Friday, March 31, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

Yea! It's Friday! Which means the end of the week, and hopefully a nice, long, relaxing weekend for everyone who is fortunate enough to not work Saturday's and Sunday's. It also means we haven't have a Weekly Link Round Up at The Geek Spot. So let's fix that. Here are some of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming stories on the internet:

- Kickstarter has officially helped fund 10,000 games. Wow. A day after the company began in 2009, the first game went up 'Crossword Puzzles.' Since then the platform has become home to a number of projects and board game award winners. It's helped transform a landscape for indie developers to find a foothold among the sea of big names. It's been a good run, so far.

- I am going to let the title of this article speak for itself. "Why Women Want to Have Sex with Garrus." Important reporting at it's finest, courtesy of Kotaku. Easily my favorite article of the week. Not only because of the subject matter, but the interviews in the article and the comments accompanying it are genius.

- Not to be outdone, The Completionist played Mass Effect for the first time and offered his opinions on why the franchise is so popular. His video also has a funny title: The Mako is the Reason Aliens Don't Respect Humanity. No truer words have been spoken.

- Forbes apparently has a cartoon of the day. Who knew? Well in this case, it's kind of dumb. It centers on the number 1 reason why developers remake, and ruin, your favorite games. If the first answer that popped into your head was "money" you are correct. But the cartoon doesn't really get that message across. It seems more like a sinister plot to destroy all the fun in the world by taking good games and making them bad, not a ploy to make more moolah (which we all know is the real reason). It's just...weird. And awkwardly drawn. The message gets lost in the simplistic art style. Forbes, go home. You're drunk.

- Games Cause Fascism. That's the newest meme taking over the internet, and it's ridiculous for all of the silly reasons you can imagine. Apparently as gamers we are all about 10 steps away from believing that the Holocaust didn't really happen. Why? Because some people in political power right now believe in Gamergate and support the actual, crazy fake news sources like BreitBart. This meme will only live for a few weeks, but sure. Gamers are the reason behind Fascism. That's funny.

- Did you know that video game vinyls are a thing? I didn't either, which is why I'm happy to share this silly article about one person's discovery of game music on vinyl, and subsequent hate for the medium. Vinyl is an analog medium in a digital world. It doesn't offer any improved sound quality and is susceptible to the elements. Vinyl can degrade over time. But one unique benefit that you can't get with digitial is the killer cover art and on the vinyl. It's...stunning! Check out some of the cool artwork in the article.

- And some more good news! The National Video Game Arcade, which has always teetered on the edge of going under, is finally seeing a profit. Opening in March of 2015, the arcade has been home to the museum of all things arcade. It gives a glimpse of a history of the 80's past-time that has slowly started to make a resurgence. A number of leading game figures and businesses, such as SEGA Europe and Supermassive Games, came together last year to help the fledgling museum, showing just how important it is for us to retain our history. Hopefully the uptick in donations will continue.

- Finally, the National Videogame Museum in Texas will be hosting it's 1 year anniversary this weekend. April 1st and 2nd are free admission days. They will also be holding giveaways for gaming goodies, including a Nintendo Switch. So if you're in the region, stop on in and check it out. They have added a few new things after I attended last year. It's worth a look for a free ticket.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Video Games Now Officially Part of Tribeca Film Festival

Video games are steadily making their way into art and film festivals, with the Tribeca Film Festival launching a Games Festival this year. Headlining the event will be Hideo Kojima, along with Bioshock director Ken Levine and Max Payne creator Sam Lake. Taking placing during the Film Festival, the Games Festival will run April 28-29 with the goal of pairing up industry and independent game developers to hold discussions on the future of their medium.

Last year, a number of VR companies were at the festival to promote their products and provide demonstrations. They became the biggest, and most talked about attraction that Tribeca staff opted to start a game section this year. Tribeca has partnered with Kill Screen to get the project rolling. With the film and gaming mediums constantly converging these days, it makes sense. South By Southwest (SXSW) has held a gaming conference for years so it's no surprise that other film festivals are following.

Tribeca will have an arcade, traditional and VR that will contain both games and movies. As well as content from Telltale Games, a VR focused event, and inside looks at some of the biggest games of the past year. If you're in the area and have the money to drop on a ticket, it might be worth checking out for a first year. Plus Kojima. Being in the same room as him is worth the day pass.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

VR Games and Murder - Should It Be Illegal?

Thought crimes. If your mind went to the Tom Cruz movie 'Minority Report' well you're not far from what this writer is suggesting. Angela Buckingham, is raising a stir among gaming theorists with an opinion piece she has published, stating that murder in virtual reality should be made illegal.

A number of gamers and non-gamers have since commented on the article in the defense of games. Even ex-military and current safety officials remark that games, even in VR are harmless. Most people will not kill on command. The declining murder rates world-wide are proof of this, which even Buckingham referenced in her opinion. Not to mention, the accuracy of video games, including VR, with how to hold a weapon and use it are completely wrong. You don't tap the R1 trigger to fire ammo, or hit R to reload. The weight of a real weapon is something that has not been replicated in a game. Even in VR where you have the ability to act our your movements, you are still tethered to a headset and 2 controllers where buttons are used to walk and use objects.

By paragraph five, Buckingham loses her credibility when she cites an article about video games and aggression that is currently undergoing a peer review for invalid facts/results. And while her intro is meant to soften the blow, stating that she's been in the film industry for 20 years and that "this is not the argument of a killjoy," a quick Google search shows that her history is a bit muddled. She has 5 television and movie credits to her name, with only 1 of them as director and writer, another writing credit, and the other 3 as miscellaneous crew members. The bulk of her work is in theater, which is on the opposite spectrum of film, television, and video games. Not to discredit Buckingham, but it's difficult to take your words seriously when you state you have nearly 20 years of film experience, and it amounts to 5 films, 2 being documentaries, and a load of space between each project. That's not the work-load of someone who is actively in the industry. Everyone is allowed an opinion, but I'd see Buckingham as more of a playwright, and not a filmmaker. Her viewpoints on media violence may be skewed because of it.

Unfortunately the opinion piece continues to go down from there, focusing on articles and studies of how people reacted to disembodied avatars - somehow having longer arms and taller frames makes it okay to murder in a game? I don't really know how she's connecting the thread with this one. The only clear point I can see is that doing things in VR is akin to doing it in reality, and by giving people the tools to kill in VR they will want to do it in reality.

Let's think about this logically for a moment. Assume that "thought crimes" is a legitimate concern for VR; do games allow you to murder? I would argue that no, they do not within reason. When you have to kill another avatar in a virtual world, there is typically a reason behind it. Generally it's self-defense (Mass Effect: Andromeda does this quite well when meeting new species of sentient beings) or you are part of a larger war scenario with an "us vs them" mentality. There are games like Party Hard and Manhunt that do focus on murder as the primary actions of the Player Character. With Party Hard the pixilated rendition is so goofy that it, in no way, can be taken seriously. Manhunt has you playing as the murderer, but it's to save your life. And in theory you are killing people that deserve it. But the way Rockstar approached the subject was delicate - you felt horrified by the game that gamers, in no way, would want to repeat the actions in reality.

Murder as defined by Webster is "the killing of another human being under conditions specifically covered in law. In the U.S., special statutory definitions include murder committed with malice aforethought, characterized by deliberation or premeditation or occurring during the commission of another serious crime[.]" There is intent behind the action that is sadistic. With video games, killing an avatar/NPC comes with a reason that doesn't border on murder. It's usually with a just cause and gamers are aware of this. You don't see them turning around in the real world, killing people senselessly. We're smart enough to separate fantasy from reality. Even with the emerging immersion of VR, we get the difference.

We also have to ask the question of do these thought crimes lie with the gamer or with the developers? Because the people who made the games are allowing us the ability to live out these fantasy worlds. Wouldn't they be just as fault for creating such a product as we, the gamers, who think about playing them?

