Weekly News Recap – Week of February 23, 2015

There were a couple news pieces that are worth mentioning this week. So let’s just get right down to it.

FCC RULES ON NET NEUTRALITY – GETS IT RIGHT
In a pretty big ruling this week, the FCC ruled in favor of net neutrality. While it might not immediately relate to games, it does have a lot of bearing on the future of the web. Essentially, service providers won’t be able to provide different quality of service based on deals. This helps keep the web free, and keeps the power in the consumers hands. This keeps providers like Time Warner from determining web traffic. The immediate gaming world impact isn’t super apparent, but it’s definitely there.

BioShock Infinite

GAMES WITH GOLD FOR MARCH ANNOUNCED
This week Xbox announced the upcoming Games with Gold for March. This might be the best month of free games they’ve had in a long time. On the Xbox One we’ll get Rayman Legends; and on the Xbox 360, we get both Tomb Raider and BioShock: Infinite. If you haven’t picked up either 360 title, somehow, you really owe it to yourself to pick them up. They are both fantastic games. And on top of that, Xbox also announced that in April they will offer double the amount of free games. They haven’t announced exactly which games, but that does open up a good chance for some more great games.

Mortal Kombat X

MORTAL KOMBAT X CONFIRMS BRUTALITIES RETURN
This week on the Netherrealm livestream they showed off the return of Brutalities. The big thing that I’m looking forward to is that Brutalities don’t require huge strings of button inputs. That said though, they definitely aren’t any less brutal than the old ones. It looks like a lot of them are based around special moves, which makes them easier to put into combos. They also said that there is going to be over 100 different Brutalities. Mortal Kombat X is shaping up to be a pretty damn awesome game for April.

The Root of the Question – Immersion

Dragon Age OriginsThe last two days I’ve posed a hypothetical question – if you had the power, which game worlds would be the best/worst ones to hop into and live in; as in actually be a part of. I came up with what I think is a pretty solid start to each list, although a question like this is always going to have lots of wiggle room. I’ll admit I was trying to keep most of my picks somewhat relevant to the current slate of games out there. There’s plenty of classic games that could fit into either category.

That said though, at the core of this whole discussion is one simple factor. How immersive is that game’s world? I think, regardless of which list you put the game on, if it’s in contention for either, that’s ultimately a good thing for the game. That means that the developers have crafted a world that draws you in in some way. That could be through dialogue and writing, it could be with the action of the game, or it could just be the aesthetics of the world. Regardless of whether actually living in that world would be nice and easy, or incredibly dangerous; the fact that the thought has even entered your brain is a win.

Thief

I say that like it’s a given with games these days. We seem to expect a rich, living environment for our games. As the industry has grown and matured, that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to expect. Not every game needs to be a super serious, gritty, mature title to achieve that though. And even beyond that, creating a world that feels alive and immersive is incredibly difficult. A good example is last year’s reboot of Thief. The game tried to do too much, and as a result, the world felt stiff. It was really noticeable compared with Dishonored, which managed to pull of a much more alive feeling world, while still trying to do very similar things. Both are set in very dystopian worlds, neither would exactly be fun to live in – although our rules stated we would be the main character, which would alleviate a lot of that; both are also structured around stealth mechanics, with some super natural added in. And yet, Thief fell a little short, thanks to a convoluted story, and really no impact to the world around you. Dishonored made every decision impact the whole of the world, which made the different play styles matter more, and in turn helped breathe life into the game world.

BioWare Logo

Which is why studios like BioWare and Bethesda always deserve a ton of credit for their hard work. BioWare’s two major current IPs – Mass Effect and Dragon Age – couldn’t be more different in setting. And yet both have the very same focus – story and character – to make the worlds feel alive, and thus draw the player in much more. Add in some character customization, superb writing and acting and solid action, regardless of control style; and you have not only an incredible world to play in, but a game that’s super fun to play. Bethesda does it a little differently. Story is still important, but it’s more through the little details that their worlds come to life. Giving every NPC a schedule that the keep makes going to the towns feel just like that. Having a reputation/crime system provides consequence for your actions – good or bad. It makes it very easy to get lost in the Role Playing nature of their games, regardless of whether it’s Fallout or Elder Scrolls.

