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Friday, February 28, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

I disagree with Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon writer Lucien Soulban, an openly gay developer, who states that he doesn’t believe that there will be any gay leads [in the AAA space] for a while.

There is both a cultural and industry renaissance happening that could usher this into a reality a lot faster than many might expect. Gay rights is on the rise in America, from approved gay marriages sweeping from state to state, to the most recent vetoing of the homophobic (I call them as I see them) bill SB 1062 which tried to permit religious business owners to deny employment to gay individuals because of their sexual orientation.

The presence of gay individuals has also firmly planted itself in the public eye; from politicians such as Mike Michaud, to athletes such as Jason Collins who wore a 98 jersey in memory of slain gay college student Mathew Shepard, to entertainers such as Ellen Page who recently came out.

The game’s industry in some respects reflects the ebb and flow of the culture in which they are developed in; and with the recognition of gay rights on the rise, this is inevitable. But the catalyst here is the indie scene which has boomed in recent years from Steam, to Sony’s long standing support on PSN, to Microsoft’s aggressive push for indie support.

There are plenty of games for the LBGT community from Mainichi to My Ex-boyfriend The Space Tyrant. But with GOTY awarded Gone Home boldly marking the presence of a homosexual lead, and the reveal of a certain character from another GOTY awarded title as being gay, I’m hopeful that the indie and “left field” striking developers will yank this into normalcy, and away from just having gay characters adding color to an ensemble cast of characters.

Now if we can just see Black, Hispanic, Asian, plus-sized, and disabled leads, everyone will be happy. 

Writer's note: Minor correction in the statements from Lucien Soulban.


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Thursday, February 27, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

The video game industry has enough of a fight on their hands with the “culture battle” in America. Keeping its head above water in a sea of accusations painting it a parasite of a medium that corrupts our youth to commit violent acts such as shooting school children in an elementary school is an exhausting and arduous exercise.

 But since the Sandy Hook shootings, politicians have raised the stakes, or broadened them, from first amendment violating bills of controlling the sales of video game distribution to now The Tax Reform Act of 2014 excluding video game developers from tax credits, particularly tax credits for R&D.

The WashingtonExaminer reported on the story yesterday, stating that part of the provisions specifies, “Preventing makers of violent video games from qualifying for the R&D tax credit."

In addition, the report points out that the bill sloppily about-faces, claiming that the bill, “stops the practice of using the tax code to pick winners and losers based on political power rather than economic merit.”

Back in May of last year, Reverend Franklin Graham suggested to Joe Biden to tax makers of violent media, including violent video games. In response to the suggestion, Biden stated that there was, “no restriction on the ability to do that, there’s no legal reason why they couldn’t.” Note the wording of “violent media”, so I’ll give some credit to Graham for not singling out video games.

But nonetheless allows for a severe case of the WTF knowing that law makers are willing to go as far as to, and I’ll reiterate the popular term, deem what form of art is appropriate. While the more sensible (but no less insane) political consensus has targeted media as a whole, knowing that this new act is specifically targeting the games industry is gross enough to feel as if some legal line has been crossed.

‘Unfair’ doesn’t even begin to describe this metaphorical piss-in-the-face this is as it is an ill-conceived reaction with the assumption that video games have a scientific correlation with acts of violence. In fact, it’s a big “fuck you” to the Supreme Court which has specified that psychological research was, “ “unpersuasive" and noted that such research contains many methodological flaws.”

I know this is America, but this is down right out of control. 


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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

“Just think of paying 99 cents just to get Mario to jump a little higher.”

The fuck?

After Nintendo’s catastrophic cuts in its forecasts for both the Wii U and the 3DS, Nintendo announced some significant new endeavors and initiatives that the company intends to steer towards, such as higher focus on R&D on the Wii U’s hardware to make the Gamepad more relevant, re-establishing a new “Quality of Life” initiative which includes non-wearable hardware, and they have even considered mobile as a platform to syphon consumers to their main software and hardware.

Though some say that Nintendo doesn’t take pressure from its shareholders, the fact of the matter is that it is, indeed, a publically traded company. However, shareholders such as hedge fund manager Seth Fischer, who’s responsible for the above quote, isn’t just out of touch with what Nintendo’s desired business philosophy is, but is completely out of touch with the game’s industry in general.

While an easy fall back option for sustaining revenue, micro-transactions is a finicky concept that can contaminate game design so easily. It’s like chemistry; one wrong agent or even the incorrect amount, and it could turn toxic. Free-to-play models have struggled under unseen financial influences and proper game balancing to strike the well between being profitable and not being “free-to-win”. That’s why Zenimax stuck with the decision to charge players with a subscription fee for The Elder Scrolls Online. Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann, Brad Shoemaker, and Vinny Caravella talked about free-to-play as a model that “makes you get through all the mundane shit to get to the end faster” (not a verbatim quote). It becomes less of a game that you bought and more of an arcade machine on the go. Drop 25 cents here.

Outcries have not been in short supply about Dungeon Keeper’s aggressive in-app purchases for basic items that were in Peter Molyneux’s original game, a game that now Molyneux calls “ridiculous” and outspoken critics such as Jim Sterling berates that, “"It's free to wait, but not to play anything." Other classic titles such as Tales of Phantasia have also been aggressively riddled in app purchases. Touch Arcade’s Shaun Musgrave’s strapline for his review reads, “How to destroy a classic in three simple steps”, and discusses at length about how absurd omissions and monetization completely breaks the game.

Charging consumers 99 cents basic game mechanics goes far beyond the parameters of what Nintendo is willing to consider which, as we’ve heard thus far, does not include full-on mobile support at this time. It also insults the intelligence of consumers. Imagine paying for a Fire Flower or a Tanooki Suit. Imagine having to pay to unlock worlds 4-8? Nintendo isn’t completely evasive to in-game purchases however. The recently released American version of Darumeshi’s Sport’s Shop, better known as Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball, plays with the concept in questionable but interesting ways with its haggling feature that allows players to “negotiate” actual prices of mini games with the in-game anthropomorphic store owner.

But to Dungeon Keeper-ize Nintendo mobile games? Fuck that noise. 

