Saturday, August 31, 2013

The 2013 Year in Gaming (1st Half)

What a year gaming has been so far. If the next gen console wars between the PS4 and Xbox One weren't enough, other companies decided this was the year to make their own consoles. The first of which was the Ouya, an Android-based console which started off as a Kickstarter project that raised $3.7 million in just two days! The best part about this console is that it only cost $99. However the console, and the customer service tied in with it weren't not as devoted as one might think. Many problems followed the Ouya's pre-release from the shipment of the console, to various controller problems and lack of replacements. Upon official retail release, however, many of those problems were greatly reduced and solved, however sales of the console were not as demanding as people had hoped, with the lower-than-average price tag. This didn't stop other companies like Google and Amazon to think up possible gaming consoles for the future. Will they succeed or be a mediocre release much like the Ouya?

If the overwhelming news of gaming consoles didn't hold you up enough, the games certainly make up for it, and then some...or much more. There were a vast amount of big releases (and disappointments) this year including reboots such as DmC: Devil May Cry, and Tomb Raider, and sequels to fan favorites like Metal Gear Solid: Rising, Resident Evil 6, Saints Row IV, Bioshock Infinite, and Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Remastered old classics were brought into the mix such as Ducktales: Remastered, and the soon to be released Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse. The online gaming world saw it's next big release with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, which is also a sort of reboot/relaunch to the first release of the game, which met with a majority of negative feedback from fans. So much so that SquareEnix decided to pull the plug on the game and recreate it from the ground up, and this was a good move on the companies part.

Of course we're not at the end of the year just yet. There are still many more amazing releases to come including Grand Theft Auto V, Batman: Arkham Origins, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, and Call of Duty: Ghosts. This year is looking to be quite an extraordinary year for gaming with just about everything from reboots, sequels, new IP's, new online games, new consoles and new controversies. There's a whole lot more I could get into about this years games and console news, but I'll save that for my 2nd half of 2013 post. As with all the previous years in gaming it doesn't matter who wins what war, because the real winners are the gamers.

There's been quite a bit of news lately on the next generation of consoles including the situation on backwards compatibility. For a few gamers this rose the question of "What's the point?" When the PS3 first launched there were only few models of the console that were backwards compatible with PS2 games, and this was great news to some folks...that is until they discontinued production, leaving all available future models of the console not backwards compatible. This angered some people and leaving many puzzled as to why Sony made such a decision.

I see this feature as a transfer phase between generations of gaming. People who want the new console, but have little to no interest in any of the new launch titles. So instead of wasting money on hardware that won't be used for a couple more weeks or months, backwards compatibility will fill in that gap, and maybe make your old games look a little nicer in the process. I feel this was Sony's thought process with the initial PS3 models, to have them backwards compatible for the first couple of months and by that time everyone who buys a PS3 should have a couple games they want to play without the need for backward compatibility. Unfortunately, I don't find this to be the case.

When I bought myself a PS2 I had never owned a PS1, so the backwards compatibility that was included worked perfectly for me. I could pay for one machine to play a ton of games between two separate consoles. When the PS3 launched I had no use for the feature since I planned on keeping the PS2 just for the PS1 compatibility. That, in turn, I had no problems with it not having the feature included. For others that may have not bought a PS2, it may or may not be a necessity.

One other note to backwards compatibility is in the name, "COMPATIBILITY". This is the definition of not ALL games will work for the newer console. There will be some where colors may be slightly different, graphics are a little lower quality, or the game will not load at all. This is mostly due to certain processors or chipsets used in the older console that were not included in the newer one. Usually it's the minority of games that use these specific chips that get the cut from the compatibility to run on the newer console. With situations like this, I would usually recommend spending the few extra dollars and getting the original console to ensure all your games work properly, but not until you've tested out your games to make sure they work alright on the newer console.

All in all it's mostly dependent on what you already have. If you have every console of one brand, the backwards compatibility may not be a must have, however if you want to save a little money and room it'll be perfect for you. Just be aware of any certain compatibility issues with some games, maybe look up a compatibility chart to see if the game you're curious about runs flawlessly or not. If the console does not provide the backwards compatibility then you're fresh out of luck and would have to spend the extra money for two consoles.

I had a conversation with a co-worker recently and he was talking about playing Super Smash Bros. Brawl with his son and having a real blast with it. He talked about how much he plays the game and knows everything about it. I went on to tell him that people hold tournaments for that game at various on site venues like Las Vegas, San Francisco, New York, etc. and he made "the" comment. Yes, he went on to say how those people need to get lives, probably still live with mommy and daddy, the usual stereotypical statements. I could have continued on and mentioned the constant League of Legends and DOTA series tournaments that are held daily and are as popular, if not moreso, than the usual sports events broadcast on TV. It was unfortunate that this conversation happened during work hours or I could have brought some light on his opinions on gamers for another few hours. My boss is the only older person that knows I play video games, and he threw me in the stereotype pretty much instantly after I had mentioned I was going on vacation to go to PAX East this year. That's how fast society will label young introvert males if they only mention video games one time as an enthusiast.