Bethesda Softworks Logo

I think it’s very easy to look at the current state of gaming and say that the big determining factor for progress has been graphics. In just about 30 years we’ve come incredibly far, really quite fast. I don’t see it being a huge stretch to say that in the same period of time in the future we might get to see games that are as close to life like as any CGi movie is. But that’s not really where the growth has been, in my eyes. It helps it, sure, but really the growth is best shown in the increase in games with impact. We’ve gone from an industry where the best selling and most loved games are literally two-dimensional; to now one that craves stories with weight, characters with life and action with impact. All mass forms of entertainment have gone through this growth – movies, comics, books, TV, even music. It’s part of truly becoming mainstream, and earning our spot as part of the mass pop culture. We still have a very long way to go, just look at the last 6 months of gaming culture to see why; but I truly believe that we’ll get there eventually. And when we do, it’s going to be thanks to these games, where immersion is the key.

A Question to Ponder: Part Two – Bad Games to Live In

Call of Duty: Modern WarfareYesterday I brought up a hypothetical question that I’ve been thinking on this week. If you had the ability, what game universes would be the best ones to hop into and live in for a while. We set a couple ground rules – you would be the main character, the game rules all still apply, and should you game over, you are banned from that world for some period of time. Yesterday I picked out a couple universes that I thought would be good ones to live in. Today, let’s hit the other side of the spectrum – the bad games to hop into.

CALL OF DUTY
Really this could just say any FPS game here, but I singled out Call of Duty mainly because of one reason. Any Call of Duty game since Modern Warfare has featured massive set pieces. Buildings exploding, tumbling down on top of you; helicopters crashing down right in front of you; or massive oil rigs on fire. Add in the end-game moments, pulling a knife from your chest comes to mind; and I think you have a formula for a world that would be pretty rough to experience. And really you could say the same about Halo, Battlefield or even Medal of Honor.

Grand Theft Auto V

GRAND THEFT AUTO
I mentioned it a little yesterday that I didn’t pick Grand Theft Auto, instead going with Saints Row. My reasoning for going this way was that in GTA, the odds are you will be in constant danger of dieing. Whether it’s from the jobs you’re doing, the diversions you undertake, or just driving throughout the city, with no regard for rules at all. It really doesn’t matter which game you pick either – each one has the same basic problem. The freedom that the games provide all result in all kinds of dangerous situations. Add in the different gangs and mobs and other nefarious folk that want you dead and you have a recipe for a very dangerous time.

Dead Space Cover

DEAD SPACE
I think that this is one of those games that speaks for itself. If you’ve played Dead Space I think it’s pretty evident why it would be a horrifying experience. For those that haven’t played the game, the short version is that it’s basically Resident Evil in space. Now, there’s a lot more going on than that – but the basics are there. Evil group bent on controlling the primary enemy type for their own end? Check. Unbelievably tense environments that hid enemies around every corner? Check. Massive boss enemies that put the normal baddies to shame? Check. Add in the somewhat more visceral nature of the Necromorphs and I don’t think it’s too far of a leap to say Dead Space would be horrible to be in. Great games, terrible life.

BioShock Cover

BIOSHOCK AND POKEMON
This is where I make my picks that aren’t actually bad picks. In fact, both series could actually be kinda fun to be in. Exploring Rapture would be both unnerving, but also really pretty cool. Living in a world with Pokemon would also have some super awesome possibilities, especially since with our rules saying you’re the main character. But those same Pokemon could very well create all kinds of havoc. If we’re looking exclusively at the plots of the games, I could maybe put them in the good list. But since this is all about experiencing the worlds beyond the framework of the games, I can very easily see them both being dangerous.

