Sunday, November 1, 2015

A rant on Elite Dangerous before I review it next week

Thank you Frontier, from a fan of space-sims

About 10 years ago when I was just venturing out on my own into the unknown world for the first time. At that time I picked up one of the first games for PC that I earned myself. I am proud now that I chose Freelancer for my first PC game back then. Granted I had played PC games but they were always on my parents PC or a friends. This was my first PC and the first new game I played on that PC. It was amazing. The degrees of freedom in that space simulator were above and beyond anything I had experienced before. If you haven't played it before I highly suggest trying it out because it truly was one of the best games of it's generation and garnered a huge community and brought a lot of young adults from my generation to the genre. 

Every time you jump your first introduction is to the local star
(white dwarfs and black holes included)
Then years passed, I did a stint in the military, and became a father. After some time I forgot how much I loved the space-sim genre because nearly no quality games came out in that time period that gave the definite experience of space travel. Then in 2013 Star Citizen and close after Elite: Dangerous were announced and I got very excited. I wanted to follow the development of the games and for a time I did. Then some months passed and I happened to forget about my dogged devotion to developer diaries until Elite: Dangerous appeared on sale on Steam a couple months back. So I picked it up and put some time into it. I also got involved in discussions on reading boards and delved into the community.

What I discovered is that the community is half the game. Some of the content of the boards are focused at the developer but other content are just stories or arguments between factions. Cries for help from traders or requests from bounty hunters are met with the in-game terminology and much of the advice is phrased as if it were given freely between Commanders. This community building isn't something I'd seen since Freelancer in Space-Sims (some might argue that EVE Online has a much bigger commitment to community but I don't consider that quite a space-sim. I'll explain in a later article).

The community involvement is important because this game is an MMO Space Sim. That and there is no story mode. The trade off is that there is a life-size galaxy to explore. Something like 400 million different systems to visit. All completely generated and logged for exploration. This means that the entire game and your own personal progression is up to you entirely. There are so many things to do that it was immediately overwhelming for about a week for me. Trying to figure out what I needed to do and how I needed to go about getting money was work in itself. The same way that you might research how to get a job or do said job to get paid. It was very much a reflection of real-life in a space-simulated environment. 

Sights like this are regular, and always amazing
For lots of people I saw on the boards and have talked to it seems that this is not very "gamey" from the developers. The main complaint is that they've created a wonderful environment for a game to take place in but haven't included much of a game. However I find that this kind of dedication to world (in this case galaxy) building has been lost over the years, and to see Frontier be so dogged in pursuing this type of purity is refreshing. No there aren't any story elements unless you count paragraphs of text from mission boards or political posts. However if you were sitting in your ship at dock this is how you would access this information anyway. There aren't many (or any) open comms online unless you count between other commanders, but that may well change in the 8 years left in the development cycle of the game. 

That's right, the game has a 10 year development cycle plan. There are going to be annual "season passes" that allow access to the next years worth of development content. To some of the backers this leaves a bad taste in their mouth which I can understand. The wording at the beginning of crowdfunding made it appear as though the first purchase would lead to the entire games worth of content. However after a few months the next "season" was announced which made a lot of people leave cursing Frontier. 

I personally don't have a problem with the next few years of content being behind season passes. I see it as a very complete game as-is and if you want to add on to that by paying for some new content (some of which will be implemented with vanilla anyway) then you can. Otherwise you can play the vanilla game that you paid for. This is viewed as catering to the corporate greed by most, but I see a 10 year development cycle and understand the ridiculous amount of raw cash that will take and what kind of endeavor this is. It's insane. Really it is. If you don't know how much development costs, just watch this video from Mike Zaimont, the main developer of SkullGirls. He breaks down how much exactly making a video game costs and how it may require different pricing models for more content. It's just a pure and simple fact. You can't make a 10 year game from a one-time cost or the price would be well over $120 for the initial game. It's much easier to split that into multiple years and keep a very dedicated but growing fan-base from your initial release. For the purposes of this project it just makes more sense.  

I may leave Elite:Dangerous for a while but I'll be back for sure
I bought the game for just over $25 on sale. And I don't regret getting involved in the first year of development in the slightest. There are so many things about the game that bring me back to my Freelancer days. Staples that I'm talking about are constantly shifting economy, unlocked space combat/movement, massive space structures, planetary exploration, FTL travel, impressive sound engineering, and highly entertaining space-combat. Honestly everything I have been looking for in a space-sim in one place. Forget the lack of a story mode. It's the emptiness and freedom of space that I want. 

The way I see space though may be different than most. I suppose lots of people see space as just a science fiction setting. I see space the same way that explorers saw the ocean. It's the frontier between civilization and the untamed. However in our generation we won't most likely be able to explore it, Simulating it is the next best thing that I can hope for. And Elite:Dangerous is the shining example for the simulation that I want to play. It's exactly what I look for when I want to just be in the expanse of space where everything is quiet and dangerous. 

