Archive for the ‘ PS4 ’ Category

Moss – Polyarc Games

Polyarc Games‘ new release, Moss, is an action adventure puzzle platformer about a small mouse finding herself in a big adventure aided by a ghostly spirit being called “The Reader.” The player takes on the role of this Reader to interact with the environment, but also controls the mouse, Quill, as she traverses the areas and battles clockwork robot bugs. All over the Internet right now, you can’t throw an acorn without hitting a positive review of this charming game.

What I find so enthralling about Moss is that it is a departure from what we’ve come to expect in a VR game and yet if feels very familiar in a rather unexpected way.

VR – New Approach, But Familiarities

While most VR games have leaned towards first person experiences with shooters, the Skyrim port, and a few vehicle driving type approaches, Moss puts the player in the role of an observer with relatively minimal direct action upon the enemies so much as the world itself. Quill is the adventurer in this tale, you are her guardian spirit. The player can move things around like statues and blocks or they can take control of enemies to make them stand still, hold them in place while bringing Quill in to attack, or make the enemies fire their weapons at puzzle switches or other enemies.

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Here I’m controlling the light blue enemy to shoot the red ones while Quill hangs out safe up top.

Where things feel familiar for me is the sets designed for each level. Something about them feels like stepping back into childhood of the 80s and early 90s where practical sets and models were used rather than CG effects. Despite being a video game, the areas that Quill explores feel like physical models that you’re allowed to look at due to the nature of VR. Tilting your head to look into a building Quill is going into or raising up and leaning forward to look down at the set to see what’s hidden behind walls and into nooks and crannies really gives a sense of being there rather than merely observing the location.

That feeling of familiarity has been mentioned in a few other reviews as something out of a Jim Henson film with the charm of a Studio Ghibli production, but it reminded me of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Only in this case, it’s more like Mr. Rogers’ World of Make-Believe as designed by J. R. R. Tolkien (or perhaps more accurately, Brian Jacques). All of this combines to feel like you really are looking at the scenes of a storybook, which is exactly what you, The Reader, are doing in a sense.

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You can just barely see Quill between the center pillars!

On the topic of familiarity, and since I mentioned Brian Jacques, fans of the Redwall series will surely feel there are some similarities and possibly influential inspiration here. When Moss was first shown, I thought it might have somehow been connected to the series of books, but it’s not. Moss is its own storybook and Quill her own character, and what a character she is.

Quill – Our Heroine

The game begins with the player sitting in a large church-like library. Rows and rows of tables extend before you with a few having stacks of thick tomes on them, but only yours has candles before it with a book set before you to read. The book is titled Moss and your first interaction with the world is to open it. The narrator, who voices all characters in the game much as other indie titles have done splendidly, begins by telling the story of how the Mouse Kingdom fell to a great evil and how their people narrowly escaped with the help of a warrior. That warrior’s wounds proved too great and he died in the forest, a tree growing upon him and holding a powerful artifact, a Glass, within it.

The story is told in small bits, each related to a page in the book which dims when that narration is completed, indicating it’s ready for you to turn the page until the story moves to the current level in the tale.

Quill lives with her uncle and although he warns her about staying out late, she tends to push just a little further in her explorations of the forest beyond their town. We first meet her coming back from an expedition of exploration shortly after the previously mentioned Glass has fallen from the tree. Quill stops to check her pack where she seems to have found a button, though she drops it when she’s startled by a crow and hides in a small hole at the base of a large tree. As she starts to leave, the Glass glows and chimes and she picks it up, putting that in her pack instead of the button.

Then, she notices the player. Looking up at you, she’s startled, but then calms and comes closer, moving to a little pier and her gaze practically invites you to lean down to look closer at her. In doing so, the Reader’s reflection is seen in the water and you do definitely look like something from a Ghibli film. From there, Quill hears the bells and heads home before the gates close.

That’s you in the back there.

The game uses the few areas between the start and getting Quill home to get familiar with the controls, which aren’t too difficult. The most challenging aspect is adjusting to combat later where you’ll want to use the motion controller to move in a 3D space while simultaneously keeping an eye on where you’ve got Quill moving so she’s able to fight. Combat isn’t particularly difficult, but there are a few fights where things get a little hectic trying to control Quill and grab enemies to delay them from getting her. Most of this difficulty for me seemed to be getting my Dualshock 4 out of the PS4 Camera’s field of vision mid-combat.

Over the course of the game, Quill doesn’t gain new abilities or power ups. What she starts with is what you get, other than a story upgrade that doesn’t translate to in-game power. That’s fine though, because what you start with is an adorably charming mouse who is intelligent and expressive. In my first playthrough of the game, the biggest mistake I made was identifying how to solve puzzles and executing that strategy. Not solving puzzles immediately offers you the chance to watch Quill give you a hint with simplified sign language and pantomime with smooth animations.

It’s fun to just watch her sometimes. The Reader can even interact with Quill by holding the button to grab things while hovering over her, allowing the player to give her a little pet to the head, ears, back, or belly. She often reacts positively to this, much like a real pet, though later in the game she finds it annoying in a “now is not the time for petting, this is serious” sort of way.

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Here I’m giving Quill an anime-worthy head pat.

Conclusion

Moss is a fun little game that I enjoyed every minute of. I played straight through from start to finish, logging about 4 hours in total. Some might find this a bit too short for the $30 price tag, but I am more than content with the experience. It’s one that’s enjoyable enough that I find myself wanting to play through it again (which I’m going to do to get platinum if nothing else).

