Sunday, August 18, 2013

By: Jamaal Ryan

Let’s take a looking at a week in gaming from 8/12/13 to 8/16/13. Below are two special features; one covering Call of Duty: Ghosts' multiplayer reveal, and the other discussing gamer on game developer abuse.

We’ve seen a new Xbox One. Will we see a cheaper one? (8/12)

Remember the Xbox One three months ago? 24 hour online requirement, restriction on used games, wasn’t intended to pack in with a headset, indie developers required publishing, it could not work independently from the Kinect sensor; there were many, many features that branded the Xbox One non-consumer friendly. Today, it’s almost a completely different console.

It’s quite interesting how the Xbox One has progressively aligned itself with the Playstation 4. The PS4 has no online requirements or used game restrictions, celebrated indie development at their press conference while sticking to their allowance of self-publishing, will pack in with a headset – a turnaround from the PS3’s lacking accessory, and not only can it work without the Playstation Eye – not that they were ever stupid to consider that it might not, but it will sell separately which puts it at a competitive price of $399.

Nearly all of these features now exist in the Xbox One with the exception of that fact that as of now, it will still come packed in with a Kinect sensor.

As appealing as the Xbox One is today, there are some that have shown a bit of disappointment in the system’s 180, mainly when it comes to their DRM pull. While the DRM reversal is more or less universally a good thing, seeing these continuous 180s makes me concerned that Microsoft will align itself even further, specifically with the packed in Kinect.As consumer friendly as the Xbox One is today, the Playstation 4 still has one major advantage over it, $100 difference in price. Though it may seem unlikely that that Xbox One will pack in a unit that just holds the console itself due to its “All-in-One” advertising and massive push at the reveal event in May, we’ve seen Microsoft pull crazier stunts. The Xbox One still differentiates itself hardware wise mainly because of the immediate access to the Kinect sensor. Developers can be certain that if they design a game using Kinect, all systems will be compatible with it because all of them have one packed in. But now since the console can now operate separately from the Kinect, this Kinect-less package seems a bit more likely.

There are still changes Microsoft can make to sell the console at a cheaper price without taking Kinect out of the picture. Microsoft has experimented with a subscription based SKU of the Xbox 360 with some successAfter reaching 8.5 million viewers at their reveal event pushing the message as an entertainment center, for the casual consumer, it’ll be a hard pill to swallow forking over $500+. A lower entry price point could hit that target audience they aimed for, while keeping the $499 model of us hardcore gamers.

So what will Microsoft change next? Will they find a way to make the Xbox One as cheap as or cheaper than the PS4 (and possibly the Wii U’s current price at $349)? November is just over three months away. 

Sources: IGNPolygonNeoGAF

That Dragon, Cancer coming to Ouya (8/13)

The Ouya has had trouble finding its footing in the games market. Its library is largely made up of Android based games that originated on a cell phone which hardly justify its purchase in an industry dominated by established home consoles, and its games comfortably at home among millions of Android smart phones out there. It’s been branded as having an un-user friendly experience, and it also doesn’t help that among its already available and/or uninspiring games, there are only a few that stand out such as Towerfall.

And while there are hardly any major announcements for the system, news this week reveals a major Ouya exclusive, That Dragon, Cancer. Headed by Ryan Green, That Dragon, Cancer is a game that tells his story, his struggle that he and his family face with his 4 year old son Joel who’s been diagnosed with terminal cancer while have had battled seven brain tumors thus far. It’s a touching two hour point and click adventure game who’s demo has already pulled the heart strings to tears of the press who’ve tried it at this year’s GDC.

"I think playing it in a living room with your family and friends, this experience can be a catalyst for talking about hard things. Bringing it to the living room makes a lot of sense; we wanted to make a one to two hour game, something that could be done in one sitting," Green says. A game such as this differentiates itself from the vast majority of Ouya’s library as it’s intended for a single playthrough; and as a game originally slated for PC, it opens itself up for a collaborative conversation in the living room.

There aren’t many reasons to pick up an Ouya, especially with the next generation of consoles opening up their platforms to be more indie friendly than ever before. But if the Ouya continues to pick up little potential gems such as That Dragon, Cancer, the Ouya might be the ideal little indie game platform it promised itself to be.

