By Jamaal Ryan

Let’s take a looking at a week in gaming from 10/21/13 to 10/25/13. Below is a special feature discussing the strained potential of facilitating modern day classic titles.

Paid DLC for Pokemon X/Y? (10/23)

Yeah, um… no.
Nintendo and friends have been very faithful to the idea of selling software in complete, self contained packages, unlike countless current gen (Killzone: Mercenary eclipsing a 4 GB memory card) and a number of next gen titles we already know about. DLC hasn’t been common practice of the company either, with a few exceptions such as New Super Luigi U – later shipping as a full retail title. But when discussing DLC for the wildly popular Pokemon X/Y, series art director Ken Sugimori unwaveringly states, “I've always said no to the act of buying Pokemon with money."
Sugimori firmly explains the consistency throughout the Pokemon franchise as all allowing players to collect and manage Pokemon has adhered to a consistent formula throughout the 15 year duration of the franchise.
He adds that such a monetary decision would “ruin the worldview of Pokemon," explaining that having to do things such as charging 100 yen for a single Pokemon in a microtransaction format would put the developer in a position to make that yen spent worth spending. This is similar to the reasonings as to why developers such as Zenimax are willing to charge a monthly fee for The Elder Scrolls Online, avoiding the design balancing of free-to-play to justify the cost.
But this also goes against the entire appeal and philosophy Pokemon’s quintessential formula. Even after 7 years away from the franchise, Pokemon X/Y easily reminds me why the series is arguably the most powerful handheld franchise in gaming history. I spent a proud 1,000 hours (no, that wasn’t a typo) on Pokemon Crystal version.  There’s a respectable time investment in building up your Pokedex and hunting down Pokemon throughout each region. There’s a sense of pride and embarrassment when you can identify a Pokemon just from the electronic chirps and memorizing when or what make Pokemon level up from hours upon hours of grinding to build up your ultimate collection. There’s also a very obtainable, but no less simple achievement of sucking the game world bone dry of all of its secrets from rare breeds, to rare items, to rare wild Pokemon.
Under this massive feat of catch-‘em-all lies a social aspect of trading Pokemon. The double releases of every iteration is built upon this very principle which brings players of different versions to trade Pokemon that don’t exist in their particular version, trade Pokemon for evolution, or even trade Pokemon while gifting a rare item.
Now imagine if those rare Pokemon, those evolutions, those special secrets can be bought for 100 yen or $1?
Source: Polygon
Thanks to: 4gamer
Ouya's Retail Strategy and Desperate PR (10/24)
Since its launch, Ouya was sold at some of the locations of some of the major retailers in which consumers purchase video games. Now this month, Ouya will be selling at every single location of one of the major retailers, Target.
Target isn’t the first choice when it comes to video game retail. In fact, one can argue that the chain is the last option among the retailers that Ouya launched in, that being among GameStop, Best Buy and GAME. But regardless of the fact that Ouya hasn’t managed to get a deal with the likes of a retailer like GameStop, being at all 1,800 Target locations throughout the nation is a big push for the Ouya’s sales.
It also should be noted that this comes after Ouya has opened their availability further throughout Europe and Middle East. But especially when looking at videos and displays popping up within the next two months, and available kiosks coming in to Target locations early next year, it’s clear that Ouya is aggressive in getting the attention of as many consumers as possible.
But when discussing their new sales strategies and light justification for the system’s commercial performance with Polygon, Ouya founder Julie Uhrman begins to sound less convincing.
On one hand, Uhrman claims that the decision to ship to all target locations was based off of consumer demand; but on the other, Uhrman hesitates to reveal sales numbers at this time. It’s hard to see where the consumer demand is coming from when you neglect to reveal sales numbers and when you’re working with selling to a second tier games retailer. Not to mention that the gaming community hasn't responded well to Ouya, unknown sales aside.
Throughout the interview, her comments become increasingly more desperate.
Uhrman attempts to justify the success of Ouya from a company of 35 to a successful Kickstarter and production in nine months with 500 games and 25,000 developers (those numbers seem a bit off to me) backing the system after four months. The success story is all good to hear, but a system that has received poor critical response with a safely assumingly low consumer demand, as a product, it has not done very well.
But the most painfully digestible statements are as follows:
“…we haven't had a software outage. We haven't had a major bug that made the system unplayable. We haven't had it accidentally release credit card information.”
Uhrman very clearly references the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 with the PS3 outage and the Red Ring of Death. It’s a feeble comparison to systems that are vastly more successful than the Ouya, part of the statement in which even claws at the PS3’s network failure which took place several years into the console’s life cycle.
The Ouya may be doing the best it can in getting in the hands of new consumers, and her statements makes these efforts sound understandably desperate, however what Ouya truly needs besides kick ass marketing is an abundance of software to legitimize the system to be more than an Android box hooked up to your television.
Source/ Image Source: Polygon
Will COD Ghosts' Squads Mode gain traction? (10/25)
Ghosts’ will bring many new additions to multiplayer from mechanical maneuverability, to new soldier customization options, to dynamic maps. New game modes are in abundance as well, but the new Squads mode appears to be the most robust.
Squads is broken down into 4 different game types: Wargame, Safeguard, Squad v Squad, and Squad Assault. Wargame can be used as a platform to test player’s skill against Ghosts’ newly advance AI which is said to be more aggressive while utilizing human player tactics. A team of human or AI filled players -- if need be -- will face off against a team of AI soldiers in standard multiplayer match types.
There’s little difference between Wargame and Squad Assault, which will pin you against an AI team with the exception that the AI team is another players cherry picked squad on a hand selected map of their choice to “defend”. In this asynchronous relationship, the player whose squad you’ll be battling against will gain experience while away from the game.
Squad v Squad allows players to be the most intimate with their squads where only one human player will be on each team rolling with their entire squad. All modes involving squads gives players an RPG sensibility even more so than the staple Call of Duty formula. It allows players to customize AI soldiers of different classes and playstyles and see the results directly in the battlefield.
What’s left is Safeguard which really has nothing to do with squads at all. The similarities only lie with battling – only – against AI in a survivor mode match type.
