Monday, December 17, 2018

2018 Games You Should Play Before the Year Ends

It just occurred to me that we are midway through December and I haven't done any of the traditional The Geek Spot posts that cover the year that was 2018. Well, fudge. This has been the speediest year on record, and easily one of the worst for me personally. I'm glad that it's almost over. But there were some bright spots in the gaming world that are worth highlighting. Here are a few of 2018's best that you should play before the end of the year: (While I would love to spend every day playing video games, I don't have that kind of time available. This will only include titles that I have played, which means no Red Dead Redemption 2 or God of War.)

- Dragon Quest XI. Yes this game is over a year old, but it was only released recently in NA/EU. Localization of the game includes extensive voice acting, something that you will not get in the Japanese release. While I'm still working through this game, this has been the Dragon Quest experience I've been waiting for. It updates the formula for modern JRPG's while keeping the same tact that we adore with the series. The action and challenges have been great. The visuals are quite lovely and don't feel cartoon-y. The story can be predictable, but only if you've played Dragon Quest in the past. If you have 90 hours of freedom this upcoming holiday, this is a must-have game.

- A Way Out. It's hard to believe that A Way Out was released this year. I could have sworn it was at the tail end of 2017, but then I remembered it's enthusiastic developer at The Game Awards 2017. A Way Out is a co-op narrative puzzle that requires both players to be actively engaged in the story. The characters you play are convicts in a prison, there for one reason or another. You learn about their backstory as the two form a friendship over their mutual hatred of the man whom landed them in the slammer. The game quickly turns into a prison escape with the intent to find revenge, turned melodrama, turned emotional roller-coaster with a surprise ending you wouldn't have expected. It's story telling that's nicely executed with puzzles that are both simple and intriguing. The fact that only 1 person needs to own the game for 2 people to play, where it's locally or over the internet, is a nice touch.

- Octopath Traveller. Again, this game seems like it came out last year! 2018 has been a blur. This is a game that calls back to classic JRPG's without feeling dated. Fantastic story, some interesting characters, amusing challenges, and a world that you can get lost in. There are some misses with some characters acting more like archytypes and not as imaginative as they could have been, and the game can be short (depending on how you play your RPGs). Overall, this is a must have for the Nintendo Switch.

- Dead Cells. If you're a fan of the original Metroid or Castlevania, you need to play this game. An action-adventure platformer that is exciting, clean, and fast-paced in it's bit art. This is a game that could rival some of the AAA studios in quality. What this game does well is keeping the content simple. The story is stripped down with only portions of the narrative provided to the gamer. All you know is that you are The Prisoner trapped on an "organic" island. Every time you die, the island changes and your path for escape will alter. This game is difficult, with a Dark Souls-like element. Death can result in you losing items, progress, and throw you onto a new path that you weren't ready to explore. Enemies are challenging, but their patterns can be learned over time. It's a game that wants to press you to try harder, but also encourages you to kill your character to take other paths. It's a simple and effective title that can suck you in.

- Overcooked 2. I did not think one could improve upon the greatness of Overcooked, but they did! The second game is much like the first where you can solo cook or work with up to 4 people to prepare meals while crazy obstacles attempt to obstruct you. Not only is this version more polished, but the addition of new mechanics adds to the fun and difficulty. You can now throw ingredients, making it easier to cook items - but you can't throw finished dishes! Those still need to be hand delivered. The second game also includes an arcade mode, emotes, and a couple of kitchens inspired by Power Stone 2. This is a must-have co-op game.

- Spyro Reignited Trilogy. Everything old is new again. With the success of the Crash Bandicoot upgrade, we knew Spyro would be next. This was not at all what I expected. It looks like a brand new game! The trilogy contains all 3 of the original Spyro games remastered into fully-rendered glory. The characters are crisp and clean. The locations look vast and immersive. The grass...did you know you can burn the grass? It looks really good! I know one shouldn't be happy about burnt grass, but wow. Who knew it could look like that? Though the first Spyro is noticeably lacking in subtitles, this is a wonderful platforming trilogy that any gamer would enjoy this holiday. And you can get through all 3 in about 12 hours! Perfect for the weekend.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

Hello ladies and gents! It's that time again, where we pull together all of the weekly musings in video games and post the Weekly Link Round up!

