Xbox One X: A Step in the Wrong Direction? by Caleb Sawyer

Putting the Flop in Gigaflop

A new console approaches: the Xbox One X. New consoles always bring excitement and a spark of innovation to the gaming world, and we hope for something that won’t just prolong our 3-hour gaming sessions at 1 AM but also enhance and elevate our gameplay in the process. But is power truly king when it comes to gaming consoles? Well, when you look at the history of gaming consoles… not so much. And this is what worries me about the Xbox One X.

(Side note: No, I am not a Sony fanboy or a Microsoft hater. In fact, the Xbox was the first home console I ever purchased myself, thanks to a lot of birthdays and Christmases spent saving up money as a youngling. I chose the Xbox over the GameCube and PS2 for one simple reason: Halo.)

When a new gaming console is released, three major aspects matter:

A.) What is different about this console than all the other consoles out there?
B.) What exclusive games will I be able to play ONLY on this console?
C.) How much does the console cost?

The Console’s Individuality.

Out of the big three console developers (Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo), Nintendo has done the best when it comes down to the uniqueness of a new console. Nintendo isn’t afraid to innovate, which is why their consoles always tend to be sold out for AT LEAST the first few months post-release. From the GameBoy to the Wii and Wii U to the Switch, each of their consoles have done something that no other console before them has been able to do, enticing gamers with a method of play that no other console can offer. As for Sony and Microsoft, the tendency is just to improve whatever console of theirs came out last, or simply copy a trend Nintendo has already set (looking at you, PlayStation Move and Xbox Kinect). Improved graphics, improved controller, improved whatever -- they’re all just improvements, not innovation. You had vanilla before, but now we present... French Vanilla!!! Woohoo. There’s no drastic step forward or completely new feature, and we’re essentially just given an Xbox or PlayStation sequel. Instead, Sony and Microsoft seem to rely solely on their exclusive games and the content they hold.

What Games Can Be Played on the Console

As an example, take the Sega Master System vs. the Nintendo Entertainment System. Both were released in 1985 with the Master System being significantly more powerful. Despite this, the NES still outsells it by over 50 million units. The NEO GEO -- the most powerful system of 1990 over the SEGA Genesis and SNES -- only sold a measly 1 million units (the Genesis sold 41.9 million, the SNES 49.1 million). Nintendo 64 vs. PlayStation 1: PS1 smoked the N64 by nearly 70 million units. Xbox vs. PlayStation 2, PS2 outsells the Xbox by over 120 million units. Why? The games. As we’ve seen over the years, a great game library, not great specs, sells a console. Which brings me to my final point:

Price

Currently marketed as “the most powerful console,” the Xbox One X is hitting shelves at the high price point of $499 (USD). The E3 conference and their website boasts about the One X’s usage of 4K, its 2.3GHz CPU, 12GB of graphic memory, a 6 Teraflop GPU, etc… which sounds impressive, but is essentially just a more technologically-improved version of the previous Xbox with absolutely no innovative features. You’ll also be able to replay your old Xbox discs, or download some of the older Xbox titles, which is definitely a plus, however, there are some big red flags here. Not counting the console’s atrocious name, 4K can already be found on the PS4 Pro (a console that’s $100 cheaper). Plus, 4K isn’t quite the norm in living rooms just yet, so for most gamers, it’s a safe bet that 4K doesn’t really matter. And while the nostalgia factor works, it’s not something to rely upon. Are you really going to replay all of Mass Effect for the hell of it when Andromeda and plethora of other games are about to release? Let’s be honest -- probably not.

Microsoft keeps mentioning power. Gigaflops of it. Yes, you can be the most powerful, but can the games, specifically the exclusives, live up to that? After this year's E3, I’m convinced that (at least during year one of the One X’s release) no, the games definitely cannot. The lack of exclusives announced alongside the launch of the One X proves that developers are nowhere near ready to harness this kind of power -- to put it simply, it’s incredibly difficult make a game that utilizes the console’s space/power properly while also conforming to a reasonable development time. Most of the best games shown at E3 2017 (Anthem, A Way Out, Star Wars Battlefront 2) aren’t exclusive and can be played on both the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro… sorry, Microsoft, but no one’s going to shell out an extra $100 just to play Sea of Thieves.

Does the Xbox One X have potential to be next year’s best selling console? Absolutely! All Microsoft needs to do is give game developers the resources to utilize the power that the One X offers. That means games with gigaflops of actual content, not gigaflops of seas and randomly generated islands to happen upon (I don’t mean to keep picking on Sea of Thieves -- it’s just that out of the six announced exclusive titles for the One X, it was the only one that actually looked decent).

A gaming console needs good games to survive. If a gamer wants gaming power, they’ll just build a PC. If Xbox One X can somehow manage to rake in more exclusives that outshine the PS4 exclusives, the One X definitely has a chance to redeem itself. Otherwise, I think we'll just be sticking to Spider-Man on the PS4 and Super Mario Odyssey on the Switch.

~Richard
@richarizzard


 

Videogames and the Culture of Criticism by Benjamin Sawyer

When I started writing about games four years ago, I set out with the mindset that I would be playing games and writing about them. That was it. A simple, uninformed dream of a job title and one that I quickly discovered was not at all correct. I thought it would feel like easy work; I was “playing games and writing about them” after all. How hard could that possibly be? Not the first time a thought I had in college sounded increasingly dumber the older I got.

But I was in college, I had an abundance of “free time” (I think my professors called it class), an Xbox 360, and a laptop. I was enamored by the idea of game writing as a lifestyle. I still am. Topics ranging from gender roles to race, morality and ethics to inclusiveness, beauty and creation to mechanics. A list that goes on and on. I wanted to write about things that mattered, and praise things that frequently fell to the wayside.

When I dove in, everything was happy and easy. It’s games after all. But soon I discovered that journalism is far more difficult than I assumed. I wrote about games I hated and that I loved; topics and genres that gave me energy and filled me with dismay. In the short 5 years that I have been doing this I have written about games like The Last of Us and issues like Gamergate and it has made me appreciate this craft with new eyes. Realizing that there are things that need to be written about, no matter how difficult.

Recently I have run into something that bothers me, maybe even more than ludonarrative dissonance (which is actually getting better in some games). I noticed it first in myself, catching my thoughts when describing games as “recycled” and “stagnant”. In one case, I even described a series as being completely devoid of creativity. I read that article again recently (bet you can’t find it) and realized, players and critics alike have become increasingly critical of the familiar.

In 1963, Porsche made the first 911, a bug-eyed, rear-engined sports car with a six-cylinder boxer engine. It was slick and powerful and came in a small package. Now, Porsche had made other cars in the past, and would go on to create different cars in the future. But that first 911 would turn out to be a lot more than just a new Porsche. It defined the company for the next five decades and continues to do so today.

In the 53 years that the 911 has been developed many things have been updated. The motor is water cooled now, rather than air cooled. ABS was developed and applied. Air bags, seat-belts, rally and race applications and modifications, impact bumpers, brake discs. The car has been in production for 53 years. When technology updated, it updated. But it never changed. Sure some things changed on the inside, but it has always had a rear-mounted, six-cylinder boxer engine. And of course things have changed on the outside, but they are cosmetic and minor. It has always stayed true to its form. Drive a 1963 Porsche 911 down the street today and anyone with half a brain will know, “That’s a Porsche.”

I am more a fan of the older, more boxy looking Porsche 911s, personally. The sharper edges, the whale tail, the bulbous headlamps. There is so much spirit in the old models, so much moxie. The newer Porsches are sleek, smooth, all of the things you would expect of a car from the 21st century. They just don’t appeal to me as much, and thats ok. But would I drive one if I could? Yes.

The fact that a car could be that popular and, on the outside and inside, fundamentally change so little, doesn’t seem to surprise anyone that I know. Car enthusiasts and laymen alike. It is a beautiful car, always has been, always (I presume) will be.

My wife bought a pair of tennis shoes recently. Why I, or anyone for that matter, still calls them tennis shoes is beyond me. I have never played tennis in my life, nor do I plan to (note to self, do not start playing tennis, you'll never live this down). Anyway, she bought a pair of sneakers (but who sneaks in…never mind) recently and I realized something. Her new shoes are the same as her old shoes. Arch supporting sole, cushioned heel, laces on top in a crossing pattern, and mesh weave on the top for breathability. But they look different. And they're new. I put new in italics there because I wanted to put emphasis on it.

New is important to many people. New shoes, new cars, new homes, new girl/boyfriends, new phones, new clothes. We like things to be new, but we don't like things to be different. Our species dismal history of racism, slavery, inequality, and xenophobia are no small testament to that. We like things to be new but we don't like things to change.

You started reading this because it was on a videogame blog and sounded like it was going to be interesting. I’m sure I have lost many of you already. For those of you still here. Bear with me. My point is swiftly approaching.

Take all of the information I have given you so far, plant it somewhere deep in your brain, and begin to think about the videogame industry. For an industry devoted to being on the cutting edge of technology, many times more so than it should, it is mired by the idea that if it isn't new and different it lacks development. It lacks character.

Look, I am in no way trying to be petty here. I believe there is a harsh double standard that exists in this industry. An industry I love more than damn near anything (sorry babe). If a game is released that mimics its predecessor in too many ways it is torn down to the dirt it was built from. Far Cry 4 was Far Cry 3 in a new location. But Far Cry 3 was a resounding success that put a series that was, in my eyes, beginning to lose relevance back on the map. Diving in with the nearly 50 games that made the bow and arrow the weapon of choice in 2012. And Far Cry’s bow mechanics were so good, they were imitated (to some degree) in Tomb Raider, The Last of Us, Crysis 3, and Thief.

Far Cry 3 was good. Damn near great, despite the fact (or maybe because of the fact) that the main character was a bit of a “bro.” It set a standard for beautiful, living, breathing open worlds. Far Cry 4 was only a little different. Replace tropical island with the Himalayas, replace the white, bro main character (who killed a lot of brown folks…but that is probably a different conversation) with a young man with Nepalese heritage and family ties to the civil war that rages in the mountains and valleys, replace fields of marijuana with fields of opium, sprinkle a few elephants, a climbing rope, and those fucking eagles, and you had a game that was familiar, fun, and arguably a bit better than its older brother.

I almost never heard that kind of review from colleagues playing the title. I heard, “It’s just more Far Cry 3,” or, “It is just more of the same, recycled and reskinned.” But is that assessment a damning one, or should it serve as an impetus for fans of its predecessor to return? I loved flying around Nepal with reckless abandon, bowhunting baddies, freeing predators to do the hunting for me, and breathing deep the opiated fumes of destruction.

So many people look at one game’s similarities to another and overlook how it has honed those mechanics, tuned those graphics, or twisted convention. Yes, Tomb Raider is Uncharted on Xbox, but shouldn't that make us happy? Uncharted is a landmark of storytelling achievement and adventure gameplay. Give me more any time you can. Put a strong female character front and center and I will literally throw my money at it (wait…not what I meant). Yes, Fallout 4 is Skyrim with guns. But who doesn't want to play Skyrim with fucking guns?

