Mars Rover truly left its mark! (A good Friday laugh)

26 04 2013

Mars Rover Get’s Cheeky!

I know this may seem a bit unprofessional but when I heard about this on the radio (and promptly looked it up on the internet of course) I couldn’t stop laughing. Perhaps this isn’t tactful for a professional blog that is constructed for the sole purpose of evaluating games and game industry, but sometimes it’s the little things that really get you through the day.

So no doubt as some of you have already heard, via the pictures going viral, the Mars Rover apparently got a little “cheeky” on the planet we plan to colonize and inadvertently drew a large phallic picture on the Mars surface with its tracks!

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Take of it what you will, but personally my boyish nature found it incredibly funny. No doubt some will be offended by this, as it is certainly not suited for everyone’s taste. However, I’ve learned in my life’s experience that sometimes you just have to “Let your hair down”and have a good laugh here and there without being uptight, life is too short!

I won’t make a dissertation out of this, just had to post as I found it incredibly funny and ironic at the same time….. what do we do with the most scientifically advanced robot that we put on a foreign planets surface hundreds of thousands of miles away? Why draw subjectively naughty pictures in the sand with large amounts of comedic value of course!

This isn’t the original article by any means, as it first appeared on Nasa and Reddit, but for further reading (and enjoyment)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/24/mars-rover-penis-draws-nasa_n_3148422.html





American “Gun Culture” & Video games:

13 04 2013

AR15-with-American-Flag

Let me first state that this is not a political piece aimed at either side of the hotly contested gun control debates on Capitol Hill. While I am very passionate about my 2nd Amendment rights, this is not what this is about.

Disclaimer: I am not writing this piece partial to either gender, when I say “him, he, his, man” it’s an all-inclusive statement covering men and women

Frequently, I see conversations and posts from people outside of the United States whom are bewildered by what is perceived as the American “Love Affair” with guns. The purpose of this brief post is to attempt (to the best of my ability and understanding) to try to explain why America is this way, why guns are important and pivotal to our society and culture. Then I will relate that to video games, especially heavily influenced Western video games. In order to attempt to appreciate this article, I ask that you set aside any cultural or personal biases (especially if you are not an American citizen) and try to view our culture outside of your own cultural lens you’ve acquired from whatever environment you were raised in.

 Washington Crossing the Delaware

That being said let us begin! So the elephant in the room, so to speak, “Why are Americans obsessed with guns?” No doubt many countries just view us as “cowboys” and a people that are in love with themselves. In order to understand us you must take a look at our history. America was colonized and founded mainly on the ideals of independence and “freedom”. Granted, there are some very dark patches in our past, but over the course of our history you will see a common element or theme. Our society has been about the individual and their independence. Take a guess at what’s been at the corner stone to all of that, the gun. The “gun” has always done something miraculous to the Western individual, in the American mind-set; it’s a transformative tool that allows a man, an ordinary man, to pick it up and change the world, his environment, or to do something greater. This has been the case from when pilgrims settled the West, to when we fought against ourselves in the Civil War, and so on.

CoB

Do most Americans truly believe that they will have to “rise” up one day and overthrow the government? Probably not, but the “gun” is so deeply rooted in our culture that it’s a part of who we are as a people. Just take a look at the stories we write, the movies we make, and most of the video games we tend to build. You will observe ordinary individuals confronted with an unconquerable conflict, you’ll observe them taking up arms and transforming not only their mental models but overcoming obstacles that were previously viewed as insurmountable.

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Conversely if you need an example of a polar opposite culture (for the sake of this anthropology discussion), take a look at Japanese culture and how they view the gun. Japanese culture is deeply rooted in both Shintoism and Buddhism which generally speaks of “balance”, “being attuned with nature”, and so on. When you view their creative works, you often see the “gun” as an extension of the self, instead of a transformative tool/object that changes who the individual was before they picked it up. It’s often also personified as channelling inner “chi” or energy, hence why many protagonists will “shoot” fireballs, have guns/cannons physically attached to them, versus being a separate object.

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I apologize for going off on a tangent about Japanese culture, but I believe it’s important to showcase another cultural example for anyone having issues setting aside their own cultural biases. Although, if you are not capable of doing that you will probably have quit reading by now!

