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.

News, Video Games

Games with Gold November 2016

Xbox and PlayStation have both released the games you will be able to get for free in November 2016. If you are a PlayStation Plus member and/or Xbox Live member here are the games you can get for free next month.

Xbox One:

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Super Dungeon Bros: November 1st-30th

Murdered: Soul Suspect: November 16th- December 15th

Xbox 360:

Monkey Island SE: November 1st- November 15th

Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon: November 16th- November 30th

PS4:

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Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

The Deadly Tower of Monsters

PS3:

Dirt 3

Costume Quest 2

PS Vita:

Letter Quest Remastered

Pumped BMX+

Op-Ed, Video Games

Games with Amazing Environments: Horror Edition

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, in the horror genre, 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 great to explore.

Dante’s Inferno

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While it doesn’t have the most unique gameplay, Dante’s Inferno does really shine in it’s environment. This game does a great job interpreting the epic poem about an artist’s journey through hell. Each one of the levels has a unique look to it and paints a vivid picture of what that level of hell is supposed to represent. Lust is stormy, Greed covered in rivers of melted gold, and Treachery portrays an icy world. Aside from the levels themselves Inferno also highlights other features mentioned in the poem, like the rivers of blood, and individual parts of the larger levels. Inferno can be disturbing, and it’s no surprise that it made people uncomfortable. However, if you are going to take a work of literature and put it into a game it’s the details that are important. Inferno doesn’t turn away from being disturbing, it is supposed to be an interpretation of hell. Instead it embraces it and makes a dark and screwed up environment. It’s worth playing to experience seeing the poem brought to life.

Dead Space

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The Ishimura is one of the scariest game environments that many gamers have ever played in. It’s dark, bloody, and terrifying. The setting can make or break a horror game, and in the case of Dead Space the Ishimura makes it. Gamers feel isolated and trapped within The Ishimura not wanting to go further, but being forced to. Add in the awesome moments of being in space and they’ve created a recipe for a setting that is both awesome and scary.

Bioshock

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While Bioshock borrowed gameplay elements from the System Shock series, the world it’s set in is brand new. Rapture is a brilliant mix of art deco and sci-fi elements, it’s very easy to get sucked into this game. The Bioshock franchise hasn’t stopped with that game. The follow up managed to expand on Rapture, while honoring what made it so amazing in the first place. Infinite took gamers out of Rapture and into another setting, this time in the sky instead of under the sea.

Silent Hill

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In large part Silent Hill gets it’s place because it’s impossible to think of horror “locations” without thinking of Silent Hill. A town shaped by tragedy that has seen better days, and the Otherworld of Silent Hill. Corroded, dark, and filled with enemies that just want to see you die. There is so much about Silent Hill to hate, and yet we as gamers love it. The older games were masters of atmosphere with the fog, lighting, and feeling that you would never actually be safe.

Alan Wake

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A strong environment feels especially important in horror games. Alan Wake may have mixed reviews for it’s actual gameplay, but the setting is truly scary. Darkness surrounds the world of Alan Wake, and the isolated town is finely detailed. Be it the actual town that reminds the gamer of Twin Peaks, or the forests, or the ultra creepy corn fields, Alan Wake keeps the gamer in an interesting and ultra creepy environment. This dark atmosphere serves this game well, adding to the fear and holding the player in.

Eternal Darkness

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Eternal Darkness moves the player through many different characters, settings, and even times. It’s a terrifying game that challenges players to push themselves through a game with challenging enemies and puzzles, as well as an unforgiving sanity meter. The icing on the cake to make this game horrifying is the settings. They are all dark and richly detailed. The Cathedral especially stands out for gamers as being a terrifying setting in the game. Eternal Darkness fills its environment, with blood, bodies, and a dark atmosphere. Having such a terrifying environment is part of what makes gamers feel so trapped. This is a key element in horror games and Eternal Darkness does not disappoint.