Now don't get me wrong, the process of recycling mechanics and themes can get old. How many military shooters can look into the future before we grow tired of the idea? How many racing games will lean on the circuit structure before we yearn for more open world experiences? How many open world adventures can require us to climb some kind of tower to unlock parts of the map before we stop scaling? I used to be very critical of the Call of Duty series for similar reasons (remember that creativity insult?). But let me paint the picture framed in my mind on the series now.

In 2003 Infinity Ward made, and Activision published, the first Call of Duty. A gritty, boots on the ground interpretation of the human struggle of World War II, complete with gore, language, and mind-numbing displays of military power and devastation. It was fast-paced, fun, and always found a way to bring people back for more. Activision had published numerous games in the past, and would go on to publish many more in the future, but that first Call of Duty would turn out to be a lot more than just a new game. It defined Activision and the shooter genre for the next decade and continues to do so today.

In the 13 years that Call of Duty has been developed, many things have been updated. The setting has changed, many times. From the sand and mud of World War II to the rain and heat of Vietnam to the glass and steel of modern times and beyond. The engine has been updated, allowing for more fluid frame rates and more realistic visuals. The sound has evolved from a similar staccato of clicks and pops to a wide range of deep thumps and demonic raps. The series has been in development for 13 years. When technology updated, it updated, but it never changed. Sure some things changed on the inside, but it has always been a gritty, boots on the ground interpretation of the human struggle of worldwide combat. While these things have changed on the outside,  they are overwhelmingly aesthetic, cosmetic, and relatively minor. Play the original Call of Duty today and anyone with half a brain will know, “That’s Call of Duty.”

And while I am a fan of the older, more story centered Call of Duty titles, with Soap and Price and Ghost and Makarov; so many characters, so much to say, and so many gut wrenching plot twists stirred in to make the pot all the more aromatic, the newer Call of Duties are smoother, faster, persistent. All of the things I want in a game today.

Call of Duty remains popular, wildly so, and on the inside and outside has changed so little, fundamentally. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. It is a polished, well running, powerhouse of a game. Always has been. I have learned to appreciate the idea that, in games, “if it isn’t broken, don't fix it,” still applies. And I have found that appreciating the small changes, the small tweaks, allows me to find more character in titles I previously thought wholly lacked imagination.

While a game like Call of Duty may look like the same thing over and over again, it continues to sell like hotcakes (side note: what do fast selling hotcakes sell like?). It has proven, with no lack of authority, that it is the game that players want. Perhaps we could do ourselves a favor by stepping back, looking at the miracle we are playing as a whole, and understanding the tremendous amount of work that goes into every title released.

After all, when was the last time you made a fucking game?

@LubWub 

~Caleb 

The Future of Games Needs to Include Accessiblity by Benjamin Sawyer

Video games have changed so much since its creation a little less than 70 years ago. Mobile games are becoming more popular than other gaming platforms in 2015. According to Big Fish Games, "The mobile gaming industry was projected to reach a staggering $29 billion in 2015, and then rise to almost double that amount ($45 billion) by 2018."

With mobile devices and groups like Kickstarter and GoFundMe, there is a growth of small market video game developers, and while it is great to have more games on a variety of platforms for gamers, there can also be a downside. 

Big developers seem to have protocols and rules to follow to allow more access in their games, but I want to make this information accessible to gamers, developers, or even game admirers.

What makes a good game? One that is easy to play, right? You would hate if the jump button and shoot button were the same, so do not do that in the programming. But there are other things to keep in mind, too. 

I think it might be best to give an example. Let’s look at The Witness which was released January of 2016 by Thekla, Inc. Johnathan Blow, the creator of Braid (2008), created The Witness with the funds he earned after Braid’s success. The Witness is a puzzle game that takes place on an island. For this game Blow wanted to create something that focused on non-verbal communication. 

However, some of the puzzles left some players out of the game. A few of Blow's puzzles were nearly impossible for color blind people (especially those with Protanopia) to complete. The game also lacked subtitles of ambient noise required to complete puzzles leaving out hearing impaired players from full gameplay.

Blow said that it was not required to complete all puzzles to beat the game, only to see the more final ending. He said that players could read the walkthroughs to the puzzles in order to get the complete ending if they were color blind. While it is nice that players can go to a walkthrough, that should not be the only way that people can enjoy the game.

So what happens to those who were super excited to buy the game they waited eight years for and they have difficulties like this completing it? They can’t return it, being that is a digital download. TheWitness was not advertised with color/audio warnings for players, causing a backlash from the gaming community that feels misled. 

Blow told Kotaku writer Stephen Totilo, "We definitely thought about colorblindness but ultimately there was not much we could do in terms of the individual puzzles. So the approach instead was to ensure the game did not require you to complete any particular area to get to the end. Colorblindness is only an issue with a fraction of the puzzles in the game, and our design focuses these puzzles in a small number of areas, so the workaround is just to skip those areas.”

So if you thought about colorblind gamers you can come up with a solution, right? My thought would be for Downloadable Content (DLC) or a patch to be available to replace those puzzles for people to fully enjoy the game, but no such work has been released to confirm that effort. 

But that was not his main concern when addressing accessibility for his game. Blow told Kotaku writer Totilo that he even considered restricting access to all other gamers by having a puzzle that only colorblind people could solve. Blow said, “We actually tried to put a puzzle in the game that only colorblind people could solve! But we were not able to engineer it because colorblindness is a very individual thing.”

But exclusion is not the answer. Nor should it be. While I may be privileged to have no visual impairments, my brother is color blind. I remember having to help on some of the games he was playing and I could see it frustrated him. I know I would be frustrated if I could not continue where I was in a game because I could not see or hear what the it was telling me to do. I would continue to be upset if I did not know that it was a color puzzle and I had to move on to another section, rely on another person, or look up the answer in a walkthrough because there was no advertisement before the game was released to warn me of those problems. 

So, future developers, indie or not, please do not follow Blow's example. Don’t feel that you have to come up with the solution all by yourself either. There are plenty or resources to help  developers keep their games accessible to all. 

Now, I am not asking for perfection, but awareness can go a long way. A simple thing like a remappable control pad can do wonders for gamers with disabilities. While games are supposed to have barriers for the players to overcome, accessibility barriers can be problematic to the gameplay and overall enjoyment of the product. According to gameaccessibilityguidelines.com, "Accessibility means avoiding unnecessary barriers that prevent people with a range of impairments from accessing or enjoying your output. 15% of the population is disabled, rising to 20% amongst casual gamers."

The website provides helpful tricks for game developers thinking of accessibility in their games by breaking up the material into basic, intermediate, and advanced information. They even provide a breakdown to help those who are audio-, vision-, motor-impaired and more. 

Includification.com is another great resource to help developers think of the different types of players today. The site's content is created by developers and gamers who have disabilities and stresses improving games for everyone. This is a great way to look at accessibility. Everyone plays a game a different way, why not include more ways for them to enjoy the game?

Groups like AbleGamers are present at big gaming conventions like Pax and continue to advocate for accessibility in games. Game Accessibility Guidelines was created by Ian Hamilton and he travels around the world on behalf of accessibility and consults with game developers on the matter. 

There were 374 games funded through Kickstarter in 2015, double the amount of games in 2014 according to Big Fish Games blog, let’s try to make them as accessible as possible for all to enjoy from here on. 

To read more about accessibility and games check out http://www.polygon.com/features/2014/8/6/5886035/disabled-gamers-accessibility

The New NerdyBits by Benjamin Sawyer

Videogames have always held a place located somewhere deep in the center of my heart. A place next to warm coffee, fried eggs, and a cigarette (which I’m trying to let go of). A place next to dark bars, loud music, dark beers, and boozy friends. A place next to Sunday morning snuggles, bedhead, and warm kisses in cold sheets.

Videogames got in the door early and made a home there, inside me, deeper than what some would call “healthy.” See, games are the reason I am alive to day. That’s no bullshit. If Skyrim hadn't opened its snow-crested mountains to me I would have taken my life years ago. If Bioshock hadn't made me think of things differently I would have gotten lost in the darkness just behind my own eyes. If Mass Effect hadn't taught me to make peace with warring species I wouldn't have had the confidence to make peace with my warring demons.

I have many friends today because of the late night conversations, debating until three in the morning whether or not Cortana is going to take human form. Why Call of Duty is fundamentally one of the best games ever made, but a creative wasteland at the same time.

I have cried, alone, in front of my TV, begging Clementine to leave my side before I turn. To this day, even the moment I write this, my eyes still well up when I remember saying goodbye to Thane Krios. His estranged son at my side, uttering a prayer for a  dying man as his final wish, only to learn that the prayer wasn’t for him. It was for me. And not a day to soon.

Games make me cry when I need it, regardless of my attempts to conceal the pain I have endured.

Perhaps that is something that I should make more clear. Perhaps you have deduced as much already. I have survived chronic depression for the last five and a half years and videogames are largely responsible for that result. And the unending support from my family and my wife (I do not mean to make slight their involvement).

But why am I talking about all of this? That is a good question. Maybe I'm trying to prove a point. Maybe not. Recently I was asked why I play so much. Why I spend that much money. Why I stay up so late. To me the answer was simple; because I am paying a debt. I owe who I am to so many faces I’ll never see. So many voices I'll never hear. So many names I’ll never speak.

That bugs me. Even drives me crazy at times. That is why I write about them. That is why I am writing this. Because I hope that someone, somewhere, reads this and realizes how much their work has impacted me. So they can know how the Division taught me not to give up hope. How Crash Bandicoot showed me that the girl I was dating was going to be the woman I married. How Deus Ex taught me to make the best of the hand(s) I've been dealt (see what I did there?).

This is why I want to make games too. Badly. I want to be the voice you think of when you think of a hero. I want to haunt your dreams, and motivate them. I want to write the story that changes how you see the world. I create something that brings people together, spurring conversations that last all night, then carry on to the IHOP you drove to at four in the morning (yes, I've done that).

Maybe, someday, I will meet one of the many people responsible for my existence. Maybe someday I will become one of those people for you.

Videogames have always held a place located somewhere deep in the center of my heart. I know many with the same condition. So next time you play, no matter what the game is, think about the ones who involved that don’t get nearly as much recognition as they should. They may have changed your life.

That is what NerdyBits is, and I have realized, recently, that I haven't been true to that idea. This is a place for thoughts. A place for appreciation. A place for criticism. More importantly my uncle created this site with the idea that I would use it as a means of expression. So NerdyBits is changing. If only a little bit. I used to try and compete with bigger blogs for readers and clicks. That's not what it was meant to be about. 

Going forward, NerdyBits is going to be me. No more third person writing, no more reviews for review's sake. NerdyBits is Caleb Sawyer. My thoughts on paper. You will still see posts from Kathleen, she is a great friend and writes great copy. But you won't read NerdyBits thoughts on anything anymore, you will read OUR thoughts. OUR feelings. Is it objective, absolutely not. It is truth. Emotion. Because games aren't neutral forces in our life. They have influence and should be treated that way.

