I realized today that with Borderlands 2 out, I’m not really all that excited for the rest of this year’s release calendar (except maybe ‘Sin Creed 3). So I had to ask myself: why? Why am I not excited about being a gamer any more?
My gut response was that games aren’t as exciting any more and not just in the ways you’d expect me to be upset with. Sure, CoD has made it so a shooter just has to have a tacked on campagin to its massive mutliplayer hard-on instead of the other way around, but that’s not the real problem. It’s the moments that are missing.
Like, Nathan Drake’s excting and all with his set piece dramatic moments, but that’s not a game to me. It’s a movie I’m walking through that occasionally slips into the blooper reel. Final Fantasy 13 looks flashy and there’s a few good emotional moments, but none of the characters seem to even care that they’re part of the story–heck, even Squall cared about his involvement more than Lightning ever seems to. Seriously, ask yourself if, at any time in 13, you felt connected to any of the characters. Ask that same question of yourself for 10, 9, 8, or 7 (lets just forget about 11). Ask yourself if another romp with a progressively degenerate Kratos is really worth playing beyond the inital shock value of the kill animations, how will the mechanics have changed in any large part that it makes traversing his already established background worth a full game?
On the other side of the scripted adventure fence, games like Fallout, Dark Souls, and Skyrim do spawn some awesome stories to talk about, but really, if you didn’t have people to talk to about how much of the game would be forgettable? How many of those epic moments came at the expense of the game? How many times did the immersion break because of an unresponsive NPC or the fact that one cave got recycled time and again?
So yeah, I’m not excited because the games that heavily story driven are either so transparent that they’re bland or the cast is so unnoteworthy that I could care less about what happens to them and western RPGs have fallen off since I don’t have people to trade stories with. Diablo 3, something which should have been a shoe in for chances to swap tales of epic badassery, sucked because of bad design and even Borderlands is really only exciting because I have something else to do with Renee besides League, Magic, and discussing books.
I mean maybe its because I don’t have the time I used to, maybe its because I don’t actually talk to people about gaming, but I just don’t feel IT anymore. I don’t find AAA video games interesting. At all. That isn’t to say I’m not excited about the indie hits as they come, but I usually fall into those.
Feel free to comment and tell me why I should be excited!
Anyway, catch you all Monday with a intense coverage of the RtR Prerelease!
Next weekend I’m at Escapist Expo. This will be the first con’ I’ll be going to not to spectate, not to experience, but to meet people. Needless to say, I’m nervous as hell. I’m hardly prepared for what will be my first real attempt to break into the industry. I don’t have anything to show design wise. I don’t have anything to show publishing wise. It’s not like I’m an established pro player. I’m just…a fan.
That’s not to say fan’s aren’t important, they’re what power our consumption based cultures and in the rapidly changing landscape of the internet, fans have more voice than ever. Even so, it’s still hard to cross the divide between fan and creator–if anything, it’s gotten bigger with the growth in proximity. League’s a great example of this paradoxical closeness. Even though much of the Riot staff hangs out on the forums and interacts with the player base, they’re still highly limited in what they can say that isn’t just typical PR. Further, they have to say it so often that it’s as if they’re cold and distant instead of what they really are, players trying to meet and hangout with other players. Players who want to be excited about the game they’re playing.
I feel its much the same with any pseudo-competitive hobby. As the spoilers for RtR ramp up, I have this giddy feeling every morning. What cards are going to be revealed? What new ways are the guild mechanics going to be twisted? Will there be something cooler than a plant zombie? Most of these cards have been through development months ago, they were designed even further back. I’m sure designers and developers want the feedback that players have, but they can’t gush over what’s coming next until the very last moment–and by then speculation’s ruined the shiny feeling. Like all the angst over another version of Jayce or the cycle of uncounterable rares. By time they can talk, it’s no longer one player talking excitedly with their friends about the next big thing in the same game they all play, it’s people grumping over how broken a single card is.
And yet, despite the hurdles, despite having to bottle excitement like a fine wine to be opened later, I want nothing more than to be on the other side, to be someone who gets to see thousands or more enjoying my work–even if its just one level, just one card, or even just one line of text. Failing that, I want to be that guy who’s excited about the new things and how they’re going to change the format. Growing up I wanted to work at Nintendo Power for just that reason. It’s why I want to shoutcast. It’s why I want to open an LGS (local game shop). And it’s why I’m going to Escapist Expo to meet people.
