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Author Archives: Trever Bierschbach

Much Ado About Medocrity: The Drama Around Mass Effect

Much Ado About Medocrity: The Drama Around Mass Effect

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The Mass Effect series has been a highly regarded RPG franchise since 2007.  Even with the widely criticized ending of Mass Effect 3, the series is considered by most to be the pinnacle of story-telling RPGs.  In my opinion, it has been the game that’s kept Bioware on the map all these years when compared to other releases from the company.  It has spawned comics, film prospects, novels and more, and has over 14 million units sold before the release of the latest installment.

Now, ten years after the release of Mass Effect, Mass Effect: Andromeda is out and the reception is less than stellar.  On Metacritic, where reviewers and gamers rarely agree, the game has a critical score of about 77 out of 100 (as of this writing) and right about 4 out of 10 with gamers.  It’s being criticized for everything from bad animation, rehashing of dated mechanics, and poorly developed story.  A couple of reviewers whose opinion I trust give their initial reactions as a mediocre installment at best.

While much of the criticism is without a doubt justified, some few have gone beyond that.  You can’t really go on Twitter without seeing memes, gifs, and screencaps of the bad animations in the game.  That’s all normal for something like this.  What isn’t normal are the people going after one animator that doesn’t even seem to work for Bioware any longer.  Whether she was involved is a matter of debate, but targeting one person on a team for actual harassment isn’t acceptable at all.  Linking them here would be pointless, but if you look, you’ll find a couple of amateur trash bloggers out there with some pretty terrible pieces on the subject.

Then came the defenders to stir the pot and make it worse.  Articles coming out blaming whole swaths of gamers for the harassment, which is completely untrue.  Commentators and games media saying you should support the developer by buying the game and so on.  People defending the game out of pure righteous indignation because of the negative feedback.

All the drama boils down to this.  A lot of people dislike a mediocre game.  A few people have decided to be jerks about it.  A few other people have decided to defend it with large sums of money.  All of it over a game that doesn’t appear to be up to the standards of the franchise.  All this drama, over nothing really.  The worst part is, I can see this eventually becoming the next big marketing ploy.  Crank out a lackluster game, get some bad coverage, stage some harassment or drama, signal the defenders, cash the checks.  We all know publishers aren’t above some seriously low garbage to sell games and get good reviews.  This is well within the realm of possibility.

So, if we want better games, stop buying bad ones for stupid reasons.  Don’t harass developers because they didn’t do a good job on a game.  Stop letting the media blow things out of proportion or convince you to throw your money after bad ideas.  And for Gods’ sake, play some decent games.  I hear Neir Automata is good.

Games to Get Excited About: May 2017

Games to Get Excited About: May 2017

I love FPS games, multiplayer and solo.  It’s a hard tossup between them and RPGs for my favorite type of game.  This means I have to be picky in the games I choose because I have neither the time, nor the money, to get all the games I would like.  For solo shooters especially, this means I’m looking for something that’s part of an established franchise I already know, or something new and unique.  I’m looking for something with a twist on classic mechanics, like the shooter that isn’t a shooter, Portal.  It also helps to have a unique story that gives the game more to offer than simply “kill the waves of bad guys as you navigate down the hall.”

Shooters that are primarily multi-player get a bit of a pass from me, because I know I’m not buying say, Battlefield 4, because I am looking for a good single player experience.  For single player shooters (or mostly single player) I’m looking for something like Half Life 2, DOOM, or to a lesser extent The Division and Ghost Recon: Wildlands.  I want a good world to play around in with a good story, a reason for your protagonist to be fighting the good fight.

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May’s feature game seems to be one of these.  After a rocky start, cancellation, name and engine changes, and settling on a reboot, Prey is finally coming out early in May.  Originally, we were to get Prey 2 from 3D Realms, then Human Head Studios.  Finally, Bethesda announced that the Prey reboot would be made by Arkane Studios, and while it would borrow the setting and lore from the previous game, it is going to be a complete reboot without any previous elements of the cancelled sequel.  It is being developed by part of the team responsible for Dishonored, and has been built from the ground up around the original game’s concept.  It is being described as more of a psychological thriller than a horror game.

