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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

EA’s Xbox One exclusive Access program was announced and released yesterday, which will allow gamers full access – ala Netflix – to their Vault of games which will be added to throughout the Access beta and beyond for $5 a month or $30 annually. Currently, that ‘Vault’ is comprised of FIFA 14, Madden 25, Peggle 2, and Battlefield 4. In addition to unlimited access, EA’s program also offers 10% discounts on all digital games and even earlier access (can’t stop saying ‘access’) to new titles. Dragon Age Inquisition will be the first to be available to subscribers 5 days before its official release date.

It’s a model that expands off of their short lived EA Sports Season Ticket program, and further apes the Netflix and Playstation Plus model. But would I be willing to pay for another subscription fee in addition to PSN and Xbox Live?

When looking at it within the context of sheer pricing and numbers, gamers could earn their money back quicker than a Playstation Plus subscription. Of the above 4 games that will be available for the Access beta, altogether, they’re worth more than even an annual subscription price, and rivals the value of a Steam sale if you simply pay for a single month.

EA makes a great case here, even if Sony doesn’t think so; however the library has to speak to me long before I even consider opting in for a 1 month trial. FIFA and Madden cater to a completely different gamer than myself since I don’t give a shit about sports games. Battlefield 4? Hah! Fuck off. That only leaves Peggle 2 which doesn’t stand on its own as being worth it for any level of commitment. As you can tell, discounts and early access doesn’t interest me in the least.

Pigeon holing it into the Xbox One could stymie the appeal of the service with such a limited list of EA releases on the platform. Say if it was also available on Xbox 360 where games like the Mass Effect Trilogy, Dead Spaces 1&2, and Mirrors Edge just to name a few were available in the Vault, and that could garner immediate attraction to a subscription.

Perhaps this may be a bit too early to introduce such a service on a new platform, but what about down the line? Unless EA Access completely tanks, you can bet that such a program would catch on to other publishers just like Games with Gold caught onto Xbox platforms. Imagine if other major publishers such as Ubisoft and 2K created similar models. Even if we’re looking at three different subscriptions ranging around $30 each, and among those subscriptions, Battlefront, Far Cry 4, and Gearbox’s Battleborn become available along with other great games across three different publishers, that alone is an instant return value.

It’s easy to cringe at the thought of EA looking for a financial commitment, especially in the wake of Sony – who leads with the universally favored service – that turned down EA’s offer comparing it to their own free games and discounts service. It’s easy to say that “EA’s just lookin’ for my money!” Well no shit, of course they are. But looking at it within the context of potentially having a large quantity of quality games available for just $30 a year? If both ‘Q’s’ match up – and having more… good games is absolutely essential – then I’m willing to fork over half the cost of a full retail game for multiple. 


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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

This week marked the end of the Destiny beta. Millions of players across the four platforms between Sony’s and Microsoft’s home consoles had a chance to enjoy just a taste of Bungie’s new franchise for up to over a week. I’ve shot my way through Strike missions, and danced and bounced beach balls in the tower; but I simply couldn’t get enough of Destiny’s excellent Crucible multiplayer. Read more.

By Jamaal Ryan

Have you heard anyone recently still complaining about Far Cry 4 being racist? Nah, me neither.

After the confirmation during and after E3 that Far Cry 4 wasn’t the colonialist story of brute force racism everyone accused it for being, the conversation evaporated. We found out that Far Cry 4’s main protagonist, Ajay Ghale, was a native of the fictional Kyrat returning home to spread his mother’s ashes across their home country. Not white. Not a colonialist.

Though the creative direction is being led by Alex Hutchinson, who’s already proven his social taste in being the creative lead on Assassins Creed 3, the writers behind Far Cry 4 were well aware of the criticisms of Far Cry 3. In a recent Playstation event reported by Polygon, script writer C.J. Kershner stated that, "We were aware of the discussions happening about Far Cry 3. People identified some problems."

Far Cry 3 sold tremendously well, well enough for Ubisoft to quickly continue the franchise only two years later. Whereas Jason Brody was a white young male vacationing in a later to be discovered pirate infested tropical island and was then solely responsible for saving these seemingly aboriginals from their other, more savage halves, Far Cry 4 is a story of a native born refugee returning home. The difference in narrative tone wasn’t because sales were underwhelming, it was because a fair minded creative team listened to the public.