Because as much as I enjoy being jaded, I miss being excited. I miss feeling awed by a game. I miss…a lot of things really. Except, I’m starting to find them again. Even as work piles on and I feel even more trapped by my situation, I’m starting to feel whole again, in a way I haven’t felt since before High School. This blog is part of that. Writing is part of that. Having Rei in my life is part of that. And now playing Magic at a place where people know me and are, for the most part, happy to see me is part of that.
Anyway, I guess what I’m asking is wish me luck. Because at this point, it’s about all I’ve got going for me. That, and excitement
So my first review for Hardcore Droid is in. I’ll hear back from my editor Saturday about it and I’ll have some fixes to do but, yeah, I’ll have my first published game review. I am only a few days away from being a video game journalist. Something, to be quite honest, that has been a dream of mine for most of my life–right behind digging up dinosaurs and driving monster trucks in terms of childhood fantasy jobs. I mean, yeah, its not really a job, more like freelance work, but it is the realization of a dream. I need to celebrate when the realization hits me.
Really not much else to talk about this week. I covered much of what I could talk about yesterday and I’m not in the mood to get into it again. League is having its EU regional finals and so far its been mixed for me. Day one was stomps all around and today’s been a much more enjoyable series of close games. CLG and ATN are playing right now(its currently 940A est) and match one has been really close. More impressive to me is how the production values have improved. I’m really impressed with how the eSports scene has grown over the last year–Cross Assault notwithstanding.
Anyway, catch ya’ll Monday where I’ll probably post pictures of my M13 unboxing since I’m picking up a whole box of boosters tonight at FNM.
(Bear with me if this blog seems a bit ramblerific, I’ve been spending the last two weeks catching up on nearly seven years of missed Magic, so my thoughts are a little scattered)
I’ve been a magic player since around the Urza’s Saga Block (though I’d be lying if I said I was very active much before Odyssey) and its a very different game now than was looking like it would be when I stopped playing at the end of the Time Spiral block. What with the New World Order created in the wake of that circle jerk on par with 90′s Super Hero Comics, its not really much of a surprise. Wizards embraced the fact that, for the most part, Standard was the entry point for people (specifically Limited) and as such Standard’s card level complexity needed to be controlled. And I must say as, a Limited veteran, I can agree with the changes “Maro” Rosewater and team executed while I’ve been away. Splitting the difference between theme and complexity couldn’t have been easy, but from what I’ve seen of Innstrad and 2013, they’ve done a pretty good job. There are still commons that carry the theme for the set, like Ajanni’s Sunstriker, but are overall easy to understand. It makes Draft and Sealed much more welcoming environments to play and be a new player in.
Granted, this scaling back likely means no more cards like Vile Deacon, Wellwisher, or Timberwatch Elf, but it also means no more commons that are 80% rules text. Like this one. Or this one. Nothing kills an otherwise enjoyable card more than by having too much text explaining it. Which might be why I’m not of a mechanical win type of guy. I prefer a slug fest. No fuss, no muss. Just some flyers, some beaters, and a hint of removal to deal with things my critters can’t. That isn’t to say I don’t like being a Johnny, my Cephalid Siege Machine deck (Looters, Brokers, and Megrim) is a great example of me being able to pull out mechanical win conditions, but my heart belongs somewhere around Timmy.
Anyway, the point is that because Magic has gotten simpler, at a card level, it allows the game to be more complex as a whole. Which allows the metagame to balance itself out for the most part. A deck that wins big immediately has a number of counters. Which means next week that either that deck has evolved or its been unseated by something else. Right now, Blue-White Devler is big, but so is Birthing Pod Revival and Green-Red Aggro because they have answers for Delver (and, in response, Delver has answers for them). Actually, Delver is a great example of just how effective the noncomplex common is. A 1/1 for U? It transforms (the theme for Innstrad) when a trigger state (revealing a non-permanent spell on top of your deck) is reached? Seems simple enough. Mix that with Index, another common that lets you reorder the top five cards of your deck (or other cards available in Standard), and you get a 3/2 Flying creature. That’s two commons for a one turn set-up that transitions right into midgame power mode. That’s way simpler than Suspend ever was (even though I love the mechanic) and it feels good to pull off. It also says quite a bit that a common’s main competition currently is a combo that requires a rare in either case.
Now on a card level, those Onslaught block commons aren’t really much stronger than Delver. However, on a game level they’re absurdly more complex. Not only do you need to keep track of X number of creatures, but so does your opponent–and they might not just be your cards. It wasn’t uncommon in Onslaught and Odyssey to end up facing off against decks with the same tribe so elf on elf could get very messy.