Illok forward to the future. I hope you agree with this change. But when it comes down to it, I don't really give a damn. This is me being true to me. This is the new NerdyBits.

@LubWub

~Caleb 

Transformation Tuesday- Meet the Merc with the Mouth: Deadpool by Benjamin Sawyer

Fans of the comic book genre find themselves scratching their heads why this foul-mouthed Ryan Reynolds character is being made into a superhero movie. Marvel’s next superhero movie trailer Deadpool has been making its rounds. Talks of this movie have been running around since the Wolverine Origins movie (2009) when many Deadpool fans were upset with the character development of their beloved mercenary. Those nerds, like myself, were super happy to hear that Ryan Reynolds would come back to play Deadpool in his own movie and hopefully see some justice done for this comic book character. But for those who don’t know, why give the Wolverine bad guy a movie?

Well, funny story. He is not really a bad guy like Loki and he is not really a hero like Spider-Man. In fact, some would call this character an anti-hero. He was first created to be a supervillain in The New Mutants #98, but has since evolved into an anti-hero mercenary with his nonstop talking and breaking the fourth wall with the audience. Hence his second title, Merc with a Mouth. Deadpool was created by Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld and published by Marvel in 1991. Compared to the other Marvel superhero characters in recent movies, Deadpool is pretty young still.

Who is this crazy character? Deadpool, or Wade Wilson, is a disfigured and mentally unstable mercenary. His backstory changes from writer to writer, but he is a Canadian who joined the Weapon X program that gave him special abilities like the accelerated healing factor. Wade Wilson had an incurable cancer so he joined Weapon X for experimental treatment. While his regular cells regenerated, his cancerous cells regenerated, too. The cancerous cells in his brain explain Deadpool’s multiple voices in his head.

Although Wade Wilson is perceived as crazy, he is a mercenary for hire. Deadpool is fluent in multiple languages- English, German, Japanese, and Spanish- as well as trained in multiple forms of martial arts. While he has these deadly skills, his adventures and situations have a great levity to them. Deadpool does not seem to understand social situations sometimes and continues to talk, annoying other characters in the story. He also is not fully aware of when he is talking out loud or in his head, which can lead to some hilarious situations between characters. Because of his rapid healing factor, he seems to have almost no regard for bodily harm to himself which can also lead him to some dangerous scenarios that he has to fight or talk his way out of.

Now if you take out the silliness that is Deadpool, he sounds very similar to a supervillain from the DC universe: Deathstroke or Slade Wilson. How?

Liefeld was a known Teen Titans fan. Deathstroke is the main supervillain from that series, created in 1980. Liefeld created the character’s mannerisms and abilities that were similar to Deathstroke. Nicieza is supposed to have given Deadpool the name Wade Wilson as an homage to Deathstroke so they could be possibly related. But Deadpool evolved and took on a whole life of his own in the short years since he was created.

One example of his shenanigans was an addition of a sidekick in 2007. While other sidekicks of superheroes show courage and have amazing skills, Bob, Agent of Hydra, is a married man who joined Hydra after his wife put pressure on him to keep a job. Bob has no special power or combat training. He is a low level lackey Deadpool took a strange interest in. Deadpool was on a dangerous mission to save Agent X from Hydra when he ran into Bob. Bob was easily coerced by Deadpool to join his side- whatever that side is. In some ways, Bob is just as funny in serious situations as he exclaims at inopportune moments “Hail Hydra” and running away from threats. Deadpool and Bob keep the reader entertained with serious plot lines that seem to go off the rails in unexpected ways.

If you have not checked out any comics, videogames, or movies with Deadpool, I highly suggest it- if you are 13 and older. He is a mercenary with regenerative powers who plays with knives and guns. There are some violent scenes and vulgar language that could be too much for younger viewers. For those eager to meet Deadpool in a small dose, you can check out the Epic Rap Battles of History on YouTube between Deadpool and Boba Fett. And do not miss the Deadpool movie February 12, 2016.

First Appearance of Deadpool in the New Mutants #98 (1991)

Cable and Deadpool issue #18 (2004)

X-Men Legends: Rise of Apocalypse (2005)

Cable & Deadpool #38 (2007) First appearance of Bob, Agent of Hydra

Deadpool Corps (2010)

Deadpool game remastered 2015 for PS4 and Xbox One

 

Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool in new Deadpool movie to be released 2016

@AnimeKat13
~Kathleen

Go-op Gaming: Couch Co-op Trio in St. Louis by Benjamin Sawyer


Many gamers fondly remember growing up playing their games with friends on their couch. GO-OP Gaming invites you to visit them on their couch and relive those memorable times.

Dyllon GrahamGO-OP Gaming was started in September of 2014 in St. Louis by two game enthusiasts in an attempt to give more voice to the Midwest gaming community. Dyllon Graham and Christian Off met while working at Best Buy in Brentwood. Both only lived in St. Louis for about a year. Bouncing off ideas for the channel and going back and forth on a name, they decided to start their YouTube on a previous YouTube channel run by Graham. “[Graham] used to be famous. Don’t let him twist it on you,” Off smiled. “He used to have a skateboarding channel that had 7,000 subscribers.”

It was not a smooth transition for the fans of the site to change the content from skateboarding to video games. But this did not discourage some encouraging voices that inspired them to start completely over from the bottom with a new channel. It has a pretty strong initial following of 336 subscribers for being so new. While GO-OP Gaming is a unique name to search for to subscribe, why choose that name?

Christian OffThe task of choosing the name was no easy quest for Graham and Off. They went back and forth for weeks trying to choose something that would still sound appealing to them a week later. Finally, the first part of their name GO-OP Gaming was created by combining the first letters of their last names: Graham and Off.

“Cooperative was the idea. To bring a couch cooperative revival of playing N64 games and having a face camera and doing all of that,” Graham said.

While they didn’t have a face camera at first, they started to create weekly content and split expenses 50/50 as the group went forward. Graham had plenty of video editing experience from running his previous channel to help the group edit and create content quickly. “I’ve had some YouTube advertising experience. I know how to get around on YouTube. I had the equipment and I had done all the editing,” Graham said. Graham taught Off the video editing process so they could share responsibilities and help the channel grow by creating content faster.

Preston BurnsSoon after, Preston Burns teamed up with the group- creating the trifecta of hosts seen in most videos posted today. Graham and Off met Burns at Best Buy as well. Burns being a new St. Louis resident at the time, too, ran two other podcasts before, including 3.5 Inch Floppy Disk. He also brought structure and talking points to the channel.

“[Burns] pulled in the reigns in on the podcasts. He got it reigned in to where we got structure- like normal, professional podcasts,” Off said. Off continued to note Burns’ marketing influence for the group by creating business cards and bumper stickers that were exclusively on each of their cars.

“My latest mantra has been to effectively own St. Louis and Midwest gaming for anything,” Graham said. GO-OP and other Midwesterners, like Geekly Podcast, try to compete with bigger online presences from both coasts when it comes to gaming content “I would like to be a lightning rod for future people,” Graham said.

They are a self-funded group and have not taken any money from fans through any campaigns. GO-OP Gaming pays for prizes and giveaways of games, like their latest giveaway of Metal Gear V: The Phantom Pain.

They try to keep up their fan presence by going to events, but find it difficult to pay for all the conventions on the coasts. “It’s really expensive to go to those bigger conferences and stuff like that, so you can go to Wizard World in St. Louis and Chicago… I was nearly going to the Star Wars Celebration this year which I’m very disappointed that I didn’t get to go,” Burns said. “But Pixel Pop is right there and pretty cheap.”

The previous year Burns was able to demo Hive Jump by Graphite Labs and was pleasantly surprised to learn about other local gaming companies through these conferences. “When I went to Pixel Pop last year it blew my mind to find out that we had so many gaming companies working here in St. Louis. You don’t realize it until you go to a conference or convention.”

Burns, like many other gamers, played a StarCraft mod called StarCraft Universe which is like a World of Warcraft game. He was excited to meet the creator at one of the conferences and found out that the creator was from St. Louis.

“We would like to do more, but crowdfunding- even if we got bigger, I don’t know. I always like being able to do it ourselves,” Off said.

GO-OP Gaming accomplishes more than video games from their couch and conferences. While they don’t raise money for their efforts, they do help others. This past year they participated in Operation Supply Drop (OSD). This program reflects the support that gamers give other gamers in the form of video games as a distraction for active-duty military and veterans and a bonding opportunity for all service members. OSD sends monthly care packages to United States and NATO troops who are deployed overseas or who are in recovery hospitals. The packages themselves are a myriad of things: consoles, extra controllers and headsets for all consoles and PC, latest and classic Xbox and Playstation titles, and t-shirts.

GO-OP Gaming joined different YouTube bloggers, game developers, gamers, and others around the nation to raise money to send these supply packages to soldiers. GO-OP decided it was best to invite their viewers to watch 24 games in 24 hours, a different game each hour, while continuing to ask for donations. Although very tired by the end of the day, they exceeded their goal of $200.

GO-OP Gaming records every Monday and releases on Tuesday. A YouTube video is released twice a day- morning and night. The docket, created by Burns, goes through an intro and weekly “what’s up?” where they discuss the games they played that week. “We get a news story and then we give you our off-the-cuff opinions on it,” Off said. Burns uses Twitch as well with a segment of “Shitfaced Saturdays,” pronounced in the best Sean Connery accent you can muster. Here, as you might be able to guess, is where he plays through games while drinking. Those gems are released Saturday and Sunday so viewers can mark their calendars.

All the segments are filmed with their face cameras which was also a debate because of extra editing time needed for video and audio. But they finally agreed to keep the camera. “I think the face-cam makes us more personable,” Graham said. Burns quickly interjected, “You see us on the couch, you’ll be there with us, and you can relate to us a little more.”

“The whole point of the channel was to do something that people don’t normally do which is to hang out and play video games with your friends,” Off said.

GO-OP Gaming is looking for more players to join them on their weekly endeavors. Check them out on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Twitch.

@AnimeKat13
~Kathleen

 @Gooperatives
Go-op Facebook Page
~Go-op Gaming

 

Monsters and Bikers Clash in New Comic Series by Benjamin Sawyer

While many people have dreamed about creating their own comic book series, Miguel Santizo, a graduate student of English at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and John King, a lifelong resident of North County, have broken into the comic industry in a big way. Santizo creates the storyline and writes copy for Monsters & Macedonians while his friend, King, brings the written world to life with his illustrations. Santizo and King recently tasted some of the satisfactions of publication when they met fans of their comic and signed autographs at Wizard World’s Comic Convention in St. Louis.

Santizo and King had been kicking around the idea of the comic for a couple years before creating a finished product a year ago. Once finished, they were faced with the problem of publishing. Signing with a major publisher is difficult, so a business had to be formed to self publish. Doug Moser helped create the Legion Macedonia Entertainment, LLC to publish Monsters & Macedonians.

