Friday, April 28, 2017

Faking Your Way in Video Game Chats

Sometimes the internet takes itself way too seriously. And then there's Kotaku to lighten it up with a silly article. 'How To Fake Your Way Through Conversations About The Hottest Video Games.' If you ignore the comments of people not realizing that this was meant to be a humorous article, it's lighthearted approach can be charming.

Obviously the honest way into, and out, or these conversations about games is to be upfront and say "I haven't played it." Then wait until the topic changes to something that you can comment on while you stand to the side like an awkward duck.

Been there. Done that. The chat typically turns into "oh, so this is why you have to play" and then you'll be bombarded with dozens of reasons on why you should try it out. Even if you have no interest in it (sorry dudes; you're not getting me to play Final Fantasy XV).

My go-to response is "I've heard a few things about the game, but I haven't had time to play it." This is my reality. I'm absorbed in the gaming culture, but with so much out there to play, there just isn't time to try it all. Not between work, my second business, and this blog. It doesn't help that March was open-world bonanza month, and I am now attempting to 100% all of these games I've had to neglect. And I must complete all the things. The response also keeps me active in the conversation so I can enjoy the discussion without having to slink off. Try it some time. You have my permission to use it.

Whatever your reasons for not playing the latest games, that's okay! You do you and enjoy this silly article from Kotaku. Don't take it so seriously.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

Starting the Round Up early again. There are too many great, and silly stories to pass by on a day like today. Let's jump into it! Here are the best, and worst, video game articles on the internet right now:

- Nintendo announced yesterday that it has partnered with fast-food chain McDonalds for a series of Happy Meal toys available now through May 22nd. This upset PETA, because it's PETA. 'In a statement emailed to GameRevoltuion, PETA said "Nintendo should stay in the business of selling creative video games, not cruel and unhealthy chicken nuggets." ' PETA has had a longstanding feud with multiple fast-food companies and Nintendo for Mario's Tanooki suit. I saw ignore PETA and go enjoy your Happy Meal. They're looking for attention where there's none to be had.

- eSports may be one step closer to the Olympics. Announced April 18th by the Olympic Council of Asia, eSports will make it's debut at their event, the 2022 Asian Games. The Asian Games is the Olympics for Asian countries. With the rising popularity of eSports, it seems like a natural progression. Last year, eSports brought in 214 million unique viewers. Only 4 countries in the world have populations larger then the viewer numbers. We don't know the details yet on what games will be available or how teams will be selected to participate, but you can bet we will all be watching to see what happens.

- WhatCulture is at it again with a list of 9 Ways All Open-World Games Are Starting to Suck. Among the contenders are "pointless upgrade systems," "big is too big," and "crafting systems are boring." Okay first off, Josh Brown, who wrote this article, needs to find better games or actually play the games he's bashing on. Seems like a number of his comments are copy/paste rants from gamer forums. While I think many of us could agree that fetch quests needs to be brought to an end, and some new takes on those side-quests would be appreciated, a number of games have perfected open-world in their own way. The Witcher 3 has a great balance between pacing and gameplay that you feel involved in the action without it losing steam. Horizon: Zero Dawn provides amazing landscapes that change as you cross the relm, as well as a crafting system that is sensible while being enjoyable. Mass Effect: Andromeda's side-quests are to help you terraform a planet so it can become liveable. I don't know about you all, but going to find a source of water for a colony seems like a pretty big deal. While I get what WhatCulture is trying to convey, they've once again missed the mark.

- Not to be outdone on the lists, JOE (with advertisement placement by Microsoft so...thanks for that?) looks at 11 games that re-wrote the gaming rule book. The games that changed how we play while turning the industry on it's head. For a Microsoft sponsored article, this is actually a pretty good list. You have classics such as Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog along with new-commers like Pokémon Go and Minecraft. While I'm not a fan of the sponsored posts, the writer gets a thumbs up on providing a list that makes sense.