What I’m trying to say, I suppose, is that’s because Magic uses a sliding set of cards with a solid concept for the playing field they create a strong competitive environment that is also welcoming to new players. I wonder if that would work for a game like League? If say, only the last 10 champions created, plus a “core” set (the Free To play champs?) to cover missing roles, could be played in ranked then maybe balance would be less of an issue. Suddenly the remake for Eve adds her back to the pool of junglers in standard. Compared with just Hecarim, Diana, Xin, and Twitch her viability is a totally different scale than when compared against Lee Sin, Mundo, or Udyr. Or maybe that would be terrible. Who knows?
Anyway, that’s this week. Catch ya’ll around.
Thanks to last week’s review and a couple of happenstances, I landed a gig doing reviews of Android based games. The reviews won’t show up here (they’re part of an e-zine), but I will likely talk about my first impressions and do the jaded gamer thing.
Which is sort of what I want to do today. In my quest to start my first assignment, I’ve gone through three games to finally pick up Wizards and Goblins. A tower defense game, you place wizards along paths to kill goblins before they get to the castle. Seems pretty straight forward and certainly not genre breaking with innovation. That said, I’ve only played two boards so who knows? I’ll hold off the jaded until it’s still doing the same three things at hour nine in a campaign. If it was just an arcade style game, then fuck all, but claiming a campaign means things grow and evolve–or are expected to at any rate and not doing so is a design fail.
As for the other games, I’d like to touch upon them really quick.
The first game I tried to play was Cthlulu Saves The World. I first heard about it when it was released on Steam, but never got around to playing it. For those not aware, it’s a classic 16-bit style RPG where you’re Cthlulu killing off the other Elder Gods. Yeah, I was sold on it from moment one. So when I got handed the assignment to review it on Android, I was stoked. I couldn’t wait to burn the Earth to the ground to save it. However, it seems like I’ll have to continue waiting. In the port from PC and XBLA the game seems to have been broken. Right now, it doesn’t get past the credits screen on Nexi (and won’t install at all on Pyre). It loads up, shows the dev logos, rotates to landscape, and then crashes. Very Sad
The Second was Cyber Knights RPG. I didn’t pick up the Elite version since I wanted to make sure it worked before I dropped $2 on it. I played for about an hour last night and while the Fallout nostalgia is there, the game’s design is neigh unbearable. Primarily, my issue is with the map system. When you pull up the map screen (seen left) it gives you a list of locations on your current screen. If you click on one of them, you can auto path to it. You can also look at locations on other screens; however, you cant path to them or even to the map’s edge. So to go to a destination five maps away I have to: click on a space near the edge of the map, wait for my avatar to walk there, click on the map edge to scroll over, and then repeat until I’ve arrived at the target map. Now, if i was down in the action a little more and had more control over my character, it might not be so bad, but watching a guy walk from one screen to another one square at a time while nothing happens isn’t much of a game–especially when I’m only going to be playing for maybe five or ten minutes at a time. I mean, I enjoy sandbox games (and I am only an hour in), but this game just doesn’t do it for me. Which is why I’m not reviewing the Elite version, I don’t think I’d have anything positive to say–even in the frame of criticism.
In other news, League of Legends has added an AFK detection system for matchmaking queue. You now have to accept when a match has been found else the client drops you out of queue. There’s a new Cho’gath skin that contains 100% more wub-wub and will be legendary price. Zyra is, according to the 2k+ elo crowd, totally broken in terms of power and I have to agree. Her burst is absurd, especially her Ultimate. A good Zyra can drop someone faster than Flash with her full combo which goes off almost at once. Even LeBlanc’s gibs look tame in comparison. Even so, she didn’t get nerfed this patch. The only other big thing is that Diana is still being tested on the PBE and is not live yet. On the PSO2 front, Sega of Japan pushed the “Crystal Dragon” patch this week, opening a new area with a multitude of enemies and bosses lying in wait. I’m just now wrapping up the Desert, so I can’t really speak too much else about it. PSOmods revealed a working English patch for the official JP client–the use of which can get your account banned (so I won’t link to it). The upshot is that in doing so, they discovered just how much data was still being stored server side and is thus impossible to translate with a patch. Good news for those who will being playing the localized version, not so much for us pioneers.
Aaaand I think that’s about it. Going to go play Friday Night Magic tonight. Might talk about M:tG next week now that I’ve had enough exposure to the 2013 Core Set.
For those who are not aware of it, Triple Town is a Match-3 puzzler by developer Spry Fox. Originally a web game, it was ported to Android and iOS about a year ago–yeah, I’m a little late. Hush. It is free to play, with the constraint that you only get a regenerating pool of 150 moves. For $4, you can unlock the game and have unlimited turns along with a few extra boards to play on. I’ve been playing for free and enjoying it. The limited move pool gives me a solid stopping point.