The comic takes place in a violent world controlled by vampires and demons that hide in real businesses in the United States. Most people are oblivious to their presence. The Legion Motorcycle Club, the “best of the bad” heroes of the series, are introduced fighting a werewolf and vampire drug deal to keep control, power, and profit in their territory. The story continues in the second issue with the leader of the Legion Motorcycle Club, Billy, growing into his leadership position with support from his brothers. Santizo described his work as Sons of Anarchy in the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Gangland without the Hamlet.

Santizo researched whatever he could find on outlaw motorcycle clubs to help with the storyline and character development. “I read a number of books, watched documentaries, TV shows, and movies. I wanted to make sure that the book felt authentic, and we didn’t disrespect a culture that I am outside of,” Santizo said. This research is reflected in the strong anti-establishment perspective of the main characters and the intense loyalty they have for their gang.

Although Santizo and King have been working on a comic book for three years, the storyline changed drastically from the original concept about superheroes. Santizo changed the concept of the comic’s current genre. “So, I had to convince John [King] that starting over was worth it, and I believe it was. Then I had to back up what I said and develop characters and a story worth telling,” Santizo said.

“I found that there are a lot of people out there who want to write comics, more writers than artists. There are a fair amount of people who want to draw them, but there are few that are willing to learn what it entails: have the skills to execute the art, the willingness to take the risk of going in on it, especially independently, taking the risk of being criticized, losing money, your own money, and basically making a fool of yourself to anyone that doesn’t understand your passion. We’re still risking that now,” Santizo said.

A typical, large market comic usually has five or six people working on them either writing, drawing, or both and having only two people working on the storyline and artwork makes for a comparatively slower production process. Both have full-time jobs that can also get in the way of production. Their goal is to release at least two issues a year. The first issue is available online. The second is to be released within the next six months.

“If you have the writing bug, after you read long enough you eventually want to give it a shot, and if you have a friend that already has an interest it is even easier. Then the research and writing of the work became my favorite hobby. I could take my whole life and call it research. I could create a whole world full of people and situations, and I would really enjoy it,” Santizo said.

Talking about his illustrator and partner, King, Santizo said, “[King] has always wanted to be a comic book illustrator, has devoted himself to comic book art. His biggest artistic influences are Dave Gibbons, Frank Cho, Steve McNiven, Phil Hester, and Angel Medina. He wasn't able to use most of what we working on before Monsters & Macedonians, but it served as practice. To develop character sketches and looks we play casting call. We use actors, famous people, important people, people we know, etc, and cast them as characters. Then John finds images that help him capture these characters. He doesn't usually make an exact look alike, but an adaptation of that person in the role. For example, Billy, is based on Chris Hemsworth only taken to the toughest biker form possible. John [King] is always on the hunt for images or ideas to make his art and character drawings better.”

Legion Macedonia Entertainment, LLC was started with their own start-up capital. Seeking to build their fan base, they had a booth on the floor of the St. Louis Wizard World’s Comic Convention in May. The two entrepreneurs hope to travel to other conventions after receiving generous amounts of feedback in St. Louis. Besides individual sales, the young company is also accepting donations from fans who want to help see their company grow.

Readers can purchase Monsters & Macedonians: Welcome to the Church online at their website (where you can also read a 10-page preview) or at Comixology. You can also follow the comic on twiter @LegionMacedonia.

@AnimeKat13
~Kathleen 

Technobabylon Preview by Benjamin Sawyer

In the last few years point-and-click style games have resurfaced with a passion. Telltale's Walking Dead started the fire with its compelling storytelling and consequence driven gameplay. They swiftly followed that up with the Wolf Among Us, another episodic title based on a comic series, this time Bill Willingham's Fables. After those two titanic hits, Telltale blew up and is now making Game of Thrones, Borderlands, and Minecraft adventures in the same vein.

What this "Point-and-Click Renaissance," we'll call it, did was open the door for hundreds, if not thousands of indie developers to make the same types of titles. Titles that, while graphically (and developmentally) less tenacious (without sounding rash) than major AAA titles like The Elder Scrolls or Mass Effect, had the opportunity to do what so many games today fail to do: Tell a truly enveloping story in an enthrallingly stylistic visual manor.

Last month I had the opportunity to preview Technobabylon, a point-and-click style adventure game from Wadjet Eye Games (Gemini Rue, The Blackwell Epiphany). The Cyberpunk adventure takes place in a city called Newton in the year 2087. Immediately it was clear that the game drew heavily from sci-fi influences, especially those of the great Philip K. Dick, author of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and We Can Remember It For You Wholesale (inspiration for classic sci-fi films Bladerunner and Total Recall, respectively).

Newton is dirty and clean at the same time. Technologically advanced and repressed. New and old. All aesthetics that lend themselves to a story that, in my playthrough of the preview, weighs heavily on dichotomy.

The three characters that I got to see were Max Lao and Charlie Regis, partner agents at CEL investigating killings that bear the indicatory marks of a serial killer (affectionately named the Mindjacker due to his M.O.), and Latha Sesame, a user and addict of a technological activity called Trance. Trance, a virtual domain love-child born from likes of Surrogates, Inception, and Tron's Grid, is a cyberspace in which people can enter and do anything that their heart desires.

The story that I encountered was setting up what could only be a gloriously tangled web of choice, consequence, and the world left behind. And in world where people can effortlessly link themselves to anything with an interface, Technobabylon also warns of an environment we may find ourselves a part of in the not-so-distant future.  The less-than-comforting AI running the city, Central, is unnerving and omnipresent, creeping wherever it wants with no one to stop it. Trance addicts would sooner abandon the tangible world for the digital. And here we have our triumvirate of ordinary characters, thrust into unsettlingly extraordinary situations.

How Max, Charlie, and Latha will intersect remains a mystery, but the suggestion that Latha might be a future Mindjacker target is enough to assume that their intersection will be wrought with peril.

Technobabylon is set to release on May 21st on PC. Come back to NerdyBits that same day for our full review.

Preorder Technobabylon

Wadjet Eye Games

@CalebTSawyer
~Caleb 

 

Hands On with Happy Badger Studio's SmuggleCraft by Benjamin Sawyer

Friday I had the privledge of visiting indie developer Happy Badger Studio for some hands-on time with their upcoming, and recently announced, procedural racing game SmuggleCraft. The first thing I recognized about the studio, a cozy, top floor space in Maplewood, was how quaint and understated it was. It was quiet. The small puppy that greeted me upon entry made the space feel a lot less "studio" and a lot more "home."

In my experience with indie devs, as limited as it may be (after all I have only visited two studios to date), there has always been a small degree of anxiety in my chest as I made the trek to their doors. Call it amateurism, call it inexperience, call it being over my head, every time I have done it, I have always been slightly on edge when I go to a studio as a representative of NerdyBits. Happy Badger was no different.

But just as with Pixel Press, my visit to Happy Badger showed me that this industry is one of the friendliest industries I have ever encountered. Everyone is supportive, kind, welcoming, even homey. But I get ahead of myself. Why was I there?

SmuggleCraft.

Happy Badger, a studio who had made themselves in the mobile gaming market, is making a game that is going to perform the console jump. Their console of choice? The indie-friendly PS4 (still not quite sure I forgive Microsoft). SmuggleCraft, as the brain behind the idea (also Game Designer and Producer) Ben Triola said, was born out of a very simple idea. He wanted to make a racing game where gamers finally weren't restricted to "racing in circles." Pretty novel idea right? "If you look at racing games you really have two dynamics," he went on, "either the hyper realistic (i.e. Forza, Gran Tourismo) or the overtly cartoonish (Mario Kart anyone?)". And while none of what he was saying was a revelation, it took me a bit by surprise. I had never really given the racing world much thought when it came to games.

I've played Forza plenty. Correction, I have tried to play Forza plenty, almost always a decision that leads to a childish rage quit, laden with adultish profanity. The games are hard. At least to me. And while Mario Kart is a change of pace car, it is on the far oppoiste side of the spectrum. There is very little realism to shooting shells at your buddies. Sorry Mario. Yes, there are titles that fill the gap, for sure. The Need for Speed series has consistently battled with the line between realism and arcade. But even with those games, there is still a defining factor that 90% of them have, that Happy Badger is trying to steer away from. Driving in circles.

I translated that assertion liberally. Perhaps only for the sake of games like Burnout and the more recent Need for Speeds. Because, while they have steered in the direction of A to B style races (rather than A-B-C-D-A, 12 times) there is still an overlying tone of competition that doesn't quite change from title to title.

SmuggleCraft is seeking to change that very thing.

Immediately, what set SmuggleCraft apart, was one word. Procedural. For those of you who aren't sure what that means, I'll clarify. Procedural is a fancy, programming way of saying random. Instead of Happy Badger creating a set number of tracks that you can master and then, as a result, get bored with, they are creating dozens of track parts. The game then algorithmically creates tracks based on quantified "connection points" between parts (piece AB connects to piece BA, BB, BC, and so on). This makes every track different from the last, and the next, for that matter. No two gamers will ever get the same track.

That isn't the only thing that sets it apart from other racing games, however. SmuggleCraft is a quest-based racing game, set in a world where over-regulation is the norm and oppression is the M.O., and Narrative and Character Designer Carol Mertz is working hard to create a story based on player decision. There are three factions in SmuggleCraft: The Laborers, the Rebels, and the Auros. Players will be able to pick up jobs from all three factions in an effort to pay off their debt. A debt that every player inherits as they take the role of Ferre Astraea, a smuggler (duh). Which jobs you pick up will change the story that you get, as well as increase your notoriety, making your trips from city to city more perilous as hitmen from other factions, and government authorities hunt you in transit.

Those cities will be procedurally generated as well. So rather than random tracks taking you to set cities, the whole world will be new every playthrough you have. With so many possibilities, replay value is bound to be through the roof.

And this is just the preamble I got, before I got hands on time. SmuggleCraft is pre-alpha. With almost a year before release date and as small a dev team as they have, it makes sense that the game be in its first stages. But even with the framework that was their demo, I was hooked. There was a distinct, Wipeout, feel to the control scheme and ship handling. Drifting around corners felt directional and not tractional, appropriate for a hover-craft. The inclusion of a strafe ability, attached to the right stick, also lent to degree of finesse that many games with similar vehicles need but almost always lack.

The courses themselves are rendered with an almost haunting aesthetic, and while Dana Huth, the Creative Director and Environment Designer, admitted to this title being her first time really helming that side of things, it doesn't show. It all fits together so well. Like pieces of a puzzle that you didn't think to align in that order. Even the early music tracks by Phil Hayes (@Bravendary) meshed well. The build that I had access to was lacking the story elements I mentioned earlier, surely still in the development phase, but the frame was there. Quests that I chose were clearly qualified on four levels: Legality, difficulty, risk, and rewards. The upgrade system also wasn't finished, but Happy Badger promises fully upgradeable hovercraft in later builds, and the finished product, a point that led to an interesting discussion about multiplayer.

