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Friday, June 27, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

This is how artist Gavin Mackey interprets Pikachu. You can check out how he sees 38 different Pokemon here.


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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

While Ubisoft desperately and successfully tried to gravitate attention towards Far Cry 4, The Crew, and Rainbow Six Siege, one of the biggest stories from E3 was not only their lack in female assassins in their upcoming Assassins Creed Unity’s 4 player co-op, it was their justification for the exclusion: “too much additional production needed”.

To be fair, the way in which co-op works in Unity is, indeed, centralized on the main protagonist: Arno. Players will always be seen and play as Arno in multiplayer, but they’ll appear as other characters in another player’s game. With that in mind, just having customizable genders that will only be seen by another player is pointless.

 But a proper question to ask would be: “Why was co-op set up where players will only control Arno in the first place?” It doesn’t help that Unity has cut out the franchise’s excellent competitive multiplayer, which would have been the ideal outlet to allow for female assassins.

For a multi-million dollar production funding a several hundred man and woman project, it’s difficult to buy the argument that animating a female assassin is too much extra work. Some would say, “Just stick a girl in there.” Sure, but is this woman written in the game from the perspective of a woman, or from the narrow-field and un-researched perspective of a man? “Well, where are the creative female leads?” Ah, now we’re asking the right questions.

But of the many publishers that churn out long running franchises, Ubisoft is certainly one of the more progressive. And within the context of E3, just look at Rainbow Six Siege.

Originally reported on Rock, Paper, Shotgun, technical artist Oliver Couture confirmed that there won’t only be female hostages, but male hostages as well. Though we’ve certainly saved male hostages in military shooters before, it’s nice to see that this is another tactical military shooter that won’t juts have the relied-on female damsels. Perhaps even we can customize the gender of the defenders and attackers to truly meet gender equality.

There is a “but” to this story though, as Couture stated that the reasoning behind showcasing the female hostage was to generate more empathy; they didn’t feel that seeing a male hostage would trigger an emotional reflex of protection. It was a candid honest answer. And to be candid and honest myself, I saw a movie over the weekend where a little girl was shot and killed. Immediately after I thought to myself, “Would I have felt as bad if it was a little boy?”

We seem to be giving Ubisoft more of a hard time than they might deserve, or perhaps not giving everyone else an equal amount of attention. This is the same studio that has had a woman, a Native American, and a Black as leads in their Assassins Creed titles. Not many publishers can boast such a wide range of diversity. But the unsatisfying answer of “not enough time and/or resources” does inadvertently reflect on the larger problem sexism, gender representation, and gender equality in the games’ industry.

Just check out these GDC reports

Reviewed by: Jamaal Ryan

If Watch Dogs will be remembered for anything, it’ll be how divisive the game is. You’ll come away liking it for reasons in which you didn’t expect, and annoyed at how it negatively defies expectations as both a genre entry and what you would have wanted from Watch Dogs. It’s likely because this new open world play-thing more resembles the work of profit handling executives, and looks less like a product from a creative team of designers.

And yet, despite a severe lacking sense of identity, Watch Dogs still turns out to be a pretty good game.

Ubisoft is going to get themselves into trouble from all the wasted hot air they fill your head up with at trade shows and incessantly aggressive marketing campaigns. Table setting buzz lines like “Every citizen’s darkest secrets will be at your fingertips” and “You, Aiden Pierce, a man shaped by violence…” that carry an emphasis on world building and character development, sets a false precedence to what Watch Dogs really achieves.

In reality, Aiden and his quest for vengeance following the death of his niece is lukewarm at best. Any investment Watch Dogs expects from the player isn't earned with an artificial effort in attempting to get you to care for his family’s safety. His gruff, one note and painfully monotonous attitude in executing his own line of justice against those sons-of-bitches, and his superficially developed relationship with his sister and his nephew isn't nearly enough to evoke any significant level of emotional attachment to the plot direction Watch Dogs ungracefully wobbles itself towards.

 Don't care.

It doesn't help that Watch Dogs fails to upkeep the whole notion of "vigilante". Aiden's notoriety is similar to that of the protagonists from the Infamous series as the citizens respond accordingly to your actions. If Aiden pulls up his scarf to mask his identity whenever he jumps into action, why is it Chicagoans point out "Hey, isn't that the guy from TV?" as Aiden casually strolls the streets? And when Aiden seizes the identity of someone else while still donning that trench coat and baseball cap, why is it that no one recognizes him then?

The title itself, “Watch Dogs”, refers to the privacy violating oversight that a centralized network-powered city allows with the fictional ctOS. Watch Dogs has been paraded as the video game equivalent of social commentary on wiki leaks and the NSA. However these winks and nods only come in the form of unsubstantiated reminders, depicting an unconvincing and occasionally campy alternate reality rather than the unnerving “What if?” Watch Dogs tries to be.