Writer's Note: Siting corrections embedded to Jim Sterling's Dungeon Keeper Review 


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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

I heard a rather silly complaint from the community manager of a site that I won’t name about Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze’s boss fights, “Why didn’t they just put in checkpoints during boss battles so that I don’t have to do the whole thing over again?”

Well, I thought it was rather silly; but my simple answer to such a simple complaint was, “Because it’s a boss fight.”

Implementing checkpoints is both a technical and creative decision to make. Have the developers figured out how the system would be able to handle remembering where your character is, how much health they have, how much – if any – damage was done to your enemy, and how many – if any – of your foes have been defeated? Or, what is it that they’re demanding from the player’s skill?

The boss fights in Tropical Freeze weren’t the greatest, certainly less memorable than what was seen in Wii’s Donkey Kong Country: Returns; but much like Retro’s predecessor, it’s still a tough game. This new age of Donkey Kong Country titles, much like Rare’s originals, withholds a design with a certain expectation. Don’t know how to duck, or jump at the right moment? Come back, or die a few more times until you figure it out.  

Part of challenge is knowing what’s at stake. If I fuck this up, I loose time and progression. That’s what makes genres like rogue-likes and titles like DayZ and RUST so popular. Tropical Freeze isn’t even within the same hemisphere as the aforementioned genre and titles, it’s just a challenging platformer. But even in such types of games, which also include titles everywhere from Super Meat Boy to the later levels in Super Mario 3D World (20 star challenge level anyone?), while the stakes are much lower, they still hurt.

My biggest complaint about Tropical Freeze is that a straight shot from level 1-1 to the final boss was easier than its predecessor. The stages were less demanding of advance moves, and they attacked me, the player, with less ferocity.

After digging up some of the bonus stages, the game began to hold back less, offering levels that had no checkpoints at all. Inserting checkpoints would defeat the point of their challenge as trials that are meant to be attempted in short bursts. The game is also sure to broadcast examples of what to expect ahead at the beginning of each stage which is designed around its no checkpoint formula. It ultimately comes down to self-fulfilling bragging rights that you’ve defeated this challenge from start to finish without dying. Checkpoints aren’t for every situation in every game, certainly not this one.

Checkpoints have their appropriate place in different types of experiences. One of the most common examples are games that fail to autosave or offer a period of a save state before a long unskippable cutscenes. But some games intentionally keep them out, refusing to budge on their difficulty until you meet its expectations.   


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Monday, February 24, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

Teaching coping skills is difficult.

I remember in my last internship in grad school at a community mental health center, I was coaching coping skills to a client who I diagnosed with Panic disorder, an anxiety based disorder where the individual suffers from a series uncontrollable panic attacks. Medications such as Xanax are popular, though sometimes ineffective, prescribed solution thanks to their addictive elements.

In order for it to be successful, it had to be in vivo. Let’s talk about what makes you stressed; now let’s build some positive rationalizing affirmations, and we’ll close with some stress management techniques. It’s a delicate process that often requires the presence of a counselor, and is often difficult for one to build on their own.

Enter Nevermind, a biofeedback driven horror game Kickstarted by Erin Reynolds, formerly of Zynga, that sinks players into the nightmarish subconscious minds of trauma victims in which they must complete a set of puzzle based objectives. The anchor of this concept is how the experience can be driven by biofeedback. Nevermind is a realization of the hypothetical horror title that responds to the player biometrics. As your heart rate rises, the game instills sensory obfuscations such as static, environmental distortions, and jarring music.

What’s fascinating about Nevermind is how it gamifies the practice of developing coping skills. When the game reacts with sensory distortions, you’ll need to use whatever means to slow your heart rate in order to make progress smoother. Deep breathing, thought stopping, self-talk, all of these are common coping skills in which may be used while playing Nevermind.

While wearable technologies such as the Oculus Rift and heart rate monitors for the PC and Mac versions of the game will enhance the experience on those platforms, what’s most exciting is the consideration of Xbox One support. Reynolds has been in talks with Microsoft about how the Kinect Sensor, which is capable of detecting facial blood flow, can stand in place as biofeedback.

With only a week left in its Kickstarter campaign, Nevermind has a ways to go until it reaches it $250,000 goal since that as of this writing, only just under $60,000 has been pledged in the past 10 days.

But this idea of biofeedback based horror titles cannot and likely will not die if this campaign is unsuccessful, perhaps not even Nevermind itself. There is demand from the community for this type of integration in the horror genre as there have been talks about it being on both the PC and Xbox One platforms. In addition, such a concept is too important for mental health. Microsoft has been supportive of Kinect’s use in the medical field, and knowing that they’ve already considered Nevermind, it’s easy to imagine this technology expanding to the mental health field.

Software such as Nevermind can be utilized for recovery for those diagnosed with PTSD and other anxiety disorders with the proper clinical rational. If nothing else, it’ll make for really cool horror games.

By Jamaal Ryan

Tearaway has graced GOTY finalists for many, and even though I didn’t play the Playstation Vita title last year from Media Molecule – the whimsical masterminds behind the Little Big Planet franchise – it doesn’t earn a spot on my 2013 list.

Tearaway is both an experiment in art design and hardware capabilities. The paper-craftian world is delight to bathe one’s self in, triggering the temptation of pondering on what will happen if you reach in. And Tearaway fulfills that urge within the features of the Vita’s tactile design of front and rear touch interfaces. Fingers pop up with a satisfying “punch”, tight skins bounce with that tingling drum beat, and layers of the world peal back in a satisfying way much like the Vita’s app interface does. I am not a fan of altering my grip on devices and controllers in order to play a game, however Tearaway’s aesthetic allows this to be aptly appropriate.

Tearaway will mean something do different styles of gamers, and this divisiveness is quite stark at first. It takes a special sauce kind of formula for me to even care about exploration. Games like Assassins Creed IV did this effortlessly. And while there is incentivized exploration in Tearaway, to me, it represented a last resort rather than in irresistible distraction.

