By: Jamaal Ryan

Let’s take a looking at a week in gaming from 7/22/13 through 7/26/13

How The Order: 1886’s Ready at Dawn Founder feels about Used Games (7/22).

Ready at Dawn founder, Ru Weerasuriya, is not happy with used games, as is many game developers. Taking a trip to Gamestop, Ru reports the clerk’s attempt to sell him a used game. How insulting for a game developer, “Here, do you care to participate in cutting into the revenue other game makers such as yourself?”

The clerk might not have known who he was selling the game to at that time, but Gamestop employees nationwide knew they were selling used games locked out by online passes to consumers.

I had my own run-in a few years ago right after EA stepped into the fray by implementing online passes, as the clerk attempted to convince me into buying a used copy before I wielded my abilities of an empowered consumer, telling him that I would end up spending five to ten dollars more once I tried accessing the online content at home.

But not many were empowered consumers such as us who read and follow the industry so closely, as many customers were unaware of the online passes which sparked a class action lawsuit against Gamestop for not informing customers of the online fees required for online content.

Ru called for a compromise, allowing game makers and retailers to split the revenue on used copies between all parties. This is essentially similar to the compromise we thought that would come to pass from Microsoft when their used game policies were still rumored. The dividends were said to be split between publishers, developers, and Microsoft, leaving retailers with roughly 10%.

After Microsoft’s 180, were back into the Wild West of the used games market; and at this time, Ru’s suggestions for a compromise would be most appropriate. But with games progressively moving digital, and Valve in the crosshairs of a German consumer advocacy group for preventing European consumers to participate in used digital game sales, the future of this market is uncertain, but we can’t count it out yet.   

Surgeons should be gamers (7/23).

Dr. James C. Rosser, a man partly responsible for drawing the link between the time surgeons take playing video games and their success in the operating theater, appeared on News Florida 13 to talk about how he feels games can help the profession.

Seen playing Super Monkey Ball on Gamecube, Dr. Rosser describes how playing video games is very similar to laparoscopic surgery as instead of the eyes being on your hands, your eyes are on a screen.

Rosser has been involved in previous studies specifically pairing video games with surgery performance. In two studies, the results have shown that surgeons made less mistakes and completed tasks faster.

Next Thursday, August 1st, all surgeons at Celebration Health Hospital in Florida will be encouraged to play video games, particularly as warm-up sessions before procedures.

I for one will be checking to see if that hospital is within network of my insurance to see if I can get my shoulder repaired there.

VIA: Kotaku
Why is Call of Duty: Ghosts on Wii U? (7/25)

The rumor kicked around about Call of Duty: Ghosts coming to Wii U has finally come to rest. Indeed, Ghosts is coming to Wii U, however it will be ported over by Treyarch, not Infinity Ward who hasn’t released a Call of Duty game for Nintendo consoles since before Call of Duty 4.

But why is this? Black Ops two isn’t exactly poppin on Wii U, with numbers that have rarely if ever reached over 10,000 players at any given time (which were as low as just over 700 players), and zero DLC released for it. Even as a “hot system” at launch, a Call of Duty title couldn’t bring in numbers on a Nintendo platform.

Activision seems to have plans for Nintendo this holiday, which is certainly a lot more than what EA has, who at one point, didn’t have any games in development for Wii U. Activision will also bring: Skylanders Swap Force, Angry Birds Trilogy, Angry Birds Star Wars, SpongeBob Square Pants: Plankton's Robotic Revenge and Wipeout Create & Crash to Wii U this holiday.

These games seem expected, as being aimed at including a younger demographic as opposed to the M rated Call of Duty title. But can things change for Ghosts this holiday? Doubtful. With the new systems launching this year, likely within weeks of Ghosts’ release, those are the systems that will attract Call of Duty players, not Wii U. More systems will sell, likely thanks to Pikmin 3 and Super Mario 3D World, but probably not enough to add a significant number to COD sales.

For Wii U players, hopefully there will be a much larger community treated to future DLC. But unfortunately, it is the exact opposite that we’re most likely to see in the coming months after November 5th.

Sources: IGNPolygon

A Week in Gaming Special Feature:
Clearing the Societal Dissonance of Mental Health in Video Games

What is your first thought when you think of the mentally ill population? Is it schizophrenia or “crazy people”? What’s your next thought after schizophrenia or “crazy people”? Murderous psychopaths that belong in an insane asylum?
Sure, I understand, even though none of those ideas are politically correct. With the exception of the indie scene, video games are heavily influenced by film. And as a [rapidly] evolving medium, stereotypes are quickly being ironed out. Women are better represented from The Last of Us’ Ellie and Tess to Transistor’s Red; the portrayal of Blacks is currently in a working progress with Crysis’ Prophet and Starhawk’s Emmet Graves.
Films have depicted these same groups in the same stereotypical manners decades ago, but have come around since. Right now games are going through that very transition.
One group that has had a continuous misrepresentation throughout all video media are the mentally ill. Games like Manhunt, Outlast, and many other games that tickle the subject of mental illnesses feature a crazed murderer in an asylum with a bizarre appearance who wants nothing but your gruesome demise.
What’s so problematic about this portrayal is that a good portion of the general population aren’t able to parse the fabricated from the factual. Up to 27% feel fearful around the mentally ill, 50% don’t feel comfortable discussing a family mental illness diagnosis, and 42% wouldn’t interact with someone of a mental illness of any kind.
This is troubling.
On Firday, Ian Mahar from Kotaku highlighted these statistics and wrote an excellent article on which games do and don’t (primarily don’t) portray mental illness as accurately. I wish to shed some light on where these misconceptions come from.
Within the first couple of months at my first internship at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, a clinician at my part-time job widened her eyes after I told her where I was interning. She can only refer to the horror stories of patients attacking staff, even killing one (with a simple kick to the back, nothing graphic), and horrific self-harm attempts.
The fact is yes, these behaviors do happen to an extent. However most individuals suffering from a mental illness are just as afraid, if not more frightened, of these exceptional cases than we are. They’re afraid, just as much of the general public, to be attacked by them; but worse yet, they’re afraid of the association and the chance of increased stigma caused by these very few individuals.