I spoke before about the importance of expressing ones opinion within the context of Far Cry 4, highlighting the influence that it can have on the creative process. While the notion of “voting with your wallet” is effective in letting the publishers and developers know that something didn’t work, it’s not enough to pinpoint the problem. Generating a discussion on what doesn’t sit well with you creates context within criticism, giving game makers something tangible to fix and improve.

Seeing a big name publisher title move from a narratively impaired, but mechanically impressive shooter, to (developing into) an even more interesting experience from both a story and gameplay perspective, is a reassuring sign that game makers are listening. So keep talking. 


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Monday, July 21, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

With only four days since its launch last Thursday, and after spending an entire weekend in the Destiny Beta, I’ve often forgotten that I wasn’t playing the final build. Bungie has gifted Playstation owners (and will soon do the same for Xbox owners) with a robust demonstration of their latest interstellar franchise. After skipping the alpha post E3, my grasp around what Destiny is has dramatically shifted from a wishy-washy understanding of a “MMO’ish FPS” to a strong conceptualization of a heavily inspired multiplayer experience. Read more.

By Jamaal Ryan

Just a few months ago, Destiny was more of an idea than what you’d expect from a game that was said to have a $500 million dollar budget behind it. Destiny’s relevance was solely based off of the name of the developer behind it rather than tangible footage or press previews that explicitly illustrated what Destiny was all about.

“I don’t know what this game actually is” was a quote I heard over and over again for the past year. Sure its strike mission gameplay reveal was at Sony’s 2013 E3 press conference; sure there was a dev diary on the competitive multiplayer, but neither showed anything all that novel or interesting, which was concerning coming from the studio that’s largely responsible for the shooter genre on home consoles as we know it.

Then came the Destiny alpha which changed many opinions of the press and fans alike. “I don’t know what this game actually is” quickly changed to “I’m a believer”, paralleling their experience to milestones such as Phantasy Star and Guild Wars 2 mixed with Halo and Call of Duty. It was a springboard to begin a real discussion for Destiny.

Today marks the second day of the Sony platform Destiny Beta, and word is all over the gaming community. Getting into the beta might have been a bit bumpy, but Destiny works, it’s deep, and it’s fun.

While gamers look to toil around the Crucible battle grounds and the decrepit Old Russia for the next week, Activision is watching their experiment take its course. Seeing games like Watch Dogs and Wolfenstein do so well on new hardware is a strong indicator that system owners are hungry for games to play. The Destiny Beta couldn’t have hit at a better time, with literally no major game releases in its beta window. In fact, Destiny will be the first major release outside of Metro Redux after the beta closes next week. This helps keep Destiny in the conversation as the beta will be fresh in the minds of many gamers by the time September 9th rolls around.

The beta also ostensibly clenched many sales of the game through preorders. Gating beta keys behind required preorders, the beta asks for players to buy in before trying. And while it reeks of the preorder bonus nature that the industry has gone in from Alien Isolation’s Crew Expendable to what we might see from GameStop getting involved in game development, what the Destiny Beta has to show off is impressive, perhaps impressive enough to ignore that we’ve fallen right into Activision’s plan.

With no major release between now and September, and likely a high volume of preorders, Activision’s marketing strategy for Destiny is tactful and seemingly effective thus far. Bravo Activision.   


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Thursday, July 17, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

After our morning meeting at work yesterday, the substance abuse wellness specialist on my team handed me a newspaper with an “Outhouse-Run” as the front page story. “Just so that you know what kind of Red Neck I am” she says.

As I flip through the paper, I picked out another front page story about a “Zeldathon”. Puzzled that I saw something related to gaming in a local newspaper, I continued to read.

The Zeldathon, based in Meadville PA, is your home grown gaming focused fundraiser, this year working with St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Zeldathon, as the name suggests, is comprised of an established group of gamers marathoning through Zelda titles. Starting last Thursday and ending just yesterday, the Zeldathon raised $2,000 within the first two hours, and $18,000 in just its first day. With a goal of $75,000 and a stretch goal of $100,000, Zeldathon surpassed its goals, sitting at $100,890.

