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Author Archives: Trever Bierschbach

Games to Get Excited About: April 2018

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April is a short month for video game releases, but there are a couple of good titles in the mix, and a couple that I think people are going to be pretty excited about.  We also have some of the Nintendo Labo kits coming out, which aren’t games, but I’m sure there are some young gamers out there looking forward to these.

When the original Pillars of Eternity released, it was a great day for fans of classic RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale.  Those games are remembered fondly for their style, scope, and scale.  They set the foundation for the RPGs we have today.  Newer RPGs may be prettier, and have more bells and whistles, but people still consider those old school games to be the best.  Pillars of Eternity was a true callback to those games that created so much of what’s used in RPGs today.

Why I’m Excited

I haven’t played the original game yet, there’s just too many games and not enough time.  It is on my list to get around to and I’m glad to know that this type of RPG is still viable in the market.  These are the types of games I devoured in the mid 90s and I still love them.  This release just means I have more to look forward to when my schedule and budget allow.

I’m also excited because the developer, Obsidian, is basically made up of the people who gave us those classic RPGs we love.  They came from Interplay, which was part of Black Isle.  They helped bring us Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights, Knight of the Old Republic II and quite a few other great RPGs.  They know their stuff, so it’s no wonder the original Pillars turned out to be so well received.  They have also chosen the crowd funding path with this one, which will allow them the creative freedom to deliver the game they want.

Pillars of Eternity II is set to release for PC on the 3rd, and consoles later in the year.  The developer notes that they are addressing some criticism of the first game and making some changes that should make fans happy.  This will be set in a new part of the game’s world so that players will see new landscapes and people.  They also say that the player’s actions in the first game will have an impact on this one, so that makes me think there will be some sort of saved game transfer like we saw with those older games.

In the story for Deadfire, the player will chase down Eothas, the God that you faced down in the first one.  Eothas escaped and the player travels to Deadfire Archipelago to find out what’s going on.  It will feature the usual conversation complexity and companion interaction we’ve come to expect.  This one, however, also adds a seafaring element.  A customizable ship/base from which to launch your adventure and use as a headquarters.  Sounds like a lot of fun.

Other Notable Releases for April

Extinction – Coming early in the month is a game from Iron Galaxy that will pit players, as a human warrior defending humanity from an invasion of 150ft tall monsters called “Ogres”.

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life – The next installment of this action adventure series drops on the 17th for PS4.  The release will include other games in the package like Virtual Fighter 5 and Puyo Puyo.

God of War – Unofficially God of War 4; this game will take our hero to the frigid north to fight monsters of Norse legend along with his son Atreus.  It will hit PS4 on the 20th.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II – The second installment of this JRPG title comes out at the end of the month on PS4.  It was released for PC back in February.

Microtransactions: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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Microtransactions in gaming have been around awhile now, and are likely to be with us for some time.  They’ve been covered in the gaming press over and over, and discussed by gamers on various platforms ad nauseam.  I did find a pretty good breakdown of the history of this practice, the whys and hows that I don’t want to bore you with.

If you want, hop over to the Intelligent Economist and take a look.  Despite what we think of them, there is a purpose to some of them and it isn’t entirely nefarious.  We, as gamers, also have to accept that to a certain extent we are responsible for how widespread they are and how long they’re likely to be around.  They aren’t all bad however, so if you’re expecting me to go on a long-winded tirade about the evils of microtransactions, you’re only half right.

The Good
There is some benefit to microtransactions, believe it or not.  The best example I have in my experience is with Guild Wars 2.  If you aren’t familiar, it’s a popular MMO that’s been around for almost 6 years now.  It has no subscription model, and has been receiving constant updates, improvements, patches, and free content updates all that time.  It also has microtransactions.  They’re all cosmetic and convenience items though; nothing that’s considered pay-to-win.  It’s a necessary function of keeping a game going with constant maintenance and updates and it’s all optional.  If you want another character slot, you can get that.  A cool outfit?  They have that, too.  A better sword that you can only get in the online store?  No, not going to happen.