The most telling of the game’s affect is that I find myself not only wanting to replay it, but wanting more. Minor non-spoiler: The game ends with a clear indication this is just the beginning of Quill’s tale and that her adventures with the Reader have only just begun. Since the game starts with the player in a library or cathedral reading the book, Moss, I’m curious if the mystical ghost-like Reader in the tale is the reader of the book, able to interact with the story itself or if the literal reader and the mystical Reader are separate entities. Perhaps it’s a question that doesn’t need answering, but it does seem like an interesting one.

I’m curious to know more about Quill’s sword and her arm guard, the mystical Glass artifacts. I want to know more about the evil that rose under their kingdom so long ago. I want to know more about the humans that clearly existed in these lands ages ago. I want a Moss animated series. Most of all, I want one of those adorable Quill figures Polyarc Games has given away with hide & seek games at various conventions and now through various partners and YouTube channels with the game’s release.

Seriously, Polyarc Games, let me give you money. I want to help fund another adventure with our little mouse friend.

 

Low On Cash, Still Game Hunting

An Unexpected Sale

An antique store near work had an outdoor sale where people were able to bring things and set up for basically a collective garage sale in the parking lot. I didn’t expect to find anything, and I still hadn’t recovered from Retropalooza, but I still stopped. No games, but the original Star Wars trilogy on VHS for $3 was a great deal!

While I was there, I did a quick check inside and found a booth with games was doing 50% off sale, so I picked up Paperboy 2 and Bubble Bobble on NES as well as XIII on GameCube and Brutal Legend on PS3. I already had some of these, but they’d make for good trade offerings later. I also got a sealed copy of Has Been Heroes for half off, which was nice since I’d been wanting to pick that up anyway.

Shortly after, GameStop had a B2G1 sale, so I picked up Tokyo Mirage Sessions FE, Kirby & The Rainbow Curse, Sonic Lost World, Sonic Boom (I’m a sucker for getting all the Sonic games, even the bad ones), and Snoopy’s Grand Adventure. All of these were bought with store credit, so I didn’t feel like I was doing too bad in what should have been a financial recovery period.

I did, however, snag Wolfenstein + The Old Blood combo for cheap online from Amazon. Despite these few purchases, the cost wasn’t too high and I still didn’t consider myself back in game hunting just yet.

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Super Mario Odyssey, Asdivine Hearts/Ys Origins, and Undertale were pre-orders that came in.

A Long Intended Sale

 

Despite being low on cash, I had recovered a little from a few sales of doubles and there’s a sidewalk sale in downtown Dallas on the first Saturday of each month I’d been wanting to check out for a long time, but just hadn’t gone to yet. The sale actually starts on Friday night around 7PM officially. I decided I’d make the trip to check it out.

When I first got there, there was nobody there. A couple of vehicles sat in the area, but nothing for sale. The site said people tend to get there early and are looking at things as they’re unloaded and I started to wonder if the sale was still held.

I walked around a while and finally saw someone setting up. I asked if this was smaller these days and they said people usually get there later. I decided to walk around some and, although I didn’t want to spend more money on dinner, I wasn’t going anywhere (I already paid for parking), so I went to Hooters.

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You must answer three riddles and determine which owl is the liar before entering.

After eating, and killing some time, I went back out and a few more people were set up, but nothing too impressive. There was one GameCube game, a Simpsons game, that might have been worth picking up for a trade or flip, but they wouldn’t budge on price at all. Finally, someone pulled up and had some gaming items, including an original NES complete in box! It was priced slightly high, but still fair, but they didn’t have anything that interested me.

I was told there was one guy that usually came and had a huge set up and he might have games, but it would be another hour before he arrived. I was tired and sleepy, but figured I’d wait around until 11. Sure enough, he showed up.

As he and his team unloaded things, I actually lent a hand, helping organize some things on their table to maximize their available space. Eventually, I did see some games start to come out. Tomb Raider games for Playstation (disc only) and a few Xbox titles. I snagged FF X-2 and Fable cases with manuals (no games) and Rock Band on Wii as well as the Oblivion Collector’s Edition on Xbox 360 and Race Drivin’ CIB for Sega Genesis.

Still nothing amazing and I wasn’t sure I’d want to buy these after all. Then I spotted the portable screen for the psone! That was worth grabbing and ultimately was only $5. I kept looking as they put more out, but didn’t see anything else. As I started to decide it was mostly a bust, I opened a little case that turned out to be full of Leapfrog cartridges…..and The Legend of Zelda Collector’s Edition disc! I’d been looking for that, though I wanted it complete. Still, for the overall price, I took all the games, plus a PSP game and a Spongebob GameCube game, as well as a Warcraft CCG raid deck for Black Temple all for about the cost of just the Zelda disc.

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All for $25, worth around $100

I’ll probably check the sale out again in the future. You never really know what will be there and that Zelda disc was an exciting find to end the night.

Suggestion for New Ubisoft Game: Marvel’s Daredevil

I have to admit the Assassin’s Creed series is a guilty pleasure for me. I didn’t love the first one, but it was enjoyable and I could see potential to build on what it started. Assassin’s Creed 2 and Brotherhood were a fantastic improvement and Revelations was a satisfying conclusion to Ezio’s trilogy. Assassin’s Creed III offered a fun addition in ship combat, which took center stage with Black Flag. I didn’t play Rogue and I picked up Unity and Syndicate when they were cheap, but I didn’t get around to them for a long time.

The past few weeks, I finally started playing Unity. More than a year after release, the bugs are mostly smoothed out, so I had a fairly standard play through in that regard. Overall, I wasn’t as pulled into the story now that the meta narrative has been largely abandoned and we’re just loosely still concerned with modern day conflict. Arno didn’t grab my interest at first, either. Then, as I upgraded gear and started looking at color options I unlocked, something occurred to me.

