Friday, December 29, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

It's the last post of 2017! 243 entries to the blog. How appropriate that we're signing out of 2017 with the Weekly Link Round Up. A collection of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet this week. Here is what we have in store for the last week of 2017, and I'll try my best to not link a lot of "best games of the year" lists:

- The FCC has extended the waiver for video games to "improve in-game communication functionality" for those with disabilities. As part of the Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, laws created in the 1980's and 90's for the disabled were extended to digital content in 2010. These are things like game chat rooms, voice communications, and the like. For all of the poor decisions the FCC has made this year, this may or may not be another one. The ESA asked for an extension on behalf of it's developer members. The FCC granted the waiver for a 1 year extension to allow developers more time to make the changes needed to be up to date with the law. What does this mean for you? Nothing right now, but don't be surprised if you see chat programs change over the next few months.

- Okay so there's one list on here for 2017 in gaming, and that's Polygon's mega post on the biggest stories in gaming for the year. This is more then the microtransaction/loot box debacle. This covers consoles, controversies, YouTubers and streamers, GamerGate, the works. It has all of the stories that made an impact on video games and our culture for the year. It's a great post to read through.

- The Wall Street Journal asks what would it take to disrupt Tencent from being the king of [mobile] games? My response is "a lot" given that the company is bringing a version of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds to China, one of the largest gaming markets on the planet. They hold the mobile rights for dozens of the biggest games and have proven to turn a profit at everything they touch. They are also one of the first companies that have installed a "time limit" option for those under the age of 18. It allows parents to have more control over their children's play time and it's proving to be effective. Short of another company coming out of nowhere and doing the same thing that Tencent does, but better, it will be the mobile leader for years to come.

- Keeping our gaming past historically relevant has been on the forefront of many minds over the past few years. Japan is no different, with a society quickly moving through to new technologies and tossing out the pass. Kotaku follows the path of one man trying to keep Japan's gaming history in tact for the future to enjoy. This is a long read but well worth the time. It's incredible how detailed and efficient their preservation system is. It makes ours look like child's play by comparison.

- Speaking of preservation, the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment in Oakland, California has asked the U.S. Copyright office to ask for an exception of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to MMO's. The DMCA helps provide rules on what digital content can be saved and can include the coding of a game. MMO's have been not included since the creation of the Act as it did not apply to those that require an online server. Which all MMO's do. And there is just a need to preserve something like The Sims Online now more then ever as the growth of MMO's continues to boon. We don't want these games to become lost to age. They deserve to be remembered and accessible for future generations. The Museum has pointed out examples from EA on past MMO's they have made defunct and now rendered as unavailable as a reason on why preservation is needed.

Happy New Year to all and see you in 2018!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Game-cember: The 7 Best Games of 2017 That You Should Be Playing

It's the last Game-cember, so let's wrap it up with some of the best games of 2017 that you should be playing. Now I won't rank these in a specific order. The variety in content this year was a step forward for gaming. But trying to sort these into an order is a bit more challenging then what my brain is willing to handle for today. Plus when you see the list, I think you'll understand that South Park: The Fractured But Whole is in a league of it's own and can't be compared to other games.

Here are The 7 Best Games of 2017 That You Should Be Playing:

Horizon: Zero Dawn. If you have not played this game already, why not? It's a fantastic example of the power of the PlayStation. It is amazing in it's aesthetics, and filled with years of camera fodder. The design of the landscape is awe-inspiring. Horizon is the story of a young woman who is an outcast from the rest of humanity that exists on this post-apocalyptic planet. But through a set of circumstances she's able to prove her worth, become part of a tribe, and must unlock the secrets to the world to find out more about herself. It's a lost girl in a big world type of story, but that doesn't detract from the game. There is a strength and determination to Aloy that is practical. She does have flights of fancy, but she is considerate of those around her - something we rarely see in games/movies/TV shows of this plot-type. The biggest draw for this game is exploration. The world is vast and wants you to poke around. You need to have that mindset going in or you're going to miss what makes the game fascinating to play. But it's one well worth your time to sit through.

- NiER: Automata. I don't think anyone expected this game to do as well as it did. A spiritual successor to NiER, it's everything wonderful and  confusing as a Yoko Taro product should be. You play as an android with a mission to stop other robots, making friends along the way, and finding out the source behind other rogue androids. That's the gist of it. But the story dives into much deeper, stranger lands. The game is part action, RPG, and open-world-ish. The graphics are pretty good for a PS4 title, but they are meant to replicate more of the style of the first game - greens, browns, and blacks will dot the visuals. This is a game where the focus is the story. It will throw you into a million different directions. It's not as severe as the first game, but it's got some twists. The combat is solid. A good mix of Devil May Cry and Bayonetta allowing you to chain crazy combos with a very fluid camera. You can up the difficulty by toggling off auto-target and it's a joy to watch people flail about in this mode. The boss fights are not difficult - some of the battle leave something to be desired. But you don't play this game to fight. You play for the story. It's worth every second of your time.

