Friday, April 28, 2017

Faking Your Way in Video Game Chats

Sometimes the internet takes itself way too seriously. And then there's Kotaku to lighten it up with a silly article. 'How To Fake Your Way Through Conversations About The Hottest Video Games.' If you ignore the comments of people not realizing that this was meant to be a humorous article, it's lighthearted approach can be charming.

Obviously the honest way into, and out, or these conversations about games is to be upfront and say "I haven't played it." Then wait until the topic changes to something that you can comment on while you stand to the side like an awkward duck.

Been there. Done that. The chat typically turns into "oh, so this is why you have to play" and then you'll be bombarded with dozens of reasons on why you should try it out. Even if you have no interest in it (sorry dudes; you're not getting me to play Final Fantasy XV).

My go-to response is "I've heard a few things about the game, but I haven't had time to play it." This is my reality. I'm absorbed in the gaming culture, but with so much out there to play, there just isn't time to try it all. Not between work, my second business, and this blog. It doesn't help that March was open-world bonanza month, and I am now attempting to 100% all of these games I've had to neglect. And I must complete all the things. The response also keeps me active in the conversation so I can enjoy the discussion without having to slink off. Try it some time. You have my permission to use it.

Whatever your reasons for not playing the latest games, that's okay! You do you and enjoy this silly article from Kotaku. Don't take it so seriously.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

Starting the Round Up early again. There are too many great, and silly stories to pass by on a day like today. Let's jump into it! Here are the best, and worst, video game articles on the internet right now:

- Nintendo announced yesterday that it has partnered with fast-food chain McDonalds for a series of Happy Meal toys available now through May 22nd. This upset PETA, because it's PETA. 'In a statement emailed to GameRevoltuion, PETA said "Nintendo should stay in the business of selling creative video games, not cruel and unhealthy chicken nuggets." ' PETA has had a longstanding feud with multiple fast-food companies and Nintendo for Mario's Tanooki suit. I saw ignore PETA and go enjoy your Happy Meal. They're looking for attention where there's none to be had.

- eSports may be one step closer to the Olympics. Announced April 18th by the Olympic Council of Asia, eSports will make it's debut at their event, the 2022 Asian Games. The Asian Games is the Olympics for Asian countries. With the rising popularity of eSports, it seems like a natural progression. Last year, eSports brought in 214 million unique viewers. Only 4 countries in the world have populations larger then the viewer numbers. We don't know the details yet on what games will be available or how teams will be selected to participate, but you can bet we will all be watching to see what happens.

- WhatCulture is at it again with a list of 9 Ways All Open-World Games Are Starting to Suck. Among the contenders are "pointless upgrade systems," "big is too big," and "crafting systems are boring." Okay first off, Josh Brown, who wrote this article, needs to find better games or actually play the games he's bashing on. Seems like a number of his comments are copy/paste rants from gamer forums. While I think many of us could agree that fetch quests needs to be brought to an end, and some new takes on those side-quests would be appreciated, a number of games have perfected open-world in their own way. The Witcher 3 has a great balance between pacing and gameplay that you feel involved in the action without it losing steam. Horizon: Zero Dawn provides amazing landscapes that change as you cross the relm, as well as a crafting system that is sensible while being enjoyable. Mass Effect: Andromeda's side-quests are to help you terraform a planet so it can become liveable. I don't know about you all, but going to find a source of water for a colony seems like a pretty big deal. While I get what WhatCulture is trying to convey, they've once again missed the mark.

- Not to be outdone on the lists, JOE (with advertisement placement by Microsoft so...thanks for that?) looks at 11 games that re-wrote the gaming rule book. The games that changed how we play while turning the industry on it's head. For a Microsoft sponsored article, this is actually a pretty good list. You have classics such as Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog along with new-commers like Pokémon Go and Minecraft. While I'm not a fan of the sponsored posts, the writer gets a thumbs up on providing a list that makes sense.

- XBox head honcho Phil Spencer is imagining a world where video games become Netflix. The model of paying a monthly fee for unlimited access to content, while allowing developers of all ranges produce content at their pace. Games can be released in episodes like Hitman or all at once, as is the tradition. As more people gain access to broadband connections, the concept isn't that farfetched. Sony and Microsoft both offer a slimmed down version of a Netflix-like service for people to rent games monthly. But what Spencer hopes will happen is that systems will better support developers by providing the tools and servers. It becomes a more open flow of content that could give better content to customers. I think we're a ways off before companies feel willingly to give up their secrets to merge with other servers, but it's a nice dream to have.

- Finally for something random, is Uber CEO's Travis Kalanick really the 2nd best Wii Tennis player in the world? It's one of those odd anecdote's the company uses to make Kalanick more relatable to the general public. So Motherboard decided to research this since no one was refuting the claim, and they found that it's near impossible to justify Kalanick's words. There are 2 issues: which Wii game was this for, as there is no Wii Tennis, and there are no world records available for Wii Sports or Wii Sports Club (according to game record holders Twin Galaxies). Neither of these games held online leaderboards either. People would post to message boards their stats - which was a skill level and not a point value of wins/losses. It's possible that Kalanick spoke about the wrong game and meant Grand Slam Tennis, another Wii title that did have an online scoreboard. Motherboard is still awaiting a response from EA in regards to a copy of the rankings dating back to 2009. But for Wii Sports? It's probably unlikely and Uber needs to drop that tidbit. Who would want that as their claim to fame when you run a billion-dollar company?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

SNES Mini - What Games Would You Play?

Everyone is speculating the piss out of an Super Nintendo Entertainment System Mini. When will it release? What's the price point? How many games will it hold? Will it be on the market for longer then 6 months? The NES compact console swept in like a tornado this past holiday season, and even with it's store-shelf rarity, Nintendo has discontinued production. This has instantly lead people to think that Nintendo may do this again with it's other consoles, with the SNES being next in line.

Let's make one thing clear right now: Nintendo has not made a single statement that there will be another mini console.

This is all 100%, pulling out of our ass assumptions based off of the popularity of the NES Mini.

Got it? Okay.

But it doesn't hurt to play the speculation game and think about the "what ifs." Should there be an SNES Mini, what games would it come with? The SNES is considering the quintessential 90's system, the start of the consoles wars as the battle between Nintendo and Sega began. With it came hundreds of amazing games that are still considered classics even by today's standards.

There are the obvious Mario games, like Super Mario World and Super Mario Kart. But some welcome additions would be Bomberman, Donkey Kong Country, and Super Mario RPG. Now this is just a wish-list, because there is a lot of contract negotiations that would need to go on behind the scenes for such a thing to happen. DKC, while part of the Nintendo brand, was developed by Rare. Since the game's release, the licensing agreement for Donkey Kong has gone though so many hands that to come to an agreement about re-releasing it will be tricky.

For me, some of the best SNES games are from Squaresoft, now SquareEnix. That would be Super Mario RPG, Chrono Trigger, and Final Fantasy VI. With the exception of FF6, none of these games have been remastered or re-released. FF6's only update was for a PlayStation 1 port that changed out the cutscenes to 3D models, while maintaining the sprites through the gameplay. While the two companies have been steadily working on rebuilding their friendship, these games are not going to resurface anytime soon.

But there are other options that are within Nintendo's grasp. Earthbound is a top contender, given that the game was released on Wii Virtual Console. As well as any Mega Man game and Star Fox. All of these have been given fair play on Nintendo's virtual stores and would be easy to send back to the SNES.