I'm going to thoroughly go over what makes Elite:Dangerous a good game later, I just wanted to get this out now because of a lot of the controversy surrounding such a gem in the gaming community. 

(If you have a different opinion or want to suggest a game to play and review, let me know @Big_Dad_Gamer on twitter!)

Saturday, October 31, 2015

6 days of...Guacamelee!

Spooky scary Skeleton...

So in between bouts of a strong addiction to DOTA 2 (it's a love/hate relationship) I picked this gem up for some relaxing downtime entertainment. It originally caught my eye for the outstanding art direction and musical choice. There is a consistent theme of the Day of the Dead from Mexican culture and it is delivered amazingly. The bright and subtle color indicators and changes between the  dead and living world are especially impressive.

I've never been a big fan of Metroidvania style games but Guacamelee! by developer Drinkbox Studios definitely got me into the genre. I'll be visiting some other classics and some newer ones in the coming months purely because I enjoyed this game so much. The character design is highly inspired by Mexican culture both present and past. I'm sure it's not entirely accurate but there is definitely a faithful origin to that culture.

The greatest lesson I learned from playing this game was the creative but purposeful use of color and shape to act as indicators to the player. Obstacles are given color and shape to indicate what type of ability is needed to pass them. Enemies are given color to indicate attack patterns. Enemy shield color indicates what type of weakness they have. Slight color differences in between worlds shows whether or not you're dead or alive.

This type of indicator is highly important for initial progress and instant recognition of action. The game sometimes goes very quickly and requires some split second reflexes, So the colors very naturally lend themselves to recognizing what needs to be done and what buttons you should be pressing. When you start getting the combos right and using weaknesses of multiple enemies in between the two worlds it can be very rewarding and exhilarating. Visiting some of /r/guacamelee I've seen some amazing combos, that seem to be effortlessly done so maybe I'm just bad.

Either way the color direction is the defining factor that makes the game translate so smoothly to user input. Other than the color to ability translation the game itself is par for the course from what I can tell. Zones are definitive but not there wasn't anything revolutionary about the level design. Setting and story is essentially "Evil king kidnaps princess and wants to end the world" all over again. These aren't particularly bad things, but they are standard. I would have like to have seen the same creativity from the color mechanic and the characters put into the story, setting, and level design.

You'll like this game if: You are looking for a fresh perspective on Metroidvania while still sticking with the tried and true with masks and mexican wrestling vengeance!

(If you have a different opinion or want to suggest a game to play and review, let me know @Big_Dad_Gamer on twitter!)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

6 days of...Darkest Dungeon!

Gothic, Eldrich, Insane and Intriguing

This is your town, and there
 aren't many like it...
I've recently been giving Darkest Dungeon by developer Red Hook a shot. I've said it multiple times, I love a good procedurally generated dungeon crawler. My wife looks at me oddly every time I rave about them but I can't help it. There's something about semi-random elements that betray a deeper mechanical master at work. The adventure is a machine that is slave to a surreptitious master and I have a deep desire to defeat the challenge set before me no matter how many times it may change. 

Enter Darkest Dungeon. I keep thinking to myself even now, hours after beating the first few bosses, why aren't more games as entertaining and involved as this. The mechanics themselves aren't new but there's something inherently enthralling about the way all of the pieces fit together. Whether it's the voice acting that narrates your slow decent into madness and the unavoidable mortality rates or the city building and random events. Everything is impeccably well suited to the setting. The entire game comes together like a Picasso painting. Edgy and unique with an odd look but somehow it entertains the senses. 

Combat jumps off the screen with
satisfying sound effects. 
The music in the dungeon seamlessly gives you a sense of foreboding as the trumpets announce sudden combat. Characters leap out of the screen to deliver blows that shower crimson blood over each other. Odd sounds indicate a loss of sanity as time wears on and the adventurers grow weary. The screen darkens to show that the deeper you go, the more dangerous and hopeless things are. These all add to the atmosphere that is so pervasive in Darkest Dungeon.

The game itself is in early access which means that there can be balance changes and UI changes on a regular basis. I noticed myself in the days I played at least a couple changes that were improvements to the mechanics or adding features to the game. I can't wait for the final version of the game because there are so many potential possibilities with the last few dungeons they have yet to add.

During combat you will learn
what the face of fear truly is.
The style though is really what I want to point out here. The bold lines, and the rich colors all give the game a dark sense of foreboding. That and the style of the character and enemy art is simple but aesthetically pleasing. No doubt someone went through many hours and a lot of trouble to get those designs right. Many other developers could study Darkest Dungeon and learn a thing or two about aesthetics. Its a difficult concept to get correct and something that is consistently faulty in independent games these days. It's good to see that kind of talent in the indie scene these days.