- South Park: The Fractured But Whole. This is easily one of the best sequels we have seen in years. It captures the spirit of the 'South Park' TV show, builds off of the last game (The Stick of Truth) while not alienating new gamers. It was an unexpected sequel after Matt and Trey said no more games and then bam. Here's But Whole. And like it's predecessor, it did take several years to develop with multiple delays. Unlike The Last Guardian, this was worth the wait. The game takes the boys into superhero territory. They have left behind their 'Lord of the Rings' escapades and now don their superhero personas from the show. With it came a much improved combat system that combines RPG turn-based elements with more interactive fights; letting you block, dodge, move around, and utilize more tactics. The story is classic 'South Park' with the trimmings. You are the new kid once again, and with your glorious fart powers must save the town from an evil influence. Even the character creator spices up the game in some unique ways. If you are a 'South Park' fan, this is a must have. If you like fart jokes and some interesting social commentary coming from 8 year-olds, you'll like this too.

- Resident Evil 7. After the fan push-back on 5 and 6 (really dudes, 5 was a fun game), 7 had a lot to prove in order for Capcom to continue dumping money into the franchise. RE7 took the series back to it's roots and focused on a straight forward story, game play, and location. It's easily one of the creepiest games you'll play in 2017. Having tried out the VR demo of this at PAX West last year, I was on board with whatever this game was going to throw at me. The VR version is still just as scary today as it was in January. What makes RE7 a good horror game is that the focus is on the quiet moments. The times when you are certain nothing bad will happen and you have a moment to collect yourself. And then Papa Baker runs through a wall to maim you. It's a game that takes the tropes it has developed and subverts them to destroy your expectations. Yes you can tell when some of the jump scares are coming. But then other times when you know you should be in the safe zone, you learn quickly that you will never be safe. There is no stopping. There is no hiding. You always have to keep moving. That terrifying notion helps enhance the game play. Another important aspect: you can run and shoot at the same time. Finally a realistic aspect that we needed for so long! This is everything one could love about Resident Evil with a modern take.

- Cuphead. This will be on the list for a number of gamers. Cuphead is the best indie games of the year. A game all about beating bosses. That's it! There's no muss. No finesse. Just you. Your skills. A controller. And a whole lot of bosses. What makes Cuphead stand out is both the design and the game play. Calling back to the 1930-40's style of animation, the world of the game is incredibly...animated. Lots of motion, striking lines, muted colors composed with over-saturated colorized characters, and anthropomorphic creatures. It's an amazing game to look at with every step. The game play itself is solid. It's clear that they had to focus on making the controls schematics make sense as the game is only about fighting bosses. One miss-step and it wouldn't matter how nice the game looked. The way Cuphead jumps, ducks, and shoots fits so well on the controller that you don't feel hampered by it. The game is a true focus on skill and skill alone.

- Heat Signature. Another indie game but you probably haven't heard of this one. It's on the PC and it's like a Coen Brothers movie in space. Weird. Wacky. Wonderful. Heat Signature is a top-down stealth with the goal of infiltrating ships to complete objectives. It starts out simple and builds up the difficulty as you complete missions. But what makes the game charming, and painful to play through, is that the game doesn't give a damn about how you complete your objectives. Many of the scenarios are set up to be a Rube Goldberg machine. One action can start off a series of events before you know what has happened. Sometimes they go off without a hitch. Other times they fall apart. That's the nature of the machine. As the puzzles become more complex, you may be given more of less tools. And then you'll get thrown into an airlock and have to figure out how to finish your mission, which probably includes you dying of asphyxiation in the process. But that's okay because you finished the mission! That's what matters the most. It's a game that will question your puzzling skills and your mortality.

Super Mario: Odyssey. I know most people don't have a Nintendo Switch yet because of stock and Nintendo being Nintendo about supply/demand. But if you have this system, this game is required playing. Mario is one of those timeless titles that you know what you are going to get at the end of the day. And that's what I thought was going to happen with this Mario game. But that's not what happened. Instead what we received was one of the most innovative and transformative Mario adventures we have ever experienced. Odyssey takes all of the wonder of the past titles and elevates what a Mario game can be. Like most Mario games, you are on a quest to save the Princess from Bowser, because that will never, ever not be a thing. Along the way you run into Cappy, a hat that has lost something or someone. He wants to join you to find what he's missing. He has a neat power where he can inhabit hats and control the create or object that he sits on. Goombas, dinosaurs, you name it. In doing so you discover a whole new way to play Mario that feels natural, or as natural as a possessing hat can be. The designs of the world are amazing. A great mix of old, new, and something inbetween. The Joycon controllers actions don't feel stifled or gimmicky. The motions of the hat with the controllers make sense. I didn't think you could play a 40-60 hour game with the Joycons but you can with this one! The only downside is that the camera needs some work. It's not all that intuitive and can be a hassle to re-adjust when you're in a boss fight. But all around, this is a must-have Switch game.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Final Fantasy XR Ride Trailer is Out

2017 is apparently the year where theme parks keep adding or announcing video game tie-ins. Universal Studios Japan will have a Final Fantasy VR ride coming in 2018. It's part of their yearly 'Cool Japan' event. We've known about this for a few months, but this is the first time where we're getting a video on what attendees can expect.

While the 15 second trailer shows a woman in a sky car watching Cloud and Sephiroth fight in Midgar from FF7, it does open up to a sprawling landscape with chocobos. Because no Final Fantasy ride is complete without chocobos. You'll also notice with the video thumbnail that there will be content from Sailor Moon, Detective Conan, and Monster Hunter. The ride seems like it'll be a VR roller coaster. Six Flags has quite a few of these at their parks around the country. Hopefully for Universal, it's better then what Six Flags has offered.