We can't forget about other classics like Super Metroid, Super Tennis (because there must be at least 1 sports game), and Super Castlevania IV. Because it's the SNES, so it all must be Super.

In time we'll see if the SNES Mini comes true, until then, speculate away and don't trust anyone!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Embrace the Holodeck Dream for Video Games

Are video games better without a narrative? Noted author and authoritarian on video game academia, Ian Bogost, believes that games are holding themselves back (in a sense) by only allowing themselves to exist when bundled with a story. The idea of games becoming Star Trek's Holodeck, is a dream that should be dropped, according to Bogost.

If there is a future of games, let alone a future in which they discover their potential as a defining medium of an era, it will be one in which games abandon the dream of becoming narrative media and pursue the one they are already so good at: taking the tidy, ordinary world apart and putting it back together again in surprising, ghastly new ways.

Bogost is a repeat offender on The Geek Spot. Having read his work during my Masters and PhD years at college, I'm open to his ideas but I'm not always on board. Which is why I think his latest article 'Video Games Are Better Without Stories' is missing the mark. Are some games better when they forgo the narrative? Sure. Video games are one of the few entertainment mediums where there are no boundaries. If you want to make a game that allows people to build anything to their hearts content, you can do that. Or provide a space to allow people to code and communicate with each other from across the world, there are games for that too. It's an art form that isn't like films, television, theater, or books. It has transcended to something wholly unto it's own where narrative and the Holodeck can exist in the same space.

But to say that all video games are better without stories, that's pretty far-fetched. Narratives are a gateway into gaming. They provide familiar territory for the uninitiated, while expanding on the beauty of telling stories. There's nothing wrong with telling or creating a story in a game. It's a power few of us have in reality - to tell a digital being to walk, move, run, and make decisions that alter the course of the game is exciting as well as rewarding. How many of us say we have that luxury in our realities? Probably few to none. If I had the ability to change things at my job, whether it's better or worse, I would. But I can't and I never will be able to. Games let me live out possibilities that I wouldn't have in reality; whether it's to save a princess from a castle or to help create life in a far-off galaxy. Even in games like The Sims that deal with the every day, I can make multiple career choices, or none at all. The consequences create dynamic methods of game play that allow me to experience new realities. Each one a story.

I think the problem with Bogost's argument is that he's not seeing that everything we do in our realities and virtual realms revolves around telling a story. It may not be the most interesting one, but our lives are all small stories that makes up one large autobiography that caps off the end of our life. Getting up, washing your face, brushing your teeth, eating breakfast, and starting up the car to go to work/school - that's a story. There's this assumption that stories need to be this grand escapade full of boss fights, monsters, and swashbuckling antics. Stories, like people, come in all different shapes, styles, and sizes. One of my favorite indie games is Papers Please where you are a government official at an immigration-like office. Your job is to review papers and determine who is allowed in your country and who isn't. It's a repetitive task of stamping papers, so the gameplay is lackluster at times. However by the end, it could change how you view people. Even yourself. Immigration is a complicated political and social issue. So to have a game that focuses on this topic is a challenge. The story provided is your story. You determine right from wrong; good and bad. If you went into the game without a narrative behind it, knowing your role and your character, it wouldn't be as impactful. The player needs a story to provide depth and understanding to their actions.

Now I don't believe that Bogost is entirely wrong about games relying too much on telling over the top stories. Some could take a cue from their indie partners and tone down the content, while still delivering a compelling game. But everything in our life is a narrative, and games are an extension of our storytelling. It's an important part of our society that a game without a story isn't a game at all. It's nothing. Hold on to that Holodeck dream.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Voice Actor Strike Update: Signed Contracts and Controversy

SAG-AFTRA has had a busy few weeks, marred by controversy and negotiations with individual game developers as the strike with voice actors continues. Late last week, the board of directors issued a statement against the leaders of the union for misusing funds to finance items outside of the AFTRA group. These include limousine rides to events, plane tickets for family members, and cell phone numbers for families. The money comes from the union fees that actors pay to be apart of the guild. The board has asked the union's general counsel to start an independent review by an outside party to see if these accusations are correct, and what the next step should be. It's a weird situation because the board has faced this same scenario years ago, and the allegations proved to be false. They don't want to fall into the same pit as last time and wrongly accuse people until proof is provided. Thus confidence in SAG-AFTRA is still high among it's members.

So the guild is continuing their work with providing more benefits to actors. They have established a committee for an upcoming contract renewal with Telemundo. And the board has reiterated their backing with the video game strike. As we move into the 7th month, Chief Contracts Officer Ray Rodriguez has signed 23 companies to it's new contract terms for the production of 30 games over the upcoming years. 26 of those games are labeled as "high budget." The list of companies was not disclosed, but it's believed to be a mix of mid-sized and AAA companies that rely on bigger named talents affiliated with AFTRA. You know the joke about how no game can be released without Nolan North? With the expanse of his voice acting chops, he's earned that right. He's a SAG member. If you want him in your game, you have to play by the new rules.

Some gaming companies are okay with the new rules for payment and compensation, but the fight is still on against the other major players. Activision, EA, and Take-Two haven't announced any deals or agreements with AFTRA, so both parties are looking to camp out this strike for as long as it takes.

Friday, April 21, 2017

RPG Love Will Find A Way!

I have a legitimate problem. One that requires an immense amount of thinking, calculations, and queries among friends. And I'm sure some of you have faced the same concerns with other RPG's. This one has been tough. In the dozens of hours I have placed into this game on random weeknights when insomnia has kicked in, this will probably be my most difficult decision yet.

Who do I bang in Mass Effect: Andromeda?

This is a real issue for multiple reasons:

1 - Time. In that I don't have a lot of it to go through several playthroughs of the game to see how interactions and scene changes with Ryder, the primary protagonist. I'm hovering at that 50 hour mark and 64-67% completion. I have finished every side quest so far and all that's left is the priority mission - until more side quests appear. I'm estimating a 70 hour game when all is said and done. It's not possible for me to run through this a second time and expect it to go faster. This is my one shot with a romance. I can't mess it up.

2 -All of the ship companions are pretty cool in their own way. While I have concerns about the lack of one-on-one dialogue options, the companions on this journey have been top. Peebee, the spunky Asari rogue, has grown on me. I found her mildly annoying at first, but now her aloof attitude is more endearing (once I learned pieces of her past.) The hard-nose Turian, Vetra, is self-conscious and pragmatic. She's like me in more ways then I should probably admit. Gil is Gil. He's unintentionally flirtatious and a passionate ass about his work. I appreciate the rough edges of Liam, who's trying to determine what he wants out of life. He isn't certain about his choices and he's constantly growing, mentally and emotionally. And then there's Jaal, who's the brilliant combo of Garrus (Mass Effect) and Alistair (Dragon Age). Which makes him a deliciously cute Jaalapeno. The characters that I enjoyed from the start are now in a contest against the others that I have grown to adore.

3 - I like the human characters. This is Mass Effect. The goal is to bang aliens. At least, it's one of the more important goals. And yet the human options are equally stellar. I think it has to do with the accents. The men all have some suave, non-American accents to accompany their dialogue. It's difficult to overlook such an important aspect. Accents are a thing. And it's hot.

4 - I don't know how much or how little of a romance I'm getting out of this. As is the case with any game you play the first time through, you don't know what the results will be until they happen. BioWare has made it known that romances in Andromeda aren't all about getting someone in the sack. Some of them are more emotional or intellectual. There are some characters that want to pursue a relationship but will give you the option to abstain from doing the giggity entirely. I don't want my Ryder to be the person that pushes an NPC for something they may not want. It's cool if you don't want nookie, but I can't determine that vibe right now from the characters - not until I commit to a relationship.