In summary, I believe the “gun” will always be synonymous with American culture and especially video games. For people who are either not American, or are American and still don’t understand guns and how they relate to our society, try to view our culture objectively and really understand how it all relates. Inevitably, this is about to get comments asking about the “violence” in America. For my one truly political statement, I believe the statistics you see so casually thrown around are greatly misconstrued and abused by being taken out of context. Realistically, violence in American is at an all-time low, the reason you see so much of it is due to sensationalistic journalism and specific special interest groups and their agendas, but I digress.

I wanted to keep this really short, as a piece like this could get REALLY lengthy very quickly. This was not meant to be a dissertation, but a brief peak into American culture in the hopes to shed some new “light” and hopefully give people outside of the United States a chance to be objective without being automatically dismissive, perhaps I ask too much.





The Witcher 2 Review

23 12 2012

 

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I know I’ve been absent from my blog for some time, well life and business has a way of catching up with you. Now that it’s the holidays, and I have some time to write, I want to talk about a game that snuck up me. Now, as a frequent user of video games, I want to talk about a game that came out of nowhere and had me completely enthralled.

If you’re an avid gamer, you know what I’m talking about. That awesome feeling when you stumble upon a game that resonates perfectly with you, and you find yourself playing nonstop. This is particularly amazing when you weren’t looking for that game the in first place. As the incident goes, I stumbled upon The Witcher 2 on a Steam sale, and picked it up with barely a mild interest, honestly, it was a drunken impulse buy.

With an hour or so into the game, I was completely hooked, and amazed by the overall experience that I was having. There are very few games that I can say this about, and The Witcher 2, definitely earns the prestigious merits and accolades. That being said, let’s dive a little into why I thought the game was amazing, and some of the issues I did run into along the way (nothing can be perfect). Join me, for a quick analysis of The Witcher 2, as we peel a few of the layers back and take a look under the hood!

Visual

Story, aesthetics, and fantasy universe, now with less spoilery-goodness! (Okay maybe a little)

Let’s start with the games strongest feature, and that is undeniably the story. You will find yourself in a rich fantasy universe, reminiscent of a medieval world; complete with all the trappings you would expect, and more. The world is full of the traditional races you have seen countless times, dwarves, elves, and humans etc.

There are several things that really stand out about the story and the environment with this game, that I felt were incredibly fascinating. First, and probably the most interesting to me, is that there are no real “Good” or “Evil” decisions that you make. Many RPG games follow the traditional style of awarding the player “Good” or “Evil” points for the decisions they make in the game, especially if the game has branching path decisions or not. At first, you feel that this is going to be the case, as you will have to make some pretty big decisions, who to side with, who to kill, who not to kill, what types of reactions you use, etc. Even though you can make seemingly “Evil” or “Good” decisions, you realize by the end of the game, that it doesn’t matter. As is true to reality, “Good” or “Evil” is simply a matter of perception, your choices in game have huge rippling effects, but the world goes on and you don’t transcend into some champion hero, or sinister villain.

I won’t spoil the last encounter, mainly because I enjoyed how the developers let you truly choose, especially against traditional game endings, but needless to say, you will probably be surprised.  Closing comments on the “Good” & “Evil” concept, I feel that not having to worry about what type of points that would be awarded for my choices, I was able to REALLY project myself upon my character while making the decisions on a case by case scenario with how I felt my character would really act. Overall, it allows for a greater sense of immersion in the story and the character you’re playing.

The next piece of the story, and the fantasy universe, that stood out was how pronounced and visible the societal issues between races were in this game, in fact, it ended up completely altering my decision making process to when I started. As spoiler free as I can be, you start out naturally allied with a specific race or faction, but as the game progresses, you see rampant racism, acts of genocide, and other tragedies commonly frequent in real life scenarios.

These issues, were well done enough that it led me to completely changing who I was allied with, which you get to choose eventually through pivotal decisions, and ended up taking me down a completely alternate story path from what I intended to go down from the beginning. In conjunction to that, the game has a particularly “adult” theme to it, so I don’t recommend letting your kids play this if you have any. Don’t let that keep you from experiencing the story though. The adult theme lends a very strong hand to establishing the fantasy setting, and doesn’t feel too over accentuated or gratuitous, as it can feel in some games.