Aiden’s cell phone is the single most powerful weapon in Chicago, capable of carrying out acts of war-on-crime terrorism from exploding underground steam pipes, raising bridges, and commanding traffic lights – to looting bank accounts through the phone’s profiler, gathering intelligence, and tapping into phone exchanges to predict crimes before they even happen.

The use of Aiden’s device turns car chases into Split Second like affairs with satisfying ease that’s more empowering than most city sandboxes, and it allows enemy infiltrations to replicate what we’d imagine if the Dark Knight himself ditched the cowl and his non-lethal code.

Nailed it.

But even with Aiden’s puppet master control over Chicago, Watch Dogs often feels like it misses what many would imagine a hacker to be. The one-button prompts and the nature of often only a single domino falling instead of a cascading deliberate chain reaction made me feel less like a hacker and more like a voodoo priest. I admit that I’m being almost entirely unreasonable, but somehow I expected more.

Nonetheless, once you take away Aiden’s cell phone, Watch Dogs then becomes the latest and most obvious example of what a game production factory Ubisoft really is. As Gamespot’s Danny Odour stated, “Watch Dogs is a game without a soul”, Frankensteined together with an amalgamation disembodied parts that create an ugly yet efficient and anthological machine.

Watch Dogs’ most faithful preservation is proven in how it arguably has the most mechanically sound cover system to be used in any open world title. The Splinter Cell and Ghost Recon influences are striking. And though they’re basic in comparison to other Ubisoft’s core cover based stealth action games, the cover system here is incredibly organic, allowing you to adapt to any makeshift situation much like the traffic pile up seen in Watch Dogs' original reveal in 2012. Though Watch Dogs was, in many ways, a concept two E3s ago, this is one of the few elements that have sustained its promise over the years.

Watch Dogs’ stealth systems is best executed in this franchise’s publisher wide version of “outpost infiltration” design; better known here as Gang Hideouts. It’s here that the term “Phone Batman” really comes to play. Lures are similar to Far Cry 3’s “rocks”; but with their sticky characteristics, they can attach to any surface including gas lines and transformers in which Aiden can detonate when enemies are within range. Aiden can dictate explosive traps of his own with proximity and standard IEDs in hand. Tried and true methods of enemy disposal are equally as satisfying with intimate takedowns and the use of silenced weaponry. And each headshot sounds gratifyingly gross.

In control.

Though I may fret about how “un-hackerly” Watch Dogs is, using cameras to manipulate your enemies is the closest you’ll ever feel to being a hacker. You can remote detonate enemies’ grenades (why Blume Corp – the company behind ctOS – thought it was a good idea to connect grenades to the internet is beyond me), disrupt communications for a halting distraction, and activate objects in the environment to lure the attention wherever you see fit. Almost everything you can tinker with via cameras can be controlled by Aiden directly, but camera use lends the advantage of operating from a safe distance.

Watch Dogs can be as much of a sensory overload as Assassins Creed, feeding you heaps of notifications via the profiler and the HUD itself to give the illusion that there’s always something to do. But much like Assassins Creed, Watch Dogs’ mission structure boils down to generating off-shoots of a small handful quest types: chase, infiltration, getaway – and rarely offers anything truly imaginative and unique.

Unless you pick up on Digital Trips.

Ubisoft couldn’t get away with delaying Watch Dogs at such short notice without coughing up some sort of explanation. The best answer we got was the developer having to address the game’s “repetition”. And while it would be silly to expect a candid reason, I’m convinced that the complete self-determining and tonally inconsistent Digital Trips were Ubisoft’s answer to 2013 Watch Dogs’ repetitiveness.

Digital Trips are more than just world mini games that you’d come to expect in any open world title. They are, for the most part, self contained experiences that withhold their own level of progression (The creepy and weird Psychedelic is the only one of the four that is strictly a high score chaser). Madness and Spider Tank more align with your expectations as arcade experiences, though each have their own skill trees in which you build up. Alone, however, is a separate mini campaign within Watch Dogs in which Aiden must sneak his way throughout a sector of Chicago lighting beacons while avoiding patrolling cyborgs along the way. Of these meaty distractions, Alone is the most significant, and is perhaps Watch Dogs’ best demonstration of what stealth looks like in an open world capacity.

 Run and hide.

Unfortunately, Alone contains Watch Dogs’ best open world design, as the city of Chicago is uncharacteristically uninspiring. To be fair, Chicago isn't as easily recognizable as New York and LA, as both are the most iconic cities in America. Having said that, being that I’ve never been to Chicago myself, nor am I able to point out the land marks of the Illinois city, Chicago looks like nothing more than a technically impressive Liberty City without the unmistakable attractions such as Time Square and the Brooklyn Bridge.