See, there’s a reason to have either a subscription model or microtransactions in this case.  I’m old enough to remember a time before the internet and online gaming.  When you bought a game in the early years of our hobby, it either worked or it didn’t.  There were no updates on the regular, or added content you could just log in and start playing.  We didn’t have servers maintained by the game company to play on whenever we wanted.  Even in the early days of online shooters like Medal of Honor, most of the servers were paid for and maintained by gaming communities and clans that paid a lot of money sometimes to make the game available to play online.

This was well before World of Warcraft revolutionized online RPGs, but there has always been a cost.  You don’t just make a game, put it out there, and expect the initial sales to fund the ongoing support, updates, and server maintenance.  Even now people still play the original Guild Wars on servers maintained by the company since 2005 with no monthly subscription.  Whether we like it or not, microtransactions in Guild Wars 2 help make that possible 13 years after release.

In these cases, I can’t really fault companies for using this model.  We really only have a couple of options if we want our games to be available with that sort of content and care for a long period of time.  It’s not like a game that’s released, and once purchased has no real contact with the developer any longer unless there’s a patch.  Some of these companies hire dedicated staff to do nothing but update a game while they also try to make new ones.  As long as they aren’t dipping into the pay-to-win or loot box model I don’t really see an issue since it keeps me from having a monthly bill just to play the game.

The Bad
Not all pay-to-win is bad, as long as there is a reasonable time gate sort of option to unlock the same content.  I don’t mind a game company offering early access to weapons or equipment for people who want to burn their money if I can do the same thing over a few hours of gameplay.  In a way, I like the feeling of achievement one gets from unlocking weapons and kits in games like Battlefield 4.  Sure, those higher tier weapons are better, and for a time people who paid to unlock those kits would have an advantage but it seemed like a fair trade off.  I’m going to play the game anyway, and I don’t care to spend any extra money just to have a weapon I’m going to get eventually.  Where it gets bad is when the time to unlock isn’t reasonable.

Battlefront 2 was a good example of this, though I thought the game was garbage before loot boxes were even mentioned.  Not only were there microtransactions, but there was also a randomized element incorporated into the loot boxes.  It was likened to gambling by some and in general it was just a bad idea.  The time it would take to unlock everything through grinding was exorbitant, which would leave players at a disadvantage in game for a lot longer than is reasonable.  The feature was met with a great deal of uproar from gamers, and EA made some temporary changes, but ultimately people still bought the game.  Sales for BF2 did suffer, and it has raised questions about what is acceptable regarding microtransactions.

The Ugly
The ugly truth is as long as people keep buying them, companies will keep doing it.  That’s sort of how the market works.  Companies try different things to make money.  If that thing sells, then the company will believe that is what the market wants.  If it doesn’t, then they try something else.  We can rant and rail all we want, but at the end of the day there’s only one language a business understands.  Will the awful sales of BF2 be enough to deter companies from using this tactic?  I don’t know, it’s too early to tell.  I can tell you if the next game from EA or Activision has microtransactions and people spend money on them, they’ll forget about the Battlefront sales.  It’s not a pleasant thought, but we are partially to blame for this marketing ploy.

The other ugly head of this beast is the manipulative marketing.  It’s one thing to present things for people to buy and let them decide.  It’s entirely another to make it so enjoying the game at all depends on spending more money over the purchase price.  It started with mobile games and the whole, “Pay another 99 cents to unlock 30 minutes of gameplay.”  The worst of what I’ve heard is from Activision recently though.  The idea is that, through matchmaking, they will encourage you to buy in-game items.  Pairing players who have good gear they bought, with those who have not purchased items, in order to trigger purchases through envy.  Manipulating our need to ‘keep up with the Joneses,’ so to speak.

Personally, I don’t think I own any games with pay-to-win schemes built in, but if I do I can say for certain I’ve never bought any of the items.  I have purchased some convenience items through the Guild Wars 2 store, but as stated above I don’t see that as an issue in this debate anyway.  I think the only way we’re going to change these practices is to stop feeding the beast.  The publishers certainly aren’t going to just stop offering to take our money if we keep giving it to them.  The whole thing is a mess but we gamers have the means to change it for the better if enough of us want to.