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With the Prowler outfit dyed red, I’m basically playing Assassin’s Creed: Daredevil. I can be le diable de Paris, the devil of Paris, rather than Hell’s Kitchen. Oddly enough, this simple thing increased my interest in the game. Switching from a sword to a mace, a non-lethal weapon, completed the motif. I could have played the DLC and unlocked a cane club as well, which would have been better, but I wasn’t that committed to the idea.

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Don’t ask me how smashing this over someone’s skull is non-lethal, though.

 

The leather of the Prowler set is absolutely perfect in the red. In the light, it’s the bright red Daredevil is known for. In shadows, it’s a dark red and can almost look black at times. In some shading, it even looks a bit brown, like dried blood. It’s exactly what I imagine Daredevil’s costume is really meant to look like, the right shade of red and the right material to go from red to concealed in the shadow.

As I progressed through the game, Arno’s relationship and partnership with Elise even gave me a slight Matt / Elektra vibe with the two being close, then driven apart by differing loyalties, enemies due to those loyalties, then ultimately teaming up again.

Running across roof tops, parkouring around the city, leaping across streets with impossible bounds to grab onto a ledge and climb up to perch upon the gothic architecture of a Catholic church, even the series’ Eagle Vision akin to Matt’s sonar/radar ability; it all fit so well, I began to realize something…

The Assassin’s Creed engine, at its fundamental base, is perfect for a full fledged Daredevil open world game!

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Recently, it’s no secret Disney/Marvel has begun to license out its properties to reliable studios to work on rather than making games in house. Square Enix is working on an Avengers game while Insomniac is developing a Spider-Man game.

The good news here is Insomniac is being allowed freedom to do their own world, or a more comic based world, for Spidey, so a Daredevil game could use a gamut of comic book villains and could stay more true rather than being limited to the more gritty and grounded Netflix MCU world.

If Ubisoft were to gain said license and make such a game, the Assassin’s Creed engine and gameplay would be near perfect for implementing the radar and horn-head’s method of traversing the city with just a few tweaks to allow for his grappling hook for the taller buildings and greater distance between city blocks. Combat would work better with a bit of Rocksteady’s Arkham series influencing it, giving Daredevil the ninja martial arts style and better fluidity of tackling a dozen enemies at a time.

I’d love to see a few opportunities woven into the story to delve into the Murdock side of Daredevil with court cases to be able to play through as well. Not all would dig this, so perhaps optional side missions to access.

The parkour of Assassin’s Creed, the Arkham-esque combat, with just a hint of both series’ crime solving, plus some of Spider-Man’s web swinging to translate into the briefer grappling for Daredevil. He doesn’t have the full web swinging of Spidey, nor the grapple and glide of Batman, so it would have to be adjusted to work for DD. The overall idea certainly intrigues me and I’d love to see Ubisoft tackle the project.

Anyone else think Assassin’s Creed has the right elements for the foundations of a Daredevil game?

 

Counterview from a Wide-Eyed Video Game Industry Fool

In a recent pre-E3 post at Scholarly Gamers, video game advocate Patrick Scott Patterson detailed his precarious position on the precipice of cynicism for the industry he loves. I’ve followed PSP for a while on social media, I’ve even had dinner at WingStop with the guy once, and I’ve agreed with a lot of his opinions and efforts, but I’ve disagreed from time to time as well. Where he’s peering into the pit of cynicism, hoping E3 2017 will deliver a swinging vine with which to grab and swing over, I feel quite different about the state of the industry right now.

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Totally professional artist’s rendition of Patrick Scott Patterson’s E3 2017 goal.

I think PSP’s lamentation of a time in the 90s where hardware was the focal point of discussion rather than games is fair. He specifically states: “…this time period seemed to focus too much on technology and not enough on games. All I wanted out of the industry – all my friends wanted out of the industry – were games.

I think that’s a fair statement and one that holds true for most gamers today. We saw that in the push back to X-Box One’s announcement focusing on television, television partnerships, a Halo television series with Steven Spielberg, and the multimedia capabilities of the system, to which gamers replied “where are the games?”

In fact, Sony “won” E3 that year and has been “winning” the latest battle for the living room by their message of being for gamers and putting the focus squarely on games at their presentations. Sure, they still had Netflix, were still working on a more a la carte TV offering, and were still a multimedia system too, but they knew that gamers want games and made that their focus.

Where Scott and I first diverge is on the opinion of delivering on this desire. I’ve talked with Scott via social media posts before have the impression he feels the PS4 doesn’t have the library to draw him in. I, on the other hand, have an ever growing library of games for the system that I can’t keep up with (as a typical gamer, my backlog doth floweth over), but I’ll touch on that a bit more later.

Hardware or Software? Who Gets the Spotlight?

GameInformer Issue 289

But is hardware overtaking the spotlight when it comes to games? Overall, I don’t think so. Let’s start by the fairest comparison we can have to the 90s with a print magazine. May’s Issue 289 of Game Informer dedicates four pages to VR hardware technology, but four pages to games coming out that will take advantage of VR headsets. Two pages discuss the Nintendo Switch, which is arguably a look at hardware.

A feature on indie games at GDC 2017 covers 12 different games with quick looks. 12 more games are given quick hit blurbs, then a page each for an afterwards look at Horizon: Zero Dawn and For Honor. Halfway through the issue, we’re on to reviews for Hellblade, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, Injustice 2, Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Perception, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Sonic Forces, Kingsway, Hob, Tacoma, Into the Breach, Quake Champions, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III, Perception, Escape from Tarkov, Tokyo Xanadu, Mass Effect: Andromeda, Ghost Recon Wildlands, Yooka-Laylee, Persona 5, The Elderscrolls Legends, and Tumbleweek Park. That’s 6 pages for hardware with 47 games getting attention in the issue.