5 - How do I know there isn't another charming NPC around the corner? I've stumbled onto two so far. One that you can have a fling with and the other provides a solid relationship. Both are quirky in their own ways. But are there more? Would locking myself in to one partner on the ship prevent me from finding a new, possibly more meaningful relationship outside of my bubble?

6 - I don't want to feel locked in if I'm ready to bail. My biggest "well, crap" moment in Mass Effect was when Kaidan dropped the bomb on my femShep and expressed that he had feelings for her. The almost kiss, showing up to her room before Ilos, the whole 9's. And it was not what I wanted. I was being polite. I didn't spend much time with the character when I played as broShep. So I talked to him and learned more about Kaidan's past. Kind of an interesting story. I didn't realize in doing so it triggered every algorithm that caused Kaidan to show up in my crib, to get some lovin'. I turned him down. I wanted an emotional-free ride for game 1. Yet in game 2, it's listed that we were in a relationship. Ugh. By game 3, when he re-expressed his feelings for me and mentioned that he could look past Garrus and I hooking up, I felt like I was Ross Geller from 'Friends.' Dude, we never were together. Stop it. I don't want this to happen again, and I need my Andromeda romance to be fully aware that breaking up is an option.

What's a gamer to do when she wants to bang all the aliens and experience a digital relationship of merit?

Update 4/24/17: I chose the Jaalapeno, and lost 12% of my game completion because of it!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Warning About Switch Emulators

The scarcity of the Nintendo Switch is still a thing, and the company's dumb supply/demand tactics are still working. We really need to stop catering to their whims so they can finally produce an appropriate amount of systems, and not go through years of a Wii shortage. And unfortunately, people are taking advantage of those who really want a Switch. Scalpers are running amuck and selling the system at obscene prices on auction websites. Or they are outright scamming you and you get nothing in return.

The FTC has issued a warning in regards to this; asking people to be aware of a Nintendo Switch Emulator scam.

This might be the first time the FTC has stepped in for anything gaming related.

If you have seen any advertisements or received e-mails about a Nintendo Switch Emulator with the Nintendo branded icon, don't believe it. No such thing currently exists. People have been asked to provide their e-mail addresses, credit cards, or more to win, or buy, the emulator. Some have even received a program to download, which is actually a virus that ends up stealing the stuff on your computer.

People are quickly falling for these scams due to the Switch's popularity. They want one. They can't get one through conventional methods. These websites and advertisements look legitimate, so people are signing up in droves. It's not right, but this is part of the nature of the beast when Nintendo can't provide enough supply to meet demand - it screws over good people.

If you think you've been a victim of the scam, make sure to report it to the FTC with as much detail as you can.

Always remain vigilant, gamers! If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

Starting early with the Weekly Link Round Up. Lots of small bits of gaming news on the internet today. Not enough to hold down a discussion, but we can take the tiny bites and squish them into one post. Here's what we've got:

- Video games are big business. Now that, that "no duh" moment has sunken into your head, if you're curious about who's been investing into gaming companies these days thanks to this handy list by Forbes. Some of the biggest names in business have been investing in smaller gaming companies, eSports teams, all the way up to Rovio (Angry Birds). Interesting to see who's playing with the gamers these days.

- Kotaku looks at the art of the video game poster, and the time it takes to develop one. Like movie posters, they need to entice and attract the audience to prompt them to buy the product. Devil is in the details as a poster can be a make or break for a potential buyer. In many cases, the poster becomes the box art for the game, so there's even more at stake for the general customer that picks up the game to take a look at it. Game posters need to be compelling, inspiring, and give a taste of the content in the product without giving it all away.

- The Guardian has an opinion piece looking at the future of video games, arguing that the best games are the ones that don't focus on trying to save the world. It all boils down to your personal opinion in the end. But there are quite a few games on the market today that have epic-level content centered around characters not saving the world.

- WhatCulture is at it again with a list of 8 annoying mistakes developers continue to make. And it's a standard WhatCulture list. Some of it is silly, like celebrity voice actors (some of them are  phenomenal), and larger maps. What's wrong with a bigger map? With cities in Grand Theft Auto V you need that immersive map scaling to make it feel like a living, breathing entity. Sorry WhatCulture. You're being knocked down a peg again for your crappy lists.

- The Witcher author, because of course there are books, is sour about the reputation of the games. People are more interested in the games, so he's seeing a loss in sales. Andrzej Sapkowski claims that he made the games popular with his Western translations. Which is confusing and contradicts timelines as the game was first released in 2006, the book wasn't translated until 2007. What's even more confusing is that Sapkowski acknowledges that the games have brought him just as many book sales as he has lost. What? Look, if you're going to be angry at a game for losing money after your books were released, it's silly but whatever. You can be angry. But you can't also be happy that you made money because of the games. Pick a stance and stick to it!

- If you wanted that Nintendo Classic system? Well snatch one wherever you can. Nintendo is already taking it off the market after only being available for a few months during the holiday season. It's still near impossible to find, and there are already rumors flying that there may be an SNES Classic out later this year. Who knows for sure, but this holiday fiend is still selling hot so it's a surprise that Nintendo is pulling it so swiftly.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

That's Not How You Hold A Controller

Dumb post incoming, but it's my birthday today. After this craptacular month, I'm allowed to enjoy something mindless. Such as this all important question: why does it seem like no one in television or movies knows how to properly play a video game?

No really. Why is it? We see actors take driving seriously as well as piloting space ships, dune buggies, and any random assortment of odd vehicles. Most of the time they know how to hold a weapon correctly. Accuracy may be questionable, but that's at the fault of the director and editors, not the actors. But video games? Well no one in movies seems to know how to properly play them. Or mimic playing them.

You don't have to be a gamer to know that you can't hold a controller loosely in your hands, or in a death grip. Controllers are designed to fit snugly in your palms so your fingers can easily rest over the buttons and directional pad without excess strain to your digits. Gaming gear has advanced since the days of Atari. The same applies to keyboards and mice. Have you seen how many different models are on the market these days? Even standard office keyboards are starting to embrace the raised design and wrist rests to ensure a more fluid, and comfortable typing experience. You don't have to be a gamer to know that you need a mouse to play nearly all games on a PC/Mac. So when you see a show like 'Dexter' with a Halo 3 marketing tie-in on PC and no mouse in sight, everyone sighs and rolls their eyes. Not just the gamers.

It's laughably bad at how poorly actors pantomime playing video games. Even advertisements suck at this, with kids and adults slamming arcade buttons with intense fury or swinging a Wii-mote like their lives depended on it. Check out some ridiculous acting choices thanks to Polygon. And actors, please try to do better. You don't have to actually play a game, but go to an arcade or watch your kids play and mimic those actions. Please.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Hands Free Driving with GTA5

Driverless cars are going to be the wave of the future with vehicle technology. Some trucking companies already use it in a stripped-down version, to ensure that their drivers have enough time to eat and rest without having to stop. It's going to happen. But with the amount of testing that needs to be done before these cars can hit the road en' mass, they need to go through thousands of hours of rigorous simulations. Enter video games!

Ford, Toyota, and everyone in between has been looking to video games to make up for the man hours that they can't utilize. And what better way to stress test your vehicle then to use Grand Theft Auto V. I want to joke about this, but I can't when it's true. The reality is that there isn't enough data from actual road tests to make driverless cars ready. They need virtual substitutes and there's where games like GTA come in handy to help provide more simulations.