Crimes like Sandy Hook sweep the media and inadvertently target the mentally ill as the perpetrators of these mass killings, but the fact of the matter is that when looking at gun violence, those caused by persons with mental illnesses only make up a small percentage of all gun violence.
But the “decompensation”, as we call it in the field, mostly occurs out of feeling threatened. Like cornered animals, they may resort to violence towards others. But the parameters of hospitalization are to be a danger to self, others or property; and in many cases, they are more of a danger to themselves than others.
Much of the bizarre appearances come from their mental illness manifesting in physical form. While unstable, they’re unable to keep up with their hygiene and what we call Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). Delusions and/or hallucinations come to the forefront and disrupt their thought process that may have them convinced that they’ll only feel safe wearing goggles, or will only be holy wearing white sheets.
But I must emphasize, the examples above are a publicized rarity. Many of you have come across those with mental illnesses at the beach, a bar, a basketball game, and even may have family members who may or may not be diagnosed. Crazy Aunt Sally who snaps at people may have Borderline Personality disorder, or mom who blew all her savings in one night may have Bipolar disorder.

These behaviors, while exposed to infrequently, may very well be symptoms of a mental illness. But being that they’re harmless, at least to the physical wellness of themselves or others, might not raise any flags with those not familiar with mental health.
Again, I draw out this expositional education because I, like Kotaku writer Ian Mahar, want to explain how far from the norm this depiction of mental illness is. Think of them less as the monsters from Outlast, or the Insane Sims and more like your practical avatar in Depression Quest where you're guided the the days in the life of an individual with common depression, or the sprite protagonist from Actual Sunlight, an isometric adventure game where you follow a man struggling with depression and suicide.
As one who was apprehensive working with those with mental illnesses in my first year in grad school, two internships years later and employed as a Recovery Coach providing services to the mentally ill, never once have I had a direct violent confrontation with an individual.
Source: Kotaku

Reviewed by: Jamaal Ryan
This is not the console generation for JRPG’s. After the Playstation 2 era, the presence of quality JRPG’s has receded from the mainstream. From the short lived support on the Xbox 360, to increased digitally distributed releases, to the shift over to mobile platforms, these elaborate full console games has since waned in the light of western titles such as The Elder Scrolls and Mass Effect. But joining the small ranks of games such as Eternal Sonota and Xenoblade Chronicles, the minds behind the old classic Dark Cloud series and Nintendo’s handheld hits in the Professor Layton franchise, brings a significant addition to the JRPG genre with Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.
This significance that Ni No Kuni contributes is multifaceted. JRPG’s are known for their extravagant art directions, but this game sets itself apart with the famed Studio Ghibli’s soft yet expressive visual style. As childish as the aesthetical narrative may be, it effortlessly captures that Ghibli magic, able to engage anyone capable of withholding a youthful perspective and imagination. And as a game, it’s referential yet unique, pulling away from turn based and even Tales-style combat, and fuses Pokemon’s monster variety with a command based battle system.
Ni No Kuni’s presentation hits several high points. Its whimsicalness saturates the world, overflowing it with popping vibrancy that completes some of the truly magnificent locations from the imperial city of Hamilen to the claustrophobic yet cozy Fairygrounds. Its orchestral score is uplifting, and the voice acting -- when it’s there -- is jovial and endearing, even amongst some of its more dire moments.

Gorgeous fantasy.

Oliver’s quest to revive his late mother with the power of his new found wizardry is admirable, even adorable.  To fulfill his wish, he must cure the land of broken-heatedness and face the one who’s brought blackness to this world; the Dark Djinn. But the bits in between the story can be a chore to digest, especially if you’re not used to the chattiness of text heavy RPGs. While Level 5 and studio Ghibli have nailed the art and music, the voice acting is sparse, cutting in with only brief moments before returning to laborious reading that never really allows Ni No Kuni to stand as an interactive Ghibli project.
At no fault of the game, but rather my predisposition to haste, I found myself resorting to mashing the X button attempting to avoid the inexcusable amount of text-fluff, only then missing vital information needed to complete side quests. This over consumption doesn’t do any favors in its later stages as Oliver nears the end of his adventure. At times, Ni No Kuni can equally be a test of patience as well as imagination.
There is an overarching staple of innocence to the tone of Ni No Kuni. Any young child can relate to Oliver's quest to bring his mother back to life. The game also emphasizes the importance of human character through kindness, courage, love and ambition among several others, all in which are tangible and can be given to those who are lacking.
This light heartedness is fittingly matched by the game’s childlike language, with special moves such as “Upsey-Daisy” which revives unconscious enemies, and “Yoo-Hoo” which attracts all enemies’ attention to a single character. It's a cute, charming, and heartwarming game in a lot of ways, despite its clich├ęs.