In Prey you take the role of Morgan Yu, a character you can customize from appearance to gender at the beginning of the story.  You’ll navigate the halls, and the outside hull, of Talos 1, orbiting the moon.  In Prey’s alternate timeline, Kennedy survived and the space program went much further than reality.  During events of the original game, an alien army called the Typhon was imprisoned on Talos 1, and now you have to go back and fight the aliens trapped there.  The developers promise different endings based on your choices in the game, and a non-linear experience.  I like the concept, and the promise of a story with multiple paths.  If Arkane can deliver, they may just give us one of the better FPS games this year.  It will be available for all systems early in the month.

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Why I’m Excited

I am loving the alternate timeline part of the story.  I’ve always liked books and movies that show our world but with a ‘what if’ twist.  Of course that’s most of sci-fi or fantasy, but a lot of them deal with the ‘what if’ of things happening in the future.  What if the world were taken over by aliens, or people had to abandon the planet because it blows up?  Prey goes back and asks what if Kennedy had lived and the space program became one of our top priorities.  The repercussions of expanding into space, of course, is a war with the Typhon, and the building of a joint space station to hold them.

Watching a couple videos, the graphics are great.  What little bit I saw looks suspenseful, but not on the level that Doom 3‘s Mars base was.  It’s more like the sterile creepiness that made Portal fun to explore.  I like how big it looks, at least from the videos I saw, and how clean the textures look.  We’re not dealing with a run-down mining station in space, or an old military outpost (anymore).  The Talos 1 station is meant to be a corporate outpost, and it looks it.  Of course that may change as you progress through the game, but I like the looks of it.

I’m also excited because it promises to fit all the criteria I have for a good FPS.  That doesn’t mean it will deliver, but a multi-path story, mix between FPS and RPG, and a game that’s good to look at.  If Little Nightmares (last month’s feature) doesn’t take too much of my time, I may get this when it comes out.

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Notable Releases for May

Injustice 2 – The sequel to Injustice: God’s Among Us releases on May 16.  Like the first game, this will be a DC Comic themed fighting game featuring all your favorite DC heroes and villains, with a lot of new additions.  Along with Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman you’ll get to play as Black Canary, Deadshot, Poison Ivy, Supergirl, Swamp Thing and more.  The game will be available on PS4 and XBone.

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia – Coming to 3DS on May 19th, this is a full remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden.  This is a Japanese tactical RPG and is said to incorporate all of the elements that set Gaiden apart from the rest of the series.

Disgaea 5 – Another tactical RPG coming in May, but this time for the Nintendo Switch on May 23rd.  Players will travel the Netherworld to build an army to fight the Void Dark.

Ys OriginYs Origin is coming to Vita on May 30 and is the prequel to the 7 previous games, taking place 700 years in the past.  The game features three characters with different fighting style with a distinctive story for each that you play in succession to open up the entire plot.  It was previously released on PS4 back in February.

Star Trek: Bridge Crew – This is a VR title coming on the 30th as well which will put four players in control of the U.S.S. Aegis, a starfleet ship in the Kelvin Timeline.  Players will take the role of captain, tactical officer, helm and engineer and work together to operate the ship.

 

Games to Get Excited About: April 2017

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Did we skip a month? Sort of, but not really.  I realized that giving you games to be excited about in the same month as the article doesn’t give you much time to get excited, so the editor Goddesses have let me shake it up a bit and give you a little over a month to let said excitement build.  There’s a few games coming in April, including another Switch title, but the game I’m really excited about is Little Nightmares.

Little Nightmares is a puzzle-based platformer in which a nine year-old girl named Six is trapped in a creepy old house.  The girl is taken to a place called The Maw, which is a twisted resort for the rich and demented.  Given the chance to escape, you must navigate The Maw, looking for a way out, and solving the puzzles in each room with the items you find in each room.

Why We’re Excited

This game looks like Tim Burton and Guillermo del Toro got together and produced a cute, twisted interactive movie.  Watching some of the gameplay videos showed a creepy game with some very cool art style and sound.  It looks like you can explore just about anywhere while to look for ways to unlock rooms and find your way out.  It has a great use of lighting and sound to enhance the experience.

I’m also excited because this reminds me of classic games like Myst and The 7th Guest.  While I enjoy games with combat, fighting, and adventure, sometimes it’s fun to sit back and enjoy something different.  I loved that about both the Portal games as well.  Exploring, solving puzzles, and working my way through a game without having to blow things up and kill imaginary people.