Unfortunately, when it comes down to my Squad Mode preference, I’ll strangely stick with the least Squad influence mode in Ghosts, Safeguard. Instead of explaining my reasoning behind my preference to Safeguard, I’ll discuss why I’m not interested in either Squad v Squad or Squad Assault, the two most squady modes of Squad Mode.
Call of Duty Black Ops 2 had formulated one of the most innovative game modes in the series in years with Strike Force, the quazi RTS that failed its potential and seemed to have been sent to die – unless a hopeful and more refined iteration comes up in Treyarch’s next Call of Duty game.
In Squad Assault, the prospect of customizing your squad and assigning them to maps is interesting, but I feel as if there’ll be a detachment from your units having no control over them. I wish Infinity Ward adopted Treyarch’s Strike Force formula and fulfilled it’s true potential in multiplayer by having a player command their squad against a team of human players in real time.
Infinity Ward’s Mark Ruben outlines a layer of strategy in Squad Assault when assigning a particular team to a map. But no matter how the AI replicates human tactics, I can’t imagine that NPCs can take full advantage of each map’s level design in ways that humans can.
This leaves Squad v Squad; while it seems to have players interact with their squads the most, I can’t help but think of getting a lonely feeling only facing once human player. Sure, there’s no other way to incorporate more players in a match while bringing in full squads, but perhaps a tournament format allowing spectators to watch will make Squad v Squad less baron.
Outside of Safeguard, Squads Mode looks to be more like an elaborate demonstration of Infinity Ward’s new AI system as well as an interesting practice battleground for players rather than a primary destination for multiplayer. Perhaps I’m wrong. But we won’t know until Call of Duty: Ghosts release in just over a week.
A Week in Gaming Special Feature:
Part of Gaming's Evergreen Problem
Originally reported on: October 21st 2013
Last week, IGN’s Mitch Dyer wrote a piece discussing how gaming’s inherent nature as a medium render’s its products impermanent. Books such as the 150+ year old book A Tale of Two Cities and classic films such as Citizen Cane have a particular relevance – even in casual discussion today – decades up to over a century later. Video games, particularly games today, hardly have the staying power of a few years. This is an inherent problem caused by both prioritized technological advancement and capitalistic cost efficiency.
Polygon’s Editor-in-Chief Chris Grant has beef with Microsoft and Sony when comparing PC to console gaming. He brings up an argument that can hardly be defeated by console gamers in that PC dwarfs any console library by thousands of titles. He points to his shelf with PC classics such as Gabriel Knight, Star Craft, Fallout 2 , Under A Killing Moon, and System Shock – all games released between 1993 and 1998 – and discusses how they will still work on his high specs PC that could stand toe to toe with current and eventually next gen hardware, however Xbox One and the PS4 gleefully set aside backwards compatibility with only the nebulous promise of cloud software.
How many games can we access from the mid 90’s without unearthing dusty antique consoles or booting up emulators without relying on remakes and re-releases? Nintendo’s consoles may have come and gone with a weakened fizz, but their effort in giving today’s gamers the opportunity to experience its historical classics is a lot more than what Sony and Microsoft can say.
The question, “Which of today’s games will be remembered as classics years from now?” gets thrown around a lot. And as effortlessly uncreative the question may be, it’s a very difficult question to answer. Many gamers scoff at classic games from the 90’s as products of nostalgia, gems of our childhood, and mementos of happier times; but the philosophy and intention behind past generation games weren’t as monetized focused as today’s games are, allowing them to deliver everlasting creative experiences instead of multi-million dollar flashes in the pan.
We’ve been within the midst of an age where high profile titles represent an insignificant zeitgeist. Many gamers remember Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare fondly, but the 5 games after that are just a blur (even as a Call of Duty fan myself, I can’t deny that). The difference between the games of today and the games of yester-year is the propensity to make the most technologically advanced and financially safe games rather than the intellectually and creatively complex. This sort of disease has metastasized over the course of the short generations of games. Think of the significance of Resident Evil on the PS1 and the direction that franchise is being taken in after Resident Evil 6.
Tucked away in the corner is Battefield 3 a franchise now set to chase after Call of Duty over creating the best land, air and sea military combat shooter on the market.
Oddworld’s CEO Lorne Lanning’s Britney Spears and Pink Floyd comparison profoundly highlights the juxtaposition between games directed by publishers and games directed by creators. The most bombastic, visceral, gory, and explosive “Britney Spearsy” games deliver on the idea “immediacy”, a term that is the opposite of evergreen. Some of the most thought provoking and evocative “Pink Floydy” games comes from small studios with a small budget.
This leads into where we may see some staying power. Some of the most memorable experiences I’ve had this generation have moved away from the Call of Dutys and the Uncharteds to games like Sound Shapes, Journey, and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. These games generate a sense of warmth, glee, and awe unlike any of the best selling franchises this generation. But all is not lost for games moving mountains of cash. Ask anyone of a game that defines this generation, and you’ll likely hear Bioshock, a game that put its money where its mind was. Ask me which game defines this generation, and you’ll quickly get me to say The Last of Us, easily one of the most cohesive games of this generation.
The focus of the industry’s present mindset bleeds the potential to facilitate and generate classic games. As we move further and further into the future of gaming, hardware manufacturers turn away from the past to look into the present and future, which leaves Nintendo's virtual console and hopes that we get services from other platforms in the next year. We’re also witnessing publishers playing it incredibly safe and looking for immediate return over evergreen quality. But here’s hoping that the emergent of more games like The Last of Us and Journey create more staying power for the future.
By Jamaal Ryan

Let’s take a looking at a week in gaming from 10/14/13 to 10/18/13. Below is a special feature discussing some of the most emotionally evocative games of this generation.

NYCC 2013: The Nintendo Center (10/14)
Rough Around the Third Dimension
My time with Sonic Lost World was a ball tap to my shame after a small child blazed through the very Galaxy-esque first level before I struggled after two deaths during my own playthrough. To be fair, I jumped in the last of the four playable levels, the casino themed Frozen Factory which was arguably the most difficult of the four.
