Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Off Topic Gaming - Robin Williams

I've never mourned a celebrity before. I've been sad before over Heath Ledger and Phil Hoffman, but the news of Robin Williams hit me really hard. I used to watch celebrities pass and see videos of fans crying and I couldn't understand why they felt this way. Especially over Michael Jackson who I perceived as a child molester, I watched thousands gather and mourn him. Yesterday, I understood them, it suddenly became all too real. I actually cried a great deal.

Perhaps it just takes that special person that you've watched as you've grown up. That someone who's been there in your life to make you smile. Robin was that for me many times over. Sure he was a celebrity, I didn't actually know him, he wasn't family, and a version of me on 08/10/2014 would scoff at the idea of getting so emotionally involved with someone so removed from my own life. But the news came, and I was overcome with sadness.

He meant so much to so many people. Robin could make you laugh, make you cry, and make you laugh until you cried. More importantly for me though, in his movies so many times over he would play a character that would tell everyone that things will be ok, no matter what, and that life is worth living. Cliche' perhaps, but Robin had a way about him that you just believed him and it would sink in. He always knew how to warm my cold black heart and make me believe in life again.

Of all the messages Robin gave, my personal favorite was in Mrs Doubtfire. Sure the movie was really silly, but ultimately it was about something so simple and profound, that a father would do anything for his kids just to see them one more day. I am lucky enough to have a father and a mother who feel that way about me too, and that movie really reminds me of how much they care for me.

Life, of course, is a cruel bitch. Ironically, Robin left this world no longer believing in the messages he used to give. Many will point to his role in Dead Poets Society where a troubled young student took his own life after not seeing any way out of his father's hold over his life. In many ways, Dead Poets Society was about depression, trying to show people that these warning signs are so mild and hard to see. With Robin, and his depression, few if anyone really saw it. He hid it very well as most people with depression do because they feel embarrassed by it.

The news of Robin's death hit especially hard for me as my wife has depression too. I constantly worry that I might someday be the cause of her leaving this world like this and I'd never forgive myself. I often feel ill equipped to handle it, that I lack the patience needed or control over my own emotions and then remember just how delicate I have to be after going off the deep end on something stupid and then hating myself over it.

But maybe we should try to let Robin teach us one more time. In his passing we can learn that depression is a very serious problem. It can take even the most zany and hilarious individual and make him think there is no hope left and that no one cares about him anymore. People with depression see life black and white with few gray areas, polar extremes of joy and sorrow constantly flinging back and forth with no stable middle to take refuge. In severe episodes someone with depression will stay in extreme sorrow state for an extended period of time, which is exhausting and unrelenting. The best way to describe it for those of us without depression as I understand it is, you know that feeling you get when you make a grave mistake, something that you really messed up and you beat yourself up over it telling yourself you aren't good enough and just getting really down about it coupled with the feeling of insecurity? Well that's what someone with depression feels like all the time in one of those extreme states, and where most of us will get over it in a day, someone with depression will feel that for months or years at a time without it easing up, especially if its untreated.

If you have depression, please do not hide it. You will still be loved, and supported by those around you. Let them help you, let them in. Don't fight it alone, because life is worth living.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

U-Play, Origin, and Lord Gaben er Steam

Capitalism is about money and choice, the freedom to buy the things from people for stuff or services you like. But...computers are weird...and they change people's perceptions of things for reasons I cannot understand. Unlike in the real world where I can go buy, say Super Mario from Gamestop or Best Buy and the game remains indistinguishable from either place, people who buy something on a PC have a very different understanding of the same item they bought between services like Origin, U-Play or Steam. Somehow, Mass Effect is a magically different game if you buy it on Steam. People of the internet will claim how profoundly better Mass Effect is on Steam versus Origin. Or how much worse Far Cry 3 is on PC because of U-Play.

I personally fail to understand any of these claims myself, nor does anyone ever present me with a decent argument as to why the services of U-Play and Origin inherently make a game worse.

You don't hear this same spat from people reading Game of Thrones on an iPad versus someone reading it on a Surface Pro or Kindle do you? Never once have I heard someone tell me "Man that new Stephen King book was great, too bad I bought it on my Kindle." But you'll hear this all the time from gamers wishing they could play Titanfall on Steam instead of Origin.

I ask, what's the difference? I personally see none. All three services are pretty darn good, they take up few if any system resources, and they are all very well made. Furthermore, the actual game you are playing doesn't change in the slightest just because you booted up one platform that has more orange than one that is mostly black in color. Sure your friend lists are different, the game library is different, and oh dear your achievements are given by someone other than our Lord Gaben...errrr Steam. Big whoop, I still fail to see how any of that decreases the quality of the game.

Was Super Mario a worse game because you had to blow in your Nintendo to make it work? Sure it was irritating, but the games were still great, we put up with it. The games EA and Ubisoft put out are also fantastic, and as long as your PC isn't a buggy mess you won't be doing any blowing to get them to work. So what is really getting everyone's goat on these different platforms that the PC has? I have some theories:

U-Play:  When U-Play came out it also came with a caveat that you must always be online to play the game, it would even boot you out if your connection was interrupted. As DRM restrictions go, this is by far the worst one. Ubisoft quickly removed this restriction after all the flack. They went so far as to add things in their service that no one else has. Achievements actually earn you DLC for the games you play. No one seems to care though, they just still hate U-Play presumably for this reason.