Multiplayer is definitely a planned feature and, much like Destiny, they plan to give players the opportunity to use their own, upgraded craft in races that would resemble the races old prohibition-era bootleggers used to have. With similar, cut-throat stakes. "You know how when you fall off of the course in Mario Kart, you are gingerly lifted from the wreckage and placed on the track?" Carol asked, "Well we don't want that to happen in SmuggleCraft. If you crash, you're out." 

SmuggleCraft is a long way out, but with what I saw on Friday, I wanted to take it home with me, bugs and all. A fresh take on racing, with a branching, player-impacted story, and an unforgiving competitive multiplayer? Sign me up now! And all of the promise that this game holds rests firmly on the shoulders of their great development team.

I only met with three of them: Ben Triola, Carol Mertz, and Dana Huth. But it was easy to see that their passion for games, is matched only by their passion for the St. Louis gaming community. Founders of Pixel Pop Festival, a small gaming conference on the campus of Webster University, these three are fervent about the growing indie community in St. Louis and the Midwest as a whole. They reached out and contacted NerdyBits after all. Excited to reach out to a local blog. I could not be happier that I fell under that category. The Badgers are great company.

For more on Happy Badger Studio or their upcoming SmuggleCraft follow these links. The other team members at Happy Badger that I missed on Friday are Joey Paniello (@JoeyMaru) and TJ Hughes (@_Teejay5).

Follow Carol Mertz (@carolmertz), Dana Huth (@theRampant), and Ben Triola (@bentriola) on Twitter

@CalebtSawyer
~Caleb 

Transformation Tuesday: Lara Croft by Benjamin Sawyer

It’s time to honor a kick-ass female lead character: Lara Croft. Lara was first introduced into the gaming world in Tomb Raider for the PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and PC in 1996. Since then the fictional character has spawned 16 video games, 2 movies, comic books, novels, animated short series, a themed amusement park ride, and endless merchandising. Lara Croft made video game history as she entered the Walk of Game and Guinness World Records as the "Most Successful Human Virtual Game Heroine” in 2006.

Lara in 1996But let’s focus on the history of her gaming success. The first generation of the franchise consisted of Tomb Raider (1996), Tomb Raider II (1997), Tomb Raider III (1998), The Last Revelation (1999), Chronicles (2000), and Angel of Darkness (2003). The first reboot series started with Legend (2006), then Anniversary (2007), and Underworld (2008). The second and most recent reboot included the reimagined Tomb Raider (2013) and the upcoming Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015). The handheld series was Tomb Raider (2000), Curse of the Sword (2001), and The Prophecy (2002). The Lara Croft spinoff series encompasses Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (2010) and Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris (2014). Lara's been busy for nearly two decades and managed to stay in great shape.

The Tomb Raider franchise became known for their female heroine and third person over the shoulder camera shooter, platform, and puzzle gameplay. Toby Gard, one of Core Design’s lead artist at the time, created the concept and game we all know and love today. Because of some obvious similarities, Gard had some lawsuit problems claiming that the main character resembled Indiana Jones. Gard sidestepped the problem when he suggested the main character be female. Core’s co-founder, Jeremy Heath-Smith, leaped at the opportunity of this new game idea.

Gard went to work and created a South American kick ass woman named Lara Cruz. This was not approved by Core whose parent company was bought by Eidos. They wanted a more United Kingdom friendly game. The team went to the phone book and started to call out names, finally agreeing on the now iconic name of Croft.

The game was a 3D realistic world where the player led Lara Croft through temples solving puzzles and thwarting dangerous animals and humans to reach the prize artifact. Lara could walk, run, jump, swim, dive, climb, and shoot. Along the way, Lara carried her two signature automags that never ran out of bullets and an apparently infinite bag on her back to hold numerous prizes. These two things were not exactly realistic, but Gard wanted to stray a little away from realistic with his character design. A computing error created Lara with a 150% increase bust size instead of an intended 50% increase.  However, the "mistake" was so popular they didn’t fix it.

Sony was not as excited about the game and, at first, didn't want it for PlayStation. Gard took the game to Overdrive who added the voice of Shelly Blond to Lara, a musical score, and full-video cut scenes. Tomb Raider went back to Sony who then jumped at the idea of marketing the game for Play Station.

The game was a huge success, costing $2.4 million dollars to create, but it making $14.5 million in just one year.

The game was criticized by animal activists who did not enjoy the body count of big game animals killed during the game. It was also criticized by those who did not like Lara's unrealistic body figure, claiming that no real woman built like her could walk upright and jump. She was praised for her independent character by some feminists, while others demonized her for her overt sex appeal.

Gard didn’t agree with Lara posing nude for advertisements as it was out of Lara’s character that he had created. It wasn’t his decision, however, as she was now the property of Eidos, and so he left Core.

1997Eidos wanted a game out every year at the same time, so the group went to work on Tomb Raider II. They made a whole list of improvements: new levels with new lighting, new enemies, assault weaponry, grenade launchers, driving skill and vehicles. It was another huge success selling 8 million copies. They couldn’t celebrate long and had to go straight back into the game development of Tomb Raider III with new animations of shells ejecting from guns, new moves, new vehicles, and new plot lines. Eidos wanted to rerelease and profit more off of the success of the previous games with “Gold Editions” of the games. The company also added new levels to each game.

It was speculated that Lara Croft had reached her peak, but Revelations was the biggest success of the franchise to that point. It wasn’t as much innovations to the game, as it was it being a solid game and franchise. The group couldn’t keep up with the demand for constant innovations and were tired. So they decided to kill Lara in her own tomb and solve their problem.

Eidos wanted to profit more and decided to make Gameboy Advance games while the Core group took a break. They decided to go back to work with the game release of Chronicles in 2000. The game play was recycled and the game was not new anymore. Core insisted it was not a full game and went to work on a new game for the PlayStation 2.

1998Angel of Darkness was a darker game that brought in hand-to-hand fighting and a new playable character, Kurtis Trent. The game had problems transferring from the PlayStation One to Two which caused major delays. Eidos pushed the game to be released before the Tomb Raider movie sequel despite Core saying the game was not ready. The game was unsuccessful and the movie’s lack of success was blamed on the game and vise versa.

Eidos took Core off the Tomb Raider project and gave it to Crystal Dynamics. Crystal Dynamics won over Toby Garb and got his help as a consultant for the game Tomb Raider: Legend released in 2006. Legend went back to Lara’s roots and expanded on her back story and reasons for her becoming a Tomb Raider. Gard became a designer for Tomb Raider: Anniversary released in 2007 as he redesigned his old games for a more contemporary audience. Gard continued to work on Tomb Raider: Underworld released in 2008, following the story from Legend.

In 2010, Square Enix released a download only game Tomb Raider and the Guardian of Light. The game is a spinoff to the regular Tomb Raider games and offers a different style of game play. It is similar to the Gameboy Advance games and offers up to two player gameplay. In 2014, Square Enix released a sequel called Tomb Raider and the Temple of Osiris. The title offers cooperative game play up to four players.

In 2013, Square Enix released an origins game simply titled Tomb Raider. Hoping to revamp the franchise, the game introduces players to a much younger Lara as she struggles for survival. A sequel date was released in 2014 for the holiday season of 2015 for Rise of the Tomb Raider.

2000Tomb Raider is very much on the rise as Lara Croft transformed from her 1996 character to her 2013 character. Take a moment to relive her past makeovers through the years, and be on the lookout for her latest transformation in 2015.

2003

2006

2007

2008

2010

2013 (the best)

2014

@AnimeKat13
~Kat

2014: The Year in Review by Benjamin Sawyer

2014 has swiftly come and gone. The next generation of consoles have been the current generation for a full year, a bevy of titles releasing for both. Gamergate took the gaming world by surprise and left a quagmire of unsavory, garish internet hostility floating on the surface of everyone’s minds. And industry names changed hands or outright closed with surprising frequency, from Irrational laying developers off to Microsoft buying Minecraft from Mojang for a stifling 2.5 billion dollars.

However, despite this year’s scale and ambition, I can’t help but feel underwhelmed. Now, while you may feel that evaluation is ill-based or even borderline ungrateful, let me explain myself. This is going to be a long conversation. Pour a cup of coffee and pull up a chair.

This year was massive when it came to games. With the new consoles getting comfortable in their new digs the year began with an air of promise to it. New consoles meant new games, many of those new games being new IPs (Intellectual Properties) that brought an astounding amount of potential to the table. From the freshman studio (albeit it made of veteran developers) Respawn Entertainment’s all-out, mech-heavy shooter Titanfall, to Ubisoft’s cyber-security action game Watch Dogs. From Warner Bros’ delightfully dark Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor to Insomniac’s comically outrageous Sunset Overdrive. A lot of games hit the shelves this year, but only a few stood out. A problem, in my opinion, not based so much on the merit of the games themselves, but with the manner in which they were released.

The first half of the year was lackluster with a few bright spots. Thief had a tepid comeback and Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare effectively fell on deaf ears. Titanfall stole March, and for a good reason. The new IP from ex-Infinity Ward developers was polished, intelligent, and stepped onto the scene as if it were no different than a Call of Duty sequel; with confidence (even with its laughably reduced persistence system). The rest of March was pretty solid as well, with genuinely good titles like Dark Souls II, Yaiba: Ninja Gaidan Z, and Infamous Second Son rounding out the lineup. The only real blight was Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, a game that should have been priced differently, should have lasted longer, and could have just as easily been released as a part of the larger Phantom Pain, planned for release in 2015.

Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs, a game that had people antsy for its release for more than a year, stumbled into our hands in late May and, despite all of its hype (or, perhaps, because of it), played a relatively boring game of limbo with the bar that it had set itself.

Then (after a long, meh, summer) came Destiny, Bungie’s first title since Halo: Reach. But Destiny, despite its merits, was underwhelming for many people and garnered a very mediocre reception. The sci-fi, action-adventure epic seemed to be missing something. A lot of something, or somethings. A bare bones story, a punishingly unfair reward system in which part of your currency was a reward, a severely unbalanced multiplayer, the problems seemed to just stack up. Fortunately, Bungie developed Destiny to a high level of polish, the game had no real gameplay flaws, which proved to be just enough to keep people playing while they addressed balance and loot issues via a collection of swiftly released patches. Yes, Destiny had its flaws, and still does, but Bungie’s involvement with their community has proven key to the revitalization of their project.

October is when things began to pick up (for better, or worse) for releases. October alone had Alien Isolation, Driveclub, Borderlands the Pre-Sequel, Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition, The Evil Within, and Sunset Overdrive. All highly anticipated titles. All flawed, either by design or by poorly-timed release. Alien Isolation had AI problems for the first two weeks that almost broke the game for some. The Xenomorph literally appearing from thin air seemed to not sit well with players. Driveclub suffered crippling online issues. The Evil Within was another game that received mediocre reviews (despite the fact that Game Informer gave it a 9 out of 10 its metacritic just meets 75). In the wake of these games, Borderlands and Sleeping Dogs felt overlooked.