As far as play goes, the touch interface feels snappy and the graphics looks great on my Galaxy Nexus. I really like the pre-industrial, “exploring the frontier” vibe the game has going on, especially in the interactions between the bears and the citizens. The sub-game of trapping bears so that they’re not moving freely over the board is in and of itself a fun diversion from matching three Grasses to make a Bush. As I said above, the bite sized sessions that you get from the free versions are just enough to be satisfying, but don’t render an hour lost out of no where–as Bejeweled or Tetris is wont to do. The map persists so long as you don’t fill all of the spaces, so you can pick it up again later.
Bottom line? If you’ve not picked this up yet, and you’re tired of Angry Birds or Bejeweled and Tetris clones, go do so. You won’t regret the couple of hours of occupation Triple Town will bring.
Go Play PSO2! It’s in Open Beta starting today and character data will transfer over to the full version which is supposed to hit later this year. Granted, yes, it’s all in Japanese, but there’s a full comprehensive guide for pretty much everything you need to know to get rolling. You’d be surprised how quickly you pick up the menu navigation once you have a vague idea of what everything does.
Which is good design and we all know I love good design. (And Phantasy Star)
Also! If you haven’t already bought Gravity Rush. Go do so. Right now. It’s a great execution of a strong concept that works wonders in portable format. Sandboxes, along with Tactics games, are one of the best things you can have as a portable bite sized experience. Play for ten minutes on the bus, put it in suspend, pick up at lunch and do one of the story missions, and then run around a bit more on the way home. The platforming is solid, the camera controls are pretty tight, and the combat works really well once you get the hang of controlling gravity on the fly.
My biggest complaint was the load times. For some reason, it takes the game a huge amount of time to load into and out of challenges even though its plays off a memory card so maybe the download from the PSN store won’t suffer the same problem. Otherwise, the game is fluid. The main missions load behind a comic book style cut scene so bay time you’re done its ready to go and the big map is near seamless from the middle of the game on.
If you have a Vita, pick this up now. If you don’t have a Vita, but were thinking about getting one, now’s a good time. Anyway, catch ya’ll next week.
No, seriously E3 this year was so gimmick laden I’m surprised they didn’t give out bag of clown props with the badges. Yeah, there’s still some serious stuff going on around the periphery, but it really seems like the focus of the big three has become: how can we make gaming more integral to your life while ignoring that for many gaming already is?
And I’m kind of sick of it. New ways of interfacing do not necessarily a more integral experience make. Deeper and more meaningful experiences are what make gaming something everyone can enjoy.
I feel video games have come to be an important part of our culture and, as a long time gamer, nothing could make me happier–Well…maybe a few things—but, the bigger issue is that there are now two very different target audiences. Two…generations, if you will. Those who’ve grown up with gaming and those who are getting into it, now that’s its the THING TO DO!
And maybe this is part of why I’m so jaded about gaming as an industry right now. For the most part, games are targeted at that new, incoming audience, even if this is the third installment of a game whose engine hasn’t changed since the first one. As if development studios are afraid that any amount of challenge or ambiguity will convince the player to unhook the console and return it—never mind the cadre of gamers who have played everything they’ve produced ever and are the whole reason that the industry has grown like it has.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not upset about change. That happens. If anything we need some huge change from the current model of consoles pretty much being run by the manufactures and two third party companies who make the same three games every year. But right now, the changes being made are safe bets, just like how most everything that comes out right now is a safe game. Of all the games shown at E3, only a handful were new games. On the stage of business, studios don’t want to risk the hundreds of thousands that it takes to make a game on something unless they’re positive it will succeed (or its a movie tie-in that will make money anyway).
To which I ask, why not make less expensive games and more of ‘em? Haven’t titles like Journey shown we can make games that will get bought despite not being the Hollywood overstatement that is the COD series? Doesn’t the flourishing Indie scene on XBLA show that so long as a game is fun people will come?
Anyway, back to the point at hand. The Wii U as a whole, Microsofts’s SmartGlass thing, and whatever it is that Sony’s trying to do with Wonderbook are plotting a course towards uncharted territory that falls squarely in a region claimed by the second gen and what it comes down to is, that I’m not at all interested in it and not just because I feel its a mass market appeal grab. It’s an issue with the new layer and it not being used to enrich the experience in a way that is meaningful.
Sure, using the Wiimote as a stand-in for the mouse opens up a whole world of potential to be explored and new immersion to be brought. But be honest, how many games can you think of where the motion improved your immersion? How many that were ruined by it? How well do you think people other than Nintendo will use the Wii U pad? How much will bad use of the pad detract from games that could have been perfectly serviceable with just a normal controller?
