Tuesday, October 31, 2017

GameStop 'PowerPass' to Tackle Video Game Rentals

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 30, 2017

The 'Fallout' from Voice Actors Strike Begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 27, 2017

Scare-tober: SOMA

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Destiny 2 PC Launch - Bans and Tech Errors = Headaches

Destiny 2 has been selling very well for it's first month on store shelves. It's presentation and marketing campaigns have paid off. The first game was 'meh' at best, but somehow the sequel is taking off. Good on Bungie for trying to iron out the problems of game 1. The PC version was released yesterday so more people can jump into the sci-fi world that the developers have created. However, it hasn't been as smooth as they had expected.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

NeoGAF Back Online After Tumultuous Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

EA Closing Visceral Games Studio

Because EA is EA, another studio under it's wing will be steadily shutting down and projects dispersed to other EA entities. Visceral Games (formerly EA Redwood Shores), may sound familiar to Dead Space fans. They also developed Battlefield: Hardline. Visceral was one of the few studios that was handling a new 'Star Wars' project with an untitled game.

EA is shifting the teams around and moving the 'Star Wars' game to EA Vancouver for further development. They have announced that the 2019 expected deadline will now be reviewed and possibly pushed back. It's also unknown if Amy Henning (director and lead scriptwriter for 3 of the Uncharted games) will continue with the project. It's safe to assume that the Dead Space movie, which has always been in limbo, will probably be further delayed, if not completely shelved as EA refocuses their efforts.

All in all, another blow for studios and fans who were hoping for another Dead Space game. EA is infamous for buying up smaller entities, merging them into their corporate world, and then divesting of their interests once the talent has transitioned over. This is all too common. Does it mean that EA has killed any chance on a Dead Space revival? Of course not. It will still be in their library and they can do what they want with it. We may see another title in the series in the upcoming years. Until then, it's back to EA's ol' tricks.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Walk and Enjoy the Game's Environment

Kotaku's op-ed says it all: sometimes it's nice just to walk around an open-world game. Grand Theft Auto's latest iterations are the best examples, but other games such as Red Dead Redemption, Metal Gear Solid V, World of Warcraft, there is beauty in turning off the UI's, clearing your screen, and just looking at the digital landscape.

Roaming around in the world and experiencing it for what it is is one of my favorite things to do in games. I do it constantly in Horizon: Zero Dawn. I haven't completed the game, but I've explored so many nooks and crannies that few others may have experienced. Sometimes it's to capture photos of the new things I've seen. Other times it's to sit and watch the landscape as it cycles through it's day/night lifespan. It's relaxing. Kind of a new zen by watching the digital world. I do the same thing with Mass Effect: Andromeda. Even when I thought I've explored everything, I still find little gems every now and then that I hadn't seen before. Standing on top of the Remnant pillars on Harval, and watching the winged creatures filling the purple/blue sky is so calming. Easily my favorite place in the game.

Why do I do it? It's fun to explore what else the game has to offer aside from the story and fetch quests. I like seeing how in-depth the developers went into creating the world. The beauty in these digital worlds is fascinating to see - things that I can't experience anywhere else (nor do I have the time/funds/vacation to just up and take a trip to Machu Picchu). And it can be therapeutic. After a crazy day in the real world, gaming helps me relax. But more then that, it gives me the opportunity to explore, sight-see, and experience new worlds when I wouldn't have the ability to do so IRL. The photography aspect of it is also a big draw for me. It's fun to take photos of new places!

Just this Sunday my Free Company in Final Fantasy XIV tried out the new raid for the game. It's part of the 'Return to Ivalice' story line with call outs to Tactics, FF12, and any content related to Ivalice. I was in awe with the world design of the raid. It teleported me right back to FF12, but allowed me to see new areas of the city of Rabanastre. I told my group once the raid was finished that I was warping back to the beginning to take photos. I turned off my UI, fired up my capture program, and started walking through the zone. I wish I had more time to truly sit and enjoy the space surrounding my character. It was breathtakingly inspiring.

The next time you're in an MMO or open-world game, take a few minutes to turn off your UI and walk around. Live in that character's shoes for a moment and feel the environment. You may develop a new appreciation for the beautiful landscapes that developers have created.

Monday, October 16, 2017

#MeToo

If you've been following any form of social media for the last 24 hours, you've probably seen this hashtag on your Home feed. #MeToo began as a means to raise awareness about how prevalent sexual harassment and assault is in our society. If you're a woman, you've most likely experienced it in some form - even a cat call is considered harassment (unwanted attention that you did not ask).

