Friday, November 17, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

It's Friday and goodness it's been one crazy week, hasn't it? Between EA's shenanigans with Star Wars: Battlefront II and all of the gaming Black Friday ads leaked early, gamers have been busy staying up to date with the news. Here is a snippet of some of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news this week:

 - NPR decided to tackle the EA/Battlefront II story. You all know about the details, but I wanted to share this for the headline: Gamers See a Dark Side to New 'Star Wars' Video Game. You are free to groan at that.

- According to research recently published in Great Brittan, some video games are as good as IQ tests and can be used to measure one's intellect. The findings are a bit wishy-washy. They are using chess as a comparison, stating that those who play chess typically have a higher IQ. That's not necessarily the situation with a number of chess players - some people play because they like chess. It doesn't mean they have a high IQ. They could be really good at chess and nothing else. While I agree that some video games are brain teasers and may measure IQ differently, I don't think this study is foolproof.

- You probably haven't heard of the game Laws of War, but it will make you rethink about actual combat training. The ICRC, the International Committee of the Red Cross, wanted to develop a game where users have to abide by the rules of war. You have to learn who is a threat, and who is a civilian. You train to help your teammates and follow orders instead of rushing into combat. The development of the game is interesting and the article is worth a read-through.

- Belgium and the Netherlands are taking Loot Boxes seriously by opening an investigation to see if the microtransactions in some games should be considered gambling. In Belgium, a permit is needed to sell an item that involves "a game of chance" and if Loot Boxes fall under that category, a lot of gaming developers will be fined. The outcome is one everyone in the industry will be watching closely.

- WhatCulture is back with a list of 9 video games that let you hilariously troll other players. Let's start with the understanding that it is not funny to troll people. It's dumb. It's harassment. And you can get banned for doing it. With that said, this is easily one of the worst lists WhatCulture has ever created. You're going with a VR Werewolf game as your top pick? Really? Not GTA5 Online? WhatCulture, you have lost your groove and we are so very disappointed in you.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Men, We're Tired of Your Sh*t - Harassment in Video Games

Today's post is not going to be your typical fare. We need to talk about the #MeToo campaign and the fallout of the sexual harassment/assault charges against a number of powerful figures (business, entertainment, politics, etc).

Since #MeToo became a trending tag on Twitter, more of the world has seen just how much harassment women (and men, but it's mostly women) experience on a daily basis. It's not a 1 out of 3 number any longer. It's a everyone, single, woman. From an unwanted hug or cat call to full assault, every woman has been attacked sexually in some form or another. When you read stories of girls as young as 4 being sexually harassed, it's disgusting.

And we are tired of it.

I have found myself being more active in mutliplayer gaming lately and trying to utilize chat functions. And because of it, I've been reporting way more people for harassment. But there is a change that is happening. More men are speaking up and telling others to stop harassing, and reporting the behavior as well. A friend of mine saw a player in Final Fantasy XIV who was groping and talking about sexually explicit things to every female character that crossed his path. He was reported, blocked by everyone that crossed his path, and within a few days his account was banned. Instead of letting this activity continue, people took action. This is the start.

Because of #MeToo, a number of women and men have been given the courage to say something about their harassment/assault experiences. With the behavior so pervasive, we know that people will have our backs - that is one of the reason why so many stay quiet. When you're harassed or assaulted you feel helpless. You feel like there is no one there to support you. You feel like no one will believe you. Not without proof or evidence; even if the assault took place 30 years ago when cell phones and personal cameras were not available. You feel like you have no choice but to stay quiet. It's worse when the perpetrator is your boss, supervisor, government official, a police officer, the CEO of a company - someone who is in a position of power to destroy your life. And in many cases, this is how they work. They pick a victim who is easy to manipulate and string along, knowing that the victim can't do anything to retaliate because they have everything to lose.

By the Tweets above, you see what happens when someone comes forward with their story about sexual harassment or assault.

We're immediately questioned. We're called liars, cheaters, whores, sluts, and a myriad of other vulgar words. We become the target of hate and ire - which is even worse in these times with Drumpf holding a political position. Those who are supporters of Roy Moore's campaign (by the way he was removed from office twice for breaking the law), are attacking the victim's with hate, violence, threats of death, and doxxing.

And this is fairly common whenever someone steps forward with a sexual assault story against a known figure. The victims become outcasts.

This is why we don't talk about our history with assault. This is why we feel like all hope is lost. Why bother speaking up if you're going to be inundated with more harassment? Why bother stopping a man/woman from invoking more horrors onto another unsuspecting victim if no one will believe us?

This type of mindset needs to end. We need to STOP victimizing the victim. They have already lived through the assault. They are reliving it again when they speak of it in public. They don't owe anything to anyone. They are TRYING to do the right thing and get a molester, assaulter, predator off the streets. We need to support them - not blame them. And as the weight of the allegations continue to rise, we are all feeling it.

We need to do better, not only for our daughters. We need to do better for humanity.

I don't think I will ever feel safe enough to come forward with some of my stories of assault and harassment. Most I've already spoken about, but there are a few that will stay with me. Why? Because of that retaliation. I don't have the mental fortitude or the financial security to withstand it. I need my job. I need to pay the bills. I need to feel secure in going home every day, knowing that my residence, my dogs, and my family are okay. And the moment I speak out about abuse, harassment, and assault that I've seen from powerful men, that safety will go away. And these are men who have been accused before. Multiple times! By women and men who are much stronger then I will ever be. But you know what? Nothing has happened to the perpetrators. They are still in power. They still run companies, rule Hollywood, and have political positions.

There is nothing for me to gain by coming forward with my stories. It won't garner a movie deal. I won't become a movie star. I won't win millions of dollars from a lawsuit. But I have everything to lose, if I do. This is what it feels like to be a victim. Hopeless. Scared. Alone.

Gamers. If you love video games, if you care about our community, we need to make changes now. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Not over the next decade. Start today. We need to call out harassment, bigotry, racism, sexism, when it happens. We need to report grievances as they occur. We need to have thoughtful discussions with developers on ways to improve responses to harassment. This isn't about "white knighting." This is about doing the right thing because it's the right thing to do! No one should have to worry about playing a video game and being harassed. Their only concern should be to have fun.

And EVERYONE can help in teaching men and women (because some women are attackers as well) to stop sexual harassment/assault. No means NO. Do not touch people without asking first - even hugs. Do not cat call. Do not make sexual remarks. If someone tells you to stop and to step away, respect their choice as a human and STEP AWAY. This isn't rocket science. And we can teach children early on to respect the space of others. Don't force your child to hug someone if they don't want to. Don't say "boys will be boys" because girls will be girls and I will tell a girl to kick and push that boy away. Everyone has a right to their own autonomy.

Women are tired of dealing with your sh*t, men. The age of equality among humanity has been delayed for too long. We are ready for a change. Start today and report harassment when it happens. Take the next step in helping the gaming community become the shining beacon of greatness that it should be. I too will try to do better. I will move out of my comfort and talk on a headset. I will call out harassment when it happens to anyone. I will report harassment when it happens. I will talk about why it's "not cool" to harass anyone.