- Game Workers Unite has announced it's official position as a branch of the The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain. This marks the first union in the world to represent video game employees. GWU will be open to all current and past employees while addressing issues of crunch time/unpaid overtime and diversity. Those in positions to "hire" or "fire" will not be allowed to apply for membership. What about the contract workers? They are able to register. This is a big step for the industry as a whole as more employees move to unionize for better working conditions.

- With 2018 nearly at an end, we're already seeing a slew of lists for "most anticipated games of 2019." BGR.com has one of those lists, but the reason we're posting this is it has a good mix of AAA developers with mobile and indie games. Because we know that Harry Potter AR game by the makers of Pokémon Go will be big. And it's nice to see a site recognize how important mobile and indie games have impacted the market. You'll see some obvious call outs, such as Gears of War 5, but the others are refreshing.

- The Smithsonian is incorporating more mainstream technical coverage in their content by discussing the inception and impact of one of the first video games: Spacewar! Running off of the PDP-1, a machine that looks more like it fits in a 1960's sci-fi movie than a living room, Spacewar! pitted two players against each other with limited resources, and the goal was to outmaneuver your opponent. The RAM on the computer was almost non-existent. Enemies would have been impossible to create. A simple game became an amazing endeavor for MIT.

- The latest Smash Bros. is making a huge dent on the landscape that even the silly stories are making national headlines. Police officers were responding to a noise complaint at an apartment in Minnesota. And they ended up joining the party by playing Smash with the homeowners. The officers didn't think that the men were being loud, and were curious about Smash. While some may ostracize the officers for playing a game on the job, at least this ended up with a positive outcome.

- Your monthly reminder that being a pro eSports player is hard work. It can be fun, but it's also a job in a public setting where your focus is on one game, practicing 10-14 hours a day. There's no rest for the wicked, here.

- Finally, GameRevolution has a list of gaming cliches that need to end. Some of them make sense, such as escorting NPC missions. Honestly, I was done with that madness after Goldeneye. I intentionally avoid it with FF14 levequests. But other suggestions on the list are questionable. Like removing zombies. Some horror franchises like Resident Evil and Dead Rising depend on them, so we can't get rid of them all. What needs to be removed is "zombie mode" in games that don't need zombies. Like Call of Duty. It's a war game. There is no reason to have zombies here. And please developers, don't get rid of exploding barrels. We still find it amusing 30+ years later.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Game Approvals Still Quiet in China

China has not approved any new games for sale in their country in the last 9 months. It's likely that a new game won't be available until 2019.

One of the biggest gaming market potentials in the world is isolating itself once more. After decades of console and game bands, in more recent years the country has steadily lifted the restrictions to allow for more games to enter the country. There are still rules to follow, and a number of developers will adjust their content to ensure the game meets China's guidelines. It's almost a guarantee win on the investment if your game is approved.

After Monster Hunter: World was pulled from China's store shelves in August, gaming news outlets have been watching the country with perplexity. Tencent, China's largest gaming enterprise, is getting hit hard with the lack of movement in the country's government to approve games. With the re-organization of how China handles reviewing games, some games with monitization practices have been halted (even though previously approved). This is going to result in more lost jobs. South China Morning Post reported last week that the country has formed the Online Games Ethics Committee as the new review board for games. They have seen 20 so far; 9 were dismissed and 11 require edits before being resubmitted. There are rumors that the 9 games include Fortnite and PUBG, but no confirmation has been made by the government or the developers. If this changes, the blog will be updated.