Finally, the art style is probably what hooked me the most.  The game looks beautiful, and unique.  These days any company can give you a realistic world with great character models, and some of them look as real as any CGI in a movie.  It’s getting to where the realism of Battlefield or Arma is the rule rather than the exception.  With Little Nightmares, the art isn’t realistic at all.  It’s got a very unique, exaggerated style that looks like that world would probably look to a frightened child.  Everything is overly large, and strangely distorted.  The bad guys are all grotesque and demented looking.  It looks like something right out of a childhood nightmare, and it’s not like anything I’ve played myself when it comes to the graphics.

Little Nightmares comes out in April of this year and will be available for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

Notable Releases for April

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – A port of Mario Kart 8 for the Nintendo Switch, this version will feature all of the previously released DLC.  This will bring the franchise we are all familiar with to Nintendo’s new platform on the 28th of April.

Dragon Quest Heroes II – A continuation of the popular hack and slash, Dynasty Warriors style game comes to PS4 on the 25th.  This series combines the play style of the popular Dynasty Warriors with the characters and monsters from the Dragon Quest franchise.

Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 – Is an open-world FPS in which you collect intel to find missions and complete your objectives.  From CI games we’ll see this on PS4, Xbox One, and PC on the 4th.

Persona 5 – Officially the 6th installment of this popular RPG, Persona 5 comes to PS3 and PS4 on the 4th of April.  The game is described as a social simulation and RPG, as you take the role of the silent protagonist living through a year of high school

Another Cosply Competition Show Coming to Syfy

Another Cosply Competition Show Coming to Syfy

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Cosplay Melee, a new show hosted by Yvette Nicole Brown, is coming to Syfy on March 21st.  I looks to be similar to shows like Face Off, pitting contestants against each other in a competition to create their own designs.  In each episode four top cosplayers will compete to create full costumes as well as original characters.  Other judges include special effects artist Christian Beckman and cosplayer LeeAnna Vamp.  If it follows the format of similar shows we may also see guest judges from similar fields.

This looks to be Syfy’s second venture into the cosplay world, though other shows have touched on its aspects, like Fangasm and Naked Vegas.  The network’s previous attempt, Heroes of Cosplay, had a bumpy two seasons.  The show was criticized for negative portrayal of the community, cosplayers, and even causing problems with contestants who weren’t part of the show when they changed the format of a competition.  While I personally enjoyed the show, I did see some of the issues that others saw in the show, and I’m inclined to believe that’s why it didn’t come back.

Other than Steampunk’d, which isn’t exclusively about cosplay, there isn’t really anything else on TV right now featuring this art form.  What began as just a hobby for super fans to express their love of pop culture, and their skill as crafters, has become a worldwide business.  Some cosplayers not only compete for a living, but model, sell branded cosplay props and costumes, and appear as featured guests at conventions.  With the immense popularity of other similar fandoms, it is surprising that we still have so little abut this on television.

What I hope we don’t see?  The catty, snarky, and backstabbing nature of most of these shows.  It’s a staple of reality competitions, whether it be makeup, tattoo, or cooking, there always seems to be a lot of back room bickering.  It’s hard to tell if it’s manufactured, or just the result of putting a group of dis-likable people in a room together and making them compete.  It’s bound to happen; not everyone gets along, I just hope it doesn’t become part of every promo and ‘next week on’ clip.

I also want to see amateur contestants.  As much as I like seeing the work of Nigri, Han and Doomkitty, I’d love to see the show feature less-known artists, and those just starting out.  Beginning cosplayers look at the work of the big names, and can be intimidated by the level of craftsmanship.  It’s especially disheartening when the work is portrayed in a lightning fast montage between commercial breaks when that kind of work can take a beginner days or weeks.  It’s like being a new writer (like me) and seeing how fast James Patterson can crank out a best seller.

I can’t deny that I’m excited for this show, but I’ll go into it with a bit of hopeful skepticism.  I haven’t been able to get into other programs like it, except for background noise while I’m doing something else.  I want to see a good cosplay competition.  I just don’t want to see a re-skin of Inked or Face Off.  What do you think?

Women in Gaming: Carol Shaw

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As an old-school gamer, it’s always been a part of life that women game, and women develop games.  From the beginning, advertising has included boys and girls playing Nintendo together, men and women at the arcade, and in company photos from some of the greats.  While there’s never been an even split, it never seemed strange to me that girls in my neighborhood liked video games as much as I did.  It was only within the last ten years or so that people have not only raised the question “Is it enough?” but also began to inundate our gaming news with so much negativity about being a woman in this industry.