Now, just because I don’t think these particular games would be bad to actually be a part of, doesn’t mean I think they’re bad games. In fact I really love each game on this list. I’ve said BioShock is one of the best games ever, let alone the last ten years. And putting them on this list doesn’t make them any less immersive either. Again, BioShock has one of the most engaging settings ever – Rapture truly feels alive, which is a hell of an accomplishment for an FPS. This whole question was more about physically entering the worlds, and being a part of them – this particular list is more about the worlds that just might be more trouble than they’re worth. I’m not by any means saying I’m right or wrong with either set of games – far from it. I just think it’s a fun little thing to think about, especially with so many great games out there these days.

A Question to Ponder: What Games Would be the Best to Jump Into?

Dragon Age: InquisitionI’ve had this thought bouncing around this week – if you wake up tomorrow, with the ability to hop into any game universe you want, which would be the best ones? The thought came out of playing a TON of Dragon Age: Inquisition lately. It, much like any BioWare game, has such a high level of immersion to it. It’s very easy to lose yourself into the world, thanks mainly to the superb writing. This isn’t the first time I’ve had similar thoughts either – I found myself thinking something along the same lines when I played Skyrim and Oblivion. So I thought I’d run with it this time. Before we start though, let’s set a couple ground rules. First, assume that when you hop into the world, it’s just the same as playing it – you are the main character, and by proxy, the action revolves around you. There’s more to the universe than just the story of the game though, so there’s plenty of blank space to work with. Second, we have to also assume that the game mechanics are still in place – you still have mana/stamina reserves to maintain, it’s just known inherently. That keeps you from breaking beyond the scope of the game. The whole point of this thought is to enter and enjoy the world – not alter the entire state of it. The last point to keep in mind is the big question of death – let’s just say the penalty for “game over” is kicking you back to the real world, and barring you from re-entering that game for some period of time. Now that the ground rules have been set, I came up with a few examples of what I think would be fun/exciting game worlds to hop into.

Dragon Age Origins

DRAGON AGE
Let’s just start with the game that got me thinking this question. Each game in the series presents a world that’s insanely full with life, even in the face of the incredible dangers. The games are limited in that only certain characters can be interacted with, of course, but that wouldn’t exist if you can just hop into the world. Secondary, background characters have even more life now. Add in that you are the main character, and that helps you shape the world with even more detail than you could just playing the game. The game is also limited with the dialogue choices you have – that disappears with you actually being the character. Combat is still a part of the experience, but thanks to the game mechanics, death isn’t a super threat – even should you fall, as soon as the combat is over, you pop right up. So I think Dragon Age would be a fun world to experience first-hand, you’ve got action, you have a world rich in history, and you have people that are around you to make it a living world.

Mass Effect

MASS EFFECT
On a similar note, the Mass Effect games would basically be the same sort of deal as Dragon Age. A universe that’s full of history and incredible places to visit. Characters that fill that universe with life. And action that will keep you busy, while again, not having a huge worry about death. The threat is perhaps a little different though – the Reapers are certainly an intense threat. Putting you actually into the shoes of Commander Sheppard would perhaps be a little stressful, but that’s where the down-time comes in. The game isn’t pure action, start to finish – there is a lot of down time on the Normandy, and with that comes all kinds of options for you to do. Take the Mako out for a spin to explore some planets, and I think it’d be a fun world to explore for sure.

Saints Row IV

SAINTS ROW
Switching gears a little bit in terms of genre, I present a potentially surprise choice. I think that the knee jerk game choice with this question would be Grand Theft Auto. The problem is that the game makes it really easy to be constantly in life-threatening danger. On the other hand, Saints Row is essentially the same style game, but taken beyond the limit of normal. Death is no concern because of the upgrades you can get – eventually you’ll be invincible. You can still drive any car you want, or cause whatever mayhem you feel like – hell it’s part of the game after all. And as the universe expands, eventually you have access to a bunch of different super powers to play with. Sure the story isn’t as deep as the previous choices, but sometimes you just want to blow shit up and not worry about all that pathos.

