Sunday, September 22, 2013

Ain't No Rest For The Wicked

I will be unable to make a post today. For anyone who reads this that does not know, I've recently gone back to school to study game design, which is taking up about 95% of my waking hours. This also means that I've been doing writing that I COULD post on here, in at least one class, but I've been doing it as homework to turn in instead. I may talk to my teacher to see if it's alright to post them here, the Sunday after I've turned them in.

In short, I'm hoping to find ways to continue regularly updating this blog, even though I don't find myself with the free time to write specifically for it.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

EDITORIAL: Twitter Woes

Further unseen problems this week, as I came down with a sickness and have been unable to do any writing. So, I'm going to do this weeks article “on the fly”, and do a short topic. I'm also rethinking my format, maybe writing an editorial the first weekend of the month, and then covering the week in gaming for the others. Let me know what people think of that.

Let's talk about Twitter for a moment. For the life of me, I can't really figure out the purpose of this. It's kind of an odd mixture of Facebook and an RSS feed. It's largely unimportant, menial postings, people you follow so that they can talk about the minutia of their every day lives. But every once and a while, someone posts a link to something important. The ultimate result of which is that you would be stupid to use it to follow anything other than your favourite personalities.
Starting with the comparison to Facebook. Facebook is a centralized location for our friendships and relationships. A worst case scenario prevention tool that many use as a primary. If I lose contact with a friend, I can use it to keep up with them or get back in contact with them. This results in some negative feelings, I feel bad about refusing to add certain people, I feel like I can't make some of the comments I want because of who is on my friends list, and deleting people is a sign of actively wanting to avoid people.
Twitter kind of breaks away from this. There are no hard feelings about following people or not following people. If people don't want to see what you have to say, they can stop at any time, and still maintain an outside friendship with them. This can be positive or negative, as most people largely take this as an opportunity to be obnoxious. It's easy to stop following people who are, but hard to keep them from following you.
Then you have the ability to use Twitter to keep in touch with a variety of sources all in one location, similar to an RSS feed. An RSS feed is used to keep you informed of when your favorite websites update their page. If website A posts a new video, or website B a new article, you can click on its link from right there. It keeps you from repeatedly having to check a multitude of sites on a regular basis...a time saving tool.
You do this in Twitter by following those sites as well. They will usually make most of their postings to both the RSS feed and their Twitter account. The big difference is that an RSS feed is all business, while with a twitter feed, they will usually spice it up with their own personalities, post links to other things they find interesting, and make offhand comments that have nothing to do with anything.
Then you get sources that push this. BioWare at the time of Mass Effect 3 became known for using Twitter poorly when they killed off an important character on it. Emily Wong was present in Mass Effect 1 as a budding reporting relying on Shepard to provide her with information. In Mass Effect 2, she was a full fledged anchorwoman, and her news stories could be heard throughout the Citadel.
Then, in Mass Effect 3, she was notably missing. She had been replaced by Jessica Chobot, a reporter for game review website IGN. IGN is one of the largest sites for this, and has notably been accused of being paid off for its reviews. Needless to say, this didn't really help their case, but I digress. The replacement of Emily Wong by Jessica Chobot did not go unnoticed, and when people brought it up, they were forwarded to a twitter post, written as a news post in the game universe, where Emily Wong was killed during the invasion of Earth.
It was lazy, lacking insight in the game, and insulting to followers of the trilogy. Had the news story been in the game, maybe we might have been more forgiving, but doing it on Twitter was too much. They clearly did this as an opportunity to pander to a game review website, and forgot that they already had a character in place to take on the role.
This is probably the more heinous example, but Twitter is a tool that is often misused. To be honest, even after this examination, I still don't see much of a point. The only real reason I can think of to use it is because not all websites have the ability to put them on your RSS feed. Adding them to your Twitter instead means that it's basically RSS Lite.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

SPECIAL: PAX in Review

I'm going to do something a bit different this time. Since many of the titles I'm covering in this post are indie, I'm going to post links for each title I mention to the games website and/or Greenlight page, even for the major ones. Please visit those, buy the game, vote for it, whatever. I do not get any kind of kickback for this, I just want to help support these titles as much as I can.