Watch Dogs will become a franchise no doubt. However it’s one of the few Ubisoft IPs that lacks distinction. While Assassins Creed feeds off of historical aesthetics, and Far Cry pits players against exotic elements, Watch Dogs isn’t so much impressive by the sum of its parts as it can be appreciated by where and when it does something really cool. 

+ Excellent cover system
+ Great take on Ubisoft's infiltration mission design
+ Digital Trips

- Forgettable plot
- Uninspired open world



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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

I've spoken at length about depression along with other mental and emotional struggles within the context of video games, but I've never quite seen it done like this:

There's a sincerity in everything Simon Karlsson presents in this video: the paper craft structure, the music, the theme, his reserved Sean Murray like demeanor. This is a soul touching Kickstarter project, and I encourage your support.

By Jamaal Ryan

There’s a strange phenomenon that comes from the expected social dichotomy of the “social norm” between men and women. When men are assholes, they get more positive attention, are ostensibly more successful at dating, and even revered as leaders in some instances. But looking through this patriarchal lens, women are held to a polarizing standard. Women should be nice, pandering, and passive in order to align themselves with gender expectations.

These gender differences have been given empirical context in a study conducted by members of Virginia Tech, and Ohio & Pennsylvania State Universities. The experimenters played Modern Warfare 3 on PS3, taking on gender specific monikers such as “Ashley…” and “John…”. Their performances online varied, but the independent variable was their online behavior, ranging from spouting phrases such as “nice shot” to “you suck” before sending out friend requests after matches. The concluding factors or the dependent variables were the responses to these friend requests, which the results then reflected that men who were jerks and women who played nice got more friend request responses than men who played nice and women who were jerks.

It’s a rather eye opening phenomena that deeply reflects the attractions, expectations, and even desires of online players. It’s easy to compare online behavior to high school, since it’s safe to assume that a profound percentage of console online competitive shooters are dominated by high schoolers. Remember that douche guy who was loud, obnoxious, and fed off of bullying others? He was quite popular, right? And though it isn’t as cut and dry to nail down that high school girls who reflected the same behavior as some of the more popular boys struggled socially as they had their fair share of followings too, girls with a more “submissive” attitude were far more socially successful than submissive boys.

“Nice guys finish last.” That’s a phrase that my friends and I kicked around when discussing dating in       high school and college. The sort of dickish behavior we see from men is often coupled with dominance, and in the worst cases, leadership. It is the bullish machismo mentality that one must steam roll without abandon to get out on top, and men who don’t adhere to this expectation often have their masculinity questioned. And while women can have equal success with such behavior, it’s rarely met without resistance. Within the context of Call of Duty matches, the motivation in accepting a friend request from a female who played nice is often sexual:

“These differences would affect others’ reactions when they become aware of a user’s gender, in which one type of reaction is sending sexual messages to female users.

We seem to be reduced to our most primitive and most impulsive form online, drawing hard cut expectations whenever any identifying factor is revealed in game, whether it alludes to sex, race, religion, or sexual orientation. In the context of gender, we are most responsive to those who behave along the lines of our perception of sex, and ignore or actively distance ourselves from those who violate it:

“The videogame social environment is quite masculine, therefore male players would behave and expect very masculine social interactions and the opposite is true for female players, they should behave submissively or what they think women ought to be. Should a female player violate these expectations by asserting herself, social punishments ensue such as questioning her legitimacy and competence as a gamer . Should a male player violate their masculine expectations, well other men will denigrate their manhood and competence.


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Monday, June 16, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

Last week, E3 2014 happened, and while I left a bit cynical about the lack of titles that have surprised me, there were at least some games that have truly caught me off guard. Here are my top five picks for E3 2014:


Though Palmer Luckey attended E3, and Sony gave a brief nod to Project Morpheus at their press conference, games that support VR didn’t get a whole lot of attention this year. Enter The Assembly, a new title by nDreams that will be supporting both VR devices. The Assembly, written by the same mind behind FTL and The Swapper, sinks players into the underground organization of engineers and scientists of the same name who have ducked away from the public light to conduct morally ambiguous experiments for the greater good.

The Assembly will be a structured as a puzzle adventure game. And while the term “puzzle” is usually a deterrent for me, developers seem to be moving away from academic structured puzzles, and skewing towards more environmental and practical design when it comes to developing for VR to enhance the immersion factor. I’m terribly intrigued by the plot centered on moral ambiguity within the context of science fiction, and I’m also glad that such a game is coming not only to the Oculus Rift, but to Project Morpheus as well. Read more.