Today's post, we'll be talking about the importance of #MeToo in the gaming community.

As a woman, I'm confronted with harassment almost daily. Whether it's here on my blog, writing for other gaming magazines, playing a game in my off hours - you name it. I've been called every vile thing one can imagine. Men have threatened to harm me physically, mentally, and sexually. Why? My best guess is that it's because I'm a woman. I managed to score higher then them in a match. Or I have a better gamer score. Or I'm okay with talking about games and pointing out their flaws. Or that I openly critique the industry and argue that it can do so much better. Or I simply exist and interrupt their world view that women don't play games.

This type of behavior from men (yes, I'm focusing this on men as I've yet to experience this type of harassment from a woman) is so common that I actively choose to not play co-op games with a headset. I don't use chat. I mute all voice channels. I do everything within my power to not have to communicate with anyone else I'm gaming with. When you are harassed so much for being a woman, it's not worth the stress or anger to deal with chat room assaults.

For those asking why bother playing a co-op game if I won't chat? You are clearly missing the point of the last paragraph: I DON'T CHAT SO I CAN AVOID HARASSMENT.

Got it? I don't care if it's affecting my team or my game play. I want to enjoy gaming and not be harassed. That should be pretty straight forward. Lots of men get to game and they aren't harassed, so why can't myself and other women experience a harassment-free environment?

Reporting harassment only goes so far. As we've seen with a slew of online games, it's never enough. "Greifers" are able to keep on playing most of the time. It's rare that one is banned - and nothing stops them from creating a new account and harassing again.

Awareness is important, especially in our community. We can't expect to grow and achieve new levels of gaming greatness if we're perpetually enforcing stereotypes and gatekeeping other genders. Everyone can game. Everyone should game. We need to combat harassment head on. I want to be able to play co-op with voice chat again. But until we have a serious discussion and provide solutions, I do not want to be harassed. I did not ask for it. No one does.

It's important that we all realize that harassment is wide-spread and affects everyone. Let's do something to change it.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

Yes! It's Friday and another week done! We're all ready for the weekend, but first let's catch up on gaming news. This weeks best, worst, and weirdest stories to grace the internet:

- Blizzard is suing the makers of Heroes of Warfare for being a clone of Overwatch. Once you see the screenshots, you will 100% agree. NetEase, Overwatch's Chinese operator along with Blizzard China are taking the creator to task for basically ripping off the game. They are suing the makers for an apology, restitution, and to have the game removed from app stores. With the exception of a few character adjustments, this game looks and plays just like Overwatch. Including the character abilities. Needless to say, Blizzard will win this case with ease.

- Yet another person doesn't understand the appeal of 'Let's Play' videos and tries to articulate a reason on why his kids love watching them. This article is a train wreck...you have to read it. I don't know what the writer was attempting to do, but if he was trying to explain the "why" behind his kids habits, it was a colossal failure. And it's glorious to read!

- The ESRB made a statement to Kotaku on Wednesday regarding the rising concern of Loot Boxes. "ESRB does not consider loot boxes to be gambling," stated a spokesperson via e-mail. And technically, they are correct. With gambling, there is always the chance that you will lose. You put down you money and walk away empty handed. Loot Boxes guarantee you something. Even if it's a cosmetic item, or a repeat weapon that turns into in-game currency to use on something else - you still "win." Loot Boxes are more like baseball/Pokémon cards. You buy packs and you will most likely receive duplicates, but you can sell and trade them for other cards you don't have. It's not illegal, just highly annoying with Loot Boxes when they prevent you from finishing a game.

- Game developer Rami Ismail (GUN GODZ, Super Crate Box) wrote an op-ed for Rolling Stone claiming that Difficulty Levels don't really exist. You can take that for what it is and read through the article. See what you think. But you cant convince me that Cuphead isn't difficult.

- With today being Friday the 13th, we need at least one horror game story listed. True Achievements lists 8 horror movies that should be video games. Unlike WhatCulture, this list is interesting and most of the movies could work in a game format. 'The Belko Experiment' is a 'Battle Royale' in an office - where self preservation wins over the voice of reason. Easily a multi-player game in the making that could be a spin on Adult Swim's web game Five Minutes to Kill Yourself. Or 'It Follows' would make for an interesting walking sim where you have to hide and use the environment to stay away from the shape-shifting enemies. Some of the suggestions, such as 'The Blair Witch Project' are dumb and should never grace any form of media ever again, but overall it's a decent list.

