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

cabasa_bridge_from_below

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

ss_0c331dee16e7b6b9fa6af4dd06c413d72c4b4764-1920x1080

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

ss_37398576af0f80af58744b56a24b8526833f2efb-1920x1080

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.

E3 2016, Video Games

E3 2016: Bethesda Conference

I am a fairly large fan of Bethesda. While Fallout is easily my favorite of their franchises, I am a fan of a number of their games. I was pretty hyped up for the Bethesda show case, and for the most part was pleased, though not blown away.

Bethesda started off with a Quake announcement, a MOBA type first person shooter will be the next installment in the franchise. This was rather exciting as nothing has been heard from Quake in a very long time. While the trailer had it’s appeal, and the promises of more information at QuakeCon were interesting I can’t help but be a little disappointed. I would love to see another installment in the series story line, or even a reboot as with DOOM. However, it does make sense that they would take this direction. After rebooting DOOM it might be wise to switch the focus for Quake to the multiple player experience. I am not 100% sold, however I am curious.

Elder Scrolls got a number of announcements. Legends got a bit of focus, their new strategy trading card game. They showed off the campaign introduction cinematic, as well as promises for more Betas for players to try out.

ESO introduced it’s new Dark Brotherhood expansion. The assassin clan from the other games is coming to ESO. They also promised that it will be fully integrated to the earliest stages of the game, instead of forcing players to reach a high level before being able to experience the new content. This could have mass appeal to bring new gamers to the series, as they would get access not only to the core game but also add-ons.

There was a quick showing off of Skyrim Special Edition, though it lasted only a brief moment and almost no information was given during the show. However, it has been confirmed it will be on PC as well as consoles, while rumors were circulating there would be no PC release before E3. Beyond that it will bring mod support (as with Fallout 4) to the console versions of the game. The release date will be in October.

Fallout related announcements were also brief with little detail. More DLC is coming that will allow a lot more in depth crafting, and even one that will allow gamers to build vaults. There will also be the Nuka World. Little information was given about Nuka World, but the trailer implies it’s more like the Far Harbor DLC in that it will be a new location.

Fallout Shelter will also be getting some upgrades, and a PC version will be released soon.

A rather unexpected announcement was Prey. Prey 2 has gone through various ideas and cancellations, but it seems they’ve finally settled on a sort of reboot to the 2006 horror themed FPS. It promises to be a very dark game set on a space station in the year 2032. You play a character that was part of an experiment that went horribly wrong, and you are being hunted by aliens. It will have mind bending abilities like the 2006 game, while also focusing on combat and survival. It’s really hard to compare it to either the previously canceled Prey 2 or even the original Prey game. Despite that it looks rather compelling and we are excited to learn more. It might have been worth everyone’s while to completely separate it from the previous Prey game. However, as more unfolds there might be a stronger connection to the first game, thus explaining the need to not just rebuild this.

A major chunk of the show was given to Dishonored 2. There was further confirmation on story, setting, and gameplay. They confirmed that the foundation of the game was the question of what happens to Emily, and they built from there. You will still have a choice to play as either Corvo or Emily, though both characters have unique personalities, and it promises to be worth playing the game with each character. They have unique powers, play styles, and are both fully voiced and will respond and interact with the world and story differently. Aside from that, the game looks beautiful. The new setting is more vibrant and detailed, and graphically speak everything looks beautiful. As a limited time pre-order bonus you can get Dishonored definitive edition for free.

The other big push was DOOM and Fallout 4 on VR. I mentioned in my E3 wishlist my lack of excitement over VR, but that is largely personal. This is a rather huge and impressive step for the technology, and aside from being fairly certain it would make me sick playing DOOM, that way would be a unique experience. With more games coming to VR and a clear push to make it a viable experience for gamers, it will be interesting to see how these two games do.

Speaking of DOOM there is now a demo of the game that will be open for the next week. Everyone can try out the first few levels of DOOM for free now. Console owners can find it it the stores for the console, while PC players will be able to find it on Steam. If you’re on the fence about the game check it out while you can.

Despite being rather excited for everything offered at the conference, there didn’t seem to be one wow moment like last year. Everything was good, and I am rather excited for what Bethesda is going to be offering gamers for the next year, but I was left feeling like I wanted just a touch more. Most of what was shown will be further highlighted at QuakeCon. We will bring you more news on these announcements and more as we are able.