But Zeldathon hasn’t only collaborated with St Jude’s Children’s hospital. They’ve also partnered up with American Cancer Society and the American Red Cross, raising over $215,000.

With all the gaming centric charities that are out there, it’s nice to see one that hits so close to home for me.

You can check out Zeldathon’s site here, and you can check out the original story here

Reviewed by: Jamaal Ryan

The name "Wolfenstein" lingers with intangible meaning to many gamers, including myself. Its relevance is encapsulated in an era where shooters only allowed you to look left to right, while future installments revel in mediocrity – with Return to Castle Wolfensein being the stark exception – and are eclipsed by the 1992 classic. Because of this, by name, Wolfenstein means nothing to me. However Machine Games' interpretation of the brand with Wolfenstein: The New Order isn't only capable of associating fond memories to the franchise for me, it's also capable of being recognized as the best single player shooter experience on newer consoles thus far. Read more.

By Jamaal Ryan

From free games, to gamedeals, to indie titles, Playstation Plus has pioneered consumer friendly digital distribution for home consoles. Their direction has been so successful that it’s been a selling point for all of Sony’s gaming platforms, and has even pulled Microsoft into the fray, offering free games and game deals of their own.

Now, in spite of previous discussions with the press, and how uncharacteristic it would be for the console space, Sony is looking into Early Access.

Early Access on Steam has been a funny thing, controversial at best. The service allows players to access games while they’re in development for the purpose of providing feedback to the designers for a fee. It benefits the developer as a form of wide spread QA testing while reaping revenue, and it empowers the consumers with insight into what games look like as a work in progress.

But while Early Access best serves as a mutual agreement between developer and consumer, many criticize the model for its “anti art” development process, and “tricking” gamers into buying unfinished products even though disclaimers are provided. Some concerns are justified, as art is traditionally created within the mind of the creator and not its spectators, and some early access games have proven to be too broken to pass for legitimate purchasing.

It’s a model that suits PC gaming so well with its flexible and easy-access nature, and committedly engaged community.

…Something that console doesn’t necessarily share, or at least, not in the way PC does.

And yet, here we are. Speaking with Gamsutra at E3, Playstation’s VP of Publisher and Developer Relations Adam Boyes discusses the possibility of Early Access on Playstation:

“We're figuring out what's ok. We obviously have our tech requirement checklist that people have to adhere to. So we're internally discussing, what does that list look like this? What are the caveats? Stuff like this. So it's still a project that a lot of minds are considering. No details yet, but it's something on the top of my mind every day.

Ideally, Playstation’s version of Early Access will, as Boyes states, have a set standard of how far in development games will have to be before they appear on the store. Steam’s Wild West nature has let some real shit slip through the cracks. Nonetheless, popular concerns of Early Access fall solely on the responsibility of the consumer. If it’s labeled “Early Access”, then you should know what you’re getting into. It’ll just be up to Sony to ensure that the game meets that expected stage of development.

But how will the developer curate feedback? Early Access existing on a console instead of a PC immediately adds an additional barrier in terms of how consumers will deliver feedback. The expectation can’t be that gamers have keyboards hooked up to their PS4s. So what will you have them do? Run over to their computers and send messages to the developer? The whole notion of console/couch gaming is keeping gamers confined in one comfortable space. Perhaps implement a voting system similar to Assassins Creed IV on the quality of the content? Hmm… I think it needs to be more comprehensive.

This leads up to one of the biggest challenges of Early Access that directly interrupts the meaning of the service. Many consumers of Early Access titles simply dick around, take up space, and offer no meaningful feedback to the developer. Such a phenomenon has forced developers like Derek Smart to gate their Early Access games with high price tags ($99 for a free-to-play game in his case) just to ensure that those who buy in are serious about participating in the true Early Access process.

Much like free-to-play, Early Access is an easy idea to conceptualize, but harder to execute. The system bares its imperfections on PC as is with questionable development processes both artistically and logistically. Let’s just hope that Sony doesn’t screw this one up. 

By Jamaal Ryan

It’s summer time. I’m low on money. My gaming has fed off of Playstation Plus and Games with Gold free-bees as well as trade-ins. On July 17th, my fiancé will be visiting her mom on Florida for 8 days.

So what’ll keep me company for over a week? The Destiny beta of course.