Origin: I feel like Origin only gets a bad rap for a few reasons. One is people love to hate EA, they just do. I'm not sure why exactly. Sure they make some lame choices like the Sim City debacle (another always online idea...see the trend?), the botched Battlefield 4 fiasco (something that should be online that failed to stay online harharhar), and of course people hating EA for making a Madden game every year (yet it still sells like hot cakes). The other reason Origin gets so much hate is that EA refuses to sell their games on Steam now and people like having all their games in one happy little place in their computer. News flash, your games on Steam aren't all in one happy place either on your computer technically. Some games root your saves into My Documents, some in My Games folders, others will actually use the Steam folder by default. Want to mod them? Again, more searching for the right files, more poking around. It isn't the same thing as having a PS4 and shoving all your games in it people, PC gaming requires some work and that will never change.

I think the main complaint with both is people don't like "more DRM." DRM gets an understandably bad rap because it restricts gamers on using the thing they bought. PC gaming in general is restrictive in that you can't lend or borrow games you have like console gamers can. We used to be able to buy one game and install it on all of our friends PC then use the disc as a frisbee and still play the game. Then DRM stepped in to make sure everyone was buying the game. It mainly came about as an answer to Torrents and people outright stealing the games. DRM became so restrictive and so terrible though, that it soon became less intrusive and less of a hassle for gamers to just steal the game. More DRM inevitably led to more people stealing games. People buying games legitimately suffered from DRM whereas gamers who stole the game didn't. It was awful. There was a time where Gears of War was programmed literally to stop working on PC on the new year of 2011 (I think that's the right year) but people who stole the game didn't notice at all. This was fixed, but just one of many, many examples of where DRM was a hindrance.

Cut to today where most every company has gotten the hint that people don't like intrusive DRM schemes anymore. No longer are there games that require you to be online for the sole purpose of DRM despite all the rumor flinging about Sim City 5 their goal was more of an interactive city game, not imposed DRM. And yeah, it was a bad idea lol. Never the less, Origin, U-Play and Steam all have the exact same amount of DRM which requires you to...load their program *gasp*

Such a hurdle has never been faced by PC gamers. Loading a program? What blasphemy is this, what heresy, what...what....wtf? Really is that all it is? Why are people complaining about this?

I think the worst amount of complaining comes in the form of Amazon reviews of games. Any time you see a PC version of a game on Amazon it's likely to have 3 or less stars regardless of game quality. What are people complaining about you ask? God you're dumb...it's the DRM of course! What reasoning do they give for not liking it? Because...it's...because DRM that's why! And that's it...These people are somehow trapped in 7 years ago back when DRM was bad. I swear it's like these guys don't even play the game and just review all of them to knock DRM.

Let's go back to my book example one more time. A better comparison would be if someone bitched online because they bought The Stand on Amazon Kindle and could only read it with the Kindle app on their iPad, but instead wanted to read it on the iBook app or whatever it's called. It's the same device, the same book, just a different animation of page turning...RIOT!

Here's what I grew up with and had to deal with...remember when you had to RENT games from a store? That's a building for those of you who just turned 15 years old. Back then you had to hope they had a copy in stock. You didn't worry about WHAT you played it on, you worried about WHEN you got to play it at all. If it was out of stock all you could do was peer over the counter and see who had it so you could hunt them down and steal the game...ok I never did that...I was never tall enough to peer over the counter.

The point of this rant of course, is quit your damn bitching!

*Apparently loading up Origin, U-Play and Steam all at the same time is akin to spinning around 3 times in a mirror at midnight chanting to summon Bloody Mary*

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Final Fantasy 13-3: Lightning Returns

It's taken me a while, but I'm finally closing this Final Fantasy 13 saga of mine. I've previously written two other articles about FF 13 and 13-2, neither of which were really reviews but critiques on one or more things that baffled me about the direction Square had been taking the Final Fantasy series. This one will be no different, and more of a combination of the previous two.

Final Fantasy 13 I outlined just how horrifically bad the battle system was and that became the most popular post on this blog. 13-2 I went into great detail the many glaring plot holes I saw as I went. I picked apart what each game did the worst essentially and what stood out to me as really questionable. With 13-3 though...I honestly can't point to one thing, and that's not a good thing. Literally everything about this game leaves me scratching my head asking, why? Why did they choose to do this? Ultimately, I ask myself, why does this game even exist?

I think I will focus this blog on the main character Lightning. I've discussed in the past how terribly vexed I am about this character. How she can have 3 entire games about her and yet I know next to nothing about her at the same time. How is it that Cait Sith from FF7 has a deeper and more meaningful character arc than someone who's had 3 games devoted to her? She has no arc what-so-ever. Hilariously, the opening cinema of FF13-3 explains how God has taken her emotions away for her to complete her current quest. To which...if I had been drinking water, immediately spewed it at my TV in shock and dismay. Lightning, for the uninitiated has NEVER had any emotions to speak of to begin with. God took nothing away at all. Her entire character amounts to protect her sister....the end. She has no personal goals or needs. She has no sense of humor, no personality, she is completely a blank slate.

