Weekly News Recap – January 12, 2015

Now that we’re starting to get farther away from the holidays, the news is starting to flow again. As I do every week, I got a couple stories here that I think are worth your time.

Evolve Cover

EVOLVE OPEN BETA IS UP AND RUNNING
The first major new game for 2015 would probably be considered Evolve, which launches next month. Even though the game has already gone gold, Turtle Rock Studios is hosting a second pre-release session. There was the Big Alpha back in the fall, and now we have a bit larger scale Open Beta. The cool thing is that any progress will carry over through to the full game, including character unlocks – although the pre-order incentive on the Xbox One unlocks all the later characters/monsters. To me the more important part of the beta is that we have access to all 12 maps, including the “campaign” mode starting tomorrow. It’s a bit more fleshed out than it was during the Big Alpha, which is to be expected. Evolve is still set to be a pretty solid first release of the year, which I think bodes well for 2015.

Destiny The Dark Below

CROTA’S END HARD MODE RAID LAUNCHES NEXT WEEK
As for Destiny‘s current state, Bungie just released a patch that fixes a bunch of cheese exploits in the Crota’s End raid on the Moon. This week they also announced that next week, they’ll flip the switch and turn on Hard Mode for the Crota’s End raid. While the specifics for just what the Hard Mode will entail are still veiled in secrecy, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that since it’s starting at level 33, it’ll be a challenge for all players, regardless of their level. The good part is that we know a bit more about the primary weapons we’ll unlock for beating it.

New Nintendo 3DS Majoras Mask

NINTENDO HAS NEW 3DS DETAILS
With the latest Nintendo Direct, they’ve nailed down some of the details on the upcoming release of the New Nintendo 3DS. First, the smaller model won’t be out in the States. Second, the special edition – featuring Majora’s Mask artwork – sold out almost instantly. Having had my 3DS for about three or so years now, I’ve never really felt the need to upgrade – although now that new ones have Amiibo support, it might be worth it for games that take advantage of them.

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What The DLC for Rock Band Means

Rock Band 3 CoverI have always been a huge fan of the Rock Band series. So with this week’s surprise DLC announcement and subsequent (rocky) launch, it got me thinking about other songs that really need to show up on the game. I did a similar post a few weeks ago, but I’m going to take a little more specific approach with this one. Instead of looking at classics, I’m going to look at more contemporary songs.

AVENGED SEVENFOLD – “PLANETS”
Since this recent DLC pack included a song off the same album, I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility to think that we could see another song off of Hail to the King make an appearance. While the lead single off the album was the title track, which does feature some really kicker shredding; my choice would be the more atmospheric “Planets.” The chorus in “Planets” is so intense, that it alone I think warrants inclusion to the game. Great instrumentals, and it may just be the heaviest song on the album. Honorable Mention goes to the ten minute epic “Save Me” from Nightmare.

SLIPKNOT – “THE DEVIL IN I”
Slipknot returned last year with the first new music since Paul Gray’s passing, and while “The Devil In I” wasn’t technically the first single off the album, I think it’s the stronger of the two pre-release singles. I would personally pick this one off .5 The Gray Chapter purely for the drum work during the bridge section. Slipknot’s already featured on the game, with songs from each previous album, so I don’t see why a song or two off the new one can’t join the fun.

WE HUNT BUFFALO – “BLOOD FROM A STONE”
With a bit of a surprise choice here, we have Spotify to thank for this one. I was trying to find King Crimson on there one day, and instead found We Hunt Buffalo’s cover of “21st Century Schizoid Man” and then looked to see anything else they had. I found the title track off of their EP and fell in love with it. “Blood From a Stone” is a great example of a modern sludge drone song – it’s got a killer riff that drives the song. Give it a listen, then hope Harmonix puts it on the game.

ENTER SHIKARI – “THE LAST GARRISON”
A band that I’ve never really understood how they haven’t showed up in the game yet. Blending a whole bunch of genres to create a sound that is purely their own. With their most recent single, “The Last Garrison” they use their electronic music side to create a pretty intense breakdown during the verses. Musically it’s varied, with both heavy sections and clean melodic ones as well. It would need a little censoring to show up on the game, but it’s worth the effort.