When picking up Wolfenstein: The New Order last week (look forward to my review early next week), the GameStop representative gave the whole, “Would you like to pre-order anything today?” spiel. Usually the answer is a quick “no” by the time they get to “pre-order”, but knowing that PS4 owners will be treated to a almost 10 days’ worth of the Destiny beta, and pre-ordering would grant a beta key, I couldn’t resist. However, after reading about Gamestop’s rumblings of more intrusive pre-ordering deals, it made me feel a little gross.

Pre-ordering as become more and more irrelevant in the traditional sense as day & date digital versions of retail releases are standardized. Walk in to your brick-and-mortar for shelved copy of Call of Duty/ (Enter popular AAA release hear) upon launch date, chances are that there might still be a few available. Because of this, pre-orders have mutated into a different form of incentivization. They surpass the call of special editions, offering (ideally temporary) exclusive content depending on the retailer as Walmart, GameStop, and Best Buy vie for customers.

But in this multi-way tug of war, GameStop is planning on hiring an Icelandic strong man into the competition. Originally reported by Gamesbeat, the chain has sat down with investment company R.W. Baird to discuss more intrusive methods of pre-ordering. GameStop’s PR spokesperson Jackie Smith has confirmed that:

“We are working with our [development] partners to build in a longer lead time…And we are working with them to get both physical and digital exclusives for our customers.”

In other words, this could very well mean that we’re looking at permanent exclusivity through GameStop purchases only.

This smells like shit.

It almost sounds like the sort of thing that the FTC would investigate as it not only interrupts the battle grounds of retail competition, but it is completely antithetical to consumer choice. As AAA consumption can be completely digital, and the indie market is booming with digital only titles, GameStop is getting desperate, and this is an ugly move on their part.  

Imagine if there were exclusive directors cut versions of films that were only available and AMC theaters, or certain chapters in books were only available at a specific chain of book stores (I know, a bit of a dated example to all you e-readers out there).

Though I can’t imagine that the potential exclusive content would be much more than side missions rather than significant mainline story beats or multiplayer exclusives (because no publisher would agree to anything as fucked up as that, right?), this is still one of the most despicable corporate moves I can imagine in the games industry.

So the next time I’m asked if I want to pre-order anything, my internal reaction would be…

“Fuck off.” 


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Monday, July 7, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

On the day after Valentine’s Day in 2006, high school honors student Jennifer Ann Crecente (the niece of Polygon News Editor Brian Crecente) had fallen victim to dating violence and was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. It’s a terrible story, one that hurts for me to hear as my mother was physically abused by my father.
In her memory, Jennifer’s father founded Jennifer Ann’s Group, an organization geared towards building awareness for dating violence and abuse. Since 2008, Jennifer Ann’s Group has held contests for video games that raise dating abuse awareness while avoiding the use of violent gameplay. This year’s winner was The Guardian, which is available for free on Android now. Driven on both a personal and a professional level, I set aside time to play it. Read more.

By Jamaal Ryan


And there you have it folks, IGN reader respectedgenius informed me that the IeSF has pulled an Xbox 180 and reversed their stipulations in excluding women from Hearthstone and other tournaments that will be held at Assembly Summer 2014. The IeSF has kept their word in opening up female only brackets, and has opened all tournaments to female gamers. Internet outcry has indeed prevailed, and thus they've stated the following:

On 2nd of July, 2014, the IeSF’s policy about gender division, which separates the female division and the male division, has been brought into question. The IeSF has listened to the gaming community and has carefully considered their opinions. Upon hearing these concerns, the IeSF convoked an emergency session of the IeSF Board to respond.
As a result, IeSF shall have two event categories: “Open for All” events and events that are reserved for women. The events which were initially set aside as the male division will now be open to all genders, and the events which were initially set as the female division will remain as they were.
The IeSF Board addressed its reason for maintaining events for women, citing the importance of providing female gamers with ample opportunities to compete in e-Sports—currently a male-dominated industry. Female gamers make up half of the world’s gaming population, but only a small percentage of e-Sports competitors are women. The IeSF’s female-only competitions aim to bring more diversity to competitive play by improving the representation of women at these events. Without efforts to improve representation, e-Sports can’t achieve true gender equality.   
In order to apply the new policy with consistency, IeSF has added an “Open for All” Tekken Tag Tournament 2 tournament, which was initially set aside for female-only competition. Therefore, the amended plan for the 6the-Sports World Championship BAKU 2014 is:
Open for All
  - Participating teams may consist of 5 male players, 5 female players, or mixed team.
StarCraft®II: Heart of the Swarm®
  - Players of all genders can participate in the event.
Ultra Street Fighter 4
  - Players of all genders can participate in the event.
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
  - Players of all genders can participate in the event.
  - Players of all genders can participate in the event.

