Shootin’ the Shit: The Unfortunate Process of Disillusionment

We’re going to do things a little different this week. Some big things happened in the games enthusiast press (“journalism”) scene that has opened up a dialogue regarding games criticism, corruption, and the place of PR and marketing. I feel it is an important issue for anyone remotely interested in a career (or at least having a voice in) the games press. If you’re not interested in that whole mess, you can always check out our newest episode of The Low Down for some other news. Here’s what happened on the internet this week:

Things I Read

What I want to discuss is the recent controversy over Rob Florence’s criticism of the gaming press, specifically the UK-based Games Media Awards (GMAs), and fellow writer Lauren Wentwright. In his original post for Eurogamer, Florence called out the the press — and more importantly, public relations — for the way in which the industry presents and runs itself. It resulted in a polarizing and wide spread criticism of the GMAs, games journalism as an institution, the role of PR and Marketing in games writing, as well as a backlash against Florence and Wainwright. From there, Florence stepped down due to pressure from higher-ups. Two Botherer articles — one from Rock-Paper-Shotgun’s Jon Walker, and the other a response from Florence on the massive reaction to his Eurogamer piece — further the story, give background to the event, as well as show an in depth and disheartening look at the truth behind the corruption in games journalism.

Had I not read Florence’s post, I would have never heard about this; I came upon the entire things day after it happened. But the real issue here isn’t the events themselves so much as the meaning behind them: they are a clear and sad indication that the gaming media is corrupt in some way. Walker points out, more than likely, every review or article you’ve read is un-bought and unbiased. However, that doesn’t dismiss PR people and, as Florence puts it, their manipulation of information to support their own narrative.

Sound familiar?

This all comes at a very strange time for me, and all of us here at Power Cords. We’ve got some big changes and exciting announcements coming in the ever-nearing future — things that have me more excited about the direction of this blog and my own path as a writer than I have been in years. These changes stem from a simple realization from myself and my ever-stalwart editorial duo Marshal and Evan: we’re bored trying to live up to (and break into) the video game journalist “club.” This whole “scandal” just added fuel to the fire; I don’t want to break into an industry run by the whims of PR, where lavish parties, unnecessary freebies, and selective information is the method by which I am able to indulge in the one thing I’ve ever been good at: writing. I would feel not only restricted, but uncomfortable taking part in such press events. So, the simple answer is to just not be a part of it.

Beyond that, this discussion of corruption underscores my issues with game development — specifically the AAA blockbusters that are now nothing more than linear, gore-soaked “interactive movies” that betray the very things videogames are about: exploration, problem solving, mystery, artistry, and truly interactive narrative (as discussed in an unrelated, but still highly relevant Kotaku article by writer/videogame and comic book artist Tevis Thompson). That’s not to say I’m against graphically powerful games with high-quality content and and polish. Any reader of this blog knows my adoration for Skyrim, and Dark Souls — expensive games that had their fair share of marketing and hype. What I take issue with are the massive tie-in campaigns for annual titles where big-name snack foods are adorned with the likeness of Master Chief, or where giant, disruptive ads cover articles completely unrelated to what I’m reading. It’s frustrating and disgusting, and makes me feel guilty for loving Halo.

It’s unholy alliances like this that affect journalistic integrity

Of course, the issue at hand is the role of the press and PR people in the delivery and presentation of information. It would seem like a simple solution to just gut the whole system entirely, but that can’t happen. The enthusiast press is a tight-knit community of writers and marketers, many of which are close friends. After reading Florence’s thoughts and experiences, it’s clear this isn’t something I want to be a major part of — at least in the sense that this “club” just isn’t for me. But that doesn’t mean I need to stop doing something I love.

In his response on Botherer, Florence explains how he felt like he wanted to stop writing about games all together, but that this issue wasn’t about videogames or PR — it was about writing:

I am furious. I am furious because yesterday the games PR and marketing men flung a few people under a bus, and today they’re probably sipping drinks at the Golden Joystick awards. I am furious that some people think we should all just “move on” from this, allowing the PR people to get back to their narrative. I am furious that some are saying that it’s “just games”. It’s not games. It’s writing. And writing matters. Writing always matters.

He concludes his piece by saying:

Those who have been angry about all this – don’t investigate the people, investigate the system. Please write about games. Don’t go to any parties. Don’t go on the trips. Don’t care about exclusives. Just write passionately about games. You can contribute hugely to the scene without ever once speaking to a PR person. Cut them out of the equation.

