My Journey to Get a Nintendo Switch

nintendo switch launch zelda

How I Managed to Get a New Nintendo

I felt pretty stupid trying as hard as I did to get a Nintendo Switch, that in and of itself says something about the new console and the company behind it.

My anticipation about Nintendo’s new console grew as it’s March 3rd release approached. Unfortunately, I was not stoked enough about the console to pre-order it in the few minutes it was available after their February presentation, which soon became an issue. I typically don’t pre-order anything. I’m get excited about new tech, but I’m not an early adopter. I skipped the Wii U though, and my Wii has been neglected for years, so I was excited about Nintendo’s next move.

Continue reading “My Journey to Get a Nintendo Switch”

Creators in my Youth and Now

space ghost coast to coast and c martin croker

Space Ghost Coast to Coast’s Influence

Earlier this week I found out that one of the people who was largely responsible for the creation of Space Ghost Coast to Coast passed away. C. Martin Croker voiced Zorak and Moltar, two of the four pillars of the show along with Brak and Space Ghost himself. I’ve been thinking for the last few days about how much of an influence that show had on me in my youth, even though I probably didn’t get most of the humor, and how interesting the world of creators is today as compared to in my youth.

I remember watching a ton of the original Space Ghost show when I was younger, along with the likes of Thundarr the Barbarian, and how they captivated my imagination. The space setting of Space Ghost and the dark fantasy setting of Thundarr were still new and intriguing to me, especially in cartoons. They could do anything on the screen, where live action media was limited by real life. Then, likely years after Space Ghost and the like had lost their appeal to me, I found something with the same cast of characters but in a late night talk show format. They interviewed real people and pulled shenanigans on each other, all the while introducing me to a new form and level of humor. The show had a tremendous impact on me and is probably the reason I’m still so interested in animation today. I was not a super fan by any means, but it still saddened me that I had never even heard Croker’s name before.

Our Relationships with the Creators We Love

That brought up the contrast of now and then in context. Back then, between the state of tech and my age, I would’ve had no idea how to even begin to be any sort of devoted fan. Croker had a hand in a bunch of shows that I love, but I had no clue. I was too young to work on finding out more about the crew and probably barely comprehended that there was a team behind its creation. I don’t know if it was just my youth or the lack of available information at the time, but looking into the creators never crossed my mind. I just knew the characters.

Now spin up to 2016, the internet and social media may have their issues, but creators and their fans are able to connect on many levels besides a single piece of art. I look up information about anything that piques my interest. I can look at that creator’s past and see what they’re up to now, even get book recommendations and little quips from them on Twitter. Unfortunately, the public nature of creators now has two sides and is often abused by people who are mad at the world for whatever reason. On a more optimistic note, if Space Ghosts Coast to Coast was on today, I’m confident I would’ve been more familiar with C. Martin Croker and his work. I like that idea.

I’ve matured in the time between now and then. Now I realize there are some amazingly people behind the art that I love and has shaped who I am. Whether a writer, comedian, journalist, voice actor, or animator, I am gracious for my contemporary ability to send some kudos their way and directly let them know that they’re kicking ass.  Too many people let the art that they enjoy just slip by. In the digital age, we have to ability to do so much more, as shown by Patreon and similar services. Let creators know when you appreciate them and the way they’ve influenced you, I like to think that gratitude and can to influence them just as much as they help to shape us. At the very least, I hope it keeps them motivated and hungry.

Everyone can use a little word of thanks from time to time, like a gracious kick in the ass.

Image credit goes to Gizmodo

Ubisoft’s VR Experience Blends Board Games with Social Media

werewolf within-1

The resurgence of board gaming culture is undeniable now between the flood of Kickstarter projects and its tremendous presence online. I’m into them myself! As more and more of our social interactions move online, board games are a great reason to actually get together more often with friends.

But, if you’re like IGN’s Alana Pierce, the people you want to play with could be across the world from you. I have a group I play with in Colorado, but my brother got me interested in games when I was young, and he’s still on the east coast. I’m sure I’m not alone in this situation, and VR might offer a possible solution.

