News, Video Games

Insomniac Games Added to Picket List

Since October 21st SAG-AFTRA has been picketing many developers and publishers in the video game industry. It has been announced that Insomniac Games has been added to the list. During the month of November the union is planning to picket outside the development offices of Insomniac. They are not the first that have been hit with a picket, and will be joining the likes of EA and Warner Bros. The pickets have been a result of a failure to come to terms over many of the unions demands. The union stands by that the demands are not so out of hand, and what they are asking for is entirely fair. One of the biggest demands was that actors receive “full scale payment” for every 500,000 units sold. Another addressed the “secrecy” issue of games, citing that actors have to sometime audition for parts with knowing nothing about them. In return the gaming industry has offered a 9% wage increase, but many still claim it’s not enough. That voice acting for video games is vastly unfair in comparison to other forms of voice acting. Multiple voice actors have stepped forward in support of the strike including Jennifer Hale and Wil Wheaton. Problems range from under pay, to odd hours, to there being no further compensation for motion capture. Crispin Freeman has stated that this is about the industry treating voice actors as though they don’t matter. It is sad that the strike is still going, and even sadder to watch the list of developers being struck grow. I personally hope to see a good ending to this strike. While I do love video games, it is important that the industry treat it’s voice actors fairly and in a way that is comparable to other industries. If you are curious as to what games are specifically being struck and which are not you can visit these links. Struck and Non-Struck

News, Video Games

Mario Coming to iOS

We now have our first official release date for a Mario game for mobile. Super Mario Run will be launching December 15th for all iOS platforms. What we know is fairly limited at this point. The core game will have multiple different world themes as is expected from Mario games. It is also meant to be played one handed with Mario constantly moving and gamers only having control of jumps. In addition to the core Mario mode there will also be a kingdom builder and a Toad’s Rally mode. The Rally mode allows you to compete with others, while Kingdom builder seems to be a cosmetic feature. The game is going to be on the pricey side for mobile games, costing $9.99. As so little is known about it at this point, there is no news if there will then be further microtransactions to follow up with the game. My personal hope is that Nintendo keeps any additional charges for this (and future mobile games) limited to cosmetic, or not at all. It is hard for me personally to get excited for a new mobile game when so many rely so heavily on microstransactions. Honestly I have been iffy about Nintendo shifting to an emphasis on mobile games and I still am. Super Mario Run does seem like an enjoyable mobile game, and the price is large enough that they might avoid the negative direction that most mobile games takes. It doesn’t appear that there is anything really unique about this Mario game, other than Mario constantly running. If Nintendo is going to focus so heavily on mobile game I would hope that they would bring something unique to the mobile experience. That being said I have to admit any judgement at this point is purely speculative. We will know more with Super Mario Run actually launches, and when we see feature games from Nintendo. For now iOS owners get ready to bring Mario to new devices.

Op-Ed, Video Games

Games With Amazing Environments

A good setting is vital to a video game. While good gameplay can carry a game, a great environment with that gameplay takes it that next step. When talking about in-game worlds there are so many different ones that deserve credit. It’s almost impossible to narrow down the list to just a few. The following are a few that deserve credit as being some of the best worlds to be explored by gamers. Whether impressive in their size, detail, or just aesthetically appealing, these worlds are just downright amazing to explore.

Eternal Sonata

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While not the most popular RPG, Eternal Sonata deserves credit for the truly unique world in which it is set. Centered around the life of Chopin, Eternal Sonata is supposed to be the fever dream that he has while on his death bed. This is an interesting concept and manages to weave a beautiful world. Naturally the world is very focused on music giving it a very wonderful atmosphere. With the characters you explore many different settings, each one detailed, colorful, and aesthetically appealing. As far as ideas for a video game environment the last dream of a very talented artist is a wonderful idea.

Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall

Daggerfall earns it’s place on the list due to it’s size. It can proudly claim to be one of the largest in-game environments ever created with a shocking 15,000 in-game locations for players to explore. If that weren’t impressive enough add in fact that terrain is randomly generated. It can not be over stated how large this environment is. It’s also incredible because the game came out in 1996, and despite all the time that has passed few games have gotten close to having a world this large. It’s an interesting and fun place to explore, but it’s size is what makes it so special.