Do the right thing. Don't harass. Don't assault. Don't make threats. Report those who do harass. Report those who do threaten. Support the victim. Gamers, we can do better and we should.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

GameStop PowerPass Program On Hold

This is the week that keeps on giving!

GameStop's new 'PowerPass' program has come to a full stop, 5 days before it officially launched. Customers could sign up early during a soft launch at select locations. But during this trial run, GameStop stores ran into technical problems. In a statement to Polygon, GameStop wrote:

We have elected to temporarily pause the roll out of the new PowerPass subscription service, based on a few program limitations we have identified. We feel this is the right thing to do for now to ensure we are able to provide our guests an exceptional service.

Those guests who have already purchased the service, we are allowing them to bring the pass and video game they have checked out, back to receive a full refund. In addition, we are allowing them to pick out any Pre-Owned video game for free.

So for those customers who have already signed up, you can get a refund and a free Used game - make sure you have your receipt because something tells me that this system issue may have lost reservations in the process.

While GameStop hasn't given details on what the "program limitations" were, but as a former employee my bet is on the archaic technology not being able to keep up with the reservation system. While some retailers have been staying up to date with the evolution of technology, GameStop was never one of those. My stint there ended in 2010, but even then I was working off of DOS. It was pathetic that a multi-billion dollar company used programs that were developed in the late 1980's to manage everything. My follow-up job wasn't much better, but at least we used programs built in 2004. Given the history of the company, I would not be surprised if GameStop hasn't kept up with the technology needed to help their stores. They are probably still using the same system I was!

GameStop stores have been asked to pull and toss all promotions pertaining to 'PowerPass' and swap out weekly advertisements to remove any mention of the program. The company hasn't killed the 'PowerPass,' yet. It's on hold until they work out the "program limitations."

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

More Microtransaction Troubles with EA and Battlefront II

So...a lot has happened in the last 24 hours, hasn't it? I think this is one for the history books. EA has been getting a lot of flack for the handling of their microtransaction and loot box system for Star Wars: Battlefront II. Whatever else is going on in the game, it's being dwarfed by the concern of gamers.

In the Battlefront subreddit, user TheHotterPotato calculated out how long it would take to achieve one of the hidden characters that is locked behind an in-game currency pay wall. This was some serious math work to find out that it would take a person a minimum of 40 hours to unlock the top tier of Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker. Which means to obtain both characters requires 80 hours of game play.

80 hours. To unlock 2 characters. In 80 hours I could have played South Park: The Fractured But Whole 5 times, and spend the remaining hour and a half on Final Fantasy XIV working on my end game gear. Image if Street Fighter did this with Ryu or M. Bison and you had to play for 80 hours in online matches to unlock both characters. Fans would be livid.

The response to the data was swift. An EA Community Team member answered the comment.

"Heroes earned through Credits: The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes. We selected initial values based upon data from the Open Beta and other adjustments made to milestone rewards before launch."

That one post from EA has become the most down-voted in Reddit history. -520k and still growing, and this was only a day ago!

Just shy of 2 weeks ago, EA did announce that it would be tweaking the progression and loot box system. The feedback from the beta did not go over well, with rare cards and items hidden in crates that would easily make the game a pay-to-win model. Cards must now be crafted, and better gear will drop at the end of matches so it can be a more even playing field. But this change did not affect rare characters, still set up behind the game's paywall. It's also very possible to do a pay-to-win scenario. Kotaku broke down the details of the game's changes and how one can easily boost their levels to win if you plunk down the cash for it. There are still some restrictions in place, such as how much in-game currency you can earn a day/week.

But this new uproar is an entirely different beast. As a Star Wars fan, I don't want to wait 40 hours to play as Darth Vader. I don't have the time, the patience, or the care. I can play as Darth Vader right now in dozens of other Star Wars games without jumping through hoops. The comments on Reddit echo many of the same concerns. When you hold down a 40-50 hour job, have kids, and try to maintain a social life of some sort, you only have 2-4 hours a week to play a game. It would take over 2 months to unlock 1 of those characters in Battlefront and we do not have the time for that.

EA has backtracked in response to the Reddit thread, the myriad of news articles, and the unfortunate death threats against their employees (okay dudes, I know you're upset at EA. I am too. But that is no excuse to threaten the employees of EA and DICE with violence. People who have NO POWER in making the decisions regarding loot boxes. The shaders and environmental artists don't get a say. Please stop threatening people with violence.) The top heroes credit purchase will be reduced by 75% so you can play as Luke, Leia, or Darth much sooner (even the game's single player protagonist was behind this pay wall).

While this will temporarily appease fans, Battlefront II is bringing the microtransaction issue to the forefront. Once again, EA is making it difficult to enjoy a game without plopping down additional cash in order to win.

What do you think of the recent change? Is it enough to keep you invested in Battlefront II or are you ready to jump ship?

Monday, November 13, 2017 Least One Dev Gets Why We Hate Paying for Loot Boxes

Randy Pitchford, the divisive leader of Gearbox Software, opened up on Twitter his stance regarding Loot Boxes - specifically the ones that we pay for to get an edge in a game. For those who are not Randy fans, his response may help you feel that there is still some sanity left in the gaming industry.

Here are a few snippets of his Twitter roll:

I am generally very much against predatory monetization schemes in F2P games for consumable goods and even more so against them in premium games. I tend to oppose such techniques both as an artist and creator and also as a customer and a gamer. Evidence of my position is that we never sold Golden Keys (an arguably consumable good) in the Borderlands game. We had non-trivial levels of demand from customers to do so, but we did not relent. We chose to only give Golden Keys away via social media and partner relations. 

Contrarily, I tend to be very supportive of post-launch monetization of durable goods as DLC in *almost* any form.

I do, however, object to some of the arguments and language being used to fight against the predatory monetization schemes I have just derided in the first post in this thread. 

As an artists and creator who very much *loves* the nature of the “loot box” as it appears in our Borderlands games, I’m concerned that the words “loot box” are being used as short hand for a practice I am not in favor of. Can we find another term for what we object to?

First off, yes to a new term for the "pay to unlock" Loot Boxes. When I first think of Loot Box, my brain goes to Borderlands, where it's a giant chest of cool stuff! It's been altered over the years to become a catch-all term for any type of package where you have to pay to unlock the content. This could be real world or in-game currency. It'd be nice to have microtransactions called out for what they are.

Secondly, I've always appreciated how Gearbox has handled the golden keys for Borderlands. Golden keys are in-game currency that you can stock up on and use to unlock rare weapon caches. You can earn the keys in a handful of quests, or utilize codes posted online through Gearbox's social media channels. Though the game was first released in 2009, the keys are still being posted every few weeks. There's an active player base that still redeems enough of them to make them worth the effort. It's almost like a "thank you" to gamers for still supporting the game, so here are extra keys to get those rare weapons.