What vexes me so about her though isn't so much that she has literally no character to speak of, or that they had 3 games to develop her and didn't, no what vexes me is the creators of the games have all spoken out about how much they are going to miss working on games with Lightning. Interviews with them they go into great detail how attached they became to her, developing her, and going into her life and struggles etc, etc. Here I sit with my mouth agape reading this and wondering...what am I missing here? What is there about this character that has them nearly in tears having to part with her after this game? I am at a complete loss for words on this. Here are some quotes:

"We would never feel sick of these characters or these worlds," Kitase-san says. "Don't worry, we love them and we have an attachment to this whole story and characters. But in terms of this story, the whole Lightning saga story, this is going to be the end, and we're going to be moving on and not continuing in any sort of way. But the characters, since we do love them and do have an attachment to them, we're hoping there might be ways where they can make like a cameo, or something like that. For example, in Final Fantasy XIV, we're going to be doing like a collaboration with that game, and Lightning will make an appearance within the game. So we're hoping that there will be an opportunity to showcase them in some other form."

And this little ditty:

"What sets Lightning apart from the other [Final Fantasy hero] characters is that you don't see very many female heroines being the main character," says Kitase-san, "of course apart from maybe Terra from Final Fantasy VI. So that's definitely something that sets Lightning apart. She's not only a woman, but she's also very strong and also very cool, and she can put up a good fight. That's definitely one of her positive features. Even outside of the series, I got to go see the show floor at E3 and at Gamescom, and looking at other publishers I noticed that Lightning is probably one of the only female characters that pushed out in the forefront for their game titles. Of course, we had Lara Croft when Tomb Raider was about to be released, but now that that has launched, Lightning is one of the only female characters that is out there being the face of a title."

This one is my favorite:

“When I was making the game, I wasn’t really thinking about it, that I was going to have to say goodbye to her at the end of the process,” Abe told IGN through a translator. “But when I was playing the game during testing, when I reached the very end of the story, for the first time I felt a kind of weight. All the time that we’ve spent to create her from scratch and develop and progress her, it dawned on me there that this was the end, and that was an emotional moment.”

See what I mean? This is all from the creators of the game. Is anyone who played the games THIS emotionally attached to Lightning? I can't imagine how. I couldn't find the interview I wanted, one that I read around the time this game came out, but I recall reading how much time they said they spent developing her character, her background, her likes and dislikes, how she ticks, etc. Of which, NONE of that actually made it into any of the games and it floors me how that can happen. It's almost like how people describe their favorite color and why. No one ever really gives a great reason for it, you can't express it all that well, you just say that you like it, the look of it pleases you in some way. I swear that is the extent to which we have Lightning. They made something pretty to look at, and that was it. Then they try to go into how much depth she has, and that she's the female "Cloud" and us gamers scratch our heads and try to figure out what the hell they are talking about.

Let me please destroy the comparison to Cloud if I may as well. Now to be perfectly fair the creators made the comparison in terms of "popularity" not to literally put boobs on Cloud and call it a day. The internet however has maintained that she's just like Cloud! Yet, offer zero reasons as to how this comparison makes sense. Cloud begins his journey as a mercenary who is only out for money. He makes jokes, snide comments, dresses in drag, he's full of personality. Then he grows attached to the quest of his comrades and eventually befriends them. So much so, that he'll risk his life for them. But then tragedy strikes one of his closest friends and he couldn't save her. This causes him to go into severe depression and he doesn't want to take on the responsibilities of leading his group anymore as he feels he is unfit to save anyone. His friends convince him otherwise as the quest progresses and Cloud gains a renewed sense of hope in himself. THIS is a clear character arc. This is also a very cursory glance at the depth to which Cloud was written and presented. There is so much more nuance into how he developed, how he thinks of himself, and how he views others thinking of him and I could go on all day about it. We were told all of this about him though in the game, he was very well developed. We know his mom, we know his friends as a kid, we know his hopes and dreams, we know how he reacts to tragic events and how he deals with stress. He is very well fleshed out.

Lightning though? Uh...we know she wants to protect her sister and she doesn't really give a damn about the other people in her group either. She's very cold, she's all about the mission, whatever that may be and that's really it, that's all we can say about her. She's also exceptionally gullible as we see in the first game the villain outright tells her what he needs her and her group to do, and she DOES it essentially helping him succeed at destroying Cocoon. Only slightly after that does she attempt to save it, but she was helpless to do so and her friends had to be sacrificed to stop it from being destroyed. GREAT job Lightning...In this third game she's also unquestionably following the orders of God to round up souls for a new world. Now I haven't beaten the game yet...but I did discover that God is the final boss...so clearly it was being evil in some way or another and once again our gullible heroine was helping evil apparently.

