By Jamaal Ryan

After virtual reality had a prominent presence at this year’s GDC, this vehicle for entertainment was elevated in the technology space with Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of Oculus last week. Negative reactions were in high supply from “creeped out” developers, to gaming cynics, to Oculus Rift’s very own Kickstarter backers.

It’s insensitive to dismissively wave away the attitudes of backers given their relationship to the Oculus Rift. With all the technological advancements in the medium of interactive entertainment, virtual reality has never really come to fruition before Oculus. The company made a promise that it would be the first to commercialize the technology, and construct it to be THE immersive experience everyone had wished it to be. Turning to consumers for financial support for the project inadveredly created a powerful relationship, making each individual backer integral to the development of the Rift from concept to functioning tangible hardware. That $2.4 million generated from the community all of a sudden feels insignificant in the light of a $2 billion dollar offer from a single company.

I get it. It’s upsetting.

But after hearing that Oculus and family members of those that work for the company have been inflicted with a series of death threats, it, a. Reminds me that there are assholes on the internet; and, b. That falling back on issuing death threats has become the default reaction to anything that upsets the gaming community.

The saddest part of this is that in hindsight, there’s little justification to be angry over Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus. Does it fully justify concern? Yes, but not anger.

Oculus fulfilled everything they set out to do with its Kickstarter pledges. Nothing less, nothing more. The mentality among some in the backer community assume that Oculus owes them something as if their pledge was some sort of investment. Mo Koyfman of Spark Capital stated that, “they wanted to try it, wanted to experience it, wanted to see it. They got exactly what they bargained for."

Oculus was well aware that their acquisition was going to upset many people, “We expected a negative reaction from people in the short term,” says founder Palmer Luckey. “We did not expect to be getting so many death threats and harassing phone call that extended to our families. We know we will prove ourselves with actions and not words, but this kind of shit is unwarranted, especially since it is impacting people who have nothing to do with Oculus.”

Entitlement and death threats both seem to be an all too common practice and attitude in the gaming community. It’s toxic, it’s dangerous, and most of all, it’s surprisingly ineffective.

So cut it the fuck out. 


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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

GDC in some ways is a more valuable conference than say your E3es and PAXes. While there might not be much in the light of new game announcements (though this year, we got a chance to see games like FramedDouble Fine’s Hack n’ SlashMonument Valley, and Among the Sleep), GDC gives developers a platform to address all things game design, game development culture, along with tools and platforms that will become integral parts of the industry’s future.


VR was arguably the most prominent hardware theme at GDC this year. Until last week’s conference, the Oculus Rift stood as the primary (practically solitary) piece of hardware representing the modern day concept of “virtual reality”. And Oculus continued to impressed users at GDC with its Dev Kit 2 which boasts increased display specs (900x1080 for both eyes on an OLED panel), decreased motion blur, and an external camera to detect positional tracking.

But simply based on pure novelty, Sony’s Project Morpheus was THE VR device to talk about last week.

Though with some immersion breaking nicks such as some light bleed at the bottom of the device and narrower field of vision, Project Morpheus was said to hold a near comparable VR experience next to the Rift. Morpheus hit the ground running with positional tracking already built into the core experience thanks to the TRON like lights that line the device as well as the Playstation Eye, and Move integration finally gives the motion control device a purpose. Motion control and VR have existed separately in many respects up until now; either you used three dimensional movements for a 2D display, or used traditional button inputs for a 3D display. But being Morpheus’ compatibility with Move bridges that encompassing immersion at a seal, we can look forward to full somatic and sensory virtual gaming experiences.

Other VR hardware and peripherals were showcased at GDC as well, including: the Cortex, Seebright, and the Omni Treadmill peripheral.

But today, we can’t discuss virtual reality without mentioning Facebook.

Yesterday, Facebook helped me release my bowels when they announced their acquisition of Oculus Rift for $2 Billion.

“Holy shit” was indeed the correct and unanimous response. Whether you’re naturally cynical or even a bit of an optimist, the wave of concern was unavoidable. From the “big fish eats little fish” analogy to Facebook’s frighteningly expanding empire, Facebook’s “infringement” in the virtual reality market is, quite frankly, “creepy” as Minecraft’s Notch put it who pulled their game from Oculus support along with other developers putting their projects on hold.

But creepy doesn’t necessarily mean a bad thing.

The monetary benefits of Facebook’s acquisition is undeniable; Oculus will have far more resources than they had as a project originally funded by Kickstarter (I’m truly sorry backers), and the financial costs –  according to Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe – will in the end make Oculus cheaper for consumers. Secondly, if we were to take Mark Zuckerberg’s claims in that Facebook will not infringe upon Oculus’ direction, how this device will be used will be an in-addition-to, and not in-place-of when it comes to games. Many have already imagined the Second Life/Playstation Home simulators where people enter virtual worlds where they interact with one another. The fact of the matter is Oculus is bound to have a plethora of uses outside of gaming.

Sounds familiar? That’s because Sony’s President of Worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida claimed vision for Morpheus is quite similar. After Morpheus’ announcement, Oculus cofounder Palmer Luckey stated that Sony’s Morpheus was a “good thing”, and was looking forward to having other VR devices that doesn’t suck. Being that the two devices aren’t in direct competition, they’ll more work as inspirations for one another.

Oculus is clearly at the head of the game when it comes to virtual reality, and with such a led in potential, hopefully this will lift the VR market as a whole. 

This concludes a look back at GDC 2014. Thanks for reading.


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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

GDC in some ways is a more valuable conference than say your E3es and PAXes. While there might not be much in the light of new game announcements (though this year, we got a chance to see games like FramedDouble Fine’s Hack n’ SlashMonument Valley, and Among the Sleep), GDC gives developers a platform to address all things game design, game development culture, along with tools and platforms that will become integral parts of the industry’s future.