This is a very tentative time for gamers in China. While they had access to edited games that the rest of the world was playing, at least they had the ability to play them. Now? China appears to be going back to it's isolationist stance. Maybe it's the intent to help cultivate more game developers in China and improve the home market, instead of the international one? We're likely to never know why China made this sudden reverse on their stance with video games. It's a long road ahead for developers and consumers.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

IOC Not Ready to Accept eSports at Olympics

It looks like video games are going to be delayed from a 2020/2024 debut at the Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) met over the weekend to continue discussions on eSports, as well as notating progress in the anti-doping scandal of the past few games and the allocation of international sports events. While eSports continues to grow in the public eye, the Olympics are not ready for it to be a featured event.

A few reasons were cited by the IOC, but of course there are some stand outs. Such as eSPorts being a "[sic] industry is commercially driven, while on the other hand the sports movement is values-based." For some reason the economic viability of eSports is a turn-off for the Olympics. Though they do have other sports like basketball, futball, and baseball that are incredibly popular and profitable. Look at any baseball field, and see how it's littered with advertisements. But sure; the sport is based off of values and not a commercial enterprise. You keep telling yourselves that, IOC. It may have started focused on sports values, but it has changed into commercialism, like everything eventually does (ex. 2020 Olympics; skateboarding will be introduced thanks to the popularity and economic viability of the XGames).

Some of their concerns are legitimate, such as some games are not appropriate for the Olympics due to their violent, combative nature. I wouldn't expect to see a speed run of Resident Evil anytime soon. But Overwatch? Viable. There's no blood. Players respawn. The graphics are consumer-friendly. The pace and action of the game is a good balance for pro, casual, and new gamers to follow. If the IOC took the time to whittle down the top eSports games, they would find there are games that meet their guidelines.

While the industry is evolving rapidly, many of the games in eSports have been staples for years, decades even! Quake, Counter-Strike, and Starcraft are games that will not go away next month. They have endured time and will continue to outlast many of us. Again, research by the IOC would help them realize this.

But eSports isn't off the list yet. They are still exploring possibilities to help bring in a younger audience to watch and participate in future games. Tony Estanguet, co-president of the Paris Olympic committee, has been leading the charge to bring video games into the Olympics. While no decision is final for 2024 until after Tokyo 2020, Estanguet will continue pressing on, along with supporters of eSports. One day, it will happen.

Monday, December 10, 2018

CBS Tries Their Own Game Awards with Mixed Messages!

Not to be outdone, CBS has started their own award show: Gamers' Choice Awards, which aired yesterday. This is the first network televised show for video games. Spike TV's variation was only available to those with a cable or satellite subscription. The show was developed by the creators of the Teen Choice Awards.

What's different about CBS' show? Well from the looks of things, it's a revival of the Spike TV version. KISS opened the show. If that doesn't scream "we are selling out to get your attention" then nothing will. The winners are based purely on fan votes. Starting in mid-November, gamers could vote on the show's website for categories like favorite eSports team, best gaming moment, and favorite celebrity gamers. There are way too many celebrity gamer categories. There are also some odd categories. Fan Favorite Retro Character? What? Nintendo has earned too many accolades for Super Mario Bros. It's in museums around the world. Why are we spending time at a current gaming award show to focus on retro content...and question has been answered. The categories for favorite eSports player were also broken down by specific games! So it's a very long laundry list of eSports professionals and questionable "celebrities."

If you'd like the full list of winners, check out the CNet article. A number of winners were announced on the show's Twitter feed and not live. Based on this review of the show by SVG, it's probably a good thing that I can't locate any videos of the event. It truly sounds like it's attempting to revive Spike TV's horrible edition of gaming awards. Cramming "celebrities" and gamers into one room isn't always the smartest ideas. And no developers were on hand to accept any of the awards being offered. Probably because they know better then to give this show any credibility.

But hey! Terry Crews was there, so that should make it cool. Right? Right.