- XBox head honcho Phil Spencer is imagining a world where video games become Netflix. The model of paying a monthly fee for unlimited access to content, while allowing developers of all ranges produce content at their pace. Games can be released in episodes like Hitman or all at once, as is the tradition. As more people gain access to broadband connections, the concept isn't that farfetched. Sony and Microsoft both offer a slimmed down version of a Netflix-like service for people to rent games monthly. But what Spencer hopes will happen is that systems will better support developers by providing the tools and servers. It becomes a more open flow of content that could give better content to customers. I think we're a ways off before companies feel willingly to give up their secrets to merge with other servers, but it's a nice dream to have.

- Finally for something random, is Uber CEO's Travis Kalanick really the 2nd best Wii Tennis player in the world? It's one of those odd anecdote's the company uses to make Kalanick more relatable to the general public. So Motherboard decided to research this since no one was refuting the claim, and they found that it's near impossible to justify Kalanick's words. There are 2 issues: which Wii game was this for, as there is no Wii Tennis, and there are no world records available for Wii Sports or Wii Sports Club (according to game record holders Twin Galaxies). Neither of these games held online leaderboards either. People would post to message boards their stats - which was a skill level and not a point value of wins/losses. It's possible that Kalanick spoke about the wrong game and meant Grand Slam Tennis, another Wii title that did have an online scoreboard. Motherboard is still awaiting a response from EA in regards to a copy of the rankings dating back to 2009. But for Wii Sports? It's probably unlikely and Uber needs to drop that tidbit. Who would want that as their claim to fame when you run a billion-dollar company?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

SNES Mini - What Games Would You Play?

Everyone is speculating the piss out of an Super Nintendo Entertainment System Mini. When will it release? What's the price point? How many games will it hold? Will it be on the market for longer then 6 months? The NES compact console swept in like a tornado this past holiday season, and even with it's store-shelf rarity, Nintendo has discontinued production. This has instantly lead people to think that Nintendo may do this again with it's other consoles, with the SNES being next in line.

Let's make one thing clear right now: Nintendo has not made a single statement that there will be another mini console.

This is all 100%, pulling out of our ass assumptions based off of the popularity of the NES Mini.

Got it? Okay.

But it doesn't hurt to play the speculation game and think about the "what ifs." Should there be an SNES Mini, what games would it come with? The SNES is considering the quintessential 90's system, the start of the consoles wars as the battle between Nintendo and Sega began. With it came hundreds of amazing games that are still considered classics even by today's standards.

There are the obvious Mario games, like Super Mario World and Super Mario Kart. But some welcome additions would be Bomberman, Donkey Kong Country, and Super Mario RPG. Now this is just a wish-list, because there is a lot of contract negotiations that would need to go on behind the scenes for such a thing to happen. DKC, while part of the Nintendo brand, was developed by Rare. Since the game's release, the licensing agreement for Donkey Kong has gone though so many hands that to come to an agreement about re-releasing it will be tricky.

For me, some of the best SNES games are from Squaresoft, now SquareEnix. That would be Super Mario RPG, Chrono Trigger, and Final Fantasy VI. With the exception of FF6, none of these games have been remastered or re-released. FF6's only update was for a PlayStation 1 port that changed out the cutscenes to 3D models, while maintaining the sprites through the gameplay. While the two companies have been steadily working on rebuilding their friendship, these games are not going to resurface anytime soon.

But there are other options that are within Nintendo's grasp. Earthbound is a top contender, given that the game was released on Wii Virtual Console. As well as any Mega Man game and Star Fox. All of these have been given fair play on Nintendo's virtual stores and would be easy to send back to the SNES.

We can't forget about other classics like Super Metroid, Super Tennis (because there must be at least 1 sports game), and Super Castlevania IV. Because it's the SNES, so it all must be Super.

In time we'll see if the SNES Mini comes true, until then, speculate away and don't trust anyone!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Embrace the Holodeck Dream for Video Games

Are video games better without a narrative? Noted author and authoritarian on video game academia, Ian Bogost, believes that games are holding themselves back (in a sense) by only allowing themselves to exist when bundled with a story. The idea of games becoming Star Trek's Holodeck, is a dream that should be dropped, according to Bogost.