News, Video Games

Red Dead Redemption 2 Announced

If you are a gamer it’s likely you noticed that people were freaking out the last few days, or you yourself were doing a little bit of it. Rockstar in a stroke of brilliance teased out the announcement for Red Dead Redemption 2. They started with a simple picture of the Rockstar logo in red, as was used for Red Dead Redemption. The following day a silhouette of 7 characters on a background reminiscent of RDR was released. Today they announced Red Dead Redemption 2, and it’s a little disappointing. First and foremost why Red Dead Redemption 2? The series has been Red Dead Revolver, Red Dead Redemption, and now Red Dead Redemption 2? The argument could be made that it’s a direct tie-in with Red Dead Redemption, however the picture today doesn’t really confirm that. The center character does not look like Jack Marston, and it’s clearly not John. It could still be tied to John’s story, it’s still underwhelming. Why not Red Dead Retribution? Another disappointing thing is once again no women characters are featured. Rockstar has gotten a lot of flack for their lack of playable women, and for the most part they have brushed this off. I was waiting to make a comment on this matter until I knew that whatever was coming next for RDR wouldn’t feature a woman. While it’s still not confirmed, it is pretty telling that there are seven featured characters and none of them are women.

All of this being said I am still rather excited for this news. Red Dead Redemption was an amazing game, and I am glad that the series still has life. I’ve always been in the minority of gamers that has preferred Rockstar’s other open-world games over Grand Theft Auto. It will be interesting to see what where this game goes, and how it ties into John’s story while still standing on its own. The game was announced for Fall 2017, and there is a trailer expected later this week. So for the time being, I will not attempt to speculate or comment beyond this. I am very excited to bring more news as it unfolds, and hope that it’s good news.

Mini Reviews, Video Games

Mini Review: Inside

Inside is the follow up to Playdead’s very popular, Limbo. Inside takes a lot of the themes from Limbo but re-purposes them enough to make it feel fresh, and not just like Limbo 2.0. Like Limbo the game has a monochromatic look. Everything is in black and white with just a few splashes of color that appear here and there. It is also a 2.5 platformer with a strong focus on puzzles. Beyond that Inside manages to make a name for itself and rise up to be an amazing follow-up to Limbo.

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The story is given in subtle hints and leaves more questions than answers. This is something that Playdead fans should expect. You control a boy who starts in the woods then works his way through various locations. The people he encounters are either a) zombie like people with no free will or b) those controlling everyone from group a. The boy appears to have a certain level of free will making him a target for various people. Beyond just the normal human enemies the boy must escape dogs, as well as a few unknown beings.

The puzzle system is solid. The puzzles range in their variety and difficulty. Some will come to you rather easily, others might take many experiments before you get it right. Beyond that, no two puzzles really felt the same. There were similar aspects to them, but there was always something new, something unique, that helped shape each one. The end result is that everything remains fresh.

I contemplated whether to give this game a mini review or it’s own piece, but it’s sort of hard to discuss at length without debating the philosophy behind the entire game. The ending is disturbing and confusing, and the alternate ending just adds to it. The game is dark, creepy, scary at times, but clever and unique. It remained entertaining from start to finish, all though a bit short. I highly recommend it.

Horror, Op-Ed, Op-Ed, Video Games

Scariest Non-Horror Games

There are plenty of horror games that keep us on the edge of our seat. They thrill us, scare us, and bring us oh so much delight. Occasionally though games come along that bring us those same feelings despite the fact that they aren’t really horror games at all. Here are a few games that bring the scary without being in the horror genre.

Minecraft

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For a game that is all about getting supplies and building your world, Minecraft can get a little intense. The truth is what is “scary” about Minecraft is that death seems to be waiting for you around every corner. While gathering resources it’s hard to balance constantly going back to a safe place to store supplies and continue on your questing. The consequences for death is losing everything that you’ve gathered, and it carries a rather harsh sting with it. Add in that the enemies are fairly scary in their own right (creepers, zombies, endermen) and you have a game that brings an intense fear, despite not being horror at all. Eventually you get used to Minecraft though, the loss of supplies stops carrying such a heavy weight, and then they upgrade the game and something new comes along to bring a bit of fear.

Metal Gear Series

MGS has a few moments in the game that make it at the very least creepy. Psycho Mantis stands out as one of those. Perhaps over time his tricks don’t hold the fear they once had, but at launch it could really creep people out. Beyond this simple boss battle there are still other moments (like the death hall) that feel slightly misplaced and rather terrifying. Going further into the series you will still have these random moments, including more disturbing boss fights, and scenes that get player’s hearts racing. MGS also deserves a nod because the actual plot itself can be down right unnerving.

