Monthly Archives: January 2014

Theme A Is What I Pack My Luggage To…

We’ve posted Smooth McGroove covers before; but this one has a special place for me. Like many of us, Tetris was one of the first games that I really sunk some time into and Theme A is ingrained in my head like few other pieces of music. So, for your enjoyment is an acapella take on the most iconic “piece” from Tetris…

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A Cry for Relevance – Gamestop Wishes to Play with Playstation Now

In a move that surprises no one, Gamestop wants to get in on that hot Playstation Now action.

 

Gamestop has done their best to keep up in an ever changing digital world, with some ventures more successful than others. Now, they are going to Sony, saying that they want to sell access to Playstation Now. The move makes sense as Gamestop’s stock fell the day that the service was revealed at CES last week. There’s no public knowledge of the pricing structure of Playstation Now, so no one can say how specifically Gamestop could become a part of this. Sony has gone on the record saying that there will be a rental and standard subscription model; but no details are known beyond that.

 

You can read the original news story HERE

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My Favorites of 2013 – or Yeah, You Should Totally Play These Games

Let’s be honest.

You don’t care about what my, “Top Ten Games of the Year,” are.

I mean, there might be a small majority of you who do (and I thank you for caring,) but most of you don’t and probably stumbled onto this column one way or another. That’s fine too.

Yet, because you are here and I have your attention; here are my favorite games of the year. A couple of things first; they are in no particular order, these are totally my opinions, and yes, some games were left off because I never played them.

-Cookie Clicker

I sank way too much time into this monstrosity. Cookie Clicker is the definition of a mindless game. You click the cookie. Then you don’t have to click the cookie, it’s clicked for you. Grandmas are then hired, cookie portals opened, you’ve prestiged twice, and you don’t know what you’ve been doing for weeks of your life. In the newest version, they’ve added dungeons. It’s almost enough to bring me back in. Nonetheless, this became a great conversation among me and friends this year, as we all began to click the cookies. It became a bit of a competition, as we all tried to make more and more. We couldn’t even eat them if we wanted to. It was a weird time for all of us.

Cookie Clicker

-Rayman Legends

This is the best 2D platformer in years. Yeah, I throwing it up against that New Super Mario Bros. nonsense. Rayman Origins was a surprise when it came out. It had old school difficulty, tight controls, and a fantastic art style. Fast forward to this year. Legends comes out with even tighter controls, a better perfected difficulty curve, and improved art that makes your jaw drop. It was a wonderful throwback to a simpler time of gaming; and when played with friends, one of the best co-op experiences of the year. Did I mention there were musical levels? Yeah, those were cool too.

-DmC

Man, I love Ninja Theory. Heavenly Sword was a fun, if flawed game. Enslaved really sold me on how that studio can tell a story. Now, Capcom gave them the reigns to Devil May Cry. This game is the definition of metal. The music hits hard, the action hits harder, and even the environment tries to kill you. They even give you a story that actually makes sense and makes you care about the world and these characters. I really can’t emphasize how much I dug the art style this game has. It oozes character and is easily one of the more visually diverse games I played this year. It also has one of the best boss fight encounters in a game in who knows how long. You fight Fox News. Seriously. Youtube it.

-Injustice

I love fighting games. I love DC Comics. Do I need to say more? LOOK AT ALL THE COSTUMES!!!!

-Tomb Raider

This was a bit of a surprise. Not that I wasn’t expecting the game to be good, but that I would enjoy it as much as I did. Tomb Raider goes back to the beginning of our heroine’s story and gives us a new take on the classic franchise. It’s a story about the loss of innocence as much as it is about Lara exploring this lost island. Gameplay wise, it’s less Uncharted and  more Arkham Asylum, but the change was a good one. Uncharted had already out Tomb Raider’ed Tomb Raider, and the game had to do something different. Yeah, I think we all could have done with more raiding of tombs, but let’s save that for the sequel. Also, the game gave us TressFX…that’s awesome.

-Resogun

I just want to say upfront that I am terrible at this game, but man is it addictive. From the moment that it yells at you to, “save the last human,” you are sucked into this visually stunning arcade homage to games like Defender. Between the leaderboards, the multiple ships, and challenge levels; Resogun is one that I keep coming back to on my PS4. There’s also voxels…all the voxels

-Grand Theft Auto 5

Like you’re surprised that I put this here. GTAV gives the player a world to play in. You can go to therapy, bike, golf, steal a tanker truck, dive for treasure, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The game also gave us the most insane, over the top, and possibly evil character in existence; Trevor. Dear lord, I love Trevor. Not because of the terrible malcontent that he is; but because how much he doesn’t care and revels in it. GTAV is a mixed bag for most people. Despite it’s somewhat lackluster mission structure and over the top maybe-it’s-satire-or-maybe-they’re-just-crude humor; I found something to enjoy there.