By Jamaal Ryan

The Wii U as been determined all but dead. Sales are abysmal, third party support is scant, both matters in which would kill any other console. Nintendo’s E3 digital event, marking their second year in bowing out of doing a traditional E3 presentation, had to be set to justify the Wii U as a viable platform not just for existing system owners, but most importantly: untapped audiences as well.

Super Smash Bros has been leading the charge for Nintendo since its announcement 3 years ago. New character reveals were expected, as we’ve seen here with Palutena from Kid Icarus, and a tease at a possible alternate costume for Pit. But what’s most exciting was the introduction of Mii Fighters which can be customized based on three different fighting styles: Brawler, Sword Fighter, and Gunner. It’s a step above the expected effort from Sakuri and his team in allowing character customizations for the series, and allowing players to design fighters to their strengths.

Of course, Smash will be the first title that will feature the Wii U’s NFC capabilities, Amiibo. Sure, it’s neat that the same figure that you use for Mario Kart will work in Smash; but what’s unclear to me is how Amiibo features differentiate themselves from simply picking the character in game, and how the use of the Amiibo figures add to each game differently.

With Bayonetta 2, Xenoblade Chronicles X, and Hyrule Warriors, Nintendo is showing some serious lacking in third party content (perhaps they’re considered second party, but I can’t keep up). We’ve seen each of these titles on at least two different occasions, none of which have had anything to add at this digital event. Why are we seeing yet another gameplay demo of Bayonetta 2? Why aren’t we seeing new gameplay footage of Xenoblade? What makes Hyrule Warriors more than a Dynasty Warriors game skinned in the Zelda universe?

The only title that had a worthy return was Yoshi’s Wolly World, the seemingly final state of the Kirby’s Epic Yarn inspired Yoshi title.

Previously seen games aside, Nintendo debuted some exciting new games at their digital event. Capitan Toad is a full realization of the mini games that were spliced in Super Mario 3D World which operate like cubic puzzles that have players navigate a mining masquerading Toad. It very much works like Nintendo’s take on puzzlers such as Echochrome and Monument Valley.

The much rumored Mario Maker was unveiled, allowing players to design their own levels ala LittleBigPlanet. This is arguably Nintendo’s first Mario platformer that pulls from the ideas of modern day conventions. UGC is quite common among side scrolling platformers, and Nintendo would be wise to give Mario Maker tremendous support post release, supplying players with new level editing tools.

But among all their announcements, Splatoon and the new Legend of Zelda stole the show, and have climbed to two of my most memorable announcements at E3.

The new legend of Zelda appears to be the Zelda title that fans have always wanted. There have been many clamoring for a Skyrim like Zelda game, setting a new adventure in an authentic open world setting. Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma discussed how the franchise has “faked” open world design in the past, and how that differentiates from what they’re planning for the franchise’s next installment.

It goes without mentioning that the new Zelda is one of the most visually striking games at E3, adopting Wind Waker and Skyward Sword inspirations and crystalizing them from the ground up on HD hardware. Just as Mario Kart 8 has become one of this year’s most visually impressive titles, the new Zelda looks to wield an art style so impressive that it negates the limitations of the system that’s powering it.

Splatoon on the other hand has a special place in my heart for various reasons. Splatoon is Nintendo’s take on the shooter genre, a genre in which they’ve never developed in-house, and has stayed away from since Geist on the Gamecube. However Splatoon wouldn’t be a Nintendo title if it were just another hair trigger/direct conflict type of game. Instead of shooting one another, Spatoon arms players with paint guns that’ll be used to mark the entire level in their team’s color. Whoever covers the most real estate wins.

Splatoon is Nintendo-esque in the sense that it takes a genre and makes it accessible in which this case, standard twitch shooters aren’t. But what makes Splatoon the biggest surprise out of Nintendo’s digital event is that it’s an entirely new IP. Nintendo has justified the repeated use of Mario as a Trojan horse for new gameplay ideas in place of completely new IPs because, to be quite frank, Mario sells. This is Nintendo taking a complete risk with a new IP in the shell of a new genre. Bravo Nintendo.

Nintendo’s digital event was exclusively focused on their home console, something that they’ve never done before. They’ve made an extra effort in presenting the Gamepad as integral part of the console. We saw it in the unveiling of the new Wii U title Kirby and the Rainbow Curse and its very DS inspired functionality. Gamepad features have also been baked into other announced titles as well such as assembling levels in Mario Maker, and viewing your team’s painted level progress in Splatoon. Nintendo closes their event with Shigeru Myamoto speaking directly to audiences about the importance of the Gamepad and their priority in making its utilization synonymous with future game design [update: with what looks to be Star Fox running in the background].