- A Weekly Link Round Up is not complete without a WhatCulture list! This time it's 10 Botched Features That Almost Ruined Iconic Video Games. And yes, the list is just as bad as you'd imagine it would be. On the list is Bioshock's hacking mini game, taking medications in Far Cry 2 (if you don't keep up with your meds, you'll become weaker), and manually picking up items in Wolfenstein: The New Order. None of these "features" were close to ruing these games. Talk about a click-bait headline. Bioshock's hacking mini game may have been meh, but it did not destroy the experience. Far Cry 2's inclusion of the malaria medications was unique and placed a different emphasis to the gamer on where they should focus their priorities. Go home WhatCulture. You're drunk again.

- Another big timer at BioWare is leaving. Mike Laidlaw, the lead story developer and designer behind Jade Empire and Dragon Age is moving on. The reasons for the departure are unknown, but come at an auspicious time when other leaders are coming and going from the studio. We wish Mike the best and safe journeys wherever life takes him.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Scare-tober: Until Dawn

Developed by Supermassive Games, Until Dawn was one of those titles that I thought would be a hit or a miss like Heavy Rain. It had a similar aesthetic, branching plot points that allowed you to alter the state of the game based on your decisions, and a willingness to want to discover the unknown. Until Dawn was one of the highest rated and most played suspense/horror games of 2015. But does it live up to the hype? Our next Scare-tober review will weed out this game from it's predecessors.

Until Dawn is the story of some high school teenagers getting together for a getaway at a cabin in the mountains. Like all teenagers do. If you've watched any horror movie, you already know how cliché this whole set up is. We find out that 2 members of this posse were killed near the cabin after vanishing one night, and found dead at the bottom of a cliff. While everyone reminisces about that night, some strange stuff starts happening around you. Weird sounds. Flashing lights. The whole 9s. And then a creepy guy shows up to try and kill everyone, along with these Hellish-feral creatures roaming the forest. You play as different characters throughout the story and piece together the plot line to figure out what's going on. Why is this masked man out to kill you? What are those weird beasts outside? It's an 80's horror movie that plays heavily on it's tropes. Teenage girls in towels and underwear. Playing games with the Ouija board. You even stumble upon a set of mining tunnels to hide from the bad guys! How 'Goonies' of them.

Right from the get-go, Until Dawn will impress you with it's visuals. The game is meant to work more like an interactive novel with platforming elements thrown in the mix. There is a heavy emphasis on dialogue and story. As such, the art style is focused on trying to provide eerie realism. It's not always on point, as odd camera angles will highlight flaws with character designs. And the skin on these teens is too perfect. The environment is just okay. Since it's a game playing on 80's horror film tropes, it's about what you expect. A dark cabin, fresh beat of snow on the ground, and muddled blue and grey textures around you. It all looks fine, but it's too on the nose.

For controls, Until Dawn is one of the few games that properly uses the PS4 controller's gyroscope feature. In some sequences, you have to hide from the baddies and can not move your controller. If you move it, you'll get got. Or when you're attacking, defending, or running away, instead of using the thumb-stick to make decisions, you'll be asked to utilize the motion of the controller. It has an odd way of sucking you into the action instead of being a casual observer. It also gives your gut more control in your experience. There's nothing more fun, or irritating, when you want to go right, but your gut shoots you left with a flick of the controller. Thanks game! Otherwise the features are pretty standard for a game. There are quicktime scenes that require button presses to keep yourself alive, ala Resident Evil. The reaction times to these is quite short and requires you to be very attentive. If you miss one, you could stumble and fall to your doom.

There are two aspects to this game that stood out to me that I liked the most: the psychiatrist office and the totems. At the start of the game, and in-between critical points, you will find yourself in a psych office talking to an older man about what happened at the cabin. You're reliving your experience through flashbacks that lead you to the snowy hills. These moments help break up the building tension in the game by giving you a chance to breathe and reflect on your choices. It also helps reinforce the focus of this game: the butterfly effect. Every action you take will change everything. The psych office will also change over time depending on how you play the game. It's cool and eerie that the current reality of the character is being mirrored by the events at the cabin. The totems help add to the butterfly effect. As you run around the woods, you'll find these artifacts that you can pick up and look through. They show you glimpses of the future (or your past depending on how you look at it) of what would happen if you make the wrong decision. You see another character on fire in a tunnel, so maybe you shouldn't give her the torch when that option appears. The totems allow you to fine-tune your choices and be aware of your consequences before they happen.