It's entering a realm of legalities and censorship that we haven't reached. Yet. Just because you think a bad thought doesn't mean you are going to act on it. How many people have wanted their bosses or co-workers to have car trouble so they don't have to deal with them at work the next day? Does it mean they are going to cause the trouble by slashing tires and filling the gas tank with sugar? Most likely not. Imagining some things can help ease stress in this frantic world. It in no way makes them a bad person, until they act on it.

We can't make laws for the 1% or less of the world population that may do something bad with video games. Not without it affecting the other 99% who are being decent human beings. Policing VR games would be another step to a 'Minority Report' landscape. I don't know about you, but I don't want Tom Cruz to show up at my door to arrest me for thinking about aiming arrows at non-existent, hostile robots in Horizon: Zero Dawn.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Farmers, Don't Cross Nintendo

The internet is a weird and wonderful place.

Billings Farm and Museum, based in Vermont, has a problem with the Nintendo Switch. A particular mini-game in the 1-2 Switch line-up is called "Milk" they claim is too easy and doesn't accurately represent how challenging it is to milk a cow. duh. It's a video game. If real udders were involved, there might be some questions in the Nintendo board room. In "Milk" two players must battle against each other to fill up as many bottles of milk as they can in 30 seconds.

The farm called out Nintendo on social media, and invited the company out to their farm to see how milking is really done. Within minutes the company fired back with a "challenge accepted" and plan to send out a team over the next week. Maybe they will have a trade off with the farmers - Nintendo employees will milk the real cows while the farmers race to milk the fake ones.

I'm not sure what Billing Farm was trying to accomplish. It's not like they were up in arms over how farming is portrayed in Stardew Valley, or the mini-gardening game on the Nintendo DS. But they got a lot of attention in a very short amount of time. Sometimes it just takes that one hit on the lightning rod to strike. And hey, maybe it'll get some more kids interested in farming now that the two have a social media "friendly" war going on.

This is the internet, people. Enjoy.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Mass Effect: Andromeda Review Update

A few people have messaged me over the past week through Facebook and Twitter to ask when I'll have my Mass Effect: Andromeda review up.

First off, yea! Thank for reading. Appreciate the notes and feel free to join in on the discussions with each daily post.

Second, if you have been keeping up with my reviews, you'll notice that I like to try and play most, if not all of a game, before I write out my thoughts. It would be unfair to the game and the developers if I wrote a review after 2 hours of play. Opinions can shift over time. When you have a game like Mass Effect, Final Fantasy, or Skyrim that can easily take over 40 hours to complete, you want to give it the attention it deserves to make a fair assessment.

That's a long way of saying it'll be at least another week. I want to give the game due-diligence before writing up a review. And seeing how a number of people are back-lashing against the title for it's graphics without having played the game (or playing so little of it with low-end computers that can't utilize the full power of the game's graphics), I don't want to be lumped into that crowd. I want my review to stand out as something definitive and comprehensive.

In the mean-time, here is a little taste of my thoughts so far. After almost 10 hours of game play, 2 priority missions and 35 side-quests completed, I'm finding myself more absorbed into the galaxy than I had expected. The beginning is meh; kind of a throw-away for a handful of minutes. Honestly, you might feel a bit lost if you haven't gone through BioWare's 'Andromeda Initiative' website. I think if they had done that cheesy "join us!" message from the site and implemented it into the opening sequence it would have cemented the tone of the game.

I'm also surprised that I'm enjoying the exploration aspect. Me. The person who HATED doing this in the first game. It helps that the areas are more manageable in scale, and the worlds all feel lived in. The Nomad, your new land rover, isn't so bad either. At least it doesn't drive like a drunk freight train on steroids.

For the naysayers about the graphics, they really aren't as bad as people have made them out to be. The environments are stunning. My Twitter feed was once filled with robo-dinosaurs from Horizon: Zero Dawn, is now nothing but cool space photos.

Yes, there are some goofy side-glances and odd facial animations, but those are minor. It just takes one glitch, or someone hitting the screen shot button at the wrong time to make a derp face happen - we have all seen it. I think a lot of this has to do with the character's eyes. For the humans and Asari, the eyes are extra glassy this game. They feel too artificial and perfect that they become the focal point of the faces. And they are the wrong focal point when most of the animation problems lay with the eyes. Which is weird because the other alien races look great; better then they did in ME3. This is the same problem I have with Horizon. So much emphasis is on "realism" that some parts become unreal and detract from the animations.

That's all I've got for now, but I'm surprised that I'm enjoying this game. I didn't think I would based on the tone and the direction teased by the developers. But it's delivering on the promises and more then I expected.

Be prepared for oh-so-many space photos in the review. I'm in love with the transition scenes and smack that screen share button all too often.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

Dudes, it has not been my week. I've barely had time to game. Work has taken over all of my time. NieR has fallen off the radar along with Horizon. I've spent a grand total of 1 hour and 34 minutes with Mass Effect: Andromeda, and most of that was character creator. The other part was tweaking my graphic settings to my preferences.

That's it!

I have no life. I have given it to the corporate machine.

Zombie mode. Need brains.

This seems like a day for a Weekly Link Round Up. All of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet:

- Want to earn free Razer gear? I know that sounds like a scam opening, but this is legitimate. The company has released a program called zVault, where you can put your gaming hours into real gear from Razer. It's a pretty straight forward process. You have to download their program, create an account, and log in to launch and play one of the 5 games currently on the list: Overwatch, DOTA2, League of Legends, CS:Go, and Paladins. The hours your play translate into points that can be used to gain mice, headsets, backpacks, and discount coupons for the Razer store. While Razer says they won't sell your info or your stats to third parties, it doesn't sit well with me that another company would know my gaming habits. I get enough crap from Origin and Steam. I don't need another business on my back to prompt me to spend money.

- GameStop shares fell again after another quarter of lower then expected earnings. As the company continues to push to more retail markets, it's difficult to determine what they are doing these days to keep customers interested. And I'm not saying that as a former employee. I'm saying that as a consumer. Their digital games platform has fallen flat (and to be honest it's always been flat). Their new store layouts haven't enticed people - it still follows the flow of business where they expect people to walk in, get what they want, and leave. There isn't much encouragement from the company or the stores to let people browse, try out games, and create connections with other gamers and the employees. The CEO has announced that it will no longer release quarterly reports (which is never a good sign from a large company), instead opting for yearly. They are going to be closing 150 stores to reduce their "global footprint" (read that as: make cutbacks). As more people move online for their gaming content, GameStop needs to rethink their strategies or they will continue to see declining sales.

- WhatCulture is always an enjoyable break from the mundane. Today they have gifted us with a list of the 10 Most Annoying People You'll Meet Playing Online Games. So...everyone? *Bazing!* My biggest annoyance are the people who take the game so seriously that they stop having fun with it. If this were a tournament for a million dollars, okay. I understand wanting to be focused on the game. But a random Overwatch Quick match? Who gives a flip. We're all chilling out and having fun. So don't be that dick that randomly quits mid-game because the team isn't winning this very moment. And don't cuss out others who are first time players. They will learn and get better. Just gotta chill and have fun!

- There are some pretty cool things going on in the tech behind video games to allow those with disabilities to join in. Meet Steve Saylor. He's legally blind, but with newer games and consoles like the Nintendo Switch, he's able to play games with friends and family. Larger text and outlined fonts in neutral colors, touch pads, oversized icons all help enhance the experience for Saylor without detracting from the game play. Read through the article when you have a moment. It's kind of cool to see the unique ways developers have been improving their games so that more people can play.

- BMW made a car using the same tech in Gears of War 4. Because reasons. It's a weird pod with a Vive VR headset that allows you to test drive their vehicles without being in one. Because, reasons? I guess they just wanted to show that they could do it.