Facebook Introduces Monetized Streaming Service for Gaming

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Facebook is throwing their hat in the game streaming ring and hoping to compete against established video streaming services like Twitch and YouTube.  In case you’ve been living in a cave the last few years, game streaming is a unique medium where viewers watch people play games.  It has become big business for streaming services, but also for gamers, some of whom use it as their only source of income.  Facebook is going to offer creators a way to handle their streams, marketing, and monetization all through the popular social media platform that many already use to keep in touch with their audience.

According to the press release, the Creator Pilot Program is focused on a few key things:

  • Helping gaming creators build more meaningful and more engaged communities on Facebook than anywhere else
  • Increasing discovery and distribution across multiple surfaces, including Facebook.com, Instagram and Oculus
  • Supporting gaming creators with the types of tools they need to make a living streaming games on Facebook
  • Building a platform where creators at every level have the opportunity to thrive

The social media giant promises to work with creators and streamers to build features to help the community grow and creators to thrive.  One of the earliest features announced is the ability to stream in 1080p at 60fps.  Allowing viewers to tip streamers a minimum of 3 dollars while they are streaming is also a key feature with this roll-out.

Sign-up is very easy and there doesn’t seem to be any requirement for established follower count to create an account.  I signed up in just a couple of minutes and easily found the streaming page from their Creator page linked above but I have yet to find any link from my own Facebook page. One can hope that will be coming soon.  The other drawback that I notice is the stream key is not permanent so setting up multiple streams like I do through fragsandbeer.com, YouTube, and Mixer.com ahead of time would not be possible with Facebook’s streaming service.

Games to Get Excited About: March 2018

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The end of first quarter of 2018 is packed full of game releases, including two games specifically for PlayStation VR.  We have Final Fantasy XV finally coming to the PC, an HD re-release of the Devil May Cry series as well as continuations of series like Far Cry, Valkyria Chronicles, and Attack on Titan.  Honestly, though, this month there’s not one game I’m personally interested in, but I know there’s one that many people are looking forward to.

Far Cry 5 is the latest installment in a popular adventure shooter series coming near the end of the month.  Set in the fictional county of Hope, Montana, the game will follow a religious cult and the sheriff deputy (the player) sent to stop them.  The development of the game has taken longer than expected, releasing this year rather than back in 2017.  The player will be able to recruit allies from the local townspeople in the game as well as taming animals to assist with the mission.

Why People are Excited

Far Cry is a very popular series and this game has had a lot of talk around it already due to heightened political discourse.  Setting the game closer to home for a lot of people, instead of some exotic far-away land, has caused speculation about whether the game has some hidden meaning or not.  There was even a petition to change the game’s protagonists from American Christian fundamentalists to a group of Muslims.  Most gamers that I know took the petition as satire, which it very likely was, but it certainly stoked the flames of discussion.

For the important part, the game itself, it looks like Ubisoft plans to deliver a thought-provoking story with a couple of new game mechanics.  The writers want to explore the theme of separatism and what drives citizens to become so disenfranchised that they turn away from their own government.  What causes people who live in such a free and open society to turn against it so dramatically?  Dan Hay said the story looks at the consequences of belief and ideology taken to their extreme.  In the current climate of extremes from all sides, it’s a bold story to present, and hopefully one that they deliver well.

Right from the start, a new feature in this release is to introduce a character generator.  Rather than play a pre-defined character made by the developers, the player will be able to make their own.  They’re also bringing back an element from previous games which allows you to lean around corners again.  We’ll also see a wider selection of close-quarters weapons as the game focuses a little more on melee combat.  In this installment, the player will navigate the open world by way of outposts, working their way through the story by liberating them from cultists.  The writing and outpost element is meant to create a world where no two players should experience the game the same way, as each outpost can be found and overcome from different angles and at different times.