I particularly like the latent difficulty that they've included in the torch system. There is no chosen difficulty during the game, but rather you choose your own difficulty by controlling the light levels in the dungeon. It boils down to lower light equals better loot but harder enemies. This risk/reward system is my favorite target for a game to aim for when it comes to difficulty. The enemies have the same amount of health, but they hit harder and the "fear factor" is multiplied on your characters.

I've been assaulted by games in the past that can't get difficulty to save their lives. I don't see how having to shoot twice as many bullets or stab twice as many times into an enemy is anything more than tedious. Difficulty has evolved beyond just adding health. This risk/reward system that is inherent in a mechanic of the game should be on every developers mind as they begin down that path of deciding on difficulty settings.

I loved Darkest Dungeon and it held my interest for quite some time. After a while it becomes easier, but it is nice to see the heroes that you've raised from novices become strong enough to take on hordes of enemies. Knowing their fears and quirks keeps you attached to them and in the end keeps your interest enough to make this a worth while investment of time.

You'll like Darkest Dungeon if: You enjoy Eldrich-style setting and atmosphere, dungeon crawlers, and high quality and well balanced RPG and party mechanics in randomized environments.

(If you have a different opinion or want to suggest a game to play and review, let me know @SimonGolden on twitter!)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Video Game Monetization and the Gamer Culture

Launching with Day 1 DLC
Images like this have created shockwaves in the community
about Day 1 DLC.

This week I've seen an uproar on /r/gaming about the monetization of first day cosmetic skins with the recent release Evolve by developer Take Two. The complaints are that a game that costs a premium price of $60 should not "money-grab" by charging for first day skins that have been developed as of the first day of release. These opinions are well founded and coming from consumers that desire to play a fully rounded and complete game on release like they used to be shipped. The same thing will be happening with Mortal Kombat X on release. There have been many different versions of the game listed as shippable with different pricing options and even characters and skins that are held behind a paywall.

I've read many of the complaints and concerns regarding the industry and this new standard that seems to be more and more common in recent releases. What most of the opinions boil down to is that a "game" in its final state should include all of the current developed content for that main game, whatever the core concept of the game may be. Skins, characters, and the like that are released as special content for further pricing shouldn't be released as separate content on day 1 of a major release. This concept is consistent with the past development of games and the business practices that have helped establish a new culture of gaming and expression through a new type of media.

The problem with comparing the past business model and the present business model is the internet. The internet changes everything. In the business market it changed the world overnight. Stocks were immediately accessible, logistics were faster and lighter, and communication became nearly instantaneous. As soon as that Ethernet cable or Wi-Fi hits your gaming device it changes the way business is done with the consumer as well. With the internet, business transactions are more convenient for the consumer but they are also more convenient for the business.

The reason that the gaming market has exploded in recent years is because of this ease of access and instant transmission of data. We can buy games right at our fingertips with barely a thought. With the game market expanding and markets like Steam and Live opening up to indie developers our wallets go further. We can spend $20 without blinking an eye because all it takes is just a few keystrokes and we have hours of entertainment to enjoy.

This DLC for Arkham City was Day 1 and later released
with the GOTY edition.
Enter first day DLC. We see a quality game we think we will love and purchase it through a digital storefront without having to expend the effort to leave our couches. Without fully interacting with a marketplace to exchange money the impact of that sale is lost on the consumer a bit. Now power up the game and see that there are cosmetic differences in the way you can play the game for only $2.50 for say your favorite color. That enrages you but you don't know why. You already paid for the game why would you pay more? Why would a game that already costs money charge more? If they were going to charge for cosmetics or characters why didn't they adopt the free-to-play model like DOTA 2 or League?

It's confusing and enraging and you may dislike it as a model from the consumer side. I know I do and I know I won't be purchasing either game. Statistics show though that companies like Activision that have monetized add-ons to the Call of Duty franchise make lots of money though. As much outcry as there is against the practice, it is not punished by a lack of profits. Gross sales for these games are through the roof compared to games that are "complete" on release.

As a culture developed by "complete games" we have a strong influence on the direction that gaming companies move up to a point. Gamers eventually become game-developers and eventually CEO's of mega-corporations like EA and Activision. No matter how loud we are though as a culture, money speaks louder. These are companies that operate off of profits and morality always takes a back seat when it comes to entertainment.

So how do we stop this from happening? Well as consumers the logical answer is to say "don't buy the game". So we don't, but everyone else does and many of them pay for the added skins as well over time. I won't say that I'm not guilty of it. The day 1 DLC is rewarded and carries on as a good business practice. Positive reinforcement at its finest.