But not nearly as much as Sunset Overdrive did, and I blame November for that.

The Insomniac developed title was unique, fun, and downright refreshing. A game as self-aware and satirical as Borderlands, fused with Tony Hawk, with a comic book attitude, and a punk soundtrack. It was everything I wanted in a new IP. But then November hit.

A week after Sunset’s release, the new Call of Duty came out, a week after that Assassin’s Creed Rogue, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, and Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. A week after those came Far Cry 4, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Grand Theft Auto V on next gen, WWE 2K15, and Little Big Planet 3. Ten games in three weeks. Just like that, Sunset Overdrive got buried by games with established histories and, especially in GTA V’s case, proven and resounding success. Even if you bought a game a week in November that still swiftly added up, and despite Sunset Overdrives promise, the more proven games got players’ money. After all, Sunset was a new, unproven IP that, if purchased, would dent your bank account just enough to make pulling off November an exercise in fiscal responsibility.

Even with the technical flaws that plagued Assassin’s Creed Unity and Halo, most of the titles released were overwhelmingly quality. Call of Duty took its already over the top cinematography and gameplay to a whole new level with the addition of VO great Troy Baker and Oscar Winner Kevin Spacey. ACU’s ambitious co-op, though initially flawed, was a huge pull for gamers, and now proves itself as one of the year’s best cooperative iterations. Halo 2, remastered, is a delight, and having all four core Halo titles on one disc is paramount. Far Cry 4, while a bit of a rehash of Far Cry 3 (but this time with elephants!), is a solid title that deserved the Best Shooter award. Dragon Age: Inquisition is a masterpiece, enough said.

The number of games titles that hit shelves this fall was truly astounding. But the success of the game industry as a whole took away from the successes of the titles as individuals. Dragon Age needed more elbow room. As did Sunset Overdrive and Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (yeah, that came out in September, amid the outcries of disappointed Destiny fans). The Last of Us and Bioshock: Infinite, arguably two of last year’s best titles, and quite possibly for the entire console generation, released in June and March, respectively. And while I understand the release of games in the fall from a business standpoint, from a consumer’s standpoint I felt overwhelmed, even exploited. My friends and I have games still sealed (or barely played) because we just didn’t have time to get to them. Did 2014 have a game on the same playing field as The Last of Us, other than the remastered version of Last of Us? I would say no.

But this isn’t the first time that the fall game season has been overloaded. It’s a yearly event. So why did this year it hit a little harder, especially for gamers in possession of the newest hardware? Before September there were only a few quality titles worth putting hours into. Everyone was looking a few games to bolster their repertoire. So when we were confronted with the surplus that was this fall, we were all craving so much more than what we had. If you didn’t understand the marketing behind this, you should now.

In the end we have a 2014 that, on paper, looks amazing. A new Call of Duty, two full Assassin’s Creed titles (for the first time ever, mind you), the Halo collection, Far Cry 4, GTA V, Dragon Age, Destiny, Titanfall, Sunset Overdrive, Infamous: Second Son, Watch Dogs, and Shadow of Mordor. But how many of those games have you gotten the chance to play? How many have you beaten? There are at least four award-wining games in that short list, and I left a lot of games out. We should have the opportunity to play all of them without refinancing our homes.

For those of us that did buy all the games that we really wanted, now, instead of reveling in a collection of solid games, we are digging through a stack that feels a lot more like homework than recreation. I think 2014 could be a good year. I just need to get to the bottom of the stack first. That shouldn’t ever be a burden.

@CalebTSawyer
~Caleb 

Amiibo: Nintendo's NFC Contender by Benjamin Sawyer

In a world where game cases come filled with download codes, it seems that the video game industry is going digital and less physical. Amiibo, however, seems to be going against the grain. Successfully. Nintendo designed a wireless communications and data storage protocol (memory cards) called Amiibo. The protocol was named after “Amii” which has the same sentiment as “Friend” or “Buddy” in Japanese. On November 21, 2014, Amiibo released collectable Nintendo characters that interact with games on  New Nintendo 3DS devices and the Wii U with an adapter for the older Nintendo 3DS devices that will be released in 2015.

Gaming companies strive to make their titles profitable after  release day. Many create additional content to be bought online, downloadable expansion sets of items and additional quests, and games that have special content depending on the place one bought it (The Sims is a big user of this marketing). But a few developers decided that they needed a title with a more continuous profit. Creating DLC or another game  could take months to years of development and thousands to millions of dollars.

The answer? Merchandising and game play!

This idea was profitable for the Skylanders figure set first released in 2011. Disney Infinity followed with their own figure set in 2013. Not only did the companies make profits off of the game, they profited off of the collectable toys that would interact in the game- like an unlockable gameplay option. The company could release new figures with the game, but also release different sets of figures after to generate more money for the franchise.

The figures became very popular not only for the game play extras, but for the collector values as well. The figurines are desirable for decoration or play for a variety of ages and genders. These “buddies” are nearly timeless as they feature characters in both new and old games. Nintendo seems to be no different in this matter.

Amiibo brings something different. The ability to use the same figure to interact with several different games. While this is impressive, they raise the bar once more by changing the function the figures will have on the gameplay of the game titles. Amiibo is making the figures more desirable to collect by making the set  impact a variety of games in different ways.

The figures are read by the Wii U gamepad’s built-in Near Field Communication (NFC) reader and the Nintendo 3DS will use a peripheral device to read the figures when it is released. Depending on the game, the figures have the ability to add a character to the game, level-up or customize your current character, give bonuses or special items, and even more.

Figures will have two options for a game: “read” only or “read and write”. Read only games will allow the figures to be used on multiple games at a time. Read and write; however, can only be used in one game at a time and the information will be lost from the transfer from one game to the next. A way to avoid this problem is to collect multiples of figures for read and write games. Each figure starts at $12.99.It can add up quickly.

Nintendo released the first two sets of Amiibo figures to be compatible with the Wii U games of Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart 8, and Hyrule Warriors. The titles for the Nintendo 3DS are Super Smash Bros., Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy, and One Piece: Super Grand Battle X. Later Wii U titles include Kirby and the Rainbow Cruise, Mario Party 10, Captain Toad: Treasure Trader, Star Fox Wii U, and Yoshi’s Woolly World.

The first 2 sets of figures (released November and December) include Mario, Link, Samus, Kirby, Fox, Donkey Kong, Pikachu, Peach, Marth, Yoshi, Villager, Wii Fit Trainer, Pit, Zelda, Luigi, Captain Falcon, Diddy Kong, and Little Mac. The next set of figures is to be release in February 2015 and include Bowser, Toon Link, Sheik, Ike, Lucario, Rosalina, Shulk, Sonic, Mega Man, King Dedede, and Meta Knight.

However, not all figures will work in every game of the series Nintendo is releasing. Of the first three Wii U games and two sets of figures only Mario, Link, Samus, Kirby, Fox, Donkey Kong, Peach, Yoshi, Luigi, and Captain Falcon work in all three games. The others only work in Super Smash Bros. and Hyrule Warriors. Of the later set of figures, only Toon Link will work in all three Wii U games while the other 10 will only work in the same two games. That is until new titles are released.

Certain figures have been sold out in stores and rumors were generated that there was only a specific amount of characters produced, causing panic. But Nintendo denied those rumors saying that stores will have to restock. This is good news for people who wanted the rare Villager, Wii Fit Trainer, and Marth figures that have been rising in cost above $100 online.

The next set; however, will have set amount of figures and sold only specific places. According to NintendoWorldReport, Lucario is at Toys R Us, Meta Knight is at Best Buy, Shulk is at GameStop, and Rosalina & Luma is at Target. Lucario’s pre-order has been sold out for a while now, so it will be very hard to get a hold of in the future. It’s expected that this next set will be one of the rarest sets, adding to its value.

Deformities in the figures are making them very valuable to collectors as well. On Ebay, factory defects of certain characters like Samus having two cannons or a legless Peach is providing a great profit for those who came across them. The Samus sold for $2,500 and the legless Peach sold for a whopping $25,200! Be on the look-out for defects when you are scouring the stores for these hot ticket items.

Like everything else Nintendo, Amiibos are hard going to get harder and harder to find, at least the rare ones. So good luck, and like the Nintendo franchise Pokemon says…Gotta Catch ‘Em All!

 

@AnimeKat13
~Kathleen

Remembering Ralph Baer (1922-2014) by Benjamin Sawyer

Ralph Henry Baer was considered the “Father of Home Video Games” with his invention of the “Brown Box” or Magnovox Odyssey which was the first commercial video game console. He died at the age of 92 on December 6, 2014.

He was born Rudolf Heinrich Baer on March 8, 1922 in Germany. He moved to America before WWII in 1938 and changed his name to Ralph Henry Baer. He worked in a factory sewing manicure sets. In 1940 he graduated from The National Radio Institute in Washington D.C. as a radio technician. In 1943 he was drafted as a Private and served under Eisenhower in Military Intelligence. After the war, he pursued his interest in the electronic industry. In 1960 he revolutionized gaming with his idea to play games on a television.

Baer was destined to invent things. At age 16 he invented a wooden jig to help the sewing machines stitch 5 or 6 manicure pouches at once. According to his website, Baer holds more than 150 U.S. and foreign patents.

In 1966 Baer became a manager of an electronics design division at a defense industry company called Sanders. It is here that he was given $2,500 (approximately $17,000 today) to split with two other engineers to develop the game console. Together they created the “Brown Box,” or as it would be come to be known due to its wood veneer. In 1971, Magnovox bought the system and named it the Magnovox Odyssey. It was released in 1972.

The success of the Odyssey led to other inspiring minds that contributed to the short video game history. Atari created the first arcade game Pong based off of Baer’s table tennis idea. This led to the first video game lawsuit, which was settled out of court and Atari paid Magnovox for licensing fees for years after.

Besides the “Brown Box,” Baer was a pioneer in the gaming world. He created numerous toys and memory games, including the more famous memory game Simon. Have you played Resident Evil? He invented the first light gun (accessory for game console), which is considered the first gaming peripheral, allowing you to kill all those zombies with ease.

Among his award of being the “Father of Video Games,” Baer has other impressive awards: he was awarded G-Phoria Legend Award (2005), the IEEE Masaru Ibuka Consumer Electronics Award (2008), the Game Developers Conference Developers Choice “Pioneer” award (2008), the IEEE Edison Medal (2014), the National Medal of Technology given by President George W. Bush (2006) and his induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (2010).

In an interview in 2010, he said he was the first to lose a video game between two people. So go out there and play a video game in honor of Baer, and don’t be afraid to lose.

You can see the “Brown Box” in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.  

@AnimeKat13
~Kathleen 

Pixel Press: Playing with Magic by Benjamin Sawyer

It was sunny, and warm. Two things that, together, seem repetitive, but this was October 16th in the Midwest. I rode my motorcycle west on Highway 64, venturing into the heart of St. Louis for an interview with a game studio that I was hardly prepared for. Wadded in my pocket rested a piece of paper on which I had attempted to scribble possible questions, to no avail. My nerves kept me from thinking about this interview almost completely. I was riding my bike to a location to talk to some guys about games. At least that is all I could tell myself.