PAX is kind of an interesting thing. At the surface, it's a chance to go play the newest games and consoles before they are released. There's a large showroom floor, taking up large portions of the Washington State Convention Center. The 4th floor, including the skybridge and annex, is host to nothing else. It also takes up a significant portion of the 6th, and portions of the 1st-3rd as well.
However, there's much more to it than that. There is a comparable, or even larger, amount of floor space dedicated to other pursuits. There's space for classic video game consoles, for card and board games, there's a classic arcade full of pinball tables. There's a rather large set up for PC gaming free play, and one of the highlights of the event is the Omegathon, a contest of...randomness. To me, however, the biggest highlights are the games, and the panels, so I'm really only going to talk about those.
First and foremost, the games. That's what most people are interested in, so I'll get that out of the way. I had a few hands on periods with both the X1 and PS4 controllers. The X1 is mostly the same as it's current counterpart. I personally didn't notice any difference with the triggers, and that seems to be the status quo. The one thing I did notice was that the controller “prongs” jet out at more of an angle than the current X360 controller. It was an odd change, but I assume I'll get used to it.
The PS4 feels almost identical to the current X360 controller. It's more lightweight, and the triggers are actually a little more comfortable, but otherwise the same. I played 3 games on the PS4, and didn't use the track pad for anything, so the relocation of the start button was the most distracting thing about it. There was no discernible difference in graphics quality between the two systems, but there wasn't a single game that was shown on both systems, so it's hard to compare.
I also got a chance to go hands on with the nVidia Shield and Oculus Rift. The Shield was interesting but ultimately I find it hard to justify the expense. The device is $300, and in order to stream from your PC, you need a GTX 650 or higher. So ATI fans are out of luck, and it's an extra expense for everyone else.
The Oculus Rift was interesting as well. People have been hailing it as an industry changing device, something that in a few years we'll all be using instead of monitors. Let me just say, calm down, it's not that amazing. It's VR. Regardless of how cheap and light weight it's gotten, it's just VR and nothings changed significantly beyond graphics. It's really cool, and I'm sure I'll be buying one, but my PC monitors are safe for now.
I sat down and was a “passenger” in a racing simulator. As I put the headset on, the first thing I noticed was...it's out of focus. After some adjustment, the focus was fixed, but never completely. So long as you look straight in front of you, everything was fine, but if you looked at the edges of the “screen”, everything was blurry. Eventually I got used to looking at everything, but it's abnormal and requires you to retrain in some pretty basic motor functions. Other than that, it works pretty well...mimicked my movements pretty accurately.
Now that the hardware is out of the way, lets talk about games. The first thing my group did upon entering the hall was get our hands on the new tech. We happened upon the X1, and noticed there was no line for Forza 5, so we jumped in and got our hands on the new console. The graphics were pretty good, but I definitely noticed some roughness on some of the edges. I'm not much of one for racing games, so I'm going to defer judgement on this. It felt like a Forza game to me.
Then we ran over to the PS4...where there was no wait at Knack. Again, not really sure what to say about this. If you watch any video of the game, then you know if it's your type. It looked really pretty, but I didn't notice any reason it couldn't have been made on the PS3.
Next we headed to the WiiU, and everyone else got their hands on The Wonderful 101. I can honestly say I was lost. I watched the 3 people play, and couldn't tell what was going on. I've never found it all that intriguing, so that may account for some of it, but after wards I heard them remark on the same thing, so I guess I'm not the only one.
We eventually made our way to the Indie Megabooth. I'm going to be very clear when I say this; we had to make return visits because we kept missing things. I walked through the entire thing at least 5 times and kept seeing games I didn't notice before. I also want to add in, what was it I talked about last week? OH YEAH, 8 bit art! I'll admit, I pretty much walked right past any title that used it. It feels lazy to me, and if you're lazy in your art style, then you better have something else that catches my attention right away...and not a single one of these games did.
A few of the games in there REALLY did catch my attention, however. First and foremost is a title that's already available: BeatBuddy. This is a title that is a music based platformer. The entire focus is on the music that's playing, and you move and solve puzzles in tandem. It's creative and refreshing. I would strongly suggest that everybody download the free demo off Steam, because you have nothing to lose and so much to gain.
Next in the Indie megabooth, I came across a title named Delver's Drop. This was an interesting Zelda style dungeon crawler. I couldn't get a feel for how good it will be on release. I do like the idea that it has random dungeons and puzzles, and it was nice to be able to pick multiple classes, but there was no story that I could see. I think it's worth looking into. It was just Greenlit on Steam, so definitely check it out.