Thirdly, there is nothing wrong with paying for DLC. The biggest hang-up gamers have is that some games are released intentionally incomplete and requires DLC to finish the content. When you pay $59.99 for a game and only get half the content, then gamers are right to be upset with their purchase. DLC should be additions to the incredibly story, not a requirement to finish the base game. The context against DLC and microtransactions is important. DLC for Star Wars: Battlefront was dumb. DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition helped enhanced the game, but was not required to enjoy the base story.

While I'm still 50/50 on the fad, Overwatch has one of the better managed loot box systems. You can earn them while playing matches and eventually unlock them via daily rewards, or purchase them with coins you receive. Or you can buy them outright with real money. The rewards are all cosmetic: different hero skins, spray paints, dialogue snippets, or more game currency. Overwatch focuses on your skill. You can't pay to win. The loot boxes are ancillary. You could play the game and never once open up a box!

But at least Randy has our back. We may not always agree with Gearbox's decisions, but they are trying to give players what they want.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

Welcome to the end of another week! A part of me wishes I was still back at BlizzCon. At least it's above 60 degrees there. We're rounding up this week's best, worst, and weirdest gaming news for you to easily digest in your gut. Here's what we've found:

- Are video games bad for your kids? This LA Times reporter found out from a seminar at UC Irvine that no. It's not. The article is a quick read, but it's good to see that some parents are willing to have an open mind to see the benefits of gaming.

- Tencent, the Chinese investment firm that focuses on digital content, is buying more stakes in Snapchat, hoping to turn the platform into something that gamers may use in the future. The details are fuzzy on the specifics, but when you dump $2 billion into Snap stock, you expect to make an impact. What does that mean for users? Nothing right now. But don't be surprised if you see tweaks in the coming months that were influenced by Tencent.

- Have you seen this new Kickstarter project called Vortex? It's a peripheral that lets you experience video games in 4D. "Vortx is the world’s first 4D simulator that can physically recreate any virtual environment in the comfort of your home or office. It reads and analyzes audio and video data in real-time to create physical effects that you can feel to match what you see and hear; because Vortx processes live data that means it is compatible with ANY PC game title and every digital video platform." At $60 grand, I was expecting something else, but if that's what the creators want to do, go for it. Basically it's a glorified fan that reacts to the content in the game. If a bullet goes past your character on the screen, a burst of air will emit from the Vortex. If there's a gust of wind in the desert while you play Assassin's Creed: Origins, you'll feel it. It's not a bad idea, but not fully convinced it's worth investing in right now while 3D is still trying to find it's foothold in the industry.

- WhatCulture is back with a list of 10 video games that had out attention and then lost it. I'd like to point out that the sub title is "How did EA mess up Medal of Honor so bad?" And the answer to that question is "It's EA, that's why." Easy zingers aside, the list includes Halo, Evolve, and Brutal Legend. Wait, what? While I'm not on board with the myriad of sequels for Halo (it was fine to end it at the third game), how the heck did Evolve and Brutal Legend end up on this list? Brutal was a blast! A fun mixture of action, adventure, and dynamic rock n'roll game play that made it a treat to explore the levels. And while Evolve did lose me on not providing single player, the point of the game is to work as a team to track your pray. It was a challenging game and not meant for casual players. But that is what made the title more engaging. You had to learn, you had to adapt, and you had to communicate with people. This is another WhatCulture list that has already failed.

- Hey guess what? EA bought out another studio. Confirmed in a press release this week, EA has purchased Respawn Entertainment, the studio behind Titanfall. Respawn was in talks to be purchased by Korea's Nexon, who currently publishes a Titanfall spinoff for mobile games. EA wanted to keep Respawn in the "family," so to speak, as the studio was working with EA to develop an unnamed Star Wars project. No word on what will happen to Respawn, but so far all of their current projects are still underway. Though I wouldn't blame them if the team was worried after what happened to Visceral Games a few weeks ago.

- AM General, a Humvee manufacturer, is suing Activision Blizzard for a trademark infringement from their Call of Duty game. The lawsuit claims that 8 of the games contain Humvee's and the HMMWV logo without the consent of AM General. They believe the company is not only abusing the trademark, but unlawfully profiting by having the vehicles in the game, in toys, in books, and used in advertising. Details of the lawsuit are still unknown, but with a billion dollar company suing another billion dollar developer, it's guaranteed to be an absurd amount of money in play.

- Finally, The Game Awards will be back on December 7th with nominees announced on November 14th. This year the show will expand to more streaming platforms and internationally, including South Korea and Japan. They even plan to bring in an orchestra, and hopefully it's more then a bunch of random, nameless rappers dancing on the stage with a razor. And maybe this year the "World Premiere" drinking game can return!

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Niantic's New AR Game is Harry Pottery

Hold on to your wizarding hats. Niantic, the creators of Pokémon Go, are going to produce a Harry Potter AR game. The developers will be teaming up with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and their San Fransisco division to create the game. They even have a name for it: Happy Potter: Wizards Unite. It could use some work, but given that they've already bought the domain it's probably going to stay.

Using the same framework as Niantic's AR game Ingress, players will be able to learn spells and battle legendary beasts from the Harry Potter landscape, while teaming up with others to take them down. The game will also include some of the iconic characters from Harry Potter, though it won't let you be one of them.

The details for the game are limited, but Niantic is poised to discuss more in 2018. But it's safe to assume that this game has the potential to be as successful, if not more, then Pokémon Go. For those naysayers, Go is still pulling in 65 million monthly users. While the initial draw may not be there, people are logging in and catching the pocket monsters. Harry Potter could easily be another AR game that sets off the craze once more.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

BlizzCon 2017 Review!

I think my brain has calmed down enough that I can provide a thoughtful review. Two days ago, the post would have been filled with "ZOMG It's Awesome!" over and over again. Not quite compelling reading, even though it does sum up the experience! The 11th running of BlizzCon opened up the doors to over 35,000 fans as they took over every square inch of the Anaheim Convention Center in California. The two-day event was one of the largest that the company has held, as they showcased their collection of games and announced new content for fans to expect in the upcoming year. I was one of those who did not get the first or second round of passes after camping them online, but was lucky enough to snag them on round three. Minus the bizarre flight home, this convention was easily one of the best I have attended.

The Breakdown:

BlizzCon began in 2005, but skipped some years (which is why this was number 11 and not 13). The event focuses on all things Blizzard, the developer behind World of Warcraft and Overwatch. You won't see outside vendors or other games here. Not even Destiny 2, which was recently added to for PC users. This was 100% all about Blizzard games, and that was just fine by me! The content of Blizzard's games filled the halls of the convention center with ease. Other games and vendors would have dissolved some of the magic of the convention.

There were a few PC tech booths on the floor and 2-3 clothing vendors that focused on Blizzard-only items. But they also helped sponsor the event and provide equipment for demos. Their presence felt much more natural then an indie game. So if you're expecting anything outside of Blizzard here, you won't find it.

In The Know:

Repeat BlizzCon attendees definitely had a leg-up on the newbies with how the event runs. We took tips from veterans before planning out our schedule. All BlizzCon pass holders receive a virtual ticket as well to watch panels online. The best thing to do is to pick the panels you really want to see, and camp out an hour early if you want decent seats. You can watch the panels you're missing with the virtual ticket - and since Blizzard streams their own content on their platforms you don't have to worry about lag and delays from Twitch. We did this for while camping seats for Community Night and the Overwatch tournaments.