And that’s exactly what we’ll do: Power Cords will continue to write about games in our own way; but we’re also going to expand and shift our focus, so that we can write about our lives and passions beyond our controllers and computer screens. This week has reminded me that don’t love writing about games, I just love writing. And that’s what we’re going to do here: write. We’re not going to copy the big sites, and we’re not going to languish for their audience or viewers. We’re going to create our own identity, and stake a claim to our own little corner of the internet, and we’d be honored if you joined us.

A final word on the industry as a whole: I don’t feel the need to write off games journalism at all. There are names and personalities I trust — people like Jim Sterling, Jonathan Holmes, Athur Gies and the entire Giantbomb crew. I trust in their abilities to call “bullshit” when necessary, and know they take no issue in having opinions that may go against the zeitgeist or the filtered information being presented else where. It’s also more than likely that the overwhelming majority of writers and their work are genuine. However, until the “club” like exclusivity of the whole institution changes, and until the roles of criticism and those who give it are clearly defined in the industry, I see no point in striving for something I wouldn’t be comfortable with even if I was lucky enough to break in. These are changes we as audiences (and as writers, and gamers) should all be asking for, and demanding from, those we respect enough to read.

 

 

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I think I’m done with Blizzard.

Growing up as a PC gamer, there was always one developer you could count on for absolutely amazing games: Blizzard Entertainment. Starting out with 2D sidescrollers like Lost Vikings and Blackthorne on the SNES, the studio unleashed their groundbreaking hit in 1994, Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. Throughout the remainder of the ’90’s they released classic after classic: Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, Diablo, Starcraft, and the expansions Warcraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal and Starcraft: Broodwar, and in the early 00’s Diablo II, Warcraft III, and their expansions.

Then, finally, in 2004, Blizzard unveiled what is arguably the most successful game ever made, the MMORPG landmark, World of Warcraft. Now, 8 years and a few million subscribers later, Blizzard has cemented itself as one of the greatest game developers of all time thanks to WoW’s success.

And I’m totally done playing their games.

“Why?” you may ask. Well, in order to explain myself, let’s take this one franchise at a time.

Starcraft

Admittedly the one of three major Blizzard series I played the least, but still and extremely important series, both to myself and to PC gaming as a whole. The original Starcraft is widely regarded as one of the best-balanced games ever. While the single player campaign was a compelling sci-fi story about humanity struggling against and two hostile alien races, it was the multiplayer where the game’s brilliance shone. It was so well made in fact, that in South Korea it was (and probably still is) the most played game in the country, and probably the widest spread activity amongst the country’s youth.

But for me, it never really stuck. I beat the campaigns, played a some multiplayer, but I never really got into it. Instead, I found my home with another Blizzard franchise, but more on that in a bit.

In my opinion, Starcraft II is probably the only modern Blizzard game deserving of anyone’s time. There’s a big expansion on the way (practically another game entirely) which is sure to reignite interest in the game. But I’m going to skip it, not because of the quality of the game, but because as I said, Starcraft never really stuck with me. I have Warhammer 40k for that instead.

Warcraft

I loved the Warcraft series. To this day, I still consider it the best RTS franchise, and hold up Warcraft 3 as one of my favorite games of all time. Unlike Starcraft, I really got into the multiplayer of Warcraft, and not just the matchmaking, but the custom games especially. This is where games like League of Legends and DotA 2 were born, in the custom maps of WC3. It’s also where I first entered the land of map creation and modding. I have fond memories of spending hours playing online matches, creating custom maps and game types, and even my own campaigns. Back when I was a youngling in private school, I and a buddy of mine would install WC3 on the school computers, getting in a game or two between rounds of Unreal Tournament 2003.  But it wasn’t just the multiplayer, it was the story of Warcraft 3 that really hooked me.

The fantasy tale Warcraft wove was very compelling to me, and the unique take on classic fantasy races like Orcs and Elves gave an identity to the world of Azeroth that few fantasy settings ever achieve.