-Bioshock Infinite

Elizabeth. The Songbird. God Only Knows. There are so many magical moments in Bioshock Infinite that it is hard to narrow down what really grabbed onto me. Even though the story may fall apart towards the end, the roller coaster that Infinite takes its players on is a wonderful one. From your baptism into Colombia to the first time you meet Elizabeth, Bioshock Infinite takes the player on an emotional journey that goes places few games dare to go.

-Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag

Being a pirate and terrorizing the sea is completely fantastic. Sailing around, searching for treasure, and razing ships just hits a chord with me…albeit an evidently sinister one. From the sea shanties, to the well created locales, the game’s atmosphere is designed to bring you into that world. What’s more amazing is that this game brought be back into Assassin’s Creed. ACIII was a terrible mess, and I had sworn off any future installments because of the foul taste that it had left. Yet, as the reviews came in, and the word of mouth spread, I found myself looking at Black Flag. I’m really glad I did. Playing it on the PS4, the graphics are gorgeous and sound design is incredible. Nothing is more terrifying than the thunder of a rogue wave coming at you in surround sound. More than anything, the game is simply fun.

-The Last of Us

How could this not be on my list? The Last of Us is an incredible experience. Joel and Ellie’s story is one of heartache, anger, and loss. It is a story of a broken world filled with broken people; where even the best of intentions ends in pain. There is no happy ending, but there is resolution. It’s easily one the top games of the generation. The gameplay and the story come together in ways that few games do; and it draws the player deeper because of it. For me, this is the reason why I love gaming; and why I believe that this is a growing art form. The Last of Us made me laugh, cry, and rage with its characters; and there were nights where I had to stop playing because I was so emotionally drained. I can’t remember any game in recent memory that has had that sort of effect on me. I cannot recommend this game enough. If you have a Playstation 3, you need to play The Last of Us.

So there you have it; the games I enjoyed this year. There are some great ones that I didn’t get around to for various reasons, but you should play:

-The Stanley Parable

-Gone Home

-Super Mario 3D World

-Papers, Please

Nonetheless, last year was a great year for gaming and this year is shaping up to be something special too. Here’s to 2014 and the magic it will invariably bring!

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Trust Me, I am not a Fungi or Why The Last of Us is My Game of the Year

BIG GIANT-SERIOUSLY DON’T READ THIS SPOILER WARNING FOR THE LAST OF US

I killed a man yesterday…and I am okay with it.

What’s more concerning is that I felt righteous in my act of violence.

But let’s backtrack a bit shall we?

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The Last of Us is a Playstation 3 exclusive from Naughty Dog, makers of Uncharted, Jak and Daxter, and the original Crash Bandicoot. The game takes place in a near future setting where cordyceps have ravaged the planet by mutating and infecting humanity and society, as we know it, is struggling to survive. It’s not a happy place, and Joel, our main character, is not a happy person.

We meet him at the beginning of the outbreak, living in Austin with his daughter and his brother living nearby. Within minutes of starting the game, we see Austin crumble, his daughter shot, and time jump ahead years and years into the future…

…with him staring at an empty bottle.

Yeah, Joel is not in a good place.

TLoU2

Nonetheless, the game continues and through a series of events you end up traveling with Ellie. She’s a young girl who never knew the world before things went to hell, has a mouth like a sailor, and a secret of her own. She’s immune to the infection. Thus the real thrust of the adventure kicks in; you are to take Ellie cross country to the base of “The Fireflies;” a resistance group still working on a cure.

Suffice it to say, you both make it, but not unscathed. Joel wakes up in a room surrounded by guards, and is told in no certain terms that he cannot see Ellie. The reason being, she is being prepped for surgery to remove her brain to find out what causes her immunity. They tell me I can do nothing about it. They’re wrong.

I kill the first guard without thinking; after he tells me where Ellie is…

I snap the necks of a couple of guards who see me as I continue to get closer…

and once the alarms sound, I make sure no one is left to tell where I went…

…because NOTHING is going to stand between me and that girl.

TLoU3

I finally get to the operating room, where two nurses and the surgeon await. I shoot one of the nurses to prove I am not joking around, hoping that they will get the picture, but the Doc pulls a scalpel on me. So I drop him and the other remaining nurse, and take Ellie away from there.

I killed those men and didn’t bat an eye. I felt righteous in my vengeance, and I KNEW I was doing the “right” thing. That’s what it felt like, at least. After all this time, I couldn’t let them lay a hand on this little girl that I had come to love and care for. Hell itself could not stop me in that moment.

Yet; let’s look at this objectively…

-I murdered the only people left looking for a cure to the infection

-I killed one of the last brain surgeons on the planet

-Any hope humanity may have had, is now gone because of my actions

I am not the “good guy.” I am most definitely the “villain.”   ….and I am okay with that.