Moving beyond print media and looking at the online landscape of games sites, where does hardware fall?

What is Real? – Virtual Reality

Honestly, things are pretty sparse on VR coverage. Many are concerned Sony has already given the PSVR the same vaulted position next to the Vita and PSP under a rug. Where Scott wasn’t impressed with its presence at E3, many are worried about a lack of it this year, myself included.

Specifically speaking, Virtual Reality is another point I disagree with PSP on in general. Or at least, I’m hopefully disagreeing while fearful he’s right, but here’s where wide eyed fool meets at-risk cynic with more matured observational experience. I’m a firm believer that we can look to our actual future by looking to the science fiction of our past. Whatever we imagine, we eventually find a way to bring to life. From Star Trek automatic doors and communicators to modern day….well automatic doors was on the nose, but surpassing the science fiction with Smart Phones, we’ve made science fiction reality. Self driving cars have long been a staple of science fiction and we’re on the verge of reaching for that goal in the next decade.

Likewise, we’ve long imagined virtual reality, where we can be fully immersed in another world, transported through some form of technology, dreaming of a day when the virtual is near indistinguishable from the real. While I don’t think we’re on the verge of that, I actually am excited by the modern adoption and interest in virtual reality and want it to be pushed. I want games exploring the possibilities. I want the clunky headsets of today because they’ll become the sleek visor/ear covers of tomorrow. I want the groundwork laid out now to be deep diving into VR when I’m in a retirement home.

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Obligatory Morpheus pic while talking about Virtual Reality…check!

I’ve never liked first person games, but based on my experience with Arkham VR, I look forward to an Elder Scrolls game in VR and am fully hoping next week’s E3 includes the announcement of Star Wars Battlefront 2 being fully playable in VR.  I haven’t played it myself yet, but most reviewers and commenters seem to agree Resident Evil 7 is a whole different experience in VR, and far more terrifying than it is without.

State of the Consoles Address

I somewhat agree with Scott’s view on the state of the consoles, though not completely. Nintendo needed to bring out the Switch to replace the Wii U. While the Wii U had some fantastic games and I agree will likely be seen as an under-appreciate system in the future, this fall will mark 5 years since its release. That’s only 1.5 years less than the Wii’s lifecycle. If the sales-struggling Wii U managed to reach that close to its juggernaut predecessor’s life, I consider that pretty good longevity.

The PS4 Pro and Project Scorpio, however, I agree are a bit unnecessary and I’m not crazy about the idea of half step generations becoming the standard, especially depending on how much more they start to offer in the future over their “lesser” versions. Right now, however, they haven’t seemed to be that much of a game changer. If Scorpio proves to be more of a true next-gen step with Microsoft stepping into a staggered cycle, that’ll be a bit different, but it remains to be seen.

However, going back to hardware overshadowing software, I’m not sure that spec comparisons of PS4 to PS4 Pro and XB1 to Scorpio, as well as PS4 Pro to Scorpio, are really overshadowing the games. Searching “IGN + E3” gives you IGN’s page featuring 29 articles on game expectations with only 2 on Scorpio. Searching for “Game Informer + E3” yields articles primarily about games. Similar results are found at GameSpot’s E3 page.

Obviously, Scorpio and its specs will be a big part of Microsoft’s presentation with them feeling they’re in a similar position as Nintendo and need to get back in the race. I’ll agree a stronger, more horsepower, console isn’t how I’d expect them to win gamers back, though. Scalebound and more exclusive first and second party titles would have done more than a beefier processor in a new system replacing what people already own. But that’s the course Microsoft is taking for E3, so…

Where’s the Beef Games?

When Scott says “I hope I can see an industry that is once again focused on providing wonderful and groundbreaking game play experiences, rather than continuing to hype the boxes that are supposed to run those experiences,” I think that’s a valid desire, one which I think is going to be delivered from Sony and Nintendo this year. Their boxes are out and they’ve said what they do, so now they can focus on the software for them.

He goes on to say, “If anything else, it’s a case of clarity as to where we need to put our hard earned money. There is a clarity and confidence in knowing that you have invested in a video game console that you know is going to give you joy for years to come. There’s a warm, fuzzy feeling in seeing a game library grow and grow on hardware you know will be the focus for quite a while yet, rather than this look-over-your-shoulder feeling the marketplace has created for itself now.

I really feel like here’s where we stop walking on different sides of the path and diverge in two different directions. I got a day one PS4 and I’ve not been disappointed with the first 3.5 years and I expect plenty more games in the next 2 or 3 years as well. I own 59 titles for the system (not including about 50 more from Limited Run games) and have completed less than half of them. And there’s no evidence to suggest PS4 is slowing down with God of War, Spider-Man, The Last of Us 2, Days Gone, Death Stranding and more on the way (though I suspect Death Stranding will be the system’s swan song at the end of its life cycle), not to mention third party titles that will be available on multiple platforms.

I jumped on the Switch at launch as well and I thoroughly enjoyed Breath of the Wild and look forward to Cave Story+ next (even though that’s not new, per se) and have heard ARMS is surprising people with how fun and challenging it is. I think Nintendo has something hot on their hands that isn’t going to cool off for a while still and hopefully that will be reflected in the software down the road for the next 5 or 6 years as well. Since this little device is so unique apart from XB1 and PS4, I don’t see it having to sweat the advance of technology as much for a good while still.

Khajit Has Wares, But Are They Worth Coin?

Sony and Microsoft need to show me something jaw dropping for me to trust them enough to buy their shiny new hardware.