Cute and ugly at the same time.

Ni No Kuni, while the vibrant tone, consumable script, and frequent hand holding is geared towards children, challenges abound that match its complex battle system fittingly. Level 5's latest is one of the most brilliantly designed and rather important JRPG’s this generation.
The difference from hour one to hour fifteen is staggering. You’ll be introduced to the basics with Oliver trekking through his venture alone, battling with his wand and one familiar – the strange name for the monsters you collect and battle with. You’ll familiarize (that was not intentional) yourself with basic commands such as attack, defend and the use of special abilities all while having direct control of Oliver and the familiars he calls into battle. The game then eases you into using a second party member, and then a third, which turns simple exchanges of two individual opponents into complex battles with six units on the field that’s most reminiscent of Final Fantasy XII.
Here, the battle system proves to be an intensive trial of focus, micromanagement, and your ability to respond to rapid changes. Once the system's full gamut is at your fingertips, at its most challenging, you'll have to prep both your reflexes and your strategic battle awareness.
The battle system’s allows for nimble and immediate involvement, enabling you to jump in and react to the tide shifts in combat. To soften the blow of powerful and devastating attacks, you can -- and will often have to -- immediately cancel your offensive barrage and order your unit to defend. Familiars perform at their best so long as they’ still have stamina, so you’ll have to swap them out before paying a short inactive penalty. Dramatic spikes in the flow of battle will call for the participation of your entire team where you can initiate a team wide defense or attack order regardless of your party's activity. Ni No Kuni requires you to build swift and precise decision making skills in battle, all while it’s happening in real time.

Enter the fray.

Layers unravel themselves with multiple considerations. With a full party, you’ll be able to assign combat tactics that drive the basic behavior of your teammates. Attack the weakest enemy or the strongest. Use abilities for maximum effectiveness or put a restriction on using them to conserve MP. Provide basic backup, or be the designated healer when allies are in trouble.
Once assigned tasks, allies are largely capable of holding their own, regenerating health and even collecting HP and MP orbs when needed. But even though you’ll expectedly have to provide your human intervention, it becomes a problem when they don’t commit to direct commands, and having to deal with their reluctance to call back their familiars without letting their stamina run dry.
Familiars require a different angle of attention. Equipment customization is expected, but monitoring their stats and metamorph phase shows direct results in battle and becomes one of your top priorities. You can feed your crew of adorable monsters treats that will boost their status efficiency. I found myself conserving goodies to compensate for my familiars’ lack in, say, accuracy, and overpowering my front creature’s attack and defense so that they can more than hold their own in battle.
Ni No Kuni’s interesting take on the “evolution” aspect of your familiars demands more effort on your part. Once one of them reaches a certain level, they become “Metamophable”, which in English means ‘ready to evolve’. In order to complete the metamorphosis, you’ll have to feed them specific drops that are exclusive to their signs. Depending on how many familiars you metamorph, you may run low on a specific type of drop. In such circumstances, you’ll have to craft them or earn them through other means.
Capturing familiars happens almost purely by chance so long as Esther -- the only party member capable of recruitment -- is available. Once you give them a proper butt whooping, they may become impressed and susceptible to her Serenade ability, which works 100% of the time provided you don’t down the familiar, or allow it to change its mind and flee.
The catch here is that capturing familiars doesn’t happen very often which can discourage some from indulging in the natural collecting pass time expected in a game with full catalogue of different monsters. It’s a shame because on top of the rarity of recruiting familiars, all of the have two separate final forms to choose between. After maxing out my Mighty Might, I shuddered at the idea of long grinding sessions just to capture a second, and then training it to metamorph into its alter ego. Catching, training and growing your familiars is a much more complex system than your Pokemons and other monster gathering RPG’s.

Reminds you of that Pokemon poster you might have had in your room.

Side quests, appropriately dubbed Errands, hold your typical mundane tasks of ‘collect this’ and ‘kill that’ along with the game’s thematic exchange of characteristics – love, courage, etc -- to rid those you come by of their broken heart. Back tracking is required with Oliver’s ridiculous amount of one-time use and otherwise useless spells in tow, but trips aren’t as tedious as they could be as weaker enemies flee at your presence. But the incentive is more enticing than the tasks themself.
Along with reciprocated rewards of cash and items, you receive stamps for your Errand Cards. Each mission awards a certain amount stamps that complete Errand Cards, which then can be exchanged for special rewards. Errands exist if you’d like to earn a little bit extra, but I never felt that they were necessary to party development. This can be a good thing of you do not wish to contribute over 50 hours into this experience.
The Bottom Line
If you’re not ready to spend hours upon hours investing into a JRPG, then that may be the only reason why I’ll hesitate giving Nino Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch a full on recommendation; and that’s a very shaky ‘may-be’. It’s a heartwarming and beautiful JRPG that delivers enough charm to elicit a new experience. However, that novelty crystalizes in its revolutionary battle system, influenced by the best aspects in the genre. And because of that, it would be criminal for any die hard or passive fan of role playing games to miss the opportunity to play one of the best JRPG’s in years.
+ Endearing Ghibli artstyle
+ Robust battle system
+ Adorable premise
- A tad too text heavy

By: Jamaal Ryan

Let’s take a looking at a week in gaming from 7/16/13 through 7/19/13

Learning Together By Playing Together (7/16)

As many of us know, above all the vitriol about gaming’s “negative” effects on children, video games have demonstrated positive turnouts from improving proficiency from multitasking, to sharpened reflexes, to quick decision making. For those of us who play cooperatively, there is a level of collaboration expected. Games like Portal 2’s multiplayer highlights this practice.