So, when Blizzard announced they were making an MMORPG set in this amazing universe, I was ecstatic. After a few years of waiting, my younger brother and I finally got our hands on World of Warcraft one snowy Christmas morning. For the next few months, we ground away at our characters, trying to ascend to the mystical level 60, join guilds, and start raids. I never made it to level 60. Ever. As my brother was sucked deeper and deeper into the land of Azeroth, I found myself less and less interested. The first expansion the Burning Crusade brought me back to the fold, but after I hit a wall too steep to grind, I never went back.

All that time, what I really wanted was a Warcraft 4. But as the stories of Thrall, Arthas, and Illadan were furthered and transformed (and, frankly, ruined) in the rather meaningless narrative of the MMO, my hopes were dashed and my interest extinguished. I don’t think we’ll ever see a Warcraft 4, and that’s fine by me, because if their recent track record is any indication, I probably wouldn’t care for it much anyway. Which brings me to the big one…

Diablo 

If you had asked me in between 2002 and 2004 what my favorite game was, I would have answered with a resounding and unquestioned “Diablo II.”

I don’t know why. I was not a huge fan of the original, though I did certainly enjoy it. But something about Diablo II, whether it was the loot, the art, the music, the community — or perhaps all of combined — whatever it was, it resonated with me in a way that not many games had done before. In fact, up until then, it was maybe the n64 Zeldas, Warcraft, and maybe a few of the classic Mario and Rayman games that really spoke to me in that way.

I spent a lot of time with Diablo II. The randomly generated maps; mounds of loot and gold; dark storyline… it’s all still so fresh in my mind.

So after years of waiting, being let down by WoW, and hearing about a Starcraft sequel, when Diablo III was finally announced, I might as well had done back flips out of my chair. Finally, a return to the world of Diablo! As details began to pour out, I got more excited. Then less excited. The more. Then Less. It went like this right up until the last few months before the open beta. I resigned myself to Blizzard’s will, deciding to give them the benefit of the doubt and keep my faith in what was sure to be a faithful sequel to one of my most beloved games.

And it was!

Diablo III fixed and changed so much about what was wrong with Diablo II (even stuff I didn’t know was wrong), while still keeping the spirit of the series intact and sticking to the fundamental design principles fans expected. Blizzard also redesigned Battle.net, so that online play was smoother and playing with your friends was as simple as clicking a single button.

Oh and they made the story a bigger part, but don’t worry, even though it was horrible, it didn’t matter much. Oh, and they borrowed a lot from WoW’s aesthetic. Oh, and the loot has been scaled back so players will utilize crafting and the auction house instead. Oh, and character building has been altered so that, despite vastly improving the skill system, your character’s stats were customized for you. OH! and now, all that random map generation that kept the previous games fresh and new, that’s all been gutted and is practically non existent.

After getting about halfway through the second difficulty, Nightmare, I stopped playing, dead cold. My first play through was great! But as I joined more online games and found myself replaying the exact same parts of the game, over and over again, with little to no change in the set of the environments, I lost interest almost immediately.

Now, I know they’re changing and adding a lot of new features, many of which address some of the issues I have with Diablo III. But that just makes me wonder “Why didn’t you just delay the game until it was complete?” I mean, they are BLIZZARD after all, the kings of “it’s done when its done” alongside Valve.

It makes little difference. I’m sure I’ll hop back in one day. Well, actually, no I’m not. I might, but at this point I have no desire to.

An alleged screenshot of Blizzard’s next project.

There was a time, years ago, when I had every Blizzard game installed on my PC. I’d hop between Warcraft III, Diablo II, and Broodwar on a whim. I thought of Blizzard’s games as masterpieces and regarded Blizz as the top game developer around. But now, with so many of the designers and creators that made those games possible having moved on to new studios and projects years ago, the company that once was no longer remains. Blizzard have stated publicly on several occasions that after the next expansions for Diablo III, Starcraft II, and Wow are completed, they plan on moving to new IPs, including a new MMO that I’m sure will turn the genre on it’s ear, so maybe we’ll see something new that will make me a believer again. But I doubt it.

It’s sad, but that’s the way life works. In their place, numerous AAA and indie developers alike have come in to offer the same type of top-shelf PC gaming I desire. But there will always be a part of me the pines for the glory days of Blizzard Entertainment.

Darksiders II Review

Darksiders 2, being the sequel to 2010’s Darksiders (obviously) surprisingly changes things up quite a bit. Not Zelda II changes, but changes nonetheless. Where the original Dakrsiders was a rather well executed equation of God of War combat, 90’s comic book art and story, and Legend of Zelda dungeons/puzzles/items/world layout/gameplay…. basically, it was  a mature Legend of Zelda clone.