Sonic games have never been done quite well in 3D. The added dimension lends too many opportunities for slow down which is a kill joy to the trail blazing Sonic experience. It's the very reason why Sonic has always worked better as a side scroller.
Lost World left that unsatisfying impression on me. His baseline speed wasn’t nearly as fast as I would have liked, and even his spin dash lent an underwhelming push. My playthrough was plagued with ping-pong table bumpers, rolling slot wheels, and giant poker chips that posed a real challenge, but all with little speedy reward.
I take partial responsibility jumping in the final playable stage as my first time hands on with Sonic Lost World. However my brief time with this 3D Sonic game hasn't reinvigorated my trust in the added dimension.
Frozen Impressions
Donkey Kong Country Returns was my third favorite platformer for Wii, only next to the Galaxy entries. So you can imagine my cautious curiosity before getting hands on with Tropical Freeze. Has Retro caught lightening in the bottle again much like Galaxy 2 did after the original? Or does Tropical Freeze strike the numbing nerve that has been abused by the incessant sequels that have populated this generation. Of course I can't answer that question with only 7 short minutes with a stage, but unfortunately my impressions fall in the later.
My Tropical Freeze playthrough felt largely identical to Wii's Returns. Relentless hazards striking from left, right and center, barrel launches hiding collectable secrets, and a layered control scheme separating the rookies from the veteran. I ran through as Diddy along with my uncooperative partner in crime, Donkey. Unlike my session, two players should work well together just they have in Returns. Whoever controls the lighter primate play through the level autonomously or hop on DK’s back to augment his airtime.
Without getting a chance to control the added Dixy Kong or any of the levels outside of traditional platforming, I haven’t had the chance to see much of anything that has supposedly changed in this next gen sequel. But that doesn’t take away from impressions that Tropical Freeze is very similar to Returns.
Pocket Mario on the Big Screen
I've been locked in an emotional roller coaster with New Super Mario 3D World since its debut at E3 2013. As the title and the first game play video suggested, it’s a console spin off of the fantastic 2011 3DS game, much like the other New Super Mario games that have jumped from the DS titles. Earlier this month, Nintendo released an exciting look with unusually manic game play, many of which was very reminiscent of Mario Galaxy (Galaxy influences were in abundance at this year's comic con).
With the multiple 3D World kiosks, I got a chance to play through two levels, which gave me a more confident impression on the general pacing of the game. These stages are short, like handheld short. The first playthrough jumped straight to boss level (it wasn't my decision this time). Me, along with three other eager Mario characters, made a mad dash to the Cat Suit power ups before confronting the boss himself. It becomes apparent that the encounter was built around the idea of the Cat Suit's capabilities. Plate balancing goofy looking eels sprouted from beneath creating platforms that offer vantage points to whittle down the boss's health. The Cat Suit's wall scaling abilities allows you to scurry up the elongated necks of these sprouting eels, and though I wasn't able to figure out how to pull it off, I can easily imagine the suit's dive would be a convenient offensive maneuver directly towards the boss's face.
The second runthrough was more of a passive endeavor. It was a painfully straight forward level that would have been more appropriate in the middle of a larger level than a standalone stage. The four of us hopped on what looked like an orange Yoshi ancestor. After that, we were off. Racing down a waterfall, I never felt as if I was in control of the steering, and I was never sure that I was making the dragon jump or I just managed to time it right when someone else did. The sequence didn't feel collaborative at all, as I eventually stood there holding the controller with one hand. Before I was completely pulled out of the experience, it was over; the end signified by that iconic black Browser flag pole.
Based on my impressions, it’s safe to say that New Super Mario 3D World will be stuffed with bite sized stages. And while Nintendo's trailer showed off some truly exciting gameplay, my biggest concern is that the fun will be over far too soon.
In a convention with dense crowds,
… long lines, and limited playtime, NY Comic Con won’t be the ideal place – along with any other crowded convention – to get a firm grasp on demoed games. Some games like Rayman Legends (tried it at last year’s event) demo better than others. Unfortunately this year’s hands-on left me with underwhelming impressions. As I remain conscious of this, I’m willing to give each of these games another try once they all release later this year and early 2014.
My Next Gen Holiday Crushed (10/15)
Okay. That might be a bit if an over-reaction, but Ubisoft’s shocking announcement of Watch Dog’s delay to 2014 was painful.
Watch Dogs defined next gen for me since its show stealing debut at E3 2012. The level of visual fidelity seamlessly moving from cutscenes to gameplay, the dynamism of interactivity of a near future simulated Chicago, it was clear at last year’s show that this wasn’t a product of current gen hardware, but one from the future of gaming (and high end PCs of course).
No title had me more excited for what the next generation would bring. Even though it has been announced to virtually every home console, it’s new IP status separated it from other cross gen titles like Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts, and Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag.
My Xbox One’s launch was set: Call of Duty: Ghosts upgrade from the 360 version right alongside Watch Dogs, Battlefield 4 down the line and Dead Rising 3 (the only native next gen title I’m interested in) if it’s received well.
And while it pains me that such an iconic title has been shoved months into next year, I always use this as a reassurance: there are plenty of other games to play. New Super Mario 3D World, though didn’t impress me with my hands on at this year’s NYCC, will have a better chance finding a spot this holiday. In addition, either Battlefield 4 or Dead Rising 3 will fill in the obligatory second title next gen slot.
But I can’t help be feel that neither of these games will fill the Watch Dog sized hole in my anticipated holiday.
Watch Dogs' Delay & Ubisoft's Under-performing Sales (10/16)
As a consumer, I withheld some skepticism towards Ubisoft’s CFO Alain Martinez’s remarks on his explanation on Splinter Cell: Blacklist’s and Rayman Origins’ lower than expected sales, and CEO Yves Guillemot’s reasoning behind Watch Dogs’ delay.
As evidenced by Square Enix’s disappointment over Sleeping Dogs, Hitman Absolution, and especially Tomb Raider’s sales figures, big name publishers are setting high bar expectations for their titles. That thought immediately rushed to my consciousness after reading the publisher’s missed expectations with Rayman and Blacklist. Martinez followed up with the statement claiming that approaching next gen shrunk its chances of commercial success.