As for the story itself, I'd say it's a solid 2 out of 5. While it's a game that revels in 80's horror tropes, it does a poor job of separating itself and coming up with new ideas. Within the first 20 minutes, I guessed who the true bad guy was, what my potential decisions would be throughout the game, and how not to be a dick so everyone could live. And you know what? I was right. First play-through and everyone lived! The game's narrative was too obvious and provided no challenges. L.A. Noire had more interesting story-development; another game seeped in trope-land for the genre it was replicating.

The faux-bad guys are painfully predictable. You knew when they were coming at every turn. They were run-of-the-mill Freddy Kruger baddies. Nothing exceptional. The same with the soundtrack. It was just okay. It didn't really heighten the mood or amplify scary moments. It was just there. For the cool little ticks to the butterfly effect concept, the rest of the game is passable but doesn't 'wow.'

Is the game worth playing? Eh. If you have PS Now or PS Plus, you can play the game with your subscription. You've already paid for the sub so there's no harm in trying it out. Otherwise, this would be a pass. There are much better horror games out there.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Final Fantasy XIV Housing Crisis

There are 190,080 houses in Final Fantasy XIV across all 66 servers.

2880 housing plots per server.

60 plots per housing ward with an Upper and Lower instances, 30 in each instance - 12 zones in total.

Of those 30 housing plots, 3 are Large, 7 are Medium, and 20 are small.

As of August of this year, over 10 million subscribers were listed for FF14. In September, FF14 celebrated hitting 11 million with discounts on the Mog Station for in-game cosmetic items, emotes, and decorations.

11 million people are subscribed to FF14 and there are only 190,080 houses in the game.

720 new homes were opened up Tuesday morning after patch 4.1 was released (note that those 720x66 servers were calculated into the 190 thousand houses). Within minutes all of the plots were taken once the servers were back online, with some waiting in queues of up to 1,000+ people. Only 720 lucky people on each server were able to nab one.

Final Fantasy XIV has a major housing problem and they don't seem interested in fixing it.

How did this happen? Why is FF14 the lone wolf on such a weird situation when so many other games are able to provide player housing without issue? Made even more strange is that in it's predecessor, Final Fantasy XI, everyone starts the game with a Mog House.

What makes FF14 different, when you can easily buy a home in Star Wars: The Old Republic as a new player with relative ease? Wildstar gives you a home right off the bat as well, with the features being you work on the home over time to improve it. You could buy plans and upgrade your home in Star Wars: Galaxies as well, a game decades old and had better housing management that maintained the "open world" aspect by allowing homes to be visible to every gamer.

When the FF14 housing concept was first introduced, the designers wanted it to be for Free Companies (FC) only. These are your guilds. Through the houses, you'd be able to do additional quests and partake in missions only available to FC's. Initially there would be a limited amount because there were so few players, but would grow as demand was needed. When the houses were released, they scrapped the FC restriction and allowed anyone the ability to own a house. The requirements were to have a level 50 job, a certain ranking in your Grand Company, and a lot of gil.

After it's initial release, SE has been very slow to make any additions to accommodate their growing subscriber numbers. Honestly it wasn't until May of 2016 that they added wards 9-12 to each housing area: 120 houses per region for 360 houses total a server. Two plus years to add more houses and they were snatched up in an instance. Unfortunately the demand is exceeding supply by an astronomical sum on a level that SE has never kept up with. There was hope that with the Heavensward expansion another housing sector would open up, but that never developed. Stormblood is the latest region to include housing and this morning it was a mad dash to claim what you could.

It's been a longtime issue that has gained more attention. In July, Kotaku published an article about 2 very prodigious individuals buying up 28 homes on the Mateus server. It speaks volumes about everything wrong with FF14's housing system. While 1 person can own only 3 pieces of land (1 personal house, 1 FC house, and 1 apartment room), this doesn't restrict you from creating an alternate character and doing the same thing. At the time of their purchase, Mateus was a fairly dead server. It didn't have the congestion of other worlds so the characters saw it as a perfect opportunity to own the homes. When server mergers occurred along with incentives to encourage people to change servers to help balance populations, that's when trouble happened. These 2 people own nearly an entire ward of property. If they wanted to sell any of them, they'd make a lot of gil doing so.

Is it wrong of them to own so much property? Of course not. But it does expose a very fundamental flaw in SE's system: by restricting housing availability, it's become a rare commodity, ripe with insane resale values that would break a typical market.

So what? Why need a house at all? A few reasons: the primary one being inventory space. A house is necessary once you run out of room on yourself, your retainer, and your armory (which is very easy to do if you level more then 1 job). It allows you to buy Company Chests with 3 extra boons of storage.