Other Notable Releases for March

Final Fantasy XV – The latest installment of Final Fantasy that released in November for other systems will be coming to PC on March 6th.

Devil May Cry HD Collection – An HD remake of this series will hit PC, PS4 and XBO on the 13th of March.

Kirby Star Allies – This side-down platformer is coming on March 16th to continue the Kirby series on the Nintendo Switch.

Attack on Titan 2 – The sequel to the game based on the popular manga and anime is coming to all major systems on the 20th.

Sea of Thieves – A new title from Rare to XBO and PC on the 20th as well. Cross platform play is promised in this cooperative naval combat game with a pirate theme.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 – The fourth installment of this strategy game is hitting the PS4 on March 21st and will introduce a new class and cast of characters.

Agony – A new title hitting PC, PS4, and XBO on the 30th will put players in hell as a tormented soul trying to survive and escape.

Games to Get Excited About: February 2018

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2018 promises to be a good year for geeks with a lot of exciting movies coming our way.  Gaming is no exception and February is packed with some interesting titles.  We Were Here Too looks cool; a sort of adventure exploration game where two players communicate over walkie-talkie in order to find their way out of a medieval castle.  Shadow of the Colossus has been remade and is being released for PS4.  Also with the release of Bayonetta 2, the original game will also be releasing on the Nintendo Switch.

There’s one release this month that I am excited about, and hoping I can pick it up for streams in the next month or so.  The history nerd, and gaming geek in me is excited for Kingdom Come: Deliverance.  This game had a rocky start with lack of interest and funding for a game from the newly formed Warhorse Studios.  It looked, for a time, like this game would be just another game that seemed like a great idea but never saw the light of day.

In 2014 a Kickstarter was launched to earn enough money to prove there would be interested enough to justify funding.  They secured the needed funds, and have since pulled in over $2 million.  It will finally come to us in a full release on the 13th of the month after being in beta since March of 2015.

Why am I excited?

Unlike a lot of RPGs, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is going to strive to be historically accurate rather than set in a fantasy world.  The game promises period appropriate architecture, clothing, armor and weapons from early 1400’s Bohemia (modern day  Czech Republic).  In the story the old king has died and the new king’s brother kidnaps him in a plot to seize the crown.  The player takes on the role of the son of a blacksmith, whose parents were killed in the war.  You will seek revenge for the killing of your parents, and attempt to restore the rightful king to his throne.  I love the idea of a historical fiction RPG, which isn’t a very common concept in gaming.  We get a ton of fantasy, science fiction, or variations of those but not many that try to replicate a time in Earth’s history.  I love RPGs, video games, and I’m a huge history nerd so this game appeals to so much of what I enjoy.

The game seems to put a lot of consideration into the details as well.  Your armor and gear will wear down and need repairs.  You’ll need to eat, sleep, and otherwise maintain your character’s health.  Even the horses have their own AI, can fight along with you, and have their own set of skills and equipment slots.  Every NPC has tasks that they perform in their daily lives, and the player’s actions have an affect on them.  From the description it looks like this will be a truly immersive RPG where player actions and conversations will have an impact on the world of the game.

They’ve even gone as far as layered armors and having their damage and wear show on the character’s appearance.  Skills will change when they are used.  Combat will include a variety of moves, defenses, and tactics all modified by a kinetic system where blows can affect what you can do and how fast you can do it.  You can commit crimes, but they can change the game’s economics and how NPCs react to your character.  The level of detail is impressive and it sounds like this will be a fantastic game if they pull it off as promised.

Notable Releases for February

Shadow of the Colossus – A remake of the original is coming to the PS4 early in the month.  This is a complete rebuild from the frame up but it will retain its original game play.

Civilization VI: Rise and Fall – The first expansion for Civilization VI adding several new features, including the ability for your society to rise and fall due to several factors.

Dragon Quest Builders – This game will see players take the role of a hero setting out to rebuild the world after its destruction.  Game play will be along similar lines of other block building games like Minecraft or Terraria.