Splinter Cell Blacklist was one of the top selling games in August, despite my assumptions that it wouldn’t perform as well being that the Splinter Cell franchise is mainly popular among the hardcore community, while other franchises like Saints Row (whose popularity has The Third to thank) is more widely accepted as evidenced by Saints Row IV being only second to Madden 25 as the top selling game in August.
And while it's hard to easily say that Splinter Cell isn't as widely recognized by the general crowd, I’d be more confident to state that this was the very reason for Rayman Legends’ underwhelming sales figures. 2D platformers are hard pressed to compete with other titles with higher production values when it comes to consumer appeal. Analysts have stated that the over software sales in August were impressive despite just months prior to a new console generation. And though this can be counted as an exception, let’s not forget GTA V’s historical sales (a current gen only title) in its first three days. So I’m not so certain that preceding next gen is the only reasoning to missed expectations when looking at franchise popularity and high bar forecasts.
We may butch and bicker over game delays, but we must always remember that such incidents aren’t decided upon lightly by publishers unless they’re absolutely necessary. That’s what concerns me about Watch Dogs’ delay. Nearly a month before release -- a time when it should have gone gold -- Ubisoft only then decides not only to push it till next year, but next fiscal year setting it back roughly half a year from now.
That smells trouble.
There have only been variations of a few scenarios shown of Watch Dogs since the year plus it’s been announced. I myself saw a demo at NYCC which was rather underwhelming with a generic stealth mixed with shootout mission that was introduced by only passing mentionings of the dynamic hacking you can use on the city. Having not seen much else in between should have hinted that there might have been a problem, and with such a procrastinated decision, now we know.
While under the shadow of a new generation of consoles, we’ve seen some examples that current gen software sales can still sustain a high mark. Simply blaming new hardware doesn't justify low sales numbers; it's rather one of many reasons why two of Ubisoft’s latest games underperformed. As for Watch Dogs, while we wish they caught the issues sooner, with a several month delay, it better damn well justify the wait.
A Week in Gaming Special Feature
The Emotional Spectrum
of Video Games: A Brief Look
Originally reported on October 18th 2013

WARNING: Spoilers for Heavy Rain, The Walking Dead, The Last of Us, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, GTA V, and Red Dead Redemption
Jenova Chen, the zen master of the video game industry, stated that games are too stressful, oversimplifying the challenge and high score grind that was see in some games today. This attitude may have been true a generation ago, however for years now, we’ve seen a much wider spectrum of emotional draw from the medium. Not all are pleasant like Chen philosophically adheres to, but many are no less evocative.
We have games like Journey that present what I call a “therapeutic escape to a perfectly imaginative other-world”, a calming stress treatment that serves its own purpose. However we human beings are masochists, locking ourselves in dark rooms to endure Outlast, or jumping on a rollercoaster to self-inflict the feeling of falling to our deaths without actually falling.
Heavy Rain attempts to be an emotional headcase, but what it excels at is empathy. Trying to be a good father when getting a chance to have your son home after a divorce, sifting your way through a crowded mall with a heavy sense of guilt not quite remembering what your son wore or where he is, understanding the desperation of another parent before you take his life to save the life of your own child, Heavy Rain had a multitude of moments that connected you with Ethan Mars.
The Walking Dead draws heavy inspiration from Heavy Rain, but it becomes a master stroke of igniting the father among us (slight Fable reference). From the very first moment you commit a violent act in front of Clementine and see the look of shock through those big brown innocent eyes, you were driven to protect her from the inevitable ills of this decaying world. One of the briefest moments that made me grip my controller the hardest was when Clementine darted through the dog door inside the house not knowing if it was safe or not. The shot was perfectly delivered, preying on the relationship built from the moment you found her alone in Episode 1.
The Last of Us’ 20 year old rotting era was steaming with desperation. Every human kill felt significant, every resource was valuable, and every Clicker and Runner avoided lifted an immense weight off of your shoulders. And despite what Ellie’s immunity meant to the world, as a daughter figure, I couldn’t find myself to apologize for all the lives I took to save her.
Brothers was an artistic amalgamation for a better part of the game, both visually and thematically. But its emotional significance dropped when your older brother, your other half was fatally wounded. The deliberately dragging sequence of having to bury your own brother, the feeling of needing someone to hug perfectly satisfied by the griffin, feeling the gaping hole that the older brother once filled as you had to control one brother after having had controlled both simultaneously for the entire game, was masterfully evocative.
Rockstar is responsible for two of my most unpleasant emotional reactions to video games. GTA V’s torture scene was properly uncomfortable, yanking the freedom that I’ve grown so accustomed to from years in the franchise and locking me into inflicting intimate pain on an individual. And I’d like to not think that I’m the only person who eyes watered in utter shock after John Marston was decimated with bullets, watching him stagger with a futile effort to cling to life before he fell dead in front of his barn.
And though I never played Gone Home, I heard more than enough of the pungent nostalgia it emitted, both for adolescents of the 90’s and for everyone else who’s experienced first love as a teenager; for many, Gone Home was a recreation of one of the most significant moments in the most conflicting developmental stages of our lives.
Video games don’t have to be a stress-less escape. One of the strongest justification of violent video games reigns true here, they’re a safe space to experience unpleasant emotions. One of my undergraduate psychology professors said, “We often forget most of the moments we laugh, but never forget the moments we cry.”

A WEEK IN GAMING 10/7/13 TO 10/11/13.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

By Jamaal Ryan

Let’s take a looking at a week in gaming from 10/7/13 to 10/11/13. 

GTA Online: One week later (Two week update) (10/7 - Updated 10/14)
GTA V has gotten a lot of praise at succeeding pulling off such a technical feat on 7-8 year old hardware. The world is vast and packed with activates and an autonomous ecosystem operates as time passes, but does not adhere to a clock work schedule. It’s difficult to see how the game just manages to stay on its own two feet with mostly minor technical hiccups. Many, including myself, marvel at the next gen flavor Rockstar has brought with this massive game.