You also need to have a home to stable your chocobo in order to raise and train it. In FF14, your chocobo is also your battlefield companion. But to train it for new abilities and level it up after s/he hits 10, you have to stable it. Until recently, this can only be done at a house.

Apartments were introduced in patch 3.4 with 2160 rooms available for each residential zone! That's 90 rooms per ward, or 6480 rooms total across the 3 areas (apartments were not listed as an option with Stormblood yet, but the unit is there). For all 66 servers, that's 427,680 rooms that can be purchased for use - a lot better then 190k homes. The apartments allow you some of the same benefits as a home, minus the extra space. Outdoor furnishings are not available and you are confined to 50 items for placement. It's at least something but for how many new furnishings SE produces with each patch, having one tiny room isn't enough to enjoy the content.

Houses with a Free Company also allow you to utilize an Airship to go out on missions and bring back rare items to craft or utilize in your home. (Edit: As of patch 4.2, you can also own a submarine.) Said Airship can take you to The Diadem (Hard), which is a special zone that allows players to achieve even more rare items. You can not access these realms and options without a home so those without an FC and a home are cut off from content.

There's also gardening! This expanded feature from FF11 can only be done on outdoor housing plots. Not indoors. The size of your home (Small, Medium, and Large) determines how many gardens you can utilize. With gardening, you can grow rare materials to harvest and craft, and even the occasional minion.

Private Chambers in an FC house are also cheaper then an apartment. Rooms (which are the same size) are 300 thousand gil, compared to 500 thousand gil with apartments.

And the last reason is, it's cool to decorate your house! No really. It is. It's fun. It's a great way to get invested in crafting, gathering, and trying other jobs to farm up items to put in your house. For role playing gamers, it's the perfect opportunity to act out actions and have a more visual setting for you and your comrades. People use their homes to put on plays and musical performances, host dinners, and build haunted houses.

There are a lot of perks to having a home compared to an apartment, or being homeless. Still, there are only 617,760 housing areas available among a subscriber base of 11 million.

It's also a lovely slap in the face to all users when seasonal events continually offer housing rewards that most people can not utilize. In 2017, 6/7 of the events offered housing items; from song scrolls to paintings. When only a fraction of people can use the content, the rest just clutters up inventory space (that we're already limited on) and can never be used.

As of right now 10,382,240 people can not purchase any of the housing plots/apartment rooms. Only 1.73% of subscribers have access to homes. That is staggering and incredibly disappointing. For how much the dev team loves to talk about housing and bringing new furniture with each patch, they are failing miserably at being able to provide homes to people.

To those who don't want a house or an apartment, that's fine! I'm glad that you are enjoying the game and you are free to do whatever you want with your gil. But for a number of people, such as myself, when we're advertised that housing is open and available, only to be restricted to 2880 homes a server, it's a kick in the teeth. We want to have fun dressing up our homes with the cool stuff in the game - make it festive with each holiday. Change out the themes to suit our styles. Have a living garden or tend to our Chocobos without any hassle. What we do with our gil is our choice, not yours. Just as it's your choice to not go into the housing hunt.

For FF14, having a home is an advertised feature. We expect it to be readily available. Yes, we understand that there may be level caps. Yes, we know we have to buy a home before we can get the plot. But only having 190 thousand houses for 11 million subscribers is maddening.

If SE does not fix this mess soon, it's going to get much worse. There is a growing backlash from gamers this round, even on the Japanese and European forums. Players will not continue to pay and play for a game that isn't living up to advertised promises.

Note: Because "active player numbers" can change daily with each server, subscriber numbers give the best estimate of how many are currently registered to the game - either by paying for it or utilizing the free trial. Final calculations for player numbers may vary from the active player base.

Note 2: I am one of the fortunate few with an FC house and a personal one that I may or may not be transforming into a haunted house for Halloween. I find the FF14 housing system to be antiquated, and akin to a Notorious Monster  hunt in FF11 - a tireless chore that can take years to accomplish when multiple groups are camping. When a feature is so heavily advertised, promoted, and we're constantly gifted with housing furniture, then houses should be more readily available to everyone. Not an elite few who have faster internet connections.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Loot Boxes Watch Out - OpenCritic is Coming After You

OpenCritic, a video game review site aggregator similar to Metacritic, announced yesterday that it's going to take a stance against the Loot Box system by creating a way to review said content within games. "We're looking into ways to add business model information to OpenCritic" the tweet states. This includes random/sure-thing/epic Loot Boxes, cosmetic vs. value boxes, exclusive/pre-order boxes, etc. The rise of the use of Loot Boxes in Triple A titles, and the questionable practices regarding the latest Lord of the Rings game, which utilizes microtransactions, and an in-game market along with the loots, have made this a topic of consideration. Loot Boxes have taken over gaming in a big way. To have a website that wants to source all reviews and delineate which games have Loot Boxes are worth the price, which one are trying to scam you, and which ones will stiff you while playing the game - that's a big deal.