Gender issues was highly recognized at this year’s GDC as well. In referencing the very public shameful incident involving IndieStatik’s Josh Mattingly, developer Brenda Romero discussed her very own run-in with sexual harassment, “He moved his coat from his lap and there it was," she spoke, describing meeting with a developer that she admired who revealed an erection under his pants.

In another talk, Storm8’s senior game designer Elizabeth Sampat gave an impassionate speech on the male culture in development studios. It was a rare focus, looking at the attitudes of male colleagues outside of sexual discomfort, “…if somebody didn't laugh at your stupid Magic the Gathering joke or didn't seem excited enough when you mentioned the company fantasy football league, get over it."

It was indeed a point of view that needed to be heard. Many women in the industry have trouble communicating their grievances if their mistreatment isn’t blatant sexism or sexual harassment. The simple look, change in subject, or social exclusion that put women in uncomfortable positions to force an identity, remain withdrawn, or find work somewhere else are issues that aren’t easy to address.

Both women point out the double edged sword that is women discrimination in game development, highlighting both the sexual objectification alongside the “not one of us” sort of mentality.

Equally a winner at GDC was Anita Sarkeesian as she earned an Ambassador Award for her work on Feminist Frequency with the Tropes vs. Women series which offer excellent sociological dissection of women’s mis/non-representation in video games.


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Monday, March 24, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

GDC in some ways is a more valuable conference than say your E3es and PAXes. While there might not be much in the light of new game announcements (though this year, we got a chance to see games like Framed, Double Fine’s Hack n’ Slash, Monument Valley, and Among the Sleep), GDC gives developers a platform to address all things game design, game development culture, along with tools and platforms that will become integral parts of the industry’s future.


Easily one of the most talked about topics at GDC this year revolved around different methods on how to deliver story in games. There has been much criticism in the way of storytelling at this year’s GDC from the traditional 3 act structure, to how narrative delivery is often separate from the game itself.

Fictional Games’ creative director Thomas Grip highlighted the importance of designing games along the writing of the narrative itself. Far too many games we’ve seen are designed where the game mechanics and sequencing are built prior to the story itself, or at least the two facets are built separately. For those familiar with Fictional’s previous games: Amnesia and Penumbra, the actions in which the player engages in are directly related to the narrative itself. Some games go in the completely opposite direction of gameplay vs. narrative such as Liz Ryerson’s Dys4ia, an autobiographical game that narrates her hormonal replacement therapy that has the player engage in metaphorical mechanics that represent the message that’s being conveyed.

Microsoft Game Studios designer Richard Rouse III discussed how games such as Uncharted 2, while well received, adhered to a beginning, a heavy middle, and an end, other titles such as The Walking Dead, and even The Last of Us benefit from piecemeal style storytelling. Whereas TWD was delivered episodically, The Last of Us was segmented into seasons, making the story more digestible.

This common trend of a 3 act structure might explain why gamers tend not to remember story as much as they do characters. In the same talk, they explained how players typically are more capable of describing in detail the characters and the gameplay than they are able to describe the story’s plot. This is likely due to both the traditionalized story structure as well as being overshadowed by what’s holding the gamer’s attention the most, the avatar (character) and the gameplay.

Tracey Fullerton, director of UGC Game Lab, highlights this concept of narrative focus when discussing what happened when she was presented with early builds of Cloud before that team went off to form thatgamecompany. Fullerton described her reaction after looking at the original concept of the game which attempted to tell a story about a boy from Jupiter, “It was much more detailed than this and when it was presented I kind of rolled my eyes at all of this and said, ‘Why don't we forget about this and focus on the mechanics.’”

While there was great emphasis on pulling back from bloated, traditional storytelling, others focused on how crucial NPC dialogue with players is in driving a story forward, and the potential on how NPCs can shape narrative organically. Zombie Cat Studios’ Sheri Graner Ray stated that, “Conversations are a hallmark of story-driven game and adventure games. They are there to keep the player involved, to keep the story moving." Though that’s a given, she also emphasized that only a single piece of information should will prompt the player to move forward.

Bioshock’s Ken Levine described the concept of “narrative legos” before, but at GDC, he added more to the idea. Levine fits his description within the context of an RPG where players will interact with different NPCs that have different preferences, allegiances, and emotional investments. A character might help you if you murder a particular creed, or they might murder you if you befriend one among them.

To be quite frank, this concept has little difference than from what’s demonstrated in modern games such as Dragon Age, Fallout, and even non-RPGs such as Infamous. Linear narratives realize this more naturally than most like Telltale’s The Walking Dead and Quantic Dream’s (better game this gen) Heavy Rain. However Ken’s idea seems to include compelling and meaningful interactions with even the most pedestrian NPCs we typically run into in games.

Thanks Polygon

Writer’s Note: I’ve decided that this piece will be broken up into multiple parts being that plenty of topics were discussed at this year’s GDC. Look forward to reactions to other GDC topics within the week. 

Second Son starts off the PlayStation 4’s exclusive business with a bang. After taking a break and coming back to Infamous I do have to say that it is pure eye candy for a console. This adventure does not lack a pretty architecture to roam about. Each revisit to the city makes you appreciate what is there for you especially once you've laid the smack down on any opposing forces in your way. If I were to offer my critique it would be in the overall department of real-time lighting. I cannot decide if Suckerpunch’s creative direction with their lighting is due to ease their workload, budget constraints, or a genuine preference. Therefore I have no problem complimenting the special effects lighting, but in the same expression frown upon the environment’s lighting. The contrasts of silhouetted blacks stylistic flair wasn’t enough for me to say that the game looked better due to the choice.  When slowing down the action and just walking around there were some great visuals that’s were missed due to the lack of real time lighting.  The opportunities are also lost once you complete the story. A cloud less skyline of Seattle, Washington may be Suckerpunch’s dream, but not my own. No variable weather or even noticeable weather patterns for that region may strike Seattleites as unreal just the same as it should gamers. While I point this out I am not against Second Son’s visual completely. The presentation was pulled off well from the toys they decided to play with in the lighting department. The critiques only come from when you slow down and not play like you are a psychopath with special powers on the loose.