This might be one event I'm glad I missed, and will not spend much time locating replays.

Friday, December 07, 2018

The Game Awards 2018 Wrap-Up

I know I said I wasn't planning on watching The Game Awards. But having the day off today to stay up late Thursday night, and needing the mental break on life for a handful of hours, I thought "why not." So, I settled in for the 5th year of The Game Awards with Geoff Keighley, brought to you by Canadians like Geoff Keighley, and hosted by Geoff Keighley.

For year 5, it wasn't any better or worse than year 4. Which seems to be the common theme for this event. Do just enough to spark interest, but not enough to maintain it. In their attempt in trying to not be like the defunct Spike TV's Game Awards, they're still pulling from that hat for segments and "jokes." Musicians and actors helped present the awards once again, and they may or may not actually be gamers. It's difficult to tell since everyone reads off a teleprompter. White male gaming directors and producers accepted awards while wearing blazers over t-shirts. Keighley was continually announced when he appeared on the stage, and praised by multiple people who had the microphone. He also loved to point out every time someone was Canadian, thus adding to my drinking game. Again some of the awards were rushed, with 3-4 of them being announced back to back with no breathing room; including during the pre-show (is it really a pre-show if you're giving away awards at this time?). There was the one guy in a mascot suit, and thankfully it wasn't a Schick Razor. Lot's of "world premieres" and not as much focus on the industry's accomplishments. It was all ho-hum.

There were a few areas where the event did improve. The Game Awards Orchestra was given more of a chance to shine, and played several times throughout the night. It gave a bit more credence to the show's attempt to be somewhat-seriously official. And to hear melodies from the games featured for Game of the Year was charming.

Most award winners were given a chance to speak. Last year if a team was part of that 1, 2, 3 rush of announcements, they couldn't say a word of thanks. That changed this year. While it did make the show a little longer, it did provide the winners a chance to express their gratitude. There were still some awards, particularly with the eSports categories that were rushed, but it was better than last time.

During commercial segments there was inclusion of various charities and non-profits that help bring the joy of gaming to others. That was very refreshing to see. All too often in the gaming community, outside of Extra Life or Child's Play, we rarely hear or see these stories. Gamers are incredibly diverse. This is a medium that permeates all cultures, races, religions, politics, to tell these incredible stories. We need to see this kind of representation more often - because gamers are not a specific stereotype. Everyone and anyone can be a gamer.

Now, if the show could bring some of those people onto the stage, and not continually shuffle out the a-typical straight, white, male, that would provide a realistic balance for the event. Let's celebrate how diverse gaming is; not hide it behind the stage.

The Game Awards still has potential to be something great, if they're willing to invest more into the content. The categories could use some fine-tuning. "Best Ongoing Game" not listing MMO's outside of Destiny 2 is a huge miss. There are more than battle royal games on the market that have been continuing for years, or over a decade in the case of World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XI. By not including MMO's shows how out of touch the show is with most consumers.

"Best Content Creator" should be more than streamers. There are tens of thousands of bloggers and vloggers, game reviewers, machinima artists, etc. that are creating content centered around video games. "Content Creator" is an expansive phrase. The Game Awards needs to either refine it to Best Streamer or allow for all aspects of creative content to be included in the award.

The show should also reign it in on the hack-and-slap cameos. I adore Weezer and Panic at the Disco, but was there a reason to have them introduce other musicians? This isn't the Grammy's. This is The Game Awards. I thought it was cool to have the voice actors for Kratos and his son give out an award. Let's have more of that! And while we're at it, let's have more of the developers handing out awards to other developers. Get the community involved. Get gamers up there. This is our award show - not Hollywood's. Stop selling out to actors and musicians that don't have an effect on gaming.

I want The Game Awards to be better. It keeps trying, but I feel like every year it's only passable. We need more umph. More diversity. More community reach. More substance. And a whole lot less of guys in mascot suits trying to sell us stuff (referring to Crash Bandicoot, not the eSports award winner).