What did you think of the Bethesda showing?

Video Games

Favorite Female Characters

In my years of playing games it always brings me great joy when I can play as a strong female, or even have a strong female interact with my character. While there are a number of good characters out there I feel that the following truly stand out. They display strength, and most of them have wonderful personalities to back that strength. I also feel they serve important roles in changing the way women are represented in video games.

Female Shepard: Mass Effect Series

screenshot-053-p

What made Shepard so wonderful was the fact that gamers really did have a lot of control of how the character developed and who Shepard was at the core. Making a male and female version of Shepard was an added bonus. Female Shepard was just as well developed as male Shepard. She had as many romance options, certain interactions dedicated to the female version. Jennifer Hale also did an amazing job voicing female Shepard which really added to the overall character. As far as getting to play a female character this was one that made me feel really empowered.

Lilith: Borderlands 2

I am specifically saying Borderlands 2 because in the first the characters don’t really have personalities. Lilith is part of the group leading the resistance against Handsome Jack and she jumps out a lot more. She cracks jokes, is comforting to her companions, suffers loss, and is even captured. Lilith however doesn’t seem to give up at any point. She remains dedicated to those around her, but also retains that criminal underside that you know they all have. I really enjoyed watching Lilith as a character, but was sad that she didn’t have so much personality when I actually got to control her. Either way she is a badass lady.

Bonnie MacFarlane: Red Dead Redemption

I think a lot of people discount Bonnie because she is not a playable character, and after the first part of the game she is almost completely forgotten about. However, I think this is rather unfair because she truly is an amazing woman. First it’s worth noting that you are introduced to Bonnie when she saves John Marston’s life. Bonnie then serves mostly as a guide to help the gamer through the tutorial. In the process you learn that Bonnie pretty much runs this massive ranch as neither of her brothers were up to the task. She lives in a world that doesn’t respect women, but she forces them to respect her. She steps up to do a job that is unforgiving and does it well. As far as women that you should respect Bonnie deserves a place high up on the list.

The New Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

rottr1

Personally I had a few issues with the older Lara Croft, she was by no means a bad female character, but I feel a lot of people gave her more credit then was really due. She was a pretty flat character, but the new Lara Croft fixed that. In addition to being strong she is actually very complex. The problem with simply making a “strong” female is that without some depth they really lose a lot when compared to the more interesting male characters out there. The reboot of Lara Croft is the perfect answer to this.

Alyx: Half Life 2

Alyx serves mostly to help the gamer by helping Gordon. She gives him important weapons, saves him, and even fights along side him. Alyx is an extremely useful ally throughout Half Life 2 and it’s various episodes. She also has a wonderful personality, she is kind, smart, and often times hilarious. Alyx is the perfect counter part to the silent Gordon. I have to say her addition was one of the best choices made in the Half Life universe, and I greatly enjoy playing along side her. Next step, I would like to have the chance to actually play as her.

Samus: Metroid

Samus_at_the_end_of_Metroid

I mulled over whether or not to add Samus to the list. The way it is revealed that she is a girl in the original game is a bit problematic to me. However, why she made it on the list is because of the change she made for gamers. Metroid was a lot of fun and people really enjoyed taking charge of that character and fighting through the epic world. Then bam at the end, this hero that people enjoyed so much was a girl. It was a shocking moment, and it was wonderfully crafted because a lot of players didn’t have a chance to say “Oh I don’t want to play a girl” before they fell in love with the game. The bikini though, but over all Samus has earned her spot.

Hammer: Fable 2

A lot of people would argue that an important female character can’t simply be a strong woman, but needs to develop. I would say this applies to characters regardless of gender. Hammer is a very complex character especially considering how little time she commands in this game. She starts out angry about having to be in her peaceful world, she wants to fight and finds her drive to do so. Hammer then enjoys the violence and believes that she is making the world a better place. However as the game progresses she comes to the realization that all the violence she and the other heroes are committing is only bringing about more violence. This is an amazing development to watch, and what’s even better is the end she finds the strength to go back to being peaceful. Hammer shows not only strength but different types of strength, and this is why I think she should not be over looked.