When it comes to controls just like the dual shock 4 controller I’ll say they fit damn near perfectly. The control you have over the main character Delvin, Dustin, no wait Delsin is spot on for the most part. A few times in “boss” battles I felt the system was gaming me and he was a little less responsive, but we all know bosses always cheat, right? From the first time you are given full reign of the character you feel very much in control. That natural flow to maneuvering like a superhero only increases as you traverse Second Son’s story. Control department has no issues in this game. Even the dual shocks use of the touchpad was welcomed, and the spray can aspect of this was enjoyable with the added sound effects of the DS4’s speaker function.

Special effect sounds were fantastic and completely work with the visuals, but the voice dialog to me seemed off at certain points in the game. Maybe because the tracks played from a constant position rather than actually implementing directional sound. So sometimes when talking to or shouting at characters the audio tracks played the same as they were recorded. With little acknowledgement of where characters were actually standing from each other in the world. A bit annoying but not game breaking, just immersion breaking at times.  

This is were I was conflicted, the story motivated me enough to progress to the end of the plot quickly. I however think this was motivation from progressing my characters powers, and the ease of collecting the items thought out the city to do so.  These factors make players push through the story at a pace that shortens the experience of Second Son’s plotline. From my evil play though I can pretty much determine I am not missing out on much from the “good” storyline. Some alterations of powers here and there, and some story attributes zigging instead of zagging. With that piece of analysis aside Infamous Second Son’s story was fun, to the point, and a pleasure to beat in a short time [on normal].

The replayability will come from trophy hunting and the expert setting not from revisiting the quick story cut scene segments.  However once completing the initial story flowing thru the cityscape has no replayability. The forces out to stop you are not enough to keep the action up once you rid the districts of the D.U.P. henchmen. You’ll be but a wildfire with nothing to set ablaze after you complete the campaign. I have yet to start the “5-hours” of added campaign with the added paper trail missions due to being forced to go to an external website, which by the way I fucking hate in video games. If Second Son offers a DLC with a completely new storyline I would buy it and revisit the game, but for now it will be just a redo of a the same gauntlet with harder difficulty, so original.  


Suckerpunch puts the Havoks engine to good use with this title. From the competition aspect between the two camps they put the pressure on Microsoft and their Crackdown project seeing that both use the same engine.  Fans of the Infamous series should be fairly satisfied with this entry it brings a quality that beats the expectation of skeptics. The implementation of the characters abilities was very well crafted, and without giving away spoilers they compliment each other very well. I’d give Infamous Second Son a Seven out of Ten points. 


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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

The strategy of “don’t feed the trolls” only works to a certain extent within a certain capacity.

Online forums where there’s a community presence is a standard cesspool for internet shit talkers. A few weeks ago on IGN, I commented on an article that discussed the unknown quality of Eastern European narrative elaborating my experience playing The Witcher 2. Somehow someone took offense to that, pointing out the Killzone franchise and its subpar storytelling and how out of touch with reality they thought I was. I could have very easily belittled their logic, highlighting the fact that they were only able to call attention to a single game while there are countless game narratives from other cultures that are unequivocally poor as many are fantastic, but where would that conversation have gone? Nowhere but a volley of mindless and potentially increasingly hateful banter. So what did I do? I ignored the troll. Problem solved.

Developers are in a very different boat. They don’t have the advantage of being able to hide under the 500 posts on a comments section. Their popularity, particularly for faces of games such as Zoe Quinn, has staying power. You can’t remember nor likely would you be able to find the shit head who said that PC gaming is for frumpy degenerates who “don’t get any ass” or are “acne ridden and fat”, but type in the letters Phil F… and Google will auto correct the rest.  

As an internet known developer, you’re the sole target. And being a face in such a sensitive and maturing industry can open you up to far more than some superficial insults on a thread. Zoe Quinn, known for her and her small team’s work on Depression Quest, might have wished that her online harassment was only reserved for isolated online venting. She’s received death threats and sexual harassment via phone, both in which can be traumatizing or trigger past trauma experience. Batting an eye then becomes as useless as attempting to douse a burning building with an ice cube.

Like all good advice to those experiencing emotional distraught from emotional abuse, Quinn emphasizes taking care of yourself. She discusses strategies like: using a form of metaphorical venting in taking a bank filled with glitter and smashing into bits for physical release; reading the most horrible messages in funny voices with a friend for uplifting social support; and helping others which elicits the antithetical feeling of being worthless as per hateful messaging, only then to receive gratitude for helping other people.

She also speaks about pushing back. Though I’m not quite clear as to how, going public seems to be an effective way of doing so. Just me writing about this is a product of public expression. It gets journalists, story seekers and bloggers to spread the word of internet abuse by humanizing its victims, and carries the message that “this ain’t fucking cool.”

The theme in how devs can cope is reaching out, whether that’s to a friend, a gaming publication, or even through volunteer work. Sharing your woes with a social support system is unquestionably healthy, especially when doing it in creative ways. Going public in a non-adversarial manner sheds light onto offenders and forces them into hiding. And remember, you’re always appreciated, being gentle and caring for others proves just that.