Red Dead Redemption

First I am going to say that this is not including the Undead Nightmare DLC which in it’s own right belongs in the horror genre. Taking just the base game there is one aspect that manages to bring jump scares more than once, the animals. Riding around and BAM cougar. Walking along to skin an animal and BAM snake. The animals are these background “enemies” for the most part and yet they manage to bring a fair number of jump scares and intense moments of “don’t die, don’t die”. It also doesn’t hurt that animals usually warn you when they are stalking you. Instead of thinking “oh I hear a cougar better move on” it’s more of a panic inducing moment.

Halo Series

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Halo gets it’s “scary” because of one thing, The Flood. Halo starts off as a fairly interesting but standard FPS game then going along and suddenly a new enemy. The Flood is basically zombie like beings that make their appearance in the Halo series and brings a little scariness to the sci-fi games. While they aren’t enough to really push the series into the horror genre The Flood brings many aspects from horror games. They are bloody, creepy, and usually have more than one jump scare along with them.

Fallout 3

Much like The Flood from Halo, Fallout bring zombie like enemies with Feral Ghouls. In most of the series they aren’t that bad, Fallout 3 deserves a special mention because of the Metros. The metro is extremely easy to get lost in, dark, creepy, and full of Feral Ghouls. While overall Fallout 3 is not worth calling a horror game… those damn metros.

Half Life 2

I am hard pressed to believe that this game isn’t actually classified as horror, but it seems to escape that according to most. First, there is Ravenholm, a truly nightmarish level that will leave the best of gamers more than a little scared. It is filled with headcrabs and zombies, and while you can race through, going off the beaten path will help you discover more but also give you more scares. Even outside Ravenholm though the game still brings the creepy. Zombies and other various enemies will still find you, and when you start to feel like you are out of the “horror” part of the game something will happen and you are right back in it.

Dragon Age Origins

There are a few points where this game crosses into down right creepy. The Deep Roads are probably where it goes full blown scary though. It has scary enemies, and if that isn’t enough the voice over of the poem will leave many quaking in their boots.

Hespith repeats this poem:

First day, they come and catch everyone.
Second day, they beat us and eat some for meat.
Third day, the men are all gnawed on again.
Fourth day, we wait and fear for our fate.
Fifth day, they return and it’s another girl’s turn.
Sixth day, her screams we hear in our dreams.
Seventh day, she grew as in her mouth they spew.
Eighth day, we hated as she is violated.
Ninth day, she grins and devours her kin.
Now she does feast, as she’s become the beast.
Now you lay and wait, for their screams will haunt you in your dreams.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

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The Legend of Zelda is a totally kid and adult friendly adventure game. Majora’s Mask seems to start getting more than a little twisted though. First and foremost the plot itself is creepy, and along the way there are some “super fun” enemies like the Gibdo (mummies), and Wallmaster. It’s creepy, has it’s fair share of jump scares, and more then a few intense moments. Majora’s Mask almost feels like kid friendly horror.

Batman Arkham Asylum

You can probably boil down most of the “horror” in this game to the morgue part specifically. During that time in the game you will be faced with Scarecrow and his many way’s of trying to get into Batman’s mind. However, I think the overall game carries with it a bit of a “horror” feel. It’s dark, the inmates having taken over the Asylum is rather unnerving, and once you leave the morgue you are never totally free of the after effects. Next to Half-Life 2 this game to me is the top contender on the list for maybe just being able to add horror as a sub genre.

Mini Reviews, Uncategorized, Video Games

World of Warcraft: Legion Review

*This post contains some minor spoilers relating the Legion quest experience.*

It’s been almost 3 weeks since World of Warcraft’s latest expanion, Legion, was released. In that time I have logged 5 days, 2 hours and 6 minutes of max level play time. But that doesn’t even scratch the surface.

Legion gets a lot right. It clears the sour taste from the mouths of those who found Warlords of Draenor unsatisfying. It offers a plethora of choice from practically the moment you log in.

Having completed all of the pre-patch content offered, I began Legion’s launch in Dalaran, the revamped capital of the expansion, waiting with the crowd for the expansion to go live. I had braced myself for the crashes, the disconnects, the lag… and none of that came. Launches, launch week, notorious for all the issues players experience, seem to be a thing of the past with Blizzard compensating for the amount of pressure the servers would be under and devising a clever strategy to funnel players to various parts of the world. More on that in a bit.

