Friday, May 31, 2013

Microsoft's XBox One, and Other Grievances

     In case you hadn't heard, Microsoft unveiled their next-gen console to raucous cheers provided by staff interspersed through the crowd gathered at the custom-built tent on their campus.

The media wasn't and isn't cheering, nor are gamers celebrating the XBox One as a leap forward in gaming technology.

Simply put, Microsoft shit the bed with their first-look event. The box itself is another beast of machinery akin to the original XBox, it comes with an upgraded Kinect, and supposedly improved.

The features that were touted throughout the event were media-centric, and if you didn't know any better, you would swear it was an unveiling of a Microsoft branded cable/DVR box with peripheral gaming capabilities.

How do you hold a special event for what you're hoping will be a revolutionary GAMING platform and focus on, how you can watch TV, stream movies, chat on Skype, use motion and voice controls to navigate menus?

Microsoft promises they're investing a shiny billion dollars in next-gen game development, including 15 new exclusive titles.

That's cool. So why did we only see one game? Why did you give so much time to EA Sports during the event?

EA Sports sells big, FIFA and Madden in particular, but aside from gameplay tweaks and shinier graphics, they're not selling points.

The selling points for the XBox One, as far as I can tell, are the media functions and motion/voice control functions, which interact with one another.

It is funny that Microsoft's greatest folly wasn't the lack of attention paid to gaming during their event, but the disregard for the market killing rumors that have been floating around for the last several months.

Adam Orth, Microsoft's one-time creative director, lost his job for tweeting about the always-on feature rumored for the new console. Not just tweeting about it, but doing so in an insulting manner.

An always-on feature means the console requires an internet connection regardless of a game being single or multiplayer. The rumor has yet to be shot down, and subsequent rumors regarding an internet check-in period every 24 hours, have only been downplayed and not entirely eradicated.

I take issue with the possible always-on feature because I don't have an internet connection at home. Granted, I'm in the minority, but there are people with unstable connections as well as no connection at all.

Why should I, someone who plays singleplayer games almost exclusively, be forced to pay for an internet service for the sole purpose of passing 24-hour check-ins for the XBox One?

The other troubling rumor is the one where XBox One kills used games.

It is my understanding that you can install a game on any number of XBox One consoles you want from a single disc. So if I want to buy a game and lend it to a friend or several friends, I can do that.

Here's the kicker...

The game came with a one-time use license that is forever connected to my XBL account, meaning anyone who wishes to play the game installed using the disc I purchased will have to buy their own license.

The question then becomes how much will they have to pay? Will they have to pay the full price of the game? Will they have to pay a large portion of the fee but still less than the full price?

And what happens to places like GameStop? If the discs hold no value unto themselves, how can that business exist? They'd have to deal in selling licenses, which effectively makes them a new game retailer.

It points to Microsoft creating a secondhand market all their own, where they control the prices rather than time and relative interest in titles.

Games now decrease in value over time, naturally. A game released three years ago, if it is an amazing game, may still be $19.99, while a crappy game, like Burger King's Sneak King, will be $0.99.

If Microsoft has their own marketplace, there won't be such drastic price drops years after a release. Since they'd be selling licenses, they'd charge most of the full price of a game.

Arguably the bigger problem in all of this is the function of the XBox One. It is being pushed as a media hub rather than a gaming device.

If you really boil it down, it is really just adding Kinect functionality to your television. Awesome...

Of course, these are just my opinions on the subject, and they're about as informed as anyone else's at this point. Until E3, or the actual release of the console, no one can really be certain if Microsoft is being intentionally dense, or legitimately plans to screw gamers worldwide.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Darksiders Out of F*cking Nowhere

     So I thought up this plan to play Dark Souls and Mass Effect in tandem because they offer different experiences, and I thought that switching back and forth would keep both fresh.

It was working out great until I thought to myself, "Maybe I'll go to Barnes & Noble."

From Barnes & Noble, I wandered over to Target. Didn't really see anything there, I just felt like going is all.

Then I thought, "Hey, Gamestop is right over there. Haven't been there in a while." I perused the wall of games, took in the prices of some of the titles I had, at one point or another, considered purchasing.

Long story made pointless, I got Darksiders and started playing that.

I remember when Darksiders came out, I was excited. Similar to many games I've been excited about, there was a substantial write-up in Game Informer, because I did and still do subscribe to it.