Rock Band 3 Cover

ROCK BAND
Another surprising choice I think, this one might be one that appeals to a more limited audience. Essentially it’s the same world as the real one after all, except you’re part of the greatest cover band in history. You can play literally any song presented to you, immediately. If we take the story into consideration, you go from bar band to biggest band ever, so you have no worries at all – and death isn’t an issue, so you’d be able to hang out in Rock Band world as long as you want.

Super Mario 64

MARIO
Finally, the one universe that probably provides the most fun factor – the Mario universe. Not only could you save a kingdom from threats of a major villain, but then the next day, everyone is out playing tennis. Or golf. Or go karting. Or baseball. Or soccer. Or having a board game party. It’s a universe that’s got all kinds of potential – threats are limited, fun is maximized. The characters have certainly grown in depth over the years too, so you won’t need to worry about being alone. It’d be a fun one to go through for sure. Add in the Super Smash Bros. factor and you’ve got even more potential for action.

Ultimately, this hypothetical question boils down to which game worlds are not only immersive, but also have a high potential for a fun existence. It’s a fun question to ponder on when you’ve got a few minutes to day dream. I like to think it adds a little bit more to the game experience as well.

Minecraft Monday: Mega Man 3 Finally Finished With, Progress Continues On

Mega Man 3 Box ArtWhen I started this whole project, I knew that this was going to be a huge undertaking. Six NES games to do, plus two more 8-bit styled ones in Mega Man 9 and 10 – not to mention the possibility of doing the fan-made 8-bit de-makes of Mega Man 7 and 8. That’s a whole hell of a lot of Minecrafting to do. What I didn’t expect was that Mega Man 3 – the second game I tackled – would be so damn frustrating. I already have mentioned my continual messing up while doing the Title Screen, and also found another small error I had made in the Stage Select. Thankfully, it was only two blocks that needed to be fixed, so it didn’t mess up much. I only even found it because I was going overly detailed with one of the new additions to the sprite field. I decided to put in Break Man (Proto Man)’s portrait in, which was actually pretty cool, thanks to his scarf breaking out of the border. I did something similar with Dr. Cossack in Mega Man 4, but since Break Man is actually named like the other Robot Masters, I put his name below the portrait too. Of course that meant applying the background too – I made sure that the placement of the “Mega Man III” matches up with the center portrait on the screen. That’s where I found my error – I had messed up on the “M” in Man on a couple in the screen.

Megaman 3 Stage Select

Once that was dealt with though, I had a bunch of blank space to fill in with the sprite field. After digging around for a good sheet of Rush, I was able to put in Rush with Coil and Jet in there, along with all of the weapon energy and health energy pick ups. I got a little lucky there, in that there was just enough space for each pick up. While I was in pick up mode, I finished up the buffer zone between games, carpeted the whole thing, and called Mega Man 3 completed.

Megaman 2 Stage Select

I was still feeling the Minecraft though, so I went ahead and moved on to Mega Man 2. I set up four stacks of 64 blue wool, switched to survival, and set up the bottom row of 256 for the Stage Select. The thing with Mega Man 2 is that the Stage Select is a lot more sparse than Mega Man 3 – there’s not much going on, so to get started there was some counting of pixel rows. Moving back a game also adds in another little detail – for each Robot Masters’ name, in the later games, the white pixels are bordered with a row of black to add some depth. That row of black doesn’t exist in Mega Man 2, so the letters look a little weird right now. Since I was on a roll, I went ahead and finished up Metal Man and Flash Man – both were pretty easy to do, although Metal Man isn’t quite an exact match. The early Mega Man games use what is basically a really dark magenta color for deep red – which doesn’t exist in Minecraft, so I just used red wool and pink clay, like I have for the rest of the red Robot Masters. All in all, the Stage Select should go pretty smooth, it’s the Title Screen I’m looking at – there’s a lot more going on with it than any other one.