After the hunt that is downtown parking, and the realization that my quarters had fallen from my pocket mid-ride, I decided to suck it up, expect a ticket, and walk the block to the Studio’s 8th floor, well…studio; A small notepad in my pocket, one of my good pens, and a camera, lent to me by my uncle (see Benjamin Sawyer) strapped over my shoulder.

The building was easy enough to find: cities are grids, numbered streets count off blocks (you know…city planning stuff…), and after a hesitant tap on the “8” button in the elevator I was on my way.

When the elevator opened I was immediately flooded with one thought. What am I doing here? Here I was, an amateur journalist with about as much mental organization (in that moment) as a preteen girl at the VIP door to a One Direction concert, walking down the hallway of a real, operating, developing game studio in St. Louis. I fervently flipped through the scattered papers in my head for the name of the guy I was meeting. Robin. Do I ask for Robin or Rob? Or…Bob? Robby?

When I reached the end of the hall and stepped into the actual studio space the panic only peaked, my heart sat comfortably between my teeth and my collar bone, and I may have begun sweating. I locked eyes with the closest developer when he looked up from his computer.

Hi…I’m uh…I’m sup-posed to meeeet…Robin?

Yeah, and that is a generous recollection.

Then a guy stood up, about halfway through the room, approached me smiling, introduced himself, and then introduced ME. Caleb Sawyer of NerdyBits.com. I had actually forgotten that I was there interviewing them. In an instant (full of hellos, smiles, waves, and “what’s ups”) I remembered who I was, what I was doing, and every question I wanted to ask jumped in my chest for a chance to speak. NerdyBits Community (still working on a cooler term for that), meet Pixel Press, an indie game studio in St. Louis and creators of Floors, a game that prompts players to create their own games.

I met Robin Rath, Co-Founder & CEO, first. He gave me a quick tour, a glass of water, and a genuine sense of security. He seemed to be as glad that I was there as I was. The tour ended in a meeting room, our meeting room for the time being, and I was formally introduced to Rob Santos, Lead Game Developer at Pixel Press. And after a few minutes of downright friendly conversation, I began to ask Rob and Rob (yup) some questions.

 

When did you guys start? When, how, why?

Robin Rath (RR): Rob (Santos) and I worked together probably about five years ago. A lot of us have worked together in the past. We’re a team of ten. I approached former coworkers, Rob (Bennet, the third Rob), our CTO, and Daniel (Wiseman) his business partner, and then a guy I grew up with, Josh Stevens, and we all started to brainstorm this idea in January or February of last year. It was really just an extension of our own childhood.

The four of us put together a video and ran the Kickstarter campaign that we launched in June of last year. That proved to be very successful (they raised $109k with a goal of $100k). And Rob (Santos) joined maybe three months later?

So what is the Game Development environment in St. Louis like? Is it nonexistent, small but growing, or just completely hidden?

Rob Santos (RS): I would definitely side with the “small but growing.” In the Industry as a whole there is this void in the middle [of America] where all of the development seems to be happening on the coasts.

RR: Every industry

RS: Yeah, really. But there is no shortage of new faces and ideas I encounter here in St. Louis. With community events and things like International Game Development Association (IGDA) and Global Game Jam, it’s weird to see St. Louis setting records globally in terms of participation and frequency of those events, yet so few people know about it. It’s like it is happening, yet somehow we’ve kept it under ground.

There really is a lot there once you get involved and you discover where it’s actually happening.

RR: Yeah, Rob and I went to ScatterJam (hosted by another local developer, Butterscotch Shenanigans) recently. Rob (Santos) participated and it was awesome to see, literally forty groups of three to five people build games, and it was probably across ten to fifteen different development tools.

RS: It was only the second game jam I have done, and they tried a different technique. Most are set up sort of like high school lock-ins and you get there and brainstorm and code and create all in one sit-down. This one they wanted us to plan out stuff beforehand so you can come out and just make the game. It ended up being one of the most productive events that they had held. So not only are developers in St. Louis holding events more frequently than a lot of other places, but those events are increasingly productive.

What demographic do you guys aim for?

RR: We’ve got an interesting demographic because part of our software is great for younger kids and part of our software is great for older kids, with the motor skill components. Its complex, because we aren’t a programming platform but we are still teaching pretty advanced concepts.

Most of our users fall into either the 8-12 range or the 24-35. And we are looking for ways to make it accessible to even younger kids.

It makes sense then that you guys would be partnered with Cartoon Network and currently developing an Adventure Time game. What does that feel like? You guys are really young, and they are such a big company, how does that impact your decisions moving forward?

RR: The Cartoon Network deal is a huge project for us and it has challenged us to figure out how to make it all work. It’s been a really great experience. For a young studio like ours, to have that project and our own project at the same time has really taught us how to work with different challenges.

The format that we are working with is really focused on making game creation accessible. So you will see some more from us in terms of exactly how you create, but it will still be about enabling creation. With filmmakers and so many others having so many different tools on hand, we want to open that kind of opportunity to gamers.

And Rob (Santos), how does it feel developing these types of games? Do you feel it restricts you more than normal or does it have the opposite effect?

RS: I sort of ride the fence between game development and creative interface, so I get a little bit of both perspectives: How does it play? And How does it make sense (like in terms of a level editor). I think when making a game that expects players to make their own with your tools, you have to be a lot more deliberate about what you put into the game and its engine. A lot of games that are fun, when you dig deep enough and ask enough people, you find out that it was an accident. The game’s mechanics just happened to be fun. With our thing we can’t rely on accidents just happening. So I wouldn’t necessarily say that it is harder, but you definitely have to be more deliberate about what you put into the game.

Did you find that to be limiting?

RS: At first yes. But once I began to understand the “language” that was creating the game I began to create my own words, in a sense, allowing more and more possibilities to open up.

Do you see potential in your game as an educational tool?

RR: Yeah definitely, similar to how Mahjong figured out how to make Minecraft an educational game, we are trying to do the same. We want it to be entertainment first, but there is always the potential for learning: problem solving, design thinking, motor skill development. To create a game you have to be empathetic to your user right? You have to understand ‘how hard should it be, how fun should it be, what are the challenges?’ And that’s what we’re forcing our users to do. Think about why they are building what they are building, even if it’s in a simple environment. So there are a lot of learning pieces, and some of our biggest advocates are parents and teachers.

And, in closing, how does it feel to see kids play your game?

RR: Ah man it’s great. Really it’s what fuels us. We get a lot of kids who look at what we do and say, “Oh man that sounds like the best job ever!” And in reality it’s still challenging sometimes to stay motivated. There are definitely ups and downs. But the best part is definitely going out to schools and working with kids and seeing them get excited. Just the idea of, “Hey I can create it myself and someone can play what I created.” Not many products create that magic. It’s really cool to be a part of. Watching kids ask themselves, “How do I build? Why do I build?” Then watching them see the kid next to them smile as they play the game they created is magic, and we want kids to get that magic.

Robin Rath and Rob Santos were a blast to talk to. It is still amazing to me, nearly two weeks later (sorry about that…), that Pixel Press, a legitimate Game Studio is here in St. Louis. And they aren’t the only one. Others like Hive Jump, Happy Badger, and Butterscotch Shenanigans are in the area, and NerdyBits is going to do its best to shed some light on more of this blossoming community. Pixel Press opened our eyes. Here, in St. Louis, the gaming community is alive and growing. The Robs (heh) at Pixel Press, started just like so many of us. Rath in marketing and Santos in film and web development. They are proof that you don’t have to live on the east or west coast, or have hundreds of thousands of dollars. They are involved in this growing, albeit slightly underground, community and they are only helping it grow. How appropriate that their game Floors teaches it’s players to make their own games.

Connect with Pixel Press. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook. Invest in their games. Support the St. Louis game development community.

@CalebTSawyer 
~Caleb 

Follow Robin Rath and Rob Santos on Twitter
@RobinRath
@RobMSantos

Why Destiny Breaks the Mold by Benjamin Sawyer

It has been a month since Destiny’s release. In that short amount of time we have seen many things go into and come out of this game. We have seen the first maxed out Guardian, the first Guardians to conquer the accursed Vault of Glass, another team complete the Vault on the hardest difficulty, and just yesterday a three-man team tackled the feat in just under an hour and a half. We have exploited the infamous Loot Cave and recently discovered the Loot Stairs. We have shed enemy blood and forged iron bonds with our friends in Vanguard Strikes, and showered in bullets with friends and strangers alike on the surfaces of Earth, Mars, Venus, and the Moon. For the last two weeks we have carried out the bidding of the Awoken Queen, performing hits on bosses in her name, and now we go to battle with our fellow Guardians with the aim of impressing the Iron Lords under the Iron Banner in the Crucible, a gauntlet unlike any other multiplayer arena.

While almost every other game’s multiplayer experience is loadout based, equalizing players with a set number of customizable options per class, Destiny takes a road less traveled by (if at all). Players bring their Guardian, straight from the campaign, into the Crucible in the ultimate test of your strength. Instead of being confined to loadouts and base level weapons, gamers are allowed to work with the warriors they have built up in a litmus test of prowess. While the game modes are nothing spectacular, with your common conquest, team deathmatch, and free for all modes, taking your battle hardened Guardian and putting them to the test against others is a uniquely rewarding experience that adds value to your successes. Where Call of Duty and Battlefield are a test range of a multitude of weapons, Destiny offers a warzone for titans (and warlocks and hunters) to hone their mastery.

That is a lot of positive feedback, and this is just in the first month. Surely, there is much more to come. But let’s face it, the most prominent things we have heard about destiny can be simplified into two short points: Peter Dinklage, and Reviews. And while I would love to dive into why we need to calm down about Peter Dinklage, (and I will, trust me) I think it is far more important to address the latter point first.

This is the first time that NerdyBits has made any comment on the five-hundred-million dollar project from Bungie, and there is a very good reason for that. I would like to point out, before I go any further, that Bungie themselves didn’t even allow publications to post reviews for Destiny until the game had been released. They wanted their world to be populated by players before Game Informer, Kotaku, Polygon, and the rest, judged the game at all. Now, instead of understanding what the developer was trying to do, these publications, for lack of a better term, harassed Bungie for this conscientious decision. It wasn’t a “smart move” by the titan but rather an odd, even shady request that warranted all manner of suspicion and conjecture. If you ask me, Bungie didn’t want Destiny reviewed until now, a whole month after release. Look at all that the game has offered after its birth. With constantly developing side quests and challenges, raids, and a constant flow of patchwork and updates, Destiny is only adding to its scale and overall completion.

With that in mind I want to ask gamers and reviewers alike some pretty difficult questions: What does this mean? Why is Destiny the exception to the rules that have, for so long, defined how a game is reviewed, and finally, is it in any way possible to say that, given the lack of game world development upon release, those reviews that were written before release day (or shortly after) are an accurate judgment of the title that Activision published?