While this phenomenon wasn’t the priority of North Carolina State University’s experiment, looking to see “how educational gaming tasks were at teaching computer science concepts”, this led them to the idea of creating cooperative experiences that encourages the participation of two players.

The study was conducted in a middle school in Raleigh NC where students paired up to play the university’s video game appropriately titles Engage. One player took on the role as the “driver”, or the one actively playing the game; the other was named the “navigator”, who accompanied the drivers but wasn’t directly playing the game.

The results non-surprisingly showed that the drivers were more engaged than the navigators. However this led the researchers into the idea of designing games that encouraged the navigators to participate more, perhaps construct objectives and tasks that required the involvement of the navigator. This would allow for more collaboration, teaching students how to communicate in said tasks.

Games like Mario Galaxy where player two picked up star bits and shot them at enemies, or the Wii U version of Rayman Legends where the player who holds the tablet can manipulate the environment to assist on player one’s progress are built on this style of cooperative play.

This this type of cooperative game design was incorporated in classroom education, we could see a breakthrough in school teaching tactics.

The Feel Good Playstation Launch Platformer (7/17)

Mark Cerny, lead architect of the Playstation 4 hardware, couldn’t pull himself away from software development having had worked on Sony’s historical franchises such as Crash Bandicoot. Speaking of Crash, that game is very much seen in the PS4’s new game Mark is the creative lead of, Knack.

Among the shooters and other games touting realistic concept direction, Knack is a light hearted, very ‘E for Everyone’ platformer. It holds a colorful anime style, partly thanks to the collaboration with Sony’s Japan studio. The biggest draw is Knack himself, who’s made up seemingly hundreds of relics from a lost society.
Knack is being pitched as the perfect secondary purchase. For every Killzone, Battlefield and Call of Duty, 

Knack seeks to be that other game in your collection. Its gameplay is just as approachable is its visuals, with simple platformer mechanics and button prompts to pull of special maneuvers and attacks. Knack’s fragmented makeup allows him to alter his size, absorb parts into his physical body, and fuse elemental attributes to augment his abilities.

Knack is also taking advantage of the system’s social capabilities. Players can explore treasure rooms where they can discover parts in their game that are generated by other players which can be assembled to construct special items.

Knack’s simplicity is hopefully a canvas for the Playstation 4’s hardware capabilities. That would make sense since it’s headed by the man who knows the system best.
Look for Knack day & date with the Playstation 4. 

Quality Video Game Films? (7/18)

Did you see Street Fighter: Legend of Chung Li? You did? Sorry man, but you fucked up. Well here’s some news, hopefully in 5 years time, video game movie adaptations won’t suck as much as that steaming pile.

At last week’s comic-con, video game movie producers and writers sat on a panel for ‘Video Games to Movies: Is the Golden Age Upon Us?’. The speakers believe that video game films are finally getting over the hump that many have struggled to climb for well over a decade. Today’s games are far richer as a narrative product. This gives film makers a lot more to work with instead of having to work with polygonal assembled characters, some environments and signature move sets.

But not only are games maturing, gamers, specifically those that are making films, are maturing and growing in number as well. More and more gamers are sitting in the director’s, producer’s and writer’s chairs. This allows them to bring a better understanding of the medium on screen instead of some 80’s inspired quick profit maker looking to sign a popular license onto the big screen. To accompany some of these film makers, game studios are also working directly on film adaptations to richen the movie’s authenticity.

But film challenges are still abound. Many modern games enable players to make decisions that shapen their lead characters. To make a movie with, say, Adam Jenson from Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the writers will have to script a Jenson that aligns with players with different experiences. Looking at this aspect, it would be a nightmare illustrating a Commander Sheppard in a Mass Effect film. (Here’s how to solve that problem: don’t use Commander Sheppard.)

With upcoming films such as Dead Space, Assassins Creed, Need for Speed, and the aforementioned Dues Ex, movie producers claim that video game films will live up to the quality that we demand in five years.

Dragon Age Inquisition: Bioware Refining the Conversation (7/19)

Outside of being built upon Frostbite 3, very little has been heard about Dragon Age: Inquisition; but last week, we got some tid bits on what Bioware is improving upon.

Lead writer Patrick Weekes stated that the team is looking into add more variables that influences dialogue in DAI beyond that of previous decisions made. Character stats was mentioned, but more interesting, and frankly more seemingly appropriate, are how the presence of different characters might skew the conversation.

We’ve seen Bioware experiment with this in the franchise before with side conversations among characters on your travels, but looking at how they may influence the flow of interactions with other characters is exciting, and may make you think of who you allow to accompany you whenever you engage other NPCs. Dragon Age, as is more of Bioware’s titles, can be a very political and socially conflicting game. It may be important to pick and choose those that would support you in your actions as well as maintaining a healthy relationship with your companions.

It was also mentioned that Inquisition will add more environments to the game world, no doubt a welcomed change especially for those who felt painfully restricted into only traveling within the walls of the kingdom of Kirkwall.

We know little of any other improvements of elements that we’ll find in Inquisition. Dragon Age 2 in a lot of way was a vast improvement over Origins, though it was held back by a few strange and distracting ideas. Hopefully Inquisition will be the culmination of both Origins and Dragon Age 2, making it the definitive game of the franchise.