Weekly News Recap – Week of February 16, 2015

There were a couple interesting bits of news that I saw floating around this week. Here’s a couple of the more intriguing ones.

The Order: 1886

GAME LENGTH IS ALL THE RAGE
Talk about game length has been all over the blogs this week – every sight has been talking about it thanks to the reviews of The Order: 1886. Since it’s apparently really short, it’s been provoking a lot of thought about the length of games and the value of games. I wrote a post this week with my thoughts on game length – short version is that I don’t necessarily think it’s the be-all and end-all determining factor for value.

Rock Band 3 Cover

BLOOMBERG POTENTIALLY BREAKS BIG GAME NEWS
This week there was also a report over on Bloomberg, citing anonymous sources, so take that for what its worth, saying that Harmonix is planning on bringing Rock Band up to current-gen. I think we were all thinking that when they announced the return of DLC back in January, that it was a way to test the waters – and the survey they sent out in their newsletter definitely got me thinking we will see something big Rock Band related this year. Harmonix has also been really pushing their presence at PAX East, which has me thinking that we might not have to wait till E3 to see what they have in store.

Destiny

ULTIMATE GAME SALE IS STILL GOING ON
This week has also been the Ultimate Game Sale over on the Xbox Live Marketplace. There’s some pretty good deals on big games if you haven’t picked them up yet – Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Destiny, and Shadow of Mordor are all marked down pretty substantially. There are also some special weekend only sales that just went live today. Generally these Ultimate Game Sales tend to be pretty awesome – I’ve picked up a fair share of my digital games through them over the years, so I really recommend looking at the deals this weekend. You never know what might pique your interest.

Screamride Demo Immediate Impressions

Screamride CoverMicrosoft this week unveiled a demo for the upcoming sim game Screamride. At last year’s E3 Screamride was one of those little surprise games that looked like it had lots of character, and could end up being a nice diversion game this year. So having a demo show up this week was a great way to get a feel for how the game will play. So I gave it a go last night and thought I’d offer up my two cents.

The demo is relatively limited – featuring one level of each of the three styles. But that’s honestly not a terrible thing – it’s a demo after all. It does show a good idea of the potential scale for the full game. It reminds me a lot of other puzzle based games – Trials comes to mind. In order to progress through the levels, you’ll need to earn enough medals to open up the further ones. Which means finishing as many internal challenges within each level as possible to increase your score. Some of the challenges are pretty easy, others will definitely require a bit more trial and error. So far then, nothing particularly outside of the norm for a puzzle game.

Which brings me to the actual gameplay now. Screamride has three different style levels – Screamride, Demolition and Engineer. Each has different gameplay mechanics behind them. Screamride levels put you in the shoes of the riders of the roller coasters. Your task is to ride through the track as fast as possible, building up turbo and balancing as much on two wheels as possible. Demolition is just what it sounds like – you’re given a swinging ride, to toss the cabin at the buildings. You have to do as much damage as possible to the structures, with the limited cabins you’re given. Finally, Engineer has you build those roller coaster rides, making them as exciting as possible with your pieces. Each mode does feel unique and presents different challenges. That said though, it really deosn’t strike me as a full, $40 priced title. It’s much more akin to a downloadable title, that would fit perfectly on the Xbox Live Arcade. Of course, Microsoft has forgone the distinction between Arcade titles and not, so it’s just another game. I’m not going to write it off entirely now, since this is just based around a demo, but it does feel a little sparse. I likened it to Trials earlier – I do see a lot of similarities between the games. But Trials was $10 cheaper. As for right now, it’s a game I’m still interested in, but it might be one I wait for a while.