BRING ME THE HORIZON – “DROWN”
With one last pick, I went with the most recent single from the British metalcore rockers, “Drown.” It’s a little more straightforward than their other singles, but it’s got a really good feel to it. The groove is strong – with a feeling to it that keeps the song moving forward the whole time. There really isn’t anything super over the top with this song, although there is a pretty solid drum-roll section during the bridge. It’s just an all around great song choice that would fit well in the game. If we’re talking about a song off their previous album,Sempiternal, I would go with “Sleepwalking,” “Shadow Moses,” or “Antivist.”

Let’s Talk About That Destiny Leak

Destiny The Dark BelowOver the last couple weeks there’s been a picture floating around on the Destiny SubReddit, that apparently shows the plan for the next year or so with Destiny. I haven’t actually taken the time to talk about what the image supposedly shows, and beyond that, how I feel about the leak.

Let’s start with my thoughts on the leak, cause there’s less there to talk about. Leaks are part of the game these days, and generally the info tends to be either outdated, or in accurate. Usually the leaks come from second parties, people that are one step away from the actual development of the games. In this case, the leak seems to have come from a source inside Bungie – perhaps a former employee. To me, that lends a bit more credibility to the info. So to me, this leak maybe holds a bit more weight than the typical internet “leak/rumor.”

As for this particular leak, the info is piecemeal, but I think it shows some really cool potential content coming out later this year and into next year for Destiny. The image shows the content that’s included in the base game in terms of strikes, patrols, planets, raids and PvP maps. It then shows the same thing for the future DLC – starting with the Dark Below pack that just came out in December. The pertinent info for players now is that the image shows off the coming DLC. It looks like the House of Wolves is going to be coming out in March, adding in the Reef as a location. Bungie has said that the raid for House of Wolves is going to take place in the Reef, and based around the leak, it looks like the strike will take place there too.

Image from @LittleBigOkey

But we already knew that info – Bungie had already talked pretty in depth about these first two DLC packs. The leak also shows off a bunch more new info – the most interesting new bit is the new DLC set for September of this year apparently named Comet. It looks like this content is going to be a bit bigger, with the current thoughts/rumors putting it at a pretty hefty $60 price point. Whether that’s true or not remains to be seen – my guess would be we’ll learn more at E3 this year. From what we can tell from the image, it looks like this pack is adding a whole new Patrol zone. My initial thought was that it was going to add a new planet, but from the high res image that’s on the Sub Reddit, it looks more like the new Patrol will be on the Hive Ship, which it looks like is the new area added. What that actually means, who knows – but it would be the second content pack that deals with Hive enemies. The other two packs, which are still a ways off look to deal with the other two enemy types – Vex for the “third” pack and Cabal for the final one. I say “third” because it’s being called the third, but in reality the Comet pack will be.

Destiny has been a game that’s got a fairly divided fan base – the story issues are definitely pretty well documented, but there is still a pretty good player base. The game still is fun, if a bit repetitive and grindy. The DLC packs are a good way to breathe some new life into the game, at the very least for a few months or so. Hopefully we hear a bit more about the new content soon – at the latest at E3 though for sure.

Rock and Roll Ain’t Dead After All

Rock Band 3 CoverIn a surprising move yesterday, Harmonix announced a brand new three-pack of songs for Rock Band 3. This new set of DLC is the first new content for the game since April of 2013. Whether this means that consistent DLC is back for the game remains to be seen. My personal thought is that seems unlikely, but this is encouraging that there might be some more coming along the way. So to celebrate the release today of the three songs, let’s take a look at them.

ARCTIC MONKEYS – ” R U MINE?”
The indie choice of the three-pack, this is a pretty solid rocker on all fronts. It’s definitely got a great guitar riff that repeats through the song, with some really solid drum work to go with it. That said though I think the “instrument” that really shines on this track from the English rockers is the vocals. Alex Turner has a really strong voice that carries weight with the song – it’s got a smokey feeling to it, kind of like some of the rock singers of old. I’m not the worlds biggest Arctic Monkeys fan – I think I just missed their radio play when they got big, but this song is definitely a strong opener to the return of DLC.