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This is not the first time that a “protagonist” turns out to be something “other,” in any art form. One only has to look to The Road (a big inspiration for the game) and stories like Watchmen to see the trope used in similar ways. Yet, what makes The Last of Us so amazing and worth the discussion is that it puts the actions in the hands of the player.

In other media, we see the drama play out, and we are merely observers to the actions.  We see the characters rationalize their behavior, and we follow along. Yet, in a game-space it is the player that acts and rationalizes the actions that he/she must take. The greatest games have narratives that ensure that the player rationalizes those actions.

Nothing could be worse for game’s narrative than ludonarrative dissonance. In other words, for there to be a disconnect between player actions and narrative direction. It is jarring and can take the player out of the moment; to the detriment of the game. An easy example of this is Grand Theft Auto IV‘s Niko Belic, who bemoans his life of violence; but continues to commit heinous acts. Because there is a perceived gap between the Niko that the player sees and the Niko the player controls, there is less investment in the proceedings.

GTAIV

What The Last of Us does so incredibly well is not only remove that dissonance, but have such a strong narrative and emotional component that by the time end game occurs there is no question of what needs to be done. For hours and hours of gameplay, TLoU actively builds the player’s relationship with Ellie. There are optional conversations with her, comics you can pick up for her, and small personal moments that draw you into this relationship.

It is a credit to the creators and writers that by the end of the game, you not only want to protect Ellie, but are willing to kill for her. A few games go that far and are that successful with their stories; but none have ever staked the future of humanity on them.

TLoU5

In a world full of terribly tragic things, gore, and violence; Ellie gives Joel and the player hope. You see people die all around you, you kill just to survive, and one little girl and her book of bad jokes is the only thing that makes this place a little brighter.

The true horror of The Last of Us isn’t the violence, but rather the fact that it is a world that makes good men do bad things…

…it makes the player do BAD things.

TLoU4

This is something that only this type of art form can do. The player is complicit in the actions of the character, rationalizes those actions, and completes them. That’s not something that can be done in books or movies, and is one of the reasons this story is so powerful for so many.

As gaming continues to “grow up,” we’ll continue to see more mature and different types of stories come out of that growth. The Last of Us isn’t a flash in the pan, but the vanguard of a new type of storytelling. It is definitely something to experience on your own, and something to look forward to in the future…

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So, Why was it shaped like a lunchbox? – The History of the Gamecube

Emily Rogers over at Dromble has written up probably the most extensive history of Nintendo’s cube. She goes into depth in ways that I would only dream of. Seriously, if you are a fan of Nintendo, care about gaming history, or just want to kill some time before you pass out tonight, give this a read.

 

The link is HERE

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How Bad Off is the WiiU and other Sales Numbers

Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo have all been throwing around numbers the last couple of months.

-3 million Xbox Ones

-4.2 millions PS4s

-Umm…I know someone who owns a WiiU*

Yet, what do all of these actually mean? What’s the difference between, “sell through,” and, “sell in?” Is it that much of a lead? How far behind is Nintendo, actually?

IGN has a great breakdown filled with amazing charts and graphs to help answer all the questions. So, if you find all that interesting; swing by and give it a look.

 

You can read it right HERE

 

*I actually don’t know anyone who owns a WiiU

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Gamestop’s Shares Drop in the Wake of Playstation Now Announcement

Well, it’s good to know that Sony has follow through.

Announced at CES today; Sony revealed what that Gakai purchase they made years ago was all about. Playstation Now is the streaming service that is going to be coming to just about all Sony platforms. To gamers, it is what is going to give that shiny new PS4 of yours that backwards compatibility that you’ve been dying for. To Gamestop investors, well, it signals a changing tide.

Analyst Michael Pachter said it like this,

“It is important to note that PS4 has no backwards compatibility with PS3 discs, meaning that the availability of PS3 digitally streamed games will not directly result in lower used sales of PS3 games to PS4 owners. GameStop’s used gaming sales from PS3 discs on PS3 consoles are most likely to be impacted; however, until we know more about game availability, timing, and pricing, among other factors, we do not see a meaningfully negative impact to GameStop in the near-term. Our bias is that this service will attract fewer than 1 million subscribers, and will impact overall game sales by 1 — 2 percent in the aggregate over the next five years.”

In other words, Gamestop’s investors are overreacting at the moment. Until we know more, they shouldn’t be too worried. That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be worried at all. This is another swing towards a completely digital medium, and will be one more thing that Gamestop will have to adapt to. For better or for worse, Gamestop, as we know it, has an expiration date. Things are moving more and more towards digital, and Playstation Now may be just another standard bearer for the digital future to come. So Gamestop’s choice to is evolve or die; it’s going to be an interesting next couple of years.

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