If there is a future of games, let alone a future in which they discover their potential as a defining medium of an era, it will be one in which games abandon the dream of becoming narrative media and pursue the one they are already so good at: taking the tidy, ordinary world apart and putting it back together again in surprising, ghastly new ways.

Bogost is a repeat offender on The Geek Spot. Having read his work during my Masters and PhD years at college, I'm open to his ideas but I'm not always on board. Which is why I think his latest article 'Video Games Are Better Without Stories' is missing the mark. Are some games better when they forgo the narrative? Sure. Video games are one of the few entertainment mediums where there are no boundaries. If you want to make a game that allows people to build anything to their hearts content, you can do that. Or provide a space to allow people to code and communicate with each other from across the world, there are games for that too. It's an art form that isn't like films, television, theater, or books. It has transcended to something wholly unto it's own where narrative and the Holodeck can exist in the same space.

But to say that all video games are better without stories, that's pretty far-fetched. Narratives are a gateway into gaming. They provide familiar territory for the uninitiated, while expanding on the beauty of telling stories. There's nothing wrong with telling or creating a story in a game. It's a power few of us have in reality - to tell a digital being to walk, move, run, and make decisions that alter the course of the game is exciting as well as rewarding. How many of us say we have that luxury in our realities? Probably few to none. If I had the ability to change things at my job, whether it's better or worse, I would. But I can't and I never will be able to. Games let me live out possibilities that I wouldn't have in reality; whether it's to save a princess from a castle or to help create life in a far-off galaxy. Even in games like The Sims that deal with the every day, I can make multiple career choices, or none at all. The consequences create dynamic methods of game play that allow me to experience new realities. Each one a story.

I think the problem with Bogost's argument is that he's not seeing that everything we do in our realities and virtual realms revolves around telling a story. It may not be the most interesting one, but our lives are all small stories that makes up one large autobiography that caps off the end of our life. Getting up, washing your face, brushing your teeth, eating breakfast, and starting up the car to go to work/school - that's a story. There's this assumption that stories need to be this grand escapade full of boss fights, monsters, and swashbuckling antics. Stories, like people, come in all different shapes, styles, and sizes. One of my favorite indie games is Papers Please where you are a government official at an immigration-like office. Your job is to review papers and determine who is allowed in your country and who isn't. It's a repetitive task of stamping papers, so the gameplay is lackluster at times. However by the end, it could change how you view people. Even yourself. Immigration is a complicated political and social issue. So to have a game that focuses on this topic is a challenge. The story provided is your story. You determine right from wrong; good and bad. If you went into the game without a narrative behind it, knowing your role and your character, it wouldn't be as impactful. The player needs a story to provide depth and understanding to their actions.

Now I don't believe that Bogost is entirely wrong about games relying too much on telling over the top stories. Some could take a cue from their indie partners and tone down the content, while still delivering a compelling game. But everything in our life is a narrative, and games are an extension of our storytelling. It's an important part of our society that a game without a story isn't a game at all. It's nothing. Hold on to that Holodeck dream.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Voice Actor Strike Update: Signed Contracts and Controversy

SAG-AFTRA has had a busy few weeks, marred by controversy and negotiations with individual game developers as the strike with voice actors continues. Late last week, the board of directors issued a statement against the leaders of the union for misusing funds to finance items outside of the AFTRA group. These include limousine rides to events, plane tickets for family members, and cell phone numbers for families. The money comes from the union fees that actors pay to be apart of the guild. The board has asked the union's general counsel to start an independent review by an outside party to see if these accusations are correct, and what the next step should be. It's a weird situation because the board has faced this same scenario years ago, and the allegations proved to be false. They don't want to fall into the same pit as last time and wrongly accuse people until proof is provided. Thus confidence in SAG-AFTRA is still high among it's members.