Ubisoft showcased a game called Werewolves Within that they’re releasing for all 3 major VR platforms as a unique take on a social VR experience. Where most of the projects being shown off for the upcoming VR space specialize in immersing an individual in a unique world, Werewolves Within basically brings you and your friends to a fantasy setting sitting around a campfire.

There’s a game there, but the main promise from this experience is a VR chat room. You can easily talk to your friends all over the world in a cool setting while playing a simple and fun game. The software also allows you gesture and even attempts to match the facial expression of your character with what it thinks you actually look like in real life.

Werewolves Within is the first product of its kind that I’m aware of and has huge potential for future applications. Gaming is at the forefront of VR news right now, but the technology can do much more. We’re only scratching the surface of the industries that it could be employed in if the tech is widely adopted. This is a great example of VR bridging the gap between gaming and social media.

Hopefully this will plant the seed for all kinds of ideas building on this, including a ton of board game adaptations for online VR play. I’ve never played any pen and paper RPGs, but I can only imagine the potential for something like this VR experience in that arena.

Virtual reality has huge implications in the future, especially once we’re a few generations into the technology and it becomes more accessible to the everyday user. Right now, we’re eagerly awaiting the arrival of version 1.0 of a brand new technology with huge potential to disrupt multiple industries, this is not something that happen often. We’ve seen a few different uses so far, mostly showcasing how the tech can transport you to a fantastic world. Ubisoft has shown us a whole new side of the potential with Werewolves Within.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who is excited to see what comes next for social virtual reality experiences, and what developers come up with for VR next.

What do you want to see in a social VR experience? Let me know in the comments below.

Image courtesy of the UbiBlog, Video courtesy of IGN.com

Reading Snow Crash in 2016 is One Hell of a Trip

Snow Crash-2 (conflict)

I’ve been making my way through Snow Crash, by Neil Stephenson, this year as it keeps coming up and I finally wanted to see what all of the fuss was about. It seems to me that it might be incredible now for very different reasons than it was when it was released in 1992.

I’m not finished the book as of writing this, I’m about 73% of the was through, thanks Kindle, but the parallels to the present in it are incredible and fascinating. It’s as if Hiro Protagonist is living in an alternate version of the near future, maybe even late 2016. That’s a bit of a stretch I hope, given the dystopian basis of the story, but some of the tech present in the novel has amazing parallels to 2016.

The Librarian

To give a rough overview, Hiro is a hacker in a dystopian future, in a book written in a time before hacking and depressing futures were all the rage. He is successful and has a pretty significant amount of financial resources, and he devotes a large amount of it to a software tool that he uses throughout the book simply call the Librarian. The author, Neil Stephenson, spends a few lines talking about how amazing this software is and how it is unfortunately out of the reach of most people because of the significant costs associated with it. It seems the developers didn’t think of making it ad supported and free for the masses…

The Librarian is basically Google, you can search the vastness of information online in order to do research about any topic that has someone passionate about it to write about it online. While this is an interesting idea conceived a few years before Google was founded in 1998, it also shows how things could be in the present.

If the founders of Google hadn’t innovated and had instead gone the route that caused Encyclopedias to fail, their online search tool could be out of reach of almost all of us. Encyclopedias used to be the default wide angle information search tool, they had a little bit of information about most anything that someone might be researching. This brought people to the Library because the encyclopedias sets were expensive and not a financially viable option for most people to own. Google changed everything by making their money through ads rather than selling their tool directly, but we could have alternately ended up all having to go to the library in 2016 to use “The Librarian” software because we could simply not afford it as individuals.

The Metaverse

Google has been relevant for years and its almost a sure thing that someone has drawn this parallel before, but 2016 is the first relevant year of the next topic. In Snow Crash, everyone stay connected through a virtual reality program called the Metaverse. This concept is the basis of an online social network, written about over a decade before MySpace or even Friendster were founded. Obviously, our current social networks have parallels to the Metaverse, but none of them are contained in virtual reality, they’re all currently websites and apps.