- The world's oldest video game Easter Egg may have been found! I don't know if this is an Easter Egg and more of a cool trick. Starship 1, an arcade game released by Atari in 1977, allows a player to gain 10 free lives if they perform a series of button taps while inserting a coin into the machine. The game would give a message and you'll have gained the extra lives. Cool, but seems more like a cheat code. Not really an Easter Egg as we know it. But still cool to know. Expect this to appear on a triva show in the future.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Lone Wolf in Australia: The Fight To Save Video Games

For those who don't know, Outlast 2 has suffered the ill-effects of Australia's unusually restrict video game laws, and was denied a classification code. It means the game can not be sold in the country until changes are made to fit their rules. If you are a returning reader of The Geek Spot, you know all too well that Australia has some strange laws for video games. South Park: The Stick of Truth had to undergo several cuts (with scenes being replaced by a crying Koala) before it could be classified in Australia. Here in the US and several other countries, it passes by easily with an M rating. There was a scuffle a few years back to restrict sales of 18+ games, possibly banning them all-together.

The latest, and 5th game, to suffer from no classification prompted a response from David Leyonhjelm, a senator for the Liberal Democrat Party in New South Whales. This man might be the bright beacon of hope that Australia is looking for. His argument is that the classification board is out of touch with the public and their needs. The current system needs an upgrade, according to Leyonhjelm. While he feels that the board is on point with movies, the current set-up for video games leaves much to be desired. The heart of the debate is that Leyonhjelm feels that the people on the board don't understand video games. They don't play them and still feel they are children's toys. Because of this, the rating system and the sale of games hasn't caught up with the times. Adults make up the vast majority of the gaming market. Leyonhjelm quotes 68% of all Australians play video games on a regular basis, with an average age of 33.

What I found interesting about the interview is just how out of touch the Australian government is with games, gamers; and how restricted they are in accessing anything game related on their work systems to research the topic.

“In fact, politicians and public servants are blocked from accessing several gamer websites. If we want to access Polygon, IGN, PC Gamer or Game Planet, the computer says no. This is presumably because we might stumble across an image of something somebody disapproves of on a medium we don't understand. However, we have no such trouble accessing Neo Nazi forums.[sic] It tells us something about the illogical attitude bureaucrats have about video games."

Yeah. I would say that's a good way to produce a poor attitude about video games if you can't even access a review for research in your office. But want to pull up the latest gore-guzzling action-flick? No problem!

It doesn't matter if Leyonhjelm is a gamer or not. He makes a very valid point. The Australian classification system is out of touch with today's world. Even for Australia! The ratings read like they were focused on one task: keep children safe. Which is all well and good, but they are also denying the vast majority of the gaming population that enjoys these products. The board punishes developers for creating content that doesn't fit the extreme guidelines, forcing them to re-work their art in hopes that it can be distributed in Australia. If the citizens of that country have enough intelligence to vote, then they certainly have the ability to determine what games are appropriate for their children, and themselves: not the government.

Leyonhjelm, I don't know where you plan to go with this platform or how you want to accomplish these changes to the ratings system. But the gaming community wishes you luck!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Opinion: Ask Questions First

Let's have a real talk for a moment. We need to break away from the gaming news and have a chat. I don't know what to title this discussion, but I know that I'm really tired of this "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality that some gamers have lately. Whether it's pre-ordering a game based on hype and promises with little gameplay to back it up, or trolling a developer's employee without researching if said person is affiliated with the company (it's very easy to fib on the internet, and just as easy to catch someone in that fib), gamers are becoming their own worst enemy.

I'm becoming disappointed in how gamers are handling themselves lately. Harassment isn't a new thing for developers, but to take it to such a degree is more then disturbing. And the kicker is we don't know if the woman in the story actually worked on the game in question: Mass Effect: Andromeda. BioWare has since issued a statement that any type of harassment is wrong, and have denied any claims that the woman being trolled was involved in the project. Since then, the employee and cosplayer has taken down almost all of her social media. She has her Twitter account still active, but it's gone silent. Her profile has been updated to no longer reflect her employment. It's revolting.

Side note men and women: if you're trying to attract a companion, issuing sexual assault as well as death threats to someone on Twitter is not the way to do it.

In the old days, if we didn't like a video game, you know what we did? We didn't buy it. We stopped making purchases of products released from the developer. If it was bad enough, we would write in a letter or an e-mail that was polite in tone and didn't involve threats of dismemberment.

I can understand some people being unhappy with the animations in some games. Mass Effect is feeling the brunt of it right now, but many also said the same of Horizon: Zero Dawn. Heck, I did too. The dinosaur robots showcase more emotion then the humans. Photo-realism, while very cool to look at in still shots, is a work in progress. It's getting better each year, but they are stilted and sometimes goofy looking. Some moments are breathtakingly amazing to watch unfold, while others are kind of silly. It's not perfect right now, and it's still going to take time to reach that point. Look at 'Star Wars: Rogue One' and the animations used to make a young Princess Leia. When she wasn't moving, walking, or talking, it looked great! But once the character moved, it was kind of awkward. You could tell that it wasn't an actress that looked like Carrie Fisher (may you forever rest in peace our Space Princess), but an animation on top of a person. The face was too plastered, too flat, and trying too hard to look real that it was weird. It all comes down to the nuances. Eye twitches, wrinkles forming around the corners of lips as someone smiles, even breathing can make the difference between reality and animation.

Photo-realism with movement has a long was to go before we hit that perfect marker of it being too real that it could be mistaken for a living person. So how to other movies and video games make it happen? Well, they don't. Overwatch and Super Mario may have characters that show more emotion, but they are designed in exaggerated ways that they don't look like your average human. Body sizes, shading, colors, simplified faces all lend themselves to having more cartoonish features. This makes them easier to animate with emotions that are can be understood by a wide audience. It's easy for us to get caught up in stories where the characters do not look real. It's a challenge to make something look real and still be compelling to watch.

This isn't an argument for or against Mass Effect and Horizon. I've only made it through the character creation process in Andromeda after spending an hour having to update my graphic card (thanks NVidia for that last minute driver...). So I can't provide honest feedback about the animations in ME yet. But I can say for Horizon, as I have played a good chunk of the game, I still found myself enjoying the story. I may have found the characters goofy to watch with their stiff expressions, but I wanted to keep playing. The characters were well developed. The story was exciting and fun to unfold with each step into the robot wilderness. It kept me intrigued, and that made up for the animation. Andromeda could easily do the same.

Needless to say, I've also been disappointed in how quick some gamers have reacted to GIFs and cut-scenes without playing the game. It's no different then saying "this movie is bad" without ever having seen that movie. The core of BioWare has always been storytelling. You are not going to grasp the magnitude of The Old Republic, KOTOR, Jade Empire, or Mass Effect by watching the battle mechanics. And the trailers BioWare has been providing us haven't focused on stories or characters, but more on game play. That's left some gamers unhappy that we haven't learned more - honestly, I'm okay with that. We know the basics premise; you're part of a human crew set to find a new planet to colonize in a distant galaxy, and it takes place 600 plus years after the original game. That's all I need. Part of the joy of playing a BioWare game is discovering what it's about. Learning the lore, meeting the characters, and being swept up in the journey. If BioWare laid it all out in a trailer, I wouldn't be as interested. None of us would. But some games have been so quick to react and pick on every little thing...well it's taking some of the fun out of playing the game for the first time. Too many negative comments can take affect.

What's mind boggling is that so many of these people haven't played the game yet! Andromeda was released yesterday. If you have Origin Access, you got a 10 hour preview, and even that isn't enough to give you a full view of what the game has to offer. So what I see people posting such hateful things about the development team, the game, the cut scenes, without picking up a controller and seeing it for themselves, it's disparaging. Is this what we have become as gamers? Quick to react without any justification? Fast on the keyboard, typing heinous comments before researching?