Source: Polygon

A Week in Gaming Special Feature (1):
Call of Duty: Ghosts Multiplayer Reveal
Reported on August 14th 2013

If you’re not a Call of Duty fan, it’s likely difficult to win you over. But let’s set aside the fanboy slamming and semi-legitimate claims that the franchise is samey year after year. Call of Duty Ghosts has brought a bevy of changes to virtually every single facet of the game: from movement to how you customize your loadout, to player immersion, and of course, new game modes, weapons, and Killstreaks.

Yes, that Eminem joint Survival was dope.
Game Modes
Infinity Ward is very good at messing with vanilla COD rules to create abominable match types. Game modes like Cranked push the offensive nature of Call of Duty to its limits; pressuring players to keep a kill momentum by eliminating enemy players as frequently as possible or they’ll explode within the initiated countdown clock. Smartly included are earned perks that make you faster each time you get a kill. Low latency 60 frames per second damn well means something here. Search and Rescue adds an element of Kill Confirmed into its game mode where after a player dies, if an ally picks up the tag, then they’re revived; if an enemy picks it up, they’re out for the round.
Soldier Customization
There seems to be this obsession of character customization that I can never understand in first person shooters. I tinker with my Halo 4 Spartan because I spend so much time looking at him in the lobby screen. Call of Duty Ghosts finally gives the option to decorate and alter your appearance as a soldier. I remember watching the Xbox One event edition of Podcast Unlocked, and one of the fans pointed out that she didn’t see any indication that we could play as a female soldier. Well in that case, Ghosts has got you covered with female soldiers.