But also, pin trading is a big deal at BlizzCon. So big it makes PAX look like child's play. If you are a collector, you have to try out BlizzCon just to experience it. The space easily could have doubled in size and there still wouldn't be enough room for the pin traders.

Booze! Another thing in the know is that alcohol is served at the convention. While children are allowed in with a badge purchase, it is nice to have a more adult event where such things are encouraged.

Community Night is indeed the cosplay contest! Unfortunately the program description was missing on several panels so we had to ask around to find out the details. Community Night is more then just cosplay. Blizzard also hosts an art contest, movie contest, and a talent show. All of these culminate into Community Night. It's a lot of fun and worth the 2 hours to sit through, plus the hour to get a good seat.

Go with friends or make new ones to seat camp. Because seat camping is life. There are quite a few friendly people at BlizzCon, some of the friendliest I have met since PAX. But if you really wanted to sit in on that Muse concert to get into the pit, you need friends that will save your spot.

You will walk a ton. I'm glad I brought my 3DS with me both days to cull up loads of street passes. Got new countries and finished several puzzles!

The best day for merch is Thursday, or Day 0 as we say at anime conventions. The lines are longer, but we only spent an hour waiting by the time we were able to go through. At one point the line was capped because the systems were down! Yikes. But once everything was working again, it was a quick process. Buying everything on Thursday made it easier to enjoy the rest of the convention without having to lug around pounds of stuff. And we didn't miss out on the content we wanted to see.

Cosplayers and photographers: if you want nice photos stay outside at the fountain. Due to BlizzCon's very archaic photography rules, no DSLR's are allowed inside the venue. I even saw several point and shoots that were turned away at the door for looking "professional." So if you cosplay, stop at the fountain at the main entrance and get a few pics before you sequester yourself inside. Unfortunately we missed out on the cosplay gathering because of this (which also wasn't listed anywhere) but it was a good note to remember for next time.

Needs Improvement:

Their food and drink policy is about on par with most large convention centers, but you can bring in water as long as it's in a clear container. However, in some areas of the convention you can't have any drinks at all. Even if you purchased something IN the convention center, you better drink it fast because it may not be allowed to go to any other halls. This was beyond aggravating to have wasted money on a drink only to have to dump it a few minutes later. The biggest issue of this was at the registration/vendor room. It's list as a no food or drink zone. But once you enter there is a concession stand full of food and drinks for you to purchase. So much for that logic! BlizzCon needs to review that policy and have some leniency on it. If you're in the con center with a drink, it follows the rules or was purchased on site. Let people roam with it.

Program descriptions. In many situations, such as Community Night and Writer's Panels, the content was blank. It was difficult to know what the topic was covering where there were no panel details. If this was a mistake or an oversight, it's a fix for next year. But if this was intentional, it should be addressed. I, as a first time attendee, would have had no clue what Community Night was without asking around. The info should be on the schedule.

The antiquated photography policy needs to be updated for 2010. Not even 2017! So the rule states that no professional photo or video equipment is allowed inside the convention center unless you are media that has been approved by BlizzCon. No tripods. No monopods. No lighting equipment. The problem is, what the staff deem as "professional" has been standard for most consumers since 2010. No DSLR's. No mirrorless. And not even some point and shoots are allowed in if they seem "professional." This was beyond aggravating. I wanted nice pics to capture memories of the event and had to do it all from my phone with a sub par camera. Sorry phone. Love ya but your camera is only okay. The problem is, most consumers can buy a DSLR for $299 or less, the same price as a nice point and shoot. Walking around Downtown Disney and we saw nearly every couple, family, or group with a DSLR. The basic lens that came with the camera and that's it. They were not professional photographers. They only wanted nice photos of their time at Disney. The same can easily be said for BlizzCon attendees. The convention can keep the no tripods, monopods, and lights rules. But at least make it feasible for your fans to take in their cameras without hassle.

The Cool Stuff:

The arenas for the tournaments were some of the best I have seen. I thought QuakeCon had a good setup. BlizzCon blew it out of the water. Each hall was sectioned by games. World of Warcraft, Heroes of the Storm, etc. The stages were decked out in the style of the games, along with cool artifacts to help make each one distinctive. The Hearthstone stage looked like a tavern straight from the game.

They also made sections of the convention center feel like you were involved in the games themselves. There was a Darkmoon Faire setup with facepainters, tarot card readings, and other fun games you can play in World of Warcraft. The Hearthsone room also had a live tavern that you could walk though, play with the dev's, and order food and drinks.

While the convention staff was less then desirable on their attitudes, the Blizzard staff was fantastic. They were attentive and always helpful. When convention staff were trying to block me from going into the cosplay room for assistance (though I was in costume, but it does look a little casual if you were going demon hunting I guess?), one of the Blizzard staff members jumped in and helped me out. Many thanks to the gentleman holding down the room on Saturday mid-day. You made this cosplayer happy. Unfortunately the convention staff were very quick to say no and block people before they could ask their question. At least Blizzard staff made up for that rudeness.

Opening ceremonies was a blast! In all my years of convention-ing, I've never been to an opening where they put effort into making a statement. It's usually pretty dull. Guests are introduced, sometimes. Maybe they'll play a video with the convention rules, or put on some dull anime music while the owners rabble on about policies. BlizzCon turned this into an event giving everyone a preview of what to expect on the show floor. We got all our big announcements from it and we were able to playtest everything right there! It was full of everything fun that an opening should have.

And BlizzCon fans are really freekin' nice. It's easy to find someone to chat with while waiting in line, or see people trading off pins and patches they didn't want without asking for anything in return. Yes there are bad eggs in the bunch (some people had their patches stolen). But as a whole people were nice, helpful, and willing to lend a hand when we had questions.

Final Thoughts:

If you are a Blizzard fan, even if it's only for one or two games, this is an event you need to experience. This rivals PAX East as one of my favorite conventions. Blizzard took their time to craft an event for their fans, and it shows at every demo and every tournament stage. I am so ready to go back for another round. And maybe I can finally make a Warcraft costume!

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Single Player is Not Dying - Stop Being Dumb

There's been a push-back lately from writers across the internet about the future of video games. Specifically the single player games. Ever since an op-ed appeared on Forbes that AAA single player titles are dying out, dozens of the biggest gaming news sites jumped on board to either agree, semi-agree, or deny that the game mode is on it's deathbed. Some of the articles are click-baity so I'm only linking the ones that hold a purpose to this piece, or are worth the time to read.

If you've read the title on this post, then you clearly know the position of The Geek Spot. To claim that single player games are on the decline, including AAA backed games, is dumb. Plain and simple.

Here are some of the single player games that were released in October, receiving high praise from reviewers and gamers: South Park: The Fractured But Whole, Assassin's Creed: Origins, Super Mario Odyssey (there is a single player and two-player mode), Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Fire Emblem Warriors, The Evil Within 2, and Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy. These are just some of the highlights. October was a busy month for game releases. And November is ramping it up even more, with more DLC for Horizon: Zero Dawn, Pokémon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon, and the highly anticipated Nioh.