The whole apocalypse thing just appealed to me at the time, and for some reason I recall the world being more open rather than big but linear. Kind of like Legend of Zelda you're-next-goal-is-here-but-you-can-do-stuff-in-places-X-Y-and-Z.

I've only just scratched the surface and I know it isn't going to be like that at all. No overworld to speak of, not that I can see.

Still, the gameplay is easy to pick up and the bevy of item slots the inventory screen has gets me excited. I like having an inventory full of sh*t, some of which I'll never use. I like having the option though.

Maybe my problem is that I like new things too much to get through the old things I have. Like, I've had Mass Effect for 3+ years, and while I've beaten it once before, I can't focus on it knowing I have 15 other games to complete.

And how the hell did I amass that many games without finishing them? Deus Ex, Dark Souls, Mass Effect 3, Assassin's Creed 2, Naughty Bear, Hitman: Blood Money, Crysis 2, Dead Space 2, Dishonored, Dragon Age 2, Skyrim, Far Cry 2, Just Cause 2, Final Fantasy XIII, Prototype, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2, Sniper Elite V2.
Not my backlog, but A backlog

Holy hell, that's a lot of sequels. Whatever happened to standalone titles? Why does everything need to be a franchise or a direct continuation of one storyline?

The Zelda franchise is connected, but each game tells a different story, even if it features familiar characters or environments.

I forgot where I was going with this....

Oh, right. Darksiders.

So I hear it draws from a lot of great games, creating a satisfying, if overly familiar experience. I look forward to making up my own mind in that department.

Part of me wants to listen to The Foreskins "Murder Train" non-stop while playing this.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Polarizing Effect of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker and Tempering Expectations

     I remember when the first images of the Wind Waker hit the web. Cel-shanded graphics, cartoonish character models, and a lot of water.

My first thoughts were not, "WTF?!? What's with the graphics? Is this a kid's game?!" or "They've ruined Zelda forever..."

My first thought was, "F*ck yes!! New Zelda game!!!!"

Apparently the Wind Waker, due to be released for the Wii U in HD, divided fans quite a bit. Though my thoughts weren't "this sux" or "i haet Nintendo," there were a great number of people who did adopt that mindset.

Keep in mind, these opinions were formed based on the first images of the final product rather than actual, hands-on experience with the game.

I don't need to tell you why that's bullshit.

It is perfectly understandable to wonder why Nintendo changed the art style of one of their most beloved franchises. It is unreasonable to assume that this change is inherently bad and will taint the legacy of said franchise forever.

Particularly unreasonable when YOU HAVEN'T PLAYED THE GAME YET!!!!

Everyone, it seems, is preoccupied with being able to say "I told you so." They take a premature stance, and either end up on the right side of things, or looking like total assh*les for being so stubbornly, close-mindedly premature.

Wind Waker was a new direction for the Zelda series, without a doubt. But it didn't abandon the roots of the series. It just built upon the gameplay elements, the existing lore, as well as introduced a new element.

Previously, the Legend of Zelda series thrived on land, with unique worlds at every corner, or dotting the map, but it was always on land.

Wind Waker introduced a vast ocean and a number of islands housing dungeons, different races and challenges. With that vast ocean came a sailing mechanic, replacing the horse as the means of transportation.

Aside from the art style and the sailing, it is still a Zelda game, complete with a host of items, tight combat, a memorable world, and overall fun.

As with anything that has ever existed ever, people had their gripes.

The islands were too far apart, dungeons weren't as numerous, the parry attack broke the combat, the story was meh, why does this boat talk, why is it so hard to find the Triforce shards etc.

When you consider the fact that the ocean exists because Hyrule was flooded when Ganondorf was last defeated, the vastness of the ocean and the distance between islands makes sense.

Granted, there aren't any details in the overworld that appear in any way similar to any parts of the old Hyrule, it wouldn't make sense to bring the world closer.

People are too comfortable getting things easily. They want to be able to go from point A to point B, C, D and E quickly, while the point of Wind Waker and sailing is to take in the surrounding world and think, "Why is the world like this? Why do we care about a hero of time from ages ago? Where does the classic Hyrule come into play?"

What do gamers have against thinking? What sense would it make to have a sailing mechanic but close the world in, so each trip takes less than 30 seconds? Then you get complaints about how worthless sailing is, and why was it necessary?