I’ve interviewed female developers and gamers about this, and while their experiences vary greatly, most agree that the lack of positive coverage of women in gaming is a hindrance to making any substantial change.  When young women start looking at gaming as a possible interest, many will be turned away by the lack of any good examples in the media.  Let’s face it, bad news sells, but it also skews our perspective.  Take a look yourself and you’ll find top searches are a mix of contradictory stories, negative and frightening press, and too few articles about the women who have helped shape this hobby we all love.  So I’m glad to be able to do a little profile on one of the first, Carol Shaw.

Carol Shaw is credited as the first female game designer with two titles for the Atari 2600 in 1978.  Polo, which was never released, and 3D Tic-tac-toe.  She worked for Atari, Activision, and Tandem Computers during her career.  Her game credits are not long, but as far as I and many gamers are concerned, they are pivotal in early game development.  Her lesser known credits include Othello, Video Checkers, Calculator, and Happy Trails.

Her early childhood, she notes, was mostly spent with an interest in her brother’s railroad set rather than the typical girl’s toys of the time.  Her father was an engineer and she excelled in mathematics in school, all of which likely lent themselves to her interest in computer sciences.  In fact, her first introduction to gaming and computers was together in high school with text-based games many of us can remember if we’re old enough.  She attended Berkeley, achieving a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, and eventually finishing a master’s in Computer Sciences.  From there, it was onto Atari, who was the leading video game company at the time.

Before we talk about the game most consider the best of her work, and one of the top games Atari ever had, I want to bring up Super Breakout.  We had a lot of games on the Atari growing up, but there’s only a handful I remember.  One of those is Super Breakout.  It’s a game where you control a flat paddle, similar to what you find in Pong, and use it to bounce a ball around the screen.  At the top of the screen are bricks you are trying to destroy with said ball.  Let it hit the bottom of the screen and you lose a ‘life’, or ball.  I believe you had three balls to use.  Higher levels added a double layered paddle, and sometimes balls were trapped in the bricks, that once released into play, could all be bounced around to destroy more bricks.  As long as you kept at least one ball in play, you were in the game.  To this day, its one of the more challenging and fun games I’ve ever played, and we have Carol to thank for it.

Then there’s River Raid.  We had this on the Atari 5200, which Carol helped port over from her original design.  This game was by far my favorite, and is probably the reason I later fell in love with flight simulators.  River Raid, if you’re never played it, is based around navigating a plane through an obstacle course inside an ever-narrowing channel.  The screen moves forward and you can speed that up, but you can navigate the plane left or right.  You have to dodge, or shoot, balloons, helicopters, and other planes while avoiding contact with the sides of the channel.  It was probably more difficult than any game I’ve played, and I never did beat it.  This game is considered by many to be the best 8-bit game Atari ever put out.

There’s a great, and thorough interview with Carol over on Vintage Computing and Gaming.

Let us know what you think about Carol Shaw’s games in the comments below!

 

Overwatch Just Can’t Catch a Break

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It wasn’t long ago that one person managed to complain hard enough to get Tracer’s pose changed in Overwatch.  Nevermind that the new pose isn’t really that much different from the original, or that the original is just like many of the other character victory poses.  Ignore the male victory poses that have them thrusting themselves forward as if proclaiming their victory with a burst of manhood at the screen.  This one character had to be changed, and Blizzard changed it.  They didn’t change it so much though.  She still shows her backside, looking over her shoulder, flirty look; not much difference at all.

Then comes winter.  Blizzard releases a fun holiday skin for Mei and people get upset.  It’s a fun skin, perfectly matched to the season.  It fits her character theme, and her original costume design.  Again, Blizzard apologizes, for a design choice!  They wanted to create something fun, fun being an entirely subjective word, and the company says sorry.  Of course gamers have a right to voice their complaints, but when’s the last time a painter apologized for a painting, or a writer apologized for a book?  It doesn’t happen all that often does it?  The artists that create our games, however, they always seem to be apologizing.

If only that were the end.  Now comes the Lunar New Year update and people are upset about Mei again.  Now, while the profile view looks odd, and yes it could either be her clothing or a strange bug, people weren’t just complaining about that.  Take off her thick fur parka and voila, she’s still a curvy girl but sans a thick parka.  Blizzard is saying this bug will be fixed, and granted they may not change her all that much.  How can we know, at this point, whether it was a bug, a design choice, or just a mistake?  Is it Blizzard just apologizing again?  We won’t know for sure, because they’ve set a precedent.

