Twenty Years of Pokemon – My Memories

Pokemon BlueOver the weekend, Pokemon Red and Blue turned 20 years old. That’s a whole lot of Pokemon over the years. Other than making me feel really old, it did get me thinking a bit about my journeys through the various regions in Pokemon’s world. From my very first Pokemon, to my more recent adventures, I thought I’d join in with the chorus celebrating Game Freak’s games.

My very first experience with the original games was actually through one of my cousins. He had Pokemon Red with him at a Memorial Day cookout – the year is lost to my memory though. I remember watching him make his way around the Safari Zone and thinking that it looked so cool. Flash forward to that Christmas – I wake up, head downstairs, and in the pile of presents that “Santa” brought was a Green Gameboy Pocket (which I still have, and works) and Pokemon Blue. I can’t tell you how much I played that game – I fell in love with the series right away. I, of course, picked the best starter ever – Bulbasaur – and he never left my party the whole game. I got him to level 100 (legit, without the Missingno trick – which I later abused), he was present in pretty much every Elite Four run I made and has always been my favorite Pokemon line. I went out and bought Pokemon Red so that I could trade my way to owning all 150 Pokemon. I can clearly remember battling my friends on the bus to Young Scholars in fifth grade – twenty minutes of Pokemon bliss. I never really watched the cartoon, but I loved the games – including the card game for a good handful of years. Twenty years later I still really love the games – I think they’re really amazing ways to introduce younger players to RPGs. They have a really surprising depth to the combat, going beyond the surface “Rock, Paper, Scissors” style that first time players see.

Pokemon Red

As the years have gone on, and as each subsequent generation has added in a tons of new Pokemon species, what hasn’t changed is the charm. Few games, and especially few big budget games, have the same level of charm that the Pokemon games do. It’s in the design of the different Pokemon, it’s the childlike wonder that each different region has (probably because the player character is a kid), and it’s in the simple, but well written dialogue. There’s a reason that every time a new set of games is announced that the collective gaming public goes crazy. For a huge portion of gaming’s community Pokemon has been a major part of our lives growing up. It was the game that got me interested in RPGs, and 100% completion in games. Now that Nintendo has re-released those first two games (and Yellow) for the 3DS Virtual Console a new generation of players can have that same experience we did, and us old folks can revisit Kanto all over again. Hell, I still have both of my cartridges for Blue and Red and I still am thinking of picking them up on the 3DS (mainly because the battery save on one of them has gone out).

There are still plenty of stories in the world of Pokemon to tell – I’m still waiting for Nintendo and Game Freak to bring them to the home console as traditional Pokemon RPGs, not as a spin off. As the community still finds more in-depth ways to dig into the combat, with IVs and EVs and Natures and all that, the competitive scene will keep getting deeper too. Nintendo has a track record with keeping franchises alive for a real long time – Mario is 30, Zelda just turned 30 this year, Metroid is coming up on that 30 year mark as is Mega Man (which I know is Capcom). With that in mind, I can’t wait to see Pokemon keep going on for years to come.

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The Latest Example of Overreacting, Entitled Fanboys in Gaming

Quantum BreakI write about a few different topics here more than others. Destiny, Call of Duty, FPS games in general, Fallout 4 have all graced these pages multiple times. But there’s one topic that I never get tired of talking about, even though I am exhausted of seeing it pop up in gaming. That is the, quite frankly, silly things that fans do and say online when developers/publishers make decisions that aren’t exactly what they want them to. Our latest entry – completely stupid overreactions to Quantum Break coming to PC.

It was announced today that if you pre-order Quantum Break for the Xbox One, you’ll also get a copy of the game for Windows 10 PCs. That, for some ungodly reason, ruffled quite a few feathers. Apparently, “hardcore Xbox Fans” aren’t happy that Microsoft decided to bring a big title to their other platform. It looks like mainly people think that they were underhanded in their marketing, saying that it was an Xbox exclusive – which, by the way, it still is. Here’s the thing – you can still get it and play it on the Xbox One. And that is still the only home console you can play it on – it’s not coming to the PlayStation 4 or the Wii U. If you’re an Xbox One “Hardcore supporter” you’re still totally fine. The decision to bring it to PC brings a game that Microsoft has been hyping up since last E3 to an audience that, while yes might have a little overlap, otherwise would have missed out on it. That’s not only good for Quantum Break, it’s good for Square-Enix and Microsoft too.