Again, I'm not trying to defend Andromeda - not until I fully play the game and can provide a thoughtful review. And yes, there are some games and developers that should be held accountable for their bad practices. See Assassin's Creed: Unity. While death threats were not warranted, the terrible game play and the bugs were awful. Ubisoft saw a decrease in sales with their follow-up AC game when fans boycotted, and have since broken their yearly release cycle to give the next game the attention it deserves before releasing it.

Gamers, stop being dicks.

It's okay to not like something. But don't hate it if you haven't experienced the game. I dislike Layers of Fear and I didn't form my opinion until I played. The reviews from other magazine, gaming sites, and bloggers, and crappy GIF's didn't give me the ammo to call out the bad story and trope plot devices. Playing it is the only way to understand what's going on. In doing so, I found some good things as well as bad. It's okay to have an opinion, but at least have an informed one. Don't tell me "Beauty and the Beast sucks" if you haven't seen the movie. (Which the live action one does suck, but that's a rant for another day.)

If you don't like something, don't go crazy ranting on forums, social media, or throwing out death threats willy-nilly. Some states prosecute against that stuff now, as they should. Show sanity for yourself and your fellow humans and stop being a dick.

We are better then this, gamers. You know it. I know it. Unless you want developers to stop making video games, because that's a likely future if you all won't stop being dicks.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

E Games Are Not Meant for Toddlers

Are today's E games made for kids under the age of 8? And I'm asking that as a serious question after reading this Kotaku article by Mark Serrels, asking why is it difficult to make games for kids. We're talking about the pre-school/toddler age children, whom are still learning some of the basics when it comes to reading and word comprehension. Mario Party, Little Big Planet 3, and Madden NFL are all in the E category but you certainly would not give these games to a 5 year old.

The E rating has become more sophisticated over the years. While the meaning behind it hasn't changed since the ESRB was enacted, games that fall into this category have grown up with their audiences. Mario games have elevated themselves from flat-screen platformers to puzzles and battle epics in 3D environments. Games like Frogger, with it's easy concept that even a child straight from the womb could understand, has gone nuts with it's content. Frogger 3D for the Nintendo 3DS offers more challenges and requires quick reflexes that only a seasoned gaming veteran can keep up with.

E games are not for kids any longer. Not when the likes of The Legend of Zelda have taken over that category.

So where is one to go for games that are appropriate for their 8 and under team? Truthfully, I'd look to education stores or companies like LeapFrog. Yes, they are games meant to teach kids and some may find them dull. But these are games meant FOR the younger crowd. Super Mario was not developed to be played by a 5 year old. Fisher-Price is. They're a well-known brand not for their marketing, but for producing products that works best for young children.

Today's E-rated games are not made for children, nor are they geared toward that audience. To assume otherwise is a bit overzealous. Now this isn't to say that all kids can't play an E game. Some have the mental and physical fortitude to play. But some do not. This isn't developers cheating out the kids. They are making games for the audiences that they know will play, and pay, for their product. And younger children do have loads of alternatives through VTech, Little Tikes, and ABCmouse - all companies that produce video games specifically aimed to 2-8 year olds. They're not Mario, that's all. So let's not bash developers for making E games that are more kid-friendly in controls and game mechanics. Developers are making the games that they want to make.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Study Suggest Sexism Due to Video Games?

Happy Monday! One more day until I have another game to play through and review for next week: Mass Effect: Andromeda. March has been new game month and it's making my wallet unhappy. But hey, new games! I'm always happy to play new games. I've been spending the little free time that I have trying to get through as much of NieR:Automata as I can. Horizon has taken a back seat for now. This month has been challenging with new games, mostly because they have all involved open world/exploration. Including the latest Legend of Zelda. I have friends that are already topping out at the 60 hour mark because they enjoy running around the landscape of Hyrule. So I'm doing my best to get you all reviews in a timely manner that give the best scope of the game, even though I don't have the hours to play through them completely.

With that out of the way, onto today's main topic: video games are sexist.

Can I get a "no duh" in here?

A new study has been released from Iowa State University, UnivGrenoble Alpes in France, and Université Savoie Mont Blanc also in France. According to their research, excessive video game playing could be linked to excessive sexism among teenagers. The study surveyed over 13,000 teenagers age 11-19 in France with the questions focusing on how often they play games and their attitudes towards women. The researches don't believe that their method was perfect as it doesn't account for environmental factors, such as family, friends, school, etc. But it's a good foothold for the start of another study and a research of this scale is rare.

Since I have a subscription to the Frontiers journal website, I was able to read the full study. It's missing a few key details, and even forgoes defining stereotypes and sexism (which is the focal point of the study). Some of the questions are too broad and could be misinterpreted. It's not sexist to say women cook for their families. But it is sexist to believe that all women are homemakers and nothing else. The lack of descriptions or context can provide false positives. The paper needs to be re-reviewed for updates. I would take this with a shrug of the shoulders and move on. More credible research needs to be made before such a bold claim that "teenagers are sexist because of video games," can be made.

Friday, March 17, 2017

NieR: Automata - The Review!

It's the NieR review! Yea! I did it! After a shipping delay and lots of life obstacles, I still managed to overcome them to focus on playing Automata. So, how does this newest installment in the NieR catalog live up to it's predecessor? And how does it tie into Drakengard? Is everything still as weird and gut-wrenching emotional as we remember NieR to be?

Let's start off with the good, and I will do my best to keep spoilers to a minimum. Underground favorite NieR is a literal kick to the gut on the feelings, particularly towards the end of the game. You grow to care for the characters and the quest to save your daughter from a disease. It's not so grand as saving the world, but you trying to keep your kid alive is emotionally deep. When people say "this game will f you up" it will man. It will.

Automata is a well-rounded successor to the first game, improving upon mechanics that were sorely in need of attention, and providing more detailed plot points to give informative context to gamers. It's also a good stand alone piece. For those who never played NieR or Drakengard, you don't have to worry about getting lost in the plot. You can pick this up and play without worry that you are missing out on the nuances.

The story follows fem-fighting android 2B. It's the super, far into the future-AD and Earth is attacked by an alien race that utilizes machines to kill. To save the rest of humanity, the few hundred thousand that remain blast themselves off to Earth's moon and plan their next attack. Several years later, the android army under the name YoRHa is created, and are sent to Earth to act as the fighting force for humans. Their goal is to destroy the robots and end the alien invasion. Your initial mission is completed after fighting some big robots in an abandoned factory (if you have played the demo, you already know the first 40 minutes of the game). After which, you are sent back to Earth to help provide support to a human resistance group in an abandoned city. 2B is accompanied by another android 9S, who works as an information unit, to act as the "lore machine." He's the talkative companion that you don't have to babysit.

One of the best features of this game are the fighting mechanics. It's leaps and bounds better then what NieR originally offered. Platinum Games has refined their crazy kick-butt styles from Bayonetta and crafted the battles in Automata to be works of art. There is an effortless flow to the fighting style that it can be quite entrancing. The camera moves like butter. Even when cornered or at an awkward angle, the camera effortlessly moves to re-position itself without prompting you to be involved. You can still move the camera with the right thumb stick, but you don't need to. The game accounts for your character's movements and adjusted accordingly. What I enjoy the most is that you can play the battle in a manner that you see fit. If you want to hack, slash, and button mash, you can. If you want to plan out your fights to determine what combo of abilities will produce the most damage, you can. There are also auto-chip abilities that you can engage to help you fight when you are not sure what course of action to take. Sometimes having all of them active on can feel a bit cumbersome, particular when you want to change your target to another oncoming enemy, but as a whole it's a pretty solid system.

The landscape of the game is dynamic. It has it's own polish that I would argue is on the level of Horizon: Zero Dawn. It may not have the same visual power, but the images produced are just as breathtaking. The changes in colors help enhance the look as you advance to new areas. The YoRHa base morphs the hues to black, white, and grey - very robotic. The forest areas are rich in greens and golds while adding saturation to 2B's and 9S's outfits. If there is a complaint to be had about the visuals, it has nothing to do with the final product but the state of humanity itself: we really suck at future designs. Apparently in 5,000 AD we still use concrete and steel to build structures. Good job humans! Way to advance our race. No wonder aliens nearly wiped us out.