That could change later this year when the Facebook owned Oculus Rift is released.

The promise of concepts are all too real, put on your headset and you could be anywhere where a compatible camera is, or enter whatever virtual reality setting or social network emerges next. It’s been written about since Facebook’s acquisition of the virtual reality pioneering company, but this year the first production model of the Oculus Rift is being released to the public and it could become real. We could all be hanging out with virtually tailored avatars of our friends in a bar made with code, not bricks and mortar, in the next few years.

One of the key ideas in the metaverse is that it is open source, and obviously Facebook is anything but, but many of Facebook’s ideas could easily echo the metaverse Neil Stephenson created. All of the hype with virtual reality is in games now, but movies and other experiences are not far behind. Court-side experiences at sporting events and a movie theater experience on your own couch are assuredly in development.

Other social networks besides whatever Facebook are making are there too, we just have to wait until some developer has a polished enough idea that won’t freak people out too much decides to show off their creation.

 

Images Sourced from Amazon.com and Oculus.com

Hearthstone’s Upcoming Standard Mode has Solidified my Interest in the Game

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Blizzard just came out with big news about the online card game Hearthstone that could really shake up the game. It’s a gamble that could be shunned by the fan base, or it could to the trick and bring in a ton of new people. In an effort to keep the game balanced and competitive, but still accessible to new players, Blizzard will be creating a new “Standard” competitive game mode that restricts cards that can be used. Standard mode will be the new default competitive ranked mode and the mode most widely featured in tournaments, but players will still be able to use every card in their collection in another new ranked mode called “Wild.”

I’ve been trying to get back into Hearthstone pretty passively for the past few weeks but I have yet to purchase anything other than a few card packs with in-game currency. I’ve done some research and found that most players recommend grabbing the first Adventure Pack, the Curse of Naxxramas, for the included cards as they are widely used in competitive decks. I was hesitating a bit due to the $25 price tag and have yet to pick it up. This update to the game will excluded all of the cards included in this adventure pack from the new standard ranked mode, along with all of the cards in the Goblins vs. Gnomes card collection.

For me, as I was just getting started, there were 3 Adventure Packs to pick up for all of their included cards as well as 3 card collections, Classic, Goblins vs. Gnomes, and The Grand Tournament. It was a lot to take in for a new player, and a significant financial investment even for just the adventures. The complications presented for development was that all new cards being introduced had to be weighed against every other card in existence to keep the game balanced. This limited the development of new packs to keep the playing field fair. By excluding these 2 card collections from the main competitive scene, Blizzard has a lot less on their plate to consider when introducing new cards. They have also said that from now on, when new sets of cards are introduced, they will eliminate another older card set from the new standard ranked mode.

This all works toward keeping things vibrant and varied in the community. While researching getting into the game, I was basically introduced to a handful of decks that are well known as the gold standard. They’ve been mostly static for a fair amount of time by the looks of it, with only subtle tweaks as new card packs are introduced. This took away from the appeal to me as a new player as I knew exactly what I should go for and how much it would cost me to make. Now that card collections will be excluded from time to time, the competitive scene will be regularly changed up and players will have to be creative in developing new strategies with the newly;y introduced card dynamics.

This will undoubtedly piss some people off, and it’s justified to an extent, but the Wild mode will be their answer every time where you can use every single card you’ve ever bought or earned. But, in order to keep the game fresh and alive, this seems like a necessary change to me. New players can now focus on the evergreen Classic cards before branching into whatever the new hotness is, whether it’s a new adventure or card collection. Anyone who is already invested in the game can continue as they were and expand their collection, but it seems like it will be much more welcoming for new players like me.

Hearthstone couldn’t keep snowballing forever, and this change seems inevitable. It’s better to do it sooner than wait until players have bought even more new cards that they would have to exclude form the competitive scene. We’ll see how my Hearthstone play continues from here with this new knowledge… Let me know what you think of the changes in the comments below!