And the next year is looking even better. Dragon Quest XI is on my list, and it's a franchise that has produced some of the best single player RPG experiences. Even Hearthstone, the card game based on Blizzard content, will be releasing an expansion pack early next year that is a single player dungeon crawl!

Needless to say, the Forbes op-ed is way off the mark. Single player games are doing just fine and thriving. While yes, there has been a push lately to have more multi-player, online content, there is still a strong need for a single player experience. Remember when the reboot of Star Wars: Battlefront was released? Remember the number of articles that appeared blasting EA for the poor choices they made with the game by removing single player? The original Battlefront was released on a system that didn't have online capabilities. It was a game that thrived on the single player experience and made it one of the most played N64 titles, right up there with GoldenEye. What made Battlefront so great was not the action nor the war between the Rebels and the Empire. It was your journey with the main characters. Removing that mode from the reboot was a disservice not only to fans, but to the original game.

Single player games are part of the gaming experience. The climate for them will never change. There will always be a need for single player content. People crave it. Developers keep delivering powerful content for it (The Last of Us is a fantastic example of an incredible, heart-wrenching single player experience that is vastly superior to the questionable multi-player, online mode). So to those who are announcing the death of single player games, stop being dumb. It is here to stay.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Microsoft Shifting Focus From Console Sales to Game Development

Okay so the experiment to try and post from the Blogger app was met with technical difficulties. Go me! Apologies for the messy post. For some reason the app crashes whenever I attempted to upload a photo so it lost half of my text during BlizzCon's opening ceremonies. But a post is better the no post. We'll try again next round. Onto today's post!

Microsoft is looking to shift their focus from console production to gaming. The company is planning to increase in-house development of games and software by either producing it themselves, or buying companies (like Bungie) and having them create products only for Microsoft. XBox-in-Chief Phil Spencer spoke about the change in direction during an interview last week. Just a few years ago, Microsoft was content with buying a studio and closing it down. “Our ability to go create content has to be one of our strengths. We haven’t always invested at the same level. We’ve gone through ups and downs in the investment.”

The history of gaming at Microsoft has been confusing. It's never been a core focus for the company since the business does so well with creating and servicing operating software for computers. The launch of the first XBox pulled enough sales and interest to warrant additional systems as the years passed, but Microsoft still thought of gaming as a side-business. In 2014, Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella stated that gaming was an important market, but not at the core of Microsoft's mission. As gaming has grown over the years to a billion dollar industry, Microsoft has decided it's finally ready to try and play in the big-leagues.

Microsoft is now tracking how gamers are spending their time with their products. They are seeing average game times, eSports trends, and XBox Live usage versus in-game play.

What does that mean for us gamers? More content from Microsoft going directly to XBox Live or Microsoft branded games from studios that we know. The downside is that we may be seeing less independent developers as more of the big names buy them up for producing their content.

Friday, November 03, 2017

BlizzCon 2017 Opening Ceremonies

Testing the app, so lets see if this works! Here is the live update of the announcements dropped at BlizzCon!

- Starcraft 2 is going free to play

- New Heroes of the Storm characters including Hanzo and Alexstraza. And game improvements such as voice chat.

- Heartstone expansion launching next month, focusing on DnD-like fantasy story.

- this is where the app crashed, so the rest will be rushed.

- WoW: Battle for Azeroth expansion. Vanilla servers for those who want old school wow.

- Overwatch. New Map, BlizzardWorld. New character-healer support.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

Dudes. BlizzCon is in 2 days. So the blog may go quiet for a few days while I'm out. Blogging from a phone is not as easy as you'd think. But I hope to bring back some goodies from the event. Until then, enjoy an early edition of the Weekly Link Round Up!

- In a funny opinion piece by Kirk Hamilton, Kotaku editor, mini-maps may be soon phased out in video games. Now I for one am a big fan of the mini-map. I still use it religiously in Final Fantasy XIV even in zones that I've visited hundreds of times, because sometimes that map catches things (like height variation) that my eyes may overlook due to environmental textures. They are good guides/beacons when I need them most. But I understand that they can be an eyesore. You don't need to have them up for screenshots - just saying. But they do serve a very important purpose in keeping us gamers from getting lost! Don't abandon the mini-map just yet.

- The AV Club would like to remind you that the father of horror video games, Shinji Mikami, hasn't made horror games. It's an interesting article, for sure. I don't know if I completely agree with their position, but I can understand what they are trying to present. It's at least worth a read-through.

-Razer is releasing a new mobile phone this week targeted towards gamers. The headset and PC accessories gurus are trying to capitalize on what gamers want in a phone, with more ram, a larger battery, and a screen refresh rate that rivals some computer monitors. Will it float or flop? It's hard to say. Details are still unknown until the full reveal is made at retail.

- Need an escape from today? Enjoy the sounds of video game music. This comprehensive list of some of the most unique and inviting journeys into the gaming realm will help lift your spirits.

- WhatCulture is tackling the 6 fan theories for games that actually came true! If your assumption going in is that this list is pointless, you would be correct! It includes the "Legend of Zelda Sequel" that we all knew about, Michael Jackson creating some of the music for Sonic 3 (um...they never covered that up), and the location of Mary in Silent Hill 2. If you've played any of these games, these are not wild fan theories like Skyrim is related to Dragon Age. WhatCulture, go home. You're drunk again.

- The PlayStation Paris conference was this week, and there's already backlash brewing from The Last of Us 2 trailer. It's...uncomfortable to watch. For a survival horror game, even I felt that the content they showed was not appropriate. It made it seem like the game was all about torture porn and not the zombie apocalypse. Jim Ryan, President of SIE Europe, issued a response for the game. Clearly this is a Mature game. No one is questioning that. But the content was full of "why?" Why do developers feel they need to continually show women being victims in such gratuitous ways? If I didn't play the first game, the only thing I can gleam from the trailer is that it's all about torture porn. It was a misstep in the content. Again, fully aware that this is an M game. It's going to have some violent content. But maybe more zombie stabbing and less torture porn?

- And finally, a small win for gamers! After Star Wars: Battlefront II's beta, EA is re-tooling their loot box program. The flurry of feedback drove the developer into making the content more attainable and not reliant on pay-to-win scenarios. Some of the higher end cards are no longer loot box attainable and can only be crafted. More weapons and armor for jobs will drop at the end of matches. The bottom line is that EA is tweaking the game so people who invest time will reap the benefits - as it should be.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

GameStop 'PowerPass' to Tackle Video Game Rentals

GameStop is taking a step back and will soon offer game rentals as a service starting mid-November. The 'PowerPass Program' may tug at your nostalgia strings for you 90's kids that had access to Blockbuster. However, GameStop will have to fight against Microsoft and Sony for a share of the rental marketplace.