Thanks: Polygon 

By Ryan Michael Williams

I am going to tell you what I like most about Metal Gear first, Kojima! This man’s production is going to be the closest you can get to a unified direction in a video game. This is not discrediting his loyal team at Kojima productions. They proudly work under Hideo Kojima with faith in a great leader and his direction. Beautifully their work comes together in a preview of the Fox Engine, and this prologue to the Phantom Pain in Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes.

Hideo Kojima’s move with MGS: Ground Zeroes is exactly the type of support I can give a video game producer. It’s a no bullshit concept, Hideo Kojima clearly laid out exactly what the game was well before the much anticipated release. If you purchased this game and did not know what you were getting into beforehand then you need to read a little more often. When speaking to colleagues about the release of this game and its price point. I found myself fighting against the beasts that current day gaming has created.

When you look at Ground Zeroes and know that you are initial supporting the production of the bigger picture as a Metal gear fan how can you be disappointed? I’d much rather this particular option when a game needs support while in development. To me this tactic is much better than “collector editions”, day one DLC, and the segregated pre-order bonus. Kojima clearly explained what the game was and would be. Kojima generously described Ground Zeroes as a game for the fans. For myself as a fan I am happy with the purchase and the experience, and of course cannot wait for the full on Phantom Pain. 

Now my critique comes with the previous viewpoint, and the understanding of exactly what I purchased. My experience with MGS: GZ had very few downsides, but nothing in this day in age is perfect. When moving with bodies over Big Boss’ shoulders one can see some corner cutting on the animations interactions. The two models flow through one another which I was disappointed in the fact details like this were overlooked in the release process. Secondly Kiefer Sutherland’s voice is just not the same as David Hayter’s. Hayter is exactly that familiar voice i’ll forever miss from this series. The voice acting isn't bad at all but I just need him to put more feeling into his next lines. Third is the length of this title, and that is not a negative thing in my book. I knew what it was going to be from the jump, bravo Kojima I now want MGS: V more than ever. With this sample Hideo is going to have fiends at his doorstep asking for more. So lets hope the wait doesn't stretch into 2016.

By Jamaal Ryan

The Oculus Rift was always a distant thing for me. Reserved for early adopters and busy developers, the Oculus Rift was even more foreign to me than PC gaming, an elaborate work in progress that I may get my hands on sometime in the distant future.

Somehow, the rumors of Sony’s VR project didn’t quite grab me. Perhaps I associated it too close to the Rift, or categorized it next to other forgotten concepts such as Microsoft’s IllumiRoom. But here we are, first introduced to Project Morpheus for the Playstation 4.

Properly aiming for the complete VR experience, Sony’s Morpheus looks to emulate immersive sight, positional sound, and tracking. Sony doesn’t stop there however, as they’re also looking into how Morpheus will be integrated with the Playstation 4’s accessories; that being the Playstation Move and the Eye.

This is a fascinating thought, giving players the tools to extend the VR immersion to a more somatic experience. “Silly” camera games could be more meaningful as you look left, right, up, and down while reaching into your virtual world through the Playstation Eye, or perhaps sinking into a more invested experience with the Move’s motion control supported by button inputs. The possibilities extend to a new second-coming-generation beyond a high-end PC-esque/interconnected console era.

Though Sony’s vision of Project Morpheus reaches outside of gaming as well, as a gamer, this is the most exciting news I’ll possibly hear all year as Sony is the perfect company to be heading such a project in this industry. Shuhei Yoshida and Sony’s aggressive call for indie developers has presented itself weekly, with new games constantly being announced for their platforms. It’s almost mathematically expected that developers who are working on the Oculus’ tech are now looking to bring their content to Morpheus. In fact, EVEValkyrie – previously announced exclusively for the Oculus Rift – will also support the Morpheus as well

This not only gives way to games like Ciess and Virtual Internet Hacker, but also potentially to projects like BeAnotherLab’s works and concepts like Nevermind.

Today, gaming just got a whole lot brighter.
By Ryan Michael Williams

If your favorite beer changed its formula to match the highest grossing brand in its category, would you still buy it? Many people answer yes to this question and my follow up question would be why? To me the simulations games market is there for people to find their favorite flavor of simulation. Rollercoaster Tycoon was a fine pour of simulation meets arcade styled visuals with a fine depth of flavor under the hood. The length of enjoyment you could get from a Roller Coaster Tycoon game made by Chris Sawyer was and is almost endless. So why would the bastards at Atari choose to go mobile freemium on this title, because idiots keep buying their favorite products under a different formula.
Even the "fans" are shitting on this game's Facebook

With the freemium game market it’s almost as if a player who downloads a free game equates to a sell to these dev. /pubs. If a game that is free to download has a million users can that be deemed a commercially successful product? The metric hardly works out with every one of that million becoming a paid subscriber or capital injecting member of the community. How I view the freemium metrics is the top 1% pays for the game the other 99% just live there in the cracks of a broken model. Even at the low end price mark we just see consumers buy the game play once and forget about. Which in that case is a plus for games supported online. Customer acquisition at the freemium level is literally passed on to the top 1% of contributors.
This is what Roller Coaster Tycoon 4 should have looked like

The travesty of this beloved series is that they really chose the damn mobile platform as the vehicle. I don’t ever recall playing a game on my mobile or tablet for hours on end. Mainly because battery life is shit on these devices, and then on mobile I am usually interrupted by calls/texts. Sadly the older Roller Coaster Tycoon games were not online data mines. If they were Atari would see that the average user on RCT spends hours in a single sitting not the 15-30mins more in line with mobile gaming. No metrics for player time with Roller coaster Tycoon lead them to this bad decision. Even if they pull metrics from this mobile endeavor for a Roller Coaster Tycoon 5/s. The data will be incorrect because mobile gaming habits do not equate to PC gamer’s habits.