I'm not sure I've ever played a game where they wrote so much and said so very little about the main character except for those games where you create a character and it has literally no character at all. It's dumbfounding that a company like Square can make characters as profoundly deep as those seen in earlier FF games or Xenogears and then have an entire trilogy devoted to what amounts to nothing more than eye candy. That's Lightning's character, eye candy, and this game pushes that notion to the forefront. The battle system is designed around changing her outfits for fucks sake.

Even characters that didn't have any depth to them in previous efforts like Squall in FF8 still had some notion of character in how they reacted to problems. Squall's character arc went from not caring what happened to Rinoa to risking his life for her. The game doesn't do a great job expressing WHY they become close as Squall's dialogue amounts to "...." and Rinoa incoherently goes from wanting to jump Seifer's bones to immediately wanting Squall's wang after they presume Seifer to be dead...but the point is Squall does go through a character change in that he is no longer self centered. What change can we say about Lightning? That she went from emotionless to God stole my emotions so now I'm even MORE emotionless? That about sums it up right there honestly and really this is not only the most glaring flaw about this third entry, but definitely the overriding flaw of the entire 13 series of games.

*If it looks like plastic, smells like plastic, and tastes like plastic, then you just ate plastic...wtf is wrong with you?*

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Off Topic of Gaming - Political Correctness

So Gary Oldman had an interview where he went off on a tangent about how this country is far too touchy lately, and how no one is really allowed to express themselves freely. I generally agree with his sentiment, and urge people to also read George Carlin's When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops which is mostly an outline of the ridiculousness of people, and essentially mob mentality bullying through this guise of political correctness.

Political correctness is ok in small doses. It mainly serves as a barrier from the public and hate filled diatribes. Much in the same way you shouldn't yell fire in a movie theater, you also really shouldn't directly attack a certain group of people based on race or gender on TV. But lately it seems that nearly everything said, even ever so slightly is a broad based attack and the person that made those comments should be completely and utterly destroyed over it.

A rebuttal was made to Oldman and, while I agree with some of the things said in it, I'd like to point out how very wrong it is:


What the author here is basically saying, is no free speech is not dead, but you will reap what you sow. This is a fair assessment, but not a fair assessment of certain instances. Much in the same way Bill Maher is allowed to say call his audience Lesbians and get away with it, Stephen Colbert is bullied by the internet for making a harmless joke about Asians. The author is attempting to show that circumstance is what leads to the "reaping" for these people that make these off the cuff comments. And yet, it's entirely inconsistent. Someone like Colbert can be utterly eviscerated online for a harmless joke, whereas Maher is ignored for his harmless joke?

This is where I feel this author and I part ways. I am in agreement with him in regards to bad things said shouldn't go unpunished, but I feel there needs to be consistency in this whereas he doesn't feel it matters if the mob rises over one thing and not another. It's their choice to bully them and that bullying is perfectly ok. There's also a degree of bullying at which I feel is entirely unjustified.

In Colbert's case, sure his joke may have indeed offended some people. But the level to which the hatred rose seems far too high than what it deserved. This is the mob mentality effect coming into play that the author is ignoring. And I pose the question, which is more harmful? Colbert's simple joke, or hundreds of thousands of hateful comments from anonymous "victims" some that include calling for his death and other unsavory things.

And let's ask some HONEST questions, something that I feel is entirely ignored by these internet victims that turn to bullies. Was Colbert's joke an attack against Asians? Clearly, no it wasn't, it was a joke. Was Alec Baldwin slighting all gay people by using the word fag against someone that was upsetting him? Was it really? The answer, I feel, is no. Sure the word is used as a slight, to demean, and it's representative of that group, but our vernacular has taken the word "fag" to simply mean someone you dislike, and that was the context with which he was using the word. If you lived in England your concept of the word fag is also different, it means ciggarrette. And our use of words evolve over time too. No one says they are having a "gay old time" anymore, and in that time period it wasn't used to describe a circle jerk or some other gay activity ;) We live in a time where the word "fag" can mean TWO things, and Alec didn't mean them both at the same time. Who does, unless you're trying to be needlessly clever utilizing wordplay. So we have to ask ourselves the HONEST question of was he using the word to slight gay people, or to use the word in the same way we could also say, that "jerk" or that "moron."

This is where political correctness goes too far, and will tear down a human being like Stephen, or Alec, by taking their commentary out of context or reinserting their own context. More obvious instances would be ones like Mel Gibson who the author and I are in agreement, clearly was attacking the Jews unprovoked and really got what he deserved. Donald Sterling would be another example of this. If you were to ask yourself honest questions with their instances, rather than take a knee jerk emotional reaction to buzzwords, then the answers are much more clear and the flack given is deserved.

But even still, it goes too far. These people that make these lousy statements deserve second chances too though. Instead they are thrown out entirely without another word and bullied endlessly. They can't defend themselves or explain it either. It could be they were just having a really bad day, or drunk. And we've all done stupid things like that, every human alive has, and that's Oldman's main point. The punishments aren't befitting of the crime. They are far too extreme.