If we can't boycott the practice, because it takes a unified movement (which I believe gamers are incapable of) then it won't happen. Lets look at another movement that failed. The peripheral devices movement. You remember the PlayStation eye or the Move controller? The original peripheral device games for the Wii that required additional equipment to play? That might have been just as popular, it's essentially charging more for wiring a piece of plastic up and then putting it in the same case. This doesn't require rocket scientists and can be done at a very low price point, but developers would raise the prices because of this added electronic peripheral. Why did it fail? It was inconvenient. It required additional familiarization with little reward. It was more work and often didn't amount to a better experience.

This model (and the success of Steam) however helped developers and publishers realize that convenience was the key to tapping straight into the wallets of consumers. Thus day 1 DLC is born and added special content becomes more and more common. Who is to blame? No one really. This is the natural evolution of the marketplace that has been affected by advances in technology.

Back to my original question, how do we change it? Right now, it's too profitable an option for Triple A game developers to pass up. We can't stop them from doing it but just like fads it can fall out of style. I predict that in the next 10 years this fad will pass and DLC will still exist but at a much smaller price point per item. Developers will release DLC at adequate intervals and not on the first day of launch, but it will take a while for it to fall out of favor. I would say that games that don't take this course of action will compete harder in the market, but the market is flooded right now. When there are more options it is harder to compete with more powerful players like Triple A companies. This is just a storm we will have to weather for now.

So buckle down, and start working on that backlog of games. Its going to be a rough (10 year) season for games. My knees are hurting already.

(If you have a different opinion or want to suggest a game to play and review, let me know @SimonGolden on twitter!)

Saturday, February 7, 2015

6 days of...Endless Legend!

Genre Fusing Design

That is a giant scarab my capitol is set around.
Yea it's that awesome.

Booting up Endless Legend for the first time I knew I was in for something special. I had previously played the 4x Space Civ Simulator, Endless Space, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Both are made by Amplitude Studios and are part of their multiple-game and multiple genre universe spanning series that have been released in rapid succession over the last few years. Endless Space, Endless Legend, and Endless Dungeon, are the three games currently released from Amplitude. All giving their own slightly varied experience.

Endless Legend is the most recent iteration of the endless universe. Starting the game up I was surprised to find a very sparse menu. This is something common between all of the Amplitude games. A minimalistic styled menu that gives you little to do but jump right into their game and get started. That's exactly what I was eager to do.

I didn't do very well this time around...
What the Endless series also excels at is punishing mistakes. The first few times I played I was decimated by nearly every other civilization in the game. Still though, each time I played I made progress. This is one of my favorite parts about civilization builders. Failing and returning to re-build my civilization stronger and more robust. After about 4 times playing through, I finally conquered the world and won. In total this took about 20 hours just to give you an idea of how long it takes to become proficient.

Personally I won by taking the military route after I began falling behind other civilizations in points, however it caused my people endless unhappiness to be ruled by a dictatorial warlord. Still though it was a win even though it wasn't by the conditions I had originally intended. Most of the civilizations have conditions they are better suited to winning with, but every option is always open.

The science "ladder" you climb while playing brings you into several era as you play. Each era increases the power available to units and the technology but also increases the production requirements of each city. This adds a depth that includes time as a measurable resource that must be managed. After playing Civilization games I have to say that this is a small change but makes a large difference in how quickly you may want to uncover new technologies.

This combined with the happiness mechanic makes even advancing in production and technology a balancing act. Destroying facilities and units that require upkeep from previous eras can actually help you in the short run to recover and quickly produce more powerful units. Other regular resources are provided in the same way most are in 4x turn based games. They are however more difficult to balance and utilize properly. Running short on resources is common and so is having to make hard decisions.

Combat looks deceptively simple, but is very deep.
The biggest draw that I saw in the game was combat, and the turn based mechanics. As far as I could tell, 2 people would take turns at 1 time. Which means you would be moving units at the same time and so there is at least a bit of real-time attention needed as if you are paying little attention to what your units are doing they can be attacked easily. Prioritizing movement over building can save or ruin opportunities. Combat between units is played out simultaneously on your turn between armies in a tiled strategy turn-based format. I know that this type of combat has gotten a lot of flak in reviews as a negative aspect to the game, but I consider it a positive.

Consider for a moment that the entire "default" game takes place over 300 turns, the combat helps break up the repetition of the turns with something different and stimulating in a different way. Everything Endless Legend does seems fresh even though it utilizes formulas from many previous games. The fusion of turn based civ building and combat works perfectly with the way the game is paced in my opinion.

I for one am eagerly awaiting the further release of games in the endless series. I can't wait to see what Amplitude studios comes up with next.

You'll like this game if: You like fully fleshed out universes with full stories for each faction that include an over-arcing mission to allow for victory. Highlights include great combat, wonderfully balanced civ building and well integrated mechanics that don't allow for much exploitation.