After leaving this conversation I thought about all the gaming communities I had joined over the years and the number of people I would have never met and became friends with had I not gone so head first into gaming at a young age and stuck with it all these years. Even if years down the line, your new found friends play very little or hardly have any time at all for games, you can still count on them as being part of family that you treasure and know that you met through a simple video game. Of course not everyone you meet through gaming will hold on to that friendship, which is ok, people come and go in our lives no matter how we meet them. It's those certain individuals that touch our hearts in subtle ways that no one else in the real world could really comprehend. Maybe it's the distance that brings in the tighter bonds, or perhaps the similar ideas, interests, and experiences that bring us closer? All in all the end result broadens your own horizons and exposes you to different cultures and worlds that you would have never experienced within your own city (or country) limits.

Living in the country is a very dull and boring experience to me. I grew up in a sort of elderly neighborhood with no kids to play with outside. It was mainly just me and my dad passing a ball, playing baseball or kicking a soccer ball around. I was pretty much alone and I wanted excitement and fun all the time, which is what I found in video games. All throughout my childhood and through high school I would go to school, talk with some friends, and occasionally go to their house and play Nintendo or Sega with them. By the time I graduated high school and entered college I never really spoke with those friends anymore, or hardly at all. I have maybe one friend I still talk with on occasion who moved to Florida after my sophomore year. Entering college I made a new set of friends who I still keep in touch with and hang out every once in awhile. It was at this point I turned to the internet (still in its growing phase) to meet new people and make new friends through various video games that I would be playing at the time.

I started off in the SSX community back in 2003 where I found a video on the Twin Galaxies website of someone getting 2 million points on the Mesblanca track on SSX Tricky. Now keep in mind I'm not super big into extreme sport games, but watching that video caught my interest in SSX. I went and bought SSX Tricky, visited Merqury City and posted on their forums on a pretty regular basis to improve my game and be as excellent as in the video I saw. In the process I met a number of amazing people who were just as fond of the game as I was. These were the first group of online friends I had met mostly from around the US, but some from countries like Sweden, France, and the UK.

After a few years with the SSX community free MMORPG's had started to grow in numbers and I decided to pick up and try a few out including Maple Story, Ragnarok Online, and FlyFF. In 2006 A brand new game called Audition: Online Dance Party had just come out and it played a lot like Bust-A-Groove on the PS1. This was probably the one major community I took heavy part in joining the (now RIP) GoAudition forums and met a majority of the friends I'm still very close and still in contact with to this day. I started as a member of the forums and gradually worked my way to moderator, super mod, and admin for the forums. Because of my admin status many members mistook me for being the owner of the forums since I was so active in the community and the actual owner had just simply made the forums, tweaked the looks and left. I feel my journey from member to admin in such a small community (at the time) is what brought me the friends I know today. I've actually just recently started traveling to different countries to meet up with some of them. 2011 I went to Amsterdam and this past summer traveled to Vancouver. My next stop may be around the homeland and I'll visit some friends in California, but this may change depending on what kind of money I have.

Today I'm part of the speedrunning community, mainly the folks at Speed Demos Archive (SDA). This is a community that I've actually been lurking about since 2003 watching various speedruns of a lot of my favorite games. It wasn't until 2008 when the Classic Games Done Quick marathon was streamed over the internet that I got to see speedruns done live before my very eyes. This was the spark that started my interest in serious speedrunning aside just being the casual watcher. As more marathons were held, my interest kept growing and growing until finally in April of 2012, I registered my name on the site and started routing my first game, Catherine. I still see myself as "just another member" at the moment, but I'm slowly starting to build relationships and making friends with other runners.

Even though I'm still fairly new to the community, watching the marathons and seeing it as one huge welcoming family really showed me that having a similar interest can bring people together on a much more personal level than just a bunch of guys playing video games. It's the kind of community that would let you into their home when life has got it tough on you and you need a place to meet up with people and escape the reality to help you out and just plain have fun! Gaming, and the communities behind them, bring the level of excitement and entertainment that I've been looking for and it allows me to see and meet millions of people to interact with and get to know all within a comfortable space without the slight anxiety of face-to-face meetups.

It's in these communities that can one day set you on the front door of the industry and interact with famous gaming journalists, and even the developers of some top games. This could eventually bring you into the business itself based on how motivated you are to want to work with the best to create high end, quality content. So as a final thought, don't ever go with what society tells you how a certain group of people live their lives. There's maybe a very small fraction that live the way they say, but a majority have found ways to break that stereotype and manage to live just like any other human being on the planet while continuing to fully enjoy the games they love...and they are enjoying every minute of it.

Who would have thought up the idea of placing virtual bets on random, obscure, and interesting fighting matches such as Superman vs. Terry Bogard, Ronald McDonald vs. Wolverine, or even Spongebob vs. Mega Man? With the combination of Twitch, MUGEN, and simple web programming, Salty Bet came to life.