What first got me to indulge in slipping my iota into the creases and crevices of this constructed paper world was, quite frankly, I was bored of the game and needed something else to do. Tearaway was essentially shifted from one interaction to another with rudimentary game design elements in between. Hop here, poke at this, hop there, peal at that. And while Tearaway does some interesting things with the Vita’s functionality, they were fairly straight forward and expected for the first two thirds of the game for the most part. This, along with the fairly flat mechanical design (though I did enjoy the combat) forced me to change my scope of attention to going back to previous chapters and finding collectables. To some, they may have pursued these endeavors their first time through; however for me, it felt like I was forcing myself to have fun.

Then the last third sank in which is when Tearaway goes through a proper evolution. Media Molecule toyed around with, well… toys in LBP by offering players little gadgets that added a layer of complexity to the 2D platformer. Tearaway does this once with the Squeeze Box, though its functionalities exist in both light puzzle solving and combat encounters. The Squeeze Box sucks air in and blows it out which can be used on objects and wind powered mechanisms in the environment. It can also pull enemies in and shoot them out which adds to its pick up and throw style combat. It was satisfying to spit helpless enemies at each other with Tearaway’s generous lock-on system, though the combat took center stage a bit too often towards the game’s end.

But what was most impressive was how well paired the platforming took to the Vita’s unique controls. What I found to be a bummer throughout most of the game was how the Vita interactions we often separate from the traditional controls, which eclipsed analog together with touch and/or tilt features. Tearaway’ final hours capitalizes on experimenting with this fusion some truly compelling ways. My favorite level involved tilting the Vita as platforms spun on a cylindrical plane to align with your jump. Others involved running your finger along the rear touch pad as you try to continuously maintain your character’s position on an object. This was when Tearaway’s ideas fully came into play.

I can’t talk about Tearaway without mentioning the camera which occasionally frames you and refers to you as a You. Your real world begins to take over certain parts of Tearaway in some interesting ways. It was often hilarious for me as I framed my own sense of humor into the world.

If Sony ever needed to re-strategize the Vita’s messaging via marketing, Tearaway shouldn’t be far from consideration. It may not be the best game; but even as its game design comes into its form, hand in hand is the use of the Vita’s features that eventually identify what Tearaway really is. 


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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

The movement towards smaller, more intimate development is hardly new. Self-publishing has been successful for many developers looking to be masters and commanders of their own vision, and crowd-funding has likely given birth to more games than any single publisher has within the last few years. News hit today putting this continuous phenomenon into new perspective along with the names of two major creative directors attached.

GDC released polls taken from their “State of the industry report” which lends statistical context to the direction of the industry. Out of the games industry professionals polled, 64 percent stated that they are not working with a publisher on their current game. In addition, more than half are moving over to development on mobile and PC platforms.

Speaking of shifting over to PC, veteran game designer Cliff Bleszinski spoke about his attitude towards which market he’ll develop for. While admitting that Gears of War’s direction didn’t quite live up to his original vision, he firmly states, “I'll never make another disc-based game for the rest of my career.” Instead, Bleszinski sees value in the PC market and the community intimacy that it facilitates. He looks to games like RUST as inspiration.

But perhaps the shocking unveilings that happened today comes from Irrational Games which, as stated by co-founder Ken Levine, will become considerably smaller and vastly different from the studio that brought us Bioshock Infinite.

Levine, “I am winding down Irrational Games as you know it.”

Levine will lay off all but 15 employees at Irrational – which holds well over 100 employees – and stated that the new direction for the studio will be focused entirely on story driven, digitally distributed experiences.

Though this gradual pendulum swing has been in motion for quite some time, seeing glaring statistics and two big name creators remove themselves from the traditional games model is a profound illustration of where the market is growing.

As a console only gamer, this is irrationally unnerving. I admittedly gravitate towards these bombastic, high budget experiences that aren’t quite devoid of creativity, but sacrifice artist’s vision for the sake of mass appeal. I disagree with Jim Sterling when he says that, “Nobody wants these kinds of games” when millions of copies of these games are sold every year.

But my unnerved reaction is, as I stated, irrational as the unfathomable sales figures of these games will ensure that this model doesn’t go away. Regardless, this independent agency of creative talent is undoubtedly healthy for the industry as ideas uncontaminated by the executive focus of demographics need to be created.

For more information, check out Ken Levine's official statement, and Cliff Bleszinski's interview with Gamasutra.


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Monday, February 17, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

Often while playing the Titanfall public beta, there was very little indication to me that this wasn’t a final release. Sure, there are only two maps, one Titan, and a limited amount of customization options with a level 14 level cap; but when wall jumping, pilot stomping, and Titan destroying, Titanfall is one of the most mechanically sound game’s I’ve ever played.

The beta opens up with an extensive and methodical tutorial, breaking down the physics and gravity defying maneuverability as a Pilot. This is quickly followed by Titan coaching which is a less complex lesson.

Everything sticks relatively quickly when playing as the Pilot. Wall running is fast and rather automatic; it’s far more seamless than other games that’ve toyed around with the idea such as Mirrors Edge. Getting acclimated to the cockpit of a Titan primarily goes as far as to getting used to the icons on screen. Shield and health is boldly displayed on the HUD as is the same information of enemy Titans, and doomed states (when your Titan becomes vulnerable to other Titan’s melee attacks and detonation is imminent) and rodeo warnings are aggressive and hard to miss.

Preparing for battle feels all too familiar to those who’ve played other modern day shooters. But hey, these guys began this trend in the first place, and their innovative strength is unquestionably elsewhere. Custom options are rather thin at this point. Primaries and secondaries along with Kits (think of perks) are fairly standard, though Kits work within the context of Titanfall’s design such as Minion Detector, which permanently highlights Grunts and Specters on the battle field, and Enhanced Parkour Kit which extends the period of time you can wall run and hang. Mandatory are Anti-Titan weapons – which I’ve already discussed – as well as Ordinances (think equipment from Call of Duty) and Tactical abilities. For now, the most popular Tact ability is Cloak which is effective in sneaking upon Titans, but more are sure to come.

Burn Cards offer an additional layer of complexity in customization. Delivered at seemingly random success, Burn Cards pop up in your deck with an unpredictable assortment of one-off advantages. Some will decrease the amount of time till Titanfall, some will grant you powerful anti-personnel and anti-Titan weapons, and others will allow you to see enemies through walls. You have up to three slots that you can fill with Burn Cards, and they’re initiated before respawning. This could just be me, but I often find myself forgetting that I even have them. Perhaps a more obvious notification will show up in the final build.