FOO FIGHTERS – “SOMETHING FROM NOTHING”
It wouldn’t be a DLC pack for Rock Band if there wasn’t a song from the Foos. A band that is featured incredibly prominently in the existing DLC for the series, this song is off of their most recent album, Sonic Highways. Like a bunch of the newer Foo Fighters songs, this is a bit of a slow burner – it starts with a nice low-key verse or two, before the guitars really start to pick up the pace. It’s got a pretty nice riff, that’s pretty reminiscent of Dio’s “Holy Diver” – different for sure, but it echoes it. It’s a pretty standard Foos song, solid on all instruments, with a great use of dynamics; and complete with a hell of a solo out of nowhere in the final minute or so. If you’re burnt out on Foo Fighters, I can understand skipping it, but I think it’s a pretty damn solid song.

AVENGED SEVENFOLD – “SHEPHERD OF FIRE”
Rounding out the new three pack, we get another old favorite band, Avenged Sevenfold. While the band might get a bunch of flak from the metal know-it-alls, I think they’re a really great modern metal band, and the new album, Hail to the King has a few really good choices that I think would translate well to the game. They picked the more recent single, “Shepherd of Fire” which is pretty typical of the band’s sound, but definitely works well. Great guitar riffs through the song, strong drums, and great vocals – M. Shadows’ voice is so unique and sounds great on this song. Add in a killer solo from Synyster Gates at the bridge section and you have a winner for the final song in the new three-pack of songs.

Hopefully this new pack of DLC can revitalize the game a bit – even though it’s a last-gen game. I would really love to see there be a bunch more packs, especially since there’s no word on a new full game release. Rock Band 3 is one of the few games that I still play consistently on the 360, and I’m super, super happy to see more come out.

Minecraft Monday: Mega Man 3 – The Project That Just Doesn’t End

Megaman 3 Stage SelectI mentioned last week that I had actually started work on the Mega Man 3 section of my big Minecraft pixel art project. As I’ve mentioned a few times in preparation for this section, the Title Screen was the part I was looking forward to the least. I dragged my feet last week and didn’t really put a ton of time into it, thanks to new Halo 5: Guardians Beta content, as well as really grinding in Destiny.

That said, I put in about 3.5 hours of work last night to catch up to where I think I should be. The current state is that six of the nine portraits are done, with only the top row (Spark Man, Snake Man, and Needle Man) to finish. The hang-up the whole time going has been, as I thought, the repeated “Mega Man III” in the whole background. The actual pattern for the words isn’t terribly complicated, it’s just the fact that it’s repeated all over the whole screen – with one row of them with one variation. The series that is lined up with the tops of the bottom portraits actually all have one row of pixels for the top bar in the “III,” while all the others have two. It’s just one more thing to have to double check.

One nice thing that I’ve noticed is that the portraits for the Robot Masters have a pretty simple color scheme. I’ve been able to keep a pretty standard hot bar – with Blue and Cyan wool, Red wool and pink clay covering all but one Robot Master. That having been said, the one that’s different I haven’t gotten to yet, so it’s really not that big an issue (it’s Snake Man.)

Snake Man

One last thing that I want to note today: I’ve taken a little artistic license with the portraits in this game. In the actual sprites of a lot of the Robot Masters, the darker color for the shadows on their faces is the same as the one used for light red in them as well. I instead subbed it out on their faces for a darker skin tone color that I think adds a bit of realism to them, while still holding true to the source material. I’m actually considering going back and changing the portraits in Mega Man 4 after I finish this one. It might not be 100% accurate, but I think it helps give the mugshots a little more life. As it stands now, my plan is to finish the Stage Select today, and start the Title Screen later on.

Weekly News Recap – January 5, 2015

Since this week was probably the first week back for most people in the world of games, this week has been pretty low-key for news. That said, there were a few things worth mentioning.

Games Done Quick 2015 Logo

AWESOME GAMES DONE QUICK RAISES TONS OF MONEY TO BEAT CANCER
This week has been the annual speed running convention Awesome Games Done Quick (AGDQ) which as of the writing this post, has raised almost $600,000 for the Prevent Cancer Foundation. I talked yesterday about my thoughts on speed running in general, which have been shaped mainly thanks to watching the GDQs over the last couple years. They’ve been archiving the runs on YouTube, slowly going as the week has progressed. There are a number of great run on the GDQArchive channel – Super Mario Bros. 3, Kaizo Mario World, Battletoads co-op – among many more.