For the most part, Darksiders 2 remains true to this formula. Well, kind of. DS2 adds in a much larger and more open world(s) to explore, and most notably, adds in Diablo-style loot drops and weapon upgrades.

From the get-go, Dakrsiders 2 throws you into this apocalyptic world of angels, demons, mythic creatures and elder gods. You don’t need to have a strong understanding — or any understanding at all, in fact — of the previous game’s plot in order to follow Death’s quest to redeem his brother War, the main character of the previous game. Death is a cool, somewhat devious counter balance to the brooding warrior of War. Almost like the Deadpool of this universe.

The story revolves around Death trying to restore humanity, after earth was mistakenly destroyed by War. The story is good, exactly what you’d expect from a game like this, but in all honesty there’s much better out there, and as a guy who likes less story and more gameplay, I wasn’t that drawn in, save for a few rather badass moments. The art direction, however, is wonderful. The art and design of these worlds and dungeons give the setting an strong identity. Sadly, other than the dungeons and hub zones, the rest of the world feel bare and boring, despite the fact you don’t see much of it. Darksiders 2 spans two giant worlds (The Viking/Tolkien-esque Forge Lands, and the Kingdom of the Dead), but the inclusion of a fast travel system means you’ll mostly be popping between objectives, dungeons, and merchants, and not spending much time exploring. What little exploration you do embark on happens within the few optional dungeons scattered about the map.

Thankfully, Darksider 2 plays magnificently well. Everything from combat to traversal feels fluid and intuitive. The God of War-style combat makes use of light attack/heavy attack combos, dodges, and special abilities. The traversal is like a mix between Uncharted and God of War, playing a lot like 2010’s Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, making exploring dungeons quite fun.

This is all rather par for the course as far as Darksiders goes. Where the game deviates from it’s predecessor is in it’s items and loots system. Where in Darksiders players worked through puzzle-laden dungeons in order to find a new item or new ability, use said item to defeat the dungeon’s boss, and then use the item to access a new part of the map.

Darksiders 2 does things differently. Most everything is open fro the outset of the game, at least in terms of the first over world. You don’t gain nearly as many special items, though there are some, and you do use them to uncover secrets or secondary areas. Instead, the focus is on loot and equipment. Often enemies will drop loot and gold. This loot can be anything from health potions, to new weapons and armor. Like with any loot-based game, certain items will increase your stats, and other may even have a special effect, such as stealing health or ice damage. As you might expect, better loot can make a difference in combat, especially boss battles. There are even special weapons that can “eat” other equipment and level up, allowing you to increase damage and add extra buffs.

In addition to this, Death has 2 skill tress to develop — one for melee attacks, and one for summoning minions. As you level, you earn skill points, yada, yada, yada. It’s action RPG 101. And if you don’t like your choices, you can spend a few gold to respec at any time. I found I didn’t use the melee attacks much, but the minion tree proved to be quite useful, especially for life steal. Thing is though, the system feels odd. I didn’t feel all that compelled to upgrade, even to the point of forgetting to use my points for about six levels. In terms of progression, I hit a wall about halfway through and lost interest in the RPG aspects of the game. The base gameplay was good enough, and my progression through the dungeons quick enough, that I still stuck with it though.

All in all, Darksiders 2 is pretty great. It diminishes a lot of what I loved about the original game, but many of the new additions are pretty cool (even if the RPG elements feel tacked on a bit). Darksiders 2 represents a type of game that is slowly dying out: the B-level, super “videogame-y” videogame, that doesn’t take itself too seriously, knows what it does well, and offers a great experience that doesn’t have to be a AAA blockbuster (and shouldn’t). If you’re in the market for a new God of War, or action RPG, or Zelda, or Legacy of Kain, or Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, then you’d do well to pick up Darksiders 2.

Score: 3.5/5

Pros: Awesome combat; great dungeon design; fun exploration and puzzle solving; really great artwork and setting.

Cons: Story is a bit bland; the overworld is bare and boring; the RPG elements can be hit or miss.

Should you buy: Magic the Gathering: Online?