When the match begins, you’ll hit the ground running, literally. Respawn has ensured that the system that operates Titanfall keeps you moving. Fast. Players move as if (and I’m going to throw some more COD terms your way), they’re in a Cranked match from Ghosts. Movement speed is fast and incessant, reloading is a snap and can be done while sprinting, and as I observed in Titanfall post embargo footage, ammo capacity is incredibly high in order to prevent you from having to worry about running out of bullets while you focus on chasing down who to shoot.

From a personal stand point, beyond robots falling from the heavens, what impressed me the most is how well the map design works both in concept and execution. For years playing competitive shooters, one handicap I’ve always had was dealing with opponents on an elevated vantage point. It becomes a nuisance getting to them; I’d have to find a door, remember which way’s the stairs, and often deal with awkward design that makes it more sensible to chuck a grenade and run  (outside of the destructibility in later Battlefield titles). If I see someone in a window or a roof top in Titanfall, I can either jump straight to the window, or use a platform to get to the top. Ladders? Fuck that noise. We use jetpacks. Getting to higher ground in Titanfall is far quicker than any modern day shooter, revealing layers of this dynamic level design.

The speed and verticality of Titanfall makes subtle changes to the way in which you approach gunplay. Angle City fits my shotgunner angle like a glove. As one who’s never used a shotgun as a primary weapon in shooters, Titanfall’s pacing allows you to rapidly close the gap on unsuspecting enemies. In fact, I can perform so well with the shotgun that I fear it may be overpowered. My integrity says nerf it if necessary, but my greedy competitive nature prays for this weapon to stay as it is. This will also be the first shooter where I used the bumper-jumper configuration on the controller. Bumper-jumper swaps the A button (to jump) and the left bumper on the controller, allowing you to keep your thumb on the right analog stick for aiming while in midair. And in a game like Titanfall where your feet is frequently off the ground, this is a crucial format.

Walking into Titanfall, I was looking to have an issue with the AI filling out the padding around the 6v6 player count. But I can honestly state that such an attitude hardly crossed my mind. Titanfall does a great job in highlighting human players with big red dots on your mini map, so there’s not much mystery as to where your opposing six are. Minion Detector (which fits gloriously with the Smart Pistol) helps parse this distinction. Yes, Grunts and Specters practically ask to get shot nearly all the time, but there was never a point where I didn’t feel competitive as everyone has a strong awareness where each other are.

This competitive nature is amplified when piloting a Titan.

Getting in a Titan isn’t a matter of “if”, it’s a matter of when and how often. The AI’s easy pickings primarily serves in cutting your time till Titanfall incrementally shorter. Killing Pilots and Titans lobs off bigger chunks off your clock – fighting Titans as a pilot is incentivized by cutting seconds off by just doing damage, and rodeoing Titans for a massive kill is very possible once you take advantage of higher ground, or ascend after being shot up into the air when ejecting out of a Titan. Once you’re in a Titan, the tides can shift drastically if you’re careful. Only human players will be controlling Titans, which makes these battles more intense than when on the ground.

Titan piloting requires an acute awareness of your surroundings. Your mechanical beast will be severely damaged if you’re not quick to get out of harm’s way with the dash, and firing upon other Titans shouldn’t go without knowing what’s happening with your opponent. Pieces of their armor will glow red if they’ve suffered from extensive damage which reveals weak spots, and the Vortex Shield – which collects bullets, rockets, what-have-you in a Neo like Vortex and fires them back – is a popular Tact ability, so fire with caution.

Lone wolfers can get away without armor, but playing as a team has a significant advantage when battling metal to metal. Smart players will double team enemy Titans as taking one on alone feels like a desperate fighting game if the two are evenly matched in skill and health. Respawn’s well aware of this as well as your system’s AI will alert you if you’re being ganged upon. It turns into a very different shooter when in a Titan as planning an approach becomes far more important. But wrecking your Titan isn’t the end. Nuclear Ejection detonates your Titan to the point of dealing massive damage to any enemies around it, and managing to eject out of your Titan before its destruction allows you to drop on an enemy Titan and scramble their brain with your weapon. Just don’t use Anti-Titan guns when doing this, you’ll kill yourself.

Titanfall works in looping stages. Hunt down enemy Pilots, Grunts, and Specters on foot (and occasionally in midair), call down of spawn in a Titan once the countdown has reached zero, battle head to head with other Titans while squishing AI combatants and carefully taking enemy Pilots into consideration, and repeat. It’s a predictable loop in which HOW you get there is unpredictable. Adhering to a structure in battle chaos is very difficult to do in the scale that Titanfall manages, and it is this feat that makes Respawn’s (so far) success story one of the best shooters in many, many years. 


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Sunday, February 16, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

“Every year is the year of the shooter.”

While this sediment has reigned true for almost the entirety of last generation, 2014 is a special year for the genre. It’s the first year of the new console generation, with titles bringing a next gen significance to each shooter, albeit most of them having current gen counterparts. In addition, three of the major FPSs launching this year comes to us from established veteran developers of the genre.


This past week has been the biggest week for Respawn’s first born since its debut at E3. The press has spent a significant amount with the beta version, not to mention the beta has finally gone live to the general public.

There’s much more to be said about Titanfall than from the glowing word of mouth of the privileged few. From Ordinances to Burn Cards, from Data Knives to Smart Pistols, and from Titan and pilot loadouts to developing battle strategies, we’re finding out more and more about the highly anticipated shooter very quickly and very close to release.

But what has caused Titanfall’s biggest backlash also raises the most concern. The game’s AI aren’t flattering to the experience at all, hanging about and waiting to be shot.

Nonetheless, even as a tinkering beta, Titanfall is showing great promise. In the seventh year of the annualized tradition that the Call of Duty series has set, the original visionaries of the most dominant franchise has finally gotten a chance to offer us something new, something that many Call of Duty fans have been looking for in years.