The UnderGarden

The UnderGarden is in a class of it’s own in many aspects. It is not very action packed, instead focusing on puzzles. The environment is a major focus of this game. You swim through the worlds, they start darker but you spread light and colors to them. Most of your actions serve to grow flowers and add to the setting. It’s a very calming world, and rather exquisite. Because you are interacting directly with the environment it starts to feel like it’s own character almost, and restoring it brings a certain level of joy.

South Park: Stick of Truth

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What I think gives Stick of Truth one of the best environments is how true it is to the show. Running through the town in the game is like running through an episode. A lot of attention is paid to the location of certain buildings, as well as putting a lot of buildings in that were call backs to earlier episodes. Taking the time to make sure it looks like the show, and then adding many of the fan’s favorite places really makes Stick of Truth shine.

Assassin’s Creed

This franchise does an amazing job of putting gamers in different settings. Part of what is so fun about this series is getting to explore old worlds in a realistic way of how they would have been. Using real landmarks, and the knowledge the teams have available they do their best to take gamers into the past. Whether it’s expoloring the middle east during the third crusade, or America during the Revolutionary War this franchise allows gamers to play in history. There was some creative liberty taken of course, but it remains enjoyable none the less.

Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus is interesting because not only does it include standard environments, but the colossi themselves are also part of it. The overall feeling of this game is dark, and has a very grey and moody atmosphere to match. Then add in the massive colossi that the player has to climb over to defeat. It’s a great blend of both the epic monsters that the player is battling, and a wide open spaces. Shadow of the Colossus is not a happy game, and it does a great job of dragging the player along in a beautiful but depressing world.

Fallout

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Fallout blends futuristic technology with 1950s Aermicana, and people love it. It’s a very interesting clash of new and old, and remains one of the more unique series in gaming because of it. There is something wholly unique about walking around a nuclear savaged world while at the same time feeling like you’ve stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting. This blend is compelling, and allows Fallout to shine.

Kingdom Hearts

Kingdom Hearts doesn’t just have one setting, but rather a multitude of many interesting places. Kingdom Hearts gives gamers the wonderful chance to play in a few of their favorite Disney worlds. Each world has it’s own unique look and feel, even the main characters will change at times. With such distinct worlds it helps to keep the game interesting. The jungles of Tarzan feel completely different from the darkness of Halloween Town. It helps to immerse the gamer as well as give a heaping helping of nostalgia.

Impressions, Video Games

Impressions: The Novelist

It’s safe to say in the realm of games, that I have not really played anything else like The Novelist. It follows the Kaplan family as they stay in a house during the summer. Dan is the main character and a novelist, his wife is a stay at home mother and artist, and their son is starting to grow up and develop as a child. Each character has a big problem. Dan is starting to really struggle with his writing, especially with his current book. The wife wants to desperately get back into the art world, and is thinking about leaving Dan. Their son is struggling in school and starting to feel like he doesn’t belong in the family. You as the gamer play an unknown force that moves around the house and is trying to influence what happens to the family.

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Each week a situation will arise. Each member of the family will have what they want to happen. You discover this by looking for clues around the house, and reading the memories of the three people. Once you have discovered what each of them want, you then get to choose the outcome. So for instance the wife’s grandmother dies. She wants the husband to come to the funeral. That same week the husband is asked to give an interview about his book. The son that week also wants to go to an air show. If you choose to have the husband go to the funeral that means the husband and son will be disappointed. You can also pick a compromise in these situations so that at least one other character will get part of what they want, but one of the three will always be let down.

It requires you to really balance how much effort you put into satisfying each character. You can in fact focus on the family, but this means that Dan’s book will suffer and you can even get an ending where he gives up writing all together. On the other hand the book could be your focus, but the wife might leave Dan as a result. Balance is the key word to trying to please everyone.