There's one thing that the console makers have that GameStop doesn't: convenience. You can play a game on loan through your PS4 or XBox One right now without having to leave your home. GameStop requires you to visit their retail locations to rent. And what you can rent will be limited to what that GameStop store has in stock; used. If there are only new copies of Assassin's Creed: Origin, you can't rent them. If a used one is available, in theory that should be okay to rent. It all depends on the rules that GameStop has in place.

In order to sign up, you do have to be a member of their Power-Up Rewards program (the free version of the program will work for this). For $60 you can borrow any used game that your local GameStop has in stock for 6 months. At the end of the 6 months, you can choose one of the games that you've rented to keep for good. Customers will be limited to one rental at a time. But you know there will be some customers that will try and abuse the system by picking up a game at multiple stores and never returning them. The information provided by GameStop is limited right now. There may be additional fees involved if you don't return a game at the end of the 6 month period, if you damage a product, etc. GameStop only gave the bare-bones info; so expect a hefty set of rules and restrictions to arrive at sign-up.

In theory, it doesn't sound like a bad gimmick. A little late to the party since that rentals have fallen out of style. Services like PSN and XBox Live have filled in the void that Blockbuster left behind. But if you are a habitual GameStop customer, the PowerPass may interest you. I think the rest of us are content with our systems offering us everything we need. Convenience holds a lot of weight these days.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The 'Fallout' from Voice Actors Strike Begins

The video game voice actors strike was a big deal. It may not seem like it, but the 11 month strike will have ramifications for years. And the new contract is only marginally better then the old one. Voice actors for video games still experience lower wages, fewer protections, and less transparency then their counterparts in animation. It's a better contract, but still sub-par for a business raking in tens of billions of dollars annually.

The Washington Post dug into the working conditions that voice actors face for video games, and how the strike could potentially affect the careers of our favorite artists for good, or ill. The piece focuses on Ashly Burch, who you may know as Chloe from Life is Strange and Aloy from Horizon: Zero Dawn. The strike was a catch-22 scenario. Because she's a SAG-AFTRA member, she couldn't reprise her role of Chloe in the Life is Strange sequel, a blow that many fans felt. She'll have a writing consultant credit for the game, but no voice acting on her part. If she went against the SAG union and accepted the role, she would have lost her membership. While the union is still working to improve voice acting conditions, it's still better to be part of it then to act as a non-union member (where you can get lower pay and little to no protections for health and working conditions). 

Other voice actors such as Courtenay Taylor, Keythe Farley, and Phil LaMarr have probably lost gaming work, or can not reprise roles they once played, due to the strike. And the game developers are marching along like it's not a big deal.

The problem is, it is a big deal. As video games have evolved, even the most basic point and click scenario now incorporates some form of voice acting. Voices have transformed how we experience video games making them much more interactive then their predecessors. Creating these 100-hour epics takes a lot of strain out on the actors involved. Unlike an animation with a set script for a 30 minute or 2 hour film, video games require actors to scream, make death noises, grunt, cry, and display a full array of emotions to incorporate into the game. That takes time and dedication, not to mention vocal stress, that other voice actors are not as likely to experience.

Developers and marketers have also turned these voice actors into stars. Mark Meer and Jennifer Hale had been acting for years, but became household names to gamers for their portrayal of Commander Shepard from Mass Effect. Nolan North wasn't a blip on the radar until Uncharted. And you can't play a game without hearing Troy Baker somewhere. Gamers are now more likely to try a new product if they know their favorite actor is in it - just like movies and TV shows.

Before you say "why don't they get another job," it's because they love what they do. They still take up other gigs (check out Phil LaMarr's IMDB page) because voice acting in video games doesn't pay the bills. However a 30 minute animated show on Disney? Bank. Regardless of why they do what they do, voice actors deserve to be compensated appropriately. I suspect that we'll start hearing more stories trickle in from other actors that had to turn down roles due to the strike. It's not going to be pretty.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Scare-tober: SOMA

Along with Stasis, SOMA may have been one of those horror games that you overlooked due to the release of Until Dawn. 2015 had quite a few notable horror games! Another sci-fi mash-up, SOMA takes the survival-horror genre and cranks it up by throwing in some psychological and fantasy elements that make you question every action in the game. Here's our Scare-tober review of SOMA.

The game starts out like Stasis. Instead of a facility in space, you're underwater. Not quite BioShock, though. Your character, Simon, wakes up in this research facility that's been abandoned, unsure of why he's there. You have to figure out what happened and how to get out. However part of the allure of SOMA is that there are multiple false narratives throughout the game. Piecing together the "what and why" is a challenge when you discover different stories. Which one is yours? That's for you to find out.

As you awake and walk around, you'll find robots that have an advanced AI and believe they are human. But they are not fleshed out like human-bots. They are missing parts, have rusted bolts - aspects that make them not look human. You'll find yourself diving deep into Philip K. Dick 'reality' and spending a lot of time with the bots, while they struggle to understand why you don't perceive them as human.

SOMA's strengths are in it's narrative perspective. It's asking the gamer to think outside the norm for horror games. Bringing in some psychological fake-outs. And trusting you to take the right action. You have to push yourself out of your mental comfort zone to get to the heart of the game. That means exploring the dark corners when you know it's probably a bad idea. Or talking to the robots that seem the most deranged, in hopes of learning more about your character. Because of this, the actual game play doesn't stray far from hiding and puzzles. Big bads enter the room - time to duck and wait for them to leave. It's a little too straight forward. Though one could argue that the simple gaming is meant to help balance the weight of the story. Too heavy on both ends and people may not want to play it. My favorite puzzle is when you have to boot a "person's" consciousness and manipulate their reality to gain information. It's deeply rooted into the story's premise in an unsettling manner that elevates the game to a new level.

For the actual control schematics, it's fine. There's nothing over the top crazy or unrealistic to expect. You walk. You interact. You hide. You run. You keep running. You keep running and whoops, you're dead. There are a load of checkpoints, which does help out immensely during the later hours of the game. As you'll see more enemies to hide from, and it becomes a tedious challenge to duck and run from them all until you figure out their roaming pattern.

The tricky part with reviewing this game is that it is too easy to spoil the story. So much of the content focuses on your ability to explore. For those interested, I don't want to be the spoiler. The game is roughly 12 hours long. If you've got a weekend to pass, it's worth playing to get the full experience and dive into this alternate world. It's creepy and thought-provoking; something more horror games could utilize.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

Another week is almost gone, and we're one step closer to Halloween. Which means one step closer to BlizzCon for me. Joy! Here's another edition of the Weekly Link Round Up to keep us settled for the rest of the week:

- Facebook is slowly becoming a new valued platform for video game streaming. What Facebook doesn't earn in revenue for streamers right now, is becoming a long-term investment in building fans. Over the past few years, Facebook has been constantly updating their algorithms to woo users away from YouTube. Which meant stronger emphasis on videos, allowing businesses and fan pages to rank higher in visibility if they create and post videos direct to Facebook. This has eventually transitioned from short videos (at one time if you posted anything longer then 2 minutes your visibility on timelines would drop drastically), to long-form streams. Facebook Live has moved into a streaming service for games. It's still in the early stages, but something to consider for new streamers.