Dynasty Warriors 9 – This next release of the popular hack and slash action game releases on the 13th of the month.  It will include stealth elements and introduce an open world format.

Secret of Mana – This is a full 3D remake of the 1993 Super Nintendo release of the same name.  It will release in the middle of the month.

Bayonetta 2 – The sequel to the popular action game Bayonetta will release in the middle of the month as well.  It comes to us on the Nintendo Switch along with a re-release of the original on the same system.

Games to Get Excited About: January 2018

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I had to take a short hiatus, which meant less game-type excitement over the last half of the year.  Now I’m moved, settled, and looking forward to bringing you all sorts of great stuff in the new year.  Here we go!

January is always a little slow for game releases.  The holidays are booming with new things as studios and publishers try to catch those gift-giving sales and last minute shoppers.  That doesn’t mean we are without anything to look forward to as we ring in the New Year.  In particular we have several releases for consoles, most of which are based on anime titles, as well as current Japanese games getting released in the states.

The one that’s looking the most interesting to me is Lost Sphear.  It’s being called the spiritual successor to I Am Setsuna, also from the developer Tokyo RPG Factory.  It is being published by Square Enix and has been available in Japan since October.  It will release for us in North America on PC, Nintendo Switch, and PS4.  Despite good reviews and praise for its similarity to Chrono Trigger, the Japanese release of Lost Sphear didn’t sell as well as the previous title.

Why We Should be Excited

Square Enix created Tokyo RPG Factory for the sole purpose of creating JRPGs with a 90’s feel.  Some of you may be too young to remember the 90’s, but that era gave us some of the best and most influential RPGs.  Many set the stage for the games we have today –  the primary reason I showcase them on my own YouTube channel every Monday night.  It may be a good reason to pull Lost Sphear and its predecessor into my Saturday show to explore a new game built in a classic style.

The game’s story follows a familiar theme for a JRPG.  Young Kanata and his friends must discover the cause of something plaguing their home and eventually save the world.  Looking through the screenshots it appears to be built like a classic top-down game with turn based combat mechanics.  The graphics are more modern while keeping the feel of games like those early in the Final Fantasy series.

Notable Releases for January

Death Mark – Coming to the Switch and PS4 on the 19th, Death Mark is a horror adventure game previously released on the Vita.  The game centers around a group of people who have received a strange mark, driving them toward a mysterious mansion to find answers.

Dragon Ball FighterZ – A fighting game that borrows from other popular titles like Marvel vs. Capcom, this game comes to PC, PS4 and XBOX on the 26th of January.  It will be a tag team style game where players select three characters and can use one in an assist move against their opponent.

Monster Hunter: World – This open world action RPG is coming to XBOX, PC and PS4 on the 26th.  Much like the other games in the franchise, the game centers on capturing creatures to be studied.  Players will have single player as well as multiplayer available as well as many of the features, weapons and skills found in previous Monster Hunter titles.

As I said, light on the releases but it’s early in the year and close to the holidays.  I’m sure we have more exciting games coming as the year marches on.

C2E2 is Still Better than Comic Con

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Yah, I said it.

I used to go do Wizard World Chicago every year, like a religious pilgrimage to the closest shrine of comic geekdom we had. Then, one year, everything changed and it was suddenly Comic Con Chicago. Vendor booths, artist alley tables, and dealer areas were eaten away to make room for roped off and curtained no-go zones for those who paid big bucks to get signatures from celebrities like Bruce Campbell and Patrick Stewart.

Around the second year of that, if memory serves, we also went to C2E2, Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo.  I believe it was their second year, and it was a small convention, but it reminded me of the early years going to Wizard World.  We had a blast and decided that would become our regular yearly stint.

A bonus was that we always had to make the choice between GenCon and Wizard World. WW always won out due to price.  With C2E2 being earlier in the year, that opened up the opportunity to start going to GenCon as well.  We went to Comic Con one more time after starting to go to C2E2 and, if possible, it was worse than the time before.  It wasn’t about comic books and artists anymore.  It was all about getting in to pay ridiculous sums just to get a glossy picture of an actor signed.