But SquareEnix is all in on this campaign. Whether this is to help promote upcoming game releases or to show off the goods, they brought in Amano-san to create the logo for the ride. The concept of the ride is to put you into an airship and have you travel through famous landscapes throughout the Final Fantasy universe. Clearly one of them is FF7 because the world has a hard-on for that game.

The ride will be available January 19, 2018 through  June 24, 2018.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

WHO Classifying Gaming Addiction for 2018

WHO, the World Health Organization, will be adding some new disorders to their 2018 that are due to addictive behavior. Gambling and video games are on the list. Their 2018 beta draft went public 2 days ago and it's raising some eyebrows.

The classification of a gaming disorder shouldn't scare you. It's meant to help doctors realize that a gaming addiction is a real thing. Most of us won't experience it. Some will. WHO will classify "gaming disorder" as a "pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour" both online and offline. This includes impaired control over gaming, increase gaming frequency that takes precedence over life activities in an unusual amount, and continuing to game despite negative consequences (i.e. you are about to be kicked out of your home for not paying your rent and instead of fixing it, you game).

The classification of ICD-11 means that this can be diagnosed by doctors as a real disorder. Which means it can include treatment procedures and even some insurance companies will have to foot the bill on it.

This isn't meant to demonize games. The intent is to provide help for those who actually need it. Most of us can play video games once a day, once every few days and we're fine. Some people are legitimately addicted to them to the point where they can't function in their day-to-day lives. So this new classification is not meant to demonize games. It's the same as gambling, drinking, playing sports - it's fine in moderation. When you overdo it, that's when trouble can happen.

Monday, December 25, 2017

'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Review

I'm late to the party, but I had a good reason: work and life. And I frankly did not care if I saw this on opening weekend. Possibly due to my "meh" review of 'The Force Awakens.' I didn't feel a strong need to go out and see this one. Instead I waited until work died down, I had a day off, and could watch the movie without being heavily influenced by the audience or media. I haven't seen a single trailer. I've installed a few browser add-ons to hide any and all text referring to Star Wars, The Last Jedi, and Porgs (I'm just as surprised as you are that I had to add that to the keyword list). So what's the final verdict?

Here's my review of 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi.' Please keep in mind that this will be full of spoilers and if you care about that, then stop reading and we'll see you tomorrow. If you don't care, the review is below. Or if you want the TLDR version then here you go:

TLDR: 'The Last Jedi' is an HD version of Episode 5 and 6, but not as engaging, more disorganized, and kind of dull. The best parts are Mark Hamill being Mark as Luke Skywalker. Or Mark being Luke Skywalker trying to act like Mark. The verdict is still out on that.

Long review: Like 'The Force Awakens' I don't know how to feel about this movie. On the one hand it did try to be a little different from Episodes 4-6. It still copied a lot of things, but it tried. The movie looks nice. There's a great scene towards the 5th act (I honestly lost count at how many acts this movie has, there's probably 20 unique plots) when the Rebels (Note: This is The Rebellion - However it should be noted that multiple times in the movie, both the Rebellion and The First Order call them "Rebels." It's easy to be confused) turn their ship against the First Order. It is beautiful to watch. I appreciate that more content was given to Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. We got some new characters. We got a little bit more desperation with the Rebellion.

So why do I think the movie is "eh"?

Let's start off with my TLDR comment that 'The Last Jedi' is ripping off of Episode 5 and 6 so hard. The story focuses on the fleeing Rebellion and Rey trying to convince Luke Skywalker to come back into the war. The First Order has found the last contingent of the Rebellion. Now Leia, Poe, and Finn are doing their best to outrun them in a very long 2 hour chase - which is not at all like the Millennium Falcon attempting to get away from the Empire in 'The Empire Strikes Back.'

Even with all their ships and firepower, The First Order really sucks at their attempt to destroy 1 cruiser, a medical frigate, and a transport ship. Good job guys. Way to make the Empire look like geniuses.

It's a very long, very slow chase sequence. Finn runs into a character, Rose, who thinks she knows how to escape The First Order. They come up with an insane plan to infiltrate the lead First Order ship to disable a tracking device. To do so, they need a legendary "codebreaker" to help them on because no one else knows how to break into a First Order ship. Finn and Rose leave to go to a Hutt-like casino planet (sadly not Nar Shaddaa) to find this person while Poe practices a ton of mutiny.

While this is going on, Rey is harping on Luke to get his head out of his butt and help the Rebellion again. Luke is in hiding believing he has failed Ben Solo/Kylo Ren. He wants to die in peace as the last Jedi. Rey wants to learn how to be a Jedi too. So there's some Yoda teaching moments (Yoda even pops up at one point and all I could think of is Mark Hamill's inner-dialogue going "30 years later and I'm still acting with puppets"). Apparently Rey is not at all freaked out about seeing what is hidden in the Dark Side and travels there without abandon. Which of course freaks out Skywalker because Jedi's don't do that. And then there's some bullsh*t telecommunication thing between Rey and Kylo where Rey is trying to turn him back to the light. But Kylo isn't sure. And they can see each other but not their surroundings. It's a long-winded call-back to Luke and Vader's talk on Endor in Episode 6. "There's still good in you!" "It's too late for me." And all that jazz. Rey thinks she can turn Kylo back so she leaves to confront him. Luke gets a lesson from ghost Yoda.