That will segue into my next portion of the story, the romance plot! All at once, you can hear the collective clicks as all of the males reading this close the web browser! (I kid) Seriously though, it’s actually a driving portion of the game, which naturally leads to the “damsel in distress” story arc. Normally, I’d sigh with the thought of the story doing nothing new, but this time, it felt good to me. Plus, there’s a pretty solid twist at the end, which ties into it, so you won’t be let down.

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I do have one gripe about the romance plot, but I’ll leave that out, as I feel it might be a bit of a spoiler so I’ll just tease you with it instead!

Summary of story and universe:

Overall, I felt the universe was rich, well crafted, and very easy to immerse myself into. You’ll feel and see the obvious inspirations that the developers had from several sources, yes; some Tolkien is in there too. You’ll be greeted with gorgeous visuals, strong adult themes, societal issues, mythical monsters, a captivating story arc, and a hero cycle that feels great.

environment

Core Gameplay Mechanics:

So on to a few of the functional aspects of the game. To sum up the combat, it is pretty much a third person hack and slash, with menu based special abilities/items, which are used in real time but in a bullet time type mechanic. Confused? Okay in English, you can chop your enemies to tiny bits with your swords, or change your spell & item hotkeys during combat with a wheel menu layout, while you do this, you enter a bullet time state, thus giving you time to strategize without fully pausing the game or interrupting combat.

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The combat mechanics feel pretty good, and are kind of fresh. You can choose to go all out melee, or you can bounce around setting traps, tossing magic, and throwing bombs/knives at your enemies.

I feel that there are some balancing issues with the combat, as far as correctly ramping difficulty throughout the game. For example, early on, I was fighting by the skin of my teeth, but I felt that once I crafted some nice swords and armor, plus a few points into my chosen skill tree, that I was unfairly pummeling my enemies after the first chapter. Perhaps this is on purpose, as when I started the last couple encounters, and the end game sequence; I was quickly on my toes again (and dying a lot). It also could have been because I was spending time exploring, crafting, and doing quests outside of the critical path of the story arc. (So maybe I was ahead of the curve a little, which that isn’t inherently a bad thing)

I did feel that on occasion, the combat felt a little clunky with specific encounters. Plus, the AI was a little too easy to deceive at times. Don’t let that discourage you though; you’ll have plenty of moments where you are too busy fighting for your life to notice small issues.

There are a few QTE’s (Quick time events) throughout the game, but they are spread out enough that they don’t detract from the combat. They are usually saved for fighting mini-games, and boss finishers.

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Overall, I felt the combat mechanics were different enough to be fun and interesting, but I think there are some balancing issues with the difficulty ramping, and the game didn’t particularly force me to use all of my abilities. I found I was using maybe 45%-50% of my available abilities. I found a few dominant strategies, and stuck with that for the majority of the game. Personally, this didn’t detract from my experience, but from a design perspective, it’s not really a good thing.

UI

Not too many issues, however, I will comment on the inventory interface. At first, when buying/selling, or navigating your inventory, you’ll probably feel a little confused. The interface does a poor job of properly highlighting your selection, and until you get used to it, you can easily become lost. It’s not game breaking, but I feel they could have designed the inventory UI just a touch better.

Bugs/Issues

The most issues I observed on my play through, was some minor AI pathing and reaction issues. Overall, nothing too obvious to the untrained eye. I have heard, from other sources, that there used to be some “blocker” type bugs that would prevent a player from progressing. I believe, that these have been addressed and fixed, as since I just purchased the game and I did not encounter any of these issues. Keep in mind though, there are different story branches you can proceed down, so maybe some of these bugs still exist, but I ran into none of them.

Summary:

The Witcher 2 was a sleeper game for me. I didn’t really know anything about it, but once I spent a few moments in the game I was hooked, and played practically nonstop through the game. Perhaps, the game just happened to resonate to me perfectly, but I feel that anyone who values a compelling story, fleshed out characters, and a rich environment will immediately take to this game. Besides, the game is probably on sale on Steam, so give it a chance and tell me what you think!

Hope you enjoyed my small review of The Witcher 2, and I hope I kept it as spoiler free as possible!