I feel that a lot of this started with the Michael Richards incident. Now I grant you, public figures who say bad things have gotten their just desserts too in the past and probably didn't start with Richards. But what DID start with him is the internet flaming that is now the expected reaction. The bullying. The vitriol. The outcasting online. One really bad incident and suddenly Richards is less than human. It wasn't until a year later where he was even allowed to discuss what happened and explain himself, and by then no one listened. What actually happened that night was he was doing his bit, got heckled, got upset, and tried to heckle them back using broad based black generalizations, but sadly lacked the material and light touch it needs (like say Family Guy or South Park) and he came off as hating them. And yeah, it was really bad. It's what's stand up comedians call dying on stage, but Richards just kept nosediving and put himself in a far worse position. He has apologized endlessly for it, but his career is still in the shitter anyway. All for one bad performance and internet bullying. The HONEST question that should be asked here is, is Richards actually a racist? Was his goal to victimize an entire group of people, or combat hecklers? If you answer these questions, and then read the hundreds of thousands of comments wanting Richards to be killed, then please answer me this....who are the real victims of political correctness here?

Hilariously, this entire piece I've written here will be misconstrued as protecting racists or people that spew hate or giving excuses. That's not at all what this is. This is a plea for common sense. This is a plea against needless victimizing of people on knee jerk reactions. I want the people of the internet to think and discuss rather than cry foul immediately for every possible little thing. The internet called racism over the new Far Cry 4 game box because a "white" guy (who is actually Asian) had another guy held captive of a different race. Clearly the game is about racism and how great it is! Look how successful he is! I want to be just like him! That's the message it's sending...apparently...to people with a screw loose. This is political correctness at it's finest folks, this is what we're dealing with, and this is what I can't stand. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to play a game where I kill thousands of Iranians. Which game is that? Who fucking cares there's hundreds of them, and no one calls those games Iranian people genocide simulators.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Mario Kart 8 - Too Well Balanced = Unbalanced

Mario Kart 8 is an enigma for me when it comes to how well, or how not well they've managed to balance this game. In Mario Kart Wii it was obvious, the bikes were over powered as the wheelie boost they got from straightaways eclipsed any hope of karts having a chance. Thankfully, that's been removed in this game but it has other problems...

After 30 some hours of online play here's some things I've noticed.

1. People that place 1st seem to win outright, untouched by others, seemingly gods of Mario Kart.
2. When you're in 5th place or lower after the first lap, expect it to stay that way for the rest of the race. You will be stuck there almost no matter what.
3. Getting thrown off course, or hit by things doesn't slow you down enough.
4. Nothing you do seems to make enough impact on your placement.

Now I am a Mario Kart veteran, I typically dominate this game and exploit weaknesses to get first whenever possible whether it be snaking on the DS or wheelie boosting on Wii, or knowing all the little tricks of MK64. This is a game I have so far, not been able to do that in. One would argue then, that this game is really well balanced! Well...it is, except not in that good old Mario Kart way I'm used to.

Let's review my points briefly to try and get at what I'm talking about here.

The first point is people who get first do so practically untouched. Why is that? Are they that good? No, they're not that good. When I get first in this game, I do so masterfully looking just like they do. But in the very next race I'll get 6th or 7th performing my very same masterful techniques and so will they I've noticed. Sure I've seen someone get 1st twice in a row, then I've seen them get stuck 8th or below for the remainder of their stay with the group. So what is balance if skill is not at play? Let's look at point two.

In my next point, this is the crux of Mario Kart 8. It seems to me that this Mario Kart, more than any other has its items balanced in such a way that you can't escape getting stuck in the middle of the pack if you're still there early on in the race and promotes those who have separated allowing them to gain such leads. The problem is the items are just less powerful than they've ever been. Getting hit doesn't deter you enough if you have a sizable lead to be overtaken, and being stuck in the middle constantly bombarded doesn't allow you to have a chance at 1st unlike older Mario Kart games. This leads to a head scratching dichotomy that I'll get to in the 4th point, but let me balance this out with the 3rd point.

So, you're stuck in the middle, what usually fixed this in other Mario Kart games? The blue shell would usually help here coupled with good driving. Getting blue shelled in this game is a minor annoyance. Previous games you'd get hit with it and be stunned long enough to lose position, but in this game online I've rarely seen the blue shell cause a shift in positions. Furthermore, bad driving also caused you to lose positions but in this game falling off course just doesn't punish you enough. You don't see your character fall in, there is no cut to black as you get put back on course. No, you get saved from the clutches of going off course IMMEDIATELY with very little repercussions. Shouldn't the guy who gets knocked off be delayed more than the guy who got hit with a green shell? Yes, but not in this game.

Lastly, it seems that no amount of good driving practices nets you better placements if you're stuck in the middle. Coupled with the item issue not punishing people enough, boosts also don't help you enough after you've been hit. I take every corner perfectly, do every shortcut right, boost on every jump with tricks but if I'm in the middle from the start due to one errant green shell and no one has checked the guy who got into first, there's no coming back from it no matter what. The mushrooms don't boost you fast or far enough, the stars don't speed you up enough to break away, shells will just keep you locked into the perpetual war that is the middle, and bullet bill is only acquired when you're in the bottom moving you back to middle hell. There is ONE exception to this that I've seen and that is the Gold Mushroom. That is by far the best item in the game as it's the ONLY thing you can really honestly do to pull yourself out of the middle if you got trapped there early on. The only other way you're getting out is if the top 3 racers checked each other enough to bring them back to the middle pack, but that is firstly very rare, and secondly out of your personal control, and frankly out of their control if the item gods are not looking at them favorably.