Wrong for players, wrong for data, and just plain wrong for the Franchise. I’d strongly urge against even test driving the new Roller coaster Tycoon 4 mobile game. This exact type of cashing in on a franchise name and fan base is what gamers need to stand together on. There has been no mention of there be a PC equivalent to match this mobile game, and trust me from what I have seen you’d wouldn't want this trash. From the screen caps you can already tell so many negatives about this game to list them would be another wall of text to disappoint. Fire up your old Tycoon’s by Chris Sawyer and realize you played the game at the maximum height the tracks could go.


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Thursday, March 13, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

This is the closest I’ve been to tears over a video game.

Ryan Green, along with John Larson, set out to develop ThatDragon,Cancer, a game about Ryan Green’s experience with his 5 year old son, Joel, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It’s a game that’s set to release on Ouya (quite the platform now, also seeing the release of Thralled) where Green believes that it’ll be appropriate for a “couch experience” and set the tone to evoke discussion about dealing with cancer.

Yesterday, Green’s wife wrote about their trip to Children’s Hospital in San Francisco and beginning the bereavement process with only expecting one week for Joel to live.

Today, 5 year old Joel has died.

In loving memory of Joel.

By Jamaal Ryan

Last week, The Last of Us movie was announced, said to be penned by Neil Druckmann and produced by Sam Rami’s Ghost House Pictures. I expressed my conflicted reaction to the announcement, stating that while hearing that the creative director of the original game wearing a similar hat for the film is the best news anyone can hear about a video game adaptation in a film, its significance could be diminished because The Last of Us is a memorable game, maybe not so easily a memorable movie.

But hearing today that The Last of Us film will stick to the plot of the game concerns me even more.

For fans of the game such as myself, it’ll be tough to keep images of the game from clashing with the movie itself. Joel likely won’t sound or look the same, neither would Ellie, Tess, Henry, or Sam. Unlike books, and even in some cases with comic books, visualizing the roles is mostly, if not completely, left to the imagination of the viewer. In The Last of Us, we know exactly what they look like.

It also removes much of the potential tension the movie could withhold. Personally, following Joel and Ellie’s story again is a missed opportunity as not only The Last of Us builds a world that can easily tell so many different stories, but we’ve read and heard much of these stories ourselves. Before Left Behind’s reveal, many assumed that the story DLC would follow Ish and his struggle for survival, or the Henry and Sam pair before they met up with Joel and Ellie. It would have been nice to at least see a story that we haven’t seen before.

Optimistically however, that doesn’t mean that the film won’t expand on some of the breadcrumbs. The movie adaptation can be inclusive in allowing us to see some of the very stories that we missed, perhaps give us a look into American Dreams, exactly why Marlene was looking after Ellie, or even move beyond the ending to the game itself. There are still many ideas, but I can’t get away from how they’ll be anchored to the context of a story that was already told.

Neil and his team are clearly thinking carefully about this, "As far as where we go and how we make it fit into a film, how it takes into account the unique properties of film... We’re not sure yet. We’re only just scratching the surface."

We won’t know what he means for this for quite some time, maybe not even this year; but I just hope that this doesn’t turn out to be the same movie that I saw watching all of The Last of Us’ cutscenes back to back. 


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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

I almost envy those who were exposed to Titanfall for the first time today. I had no intention of even bothering to pursuit beta keys to get an early look at the game until the beta went public. Much of the novelty of Titanfall’s evolutionary multiplayer washed past me as different aspects of its design caught my attention.

One of which was how Titanfall handles story.

I can’t give Titanfall’s scripted narrative a whole lot of credit. It feels very familiar in that it’s what you’d expect from a story of a militia resistance battling against a well established military force. Corny one-liners, unintentionally yet well broadcasted twists, it’s your run-of-the-mill video game story. What did hold my attention however was how their decision to have it intertwined with the multiplayer and how it allows us to get past all the Call of Duty bullshit and bring us to what we’re really playing these games for.

Respawn finds every opportunity to drip its narrative without getting in our way of us diving into the shit. Leaders lay down their heavy handed broadcasts in match lobby screens, the story manages to squeeze a little bit of narrative in the few seconds you’re in the drop ship, and then in game events offer a bit of storytelling flow as you progress through a multiplayer match. Scripted set pieces are very rare, but when they do appear, they are delivered with such unappreciated precision that they hardly give you a chance to say, “That was kinda awesome” before you’re gunning full sprint into battle.

They are rare not only because they do a fantastic job of staying out of your way, but such directed sequences are unnecessary because Titanfall’s matches are procedurally generated set pieces in and of themselves.

Playing through Titanfall’s campaign also gave me a chance to appreciate Hardpoint, a mode in which hadn’t exposed its full potential in the beta due to both what players were comfortable playing and how players were comfortable playing. Directing players to different points of the map allows for a level of appreciation and mastery of Titanfall’s mobile design that Attrition simply doesn’t. Hardpoint challenges you to read the maps in a way that don’t just smash you up against your opponents. How can I get from Alpha to Bravo in the shortest space of time? Where can I enter to capture this point? Through the front door, or the ceiling?

My experience with Titanfall was unlike any other multiplayer shooter not just because I ran along walls and over roof tops and frequently jumped into robots, but the un-intrusive story gave me the chance to see how Titanfall’s mechanics work within the context of other game modes, and how unfamiliar and liberating that can be. 

Reviewed by: Jamaal Ryan

As I dance down the playfully colored suburban town as a Sunflower with a peddle to peddle grin on her face, I encounter a band of fowl looking zombies that emerge from a purple plume of miasma. Two more equally happy looking Sunflowers then join my side.