Infinity Ward shepherded the mainstream use of loadout customization with Call of Duty 4, and though Treyarch took the franchise in an all new direction with the Pick 10 system (which Infinity Ward respectively gave credit to), Ghosts is seeing an even higher levels of customization options. Treyarch went in one direction by offering only a small handful of perks in Black Ops 2, Ghosts gives us a whapping 35 perks to choose from. With a similar idea to the Pick 10 system, you can chose as many or as few perks you want. Perks are now divided into categories such as Speed, Stealth, and Awareness. Each category holds perks that are as cheap as 1 point and can cost as much as 5. Essentially, players can hold up to 11 perks if they free up enough space in their loadout.
Squads Mode
In my mind however, that transitions over to Squads Mode. Give me one guy or gal to look at, and I wouldn’t pay them no mind; give me 10, and I’ll start to diversify. In Ghosts multiplayer, you’re allowed up to 10 characters to customize, each with their own builds and loadouts. This excites me as one who never prestiged and was stuck with 5 loadout slots.
Speaking of prestiging, though it wasn’t explained properly at the event, instead of losing all of your unlocks, prestiging will evidently unlock another soldier in your squad until you’ve reached the full 10. FINALLY, after 6 whole years, we get a Call of Duty where prestiging doesn’t only avoid being a punishing trade off, but it adds to your custom options. Squad members can also be brought into squad based matches that are either solo, competitive, or co-op including Safeguard, a wave based multiplayer mode that’s similar to MW3’s most underrated mode, Survival.
In some of these match types in Squads Mode, you’ll be facing up against AI. Now the AI in Call of Duty has never been the best; in many ways, Black Ops 2’s Strike Force Mode highlighted how piss poor their behavior was. However Infinity Ward claims in Squads, the AI has been programed to use more human tactics such as Drop Shot and Side Strafe. It’s an interesting take on the COD multiplayer that we may not have asked for, but may wonder where it has been in all of our COD careers.
Tons of Weapons
Infinity Ward’s executive producer Mark Rubin boasts about the all new weapon class as being the Marksman Rifles, however such a class of weapons has always existed in Call of Duty. They were simply semi-automatic assault rifles in the assault rifle class. However this time, some, if not all, of the rifles can be modded with a three round burst trigger, taking after Black Ops 2’s weapon behavior attachments. In addition to this, Ghosts comes with 30+ weapons, giving players such as myself well over 100 hours of strictly gun experimentation.
Bring Back the Killstreaks
Infinity Ward is the studio leader when it comes to Killstreaks in the Call of Duty franchise. While Treyarch admirably strives to nerf and balance the streaks, Infinity Ward is geared towards offering us more at our finger tips; in Ghosts, we get over 20 extra Killstreaks. New Killstreaks such as Juggernaut Manic which separates itself characteristically from the offensive and defensive Juggernauts from MW3, and earns its title as a sprinting knife wielding manic; Riley, the featured Navy Seal dog at the debut of Ghosts, will be an accompanying Killstreak that will alert you for nearby enemies and attack anyone within proximity.
I was critical in my Black Ops 2 review of Treyarch ignoring Strike Packages. Thankfully while Ghosts is adopting many of the golden ideas from Black Ops 2 such as Pick 10 and streaks earned by objectives, the Assault, Support, and Specialist packages are back. Now as I’ve mentioned that Infinity Ward looked to giving us more Killstreak options, they have also made efforts to balance it even further by reducing the number of airborne rewards such as a ground based UAV that you can hide and enemy players can destroy without wasting a slot on a launcher, and reducing the lethality of Killstreaks earned in the Support class and instead making them more counteractive to offensive rewards.
My only concern is the very name, ‘Killstreaks’. Though Mark Rubin stated that completing objectives will add to your Killstreak count, he didn’t state whether if extra points earned such as SAT COMM assistance (better known currently as UAV assistance) will contribute to earning Killstreaks as well. The idea behind earning Scorestreaks was the single – and substantial -- improvement that Black Ops 2 implemented into Call of Duty's streak system. I’d hate to see that go away on Ghosts.
Dynamic Maps
I was skeptical of the Dynamic Map system they announced at the Xbox One reveal, but seeing it in action made me a believer. This isn’t your simple minor alteration seen in the Black Ops games, these are level altering changes from toppling gas stations, to triggered traps, to map recreating Killstreaks. This isn’t near the level of skyscraper leveling Battlefield 4, but it’s a major change for the franchise, and adds another layer of spontaneity to this hair-trigger shooter.
Ear Rattling Sound
Audio has always been a Call of Duty strong suit just purely based on its ballistic action. Now, Infinity Ward has taken it to an all new level of immersion with their new engine. The sound dynamically changes based on the environment you’re in. Gun fire will soften in an enclosed carpeted room and echo in a large metal lined space; gates will rattle behind me after a grenade explodes in front of me. Battle chatter has become more and more distinguishing over the course of Call of Duty’s history. While not much of what we’ve seen in this week's reveal was a drastic change such as calling out land marks and snipers, I can’t wait to see what they’ve developed. While they mentioned how players will have better awareness of if enemies are in their space, I’m wondering if we will be able to distinguish between our footsteps and another player’s. At times, I’ve found it difficult to discern the difference when I’m moving.
All New Maneuverability and Control
We’ve heard about the new lean, slide, and vaulting mechanics at the Xbox One reveal, but seeing them in action really shows off how this bakes into the momentum of Call of Duty gameplay. Very few first person shooters use cover smartly other than those such as Rainbow Six, but leaning from cover, though not adding to the speed of the game, strangely un-affects it as we see players pop into cover and carry on. Vaulting looks exciting not only because it'll keep you running, but you can also shoot while mantling over obstacles. I’ve always stayed away from anything I’ll have to climb as it lags you into a brief moment of defenselessness. Sliding can be used in an interesting way. The reveal video showed the player sliding and turning their view 90 degrees to take on players coming from the right in a smooth quick transition. I for one have never seen movement like this in any shooter, and I’m excited to practice using that technique as well as the other new mechanics into my routine.