Meanwhile Finn and Rose return with a codebreaker, played begrudgingly by Benicio del Toro. The trio get on the lead First Order ship. They get caught. Poe does some more mutiny on the Rebellion ship and gets some of his own people killed.

Rey meets Snoke (we didn't forget about him). Tries to get her to release info about Luke's location. Kylo turns against Snoke - and we're still not sure if this is Rey's influence or something Kylo has planned all along. But instead of following Rey, Kylo takes over as the Supreme Leader. That's one thing Vader didn't do so...points to Kylo?

The 2 hour space chase is finally at it's end and you think everyone is going to die. But through the magic of Star Wars, the main characters find a way to a planet that looks a lot like Hoth. They even do the damn 'Imperial Walkers looming in to break down the big door' sequence. It's 100 shades of "why?" They also have a mix of the trench run from Episode 4 and the climax Death Star fight from Episode 6. "Look Rey! Your Rebellion is failing." It's dumb and will cause your eyes to roll. But of course Luke shows up to save the day so the Rebellion can escape again.

What's the theme of this film? Hope. Or at least I assume that it is. Because the last scene of the movie is about how the strength of the Rebellion, even with their few numbers, can combat The First Order. So the last segment of the movie is with some kids in a stable playing out the battle on not-Hoth. One of them uses the Force to pick up a broom, and we see him looking off into the sky as a future Rebel.

It was a silly ending that provides a lot of uncertainty on what's going to happen with the next movie. All I can assume is that we have to do a 20 year gap to wait on the next generation of Rebellion initiates to grow up before we can continue fighting again...that's what I got from that ending.

Did you follow all of that? Good. I left out a lot of subplots because it got really convoluted. The story was full of so many holes, it's difficult to know where to begin. I didn't even talk about Space Leia.

The two biggest problems with this film is lack of interest and pacing. Because there are so many sub-plots, mini stories, and lack of probability (there is no way a ship from the Rebellion can make it to a planet lightyears away, find the "codebreaker" in a crowded city, bring him back, break into The First Order ship, disable the tracking, make it out without getting caught within 16 hours) your attention wavers. A lot. The pacing is ridiculous. It's either too fast or too slow. The casino scenes are the best example of this. When you first see the planet and run through the casino itself, it's quick. You get a brief glimpse of what's around you and understand where you are. And then it instantly comes to a halt once Finn and Rose start talking about what life is like under The First Order. It's distracting and doesn't help with the flow of the story.

The space chase is the worst with pacing. It starts out as high action, dies off, then attempts to look active in-between the drawn-out plot by having fighting within the factions. I'm fairly impressed with myself for not picking up my phone to look at missed messages during this movie.

The problem with these weird speeds throughout the movie is that characters are not given the care that they deserve to fully flesh out their stories. Snoke is a prime example of this. All we know about Snoke is that he is the Supreme Leader of The First Order and the big bad of Episode 7/8. That's it. We don't know who he is. We don't know how he rose to power. We don't know what he is (apparently the producers are claiming he's not a Sith but has Force powers...). He's there to be the bad guy for the sake of plot. At least with Emperor Palpatine we knew how he came into power, how he turned Vader, and his fascination with the Force. He had a story to make him a worthy bad guy. Snoke is the bad guy because plot demanded that a big bad guy exist. Even his lair looks like an Episode 6 rip-off, but with Disney-den red walls like you would see in a theme park. When Snoke is killed in this movie (spoiler), the payoff is not rewarding. It feels trite. We knew NOTHING about Snoke. Why do we give a crap if he's killed? He provided no real conflict to the overarching narrative. That's all on Kylo Ren's shoulders.

That's what annoys me about this film the most. There is no care given to the characters or the plot.

I didn't care what happened to these characters. I didn't care about Rey, or Poe, or Finn, or Kylo, even Leia or Luke! This movie didn't give me a chance to care about Luke or Leia. How dare it. How. Dare. It.

The rest of the film is trying to re-use parts of Episode 5 and 6 but not make it blatantly obvious as to what they are doing. Luke Skywalker has turned more into hermit-Yoda and becomes Rey's teacher (5). Rey enters "the forest" to fight with a version of her Dark Side self that makes no sense, but whatever (5). Rey surrenders herself to the First Order try and turn Kylo Ren good (6). There's a battle where Kylo kills Snoke (6). The remaining Rebellion soldiers barricade themselves on a planet to try and fight off The First Order (5) that looks like Hoth (5) and Imperial Walkers show up to bust through (5) and they must escape on the Falcon (5). I could keep going, but the ties between the movies are so obvious. I legitimately considered walking out to go to the restroom during the not-Hoth scenes because I knew what was going to happen. I guessed everything frame by frame, and I was right! I even figured out the "twist" ending the moment the character showed up on not-Hoth! /sigh It's aggravating.

I'm not going to act like I had a lot of hope on 'The Last Jedi.' I was trying to go in with a clear mind and no expectations. Which probably helped me to not hate this movie. But I still dislike it. 7 and 8 rank on the bottom for me when it comes to Star Wars movies.