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Players begin with a call from Khadgar to move Dalaran – an impressive feat – and are then funneled immediately into their class artifact questline. This is based on what specialisation you’d like to play, with each spec getting it’s own weapon and thus a (relatively) unique questline to achieve this. As I did not play in the beta, I chose my tanking weapons first unsure of how the actual artifact power system worked. My questline sent me to retrieve the claws of the bear god, Ursoc, with the blessing of his brother, Ursol. Without saying much more, I was thoroughly impressed and admittedly very moved with the entire experience. It was something unique, very personal (for someone attached to their class) and a lot of fun. Having done a few other artifact questlines since then, it’s a fun little system that tests you at the specialisation you’d like the weapon for but this feels less like a test and more like something you would innately do because you play that spec.

Additionally, each questline that I completed (and certainly with my initial “launch” decision) sent me off into the older parts of World of Warcraft, lessening the load on the servers and certainly smoothing out the questing experience by implementing a lot of new phasing tech and using single player scenarios to their advantage. Once you’ve acquired your new weapon, the questing experience begins.

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Blizzard chose to take leveling in a new direction with Legion. Normally, players begin new content in a pretty typical way – you’re given a new quest, go to the new area, and begin in the first zone – usually good for a couple levels, then on to the next one. This time, the zones scale with your level – and while this didn’t seem like a huge deal when it was first announced, playing the game with this new system was awesome. Being able to pick one of four leveling zones immediately worked to dissipate even more of the usual traffic. In addition, questlines were phased into stages – you’re not entirely cut off, but there’s not a huge amount of competition. Solving another typical launch day problem, mob “tapping”, Blizzard introduced a faction-tag system for everything on the Broken Isles. If your faction tagged it, you’re eligible for loot and kill confirmations.

While these things don’t necessarily seem like they’re a huge difference, it’s the little things and changes that are really making Legion stand apart from the previous expansions.  Removing the typical launch day woes was a great start in hooking people, the questlines in each zones were amazing, well thought, and peppered with cutscenes that tug at the heartstrings (looking at you, Val’Sharah).

The fun doesn’t end there, though. Hitting 110 (the new level cap) introduces a new zone, Suramar. Here we meet the Nightborne and their ancient city, Suramar (yes, zone Suramar & city Suramar). This gorgeous, twilight-ridden city is plagued by the Legion, let in by their Grand Magistrix. The Nightborne elite are living a life of luxury, while their civilian counterparts are suffering under their new regime. Did I mention they’re all addicted to mana? We ally up with a renegade faction of Nightborne determined to take their city back from the Legion and free up the ancient mana supplies they’re all craving, lest they succumb to the “withering”, becoming mindless, zombie-like withered without much shred of humanity (elfanity?) left.

World quests replace the typical dailies, going with the “pick your own adventure” feel of the expansion. These are quests activated by entering the area they’re in, rewarding anything from gold, to gear, order hall resources, or raw materials for your professions. They also award a small amount of rep toward their assigned faction. You’re given an emissary quest each day asking you to complete 4 world quests for the faction RNG gives you that day. If you wanted to complete all your world quests that day, you’d be there for a long while.

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With the plethora of content to work on – be it questlines, professions, PvP, or PvE progression, Legion looks incredibly promising in it’s early days. Patch 7.1 has been announced and while it also looks like it will deliver some really great content, I am happily sinking my teeth into all Legion currently has to offer with no signs of slowing down.

-Tenneiyl

Video Games

The Importance of Debate

There have been a lot of articles/videos/opinion pieces, etc put out discussing some of the problematic areas in the gaming industry. Discussing things from sexism, racism, and violence. In response to this there have been a lot of groups that have come out in full force demanding that these opinion pieces need not be shared and are bad for the industry.

I have two things I would like to state to the reader before moving on. One, I disagree with polarizing opinions of any kind (something I will discuss more further down). Two, that I don’t want to make another article discussing the specific problems. Rather I want this to be about why I think discussing these problems is good, why the debate is needed.

The truth is there are troubling aspects of the game industry. They range from the content in games, the hiring practices of companies, to the behavior of gamers themselves. Are the people writing about games truly unbiased? Is it right to raise money via Kickstarter to make videos about the gaming industry? Are game companies not hiring enough women, or is it more a problem with education and girls not pursuing these jobs? Are video games sexist? Racist? Do intentions matter when making something sexist or racist? These are valid and important questions, and these are valid and important questions that are going to be asked regardless of who is asking them.