Image Credit: Blizzard

Tales From the Borderlands Won Me Over in the End

Tales From the Borderlands
The Bro-Fist comes up a few times in Tales From the Borderlands

I started playing Tales from the Borderlands after I heard on several podcasts and read on a few sites that it was in their game of the year discussions for 2015. I haven’t played a Telltale game yet, other than a quick demo of the original Walking Dead release, which I remember vaguely, but favorably. I also loved Borderlands 1 and 2 and will start playing the Pre-Sequel whenever I get the chance, so the idea of a well done story in the Borderlands universe was intriguing to me. The core games in the series have lacked a deep story to go along with the amazing gameplay.

I kind of knew what to expect going into the game. You watch the story and make choices along the way that change the course of the game to fit your prior decisions. I remember making several decisions in a small slice of the first Walking Dead game that ended up costing characters their lives or making characters hate me. Tales From the Borderlands is definitely more chill than that and goes from a sort of buddy comedy to a hilarious and thrilling heist toward the end.

The choices don’t feel like they have nearly as much weight as they did during the Walking Dead. Only a few characters die along the way, which is a nice change, and I’ll have to play through a second time before I definitively know how much of an impact my decisions had on the story’s progress. Telltale seemed to be poking fun at their system along the way. Where in the Walking Dead, I would cringe when the message of so and so will remember that you let their kid die somehow, Borderlands takes itself much less seriously. Messages would pop up at certain points in the story about a character remembering something, or never forgetting you if you really make an impact on them, but less serious messages showed up a ton to underscore the action. I remember having some unfortunate luck and getting hit in the face a few time by a few characters and a message popping up in the corner adding insult to injury, something about me getting hit in the face so often. Not relevant to the direction the story was going I imagine, but it was a funny touch in the moment.

Where I remember the Walking Dead game being pretty stressful at decision times, Borderlands is nothing like that. Most of the decision moments are light hearted and fun with very limited consequences for your crew. There were quite a few quick time events to accent action scenes and keep players engaged, but I rarely felt that my input was crucial to the story other than adding my own personal accent to scenes.

I’m glad I stuck with it after a long gap between playing the second and third episodes, it was a tremendous experience in the end. Waiting for the whole thing to be out before jumping in was the perfect way for me to experience it, I can see myself losing track in between episodes and dropping out of the story. I can definitely see other players struggling with it as well as I remember hearing people complain about a lack of a set release schedule for the episodes and long gaps in between.

The story ended up great but took a little bit to really sink into me, the time investment was worth it in the end though. The story and characters develop into something amazing and add some desirable depth to the Borderlands universe, which I hope will continue to develop. Even if you aren’t into the Borderlands games, I can see this as a great sci-fi hiest story featuring great characters and a fun way to be introduced to the games. We’ll see who I can get to join me on my next trip through Tales From the Boderlands…

8/10

 

I Finally Finished Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain….

MGSV-1

By finished, I mean that I beat all of the main missions in the game and then went on YouTube to watch the unfinished cutscene of the last mission of the game that somehow didn’t make it into the published game. That’s a pretty good way to start running down my impressions of the incredible story around the unrivaled gameplay of Metal Gear Solid V.

There is so much to the story of Metal Gear Solid V, and the game itself contains very little of it.

To start out, I’ve always been into the Metal Gear Solid story. I picked up a PS One late it its console cycle for a deal and the first Metal Gear Solid title was one of the must play titles that I picked up and was definitely the original Playstation title that resonated with me the most. The story was crazy, the gameplay was fun (if a little awkward), and at one point you had to plug your controller into the 2nd player port to keep a boss from reading your mind and predicting you every move. I was sold, the crazy man who created this game was a genius. I dabbled in the series from there on out, I played the second Solid game on a PC that was not meant for gaming but ran it and then did the same thing I did with the PS One with a PS2 and played through Snake Eater. Better late than never. I still haven’t had the opportunity to play Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of The Patriots, a story which I’ve avoided but seems to be the conclusion of the series. Don’t tell me….