Female Competition
StarCraft®II: Heart of the Swarm®
  - Female event is conducted separately, in parallel with “Open for All” event.
Tekken Tag Tournament 2

  - Female event is conducted separately, in parallel with “Open for All” event.

By Jamaal Ryan

As we’ve seen in past controversies concerning gender inequality in gaming, they range from misrepresentation – or no representation at all – to unjustifiable exclusions as well as sexual harassment in the work place. But the Hearthstone tournaments that will be held at the Assembly Summer 2014 by the International e-Sport Federation (IeSF) in November fully excludes female participation, gating it as a “male only competition”.

Initially defending the segregation, Assembly head Markus "Olodyn" Koskivirta issued a statement to PC Gamer, commenting that, “"In accordance with the International e-Sports Federation's (IeSF) tournament regulations, since the main tournament event is open to male players only. This is to avoid possible conflicts (e.g. a female player eliminating a male player during RO8) among other things."

Before you flip in a what-the-fuck fit, Koskivirta’s statements could have used some elaboration. If women competed in IeSF tournaments, they wouldn’t be eligible for Championship finals. Does it make it any better? Fuck no.

But in defense of their tournament regulations, IeSF attempted to justify them as follows:

"1 - promoting female players. We know that e-Sports is largely dominated by male players and females players are actually a portion of the overall player base. By hosting a female-only competition, we strive to promote female gaming on a global scale.
"2 - International standards. IeSF is very close to get e-Sports recognized as a true sports like it should be. Part of that efforts is to comply with the international sports regulations. For example, chess is also divided into male / female leagues."
These reasons are unsubstantiated, as while there are female only leagues, they don’t exclude female competitors from being matched up against male contestants. In addition, there seems to be an ulterior motive in becoming recognized as an international sport that could churn more funding, better recognition, etc, because all in all, splitting genders in video game competitions makes no sense.

Though there are undoubtedly female athletes that can, and have, outclassed their male counterparts, it’s understandable that if both genders were mixed in the same league, there would be a disproportionate disadvantage when matching up different genders in a physical sport. But Dota 2,  Hearthstone, Ultra Street Fighter IV – each held as male only competitions by the IeSF – and fuckin video games for that matter don’t lend themselves to gender differences like athletic sports do.

In addition, a Facebook commenter highlighted that this decision is seemingly in conflict with Article 5 of their statutes:

Article 5: Non Discrimination and Promoting Female Participation
1.       The Practice of e-Sport is a fundamental right for all.
2.       All parties related to IeSF’s events including its Members and partners shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women, and to promote and elevate the participation of female players in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of women and men, the same rights, in particular, to participate in recreation, leisure and sports activities and all aspects of cultural life.
3.       Discrimination of any kind against lineage, gender, religion, politics, individual, organization or any reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.

Each of the IeSF’s excuses sink faster than a cinder block strapped to two anvils. Video games aren’t sports in which males have any hormonal advantage over females, other female-only competitions don’t disqualify females from jumping into male dominated competitions, and the IeSF’s decisions look to contradict their very own standards. These segregations look more to be efforts towards international “recognition” rather than table setting for future female representation as they claim

In the meantime, I encourage you to begin your own Hearthstone tournaments, or join this one


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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Reviewed by: Jamaal Ryan
Dark Souls embodies a teaching method of old, sending students into the wilderness stripped and fully exposed to the elements like the Spartans seen in the movie 300. Dark Souls is a “do it again” instructor, delivering a swift and lethal “thwack” to the back of your head every time you slip.
Not everyone will pass; and like me, some of you will go home.
But I’ve learned that Dark Souls is relentless, it’s brutal, and above all else, it’s intoxicating. Read more.