 

 

Elaine Marley: Monkey Island

ss_880047fb0840debf4baee358f0f841537e22bcdc.1920x1080

What I find so impressive about Elaine, and the game that she appears in, is how much they turn the traditional set up of video games on it’s head. While the gamer does control Guybrush, and he is supposed to fill the hero role it is evident he is not the real hero. He is bumbling and while hilarious fairly useless. The game takes it a step further by having Elaine kidnapped, a theme in video games. However, when Guybrush shows up to the save her the implication is that Elaine was going to get herself out of trouble and Guybrush’s heroics cause her more problems than solutions. In most games up until this point, and even after it the captured woman depends on the male character to rescue her. Elaine can take care of herself, and the male hero is not that skillful. It’s amazing that this was written into the game so long ago, because at this point female characters that were better off taking care of themselves was not really a theme yet.

Honorable Mention: Voiceless characters from various action RPGs

Credit has to be given to games like Fallout, Dragon Age, Elder Scrolls, and games like that that allow you to play a female avatar. The female characters have the same options and development of the male characters. However, they only get an honorable mention because the lack of real “voice” kind of makes it harder to associate with them as awesome ladies. This is far from a complaint though, I encourage all games to let people choose to play a female if they want. I also think in these games the lack of voice works just fine. If designers are going to make free form characters like this please, please allow people to play a woman because simply put there is no reason not to. So thank you to these games for giving us that option.

Video Games

Favorite Animals from Video Games

Previously Published on 30plusgamer, a no longer active site

Humans get attached to our pets. We enjoy their love and enjoy having them around as companions. This concept transfers to video games. Give us a world with 10 human companions and one dog, and most gamers seem to gravitate towards the dog.

Yoshi from the Mario Series

Yoshi

As this series has grown and developed Yoshi has become less of an animal companion and more of his own unique character. However in the early days of the series Yoshi was this cute little dinosaur that was useful for solving certain platforming puzzles. Yoshi is adorable, helpful, and just a huge staple in the series.

Dogmeat and Rex from Fallout

Dogmeat_Fallout_3

Whether it’s Dogmeat bonding with you because his owner is dead or Rex being given to you, both dogs rock. They are both good fighters with unique personalities. Dogmeat bonds because he is left (by an assumed dead) master. He joins you and always wants to be close. Rex is owned by an Elvis want to be, and for some reason hates hats and all those that wear them. They are amusing, adorable, and helpful. They are must have companions for dog lovers.

Dog from Fable 2

The player gets a dog companion in both Fable 2 and Fable 3, but there is a huge difference to me. In Fable 3 it feels as though the creators knew they could not deny gamers a dog after the preceding game. It’s still a fun companion, but less developed. In Fable 2 however your dog is a major part of your journey. Your dog shows up at the best and worst times through the heroes journey and even bonds with the player in a very real way. It’s not simply a video game dog, it’s a truly loyal and attached friend that shows it’s devotion in major ways. Not only that, but the bond you build with this dog ultimately tests your in game morality at the end.

Bloodwing from Borderlands

Bloodwing is one of those characters that develops based on the classes you play and play with. I played through Borderlands with a hunter so considered Bloodwing a 3rd member of our party. Where as the person I played with considered her an actual extension of their character. Borderlands 2 goes on to develop the relationship of Bloodwing and Mordecai on a much deeper level, giving them both more rich personalities. Even if you didn’t play the character with Bloodwing if you were ever exposed to it you saw an extremely helpful ally. In Borderlands 2 you saw a man that didn’t really have a pet but an extension of his soul. Bloodwing is just awesome.

Agro from Shadow of the Colossus

Throughout the game Agro serves various uses. Sometimes he/she is simply transportation to get to the next Colossus you have to battle. Other times Agro is an important part of being able to get to the Colossus’s weak points and you are unable to solve problems without him/her. It’s hard not to get attached to this beautiful horse and feel like Agro is a central part of your journey.

Hewie from Haunting Ground

Fiona_Hewie

 

Part of what makes horror games so scary is the feeling of isolation. In Haunting Ground Hewie helps to ease that a great deal. He gives you just a little bit of company while you journey through the castle. In order to make the gamer not too dependent on Hewie there are challenges where he must leave your character, or you simple have to solve things without him. However from the moment he befriends your character to the end, his presence is always welcome and warming. It helps to make the intense experience more bearable.