So the guild is continuing their work with providing more benefits to actors. They have established a committee for an upcoming contract renewal with Telemundo. And the board has reiterated their backing with the video game strike. As we move into the 7th month, Chief Contracts Officer Ray Rodriguez has signed 23 companies to it's new contract terms for the production of 30 games over the upcoming years. 26 of those games are labeled as "high budget." The list of companies was not disclosed, but it's believed to be a mix of mid-sized and AAA companies that rely on bigger named talents affiliated with AFTRA. You know the joke about how no game can be released without Nolan North? With the expanse of his voice acting chops, he's earned that right. He's a SAG member. If you want him in your game, you have to play by the new rules.

Some gaming companies are okay with the new rules for payment and compensation, but the fight is still on against the other major players. Activision, EA, and Take-Two haven't announced any deals or agreements with AFTRA, so both parties are looking to camp out this strike for as long as it takes.

Friday, April 21, 2017

RPG Love Will Find A Way!

I have a legitimate problem. One that requires an immense amount of thinking, calculations, and queries among friends. And I'm sure some of you have faced the same concerns with other RPG's. This one has been tough. In the dozens of hours I have placed into this game on random weeknights when insomnia has kicked in, this will probably be my most difficult decision yet.

Who do I bang in Mass Effect: Andromeda?

This is a real issue for multiple reasons:

1 - Time. In that I don't have a lot of it to go through several playthroughs of the game to see how interactions and scene changes with Ryder, the primary protagonist. I'm hovering at that 50 hour mark and 64-67% completion. I have finished every side quest so far and all that's left is the priority mission - until more side quests appear. I'm estimating a 70 hour game when all is said and done. It's not possible for me to run through this a second time and expect it to go faster. This is my one shot with a romance. I can't mess it up.

2 -All of the ship companions are pretty cool in their own way. While I have concerns about the lack of one-on-one dialogue options, the companions on this journey have been top. Peebee, the spunky Asari rogue, has grown on me. I found her mildly annoying at first, but now her aloof attitude is more endearing (once I learned pieces of her past.) The hard-nose Turian, Vetra, is self-conscious and pragmatic. She's like me in more ways then I should probably admit. Gil is Gil. He's unintentionally flirtatious and a passionate ass about his work. I appreciate the rough edges of Liam, who's trying to determine what he wants out of life. He isn't certain about his choices and he's constantly growing, mentally and emotionally. And then there's Jaal, who's the brilliant combo of Garrus (Mass Effect) and Alistair (Dragon Age). Which makes him a deliciously cute Jaalapeno. The characters that I enjoyed from the start are now in a contest against the others that I have grown to adore.

3 - I like the human characters. This is Mass Effect. The goal is to bang aliens. At least, it's one of the more important goals. And yet the human options are equally stellar. I think it has to do with the accents. The men all have some suave, non-American accents to accompany their dialogue. It's difficult to overlook such an important aspect. Accents are a thing. And it's hot.

4 - I don't know how much or how little of a romance I'm getting out of this. As is the case with any game you play the first time through, you don't know what the results will be until they happen. BioWare has made it known that romances in Andromeda aren't all about getting someone in the sack. Some of them are more emotional or intellectual. There are some characters that want to pursue a relationship but will give you the option to abstain from doing the giggity entirely. I don't want my Ryder to be the person that pushes an NPC for something they may not want. It's cool if you don't want nookie, but I can't determine that vibe right now from the characters - not until I commit to a relationship.

5 - How do I know there isn't another charming NPC around the corner? I've stumbled onto two so far. One that you can have a fling with and the other provides a solid relationship. Both are quirky in their own ways. But are there more? Would locking myself in to one partner on the ship prevent me from finding a new, possibly more meaningful relationship outside of my bubble?