But with a game has that gotten away with holding itself together offline, glitches in tow, we should have heeded more than Rockstar’s warning that GTA Online MIGHT not work. Within GTA Online’s infrastructure are glimmers of next gen design. A persistent open world environment with players engaging in a series of solo, cooperative and competitive match types give hints of games such as Destiny and The Division. It’s needless to say that it's fairly ambitious for its time despite MMOs such as Final Fantasy XIV and other open world titles such as Burnout Paradise and Rockstar’s very own Red Dead Redemption. Looking back now at a game that didn’t quite run flawlessly now with a multiplayer that’s ahead of its time, it’s simple mathematics.
In its current state, GTA Online is f**king broken.
When it works, GTA Online can be a liberating experience so long as you’re cautious and adhering to making the right decisions that work best for your playstyle. Universally however, it is at its best when played cooperatively and with friends. Anything less, and you could run the risk of having an experience that falls anywhere between tedious and unpleasant. We’ve already made San Andreas an unforgivingly dangerous place in GTA V, throwing 16 psycho paths into the mix makes it safe for no one. Because of this, you should fully expect to be shot at unprovoked, sometimes several times in a row (Bank your cash at an ATM!).
To ward off these annoying fruit flies, your first option is switching to Passive Mode which renders you invincible against other players occupying the city, whist taking away your lethality as well. However for some reason, there is a punishing trade-off for this. Not only are you unable to inflict damage to other players and pay a fee of $100 for exemption, but you cannot draw your weapon at all in the city. If you get in the mood to cause mayhem on civies and law enforcement, you’ll have open yourself to all the dangers of the city.
But what’s recommended when you enter Los Santos is rolling in deep with your friends or a crew. This typically goes without saying in multiplayer games, however parading through the city with an entourage gives you protection against most malicious players. It also smoothens out the overall experience when engaging in deathmatch variants and getting into matches unlike lone wolfers who will spend much of their time searching for work and sitting in lobby screens for minutes at a time.
Not to say that GTA Online is hostile top to bottom for solo players. I’ve spent much of my time alone in the city. You can quick match games from your cell phone, accept invites that occur on the regular, and go on a one man mission to hold up every store in the city to make a lot of money. Just don’t expect to have quite as much fun as everyone else is having.
Regardless of the fact, there’s so much content leaving us for so much to do. Races, miscellaneous activates, competitive shootouts, jobs, missions, horde survival, chasing bounties, whenever I stood still in the city, it was never because I had nothing to occupy my time with, it was because I was overwhelmed with choices.
Some are better than others depending on your preference. As one who would argue that Horde Mode is the central multiplayer mode in Gears of War, Survival Mode in GTA Online – which plays very similarly to Red Dead’s survival from its Undead Nightmare DLC – is my jam. Farming jobs is one of the best ways to make money, and there’s always room for a good race. GTA Online’s deathmatch variants aren’t as good as Max Payne 3’s competitive multiplayer primarily due to the poor level design. Jump into one of these modes, and whoever makes a mad dash to the top of a building are more likely to win. But that’s the beauty in playing an open world game, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to play it.
And all in all, it’s a beautiful philosophy. But this image is smeared by the devastating stability issues. If you’re lucky, you’ll either get stuck in the initiating missions right after you set up your character, or you won’t get to play at all. For those who aren’t as fortunate, you could lose a great deal of your money or lose your character entirely. Money and character development doesn’t come by easily in GTA V, not with all the missions you have to complete, cars you have to ensure, or property you have to buy just to regain what you’ve lost. It’s an infuriatingly discouraging occurrence that makes me commend all those who end up doing it all over again, because if it were to happen to me, I would walk away from GTA Online permanently.
GTA Online is an ambitious gamble of your time. It isn’t just an anarchic sandbox with players flying helicopters into traffic and pulling off drive-bys with city buses. Yes, that can happen too, but it’s also a bedrock for your criminal fantasy in the form of an extension from GTA V. It’s a crying shame however that those fantasies have been crushed and will continue to be crushed until Rockstar gets their s**t together.

UPDATE: Since then, Rockstar has released a patch that should have resolved the issue surrounding deleted characters. Later this week, update 1.04 should address other issues around purchased cars disappearing as well. For those who've had their characters deleted, while Rockstar has made it clear that you wont be able to get them back, a two part compensation package of $500,000 starting this week should go to those that have played GTA Online this month thus far. To balance the in-game economy, the first half of the 500k should be delivered this week while the other 250k will be released sometime in the future.
Female modeling driven by cultural demand (10/8)
For their free-to-play shooter Warface, Crytek has admitted that the sexualized female models in their game for the Russian and Chinese regions has been driven by the requests of the audiences in those countries.
Lead producer Joshua Howard stated that for the Russian region, the requests were more exaggerated, looking for more elaborate sexualized outfits including high heels. The team behind Warface was faced with a difficult decision, between adhering to the cultural relevance and arguably sensitivity while abiding by misogynistic views and alienating a small percentage of female gamers in these regions, and retaining a level gender ethics in the portrayal of its female characters.
Howard compares the female depictions to two examples: one aligned with how Coca Cola being branded the same in different regions with different ingredients in each, and the other more relevant to their game which happens to highlight how Russians prefer more weapon recoil than the Eastern Asian market.
It’s an interesting balancing act, pandering to different regions looking to satisfy different cultures of players, and at this rate, hopefully they’ll treat American gamers with the same level of respect assuming that there is a larger percentage of female gamers here.
But where should Crytek have stood? Should they have sent a message in modeling female soldiers and avoiding the sexualized depictions? Or as a business, adhere to the requests of each region whether they were misogynistic or not?
Source: Wired
VIA: Polygon
Bungie looks to get multiplayer right yet again (10/9)
We’re all familiar with the concept of Destiny, a shared world shooter in which players can interact with the world, be that with friends, against friends, solo, long sessions and short sessions. It encapsulates the wide spectrum of multiplayer moods.
We’ve already gotten a taste of this concept within the past two weeks with GTA Online, where 16 players occupy the Los Santos at a time engaging in a variety of activates while given the option on how they want to play. Want to play a mission solo? Many missions requiring up to 4 players can offer just that. Want to engage in adversarial matches either racing or shooting at one another? Sure. Want to complete a job or hold off hordes of increasingly aggressive enemies? You can do that as well. It ambitiously offers the access with other players as an MMO without the massive scale as one. It’s a concept that’s getting its footing this gen (though not quite firm on its feet), but looking ahead, the gaming future with new hardware seems to indicate that this philosophy would be streamlined.