Left 4 Dead was a successful experiment if not a fantastic co-op experience. The idea of a team of human players working together to face off against an incessant threat is fairly unoriginal. But it cannot be understated how dynamic and adaptable AI systems can influence that combat loop, and that’s what made Left 4 Dead different.

There has to be a joke within the offices of Turtle Rock studios mocking the “Evolution of Left 4 Dead” quote, but there’s significant meaning behind that rote statement.

Evolve iterates and rewrites the systems that made Left 4 Dead special. Disposable zombies are now replaced with inhabitant wildlife serving a purpose for both the Hunters and the Monster.

The environments are far bigger and play a crucial role in being used as a tool for Monsters and Hunters. Car alarms are replaced with panicked birds that draw the attention of the Hunters. But there are other means that both parties can use draw each other together or apart.

Classes aren’t just meaningful in Evolve, they’re imperative. Left 4 Dead’s fairly costume-swap nature has been tossed for 4 essential parts of an operating whole. A team of Hunters cannot function without the Assault’s high damage output, without the Medic’s team healing abilities, without the Support’s team buffing contributions, or without the Trapper’s tracking and enclosure tools.

But the most significant evolution Evolve offers is infinitely dynamic opponents, or opponent for that matter. No matter how adaptable the AI can be in Left 4 Dead, none can offer the level spontaneity as a human player. And while players were able to take on the role of zombie classes in Turtle Rock’s previous games, Evolve’s three stage Monster evolution – and the fight to prevent that – keeps battles desperate and tense.

Evolve seeks to redefine an already definitive formula of the past generation, and this makes it one of the most important shooters of 2014.


Bungie’s latest is destined to be a tall order; Destiny is shooting to be the most inclusive shooter ever created.

Whether you’re looking for a single player, cooperative, or competitive experience, whether you’re looking to squeeze in a 20 minute investment in one sitting, or 20 hours spread across 2 days, Destiny claims it will have something for you.

As a very independent player, I look forward to making my way through the universe without being bogged down by others. At the same time, I can feel free to participate in Destiny’s seamless Public Events and take part in massive battles against the fascinating war machines and creatures of Bungie’s new universe.

With games like No Man’s Sky on the horizon, there’s a rapidly growing mainstream push for exploration driven games thanks to the capabilities of new hardware; and though Destiny will see 360/PS3 versions, this new franchise has a long tail that will likely boast a significant development in both technology and design as the new generation becomes more dominant.

While Titanfall illustrates Respawn’s Call of Duty legacy, and Evolve is built on top of the ideas of Left 4 Dead, Destiny is a very different beast from Halo, putting a huge emphasis on customization than Halo ever has. This comes from incorporating three Guardian powered classes, incentivized exploration, and weapon discovery akin to Borderlands. While Borderlands is a great game, it doesn’t control quite as well as some of the leading shooters in the genre likely excused for its noncompetitive nature.

Destiny looks to fill that gap, along with building so much more around the experience.


Nothing’s known about this year’s Call of Duty other than its coming. And though for many years, fans such as myself have been convinced that the NEXT Call of Duty will offer something radically different for the franchise. However meaningful iterations aside, the doors have yet to have been blown off since Modern Warfare 2.

I’ll contain my anticipation, but there are considerable reasons to believe that this year’s installment will offer a drastic change for Call of Duty. Just as Treyarch has formed their own identity for the franchise, this year gives Sledgehammer Games a chance to offer their own spin on Call of Duty, separate from their former colleagues at Infinity Ward.

And Sledgehammer has had quite some time to craft as the biggest news for the franchise just hit earlier this month that Call of Duty has moved to a 3 year development cycle. As I’ve said in a recent post, this gives studios an additional year of development time to brainstorm more original ideas and more breathing room for polish. Despite critics of the franchise, Call of Duty studios have done a commendable job (Ghosts aside) in their two year factory grind. There’s no telling what they’ll be capable of now with an extra year.

Last, and admittedly least, this will likely be the first installment to take some noticeable advantage of the new hardware. Earlier this week, Activision announced that Sledgehammer’s Call of Duty will prioritize next gen hardware. That could be just watermelon flavored hooka smoke blown up our asses, but considering the extra development time, and the embarrassing shift in messaging behind the technology powering Ghosts, from “It’s a new engine!” to “Well… it’s just a refined version of the older engine” to it ultimately turning out to be one of the least impressive looking titles across the Xbox One and PS4, we expect Call of Duty 2014 to be damned impressive compared to past installments.

By default…

... this will be a considerable year for the genre based on the simple fact that it will be the first full year shooters are released on new hardware. But with the exception of Sledgehammer’s Call of Duty, each of this year’s shooters aren’t only new IPs, but they’re new titles coming from the people behind Call of Duty 4, Halo, and Left 4 Dead.

While Infamous Second Son and The Witcher 3 will have me mucking around in sandboxes and action RPGs, most of my gaming time will fall at the mercy of pulling a trigger.

Writer’s Note: Stay tuned for Titanfall beta impressions later this week. 


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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

Yesterday, Evolve details and footage finally emerged from the creators of Left 4 Dead’s new shooter. But today has been dedicated to Titanfall, with in-depth reveals and extensive video footage capturing nuances of this year’s most anticipated shooter, and I’ll discuss much of the game’s aspects that largely haven’t been seen before today.

It comes to no surprise that from part of the core team that standardized competitive multiplayer shooters last gen has built customization into the core of Titanfall from Pilots to Titans. Titans can be outfitted with familiar customization options as seen in many current shooters. Of some of the core weapon types – semi automatic, full auto assault, and heavy rockets – each have adjustable firing rates and clip sizes. Burn Cards (temporary perks) and Ordinances add to the Titan’s loadout with offensive capabilities such as powerful rocket fire and Titan detonation. Nearing the top of my list of experimental loadouts is outfitting a Titan with a Quad Rocket with the Slaved Warheads Ordinance.