The story is pretty solid from beginning to end, and on additional playthroughs. And yes, you should play this game multiple times as the context changes in your "new game plus" mode. While it's not as emotionally satisfying as NieR, Automata does deliver on the promise that it will make you think. It will push your metaphysical comfort level by asking questions about what is real, what isn't, and do robots and androids have the right to feel? It reminds me a lot of the book 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' by Philip K. Dick. If that book sounds familiar, it's the basis for the plot in the movie 'Blade Runner.' Sadly, this is where I have to stop discussing the story, because if I type anymore, I'll give away the big plot. Sorry everyone!

Part of your task as you make your way through post-apocalyptic Earth, is powering up 2B with new skills. You have the ability to program 2B and her storage/ability Pod to fit your needs. The primary memory slot is required in all android units, but the rest of the chips can be interchanged as you see fit. If you don't want to see the XP bar, have a mini map, or see how much damage your attacks do, you can remove those features from your core. Is it worth it? Well that depends on how you like to play. By taking out a lot of the small pieces, you open up space to use some of the better chips for higher attack damage, better defense, etc. You can also create new challenges for yourself this way to make the game more difficult to play. It's easy to spend a lot of time in the menu, which can be overwhelming to flip through. But if you spend enough time fussing around, you'll find what you need.

To enhance the android experience, there is no auto-save in this game. Because how could an android auto-save? They can't. They need to hook themselves up to a computer to back up their data. If you need to save, you can only do so at designated terminals that look a lot like vending machines, and black box pods that help transport you to key areas around the map. You can also save when you are near these units. The vending machines also serve as a communication hub. When you hit the level 16-20 range and finish a main story quest, you'll eventually unlock the ability to transport between each vending unit. You should check it often for messages and new quests. As far as death is concerned, you can die in the game, but your consciousness is sent to another android body on the YoHRa ship. You'll lose all of your items in the process, because they are on your physical person. But your stuff will still be there should you want to retrieve it. Like Drakengard, you have one chance to pick up your stuff. If you die again, you lose it permanently. And another hitch: if you haven't been saving often enough, you may forget some of your memories and encounters with NPC's. So you'll have to replay conversations to get back up to speed. Realism!

By the way, this is an open world RPG. You know what that means? Fetch quests! So many fetch and escort quests. No RPG is immune to these unholy demons, but at least the options in Automata are not as cumbersome. Some of them have charming backstories and amusing dialogue to make it worth the effort. And some are downright annoying and require a lot of running, backtracking, and no fast transit.

There are also the random things one can do in NieR such as fishing, going to an amusement park, and hunting boars. If anyone played the original NieR, you know about the boars. You have to farm a lot of them for weapon upgrades. In Automata, they are a bit more tolerable, but still just as annoying to farm.

Since we're on the subject, what are the negatives to this game? My biggest gripe has to do with the natural progression of enemy levels to 2B. And when I say that, I mean the lack of progression. There is a major plot point in the game that you can achieve around level 12. Up to this point, the mobs are within a 2-4 level range of 2B's. After this quest, enemies in the area will take on a staggering difference of 8 to 37 levels. What makes it all the more frustrating is that you don't know what level these robots are until you are within attack range (it is possible there is a chip available that allows you to gauge enemies from afar, but I never found it). The same also applies to quests; the quests don't have a level marker. So you could accept something that's meant for a level 30 and not realize it, as I did on multiple occasions.

Because of this, the game becomes a long drudge on the quest to get XP. It's recommended that you over level as much as possibly before you dive into the main story quests (which are ALSO lacking a marker - really guys, is it that difficult to tag which quests are Main Story and which are Side?). Things get bigger, badder, and tougher to kill. Or in the case of Beginner Mode, they take a lot longer to pull offline until you are able to upgrade your weapons. Higher levels and knowing when to run from a battle will be your constant companions.

The cross-country race to finish quests is incredibly tiresome. You will be using your dash ability a lot to move around the world, as well as riding random animals that you bait for a bit of a speed boost. There needs to be more hubs around the world that allow you to save and teleport. Most of my game play is probably due to traveling and less on the story-line. Which...well it sucks. I came to NieR for the story. Not to spend 20 minutes running from the city to the desert for an escort quest back into the city. Fetch quests are fine, but when they turn into cumbersome tasks for XP grinds, it can sour the gaming experience.

I'm also a little disappointed that the story was easy to follow. Is that something fair to critique on? I'm struggling with this point and I know a lot of it has to do with my comparisons to NieR. That game turned into a mind-blowing "WTF is going on" situation. In Automata, the story presented is a bit more direct and not as mentally demanding. This isn't to say that the story is weak; it's probably one of the more in-depth plots we'll see in games this year. Automata will throw some insightful philosophical questions your way. But it feels like it's missing the punch that NieR originally had. Automata is still a great story to play through and I recommend it, but it's predecessor wins this round. And again I wish I could give more detail, but spoilers!

Overall, NieR: Automata is worth a play. If you are a fan of the first game, then you are already know. If you're not, try out the demo. Get a feel for the layout. If you enjoy those 40 minutes and want more, then you are good to go. The demo gives a great overview of what to expect.

Quick tips to help out those who want to jump right in:

- Kill everything in your path if you can.
- Overlevel and you will be grateful for it down the line.
- It's okay to run away from a fight. Sometimes it's safer then to die and having to spend an hour trying to reclaim your items.
- Pick up everything that you see. Those orange circles of light on the ground are items from enemies and found throughout the world, with the potential for rare items, weapons, and Pod upgrades.
- Fish. Really, go fish! You can make some decent credits early on.
- When you first arrive on the YoHRa ship, take a few minutes to look over the menu. You'll need to get familiar with it as it becomes a life-line later on in the game.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Emulators Helping Restore Video Game History

Emulators are continuing to keep the games from yesteryear alive and well. We know that emulators tend to have a mixed reputation. Technically, they are legal to use. As long as we don't distribute and profit off the original source code of the games, then we are in the clear. But there are those who argue against them; claiming that games are being stolen (which is not the case 99% of the time) or that developers are being left out of the loop and not receiving any additional revenue for their work. It's also important to note that most emulator sites run off of donations. They can't legally sell the ROM's. There is a difference, and a number of them will follow the letter of the law.

But emulators also serve an even greater purpose: preservation of our gaming history.

If there is one thing the media is bad at, it's taking the time to save their history so that the future can enjoy, respect, and learn from the art. It took the film industry several decades to realize that they should probably take better care of their reels. So many black and white silent films will never be recovered due to poor preservation practices.

How do emulators help? They allow for games from older consoles and PC's to be playable on modern technology. In some cases, they have even saved games from the dumping ground such as Primal Rage 2, an unreleased sequel that had arcade cabinets produced. Using an emulator, coders and fans were able to help bring the game back from the grave for people to see. Even games that were not released, they deserve the same respect of preservation as any other game. Not so much to play them, but to see all aspects of gaming history. Good, bad, and everything in betwee.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

I'm finding a lot of random non-news, news for games on the interwebs today. So let's make this an early Weekly Link Round Up. The best thrills, chills, and spills of gaming content that's available for you to review, this week! Here's whats on the docket:

- WhatCulture must have hired a new freelancer today as they have a slew of new lists available. First up it's 10 Video Game Twists That We Never Saw Coming! Of the lists that I'll be covering today, this one is the worst. The likes of Final Fantasy VII (really?) and Call of Duty (really??) can be seen, and it completely ignores some of the more prominent, game twists. Such as Metal Gear Solid 3, the boss fight against Psycho Mantis. Why is that a twist? Because you have to move your controller to the second player slot and turn off your system to kill the guy! Games even today never force you to stop your experience to swap controllers and try and break your game. Or Silent Hill 2 where you find out (SPOILER) that the main protagonist is the killer all along, and you playing the game as his punishment. Those are twists. Not Aeris dying, which I'm sorry. It's not. Even if you haven't played a Final Fantasy game, you know if your party member runs off all willy-nilly, leaving her things behind, and starts acting weird, she's probably going to die. It's horror movie logic.