I think Sony’s already made their position clear regarding PS4 Pro. It’s the console enthusiast version of the PS4. Much like a good $800 PC will play most games on high settings and you’ll thoroughly enjoy those games without missing out, there are going to be people with $1800+ PCs that play everything on extreme settings while running 100 resource hog addons at the same time without a hitch. PS4 Pro is merely that higher end one, but nothing demanding PS4 owners to plop down another stack of cash to replace their PS4. Sony’s not trying to convince you otherwise, and if you don’t have a 4K television, it’s a moot point to begin with.

Now, will Microsoft treat consumers the same? Will they assure customers that their X-Box One is just as valid and just as much a focus this holiday season as the Scorpio system? One can hope. I would certainly hope Microsoft wouldn’t be arrogant enough to think they can put all their efforts to the new system and expect everyone to jump on it, especially after so many X-Box fans jumped ship to PS4 at the start of this generation and even more are seeing the PC as the best option for the X-Box exclusives. An X-Box isn’t an Apple product, after all.

In Conclusion

I’ve been gaming for around 26 years, give or take, just about a decade (little more, little less) than PSP has been drawn to the industry and its offerings. Perhaps it’s that decade difference of experience and observation that still has me wide eyed and bushy tailed where he’s resisting what I expect will be a temporary threat of cynicism.

It could also be a shift in tastes. I know Scott’s voiced preference for shorter play times and quick plays with his kids, over the sprawling narratives and vast open world games while I remain single and afforded the free time to explore a large Hyrule or take in the story of games like Uncharted or the mix of both with Horizon: Zero Dawn. I think there’s definitely a difference in approach to games for a husband and father who is self employed versus a single bachelor with time on his hands.

I really hope this happens. For almost 36 years now, I have been one of the loudest advocates for the video game industry, save for that one confusing period in the 90s. I hate that I have been starting to feel like that again, but there it is. Just give me something fun to play, folks. Show me some focus.

Please.

I just feel if further rests on tastes and what you’re looking for. There are a ton of great looking games coming out and while some look similar to one another (yes, I noted the Assassin’s Creed similarities while playing Horizon: Zero Dawn), that doesn’t make them the same ol’ same ol’ either. Each definitely have their own flavor to offer.

I don’t platinum games often, but I try to finish every game I pick up. Even when games don’t hit the mark, I still find them enjoyable in some way and appreciate the different things many try to accomplish, even if they don’t quite get there.

I’d be curious to know what Patrick Scott Patterson’s top 15 games (total, not each) from 360 / PS3 / Wii (and Wii U) are. It would definitely be interesting when watching E3 to speculate what, if anything, catches his eye.

For me, I’m looking forward to all of it. I’ve never been burned by my own E3 excitement. Honestly, and seriously, not once. Bring on the games so I can start budgeting the rest of my year. I’m sure October’s going to hurt, as always.

National Videogame Museum Opens Its Doors

The National Videogame Museum (NVM) opened in Frisco, TX on April 2, 2016. It was a bright, sunny Saturday morning. 10:00 AM, to be precise, was the opening of the doors. I was there and I was excited. Obviously, it’s taken a while for me to get to writing my thoughts on the grand opening of the nation’s, the world’s, first museum dedicated to the history of video games (I use “video game” though the museum officially uses “videogame”).

I had arrived at the Frisco Discovery Center, where the NVM is located, at 10:05 with a bit of a hurried step. I wanted to get in with plenty of time to look around as I was meeting someone in 3 hours to hand over some video games I had accumulated that weren’t going into my collection. I knew the doors opened at 10, so I went right in. And found the line. I followed the line outside again and saw just how many had arrived to see the history of their hobby.

There were a lot. The Museum holds about 240 people and the line was well out of the building and along the sidewalk, starting to curl around the build like a human formation of Nibbles.

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One or two people showed up

I stood in line with a mother whose 7 year old son was running around playing with other kids while they waited. Preston was here to see more about video game history, particularly Pac-Man and Galaga. I learned something from Preston’s mother in the hour we waited outside.

Pixels was a good movie. That’s right, Pixels.

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Yes, THAT Pixels.

Preston saw Pixels more than once in theaters and probably a dozen times at home since it released on blu-ray and DVD. Pixels introduced this young boy to Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Q*bert, and made him want to learn more. He went to Google and began reading about these games and these characters and when they came out. He grew interested not only in the games themselves, but their history.

If a 7 year old boy loves a movie about video game characters, and that movie drives him to pursue the history of the industry, then I have to say the movie did something right. Adults and critics may not like it, but if it stirred the interest and curiosity of children, then it’s a good movie by my measure.

And so, there we were, at the first museum in the nation that would let him explore more of that history. TekForce was present and volunteered to provide music and MC the waiting room that we reached at 11 o’clock. I was able to speak with him a moment and learned that the museum was expecting 1,500 visitors for the grand opening day. In the first hour, they were adjusting expectations to 4,000. They underestimated how many people would come out for the grand opening.

As we waited for our ticket groups to be called there were pictures available to color, music played, and a couch set up with a Wii U and Super Mario Bros. available to play. Kids were having a great time. There was also trivia to win prizes – the question I was present for was regarding Pac-Man’s original name (The answer is Puck Man).

At 11:35, our ticket group was called up and we finally went into the NVM lobby to pay for our tickets to the museum proper. Tickets are $12 for adults, but include $1 worth of tokens for the arcade at the end of the museum. By noon, 2 hours after arrival, I finally set foot inside.

The Museum is divided into 16 stages, all of which cover a different portion of video game history.

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But first, you’re greeted by Mario

 

Stage 1, “Begin” covers the early days of video game history. In fact, with Ralph Baer’s “Brown Box Prototype” on display, it might be safe to say this touches on video game pre-history and then advances through history from there.

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An important aspect of the NVM is that it’s not just exhibits to look at and read. There are a lot of interactive features at the museum, mostly in the form of playable games in the exhibits. Almost every Stage has something you can play.