In the 1990s there were massive debates over the video game industry, and specifically violence in the industry. Notably absent from these debates were gamers. Politicians and people with little to no connection to gaming controlled the conversation. They controlled it so well and so effectively that the industry created the ESRB in order to avoid massive censorship of video games. It was a rating system put in place quickly and comprehensively in order to stop politicians from ultimately killing games. The discussion was happening, it just wasn’t open for gamers to really control the way it went.

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That is the important difference now. All forms of media, from art to video games, have these massive discussions about content and the viewer. The great debate over what is art is still waged. And what does it say about the consumers of art when they have certain reactions. Books went through government bans and are still facing bans in schools based on content. Movies and TVs will never escape the discussion of their role in American lives. All of this media also has many discussions about racism and sexism. The important part is that those creating this media, and those consuming it, have an active part in the discussion. It is not controlled by those that want to silence them.

Gamers are finally in a position where they can directly control the debate. The debates will happen, most of the population of America plays games in some capacity. The likelihood that games will be the only popular media that some how escapes question is pretty much slim to none. Even if we could, why would we want to? Don’t we want to talk about these issues and make sure that games, those writing about them, those playing them, and those designing them continue to improve and bring positive changes to the industry?

The debates will happen though. Games have moved to rival the most popular forms of entertainment and media so there is no escaping them. So isn’t it better that the debates are happening with gamers? That the questions are being raised by gamers? That gamers have a chance to answer and a chance to guide and direct the conversation, if not the answers themselves. We are no longer sitting on the sidelines while politicians threaten mass censorship, we are front and center. In fact when outsiders get too far into the debates they are usually turned away or at least told to take a back seat to those in the know.

Yes, part of opening the debate does come with a negative. It opens the debate to those that want to take a polarizing viewpoint in order to cause drama and gain money from it. They are the ones that demand that the industry is only problematic without discussion, or that people need to just shut up because there is nothing wrong. Make no mistake these people are two sides to the same coin. They exist in a realm of controversial statements without any real discussion. These people don’t need to control the debate though, in fact they don’t need to be invited to it.

Let’s let those that talk about the need for more representation in games but acknowledge the progress the industry has made control it. Let those who talk about the lack of women in the industry but have real solutions and don’t just blame the industry itself control the debate. Let the vast majority of gamers who see the problems, still enjoy games, and have no wish to drive other gamers out control it.

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The debate is important because it’s going to happen. These issues won’t just go away because people don’t want to discuss them. Video games have made it, it is popular entertainment now. Part of making it means that these issues will be looked at under a microscope. Not every gamer has to participate, if you don’t want to then don’t, simple as that. But don’t try to argue that we need to silence those bringing it up. Race, sexism, who is playing games, who is making games, what influence games have on people, all of these things won’t go away. The difference is now we as gamers have the chance to control the tone. We don’t have to sit by, we don’t have to desperately create something like the ESRB in order to stop people from stealing it from us. Keep the debate going, and decide who gets to be involved. Silence the polarizing people, and instead support those calmly discussing the issues with an open mind and solutions. Support the developers that want to see the industry move forward. Question those writing about games to keep them honest about what they are doing.

Embrace and enjoy the debate. Enjoy that gamers are no longer looked down on or subject to losing our voice should we choose not to. Acknowledge the problems, but still enjoy your games. And if you want to then involve yourself in the discussion.

Impressions, Video Games

Impressions: Valley

Valley is the newest game from Blue Isle Studios. They are a rather untested company, with Slender: The Arrival, being their only other major release. After hearing little about it I found myself being drawn to Valley based on a trailer that launched close to release. The marketing for the game was, almost completely non existent, which shows in the many people asking, “What game is this?”. I hate to call myself an easy sale, but I truly am. One good trailer is usually enough to sell me on something, and Valley had that.

It promised a game with a beautiful Valley, open exploration, and a story that challenged technology vs nature, and how far is too far. For the most part Valley lives up to those promises, almost entirely in fact. The game offered something pretty simply yet beautiful, so with managing to live up to that why did I still struggle to enjoy it?

