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. )