My other big problem is the lack of alien diversity. Sure there are human characters with multiple ethnicities (one thing they did well). But what about the aliens? The Rebels were always a hodge-podge of multiple cultures throughout the galaxy. With the exception of Admiral Ackbar, we don't see it. The casino scenes would have been perfect for showing off some cool aliens with make-up or CGI. But nope. We didn't get that. It's a lot of humans or aliens that look like humans. Not even a Twi'lek! What the flip happened to Twi'leks? (By the way if there is one and I didn't see it, please point it out to me. I was so bored at that point in the movie I may have overlooked the 'one' that existed). Instead we got Porgs. Thanks Disney and your ever-thoughtful merchandising team.

There are also a lot of nonsensical plot holes that are easily justified by "The Force" to help make them feasible. Leia getting shot out into space and lives? The Force! Poe knowing to contact Maz, though the two never officially met in the last film? The Force! Mary-Sue character figures out the ways of the universe after one Jedi lesson? The Force!

I understand the Force is used for a lot of past plot devices, but in this film it feels extra dumb. The Force is not going to prevent you from suffocating in space.

A number of the side characters needed better direction. Benicio del Toro acted like he phoned in the entire experience. He's usually pretty good in the roles he plays, but this one felt sad. He didn't play the role of "charming thief" well. You knew from the moment you saw him that he would double-cross the Rebellion. He always acted like he was playing both sides. I'd much rather have had Daniel Craig in this role, instead of his First Order Trooper cameo in Episode 6. This would have fit his acting chops so well.

And then there is Laura Dern's Vice Admiral Holdo who is unnecessarily secretive. It adds a level of "why" to this character that didn't need to be there. If she were honest from the start on what the plans were to help the Rebellion escape, it would have prevented so many of the bad sub-plots in this film! And the thing is there was no reason to keep the plan a secret. People are dying. There are so few in the Rebellion left. Leia and the other admirals/generals were open with the crew. So why not her? Why make this a sticking point for her character? It's aggravating that characters will be secretive to make plot happen. In the end it made her self-sacrifice feel vain. She wasn't trying to do the right thing. She was making the sacrifice to become a legend. Thanks plot.

Okay so I've talked a lot about how many things are wrong with this movie. Are there some good stuff? Yeah. I do think visually it's a lovely film. Good cinematography all-around, even in the scenes that are blatant rip-offs of Episode 5 and 6. The CGI isn't bad either. I'm still impressed by the sequence with the Rebellion lead ship fighting back against The First Order's fleet.

More content is given to Leia and Luke, especially Luke, this round. They have been pivotal characters to the rise of the Rebels and deserved to have their time in the spotlight. Leia in particular needed to have her leadership shine more. Also Mark Hamill. Gotta love Mark. I think this is his portrayal of Luke trying to act like Mark Hamill, which is always a good time.

The music is better. It's John Williams so you know you're going to get a good score. But I felt that Episode 7's soundtrack was lack-luster. None of the pieces were memorable compared to Episodes 1-6. 8 had a couple of pieces that I can still recall, so that's an improvement.

While I'm still not all-in on the new characters, I do understand why some people are quick to attach to them. Rey, Finn, and Poe are likeable in their own ways. Poe provides more of the comedic moments to make the movie slightly tolerable. Finn as well, but more wayward. Rey is the nearly perfect character that people want in an epic space story. The collection of characters could be worse.

The movie is mindless fun. If you don't want to think about things and see space fights, then there you go. And again, it looks nice. Can't go wrong with good cinematography.

...that's all I've got. Sitting here and trying to think of what was enjoyable about the movie was rough. My problems with the film have less to do with Star Wars canon and more with the structure of the narrative. The story is a mess. The reasoning behind everything (see the ending) feels trite and doesn't lead well into a 9th film. Worst of all, I stopped caring. A Star Wars movie got me to stop caring about Star Wars. What the crap?

For as much as people rip on the Prequels, at least they provided substance. The story, while sometimes convoluted, had more cohesion and unique characters. I was invested in what happened next. Even knowing full well that it was the story of Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader, I wanted to see what happened.

Episode 8 did not do this for me. I don't care what happens with #9. I don't care if the Rebellion wins or loses. I don't care about any of the characters. Episode 8 caused me to stop caring about the future of Star Wars. This is not a good movie. Don't waste money to see it. Wait until it's out on Netflix and use your already-paid subscription to watch it.

Note: I know this movie is polarizing for a multitude of reasons. While I did not like it, I'm not one of those fans that will chastise you if you don't agree with me. I enjoyed the Prequels. Episode 3 is probably my favorite of all of the Star Wars movies. I got a lot of heat for that over the years. I'm not one of those fans that will insult you for the movie that you like, or for how you got into Star Wars. So please don't start a flame war in the comments. You can like this movie, dislike it, or something in between. At the end of the day we're all Star Wars fans. Please be kind and remember that.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

It's Friday! Thank goodness. What a long week it has been, and traditionally this is typically viewed as one of the shorter/faster weeks thanks to the winter solstice. Let's end on a good note with the Weekly Link Round Up. A gathering of this weeks best, worst, and weirdest gaming news stories.