Are you big into play the Trading card game Magic the Gathering? Is making that awesome deck too expensive? Do you find yourself wanting to play a round of magic but no one is around? If you said yes to any of these questions then you might want to look into purchasing Magic The Gathering: Online.

Marshal (PowerCords Editor) was able to talk me into buying this game for $10 bucks and trying it out. At first I didn’t really enjoy playing the game because I couldn’t come up with a good deck idea to start me off with, but Marshal was quick to tell me about being able to buy/trade for cards at a cheap price. When he told me that, I pretty much fell in love with this game. I then took the opportunity to find my favorite magic deck that I had made in real life and see how much it would be to buy all the cards for it. The deck in real life cost me at least $50 bucks, but as I was picking out the virtual cards the total came to $10 bucks.

I made the deck and put it together after a little while of getting use to the menus. I was then ready to test out the deck. Marshal was the only one that had the game and he wasn’t on at the time so I opted to use the “Games” tab. There were a ton of people on making new games and joining others. So it was easy to find a game and test out my deck. Unfortunately I don’t think I won my first game because I played a red white agro deck that was too quick for me. That didn’t stop me I just went and jumped into a new game. Also I’m not that into it but if you are there is an option for tournaments and drafts you can get involved with.

The one thing that I would change about this game is the menu system. I’m not sure what it is about it but I found it hard to navigate and get used to. It was also a bit confusing trying to construct a deck in the deck maker they have. Even with having played magic for a few years now I still found it difficult to construct a brand new deck on here, my opinion is to go to a site such as tappedout.net to build a deck and then go buy the cards and play the deck on Magic Online.

Being able to buy cards really cheap and being able to play whenever you feel like it is so great. Like I said if you are into playing Magic the Gathering trading card game then you should give this game a go. Feel free to add me, Schieds, even though I am not on much at the time being because I am still enjoying Diablo 3.

I will be working on a deck list article in the next week or so, so all of you will have the pleasure of seeing my creation, and if you want to try it out or give suggestions.

Let’s Talk about the OUYA.

A couple days ago, a new videogame console was announced, the OUYA (00-yah). Yes, you read that right.

According to the press release, this $99 machine will feature an Android-based operating system, and be built around tech perfect for streaming content (though, they are clear to point out it is a console, not a set-top box). Word is the system is being built with the idea of bringing Indie and Free- to-Play games to players in a living-room set up. Think iPhone/iPad games and F2P PC titles on a home console. The controller even features a small 3.5″ touch screen to allow for similar control options as iOS devices, in addition to dual analogue sticks, a d-pad, face buttons, and triggers. Plus the system will feature TwitchTV support so you can watch your favorite gaming streams.

AND it will have Minecraft at launch, free to play.

The OUYA was brought to Kickstarter to help fund the final $1million, part of which would go towards 1st party software support, and making the open-source and hackable-nature of the console even more robust. Which sounds awesome.

The project was fully funded in a matter of hours.

A fully hackable system aimed at Indie and F2P content might just be the console I’ve always wanted, but never knew I did. Lately, I’ve found myself playing Indie and F2P games more and more; a safe estimate is that such games make up about fifty percent of my gaming time. While not what I play exclusively, I find the ideas these types of games bring forth — be they creative, gameplay, artistic, or monetary ideas — to be fascinating and by far the most forward thinking models in the industry right now. When I get excited about games these days I get stoked about Halo 4 and gush over Skyrim just like anyone else; but in the past year, games like Bastion, Super Brothers: Sword and Sworcery EP, Tribes: Acsend, and Hawken have me stoked on experiences that are equally compelling, filled with loads more creativity and passion than most of the big AAA titles, and at a fraction of the price.

So the idea of a console that will support and encourage these experiences to grow and flourish, and bring them to new audiences, may just be the very thing this industry needs to see a much-needed jolt in innovation. I would love to see more designers making things like Dustforce and Fez, and maybe even the big-name publishers will begin looking for more creative and “risky” games to publish. I mean, I enjoy neck stabbing and dazzling graphics as much as the next guy, but few games have ever drawn me in as much as Bastion did. And while I have yet to play it, Journey seems to be one of this years must-play games because of the way it lets you interact with the world and other players — things you’d never hear about a Call of Duty or God of War — and I hope the OUYA will bring us more great games like that.

Not sure when this machine will be released, but for now, I’m way stoked to see what comes out of this. And hey, if Jenova Chen is getting excited about this, then so should you!