One rooted themselves in the ground, laying down a devastating sunbeam while the other offered cover fire just as they attached a heal beam to the other to sustain their health. I drop a sunflower pot in front of us that spat up handfuls of healing sun drops with my heal beam attached to it, firing upon all hostile zombies alongside my sunflower sister-en.

We were an unstoppable force of sunshine.

Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is one of the most interesting titles EA has allowed since the likes of Brutal Legend and Bulletstorm. PopCap has taken their beloved mobile tower defense hit and turned it into a gorgeous, well executed class based shooter.

All the charm and quirkiness that PVZ is known for is well presented in Garden Warfare. Crazy Dave's CRAAAZY giber-jabber is still perfectly nonsensical, and all the adorable little plants and zombie sprites are now rendered in crisp full 3D models. From the furled individual peddles on the sunflower's always smiling face to grumpy frown under the Ice-shroom's ice crystal crown, though available on 360, next to Killzone: Shadow Fall, Garden Warfare is arguably the best looking next gen release to date if you have an Xbox One.

Garden Warfare is a pleasant surprise in many ways; among its pleasantries is seeing how capable PopCap is as a competitive shooter studio. There is a different type of satisfaction that comes from hitting targets from just painting your enemies with the cursor to ensure ballistic contact; many of the class's weapons have a Ratchet and Clank like nuance to them that encourage you to point and shoot in different ways. Classes like the Foot Soldier and the Scientist hold more traditional assault rifle and shotgun weapon types. Others require a different understanding however. The Peashooter's Pea Cannon is slow, but rewards reduced splash damage, and the Engineer's explosive Concrete Gun fires at an arch making him adaptable in firefights in various distances, elevations, and engagement around and over cover.

Hardly anyone's safe from the Engineer.

Garden Warfare is also one of the few games that give console players a taste of a back-to-basics class driven third person shooter. Think of it as Team Fortress meets Loadout skinned as PVZ. It's one that's free from the stop and pop pacing of cover based shooters that populated consoles for the entirety of this most recent generation since the dawn of Gears of War. Garden Warfare is as familiar as it is new, with inspirations of old that's re-evaluated for a new era of hardware.

Garden Warfare's biggest accomplishment comes from its complex design that couldn't be easier to understand. It doesn't take long to get a handle on how each of the 8 classes work thanks to brief video tutorials introduced early on after a few short sessions. While the Foot Soldier functions much like your traditional Battlefield assault class with its automatic Assault Blaster and explosive "ZPG", playing as the Chomper feels most like a stealth game where its deadly attacks from behind and below make up for its lack of ranged capabilities.

Taking on the role of each of these endearing characters is quite simple: you wield one primary weapon with unlimited ammo alongside three rechargeable abilities. But how they interact is effectively adaptable so long as you play as a team. A party of Sunflowers is a formidable organization, but up against All-Stars who can erect Dummy Shields and offer heavy suppressive fire, and Scientists that can drop Heal Stations, there's no "A-Team" in Garden Warfare, just several highly efficient ones.

Happiness likes company.

Garden Warfare's modes are few in quantity. But Garden Ops, Team Vanquish, and Gardens and Graveyards smartly cover its bases by offering co-op, TDM, and objective based match types. Garden Ops is what you imagined Plants vs Zombies would be as a shooter. Four plants face off against 10 waves of increasingly challenging zombies while defending a precious garden. Planting potted helpers around the maps akin to the original games and beefing up defensive strategies against zombie boss rounds is a well-designed, and surprisingly difficult-at-times affair.

Though Garden Ops makes the most sense for the Plants vs Zombies franchise, it’s only after playing Gardens and Graveyards where Garden Warfare makes the most sense. In this competitive match type, plants maintain their defensive role while zombies attempt to make their way and gain control of seven progressively plant defended locations across the entire map. Think of it as a tighter, more focused version of Battlefield's Rush mode.

Every class is at their prime in Gardens and Graveyards, but this mode lives and dies by the Zombie's Engineer. As zombies continue on the offense, it’s the Engineer's job to build preset portals -- which can be guarded by protective turrets -- that allow their efforts to be streamlined as they can then teleport closer to the plants' guarded garden. The plants can prevent this however by attacking the portals or ensuring that the Engineers don't get to it.

These two center pieces, fighting over portals and gardens, exist in a battle on a much larger scale. Just as plants can place their defensive horticulture, zombies can summon lower grade undead to advance upon defended gardens. These massive battles are then bookended in epic conclusions if the zombies manage to push all the way to the end. The objectives shift from defend and occupy to much more intense standoffs. Bringing down light houses and planting explosive charges in a reactor are among these finales. My favorite pushes the zombies up an elongated courtyard as they dodge giant tumbling almonds as they roll downhill with intent to enter a mansion to claim victory. The payoff is only in favor of one side, but it's a rewarding way to end a match nonetheless.

At all costs.

While Gardens & Graveyards, and even Garden Ops to a degree, is as defining to Garden Warfare as Conquest is to Battlefield, I found little value in playing Team Vanquish outside of using it as a testing ground for new character acquisitions as well as a platform to complete challenges. Team Vanquish just doesn't seem to fit the roles and the balancing of the two factions as well as the other two modes. It's here where the Plants' advantages become more apparent. The Cactus is the most powerful at long range, the Chomper is the deadliest up close, the Sunflower is the most efficient medic, and the Peashooter holds the most devastating explosive. A well-coordinated team of plants can easily have an edge on a team of zombies, which might explain why nearly 80% of the Team Vanquish matches I played ended up with Plants coming out on top. They weren't all landslides; in fact many of them were close games, however the disproportionate ratios can't be a coincidence.