So in explaining my enigma we have to define balance, and that is does the game provide an even chance for everyone to win. The answer is clearly yes. So in this regard the game is balanced right? Well....not really.

As I've outlined, you'll win if you move away from the middle pack right at the start and don't get trapped with them, you won't win if you don't, and everyone has this opportunity at the start. You also can't really control getting out of it either through good driving practices, and even most items don't assist with this. So in this regard the game is very unbalanced as it promotes the players who by sheer luck managed not to get bombarded early on. Plus, even if they mess up mistakes are not harshly punished enough to make a big difference.

What made previous Mario Kart games more balanced is allowing for good driving, or items to let you break away from other drivers to get into the lead. This game's items are too ineffective, and the pitfalls too gentle to really allow for this. In other Mario Kart games I would get in 1st or near there each and every race. Because I'd race perfectly, hit all the right boosts, gain all the advantages of the course with driving and it mattered. That doesn't seem to matter in this game at all though.

But the game is still amazing, it's still Mario Kart, and it's still really fun, just don't expect to win all the time =)

*I'm a Luigi, I'm a number 6....then a number 4...then a number 10....really depends on a when I get hit with a shell...*

Thursday, May 29, 2014

E3 Predictions - 2014

Start Button News used to be cool. We used to make videos of our E3 predictions and excitement every year. Now it's just lonely me toiling away at this blog every now and again when I find time in this crazy existence we call life...

But enough of that, let's dive into what to expect from E3 2014!

Nintendo Logo

So Nintendo has been having a rough go of it these past few years. When the Wii and DS came out Nintendo was rolling in success. So much so I highly doubt they really understood what they did right this time after the semi failure of the Gamecube. To my dismay, I was right. They didn't have a clue what they did right as we cut to the Wii U, Nintendo's biggest failure so far tracking worse than even the Gamecube did. What happened? Well it's simple. The Wii U was an attempt to cater to the hardcore gamer again after leaving them high and dry with the Wii. What's that you say? The Wii U is for hardcore gamers? Yes it is. The console when it launched was over $300, an investment only us gamers are willing to submit to. The controller is of standard fare despite the screen on it (and let me just say the screen does make gaming better where the motion control did not).

But where is this hardcore crowd at? Why would they come back to Nintendo now? Those are the questions Nintendo has to answer at this E3 quite honestly. Or, revert back to catering to the casual crowd they had so much success with. There are two roads here for Nintendo, which will they take? My prediction, is they take both roads.

#1: Nintendo will announce a new Zelda game on Wii U. Nintendo has all but confirmed they are going to tell us about the new Zelda in some recent interviews, and they've had footage of a really good looking Zelda game as a demo a few years ago when they were first showing off the Wii U. It's very likely they have this ready to show at this point. They also need it desperately to reign in fans holding off buying the console.

#2: Nintendo reduces the price of the Wii U to $250 or less. This is the first console Nintendo's released where they are already taking a loss on each one they sell, but it's not by much and they need to learn what the other companies have learned, that if you're making a console with high specs like the Wii U has then you have to take a hit there to break into the market. Sure, Nintendo is really hurting but they need to increase the market share of the Wii U to give developers a reason to make games for it.

#3: Nintendo announces cheap new consoles for smaller markets. Nintendo already announced they were doing this, but I think they'll show off what they were talking about.

#4: We'll see most of what they've already told us like the Pokemon remake. Nintendo has lately decided not to keep the lid on things they're working in lately. Probably in hopes to find ways to raise demand for their consoles, so every other week or so they've been letting the gaming community know what they're up to.

#5: They will announce more 'health' related software. Iwata has said he hopes to rebuild Nintendo by providing health conscious hardware and software. I'm guessing we'll see more on this in their E3 video. I really hope not, but I doubt Iwata will back down from these statements.

So overall I'm not expecting a big game announcement outside of Zelda. I'm also not expecting any big changes either. My wishful thinking prediction is they announce some sort of Netflix subscription to have access to their Virtual Console. They won't do it...but I wish they would.

Sony has had tremendous success with the PS4 since it came out. It has hit the gamers funny-bone hitting the right price point and also by not being complete ass-hats with hubris like Microsoft was trying to shill an always online Xbox.

This ultimately lead to the success of PS4. But what will they do to keep all of this success going? News has been very grim for Sony lately this past year, despite the success of the PS4. Sony has been closing down headquarters, closing Sony stores, selling off their PC division, considering splitting their TV division off, laying off countless people in their in-house gaming studios and cancelling projects. None of this is good news for gamers or stockholders. Sony is shrinking dramatically and the only division actually making a profit is the gaming division. Which is a good thing, but is that reason enough for Sony to keep going? We'll see.