Guild Wars 2 Review lvl 1-30

2 09 2012

So as the title implies, this review will cover my initial impressions from level 1-30 in Guild Wars 2. So needless to say I was one of 400,000 + people to jump into the head start for GW2, and so far I’ve been nothing but impressed. So I will attempt to cover a few topics or categories of my experience to level 30.

Mesmer in front of main Human City

The game starts with a typical well thought out character creation process. The fun part here is that you pick a few things that describe your character, which establishes your story. What this means is there are different variations within the same race depending upon what you choose. For a comparison it feels similar to Mass Effect 1 where you set up your characters past. Except here there are way more variations because of the different races, so in essence you would have to play a lot of characters to get every story line.

After your character is made you launch right into the game and story, you don’t just spawn into some newbie zone and kill bunny rabbits with a stick. After the first story quest is done (you are in an instance for this), then you are free to go wherever and quest. Here is where GW2 REALLY shines. Your character level will adjust to whatever zone you are playing in. This was awesome because I rocketed past in level over my friends, but I could go back and play in their zone with them, and still get experience and money. This vastly recreates replay ability, and helps keep zones from turning into dead zones because there is less people that level. Also, it is particularly easy to get to the other starting areas with your friends. A couple of portal jumps and you are there.

So with that I will segue into questing. The questing in GW2 is seamless and very painless. The only quest you will keep on your HUD is your main story quest. All other quests are specific to the area you walk in. So you walk near a quest giver and it pops up on your HUD, soon as you leave the area it goes away. If you complete it, you automatically get the reward, so you don’t have to chase down NPC’s later to receive rewards. This method helps streamline player progression a lot.

The next best thing about questing is the dynamic group events that happen everywhere. I’m not entirely sure if the group events trigger from a certain amount of players in the area, or if they are on a timer or random. Either way, group events will start up all over the place, requiring a decent amount of players to accomplish them. They vary from taking down a boss, defending a city, escorting an NPC, or destroying objects/cities. The best part about them is that you only have to be in the area and you can participate, very similar to what Warhammer started, but much more seamless and plentiful. For questing, they have a very refreshing take when compared to traditional MMORPG’s.

Event Quest

Event Quest

On to story a little, the story NPC’s are fully voice casted and pretty well animated. The voice acting is also pretty well done. I found I was actually interested in my storyline quest, and found the characters to be believable, this is rare in an MMORPG and should be valued. It should not come as a surprise though, considering how established and vast the lore for GW is in the first place. It’s a rich and very fleshed out world to explore.

Aesthetically speaking, the world is very well constructed. They implemented “view vistas”, which often require some Mario jumping skills plus puzzle solving, to locate. Once you reach the vista you are rewarded with a camera view panning over some grand scenic view (which a lot of these screenshots come from in game). That paired with a good soundtrack (reminds me of playing Skyrim with the music), really helps the player get immersed in the world. The level designs are also very expertly crafted, and well just plain gorgeous in a lot of places.

View Vista Before

View Vista during camera movement

Now some more technical review, lets get on to the character skills setup. Here is one of the most refreshing aspects of all with GW2. You get character traits and character skills. The traits are dependent on your class and you unlock them as you level up, similar to a skill tree. However you can only have a limited few selected at a time, so you have to mix and match five of them on your HUD to use. You can change them out easily, but not during combat. The best part is that your skills are specific to whatever weapon your character is holding. For example, on my Mesmer I switch back and forth between a greatsword and a staff often. When I do this switch, my skills completely change because they are specific to that weapon type. This is awesome because you can quickly change up your tactics to suit the situation. You are also limited to five skills, this might sound like over simplification to people used to MMORPG’s where 80% of your screen is filled with a hundred buttons. This design streamlines the process very nicely, as you can have two weapons types selected, and you can switch between them in battle. This allows you to change your tactics on the fly, which is awesome especially for PVP.

Mesmer blasting enemies with a Greatsword

The character classes are also refreshing (I know I keep using that word a lot, but GW2 is refreshing!) mainly because they don’t really conform to traditional archetypes. For example, my ranger uses a bow and throwing axes which is expected, but she can also use a greatsword. My Mesmer is a magical light armor casting class, so you would expect just wands and staffs right? Well she happens to rock with a greatsword as well. Sounds odd, but they are well executed.