EA's micro-transaction inspired booster pack model finds its way into Garden Warfare. Skins, cosmetic accessories, parts for unlockable class variants, and consumables are hidden in sticker packs whose contents won't be revealed until you purchase them with coins that are directly tied to your score. And while I've been very much against this gambler's-chance model, it fits reasonably well within the context of Garden Warfare's design. PZV doesn't fall into the pits of gating away game changing unlockables in these sticker packs. For example, you'll never have to worry about waiting to find the Engineer's Zombot Drone and the Cactus's Garlic Drone in a sticker pack. All character abilities and most of the action you see on screen are available shortly after only leveling up each character a few times.

What you will have to hold out for in sticker packs are various weapon types that come from alternate costumes, and weapon customizables that do things like that alter firing rate and ammo capacity. Waiting for these can be a nuisance, but sticker unlocks almost never give any player the edge, allowing even the most stripped down character to be capable against all class variants.


Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare simultaneously elicits the question "Who is this for?" while allowing anyone that plays it to respond to it in a "I’m glad this was made" manner. Don't let the pleasingly bold, bright, and expressive visuals fool you; PVZ Garden Warfare is a highly sophisticated shooter. Had this game been released last year, it would have been my favorite shooter of 2013. 

+ Enriching visuals
+ Strong and simple class based dynamics
+ Gardens and Graveyards
- Some annoyances with the sticker pack model
- Team Vanquish the weakest of the three modes


By Jamaal Ryan

Color me ignorant, but it pleases me to hear how supportive technology educators, industry men/women, and major games publishers have been to the increased presence of underrepresented groups in game’s industry.

Polygon’s Emily Gera wrote an excellent piece today covering how educators in the STEM field and game developers find how damaging the absence of women in game development is to this thriving art form.

"Far too often, the image of the tech industry insider is a white guy in a hoody."

MIT GameLab studio manager Rik Eberhardt talks about the lack of diversity in game studios and game studio representatives. “I can't remember the last time a technology representative from a company on a news program (either the morning programs like Today or on a specialty program) I watched was a woman."

In a similar point, indie developer Mike Bithell discusses how the imbalance in demographics have painted an all too common image for the industry, “You look around studios, and they are a tiny minority, more so in older studios. It's weird how much this has informed the image in my head of what the entertainment industry is like."

Constructing a level playing field regardless of gender and ethnicity has grown throughout the history of education, from encouraging young girls to learn math and science to modernizing text books within urban schools. Music producer Elana Siegman describes her path in pursuing her creative endeavors on her own away from socialized gender expectations, “Eventually I gravitated to creative endeavors where I had some encouragement to be trained (music and acting mainly), and then fell into technology by training myself how to make websites. I gravitated toward grass roots circles of female web development — I had been inspired by the riot grrl movement in high school, and found communities like webgrrls by accident. Through that, I met lots of geeks who were gamers in that realm, and eventually realized that the game industry was the perfect place for me. It never occurred to me to pursue a computer science degree or to learn about the technical aspects of art, I dove in and became self-taught, which was all the rage at the time!"

EA, who’s gotten a lot of shit and formally awarded the worst company in America two years in a row, doesn’t get the attention it deserved in its grass roots efforts (nor does Peter Moore get enough credit for his response for the hateful backlash against their LBGT policy, “If that's what makes us the worst company, bring it on. Because were not caving on that.”)

Along with nagging microtransactions, EA is also known for partnering with minority organizations such as the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, SHE++, the National Society for Black Engineers, The Anita Borg Institute and Women in Games-Jobs. However, it would be nice to see this support directly reflected in their games.

As education becomes more and more accessible thanks to forward thinking minds looking to lift the rest of the nation’s demographics, we will continue to see the products of more and more perspectives in the public eye. When discussing video games, this has long since been a medium that has been indiscriminately captivating, yet the games themselves don’t always reflect so. Perhaps as we see organizations such as Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, SHE++, the National Society for Black Engineers, The Anita Borg Institute and Women in Games-Jobs, we will begin to see a propagation of stories, themes and ideas in games that all consumers, regardless of their identity, can directly relate to. 


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Thursday, March 6, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

Not rumored, not maybe, not hypothetically; it’s happening.

A reaction of two minds stems from this news; one fondly envisioning the industry leading cinematic package of The Last of Us, the other understandably noting that there has yet to be a truly great video game film.

As one who holds The Last of Us as my favorite game from last generation, I can’t get upset or excited by this news.

The name drops behind this adaptation is unquestionably reassuring: the film will be written by Neil Druckmann, creative director of the game, along with having Naughty Dog’s involvement; and the film will be produced by Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures. Though I can’t care less about the producer at the moment, knowing that Druckmann will be leading the story in the film as well is the best news anyone can hear in relation to the movie.

Outside of trailers repeating on old G4’s Cinematech (remember that show?) I’ve watched a small handful of cutscenes from The Last of Us more than any other video game in recent and distant memory. It has that big screen quality of it, from the back-dropped soundtrack to the natural chemistry between all performers on screen. The potential is undoubtedly there as anyone who didn’t know what The Last of Us was (and that includes video games) would have easily mistaken the game for a film.

But that’s part of what makes The Last of Us so iconic; this is a game, not a film.

From what Naughty Dog achieved on the Playstation 3 with The Last of Us to whatever marvels they’ll accomplish on the Playstation 4’s Uncharted, Naughty Dog has been one of the only developers who’ve defied our expectations consistently with the level of film quality that games can accomplish. Such an achievement of its own medium would be diminished when put in the context of film. It would be an important and meaningful movie for fans of the game, but how could it fair next to other films that it had ostensibly taken inspiration from or at least can be compared to: The Road, Children of Men, etc?