- Stastia, a statistics portal with a collection of random stats on everything and anything, compiled an infographic on what is the "best game ever" according to critics. This is only based on metacritic scores from news sources and not user reviews. So take what you will from that. The Legend of Zelda: Orcana of Time is ranked number 1, followed by the very first Soul Caliber game. Interesting. And not what I expected. But GTA4 is right behind it, and I concur with the ranking there.

- Eurogamer talks about video games and how they deal with winter weather. This is a longer article, but it's kind of interesting to see how different developers approach a cold landscape to not only make it look like winter, but feel like it as well. The focus is mostly on Skyrim (duh) but it does throw in the Emprise du Lion from Dragon Age: Inquisition and The Witcher 3. Inquistion caught my attention, as I have a lot of love for the look of that particular zone. Not a fan of the layout, but the design always felt cold. I'm getting a chill in my hands thinking about it. That's how you do immersion!

- As always with the giving season, many publications take this is an opportunity to "educate" readers on proper ways to buy and maintain your new video games. If you need a laugh today, go to Must Tech News and read this gem on tips for shopping for video games.

- Ready for some winter levels in some of your favorite old school games? Geek Feed lists their 10 favorite nostalgic Christmas levels. If Mario Kart or Kingdom Hearts 2 entered your mind, then you already know what's on this list!

- Did you know it's been 35 years since E.T. The Extraterrestrial was released? I'm only 2 years younger then this game. Ick.

- GamingBolt has an interesting list on the top 16 best looking games of 2017. This isn't a list about substance, but style. So you'll see Forza 7, Hellblade, and AssCreed Origins on this. And true to their word, the games themselves are a hit or miss in terms of content. Yes there is Resident Evil 7 and Horizon: Zero Dawn but those are the few that deserve nods in other categories.

- Refinery29 has a good interview with one of the few all-female eSports teams, Fire N Ice. The team's game of choice is Gears of War 4, and they talk about how much different it is to be a female gamer in eSports compared to their male counterparts. They also hold down some impressive full time jobs between their game sessions. Most male eSports players don't. So take that!

- Kotaku posted an article about the best "ships" of 2017. And I don't mean the ones that you can set into the water to sail on. They're talking about "ships." Romances of video game characters that you either expected, or did not expect, to be interested in. It's as weird as you think it is, but hey. We justify these romances all the time!

- Finally we're at the WhatCulture portion of the program, with a list of 9 video games coming out in 2018 that you've already forgotten about! Which is hilarious that the writer assumes that all gamers are that absent-minded. If we're really into a game, series/franchise, developer, we do not forget. On the list there is We Happy Few, Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes, and Metal Gear Survive. Okay. A lot of gamers know that these are coming out. No More Heroes fans have been frothing at the mouth for a new game. We Happy Few has been publicized like crazy by GearBox. And we all can't wait to see Metal Gear Survive fail. This is another WhatCulture list that needs to go back to the drawing board.

Happy holidays everyone!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Game-cember: Favorite Video Game Characters

This is a new topic for me to dabble in. Who are my favorite video game characters? To maintain some sanity to this list, I won't be including the "choose your own adventure" type of characters. Which means no Fallout, Commander Shepard, or Jedi/Sith badass from The Old Republic. Those games are designed to help you develop your toon as you progress. While their looks are iconic, their personalities are represented in the people playing them. It would be unfair to judge these characters. So this list will focus specifically on characters designed by the developers and fully finished.

Let's make this list a top 5. It's difficult enough to narrow the list down to 10. 5 will be a challenge in it's own right! I'm sure I have missed your favorite characters. I tried my best, but I haven't played every game. No matter how much I'd love to, it's not possible. So if you don't see your favorite listed, let me know in the comments and maybe I can add that game to my play list!

5. Chris Redfield, Resident Evil series. What can I say that hasn't already been said about this man? Other then he is CLEARLY crazy and too pious for his own damn good. No one should be so willing to throw themselves at zombies for the sake of saving the world. Multiple times at that!

But Chris does grow with each game he's featured in. His narrative is straight-forward for most of the franchise: good guy wanting to do good and find/help his sister. I really appreciated his jump in RE5 and 6. You can see he's hit his breaking point. He's tired of Umbrella. Tired of Wesker. Tired of the zombies. It adds a much-needed dimension to his character to see that even the most pure among the team can hit a limit. You see more of his flaws. You experience more of his quick wit. His progression through the franchise always stands out to me. I appreciate his struggles more every time I play RE5.

4. Handsome Jack, Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. I love how deliciously evil Jack is. He suffers from the classic "I'm really the hero" syndrome. If you've played the Pre-Sequel, you know that Jack has honest and good intentions. He goes about them in very destructive ways, but it's Borderlands. It's a game with a lot of guns. You kind of expect it to all go hand in hand. But when you see that turn to evil, it's full tilt. He makes his kid into a Vault-battery. That's crazy.

What makes Handsome Jack stand out to me is his personality. He's incredibly charming and likeable. He'll pop in on your communication unit to make a joke. It doesn't feel like he's a mad scientist or an evil witch. He's just a guy doing what he thinks is right. And when you dig into the story, his position makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately he's going about it in a very destructive, megalomaniac method about it. But his purpose for doing what he is doing is relatable. Video games are known for going to extremes with good and evil. It's nice to have a villain who dances in the grey and is still worthy enough of being the "hero" in his own game.