Apotheon is described as a “2D platform action-rpg”. My first impulse was to call it a metroidvania, but I was corrected by one of the developers. It both is and it isn't. The game features a big world in a similar vein as Super Metroid, but apparently it lacks weapon upgrades. Ultimately it sounds like a big world to explore at your leisure, and the only barrier is your skill. The big thing that drew me to it, however, is it's art style. It imitates the ancient Greek style that is best seen on pottery from the era. Black characters on a red-brown background is certainly nothing spectacular, but it's excellent in its simplicity.
Contrast is a title that uses light and shadow to give us a unique twist on the puzzle flatformer. It seems that you play as a character who can literally turn into a shadow at will, and can use the ability to run along walls and use other shadows for world traversal. I really like the concept, though didn't get a chance to go hands on with it.
The new game from Klei, developers of n+, Shank, Mark of the Nina, and the recently released Don't Starve, was also on display. Incognita is a turn based strategy game with an art style similar to that of Shadowrun Returns. It's described as being an espionage game, but I didn't get enough of a chance to really look at this. It looks really interesting though.
One game that IMMEDIATELLY drew my attention was Aaru's Awakening. The art style in this game is brilliant. For fans of 1980's comic books like Heavy Metal, it's a must look title. It's truly astounding on that level. I got a chance to talk to one of the developers, and he said that they had to do a lot of research on mesopotamian mythology while creating the story. The concept of how your character warps himself around is also interesting. This game is still waiting to be Greenlit, so PLEASE go check this out.
Another great title that I saw and want to point out is Neverending Nightmares. This was honestly a pretty brilliant title, the sketch book art style is really well done, and aids the narrative dramatically. This horror sidescroller is quite fascinating, at least. It is also waiting to be Greenlit on Steam, so please go vote for it.
I also noticed at least one indie game outside of the indie megabooth. Octodad was sitting in the back of the PS4 area, right in between Titanfall and the rest of the titles. The controls aren't as awkward as I'd heard, but they definitely take some getting used to. That's kind of the point, though. You're supposed to be an octopus passing itself off as human, so the inability to control things precisely is exactly what makes the game. I enjoyed my time with it, and look forward to a full release.
The last indie title that was available at PAX which drew my attention was Lovers ina Dangerous Spacetime. The game is a co-op title featuring a ship going through space. You're in control of one of the two lovers, and you run around the ship manning the different systems as you're attacked. It's important to have a good partner for this, as it's definitely not a simple title. I was paired up with a random guy, and we seemed to make it fairly far, but he didn't ever want to grab the engine, so I was stuck flying while he got to shoot stuff. Still, keep an eye on it.
I do want to plug 2 more indie titles here, that were not at PAX. The first is the more well known, There Came an Echo. It was successfully kickstarted earlier this year, and features the music of Jimmy Hinson (Big Giant Circles), who worked on the Mass Effect 2 and Black Ops 2 soundtracks. The game is a tactical strategy game that is controlled through voice commands. Characters will interact with you, give advice, and behave like real people. It's worth keeping an eye on.
The second title is from an indie dev that I met on the bus. Race the Sun is an arcade racing game. The graphics are fairly minimalistic, but the aesthetic works. It also features a rather robust world creator, so you can make your own worlds. That's really the heart of this game, the ability to create your own, interactive experiences without any programming knowledge of your own. The game is available for $10 on their site, and waiting to be Greenlit.
The first major title I want to point out is Wolfenstein: The New Order. This is the first one I actually sat in line for. I was really taken with it. It didn't do anything different, but what it was...it was a throwback game done right. You had regenerating health, but only to a point, after that you had to get health pick ups. Enemies could come from angle, though it never felt cheap. You had to take cover, but not religiously. The graphics were good, I just wish I had been able to try it out on a keyboard and mouse. I'm REALLY looking forward to this, as it just seems like a solid game.
I was going to get in line for The Legend of Zelda: WindWaker HD, but found it hard to motivate myself. It was a pretty long line for a 10 year old game that I know I'm going to buy in a few weeks anyways. Instead I got hands on time with A Link Between Worlds. I don't have much to say about it. It's a Zelda game. If you like Link to the Past, you'll probably like this one. I'm not a huge fan of the art style, and wish they had stuck with a Link to the Past aesthetic.
I managed to get into Arkham Origins without any line. I'm really not sure what to make of this. As I got control, it became obvious that they got rid of certain things from Arkham City. It didn't seem to be able to coast in the same way (down and up momentum), and you couldn't continue gliding after grappling. It also seemed to be broken. The objective marker was on a building you couldn't grapple. I managed to glide over from another building nearby, and nothing happened. So I found a random group of enemies, and the combat seems to be largely the same as that in Arkham City. I don't know what to say about all that.