Sunset Overdrive Xbox Bundle

I say it all the time – people need to relax way more with this sort of stuff. Microsoft wasn’t being deceptive on purpose – bringing it to PC probably was a decision that took them time to make, and then actually implement. It’s a good business decision across the board – that’s it. It’s not Microsoft stabbing Xbox fans in the back – which is an actual statement I saw on Twitter earlier. The world of gaming is in a real interesting spot right now – the idea of a console war is kinda obsolete. Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony all are filling very different roles right now, and really all are on the same team. We need, as a community as a whole, to stop competing within ourselves. It’s not about that anymore, it’s now more about solidifying gaming as a mainstream entertainment choice. Some people might not like that mainstream word, but let’s not kid ourselves – gaming is very much mainstream. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry. That’s Billion with a B. Can we be critical of the industry we love? Absolutely – we should very much be critical of our industry. We’re still young as a mainstream industry, and we still very much self-police ourselves. But being critical doesn’t mean just complaining about every little decision people make. It needs to be not only constructive in it’s tone, but also grounded in real reasons for that criticism. Saying that a game coming to PC is betraying true Xbox fans – again an actual statement I saw today – isn’t grounded in realism. It’s just irrational anger because something changed – and wasn’t exactly the way that you expected. Now, if the game falls short because of the time and energy that had to go into porting it over -that is where real criticism should happen. But that requires us to wait a second, step back and think before we go shouting on Twitter. That’s all I’m really asking here.

Stop With the Negativity Please

The Taken King LogoIs Bungie killing Destiny? Will The Division be this year’s Destiny? Did Treyarch mess up the Awakening DLC launch? All questions that I’ve seen online over the last couple days. All coming from the same place – negative opinions about games we love. All questions that are kind of silly to even ask. I get that fans get super impassioned with the games that they love, but there’s a way to be critical without being overly negative.

Let’s start with the Bungie/Destiny questions. Yes, Destiny is in a really rough patch right now. But I highly, highly doubt that Bungie is willingly keeping content and communication away from the community to “kill” the game. I really think that a big part of what’s going on now is that Bungie is scrambling to actually figure out the plan for the year. The game has already undergone pretty seismic shifts in the year and a half it’s been out. In truth, my only real issue with what’s going on now is the lack of communication. All I need from Bungie is a Weekly Update saying “Look we know you want to know more about what’s going on, and we wish we could tell you; but we just don’t have the plan set in stone yet.” Acknowledge that there’s been some turmoil, understand that the community is ready to devour any new content and information, and I think you’d see the vitriol start to fade a bit.

The DivisionAfter the beta on the weekend, The Division is all over the place now. It’s IGN’s game of the month that they’re covering. And I can’t tell you the number lazy posts/videos I’ve already seen comparing Destiny to The Division in a number of different ways. All that does, to me, is continue to confuse the general gaming audience about how The Division works. They’re both loot focused RPG’s with shooter mechanics for combat – that’s the end of it. Destiny is a shooter first, and it shows in pretty much every aspect of that game. The Division is an RPG first, and it’s clear with the min/maxing, numbers based combat that that is the case. Instead of pointing to the other current RPG/Shooter, I think there’s more to talk about in comparing it to the first Mass Effect game. But even that is something that I think we should wait for the game to actually be out to do.

All of this negativity is taking the easy way out as a community. It’s really easy to add to the echo chamber instead of taking a second to think about what’s actually going on. Wait before you post to reddit or make a YouTube video. We’re in the golden age of gaming right now – the best games are out there, looking better than ever before and we’re worried about whether a developer is purposely killing one of the biggest games out there. Relax, games are still really fun – just use your head a little when you criticize the world of gaming.

Xbox One Backwards Compatibility Thoughts

Xbox OneWith the new Xbox One Experience that launched last month, Microsoft has brought to the console a feature that we have been asking for since the original launch of the console. We can now play, in a limited capacity, Xbox 360 titles on the Xbox One. The really nice thing is that that isn’t limited to physical copies of games – Games on Demand titles can be brought forward as well.

While it’s not an exhaustive list – and really we shouldn’t expect to be at all, there were easily thousands of games on the 360 – Microsoft was smart with this first 100 or so titles. They feature a lot of the biggest games from the last console generation. From Microsoft exclusives like the Rare games and Gears of War; to big third party titles like Rainbow Six Vegas and Fallout 3 there’s a really good mix of games out there. One other nice thing here is that you don’t actually need to currently still own your 360 to get the digital games – you can purchase them right on Xbox.com. For people who maybe sold their Xbox 360 to make room for the Xbox One, this is a really nice addition.

The actual execution of the backwards compatibility play is also pretty damn smart. Instead of having it behave vastly different, it works just like it already does on both consoles. The Xbox One requires games to be installed to the hard drive – including the 360 titles – so that’s the first step. And it’s a step that anyone with an Xbox One already takes with games. That keeps people from having to learn another way to move about their console. When you actually load up the 360 game, your Xbox One transforms right in front of you. It runs the 360 start-up noises, and acts just like an emulator. As someone who played the 360 for almost ten years, it’s a pretty welcoming feeling to see it come up. You still have access to the Xbox 360 Guide even – that’s fantastic.