OpenCritic has stated that they are currently testing a flag system on each game's review page. Right now it's starting with the basic "does this game use Loot Boxes?" As well as if a Loot Box would alter/randomize your progress in a game, versus an experience-driven title. The site is taking suggestions on what other factors they should look into when creating their flags.

LotR isn't the only game getting flack. The open beta for Star Wars: Battlefront II is getting slammed on their loot box system. Even Eurogamer has labeled the game as "pay to win." The only way to unlock new weapons and abilities is through Loot Boxes. These can be purchased with in-game currency or IRL funds (pricing was not available in the beta). You can also receive "scrap" to eventually craft a weapon, but many have noted that the drops are low and the process excruciatingly long. In-game currency is currently rewarded at a flat rate for teams, regardless of your performance. So that will also take a lot of time to build up. There are also Star Cards in Bronze, Silver, Gold, and an unnamed 4th tier that you have to collect to make your abilities stronger! So not only are you farming for a lot of currency and scrap, you have to farm cards too and hope you get Golds. The difference in strength between Bronze and Gold is as much as 50%. Battlefront II is pushing you to pay for your Loot Boxes, from the sound of things.

The trick for OpenCritic will have to lie with the review sites. A number of developers don't make their microtransaction/Loot Box system available for game reviews. That content is typically not available until after a game's launch - and with the feedback from LotR and SW, it's likely that developers are going to be keeping Loot Box content out of the public eye until the game is on store shelves. Reviewers will need to be diligent in keeping their content up to date by amending their reviews after game releases to include details on microtransactions. If enough of their readers request it, they'll do it - something to keep in mind.

Applause to OpenCritic for tackling this issue head on. Loot Boxes aren't all bad. With games like Overwatch they are cosmetic and don't affect your ability to play the game and that's fine. The system to earn credits to buy one isn't difficult and it's not require that you pay extra money to play. But when games like LotR lock you out of 100% completion without Loot Boxes, then it's a problem.

Monday, October 09, 2017

#NoMoreNazis Wolfenstein II Tweet

Fair warning: this post will probably involved some politics. At the very least, there will be Nazi hating. I have zero tolerance and patience for Nazi's, or for anyone who holds no value in the life of other humans. If you want to hate other human beings for existing, go live on an island in the middle of nowhere and leave the rest of us alone. We just want to co-exist and be chill with one another. You leave a comment in support of Nazi's, you will be reported, banned, and the comment removed. No exceptions. Got it?

For some strange, and unknown reason, a few people are mad at Bethesda for Wolfenstein II. In a marketing tweet sent out last Thursday, Bethesda played on today's political woes to promote their game in a clever way.


If you don't know anything about the game Wolfenstein, the franchise is centered around World War II. You play as an American operative and, through various circumstances, have to stop Nazi's while securing victory for your unit/objective. The series has been around since 1981, with the first person shooter perspective introduced in 1992 with Wolfenstein 3D. It's considered one of the highlight games, along with Doom, to popularize first-person shooters. And the bulk of the game experience is killing Nazi's.

Fast forward to 2017 where a lot of sh*t has gone down in the USA over the past year. Somehow it's offensive to shoot Nazi's in a video game, according to a few outspoken critics (clearly are Nazi's themselves or Nazi sympathizers). It should be noted that the complaints against the game are VERY FEW. They do not make up the majority. They are a very vocal, very tiny amount. By comparison most people really love the look of the game and can't wait to try it out.

But Bethesda is not backing down (thank goodness). In an interview with gamesindustry.biz, Pete Hines, VP for PR and Marketing at Bethesda, stuck to the message of Wolfenstein. "Wolfenstein has been a decidedly anti-Nazi series since the first release more than 20 years ago. We aren't going to shy away from what the game is about. We don't feel it's a reach for us to say Nazis are bad and un-American, and we're not worried about being on the right side of history here."

When the game went into development back in 2014, it was a different political climate. A lot has changed over the past year and this wasn't intended to be a social/politically motivated game. Not the best timing, but it is the type of game that we need.