Why GTA5 and not Gran Turismo? For one, GT is a racing game in high speed vehicles that 95% of the population doesn't own. Not to mention, completely impractical to use as a test case. GTA5 utilizes some more logical real-world simulations for how people are suppose to drive. When you remove the gamer from the equation, the NPC's in GTA tend to drive like how we should when one obeys the traffic laws. They stop at red lights/signs and slow down at yellow lights. They yield to highway off ramps. They move safely out of the way for emergency vehicles. If you sit and watch the flow of traffic in the game, it's quite lovely. This is how people should drive when they follow the rules. It's not 100% perfect as game glitches or miscalculations in the coding happen. But without player intervention, for the most part, the cars move as they are suppose to.

What makes GTA5 also stand out from counterparts is that it utilizes over 1,000 unpredictable pedestrian behavior, different weather conditions including snow, and 262 types of vehicles. It provides the random nature of humanity while allowing for safe driving to be a factor.

So companies are utilizing GTA5 to help code their driverless vehicles and to provide more simulated environments to test them. I'd love to see the crew at Toyota through this process. You know some of them are gamers and giddy at the prospect of using GTA5.

Friday, April 14, 2017

MST3K - Pouring One for the Homies

MSTies rejoice! 'Mystery Science Theater 3000' (MST3K for the officiated) has returned in all of it's glory! After a successful Kickstarter campaign, and finding a new home on Netflix, the series is back on the air as of today. If you ponied up enough money, you've already seen the pilot episode of Season 11 or the new season in it's entirety.

Even if you are not one of the original viewers, you can easily pick up the show with this new, revamped mode. A 2.0 upgrade, if you will.

Since the season is now officially out on Netflix, I can break my personal vow of silence and give a mini-review on the first episode. No spoilers! There's been some concern from long time fans and newcomers that this updated version of MST3K might miss out on some of the quirky beats that made the original show a delight to watch.

MST3K was the brainchild of Joel Hodgson, a comedian from Minnesota. The idea spawned in his youth about people talking back to a movie in a theater. In the original show, Joel played Joel, an every-man who was pretty good at his job. But his boss, a mad scientist named Dr. Forrester, didn't like him. So he shot Joel into space and started the experiment MST3K. The goal was to find the worst movie ever produced and unleash it onto the world. While in space, Joel built a few robot friends (Crow, Tom Servo, Gypsy, and Cambot) and all partake in the movie riffing. A few years in, after tensions brewed between Hodgson and the producer, Joel left and was replaced by Mike. On the show, Joel managed to escape, and the janitor Mike was shot into space as the replacement. The dynamic on the show changed with the robot companions, new mad scientists, and more comedy sketches. But the series always managed to hit the right notes year after year. The show was eventually cancelled in 1999 after a resurgence on the newly developed Sci-Fi channel.

On first glance, it seems childish. Grown men and women dressing up in outlandish costumes. Performing silly skits and making nonsensical inventions. All while talking to robot puppets as they quip at a cheesy movie. This simple premise is not easy to replicate. MST3K took riffing to a new level of art. Being sarcastic or sardonic is fine once in a blue moon, but throughout a full film? Well it's not only dull but unoriginal. The jokes made on MST3K were smart. They pulled in references from some of the oddest of places (Roman art and architecture, Japanese Mythology, the Revolutionary War, you name it) and they all worked. It was funny while making you think. This is what makes MST3K stand out from your average movie riffing. It was also engaging on multiple fronts so it could be easily approachable for different audiences. The sketches in between the movies can be hit or miss, but they always cracked a smile from me. But what kept my attention were the rifts. On a number of occasions I remember having a pen and paper out to write down jokes that I didn't understand, so I could go to the library and look them up later (the days before the internet, gasp!). And it made me appreciate just how in-depth the quips were when I revisited the show later on. I felt like I enjoy and learned something from the show.

It's also one of the few series that was both child and adult friendly. The more I think about it, there were virtually few to no movies featured that were gory or filled with cursing, nudity, and the like. They were B-grade films that had enough of a budget to get by. The MST3K crew felt that the movies that did the over-the-top stuff were too easy, so they focused on films they could sink their brains into, and it ended up working for a variety of audiences.

With Season 11 now out, is this updated version of the classic show worth the hype?

Most definitely.

I'll be the first to gripe about reboots, remakes, and "reimaginings." I think they are dumb. The point of remaking a product, whether it's a movie or a soda, is to improve upon the original. Most of the time, that doesn't happen. It's become a crutch for Hollywood to take something that was already pretty darn great to begin with, and modernize it for today's audience. They hope to capture the same feeling as the original to turn into a profit. If it made money once, why not try it again and make more money? But they don't always work out well, or just fall flat and become the worst movie of all time.

Going into the MST3K project, I was nervous to back it. I did it without hesitation because it's MST3K, but I was part of the growing legion of fans that were curious, but cautious.

A new cast was announced. New writers. New production crew. But the one thing they all had in common was that they were MSTies. Fans of the show. They had been through the Joel and Mike years and understood how people reacted back then to the change. Joel would still be at the helm, so he couldn't steer us wrong. Right?

The new season stars Jonah Ray, who is Jonah, a space transport operator (is that an official title?) for Gizmonic Institute. He hears a distress call and goes to check it out, only to be caught be a mad scientist, the daughter of Dr. Forrester (Felicia Day), and sidekick 'The Son of TV's Frank' (Patton Oswalt). Jonah is sent to the Satellite of Love where the MST3K experiment continues on. This time Dr. Forrester hopes to turn this into a lucrative opportunity - packaging the results into a product that Disney would want to buy so she can become rich. It's a fun twist on the formula. Jonah is accompanied by the original robots, who have been tweaked with "new abilities," which is an odd way of saying they interact with the movies a bit more. Servo now flies and Gypsy is able to sit in on the movies as well.

The set looks and feels like an upgraded MST3K. It's the same saturated colors, but it feels more refined. A lot of that has to do with the technology; HD has made images sharper while being affordable. New materials for set design have been released, making it easier and more cost efficient to build content. The whole show feels like it got a fresh coat of paint without sullying the good name of MST3K. Jonah's brand of humor is different from Joel and Mike. His influences are 90's and 00's driven, so there are more timely pop culture references that we haven't before. While still providing some of the off-the-wall, "where did they come up with that" riffs that we come to expect. I'm already a Jonah fan after his wonderful Monster Rap. Crow and Servo ask Jonah to talk about some of the fictitious monsters around the world (other then Godzilla), but only in a rap. By far one of the better skits I've seen over the run of the series. I'm sure it will be a YouTube favorite in no time.

The interaction between Jonah and the bots has been great so far. It feels like the bots have accepted him as a friend. He's not the father figure (Joel) or the mentor (Mike). The bots have lived on their own for a while and have developed into their own, um, people. You can see how they have matured by their mannerisms, and how they riff. It's the subtle details like this that make it feel like MST3K has aged well with the times. The first movie of the season was a good choice (what can be better then puppets make fun of other puppets?) and really highlights the comedy we will see in the future episodes.

This is a much watch series for any movie nerds, MST3K fan, or newbie to the rifting scene.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

Here's the deal: it's been a long week and I'm on the verge of crashing at my desk. Right now. Face on the keyboard. Ready to catch up on the sorely needed sleep that my body is craving right now. So instead of a fancy, insightful article about video games, you get an early Weekly Link Round Up. Not a bad trade-off, right?