Here's what I suspect the Sony E3 will look like.

#1: New God of War and Uncharted game. The hope for God of War PS4 is very high, but also with a dash of uncertainty as Sana Monica Studios was told to ax the project they had been working on for 2 years to start a different one and was hit with layoffs. After Sony had been retooling and shrinking it was noted that the most recent God of War game sold very poorly, so it only makes sense that they probably cut the God of War game they were making. I'm just hopeful this speculation is unwarranted. The Uncharted announcement is all but confirmed though, so look for that.

#2: Project Morpheus gets a release date and price. Though it's still really early hearing about this project, Sony is very late into it and nearly ready to release it if reports are accurate. This isn't their first foray into head devices as they've been releasing their head mounted display or HMD devices for the last 4 years or so already. Apparently, that light bar on the PS4 controller interacts with Morpheus too, and they'll show that off at E3. Sony has kept a tight lip on that for a while now because they weren't ready to show Morpheus off, but now they are.

#3: We will finally get details on PS Now. We'll get release dates, and probably pricing points. I'm guessing they will have a subscription option and a rental option for this cloud based streaming service. Very excited to see this.

#4: Sony will hopefully not forget the Vita this E3 and announce the Vita TV for US markets. I'm also hoping they announce some games for it....but that's not likely.

#5: Sony will spend most of the show tooting it's own horn at how many units they've sold. Typical Sony treating E3 like a stockholders meeting they will tell us how awesome they are.

My wishful thinking prediction is pretty much God of War PS4....but it's also that fucking ICO game Last Guardian that never surfaced to the PS3. We'll see.

So...I'm not the Microsoft guy here at Start Button. That was always Keith and he's not here to hold my hand and tell me what the hell is going on with them...I know sales of the Xbox 1 have been lukewarm...and it has games on it? Still I'll try my best for predictions.

#1: We'll hear more about the new Halo game and Gears of War game. Buzz of a new Gears game has been hitting the gaming sites for the past few weeks now, so bank on it at E3. Halo is a bit of a mystery, but we got a teaser last year so I'm thinking we'll see something.

#2: Microsoft tries to sell us a Kinect again. They just recently announced an Xbox 1 without the Kinect, so they're distancing themselves from it finally....but that won't stop them from trying to tell us how amazing it is still at E3. Expect to see them integrate it with new apps, or have some lame Skype call with it. Maybe they'll do something useful with it and show off new Twitch streaming integration.

#3: UI updates to the Xbox 1. From the start people are complaining about the Xbox 1 user interface and how awful it is. And it is awful....it was designed to be used with the Kinect so it works when the Kinect works which is...not much. They will likely revamp this and go back to a 360 style or make something new so it functions cleaner.

#4: Microsoft talks about exclusive games. Microsoft is always looking for ways to show how the Xbox 1 is different from the PS4 and beats over our head again and again games you can only get on Xbox, or DLC that is exclusive though timed (they never say timed...). Expect to see some exclusive deal they made with Activison on the upcoming Call of Duty game. That is typical of them.

#5: Microsoft announces some kind of new plan for PC gamers. This is probably also my hopeful prediction, but it seems more likely than not. With the death of GFWL and Microsoft knowing PC gaming is bigger than ever, and with the Steam boxes on the horizon, I'm betting MS wants to throw their hat in with PC again in some form or another. Sadly, I'm betting it will have something to do with the MS Surface rather than big AAA games, and likely still be connected to the Xbox 1 in some way too. It's probably a bit too early for them unless they're killing off GFWL to make room for their next attempt, but this has a chance.

Overall, my speculation of Microsoft is pretty sub-par. I just don't follow them that well. I have a gaming PC that I'd rather use than an Xbox 1.

Wishful prediction, they announce Killer Instinct for PC!

Final Thoughts: 

With E3 just looming around the corner as a gamer I am very excited. This is the first E3 the new generation of consoles will get where we focus on the games that's in the works for them rather than hardware specs. I can't wait to see what is just around the corner for these new consoles.

*E3 used to have AIDS. That's funny if you've followed us for the last 8 years.*

Monday, February 17, 2014

Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze Gamespot Review - More of the Same

I've been around gaming quite a long time, and one important thing I learned very early on is being able to recognize a quality game before I buy it. Gaming is expensive, and people like me hate wasting their money on a bad game, so I've been very good at not doing that and discerning the crap from the gold.

That's where reviews come in. They help you decide if something is good or not. Some reviews are less informative than others though...so I'd like to comment on the recent review of the new Donkey Kong game, Tropical Freeze. I've never actually done this before as a blog, but nothing has been quite as dumbfounding as this review. You can read it for yourself here:


Now, I don't want to go into a long diatribe about review scores, or things being poorly written or what consideration is given to what as my reviews are probably full of holes just like I personally feel this one is. To summarize, it seems he gave the game a lowish score because he felt the game was "more of the same" as is my title in this blog, see what I did there?