- First impressions of the new Assassin's Creed game are emerging; the first in the series to break the yearly release cycle. And so far, I don't know what to make of it. A new setting is nice. The changes to leveling and the steady feed of inventory items is appreciated. Combat looks okay but requires more precision. It seems like Ubisoft is taking everything they've learned from open world games and shoved them into Origins. This might work for the immediate satisfaction of AssCreed fans, but long term? That's difficult to say. If you pick it up, tell us what you think.

- WhatCulture's list of the week gives us 10 Underrated Video Games Nobody Appreciated In Their Time. The first game on the list is Turok - not the original but the reboot. So you know this list is going downhill, fast! Also on the list is Virtua Fighter (really guys?), Vampire: The Last Dance (this has to be the joke entry, what a horrible game), Shenmue (actually a lot of people really liked the game that THEY MADE A SEQUEL), and...wait for it...Metal Gear Solid 2. This might be the most laughable list WhatCulture has ever created. Enjoy the chuckle this morning!

- Need something mindless to peruse today? LifeHacker has a walk-through of the real-life skills one could learn from a video game. It's simple and silly. Sometimes that's all we need in our gaming updates.

- If you own a MAC, you are probably full of PC envy when it comes to computer games. NVidia has released a new application specifically for MAC users to help make that transition easier. GeForce Now is in beta and may require a subscription later on, but all it requires is your computer and an internet connection. You'll be playing off a cloud server and don't have to worry about your system specs. Except for the monitor, you can get a similar gaming experience as a high-end PC rig. A PC version of the application will be available down the line, but this set-up could make a lot of MAC fans quite happy.

- Sony and Numskull have teamed up to create an official brand of glasses to help reduce eye stress and screen glare while you game. Official Sony PlayStation 4 / PS4 Gaming Glasses (yes that's what the item is called) are available now and can be purchased through Amazon via the company's website. According to the item description, the lenses also increase contrast perception and shifts the color spectrum which helps make details in a game clearer. This product is only for those with 20/20 vision. If you wear contacts, you know it's not recommended to wear additional lenses unless it's sunglasses (which are a lower strength then gaming glasses and won't cause additional strain to the eye). There are no prescription versions yet out on the market, so don't impulse buy this one if you have trouble with your eyes.

- The UK government is keeping an eye on a petition that is requesting the "loot box" situation be addressed. The petition is asking for a review on the current PEGI ratings and how loot boxes could affect children by labeling them as a potential gambling prospect. While PEGI is sitting in the same mindset as the ESRB regarding the boxes, the UK would consider bumping the age rating of games with loot boxes up to PEGI 12 to help curb concerns and potential addictions that may stem from the loot box craze.

- If you're looking for a more thoughtful piece, head over to Gamasutra and check out the op-ed on The Philosophy of Grinding and How to Reduce It. If you play an MMO, you know it's common-fodder to help keep you invested in a game. But what about in single-player campaigns, MOBA's, and RPG's? Is the grinding system still necessary or are new forms of level achievements more enticing?

- Finally, GQ has been jumping into the gaming stories more and more these days. And they are tackling Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. But this isn't an article about the game play or a review. Instead it's covering how the world around the series has changed - what happens when Wolfenstein returns at the same time as IRL Nazi's. Speaking with the narrative designer for the game, Tommy Bjork, GQ dives into how the series has excelled over the years and what has made marketing different when your have a world that has shifted dramatically, but a game with the same basic concept: kill Nazi's. This is a must read for the week.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Destiny 2 PC Launch - Bans and Tech Errors = Headaches

Destiny 2 has been an unexpected hit - at least in my eyes. The first game was 'meh' at best, but somehow the sequel is taking off. Good on Bungie for trying to iron out the problems of game 1. The PC version was released yesterday so more people can jump into the sci-fi world that the developers have created. However, it hasn't been as smooth as they had expected.

AMD users and Phenom II processors are seeing hard crashes. Laptops may not be able to play full screen - windowed mode apparently causes some visible frame rate issues. SSSE3 is required to play the game, something that a number of older CPU's and laptops will not have in their hardware. You also can't exit the game on PC if you use a gamepad, something my brother experienced yesterday. You have to close it down using a mouse. The megathread of Destiny 2 bugs and PC crashes is piling up on Reddit.

And just when the bugs and crashes seemed like enough of a headache, now there's a new problem: PC players are being banned en masse, sometimes before they can log into the game! The Destiny subreddit has been filling up over the past 24 hours with the issue. When the ban notification pops up, it directs players to visit Bungie's website for additional details along with this lovely note: "there are NO options to dispute or overturn account restrictions or bans." Me thinks that's going to be addressed soon with the large, unexpected number of bans piling up.

Right now there aren't any details being provided by Activision or Bungie on what is causing the bans to occur, particularly since a number of them begin as the player boots up the game for the first time. There is speculation that a cheating countermeasure is activated at login that is accidentally triggered. Or that chat overlays that are approved by are not by Bungie, and pinging the service with a false-positive on cheating. IGN has reached out to Activision for clarification.

So if you're looking to play Destiny 2 on PC, you may want to wait it out for a few weeks while they clear up all the tech/ban problems. And hey! By then it'll be Black Friday in the U.S. and you could get the game on sale!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

NeoGAF Back Online After Tumultuous Weekend

Man. I can't take a day off for real life emergencies without the internet blowing up!

NeoGAF, the gaming forum that is 4chan light, went offline over the weekend after the founder was accused of sexually assaulting a woman. Tyler Malka (alias "EviLore" on NeoGAF), was ousted by his accuser via a Facebook post. This behavior by Malka is apparently well known, but no one has outted him in such a public way. Users of the forum began posting en masse in response to the allegations, asking to be banned and remove Malka from his position. They didn't want to be affiliated with the forum any longer - the advertisers are sure to follow suit.

But late last night, the forums reemerged with a message from Malka. "An allegation of sexual misconduct has been made against me by an ex. It's not true, the individual making the accusation isn't credible, the story doesn't reconcile logically with the facts, and there's plenty of evidence and witnesses to corroborate that. It'll be a process."

The Off-Topic section, where the bustle of the forum activity takes place, is gone for now. So are a number of moderators and users who directly question Malka's statement have been met with a ban. New threads that conflict with Malka's statement have been deleted and users banned. Needless to say, Malka and the few moderators left are doing everything in their power to control the fallout by covering up the mess. Yes, that last sentence was an opinion. It's difficult to not see it as a cover-up when you have a public forum continually deleting content that isn't in line with the founder's message. When you make a mess, you have to deal with the fallout and that means negative posts. It looks incredibly suspicious when you only leave behind positive content.

So what will happen with NeoGAF? It's difficult to say. For the good of the forum, Malka should step down and the admin team overhaul the system. Get new, fresh moderators. Revamp the rules on harassment and provide better resources for reporting it (yes the event happened outside of the forums, but all forums need to do better with harassment claims in general). But if the current set-up stays in place, NeoGAF will soon be part of gaming's past.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Scare-tober: Five Nights at Freddy's Sister Location

This game is everything that is designed to be a Five Nights product, but takes you in a very different direction. Knowing how popular the Five Nights at Freddy's franchise was, Scott Cawthon changed it up and gave us a different games. The jump scares are still there, but the story is new. The characters are more interactive. The environment more nonsensical. Is this the game that secures the Five Night's legacy? Here's my review of Sister Location.