Fittingly, Pilots come prepared as well, either as a stand-in male character, or a Black female if I wanted to among other character skins as well (Hooray for diversity!). Outside of standard primary and side arm loadout, Pilots also come with Anti Titan weapons, a sensible category to keep the battle between humans and Titans engaged in balance. Tactical abilities such as Cloak can work against foot soldiers, but are very effective against Titans being that their perspective cant pick up hidden Pilots as well as boots on the ground. Pilots have access to Ordinances as well, and Kits act as passive perks, lending abilities such as extended wall running and hanging with the Enhanced Parkour Kit, and the Power Cell that regenerates you Tactical faster. It’s important to note that ejecting from your Titan is an ability that needs to be equipped as it is not offered for standard affair; so for those who anticipated Pilots always annoyingly ejecting out of their Titans before detonation can rest easy. Of course the Smart Pistol is one of the standout tools that you have to your disposal, but it seems to be best used in taking out AI as it instantly locks on bots in a dilated field of view, especially if they’re stilled (requires three second lock-ons for human players).

Titanfall’s beta serves little to alleviate the 6v6 controversy surrounding the game since the reveal weeks ago. Filling in the rest of the match are Grunts and Specters. Grunts can be used as “creeps” to trim down the amount of time until your Titan falls, and Specters offer a little more challenge while serving the same purpose and can be used as minions to turn on your enemies with a “data knife” as well (in some cases, if you hack one Specter in a group, the override contaminates surrounding Specters turning all on your side).

Watching them in action was straight up embarrassing, performing worse than Call of Duty: Black Ops’ bots, and players were not impressed by the lack of challenge the AI offers. As a Call of Duty player who’s K/D ratio sits well over 1.0, I am a little concerned about the middling AI. However being that there are opportunities for easier kills, this may very well incentivize me to experiment with classes and weapons that I usually shy away from competitive shooters such as Snipers. 

But in spite of all this, it’s always important to remember that this is a BETA. That’s the term that serves as an alleviating reminder that quells some concern and lends hope that the AI will be a little more challenging, but balanced enough for less skilled players once the game launches.

One thing that I picked up on in the beta footage for Titanfall is the absurd amount of ammo players can carry at one time. In one clip, a pilot rodeo-ed another Titan and began emptying clips into the machine’s brain. It was the high rate firing R-97 SMG with 40 rounds per clip. But at the top of the clip icon was a clip multiplier up to 14. That totals out to 560 rounds at once.

This isn’t the only time that I’ve noticed this. I’ve seen sniper rifles with 120 rounds, and pistols with 300. This could be for beta reasons, or this could be implemented to keep the actions flowing, relinquishing the need for players conserve ammo and allowing them to focus entirely on moving forward. Of all the Titanfall footage that I’ve seen, not once have I seen a player have to stop to pick up another weapon because they ran out of ammo. This, of course, aids Titanfall’s incredibly fast pace adding to the Pilot’s parkouring abilities and high bar sprinting stamina. Titanfall is looking to be the most mobile first person shooter ever conceived.

TDM has always been my go to multiplayer mode for my entire competitive shooter carrier. I’ve even spent an unusual amount of time in such matches in games like Battlefield. But like Battlefield – though not as divisively so – Titanfall looks to come into full form in Hardpoint Domination. The nuances of the Titan’s abilities such as stationary guarding, and the Pilot’s vertical traversal abilities look to be more meaningful with explicit direction rather than having the sole purpose to increase kill count. Placing Titans in certain locations next to control points seems like a basic and essential strategy, and being that these control points seem to be located in-doors, it’s up to players to have to rely on their verticality skillsets to maneuver their way in from the best angle; whether that may be from the ceiling or a second or third story window.  

AI concerns aside, Titanfall does not look to disappoint; and this is just based on beta footage that excludes additional Titan classes, the remainder of the customization options, and other maps than Angle City and Fracture.

I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll said if before, March 11th (in the US) can’t come fast enough.

Only just under a month left. 


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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

I have a problem with asynchronous role driven multiplayer.

Part of this has to do with that fact that the dynamic is fairly new and hugely uncommon. It’s easy for me to sink into a role of another human character. Aim, pull the trigger; got it. Anything different feels cumbersome. Running around as the little demonic children from Dead Space 2? Clumsy. Even lumbering around as the Tank from Left 4 Dead felt oafish.

But the word is that in Turtle Rock’s new shooter, Evolve, the Monster has become the press favorite.  

With the concept of L4D’s Tank battle, former zombie co-op shooter developer Turtle Rock nails this in as the foundation of Evolve’s 4v1 battles. Four hunters, filling in each of their roles as the Medic, Assault, Support, and introducing the Trapper, have to face off against an ever evolving monster. And by nature, the Monster does indeed sound to be the most interesting role to play as.

From what I’ve come across, though no one has actually explicitly pointed it out, the Monster role allows the player to “evolve” (heh) their acclimation and strategy as the beast. A ten second head start allows the Monster to run and hide as a level one beast in these massive levels. To me, this sounds like an opportunity not only to pin point (or at least get a good head start to) a safe vantage point, but this also seems as if it’ll lend a small window to map surveying.

When I initially heard about Evolve, somehow I ignored the MOBA elements of it. AI beasts and hazardous plant life independently stand between you and your pursuers, keeping them busy while you calculate your next move. This gives me the inclination of offering additional time to digest your surroundings, and move around in it, as well as feast on the same (and occasionally dangerous) wildlife to fuel your 15 second evolution.

This is just me, but I place so much emphasis on distance away from the hunters because I felt that previous games like this (including Left 4 Dead) threw players into engagement too quickly. I never really felt like I could get a chance to master a foreign control scheme before having to utilize it in battle against who I felt were advantageous human opponents. It’s important to remember that the Monster’s footprints leave glowing clues behind (unless it’s in stealth mode I believe) and movements around birds can cause them to panic and fly away, offering more clues to your location. Smart.

But this distance is also important as once you evolve through the ranks up to level three, the Monster is said to have a colossal upper hand in strength, offensive ability, and armor that the hunters begin to run away from you.

Seeing is one thing, but the Goliath (the Monster class revealed to the press by Turtle Rock) looks agile, looks responsive, looks satisfying to control. I’m just curious as to how the action will manage when you’re in the thick of it against the hunters. And it looks like I can find this out relatively risk free as Evolve also offers bot matches as well.

The traditional 4 (well… except for the Trapper) sound vitally distinct. I imagine many gravitating towards the Assault class has they’re always the most basic and familiar – with short and long ranged weaponry along with mines and a personal shield on top of massive health, but thankfully the game is strict in only allowing one of each class member.