Valley starts rather plainly, you listen to a voicemail your character received. Your “friend” explains that you are crazy to go to Colorado in search of the life seed, because after all it doesn’t exist. He then compliments your bravery and sense of adventure. Flash and your character has gotten in a wreck and is stranded in the Rockies. It is not the most convincing opening, in fact it feels a little lazy, however that is quickly forgotten when you actually get into “The Valley”. It is a beautiful place, and consistently the thing this game does right. Your setting is filled with atmosphere. The music matches perfectly with everything you do. Calm and serene when you are simply looking at the beautiful landscape. Fast and joyful when you are jumping around and exploring. Dark and foreboding when things get dark and foreboding. It’s easy to forgive the lack of explanation as to why your character or anyone else has ever come to this valley because it’s such an easy place to enjoy.

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As you explore you discover a L.E.A.F. suit. This grants you many abilities, including running faster, jumping higher, and the ability to come back to life. The suit was part of a government experiment that was apparently taking place in the valley during WW2. As you progress forward looking for the life seed that brought you there, you listen to a number of recordings that help uncover the secrets of the valley and what happened there.

You also are taught that everything about the valley is a balance. You die and can come back only because something else dies for you. You need energy, but getting it can cost of the lives of the trees and animals around you. This theme is there from start to finish. When you die you see a life meter for the valley itself be affected. It makes a rather large impact, dying only to return and see more death around you lingers. The consequences for failing in this game feel so much worse because it is not your characters life that is really changed by this.

The rest of the story unfolds with less than perfect pacing. You are sometimes given an overload of information, and sometimes given far too little. The recordings often leave more questions than answers. Beyond just that, a few of them feel forced in to quickly give explanation to something that might otherwise not fit at all in the context of the game. For instance it will be fairly far into the game before you see your first real “enemy”, all explanation for them is rushed and most of it makes little sense. On the reverse of that you are overwhelmed with papers, recordings, and thoughts of your main character asking the question of whether or not the army’s presence is killing the valley. You will stumble on the answer to that question and then still be hit over the head with it. This awkward pacing kind of undercuts what is otherwise a really well thought out story. It’s something we’ve seen before, a fight for a place and one man’s obsession with power. It might be a cliché, but it is because it’s something we can enjoy.

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The other major issue is the gameplay itself. Valley has such a good idea. Put you in the suit, give you powers, then let you explore a beautiful location. The problem is the controls are clunky, and sometimes just outright don’t work. You spend more time fighting your character than actually enjoying the fast, free form, experience you are supposed to have. You will be presented with areas where you are simply supposed to run, you build speed and it’s pretty impressive. The problem being every time you turn with the course your character will completely run off track, slowing these moments down. There are also slingshots which when they work are a true moment of high flying and movement, the problem is they almost never work. Major sections of exploration are dependent on these slingshots and they become frustrating and annoying. Beyond that even just walking can feel like you are fighting your character.

What’s the problem you might ask? I’ve been known to like games with questionable gameplay before. The problem is that exploring the valley is a central part of the game. Being in this beautiful setting, discovering it at your own pace, and really immersing yourself in the experience is what is supposed to make this game what it is. Failure to do so leaves you feeling disconnected and unable to truly enjoy what is offered.

In spite of all my complaints I really want to love this game. It’s beautiful soundtrack, solid story, and the beauty of the valley itself. All of this pulls me to really want to enjoy this experience, which makes the disappointments only stand out more.

Bottomline:

Valley is not a bad game. However, what easily could have been something truly amazing knocks itself down to simply good because of it’s issues. The pacing in the story could have even been ignored if the controls and gameplay had only been tightened up. It is unfortunate that I cannot praise the game more, and simply say look for it to be on sale at some point.

Mini Reviews, Video Games

Mini Review: The Moon Sliver

The Moon Sliver released in October 2014 and seems to be a pretty lesser known horror indie game. The game itself focuses mostly on story, as such I don’t want to give away too much. You play a person that wakes up on a dilapidated island. Four people live on the island, but three are missing. You have to wander around the island searching for clues as to what happened to the other three, and who you are.

The clues themselves are revealed as you interact with different things in the environment. There are a set number of clues to find, some you have to, others just give you more information about the game. It’s worth taking the time to actually try to search out everything in the game. While looking for clues you need to keep your flashlight charged and search for ways to get into locked areas. The locked areas often give you the biggest progression in the mystery.