You are hired as a security guard/maintenance lackey for this new Chuck E. Cheese's-like attraction called Circus Baby's Entertainment and Rental. Just like the other games, you are expected to live through the night. For some reason, the character you play is crazy enough to go back night after night, even though you see walking animatronics out for your flesh. Ignoring that weird bump in the road, which is never explained, Sister Location requires you to move through multiple rooms to do your job. You're no longer confined to one area, like in the other Five Nights games. This does give you more options for hiding, and avoiding the electronic baddies, while adding to the game's difficulty. Instead of scanning cameras, you have to be aware of your movement. Ballora the Ballerina, for example, reacts to sounds when you are in her room. So you have to move slowly to reduce the noise you emit.

There are a number of mechanics in the game that add some variety to the Five Nights series. Crawl here. Hide there. Twist this. Dodge that. Reboot the entire security system. It keeps you on your toes, and requires you to learn something new virtually every night to ensure you live. In some instances, this is a hit. There is one sequence where you are kidnapped by one of the robots and stuffed inside a suit! If you have played the other games, you know that people have died in these suits when the springs around the face plates became loose. To stay alive, you have to continually wind 8 springs around the screen. All the while you have Ballora's minions crawling all over you as they try to break into the suit and kill you. What makes this segment more terrifying is that there is no music. No outside noises. It's just you, the springs, and the minions. You are so focused on your task, the jump scares feel like they come out of nowhere! It's a smart play on new mechanics.

And then there are others where it's a head shake. Funtime Foxy detects motion and will move to grab you when you move. But his sensors overload with light. So you have to flash a light to keep him away. It's tedious and slow. There isn't an easy way to bypass this area, and if you fail the follow-up mechanic, you have to run the area over. It's too simple and expected of a jump scare. The drastic switch between simple mechanics (shocking the animatronics) to difficult ones (tightening the bolts) are sure to throw players for a loop. It can be difficult to accommodate and find a groove when playing this game to have the style of activity shift so drastically.

What Sister Location thrives on is story. If you haven't played the series, I'd recommend a quick Wikipedia read before jumping in, because this game will throw you with a lot of lore. You'll learn more about Mr. Afton, the creator of the animatronics, the development of Circus Baby, and the circumstances surrounding the weirdness of this new facility. I don't want to give away the plot points, because they are much more interesting to experience as you play. But if you are a Five Nights fan and have been hesitant to play, you will really like the lore.

This game also injects some humor. It's a false sense of security, but the AI bot that assists you each night can be quite funny. He has trouble reading your name and calls you EggsBenedict. His personality can be altered to fit your mood, and one night he's flipped to Angsty Teen. When you are home, you watch a goofy television series titled The Immortal and the Restless, a vampire soap opera. It's the quirks like this that help provide a more livable environment for the gamer. We see life beyond the walls of the pizzerea. It's refreshing.

The voice acting has also been kicked up a notch. With the success of the other games, Cawthon was able to hire a cast to portray the characters. Up to this point, he was the only one! The acting was excellent, and Cawthon did a great job directing these vocalists. They added to the intensity of the game.

For me, this is the type of game where I recommend people give it a shot. It's got the scares, the visuals, the difficulty, all in a nice package that you can run through it within a few hours. The multiple endings are enough incentive to keep playing the game. It's worth at least a play to see what the future of horror games could be if we invest more time into story and less on gory.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

It's just one more week until Halloween! Which really doesn't mean anything unless you're into Overwatch or play an MMO with a Halloween event. Then you have little time left to get your in-game goodies before they are gone. So let's not waste your precious minutes and round up this week's gaming news:

- The Week dives into the illustrious microtransaction industry, and how gaming companies are tricking players out of their money. To give some fairness to game developers, they do have to be transparent about what is contained in loot boxes (even if the drop rate for a rare item is low) and microtransactions. They can't put a digital item out there, tell people nothing about it, and expect payment. Even the "mystery grab bags" you'll sometimes see at vendors booths at conventions still list out what you could potentially receive. So no: game developers are not intentionally trying to dupe you. Just screw you out of more money. But I think we can all agree that the system is getting out of control and needs to be reigned in, soon.

- Activison's newest patent on microstransactions was recently approved, and could make it's way into future games. The patent outlines a series of matchmaking algorithms that could encourage players to purchase additional items and loot boxes. An example used is that the game could matchmake a "new" player with a veteran. The new player may be more enticed to buy the veterans gear to better emulate them. There are more numbers and codes at work, but that's a basic overview of how it would work. Do not be surprised if you see this in a future Activision title, and be prepared to hate microtransactions even more.

- Nintendo Switch's latest patch is doing some things that it probably should have done straight out of the box. Patch/Version 4.0.0 will now allow for video capture and save data transfers. Even with this breakthrough, the video capture only works on 4 games. Lame. At least Breath of the Wild is one of them. It also only records the previous 30 seconds of game play. Max. As for the save data transfers, it's a one time only offer. If something happens to your Switch and you need to move over user info and saved games, you get one chance. That's it. Nintendo, you make it so hard to want to buy your products when your competitors (Sony and Microsoft) handle these issue a million times better.

- An op-ed on Forbes is signaling that the end of AAA single player games is on the horizon, and that's okay. All due to the closing of Visceral Studio and the shuffling of their unnamed Star Wars game.

Yeah, this article is a bit hard to chew. While yes, more bigger named studios are pushing towards online only, multi-player experiences to monetize games continually after their release, this one studio closing is not the end of AAA single player titles. Not by a long shot. With the fallout of publicity from the latest The Lord of the Rings game and Star Wars: Battlefront II, people still want their single player focused titles. South Park: The Fractured But Whole is single player, and it's been getting rave reviews. Far Cry 5, releasing next year, and Wolfenstein II: The New Order are both single player games with a lot of hype around them for their game play and charged stories. We're getting the newest, and long awaited, Dragon Quest game next year (and it looks SO GOOD)- also a solo game. So do not fret gamers. We will always have single player games.

- Speaking of closing studios, WhatCulture graces us with their list of 10 Beloved Video Game Studios That Didn't Deserve to be Shut Down. If you think the title is pretentious, then brace yourself because Visceral Studio made their top spot. Commence all eye rolling, because we can all think of much better options: such as Lionhead, Maxis, and LucasArts. Thankfully all of those other studios are on the list, but not as prominent as the Dead Space developer. Way to capitalize on people's sympathy, WhatCulture.

- Niantic wants Pokémon Go to last at least a decade, if not longer. The CEO was interviewed at the Wall Street Journal’s WSJ Live conference on Tuesday. There are plans at work to add more content to the game consistently and develop AR glasses. They have been experimenting with some hardware under development, and may take the game to Magic Leap's mixed reality headset. There's a lot of potential still there with Go. It's only a matter of what Niantic does with it.