Then came Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, a game that was more hyped up than anything I’d ever been excited for from the time that a trailer was released disguised as a game unrelated to the series. That charade was quickly decrypted by fans and everyone was chomping at the bit to get their hands on the game ever since.

Then the game was released, and I had a shiny new Alienware Alpha to get back into the series on, what a ride it’s been.

I’m not planning to go into the gameplay in this post much. It’s been out for months and there are plenty of reviews to tell you all about the amazing military sandbox that Kojima has created, one in which you can approach every situation from at least a dozen different ways. That alone says enough and there’s a ton to read already if you’re curious. I thoroughly enjoyed the game, it stands out as one of the best of the year for sure, but what fascinated me almost as much as the pure gameplay was the story around the game and its release which certainly has been covered more frequently in gaming news this year than any release that I’ve ever paid attention to.

It all started with the disguised trailer way back in 2012, that’s pretty standard fare for a creator that doctored trailers for another of his games to hide the fact that you didn’t play as the hero who everyone expected you to (more on that later).

As the actual release of the game neared, the situation at Konami in regard to Kojima became more and more murky. What looked like a fully blossoming professional relationship with the release of MGSV and the pending Silent Hills game quickly imploded for reasons that we will hopefully someday find out.

We know that Konami removed Kojima’s name from the box are as well as from his Los Angeles studio. They announced the cancellation of Silent Hills despite the significant buzz of P.T., the playable trailer for the game and the promise that it showed.  A story was published about abhorrent working conditions at Konami where employees were monitored in ever way aside from being shackled to their desks. I read all about the situation and watched as Geoff Keighley disparaged Konami for not letting him attend The Game Awards 2015. It was a crazy story, but it impact me completely until I finished Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

I Finally Finished Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain....

This amazingly well crafted game was obviously leading somewhere with its story. The story beats in The Phantom Pain were fewer than in other games in the series, which I didn’t especially mind, but I still saw them going somewhere; then the game ended.

I was taken aback by a bad cliffhanger at the end of what could likely be the end of the series, and is the end of the arc headed by Hideo Kojima. What I found next was unbelievable. I had noted a few articles to read about the game, but not until I had finished the game, it was time. I found out that there was an unfinished cut scene that detailed a final mission that had not been included in the final game and had just been tacked on to a collector’s edition with little fanfare, until people realized what it was. When a kid who looks like he might be (confirmed in the final time line cut scene) a significant character in the series runs away with a hugely powerful military walker, its nice to know what comes of that story. That resolution was intended to be in the game, but for some reason Konami cut development of this crucial ending to the game that brings the whole decade-spanning story together, and shipped a blatantly unfinished masterpiece of a game.

Watching the grand final mission on YouTube and picturing how great it could have been while finished in the game made this my most interesting game of the year so far. I’d never seen anything like it. It also made me feel like it might have been intended as the 50th episode of the game which is just a more difficult (expert) version of the mission from the midpoint of the game where you face off with the metal gear, Sahelanthropus.

There is also more speculation beyond all of this. Metal Gear Solid V is the first in the series to use a roman numeral. It is speculated that Kojima wanted the Peace Walker entry in the series to be the 5th installment, but Konami wouldn’t allow a sequential entry in the series to be on a mobile platform. Beyond that, Hideo said in an interview that the “V” in the title is for “Victory” because of the achievement the game is. Spoiler, which has already been spoiled everywhere else, you actually play through all of the Phantom pain with a soldier who was altered to look and act like Big Boss, Punished “Venom Snake” could also be the root of the V.

So, if conspiracy theories are believed, we actually got two false Metal Gear Solid 5’s and then Kojima left Konami. Kind of a buzz kill ending to the most amazing game in a series that has influenced gaming so much in its lifetime.

Metal gear solid the phantom pain timeline

More on this in another post as this one is much longer than I intended and there is so much to this game and story. Cheers!

Images courtesy Komani and IGN