And so what if the Triforce shards are hard to find? They're supposed to be a challenge to find and raise from the depths. Otherwise, it cheapens the fact that this is a piece of the most powerful force in the universe and you found it at the bottom of the damned ocean.

Why is that so difficult to comprehend?

The art style belies the very dark story, maybe not as dark or weird as Majora's Mask, but considering you defeat Ganondorf with a Master Sword in the head, similar to the finish to Ocarina of Time.

Before I get too ranty, the point of this is, expectations are the quickest way to ruin a game.

If you go into a game with the idea that it is going to be terrible, and it turns out it isn't, you're going to find a lot of nits to pick just so you have some ground to stand on, and don't look like a total d*ckhead.

Or you go into a game with the highest of hopes, and when a perfectly enjoyable game doesn't exceed those expectations, you sh*t on it to validate your own problems of praising a game before it comes out.

I foresee this issue with the upcoming Watch Dogs. It looks fantastic, and the information-as-a-weapon approach intrigues me. I just worry that such a grand idea will fall flat... Until Watch Dogs 2, that is...

Yes. I'm ending it on that.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Movie Break - The Dark Knight Rises vs. The Avengers

     There are some arguments that I just cannot let die. Just last week, I jumped at the opportunity to defend The Avengers as someone foolishly stated The Dark Knight Rises is a better movie, while listing reasons and defending them.

The vast majority of people will go on record as saying TDKR is a great movie, and The Avengers was a good movie, but just didn't have the impact or the grit, or whatever.

It was my fault for indulging the paper-thin arguments with a response, but I felt the need to get some satisfaction, to voice my opinions.
Here's my response to this particular collection of arguments:

1) Batman Relies on His Own Strengths to Fight Crime

--Unlike Tony Stark or Captain America, Batman doesn't rely on high-tech gadgets or genetically-enhanced strength to fight crime. Yes, he does have cool gadgets like Batarangs and the Batmobile, but he doesn’t necessarily need them to defeat the bad guys — he could quite easily rely on his own ninja training and intelligence--

This is bullshit for a few reasons, but I'll boil it down to one single thought. Saying that Batman is better
Gadgets? What gadgets?
because he's stronger, and Tony Stark relies on gadgets is akin to saying the guy who can lift more weight and hit harder is inherently better than someone capable of thinking up, building and perfecting a flight-capable suit of armor that acts as a nuclear deterrent.

The author's logic is flawed from the start because he downplays Batman's gadgets. Without the Batmobile, how does he get to crimes across town? If he didn't have anything on his utility belt, he'd sure have a hell of a time climbing up fire escapes. If he didn't have his super-special cape that allows him to glide to a safe landing, while borderline flying if maneuvered properly, he'd plummet to his death while trying to get the drop on bad guys.

Take away his belt, his cape, his car, and his computer, and Batman isn't Batman.

2) Catwoman is a Stronger Character than Black Widow

--Let’s face it, when it comes to femme fatales in comic book movies, Catwoman could mop the floor with Black Widow in a fight. She’s sassy, has the reflexes of a lioness, and could steal your valuables in a a blink of an eye without having to worry about getting interrupted by S.H.I.E.L.D. Plus, she shot Bane; let’s see if Black Widow could’ve done that--

Catwoman, as protrayed in TDKR is crafty, and shows some ability to fight, while Black Widow is among the most highly trained agents of SHIELD. Tell me, in a fight to the death, who would you take? The plucky, down on her luck, jewel thief with a few tricks up her sleeve, or the one of the deadliest women on the planet, who routinely tangles with superpowered villains?

Catwoman shooting Bane is irrelevant to the discussion because Bane was vulnerable, and had just been revealed as a smokescreen for the real threat. Black Widow would have found out Miranda Tate was Talia al Ghul and taken her out long before she could work her way into Bruce Wayne's board of directors.

3) Bane is a Better Villain

--Much like his predecessor the Joker in ‘The Dark Knight,’ Bane is absolutely terrifying as a villain. Loki? Not so much. He didn’t really do much aside from lead a small force of Chitauri aliens against Earth and try to mind-control a few people. Meanwhile, Bane is the only one who has ever broken Batman and he took over NYC"..."Hardy manages to convey a wide arrange of emotion with a mask covering half of his face and his voice distorted.--

I'll start from the end this time. Hardy put on a tremendous physical performance as Bane, but his distorted voice ruined all those times he waxed poetic to Bruce Wayne about why he was doing all of this.