It might be a little later than we would have liked, but now that it’s here, I think it’s a really good addition to the console. Sure the Xbox One has a couple quirks to it that I would like to see tweaked. Sometimes it’s in specific games – I’m looking at you Destiny and not having private in-game fireteams. But Microsoft has done a really good job, this year in particular, of looking at the console and the wants of the fanbase, and then applying what they can to the console. We’re still very early in this console generation, and while I do think that the PlayStation 4 got off to a much strong start, I think the Xbox One is starting to finally come into its own.

What To Do Until The Taken King Launches

DestinyIf you’ve been checking out Infinite Lives over the last year or so, you know that I’m a big fan of Destiny. Sure it has it’s flaws, but I still maintain that it’s been the most fun game that I’ve played in the last year, in addition to being the game I’ve played the most. So heading into the fall and the second year of Destiny‘s life, I’m pretty excited to see what Bungie has in store. But there’s still a month of time to wait. If you’ve been playing Destiny straight through, you’ve probably run out of things to grind in the game. Instead of continuing to play through PvE that you’ve beaten time and time again, or dealing with a stale meta that has a non-existent margin of error, I think it might not be a bad idea to put Destiny down for a little bit.

Burnout is a pretty serious issue in gaming – I’ve talked about it before. It’s really easy in the current gaming world to hit a wall with a game that you dive in heavy with. I’ve talked about it with open-world games like Sunset Overdrive/Grand Theft Auto in the past. Hell, I hit it with Destiny back in January/February – I took a four month break from a game that I really love. If you’ve been sticking through the summer with Destiny and the House of Wolves expansion, but are starting to hit that point now, I really recommend putting it down until The Taken King launches. There are other things out there – the Summer Spotlight has some cool deals, there’s always the Games with Gold/PS+ games and don’t be afraid to play catch-up. I’m working through Shadow of Mordor now, along with slowly plugging through New Vegas.

Destiny Taken King Collectors Edition

This is always a tough problem in gaming. The deeper you dive into the games you love, the brighter they burn, and the faster you can hit that wall. As we’ve gotten more and more set in the Fall-Spring launch windows, it’s easier and easier to fall into the same trappings. There are only so many games that you can pick up at launch, and that means you limit the games you play. Add in that the summer has traditionally been a slow period and it makes these last few weeks that much more excruciating. So my advice is to just take a step back, unplug for a day or two, and go in to The Taken King, or whatever you’re looking forward to, fresh. It’ll help keep it fun for longer, and will give you, I think, a more enjoyable experience the whole way through.

Destiny Quick Hitters – AKA I’ve Been Reading Too Much Reddit

DestinyJust like the title says, I’ve been digging around the Destiny subreddit again, and it really doesn’t take too long for me to find a post that gets my blood pressure up. Generally it’s a lot of posts about the current weapon meta and how Bungie isn’t doing their job because they have the audacity to be making a major expansion due out in two months. I’ve spent plenty of time writing about the current weapon meta in various ways, and while I do agree more frequent communication and updates would be a good thing; I do understand that they’re super busy right now. So today I want to address two other posts I saw this week, instead of beating a dead horse about updates that are four months overdue.

WEAPON PARTS ARE ALREADY GRINDABLE
This is the first one that really got me a little hot earlier this week. Essentially it was asking for the ability to buy weapon parts with planetary materials. Here’s the real issue – the reason that weapon parts have shot up in value is because of reforging. As a result, people have been re-rolling weapons to try to get a perfect set of perks, primarily on those weapons that are top tier in the current meta. For example, the new Party Crasher +1, introduced in House of Wolves, is already a sort of Felwinter’s lite. The problem is that it’s a reforgable weapon – which means you can dump all your glimmer and weapon parts to get a perfect roll. Making them purchasable would just exacerbate the current issues in the meta. And here’s the crazy part – they’re already grindable! All you need is a little patience and hop in the strike playlists. You’ll be rolling in engrams, which can be dismantled into parts. The community already seems to love bitching about balance issues in the game, especially in PvP. Making weapon parts purchasable – with any currency (since they’re all easily grinded) – would just make every unbalanced situation that much more so.