But on that note let's consider the reviewer for a moment, and let us also consider hypocrisy. This reviewer lists his top ten games of 2013 here:


On it, we can see some striking choices. Most notably that 6 of these 10 games are sequels, and by design are "more of the same." Sure, there's some outstanding creativity in games like Bioshock Infinite, and Super Mario 3D...but is there uniqueness there, or am I personally loving games like this for what I know they're repeating?

That's an interesting question that I pose to myself when I see such a harsh review of something I am sure I will love for the same reasons I've always loved Donkey Kong. So when I see a harsh review like this, I question the hypocrisy of it especially in the face of seeing past reviews and not even mentioning "more of the same" as a critique, yet it surely can be applied. Let's take his top 10 list of sequels one by one very briefly.

Bioshock Infinite: This game provided a new story and a new environment, but down to brass tacks the gameplay is the same and perhaps even less interesting than Bioshock 2 where they advanced the combat a bit. Overall, all three games are corridor shooters where the gameplay being good is based mostly on how interesting your abilities are, and how interesting the enemies are. Personally, I feel Infinite had the weakest set of enemies, with nothing as imposing or prominent as Big Daddies were in the first two. The powers were fun though, but I wouldn't say they were better or worse than the first two either, if anything most of them felt "more of the same." (please note though, I loved this game)

Super Mario 3D World: As my review of this game stated, I loved this game. But I loved it for knowing what I was getting, which is something I love playing, which is a Mario game. Sure, I can identify a bland entry to the series like New Super Mario 2 on the 3DS, but I'll still enjoy it because the gameplay is solid. Ultimately, what is this game though? Mario being in what was mostly an isometric view has been done on the 3DS game of a similar name. The levels are bigger in this one and more interesting but at the end of the day you can indeed slap a label of "more of the same" on this game too.

Pokemon X: Do I need to even outline what is more of the same about this game? Surely, I don't, but I will say the game was fantastic like previous entries. But, "more of the same" this game most assuredly is.

Rayman Legends: Also, another game I loved tremendously and fully recognize how amazingly uniquely it handled itself and level design. But....so did the first game. It's more of that game, or...how should I put this..."more of the same."

DMC - Devil May Cry: Yes...he lists this game as his top games of 2013...somehow mistakenly missing the fact that this game plays nearly identically to all the previous entries. Sure the story is better and actually makes sense, and the characters are therefore more interesting but from a gameplay point of view what we have here is "more of the same."

Grand Theft Auto 5: Now this game, I haven't played. I can only comment that I've heard the cast of characters is unlikable, the online is great, and there's a lot to do in the game. But it's Grand theft auto FIVE. Certainly, without any detail I can probably say this game has "more of the same" in it and not get any flack from this.

So, this is his best of 2013 with 4 notable other games that you can't really say is more of the same. The argument can be made for The Last of Us since the game plays pretty much like Uncharted but I give it a pass since it's a new IP and that alone is a risk for developers.

Still, if this list isn't identifiable as hypocrisy enough to make the claim that "more of the same" isn't actually a bad thing, here's a link to a random review I noticed this reviewer did:


See what that is? That is God of War Ascension. Now I'll be the first person to admit loving these games, but I'll also be the first person to tell you all 6 entries have been EXACTLY the same game. I can think of no other series that has done so little in advancing what goes on in the game than say...Mega Man, than that of God of War. And here we are with a glowing review from the guy that claims this new Donkey Kong game is boring, and same old same old, by the numbers etc. He was bored by Donkey Kong, being realistically the 5th entry in the side scrolling version of DK in over a 20 year period....whereas we've had 6 entries of God of War in the last 9 years....

Seriously though do the math on that one. 5 side scrolling Donkey Kong games in 20 years, versus 6 God of War games in 9 years and somehow Donkey Kong is old and boring now?

Now, I wasn't going to poke holes in the review specifically but let me note just one thing he mentions that the level design is stale and doesn't excite him...In EVERY entry of God of War Kratos fights his way out of hell at some point (pretty sure it's every one...most of them anyway...) Never the less, how is that not "stale" level design? How are Bioshock's obvious rooms of enemies not stale, how are Grand Theft Auto's escort driving missions not stale by now, how is catching over 700 Pokemon NOT stale by now?

What I'm getting at here, is the crux of this review is written on the notion that it bored the reviewer personally, because he's been there and done that, and seemingly less so about the qualities of the game itself. As I've outlined here, more of the same is not a bad thing, and I've pointed out how hypocritical this reviewer is being about this game due to his own personal history of obviously liking games that are the same as previous entries. To such an extent he would give 6 slots to his top 10 of best games of 2013 to sequels.

Obviously, I haven't played the new Donkey Kong yet, but I expect what other reviewers have noted that the game plays great just like Returns did, the levels are well designed and challenging. And the game gets high marks for that polish as it should. But, if anything maybe this will help gamers begin to learn how to sift through garbage articles and help figure out if a game is something they'll like or not.

Also, one big thing I'd like to note against "more of the same" is what if this is your very first Donkey Kong game you've ever played? Suddenly, it's not the same as any other game now is it?

*Donkey Kong swung on a vine again....fuck yeah!*

PS - Two the "negatives" in the summary section of the Gamespot review make it sound like he was butt hurt by how challenging the game is...lol.