- The Guardian has managed to come up with a list of the 17 Worst Things About Video Games. It's funny because they are petty annoyances, and they are all true. Every one of them. There is nothing worse then replaying a game with cutscenes and never being able to skip them. Or hacking mini-games. That's not how hacking works! Or having to babysit AI companions who die easily and can result in game overs. The truth is real and these are the nightmares made for gamers. Poor inventory management? Ugh. I'm looking at you Witcher.

- Microsoft will soon start offering refunds on digital video games through XBox and PC. Like Steam, it will have some rules. Games must not have been played for more then 2 hours, no refunds on DLC's or season passes, things like that. There is also no easy way to ask for a refund, unlike Steam where you can submit a request from the product page or your library. Instead you have to go to your Microsoft account, through your purchase history, find the purchase, fill out a form, and make a request. It's not ideal, but it is a start for consoles gamers. Now to wait on Sony and Nintendo to jump in.

- Persona is a weird game. 5 is even worse with a cat companion that will remind you to go to bed if you've been playing for too long. No really. This is a thing. If the cat pops up with the message, you can't do anything in the game for several hours. While the cat is meant to symbolize an authority figure in the game to replace your actual parents, it's still kind of weird that the game forbids you from doing anything. If you're a child, well maybe you should take breaks more often. But as an adult, it's my decision on how long I want to play. You can't tell me what to do, game!

- Devolver Digital is one of those indie gaming companies that gets it. They let people stream and remove as many barriers as possible to ensure that it can be done. Why? It's not just to sell their products, but to allow the gaming community to feel like they are part of the Devolver team. The article is by JM Specht, an Executive Director at Devolver. Well worth a few minutes to read through and see how they use streaming to create a fan community built on trust.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth!

At first I thought this was one of those random internet stories that is probably untrue. But it appears the Konami Code Bank Note is the real deal. Canada celebrated their 150th anniversary of the act of consolidation, when Canada became one country, by creating a new 10 currency featuring famous Canadian figureheads. The bank in charge of this created a website to show off the new money, which includes a fantastical Easter Egg.

If you use the Konami Code on the home page, the site will begin to play the Canadian anthem and confetti will scatter across the screen. Why was this done? Who knows, but the bank seems pretty cool with it as they kept the secret up on the website. We can only assume that the web developers who created the site are also gamers, and thought it would be a fun tribute to Konami. They wanted something fun and that's what they've got.

Try it out for yourself and enter in the secret code on the home page: ↑ ↑ ↓ ↓ ← → ← →"B" and "A." It didn't work on the number pad for me, so you have to use the cursor keys.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Dark and Gritty Mega Man Movie?

Adi Shankar, the man behind the animated Castlevania series appearing on Netflix soon, is setting his sights on future video game adaptations. And expectations are high. Castlevania is not an easy game to tackle, but there is a lot of hope from the producer. He's helped developed short films and one-off's such as Punisher: Dirty Laundry, and Dredd: The Grey to critical and fan acclaim. So what would Shankar want to work on next?

An R-Rated Mega Man. Live action. And a hard R, as in Deadpool. Not "it's R because of two swear words."

Why? The interview doesn't dive into Shankar's reasoning behind this, other then he wants to do it. And then it dives off into other Konami titles that could be movies or animated projects in the future. But why Mega Man, live-action, and a hard R rating? That doesn't make sense. It's one thing to take a game and turn it into a film. It's another to destroy the original intent of the content and turn it into something that it's not.

This is one of my biggest issue with Hollywood movies today. "Remakes" and "Re-imaginings" taking the top spot. But this is a close second. Why do stories have to be "gritty" in order for it to be made into a film? They did this with the 'Fantastic Four' reboot in 2015 and we saw how poorly that went. The 2016 'Ben Hur' remake suffered the same fate. One could argue that even with making some profit on ticket sales, the 'Ninja Turtles' live-action dark motif has soured fans and turned away a loyal base of consumers who eat up all things TMNT. The sequel not only made less money, but did not meet any of the studio's expectations for sales.

Making content edgy doesn't make it better. Mega Man is one of those franchises that has endured for decades for it's fantastical story, unique design, and being accessible to gamers of all ages. It doesn't need to be dark and sinister beyond what is already in the game's story arc. Dr Wylie is already pretty crazy for a villain. And forcing this game to be something it's not will only alienate fans further.

Shankar, while we can appreciate what you're trying to do, don't disrupt the purity and fun of Mega Man. If you want dark and brooding, there are plenty of other game titles you can explore. I'm not saying Mega Man should be a kids movie, but it doesn't need to be a hard R rating.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

We made it! Another week and we are still alive! Yea! Given how crazy some countries have been lately, it's a wonder that Fallout hasn't occurred yet.

At least we have the Weekly Link Round Up to help sate your gaming news and hopefully cheer you up. We have a list of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet. Here's what we've got:

Project Scorpio, the upgraded XBox One system is so far hitting the marks on technical specs. Details have been light, but Digital Foundry seems impressed and feels the system will live up to the promises. It can run games natively at 4k and enhance existing XBox One games. The system will run off an 8 core CPU and 12 GB of GDDR5 memory. No word on the manufacturers. Do you need a 4k television to see the improved graphics? According to Digital Foundry, you can still see enhancements without a fancy TV.  They just won't be as shiny. Check out all the details they have unearthed so far.

- Brash Games may not be a review site well known among gamers, but a number of journalists have been issuing warnings for years that people should stay away from this company. Far, far away. They are listed on Gamasutra as "closed" possibly to help blacklist them and keep people from submitting their publications. Another instance of where they remove a writers credit has cropped up, and there are plenty of screenshots showing it. The problem is Brash Games is not addressing any of the accusations. They remove the user, block them from contacting their social media, and go about their business. In general, removing someone's name from their work is a big no-no. You just don't do it. And according to other journalists, the Brash Games mantra is that you agree 100% with their rules or you'll get your work tampered with. The problem is in the US there isn't one overarching authority on journalism ethics. These are typically in-house organizations that most people follow. Some don't. The best thing to do is to spread the word. Do NOT visit the site and give them page views. And keep journalists away from signing up for their work to be stolen. (Update 9:03am: Apparently they don't pay some of their writers. They are now below "scum" level. Everyone, please remember that you are WORTH more then your words. You deserve to be paid for your work. Don't ever give away your work for free.)

- The BAFTA Awards for video games have been announced and Uncharted 4 took home the top honors for game of the year - unexpected by the developer as they didn't win in any of their other categories. Best to win the grand prize then the smaller honors, eh? Other games that received awards were Inside, Overcooked, and That Dragon Cancer. A number of indie and small studio games were nominated and won this year, helping to mark the continual shift away from big titles.

- Google's Chief Game Designer Noah Falstein has stepped down from his position to make games. Announcing his departure on his personal website/blog, Falstein had hoping that the job would allow him to explore new technologies and develop games. In the four years since taking up the post, that hasn't materialized. Initially it seemed Google was all in to joining the gaming crowd, but over the past few years that have pulled back and moved their interests else-where. Falstein has a heavy resume of being one of the first employees for Lucasfilm Arts, DreamWorks Interactive, and 3DO games. He will find a new job in no time, and hopefully back to making games!

- There's a computer out there making fake video game titles, and they are amazingly bad. A programmer made a list of every video game out there, fed the information to a computer, and it spat back new game titles, along with developers and a year. It's like the Pokémon name generator, but with games. My favorite is "The Apple of the Conspiracy (1997, Microsoft) (MS-DOS)" That one is so poignant and insightful!