6 - I don't want to feel locked in if I'm ready to bail. My biggest "well, crap" moment in Mass Effect was when Kaidan dropped the bomb on my femShep and expressed that he had feelings for her. The almost kiss, showing up to her room before Ilos, the whole 9's. And it was not what I wanted. I was being polite. I didn't spend much time with the character when I played as broShep. So I talked to him and learned more about Kaidan's past. Kind of an interesting story. I didn't realize in doing so it triggered every algorithm that caused Kaidan to show up in my crib, to get some lovin'. I turned him down. I wanted an emotional-free ride for game 1. Yet in game 2, it's listed that we were in a relationship. Ugh. By game 3, when he re-expressed his feelings for me and mentioned that he could look past Garrus and I hooking up, I felt like I was Ross Geller from 'Friends.' Dude, we never were together. Stop it. I don't want this to happen again, and I need my Andromeda romance to be fully aware that breaking up is an option.

What's a gamer to do when she wants to bang all the aliens and experience a digital relationship of merit?

Update 4/24/17: I chose the Jaalapeno, and lost 12% of my game completion because of it!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Warning About Switch Emulators

The scarcity of the Nintendo Switch is still a thing, and the company's dumb supply/demand tactics are still working. We really need to stop catering to their whims so they can finally produce an appropriate amount of systems, and not go through years of a Wii shortage. And unfortunately, people are taking advantage of those who really want a Switch. Scalpers are running amuck and selling the system at obscene prices on auction websites. Or they are outright scamming you and you get nothing in return.

The FTC has issued a warning in regards to this; asking people to be aware of a Nintendo Switch Emulator scam.

This might be the first time the FTC has stepped in for anything gaming related.

If you have seen any advertisements or received e-mails about a Nintendo Switch Emulator with the Nintendo branded icon, don't believe it. No such thing currently exists. People have been asked to provide their e-mail addresses, credit cards, or more to win, or buy, the emulator. Some have even received a program to download, which is actually a virus that ends up stealing the stuff on your computer.

People are quickly falling for these scams due to the Switch's popularity. They want one. They can't get one through conventional methods. These websites and advertisements look legitimate, so people are signing up in droves. It's not right, but this is part of the nature of the beast when Nintendo can't provide enough supply to meet demand - it screws over good people.

If you think you've been a victim of the scam, make sure to report it to the FTC with as much detail as you can.

Always remain vigilant, gamers! If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

Starting early with the Weekly Link Round Up. Lots of small bits of gaming news on the internet today. Not enough to hold down a discussion, but we can take the tiny bites and squish them into one post. Here's what we've got:

- Video games are big business. Now that, that "no duh" moment has sunken into your head, if you're curious about who's been investing into gaming companies these days thanks to this handy list by Forbes. Some of the biggest names in business have been investing in smaller gaming companies, eSports teams, all the way up to Rovio (Angry Birds). Interesting to see who's playing with the gamers these days.

- Kotaku looks at the art of the video game poster, and the time it takes to develop one. Like movie posters, they need to entice and attract the audience to prompt them to buy the product. Devil is in the details as a poster can be a make or break for a potential buyer. In many cases, the poster becomes the box art for the game, so there's even more at stake for the general customer that picks up the game to take a look at it. Game posters need to be compelling, inspiring, and give a taste of the content in the product without giving it all away.

- The Guardian has an opinion piece looking at the future of video games, arguing that the best games are the ones that don't focus on trying to save the world. It all boils down to your personal opinion in the end. But there are quite a few games on the market today that have epic-level content centered around characters not saving the world.

- WhatCulture is at it again with a list of 8 annoying mistakes developers continue to make. And it's a standard WhatCulture list. Some of it is silly, like celebrity voice actors (some of them are  phenomenal), and larger maps. What's wrong with a bigger map? With cities in Grand Theft Auto V you need that immersive map scaling to make it feel like a living, breathing entity. Sorry WhatCulture. You're being knocked down a peg again for your crappy lists.

- The Witcher author, because of course there are books, is sour about the reputation of the games. People are more interested in the games, so he's seeing a loss in sales. Andrzej Sapkowski claims that he made the games popular with his Western translations. Which is confusing and contradicts timelines as the game was first released in 2006, the book wasn't translated until 2007. What's even more confusing is that Sapkowski acknowledges that the games have brought him just as many book sales as he has lost. What? Look, if you're going to be angry at a game for losing money after your books were released, it's silly but whatever. You can be angry. But you can't also be happy that you made money because of the games. Pick a stance and stick to it!