Best comment of the night goes to Gus Sorola of Rooster Teeth:


Most unexpected "world premiere"/teaser is Joker from Persona 5 joining Smash Bros. Ultimate:



Interesting moment that could have been cool, but missed an opportunity for something amazing: The CEO's of Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo opening the show. What would have made the segment better is if all of them made a pledge to provide cross-console play. Their intro centered on how gaming brings people together. Well, what better way to highlight this, than to allow people to play with their friends on any console?

Final tally on spoken "World Premieres": 13 during the show, 18 including the pre-show. Actual premiers was well over 30. I missed my prediction, but glad they didn't over-state the phrase this time.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

EA Removing Former NFL Player After Assault

If there is one thing EA Sports seems to do well, it knowing when to remove athletes from their games who commit real world crimes.

Kareem Hunt was released from the U.S. football team the Kansas City Chiefs after a video of him assaulting a 19-year-old woman came to light. He's now a free agent and looking for another team, though it's unlikely that he'll be picked up. Confirmed by TMZ, EA issued a statement that they are removing Hunt from Madden '19. Players who have Hunt on their team will instead see a "default" character take his place, with the same stats. So you don't need to worry about swapping around your roster. It's the not-Hunt NPC.

EA has done this before with Ray Rice in Madden '15 and Aaron Hernandez from both Madden and their former NCAA series when he charged with murder.

EA may not always do the right thing, but sometimes they get it. Even something as small as this helps enforce the concept that we should not idolize people who do crappy things.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Did WalMart Unveil Death Stranding Release Date?

If you want to talk about breaking NDA's and releasing info too soon, the game industry should stop giving content to WalMart Canada. They can't seem to help themselves when it comes to posting content they shouldn't.

Once again the big retailer accidentally published a release date for a game on their website. This time it's Death Stranding, the much anticipated, and very confusing, new game from Hideo Kojima. No official date has been announced by Kojima, his company, or Sony. We only know that it'll be released when it's ready. However, WalMart Canada has a listing for the product on their website for June 30, 2019 (which is a Sunday). Twitter user Yinob asked the retailer if the date was correct, and they confirmed that it was. A day later, they retracted the comment and state that it's a placeholder.

Sure, WalMart. We believe you.

Their last debacle happened before E3 this year, when the website posted information for Rage 2, Just Cause 4, Gears of War 5, Borderlands 3, and Lego DC Super-Villains. A number of these were games that we had anticipated but were not yet announced by the developers. Since then, all but Borderlands 3 were confirmed to be coming soon. GearBox has unofficially commented that they want to make a Borderlands 3 but has not made the grand statement that it is in development. Still, it did mute some of the developer and console presentations to be spoiled so early on big titles.

Of course we don't know if this will be the final release date for Death Stranding. Kojima is expected to appear at The Game Awards this week. Maybe we'll learn more about the game and have a hint of a release schedule. Assuming WalMart didn't spoil it all for us.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Fallout Problems Continue with Power Armor Pre-Orders

The latest Fallout: 76 debacle has nothing to do with the in-game content. Rather, it's the expensive "Power Armor" edition of the game that does not include advertised content.

When the $200 "Power Armor" version was first announced, it was touted to include a wearable helmet, in-game items, collectable figurines, and a steelbook case for the game. It also included a canvas bag to store your helmet. Not the best material for the helmet, but it's better than nothing. Renders of the final package included a canvas bag, that was even labeled as such. None of the images or the pre-sale info contained a disclaimer that the images were not final and may change at the time of release.

So of course when people began receiving their $200 box, the canvas bag ended up being a dud. A smaller, nylon version was swapped in. Nothing on the website or any of the pre-order stats indicated that the item changed. Up until Bethesda began receiving e-mails from unhappy customers, the website still listed the item as canvas. In fact, if you check the order page for this edition of the game, the image STILL contains the canvas bag, spelled out.