Wolfenstein II takes place in a future where the Nazi's did win WWII and they have occupied the US, and other parts of the world. You are the leader of a resistance group trying to overthrow the Nazi tyranny. I played a demo that was only available at QuakeCon this year, and it was a blast. There was a computer glitch with the targeting system that caused the mouse cursor to pop up, and it did take me time to adjust to the controllers (the demo featured your character in a wheelchair, which means you can't do sharp turns or make quick motions). The content that I did experience was solid and I was intrigued by the story. The main villains were disturbingly real, and evil in different way. They weren't "the big bad" that we see in Halo or Mass Effect. Their twisted sense of 'humanity,' and sheer disgust for those not like them was terrifying - making it all the more sweeter when you knocked them down for good. It's the type of game I would expect from the Wolfenstein legacy, but elevated.

It's disturbing to think that we live in a time where Nazi sympathizers are a thing. We spent decades in film and television making them the go-to enemy. Indiana Jones has a slew of movies all about punching Nazi's for crying out loud! I think we need to all take a step back, breathe, remember that this is just a game and Bethesda is trying to promote it in the way they think is best. And, oh yeah, STOP SUPPORTING NAZI'S! Bold and underline that mofo. I realize that most of us don't support Nazi's, but it does need to be repeated multiple times. The trailers and ads highlight the unique environment, game play, and story. The marketing for the game has been pretty solid and is in line with the content in the game.

Wolfenstein will receive some slight negative feedback from non-gamers, but the vast majority of us know better. We know what the game was about decades ago, and we're lining up to buy it. The social and political repercussions be damned. We know we're on the right side of history with wanting to stop Nazi's. I can't wait for my pre-order to come in so I can stream Nazi punching at it's finest!

Friday, October 06, 2017

Scare-tober: Stasis

Oh look. Here's that first review of a horror game I needed to post.

It's October, which means everyone comes out to trick, treat, scare, and dress up in costumes for one night. In most states in the U.S., the weather starts turning into something comfortable. Not here though. It's still 90 degrees out and I have to work in that mess. Awesome. But we won't let the lack of change of the season stop us from enjoying horror games! Our first entry into Scare-tober is Stasis.

I listed this game as one to play for 2015 that you may have missed, thanks to the unexpected hit Until Dawn. It's a point and click, sci-fi, horror game that isn't a first person. Instead it's a top-down perspective where problem solving is your best friend. You play as John Maracheck, a man trying to find his wife and daughter in a research facility on a spaceship. You wake up in the middle of this building, lost and disoriented. Using the tools around you, you have to figure out where you are, what's going on, and how to escape. 

You soon find out that John was awoken from his sleeping pod (get it, Stasis?) and that half the crew is dead from a mysterious disaster. Some alien life-form has taken over and infected the ship. At this point, everything sounds pretty cliché. What makes Stasis different from it's counterparts is the emphasis on world-building and problem solving, while keeping you confined to the 2D map. 

While I wish that the story were stronger, since it is something we've seen done multiple times in movies and books, what really captured my attention in this game is the design. It's difficult to think that the top-down view would create such claustrophobic spaces, but it does.

As you pilot John throughout the ship, the layout of the rooms, the contracting colors in the scenes, and the sounds help add to the "eerie" feeling. Though you can clearly see when bad things are coming to get you, the confined area of the 2D rooms makes one feel even more helpless. I really enjoy how much the environment plays into the horror. Without it, the game wouldn't have been as compelling to play. The puzzles are also very well paced and not dummed down. I appreciate that I had to use my brain a bit to unlock more secrets around the ship, and stop the enemies without relying on the traditional game mechanics.

It's also very clear that the look of the game is it's own. Gritty, dark, green, bold lines, and distinctive landscapes. It's not like other horror games that wash the screen with browns and reds. This feels sci-fi, but fresh. And just because it's top-down, it doesn't mean that the game is missing out on details. You can easily see the fine lines of alien vines sprawled across the walls. Or the keypad on stasis pods, acting as your only beacon when you're frantically trying to run.

Stasis is a horror game that people will either enjoy, or appreciate the art behind it. The story could be better, but the environment and gameplay are what make this worth your time.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

It's that time again! A gathering of some of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet...this week! Here's what we've got:

- GameSpot talks to some of the developers behind the recent The Lord of the Rings video game, and the sordid past of the franchise. The history of the books turned games has been full of shaky material. Even the highly regarded 'Shadow of Mordor' was under fire in 2016 for potential YouTube advertising deception. More recently, there have been questions about the microtransaction system the newest game is implementing. What should fans expect in future content?

- If you're a fan of Stranger Things, then good news! There's an official mobile game now out for your to digest. Developed by BonusXP, Stranger Things: The Game, was released just in time for season 2 to help build on the hype. And yes, there are pixilated Eggo waffles.

