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Influental Women in the Gaming Industry: Jessica Chobot

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Jessica Chobot gained exposure in the gaming world when a picture of her licking a Sony PSP surfaced in 2005. That photo has been parodied heavily since and has been attempted by many as an example of the “fake gamer girl” stereotype. Little did anyone know what Chobot would acomplish. Instead of letting that break her. Chobot used it to fuel her career. Since, she has worked for IGN, become a writer, a voice actress for games, and also works for the Nerdist.

There is always a risk of being mocked when a person is un-apologetically excited and open about loving “geeky” things. For women, it is even more so. That is why it is important to share the stories of people who have taken that passion and turned it into a career.

Chobot was hired by IGN full time in 2006. She quickly won over fans with her fun personality and knowledge of video games. As her popularity grew so did her role in IGN. Chobot was able to foray into The Daily Fix, IGN Strategize and IGN GameBreaks for FOX Television.

nerdist-jessicaChobot has been able to traveled for IGN and represent them in multiple forums. She has also gotten to write for; FHM UK, Mania.com and MAXIM print. She has also appeared on many shows such as but not limited to; Attack of the Show, ABC World News, EXTRA!, FOX News Live and CBS News as an industry expert. Chobot has been a weekly commentator on multiple radio shows and has also had guest star appearances on the Syfy channel’s Sci vs Fi.  The Nerdist also currently benefits from Chobot adding her talents to their roster.

Chobot is a very passionate fan of anime. She has been able to use her fame to appear on commercials for ADV’s Anime Network. Chobot continues to find new forums to live her passions. She has also gotten to show her love of gaming by guest staring on Geek and Sundry, including a one shot D&D game with Vin Diesel.  

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Jessica Chobot has shown how important it is to geek out and follow your passion. If you work hard and let your personality shine you will be able to achieve anything you set your mind to. 

Always keep sparkling! 

Recap Review: Tomb Raider (PS1)

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It’s a groundbreaking video game that stars a rare female protagonist. It’s been adapted into two movies starring Angelina Jolie, with a new reboot starring Alicia Vikander coming to theaters on March 16th. Thia the Bard has already written an excellent article for Real Women of Gaming about the impact that it had on the gaming industry with its famous protagonist, Lara Croft. It’s the one and only Tomb Raider!

It’s also a game that I never tried playing until recently. But then, lo and behold, I managed to find a copy in my local retro game store for $6, and here we are.

Tomb Raider, originally released for the PlayStation 1, Sega Saturn, and PC, stars Lara Croft, an adventurous woman who likes exploring dangerous locations and finding priceless artifacts. The game begins with Jacqueline Natla hiring her to find a piece of a scion in the mountains of Peru- but Lara is soon betrayed and strikes out to find the rest of the pieces on her own.

When I first started playing this game, I realized just how much modern games have spoiled me. I’m used to playing through tutorials that hold my hand the entire time, telling me exactly what buttons to press in every situation. Tomb Raider has a tutorial, but it’s not part of the main game. Instead, you can access Lara’s home in the main menu, and she’ll guide you through jumping, running, walking, etc. But even then, there’s no “press X to perform an action.” It’s always “press the jump button” or “press the action button.” You want to know which button’s the jump button? Well, you’ll just have to read the manual or figure it out yourself, because Lara’s not talking.

So I was completely out of my league when I first dove into the adventure and had to backtrack to Lara’s house to figure out what I needed to do. That said, I love the setup. It’s perfect for experienced gamers who don’t need a repeat lesson at the start of every playthrough, and also great for people like me who tend to start games, stop them when life gets in the way, and then pick them up again months later. The tutorial’s there to refresh your memory whenever you need it, and then you can jump right back into the actual game.

Unfortunately, the controls and graphics haven’t aged well. It can be difficult to navigate a three-dimensional environment with a control pad instead of a control stick.  I’ve done it in the past with DS games like Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days. But Tomb Raider felt clunkier, perhaps because it’s on a bigger screen with wider areas to explore. Fortunately, the developers added the “walk” command that allows Lara to move slowly through treacherous areas, and while walking, she cannot fall over a ledge no matter how much you push her. This helps out a lot.

(Also, yes, some PS1 controllers come with control sticks, but the ones that I own did not work with Tomb Raider.  Lara only ever moved when I directed her with the control pad.)

Obviously, most games from the PS1-era have not stood the test of time in terms of how they look.  So it is with Tomb Raider. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the silliness of polygon characters bobbing their heads up and down as they “talked” in certain cutscenes, if only for nostalgic reasons. The cutscenes that take place in-between levels have a higher quality.  Although, again, that’s not saying much. It looks great for a PS1 game.