- The next WhatCultue list has an odd title: 10 Best Alternative Female Heroes in a Video Game. All it means are the lesser known female leads. Not Samus or Lara Croft. This list did require some thought and research because, as we sadly well know, there are few female protagonists in video games. The list includes Superbrothers: Sword & Sorcery, Clementine from The Walking Dead, and Red from Transistor. However lumping Aloy from Horizon: Zero Dawn into the top spot was a bit of pandering. In the short time that the game has been on the market, she's become a top leading female figure. I'd rather the list stuck with lesser known female leads.

- Tired of lists yet? No? Say hello then to Screen Rant's list of 17 Best Star Wars Games. The worst part of this list is easily Battlefront, the 2015 remake. And that it's on the list and not the original. The best part is that someone finally mentions Super Star Wars, one of the best platforming action games on the Super Nintendo. But overall, it's not a bad lineup. All are fun games...except for the remake Battlefront. That one can be burned in a fire.

- But we're no done yet! Game Revolution has a list of 5 Unsung Video Game Composers. These are musicians that may have had only one or two songs added to a soundtrack, or were not credited at all. Have you heard of Eveline Fischer? I haven't and she composed several tracks to one of my favorite SNES games: Donkey Kong Country. She even developed almost the entire soundtrack for the third game Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble. My mind is blown. Start checking out your lists of favorite songs. They may not all be from one composer!

- Have you ever wondered why digital games for PC and consoles cost the same as their physical counterparts? Gameranx jumps into the debate to see why the more economically efficient digital downloads cost the same, and sometimes more then physical. (If you have Amazon Prime, you can receive 20% off all pre-orders, and during the first 2 weeks a game is released. This doesn't always apply to special or limited editions, but for the base game, 20% off the original price is a nice bit of savings.)

- That Rampage movie is still in the works. The monster battle royale is looking for an Apil 2018 release, and more people are signing up to join the cause. The movie will star Dwayne Johnson, would could hold a 50/50 shot on being mildly entertaining. Before I hear any flack, remember. He was in that bad Doom movie. One of the actors, Matt Gerald, is currently on Netflix's 'Daredevil' and the production team behind the disaster film 'San Andreas' is behind the movie. It could be worse...

- It's not your imagination. If you own a Nintendo Switch, you probably saw the price increase on the games. Nintendo has always been pretty affordable by comparison to other consoles. It's rare to see a game priced over $49.99. 3DS games are typically $39.99, where as Vita tops out at $59 and XBox One/PC/PS4 games range from $59 to $79 for their games. Switch games are currently selling at that $59.99 price. Why? Well the cost to make games for Nintendo has gone up. Read the details on Eurogamer.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

PS Now Update To Include PS4 Games

Yesterday Sony announced a major update to the PlayStation Now service line, that will allow gamers to finally access PS4 games. PS Now is a cloud-based gaming subscription service that allows users to pay a monthly fee and play PS3 games. It was released in 2015 and the library of content has been steadily growing; you can even play Resident Evil 6 and The Last of Us.

Opening up the gate to now allow for PS4 games provides a new level of access for games. A few months ago Sony integrated PS Now with Windows services; a user could start a game on the PS4 and take it to their PC. Having that level of freedom of play for a PS4 game would be a step forward for PS Now. Sony has not released a list of which games would be included, but some are speculating that some exclusive titles, such as Uncharted 4, could be named. Over the next few months, Sony will send invitations to current PS Now subscribers to test out the update in a closed beta. This could be a great opportunity for PS4 gamers who don't want to spend a lot of money on games, or want to try out titles before purchasing them. Nothing worse then dropping $60 on a new game only to find out that it's nothing like you wanted.

Monday, March 13, 2017

More Twitch Talk

If you came here for a NieR: Automata review, you'll have to wait a few more days. I'm still working my way through the game to ensure I've played enough of it to validate a review. I don't want to muck it up. And with Mass Effect: Andromeda releasing next week, along with a convention this weekend, I'm doing my best to power through the game and make it review-worthy.

In the mean-time, let's talk about Twitch!

The exclamation means it is important.

When you can find news about Twitch on NPR as a featured story, you know it's worth talking about. The growth of the streaming medium, Let's Plays, and Twitch Creative has opened up more discussions. A slew of new questions, concerns about cyber harassment, and business deals that will affect future revenue are all on the table for discussion.

Watching Twitch these past few years, as a company, has been fascinating. Our entertainment interests have shifted. In the US, we spend more time at home then we do going out to see movies, attend concerts, or buy a CD. Yes, they still produce CD's. Our focus has shifted to on-demand content. We want to be able to see our favorite TV show with a mouse click. Even I, a self-processed DVD and box nerd, have given up my mailing lifestyle and stream movies direct to my PC. Why the change in our habits, and so quickly? Part of it is the convenience factor. Going to the movies doesn't hold the same nostalgia like it once did. After spending $40-$60 on tickets and popcorn, the time driving to and from, along with 30 minutes of commercials, it taints the experience. For some of us, we could get the same "movie" feel right from our homes as technology for better televisions and sound systems becomes more affordable. And it's all on your already comfy couch! Score one for the homebodies. But it's also a matter of cost. It's expensive to go to the movies. It's expensive to buy a DVD-box set of a TV show. Streaming the content is a fraction of the cost for your wallet, and for the production company.

It's no wonder that services like YouTube and Twitch have become part of our daily ritual for entertainment. They're even cheaper then the alternatives, easier to access, and provide the same great content in bite-sized chunks. Even if you have to watch an ad or two, they are much less invasive then other services. There also isn't a paywall to prevent you from accessing the content like Amazon or Netflix. Content creators work hoping that you, the audience, enjoy the videos enough to provide sponsorship, donations, or click on ads so they can generate revenue and keep producing.

When people talk to me about Twitch, there is a lingering stereotype that it's, well, silly. It's gamers playing games. What's the fun in that?

YouTube is still shaking off a similar facade as the upstart to the entertainment world and providing meaningless content. YouTube Red has shown that internet videos are much more then cats and men getting hit in the groin. Content creators have produced live-action shorts, animations, and full-length movies that rival the quality of television

Twitch started as a center for streaming gaming content at conventions and expos and has transformed into a platform for everyone to showcase their gaming cred. It's no longer about watching people play games, but the personalities behind them. Anyone can play a game. You don't have to be great at it. But what separates Rooster Teeth and Markplier from Joe Schmo is that they have personalities that are easy to gravitate to. They entertain while they game.

As a person growing to enjoy Twitch, I won't deny the fact that seeing someone play a game can be fun. Particularly speed runs or new releases where I may not have the time to actually play myself. Adulting. Life. Job. Bills. Responsibilities. While I would love to play every game that hits store shelves, it's not feasibly possible. So I live vicariously through streamers that are able to play the games that I wish I had time for. But this isn't the sole reason people watch Twitch these days. They watch for their favorite personalities. I'm more likely to watch Bill Doran/Punished Props on Twitch Creative as he streams prop builds then others, because he has the persona to back up his work. He's entertaining and informative to watch. He engages with his audience. He's quick to respond to questions and comments. He provides laughs as well as serious talks, and he enjoys every second of it. Those are the streamers that stand out for the medium.

I'm curious to see where Twitch goes from here. Opening up the avenue for game sales could produce a new breed of streamers that are brand specific. We could easily see a rise of streamers that are EA, Ubisoft, or Activision exclusive and pimp their content for a portion of sales as well as a streaming deal directly tied to the developer. It's more then just "playing games" these days.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

My copy of NieR: Automata finally arrived! So you'll have to excuse me for a few days while I submerge myself into that world and somehow manage my time with reality. So here's a Weekly Link Round Up to keep you occupied. Let's face it. I am not able to focus on much else outside of NieR.