Bethesda's initial response was laughable, but are now issuing 500 Atoms to customers that contact support. Atoms are the in-game currency of the game for the digital storefront. You can earn them through daily/weekly challenges, by completing certain game tasks (missions, quests, leveling up, etc.), or buy them with IRL money. However 500 Atoms is roughly $5. That's not enough to buy anything on the store. Maybe a vase or a door, but nothing of weight. The canvas bag that was advertised would have been worth more than $5.

This is a reminder to all companies that you need to be careful with your advertising. If you can't commit to the items that a customer purchased, you need to inform them immediately and provide a reasonable solution. Also, it helps to have a disclaimer that "images of items are not final" should something change. It helps cover you from legal issues.

Update 12/4/18: Bethesda is now offering the canvas bags after the massive response from customers and gaming sites. If you purchased the Power Armor edition, you'll need to submit a support ticket to Bethesda by January 31, 2019. A replacement will be arranged once the bags are ready. There is no date on listed on estimated shipping.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

It's time for another Weekly Link Round Up! Which means I dig through the internet to find some of the best, and weirdest gaming articles on the internet. It takes me to places I never knew, nor ever wanted to know existed, so you don't have to. You're welcome.

- The PlayStation Classic will be out soon, and reviewers already have their hands on it. Business Insider's take on the unit is pretty much what I expected from the system. A faithful reproduction of the original system, but a questionable game line up for NA/EU audiences that don't hold up to the test of time. I understand why the system is missing Crash Bandicoot, given the reboot was recently released. But no Gran Turismo? Missed opportunity!

Also the AV Club would like to remind you to mind your wallet with the flashy ads on this one.

- Cryptocurrency is steadily declining, but it's not stopping some loyal to the cause from sinking more money in it. Justin Sun, the founder of Tron (not that one), whom bought Bit Torrent earlier this year, will be spending another $100 million to build video games on a blockchain. These type of games are in their infancy. Honestly the system for Tron's blockchain is a bit confusing, and requires people to be heavily invested in it to work. Gizmodo does a decent job of attempting to spell it out. While companies continue to play with blockchain for future games, this quick cash infusion is not likely to produce immediate results.

- Best of 2018 video game lists are already flooding the internet. I don't want to rehash a number of them because you're going to get a lot of copy, paste, repeat. But, I do want to show off the ones that catch my attention. Such as The New Yorker. They not only included games released at the beginning of the year (for some reason most of these lists enjoy excluding content that came out January - June/July), but mobile and indie games. Shocking! While I can't comment on a number of titles, the fact that the games are quite diverse, and most of the content easily accessible for consumers to try, this is a balanced list that's worth reading!

- A limited TV series on the great console debate between Nintendo and Sega has been announced. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts ('Kong: Skull Island'), the series will be based on the Blake J. Harris non-fiction novel 'Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo and the Battle that Defined a Generation.' The book centers around Tom Kalinske, who was the CEO for SEGA's American division in the 1990's. He's lauded as the man who saved SEGA with the Genesis. This is one of the few non-fiction books about video games I can recommend. It is weird to call a business story "action packed" but that's exactly what this is! It'll be interesting to see how Hollywood spins the tale.

- The Round Up is not complete without a WhatCulture list. This time focusing on the 10 most overrated games of the past decade. On the plus, they did include Halo 5 and for that I am grateful (as a former fan of Halo, they really should have stopped at 3). However, fan favorites like Skyrim, Mass Effect 2, and Assassin's Creed Black Flag (one of the few AssCreed titles that is widely lauded by gamers) are on here too. For reasons that are mostly superficial (oh no, an action game where you have to have action?). A number of people still boot up their EA Origin accounts for Mass Effect. Or still run around in Skyrim with a few mods. News flash to writers: today's technology doesn't mean games from yesterday are "overrated." You might want to refresh dictionary.com.