The visuals may look awkward, but Tomb Raider has good voice acting for its short cutscenes and Lara’s tutorial. It also has a different approach to its soundtrack compared to other video games that I’ve played in the past. You’ll hear musical themes throughout the game, but only at specific points, and not for very long. It usually starts up when you reach a significant area or come across a certain enemy. The rest of the time, you explore the tombs in silence. In this way, the soundtrack gives you a sense of where you are and how you’re progressing through the game. However, it’s no guarantee of anything. There are situations, such as the final fight in the Tomb of Qualopec, where the enemy attacks Lara with no musical warning whatsoever and you have to act fast.

Finally, there’s Lara Croft herself.  I like her character and how she prefers exploring tombs “for sport,” as she puts it, rather than for riches. Additionally, I think it’s really neat that while Lara does battle a couple of male antagonists, the main villain in the first Tomb Raider is another woman. I wasn’t expecting that at all.

Yes, Lara’s character design is problematic with her unrealistically large breasts shown on the cover.  But, for what it’s worth, the actual game doesn’t focus on her appearance as much as it focuses on her love of tomb raiding and action skills.  As Cracked.com put it in their article, “6 Glitches That Accidentally Invented Modern Gaming:” “Lara is strong, independently wealthy, beautiful, smart, and great at what she does.”  And I enjoyed have the opportunity to go on exciting adventures with a smart, capable, adventurous woman as the playable character.

Overall, I’ve had a mixed experience with Tomb Raider. I love the concept of exploring ancient tombs to find powerful artifacts before the Evil Organization gets there first. I like Lara’s character too. But it’s not a series that I’m dying to continue playing. There’s only so many times that I can miss a jump before I stop having fun and start feeling frustrated. Then again, that’s probably just me and my own lack of gaming skills. I’m still looking forward to the new movie, and I’ll probably try out the Square-Enix reboot on the PS4 someday.

Influental Women in the Gaming Industry: Yoko Shimomura

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The gaming industry would not be the same without Yoko Shimomura. She is a talented composer and musician. Yoko has used these talents to bring some of our favorite video games to life.

Yoko was born in Japan in 1967. She started playing the piano at a young age and found that she really enjoyed it. Yoko then graduated from Osaka College of Music in 1988.  After graduating Yoko knew that she had options on how she could share her talents with the rest of the world. She knew that her music had the power to make the world a better place.

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She decided to pursue a career in a field where she would become one of the most famous video game composers in the world. Yoko started her journey by working for Capcom. From 1993 to 2002 Yoko worked for Square Enix. From 2003 on Yoko has been working as a freelance composer.

Yoko has given life and beauty to many different video games throughout the years. She has worked on the Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam soundtrack to give it a lighter and more upbeat feel. Gamers can listen to Yoko’s stylings as they restore the land in the Legend of Mana soundtrack. Anther popular RPG is the Kingdom Hearts games which Yoko also lent her talents to. Final Fantasy XY has also benefited from Yoko’s talents as a composer.
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Yoko Shimomura has given the world of gamers much beauty. She shows that all kinds of talents are needed to make the gaming industry great. She has taken risks to bring her music to the world and they have, thankfully, paid off. Yoko is an example of how hard work and creativity makes the world a richer place to live. Sometimes your talent can even make multiple worlds richer.

Always keep sparkling.

Review: Luigi’s Mansion

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I’ve heard that gamers consider Luigi’s Mansion to be a classic from the Nintendo GameCube era. Personally, I’d given it a try once before and didn’t get very far before I lost interest. But that was years ago, so why not try again?

Well, I tried, and I did end up enjoying it. It’s just not a game that I’d want to play over and over again.

Here’s the premise: Luigi, the lovable brother of the famous Super Mario, has just won a mansion. That sounds great, except that Luigi doesn’t recall entering a contest in the first place. When he arrives, he discovers that it’s filled with ghosts and that Mario’s trapped somewhere inside! Luckily, there’s a quirky old ghost hunter named Professor E. Gadd (I love that name) who equips our hero with a Poltergust 3000 that will suck up any attacking ghosts.

As he clears each room of ghosts with his new vacuum-weapon, it’s up to Luigi to figure out what happened to Mario and who’s responsible for trapping them in the mansion.

First, I love the music that plays throughout Luigi’s Mansion. It’s spooky and playful, so it fits the game well. It’s cute how Luigi will hum or whistle along as he walks through each room. He’s a great character; while he doesn’t speak much, he’s very expressive. Plus, you have to admire him for fighting off ghosts single-handedly, even when he’s clearly scared out of his mind, because he loves his brother that much.

In theory, the gameplay is simple: Luigi uses his magic vacuum to suck up ghosts. As he goes through the house, he’ll also uncover elements medals that let him use fire, water, and ice on the environment and special ghosts.