Absent from Nintendo’s digital event was Devil’s Third, the new third person action/shooter title from former Team Ninja director Tomonobu Itagaki. Itagaki stated in an IGN interview that his team has done research on contemporary shooters, and it shows. Custom loadouts and killstreak rewards appear in the multiplayer trailer. These modern conventions were accompanied by goofy spin-offs such as chicken chasing and watermelon carrying multiplayer modes. Unfortunately the shooting looks rather stiff which can hamper the multiplayer significantly.

Framerate issues were claimed to be on the stream end instead of the game itself. Nonetheless, the game looks to hover around 30 frames at best with some stiff animations, somewhat unlike that of what was seen in his previous work on the Ninja Gaiden series

One would assume that the Devil’s Third was missing from Nintendo’s digital event because of its sexuality, profanity, and gratuitous violence. However Nintendo’s tone this year was wildly different from that of past E3s with a Robot Chicken powered skits and a second showing of Bayonetta 2.

Nintendo’s digital event was the best Nintendo’s done in years. While void of much third party support, their first party line-up on Wii U was strong with a brief glimpse at the new Zelda and Splatoon as the show’s highlights. However, outside of Bayonetta 2, Nintendo’s event was very Nintendo-esque in tone, bashfully confident and self-aware Robot Chicken bits aside. While Nintendo displayed charm and confidence, I’m not so confident their digital event will grab the attention of consumers who’ve avoided picking up a Wii U. Nintendo is still doing Nintendo, just better, however that might not align with where the larger gaming audience’s focus.

But it certainly did a hell of a job preaching to the choir and rallying existing owners such as myself with a diverse line-up of almost certain to be successful titles. 

By Jamaal Ryan

When compared to Microsoft’s presentation, Sony’s E3 was surprisingly traditional in content. Whereas Microsoft was all about games-games-games, Sony also included statistics, services, and media applications that aren’t directly tied to games. But nonetheless their 2 hour media briefing was meaty and satisfying, filled with enough announcements and gameplay reveals that properly make up what an E3 press conference should be.
Sony’s conference had the most exciting third party presentations at their show. Batman: Arkham Knight had its first public gameplay debut at their media briefing. As good as Arkham Knight looks, it’s easily the largest open world city that I’ve ever seen. Along with a seemingly wide set up that would be enough to justify the hefty Batmobile, Arkham City is strikingly tall, with buildings stacked on multiple levels that make the city look like a metropolis from Star Wars rather than modern time.

Speaking of massive cities, if anyone would have guessed who Rockstar would have partnered up with on the show floor, it would have been Microsoft. But seeing the GTA V reveal at Sony’s press conference elevated their status by showcasing the most successful selling game of all time. It’s like walking into a club with a celebrity, it makes you look cool. And with the GTA V unveiling, Sony certainly did.
And while Microsoft opened with MGS V last year, Sony spliced in a very Kojima styled trailer that did little to serve the gameplay as its debut did last year, while equally making you excited for a new Metal Gear nonetheless.
The only disappointment was what is assumed to be Project Beast. Now known as Bloodborne, the new title from From Software gave nothing more than a barely conceptual CGI trailer that was equally as cryptic as it was gross.
To a degree, Microsoft’s press event seemingly had more exclusive titles under its belt, however Sony made a better case as to why you should pick up games on their platform over the competition’s. Sony reached over into Microsoft’s cookie jar with transferable content that can be brought over from both the PS3 and 360 versions of GTA V and pulled into the PS4 version. Perhaps that feature is available for both next gen systems, but Sony called it first. But the best example was with Far Cry 4 which didn’t insult you with “Hours of more content and exclusive DLC!” bullshit. Far Cry 4 is given the dedicated handheld treatment where players can invite their friends into their game to play co-op even if they don’t own the game. Damn son.