- Another study is out about violent video games; this one stating that in the long-term, violent games do not affect one's empathy. Posted on EurukAlert!, German researches used an fMRI on a group of male gamers over the course of 4 years to watch their brain patterns after gaming sessions. Participants were required to play violent video games for 2 hours a day over the 4 year period. In that time, researchers found that there no comparable difference in brain stimulation between the test subjects and non-test subjects. The team acknowledged that further study is required, but this is on the few long-term projects for reviewing how games affect our brains.

- A lot of people seem impressed by the Nintendo Switch. I'm still waiting on the sidelines until a more robust lineup of games are released, and some reviewers recommend the same. Check out this product review by The Advocate, which gives insight into the console, as well as the ups and downs with the new gear.

- Amazon has a new head to it's gaming studio: Louis Castle. If you were an avid PC gamer in the 1990's, that name may sound familiar. Castle is the co-founder of Westwood Studios and a major figure behind the Command & Conquer series. After EA purchased the company, Castle stayed on in a leadership role. Amazon is turning some heads in the industry, picking up high profile employees from Microsoft, EA, and Valve to work with their new studio.

- Remember yesterday's blog post about that new ban China has going on with South Korea? Well, it just got a lot bigger. Tabao, one of the world's largest auction sites, based in China, will be banning the sale of any and all imported video games, CD's, DVD's, cassettes, and books. It all starts today, March 10. If a seller violates this new rule, they can be banned for 7 days from the site, or have their account removed entirely. For imported games, Chinese buyers will have to go to mainland app stores, or local game merchants. Made even worse, Tabao sellers have not been given any outlines on how the new rule works. Are they still allowed to sell imported games to buyers outside of China? What about pre-existing orders? If a game is 20 years old, would that be allowed to be sold on the market? The rules are going to make for an interesting market in China over the upcoming months.

- Confused about video games? You're probably not. If you're reading this blog, you are most likely a gamer. But on the off-chance that you are not one who plays video games, then avoid this article from Must Tech News at all costs. It's so bad. Just, bad bad advice on how to get into gaming. Particularly when it starts out with "you can be anyone or anything, but you need to have a good computer" without going into a spec of detail on what to look for when you buy a PC game to ensure that your computer can run the darn thing. The next statement encourages you to use cheat codes. What? How will using cheat codes help you be a gamer? Most games no longer utilize cheat codes! This article is so laughably bad. If you are not a gamer, avoid it. But if you are, read it and I hope it brightens up your day.

- The days of the Nintendo DS are long gone; the system being discontinued in 2014 in favor of the 3DS. But we still remember the glory days of some amazing hand held games. Screen Rant ranks the top 20 DS games, and it's a well rounded list. So if your in need of a bit of nostalgia, enjoy!

- Why are chickens in video games? Other then adding a sense of realism, there are sometimes found in the most random places such as Resident Evil and Call of Duty. Chickens do not belong on a battlefield. If you are attending PAX East this weekend, stop by the 'Ask the Ethicist' booth and Dr Catherine Flick. She's been at the event for the past 4 years and has brought up some interesting topics. The chicken fiasco is one of her most downloaded papers that she will be presenting at the event.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

China Backlash Against South Korea Targets Video Games

China is once again cracking down on video games, this time specifically aiming at titles from South Korea. The game market has exploded in China. Though it's had a tumultuous start with the stressful regulations, some of those rules have relaxed and have allowed international developers to jump in. If the ticket sales for the 'Warcraft' movie are any indication, China loves video games. But recent political tensions are resulting in a roll-back of old policies that could limit new games being introduced into the country.

Beijing has introduced a new policy that will stop allowing games from South Korea from receiving approval in the country. This is in response to the THAAD missile defense system, which should be live in South Korea by April. Nexon, a Seoul-based developer, confirmed the new rule from an e-mail statement. A number of South Korean developers work with publishers in China to help release their games. And one large gaming group in China has mentioned that they received an internal e-mail over a week ago about new policies that limit discussion on China-South Korean relations, and to reduce business ties.

THAAD is a long-range defense system. Both South Korea and the U.S., which has been helping with the set-up, state that the defenses are to protect South Korea from North Korea (whom have also been testing new missiles as of late). But China claims this isn't the case, and are concerned that the missiles will be turned on them. In response to this, they are disrupting businesses in hopes it'll convince South Korea to dismantle THAAD. This isn't just video games. China is also closing down Korean-based super markets, refusing entry to Korean musicians, and not allowing airlines to travel to new routes throughout the country.

Since the announcement, Nexon and Joymax, one of the two more well-known South Korean companies with games in China, have seen their stocks tumble dramatically. South Korea plans to issue a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Firefox Update to WebAssembly Boon for Gamers

Mozilla Firefox is trying to keep itself relevant on the minds of internet users. While it still outperforms most mobile browsers, it's still trailing behind Google Chrome and Internet Explorer. From a business professional perspective, I can tell you that most large corporations still rely on the old technology of IE. This is to accommodate their customers and other businesses that are unable to upgrade their systems as often. It's better to be slow on the times and reach more customers then to be modern and have a smaller pool to sell to. Until Microsoft shifts away from IE entirely, it will remain at the top of the list for some time. Safari is high due to the iPhone. But Firefox is not in a bad position as one of the few, free open-source entities on the internet.

To stay at the top of the game, they have introduced a new version that now includes WebAssembly. The new format will allow for faster download times of pages, plugins, flash, and java. For gamers, it'll make your stuff look way cooler. Most browsers are unable to run modern computer games, which is why you'll see flash games in a stripped down version. WebAssembly will help ease that crunch and provide users with fuller games at the same size and speed as the old content. This is one of the first big changes to web browsers in the past decade, and Mozilla hopes to lead the way. The app uses low level language to speak to the C+ and C++ content, converts it, and then uploads it to the browser. The current method is that the high language is converted in the browser, and the system figures out the best way to run it. By not leaving it up to the browser, WebAssembly is able to provide better output.

If testing goes well with this new version, expect other browsers to follow.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

"Hard" Game 'Football Manager' Sees Unexpected Near Winner

If anyone ever makes a statement that video games are not as challenging as they use to be, show them this article about Football Manager. Streamer VikingDan spent over 100 hours taking a tiny, non-club football (soccer) league and transforming it into a Premier League and Champions. 100 hours for a simulator game that's based on real world data. The game is so accurate that a number of professional teams utilize it to come up with strategies and trades that would benefit their roster. It's also proof that some of us crazy gamers do like challenges. There's a market for difficult games.

For us 90's kids, we know Football Manager as Championship Manager, with the creepiest person on the box art. It was one of the most complicated simulation games on the market and there was no way to really "win" in the end. It's all based on hypotheticals to build an ideal team, and even then the probabilities may not be in your favor. Think of it like 'Moneyball' but with less Brad Pitt.

But if anyone has come close to winning the game, VikingDan did. Not mention, he streamed a game that's not visually striking. Earlier versions of the game you were lucky to have top-down views of matches with green and red dots representing players. What makes this game challenging is that an AI is constantly running in the background, regardless of the players decisions. It's a robust tool based on numbers, which is always difficult to overcome. And even if the numbers are in your favor, if you don't account for a stat on the opposing team, you could lose a match. It requires a lot of attention to detail. So 100 hours to take a no-name team to top of the league is pretty damn impressive. That's easily years, if not a decade, or work in the real world.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Review Time: Horizon Zero Dawn

Bum rush Horizon: Zero Dawn review, because let's be honest, as of tomorrow evening I will be lost to NieR:Automata. Two weeks later it'll be Mass Effect: Andromeda. When you have a full time job, and run a part-time craft business, it's a challenge to finish a game within a timely fashion. NieR is going to consume me, just like the first game did. Mass Effect will also...unless it's like ME1 then we're going to have some problems, Bioware. But I think I have played enough of Horizon to give a fare assessment of the game. You can easily lose yourself and draw out the experience to 60 plus hours, or plow through the main story and be done in 10-20 hours (depending on how much or how little you want to explore). So here's a mini-review of the open world, PS4 darling, Horizon: Zero Dawn.