Dog from Dragon Age

The Dog is a missable companion from Dragon Age. His back story also depends on your own back-story. Once recruited though he is an extremely devoted companion. He is a useful fighter as well, and as has his own unique dynamic with the group. There are funny and interesting conversations that happen between him and your other companions. He also responds to your affection or anger believably, like real dogs have a tendency to. You can’t help but fall for him and wish you could have your own real life war dog like this one.

Epona from The Legend of Zelda Series

Link_and_Epona_Majora's_Mask

Players are first introduced to Epona in Ocarina of Time, and since then Link has traveled through many different changes in the series. Epona makes at least a small appearance through all these different games, and is typically Link’s faith mount. It’s always wonderful to see Epona, and nice to have her as a connection in the various games.

Honorable Mentions

Pokemon and the neighbors from Animal Crossing

Despite them being awesome characters and the in game bond you create with them I don’t find them companions per se. In the case of Pokemon they are actually the ones battling for you. In Animal Crossing they are more neighbors rather than companions that go with you through your quests. Also in the case of the Animal Crossing animals are so anthropomorphic they don’t really feel like animals.

Video Games

Pros and Cons of the Season Pass

Bethesda recently announced that Fallout 4 would have a season pass. This is not surprising since in the past Bethesda has offered a decent amount of DLC for Fallout 3 and Skyrim. Also Bethesda said that Fallout 4 was going to be “unending” in a way and continue through DLC. They are hardly the first company to go the way of the “season pass” in order to encourage people to buy access to DLC before it comes out. With that I thought I would do a quick break down of what I consider some of the Pros and the Cons of the Season Pass.

Con: Some companies stop doing regular patches between DLC

Some companies see season passes as a way to pass on regular updates and patches. They know that they are putting out DLC on a certain schedule, so any fixes for bugs and other things can just be put into the DLC. It’s great to have a time frame for updates and patches, but some can’t wait for the next stage of DLC. Companies can be tempted to take advantage of the system though to make gamers wait for important fixes.

Con: For multiplayer games they devalue the experience for “new players”

call_of_duty_black_ops_ii_box_artwork

This is already a pretty big problem in games that emphasis multiplayer anyway. If you can’t buy the game on launch day then you will be behind with map knowledge, ranks, and just general understanding of how the community plays. Add into this gamers that have to wait until DLC price drops and they are pushed even further behind the community.

Con: They mean the game was always meant to continue through DLC

Some games depend on DLC to complete the experience. This bothers me, DLC is supposed to add to an already complete game, not complete and unfinished game while charging more. Season Passes often include DLC that should frankly be included in the main game. It is asking gamers to pay for something they already paid for, not extras.

Pro: They mean the game was meant to continue through DLC

fallout3_thepitt

Unlike the above (the same con) not all companies actually take advantage of the DLC and Season Pass system. As long as the original game feels like a complete experience, worth the amount that games cost in this day and age, season passes and DLC are great. In Fallout 3 the game itself felt complete, and whole. DLC just expanded on that experience. A season pass for Fallout 3 would have been reasonable because it was offered by a company that used the idea of DLC right.

Con: Some companies fill the Season Pass with crap in order to make them worth more

Bethesda said that their first season pass will be sold for $30 (a fairly average price) but will be worth at least $40. Without actually knowing what they are considering Season Pass worthy DLC it’s hard to say how this will go. Some companies will offer a few map packs (or story extensions) then fill up the value of the Season Pass with a lot of smaller armor and weapon pieces. This means that while the actual dollar amount might be worth more gamers get a whole lot of small things that frankly they might not want anyway.

Pro: You usually save money with them

I am always about saving money on gaming. It’s not a cheap hobby to have so the real joy of season passes comes in the chance to get all your DLC while saving some money. If you can afford a season pass in one go it will usually end up more than worthwhile in the long run.

Pro: It’s nice having a schedule of new things coming your way

While some people hate the pay now get rewarded later system I rather like it. It’s nice paying and knowing that at least for a few months there will something new coming your way. It allows gamers the chance to know that they will get to go back to their favorite game soon for something new.

When it comes down to it whether or not a season pass is worth it comes down to the game/company that puts them out. It’s easy for companies to take advantage of the system and gamers themselves. However with the right company, and the right DLC, the advantage really goes to the gamer. Here’s hoping that Bethesda will treat us well with their Season Pass.