Maybe asking those questions makes me a terrible person, but they’re questions that need to be asked before we really go forward with a new evolution of gaming and then end up in a place we can’t sustain.
Some of you might remember that I did a post a couple weeks back about how I wasn’t impressed with Diablo 3. A few said I was rushing to judge a game based on the Beta. So I took a second look at the game.
Taking a look at the game after its launch, I’ll admit a few of my nit-picks were the Beta’s fault and they seem to have been addressed, but my chief problems are still present. See, my issue with Diablo 3 isn’t the casual difficulty or the art direction. I understand Blizzard isn’t an underground success story any more, they are compelled by their recent track record to take the mainstream into account. So I’m fine with the game being pants on head easy and overly hand holdy at the start, really I am. I don’t mind that the game feels like a 3/4 WoW in terms of graphics. I mean, realistically, artistic representations are easier to render and less strain on systems than faux realism. It’s lost a little of the Dark Fantasy feeling, but that happens when a franchise stops living in the shadows.
Now, why I’m still not impressed. My problems with the UI and the MMO focus on the End Game Content remain–the second of which will probably never change. Granted, I’ve seen some pretty cool dungeons while watching some people stream but, to me at least, the way that the game progresses makes the journey to Act III seem like any other typical MMO and less like the dungeon crawler I fell in love with. Part of that is the aforementioned hand holding, but much of it is how D3 does skills. If every Monk gets the same skills at the same points, there doesn’t seem–to me at least–to be much of an encouragement to play two Monks.
Perhaps I should explain where I’m coming from and maybe my angst over this point will make more sense. If I’m honest, I hardly ever get to the end of a dungeon crawler more than once, much less an MMO, unless I’m playing with a party. After the first campaign, I usually just boot it up and play through the first act or so until the itch has been scratched. Sometimes I get super far, even to the end, other times I don’t even finish Act 2. This applies to PSO, Ragnarok, or even Secret of Mana just a much as Diablo 2. Playing this way has two advantages. First, I never get to the point where the game starts to be a chore, its always fun. Second, I know what build I want to play going in. I don’t need to think about skill choices or stat allocations. I’m just mowing things down and enjoying myself.
And maybe this just my arcade roots showing, but the start of a game is, to me, one of the most exciting parts of a dungeon crawler or RPG. When you first start out its full of surprises, full of new things, full of apprehension and tension. You aren’t the unkillable badass you’ll be in twenty levels. And when you play again later, on another character just starting out, you really feel how much you’ve improved as a player at the game, you’re confident, a veteran, but you still know the game is dangerous. It’s a different quality of confidence than end game, the kind that lets you try doing dangerous things, that lets you really adventure.
Which is why I’m personally at odds with the way D3 is handling skills. On a second character I can’t do what I want, I still have to follow the rails and I don’t feel like I’m adventuring. Maybe it’s just me, but the fact that I can’t start a new Mage and just go Warmth and Frozen Armor until Frost Nova, bothers me. I do not like that have to pick up every skill between. Yes, I suppose I don’t need to use them, but that’s just the thing. Instead of getting to decide to pick up the next rune for Frozen Armor, I get handed a spell I won’t use. Instead of being able to go right into Shiver Armor at level 12, I have to wait until I hit the level that game unlocks it at.
Again, at the far end of the game, it’s not a big deal–but that’s only enforcing the point I’m making. The game feels like it doesn’t care about the levels up to 30 or even 20, its doesn’t feel like it wants you to go back and play the first act with another of the same character–it wants you to get to Act 3 and all the juicy end game content. Maybe that’s why its so hand holdy, so that someone who plays like me can drop back into Act 3 after not playing for a week and forgetting everything that was going on.
The other thing that bothers me about skills is the UI for setting them. In a game like Diablo, you need to be flexible because who knows what’s around the next corner. So when I have to stop interacting with the game and fiddle with a menu to swap my skills, it’s a deal breaker for me. Again, this might just be a problem that’s limited to be and how I play. I’m fairly certain not many swapped their skills as often as I did in Diablo 2, and maybe much of that was just having two skill slots and now with the seven that might be less of an issue, it still doesn’t excuse a menu that breaks immersion. Everything else for D3 is on a half screen menu, so why did skills have to be a box in the middle of my screen?
I guess ultimately my issues with Diablo 3 are just mine and they might as well come down to “It isn’t Diablo 2.” Likely I’ll give the game a solid session at some point and maybe I’ll like it more. Not sure right now.