- Wishes can come true, as is the case with Hunter Allis. Born with a rare heart disease, Hunter is a gamer like so many of us, and loved to sketch out ideas for new stories. In 2014 he was granted his wish from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, went to Texas for a few days and worked with developer Bottle Rocket to create a mobile game. When he left, it was the only copy available made for his table. And now, the game is available for everyone to download!

- Softonic.com is asking the hard questions this week: Why Is Cuphead the Most Popular Video Game Right Now? I'll save you all the trouble of trying to figure out the answer. Because it's a good game! Next topic.

- If you see articles regarding the latest research about the type of games may affect cognitive training, remember to take it with a large grain of salt. The details of the research are still being ironed out and public access to the details of the study are limited. Until more tests and studies are conducted, most research behind gaming is going to hold little weight.

- WhatCulture would like to remind you that it still exists to make crappy lists! And this week we've got 13 Terrible Levels in Otherwise Awesome Video Games. My favorite is number 13 from GTA: San Andreas. The list focuses on a particular mission, but it's interesting that a GTA game was chosen at all. Because this isn't a level-by-level product. It's a sandbox game. The whole thing is "1 level." So one could argue that WhatCulture is saying that GTA:San Andreas is actually a bad game, not a awesome as the list suggests, because the "level" is terrible.

WhatCulture. I have invalidated your entire list on your very first page. How do you like dem apples? At the very least, next time you need to pick games that do have levels and not open worlds. And maybe make a list that focuses on only levels, and not missions/quests. Just a thought.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

See The Levels Before They Were Levels

October is also known as Inktober for the art community; a month to work and showcase your artistic endeavors. Naughty Dog designer Michael Barclay started a Twitter hashtag called #blocktober for people to share their work. Just in time for the artists of the world to show off their stuff. Blocktober is asking game designers to show off their level work, and the blocky incarnations of soon-to-be notable games. During production, designers work off of "greyboxes," a mixture of blocky meshes that eventually are rendered into full levels.

The results are very interesting! As gamers, we take for granted just how much work goes into creating a product. We only see the final design. When you look at the greyboxes of Uncharted, it's difficult to picture the look. But this is how game design is done. You start with the outline and build on top of it. Hopefully more developers and designers share their work this month!

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Scare-tober: A Month of Horror Video Games

Fall/Autumn is one of my favorite times of year. The weather starts to cool down...eventually. When you live in the Southern half of the U.S., it can take longer to get to that 80 degree mark. The leaves start changing colors. The smell of pumpkins, or fake-pumpkins, is in the air. And my all-time perfect holiday is within striking distance: Halloween. So why not celebrate the month and make this all about horror video games! My history with them on The Geek Spot has been tumultuous. I've gone through ebbs and flows with the genre. Sometimes we'll see a few gems that transform and revitalize horror. Other times, it's a slog of the same stuff. There are times where horror games fall back into the "safe zone" that sell well; no longer focusing on scaring people, but grossing them out. And then you'll have big franchises like Resident Evil release a new game, and make me question everything I knew about the genre.

Scare-tober is going to be a series of reviews on some of my favorite scary games. They'll be interspersed with the rest of the blog's content, so don't worry. If you're not a fan of horror, you can skip those blogs and not miss out on our regular program.

So get yourself a flashlight, some green herbs, and a machete. Scare-tober is about to begin...tomorrow! I still need to type up the first review.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Commodore Re-Releasing 80's Console

The "retro" craze is in full-swing as the Commodore 64 will be re-released in 2018. Nintendo's reign on console sales with the NES and SNES Mini, and a new Atari system, C64 is hitting the market at the right time.

"THEC64® Mini is a fully licensed reimagining of the 80’s bestselling home computer," states their website. We know my feeling on reimaginings, but we'll put that aside for now. The original mini-computer will come with a plethora of games (64 to be exact), including Avenger, Cybernoid (1 and 2), Speedball, and Trailblazer. If you're not a Commodore fan, or even a C64 kid, you probably don't know what these games are. They didn't have the timeless quality as a Nintendo product, but for the 80's, they kept us occupied.

But what takes the C64 one step further from the other mini consoles is that it is actually a working computer. No really. You can unplug the joystick and use the keyboard to work on BASIC and create your own games. The keyboard is pretty tiny though so get ready to accept a lot of errors in your coding.

The system is set to launch early 2018 for US$69.99 (£69.99/€79.99). The 80's are alive and well in 2017.