C2E2, while mostly about comics and artists, doesn’t pretend that it’s only a comic book convention.  They do dedicate most of the floor space to comic artists and vendors though.  The amazing part is that in just 7 years they’ve gone from a small show with just shy of 28,000 attendees to a juggernaut topping 80K this past year.

McCormick Place is the perfect venue as well.  Where Comic Con is limited in growth by the Rosemont’s (Donald E. Stephens Convention Center) limited space at 840,000 square feet, McCormick Place boasts 2.6 million, 1.2 of which is all on the same floor.  Just three years ago C2E2 topped New York Comic Con in size, with over 670,000 square feet of space used.  It’s safe to say if it exists in the world of geek culture and you can’t find it at C2E2, you aren’t looking hard enough.

Due to its size, I recommend any attendee go for more than a day.  One day used to be enough for us, whether it was Wizard World, Comic Con, or the early years of C2E2. After the 2015 trip though we knew that wasn’t going to be enough. We were there from opening until about an hour before the floor closed and we felt like we only saw half of it.

Even this year, with two days in Chicago, we didn’t see everything, but we ran out of spending money about lunch time on Saturday and the crowd was getting to be a bit much.  Take your time. Don’t rush; and don’t spend all your money right away.  Best practice, see everything you want to see, and if an item you saw earlier in the day is still on your mind, then go back and get it.  Better to have to backtrack than buy something early and find an item you want more later, but have spent yourself out of funds.

Here’s some other tips for anyone new to large cons:

  • Deodorant
  • Comfy shoes – the show floors are hard despite the carpet
  • Backpack with water bottle compartment – water fountains are free
  • More deodorant – halfway through the day, you’ll wish you could jump into the bathroom and refresh with a damp paper towel and application of deodorant
  • Print/poster tube – pick it up early at one of the many booths selling Dick Blick products. You’ll be glad you did if you buy any art.
  • Phone charger/backup battery – Your battery will drain fast if you use your phone for anything inside a steel and concrete building with no signal strength
  • Dress light, even if it’s cold outside – no matter the temp outside it will be hot in the hall. A short cold walk beats a long sweaty day on the show floor.

Of course, C2E2 is also an entertainment con, so it has a long list of celebrity guests, and some of them cost a lot just for one signature.  The convention does a great job of giving the celebrities space without taking away floor from the comics, artists, and vendors.

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Many of the celebs you meet will also vary in price for autographs from free on up to $60.  I would avoid the meet and greets, though, honestly.  My wife did a meet and greet with Wil Wheaton this year. $60 for a picture with him that he didn’t even sign.  Want that signed? Another $40… yeah, a little disappointing for a long-time fan.

Sure, you get to stand next to them for a second, maybe get a, “Hi, how are ya!” but Michael Cudlitz (Walking Dead, Band of Brothers, Southland) was doing autographs and taking a ton of selfies with fans at his table, and actually talking to people.  We watched from the line to meet Timothy Zahn and it was great to see Mr. Cudlitz treating all of his fans like friends.  He didn’t even sit behind his high table they set up for him.  He came around the side, standing right there with the fans, and it was fantastic.  Granted, Cudlitz had far fewer people in line, but damn if he didn’t show the utmost appreciation for every single one of them.

Other than all that, plan ahead.  Make sure you know what you want to see, and prioritize. You can be in line for a signing longer than anticipated, so don’t schedule anything back to back.  Look for things that aren’t at your local shop, or easily ordered cheaper on Amazon.  Really scope out the deals and find those items that you must have and are hard to find.

Make frequent trips to the car to drop off stuff, but also to get out of the crowd and noise for some fresh air.  The population of a decent-sized city descends on that convention hall and sometimes you just need to get away from it to recharge before diving back in. Above all, have fun.  Any convention you go to is ultimately about that.  Sharing your love for geekdom and having fun.  That’s what makes it all worth it.