(If you have a different opinion or want to suggest a game to play and review, let me know @SimonGolden on twitter!)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Razer DeathAdder, my first gaming mouse

Functional and Crisp

With only 5 buttons this mouse is unassuming,
let me assure you it packs a punch!
The words above are how I would describe the DeathAdder by Razer. Do not assume that the simplicity of those words implies a non-satisfactory product. Quite the opposite in fact. Let me start off by saying that this is my first "gaming" mouse. Prior to this I was using a normal run of the mill 2 click wheel job that was a hand-me-down from another gamer. Unfortunately it was on the fritz after 7 years and clicking double when I only asked for a single. 

So my wife went online and bought me what I wouldn't normally be willing to buy myself. I consider "gaming" paraphernalia to be frivolous. Not that I'm against it normally, I just believe that the extra $50 you would spend to have something fine tuned for gaming would go better toward other things in life. I believe that especially now that I have more adult responsibilities than I can remember on a daily basis. 

So when the DeathAdder came in the mail and appeared on my desk, I was surprised and relieved that I wasn't responsible for spending the money that was required to bring it to me. I quickly took it out of the box and threw my older mouse out of the way. Out with the old and in with the new! 

I found the Death Adder to deliver superior performance immediately. Even before downloading the software I noticed an immediate performance improvement from my previous mouse. The buttons activate at just the right pressure to allow for a tactile response but also quick reflexive movement. There was no delay or unnecessary pressure needed. This goes for the mouse wheel as well. It moved quickly and easily but stopped when there was no movement applied. It has defined and satisfying intervals that it stops at which is personally something I look for as I end up scrolling in many games I play and online as I surf the web. 

Added benefits to the mouse include 2 programmable buttons and amusing lighting effects. Now I've never been one for multiple buttons on the mouse. I prefer one hand to control movement with minimal other interface and one hand on the keyboard where all my buttons are. 2 extra buttons are plenty for me and they always have been. That makes for 5 clickables on the mouse and a rolling wheel for control. Plenty in my book and plenty to control any game I've come across. 

Opening up the software I had to look around a bit to familiarize myself. There are some minor inconveniences in the buttons on the UI that are counter-intuitive. Nothing that a bit of thinking didn't work out. After experimenting a bit I have to say that the "macro" feature of the software is interesting. I will have to try to come up with a good idea for macros but for now I'll just leave it alone. It seems to work very well and I had some fun programming pretty much anything into the buttons I wanted. 

The Death Adder next to my Saitek Exlipse II and their
complimentary lighting
Movement and DPI were very impressive. I don't know how much I will be able to recognize the difference between polling rates (the rate at which information is transmitted) but I do notice a massive difference in DPI ranges (dots per inch). The DPI range from centimeters to cross the screen to meters so there is a speed for everyone. The settings are automatically set so you test them as soon as you lift your mouse button which can be a bit jarring but is nice that the "apply" button is gone from the UI. It might seem like a small thing but it makes a difference in the perceived responsiveness of the mouse and program. 

Ergonomically it is shaped definitively for a right-handed player. It fits very well to the hand with no movement or adjustment needed. It is slightly angled at many points to keep the mouse firmly in place when moving the hand but without needing adjustment or a firm grip. I have average hands for the male population and I have to say that it feels perfectly natural in my hand while playing.

Since I haven't had any other gaming mouses fresh out of the box I have to say that I am very impressed with the DeathAdder from Razer. I tested it on DOTA 2, Don't Starve, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and Kerbal Space Program. They all require lots of clicking and movement from the mouse and I never once found myself frustrated or fatigued. I have looked around at other mouses from other companies. Unless something else jumps out to me as revolutionary though, I think I'll be sticking with the Razer lines. 

You'll like this mouse if: You want a crisp, responsive, and enjoyable experience without too many bells, whistles, and doodads (perfect for any general gaming environment).  The UI matches this simple approach and brings nearly unlimited functionality to the mouse that is deceptively simple. There is no lack of customization that you apply with the combination of the two. The total experience is subtle but very satisfying. 

(If you have another opinion on the Razer line, let me know at @SimonGolden on Twitter!)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Upcoming Space Sims and other stuff

Finalizing some games...(so here's an awesome Elite: Dangerous video courtesy of Ralfidue)

I tend to jump between games to get as much exposure to many genres as possible and lately it's been taking a toll. I know that I need to complete some of the games I've written about and I deserve to give others more attention. Likely that will take a while, so for now I'll be writing about interesting things that I see around the gaming community as I read news in my off-time. 