On my way out, I noticed Scribblenauts Unmasked, the new DC crossover they have coming out. One of the booth attendants noticed me on the machine, and headed over. He spent a significant amount of time with me, explaining all the systems, showing me combat and the encyclopedia and everything else that are new innovations for the series. I have to say I'm impressed, and I'm considerably more likely to pick up the game now that I've had that experience...so thanks to the guy who was manning that station at about 10:15 on Sunday morning.
After that, I decided it was time for a line, so I jumped into the Beyond: TwoSouls line. It looked fairly short, but after about an hour I began to realize I hadn't moved that far. The person manning the booth came back and explained it to us. There were 4 machines, and each was running a 20 minute demo. At that point I realized the 6 people in front of me meant I should be there about another half hour, so I decided to just tough it out.
The game itself was...interesting. The lack of on screen prompts is, I guess, an attempt to hide that it's largely quick time events. It's cool, but not as functional as I'd hoped. In some of the movements, it's hard to tell if you're blocking and should pull back, or attacking and should push forward. In the case of kicking, I regularly mistook it for a stomp, and pressed it downwards instead of attacking. At points in the demo, it actually was hard to see what you were doing, as the game slowed down to tell you that you needed to do something, but the object itself was actually off screen, so I didn't know if I needed to duck or to jump. I'm sad that the system looks like it still needs some work, but it doesn't dissuade me from purchasing the title when it comes out.
While I was in line for Beyond, I got a chance to watch some videos, one for DeadRising 3, and one for Fable Anniversary. Dead Rising 3 looks like a return to form. DR2 was pretty wacky, but the first wasn't as much. The “comedy” came from what you could do, rather than the setting. You had a real tale of trying to survive this zombie apocalypse, stuck in the mall. You just had a camera to take weird pictures, and strange outfits, and you could run over zombies with a lawn mower. DR3 looks to be much the same as that, which I'm personally happy about. Fable Anniversary looks like what it is...a remake of the original title. That's a very good thing, because the original was such a good title. $40 for a 10 year old game is a bit much though, so I'm waiting for a price drop.
I then joined up with a friend, who was waiting in line at the Ryse booth. Because I was jumping line, I didn't play the game, but I spent a good long while watching gameplay, and talking to a developer. The first thing I noticed, the game actually looks pretty great. The “quick time events” really are nothing more than they were in Gears of War. You press X to execute, B to curb stomp, etc. When talking to the developer, I proclaimed “The E3 demo was garbage”, and his response was a definate “yeah, I wouldn't argue with you. That's why we immediately came out and released as much information as possible.” Again, I had a great experience, and I'm all the more likely to purchase the game because of this interaction. He told me that he has always been a PC gamer, and looked at this game as a chance to bring a little piece of that to console players. Whether I liked the game or not, and I did, he convinced me that this was a labor of love, and it demands attention.
I also got a chance to play BlackLight Retribution on the PS4. Nothing to really say about it. People have had a chance to play these titles before. The one thing I will say is that it looked on par with the PC games I've been playing, rather than the X360 and PS3 games, so that's good.
Then I got my friend to sit in line for Dying Light. The line was moving pretty slow, so I assumed it was a long demo. Unfortunately, it was not. The demo was only 5 minutes. The game is similar to Dead Island, mixed with a little Mirrors Edge. I really wish I had more time with it so that I could give a bit more input, but unfortunately all I really got from it was that it felt really good to decapitate zombies.
The last game in the show I saw was TellTales new game: The Wolf Among Us. This was similar to The Walking Dead, same art style, same controls. The story here is based on the Fables comic books this time around. If you played The Walking Dead, you should be interested, and if you didn't, why the hell are you reading this instead of playing it?
I'm going to skip over the panels for now. A lot of the information was given and could be problematic if taken out of context, but I may try to post it in the future.
During PAX, I had a lot of fun, but if I could make a suggestion, it would be to make sure the people you're going with share similar interests, or don't be afraid to go off by yourself. I spent most of the first two days skipping the longer lines, and letting other people reach a consensus about what to see. It wasn't a bad experience, but going off by myself the last 2 days (the first day meeting up with a friend and waiting in the long lines, and the second spending the whole day in panels) was the right decision to make. If you go multiple days, make sure to pace yourself, you'll probably have time to see everything you want.