One thing I did notice however was how the knifing animation has changed. Shanking someone in Call of Duty is – in my eyes – the fastest, most responsive and satisfying melee attack in any shooter. Just a swipe of the arm, and you’re dead. Now, it looks like they’ve drawn the animation out longer where the player plunges the knife into an opponent’s chest and pushes them off. Sure it’s fast, but the extra step of pushing in and shoving off takes precious milliseconds that can you can use to react to events in gameplay. I won’t know for sure how much this will impact the gameplay until I actually get my hands on.
Wrap Up
The amount of additions that Infinity Ward as brought to the Call of Duty franchise is daunting. There’s simply too many new features to comfortably process at this time, especially given that most of us haven’t even played the game yet. Call of Duty: Ghosts ships in just a few months, and I have a feeling that many players will spend more time adjusting to all the changes then they have in a Call of Duty game in many years. See you online on November 5th.
A Week in Gaming Special Feature (2):
Stop Talking Shit to our Developers
Reported on August 16th, 2013
You ever pick up a game and think to yourself, “Who’s the idiot that thought up this idea?” Have you ever been enraged by understatedly inconvenient assets such as an always online requirement, nerfing patches of your favorite weapons, or just feel that a developer is just too damn smug to be speaking his mind?
Did you ever want to direct that frustration in the form of hateful language towards them?
Yeah? Well you should stop right there.
Gamer to game maker hate has been a rising concern seeing recent exacerbation in the past year. Developers have been victims of abuse, an inevitable product of fame gone ramped. Name calling, vicious berating, and death threats have all become a part of consumer abuse.
This seems to be an issue in the games industry for a few reasons. We as gamers are sometimes heavily attached and unknowingly fanatical about the products of our pass time, the characters in our products, the fiction in these titles, and the spaces and specific tools that we use to enjoy our games and have fun. Some of us have a monetary relationship with these games shortly after their inception, participating in crowd funding like Kickstater and Indiegogo. It’s a passion that we can’t measure of a medium that we can argue is the best form of entertainment. If the catalysts of our attachment is f**ked with, we flip.
Gamers also are very much in tuned with social media; the forums, Twitter, Facebook, and message boards. Our passion has led us to knowing our products inside and out and knowing who’s responsible. Pissed off gamer + easy access + having easy access to whom= slandering, threatening, trolling, and other uses of hurtful language.
For many of us, it’s simple anger; sometimes it leads us to join a conversation (conversation is a very generous term for hateful trolling) where the topic and opinion resonates with us. Few of us get so enmeshed in it, that we rot and persist in such vile behavior.
The Cyberbullying Research Center see these actions as triggered by a “disconnect” between who we are and our internet aliases. On an episode of Podcast Beyond, Greg Miller discussed how some raging Twitter followers are profusely apologetic when they’re responded to, not thinking that their message will be read. It’s like shouting I WANT TO KILL EVERYONE only to then quickly clasp your mouth once you realize someone is nearby. On the same subject, Colin Moriarty firmly stated that he’s still waiting for someone to say hurtful things directly to him in person, “because no one has ever had the balls” to say it to his face.
He’s absolutely right. The homophobic and racist chatter in matchmaking lobbies is hardly ever heard in the general public.
But we get so engaged in such a deplorable manner that we don’t realize who we’re effecting. When it comes to game developers, we forget to parse the difference between a AAA studio and an indie developer. Sometimes we know exactly who we’re speaking to, and attack with more venomous language at representing faces of an indie team.
Bioware writer Jennifer Helper was vilified, targeted to take the blame for Dragon Age 2’s radical change in its combat style to the point that she received threats, both via online messaging and phone calls, to her children’s and family’s lives. David Vonderhaar was targeted with similar threats to some simple weapon balancing in Black ops 2. These are people behind large development studios, hardly the face of each company. But people like George Lucas shows that even one of a large entertainment company can be turned away by hateful fans, and we got to see that recently with Phil Fish.
But no matter the victims, big or small, they can be affected by consumer abuse. We’ve seen large studios bend at the sheer volume and will of the consumer with Bioware’s alternate ending to Mass Effect 3. While not a fan of the ending myself, many have noted how frightening it was for the industry that Bioware gave under pressure. They unintentionally made an example out of themselves which can give reason to the inevitable next protest to a game’s creative choice. Indie developers are all the more vulnerable. They do not have the capacity to guard themselves with a PR buffer to moderate the hate. When trolls attack with flame throwers, they’re taking the brunt of the scorch directly.
Bioware’s bend and Phil Fish’s bowing out are only the beginning to what may continue to encourage consumer hate. Developers, AAA or indie, need to prepare themselves for the onslaught of hostile fanaticism. They must ignore, and if possible, impose consequences to those who irrationally threaten their lives. But changing behavior shouldn’t only be about punishment. They should also be directly responsive to those who convey their concerns and even offer their ideas as ways to reward consumer feedback.
We need to encourage keeping the gaming space a healthy and productive community. Give attention to those who deserve it, not to those who demand it.

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