- World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV are having a fun Twitter battle right now. Yesterday, streamer S1N3N asked both companies which game he should play next, and they have been in a Gif battle ever since. You'll probably see a few replies from me, because WoW is being cute and thinking they are more badass, and FF14 finds a way to one up them. It's cute. And there is an appreciation from me that SquareEnix has finally lightened up on the reigns to let the social media crew have fun with their posts. For the longest time, SE was one of those companies that was very business, by-the-book in their structure. Within the last few months we are seeing a different side of the company. They now share fan art, cosplay images, and fun stories from the offices. It's refreshing. So this Twitter battle has been amusing and so lighthearted that we need it right now.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Streamers Clash with Atlus Over Persona 5

Persona is one of those odd games where people know the name, but most of you probably haven't played it. It's pretty big in Japan. But it didn't hit it's big break in the US until 2007 with Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3. It's considered to be one of the best PS2 games, and PSP ports. Ever since, it's been gaining momentum in the US. Developer Atlus is also really bad about announcing release dates, so the release of Persona 5 was very much on the fore-front of gamer's minds. Japan has had the game for nearly 7 months before it was released here on just a few days ago.

However, one policy from Atlus is already giving a sour note to the game. Those who post any video footage of the game after the in-game date of 7/7 will receive a copyright notice. The game also blocks the PS4's native sharing features (screenshots and video). Needless to say, that's made a lot of streamers and fans quite unhappy. Their claim is that they don't want people to have the story spoiled for them (but with it already being out in Japan for 7 months, it's easy to find out the plot). They are even "suggesting" how people review the game so as not to drop spoilers.

There is even policies on video limits. No boss fights, with the exception of one character. Videos can only be 90 minutes long. You can't have videos focus on cutscenes. There are even rules about which story scenes, prior to the in-game 7/7 date, that can not be included. It all boils down to preventing people from streaming the game. At all. With all these rules, why bother streaming?

In all fairness, Atlus can be Draconian when it comes to streaming and issuing copyright claims. They have threatened smaller channels in the past with Persona 4 Dancing All Night without any warnings or requests to remove the videos. Just outright strikes on their account (which is already a red flag with YouTube and why they allow such a carté blanché to Atlus). But with some of the larger channels and the same game? No issues at all. So apparently it's okay if a known YouTuber streams Persona because it may boost sales, but not the smaller channels? Unfortunately, it's all still legal within the rules of YouTube so there's nothing to stop Atlus from doing it.

A number of streamers are no longer showing support for the game, and will not stream at all. Which is what Atlus wants anyway. But that can very well work against the developer. As a number of people have commented on Twitter and YouTube that their interest in Persona came to be because of streaming. I know I didn't have a fascination with it until I saw a friend stream Persona 3 and I thought it was such an odd game, I was intrigued. Streaming is the new way to market games, whether you like it or not. Atlus ' restrictions could impact their sales in the long run by having such tight restrictions on streamers.

It's also a dick move to post the streaming rules after the game released on Tuesday, when people had already bought the game with the intent on sharing it with their family, friends, and subscribers to encourage them to play it too. Open boxes = no return. What jerks.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

New Nerdy Show on SyFy for Cosplayers

There's a new nerdy show on television courtesy of SyFy: 'Cosplay Melee.'

Before you groan, keep reading. This isn't the weird world of 'Heroes of Cosplay.' When SyFy announced the show earlier this year, there was some hesitation. The crew behind it created 'Face Off,' the make-up, head-to-head competition show that's been on the air for 11 seasons, and continues to be one of the channel's most successful ventures. They have paired up with some of the crew behind 'Heroes of Cosplay' to create this new show. One of our earliest reviews felt that the series was focusing too much on petty, and sometimes non-existent drama, and not on the costume creation. It hasn't been renewed for a second season after it's initial airing.

So it was a surprise to see 'Cosplay Melee' rise up and take over social media. I wasn't too sure if SyFy would be willing to try a cosplay show again. But it appears this time they listened to their potential audience. I personally know a few of the contestants on the show, and they wouldn't have been willing to throw themselves into the fray if they didn't feel confident in the show's premise. And so far, it seems to be working; ranking much higher in views and critic approval above 'Heroes of Cosplay.'

What is 'Cosplay Melee'? As the name implies, this is more of a competition show. Four people battle it out under severe time constraints to make a costume that fits the theme of the episode. The big prize at the end is $10,000. Some of us make costumes for less then $100, so $10 grand is astronomical. Contestants are given 2 challenges, the first being a prop or accessory that they have 8 hours to create. One person is eliminated after this challenge by the judges (actress Yvette Nicole Brown, costume and FX designer Christian Beckman, and worldly cosplayer LeeAnna Vamp). The second challenge is building the full costume in 2 days (over the course of 14-16 hours with each day). This also includes a runway walk of the contestants in the costume and make-up to show off the final piece. Again, very similar in format to 'Face Off.'

Why is this better then 'Heroes of Cosplay'? Because we actually get to see people MAKE their costumes. It's not going to be an in-depth tutorial of how to work with EVA foam. Because let's be honest - the vast majority of television viewers don't care. They only want to see people make cool stuff and marvel at how it was done. It's a fun glimpse of how these insane projects are put together when you have a limited time frame and loads of materials.

This isn't a show going behind the scenes on convention life. Unfortunately 'Heroes of Cosplay' showed a less then flattering side of cosplay that wasn't always true. That's the "reality" in reality television. Hold the reality.

'Cosplay Melee' adds new life into the competition show genre by focusing on the construction and display of the costumes. For cosplayers and a number of reality show fans, the cat fights and bickering get old. It's all been done before, and crafted with years of expertise thanks to 'The Real World' and 'The Real Housewives.' We don't really care to know about who hates who. We want to see the big ass costumes. And that's what 'Cosplay Melee' gives us!

On a personal note, the contestants involved in this show are some of the most dynamic group of people I have seen. They're not all women with ideal body sizes in skimpy outfits. That's what a number of people assume the cosplay world is all about when they see photos online. We have had a vast array of competitors so far showcasing some killer skills - with no boob bearing outfit in sight! From foam armor, to sewing and metal work, the cast this year has been stellar. Varying ages, races, genders, body types, you name it. These are real people who enjoy cosplaying and want to share their love for the art to others.

There is also no bickering, and the contestants even help each other by sharing tools and tips. That is real cosplay.

So before you dismiss the show, I urge you to give it a shot. Episode 3 aired last night. The first episode is free on the SyFy website, and if you have a cable subscription you can view the other 2 online. It's not what any of us were expecting and we were certainly glad for it! The show has already casted Season 2, and based on the ratings, it's expected to be around for a while as a great lead-in for 'Face Off.'

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Mass Effect: Andromeda - The Review!

First off, game developers. All of you. You suck. You released too many open world games in March and it's been impossible to play all of them to their fullest before the next game comes out. Seven days is not enough time to review a game. Particularly when one is attempting to provide thoughtful commentary on your product.

I'm knee deep in Mass Effect: Andromeda and have roughly 32 hours on record. 27% of the game completed. Terraformed 3 planets to 100%, because I'm me and I have OCD. I have only 1 quest that I can not complete and it's been confirmed to be bugged with no ETA on a resolution so that will have to wait for another play through. I've made a dent in the story, but I'm sure I have a lot more to go. I'm probably not even at the juicy stuff yet.

But even with an extension, my 2 weeks are up. I promised to have a review out to you all, so here it is. Mass Effect: Andromeda. Or: How I'm never going to finish this space game because I'm exploring way too much.

