Sunday, September 22, 2013

By Jamaal Ryan

Let’s take a looking at a week in gaming from 9/9/13 to 9/12/13. Below is a special feature about my experience as a first time Diablo player.

First Three Hours of GTA V Spoiler Free (9/17/)

Well, that was the longest install I've ever had to sit through.
Being that Rockstar games are so infrequent, I’m certain that I’m not the only one who initially feels that navigating characters controls like someone walking for the first time after being in a coma for a month. Needless to say,  it took me a while for me to get used to GTA V's unconventional controls; the weighty pick up, the momentum shift in changing directions, these are very different mechanics, those in which are less noticeable over time but never forgotten.
It took me half the time to pick up on the tighter driving. Lighter vehicles control better than others as they have a tighter grip to the road than heftier models. However some cars allowed me to spill all over the road more than others; the mere stark difference was unusual, but perhaps vehicle customization might justify that.
I'd have to say, the first mission didn't do the game any favors in terms of visuals. The vibrancy we’ve seen in screenshots and trailers were missing to be replaced by a bland color scheme and poor lighting. This could easily been explained by the weather conditions and the linear nature of the mission, but it just felt strange.
It was when I entered Los Santos when I was in awe.
Big city. Bright lights. Driving towards the outskirts of Vinewood toward rolling hills dotted with shrubbery all emphasized with the game's insane lighting made my jaw drop. The level of scope in GTA V is astounding, and the level of minute detail is equally impressive. Of everything I saw, Lamar's flip flops lifting off the pavement to the souls of his feet instead of being glued to it displayed the level of care Rockstar put into their animations.
When not in the action, the only thing that pulled me out of my constant gaze of the city was Rockstar’s quintessential dialogue. The banter between Franklin and Lamar quickly reminded me of the Friday movies, the feel good neighborhood films for us Black folks. It brought back that San Andreas feel, only more believable and much smarter.
My first money shot moment was pulled off in a spectacular fashion as the game just manages to succeed keeping you in control while everything around you goes to shit. If this is signs of what's to come, the game will allow you to trigger cinematic camera angles to get a look at the action up close while prompting you what to do in enough time to keep everything moving.
My last mission presented the gun play in full force. It's Max Payne 3 in GTA V's body. The cover system is properly magnetic and much more reliable. And while the soft aim is still there, the camera acceleration is much smoother, allowing you to kill with confidence. I didn't do so well admittingly, but I can't wait to get into more firefights to test my body count skills.
I didn't get much done in the three hours (2:40 if you discount the download time) because of the pedestrian distractions that kept pulling me every which way. Cruising jamming to Kendrick Lamar and Dr. Dre, or enjoying a shamelessly racist cartoon and later listening to upended political propaganda, GTA V lives outside of you whether you experience it or not, and I can’t wait to see just how much blood is pumping through this city.
I do have an issue with character switching. It’s quick and instantaneous when each are just meters of one another, but across the city, it take full seconds to switch from one to the other. I’m not sure if it’s my system or disc, but I’ll be very unhappy if this interrupts any missions.
I can’t say much for the game thus far. In this massive game, I’ve yet to meet all the characters, and with the exception of the money shot moment, this installment has been baseline errand boy GTA. But I’m confident that’s gonna change within the next hour or two as I’ve seemed to come across the moment that bring these three together in doing what we know them to do.
Look forward to my review in October.

MGSV Excites Me from Tokyo Game Show (9/19)

Much like the genre that it inspires, Metal Gear Solid V snuck up on us at its official debut at the beginning of Microsoft’s E3 2013 press conference, then hardly to be heard from again. The most attention that it has gotten since then was the studio’s controversial statements of making Quiet more “exotic” and “sexy” (I’ll leave that one alone since I’ve written enough about gender issues in video games).
Stealth games have historically walked the narrow path of pass or fail; and within the last ten years, games like Splinter Cell have grown to give players more direct methods of engagement options, and others such as Thief, Dues Ex: Human Revolution and Dishonored have gifted players a respectable amount of volume allowing more flexible ranges of approach.
Metal Gear Solid V arguably inflates that space to a scale that wows us almost just as much as what many of us are experiencing now in GTA V. Not only is there an incredible amount of real estate to cover in each area, but the level design and the environment looks to give us a near infinite amount of stealth options such as hanging off the side of a horse, and using night time and weather conditions to our advantage.
Now I must admit, in isolation, the Tokyo Game Show demo wasn’t all that exciting in and of itself to look at. But there were some neat tricks that show how Kojima Productions is paying attention to the genre at large and implementing new gameplay options in their own right. Much like games such as Splinter Cell and Far Cry 3, enemies can be marked and tracked throughout the environment. There are also several occasions where enemies are seen through walls which draws a heavy comparison to games like the Batman Arkham titles.
There also seems to be more of an empowering reaction to being spotted by enemies when up close. It looked as if limp bodies can be thrown for an instant KO which is hilariously overpowered in its own right. This action was done when time slowed after an enemy was alerted; it's an interesting design similar to games that lend a short window to silence the enemy (oddly enough, the modern Goldeneye reboot comes to mind) before others become aware of your location.
It was a raw demo from start to finish of how one can infiltrate and enemy base from any angle and any approach that would indeed be far more exciting to play than to watch. But when keeping in mind again the environmental tools and adaptations along with the traversal freedom, Metal Gear Solid V could set a standard in modern stealth action games.