MMOs are intimidating, despite the millions that engage on servers daily. However this concept of a shared world may begin an additional era of large scale multiplayer games. The developer that spearheaded console multiplayer games as we know it today is committed to delivering both an intimate and public multiplayer experience with Destiny. From natural lobby-less events that indicate the approach of other – quite busy – players, to competitive arenas, to simple sessions within 20 minutes of gameplay. It’ll all happens in an existing world that delivers a smaller, yet still populated persistent world multiplayer space.
Bungie’s pedigree as one of the most respected first person shooter developers in the industry is certainly a magnet for the attention that Destiny is getting. But for me, what excites me most is how freely Bungie will allow me to approach this world. Destiny is shooting for perhaps the widest audience possible: the collaborative, the singular, and the competitive. Beta winners will get a taste of what Bungie has in store, but the world will finally see when Destiny hits next year.
What if Nintendo... (10/10)
What if Nintendo sold Wii U at similar specs as the next gen consoles?
What if Nintendo sold the Wii U at a significant loss?
What if Nintendo headed their own version of Oculus Rift?
What if Nintendo worked with Valve?
What if Nintendo were a handheld only publisher?
What if Nintendo made a 3DS with a second circle pad?
What if Nintendo were a third party publisher?
What if Nintendo targeted the same audience as Sony and Microsoft?
What if Nintendo targeted the audiences of all three publishers?
What if Nintendo began developing mature franchises?
What if Nintendo went the fabled “Wii HD” route and manufactured a more powerful console in addition to the Wii U?
What if Nintendo became an open platform for indie developers much like Ouya?
What if Nintendo provided a service that offered unlimited access to their increasing library of NES, SNES, N64, and Gamecube titles?
What if Nintendo made HD remakes of all their most acclaimed GCN and Wii titles?
What if Nintendo brought back F Zero?
What if Nintendo made a Pokemon MMO?
What if Nintendo made an adaptation of Starfox Adventures and Donkey Kong 64?
What if Nintendo Call of Duty-fied Metroid Prime?
What if Nintendo brought back Geist?
What if Nintendo made a Zelda game with voice acting?
Nintendo is a company that...
becomes a favorite for what ifs and should dos, but never does. But it never stops us form asking the silly questions that we already know the answers to.
Steam Controller: The Good & The Not-so-Good (10/11)
One of Valve’s engineer’s, Jeff Bellinghausen, released a video prototyping the Valve controller on 4 different games in an attempt to show off its efficiency in various styles of play: Portal 2, Civilization 5, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, and Papers, Please.
The Good
Making one of the strongest transitions over to couch gameplay are potentially top-down strategy games. Valve announced this possibility with the reveal of the Steam Controller, and we got a fair demonstration with Civ 5. To no surprise, the left thumb pad controlled camera movement while the right moved the cursor. The touch controls offered a precision that that no traditional console game pad can deliver, bringing the couch & strategy experience we never got, even with the Wii U game pad (Shame on you Pikmin 3).
Papers Please was designed with an interesting control scheme, assigning cursor control to both thumb pads. It’s like having two touch pads on a laptop, taking the stress off of each finger while you swiftly shift from one side of the screen to the next.
The Not-so-Good
Shooters and first person games were undoubtedly the first genre pictured by many once the Steam Controller was announced. Perhaps non-coincidentally, Portal 2 was the first game shown in the video. It was an elementary demonstration of positioning and pointing before the much more demanding Counter Strike: Global Offensive. But even here, we see the player moving though a targeting range, never showing how the controller can hold up under armed resistance. Nonetheless, both games shows how the Steam Controller can offer pin point precision with the stroke of the touch surface on the thumb pads.
Here’s the problem. Looking at the camera movement and hands-on view of the controller, you’ll notice how the handler takes off their thumb off the pad when making any rotations over roughly 90 degrees. Taking your thumb off the controller briefly halts rotation until you position your thumb back on the controller to finish the turn, all of which takes a fraction of a second. Having this particular configuration could be why no videos were shown with the player playing against enemy AI or even other players.
With both traditional game pad and mouse and keyboard, pushing the analog stick or moving the mouse is more than enough to turn 360 degrees given the right settings. Having to constantly take your thumb off of the controls could ruin a competitive advantage.
Noted, the Steam Controller is far from...
whatever testings are being done, and well off from commercial release. In addition, the configurations could be set as rolling your thumb to the edges of the bowl, never having to take them off. Regardless, this is exciting insight into the development of Valve’s anticipated hardware.
Source: Polygon


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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Reviewed by: Jamaal Ryan
As you’re passively walking along the city streets, if a non-law abiding citizen boards a city bus, kicks the driver in the face, then throws him out, and the same bus driver returns the favor and takes off recklessly, you know you’re playing GTA. If a Spanish speaking wanna-be border patrol trainee is demanding your passport and begins ranting about how illegal immigrants are ruining the American dream, you know you’re playing GTA. If you fly a crop duster into a cargo plane, kill everyone in it, fly it, then jump out and parachute to earth as you watch the jet plunge into the sea, then you know you’re playing GTA.
Grand Theft Auto has earned its notoriety as one of the most outlandish, and most ambitious video game franchise known to both the hardcore and general audiences alike. No game has quite subversively criticized American culture quite like GTA, no game has allowed the level of interactive freedom quite like GTA, and no game has replicated a living city quite like GTA.
Grand Theft Auto V is a force to be reckoned with, bringing the power of “three” to many facets of this installment. Three lead characters elicit three different perspectives and in some cases, three ways to play. The game mechanics have been refined, taking assets from three of Rockstar’s strongest previous games. There are three major ways to earn cash which create a meta game within the city. And its sheer size eclipses Red Dead Redemption, GTA IV and San Andreas combined.
With that said, GTA V isn’t the best Grand Theft Auto it can be, but Rockstar’s ownership of the open world genre and systems integration sets this game to be a generational defining title.