The last thing I’ll compliment them on so far is the server set up. I got on when the servers were fired up, and guess what… no queue times! This is because they smartly implemented “overflow servers”. So basically you play on a server and you’re in queue for the regular server. When it pops it seamlessly transports you to the main server in the exact location you were standing. The only issue with this is when your playing with your friends, sometimes it can be a challenge to get on the same overflow server or main server with them to play. This will work itself out as populations and community’s balance out. It is a nice feature though, because nobody likes seeing “Estimated wait time : 3- Hours”, I know we have all been there.

So now on to some gripes. The largest issue right now is the fact that the auction house, as of the time of this writing, is still down and not operational. This doesn’t anger me specifically, because I realize there are always kinks in an MMORPG launch. I just hope it is fixed soon for the less patient players. I also have observed that there seems to be a lack of variety with different armor models. So far, I believe there are a certain amount of sets between level ranges, I.e. 10-20, 20-30, etc etc. I hope in the future they add new armor and equipment models.

I realize that I’m at lvl 30, which is a drop in the bucket for a total of 80 possible levels. So far this s an awesome experience and completely refreshing for me. I will continue to review the game as I progress towards the “End Game” experience. I hope you will enjoy reading about my experience there as much as I enjoy playing it!





Game Industry Future?

7 07 2012

I wanted to make a short blog on the future of our beloved game industry (or at least my thoughts and opinions). I hope to start some dialogue with this posting, as this topic is usually at the forefront of my mind most of the time and I would like to hear other peoples opinions. That being said, I feel we are on the cusp of a massive and dramatic change. I feel conflicted by this, because as I see it physical video game media as we know it is probably about to die (or at least become a lot less common).

I feel both sad/happy about the apparent future of our industry. Any child of the 80’s will tell you about their passionate memories of their first Atari 2600, or playing Mario on their Nintendo until it was broken (except for the magic trick of blowing into the cartridge). Then the ungodly hours lost playing RPG’s and fighting games on an SNES or Sega. Unfortunately, as it appears the direction our medium is going, the physical game product in your home is headed towards extinction. I believe it will be similar to what Netflix did to Blockbuster. With skyrocketing development/production costs, developers/publishers have to change their business models. Its been happening for some time now, but this is the first that by and large the industry is really addressing it.

As I stated I’m also excited, mainly because I see the home consoles following the PC business model. Can you imagine? a home console where you purchase games with the efficiency of something akin to Steam? Most recently, Sony purchased Gaikai a cloud based video game streaming company. Naturally people are predicting the future is just streaming all of your video games to any device from some remote location. While nice in a futuristic utopian sense, I still feel that is a long time from now. Can you imagine every user on Xbox Live and the Playstation Network simultaneously trying to stream HD video games through the internet? I would bet a fair amount of money it would be a catastrophic failure.

In closing, there is a lot of conjecture out there on what Sony and Microsoft will do next. Personally, I’m ready for change…. sorry Gamestop, you had a good run but it’s time to move on (next blockbuster). Given the volatile nature of how quickly our industry changes, I hope we as an industry majority are ready for it. I would hate to personally witness a recreation of the infamous 80’s crash. Time to think outside the box and be flexible for the next big thing as an industry. It’s always as it has been, a sink or swim scenario.





New adventure….

11 06 2012

This shall be my first post!

So starting a new blog I think should have a little information about the writer and the purpose of the blog, so this first posting will contain a little bit of information about me and my purpose here.

To start things off I currently work in Q/A performing game testing for Microsoft here in Redmond Washington. I’m also currently attending Full Sail University Online for a BS in Game Design. So following that information my purpose here is to express my opinions and observations on games future/past/present, and industry events.

I don’t profess to be an expert authority however I do feel well educated and experienced enough to publish my opinions. One day when enough people are reading this blog it will get some quality feedback. I’m a firm believer in the method of writing down your opinions and feelings while sharing them with other people, it helps you grow and most importantly sometimes it helps show you when your wrong about something.

I hope you enjoy your stay and will return to take part in my adventure of exploring topics and reviewing video games. If you have quality feedback and wish to comment with something worthwhile to say please do, especially if you want to challenge my opinion!