Now to the crux of the matter.

Bane, as portrayed in the comics, specifically the story arc TDKR draws from (Knightfall), is an amazing villain. He is the strategic equal to Bruce Wayne/Batman, and the physical superior through his use of venom, which grants him his size and strength.

In the movie, Bane is just a hulking terrorist who is ultimately a puppet of Miranda/Talia, and his mask is a painkiller delivery system he must wear as a result of being brutally beaten and scarred while protecting Talia during her escape.
There is no mention of him being as smart and stronger than Batman, save for a passing remark from Alfred, who somehow knows everything about Bane at just the right moment.

Loki isn't an incredible villain, but the entire time, you know he is merely the conduit for the threat. The Chitauri are the army he was granted to bring the Earth to its knees for the being he serves, which ends up being Thanos, if you caught the post-credits scene.

Bane is made into a simple brute, and then neutered in the end when Talia reveals her master plan and paints him as a puppy dog of a protector.

And sure, Bane did break the bat, but then he put him in a prison hole and essentially provided Batman with everything he needed to recover and ultimately overcome the threat in the end, though it did require a few magic spine punches to fix that pesky broken back.
.... And Bane didn't take over NYC. He took over Gotham, which is the DC Comics equivalent of Chicago. The presence of a stock exchange is a plot contrivance rather than a nod to being the DC universe counterpart of Wall Street.

4) Better Director

--While some praise Whedon for works such as ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer,’ ‘Angel,’ and ‘Firefly,’ let’s face it: Christopher Nolan has the better big screen career. With unforgettable films such as ‘Memento,’ ‘Batman Begins,’ ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘Inception,’ he is an instantly recognizable household name with a distinctive cinematic style. Whedon lacks Nolan’s visual flair, and directs ‘Avengers’ like it’s the world’s most expensive TV pilot. A fun TV pilot, but still a TV pilot.--
Nolan has more movie experience. Whedon has more TV experience. That much is true. The flaw in that logic, which I have trimmed down considerably in the interest of space, is that Whedon has actually written for comics. That fact alone gives him a more credible background to be tackling such a project.

Nolan may be an acclaimed film director, but his Batman series has proven he knows dick about action, pacing and his source material.

Disregard the issues with the plodding plot, annoying focus on support characters, etc. and look at the big showdown in the end. The cops vs. Bane's army, which is guns and Wayne-Tech tumblers vs. flesh and bone, because the majority of the cops are unarmed.
Marksmanship awards for everyone!!

Every single one of Bane's men attended the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy. Sure, one of the tanks is blown up, and Batman does a fly-by, but the mercenaries still have assault weapons and hit everything but the mass of men rushing towards them.

He neutered Bane, as previously mentioned, his movie is riddled with plot holes, and he threw in a lazy, slap in the face of a fan service with the whole John Blake's name being Robin thing.

Not Dick Grayson, not Jason Todd, not Tim Drake. Robin. Never has the individual donning the tights and moniker of Robin been named Robin.

5) Better Cast

--Not that Robert Downey Jr., Tom Hiddleston, or Mark aren’t great actors, but ‘the Avengers’ is mainly comprised of younger stars who haven’t had the experience of Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman or Gary Oldman yet. Nolan’s cast is incredibly talented and most, if not all, are established actors whose skills are acknowledged. They’ve also had three movies to full gel as as cast. ‘The Avengers’ cast hasn’t had that chance yet, but perhaps they will surprise us in the future.--

The approach to this argument is skewed. The cast of TDKR and all of Nolan's Batman movies were cast because of their seriousness. Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Christian Bale have a combined 16 Academy Award nominations and 6 total Academy Award wins.

That fact is also the flaw.

Having so many talented actors share the screen makes it difficult to balance what they can do with what they are needed to do in the film

Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are invisible for most of the third film, so what does it matter if they're involved?

Anne Hathaway steals the show, which isn't difficult with the incoherent Bane played by Tom Hardy, or the still unlikable Christian Bale version of Batman.

Bale as Batman is terrible. He's a great actor. He just isn't right for the part aside from the physical aspect of the character. A guy like Jon Hamm would have been better suited for Batman because he has the playboy look and he damn sure wouldn't have thrown on the ridiculous growl-shout Bale did for talking as Batman.