I remember about 10 years ago I picked up Freelancer for the first time. If you remember that title it probably brings with it very fond memories of hours upon hours spent drifting through space and collecting bounties or rare materials to sell later. After that game and it's cult following there was an unfilled hole in the market where developers dared not go. Making a space-simulator that appeals to the tech and science savvy audience requires lots of work and dedication to get right. Lash-back from the market would be unreal for games that were unrealistic or bare of features. 

That's why I am excited to see the development of Elite: Dangerous by developer Frontier ( It's very reminiscent of Freelancer but is definitely a step up. I haven't played it for fear that my computer can't handle it. I may have to do something about that soon. The game looks gorgeous first off. The stars and galactic bodies make wonderful backdrop for the space-based fighting and mining that you can do. It is either Single or Massively Multi-player based on the choice of the player. I know that many games rely on designing around the basic concept of either, but not both. So I hope there is enough to do in the world to keep a single person occupied and entertained as well as enough features to allow mutiplayer structures to develop. Eve Online is the ultimate example of this, allowing for corporations and internal political struggles to develop and then writing about them after events in the game happen. The players and their fights themselves determine the shape of the game, not the other way around. 

Now as excited as I am about the comparison to Freelancer I can't help but mention the spiritual sequel that the developers from that game are creating. Star Citizen is set to release in 2016 and from the early material released looks amazing as well ( Right now it's just in public testing with limited access to materials. It looks just as amazing though it has a greater focus on space based dog-fighting. I think that it looks great but in it's own way there are more features developed and demonstrated for Elite: Dangerous.

Just a couple examples: the extensive marketing campaign that they've developed to show that any career is viable, and during many of the scrap-based missions there is a physical structure to both the cockpit and objects floating in space with proper sounds and physics. You might argue that they are built in different ways with different play-styles in mind, but those two things stood out to me as details that might not indicate the game is better, but definitely indicates a particular interest in detail oriented development that I don't see in the action shots from Star Citizen

They are in completely different phases of development though, so there isn't really a way to compare them until both products are finally released. All I want though is the freedom to earn credits in my own way, even if that isn't reliant on twitch based space combat. Getting on in my years I find my reflexes aren't as great as they were when I played classic dog-fighters like X-wing vs. Tie Fighter.

Other than that I'm getting around to finally finishing some of the games that I've been playing. I also want to get into the modding game and try making a mod for Don't Starve by Klei games. Mostly for educations sake and also because I think it would be fun. I am creating an automatic Dice Roller with electronics and probably going to be making a campaign for a recent tabletop RPG that I picked up for myself called Kromore ( I like playing all these games but it wears on you after a while since I only get limited time per day and I can't spend 8 hours a day playing games and reviewing them. 

Let me know if you have any experience with modding! I'd love to get some suggestions. Let me know on my twitter at @simongolden.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

3 days of...Legend of Dungeon!

Sprinting For Fun

Doctor, I've got a Cat on my head.
If my previous posts don't make it immediately apparent, I am a big fan of roguelikes. Something about a quick pickup and play game with infinite replay-ability really interests me. Especially with the short spurts of time that I have as a Father in between family and work responsibilities. 

Legend of Dungeon by developer Robot Loves Kitty scratches that itch just enough in possibly the shortest amount of time that I can imagine. I harkens back to a time where playing a game meant sitting down for 20 minutes or less and being able to walk away refreshed and fulfilled. No massive story lines, or extensive in depth gameplay. Sometimes all you need is some mindless and entertaining particles in front of you to pass a bit of time and cleanse the palette.

This Sorbet is flavored with Vampire!
Legend of Dungeon is a sorbet in between courses. Just when you finish your first session of gaming and you need to wipe the need to continue away; Legend of Dungeon allows you a transition that is just fun and fast enough to entertain but not establish a baseline genre.

To be honest it is a side-scrolling brawler with rogue-like construction, but it could easily be much more. It has some very light RPG elements and some other thematic enemies and a dark setting that could make for some very interesting story; but the game itself doesn't bank on any of these as strong attractors for itself. Not it's much more simple than that.

In essence the game relies on a single button combat system and a series of hats and randomly generated consumables to entertain. Every run has it's own quirks, like coming across a space-traveler in a phone booth. Or wearing a cat on your head while attacking angels. There are nods to popular media and internet culture all over the game. Most of the items and enemies are seemingly derived from nerd culture actually. This faceless derivation however serves the larger purpose of the game. This is refreshing as often features no longer serve the purpose of the game and instead act as a standalone neon sign saying "LOOK WHAT WE CAN DO!".

Keep Calm and Don't Blink
I may be allowing it to survive a critical eye but I believe that in short bursts Legend of Dungeon  has it's own merits. It isn't a great game, but it isn't a bad game either. It reminds me of a modern day iteration of an endless slalom flash game when you have nothing to do to kill time. Unfortunately I don't have time to kill as most of my time is more valuable when I have to split it between so many responsibilities. Still though, it is a simpler game that reminded me of a simpler time in my youth. And I can appreciate that.