Like the entirety of Microsoft’s event, their inclusion of indie development felt artificial and rushed, dedicating focus to roughly about two indie titles before shotgunning through a sizzle reel. Sony was patient, giving their indie developers their time in the spotlight. Titles like Entwined and ABZU were shown off and given context by presenters. Sony isn’t quite exempt from doing their own reel, however the Devolver Digital presentation was focused; and unlike what I saw at ID @ Xbox, I want every single one of those games. Though hard to quantify as indie, fans were blindsided by the announcement of Grim Fandango, a bona fide gaming classic. But the incredible show stopper had to go to No Man’s Sky, the title that took Sony’s conference by storm just as they did at last year’s VGX with a more in depth demonstration of the procedural ecology and seamless exploration of their galaxy.
Many lamented over Sony’s departure from their game streak with the suitable Jack Trenton replacement, Shawn Lauden; however Sony managed to keep their side announcements relevant. Twitch is was an undeniable success on PS4, but with added interactive features, alongside YouTube support, and Sony is slowly but surely justifying that Share button on the Dual Shock 4.
Sony effectively ate Microsoft’s lunch that is Xbox Originals with the announcement of Powers on Playstation, albeit its time on stage dragged for a bit too long. I can’t argue the tastes of gamers when it comes to TV, however for me, Powers is much more exciting than a street soccer tournament or improv comedy.
Stepping towards hardware outside of the Playstation 4 was their biggest stumble. As a PS3/PS4/Vita owner, I never gave two shits about Playstation TV (formerly known as the Vita TV) and still don’t. Owning all the native systems that the PS TV emulates renders the little device useless to me. PS3 and PS4 game functions are contingent on your internet connection with Remote Play and Playstation Now, and the Vita library support is limited. Allow me to play Vita titles by using the Vita as a controller where I can actually play titles that use both the front and rear touch surfaces, and then I’ll consider it.
“Vita TV” aside, Sony just doesn’t seem to be doing enough to pimp the Playstation Vita itself. The Vita was muddled in the context of all the other features within the Playstation ecosystem, and was only given brief mentioning of just a small handful of titles that are in development for it along with the 100+ projects. It seems as if Sony is shifting their strategy from marketing the Vita as a standalone device to an accompanying one, something that I’m not quite sure that’ll work.
Lastly, Project Morpheus wasn’t even worth mentioning at their press conference. As excited as I am for VR on the Sony platform, Morpheus’s showing at their press event was more of a reminder than revealing new developments on the prototype, two newly announced titles aside.
And then we have the first party content.
LittleBigPlanet 3 and Uncharted 4 were highlights of the show in their own right. LBP 3 was endearing in its clumsiness. They didn’t waste time with dramatic and/or exec intros. Bam. The game just simply appeared on stage. And unlike other multiplayer romps seen at E3, LBP’s presenters looked like they were having genuine fun with the constant fuck ups and authentic banter, very much unlike the fake ass hokey smack talk we’ve seen before.
Uncharted 4, even in its predictable “One more thing” slot, still amazed. It served its purpose just to showcase what the most visually talented developer can muster out of the PS4 hardware, and it did not disappoint. Nathan Drake looks scarred, seasoned, and dare I say slightly aged, looking even more like Nolan North than the Uncharteds beforehand. To the diehard Sony fans, it also evoked a sigh of relief, giving them something to hold on to after the crumbling establishment that was Naughty Dog which precipitated after Amy Hennings’ departure.
Sony killed it again this year, and they did it with a good clean fight unlike last year. Sony hit all the beats you would come to expect at an E3 press conference but in a non-formulaic manner. The half hour side step that detoured into the Playstation ecosystem served its purpose just enough. But with third party showcasings such as Far Cry 4 and the first gameplay trailer of Mortal Kombat X, indie games such as the very Journey like ABZU and the infinitely impressive No Man’s Sky, and first party debuts with LittleBigPlanet 3 and Uncharted 4, Sony executed E3 with damn near perfection.

Hands down this team deserves every piece of recognition they receive. From such a small group of dedicated creators you get a a game that pushes further than any multi-million dollar studio has ever done. Hello Games' creation gives me chills everytime I think about their E3 presentation, because its something magical. To truly mean the word "Infinite" when talking about a video game universe is beyond words. The marvel that will be know as No Man's Sky may very well be the greatest design of this generation of video games. This is going to be the masterpiece that sets the gaming world on fire and inspires future developers to dream deeper than any developer now can imagine.


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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan
When Head of Xbox’s Phil Spencer stated that their 90 minute E3 2014 media briefing will be packed to the seams with games, he wasn’t jerkin’ around. Microsoft’s press conference bombarded audiences with game after game after game after game.
Sifting through the slew of titles announced on Xbox One, here are the five that stood out to me the most: Read more.
This comparison is show wise centered so don’t get it twisted. Rainbow Six shows up out of nowhere and made BF:Hardline eat a bullet in a gunfight for your wallet. I would definitely cancel your BF pre-order money and save it for Rainbow Six when it releases two years from now. Hopefully we do not have to wait years for the release of what I say took the Ubisoft conference title of Best Game. This hype train for this game will sit at the station until there is official release dates and specifications. Something tells me Ubisoft is pulling the same deal they did with WatchDogs with this title so the more news the better. Battlefield hardline is going to be here this fall and betas are being streamed as I type. However it really just boils down to Battlefield with a different skin, so if you are bored of BF4 and feel brave enough to try an EA first week launch good luck. 