3. John Marston, Red Dead Redemption. Marston is one of those characters that is instantly likeable because he is a bad ass. The moment you start playing you feel like you're in a 1970's gritty western movie. Marston walks, talks, and acts like every typical cowboy from one of those films. But what makes him a standout for me is that his actions lull you into a false sense of security. What you think you know about him ends up opening a damn of emotional turmoil you did not expect.

And it's difficult for me to explain why Marston is such an amazing character without going into super spoiler territory. He has a disarming charm to him that makes him likeable. He's also the type of protagonist who understands that you have to do some bad things (like shooting a person) for the right reasons (because he was a criminal). There is a genuine goodness to Marston that you rarely see in video game characters. The way Rockstar approached developing him focused more on making Marston human. He has flaws. He has a bad history. But he wants to do what's right because that's what we should do as humans. It's touching. It's real. It's so damn depressing when it gets to the end of the game. My God Rockstar, why?

2. Cortana, Halo series. I know. I picked the tiny computer AI that assists Master Chief, instead of the man himself. What gives? Cortana fascinates me. I still don't understand what Bungie was trying to accomplish with her character, but her story still gets me in the emotional socket. As a "smart" AI, she assisted Master Cheif in the Covenant War and became a long-time companion of his. Helping him locate objects, stating mission objectives, and sometimes exits. Unfortunately, she's a glorified disposable woman Her purpose in the game is to give directions.

But instead of making Cortana an atypical trope, Bungie spun it by providing life to the AI. Cortana is able to think, feel, and act in a very human manner. She doesn't feel like an AI but more of a squad-mate. This is really important in her growth as a character as she is integrated more into the story. She develops a healthy, friendly relationship with Master Chief. She's able to think and act outside of the confines of her programming. She even manages to defy the logic of all things and double-crosses the Chief in the 5th game - making her character more human then ever. Cortana is one of the few female characters to make the transition from full-on trope to quasi-villain. It's strange. Yet dynamic and so damn interesting to watch unfold.

She's also witty. I appreciate her in the quiet and serious moments. But to make an AI feel more human, they need to know how to joke around. Cortana gets it.

1. Snake, Metal Gear Solid series. Was there ever a doubt? Not only is this man the biggest, baddest mofo in town. Not only has he provided decades of gaming gold to us. He's an all-around rock star in personality, charm, emotions, and wtf-ness. Hideo Kojima took inspiration from 'Escape from New York' Snake Pliskin and made a pronominal character.

What amazes me every time with Snake, in every variation, the guy is still an every-man! He's a super-solder with a very harden past. There's no reason for us to relate to him. And yet we do. Whether it's his crazy life circumstances or quiet emotional moments, Snake is the guy we feel like we know best. For Kojima's grand games, he always finds a way to keep the characters human. Snake is one of his prime examples and there are so few other characters that live up to him.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Mods to Earn Points for Payment on Nexus Mods in 2018

Nexus Mods, the largest gaming mod website, will be rolling out a new donation system and storefront in 2018 to help pay the modders that provide content to their website. While it's not one that should supplement income, the method will allow modders to reap some benefits for their work.

Every month Nexus will provide $5,000-$10,000 USD to a donation pool from their advertising revenue. Users can put in their own funds as well to help the pool grow. The money will be split up based on Donation Points. Modders will receive points based on the number of downloads of their content each month. The Points can then be used in Nexus Mods' store. It'll offer PayPal donations, Amazon gift cards, and eventually modder specific items such as other games, the Humble Bundle, and software. They will also offer the ability for modders to use their Points for a charity instead.

The downside is that it is still a popularity contest of sorts. The people with the highest downloads will get more Points. Unfortunately from Nexus Mods' position there isn't a fairer system available. Open voting could lead to people with the higher friend count to have the best ranking when they may only have 1 or 2 mods available with low responses. The people with the better mods and higher downloads should receive more rewards for their hard work. Points will accumulate month to month and you have to opt-in to the program.

Based on the comments, it is a tenuous issue. Some modders are on board. Others are not. If they have any knowledge of the fan fiction history, they may be concerned about publishers coming after them for royalties on the mods. But then we have examples from Steam where they have payable mods and the repercussions have been low. Many of the games on Nexus Mods has always had an open modding community that has been supported by the developers - see Bethesda. Whether you agree or not that modders should receive some form of payment, this will be an interesting system to see roll out next year.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Video Game Developed for ADHD Treatment

Akili Interactive is a Boston based game developer and affiliate of a health firm. Last week they announced that their game AKL-T01 improves attention and self-control in children with ADHD, according to an initial study. The results have been so positive, that Akili is planning to file the game for FDA approval as a potential treatment option for ADHD. This could be one of the first games licensed in the U.S. to treat a medical condition.

The tablet-based game uses an adaptive algorithm to present players with stimuli at random intervals that correspond with the gamer's needs. As a person plays, it can predict where the user is in need of stimuli and adjust the game play to meet their expectations. This is based on their Project: EVO™ technology developed for the game. Which sounds much better as a game name then AKL-T01. What child or parent is going to remember that?