Read more about OUYA here.

Slender

Based off the Something Awful meme, slender man, Slender is a free-to-play survival horror game.

Slender starts off with little fanfare, plopping you in the middle of a dark forest at night, with the only goal being to find 8 pages scattered throughout the randomly generated woods, all the while being stalked by the shadowy figure, Slender Man. Slender features a first-person perspective, and allows you to only sprint and use a flashlight — both of which will slowly deplete with prolonged use. The lack of offensive or defensive actions leaves you feeling vulnerable, and as you collect the pages, sounds and music will slowly build, adding to the tension.

It only takes about 20 minutes to complete the game, if you’re not caught by Slender Man. Just like the Endermen of Minecraft (who are also based off the Slender Man mythos), looking at your pursuer while your flashlight is on will make him come for you. It makes turning on your flashlight to see in front of you a heart-racing affair. This is an extremely well-designed little game, as it creates such pure gameplay and horror experiences. Playing this alone, in the dark, with headphone on will probably cause mental degeneration and insanity — especially when you turn around and the dude is standing right behind you!

As a fan of survival horror games like Amnesia and Dead Space, Slender is a great little indie experience. Definitely check it out.

Slender is available as a free download here.

E3 2012: the Bad, and the Ugly

So, now we’ve got the good things from E3 2012 out of the way, it’s time to talk about those moments that were bad, and just downright ugly.

And there were certainly a few worth talking about. First off,

The Bad

Sony’s press conference had a conspicuous lack of Vita chat, even with the announcemnet of an Assassin’s Creed 3 spin off and new Black Ops title coming to the system. In fact, besides a few games shown on the floor — mostly by other publishers — it almost came off as a silent acceptance of the Vita’s poor performance in worldwide sales, even a quiet confirmation the company will support the handheld, but only as far as its current legs can carry itself. It was disappointing, but in some respects not very surprising and certainly not something you can blame Sony for all that much at this point (besides the high price, lack of support, strange marketing decisions, etc.)

Then there was Nintendo. Oh Nintendo… it was their E3 to lose — with high expectations for a new console, Nintendo bungled their conference with an underwhelming and flaccid display, devoid of any surprising and absolutely no guarantees on what to expect post-launch window. Hell, no guarantees on when to expect the console launch itself, nor any price. Sure, it was confirmed there would be no price or release date, but I thought for sure we’d get an idea, maybe even a general time of when to expect the announcement of the release date even… But no, nothing.

On top of that, the games shown during the press conference were either unsurprising (Pikmin 3, Super Mario Bros U) or just down right boring (Nintendoland). Thankfully, Ubisoft was there the provide a glimmer of hope with their new ZombiU franchise. But instead of showing off the game and the cool features it is implementing, Nintendo instead opted to spend 10 minutes showing off Batman: Arkham City — a game that will be over a year old by the time the Wii U Launches. Coupled with Darksiders 2, Mass Effect 3, and confirmation that Alien: Colonial Marines will ship on the Wii U after the PC, 360 and PS3 versions, you had a rather sad and sorry display for third party Wii U support. The show closed with fireworks, and no big announcements. The future of the system was left entirely untouched: what’s Retro bringing? What kind of third party support can we expect? What studios are working on future software for the system we can expect months or years after the Wii U launches? These questions remain unanswered.

Wii U’s biggest hope.

Even worse, the separate 3DS press conference they held the day after showed off essentially the exact same products teased at the Wii U conference the day before, and the more impressive Wii U and 3DS announcements weren’t even made until AFTER the press conferences. It was a mes, and an altogether disappointing E3 for Nintendo.

The Ugly

This year was hard for me. Even though I can point to at least a dozen games I was impressed by and am excited to see in the next near (or more), it seemed like every game was toting a “3” suffix — Assassin’s Creed 3, Dead Space 3, Far Cry 3, Crysis 3, Pikmin 3 (all of which ended up impressing me this year). We also saw the fourth entry in the Gears of War franchise, Halo 4 (technically a “reboot” of sorts, but still the sixth entry in  the series), ANOTHER Assassin’s Creed (the eighth or ninth in the series), and a new God of War (the fourth home console title, and sixth overall game in the franchise). Plus the next Call of Duty and Medal of Honor games as well.