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Thursday, July 18, 2013

The argument of do I want new intellectual properties or remakes, gets silenced by the announcement of Strider. I cannot image one person who is disappointed by this news. Better yet I cannot imagine any person being disappointed by this trailer.

Strider comes from the age of games where things were simply different. The age of the arcades, a time where a quarter was all you needed to have a great time. This is game’s announcement makes me excited for the return of some fast action old school a.i. ass kickings. The days where each and every move you made was based off of precise timing, sharp reflexes, and drive to not give up that arcade to next quarter. Can you remember when people would put their quarter down on the machine?

With the return of the 2-D side scrollers, 2-D fighters its seems like a return to the essentials of video game programming. Which is something I like a whole lot. The essential simplicity of two dimensional level design drives for more brilliant and interesting level design. The lightning fast game play should bring back some of that classical challenge. Video games used to offer better challenges instead of the press A to win formula a lot of project use today.

From what I recall Striders sword reached a lot further than seen in the preview. I may be incorrect but I hope we see a pick up and play model. Instead of the constant leveling up initial weapons. I would not like to see a upgrade tree for my sword in Strider’s remake. Classic power ups that you pick up during the game for performance is fine enough for me. Some people are already doubting the Double Helix studios chances of delivering this title. I for one say the formula of Strider is so embedded in the history that they would have to purposely fuck up to not deliver with this title.  

Bottom Line: I am glad Capcom is opening the vault especially for Strider

Fuck you Microsoft

Reviewed by: Jamaal Ryan
I put my ear to the ground and listened; about half a dozen Runners were located on the upper level of a college campus building. As one of the more briskly Infected was making his rounds about the hall, I attempted to stealth kill him from behind, not anticipating that his spontaneous head snap would blow my cover. Right when he spotted me, he let out a hall echoing howl alerting his buddies that it was time to eat. I ran.
Sprinting down the stairs, I managed to hurl a nail bomb on the staircase right before I took cover behind a wall. Two of the Runners ran over it; they could run no more. One slowed down searching the bottom lobby for me. As I was nestled in the corner, I drew my bow and killed her silently. I listen again and spotted two on the stairs and one in the hallway on the second level. I lit up a Molotov, and scorched the two on the flight of stairs. Then the last came searching for me as I hid again, and right when his back was turned, I took him down and stepped on the floor through his skull.
This all occurred just moments after I listened to an exchange between Ellie and Joel peacefully strolling through the abandoned campus on horseback, as Ellie expressed her curiosity of college life while Joel explained it in the best way he could.

It’s the coexisting moments like these, having to fight for your life and reflecting on how far the world has turned, being some of the many reasons why I love The Last of Us so much. No one dared to disturb me while I played. You couldn't provide commentary on it, you couldn't ask me what was happening, and you sure as hell couldn't request me to do anything that required me to remove myself from it. Any of the above would have granted you a quick “Shhh!!”
The Uncharted series’ studio takes a left turn in The Last of Us. It’s a grim, desperate, and powerful story, a powerful gameplay experience that encapsulates us in one of the most definitively engrossing video games in history.
The Last of Us sets its achingly morose tone immediately. Twenty years after human kind’s greatest global epidemic turning people into fungal infected monsters, we meet Joel, a leather skinned pepper greyed survivor that has done things he never wishes to speak of to keep himself alive. This existence of desperation and survival has hardened him as he has been forced to divorce himself away from the life that once was to maintain the life he has now.
Joel has been burdened with the job of transporting Ellie, a wide eyed and foul mouthed fourteen year old who was born into this post civilization world knowing no other life outside of quarantine zones, looting predators, and the mindless carnivorous Infected. Ellie is exactly what you would expect from a byproduct of a dystopian survivalist society. She's spunky, potty mouthed, honorable yet naive, and extremely capable and aware of the dangers she faces but too young to process them fully by juxtaposing her experiences next to a world 20 years dead.
In its grand scheme, The Last of Us doesn’t attempt to weave a meta back story, muddled with chunks of science and conspiracy that would need to be dissolved for consumption. Instead, you’ll find all that caked into the contextual environment so long as it serves the story purpose. What Naughty Dog delivers is perhaps the most empathetic growth between two individuals. The ebb and flow between Joel and Ellie steal the show as the dynamics of each situation in a world that’s trying to kill them at every turn, bring them closer and closer together with both showing how they care for one another in the only way they can. This is The Road meets Children of Men, focusing on Ellie, Joel, and even the characters that they come in contact with.
But even as you’re alone, desperately scavenging for items to sustain your survival, you’ll come across more natural droplets from the personal stories of those who have once lived, and those who have tried to survive: a collage of pictures in a college dorm, a myriad of posters in a teen’s bedroom, a daily log after the outbreak, a letter to a loved one in hopes to see them soon.
What happened here?
Naughty Dog has once again set an all new benchmark in video game performances. Joel is Troy Baker’s Captain Martin Walker, Nolan North’s stellar performance from Spec Ops: The Line, and his gruff southern drawl here easily bests Baker’s previous role as Booker Dewitt in this year’s other game of the year contender, Bioshock Infinite.
But he’s hardly the sole stand out performer in The Last of Us. Growing Pains’ Ashely Johnson brings out Ellie’s unapologetic confrontational character along with her amusing curiosity and delivers arguably the best moments in the game’s entirety. Annie Wersching plays a headstrong Tess who commands each scene she shares with any of the game’s cast. Every performance is at the top of their game; there are moments that will warm your heart, some will make you angry, enough will deeply upset you, and others will even disturb you. This is one of the many ways that The Last of Us trumps anything the developer has ever done, anything that any other game has ever done.
Where the magic happens.
The overarching harrowing sense of survival saturates how you play The Last of Us. For most, this will be a primarily a stealth game, as you and your companions spend enough time crouched down to build arthritis in their knees while sneaking around other humans and the Infected, albeit some of your partners’ immersion-breaking movement in front of enemies. This unseen approach becomes evidently more significant as no encounter allows you to leave alive without preparation.
All of your actions matter in The Last of Us. It is imperative to be proactive and take everything into consideration.  The scarcity of the ammo makes every individual bullet its own resource as you’ll be fortunate to find more than two rounds at a time. Item crafting and equipping happens in real-time, leaving Joel completely defenseless to enemy attacks. And melee weapons degrade as does Joel’s health, which is only mended with the consumption of food and the use of discovered or crafted health kits. Everything means so much more because The Last of Us “item-starves” you. What you see is what you get, and you’d better make it count for the long haul.