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Just like the one you grew up with, right?

Stage 2, “Timeline” is the most time consuming interactive option. With screens set up above oversized Super Nintendo controllers, this allows visitors to browse every single video game console ever released to get some information about them. Release year, MSRP, some highlighted games, as well as notorious games, and some of the most valuable on the system can be reviewed. There are 53 different consoles to read about, all of which are on display on the wall.

Stage 3, “Third Party” showcases a number of the third party titles that helped consoles excel with the public. Pitfall, which is playable in the exhibit, Stampede, Megamania, River Raid are on display in their original boxes in a display case while some notable Nintendo entries from Activision share the bottom shelf of the display with Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II, Rampage, and more.

Stage 4, “Control” is, quite simply, a full wall with a history of controllers through the years. Multiple controllers from each system are displayed, as well as a disassembled Atari 5200 controller.

Stage 5, “Portable” explores portable games. Game n’ Watch is on display, along with others that pre-dated the Game Boy most think of when “portable gaming” is mentioned.

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Again, there are playable games set up here as well. However, one of the most notable items features in this display is the Barbie Edition Game Boy, which is an unreleased prototype Game Boy Pocket. Supposedly the deal never went through and only two of the systems, along with a gaudy carry case, were made.

Stage 6, “Crash” is ironically my favorite exhibit, despite its dark days in gaming history. It deals with the video game crash of 1983. The first thing I liked was the introduction plaque does detail that the cause of the crash is much more complicated than the simple examples often cited, but not without being self aware of these rumors. Poor E.T. still appears in the stage’s image, even though it’s acknowledged the game was not the cause.

What I really liked about this exhibit, though, was the “going out of business” store front. With various 80s items such as Pac Man trading cards and bubble gum under the glass, a Top 5 sign for the week’s hottest games (which includes E.T., I might add), and a sign indicating the store is going out of business, it’s a very nicely done presentation.

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I promise I was also NOT the cause of the crash.

Stage 7, “Rise” presents the return of video games, stronger than ever, on both computer and with the Nintendo Entertainment System. A lot, and I do mean a lot, of set ups are here to play and interact with.

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At this point, as you venture through the museum, you’ll find the bathrooms. Not exactly something you’d think worth mentioning, but this is the NATIONAL VIDEOGAME MUSEUM, so of course the bathroom entries are worth mentioning with their clever indication of “Men’s” and “Women’s” signs.

 

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Women’s

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Men’s

Stage 8, “Create” presents games moving from just being games and actually involving the user in the creative process. Games like Mario Paint are on display, but I wasn’t able to spend much time hands on (there were a lot of people here, remember?).

Stage 9, “Invent” presents a theoretical game studio’s office. Games adorn the shelves, a PC and work station are present, various articles and news clippings are framed on the walls.

Stage 10, “Transmit” discusses the rise of online gaming with various Blizzard entries, Quake, and two terminals that visitors can use to communicate and send a webcam image to each other on either side of the exhibit with.

Stage 11, “Listen” details music coming into games more with entries such as Parappa the Rapper and, of course, Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution.

Stage 12, “Unplugged” is likely to surprise many visitors with the various board games that were released based on video game properties. Frogger, Q*bert, Pac-Man, Legend of Zelda, and more are all on display.

Across from “Unplugged” is an exhibit showcasing various items. Systems, the Pokemon series, rare and valuable games, this section is an eclectic mix of things that didn’t belong to a single exhibit, but are definitely fun to look at.

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Before venturing to the next stage, there’s also an exhibit with various pieces of merchandise, including the wearable Mega Man helmet.

Stage 13, “Family” accurately portrays a family living room from the 1980s, with a console hooked up for play on the television, a fake plant, wood panel walls, and a Dogs Playing Poker painting on the wall! There are even family photos on display.

Stage 14, “Sanctuary” depicts a teen’s bedroom. Bear in mind, the NVM is in Frisco, Tx, so if you aren’t a Cowboys and Rangers fan, forgive the decor!

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A Pac-Man throw pillow, 80s movie posters, a record playing 80s music, and a Mario phone. It’s worth noting that the visitor I caught in this picture….still had trouble with the NES Zapper hitting the ducks in Duck Hunt.

Stage 15, “Respect” isn’t an exhibit so much as an art display. A cube art mural of Ralph Baer hangs near the conclusion of the museum tour.

Stage 16, “Bonus” is a collection of framed posters, displays, arcade machines, and a life size statue of Gabriel Belmont. Along the wall next to Stage 16 are a line of consoles, all of which had someone playing them. I did get to finally play a bit of Bonk’s Adventure on Turbo Grafx-16, though. Above the consoles is a mural with a number of recognizable video game characters.

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Stage 16 leads to an 80s style arcade to conclude the tour of the National Videogame Museum. The lights are dark and lit more by the neon marquees and the screens of video games than overhead light and it was packed with a person on just about every cabinet. A machine is in the arcade to give tokens for dollar bills in case your 4 tokens from entry aren’t enough to get your gaming fix.

Finally, you exit the arcade to find yourself in the gift shop. I didn’t look at everything, but overall they had some cool items in there. Some books particularly caught my eye and they were all priced reasonably compared to Amazon.

I’ve gone on for over 1700 words about this museum and don’t think I’ve scratched describing it. I was hopeful for this endeavor after visiting the “History of Videogames” exhibit at the Experience Music Project museum in Seattle, WA, but this is far beyond what was presented there.

The one thing I’d like to see NVM add if they are ever able to expand in size is to build a display library for every system. The curators, I believe, have only brought out a small part of their overall collection. I would love to see a glass display shelving every Atari or NES title in their boxes. In time, seeing every video game on every system lined up on shelves, their spines facing out would be truly a sight to see.