Reading through the press release, it doesn't state what the game is about. There is a story and some form of repetitive actions, but that's about all one can gleam from the information. The focus is on how it affected ADHD children. Akili held a randomized trial over 4 weeks with 348 children aged 8-12 diagnosed with ADHD. The used a similar game type as the control and tested the children with the TOVA method (which is a common means of determining if a child has ADHD. The improvement of Akili's game over the control was enough to spur them forward, though the actual rate of improvement was not listed.

Curious to see where this game ends up should it receive it's FDA approval.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Gaming Trends of 2018

2017 has been quite the year for gaming. From Loot Boxes to the Nintendo Switch, it's been a busy time to be a gamer. But with all of the changes and excitement of 2017, now is the best time to look forward and see what 2018 will bring us. Not only in new games.

If there is one thing that will certainty carry over to next year, it would be the Loot Box controversy. Star Wars: Battlefront II and EA are still reeling from the fallout. You can be certain that many gamers and developers will continue to discuss how future games implement microtransactions. The pay-to-win model on a AAA title is no longer acceptable. We're all ready for a change. Maybe 2018 will usher in some more sanity back to the publishers to create a system that is fair for gamers without hurting the company's bottom line.

2018 could also easily turn into the year of eSports. As the medium continues to gain popularity, and larger groups such as the Overwatch League start their season, you can bet more people will tune in. The latest stats from Statista show that eSports will be worth $1.5 billion by 2020. 2018 will have to have a strong start for eSports to take off.

I also think that VR will become much more mainstream for gaming. The past few years it's been on the outskirts. A cool piece of technology but not fully integrated into our gaming habits. Next year we should see more price drops, and more AAA developers pushing out games to VR (Bethesda's Fallout 4 and Skyrim have finally made it after years of trailers). Which means more accessibility for us.

And let's not forget about AR, Augmented Reality. Niantic, Pokémon Go, will be releasing a Harry Potter AR game for mobile phones in 2018. If it's even pulls half as many users as Go, it will push more mobile games to try to think outside of the screen. Games are evolving to provide more interaction. Whether it's through Twitch, chat boxes, or catching Pokémon in the park, human contact is becoming a necessity in today's games. So expect more of those to change up the mobile game landscape.

2018 is shaping up to be another interesting year for gaming!

Aside: Happy 2,000th post on The Geek Spot! I'm still impressed that this thing lasted longer then a year. And now we're at 2,000 posts. Let's keep the train rolling!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Game-cember: My Favorite Consoles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2017


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

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

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

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

So What About That Rant at The Game Awards?

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

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

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

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Game Awards 2017 Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 08, 2017

Game-cember List of Favorite Things – Final Fantasy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 – Final Fantasy IX. I can already hear the screams of the fanboys. "What? Why is FF9 so low on the list?" FF9's story never grabbed me on the same level as the other Final Fantasy games. I felt the plot was too predictable and at times too cliché. The FF formula felt trite. It lacked originality and stuck to it's tropes almost too close to the book that I was unable to find enjoyment out of the story.

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

9 – Final Fantasy VII. Again, hush fanboys. It's not #1. FF7 deserves credit as being a game that sold PlayStation consoles. While the franchise has been in the Western market for a while, FF7 helped bring it to the forefront for casual gamers. If you've never played a Final Fantasy game, you know about FF7. That's how important the game was for the PlayStation era.

The look and the characters are distinctly Final Fantasy. It ushered a new era for gaming while updating the RPG formula to fit with a more modern audience.

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

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

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

And it has Blizball. Easily the second best mini-game in an FF title.

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

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

That's all you have to know. It will make you laugh. It will make you question your sanity. You will wonder why you are playing it at all. And then a moment happens. You'll realize it's stupidly fun and you'll keep on playing. It's not the best cast of characters and the story is decent. But you'll keep playing because it's fun.

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

The downside is, as most FF11 veterans know, is that this game is rough. Only the strong survived and if you were not good at your job, you better find a new one. Because this game offers you 0 forgiveness. If you died you lose XP. Depending on how recently you leveled, you were subject to a potential de-leveling. Crafting something? Well hopefully you're a high enough skill because you can lose everything in your synthesis if you fail that craft. Need to get around the world? Well if you don't have White Mage leveled, you're going to have to take the airship (which you have to wait for up to 20 minutes in real time to use) or pay a White Mage to teleport you and run to the nearest city. Cities didn't have direct teleports! It was rough being an FF11 player for a long time...but the rewards and the friendships forged were well worth it.

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

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

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

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

FF12 can best be summed up as the child of 'Star Wars' and Final Fantasy: Tactics. The latter is important as FF12 takes place in the same world as Tactics. The story focuses on a young man who dreams of becoming a sky pirate. Through an odd set of circumstances he and his companion find themselves in trouble and are rescued by real sky pirates. They save a princess. Find the wise mentor. Go through the "I'm your father/brother" thing. Blow up a big death machine. It's a love letter to 'Star Wars.' I don't remember anyone losing a hand though.

The scenery is stunning. This is the exact opposite of FFX and provides you a full open world experience. There are zone lines and limitations on where you can go, but FF12 feels like the most expressive games in it's world building compared to it's predecessors. You can see the mobs on the screen for the first time and determine your battle plan. Do you fight or flee? The Gambit system is also really freekin' neat. If you are all about party customization, give this game a shot. You can micromanage your team down to "when should X cast this spell."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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