"I am running out of luck."
These survival based systems have a direct influence on how you use your inventory: a glass bottle for a distracting or direct-projectile advantage, a brick or a pipe for a brutal upper hand, a neck-stabbing shiv or a bow and arrow for a covert approach, a Molotov or nail bomb for radial damage. All of the equipment in your possession is useful in their unique and essential ways, and you’d be best to utilize all of them to your situational advantage.
Because of this, The Last of Us makes no apologies as to how much it demands from you, and the first rule of combat knowing where your enemies are. Come prepared and activate Joel’s listening ability which will outline your foes through walls so long as they’re moving. But make no mistake, just as you can locate your enemies by sound, they will make attempts to find you if you make any noise.
Avoiding the blind echo-locating Clickers, the self mind-f**king Runners, and the collaborative humans brings the game’s pace to a painfully engrossing tempo as even strewn-about bottles and other noisy unused items should be approached with caution. Yet the game is designed well enough to adaptably switch from stealth to action if things go awry. Whether you want to be lethal or nonexistent, you have to think intelligently, come prepared, and be very, very careful.
"Now, you see what you made me do ‘cause you ran right in front of the guy?"
When things go to s**t, you’ll have to fight. Facing two enemies is a challenge, but going up against anything more than three is a true test of your skills. The AI is shockingly unpredictable. Once their routine is disturbed, they break their route and free-roam, forcing you to accommodate spontaneity in your scrupulous approach. They change direction and patterns, look over their shoulder when you least expect it, and randomize their search all within a broadened patrol radius. Though at other times, where they may appear to be oblivious to your whereabouts by not venturing into your general location, this is deliberately done to pull you out of your guerrilla-ambush advantage and press you to take more risks. And taking risks is always an uncomfortable proposition in The Last of Us.
Part of the reason why facing enemies is so challenging is also what many would call as the game’s fault. Aiming feels stiff and contrived, but The Last of Us’ gunplay also succeeds at purposeful restriction. Pointing firearms doesn’t have the proper acceleration and smooth directional orienting that conventional shooters have; in fact, they feel ‘worse’ than even Uncharted 3’s original build. But this was design by choice, not underperformed execution, which is similar to the idea behind games like the original Resident Evil’s handicapped navigation inflating the survival horror feel. I absolutely appreciate the constricted aiming. It brings you right down to the same level of poor accuracy the AI is capable of. Their aim is bad, but so was mine. When they shot back, it felt like I was shooting actual humans; when the less human charged at me, it was vastly more terrifying.
Oh s**t! Oh s**t! Oh s**t OH S**T!!
In an arms-length admirable claim, it’s The Last of Us’ depiction of violence that’s the bloody, sour cherry on top. It mixes the Naughty Dog’s industry pioneering visuals with an uncomfortable pitch of sound design alongside its emphasis on post-societal realism. We’ve seen men thrown through meat-grinders in games like Gears of War, but a hacked decapitation, a string or splat of blood, an explosively removed limb, a pair of eyes dimming to the loss of oxygen, all create this world that not only we don’t want to be a part of, but sometimes one we can’t bear to look at. Even here, along with the story, the setting, and the characters, it all boxes us into this agonizing, captivating masterpiece.