If conclusion, if you’re in the DFW area in Texas and have time to get to Frisco, the National Videogame Museum is well worth your time. I only had a couple of hours available and don’t feel like it was remotely enough time. I’m looking forward to going back with friends when they come into town, but I might have to sneak an extra trip before they make it.

My only hope is that they get repeat business and are able to stay open for a long time to come. Video games have become a huge part of our culture, both in America and across the globe, and it’s great to see a museum preserving and sharing their history.

 

Backlog Review: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

It’s been almost a year since Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag released and I just recently got around to playing it.  I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who, like me, have a bit of a back log of games to play (My back log is dozens if not 100 games across all systems).  I’m actually happy Dragon Age Inquisition is delayed until November.  It gives me just a little more time to catch up on a few games, not to mention Final Fantasy XIV should be letting me play ninja by then.

That said, I have to say AC IV: Black Flag is pretty fun.  I know there are detractors out there who don’t like the Assassin’s Creed series coming out annually with pretty much the same gameplay with a few additions here and there.  Honestly it doesn’t bother me too much.  The formula works well enough, so I don’t feel it’s necessary to reinvent the wheel with each game.  Using the same basic formula with a few new bells and whistles here and there is perfectly fine by me if the story is good and the game play is fun.  After all, Mega Man did alright coming out on an annual basis (with an extra year between a couple of them).

The sailing feature from Assassin’s Creed III proved popular so Ubisoft built ACIV around it even more.  I actually enjoyed it in III and it’s still fun in Black Flag.  There’s no shortage of things to do outside of the main story as well.  With treasures spread about the Caribbean, buried treasure to find, a ship to upgrade, equipment to upgrade with crafting, and a home base to upgrade similar to past games, there’s a lot of things to spend your time on.  I haven’t used the Fast Travel option much since it’s fulfilling enough to choose plenty of extra stops on the way to the next main mission.  And of course there are always ships to come across to attack and pillage for loot.  The life of a pirate, yo ho.

Combat hasn’t gotten a real upgrade, mostly the same as we’ve seen before.  I have to say it’s enjoyable to see a dual wielding character this time, though. The new animations are fun to watch that movie-inspired swashbuckling flair.

I’m not too far through the story, but I do like the slight change. Edward Kenway is not an Assassin nor a Templar. He is truly just a pirate, though he’s gotten mixed up in the plot of Templar vs Assassin.  Granted, this does raise the question of how he seems to have all the Assassins’ skill set without any training, but let’s just let that slide for game play sake.  I’ve been told by a friend the story is a bit weaker than the others and seems it could be a bit shorter.  I am a bit unclear on why they decided to call it Assassin’s Creed IV rather than only the subtitle “Black Flag” since it seems like the game is more of a resolution of AC III tying up some plot threads.  The main character is the grandfather of Connor and outside of Edward’s story the Abstergo Entertainment plot seems to be tying up the last of Desmond’s story.  In contrast, we have Assassin’s Creed: Unity coming out this year, not Assassin’s Creed V: Unity.

Overall, if you enjoyed past Assassin’s Creed games, I think you’ll enjoy Black Flag.  If you haven’t played any of the Assassin’s Creed games, Black Flag isn’t a bad one to hop into since there’s not as much intertwined back story from previous games to worry about too much.  Set sails on the open seas and live the life of a pirate.  Drink up, me hearties, yo ho!

Xbox One Error: Leveraging Lara Croft against Nathan Drake

Microsoft dropped a bit of a bombshell on everyone at Gamescom this year when they announced Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider sequel ‘Rise of the Tomb Raider’ would be an exclusive release on Xbox One.  Gamers predictably reacted less than unanimously in favor of Microsoft’s announcement.  Why would gamers be upset?  Isn’t console exclusive titles par for the course?  Well, yes and no.  There’s a few reasons this was a bad move for Crystal Dynamics but equally bad for Microsoft.

For the week of August 9th, VGChartz has PS4 sales at 9.4 million units (though Sony stated at Gamescom it has sold over 1- million now) against the 5.1 million units Xbox One has sold.  For that same week, not a single Xbox One title appeared on the global top 10 software chart.  To be fair, PS4 only had one title, but it was #1 with ‘The Last of Us Remastered.’  PS4 is doubling Xbox One sales globally and even outselling the console in the US, which has traditionally been Xbox One faithful as it’s Microsoft’s home turf.  In fact, more than a few weeks, even the WiiU has sold more units globally than Xbox One.

It’s clear Microsoft is feeling the need to lock in some major titles and gain some ground in the latest round of the “console wars” and it’s looking for a strong system seller to help gain that ground.  WiiU has seen a surge after E3 with some strong titles announced and Mario Kart’s release for the system.  It’s no secret that a handful of strong games can really move systems.  However, Rise of the Tomb Raider is not the game that can launch Xbox One back into the game with a vengeance.  In fact, I think the announcement further hurt Microsoft.

Microsoft has erred and made misstep after misstep since Xbox One was revealed.  With the unveiling spending the vast majority of their time talking about television connections that many users outside the US would be unable to benefit from, television productions they’d be working on with Steven Spielberg, and sports sports sports (that gamers outside the US wouldn’t really care about), Microsoft concluded the system’s unveiling leaving gamers vocal about feeling left out in the cold as an afterthought.  It didn’t help that there were features announced that made gamers very uncomfortable.  No more used games and a heavy handed DRM policy set the Interwebz ablaze with outrage over Microsoft trying to control gamers and dictate how much they actually owned what they purchased.