That’s all fine and good, except this means that Luigi’s Mansion centers on aiming in the right direction with the Poltergust and I cannot aim to save my life. It’s one of the reasons why I usually don’t play shooters, and why my weapon of choice in Bioshock was the wrench. Every time an arrow challenge comes up in a Zelda dungeon, I waste countless arrows trying to hit the target while groaning in agony. So that made Luigi’s Mansion more frustrating for me than fun. But if that’s something you’re good at, you’ll have no problem conquering Luigi’s Mansion.

Still, the longer I played, the more I found myself enjoying the game. It’s fun to search the house for ghosts. Some are Boos, some look like blobs with faces, and then there’s a special type: the Portrait Ghosts. Professor E. Gadd once had them trapped in paintings, until they escaped right before the start of the game. They each have a unique design and personality, though most of them aren’t hard to capture compared to regular ghosts.

It’s also worth mentioning that Luigi’s Mansion is a short game that you can complete within a couple of days, depending on how much time you spend on it. It only has four “areas” to unlock, plus the room of the final boss. Since I wasn’t extremely invested in the game, I didn’t mind its length. Others may find that aspect disappointing.

If you have a GameCube and you love Luigi, Luigi’s Mansion is a game worth playing. It’s not my favorite video game, but I don’t regret trying it out.

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.

Thimbleweed Park: A Review

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Hey, do you like point and click adventures? Twin Peaks? Maniac Mansion? If you said yes to one of these, then this is a game for you! If not, try it anyway! Why? Well, let me tell you in this review.

CUE THE THEME SONG!

…Okay, I don’t have one since this is a written blog, but that would be cool…

Thimbleweed Park is a great point-and-click adventure. What is point-and-click? You use actions and mix it with people and objects on screen. For example, you click “use” and then click on a computer, then the character will say something like, “I don’t feel like using the computer today. It’s just gonna tell me more about the world ending. I have Fox News for that.” And it can lead to some vary funny dialogue and interactions.

Story
In 1987, there is a mysterious murder in a small town. FBI agents are there to solve the murder, and along the way, encounter a greater mystery, along with strange citizens and a lot of secrets. Granted, that premise is not original, but the way it is done makes it so good. The characters help to make this game wonderful. Also, it is confirmed that this is, in a way, a sequel to Maniac Mansion, complete with returning characters, settings, and plenty of Easter eggs. You don’t have to play Maniac Mansion to get all of the references, but if you have played it, (or watch a playthrough) you will get a lot more humor out of Thimbleweed Park.

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Characters
You end up controlling five characters throughout the game, and, wow, are they something. You have two FBI agents… or are they? They certainly have another reason to be on this case. There is a clown, a vulgar insult comic who once had a claim to fame but is now washed up. You have a game developer, who wants nothing more than to make games, to her family’s dismay. Finally, you have a ghost, a father who only wants to talk to his daughter one last time. Alongside these mains are a list of side characters, such as a sketchy sheriff/coroner/hotel clerk, “The Pigeon Brothers” which are two sisters dressed up as pigeons, ghosts, a town drunk, a guy in a pizza costume, and more!

Gameplay
It plays pretty well. This is a multi-platform game and it works well on the PC, but I ended up playing the Xbox One version. With that, it is weird at first for a point-and-click. However, when you figure out all the buttons and hints, you can easily adapt to it. Since it is a point-and-click game, it has a lot of puzzles. Fear not, for they have a in-game hint hotline that you can call. There is also 3000 numbers that you can call in the phonebook, which is weird for a game that only has 80 people living in the town. There is even a puzzle that makes you watch the Kickstarter video in order to solve a puzzle.

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Faults
The version I had seemed to have a lot of cut content from earlier games. Now, I am unsure if this was due to me playing on casual mode (don’t judge, it was my first time playing this type of game). However, when I looked at trailers and some let’s plays, there is something missing. There are parts to puzzles that are cut out and missing characters that I have seen in earlier gameplays. There is a whole location at a radio station that’s just completely gone, and you can see this in-game with items and locations what were meant for bigger puzzles. To me, that takes a lot of the fun out of this. The ending (spoilers at the end), though interesting, is a bit of a let down, depending how you look at it.

Overall
Thimbleweed Park is a solid game with tons of humor and 4th-wall-breaking jokes, nods and Easter eggs to prior point-and-click adventures, and solid characters. The music is really good for this type of game as well. It runs about 4-6 hours long, give or take the time for longer interactions. Overall, I give this a good 4/5 pixelated dead bodies. New or not to this genre of gaming, I say give this one a shot.

SPOILERS

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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.