These are valid concerns for any video game that’s adapted into a film, but on a personal note, I’m worried about the legacy of the franchise. Part of the crux that held together The Last of Us so tightly was the glue that bound the methodical progression, the tense combat, the appropriately evocative performances, and morose story. The gameplay led the story and visa-versa. In a movie adaptation of The Last of Us, it loses nearly half of that magic.

I also feel that this potentially places the hypothetical PS4 follow up to a much higher standard. The Last of Us stands on its own as a solitary masterpiece; a franchise all on its own. But splicing in a film and a sequel makes the name less special that might be off set by bloated expectations.

Imagine a movie adaptation and a sequel to Journey, a movie adaptation and a sequel to Shadow of the Colossus, a movie adaptation and sequel to Brothers. These are extreme art-house examples, but they illustrate my point of games that work best on their own, and best as games. 

But regardless my reaction, and the many, many increasingly cynical reactions of others, we can all hope that this will be the greatest video game film of all time.


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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

“There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they are shopping in a department store. That includes me.”

After the verdict passed for the Trayvon Martin case, President Barack Obama gave an unscheduled speech at a White House briefing on the Friday after George Zimmerman trial, taking a few minutes to paint his experience as a Black male in America.

It’s an experience that many understand, but cannot empathize with. The looks. The unwarranted hostility. The avoidance. The incapability of blending in. But slip on an Oculus Rift, and you just might be able to empathize a little.

BeAnotherLab is experimenting with ways to allow people to trade bodies with one another. One of their most prized experiments is GenderSwap which takes a male and a female subject wearing Oculus headsets and switches their perspectives. The man sees everything the woman sees; the woman sees everything the man sees. Through a series of mirrored self and collaborative tactile gestures and sensations (running their hands over their bodies, touching each other’s hands), the experiment seeks to facilitate a “body swap”, allowing both subjects to feels as if they’re in each other bodies.

The experiments extend to physically challenged individuals who get a chance to see themselves without their ambulatory limitations; and ideas for the concept consider addressing gender dysphoria,  a psychological disorder in which the individual feels as if they’re the opposite gender to their physical make up.  

Ideas on how to use the technology also allow looking at addressing implicit bias and issues concerning racial misunderstanding. As a Black man, I can give lectures all day on the subtleties and not-so-subtleties of incidents that I have experienced. These young men cover contact with law enforcement far more profoundly than I could.

But think about how an Oculus Rift can change that. Think about how this form of “other people simulators” can emulate the social navigation of being a Black male. And I don’t just want to reserve it to Blacks, we can’t ignore Hispanics, Middle Easterners, Asians, the disabled, plus sized, transgenders, the mentally ill, and any other underrepresented groups that I missed.

 At a new staff orientation at the psychiatric hospital that I interned at, we were shown this video.

It was enough for me to build a new level of understanding and empathy that I’ve never had for the mentally ill population, particularly those diagnosed with schizophrenia.

But a generated simulation in virtual reality with an Oculus Rift emulating people different from us can thread a human connection that hadn’t existed there before.

Thanks Polygon


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Monday, March 3, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

“I’ve got about 10 million, so that’s something we can work with in starting our game.”

That’s not something you’d expect to ever hear from a 15 year old, but that’s what I heard from a fellow player while playing Gardens & Graveyards mode in Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare.

For privacy reasons, I’ll refer to him as ‘Mark’, as neither he nor his friend, who I’ll call ‘Fred’ that I met briefly in an earlier match, have decided to go public on their alleged projects as of yet.

“We’re kicking around a few ideas,” he says as he discusses concepts that him and his friend have brainstormed. Staying away from genres like shooters, Mark and Fred are looking to create social experiences, something that the industry from top to bottom is moving more and more towards from TheCastle Doctrine, to Destiny, to No Man’s Sky. One of them in which includes a concept that sounds all too much like ReRoll, a highly ambitious open world RPG coming from former Ubisoft devs Julien Cuny and Louis-Pierre Pharand.

“We haven’t considered Kickstarter since funding isn’t a problem for us.” Mark looks to paying for all the development costs, including equipment as well as hiring staff out of pocket.

Speaking with Mark, I got the sense that all ideas are intangible concepts, all except for one in which Fred, whom he met over an online match in Call of Duty, has had in the back burner since his separation from his partner who, according to Mark, completely compromised the entire project. I immediately got a hint of Phil Fish and his dispute with his ex-business partner that was dramatically portrayed in Indie Game: The Movie.

“That’ll likely be our first game and we’re looking to launch it next year.”

Details were scarce as we were too busy blowing each other up in PVZ: Garden Warfare, but as I continued the discussion with this young teen, it became less of an interview and more of an informal consultation, and he played the role as the client.

As he talked about their interest in looking at the Xbox One as a target platform for their games, we discussed how investigating getting involved in Microsoft’s ID@Xbox program, how shipping the cheapest title can potentially fund future projects, and how communication with other indie developers is vital in bouncing off ideas for their projects. These were ideas that I generated in the discussion, all in which he stated that inspired him to seriously take them into consideration. We then exchanged contact info to carry this conversation on, with both him and Fred, in the future.

But let’s be realistic here; this is a 15 year old on Xbox Live, albeit a well-spoken one at that. He could be yanking my chain looking for attention and thought that fabricating a story about having $10 million to fund game development would impress me. I could, if it were true. Though not completely out of the realm of possibility, even if this was largely or completely fabricated, they are ambitions, ones that many of us had when we were young. Perhaps our discussion incepted an idea in taking game development seriously, and I could have been one of the first to have a serious discussion with a future indie developer.