It’s not just them though, and no this isn’t going to turn into an ‘entitled gamers’ rant.  If you don’t like a game, something about a game, or the company that makes it, say so.  Don’t buy the game, express your suggestions, and do whatever you think best.  What I have a problem with is every company bending over backwards in an attempt to please everyone.  It creates an environment where if a few of us yell loud enough we can make an artist change their creation however we want.

It’s one thing to apologize about a mistake, a large number of bugs, or delays of release.  The list of apologies for design choices is long however.  Christina Love recently apologized and censored her own game because of complaints about one sex scene.  Just this past year a handful of games were censored because of outrage, localization or fear of outrage as in the case of Uncharted 4.  Watchdogs 2, a game featuring male genitalia, had to be changed to remove one instance of female nudity that was found (not readily on display), and shared to social media.

We’re creating an atmosphere where creativity is chained by fear.  Where art has to run through a checklist of things that are allowed and aren’t, and where artists are always questioning their decisions because someone might be upset.  I’m here to tell you someone will always be upset.  I’ve seen games change things to please one group, only to piss off another, then change something else that pisses off the first group again.  I’m a writer, and I can tell you there’s nothing less creative than having to work off a checklist of things you can and can’t do, things you have to do.  Then there’s the realization that even if you check off all those boxes, and do your best to make sure it doesn’t seem like you’re just checking off boxes, someone will still be pissed.

Don’t get me wrong.  Voice your opinion and give feedback.  Let them know when a game’s broken or that you are upset at a ridiculous delay.  Report bugs and offer suggestions.  Just remember that those hard-working artists that put all those hours into the games we love are people too.  They’re creative, caring, and real people.  When criticism turns into just a mob crapping over a design choice, or getting offended by a joke, we’ll wind up with games created by automatons rather than artists.  I don’t think any of us want that.

Artists, stop apologizing so much.  If you have to change your art to please some people, then you inevitably lose others.  If some people don’t want your work because of what it involves, guess what…that’s normal.  Not every person in the world is going to read my book, like someone’s painting, or play your game.  Make the stories you want to tell.  Create the art you want to share.  Never apologize for creating what’s in your heart.  If you make an honest mistake then own up to it, but when you bring something artistic out of your mind, or your heart and soul, that’s not a mistake, a bug, or an error.

Nintendo Switch is Coming and I’m Actually Excited

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So, we know what it’s going to look like, and how much it’s going to cost.  We know what some of the games will be, and what they’ll look like, and I am actually looking forward to a console for the first time in awhile.  At the time the Wii U came out, we already had a PlayStation and there just wasn’t any games coming out on it that caught my eye.  Now we have the Switch coming, and Breath of the Wild.  Of course I’ve been burned before, buying a system for one game, so I’m doing my best to keep my enthusiasm in reasonable check.

I’m intrigued by the idea of a convertible sort of console, something we can take from a portable to TV-connected unit on the fly.  I’m glad to see that the controllers don’t look like the concept that was leaked early on.  Something as flat as the original concept would be awful.  I have an NES Classic, and I forgot how much those old controllers were hell on the hands.  Especially hands now suffering from Carpal Tunnel.

I’m not huge into portable gaming devices, but that could be because I never really have the money to own a console and a handheld.  I borrowed a PSP to play Final Fantasy II (the only way to get the original now) and I actually liked being able to game while I was doing something else.  I haven’t had a use for one before, but maybe with this system I’ll find a time to use both.  I think a lot of people are like me, only enough money for one system, buy maybe having a use for both.

The pricing looks good for a console of this type of versatility.  I’m a little concerned about extras though.  I’m sure there’s a lot of money to be made on cases, extra cords, controllers and screen protectors.  I haven’t owned a Nintendo system since the Game Cube, but they were always good about including what you need and making the extras just that, extras.  Of course it’s been awhile so I’ll have to see how things turn out as we get closer to release.

There are some concerns.  Paid online features, no Ethernet, and graphics issues.  For the first two I’m not too worried.  I do my online gaming on PC and I don’t expect that to change.  The types of games I tend to play on console aren’t multiplayer anyway.  Graphics concerns about preview footage from a game still in development isn’t much of a worry for me either.  People are doing a lot of comparisons of different previews of Breath of the Wild and showing how older graphics look better than the newer.  It’s not the first time, so it’s hardly any indication of whether the console will be good or not.

So, what do you think?  Are you as excited for this  as I am?  Has it brought back the Nintendo fanboy or fangirl in you?  I’m not positive yet, but it has definitely given me reason to watch closely.