Bungie I want to apologize for Microsoft’s shitty action of re-releasing your hard work and having no tact. I bet when you guys sold or bought out of your contract you never expected them to rehash your code. I only expected Microsoft to continue making games, but rehashing your code is just really poor. You guys at Bungie will be recognized by true fans.

So if you love Halo from Bungie or 343 you just got 180gb of Master Chief all on your face. How does it feel it’s exactly what you guys wanted. One good thing is at least you’ll be able to play all the multiplayer maps without any dlc or crazy season pass. That fact is kinda scary knowing Microsoft, they normally do not give away massive amounts of gaming dlc for free. So I would be wary of a catch with the so called 100 maps of the Halo for just $60. We will see this November 11th

Fun Fact: Aisha Tyler was a voice in Halo: Reach a game not included in this Dream Halo pack :/
So here’s how unoriginal Microsoft is they introduce Conker to the big screen at E3 without his own damn game. Here’s what they could have done, inside project Spark team they could have developed a very unique Conkers game. Instead they want the fans to do the job themselves, which they will eventually do a better job than Microsoft would at this point. Project Spark had my interests all the way up until the mention of Micro transactions galore. On that note it’s a pass for the everyday gamer. If you are a player that tears open Halo games for Forge, love Minecraft adventures, and don’t give a crap about your wallet Project spark is right up your alley. I’ll enjoy watching your videos, and Microsoft stealing your original ideas.

Here’s why: 

The Crew is somewhat experimental, compared to Horizon 2. I’ll completely agree the visuals of Horizon 2 are vastly superior. To gamers that are epicenter around graphic (buy a PC), but for the immediate comparison Forza Horizon 2 earns points in the category. The variety in flavor is in the Crew hands down. Just the mention of a 2-hour race across the United States mock up in the crew is an amazing concept. When this is actually live for gamers to play I just can’t see passing that up for the traditional racing in Forza Horizon no matter how many cars you throw at me. My bets are on The Crew for the win between these two petal to the metal racers, and the multiplatform sales including PC will make good on Ubisoft’s pockets.  

By Jamaal Ryan

Well that didn’t take long.

The latest installment in the Mario Kart series, Mario Kart 8, hasn’t even been out a week, and already players seem to be abusing a new exploit called “Fire Hopping”.

 Essentially, Fire Hopping is used while the player jumps repeatedly after a speed boost, allowing their boost to last longer. This can be used from drift boosting, as well as item and strip boosting as well. Here’s a video below:

It’s been deemed as “controversial” as many players swear by it, while others are against the use of it. I’m of the later camp, looking at it in the same vein as “Snaking” (though not quite as bad). While both techniques are skill based, they offer an advantage over the competition, both AI and players alike, as Fire Hopping doesn’t seem to be programed into Mario Kart’s design; at least not intentionally.

As Fire Hopping becomes more and more popular, the balance of online play is likely to become unbalanced, causing a disproportionate gap between moderately skilled players and Fire Hoppers. Flipping through Mario Kart 8’s online features, I’ve thought of a way that could make your online experience safer.

Mario Kart 8’s Tournament Mode is surprisingly robust. As I said in my review, it offers an unusual level of specificity, especially with the tournament scheduling, and allowed skill level based on the players’ point ranking. Taking these two aspects of Tournament Mode, you can schedule your own tournament “daily”, gate the player level between 0-1500 pts, and in order to communicate your preference to other players, label the tournament “No fire Hopping” or something of the sorts.

Scheduling it daily of course allows you and other players to participate on a daily basis, and the title is important to notify other participants of your rule sets. Of course, there’s no way to kick or exclude players for anything, especially based on player behavior – and in this case, using Fire Hopping – however gating the point cap at 1500 narrows down the possibility of letting in a Fire Hopper user as a player who has mastered it will likely have a point value higher than 1500.

This is a very situational solution. It’ll be harder if your point value is higher than 1500, or if a player has managed to master Fire Hopping before jumping online at 1000 points; there are a number of variables that can interfere, provided if you even care in the first place or wish to master the skill yourself.

This isn’t meant to offend or target Fire Hoppers, as it is a skill, not a cheat. However not everyone is skilled enough or has the time to practice such a technique that grants such an advantage. Mario Kart is meant to be played by everyone without feeling that they’re at an unfair advantage.

Using tricks that can be considered exploitative in Mario Kart isn’t something new, however Nintendo has provided the tools that’ll allow you as the player to make your Mario Kart experience as safe as you could reasonably desire.


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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

Over this past weekend, two twelve year old girls, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, lured another their 12 year old classmate over for a sleep over, then into the woods and stabbed her 19 times. Their alleged motivation, to become a proxy for Slender Man. You can read the full CNN report here.  

Surprisingly – and thankfully – there has yet to be any forced linkage to the video game adaptation of Slender Man, though the fiction and the lore that the girls were apparently obsessed with were generated from the wiki Creepypasta.