Smite Cover

SMITE OPENS UP XBOX ONE BETA APPLICATIONS
One other nice little news bit was that Hi Rez Studios has started accepting sign-ups for the upcoming beta for Smite on Xbox One. While there’s still no firm release date for the full game, nor the upcoming beta; it’s always a good idea to get signed up as soon as possible. This week also featured a pretty cool cinematic trailer on the Store on Xbox Live to help promote the game/beta. Even not being a particularly big fan of MOBAs, I’m curious to see how well Smite will translate to the Xbox One.

Twitch.tv logo

MICROSOFT LOOSENS UP ON TWITCH/YOUTUBE MONETIZATION
One last bit of news that came out today actually was that Microsoft is making official their stance on YouTube and Twitch content creators making money on Let’s Plays and Streams. They’ve set up a series of rules that content creators will need to follow of course, but if they do, Microsoft Studios is fine with them making a few bucks showing off their games. It looks like the rules are set up in such a way as to give Microsoft a bit of legal protection to keep their projects protected, but in general, the people that really deserve to make money from the Let’s Plays and Twitch streams would be following the rules anyway.

Speed Saves – How One Charity Event Changed My View on Speed Runs

Battletoads CoverI don’t think I’m totally alone with my original thoughts on speed runs. A few years back I thought of them as people missing the point of playing the games – they were just blazing through as fast as possible. My perspective on speed running has completely changed though – those original thoughts were just plain wrong. And my shift in thought is entirely due to Ray (of Achievement Hunter fame) continually talking up one runner in particular – Caleb Hart. I, on a whim, checked out his race of Mega Man X1 from AGDQ (Awesome Games Done Quick) last year with Zewing. I was 100% blown away. It wasn’t someone just racing through the game – it was a clinic on precision and skill to blitz through the game. I’ve since watched a number of runners, streams, and archived runs on YouTube – including a bunch from this year’s AGDQ, which is going on right now.

I look at speed runs now as more like an academic study of a particular game. The goal – ultimately a World Record time – is essentially your thesis, the lens you’re looking at the game through. The runners study the most basic elements of the games – frames and pixels – and break them down to help attain that WR. For example, Caleb is well known for a trick in Mega Man X called “Iceless.” It requires nailing a perfect wall dash jump, off of one specific pixel, and then grabbing a ledge thanks to again, one pixel. The precision required is unreal – I spent about 15 minutes trying one day to get it. And now Caleb is able to hit it, consistently, in the middle of a run. It’s incredibly common to hear runners talk about frame-perfect and pixel perfect jumps. The Mexican Runner, a runner who specializes in Battletoads, in his run from last year’s AGDQ explains the mechanic for dash-jumping in Battletoads. It’s an NES game that runs at 60fps, and in order to dash and carry that momentum into a jump, it requires frame perfect input – and watching his runs makes you realize just what level of skill these players are playing at.

Mega Man X

One last game that I think perfectly exemplifies speed running (MMX is a great one too) is the SNES classic, Super Metroid. It’s a game that has been run countless times, but even as recently as last summer had new tactics discovered. Go watch the videos on YouTube – Zoast’s run at SGDQ (Summer Games Done Quick) 2013, the four-way race at AGDQ 2014 and Zoast and Ivan’s runs from SGDQ last year – and you’ll quickly get a good feel for just how much that game’s mechanics have evolved and become more understood. The runs themselves are always impressive, but the best parts of these runs are the couch commentators – the other runners, not currently playing that help breakdown the crazy tactics required to play that fast. The Super Metroid runs all have Golden on the couch, Battletoads has PJ, and Caleb handles both duties with his runs generally. These runners understand that with these events, the audience is way larger than usual, thanks to the added aspect that both GDQ’s are also charity drives. This year’s AGDQ is raising money for the Prevent Cancer Foundation – and has raised well over $500K already.

If you’ve never thought about watching speed runs, this is the very best time to start – there are incredible runs online from the AGDQ already. They vary in games too – from well known classics like Super Mario Bros. 3, to hidden gems like Kid Chameleon. Regardless of which game you decide to start on, you’ll find a runner that’s supremely knowledgeable about their game, and shows off that skill with incredible precision.