Franklin. Michael. Trevor.
GTA V’s three main characters come from different backgrounds which are well represented by both their mannerisms and the depicted culture of their parts of San Andreas.
Michael is a retired bank robber, reaping his monetary benefits occupying a Vinewood mansion in witness protection and wallowing in self-pity and self-conflict as he laments the long since passing of his prime age and the disdain that his despicable family has for him. Trevor is a disturbed individual, an intelligent psychopath emergent from the cesspool of the northern country side who’s in a sustained angered and manic state whose unpredictability - which oddly encompasses brief moments of societal compliance for the success of the job - always has the player on edge. Franklin's hood style "yes mutha f**ka" adherence to issued requests painfully recalls the errand boy status of past GTA protagonists. And while he himself isn't entirely compelling, his banter with his boy Lamar makes for some of the best exchanges in GTA V.
GTA V brings these unlikable three together in a way that’s both enjoyable and painful to watch. Their interactions contain hilarious exchanges as well as mindless, unproductive bickering. Michael is the source of gravity here, though never really taking away from both Trevor and Franklin’s individual so-called character arches. Franklin is the son he never had, and Trevor is the brother he can’t get away from. The chemistry of all three mainly works when the comradery cycles in a specific direction.
The troubled three
The hook involving these three is the character switching, allowing you to jump from one protagonist to the next – regardless where they are or even what they’re involved in – within San Andreas. It’s a narrative justification for all the antics that each of the three get into instead of having one jack-of-all lead, it works as a quick way to get from one end of the city to the next, and most excitingly, it divides missions into different perspectives between two or three of the characters.
While this mission structure approach works, it doesn’t quite operate the way in which many of us have hoped. The assumption building up to GTA V’s release was that character switching will be available anytime during a mission; I want to play as Franklin instead of Michael because his engagement is more interesting at this present time. But for the most part, this simply isn’t true. Many of these missions are divided into sections, using each character to move from one playstyle to the next. First you’ll play as Trevor, then you’ll play as Franklin, then you’ll play as Michael. This underwhelming feel isn’t just from set expectations, it causes a more linear texture to a game that’s all about freedom.
Having said that, there are times when cycling between the three is available which is commanded by prompts indicating when one of the three has the advantage, and when one is in danger. When left to their own devices, they have a tendency to move away from your issued vantage point which spoils most strategies involving boxing in the enemy. Thankfully they never put themselves in unjustifiable danger as they stick to a position that generally prepares them for the next monkey wrench thrown into shootouts. But even without the swappable freedom, the immediate transition from one character to the next almost ensures that the action is always at its climax.
When looking at each lead individually, the distinguishing attributes hardly differentiate one from the other. All three have identifiable special abilities. Michael can slow down time Max Payne style in shootouts, Franklin can slow down time while behind the wheel, and Trevor’s rage ability allows him to sustain less damage and output more. Though they sound great on paper, in my entire playthrough, I never once felt the need to utilize them. Character statistics are less meaningful, having various – but all minor – effects on the gameplay itself. In the end, Trevor, Michael and Franklin may be vastly different as written characters, but not as playable avatars.
Acceptable and Unacceptable Satirical Narrative
The story mainly works as long as you remain invested in the snappy dialogue, Rockstar's bread and butter. It's lighter hearted and because of this, proving to be less focused than GTA IV. But its biggest fault is its failed sense of direction and inconsistency. Throughout the campaign, the three involve themselves with undesirables that have no narrative tie-in until the game’s haphazard final mission. That’s not mentioning the story's turning point that concludes a campaign-long conflict that remains stagnant for far too long. But once you reach the game’s conclusion, you're faced with three choices, two of which offers a bitter tonal shift to the writing's flavor that would have been more appropriate in Niko's Liberty City. You can view all three with a save, but likely only one will satisfy.
While the story telling could have been better, Rockstar always pulls through with their unapologetic social commentary. Racist satire is in abundance, and everything from gun control to even the Travon Martin case finds its way into GTA V’s outlandish, albeit heavy handedly on the nose, and very relevant portrayal of western society.
However its satire can be taken too far. Nothing is filtered through Rockstar’s subversive lens, not even torture. Among the countless lives you’ll take throughout your mischievous gallivant through San Andreas, the intimate physical and emotional manipulation of one will remain as the most memorable. What was supposed to be a criticism on America’s preached, yet allegedly not always practiced, stance on methods of information gathering turns into a disturbing antithetical sequence that crosses a line even beyond Manhunt’s trivial mutilation. If and likely when media catches wind of this, Rockstar won’t be able to defend themselves with much more than their right as artists.
There's no preparing yourself for what's about to follow.
Next Gen Current Gen
As a technical feat, GTA V shouldn't be possible in current gen systems; but it defies that belief consistently. San Andreas’ astounding lighting is one of the most impressive I have ever seen in any game that money buy. It does an incredible job of emphasizing a sense of depth, presence, and vibrancy on everything it touches. The level of pervasive detail is unheard of, particularly in an open world game this size.
The draw distance is almost dizzying, looking like chopper shots of the Manhattan skyline. From the reachable back dropped buildings, to fog obscured hills, to the sun-bleached dirt of the countryside, GTA V owns the term, "as far as the eye can see". And I have to give Rockstar credit for making the first game to have me exclaim, "Whoa!" when I dove underwater for the first time, opening an entirely new and fully realized aquatic world.
The city’s independent activity demonstrates an unparalleled ecosystem. Events occur naturally virtually all the time without you ever having to touch a thing. Cop chases and shootouts erupt at random, sometimes startling your paranoid criminal instincts. Fights breakout between civilians, conversations carry out, car accidents happen; stand still long enough, and you’re likely to see something different every single time. And with a slight or brief push, this sensitive city will respond in a domino-effect fashion, eliciting a metropolis driven chain reaction.
Unsurprisingly, San Andreas' existence isn't a result of pure flawless execution. Glitches stratify on a wide spectrum, everything from occasional brief freezes entire landscapes missing. But from the sheer scope of San Andreas, to the crumbling destruction of a collapsing house, to the animated anatomy of organic faces -- eye balls, teeth, tongue -- very much like how Halo 4 redefined our expectations of the Xbox 360's hardware, GTA V is the very essence of the maximum power of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
Take away its moral vices, and it's truly magnificent.