But this isn’t just about video games, this is about fictional creativity and the idea that fantastical products of imagination can somehow have such dictatorship over crimes like this.

Sloshedtrain, an admin on Creepypasta, wrote this in his blog post yesterday in response to the crime and demands to shutdown the wiki:

“Will these people succeed on their request? Most likely not. These are the same people who think that violent video games help create mass murders, because it’s convenient to blame and point fingers.”

This sediment is also shared by Dr. Michael Rich, the director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital:

“Clearly, there are mental health issues here. No one can stab someone 19 times in an unfeeling way. … These girls got to a place in their own heads where the illogical became logical.”

He continues:

“I don’t think we can lay this at the doorstep of the Internet, computers or even video games.”

It’s troublesome and even painful to hear that such young children would commit such a horrific and heinous crime. However the internet shaming following the attempted murder is short sighted, neglecting how cults, religion, and other forms of worship have driven people to carry out these “sacrifices”. 

If the two girls stated that they stabbed the girl to "serve God" or to serve Saturn, the story wouldn't be too much different.

By Jamaal Ryan

Last week, I drew attention to Glenn Beck’s rant on video games and his ludicrously inconclusive claims about Call of Duty and suicidality along with the comical assumption that the pipe games, button prompts, and overall premise of Watch Dogs teaches children how to hack docked iPads. It was a mind numbing rant to say the least, however I couldn’t help but be troubled by his readings of coroner John Pollard’s determination (based on “not enough evidence” mind you) of Call of Duty’s influence on investigated teenage suicides.

Suicidality can be caused by many things. A diagnosis of major depressive, and various instances of other types of depression, often stymie’s one’s ability to cope in even the most moderately stressful situations. It can also increase isolation and pessimistic outlook, and sometimes cripple rationale to the point that in the event of a serious confrontation or a series of accumulated small ones: whether that may be a death, loss of employment, discovered illness, or anything that challenges their sense of control,  that they may not see any other way to solve their problem other than ending their life. Not all suicides have been clinically labeled as a result of some form of depression, however often there are environmental, trauma based, and behavioral clues that would lead up to such an event.

Mark Griffiths, Director of the International Gaming Research Unit and Professor of Gambling Studies at Nottingham Trent University, wrote a piece on The Conversation – which was then reposted on Gamasutra – in response to the coroner’s claims of Call of Duty’s involvement. He begins:

Teenage suicide is a tragedy for any family and those affected will naturally want reasons why their loved ones have taken their own lives. There are hundreds of scientific studies on suicide and many risk factors have been identified, including psychological, environmental and genetic or biological factors. Conditions such as mental illness and substance abuse can also heighten the risk.

He then looks to studies that have claimed to have found a link between video games and suicidality:

“A 2011 US study of 30,000 teenagers reported that those who spent more than five or more hours a day playing video games were slightly more likely to have thought about suicide. A similar finding was also reported in a large national German study of more than 15,000 teenagers in 2010.”

Griffiths continues in pointing out that such findings were mere links, and reiterating that famous statement those of us who have taken statistics in school have heard, “Correlation does not mean causation.”

So what could have happened to these poor boys? We are all more than well aware of the hostile environments such as Xbox Live, communities fraught with racism, sexism, homophobia, and any other form of hate speech. Such environments can be demoralizing to one with low self-esteem, especially for those who may have even given suicide some serious thought. However if that may be the case, then that is an internet problem, not a video game one. Many of the claims of video game’s influence on young minds aren’t exclusive to video games and video games alone; sports and any other platform of skill based activity fosters issues with self-esteem and aggression as well. In fact, the University of Oxford in the UK’s study on video game’s influence on aggression highlights with perfectly.

Griffiths calls these research and reportings as mere attempts of “scapegoating”. But while agenda driven logic may be able to fabricate a plausible narrative as to how video games causes violent behavior, its influences on suicide and educating hacking is just about the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever heard.


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Monday, June 2, 2014

Reviewed by: Jamaal Ryan

It wasn’t until I realized that it’s been six years since a console Mario Kart game has been released when I then grew to appreciate Mario Kart 8 more. Sitting in front of a large display while playing a slick looking new kart racer has a generational novelty like many of Nintendo’s franchises; and though getting three friends together in a room is still the ideal way to experience Mario Kart, online play yields a special kind of appreciation, similar to how I felt after playing Halo 3 multiplayer for the first time. But Mario Kart 8 isn’t just about drop-dead sexy new graphics and returning as only the second console installment in the series to feature online functionality. Mario Kart 8 has, in equal measure, the strongest and most robust design in the long running franchise. Read more.