There are two gameplay modes, story and stealth. In story the spirit can free roam to look for clues and read memories because the Kaplan’s can not see it. In stealth you have to actually stay out of sight, if you are caught the game ends and picks up from the last save. Stealth doesn’t really seem needed to me. It adds challenge, but The Novelist isn’t really about the gameplay as much as it’s about the story of the family. Stealth just doesn’t add that much to me.

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The other issue I have with the game is that some of the desires vs compromises just seem a bit silly. One week the son’s reading will start to suffer, while the husband wants alone time, and the wife wants more family time. If you choose the son it says that every morning Dan, and his wife sit down with the son, tutor and spend time with him. Yet somehow the wife can still end up angry that the family isn’t doing anything together that summer. Little moments like that clearly don’t make sense.

Despite those few moments the game is still really interesting. Trying to get a “perfect” ending (good ending for all three characters) became a bit of an obsession of mine because every time one of the characters would suffer I honestly felt for them. You want the Kaplan’s to be happy, and you can relate to them. There is also something to be said for experimenting with the endings. What happens if you just focus completely on the son? Can Dan be happy even if he stops writing? It is also fairly harsh, there is a certain reality that has to be faced, that the entire family cannot get everything they want.

Bottomline:

The game is not perfect, as mentioned stealth seems completely unneeded, and a few of the compromises make no sense. It is still very interesting and has a vast number of different outcomes to keep it worth playing multiple times. If story driven games are something you enjoy I would highly recommend it.

Impressions, Video Games

Impressions: PvZGW2 Trials of Gnomus DLC

We may be a little late to the party on this DLC, but we have finally experienced it. Trials of Gnomus is the newest DLC for Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare 2. The main feature of the DLC is community events. Now PvZ has already played around with this feature in the past. They have given a few events for the community to work on, like everyone getting a total number of healing, or fire kills. Trials of Gnomus takes it a step further. In addition to those types of events it also has random gameplay types.

So far we have seen Dinos vs Cats. In this you take over the Dinos and Cats from the infinity gameplay and do sudden death team vs team matches. There are also boss hunts, as well as just random plays on standard gameplay types (for instance team vanquish where you don’t pick what character you respawn as). To reward people for this they have introduced a new star system, rainbow stars. Each time one of these events is happening you get stars for participating and can open a 10 star, 30, star, and 50 star chest.

All of this is really fun, and a very smart way to keep their community coming back. It’s a huge ‘hey everyone make sure you are signing into PvZGW2 regularly to get to play these new game types and get special rewards. The execution leaves a little to be desired however.

First and foremost the events themselves are inconsistent at best. While they claim to have a calendar that helps with this, it’s been unreliable. Second they are very short lived, with no consideration for the fact that the community itself is so diverse. If you want a game that reaches all ages, and want to encourage that community then power to you. Realize however doing these events in the middle of the week when many people can’t participate is not wise. Also making them all only 3 days long, which then requires people to be very dedicated during those 3 days, can be rough. To add to that the servers are clearly not able to handle the events themselves. While normally play is only partially affected when these events happen, the events themselves are shaky. If you are even able to get into one of them (and that is a big if) you will still have to contend with drops, and major bugs.

Lastly many of the events sort of require that you come with your own friends/community to play with. Boss hunt is hard, even on normal it’s extremely challenging. Attempting it with random players is an exercise in madness. You still get a descent star reward for participating at all, but it would be nice to be able to win without having to work out bringing in your own people. Especially given again how random the events are, and that they don’t last very long.

In the end my solution is simple. Make the events last longer, and have a shorter down time in between. It shouldn’t be 3 days of an event and then a week off. It should be closer to 3-5 days for an event then 1-3 days off. Keep them coming, keep them consistent. Next drop the difficulty on the events that pit players against AI. Normal boss hunt should not be as challenging as garden ops on hard (or even crazy). Lastly, and probably the most important, make sure your servers can actually support this.

Otherwise there is not a lot to say. I am a fan. It’s a great way to keep the community involved. The rewards are worth going for. The events are interesting enough, and it does effectively keep me coming back to the game to play more.