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While the game starts off with a dark feeling, it’s not until you reveal more of the clues that you realize that someone, or something, is the cause of the disappearances, and that it won’t stop until it gets you. Searching tells you more about the people from the island, what The Moon Sliver is, why the island is falling apart, and what exactly happened.

This game does a lot right. It is incredibly well written, the mystery itself is compelling, and the music is spot on. Each of the four people on the island has a reason to have turned on the others, so piecing together the story keeps you interested and guessing. The game is also a master of suspense, it doesn’t take you long to figure out that something is coming but you aren’t sure when. It forces you to go forward into darkness and areas that just scream “nope” all the while revealing a truly creepy story.

The problem with this game is it’s short. It should only take an hour or two to complete, and is not really worth playing again and again. After playing it once it would be fairly challenging to even really enjoy it. To make up for that it’s fairly cheap, and often goes on sale.

For those that like horror I highly recommend this game. It’s smart, enjoyable, and intense. I also can’t stress how well written it is, and how compelling the story is as a result. It made me want to check out other projects by David Szymanski (developer).

News, Video Games

Nvidia Ansel Arrives for Witcher 3

When Nvidia announced their 10 series graphics cards, they also announced the impending arrival of their new screen capture technology – Ansel. While it was spoke of in conjunction with the 10 series cards, it works with cards from the 680M upwards (a list of compatible GPUs can be found here).

Ansel first arrived with Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst but was released for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt recently. I was able to have a bit of a play around with the new tech and it’s fun, intuitive and easy to use.

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Pressing alt+f2 in-game pauses everything – combat included – and brings up a series of sliders that you can adjust to your liking. I usually edit most of my screenshots after taking them in Photoshop so some of the brightness & contrast options held no merit for me, but playing with field of view and the new 360 view capture was a blast and something I’d only been able to achieve previously by stitching a lot of photos together. There is also an option to create a “super resolution” image – 63,360 x 35,640 pixels. The amount of detail present in this particular mode is absolutely stunning and a great option for those who want to create high quality print outs of their screenshots.

Below are a couple images taken with the 360 view capture – there is a little “banding” but that may just come from the game itself.

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Have you tried Nvidia Ansel? What do you think of it?

-Tenneiyl

News, Video Games

Games with Gold September 2016

Xbox has announced their Games with Gold for September 2016. Xbox Live Gold members will be able to get the following games free next month.

Xbox One:

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Earthlock: Festival of Magic: September 1st-30th

Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China: September 16th- October 15th

Xbox 360:

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Forza Horizon: September 1st-15th

Mirror’s Edge: September 16th-30th

News, Video Games

The Witness Coming to Xbox One

The extremely popular PC and PS4 puzzle game is finding a new home. Creator Jonathan Blow informed IGN that The Witness would be coming to Xbox One. The game will be the same, as any drastic changes would change the core of the game Blow also went on to say. There will be a few technical changes because of the hardware, but nothing that should be overly apparent to gamers. The game should be available September 13, 2016, but there is still a bit of fine tuning to be done. They are also still working on an iOS version of the game, but when that will release is still unknown. The iOS version of the game would have to undergo some major changes so it might be a long time before we know anything solid.

News, Video Games

Allison Road Back On

Back in June gamers got the sad news that Allison Road had been cancelled. The horror game was meant to be the spiritual successor to Silent Hills. The game was planned to take the style used in the playable teaser for Silent Hills, and turn it into a full game. Many horror fans were devastated to hear that it was cancelled. Now gamers have something to be happy about, because the creator of the game says it’s back on. Christian Kesler has founded a new company, Far From Home, and will be continuing to develop Allison Road under that label. The main reason for the cancellation was disagreements over the future of the game. Part of the team wanted to stick with the indie/kickstarter model, while another part wanted to find a publisher. Ultimately the disagreements led to the kickstarter and then the game being cancelled.

Before everyone gets too excited, there is more news. Kesler is taking on the game completely solo. This means two things, one that certain changes have to be made to the game. Some of the things used in the alpha will no longer make the final cut. Perhaps the biggest thing this will impact is development time. Kesler is not even hinting at a potential release date at this point because it’s such a big project. He said from the initial idea to where we were when the game got cancelled was nearly two years, so there is a long journey ahead of Kesler to finish this game. Still even knowing it’s far off is better than the game not coming out at all.

How do you feel about this news? How about the idea of a game taking the PT model for a full length game?