"Hey, I got somethin’ for yah that’ll blow your mind."
The story of Joel and Ellie’s adventure is a truly beckoning tale as it stands; but there’s another story to experience in The Last of Us, your very own.
Enter this year’s biggest multiplayer surprise, Factions. Each individual taking up to arms in Factions multiplayer becomes a leader of their own survivor camp. Matches are decided on eliminating the opposing team, but your goal is to gather enough supplies – awarded by in-game action – to keep your camp from becoming hungry or sick. Taking on that responsibility adds to the mirrored play style of patience and execution through crafting, sneaking, and positioning that The Last of Us’ story imposes upon players.
In fact, the level of tension in engaging enemy players can even surpass those found in the single player component. In one match as the only surviving member of my team, I evaded my pursuers as four flashing red dots closed in on my position. In preparation for their attack, I made my way across the map while taking small windows of opportunity crafting bombs, shivs and restoring my health up until I awaited the inevitable final encounter. I was overwhelmed with anxiety so much so that my chest pounded until it hurt, something that has never happened to me in multiplayer game before. Even though I was out numbered, I knew that there was a possibility that I stood a chance, as death comes quickly in Factions. It was an unforgettable moment for me that will always be a part of what defines The Last of Us' multiplayer.
You’ll be afraid for yourself, and the lives that rely on your success.
Another part that signifies what Factions is are the times when the lives that depend on you need you most. Every week, your camp will be faced with dangers that will put a percentage their population at stake. For preparation, you’ll be given three days (spread across three matches) to complete challenges that get increasingly difficult by the week. Each task changes your play style dramatically as they challenge you to wiggle outside of your rigid comfort zone which compounds upon the risks you already take in multiplayer. In the end, lives will be lost, but it’s up to you to make that number less catastrophic.
This bleak sense of responsibility puts an emphasis on selflessness like I've never seen before in a multiplayer shooter. Killing another player only means something if I could supply my people enough to stay healthy, only if I can continue to read the commentary and updates on my group members letting me know how they're how they're doing, if things are looking up for faceless names like Aiden Tanaka, or if Kevin Diaz is having a nervous breakdown, and most importantly, can they survive a raid attack. It tells a story within multiplayer that will drive you to do better; not for yourself, but for the sake of dozens of others.
Bottom Line
Each time I powered down my PS3, I had to take a moment to regain my composure. If the sun was out, I took a few seconds to appreciate it; if it was late at night, I’d wake up my computer to consume something from the real world. That’s what The Last of Us can do to you, tag team you by creating dreary existence of constant worry and tension, “When am I going to find some alcohol to craft a health kit… What am I going to do if this guy sees me…Can I trust these characters…What’s going to happen to Ellie and Joel?”
This game, this experience, is the best example of demonstrating how video games create safe spaces for us to endure unpleasant emotions. Everything Naughty Dog has designed was meant for that purpose.
The Last of Us is easily the best adventure game I've ever played. But subjectively speaking, it may very well be the best game I've ever played.
+ Powerfully driven emotional character development
Desperately intense gameplay of survival
The best performances you’ll ever see in a video game
Multiplayer that encapsulates everything about the story

By: Jamaal Ryan

It’s been quite some time since there has been posted weekly updates, but let’s get back into the swing of things for the week for July 8th.

Call of Duty Powered by SmartGlass? (7/8)

Second screen gaming appears to be one of the new auxiliary features this console generation and the next. Despite the fact that the additive experience has dated as far back as the Gamecube era, Wii U brought it in full force with the Game Pad, Playstation has been building upon its PSP support with Vita functionality, and Microsoft has expanded outside of proprietary hardware with SmartGlass.
This year’s E3 has shown second screen gaming in full force with Project Spark, Watch Dogs, and The Division. But now Infinity Ward’s Mark Rubin told The Financial Post that the studio is looking into SSG along with companion app support for future Call of Duty titles.

This seems to be an odd fit at first having to think about dividing your attention between two screens while playing a fast paced shooter like Call of Duty. The current example of this lies within the Wii U version of Black Ops 2, which hardly pulls your eyes away from your television set, with only minor exceptions, neither interrupting your flow of play.

Rubin understands this, and while he gives no explicit examples, says that the team recognizes its inclusion as a challenge and adds that much of it will sit within multiplayer. We’ve seen companion apps before, more recently with Ghost Recon: Future Soldier’s Gunsmith app, but integrating a second screen into the gameplay experience of online matches in COD sounds odd. Will we see a forced implementation with players controlling streak rewards with their touch device? Hopefully not. Will we see something similar to Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs and The Division where players miles away from their console can provide assistance? Possibly. It’s hard to even guess what this feature will bring to the franchise, so it seems that we’ll have to wait until 2015.

New Jersey Parents to be Informed of Video Game Violence Effects on Children (7/9)

New Jersey Senators are looking to pass the bill 2715 which will mandate the Board of Education in the state to “coach” parents on the effects of video game violence based on previous research that has been conducted.

This is vastly premature.

During last week, Polygon reported that the CDC is reviewing report and research questions by the Institute of Medicine. Once research on the effects of violent media on children – if any—ensue, the study will begin in the fiscal year of 2014 and take 3-5 years to conduct.

Reports from the CDC state:

In the absence of this research, policy makers will be left to debate controversial policies without scientifically sound evidence about their potential effects."

The National Coalition Against Censorship have petitioned against the bill, writing a letter to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie calling for a veto. The NCAC stated that the current studies to be supplied by the Board of Education might “cherry pick” those that have been deemed unreliable by the Supreme Court.

Author Karen Sternheimer discusses the skewed parameters of the studies conducted on the impressions of violent video games, and psychology and criminal justice professor Christopher Ferguson from Texas A&M University who has studied this particular subject himself, had cited a number of studies that have found no conclusive evidence that violent video games cause aggression.

I’m not going to sit here and try to convince parents that video games aren’t harmful to their children. With the image that the media has created around the matter, it’s no wonder parents are scared. But instead of having parents listen to a bunch of gamers or researchers conducting studied looking to substantiate their agenda, let’s leave it to the (hopeful) unbiased professionals at the Center of Disease Control.

Kenji Inafune Didn’t Care for E3 (7/10)

Megaman creator Kenji Inafune sat down with Famitsu discussing his feelings towards the games on the show floor at this year’s E3. And while he was positive on Sony’s indie lin-up along with a few other games, he was overall unimpressed with the games showcased.