The idea of Salty Bet is quite simple. When you sign up (completely free) you start off with $400 Salty Bucks. Two characters appear on screen and you're given 45 seconds to place a bet on who would win. The match then begins as the two characters (both controlled by the AI) fight it out in a first to 3 match to the death. The winner receives a piece of the pot from the losers side. So if the winners side bid over $1,000,000 and the losers side is only maybe $24,000, the bidders on the winners side may only receive $5 as their prize. Of course there's always closer odds with better payouts so it varies between matches.

As of now Salty Bet is serving roughly 4,000-5,000 daily viewers on Twitch, but I feel this will drastically grow as the months pass.  This is still a fairly new idea that's started since this past May and as addicting as it is, I feel that this might be the next stream to compete against League of Legends streams if enough word gets around and interest arises.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Disney has been quite busy this year.

It's pretty awesome seeing old 80's and 90's games get reworked for the current generation of gaming. DuckTales is no exception to this. Unfortunately I was one of the unlucky few children who never owned a NES when it came out. I was the one with the Sega Master System, or Sega Genesis (Megadrive). However I did get a small bit of gameplay out of DuckTales when I was a kid on a friends' NES that I went over to and played quite often. I vaguely remember my experiences with it back then, but I do remember enjoying it quite a bit. Of course I play it a lot more often on emulator, but it's not quite the same as playing it on the actual console and probably not as enjoyable as it would if I had an NES back in the day playing it nonstop when I was 7 or 8 years old. Anyways I will most definitely be getting this little gem and most likely playing (and enjoying) the hell out of it!

Speaking of remasters, another Disney classic game is being remastered and should be released later on this month or next (Summer 2013), and that is Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse. Of course, this was the game that I played for hours upon hours on the Sega Genesis when it first came out, so this will be my personal revisit down memory lane. Watching the gameplay videos of this certainly put a smile on my face as I saw all the levels and music redone for the current generation to love just as much as I had the original. This will surely be a Disney filled couple of months for me until Watch_Dogs, Assassin's Creed IV and Beyond: Two Souls come out.

 You would get an indie game from the great minds at Michael Todd Games called Electronic Super Joy. If you've played such grueling platformers such as I Wanna Be The Guy or Super Meat Boy, this game will feel right at home. What sets this game apart from the others is the groove-alicious environment, quirky humor and the amazing bass-heavy electronic music by EnV.

I first came across this game at this years PAX East hearing the games music overtaking the ambient sounds of the Expo Hall. I'll admit the music was the first thing that drew my attention to the game and wanted to learn what it was all about. After watching some other people playing the demo I grabbed that controller and stood there for roughly an hour and played through the whole demo from start to finish. I must have been the only person to ever do that, never mind do it in a single...well, standing. It definitely showed that I enjoyed the game very much and was probably the perfect example to show the level of difficulty that was not the "this game is too hard" *ragequit* kind.

The game is now available for early access on Steam for $4.99. It may not be as huge of a hit as Super Meat Boy, but it's definitely a sleeper hit in my book.

Saturday, August 3, 2013's been years!

Long time no see everyone! Obviously I stopped blogging due to AdSense telling me to bluntly "fuck off", but one day I decided to look back and see that people actually enjoyed what I had posted in the past...and it got me wondering just why did I stop?

So I may start posting again from time to time just for fun and give my thoughts on various happenings with my gaming life, such as:

It's pretty crazy how much Steam has grown over the years and I never had the thought to even sign up for it and join in on the crazy sales Valve gives it's customers everyday of the year! Well it all changed this past May when I finally decided to break down and sign up for myself. I had to buy a game to even start adding friends to my profile and it's probably the one and only game I'll buy at full price. That game was Your Doodles Are Bugged! a simple $4.49 game that plays much like the classic Lemmings where a large number of bugs appear on a paper filled with little doodles, and you must draw various lines to lead the bugs to their home (some jar-like object filled with honey?) Granted I know there were much better games out there, but this was the cheapest I could get at the time. Of course the following weekend was a sale for the BIT.TRIP series, which are probably a lot more enjoyable. I still need to get myself BIT.TRIP Runner 2 when I see a worthy enough sale on it to exercise my wallet.

Speaking of wallets, lets get into a little bit of this years Summer Sale. I probably did the most damage to my wallet that I'll ever do, even when it comes to the upcoming Winter Sale. To keep it short and simple, the last day of the sale I spent $51.25 in games, and my library shot up from roughly 11, to 45 games purchased...Seriously, I DO plan to play all those games before I die.

Then there's this weekend's Quakecon Pack of 45 various id Software and Bethesda games for $89.99. Personally, I would just get the games you really want so you don't waste money on those that you know you're not going to play. This is exactly what I did as the only game I bought was Doom 3 BFG Edition for $4.99. A lot of those games offered I could simply pirate for free (they don't even include achievements for all the old DOS based games, so what's the point really?), or I just have no interest in playing. Even if I wanted to buy the pack just to increase my Games number closer to 100 it's a little bit pricy considering some of those games have the potential to go beyond 50 or 60% off in the future. Maybe for the DOS games I'll get them all for $1-3 each or whatever, but for games like Dishonored and the Elder Scrolls games, those could get better sales by themselves during a Winter Sale or some midweek/weekend sale.