E3 came around and it was time for Microsoft to right the ship and get gamers back on their side. Instead, they continued to insist their vision was the future of gaming and their system was designed with their vision in mind.  Angry Joe even asked Major Nelson directly about turning off some of these features and was told with quite certainty that it wasn’t so easy to just deactivate these systems.  The Kinect would be always on, you had to be always connected or at least check in once per day for your games to function, there would be no disc after installation and used games would not be an option unless possibly paying for an activation code which rumors had spread of costing almost as much as a new game.  Microsoft tried to promote the idea of sharing one’s games with friends so friends didn’t have to buy it, but full explanation of this feature, which some believed to be a glorified demo program, was never given.

Some gamers defended Microsoft, pointing to Steam and its frequent sales (which will bleed you dry faster than buying new games because, honestly, how do you say no to some of those deals?) as an example of what Microsoft was trying to do.  The problem, however, is Microsoft never indicated anything of the sort.  And therein lies the problem with Microsoft’s build up to the launch of the Xbox One: they had the most disastrous public relations team in recent memory.  It wasn’t necessarily that their plans were bad, but their legal caution and double speak, their reluctance to commit to answering gamers’ biggest concerns and questions, and their overall attitude that they knew what gamers wanted more than gamers came off extremely arrogant and seeming like they were hiding something.  There was no sense of a clear vision and a road map into the future they were wanting to go towards that they were willing to share.  And that makes people nervous.

Jump ahead more than a year later and Microsoft walked right into the same scenario with this announcement for Rise of the Tomb Raider.  They announced it was going to be released exclusive to Xbox One in holiday 2015.  People were stunned and confused.  Tomb Raider was, and has always been, and multi-platform title. The original Tomb Raider was on Playstation and PC.  Later games were on PS2 and Xbox.  PS3 and Xbox 360.  And most all of them on PC.  The Tomb Raider reboot was on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC and the Definitive Edition sold on PS4 more than 2:1 against Xbox One sales.  Yet Microsoft was announcing that they had struck a deal with Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix to make the sequel exclusive to their system in 2015.

Gamers have become a savvy bunch and they, and gaming press, were quick to latch on to Microsoft being careful to include “holiday 2015” or just “2015” in their comments about the exclusivity.  It became frustrating, however, when they were asked directly if this was a timed exclusive and Microsoft representatives would only repeat the press release lines of “exclusive to Xbox One in holiday 2015.”  It was the same “something to hide” sensation they had given with E3 the previous year.  Eventually, a few days later, Microsoft would acknowledge they didn’t have an exclusive deal in perpetuity, but gamers were already irritated with the announcement.  Even Xbox faithfuls in some forums were baffled by the decision and many simply felt it wasn’t right to take a multi-platform game and lock the sequel into an exclusive agreement, though many on both sides were willing to grumpily accept it as a timed exclusive.

Needless to say, many gamers were upset with Microsoft over this situation and I don’t really think it was entirely the exclusivity.  That was a large part of it, for sure.  PS4 owners bought a lot more copies of the Definitive Edition than Xbox One owners and their reward was “sorry, you can’t have the sequel” from what the initial announcement indicated.  It gave the impression that Microsoft was not willing to invest in developing games so much as throwing money at developers to try and buy their way to victory.  It just felt like a cheap shot, or as most comments I read put it “a dick move.”

I can’t help but wonder, though, if Microsoft would have come out better in the whole deal if they would have just come clean and been up front and honest out of the gate.  Announce that holiday 2015 would see Rise of the Tomb Raider release first on Xbox One as a holiday exclusive and leave it at that, perhaps throw in a tongue in cheek remark about Lara having teamed with Xbox One to show “that other guy” how adventuring is done.  It was made pretty clear this was their way of competing with Uncharted, why not just admit that in a smile and wink kind of way?

Sony has really excelled with their marketing and PR this generation.  They’ve joined the gamers in taking shots at their competition, though I think Sony does it far more playfully than their fans tend to.  He took a shot at Square Enix saying they wanted Tomb Raider to be uncharted – not on the charts – by limiting it to the smaller installation base.  He took a shot at his own company saying he thought they were revealing nine PS Vita games at Gamescom, but it was actually nein.  He even recently commented on twitter that PSN had released “PSN Outage: Remastered” as the remaster of the 2011 network issues “in glorious HD” with the DDOS attacks PSN suffered this weekend.  Some may find it to be taking issues too lightly or attacking his competition, but I think it’s gone a long way to make Sony feel like “one of us” among gamers while Microsoft has come across more and more as the greedy corporation that cares about money instead of making fun games.

Regardless of Microsoft’s strategy and the public’s perception of them with Xbox One, Rise of the Tomb Raider is not a system seller.  Sony has been pushing to present major announcements and exclusives to their system.  Bloodborne, The Order, Uncharted are all Playstation exclusives.  They revealed the Hideo Kojima/Guillermo del Toro Silent Hills project with a playable teaser available for download at announcement.  They’re still presenting themselves as a huge partner to indie developers.  They’re coming across as a company that has learned from past mistakes and understand what gamers want.  Microsoft seems like they’ve lost sight of their system as a gaming console in their push for all-in-one entertainment.

I’ve admittedly never been an Xbox fan and I’ve always felt Microsoft has made a chief focus of their strategy to be “throw money at it until we win,” so this feels like more of the same, but that doesn’t make me feel justified or righteous for my opinion on them.  A weak Xbox One will likely lead to a complacent PS4, just as a strong Xbox 360 forced a struggling PS3 to step up what it had to offer.  The disappointing thing in this is they’ve recently announced lay offs and their forecast for original IPs exclusive to their system remain slim.  Microsoft needs to put their money into some system exclusive games that are new for them rather than paying off third parties for limited time sequel exclusives.

Essentially, Microsoft needs to find the right developer or do it in-house and find their Mario Kart 8.