Shadow Price Destiny

TRADING – A TALKING POINT SINCE DAY ONE
I saw another post this week calling, yet again, for trading to be a part of Destiny. This has been something that has come up within the community basically since the beta. Since Destiny draws some inspiration from Borderlands as well as Diablo – and both those games have trading systems in place – it wasn’t a particularly hard stretch to want to see it here. Here’s the issue though – those games have way more variety in their loot. Borderlands has such a tremendous amount of variables for the individual weapons that can change their behaviors, making it difficult for truly overpowered weapons to appear. Thus, trading doesn’t potentially break the PvE experience. Destiny doesn’t have that luxury. The variety really isn’t at that same level – really we’re talking about perks, and even then, an even smaller subset of weapons and armor. No one is out there grinding out hours for blue (rare) weapons – with the exception of The Stranger’s Rifle, which is given after finishing the story missions. Instead everyone is looking for a very small select group of weapons – most of which are end-game legendaries, or the exotics. Trading those weapons not only stands to break the PvE AND PvP metas, but could also evolve to serious exploits. Let me explain. Any game that has that potential can also have the potential for a certain group that is willing to get those weapons, and then sell them off to the highest bidder. Even if that system isn’t in-game, with how easy the web is now, auction sites would pop up instantly. How long do we really think it would take for a site auctioning off Gjallarhorns to pop up? Trading could end up killing the game outright – any sense of balance would be gone in an instant.

At the end of the day, these posts I don’t think actually represent the feelings of the whole community. Sure we’ve all been frustrated when we’re hundreds of hours in, with no sight of Gjallarhorn. The same is true when you get a top-tier weapon, with a terrible roll. You want to make it competitive, because that’s the only way to be in the current meta. I get it. But there are definitely more important issues in the game that need to be addressed. Reputation packages draw from way to wide a loot pool – especially when there are items with no real bearing on gameplay (shaders/ships) that have a lower drop rate than any other item. Getting my Revenant shader was more exciting than just about any new weapon I’ve gotten in months. That’s an issue – the actual gear should be worth more than cosmetic items. We have a couple months until The Taken King, but I don’t think we’ll see any actual update to the game until September. Hopefully though in those weeks, we’ll get a few more glimpses into the mindset of Bungie moving forward. This first year has been a great first year, but it is time to start looking critically at the game and its future.

LEGO Games – A Case Study on Gaming

Lego Batman 3 Beyond GothamThanks to the Ultimate Game Sale last week, I was able to pick up a few games I missed. One of those games was LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. The original game in that particular sub-series was one of my favorites among the LEGO games, and this one takes everything up a few notches. I’ve spent the weekend playing it pretty much nonstop, on the warpath for 100% (in-game and achievements) and it has got me thinking about the LEGO games as a whole.

What I came up with was that the LEGO games as a franchise really illustrate the evolution of the gaming industry in the last 10 years. When we talk about LEGO games these days, we’re really talking about the games Travelers Tales has released since LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game in 2005. So that’s what I’ve been looking at too – although I do still have a soft spot for the old LEGO Island game from ages ago. I think the major example that I’ve been thinking about pertains to the level of collectibles in the game. In the old games, there were minikits, and Gold Bricks were used for the cheats – and that was about it. In LEGO Batman 3, there’s minikits, Red Bricks, Character and Vehicle Tokens, Gold Bricks AND Adam West to rescue. Those are in each story level, as well as every HUB world. That’s a huge increase in the amount. And I think I may actually know what the underlying cause might be for the increase. It’s important to remember that those first games came out 10 years ago – on the original Xbox, PS2 and Gamecube. Those consoles didn’t have achievements or trophies. With the addition of those in the next console generation, developers looked for ways to add in some extra life to their games. A nice and easy way to do just that is add in a bunch of collectibles and give them some incentive with achievements and in-game value.

Lego Star Wars The Video Game

There’s been a whole lot of talk about collectibles in the past – what is the right amount, should they be purely hidden, or with a map, and should they have in-game results. The questions also involve the achievements too – do you need to collect each and every one to get the achievement, or percentages. Different games do it different ways – Crackdown had you collect 800 orbs, in addition to vehicle races. That was a little over the top. Tomb Raider had tiered achievements, you unlocked them at certain percentages along the way to 100%. Assassins Creed had multiple sets of flags, along with templars – but no fast travel really made hunting them down a chore. Now with LEGO Batman, there are a lot of collectibles in there, and only one achievement for overall 100%. But the very base way that the LEGO games work makes them a lot less of a chore. For instance, I managed to beat the game, free play each level, and finish out 6 of the HUB worlds in three days time. No penalties for death, and a low difficulty level really makes going back in fun, not boring. The sheer number of characters too helps keep it fresh. It’s pretty fun to go through the Batcave levels as deep-cut characters like Firestorm or Batman from The Darkest Knight story-arc.

I think when we look back at these past few console generations in another 10 years or so, the biggest innovation could actually be the addition of achievements/trophies. They’ve clearly had an impact on how developers look at their games, and for some can actually impact how players look at the games. I know if a game has a questionable list of achievements, I might hold off on picking it up. The opposite is also true – I grabbed Shadow of Mordor in the sale too, not only because I’ve heard nothing but good things, but also the list doesn’t look insanely involved, aside from one or two. And in that mindset, I think looking at the LEGO games really clearly illustrates that design change.