I want to start by answering that last question first. No. The “average” score reviews that Destiny received in the first week of its release were and are, in no way, a fair judgment of this game. It is akin to basing the review of an entire television series (the whole series from pilot to finale) on the pilot alone. And while a show’s potential can certainly be culled from its pilot, even that evaluation is a measured prediction based on what the show gave you on day one. A prediction. And that isn’t even what Destiny was given. GameSpot wrote that Destiny’s “essentials are there, and they're great--but the game surrounding them is cold and shallow.” IGN titled its review “Partially Manifested.” Polygon commented on the disappointing lack of strike missions “available at launch.” There is a familiar strand of thought at play here (I’ll let you figure that out yourself, if you haven’t already).

Now my goal isn’t to go into this article with the sole purpose of branding these blogs and publications as wrong, or even as failures. In fact, many of these reviews really do address some truly important issues with Destiny’s execution. However, the overall tone of nearly every piece of published literature regarding this title can be summed up in a single word: Incomplete.

The question that I want to extend to you is: Can Destiny be scaled alongside games like Borderlands or do we need to treat it as something altogether unique?

How many games can you list that have added up to twelve hours of additional content in the first three weeks (yes the Vault of Glass can take that long) for free? How many titles have introduced as many side quests, challenges, and evolving opportunities in as little time as they did? Chances are, you can count the games that you listed on one, Family Guy hand (they have fewer fingers). That should stand for something.

Destiny could (though it probably won’t) and should (again, probably won’t) change the way that games like this are reviewed.

How different would the reviews be if they were written now, with Iron Banner’s recent release, the Wrath of the Queen’s two week existence, the Vault of Glass, and even more on the way? Would those evaluations claiming Destiny was an “incomplete game” still hold as much merit or would their writers have something different to say. As much as I hate to side with the same people that blame millennials for all of the world’s problems, it seems that our gaming culture’s insatiable need for some kind of instant gratification has left Destiny in the dust in search for a more “complete” and immediate product (e.g. Call of Duty….blech).

And the (ridiculous) complaints about Destiny didn’t stop at its level of completion upon release. Within the first two weeks there were numerous grievances filed under the folder of, “It’s too hard to get legendary and exotic loot.” Seriously? Are we so ADD that the words “difficult” and “grind” have been lost to RPG players? If it were easy to obtain legendary and exotic loot that would be disappointing.

Many have complained that some of the bosses are too hard and take too long to defeat. How many people complained when they found out that Yiazmat (Final Fantasy XII) had over fifty million health points? Yet we complain that bosses in Destiny are “bullet sponges that take fifteen to twenty-five minutes to kill.” Fifteen to twenty-five minutes? I remember fighting Emerald Weapon in Final Fantasy VII for two hours (and I was like…12).

I think we forget that Destiny is an RPG just because it is a shooter. That’s okay, it’s an honest mistake. The only other similar game, really, is Borderlands, whose focus was not nearly as much on the grind as it was about “joypuking” at the sheer number of guns there were (I believe their actual term was BAZILLIONDER). Destiny has advertised “hard work” since the beginning. After all, to “Become Legend” you must (must) put in serious hours. Michael Jordan never complained about how much “work” he had to do to become one.

Now let’s talk about Peter Dinklage, the voice of our Ghost. I’ll keep this short (please, no pun intended). Complaints directed at our AI companion range from “too robotic” to “dismal, sci-fi jargon laden dialogue.” Let’s take a second to think about this from a logical standpoint.

Too many people want to compare Ghost to Cortana, a comparison not entirely unwarranted. After all, both artificial entities were creations of Bungie. Our Ghost, however, is not Cortana, and the expectation that they deliver in the same (or an even similar) manner is ill-based. To say that an artificial character be “too robotic” is awfully oxymoronic. I’ll give some credit to the complaints that claim his vocabulary is, at times, overly sci-fi laden and a bit monotonous but, again, Borderlands was very similar in its “story-by-radio broadcast” style of narration. But Borderlands had comedy in its favor, something that, though not entirely absent in Destiny’s dialogue, isn’t its focus. So let’s stop blaming Dinklage for his shortcomings (no...) and instead look at the message Bungie was trying to get across. The universe put forth by Destiny is one of extinctive peril and looming, nearly inevitable, doom. So…sorry that the dialogue lacks that comedic charm and instead feels more like a concrete swan dive. Could it be improved? Of course. Is it as bad as everyone likes to say it is? Not at all. In fact, some of the best moments of dialogue come from Dinklage’s human moments (I’m reminded of a certain “little light” conversation).

Now, as I said before, I don’t want to completely trivialize every argument that has been voiced about this title. Destiny has some pretty egregious flaws. That being said, they aren’t completely unfixable flaws. The story is mediocre. Period. As much as we should have expected lack of closure in a game from the creators of Halo (Halo 2 anyone?), Destiny didn’t even give us a climactic cliffhanger. In fact, this may be the only instance in which I agree that the game really did feel incomplete. The final confrontation is a tense and overwhelming struggle, quite appropriately, but the story, which bordered on feeling rushed the entire game, just came to an abrupt and, frankly, misplaced stop. In truth, in any other circumstance, this completely cripples a game and its chance at reconciliation (I’ll leave that reference there for you quick-witted types). I think gamers and critics, alike, are missing something though. The contract between Bungie and Mega-Publisher Activision has a 10 year tenure. Activision even said that they are expecting a Lord of the Rings size universe to develop. Couple that with the fact that Bungie has no plans for a sequel yet and you will begin to realize that Destiny has a lot more coming in the next few years.

While many gamers will be displeased with the idea that a game’s story arc is incomplete when it is shipped, there are numerous examples of the same strategy, albeit in smaller titles, that have proven to be extremely successful. Look at the Walking Dead episodic game. Look at anything Telltale has done and is doing, for that matter. The Destiny that we have now is clearly the framework of something much bigger, and while the idea of paying for more story is cringe-worthy for many, I would much rather pay thirty-five dollars every eight months for a new DLC pass, than ninety dollars every year for a new game and a new season pass. Remember the concept I previously mentioned about pilot shows? We have all played the pilot for Destiny, and the set up could, almost literally, go anywhere.

@CalebTSawyer
~Caleb

A Change to Tradition: Bravely Default by Benjamin Sawyer

I have to make a few confessions before I start this review. I never played Final Fantasy 7 or 8. I Loved Final Fantasy 9, 12 and 13 and absolutely hated Final Fantasy 10. I never finished Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy 6 (though I really want to). One of my favorite RPG's is Xenoblade Chronicles (only 2 years old) on the Nintendo Wii. Seeing this you might scoff at my thoughts about Square-Enix's new RPG, but stay with me for a minute (or two). I've played JRPGs more than enough to realize when one is worth clamoring for and Bravely Default for the Nintendo 3DS is just that JRPG.

 

No matter how you look at it, Bravely Default is classic Final Fantasy in all but its name. The title has been out for a little over two weeks, so I won't bore you with the game system specifics and story details. I want to use this 60-70 hour long game as an opportunity to look at the state of RPGS. We are far from the golden era of JRPGS. The last console generation was not kind to JRPG's or Japanese development in general, though we did get some gems here and there. But when you compare those games to games in the past it has been slim pickings for fans of that genre.

 

I liked Square-Enix's vision for the future, at first, with Final Fantasy 13. As linear as it was, it serviced the story well enough while giving some interesting new gameplay mechanics. Where they took the series after that I can't say I personally liked, but I also don't think that Final Fantasy games should go back to style and gameplay present in Bravely Default.

 

That isn't to say Bravely Default is bad, it's quite wonderful and charming. It's nice to have a very classic tradition RPG in this day and age, especially one that has some forward thinking ideas to keep things from being to stale. I just don't think that would translate well to these powerhouse 8th generation consoles. It doesn't break all the bad habits JRPGs hold but Bravely Default works as well as it does because it's on a handheld, and I'm ok with that! There is a place for tradition and a place for change, but I think that console gamers have changed too much to be that place for tradition.

-Devan Robinson

 

 

Why Indie Games Are Saving The Industry by Benjamin Sawyer

Mark of the Ninja by KleiThere is a trend that has been becoming increasingly relevant in the gaming industry: Indie Games. Titles created by small companies that have been consistently making big waves in the hearts of gamers everywhere. These humble creations have given a renewed life to a slowly stagnating source of entertainment.

Let's face it, AAA titles have become repetitive. Every year a new iteration of the same old song, repeating over and over in what is becoming an all too predictive cycle. Call of Duty, Assassin's Creed, Madden, MLB, NBA, even Battlefield. Games have become nearly episodic, but not in the good sense (Wolf Among Us style, more on that later). Genuinely new creations have become scary and even dangerous and so, despite the public's supposed "craving" for new content, developers and publishers fall back on what is comfortable: Sequels and Prequels. Two conventions that are, honestly, lazy and almost always lackluster.

PaPo & Yo

Indie games, on the other hand, have been a breath of fresh air in a stale and tepid era of creativity. They have almost always met with unanimous support and, believe it or not, they almost always come out with better reviews than their big name competition (if you could call the unfair battle between creativity and income "competition"). Look at the last two and a half years alone:

Resonance
Slender
Spelunky
Journey
FTL (soon to be releasing an Advanced Edition, which our own Ben Sawyer had a part in)
Hotline Miami
Retro City Rampage
Dust: An Elysian Tale
Dear Esther
Pid
Console's Release of Minecraft
Dustforce
Quantum Conundrum
Mark of the Ninja
Fez
Papo & Yo
Sine Mora
Sword & Sworcery
Don't Starve
Gone Home
Guacamelee
and The Stanley Parable

These games together have an overall average rating of nearly 9. I think the message is clear: Indie Games are what people want. With the enormous surge in the use of crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter and  the community involving Steam Greenlight, indie developers have the entire industry at their fingertips. 

With the recent, nearly viral success of the frustrating yet addictive Flappy Bird by .GEARS Studios, the "trend" that was indie games is becoming much more than that. Indie games are bringing people back into the gaming world, and the cause for this effect is not hard to grasp. Gamers, as a whole, want something unique. They want to play something that isn't the generic, run of the mill, and cliche nonsense that many titles have grown to become. Indie Games are the solution.

Pid by Might and DelightThis doesn't mean that big developers like Ubisoft and Dice are out of the game though. The successful launch of the Next-Gen consoles offers up new opportunities and the chance to start anew for hundreds of developers and publishers, indie and AAA alike. Respawn Entertainment is just one example of this potential. New IPs are on their way, and with those IPs comes the hope that maybe, just maybe, the big, old dogs have learned a few things from the new guys on the block.

FTLIndie Games have exposed the demand and, at the same time, have given the industry the lift it needed. They not only saved games from sinking into the same stagnation that has begun to plague Hollywood, but they have offered up their own tried and true solution. Give gamers what they want: Creativity. Entertainment that is new, thrills that are unique, and creations that step outside of the box.