Running through the blood vessels of GTA V exists a bit of an anthology of the developer's best games in the last 5 years, all indicating a culminating evolution of Rockstar. The moment you draw your first weapon, Max Payne 3’s heritage surfaces, with a powerfully magnetic cover system and slightly over powered soft (more like stiff) aim. It performs at its best outdoors as characters will stick to unintended surfaces when in corridors and close quarters. Though it’s tough to accredit Rockstar’s Midnight Club series, the driving mechanics have vastly improved, with tighter steering and cars that virtually never explode unless you want them to. Random event quests will appear spontaneously as you drive through the city just as they did with John Marston; and from Sandy Shores to the northern parts of Blaine County, the yelp of a coyote or the growl of a bobcat will trigger your Red Dead reflexes. Lastly, Rockstar has capitalized on the idea of what the Four Leaf Clover mission brought to GTA IV and made it the central theme for GTA V.
It’s all about the heists.
The Job
Heists function as payoff events in the story, sometimes bookending the results of premeditative missions that set up the big job, but all are heavily involved as they often drive you through an ever evolving and very mobile standoff that even stretches across a significant portion of San Andreas. Some missions will ask you to steal disguise vehicles to cover your infiltration, other times you’ll be placing a stolen car in a discrete location for the getaway. All missions in GTA V are replayable from the pause menu, however heists large in part make for worthwhile revisits depending on what you decide to do, and who you choose to bring in.
The degree in how each job plays differently rests on your hired crew and overall play style and approach. Most jobs offer two different methods of engagement; some are more discrete than others, but all those that offer split approaches are worth playing through twice just for experiencing two very different mission structures.
Most of these heists also allow you to employ specialists of different skill levels for the job. The more skilled the individual is, the larger the cut; the less skilled they are, the smaller the cut. Missions play out a lot smoother and with noticeable confidence involving higher level skilled specialists that make little to no mistakes. And though rookies get a smaller portion of the spoils, they panic, make poor decisions, and are more likely to lose their share by dying or getting caught. With the variable of how effective these hired crew members are, they add another layer of replayability to GTA V’s heists.
Not aborting for s**t.
These Heat style sequences make up for some of the most entertaining moments in GTA V, but that is to no discredit of the abundance of missions that almost never allow you to do the same thing twice: from engaging in a high speed sports car chase in a liberatingly wide airport runway while cars explode and fly into your field of vision, to shooting down a jet with a high powered sniper rifle then switching another character chasing down the descending aircraft on a dirt bike.
However, it’s important to be mindful of the game’s flawed mission efficiency. GTA V doesn’t always to a good job in indicating your task at hand. At times, it’ll flat out fail to notify you as you play. This exacerbates once the game kills the mission for doing the job incorrectly. And even when you know things have gone awry, having to fail the mission deliberately for a retry is almost as frustrating as restarting the mission entirely which has been fixed by the much needed checkpoint system. But when running smoothly, the level of enjoyment will almost certainly bring you back like an amusement park junky to a predictable yet thrilling roller coaster.
Triple Millionaires
You’ll be earning millions completing heists in GTA V; but within the game’s full economical system, you’ll earn that amount of cash several fold. Property purchasing is back which award sources of weekly income. Rockstar also attempts to integrate a monetary value in in-game events; and while the idea of having someone call me up and ask for my help at the threat of losing a significant amount of money is intriguing, these occurrences rarely happen and stand as an interesting idea falling short as a missed opportunity.
However the massive success here is the ebb and flow of the in-game stock market. It makes a minor introduction with little exposition, but can have a drastic impact on how your earn money. Listen carefully, and you’ll pick up on company movements that indicate which stocks to buy. Certain missions also affect stocks which act as subtle yet valuable tips on where to put you money. The market is also influenced by the GTA V’s real world community. You can count on every player purchasing weapons and ammo at Ammu-Nation, so that’s inevitably a profitable stock to invest in. Properties within Los Santos can cost up to $150,000,000 which is impossible to earn by story missions alone. Manipulating the stock market is your best means in acquiring such valuable assets.
A City At Large
For players like me who powers through story missions and side requests that offer directional play, it can be easy to forget that there’s an entire city to f**k with. More than ever, GTA V provides players with a massive city filled with a slew of activities to engage in. Throwing away money at the strip club, turning into an Iron Man at the triathlons, practicing your marksmanship at the gun range or hunting game in the northern woodlands, or changing pace in a tennis match or one of the golf courses, while none of these activities are entirely compelling as single experiences on their own, their mere existence as simply s**t-to-do best serve in helping San Andreas capture the feel of a fully realized, fully interactive city

And yet, that interactivity is demonstrated best in classical chaos. Wreaking absolute havoc in a military base to steal a fighter jet and shoot down helicopters that give chase, parachuting from an obscene altitude within San Andreas’ massive skybox, or simply sightseeing cross-city, from the hanger in Los Santos International Airport all the way up to the beaches of Paleto Bay, GTA V delivers arguably the largest and most active play space in past and present gaming.
The Bottom Line
Rockstar’s games have the tendency to elicit a tingly feeling in me whenever they emerge into the scene. It’s a feeling that stems from entertainingly tabooed cultural satire, absurdly detailed and vast worlds, and a level of spontaneous gameplay that’s emergent from delicate ecosystems. While GTA V doesn’t have the best written story compared to past Rockstar titles, the best use of three protagonists in a strategic gameplay capacity, nor the most seamlessly played out missions as they could have been, it has tapped right into those very expectations I or any fan of the GTA series demand. It pulls it off with being the best mechanically designed GTA yet, the best moment-to-moment GTA yet, and by far the largest and the most dense GTA yet.
As it stands, Grand Theft Auto V is the best way to transition and/or conclude this console generation.
+ The most entertaining missions in Grand Theft Auto to date
+ The most interactive ecosystem and city in Grand Theft Auto to date
+ One of the most technically impressive games this generation
- More mission freedom and less hiccups please
- Not the best narrative in the franchise