached to and never moving, and walking in front of guns? Today's AI is leaps and bounds more superior to what we had. But I do feel that AI can be improved upon. The biggest issue that I see is getting the computer to think like a human - something scientists have been struggling with for decades as the robot generation moves closer to a reality. Human behavior is impossible to predict. While we may repeat actions over time to create patterns for computers to analyze, there is still the random variable of us being human that AI's can't adapt to. That's why Neo scores a victory for humanity in 'The Matrix.' It's our unpredictable nature that can't be replicated for an AI.

But I feel that a number of video games have made strides over the years to create an AI that can be on par with our needs. Starcraft II offers a great difficulty scaling and you can tweak your computer opponent's skill level to suit your needs - do you want then to be more defensive and build up their base, or more aggressive and spam Zerg Rushes? That's a simplified example of AI, but it provides the gamer with plenty of content along with the challenges that they are looking for.

With games like Skyrim and Fallout 4, the AI is bundled into the graphics - a point that I'll agree with ExtremeTech on. Players want to see the reaction of NPC's. The visual cues are what make the game feel more realistic. This doesn't always translate into a better AI experience. It's easy to program a character's reaction (If Player does A action, NPC will provide B reaction). What makes a truly great AI stand out is if the reaction is not programmed but completely intuitive. And if we reach that point, we need to start preparing for the AI war.

There are a number of technical limitations with AI in video games. Some of it really is based on the fact that our processing speeds are still too slow that AI's can't create all possible outcomes of a player's decision. The complexity of the human mind truly is that great, despite what we may believe if current news is anything to go off of.

But AI really has improved over the years with video games. We can make them as complex or as simplified as we like for our games with a few mouse clicks. My only big complaint is with companion AI's for games like Dragon Age and Final Fantasy when it comes to spacial recognition. They love to hog the camera and get in my shot, or walk around in circles when I'm talking to NPC's. I would consider that more of an AI priority then making them think like a human. Because 'The Matrix' is a thing and that's a creepy ass notion.

The Tobacco Move to Video Games

I grew up in an era where I saw smoking fairly prevalent in movies and television. Lighting up a cigarette or cigar on the big screen was part of the norm. Movies such as 'Scarface' helped drive more of the cultural norm about cigarette usage. One of my favorite movies, 'Blade Runner,' utilizes the smoke from cigarettes to create unique shadows and atmosphere to add intensity to a scene. I wasn't influenced by smoking. Never had one, and never want to. My parents taught me about the media and the difference between reality and fantasy at a young age. But for a number of kids, the "coolness" associated with smoking became synonymous with the movies. And who doesn't want to be cool?

It wasn't until the late 90's that we began to see the smoking trend take a turn after a massive push-back from the CDC, consumer rights groups, and eventually Hollywood itself to help promote a healthier America. After so many years and regulations against tobacco companies, you'll be hard pressed to find a cigarette in a film these days. And if it's on television, it's usually the punch-line for a jokes, or the character is admonished for their habit (Chandler from 'Friends' comes to mind).

Why am I talking about smoking? The Truth Initiative, the people that make those "real life" ad campaigns about smoking, recently released a study about smoking in video games. Titled 'Played-Smoking and Video Games' the report is upfront about the fact that they don't know how video game playing ties in to one's smoking habits. But they do note that there is an increase in the number of characters portrayed with cigarettes.

The group interviewed 44 teens and young adults to get their perception about smoking in video games. Before I hear the cry's of foul, I realize that 44 people is not a good sample size. It's certain that a larger sample, even with 100 people, would yield better results and, most likely, fewer people commenting on smoking characters. Franchises from Nintendo are devoid of all cigarette references. They compared their findings to the University of California at San Francisco's 2015 study where they found 42% of today's most commonly played video games contain tobacco references. The ESRB labeled 8% with a warning. And given recent studies that show that 44% of teens and young adults are more likely to smoke if they see a movie character do it, connections are being made that video games are no different.

The Truth Initiative has a few steps that they want the ESRB and the government to take - such as labeling all games as M if there are any tobacco references. Dudes and's not a crime to smoke. That option seems a bit too extreme even for my anti-smoking tastes.

What I would be curious to find out is if tobacco lobbyists are using their funds to entice game designers to add cigarettes into games. Based on popularity right now, GTA Online, Call of Duty Black Ops 2, there are no brands associated with the cigarettes. But for lobbyists, any sale is a sale.

Or is this another instance of my generation growing up with the images of smoking being edgy, and using it as a trope to represent an aspect of their characters without spelling it out with dialogue?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Star Wars to Gamers: "We're Not Making Movie Tie-Ins"

And the rest of us laugh at the absurdity of that statement.

Speaking to The Verge, Justin McCully, the GM of all things Star Wars at EA, said that they don't want to push out a movie based game since the industry, overall, has had a rocky history with success on those ventures. Games based on movies typically don't work. And it's not like he's wrong about it. How many movie games can you think of that were actually good? Aladdin and The Lion King come to mind. You could argue Super Star Wars for the Super Nintendo, but that was more then a decade after the original film's release and told a broader story then what we saw in Episode 4.