First things first: Mother of Fuggin' Pearl this is a GORGEOUS game. Weird face animations aside, Horizon is a beautiful world. Stunning. Stellar. Over the top. Wow. If 'Princess Mononoke' and 'Labyrinth' had a weird game offspring, it would be Horizon. And then artist Yoshitaka Amano (concept artist for Final Fantasy) threw a bunch of his magical colors and swirls on it. Tada!

To make it all the sweeter, the game packs a robust photography mode that you activate through the main menu. Pause the game, scroll down to Photo, and you'll be treated to an array of lenses, filters, and lighting options to customize the final image. There's even an option to change the f-Stop. It's pretty hard core for photos. You also have the ability to move the camera around. Dolly, Pan, Tilt, Shift - the full array of options are ideal for anyone who's into game photography. There are some limitations to when you can use the feature. Cut scenes or object interactions will allow you to take a screen shot but you can't adjust the camera or the coloring. Rappelling off a cliff/building counts as object interaction so you can't take action shots. But beating up a dinosaur bot or a bad guy? You can capture that!

You play through the game as Aloy (Eh-Loy). On more then one occasion I wanted to pronounce it as Alloy, the metal compound. I'm sure that was intentional on the developer's part, based on the outcome of the story. Aloy is an outcast from birth, not having been claimed by her mother. She's thrust into the care of another outcast, and grows up wanting to find out why she was abandoned by her tribe. To do this she enters 'The Proving,' a yearly event where the teens and young adults of the tribe enter a tournament to become Braves, the tribes' army. Outcasts are allowed to participate as well. Whoever wins first place is granted a boon of their choice, whatever it may be. Of course everything goes horribly wrong, the tribe is ambushed, and bad stuff happens. Aloy is promoted to Seeker, under the belief by two of the tribe's councilwomen that she is a blessing. So Aloy sets off into the world with a ton of questions, very few answers, and you get to help her figure them out along the way.

Horizon is a give and take game when it comes to it's plot. It gives you lots of bread crumbs to follow the trail to learn more about Aloy and what the heck happened to Earth to create this post-apocalyptic landscape. There are no clear answers from the get-go. You explore the world and unearth questions at the same time as Aloy. Which is refreshing; instead of playing the character who knows everything but doesn't tell you squat, you are in the same position as Aloy. Full of questions with no one to directly answer them. By utilizing your scan tool, you learn more about the history of the planet through various way points. You'll see images, hear audio recordings, and tap into the past.

What struck my interest in this game is that humanity didn't de-evolve with the rise of the robots. Sure, we had to scale ourselves back to the Stone Age and learn how to hunt again. But humans in this game don't speak in grunts like the cavemen of Farcry: Primal. We retained our speech patterns. We maintained a knowledge of our collective past to know enough that machines are bad, and we shouldn't make the same mistake by embracing technology again with full abandon. One could argue that we evolved culturally in Horizon, as many of current societal norms (such as gender inequality/sexism, ageism, and racism) are noticeably absent in the game. Many of the villages and clans you come across will have women or people of various ethnic backgrounds holding powerful positions. One of the first main quests when Aloy leaves her home involves you seeking out and assisting the captain of the clan's army, a black woman (one of the few left alive after an ambush; tough as nails and looks ready to kill you on contact). And there's no questioning if these women and people of color can do their jobs. They prove themselves capable and they do their tasks. How refreshing is that to have in a game?

The world is made up of natural and mechanical aspects. You can hunt fish, boars, and rabbits for materials, as well as an array of dinosaur robots that litter the landscape. Some are harmless and easy to avoid. They don't become agitated unless you are too close. The Strider is a horse-like machine that can scare without much provocation. It's instinct is to run away, rather then fight you. And there are other machines that act like carnivores and feast on their own kind. Though it all, there are luscious forests, mountains, and desert valleys that will cause your jaw to drop. Somehow nature and machines have found a way to co-exist, and humans are the annoying ones carving out paths and harvesting for materials.

Horizon plays as an open-world, survival, action game with RPG elements. If you expect to progress in the game, you have to fight against the robots. To do this requires you to utilize your weapons and crafting arrows for your bow. You gain materials by harvesting, killing wildlife, and bringing down the dinosaur bots. The metal shards of said dinosaurs are also part of the in-game currency system to spend with merchants. So it's a continually growing cycle of harvest, stab, craft, sell. As you level up, you can unlock more abilities that will make your time out in the wild much more manageable, such as better stealth techniques. Weapons and armor also afford you the chance to add runes and upgrade them with special stats.

There are a number of fetch quests, as one would expect. Go here. Kill the thing. Grab the item. Return it. Rinse. Repeat. I don't think that will ever go away with open-world games. For Horizon, you sadly need to do a lot of these quests to get the most XP gain. When you reach level 8, the XP gain/need ratio expands dramatically and it's a bear to farm animals and robots. Quests become your saving grace in getting you the levels you need before you move on to the next plot point.

The big draw to this game will be story and exploration. If those two things do not interest you, then pass on Horizon. You have to be really into exploring in order to obtain vital aspects of the story. Sure you could focus on just the main quests, but you will miss out on the other 40 hours of content that helps explain the plight of humanity. It's equally as important for you to find all of the way points and data markers, as it is to follow the primary story. And that requires a lot of running, jumping, galloping, and hiding. That's the bottom line.

Problems that should be addressed, and I hope to whatever deity is listening that Guerilla Games considered patching this one aspect: The control scheme is set in stone. You can not adjust it. You can not swap button placements. You're stuck with it. While most of the buttons feel in line with other games, using Square for Crouch and R3 for your scanning device is dumb. I'm so use to other games where R3 is crouch, that I found myself multiple times tapping it on accident when I'm trying to hide from enemies. And instead I turn on my scanner and find myself in combat a moment later without any advantages. To get out of the scanner you either have to hit R3 again or jump. If I could swap those buttons, I would be happy. But nope! These are the controls that I have and I get to deal with it. In a month when I pick up this game again I'm going to forget this, and get Aloy killed by a robot. I hope a patch is released that gives us the freedom to customize the buttons.

I'm also unhappy with the facial animations. They feel stilted and lack emotional impact - which can be annoying because you can feel the tension in the actor's voices. But the characters do not represent this with their faces. It's almost as though their faces are too perfect, that you miss out on the subtle nuances of expressions. This isn't Mass Effect where an awkward glance can be forgiven because of limited technology. When the robot dinosaurs do a better job of expressing themselves than the humans, you've got a problem.

Fetch quests. I get it that it's an open-world game, but we're all kind of done with it. I enjoy exploring the landscape, but enough with the fetch quests. Give me another way to level up that doesn't require running from point A to B multiple times.

Overall, I am thoroughly impressed with this game, the dynamics, and the action. It's living up to the expectations Guerilla Games promised us, and I had a difficult time putting it down. This is a must have for PS4 owners. Unless you hate exploring. Then don't get this. Get NieR: Automata tomorrow and prepare to be wrecked.

Note: I'm aware of the essay from a Native American photographer about the use of language in the game. In particular the words braves, tribal, primitive, and savage. I'm not going to tell a person how to feel about it. What you think is up to you, and if you're offended by the game's use of those words, then that's your opinion. I personally don't take issue with them, particularly since they come up so rarely and are not used in the same, negative context (historically). In this age of the internet where everyone can be connected to everything, it's impossible to please everyone. Someone is going to be offended by something. Hell, some are offended by me, a woman, having a blog about video games. It's impossible to avoid any form of controversy.

So, take that as you will. I'm not going to delve into the topic.