It was fatiguing. And, to be honest, in a lot of ways I almost felt ashamed for getting excited about some of these games. Do we really need another God of War, Halo, Assassin’s Creed, and Call of Duty? I know these look great, and will be highly successful, but ever since this generation sparked the trend of yearly franchises, I find myself getting more and more cynical and worn out on these characters and scenarios. They’ll be great games, absolutely. But I would really like to see this generation wind down and make way for new ideas.

And it’s not just because I’d like to see new IP.

These yearly franchises have brought in a new type of gamer. Something like the “hardcore casual gamer”, aka, bro-shooter fans. They usually just buy 1-2 games a year (almost undoubtedly Call of Duty and Madden) and not much else. There’s millions of these guys — chances are you know one. By no means are they bad for games sales, but marketers and PR departments seem to think they’re the audience they need to be selling their games to, and E3 was proof of that. The biggest example is Dead Space 3. Behind closed doors, convention-goers were shown tense, suspenseful moments, broken up by tussles with gore-hungry necromorphs. It looked and played like Dead Space, albeit with some changes, and a few steps further down the path of action sequences started by Dead Space 2.

But by no means was it it a third person shooter.

But if all you had seen or heard on the new game was the 30 second trailer at EA’s press conference. you’d probably have thought they were showing off Gears of War, complete with duck-and-cover shooting, meat-headed co-op partners spouting off testosterone fuled “Shits” and “Fuck Yeah’s” and balsting gun-toting space marines — the opposite of why people play Dead Space. Thankfully, we were assured the single player is devoid of AI companions (for the large majority at least), the cover stuff is not the main focus, and the humans actually mutate and morph in The Thing-like fashion once you’ve damaged them.

Blaahhhh.

I could go on and on, the point it, games seem to be marketed towards a certain type of gamer these days, and that bad for two reasons. 1) when those bro-shooter fan pick up the game and realize it’s not Gears of War or Call of Duty, they’ll be frustrated, confused and disappointed. And 2) when core-fans of series like Dead Space and Mass Effect see their games marketed as CoD or GoW, they become frustrated, confused and disappointed. No one wins.

It’s part of a larger problem with the videogame industry as a whole, and highlights the issue of how to market games to the right people. Games (and the gamers who play them) are becoming just as diverse as movies, television, and music. Not every movie-goer sees all the big movies, and no core-gamer plays all the big games. I think it’s probably a time for more niche marketing and press in the industry itself.

But like I’ve said, I could go on and on. The the industry is changing, and despite how great the majority of games were, this year’s E3 is proof of that. If nothing else, the biggest thing I came away with from E3 2012 was my excitement for E3 2013, and its potential to bring us new experiences and innovations.

E3: The Good

E3’s now a week behind us, and big reveals and press conferences even further back than that. E3 2012 was a strange year — a year of transitions and wheel spinning, and estrangement. That’s not to say it was a bad show this year, or that there were no great games. On the contrary, there were some great presences from several titles, and numerous developers and publishers wowing us enthusiast crowds with some damn good looking games.

There were certainly missteps, I won’t shy away from that fact. But overall I was satisfied with what I saw. So let’s get into some of the things that grabbed my attention from this year’s E3. Continue reading “E3: The Good”

E3 Day 1 Wrap Up: Games and Press Conferences

It’s heeere! The most exciting week in gaming, where some of the biggest announcement are made and the newest games shown off. Kick starting the week were 4 pressers from Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, and Sony. Here’s our thoughts on the big moments (and upsets) of E3 2012: Continue reading “E3 Day 1 Wrap Up: Games and Press Conferences”

The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition Review

How often in a role playing game do you actually feel the decisions you make affect the narrative in truly sweeping ways? More often than not, it seems like we’re selecting between two hallways that ultimately lead to the same room, the only difference between the two is that one is painted red and the other blue (when you play the muppet’s party cruise).

In CD Projekt RED’s The Witcher 2, the differences between those hallways would be one is painted red, and the other is a freeway.

The Witcher 2 is unlike many games in the RPG genre for many reasons. The game is set in a rather realistic world, where monsters are rare and truly monstrous, and where casting a powerful magic spell can leave even the most adept sorceress exhausted for days. You take the role of Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher. Witchers are genetically modified humans, able to ingest alchemical potions and utilize magic — things that would lead most normal humans to a gruesome death — and are tasked with hunting down dangerous creatures.