You'll like this game if: You just need a nameless, faceless, game to entertain you for a few empty minutes. That might not sound appealing but everyone needs some mindless entertainment now and again!

(If you had a different opinion or a new video game to suggest, leave a comment below! If you want to recieve regular updates, follow me on Twitter @SimonGolden. )

Sunday, January 11, 2015

3 days of...The Stanley Parable!

Representation vs. Content

This is your cage before being let loose into the maze.
As I played through The Stanley Parable by Developer Galactic Cafe, I tried to think of a way to explain the games greatest accomplishment without sounding pretentious. Essentially it boils down to this: Choice is an illusion, you and your mind are slaves to external circumstances, and any control you feel you have is entirely false or unsubstantial. Now I could go on with this topic, but the deeper I internalized the discussion the more pseudo-intellectual I felt.

This "seed" is the one I found best
represents the game visually. Also
it's one of the funniest.
Claiming the metaphor of The Stanley Parable is deep and profound is not representing the game correctly I believe. I've seen article after article talk about the concepts that the game brings to the forefront and how they are applied when it comes to games. However the concept of the absence of choice has been around for centuries, millennia even in real life. What The Stanley Parable does well is represent that philosophy in a way that has never been achieved before.

The illusion of choice can be represented in painting by a mouse or a man in a maze. It can be represented by song lyrics describing the futility of life. And it is now described in full detail by a British voice in The Stanley Parable.

There are constant thematic reminders that you are essentially a mouse trapped in a maze, and multiple paths that diverge and then re-merge later on. In fact you could say the entire game is a loop that infinitely replays itself. Of course there is an ending that makes the most sense, but every other ending has nonsensical elements. Reality is a call you put on hold as you explore the answers the game poses to you.

The path may deviate,
but the end result is the same
This representation of the concept of non-choice is delivered so well that I think it's a notable design feature. Like I said it's hard to describe without sounding like a psudo-intellectual discussing nothing of note. So I'll just say you have to experience it for yourself. The feeling that the game delivers is unsettling to a different degree than anything I've ever played before.

You'll like this game if: You want to put yourself into a maze with only one way out and don't mind forsaking the cheese for a more diabolical narrative on the focus of gaming in the modern era.

(If you had a different opinion or a new video game to suggest, leave a comment below! If you want to recieve regular updates, follow me on Twitter @SimonGolden. )

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Annual Releases and the Downfall of Quality Gaming

Quality vs Quantity

With the recent release of Assassins Creed Unity this year and the plans by Ubisoft to continue releasing games in the series on an annual basis, I have had several thoughts on this specific business model. Annual games are a sure fire way in the short term to push sales and increase revenue very quickly. There are models that make this business plans seem very profitable. And likely that is exactly what the aim is by Ubisoft. I mean they would be "stupid to not satisfy this need" (from the public for an annually released game) right? 

There are many things wrong with this thought, first of all the concept of quantity over quality. In basic economic terms Ubisoft has fallen prey to the classic duality of supply and demand. Demand for their flagship series rose exponentially for the first few games, so therefore a higher supply was required to keep up with demand. However with higher supply (games per year) will come lower demand. One might say that the fans of the series will remain being fans, and that new buyers will come into the market so demand will not fall with the rise of supply. 

However, I argue that when the first Assassins Creed game was released, the demand was so high because there was a severe LACK of supply. There was no game on the market that did what the original AC did at the time. And the new breakout mechanics were carried out so fluidly that the stock in that type of game skyrocketed. All of the sudden there were half a dozen more parkour-based action/adventure games in development as other developers saw the potential in the genre and jumped on the bandwagon.

However that was 2007 and now there are a multitude of games in this genre in so many different settings that the market can barely handle any more. I am not trying to state that there isn't a market for the games, but that over-saturation is a definite probability. Pushing more games onto the market also allows for gamers to be more discerning with their purchases as there are more choices. Extra Credits the YouTube channel on gaming made a very educational video about the concept of over-saturation and it's effects on the consumer

Ubisoft however does have a very large presence in the market, with nearly 10,000 employees and a revenue of over 1 billion annually (2008-2009). These numbers are formidable for any business much less one that is in the fickle gaming market. Since their model has worked so well this far, how then would it not continue to work? 

Saturation isn't the only concern moving forward with annual releases. With so many employees, coordination and quick resolution of problems during development falls apart and quality assurance can suffer accordingly. These problems appear to the consumer as the many glitches that have become a running source of comedy for the internet

Poking fun at the bugs and glitches isn't my intent, it is just the most apparent example of the lack of quality control that can pervade a company so large. This being said, is it quite the wise move to continue to show your hand and allow these glitches through on an annual basis without proper testing and quality controls? Being the giant in this genre and the parkour/combat sub-genre that Ubisoft is you would think they would like to lead the market in innovation and quality instead of making fast plays for cash each year from their fans. 