Inafune felt that this year’s show was full of games that were sequels or games that were current gen titles on next gen hardware, but overall offering nothing new. I, for one, can’t see how he’s saying that with games like Titanfall, Destiny, The Division, Watch Dogs, Final Fantasy XV, Metal Gear Solid V, Quantum Break, Project Spark, or even Battlefield 4 populating the show floor.

Sure, Watch Dogs is an open city, GTA inspired game coning to next (and current) gen, but the networking interconnectivity brings the relationship between the player and his environment closer together. Battlefield 4 is a sequel to Battlefield 3, however ‘Levelation” can bring spontaneous dynamism to each of the game’s massive levels, everything from trapping tanks by creating holes in ceilings to taking down an entire skyscraper.

The amount of innovation scales from game to game; from new ways to deliver narrative in Quantum Break to new ways to create games in Project Spark. E3 2013 was one of the best E3 in years, and it was the very thing that Inafune criticized about it, novelty, that will make it stick in people’s memory.

Xbox One 360 (7/11)

Remember this guy?
Yeah… I love that guy. He was the enraged representative of our disdain toward Microsoft’s originally pitched DRM policies. He may have something to flip the fuck out about after he hears about the petition asking to bring back Xbox One’s original online features by David Fontenot. On, Fontenot specifically petitioned for the return of the Xbox One’s original purchasing, selling, sharing and digital features of digital licenses.

I’m not so clear in what he means.

Originally, the Xbox One was only to allow us to sell games back to the retailer so long as they publishers allowed it. As for lending or trading games, originally a title can only be given once; and that was to someone who was on your friends list for 30 days. The only feature that’s missing that where we don’t have a practical alternative of is family sharing, where your game collection was available to 10 of your other friends and family, and only appears to be the only bullet point that hopeful adopters miss.

Let’s be clear that Fontenot seeks a compromise instead of a full re-reversal. And Microsoft still withholds the rights to change their policies whenever they seem fit. It is possible that we may see some of these features come up later in the next generation. But until that time, Dave’s just gonna have to put up with our “rudimentary” systems for now.

Stop Talking Shit (7/12)

Twitter, Facebook, IGN message boards, Xbox Live, THE INTERNET, shit talk and offensive language is everywhere. This pandemic has become such a problem because of the World Wide Web’s inadvertent veil of anonymity. Ever had someone call you a n**ger, f*g, cr**ker in person? Compare that to how many times you’ve been called that over the internet.
We cannot hide anymore. Our online identities have meshed with our flesh vessels.Justin CarterJosh Pillaut, and the poor kid Mark Bradford choked have learned this the hard way. And even if we manage to completely separate ourselves from our internet avatars, this isn’t the wild west of networked digital space anymore; now we see sites taking further measures to keep things in order.
Headed by Steve Butts, IGN is beginning to crack down on inflammatory language in the IGN community. He refuses to surrender in relinquishing responsibility of shit-talk control to someone else or surrendering to it all together. But why do we feel the need to weidl such damaging words in the first place?

The IGN Editor-in-Chief sees such impulses fueled by the age old reflex of gaining pleasure over someone else’s pain, the reinvigoration of next gen consoles, and how your words get divorced from who you are within a sea of thousands of commenters. Kotaku’s Patricia Hernandez highlights the brief moments competitors have judge each other which only allows appearances to form their opinion and load their ammunition for what they feel the need to say. But even if we only see the other player’s Gamertag, message board ID, or whatever, why do we dig for the most hurtful things? Do we even know what we’re saying?
We hear comedians say it all the time, “We all take things far too seriously.” We tip toe around words, particularly the ones that are taboo in public. We hold onto these phrases for so long, that once given the opportunity, it bursts like a boiling geyser. I heard a kid say once, “N**GER! N**GER! N**GER! N**GER! N**GER! N**GER! N**GER!” Sure, being that I’m Black, I was offended, but then I thought to myself, “Boy, that dumb kid sure couldn’t wait to say that.” It’s a mammal instinct that dictates our impulse of wanting to say and do whatever we want. But it’s our job as human beings to show a little self-control.
As funny as this is, it's very representative of our careless use of such terms.
At times when people use derogatory language, they resort to such labels because it's the most hurtful language they know. The word ‘f*g’ is used all too loosely to describe something that is lame or someone who is acting cowardly, not necessarily to label a homosexual. Even the N word carries a universal bad connotation, and sometimes is directed towards someone that one dislikes. In my first internship in grad school, I worked at a psychiatric hospital. Some of the more racist patients there threw around bigoted language like they were loose cigarettes (cigarettes in residentials hold their own economic trade). One patient called a nurse a white n**ger, another who was being restrained after defecating himself threw around the word k*ke and Jew. Not one of them was Jewish, but he knew it was offensive.
There is little justification for such behavior, because no matter how common it is, or how many of us have slipped in the past, it's never acceptable in a public domain. Do we really want to see a school full of children slaugtered? Not after Sandy Hook. Do we want to be labeled a hateful, generalized singling-out term based on our race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, country of lineage/origin, or religion? Never.
It may be difficult to imagine the consequences of going out of our way to offend others online. We may go to jail, we may be hunted down and choked out by some 49 year old man, we many have our accounts suspended or terminated by an online community. But try, just try, to not think of the consequences, but to think of others. Wouldn’t this world be a more comfortable place if we all contributed by not being dicks? Yes, I think so.