The cast of The Avengers may not have the award-winning credentials, but serve as better vehicles for the ensemble cast the movie calls for. Robert Downey Jr. is easily the biggest draw because of his performance as Iron Man, but his larger-than-life arrogance is perfect for what the movie calls for, because it is supposed to be about putting egos aside, and Tony Stark's is the biggest of them all.

I can't really argue against the quality of the cast because the problem I have with the criticism is that there isn't really a criticism.
Kevin Conroy = Best Batman
The only thing said about the quality of the cast is that Nolan's cast has more credentials. And that's bullshit. Gary Oldman is among the most respect actors in the world, but has one less Academy Award nomination and one less Academy Award win than Anne Hathaway, who has been acting roughly 1/3 of the time Oldman has.

Awards don't mean everything.


As if I hadn't already, I could easily go down a thousand different avenues branching from an infinite number of tangents. Something about this comparison just gets to me.

I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I just wish those people expressing their opinions would do a better job of backing their opinions up with factual information rather than going along with the general public or saying things that sound an awful lot like "Just cuz!"

Friday, May 3, 2013

Dark Souls (Cont'd) and Games I Haven't Touched

     So I've committed myself to playing Dark Souls with minimal interruption, and have found it just as satisfying and frustrating as before. The threat everything poses, the lack of real direction or linear feel, it tests you as a gamer.

Part of me, however, feels like I've broken the game.

There's a spot early in the game where you can farm 10,000 souls in a matter of a minute or two, souls being the currency in the world, used for both buying weapons, armor, etc. and leveling up.

It would take a great deal of time and effort to gather that many souls playing the game straight, and knowing that I can do it so easily means I'll neglect learning the finer points of combat, which will likely bite me in the ass later.

On top of that, I've apparently forgotten how to level up weapons and armor. I remember my first time playing, I just did whatever and had a pretty solid character build with a reasonably strong weapon and armor set.

Now, I find my build is lacking, and I don't know what weapon I want to upgrade to use for the majority of the game, once the OP Drake Sword is rendered obsolete.

I'm good with the longsword. I know the timing, I know the strikes. It is easy to wield.

I also feel like it is a bit of a cop out to use it throughout the game. I've always love the idea of the morningstar, I like the halberd, and even intrigued by the hand/fist upgrades.

No matter the interest, I end up being a sword and bow-wielding pyromancer. Sounds cool, but feels a bit basic.

Sometimes, this game makes me feel like less of a gamer. I've always been interested in RPGs and character building, but Dark Souls makes me feel like I'm awful at it. I apparently don't know how to learn better approaches to the process.

Dragon Age is a game that I enjoyed because the building was straightforward. That also had an actual story, which was nice.

Dark Souls is lacking in the story department, though I guess it is up to the player to interact with the NPCs and such to gather pieces of the story. It is a nice change of pace that I appreciate, but do not favor in my gaming.

As of now, I've rung the first bell, the Bells of Awakening being the first major goals in the game, followed by the arduous process of defeating four bosses holding pieces of the Lord Souls (each of whom are shown in the beginning trailer of the game).

Between the player and the bosses are treacherous areas that test skill and patience, much like the entire game makes a point of doing.

First, I have to venture into Blighttown, attempting to maintain the majority of my health, en route to Quelaag, who guards the second Bell of Awakening, which opens Sen's Fortress, which is a palace of punishment, a tower of torture...

A funhouse of f*cking frustration!!!

There are so many obstacles that stand between me and finishing this damned game...

And this damned games keeps me from playing other games I have yet to play. Assassin's Creed 2, Mass Effect 3, and Dragon Age 2 have never once seen the inside of my XBox.

AC2 is an easy thing to start playing because I've already beaten AC1. In order to player ME3 and DA2 (I hate abbreviating in such a way), I have to play the games that come before to completion.

So before I can play Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age 2, I have to beat Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age.

I'll be playing BioWare games for a year at my current rate...

I've tried to fit a half an hour or so per session of ME just to get the ball rolling. I just haven't been in the mood for gabbing with NPCs for long stretches of time between actual gameplay.

Completing the Mass Effect series is an exciting prospect, while the undertaking of Dragon Age 2 is less exciting since I know the gameplay change dramatically.

Gone is the character customization. They give you a character with a backstory and everything. Sort of feels like a step back, but whatever.

I'll probably get bogged down with other games and then Dragon Age 3 will come out, and I'll hate the world just a little bit more, and never play through the series.