I have been reading a book by notable economic writer Jim Collins, called Good to Great, that addresses this type of company and their competitors. The truly great companies that overcome the market and surpass even their most successful competitors are the companies that focus on Quality rather than Quantity. This may seem like common sense, and something that is taught as a common technique in business but it seems to be all but failing in the interactive media sector. 

I'm not trying to say that annually released games like WWE, Call of Duty, and now Assassins Creed aren't quality games. However they come from giants, that have the option of creating ludicrously high levels of quality and innovation. Disappointingly however these companies have chosen to deny excellence and settle for an approach that is more akin to a company that is depending on an eventual takeover by a competitor. Ubisoft was a company that once made high quality content and that is where they made their name. Now that name has been sullied with poor decisions by showing a lack of respect for the community that once made them great. It is this writers hope that one day they will make their way back into the good graces of the community and once again become the leader of the industry they once were. 

(If you had a different opinion or a new video game to suggest, leave a comment below! If you want to recieve regular updates, follow me on Twitter @SimonGolden. )

Saturday, January 3, 2015

3 days of...Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3!

The Real Anime Feel

I have been a fan of anime for quite some time. Sitting down and exposing yourself to a world of unrestrained possibilities represented through a drawn medium has a certain allure that is irresistible to me. However over the years I have become jaded to games that take on the Anime theme and try to incorporate the style of entertainment into a game. It always just ends up being too gamey, and not flashy enough. I watch anime for the ridiculous fights, and the huge explosions. Both of which are hard to make believable in a fighting game.

Quicktime events are littered throughout boss fights and act to
enhance combat with impressive sequences and a reactive mini-game.
Not that you can't animate them and put a visualization of them in a game. There is just something about the combination of lighting, sound, and color that is very difficult to translate from anime to video game. There are many a Budokai games that in my opinion have failed at this over the years, and left me with a sour taste for games based on anime.

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm by developer CyberConnect 2 tackled this problem and succeeded quite impressively. Every moment you are fighting feels like a moment from the anime, every move you perform feels like it's just the right speed and power. In the beginning combat was so fast that I was mashing the 8 buttons semi-randomly to attempt to keep up. After a while though fighting became fluid and a very satisfying dance between opponents. The fluid motion broken up by staccato flashy "ninjutsu" and ultimate moves that are just as satisfying to pull off as the combat is.

The combat itself is very simple. It breaks down to what amounts to a 6 way rock-paper-scissors where the clash of each move is weighed against your opponents and there is a definite advantage given to the winner. The movements are so fast that you have to anticipate what the enemy is about to do in order to gain the upper hand. This leads to a good amount of luck involved in getting the win. There are ways to mitigate the advantages or disadvantages you find yourself in with items and instant teleports which negate the last you took. Combined all these mean that there is a quick learning curve and a low ceiling. The combat is fun and semi-skill based but the real show stopper is the cinematic element that the game presents during each fight.

Recreating your favorite fights feels like you are
really stepping into the shoes of your favorite hero/villain.
I can't stress enough how much of a treat fighting with your favorite characters is. And there are plenty of characters to choose from. All of them introduced in one way or another in the story mode. This mode is well flushed out and has a lot of the same quirky characteristics of the anime, but doesn't quite go overboard and make things unbelievable. The story mode sticks to the more real and easily presentable scenes and keeps the pace moving quickly from fight to fight. In the end it is just a showcase for many of the characters and fighting modes that are really where the game shines.

Really that is what Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm does best. It blends all the great elements of a good game and focuses them into just the one thing, great looking fights between giants. Sound, lighting, blur, animation all serve to enhance this one great aspect of the game. All other things that fall by the way side no longer matter because all you want to do is feel the rush of the next stunning battle. I can forgive a clumsy story/world mode and confusing menu system because it's just so much fun to hop into fight after fight with different teams of ninja to duke it out online and with your friends.

Even though story mode isn't that great it still is very pretty.
So if you end up picking this series up don't look forward to a great story. Don't look for a wonderfully constructed world to wander around in. Hop into some fights and throw some ultimate moves and get that adrenaline pumping from the insane semi-casual combat. It's easy to get into and fun as hell.

You'll like this game if: You enjoy anime and you want to relive some larger than life battles with explosions and a multitude of characters all sporting different abilities. Be warned, a clumsy and short 12 hour story mode will unlock all the characters and get you well versed in the combat. It is well worth it to get into the game.

(If you had a different opinion or a new video game to suggest, leave a comment below! If you want to recieve regular updates, follow me on Twitter @SimonGolden. )