Most of the games we have seen for Star Wars haven't been direct tales from the movies, but off-shoots about the universe. And that's probably why they have done so well! Each game builds up on the lore of Star Wars in new ways. Other franchises could look to this as an example instead of the copy/paste model. For a number of us, there is no surprise that The Force Awakens (TFA) will not be receiving a video game.

But to say that there are not making movie tie-ins is a joke.

Battlefront is a prime example of this. After TFA releases, one of the first add-ons will be a map from the movie.

Disney Infinity, the toy figure/video game will have a set of Star Wars figures exclusive from TFA releasing the same day as the film.

The mobile game Star Wars: Commander recently issued an update that includes characters and a planet featured in TFA.

EA and Lucasfilm may want to revisit what "tie-in" means. It's not only a movie based video game. It's whenever you throw in the product into, well, anything. You're plopping TFA into other Star Wars and Disney games. That means it's a tie-in, even if it's within products owned by the parent company (since Disney owns Star Wars now).

Nice try guys. Better luck next time.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Weekly Link Round-Up

The Weekly Link Round-Up is early. I found a lot of bad stories on the internet today. So bad that I'm going to be using Do Not Link a lot with this posting so as not to give more hits to these terrible pieces of writing.

Let's see what's on the menu for this week's gaming news:

- Fox News San Antonio is solidifying the Fox News reputation of failing at Reporting 101. Their story on "how do you know if video game content is appropriate for children?" misses the point entirely and relies on one man's opinion for a response. A man who developed a parenting website to try and get families away from technology, and with an App on iTunes that has one of the lowest ratings I have seen.

Both links are using Do Not Link, so you won't be helping improve their search engine rank. But if you don't want to read the story, all you need to know is that by the second sentence, all credibility is loss. It was already iffy in the first sentence. It starts out mentioning that kids are going to be getting video games and media players (really? kids still want those?) under the tree this year, and game developers set the ratings on their content. Here's the wonderful second sentence: "There's no industry standard on what's appropriate for kids."

Um...what? Have you been living under a rock? No industry standard? Then explain to every gamer and parent out there what the ESRB is. Last checked they've been doing a bang up job at helping the gaming industry self-regulate. They are the ones who provide ratings to the games, not the developers. They are the ones who mark what content is in each game. Not developers. And the system has been solid since 1994. Of all entertainment mediums, it's consistently ranked as the highest in ease of use, ease of understanding, and turns away 3-5 times more kids from 17+ content then movie theaters and music stores.

This is bad reporting at it's finest. Way to live up to your Fox News namesake, Fox San Antonio.

- Vogue says that fashion has a love affair with video games. Oh really? Now this has to be interesting! But if you click on the link, you'll find yourself disappointed after 2 measly paragraphs. The article mentions fashion mogul Karl Lagerfeld and the fact that he's been in 2 video games: GTA4 and the recent Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, a mobile game. Damnit. More click-bait! The article is laughable and downright depressing. can and have done better then this. What's the deal? Or was there a deal with Kardasian's "people" to do a mini ad for her new game? Hmmm...

- Master Herald looks at GTA6 and spews a lot of uncorroborated facts about the future title. Really, it's just someone making a lot of wild fan theories and trying to pass it off as a story. Both funny and sad to read.

- WhatCulture has a list of the 12 worst games of 2015. Okay this one I'll link to because WhatCulture makes me giggle with their bad lists. For once they're on point with their selections. I'm still iffy about The Order: 1886. While it lacked replay value and the game mechanics could have been tightened up, the story line was compelling. But the rest of the list, totally agree.

- Psychonauts 2 has hit $2 million in donations since being announced last week on The Game Awards. Double Fine Productions has asked for $3.3 million in crowd funding, but will be getting outside investors to help with some of the costs. There's been some...concern regarding this crowd funding experience. Double Fine doesn't have the best track record. Their last attempt in early 2012 resulted in a fully funded project, and people are still waiting on their backer rewards. Proceed with caution.

- Want to teach your kids about the history of video games? Send them to KidzWorld where they can learn about Ralph Baer and how he became the father of video games. If you're under the age of 10, this is probably pretty cool. I prefer the Smithsonian version, but that's just me.

- The Emotional Game Awards were announced this week, and will be held in February of 2016. I know what you're thinking, an Emotional Game Awards? Please explain. Happy to do so.

The event is being organized by a professor and a researcher in gaming and 3D aesthetics by the University UCO Laval in France. The point is to recognize the games that touch us on multiple emotional levels, and give credit to the writers and actors that bring these digital creations to life. It's meant to show other entertainment mediums that yes, video games can tug at the heart strings too. Prizes and winners will be selected by Ubisoft (big shock there), Rockstar Games, and Frima Studios.

- And finally a look at one of the silliest games from the recent PlayStation Experience event: 100 FT Robot Golf. The name of the game is exactly that. It's 100 foot tall robots playing golf, on the level of absurdity as Goat Simulator. Enjoy.