The Medic seems to be my second choice and fits my backseat style. I’ve always loved the idea of a med gun, but highlighting and weakening the monster – either by the its weak-spotting Anti-Material weapon and the slowing Tranquilizer are enough to make me feel accomplished.

The Support to me sounds to have alternative effects on the team and the Monster than the Medic. His shield gun offers invulnerability to allies, and the laser cutter can both deal damage and make the Monster’s location more obvious. Airstrikes can’t be anything other than being effective at the right time, and I’ll hold off my judgment of his invisibility technique until I read more about it.

The Trapper sounds interesting and skill-mandated. Armed with his grappling gun, I’d love to see for how radically tethering myself to the Monster to keep it within reach will change the behaviors of both the Monster and allies. The mobile arena – a massive erected dome deployed by the Trapper which capsules the Monster within a certain radius – sounds satisfying and intense.

While watching footage of Evolve, I couldn’t get over how massive the forest map is. It makes sense for such an agile beast, but I love how each of the hunters are equipped with jet packs to allow for more mobility.

Evolve is looking to be one of the best shooters of 2014. It’s a co-op shooter like none other, offering a brilliant alternative to other offerings from the genre this year. 


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Monday, February 10, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

At last week’s DICE Summit, Gilman Louie spoke about the “culture battle around gaming” and how the game’s industry is misunderstood as a vice of America society. In the wake of 2012’s Sandy Hook school shooting, video games was unjustifiably thrusted to the top as one of the primary contributors of mass killings above an arguably unaddressed gun regulations system.

And while ESA president Mike Gallagher claims that the industry as a whole has made efforts to blossom a positive image, including the ESA’s contributions in scholarships, sponsorships, and career exploration, the fact of the matter is, as Louie alluded to when speaking to Polygon, games’ positive stance is being snuffed out by negative reception by the general public.

But as naïve the perception is on video games, the medium has produced and continues to produce positive contributions to society.

Last week I wrote a piece on If You Can’s “IF…” an iOS RPG set to coach young children on the basic dynamics of emotional intelligence. This is hardly games’ first effort to educate youngsters as edutainment has, just as effective yet mis-fitting as the term itself, clashed together academic curriculum with simple game mechanics. Math Blaster is the easiest recall that comes to many a mind.

Nintendo has had few but successful breakthroughs with quality of life software with Brain Age and Wii Fit. Though each has had a limited presence thanks to minimal iterations, fitness titles and brain training games are not short in supply from other publishers. But with Nintendo’s new initiative on quality of life with “un-wearable” implementations, Nintendo can have just as big if not bigger impact health and cognitive betterment.

Harder to see, but equally important, are interactive experiences geared towards adults. Over the weekend, I had the privilege of watching Playing Columbine, a documentary by film maker Danny Ledonne who’s responsible for the highly controversial game Super Columbine Massacre RPG! It contains fascinating discussions on the potential of the medium outside the traditional game image.

Games such as 911 Survivor allow players to imagine the emotional agony that workers experienced having to jump out of the burning twin towers to their inevitable deaths. September 12th , related in topic to 911 Survivor, gave players a different perspective on the war on terror as the player can bomb a Middle Eastern village, hearing the sobbing of its denizens as terrorists numbers increase.

Ledonne’s very own SCMRPG! put players in the shoes of the killers at Columbine High as they kill students and teachers in their wake. The purpose of the game, as difficult as it is to experience, was to make players think about the motivations of the shooting rather than be a power fantasy in it.

Video games has proven to be an unparalleled art form creating story telling experiences, health and wellness coaching, social interaction experiments, and provocative topics for discussion. People may not see it, but video games are well armed to win this “culture battle”. 


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Thursday, February 6, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

There’s no question that Call of Duty: Ghosts is the most disappointing release in Call of Duty’s annualized run, outside of Wii ports and portable and mobile installments. The unevenly bad campaign along with terrible narrative made the single player unequivocally pointless, and the multiplayer’s unnecessarily convoluted map design only favored certain game types. With Extinction as the game’s only major contribution to the franchise, Call of Duty: Ghosts was a let down to this Call of Duty fan.

News hit today that the Treyarch and Infinity Ward’s annualized volley has now been stretched to a three year development model, inserting somewhat-newcomer Sledgehammer into the cycle. This is fantastic news for the Call of Duty franchise, one that’s much needed for the new generation as Call of Duty will now have to share the shooter space with its former creators at Respawn with Titanfall, and Activision’s hopeful “next billion dollar franchise” Destiny.

Modern Warfare 3 seemed to be rather telling of how talented Sledgehammer games is. After the Activision vs. Jason West and Vince Zampella debacle hit Infinity Ward between MW2&3, and much of the core team at the studio rapidly dissolved to form Respawn, the final chapter in the Modern Warfare saga was looking bleak. But the critical success of Modern Warfare 3 is largely credited to the aid of Sledgehammer. Some could argue that their absence from Ghosts might have contributed to its short comings; either that, or perhaps the added cooks Neversoft and Raven Software fragmented the process, or maybe it was the hassle of getting the game ready for next gen hardware under its already pressured schedule. Hypotheticals aside, Sledgehammer Games has clearly done something right if Activision approved the studio to take the lead of every third Call of Duty title.

And that term “third” is so refreshing to hear.

Despite the incessant criticisms of the franchise, up until Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, the series has managed to produce great shooters that offer something significant to the franchise; and this happened on just two year cycles. Now that we’re going to be delivered Call of Duty titles that have been in development in almost the same average time as most AAA projects, and now that we have two talented studios (sorry Infinity Ward) instead of one, we can at least look forward to possibly two more years of great Call of Duty titles.

Call of Duty: Ghosts effectively turned me off the franchise with Titanfall just around the corner. And though I won’t say that I’ll return with the same level of investment as I have before, hearing Sledgehammer take over this year’s Call of Duty with three years of development absolutely made me more excited for the franchise moving forward. 