The long awaited game from BioWare has been met with some controversy regarding it's animations, but it's a welcome addition to the Mass Effect family.

Just like virtually every BioWare game, you choose your character before you start. You can play as broRyder or sisterRyder, twins who sign up with their Pathfinder dad to be part of the Andromeda Initiative (AI, har har). What is AI? It's a cross-species program to visit, research, and colonize the Andromeda galaxy for reasons. I have yet to understand the reasons, but again, only 32 hours in and I have plenty left to explore. The only justification I could come up with is "because we can." So arks full of Asari, Turians, and others, set off for a 600 year journey to the uncharted galaxy in cryogenic stasis. As a Pathfinder, it's your job to help find worlds where it's safe for people to start colonization efforts, and find out more about the landscape.

Because this is a game, something goes wrong during the journey. All of the areas originally searched as "golden worlds" end up being bunk. The Nexus, a Citadel-like space station, is in ruins. The other arks haven't made it yet. So it's all on your shoulders to keep the Milky Way crew alive. Lucky you!

The game is a weird amalgamation of Mass Effect meets Dragon Age: Inquisition meets Spore. Wrapped in a bundle of Sid Meyer's Civilization. I did not have many preconceived notions before going into the game. I stayed away from most media and toured the AI website, but that was the extend of my knowledge. The most that I expected out of this game was enjoyable companions, because that's what made ME 1-3 worth playing. I was also a bit hesitant on the game's direction, as they mentioned incorporating more of the "exploration" aspect of ME1, the one thing I hated the most. Well, that and the Citadel. They wanted to take all the things that worked in Mass Effect, make them better, and provide us with a new adventure.

So far, they are living up to those promises.

From the opening menu, you can feel the aura that something is different with Andromeda. The music is powerfully subdued, while helping build on the anticipation of the game. The environment and background art is breathtakingly gorgeous. If there were a devoted photo mode in the game (if you are playing on PC with an NVidia graphics card, you can download their program made to take in-game snapshots), I'd say the styling is downright perfect. Just needs photo mode - Horizon has spoiled me.

Character creation is about one step above Inquisition, offering more hair styles, coloring, make-up, and facial adjustments then before. But only 'just.' You don't have much variation with skin tone and there isn't a true red hair color. There's pinkish-red and orangeish-red. But no red, red. As a fan of read-heads, I was bummed by this. An extra part of set-up requires you to customize both your main character and your twin. It easily took me an hour to make this happen. I make no apologies for this.

For those wondering, the events of Mass Effect 1-3 have no bearing in Andromeda. You can choose who your Shepard was (male or female) and that's it. Any game files you have don't mean a thing. This is a whole new game that left the Milky Way behind.

The combat system is solid, and it's better then I could have expected it to be. It works well on both PC and controller, though I ended up favoring the PS4 a bit more. Some of the combat staples are still there, such as biotic/tech/combat powers, but everything is stepped up a notch. Andromeda uses an auto-cover system making anything that looks sturdy a potential spot to hide behind. It's weird at first, but once you use it you wonder why all games don't utilize this marvel. A number of abilities will look familiar to ME veterans: Overload, Pull, Concussion Shot, etc. But there are new abilities such as Flamethrower. I thought Incinerate was one of my favorite moves. No more! Now I can fry everything in my path for a brief period of time. Mwahaha!

Each ability can be customized as you level up and spend attribute points. You can make them more powerful, reduce cool-down time, and have their damage output focus on shielded or armored enemies. The biggest overhaul is with the player combat "type." In the old ME days, you picked a job and you were stuck with it. Engineer, Infiltrator, Soldier, whatever. Andromeda has erased all of that allowing the gamer to play however the hell they want. You want to be a biotic soldier? Do it. You want to set people on fire while sniping? Tactical engineer it is. The possibilities are endless, and you can swap job roles as you wish with a click of a button.

How is this possible from a story stand-point? One of the characters you are introduced to early on is SAM, an AI that communicates with you via an amp implant, who helps you with scanning and assessing your environment. It sounds creepy at first, but it's mostly harmless. Mostly. One of the cool things SAM can do is augment your body to adapt to current conditions. Meaning you can swap to different job roles as you see fit. It's a smart way to overcome the hurdle of those who claim that Andromeda isn't being canon with the other games.

There are also no more restrictions on the weapons you carry. If you were an Infiltrator, your options were pistol and sniper rifle. But now you can have all 4 weapon types on your person at any time. It's pretty freekin' awesome. Like ME3, your gear does carry weight. You can lessen the weight with attribute points and mods on the weapons themselves. Weight can affect your ability recharge speed, which can be crucial in the early fights while you're still learning the combat perks.

Another cool feature is your jump jet pack. Yeah. You get a jet pack. It's not like The Rockateer, but it does give you the ability to duck, dodge, and weave through enemies, while performing insane attacks. I thought this might be clunky, but it's surprisingly very smooth. Great reaction time and easy to fall in love with that you'll want to ground pound all of the baddies with your Omni Blade.

Speaking of weapons, we're back to the crafting system for your gear. It's not as bad as it sounds. Part of being a Pathfinder is researching and hunting out the mysteries of the planets you visit. As you scan, you earn research points that can be put towards blueprints for new weapons, armor, and modifications. There are 3 sets of points: Milky Way, Andromeda, and Remnant. Each offer their own gear that you can build after you find the materials during your quests. You can also buy gear from merchants; if you don't want to craft you don't have to. Color customization is also back, allowing the full spectrum of colors and tints. Finally! (FYI PC users: use Space to confirm.)

Onto the exploration aspect of the game, because this is about 80% of what you will be doing with your time. The environments and world designs are gorgeous. Whichever teams worked on these deserve a raise. They are glorious. Just the other night after I finished terraforming a planet and stepped out of a base to see the changes, I dropped an f bomb. The landscape was stunning. Even the transition scenes where you're flying from one planet to another are phenomenal. I'm talking about Hubble Telescope photography, type of pretty. What's even more impressive is that BioWare made the worlds feel lived in. They weren't like ME1 where it's a lot of empty land with the occasional base in-between. Everything in Andromeda feels new, different, colorful, bleak, exciting, cool, and dynamic. Including the new aliens that actually live on these planets. You get to visit towns, outposts, and full cities. It's refreshing. For me, the exploring isn't getting old. I'm finding myself even more invested in helping these planets thrive and finishing quests then I had expected. There's also the Nomad. Thankfully, it's not the Mako. Your new ground vehicle. Which can be annoying, but it's easier to handle and you have the ability to upgrade it as well as give it paint jobs. If there's any reason to invest time in mining and harvesting materials, it's to upgrade the Nomad. It'll help provide extra shielding and longer speed boost times. The Nomad is meh. I didn't love or hate it. But again: not the Mako. I consider that a plus.

How about the story and the characters? As I mentioned early on, I'm probably only scratching the surface of the story. I've accomplished quite a bit in 32 hours, but it feels like I'm still in the early stretches of the plot.

After you become the Pathfinder and have to find homes for the Initiative's colonies, you come across the Khett: a very jerky species that reminds me of the Collector's. They take what they want, try to morph their bodies into perfect beings by cannibalizing other species, and leave destruction in their wake. I think they are worse if only because they vocalize what they do. At least with the Collector's they don't speak and you don't know why they are being creepy weird. The Khett want you to conform. They speak about the process of converting your being into one of them like a religion. It's oogy. While you're dealing with them, you also have to run through these places called Vaults built by a cybernetic species named the Remnant. These vaults are the foundation for most of Andromeda, but something happened during the 600 years you were asleep that threw them out of whack. You have to hunt down the Vaults and set them right again to make the planets livable for the Initiative, and other aliens in the galaxy.