Is there a history of violent video games and gun violence? (9/20)

And so it continues. Another horrible tragedy in the form of a mass shooting, and another perpetrator who just happened to play video games. From Columbine to Norway to Sandy Hook to the most recent tragedy in DC involving 12 killed at a naval base, the media and video game naysayers point the finger at mature rated games as the cause and even the influence. Some might go as far as to say that games are the problem, not guns.
It’s an absurdly narrow hypothesis, especially considering that gun violence – and in this case, mass shootings – have been an active deadly part of American society for decades. Know the term “Going Postal”? It originated from the series of mass shootings that happened to take place at US Postal Offices beginning in 1986 at Edmond Oklahoma where 15 were killed including Patrick Sherrill, the shooter, who turned the gun on himself.
Though many unofficial trackings date mass shootings back to the early 80’s, a decade where the term “violent video games” was hardly conceived, the oldest known mass shooting marks all the way back to 1764, where it’s horrifyingly coincidental that it was also a shooting where the fatally wounded were students and a teacher.
Television wasn’t even invented yet, let alone video games.
Take away the video games, and what are you left with? Nearly 250 years work of historical mass shootings, and 225 years’ worth if you discount shootings that have happened between this past Monday and the year 1990, the beginning of an era where violent shooters have developed since Wolfenstein 3D.
Centuries ago, the blame might have been on possessions of some kind. Decades ago, mass shootings might have been scapegoated by music and television; now we’re up to video games.
I just hope I grow old enough to see where the tides shift next.

A Week in Gaming Special Feature:
I've Lost My Diablo Virginity
Originally reported September 16th 2013
Diablo is a game about getting new shit thrown at you all the time. Having not played any game in the series before it, and only getting a chance to experience it on 360, I finally got the “Diablo Hook”.
Diablo is surprisingly more of a demanding action RPG than I expected it to be. Enemies’ patterns mimic that of more conventional action titles with hazardous obstacles and broadcasted attacks as you're made capable with incredibly responsive controls that enable you to trigger and cancel attacks instantly. As a Monk class, I heavily rely on Tempest Rush which is designed as both a defensive and offensive maneuver. I can deal damage and inflict effects on my foes, but at the same time (in my opinion) it’s primarily useful for getting out of a jam since it cuts directly through enemies.
This isn’t the makings of a typical RPG, this rooted in action game mechanics.
Those who’ve played Diablo for years will process this as if it’s second nature, but from an outside-looking-in perspective, this might have been beyond the expectations of those who’ve never played Diablo.
One take away that I can honestly say has changed my perspective in RPGs in the future is rooted in Diablo’s basic combat. I’ve always felt more comfortable with the basic Warrior/Barbarian classes as a way to avoid managing magic and low defense. And though the Monk isn’t particularly a departure from that play style, being that Spirit is recharged by basic attacks – and not like other archaic RPGs where it’s based off of potions of some kind – it incentivizes me to try new classes and perhaps do the same in future RPGs from here on forth.
Loot and leveling up are what defines the Diablo experience for me as I’m sure it does for veteran players. The gear that I’ve obtained while playing Diablo has been extremely empowering. Early in my campaign, I augmented my Monk with armor that has health regenerative features. That, combined with the Mantra of Healing meant that my health kept fighting to stay full… and was winning. Now as I’m currently grinding, I’ve shifted to prioritizing gear that empower extra experience, making that climb to the next level even faster than it normally is.
Discovering that I can sit down for a small reasonable amount of time and see the next level kept me glued to my seat. I was ecstatic to see how Diablo 3 rewards you with something new every single time you level up. Not all the abilities are game changers; many of them I’ve skipped to continue my adherence to my play style, but just knowing that something new was around every corner turned 30 minutes into hours.
As I’m writing this, I’m in the middle of a multiplayer match; that alone makes Diablo 3 the most user friendly co-op game I’ve ever played. This, along with the basic principle of consistently rewarding the player, is where I can now see where the term for Borderlands “Diablo with guns” came from.
Better with friends.
The story in Diablo is secondary… hell, even third-dary. I crushed the hellish Diablo within minutes and jumped right back into multiplayer to see how far and how powerful I can push my Monk to be. The loot is better. The experience gain is faster. The battles are tougher. All three aspects of multiplayer to me feels cradled by how adamantly it is designed to keep players together. Borderlands 2 beat for beat, drew inspiration from Diablo’s multiplayer format, but one of the key features it missed was loot exclusivity. I hated it when a gun with a purple beacon shot out of a corpse only to see some asshole sprint by and pick it up, or worse yet, make an entire pile of loot vanish in one fell swoop. With the exception of when a fellow player gives up his gear, that never happens in Diablo 3. In addition, I equally value being able to teleport back and forth from a hub village, and by interacting with any one of the fellow players’ banners, jump right back into the fray. Blizzard clearly wanted to make the player experience as barrier free and progression heavy as possible. And for me, it succeeds in every conceivable way.
For me, Diablo 3 came out at an inopportune time.  The two weeks that I spent with it wasn’t enough with GTA V shipping tomorrow. But with several classes, several difficulties, endless loot, and addictive design, after experiencing it for the first time, Diablo 3 has my respect for one of the most definitive RPGs in the video game spectrum.

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