- If you wanted that Nintendo Classic system? Well snatch one wherever you can. Nintendo is already taking it off the market after only being available for a few months during the holiday season. It's still near impossible to find, and there are already rumors flying that there may be an SNES Classic out later this year. Who knows for sure, but this holiday fiend is still selling hot so it's a surprise that Nintendo is pulling it so swiftly.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

That's Not How You Hold A Controller

Dumb post incoming, but it's my birthday today. After this craptacular month, I'm allowed to enjoy something mindless. Such as this all important question: why does it seem like no one in television or movies knows how to properly play a video game?

No really. Why is it? We see actors take driving seriously as well as piloting space ships, dune buggies, and any random assortment of odd vehicles. Most of the time they know how to hold a weapon correctly. Accuracy may be questionable, but that's at the fault of the director and editors, not the actors. But video games? Well no one in movies seems to know how to properly play them. Or mimic playing them.

You don't have to be a gamer to know that you can't hold a controller loosely in your hands, or in a death grip. Controllers are designed to fit snugly in your palms so your fingers can easily rest over the buttons and directional pad without excess strain to your digits. Gaming gear has advanced since the days of Atari. The same applies to keyboards and mice. Have you seen how many different models are on the market these days? Even standard office keyboards are starting to embrace the raised design and wrist rests to ensure a more fluid, and comfortable typing experience. You don't have to be a gamer to know that you need a mouse to play nearly all games on a PC/Mac. So when you see a show like 'Dexter' with a Halo 3 marketing tie-in on PC and no mouse in sight, everyone sighs and rolls their eyes. Not just the gamers.

It's laughably bad at how poorly actors pantomime playing video games. Even advertisements suck at this, with kids and adults slamming arcade buttons with intense fury or swinging a Wii-mote like their lives depended on it. Check out some ridiculous acting choices thanks to Polygon. And actors, please try to do better. You don't have to actually play a game, but go to an arcade or watch your kids play and mimic those actions. Please.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Hands Free Driving with GTA5

Driverless cars are going to be the wave of the future with vehicle technology. Some trucking companies already use it in a stripped-down version, to ensure that their drivers have enough time to eat and rest without having to stop. It's going to happen. But with the amount of testing that needs to be done before these cars can hit the road en' mass, they need to go through thousands of hours of rigorous simulations. Enter video games!

Ford, Toyota, and everyone in between has been looking to video games to make up for the man hours that they can't utilize. And what better way to stress test your vehicle then to use Grand Theft Auto V. I want to joke about this, but I can't when it's true. The reality is that there isn't enough data from actual road tests to make driverless cars ready. They need virtual substitutes and there's where games like GTA come in handy to help provide more simulations.

Why GTA5 and not Gran Turismo? For one, GT is a racing game in high speed vehicles that 95% of the population doesn't own. Not to mention, completely impractical to use as a test case. GTA5 utilizes some more logical real-world simulations for how people are suppose to drive. When you remove the gamer from the equation, the NPC's in GTA tend to drive like how we should when one obeys the traffic laws. They stop at red lights/signs and slow down at yellow lights. They yield to highway off ramps. They move safely out of the way for emergency vehicles. If you sit and watch the flow of traffic in the game, it's quite lovely. This is how people should drive when they follow the rules. It's not 100% perfect as game glitches or miscalculations in the coding happen. But without player intervention, for the most part, the cars move as they are suppose to.

What makes GTA5 also stand out from counterparts is that it utilizes over 1,000 unpredictable pedestrian behavior, different weather conditions including snow, and 262 types of vehicles. It provides the random nature of humanity while allowing for safe driving to be a factor.

So companies are utilizing GTA5 to help code their driverless vehicles and to provide more simulated environments to test them. I'd love to see the crew at Toyota through this process. You know some of them are gamers and giddy at the prospect of using GTA5.