That's all I've got so far. I have a long way to go.

As for the characters, am I allowed to say they are more intriguing then ME 1-3 without getting my hand slapped? I adore Garrus, but when you have the banter of Liam, Gil, Lexi, and grandpa Krogan, it allows for a number of entertaining moments. The characters here feel dynamic. They don't fit one archetype, but an array of complexities that people have. For once the humans all don't sound like they came from the US or Canada. There are plenty that sound English, Scottish, Australian, Indian, and everywhere in between. Dialects play a HUGE roles in the range of NPC's and not just for us Milky Way folks. Even the species of Andromeda have their own nuances that vary from planet to planet. That might not seem like much, but it's little details like this make the game above and beyond the norm for open world content. It makes Andromeda feel more real.

You can find characters that you relate to here with such ease that you couldn't in other ME games. Yes there are some who are pigeonholed into certain groups, but they have independent personalities that support multiple viewpoints. It's kind of cool to watch NPC's grow as you interact with them over time. With Tali or Mordin, they were the same through and through with each game. Your choices didn't really affect who they became in the long run. But in Andromeda, my choices feel like they have an impact on more then the galaxy. Here, I feel the choices changing my crew members. The way their dialogue shifts after priority missions, and where their feelings lay if I don't side with them; there is a weight to my choices that I didn't experience before. Kudos to you, BioWare.

Now for the not-so great stuff. Okay so the people who have been harping on the animations are half right. Sometimes they look wonky with NPC's walking into walls in the background. But the actual "oh crap" moments are few and very far in-between. The same could be said for weird character faces. If you screenshot a character as they are talking, then yes. It can look silly if you catch them at the wrong time. But you know what? That's the case for living people too. My only big complaint on visuals is the character design when it comes to the eyes on Humans and Asari. The eyes look extra glassy this round, so it's easy to feel ooged out when you look at them.(Update 4/11/17: As of Patch 1.05 on April 6th, this issue has been mostly addressed. The eyes still look a little glassy, but much improved.) The animations and glitches are not a big deal. They are rare and non-existent in most instances. Sometimes it's funny - I have duel Grandpa Krogan's in the kitchen to clean the dishes, and I'm okay with this.

Besides, if people can justify Final Fantasy XV as a great game with it's world-breaking glitches, then Andromeda should be light years ahead on the grading scale. I've yet to experience a glitch that caused my game to crash, and I've tumbled down quite a few mountains in the Nomad.

Fetch quests are still fetch quests. I'm sure there has got to be another way to add ancillary content to these type of games, but I don't know what it is. They're annoying at this point. There isn't anything new here. Go here. Shoot this. Go there. Gather that. Then take it all the way back to the Nexus where you have to go back out and gather one more thing. Ugh. Make it stop RPG's. Please.

While the Khett are the big-bad, for the moment, they aren't very original. Yes, their tactics are evil. Malicious. Vile. Yadda, yadda, yadda, but we've seen it before. There's nothing to really distinguish them from other bad guys. I've linked them to the Collector's already, but they are also very Borg-like, ala 'Star Trek.' I'm almost waiting for a giant cube ship to appear that acts as their primary base of operations. The same comment can be said for the Remnants. They are wanna-be Geth in sleeker bodies. That's it. It's not exciting. About the only cool new enemy are the Architects; Remnant super-bosses that look like giant snakes with mechanical spider legs. They feel more indomitable then any Reaper I have faced and have some enjoyable fight mechanics that go with it. But the uniqueness of these two alien species is just "meh."

An odd complaint that I have also involves the Remnant and their puzzles to enter the Vaults. The puzzles are, I kid you not, Sudoku. Mother. Flippin' Sudoku. I traveled 600 years to a brand new galaxy, and my only way into these planet saving sites is to work on Sudoku puzzles. Way to stretch the brain on this one, BioWare. On the plus, it is different and requires some more logical problem solving then shooting your way through. But really? Sudoku? I guess it's the intergalactic language of all species.

Speaking of language, how the hell am I able to understand these new species I've encountered with my Milky Way translator? Initially when you meet the Khett, you can't understand a word they are saying. Which seems very normal given that you're using technology from another galaxy. But just after the first major mission, that all goes away and you magically have the ability to translate everything. Even the newer aliens you meet, you can instantly understand every word they say! If there was an upgrade to your translator after scanning Khett technology, that would make sense. But the game never addresses this. It just assumes you'll blindly believe that you can understand every creature that talks. It's annoying, to say the least. Also, the random names we gave to these new, violent species are the same names that everyone else in Andromeda uses. We just made up a name on the Nexus. We just met this new alien who has never heard us use the word Khett, but they call them the Khett too? I know this is a fictitious space game, but give me some logic. Please. For the time went into making SAM plausible, they should have used it for plot holes like this.

My other beef is the lack of dialogue menus with my crew members. I've gone through a number of Priority Missions, but it feels like I haven't been able to talk to my crew as much as I would like. A lot of the options are greyed out, meaning I've talked to them about the subject before. Nothing new pops up until much later in the game. I'm a little disappointed by this. But this is offset by how often your crew moves around the ship. They don't stay in the same spot like ME1-3. You'll find Cora, one of your Human Pathfinder compatriots, in the shuttle bay, at the conference table, on the deck, in the mess hall, and everywhere in between. And they all chatter away with other companions. It's never quiet on the Tempest. That touch of realism is appreciated, even though I wish I could have more one on one talks.

I'm 50/50 with how I feel about the Tempest, your new ship. The layout is much easier to navigate and you don't have to waste time on loading screens. But I think I like the Normandy more in terms of design. The Normandy feels like a kick ass piece of space metal. The Tempest looks nice, but it's a less clunky version of the Bounty Hunter spaceship from Star Wars: The Old Republic. One long tunnel with stairs and ladders. It's not that stunning when you think about it. But it does have one hell of a view.

I still have quite a bit to go, but so far I'm enjoying the ride. The more I play, the more I like this game. I will, most likely, post an amended review when I've completed my journey through this new galaxy. At the very least, I'll have a lot of cool space photos to share while lamenting on having to solve another Sudoku puzzle.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Another One Bites The Dust

The times are changing when even the off-brand controller market starts to crumble. Effective March 30th, all of the Mad Catz corporate directors and officers resigned and the company is undergoing liquidation. The news was announced via a press release. Which is odd given that the website looks totally fine. There are no announcements about the company going under. You can still purchase products from their store too.

The news isn't much of a surprise to insiders, as the company has been struggling for the past few years. Last year nearly 40% of their staff were laid off. The company was founded in 1989 and has been a staple in GameStop stores as an off-shoot of major controllers. Why spend $59.99 on a new XBox 360 controller when you can get the same thing from Mad Catz for $20 less? They had decent products, and were known for creating some of the joysticks and game pads used in fighting games. But as controller life spans increased and the quality of the systems improved, Mad Catz foot hole started to slip. Not to mention, better gear was on the market for a lower price. This past year has seen their most trouble, putting money into developing accessories for Harmonix and releasing re-skins of arcade controllers that didn't offer any new innovation.

What is most likely to happen is that Mad Catz will be sold off to the highest bidder, with the money being used towards their debt. If the company will continue after this, that's up to the new management team. But for now, Mad Catz will be selling everything they have to pay those bills.