Dear Amazon please do not come out with anything less than a full fledge configuration of a Steam Box variant. Amazon you bought a good team please either surprise the industry with something revolutionary or partner up with Valve/Steam. You can easily make your way into homes across the world. You just need to do with a platform that harnesses the power of fully utilized PC hardware. Right now Steamboxes look to be the frontier where you can expand an empire. 


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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

“Materialism doesn’t make you happy, but compassion does.

That’s a tall order to teach children between the ages of 6 and 12.

Trip Hawkins, founder of Electronic Arts and now head of If You Can, gave a speech at DICE today emphasizing the educational potential of video games. He highlights the perceived propensity for games to steer children’s attention away from education and into exercises of repetition and memorization. While many games today explore domains beyond the concrete concept of game mechanics to address more ideas, themes, and even controversial topics, games that are typically tailored to this demographic tend to fit a very traditional formula.

Of course Minecraft and games of the like are glaring exceptions to the rule, however Hawkins is looking to educate children on something far removed from basic engineering and physics puzzle solving, he’s looking to address emotional intelligence.

If You Can’s cleverly named “IF…” is set to be an iOS title, known to launch on iPad at this time, and will be a story driven sim/RPG built around the concept of emotional awareness of others. This idea on its own, particularly when looking at its target audience, is one that could have easily been pitched as Mass Effect without the combat. But the gap that sits next to the element of emotional attention is filled with appropriate game systems.

Players will be constantly confronted with scenarios that emulate different dimensions of emotional awareness, some of which discuss bullying, an appropriate topic for the age range. One specific encounter will present players with a Standford’s ZimbardoPrison Test dilemma where the contrasting tribes of the game – cats and dogs – are set in prisoner and prison guard like roles. Much like the prison test, the scenario is meant to educate the concept of empathy.

Along with having Animal Crossing like interactions and mission design in between, players can also befriend Vims, characters that withhold mystical energy, and build healthy enough relationships with them to the point where their services become available, much like Pokemon training.

IF… is a game with significant expert consultation as well. Hawkins went to the lengths of collaborating with field experts including Janice Toben, responsible for the Institute of Social and Emotional Learning, Roger Weissberg, CEO of, Marc Brackett and Robin Stern from the Yale Center of Emotional Intelligence, and Fred Luskin of Learning to Forgive.

“Cyberbullying is growing. It’s driving youths to commit suicide. If you happen to be a bully, the redemption of a bully is something you can learn. Both victims and bullies can play a game like this. I don’t think being a bully makes a bully happy. With tragedies like the shooting in Newtown, Conn., there was alienation in both directions. Students were alienated from a boy, who then felt like an outsider” Hawkins says.

But even with all the consultation, Hawkins is aware that educational software has limited effective capacity outside of basic emotional education. He sees this as a complimentary component of positive social influences such as family and mentorship.

I see this as a critical project; one that is rarely explored for such an audience. Children at this age are more absorbent to being coached proper interactions with others. It’s crucial for children between the ages of 6 and 12 to be exposed to a game like this; creeping up to the stages of adolescents would be less effective as teens are more concerned with their social standing, and are less responsive to social fundamentals.

Trip Hawkins looks to bring a new form of educational gaming, a new era existing past the days of Math Blaster. If you have children this young, see to it that they’re exposed to “IF…”; if not for your child, then for the betterment of the industry’s growth.

Source: Venturebeat 


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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

As a proudly cheap Vita owner who’s hardly purchased a single game for the handheld, and as someone who stubbornly reserves high production bombastic AAA titles for the big screen, Rayman Origins (and Legends) has swiftly gone unnoticed under my radar. In my two month lull of doubling down on my accumulating handheld library (managed to complete A Link Between Worlds over the weekend), I finally got around to the first installment in the reimagined Rayman 2D side-scrollers.

The Ubi-Art Framework engine is put to great use in Origins (and from what I’ve briefly played, it exists in a better capacity in Legends). The hand drawn visuals are sharp, smooth, colorful and hilariously expressive in detail. It can be a bit too expressive with the absurdly voluptuous nymphs who’s revealing proportions are questionably placed in a rated E title. Overall it’s a slick looking game that runs at an unwavering 60 frames that plays as beautifully as it looks.

We begin to see where some of the musical level design crafted in Legends comes from with Origins. Thus far, I can see the developer play around with the idea of designing music around the platforming gameplay which led to its full commitment seen in last year’s sequel. Regardless however, none of this takes away from Rayman’s playful soundtrack. It’s a talented range from festival tunes to unique old school jazz. But regardless their take on the style, it matches the gleeful tone of the game.

But the gameplay itself stands well on its own, though not quite at first breath. Rayman feels a bit sloppy and restrained jumping into the first few levels, however little did I know that this was deliberate. Rayman’s (and any of the other odd looking characters) abilities unlock from region to region. Abilities such as hovering, diving, and slamming seem basic, but have to be earned throughout the game. The level design does a great job catching up with Rayman’s accumulating abilities, doing its best to ensure that his work in progress isn’t too noticeable.

Once Rayman hits its full stride, it’s clever, speedy, and extremely challenging; a trifecta that’s incredibly difficult to balance well. Rayman is at its smartest when it confronts players with stage rooms that call for instant problem solving, sometimes in which players have to play with angles and its in-game physics to decode twitchy platforming equations.

But what impressed me the most is how Rayman balances challenge with speed, though these two do exist in the game separately. One of the best levels in Origins nears its end in “My Heartburn’s for You” as Rayman’s chased by pursuing flames as he runs up walls and half loops, wall jumping fanatically with demanding accuracy thanks to its incredibly tight controls. In these moments, it seamlessly transforms into the best Sonic game I’ve ever played.

But there’s so much more to appreciate about Origins. Some stages play with gravity-neutralizing gusts of wind, others bring free directional navigation in underwater stages (an appreciated departure from the tap heavy controls of Nintendo platformers and those that mimic them), and pace changing shm’ups that preserves the same level of twitch problem solving that the raw platforming stages do. There’s so much to offer in this little platformer.

Rayman Origins is a delight. And hopefully, most of you know that already instead of being an idiot like me and passing it up for the next Call of Duty. If you haven’t picked this one up yet, I won’t call you and idiot, but I would implore you to dip your toe into the crazy world of both Rayman Origins and Legends.