Geralt is suffering from the all-too-common RPG affliction, amnesia, something he’s had twice now over the series’ two games. Geralt is wrongly accused of killing a king for whom he was sworn to protect, after it is discovered the king was assassinated by a fellow witcher. Geralt is let free, under the sole provision he help hunt down the assassin and his cohorts, now known as the “Assassin of Kings.” The assassination couldn’t have come at a worse time — the the land is being torn apart by numerous warring kingdoms and rebel factions.

Each aspect of the game’s scenario comes into play in some form or another in the gameplay in ways that go beyond just plot devices.

For example: Geralt’s amnesia explains his need for a skill tree to expand his combat abilities. The skill tree works just as any other, with players unlocking new skills and bonuses after each level gained. These make a surprising difference in the difficulty of the game, as early on, some of the most basic enemies can kill you if you’re not careful. This does create a rather steep learning curve for the first couple hours of the game, but thankfully with the Enhanced Edition updates, many of the random shifts in difficulty — both harder and easier — have for the most part been eliminated. Still, by the middle of the game I was practically invincible in even the toughest fights.

Geralt’s ability to use potions and alchemy is also a strong point of the gameplay. Geralt is armed with a magic pendant that shows pickable plants and herb, as well as hidden items and secrets. By collecting ingrediants found in the wild, you can bring up a menu where Geralt can meditate, make potions, or take potions. Potions vary wildly in terms of stat bonuses and buffs, and give a much needed leg up in combat. They also come with a toxicity level — the more toxic a potion is, the higher your toxicity level rises. I was usually able to take between 2-4 potions before my toxicity was maxed. It’s both an interesting mechanic, and provide some realism to the RPG trope of potion taking.

You also have special magical abilities, called signs, which can aid you in combat in both offensive and defensive capacities, adding yet another layer onto the combat system. There is even a sign available for use in conversations, which acts as a sort of “Jedi mind trick,” persuading others to see things your way.

The conversations play out a lot like Mass effect or Dragon Age’s would, but without a dialogue wheel informing you of the “good” or “bad” options. In fact, every choice in the game has its own pros and cons, forcing you to listen to what others have to say and weigh your options, instead of simply clicking on the one that matches your alignment. There were many times I sat back in my seat and took several minutes to really think about the choices the game was giving me. They are all wonderfully complex shades of gray, never black and white or simple. While I certainly have my issues with overly-cinematic games and the illusion of control most RPGs give you, in The Witcher 2 I felt my decisions were not only hard to make, but were extremely important. When I went back to see how other options may have turned out, I found that I missed out on entire chunks of the game that other players saw, and vice-versa. It’s one of the few times a game has given you options with real consequences on the story’s path.

The Witcher 2 is beautiful.

The world the game takes place in is very gritty and realistic, bringing to mind George R.R. Martin’s A song of Ice and Fire series (a.k.a. Game of Thrones), with all its political intrigue, mature sexual themes, violence, and a setting that feels grounded and relatable. The landscapes look like real places, the people and clothing — even the Elves and Dwarves — look more medieval than fantastical. That realism is boosted by the game’s gorgeous graphics. Truly, it’s one of the most beautiful PC games to come out in several years. Even at the lowest settings, the game’s animations, lighting, and texture rival even the sharpest console titles. The high graphics fidelity only add to The Witcher 2‘s immersiveness. While not entirely open like Besthesda’s RPGs, the world is still massive and filled with things to discover and quests to undertake in each of the game’s 3 acts. I never felt at a loss of things to do, though some quests did randomly fail when I completed others, but with the number you’ll have active at any particular moment, it’s a non-issue.

The Witcher 2 is complex, beautiful, and deep. The story is mature, and despite the  largely cinematic presentation, provides the player with hard choices and real consequences; the combat is layered and dynamic, even if the difficulty is inconsistent. Overall, The Witcher 2 is a prime example of the RPG genre, the PC version is a strong reminder of the power PC games can hold. I very much recommend to any RPG fan, or gamers looking for something a little more mature and grounded, but nontheless fun to play.

Pros: Gorgeous graphics; deep gameplay and combat; the story and setting are much more mature and interesting than most fantasy RPGs; choices are important and never black and white.

Cons: Steep learning curve; inconsistent difficulty; requires powerful machine to run a higher graphical settings; some story elements are cliched or contrived.